The Covid-19 pandemic sure threw a spanner in the works for all of those singletons out there who were going out on dates and looking for the next Mr/Miss Right. Overnight everyone had to isolate and give up any hope of amorous adventures for the foreseeable future.
Recently I found a big box of old letters from my younger days, some of which are from friends detailing their romantic lives at the time. We all took it for granted we could go out and meet whoever we wanted. Oh, how we complained and revelled in the ups and downs of our youthful adventures, no clue of what the future might hold. In one letter a friend says her boyfriend complained about having to wear a condom, if only he had known that by 2020 a condom would be the least of his concerns!
Fast forward quite a few years (no, I am not going to say how many) and suddenly single people found themselves having to not only date online but having to have virtual dates rather than real ones. Previously, those home alone were used to online dating sites like Tinder and Grinder, they knew that they could meet the dates in real time if they wanted to. Covid-19 changed all that. While they might find someone they liked online, now they could only see and talk to them online. No meeting up at a restaurant or bar. No first kiss. No one nightstands. No holding hands on romantic walks, no weekends away.
The whole conversation about ‘protection’ came with a new aspect to it. Not only are sexual diseases an issue; The Virus is a major problem too. We are all wearing masks and keeping our distance, all physical intimacy quashed. It’s all very bizarre and lonely for the singletons right now.
One of the stories in my new book The Isolation Sex Stories takes an older couple on a first date via Zoom, it is a fun story but I can imagine all the lonely people who have been in need of companionship. It’s an exciting date for the lady in the story but will she be thrilled to find a new companion? There’s only one way to find out…
All of the stories in my new book are quirky and different, let me know which one(s) you like best.
As a young teen I, along with my best friend, for some reason best known to ourselves, used to like to borrow Jilly Cooper books from the library across the road from our school.
Well, that’s what libraries are for aren’t they?
The thing is we didn’t do it the conventional way. We thought it much more fun to sneak in, nick a book without getting it stamped, read it and return it. I can’t honestly remember whose idea it was to do this but no doubt it was mine. We never ever kept a book, they were always returned in perfect condition, so it’s not exactly a crime is it? It felt naughty enough and gave a frisson of excitement getting past the reception desk and out again with no one spotting us. Far from on a par with robbing a bank but enough to make us feel a bit on the wild side. You can tell it was a long time ago…
I remembered this today when in the midst of clearing my old house I came across my riding hat. The riding hat reminded me of Jilly Cooper’s book Riders. We started with reading her books titled with women’s names, I can remember Imogen and that’s the only one that springs to mind but progressing to Riders some years later was quite an eye opener, the others were tame by comparison. Imogen funnily enough, happened to be a librarian, maybe that’s why it’s the only one I recall.
We took it turns to read the books out loud to each other in the common room, trying to guess what the characters would get up to next. They were a whole world away from our text book reads, dictated by the English teacher.
Surprisingly, it’s not Jilly’s racy imaginings that made me want to ride horses later on in life, that goes back to my childhood longing to be a cowboy.
Many years later I went to see Jilly Cooper give a talk at Jarrold’s in Norwich. I wanted to go and tell her the impact she had on me as a young teen but sadly I felt too shy. Besides, I still felt a bit guilty we hadn’t actually bought her books. I know now an author gets paid a little every time their book gets borrowed from a library but since we didn’t do our borrowing the official way, Jilly may not have been happy we deprived her of even that tiny income.
This week I revived my Linkedin account and out of the blue a complete stranger messaged me to say that even though it had been many years since she’d read my short story The Eight of Swords, and had read hundreds of books since, the story had stuck with her, she said it was wonderful and hilarious. I mention the last bit so you know that the story stuck with her for good reasons!
Her kind words made my day. All you want when you write something is for someone to enjoy it or/and identify. Writing is a very special connection and I am grateful to Jilly Cooper for her impact on me as a young teen, bringing back that lovely memory of fun teenage times, inspiring our imaginations and I’m thrilled that I impacted one of my readers that strongly too, in my own small way.
My new book of short stories is scheduled for launch on 14th February. A date you are not likely to forget! Look out for updates coming shortly.
Every writer has a different method to creating their characters. I’ve read quite a bit on the subject. There are writing courses galore, software you can get to help you plan your protagonists, internet advice abounds.
You will see in novels a disclaimer that says, ‘no characters in this book were based on living people,’ or something along those lines.
Of course you can’t take someone you know and implant all their characteristics into one of your fictional characters because quite frankly, that character wouldn’t be fictional now would it? That much is obvious. And the last thing you want is a lawsuit.
All I can tell you is how my characters come about.
I don’t sit down and create a character by listing how they look, their age, their weaknesses, their strengths, their political leanings, their occupation etc. I don’t do this because for me it simply doesn’t work. I have tried it but by the time I come to put them into a story I’ve lost interest in them because I know all about them. It is like creating a robot you are going to control to the nth degree and from what I’ve read you can’t even do that with a robot.
If you are a writer reading this and do use that method please don’t take offense. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use that method, I’m purely saying it doesn’t work for me.
The idea for The Eight of Swords came to me from a newspaper article. Once I read the article I couldn’t get it out of my head. It isn’t uncommon for fictional stories to be created from real life events because how else would stories be created? They say truth is stranger than fiction and this is very much the case. However, in this instance I created something strange, dramatic and exciting out of something pretty mundane. I know it wasn’t mundane to the real life lady but the outcome was pretty mundane to my mind.
The article described an immigration officer who came home to find her house overtaken by gypsies (well they may simply have been squatters I can’t remember now but I decided in my story they would be gypsies). In real life, the lady in question used the law to have them evicted within 24 hours or maybe even sooner. I’m a little hazy on the details because I didn’t keep the article and we are talking nearly ten years ago.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it for some time. Then out of the blue I was struck down with Pleurisy and became very ill. I didn’t realize it was Pleurisy, I just thought it was a bad cough. After a few weeks I went to see a doctor who suggested I buy myself some flowers and chocolate and to prepare myself to put up with it for six weeks. My protestations that I had a business to run fell on deaf ears. I ignored her advice and tried to carry on with my daily life but I became more and more poorly and suddenly experienced sharp pains in my ribs so sharp I could barely breathe. I went to see another doctor who told me I’d probably cracked a rib coughing. By the next day I knew I was in serious trouble, not all of my ribs could be broken surely?
By now I wasn’t really well enough to leave the house but another doctor told me to get in a taxi and visit a GP who specialized in respiratory matters. He at last told me I had Pleurisy. This time I went home to my bed and stayed there. I couldn’t just lie there and try to get better, my body might have been in trouble but my mind needed to be kept busy, so everyday I dragged myself into my office and I started to write about an immigration officer who came home to find her home taken over by Romanian gypsies.
I became Jayne Patchett, I could imagine how she might feel, a woman perhaps my own age, coming home and not being able to get through her own front door. Unlike the reality of the article I had read, Jayne had far more trouble dealing with the intriguing family who now inhabited her home. The characters all came to life vividly and the story progressed as if it were actually happening to me in real time. If I had been reading the story instead of writing it, I would not have been able to put it down and that’s what pretty much happened when writing it, I struggled to leave the keyboard until the fatigue of my illness forced me to.
The gypsies were addictive to me, I loved learning everything about them: their way of living, their attitude, their beliefs, and mystique. I researched how Romanian gypsies lived and Jayne became as intrigued by them as I was. In the story she gets drawn into their world and begins to question her own.
So my characters developed organically if you like. They came out of nowhere and took over my mind and my story. I found them leading the way. My decisions on what would happen next belonged entirely to them. I could never have planned the story from start to finish. I had no idea how it would end, what would happen to Jayne or any of them and exactly the same thing happened when I came to write The Putsi.
And again, with my new book of short stories, it is the characters who have dictated how the stories unfold. I don’t think I have ever started a story knowing where it will end up. Perhaps that’s why writing is as much a pleasure to me as reading is. I love to be surprised.
I know I am fortunate to have such a fertile imagination. It developed as a young child. My siblings were much older than me so for much of my childhood I entertained myself and lived in my own head and for a while alongside my imaginary friend Bert, who I suppose was the first character I ever made up.
That’s pretty much all I can tell you about how I develop my characters. The truth is they develop themselves. They are real to me even though they are entirely fictional.
Tomorrow I will tell you more about my imaginary friend Bert, who has a story all of his own.
Good evening and welcome to today’s blog post. If I sound a little like the late David Frost I make no apology!
Jack Frost (completely different character) has been nipping at us all for the last few days and while I enjoy being out on frosty bright days, I’m not so sure about the aches the cold brings.
During the first lockdown I disciplined myself into daily yoga sessions via YouTube (I can recommend Adrienne) but that was summer and now the mornings are colder and darker so I have to fight with myself to get up. At the moment I am winning again but that is after a couple of months of lagging in the exercise stakes.
Happily I live in an apartment that has very impressive sound proofing so if I want to dance to loud music, no one complains. Exercise has been incredibly important in keeping my mind focused, as has meditation. If you haven’t tried meditation before I heartily recommend it. During the more stressful times in lockdown (like when my mum ended up in a Covid ward for a week although thankfully she wasn’t suffering from it, just displaying symptoms), I relied on daily meditations to get me through. I don’t do them so often now but I should, it especially helps when writing and your mind is jam packed with ideas.
My daily blog posts are going to be a mixture of how my self publishing is going and day to day writing, publishing, photography and sketching adventures. Of course I am going to be mentioning the pandemic but I will try to focus on the lighter side of everyday living with Covid-19 floating around us in its weird and threatening invisible aura. We all know the dark side, so I don’t need to dwell on that.
You see I mentioned photography and sketching as well as the writing and publishing above. I am also a photographer and I like to sketch when I can. My Grandfather, who was a far superior artist to me in every way, used to love to sketch everyday folk and I have picked that up genetically from him I guess. As it happens, the sketches will work well with my new book of short stories so I will use them to illustrate them.
My blog posts will also feature some of my photography, street photography is what I suppose some would call ‘a guilty pleasure,’ which it is in some ways but capturing people unawares is the only way to make sure their expressions are completely natural. I think I am a kind shooter, I don’t take advantage, I simply document characters and life on the street as I see it. There you go, this is only my second blog post and I am already letting out my dark secrets. Check out my images via @ZingleEye on Instagram.
My characters are completely fictional. I’m lucky in that I have had many jobs and the varied businesses I have worked in have featured all sorts of different characters so while none of my characters are ever based on anyone in particular, I suppose my subconscious computes personality traits and behaviours which then go on to become fully formed fictional beings who you can empathize or identify with in some way. At least I hope so.
I’ll write more about how my characters evolve another time.
Like most creative types I guess, I easily get distracted. I can be walking along thinking about a story and the next minute I am transfixed by a scene that I want to photograph or I might see someone who would make a good sketch or I see through a window and imagine the lives of the people within. Ideas come all the time and one of the big problems I have in life is filtering them and trying to choose which to pursue. Having so many ideas can be both a blessing and on occasion a curse.
The other side of me is that I am pretty practical. My head may be full of ideas and imaginings but I am able to do a bit of plumbing when it’s needed, cut hair, change the oil in a car, cook, bake or create a piece of jewellery – all a bit random but that’s me. If I don’t know how to do something I’m all for finding out how to do it rather than relying on someone else (which of course has to happen from time to time). In fact, I should pass more jobs on to others but my curiosity usually gets the better of me. I don’t see myself as a Jack of all trades and master of none but more a curious human.
This is what happened in the summer. When I had an idea for a book (as it happens not the short stories this time) I decided to learn a publishing program and I am still learning as I go.
My blog post tomorrow will focus (hey get me, I’m going to focus on something) on character creation and I will tell you how The Eight of Swords and The Putsi came about.
Well hello, it’s been quite some time since I blogged, so thank you for visiting to see what I have to say.
Nearly ten years ago I published The Eight of Swords and The Putsi and posted on this site pretty regularly but life got in the way, I had a business that needed my full attention and my mother certainly needed it too.
Then I moved into a business which demanded less of me physically and thanks to Covid-19 (it has to be good for something) I got my writing bug back again and spent the first lockdown writing a new book of short stories.
I’ve always been fascinated by people and how they deal with certain situations, if you read The Eight of Swords you will meet Jayne Patchett who has a very tricky situation to deal with. When you read it, you are bound to ask yourself how you would react if you were her.
When Covid-19 turned up without much warning and presented us all with a whole new and unprecedented way of living this reminded me very much of The Eight of Swords, but in this case all our worlds were turned upside down, not just the life of one woman (although her drama proved comparatively brief).
I moved into a new riverside apartment just a couple of days before the first lockdown. Luckily I didn’t have much to move as I downsized. Suddenly life became much calmer, more peaceful and the simplicity of my modern apartment seeped into me. Instead of having to race around I could reflect, I had time to think and observe the city around me uncluttered with people. While I am a social person, I am also very happy alone and in my own space so this new way of living did not particularly frighten or concern me.
Having said that, I am not only responsible for myself, I have an elderly mother who has a multitude of health conditions to care for and during the first lockdown I suspended her care agency and looked after her full time myself for three months. Although I’d already spent a fair amount of time with her, caring for her all the time brought a routine that probably helped me cope with the weird way the outer world was transmogrifying.
I started to write a diary, the kind of diary where thoughts simply pour out of your head from your daily observations. It became a kind of therapy and I couldn’t go to sleep without having written down the days happenings. The realization that we are all living through a pandemic that will become a part of the history books made me think of future generations of my family and how they will want to know what it was like first hand from the people who actually lived through it. My Aunty Maureen wrote about her experiences in the war and I had only recently read her notes and this inspired me to write about lockdown and Covid-19 so that my great nephews and future great great nieces and nephews will have first hand experience of a family member going through it all.
The diary isn’t what I am going to publish (well not for now). The diary led me to muse upon what might be going on behind all the closed doors I passed on my lockdown exercise walks and cycle rides and my imagination went into overdrive and created twelve new short stories.
As it has been many years since I last self-published I am going to take you with me, you are very welcome to join me on this latest literary adventure. Whether you are an avid reader or a writer yourself it might interest you to know a little about the process as I go through it again.
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