Author Archives: Sophie

Modern English : Fowler’s version and more

Fowler’s Modern English Usage

well-thumbed old book, open

Image by Anja from Pixabay

When I was a child, one of my mother’s friends gave me a copy of Fowler’s Modern English Usage. It was a very special present and pretty battered. She bought it when she was working at the BBC during the War.

Clearly it had seen a lot of use. She worked with a bunch of engineers who were always asking her about grammar whenever they had to put anything in writing.

She gave it to me after she’d asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up.

I had said, loftily, that I was already doing it. (I was eight or nine. Violet Elizabeth could have taken my correspondence course.) The answer, of course, was, “Tell stories.”

To her great credit, she didn’t hoot with laughter. Instead, she disappeared into her study and returned with the well-thumbed object under reference.

“You’ll be needing this,” she said. Continue reading

Operation Mincemeat

This week I went to see the musical Operation Mincemeat at the Fortune Theatre in London. It was glorious and I laughed, cried and generally had a whale of a time. This was a delight – and a great relief.

To be honest, by the time the day came round, I was torn about going at all.

For one thing, my now plated right wrist, though exercised/massaged five times a day, sometimes hurts enough to make me yelp, especially if someone bumps into it. The prospect of a crowded  theatre raised my anxiety levels.

hooded mystery manFor another – well, my customary theatre companion had rejected the idea of seeing Operation Mincemeat with conviction abhorrence. Its subject, he said, had been too important to turn into a comedy musical.

I disagreed with the idea that anything could be too important for comedy. But – well, I admit; he worried me.

MINCEMEAT, NÉ TROJAN HORSE

The plot was to send a dead body, to all appearances a British courier, into the orbit of German intelligence with false information on Allied plans. This was to occur in neutral Spain where, under Fascist General Franco, German spies were tolerated and even sometimes supported. The corpse was to carry secret papers  to mislead the German high Command as to the entry point for the intended Allied invasion of German-occupied Europe. Continue reading

Dear Editor Please Note : Sophie Weston reprise

Dear Readers: Sophie is still not up to typing a whole blog so we’re taking this opportunity of republishing her case-study-cum-love-letter to Dear Editor from back in 2016. (The blog was mentioned in Joanna’s cautionary tales blog last week). Even if you’ve read it before, it’s well worth rereading. And for any editors out there, we’d say it’s a must. But, being authors, we would say that, wouldn’t we?
hand writing a letter to editor with a goose feather

Dear Editor . . .

Whoever you are, wherever you are, Dear Editor, this blog is for you. You’ll find it’s somewhere between a  human resources case study and a love letter.

I’ve been writing most of my life. I’ve moved from “Not a semi colon goes” (end of conversation, book never published) to “Whatever you say” (utter misery, nearly stopped writing) and am now definitely at “Looking forward to discussion”.  I hope the following may help other authors and their Dear Editor avoid some of my pratfalls — or at any rate, get up afterwards a damn sight faster.

Relationship in the mist

Whether you’re a difficult author or a pussycat, the author-editor relationship is always edgy, groping its way through the mist. You can’t get away from it. There are just too many dark alleys and water’s edges. You think you’re striding along a good straight path of mutual understanding and — KERPLOP!

Both of you have to live with this.
And pull each other out of the water when necessary. Continue reading

Lord Byron, the Heyer Walk and Lady Caroline Lamb

Byron c 1813 by Thos Phillips

Byron c 1813 by Thos Phillips

As promised in Sarah’s Byron blog last week, this is Sophie’s take on Byron. Enjoy.

When I studied the Romantic poets in my university English Literature course, Lord Byron was the odd man out. His sensibilities, not to mention his gravitas, didn’t seem in the same class as Wordsworth’s, Keats’s or my beloved Shelley’s.

At that time, I thought that was because of his character and advantages of birth—an aristocrat, an arrogant bad boy, a traveller with a taste for the fleshpots. He was, well, a bit raffish, with a brisk way of discarding emotional attachments. It showed in his poetry. I didn’t like him very much. And I don’t think many of my tutors did either.

The Grand Sophy paperback coverIn Georgette Heyer terms, he was more Sir Montagu Revesby than Augustus Fawnhope.

Or so I thought.

Georgette Heyer Walk

Then, some years ago now, a group of friends and fellow Georgette Heyer Fans were coming to London.

Berry Brothers & Rudd, St James's

Berry Bros & Rudd, St James’s
Philafrenzy Own work CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

To amuse them, I put together a walk round some of the places in Mayfair that she mentions in her Regency novels. (More details in this blog on the wonderful Word Wenches site.)

Lord Byron cropped up no fewer than three times en route. I wasn’t expecting it and, as he only gets a couple of name checks in the Heyer canon, I often leave him out on the Walk itself. But they all told me something about him that surprised me. Continue reading

For the love of owls : Sophie Weston reprise

owls,. Little owlDear Readers: Sophie is currently hors de combat with a broken arm so we’re republishing one of her inspiring nature blogs: this one is about owls (from 2019). Enjoy.

First you should know: I love owls. When I was at college, I lived for a time in a cottage opposite a field. We had a visiting Little Owl. I first encountered it when I came home at dusk to find Something sitting on the stone wall that surrounded our garden. I thought a child had dropped a stuffed toy and I reached to retrieve it. Until it OPENED ITS EYES.

It was a Little Owl. And they are really small, as you see. 1.5 bricks tall, max. But the message was direct, unmistakeable and compelling: DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.

I’ve been a huge fan of owls ever since. Continue reading

When IT Goes Wrong

Hiding face looking at computer screen when IT goes wrong

Image by mrkaushikkashish from Pixabay

The biggest news in the UK at the moment is all about when IT goes wrong. Well, really it’s about the appalling injustice, destruction and simple chaos that can follow when IT goes wrong and the management who commissioned it are still believers.

And that, of course, brings us very quickly to the people who use the IT in question. And who might have been responsible.

It’s a big issue and, oddly enough, one that I started to grapple with umpty-um years ago in my first single-title novel. Not that I realised that was it was any sort of issue at the time. I just had a story and some characters and a cracking setting on an imaginary Caribbean island.

When IT Goes Wrong Spontaneously

As anyone who has sat at their desk and watched the rolling beach ball of doom spin can attest, IT can go wrong at any time.

Sometimes it’s the user’s responsibility. Fat finger syndrome is common to just about everyone on the planet.

For instance, I can’t count the times I’ve pressed two keys simultaneously. The unfortunate machine freezes.

I sort of sympathise. The poor thing can’t say, “Oh come ON. Make your mind up.” Though perhaps one day it will, come to think of it. Continue reading

Accidental Historical

Earlier this month one of my all time favourite authors, Leigh Michaels, proposed a new category of books: the Accidental Historical.

She has  coined it to cover republished books which she wrote some years ago. Back then, they were correctly described as contemporary romantic fiction. But we have had a digital, social and media revolution since then.

After pondering this for a bit, I think Amazon, other online stores and ALL publishers of ebooks in general would do well to adopt it.

Leigh Michaels

cover of novel, Brittany's Castle, showing a welcoming room with a tall Christmas tree, ablaze with lights and beautifully packed presents at its foot. Leigh Michaels is a multi-award winning author of contemporary and historical fiction, mostly romantic. She’s published in more than 25 languages and 120 countries the last time I looked. She is also a teacher and mentor for other writers. For a while we shared the inspiring editor Jacqui Bianchi, whom I have quoted here before.

And I have loved her books ever since Jacqui recommended them to me. Several of the books are on, not just my Keeper Shelf, but my Never to be Taken Out of This House Under Any Circumstances shelf.

I have had to wrench my copy of A New Desire  out of the hands of a departing guest. “If you want to read it, fine. But you have to come back here and read it in situ.” She did. She was 25.

And this is the nub of the matter. The book my visitor was so determined to read was first published in 1989. It was ten years older than she was.

Enter the Accidental Historical. Continue reading

In Praise of Kindness

Rearview of a man and woman clearly standing between others, all of whom have left arm round one person's waist and right arm on another person's shoulder.

A writer friend tells me that her local coffee shop has put up a sign “Kindness is the new superpower.” Several of us, all writers, had met for a cheery lunch and we all beamed. We all beamed.

For some reason, I have clung to it ever since. Possibly it is because of the international news. Or it may be that Christmas always makes me pause for thought. But this year, the world has never seemed in such need of kindness. Or so very far from showing or receiving it.

Kindness and  Conflict

box tied with white ribbon, a giftThe OED defines it as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. That sounds a bit pallid to me. Maybe it has been polluted by association with phrases like “kind of”. . It certainly doesn’t sound earth-shaking.

I always thought, probably mistakenly, that it had something to do with “kin”, with treating a stranger like a member of your family. For that is what has to happen if there is any hope of a workable future to follow this Palestinian Israeli conflict. With such atrocities on both sides, the only hope is kindness on both sides.

a chair with a wicker set stands on a a grassy slope, with a man's black jacket over its back. On the seat is an accordion, the strap looking as if the player has just put it down. Lying on the ground beside it is a pear-shaped stringed instrument, the size of a guitar, with a body strap, as if it, too, has just been taken off.At the moment that looks hopeless. But not everyone hates.

Jewish conductor Daniel Barenboim and Palestinian-American Edward Said set up the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in 1999 to bring together musicians from both cultures in a joint project.

Maestro Barenboim wrote a heartfelt piece in October this year. “Both sides must recognise their enemies as human beings and try to empathise with their point of view, their pain and their hardship,” he says.

Kindness to Read

Continue reading

Armistice Day 2023

red poppiesArmistice Day 2023 falls on a Saturday. Five years ago I wrote a piece for this blog about the evolution of remembrance ceremonies since the end of World War 1.

Armistice Day was the first – on Tuesday 11th November 1919, in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. It specifically commemorated the signing of the document which  ceased hostilities on the Western Front. It was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.

Pause

Big Ben, silent since 1914, chimed again in London. The next morning, Tuesday 12th November, the front page of The Daily Mirror showed photographs of jubilant people, some in uniform, waving flags and cheering.

But it was a pause, rather than the end

It took another 7 months before the (arguably disastrous) Treaty of Versailles ended the war between the European Powers. And it was yet another 4 years until the Treaty of Lausanne ended hostilities between the Ottoman Empire and an alliance of Britain. France, Italy, Greece, Romania and Japan.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “armistice” as “an agreement made by opposing sides in a war to stop fighting for a certain time; a truce.” Continue reading

Wikipedia and the Writer

silhouette of a woman at a desk, viewing a computer with aa huge shadow lightbulb projected onto a lime-lit cloudscape behind her. represent Wikipedia for Writers

Image by Chen from Pixabay

Wikipedia and writers form one of the great complicated relationships of the twenty-first century. In one sense we were made for each other. The writer can look up pretty much anything from his/her desk. Without moving butt from chair or self from coffee shop, we can find the answer to just about any issue that is troubling us. Can’t we?

Trust button set to High for WikipediaWell, actually, we can mostly find AN answer. Our instinct is to trust it. And in some areas that instinct turns out to be absolutely right. The trouble is, telling which areas.

I was reminded of this by one of BBC radio’s occasional master strokes of a programme, this week. Of which, more later.

And true or false is not the only risk. For anyone (like me) who is an inveterate seeker out of overgrown paths and hidden corners, Wikipedia is a brilliant, informative, inspiring … TIME SUCK.

Wikipedia and Writer Me

Continue reading