Friday, 19 August 2011

Writers' Workshops and Linda Spur

Writer’s Workshops and Linda Spur

As well as belonging to three online critique groups, where I can post a chapter of my historical novels in progress and receive constructive critiques in return for critiquing other members’ chapters, I also belong to Watford Writers. Every Monday the society meets in Cassiobury Park, Watford, Hertfordshire, England at Cafe Cha Cha at 7.30 p.m.

From time to time Watford Writers arranges for guest speakers and workshops. Linda Spur’s workshops are very popular and well-attended.

Linda Spur is rarely seen without a pen and notepad in hand – although in recent months, this is more likely to be an iPad. Linda is well-qualified to advise writers. She started working on local and regional newspapers before moving to the BBC World Service for a broadcasting career of over twenty years. Since then, she has worked as a freelance journalist and as a teacher of Creative Writing and computer skills. She is currently studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at Brunel University.

Writing takes up a lot of her “leisure” time, trying to finish what she hopes will be the next block-busting novel. Her work with the BBC meant she frequently travelled overseas; today, she loves exploring Britain – on foot and by car. But always with the iPad at hand for when inspiration strikes!

In addition to her regular classes, Linda runs occasional Creative Writing workshops for local writing groups. She finds these can serve several purposes: “I’m a great believer in trying different genres of writing. Even if you never intend to write a play, an evening of playwriting exercises will help with your dialogue while poetry makes you think carefully about every word you put down on paper! Moreover, experimenting with, for example, historical fiction or fantasy writing might well open up a whole new area that you had never considered writing before.

“I also find that workshops are ideal for reminders – such as remembering to use all the senses. Writers come up with some lovely images when they use the senses but, over time, authors might forget to involve them until they are reminded. Similarly, the occasional reminder to use a setting more creatively can pay dividends.

“Workshops provide a very supportive environment for writers – beginners and experienced ones alike. Trying something out in a small group first is far less daunting than on your own. Also, learning to give and receive constructive feedback is probably one of the most useful ways of improving your own writing.”

At one of Linda’s workshops, I read a non-fiction article I had written called The Scarlet Pimpernel and His muse. Linda pointed out that the article should be split into two. The first titled Baroness Orczy, and the second titled The Scarlet Pimpernel fact and fiction.

I took Linda’s advice and subsequently placed both articles with Vintage Script a small press magazine. Next year I might re-submit both articles, offering second British serial rights or first American serial rights.

After another workshop, Linda was kind enough to read the first three chapters of my novel Sunday’s Child set in the Regency period. She returned it with the comment that I had introduced too many characters too fast. I took this ‘on board’, revised the chapters and submitted the novel to MuseItUp Publishing with the happy result that it will be published in June, 2012.

Recently, Linda gave a workshop on playwriting. I do not intend to write a play so I shilly shallied about whether or not to attend. To my surprise I enjoyed the workshop during one part of which we were asked to form small groups and write snippets from proposed plays on various themes. Each person assumed the role of one character and wrote that character’s lines. Later we read our snippets to the group. One of my parts was that of a mother-in-law who doesn’t like her son-in-law. A line when she speaks to her son-in-law was: “I believe in live and let live, but not where you’re concerned.” That raised a roar of laughter. All in all, the workshop was fun. It has had the happy result of making me more adventurous about attending other workshops focussed on various forms of writing that I have not attempted.

Wherever you live, whether you are a new writer or an experienced, multi-published writer Linda and I are confident that participating in workshops will pay dividends,

All the best,
Rosemary Morris
Historical Novelist

Forthcoming releases from MuseItUpPublishing
Tangled Love 27.01.2012
Sunday’s Child 06.2012

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Redbournbury Mill and Bakery in Hertfordshire, England

Redbournbury Watermill and Bakery

On Saturday the 31st of July my six year old grandson and I visited Redbournbury Watermill, which is surrounded by farmland and water meadows. The latter provide a habitat for herons and kingfishers that feed on sticklebacks, trout fry and other fish. Generations of water fowl have eaten, defended their territory and mated in this fascinating area where there was probably a Watermill in Saxon times.

There has been a watermill at Redbournbury in Hertfordshire for at least 500 years, and probably since Anglo Saxon days. The watermill is beside the softly flowing River Ver that powers the waterwheel and millstones.
Near Redbourn village a short country road leads past a few idyllic cottage with pretty gardens to Redbournbury Watermill and Bakery
Like its larger neighbour St Albans, Redbourn and the surrounding area is steeped in history. A few Roman remains – some Roman bricks used in St Mary’s, a Norman church, hob nails, some coins, enameled brooches and curse tablets have been found in and on the outskirts of Redbourn.

In summer, 2008, the sites of what are considered the remains of four Roman temples were found. Pottery from one of the sites close to the river Ver indicates it was in use from the 1st century A.D. to the 3rd century. It is possible that the temple was used to worship water gods.
The translation of a mediaeval charter reveals that in approximately 1030, during the reign of Edward the Confessor, the Manor of Redbourn was given to St Albans Abbey (later the modern day Cathedral Abbey) by the landowner, Aegelwyne le Swarte and his wife Wynfreda. The Abbot’s Chamberlain used Redbournbury farmhouse as his Manor Court-house. The manor, which included the watermill, was then called The Chamberlain.

A mill was recorded in the Domesday Book in 1087 and it is possible that the modern day building is situated on top of the first building.
When John of Wheathampstead was abbot between 1290 and 1301 Chamberlain’s Mill was gutted by fire. Fortunately, the manor was protected by the woods around it and spared from the fire spread by an ‘unbearable wind’.
Most mills were the property of either the Church or the Lord of the Manor. Villagers were not allowed to grind their grain. The owner of the mill had the ‘Right of Stoke’ and by law grain could only be ground at the lord’s mill. The miller claimed 10% of the flour and the landlord claimed more. In 1381 there was a ‘peasant’s revolt’ against the Abbot of St Albans. Among other causes were the abbot’s milling rights

After the dissolution of the monasteries, all of the Abbey lands, including the watermill, became the property of Henry VIII.
While looking at various photographs, my young grandson was delighted because he recognised Henry’s picture. He told me the king was very cruel because he gave orders for two of his wives to have their heads cut off. Like most small boys he was fascinated by this and asked ‘bloody’ questions which I will not repeat in case you have a weak stomach.
During the reign of James I the mill was leased out by the Treasury until 1539 when the mill was bought by Sir Harbottle Grimston for £200, (Grimstone is the family name of the present Earls of Verulam). The mill became part of the Gorhambury Estate until the 4th Earl sold it to the Crown Estate Commissioners.

For a hundred and forty years the mill was leased by the Hawkins family until, at the age of 89, Ivy Hawkins, the only lady miller in England, quit the mill in 1985.

Amongst the artefacts in the mill are Ivy’s smock – dull green with vertical bands of old gold and brown on each side of the front fastening – and various items such as a washing board and basin. My grandson knew what these were for and explained how they were used but concluded: ‘I think washing machines are better.’ I agreed and admired Ivy’s pretty china jug, copper measures and ladles.

After Ivy retired, Redbournbury Mill, now a grade two listed building, was bought by the present owners. After a fire in 1987 the watermill was restored to full working order with a grant from English heritage.
My grandson and I climbed the stairs to each of the four floors. On each one were interesting displays. As well as many items pertinent to the miller’s trade was an impressive array of blacksmiths’ tools and products and one of the first sewing machines used by a cobbler.

After exploring the mill and looking out of the windows at the peaceful views, and a glimpse of chickens in the foreground, we bought bread from a stall outside the bakery in Ivy Hawkins’s converted cow barn.
An impressive range of bread is sold by the bakery. Whenever possible the grain used to make flour at the watermill is from local farms including Hammonds End in Harpenden. This means that much of the grain is gown within a mile of the watermill.

The flour is 100% organic. Some of the wholemeal flour is sifted through a bolter to produce white flour, brown flour, semolina and bran. Brown flour mixed with whole, malted wheat flakes makes delicious bread.
The mill also produces spelt flour and rye flour. Spelt flour is an ancient variety of wheat. It is more flavoursome that conventional wheat and some people think it is suitable for those suffering from wheat intolerance.

The master baker makes artisan loaves from the flour produced in the mill. He produces a wide variety of bread including, wholemeal, brown, spelt, rye, savoury breads such as foccasia and sweet breads such as date and walnut. He also makes scones, chocolate brownies, granola slices, cakes and tea breads.

I bought some excellent spelt bread that was light and tasty. As I have a bread machine and make my own bread, I also bought some wholemeal flour. In future, I shall visit a nearby village market where products from the mill are sold.

Before we left, at peace with the world, we sat outside in the sunshine near the gently flowing river, listening to the splash of the waterwheel, admiring tall hollyhocks and eating delicious eccles cakes.

Rosemary Morris
Historical Novelist
Forthcoming releases from MuseItUp Publishing
Tangled Love set in England in Queen Anne's reign. 27.01.2012
Sunday's Child set in England in the Regency era. June 2012