Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Modern Novelist, King George and a family Christmas

Like many writers I have been obsessed with story from  my earliest.days. Now this week, with the rush of bright goods in the shops and flood of Christmas films on TV, it is clear to me that even in 2014, in a busy novelist's life,  Christmas is coming.

Grandma and Grandad
More stories about them HERE
in my memoir The Romencer 
And today into my head, almost unbidden, drums  a rhyming song that my Grandma used to sing to us at Christmas time. This song has been bedded in there in my mind since before I could talk. Its powerful narrative addresses as much murder vengeance, healing,and redemption as would suit any modern novel. Its clear story arc and a powerful use of dialogue are a model for any modern novelist.

In the many years since I first learned the song at my Grandmother’’s knee - with my writer-researcher head on -  I have discovered that this song-story has been handed down  from the Middle Ages, voice to voice, through pure oral tradition in the form of a Mummer’s Play. It has only been latterly written down.

There are many versions of the tale, some of which include Father Christmas as a narrator alongside Saint George, a dragon and  Turkish knights as the enemy. The good doctor is always there to raise the dead with his little bottle of pills or potions. And Jack is often there as the victim to be raised from the dead. The versions vary from region to region but in essence they are  deeply similar. 

Of course I prefer the song-story I first heard at my grandmother's knee.

Here is our family version of the song-story, word for word as I remember it. 
Our version seems to start in the middle

In steps King George
‘King George is my name.
With sword and pistol by my side
I hope to win the game.’
‘The Game, sir?’
‘The Game sir!’
‘Take your sword and try sir!’
‘My sword sir?’
‘Your sword sir.’
‘Oh dear oh dear what have I done?
I’ve killed my father’s only son.’
‘Send for the doctor!’
‘Send for the doctor!’
In come good old Doctor Brown
The best old doctor in the town.
‘What can you cure?’
‘A dead man to be sure.
I have a little bottle in my inside pocket
that goes Tick Tack! Rise up dead Jack!’

‘Oh my brother’s come alive again we’ll never fight no more
We’ll be the greatest brothers than we ever were before.
So with a pocket full of money and a barrelful of beer
We wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.'

Source; Wetherill family oral tradition

See one the many other versions HERE  

If you want to read more about her HERE is an extract from my Memoir The Romancer


Thursday, 27 November 2014

BENCHMARK: An Very Intriguing Writing Competition

I have this good friend who has dedicated a bench in Spennymoor Park  to her late much loved aunt and uncle. Every spring she takes her water bucket and brushes to clean the winter detritus from the bench and stains and then seals it afresh for another summer. So she remembers them.

So it is I am now intrigued that alongside,  Dr Philip Le Dune and Writer Sue Spencer, I am been asked by Rachel Cochrane (see details HERE  )   to judge a unique writing competition with the theme BENCHMARK.

We know Rachel at Room to Write  because she recorded the winners of our own short story competition – See HERE -  on Listenupnorth, her online audio magazine


Imagine you had a bench dedicated to you:
What would it say on the plaque?
Where would it be?
Why have you chosen that particular place?

Rachel’s says that through her on-line radio play Benchmark and this associated writing competition, she wants to encourage people to think positively about their lives and raise vital funds for Willow Burn Hospice.


First Prize is a solid Iroko Dalton 3 seater (1500cm) hardwood
bench with personalised engraved plaque and delivery within the UK.
Kindly donated by Faithful & Gould, Victory Signs and Solid Oak
Hardwood Furniture.

Second Prize is a Kindle kindly donated by David Ridley

Third Prize is a £30 book token kindly donated by Rachel Cochrane
All winning entries will also be showcased in written form on listenupnorth


This is an imaginative and intriguing competition.If I weren’t judging it I would enter it myself… 

Monday, 17 November 2014

Ideas and Creative Research: A Novelist's View

Last Thursday night one of the readers in a crowded library workshop asked a familiar question,. Where do you get you
r ideas? Do you ever run out of ideas?

My ideas come from everywhere I go, everyone I see, every  thing I see. Twentieth century history is often involved.  Ideas will settle into a special pocket in my mind and stay almost unnoticed, lying there like pieces of coral slowly accreting further ideas and other images and becoming things of innate power and intricate potential. These images and ideas might come from books I read, films I see, newspaper accounts, letters, objects I notice at an auction or a car-boot sale.

Then later – sometimes years later –one of these ideas will swim to the surface of my mind etched all over with an urgent request that now is the time to write. Now is the time to plunge into the idea with instinctive writing and proceed to find a place for the story  and to enhance and inhabit the story with characters. Now is the time for purposeful creative research to fix a time and a psychological frame for the story.

This simultaneous creative search will involve histories, timelines, biographies, first person accounts, library, museum and art gallery visits as well as location visits with drawing book or camera in hand. All this allows me to see the world through the eyes of my characters in their time and place and permits the story to develop its own authentic reality.

Once all this is bedded down in my conscious and subconscious mind, then I can go forward and write and write so that the novel can blossom into a whole thing, ready for the more normal proofing and editing process.

By now, having taken that leap into fiction, the original idea has evolved into and entirely different thing, unique in itself. In the meantime another idea is down there in the brain pocket accreting its own associated ideas and images…

A few years ago, as a Christmas present, my daughter gave me two paintings that she;d picked up at a London auction. They are pale, understated water colours: one is of a beach with gypsy family on holiday with a book about Van Gogh sitting on what looks like a painter’s stool; the other is  a hut filled with bunks and draped with washing, occupied by pale men. The date is` 1955. The artist is named. By New Years Day a strong  idea about these paintings and this painter clearly settled down into my brain pocket.

Years later this idea has bobbed up with all sorts of new ideas stuck to it; it is already inhabited by two characters. I have now almost completed  the creative research and begun writing what I think will be a short novel involving this idea.
Here we go again. It’s not just the ideas. It’s what you do with them.

Extract:'...Now the three older Romany boys had abandoned their ballgame and begun to turn hands-free somersaults on the sand. One boy managed to do four somersaults ins succession and Maggie couldn’t resist clapping. The men stopped playing cards and looked across at her, unsmiling. The somersaulting stopped. The smallest of the boys ran to stand beside his mother who was sitting under her own canopy, embroidering something wrapped in a white cloth...' 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014


 OLIVIA OZANNE IS MY HERO’ Reader’s comment. 

We all need Room  To Write.

In my life of writing I have had various rooms: a pasting table in a crowded bedroom in a tiny house when I was young; a corner in the first house when I was married  house, then a room with shelves
in the next one. 
In this present house  for many years I have had the treat of a sunny book-lined study. Then I surrendered this to one who has more need of sunshine and light than me and had returned to a crowded corner in another room.

But now at last  I have been sorting out my house, and have developed my old dining room into my  new writing room – made myself  a beautiful writing space. I have been emptying drawers. peering in boxes throwing things out,  re-discovering real treasures.

One of these treasures was a set of three images of inter-war Moscow which I bought in Moscow in 1991. Andthe six notebooks that I wrote during my stay there.

This made me think again about my precious novel JOURNEY TO MOSCOW I have written HERE about how my experiences in Moscow inspired the novel – two love stories rolled into one at a time of great change, My middle-aged heroine, Olivia Ozanne is very popular with readers – see the review extract below.

So, my newly rejuvenated space has proved both inspiring and refreshing making me eager  to  get on with creating my new novella..

Most importantly this has all  inspired me to make offer it my readers in an Amazon Countdown Offer  of 99p for the week beginning 13th November. I hope you get hold of it and I hope even more that you enjoy it.

It is also available from Amazon in paperback.. I do have a few paperbacks of Journey to Moscow here at £.4.99 +, P and;P. I will sign and dedicate if you request. (Contact top left here). 

I am also interested in your views on this or any of my novels. I enjoy writing them and I so hope that you enjoy reading them.

Sample  Five star Review ….
Anne A. gave Journey to Moscow five stars on Amazon. She said:
'Olivia Ozanne is my hero- totally honest about who she is, warts and all, knowing she has failed as a mother and wife but always remaining true to herself and keeping the faith with her writing.
As always, this writer has woven an intricate tale with many memorable characters, the love of her life Volodya, the grey and brown Aunties, her daughter and son, even the odious Kendrick. They will all remain in my head for a long time and when I say you must read this book, I really mean it!'

For other five star Reviews see HERE

Tuesday, 4 November 2014


My Guest this month is Irish Writer James Lawless, whose novel Peeling
I so enjoyed and commented on, HERE on on Life Twice Tasted.  Readers will be interested in James creative point of view and many of the points he makes here will chime with both experienced and aspiring writers. He certainly makes me want to read more of his books. W.

James says:
"I write what I hope is accessible literary fiction. Normally the initial impulse is the itch of an embryonic character forming, and when I start to work on him or her  that dictates the plot. In other words character driven narrative.
In some of my novels that demand historical research, the more I research  the more the work seemed to take off like a type of osmosis from my reading. Because I write poetry, thia  informs what has been described as the sometimes lyrical style of my writing.
I think good and memorable writing is almost as important as a good storyline and I strive to combine both, often spending a long time on the construction of a sentence or a mot juste.
How about the evolution of style and content in your novels? W.
Peeling Oranges, my first novel, was driven by my quest to understand things that had been inculcated into me like idealism, religion, nationalism and one’s native language. So this novel, as it is with a lot of first novels, had autobiographical elements even though the characters are fictitious.
From there I moved on to a wider canvas. I write a novel essentially to find out something. For example my second novel For Love of Anna explored the devouring monolith of capitalism and when I wrote Finding Penelope I wanted to see the world from a woman’s point of view. I believe to be an artist one needs to be able take an
androgynous perspective,

And what about the writing process itself? W.
The writing process  affords me the freedom  to explore the why? of things. I believe life is not what you make it (which is a luxury for many) but what you make of it. I believe there is an ascetic  and spiritual calling to be a writer or artist and, as Virginia Woolf would agree, there is no time for messing about. That is not to say you take yourself unduly seriously, just that you  should take your art seriously.

So, how do you see the role of historical figures in your fiction? W.
I used historical figures in Peeling Oranges such as Franco and de Valera and Michael Collins who have cameo roles, and in my latest novel American Doll I use a lot of factual stuff about 9/11 as background. But I don’t believe in recreating say a fictitious Michael Collins as a main character in a novel. I believe such writing is a form of cheating and, while one does a certain amount of re-imagining, it is not a true imaginative creation as a lot of material is ready provided. Besides if I want to learn about Michael Collins, I would prefer to consult primary factual sources, rather than have to wonder what is true in a second hand interpretation.

Where did the original impulse to write come from? W.
The seismic jolt of my mother’s sudden and premature death propelled me into writing. Up to that time death was something remote that happened to other people.
Also there was a lot of insularity and provincialism when I was growing up which I explored in an attempt, as Joyce would say, ‘to escape the nets’. My European travels, particularly in Spain (I did a degree in Spanish), helped to broaden my world view.

And which writers have inspired you? W.
I love Virginia Woolf  for her attitude to the novel as an art form and the beauty and resonance of her prose as in To the Lighthouse. I admire James Joyce of course for stretching our limits and Cervantes for starting the whole thing off. I appreciate  Pasternak for his poetry and the purity of his vision and the sacrifices he made for his art are an inspiration.

What about the role of research in your writing? W,
Up to now there are have been types of novels that I write: the purely creative and then  the creative with research backup. For Peeling Oranges I researched in the national archive which had opened to the public at the time to reveal a lot of previously censored material about the Irish and Spanish civil wars. The research took over two years before I even started the novel. The novel Knowing Women however sprang from the source of the creative well and factual references would have been subliminal and contemporary. American Doll brought me back to research again, which took about a year before I put creative pen to paper, although all along I had the embryos of characters forming in my head.

And what do you particularly enjoy about writing?W.
As I said the opportunity it affords to explore the why of things. Sometimes in conversation, one thinks in hindsight of what one should have said. Writing gives you the time to say exactly what you mean. Also I would find life rather dreary without having a story in its formation to carry around in my head.

 Do you have a writing routine? W.
I have converted a small bedroom in my suburban house into a study believing, as Virginia Woolf does, that one needs a room of one’s own to create. The trouble is the internet frequently intrudes and I lack the will power to turn it off. I counteract this frequently by having recourse to my cottage in the mountains of west Cork which is internet free, and therefore is better for forcing one to engage with the written word.
 I write best in the morning, but a lot of my time is taken up at the moment in corresponding with translators of my works. I often take a manuscript with me on a sea holiday. Sitting on a chair close to the waves is ideal for editing as well as being lenitive.*

And your latest work? W.
For Love of Anna is my second novel and was originally published in 2009. It is heartening to know its relevance is valued and it is still in demand, prompting a new edition in 2013. There are three main strands running through it. Firstly, it may be read as a poignant love story — Anna is a ballerina with whom the main protagonist, the university student, Guido van Thool, falls in love.
But Anna is also an acronym for Anarchists of the New Age, which brings us to the second dimension of the novel as an ideological story positing ideas in the mind of the philosophy student Guido, in the wake of the collapse of Russian communism and the dilution of oppositional politics, on what alternatives there are to the all-devouring monolith of corporate capitalism.
Anna wants to steer Guido away from this sort of 'dangerous' thinking, but his friend, the anarchist Philippe, keeps goading him. Paralleling the lives of the lovers is that of a corrupt judge, Jeremiah Delahyde (the third strand) who literally crashes into the world of Guido and Anna on a fatal New Year's night."

You can check out reviews of this book at

Opening lines of For Love of Anna
Guido van Thool, blond head downcast with little round spectacles perusing a book, is about to enter the door of Loti’s café in the old quarter of Potence when he bumps into a girl, knocking pumps out of her hands. He apologises, picks up the pumps, lets his book fall in the process, picks it up and rising, reddens slightly, as his eyes are drawn to long shapely legs protruding from a white wool coat.
         The girl smiles doe-eyed, and his mind becomes suffused with the idea that he has just bumped into the most beautiful girl he ever saw, and she’s about to walk away....
Peeling Oranges
For Love of Anna
The Avenue
Finding Penelope
Knowing Women

Rus in Urbe

Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World

NB. These books have been translated into several languages and can be checked out at
The Avenue or Finding Penelope could be good novels to start with.

* A rare thing! I had to look up 'lenitive'! It is absolutely apposite here. The learning curve continues... W.


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