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Good Old Days and All That

Good Old Days and All ThatOne can’t help but look back, at this time of the year, not just over the past twelve months but to re-assess where one stands in the world at this very moment.

For most of us in the West, it is not a scary place.  We can peep out from our safe havens and wonder where we will go next, and most of us won’t worry too much about it.

Certainly for most of this year I have spent hiding inside my computer screen.  It’s like disappearing into Alice’s looking glass, with the added advantage that, with a click of the mouse the curser brings me post-haste back to the chaos of the room I laughingly call my office.

I have been seriously working on my novel for almost two years now.  Without the Web, it would be impossible to get a decent degree of authenticity, and I have found it has become important for me to be as accurate as possible.  I am dreading some descendant of one of my characters coming along and giving me a dressing-down because I have misrepresented an ancestor.

Who can tell what the protagonist was feeling at that very moment?  No one, of course, but for me it is important to get the details right.  The thrilling side of writing, however, is that you can weave this together with your own magic.  Imagine how the woman, whose husband has been thrown into goal, would have felt when she had to say “goodbye” to her son at the gates of the “Poor House”, because women and men were kept separate.

It is no wonder they didn’t hug and kiss very much, considering there was no such thing as deodorant, and they bathed once in a blue moon.  These conditions are difficult for us to imagine. I do remember, as a child, quite liking the smell of most people.  Perhaps there has been a change in our eating habits.

Can you imagine a life without fridges, freezers and running hot water?  That was my world up until I was about nine years old; before we had very basic electricity.  Mum used to plug the iron into the light fitting. Many a time it would go off with a flash and a bang, and she would have to stretch a new piece of fuse wire across the board.  I was fifteen years old before we had a fridge, and twenty before a freezer was installed.  I was still using a pan-lavatory until I was fifteen!  Heaven forbid!  It’s not so much sitting there which is a problem, but who has to clean it out!

I pointed out to one of my neighbours, around the time of the last election, that if the country ever did go bankrupt, had she thought how it would be, waking up one morning to no gas, no electricity and no food in the co-op? It is quite a thought.  I wonder if we would see a fall in panic attacks and other stress related conditions, or would they increase?

So, that’s where I am at the moment, half way between two worlds, and on the whole loving them both.  With a little tweaking I think we can get it right (both the novel and the world)!

One of the reasons for writing this book is to give my grandchildren some idea of what it was really like for those living in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  I was brought up in a small village in Leicestershire and the earlier years were not so much different from those enjoyed by the Victorians, the mandate being the same, as I remember.

It does give food for thought, unearthing the old debate about the “Good Old Days”.  Any ideas on that will be welcomed.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to have my gas boiler serviced, and my fridge and freezer stocked, whilst disappearing into the WWWdot, for my daily fix, whilst keeping my eyes open for a sighting of daffodils and tulips.

Stay warm and keep that pen going!

How do you ensure when you’re writing about the past that the modern world doesn’t infringe on your writing?  I would be interested to see your comments.

About Janet Scrivens

Grandma Janet has written mainly for her Grandchildren, but is now on the last leg of her first novel.

The story is based on her own Grandmother, so the ambience of the tale is already established. Researching the book has been an adventure in itself, scouring three different addresses throughout Janet's native Leicestershire and Rutland in the UK. A great opportunity to unearth hidden secrets of history.

View all contributions by Janet Scrivens

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  • Janet Scrivens July 27, 2013, 4:31 pm

    Have just read my last blog post, which echoes cries of ‘HELP’, on nearing the end of the writing, and having to tie up so many loose ends.

    Today, however, is a very different story, for the past week or two have been spent back in the magical world of creating the last few tales in order to bring it to a conclusion. The muse has flitted in and out, but even when I have struggled to find the words, he has arrived, better late than never, and settled on my shoulder to inspire. I am not at all sure you will agree with me if you get to read the tale, but I am having so much pleasure in telling it, that just for now it is enough.

    That will not last, as of course it has to be as good as it can be, but if I never write another (a sequel is already on the boil), I shall always remember the joy I have experienced in doing it, and try to put a little more order to it from the start; learning from mistakes, I guess.

    It is like having built the house, and NOW it is time to choose the carpets, curtains and furniture to embellish. This for me is the best bit.

    At this point I do have to say that a couple of friends have inspired me to go up a gear and finish it.

    Thanks to you both, Mary and Gail.
    More soon, thanks for reading. x

  • Janet Scrivens July 3, 2013, 3:25 pm

    Hello, everyone at ‘The Word Runs Through It’, congratulations on your launch.

    So, today finds me and the novel struggling with a few dilemmas.

    I am almost at the end, well, about another four or so chapters to go, but most research done for those, and plot agreed on. I was beginning to get excited, but have encountered a few problems.

    I really should have plotted it at the beginning, just over two years ago, when I was overcome with the desperate urge to sit down, pen in hand, at the dining table, and write my heart out. I should have taken it, chapter by chapter, and recorded all of the characters and their movements.

    I dare say most writers will, at some point in their lives, succumb to the tantilizing voice of their muse, but it’s a bit like being led astray by a romantic, silver-tongued devil, because now, nearing the end of the relationship, I am left with lots of loose ends of sub-plots which need to be resolved: a Great-great-grandmother who needs to meet her maker, a family friend in the workhouse and numerous historical events which have passed by without a mention. The research for these will be fascinating, but I really do have the need to reach the end and, hopefully to see it in print, either on paper or on an e-book, but before I can write the last few chapters, I have to go back and read and re-read, to make sure nothing has been missed.

    Talking about publishing, there’s another issue which will need some serious thought, better not leave all of that until the end.

    I can feel a new book waiting at the end of this, entitled, perhaps, ‘How Not to Write a Novel?’ Perhaps not, what I should have done was to have read it in the first place. Hey Ho!

  • Janet Scrivens July 3, 2013, 2:57 pm

    For me, I can honestly say, ‘Yes, the ‘here and now’ often interferes with the writing of a 19th century novel’. I seem to be continually editing, over and over again, to try to make each sentence, in fact, each word, count.
    I don’t expect for one moment the text will be perfect, but I constantly aim for just that.
    I love the phrases, ‘I will be there directly’, and ‘I am much obliged to you’. I can almost smell the lavender.

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