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.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Monthly Log: Realistic Goals, Dusting off Childhood Relics, and University Ideas

November hasn't been too bad at all this year. Usually November is my unlucky month, probably due to the weather being miserable, the lack of daylight, and the association of bad memories and low-mood that psychologically causes the month to become unfortunate for me, like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One thing that didn't go as planned, however, was NaNoWriMo. Less than a week before November, I cracked open my "Ready, Set, Novel" book, filled out most of the sheets that I found relevant to my story and creative process, and naively believed "Yeah, I think I can write 50,000 words in a month". Sure, Morris. Sure.
Not only did I find myself slightly unprepared (not majorly though - I just needed to spend more time on research and putting together information sheets on Scrivener that I could easily flip back to, as I found myself annoyed at the lack of everything being in the same place) I forgot to factor in that my productivity is varied at best, unpredictable and sometimes non-existent at worst.

My Great-Grandmother - © Ellie Morris

Some days I can easily hammer out 3,000+ words and feel absolutely great about it. I can also do about two hours sewing and other crafts or hobbies in the same day, when I'm kicking my conditions' butts. But on others, I don't get out of bed at all, either due to all-consuming fatigue and pain, depression/paranoia/anxiety, general malaise, or because I'm overwhelmed with stimulation and looming tasks. Or, even if I do get out of bed, my head is so filled with fog and tiredness that the most I can do is prop myself up in front of the TV or go to my grandparents' house for a cup of tea. Alternatively, even if I am feeling good enough to write lots and lots that day, I have other important things to do that I've been putting off for days, or doctors appointments...
It was kind of unrealistic to expect that much of myself in such a small space of time, when the conditions in my current day-to-day life aren't ideal for a big undertaking like that. I know other people can manage 50,000 words in a month when they have far bigger responsibilities than me, such as a full or part-time job, education and studying, looking after children, spending time with friends, etc - some may even have health conditions at the same time as all that! - and I applaud them for it.
Someday I wish to be like that (to manage lots of things all at once, I mean, not the hectic schedule!), but for now I'm just trying to get through daily life whilst spending time on my favourite activities when I'm able to. I'm on my gap year for a reason, and that is to spend time recovering. I would do well to remember this when I start beating myself up for only achieving x-amount of things in a day!

If you have a physical and/or mental health problem (or even if you don't), you shouldn't feel bad about taking time off or not quite completing tasks either, especially if they are rather unrealistic to start with. As long as you're trying your best and taking care of your needs, whether that's managing pain, taking your medication or eating well, that is the main thing.
Of course, it is always good and very satisfying to get things done - and I find that even just starting the activity helps a lot as I know I've tried, and most of the time I get so involved in it that I end up carrying on regardless of pain or fatigue. It's good to challenge yourself, but make sure that any goals that are set are achievable and realistic. Realistic goals vary from person to person depending on time, means and circumstance, but for example, goals such as "sew five complicated ballgowns before Christmas" or "get fit enough to run a marathon in two weeks" would be very difficult, for me at least! Remember that you're human and not a machine or a miracle-worker, and you shouldn't expect yourself to churn out essays like a laser printer spits out paper, or turn water into wine.
I'll step down off my soap-box now, haha.

So, to put it briefly, I did not succeed in writing 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo this year. But there is always next year, and the next, and the next after that... Not to mention, although I did not reach the target, it did help a lot with my goal of getting back into writing, which was a brilliant motivation!

My next step is to get together all the information on my characters/settings/plot lines that I have, and further research the subjects that I'm not too clear on. Once my info sheets are ready, I'm going to plot every tiny thing out and block in all of the emotions that my characters go through. Also, more planning with my workbook! You can tell I'm a "Planner" and not a "Pantser"!

Aside from writing and other crafty things, I spent a week or two of the month clearing and tidying in preparation for Christmas, and to help "aid creativity" by having a better environment to work in. It's been hard work physically, but mentally I feel great now that I have clear surfaces, a tidy desk, and have sorted out all my old clothes! One thing that I had to do was make space on the shelves above my desk, which included... dusting off and placing all of my old Pokemon toys in a bag in the wardrobe... It was rather saddening, as I could remember all the times I played with them, the happy days that I received each one, my old birthdays, and how I would make little items of clothing for my plushes, such as a satchel or neckerchief in the style of Mystery Dungeon... It was almost like discarding my childhood, to replace it with art materials, jewellery findings and sewing fabrics, but I know that I'll keep them forever as Pokemon was a big part of my childhood. The colours did clash with the wallpaper though, and I needed space for all my craft/art/sewing/writing things, because I have more hobbies that I've picked up than brain cells.

Old Art Journal Page - © Ellie Morris

Another thing that happened this month, was that I went to a nearby University's open day. It is a really good university, both in the national reviews and from what I saw when I went, so I was filled with inspiration! Usually I feel dread with anything to do with school environments, as primary/high school and college were hard for me, even though I did well academically, but it was actually really good. I'm feeling - dare I say it - excited at the thought of joining the Creative Writing course; they do modules on writing fiction, poetry and scripts (all of which I really enjoy), as well as help with publishing, which I really need to learn. I never thought that going to University would be good for me because of my dread, but the facilities and course just looks fantastic!

I also went through very old family photos (I will be adding more pictures like the first one above soon), had a haircut (the straggly ends cut off and a re-style with a fringe) and bought my first ball-jointed doll! She is MYOU Delia, ordered through Angelesque, and will be called Aika after my main character from When the Summer Ends. It will help with some of the art I want to produce for a future re-release of my books, and I can't wait to take photos and show her here on the blog too!

I've been liaising with a friend for an upcoming blog post recently, and it will be an interview of sorts on a subject that proves to be rather unusual from what I've heard.
Stay tuned for that, and I hope you have fun preparing for Christmas or any other holiday this month, if you celebrate!


Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Alexandre's Sacred Heart: A Modern Tribute to Mourning Jewellery

Stories can be told in many formats. From the usual - but not to be overlooked! - novel or poem format, to fine art, illustration and photography, to a film, or even fashion.
Fashion, from vintage 1930's-70's style, to the Japanese street-style Lolita, to historical fashion, has always been a huge interest for me. In recent months when sewing my own style seems to be too much of a big undertaking, jewellery and jewellery-making has been a great option. One thing that particularly interests me is (surprise surprise) historical jewellery.

Obviously I don't have the funds or means to start splurging on emeralds and sapphires - though that is the dream, my friends! - but Victorian and Edwardian jewellery is very dear to me. I have a small collection of 1890's-1910's jewellery as well as some more vintage pieces which I may show in the future, however the idea of making modern jewellery out of more accessible materials, but inspired by the past, is a fascinating one.

I have a morbid side (which does actually come in useful for writing, a business that relies heavily on schadenfreude), and I suppose it reflects itself in a lot of other things that I create. I like the eerie, and the gothic and dramatic, as well as the romantic and sweet. Unlike Momoko from Kamikaze Girls, who claims that she only wants to fill herself with sweet things, packing her school lunch with candies and fruit - I admire both the sweet and the savory sides of life, at least through creativity.

Therefore, combining jewellery with romantic Victoriana and the macabre, you end up with something that would make my mother scream with repulsion: mourning and memento mori jewellery!

The Victorians often used locks of hair in their remembrance of loved ones, spending time braiding, weaving and making pieces of art out of the tiniest sections of hair. It was a way to keep a physical reminder of the deceased, as hair does not decay in most circumstances. I have seen examples of art made from individual hairs, carefully sculpted and preserved as a tribute to a loved one - though what really interested me was the brooches, lockets, and even bracelets; it was a way to carry a part of their family with them always, next to their heart or around their wrist. There are even existing examples of teeth used in jewellery as tribute to their beloved.

I used to find disembodied hair rather off-putting, but over time and through reading classical pieces of literature that touch on the subject, I grew to associate locks of hair with tenderness. There is something heartfelt about exchanging locks of hair, or using the hair of a deceased loved one to remember them by.
In recent years, it has definitely gone out of practice, at least where I live, and is even seen as a little disturbing.
Perhaps this could be put down to how modern society sees things such as death and mortality. Oftentimes, the subject is kept very quiet and only touched upon when absolutely necessary, such as when disaster and misfortune strikes a family and/or a nation. Even then it can be a difficult thing for people to wrap their heads around and talk about, almost like it is a little taboo to take an active part in preparing for death, taking care of the dead, and showing grief... This may not be the case everywhere, but from experience and through reading of other people's experiences, many people today seem to balk at anything that so much as implies death in relation to the real world.
Books such as "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory" by Caitlin Doughty and "The American Way of Death" by Jessica Mitford may be of interest to you if you'd like to read more on the topic of death practices in western society, however I should get back to mourning jewellery!

There are a couple of modern tutorials for hair jewellery online, however I preferred to try things my own way as a part of an experiment first. It actually turned out really well and I am pleased with the results!

Nobody I know, in my entire lifetime, has ever passed away, except for my poor old dog Frasier, when I was 12 (rest in peace in doggy Heaven). In that regard I am extremely lucky. So instead of making a trinket for a real person, I decided to make one inspired by the fictional universe instead. It sounds kind of silly to make a memento inspired by a fictional character, but I liked the concept too much to resist.

Inside of the finished pendant - © Ellie Morris

Seeing as I am going through a strong resurgence of love for the French novel and film Les Amitiés Particulières (I watch it probably once or twice every year, in order to preserve my tears, haha), I decided to base it off one of my favourite characters - Alexandre Motier.
It's no secret that the boy commits suicide in the story, as I think everybody that goes to watch or read the story knows beforehand, so I don't think I needed to warn for spoilers? Either way, I rather like him a lot as I feel like I can identify with him and his feelings in places, and he was such a bright and blameless character that I think he deserved so much better than what he got.
His death was probably one that has affected me the most in canon, both because it was so horrific and unjust - what frustrates me the most was that it could definitely have been prevented, had the timing been right, has Georges not miscalculated or cracked under pressure, or had it taken place in a different era... - and because of his very young age.
It really breaks my heart every time I watch or read, and I always end up stopping the film or closing the book just before things take a very depressing turn, so I thought that a story with such an emotional impact on me would be perfect for my experimental mourning-inspired locket.

Before trimming the ribbon - © Ellie Morris

In Les Amities Particulieres, the main characters Georges and Alexandre exchange locks of hair to show their adoration of each other, as back then that was a romantic gesture. Book-version Alexandre is a blonde boy, and there are many in-jokes between the two particular friends about that. By coincidence, I had about 15 inches or so cut off my hair four years ago and kept the remains. My hair is blonde too, so I decided to use a small section of that to represent the lock of Alexandre's hair that he gave to Georges.
I tied it with white silk ribbon. Silk ribbon was used a lot in the 1920's (you can see many examples of silk ribbon embroidery in textiles and sewing guides), and I had some on hand. I considered dying it but in the end I kept it in its original white state, to represent purity, and because it made a jarring contrast to the reds, yellows and golden and bronze shades I also used.
I backed the hair section with red velvet-effect fabric which I frayed and distressed in places for an uneven colour and antique feel. The red went nicely with the hues of the images I pasted to the locket, but it also reminded me a bit of the matching red ties that Georges and Alexandre wore. (Yes, it was a very minor detail, but I absorb tiny details and facts like a symbolism sponge. I know I'm weirdly obsessive over random things *hides face*).

Finished pendant - © Ellie Morris

The image I used of Alexandre was the one that Father Lauzon showed to Georges after the boy's death, where he was sleeping peacefully in a chair during happier times. For the front of the locket, I used an image of the Sacred Heart, which I got from the Graphics Fairy; it is from a French Holy card that was supposedly glued into the front of an 1851 religious book. I thought it was really beautiful, and could represent Alexandre's Catholicism, the religious environment of the school around him, and his love and brightness. Mourning jewellery often ties with religious symbolism and meaning, so  I found it fitting. The colours were also gorgeous and looked lovely with the vintage brass lockets that I purchased on Etsy.

Outside of locket - © Ellie Morris

Finally, I also used a silver cross that I found in my jewellery box for contrast, and made a rosary-style beaded chain from 8mm faceted clear beads, and antique gold-coloured head pins from the craft store.
If I were to make a similar style in the future, I would definitely use eye pins instead as the tutorial I followed recommended, as it was really tough on my hands to bend both sides of the head pins with pliers. The only reason I used head pins was that I couldn't find any eye pins locally, so next time I'll order them online!
I'd like to do something similar out of amethyst beads, or even rose quartz, jet, or lapis-lazuli in the future, as it has been such a fun project and I'm rather pleased with the results! Of course, the hair segment that I made was nothing compared to what those nimble-fingered Victorians could do, but I still like how it looks.

In case you are interested, here are some mourning hair jewellery examples that I found at Chatsworth House earlier this summer. They truly are works of art.

Chatsworth Hair Jewellery - © Ellie Morris

Chatsworth Memorial Locket for Blanche - © Ellie Morris

I hope you like how it turned out too, and (hopefully) found my reasoning behind my findings choices and imagery interesting!


Sunday, 19 November 2017

Poetry: To Snatch the Moon

Fairy Moon - © Ellie Morris
To Snatch the Moon:
Dazzling, Olympian, full fairy moon,
Solid and gilded, like silver spoon.
Fractions of light reflect on puddles of ice,
Mournful, tender, ignorant of vice.
Her peaceful watch over civilians below,
Guiding strangers with sky aglow.
Deep, dark dusky clouds sail to spirit her away,
“Throw her in prison, hide her, make her pay!”
Squashing her radiant shine, flooding paths with darkness.
Pitch black, ghastly, ensnared by starkness.
Held hostage by the sky, she seeks asylum behind the sea.
Back to nightfall’s silence; swirling, dim reality.
Stars may flicker and burst, and fruit bats soar,
But the Celestial Goddess to rule the sky, is no more.
-- Ellie Morris

I had a go at some more poetry the other day, and it turns out that I rather enjoy rhyming verses. Usually I don't bother with rhyme, but I'm not really sure why now, as I found this really simple and fun to do despite it being a rather straightforward, no-nonsense verse.
The main inspiration behind this was from a week ago, when I went downstairs past midnight to spend time with my dog, as I couldn't sleep. On the landing there is a big window overlooking the street, and I caught sight of the full moon reflected in a puddle. It was so bright and clear reflected in the water, that I watched it until some clouds covered the moon and removed the sight.
Oh, and sorry for the blurry photograph - I had a hard time focusing my camera because of the low light!


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