Author Archives: Sophie

Healing Story

This week I have been desperately searching for a healing story. To begin with, I dug into my memory for what R S Thomas called something to set against the heart in the long cold.

But the state of remembered tranquility was not enough. I wanted a story, with a beginning a middle and an end. Particularly I wanted a happy ending.

And serendipitously, the search got me back to a place where I really did feel healed. This is how.

Stage One – Reason for the Quest

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Platinum Jubilee, Royalty and Romance

Confluence of strings of union Jack bunting against a bright blue skyFor me, this week has mostly been about the impact on my diary of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. I don’t mean just the parties, though I admit I prepared food for two, and attended three (so far).

But there were also the logistics. The “holiday” encompassed the spring Bank Holiday, now transferred to Thursday 2nd June, through Friday to Monday or even Tuesday. Parking charges were waived on Friday and Monday but not Saturday by my local authority.

Some shops  closed but, in my area of Central London, most didn’t, though some of them adjusted their hours. There were queues round the block for my local Italian ice cream purveyor every time the sun came out.A Mini painted like the Union Jack parked on the pavement between the end of Royal Avenue and the King's Road.

And then there was the chat. Everyone I met had something to say about the celebrations, the Queen, the royal Family, the decorations and, of course, the weather.

There was a positive rash of Union Jacks in shop windows, They were on cars and even bicycles. Strings of them cross the King’s Road. And, at the end of Royal Avenue, there was a Mini dressed as a Union Jack. My photograph shows the display in the course of construction. Continue reading

Changing Perspective

Small copper butterfly Image by Meatle from Pixabay

This week has been all about changing perspective. That is mostly inside the novel which is now nearing completion. But also in my routine, my expectations and my approach to filing. It’s been a lot of fun, after the initial shock. But I am still in the process of adjustment. That, incidentally, is why this week’s blog is late.

What happened is this: most of last week I was wandering about the Dorset coast with the Birdwatcher, looking at birds, butterflies and bees.

We’ve done this several times before and I love it. Not that I’m any sort of ornithologist. But I love watching people going about their business. And at this time of year, birds are very busy indeed.

Naturally Changing Perspective

Male chaffinch Image by Meatle from Pixabay

Normally on these holidays I bask in the light, the fresh air, the countryside and being completely completely divorced from my normal life. But this time something else happened.

The weather was volatile. We had mist and then blinding sunlight. We were stalked by a chaffinch whom we only caught sight of in silhouette. The perspective kept changing all on its own.

And then one day we drove along the coast road to Lyme Regis through low cloud and driving rain. It was like the start of a Gothic thriller. Continue reading

Novelists, Reviews and a Competition

Announcing PG Wodehouse essay Prize 2022

This week I have been thinking about how I read and write reviews and, in particular, a very special competition. The latter invites you to try something similar but a bit more substantial for my dear P G  Wodehouse. See below for details.

Now, there are many ways of appreciating a novel.

You can study it, dream about it, carry on the characters in your own story (or several) and talk about it until your friends beg you to stop.

writing tipsTo share your enthusiasm with the whole world, all you have to do is write a review and post it on a bookseller’s website. Writers, desperate to let readers know that their work exists, are pathetically grateful for these reviews. I know. I am one of them. Continue reading

Romantic Novelists in Wodehouse and Christie

resolution by letterA couple of weeks ago I gave a talk about romantic novelists in fiction and how they compared with the real thing. To be more precise, it was PG Wodehouse’s romantic novelists. Regular readers of this blog will remember that I have blogged about them before. (I am a huge fan of Rosie M Banks, before you ask.)

Two interesting things emerged from my researches. First, while PGW exaggerated some aspects for comic effect, in general he was pretty respectful of their work ethic – and success!

The second was – those exaggerations. I assumed they had sprung, new-minted, from the Master’s imagination. But just a bit of digging found that PGW had sources on which he might well have modelled even the most egregious. Glug. Continue reading

Mousetrap, Superman and Posterity

This blog contains two main stories – what The Mousetrap did to Hamlet and how Superman distorted an Edwardian hero. For me, anyway.

For some weeks now I’ve been engaged in editing a book that I have re-visited over several years. It has made me think about references which may shift with time.

Something that seemed set in stone in 2008 may have become seriously misleading in 2021. Even downright counter-productive. As, I hope, my two stories will show.

Hamlet’s Dilemma

I love Shakespeare. I saw my first Hamlet when I was fourteen and I have seen it countless times since. There’s usually something new to discover and always special moments of power that stop me dead in my tracks. These depend on the production, of course. But generally one of them is the play within a play in Act 3 Scene 2.

Murdoch's Tower at Caerlaverock Castle ScotlandHamlet is obsessing about his mother’s remarriage. His father, the King, died only four months ago and Hamlet suspects his uncle of murdering him. Not only has the Queen married him, Uncle is now King. Hamlet started with a vague suspicion, but then he encounters his father’s ghost walking the battlements. He confirms it. Continue reading

How Long is a Novel?

Image by Hassan Nawaz from Pixabay

How long is a novel? I am at that stage in my current ms where I am starting to worry about novel length. A lot.

This is a story that has deepened and matured over time. The first draft umpty-um years ago was just over 100K words. Which I knew was too long for what it delivered. But is that still true?

I think it’s grown in complexity. But is it really delivering more, or is that just vainglorious fantasy because I’ve been working on it so long? AAARGH.

So I’ve been digging a bit to see what I can discover about novel length across time and genres.

Novel Length – in the Beginning

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Talking to Aliens

alien appearing to hand on foggy road

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Talking to aliens is not my bag. I could never write a science fiction novel because I would fall at the first hurdle. How the heck do you communicate?

I mean, I’ve tried. Two thousand words in and I was tearing my hair out trying to pick my way through that multi-dimensional minefield. (The alien was an interstellar traveller who had landed mistakenly in the upper reaches of the Thames in Oxfordshire. He was also a giant octopus.)

The sad thing is that I love science fiction. Adore the television series. See the movies several times. Read lots and lots of it. Recommend it with enthusiasm, including to people who recoil from the very idea.

A propos, try the novella The Seven Brides-to-Be of Generalissimo Vlad by Victoria Goddard. It’s a cracker.

Well, it’s on the cusp of science fiction and fantasy, I suppose. The author is best known for her epic fantasy series set in the Universe of the Nine Worlds, full of strangeness and moral challenges.

But the Generalissimo is a heck of whirl. Constructed like a fairy tale, plotted like true mystery, it has great world building, a fabulous brave and sassy narrator who makes me laugh, and a real lump-in-the-throat ending.

But in the universe of the Generalissimo everyone speaks the same language, even though they sometimes use electronic devices to disguise their voices. Nobody is actually talking to aliens.

Understanding the Reply – TV series

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PGW’s Royal Romance

I have just read PGW’s royal romance, The Prince and Betty. When I first wrote about romantic novelists in Wodehouse World, I knew that the book existed but I had never read it. Now that I have, the story itself and, indeed, the history of its publication is a jigsaw puzzle.

However, I’ve also learned something about how it fitted into PGW’s life and other writing. And it has made me think again about Wodehouse’s place in romantic fiction.  And, indeed, of romantic fiction in his own life. So I thought I would share.

PGW’s Royal Romance – before the beginning

gold coinsWodehouse made his reputation initially with school stories. By 1909, however, he wanted to leave that behind and “butt into the big league,” as he told fellow free-lancer L H Bradshaw.

In New York, on leave of absence from his UK employer, The Globe, he found a literary agent who sold the two short stories PGW had brought with him for US$500. He was earning less that 10 guineas a pop from magazines in the UK. Continue reading

Origins of Svengali Part 2

The origins of Svengali have intrigued me for years. He appears in what was probably the first international best-selling novel. Trilby by George du Maurier, published in 1894, was a Gothic tale of possession, hopeless love and death. Svengali was its evil engine.

His name is still common currency as I wrote a few weeks ago but the story itself is largely forgotten.

These days “his Svengali” describes the managing partner in a certain type of relationship: he is the puppet master, nearly always evil, who deprives his creature of independent will. Yet most people who use the name have only the sketchiest idea of the story, and some have none at all. Continue reading