Why Wedding Dresses?

Wedding Koi SamuiIn my previous blogs, I’ve talked about how what my characters wear is a vital to the way I portray them. The clothes are determined by the people, not the other way around, but, sometimes, my stories begin with the clothes themselves.

This train of thought was set off by the publication of my short story “Something Old, Something New,” in Authors Electric Anthology, “One More Flash in the Pen.” The story is set in a shop that sells wedding dresses and it occurred to me that the wedding dress is a recurring image in my work.

It is the trigger for that particular story, it appears again in “Shadows on the Grass,” my current WIP and in “Number Three Belvedere Terrace” the novel, whose first draft is awaiting attention on my hard drive.

There is something very powerful in the idea of a dress, which has to be so special and yet will be worn only once. The style of the dress is very specific, overtaking cultural and traditional norms,Wedding in Kerela

so that on holiday in Vietnam and Thailand we have seen brides dressed in a big white dress. WEdding in Hian

This concept is relatively new. Throughout history, brides wore their best for their wedding, but the dress would go on to be worn on other occasions.

The white wedding, as we know it, began when the young Queen Victoria married Prince Albert and wore a white dress. At first, it was merely a fashionable colour, then it appears to have taken on a symbolic significance, white being seen as the colour of virginity.

I remember, in the fifties, when a girl at our church “had to get married” ie was pregnant, her mother refused to let her wear the traditional white dress and she had to be married in pink. Exactly what this was supposed to say to the congregation I am not sure. It also seemed rather cruel to be pointing out that this was a girl who had obviously sinned.

This symbolism was so deeply engrained in my consciousness that for years I found it difficult when mothers with children walked down the aisle in white. Nowadays, however, the link between the white dress and purity has long gone and anyone can dress in white for their wedding. Whether they should spend so much money on a dress that will have only one outing is another issue.

My daughter Posy Miller used to say that the big white wedding, plus of course the expensive dress, was the one opportunity for many girls to be the centre of attention for the whole of one special day. It wasn’t the dress itself, but the occasion that mattered and that any girl who didn’t get married should still have a “wedding” celebration, where she could be “Queen for the Day.” In her opinion there would be fewer divorces too, as so often the wedding, rather than the marriage, is the aim.

“Reader I married him.” Is, of course, where many romantic novels end, because the depiction of the marriage, although there is, to be fair, a hint of that in “Jane Eyre,” is far more mundane and fraught with difficulties.

Besides, do we really want to know what Elizabeth and Darcy said to each other over the breakfast table? Whether he snores, or she picks her nose?

Enough that our heroine walks down the aisle in a fluff of white. A bouquet of flowers in her hand and her future as misty as her view of the world through her veil.

 

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Who Would I choose?

 

Some writers know from the start not only what their characters look like, but who they would like to play them in a film, or TV adaptation. As part of their character building, they find pictures in magazines and make character boards, on Pinterest, or paste photos on noticeboards.

I don’t work like that. Liz, Bernie and Elsa in “Picking up the Pieces” all came as ready made images.Picking Up The Pieces I could see Liz striding along The Downs with her long hair escaping from its pins and her flowing hippy type skirt, while Elsa in matching coat and dress, perfect hair do, nails and rings was waiting for her at The Grand. Bernie too came fully formed, in her slightly too tight best dress and uncomfortable shoes.

Poppy, Liz’s actress daughter, is based on my daughter Posy and I’ve taken the photograph of her clutching her cat from real life.

If I had to cast my characters in a film, however.

Kristin_Scott_Thomas_Cabourg_2013Kristin Scott-Thomas would play serious and self-analysing, Liz

Miranda Richardson, the fluffy, materialistic Elsa.Miranda Richardson

And Olivia Coleman, responsible and caring, Bernie.Olivia Coleman

Though if I could manipulate time, Zaza Gabor would be perfect for Elsa.

As for Ed. Well there is only one choice. George Clooney.George-Clooney

Food for Thought: Tea at The Grand

Tea at Avon Gorge

On Saturday, I joined my mum, my daughter, my sister, niece and sister-in-law for afternoon tea at the Avon Gorge Hotel in Bristol. We were there to celebrate two big family birthdays, but one of the reasons I chose that hotel from all the others in Bristol is that the Avon Gorge is the model for The Grand in “Picking up the Pieces.”

Being brought up in Bristol and going to school just down the road, this hotel had always intrigued me. Clinging to the side of the Gorge it looks out on the Suspension Bridge and the river far below. I imagined it as a romantic place and conjured up an Art Deco Interior with a large Victorian conservatory, where my characters would meet and Elsa would break the devastating news that sets off the action of the novel.

In real life, however, it was very different. There was no glass Palm Court with a small orchestra playing tunes from the shows, or supercilious Maitre d’ and the customers were a greater cross section of people than I had imagined.

None of this distracted from the day. We had a lovely time, chatting and laughing and eating. It did, however, give me food for thought.

As a writer, I find that my ideas often come from places I know. So far my novels, “House of Shadows”, “Picking up the Pieces,” and the forthcoming “Shadows on the Grass” are all set in Bristol.

Although in most of the books, I am fairly accurate there are times, as in “Picking up the Pieces” when it is either not possible, or I don’t want to be accurate about what I am describing. After all, this is a work of imagination not a travelogue and I wouldn’t expect anyone to be able to find my way around the city from my descriptions.

Places are a starting point, then the imagination takes over as do the needs of the story. At least this is how I work.

The first chapter of “Picking up the Pieces” won’t tell you much about the Avon Gorge. It will, however, introduce you to Liz, Elsa and Bernie, three women in their fifties who have to face the total collapse of their lives with the help of each other and much cake.

The novel is currently on offer on kindle for 99p and makes a good summer read. Enjoy.

PUTP picatAvonGorgeHotel1

 

How to Write a Good Summer Read

There’s a new genre on the block. It’s been around for a bit and comes into its own around this time of year… it’s the holiday read.

You can recognise them by the covers.

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That’s for the romance market. Or

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For those who want the darker touch of crime.

Most of us will go away with one, or other on our kindle, or, in the case of paperbacks, in our luggage.

They will be read at the airport, on the plane, on the beach or by the pool and for many people it will be almost the only books they will have time to read in the whole of the year.

So what makes a good holiday read? There are certain characteristics that they must have.

1 They’ve got to be easy to get into. When you’re stretched out on your sun-lounger, or tying to get comfortable on a plastic seat in Departures you have to be taken straight into the narrative. Whether it’s the finding of a dead body, the kidnap of a child, or boy meets girl, the reader’s involvement must be instant and sustained.

2 The characters have to be strongly drawn and not too complex. This is why Jack Reacher is a great read. He is the archetypical loner and man of deeds not words. A few spare sentences and you know what he looks like and how he thinks, then it’s straight into the action.

3 Which brings me to my final point. The story has to flow and it has to flow fast. There’s no scope for interruption, for having to go back and mull over details or cues, the reader has to be engrossed from the start. After all there are so many other things you might be doing, like wandering over to the bar for a drink, going for a swim, or simply having a snooze.

4 Short chapters, short sentences, not too much description and certainly no angst. Not all holiday reads will follow this pattern but it’s true for many of the most successful.

There are one or two strange people who go away with tomes of non-fiction, philosophy or economics, to while away the hours relaxing in the sun, but for most of us it will be either crime, psychological, cosy, historical and every permutation of those, or novels which at other times of the year are described as “Women’s Fiction.”

Anyone got any titles they can recommend for summer 2017?

A Summer REad 2

 

PS Picking up the Pieces is now only 99p. Special summer offer on Kindle

Winter Downs: a really good read

Winter Downs small image.

Winter Downs: New Crime Novel by Jan Edwards

On a snowy winter morning Bunch Courtney rides out into the local woods and finds a dead body. Everything points to suicide, but the dead man is Johnny Frampton, a close friend ,and knowing what she does about him, Bunch is convinced that what she is looking at is a murder scene.

This is the opening premise of Winter Downs, a tightly plotted novel set in war time Britain. The 1940 are vividly brought to life and the main character, Bunch, is set to be one of my all time favourite heroines.

I love a strong woman protagonist, but have to admit to a horror of those feisty females in historical novels who transgress every social convention and behave like no woman of their era would have done. Bunch, however, is nothing like them. She is a product of her time and her social class and all the more interesting for that.

“Winter Downs” is a great read and I am looking forward to the next Bunch Courtney mystery.

Following my review I’ve asked the author, Jan Edwards about her take on female protagonists.

Having been asked about my main character of Winter Downs  being a strong female character, and specifically where she came from as a fictional trope..  Exactly who was the inspiration for Rose ‘Bunch’ Courtney?

I had to think about it… a lot.

In my mind Bunch came fully formed. Reviewers of my short fiction collections have commented on my strong female protagonists as a theme running through my work. So given that strong women are a given perhaps its more a question of who my inspirations are in general.

Nancy Blackett; Captain of the Amazon in Arthur Ransome’s famous Swallows and Amazons series was my first and abiding heroine. Unlike most females in children’s fiction of that era Nancy never played second fiddle to anyone, and specifically to her male counterpart, John Walker.

Strong fictional females influences, specifically from past eras, have to include Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse. Austen’s women were always as strong as they were capable of being living as they did within the strictures of Georgian society.

Anything by Daphne Du Maurier is an inspiration in itself, and Rebecca, the quintessential bad girl, was as strong as they come.

Mrs Bradley and Harriet Vane were inspirational female detectives of Golden Age crime. Written as contemporary crime it is easy to see how they fit into their world and in writing Winter Downs it was something I tried to bear in mind. So many ‘historical’ crimes don’t allow for the social restrictions of the time and one of the things I have tried to portray is how Bunch succeeds against that backdrop.

Winter Downs is all about Bunch. Yes it is driven by setting and history and  war is what allowed Bunch to become herself. Many women like her saw their mother and aunts taking similar rolls in the Great War. Despite all that was done to return to the strictures of pre Great War society the ripples begun by the Suffrage movement gathered pace through the twenties and thirties.

With a generation of young men taken out of society young women had no chance of taking up their expected place as wives and mothers. So  they learned to drive, to fly planes, to take up careers – all things that would have been unheard for all but a very privileged few before 1914.

And emancipation was not confined to the upper and middle classes. In Winter Downs we have a reprise of the rise in female power through the work place. Land Army girls from all walks of life working in traditionally male jobs  to keep factories and farms running.

That is the setting and the issues that shape my main protagonist but Winter Downs is not by any means a lecture on the rise of feminism. It is a crime novel first and foremost.

Bunch’s main aim is not to prove her self-worth but to provide vital evidence that her oldest friend had not taken his own life. The setting made for an exciting backdrop and provided just the right set of circumstances to enable her to get involved without the usual restrictions or social niceties.

In the early drafts Bunch’s sister had a far greater role, but once DCI Wright walked into the pages that all changed.  Once she had a foil rather than a sidekick and the story took off once she had someone that she could not dominate the way she could her baby sister.  The added problems of her family home  requisitioned and her parents called away made investigations are as important in shaping Bunch’s character.

Researching Winter Downs was a huge undertaking. All aspects of life on the rural home front had to be picked over. there is a lot written about the towns but far less about the doings of shepherds and poachers.  Hours of reading and note taking were involved but  that is something I love to get involved in. Running down that one line of fact is hugely satisfying.  I hope people enjoy reading Winter Downs as much as I did writing it.

Jan ps 1

Jan Edwards is a Sussex-born writer now living in the West Midlands with her husband and obligatory cats. She was a Master Locksmith for 20 years but also tried her hand at bookselling, microfiche photography, livery stable work, motorcycle sales and market gardening. She is a practising Reiki Master. She won a Winchester Slim Volume prize and her short fiction can be found in crime, horror and fantasy anthologies in UK, US and Europe; including The Mammoth Book of Dracula and The Mammoth Book of Moriarty. Jan edits anthologies for The Alchemy Press and Fox Spirit Books, and has written for Dr Who spinoffs with Reel Time Pictures.

Winter Downs is published by Penkhull Press and is available in paperback and kindle editions from Amazon.

Don’t forget to check out the next stops on the Winter Downs blog tour:

My Writing Day : Pauline Woodhouse

A different take on my series of guest blogs about how writers write.

Pauline

SOME DAYS

Some days, way more than actually writing,

I do more drinking coffee, (yes let’s call it coffee) while pondering;

Allowing my thoughts to do some wild-walk wandering,

You know, like trimming words and pruning phrases,

Then mentally planting them in sunnier places.

And occasionally I may get an inspirational inkling

To rebel and do some radical free-thought sprinkling.

But then, to allow growth for my new little seedling,

I have to do some radical … ‘weedling’.

So now, I’ve uprooted and rearranged the literary undergrowth of jungle (in my head)

And transported redundant chunks of it, in bulk, to a wordy-weed infested dump instead,

Which I might take a sneaky peep at now and then;

When, inevitably, I feel the overwhelming urge … another poem to pen.

And when, at last, I feel enough’s enough,

I may get round to actually writing stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Intentions…

The best intentions don’t always come to fruition. Once this would have sent up stress and tension, now I take a more laid back view. There is, after all, something very artificial about making resolutions on a certain date, which you promise yourself you will keep to for the rest of the year, regardless of what life throws at you, good or bad.

So, 2017 no New Year’s Resolutions, just a determination to do more of the same. After all 2016 was not a bad year.

It began with the publication of “Picking up the Pieces.” During which process a great number of lessons, some painful, others not were learned.

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Most important of all being, a thorough proof-read is vital. A good editor even more so. Thank you Peter Coleborn and Jeanne Wood.

What worked really well was the tea party I gave to launch the book. I kept it small and local. Cake was baked and wine chilled, friends and neighbours came and books were sold. Best of all, it was an occasion that everyone enjoyed and out of it came a sense of community that we hadn’t had before. Also, for me, it was another validation of myself as a writer.

W Slight cover

The autobiography project was another boost. Being asked to ghost write the life story of a local person was challenging, although my subject Wilhelmina Slight, couldn’t have been better. Not only was her life story fascinating, but as time went on she recalled more and more, so there was an abundance of material to chose from. And cake. At every interview she produced the most delicious coffee and cake.

 

That was followed by the Hot Air Literary Festival. Where I was on a panel on how to get published, talking about the place of the Indie Press in the publishing world. Thank you Penkhull Press and Tristram Hunt.

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At the end of the summer came the Live Age festival and another panel with fellow local authors. Jan Edwards, Ralph Alcock, Susan Bolton and once again Peter Coleborn, whose live-age16Alchemy Press has won well deserved awards, provided the professional view of small press publishing.

In the autumn, I hosted the annual Reading Cafe at the Gladstone Pottery museum and later on took part in my first public performance, “Our Lives in Art” with the Ages and Stages Theatre Company at Keele University.

Following that came the Christmas show put on the other drama group I go to. It was a condensed reading, thank you Jenni Spangler, of “Christmas is Cancelled” a play I wrote for a cast of thousands, which Jenni reduced very successfully to seven voices.

In the meantime, Jan and I set up 6×6 Reading Cafe at the City Library in Hanley and made regular appearances on 6Towns Radio.

And I wrote 65,000 words of my new novel. Edited the second edition of “Clear Gold” and read and commented on ms from other writers.

To round off the year my story came out in “Weird Ales 2” and was launched at Sledge Lit. 51htiaesyzl-_ac_us218_