Sunday, 25 November 2007


I've been attending a great writers' workshop called 'Troubleshooter'. It's run by Spread the Word and although it's billed as 'intermediate' level, it's more stretching than an 'advanced' course I attended at a college of Further Education last year. It's good to be with other writers and to share, especially when the standard is high but the critique is fair and honest rather than out for the slaughter,

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Tension Build-Up

Today I worked some more on Chapter 10, in which my hero Thomas at last leaves London and begins his new career with a travelling fair. Such a difficult chapter, because I've been busily building the tension towards this moment and now I'm so scared that it won't match up! So, I wrote a sentence today and tomorrow, if I feel ok after auntie's funeral, I'll write another. It's the only to way to build up to a novel, as far as I know.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Death in the Family

A beloved auntie died this weekend, nine years to the day when we lost my uncle. Woke up feeling ragged and with a thick head, and wondered whether I'd be able to write at all. In cases of very devastating bereavement, people do say they can't write. I found that the day needed care, and to some extent I was 'going through the motions.' I took a trip to the Museum of London, a place that has inspired a lot of my writing in the past. The inspiration wasn't there today, at first, but I wandered around the galleries, just allowing myself to 'be,' and not require myself to 'do.' They were playing a 17th century folksong in the museum, which mentioned Charing Cross. This was quite serendipitous, because Charing Cross features heavily in my current chapter. Last week I researched and discovered that the current cross is a replacement for the original Queen Eleanor Cross, erected in the mid-19th century. I'd been all through my manuscript changing every incidence of 'Charing Cross' to 'Queen Eleanor Cross,' and when I got home I changed them all back.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Finchley Common

Well, today my reseach took me on the hunt for Finchley Common, former haunt of Dick Turpin. I need it for the next chapter in my book - Chapter 10. I've been writing like a maniac these last few weeks, and now my hero has left his home in Bethnal Green for a dubious life with a travelling fair. The paragraph I wrote describes the moment when Thomas's family meet Cinnamon Rose, an Indian elephant and the darling of Zackariah Scarrott's Travelling Fair.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Coram Fields

This week I went to The Foundling Museum in Coram Fields, London. I went with my friend Rosemary Morris, who writes novels set in the reign of Queen Anne . It's great to go to a museum with another writer, because you don't bore each other when you size up every exhibit for potential use in the plot, or exclaim that you had no idea of this or you always suspected that. Writers understand why a half an hour in the bookshop features as a mandatory part of the trip, and why one might want to buy 18 postcards every time - for prompts in future writing 'afternoons' or inspiration for the new hero or the next orphan. I returned with a poster-sized version of Hogarth's 'March of the Guards to Finchley' which hangs in the museum and was presented to it by one of the patrons, the painter William Hogarth. The picture fascinated me because Finchley features in my next chapter, and I had no idea it looked like that in former times. Very salutary. By the way, The Foundling Museum runs the occasional writing course, as well as special days for children and musical evenings. I loved it.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Research, Research, Research

Just got back from a brilliant research trip in Bath. I've been travelling quite cheaply, staying in the smallest room in a convenient hotel and getting the feeling of 'being on the road'. In order to connect to my characters' lives as best I could, I visited several museums, imagining what it would have been like to use all the implements, wear the clothes and be at the mercy of the medicines and the food. Also I had a lot of help from the glassblowers' studio by the river, who told me all about the dangers and joys of handblown glass. I did several pathworkings, made sketches and produced some awful watercolours. Some days I sat by the River Avon and gave myself a rest. One thing I did experience was the loneliness of the road, and also the effects of the weather - when I got drenched in the rain it took a real effort to keep my spirits up. How much worse must it be if your livelihood depends on the sunshine. It's really easy to write in a grotty hotel room - in fact, working on my novel was the main thing that kept me sane when the nights drew in and I missed home the most.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Chigwell Row Wood

Today I had the curious experience of seeing myself on TV. The programme was filmed in Chigwell Row Wood, which is a part of Epping Forest. In the film I talked about my ancestor, Tom Tarling, and life in 19th century England when a working man's only real asset was his fists, for his trade barely furnished enough to put bacon on the table. It was a salutary experience, to talk it through for the camera. After, I came away with renewed respect for that man, rough and ready no doubt, who bought himself a wagon and a horse, or two, from the sweat of his own brow. No credit cards in those days. Writing Chapter 7 was a deeper, more meaningful experience for having explored Tom's dilemma for the purposes of fiction and I have had a good weekend at the writing, even if I have been over the same three paragraphs 83 times!

Sunday, 15 July 2007

A Word in the Right Place

Today was one of those writing days when I deleted five hundred words from my novel and typed in five. Whilst I was waiting for the kettle to boil, I came pretty close to writing it off as a 'bad' day. Yet, really, five words can be better than five hundred. It just depends which ones. How about 'No drugs for me, thanks', 'I'll give you another chance,' or even 'I'm so sorry, love.' Yea! Five words rock.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Rejection & Re-Application

A writer's life, like an actor's, is full of disappointments. You have to believe you can win the competition that 7000 others didn't, or get your piece read out on BBC television against all the others who'd like to do the same. When it doesn't work out, you have to get up, dust yourself down and return to the humble and (hopefully) likeable person you were before your head swelled enough to cause you to send off your work in the first place. Today was just such a week for me, with three rejections and a storming head cold just to season the mix. The rain outside in this beautiful part of Hertfordshire resembles an Asian monsoon; and I am returning to my novel. This week, my hero's life changes for ever - and that's what I have to try and portray.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Fight It Out

Today I wrote a fight scene, between my protagonist Thomas Tarling and his brother-in-law, Zackariah Scarrott. It's something I've been working up to for a while. I've been at pains to show Thomas in particular as a 'real' man with hopes, disappointments and feelings as well as a manly 'hard' side. I was becoming concerned that he might seem too fearful for the hero of a Georgian novel, so I set this fight on the edge of Bethnal Green (which in those days was a wilder place than now). A long writing day, but a satisfying one.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

On Radio London

I had another little piece read out today, by Robert Elms on Radio London. It was a tiny smidgeon of an article about the historical significance of the name 'Whetstone' which is a part of North London, so far out it's almost in Hertfordshire. Whetstone is, supposedly, named after the stone which the soldiers used to sharpen their swords during the Battle of Barnet, in the Wars of the Roses - it was fought on nearby Barnet Common. The stone is still there, outside the Griffin Pub. Is it true? Who knows. Is it great that we treasure that kind of tale in this great City. Yea!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

At London - Fleeting Appearance

Today I had a little piece read out at 6.30 pm on BBC's 'At London' programme. My piece was on the subject of 'Sub-Conscious Profiling' - the proposal that prospective employees might be tested to see whether they harbour racial prejudice in the sub-conscious mind. Wrote Chapter 6 of 'Face The Champion' and got my hero out of jail (temporarily).

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Friends Across the Sea

Yesterday I did such a fun thing - met up with friends who belong to HistficCritque, an internet critique group for historical novelists. It was such fun to 'press the flesh' of friends I've laughed with, cried with, shared with and critiqued over the internet. Some of us in the group live in Canada, some the USA, some Australia and three here in the UK. We met in Govinda, a vegetarian restaurant in London's Soho, and talked writing for five hours solid!

Sunday, 6 May 2007


Travelled across the Fens - what a beautiful, wild place. I went to Peterborough on a day-trip, and it was a lovely town all built in yellow stone, with a parish church so big I thought at first it was the cathedral. When I came home all I wanted to do was work on my novel, and I've been at it so long my brains' gone thick.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Premises and Prisons

Still trying to come to grips with 'Premise'. 'How to Write Damn Good Fiction' sets the task of looking at a story every day for a few weeks, and trying to work out the premise. I never realised it was so important. You never think about the premise of a novel unless you're studying it for English literature, and yet it informs almost every paragraph. Tomorrow I'm taking a day trip across the Fens to get some research for the next part of the book, where Thomas escapes from prison and leaves London.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

P is for Premise

Starting reading 'How to Write Damn Good Fiction,' and I'm working on the premise for my novel. The book says that many beginning writers struggle with this, and get muddled up, making a statement about their story which isn't a premise. I wished I had the author there to help me tease the premise out of all the 'stuff' I have in my head for the novel. Spent quite a long time this evening working on the narrative, trying to make my hero into someone the reader will be able to empathise with.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Empathise or Sympathise

Well, today I put my hero in prison and now I'm still agonising about how to get him out of there. In 1826, it wasn't so easy. I discovered that the defendant didn't even get a lawyer; only the prosecution had that privilege. Also, I'm struggling with the art of making one's hero attractive to everyone else. Showed a bit of my work to a published author and she said that she knew she ought to care about my hero's plight, but she didn't. I didn't make her care. She suggested 'going deep into his point of view.' She recommended a book called 'How to Write Damn Good Fiction' by James Frey.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Decided to Write a Novel

Decided to start writing my first novel after years of thinking that 'I would, if I had time.' I want to write the story of my great-grandfather, reputedly a gypsy barenuckle boxer. I've got a new computer of my own - a little laptop from Currys. Couldn't even work the computer, never mind produce any writing on it. I use a mouse on the computer at work but on this laptop you have to get used to a weird little square that shoots the mouse all over the screen. Anyway, I did get a page done. It was awful prose. Just like something one did at school, when Mr. Jacobs wrote 'good effort, Jennifer, but you need to research the early nineteenth century more thoroughly.' Went to bed, rather depressed. No wonder so many people say 'I would, if I had time.'