The Go-Between and The George!

The Past is a foreign country;they do things differently there_ – L P Hartley

I live in a small Fenland town called Whittlesey which is six miles to the west of Peterborough, eleven miles to the east of March, bordered to the north by the River Nene and to the south by Whittlesey Dyke. For such a small town it is rich in history and was once connected to Peterborough and March by the Roman road, Fen Causeway, constructed in the first century AD, which is the approximate route of the modern A605 road used today. Whittlesey also appears in the Cartularium Saxonicum (973 A.D.) as Witlesig, in the Domesday Book as Witesie, and in the Inquisitio Eliensis (1086 A.D.) as Wittleseia.

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Whittlesey in the 1940s.

Recently, while waiting to meet a couple of friends at one of the local pubs in Whittlesey, The George (which you can see to the left in the above photo), a grade II listed building (also rich in history) which dates from the late 18th century and whose landlords can be identified as far back as 1830, I happened to look up, and there on the wall opposite was a framed black and white photo (one of many adorning the walls) of a rather serious, rather dapper looking gentleman. Curious, I moved in for a closer look. Bespectacled and sporting a very bushy moustache, not unlike that worn by Tom Selleck during his Magnum PI days (showing my age now!), his chin resting on his hand in a somewhat contrived pose, the name above his head read, L.P. Hartley. Not to be confused with J.R. Hartley – a fictional character and said author in a popular TV advertisement promoting the Yellow Pages back in the early 1980’s that sees an elderly gentleman trawling second hand bookshops for a book called Fly Fishing – L.P. Hartley was, I discovered, actually a bona fide author of several famous works of fiction (one of which contains one of my favourite quotes – above) with a local connection.

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Leslie Poles Hartley (named after Leslie Stephen, who was, among other things, an author, critic, and historian, not to mention the father of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell) was a British novelist and short story writer, born 20th December 1895 – in Whittlesey. The son of Bessie and Harry Bark Hartley, a solicitor, Leslie also had two sisters, Enid and Annie Norah. While he was young, the family moved to Fletton Tower, a small country estate near Peterborough. However, most of his schooling took place in Cliftonville, Thanet, and Clifton College, Bristol. He completed his education at Balliol College, Oxford, where he read modern history and also met and befriended fellow writer, Aldous Huxley (Brave New World). Some of his early works of fiction were published in the early 1920’s, however, his writing career, much to his disappointment, was slow to take off. It was only during later life that he began to experience serious success. His best-known novels are the Eustace and Hilda trilogy (1944-7) and The Go-Between (1953 – where the above quote comes from), which was made into a film in 1971 starring Julie Christie (a photo of which also sits alongside Hartley in the same frame) and Alan Bates. Offering a critical review of society at the end of the Victorian era, the New York Times described the novel as “a triumph of literary architecture.” The Go-Between was joint winner of the Heinemann Award and Hartley was awarded the CBE in 1956. Hartley died in London on 13 December 1972 at the age of 76, however, I think I can safely say L.P. Hartley was a local boy done good!

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Book Bloggers – The Unsung Heroes Of The Book World

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Once a month I write a column for a local lifestyle magazine called The Fens. As well as offering writing advice I’ve also had the pleasure of doing some great interviews with some amazing authors. However, this month I thought I’d chat with one of the many brilliant unsung heroes of the book world, namely Linda Hill – book blogger extraordinaire. Among other things, Linda – a prolific reader – writes book reviews, takes part in blog tours and regularly hosts author guest posts on her award-winning Book Blog, Linda’s Book Bag. And like many book bloggers, this is all done in her spare time for nothing more than the sheer love of books.

  1. Hi Linda, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?

Hi Eva. I’m a passionate and eclectic reader (and a bit of a closet writer) who used to be an English teacher, inspector and educational consultant. I’m self-retired and love books and travel.

  1. Have you always enjoyed reading books and when did you first become a book blogger?

I was a late reader as my sight is so poor that I didn’t realise those squiggles on a page had meaning! Once I got glasses at 7 there was no stopping me and I still have my childhood Paddington books.

I began blogging three years ago when I decided life was too short to keep working and I wanted to share my love of books. Since then my blog has grown and I might even say has got out of hand!

  1. And finally, what advice would you offer anyone thinking of becoming a book blogger?

Learn to say ‘No’. There are only 24 hours in a day. It’s so tempting to accept every book you are offered for review and once you get known, the books keep arriving even if you’re not expecting them – I currently have over 900 physical books that have just turned up and I can’t get into my study.

Bloggers need to be very active on social media like Twitter and Facebook so that lots of readers see their blog posts.

I’d also say that authors never set out to write a bad book so be constructive and kind in reviews. A book that may not appeal to one person might be perfect for another reader.

I’d urge ALL readers to review on sites like Amazon and Goodreads, as well as a blog, as this is the only way many authors can get their books noticed.

And blog often!

It’s Just My Point Of View – POV!

 

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A couple of months ago I wrote about the different types of writer there are (see here), namely Plotters, Pansters or, as in my case, Plansters! This month I thought we’d take a look at one of the more important literary devices of a novel, often referred to as Point of View – or POV.

For now, I’ll keep it simple and look at the three most popular POV’s. 

First Person Narrator – is from a single perspective, a personal one – where the narrator uses words like “I” and “me” and “my” – and where the world the writer creates is seen through the eyes of a single character. 

Pros – first person allows you and the reader direct access to what your character is thinking and feeling. This means your readers are instantly connected with your narrator, creating more empathy and emotional investment in your overall piece.

Cons – there are limits as to what your narrator can and cannot relay to your reader. Everything is from a particular person’s line of sight so there will be details that they and therefore your reader, won’t know.

Second Person Narrator – uses the pronoun “you” and puts the reader into the story, and if done right can plunge the reader into the narrative completely. 

Pros – you can tell the reader what to feel and how to react, and, as they are part of the story, by default there is already a strong sense of empathy.

Cons – writing in the second person has to be done carefully to avoid poor writing. Also, by telling the reader what they are thinking and feeling, you run the risk of alienating them.

Third Person Narrator – a popular POV, is a narrator who tells the story from outside the narrative itself and uses phrases such as “he said” and “she said” and gives the author the option of an omniscient narrator (an all-knowing narrator) – who knows every character, every event and every detail.

Pros – generally, writers have more freedom and fewer limitations when it comes to third person narration.

Cons – what a writer gains in narrative freedom they lose in intimacy. This POV doesn’t give characters a direct voice to the reader. The narrator is not speaking subjectively to the reader so it can make it harder for them to empathise and connect with characters.

 

#PressforProgress – Still A Long Way To Go

 

“I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”

–Mary Wollstonecraft

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Image: Pixabay

Today, Thursday 8th March 2018, is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, political, cultural, and economic achievements of women. It is also a day that marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. The call to action this year is #PressforProgress and with global activism for women’s equality fuelled by movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp momentum is particularly strong this year. 2018 also marks the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the UK. So, a century on, how are we doing?

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Image: Pixabay

Sadly, the findings of the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report (International Women’s Day website) suggest gender parity is still over 200 years away. Disheartening to say the least. Further research suggests that globally, one in three women suffer from gender-based violence, sixty-two million girls, annually, are denied access to education, and women in the workplace still suffer in terms of pay and representation. Much has also been written about the inequality female writers still face in the writing and publishing world. As a female writer myself, I wanted to explore this a bit further.

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Image: Pixabay

In terms of reviews, literary prizes, and senior positions within publishing houses, many are still being awarded to men above women. Even World Book Night (The Guardian) shows that the picks of the last 5 years have been made up of 64 male versus 36 female authors. And author Nicola Griffith shows gender bias in her study, published in May 2015, of prizewinning books both here and across the pond, broken down by the gender of their protagonists. Her findings suggest that in the last 15 years, 12 of the Booker-winning novels have had male protagonists, two have had female protagonists, and one has had both male and female protagonists. The Booker fared better than the Pulitzer, which has had no female protagonist among its 15 winning books. I was also disappointed to find in a study carried out by The Guardian in August 2016, articles written by women, irrespective of their content or subject matter, attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men.

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Image: Pixabay

Aleesah Darlison (Writers Edit) attributes continued gender discrimination to “tradition and possibly even culture… It’s incredibly difficult to change centuries-old thinking, but women are continually striving to move forward.” 

Whereas some writers like Christine Piper (Writers Edit), author and winner of The Australian/Vogel Literary Award for After Darkness suggests that the confines of professional limitations based on gender are sometimes self-imposed and said “Like many women, I’ve been guilty of self-sabotage: doubting my ability, playing down my talents, taking rejections personally, and being shy about pursuing opportunities. Men are socialised to be confident and champion their abilities (but of course not all male writers are like this), while women are not – if a woman does do those things she’s often seen as arrogant or a ‘tall poppy’.”

However, it’s not all bad news, women are making advances. I only have to look at my daughter to see the opportunities available to her compared to my mother who, born in 1950, was paid half the wage of a man when she first started working. Nonetheless, let’s not get complacent, continue to unite, support one another and #PressforProgress for women.

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Image: Pixabay

 

Plotter or Panster – What Type Of Writer Are You?

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Image Pixabay

Last month you may remember I interviewed writer, Heidi Swain, who sets most of her novels in fictional fenland towns. One of the questions I asked Heidi was, what one piece of advice would you offer any would be writers out there? Heidi’s response was simple but honest: “If you want to be a writer, write. If you put it off until you ‘have more time’ you’ll never put pen to paper. Stop procrastinating and make a start.” Wise words indeed. So, if your New Year’s resolution was to do just that, and assuming you’ve got that far, you probably know by now whether you are a plotter or a panster. However, if you haven’t heard these terms before and have no idea what plotting or pansting is, read on.

A plotter is someone who plans their novel before they write it. Famous writers generally regarded as plotters include, J.K. Rowling, R.L. Stein (of the famous Gossebumps books), Sylvia Plath and John Grisham.

Grisham states, “I don’t start a novel until I have lived with the story for a while to the point of actually writing an outline and after a number of books I’ve learned that the more time I spend on the outline the easier the book is to write. And if I cheat on the outline I get in trouble with the book.” (Source: Goodreads)

Pros: Having planned their novel beforehand, plotters know what’s going to happen before they write it. This makes it easier to bust writer’s block.

Cons: Plotters can become confined to their plans, and if they do get stuck or want to change something, it often means having to redo their whole outline.

A panster, like its name suggests, is usually someone who flies by the seat of his or her pants. They have some vague idea about a story, or a main character, or even just an opening line, but nothing comes to life for a panster until they actually sit down to write. Famous writers who regard themselves as pansters include Stephen King, Pierce Brown, Elizabeth Haynes and Margaret Atwood, to name but a few.

Atwood starts with “an image, scene, or voice…I couldn’t write the other way round with structure first. It would be too much like paint-by-numbers.” (Source: Goodreads)

 Pros: Pantsers have the freedom to take their novel in any direction they want. They have flexibility.

Cons: Having very little, or no plan, makes it easier to get stuck.

I generally regard myself as a “planster”, as I suspect most writers do, which basically means I’m a little of both. However, some writers tend to lean heavily towards one or the other, I definitely lean more towards panster than plotter.

Which one are you?

It’s Not Always Fiction!

Happy New Year everyone! May 2018 bring you health, happiness and success (in whatever way you measure it) and if you get thrown a few curve balls along the way, may you have the strength to manage them. I would also like to wish all the book lovers out there many happy reading hours. May we all find the time to read lots of books this year, and hopefully put a dent in that ever growing TBR pile while we’re at it (pssst, we all know that will never happen and that TBR piles are only ever apt to grow!). And to all my writer friends, I wish you every success for the coming year, may you be blessed with the time and inspiration to do what we all love to do the most – write!

In the meantime, take a look at some of the beautiful gifts I received over the festive period and on my 50th birthday in November. There’s a diary with a difference, a toolbox for writers, a colourful book about some of  history’s amazing women and a treasury of unusual words. Each one is lovely or unique and just goes to prove, that when it comes to reading or writing, it’s not just about fiction!

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First up is the Me.You. Diary by the lovely Dawn French. Bought for me by my OH, it is absolutely gorgeous and in the words of the lady herself:

This book is a way for us to tell the story of a year together. Feel free to write your appointments in it, lists, thoughts and reminders of, say, who to kill, and when, and in what order. But I’ve also written about age and life as I see it, through the seasons and the months, and I’ve added some places for you to join me in some fun and some thinking. By the end of the year, I am hoping you will have a fatter, scruffier book that is written by me but totally personalised by you.

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Secondly, bought for me by my lovely children is The Writer’s Toolbox, a fun approach to helping with writer’s block, getting past that difficult opening line, or simply rounding out characters. Developed by long time writing teacher Jamie Cat Callan, The Writer’s Toolbox is described as:

An innovative kit that includes a 64 page booklet with exercises and instructions that focus on a ‘right brain’ approach to writing. Sixty exercise sticks will get stories off the ground, 60 cards fuel creative descriptions and four spinner palettes will ignite unexpected plot twists. For an aspiring writer this kit is the perfect first step on the path to literary greatness!

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Thirdly, if, like me, you’re bit of a history buff, then I highly recommend  this beautifully illustrated book by writer and artist, Ann Shen, again bought for me by my lovely children, which takes a look at 100 remarkable women that helped shape and change history. Great for young and old alike, it provides a perfect snapshot of each woman, alongside Shen’s lovely illustration of each.

The 100 revolutionary women highlighted in this gorgeously illustrated book were bad in the best sense of the word: they challenged the status quo and changed the rules for all who followed. From pirates to artists, warriors, daredevils, scientists, activists and spies, the accomplishments of these incredible women vary as much as the eras and places in which they effected change. Featuring bold watercolour portraits and illuminating essays by Ann Shen, Bad Girls Throughout History is a distinctive, gift-worthy tribute.

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And finally, just for sheer amusement and the love of unusual words, I highly recommend Foyle’s Philavery, another wonderful gift from my other half. Written by Christopher Foyle (chairman of the world famous Foyles bookshop in London’s Charing Cross Road) this book is a collection of some the overlooked gems of the English language.

Some of these words appeal because of their aptness, some for their obscurity, some for their euphony, and some for their quirkiness. As a collection, they represent the fruits of a lifetime of reading and will delight all word lovers.

Remember, Remember the 5th of November!

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So, it’s  November already, the shops are stocked for Christmas and in less than eight weeks time, those that do, will celebrating Christmas. However, before we all get too festive there is one more tradition many will be celebrating across the UK, mostly with a huge crackling bonfire and fireworks, which dates back to the 17th century, otherwise known as Bonfire Night. On 5th November every year, the effigy of Guy Fawkes is still burned on bonfires across England in recognition of his part in the failed ‘Gunpowder Plot’ of 1605. However, what’s interesting, and perhaps not widely known, is, Fawkes didn’t devise or lead the plot to assassinate James I, so why is he still singled out as one of British history’s greatest villains more than 400 years after his death?

Born in April 1570 in York, Guy Fawkes’s immediate family were Protestants, in keeping with the accepted religious practice in England at the time, however his maternal grandparents were ‘recusant’ Catholics, who refused to attend Protestant services. When Guy was 8-years-old, his father died and his widowed mother married a Catholic. It is suggested that it was these early influences that forged Fawkes’ convictions as an adult.

An imposing character, Fawkes is described by historian Antonia Fraser as, “a tall, powerfully built man, with thick reddish-brown hair, a flowing moustache in the tradition of the time, and a bushy reddish-brown beard”, while school friend, Oswald Tesimond, described him as “pleasant of approach and cheerful of manner, opposed to quarrels and strife and loyal to his friends”.

By the time he was 21 years old, Fawkes travelled to Europe to fight for Catholic Spain against the Protestant Dutch and his military career flourished. Later, when on campaign fighting for Spain in Flanders, Fawkes was approached by Thomas Wintour, one of a number plotting against the English Protestant King, James I, due to his extreme intolerance of Catholics. Wintour asked Fawkes to join what would become known as the ‘Gunpowder Plot’, under the leadership of Robert Catesby.  Fawkes was an expert with gunpowder, which gave him a key, and very dangerous role, in the conspiracy. However, despite months of careful planning, James’s I spymaster, Robert Cecil, foiled the plot with just hours to go, and Fawkes was arrested at midnight on 4 November 1605 beneath the House of Lords. Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder were found stacked in the cellar exactly below where the king would have been sitting for the opening of parliament the next day. 

Fawkes was tortured and withstood two days of excruciating pain before he confessed all. However, his fortitude throughout impressed James I, who said he admired Fawkes’ “Roman resolution”. Fawkes was sentenced to the traditional traitors’ death, which meant he would be hanged, drawn and quartered. However, he jumped from the gallows, breaking his own neck, thereby avoiding the horror of being cut down while still alive, having his testicles cut off and his stomach opened. His body was then hacked into quarters and his remains sent to “the four corners of the kingdom” as a warning to others. Ringleader Catesby, on the other hand, was killed evading capture, so never tried.

Guy Fawkes instantly became a national bogeyman and by the 19th Century it was his effigy that was being placed on the bonfires that were lit annually to commemorate the failure of the plot.