To Review or Not Review

One of my targets is to review books. This is purely to widen my reading and perhaps help out another author. I may in theory set it up so that I can put in affiliate links with Amazon, but the tiniest thought of working that out sends me cross-eyed so the chances of me making anything from that are slim. All this to say that I don’t really have an agenda.

But then I thought – what if I upset another author? I know how hard it is to write a book. I know the feeling of being completely exposed as you offer up something that has taken so much to create. I would never normally write something cruel, but I can’t guarantee that I’d always get it right. I’d hate to upset anyone. Besides, I could get a huge amount of retaliatory negative reviews on my books and it could sink me. I’ve heard of authors withdrawing all their books after malicious campaigns.

I thought about reviewing books in genres that I don’t write, but I’m not sure that it would work. I’ve written a little horror, so not only would that be out but I write scarier than I read so I would be giving myself nightmares. I’ve written steampunk and fantasy which may not be in print now but I’ll be getting back out soon, and I’ve danced around urban fantasy and paranormal fantasy. I’m not reviewing romance as I refuse to admit some of the stuff that I read, and even a lot of the mainstream stuff makes me blush. The sci-fi that I’ve briefly delved into is either depressing, only suitable for very mature adults or science heavy and I don’t do science.

As things stand, I want to widen my reading and I want to encourage authors so I’ll continue to erratically review, at least for now. I’m making a commitment though – I’m only writing about books where I can award five stars and in genres that I enjoy. And I’ll keep sending good writing vibes out to all those out there who are conquering their blank piece of paper.

Writing Stuff: Sorting Stuff

I’m writing this in the hope that my ramblings on this matter are useful to someone else out there who hasn’t got a clue where to start. I can’t tell you how to organise, but I can show you the reasonings I’m using and that may help someone reading this to get their work to a good place.

I am incredibly disorganised and I’m ashamed of this. I’ve been quite sharp in a business setting, and for a while I wasn’t bad at home. I’m not so good now. Over the last week, I’ve had to face some brutal truths about my (lack of) organisational skills and my issues.

Perhaps the main issue is that I can’t help myself. I have to reinvent the wheel. I have to create my own system. The internet is awash with courses and aides to organise your writing but I can’t seem to pick one. The trouble is, none of them quite fit me. Again, this is nothing to be proud of and intensely irritating, but I need at least a chance of keeping up with the organisation so I need to work out what I’m doing. I’m starting with this.

It’s a ring binder with dividers. I’m still working it out, and I can see myself with multiple ring binders, but it’s a start. Here’s the plan, but it’s a work in progress.

First of all, I aim to record all of the writing I have kicking around on the laptop, on blogs and in books. This may take some time, but I think it’s worth it. It will help me group stuff together and hopefully track plots and characters across multiple books and short stories. I plan to make a list divided up into year and month with the title and a quick note about the setting. I’ll also record where they’re stored on the computer so that I have a fighting chance of finding them again and I can organise the stuff on the computer at the same time.

The second step is to create a new email address and to email all the work to that address. That way everything will be in two places – the sent folder of one email and the received folder in another. It can go in step with the recording of writing and I can note the date that the email was sent.

There is a third step, because I need to have something like a concordance of characters. I don’t want a character having blue eyes in one story then brown eyes later. I like to refer back to keep consistency about how characters, for example, drink their tea and coffee. Lord Marius has been indulging in hot drinks for over a decade, so I need to keep an eye on things. All main characters will have a full page with all their characteristics and a note of in which books and stories they appear. I can make a list of minor characters per book and cross reference if a character grows enough to need its own page.

I also need to have a list of ideas for books. Apart from the urban fantasy that I’ve self published, there are the steampunk and fantasy books that are currently out of print (working on that) which all have ideas that could run for a few more stories. Then they’re the stories where I have ideas, and have sketched some stuff out, but aren’t out there. They include, but are not limited to, fantasy romance, cosy werewolf bookshops and some very intense vampires with an accountant. As I am easily distracted, having a page where I have these ideas will hopefully keep me more focused.

Writing things down with a pen onto paper helps me organise my thoughts so much better, so I’ll be keeping things on paper, in a folder, hopefully, fingers crossed, with a following wind and a little bit of luck.

If this works and grows, I’ll post more. This isn’t me telling you what to do. This is me sharing my imperfect journey. I’d love it if you could add your experiences and advice, or just tell me what you think. I’m always willing to learn.

Writing Stuff: Stashing Your Work

My cooker blew up on Sunday. Well, it wasn’t a big explosion but it blew the fuse and all the lights went out. There were even actual flames. They may have been small enough for my husband (who is a hero) to blow out, but they were there. I realised today that something similar could have happened to my laptop. It may be plugged into a surge protector, but it could all have gone dreadfully wrong. I have no real system for saving all my stuff, and I could have lost a lot of work.

I can’t even remember all the bits of writing that are kicking around on my computer. The first draft of The Forgotten Village was written on a PC with a floppy disc drive. I’ve got ideas and outlines and notes and half finished bits as well as the final versions of stuff that I can never find when I want to refer back.

There are 115 icons on my desktop and that’s after I had a clear out last week. Some of those icons are for folders and I’m flinching of the thought at how many files there are in those.

I’ve never been very sure about how to file stuff. For example, the character Rev Darren King is in five books and loads of short stories. How do I sort through that? And what about all the different versions of a story? I’ve started saving new versions with the name of the story plus the date but I forget stuff. I was thinking about something yesterday and it triggered a memory of a story that I’d badly wanted to write but then had completely forgotten about. So I have two problems – how to save stuff and how to sort stuff.

I’m going to be honest, I’m writing what I’m planning to do. There is no guarantee that I’ll actually do it. I have a track record of poor follow through. But there’s a chance that this may be useful to someone out there, so I’ll take a risk and write it down. This week I’m writing about saving stuff.

When I talk about saving your work, it’s more than just pressing Ctrl + S. Every writer that I know has horror stories of losing thousands of words at a vital stage of the story. This is more about where to save your work away from your PC, Mac or laptop just in case things go bang. So where do you put all those writery bits of half finished stories, plot sketches and character outlines? You’ve pressed ‘save’ and then what?

The obvious method is to save to a usb stick and/or print it all out and store in binders or files. I’ve started a list and buying a decent usb stick is now on the top. I’m not going to print stuff out as I have reams and reams and reams of stuff that would take half a forest, but it’s an option.

Other ideas are emailing documents between different email accounts, or even keeping docs in a draft email. As long as you keep the account current and open, the documents will be safe there. If you want to be extra sure, send the documents to several email accounts.

Image from Unsplash, taken by Brett Jordan and still neater than my phone.https://unsplash.com/photos/blue-and-white-logo-guessing-game-LPZy4da9aRo

Another way is to bung it onto a blog. You can copy and paste documents into blog posts and keep them as drafts without publishing them. There are a multitude of blog sites out there, many of them are free and there are plenty of guides out there about how to use them. I use WordPress for this blog (and I fail at it and can’t work out how to use a newsletter) and I feel more comfortable with Blogger for my mum blog, but you may find others that work better for you.

By the way, Tales from the White Hart, More Tales from the White Hart and Further Tales from the White Hart were actually put in book form as a way of keeping the stories and clearing some clutter from my blog. The Whisper in the Shadows collection was a way of preserving short stories. I did my best to make them look presentable, but it was more about putting finished stuff in a safe place.

The final suggestion I have is to back up your work in the Cloud, on Google Drive, on Dropbox or wherever you can find online storage. There are quite a few places out there, and I am too technologically inept and feel completely inadequate to give any advice on which to choose. I feel able to advise that unless you are particularly clued up then you need have a rummage for reviews and advice. Mind you, there’s no reason why you can’t back up your work in all of them, especially if you pick the free options.

I’d love to hear any ideas about other places to stash works in progress so please share if you feel able. Now I’m off to try and organise my work, so please send thoughts and prayers. I’ll let you know how I get on next week.

Research and the Author: A Fail

I want to review books because it means that I read wider and I am appallingly narrow in my reading matter. I keep getting distracted by romantic novels which I am not reviewing mainly because I keep skipping the steamy bits so I couldn’t do the book justice. For a change, I thought that I’d be a smart alec and have a look at research type books. I thought I could show off a little. Instead I found myself wincing.

I found The History of Spices by The Papyrus Author sort of interesting. There’s a lot of information in there, it’s quite well laid out and logical, but it does read like a paper from a really good High School student. It’s an excellent paper, and would get an A+, and it covers a lot of information. Unfortunately, as it covers from ancient times to the modern day and takes a global perspective, it doesn’t go into much depth. Let’s take one paragraph:

Run Island and the Nutmeg Trade: One of the most notable episodes in the English pursuit of spices was their claim over Run Island in the Bandas. Though smaller and less known than its neighbours, Run Island was rich in nutmeg. This possession became a point of contention between the English and the Dutch.– The History of Spices by The Papyrus Author Chapter Six The Age of Exploration – Quest for the Spice Islands

For someone wanting an overview, this isn’t a bad start. For someone who wants to write books, this is awfully dry. I had a quick look at Wiki, and the battle for Run Island was an epic tale. The island is part of what is now Indonesia and the area was the main source of nutmegs until the nineteenth century. The natives feared the Dutch and so signed a contract with the English to take over instead. The Dutch were incensed and laid siege to Run Island but were held off by 40 Europeans and their native allies for just over four years. When the English leader fell, the English retreated and the Dutch moved in. They slaughtered, enslaved or exiled every man, woman and child on the island, destroyed all the nutmeg trees and allowed cattle to roam free. The Dutch even came back every year to make sure that no-one had tried to resettle the island when they weren’t looking.

That is an epic story! You have to ask – how did it feel to be one of those European defenders, so far from home? How did it feel to be one of the native islanders who tried to make a deal with the least bad invader? How did it feel to watch the Europeans sail away, presumably taking the guns and cannons with them, and knowing that vengeance was approaching? What would have happened if any of the natives had managed to survive that vengeance? How about a pirate base or a curse or lost magical items left behind after that dreadful punishment? That’s where research should lead. I’d recommend it as a resource as I hadn’t even heard of Run Island before this, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a main resource.

I wouldn’t recommend Emperor’s Kitchen: Wholesome Recipes from Ancient Rome by Ava Taylor much at all. I’m not ashamed to admit that the author knows more than me, but I found the whole thing confusing. It felt a little like it was translated from Latin to English by a Martian. There are recipes there that are interesting, but they assume a lot of background knowledge. The formatting is a little crazy as well. It’s a shame. The Feeding the Crew:A One Piece Cookbook by the same author is awesome. It’s based on a manga series called One Piece and there are some great recipes in there. I quite fancy trying some of them.

Perhaps one of the problems I’m facing is that when I’m looking to review a book, I’m looking for recent publications. I suspect that AI may be happening. I also had a quick peek at Fragrant Pages: The Story of Perfumery Through History by Oriental Publishing. Any High School student would be proud to hand it in to an expectant teacher. It suffers from the same defects as The History of Spices. It’s strangely written, not particularly well formatted and irritating. It’s not a bad place to flick through to get places to start research, especially if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited and don’t have to pay extra for it or give it shelf room. However it may be worth looking at works that date from before the AI explosion. If you’re looking for a background on perfume, Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume by Mandy Aftel seemed quite fun when I dipped in, and it’s also on Kindle Unlimited – and makes sense.

So looking at recent non-fiction books for research at random was a fail. On the bright side, while I was having a wander around Kindle Unlimited, I spotted a few books about coffee. I’m sure that I can make use of that in my fiction.

Research and the Author: Fruit

I wish I could have thought up a snappy title for this, but ‘Food for Thought’ is probably best kept for another article and ‘Fruit of Research’ was way too cheesy. Remember the reason for research is to stop the author looking like an idiot. This is definitely a piece that can be ignored. However I thought I’d mention a few things that may be useful, especially to those writing speculative fiction. The bag of apples and carton of strawberries that you load into your cart in the supermarket may not necessarily be the same as the apples and strawberries available to someone in medieval Europe. If that detail is important to you then this is a reminder to check stuff like ‘history of the strawberry’ to get the background. If it isn’t, just keep it in mind and keep writing.

If we’re talking about Kurt and Gwendolyn in Maine, most fruit is going to be available for most of the time. However you can slant things to reinforce the plot. If it’s November 10th then there will be plenty of cranberries around, perhaps even some grown locally. It’s a great way to show the run up to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Fresh strawberries, however, are likely to be imported, expensive and possibly not the best flavour. If you want to give a sense of summer, however, then perhaps our two characters can be buying fresh strawberries from a roadside stall in July. There probably won’t be many locally grown mangoes, though, if you want to be realistic. It’s easy to check what’s available and when and use to those facts to give depth to the story.

Lord Kurt and Miss Gwendolyn in London have less choice. There were some ships that used ice and salt to preserve their cargo but they were few and far between and obviously there are no delicate imports coming in by air (depending on the plot, of course). Lord Kurt and Miss Gwendolyn may have attended dinner parties where the pineapple was rented – I’ll let you google the background to that, because it’s fun and so very human. Bananas were also a curiosity, mentioned in Jules Verne Around the World in Eight Days. Even in the great port of London, most food was seasonal. However, as sugar was now widely available, there were plenty of preserved fruits. There were even such exotic preserves coming in such as pickled mango or preserved ginger.

There are problems with researching fruit. Determined aristocrats would try and grow almost anything in heated glasshouses, and fast ships with captains wanting to make money could make a lot of different fruits available to those with vast wealth. Researching ‘when did pineapples reach UK’ tends to show results going back to the seventeenth century and the nobility. In reality, fresh pineapple was still something amazing and unusual for most people when I was a youngster in the seventies. When Lord Kurt and Miss Gwendolyn were fighting against evil around Whitechapel and Limehouse, ordinary people still had food that was either local or easily imported. The trick is to work out when things become widely available. The dark Count Dominic may flaunt his wealth by having fresh strawberries served in November at his society dinner parties together with expensive preserved cherries and apricots in brandy, but the poor wretches he preys on in the slums of the East End are limited to apples or perhaps roast chestnuts from a barrow, together with sugary jam and sticky preserves. If you’re not sure, keep it simple and hurry past.

Kurt the Barbarian and Gwendolyn the Healer have a different set of challenges. Soft fruit like strawberries and raspberries is tough to preserve without sugar, freezers or refrigeration. It’s best to eat that sort of fruit as soon as possible after picking. Some fruit could be preserved in honey or wine, but that would be a luxury item. Even the fruits that were easier to store, such as apples, didn’t necessarily travel well. You had to stick with something local.

I’m going to be honest here, this is a rabbit hole that could swallow me whole. This is the point where I decide that no-one needs to know the menu. If I’m going to jump into that, I need more than a safety line; I need a parachute. Do I really need to know details if Gwendolyn the Healer presents Kurt the Barbarian with a dish of fruit? It’s just that a dish of fruit sounds so very drab compared to, for example, a dish of strawberries/bowl of fresh figs/some juicy guava.  

It’s important to remember that you created this world and therefore you have the absolute power to put anything anywhere. If you want to have stands of mango trees and date palms dotted around the icy wastes of the frozen north then you have the power to put them there. You run the risk of looking like an idiot, but it’s your world and your choice.

There are issues to consider which can add or subtract to your world building. Humans are meddling creatures who don’t leave things alone. Selective breeding of fruit and vegetables has been going on since the first farmers, so what the Romans knew as, for example, melons are considerably different to the melons you get today. If you are tying your world closely to real world societies and cultures, it’s worth having a quick glance at the history of food in that area. Not only have humans changed the fruit by careful breeding, but they’ve carried fruit with them as they travelled the world. Wonderful coffee comes from Brazil, but the plant originated in Ethiopia. Amazing tea comes from Kenya, but tea originated in China. If Kurt the Barbarian is looking over the fields that are sticking closely to 12th century Oxford, he won’t be looking at fields of pumpkins. For the same reason, if Gwendolyn the Healer is searching for herbs in the marketplace of Tarsh, it’s perfectly reasonable for her to bustle past a stand selling pomegranates or cucumbers, but even in that great crossroads, you won’t find papaya. And if Kurt the Barbarian and Gwendolyn the Healer are exploring the hills and coves on a tropical island, they’re not going to find many pear trees.

Of course, if you’re creating your own world, you can always make up names for the local fruit. I avoid this if I can as I am very bad at taking notes, I lack focus and I worry that the fnura fruit that I describe as yellow and sweet in chapter two could end up red and spicy in chapter ten. This is why I stick closely to real world equivalents. It’s to stop me looking like an idiot. And that is the entire point of research. Well, that and I love going down rabbit holes.

You can find more of the articles on Research and the Author here. I’d love to hear from you and please let me know if there are any areas you would like me to discuss.

It’s Nearly October!

I love this time of year. I love the crisp air and the changes in the leaves. I love hot chocolate and pumpkin spice and gingerbread. The nights are drawing in and it’s time for snuggling down. I stock up with as many candles as I can get away with, drag out all the blankets, and enjoy the feeling of being safe and snug away from the weather. All the spooky stuff that comes with Halloween is a wonderful bonus.

I can never keep away from the supernatural when writing, and this time of year I embrace it with enthusiasm. In the last few years I’ve made a thing about posting loads of stories in October and I want to continue. And of course I’ve also signed up to the amazing October Frights again, which is always good fun.

This year I’ve decided to go ghostly. One of my favourite characters is Kane, the quiet, unassuming, somewhat shy lad who can talk to ghosts. Well, it’s more like the ghosts insist on talking to him whether he wants to listen or not. He’s such a sweetheart. I thought I would spend some time with him this October and I’ve made some provisional plans. I’ll be the first to confess that my ability to stick to plans is spectacularly bad, but I’m quietly confident on this one.

I’ve decided to share six new stories about Kane during the October Frights. I’ve had these ideas rattling around for a while and I thought it would be a good time to take him in a slightly new direction. The poor lad doesn’t know what’s coming for him. As a way of celebrating the spectral season, I’ll be republishing one of Kane’s old stories every day in October outside of the October Frights for a trip down memory lane. I really enjoyed revisiting them as I was reminding myself of his journey, so I thought I would share. The first story featuring Kane was back in March 2019, and as all his stories had been scattered around with months in between, I thought it would be nice to have a reminder.

While I’m talking about Kane, please send me all encouragement and I hope to finally get a novel with Kane as the hero out before the end of January. He deserves a little bit of the spotlight and possibly a chance of romance. I can’t see it being a series, and I’m sure that I’ll write the occasional short story afterwards, but I think he deserves to be a hero for at least a little while.

October won’t be only about Kane, though. I still plan to keep up the instalments of ‘Invitation Accepted’ and the guest posts for #HazardousToYourSanity and perhaps a post or two on research as I’ve had a few ideas about that. Mind you, I’ve mentioned how abysmally awful I am at plans.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and if you have the same soft spot for Kane. Let me know what you think of the plans – and the chances of me managing them!  

Reading Can Be Tricky

I read in weird ways. I suppose it partly comes from too much screen time and partly because of the way my reading has evolved. I have the Kindle app on my phone and it has been a blessing when I’ve been waiting for my darling son. But my elderly phone gets drained by the kindle app so I often read on the kindle app on my laptop instead. As I don’t seem to sync them up right, I’m usually reading one book on my phone and a different book on my laptop.

But sometimes I review books and I’ll be dipping into that book at the same time as I’m dipping into the sort of stories that I don’t want to admit to reading – at least not in front of my teenage son. Not only is Romance not dead but it’s available in large quantities if you know the right apps. Of course, sometimes I dip into places like Royal Road as well, and I’ve rummaged through quite a few old books via the Gutenberg project which I usually download and then read on the Calibre app (which is also pretty good for formatting my self published stuff).

That’s just the ebooks. I usually have a non-fiction physical book around to dip into as well. I’ve been looking into a lot of the superstitions as research for my series on #HazardousToYourSanity so I’ve got a small hardback reference on local superstitions by my chair and another paperback book of fables in my knitting bag.

This isn’t something to be proud of. I’m surprised that I can mostly keep straight with the different plots, especially if you add in all the extra plots that are happening in my own writing. However I’m not so much ashamed of it. What is making me uncomfortable is the typos.

Neil Gaiman said that no matter how much you proofread a story, the first thing you would see when you opened a physical copy would be a typo. And it’s true – only God is perfect. I’ve heard that there are rug makers hand knotting expensive rugs who deliberately put an error into their pattern because they don’t want to be disrespectful. I know that there are typos in my work. I know that I’ve messed up grammar, clarity and punctuation. I know that I have no room to talk. However I can’t stop spotting typos. And as you can tell from my reading practices, I have a lot of opportunities to see them.

The trouble is, when you are rattling away with a great streak of inspiration, you miss stuff. Spell checkers can only do so much. One story (which I adored and have re-read a few times) had someone who ‘titled’ their head. I suspect that it should have been that they ’tilted’ their head. Both words are correctly spelled without context, but I would be intrigued at someone who ‘titled’ their head in confusion. I’m not blaming the author – it’s exactly the sort of mistake I would make. Once upon a time I wouldn’t have noticed but a few experiences of proofreading and I’m picking up misplaced commas.

Mind you, I may think that the commas are misplaced but I’ll be the first to admit that my punctuation is far from perfect. I know that when I went back and re-edited The Forgotten Village I felt almost like I was translating into English. There were so many mistakes and I have no room to complain about any author.

I’m spotting all these tiny mistakes, feeling a pang of sympathy with the author and moving on. I am in no place to criticise at all. And I’m not in a place to criticise facts either. I may have written articles on research, but I know that I still get things wrong. After all, sometimes you don’t know enough to know how wrong you’re being. A lot of the time, it doesn’t matter one tiny bit. I was very much enjoying a cozy mystery (which I’m not detailing here because I absolutely do not want to throw shade on someone who’s a far better writer than me) and they had a brief throwaway description of someone threshing hay. You don’t thresh hay.

My actual real life knowledge of farming is limited to driving past some fields. However I’ve read a lot about medieval farming and I’m great if we’re talking about out of date practices. Threshing is beating a crop until the seed separates from the stem. Hay isn’t harvested for seed. It’s grass that is preserved to feed livestock over winter. You make hay or you can put hay in bales but you don’t thresh the dratted stuff. Do you know how much impact this had on the story? Zero, zilch, nothing, nada. The author did nothing wrong, but the reader, that is, me, needs to get a sense of proportion. I just can’t help noticing them.

Today, when I caught another tiny typo, I thought I would get this off my chest and send sympathetic vibes to all the authors out there. I also want to beg, plead and beseech that if you spot a typo or a mistake of fact in anything I’ve written – please tell me. I’d be grateful if you were kind, but I’ll take it on the chin if you just pointed out what I got wrong with honesty.

I also feel confident that as I’ve written an article on mistakes there are going to be a few in here. Please be kind.

Characters Who Go Their Own Way

After a comment by Ruth (who is awesome and I’m incredibly grateful for their encouragement), I thought I’d talk a little about Darren, Jasmine and the problems of being a writer.

Darren is one of the first characters I ever wrote about. He was the irascible, no-nonsense, straightforward vicar in The Forgotten Village and went on to be a main character in Digging up the Past, and the three books in the Tales from the White Hart series. I never thought that he would have a romantic interest. I imagined him as having the looks and body of a Greek god and the emotional bandwidth of a shipping container.

Jasmine was introduced as a character in More Tales from the White Hart and was a ‘stray’, that is, a werewolf without a pack. She’d been chased out because she didn’t fit in with the expectations of the pack and didn’t want to marry where she was told. I had an idea that she would perhaps be part of the LGBTQ+ community and was excluded for that. She was beautiful, shy, defensive and prickly. I wasn’t planning on matching her up to anyone else.

Of course the characters took one look at each other and fell in love – hard!

When I’m working out characters, I’ll sometimes write conversations between characters to get a sense of them. It’s like a small studio where the characters come out and talk, move around and generally work things out. This isn’t the first time I had characters do something unexpected and once again I was trailing after them going, ‘wait, what?’ I was not impressed. Apart from anything else, Darren is far too old for Jasmine. The characters took no notice of me whatsoever.

I can see why they fell for each other. Darren absolutely adores Jasmine. She’s sweet, honest, straightforward and kind. She’ll get involved with trouble to defend someone who needs support. She never thinks about her looks or figure but just carries on being her. He loves that he can feel a little bit protective of her while trusting her completely. She has all the warmth that Darren struggles to show and she very much lights up his life.

Jasmine had a huge crush on Darren almost from the start. He’s old enough to be an authority figure while still being young enough and single enough to be attractive. There is something reassuringly stable about Darren. He may be a neat freak with no ability to demonstrate affection, but he’ll always be there for the one he loves. Darren is unwaveringly loyal, considerate and devoted. He is a rock who will never play games but will always be straightforward and clear. That is something that would call to Jasmine after the disruption and hardship she knew before they met.

I was a little worried about the age gap. To be fair, so was Darren. Jasmine didn’t have the confidence to say anything so was pining away for Darren while Darren was even grumpier than ever. However there was an unfortunate mix up with a love potion which meant that Jasmine and Darren became passionate lovers while under the influence and the rest is happy history.

I’ve known a few couples with significant age gaps. Some have been incredibly happy but one or two have been less than healthy. I think that as Darren is not likely to try and manipulate Jasmine, and Jasmine is certainly only after emotional security, this could be a good relationship. That doesn’t make for good stories, but I can see a few ideas in the distant future, if I ever get some proper writing done!

As for trying to show how people can suffer because of how they love, I thought I’d hold onto the idea that Jasmine was under pressure from many in the werewolf community for not conforming to what was expected. And at least she found happiness.

And I have had a fun time skimming through some of the older stories and enjoying the memories that have come back. It’s been a reminder of how much I enjoyed writing and perhaps I ought to get going again!

And a little news – I’ve been accepted on #HazardousToYourSanity for regular posts, so keep your eyes out for my series on British Folklore and Superstitions (some posts by other authors are a little spicier than I write, so you may like to use your judgement). And I have also signed up to October Frights again, run by the amazingly wonderful AF Steward, so while I won’t be posting every day in October as I have in the past, I hope that there will be some pleasantly spooky goings on. I’ve also had a few ideas about the next set of articles about Research and the Author and I hope to have them ready for you soon.

I’d love to hear requests, ideas or thoughts so please feel free to leave a comment.

Hugs and good health to all.

Research and the Author: Fantasy Clothes

Research for fantasy clothing isn’t really a thing. After all, you could put elves in spandex and goblins in pink tutus because it’s your world. But to make the notes on clothing a little more complete, I thought I’d add some thoughts on research, clothing in fantasy and where I would take a little extra care.

Remember, the reason for research is to stop the author looking like an idiot. There is another point, which is, research should be to make the writer’s life easier. So the time that research comes up when writing a fantasy novel is if you are using a real world society at a point in time as a basis for your writing. And even then you have wiggle room. But let’s think about Kurt the Barbarian and Gwendolyn the Healer – what can they wear?

When we talked about fantasy locations, I had the brave duo in three separate settings based on Samarkand, Oxford and Havana. A quick internet search for clothing at the date of 1200CE, the date I picked at random last time, will throw up all sorts of information. You can pick and choose among the offerings. A word of warning, though. If your story is heavily based on a particular society, for example, fifteenth century Japan, there will be people on the internet who live for that time period. They will know the exact authentic hem stitch on every garment and the dyes used to produce the colours of every piece. If you are not that obsessive then skate quickly over vague details and concentrate on the assassin’s route into the closely guarded home of the hero. If you are that obsessive then you have a fan base. Ask questions on their forums, be clear about why you’re asking and then make sure to share a link to your novel when it comes out.

I use research to make it easier for myself. If I want to write a story set in a fantasy world, I’m likely to use Medieval Europe as a starting point before tweaking things to the way I like them. As I’m familiar with that, I’ll use that as an example. Let’s start with Kurt the Barbarian, mighty and manly.

One of the garments common in Medieval Europe was hose. It was a covering for the leg that also covered the foot, like the equivalent of pantyhose or tights. I had a quick look at ‘hose’ on Wikipedia and was somewhat surprised at the different fashions. And I think of a cloth legging that covered the foot would be perfect under boots and breeches if you were striding across the frozen tundra. It would certainly help to keep your assets warm. I can’t see me describing Kurt the Barbarian wearing tights, though, so I’ll stick to things like furs and tunics. Just because I find something in research doesn’t mean that I’m going to either use it or describe it. That goes double for codpieces. If you don’t know what a codpiece is then it’s probably not a good idea to look it up on a shared computer or at work. I’m going to stick to vague descriptions of clothing that doesn’t sound ridiculous in our era.

Kurt and Gwendolyn both obviously have cloaks. There are all sorts of cloaks for the time and place on the internet. As it’s still 10th of November, they need something nice and warm. I’m not a fan of fur in the modern world. My view is that if you have to defend yourself in an unexpected life or death situation with a fur bearing animal, and you win, then you can have a fur coat. Otherwise modern textiles will cover all of your needs. The medieval world, however, was lacking in microfibres and Kurt the Barbarian was much more likely to have fought off bears, wolves, polecats and possibly bunny rabbits with his bare hands so I’ll allow him the fur. However if you are using real world analogies and Kurt is brooding on the city wall of the equivalent of Oxford, then you should have an extremely good reason for giving him a cloak lined with jaguar fur. It’s worth having a quick look around to see what animals were being used for fur in that area, give or take, and what the story needs.

Gwendolyn’s cloak is more likely to be wool. In our day, the main source of wool are sheep, and there were plenty in the countryside near Oxford at that time. Obviously there are different qualities of yarn, spinning and weaving, but it all works with the plot. Perhaps Gwendolyn’s cloak is old and stained after difficult times and travel or perhaps she has a wonderfully warm new cloak lined with lambswool from a grateful patient. If, however, Gwendolyn is standing at the gates of Samarkand then her cloak could be sheep’s wool but it could also be cashmere or angora – or even yak. I have yarn in my stash that is labelled 40% yak and it feels lovely and warm. In the unlikely even that she needs a warm cloak in Havana, though, it’s more likely to be made of imported alpaca yarn. Wool bearing animals appear in all sorts of places, although as its original purpose is to keep the animal warm you are not likely to find many decent sources of wool in the jungle. Again, it’s worth looking around and seeing what the local equivalent in our world is, or even inventing an animal.

It may be that you need to talk about underwear. Practically all underwear in the north of Medieval Europe was linen of some type. Silk in Europe was horrifically expensive, so if you are giving Kurt the Barbarian a silk shirt then you need to know that it probably cost as much as a horse – the equivalent of a fancy car! Gwendolyn may have crazily expensive silk underwear but if she has the money then she’s more likely to have fine quality, easily washed linen and spent any extra money on ribbons or braid. There are plenty of resources on the internet about medieval underwear but remember that people like to be comfortable and the basics have been the same for many years. Don’t get too carried away.

Cotton is tricky. It’s one of the oldest fibres known and has been found in archaeological sites in both the old world and the new. Obviously some cotton could have reached Oxford, but it would have been unusual and comparatively expensive. An enterprising merchant could have brought cotton material from, for example, Egypt, but I doubt that they would have made much money. If you imagine holding some silk fabric in one hand and some cotton fabric in another, it’s likely that the silk is going to feel like it’s worth paying a premium to import at stupidly high costs to cover transport while cotton may not feel as good as top quality linen. It may be a staple in your world, but it’s more likely to be hiding under outer clothes in Samarkand or Havanna than it is in Oxford. Besides, if you’re concentrating on what the underwear is made of, you’re describing the wrong things.

I’ve talked about using research to keep consistency. After all, if I’m using Oxford as a sort of analogy and wonder if velvet was available there in 1200CE, I can just look it up and keep things consistent. I have to wonder, though, if that is overrated in fantasy novels. Tolkien, who really knew his stuff, had Bilbo run out of Bag End without a pocket handkerchief. While a hobbit may find these important, however, I can’t imagine Denethor worrying about a handkerchief or Elrond checking his pockets to make sure his handkerchief was in place. And, after all, clothes that were worn by nobility in London or Paris would be subtly different from those worn in Stockholm or Naples and incredibly different from the clothing available to a poor shepherd in Northern Scotland or a peasant in the Caucasian mountains.

And if you are running short of world building inspiration, it’s okay to look at what people wore in places in our world that are similar to your setting. You can get a feel of how people managed the heat/cold/damp/sun/resources to keep themselves comfortably clothed and extend that to your characters. As long as the focus is on the character and the stories then don’t worry about whether the hastily grabbed blanket is llama, alpaca, yak, angora, goat, camel or even muskox. It’s much more interesting to write about the feverish stranger shivering underneath it after a daring rescue than fibre content. After all, it’s all about the story.

If you have any topics you would like me to rummage through, please let me know. I can’t promise that I’ll know anything about a topic, but I can share how I look around and find out.

You can find more in this series here – Research and the Author Collected Posts

Research and the Author: The Bother with Bustles

I don’t know much about Victorian clothing, so I suppose it’s important for me to be clear. I’m not trying to pass on information in these articles. I’m sharing the way I look for information and some pitfalls I’ve found over the years in the hope that it will help others. So I’m starting with the hope that when I get stuff wrong, a kind reader will let me know (hopefully with gentle tact) and a reminder that the reason for research is to stop the author looking like an idiot.

From my point of view, skating over finer details sounds like a good start. If we are talking about Lord Kurt and Miss Gwendolyn racing around the foggy streets of nineteenth century London, we can probably skip quite a few clothing descriptions. A reader is hopefully too wrapped up in the mystery of where the bloodthirsty vampire Count Dominic has his lair to worry about whether Miss Gwendolyn is wearing a cape or a jacket. There may come a point in a story, however, where you need to know a detail or two. Unfortunately for me, a lot of people are interested in nineteenth century clothing so if I get details wrong, they’ll know. They may laugh and point. So I need to have a rummage around and research clothing.

I’m going to start with some basics that I do know. If we stick to the date of 1875 then there were no artificial fibres in general use. I’ve had a look around and ideas of making fake silk from mulberry bark and nitrocellulose were around, but in the main and by and large all clothes were made from natural fibres. When Miss Gwendolyn rips up her petticoats to stem the blood flowing from injuries to the valiant Lord Kurt, those petticoats are made from lovely, absorbent, well-washed cotton or linen and not the slick rayon and nylon that came later. The warm cape that Lord Kurt slips from his shoulders to put around the shivering Miss Gwendolyn as they are trapped in a chill cellar is almost certainly heavy wool, possibly lined with fur. Fine ladies wore silk, much of it woven in England (I found this article, which I found interesting) and housemaids wore cheap cotton prints.

The other thing that I remember is that chemical dyes became widespread during the nineteenth century. I got it wrong in that I thought Prussian Blue was invented in the nineteenth century and I was out by more than a century. It was invented around 1706, according to Wikipedia. Mauveine, a purple dye based on coal tar, was discovered in 1856, however, and all sorts of wonderful colours were available by the time that Miss Gwendolyn went shopping for a new dress.

While I was wandering around the wonders of the internet, I found an article about green dyes in England in the nineteenth century here By the time that Lord Kurt and Miss Gwendolyn were picking out their clothes, green dye produced with arsenic was known to be toxic and green dresses were associated with poison. Perhaps the dastardly Count Dominic surrounds himself with young women in green dresses – an instance of research bringing in ideas for the plot.

You can find a lot of information around concerning fashions and who wore what and when. Fashions changed then as much as they do now, although people used fashion magazines rather than TikTok. As a general rule of thumb, people can wear clothes that belong to fashions from before the date, in this case 1875, but they’re unlikely to follow fashion from years afterwards without a very good reason. When I researched the first post in this series, I found that if I had set the date a year later, the more fashionable dress would have been a slim princess line instead of a bulkier bustle. However, not everyone follows fashion all the time. People will be wearing out of date clothes just like you find people wearing older clothes that date them. Miss Gwendolyn may not have time to find a dress in the new fashion as she is too busy battling vampiric threats. Or perhaps someone will be coming from abroad and have a dated set of clothes. My personal preference is to keep things loosely in keeping with the time and only mention anything to do with fashion if it’s to do with the plot. Mentioning that someone is wearing an old-fashioned waistcoat or an outdated hat is a way of conveying information about a character.

Speaking of abroad, London was in the centre of a vast commercial empire. An expensive and rare Kashmir shawl would be an indication that someone with money had just come back from British India. Perhaps a character was coming back from China with Chinese brocades and exquisite silks. Was a dress decorated with particularly fine lace from France and does it tell more about the characters and story? But while Britain had made contact with Japan twenty years earlier in the wake of the Perry expedition, I doubt that there was much from Japan reaching the general public. If you are using a roughly historical setting then it’s probably easier to look up when, for example, gabardine was invented (1879 in its modern form) than making something up. Although gabardine could always be invented earlier and worn by Lord Kurt in your world. It’s not that much difference and as long as you keep things consistent then I can’t see how it matters too much.

I started thinking about Count Dominic’s clothing. Knowing that Vlad the Impaler fought the Turks, I’ll make a decision that Count Dominic would not adopt the Turkish dress but perhaps that of a Hungarian nobleman. I did a quick google and found this fascinating page which confirmed what I suspected. Most of the upper classes of Europe followed a similar fashion set by Paris with perhaps local trends. However Count Dominic may follow slightly older fashions that could give clues, or comment on the difference of the machine woven woollen cloth compared to the stuff woven by hand in the villages of the Carpathian mountains. Or perhaps he has made contact with some other evil monster elsewhere and imported fabric or fashion could give a clue. I wondered about imported alpaca fabric giving links to South America and dark forces there, but then I found that it was produced in Britain from the 1830s.

Let’s go back to those green dresses. I have found a few references to Paris Green – a dye containing arsenic and so toxic that it was used to poison the rats in the Paris sewers. I can’t find a date for that, but it was named Paris Green in 1867, so I’ll say that the poor rats were getting poisoned around then in my world. This means that there is an excuse to link Count Dominic and the green dresses of his young ladies and the sewers of Paris.

But that can wait. Next time I’ll be looking at fashion, clothing and fantasy.

You can find links to the rest of the articles in this series here