dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

Slaughter on Saturday

I have not led a life of crime – but today I spent a day dedicated to crime! Courtesy of Southwold Library, and thanks to its brilliant librarian Charlotte, a mini-crime-novel fest took place today.

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Yes, where else but the scout hut!

Five authors turned up to regale us with tales of their writing and publishing careers, what inspires them and what matters to them, and to read small and tempting portions of their books. Each author’s current works were available for sale (and signing) and a delicious lunch was provided.

I had heard, and read, Nicola Upson before and she was as excellent this time as before. Ruth Dugdall was a new name to me but her talk and her passion for justice impressed me enough to part with folding money for two of her books.

Only one other writer tempted me to buy a book – Penny Hancock. The snippet she read from Tideline was so gripping I wanted more.

But…

Here were five charming women, aged late 30s-early 40s. They seemed perfectly normal and nice. But four of them write books that would give me nightmares. Stalkers, serial killers, cannibalism, child abduction and imprisonment… all with nasty psychological twists. Not what I would call either entertainment or escapism.

Am I alone in preferring the fiction I read to cheer me up rather than frighten me? To give me a sense of ‘all’s right with the world’ rather than the opposite? To spend my reading time in pleasant rather than unpleasant company?

Or am I just getting old and out of touch?

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Beggars can’t be choosers – the carer’s dilemma

Today fell into three parts:

First, the novel. Another 1500 words written and it moves gloriously towards resolution and happy-ever-after. (I mutter darkly that at least I can give my heroine a happy-ever-after!)

The second and major part of the day was spent on prep for Sunday’s all-age service at my ‘home’ church. “Prophets and own country” doesn’t seem to apply here, I’m delighted to say, but I like to ensure the service is the best I can offer.

The third part of today focused on my husband. The medical person did not turn up yesterday despite our rearrangement of our day to suit her, but she promised to appear today. I decided I’d just pop over for tea and be available for discussion. But when I got there, again it was a no show. By this time both the senior carer and the manager were getting frustrated. As a result, I was delegated to ring the surgery and speak to the doctor.

Which I did. To discover reassuringly that John’s ECG was normal and they hadn’t the faintest idea what might be causing the dizzy spells. ‘Multifactorial’ the doctor said. And proceeded to explain to me what multifactorial meant. I shall not carp because he has promised to visit and see John on Tuesday (between 12 and 3) and check him out.  He also said with the list of my husband’s health problems, it was unlikely they could do anything about it, but he’d check him over in any case.

I decided to take this as reassurance, passed it on to the senior carer and the manager, and in reassuring form to John. So often in the caring situation, one feels very strongly ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ and rather than raise one’s voice or push, one accepts what’s on offer – even if it’s not very much.

rusty squeaky bolt on my gate

rusty squeaky bolt on my gate

We know the squeaky hinge gets the oil – but it might get blacklisted or receive poorer treatment from an already over-stretched and stressed professional. So we accept the crumbs we can beg from the National Health Service’s table and hope they will be enough.

We – the senior carer, the staff at the home, the manager and I – are doing our best for John. But I come away, yet again, fretting because I actually want better for him. Sadly with dementia, it doesn’t get better and I need to come to terms with where we are on the slippery slope.

 

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Carpe diem

Thursday and no outing. My husband’s physical health is causing some concern and he had an ECG on Monday. Today someone from the surgery was due to come to the home and tell John and his carers what the results are. Because the timing was, shall we say, flexible, our usual outing had to be cancelled. So I was at a loose end.

Life being short, and sudden free days few and far between, I decided to seize this one. And splurge it (after my statutory hour on the novel — another 1250 words) on…. having my eyes tested in Specsavers, Lowestoft. Yes, I do know how to have a good time! (Or at least, I used to!)

Anyway that’s what I did, setting off for Lowestoft by train – which is a treat.

Halesworth railway station

Halesworth railway station

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The countryside is very beautiful at the moment. Wild roses clamber up the railway embankments. Poppies spread sheets of red-orange beauty on the fields. There were lots of horses today in small roped-off enclosures. Some sleek brown cows with small calves. And purple rhododendrons.

Each time my lenses need changed, I have to buy three pairs of spectacles: one for normal day wear, one with tinted lenses for driving, and one for reading and close work. My adviser today wasn’t a Gok Wan lookalike but he was just as brilliant at finding frames that flatter!

I tend to go for an unobtrusive everyday pair but then branch out a bit for driving specs (who sees them as I whiz by?) and especially for reading glasses. These are my work glasses, the ones I spend most of my time in and so, if they make me smile when I open the case before donning them, they have contributed to my well being — and possibly even my creativity. Aided and abetted by ex-saxaphone player Steve, I have chosen three great pairs of specs and am looking forward to picking them up next Friday.

What I’m pondering is: if my laptop, pens and paper are allowable against tax as essential expenses, why aren’t my glasses? At the very least, the reading glasses?

Having paid the full amount up front, every little would help!

 

 

 

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Keeping up with the neighbours

I have a fairly relaxed attitude to housework. I don’t do any. Or hardly any. When I was a child, my Mum insisted my job was to study for exams, so I did – when I wasn’t reading crime novel after adventure novel after mystery novel in my bedroom when I should have been studying.

At University, I first lived in a Hall of Residence where everything bar washing myself and my clothes was done for me. And since I married before the start of my final year, I then had a very house-trained husband, bless him, who was willing and able to aid and abet me.

Immediately on graduation I found myself in Northern Nigeria where I was told firmly by one of the senior wives that not to employ a servant was selfish because they needed the work and the money and we didn’t. So into my life came a house-and-garden angel called Ibrahim who looked after just about everything.

When we returned to the UK five years later and plunged into full-time jobs, there was always someone willing to take on the cleaning and ironing and I never got the hang of any kind of routine or system to do it myself.

Spoilt rotten, basically. (Or perhaps as my grandmother used to say ‘Born to be a lady but wasn’t wanted.’)

What I have discovered is that this singular lack in my education can be reasonably well hidden. After all inside my house is inside, and it’s up to me who gets to come and in and see what it looks like at its worst i.e. in the 24 hours before my current house-angel’s blitz.

But the garden is outside. And there’s a great big lump of it (well, quite small actually but it still presents itself  to public view loud and clear) at the front. And weeds grow. And grass. And bushes. And they do actually need tending.

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Especially when the neighbours have tidy front patches which show mine up!

I tried. I really did but found the kit I had salvaged from my previous home did not do the job to an acceptable standard. So I got help. And now my little front patch is as neat as anyone else’s. It will cost me, of course, financially. But it’s worth it. Problem solved.

As I walked back from the shops this afternoon, feeling rather pleased with myself, I felt, now that my font garden was respectable once again, I could stop and chat with the man I’d seen cutting grass on the very tidy lawn a few doors down.

‘Oh it’s not mine,’ he demurred when I complimented him on the neatness of his patch. ‘It’s my son’s. He always asks his old Dad for help with things like this.’

And I notice some of the other younger neighbours seem to rely on parents for help with garden and car and house problems. I’ve always lived hundreds of miles away from mine but I can see the benefits of having family nearby – especially now that my husband’s health is deteriorating.

I do know parents can find their time  all but hijacked by the new duties of grand-parenting but I’d just say enjoy it while you can. It’s a privilege to be part of young lives and be able to help. Even if it means turning out to cut the grass!

 

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And now, maybe, for something different?

Tuesday is my busy day. First, meeting friends for coffee and chat aka fellowship, then Study Group in the afternoon. This morning, one of our number was telling us about her visit to Ely Cathedral’s flower festival.

Arbour at Peter Beales Rose Nursery

Arbour at Peter Beales Rose Nursery

And right in the middle of her account she said something perfectly innocuous which triggered that writer’s response: “I want to use that. I want to write something about that.” All unbeknownst, she had given me the title for a crime novel.

A few years ago, I wrote a crime novel with a Christian lay preacher sleuth. It was planned as the first in a series and I had made a start on a couple of plots. Neither of which worked. Till I realised I needed to go back and lay the foundations for my protagonist’s sleuthing activities. This was the one I completed in 2006.

It sailed through the synopsis-and-sample-chapters stage and I really began to hope when the publisher requested the complete manuscript. Only to have my hopes dashed when it came home with a standard/form rejection letter.

Then my husband was diagnosed with dementia and my writing life had to take a back seat.

I have always read crime novels. The only other fiction I read is the chocolate-box Regency romance type and I have to be very low and in need of the reading equivalent of comfort eating for that! I have read mystery novels since before I could pronounce the word. (I called it “my stery”  as in “my story” and got thoroughly mocked by the bigger girls!) I give talks to WIs and Women’s Fellowships on women crime writers and the Golden Age of the Crime Novel.

And I enjoyed plotting and writing my crime novel.

It wasn’t right though. I wanted a Christian protagonist but I ducked all the issues of her faith and so her Christianity appeared a very dilute and lukewarm add-on: a little Bible reading and a pitiful amount of prayer!

I think I’ve moved on. The six years of my husband’s illness has driven me to a much deeper relationship with God. I know my preaching has changed. I’ve became much bolder, more evangelical, more openly passionate. And I know it has fed through into my writing. The current work-in-progress, the novel about the Fishermen’s Revival, is soaked in faith and the way people search for or turn their backs on God.

So I think maybe – just maybe – it’s time, when I’ve completed this one, to pull out the crime novel and see if it’s rescuable. I think it will need a complete rewrite from beginning to end. But that’s all right. I think I’d really like to do it.  And then maybe try it out again on the big wide world of publishing, but this time aim it fair and square at the Christian market. Which means getting to grips with my protagonist’s faith and doubts and what God might be doing in (and with?) that story.

I used to be a Heathrow type of writer: ideas popped up on the screen of my mind and needed to be stacked and handled by a kind of story traffic control system. The stresses of the past few years has all but wiped the screen so I am delighted to find a new idea appearing on the radar. I’m looking forward to getting out those ping-pong bats and bringing it in to land!

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Getting close to the finishing block

I like deadlines. They really motivate me! I find that setting myself deadlines, including interim deadlines, helps me get things done. So today, I stand close to the end of the diving board of the deadline on the novel. I aimed to finish the first draft by the end of June! Today’s writing session clocked up nearly a thousand more words, getting the total to 73,255 words. And story-wise getting really close to crisis and close!

I think I might do it – or get very close!

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And then what? Leave it to cool? Or dive straight in to writing that synopsis?

I’ve ordered and received the big box of typing paper and three more black ink cartridges for the printer so I can print off the first draft the minute it’s completed.

I know there will be lots more work to do. The first half has been revised several times but the second half has been put down fresh and it remains pretty well untouched.

I know there are facts that need verified as well. Maybe even some more visits to check out what places look like – or looked like back then. I’m toying with the idea of a mini-research trip – if I could find a few days clear.

It’s all very exciting really. I’d forgotten how one’s pulse speeds up as the end comes in sight. I’d forgotten the temptation to just sit down and thrash it all out in one several-days-long session, barely eating, sleeping or seeing the outside world. But I’m not going to do that. This deadline is under my control and I’m determined to pace myself. I want to get this book right, as right as ever I can.

So, today’s writing session over, I will let it all mull gently in my head, ready for tomorrow’s!

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Roses all the way

The words are mounting up on the first draft of the new novel: 72,128 words in total as of this morning. Both yesterday and today I managed a good morning session of writing and I’m wondering how much the daily application of fingers to keyboard builds momentum and keeps the story going? I’m happy to put in an hour tomorrow morning but simply will not work on Sunday. Hopefully I’ll be able to pick up on Monday where I left off on Saturday.

My afternoons seem to have got filled up with events and outings. Yesterday our Ladies-who-live-alone group went to Peter Beales’ rose nursery in Attleborough, Norfolk. The weather could have been sunnier, the roses a bit more fully open – but it was still a happy excursion in good company and the roses were magnificent.

Yes, these are blue roses!

Yes, these are blue roses!

Wonderful irises

Wonderful irises

 

Ginormous alliums (allia?)

Ginormous alliums (allia?)

Tea for fourteen in the bistro followed quite a bit of shopping for the other ladies. I managed to withstand all temptation – even the lemon cream meringue roulade the friend who sat next to me tucked into!

All that was left!

All that was left!

 

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Whatever the weather

I think it’s just possible that we’ve got summer today. I spent the morning holed up in my study working on next Sunday morning’s service, then had lunch in front of Bargain Hunt before going out to the supermarket to ensure the cats and I don’t starve. And that’s when I discovered the sun was shining, and warm.

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Is there something mole-like about writers? At least the kind who follow their noses, tunnelling their way along and discovering juicy morsels en route? I think that’s me. When I’m immersed in work – whether writing or service preparation – it really doesn’t matter what the weather’s doing. If I’m writing fiction, the weather is whatever I’ve made it in the story: sun or snow. Then when I come up for coffee, I’m invariably surprised to see daylight or sunshine or whatever isn’t happening on the page.

At the moment, in my story, it’s December, and Robbie and Chrissie have just got married. Their wedding day is a Saturday, and Christmas Eve.  Where I come from we don’t do Christmas much. Or at least, we didn’t when I was young. Maybe it was the influence of hard-line Calvinism. Instead, New Year was an important date in the calendar with lots of ritual house-cleaning on Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve), then the traditional laden table and tiny glasses of sherry to welcome in the New Year on the last chime of midnight.

My home town always had a massive bonfire to celebrate New Year and my research notes reveal that was the case in the 1920s. Usually an occasion for excessive drinking (we do have a distillery in town), rowdiness and fights, the New Year celebrations in 1921 were quite different from previous years. As usual a huge crowd had gathered but instead of drunken revelry,  the Dundee Courier of 11 January 1922 reported that ”well-known Salvation Army choruses were sung by hundreds of converts who gathered at the huge open-air meeting.”  I was amused to note that in the past some of the fuel for the huge bonfire was provided illicitly – in fact, stolen! But the 1922 bonfire was fuelled by donated materials.

It’s clear that the Revival had a major impact on all the towns involved and on the lifestyle of the people. In a world that seems to celebrate bad behaviour, the sordid and the scandalous, writing about these changes feels unfamiliar, and difficult to make interesting. But just this morning I was reading Tom Wright’s commentary on Colossians (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters). He writes: “Don’t be fobbed off with the idea that ‘sin’ or ‘wickedness means ‘having a good time’ when God wants you to have a rotten time. That’s a typical example of the muddled thinking that people get into when they ignore or forget the true God.”

Too often righteousness can appear to be equated with long faces and no fun. Wrong! God has the monopoly on joy and I need to get that across in my story – and maybe in Sunday’s sermon too!

 

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A road strewn with pitfalls on the way to a happy ending

A rose from my own garden

A rose from my own garden

Not a lot of words written today but significant progress as the word count creeps up – over 69,000 in total today – and the story moves to denouement and completion. I’ll be sad to see them go, these lovely people I’ve spent the last year and a half with. I hope there will be readers for their story who will feel the same way!

What I did today was move a chapter about the romantic interest (he’s called Frank Everett) to where it belonged chronologically – which I now know because I worked on the time lines yesterday. And that makes a difference. I can see where to weave in the next Frank chapter – which will be about Jock Troup’s time in Dundee in late 1921. It was a very exciting time and there’s a wealth of first-hand accounts to draw on for background and atmosphere.

I only wrote 300-400 words today to tidy up the previous section and introduce the next one. What I really need to do now is think! My heroine, Lydia, and Frank have got themselves into a real tangle. Lydia has jumped to unwarranted conclusions about Frank and he’s puzzled but determined to present himself as an acceptable suitor. To add to the complications, Frank witnessed something in the First World War when he was a chaplain – something that Lydia’s younger brother, Robbie, who was also there at the time, has spent his life hiding, to protect his parents who idolised his older brother.

When Robbie met Frank again in his sister’s company in Great Yarmouth and realised that the pair were attracted to one another, he knew he had to keep them apart in case Frank blurted out what he knew. Frank, so far, has not remembered what it is – but he knows Robbie has a reason for his disapproval of his relationship with Lydia.

This is going to take some working out but I’m determined to give Lydia her happy ending!

 

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Making progress – with help

Happy to report a productive day! And Bella the cat is helping me by keeping my research books company!

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I’m beginning to draw the various threads of the novel together and building up to a major crisis between my heroine and the romantic interest so we can then get to the happy ending! That is going to be fun to write…

Meanwhile, I need to decide how much of that romantic interest’s story to tell.First off, I haven’t yet decided whether he’s a Methodist or a Baptist minister. I need for him to have been a chaplain in the First World War and a cursory glance at Wikipedia suggests I need to do a bit more background reading before I decide. There appear to be complications…

In my story I have inserted him into the real-life story of Jock Troup’s experiences in the Fishermen’s Revival of 1921. I’ve got loads of first-hand material from books and newspapers. Troup and his colleagues, Willie Bruce and David Cordiner, had an exciting time which is conveyed vividly in these reports. I’d like to weave some of those stories into my book but so far have only given them one chapter of their own. I think I need to provide another chapter for their time in Fraserburgh and another for Dundee before letting them get up to Wick for the denouement.

I know my book is an explicitly Christian book – which is why Lion Hudson’s new fiction imprint is probably not right for it – but would Christian readers be interested in the details of what Troup and co. did? Or to put it more accurately, what the Holy Spirit did? It is inspiring and I’m moved by how it affects me each time I reread the material, so maybe I should just go for it and do the best I can to convey the excitement of the time.

Meanwhile, I fit in laundry and lunch, a bit of shopping, planning next Sunday’s morning service and the following Sunday’s all-age worship – wishing all the time that my preaching could have even a small percentage of the effect of Jock Troup’s! He must have been marvellous to hear. I’m sure I’d have been one of the folk in floods of tears!

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