How it works for me… sometimes!

I’ve been putting together all the posts I’ve done about writing… not sure why just yet, maybe because I’ll be starting to teach creative writing soon and want to get things clear in my head! I’m not sure how to organize it all yet, but I’m trying to group things together under headings like beginnings, endings, characters, narrative etc but I’m aware of other groupings a (this is a bit like the exercise I did for my archaeology course on classification!) It has also reminded me of things I had forgotten, and pulled certain ideas together. For example, since starting this blog an idea for a new story has occurred to me, about a family called Radwinter, and if I put my blogs about them together it gives a little insight into how I work at building a story.

For quite a while I’ve had a character lurking in my busy writing brain .. now he has been joined by two brothers. I can see them so clearly the three of them, but as yet they have no story, and apart from being related to each other, they have no other connections like wives or parents.

They have no names but one of them, not necessarily the oldest, maybe the middle one, is about forty-five but as yet he doesn’t have a job or profession… although maybe he is a wine merchant… He is quite burly but not fat, quite tall but not a giant, he is always smartly – impeccably dressed but in a casual style… so designer jeans, expensive shirts definitely not off the peg, and shoes from a shoe shop not an outlet. Maybe he shops at Ede and Ravenscroft. He is quite controlled but seems amiable, has a twinkle in his eye and a dimple in his cheek, but people who meet him should beware, he is as hard as nails and quick in a fight. He is prematurely grey, has very blue eyes and is head-turningly handsome.

Ede and Ravenscroft, Oxford

His brother who might actually be a few years older, around fifty, is very obviously his brother although smaller, and less grey and with friendly greenish eyes. He really is totally laid back, so laid back he is almost horizontal; but like his brother he has a core of steel and his enemies would be unwise to underestimate him. He is never short of girlfriends or lovers, but is secretly looking for ‘the one‘ to live with and love for the rest of his life. He’s not bothered about clothes, in fact he sometimes looks eccentrically scruffy. Maybe he’s a teacher, maybe he’s a writer, maybe he makes music… maybe he does all three.

The youngest brother is in his late thirties or about forty. He looks like his silver-haired brother did ten years previously but he is smaller, wiry and busy. His skin is always tanned even in winter, and he has the same cheek-dimpling grin, the same crinkling eyes which are definitely green. He wears jeans or dark trousers  t-shirts and jackets, as if he cares how he looks but can’t afford to dress as his silver-haired brother. He has a wild side to him though, and when he goes out with his oldest brother they can get into mischief even though they are way old enough to know better!

So I have my three ‘boys’…. now what do I do with them?!!!


A little while ago, I wrote about three brothers in search of a story…

… and now I not only have some possible names for them, but also a couple of other family members… probably cousins. My stories seem to be full of cousins, maybe because I love my own cousins so much. In fact it was while I was out and about in Essex with one of them that I saw a sign to the village of Radwinter and thought what a splendid name it would make. It then occurred to me that maybe Redwinter would be better… what do you think?

It was suggested by my cousin’s middle son that names beginning with J would go well with such a surname… I tried not to have my children with names beginning with the same name but it suddenly seemed that this family might well do that. So give me your thoughts:

  • oldest brother, wine merchant, prematurely silver-grey, blue eyes, sturdy but deceptively hard… Justin, Jerry (short for Jericho, his mother’s maiden name) or Jack
  • middle brother, greyish, very blue eyes, totally laid-back, slightly scruffy/hippy type… Jules (short for Julian, his father’s name) , Joe or Jimmy
  • youngest brother, teacher or wine-bar owner, brown hair, beard, tanned , green eyes… James, Johnny or Jasper

Cold… does Radwinter sound too cold, would Redwinter be better?

Somehow they have also acquired two cousins… the elder, who is probably the oldest in the family, has longish curly greying hair, piercing blue eyes and an unblinking deadly stare, he is severe and strict, but essentially kind, generous and protective of his younger brother. He is probably a priest or someone who is committed and driven, and has had to take on responsibility from an early age, losing him his young adulthood, and probably friends and girlfriends too.

His younger brother is the baby of the family, chubby, and sweet-faced, he has floppy brown hair in a long fringe, and a reddish short beard; he is always eating, or looking for something to eat. He may appear innocent, but he is probably the most intelligent of them all, and his Bambi eyes belie a shrewd and decisive nature. He is not to be underestimated, although he usually is, even by his family.

As for names for these two… I haven’t a clue!


Yes, OK, I know I’m right in the middle of editing ‘Night Vision’ to publish it next month, I know I have the separate stories of the Portbradden family and Frederico Milan to finish, oh and  other stuff as well, but those Radwinters keep nudging me. As I mentioned before a set of characters have appeared in my head and they have been swirling around variously waiting to be attached to something, like a plot or a situation. and they have bumped into another idea which has been floating about for a very long time.

The image that comes to mind is from April Fool’s Day, many years ago before I was married when I was teaching in Oldham. My classroom looked out over an area of grass criss-crossed by paths going to the other parts of the school. Directly opposite me was the craft block where all the arts, cookery, needlework, wood and metal work were taught. Adjacent to that and also in my view was the science block. It was a brilliant day like the first day of spring as well as the first day of April and I noticed Stephen, a lad I liked a great deal walking very carefully from the science block to the art block, holding something between his two hands, as if afraid of dropping it. He was a very tall lad and it was a little comical to see this usually elegant young man almost shuffling along the path, his eyes focused on what he was carrying.

I found out later the story behind Stephen’s cautious walk between the two blocks. As I mentioned, it was April Fool’s day, and whatever the tricks the students try to play on the teachers, the teachers are so much worse (or they used to be, when schools were about teaching more than academic excellence); for example, sending a kid to the art department to ask for striped paint, or to the domestic science department for a long weight (the poor student would then be kept hanging about for a ‘long wait’!).

Arthur, a comic in the Technical Drawing department,  had told Stephen to go over to the science block and ask one of the teachers for a bubble for his spirit level. Stephen being a young and obedient lad had trotted over and came across Jim (another Jim, physics Jim this time) and made the request for the bubble for Arthur’s spirit level. Jim went away and returned with a petri dish with some water and two drops of linseed oil… which looked to young Stephen, just like bubbles on the surface of the water. Jim told him he was sending Arthur a spare bubble, and they were both just the right size, so Stephen should walk very carefully and not allow the two bubbles to join together otherwise they would be one big bubble, too big for the spirit level… poor boy, how we all laughed … but Stephen was a great lad and he saw the funny side too when it was explained!

So going back to the Radwinters’ story… my other idea was a plot involving genealogy, which is a great pastime of mine…. so it is as if my characters are one bubble and the genealogy story is another bubble, floating separately, but if they collided and became a single idea then maybe together they would be big enough for a new story… unlike one large bubble being too big for Arthur’s spirit level.


I have a story in my head, only in my head at present, about the Radwinter family; out and about in Portishead I came across this lovely property. I think it has been converted into flats, and one of them is for sale, but originally it was the Dockmaster’s House. It has the most wonderful views up the Severn estuary and across to Wales  From here the dock master could watch the river traffic heading out to sea. No doubt  he had tide tables, telescopes and shipping schedules with him all the time so he could check what was coming and going even when he wasn’t working.

In my story this house would be transported  to Strand, the main city in the area; the docks would long since have become redundant, like Portishead, and the are redeveloped with the warehouse converted into swish apartments, and new houses and apartment erected on the old goods and cargo yards.

Maybe the Radwinters’ parents lived her, maybe a distant  relation had been the dock master many years ago, generations ago before they were even born. Maybe there is a dispute over an inheritance, maybe the property is more valuable as a piece or real estate and someone wants to sell it… or a rival wishes to buy it.

Maybe the house contains secrets, maybe there was an unexplained death, a mysterious suicide, an unexplained disappearance? Who knows? I don’t know yet, because whatever I plan to write, sure as eggs is eggs, the story will unravel differently, new characters will appear, dominant people will fade, and I will be as interested as my readers to find the answers to what happened!


I am well-known for being spectacularly absent-minded and forgetful… always have been. When we were children, or even teenagers, my sister Andy, two years younger than me always had the tickets, the money  the passports or whatever else we needed because I would be sure to lose/forget/misplace them. At the same time I am renowned among family and friends for possessing an elephantine memory for stuff, trivia, family connections, conversations, faces, places… I am the person in the pub quiz who knows the answers to the wacky questions.

What a conundrum I am… absent-minded and yet a computer-like knowledge of family history going back to the seventeenth century and a head full of random knowledge.  I blame the people who live in my head, and the landscape they live in… OK, before you think I am completely mad, I do know that they are characters in my stories, and the landscape is one I’ve cobbled together from different favourite places I’ve visited.

In my head a the moment is the novel I’m editing, Flipside, the continuing stories of the characters from two of my other novels, Night Vision’ and ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’ plus other tales which keep bubbling out of the little grey cells. I wrote some time ago about wanting to tell the story of a family called Radwinter, and on the train coming home from Birmingham the other day, the narrative began on paper… I hadn’t planned to write it yet, but suddenly there was Peter Radwinter knocking on the door of his brother, Paul who had asked him over to meet his new fiancée, Ruthie.

I had been thinking about a family of brothers, I’d pondered over names and yet suddenly here they were on the page, with a fiancée and an as yet unseen wife, Rachel, and a cousin called Max. Paul it appears, has four sons, the youngest of which is twelve-year old Will. I have a feeling first names may change, they don’t quite fit what I have in mind…

On looking back at my previous post about the Radwinter family I find that then I had in mind two sets of cousins, Jerry, Jules and Johnny and two others. Somehow they have morphed into one family, and lost a brother in the transition… wait a minute… a lost brother! Hey! How about that…. a lost brother… my mind is bubbling…


When I first began writing my novels I always wrote in the first person and later when I decided to change this and write in the third person, it was always from a singe character’s point of view. The only exception is ‘The Double Act’ which is in two parts, the first from Genet’s view, the second part from Joost’s. However, in my unfinished novels ‘Lucky Portbradden’ , and ‘The Story of Frederico Milan’ many characters are involved in the narrative.

While travelling a few days ago I began my story of the Radwinter family, and without any planning or conscious decision I found I was writing in the first person again, and as Peter Radwinter; and without planning or deciding, the story commences in the present tense. Now I know I have written some fuming pieces about how annoying the present tense is and how artificial and ridiculous I find it but with this story the narrative of the action is not in the present tense. Peter talks about his situation and his everyday life, but when he comes to tell the story he tells us using the past, just as if he was here with us now and actually speaking. I’m not sure how this is going to work, or even if it will work, but I’m finding it a very interesting exercise. I’m fully prepared to scrap it all and start again from a different perspective but let’s see how it goes!


My new Radwinter story is galloping on; I haven’t got my usual access to my computer at the moment so I am writing by hand… it has surprised me, in a way how easily I have got back into it… I have been using a keyboard for so many years now, written so many of my novels onto the computer that putting words on a page is something I haven’t done for a very long time. My Radwinter story is, I think – at the moment, about someone in a family exploring family history through the internet; there are so many ways now available from your own home by accessing the web. However, it would not make a very exciting read – or maybe it would be a different read if it was just an account of a trawl through genealogical sites so my characters get out and about.

Something which has happened while I have been writing this,  the narrator of the story has changed name; he was Peter, now he’s Thomas. Thomas has gone to visit a woman (the reason is concealed at the moment) He has arranged to visit her but when he arrives at her beautiful house, no-on answers the door so he wanders round to the back garden, and there she is on a lounger, sun-bathing. Suddenly a man appears and accuses Thomas of being a Peeping Tom and chases him off the property after hitting him in the face. Thomas drives quickly away, a mixture of outrage, embarrassment and humiliation churning within. But who was the woman? And who was the man who attacked Thomas?

I do most of my family history research on the net; I have a large copy of a family tree which an aunt did by travelling all round the county where our family lived and actually looking at parish records, and going to other places where she could painstakingly trawl through actual documents. Some people are very critical of people like me who do all our research on-line; but how else could I do it, I live at other the side of the country from where my ancestors lived. In fact I live on the other side of the world from where my great-grand-father lived, he was born in Tasmania!

Since writing this I have completed the first Radwinter novel, and written four more! here is a link:


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