dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

Day Thirteen: Wick: Pilots’ Houses, Printers’ Ink, and Public Libraries

Quiet start to a busy day with lots of surprises. Walking to post my large number of promised postcards, we noticed that the pilot house was open.

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Wick Pilot House

What, you may ask, is  a pilot house? Not a place where a pilot lived but the small building on the top of the cliff where the harbour pilot watched to see if boats approaching the harbour were requesting pilotage to enable them to enter the harbour safely or already had a pilot on board.

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Flag showing pilot on board

Here’s the link with my book: Sir Arthur Bignold, the man who bequeathed the building to the town was MP of Great Yarmouth!

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After lunch, I popped in to my local newspaper offices – where I worked as a trainee reporter 1967/8.

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John O’Groat Journal Offices, Union Street, Wick

Digitalisation has transformed the place – where once there were typesetters working on Monotype and Linotype machines and compositors painstakingly making up wedding invitations with single pieces of lead on a forme, there are now computer screens and keyboards. And downstairs where once the huge presses rolled, are empty rooms that still smell of printers’ ink.

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Press room: note floor bolts

I remember the big lorries arriving with the huge rolls of paper for the presses and the rumble that thrummed through the building when the presses rolled.  I remember how everyone on the staff got a copy of that week’s paper fresh off the presses before we went home the night before publication day – and how exciting it felt.The smell of printer’s ink still thrills me!

And then at seven o’clock, I gave a talk about When the Boats Come Home at the wonderful local library that began my journey as a writer – it provided the books that inspired me to want to become a writer, to write books like the ones I borrowed. Wick Library played a crucial role in my life as a writer. But more about that tomorrow!

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Wick Public Library

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Published today!

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When the Boats Come Home, my new book is out today. This is more exciting than I ever imagined. And it’s not even my first book. It’s my 11th.

But it’s fiction.

I’ve had a children’s fiction picture book published before (It’s Hard to Hurry When You’re a Snail, published by Lion and illustrated by the wonderful Thomas Taylor — findable nowadays on Amazon) but this is my first work of grown-up fiction to be published. And it is a dream come true.

Long, long ago I wrote a school essay confessing that what I wanted to be when I grew up was an author. I think I was probably around 11 or 12 at the time. A voracious reader, I aspired to adding to the great reads on the library shelves — and what I wanted to write was fiction. Stories.

I’ve had lots of non-fiction published — articles and books. But somehow it’s not the same. Only fiction seems to hold that magic top slot for me. And so when the box of books arrived this morning with my ten author’s copies, when I finally held my first published novel in my hands, I was almost wordless with joy — and praise to my Heavenly Father Who made it all happen.

There’s still work to do — publicity and promotion, giving talks and interviews, making sure people know about it. And then of course, to finish the next one!

If you’d like to buy a copy, the paperback is available from the publisher’s bookstoreAmazon UK and Amazon US; e-versions are available for Kindle, Nook etc. I hope you enjoy it. Do let me know!

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After the storm

Thursday night, the worst sea storm in 60 years hit East Anglia. Friends had to be evacuated from their homes, roads were closed, only opening this afternoon. So I took myself down to Southwold for a walk along the beach to enjoy the sunshine and see the damage.

Storm-damaged beach huts, Southwold, 7/12/13

Storm-damaged beach huts, Southwold, 7/12/13

This is not uncommon. The beach huts are very close to the edge of the promenade and frequently get battered by winter storms. Each year repairs are essential, but it’s sad to see people’s holiday delights so tattered. Especially when you remember the crazy prices these beach huts fetch nowadays: over £60,000 each!

Today there’s still a bit of splash on the sea, catching the afternoon sunshine.

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And when I reach the south end of the beach, the Gun Hill Cafe is open for hot drinks so I can sit outside and sip a black coffee.

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As I walk back along the beach to my car, I spot a gull standing motionless on a post with the waves splashing around him. He’s not bothered. He knows he’s safe and can fly away whenever he wants to.

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And me, walking through this season of storm in my life, I’m reminded there’s a Rock for me to stand on and sheltering wings. And that makes all the difference.

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The novel with no name

This afternoon I completed the last revision of the novel. Last but for a few nit-picky things. Now all I have to do is write the synopsis. I also want to do a back-cover blurb and what I call a ‘Publish me because’ which sets out the case for publishing this book. Oh, and I also need a title.

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When I was a child, I always fancied being a Dame, or being awarded an honorary D.Lit. Dame Dorothy… has a ring about it. But that’s not the kind of title I’m struggling with. My novel needs a title. A handle.

It’s had a few, admittedly rather poor attempts. In fact, some rather dreadful! Here are a few examples:

  • Homeward Bound
  • Encircling Love
  • Send the Fire
  • Under God’s Banner

The book is aimed at the Christian market, mainly female readership, probably aged over 45. People who like a good story, a family story, with heartache and struggles, family secrets, tragedy and romance, with a happy-ever-after, and some laughs as well as tears. It’s meant to be uplifting – to cheer and encourage and strengthen and build up faith.

And it needs a title. It feels so cold to keep calling it ‘the novel’ like a baby languishing for days, weeks, with no name!

It’s set in 1921 and centres on the Fishermen’s Revival in Great Yarmouth in East Anglia and my home town of Wick in the far north of Scotland so it needs a title that gives a taste, a flavour of the salt sea, the herrings, the Scotch fisher lassies, the rough-spoken evangelists and their Lord who called them to be fishers of men. But it’s also the story of one family and a young widowed teacher who finds love when she thought it would never be possible again. A story of hope and redemption, of truth winning out and bringing reconciliation and healing, of steadfast love – human and divine. “Steadfast love” ?

Oh dear! I’m still working on it…..

 

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Surprised by surprise

 

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Back to the big re-read of the novel first draft. And I am surprised. Truth to tell, I am frequently surprised when I return to something I have written and discover it ain’t bad. I wonder do other folk find the same thing?

I’m making loads of corrections, putting in links, tying up loose ends, seeing gaps that need to be filled. (I have a tendency to charge furiously onwards getting the plot down on paper first time round so I often miss necessary connectors or explanations.) I’m also accumulating a list of things that need to be checked:

  • did Great Yarmouth have street lights in 1921?
  • would newly-enlisted Danny have got married in his brand-new uniform in 1915?
  • when would the first catch of the day be brought to the yards for preparation?

And lots more.

But I’m enjoying it. It seems to flow nicely and is holding my interest and enthusiasm. But I’m a bit nervy lest the second half isn’t so good!

By some strange chance, the paper I’ve used for printing out this first draft is a hand-corrected version of my first book for carers (One Day at a Time) and as I turn the pages over, words catch my eye. I confess I have lingered briefly to read back what I wrote then… and once more am surprised.

I had forgotten just how terrible the caring-at-home years were. How exhausted and burnt-out I got. How isolated I was. In fact, just how bad it was. And I am amazed I ever actually did it. I am absolutely positive I couldn’t do it now. And my heart goes out to all those millions of at-home carers struggling to care and survive. Because it is truly grim. Even cruel.

And the world passes by on the other side.

I read the words I wrote in 2009/10 and wonder will I be just as surprised when I read the words of the next book, Still Caring, in a few years’ time and wonder how on earth I coped with this stage?

 

 

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Done it!

There’s a sadness about coming to the end of the novel I’ve been working on. Yes, I want my heroine to have her happy-ever-after… but I don’t really want to leave them!

However, tomorrow, I shall probably see the lovely people who started off the spark for this story and I want to be able to report that the book is finished, so I sat down this morning and wrote the last chapter.

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I’ve kept a record of my word-count on an index card and on a spreadsheet. The card tells me that a year ago, I’d only reached 30,000 words. The competed first draft totals at 83,836.

The plan had been to commit to doing one hour’s writing each morning or 1000 words, whichever came first. If I’d really applied myself, I’d have reached the finale sooner – but I don’t think the story would have been so rich, the characters so rounded. It takes time.

I’m glad I’ve had the time to write this book. I’m grateful to Peter and Alice for being the trigger, that Sunday last year when they had kindly invited me to lunch after I’d led worship at their church. And I’m especially grateful for the strengthening of my faith as a result of the reading, research, thinking and writing I’ve done along the way.

Now I shall take a break from this book. I need to tidy my study, and find the typescript of the crime novel I wrote several years ago so I can read it through and decide if it’s worth more effort. And then, in around a couple of weeks, it will be time to return to my friends from the Fishermen’s Revival, hopefully refreshed and a little more objective so that I can revise and polish their story as they deserve!

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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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Helping to get it right

My heroine’s story had become so gripping, I have been concentrating on it for a while. But now it’s time to weave in the other threads, and to do that I need to re-immerse myself in those characters’ lives.

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The romantic interest is a fictional character whom I’ve inserted into the real-life evangelist team of the charismatic and much-loved Jock Troup. This man’s contribution to revival in Scotland as well as Yarmouth demands that I get my facts right and do him justice. 

I thought I’d gathered most of the relevant resources and so set myself to re-read my research notes. A chance mention that Troup and his team stopped off briefly in Inverness on Tuesday 3rd January 1921 sent me to the internet for more detail. To my delight, I discovered the Aladdin’s cave that is the online British newspaper archive. It’s cheap and easy to use and I’ve spent a most rewarding afternoon trawling the index for articles about Jock Troup’s mission campaigns in Fraserburgh and Dundee, before he returned to Wick.

Weaving real-life people and happenings into a work of fiction is a delicate matter. You need the freedom to tell your story while simultaneously being true to theirs.

My greatest joy this afternoon was the discovery of wondrously detailed reports in the Dundee Courier of December 1921. The unnamed reporter deserves my deepest thanks. He/she provides almost word-for-word accounts of  Jock Troup’s sermons, fly-on-the wall descriptions of the scenes and the other people there, as well as full records of what they say. This is priceless for what I’m trying to do: I can now ‘see’ where my characters are living out their story. Even better, I’ve a much better idea of what was going on around them. Hopefully this will lend depth and richness to the telling!

At the very least, it gives me more confidence to write the based-on-real-life bits!

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Getting there

I’m getting there. I’m back into my routine of straight to the laptop and into the novel-in-progress immediately after breakfast and I’m delighted to report, as of this morning, a total of 49,042 words. As I’m aiming for 85,000-95,000, there’s lots more to write – lots more I’m looking forward to writing. (Reminder: it’s set in 1921, amongst the fishing communities of my native Wick and the big – at that time – herring port of Great Yarmouth.) At the moment though, I need serious think time about one of my key characters. Until I really get a grip on her, I’ll not be able to forge ahead.

What I’m doing is completing the revise and rewrite of what I’ve got, tinkering, heightening the tension in the gently developing romance between my heroine, Lydia, and the lovely man who has come into her life. (This is Christian fiction so there’s no leaping into bed!) Soon, I’m going to have to tear them apart and send them on their separate ways for a couple of months.

Wick, from the harbour

Wick, from the harbour

Of course, only I know they will meet up again. Lydia believes her brief encounter with Frank is finished, the door slammed shut, and she is returning to the rest of the hard, sad but honourable life that she has made for herself back at home in Wick – but now with the painful loss of what-might-have-been, and all the torture of reliving her memories and doubting her feelings.

Frank, however, is determined to find Lydia again. He knows he doesn’t want to let her go – but first he needs to sort out and overcome her younger brother’s determined opposition. It’s got something to do with the war. Frank knows he met Robbie then. But as a military chaplain, he met so many desperate men, in so many desperate situations. If only he could remember…

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