Tag Archives: historical writing

Writing Workshop – 5 Great Ways To Place A Twist On Putting Your Character In A Coffee House

charles-dickens-for-writing-blog-post

When people ask what can I write about, it is often answered by ‘write what you know’. This is good advice but I would like to offer you a twist on that. Think about the things that you do in your own life and then let your character do them but in a different time. It means that you will have to do some research but this always helps with ideas and the flavour of the piece that you are writing.

One – Find an atmospheric setting

Let me give you an example. You probably go to a coffee house and could easily set a story there so how about doing that but setting it in the past? Wouldn’t this make your story stand out that bit more?

old-london-coffee-house

Let’s explore the situation. For a start, it is easy to imagine that coffee houses are something invented by us modern folks but that is not true. The reality is that if you pop down St Michael’s Alley which is a passage in London you will find a blue plaque on the wall of a wine house. The plaque states that the original London coffee house stood on that site and opened in 1652.  Just from that we have a place and a time that could send your mind buzzing with ideas.

Springboard 1 – A story set in 1652 in St Michael’s Passage, London when a new fangled coffee house is just opening. Imagine how the owner must feel.

Two – Find some larger than life characters

samuel-johnson

Many coffee houses sprang up in the 17th and 18th century and they were extremely important because it was where men met to do business and share ideas. We know from records that many men who were involved with the arts and scientific enquiry frequented coffee houses. Wren, Dryden, Reynolds, Johnson, Swift, Gainsborough, Garrick and Hogarth, to name but a few, were regularly seen discoursing over their passions in coffee houses. There we have a wonderful set of characters. It only takes a little bit of research and some poetic licence and you have a story about one of them.

Springboard 2 – A story about Wren, Dryden, Reynolds, Johnson, Swift, Gainsborough, Garrick or Hogarth getting into a troublesome situation in a coffee house.

Three – Create some domestic conflict

mary-w-the-rights-if-woman

In fact, it is believed that many insurance companies and other financial businesses started as a result of deep debates in coffee houses. It has been suggested that men spent so much time in coffee houses that they were often more associated with their regular haunt than where they actually lived.  If men were at the coffee house more than at home this could cause marital rifts – this is a good plot line.  If you want to use an idea following this line, I have actually written about this on the post ‘Trouble in the Coffee House – Get Writing.’

Springboard 3 – A man would rather spend more time at the coffee house than at a home with his wife.

Four – Have a coffee house trail

outside-a-coffee-house

It wasn’t just the capital that boasted coffee houses either. Oxford and Cambridge both had coffee houses and Bristol is recorded as having 4 by 1666. There was at least one in York by 1669 and others in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin. Exeter, Bath, Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Chester, Preston and Warwick also had coffee houses. This means that you don’t have to set your story in the capital, you have a wealth of settings to choose from. In fact, you could use coffee houses as a trail.

Springboard 4 – A man is on a secret mission that leads him around various coffee houses until he ends up in a coffee house in York about 1700. Who is he meeting there?

Five – Use details from your research to cannon ball your plot

coffee-house-sign

However, it was London, because of the business which was carried out in them, which had the most coffee houses and it is said that by 1714, there were at least 1,000 coffee houses there then. The houses were usually identified by a hanging sign; however, in 1762 all such signs, except at public houses, were banned.  It seems their creaking at night stopped folks from sleeping. Furthermore, if you were trotting along on a horse on a windy day, you could be knocked right off your mount by one of those blasted signs. This actually happened. Basically, the signs had become a menace to society and that is why they had to go. We can use details like this both to add authenticity to our story and to amuse our readers.

Springboard 5 – A man is knocked off his horse by a coffee house sign and a comely woman helps him – is she as kind and good as she seems to be or does she have ulterior motives?

Inspiration is everywhere – I hope that I have offered you some today. Happy writing.

 

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Filed under Creative Writing, History, Inspiration and Us, Writing Workshop

Writing – Make your romance specific

Fancy writing a romance but all you keep coming up with is boy works in office and meets girl? You could try the following exercise to make your romance specific. Take a famous couple from history and write about them. The best way to do this is to research them first so that you know who they are, how they met and what happened to them.

punch-and-judy

You have to fill in the details

If at this point, you think that you would just be writing a piece of history, what you have to remember is that with most peoples’ relationships we only have the bare bones of it no matter how famous they were. This means that when important things happened between them, you have to imagine what went on and fill in the details.

Mary Shelley

For instance, you could write about Mary Shelley and her husband, Percy. Mary is the mother of science fiction because she wrote ‘Frankenstein’ and Shelley is one of our most loved poets. He was also a member of the aristocracy. When we read about their courtship and their life together, it is far more interesting than many novels. Even though we have lots of information on them and their travels we have to fill in what happened when they were alone together and that is where the fiction writer’s imagination comes to life. We have to become Mary when she met Percy and ran away with him. In other words, you can take your own personal feelings and fuse it with historical fact to reach authenticity with your writing.

Happy Writing.

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Writing – Making sure That Your Pongs Stand Out

When we write narrative, it is important that we embrace all the senses. Smell often gets overlooked because it is easy to forget that as our characters go about their adventures that certain whiffs will travel up their snitches whether they like it or not. To get you started, I want you to think about how when we go into public lavatories, we sometimes wrinkle our noses up because someone has been in before us and left a pungent smell or has not flushed properly. Yes, even modern tales have smells in them.

Public Urinals

If you are writing a historical piece, you have won the Lottery because in the Middle Ages virtually everywhere carried an unpleasant odour. Think about it, it must have been totally pongy because most rubbish ended up in the streets. If we drop something down the sides of a bin and it is not noticed, it smells dreadfully within days, multiply that reek by about fifty and you may be near the mark.

Also, if a butcher killed an animal and sold the meat, he would not discreetly and hygienically get rid of the guts, he would fling it out in the street. Over weeks and months of that practise, the smell must have been putrid.

As for the lavatories, well we know that the town council in London passed a law to try to clean up the streets. This was to have public conveniences built over the river Fleet. This meant that people travelling under the bridge, for instance the boatman, had a constant eyeful of bare buttocks and if they were unlucky much more.

Jester

Cor Blimey! I bet there was a whiff under that lot.

Back in the 14th century folks built loos in strange places and it often landed them in court. In 1321, Thomas Wytte and William Hockele were up before the bench for building a toilet in Ebbgate Lane which was supposed to be a public right of way. Apparently, the lavatories projected from the walls of houses so that human waste fell onto the heads of the people who were innocently walking along that stretch of public highway. Mind you, the fact that they were using loos meant that they were the sophisticates of the day, not everyone bothered with them. In fact, many shared rooms with animals and behaved like them.

So get sniffing up while you write, it may produce some results that make you proud.

Happy writing.

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Writing a Crime Novel – Ideas

A resource to get you started

Do you want to write a crime novel but don’t have the confidence? Don’t worry, you could always base it on a real life crime. If you are worried about being sued by the people involved, the trick is to set it in the past; this way your book will appeal to lovers of both crime and historical fiction.

To demonstrate what we mean, we offer a springboard to get you started. This is worth reading even if you don’t intend to write anything.

Your springboard is the Poison Ring in Paris in 1673. During that year of Louis XIV’s reign, two priests told the King that a number of penitents had asked for absolution after murdering their spouses. Obviously, names could not be given but the Chief of Police, Nicholas de la Reynie was put onto the case. He found out that a ring of fortune tellers were supplying what were called ‘succession powders’, in other words poisons, so that people could get rid of inconvenient partners.

What is going on in the minds' of those in Louis XIV's court?

What is going on in the minds’ of those in Louis XIV’s court?

International poisons ring

The problem for De la Reynie was that he had no names. However, he kept sniffing the air and after four years he managed to fit together clues which led him to understand that there was an international poisons ring. It was similar to the drugs and paedophile rings which go on these days. Even more surprisingly, De la Reynie discovered that the ring was headed by men of influence.

Eventually, De la Reynie got the lead he had been waiting for. The fortune teller, Marie Bosse said that she was going to retire after she had arranged three more poisonings. A disguised policewoman consulted Bosse on how she could get rid of her spouse and an arrest was made when Bosse sold the poison to her. Her house was raided and many poisons were found there. Bosse, her husband and two sons were arrested. La Vigoreux, another fortune seller who shared a communal bed with the family, was also arrested.

A later burning alive execution.

A later burning alive execution.

After they were interrogated, it was revealed that up to half of the aristocracy were trying to poison one another. The king was shocked but even more so when he discovered that two ladies were planning to get rid of one of his own mistresses, Louise de la Valliere. Marie Bosse was burned alive.

So here we have it – a setting, a plot, main characters and even a detective. What are you waiting for? Happy writing.

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Writing – Make the Past Your Inspiration and Get Pounding that Keyboard

Writing is therapeutic

Stuck for an idea? Well you are in the right place. Here at Loony Literature we are on a mission to make peoples’ lives better by encouraging them to do something creative. We know that it’s not always easy with all the problems that life throws at us but that it why it is even more important to get stuck in – being creative will help you through the hard times.

If you want to write a short story, a play or an article, one of the easiest ways to get an interesting idea is to embrace the past. All you have to do is scroll the web or visit the library and then read about it, before you know where you are, you will be scribbling ideas all over your notepad with an extraordinary flourish.

Getting on with it.

Getting on with it.

Use superstition as a source

To whittle it down, why not look into superstitions of the past and see if anything gets your fingers itching? However, to get you started, we have got a springboard for a murder set in the Tudor period. We hope that it helps.

Superstitions like avoiding walking under ladders have been around for a long time. In fact, if we travel back in time to the Tudor period, it is interesting to see just how superstitious folks were then. Proof of this happened just under five hundred years ago with Sir George Vernon who owned Haddon Hall. Ruling the surrounding area with a stern severity, he dealt with cases of crime with an iron attitude.

For instance, when a pedlar was found murdered, Sir George Vernon investigated. Hawking his goods about the neighbourhood the previous day, the pedlar was spotted entering a cottage in the evening and was not seen alive again. When Sir George found this out, he ordered that the body should be taken to Haddon Hall and laid out there.

Last seen alive

The man who lived in the cottage where the pedlar had last been seen alive was then ordered to go to Haddon Hall. When he arrived, Sir George questioned him but the fellow said that he had no knowledge of the pedlar. His nibs then snatched the sheet from over the dead man and told everyone that they had to touch him. Yikes! In those days, there would be great superstition over doing that if you were the murderer.

Gruesome Times

Gruesome Times

Shrinking back, the pedlar would not put his hands on the body. Sprinting as fast as his legs would carry him out of the hall, he disappeared from sight. Deciding that his suspicions had been right, George ordered his men to pursue the cottager on horseback and hang him on the spot. They finally caught up with him in a field and followed his lordships orders. Sir George had to travel to London to explain himself in court but no further steps were taken.

Happy writing.

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Writing Historical Fiction – A Pair of Stockings as a Springboard

Get Writing

Here at Loony Literature, we try to get folks to have a go at something  they might not have done before. As both of us are history bonkers, we want more of you to try writing historical pieces. They don’t have to be massive literary tomes, for instance, you could try a short story or even a play.

Readers of historical pieces love details and enjoy learning something as well as being transported in time. The springboard for this piece is a pair of stockings. So you need to think about who did the stockings belong to? Perhaps they were found in the butler’s pantry or if you are a crime writer they might have been used to strangle someone.

What story does this item of clothing tell you?

What story does this item of clothing tell you?

To help you along, we’ve compiled some working knowledge on stockings. You may be interested to know that during the Victorian period, ladies all wore stockings as tights were a 20th century invention. The Victorian stockings were made of cotton, wool or silk and available in a wide range of colours.

At the start of the 1800s, white was all the rage but after 1850 brightly dyed and patterned stockings were available. These were enjoyed by the young and also anyone who wanted something different. They were available in tartan, spotted and checked amongst others designs. This is surprising as it is easy to presume that they would all have been either white or black for the Victorians.

Black stockings

However, as the century went on, the black stockings became more widespread. This demonstrates how symbolic clothes can be. Black stockings in the Victorian period were viewed as conservative whereas black stockings these days signify sexiness.

Wool stockings were often the choice because they were the warmest and the most reasonably priced option. Silk stockings were basically only for the wealthy as they were so expensive. Furthermore, if they laddered, they were difficult to darn which made it time consuming. Only a woman with a personal maid would really have the time to commit to darning silk stockings. Well, it wouldn’t be her own time which she was committing to the task but her maid’s.

These days, suspenders are considered the heights of sexiness by some and again they are a Victorian invention. Women began to hold their stockings up with suspenders in the 1880s. Up until that time, however, stockings were held up by garters which fastened around the leg just above the knee. There was a health risk with wearing garters like that. Varicose veins could start if the garters were too tight and stopped proper circulation.

Happy writing.

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