Posts Page

Engrossing YA -Jo Danilo’s ‘The Curtain Twitcher’s Handbook’

 

I have always admired this author’s writing, and I am really pleased that this novel is now available on Amazon. I only occasionally read YA, but I really enjoyed this one.

Excellent! I was really impressed.

This novel combines lively action, humour, vivid descriptions and characterisation in an expertly woven creepy supernatural adventure alternated with prosaic high school life in a small Yorkshire town.

There is a curse on a house by Tinker’s Wood, and it must begin and end with a death.
When new neighbours move next door to the protagonist Daisy May and her mother, something re-activates it from its decades long sleep.

This is a spine chilling story, and a funny and a sad one. It’s full of action and vivid descriptions, tersely recounted. I was hooked from the moment I read of foul Mr Braithwate, and his habitual saluation to all – with two fingers.

The protagonist Daisy is a delight; unlike so many heroines,who leave all the wise cracking to the boys, she even retains her wicked sense of humour after she falls in love (I don’t think it’s writing a spoiler to say that she does that ) and retains her sense of identity, too. She’s tender and tough if a bit diffident. She comes from a one parent family, and they’re hard up, and she has to work to help out, but she doesn’t whinge.

Daisy has normal teenage concerns – whether or not to agree to her boyfriend, the school’s prize athlete Fred, taking things further: after all, she’s sixteen now and, they’ve been going out for a couple of years…

But she is dismayed to find herself unaccountably attracted to the new boy in town, Will Mckenzie, soon to become an object of fascination among her friend group. Daisy, who blames him for allowing her dog to be run over, is in a quandary about her mixed feelings over him.

This male lead, Will, is as lovable a hero as Daisy is a heroine – even when he turns Daisy’s life upside down,you have to love him. Daisy is puzzled as to how she comes to attract two of the most desired boys in the school; the reader sees it as evidence of her attractive personality.

The pace is quick, the characters real, the humour perfectly balances the grim happenings, and I found it – here’s a cliche – ‘A real page turner’.

The story begins with the body of the unpleasant Mr Braithwaite being taken from the house next door, where he has lived alone since the mysterious disappearance of his wife many years ago. This sets Daisy off on a new activity for her – ‘curtain twitching’.

She has never spied on him before, as: ‘He had nothing to show me except for his slow crawl into urine-scented senility. There was more entertainment to be had watching bananas slowly rotting in a fruit bowl.’

But then the McKenzies move in and Daisy becomes fascinated by what is going on in the house. What makes Will act so oddly when he is in his room, and why does he feel the need to avoid going home? How does all this tie in with the story her Grandfather tells her, of the disappearance of an encampment of gypsies from Tinker’s Wood at about the same time of Mrs Braithwaite’s disappearance?

Try it yourself. You won’t want to put it down (I didn’t, and sadly I’m no YA).

Finally, here are a few of my favourite quotes.

“Death to begin it.” The whisper tore my eyelids open and made me spin round with a gasp. It was so close I could have sworn I’d felt the whisperer’s breath tickle my ear. I stared hard into the blackness but there was nobody there. Nobody at all. I heard the fear in my own uneven breathing. The Braithwaite light surged again, flooding the lane with a brief light and sending the same shooting pain into my temple. “Death to end it.’

‘A gentle breeze made the trees whisper and sway, and patches of sunlight danced across the floor. Everything was tinged with spring green, even the sound nearby fields, the soothing song of the wood pigeon. And through the tree trunks were glimpses of the patchwork hills and chocolate-brown moors beyond the wood, stretching on and on.’

“I wish I had half of what you have,” Will continued. “My grandparents never bothered with me and my parents aren’t interested in anything I do.”

‘He’s a little bit hunched over, as if he has a heavy pack on his back that weighs him down. But all this new vulnerability only enhances his charm. Everyone wants to look after him and take away his hurt.’

‘I twisted round frantically, to see whose dreadful claws were clutching my waist, adrenaline using my veins as a Grand Prix circuit.’

‘He looked awful, the whites of his eyes shot through with red and his skin so pale. Like a dead boy.’

You can buy this book here https://www.amazon.com/Curtain-Twitchers-Handbook-Jo-Danilo-ebook/dp/B07124DZYL/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1497616892

Authors Basing Characters on Real People: Some Examples from Classic Novels

I don’t know how much most authors base their characters on people they have known. I would guess that most combine various characteristics taken from numerous people in real life with some from those they have encountered in fiction to create something original.

A writer observes on this website

https://litreactor.com/columns/keeping-it-real-a-rough-guide-to-using-real-people-as-fictional-characters

‘Fictional characters, especially main characters, almost never behave exactly like real people would.  They’re smarter, more persuasive, more appealing, more sensitive, better looking, stronger, more hot-headed, braver and at least twice as sensual as anyone we’re ever going to share office space or an apartment with. Make your characters too real and the reader will soon lose interest. Give them some real characteristics and they’ll jump out of the page and into your audience’s mind with a single bound.’

As a matter of fact, I don’t agree with all of that. Most people do meet larger than life characters, people who are outstanding in all sorts of ways. It is merely that they are vastly outnumbered by the greater number of smaller than life characters one meets …

It is however true that they probably don’t combine all these fascinating characteristics together.

For instance, perhaps my own best looking character is Reynaud Ravensdale in ‘Ravensdale’ (though some might prefer the looks of Harley Venn in ‘The Villainous Viscount Or the Curse of the Venns’).  Readers might imagine that I must have invented his appearance, or based it on some idealised portrait.

In fact, a man I knew looked exactly like that,  wide-set, heavy-lidded eyes, Grecian profile, waving chestnut hair and all. He was a petty villain I knew, who was a nice enough guy, but – to put it mildly –  rather stupid.

Reynaud Ravensdale is certainly more of a man of action than a studious type, and decidedly impulsive and given to theatrical gestures, but only stupid about his love object Isabella Murray and her predecessor Georgiana Toothill. Above anything, I wrote him as an ‘Ideal Type’  of the hero of the traditional robber novels like ‘Rinaldo Rinaldini’ and ‘Dubrovsky.

According to various books and websites, a fair number of writers of classic novels did base their main character roughly on someone they knew in real life, or sometimes, someone whom they knew only slightly. Or it could be, on someone the author had only glimpsed once.

For instance, it seems the appearance of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of d’Ubervilles’ is based on a farm girl Hardy saw, belabouring some unfortunate mount and swearing.

Various pieces of advice on writing such as the website above strongly advise aspiring authors not to make their characters recognisable as real people. Still,  I remember reading that Kingsley Amis deliberately made the ridiculous Professor Welch in his first novel ‘Lucky Jim’ a wounding portrayal of his first father-in-law.   I don’t know if the unlucky man recognised himself.

What is interesting, is that it is a witty portrayal. Many portrayals dictated by malice seem to read as savage rather than amusing.  Also in the same novel, I believe that the Jim character was based on Amis’s friend Philip Larkin.

It seems that Samuel Richardson said he based his character Robert Lovelace from ‘Clarissa’ on the conversation and attitudes of a man he encountered. I only read this in passing in some piece of literary criticism, and find it rather an astounding notion, given the puritanical notions of that author.

Did Richardson encourage this appalling conversation about the seduction and betrayal of a series of innocents?   Was the man possibly self-deluded, boasting of conquests and betrayals that never happened and persuading Richardson to believe his boastful anecdotes?

But, as the characters that authors create are after all a part of our  own psyches, surely a large part of Lovelace was  the dark part of the puritanical Samuel Richardson’s own unconscious mind?  That he managed to keep such a scheming, exuberant, emotionally abusive and finally rapist aspect to his psyche under control is, if so, evidence of what an astonishing job an effective conscience does.

As it was, all Richardson did was write novels which expressly designed to  oppress generations of women with false notions of purity…

I had wondered on whom Oscar Wilde based his infinitely corrupt Dorian Grey in his famous novel. It seems from this website:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/ten-famed-literary-figures-based-on-real-life-people-3537929

that his appearance at least was based on one John Grey, a minor member of his circle . If so, according to the website below,  the fate of this person was vastly different from that of Wilde’s character. John Grey later took holy orders.

Three inch high watercolour of Irishman Thomas Langlois Lefroy painted by leading English miniaturist George Engleheart in 1798

Critics are still undecided on who is the original of Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy. Some think his appearance at least was based on the  Irish William Lefroy, who admitted in old age to having as a youth been in  love with Jane Austen.

Some authors seem to have shown naivety in believing that characters they had based on people important in their lives could not be recognised by readers as long as they changed a feature here or there…

For instance, when reading the  ‘Forstye Saga’ by John Galsworthy, I noted his besotted, partisan attitude towards the female lead Irene, whose physical and mental attributes seem to be admired by everyone.

I was unsurprised to find out later that the character of Irene, and her marital misfortunes, are based on Galsworthy’s wife (who was previously unhappily married to his cousin).  Galsworthy seems to have thought that if he changed her hair colour from dark to golden, nobody would draw any conclusions about her origin…

Indie Authors: Don’t Give Up On Your Original Voice When Sales Are Bad

https://www.amazon.com/Longbourn-Jo-Baker-ebook/dp/B00CQ1D3BYFive years ago, when I started writing online, I was lucky enough to meet some outstanding writers on Goodreads (I’ve met others since, on Authonomy before it packed up and elsewhere, but here I’m talking about that original base of writer friends).

They were mostly women, varying in age. Some came from my native England, some from the US, and a couple from the Antipodes. Their genre varied, but they all had one thing in common….

They didn’t write formulaic, predictable stories. They broke rules; they used humour; they featured strong female leads (otherwise, I wouldn’t have enjoyed their stories). They were often a bit cross genre, and this was probably one of the reasons why they hadn’t got that elusive contract with an agent or publisher.

They wanted to achieve something original. Yes, they wanted success and sales – who doesn’t? – but above that, they wanted to write with an individual voice and to get readers for the novels that they had loved creating.

In those days, things were a lot easier from the sales point of view. My goodness, back then Amazon hadn’t introduced Amazon Select and Pages Read, both of which have led to a catastrophic fall in sales.

Why, in 2014 my spoof Regency (technically, late Georgian) Romance ‘Ravensdale’ sold thousands – enough for me to take my daughter on holiday to Paris.

It also attracted a good many resentful reviews from readers who disliked their favourite tropes being satirized, however gently, but that is the price of notoriety, and I think most writers, like me, would rather attract sales and public notice than have no controversy, obscurity, and dismal sales.

Incidentally, since the introduction of Amazon’s new sales policies, sales of ‘Ravensdale’ have plummeted. Because it is sinking into obscurity, I have made it free on Smashwords. I have tried to make it free on Amazon, but they ignore me. Here is the Smashwords link for that:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/721130

My own view is, that while it is nice to make money out of writing, that isn’t why I went into it; in fact, that is only the icing on the cake. The reason I went into it, is because I wanted people to read my stuff.

If I – as someone (I hope) at least partially sane – had gone into writing to make a profit out of it, then I’d be writing: ‘The Duke Gets His Breeches Down: Dastardly Duke Series 101’.

That is the way to make high sales and money out of writing.

Most of those writer friends haven’t sold as much as they deserve. But then, if they got their just deserts, they’d be best selling authors.

Sadly, the market doesn’t work like that; the market recognises the price of everything, and the value of nothing, as someone once said.  As often as not, it’s not the talented and original authors who are among the most successful.

Sadly, I think some of them have become discouraged about writing. Some are taking a long break from the whole business of writing and the weary slog of publicity, and finding it a relief. Of course, many of them are very busy; some of them still have children, and a job…The wonder is anyone in that situation produces good work at all.  But I suspect some have been discouraged by mediocre sales, and the lack of a breakthrough.

I personally, think it would be a great loss if they gave up altogether. Rather, I think that if an author is making a pittance from her writing and it has no visibility on the sales ranks on Amazon, she might as well make her books free.

Smashwords will do it happily enough. The problem is Amazon, who seem to turn a deaf ear when it suits them.

However, they have made my first book, ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ free. For anyone interested, the new edition, complete with a faster start, is available here https://www.amazon.com/That-Scoundrel-Émile-Dubois-Light-ebook/dp/B00AOA4FN4

and here

By the way, I wouldn’t like to give the impression that all wonderfully original works are doomed to poor sales and lack of public recognition.  Many receive the recognition they deserve (though sometimes it happens after the author is dead).

There is Jo Baker’s ‘Longbourn’, for instance. What a brilliant work!

I found it such a refreshing change to read a book set in the UK of the Regency era which is about ordinary people – not the aristocracy (the families of approximately 700 men) or the gentry (approximately 1.5 per cent of the population).

But I will be writing a post about that soon. For now, I would like to say that I wish that all of my original writer friends were back to writing again. I miss them.

The Difficulty in Portraying the Truly Good Hero and Heroine – Examples from Classic Novels

The literary critic Graham Handley writes of the difficulty of creating a character who is very good: ‘It is a strange but true fact that the truly good person is difficult to portray convincingly in fiction, and Hester Rose (a sort of secondary heroine in Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’) may be compared with Diana Morris in ‘Adam Bede’ where there is a similar partial failure of imagination.’

Why this should be so is possibly a question of fashion. These days, we don’t want our protagonists to be too admirable, and the dread spectres of Mary Sue and Gary Stu hover near, whereas in the mid-eighteenth century, Samuel Richardson rose to fame (or infamy) through writing about two Mary Sues and one Gary Stu, namely, Pamela Andrews, Clarissa Harlow and Sir Charles Grandison.

These endless novels were best sellers in that era; people just couldn’t get enough of them. Of course, with ‘Pamela’ there is the issue of whether he drew in the reader with the lure of,  ‘Attempted Rape as Titillation Whilst Expressing Every Sort of Moral Abhorrence’ . I tend to agree with Coleridge that he did, possibly unconsciously.

The rape in Clarissa takes place offstage, and not until Volume Six, so a reader would have had to be as patient as s/he was purile to keep on reading that long just for that, even if people did have longer attention spans in previous centuries. Probably the fascination  of that saga was the villain Lovelace as much as the heroine, and the depiction of his evil if far fetched machinations.

Clarissa is of course, a far more sophisticated creation than Pamela, who to most modern readers comes across as a prize opportunist hypocrite. I can’t answer for Sir Charles Grandison. I have heard that the character is unbearable, and it is worth reading just for that. I have also heard that in it, a woman actually apologises for preferring God to Sir Charles.

Still, having in recent years ploughed my way through ‘Pamela’, ‘Clarissa’ and ‘Pamela in Her Exulted Condition’ (it seriously is called that!) I don’t think I can stand reading any more of Richardson’s self-serving Puritan morality for a long while.

Both the eponymous heroine of ‘Evelina’ and the hero Lord Orville are extremely virtuous and outstandingly dull. I felt like going to sleep whenever Lord Orville spoke.  Fortunately, he does that only occasionally, usually to show a high minded understanding of whatever situation it is in which he is involved.

By contrast, the villain Sir Clement Willoughby (did Jane Austen borrow his name?) provides a great deal of amusement. He spends much of his time, when not involved in rascally plots, in insisting on his deep love for the heroine. Still, never – the cad -does he  so much as hint at marriage. At the end he informs Lord Orville that she is not well born enough for him to consider for anything but as a mistress.  Lord Orville proposes believing her to be ‘low born’ – but then, he is a hero.

It was left to the genius of Jane Austen to create a hero who insults both the heroine’s face and her family origins.

Charles Darnay and Lucie Manette in Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ are another virtuous and dull hero and heroine in a classic novel. Someone has commented somewhere (I have managed to lose the link) that Darnay is just like an android programmed to do good things – he seems to possess no mental life at all, and whenever he opens his mouth, virtuous platitudes come forth. Lucie Manette is an embodiment of a Domestic Angel.

I have to admit that I dislike that novel, because of the influence it has had in portraying the French Revolution in an entirely negative light, in particular shaping the popular misconception about the number of victims of the Terror.

As George Orwell says: ‘ Though he (Dickens) quotes no figures, he gives the impression of a frenzied massacre lasting for years, whereas in reality the whole of the Terror, so far as the number of deaths goes, was a joke compared with one of Napoleon’s battles. But the bloody knives and the tumbrils rolling to and fro create in (the reader’s) mind a special sinister vision which he has succeeded in passing on to generations of readers. To this day, to the average Englishman, the French Revolution means no more than a pyramid of severed heads. ’

That however, is off topic…

Intriguingly, Charles Darnay does come to life – twice – when he is in danger of death. Both when he is being tried for treason in the UK, and later when he is tried for it in France, he is suddenly there, real and believable.

In fact, I found the scene where Lucie Manette (who doesn’t yet know him) sheds tears because she is forced to give evidence against him, and they gaze at each other through the courtroom and obviously start to fall in love, both evocative and gripping.

Generally, then, I find it hard to think of a truly noble hero or heroine in a classic novel who is both interesting and believable.  Readers may have been more fortunate; if so, I’d love to hear of it.

‘Fame is the Spur’ by Howard Spring: A Fascinating Depiction of an Opportunist Protagonist

I’m reading ‘Fame is the Spur’ by Howard Spring, published in 1940.

This is, of course, an epic story recounting the rise of the labour movement in the UK in the late nineteenth century until the 1930.s, and of the fate of one labour politician in particular; this is in some ways a dismally familiar story – an account of how a  firebrand socialist politician is incorporated  into the capitalist status quo he once opposed .

This depiction makes absorbing reading.  It’s an epic novel with ambitious scope, written with flashes forward and backwards –  grinding poverty, ambition, love and class conflict are vividly portrayed.

I started reading it as background reading for my planned novella on the Peterloo Massacre of 1819.  I have been really drawn in. The writing style is uneven – some of it brilliant, other parts border on the sentimental, and some of the description is clumsily put – but overall, it is an impressive book and I shall certainly be reading more from this author.

I came across it when working in the libraries many years ago. Doing research for my own planned novella on the Peterloo Massacre, I remembered recently that the nickname, ‘Shawcross of Peterloo’ is given to the main character in the novel .

As a boy, he is literally handed a sword used on the crowd in that slaughter by ‘The Old Warrior’, his parents’  elderly lodger – his sweetheart was murdered that day.

That sword, standing as a symbol of support for the downtrodden, is a sort of leitmotif running through the story.

I gather the film – which I think I saw on television as a kid, but failed to understand– depicts Hamer Shawcross as a man who, coming from the dispossessed himself,  is a genuine firebrand who sells out.

The book is more complex. In it Hamer Shawcross is depicted as being disturbingly opportunist from the beginning; from childhood, using people comes easily to him. He is lucky, as his stepfather and his friend help build him a study bedroom – a thing unknown for a boy from his  background in the industrial Manchster at that time. He is always encouraged to study and broaden his mind.

His family cannot afford university for him, so he leaves school at fourteen to work for an older friend who runs a bookshop. With a single mindedness one can only admire he continues to study, including languages, and at the same time he works hard to develop an excellent physique.

He shows a less commendable singleness of purpose, when he leaves his widowed mother (who can’t afford to pay the rent to keep her home without him) to go travelling about the world for four years.

He returns, a charismatic man with an astounding capacity for making stirring speeches and sweeping people up in his enthusiasm.

While the reader cannot find this protagonist wholly sympathetic, what is interesting is that it is unclear whether or not he is fully unaware of his own lack of sincerity.

However, it is hard to say, for much of the time, we do not have access to Shawcrosses’ thoughts. We see only his acts, and we usually see him through the eyes of other people, ie, his humble widowed mother, then Ann, his besotted wife from a privileged background, and his Dull But Worthy friend Arnold Ryerson.

I have quoted before the late Elizabeth Gaskell critic, Graham Handley, on the issue of how intriguing it makes a character for the author to reveal only so much of the workings of his or her mind.  This is particularly the case where sh/e is in fact, shallow.

Graham Handley wrote this of Gaskell’s portrayal of the ‘romantic interest’ in ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ the Specksioneer turned navy captain Charley Kinraid.

I have written before of that character’s shameless opportunism, and the clever way in which the author makes an essentially stereotypical character mysterious, by revealing so little of his point of view. The rumours about his fickleness are never entirely confirmed or denied, but left as background hints that he is charming but unreliable, above all, a man who always has an eye on the main chance.

The depiction of Hamer Shawcross is a little like that; though his betrayals and changes in allegiance are more solidly depicted, he is mostly ‘seen from the outside’.

Interestingly, for all the occasional lapses into sentimentality in the tone of the novel,  there is no hearts and flowers happy ever after for Shawcross and his wife. Ann retains her ideals if she does continue to love her manipulative and increasingly successful life partner. He has promised to support female suffrage as an MP, but later equivocates.

By then middle aged, she becomes a suffragette, demonstrating and regularly being hauled off to gaol. There follow bitter years of conflict between them, though the bond between them is so strong that they cannot separate.

That struck me as being a realistic love story, as distinct from a romantic portrayal, and I find this impressive.

A manipulative, opportunist protagonist is always a fascinating concept. I haven’t gone much into how many modern ones there are; I can call to mind a few from classic novels.

What will happen to Hamer Shawcross I don’t know; I suspect – as it is a realistic novel – that he will gain success, but find it essentially hollow.

With regard to Charley Kinraid in ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’, regular readers of this blog will be well aware of my dissatisfaction with the undeserved glowing fate Elizabeth Gaskell allowed him. I have remarked on Kinraid’s shameless self serving attitude before. As chief harpooner on a whaler, he opposes the press gang to the point of shooting dead two of its members. When he is later impressed into the royal navy, he accepts a promotion to Captain, where he must, to get enough crew, routinely send out press gangs himself. Returning to Sylvia to find her tricked into marriage, though he has declared that ‘I’ll marry you or no-one’  he marries a pretty and doting heiress  within six months.

That is probably realistic, too. But for his emotional betrayal in forgetting Sylvia in weeks, I thought he ought to suffer at least to experience a sense of disillusionment in his new life.  This, I predict, a sense of the hollowness of success, will be the lot of the male lead of ‘Fame is the Spur.’

Intriguingly, the writer of ‘Fame is the Spur, though writing eighty years later than Elizabeth Gaskell and decades after Freud,  lays less emphasis on the sexual side of life in Shawcrosses’ career than might be expected.

While in the Victorian ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ Charley Kinraid’s reputation as a philanderer is discussed by some sailors in an inn in  such a way as to disgust his listening rival Hepburn, little is said about any philandering on the part of Shawcross. One might almost expect so attractive and unscrupulous a man to  have worked as an unofficial gigolo, perhaps, but if he has, the author does not say. We are merely assured that he knew how to flatter women.

This is one of many novels which  I began to read merely for background information, only to find it really intriguing. I’ve ordered the film DVD, too.  The same was true of Mrs Linneus Banks 1873 novel, ‘The Mancheser Man’ , the robber novels ‘Rinaldo Rinaldini’ by Vulpius, the novella ‘Dubrovsky’ by Pushkin, ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’ by Elizabeth Gaskell and many more.

‘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.