Writing Challenge Day 13: A funny family story. Or not.

Fellow scribe Anna Belfrage and I outside the Nobel Prize Institute waiting to be called in to collect our joint literature prize. Such is my sense of humour.

Todays challenge is called ‘Tell us a funny family story’.

Hm… My whole life has been both strange and ordinary as were those of my parents and as is my current life with my own family. Humour, quirky tales and jokes have been present throughout

Although writers draw on their own background for characters, traits, events, setting and even dialogue, they are quite shy of those inner, private events that involve their closest relatives. I am no exception.

Why is this?

Humour, whether slapstick or dry wit, ironic or downright rude, has a tinge of cruelty within it. We often laugh at something because we are relieved we didn’t take that pratfall, turn up in completely inappropriate dress or say something we thought innocent but was totally inappropriate.

Whilst I laugh myself silly at political satire as in Have I Got News for You, or smile at the antics in the TV comedy Dads’ Army or chuckle with Jane Austen at Mr Collings in Pride and Prejudice, I experience a roll of sympathy for the ‘victim’ of the situation. They are human, they worry about their self-image, their security, their job and their family, just as we do. We just haven’t been picked on this time.

‘GSOH’ appears in many dating apps and the ability to laugh together is a huge asset in a potential partner, but a good sense of humour for one person can seem something entirely different for another and sometimes devastating.

Me, I always find cats and kittens hysterically funny as well as endearing. I like clever memes, and witty dialogue, but no, I’m not going to tell tales on my family, especially that time when my father asked Julius Caesar the way to the forum.

Writing challenges so far:

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.

Helen Hollick: Fact vs. fiction – the historical fiction writer's research dilemma

This week’s guest is one making a very welcome return. Helen Hollick is a multi-published author and indie advocate. She lives on a 13 acre 18th century farm in North Devon, with a variety of pets and her family. For over twenty years, she has delighted readers with stories of Arthur Pendragon, Saxon kings and queens, the Norman Conquest and roughish pirates. She doubts she will ever find the time – or inclination – to retire.

Helen is also the genius behind the Discovering Diamonds Reviews website, which reviews exciting new historical fiction, mostly indie, but includes traditionally published stories as well. A true treasure island of reading!

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

Over to Helen!

Writing historical fiction has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that the plot is ready-made – the events of history dictate what, when and where it happened. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can even discover why it happened. You also have a handy character list: the real people who existed during the particular era or event that you want to write about. The disadvantages are that to be taken seriously historical fact should be adhered too, which is a bit of a bind if you want to deviate a little with one or two of your characters – unless you are writing alternate history, of course. Even then, the facts have to be kept in mind because alluding to what is known gives the fiction that feel of believability. (Alison’s Roma Nova series as a very good example!)

The problems start when there is little fact to go on. On the other page, (see what I did there!) sometimes, lack of fact can become an advantage for the fiction writer. Providing the background facts as facts, the fiction can be slotted in nicely, even seamlessly, so that the reader isn’t quite sure where fact finishes and fiction starts. There are a couple of periods that fit this bill nicely: Richard III and the Princes in the Tower. Did he murder them? Did someone else do the deed? Or maybe they weren’t killed anyway. The possibilities for a fiction writer are open-ended here, and no one can gainsay you because no one knows the truth. But the research has to be done – in depth. Get one small thing wrong and the whole thrust of the story gets blown out the window.

Another good story-plot is King Arthur. He really does live up to legend of ‘living forever’ … he has been kept alive in the pages of books, and look how many diverse novels and stories there are about him! From Roman centurion to vampires and science fiction via Walt Disney, you name it, Arthur’s done it or been involved in it. And the interesting ‘fact’ is … Arthur probably never existed. (Although he might have done…)

Panorama from Tintagel Castle – romantic certainly, but fact or fiction as Arthur’s castle? (Photo: Michal Stehlík via Wikipedia)

My first novel was my version of the King Arthur story (only the manuscript turned out to be enough for three books, the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy). I had never liked the Medieval stories of Arthur, the knights in armour, courtly love, Guinevere’s betrayal of Arthur – or his acceptance of adultery. Nor did I see Arthur as an old man who would go off and leave his kingdom to fall to pieces. Nor did I see Gwenhwyfar (as I call her) as an eye-lash fluttering simpleton, who fell for that arrogant braggart, Lancelot. My Gwen knew better, and myArthur was to be far more of a character than that Lancelot chap. (Or any of the fictitious knights, come to that).

I saw Arthur as a man who had to fight hard to gain his kingdom (and his wife) and fight even harder to keep them. A warlord, a capable, efficient commander, a man who did his best to hold things together while the remnants of Roman Britain were falling apart around him. Much of the Trilogy is, naturally, fiction. There was a lot to write, a lot to make up. But to create the illusion of reality (like I said, Arthur probably never existed) I had to build the fiction around the facts. And finding the facts, in some cases (some eras) is not always easy. But find them you must. Even if your characters are entirely fictitious, (not all historical fiction has to be about real people who once existed – you are permitted to make them up!) Placing your characters, your story, in a believable setting, however, is the key. With no ‘facts’ about Arthur, I turned to what facts there were: Roman Britain.

Glastonbury Tor – Yns Witrin in the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy (Photo: Eugene Birchall via Wikipedia)

Back in the ‘80s, we didn’t have the World Wide Web, it was just getting started. (No Amazon or Facebook!) My research was done the ‘old fashioned’ way – via text books, visiting museums, libraries, and field trips. I made a 400-mile round trip just to visit a river crossing to ensure I had the right width and landscape. I visited fields where the only Roman remains were a few fragments corralled by a wire fence. But again, what was the landscape like? Hilly or flat? I trudged to the top of Glastonbury Tor to get a feel of what the land around looked like; it was easy to ignore the town and study the expanse of flat land that stretched away to distant, misty, hills along the horizon. That view would not have changed much in a couple of thousand years.

So too, I researched early Saxon England, piecing together the scanty facts of the aptly named ‘Dark Ages’, to form a believable backdrop to the story I wanted to tell. A story without the fantasy, with no Merlin, no magic, just the early Welsh legends of a man who might have existed. Bind your fictional imagination with the things that cannot be disputed.  Use the correct clothing for your period, the right weaponry. Check and double check the small incidentals – there’s a little bird, maybe, in one scene that your character is watching. If your story is set in England, this bird would be a wren not a hummingbird. Your heroine is picking flowers in a garden soon after the Norman Conquest. She might select some lavender or a few wild roses – but there would not be any tulips. Look for what your characters would have eaten or drank. Potatoes? At the court of King John? I don’t think so! What type of horses did they have? How did they spend their leisure hours?

Writing fiction is the art of being creative, of using your imagination to bring the unreal to feel like reality. But you can only do so by delving into research. There is one other disadvantage: you pause to thumb through a text book, or go to Wikipedia to look up some, small, thing, just to check you have it right… and find yourself, several hours later, utterly absorbed in discovering facts you did not know.

Be warned. Research can be interesting…

Sometimes literally ‘enthralling’! Thank you so much, Helen, for sharing your vast experience.

——————

Connect with Helen

Newsletter Subscription: http://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick
Amazon Author Page (Universal Link) http://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick
Twitter: @HelenHollick
Discovering Diamonds Historical Fiction Review Blog (submissions welcome) : https://discoveringdiamonds.blogspot.co.uk/

 

 

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 12: Early bird or night owl?

Photo: George A Shealy Jr

This is a weird question, not just for implications for me as a writer, but because I’ve sometimes been both. I decided to investigate further.

A night owl is a person who tends to stay up until late at night, or into the early hours of the morning, whereas an early bird, or lark, tends to be somebody who goes to sleep at a time considered early and then wakes early.

Night owls often stay awake past midnight, and extreme night owls may stay awake until just before or even after dawn. Night owls tend to feel most energetic just before they go to sleep at night.

A study among 1,000 adolescents by the University of Madrid found that night owls are better than early birds in intelligence, creative thinking and inductive reasoning. However, they lag behind larks in academic performance and they tend to have unhealthier eating habits, as well as higher rates of smoking.

Forced to arise earlier than their circadian rhythm dictates, night owls have a low body temperature and may require a few hours to feel really awake. They are unable to fall asleep as early as larks can. If it becomes a real social and professional problem, morning light therapy may be helpful in shifting sleep rhythms to some extent.

Weird factoids
The night-owl pattern is more prevalent in men than in women.
Night-owls are more likely to be single than in long-term relationships.

Most people tend to have a small or moderate tendency to be a night owl and that personal tendency can change over time, It’s influenced by multiple factors, including:

  • a genetic predisposition
  • the person’s age, with teenagers and young adults tending to be night owls more than young children or elderly people, and
  • the environment the person lives in.

While it’s been suggested that a person’s circadian rhythms may change over time, including dramatic changes that turn a morning lark to a night owl or vice versa, familial patterns of early or late waking seem to contradict this, and individual changes are likely on a smaller scale. If it becomes a real social and professional problem, morning light therapy may be helpful in shifting sleep rhythms to some extent.

Notable writing night owls include Michael Chabon, Marcel Proust, Gustave Flaubert, George Sand, Samuel Johnson, J R RTolkein and Franz Kafka. (But Churchill, Stalin and Castro were also night owls.)

Moving on…

Sky Lark (Alauda arvensis)

A lark or early bird usually gets up early in the morning and goes to bed early in the evening and tends to feel most energetic just after they get up in the morning.

Larks will generally not be able to sleep in, even if they’ve stayed up later than usual. They may feel hampered socially when continually confronted with events scheduled in the evening. (Or like me, they may just be getting older and can’t hack all-night parties.)

Age is also implicated in the way one becomes a morning or a night person.(Ah!) In general, people are more night owls in their teens but become larks later in life. Young children and infants also tend to be early risers, as all parents know!

Waking up early as a conscious act  is said to be a ‘productivity method’ – rising early and consistently in order to be able to accomplish more during the day. This method has been recommended since antiquity; people in those times rose with the sun, did their work by daylight hours and went to bed at sunset. The philosopher Aristotle said, ‘It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.’

The proverb ‘The early bird gets the worm‘ suggests that getting up early will lead to success during the day. But James Thurber, in his book Fables for our Time, ended the Fable of the Shrike: ‘Early to rise and early to bed, makes a Shrike healthy, and wealthy, and dead‘.

Such universal recommendations to get up early may make some people with different natural sleep patterns appear lazy or unmotivated which is rather unfair. Somebody used to a later natural start time could be being asked to wake up 3–4 hours early. Teenagers can fall into this category. They tend to require at least 9 full hours of sleep each night and changes to the endocrine system during puberty shift the natural wake time later in the morning. Enforcing early start times despite this can have negative effects on mood, academic performance, and social skills. (Nothing new there!)

Me? I only sleep for 6 hours, so I read until midnight, then usually wake in between 6 and 6.30 a.m. And I’ve always been like this. You see why I can’t decide whether I’m an owl or a lark. I hope I have the intelligence and creative thinking of a night owl and the academic performance and healthier eating habits of a lark. It may, of course, be the other way round…

But whether you are one or the other, and whether you are a writer or reader, we all benefit from a good night’s sleep.

——-

Writing challenges so far:

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 Day 11: Favourite writing snacks/chocolate porn

Yep, chocolate, the stereotypical writer’s munch.

The nuts and raisins, although also calorhorrific, are a nod towards healthiness. But these are both types of energy foods, so writers must need to replenish their energy levels fairly constantly. Thus must mean that it takes a lot of exhausting work to write.

So, what does chocolate do for us?

1. Flavonoids
Chocolate is chock-full(!) of flavonoids—naturally-occurring compounds found in the cacao plant, as well as in red wine, tea, fruits, and vegetables. Flavonoids may have potentially beneficial effects on cardiovascular health. They may also act as antioxidants, which are believed to prevent or delay certain damage to the body’s cells and tissues.

2. Good cholesterol
Chocolate and cocoa butter contain two main saturated fats (palmitic and stearic acids) and one mono-unsaturated fat (oleic acid). Unlike other saturated fats, stearic acid is a neutral fat and does not appear to raise bad cholesterol (LDL). Oleic acid is the same type of fat in olive oil and may actually raise good cholesterol levels (HDL).

3. Vitamins and minerals
Chocolate contains essential trace elements and nutrients such as iron, calcium and potassium, and vitamins A. B1, C, D, and E. Cocoa is also the highest natural source for Magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is linked with hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, joint problems and pre-menstrual tension (PMT or PMS).

4. The feel good factor
Chocolate contains small amounts of a chemical called phenylethylamine (PEA), which is a mild mood elevator. It’s the same chemical that our brain produces when we feel happy or in love. Chocolate stimulates the secretion of endorphins, producing a pleasurable sensation similar to the “runner’s high” a jogger feels after running several miles.The mild rush we get from this substance may be why some people say they’re addicted to chocolate

Surely nobody can argue with this?

 

Writing challenges so far:

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 Day 10: Post an old picture of yourself

Age is the weirdest thing. At seven, you are fresh-faced and hopeful; several decades on, bolder and more cynical. And in between several other things depending on where you are and what you’re doing. And what you have learnt.

Sometimes you have full make-up on and tummy pulled in; other times you don’t care or didn’t know somebody was taking a photo. Some mark life events, others a glimpse snatched in the moment.

1984, 1985 and 2013

But all photos reveal. Probably more than they should…

Writing challenges so far:

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.