Wow - over a year has passed since the visit to Wentworth in 2018 which generated so much material for this little blog! I find it amazing that a whole year has in fact gone by and another writing retreat has come and gone (and that I was still working on the same material!)... Wentworth 2019 was a different affair to those that had gone before but it was no less enjoyable. In case you don’t know, it is organised by the National Association of Writers’ Groups (affectionately - NAWG) and has historically been held over the late May bank holiday but this year there are more retreats on offer - two general writing events, one on poetry and another on scriptwriting. I attended the one over the May bank holiday and had a great time.
I arrived at tea time on Friday and the weather was fantastic! My room was over the arched barn (the communal room) and up a flight of stairs. Now, I wish I had thought this through before filling a huge suitcase full of books and various laptops and tablets! It.... was... heavy! But I would not be defeated - this was my weekend away and I was an independent stay at home mum who was going to assert her authority and get that darned bag up those stairs without any help. Okay, so I scratched my car getting it out of the boot and nearly broke a toe on the staircase BUT I DID IT! I then said hi to a couple of friends I was over the moon to see and settled down to write. I had a bad headache and was asleep early.
The next morning I woke up early as usual. The sun was up, the birds were singing so I got myself out and was strolling around the grounds not long after 7.30. I didn’t intend to walk all the way up to the castle but it was absolutely glorious and I just kept on going. The rhododendrons and azaleas were in full bloom and took my breath away. When I got to the castle I looked around but there was absolutely no-one else there. I came over all Lady Macbeth before Cersei Lannister crept up on me as I prowled around my own Red Keep. Eventually a jogger came by and gave me a fright so I headed back to the main house for breakfast. All meals (except for Friday evening) are included with the weekend (at £167 for two nights, food and optional workshops it is really great value).
I spent Saturday in my room working on my manuscript with short breaks for lunch and dinner. I joined in (pitifully) with the quiz on Saturday evening and had a chat with Chris Huck about his collection of ceramics. On Sunday morning I had to clear out of my room. Rather than fill up the case again, I sensibly split my tomes into a number of bags and made multiple trips to the car so no book related injuries on Sunday! A few of us worked in the lovely library until lunchtime and then we went our separate ways.
There were fewer people there this year. A number of regulars didn’t make it and, of course, there were more dates to choose from but I did miss some of those who didn’t come. I did however get lots of work done, in a thoroughly delightful setting with wonderful people and only 20 minutes from home. I came away feeling very lucky to have attended and I can’t wait for next year. Maybe I will have finished a draft of the novel by then.
I can't believe how long it has been since my last post. The time has just disappeared, especially the last few months. I have been busy with the kids, (an endless list of tasks comes with those two little ones) and also my Etsy business. Behind the scenes I have also been working hard at my novel for middle-grade readers (that's roughly 9-12 year olds) as I still have a lot of love for that project, even though it has been hanging around for ages.
I have told myself that this is the year it will get finished and I have taken some significant steps to move it forward. Most notably I engaged Sarah Stewart of The Lighthouse Children's Literary Consultancy to review the first 21,000 words of my story. I bravely sent off my manuscript before I went on holiday and tried not to think about it too much! Sarah turned it around very quickly and I already have her detailed comments back. I am going to write in more detail about it another day but I will keep you all posted on my progress via this blog and, hopefully, by the end of the year I will have a completed story (not that I have said that before or anything.... But, in my defence, last time I did have a baby!).
So that's it for now. Just a quick post to get my blogging juices flowing again and to state my resolution to crack on with this project now I have taken the big step of getting a professional opinion.
Check back to see how I progress (fingers crossed!). In the meantime, keep writing and remember, if you are stuck there are ways to get going again. Whether that is taking a break or seeking professional assistance or maybe just an outsider's view (although be careful with that last one! Choose wisely and trust yourself.)
Just don't give up.
@LorraineInWords is the Twitter handle for the lovely lady I shall be writing about today and it is most apt. Lorraine has featured on the blog before when I posted a playlist - a group of fabulous writers shared the songs which inspired them most (read it HERE). But life has moved on at a speedy pace for the talented Lorraine and she is now the author of the Being Me diary (more on that later) and the proprietor of a classy Italian cafe called Urban-ita, in Sheffield (again, more about that later) all whilst being a specialist in adult training and coaching and - oh yes - writing a novel. She is such an inspiration I just had to write about her.
Where to start? How about with the cafe..?
Urban-ita, Italian Coffee Shop & Bistro; 288 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, S7 1FL
I have been to the cafe and can personally attest to it’s authentic atmosphere and delicious food. I tend to shy away from anything but the plainest of food so when I nervously asked whether it was possible to have something a little ‘off menu’, Lorraine answered graciously, ‘Anything is possible!’ and I was served up the best scrambled eggs and coffee I have ever had. The cake was fantastic, too.
The decor is tasteful, lots of wood and plants and, of course, books. To the right of the counter is a wall of shelves referred to by Lorraine as the ‘little shop of goodies’ which is adorned with locally made items. She has even developed her own range of herb-infused oils. Every detail has been carefully thought out. There are no drinks served in plastic bottles, the food is homemade or from local independent bakers and the electricity is from sustainable sources. There are game nights, craft nights and it is generally a super little corner of Sheffield. It would make a lovely place to sit and read or write, I just wish I lived closer. You can find out more about Urban-Ita HERE and also at the bottom of this post. Follow the cafe on Twitter (@Urbanita288) and Instagram (Urbanita288).
Lorraine’s ‘Being Me’ Diary
In 2017, with a nod to her speciality as an adult educator and a wink to her interest in wellness, Lorraine created the ‘Being Me’ diary. It is designed to enable people to take stock and appreciate each day as it comes. In her own words, ‘We are so busy with the day to day stresses of modern living we don't take the time to think and reflect or even notice how life is changing or how we are growing as individuals.’ It is a five-year diary that can be begun at any point during the year. It provides an opportunity to record thoughts, feelings and emotions through answering one question each day. I think we all need that mental space to be calm and reflect. The diary can be purchased via her website https://www.opennarrative.co.uk/publications.php. Doesn't it look beautiful?
Lorraine the Writer
I first met Lorraine a couple of years ago at a writing course in Sheffield run by Susan Elliot Wright and Russell Thomas (both Simon & Schuster authors - great courses for all levels and very reasonably priced - see HERE). Being creative is what Lorraine loves to do and she is currently working on her first novel. It is set in gorgeous Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast where she lived for three years, but this particular story is a work of fiction. The plot concerns a young English woman who has a holiday romance and inadvertently becomes involved with the Camorra, the Neapolitan Mafia. It's murder and mayhem in an Italian holiday hot spot.
The book sounds exciting and I can't wait to read it. Italy is one of my absolute favourite destinations, although I can live without any Mafia entanglements!
In short, I have nothing but total admiration for Lorraine. She is one of life's 'do-ers' - if there is something she wants to do she gets on and makes it happen. I love following her Twitter and Instagram feeds to see where she pops up next and I wish her every success in her many ventures.
Urban-Ita - Additional Information
Urban-Ita is an independent Italian coffee shop and eatery in the heart of Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, located in the old Bardwell's shop.
Urban-Ita is the latest venture of husband and wife team Saverio and Lorraine. Saverio is from Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast and Lorraine is from Sheffield. Both are passionate about Italy, especially Southern Italian cuisine.
At Urban-Ita we serve a wide range of teas, coffees and soft drinks. Our cakes and desserts are homemade or from local independent bakers. Pearl Bakery and Miss Adu’s Kitchen supply our vegan, dairy/gluten-free sweet treats. Our menus have a range of English and Italian dishes and include healthy options, gluten-free, dairy-free, plant-based cuisine as well as seasonal specials. Saverio ensures that the ingredients are the freshest and best available. We use local and organic produce where possible and some of it even comes from our garden. Our focaccia and flatbread are baked on the premises.
We don't have an alcohol licence but you are welcome to BYO for a small corkage fee.
We try to be as environmentally friendly as possible so we don't stock drinks in plastic bottles. Please feel free to bring your own cup if you want your coffee to take-away.
We recycle what we can and our electricity supplier assures us that it is from 100% sustainable sources.
We have a small deli and bookshop where you can buy a range of products including reusable bamboo cups and products from local suppliers and makers, plus our own herb infused oils. In our ‘Little Book Shop’ we have Lorraine’s Being Me Diary as well as a range of second-hand books that can be purchased or perused.
Works of art in the café are thanks to local artists, Illustrations by Molly and Stephanie Briggs We hope you enjoy your visit to Urban-Ita.
Urban-Ita is available to hire Wednesday to Saturday evenings for private parties, celebrations, meetings and events. Please ask for details.
So it’s nearly time to say goodbye to my posts showcasing the work of the Wentworth Writers but not before I share the work of three lovely ladies. (I’m tempted to rewrite that, actually, as one of the pieces is mine...) A big ‘thank you’ to Jacqueline Woods for waiting patiently while Hester and myself got ourselves together. So, here we are - three letters written in the style of Robert Pirosh’s famous Hollywood letter of application.
I hope you have enjoyed this series as much as I have loved putting it together. I think after this one has gone live I will revisit the first and read them all once again, together. If you would like to join us at Wentworth next year, details of how to book will be posted on NAWG’s shiny new website in due course. In the meantime, why not have a look at what else the organisation has to offer? Visit www.nawg.co.uk.
Our Letters (Part 3)
I like making things. I like sticky, gluey, messy things which leave crusty globs on the carpet and a skin-like film on my hands. I like delicate, intricate things which rest perfectly in my palm and come into existence slowly, reverently, without regard for the pressing demands of the day. I like childish things with vibrant colours and shapes as bold as the young faces which inspire me.
Above all, I like working with my hands and my mind aligned; harmonious in my quiet and gentle rhythm of creativity.
Please may I make something for you?
I have written and self-published a book of which I am very proud but hardly anyone has read..! (available HERE). It's only 99p on Kindle.
I’m still writing bits and pieces but my free time recently has been spent trying to build up two Etsy shops. One is aimed at writers and lovers of literature: Candelabracrafts.Etsy.com and the other at families with young kids: CandelabraFamily.Etsy.com. It’s hard going getting the views so do drop by for a browse...
If you have read this far then I can’t thank you enough. Goodbye for now from the Wentworth Writers.
Next time: - something with an Italian flavour...
[I’m now stressing that I haven’t put the word ‘parody’ to its correct use. Apparently a parody is ‘a humorous or satirical imitation of a serious piece of writing’. The Pirosh letter is not at all serious but never mind. (It’s honestly really stressful writing about writers. I’m now fretting about the square brackets...)]
Anyway, read on and enjoy. First up is Yvonne. Make sure you read all the way down to Henry; he doesn't deserve to be at the bottom of anything other than a long drink!
Our Letters (Part 2)
I like eating. I like large squashy things like gateaux, trifles and fruit jellies. I like savoury aperitifs such as olives, small nibbles of pastry rich pates of game and mushroom, sharp compotes, of exotic fare on the tongue. I like Sunday dinners; roast beef, Yorkshire puddings, lamb with mint and rosemary, and pork with crisp salty crackling. All of which is served with roast potatoes; crispy crunchy outside but soft inside, and beautiful meat juice gravies.
I like cheese, butter, and full cream. Whipped, churned, goats, cow or alpaca. But most of all I like preparing quality food at the right price so that I can eat it; savouring each bite of my tasty platefuls.
Madam I am here, having eaten in fine restaurants, tavernas, cafes in Italy, France and Wales; to offer myself to you as the school cook. May I come over and offer you some of my temptations?
Frances A. Flint
I like trees. I especially like Willows as they hug the Earth around them and dip their leafy fingers in a passing stream. I like when I can snuggle in to their raised roots and curl up like a resident, gazing up through myriad branches and rest my eyes in cool green.
I also like upright trees, huggable trunks and spiral branches that invite me up in to the canopy, stepping high, past nests and tiny caves, a nod to my neighbours as I reach for the highest thinnest branch.
I like to walk in Forests, breathing with the Earth’s lungs.
I can see the wood for the trees.
May I take a walk in the woods for you?
I do love trees! I also love people and have spent most of my working life in mental health and wellbeing, learning about the myriad ways in which we all mess things up, push through the trouble, and come out the other side more resilient than before…then go and do the same thing again!!
I have a memory of being praised for a story I had written in my English class at school, which sparked a love of creating other worlds in my head, some of which I wrote down, some which have stayed as little escape planets for me to visit when needed. Over the years I have written lots of short stories, some shorter that they should be, or as they are known, unfinished.
I really enjoyed my weekend at Wentworth and never cease to be inspired by the tutors and fellow students, it is thrilling to hear the many different styles and imaginings.
Back home in Coventry I belong to the Writers Hub, run by our wonderful inspiration Jo Roberts, who never fails to encourage and enlighten.
I continue to dream and plot and plant the roots of stories that one day will bare fruit.
I am presently developing a freelance Mindfulness training business, and plan to use my Facebook page to write about wellbeing and story telling.
It’s just a baby now, so a fairly clean slate, but you can contact me at @franflint55
Frances A. Flint
[Date as postmark]
I like flying and aeroplanes. I like oily, wiry, stringy, canvassy, deafening, gale-force,
shiny, metallic, aerofoils. I like being windblown, smelling leather, being goggled, in cloud-torn
skies, winged, floating, banking, zooming, turning, soaring and diving. I like roaring, lifting,
sailing, thrusting, looping, making contrails, through cumulus, reaching the stratosphere. I also quite
like landing, safely.
May I be a pilot with your airline ?
(Name and address withheld)
As a child I was fascinated by insects, dinosaurs, books, aeroplanes, poetry and steam engines. Nothing changes! But since the 1990s I've had a passion for dragonflies, especially photographing them. I was involved in the Dragonfly Sanctuary, the Dragonfly Museum and the Dragonfly Project at Wicken Fen prior to joining the Board of Trustees of the British Dragonfly Society in 2006.
My paid career took me into telecomms and project management, but after 45 years I figured it was time to throw in the towel, so I retired in 2015 and started to renew my interest in writing, among other things. After taking a creative writing course in 2016 I now dabble in short stories and poetry and hope to self-publish my first book soon. Peterborough Writers’ Group and The National Association of Writers’ Groups are a great support and I have made many new friends, especially at Wentworth and the Festival at Warwick Uni.
Note from Editor: I really hope you’ve enjoyed this batch of letters and also finding out a little about the people behind the words. A hearty thank you to those who have participated so far. The next post will be the final one in this series so I suppose I had better dig out my letter. It will appear alongside the fabulous contribution by Jacky Pemberton and I am also hoping for Hester to pull her finger out (nudge, nudge).
In the meantime I am always hoping for new subscribers to my list for blog updates so please do fill out the box on the upper right hand side if you are interested. Each new subscriber keeps me going. I can be found on Facebook under many different guises but my writing page is @bmkeeling and my literary gift shop is @candelabracrafts.
Well this is no ordinary blog post. This is the first in a series of three special posts in which I have the privilege of publishing the collective works of the merry band of writers, of which I was one, who attended a workshop by Leonora Rustamova at Wentworth in May. The Wentworth weekend is organised by The National Association of Writers' Groups and you can read my post on the entire weekend HERE.
The workshop took place on the Sunday morning of the retreat. There were around 15 of us in attendance and we engaged in two writing exercises. We each read out our pieces and there was some great work there. It’s amazing how words can just tumble onto a page one minute and then dry up the next. On this particular day, the words were tumbling, cascading and even pirouetting from our pens and onto the paper. As these little gems were being read out and we were laughing and clapping each other along, it struck me that so many such pieces are produced in workshops and then stuffed into a notebook or file, never to be seen again. When Leonora voiced what I was thinking, I knew what I had to do - I had to publish these literary saplings, together, as a consolidated piece of work by the Wentworth Writers. There are, though, too many words for one single post so I’m splitting it into three.
This is the first.
Actually it was a copy of a letter penned by Hollywood screenwriter, Robert Pirosh, in 1934. He ditched his job as a copywriter in New York and moved to Hollywood. But he needed to get his foot in the door in a city full of people all trying to get their extremities into the same aperture. So what did he do? He sent out his c.v. attached to one of the most effective cover letters ever written. I would dearly love to reproduce it here but I am uncertain of its copyright status, although it can be read on the Guardian’s website by clicking HERE.
If you have a spare few minutes and have any interest in writing, or indeed job application letters (!), I urge you to take a look. It will also make sense of the pieces which follow. The letter is unconventional and breaks many rules of etiquette but perfectly demonstrates the writer’s suitability for the screenwriting job in question.
Our task was to write an application letter in the same vein, although we sought only to emulate the style of writing; clearly we could not achieve the same thing as Pirosh given that none of us were seeking to use the medium of a letter to inherently demonstrate our suitability for a job involving words...
This is what we produced. Bear in mind that these pieces were written in 15 minutes and have not been reworked.
First up is Anne. Please take a deep breath, relax your shoulders and absorb her beautiful words.
I like art. I like to see through the eyes of others.
I like rough, elemental sketches, lush huge canvases of people and places, and every art form in between.
I like to be taken aback by a scene reduced to sparse lines and a view suggested by mere smears of colours juxtaposed to take me to a place I have seen, or one I would love to see.
I like the intricate building of a landscape or cityscape in such exquisite detail that makes it impossible to take in the the view in one viewing.
I like to be outraged by a picture that represents a person or a place in a way foreign to me, I like the conversation evoked.
I like to be taken aback by superb skills and to be blown over by the deceptively child-like simplicity of some work.
I like to return and return to a picture to learn more and yet more.
I love Hockney and Rembrandt and Van Gogh and Andy Goldsworthy and Dan Viola, and am unreasonably excited by a very small child’s first recognisable drawing.
I need to read so that I can live more lives than mine. I need to visit art works for the very same reason.
Please let me work in your wonderful gallery.
I called my collection of poetry and photographs ‘Casting for Words’ as that is what I seem to spend so much time doing. Finding the best word I can. Reading is an essential part of my life and a wonderful source of ideas and...words.
Photographs help capture the moment and can sometimes illustrate a poem.
My book should soon be available.
Holmfirth Writers’ Group and The National Association of Writers’ Groups are a wonderful support and I value both as great friendship groups.
I doodle as I listen. It really does concentrate my mind.
Just whatever I have in my hand.
I once drew a jazz group on a Sunday paper. In biro. It drew me into the music.
Leonora shared some brilliant letters and asked us to write letters of application.
Above is my plea for a dream job.
I really want it now...
I like photographs.
I like grainy, vivid, high definition, monochrome photographs that are splashed across newspapers to show the dramas of the world.
I like glossy, ten-by-eight fashion photos. All soft filters and luxurious colours draping across magazines.
I like surreal abstractions of fantasy worlds - of fish driving cars and twenty-foot dragonflies - constructed lovingly in photographic enlargers and appearing in a dish full of developer, waiting to be fixed and hung out to dry.
Man Ray was the way to go, and we all followed. Today Photoshop will create his images in seconds, with the same impact but without the heart and soul.
I like pixel heavy super-images, filling walls of galleries, skin pores standing out in twenty-foot masterpieces. Photo realism as never before.
But I am a traditionalist. I like the tug of 35mm film as you wind it on to the next frame, huddling in darkened cupboards struggling to find the top of a developing tank, sitting in the soothing glow of a safety light 100% absorbed in the physicality of processing film.
Which probably means I don’t want your job and would rather lock myself away in the peace and quiet of a darkroom.
When I left school I got a job in a textile mill. I saved my wages so I could buy a Zenith SLR camera, an enlarger, developing tank and processing trays. Using blackout material to cover the windows (donated by the mill I worked at) I then spent many hours taking over the bathroom and developing black and white photographs. This became an obsessive hobby for many years, and I loved watching the images slowly appear in the developer - almost like magic.
Time moves on, teaching took up much of my time, and today I have a digital camera, downloading the images into a computer - but nothing matches the excitement of being shut away in a darkroom, sitting under a red safety lamp and being totally absorbed in the creative process.
I like travelling. I like travelling Europe. I like travelling the world. I like travelling to challenging countries.
I really like Arizona cacti. I like their round, plump, spiny, succulent parts, their delicate flowers that turn into edible fruits is some cases giving us cactus jelly and bonbons. I like the dear little elegant cactus wren who builds her home in a cactus void. I like the fact that the Saguaro blooms after midnight and closes mid-afternoon.
I like Africa and Africans especially the strong African women. I am fascinated by the dusty, curry smelling unkempt streets; loud African music bellowing out from doorways, street parties and buxom women clad and swathed in intoxicatingly vivid fabrics. I like the colour, shape, smells and textures of Africa. I like the fresh fruit and veg markets and constant chatter and battering.
I like United Arab Emirates for its indescribable heat, gold sculptured sand dunes and dune buggies, camel trains and Bedouin camps. I like the tailors, beauty parlours and the outrageous fun of visiting the grog shop. I like the smell of a shisha bar, pungent coffee houses and real hummus.
I like my travels to Europe for the rich fabric of culture. I like the beaches salty air, seaweed, beach combing and the sound ofebbing and waning of these beaches of paradise. I like watching the glorious sunsets and magnificent sunrises; clifftop walks and the flora and fauna. I like the city sights as well as remote country escapes.
I like all these destinations for their culture, diversity, life, people, food and of course a good glass of wine or a delicious cocktail.
I like travel writing and travel photography much better than social work.
Is there an amazing and exotic destination your delightful magazine would like me to visit and review?
My passport is current and ready to go.
Elaine is a talented textile and mixed media artist and creative writer living in West Yorkshire and working from her beautiful studio set in the Yorkshire Dales. Elaine recently had a solo exhibition of her textile work at Artsmill Hebden Bridge depicting her recovery of domestic abuse through fabric and stitch. She currently lectures part time at the University of Huddersfield. Elaine is a member of the Hebden Bridge Writers Group and the National Association of Writers' Groups (NAWG) and attends the Wentworth Writing Retreat annually. Elaine is currently writing two memoirs. You can follow her on Instagram: elaine_hook_textile_artist Twitter: @hooks_n_threads Facebook: Elaine Hook Textile & Mixed Media Artist Website: www.elainehookeducationconsultancy.com Email: email@example.com
The Gang - this is us doing the exercise...
I've loved putting this post together and, happily for me, there's more to come. Watch this space (or, even better, sign up for email updates). This blog is small but these words deserve to be read so please help by sharing with your friends.
It couldn't have come at a better or worse time!
I really was ready for a break and was so looking forward to meeting up with people who wanted to talk about reading, writing and, as it turns out, dragonflies, space exploration and football but then Liverpool FC went and got into the Champions League final and I had to travel back on Saturday night to watch the match before returning for breakfast at the retreat on Sunday.
That's enough said about the football but, on the plus side, I was forced to finally drive on the motorway and I did it four times in three days.
Anyone who knows me will appreciate what a big achievement that was. Whoop!
On Saturday, professional writer and all-round good-guy, Marvin Close, ran a short workshop designed to get our creative juices going. It's all very relaxed and some people headed to the library rather than the workshop, others attended to their own work whilst sitting in the workshop and the rest of us did Marvin's exercises (writing - not physical!) which were perfectly pitched to get us thinking, and in a good frame of mind to then work on our own material in the afternoon. Marvin was available after lunch for one-to-one sessions, providing advice and assistance with whatever writing-related issue we wanted to discuss with him. He is a great person to be around - always encouraging, enthusiastic and ready with good, experienced advice, I wish I could have him on speed-dial for whenever the doubts hit me.
After the walk I managed a couple of hours of writing before a quick dinner and a drive home.
Shame about the football.
So this little blog has been abandoned lately. I've had good reason but I'm back now and want to breathe new life into it. Give it a Spring clean. Get going again. And I'm going to start off with a look at what I've been reading since my last post.
For a while I was reading books, novels mostly, which I just didn't like very much. I began to think I'd lost my love of reading. I was wondering whether my efforts in learning how to construct a story had resulted in me subconsciously deconstructing and evaluating everything I was reading. It was annoying and upsetting as reading has always been a safe haven for me. Something I could always rely on to distract and absorb me for a while. And if I ate a box of chocolates at the same time, what of it?
I gave it some thought and carefully put together a Christmas wish list of books I had wanted to read for a while but hadn't got around to. I also bought myself three novels and, by January, I had a new pile of books to read.
Fortunately, they got me going again. My interests and genres are varied but I decided to largely go with historical mysteries. I missed that feeling of devouring a series by the same author, the excitement of reading a book where I was already attached to the characters or the period and so didn't need to put in as much effort upfront. And it worked. I've read more than I had in the months before and, most importantly, I'm enjoying it again.
So here are the books that got my reading mojo back for me:
1. The Thomas Chaloner series set in Restoration London (circa 1660's) by Susannah Gregory
There are 12 books in this series and I can't wait to read them all. Oh - and they have maps!
For more of a flavour, head over to the author's website where she sets out each title in order and gives plot teasers: https://www.susannagregory.com/thomas-chaloner/
2 Thomas Hawkins series by Antonia Hodgson
I read these books in the wrong order. I began with 'A Death at Fountains Abbey' then went back to the beginning. My review of the third in the series can be found here: http://bit.ly/2zdwgHn. I have found the other two books to be consistently good. Excellent, to be honest. Here is another talented writer who can weave together wonderful mysteries, great characters and a fabulous period setting. The books are shorter than the Thomas Chaloner series, reviewed above, and the pace is certainly brisker but I find that they actually compliment each other well and I have been happily switching between the two series. The stories take place around 60 or 70 years later than the Chaloner books. The first is primarily set in the Marshalsea - a debtors' prison with two sides - one for gentlemen and one for, well, everyone else. The story takes you to both parts and, be warned, does not spare the reader any of the horrific details. I loved it, though. The characters and the plot develop quickly and the setting is meticulously researched and cleverly brought to life. The writing-style is so good it is hard to believe it is a first novel and certainly sets the bar very high for the rest of us. I'm currently only half-way through the second but enjoying it immensely and could happily finish it in one sitting, if I ever had the time.
This is one of those rare series where I will be waiting for the next one to come out and will buy it immediately.
3 The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor
This has been on my list for ages. I'd seen so many recommendations that I had to give it a go. I've never read anything else by this author and this book is not part of a series. I'm really glad I read it. I thought I was going to struggle at first as it is set at the same time as the Susannah Gregory book I had just finished reading and it was disconcerting at first. Of course this is entirely down to me and nothing to do with the book or the writer.
It was an easy book to read. Well written and really interesting, The details of the fire of London are fascinating and I felt as though I was being taken as close as is possible without a time machine, to the obliteration of London at that time. For this reason it is a book I will always remember reading.
I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been expecting something different. The strap line on the cover: 'As the city burns, the hunt for a killer begins' made me think I was going to read a thriller-type novel but it was much slower than that. I would go as far as to say it was more of a character piece than a mystery. I was a little surprised to find out that the author is an experienced crime writer as it just wasn't the main focus of this book. Having said that, it had many excellent points and is a good, expertly-written piece of historical fiction.
When plotting a story, we are frequently advised not to rely too heavily on coincidence – the reader must not be cheated; he or she must be led, carefully yet often unwittingly, through a series of events which come together to form a plot. Said plot should, apparently, follow a generally accepted structure of crisis points, resolutions and thematic arcs. What we should not do is make our characters behave in an unbelievable way, stumble through coincidental events or allow something so outlandish to happen that the reader is alienated and throws down the book in disgust.
However... we have all heard stories (have we not?) of real-life events which would break these rules if incorporated into our fictitious plots. Clearly if the writing is of non-fiction then that is excellent news; it probably means that the subject matter we have chosen will make a rollicking read. Also, I am a firm believer that rules are made to be broken, in certain circumstances at least. I can think of many stories where ridiculously unbelievable things happen and, somehow, the writer manages to pull it off. Yet there are undoubtedly situations where using an event, or series of events, which occurred in real life in a fictitious piece just won’t work because the reader would be left saying that just wouldn’t happen. Whilst our response could justifiably be well, dear reader, it did! that just won’t cut it if it does not feel honest to the person you are trying to engage with.
I can recall a fair few training courses and writing workshops where, in group discussion, plot points have been shot down as being too unrealistic only for the writer to declare that it had in fact actually happened. It’s always interesting and it always makes me reflect, particularly as the past year has seen me writing and editing four non-fiction books about incredible, heroic, moving, dastardly and quite unbelievable events, a few of which would have been dismissed as absurd had they been incorporated into a work of fiction. By way of example, meet Henry Brown, a 19th century American slave who escaped to freedom – by post! After thirty three years of living his life in chains in Louisa County, Virginia, Henry claimed to have received a heavenly vision which told him to mail himself to a place where there were no slaves. Probably born of desperation, it is still completely bonkers and a truth which is, I think, stranger than much fiction (although I feel that I should point out that I am currently reading Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams).
The four volumes are packed with inspirational stories if you are looking for an idea for a piece of writing. Putting them together had my mind racing as I began to imagine how I would tell their stories or include them, disguised, within my own plot. Just make sure you don’t come up with something so crazy no one will believe you!!
Here’s hoping you had a great Christmas and that Santa brought you all of the books you asked for.
Happy New Year,
If you are starting to think about Christmas presents, I've a few new items added to my stock and I've also been experimenting with discount codes and Paypal buttons!
I hope you like them! £8 each plus p&p.
I love most types of fiction - crime, mystery, fantasy. Oh, and historical fiction of course and middle-grade books and, well, you get the picture.
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