The Wednesday Wondering – Hallowe’en Special

It’s the end of October tomorrow which means one thing … Hallowe’en. Mwah ha ha ha ha!!!!

We’ve therefore gone for the logical theme of all things spooky this week with a question from Alex:

Do you believe in ghosts? Have you had any ghostly or spooky experiences?

But, because I’m really nosy, I added in another question:

Will you be getting dressed up/doing anything for Hallowe’en this year?

Write Romantic Lynne has a couple of very detailed ghost stories to share with us. We discussed whether she should edit them but they’re interesting so I decided I should keep them in but post hers last to finish on a very spooky note.

Here’s what some of The Write Romantics had to say … if you’re feeling brave enough …

ALEX:

Growing up in York where there’s a ghost story attached to half the buildings in the city you’d have thought I’d have been a believer but for a long time I wasn’t. Over the years there have been places that I’ve visited where I’ve felt something that couldn’t be easily explained, like in Micklegate Bar in York where there’s a sense of despair or sadness which seems to be trapped in the stones.  Prisoners were held in Micklegate Bar for their final night before they were hanged just outside the city.  The sensible side of my brain dismissed that as my over active imagination.

However, over the past couple of years while I’ve been volunteering at Barley Hall I’ve changed my mind on this. Barley Hall is a reconstructed medieval townhouse in York.  A lot of people who work there have seen or experienced ghosts at Barley Hall and when I listened to them talk about these experiences I was pretty sure they weren’t making them up.  I’ve also seen photographs of the interior of the building with unexplained bubbles of light in them which I’m told show the presence of a spirit.   There’s too many of these light bubbles for it to be a coincidence or extremely bad camera work. Unfortunately I don’t have any of those pictures to show you but they are quite fascinating.

As to what I’m doing for Halloween this year, well as I’ve been in hospital recently having major surgery I’m having the staples taken out of my wound on Thursday. So definitely more trick than treat for me this year. Let’s hope it’s not too gruesome!

JAXX:

Afraid I don’t have any pics of me in scary outfits and I don’t really believe in ghosts, as if there were such things I feel they would be everywhere clamouring to be heard and causing mischief and mayhem all over the world. Really rubbish answer I know, but have never had any weird experiences, that I’ve taken seriously anyway.

HELEN R:

To be honest, I don’t really believe in ghosts. I do however remember going in the Haunted House in Blackpool once and I have to say I was terrified…there were actual people in there coming out of the darkness to touch your hair or your skin…I’ve never been so scared in my life!

This year we’ll be doing Halloween. It’s fun to see the kids all dressed up but there’s a limit to how spooky it can be Down Under, with the sun blazing! That said, they do love it and I’ve seen some amazing costumes around the local area and it’s always terrifying to see hyped up children on all that sugar 🙂

JULIE:

I believe in ghosts although I haven’t actually seen one myself. Mind you, a few years ago I had to travel to Cumbria with work and stayed in Dalston Hall Hotel which is reputedly haunted http://www.hauntedrooms.co.uk/dalston-hall-hotel It is one of those situations where you’re absolutely fascinated and want to know the information … yet you know you’re not going to sleep if you do. The owner showed us CCTV footage of orbs around the building which were captivating to watch. It completely freaked my colleague out; she didn’t sleep a wink! I was a bit perturbed but we’d been assured we weren’t in the haunted rooms.

When I was in primary school, aged about 10, we went on a school trip to an outdoors centre in a place called Carlton Lodge near Thirsk, North Yorkshire. There were dorms and it was reputed that ‘The Grey Lady’ haunted the girls yellow dorm. As a list was read out of who was in which colour dorm, I prayed I wasn’t in yellow. Guess who was picked for yellow? On the 2nd night, I woke up to what sounded like gravel being thrown against the window near my top bunk but there was nobody outside. That spooked me a bit and we asked some leaders a bit more about the ghost the next day. As we were discussing it, the emergency exit door in the yellow dorm burst open and a siren sounded. Nobody was anywhere near it. Cue twenty or so hysterical screaming girls!!!

Moving on to Hallowe’en, I’ve already done my bit. I’m a Brown Owl and, as Hallowe’en falls during half term, we had a party last Monday. It’s a great excuse for us leaders to dress up so here’s me in my face paints for the Brownie do.

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Then it was another Hallowe’en party for me on Saturday. I do a beach-based bootcamp and we’ve been trying to get a social scene going so a couple of the bootcampers kindly hosted a house party. I dressed the same but changed my face painting. I think I preferred the one for Brownies though. Which do you like best?

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As for tomorrow, Hallowe’en itself, I’d normally have carved a couple of pumpkins and put them in the window to signal that we’re happy to receive trick or treaters, my little girl would dress up and we’d hand out sweets. She’s 6 and we don’t know many neighbours so we answer the door but don’t go out ourselves. However, I have a job interview in Birmingham during the day and won’t get home until about 6pm. That means no time to carve pumpkins although I may be home in time for the flurry of kids and an hour of door-answering.

RACHAEL:

I’m afraid I don’t have any spooky experiences to tell. Not that I don’t believe in ghosts, they have just chosen not to reveal themselves to me. Each time I go to old houses or castles I think of those who have walked there before me and wonder if any are still there. As a child I remember standing in the Haunted Tower at Warwick Castle on a school trip, hoping the ghost would show itself! The tower is said to be haunted by Sir Fulke Greville who was granted the castle by King James I in 1604 and died a lingering death at the castle after being stabbed by his servant.

As my children are older I won’t be dressing up on Halloween, but I have kitted them out in some great costumes in the past. Also being so far off the road, up a long tree lined and very dark track, I don’t think anyone will trick or treat us.

Several years ago I was driving back from Gloucester after visiting my grandmother and came across this incredible display of pumpkins.

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HELEN P:

I wholeheartedly believe in Ghosts. Over the years I’ve had many strange things happen. There’s my spooky white mist (see photo). I took that in the Abbey Woods when I was out walking the dog with my husband. There was no mist around whatsoever yet when I clicked the camera I noticed something. I took another photo immediately after and there is no mist in that one. Very spooky.

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But the one incident that really convinced me was the night my brother died suddenly, 18 years ago. I was lying in bed and couldn’t sleep and I sensed a white light to the right of me, I glanced over and saw the most brilliant white figure standing at the side of my bed. It was glowing it was so bright. I have to admit it terrified me so I shut my eyes and pulled the duvet over my head. Thinking back I’m sorry that I was so scared because I’m sure it was my brother coming to say goodbye and he would never mean to scare me.

This Halloween is the first one in seven years I won’t be working so were celebrating by going to Muncaster Castle which is about an hour’s drive away. They let visitors in after dark where the castle is transformed, every window has a ghostly glow. There are ghostly walks through the woods, a terrifying maze and all sorts of things going on. I’m really looking forward to it plus they do the best chips and mugs of hot chocolate in the courtyard cafe, there is a big blazing fire to sit around and it’s just such good fun.

JO:

I don’t know whether I believe in ghosts or not.  I would like to, though, as long as they aren’t the scary malevolent types, hell-bent on retribution for the torment of their past lives!  I am not sure if I have ever had a spooky experience, but I do think certain buildings have an atmosphere and there is a definite and distinct ‘feeling’ when you enter some churches.  I had a scary experience last week, however, as I am terrified of rats.  We were in a shop and my son suddenly said that a rat had come out from below the display cabinet.  I screamed in front of an aisle full of people and it turned out it was a toy one, planted there by my cheeky eight-year-old!

We have already done some things for Halloween this year, including going to a themed adventure park with Satan’s Circus, the Hob’s Pit and a Terror Train.  We will also be going out Trick or Treating on Halloween itself and I attach a picture of me wearing my scary mask – this year’s outfit.

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LYNNE:

I thought tomorrow being halloween and interest being in things that go bump in the night and all that I’d just tell you a couple of my true ghost stories, and it would be lovely to hear yours too.

One of my favourite things to do is to go and look around ancient buildings. I’m on the committee of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in Gloucestershire, where we live. A fellow member arranged for us to see an Elizabethan cruck house and a barn dating from late Tudor times in Frampton on Severn then Wick Court, now very much occupied by children on holiday from London, many of whom had never been to a farm before. It was lovely to see the children running about and playing in the open air with not a tv or other electronic screen for miles.

The house was a magnificent Gloucestershire manor house where Queen Elizabeth had stayed as opposed to was rumoured to have stayed. One of my learned friends told me she actually did come to stay here, because she was asked to see some wood that was to be used for her ships in the Forest of Dean, and she stayed at Wick Court when she visited. I saw the room she used, it’s magnificent. Two of the walls have windows which look over beautiful rolling farmland and plaster decoration is above the fireplace. It’s now full of pine bunk beds for the children.

Queen Elizabeth’s room is on the first floor. We looked around then I walked up the stairs with the housekeeper who paused to show me a detail of the stair rail as we reached the top floor. The housekeeper showed me the stair rails, where rumour had it that a bit had had to be cut out to get out the coffin of one deceased occupant and the mark was still left on the woodwork. As I turned around to look at the offending stair railing I saw a woman go into the bedroom, the room directly above Queen Elizabeth’s room, on the top floor and smaller. The lady I saw was in her 70’s and wore those cotton overalls that farmers wear. I saw her just as she was going into the room, it looked like she was making a hasty retreat from her visitors, but there was none of that tension you see in the posture of someone in a grumpy mood about something, but had she been able to speak I think she’d just have said ‘oooppss, time to go!’

We finished our look at the stairs and we went into the bedroom I’d just seen the lady enter. I looked around me to see her, anxious that we wouldn’t disturb her but there was no-one there. I looked all around the room and it was completely empty! There was just one door into the room and no other exit save for the windows, but we were on the second floor. A shiver went down my spine but I said nothing. Many of the members are architects and surveyors not generally likely to be sympathetic to tales of spirits. But downstairs I saw a photo of the lady I’d seen upstairs. This time she was facing, but her height, build and dress were unmistakeable. I was told the last occupants of the place were two sisters who lived here together when it was a family house. There were several photographs of the family and their wonderful home full of all sorts of eccentric items. I had no doubt that the lady I saw was the one in the photograph.

I asked the housekeeper if the place was haunted, ‘yes,’ she said, ‘but not in an unhappy way.’ I had to agree, it did have a very happy atmosphere.

I grew up not being particularly aware of ghosts, my mother thought they were a load of rubbish and so by default, so did I. But one day all that changed. By this time I had grown up and left home and was working as a nurse in Farleigh Hospital near Bristol. This collection of old buildings had been built as a workhouse in the 19th century now a hospital for people with learning difficulties. It was a very beautiful, if a little austere, collection of grey Victorian buildings with its own church, presumably to save the occupants the trouble of visiting the local church.

It was the area around the church where several of my colleagues reported having seen a man wandering around the old buildings in period Victorian dress, a large old sweeping cape around his shoulders and a stovepipe hat, similar to a top hat with a long, thin top, like the old Victorian stovepipes used in machinery. A few of us students spent a few meal times on night duty looking for this chap but he never appeared for us. So the experience was logged in the back of my consciousness together with a wondering as to what ghosts were all about.

It wasn’t too long till my queries were answered, to my mind without a doubt, when my mother booked a holiday with her sister to a little cottage they’d known as young women in the village of Branscombe, near Sidmouth, Devon. It was reputed to have been a retreat house for a local monastery before the reformation. The women were evacuated there in the war and knew the house they’d rented, it was called Margells and my aunt’s boyfriend, Terence, lived there during their early stay, but his family had since sold the place and Terence had gone on to work in Potburys, the local auction house.

Mum was delighted that they were now able to rent this house. It is ancient and has a wonderful medieval wall painting still in existence. The whole place is now lovingly cared for by The Landmark Trust and available for holiday rent. Terence had told them many years before that they place had strange spirits in it, he’d said that every night he could hear low chanting, a quiet muttering from the direction of his grandmother’s room. He assumed it was just her chattering in her sleep, but the ritual had continued beyond her death. Terence says a white bird appeared at her bedroom window as she passed on.
Mum and her sister dismissed it, they didn’t believe in that sort of thing.

When you think of my mum and sister in that cottage, don’t think of them as meek and demure as two Jane Austen type ladies would be. Think Margaret Thatcher, strong and opinionated are more their style. ‘Ghost?’ they replied in response to my query about their forthcoming vacation, ‘we don’t believe in that sort of thing,’ they laughingly assured me.
It wasn’t long after that the couple changed their minds. They had loved having such an ancient building to stay in, they reported to me on their return, they looked in every room and thoroughly lapped up every detail of its age and antiquity, totally relishing the prospect of having it all to themselves.
Or so they thought. I’ll let mum tell you the rest of the story, except she left a bit off, I’ll add that at the end.

“My sister and I got to our holiday cottage and set about preparing a meal. Then we washed up the used dishes in the kitchen. While we were standing there something came between the two of us. It went from right to left very quickly, making a very loud swishing noise as it went. Then, having passed between us it
 came back the other way, again making this loud swish, swish, swishing sound. We could see
 nothing to explain this neither did we feel a draught as it passed close by us. My hair actually
 stood on end as we stared at each other in horror.
 We knew the house was reputed to be haunted but didn’t believe it. 
After that we decided to share a bedroom for safety. But hardly had we got into bed and turned
 out the light than the tapping began. It was a wooden uncarpeted floor and something began 
tapping first under my bed and then my sisters. Then it moved round the room, tapping in the
 corners and again under our beds and then over the whole room. It was quite a distinctive sound 
on the bare floorboards. Of course, we couldn’t sleep and the tapping continued until dawn.
 Then in the morning we heard someone come up the stairs. This was surprising as there was
 nobody else in the house, fortunately the footsteps went back down the stairs. Again there was
 no one there.

“Downstairs during the day we often heard footsteps on the stairs, going up and down, and then we
 heard someone walk across the bedroom floor above us. 
The next night we decided to sleep in the front bedroom, hoping that it wasn’t haunted. But it was.
 Again the tapping continued all night long until the dawn. And then, during the night, we heard the
bedroom door open. It opened with a heavy iron latch which clicked when lifted. We heard the 
latch click and the sound of the door opening, except that it didn’t open. Nobody came in. At 
least nobody that we could see when I switched on the light.

“Downstairs in the kitchen that morning the peace was shattered by the sound of a gun being fired. 
It was a very loud crack indeed, but there was nothing to be seen.
 Again that night the tapping continued until dawn and someone kept going up and downstairs. 
But this time while I was standing by my bed and undressing I heard noises coming from the sitting 
room or parlour beneath us. It sounded exactly as if a lot of people were having a party. I could hear 
the clink of glasses, lots of people chattering and suddenly they all burst into laughter. The sound
was peculiar, I heard it in one ear only, and I’m not deaf and it sounded just as though I were tuning 
into a short wave radio station which was coming from a very long distance away. There was neither 
television or radio in the house. Funnily enough the sound didn’t reach my sister whose bed was only
 a couple of feet from mine. Then someone began snoring in the space between our two beds.
 Very early the next morning we heard the front door knocker bang on the door. We looked out of the
window but no one was there and there was no wind, and the door knocker was a very heavy iron one.

“The ghost of a monk has been seen in this house previously and the previous tenants of when it was
a farmhouse verified our story with many more of their own as they had lived there for several generations. 
We did go there again but this time I took with me a wooden cross someone lent me and carried it
from room to room, and we heard nothing at all.”

This is exactly what happened and I haven’t added anything. On that last night when they heard snoring between the beds mum got fed up with it and said to her sister, ‘stop that!’ the reply was ‘I’ve been lying here all night listening to that.’  They realised that they were not alone in the room. Mum spoke first, ‘if you stop that noise we’ll go tomorrow and never come back.’ And the noise did stop, but they did go back. Maybe the ghost packed his bag the second time!

Do join in and let us know your ghost stories or your plans for Hallowe’en.

Julie

xx

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A Judgement Call by Helen Rolfe

My idea for this blog post came when an agent suggested that I target a particular line of books with my work. The trouble is, I don’t actually read that line and as shallow as it sounds, a lot of it is because the covers have never appealed to me enough to make me pick one up.

When I walk into a book shop I’m the typical consumer in my late thirties (I can say that for at least another ten days or so!) and I instantly gravitate towards the colourful, bright jackets. So, the first thing I did when I heard from this agent was to go out a get a few different books in the same line and no matter what I thought of the covers, read them from start to finish. I asked myself not only whether my own novel would be a good fit but also whether I had been neglecting some great reads along the way.

I was presently surprised at the content. There were similarities with the type of novel that I’m trying to write, the storylines were appealing, and I can see why others would enjoy reading them. But they have a certain style that just isn’t me, neither as a writer nor a reader.  So, it looks as though my judgement was spot on this time round.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a metaphorical phrase that means so much more than its literal translation. It also means that we shouldn’t prejudge, but it happens all the time. I had a big wake-up call a few years ago when I found out the life story of a neighbour whom I had prejudged. Months later I found out what he had been through, including the death of a child, the death of his wife and being held as a prisoner of war for many years.

Take the lives of celebrities as another example. We see the glamour, the money, the exciting lives that they lead…and then magazines run a feature showing the same celebrities with…gasp…no make-up! We see them underneath the stardom that they can hide behind, we see them as the normal people that many of them are, but how easy is it to jump to conclusions?

When I studied my Graduate Certificate in Writing, there was a heavy focus on research for writers, and for good reason. I wanted to talk about research in this post because it ties in with making judgements without sufficient knowledge, and without research our stories can never hope to be as accurate and as rich as we would’ve hoped. Helen Phifer’s The Ghost House is a good example of this. Helen took a job with the police force in the hope that it would help her writing, and look at the richness of detail in her novel. Helen’s research lets us into the world of the police force from the everyday tasks they must do – some less appealing than others – to the intricate work at a crime scene, and the banter inside a police station. Had she just used her imagination for her story then it may have hung together, but would we as readers have been as drawn into the story and fully immersed in the worlds of her characters? I doubt it.

On the flip side, prejudging can work in our favour. Maybe there’s a place you thought that you’d hate but went there and loved it; or, a person who you disliked when you first met them and they turned out to be one of your closest friends. I’d love to hear from everyone to find out whether prejudging has left them pleasantly surprised, or whether, like my example above, they have learned that we need to see other peoples’ side of things before making a judgement.

Helen R x

The Wednesday Wondering – Shout, Shout, Let it all Out!!!!

Hello and welcome to another Wednesday Wondering. It’s very wet, wild and grey today on the Yorkshire Coast where I live. But I love it! Yes, I’m one of these made people who prefers cold weather to hot weather as you can wrap up warm and keeping adding layers when it’s cold but you can only shed so many when it’s hot. It annoys me when people look at you like you’re absolutely crazy when you say you don’t like the heat. Which brings me nicely onto today’s Wondering:

What are your pet peeves?

This was posed by Helen R, our Write Romantic in Australia where I can pretty much guarantee there won’t be a wet, wild and grey day today! It made me laugh when Helen suggested this as my local radio station, Yorkshire Coast Radio, does something called “The Wednesday Whinge.” Listeners phone up, text or Facebook with their pet peeves (although they mustn’t get personal with them, of course) and I sometimes listen to the radio giggling away to myself, thinking, ‘Yeah, I hate that … and that … oh, and that too!’ I was therefore dying to hear what The Write Romantics had to say so, without further ado, here’s their thoughts. We asked for a writing peeve as well, if they could think of one ….

LYNNE:

I’ve had a bit of a morning trying to decide what are my pet peeves, cos it could be two, hairdressers (include dog groomers in there) and shops that won’t allow dogs in, cos both should come in for a bit of aggro as far as I’m concerned!!!

There are more hairdressers than restaurants in my local town and I cannot work out why. It’s not from my custom they’re flourishing, I avoid them like the plague. For most of my life I’ve had long hair and I used to get it trimmed every 6 weeks as they tell you to do. But so often I’d come out of the salon looking from the neck up like a candidate for Strictly that I gave up going at all. Those that know me will know that I’m a natural kinda girl. My formative years were in the 70’s and I became well entrenched in the hippy movement. Not the wild and abandoned sort of hippy, but the earth chick kind of girl who really just wanted to be an earth mother and feed an army of kids around a large family table. Fancy hairdo’s don’t go with that sort of life but every time I went to a hairdresser despite me explaining about my casual lifestyle I came out much too dressed up. So I don’t bother going now.

The other is about shops that won’t let dogs in. I love taking each one in turn of our four dogs for a walk round town when I go to dog friendly places and they love joining me. Most people love them too, and many stop for a chat and a stroke (of the dog that is!) But some shops won’t let dogs in, our local Oxfam for one. I can’t see why not, they don’t damage anything, or wee anywhere, they simply stay on the end of a lead and look cute. But there are a few shops I have to avoid when I have a dog with me. I can’t really work out why.

Ooopps, maybe I should have thought of writing related peeves, but I can’t think of any at the moment!

JO:

My non-writing pet peeve is when people pronounce ‘h’ as haitch instead of aitch – it’s in the dictionary, people, as the eighth letter of the alphabet!  I know that they put on the ‘h’ sound because it is the letter ‘h’ but, on that principle, ‘f’ would be pronounced ‘feff’ instead of ‘eff’ and ‘L’ would be ‘lel’ and not ‘el’.  No-one does that, so why oh why, do they say ‘haitch’?  It makes me cringe, but I am sure that it will also spark some heated debate!

My pet peeve for writing is too much description of the characters’ looks, which makes me cringe too! Something like ‘Abigail looked at Henry’s chiselled jaw line, as sharp and impenetrable as the walls of the sky scraper where they’d first met.  The cool regard in his ice-blue eyes reminiscent of her sapphire engagement ring, which she’d discarded in such fury after their last meeting.’  OTT I know, but I have seen descriptions like it and they make me laugh for all the wrong reasons.  That said, I think I probably don’t give enough description of what the characters look like in my writing, so maybe there’s something to learn rather than be peeved about after all…

HELEN R:

My pet peeve would have to be drivers who insist on parking right next to me in a car park with more empty spaces than I can count! This happened only the other day…I parked at the gym and opposite were 12 empty spots (I counted this time). Another lady arrived and parked her enormous four-wheel drive right next to me and then had the cheek to moan that our wing mirrors touched when she tried to open her door. I still wonder what she was thinking.

My pet writing peeve would have to be when I accidentally hit the wrong keys in Word and it takes me a long, long time to unravel what I’ve done. The other day I managed to insert a black dotted line across my page in the middle of my manuscript. Every time I thought I’d deleted it, it would appear a couple of pages later. All I can say is thank goodness for broad search terms on Google…I’m not the only one to have done this and I found the solution.

DEIRDRE:

My main writerly peeve is me!  I’d love to be one of those who can bang out thousands of words at one sitting and get that first draft done in a couple of months but I can’t resist the compulsion to constantly re-read and alter and edit as I go along, which makes it very slow going.  But then if that isn’t me, it isn’t, so I’m guess I’m stuck with it!

Outside of writing?  Well, peeves are many and various, more so as I get older and become a Grumpy Old Woman, so I’ll pick one that happened only yesterday.  I was on the bus and a child behind was coughing so violently I could virtually feel the spray hitting the back of my head.  If the child wasn’t old enough to cover its own mouth then it’s mother should at least have removed it from the line of fire.  Same applies to adults who sneeze all over the place.  I don’t want your germs!

RACHAEL:

I really don’t like miserable shop assistants, those who can’t be bothered to acknowledge your existence. But having been on the other side of the fence when I worked in Boots, I have to say miserable customers were quite common. So come on folks, a smile or a hello doesn’t cost anything and it may even brighten yours as well as someone else’s day. Try it if you dare!

As for a writing peeve, well I hate it when I plan to spend time writing and life gets in the way. This quite often happens on the farm, so I just put my writing thoughts on pause, rather like you would with the television and come back to it as soon as I can.

HELEN P:

My biggest non-writing pet peeve is people who abandon shopping trolleys in the supermarket car park. The trolley bays are not exactly miles away and it drives me mad.

My biggest writing pet peeve is how some agents – who I know are extremely busy – can’t take the time to send out a “no thank you” if they don’t like your submission. Isn’t that what office juniors are for?

JULIE:

My pet peeve list is long and seems to get added to every day! I have many driving-related peeves, particularly surrounding the ridiculous number of drivers out there who don’t use their indicators (or use them incorrectly), especially on busy roundabouts. However, my biggest peeve is around people who seem to be completely oblivious to anyone around them and therefore constantly behave inconsiderately. I’ll illustrate this with a few of the examples of such behavior that wind me up the most:

  1. People who stop for a chat with their friends in the supermarket, completely blocking the aisle with their bodies/trolleys
  2. People who walk several abreast down the pavement and won’t break into a smaller group to let you past, especially when you have a small child/buggy/armfuls of shopping or you’re running late for something like a job interview or a bus!
  3. People who just stop suddenly as they’re walking, making you bang into them
  4. Groups of people who sit at or lean on a bar in a pub (usually locals) so you can’t actually get in to order a drink

I could go on and on! What’s even worse is when any of the above then get irate or tut at you when you try to get past/bang into them/order your drink. Grrr.

As for writing-related peeves, I completely agree with Helen P’s peeve and will just add that I draw parallels with recruitment too and see writing submissions as very similar to applying for a job. I’ve been a recruitment manager for about 20 years and I am regularly disgusted by companies or agencies who don’t let you know the outcome of your application or cop out of responding by saying on the advert, “If you don’t hear within 2 weeks of your application, assume it’s a no cos, to be honest, we’re too busy and important to respond.” Ok, so I added the latter bit on but it’s just rude. However, as Helen has already used this example, I’ll throw in a new one. I have a real thing about this and I’m so sorry if I offend anyone but I can’t stand the incorrect use of their/there or your/you’re. Loads of people get it wrong, particularly your and you’re and I accept that there are people who’ve never grasped it at school etc. However, it is completely unacceptable when you see adverts and posters and any sort of marketing materials where the wrong word is used. Sorry people but this is basic grammar and you need to get it right or you’re poster over their will look completely wrong! (See what I did there?! 😉 )

And relax …. So, this is what peeves some of The Write Romantics. I’m going to have a nice cup of tea and lie down in a darkened room with a damp flannel on my forehead while I try to re-regulate my breathing and chill out a bit. We’d love to hear from you. Do you agree with our peeves? Do you have any of your own? Are you guilty of doing something that winds one of us up? If so, we’d love to hear the other side of the “argument”! Please do join in for a bit of fun.

Next week will be the day before Hallowe’en so we’ll be honouring it with a spooky-themed Wondering.

Julie xx

Telling Tales

Stromness Harbour

Stromness Harbour

Last month I went to Orkney for a week’s holiday/research for my new book. While I was there I went to a storytelling evening. We heard tales of selkies, the Fin Folk, strange amphibious beings who lived beneath the seas in Finfolkaheem and trows (or fairies) that lived on the seashore. The storyteller wove the tales not only with words but with the tone of her voice, her hands, her whole body. She acted the parts and the audience were held tight in the grip of these ancient tales.
A couple of days later I went on a walking tour of Stromness which is the second largest town in Orkney (with a massive population of about 2,000 people) and historically was a major seaport. It was the home of Orkney poet and novelist, George Mackay Brown whose books first made me want to visit these islands. During the tour, I heard more stories about people who’d lived in Stromness. Some of them seemed like slightly tall tales, like the one about the sailor who lived with the cannibals on Easter Island and returned with a necklace of human teeth.
Others were more poignant, like the story of Dr John Rae, the Victorian artic explorer. He discovered the last link in the North West passage and the fate of the Franklin expedition that had set out a few years before to make that discovery. After reporting that the members of the Franklin expedition had resorted to cannibalism he was branded a liar by Franklin’s widow and didn’t receive the recognition that he deserved for his achievements. The people of Stromness are justly proud of Dr John Rae. To mark the bicentenary of his birth there was a display of art in shop and house windows around the town with the pictures and sculptures each telling part of his life story.
Later that same day I went to a concert of folk music in Kirkwall. One of the reasons I love folk music is that it’s full of stories. Sometimes the songs tell the stories and sometimes the musicians tell you tales about why they’re singing these songs. This concert had more of the latter and one man played a hymn that he’d learned from listening to the wireless as he grew up. He’d heard his hymn on the trawler band of the radio sung by fishermen from the east coast of Scotland as they made their way home in bad weather.

Stromness

Stromness

I think all of this made me realised how much people love stories. Some people like them to be true and will read biography or history books. Others are happy with fiction. It doesn’t seem to matter how a story is told whether it’s oral or written, sung or told in pictures. What matters is the story.
As an aspiring novelist I think it’s important to be reminded of this. I think I’ve spent so much time worrying about finding my voice and getting my technique right that I can forget that what the reader wants is a good story. At a writer’s lunch that I went to earlier this year I heard an experienced novelist say that readers will forgive bad writing if the stories good but that good writing can’t rescue a poor story. I’m not advocating that we set out to write badly but I am suggesting that we remember that in the end it’s the story that matters.
As a post script I just wanted to let you know that I’ve finally received my NWS report and its good news. The Reader said that they very much enjoyed Beltane, that the plot was excellent (phew!) and that it’s very impressive for a first novel. I’ve got some changes to make (apparently my characters swear too much for one thing) but none of them are major and then I can start the very scary process of submitting!
Alex xx

The Wednesday Wondering – Where We Write

Welcome to another Wednesday Wondering. Today’s question was posed by Write Romantic Alex and is:

Where do you write?

I love this question. I subscribe to ‘Writing Magazine’ and there’s an regular feature in there called ‘My Writing Day’. Writers from different genres talk about their background, how they write and where they write and it’s one of my favourite articles as I love to pick up hints and tips … as well as be downright nosey if they’ve included a picture of their writing place. I was therefore very excited when Alex put this question forward and I’ve absolutely loved looking at all the pictures.

I also have some serious pink laptop and gorgeous notepad envy from Helen P’s picture. Actually, I want her desk too! I also want Rachael’s dog. And Jo’s armchair. And …..

I hope you enjoy reading about our writing space and seeing the pictures as much as I did. Here’s where some of The Write Romantics write:

DEIRDRE:

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I write on the PC in the tiny third bedroom which we’ve turned into an office and have to share it with himself occasionally, which is very annoying!  There’s a good view of the street and all that’s going on which can be distracting but I quite like that.  Behind the desk is a wall of bookshelves – my library.  I’ve got Hilary Mantel’s and Deborah Moggach’s rules for writers on the noticeboard.  I don’t really go for rules but I like these as they are fun and sensible and quite inspirational when I’m stuck!  There is always a cat calendar too.  If pushed I can write on the laptop at the kitchen table but only if there’s nobody in the house as I need virtual silence when I’m writing and that’s easier to achieve up in my little room.  I do have a back-up plan, though.  If ever this starts to get serious and I need a long run at it with no interruptions like ‘It’s raining, shall I get the washing in?’ or ‘What shall I have for my lunch?’ (Oh, pleeease!) I can always bale out and take the laptop to my son’s cosy little flat which is only ten minutes away and really quiet and peaceful.

RACHAEL:

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When I first started writing seriously I cleared myself a space in the office. A room in our house which is overflowing with cattle passports, cows to calve lists, accounts and other tedious stuff. Writing here became harder and harder as the paperwork I should kept dragging my attention from writing, as if it was calling me.

So along with my laptop I decamped to the dining room for some peace from the nagging paperwork. I know it’s my day job, but it doesn’t have to be my all night and all day job!

As you can see from the photo, it didn’t take me long to take over a room that was only used at Christmas. That was a few years ago and my family confessed to preferring to eat Christmas dinner at the kitchen table, so I have now changed it all permanently. Bookcases line one wall, the sofa bed (rarely used by guests) makes a nice place to read through hard copies of my work. My faithful companion, Tara, is usually found lying in the middle of the floor.

I can also write just about anywhere I find myself, either on my laptop or just with a pencil and paper. I have done this waiting for the car to be serviced, whilst kids are at hockey or rugby practise, in one of our fields with cows watching over the hedge, but I love to sit beside a river and write. There is something quite magical about that.

JULIE:

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I used to live in a big 3-storey 5-bed townhouse and I had my very own office on the top floor. We downsized to move out of town so now I share an office with my husband. He works from home and I’m currently job-hunting but we do manage to share quite well as he’s not too noisy! It’s the smallest bedroom in the house although it does manage to just fit two desks and chairs in it. My desk would not be my choice of desk if I had the money or space but it serves a purpose well; especially when we bought the ‘hutch’ – the little shelving unit round my screen. I do, however, adore my sets of wooden drawers. These were from Wilkinson years ago. I have a bit of a thing for drawers.

I had to tidy my desk before this photo although it still looks messy! It has my writing essentials on it for my current work in progress (WIP) – the gorgeous PaperBlank notepad with the chapter plans, a blank notepad where I scribble down questions or potential inconsistencies to resolve later and a diary so I can keep track of where in the year we are (don’t want to talk about the crisp autumn leaves only to realise later that it should be Christmas!) As I’m currently sending my first novel out to agents, I have a copy of The Writer’s Handbook, the Directory of Publishing and another notepad to scribble down what each agent wants.

On the top of mu hutch I have a stack of “how to” books about writing and, to the left on top of the drawers, I have other writing essentials – my dictionary, thesaurus and a baby names book which I bought when I was pregnant but has been invaluable for writing! Plus lots of photos, teddies, notepads, pens and, perhaps a bit randomly, a bottle of air freshener for those moments when one of my house cats, Pixie, decides to use the litter tray. She’s never quite sussed how to cover her business and it can be very grim! If I’m mid-flow with my writing, I don’t want to have to dash downstairs to cover things up so a quick spray of the freshener holds it off … for a short while!

ALEX:

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I write in this green chair with my laptop on my knee. Before I bought my laptop I wrote at the desk in my spare room. I was astounded by how much more creative I felt when I sat in a comfy chair next to a big window. All my books for writing (dictionary, thesaurus and the book of spells and magic) and my files of research are in the blue box so that they’re close at hand. The other essential piece of equipment is, of course, a cup of tea!

HELEN R:

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Since I started taking my writing seriously I’ve gone from the kitchen table, to the dining table, to the back room of the garage and finally to my walk in wardrobe! The room at the back of the garage had its advantages: completely separate from the house and therefore quiet with no risk of interruptions. But those pesky cockroaches paid me a visit on two occasions and also I didn’t want to leave the laptop out there so it meant packing everything up at the end of each writing session. It also got pretty hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. The walk in wardrobe works well…it means I’m at the opposite end of the house to everyone else, there are two sets of doors to block out noise, and I can also spy cold callers coming down the driveway and so I know whether to avoid answering the door or not. One day I really hope to have a dedicated study once again…with a view would be awesome 🙂

JO:

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Truth is that I write anywhere and everywhere, from the car (not while I’m driving, obviously!) to the beach on holiday.  However, at this time of year, my favourite writing spot is in the alcove of the sitting room, next to the wood burning stove and not in my study, which is nowhere near as cosy!

JAXX:

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This is the tip – I mean room where I write. Not allowed past the door or else I’d have to kill you.

HELEN P:

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This is where I do most of my writing. It’s an antique bureau I picked up in brilliant shop in Bowness for £46. It’s tucked into the corner of the living room. Right next to the 50″ television. Thankfully I have the ability to switch off to the noise from the tele, kids, husband, dogs and can lose myself into my writing world.

Over to you. If you’re a writer, where do you write? If you’re a reader, where do you enjoy to read instead? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Julie xx

The Saturday Spotlight – Post Publication Progress!

If anyone read my last post they will know that I had turned into a nervous wreck in the run up to my debut novel ‘The Ghost House’ being published. I had arranged a small launch party because everyone told me I should and I also thought that this was an occasion in my life that should be marked. So I arranged it for the night before the release and I’m so glad I did, it went by in a bit of a blur. Everyone turned up who I’d asked and we filled the lovely, quaint café in the middle of the Abbey to bursting. I felt very humbled when my friends turned up with cards, flowers and gifts. I was the one thanking them but it touched me deeply. It was a lovely experience having so many people I care about in the same room. I didn’t do a reading; I had no need to because I know almost everyone had already ordered my book. I did take some large postcards with the book cover and blurb on the back. And it made me smile when they all wanted one signing, my first and probably last autographs that I’ll ever have to sign.

I was shattered and in bed that night by eleven. I woke up at three in the morning to get a drink of water and made the mistake of checking my Kindle to see if my book had arrived. I wish I hadn’t, I felt my stomach lurch when I saw it on there. This was it. Everyone who had bought it was going to be able to read it. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I ended up in Asda half an hour later, shopping. The good thing was I didn’t have to queue up, at that time in the morning there was only the staff and me. I finally went home and back to bed only to get up at seven, I had to be at work for nine.

I got a Facebook message from a friend to tell me she had been up all night reading my book and couldn’t put it down. She loved it, Phew. I know she probably wouldn’t have said she hated it either but still. I got another message from a friend who was on holiday in Dubai; she was half way through it, couldn’t put it down and loved it. I messaged her to ask, ‘Really?’ She messaged back, ‘Really!’ Work was so busy I barely had time to think about it the rest of the day but I went home and looked to see I had my first five star review on Amazon, oh how I smiled.

The next few days more and more people told me they were reading and loving it, it’s a good job my head didn’t swell up, but I’m not that kind of person. I was just grateful that people who were reading the story I had worked so hard on were enjoying it. My lovely writeromantics have been reading it and they have enjoyed it, I’ve even managed to scare a few people which is what I hoped for, only in the nicest possible way of course but I wanted my book to send chills down peoples spines and it seems to be doing the job.

On twitter I read a tweet by the lovely Donna Trinder who is a book blogger and she tweeted she was reading The Ghost House and didn’t want to put it down, it was AMAZING. That was the pivotal moment for me, it made me realise that actually my book must be pretty good. Today I got a tweet from my publishers The Ghost House had reached #9 in the Amazon Contemporary Horror Chart. I whooped, rushed home to check the computer and saw that the only books in front of mine were by Stephen King, James Herbert and Susan Hill. I have never been so honoured or thrilled in my life. So would I do it all again? YES, YES, YES 🙂

Helen P

The Wednesday Wondering – Tears & Laughter

After last week’s extra special Wednesday Wondering, we’re back to the normal format this week but I just have to pause for a moment to say that, if you haven’t already downloaded Helen Phifer’s ‘The Ghost House’, you really should. Click on last week’s Wondering for all the links as it is fabulous. Most of the Write Romantics are either reading it now or have read it and the consensus is it’s a five-star read; gripping and a little scary too. And we’re not just saying that because we love Helen! We genuinely loved it.

 So, back to this week’s Wondering. I posed the question this time and we’ve gone back to a book-themed question:

Out of all the books you’ve read throughout your lifetime, which book has made you cry the most and which one has made you laugh the most?

I think this may be the first Wondering where we have a response from all the Write Romantics! Here’s what we all have to say:

  

LYNNE:

The book that made me cry was ‘Tess’ by Thomas Hardy, because Tess so didn’t deserve what fate doled out to her and Evelyn Waaugh’s ‘Decline and Fall’ is my funniest. In it Lord Circumference runs over a boy and then denounces the child who he ran over as ‘a fool of a boy’ as if it’s all his fault!!!

 

HELEN R:

The book that had me the closest to tears was Jodi Piccoult’s ‘Handle With Care’. Her research skills must be amazing and I think the author is well known for not necessarily providing happy endings. I was completely drawn into the characters’ worlds, no matter what age or sex they were and I remember feeling so drained when I finished reading it.

The book that had me laughing was Jane Lovering’s ‘Hubble Bubble’. I wish I could think of a specific example, but she has some very witty analogies in there and some typical English sarcasm which I think it is why it appealed.

I love to read different authors’ books for the reason that each individual voice has something different to offer whether it’s humour, tugging at the heart strings or an in depth story with subject matter that I knew nothing about beforehand.

 

JAXX:

Two books sprung to mind immediately, so I’ll go with those although it was a while ago that I read either. The saddest one was ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold. I remember it well because I was on a weekend away with my old workmates and all I wanted to do was keep on reading the darn book. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else and in the end, very rudely, got it out of my bag and started reading it at the dinner table. The one that made me laugh the most was ‘Rachel’s Holiday’ by Marian Keyes. It was one of her early ones and right in the throes of funny ‘chic lit’ before it became a bit jaded. Not sure if it would stand up to a re-read as I think my tastes have changed but I remember being bowled over by her wit and humour. More recently, if I can have two- I would recommend ‘You Had me at Hello’ by Mhairi McFarlane. I could identify so clearly with the characters and it was poignantly funny – and I wish I’d written it!

 

JO:

Jodi Picoult’s ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ – not only does Anna feel the burden of helping her sister Kate, but she has to fight against her parents to fulfill her sister’s wishes, whilst they don’t understand the reasons why. If you’ve only seen the film and not read the book, I won’t spoil the twist at the end (which is not in the movie) – but tragic doesn’t come close!

Sue Townsend’s ‘Adrian Mole’s Diaries’ – I just love these, from when he was 13 and three quarters right up until his forties. Adrian and I have ‘grown up’ in parallel and, if I ever think my life is not going according to plan, I just have to dip into one of his diaries to cheer up and realise that, in comparison, things aren’t going so bad after all!

  

HELEN P:

This is a tough one as I don’t tend to read books which make me cry. I’m far too soft and dwell on it for days. It would probably be the book of ET. I’m sure I read this when I was about twelve, but the film made me cry for three days – I’ve never cried so much in my life.

The one that made me laugh the most is probably ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’. Made me chuckle away to myself. She reminds me so much of me only without the lovely Mr Darcy or the naughty Daniel Cleaver……..Ooh if only 😉 

  

DEIRDRE:

The first book that made me cry was ‘Black Beauty’.  As it was so (very!) long ago I can’t remember now if it has a happy ending or not but I always think of it as a sad book and it was quite a revelation to me at the time to discover that books could have such a powerful affect on your feelings.  Recently I read Jo-Jo Moyes’ ‘Me Before You’.  I didn’t actually cry but I felt so sad I almost wished I hadn’t read it.  It was the sheer hopelessness of the situation and of course the way it ended, which I won’t say now in case someone’s half way through it.

As for books that made me laugh, again going back in time, though not so far as ‘Black Beauty’, I remember laughing out loud at Tom Sharpe’s ‘Wilt’, and the books that followed in the same series, ‘Porterhouse Blue’ etc.  I found ‘Wilt’ particularly funny because he taught general studies in a technical college.  I worked in one at the time and found so much of it true to life as well as totally hilarious.

  

RACHAEL:

The book that made me laugh most was ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’. And I love the film too! At the other end of the scale, the book that made me cry has to be ‘Gone with the Wind’.

 

ALEX:

‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ is the book that made me cry the most. It’s a heart breaking book about a man who has a massive stroke and ends up with locked-in syndrome.  He could only communicate by moving his eyelids.  He dictated the book letter by letter by using only his eyelids.  It’s an amazing book about loss, grief and coming to terms with your own mortality.

I find it harder to remember which books make me laugh a lot (probably because there’s been a lot more of them). Most recently ‘You had me at hello’ by Mhairi McFarlane genuinely made me laugh out loud.  ‘Charlotte Street’ by Danny Wallace also had some hilarious moments.  I’d definitely recommend both of them if you feel in need of a good giggle.

 

JULIE:

And the winner for the funniest book is ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ as I’m going for that one too. Lots of books have made me smile, others have made me giggle a bit but that one made me absolutely guffaw out loud. I remember reading it on holiday in Majorca with two friends. We all read it, one after the other, and I was the last one to get it. I was gutted that I had no idea what the other two had been giggling at but I finally understood when it was my turn!

As for crying, I can’t remember the last book that made me sob. I know the first one was ‘Flowers in the Attic’ by Virginia Andrews but I generally cry at any book that has a death in it or has a protagonist going through a particularly tough time as, if it’s well written, I really feel their pain. I have Jojo Moyes’s ‘Me Before You’ on my TBR pile and I’ve been avoiding reading it as I know I’ll be absolutely bawling!

 

Do you agree with any of our books? What have you read that’s made you laugh or cry? Please join in. We’d love to hear from you.

Happy Wednesday!

Julie xx