Category Archives: inspiration

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

Epiphany: Gifts For Writers? Plus a Bargain Offer

Epiphany tryptich by Hieronymus Bosch

Epiphany — 6th January — marks the end of the 12 Days of Christmas, and the day when the Three Kings brought gifts to the infant Jesus. The tryptich above is by Hieronymus Bosch, dated to around the end of the 15th century. But, with apologies to those who prefer the religious meaning of Epiphany, that’s not what I’m writing about in this blog.

glitter, the bane of post-Christmas cleaningIn the UK, Epiphany can be a bit of a downer, an end to things. It’s when we take down our Christmas decorations, put the cards in the recycling bin, and chop up the tree ready for the bonfire. We go back to work, if we haven’t done so already. The fun and games are over. Once we’ve hoovered up all the pine needles and the glitter that gets absolutely everywhere, the house looks a bit drab, doesn’t it? (And, next year, glitter is definitely banned in the Maitland house!) Continue reading

Sarah Mallory: Living and writing in the Scottish Highlands.

Those who know me from Social media will probably realise that I have moved. A big move. Massive. After 30 years in one house I have moved to the Scottish Highlands.   To Wester Ross. It has been described as Britain’s last great wilderness, and with good reason. Moving here is not just another country, it is another life and a very different one. The language is almost the same. Almost, but not quite. One has to think more about it. No one asks where you live, it is where are you staying, as if you are just passing through.

Hospitality is generous, tea, cake or biscuits are often offered as a matter of course. Which means I need to brush up on my baking skills.

Okay, I doubt I will EVER bake anything this good!

The Scottish Highlands from a writer’s point of view

I travel through this land with my writer’s hat on. The landscape feels old. Continue reading

Glyndebourne Inspired

I didn’t mean to write about what inspired me this week. But on Tuesday I went to Glyndebourne to hear Handel’s Rinaldo. And it’s rather put everything else out of my mind.

There was a sadness to this particular visit. The one person to whom I would have expected to pour out an account of the opera is no longer with us. As a result, I knew I was a little off my game.

Only, instead, my Glyndebourne visit gave me everything back, music, magic and memory. The whole nine yards. So I thought I would share. Continue reading

Swanwick Conference : forgetting how a newbie feels

Swanwick main buildings and gardens

Last week, I attended The Writers’ Summer School at Swanwick for the first time. I must say that I’d forgotten what it’s like to be a writing conference newbie — I’ve been going to the RNA Conference for more years than I’m prepared to admit — and it was salutary to experience newbie-dom all over again.

(At my first RNA Conference, I wasn’t published and didn’t really know anyone. But I met loads of writers whose books I’d read and loved. I remember chatting with Nicola Cornick who was then one of my writing heroes, and still is. The RNA sort of enfolded me, from that point on, it seemed.) Continue reading

Location, location, location…

The brief…

location for bucket-list bridesLast year I received an invitation from three authors I know and whose books I love – Donna Alward, Nina Singh and Barbara Wallace – to complete the quartet to write a mini series called “Bucket List Brides”.

Four young women, attending a charity auction, bid on an adventure. What happened to them after that was entirely up to each author.

The auction…

Tnantucket island location with sunsethe auction was to take place at the Merchant Resort, a fabulous hotel resort complex on Nantucket Island.

I needed a suitably gorgeous resort location, a beach and the kind of cottage that an islander family could have lived in forever. It was time for a little online research. I disappeared down the Pinterest rabbit hole for more time than was strictly necessary and followed #nantucketisland on Instagram. But that wasn’t the beginning of the story. This is the beach – with the necessary sunset – where it all began.

This is play time. The best part of writing – apart from the moment you sit back and know the book is finished – and a visit to that island location is now very high on my own bucket list! Continue reading

Spring gladdens the writer’s heart

It’s the end of March. The Vernal Equinox is past. We can properly talk about Spring.

spring sunshine, trees and snowviolets in springOf course, by the time this blog is published, it may be snowing again, but we don’t have a crystal ball here in the Libertà hive. So…

Instead, to gladden hearts and look forward to lighter, brighter days, we asked each hive member to give us a flavour of the things she most looks forward to with the coming of Spring. Violets rather than snow? Continue reading

Never stop learning : inspiring working authors

RNA conference reception with goody bags, coffee, bookstall

Goody bags for delegates, tea, coffee, bookstall
Just what arriving delegates need (possibly + wine later?)

Last week, the Libertà hive was buzzing round the annual conference of the
Romantic Novelists’ Association at
Leeds Trinity University. 

In Yorkshire.

God’s Own Country, I’m told.

And here was I thinking it was Scotland 😉

open courtyard for RNA conference delegates to relax in

Leeds Trinity’s courtyard where RNA delegates relaxed

It was a fantastic few days — as it always is — with dozens of inspiring workshops to choose from, old and new friends to meet, [many, many] glasses of wine to drink… Continue reading

Hearing the Soundtrack of your Novel

hearing and writingMy discovery of the week:  hearing is a crucial sense. A novel needs a soundtrack just as much as any movie does.

I’ve always known that the sense of smell is important when I imagine the worlds of my novels.

But I’d never previously thought much about sound, though I savour it enormously in other people’s writing. (There may even be another blog on that!) I think I did put it in, mostly. Well, a bit. And not just conversation, either.

But somehow I’d forgotten when it came to my latest novel. So over these last few days I’ve been on a roller coaster of exploration and experiment – and revision! Continue reading