Valentine’s Day, so let’s talk about love stories, I suppose?

For me, the greatest love letter in English Literature is Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne Eliot in Persuasion. It’s not particularly long, or even that eloquent, but it is full of real, true feeling. For me, it’s not the long flowery speeches that portray love, it’s the awkward silences, the stumbling speeches, everyone saying the wrong thing (rather like Mr Knightley trying to propose to Emma and she completely misunderstands).

Mr Rochester claims to be not an eloquent man, but he is never lost for words. Yet for me the greatest love in that book is the love Jane Eyre finds for herself when she thinks no-one else can love her.

Modern love stories seem to hinge on the sex scene. These are difficult to pull off (so to speak). I’m not prudish, but I find love scenes to be quite dull. After all, there’s only so many ways you can describe something everyone knows how to do, and the effort to make it poetic usually results in some unintentionally hilarious similes. In fact, the best sex scenes tend to be the ones that deliberately try to be funny.

I like love stories, good ones. The ones that are unexpected, that don’t follow the usual rules of a love story, where the characters feel like real people. And I think that’s the key to a good love story – not perfect stereotypes, but flawed characters who get things wrong, and stumble over their words and don’t know what to do, only that love.

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

The Women Of Baker Street

Sent from my iPad


Technology by Christine Duncan

Okay, this is not really a writing post–except it is. Although it is possible to write without technology and I fully support that, it is not possible in today’s world to submit something or promote or write this blog without some dependence on a computer, unless of course, you are independently wealthy and can pay someone to do those details.
I am not wealthy.
So this is a technology rant. How is it that updates can affect so many things? I updated Windows–much against my own will but at some point you do have to update. That is when everything else went haywire. The printer wouldn’t print. But would it tell me it was the update? No. It told me it was the toner cartridge. Then it told me unknown error.
I’m not entirely ungeeky. I do know that updates mess things up. So I got that fixed…eventually. Then my internet went down. Yes, I know that had nothing to do with the freakin’ update. It just is that these things all have to occur together. My website went down too. Email was unavailable and the website provider said I was the only one with the problem.
I rebooted the modem. My ISP got their act together. And the day was wasted. Sigh. God save me from more labor saving devices.

Anything but work.

No one procrastinates like a writer.

I have editing to do. This week, to avoid getting started, I have;

Packed up and sold most of my DVDs
Sorted out my books and donated about two thirds to a charity shop
Cleaned the flat
Wrote two articles
Went shopping
Made two large risottos
Took a wardrobe apart.

I don’t know why I do this. Well, I do. It’s rather intimidating, starting such a huge pile of work as editing an entire novel. I know I’ll start off bright and hopeful. I know about a third of the way in, it’ll start to feel like a drag. I’ll be moving like a slug. It’ll be too much work. I’ll never get through it. I’ll never get to the end. It’ll be a battle just to do a page or two.

And then, when I get near the end, I’ll just race through it, and get through dozens of pages all in one go. It just feels like a battle getting there.

Right. Enough procrastinating. I need to start.

Except – the toilet really could do with cleaning. And I need to do a bit more research and….

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

The Women Of Baker Street

Sent from my iPad

Happy Superbowl Sunday by Christine Duncan

Don’t Do It For The Day Job

Most writers have a day job. If you do, I urge you to keep the writing secret from your employers. Not because you should be ashamed of it. Oh no. It’s because when they find out you write, they’ll assume you can write anything.

I wrote historical crime. Once my bosses in my last job found out I wrote books, any bit of writing that had to be done passed to me.

I’m not talking creative bits of fiction. I had to write reports and leaflets and newsletters. The kind of thing I didn’t even want to read, let alone write. I couldn’t be too creative, as there were strict guidelines on style and content. It all had to match the house style. And it all had to be proof read by people with different ideas of sentence construction and grammar.

And I wasn’t paid extra for any of this. It was part of my job. When I mentioned I was normally paid for my writing, they found this very funny.

I was asked to write a guide to something. It had to laudatory about a subject I despised. Once or twice might have been a challenge. Doing a third time just made me weary.

I had my writing time a day. I had my time to be creative and descriptive and I was wasting it on this work I hated. When I quit my job, I gladly handed the guide back and explained I couldn’t do it. ‘Stick a murder in there and maybe I could do it.’

Writing is seen as a skill – but it’s a skill that covered all aspects for it. For some reason writing an imaginative work of fiction to your own style is seen as exactly the same as writing a data-intensive report to corporate guidelines. It’s not. It drains you. It annoys you. It turns a work of joy into an onerous task. And after all that, it’s not even your name that goes on it. The credit is usually given to your boss.

So whatever you do, keep the writing quiet from your job. Keep it yourself as a precious secret. Don’t let them get hold of it, and exploit it, and taint it.

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

The Women Of Baker Street

Sent from my iPad

Throwing the Book at the Wall by Christine Duncan

I’ve been sidelined by the flu and complications for the last bunch of weeks so I’ve had plenty of time when I could have been reading. My to-be-read pile didn’t fit the bill, though.

Even when I am well, though, I am a picky reader. I don’t want to read about improbable people or improbable plots. And I no longer read through a book to see if it will get better.

So this week, when I read a synopsis for a book that boasted that it was hard going for the first thirty pages, I couldn’t believe it. The author seemed proud of the fact, as though that made the book somehow more profound.

I don’t think so.

As a writer, I slave over those first pages trying to fit in all the things like place, time, character, and plot and make it seem fresh and clear. I want to draw the reader in with those pages and make the world I am creating one the reader wants to stay in.

Profound is not something I strive for.

Art, in all it’s forms

There’s a painting in the National Gallery by Turner called Calais Pier. It is a painting of a ship approaching the Calais Pier – but there is a wild storm. The wind is whipping the sails, the ship is rocking precariously, the people on the pier are crouched in fear. In the sky there is a patch of blue, but is it spreading or getting smaller?

I’m fascinated by this painting. It’s a brief split second in the life of everyone in and I know there are stories before and after. Does the ship sink? Why are those people risking life and limb to meet the ship? Who is onboard?

It’s a good inspiration for a story. Art works like this. Art shouldn’t be seen as separate, discrete elements. Painting should feed into writing, or music (Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for example). Writing should inspire pictures, and film, TV should inspire a story which inspires a tapestry which inspired a sculpture.All these elements feed into each other and tap into that part of our mind where the stories live.

Next time you’re stuck, look at a picture or listen to some music. See if it can’t kickstart your mind.

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

The Women Of Baker Street

Sent from my iPad