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Writing – How do you choose a setting?

Published August 21, 2012 by loonyliterature

 

 

English: Enid Blyton's former house "Old ...

English: Enid Blyton’s former house “Old Thatch” near Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

At the moment, I am writing a free in between story for our willblyton.com website.  It is called” Will Blyton and The Maggoty Motleys” and I’m being either brave or stupid as the work in progress is being posted.  The Will Blyton books are aimed at 9-12 year olds and explore time travel and will be introducing William Shakespeare and his plays in the books and free stories.

 

The setting for Will Blyton and The Maggoty Motleys is a children’s literary festival in 2006.  This probably seems like a strange place to set a children’s story but around that time my family were going to a lot of children’s literary festivals and seeing a very mixed bag of children’s writers. This was one of the reasons I felt the urge to set a children’s story at a fictional festival.  Seeing such a range of different approaches is truly entertaining and the festivals are worth attending if it is just for that and nothing else.

 

Some of the writers embrace the idea of talking about their books as if they secretly wanted to be rock stars but it never happened.  Others dress elegantly but timidly tell of how they were told that they were a children’s writer and not a science fiction writer.  The variation is endless but I must not forget the ones who made me want to rush for the nearest exit as I wondered if it was the effort of their writing which had left the lifeless slugs drawling before me.  Forgive me for sounding wicked with the last lot but you try sitting through a session with one of them and I bet you could teach me a thing or two on evil thoughts.

 

The second reason I wanted to write a story set at a fictional festival is that I have seen the effect literary festivals have on children and their reading.  My teenage son told me recently that he believes that going to literary festivals when younger definitely spurred him on to read more.  More than that, however, I have seen and heard the excitement of children wriggling in their seats whilst they wait for a favourite author to take the chair on the stage.  The atmosphere buzzes and the air is filled with energy – yes we are talking about author appearances not football stadiums or rock concerts.  Unfortunately, only a small percentage of children get to them because not enough parents and teachers realise what excellent value for money they are – going to children’s literary festivals is not a very well-known activity, more so in certain areas than others.  It seemed then to be a good idea to set a story at a festival and hopefully it might put the idea of going to a festival to the actual children themselves.

 

This only leaves me to ask “how do you choose your settings?  Is it a desire to be in a certain time and place, something which echoes theme and plot or do you choose settings because you think they are popular with readers and will sell more books?  I would love to know your thoughts.

 

How a Dead Man’s Hand Inspired Me!

Published July 11, 2012 by loonyliterature

“It doesn’t frighten me in this room.”  Bongo stands in front of the full blown photograph of Boris Death, the horror movie star, on the wall.  The room gives me the willies, but it’s private.  Bongo bends over to peer into the glass case which holds The Hand of Glory and stares at it.

It stinks!” He starts coughing as if he is going to vomit.

I remind him that it is a three hundred year old hand.

(page 34 – Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow.)

 

When Bongo is overcome by the smell of the hand, the fictional character is actually reliving something which happened to me, which subsequently ends up in the book.

About six years ago, we decided to have a trip to Whitby, home of Saint Hilda’s Abbey and part inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  If you have never visited Whitby, it is an enchanting fishing village with a maze of alleyways and an atmosphere of ‘something is about to happen.’  Go at Hallowe’en weekend and you will think you have been transported onto a Gothic film set.  I will say no more on that point, as I believe, everyone should discover this event for themselves.

St Mary’s Church Graveyard – Oh those steps!

We decided to visit The Whitby Museum.  It is a most interesting place with wonderful curiosities to inspire any writer.  These include: a hangman’s locket; clogs worn by a school truant and spurs used in cock fights. 

Hangman’s Locket at Whitby Museum.

As we approached a large glass case, I became overpowered by the sweetest odour I have ever smelled.  It was a mixture of overwhelming sweetness mixed with the smell of musty furniture.  I thought I was going to be sick.  We peered into the glass case and saw a mummified, shrivelled hand. 

The Whitby Museum states:

“The mummified severed  human hand in Whitby Museum was discovered in the early twentieth century hidden on the wall of a thatched cottage in Castleton by a stonemason and local historian, Joseph Ford. He immediately identified it from popular stories of such objects as a “Hand of Glory”. It was given to Whitby Museum in 1935 and is the only alleged Hand known to survive.

There is interesting folklore behind the Hand of Glory.  Apparently, a Hand of Glory is supposed to be cut off a felon who is still hanging from the gallows and then the hand is pickled.  Somehow, this is supposed to give the hand magical properties.  Thieves would use the hands to help them do their jobs in that, if they entered a house with the hand, all the occupants would go into a deep sleep resembling a coma and be unable to awake until the burglars leave.  There are different versions of this story and can be found on The Whitby Museum website.

If the Hand of Glory had been lit, the householders would fall into a coma like sleep – Whitby Museum.

There were three other people with me in the museum and the smell came at varying degrees to us all – I was the only one who felt overpowered by it.  The only other time I have smelled a similar smell was in a holiday farmhouse we rented in France in the master bedroom.  The sickly sweet odour seemed to emerge from a locked cupboard in the bedroom.  We were supposed to stay there three weeks.  We left after a week of strange and unexplained happenings.  I will say no more – for now.

 

Time Travelling Heroes – The Doctor from Doctor Who (part two)

Published June 13, 2012 by loonyliterature
Cover of "Doctor Who and the Monster of P...

Cover of Doctor Who and the Monster of Peladon

If you remember from last time, Hamnet (the Tudor boy trapped in the stone) is trying to get me back in time.  To be able to improve in our time travelling techniques, we are watching Doctor Who to pick up tips.  Last time, we had gone forward one week to April 1974.  Hamnet was insufferable.  He bragged on and on about what a time travelling magician he was – then it happened and to be honest the insult maker was lost for words.  I exaggerate; he was lost for words for a short time.

I am having problems here deciding whether to give you the news or not.  The genius inside me says that I should so that you will have something to look forward to.  Firstly, Doctor Who does not end when “The Monster of Peladon” finishes.  Hamnet took us forward in time to see “Planet of Spiders”.  It was whilst watching the last episode of “Planet of Spiders” on June 8th, 1974 that Hamnet got the shock of his life.

This image is a promotional picture from Docto...

This image is a promotional picture from Doctor Who Magazine, intended for use in the article “Sarah Jane Smith” to visually aid and provide critical commentary in describing the subject of the article. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I expect you are wondering what happened on June 8th 1974 to shock Hamnet so much.  We saw The Doctor die.  He had been fatally affected by Metebelis Crystals.  Hamnet was in such a state.  He had thought The Doctor could teach him to get back to his own time.  He was sitting there sobbing in his stone prison whilst Sarah Jane Smith sobbed on the television;  then something else happened.  I had heard about this happening before but as I had not seen it myself, I didn’t want to give Hamnet false hopes.  It is called Regeneration.  Hamnet and I watched as The Doctor changed into what looked like another person.  It was still The Doctor but he looked totally different.  Hamnet now believes that The Doctor is a far more powerful magician than Corpsehound.  He is sure that if he watches The Doctor for long enough, he will discover all his secrets. Hamnet is positive that by learning from The Doctor, he will be able to fight Master Corpsehound and release himself from the stone.  Only time will tell.  Meanwhile, if anyone knows how to improve Hamnet’s time travelling skills into the past please comment at willblyton.com

The Fourth Doctor's impractically long scarf b...

The Fourth Doctor’s impractically long scarf became an iconic image of the character. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Detective Heroes – Nancy Drew.

Published May 9, 2012 by loonyliterature
Cover of "The Hidden Staircase"

Cover of The Hidden Staircase

Nancy Drew is an excellent teenage detective from America.  She knows the value of using a good magnifying glass and a strong torch to solve her cases.  In “The Hidden Staircase”, Nancy Drew travels to an old stone mansion and finds a secret hidden passage.  If she did not have her torch with her, she would have been stumped.  So budding detectives, take note from Nancy Drew and always make sure you have your torch whilst out detecting.  Nothing stops Nancy from solving her case, she is fearless and intelligent. In fact, she reminds me of my friend, Athena.

1966 cover of the revised version of The Secre...

1966 cover of the revised version of The Secret of the Old Clock, the first Nancy Drew mystery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I said, Nancy Drew is American.  She lives in a place called River Heights.  Her father, Carson Drew is a criminal lawyer and Nancy worked on her first case “The Secret of The Old Clock” with him.  We see how clever and brave Nancy is when she actually rescues her father after he has been abducted.  This happens in the case I mentioned earlier – “The Hidden Staircase”.

The Ghost of Blackwood Hall

The Ghost of Blackwood Hall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Budding detectives often think that there is no point in being a detective because no-one will take child and teenage detectives seriously.  This is not always the case.  In “The Ghost of Blackwood Hall”, Nancy is asked to detect because she is not an adult.  Mrs Putney has had all her jewels stolen and warned she must not go to the police or tell any man or woman what has happened.  If she does, she will invite terrible publicity.  She feels safe telling Nancy Drew, the best sleuth in River Heights, simply because she is a girl.  Mrs Putney, therefore, is not going to the police or telling a man or a woman.  This proves that young detectives are needed.

This is the mysterious parcel. I need to investigate.

A mysterious parcel has arrived with a miniature skull inside it.  Until next time, budding detectives – I need to get my magnifying glass out.

My Favourite Detecting Equipment (1). The Magnifying Glass. No Adults Allowed.

Published May 6, 2012 by loonyliterature

Being a successful detective means that we have to notice what is going on around us but we also have to use our brains.  We must never forget the importance of our detecting equipment though.  For those of you who are hoping to become detectives, you need to get a magnifying glass.  The criminal thinks he can fool us but he or she always leaves something behind to set us on a trail.  This is why a magnifying glass is needed – it shows us clues the naked eye cannot see. 

Top tip for trying out your magnifying glass.

If, all day, you had been thinking about those last three chocolate biscuits left in the biscuit tin and you find them gone – what should you do?  Obviously, you question everyone as to the whereabouts of the missing biscuits but we all know that brothers, sisters and grandmas deny everything.  This is where the magnifying glass comes into its own.  Hide the magnifying glass behind your back and then quickly produce it.  Use the magnifying glass to look around your suspect’s mouth and on their clothes.  If you see suspicious looking crumbs, you will realise that you have caught the biscuit chomping culprit.

Well done detective pals – see you shortly.

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