Friday, 28 July 2017

Everyman and Everywoman

Day 18 - our heroine reflects on the man who is no hero

To prove I have been working hard at my Writers' Holiday, today's post is about books and writing.

One of my favourite radio plays, later rewritten as a book trilogy in 5 parts, and then later again turned into a film, is ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams. I have brought the original 1975 BBC recordings away with me to keep me amused while driving.

The main character in the story is Arthur Dent, an ordinary man who finds himself caught up in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Bulldozers turn up one morning without warning to demolish his house ready for a new bypass. While he is still coming to terms with this apparent bureaucratic incompetence, the Earth is itself destroyed to make way for an intergalactic space highway. Arthur is rescued and finds himself at the centre of an improbable (and very funny) series of space travelling adventures.

It is essential to the story that Arthur be unremarkable. He is ‘Everyman’, the representation of the average person with whom the reader can relate. In time Arthur bumbles his way to achieve hero status, the reader cheering him on all the way.

And that is what I want the characters in my stories to be - identifiable women and men who when faced by challenges find a way to win through. I hope my time here at Fishguard will provide inspiration for the better crafting of my fictional stories.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Defender of the Realm

Day 17 - our heroine takes inspiration from local heroine Jemima

I was surprised to learn that in 1797, the last invasion of Britain took place near where I am staying in Pembrokeshire. The event is commemorated in the impressive ‘Last Invasion Embroidered Tapestry’, designed by Elizabeth Cramp and embroidered over a 4 year period by 77 local women and men.

Some 220 years ago Britain was at war with France. The military was on high alert along the east coast and the English Channel ready to repulse Napoleon’s troops should they decide to attack. It was therefore with some surprise that the invasion when it came was not where expected, but rather in west Wales. 1,400 French troops came ashore near Fishguard. The few British soldiers stationed nearby had to send for reinforcements before attempting to fight off the invaders. 

But the local women had other plans.
The French invaders had spread out along the coast, pillaging as they went. Some of them interrupted preparations for a wedding feast at Trehowel Farm. Tempted by the copious amounts of wine which the locals had ‘rescued’ from a recent shipwreck, they also helped themselves to the food which was still in the process of being prepared. Unfortunately they were too soon and ate undercooked chicken. 

Twelve of the drunken and by now somewhat queasy soldiers were captured by local woman Jemima Nicholas. Armed only with a pitchfork she singlehandedly marched them off to Fishguard where they were locked up.

Then, while the local British troops still waited for military support, the formidable Jemima continued with her plans. She led a group of women in a continuous walk around the Bigney Hill. From afar, the French soldiers mistook the ongoing  stream of local womenfolk, wearing their traditional outfits of red cloaks and black bonnets, for red-coated British soldiers. Assuming they were outnumbered, the French promptly surrendered.

Maybe the story has become a little embellished by local folklore, but I rather like the tale of Jemima - a woman not to be messed with!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Clifftops and Cairns

Day 16 - our heroine climbs a cliff (note: no caterwauling was required)

The sun shone brightly as I walked through the Pembrokeshire village of Porthgain. The tide was out leaving the few fishing boats behind the harbour wall beached in the mud, the ropes which tied them to the harbour wall hung limp, garlanded with drying seaweed. The fishy scent of the empty crab pots was soon left behind as, with the gentle breeze whispering across my arms, the call of the larks enticed me up along the Pembroke Coastal Path. 

I soon gained height, the cornflake-crunch of my boots upon the gravel path giving warning of my approach to the insects and other creatures which were doubtless hiding amongst the undergrowth. My aim was to reach one of the two white-washed cliff top markers placed either side of the cove, designed to lead boats safely to the harbour.

Porthgain was once a busy port where slate from the nearby quarries was taken and broken down before being shipped out. Later the slate works gave way to brick making and after that rocks were broken down into rubble for road laying. The buildings which housed the industries are derelict now and covered over by brambles and other creepers as nature seeks to take back ownership of the land. 

The walk was a practical exercise in ‘writing the landscape’, which is the title of the workshop I am taking at the Fishguard Writers’ Holiday. I wrote notes at various points on my walk to record not just the sights but also the sounds, scents and textures I was experiencing. Occasionally I muttered to myself if I saw something worthy of note, but I did not shout out.

I say this because ‘Clifftop caterwauling’ is a trope used in fiction whereby the hero climbs to a height and screams with rage, despair or triumph. Think ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘The Lion King’. 

Triumphant as I felt from my climb, I satisfied myself with quietly adding another stone to the cairn made by those who had walked the path before me, before I returned to the harbour and The Sloop Inn where I enjoyed a most welcome drink.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Bugger all *

Day 15 - our heroine experiences writers’ envy

I visited “the strangest town in Wales” today. This is the description given by Dylan Thomas to Laugharne.  It is in fact not at all odd, but a very pleasant little village and well worth a visit.

I drove there listening to a soundtrack of Dylan Thomas reading some of his lyrical poetry and prose in his mellifluous and resonant voice.

The boathouse where Thomas lived for several years is now a visitor centre allowing the faithful to see for themselves the beauty of the setting with the views across the wide expanse of the Taf estuary. 

I indulged myself in some Barabrith with a cup of tea and imagined how much better my writing would be if I could only live and work in such a wondrous place.

Thomas himself wrote in the Writing Shed which is situated above the Boathouse. 

The shed is furnished in such a way that it looks as though the bard has just popped out (probably to Brown’s Hotel for a quick drink!) and will soon be back to pick up his pen to begin writing again, inspired by the wonderful view through the window.

Dylan Thomas’ final masterpiece, ‘Under Milkwood’ is set in the fictional town of Llareggub, parts of which are said to be inspired by Laugharne. 

(*If you do not know and wonder why I am swearing, ‘Llareggub’ is a constructed word, bugger all in reverse.)

Sunday, 23 July 2017


Day 14 - our heroine learns not to expect fame and fortune

I've been to Bath today where events to commemorate Jane Austen are in full flow. Austen died 200 years ago this month. For a short time Jane Austen lived in Bath and the city is keen to celebrate their famous resident. 

But despite the high regard in which she is now held, her writing career didn't bring her the fame and fortune one would expect.

Of the six novels for which she is famous, only four were published while she lived, and they were anonymous: ‘By a lady’ was the only clue given on the cover of ‘Sense and Sensibility’. ‘Pride and Prejudice’, Mansfield Park’ and ‘Emma’ were the others which she lived to see in print, but without her name on the cover.

‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’ were not published until a year after she died. Only later was her authorship acknowledged.

It is said that she did not earn much money from her writing whilst alive. However since her death her novels have been in almost constant print.

Some of her writings were pirated. They were translated into French without her consent and with no payment.

So with no official recognition, a low income and piracy issues, it has to be said that the life of ‘one of our greatest living authors’ wasn't in fact all that great. 

Who’d be a writer, eh?

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Z - time to reflect

Day 13 - our heroine pauses

Regular followers of this blog will know that each of my posts follows alphabetically. When I reach the letter ‘Z’ I take time to reflect. 

This latest series has taken 10 months to get from ‘A’ in August 2016, to ‘M’ in June 2017. There's nothing wrong with that. It has been a challenging year.

But now that I am away on my travels the pace has picked up. I became ‘Nomadic’ on Monday 10th July until reaching ‘Z’ today. In the last 12 days I have: 
- descended into the abyss; 
- been rescued by the Wizard; 
- set out on a pilgrimage; 
- run away to sea; 
- walked among the dead; 
- been forced to decide between truth and falsehood; 
- gone in search of knowledge; 
- regained control of the mysterious artefact; 
- met a companion; 
- dug for buried treasure; and
- sought an answer to a 100 year old mystery.

Rattled off like that it sounds exhausting! However I don't feel exhausted. I have enjoyed company and enjoyed solitude; I have exercised and I have relaxed; been peaceful and been busy. In fact time for everything from one extremity to another. From A - Z in fact.

Tonight I pause for breath. Tomorrow my journey goes on.

Friday, 21 July 2017

100 Years on

Day 12 of the journey - our heroine seeks an answer to a 100 year old question

I found this delightful little book today. As you can see it is no bigger than my mobile phone. For each day of the year there is a quotation from a Browning poem and space to list the names of friends and family who celebrate their birthday on that date.

The inscription inside the cover reads:
“With best love to Elsie from Bert January 12th ‘17”

Who were Bert and Elsie, I wonder? What was their story? In 1917 Britain was at war. Was Bert a soldier, perhaps, gifting this little book to his sweetheart Elsie before he left England to serve his country?

Elsie has written names on some of the pages: Muriel Macrae, Sid Butcher, Tim Wyles, Ethel Hoare. Some names have been crossed through, presumably when friends died. 

Who were these people? What was their relationship to Elsie? How many of them are still living? 

I will of course never find the answer to my questions.

What I can and will do is use the book, the names and my imagination to create answers and to rewrite Elsie and Bert’s story, 100 years after their true life tale began.