Blogs and Bum Glue

    Alice in Wonderland “She generally gave herself very good advice,” Lewis Carroll said of Alice in Wonderland, “though she very seldom followed it.” 

     The best advice I gave myself when I began the long, winding, and shockingly potholed road to publication three years ago was to seek the advice of successful writers. And I found plenty of it. Published writers are, for the most part, a generous lot. Perhaps they remember and are grateful for those who helped them along the way.  

     The problem with advice, however, is that it is often contradictory. Does one use italics for interior speech, for example, or is that frowned upon today? Will beginning with a prologue get you immediately shunted into the sidings? Which “point of view” is best for a first novel—first person, third person, or multiple? Is the “omniscient narrator” passé? Is tension necessary on every page or should you give the reader time to regroup? Are critique groups helpful or are they akin to writing a novel by committee?  What haunts me are the questions I haven’t thought of yet.

     Chapter One ImageSigh. Sometimes it’s a blessing to be naïve.  I began—with a story in my head and no clue how to tell it effectively. One piece of advice has been essential: Keep on keeping on. Persevere. Never give up. Develop what mystery writer Elizabeth George calls “bum glue.” 

     Recently, following a link on Twitter, I found a fascinating blog on the craft of writing. The most amazing part is that the blogger—Ninie Hammon—is married to an old friend.  I knew that Ninie (pronounced “9e” – and yes, that’s her real name) was a successful writer of suspense novels, but I had no idea she had a blog. Or that it would be so entertaining.  

   Ninie Hammon (2)  I just finished reading her wonderful series entitled, “Ten Ways to Create Unforgettable Characters” (Aug 25th through Nov 25th of this year). Check out Ninie’s blog at www.niniehammon.com/blog.

     Ninie knows what she’s talking about. She’s an unforgettable character herself.

British Character Actors and East Anglia

DSCF1039As a fan of British mystery writer Caroline Graham, I was thrilled when her “Inspector Barnaby” books were translated to the television screen in the marvelous British ITV series Midsomer Murders. John Nettles played Inspector Barnaby from 1997 until 2011, a total of 15 years and 81 episodes. With a body count of 277 (an average of 3+ murders per episode), the fictional English county of Midsomer surpasses even Cabot Cove as the deadliest place in the world to live. And Inspector Barnaby never failed to get his man. 

What I love most about Midsomer Murders is the acting. In addition to the wonderful main characters, John Nettles (Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby) and Jane Wymark (Mrs. Barnaby), each episode featured cameos by some of the most talented actors in Britain. The roll call reads like a “Who’s Who” of British acting royalty. Playing murderers, victims, and eccentric villagers are the likes of David Bamber, Honor Blackman, Orlando Bloom, Richard Briers, Eleanor Crouch, Oliver Ford Davis, Edward Fox, Malcolm Sinclair, Eleanor Summerfield, and June Whitfield. To name just a few. 

Who, you ask? Apart from Orlando Bloom, the elf prince Legolas in Lord of the Rings, the other names are, outside Britain, mostly unknown. And yet, as far as acting goes, they are the cream of the crop. What makes them special, in addition to their incredible acting, is that they look like ordinary people—people you might possibly run into in an English village. Their teeth aren’t perfect, their faces are untouched by plastic surgeons, they aren’t pencil thin, they actually get old. What they are is interesting and real—a sharp contrast to the perfect, plastic people with marginal talent we see on both large and small screens in the United States.   

So what do British character actors have to do with East Anglia? In a word, reality. 

My husband and I just returned from a week in East Anglia. Where, you ask? East Anglia is comprised of the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire–the ancient heart of Anglo-Saxon civilization in Britain. Besides the university town of Cambridge, however, the villages and hamlets of East Anglia are way off the beaten tourist track. And yet the history is incredibly rich, the many National Trust properties fascinating, and the villages impossibly quaint. Villages founded long before the Norman Invasion of 1066 bear such picturesque names as Little Snoring and Great Snoring, Foxearth, Monks Eleigh, Hoo, Molesworth, Birdsong, and Pidley. What I like most about these villages is that, unlike the chocolate-box villages of the Cotswolds, where the thatched-roof cottages are owned by wealthy Londoners and the shops cater to busloads of day-trippers, the towns of East Anglia are real, work-a-day villages inhabited by real people—people who would look right at home on an episode of Midsomer Murders.

Just don’t tell anyone, all right? Let’s not spoil it.