#wwwblogs

Autumn Superstitions #wwwblogs #superstitions

autumn

Autumn seems to have well and truly arrived. The heating’s on, I’ve dug out my slippers and the countdown to that day has begun.

Autumn is a beautiful season – and one that is full of old traditions and beliefs. This is a post from a couple of years ago celebrating some weird and wonderful autumn superstitions.

Even the most sceptical among us might qualm when it comes to walking under a ladder, or find ourselves saluting when we see a single magpie (that’s me!); superstitions that have been around for hundreds of years still seem to have a hold in these more rational times.

Many superstitions arose in a past where life was governed by the weather and the seasons, so it’s no surprise that there are plenty of customs and beliefs associated with autumn. People needed to find security in the unknown, to feel that they had a handle on what might happen. And autumn was a scary time. The harvest was crucial – would there be enough to keep everyone going over the winter months? And what would those winter months be like? Many superstitions were focused on what the winter would bring. And many have their roots in common sense (but certainly not all of them!).

fruits

For example, it was believed that if fruits were plentiful the coming winter would be mild. This makes sense; as the fruits would need warmth to ripen, meaning that the autumn was probably mild, so therefore the winter could possibly be mild too. This is possibly the reasoning behind another belief – that if ducks leave it until late autumn to fly south, then winter will arrive late.

onions

It’s worth knowing your onions too – a thin skin means a mild winter, but if the skin is thick winter will be cold.

If you want to know when the worst of winter will be, then go and look for some caterpillars. If you find lots of caterpillars that are dark brown in the middle but yellow at each end, then the middle of winter will be cold. However, if there are lots of them, of any colour, then the whole winter will be cold.

caterpillar

Not sure what sort of winter this one signifies!

You could always slaughter a hog. Apparently if you do this and can identify its spleen, then if the spleen lies towards its head, winter will be mild (as a vegetarian, I’ll think I’ll pass on that one).

By now you could be completely confused. But you might also be wondering about next summer already. Will it be good here at home or should I book somewhere in the sun? Wait a few weeks until the end of autumn, then dig up the garden. You’ll need to dig deep. If worms are found deep down in the earth, then next summer will be cold.

So what then if the winter is going to be bad? You could always ward off colds beforehand. If you catch a falling leaf in autumn, then you’ll be free of colds all year. And there’s an added bonus; every leaf you catch means a lucky month the following year.

autumn leaf

Of course one thing our ancestors were scared of was death – they understood it even less than we did. So superstitions and predictions offered some comfort and some idea of control over the future. A primrose growing in your yard in autumn was a signifier of death. And if a cherry tree bloomed in autumn, then that meant death not only for a person, but for the tree too. In the West of Scotland, a white rose blooming in autumn was another sign of an impending death; however, the blooming of a red rose meant an early marriage.

I, of course, believe in none of these. Though that won’t stop me trying to catch a leaf when I’m walking the dog later. I’ve felt like I’ve been coming down with a cold these last few days and you never know, a falling leaf might be just what I need.

 

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Writing and Editing Tips Revisited: Writing a Blurb #writingtips #wwwblogs

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Almost as feared as the dreaded synopsis, the book blurb has the power to turn wonderful writers to jelly. But the blurb is the hook, along with the cover, to reel those readers in. You need to make sure that you entice your reader, that you intrigue them without giving too much away. Longer than the elevator pitch, but shorter than a synopsis, the book blurb is key to whetting a reader’s appetite.

So how should you approach it? Here are some quick tips on getting that blurb up to scratch.

Keep it short. This is NOT a synopsis. You want a couple of two to three line paragraphs. Too much and you risk giving too much away and turning off your reader. Too little and you might miss the mark.

Mention your main character(s). It’s important for your reader to know who the book is about.

Be precise. There is no place or space for vagueness, long-windedness or clever clever vocabulary in your blurb. Short, sharp, to the point.

Make it interesting. Obviously. What’s intriguing about the story? Why would I want to read it?

Don’t give away the ending. It might sound silly to even point that out – but it does happen.

Don’t compare yourself to other writers or compare the book to other books. Tell your potential reader that you’re the next J.K Rowling or Stephen King and you’re more likely to annoy them than anything.

Watch out for clichés or overused words and phrases. Try and be refreshing and new. And interesting.

Good luck!

Writing & Editing Tips Revisited – Contractions in Dialogue #wwwblogs #writingtips #WritingANovel

writing-dialogue

A very quick tip here for writers struggling with dialogue.

One of the issues that I find in a lot of the manuscripts I edit is that the dialogue can seem forced and contrived. Realistic, believable and authentic dialogue is a must for a good novel, and authors need to make sure they get it right. But many new writers think they have to write ‘properly’ and they think this means eschewing contractions.

Generally, if you want to make your dialogue flow and for readers to believe in it, then you need to use contractions (there are exceptions to this, in particular types of fiction). Think about it. How many people do you know (however posh they are and however ‘properly’ they speak) who say things like this:

‘Please do not walk on the grass.’

The answer is no one. No one ever (except perhaps the queen and probably not even her) speaks like that. It sounds horrible.

So remember:

‘Don’t’ not ‘do not’
‘They’ve’ not ‘they have’
‘Should’ve’ not ‘should have’ (and definitely NOT should of)
‘I’ll’ not ‘I will’
‘Can’t’ not ‘cannot’
You get the point.

There are three things you can do to improve your dialogue:

Listen – actually listen to people talking. This has the advantage of also often being very entertaining.
Read – when you’re reading, make a note of dialogue that really works, and why it works
Speak – read your dialogue out loud. Does it sound right?
Contrived, formal, awkward dialogue is, I’m afraid, the sign of a writer still learning their craft. Get it right, and your writing will be smooth and professional and your dialogue a pleasure to read.

Writing & Editing Tips Revisited: Using Adjectives and Adverbs #WritingTips #WritingANovel #wwwblogs

 

adject

The use of adverbs and adjectives is an issue for many writers. Many overuse them in the hope of making their writing seem more interesting, more descriptive. And while I’m not at all advocating that you cut all adverbs and adjectives out of your writing, what I have seen over and over again in the work that I edit, is that both are often added for no discernible reason. This is often, it seems to me, because a writer is trying really hard to set a scene, to draw a reader in. They can see the scene, the characters in their head and they want to convey everything that’s there. And they want to show that they can write, that they have a wide vocabulary. But unfortunately, these adverbs and adjectives often add nothing to the scenes in which they appear.

So how do you know what adjectives and adverbs to cut?

Let’s look at adverbs first.

Adverbs modify verbs. If you’re using an adverb to modify a verb, ask yourself why you need to. Is the verb not doing its job? If the verb alone can’t tell your reader how someone or something is doing something, then is it the right one to use?

For example:

John walked quickly down the street.

man walking quickly

You want your reader to know how John walked, so if he’s walking quickly, then say so – right? Well, no.

John hurried down the street.

One word instead of two – tells us exactly how John is moving.

How about:

She totally, completely accepted that her work needed editing.

Neither of those two adverbs is needed. Just say:

She accepted that her work needed editing.

(Actually get rid of ‘that’ too!)

There are also adverbs that are totally redundant – like ‘totally’ in this sentence!

The fire alarm rang loudly.

How else would it ring? It wouldn’t be much use as a fire alarm if it rang quietly.

 

fire alarm

A well-placed, strong and evocative adjective can add great detail to a word, phrase or scene. However, too often they come across as contrived and unnecessary.

The beautiful, bubbling river sparkled in the golden sunlight, its silvery ripples reflecting the brilliant, blazing rays that played on the shivering surface.

Too much, far too much. What’s wrong with:

The river sparkled in the sunlight, silvery rays playing on the shivering surface.

(Though, to be honest, that’s still too much).

And be very careful of ‘broad’ adjectives like ‘beautiful’ in the first sentence. ‘Beautiful’, ‘nice’, ‘wonderful’, etc.are broad terms – these words are subjective and mean different things to different people. They add nothing and are best avoided, except in dialogue.

Also be wary of the thesaurus. It is useful and can help you describe things in a fresh, new way. But be careful. Very careful.

joey

The use of adjectives and adverbs is a contentious issue – I’d love to know your thoughts.

Authors – why you shouldn’t ignore bad reviews #wwwblogs #bookreviews

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The one or two star review. It strikes fear into the heart of every author. There are reams of articles about how to handle bad reviews everywhere. And most of them give the same advice.

Ignore them, they say. Scroll right on past. Don’t take it to heart. All authors get bad reviews. Not everyone will like your book. Maybe the reviewer had an ulterior motive. Forget about it. Move on. Keep your head up.

Well, yes. To all of these. But also, no…

Writing is hard. I know that, I’m an author. You invest huge amounts of time and effort into your writing. It can be a pain. And it’s terrifying having your work out there, where it can be picked apart. Wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone could bear all that in mind when they write a review of your book?

But why should they? No one has forced you to put your book on Amazon. And your reader, who has spent their money and invested their time in reading your book, is entitled to their opinion. You chose to sell your book. They bought it in good faith.

Now, I’m not talking about the reviews that are silly and thoughtless and are to do with delivery times and downloading issues etc., etc. Or the sort of reviews that complain about the amount of sex or swearing in a book, something that’s down to personal taste. Or reviewers that mark you down because they don’t like the genre. Those can certainly be discounted. I’m talking about reviews that point out a fault with your book. And if lots of readers are telling you that your books are full of errors, or are too wordy, or are boring, or that they had to skip great big sections, then you need to take note. The problem is, lots of writers lump all these types of reviews together. Worse, they accuse these readers of being trolls.

On Twitter the other day, a writer was asked what he thought about the one star reviews his book had received. Oh, I ignore those, he said, they’re all trolls.

Hmm, I thought. Are they? I decided to do a bit of digging (I love a good distraction). The author’s book had a lot of one and two star reviews. Some of them were scathing. The majority pointed out that the writing was poor, full of grammatical errors and typos.

Surely all these people can’t be trolls, I thought. Why would they be? So I went to the ‘Look Inside’ feature. All these people were right. The opening pages of his books were all very poorly written and full of lazy errors.

Now, the problem with all these articles, caressing these poor authors’ egos, is that this author now feels that he doesn’t have to listen to these readers. That their opinions are worthless. So he goes blindly on, ignoring the issues with his writing, deluding himself and churning out more dreadful books.

And this is a problem with a lot of authors and it’s one that does other indie writers no favours. There is a tendency among authors to be very precious about their work. They think because they’ve worked hard and because they’ve sweated over a book then that means it should be above criticism. They seem to think that because they’ve poured their hearts and souls into something then no one must be mean. Well, I’m sorry, but that’s rubbish.

Why do we writers think we’re above criticism? That it’s OK for us to put something that’s poorly written or badly edited out there, expect people to pay for it, spend their precious time reading it, and then not expect to be taken to task if it’s not up to scratch? If you went to a restaurant and bought a meal and it was crap would you think, oh well, but the chef spent time on it, I should be nice? No, you wouldn’t. You’d complain. You’d be entitled to. And if you’ve put a book out there, then the reader that buys it is entitled to complain if it isn’t up to scratch too.

And while there are a few horrible people out there who are just nasty for the sake of it, I doubt very much that every single person who’s ever given a bad review falls into this category. Most are just fed up and disappointed because they bought a book, with their own money, and it wasn’t that good.

I also know of book reviewers who have dared to criticise books and who have been met with insults and worse. One has even given up reviewing books because the stress of it has made her ill. She’s been so badly treated by authors that her health has suffered. That’s just not on.

Indie authors say they want to be treated with respect. They say they want to be recognised. But then some expect special treatment. The world doesn’t work like that.

So look at those one star reviews. It’s painful, I know. But there might be something in there that really helps your writing.

Be brave. We only learn through our mistakes after all, and if you never face those mistakes and correct them, then you’ll never grow as an author.

And just to lighten the mood, here’s my favourite one star review, for the movie ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’:

wolf street

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EXPOSITION – THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE BORING #wwwblogs #amwriting #writingtips

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A client asked me a question about exposition the other day, and I rummaged through my old blog posts and found this post about the subject. Many books I read have issues with exposition, so I thought it was worth re-posting this.

Despite the fact that I quite often highlight great tracts of text and write ‘EXPOSITION’ over them in bold, (actually I’m much more polite than that about it) exposition is, in fact, extremely important. Indeed, exposition is part of every narrative; without it your reader would have no idea what was going on, where anything was, or who the characters were. Used wisely, used well and given the appropriate mode in which to inform, then it does have a valid part to play in a narrative. You can probably have no better example than the bard himself. The opening scene of Shakespeare’s Othello tells us a lot about Iago and Roderigo, their relationship and their status. And all in a few lines of dialogue.

ACT I
SCENE I. Venice. A street.
Enter RODERIGO and IAGO

RODERIGO: 

Tush! never tell me; I take it much unkindly

That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse

As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.

IAGO:

‘Sblood, but you will not hear me:

If ever I did dream of such a matter, Abhor me.

Without wanting to make this a lesson in literature and language, the opening lines tell us that Roderigo is socially superior to Iago; he says, ‘Tush!’ in other words, ‘Shut up.’ He must be Iago’s superior to speak to him like this. So, with one word, the audience is put in the picture.

Shakespeare knew that ‘showing’ the audience information about his characters and the setting, through actions and speech was far more entertaining and engaging than simply ‘telling’ them that information. And ‘telling’ is the form of exposition that we have all been guilty of using (yes, all of us, without exception, and if you think you haven’t done it then you don’t know what it is). But we do need to let our reader in on things, so how do we go about it without ‘telling’?

Let’s take a simple example. Your protagonist, Bill, is tetchy because he didn’t get much sleep. First of all ask yourself the question ‘Does it matter? Does my reader need to know this?’ If the answer is yes, then you could say this:

Bill was tetchy this morning as he hadn’t had enough sleep.

Now, that’s really boring. And if you do this all the time then it’s really, really, really boring. So how can you give your reader this information without ‘telling’ them?

Use dialogue, and use action. These two things can help enormously and will bring interest, movement and life to your writing:

‘For god’s sake, woman, why is this coffee cold?’
The mug followed its contents into the sink, the clatter drowning out the cheery tones of the radio DJ.
Emily lowered the newspaper.
‘You could always make it yourself. That would be a refreshing change. Anyway, why are you so grumpy?’
Bill sat down opposite his wife and placed his head in his hands.
‘Did you not hear it?’
‘Hear what?’
‘That bloody noise from next door. All night that same scraping and bumping. Then they started screaming at each other. I didn’t get a wink of sleep.’

I know this isn’t exactly Pulitzer Prize winning stuff, but I hope it’s a bit more interesting than the first example. After all, here we have a scene, not just a sentence. And we have also learned quite a lot – Bill likes coffee, but he expects his wife to make it (is he a sexist pig perhaps? Is there conflict in the marriage? Resentment? An impending divorce?). We also know that there are some pretty strange people living next door, who are up to all sorts of things in the night. And, of course, we also know that Bill is grumpy because he didn’t get much sleep.

Exposition through dialogue can be very effective then, but do be careful. You need your dialogue to be realistic. Don’t use it as a way of dumping information. And make sure your characters never tell each other things they already know. For example,

Bill adjusted his tie in the mirror. Emily smiled and straightened it, patting him on the shoulder.
‘Don’t look so nervous. You’ll be fine.’
‘I know, but I have to make this work. I really need this job. If I don’t get it I don’t know what I’ll do. The mortgage is due next week and we’re already three months behind. They’ll be looking to repossess if we don’t pay up.’
Emily nodded.
‘I know. Then there’s the money we owe your mum. It was nice of her to pay Tarquin’s school fees for the last two months, after all, they were about to kick him out. But we can’t keep relying on her. Not now she’s got all those medical bills to pay. How awful that she should break her hip falling down the stairs on her birthday.’

Now I know this is an extreme example, but lots of writers do this. Bill doesn’t need to tell Emily how far behind their mortgage payments are – she knows. And Bill knows his mother paid Tarquin’s school fees, and everything else Emily tells him. If your reader needs to know this information, find different ways to show it – have a letter arrive from the bank just as Bill leaves for his interview, or have Emily visit her mother-in-law in hospital and be told that there is no more financial help.

And remember, as with most things in writing, and indeed in life unfortunately, less is more. Don’t bog down your narrative and bore your reader with unnecessary detail. Show them what they need to know and let them put the pieces together.

Do you have any examples of exposition – good or bad – that will help other writers? Do share them here.

Dialogue Tags – Again #wwwblogs #writingtips #amwriting

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This is a subject I’ve written about several times in the past, but it is an issue I keep coming back to, time and time again.

I’m a huge fan of self-publishing and of independent authors. I’ve read some absolutely amazing books by indie authors and have worked with some amazing authors that have self-published. There are so many great indie authors out there and many that are as good as, if not better than, traditionally published authors.

However, one thing that sets apart the majority of (but by no means all) traditionally published authors from some self-published authors and authors published by small presses is the proliferation of complicated dialogue tags in the work of the latter two. Now, I’m not saying it’s all indie authors that do this, but there is a lot of it about, and it’s usually a sign of an author who hasn’t had their work professionally edited or critiqued.

Dialogue tags are those words used instead of ‘said’ and ‘asked’; words like ‘exclaimed’ and ‘sighed’ and ‘insisted’ and, horror of horrors, ‘interjected’. Many authors that I advise not to use these complicated tags will argue that using them is the sign of a good writer, that they’re showing off their writing skills.

But they’re not.

Because the point of a dialogue tag is to signify who has spoken. That’s it. Nothing else. It shouldn’t indicate how something was said. It shouldn’t indicate the tone or the volume of the words. It should simply show only who is speaking.

Why? Well, lots of reasons. (If you are a client and you have read all this before then I do apologise.) Readers are so used to seeing ‘said’ and ‘asked’ that they skim over those words, noting quickly who is ‘saying’ or ‘asking’ and getting on with the important things. The flow of the writing isn’t interrupted, the reader reads on smoothly and happily. If a dialogue tag suddenly crops up, like ‘chuckled’ or ‘screamed’, the reader is forced to pause, to think about the tag. The flow is interrupted, and for no purpose. The reader is also suddenly reminded that they’re reading a book. They’re not actually in an eighteenth century English prison, or on a spaceship circling Mars, or on a beach in Sydney. They’re suddenly pulled out of that world and back into reality. “Look at me,” the dialogue tag says, “the author looked me up in a thesaurus because they wanted to sound interesting. Also, they didn’t have enough confidence in their own writing to know that the character’s words, actions, situation and emotions are sufficient to show that the character was shouting, or that you, the reader, were clever enough to work that out yourself.”

Think about it. If a character is speaking, and their words are cut across by another character, that shows that the second character has interrupted; you don’t need to tell your reader that they have done so. If your character is telling another character a story about their past, it is obvious that they are reminiscing, or remembering. You don’t need a dialogue tag to hammer the point home.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that most dialogue tags don’t really make sense. Take ‘chuckled’ for example. No one really chuckles a word. They might say a word and then chuckle, but you can’t do the two things at once.  Dialogue cannot be laughed, smiled, giggled, nodded or screamed. Dialogue tags only serve to draw people out of the story, to distract.

Remember, writing should appear effortless (although it is far from it) and a dialogue tag that stands out reveals the author, reveals that the world has been crafted. To paraphrase Stephen King – you have told your story well enough to believe that when you use ‘said’ or ‘asked’ your reader will know how it was said or asked.

So shut that thesaurus please, and have a little more faith in yourself, in your words and in your reader.

Visiting Delacroix’s Paris #wwwblogs

delacroix

Eugene Delacroix

The last weekend in January, Gary and I went to Paris – the realisation of a dream I’ve had for more years than I care to remember. I don’t know why it took so long to get there, but I wish I hadn’t waited. What a fabulous city it is.

I was desperate to visit the home of Eugene Delacroix, the artist around whose painting ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’ my WIP revolves. Of course, I wanted to see the painting itself, hanging in the Louvre, and also wanted to visit his grave, at Pere Lachaise cemetery (where Jim Morrison is also buried, so Gary was happy!).

We stayed in the Left Bank, the art district, so it was a short stroll to the Musée National Eugene Delacroix in the Rue de Furstenberg where Delacroix lived from 1857 until his death in 1863.

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It was a very strange feeling walking through the rooms where Delacroix lived and worked and eventually died. The museum is wonderful – thoughtfully and lovingly designed, with artefacts and objects that belonged to the man himself and many artworks too. The garden at the back of the building has been recreated to include many of the plants and trees he loved and would have grown there. It is so peaceful in the little walled garden – the centre of Paris, but calm and tranquil. It was easy to imagine Delacroix walking there. The garden is the setting for one of the scenes in my book and actually being there was so much more inspiring than looking at photographs.

garden-2

We went to the Louvre next, and straight to the Delacroix paintings. There are several of his works there. I have seen some at an exhibition at the National Gallery, but not ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’ itself. It is truly a magnificent painting. We sat there, just looking, for ages, really taking it in.

eugene-delacroix-the-death-of-sardanapalus-1827

We did go on to look at the Mona Lisa, because you do feel you have to. There was quite a queue, which we didn’t join, we just looked at it from across the room. To be honest, it wasn’t very inspiring. There are wonderful things in the Louvre, amazing paintings and sculptures, and so many people were walking past these lovely, irreplaceable works to take a selfie with this tiny painting. I do think Leonardo himself would be pretty annoyed to think that that’s the thing people associate him with. It seems to have become something to tick off on a list – been there, seen that.

mona_lisa_by_leonardo_da_vinci_from_c2rmf_retouched

Hmmmm…

Anyway, we saved the cemetery for our last day in Paris, and the skies were suitably grey. It is a strange place, horribly crowded and a bit confusing. We were armed with a map though and instructions from our daughter who had been there the week before Christmas. We soon found Delacroix’s grave – it is simple, so unlike his paintings, but somehow that seems fitting. After all, how can you really commemorate someone like Delacroix?

delacroix_tomb

I always find it touching that people leave small gifts at the graves of those that have touched their lives and it was nice to see single flowers left there. It’s always gratifying to know that other people revere and love the people you admire.

There are so many others here, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Ingres, Géricault, Balzac, David, Chopin, and of course Jim Morrison, among many, many others. That all these people have Paris as their final resting place is testament to the city itself, vibrant and liberal, intellectual and open, a place where art, music, writing and philosophy have always flourished. In a time when the world seems to be moving to the right, to a political landscape where free thinking, creativity and critical thinking are denigrated and ridiculed, let’s hope it remains that place.

louvre_at_night

 

It’s a jungle out there – watch out for the vanity presses #wwwblogs #amwriting #selfpublishing

I had a phone call the other day from an elderly gentleman who was trying to find an agent. I explained the process to him and then he said that he’d already published a book, but he still couldn’t get an agent. Digging deeper, it seemed that he was under the impression that if he had a book out on Amazon, an agent would come calling.

He’s published with a small press. I took a look on Amazon. His book has been out for almost three years. The blurb and the cover are terrible. He has zero sales and zero reviews. Getting a little bit cross now, I decided to dig a bit further.

It turns out that he paid money to a vanity press that seems to masquerade as a publisher. This organisation states on their website that they open to submissions. They give the impression that they are looking for books to publish.

Digging even deeper I discovered that what they do once you’ve sent your submission is to ask for the full manuscript (and your hopes are raised). They then come back and give you some flannel along the lines of how they love your work, think you have real potential, but the economy and the market and blah, blah, blah, so they want to publish you but they need you to make a financial contribution.

Further investigations revealed that this contribution can be anything from £1500 to £3000.

So, a vanity press then.

(I’m not naming the company in question here as they apparently have a tendency to send out emails from their lawyers to anyone who criticises them and I really don’t have time for that rubbish).

Now I understand that no one is holding a gun to anyone’s head while you give them your bank details. But still – this seems unethical at the very least. And to do this to an elderly man is downright cruel.

So lovely writers, please be careful and remember that you shouldn’t be paying a publisher, they should be paying you. If they ask you for money, they’re a vanity press. If you’re happy with that, then that’s up to you (though why you would pay someone to do something you can do yourself, I don’t know) but please be very, very sure about what you’re getting yourself into. It’s very easy to get carried away, and unfortunately there are people out there who are only too happy to exploit that.

burglar

 

Wonderful Whitby #wwwblogs

whitby620_1822861a

The Scottish Sun

At the beginning of December (seems such a long time ago now) Gary and I went up to York for the weekend. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to go to Whitby – both of us being fans of Bram Stoker’s brilliant ‘Dracula’. I has visions of a dark and windswept, eerie ruin, perched on a cliff, and I wasn’t disappointed. And I wasn’t disappointed by the lovely seaside town of Whitby either.

Whitby Abbey has a long and fascinating history, but I’ll stick to the bits that concern Dracula for the purposes of this post.

Bram Stoker was staying in Whitby in July 1890. At the time he was the business manager of the actor Henry Irving, and they’d just finished a tour of Scotland. Stoker was planning a new novel and he had a week to relax before his family joined him.

One day he discovered a book in the public library about a 15th Century prince who supposedly impaled his victims on wooden stakes – Vlad the Impaler, or‘Dracula’ which means ‘son of the dragon’ (Vlad was the son of Vlad Dracul).

vlad_tepes_big-x01

 

While in the town, Stoker would no doubt have heard about the shipwreck five years earlier of a Russian ship, the Dmitry, that ran aground below East Cliff. This became the ‘Demeter’ in Stoker’s novel – the ship that carries Dracula from Transylvania. Walking around these beautiful ruins, it’s easy to see how they inspired such a gothic classic. The wind really does whip past you, and it’s very, very quiet. The sky was overcast – and it wasn’t hard to imagine the scene with a full moon above, a bat flitting past…

the-demitri

The Dmitry (Frank Meadow Sutcliffe)

Through the churchyard (where naughty locals will direct you to Dracula’s grave!) you find the top of the famous 199 steps down into the town. In the novel, the Demeter runs aground on Tate Hill Sands. All the crew are dead, including the captain who is lashed to the helm. A black dog leaps from the ship and runs up the 199 steps to Whitby Abbey.

We walked rather more slowly down them (and a lot more slowly back up later after a fish and chip lunch!). At the bottom of the steps you arrive in the beautiful town with its winding streets; independent shops abound here – selling books, antiques, clothes, and  jewellery made from jet, the fossilised remains of trees from the Jurassic period only found along a seven and a half mile stretch of the North Yorkshire coastline centred around Whitby.

Cross over the bridge and you can walk along the harbour side. It was mild for December but even so, we weren’t tempted by the whale watching trips (although plenty of people were). Instead we took a gentle stroll down the West Pier. From here you can glimpse the Whalebone Arch – a monument to the dangers faced by the local whalers.

Back by the harbour we ate the best fish and chips I’ve ever had, in a lovely little café/bar – ‘The Moon and Sixpence’. If you’re ever in Whitby, do go there.

Having eaten too much, we climbed the 199 steps back up to the abbey. Wherever you are in Whitby, it seems to brood over you and it’s easy to see how it inspired Stoker’s classic tale.

But Whitby itself certainly isn’t scary. And its unusual mix of literary history, culture and a traditional seaside vibe makes it a lovely place to visit.

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