Rethinking my use of language

Lois recently attended an excellent poetry workshop, which gave her much food for thought:

I’m very fortunate to have as a friend Macaque, a very, very talented poet. Yesterday he gave a poetry workshop for a small group of us which  not only had interesting and quite challenging  exercises, but made me rethink my use of language – not just when I try to write poetry, but in everything I write. I am so driven by character and narrative, pushed along by the story and images in my mind, that I sometimes… well, quite often, actually, neglect my audience and don’t pay enough attention to the medium of my writing rather than the content. I guess I’ve got into bad habits!

In one of the exercises Macaque asked us to give him ten words that occurred to us off the top of our heads, as a group, when we thought about war. We came up with what anyone might say – I think the list was death, terror, pain, sacrifice, mutilation, hatred, oppression, blood, power, and  tyranny. Having made it, he challenged us to write a poem without using any of them! Thinking about it afterwards I realised that was such an excellent exercise before embarking on any piece of writing.

I continually puzzle over how best to tell the stories my dad told me – not very many of them, about his time in the parachute regiment during the second world war… how to put into words the few experiences he shared. He told us very little about the actual fighting, but concentrated on the strange, or funny, or peculiar things he had experienced. I’d never thought to try and convey these second-hand memories through a poetic form. However, in the workshop I tried to pull a couple of these together into poems for the exercise Macaque had set.

The ‘work’ we did wasn’t meant to be a finished product, but just a first working, a rough sketch of our ideas. I’m looking forward to playing around with words now to try and convey something of experiences a young man had  over eighty years ago. I’m not sure I will write actual poems, but I have some ideas now.

You can read Macaque’s poetry here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Palimpsest-Ghosts-Collected-Poems-Macaque/dp/1979720266

 

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Five strawberries on your head

Lois turns to technology  to solve her problem with unreadable handwriting:

A writing friend recommended an app for my phone which allows jottings and notes and can include photos, maps, calendar etc. It was developed for people who are beginning to lose their memory, but for a writer it’s a great way to jot down observations, thoughts and inspiration, better than a notebook and pen for those of us with terrible handwriting! However, coming back to some of my jottings, I’m not exactly sure what I meant even though I can read it – despite misspellings and not so helpful predictive text.

I shared some before, but here’s an update:

  • a beard of hipsters
  • eccentric lady wears Faberge opal and diamond white gold broach, made in Imperial Russia, on her felt hat
  • the ninth child
  • the old man waiting in his garden, drinking his tea, eating his sandwich
  • lost in a bookshop, rows and rows of shelves, up and down staircases
  • the artist who only paints necks, inside elbows, backs of knees
  • five strawberries on your head
  • contextual but crisp
  • i live in a small village and there are a lot of single women and they become targets for single men and weirdos
  • a lifetime fascination with spanners and tightening nuts and bolts. I used to go through my spanners regularly, just checking they’re all there
  • when I was children
  • Devrim

Some of them I have no clue about, why I wrote them or what i thought I would do with them… but at least, thanks to the app, I know where I was when I wrote them!

Easthope and the real Middle Hope

Lois writes:

Many of my novels, including my Radwinter series, are set in a fictional area of an unspecified north facing coast. The main town which features is the totally imaginary Easthope, through which runs the River Hope. Further along the coast is a much smaller place, maybe awaiting development, Westope. Although I live by the sea in a small village a mile south of the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare, Easthope is not inspired by this coastline, this town, or anything around here. The original visual inspiration was the Causeway Coast in the north of Ireland, the name I took from an inspiring teacher I had.

What I didn’t think of when I chose the name was that on the other side of Western, at the north end of the next bay along, Sand Bay, is Sand Point, and an area of great geological inters, called called Middle Hope!  Originally the land between Sand Point and the southern promontory was mainly marshy and very wet, and even further back in time, was under the sea. There used to be a large area of sandy beach and then mud washed in from the estuary of the Rivers Severn and Avon. Now cord grass has taken root and slowly the bay is filing with herbage.

Middle Hope itself is, according to Wikipedia

sequence of carboniferous limestone is exposed, which includes thick volcanic tuffs and lavas, demonstrating Tournaisian carbonate sections. The site contains a Pleistocene-aged fossil cliff and shore platform. These features have led to the designation of Middle Hope as a regionally important geological site (RIGS). The raised beach of wave-cut platforms has been created by changes in sea level of the Bristol Channel since the Quaternary period. The arrangement of volcanic and sedimentary rocks, including the Black Rock Limestone, illustrates the events of 350 million years ago. The strata have been tilted and compressed during the variscan orogeny

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sand_Point_and_Middle_Hope

I guess with many writer who make-things up – i.e. write fiction, sometimes there is a coincidental likeness to a real thing or person or event,  Sometimes names which have been invented turn out to belong to real people or places without any idea of copying or using an actual subject.

In the case of Easthope and Middle Hope, one is a sleepy, old-fashioned, seaside town, the other is a geological feature! My view is across Sand Bay from Middle Hope.

You can find my books, including our latest Dragon anthology, Weyr Over the West, here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=lois+elsden&crid=2E5KR50C51DVR&sprefix=lois+elsd%2Caps%2C272&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_9

PS our image features our two dragons Eorðdraca and Fýrdraca!

Anything is possible

Anything, literally anything is possible… when you write!! In your writing you can be anything you want to be, an astronaut, a channel swimmer, the head of a royal family, a foot soldier in the Mongol hoards.

This is how I first began to write, when i was very young, I would imagine ‘adventures’ where i was able to do all the things a young child couldn’t do. This continued throughout my childhood and most of my day-dreams were adventures, but gradually they incorporated not characters from the comics and books I read, or the programmes I heard on the radio, but people I had seen, real people who I didn’t know but imagined. Often they were actors in films, or members of bands but sometimes they were people I saw in town, or girls I didn’t know at school.

As i got older, the main character in what had become proper stories, was usually a version of myself, a person I’d like to be, taller, slimmer, stronger, braver, but often in very loose situations with a lack of family or friends so the character was free to do what they wanted without any responsibilities.

The first complete novel I wrote was actually from the point of view of a man – a young man who’d left home at eighteen and ended up working in a bar inn the south of France. He met up with a brother, sister and brother’s girl-friend, became involved with them and at the end of the season went back to England to the farm where they lived with their father and uncle. None of them had any jobs, none, apart from the waiter had any income, they just floated!

The next novel was of a young woman from a very wealthy family, so again there was no job, she just wandered about doing what ever she fancied… It was very naive and looking back on it initially I thought it self-indulgent imaginings, but now I think it was all part of the process – or my process of learning to write. My next attempt was actually much better, much tighter and the main female character worked as a translator – so it did give her freedom to do whatever the plot dictated, but she was anchored in some sort of reality. Other characters also had ‘real jobs’, a doctor, a policeman, a company director…

I don’t think I will ever do anything with these stories, although aspects of them might crop up in something I write in the future. My first ‘proper’ novel which I keep toying with the idea of rewriting, was about a family whose farm had diversified into renting buildings as small businesses. The main character is a professional artist (I know plenty of those so she is based in reality) and it’s about what happens when her step-father dies and leaves his property to her step-brothers and her.

I began to have ideas about narrative rather than character… so far everything I’d written had been about people relating to each other – not romantically necessarily, although that was usually an aspect of it, reflecting my age I guess! I began to have different ideas; I was interested in stalkers and stalking which can be a terrifying experience, and I began to think about someone who turned the tables on a stalker and began to pursue them… I also had an idea of a person living two lives, of juggling two different situations… and eventually that became the story of a person who finds their partner was already married when they married them, turning it round from the bigamist to the victim.

These books were eventually written and are now available on Amazon; once I gave up the day job I was free to write all day every day, and I caught up with the bigamist, the stalker, and other half-written stories – a man suffering from PTSD who may or may not be a killer, a family who falls apart after the death of a controlling grandma, an unexpected love affair which leads to violence…

And then… and then I began to write the Radwinter stories, which started with the name and a rough idea of four brothers… and led to six novels, the seventh just being finished off!

If you haven’t yet read my novels, here’s a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=lois+elsden&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

You won’t find the wealthy young girl, the translator or the waiter from the South of France… I don’t think they will see the light of a reading lamp!

Writers in Stone

It’s nearly eighteen months ago now that a group of writers, including our dragons Brimdraca and Earðdraca met up in the Old Town Quarry in Weston-super-Mare; some were friends from other writing and reading groups others were strangers, soon-to-be-friends. They wanted to meet together to help get going with writing, to give  a kick up the metaphorical pants, to meet people to talk about writing as well as doing the graft. It was a beautiful sunny day and with suitable refreshments from the Rowan Tree Tea-room, they began to pull their ideas together. Their name came from the stone walls of the quarry which surrounded them, but were subtitled  Kick up the A**e Writers… they’re a down to earth and practical gang!

They relocated from the quarry to The Bay, a seafront café and  have been meeting monthly and in-between ever since. When they reviewed what they had achieved over the first year, someone suggested an anthology… and now, they are delighted to announce that an anthology has appeared. It’s entitled ‘Driftwood’ as that was one of the first topics they wrote about. This is the blurb:

This wonderful anthology covers the first year of the Writers in Stone writing group, with contributions from individual members on each of the monthly topics. Thirteen themes are tackled in the diverse styles of nine members, including poetry and prose, and ranging from sci-fi and fantasy pieces to macabre thrillers with a twist, and beautiful pastoral observations. These exciting and engaging writers each have a distinct style, and the joy of reading this anthology comes in discovering how differently they have approached the same topics. This is a book to return to time and again for lovers of short stories and poetry.

You will be amazed and delighted at the variety of stories in this book… you could buy it for yourself and it would also make a wonderful gift! They are an assortment of people and writers and poets and there is something for every taste. You may have read Brimdraca’s contributions before, The entrance lock to the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal, Cherry and Glory Pride and The Three Mummers. If you want to read the other really excellent writers, then you need to go here:

http://Driftwood: An Anthology (Writers in Stone) by Writers in Stone https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1798740311/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_U_x_mtRXCbN303RA1 via @AmazonUK

 

More moments of change

Lois shares some more moments of change:

For one of my writing groups the next topic is to write something about five events which changed the course of your life, possibly little things, possibly seemingly insignificant things. I don’t think the idea is about passing or failing exams, or having a successful or unsuccessful interview, I think it’s supposed to be thinking of those seemingly insignificant things which are the seed of something monumental later. I guess it’s that butterfly flapping its wing in the ancient forest.

So what might be my five things include? I’ve thought of three… a book I read when I was a child when the narrative perspective changed, hearing a song I’d not come across by a group I didn’t know, played by  my husband’s band, and answering the phone while thinking of something else.

So to the last two moments of insignificance which had profound effect.

  • To be honest it did seem a big thing at the time, but I never dreamed the consequences which would ensue from a decision made by someone else. When we were at the end of the first year of secondary school we had to choose an option: German, Spanish, Latin or Domestic Science. I made my choice in that order; I passionately wanted to learn German and I’d already started to learn lists of vocabulary I’d found somewhere. However it was decided I should take Latin ‘as I wasn’t any good at spelling’. I actually was good at spelling, just careless, and even if I had been what a ridiculous reason! I tried my best I really did, but I was off school for six weeks with glandular fever a few weeks into the term and I never really caught up. Our teacher was a dear old thing, but ancient – she’d been old when she taught my aunty when she was at the same school thirty years previously.
    I worked so hard at Latin, harder than any other subject, but I didn’t even fail it – the head teacher wouldn’t allow me to take it even though I had really improved when I new teacher arrived. Because I didn’t have Latin, in those days most universities required it to take an English degree… I didn’t get into any university even though I had three quite good A-levels… instead I got into Manchester Polytechnic, which changed my life! I lived there for over twenty years, and in the area for many more… I made the best friends, met my husband, had my children… none of which would have happened if I had taken German!
  • The last of my five moments is more subtle, and I’m not even sure I can explain it very well. I was always brought up to believe I was equal to anybody, free to choose what I wanted to do and it didn’t matter that I was a girl. Even so, society was quite different then and there were expectations that girls should behave in certain ways, and even like certain things. There was much more pressure to conform to the norm. I saw an advert in the Sunday magazine; it was for Guinness. There was a stunning dark-haired woman with dark eyes – most ads had blonds with blue eyes, she was slim not curvy, and she had long a white sleeveless dress, maybe with black featuring. She had her back to the viewer and was looking over her  shoulder with an amused challenging look. Her hair was cut short and looked glossy and smooth.
    I was always quite chunky, because of all the swimming I did and training I was very strong with broad shoulders. I also had short very dark hair – short because of the swimming, and short because I liked it.  This woman was a model and I could never be her shape, but I could aspire to the look, the challenging, non-conforming look. However, it was the caption, which I can only vaguely remember but id did make a big impact… it was something like, ‘Do you like your olives black?’ Drink Guinness’
    This woman was obviously going drink Guinness… which in those days, the days of Babycham and sweet martini, was unheard of. She was going to do what she wanted.
    I’m sure I’ve misremembered some of the details,but that’s the essential…I wonder if I can find that advert?

 

Moments of change

Lois shares some thoughts on moments which changed the course of her life:

For one of my writing groups the next topic is to write something about five events which changed the course of your life, possibly little things, possibly seemingly insignificant things. I don’t think the idea is about passing or failing exams, or having a successful or unsuccessful interview, I think it’s supposed to be thinking of those seemingly insignificant things which are the seed of something monumental later. I guess it’s that butterfly flapping its wing in the ancient forest.

So what might be my five things include? I’ve thought of three… in no particular order of importance or significance:

  • Norman and Henry Bones, Norman and Henry Bones. The two young cousins had a series of adventures which were broadcast on ‘Children’s Hour’ some time in the 1950’s; these radio plays may have been written by Norman Painting, best known as the radio drama character, Phil Archer. Whether they were based on the books, or whether the books were written after the success of the programmes I have no idea. It seems the books by Anthony Clifford Wilson, were published in 1953, but I don’t know when I read them. I must have been quite young, but I was reading the story, no doubt written in the manner of the time. There had been some action involving the boys and the scene changed and it wasn’t about the cousins but something else. I was startled and confused. Was it another story? Had I misread something? And then I realised that the narrative view had changed. It was all part of the story, but this time it wasn’t being written from the boys point of vies, but some unknown all-seeing narrative voice, I suddenly realised that when you write stories you can play about with the point of view, and how the action is perceived and from where – or even who. You can tell it made an impact on me, I remember it still so vividly! Not the story which involved a helicopter, but the way it was written.
  • My husband has been involved in performing music since he was about nine, when he accompanied his dad who played the piano in various pubs, on a small drum kit. He has been in bands, groups, trios, pit orchestras, brass bands, jazz quartets, swing bands.. you name it he has probably been involved – pantomimes even! When we were first married he joined a rock band and they played a variety of cover versions of well-known songs; they were brilliant, all of them so talented, and I vicariously found a lot of new music through listening to their versions. There were a couple of numbers by a band I didn’t know who for some reason I thought was Welsh. When we moved away and he had to leave the band I looked up this band and borrowed a coupe of their albums from the library… I fell in love… I was hooked, enchanted, bewitched, smitten. That band was the Mavericks and through my love of their music I’ve travelled all round the country to see them perform, Cardiff, Birmingham, Oxford, Bristol, Glasgow, Belfast, Liverpool, Plymouth… and I have made friends who now are some of my closest and dearest.
  • I was working on my Masters, focusing completely on what I was writing. The phone rang, and hardly thinking what I was doing because I was involved in my work,, I picked it up. A colleague from school was asking if I’d like to go out for a drink, and I inadvertently said yes… I put down the phone, cross with myself for being such an idiot… I didn’t want to go out, I had work to do… but on the other hand, I knew he liked beer, and I liked beer so at least we’d probably go to a decent pub… Nearly thirty years and two children later, I often chuckle at the thought that I might not have answered the phone!