Where do you write?

I am fortunate. After a lifetime of working freelance as an illustrator, graphic designer, copywriter and cartoonist, I have an established working routine and a studio with forty years history embedded in every dust mote – or I did have until we moved house two years ago. I now have a smaller, newer studio, but some of the dust came with me.

Interior of Charlie Friday's coffee shop and café in Lynton

Charlie Friday’s
Sometimes I walk down to my local café, Charlie Friday’s, where they have great coffee and make the best fruit scones and cakes I’ve had anywhere. The ambience is totally different to my desk space and makes a pleasant change that can revitalise my writing.

Boston Tea Party in Barnstaple, café, restaurant and meeting place

The Boston Tea Party
If I’m in our local county town (about twenty miles away) I’ll pop in to The Boston Tea Party (often while my wife is taking a Pilates class). It’s a café with mismatched furniture, friendly staff and good toasted tea cakes. Also great for people watching.

Now there’s a thought
I wonder how much of my working life has been associated with the quality of available cafés?

How does this work practically
I write predominantly using the Pages app on a Mac computer. The files automatically update on my iPad so I can stop mid sentence, grab my iPad, and continue writing anywhere.

Does anyone else have a special place where creativity flows?

Late Mail

(Late Mail is a 300 word murder mystery)

My phone pinged with a message. I expected it to be a friend, checking in after David’s funeral.

‘Hello Lauren. You think you’ve got away with it, don’t you?’

It was David, but it couldn’t be, we’d just cremated him. Someone had hacked his account.

‘Who is this?’

‘Did you really think you could murder me and not be caught?’

Nobody knew what had really happened other than me and David, and he was dead.

‘David’s death was an accident. Stop this cruel joke now or I’ll report you to the police.’

They police had questioned me, maybe suspected me, but I claimed never to have taken the tiller before, that I was confused, that I was trying to stop the boat. Putting it into reverse was judged by the coroner as an accident. 

‘I saw you looking at me, you knew what you were doing.’

‘You’re not David. Please stop this.’

‘Would the police have believed you if they knew you spent every childhood holiday on a canal boat?’

My stomach lurched. My childhood and my father’s abuse was a closed book. I spoke to nobody about it, other than David, I had trusted him, until he made a joke of it that day, one he paid for with his life.

‘Whoever you are you’re crazy.’

‘Not crazy, but I am angry. And you’ve made one mistake.’

‘You can’t be David, you’re dead.’

‘You still have those photographs.’

I should have burned them. Photographs of me as a teenager, at the tiller, threading my father’s narrow boat into a lock.

I’ve emailed Detective Connery. He knows where the photographs are.

There was a knock on the front door. I looked through the window and Detective Connery was outside, with three other officers.

“Open the door please, Mrs Baker.”

Writing can't only be a mirror

illustration of age and ethnicity

When I was a teenager I had no idea what it felt like to be sixty, or even thirty. Now I’m older I am told sometimes that I can’t possibly connect with the mindset of a younger generation. Frankly I think both opinions are misjudged.

We have imagination
Anyone who is astute and observes those around them cannot possibly be restricted to writing within their own age group, gender, ethnicity and sexuality. If that were the case then every novel would only contain one generation of characters who look, act and think alike.

The only limit to our writing should be our powers of observation, the breadth of our reading, the ability to listen and our imagination.

First Love

(First Love is a 500 word flash fiction story)

Mary started painting again when she retired to a small village on the coast. She joined a local art group who met in an old chapel. She never saw herself as talented, despite three years at Art College in her youth, but she enjoyed the way the brush moved on the paper, leaving a trail of colour in its wake. Her husband had died the year before and she was now free to express herself in ways that would have previously been viewed as frivolous.

They never had children. In latter years Marcus thought more of his garden than her, treating the lawn with studied care, cherishing his chrysanthemums with the same tenderness of touch she had once enjoyed.

“That’s very good Mary?”

The voice of the instructor made her start. Mary hadn’t been thinking about what she was painting, but on the paper in front of her was the face of a young man, one she recognised even though the nose was a peculiar shade of blue.

“It looks like Peter.”

Mary didn’t know who Peter was. The face before her had been stored in her memory for fifty years. It was David, a boy she had dated and fallen in love with when she was sixteen years old. He moved away with his parents when his father was offered a promotion. For a few months they had exchanged letters, but the interval between each communication grew longer. He never replied to her last letter in which she had enclosed a pressed flower, a silly gesture.

Curiosity drew others to her painting. Mary wanted to cover it with her hands, but let them rest on the table.

“It does look like Peter,” said a woman she thought was called Anne. “You must have met him?”

“It’s just a face,” Mary said.

All agreed that it was an astonishing likeness and someone said that she must show it to David.

“David?” She repeated. Her throat contracted.

“He owns the Three Ducks, Peter is his son. He works there at weekends. You must have seen him.”

Mary hadn’t been in the village inn. She had no objection to alcohol and enjoyed a glass of wine, but Marcus had not been one for socialising.

“Oh I couldn’t show it to him. I don’t even know him.”

“Join me,” Anne said, I often pop in after class.

Mary wasn’t sure, but accepted the invitation.

She wondered where David’s life had taken him. Would they even have stayed together had he not moved away?

“But don’t mention Peter’s mother, she left when he was ten.”

“I wasn’t going to interrogate him.”

When they entered the Three Ducks, the barman had his back to them. Grey hair suggested it wasn’t Peter. He turned and indeed it wasn’t the boy she had drawn, but the man he had become. Behind his shoulder, propped on a shelf, was a small frame holding a dried flower. Many years had passed, but it had somehow retained its colour.

Miss Chatham

picture in a park for Miss Chatham poem

They walk together in the park
at three fifteen each day.
Miss Chatham and Euphorbia
quietly make their way.
One loved in life, one never held,
both showing time’s decay

Some note quietly, as they pass,
this singular mismatched pair.
The lady clothed in Sunday best
and her friend’s wild wispy hair.
Both alone, but twinned for life,
Miss Chatham and her teddy bear.

Timing is everything

I spent seven months writing a book about the world 100 years after it has recovered from a pandemic virus, rising sea levels and massive solar storms and what happens?

The same month I started sending my manuscript out to agents, we get a pandemic corona virus and a threat that the western Antarctic ice sheet may fail (that alone would raise sea levels by an estimated three metres). All we need now is a repeat of the Carrington Event of 1859 (now overdue) and I’m three for three.

As my son put it. “Who will want a book that anticipates disasters that are actually happening? That’s too bloody scary.”

Do you write within a genre?

writer thinking about plot and genre

I didn’t set out to write in a particular genre. In fact I’m not sure where the plot for my first novel came from, but I am fascinated by the way most of us make decisions in our teens that inform and influence the rest of our life.

I have heard, on more than one occasion, that the protagonist in a first novel can strongly resemble the authors imaginary life.

Not wanting to risk writing a veiled autobiography, for my first novel I chose a female protagonist. Then she needed to have one of those life defining problems, so she became pregnant – without being sure who the father was. Looking back I now realise that I didn’t entirely escape the ‘borrowing from real life’ syndrome, but at least it wasn’t my life, just someone close to me.

In fact my daughter pointed out that I’d also used someone I know as a template for the villain of the drama (fortunately nobody else has noticed, especially the person in question).

I didn’t think about a categorising my work until after I’d finished that novel and someone asked me which genre I wrote within. It took a few years, and a lot more writing, for me to feel comfortable with the phrase ‘commercial women’s fiction’ – and I’m still not sure that’s accurate. I write about relationships between people – that’s what interests me more than crime, science fiction, history, mystery, murder or fantasy.

Having said that, the novel I’m currently working on is set 100 years in the future and may stray into YA fiction. But it’s still basically about relationships – about trust, betrayal, love and greed.

Did you set out to specifically write within one genre?

Choosing character’s names

choosing character's names in a novel

My character’s names often change as a novel develops. Sometimes the original name just doesn’t seem to suit the way the character or their backstory develops.

There’s a theory called nominative determinism which speculates that your given name might define what you do in life. I don’t subscribe to that theory, but names do need to fit the characters.

I used the name Marcus in a novel recently, but you have to resolve the possessive suffix, either Marcus’ or Marcus’s. I would instinctively go for the former, but apparently this is a contentious point. I resolved it by changing his name to Martin.

Has anyone else experienced this problem?

For my current novel in progress all the characters have been given names from the Old Testament – no idea why, but it appears to be working and it feels ‘right’ for the story – for me at least.

They are Ethan, Abby (Abigail), Hannah, Isaac, Martha, Beth (Bethany), Daniel, Simon, Peter and Mary.

In my head there’s a connection between my novel, set 100 years in the future, and names from over 2000 years ago.

Does anyone have a better way of choosing character names?