If it’s Wednesday, it must be W. I was looking in a very small, very old dictionary, for inspiration, and the first world I lighted on was what-not. In that dictionary it was defined as a piece of furniture for the display of books or ornaments. Book-case, I thought. I could talk about book cases. But in fact. what came to mind was interesting words. That one has changed meaning and is now one of those portmanteau words for something you don’t know, or can’t remember. Portmanteau is another favourite – makes me think of journeys that involved large ships and steamer trunks. Another one is epergne (ee-pern) which is an old fashioned centerpiece for a dining table. That one came to me by way of my Mum, who as a child had to polish theirs, along with the other dining silver, on a Saturday morning. A lot of cutlery was silver in those days, which always makes me wonder exactly how much silver polish was accidentally consumed along with the food. And then there’s antimacassar – the protective cloth put on the back of upholstered chairs to prevent stains from the macassar oil the gentlemen used in their hair. A real does-what-it-says on the tin word, and a bit of social history to boot.
So – that’s my Wednesday waffle – favourite words. Anyone else have one or two to share?
Where-ever they are, writers tend to look for ideas and settings they can use. I’ve been spending a disproportionate amount of time lately in inhospitable places, like waiting rooms. Which has led me to the conclusion that there are some places that are unlikely ever to feature as a setting in any novel I might write.
- Hospitals – I know these are very popular in books and on TV – I have even been known to watch a few of those, particularly ones with favourite actors in them, but as a main setting they are not for me. Short scenes, where necessary, yes – a whole book? No way.
- The great outdoors – There seems to be a high level of interest lately from some of my favourite authors for books that feature hero and heroine battling against the elements, using their survival skills to, well, survive. Again, not for me. And especially the great outdoors with creatures in it. Anything small and fluffy that will sit on your lap is fine – anything with more than four legs, or which is bigger than me and has sharper teeth – no.
- Sporting venues – Yes – there will probably be an upsurge in these, after the Olympics and I will be there, cheering them on, but I won’t be writing them. Anyone who once witnessed my attempts at school netball will perfectly understand this.
- Caves and other small spaces – although I must say that I am considering trapping a future hero in a coffin – but I will not be following the example of crime writer Peter James and experimenting myself. I can imagine all I need, thanks very much. Caves, being dark, wet and cold, at least in this country, tick all my boxes for places I do not want to be.
- Eras with no satisfactory indoor plumbing – this is a border line one, as I have to admit to having written historicals and hoping one day to write more. I don’t think I will ever be venturing into the historical based on real life characters – too much nitty-gritty to contend with.
As you will have gathered, I’m a fair weather romantic thriller writer – I like glamorous places, warmth, and comfort. Then I like to throw a spanner in the works, and watch my characters cope, in a setting that should be idyllic. I get the nice stuff, they get the headaches. Works for me.
We all have our preferences. I’m sure my ‘don’t go there’ list would be the top preferred locations for a lot of other writers. Being different is part of the fun of reading and writing.
So – anyone else have a setting to shudder at? Or is it just me than?
“What are you like?”
Sorry – I couldn’t resist that one. Of course, it should be “Who are you like?”
A hot debate in several of the sessions at this summer’s Winchester Writing Festival (more “Ws” for a Wednesday) was “To Compare, or not to Compare?” (Sorry Will – getting carried away with those “Ws”) Advice to writers about submitting to agents and editors, and writing that all-important covering letter, often suggests that they should refer to a publisher author, or more than one, whose work theirs resembles. But it appears that some hapless writers are now being told that this is not wanted and comparisons should be left to the professionals, when they are needed. Fair enough, but conflicting advice. Exit, stage right, poor confused would-be best seller. T’was ever thus. (Hmm, I think Will has got into the keyboard this morning!)
The discussion got me thinking about the sort of information that is useful when you are buying books.
Most authors of my acquaintance have an idol – writers they want to be when they grow up – and would probably swoon if someone else compared them to that idol. But they are much more nervous about suggesting it themselves. We may spend our time listening to imaginary people having conversations, inside our heads, but we do have some grip on reality. Mostly. We do know we’re not Dan Brown or EL James or JK Rowling – really, we do. But if someone else says we are …
And knowing the style of an unknown writer, before you invest in their book, can avoid a lot of throwing at the wall moments.
So – that’s my question for this morning. Do you find it useful when writers are compared? Or would you rather make up your own mind – “What are you like?”
I’ve just come back from a quick visit to London. I always claim these trips are ‘running away to the wicked city.’
Running away is an evocative idea. There can’t be many people who have not stood under a departure board at some time and briefly wondered about selecting a destination and just getting on the next train/boat/bus/plane. You can run away from, run away to, run away with …
A lot of characters in books are on the run in one way or another – from a threat, from an old life – when the book opens so many heroines are on the brink of a different life. They may be starting over (now that has a familiar ring to it) – but usually with plenty of baggage that somehow creeps into the new story. And it’s not just being physically on the run – it can be mental distance – a character who is in denial about the past, one who is trying to forget, to live down an event, to break with destructive behaviour, simply to live a different kind of life.
The choice of destination is often crucial to the story. Characters coping with a new lifestyle are interesting to write and to read. I like to send mine to beautiful places, then pull the rug out from under them, but that’s just me.
So – it’s Friday. The weekend is looming. Tonight thousands of people will be getting on planes, boats, trains, buses – or into their cars – to make a journey. If you were going on the run – where would you go?