Tag Archives: literature

Writing – Using Real People in Fiction Can Spell Trouble!

Victorian Lady Portrait

Victorian Lady Portrait (Photo credit: Aminimanda)

The other day, I was telling my son about a dead relative whose personality I have partly used when creating Jane Snow, my heroine’s paid companion and fellow detective in Mulgrave Castle.  My relative had a strange notion that when a man smiled at her, he had certain ideas because the chaps were too frisky for their own good.  One of the theme’s I want to explore in this series of Victorian psychic novels is female desire in the Victorian era as I became very interested in how it was used in Literature whilst a student.  Although, I have used Jane Snow’s attitude to males in a comic way because it was something which was both amusing and endearing in my relative, I think she might react badly if she knew that this aspect of Jane’s character is based on her.  I think she might see it as being laughed at instead of understanding that it is celebrating the fact that she was such a character.  Although, to be honest, I wonder if she would identify herself with the character, she might not.

 

 

The reason I say that my relative might not recognise herself is because of a story I was told when I was doing a course on scriptwriting.  The writer who took the course was a playwright and a television scriptwriter.  He was adamant about only using one aspect of a person’s personality when creating your own characters.  The reason for this was personal experience.  He had written a television drama and used a few aspects of the personality of a woman who was in his circle of friends as one of the characters; at the time of writing, he thought that he had disguised her well enough for no-one to know whom he had based the character on.

 

 

After the drama was screened, he was shocked that most of the circle of friends identified the woman whom he had used as a character.  Fortunately, the woman did not recognise herself and none of the others pointed it out to her.  The experience was enough to convince him though that we should never use more than one aspect of a person’s personality traits when creating a character.

 

 

On the other hand, I created the character, Will Blyton based on my son, Will and am writing a second book about him.  Often, I will read a part out to him and he will call me a cheeky so and so because I am depicting a real live occurrence.  He knows I am writing about a character based on him and likes the fact that he is my muse.  However, if he did not, I would not do it.

 

 

So what about you?  Have you ever written about someone and they have recognised themselves?  Do you use aspects of real life people at all when creating characters?  Do tell!

 

 

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Inspiration and Us – Literature – Your Challenge.

1848 Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe at 39, a...

1848 Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe at 39, a year before his death (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As humans, we constantly seek connections with other humans and we have always told stories to each other, sometimes simply to make sense of the world around us.  Over the thousands of years, we see the same images emerging again and again.  It is almost as if they are branded in our collective consciousness.  Often, one particular author, artist, actor, composer or film maker does something so spectacular with one of these images that it haunts us until we are creative with it ourselves.  Look into your own creativity and see if you can spot when this has happened to you.

 

Edgar Allan Poe Museum (Richmond, Virginia)

Edgar Allan Poe Museum (Richmond, Virginia) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my children’s book Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow, I have an evil shapeshifter called Ravensmite.  He changes from a huge raven into a gothic looking teenage boy at will.  I discussed the use of the raven with a wonderful person and writer, Maria Thermann who also uses ravens in Willow the Vampire and The Sacred Grove.  Maria suggested that we had probably been subconsciously inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”.  She was absolutely correct.  Edgar Allan Poe had inspired me to create a character, although I had not realised it until Maria pointed it out to me.

Cover for "The Raven" by Edgar Allan...

Cover for “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe as illustrated by Gustave Dore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Raven is a narrative poem which has a gothic atmosphere.  A talking raven makes a midnight visit to a mourning lover.   Here is a marvellous video of an animated Poe reciting “The Raven.”  It is done by the very talented poetryreincarnations .

 

Here’s your challenge – watch the video and use it as a springboard to create something yourself.  Happy writing, acting, painting, composing or filming.

 

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Filed under Creative Writing, For Teens, Inspiration and Us

How Dare You Think You Will Enjoy Great Literature!

The theme in my life this week has been self -esteem, or rather lack of it.  It seems that there is an epidemic going on.  I don’t know whether it is always there or I am noticing it more since I am on the last legs of Mulgrave Castle, a romantic mystery which has self- esteem as its theme.   Of course, lack of self -esteem comes in many guises.  The one I want to focus upon in this article is how other people can make you believe that you do not have the right to enjoy great literature.

Menabilly. Hidden by the woodland, Menabilly w...

Menabilly. Hidden by the woodland, Menabilly was the home of Daphne du Maurier, and the inspiration for Manderley in "Rebecca". (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lack of self-esteem is universal, so much so that writers like Daphne Du Maurier have used it as a plot device.   In Rebecca, the main character who tellingly is never named, cannot believe that she has been rescued from being a paid companion by the older, attractive, handsome Maxim de Winter.  The whole of this wonderful, psychological drama hangs on the fact that the new Mrs de Winter has low self -esteem.  In fiction, that is fine.  In reality, it is not.  In Rebecca, we see obnoxious characters like Mrs Van Hopper chiselling away at her paid companion’s sense of self to make sure that she stays underfoot.  In reality, I get told by people how, when they were children,  grown-ups told them that writers like Shakespeare and Dickens were too difficult for them.  Let me catch my breath a moment whilst I let out an exasperated sigh.

Title page of the First Folio, by William shag...

Title page of the First Folio, by William shagsper, with copper engraving of the author by Martin Droeshout. Image courtesy of the Elizabeth Club and the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University. http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl/oneITEM.asp?pid=2018031&iid=1071364&srchtype= (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have said it before and I will say it again – most people, if properly introduced and grounded in Literature will enjoy it at some level.  A case, in hand, I took a lesson about “The Laboratory”, a poem by Victorian writer Robert Browning to a mixed group of adults.  In the audience were three male fire fighters, two of whom were positive Victorian poetry was most definitely not for them.   After the lesson, the two fire fighters who were sure that they would just switch off from this stuffy old nonsense, said that they had actually enjoyed it.  The general consensus of the group was that if they had had that lesson whilst at school, they would all see Literature differently.  I was lucky that I had great English teachers.  As the years have gone by, it has slowly dawned on me how many people either were not taught writers like Shakespeare or it was offered in an unhelpful way.  This leads me to ask – why is there a sense of elitism with writers like Shakespeare?  After all, let’s think back, Shakespeare wrote and performed his plays mostly for the Joe Bloggs and Fanny Rumble’s of the sixteenth century.  Okay, so he performed in front of Elizabeth I, but mostly it was in front of ordinary people like me.  So, I say to you, whoever you may be, LITERATURE IS FOR YOU.

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Filed under Education, Self Esteem and Literature

6 Great Dickens Related Activities To Share With Your Child

I have a theory that if children are casually introduced to our literary heritage when they are young, they will go on to do well with English and Literature when older.  I have come across so many people who dismiss Literature because they don’t understand Shakespeare or say it’s all boring.  Quite often, I can see fear in their eyes.  Yes, it is true.  People see books written in the Victorian period as alien.  Plays written in Elizabeth I’s time, well we don’t mention those at all.  The reason for this, I am sure, is that they were not casually introduced to them as children.  When I use the word ‘casually’, I mean not making a big issue of it.  Enjoying great literature is simply a way of life.  It enriches all our lives.  It doesn’t matter if we haven’t got two pennies to rub together, NOBODY, can take away that feeling which rises through the body when we have fusion with a work of great literature.  My fourteen year old recently chose to perform the end monologue from Doctor Faustus by Marlowe for his acting exam.  He is expecting a great result because he felt so confident with it.  At the age of thirteen he got a distinction in his exam for a Richard II monologue, again something he had chosen.  He simply has no fear of great literature; this is because it has always been there in his life.  I have to hastily add, that I have never fed it to him in great dollops or made him watch or read any of it.  It has always been casually offered.

Watch Great Expectations together.  This is a good one to introduce children to Dickens.  The atmosphere of the marshes and the graves makes it eerie. Also, children can empathise with Pip’s fear when the escaped convict, Magwitch threatens him.  Even if we just watch a clip of the beginning of the film on Youtube, it’s a start to introducing our children to Charles Dickens.

Have a communal reading session together.  Make the room cosy, have something available to eat and drink, then sit around with the kids and read a few pages of Dickens to them.  Pickwick Papers has some wonderful comedy scenes which children will react to.  Always ask their opinions of the characters.  Tell them they can say exactly what they think because there is no right or wrong answer in Literature as long as they have the evidence from the text to back themselves up.  If any of the children say that it’s rubbish or they are bored, tell them that is an excellent critical opinion if they can explain what it is about the text which makes them think that way.

This is a bit eerie.  Find a graveyard with Victorian headstones and ask the children to take photographs of the headstones from that period.  Lead the children into noticing the ages when people died.  The chances are that quite a few of them would be children themselves.  This offers a discussion opportunity about the lives of children in the Victorian period.  Later use extracts from Oliver Twist to demonstrate how difficult some children’s lives were.

Visit a Charles Dickens site.  There is Dickens World in Kent, Charles Dickens Museum in London and Charles Dickens Museum in Portsmouth – the place of his birth.  There are also London Charles Dickens Walking Tours.  Taking children to places which celebrate writers and their works’ demonstrates the writer’s value in our society.  It diminishes the image of a dead person from long ago writing a dusty old book.

Dickens would walk for hours and hours.  Walking helps to give clarity with plots, character motives and helps ideas for settings.  Take the children on a Dickens type inspirational walk.  Give them notebooks, pens and a camera.  If possible, go somewhere they have not been before so that they are seeing with new eyes.  Be playful, bounce ideas around.  Something strange has probably happened in this place before – what could it be? – Who was involved?  Get important words written down in notebooks.  If the children are too young to write or simply don’t like writing yet, don’t worry, it’s the ideas which are important.  The object of the exercise is to let them see that there are creative opportunities around every corner.

Take a scene from a Dickens novel, a television adaptation or film and get the child or children to act it out in their own words.  If there are not enough children the adults can join in.  It’s great fun.  The object of this exercise is to get the child to interpret what is happening in the scene.  Also, as a language exercise, discuss how language has changed since Victorian times.  If the scene contains an upper class person (that sounds dreadful, but it is the English class terminology from then) and someone with a cockney accent, discuss the fact that the two people speak so differently.  It will give the children a valuable insight into the class system of Victorian England.  If possible, get some costumes or props.  It helps to create a Victorian atmosphere and adds to the fun.

I always make sure that I enjoy these types of activities because I know that if I don’t think they are fun, then the children involved certainly won’t.

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6 Great Reasons To Read To Teens.

Solitary reading is a recent pastime.  Traditionally, a book was read to an audience.  Since people could speak they have gathered around fires exchanging stories.  Wonderful family traditions can be built on communal reading – I read a Victorian ghost story to the family every Christmas Eve.  We sit by the fire in a candle lit room and collectively enjoy the atmosphere.  It’s very Charles Dickens.

Poster promoting reading by Charles Dickens in...

Poster promoting reading by Charles Dickens in Nottingham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Great literature wrestles with difficult subjects.  Sometimes when we try discussing a subject with our teens, it can sound like we are preaching and our well meant words fall on ear phone ears.  However, when we read to our teens, difficult subjects arise naturally and we can talk about them as part of our reading experience.  For instance, in Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Doctor Jekyll takes chemical substances which change both his appearance and his behaviour.  In effect, it ruins his life.  When we chat with our teens about their opinion of Doctor Jekyll, we usually find that they have already made up their minds about him and his actions.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde po...

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde poster. Converted losslessly from .tif to .png by uploader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Schools do not have time to cover a full novel because of their tight curriculum.    At this point, I expect parents are wondering, who does have time to read a full novel to a teenager especially as they could read it themselves.  To cover the last point first, many great novels are being overlooked because teenagers are not being introduced to them.  Many teenagers read novels from our literary heritage because they have to to pass exams.  This gives out the wrong message about these great works of fiction.  If we offer lounging on the sofa, having a piece of cake and being introduced to the world of Laurie Lee’s “Cider With Rosie”, without having to write an essay on it, it’s an appealing proposition.  As for the time factor, reading sessions can replace: watching programmes which nobody really wants to watch, time spent complaining of boredom, time spent squabbling or staring at a computer screen because there seems nothing more interesting to do.

Cider with Rosie. This rather overgrown cider ...

Cider with Rosie. This rather overgrown cider press is just off the B4070, where the path leads up to Wickridge Hill. It's only a quarter of a mile from Slad where Laurie Lee, of "Cider with Rosie" fame was a regular at the Woolpack Inn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading to our teenagers aids bonding.  Before our children can read, most of us, read them bedtime stories at least.  The beaming child’s face gives us the sense of joy which only parenting can release. The child gets to a certain reading stage though and we feel that we no longer need to read to them.  Often, parents and teenagers can seem to grow apart because although they share a home, they live in different worlds.  Reading to our teenagers gives us something to share with them, therefore something to discuss.  I love Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, my teenage son doesn’t.  We have stimulating arguments about it.  It’s better than quarrelling over the fact that he hasn’t put his dirty socks in the wash.

Promotional photo of Boris Karloff from The Br...

Promotional photo of Boris Karloff from The Bride of Frankenstein as Frankenstein's monster. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading to our teens balances the relationship between child and parent as it empowers them to read to us.  If we read to them, after a while they will choose books, stories etc to read to us. It gives them self esteem and therefore balances the teenager/parent struggle.  Teenagers who have a sense of control in their lives are easier to live with.  Having their parents listening to their choice of literature gives them a feeling of autonomy.

Teenagers are the adults of the future and we need them to embrace our great literary heritage.  We need them to read to their future children.  By reading to our teens we are promoting a love and understanding of literature.  We are sending out the message “do as I do, not as I say.”

Happy reading.

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