Friday, July 27, 2012

The intruder. (FFF55)

There was something furtive in the way he moved through the house, edging carefully around furniture, stepping noiselessly. The woman was oblivious to his approach, peeling vegetables at the sink as he crept behind her. Then he made his move.
“Surprise! Happy birthday Darling,” he announced, as he produced a bouquet from behind his back.

Hey, G-Man. TWO actual characters this week, AND a plot.
For everyone else - go see the G-Man to see what Friday 55 is all about.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A bit of background

Faces from the past

Some of you already know, and others I hope have been directed here from elsewhere so you can find out, about my Work In Progress. I'm currently working on a novel. Technically it's my third. I have one self published and one that needs some serious editing, both as a result of NaNoWriMo for the last two years.

About this time last year I began work on something else that was bubbling around in my head. It was one of those things that was just bashing the inside of my skull and demanding to be written. So quite why I allowed myself to be sidetracked by NaNo and distracted enough to abandon it for half a year, I'm not sure. But now I'm back on it.

It's quite a saga, based around the cotton industry in the North West of England. I set it there to avoid any direct comparisons with the West Yorkshire wool trade, in which my ancestors were involved, but to allow me enough leeway to use my personal and family knowledge. (Brief history/geography lesson for the US readers can be found below.)

Unlike those in my previous works, none of the characters in the current novel is based on anyone I know or knew at any time. The premise is that only two of the Braithwaite family are still alive. One is seriously ill, and none has reached 60 in at least three generations. Narrator Alex Braithwaite is researching the past, desperate to find some sort of foundation to stand on before becoming the last of the line.

The story covers five generations and stretches back to the nineteenth century. (And a little history as background from even earlier than that)  It has a cast of around 40, though they don't all get a chapter to themselves. I've written eight of the main ones, plus several background and connecting chapters. Two characters will have more than one chapter to tell their tales.

It's a challenge. But they don't call me the History Anorak for nothing. It's going to take a lot more time. I will not abandon it again, even if it means NaNo goes out of the window this year.

About the geography and history of the English cloth trade.Towards the north of England (NOT the UK, just the bit as far up as where the map goes very narrow.) down the centre of the country is a range of hills called the Pennines. For various reasons that aren't important here but can probably be researched in any good geography text book, it rains a lot there. That means that there's plentiful water supplies to help the various processes in cloth making. In addition, the rocks on each side of the Pennines are different, giving the resulting ground water very different qualities. To the east, in Yorkshire, it's soft water - perfect for caring for wool.  And to the west, in Lancashire and around Manchester, it's harder water, (contains a lot of calcium carbonate) making it much better for cotton and linen. (The minerals help the bleaching process.) Hence, Yorkshire folk like my ancestors made woollen cloth and the Lancastrians made cotton and linen.

Friday, July 20, 2012

FFF55: Victorian Philanthropy

Quarry Bank Mill
Since the earliest days of industrialisation, factory owners created communities for their work forces, based around a centre of production. Their apparent generosity earned them the title of philanthropist. In truth they were just maximising performance. A healthy workforce is a productive one, so looking after staff meant individuals worked harder and longer, increasing profits.


I'm working on my novel again, and it's got a lot in it about the Industrial Revolution and social changes that came about with it. These 55 words are adapted from a chapter I'm currently working on.

Sorry, no central character G-Man - but it has a sort of plot.

For more 55s go see the G at Mister Knowitall's Blog

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Thursday extracts: Time passes.

Time passes. Listen. Time passes.

I might be mistaken, but I suspect most people are familiar with the opening of Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas's 'play for voices'. I've been reminded of it today because (for some reason I seem to have missed) Chris Evans keeps playing extracts from the Richard Burton version  on his breakfast radio show.

If you've got 10 minutes spare, do yourself a favour and click on that link. It'll take you to YouTube where you can hear an extract.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Billy Weaver

Billy Weaver wasn’t the sort to settle for the outskirts of town. Live fast, die young would have been his motto, although even he probably hoped to hang around a bit longer than he did. He was always a tearaway, too young to fight in the war, but old enough to work out where a profit could be made. The thing about Billy was how he looked – like butter wouldn’t melt even if he stood in front of a furnace. He had a cheeky grin, a cocky way and charm to bring the birds down out of the trees. And that meant he could have got away with murder, although as far as his family knew he never actually killed anybody. No, Billy’s talent lay in spiriting things away from their rightful owners and redistributing them to places where he could earn a few bob.
Even before he entered his teens he had made himself known to the local wide boys; done them a few favours and proved how his innocent face could be of value to them. So it was no surprise that he was at the heart of the black market around his local streets. If you wanted it, Billy, or his mates, could get it for you – at a price. He wasn’t totally bad. Like they always say, he was good to his mum. He made sure she had a few extras every week to bulk out her rations and to keep the other kids fed.

I'm finally working on the novel again. (The one I thought I'd lost) I did this for Thinking Ten - just to make me write something new for it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The return of FFF55

Joni Mitchell said it: you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
Did we fully appreciate him before? Did we ever realise how much we’d miss him? How much we enjoyed the challenge of 55 words every week?

No, we didn’t. So let’s say it loud and clear now he’s returned.

Welcome back G-Man!

It's not fiction, of course. But it IS 55 words. The G-Man is back with his Friday challenge. and we're all pleased to see him. Now we can have a kick-ass weekend.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thursday extracts: scientists speaking

We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing, for song is their pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarly, we ought not to ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens. The diversity of the phenomena of Nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment. - Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)

The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land. - T. H. Huxley (1825 - 1895)

I think nature's imagination is so much greater than Man's. She's never going to let us relax. - Richard Feynman (1918 - 1988)
Ways of saying the same thing. A few centuries apart.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

It's my own fault

I've been panicking this week. You see, about a year ago I was working on a fairly hefty (for me anyway) novel and I was about 13 chapters through it. It was coming along really well; something I could be proud of. Then NaNo got in the way and I shelved it while I produced something else.

What I should have done was just cheat on NaNo and continue with the work in hand, but I didn't. I'm not saying I didn't produce something good from Nano - far from it. In fact I'm seriously considering giving that a good edit (now it's a long way behind me and I can look at it with new eyes) and publishing it through LuLu.

But I shelved the thing I was proud of. Bad girl! Because this week, when I finally thought I wouldn't mind having another go at the WIP, I couldn't find it.

I'll pause a while for the other writers out there to take that in.

Thirteen chapters. About 21,000 words as far as I can remember. Missing. I was convinced that I'd saved multiple copies of it: at home on my laptop;  at work on my personal drive on my PC; on at least two thumb sticks. Apparently not.

I couldn't even find the notebook that I'd carefully planned the story in. Planned? Me?  Yes! That's what makes this work so special. I'm normally a seat-of-the-pants kind of writer and this is a HUGE thing for me. I know from the start what the story's about.

Well, I've turned the house over trying to recover anything of the story and first of all I found the notes. That's a start, but I didn't relish the prospect of rewriting the whole thing. I know there was some pretty good prose among the verbiage.

I have managed to rescue some chapters - quite a chunk, actually - but I know there are still gaps. I hope to be able to track down the missing pieces as I continue to search through the probably several million words I have turned out in the last couple of years. (I write professionally remember - I turn out a lot of words!)

The panic has subsided a little. I know I can recover the project with some effort. And there are now several copies of what I have found. But it's going to be tough.

Monday, July 09, 2012

In the clouds - thinking ten

"Just look up and tell me what you see". Her instruction was so sudden that I did as I was told, without thought, but noticed nothing out of the ordinary above my head. I shrugged my shoulders in reply.

"Erm, the sky? Clouds?"

"Of course you see clouds. But what do you see in the clouds?"

"Grey. Shapes. Sort of drifting."

She rapped me sharply on the arm with the fan she always carried. Open, it served to keep her cool as she wafted it before her; closed, it was an effective weapon. The place where it had landed was already smarting and beginning to colour. I would have a bright bruise, I knew it.

"Stop being obtuse, young man. What can you see in the clouds? What are they saying to you?"

I was not about to admit that I could ascertain nothing at all, and so I began to speak - any nonsense that came into my mind.

"Well there's a sort of carriage over there, with four white horses in front of it; an elaborate, enclosed carriage, fit for a queen. And I think that could be a rabbit, or maybe a hare, running across a field to escape a fox."

There was no response, but I knew I had not yet said what she wanted to hear and so I closed my eyes and continued.

"The queen is in danger and is having to run for her life, away from some threat that follows hard on her heels. She has sent a decoy in her place, to ride in the coach, in the hope that she can escape while her pursuers are engaged in the chase, but the wily usurper knows her plan and is close behind. Without help she is doomed."

Realising that I was talking moonshine I opened my eyes, expecting at any time to receive a further assault, but I was surprised to see a slight smile on the crone's creased lips.

"That was much better," she said quietly, "we might make a seer of you yet. Now we must hurry to the king to inform him of your prophecy."

Friday, July 06, 2012

Pea soup in a brewery

Alan was telling us some story about a bloke we sort of knew who'd been stupid enough to leave his wallet behind when he broke into the Co-op. "Couldn't organise a pea soup in a brewery!" He laughed aloud at his own joke.

"But why would they want pea soup in a brewery?" Nigel queried. "I mean, they don't make beer out of it, do they?"

The gang turned as one on the regular fall guy. Nigel was so easy to wind up, but it was a toss between him and Baz who'd be target for today. They were both dressed in less than trend gear. Baz, as usual sported some kind of way too big handmedown from one of his older brothers. But it was hardly his fault that his mum was always too skint to buy him and the other seven anything decent to wear.

Nigel was a different case though. His parents had money but no taste, and he'd been forced into a bright orange nylon thing. Literally forced, because the seams were losing a fight against the body inside. It was supposed to keep him dry in the rain, but he got wetter than the rest of us because it was too tight and made him sweat loads.

Alan was still sniggering to himself and you could see his brain calculating some smart comment. Simmo spoke up and punched him not too gently on the arm.

"Get over yourself. It really wasn't that funny."

The only response: a low-lidded glower and shrugged shoulders.

From a Thinking 10 prompt. Alan, Baz, Nigel and Simmo have appeared around here before.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Thursday extracts: Models

Catalogue Girl

Catalogue girl, so gently posing
in your world of creaseless clothing
if I stand and pout like you,
I can look quite stupid too.

Annette Campbell (1956 - )


Another extract from what is possibly the last Poems in the Waiting Room that will be available to all surgeries. Please, if you can afford to help, send a donation to PitWR, c/o Michael Lee PO Box 488 Richmond TW9 4SW

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Thinking Ten

Visit ThinkingTen—A Writer's Playground

On Sandra's advice I've joined Thinking Ten - a writer's playground. I'll be getting daily prompts to write something creative, so you might be getting a few more posts than you have of late. I'm not promising that they'll be any good. Just that they'll exist!

My first attempt is here.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Six sentences

They want me to write six sentences, which doesn’t sound very difficult, but I’ve been lacking inspiration lately and the challenge is much tougher than I thought.  First of all I need to define the word sentence. 
Back at school it meant something that started with a capital letter, ended with a full stop, and had a ‘doing word’ in it. These days I break those rules because I am a professional writer and my creativity no longer feels bound by them.

I began this challenge because I need more encouragement to exercise my fiction abilities. So why am I still describing reality?  

Over at Lines of Communication, Sandra's taking part in a thing called Six Sentences, which is a regular writing challenge. As some of you know, I've been sadly lacking in inspiration lately, so I've decided to sign up to see if it'll help.  I'm not sure that the above six sentences are particularly reassuring. But it's early days.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Office speak

A change of office location has given me a new outlook (literally) on life. Helps to see things from a different perpective, get a new angle. I'm in the perfect place to grab the low-hanging fruit (from the tree outside) but I'll need a heads up to see it.

It's quieter over here though.