Sunday, 19 June 2022

To put in dates and places or not?

 Lost Places, Factory, Clock, Time

One year at the SCBWI conference in Winchester I “won” a critique from an agent. She read the opening of The House on Schelberg Street and the synopsis. She didn’t like the text and said that if I needed to put in dates and places the writing wasn’t clear enough.

Just a few days later the text was accepted for publication – dates and all. The editor wanted me to cut our some of the scenes, and especially some of the letters. A friend who read the book after it was published asked about the now missing scenes. He was checking that everything was logical.

Whether or not I include dates and places, I check scrupulously that time works and that the difference in setting is logical. I even use a perpetual calendar – and access weather descriptions to make sure my texts are accurate.

I tried with Face to Face with the Führer to dispense with places and times altogether in chapter headings. However, the editor has suggested putting them in – she’d thought events set in World War I were in World War II. So, a task recently has been to put the places and dates back in. However, instead of putting them at the beginning of each chapter, I’ve created sections of just the place, month and year.

Ironically I’m also on the “time” edit of Helga’s Story. I’m putting the times and dates into each chapter heading at the moment to make sure it all works. I’m not sure whether to leave them in or not. Helga remembers large chunks of time. Jamie is living through an intense few weeks though her time also stretches out longer in the end.

I’ve read a few with time and place details in chapter headings and in fact I pay little attention to them.  Only if the prose puzzles me a little do I go back and look.

The most recent book I’ve read like this is The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner. This is actually set just after the end of the war.  In fact, I took absolutely no notice of the dates at all.

My first three Schellberg Novel all have time and dates as chapter headings. Should I do the same for the others?

Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Draft 3 Helga’s Story and editing Face to Face with the Führer


Calendar, Dates, Schedule, Days

 I have now completed another draft of Helga’s Story. I’ve added in two more chapters which deal with a sub-plot that had been left hanging.

I found another little plot detail that needed resolving but that was just a matter of adding in another paragraph in a late chapter.

There were one or two other loose ends that I had to tighten with just a sentence here and there.

I noticed also some optional spelling anomalies and have done Find and Replace to address those.

Even at this stage I’ve noticed some overuse of certain words and phrases and again have used the Find function to identify them all and change some of them.

In this book I’ve not got dates in chapters though I am just about to do the time edit in which I will temporarily put a time identifier into chapter headings. I want to establish that time works, so I’ll also be figuring out how much time has passed in each chapter. On the whole, I don’t think the reader needs these time markers so much in this one; much of the present day narrative happens in a short space of time and then we have Helga’s reflections of the past.

I’d also taken out the time markers for my chapter headings in Face to Face with the Führer. However, the editor has suggested I should have them in.

In The House on Schellberg Street, Clara’s Story and Girl in a Smart Uniform I have very precise time markers, including the day of the month. For Face to Face with the Führer I’m just putting a place and a year for whenever time jumps forwards.

The editor has also pointed out that I have two deaths in two subsequent chapters.  I’ve decided to reorder the story a little so that there is some normal life between the two deaths.

She has also suggested an extra plot point that I am going to include. What might have happened if the protagonist had acted differently when she found herself standing opposite Hitler. And she’s given me an idea for a whole new series of books.  

Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Draft 2 Helga’s Story


Computer, Laptop, Notebook, Pen, Table

I’m still trying to work out a good title for this story. I’m considering something like Belonging to the Land because that concept is important in both parts of the story and is perhaps even what draws the two story threads together.

I’ve settled on two first person narratives:

  • Present tense for Jamie in 2001-2003
  • Past tense for Helga, 1925 -1947

A major part of this new edit has been changing from third person to first and past to present. As I’ve now started on another edit I’m noticing places where I haven’t made that transition.

I’ve also had to put transition into some chapters- the end of the “Jamie” ones, showing her grandmother about to remember her back story.

One of the middle-strength characters has a disability. This is quite significant to the plot.  I‘ve had to emphasize that a little more.

One chapter needed some expansion about a character’s enjoyment of being out of doors I needed to use the senses more here, and especially those other than sight. We often deal with the visual but forget the other senses.

Another middle-strength character needed some expansion. I’ve made him a little contradictory and I realise this is because I hadn’t quite worked out who he was before I started writing.

Helga has to learn English and Welsh. I deal with this in one chapter but rather repeat myself. I’ve had to restructure that chapter. I have some characters speaking in Welsh occasionally.  I haven’t translated this but the meaning is conveyed by the way other characters answer in English or by their reaction which is shown through inner monologue.

Even though an edit at this stage is all about structure, I also noticed some inconsistencies in the spelling of names and also of Ma/ Mam - I favour Mam. “Find and replace” dealt with that quite nicely. Throughout I referred to a “patisserie”. That is a French word. I’ve now changed this to the German Konditorei. All of the Schellberg books have a sprinkling of German words.

And so now, onwards with Draft 3.

Saturday, 7 May 2022

Wartime Farm by Peter Ginn, Ruth Goodman and Alex Langlands

 I picked up this fascinating book at the Book Nest in the Millgate Shopping Centre in Bury, the town in which I live. The Book Nest is a delightful installation; there are a couple of chairs on which you are invited to sit and engage in conversation with anyone else who drops by or where you can simply sit and read.  There are two bookshelves where you can drop off books you’ve finished with and where you can pick others you’ve not yet read. You may donate a few coins or a note for the privilege if you so wish.

I was dropping off a few books the other week and this one jumped out at me.

It is hefty volume and retails at £20.00.  It’s the book of the TV series, which provided 36 hours of viewing.

Although it couldn’t be called a scholarly work, it’s much more than a coffee table book.  It is attractive enough to grace any coffee table or book shelf. It is full of interesting and useful information and both it and the TV programme are based on the three writers / presenters working on a facsimile World War II farm. It was particularly interesting for me because the farm they used is opposite where I used to live in Hampshire.

There is information in here about farming, mobilising people, how people adapted their homes and gardens, wartime food, livestock, home defences, making do and mending and morale.

We are currently living in extraordinary times but still the austerity of that time is astounding. Clothing coupons only generally allowed for one new outfit per person per year. 70% of food was imported before the war so adjustments had to be made very quickly. Though we look back on this time with nostalgia, we might do well to remember that civilians lived in constant fear. Certainly towns were more likely to be bombed, but the countryside was likely to be invaded.

Modern methods were rapidly brought into farming. Livestock was reduced to allow for more arable land as this was a more efficient way of feeding people. Householders began to keep pigs and poultry as a way of supplementing the farms that could no longer produce so much meat. And recycling was very common.  Why did we stop doing it?

Sadly we’ve dropped many of the good habits we took up during World War II. We may have to take them up again now.      

Friday, 6 May 2022

Hidden Wars


Despair, War, Helplessness, Unhappy, Desperate, Cry

War isn’t just about young men and women doing the dirty work of national leaders and high-ranking military officers. Certainly it’s bad enough that these younger people are forced to target each other with destructive weapons. Even worse that civilians get caught in the crossfire and that civilians have to fight other battles.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is terrible. It’s having ghastly repercussions for ordinary Russian people as well as Ukrainian civilians.  We might cry out, well they voted for Putin so they are as guilty as he is. Why did they vote for him? Presumably not in order to do evil. Motives could range from self-preservation to a genuine belief that he offers the best regime.

The sanctions the world has imposed on Russia will make life very uncomfortable for civilians. And there will be repercussion for the rest of the world in a reduction in resources and the threat of other sorts of hostilities such as cyber-attacks.

In war time shortages of food, clothing, energy and medical supplies arise. Then there is the shift in moral and the fear of death or injury. Of course there is also actual death and injury. Life become hard whether one is involved in the actual fighting or not.  

World War II was in effect an extension of World War 1. Germany was left in a very weak position. The Nazi party was able to appeal to the low morale of the ordinary person.       

What a shame we can’t take note of the fact that we all live on the same planet and working together could be quite effective Weaponised war might seem so terrible that we could wonder why we ever get involved in it. Does it happen when hidden wars and cooperation have failed?   

Saturday, 30 April 2022

The Bamboo Bracelet by Merilyn Brason

This is the moving experience of one woman who lived in an internment camp for much of the duration of World War II .This story is told by her daughter, who was actually conceived during the internment.

Merilyn Brason has enjoyed a multicultural life having lived in China, Nigeria and Australia. She has experience of radio journalism and she is a retired psychotherapist.

We are left with the impression that she is well qualified to write this book  that is based on her mother’s memories and notes.   

We gain valuable insight in this work to what it was like in an internment camps. These are different from POW camps and the Nazi organised concentration camps: there is some mingling of men and women. Protagonist Ronny and her husband Pat, along with their good friend Reg enjoyed living in “shanty” home.

A whole village or even town exists within the camp. There are shops, cafes and even a barber’s. Our protagonist even manages to gain an income by sewing garments for the richer people in the camp.

We know all along that Ronny will survive because her daughter is here to tell the tale. Yet we are gripped throughout.

This story is extremely well told.