Category Archives: just for fun

The joy of lists for writers (and for normal people too)

The to-do list

lists of listsThis weekend, with the revisions for my second crime novel on my editor’s desk rather than on mine, I spent the weekend working through lists: essentially my “to do list”, catching up on housework, the ironing and reading a “treat” book.

They were on my mental list of things to do and, mentally, I ticked them off.

One of the things I did, once the heavy lifting was done, was sit down with a cup of tea. The radio was on – I love the radio – and Weekend Woman’s Hour was playing.

shopping list

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Lucy Ireland Gray was talking about the 200 discarded shopping lists that she’d collected from shopping trolleys (we’ve all seen those) and picked up from the ground. They went on display at the Museum of London Brands, in Notting Hill. 

One of her friends was horrified that one of the lists might be hers. Not so much worried that her shopping list would betray her inner secrets, but that it would out her as a litter lout. 

Why do we make lists?

lists for writersObviously as an aide memoire. This is a list of a colleague who is a lot of more organised than me.

My lists are messy, jotted down on the nearest piece of paper or notepad and maybe, later, transferred to this notebook.

I do, weirdly, have a book of lists.

This is from when I started using Instagram and was making a note of useful hashtags. I have lists for romance readers, for gardens, for cyber crime (they’re for my son’s books) and for food photographs.

I need a new one for crime fiction…

Looking through it, I discovered all sorts of lists I’d forgotten. Hero Names, a list of the events at the Tasting Rooms in East Grinstead, sadly now closed, a victim of the pandemic. Motives for murder. Poisons…

murder listsThis recent list, jotted down during a brain-storming zoom call with colleagues, needs to be transferred before it gets lost. (I could tell you what it’s for but then I’d have to shoot you. Writing crime…)

Do Lists Set You Up for Failure?

I didn't do the thing today by Madeleine DoreMadeleine Dore, author of I didn’t do the thing today: On letting go of productivity guilt, was on the radio programme exploring the tyranny of lists.

The ones we make at the New Year, for instance. She believes they set us up for failure. I am never going to start a list with Run Marathon so I’m safe there.

lists of New Year resolutionsI don’t actually make that kind of list. Mine tend to be more prosaic. But it did make me think about the lists I make.

The shopping lists that I always forget – although writing things down does seem to fix them in the memory. If all  else fails, I stand in the middle of the aisle, getting in everyone’s way, while I attempt to visualize my notepad lying on my desk.

Clearly, I need to get up to the minute and make my shopping list on my phone, which I’d have with me. One day…maybe.

But list-making isn’t all about remembering to buy cous cous, sadly forgotten this week. I had to use brown rice, which takes forever to cook. Never mind. It was good for me. Probably.

Writer’s lists

lists for revising a bookAs the contents of my notebook can testify, a writer’s to do list is often weird. Okay, there’s a list of goals… Write 1000 words a day, write 3 books a year (I can fantasize!), make the Sunday Times Bestseller List. (This list is thirty years old, okay, and mostly in my head!)

This is last week’s list as I worked through my revisions and renumbered the chapters…


These days my list-making is mostly  focused on the basics. Character names for instance. Romance is very focused on the two main characters, with walk-on parts as required, but when I started writing crime, I quickly discovered that I was going to need a much larger cast. Here’s the list…

A sleuth and her buddies – maybe a romance interest
A body or two
People who know stuff
People who don’t know stuff but like to gossip
A red herring or two

Lists of names

lists of namesAll of those people require names.

Names that fit the character’s age, background, social status, bearing in mind that mothers will often give their child a name for a future they hope they’ll achieve.

Alexander Bonaparte Cust, anyone?

This is the book when I first started writing. It helps, but isn’t the entire answer and is no help when you’re not paying attention.

lists on a spreadsheetWhen, doing a global search to check up on what a minor character had said earlier in Murder Among the Roses, I discovered that I had three minor characters called Steve and, later, my editor pointed out that I had a Molly, Polly and Olly… Clearly snatching names out of the air when in full flow was not the way to do it.

I had created a spreadsheet of all my major characters, their ages, anything significant and their basic role. It was the bit players that caught me out.

graphic of murder listWhen writing my second Maybridge Mystery, Murder Under the Mistletoe, to be published on 7 November (and this little list will give you a hint of what it’s all about) I had a group of characters that were using their bus pass.

I looked up names that were popular when they were born and added those to my spreadsheet, so that when I introduced a new character, I didn’t have to waste time hunting for something suitable. They might have been changed later, but the creative flow wasn’t interrupted.

By the time I was on my third book, and knew that I’d need an extensive cast list, I started a spreadsheet of characters as they appear on the page. And I now realise that I need an index-card system with cross-referencing for the regulars, and so that I don’t repeat names. They do tend to stick in the head and insert themselves.

Pause to add the  cards and box file to my shopping list…

retreat listMy next list is going to be a shopping list for my annual writing retreat, bearing in mind fellow retreaters’ dietary needs when it’s my turn to produce the evening meal. I’ve made a start…

Fortunately, I’ll be forwarding that list to someone a lot more organised than me who will be picking up the groceries. Remembering it will be their problem!

So, what do you do with your shopping lists? What other lists do you make? And what did you go home without the day you forgot your shopping list?


Liz Fielding

Superstitious? Who me? Nah (touch wood)

Botswana, fish eagle in bare tree ©JoannaMaitland2019Earlier on this week, I caught myself saying “Touch wood” and started to wonder where the expression came from. Was it me being superstitious? Or was it just a cultural thing, like saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes, or “Goodbye” (= God be with you) when we leave them?

As is the way of such things, it started me down a whole warren of research rabbit holes. What’s not to like? At least for a blogger like me, rooting around for something to write about.

Where does “touch wood” come from?

I assumed that “touch wood” must be ancient, perhaps dating from pre-Christian times when sacred groves of trees were venerated.

Shades of the wonderful Asterix and his Druid, Getafix. (That’s a classic example of the humour of Asterix’s brilliant English translators, Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge. The original French name was Panoramix which isn’t nearly as clever, I don’t think.)

According to Wikipedia, I was sort of right about the Celtic history of touching wood (or knocking on wood) as a kind of protective magic to turn away misfortune. The proper term is, apparently, apotropaic. (No, me neither.) However, there’s a later Christian explanation, relating to the wood of the cross. And an even more modern derivation, from a game of tag called “Tiggy Touchwood”.

Personally, I prefer to stick with the Celtic origin theory. “Touch wood” or “Knock on wood” seems to be in common use in loads of countries which might suggest that it is very old.

I rest my case 😉

Superstitious, moi?

Continue reading

Tax is always with us. Could it be worse?

gold coins for taxI’ve been reading a fascinating book, Follow the Money, by Paul Johnson (yes, the one who is Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies). It includes passing references to financial history, including tax and the kind of revenue-raising choices made by British governments over the centuries.

I’ve written before about some of them, like the tax on footmen. I’m sure that, like me, you knew about the window tax, too. But had you heard about the brick tax? Or the glass tax?

No, me neither. Or if I had, I’d forgotten.

So today’s blog is going to be about types of tax in British history, some successful, some not. And, yes, it will include income tax. (Do I hear booing from the back stalls? No surprise there.)

Taxes pay for wars. And that includes income tax

Continue reading

Do troubles always come in threes?

Troubles always come in threes. Isn’t that what they say?

I’m writing this on April Fool’s Day and, boy, do I feel like an April Fool.
Let me explain my trio of troubles. Continue reading

Happy New Year with our Sophie Weston serial

Audiobooks, explosion of delightA very happy New Year to all our visitors. May 2023 bring you health, wealth and happiness and, for the authors among us, booming sales.

As we said in our Christmas blog, the hive is on holiday until next weekend. But we don’t want to leave you with nothing, so we’re repeating the Christmas and New Year serial that Sophie wrote a year or two back.

The first episode is below. The link to subsequent episodes is at the end of each. It’s like binging on box sets of Downton or Bridgerton. Feel free to read all the episodes at a sitting. You know you want to!

London skyline with St Paul's dome and skyscrapers in fog

There was fog over the rooftops when Liv looked out from her bedroom window for the last time. She kind of loved this view of her bit of London. Like Mary Poppins and her sweep, she saw Victorian chimneys, with a distant church tower and, even further away, a block of Edwardian apartments. Continue reading

Christmas greetings and a variant on 12 days

Fire Oranges Happy Christmas 2017

The Libertà hive is again taking Christmas and New Year off. The next “proper” blog will appear on Sunday 8th January, 2023.

2023?? Gosh, where did 2022 go?

However, we don’t want to leave you with nothing so, for those who haven’t seen it before (and for anyone who’d like to see it again), we are repeating Joanna’s 12 Days of Christmas, Botswana style.

Enjoy and do sing along. With love from all in the Libertà hive.

Twelve Days of Christmas, Botswana-style:
you may wish to sing along as you read 😉

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

a raptor in a bare tree.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Continue reading

Autumn colour: ups and downs

Autumn colour in carpet of fallen forest leaves.

Autumn colour can be uplifting. Good for the soul, perhaps?

Yes, we know that it’s essentially a by-product of deciduous trees closing down for winter, but it’s still beautiful, isn’t it? So I make no apology for filling this blog with gorgeous images of autumn colour. Though there are downsides to some of it (for me, at least). Read on to find out more…

Autumn Colour at Westonbirt Arboretum (one of the UPs)

autumn colour at Westonbirt

autumn colour at Westonbirt © Joanna Maitland

I had intended to go leaf-peeping at Westonbirt in Gloucestershire back in October. The tree collection there is fabulous and the maples, in particular, provide wonderful autumn colour.

But. Continue reading

Escape With Rupert Bear

The Chinese curse of May You Live in Interesting Times well and truly struck this week, didn’t it? I have tried to keep away from news media, I really have. But the appalling tragicomedy that is our current government just wouldn’t leave me alone. And then I re-encountered Rupert Bear.

I was really grateful to my friend and fellow writer Lesley Cookman for spending a happy few hours in the Rupert Bear Centenary Exhibition at the Beaney (House of Art and Knowledge) in Canterbury. She came back and told our Zoom Circle all about it. Continue reading

Writing under stress…

Writing (or not) without a kitchen…

I moved into my present flat four years ago. At the time it seemed perfect but, as happens to all of us, I wanted to rip out the kitchen and have something that worked better for me. More storage…

Clearly I could do nothing during lockdown, but in January this year I took myself off to one of those vast out of town warehouses. I picked up a catalogue then, drawing a deep breath – and an even bigger chunk of money from my bank account – sat with Michelle, who took me through the exciting process of buying a new kitchen. (This picture is utter fantasy – I think my entire flat would fit into this!)

Starting from Scratch

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

I was going back to the bare walls, so there was the choice of oven (yes, I chose the one that cleaned itself!) and a space age hob. It was only later that I discovered I was going to need new pans for something that modern and my mother’s beautiful stainless steel pans were gratefully received by my daughter (who has a gas hob that isn’t fussy). There was a much needed new fridge/freezer and I went for a smaller dishwasher and sink so that I could fit in an extra cupboard. (Needless to say, this picture is also a fantasy!)

Then there were the worktops. Hyperventilating at the cost of some of them, I eventually made my decision.

Tiles, lighting…

Now we wait…

Continue reading

Pheasants are for more than game casserole

cock pheasantPheasants can be fun for stories. So… once upon a time, there was a cock pheasant. And “once upon a time” is not in the past. He’s still around.

He lives in my garden. Most of the time, that is. Sometimes, he goes on a foray next door, in hopes of convincing the neighbours that no one feeds him — no one ever! —  and he is a poor, starved creature. It works, too, according to the neighbours.

He is a handsome bird with shimmering gold and rust-brown feathers, a very long elegant tail and a wide white ruff round his neck. (Louise Allen, friend of Libertà, tells us that the bigger the white neck-ruff, the more testosterone in the, ahem, cock.)

cock pheasant close-upThis cock pheasant certainly fancies himself. He thinks he owns all he surveys. King of the World, in fact. And he tries to see off any other cock pheasant who dares to set foot on his patch. He barks — a sound like a strangulated cock crow — and rouses his feathers to show his importance and warn off rivals. He is a large chap with a small head and an even smaller, pea-sized brain. If he were human, I’d say he was “all mouth and (no) trousers”.

I’ve named him Boris. Continue reading