Category Archives: writing

Space Breaking Up Text, the Reader’s Friend

Punctuation was invented to help the Reader. And the very first invention was space breaking up text — so you could tell one word from the next. Seriously.

A couple of months ago I was putting the final touches to an online course on punctuation. Not a subject to rock them in the aisles, I thought. Mind you, I love the stuff. But I have learned that, as a subject of conversation, it doesn’t generally draw children from play and old men from the chimney corner.

exclamation mark in fireSo when I was preparing the course, I thought I’d throw in a bit of history for context.

Only then, of course, I had to check online whether what I remembered was a) accurate and b) still received wisdom. And found something new to me: Aristophanes, Head Librarian of Alexandria aged sixty. He was sitting there, receiving rolls in Greek, the language of the prevailing empire.

Most people then, of course, would be illiterate. So the purpose of these scrolls was to provide a text for someone else to deliver in the market place or to perform as an entertainment.

BUT they arrived with all the letters in a continuous line. Presumably to save papyrus and possibly time, as they were being hand-copied by scribes.

So Aristophanes thought of a way of marking up copies of the text to help the Poor Bloody Orator who had to read them out loud. Continue reading

Imperfect Past of Romantic Author

fog of memoryThis week I have been contemplating the imperfect past of a romantic author, namely me.

It is imperfect in two distinct ways. First – it was often a pretty messy present at the time. Second – I’m not at all good with recalling precise details. In fact, the only bits I remember with any clarity are the stuff where I went badly WRONG.

London skyline with St Paul's dome and skyscrapers in fogExample: I’m drifting with a vague image of some day, pleasantly foggy, footsteps on wet pavement maybe. And then BAMM!! I’ve fallen over a stranger’s suitcase.

I’ve probably pushed the poor chap into the gutter, to boot. And he’s bleeding and going to miss his train and I can’t even apologise properly because he doesn’t speak enough English…

You get the picture? Wince-making, right? Continue reading

Writing your Manuscript using Word Styles: The Easy Way

oops! on key on keyboardWe’ve just passed the submission deadline for the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. And I’ve heard whispers from some readers that the MSS they are being sent to read are not as professionally prepared as they should be. That’s sad. And unnecessary, too.
Professional layout isn’t difficult. Especially with Word Styles.

Some aspiring writers, I’m sure, tell themselves that the most important thing is to get their pearls onto the page. They can sort out the niceties of formatting later. But that’s a waste of effort. It means doing stuff twice when it could be done once, Right First Time. So this blog is about how to set yourself up to get your MS Right First Time, while you’re actually creating it.

This blog is long—sorry—because I’m trying to explain every step of what you need to do. But it won’t take long to do it, and you only have to set up these Word styles once, so it’s no great chore. In fact, it’s an investment. Once you’ve created them, you can keep using them in every story you write.

Easy write, right? 😉Hello I'm a Time Saver badge

What does a writer need by way of Word Styles?

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Inspirational oddities : objects, costume, places

The oddest things can be inspirational. For me, at least.

chinese screen © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Chinese screen 1825-1865 © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Quite often, it’s objects or artefacts that inspire me. Take this gorgeous Chinese lacquer and embroidered silk screen, for example. It may date from as early as the 1820s and is now in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection. I found it when I was looking for ways of illustrating a blog about the Regency pelisse, which ladies wore outdoors to keep warm.

Inside, they wore shawls. Houses, back then, tended to be draughty, hence the need for draught screens, like this one. Continue reading

Inventive Punctuation and the Popular Novelist

exclamation mark in fireLet me start with an admission: I love inventive punctuation. Of course, you can do an awful lot, just by changing a comma into a dash. But some people go the whole hog into brackets, asterisks and the wild excesses of the exclamation mark. It all fascinates me.

Most people, of course, ignore it. Well, readers pick up the writers’ signals, I hope. But they don’t actually play around with the stuff. Why should they?

For some people, though, punctuation is a real headache, indissolubly tied to (horrors!) grammar. It’s a terrible shame.

That was the reason that, several years ago, Elizabeth Hawksley and I wrote a simple guide. Its working title was Punctuation for the Petrified, which the publisher vetoed for excellent reasons. It reflected our feelings, though. We wanted people to learn a few principles, have a source book to check things that worried them and, above all, relax and have fun. Continue reading

The Elba Intermission : Napoleon’s First Exile

Napoleon signs his abdication, April 1814 by Bouchot

Napoleon signs his abdication, April 1814 by Bouchot

I was reading Louise Allen’s book, The Earl’s Marriage Bargain, this week—much recommended—and it reminded me of the Elba intermission because the story starts in the summer of 1814, after Napoleon’s abdication. It’s such a useful period for Regency authors. It allows us to bring war heroes home and confront them with all sorts of society dilemmas that they’ve been missing.

In the Peninsula and then France, they’ve been in largely male company and they’ve been subject to the rigours of war. They’ve seen death and destruction. They’ve seen horrors that they can never share with their loved ones. And they’ve suffered fierce heat, bitter cold, privations and hunger, too.

Vauxhall Gardens - 1820.At home again, they have to try to be the kind of tonnish gentlemen who can make idle conversation with ladies in the ballroom. Yes, I know that Wellington insisted his young men should dance well. And I also know that there were females around, not all of them camp followers. But society, in the Peninsula, was not the same as coming back to Society, with a capital S, in England. Continue reading

Who made Georgette Georgian?

  1. Special Licence Marriage — Heyer’s Research Failing?
  2. Heyer Heroes And Falling in Love With One
  3. New Heyer Stories? Guest Post by Jennifer Kloester
  4. Day 8 of 12 Days of Christmas : 8 Maids a-Milking & Heyer
  5. Beautiful heroines, handsome heroes : never ugly, never bald?
  6. Georgette Heyer Study Day
  7. The Romantic Hero Revisited — Essential Hero Qualities
  8. Heyer’s children : too young, too old, just right?
  9. Georgette Heyer: the problem of brothers (for sisters)
  10. Who made Georgette Georgian?

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer with antihero the Duke of AvonWe are coming up to the centenary of Georgette Heyer’s first published novel, a Georgian romance called The Black Moth, in September this year. I, like many people, first encountered Heyer as the great exponent of Regency Romance. So it startled me, when I first read the The Black Moth, to find it solidly placed in the middle of the eighteenth century.

And that is not the only odd thing about the book. It is also clearly the prequel of These Old Shades, another Georgian romance. It is also a favourite of huge numbers of her fans, and her first runaway best seller. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, but The Black Moth is clearly the back story – well, a good slug of it anyway – of the devastatingly supercilious Duke of Avon. Continue reading

Weather in stories, with thanks to Snoopy

Stifling weather…

As we’re sweltering in this hot weather, I thought it might be interestng to blog about weather and writing. With a nod to the patron saint of writers, Charles M Schultz‘s wonderful Snoopy. That’s the Snoopy who longs to be a bestselling writer and who always—well, nearly always—begins his stories with his tried and tested formula about the weather.Snoopy start with weather: it was a dark and stormy nightTo be fair, there are variants and I had fun searching them out. With a grateful acknowledgement to Schultz and the Peanuts strip, here are a couple of weather variants you might enjoy. First there’s subtleSnoopy applies subtlety to the weather Continue reading

Sarah Mallory on creating your fictional new world

A Whole New World?

Creating a whole new world is one of the things I love about starting a new book.

the mappa mundi, a whole new world

The Mappa Mundi in Hereford Cathedral

I love that moment when a story is forming in my head. The whole world is my oyster.

And yes, I admit food and wine are often involved in the initial creation process….

The past few weeks while I have been working on my new book have been particularly fascinating. It always involves lots of daydreaming as I think of plots and characters, but one of the most enjoyable parts of starting a new story is the setting.

When and where will my characters live in this new world?

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Buckingham Palace Garden : trees, family, courage

Buckingham Palace, garden front

Garden front, photograph by Elizabeth Hawksley

This week I had a great treat. I visited Buckingham Palace Gardens. For the first time they are open for members of the  public to explore on a so-called “self-guided tour”.

The idea has been so successful that demand for tickets outstripped supply. So there are now additional ticket for dates throughout July to September.

Indeed, it looks as if even the newly released  tickets have already sold out. But they urge you to check back for possible cancellations. Given the uncertainty of British Weather – that great Cleopatra, as Charles Lamb called it – I should think there may be plenty

Two go to Buckingham Palace

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