Formatting as a book motivated me to work again on my ‘long’ (for me) story – shelved before last summer. That was the subject of my previous post. But it’s still not that easy.

What is slowing me down now is research, though internet makes that easier than it was in the past. I am firmly of the belief that setting a story in a location you do not know well is to invite scorn from readers who do know it well. I remember reading a much-followed blogger’s self-published novel set in Paris and it rapidly became clear to me that he had never been there or if he had only on a brief superficial visit (I have been several times but not enough to set a novel there). You might get away with it for a small anonymous town but Paris, never. Of course writers of fantasy might not have this problem but it is not a genre I enjoy so never read it.

(As an aside, if you do intend to make a visit to Paris in the near future be sure to read a post from Charlotte Hoather, a young soprano whose blog I have been following for a few years. She’s not a travel writer but it’s the best bit of travel writing I have read! I was tempted to jump on the next plane to the French capital.

1960s/70s London

Back to my story, working title ‘Miranda’. It is set in 1960s/70s London, when and where I not only lived and worked but became caught up in the several cultures rife at the time. So why do I need to research?

I’ll give two examples. Even with internet researching just these two things are taking a lot of time.

An important event in the story is when Miranda is taken to Covent Garden to see Nureyev dance with Margot Fonteyn. It was an actual, special, historic performance. I was at it (alone!) but I couldn’t remember the exact date; important for the sequence of the story to make sense.

What is more, for the occasion I wanted Miranda to wear a dress based on one designed I think maybe by Givenchy for Audrey Hepburn, a dress I could ‘see’ even after about 60 years. I had to be sure that the dress appeared before the Covent Garden event. I’ve not yet nailed this one so if any fashion buffs recognise the dress let me know please. It was gold, long with a short train and had little ‘droplets’ decorating the front.

Of course I, as a former journalist, enjoy the research and it leads me to many ‘unnecessary’ (from the point of view my story) but fascinating discoveries. It’s easy to lose a day, or more. And I have.

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Temporary cover and the start of ‘Chapter 5’.

Stuck on your ‘big story’ in progress? I may have found the answer to get you going again.

Don’t leave it formatted as a manuscript, format it as a book. The motivation to finish it is difficult to resist.

It’s not difficult to do: to get it near enough to a paperback just set an A4 page as landscape and make it two columns. Choose a book-suitable typeface, though Times (default for many people) will be fine. Start each chapter on a new column, about 1/3 down the page, and put a centred chapter heading over it,

et voilá

If you can make a front cover then the motivation becomes even stronger, but it’s not necessary. I did, as in picture, as it’s not difficult for me after many years formatting magazines, newspapers and brochures, though never books.

Novella or novel?

I cannot guarantee it will work for you of course but it has certainly worked for me. The characters are just clammering to be heard. They are suggesting perhaps a further six to eight ‘chapters’ which, with completing a few of the current 14 ‘chapters’ as yet unfinished will, I reckon, take the word count from the current 21,800 to around 40,000, so more novella than novel. But who knows?

If you want to submit to a publisher then you’ll have to go back to industry standard manuscript but that’s no problem of course.

If I do finish it I’ll decide then whether I think I can ‘sell it’ to a publisher and maybe have a shot; multiple rejections wouldn’t bother me. Self publishing doesn’t interest me. At least, not for now


The few words, related in ‘Chapter 5’ by the male protagonist, with the fairly appropriate photo for the female protagonist, Miranda, perhaps give a flavour of the story (tap the image to enlarge enough to read the words). I’ve avoided the ‘spicier’ passages. You’ll also see part of one of several observations from a narrator who butts in from time to time.

The picture I ‘borrowed’ from The Daily Mirror’s 1969 campaign ‘Save the mini’. The model’s real name was Julie I believe.

No children today (children’s film next door) but an attentive older audience. ‘Props’ for one storyteller on the floor.

In my previous post I said that I was writing a story for children, to be read as my contribution to what is becoming a regular presentation by our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, in Ilkley public library – each autumn, winter and spring. Our latest ‘spring’ presentation was earlier today.

As with so many of my stories, this one was ‘inspired’ by a post on one of the blogs I follow; the recent post related how a Latvian family, with three young sisters, had been ‘puzzling’ over a weekend. This story was, as usual and as I explained in my previous post, related to me by the  characters; all I did was write it down.


The Magical Spring Garden

That’s part of a crocus,” Melanie said.

I don’t think so, I think it’s part of a daffodil, in fact I’m sure it’s from a daffodil,” Lizzie said firmly. Lizzie, Melanie’s elder sister, was always sure of everything.

Daffdill, daffdill,” shouted Jilly, at two and a bit the youngest of the three sisters and always willing to back up her oldest sister.

Well I think it’s a bit of a crocus,” Melanie muttered grumpily.

Please don’t argue about it, just try to do the puzzle nicely and quietly.” The girls’ mum was used to these squabbles when the girls did something together, often ending in a fight, especially if that something was a bit difficult. This jigsaw puzzle was certainly not easy; one thousand pieces and really intended for an adult – or was it? The older sisters were just five and four years old.

The puzzle was about half done, thanks to a lot of help from mum, with parts of it looking just like the beautiful picture on the box but a lot of pieces had no obvious place to go, some of them looking just like another.

Well, I bet you don’t know what this is,” shouted Melanie, holding up another piece which had a complete star-like flower, again bright yellow.

Easy, easy, it’s a buttercup,” cried Lizzie triumphantly, “isn’t it mum?” as she grabbed the piece and held it up.

No sweetheart, this is a Spring picture but buttercups don’t come till the summer. That bright, shiny yellow star is called a celandine. Now girls, please stop quarrelling; I have to go upstairs to do some cleaning and I don’t want to hear a lot of noise or have to come down to stop you fighting. And be careful with that table; it’s a bit rickety.”

Can you tell us again what the picture is called before you go upstairs, please?” asked Melanie.

It’s called ‘The Magical Spring Garden’ and it does look magical doesn’t it, with all those flowers, some trees with half-opened blossom buds and lots of birds. Now, be good while I’m upstairs.”

For a couple of minutes the girls worked quietly but when Melanie tried to fit a piece into somewhere it would not go Lizzie grabbed it from her hand and, as Melanie tried to grab it back, the table tipped and all the pieces were on the floor, most separate, some not the right way up.

Look what you’ve done Melanie!”. Lizzie’s voice, half angry, half sobbing, faded away before her sister could answer, and she pointed at the floor.

The girls watched in complete silence as the pieces began to move, slowly, round and round, slowly, slowly one joining to another. Soon, the puzzle was complete.

That’s why it’s called ‘magical’. I’m going to call mum.” Melanie’s voice was trembling as she spoke, partly wonder, partly fear.

Suddenly, a bluetit in one of the trees flew from a branch and landed on Melanie’s shoulder. “Don’t call your mum, she will come down soon to see why you are all so quiet but this puzzle is only magical for children; adults don’t believe in magic. You just watch.”

Just watch quietly,” a robin, which had flown onto Jilly’s shoulder, whispered in her ear.

Two goldfinches flew to Lizzie’s shoulders, one on each, singing the same beautiful song before saying, together, “We do everything together, we’re oh so sociable, and never quarrel. That’s what you and your sisters should do. It’s much more fun like that. Now watch.”

The sisters, totally silent, watched amazed as one after another the blossom on the cherry trees, white on some, pink on others, red on just one, opened fully to fill the magic garden with colour.

One after another, white, yellow and purple crocuses opened to cover the grass with a rainbow of colours. At the bottom of many trees, the little bright yellow stars of celandines turned their faces to the sun.

Oh I’m going to pick some of those,” shouted Jilly as she began to get down from her chair.

Oh no, you should never pick the flowers. Here you will break the magic; outside, the flowers you pick will die and the others will be very sad. Just enjoy them where they are,” said the robin on Jilly’s shoulder.

Upstairs, just a bit worried she had heard nothing for such a long time, mum moved towards the stairs. Trying to make no noise herself she began to go down.

Downstairs, the girls heard the stairs creak. All of a sudden, with a soft rustling sound like the fluttering of birds’ wings, all the jigsaw pieces flew onto the table, arranging themselves into an almost completed picture of the magic Spring garden, as the birds flew back into the trees. Just a few pieces were not in their places.

Mum stood still as she slowly opened the door to see the girls sitting quietly with an almost completed puzzle . “Good heavens, I’m amazed. See what you can do when you don’t squabble,” she said.

Mum, mum, you’ll never believe what happened,” the sisters shouted together.

And, of course, she didn’t!

Club members reading today: from left, Danish, Romanian, Canadian then – as far as I know – British till, partly Viking he says, at far right.

St Patrick’s Day today and I guess there’ll be a multitude of  blog posts about it. As Ireland is one of my two favourite countries in the 43 I’ve visited, the other is of course Romania, I have to post something, but what? Last year I posted about a wonderful personal experience in the land of fairies. I might have seen a leprechaun on that occasion but I did have rather a lot of Guinness and Irish whisky; I’ll settle for less today.

I am trying to write a ‘fairy story’ today, as our writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) has one of our occasional ‘performances’ in a local library, Ilkley, next Saturday afternoon. Recently we have done it for Spring/Easter, Autumn and Winter/Christmas. It doesn’t have to be a children’s story though it has to be suitable for children. I love writing for them, drawing my inspiration not from the impressive list of Irish story writers but from children I know, daughters of a friend in our village or, on this occasion, and some past, from the daughters of my blogger friend in Latvia. However, back to Ireland … …

Irish writers

It is extraordinary how many Irish writers jump immediately to mind, way disproportionate to the size of this astoundingly beautiful country and people. I just made a list but I’m sure someone will say “what about … …?” I cannot put them, poets, dramatists, short story writers and novelists, in order of preference so I spent a minute putting them in alphabetical order.

Samuel BeckettBrendan BehanRoddy DoyleJohn EnnisOliver GoldsmithSeamus Heaney, James JoyceC. S. LewisLewis MacNeicePatrick McCabeIris MurdochEdna O’BrienLiam O’FlahertyGeorge Bernard ShawBram StokerJonathan SwiftOscar WildeW. B. Yeats.

Personally I’m hard pushed to make such a list for any other nation.

I could, though, make such a list for Romanian poets, they have a language which seems to me perfect for poetry.

Which brings me back to writing and a post earlier today from one of the first bloggers I followed, Romanian; at the time I was struck by how good his written English was and found his writing on writing interesting, which was unusual for me as much as I like to write, reading about writing rarely interests me.

His post today (or rather the one which interested me; he tends to post several times a day, most of which I do not open) is titled ‘Being a writer’ and includes a short video clip of American tv writer Chuck Lorre’s response to being asked for advice to new writers. I’ve never seen one of his sitcoms but what he said hit home:

Write what you love … write what’s real, write what you care about …”

When writing for children I write ‘inspired’ by children I know, so what I write is always based in truth. Those children may not always be entirely ‘real’, though they often are, but my method of writing whether for children or adults is simple: I ‘dream’ of the characters, wait for them to speak to me and write down what they say, do or think. If they don’t speak to me I don’t write, so I cannot follow the advice to write something every day. But as I write for me, with no aspirations to be published more widely than my blog, it doesn’t matter.

PS. Congratulations to the Irish rugby team which beat England today to win their first Grand Slam for 9 years and the third ever.

One of the things I love about WordPress is how a ‘like’ from a previously unknown blogger can take me into new worlds and on paths I’ve not only not explored but never thought about.

So it was that a ‘like’ took me to the Ukraine (I have been there in the real world) and discovered an unlikely blogging couple, Ukrainian/Australian. However, what caught my attention, as someone probably best known in the local writers’ club for writing really short ‘short stories’ – I’m talking of down to 25 words – was that Tatania and Tony write 6 word stories. I just had to have a go, so set myself to write one on the sixth day of each week. Here are my efforts so far.

Friday 2 March:
He walked in, she walked out.

Friday 9 March:
“Shut up”. My fist followed, just in case.


The following story is not so short, about 350 words, but was inspired by a meeting of the writers’ club at which members played around with a ‘story generator’. I left before this so didn’t know the ‘story generator’ was not a computer app but to me that is not the point. I used the occasion to provoke a discussion on the club closed FB group page about using such devices.

I did not use one to generate the following, unless I consider, arrogantly, my brain to be a bit of a story generator. As a journalist I was known for ‘always being able to see the story’.

The Story Generator

That’s a cracking story you wrote. I read it last night – couldn’t put it down.”

Thank you; I wasn’t so sure.” Alan looked at his pal, trying to see in his face whether the admiration was genuine or merely polite.

I wish I could write like you,” Pete continued “I’ve always wanted to write something but I never know where to start.”

Well, if you really fancy writing something why don’t you try a story generator to get you going. It’s a kind of app, some are free. All you do is feed in some words, like names of your characters, what kind of situation they are in – things like that. It’s all prompted so not difficult. Then out comes a basic story for you to work on. It might get you going. I’ll send you a link to a good one.”

Sure enough, when Pete arrived home there was the link in a message from Alan. Forgetting food, he set about answering the prompts.

Name of protagonist?: ‘Pete’ was entered, after a quick diversion to Google to see what the hell protagonist meant.

Come on, come on,” Pete muttered, repeatedly hammering the V key on his ancient computer. Finally he managed to answer the second prompt with ‘Violent’ and the third with ‘Angry’.

Situation?: ‘F’ ‘i’ ‘r ‘e’ was thumped in, accompanied by a tirade of curses directed at the ancient PC.

Second character?: Maybe Alan? No, that’s too easy. I’ll put this bloody thing in he thought as he hammered in ‘Computer’.

§

The young police constable was clearly uncomfortable as he looked around Pete’s room, trying to ignore the smell, a mixture of Sunday roast and acrid smoke, eyes averted from the charred pile on the floor, hardly recognisable as a corpse. “What do you think happened?”, he asked the fire investigation officer.

Well, it looks as though the PC exploded so, overcome by fumes from the old electronics, he couldn’t find his way out. Strange though how the monitor survived intact, working even.” He read aloud the three words on the screen:

Stuff you Pete!”

Women’s Day’ as a protest day is around a hundred years old, International Women’s Day on 8 March is far younger. Far older than either is the tradition of ‘Ziua Femeii’ – Day of the Woman – in Romania. Apart from my ‘feminist’ tendencies, well known to readers of this blog, it has special meaning for me as it was the day I first arrived in Romania. Over the years, particularly as a teacher, I became used to all female teachers staggering home with arms full of bouquets, including Petronela (my wife).

I wanted this year to mark this day in a different way on this blog having in previous years covered all the protests I could think of and the tradition in northern Romania, perhaps only in the Bucovina, of females receiving mărțișori from the men on 8 March, they having given them to the men on 1 March.

Favourite female authors

So I decided to mention one or two of my favourite female authors, two novels I have recently read and one I am awaiting since a blogger friend told me she had finished her second novel.

The Brontë sisters are no surprise as I was born and brought up near ‘the Brontë village’ – Haworth – and went to school even closer, thus being familiar with the Yorkshire moors evoked so well by Emily. She became my favourite of the sisters and later, as a would be writer, I became fascinated with how she evoked the atmosphere of my beloved moors without ever exactly describing them. The whole of her only novel does that, evoke rather than describe I mean. I must mention one of my favourite ‘detective’ writers too, though her only connection with Yorkshire was her infamous ‘disappearance’ to Harrogate, again not too far from my birthplace. Of course I’m referring to Agatha Christie.

Newer literature

Then, to more modern authors, starting with the novel yet to appear. I bought the first volume, ‘Equinox’ (still available on Amazon), of an intended trilogy by my fellow blogger, Kristina Steiner in Slovenia, prompted probably by the fact she was writing a romantic novel from a point of view on equality in a relationship. Anyway, I have great admiration for bloggers who write in a foreign language, English, in her case not only her blog but her novel. I now await the second book in her ‘Alpha series’.

The most read book in my bookcase is written by a woman, for women, “American housewives” the author declared. It’s not fiction. It’s a cookery book which should be familiar to long term readers of this blog – ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’. Despite cooking recipes from this book for 45 years, I was not aware of the film related to it, Julie & Julia, until recently. Via a tortuous route watching that film led me to a review of another book – ‘The Art of Baking Blind’ by Sarah Vaughan – a book based in a way on cooking but not a cookbook. When the review said it was written “by a women for women” I was irritated enough to buy it. Anyway, it’s only 99p on Amazon so worth a punt.

I enjoyed it enough to buy Mrs Vaughan’s ‘new book’, ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ published this year. She didn’t disappoint and I learned a lot about the goings on on the other side of Fleet Street to which I worked, where I often wandered down to the Thames but never got into the innards.

The first book should delight any serious cook if only for the numerous cooking tips for classical recipes peppered among the emotional tensions winding us up. They were reminiscent of Julia Child’s authoritative ‘this is the way to do it’ in ‘Mastering the Art …’.

The obvious diligent research of her subject makes both books fascinating but what I would have expected of a journalist of my era. To find it in a journalist of today makes me want to pick up my pen.

I don’t like flash backs but, a feature of both books, I managed to navigate them without getting too lost. I struggled with so many characters in the first book; I was not alone as one reviewer said they resorted to making lists. I didn’t but I did find myself going back sometimes to clarify.

One feature of both books surprised me as Mrs Vaughan seems to be a happily married family woman with an interesting career path: the women in both books are overall strong women; the men are weak or ineffectual (including a Prime Minister).

Overall, four stars from me for each in my Amazon reviews for a good read.

International Women’s Day greetings

So, on this International Women’s Day I send greetings to all the women I follow or who follow me, especially those with whom I have built a closer than usual blogging relationship. They considerably outnumber the men bloggers. More than that, greetings to all women bloggers; keep up the struggle.

A magical day

Today was my ‘baba’, which won’t mean anything to non Romanians nor sadly to many Romanians but I’ll just say that, choosing to go along with this superstition, today was a great day. Magical snow, a fairy land, this morning, succeeded by a sunny blue sky day. Together with another extraordinary ‘happening’ which took me back a quarter of a century – another post in due course – it’s been quite a day. Basically, it means I should have a good year.

I put my first ‘writing doodle’ up on our writers’ club page and one reaction was that it was “courageous” to put these ‘doodles’ up for examination. I’m not sure about that but I thought I’d begin to put them up on this blog as they have so often been forgotten. They could be useful when I’m bereft of ideas. I’m thinking of making a sub-category under ‘Short stories’ and putting them there. The first one stood as a ‘short short story’. This one is clearly unfinished. You have three options: ignore it, think about how you would finish it, or even ‘nick it’ and finish it. 


I haven’t seen you in here before.”
I hadn’t noticed the person standing next to me until she spoke. I turned to look at her.
“Let me buy you a drink.” My surprise was evident as she continued, “You look sad.”
I could not prevent my look wandering from the soft brown eyes to the rest of this beautiful young woman, no more than half my age, dressed smartly as if for the office rather than as a lady of the night looking for business.
“I recently lost a good friend,” I found myself mumbling, half to myself.
“I’m so sorry – were they ill or was it an accident?”
“Oh, she didn’t die; she just suddenly stopped answering or returning my calls. I know that sounds pathetic but we chatted briefly every morning before.”
“Maybe she’s ill, or just too busy. Were you in love with her?”
“Oh it was nothing like that, we are both in happy relationships, just very close friends I thought. She’s not ill, I was able to check that through a mutual acquaintance. And how can someone be too busy just to say hello?”
“You didn’t tell me what you’d like to drink; let me get that and then you can tell me more if you wish.”
“I’d like that. I’ll have a scotch please then I’ll buy you one. Let’s find somewhere more comfortable to sit too if you’re not in a hurry.”
“I’ve all the time in the world,” she said, gesturing to the barman, “let’s sit over there by the fire. You go, I’ll join you in just a minute, then ….”