Monday, 9 April 2018

Fashion and Fiction: Dressing Your Characters

Here's a confession: I sometimes go a bit overboard when writing about clothes/costumes in my books. Loving historical costume (or just dressing up in general, heh) is a passion that really puts its mark on my characters.
For example, Aika from When the Summer Ends is considered odd because she loves dressing in clothes from other eras, even just to potter around in her garden. She is a lonely, quite isolated character that doesn't fit in much anywhere, whether it is America or France, with her mother or father, or at school... I thought the fact that she wears unusual clothes in everyday life would be a way to illustrate how alienated from people and places she feels, as though she longs for the past, which she views through rose-tinted glasses, and nostalgic fantasy.
In my latest story, Maxime is an actor. He loves wearing costumes, as it is a perfect way for him to get into character; to be forced to move, sit, and have the posture of his protagonist, and to feel the fabrics and tactile sensations that the character he plays would have felt in the days before polyester and synthetic fabrics.

With the arrival of a new dress for my BJD version of Aika, how she relates to the clothes she wears must have been playing on my mind, so I turned some simple photos into a story of sorts, using original text from my novel, When the Summer Ends. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed making them!

Aika's Wardrobe I - © Ellie Morris

Aika's Wardrobe II - © Ellie Morris

Aika's Wardrobe III - © Ellie Morris

Aika's Wardrobe IV - © Ellie Morris

Aika's Wardrobe V - © Ellie Morris

In my story, Aika wears historical-inspired fashions that she either commissions or makes; she has a strong love for 18th and 19th Century fashions! But she also has a wardrobe of stylish but modest late-1950's-early-1960's clothes, to befit her family and lifestyle. Some people say that she dresses very eccentrically.
On an unrelated note, I thought it was kind of funny how Aika and Maxime's stories are different, but still contain similar elements. Aika was born eight years before Max, but I wonder if they would like each other, should their paths cross. (It wouldn't happen, but it's interesting to think about).

Clothing, although sometimes it can be very discrete, does have a way of expressing things about the wearer. I'm not exactly talking about how wearing ripped skinny jeans makes one a slob or a punk or whatever, but that it can show things that words and actions may not.
Whether it is intentionally or not, the way a character dresses can express any of the following:

If a character is confident, they may wear somewhat more revealing, or even wacky clothing -- especially if that confidence is also based around their appearance.
An example that springs to mind is Vince Noir, from the TV series "The Mighty Boosh", since I watched it recently. Part of his personality is focused around his almost constant sunny disposition and laid-back attitude. But he is also very intent on following and being ahead of the current trends, jumping from one sub-culture to the next, whether it be mod, goth, punk, or something else. Therefore, he isn't afraid to express himself through clothing that is outlandish and unusual - and also very form-fitting on occasion - due to his relaxed and confident personality.
On the other hand, a more shy character may wear something subdued and modest in order to not draw attention to themselves; but alternately, they could also wear something more alternative and fitting to their aesthetics to give themselves a boost of confidence! It's all up to your character and circumstance.

When you are feeling unhappy, do you decide to wear dark colours when you get dressed that day? Sometimes I do, as sporting an obnoxious shade of pink when I'm feeling down can irritate me; I don't feel pretty on the inside, so why should I bother on the outside? I've also heard some people say that intentionally putting on colourful clothes when in a dark mood is a way of trying to boost their spirits.
Wearing black when in a dark mood, or when you want to be invisible, can also be accidental. If your character is going through some hard times, maybe the first thing they throw on is a black T-shirt, or a change of pyjamas, without even thinking of the reasons why. 

Maybe they don't even want to change their clothes, if they are deeply depressed. An example of that which I will always remember is in Stephen King's "Misery", where his character Annie Wilkes suffered from painful mood swings; in her happier moods she would wear pretty but still practical clothes with light colours, but when she became severely depressed and angry, Paul Sheldon noticed that she rarely changed her attire, and that her dressing gown was covered with food stains. 

Is your character a part of any particular scene? Do they express themselves through pins, badges and patches on their clothing, or carry a bag with the logo of their favourite bands/ musicians/football teams? Are they a part of an important cause? - such as human or animal rights, global warming, or a particular charity - which could be a reason to wear T-shirts with slogans relating to those passions.
Very often, I see people that wear merchandise of their hobbies, fandoms, and celebrity crushes. It can frequently be the first thing people notice about them, and a way to strike up conversation with like-minded people. In high school, the girls in my form often knew who was 'Team Edward' and who was 'Team Jacob' just through giving a quick glance to their backpacks, coats, jumpers or stationary (for the record, I was neither, and would always answer "Team Voldemort" as a joke when asked who I supported!).
Interests can also be shown through makeup, accessories, body modifications, and certain haircuts. Somebody may wear earrings of their favourite animal, or shave certain designs into their hair, if their hair is short.

There is a time and a place for everything, and sometimes dress codes are important. If clothing for a formal occasion is warranted, a character may have to dress themselves accordingly, whether it is for a wedding, funeral, a Sunday service in church, or a particularly grueling meeting with a loathsome individual like a strict relative, an ex that they are wanting to outdo, or an enemy that needs taking down a peg or two. 
Would your character worry endlessly over what to wear to an impromptu date or night out? Perhaps the situation has taken them by surprise, and they have no idea what would be suitable to wear. Or maybe they are a rebel and just don't care about convention! 

Religious beliefs can often be expressed through attire such as jewellery or ceremonial clothes and headwear. Sometimes you can even spot or guess which organisation a person belongs to through the type of pendant they wear, or which saint or idol they look up to.
Another idea I thought of was inspired by some people I used to know at college and online, who wore eco-friendly clothing made of hemp or recycled fabrics, or wore vintage to avoid fast-fashion and preserve heritage. These clothes are also influenced by beliefs about society, the environment, and how things are produced in the modern age.

I can easily tell when a film, novel, or photograph was set or produced, simply based on the clothing that characters wear. Fashion is very transitional, and varies wildly, even just in the past fifteen years. The 20th Century is a very good example, as so much changed in those 100 years!
Hemlines rose and fell dramatically (think of how showing legs was considered scandalous in the years before the 1920's, and how women of the 20's embraced shorter dresses that enabled new dances and trends; the Mini skirt of the 1960's, and then the outrage in the 1970's when the Maxi skirt came into fashion).
Casual wear such as jeans, and trousers for women became gradually more acceptable in those decades. Fabrics also went through big transformations in 20th Century, with synthetics and rationing contributing to different trends over the years. The colours and patterns of clothing is also a good way to show what era something is set in (and ditto for home interiors, too).

If your character lives in a really hot country, it is likely that they will dress in a way that enables them to stay cool - and vice versa. Does their location have a specialty for a certain type of fabric, such as tartan wool, silk, or cotton, which is easier to wear since it is local (I think this applies more to historical novels than ones set in the modern day)? Do they have events where they wear national costume? Do they take pride in their country by wearing patriotic gear? Do they own a T-shirt from a country that they visited?

All of these can show a reader things about a character, without having to tell them directly.

It will be interesting to hear what readers think, so please leave a comment on what you or your characters like to wear, and if you have a reason for it!
And why not give some short (or long) descriptions of your character's sense of style a try, if you haven't written about that kind of thing before? It could possibly add a subtle hint of symbolism to your story!


Saturday, 24 March 2018

Maxime: So What's It all About?

For 'Nocturne des Anges' being the blog of an author, I don't seem to write much about what I'm actually writing book-wise, on here. I might have made some vague statements here and there since October last year, about who Maxime is and what his story is about, but I haven't exactly expanded on anything publicly. Heck, on my blog and social media I simply end up blabbing about how much I adore him as my latest writing companion, and that he's very lovable to me, and is my current ticket to running around 1960's Paris and the darker parts of my mind...

It seems a bit silly to be so quiet on a subject that I'm passionate about, and that, in my opinion, should be expressed as a means of gaining interest.
A point that I saw on a blog post for maximising creativity offered an interesting idea: write a pitch or artist statement explaining why your project is so important. The idea was to read it through every day and remind yourself why you're passionate about it, and want to meet the goal - more of a personal motivator than something professional to hand in to an editor or publisher, I expect. I already know that the story is important to me, and that I'm going to see it through to the end, but I thought writing an informal statement and posting it here would be a good way of expressing the story and message to others, too. 

Medal from Rock n Rose, I'm planning some Maxime-related photography soon...

“Maxime” is set in 1960’s France, and is a mixture of historical, romantic, drama, and LGBT fictional genres. 

Maxime de Faye is a child-star, trapped in an adult’s world. Twelve and naive, he falls into a nest of vipers when his beauty, vivacity, and natural talent captures the interest of a director, giving him the opportunity to begin his dream cinema career in Paris. First came the excitement of his impending fame and fortune, but he is soon knocked flat on his back, to the mercy of the city and all those that would surround and tower over him, when he realises that his role brings about more than just the ordinary admiration and applause that he craved in the beginning… 
Despite being disgusted by and afraid of the older men that would not hesitate to prey on him in his new and unusual environment, Maxime finds himself very attracted to and curious about his co-star, Leopold Ronis, an older boy of eighteen years. In turn, his puppy love is requited by Ronis, who despite keeping the boy out of harm’s way and ensuring that the relationship between them on set is chaste, secretly lusts after him just as much as the other men in their circle. 
Maxime’s films and performance may be otherworldly, but reality can be jarring in the head space of young teenage boy who is overworked, bombarded with the responsibility of an adult three times his age, and forced to smile despite feeling lonely in a world filled with countless names and faces. 
Only the support and love of his younger sister, Leone, and boyfriend, Leopold, manages to drag him from deep despair and broken confidence, and Maxime realises that dreams and ambitions can be outgrown.

If my character Aika was a reflection of the emotions I felt at the age of fourteen, and Carrie/Cherry (both from the "When the Summer Ends"/"Mansions of Glass" duology) was built upon the type of person I wanted to meet and become friends with, Maxime feels more like a son to me; we are not very like each other - as the Myer-Briggs test clearly illustrated, in a previous post -  yet I feel very protective of him.
He starts off as around the same age as my previous protagonists, but this type of bold and passionate  (yet tortured) character is different to what I've written before, and is what makes me excited to continue with his story. 
Max almost writes himself in a way, as he runs from scene to scene (both literally and figuratively, as he is an actor), yelling "come on, come on!" despite his initial trepidation, and it's hard to keep up with him. As a result, I'm up at all hours scribbling down ideas, and flinging plot points at him, and in turn, he flings ideas back at me, saying "I'd like this to happen, I have to have some good times, too," or "what about this? It's very likely". As I said, he tends to write himself, and is very eager to do so.

Medal from Rock n Rose, I'm planning some Maxime-related photography soon...
Due to just wanting to write, write, write in order to keep up, rather than blog, and constantly thinking of what will happen next in his adventures in minute detail, I had been rather worried about writing a pitch, or summary of sorts, just in case some things should change. See, Maxime is an impulsive kind of beast, and as I'm learning new things about him and his life story every day, when I thought I knew it all, I wanted to see how it goes before committing to certain things... As I get new ideas every day, it seems like a very big project, and is almost overwhelming at times. 
I also kept things pretty secret because of shyness, too; I always worry that people will laugh at my ideas, or think that I'm too dark and sinister or controversial in my content. 
Talking to my close friend, who is also a writer, really helped to solidify things that I was worried about, however, and now that things are very clear about the story, I'm trying to get over the nerves of gathering everything together and putting my ideas out there to other people.

Along with how much I enjoy creating the world of my new protagonists, this story gives me a lot of enthusiasm and the characters are quite divergent to what I've written before, so I have a lot of high hopes for it. Sometimes that can be quite intimidating, but I'm using what I learned through re-reading When the Summer Ends and advice from my friends, family and beta readers, to better myself and hopefully achieve something really meaningful. 

I hope that my story will be as interesting for people to read as it is for me to write! 


Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Jan & Feb Monthly Logs: Better Things, Happy Mail, and Opportunities

If you've been following my posts on my Facebook and Instagram accounts, I recently posted a picture of my area's weather in a more peaceful, picturesque state (and I will post it here too, as it's rather pretty).

Winter in March - Ellie Morris

Imagine my surprise when I opened the curtains to find everywhere covered in frosty white blankets, a fairytale image of bliss that we rarely get in our damp and blustery town by the sea. Snow falling from the sky, it was a happy day for most; my brother experienced a snowball fight and building a snowman for the first time, and I know he wasn't the only one that enjoyed this change in weather.
Now, I never used to be such a Scrooge, as I have fond memories of snowball fights in the fields and my sister's good aim and timing, which ended up with a snowball inside my mouth! But I have to confess that snow, these days, is an anxious nightmare for me. I have issues with my balance and walking, and if I slip on the ice, I could potentially get injured. So I mostly stayed inside, which isn't necessarily depressing... until the boiler broke down within a few hours of The Beast from the East coming to the UK!
I'll tell you, this week has been an absolute challenge! The highlight was definitely having no central heating or warm water for three days (it turned out that the pipes had been frozen solid, so it was an easy fix, thankfully), but some other trials turned this week from bad to worse. Other annoying things included strange dreams and little sleep; a meeting (it wasn't too bad, but I just dislike that sort of thing); baking disasters that ultimately ended up being okay, but was very trying and I had to make three separate attempts; embarrassing myself in public; a blood test that ended up with blood running all down my arm; and finally, to top things off, as soon as I got to the restaurant for my sister's birthday, I realised that I had forgotten something very important... Underwear.
It's been a crazy week, but at least it ended on a funny note! And there were so many good things that happened within the past two months.
So on a more positive note...


Such a wonderful thing happened on the first day of this month! My lovely friend, Vivi, opened her own indie Lolita fashion business!! We'd chatted about such a thing for some time, and she is such a talented, sweet and dedicated soul that I'm so incredibly proud of her; you go, girl! She works in a team of three to produce historically-inspired, lacy, intricate, dreamy designs, along with her sister and mother. Their brand name is Viviana Iris, and I want to buy their entire store and future collections until I can hardly breathe due to my room being filled to the ceiling with ruffles, lace, and silk.
In fact, as soon as I could, I snapped up a pair of bloomers and a bonnet for my dolls, which was a dream come true, and I'm thrilled with the quality and love that goes into the clothing.
Please take a look at their Facebook page and Storenvy, and if you're inclined, follow them on her new Instagram! @vivianairisfashions

Beautiful things from Viviana Iris

Another exciting mail day was when I received my parcel from China, containing my first ever BJD! She is Myou Delia, and I decided to name her Aika, after my main character from my previous two novels, "When the Summer Ends" and "Mansions of Glass". She is a character that I felt incredibly close to throughout the writing, and even today she remains one of my favourites, as we have a lot in common - so a physical representation of my first 'proper' novel character is wonderful to have!
I'd always wanted a BJD, maybe for six years, and I had decided long ago that my first one would be Aika. I wonder if anybody else has a doll or figurine of their characters, as a way of inspiring and rewarding oneself for artwork or writing? Let me know in the comments if you have one, or if you're planning one!
(I don't have a great picture yet, as I'm still styling her and waiting for decent light and her official outfit - but she's too pretty to leave without an image, haha. The bluebell dress she is wearing, I bought from Cath Kidston and altered and customised. Perfect for Spring!)

Aika in her new dress - Ellie Morris

One of the achievements for January was hitting 20,000 words of "Tiger Lily Maxime"! Obviously I was very behind on NaNoWriMo to only reach that goal now, but it's still incredibly pleasing, nevertheless! Some nights I write 4,000+ words in one sitting, and only realise that it is past midnight when I start getting thirsty, and it's that kind of concentration and enthusiasm that really adds a significant amount to my word count. Otherwise, I think about it more than I actually spend time doing it, haha. I'm always getting new ideas and inspiration for this story, and it's been so enjoyable every time I find enough brain cells and hours to write!


Another busy month, also with some exciting opportunities.

I found out early on, that I received an unconditional offer for my Creative Writing course at university! Of course, I already had my qualifications from last year, so I didn't need to wait on exam results to receive my place - but I was still extremely happy to get an offer like that! Nerves almost always accompanies excitement, but I celebrated by travelling down to Liverpool on the train to meet my dad out of work, where we went to a Vietnamese restaurant that I like (I discovered Vietnamese pho in January, and found that I can't get enough of it!), and did some shopping.

Mint Turntable and Morricone - Ellie Morris

It was a really lovely evening, and I bought myself a record player in HMV! I've been interested in record players, as a lot of the music I like is quite old, but I'm so glad that I took the plunge and actually got one. Usually if I want something, I sit around and think about it for a long while, and it's probably a few months before I actually get my paws on whatever it is I'm thinking of getting - but this was a relatively quick decision, and not at all a bad one!

First two Vinyls - Ellie Morris

The first vinyl I bought was a live album of Ennio Morricone in Santa Cecilia. It was really fun to listen to, and sometimes as I drift off to sleep, it feels like I'm in a spaghetti western movie.
The next day, I bought an album by another artist that I admire, Clothilde, a young singer in the late 1960's who was famous for her sweet voice but cynical and strange lyrics. I'm so glad to own this record too, as I listen to her "French Swinging Mademoiselle" album a lot.
Since my dad was very pleased about my record player, he told his cousin, who dropped off two huge boxes of his late mother's records; I found some real treasures in there, including Siouxsie and the Banshee's "Once Upon a Time" album, and a Glen Miller compilation, along with a LOT of Elvis and other rock n' roll artists. This week I'm going through them all, working out what I can sell, and which ones I will keep. There must be over 200, so it's going to take a while!

Aside from that, I also started a small, part-time volunteering job at an animal shelter for small pets! It's early days, as I've only been once so far, but I enjoyed looking after the animals. There are two rabbits, two guinea pigs, a cage of degus, and three African Grey parrots! Holding the parrot for the first time was kind of scary, as they're so big and have massive, sharp beaks, but I'd never done that before, so it was a great experience. Part of the duties include cleaning the hutches, doing small health checks on the animals, sweeping the hay, keeping them clean, and generally making a fuss over them with lots of attention and cuddles! I hope that I can meet some of the dogs soon, also, so it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

Thank you if you've read this far, and please feel free to follow or comment if you'd like! I've been a bit behind on my posts recently, but I'm trying to get back into it.


Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Become Best Buddies with Your Character, and Ways to Build Characters and get Ideas!

Inspiration comes from all over, as many people know. For characters in creative writing, ideas can start off as very vague - a distant memory of the nasally way an old neighbor would complain about the state of the drains, or the unusual gold-flecked eyes of a childhood friend as they played in the sunshine, for example.
But sometimes these little friends or despicable villains that we come to know as characters, just pop into your head as you're walking to school, and from there their personalities, stories, quirks and opinions simply build up and up until they feel as realistic as your best friend or least favourite teacher. Seemingly, they then take it upon themselves to walk to school by your side, talking your ear off about themselves and offering opinions about the state of this world, Marmite, and cats; speculating how they would react to situation A or B; and explaining what they desire more than anything else in the universe.
It could be whilst taking a shower or walking the dog, as routine activities are good idea-boosting methods; keeping the body active in mundane tasks whilst daydreaming is more effective than sitting still and forcing yourself to think up a multidimensional being.

Other methods of conjuring up a main character could be any or all of the following!

Real-life Examples
I remember a lot of my earlier characters were inspired by people I used to know at school, sometimes intentionally and sometimes accidentally, i.e. I didn't set out to write a story that featured somebody I knew from French class as a major player, but they just worked their way into being the spitting image of a beloved character, even if reality and imagination did grow apart or completely separated!
Look at people you know in day-to-day life, and those that interest you. What features do you like about them? What don't you like? If you don't know them well, what do you imagine their life is like?
Study the way interesting people react to certain things, such as a stressful meeting, or how they recount their weekend date on a Monday morning. Listen to the way they speak as well as what they say, watch their smiles and frowns, the way they raise their eyebrows at a silly joke, and how they walk. Does she make the room light up when she walks in, or does she carry an air of gloom or mystery everywhere she goes? As for interests and quirks, do you know if she has a special interest in stag beetles, or enjoys five-star cuisine? Be a fly on the wall and pay attention to both friends and strangers, but don't make things weird or intrusive.
Important: I probably don't have to say this, but - people-watching and inwardly speculating is fine, but spying on or harassing somebody is not. Please don't feed the rumor mill or picture speculations as the truth! It's always better to know someone before jumping to wild conclusions; however, for writing, the guessing game is okay - as long as the inspiration source is discrete and changed up a bit, which takes us to the next point...

Character art - © Nami (left), Ellie Morris (right)

Recycling and Frankenstein-ing
And lots of it. This is mostly how I - and I suppose a lot of other authors - come up with decent ideas. There are so many imaginary people buzzing about in my thoughts, that it would be very difficult to write about them all (unless they decide to chain me to my laptop one day, close all the curtains, and tell everyone that I died in a mysterious incident). So, to save myself from that grizzly fate, I try to appease them all and merge characters together, Frankenstein-style. Like one of those online dressing-up games that I used to play as a kid, you can chop and choose favourite aspects of all these different characters. Do you like the attitude of an older character from a couple of years ago, but know that you won't write their tale due to their backstory being weak? Do you like the history of a more recent character begging to be written, but don't think they'll win any favours with readers due to a lifeless personality? Add one character's personality to the history of another potential-hero by merging them together with others, and you might just make a winner. Or a monster... At any rate, there's no shame in recycling.

Myer-Briggs Personality Types
Once you know the outlines of a character well enough, using online sources can flesh them out a bit. I have used Myer-Briggs in my most recent writing project, and found that it came in very useful for finding out their personality type, and how they would react to certain things. The results of the test don't need to determine absolutely everything about the character, but I found that it helps for finding out more about the different types of people (I have a habit of splitting people into the "introvert" or "extrovert" categories without thinking more about other key traits).
Once you can answer how your character would do certain things - i.e. do they initiate conversations easily, or how do they organise their living spaces? - you can compare the personality group answer that you receive, with those of real-life people that you know.
For example, I received these results for my main characters:
Maxime - ESFP
Leopold - INFJ
Leone - ENFJ
... And then I compared it with my own results: INFJ. So, in that case, I am in exactly the same group as my character Leopold. It is likely that we would act and react in similar ways, depending on the circumstance. Using those insights into the X-type personality, you can understand more about what drives, worries and inspires those types of people, and what motivates yourself or others.
You can also get a wide range of questions that you can consider from your character's perspective, which would give you more answers on behavior in certain plot points.
Alongside the tests you can take, there is also lots of information about personality traits in general, which could inspire a certain type of character to grow from just a couple of lines about "analytical people".
The website I like to use for information like this is 16 Personalities. There are lots of details to look through, and the pictures are very cute.

Trait Generators
I don't use these often myself, but others may find this a good way to get the mind working. Just Googling "character trait generator" can come up with a whole load of results. The first one I clicked on gave me a button to press for three traits, and I got "bold, secretive, depressed". Some of the traits might not sit easily together and seem like a bit of a strange and unlikely combination, but through looking at it in different ways and thinking outside the box a bit, maybe an interesting protagonist can be discovered.
For example, clicking the button again, I received "easy-going, devious, helpful". "Easy-going" and "helpful" doesn't seem to mesh well with "devious", and could be dismissed for another click of the button. But perhaps there are two sides to this person, and they are two-faced. Perhaps they are an anti-hero, or somebody that pretends to help others, but in reality they are working towards their own goals, which are actually something quite sinister. They hide their unsavory motivations behind an easy-going facade, and pretend to help others when actually it's just a mean to an end...
Like the splitting before with introvert-versus-extrovert, I also tend to split people/characters into the "good or evil" categories. I tend to have very black-and-white thinking patterns. But with this, it can get you to consider different sides to one character. Nobody is 100% good or 100% bad, as there are many faces and goals to one person. Perhaps the 'good character' that everybody loves is actually manipulative and fake, or the 'bad character' has had his reputation besmirched and is actually just misunderstood. There are so many possible ways to think about this... and the "easy-going, devious, helpful" combination is just one result.

This is quite similar to the "people" one, in that looking at a photo or painting of somebody can cause all sorts of thoughts and emotions to arise. There could be a painting of a tearful old man; what could have broken his heart, and what emotion does that give the viewer? What kind of life has he lived? Or, a photo of a smiling child playing in a garden; where is the garden? Is it large and filled with lush flowers, or small, tatty and filled with rubbish? Is it her garden, or was she invited to play, or even trespassing? Who is she playing with, or is she happy alone?
Even an image more focused on the location than the subject herself can get the mind whirring. You can imagine what kind of life they live, how they live, and who they live with. Some artwork can be very emotive, with hidden meanings and symbolism that relate to the person in the image. Visual clues can be very powerful, even if you get the meaning wrong.
Take a trip to an art gallery, or look at a friend's photography portfolio. Study images carefully, and before reading descriptions or explanations behind the artist's choices, let your thoughts run wild. Online galleries can be great resources too! Find an artist that really resonates with you, and provides inspiration.

In history, we mostly hear about the queens and kings, the rich and powerful, and the very evil and terrible things that have happened in the history of this world. But what about normal people? How did everyday people live, not just very well-known historical figures such as dictators or royalty? Do you know how your ancestors lived, where they came from, what they believed in, and who they knew?
As well as the resources about "general history", finding out local history of the people who once lived in your area, or great-great-great-grandmas, can be equally as interesting. Maybe your living relatives have some very funny or thought-provoking stories to tell about "the good old days" or their distant cousins.
Aside from that, social history about all the different classes and ways of life long ago can inspire ideas that could also be applicable to modern-day settings. The issues that humankind had in the past can often still be issues that we continue to have today. And people have and probably will always be motivated by similar things, such as fear, greed, love, religion, etc.

When the Summer Ends covers - © Nami

TV Tropes
I've spent many a happy hour on TV Tropes, reading what insights and common themes other people see with a certain character, book, or TV series. If there is one trope that catches your attention, after seeing it in a favourite piece of literature or film, you could consider using it as inspiration for a certain character in your upcoming story.
The great thing (or perhaps a bad thing) is that looking through TV Tropes is like falling into a wormhole and getting sucked into spending hours and hours looking at different aspects of all sorts of things. There are an incredible amount of links to keep clicking through, each with different ideas that can be applied and considered.
However, here is a note about originality: Nobody can be 100% original with characters due to the way the mind works, scooping things up along the way and mashing them together like leaves and grime on a trailing coat, often without any idea where the ideas come from. Somebody may think that their work is a new concept that nobody has thought of before, but in a lot of cases, as my old art teacher would tell the class, "everything in art has been done before, nothing is entirely new in this age" (I'm paraphrasing, of course, but you get the gist). As long as nobody is plagiarising, you shouldn't feel bad for having a "predictable" or "slightly familiar" character. So I think that TV Tropes is an acceptable way of garnering inspiration. Of course, don't let that stop you from being creative!

Don't Force it
Constant thought is how the character matures and becomes as complex or detailed as you like, and it's a hard thing to rush. In a way, I find it like a new friend. You find somebody to connect with, and everything is new and exciting, and you wish to spend a lot of time with them. Over time, they open up to you, telling you their secrets, innermost thoughts and dreams, and gradually revealing what kind of person they are. Once you get a good idea who they are, the relationship grows, and you're constantly learning new things about the person and what makes them tick. You've got a lot (or not a lot) in common, so he or she is now one of your best friends! The important thing is that the friendship wasn't rushed or forced, and that you put thought into nurturing and growing it, working with the person and supporting them with new ideas, fun, and inspiration.
So, I challenge you to become best friends with your new protagonist, even if they are a bit of a battleaxe!

There are many other ways to get character ideas, and these are just a few. If you have any other ideas, comment them below and I'll add them to a list!


Monday, 22 January 2018

Better Delete That! - Reading Older Works and Getting Over the Embarrassment

You're a writer striving for success. Perhaps you're on your second, third, fourth, fifth, or even tenth novel. Or maybe you are a poet that has been published in magazines a few times. Regardless of the type of content you write, you're feeling pretty good about your current project. That forth novel is always on your mind, and it gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling when you sit at your desk to write. The poem that you're now drafting for a submission is filled with inspiration and metaphors, and you just know that it will mean a lot to future readers. Despite the motivation and positive feelings during those moments, there is a seed of doubt in the back of your mind.
Waking up at four in the morning, the one thought in your head is: "Better delete that!". Whether that be the first self-published eBook that you, as an indie author just starting out in the business, put together for Amazon, a terrible fanfiction that is still online from your early high school years, or just some old short stories cluttering up your writing folder, dreams of previous writing ventures have been manifesting in your subconscious. A sense of embarrassment, shame, or even guilt over your first or first few writing projects has cast a sense of doom or panic over your current work, and the lovely, dream-like vision of success or pride has been swiped away as you stare up at the ceiling and try to get back to sleep.

Keys at Chatsworth - © Ellie Morris

Recently I have experienced a nagging in my day to day thoughts, as well as during my sleep. I think back to certain rookie mistakes I have made with historical period facts, characterisations, and plot holes. And then I wonder who else noticed these irritating inconsistencies...
Whilst my first two novels, When the Summer Ends and Mansions of Glass, aren't terrible, and even my very old fanfictions still garner some positive comments and favourites online, I still think back to particular lines or characters' portrayals, and my cheeks flare red with embarrassment.
It tarnishes the current project a little, and I worry that every single person that has ever read my books thinks that I'm completely ridiculous. Or, even worse, a fraud.

I think most authors or writers have been through this at a certain point. Whether they are newcomers to the hobby or profession, or long-standing, well-known authors that are making major cash even as they sleep - everyone has a sudden jolt when they remember works from years ago.

We need to see this experience as it truly is, though. In my opinion, fretting over older projects is actually due to worry and doubt over current work. Everybody wants their latest work to be as successful as possible, and perhaps even perfect on the first draft (the latter is known to be near impossible, however!).
The feeling that your older works didn't grow to be quite as successful as you first envisioned; that even when re-reading it, what you once thought to be the bee's knees doesn't even meet your own criteria this time; or maybe a sense of guilt for what that first idea - the one that gave you so much joy and enthusiasm, provoking you to spend increasing amounts of time on what some people call their "babies" - could have been... All or any of these could be the reason why doubt continues to tug on your sleeve at every corner, slowing down your progress or even causing a complete halt in your productivity. 

Nobody beats themselves up quite like a perfectionist! But now it is time to let go of that pesky self-doubt that sits on your shoulder and crawls inside your dreaming mind.

Here are some steps that you could try to utilise next time the slimy creature whispers in your ear:

1) Realise what it really is that is playing on your mind.
It's not the fact that your older works are mortifyingly awful and deserve to be deleted from all existence. In fact, your first few pieces may be a lot better than what you give yourself credit for! Or, even if it isn't exactly the type of book that English Literature professors will be studying in thirty years time, it doesn't mean that you're doomed to fail in every single thing that you write now and in the future. It is really what you're working on NOW that matters, which is what may be bothering you beneath the surface.

2) Take note of your previous mistakes.
But don't bully yourself over them. If you notice a mistake when reading through, write what you didn't like about it down, learn from it, and move on. It may be a good exercise in furthering your knowledge in grammar, scene progression, character emotions, editing, or story arcs, etc.

3) Find humour in what embarrassed you.
I can guarantee that some older stories will be hilarious to relive! I had a good laugh pouring through my printed copy of When the Summer Ends, not only because I realised that my old story was like reading a dark comedy (whereas at the time I found it deadly serious and emotive), but because I genuinely wanted to make it humorous at the time. It includes little jokes and experiences from my day-to-day life back then (2014-15 really), as well as elements of my own character and old thoughts that I had forgotten. It was like a piece of myself from those years, inserted into my own characters and plots, vibrant and fun for me because I could remember my train of thought and interests from back then. Have you ever read an old diary and thought "Oh dear, I must have been insufferable! I can't believe how cringey I was back then!"? It's a bit like that, but you can shift the blame onto your beloved lead characters more often than not. 
Be lighthearted and laugh at your insecurities!

4) Know that you are constantly learning and improving, and you are not a fraud.
Not many other people will notice what was so glaringly obvious to you, in most cases. Nobody is going to take to Twitter, or the town's local soap box, and declare that you are fraudulent in your claims of being a writer, just because you introduced a minor character in chapter three and forgot to mention them again throughout the whole novel. 
Don't worry about what others could be thinking or feeling about your previous indiscretions. They don't matter now! If you're learning and attempting to better your work, you're doing well. And often, just continuing to write as much as you can is a way of improving your content. People pick up pointers on how to write from all over the place, and these tiny pieces of information collect in your mind and pour out onto the screen without anybody even making a conscious effort. 

5) Ask for feedback if you want it.
If it really bothers you, ask a trusted friend, family member or beta to read your work, and offer tips on what it was that maybe could have been better. You can apply this to everything you write from then onward. Perhaps they could even reassure you that it wasn't the terrible, catastrophic drivel you believe it to be. 

6) Keep on writing.
This is vital! Keep writing and focus on the present. If you really want to go back to novel number one and make a revised copy, then do so, but what really matters is the content you make for the future. Sometimes you just have to let go of the past, and carry on. Who knows? The thing that you're working on right now could be in the New York Times Best Sellers list!

It is all about trusting yourself to do the best you can now, and growth. Mistakes are how you learn, and that is key to growth. Whilst it may knock your confidence for the time being, make sure to congratulate yourself on your successes too!

I hope some of you have found this post helpful in any way, and I wish you best of luck working on your newest piece of creative writing!


Friday, 12 January 2018

Monthly Log: Christmas, Maxime, and a Very Happy New Year

Hello everyone,

I hope you've had a happy holiday season, whatever you celebrate (or don't celebrate)! My Christmas was a wonderful occasion, as I was feeling happy and relaxed for the most part, and my aunt visited us from Australia. We played lots of hilarious games, which made me laugh until my face hurts; one of which, we seemed to play to death, but was probably my favourite part of the month. Along with that, there was delicious food cooked by my Nana and Granddad, and I snapped lots of photos using my new Polaroid camera (first time using an instant camera, so it's exciting but I need to work on getting the right settings).
It's 2018 now, and I'm determined to make this a very good year. Looking back on 2017, I had some dark moments, but also some lovely ones, including; a trip to Tenerife, visiting Chatsworth House, spending a bit more time with friends, seeing some old country houses from the National Trust that I love, going to New England - where I swam in the sea on a Maine beach, stayed on a farm in New Hampshire, and went on a five-mile rowing and swimming trip on the Connecticut River! I also did some baking, had a wonderful little birthday get-together, saw By Jeeves in Yorkshire, bought a ball-jointed doll, and started writing a new book. It makes me realise that there are happy times in my life, and that I am lucky.
One of my wishes for 2018 was to feel more connected to people, such as friends. Already, on the first, second and third days of January, I had gotten sweet messages from friends that truly made me feel appreciated - a "love you" from a friend in response to a picture I posted of us and our other friend, and a "you're a wonderful friend" from another. I was really happy and thankful that my prayer had come true already, but I know that I still need to work hard, especially seeing as I'm applying for university.
My other goals this year include eating more healthily (I don't think I've put on weight over Christmas, but I'm seriously lacking fruit and vegetables right now!), possibly cutting out dairy and sugar from my diet, along with all gluten/grains, as they're all foods that make me feel ill and sluggish. Having a kinder attitude towards myself, getting some exercise, finding a treatment that works, and hopefully volunteering in an animal shelter, is also on my list, as all of these things will help prepare me for the future.
The last five years haven't been good for me, and as a result I believe I was trapped in the time and head-space of my younger self, unable to move on and mature like most other people my age. Some days I'm still like that, and it's awful, but I feel like the months September-December have improved me in aspects, and it can only continue to develop this year into something wonderful. Positivity is key! And I'm going to accept so many different treatments and positive offers!

A certain plan that I have, is based around mindfulness - or, perhaps not that exactly, but something that will be relaxing and make me focus on the present moment. I have a lovely vintage/antique rocking chair in my room, that has been reupholstered and rejuvenated thanks to my family. It's in the corner of my room, between a wall and the wardrobe. I don't know about anyone else, but I find furniture-based enclosed spaces very calming, so this area is ideal for me. I want a specific place where I can sit and read, embroider, and drink tea, maybe once or twice a week, and focus on that relaxing moment with no distractions or thoughts about to-do lists or messages. Focusing on the stitches or tea is a good way of staying present, and can ward off stress as long as you don't expect the embroidery to be perfect.
I'm even thinking of decorating the little space further, perhaps getting a little coffee table to put my silver tea-tray on, and a small foot rest. I could make some cushions and find a nice throw, and hang some nice things on the wall behind me. One thing that I've always wanted to put up is my great-great-grandmother's tapestry from the late Victorian - early Edwardian era.

Tapestry by my Ancestors - © Ellie Morris

The message isn't very sweet, but I find it funny in a way that a child spent time stitching something that sounds so ghastly to most modern people. I don't believe that my great-great grandmother could have possibly been "such a wretch" as to warrant going to Hell (though admittedly I never met her), but it appeals to my dark sense of humour! 

Another hopeful goal is to develop my personal style more, in a way that is suited to my tastes and love of alternative fashion, but is comfortable for daily wear. To help with that, I'm planning to have a new fashion blog up by the end of the month.
New Year goals aside, the holiday season is always a very busy, and usually hectic, time of year. I'm kind of stating the obvious there, but it explains why I'm so out of sync with my routine and projects now! Although it was probably one of the best Christmases I've had in five-ish years, it kind of takes over the entire month, and therefore I haven't had much time to write, including on the blog. I'm getting back to a normal schedule now, however, and a few nights ago I even wrote 3,000 words of Maxime in one sitting!
Time seems to speed up when I'm writing that particular book. The first time I look at the clock, it's just about seven o'clock. The next time I look at the clock, I'm feeling rather thirsty, and I find that ten-thirty has crept up on me.

I hope that everyone reading this has a happy and successful 2018, whether it be emotionally, financially, or otherwise!


Thursday, 14 December 2017

Missing Miss: The Search for a Truly Genteel Maiden in 21st Century London

Dear readers,
Today I have a post lined up that I have been planning for a while, and it is very exciting to see it come together right now on my blog!

I shall be interviewing a dear friend, whose perspective I have always found very intriguing. Through a message on one of my blogs, I met Sara* earlier this year in late spring, and since then we have corresponded very often.
Hailing from Italy, she has travelled around the world from a young age and found that her heart belongs in London. One of the first messages we exchanged detailed her fascination for period details that The Old Smoke holds, from Victorian architecture to the hustle and bustle of popular and affluent areas such as Sloane Square and Portobello Market.
Furthermore, she explained her love for all things refined, elegant, and proper, so it was no surprise to hear of her penchant for all things to do with the noblesse and sophisticated ladies of previous eras. What really struck me was her longing for the etiquette and lifestyle of the Victorians; or, to be more precise, the strong feeling that one does not belong in this century.

Mademoiselle Irene Cahen d'Anvers, by Pierre Auguste Renoir

But it isn’t living the life of a noble that interests Sara. Rather than bustle dresses made of fine silks and pearl parures, or debutante balls and morning receptions at the country manor or London townhouse, it is the life of a servant that she desires: to look after and be a companion to a young lady whom she refers to as “Miss”. Unfortunately, due to the invention of a time machine evading us for the time being, the life of caring for a refined young lady has eluded her so far, this century seeing personal servants as frivolous and such positions hardly existing anymore.  Other ways of finding somebody akin to her idea of elegance, to take care of and serve in this century, has been a topic that has mercilessly puzzled and intrigued Sara.
Instead of giving up, we talk of the reasoning for the wish to find that Missing Miss – a refined young lady whose outlook and grace resembles that of Victorian times, but who occupies 21st Century London – what Sara’s ideal lifestyle looks like, and the tumultuous journey that she has taken in pursuit of this dream.

The Captain's Daughter, by James Tissot

E: Now that I’ve introduced the concept behind this interview, would you mind telling me about yourself in your own words? What is your current situation in life?
S: You have written a lovely introduction, thank you so much! I've been living in London on and off for about 5 years now, and I love this city as much as when I first arrived -- or even more! At that time, I was 18 and had only been working as waitress, but here in England I decided to do something different. In fact, it was in this very city that I got a clearer focus of my aspiration and started to look for ways of getting close to it. I began working as au pair for families, and then for the past two years I've been working at private schools.
The second one, my current job, is at a fine central-London school, where I work primarily in the kitchen; helping with the preparation of food, serving lunch, cleaning, washing up, setting up for functions... I really enjoy working there, even though it's hard work. It is even an elegant period building with wooden panels and an amazing hall, and from the windows you can see views of Victorian mansion blocks, so you can definitely bet I love it! Of course, my work is only about food though, so there is not much chance to interact other than that. I'm still missing the opportunity to relate with Miss more closely.

E: Since your job is primarily about food and you don’t have many opportunities to interact, what would your ideal job and lifestyle look like? Dream big!
S: Well, the basic idea is very simple: I would not only like to make delicious food for Miss/Misses but also to keep her/their house nice and clean, wash and iron clothes, make beds, help with shopping... In other words, to take care of the domestic side and assist them in their requests. The sort of work that an au pair/housekeeper usually does for a family, but done for a young lady or -- more likely -- a few young ladies. What makes my aspiration a challenge is the fact that there aren't many situations where a group of young ladies may require the help of a domestic. Yes, there are boarding schools and (a few) female student halls, but it’s too bad that they no longer employ live-in servants to look after the young ladies. An option could be a house shared by female students or professionals, however I have yet to find one who may be interested. If there was one, that would be my ideal lifestyle. And if I have to dream big, I'll picture a group of genteel young ladies in a nicely decorated Victorian house. :D

E: We have an idea of your desired duties, but would your ideal Miss, or Misses, be like themselves? Have you an image in your head detailing her interests, personality, routine, or even looks?
S: I picture a well-spoken, ladylike, dignified young lady. In Victorian times, Miss would have been like the ones portrayed in those amazing impressionist paintings with frilly dresses and parasols. Today, Miss may be a classy young lady like the ones I see around London or where I work -especially in the winter, when fashion is more interesting and modest and you even see some ruffles and bows.  I can imagine Miss enjoying reading or writing, or playing the piano, horse-riding, ballet, French, fashion... I once found all the above and more listed on a blog as the typical interests of a Classic Lolita, so it seems that the keyword is "classic". And indeed, I suppose Miss would tend to study things such as Classics, Law, Languages, Art, Music...
As for her whole personality, who knows. From sweet to bittersweet, reserved or outspoken, smiley or sulky, everyone is different and personalities are a fascinating discovery. One cannot predict when they will click, but I would think that as I am someone captivated by all things classy, someone who appreciates having things done for her might actually get along quite well with me.

Painting by Vladimir Gusev

E: Do you know what led to your interest in taking care of this kind of young lady? Was there a moment in your life that made you realise your dream?
S: The short answer is: nope, I don't, haha. But I can say that serving is a feeling for me, a calling, something part of my nature. It is spontaneous and makes me feel fulfilled, in the same way as dancing, teaching or pursuing family life may do for other people. I fully realized it though at about 17, when I left school to go and work abroad. And even more so when I moved to England, which is no doubt the best place for my aspiration.

E: I understand that you have searched high and low for such a person, and I know how difficult and discouraging it has been. Would you mind telling others of the options you have looked through to find such a person?
S: Yes, I'm somebody with the "follow your heart" persuasion, so I've been doing my best to put my aspiration into practice. At first, I had the very naive notion that my interest for other girls meant I was a lesbian, so I thought it was a good idea to look for a lesbian partner who was a bit dominant. Funnily enough, when I met actual lesbians I soon realised that we were interested in very different things: sex and romance on their side, service and devotion on mine. It was then that I started to realise that I'm asexual, and many things became clearer (as you know, it means experiencing no sexual attraction towards either gender).
The same naivety led me to think that my desire to serve might find a venue in the world of Dominance & Submission, only to find out though that such a world isn't about elegance and emotional affinity, but more about sex and money, and that there are no so-called young "dommes" interested in a female domestic anyway.
So I thought maybe I should focus on elegance and have a look at groups for lovers of Victorian fashion and style, and it turned out that it's an interest almost unknown among young ladies. Many girls love Lolita style though, so that's an option worth exploring, even though the liking for frilly dresses is often a curiosity for an exotic fashion rather than a disposition for all things refined.
Then, as I mentioned, I offered my help to young ladies sharing a house, and I was either ignored or only got replies from single men.
Other than that, I have definitely tried to live my aspiration through work. It's obvious though that neither families or schools can provide any meaningful interaction with Misses: in fact, you hardly ever talk with them.
So, it's a long story, and my aspiration has yet to be fully matched. As you know, I do think it's a big waste, haha.

E: Unfulfilled dreams can be crushing, I know. What do you particularly think is a waste?
S: For both Miss and myself, not being able to enjoy this kind of relationship. Which is a different relationship than between friends, lovers, or colleagues, and it has its own richness and appeal. I personally think it's sweet, interesting, and fun. I am lacking the fulfilment of caring for someone I like and respect, and I suppose Miss is missing out on something that could be of value to her, such as having someone you can trust who is dedicated to carrying out your requests. To be honest it would really surprise me if all the educated young ladies who are sharing houses in London would be happy to cook, clean, wash and iron by themselves, or with the impersonal help of a cleaner 2-3 hours a week. I'm pretty convinced some would value the service of someone like me, who sees this more as an interpersonal relationship than as a cold job vacancy. Too bad we don't seem to have ways of coming across each other.

On the Quay, by Vladimir Gusev

E: What are the next steps you are going to take in your search? Do you have any current ideas?
S: I'm not really sure what the next steps could be. Job wise, my current one is likely the closest I can get to serve elegant young ladies. On a more personal front I'll keep an eye out of course, but I can't think of anything I haven't already tried. Suggestions are welcome, haha.

E: Is there anything else you'd like to say about your search for Miss?
S: Yes, I would like to thank you for coming up with such a great idea as this interview. It's really nice to be able to talk about my aspiration somewhere. And to do it on the page of a fine writer and Victorian seamstress is the best one could wish for!

Painting by Vladimir Gusev

Thank you very much, Sara!  It was intriguing to hear more about the ambitions you have, and I wish you luck.
Please feel free to leave a comment, as I can pass any words on to Sara; there is also a contact form, if you would like to get in touch.
Also, let me know if you find these kind of guest/interview posts interesting – it has been fun for me to explore and I might consider doing more of them in the future!


*Sara is a nickname.
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