#FF: Project Gutenberg’s Birthday- The Stories

Gentlemen prefer blondes: the diary of a professional lady

I can see the raised eyebrows – yes, even here from the page – and I can sense judgement made being that the words professional lady have nothing ladylike about them. But, that simply isn’t the case. I married into an old moneyed family. My husband was a darling man, he fell for me for the way I looked but, when he got to know me, to know my personality, my mind, my qualities – that’s when he got down on one knee. I’d struggled with my decision, for I’d sensed what was coming. He thought he was being clever asking to see my rings and putting each of them on his pinkie to test for size. But I knew… That said, my did that man have good taste in jewellery. His mother I found out later, she’d insisted on having him spend as much time with her as with his father, and she’d schooled him in many useful ways.

Yes, my husband was almost perfect. Intelligent, well-read, erudite, cultured, and kind – oh so kind. People said I married for money, but I didn’t, it was a love match. I’d have followed him into the anywhere, truly I would. And we were happy, ridiculously so, even though the family curse loomed over our happiness. It struck, of course, one day, after his morning ride. They shouted for me from the stable yard, and I was able to get to his side so I could be with him in his final moments. I withdrew from society after that, for I had nothing left of him, as we’d not been blessed with children.

Instead of spending my time raising children, he’d taken pleasure in schooling me – in business. He wanted to make sure I would have more than what he left me, for he was determined I would be my own woman and not dependant upon another man for my future security. It was he who told me not to be afraid to use my wiles. Not that he was suggesting I trade my person, oh no. Only that I shouldn’t be shy about using my looks – and my striking blonde hair especially – to get my foot in the door.

He also left me with one hugely valuable asset – an address book of the highest quality. Not lords and ladies, but rather business professionals of the highest standing and scruples. These were all men of course – for women are not taken seriously in business yet. But I always knew I’d want to work with women in due course, and set about making my fortune, so I’d have no-one tell me how unwise my plans were. It took time and now my locks are more white than blonde – still striking, I’m told, but no longer needed to get through those doors. For money talks, and I have a lot of it.

My ladies don’t have to be blonde, not have they needed to trade on their looks. I teach them not to be shy though. There’s more than looks to use with gentlemen in order to gain an advantage. Some have turned me down, assuming me to be something that I am not. Not one of them got a second chance, for I won’t be judged by those I work with. I don’t doubt there were some who thought the same but, by keeping their thoughts to themselves and acting on their ambition to succeed – have found success and, in most cases, a friend and mentor to both like and respect. We are a rare breed – successful business women.

I am writing my story so that others who come after me will know how best to obtain the advantage in a world where women are not taken seriously. Voting is permitted now, of course, and women are working – but it’s usually doing jobs men don’t want, or in lower paid professions. I’m certain that things will change in the generations to come, but I want women to know how to gain an advantage in a business world populated primarily by gentlemen. Being blonde certainly helps, but I’ve put pen to paper to capture all my knowledge and expertise. My words will help an advantage to be gained in business, whether you be blonde, redhead or brunette. But remember, your don’t have to be a natural blonde, you can become blonde if you’d like to use that edge!

© Debra Carey, 2021

A warning to the curious, and other ghost stories

The day had gone well for 2 section. Out of the whole company, they were the only ones to achieve all their objectives, and they’d had the lightest casualties. It had only been an exercise, but given where these raw recruits had been a matter of months ago, they had every right to swagger a bit. The captain had been complimentary to the rupert, and whilst as green as they come, he was humble enough to know that their success was mainly down to the NCOs, particularly Corporal Baker.

Baker had been one of the stars of the last intake and had earned his first stripe during training. The second had come after their passing out parade, and he’d been posted to training the next lot. Where the officers were posh and came from all over the place, Baker was every inch a Gloucestershire boy, and the lads revered him as one of their own. He spoke their language and got the best out of them. In training he patiently explained everything in his slow country cadence, stepping up the tempo as they moved from the classroom and parade ground and onto the rifle range and into the field. Here, his barked instructions were acted on instantly.

Tomorrow they’d be back in barracks, but for tonight they’d be given permission to bivouac without setting a guard. A couple of crates of beer had been dropped off and the fixings for a camp fire meal. Isaac smiled to himself at the enthusiasm the lads showed for this which, if they had known, was another training exercise. He also smiled at the thought that the brass imagined there was anything these West Country boys needed to learn about living off the land.

He’d got them started and then gone off to report to the rupert and the captain and take part in the debrief on the exercise. He mostly stayed quiet in the company of his peers and superiors, but there were a couple of things he felt it important to pass on, ideas which he believed would lead to a better outcome in a similar situation.

When he got back to his section, he found them settled in, and telling ghost stories round the campfire, waiting for the grub to be ready. They’d even waited to open the beer until he got back. He started opening bottles and passing them around whilst he listened to the stories. There were a couple of good yarns he’d not heard before and some of the boys had a real gift for telling a story. On the other hand, young Appleby was really struggling with his story, losing the thread and getting the characters mixed up. The rest of the section were getting restless and starting to heckle the unfortunate speaker.

“Come on Corp, your turn!”

“Well now, me ‘andsomes, are you sure? You’m don’t be standing guard tonight, but you’m still be needing your beauty sleep – early start and a busy day tomorrow.”

”The food’s not ready yet Corp. We’ve all told a story – of sorts.” Everyone looked at Appleby who blushed and pulled his head in like a shy turtle.

“Well then, if you’m sure, but I warn ‘un, this is a true story. This happened to me when I was on training.” The section settled themselves back again, with two of them dividing their attention between Baker and the fire where their meal was cooking.

“In fact, ’twas a night much like tonight: cold, clear and with the promise of frost. In’t middle of night, I got woken up to stand my duty and was sad to leave my nice warm sleeping bag, I can tell you.

“Well, my hour passed peacefully enough, and I went to get my replacement. After I’d done that, I thought I’d not get back to sleep until I’d emptied my bladder, so I took myself off past the guard. My night sight was pretty sharp by now, so I had no problem picking my way over to an appropriate tree.

“I’d just buttoned my fly back up when I spotted a glim of light bobbing away amongst the trees further in. What I probably should have done was to report it to the guard or the corporal or perhaps even the sergeant, but I were young and foolish and I thought I’d be checking it out for myself.

“Well, I followed that blessed light around and about for nigh on half an hour, nearly got myself lost I was so turned around, but I never caught up with th’ light and whatever was causing it. In th’ end I found myself back where I had started and deciding to get on to my bed. I picked my way back and checked in with the guard. The corporal was checking on them and asked me where I’d been. When I explained, he laughed.

‘Oh, you’ve seen the ghost have you? Nothing to worry about their, although he do be taking a shine to some people. Follow ’em about he do, if’un be too curious about his doings.”

He laughed again, and I pretty much decided he’d been having me on. But… He didn’t seem to be too worried about whatever was out there… I got back to my sleeping bag, but struggled to sleep. I were tired a’right, but my mind were all awake with this business of ghosts.

About an hour later, I reckon, I was just starting to drowse, when I realised I could see a glim of light bobbing around outside moi bivvy. The light seemed to be circling around moi bivvy…but getting closer with each pass. I wanted to cry out but moi voice was frozen, like. Closer and closer this light came, until I could start to make out features. It looked like a soldier, but from an earlier time. He still clutched his Brown Bess, but he knelt and laid aside his rifle and reached out his hands.

” I tried to say ‘What do you want?’ but it just came out like a creak.

“The hands were reaching out, reaching out, reaching out, until they clasped around my leg and started tugging.” Isaac paused and took a swig of his beer. The attention of the whole section was on him now.

“Where was I? Oh yes, they clutching hands pulling my leg – just like I’m pulling yours!”

© David Jesson, 2021

Author’s note: How could I not go with MR James and a ghost story this close to Christmas? The stories I normally write from the PG prompt focus on a trio of brothers that first came on the scene in a little second bookshop that may or may not be haunted, but as I’ve been spending a lot of time with the characters of the November Deadline (the book Debs and I are writing) recently, that I decided to explore Isaac’s background a little. I also need to say a thank you to Mr Dodge who gave me the bones of the story many years ago.


#Secondthoughts: Bowdler, Buchan, and Heinlein

For a long time, I thought that to bowdlerise something was to make it a bit smutty, which is ironic really.  Looking back, I probably thought it was linked to ‘bawdy’; it was quite a surprise when I found out what it really meant.  It would be tempting to think of Thomas Bowdler as a typical censorious Victorian, but in realty his main work occurred before Victoria ascended the throne.  It’s always tricky to be sure about the motivations of someone who lived two hundred years ago, especially when that person’s legacy is divisive.  There are those who would say that Bowdler ripped the guts out of Shakespeare, whereas apparently he saw himself as serving the family by providing a version of the plays that could be read to children.

Hold that thought.


I was going to say that I’ve yet to come across a version of ‘the 39 Steps’ that I haven’t enjoyed.  This was based off the back of having listened to a radio version on the iPlayer the other day.  The Hitchcock film with Robert Donat is of course a thing of beauty and a joy for ever; and if you get a chance to see the stage play based on this version, then you are in for a comedic treat.  The Kenneth More version is not great cinematography, but hey, it’s Kenneth More.  The Robert Powell version has a lot of the energy of the book: more, in some respects, than the other versions.  The version that I really didn’t like was the 2008 Rupert Penry-Jones one.  The thing that all four film versions have is that they add a romance element to the story that isn’t part of the book.

Hold that thought.


Robert Anson Heinlein is usually described as one of the Big Three, with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.  All three wrote a lot of stuff across their careers, some brilliant, some less so.  One novel that has been on my mind a lot recently is The Door Into Summer.  I think at least in part because I’m sure I have a copy somewhere, but seem to have lost it.  In the end, I was able to discover the original magazine version, where this novel was published in three parts, online.  I can’t remember what prompted the desire to reread this story, but it is actually quite a good yarn in many respects.  The main character does a bit of hopping through time, missing out most of the 70s, 80s and 90s twice over via “the long sleep”, a cryo-hibernation easy time-travel, and jumping back once using an energy intensive piece of unreliable and almost unbelievable tech.  The story has lots of standard Heinlein tropes, which I’m not going to go into too much detail about here.  The one that is most problematic is that the main character ends up marrying a former friend’s step-daughter, who starts the story about 20 years younger than the MC, but catches up a bit thanks to all the time-travelling malarky.  This bit leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth, as it feels like a fudge to get round what should really be a verboten relationship.   John W. Campbell is supposed to have said of Heinlein:

“Bob can write a better story, with one hand tied behind him, than most people in the field can do with both hands. But Jesus, I wish that son of a gun would take that other hand out of his pocket.”

That’s probably a fair description.

Hold that thought.


Three very different writers – so what’s the connection?  Possibly none, but I started to wonder about what Bowlder was trying to achieve and what the effect is of changing text/stories, and the effect of an agenda: are the changes that were made 200 years ago still relevant today?  Is it possible to do some sort of reverse Bowlderism?

For example, if we look at Shakespeare, because we’re mainly talking about stage plays, the interpretation of certain directions, the staging, the actors’ take on characters, inflection, all these things can change the intent significantly.   A character who is borderline sympathetic can be made more or less personable by the acting, at least within the confines of the script.

Whilst a lot of Shakespear’s writing is deeply poetical, he has a repuation for being direct, blunt even, in his work.  Further, there is context to consider, all the little bits of current gossip that were built in for the audience of the time.  Words change meaning.  On the whole then, watching Shakespear can be much like watching traditional opera.  There’s a good chance you are not going to understand everything that is going on, unless you brush-up beforehand.  On that basis, tidying up the script, updating the language, making it a bit friendlier to a younger audience – surely that’s not a bad thing?

On the otherhand are there stories that should be revised to make them better?  Better for whom, you may say.  One of Shakespear’s most important plays has a relationship  between a girld and a boy of different ages.  An arguement that comes up from time to time is that it was different then.  Yes, it was, but that’s no reason not to take a good hard look and say, do you know what, it wasn’t OK then and it’s not OK now.  Let’s take that Heinlein story.  Ignoring the fact that it is slightly dated (it’s future is almost 20 years in our past!), it wouldn’t take a lot to tweak it to remove the objectionable bit – in the right hands you could probably change a very few references and one scene, perhaps a thousand or so words all told, and actually make a stronger story as a result.

I’m not sure how much the editor and the publisher really tried to change Heinlein’s work.  There were a few things that Heinlein got a bit over-excited about, but his work sold.  I suspect he would have just walked if people started getting too heavy-handed with the red pen.

And then, on the gripping hand, there are the stories like The 39 Steps: All four film versions are very different to the book, with added characters being the least of the issues.  Screenwriters sometimes seem to feel obliged to mess with the story, but at what point does it become too much?

In the modern world much is made of EDI: Equality , Diversity and Inclusion.  We need to make much of it, because we are not very good at it, but I saw an article recently that said that Monty Python wouldn’t be commisioned today, because, well, “six white Oxbridge men”.  Oh dear.

The 39 Steps is about a man on the run: does he really have to have a love interest? An EDI argument would be that there needs to be a woman in there.  What’s interesting is that if you looker at the earlier adaptations, the romantic foil is not just a pretty face, but generally holds their own in the story.  It’s the 2008 version where the woman needs to be seen to be independent of the man.

What do you think?  Are there stories that need to be rescued from some objectionable feature?  Are we in danger of homogenising our literature and screenplays by devising roll-calls of characters that need to be present in every story?

© David Jesson, 2018




The Liebster Award

Hello!  A brief respite/continuation of the daily cliffhanger – fret not! The travails of Echo return on Monday with T for Tango (which, as long as you have been paying attention, gives nothing away).  If that last sentence is any anyway confusing, then you might want to look at this summary).

One of the delightful things about the Annual #AprilA2Z/#AtoZChallenge is the opportunity to visit new blogs.  Debs is much better at this than David.  On the reverse side of the coin, you also get a lot of visitors coming and having a look at what you are up to.  Whilst the story we have presented this month is very much an experiment, so far we’ve enjoyed it (the stress, not so much), and we’ve already decided that we’re glad we managed to commit to it.  One of the things that has made the month infinitely more bearable is that we’ve had a lot of positive comments from people that we trust and admire, and we’ve made some new friends – which is part of what the Challenge is about.  One of these new friends is Stuart Nager of TaleSpinning.  Stuart does an excellent line in creepy, paranormal stories and has been doing a series of stories about the Abysmal Dollhouse for the AtoZ Challenge.  This is not everyone’s cup of tea, but Alfred Hitchcock once talked about a ‘good scare’, and Stu’s work is certainly in this category.  His writing is excellent, and he has a flair for the unexpected  – we both rate his work very highly.  He does other stuff as well, so well worth checking his blog out – just beware of the Unfolding Doll…

Stuart has very kindly nominated us for a Liebster Award.  The Liebster is all about paying it forward.  It’s about noticing blogs, particularly those that don’t have thousands and thousands and saying “hey, I like the work that you are doing”.  All good awards come with Rules…

The rules are:
1. Acknowledge the blogger who nominated you and display the award logo.
2. Answer 11 questions that the blogger sets for you.
3. Nominate blogs that you think are deserving of the award.
4. Create 11 questions for your nominees to answer.
5. Let your nominees know about their nomination!

Stu! Hey! Yes you!  Thanks man!  *tick*

Stu being the kind, considerate person that he is, is expecting both of us to give this a go: being the kind of cranky, cantankerous people we are, we’ll each answer the questions that he’s set, but we’re going to jointly nominate some blogs and jointly ask some questions.

Anyhoo – Stu asked some questions, and these are our responses (apparently there are bonus points for ‘Why’):


  1. If you could write in any writers voice besides your own, whose would it be? Tricky…I did a #secondthoughts* on how disappointed I was when I returned to one of the books that I loved when I was a teen, and how I realised that it has a lot of problems.  As a writer, I spend a lot of time deleting stuff that I don’t like, in part because I’m still trying to find my own voice.  But to answer the question: I’d probably go with Terry Pratchett.  I love everything he’s written, not uncritically (Raising Steam, for example, has serious problems, IMO), but he has a flair for character driven stories, and I’d like to get better at that.  On the other hand, I’d love to be able to do the diabolical whimsy of Melanie Atherton Allen (see below), so there’s that as well.
  2. What literary genre holds NO interest for you? Erotica.  Not sure why, but my impression is that there is not much depth.  Each to their own, but when you don’t have enough time to read as it is, you want to save that time for stuff that is going to challenge you.
  3. What song with a strong narrative still touches you? I like music, some music, but I’m not really into the lyrics side of things, nor thinking overly deeply about the narrative…Errm…errrm… Right Said Fred the embodiment of look before you leap/measure twice, cut once.
  4. What fictional character do you wish you were?  Richard Seaton – he’s one of ‘Doc’ Smith’s super-scientists who are also incredibly athletic.  Life always seems easier somehow, despite the fact that he’s frequently fighting for his life…
  5. Savory or Sweet? I have an incredibly sweet tooth, but I like savoury as well.  In music, food and probably much else as well, I’m usually more interested in specific examples than in classes of things.
  6. What are “The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of?” Hard work – wishes aren’t horses, or manuscripts, or whatever, so sooner or later you have to knuckle down or be disappointed.
  7. You stumble upon a magic rock. Picking it up, you discover something underneath. What is it? A plaster, for the stubbed toe.
  8. Have you had an inexplicable experience? What was it? When I was little, one of my slippers completely disappeared.  No trace of it, when I went to look for it, and it was never seen again…
  9. What fiction book would you recommend to me?
    There are so many great books that I would be pleased to recommend, but it’s difficult to  pick just one that I think you’ll love on such a short acquaintance.  Debs’ choice is excellent, and if you haven’t read it, I urge you to run to the library/bookshop right now, but I’m going to take a different tack.  I’m going to recommend Brian S. Pratt’s Unsuspecting Mage, the first in the Morcyth Saga.  It’s not perfect, but it is very good.  From a writer’s perspective, it’s written in a way that I’ve never come across before or since, I think that you’ll find it interesting for that reason if no other.
  10. What movie or TV show do you love but hate to admit it? Hmmm…I’ve watched some proper tosh in my time, but I don’t think that there is anything that I wouldn’t admit to – although, the girlfriend of a friend of mine once lambasted NCIS in such a way that I then couldn’t admit that I quite liked it.  Mind you, I’m hopelessly out of touch with that now, so…
  11. What does writing mean to you? (yes, I’m stealing it from Shari. Deal).  Writing is a way of trying to a) get my thoughts to make sense and b) quieten the voices… there is something therapeutic about making the letters and words free and then making them do your bidding.

*#Secondthoughts is one of FCBF’s USPs, where we take another look at something with some kind of literary connection.


  1. If you could write in any writers voice besides your own, whose would it be?
    I initially thought of Jane Austin – after all, who wouldn’t want to be able to demonstrate that sharp observation of society and manners, but then I remembered David Mitchell. I read a reviewer who constructively criticised his work before ending with a statement that Mitchell wrote ‘so darn well’ the critic would read any and everything he wrote. I don’t want to write what he writes, but I would like to write ‘so darn well’.
  2. What literary genre holds NO interest for you?
    Like David, I’ve no interest in reading erotica, although it has been suggested that I write it, which I (briefly) considered doing under a pen name. But to this I would add romance and when my primary interest is in people, this may seem odd, for love (and sex) plays a pretty important part in their lives. To clarify, I’ve no real desire to completely exclude these areas, I just don’t want what I read and write to be composed of solely these topics.
  3. What song with a strong narrative still touches you?
    I’ve always wanted to know the full story behind Ode to Billy Joe – a story loaded with pathos, where we are left at the end with multiple whats and whys.
  4. What fictional character do you wish you were?
    None – sorry, but that’s the truth. I like my characters on the page, in their story, and I want to be out here enjoying their tales.
  5. Savory or Sweet?
    Savory – I’d always chose salt over sugar. And that’s probably true in my choice with regard to writing and reading too – anything too sugary is best avoided.
  6. What are “The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of?”
    Are you talking Bogie or the Bard?
    Speaking as a Life Coach, dreams are idealised thoughts which you can either choose just to enjoy, or you can decide to do the work to make it a reality.
  7. You stumble upon a magic rock. Picking it up, you discover something underneath. What is it?
    A perfect DSLR, with the most amazing lens covering everything from wide to huge zoom and yet still has the quality of a prime throughout. But in miniature – no more neck/backache from lugging around all that heavy equipment.
  8. Have you had an inexplicable experience? What was it?
    I’ve had frightening experiences – being shot at accidentally for one – but nothing inexplicable, no.
  9. What fiction book would you recommend to me?
    “To Say Nothing of the Dog” by Connie Willis. Wonderfully witty bit of time travel. It’s actually a bit naughty of me, as it was one of David’s picks at our book club, but it led to my becoming open to works of science fiction.
  10. What movie or TV show do you love but hate to admit it?
    OK, hold onto your hat now – “Dawsons Creek”. Yes, that teenage angsty TV series where they’re all impossibly eloquent and beautiful.
  11. What does writing mean to you? (yes, I’m stealing it from Shari. Deal).
    A creative outlet (I cannot draw, paint, sing or dance), it also provides an opportunity to use my organisational abilities for something fun. In the early years, it gave me a methodology of working through stuff that was happening at the time – that created a writing habit which led to fiction.


Grrr…Stu has picked off several blogs that we would have nominated.  Nevermind, if there is one thing that the Challenge provides, it’s some great blogs to check out.  So, in no particular order…

i) Athertons Magic Vapour

ii) L.E.R.T.

iii) Ronel the Mythmaker

iv) Colin D. Smith

v) Planet Pailly

vi) The Quiet Writer

And our questions are …

  1. What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from a work of fiction?
  2. If you were a cartoon character, who would you be?
  3. Who (or what) inspires you and why?
  4. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
  5. What author(s) did you dislike at first but grew into?
  6. Beer or wine?
  7. Which of your characters would you most like to have a beer (or other beverage) with?
  8. You are HG Wells’ Timetraveller, attempting to restart civilisation in the far future: what one book would you take with you to help?  (ebook readers not allowed!).
  9. Book first or film first?
  10. Following on from the previous question, has an adaptation ever ruined the original for you to such a point that you couldn’t read/watch the original anymore?
  11. What was the last book that you read that made you say “[insert favoured cuss], I wish *I’d* written that”?

A final “Thank you” to Stuart for the nomination, a tip of the hat to our nominees (and a reminder that you don’t have to accept), and hopefully we’ll see you next week for the next thrilling installment of our AtoZ Challenge!

#secondthoughts: Fools & Mortals

Debs and I met through a book club. It started with just three people, Brave New World, and a less than ideal venue…(we weren’t anticipating the dance class in the pub where we chose to meet). From the beginning we took it in turns to choose the book and we had a rule that the book needed to be one that none of us had read – the idea was that we wouldn’t have an emotional investment prior to the novel and wouldn’t be heartbroken when a much-loved favourite was ripped apart by others. When it came to my first turn to suggest a book, I couldn’t quite make up my mind, so I suggested a short list of three, and the others voted on this.  By the time that Debs joined the club a few years later, we had a pretty established format of a short list of 5-8 books, sometimes with a theme. Incidentally, the book we were discussing at Debs’ first session was an unusually long one for us – This Thing of Darkness – but one that we all loved, an infrequent situation for us!

Some authors are so prolific that it is possible to circumvent our rules, whilst still maintaining (some of) the spirit.  For example, I am a huge Pratchett fan, but had not read any of the Long Earth books when they turned up on one of Debs’ lists.  This month we read Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell: we have a huge Cornwell fan in the group, but she’d not read this one.  In fact, Cornwell, with only one or two others, is an author that has come up twice, the first book of his we read being The Last Kingdom. I’ve not seen the TV version of the Last Kingdom so I can’t comment on how it compares.  I wasn’t a big fan of the book: it should have ticked a lot of boxes for me, but I think I just didn’t warm to the main character.

I was intrigued by the idea of Fools & Mortals, especially as the group had opted to read Bill Bryson’s brief biography of Shakespeare a few years ago.  (We’ve been going for more than 15 years now, so we’ve covered a lot of territory).  I’m out of practice in terms of writing reviews and so this is not really intended to be one.  Elsewhere I’ve mentioned that I quite like Sarina Langer’s approach to reviewing, which is not so much as to offer a subjective star rating, but to pick up on the things that she likes and the things that she thought could be improved. One of the things that I have found myself doing more frequently as increase the time spent writing is to ask the question “what would I do differently, if I were writing this  book?”.

Before we get to that, it is probably worth noting that (a) I did search for some reviews of the book, and the consensus seems to be that it is a 4* effort, and, (b) outside of Amazon (where, at the time of writing this post, there were 205 reviews) I’ve yet to find a compelling/reasoned negative review.

So what did I like?  I liked the opening a great deal: I thought it was intriguing and sucked me in completely. (The Cornwell fan in the group thought it rather obvious, and didn’t like it.  Ho hum.  As an aside, the best meetings we’ve had are around books that split opinion).  It was an excellent start and the epilogue echoes this to give the story a nice symmetry.  I quite like the main character, who is very much of the time.  He is not an anti-hero, but neither is he especially heroic – he is a self-confessed thief, but is a reliable narrator.  I learned something, and I think that the things that I learned were even true in some respects!

I have two major, linked gripes.  There is a plot, but it’s a bit thin, and as a consequence the book feels as though it has been padded:  there are quite large chunks of Shakespeare’s works in the book and there is a great deal of repetition.  Take ceruse, for example.  Ceruse was the name for the paste made from white lead and vinegar that was used to whiten the skin.  Unsurprisingly, given the book is set late in the Elizabethan period, ceruse is mentioned 11 times  –  perhaps the biggest surprise is that it is not mentioned more frequently.  Sometimes things were added to the paste – Cornwell describes the property mistress of the acting troupe trying out various dyes to give a green hue to Puck’s make-up at the first presentation of a Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The use of crushed pearls is also mentioned: in a theatrical setting it is used to make the skin sparkle slightly in the candlelight.  We were reminded of the crushed pearls almost every single time, and I got a bit fed up with this being rehashed.

I think the plot felt thin because the book couldn’t really decide what it wanted to be.  I was going to complain about the fact that there is very little ‘action’ (in this sense peril) until almost halfway through the book, but in thinking about it, this wasn’t necessarily the problem – the problem was that the action felt rather contrived.

What would I do differently?  I was going to say “Nothing!  I wouldn’t write this book!”, but that is perhaps being too flippant.  The book did give me an idea, which I will make a note of and I might even revisit, which would require a reasonable amount of research, but might be quite fun; it does need time to mature.  But if I were to take Fools and Mortals itself…hmmm….I think what could be quite fun is to reduce the book to novella length and then treat that as the first third of the book, the first Act.  There are two other acts that could work well (and a scholar could probably find several others).  Within my background reading, I found out that the Globe was built from the materials of another play house, called the Theatre, which was removed from its site following a dispute with the landlord, stored and then rebuilt.  Also, we tend to forget that Shakespeare lived not only in the Elizabethan era, but also in the Jacobean.  Managing this transition must have been fun…

So how about you?  What things have you learned about your writing by reading other people’s work?