Friday, 24 February 2012


I am sorry to disappoint you if the title has prompted anyone to expect a dissertation on ladies clothes or footwear, fascinating though the subject may be. The following is merely my opinion on the changing fashion of books and what readers, writers and, most importantly, publishers seem to prefer at the present time, compared with one hundred years ago, or even thirty. I may be wrong in my conclusions, and limited in my experience of publishers, so I shall be interested to hear what other people think.

 Recently we have been celebrating the birth of Charles Dickens in 1812 so perhaps we could start with his style of writing. My mother was a great lover of Dickens’ novels because she felt he made the people and places seem so alive and real. Due to her influence I started reading them when I was at school and I enjoyed them then. I am not sure whether I would have the patience to read some of them now. There is no doubt that he painted very real pictures in our minds with his (often lengthy) descriptions of scenes and characters. He made us share the dread of poverty and the possibility of the workhouse. We heard the clatter of horses’ hooves as they drew the wealthy in their carriages. The stench of the gutters seemed to invade our nostrils and the moorland mist with the lurking of an escaped prisoner (in Great Expectations) created an atmosphere of tension and fear. He was equally good at drawing his characters, making us like some, and loathe others, share their satisfaction and anticipation, or disappointment and grief. Neither he nor his publishers shied away from life in the raw.

Most readers today want to experience the emotions and see the settings in their mind but do they have the time and patience to read through several paragraphs of scene description? Many prefer to jump straight into the story discovering the “who”, “when”, “where” and “why” in the first paragraph. “Aim to grab the readers’ interest in the first paragraph” is advice now given to new writers. In spite of all the modern gadgets which are supposed to make life easier time often seems too short. Also there are so many other distractions in the form of television, Sunday shopping, football matches and other sports, to name but a few. Many people still enjoy a “good read” but curling up for a few precious hours of peace with a good novel no longer has the same appeal in busy lives. Some read in snatches while travelling on the train, bus or tube.Recently one author, with over forty published novels, was preparing her early stories for uploading as digital editions for e-readers. She was surprised to find she had been so verbose when she began writing and she is determined to change them. `Why did my editor let me get away with it?’ she asks. This is what I mean by changing fashion. Longer descriptions and a scattering of adverbs and adjectives were perfectly acceptable thirty years ago. Today many publishers, including mine, have very set rules about the length of novel they will accept. Is this changing fashion due to the influence of readers who prefer shorter novels and short story collections? Or is it the economics of production and cost of storage? Paper is expensive and we are all under continual pressure to consider resources and the future of the planet.

What do other people think? Do fashions change when it comes to books?

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Liebster Award and Peter Pan

At Novel Points of View we are delighted to receive a Liebster Award from writer and blogger extraordinaire Rosemary Gemmell

Apparently the award recipient should give five facts about herself but as we are five writers we’re giving one fact each!

Gwen Kirkwood: My favourite colour is royal blue. My birthstone is a sapphire and I have sapphires in my engagement ring.

Gill Stewart: The country I’d most like to live in is Scotland but the country I’d most like to visit is South Africa.

Jenny Harper: I have a guilty pleasure: Häagen-Dazs Chocolate and Pralines ice cream - I can eat a whole tub!

Mary Smith: I was – many years ago – school high jump champion for four years in a row.

Linda Mitchelmore: I have a weakness for Prosecco.... I was introduced to it on a writing holiday in Italy by a young American girl called April. I never drink it without thinking of her.

We’d like to pass the Liebster Award to ChocLit Authors  and to Heroine Addicts, both excellent blogs of interest to writers and readers

So now you know a little bit more about us, on with the blog, coming this time from Mary Smith

Birthplace of Peter Pan

I have just attended an evening of jazz played by Gentle Jazz, a popular band based in Dumfries & Galloway, along with vocalist Terri Farley. The event was to raise funds for the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust which aims to create Scotland’s first Centre for Children’s Literature in Moat Brae House, Dumfries, south west Scotland.

It was the garden of Moat Brae House which gave J M Barrie the inspiration for Peter Pan. As a child Barrie was a pupil at Dumfries Academy and he played in the garden of nearby Moat Brae. The house was designed in 1823 by the architect Walter Newall who was born in New Abbey near Dumfries and who was also responsible for designing Glenlair House near Corsock, home of the scientist James Clerk Maxwell.

Moat Brae was built for a Robert Threshie of Barnbarroch. The house changed hands several times and in 1863 was sold to Henry Gordon, a solicitor and bank agent in Dumfries. His sons, Henry and Stewart befriended J M Barrie was a frequent visitor to their home. The house, however splendid the interior with its square central hall, circular first floor gallery and a domed glass roof, was of less interest to the young Barrie than the garden where the three boys played. It was this garden which was to inspire Barrie in later years to write the story of Peter Pan and Neverland. When he visited Dumfries Academy in 1924 Barrie told his audience: “When the shades of night began to fall, certain young mathematicians shed their triangles, crept up walls and down trees, and became pirates in a sort of odyssey that long afterwards was to become the play Peter Pan. For our escapades in a certain Dumfries Garden, which is an enchanted land to me, were certainly the genesis of that nefarious work.”

The house was turned into a nursing home in 1914 and when it closed in 1997 the building was left locked and empty, at the mercy of vandals who broke windows allowing pigeons to move in and continue the destruction. In 2009 it was decided to demolish the house – and it was at this point a group of local people took action and, with actress Joanna Lumley at their head, launched a campaign to save Moat Brae.

They succeeded in purchasing the house and garden – literally only three days before the bulldozers moved in. In a way, that was perhaps the easiest part for now the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust faces the monumental task of raising between £3-4 million pounds to restore the building – and establish a national centre which will celebrate children’s literature through events, visiting exhibitions, workshops by authors, illustrators and story tellers. The riverside garden, where J M Barrie played, will be developed into an educational play area for children based on the Peter Pan story and where every plant tells a story.

There have already been many fundraising events such as the evening of gentle jazz I enjoyed and lots more events are being planned by all kinds of groups and people enthusiastic to see the birthplace of Peter Pan restored and in use.

The Trust has a website at where there is lots more information about this exciting project. Many thanks to Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust and Graeme Robertson for use of the pictures.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

The facts about coincidences

We're told very firmly as novelists that coincidences are not acceptable in novels because they are unbelievable. I guess that, as a reader, it's true that coincidences in fiction can be irritating. Like stumbling into that handsome man again in the supermarket/pub/park or finding your new boss is the man you indiscreetly had a one-nighter with last week.

But in life they do happen. It's really not unusual to bump into a near neighbour when you are walking along the deserted beach in the Maldives, or locking yourself out of your house and being handed a parcel from the postman containing the spare key your brother pocketed on his last visit.

Some people believe that coincidence is really synchronicity – that the oddity of something happening at the exact time and place where it it most useful (or perhaps disturbing?) is in some way 'meant' to happen. It's karma.

I don't know about that, but here's a little tale for you. Some of you will remember that last year my husband Robin and I took part in a show called Bargain Hunt on BBC television. We had a ball, and actually managed to make a small profit (£85) on our buys when they were auctioned. One item Robin fell in love with was a Murano glass vase made in the 60s. We didn't buy it, but he was thrilled to discover that our expert, Nick Hall, had purchased it as his 'bonus buy'. It made a tidy profit. We decided to keep our winnings and spend them either in Anita Manning's auction house in Glasgow (where our items were sold) or at the Antique Fair near Edinburgh where we purchased them. Today was our first chance to revisit the scene of our experiences. Coincidence one: the Bargain Hunt Team was filming again. Coincidence two: we spotted the Murano vase up for sale again!

Dear blog readers - we bought it (for less than it was sold in Glasgow). And we chatted to mein host, Tim Wonnacut, who grabbed a film crew and filmed our little story, complete with vase.

Coincidence? Synchronicity? Karma? Who knows - but I think I feel a short story coming on!

PS If we hear they will use the clip, I'll let you know in a month or two.

Friday, 10 February 2012


I’ve thought a lot recently about what it means to be A Writer. Not so much about writing as about being a writer.

Sometimes it seems that being a writer means having something – anything – published. And having something published is good, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve come to the conclusion that for me being a writer is, above everything, about writing. If I’m not writing I’m not A Writer. And more than that I’m not me.

There are courses that encourage you to only write the best you can write, or to write morning pages every morning no matter what, or to send everything you write out to magazines/publishers/agents.

These things can work for some people. I’ve tried various routes – only writing when I feel inspired, going over things I have written until I’ve edited them to death, writing a daily journal, writing only fiction. And I’ve found that it doesn’t matter exactly what approach I take – as long as I’m writing. Mostly in the morning, mostly every day, mostly fiction – but above all writing all the ideas and stories that are in my head. Sometimes I can’t think my thoughts until I’ve typed them. Weird I know - but true for me.

One thing I’ve learnt is to let myself write what I want to write. I may have an outline I’m working towards, and that can help – or it can be ignored. I may have no idea what I’m doing. But strangely as soon as I put pen to paper or fingers to (icy) keyboard, I realise there are words there waiting to be written down. Sometimes I can make something pretty good out of them. Sometimes they just make me smile and aren’t to be shared. Sometimes they are complete rubbish. But that’s fine. They’re mine and they’re an experiment in this writing life I lead.

The conclusion I’ve reached is that if you don’t write, you aren’t a writer. So the answer is – write! Try and do a little every day. A little may turn in to a lot, or may not, but it will still be something.

And if you’re like me, your life will be a little richer for doing it.

Saturday, 4 February 2012


Are writers ever off duty? I ask. You know - the way doctors always respond to that cry 'is there a doctor in the house' and stop on their journey to wherever they might be going to tend to some poor soul who has fallen in the street? Is there some sort of unwritten/unspoken oath a writer takes to absorb copy wherever they go?
Take the experience of my writer friend - let's call her X. She rang and said could I go over. Now. Right this minute. She had something she had to get off her chest and I was the only one of her (local) writer friends who would understand. So, rather anxious and taking a bottle of wine to drown sorrows if sorrows needed to be drowned, I went. X had not long been widowed after nursing her much loved and loving husband for the better part of a year. What might she be about to tell me?
"I feel terrible," she said, the second she opened the door to let me in. "Promise you won't hate me."
"Promise," I said.
Now, I never, ever, break promises unless there's some outside influence that means I have to - like bad weather closing roads and railways so I can't get to wherever it is I've promised to be.
But I nearly broke that promise because I have to say I was shocked at what she had to say. X, her voice barely a whisper, told me that as she held her dying husband's hand she knew there was a part of her brain that was recording everything in case it might be useful to her writing later.
Well, dear reader, it was.
I've just said I was shocked - but should I have been? X has written millions more words and is much more widely published than I am. But as my word count mounts up I find myself remembering things I thought I'd forgotten. Or consiously putting a very personal memory from long, long ago - long before ever I thought to get my words in print - into a short story. One of those personal memories was my father telling me that when he was in Italy during the war he was surprised to find orange trees growing on some of the railway stations. Oh yes? I thought at the time.
But...I wrote - and had published some 40 years later - a short story in which I wrote about orange trees greeting my heroine on a railway station. I hadn't even been to Italy at that time! But, when I did get there I saw for myself that yes, there were indeed orange trees on some railway stations, albeit the very bitter variety.
I'm fortunate in that I've only ever known real fear once - the night my daughter (then a teenager with all the angst that some teenaged girls get) went missing. It was October. Wet and wild and cold. I remember thinking at the time that I would never forget that dreadful fear - and I haven't. However, I can conjure up that feeling if ever I need to when writing fiction - and I get that shoulder shudder, that icy ripple up my spine, that jagged breathing, when I do.
These days I find myself conciously, in many situations, stepping back a little - mentally, that is. I log the mood, the scent, the colour, the temperature and at some time hence I will find all those things falling into a story.
I often wonder if others notice I do this If they notice I'm not 'with them' as it were? The truth is I'm probably more 'in the moment' than they are.
This morning my husband said he fancied a long walk across the beach and over the cliffs. Did I want to go? (I was doing some editing at the time). Well, I couldn't get my hat and coat and boots and gloves and scarf quickly enough, because as he spoke there was a flurry of snow outside. I rarely set stories in cold weather. Perhaps it was time I did?
Well, the walk was good. Very good. Hardly a soul about. The rough seas of the previous day had littered the beach with razor clam shells and starfish and crabs of varying sizes. And mountains of seaweed piled haphazardly.
"Glad I dragged you out?" my husband said.
"Very," I replied.
Excuse me.....I feel a short story coming on..............

P.S. My daughter was found safe and well!