Tag Archives: inspiration

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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Trouble in the Coffee House? Get Writing.

Writing is good for your spirit and you don’t have to stay in to do it. It’s really good fun to go to a coffee house armed with your writing paraphernalia and to set your short story in there. If you really want to chance your arm you can create characters for your story from the other folks that are supping coffee around you. Whatever you do, don’t let them see. Coffee gets some people excited and you don’t want a black eye when all you are doing is creating a story.

coffe-house-1

Take down the details of the room you are sitting in and you have a setting readymade. Of course, if you wish to add or take away from that, you can do. This is the beauty of writing fiction; you can build the world to suit yourself.

Sneakily look at the people sitting nearest to you. Are they story fodder? If not, why not? If it’s an elderly couple that are talking about the cost of drinking chocolate, don’t forget that everyone has a past. She could have been a spy during World War II. He could be a retired private detective. Basically, they can be whatever you want them to be – run with your fantasy.

coffee-house-2

For those that love historical fiction, you will find that coffee houses have been around for a while and so if you wish to write a historical piece and set it in the coffee house then that is no problem. In fact, if you read on, you will find a true and hilarious situation that you can use as a basis for your story, if you so wish.

If you love popping out to the coffee house to have a good laugh and titillating gossip with your mates, you may be interested to know that this type of behaviour has been going on since the 17th century. However, back then it was purely the male that frequented the coffee house. Men would spend hours making business contacts and talking about politics in the coffee house. This did not go unnoticed by their female counterparts and trouble started to brew. (Do forgive the pun.)

Sterile and impotent

Women who were fed up of being coffee widows got together and published a hard hitting pamphlet. “The Women’s Petition Against Coffee” (1674) suggested that when men drank coffee daily it made then sterile and impotent. Obviously, this was a cause for concern in society because it would mean a reduction in the birth rate.

Women tearfully told how their husbands were turning their backs on them to enjoy the company of their peers in the coffee houses. They spoke of how this action threatened the social and economic future of the country because men were becoming incapable of fulfilling their marital duties. One woman even declared that all that coffee drinking ‘made men as unfruitful as the sandy deserts where the unhappy berry is said to be brought’.

For a moment, the men were truly speechless but only for a moment. They rallied back with “The Men’s Answer to the Women’s Petition.” They were having none of it and were rather blunt in their reply. The men suggested that drinking coffee made the erection more vigorous and then went into detail about how it actually made the sperm more potent. In other words, they fought back saying that coffee would actually make the birth rate rise.

coffee-house-3

Well that is certainly something to write about. You could write a television sitcom or a short play. It doesn’t have to be a short story. The whole idea of the exercise is to get you into the coffee shop setting and then to let your mind run wild. I think that you will be pleasantly surprised at how much you enjoy doing this. Just remember not to put pressure on yourself to produce War and Peace, this is meant to be fun.  Anything that has been written can always be improved upon at a later date if you so wish. For the time being, just have a giggle.

 

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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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Finding Inspiration – Cox and Box – Mrs Bouncer’s Legacy

Loony Literature headed for Scarborough yesterday in an attempt to find inspiration for both actors, directors and writers alike. Did we find it? We certainly did in a performance of ‘Cox and Box, Mrs Bouncer’s Legacy’ at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. In order for you to see how this play is inspirational, we need to explain a little bit about it.

1866 Cox and Box

If we travel back in time to 1866, we find a one act comic opera called Cox and Box by Arthur Sullivan. The basic premise of the plot being that a cheeky landlord lets the same room out to two lodgers. He is able to do this because one works during the day and one works during the night. When one of them has a day off, they clash and tempers flare.

The creators of Cox and Box – Mrs Bouncer’s Legacy adapted the first act and added a sequel to it. In other words, they have used an old piece as a springboard to create something else. Cox is an apprentice hatter who works by day and Box is a printer who works by night. The landlord this time however, is a landlady who is a chap in drag. Both Cox and Box also cross dress as they are played by two females.

Cox and Box, Mrs Bouncer's Legacy

The first act is particularly interesting for anyone who acts or wants to act. It is played out very much as it would have been when it was originally performed. A piano player is on the side of the stage and the blocking works in sequence with the music. This is a must see for would be actors and hopeful directors alike. It is very different from modern theatre and is also helpful if you want to put plays on for children.

The second act is what arose after Chris Monks and Richard Atkinson were inspired by the original one act script. It is set 150 years later in the same room. A recently elected government has repatriated all migrant workers. Twin sisters, Urszula and Krystyna are secretly sharing a room – the very same one – in a run down Bed and Breakfast where their landlord is a member of the UZIP party.

The upshot of this is that if you are seeking inspiration for a play you could find something old and add a modern satirical part to it and hey presto – you could have a show.

When we see the second act, we realise how talented the performers are as they change roles so a huge cheer for Lara Stubbs, Emilia Williams and Darren Southworth.

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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 Cosy Crime – Use a Bizarre Club as a Setting

Get Writing

Here at Loony Literature, we have eclectic tastes and one of the genres which we adore is cosy crime. This means that we want more people getting stuck in and writing some wonderful tales. If you need a springboard to get you started, think about setting the crime in a club but not just an everyday club, use something different. We’ve found a few that you may be interested in.

On the 15th January 1904, a newspaper advertisement asked for new members for a club in Fribourg in Switzerland. The club was the Bald Headed Club and its rules were that the members should meet every month to eat ham and listen to music.

Invite the Public Executioner

In April 1928, the Crime Club used to meet in London three times a year to discuss criminology. It was a rule that nothing which was discussed within the club was repeated outside those walls. The club which started off with six eventually increased to forty members. One of the members once suggested that the public executioner should be invited to one of the club’s dinners but he could not get anyone to second him so the idea was dropped.

Apparently, the Thirteen Club gathered so that its members could defy superstitions and would spend the evening walking under ladders and putting up umbrellas whilst indoors.

Some believe that the raven is unlucky.

Some believe that the raven is unlucky.

Meanwhile, The Fatman’s Club in Paris enjoyed its banquets. No one was eligible for membership under seventeen stone. One man proudly polished off half a dozen chickens and a barrel of wine at one sitting and it won him a prize of thousands of francs.

Happy writing.

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Writing Short Stories – Using Gruesome Keepsakes as a Springboard

Here at Loony Literature, we are always looking for springboards to get folks writing. So if you are thinking of writing a short story, you may be interested to know that buying a keepsake when you visited somewhere or experienced something is not a new thing. However, in the 19th century some of the keepsakes which were purchased were rather gruesome to say the least. In essence, they were real short story fodder.

Murder Most Horrid.

Murder Most Horrid.

For instance, when Burke, of the famous Hare and Burke duo of body snatchers, was to be executed, 20,000 people cheered as the scaffold was built. When Burke appeared, the mob went wild screaming what they would personally like to do to him. Every time Burke convulsed as his body was hanged, the crowd raised an even louder roar, a sort of cheer because he was suffering so much.

A wallet was made from his scalp

When Burke’s body was removed from the scaffold, souvenir hunters descended like scavengers grabbing at shavings from the coffin or pieces of the rope. If this seems strange, it was quite normal back then. The rope which hanged Burke would have been sold off in inches because so many people wanted a keepsake of the event. In fact, a wallet was made from Burke’s scalp and is now in the History of Surgery Museum in Edinburgh’s Royal College of Surgeons.

A Grisly Day Out.

A Grisly Day Out.

After he had been cut down, Burke’s body was taken to an anatomy theatre which was ironic as that was where he had taken the bodies of the folks he had murdered so that he could get money for them. A cast was taken of Burke’s head and then a dissection was performed. Outside people fought to get inside to taste a piece of the action. The next day, there was a display of the body and visitors could file past it from ten in the morning until dusk. It is believed that as many as 30,000 people turned up to see Burke’s body.

Come on, this is asking for you to write a horror story.

Happy writing.

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Writing Historical Fiction – Getting to Work in 19th Century London

It Wasn’t Easy

Here at Loony Literature, we love to get folks writing.

Writing historical fiction is a great way to learn something and transport yourself to another time and place. Your springboard for today is to imagine that you have an accident on the way to work. The only difference is that it happens in 19th century London. Think about who your character might be and what are the consequences of the accident are – do you get involved with someone you might never have met before? This could be to do with a romance or a crime.

London Bridge in the 19th century.

London Bridge in the 19th century.

To help you get started, we’ve compiled something for you to think about. For instance, you may be interested to know that if you had to travel across London in the 19th century, it was hard work even back then.

If you had an excellent job, you would navigate your way to work on horseback. However, this was indeed a costly business. We complain about the cost of parking these days but if you lived then and the horse was your mode of transport, you had to feed and stable the horse at home and also at a place which was near to where you worked. City livery rates were so exorbitant that many would ride half way on horseback and then the rest of the journey to work would be conducted by boat.

Getting Across The Thames

Of course, the Thames was a sort of highway for London but at the start of the 19th century there were only actually three fixed points to get across it. There was London Bridge which had been a crossing of some sort since Roman times or there was Blackfriars Bridge which was built in 1769 or Westminster Bridge which first came into being in 1750.

This meant that if you needed to travel across the river to get to work you would probably have used one of the 3,000 wherries or small boats which were available for hire. We can read about characters in books being rowed across the Thames, such as the dastardly Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens.

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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