Creative Writing

I wrote six novels between the age of ten and sixteen and the stories just poured out but, every now and then, I’d stop and think about a particularly grown-up word I wanted to use and feel pleased with myself when I found it. Naturally, I always looked forward to the next Big Scene – like the love scenes – and I have to confess that the occasional renunciation love scene always left me in tears.

Port Carnow Cove, Cornwall, from print in E. Hawksley’s collection

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If you need inspiration for a novel, you could do a lot worse than visit your nearest stately home. The magnificent Kenwood House, built in the 1760s by Robert Adam for the Earl of Mansfield, is not too far from where I live. It struck me that what novelists sometimes need is not an in depth knowledge of a stately home’s architectural highlights but a record of some of the everyday objects which a heroine would come across.

Rear of Kenwood House, showing the Orangerie

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This is the week of my e-book launch of Highland Summer and I’d like to tell you a bit about the book.

I try to set myself a technical challenge with all my books and those of you who have been following my e-books story so far, will know that Highland Summer is where I intersperse the third person narrative with extracts from the heroine, Robina’s, journal, as I explained in my blog last week. It was fascinating to see how Robina’s character gradually changed as I allowed her to have her say in what was going on.

 

e-book cover for ‘Highland Summer’. I’m so thrilled it’s coming out tomorrow! Continue reading

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I am busy getting my Elizabeth Hawksley back list of ten historical novels into e-books The first e-book will be Highland Summer and I’ve been remembering the struggle to introduce my heroine, Robina (an intelligent but naive seventeen-year-old girl) in such a way as to make her interesting. The novel was in the third person and I was getting desperate. And then I had an idea: I would write Robina’s diary and see what happened. Perhaps a (temporary) first person viewpoint would help to free the block.

I’m stuck, dammit! What am I to do?

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On 10th May, I put up a post about my lockdown project of getting my Elizabeth Hawksley historical novels into e-books. Now, ten weeks later, the first book, Highland Summer is almost ready and it’s been a steep, not to say precipitous, learning curve. However, thanks to computer wizard John Hocking, and his wife Janet Gover, another computer wizard, both brilliant at explaining things, we are at last getting there.

Elizabeth looking apprehensive but trying not to show it. Photo by Sally Greenhill

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This week, I’m stepping back in time – a long way: to 1980 in fact, when I sold my first Rachel Summerson novel, Hearts are Trumps, to Sidgwick & Jackson. The following year, it came out in America, published by St Martin’s Press who renamed it Belgrave Square: A Novel of Society.

Me lecturing at Caerleon Writers’ Holiday, something I enjoy doing.

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Lockdown does strange things. I’d been thinking for a long time about getting my back list of 10 novels into e-books but, somehow, it’s remained at the thinking stage. Should I edit and re-write my early novels – I could see where they needed work – or I should operate on the ‘sod it’ principle and, after altering any spelling mistakes or obvious errors, publish them as they originally were. I’d begin with my first Elizabeth Hawksley: Lysander’s Lady, and put them into e-books sequentially, ending with my most recent novel, Highland Summer.

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I have long loved the stylish and witty novels of Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) and I know that I am not alone. The actor, playwright and composer, Noël Coward, also enjoyed her novels and admired her technique – especially her clever use of irony. The novelist A.S. Byatt itemized why Heyer’s Regency novels were so successful: ‘Paradise of ideal solutions, knowing it for what it is, comforted by its temporary actuality, nostalgically refreshed for coping with the quite different tangle of preconceptions, conventions and social emphases we have to live with. Which is what good escape literature is about.’  Heyer did her research properly; her Regency world may be limited in its social range but she undoubtedly had the gift of drawing her readers in, holding them spellbound, and making them laugh and feel better.

The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer 1951

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I’m sure I’m not just speaking for myself when I say that novelists choose the surnames of their characters with great care. I certainly agonise over mine. I was reminded of this when reading Maggie Lane’s brilliant Jane Austen and Food. In it, she makes the perceptive point that Mrs Norris in Mansfield Park is ironically named – from the French nourrice, a nurse. She behaves in the most un-nurturing way towards Fanny Price and seems to take every opportunity to put her down.

‘My dear Sir Thomas, Fanny can walk.’ says Mrs Norris. Illustration by Hugh Thomson for Mansfield Park

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I have a wonderful book of advertisements in ‘The Times’ from the 1870s. As well as being a mine of information about everyday life in  London at that date, there is also a section of personal advertisements, many of which could be the basis for a novel.

Looking for a plot? How about:

C.C.C.C. Do not despair, my Marguerite. Only have patience. I hope we shall meet on the 3rd at P. Be cautious and attend to all the advice I gave you. Do write to the London address if you possibly can, and tell me what has happened that prevents your writing. If I wrote in l.j. it would betray us. Thine for ever, B.B.B.B.

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