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‘Ravensdale’ by Lucinda Elliot – Just Awarded the B.R.A.G. medallion for Outstanding Self-Published Fiction

brag-medallion-sticker

I’m celebrating on two accounts.

One, I have won a second award.

I’ve just heard I’ve won a B.R.A.G medallion for ‘Outstanding Self-Published Fiction’ for my historical romance spoof ‘Ravensdale’.

That was a lovely Easter present.

Here’s the B.R.A.G award website, for those writers wishing to enter their own work, but even more for those readers, who are always wanted to review books objectively according to the guidelines of the site.

https://www.bragmedallion.com/about

To have your work bonoured – particularly if it’s regarded as ‘too cross genre’ to attract agents and publishers –gives you a sense that it’s all worthwhile after all.

Goodness knows we self-published authors who strive to write to our best standards, often wonder if it is. There’s nothing like a one star review – or two, or yet more, to make you feel that you’re banging your head against a brick wall.

Here’s the link to amazon for ‘Ravensdale’.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JSPXQV8

A couple of awards put matters into perspective.

The second reason I have to be cheerful is that I’m now up to the final part of the sequel to ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ – which I think I will call ‘Where Worlds Meet’ (I was thinking of ‘Villains and Vampires’ but that is too close to the title of my last spoof, ‘The Villainous Viscount’ and people might confuse the two).

I expect I am typical, in that I love writing this bit best of all, with home in sight. Writing the end of a full length novel is like running the end of a long distance race – I used to love cross country running at school (that was before I filled out fore and aft and it became a lot less comfortable) – where the lungs are heaving and the legs like jelly, but you know you’ll make it.

I don’t know if I’m typical in this, but I suspect I am –  I don’t particularly enjoy writing the middle of a book.  I suspect that it is where you are likely to give up if at all. The biggest effort seems to be required. You have to develop character, maintain reader interest, build conflict, create obstacles, all that sort of thing, and you are no longer fired with that initial enthusiasm.

I did a post on this a few weeks ago.

here

I believe it is known sometimes as ‘The sagging middle syndrome’ and they aren’t referring to the need for a few workouts.

Then, the middle-coming-up-to-the-end is a bit of a killer, too. There you have to do the above, only higher key.

That was the bit where I decided about six weeks back, looking over my work, ‘No point in kidding yourself, thickhead: you’ve gone in the wrong direction’ (and oh yes, I was known to do that in cross country running, too). So I had to backtrack. I thought I’d have to jettison 15,000 words, and some of it I was really pleased with, but there was too weak a series of links, and insufficient conflict, leading to too fast a denouement.

In fact, I found that I could use some of those paragraphs after all, as the writing was appropriate to later on in the story, but not to where I had put it.

All this is horribly familiar to all writers; just when you think you’re near the home run, there’s a home delay.

12618f13And that is one of the good things about being a self-published writer. You don’t have a publisher breathing down your neck with ‘When will it be ready?’ That, of course, was what happened to Elizabeth Gaskell in the third volume of ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’. She had already been writing it for three and a half years and was being harassed by her publishers. That is why she falls into the easy trap of melodrama and co-incidence (fine in a spoof, not in a work that is intended to be serious).

This is a shame, as it weakens the ending; however, despite those drawbacks, ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ is still one of my favourite novels.

Well, there’s still a long way to go, because this is only the first draft for me. You may be sure that my Beta readers will have many painful suggestions, involving extensive rewrites.

…And that can be like running a long distance race in slow motion, or perhaps, backwards.

Review of ‘The Manchester Man’ an 1873 novel by Mrs G Linnaeus Banks

I heard of the 1873 novel, ‘The Manchester Man’  through its being  mentioned in the footnotes of Joyce Marlow’s book ‘The Peterloo Massacre’ as having an excellent account of the horrors of that day depicted within it.

‘Mrs G Linnaeus Banks’  novel (female Victorian writers were known by all of their husband’s names)  had an account from various eye witnesses from that day, and her paternal grandfather had written a satire on the outrages of the Manchester Yeoman Cavalry.

As I read, I became drawn into the story, which is intirguing, if highly melodramatic.  I particularly liked the fact that as in ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, there is a story of a deubauched wild young man from a landed family who falls for an innocent young girl, who is determined to save him – and unlike in the hearts and flowers HEA’s envisaged by so many Regency Romances – fails.

This is not to say that the author doesn’t, unfortunately, go in for bursts of purple prose and Victorian sentimentality fairly often.

On this, as an aside: I wonder why were many Victorian writers so sentimental, Dickens being one of the most crass examples? Is it a question of taste changing, so what was acceptable to the reading public then is cloying and embarrassing to us? I suppose there are stylistic excesses which modern authors adopt – all of us – which will cause later generations to raise their eyebrows. We will appear naive to them – those of us who are still read – and we have a blind spot – we cannot predict in what way.

I’m willing to predict, that those individualistic Hearts and Flowers Happy Ever Afters in escapism for the main pair might well be part of it.

Anyway, to return to this story. Parts of it are based on fact; not only the depiction of the Manchester of that era – the buildings, customs, speech and the day to day life of the people – and parts invented.

Intriguingly, the most dramatic  episodes, not only the horrors of the massacre – which is widely known  –  but a baby rescued from a flood, swept along in a cradle and the details of the disastrous love match of the main female character and the villain of the piece are, according to the author’s appendices, matters of historical fact.

The story begins when the tanner Simon Clegg and his daughter Bess rescue and subsequently adopt the baby whose cradle has been carried away in the terrible flood of 1799.  Unable to trace his parents, they adopt him.

Named Jabez, he grows up to be a the ‘Manchester Man’ of the title and a blessing to his adopted family. He rises by dint of his character and application to be first an apprentice, then a master, and then a partner in his own business.

The hero is a bit too exemplary at times, but I still liked him, even when he felt obliged to turn informer on his workmates, who were cheating their master, who is also his benefactor.

Personally, I deplore giving names in such a situation, but Jabez’s orthodox religious convictions oblige him to.

However, this is the only occasion when he does speak against his colleagues, however roughly they treat him.  Earlier, he remains silent when he is persecuted by a group of bullies led by his later rival in love, Laurence Aspinall and he endures much unfair treatment from his fellow apprentices with good nature.

It is interesting that the author’s depiction of schoolboys and the fights between them is wholly realistic, and she points out that this robust attitude towards violence between young males was typical of the Regency era, as is the heavy drinking of some of the men in the story.

Meanwhile the main female character Augusta decides that the bold, rakish behaviour of  Laurence Aspinall resembles the heroes she has read of in the circulating library- also rakes in need of reform.

Intriguingly, Laurence Aspinall does resemble Arthur Huntingdon in Anne Bronte’s ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, even down to his cheerful wildness, his prized chestnut curls, bright blue eyes and addiction to the bottle, besides being a Regency contemporary.

However, the author’s appendices state that these characters and the events of their relationship leading up to their marriage are based on real characters from an earlier date. This is even true of some of the quotes from Augusta, ‘I’ll please my eye even if I plague my heart’ and their two foiled elopements between Aspinall and Augusta.

Parts of Aspinall’s abuse are, in fact, so extreme that I guessed that it had to be based on fact – no author would try to convince readers of such excesses in fiction. For instance, he rides his horse up the stairs to the bedroom where his wife lies with their new baby (not so difficult a feat as it might seem, given the wide staircases and shallow stairs of Georgian mansions).

As I say, the author often falls into purple prose: ‘Poor Mr Ashton’s care was his stricken child, whose white shoulders, bathed in blood, were washed by a father’s tears’. Still, much of the writing is strong, ie, on the victims fleeing from St Peter’s Fields: ‘From their windows they had seen men, women and children flying along, hatless, bonnettless, shoeless, their clothes rent, their faces livid and ghastly, shrieking in pain and terror as they ran by or dropped in the path of pursing troopers…’

I would recommend this book to anyone who are interested in reading historical fiction set in the UK during the Regency and the late Georgian era.  The story provides not only drama and excitement, but a realistic account of the everyday lives of people from varied backgrounds in the Lancashire at the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Criticism and Romantic Novels

I am a bit perturbed (I’m good at being perturbed, aren’t I?) at a New Age view which has infiltrated popular thinking.

A recent blog post by Mari Biella on free speech

Free Speech, Fake News and the Internet

inspired me to write this one.

This ‘New Age’  view that has to some extent infiltrated popular thinking is the  ‘No Negativity’ mindset that equates ‘criticism’ with something bad and unfair – in effect, with ‘negative criticism’.

This seems to me a worrying trend.  Criticism is surely equal to having an intelligent awareness of ones surroundings – towards having an active sense of discrimination. Without that we will have, surely, no intellectual life and also, no moral awareness.

Certainly, criticism can sometimes be harsh and unfair. Nobody exactly enjoys being on the receiving end of a scathing attack, however amusing it may be for others to read.

For instance, literary critics can be savage.

Then, with the rise of the internet, anyone can set buy a book and have a review, even if it is of the ‘Boring – didn’t get past the third paragraph’ one star variety, up there on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and so on.

For my own part, I avoid giving one star reviews unless the topic is really offensive – ie, a rapist or otherwise really abusive hero, say, and I avoid giving up on any book until I’ve read the first three chapters, while I never review a book unless I’ve read it through.

But that’s just me; a lot of readers take a different approach: that is their right .

And surely, the alternative of a non critical attitude, is far worse all round.

Unfortunately, this ‘New Age’ ‘All criticism is bad and unfair’ is an attitude prevalent amongst the ‘Romance Community’, and that does bother me.

What that amounts to, is to adopt the attitude of the cults – disseminating received information, the value and veracity of which it is an outrage to challenge – so that any critical response is attributed to supposed personal malice and psychological shortcomings, if not downright inspiration from evil spirits (glances uneasily about in search of said evil spirits).

There is a  sort of ‘keeping ranks’ attitude amongst writers and readers of romance – who often seem to know each other through blogs, etc – which adheres to unspoken rules, one of which seems to be that being under attack from outside means that they must not express any discontent between themselves. Any outspoken, hard hitting criticism is seen as being infra dig (Sarah Wendell has been to some extent an exception).  I recently came across a series of fulsome comments agreeing with a blogger who had objected to critical dismissal of an author idol’s literary ability later described by that same blogger  as ‘a stimulating discussion’.  I didn’t quite see where the ‘discussion’ part came in? What was her view of a non stimulating discussion?

Seriously, I truly did encounter this on a cosy little blog, the purpose of which seemed to be to give glowing reviews to historical romances,’intimate’ and sentimental biographies of monarchs, etc.

I can see how this approach has come about. Romantic novels have been traditionally derided as being unworthy of serious consideration as literature. While genre fiction generally is seen in this light, it is particularly true of romance, which has been especially targeted as absurd. Certainly, there is an element of sexism in this.

A lot of romance writers and readers point out, and with some justification, that male adventure stories and fantasy are just as far fetched;  it is merely that the unrealistic elements in those are different to those in romantic novels.

However, to take the attitude that it is permissible to write what is supposed to be literary criticism, in which a writer or student proffers no objective analysis of general weaknesses among examples the genre, and of particular weaknesses amongst the authors discussed, is surely not  literary criticism worthy of the name. Unfortunately, there are examples of so-called ‘literary criticism’ of romance as a genre which reflect this attitude.

I am sorry to say that this is true of a renowned book of literary criticism of the romance novel written by a Professor of English at McDaniel College in the US – often solemnly quoted as a brilliant defence of the genre in various articles about the web – ‘The Natural History of the Romance Novel’  by Pamela Regis.

This struck me as containing no criticism either of the genre, or of the authors’ work the author purports to analyse. Rather it was a glowing series of expositions of various novels.

At no point during the whole of the book does Regis admit that any of the novels she ‘discusses’ have weaknesses. It reads more like a panegyric on the various authors. She sets out a structure she has devised to which the ‘pure’ romantic novel is meant to a adhere, comprising eight points. She then goes on to define various classic novels as having these points and therefore, by definition, belonging to the category of romantic novels, ie, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Jane Eyre’ (whether or not these last two are in fact romantic novels is, of course, highly debated; anyway, Regis is confident that according to her approach, they are).

When I came to the chapter ‘The Limits of Romance’ , I thought, ‘Ah; now we shall have some objective analyses worthy of the name’ but no such thing. The phrase merely means that certain novels which are, generally, regarded as belonging to the romance genre are excluded – ie, ‘Gone With the Wind’, which is excluded by not having the necessary HEA.

Where there is any criticism, even of highly contentious subjects – for instance, of Samuel Richardson’s making a happy ending between the heroine and the ridiculous but supposedly romantic would-be rapist hero Mr B in ‘Pamela’ – then rather than engage herself, the author quotes opinions by other critics, never stating her own opinions except in defence of the genre.

Discussion of varying points of view should indeed be used to extend the scope of an argument; but when it is used as a substitute for any real investigation of structural and stylistic weaknesses by the author herself, when she is supposedly an expert on literary criticism – that strikes me as extraordinary.

My own review of this book can be found here:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/182152.A_Natural_History_of_the_Romance_Novel?ac=1&from_search=true#other_reviews

I found some of the comments on the book made by a journalist called Noah Berlatsky in this blog highly apposite:

http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2013/12/romance-and-the-defensive-crouch

‘Regis’ difficulty is that she wants to defend all romance. She is fighting for the honor of romance as a genre, or as a whole. She never, once, in the entire book, admits that any single romance, anywhere, might be formulaic, or badly written. ‘

…An impossible position to maintain, but somehow the author does it. But then she makes a truly astounding claim about the ‘first romantic novel’  ‘Pamela’, of which, it seems, for all its glaring faults, she as a defender of romantic novels is determined to admire.  She maintains that:  ‘The story can be called oppressive, I think, only if one believes that marriage is an institution so flawed that it cannot be good for a woman.’

I wrote an answer answer to that bizarre attempt at defence of the distasteful and sentimental outcome (as critics say, the obscenity of ‘Pamela’ lies in its sentimentality)  in my Goodreads review of her book. This would take us too far off topic here for me to quote…

So, to move back to the general…

I remarked in my own review of this book:

‘The author, in fact, puts herself in an impossible position; in arguing that there have been some romances written which are great literature, pointing to the ‘canonical’ texts of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, she never admits that comparison means just that. If there have been excellent romances written, then by definition there have to have been some far from excellent ones churned out. But as a defender of romance, who seems to make it a point of honour to eschew all criticism, this is an admission that she cannot make. All that she can do, is to maintain a deafening silence on the topic.

This ‘closing ranks’ out of defensiveness and equating all criticism with negative criticism is an attitude of the romance community which contradicts the desire of its members for their genre to be taken seriously. Criticism by definition cannot all be positive.’

If romance readers and writers want their favourite genre taken seriously as literature, then surely one of the first steps must be for romance writers to accept criticism without automatically maintaining the ‘defensive crouch’ that Noah Berlatsky analyses in his blog.

To move forward, surely the ‘romance community’ must also  be prepared to extend hard hitting analysis worthy of the  name about ‘classic romantic novels’ and others  – particularly in works of supposed literary criticism.  Free speech should operate here as elsewhere; for romance writers and critics to adopt the attitude that it is somehow unfair and not nice  makes them seem weak in a stereotypically ‘feminine’ way, and reinforce those sexist interpretations they so rightly resent.

Inspired Endings – That State of Transendence

I have written before about the inspired ending to Patrick Hamilton’s ‘The Slaves of Solitude’, which is, along with ‘Hangover Square’ considered to be his masterpiece.

I won’t do it justice here,  unless I explain something of the story, which is essentially a dark comedy. It concerns the grim – and often ludicrous – experiences of the lonely, early middle aged Miss Roach in a Henley boarding house called – with a typical Hamilton facetious touch – ‘The Rosamund Tea Rooms’ – in England during 1942; in other words, in the middle of World War II.

She incurs the wholly unjustified vindictiveness of two of her fellow lodgers. One of these is a German woman, Vicki Kugelmann, whom she has previously tried to befriend, the other a type which I gather was common in the ‘genteel’ boarding houses of the era – the impossibly overbearing and reactionary Mr Thwaites. They encourage each other in taunting Miss Roach, and gibing at her support for democracy.

Miss Roach has developed a mild flirtation with an American GI, the generous but unreliable Lieutenant Pike,who wishes, if he survives the war, to enter the laundry business. He has even proposed to Miss Roach: ‘Though she had laughed at the laundry, she had never entirely discounted it’.

The predatory Vikki, taken along to a meal with Lieutenant Pike and some of his GI friends through Miss Roach’s charity, throws herself at the unreliable, drunken Lieutenant Pike, and contrives to come between him and Miss Roach and to steal him as ‘her American’, though she smugly informs Miss Roach that:  ‘I am not the Snatcher. I do not snatch the men’.

Then Miss Roach, already feeling undermined through the constant sniping comments from Mr Thwaites and Vikki, hears that Lieutenant Pike in fact is notorious for going about proposing to every woman with whom he becomes entangled, so his previous proposal was empty. She feels; ‘deprived of all dignity’.

Vikki gradually reveals herself as hating the British, and Mr Thwaites has always been a closet fascist. After a prolonged psychological battle with these two, Miss Roach finally emerges triumphant.

Lieutenant Pike shifts his allegiance back to Miss Roach, but has to leave when his unit is transferred. Having inherited a sum of money from her aunt, she leaves the boarding house in triumph. Mr Thwaites has now died of a sudden agonising illness  –  and Vicki has been asked to leave to boarding house for inviting Mr Thwaites and Lieutenant Pyke into her room in a drunken spree.

Miss Roach is invited  to see the retired actor Mr Prest – always despised as ‘common’ in the Rosamund Tea Rooms – brought out of retirement to star as the wicked uncle in a pantomime. This, and the delight of the childish audience, gives Miss Roach a feeling of transcendence: ‘There was an extraordinary look of purification about Mr Prest..and…Miss Roach felt purified.’

She has taken a room for a couple of nights in Claridges (able to pay through her small inheritance from her aunt): Here her strange feeling of purification continues:

‘An orchestra was now playing in the lounge, and sitting and having that last drink…something else was added to Miss Roache’s state of mind…there came a sort of clarification of mind, in which she could see in their correct proportions all the things which had occurred to her in the last few months…

She saw Mr Thwaites in his right proportions…The trouble with that man was that he had never stepped beyond the mental age of eleven or twelve, nature having arrested him at a certain ugly phase…

She saw the Lieutenant in his right proportions. Not strong of mind, easily affected by drink, in a foreign land, in a mood of sexual excitation, in fear of the future and over anxious to live life to the full, the poor man had gone about in drink making love to the girls and asking them to marry him…

She saw Vikki in her right proportions. A wretched woman that, more wretched than evil…savagely egoistic. And in her sex obsession, vain. And in her vanity cruel…She probably wasn’t really the concentration camp, stadium yelling, rich, fruity, German Nazi which Miss Roach had at times thought her (and yet she very probably was!) and now Miss Roach found it easy to forgive her.’

Settling down to sleep, Miss Roach, ‘That slave of her task master, solitude …hopefully composed her mind for sleep – God help us, God help all of us, every one, all of us.’

Patrick Hamilton was in fact an atheist, but if ever a line was written in a state of inspiration, that last line of supplication to the Deity is it.

To me, the feeling that it inspires sums up the state of mind in which the author must be himself or herself, in order to inspire that same leap of transcendence in the reader.

This is the culmination of that satisfactory ending. We’ve had the fireworks, and we’ve done the prosaic stuff with tying up the loose ends.Now you must impart to the reader a feeling  of peace and completion.

This is the culmination; this is where you leave the reader who has paid you the compliment of joining you in a sojourn through your imaginary world. You must leave that reader contented.

In a fictional work that has any aspirations to merit, that moment of parting is all important. .

You can’t afford to leave that reader dissatisfied. Unless you are writing a series, in those last pages,  you must tie up those loopholes in the plot, that goes without saying. You must resolve your main characters’ dilemma, end that quest, bring down those barriers .
You have to bring about completion as surely as any conveyancing solicitor handing the client those coveted house keys.

And evocation of mood is a great part of it.

In light novels, say a romance pure and simple, you only aim to solve the main characters’ dilemma and bring them together. It is that which gives the reader her (less often his) emotional high. It’s ended nicely, for those protagonists, anyway.

But if you are writing something deeper, that is hardly enough. You want to evoke a more expanded mindset that that. You want that reader to feel almost stunned and emotionally both drained and fulfilled, by first the drama of those concluding chapters, and then to come to a sense of peace.

I’m not, of course, implying that we can hope to come even close, were we to write and rewrite our ending lines several thousand times,  but below are the ending lines to ‘King Lear’.

Cordelia is dead, Edmund’s repentance when he found himself dying after his fight with Edgar wasn’t in time to save her; the once foolish, vain and authoritarian King Lear, who has run mad and been restored to sanity again by that rejected daughter, has himself died of a cracked heart; Goneril has poisoned Regan, and then stabbed herself to death, and ‘My poor Fool is hanged’.

The slaughter is awful. It is given to Edgar (the probable future ruler) to say:

‘The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.’

It wouldn’t even be a good idea if we could replicate that tragic grandeur. It is probably better for the mental stability of the population that we don’t read several such great works of literature each week. We would become overwrought.

For all that, we must, of course, always try to write the best version of whatever it is that we are writing or we won’t be aiming high enough: we’ll be churning out pot boilers.

There are some writers who have managed to do that and produce something of lasting value – I would argue that Conan Doyle in his Sherlock Holmes stories achieved that, however light a value he placed on them – but they have not been many.

But if we want to write something of value, then at the conclusion of a story, that feeling of transcendence, that mindset of rising above petty differences, of compassionate awareness of the tragedies in life – of the terrible waste in human misunderstanding, must come through.

When I first finished reading ‘Wuthering Heights’ – a good long time ago, and read the concluding passage:

‘I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fl uttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.’

Those evocative words gave me that feeling.

That was as myself in a transcendent mood.

Later, when I came to think about it, having reverted once more my everyday self – I decided that I personally found the ending of the story unsatisfactory because Healthcliff never repents of his evildoing – he explicitly tells Nelly Dean that he has done nothing wrong.

I have learnt since, that Emily Bronte had given much thought to the final destination of the ‘unrepentant man of iron’. Now I would hazard that the ending is not meant to give any definitive indication of what that final account will be, other than at the last, we are all perhaps incorporated into that all encompassing peace.

And, of course, with regard to all the above,  if you are writing a series, then that job is in some ways even harder, as in each stage, you must have an interim ending which gives a partial sense of completion and then finish with the fireworks and the roll of drums and then – that final piece of imaginative empathy.

Well, that is what we must aim for. We can only try.

I’m on to the last 30,000 words in my latest now, building up to the fireworks, which I can only hope don’t prove to be damp squibs, and then I’ve got to pull off those final moments .

Wish me luck.

Getting From the Middle to the End of Your Story: The Main Characters’ Darkest Hours…

2013_fireworks_on_eiffel_tower_49

YUK. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the sagging middle, and how I was fighting my way through that in my latest, the sequel to ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’.

By the way, this one has the interim title: ‘Villains and Vampires’. However, as my last began with the words, ‘The Villainous Viscount’ I am not sure that this new title is sufficiently different. A potential reader, skim reading, might say; ‘The V….V…’ that rings a bell; I must have read that…’  So I’m in two minds.

I have written a bit more of that middle – but guess what: I wrote a pivotal part about which I wasn’t quite sure. Then this way led somehow to all the characters getting towards the end from the middle too quickly.

I didn’t feel that the main characters’ feelings of desperation during the darkest moments were sufficiently extended or bleak. It was more, ‘Oh dear. This is bad. Oh dear, THIS IS BAD! Oh, what’s that? Ah, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel yet…’

I felt that I was pulling too many irons out of the fire before they were red hot, or as if I had lit the fuse too soon. A couple of the sub plots seemed to fizzle out.

And that isn’t good enough. That’s second rate at best – probably third rate. The only writers who can only get away with writing a middle like that are ones with a massive fan base, most of whom are so addicted that they will somehow miss the unsatisfactory nature of that move to the resolution, and give a five star review to anything connected with that writer’s name – even reissued juvenelia.

220px-royalfireworks

So, in that last display of fireworks, you want them all to go off so that the reader says at the end ‘Wow! Just – Wow!’ I hope I’m not normally given to fatuous observations (some might dispute that ) but while I hate that expression  ‘Wow’, that is exactly what I did say at the end of, for instance, Rebecca Lochlann’s ‘In the Moon of Asterion’, the concluding part of the Greek section of her ‘Child of the Erinyes’ series. The way everything came together was brilliant.

By the way, at the moment,the first novel from that series, ‘The Year God’s Daughter’  is permanently free on Amazon.here

That being so, all I could do was jettison those 15,000 words and go back. It made me feel quite dismal for a day or so, but still, I wrote ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ three times.

I found the following information from this website very useful https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/oct/19/evolving-your-story

…13 Downtime begins
The last section of the middle portion of the story begins with the downtime, which precedes the black moment. Your characters are coming to feel they have nothing left to hold on to. Detail these feelings.
14 Characters revise old or design new short-term goals
Your characters are going to make their next decisions out of sheer desperation. From this point on, they seem to lose much of their confidence – or, worse, they’re feeling a reckless sense of bravado that may have tragic consequences. What are their new goals and how do they plan to reach them?
15 The quest to reach the story goal continues, but instability abounds
Though your characters are ploughing ahead bravely, each step is taken with deep uncertainty. How does this action unfold?
16 The black moment begins
The worst possible failure has now come to pass. The short-term goals made in desperation are thwarted, and the stakes are raised to fever pitch as the worst of all possible conflicts is unveiled. Describe it in detail.
17 The characters react to the black moment
Characters react to this major conflict with a sense of finality. Never will there be a moment when the outcome is more in question than in this concluding section of the middle of the book.
The end…At the end of a book, all plots, subplots and conflicts are resolved. In the last few chapters, the characters are finally given a well-deserved break from their recent crisis.

On juvenilia – I am sure there will be no takers for anyone wanting to read my first satire, which I wrote in cartoon form aged nine?  Entitled ‘Wendy Goes To Town’ it was about an officious little girl who – surprise, surprise, went to town to stay with her aunt . She discovered that a gang of altruistic local villains from the local rough estate were stealing from the rich to give to the poor, and spied on them, using newly acquired detective skills acquired from a book. The story ended with Wendy driven off  by her proud parents, wearing a medal awarded by the local magistrate, who had given all the menaces to society six months…

170px-robin_shoots_with_sir_guy_by_louis_rhead_1912

I remember that I had recently read a version of the  ‘Robin Hood’ legends, which had a great affect on me; any readers of this blog or my writing will know, of course, that it lingers still.   I hope I can write slightly better than I did at nine, though…

Review: ‘The Peterloo Massacre’ by Joyce Marlow

peterloo-massacre-1

I hope I am joined by many writers – from the UK particularly – in aiming to write something to commemorate the bicentenury of Manchester’s  Peterloo Massacre of 1819 coming up on 16 August, 2019 (if this post just happens to inspire any writers, there’s plenty of time; 18 months, in fact).

I began my researches by reading the 1969  book  by Joyce Marlow on the historical background leading up to my events, and here’s my review of it.

‘This is an excellent depiction of the events and ideas leading to the tragedy of Peterloo. It centres on one of its most poignant victims, twenty-two year old John Lees, only the bare facts of whose life and death have come down to history.

We do know that he was, by a terrible irony, a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo. He is quoted as saying that he never felt so much in danger at Waterloo, as – to paraphrase – ‘Then it was one to one, but this was pure murder’.
While, through good luck more than anything, only fifteen at most people were killed, many more were seriously injured. The books of the relief committees indicate perhaps as many as 500. Of these, many often horrifically injured by sabre and crushing wounds from being trampled on by horses. Many, in those days long before  free medical treatment in the UK,  did not seek ‘official’ medical help. Besides, they knew that the authorities were striving to pin the blame on the crowd.

John Lees himself, the son of a small cotton manufacturer in Oldham outside Manchester, for all his terrible injuries, did not see a doctor until the next day. He lingered, obviously developing the infection that finally killed him, for three weeks.

The coroner’s verdict over his death, and the attempts of local ‘justices’ to bring a verdict which vindicated the outrageous behaviour of the troops and the MYC (Manchester Yeomanry Cavalry)  on that fateful day, underpinned the efforts of the establishment to quash radical dissent and outraged popular feeling.

Locals agreed that John Lees had been sabered to death by troops during a peaceful protest. The magistrates who had sent in the troops so unadvisedly wished to prove that they had been dispersing a potentially dangerous mass uprising.peterloo-massacre-2

Sadly, the Radicals, too tame in their response to the outrage, did not take advantage of the mood of the times. The leaders were arrested, mostly on the day, and  imprisoned for calling a meeting which, in demanding universal suffrage, supposedly attempted to overthrow the constitution. The government forced through ‘The Six Acts’ which effectively muzzled dissent and outlawed public meetings. It was decades before these were repealed.

The events of Peterloo led the poet Shelley to write these stirring lines in his ‘Masque of Anarchy’ (not in fact, published until the early 1830’s, ten years after his own death): peterloo-massacre-four

‘Rise like lions after slumber;
Rise in unvanquishable number;
Cast your chains to earth as dew,
Which on your sleep hath fallen on you,
Ye are many; they are few.’

A few days ago, an MP advised the British public (over a contentious speech by another MP) to ‘Rise up and switch off your television sets’.  Always a good idea, that; but the bathos of the contrast struck me as grimly hilarious.

You can buy this book, among other places,  on

and here.

 

 

 

 

 

Conspiratorial Conversation Between That Scoundrel Émile Dubois and His Right Hand Man Georges

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I would like to apologise for this post appearing late. It was fine on the preview, and now I find that there was nothing there for three days! IT does NOT like me.

Émile Dubois: [lounging in his rich dressing robe] Georges, I have news of the most tiresome. And by-the- by, mon ami, we are not alone. We are surveyed – even as we speak, so be discreet.

Georges: [clenching his fists] Merde! Do you mean, them Bow Street Runners has finally guessed who Monsieur Gilles and his Gentlemen of the Road really was and is spying on us? The sneaking –!

Émile Dubois:  No, I do not think we need fear the forces of justice closing in upon us.

Georges: Never say that mad vampire inventor is back yet again! [Expresses himself even more coarsely.]

Émile Dubois:   I have yet to hear that happy news.  No, by news of the most tiresome, I mean that our biographer has delayed in recounting our further adventures, in favour of some story about some fellow in 1821.  No, when I say we are surveyed, we are followed in the form of what is known as a ‘web log post’. That is why we’re speaking English, with some French expressions thrown in.  That being so, limit your maledictions.

Georges: Merde! What’s maledictions?

Émile Dubois:  The low manner in which you and I normally converse, when we are alone, mon vieil ami.

Georges [bristling]  What does this fellow have, that we don’t?

And 1821? Le diable, by then we may well have gone to our final account. [uneasily] I hope Madame Sophie still prays for us every day?

Émile Dubois:  She prays for us every day, and twice on Sundays. It don’t seem to be doing a whole lot of good, though we try, après tout, and we ain’t ridden out to rob anybody since we met les femmes.  I am advised that highway robbery is out of fashion by 1821. You know how difficult it was become for us, with those toll gates and patrols.

Georges:  [reminiscently]  Monsieur Gilles, you said we must leave Southern England until the hue and cry had settled after that latest brush with the patrols, and we went to visit your cousin Lord Rhuddlan high on that mountain most isolated in the North of the Wales, I did not expect such adventure, or that we would meet such wilful women, eh? Vampires and time snags, and mad inventors.

Émile Dubois:  Vraiment, Georges.  Neither did I expect to meet in my aunt’s companion one Sophie de Courcy, the lost Anglaise I had encountered when I was living in Paris under the guise of Monsieur Gilles, robber chief.  Least of all did I expect her to have no memory of our meeting, because it was yet to happen for her through a journey back in time.

Georges:  And then, you were piqued, shall we say, at her attitude, and that sent you straight into the arms of that vampire siren, who changed you.  I know when to be discreet; I will not speak of the assignation in which she changed you/ You returned from that encounter most feverish, and (resentfully) spewed upon the most magnificent pair of boots I ever owned. I cut such a dash in them boots that respectable matrons approached me in the road.

Émile:  Tais toi, Georges! You have complained at my treatment those boots ever since. I weary of hearing about them.

Georges:  And then, my Agnes having decided against me, I sought diversion elsewhere also, so that it ended by that local girl biting me. Such sport as we had in our bloodlust!  I remember most vivid jumping out at Agnes from a cupboard, while you would chase your Sophie about the room. Au bon vieux temps, or as they would say in English, ‘the good old days’.

220px-Renoir23Émile: That is one way of putting it, Georges.  

Georges: It were a fine adventure [struts over to the mirror, and regards himself complacently as he rearranges his neckcloth]. I  don’t think our biographer emphasized  how fine looking a man I am. And then, there is the title of that romance: ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’.

Émile Dubois:  Are you outraged on behalf of two such morally upright characters as myself and yourself, Georges? It seems an accurate character depiction to me. You recollect those are the very words Lord Dale said, when he recognised me by my eyes when we held up his fine carriage. Perhaps our biographer laid little emphasis on your handsome looks for fear it might pain me.

Georges: Bien sûr, we did right to rob Monsigneur of his gains most ill gotten. He was a scoundrel himself, who stole from the poor to give to the rich. No, it ain’t that I mean. But why wasn’t it called, ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois And Handsome Georges Durrrand His Friend of the Most Gallant Renown ?’

Émile: Alors, you rascal, do you desire that more was recounted of your part in that adventure?

Georges:  No. I am a modest man, and I do not desire to seem boastful.