Thursday 31 May 2018

Location Inspiration Day
On Thursday 17th May, I'd driven to the RNA Summer Party in Oxford where my writing friend, Sue McDonagh, had been one of the seventeen contenders for the Joan Hessayon Award for New Writers. It was good to share the celebrations of so many writers who have graduated from the excellent New Writers' Scheme to become published authors in the last year. Congratulations to the winner Hannah Begbie with her contemporary novel, Mother, published by Harper Collins. It was great, too, to catch up with friends I hadn't seen since the Conference.

On Wednesday 23rd, Sue and I set off on our second road trip in as many weeks. This time she was the driver and picked me up bright and early to travel to Dulverton in Somerset. We were going to the first Location Inspiration Day run by Alison Knight and Jenny Kane in the beautiful Northmoor House. The impressive Victorian house is set in magnificent grounds and the weather was as hot and sunny as it had been for the party the week before.

After introductions and an explanation of the format of the day, we were encouraged to explore the house and gardens seeking out inspiration for our writing. We were given a pack containing information about the history of the house and the families who had lived there in the past. It also had a series of challenges and picture prompts of things we could look for as we explored if we wanted to use them.

I spent the morning exploring and taking photographs of anything I could imagine being part of a setting for future stories or when editing existing ones. Greystone Hall in my first novel is based on Abbeycwmhir Hall. When I visited it as part of my research, I was able to get the proportions of the rooms and look at staff photographs to see what the place was like in 1946 but the house is now a very smart tourist attraction and for me lacks the authenticity I needed. However, the owners of Northmoor House, although much smaller in proportion, have retained many of the features I described in the book. It even smelt old in some of the unlived-in rooms and I was transported back in time. For example, the ancient copper could be the very one Rose toiled over when washing the household's bed linen, pummelling the boiling soap suds with a wooden tongs. 

The chamber maids had already brought down the sheets and bolster cases to the scullery and all Rose had to do was get the fires under the coppers going and fill the drums with buckets of water and soap flakes. She carried over bucket after bucket until her arms ached under the weight of the water and the metal pails. The grates were laid with rolled up newspaper and sticks of wood from the day before and Rose lit the fires underneath each copper in turn. . . The fires under the coppers blazed to a roar and the heat soon caused the soapy water to bubble and boil. Rose emptied in the two equal loads of dirty linen and stirred the tubs with the wooden tongs until the bedding was fully submerged. 

Rose and her friend, Maisie, would have a black-leaded a range like this one and scrubbed floors similar to this, perhaps.

The whole place inspired you to want to get writing. In fact that's what many people did. Wherever I wandered, there seemed to be people writing away. When we stopped to have coffee and the delicious cakes provided or eat the packed lunches we'd brought with us, people were talking about what they'd seen or how much they'd written. 

This rocking horse got me planning out my third novel (oops! Haven't quite finished novel 2!) Another mother daughter saga had been forming in my head for a while and I knew it was going to be about a foundling, a little girl. However, immersing myself in Northmoor made me ask so many 'What Ifs?' What if the rocking horse started rocking on its own in the middle of the night? Had the Lord and Lady of the manor lost a child? What was the significance of a horse? I won't say anymore  apart from to tell you that I wrote pages of notes and the idea I originally had is evolving into a definite plan.

Thanks, Sue, for being my chauffeur for the day. It was a long way to go but very enjoyable and worthwhile. . . and we chatted non-stop there and back! A big thank you, too, to Alison and Jenny for organising the aptly named Inspiration Day. I'm sure they'd like me to tell you that they are holding an Imagine Writing Retreat in October at Northmoor House.

Thank you for reading. What place has inspired you? 

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page. 

Thursday 10 May 2018

Llandeilo Lit Fest 2018
Llandeilo is a town situated in the beautiful Towy valley and at the end of April, it hosted a four day literary festival. The festival had a full programme of literary events running from Thursday 26th to Sunday 29th April. There were readings, discussions, workshops and literary talks taking place in venues across the town. As well as a picture quiz and guided tours, the Lit Fest also hosted a two day book fair in the Civic Hall. Here are some of the excellent talks I attended and just a few points about each one:

Genre, Ghosts and the Gothic by Carol Lovekin.
Carol talked about genre as a 'descriptor', a tool for marketing and finding where  books fit. Not something she thought too much about when she started writing her novels, at the launch of her second book, Snow Sisters, her writing was described as being Welsh Gothic and more recently as 'lyrical Gothic'. There is a poetic quality about her work. Her writing fits into magical realism where there's a blurring of the lines between the possible and the factual, yet it remains firmly rooted in reality via her female protagonists. Through a temporary suspension of disbelief, the ghosts in her books are real, having characters of their own. The highlight of the talk for me was hearing Carol read excerpts from Ghostbird and Snow Sisters.

Dysfunctional families in Contemporary Fiction by Sara Gethin.
Sara's debut novel Not Thomas is a story of one such family where a five year old boy, Tomos, lives with his teenage mother who is a drug addict. Having taught in areas of poverty and extreme deprivation, Sara explained that Tomos is based on a range of neglected children, and it was his character that came first, before the plot. She'd been told of a child waiting at a window watching other children leaving for school. He knew then that was his time to go, too, and that image never left her. The character of Rhiannon, his mother, was based on a girl who died of a heroin overdose in her teens. We were treated to Sara reading excerpts from the novel, taking us right into the world of Tomos.

Crime and History by Thorne Moore.
Even though 'crime fiction' is relatively recent, there has always been crime in literature. Thorne made the point that where there are laws, there will be crime when those laws are broken. Often in stories, there will be moral lessons about human nature, too. She outlined the crimes in some well known novels. Crimes that happen in a moment can impact on events to come. There is often a domestic side to crime. Setting in a novel is important and houses, especially, often bear the footprint of the people who lived there. There is often a touch of the past on the present. These latter points made me think of Thorn'e's wonderful book, A Time for Silence, where Sarah seeks to unravel the dark secrets of Cwmderwen.

The Green Hollow by Owen Sheers.
Owen Sheers talked about The Green Hollow, the book version of his film poem of the same name that was aired on 21st October 2016 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster. He explained the work that went into the project, interviewing the people of Aberfan, to paint a picture in words of small scenes, small experiences and what each individual went through. The three part structure of the work covers Before  - children then and now as adults reflecting back, During - the rescuers and outside voices, After - the survivors, moving on, Aberfan now. Like the film, the book is written in verse and the rhythm, rhymes and half rhymes came alive as Owen read poignant excerpts to the audience.

The Suffragists by Judith Barow.
Judith explained the difference between the Suffragettes and the Suffragists. Millicent Fawcett was one of the latter and the first woman to recently have a statue erected in Parliament Square. Her campaign for votes for women was through peaceful means. The Suffragettes and Emmeline Pankhurst took a more militant approach. We learned about women as political prisoners, going on hunger strike, being force-fed and receiving horrific treatment. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act gave women over the age of thirty, and with some property, the right to vote but it was another ten years before the suffrage movement achieved its aim for all women to have the vote. In A Hundred Tiny Threads, the main character Winnie gets involved with the local suffrage movement and Judith ended her talk by reading relevant excerpts from the novel. 

Thank you for reading. I hope you have enjoyed these few snippets of each excellent talk. Have you been to a Literary Festival recently? Who did you see? I'd love to hear about it. Thanks.

You may also follow me on @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.