Friday, 16 December 2011

Research in fiction

I make no apologies for repeating this here after writing it on a blog which I share with four other writers who all have the same agent as myself. Generally speaking the readers of the two blogs are different but repetition is not something I usually do and be assured I do not intend to make a habit of it and bore you to tears.
There is nothing more irritating to a reader than to come across a fact, or description, which they know is incorrect. It is no excuse to say it is only fiction. Admittedly most writers do use poetic licence from time to time but they know research is like an iceberg with most of it hidden in the writer’s mind and only the salient points showing in the story. Readers of fiction are not looking for a lecture. If they were searching for facts they would choose a book on the subject. Nevertheless it makes a book more interesting, and more memorable, if the reader absorbs some new fact or detail, without being distracted from the enjoyment of the story.
                When I began writing sagas set at the beginning of the twentieth century I spent quite a lot of time at our local libraries studying the microfiche copies of newspapers. The librarians always helped me find the relevant periods. Newspaper advertisements provide background details - from clothes, materials, prices, foods, furniture, tools and items in everyday life at that time. I confess I often got side tracked with things which had no relation to the book I was writing. One example was discovering Clydesdale horses were regularly exported to Canada from the port of Annan. It seems incredible considering the near derelict state of the small port as I know it. It can barely accommodate a small fishing boat today, though I believe there are plans to renovate it as a tourist attraction. Immigrants embarked on the long journey to Canada from Glencaple, now no more than a small village on the River Nith.
                Over the years I have accumulated a large number of books which I still enjoy using for research, especially the real life events of the twentieth century. Where these slot seamlessly into the lives of my fictional characters I include them to help fix the period in the reader’s mind. Sometimes they affect the life of a character, as when war is declared and a man is forced to join the army, or a major flood or accident.
                Younger writers may find it difficult to believe the valuable research tool of the World Wide Web only became freely available with an announcement on 30th April 1993. It is astonishing how it developed from then to 2000 and how much we can discover today with the press of a few buttons and access to the internet. Even so it is usually advisable to check more than one source if the information is vital to the plot.
                Sometimes it is not only facts we need but also the feel, the atmosphere, maybe the smell or sound or taste of a scene. I am always diffident about asking people for help with research, especially when it is only for a small part of my novel, but that small part is important and it is essential to get it right. Recently I needed information concerning the work and procedures in a certain part of the police force. Eventually, and not without trepidation, I wrote to our local constabulary. I need not have worried because they could not have been more helpful. I really enjoyed meeting with the young police sergeant. (Doctors and policeman are all getting younger these days even if it is only in my eyes!). I learned all sorts of details which may have seemed insignificant, but which I could only learn from a person genuinely interested in his work and doing it on a daily basis.
                In conclusion I have to say research is never finished. My next project is to discover the effects and emotions of losing a limb. Romance? Where is the romance in that I hear you cry. All I can say is that my characters do have problems to overcome but they also have courage and hope and love.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011


About a fortnight ago I was invited to an 80th birthday party. You might expect this to be a place for zimmers, or at least walking sticks, but there were none in sight or in use. The hostess keeps herself fit and takes a keen interest in all the members of her extended family and this was apparent in the warmth and congeniality. She has four children and they are all married to their original partners. Considering the history of the royal family this is a record in itself, but it also adds to the harmony. Each of the four couples have three children, which adds another dozen young people to the number. All but two of them were present. The two absentees had not forgotten their well-loved granny and telephoned with their birthday greetings from South America and Australia where they are presently working. Several of the other grandchildren had brought their own partners so far from being a party of senior citizens it was youthful gathering and a very happy occasion with plenty of laughter and teasing and an atmosphere of warmth and camaraderie.
The moral of this wee story is that it adds more dimensions to life if we take an interest in the younger generations. In return many of them respect and love their elders and give their care and support when they can. This should not be expected but it is something to be treasured when it is freely given. One of my own relatives had very little interest in her three grandchildren, who were all making their way in life, and she had good reason to be proud of them. Instead she often moaned about being bored or lonely. Her circle grew smaller and her conversation became more and more limited so even her own generation were less inclined to visit.
When I write my family sagas I try to include different generations, obviously with some romance and love and a few problems to overcome – otherwise there would be no story to tell, but I I strive for the feeling of overall warmth and sometimes I even give the baddies a redeeming feature.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Women's Institute Love Libraries Petition

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Women's Institute Love Libraries Petition

It is good to know that the Women's Institutes are supporting the petition for Love our Llibraries by signing on line. It is possible to cut and paste the URL The closure of many libraries would be a big disadvantage to both children and adults and our country in general. As a writer and a reader I appreciate the support of such an influential organisation, and everyone who can help preserve our public libraries.
I did have a pleasant surprise today from G C Books who organise the sale of books at Wigtown Book Festival at the end of September. All the available copies of A Home Of Our Own and Heart of the Home had sold. So thank you to all who bought my books also to all those who made such a delightful and responsive audience. 

Gardening and my latest novel

When I moved from a large farm house and an equally large garden seven years ago I thought I would need all my time and energy for writing fiction – and I do, but there is a limit to how long anyone can sit at a computer and remain physically active. Anyway I enjoy growing things.
      Fiction with farming has gradually become my label as all my novels are connected to farming, usually in Scotland, even though they have a strong element of romance and family realtionships. I thought a slight change might be in order for my latest novel so I made my heroine into a market gardener. The novel will not be published until May 2012 but I have just received a picture of the jacket.It features a red rose and is completely different to any of the jacket covers I have had before. It is appropriate to the story and to
the title : Another Home – Another Love.
      Lack of a large garden without a vegetable plot has not held me back. I am still using the potatoes, onions and carrots which I have grown in large pots. I also have some herbs, especially mint, chives and  thyme. I also had chard, courgettes, spring onions, garlic. The leeks have been a bit disappointing this year but I still have a dozen growing – enough for a good pot of various soups for twelve weeks. My favourites are leek and potato, leek in broth and leek, celery and potato                                             
      I grew up with an orchard and planted fruit trees as soon as I married and had a garden of our own. I have missed them so now I have a Victoria plum in one corner with rhubarb underneath, a miniature apple tree which has produced well this year, a loganberry bush, and strawberries in tubs. Who knows what next year will bring? Maybe French beans.
      The birds have devoured lots of peanuts since the weather turned colder but they are expensive this year. Even so I have been delighted to see the Woodpeckers back.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Farming Today BBC - things some teachers don't know

Although I am supposed to be retired I often listen to this program if I am awaken early enough in the morning. The other day it came from Lincolnshire with the weather so dry the newly sown seeds were drying off and dying. It sounded like a different world to where we live in south west Scotland as it has been so incredubly wet for so long that the ground is saturated and often too soggy for the machines to travel on even if we manage to get a few hours dry overhead. This year it has been a case of snatching in harvest and later cuts of silage at the slightest opportunity. Some corn is still standing and probably rotted away.

Today the program came from Harper Adams College and I was astonished at a few of the things some teachers do not know about farming, but then I think of all things I don't know about city life, or various industries. I suppose it is just the same. Anyway I have decided to include a few aspects of farm and country life in my blog from time to time and if anyone reads it and thinks I can help with things they want to know then please do ask. My own back ground has always been farming and I have written several fictional family sagas, all with farming backgrounds. The farming details are authentic and as correct as I can make them. In one book I mention a calf being born feet first. Apparently that was news to one reader who had assumed the head came first, as with babies. Another time the characters were disapponted to find a heifer and a bull twins because the heifers do not breed when twinned with a male. Obviously this is not essential knowlege for teachers to tell their pupils, but they do need to know that a cow has to have a calf before she gives any milk, and that male calves do not give milk. I have to say that seemed common sense to me but who am I to judge other people.

I try not to include too many facts in my novels but my agent always asks for more - perhaps a bit like the Archers. Originally that program began as a means of getting government information out to the farmers after the war when grants were offered according to what the country required in the way of food, and to improve the quantity and quality.

That is enough for now. I have been too busy writing and have missed one of my favourite radio programs - Book at Bedtime - the Cat's Table. Thank goodness for the listen again facility.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Writing and related tasks

Whew sometimes this writing business feels like hard work. I have just finished uploading my fifth short romance novel to Smashwords and Amazon. I am not absolutely satisfied with the way it looks as I can't always keep the page breaks I want. I have split a poem in two at the beginning, but otherwise page breaks do not seem to matter as people use different size e-readers and their own size of print, which changes things anyway.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Beginning a blog

Hello everyone - this is my first attempt at a blog but when I get used to it I will tell you a little bit about me and my friends, my writing, my family and life in general. Meanwhile please be patient while I get the hang of it.