Apothecary weights

No, I haven’t gone mad, but I have had an interesting few days. As well as trying to keep on top of NaNoWriMo, I had to attend a dinner prior to which I had to research some old records linked to the society holding the dinner (long story which I shan’t bore you with).

In the early parts of these records, I found references to charging for prescriptions which contained what I can only describe as Western Hieroglyphs. They certainly looked nothing like any prescription I’d seen before.

The figures on the right are obviously prices in shillings and pence, but what of the rest of them?

I asked a very old doctor who was at the dinner. He’d never seen anything like it, either.

Fortunately, Google came to the rescue. It seems these are weights under the old apothecary system: the ‘3’ gone mad at the start of many of these clusters is the symbol for an apothecary ounce. I still haven’t worked out what all the letters and dots mean, but I have fingers in pies.

Why am I writing about this in a WOMAG blog? Because it illustrates how inspiration comes from all directions and often where we least expect it. The more I look at this and the pages before and after, the more characters are forming – the ones who recorded these proceedings and the ones affected by them. Hopefully, soon I will have a serial along the lines of The Citadel by A J Cronin. But more cheerful.

This seemed an obvious excuse to go and watch a dramatisation of The Citadel. So far, the only one I’ve found has been transposed to Ireland, or maybe Scotland, made in Italian and dubbed very badly. I lasted about 2 minutes before clicking off.

I need to do some more research! So if you know of a good dramatisation of this classic story, please tell me.

Writing Retreat

I have just returned from a long weekend with writer friends in the borders. Most of us met on Open University creative writing courses perhaps a decade ago and, being geographically scattered, we try to meet up once a year.

Darnlea, Melrose. roomy and welcoming.

So, last Friday I headed up to a delightful house just outside Melrose. This was a fabulous place. Roomy, warm, comfortable, quiet, wi-fi that works and with interesting things to see nearby. Above all, it wasn’t expensive – £148 for a double room for 4 nights!

Walter Scott’s house, Abbotsford, was a mile or two in one direction. Melrose, with its ancient abbey and delightful shops, was an easy walk in the other.

We were surrounded by vibrant autumn colours and beautiful rolling countryside. We had two brief ‘workshops’ per day, with ample writing or exploring time in between. And, of course, there was ample time to catch up and generally renew old friendships over shared meals.

We watched Strictly en masse (and were all appalled when Emma survived the Sunday vote). We each wrote a 50-word short story for the Scottish book trust competition (I must remember to enter mine even though I’d only win a mug!), and planned novels by summarising each of the main scenes with a sentence.

I got to discuss my devastating New Writer Scheme novel feedback with someone who knows my writing and whom I trust (Mairi Macmillan has just released her first novel, The Viking’s Cursed Bride with Tirgearr).

Ian and I shared more than one bottle of wine. And Palo Stickland showed me how to make chapatti’s so they rise properly on the stove. It was Palo making chapattis on previous retreats which prompted me to write my story

anthology with recipes
Second Helpings – it’s got recipes and everything

‘Chapattis with everything’ in the anthology ‘Second Helpings’, published by our group which we call Women Who Write With Elves. This was supposed to be a play on words taking the book ‘Women Who Run With Wolves’ and turning it to suit our group which is all female except for Mr Elves. (He says he has Portuguese sailors in his ancestry but we’re not sure we believe him.)

And so here I am back home. I am bang up to date with my NaNoWriMo word count, I’ve got a flash to submit, great ideas for plotting and a promise of a second opinion on the novella which can be salvaged if only I knew how.

On Thursday I meet with the local NaNoWriMo group at our library for 2 hours of uninterrupted (well, except for coffee) writing. On Friday, I’ll be meeting another member of the New Writer’s Scheme for lunch and a chat over where our novels are going after our feedback. I’m really looking forward to that.

I think the point I’m trying to make is how important it is to network with other writers. We tend to write in a bubble. But just as doctors or lawyers or policemen or even refuse collectors don’t work in isolation, then neither should we.

Darnlea and its grounds: splendid isolation, but perfect for writers

I’m not a natural networker, but getting together with other writers, meeting new ones, exchanging ideas, sharing hopes and fears is all for the good, both in terms of writing and the spirits.

I’m already looking forward to going to Darnlea again next year. Is it booked yet?







Back to basics

Last week, I submitted two stories to my WOMAG critique group. Both were well received but with suggestions about making them more positive. One of the characters in the first story spoke rather negatively. The problem with the second story was too much downbeat material.

How could I address these to make the stories more WOMAG friendly?

The plot of the first story concerned a writer renowned for inventive character names. She was finding it impossible to think up a suitable name for her first child. “Why can’t we name him after my dad?” the husband asked. Nothing wrong with that, I thought. In fact, it’s quite a common sort of question. But he made other utterances phrased negatively, for example, “Why not Bill after my granddad?” Taken together they added up to a rather negative character.

I did not notice this myself, which is one of the benefits of a critique group.

This was easily fixed by rewording the offending dialogue. “I like John, after my dad,” sounds chirpier, doesn’t it?

The second story proved more challenging. Here, a stuffed toy helps Louisa overcome the loss of Samson, her pet Labrador.

Pet deaths are highly emotive and death, in general, is one of those topics WOMAGs advise you to avoid unless you can be positive about it. This can be achieved. The first story I ever sold was about a man (yes WOMAGs do buy stories with men as the POV character) coming to terms with the death of his son.

Don and Sofie from Picking Up the Pieces.

This was published in 2014 as Picking up the Pieces. Isn’t the illustration fabulous?

The positive spin I introduced to this was to make it not about losing Simon, the son, but about keeping Sofie, the woman Don had hoped would become his daughter-in-law. Don loved Sofie and all descriptions of her used positive language. This is how I introduced her in the first paragraph:

“Early evening sun glittered in her hair and she talked quietly to herself as she worked with her brushes and paints, oblivious to the fact she was being watched.”

Don’t you just love her already? Further down the same page is:

“Bright, sensible and talented, she was permanently happy and positive. She was the cog Don’s family hadn’t realised they were missing until she came along.”

Don fears that because Sofie has no ties to him and his wife now Simon has died, it is only a matter of time before this essential ‘cog’ disappears. It transpires that Sofie is just as fearful of losing them. Happy endings all round and not a dry eye in the house.

Which brings me back to how do I lighten the death of Louisa’s beloved Samson? How do I make it less

and more

happy cat

First, on the advice of the group, I took out the line about a second dog running under the wheels of a car. Everyone agreed it was a step too far. So, although another dog has to ‘go’, he now is given up as the result of a house move.

Samson’s death was a brief but positive affair, with Samson almost thanking Louisa for it. On advice, I moved the very brief death scene from the opening paragraph to several paragraphs in. Instead, I opened with Samson’s ashes being scattered so that ‘he’s in his happy place forever.’

Next, I added happy memories for Louisa to share with her sister, and enjoyable activities Louisa could do now Samson was gone – such as having a cup of coffee in the café without his baleful brown eyes staring at her through the window and provoking a guilt trip.

Will this be positive enough? I don’t know. But it is possible to write positively about most things. Finding how is what creative writing is all about.



How to be a Happy Author

I have been too busy writing to blog this month. That, you’d think, is a good thing. And I suppose it is. But in a month where I have been bombarded by doom and gloom – a friend who has a publishing deal is feeling the heat, a meeting with other romance authors taught me that publishers are going under, authors are being dumped, anyone can and might sue you over anything, writing incomes are falling – this blog post on how to be a happy author seemed timely. So I’m going to just let you read it.

Meanwhile, remember not to worry about the lows because there will be another high along soon.

Cozy crime – or do I mean dozy?

**Rant alert**

I fancied reading a bit of cozy crime for a change. Some of my reading has been heavy recently and I needed something light that wasn’t romance.

As a writer, I felt it was important to choose something modern, even though my heart yearned for an Agatha Christie.

Well, I’ve tried. I really have.

I have spent a long time on Amazon looking for suitable reads, checking out the ‘look inside’ feature to see if I was gripped before parting with pennies.

Dear reader, I was not. Let us leave aside that modern cozies appear to need a slightly weird librarian (I think they are meant to be quirky and quaint, but aren’t) or a cat with supernatural abilities, (preferably both), we have dreadful prose and minimal action. Overdone metaphors, adjective overdosage and general verbosity nearly drove me insane last night.

There must be modern cozies which do not feature a




or a





and which do not need




If you know of any, PLEASE let me know (unless it’s Agatha Raisin, who I know about but can’t warm to as a character). Meanwhile, I’m taking Hercule Poirot to bed with me tonight.


Images courtesy of Pixabay