Writing Challenge Day 18: Characters' pet peeves

Alison, peeved

Ha! We all have pet peeves and I’m pretty sure we pass these on in our writing however carefully we try to view the world from each individual character’s point of view. Our own values, thoughts and emotional responses will seep through, so I must admit that mine probably do, although the different characters will express this differently.

Here are a few excerpts from the Roma Nova novels to illustrate, in the first two, Carina’s ‘peeve’ and in the second two Aurelia’s. Each speaks in the first person.

Carina has an emotional sense of fair play even when it’s to her detriment to say so or when she can’t do anything about it. Although she considers she’s acting from the best motives, this can give her a slightly warped sense of what’s right and what’s wrong if she thinks ‘the rules’ and/or standard procedures are wrong.

Here, she’s disobeyed standing orders for a dare, one involving courage and determination, both qualities essential for a young Praetorian officer. But she got caught so she earned seven days in the cells as a punishment.

 The very worst was the boredom. Then the lack of exercise. I stomped up and down my cell every day for an hour morning and evening, inventing new curses for Conrad. He was my commanding officer. I knew he was correct, but I still thought it was unfair. My fists balled during my pacing for the first two days. I merely strode the next two. By day six, I had relaxed my shoulders and when, thank Juno, the door opened on the morning of the eighth day, I had accepted it. I wasn’t happy, but I’d accepted it.         (CARINA)

Carina, peeved

Several years later on, she’s much more responsible and senior, but still prone to react to her feelings. She and Conrad had an argument at home the evening before about a family matter, so she’s still a bit sensitive even in their work environment:

‘This brings me neatly to the second thing,’ Conrad said. ‘Effective tonight at 18.00 you’re relieved of your command of Operations.’

No!

I stared at him. I couldn’t move. I ran his words through my head again. Why? Gods, it was unfair. Just because I’d criticised a useless but well-connected old lush. Was Conrad getting personal here? Was he resentful of how I’d reacted to Nicola’s letter? No, that was so out of character for him. I had no option but to accept it, but throwing me out of the job he knew I loved was unbelievably severe.

Then I spotted tiny creases around the edge of his mouth that had nothing to do with his tiredness.

‘You’re taking over Training and Personnel on promotion, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Congratulations.’  

‘You—’

‘Yes?’

I swallowed. Hard.

‘You… you surprised me, that’s all.’

He burst out laughing. ‘You are such a liar.’

‘Yeah, well. That wasn’t nice.’

‘But fun.’ He smiled.

I didn’t think so, but he had a more robust sense of humour than I did; like most men. He went over to his coffee machine and brought me back a cupful to which he promptly added a slug of brandy.

‘For the shock, of course,’ he said and winked.                                   (SUCCESSIO)

—–

Aurelia, however,  is a blood-and-bone Roman and much more self-disciplined, but she still feels things keenly. She’s impatient when people won’t make an effort and won’t let go when she thinks somebody’s covering something up or deceiving her.

‘What?’ Grilling the household was basic procedure. I turned to the prefect [chief police officer]. ‘What are your people playing at? Can’t they conduct a straightforward investigation?’

‘My officers know their job. They might not be as glamorous as the Praetorians, but they carry out solid procedure methodically. If they didn’t ask, they didn’t think it necessary.’ His eyes tightened and his face took on a red flush. ‘I don’t think there’s any more to be said or done. We’ll be in touch if there are any developments. I bid you good day.’ He turned on his heel and strutted out. Anger and surprise robbed me of the ability to reply.

Frankly, I didn’t expect to hear anything further and I didn’t. The vigiles were more interested in tidying up paperwork and submitting high clear-up statistics than actually solving cases.

But the prefect’s strange attitude from the beginning worried me. I managed to speak to the justice minister for five minutes after the council meeting the following week. She frowned when I told her about the prefect’s manner, but said she was sure they had investigated thoroughly. I asked if she would let me see the file – I had the required security clearance ­– but she refused on confidentiality and personnel grounds. Faced with the steely, direct look, I had nothing else I could say, but as she strode off to her ministry car, I was left with the feeling something wasn’t as it should be.    (AURELIA)

Aurelia, unamused

For Aurelia, her duty comes first, but she’s often conflicted. When the weak Imperatrix Severina sparks a constitutional crisis, Aurelia has had enough and will not compromise the safety of Roma Nova.

‘If we are citing legalities,’ I said, ‘then you may well remember that as head of the Twelve Families, not only am I perfectly entitled to intervene where there is a conflict, it is my duty.’ I tried, I sincerely tried, to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. ‘Or perhaps you are not familiar with one of the most basic of our founding laws?’

I kept my eyes on Severina’s face. She flinched, strode towards me and raised her hand.

‘I wouldn’t, Severina,’ I said. ‘Really, I wouldn’t.’ I stood my ground, unmoving, and stared at her. My heart beat faster. She was so unpredictable, she might do it. I braced myself for the blow.

Her skin reddened. The next instant, her lower lip trembled. She dropped her hand. Fabianus moved to her side, darted an angry glance at me. Severina’s face crumpled. She burst into tears and allowed Fabianus to draw her down onto the sofa. He put his arm round her and hugged her to him.

I stayed where I was. For once, I wasn’t going to give in to her emotional blackmail. She used this learned helplessness to muddle through awkward situations, getting others to solve problems and sort out messes for her. If only she’d been more diligent, learned at least the rudiments of governing from shadowing her mother. If only she could see beyond the surface of things. If only she had a gram of political common sense. Normally, I’d go to her, comfort her, apologise and say I’d take care of everything. Well, she’d crossed the line in the sand. No more.                         (INSURRECTIO)

—–

Impatience, strong emotion reaction and frustration are part of what makes us human; giving characters pet peeves makes them vibrant and relatable. And it’s fun to write them when they are less than wonderfully behaved!

Writing challenges so far:

Days 16 & 17: Favourite outfits (combined)
Day 15: The many-hatted author
Day 14: Show your workplace
Day 13: A funny family story. Or not
Day 12: Early bird or night owl?
Day 11: Favourite writing snacks/chocolate porn
Day 10: Post an old picture of yourself
Day 9: Post 5 random facts about you
Day 8: What’s your writing process?
Day 7: Introduce your ‘author friend’
Day 6: How the writing all began
Day 5: What inspired the book I’m working on
Day 4: The setting for the new Roma Nova book
Day 3: Introducing the main characters Julia and Apulius
Day 2: Introduce your work in progress
Day 1: Starting with revealing information

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Writing Challenge Days 16 and 17: Favourite outfits

Haha! I’m not a follower of fashion and tend to wear clothes for comfort such as jeans and top so instead of showing you my favourite outfit (Day16) and my character’s (Day 17) I’m combining them.

Egged on (albeit genteely) by fellow authors going to the 2019 Eboracum Roman Festival, I decided to try to put together the kind of uniform worn by Carina and Aurelia during their service in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces in my Roma Nova novels. Others were wearing Roman dress of the period of their books so for me it was 20th/21st century Roma Nova.

I refer often enough to the PGSF ‘beige-and-black’ indoor uniform – barrack dress in British terms or service dress for US friends – in all nine books, so I thought I’d better put up or shut up.

Where to start? 
My own ‘stored-in-a box-somewhere-in-the-basement-ready-for-the-apocalypse-recall’ uniform was completely wrong – NATO olive green, so that was a no-no, even if I could still get into it (which I couldn’t). On to the Internet. The previous US navy service dress looked promising, but was very difficult to get  the right sizing and one supplier wanted $57 shipping for trousers and shirt with 28 day delivery. Er, no.

Laurence Mousseron and her shop, Surplus Militaire Armurie et Cotellerie, Thouars

Laurence Mousseron and her shop, Surplus Militaire Armurerie et Coutellerie, Thouars

So I went to the local military surplus shop which was more of a hunting supplies outlet. I wasn’t optimistic, but the owner, a charming woman called Laurence Mousseron was helpfulness personified. She didn’t have the shirt in, but she would get it, she said.

Two problems: D-Day anniversary approaching when demand from re-enactors was strong, and my own three-week deadline before Eboracum. Not optimistic again. But talking to Laurence, I discovered that her emporium was well known outside the town, the region and even internationally. I had no idea it was such a well-known and respected supplier!  She came up trumps.

Basic uniform
The shirt and trousers are very slightly different shades of beige – I had no idea beige varied so much! But with a black belt separating them, it was scarcely noticeable. The BDU (Battle Dress Uniform) trousers had drawstrings at the bottom leg edges hem to form cuffs to go over para boots, but out came my needle and some beige thread to transform them into standard hems.

The black round neck T-shirt Not just any T-shirt; these are M&S T-shirts. 😉 A quick pop in to the store when I was in the UK for CrimeFest and the most helpful assistant I’ve ever met even dug me a second one out from the storeroom.

The black belt with quick release catch came from Laurence. I also bought a black ‘woolly pulley’ from her just in case York turned out to be cold. This is not unknown; I was a student based in Leeds for four years and I knew very well that Yorkshire could be ‘parky’. But in May 2019, the weather was glorious!

Then I hit a real obstacle – the cap. Apart from Nazi SS ones (which would have given me the creeps to wear), I couldn’t find black anywhere; neither could Laurence. Time pressed. Back on the fabulous Internet and by accident I found a sewing pattern for a side cap on Pinterest. Burrowing in my material box, I hoicked out some black trouser material, and found  some spare plastic flyscreen netting for stiffener. (Don’t laugh!) I have a large-ish head (no impolite comments, please) so I expanded the pattern, cut out the pieces and sewed it. It was a demon with the double sides, but I got there. And yes, I did sew my name inside. Old habits, like old soldiers, die hard.

The insignia
I had tackled this first; if I couldn’t find a crowned eagle badge for the shirt pocket the whole project was stuffed.

I had been on the Internet, Etsy to be precise. There were loads of double headed crowned eagles, but few single ones. At last I tracked one down to Bulgaria for 4.50 euros! A central shield was missing, probably an enamel plaque, but that was fixable. Several layers of mixed gold nail polish later to cover the grey metal and the empty space had disappeared

The gold oak leaves on the shirt collar points  and on the hat  –  a PGSF major’s rank badges – came from an Etsy supplier in the US. The purple leather wrist band with the gold stud – a bit of military affectation. 😉

My very sincere thanks go to Laurence Mousseron – she went beyond standard customer service and smiled all the way through.

Oh, and did it work? I think so… But once back in a uniform, I had to try and pull my stomach in and square back my shoulders – not always completely successfullly – but it caused some discussion.

Have you ever dressed up in your favourite character from a book or film?

Alison with Laurence Mousseron in the Surplus Militaire Armurie et Cotellerie, Thouars

Alison with Laurence Mousseron in the Surplus Militaire Armurerie et Coutellerie, Thouars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing challenges so far:

Day 15: The many-hatted author
Day 14: Show your workplace
Day 13: A funny family story. Or not
Day 12: Early bird or night owl?
Day 11: Favourite writing snacks/chocolate porn
Day 10: Post an old picture of yourself
Day 9: Post 5 random facts about you
Day 8: What’s your writing process?
Day 7: Introduce your ‘author friend’
Day 6: How the writing all began
Day 5: What inspired the book I’m working on
Day 4: The setting for the new Roma Nova book
Day 3: Introducing the main characters Julia and Apulius
Day 2: Introduce your work in progress
Day 1: Starting with revealing information

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Writing challenge Day 15: The many-hatted writer

Today’s challenge is : ‘We all wear many hats. what are some of yours?’

I’ve worn many hats in my life: daughter, wife, mother; student, civil servant, soldier, translator, company owner, local councillor, editor; friend, colleague, trainer, mentor, traveller, walker, non-resident, explorer; photographer, embroiderer, gardener. Currently I write, give workshops, write a column and speak at events (More about this here). Generally, I hope I’ve been pleasant and helpful wearing all these hats.

A few hats from my life…

Hat that won a competition in 1999 at a chamber of Commerce event in 1999

The Santa hat 2014

The new officer, April 1982

Grand Canyon hat, 2015

Is this a hat? 2018

Roma Nova sidecap, Eboracum Roman Festival, York 2019

Sending myself up at Tank Museum, Saumur 2017

Mother of the Bridegroom, 2019

More seriously, now I have left the formal workforce and become a freelance writer of novels, short stories, blogs and guest posts, all these parts of my life, hatless or hatted, have contributed to my current ‘hat’ as a writer. One hat I have never worn is that of idleness. Probably because I’m a chatterbox and a fidget…

Writing challenges so far:

Day 14: Show your workplace
Day 13: A funny family story. Or not
Day 12: Early bird or night owl?
Day 11: Favourite writing snacks/chocolate porn
Day 10: Post an old picture of yourself
Day 9: Post 5 random facts about you
Day 8: What’s your writing process?
Day 7: Introduce your ‘author friend’
Day 6: How the writing all began
Day 5: What inspired the book I’m working on
Day 4: The setting for the new Roma Nova book
Day 3: Introducing the main characters Julia and Apulius
Day 2: Introduce your work in progress
Day 1: Starting with revealing information

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Liz St. John: Meet the ancestors - The Lydiard Chronicles

I’m delighted to welcome to my blog historical fiction writer Elizabeth St.John who spends her time between California, England, and the past. To inform her writing, she’s tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle to Lydiard Park, and Castle Fonmon to the Tower of London.

Although the family has sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it’s hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s ancestors still reside there—in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their legacy. And the occasional ghost.  But that’s a different story …

Speaking of stories we’ll both be contributing to an anthology of historical stories about betrayal due out in November.

But now over to Elizabeth!

“It was on the 29th day of January, in the year of our Lord 1619–20, that in the Tower of London I was at about four of the clock in the morning, brought forth to behold the ensuing light. My mother was Lucy the youngest daughter of Sir John St. John, of Lydiard Tregoze, in Wiltshire.”

When I read this entry many years ago for the first time in Lucy Hutchinson’s memoir notebooks archived in Nottingham Castle, I was elated. Not only had I found another thread in my ancestry research, but this woman was born in the Tower of London. Amazing! The more I read, the more excited I became. Here she describes her mother, Lucy St.John:

“She was of a noble family, being the youngest daughter of Sir John St. John, of Lidiard Tregooze in the county of Wilts; her father and mother died when she was not above five years of age, and yet at her nurse’s, from whence she was carried to be brought up in the house of the Lord Grandison, her father’s youngest brother; an honourable and excellent person, but married to a lady so jealous of him, and so ill-natured in her jealous fits, to anything that was related to him, that her cruelties to my mother exceeded the stories of stepmothers.”

Lucy St.John’s House within the Tower of London

The Tower of London, an orphan and a wicked stepmother. Now I was truly hooked. And so began my journey, researching and reconstructing the characters in my first novel, The Lady of the Tower. As an amateur historian, I committed to using primary sources for the evidence of their lives; and then weaving together the facts with fiction. Lucy Hutchinson’s memoirs were such a rich resource that I continued to use it for my second and third novels in The Lydiard Chronicles: my Civil War epic By Love Divided, and my novel of women spies during the Restoration, Written in their Stars.

I’ve been visiting Lydiard Park—the St.John family ancestral home in Wiltshire—since I was a child, and am part of the Friends society, preserving its unique history. The portraits within the house of Lucy St.John’s brother John, his wife (Lucy’s best friend) Anne, and her sister Barbara were quite lovely. And, of course, the extraordinary polyptych in the Church of St. Mary’s, with its unique portrait of all six sisters, was a writer’s dream. It helped me put faces to my words.

My research for The Lydiard Chronicles was a long and meandering journey. I visited the National Archives, combed online scholarly sources, and spent countless hours transcribing wills, court documents, letters and other written evidence. I had some exciting finds:

  • a letter outlining Will St.John’s pirating escapade and his deep friendship with Sir Walter Raleigh
  • Coded messages and false names from the family during the Civil War – several were founding members of the Sealed Knot spy ring
  • Sir Allen Apsley’s will and testament where he declares his love for his wife, Lucy St.John

Touching Allen’s signature, I felt such an emotional connection to Lucy St.John and all that she was to him. Here’s a heart-wrenching and loving extract from Sir Allen Apsley’s will and testament:

“If my deare wife (unto whom never man was more bound) take any distast I doe earnestly entreat her to forgive mee and I desire all the world should know that shee is a religious and vertuous lady a most kind wife.”

In those days, writing a will was also an opportunity to make peace with God. Sir Allen Apsley’s Calvinist testament clearly afforded him the means to make his apology for the challenges he imposed on his beloved Lucy.

I am truly fortunate that my family is one that left its mark on the pages of English history. Following their paper trail, discovering their portraits and walking through the rooms they once inhabited has been a discovery of my own heritage. And as I’ve married my passion for history and joy of writing, I’m always conscious of the ties binding me to these people who lived so long ago. Ancestors whose words, deeds and lives I now share with my readers.

Goodness, this is a truly epic story and one you will find in Elizabeth’s exciting books.

Connect with Elizabeth:
Website: www.elizabethjstjohn.com
Elizabeth’s Amazon Page: Elizabeth St.John
Follow her on Twitter: @ElizStJohn
Join her on Facebook: ElizabethJStJohn
Instagram: @ElizabethJStJohn

Start the Lydiard Chronicles…
London, 1609. When Lucy St.John, a beautiful highborn orphan is seduced by the Earl of Suffolk, she never imagines the powerful enemy she creates in his beloved sister, the Countess of Rochester. Or that her own sister Barbara would betray her and force Lucy to leave the court in disgrace.

Lucy fights her way back and through an unexpected love match, becomes mistress of the Tower of London. Living inside the walls of the infamous prison, she defies plague, political intrigues and tragic executions to tend to aristocratic prisoners and criminals alike.

Now married into the immensely powerful Villiers family, Barbara unites with the king’s favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, to raise the fortunes of Lucy and her family to dizzying heights. But with great wealth comes treachery, leaving Lucy to fight for her survival—and her honour—in a world of deceit and debauchery.         Amazon UK   Amazon.com

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Writing Challenge Day 14: Show your workplace

workplace

I hope you didn’t expect a tidy and sleek office?

My office is a place full of paper, books, notes, pens, files, cup of coffee, lights, noticeboard, etc. Our super-tough birchwood work stations came over to France with us ten years ago, plus the IKEA office cupboards which used to adorn my UK office when I ran my translation business.

We converted part of the enormous basement into an office to fit the furniture, et voilà! My IT engineer husband fitted network cabling, wifi, regular routers, a second wireless access point and all those techie things you need. We have two HP printers, one colour, one black & white laser, all inherited from the UK business. We will never need to buy a paper clip, filing tray or ring binder ever again.

Behind all this material description runs a theme; having a properly equipped and comfortable workplace. It can be a ‘shed’, a spare bedroom, part of a living room or extension. Even if it’s a ‘portable’ office, you can organise it so it can be easily set up whenever you want. Multi-tiered trolleys are excellent mobile storage spaces for the latter. (IKEA does a great one.)

Sometimes, when my back misbehaves and it’s too painful to sit for hours, I have a stand made from on old occasional table – thank you, dear husband – which stands on my normal desk.

Each writer has their level of untidiness/tidyness – that’s a personality trait – but each of us must make our own, dedicated personalised space so that our muse feels comfortable enough to come out to play.

——-

 

 

Writing challenges so far:

Day 13: A funny family story. Or not
Day 12: Early bird or night owl?
Day 11: Favourite writing snacks/chocolate porn
Day 10: Post an old picture of yourself
Day 9: Post 5 random facts about you
Day 8: What’s your writing process?
Day 7: Introduce your ‘author friend’
Day 6: How the writing all began
Day 5: What inspired the book I’m working on
Day 4: The setting for the new Roma Nova book
Day 3: Introducing the main characters Julia and Apulius
Day 2: Introduce your work in progress
Day 1: Starting with revealing information

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.