Earwigging, Active and Passive. And James Bond

The Listening Servant, Hubertus van Hove,
image courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum

I hooted over Joanna’s post last week. It made me remember a couple of earwigs of my own.

In the first, I overheard a memorable exchange. It came out of the blue, in truly exceptional circumstances. I’d use it in a book, if I could write one good enough.

In the other I was, as it were, earwigged. But I bet the earwiggers remember it. Both cheered me up enormously.

So I thought I would share.

Setting 1: the Exotic Holiday

Buffy's Librarian cocktailOccasionally, I travel with a Birdwatcher. This is frequently rewarding, not least in restoring my writing energy . But best approached with caution.

Imagine a Birdwatcher says, “Come with me to the Caribbean, there’s lots to see.” That’s birds. Where do birds hang out? Rubbish dumps. Sewage plants. Very early in the morning. Think the Dawn Chorus.

So we were on a Caribbean island but this was not a Birdwatcher-planned holiday. We were staying on an old sugar plantation, playing croquet after lunch and drinking planter’s punch at the cocktail hour.

Fabulous birds popped in, going about their normal business. Bananquits (I’m not joking) stole our breakfast sugar. Humming birds, like flying jewels, buzzed about our walks. Fireflies danced after sundown. But…

Scene 1: The Rain Forest

There was a trip into the ancient rain forest which covered the centre of the island. We set off after breakfast and would return for tea. Very civilised.

Also informal. Maybe a little under-organised.

It was a party of, say, seven. Plus two cheerful local guides. They, like us, wore good solid boots, mosquito repellent and binoculars. The others didn’t.

One of the party had to be carried back. (Ankle injury. “No biggie,” said junior guide, the one with a Devon accent.) So they took up the tail end of the group and deputed The Birdwatcher to lead the way down.

Conflict 1: Rivalry

Not difficult. On the way up, the guides had taken a machete to any vegetation that overhung the well-marked path. But one of the party, a Captain of Industry, thought he should be in charge.

His nice wife brokered a peace — I suspect she told him the Birdwatcher’s binoculars had swung it. Well, that’s what I thought myself. We set off, the Birdwatcher leading.

The Natural Leader continued to grumble. And stride down the path, as if he were in a race and trying to overtake.

The terrain made the path zigzag. Sometimes members of the party were a lot closer to each other, as the hummingbird flies, than they quite realised. Behind us, the Natural Leader constantly urged his wife to hurry up

I’m sure that’s why I — though not the Birdwatcher, avian-focused — heard the wife’s patience finally snap.

“I’m sorry Sidney,” she said crisply. “I can’t help it. Some of us are Tarzans and some of us are Janes.”

It’s going to be hard to write a book as good as that!

Setting 2: the Backstory of Bond — James Bond

The street where James Bond livesLondon, a very small residential street of terrace houses. Neighbours sort of know each other, mostly by sight. I live there with two cats.

Senior cat is James Bond. He is v. handsome and strolls the street like Burlington Bertie, especially after the pubs close. (Don’t ask.) Everyone in the street knows James.

One neighbour, returning from a weekend’s shooting, rings my doorbell. Embarrassed, he introduces himself. He has brought me a brace of grouse. I am surprised, but charmed. Then he explains: “For James.” Because senior cat waltzed into their house and pinched one the weekend before.

Oh. Right.

I thank him prettily and ring my mum — what do I do with bird carcases? “Take them to the butcher,” says the fount of all wisdom with great firmness.

Scene 2: The London Underground, Morning Rush Hour

Botswana, elephants in herd at sunset ©JoannaMaitland2019I work in the City. I commute. Today the platform is heaving with people.

I fail to get on the first two trains. The third arrives, and the crowd tenses, like a herd ready to charge. I might not jump for this one, but then again, I might. I limber up a bit…

And someone taps me on the shoulder. I swing round, prepared to repel boarders, long lost schoolfriends and chuggers.

To come face to face with a complete stranger. “Excuse me,” she says in a soft American accent. “You don’t know me but…”

Conflict 2: Rivalry?

“You’re Sophie Weston, right? From Number 3?”

I can’t deny it.

“I’ve just been posted to London. We haven’t met but I moved into the street a couple of weeks ago. And I’m afraid I’ve got a confession to make.”

She is clearly embarrassed.  So I suppose I should have guessed…

She swallows and says bravely, “James has been sleeping with me.”

blue question marksThe train arrives. Its doors open. Up and down the platform, the herd bounds forward like one animal, possessed. It leaps, it shoves, it tramples over the fallen.

Except at our end, eerily still. The doors to the carriage that has stopped in front of my new neighbour and me are wide open. A few people get off.

Nobody gets on.

Indeed, the keenest commuters, who had pushed their way to the very front of the crowd, have now turned their backs on the train and are straining to hear my reply.

Me, sighing: “Don’t worry about it. If you leave your window open, he’ll be in like Flynn. Nearly gave Priscilla a heart attack when she moved into Number Twenty-something last year. He jumped on her in the dark.”

She, relieved: “Oh, that’s all right then.”

James Bond (cat not spy) in full gloryAnd to prove it, she sent me a photo of the blasted animal. He had taken over her very best chair and wasn’t moving for anyone.
Of course, he wasn’t.

It was the start of a great friendship.

But I’ve often wondered how many of the earwiggers staggered off to their jobs that morning, utterly convinced that the world was now going to hell in a hand basket.

 

Sophie Weston Author

Sophie

Earwigging : because writers do

Times are difficult, scary even, for all of us — especially the older or vulnerable ones — so I thought I’d add a bit of light-hearted distraction. To wit: earwigging.

I do it. Don’t you?
Doesn’t everybody?
Especially authors…

An Earwigging tale

Goblin Court typical English villageI was in a pub, on my own, having a quiet meal. There were four elderly gents — nattily dressed, clearly ex-military — sitting across the way, drinking various beverages and gossiping. They were not trying to keep their voices down, though they must have known other drinkers could hear every word.

One of them was even louder than the others, very keen to be heard. All The Time. And even when the others were trying to hold a conversation about something else.

Must admit that I took agin Mr Loudmouth.

Anyway, Mr Loudmouth told a joke that he had (he said) told at the wedding of one of his three daughters. It was an OK joke. The other three gents laughed dutifully. I wasn’t convinced they really found it funny.
Mr Loudmouth clearly thought it was very funny, though.
And he was very pleased with himself.

Mr Loudmouth’s Wedding

St Eval church, CornwallThen Mr Loudmouth told the tale of the wedding of daughter #3. Mr Loudmouth was glad that it was the last of the family weddings. They’d been such a trial for him, poor man.

The wedding took place in an oldy-worldy country church. The groom and his family were American, and so were much impressed by the quaint surroundings.

Mr Loudmouth, per tradition, delivered daughter #3 to her American groom at the altar where stood the vicar who had already officiated at the weddings of daughters #1 and #2.

There then ensued the following exchange —

Vicar: Who gives this woman?

Mr L is silent
(Father of the bride is supposed to say “I do” and then retire into obscurity.)

Rosie M Banks, love ennoblesVicar [louder]: Who gives this woman?

Mr L [whispering very, very softly]: I do.
[then shouting loudly]
AND THANK GOD FOR THAT!

According to Mr Loudmouth, everyone laughed. He had (he said) done a good job, because he wanted all the guests to enjoy the wedding and laughter was a good sign.

He clearly thought he had done wonderfully well. And he hadn’t — of course — retired dutifully into obscurity. He’d made himself the centre of attention.
I wasn’t surprised there.

Hmm.
Mr Loudmouth did not say what daughter #3’s reaction was.
Did she laugh?
Blush?
Show leanings towards patricide?

red wine glass from below

Image by Dirk Wohlrabe from Pixabay

Personally, I’d have tended towards patricide, though you may feel more undertanding for Mr L than I did.

I finished my meal and left.
I did not pour a glass of wine over Mr L’s head.

Tempted? Moi? What do you think?

Earwigging: and then?

Earwigging is grist to the writer’s mill. I haven’t actually used this story in a book — yet 😉
I thought I would share it with you first, though I fancy some version of it will end up in a book, eventually.

Think what a writer could do with Mr Loudmouth as a character. He has the makings of a good villain — and subsequent corpse — for a murder mystery, I reckon. Impaled on Cupid’s arrow, maybe?

Or he could just be turned into a pantomime villain who gets his comeuppance in a ridiculous way. I could see him, dressed in his immaculate wedding suit and shiny shoes, pinned to the ground by an old-fashioned pitchfork across his neck and covered in rotting hay and cow dung. Everyone else would, of course, be laughing.

What do you think? Perhaps you have a more fitting end for him? The grislier, the better?

Earwigging : other tales?

I’m sure you, too, have tales you’ve earwigged and then used, suitably amended or bowdlerised, in stories you’ve shared with friends, or more widely.
The madly ranting cab driver? The gossip on the top deck of the bus? Something overheard in the queue or in the pub?

Don’t keep your earwigged tales to yourself.
Please do share.
We all need a bit of fun right now.

 

Joanna Maitland, author

Joanna

Reading for enjoyment – necessary for our wellbeing…

open book for reading

Inspired by Liz’s super post last week, I am indulging myself this weekend because it is Mothering Sunday.

I have decided I am not going to write.

I am going to be reading.

But hang on, is reading an indulgence or a necessity?

We all need time off to recharge our batteries, refill the well, get our head together — whatever you want to call it. Sometimes it can be a good walk, or a browse around a museum, or just hanging out with friends.

chatting about reading authors we love

Or reading a good book

In these uncertain times, most of the things listed above are just not practical.
Except the last.interior Leakey's Bookshop Inverness

So, this weekend I am going to indulge myself with books. Lots of them. I shall dip in and out, look at old favourites and rearrange my teetering TBR pile. (Okay, I confess, the picture on the right is NOT my TBR books, but I’d love it to be! This is Leakey’s bookshop in Inverness, a treasure trove for anyone who loves browsing books.)

Later I shall also be asking you to recommend new ones to make that TBR pile teeter even more perilously!

cover Death Come To Cornwall by Kate JohnsonI am currently enjoying a lovely cosy crime mystery by Kate Johnson Death Comes to Cornwall.

When I am in the middle of writing a romance, my reading time is limited and so is my concentration span.

Also, I have to read something from another genre, and this one fits the bill very nicely. It has an enjoyable romance, gorgeous setting and enough mystery to keep me guessing without addling my poor cold-befuddled brain. (No, it’s not befuddled with that virus. Just an ordinary common-or-garden cold.)

Another cosy crime author whose books are always adding to my TBR pile is Lesley Cookman. Her Libby Sarjeant series is a constant delight. I love the Kentish village setting and quirky characters.

cover Murder In Steeple Martin by Lesley Cookman

I shall also be pulling books from my “keeper’s shelf” and reminding myself how much I enjoyed them. Like P D James’ thrillers – always absorbing but a little unsettling, too. Her talent for acute observation always makes me a bit uncomfortable, possibly because of what I fear she might have observed in me, had we ever met!

Sherlock Holmes with pipe and magnifying glass

And then there is the Shetland Series by Ann Cleeves.

cover Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves

 

I discovered these wonderful books after watching the first television series, and I devoured the lot, almost back to back. Perhaps it was because we were already thinking of moving to Scotland but I fell in love with the island setting.

Her characters, too, are so well drawn. And so much better, if I dare say so, than the tv version, although that, too is very good.

 

Comfort Reads

Illness or bad news can be so dispiriting, can’t it?
That’s when I find myself reaching for my comfort reads.

My poor Georgette Heyer paperbacks are beginning to fall apart now, but they still do the trick. These are the covers of my copies: I considered putting up pictures of the latest, glossy covers but heck, these are much-loved books. So here they are in all their, er, glory!

worn covers of 3 Georgette Heyer Regencies

There are others, of course, mainly contemporary romances, that I reach for when I need to cover Afgternoon Tea at the Sunflower Cafe by Milly Johnsonescape the world. My early Katie Fforde books are very well thumbed, and a few years ago I discovered another author to add to my favourites: Milly Johnson.

Milly’s new books never linger on the TBR pile very long!

If you can have such a thing as no nonsense comedy then Milly delivers it. Her situations are very real, the characters complex but there are always plenty of laughs and a satisfying ending.
What more can I ask for in a feel-good read?

And as I begin to recover – from my cold 😉 – I find I start thinking of all those things I have missed while curled up on the sofa with a blanket and a box of tissues. Like cooking a new recipe. So I like to browse through recipe books, ones with nice glossy pictures that can inspire me to put on an apron and slave over a hot stove.
Like these three beauties: Delia, James Martin, Nigella.

covers of cookbooks by Delia Smith, James Martin, Nigella Lawson

Now, did I mention Scotland earlier?

Scotland – and specifically the Highlands – is my new passion. (Look out for a kilted Highlander later in the year!) I just cannot get enough of the place.

At Christmas I was given a perfectly delightful coffee table book, Highland Retreats.

cover of Highland Retreats by Mary MiersWhen I need to rest my eyes from all those printed pages, I can browse through pictures of the sumptuously romantic castles of the north of Scotland. It is the perfect book to have to hand when the weather is too foul to venture out of doors.

I can take a virtual tour of the Highlands, marvel at the fairy-tale turrets of Dunrobin Castle and Ardverikie. (That’s the Scots Baronial hunting lodge used as Glen Bogle in “Monarch of the Glen” — remember that series? Based on the books of Compton Mackenzie).

I can browse through pictures of the sumptuous interiors, imagine the gatherings, parties, balls taking place in the baronial halls, drinking hot toddies before a blazing fire. Best to keep these ideas as dreams? I suspect the reality was long draughty corridors and smoking chimneys!

I admit there is very little in the book that is of use to me, since my historicals are mainly set pre-Victorian times. But as I said at the beginning, this is a weekend of indulgence. No pressure to research or learn anything, just to sit and enjoy.

Now it’s your turn

So, dear guest, what are YOU reading?  I have had my say. Now it is over to you to tell me what you will be reading/browsing this weekend — or into the week, if you have time to spare.

Whatever it is, I hope it takes you away to somewhere magical, even if only for a while!

Sarah Mallory author image

Sarah Mallory

I’m having a reading week…

Sofa days and reading…

I have just finished a book. Writing it, not reading it. It was Hard Work.

Nothing new there. No matter how sparkling the inspiration, how heady the enthusiasm to embark on this particular story, they are always a strain on the imagination, hard on the back and a slog at the keyboard. The reward is that moment of joyful relief when you’ve despatched it into the ether and it becomes your editor’s job to sort out mangled timelines, momentary slips into scatalogical dialogue and missing commas.

I have a busy writing year planned, but I seem to have spent the entire winter saying, “When I’ve finished the book…’

When I’ve finished the book I’ll get up to the V&A and take a look at the  jewellery department. I’ve been there dozens of times but have somehow missed it and I’ve been inspired to visit by the documentary series Secrets of the Museum. Also on the list is the local Arts Society. I’ve been wanting to join for ages but couldn’t fit in another thing until I’d finished the book.

Reading the TBR pile

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Romantic Novel Awards 2020

On Monday three of us from the Libertà Hive went to the Annual Awards of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association in this their 60th year. It was much less formal than the first awards. (Denise Robins wore black velvet, diamonds AND furs back then.)

But I’m willing to bet this year’s was much buzzier. One Year Dennis Wheatley was guest of honour and sent everyone to sleep with his speech. Mainly about his own books. Even the redoubtable Barbara Cartland failed to catch his eye and get him to Sit DOWN.

RNA AWARDS 2020 Ceremony

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Criteria for Plural Phenomenon : Pedantique-Ryter rants

The other week, when I was reading the news online — I do occasionally use the internet, in case you were wondering — I came across an advert from a major UK bank. It may be one of the largest in the world, but it certainly is not the most educated. crime scene tapeThe HSBC advert (for it was they!) said, roughly:

The criteria for our offer is X…

Not an exact quote, but the subject of the sentence was the word “criteria” and the verb was definitely “is”.  And I decided, on the spot, that I could never, ever bank with HSBC.

oops! key on keyboardEven the authors in the Libertà hive know better.
I mentioned it to dear Sophie on the telephone and I could hear her teeth grinding.
Quite right, too.

Sophie knew better. Why didn’t #hsbc ?

Criteria? Singular or Plural?

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Am I surviving the writer’s survival kit?

Elizabeth Bailey, authorToday, we’re delighted to welcome much-loved author Elizabeth Bailey as a guest on our blog.

She is what is usually called a hybrid author these days, though Elizabeth prefers to term herself an “authorpreneur”. [Not sure Dame Isadora would approve but, with luck, she won’t notice.]

Elizabeth produces all sorts of terrific books. Sapere Books publishes her Lady Fan Mystery series and her Brides by Chance Regency Adventures. Her self–published list includes Regencies, short stories, a couple of edgy paranormal tales, a romantic suspense novella and a two writing-related help books which come much recommended. Phew! Quite a catalogue.overworked author at desk with clock

Elizabeth admits she really doesn’t know how to fit it all in and says she is beginning to wonder if retirement and old age are actually a thing. But she managed to find time to write a blog for us.

Many thanks, Liz. And over to you.

What does Elizabeth Bailey want in her Survival Kit?

1  Persistence

frazzled cartoon cat needs survival kitAsk any writer for the most needed tool in their survival kit and they will say persistence. More years down the line than I care to think about, I agree. I’m still here, still writing. That says it all.

Okay, there have been solid gaps in actual putting words down. We’ve all had those, for whatever reason. Life has a tendency to throw itself at you and there’s nowt to do about that except suffer on through.

2  Courage … eventually

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Reading Romance : Why do we do it?

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer with antihero the Duke of AvonThis month I’ve been thinking about reading romance. Who does it? Why? When? And, well, what qualifies as romance? Troilus and Criseyde? Jane Eyre ? Anna Karenina? These Old Shades? Gaudy Night? Bridget Jones?  Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music?

I’ve read them all and I’d say “yes but” to all of them. Many people, maybe most, would disagree with me on at least one.

On 3rd February the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association published its short list for this year’s awards.  It’s the RNA”s 60th anniversary and this year there are nine categories.

My seven stories above would each fall into at least one of them.

Love is in the Air

And then there was St Valentine’s Day last Friday. That always brings out a flurry of saccharine fluff, embarrassing stunts and grimmish think pieces in the media.

Commercialism – shock, horror! Unrealistic emotional expectations from reading romance – fie, sir, write me a sonnet or leave at once! Head for the pub, lads, and fast. Continue reading

Romantic Novelists’ Association at 60 : with RNA memories

RNA at 60 celebration balloons

The Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) reaches its Diamond Jubilee in 2020. Wow! That makes the RNA more venerable than pretty much all the other writers’ organisations. All the ones that we know of, anyway.

Snoopy at his typewriter

Possibly NOT an RNA member?

So the writers in the Libertà hive started reminiscing — as you do — about what the RNA has meant to each of us. We’re all long-standing members. And it’s an organisation that we revere.
But why? What’s so special about the RNA?

Basically, it’s the people in the RNA and the values they stand for. And the support and friendship that the association provides. Don’t believe any rubbish you hear about romance writers stabbing each other in the back. That was a bad joke from a writer in a non-romance genre — who honestly should have known better.

Rosie M Banks, readerWriters in the RNA are the most helpful, supportive, loving bunch you could ever meet. They know the romance market is vast. No single romance writer can satisfy all those readers out there. So it’s in all our interests to grow the market and help each other.

Which is what we do. What’s not to like? Continue reading

Historical Costume 1800-1820 : Parasols Up and Down

1820 pelisse robe © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

You may have seen the image above in my blog about pelisses, a few weeks ago. I’m repeating the picture here because of that parasol. Or is it an umbrella? It rather looks like one. In fact, apart from that tassel, the proportions look very modern.

Parasols : for the sun, not the rain

Parasols, especially early in the Regency period, had different proportions, as you can see from the examples below, all courtesy of the Hereford Museum costume collection.

On the left is a pale pink silk parasol, very small, with a long handle, a neat metal ferrule and a tassel. On the right is a pale pink lace parasol, again with a long handle. If you look closely — click on any of the images to enlarge them — you’ll see that the long ivory handle of the lace one is carved. Its ferrule has a ring rather than a tassel.

pale pink Regency parasol, Hereford Museum collectionpale pink Regency lace parasol, Hereford Museum collectionBoth Pale pink?

Do you begin to see a theme here?

There’s another one — also pale pink, but with a fringe this time — below. Continue reading