Research. . . It’s invaluable to an author if you want to get it right. . .

Town Hall Barnsley. Photo from Barnsley Town Hall website.

I was writing a dual time line novel set partly during the second world war and partly during the 1950s. For certain reasons, I decided to set the story both in a small fictional town in Yorkshire, and in a small district of North East London. My protagonist hailed from the Yorkshire town. As I am not from the north I felt I should do some research before the second draft and editing of said novel.

It was an eye opener!

I spent only three days in the town of Barnsley, in South Yorkshire. I was shown the local sights by a friend who lives there (thank you Helen) and I spent several hours in the museum, and archives department at the town hall. The visitors service assistants in the archives were absolutely fantastic. They searched out old maps, magazines, newspapers, photographs and took time and care to show me how to find the resources I needed. I wish I could have spent longer studying there. It was a joy, honestly, I loved it. Fascinating reading about other people’s lives and their memories of growing up in this town.

But. . .that’s the nub of it: Other people’s lives.

The result of my research was a massive reality check, and frankly a blow to my hitherto confidence in my ability to write about anything and everything. I realised that I had romanticised my protagonist and underestimated what my small town in Yorkshire might actually be like. The more I found out the more I saw massive plot holes in the story and flaws in my characters. I have rethought the whole thing. Even though I had written 85,000 words and now edited 20,000 of them I thought of what my son Matthew said to me a few years ago: never be afraid to put it in the bin and start again.

I realised that writing about the north/south divide with my protagonist hailing from the north and me, a writer from the south was neither ethical nor indeed possible. How could I have the audacity to try and write from her point of view?

It made me see that I should write about the things I know. There would be nothing wrong with me writing a war story set in Greater London where I was brought up. I would still have plenty of research to do but I could draw on my own family history for much of it.

Onwards I go. . . but now with a different genre, different time and different story!

Please leave a comment if you have the time, it would be appreciated. Thank you. 😊

Are Your Organised? Hmm…

Is being organised the same as being in a routine? I asked myself this question this morning and I decided they weren’t quite the same but there was an overlap. I like a bit of routine. Wake up- cup of tea or hot lemon in bed, read The Independent on my Ipad (well actually glance through the headlines then do the word scrambler…) Get up, walk the dog, have breakfast of porridge which The Man cooks, and then he always clears away breakfast and washes up everything. He does that for all the other meals too and I cook them. After breakfast, it’s time to write. Sometimes I go shopping first or go to the post office with a copies of Dear Tosh that have to be sent off. I’ve discovered the joy of postage online so that I can pay for, and print the label at home, then just drop into the box. It saves so much time.

I write for as long as I can, interspersed with taking my turns at online Scrabble and Lexoulus which I play with a few friends and my sister Jean — she wins a lot by the way! We eat a late lunch, 3pm usually, I then take the dog out for her second walk of the day, only a short one this time. Come home to a cup of tea and a piece of cake (and at this time of year it’s in front of the fire). I sometimes do more writing, correspondence, Zoom calls, and maybe read or listen to a book. In the evening we settle down and watch something on Netflix or iPlayer or Amazon. At this point, having wandered about most of the day looking a bit lost, because The Man and I work in separate areas of our cottage, Jpeg, the dog, also manages to settle down. She likes nothing better than when we are all together in the evening The Man and I in ‘our’ chairs and she at last gets into ‘her’ bed, happy.

So this is routine, but am I organised? I don’t really think I am. I love starting a new notebook, who doesn’t? Every time I open the first clean crisp page, I am determined that I will keep it tidy and use the same pen throughout the book, but this only ever lasts for a bout a week. I have a different notebook for each project that I am working on. I then have notebooks for a Creative Writing Workshop that I run, then there’s the general notebook, then there’s the poetry notebook etc., etc. The problem is I often grab the wrong notebook when I think of something I want to jot down for later, but then whatever it is I’ve written is lost. I may come across it some years later when I’m reading through my old notebooks.

Next, I would love to have a tidy desk and tidy bookshelves. The Man bought me a new bookshelf to sit to the left hand side of my desk. It was meant to be just for poetry books but that didn’t actually happen. It now has non-fiction, novels, poetry books, files, empty ink cartridges to be recycled, a mug, magazines, leaflets. . . and so it goes on. Here’s a photograph.

What a Mess!

My desk is also a mess this morning and it’s probably like this every morning. I assure you that I did not set this up, it’s exactly as it is while I sit typing this blog. I do tidy it…often…but it only stays clear for about five minutes as I am soon wanting to make notes, check things in some reference book or other, which I then often leave on the desk, whereas if I were organised it would go back into its place immediately. I note my make-up bag and earring box are both sitting there too, right next to the staple machine. 😂

Dreadful state of affairs…

Am I ashamed? Maybe a little, but this is how I work and I put it down to being creative. The thing is, because I’m not very organised, I do waste a lot of time looking for things and always have done. Do you remember when all correspondence was printed and came in the snail mail? Masses of paperwork had to be filed. I can remember being very bad at filing and ALWAYS having several documents left over at the end, because they didn’t fit in any particular file in the cabinet. I’m like that now with the computer. I try to file all photos, documents (pdf and word etc.,) into their little blue folders on my desktop but I always have stuff left over; things that don’t even fit into the Sundries folder!

I can be organised if I want to be. I can be ready and relaxed before receiving guests for supper. I can fit a great deal into one day if I plan ahead. I can juggle jobs and meet deadlines. So it’s not all bad. However I do remember being told by the health visitor, after I gave birth to twins —  I already had three children — that I would have to be extra organised to get through my day and to be sure all the children were cared for properly. I was also told that I when I began to give the twins solid food I should have a separate bowl and spoon for each baby…Pah! That went out the window straight away, one bowl, one spoon, two mouths. They survived and so did I. We all muddled through and that’s the word MUDDLED… far better and more fun than being organised. In my humble opinion.

Don’t forget to sign up for my NEWSLETTER if you haven’t already done so. They’ll be one coming out at the end of next week!

Gorf Jam 2021…

Last weekend was the Gorf Jam. An annual event since we lost Tosh. Some of the graffiti artists from around the Westcountry, some friends and family gather together to paint a wonderful tribute, usually a variation of his tag, GORF which is FROG backwards. This year was the tenth anniversary of Tosh’s death and they painted on a legal site.

This year was the first time I had actually attended the event. There are a couple of reasons why: for many years we were still living in Italy and it wasn’t practical to get over to the UK, usually it’s in January, as close to the anniversary of his death as possible (bit cold for me) and lastly I wasn’t sure I could really handle meeting up with his friends and contemporaries, watching them do the very thing that Tosh loved — I thought I would find it all too emotional.

Well, this year, The Man and I made it! It was emotional there’s no doubt about that. It was a lovely sunny day last Saturday so I couldn’t make the cold weather an excuse. Finally, we now live in Dorset so not far to travel.

What surprised us both, The Man and me, was the incredible talent of all the painters. We arrived around 11.30am and they had been there since 10 and incidentally didn’t finish until after 4pm! Each piece of graffiti was still in its early stages of creation when we got there. We watched them work. They had some ideas written on small pieces of paper, or on their phones, which they carefully transposed onto the wall of the tunnel — We were at St Werburgh’s tunnel in Bristol. This year there were four main painters plus Tosh’s brothers, sister and nieces and a few friends too, who all enjoyed a little paint. I declined to have a go…not sure why and now, of course, I wish I had daubed something alongside the others.

The artists prepared the wall first by painting over anything already there with enormous amounts of emulsion paint, giving them a ‘blank canvas’ if you like, from which to start. Gradually the images built up with the most amazing skill. Each layer bringing more depth and more texture. I’m no expert at explaining art but the whole process was impressive.

The Man could not get over how one guy painted straight lines with a roller and not a plumb line or any other kind of guide for him to follow. Another artist could fashion a pretty perfect circle. I’m not going to write any more about it, but will post as many pictures as I can. With thanks to all the painters, Halo, Instaminto, Tomo and Ronny Oner — and I’m so in awe of your work. ❤️

The Tunnel

Work in Progress

Brothers and friends getting in on the action…

The finished pieces…

 

New Roof Old Photos…

New Roof Old Photos…

An odd title for this post but apt. A new roof has replaced the broken leaky one on our cottage, and at last the builders have finished. The final job was for them to clean the attic. I was impressed because they brought their own vacuum. Over the years, many of mine have been ruined by builders – can you relate to that?  After they left, I popped up to check out their work. I was pleasantly surprised to see that apart from a little dust, it was okay.

Looking around, my eyes strayed to a box of old photographs and some albums. It was probably a mistake to delve into them but I couldn’t resist. I found an album from 1985, our trip to Canada, which I write about in my memoir Dear Tosh. Such wonderful memories. If you’ve read the book you’ll like these photographs I think.

Two of my favourite photographs…(I do have many favourites though) 

‘Ginger’ the pony and Jo (nanny) – we took the boys out for a picnic…happy days…

I’m going to have another root around in the attic for more photos now… Just the thing to do on a Sunday.

By the way…I’ve changed the name of the blog so that it just says Ninette90. I completed the ninety notes but I’m going to continue with the blog.

It’s Done…It’s Out There…

It’s Done…It’s Out There…

 

Dear Tosh is now out in the big wide world for everyone to see. The agony of wondering and waiting to hear what people make of it is quite something. But, I have had some amazing feedback already. I haven’t posted any names but they are genuine comments. Here are a few snippets:

“I loved the way you talked to Tosh in the letters and it was so honest and natural and beautiful. I’m so sad that he’s gone, and even though I never met him, it feels like you’ve brought him to life for us all to meet.” 

“Your story told your way has bravery, unshakeable love, loyalty, devotion and gratitude for Tosh’s life…”

“It’s a beautiful book Ninette, arrived in the post today and I cannot put it down.”

“It’s absolutely beautiful Ninette…” 

I hope many people read it and that it makes them want to write about their life experiences too. I’m not looking to be a best selling author. I hope that one book travels through many hands. You can hear me talk about it here with my son Matthew Rickard on his Youtube Channel 1095. At the end of the recording I read the poem ‘A Day in The Life’ which is a Beatles medley for Tosh. You can see it below.

I really love this poem and it comes almost at the end of the book. There are six poems dotted throughout the memoir and I love them all.

Dear Tosh is available to buy from independent bookshops or online from the bookshop.org  and many other sites.

Note Number 89…It’s all about the writing…

Note Number 89…It’s all about the writing…

I cannot believe it’s nearly the end of January. I know many people are saying that it’s been a long one, but for me it has flown. Those who know me will understand that January is not a good month for me and this year has been a little more difficult because it’s the 10th anniversary of the loss of my lovely son, Tosh. I have TToshweeted and Instagrammed and Facebooked photos etc., I’m just going to post one photo here, to remind you all what a handsome bloke he was. 

This blog is all about the writing. I have been handwriting and typing my little fingers off all month — well for a couple of years actually — there have been Zoom workshops about memoir writing, poetry writing, how to pitch your book to an agent and how to write a proposal.

I’ve been concentrating on memoir because that is what I’m writing. For the tenth anniversary, I’m completing a memoir about losing Tosh. the book’s working title, (which I think I’ll keep) is Dear Tosh. I’ve written a series of letters to him, telling him how things were from my side, when he had that fatal accident in Portugal. I’ve also brought him up to date with family events, and a few world events, over the last ten years. Obviously a lot has happened: births, deaths, marriages, the usual stuff.

It’s been quite a learning curve when it comes to editing, with so many chapter re-writes and redrafting,  but I think I’m nearly there. It’s been an interesting journey and even though an emotional ride I have to admit that I am also enjoying it. It is like spending time with him for part of each day. I don’t know what I’ll do when it’s finished…perhaps I’ll just carry on.

Writing has become a habit. A good habit. Which is exactly what you have to get into if you want to complete a book of any kind. I now write morning pages each day and a journal in the evening, when I remember. During the day I scribble away creating poetry or editing and redrafting the work in progress. I used to hate the editing side of writing, preferring to just create, but for the memoir, I’m loving the process of reading, checking, changing, cutting, adding, moving sections around, and generally tidying it all up. 

I’ll update you with the progress of the memoir and if I get any publishing deals that I can’t refuse, you will all be the first to know. I hope Tosh would approve of the book.

Stay safe everyone.

 

Note Number 88. . . Advent Calendar Takes Over. . .

Note Number 88. . . Advent Calendar Takes Over. . .

Liberty Calendar copy

The Liberty Calendar is HUGE!!

This year my children bought me a Liberty Advent Calendar for my birthday. It is absolutely fabulous. I love it. A big box full of 25 little boxes to open every day from the 1st Decemer until 25th. So far it has revealed: special bath oil, face cream, lipstick, body cream, and a whole load of other things.  I’ve been posting over on Instagram each day. But, just to make the whole thing more fun for the family,  The Man and I shot a video of me opening the box for the first couple of days. This quickly became boring, so we made a little bit more of it, creating a character or a storyline each day and made little movies. I struggled but mastered (to a basic degree) how to use IMovie adding titles, music, speeding up the film and all sorts. Thinking up ideas wasn’t a problem but it began to take up most of my day and I have other important things to do! Like finish writing my memoir and creating more poetry — which I’m very much into at the moment — so today I resolved to stop making the mini series of Opening the Liberty Advent Calendar 2020 (what will she do next?). We haven’t completely abandoned the project, but will film a few random days between now and Christmas Day. I cannot possibly divulge what themes they might be. In the meantime, I thought you might find it mildly amusing to watch a couple of the earlier box openings, so I’ve uploaded number 6 and number 8 here.

Both clips were filmed before we realised it was better to use landscape mode on the iphone.

Operation Box Number 6

Look No Hands…(Box Number 8)

I always wanted to be in a movie…. download

Note Number 77…The Times They are a Changing…

Note Number 77…The Times They are a Changing…

 

university

My university campus has all but closed down, and from next Monday all lectures and seminars will be online. I’ve been coughing since Friday and have self-isolated. Although, as there is no automatic testing in the UK I could just have a ‘seasonal cough’. .Thank goodness we live in the countryside and only The Man might be within a metre of me. . .

At the moment I can still walk the dog. It’s easy not to meet anyone. But, she has been a bit poorly. The vet kindly carried out a telephone consultation, (with me, not the dog) to diagnose the problem. . . she needed a special diet to sort out her ‘tummy troubles’. After couple of doses of paste from a tube, four ‘special’ (exceedingly expensive) meals. She is — as of this morning — right as rain. Is rain correct word? I think we’ve had a little too much of that lately. (I wonder how long we’ll have to keep on with the exceedingly expensive food? 

 

jpeg garden

Jpeg in happier sunny tummy days ….

diaper-clipart-incontinence-6

Could have done with one of these…

I am disappointed that my uni days are all but over. Now, everything is Skype, WhatsApp, and sharing work via email. I had so enjoyed going to the campus, meeting other students and attending lectures and seminars but. . .

learning

I think, the thing to do in these situations is to turn them to your advantage. I’m not using the car now. So travelling time to Exeter and back can now be recycled into writing time. It’s also making me a much greener person on the planet. Have you read how much difference the ‘lock downs’ are making to the environment already? China has much cleaner air and the canals in Venice are clearer and some dolphins have returned. Is this going to be a massive turning point for the world? I do hope so.

Back to my univeristy work. I have two deadlines, 27th April and 28th April, by which time I need to write two pieces of creative writing of 5000 words each plus one supporting essay and on annotated bibliography.

For the Prose Writing Workshop, I’m dabbling in memoir. For this submission, I also have to write an annotated bibliography using at least five books that I have read. I must give a short descrition of each book and explaination of how the book informed my writing.

My other module is Realism writing. Alongside my creative story, I must submit a 1,500 critial essay. . . I’m not so good at those. I cannot quite get that academic voice going but I’ve been practicing. The best way to learn about writing is by reading. I am at present drowning in novels, short stories, essays, academic how to books and online masterclasses. Phew!

My book shelf

Some of the books I’m currently reading

As well as flights and holidays, so many things are being cancelled. Today I received notification that an event scheduled for this July has been postoned until July 2021. The seriousness of the situation hit home. It’s a strange time to be living through, and it could be a long haul. Keep in touch with family and friends by whichever ways and means you can without putting yourself or others in jeopardy. We have a new grandchild. . . a little boy, but it seems it could be some while before we can give him anything but a virtual cuddle.

 

primrose

Spring is around the corner. . . 

PS. If you notice that this is note number 77 and you thought the last note was 77, you are correct. I had to delete a post from a couple of months ago. I couldn’t stand the numbers being out of sync so had to edit accordingly. Happy Days. x

Note Number 63. . . A Cowboy Story for Christmas.

Note Number 63. . . A Cowboy Story for Christmas.

christmasboot

Wayne Hollis Jackson was driving along the old Eagle Trail on his way back from the range. He was still a good fifteen mile away from home and the snow was hitting the windscreen of the truck like a hail of Lux soap flakes. The Jackson’s had always been cowboys, but he was sure glad not to be riding a horse in this weather. After a hard day, he was looking forward to getting back to a warm fire, and a fine bit of good Texan tucker that his momma would have ready for him at the house. His watch read six-thirty, and he had reckoned to be back before seven, but with the worsening weather, he began to doubt getting home at all.

A while later he was passing the McVale place, squinting to see where he was headed, he could just make out Mary-Lou McVale standing by the side of their station wagon flagging him down. He pulled over as close as he could, drew his hat down over his eyes and gathered his sheepskin coat around his body, opened the truck door and ran to Mary -Lou putting his arm around her.

‘What’s up Mrs McVale?’ he said.

The words came tumbling out, a torrent of panic.

‘The pick-up’s broke, the baby’s coming, the phone lines are down, there’s no mobile signal and Joe’s away working on the rigs. He was getting here for Christmas, but I think that ain’t possible now. The baby’s not due for another three weeks but the contractions are coming fast. I don’t see how I’m gonna make it to the hospital. Rightly I should have had my mother here but like I said, the baby’s not due for another three weeks.’

‘Well mam, I’ve delivered a fair few calves in my time, can’t see it’ll be that much different. Let’s get you inside, out of this blizzard.’

‘Won’t your mamma be worrying ’bout you?’

‘Guess she will but there’s nothing I can do ’bout that now. Anyways, she’ll likely think I’ve stayed up at the bunkhouse what with this weather and all.’

‘There’s some stew on the stove if you need a bite to eat.’

‘Why, that’s a mighty good idea, I could be here some time.’

For the next five hours Mary-Lou paced around the living room of the one storey house, moaning and groaning and Wayne comforted her between contractions. He tried to stay relaxed and not let on how nervous he felt about the imminent birth.

‘Do you think, with it being Christmas Eve an’ all, you might have a boy?’ he asked.

‘What, you mean, like a second coming?’ Mary-Lou kinda spat the words out.

‘I was just saying.’

‘I think it’s here,’ yelled Mary-Lou before dropping onto all fours and bellowing.

Wayne manoeuvred her onto the couch.

At just gone midnight, a beautiful little baby girl bawled her way into the world.

‘Oh my,’ said Wayne, ‘a new beginning. Aint that something? What are you gonna call her?’

‘Well, I don’t rightly fancy Waynette, but maybe Holly would be nice, a bit like your middle name? And it is Christmas day after all.’

Wayne stared at the little baby.

‘Imagine,’ he sighed, ‘if Jesus had been born a girl, the world might have been a whole different place.’

cowboy stork

This story was originally created from a prompt set as homework for a writing group that I have just joined, Story Traders, in Bridport. We had to take a character or two from a Christmas Carol or Song and write a story putting them in a modern setting. I chose the Cowboy Carol, which I love and I think my kids loved it too. If you don’t know it, you can listen to a version of it here. 

Note Number 54. . .A Month to Catch Up

Note Number 54. . .A Month to Catch Up

I knew it had been a while since I posted but could not believe it was the beginning of March, when we had all that ice and snow, that I last updated my blog. Well, it would be thoroughly boring to take you through the four weeks with a day blow by blow account so I’ll precis the 2nd March to the 30th and we’ll go into detail for the last couple of days.

Most of March was spent avoiding the rain, snow and ice, walking the dog in a sodden field or delivering The Man to outlying places in Dorset so that he could cycle back. Sunday 25th he fought his way from Wareham to Axminster via Poole and Weymouth and back to Wareham, 206 kilometres to be exact. Why? I have no idea but I was proud of him even though he was completely wrecked when I collected him at 8.45pm after 13 hours on the road, (including a couple of breaks.)

I have been writing plenty. My fingers are worn down as are the computer keys but it may be to no avail. I’ve performed my poem Waiting at Apothecary Words in Bridport and I entered the Flash Fiction Slam at Bridport Arts Centre — I wasn’t placed but it’s the taking part that counts. A friend of mine won the people’s vote, so that was enough for me.

Now for the Easter Weekend: We drove up from Dorset on Friday — the traffic going our way was not too bad but the poor holiday punters travelling west, were in slow, sometimes stationary traffic. The rain, however still poured on we poor travellers, whichever direction we were taking.

longdays

Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville 

Friday evening I had booked tickets for A Long Days Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill. I knew that it would be a long production and I should have paid more for the seats. The leg room in the Wyndham’s Theatre Grand Circle was akin to a Ryanair aeroplane. But, the play was excellent and the three-and-a-half hours fairly flew by. Lesley Manville as the morphine-adicted Mary was superb and Jeremy Irons played her actor husband whose penny pinching ways contribute to the angst and emotional turmoil of the family. You can read a review of the prodution here  . I was in awe of the sheer volume of diaglogue and on the one hand I was inspired to rush home and write a play, but, on the other hand I acknowledged the certain fact that I would never be able to produce such an eloquent piece of work.

title

Saturday we visited The Foundling Museum, I had wanted to go there since I saw in mentioned on the BBC programme Stitch in Time  when they had talked about mothers leaving a swatch of material with their baby when left at the Foundling Hospital. This little token would enable the mother to be reunited with their child in the future should they be in a position to do so.  The museum gives an insight to the lives of babies and children from 1739 – 1936 who were either abandoned in the streets or handed in to the hospital to be cared for. Now the hospital is now run in the form of the children’s charity Corum. Captain Thomas Corum was the founder of the hospital back in 1739. As is usual with these museums it has stirred in me a need to find out more about the stories of the children who were left here. It is heart wrenching to read the book of billets, (of which there are many) each billet is the admission slip for a foundling and they make sorry reading, just a number, date, age (if known), a few bare facts, a token, if there is one, attached to the page. I need to read more about it and will be searching for books to give me more information.

 

The association has a strong connection to The Arts, music, art, literature etc., with many well-known artists, writers and musicians donating their work to the foundling hospital to be used as a means of generating money and interest. Handel was a particularly ardent fan of the hospital and not only did he leave them a substantial sum of money on his death he also left the manuscript of the Messiah and all rights to it.

There are several displays in the museums and I was particularly drawn to Labelled,  A display exploring young people’s experiences of being labelled as a ‘child in care’. These were portrayed by means of a name tape in a child’s shirt with derogatory and hurtful comments made by bullies, teachers and others in charge.  Clever idea.  I was also intrigues by, Mead’s Mysterious Medicines created by some children from Great Ormond Street Hospital. You can read a little about these and the other installations here.

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In the basement of the museum was an exhibition of the poetry book The Lost Words I was particularly interested in this because I bought the book at Christmas, but I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t read it through properly yet, I will now though. What inspirational poems and illustrations. If you can get to the exhibition then you won’t be disappointed. If you can’t, then just buy the book. It’s beautiful.

the lost words

Last night we ate Vietnamese food at the Cây-Tre in Soho. Buzzing atmosphere and fab food. Loved it! We finished our evening back at our London base with a game of Cribbage…The Man won. How very annoying. I’ll get him this evening though!

Vietnamese

One of many dishes of Vietnamese food savoured on Saturday night.