Friday, 25 September 2015

A Sense of Place

Sometimes the disappointment of ‘the best laid plans….’ can lead to something entirely unexpected and very exciting. This is what happened to me last weekend.

Last Sunday, on one of those rare lovely sunny days, and with my original arrangements cancelled, my husband drove me up to town. It was a difficult journey with far more traffic than we’d anticipated – possibly due to the thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey in memory of the Battle of Britain. We took a different route into London from usual and because of several hold-ups (holds-up?) saw lots of things we might otherwise have missed; and the sun was shining; and we weren’t in a hurry.

Arriving in St James’s Square and finding a parking space – yes! – we walked across Jermyn Street into Piccadilly and found somewhere to have lunch, each having by this time built up a healthy appetite. It was lovely and it was leisurely. The thoroughfare was crowded and we watched the world go by. After a dessert which I shall not describe here for fear of salivating, we went back to the square, the object of the outing being to ‘get a feel’ for the place where my heroine lived back in the 1800s.

I had only the camera on my phone to rely on but it did sterling work. The first thing that surprised
me was how big the square is. Standing on one side I was amazed to see, on peering through the central gardens, just how far it stretched across. The square’s main feature is an equestrian statue of William III which was erected in 1808. Things were already going my way then. As we walked around the perimeter of the gardens it was easy to imagine pedestrians, horse-drawn carriages and riders inhabiting that space all those years ago.

There was an eclectic mixture of architecture and I managed some nice images but what amazed me most was the history of the square, not just in relation to ‘my’ period but incorporating several events over time. I don’t know why I was surprised but I will mention a few here, confirmed by the blue plaques that adorned some of the houses. I suppose the most obvious one to begin with is that of Henry Jermyn, Earl of St Albans, inspiration of much of the building in this area, who died in a house on the site of the one that carries this plate.

A house on another side of the square bears evidence that this was a place popular with previous
prime ministers. In a corner of the square (oxymoron?) stands this beautiful building, where lived Nancy Astor, the first woman to sit in Parliament.

Norfolk House carries a plaque carrying the name of Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in WWII. I’ve added it here in the hope that you can read the inscription.

Love this building
And this one
 Perhaps I have overloaded this post with photos but I was so excited! Not only does St James’s Square carry many historical aspects but it gave me the sense of place I was seeking for my work in progress. I had previously Googled and found many images to help with my research but, wonderful as Google is, there is nothing, NOTHING, like seeing something for yourself. 

I will finish with one more image. It is of the London Library where I understand Georgette Heyer, my inspiration for all of this, carried out much of her own research. How good is that!  
The London Library


Sunday, 13 September 2015

To Nit-pick or not to Nit-pick - That is the Question

Grammar and punctuation, the ability to put words together to form a sentence that informs, appeals or just make sense, are the tools of a writer’s trade. I was brought up in an age where there was a correctness that could not be transgressed. Heaven forbid, for example, that one should end a sentence with a preposition!

Westminster Abbey
It’s quite difficult to rid oneself of rules that have been instilled when one is at that sponge-like age
and the teacher was always, yes, always right. I have no complaints. I loved the intricacies of the English language. I still do. But I am older and, I hope, a little wiser. It took me a long time though to ‘give way’. It wasn’t until my stepson was studying English at university that it struck me with resounding clarity that language evolves. It is evolving all the time. A conclusion you might think I’d have come to years earlier but it wasn’t the case. I was pompous! (I’m allowed to say that; you are not)

I never studied mediaeval English at school and when I looked at some of those manuscripts I realised I couldn’t read them. Absolutely could not read them. They made perfect sense in the Middle Ages and some were very beautiful but could I decipher them? No way. And how many of us studied Shakespeare at school? I hope you’ve noticed I began that sentence with ‘And’. Begin with a conjunction! Huh!

A few days ago my husband and I went to see a superb production of Romeo and Juliet. There’s no way people would speak like that today but the language was expressive and its meaning absolutely clear…fortunately Shakespearean English is a lot easier than its predecessor.

I have just begun writing a new book. Those of you who follow this blog will know that I am moving from contemporary romantic fiction to a romance set in Regency times. You will have learned how fond I am of that particular period of history but what you may not appreciate is what a joy it is to write prose and dialogue in such a rich form. There is a romance not just about the period but about the language too. I am having so much fun.

So let’s come forward a few more years…to text speak and tweeting. It really did take me a long time to come to terms with these two methods of communication until I realised that the operative word was – communication. It may not be beautiful but in its own way it’s just as creative, as anyone who tweets will know when trying to convey their meaning in just 140 characters.

I have come to the conclusion that, aside from the niceties, the purpose of language is to get one’s message across. If we can succeed in doing that we open our own world and hopefully that of others. I still cringe though when I see commas in the wrong place and misplaced apostrophes.

How do you feel about this controversial subject? If when you read this you find I have been guilty of these and other errors, please be kind. I’m human too.