Sunday, 18 September 2011

Reminisceneces. The Three R's from 1910-2011


The Three R’s from 1910 to 2011

My father was born in 1909 and privately educated until the school leaving age of fourteen. He had a natural grasp of mathematics and could solve very complicated sums without recourse to pen and paper. He enjoyed reading newspapers, was captivated by cinema, particularly cowboy films. And I remember him reading cowboy books and thrillers. However he was never a hands on Dad who read stories to me.

My maternal grandfather, who lived with us as well as my grandmother, who lived with us after their house was bombed during the Second World War, was the one who read most to me. I remember sitting on his lap enjoying my favourite children’s magazine, Enid Blyton’s Sunny Stories. As soon as I could read I delved into her many children’s books such as The Far Away Tree and The Wishing Chair, which my own children enjoy. Later I enjoyed her adventure series The Famous Five and her stories set in boarding schools. Now, I am able to search for them on Kindle and share them with my grandchildren

Many years ago, my mother, Lucy, and grandfather stood on Highgate Hill near the stone in memory of Dick Whittington, Lord Mayor of London. He held her hand and told her flying machines would never amount to anything. Towards the end of her life, Lucy, who was born in 1910 and left her body in 2010, commented on the amazing technology developed in her lifetime and wondered how it will advance in the future.

Recently, my grandson asked me what life was like when his great-grandmother was a little girl. ‘You have to be kidding me,’ he said after I told him her older brother listened to the wireless by manipulating a crystal and a length of cat gut. (Apologies to cat lovers but that is what he did.)

My grandson can no more imagine a world without television, dvds, sat navs, computers and internet than my grandfather could imagine international flights. My grandson studies computer technology at school, and has his own password. He also depends on google and composing his work on the computer for his homework. His great grandmother attended her local elementary school in Holloway, London, England.

A year before Lucy’s birth, her baby sister, Kitty rolled off the bed and broke her neck. It is understandable that after Lucy nearly died of pneumonia my grandmother molly-coddled her. The slightest illness meant Lucy missed school. As a result her spelling suffered and there were gaps in her general knowledge. However, she loved reading and always looked forward to the children’s annual in her stocking at Christmas.

The daughter of late Victorians with their fascination with death, Lucy’s favourite book, when she was a small girl, was Ferdie’s Little Brother. So far as I know Little Brother was an unbelievably angelic child. When he died after a long illness, Lucy enjoyed weeping buckets.

We all have our favourite childhood stories. My daughter never tired of Dr Seuss’s Are You My Mother and I agonised over the orphan Heidi, and the heroine of The Wide Wide World in which the child, whose mother is approaching death, is sent to live on a farm with a harsh aunt. Such stories taught me that life is not always a bowl of cherries but did me no harm. (In fact I am sure they did me less harm than a lot of the modern television cartoons do to modern day children.) And Ferdie’s Little Brother did not harm Lucy.

Lucy used to read either the Penny Plain or the Twopence Coloured children’s magazines and, as a teenager, enjoyed a magazine called Peg’s Paper. My grandfather, who enjoyed reading the classics, asked her what she got out of it. Years later, my mother asked me what I got out of women’s magazines and told me Grandfather would have disapproved. By then she preferred to read Dickens and in later life enjoyed biographies, thrillers and amongst many others Jeffrey Archer’s novels. Unlike me she had no interest in either fantasy or historical fiction, something I could not understand. We were as different as ‘chalk and cheese’ but dearly loved each other.

In spite of her poor school attendance little Lucy, who was always hungry and ate the carrot intended for a still life art class on the way to school, received a basic education before she left school when she was fourteen. However, throughout her life Lucy regretted the gaps in her education, blamed her mother for allowing her to miss so many days at school, and was determined that I should receive the best possible education.

I attended private primary schools and passed the scholarship examination to grammar school where I enjoyed English Language, English Literature, History, Geography and Religious Studies – subjects that have interested me all my life. However, I was hopeless at Mathematics, which annoyed my father, disliked Physics and Chemistry and was revolted by Biology when I was expected to dissect a frog.

My greatest love has always been reading, closely followed by organic gardening and knitting and sewing. At the age of ten or eleven I enjoyed children’s historical novels – Geoffrey Trease and Jeffrey Farnol were two of my favourite authors. At school I studied the classics with enthusiasm and branched out on my own. I remember an English Literature class when the teacher asked each of us what we had been reading. I said I was reading Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbevilles and was deeply insulted when the teacher accused me of lying, doubtless because she thought I was too young to read it. However, although I did not understand all the adult material in the novel, I enjoyed the prose and emotion and wept buckets over Tess’s tragic fate.

Since earliest childhood I have read widely and made up stories. I still enjoy reading for pleasure and for researching my historical novels. Computer technology changed my method of writing and Kindle, which I embraced with delight, will transform some of my reading. It is very convenient to carry a small device on which so much reading material is stored. No longer will I go on holiday with a dozen books and a small stack of magazines taking up my baggage allowance.

Not only does Kindle have many advantages, I am looking forward to my novels being published on it and know my lovely mother would have been delighted for me.

Rosemary Morris
Historical Novelist

New Releases.

Tangled Love set in England during Queen Anne’s reign, (1702 -1714). 27.01.2012

Sunday’s Child set in England in the Regency period. 06.01.2012

Saturday, 10 September 2011

From Highgate Hill to Kindle

From Highgate Hill to Kindle
When my mother was a small girl, my grandfather, Charles, stood holding her hand on Highgate Hill. Together they watched one of the first aeroplanes fly overhead. He looked down at Mother and said: ‘Nothing will come of those flying machines.”
Born within the sound of Bow Bells, the eldest of eight children, Charles was a scholarship boy at Westminster Boys School and sang in the choir at Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, due to his father’s death, Charles had to leave school at the age of fourteen and find a job so that he could help my great-grandmother financially. Nevertheless, he acquired a lifelong love of reading, and I believe he would have been very enthusiastic about Kindle and other such devices.
Grandfather was fortunate to be born in time to benefit from the liberalism of the Prime Minister, Gladstone. Many people were opposed to mass education because they feared it would teach the workers to think for themselves, decide their lives were unsatisfactory and revolt. (The upper classes were always frightened of revolution.) However, the Education Act Reform Bill allowed schools to be set up by the Education Department in any district where provision was either inefficient or suitable; and from 1880 onwards it was compulsory for children to attend school until they were twelve years old.
When there were insufficient schools for the number of children a School Board was created and required to provide elementary education for children from the age of five to twelve.
Although parents had to pay school fees in the Board paid poor children’s fees.
By 1873 40% of the population lived in areas where education was compulsory. Fortunately for my grandparents they both lived in such an area, Charles receiving an excellent education and Annie’s a good one.
Annie’s father had been a rich man but he ‘took to the bottle’ and brought his wife and thirteen children to the ‘breadline.’ My great-grandmother earned a living as a midwife and Annie, her eldest daughter, was expected too help. However, my great-grandmother always found the pennies for her children to go to school but, (almost unbelievable to modern ears) one of Annie’s teacher’s said: ‘Oh, Annie, if you always come to school with a baby strapped to your back, your back will become crooked. Can you imagine what would happen today if a primary school child arrived in her classroom with a baby on her back? Leave aside IT studies, the world of e-books and print on demand, it is obvious there is an enormous gulf between schools for poor children in those days and modern day schools.
Annie valued her rudimentary education, and she always enjoyed reading, as she put it, ‘a good novel’, the more she cried over the sad or heart-touching parts the more she enjoyed it. She wept bucket loads over Little Nell in Dickens Old Curiosity Shop and admired Sir Walter Scot’s hero, Ivanhoe and wept over Rebecca’s unrequited love. Not bad for a child who carried a baby brother or sister on her back to school.
Had Annie been born earlier she might not have attended school until she was twelve years old. I think she would have learned the three r’s at school, but once she mastered the basics great-grandmother would have kept her at home to help. Fortunately, Annie mastered reading, writing and arithmetic, was taught domestic science and enjoyed gymnastics and art and crafts.
Annie could not have imagined future advances in education but I wonder if she valued her schooldays far more than many children do today. In England the powers of schools to expel unruly students have been eroded. Teachers’ means to discipline children have been reduced to the point at which disruptive children regularly prevent the rest of the class from learning. (I am not the only one who thinks that the abolishment of corporal punishment is praiseworthy, but in the United Kingdom teachers should be allowed to restrain violent pupils.
Most of today’s children enjoy far more material benefits than Charles and Annie could have ever hoped to enjoy, but this does not automatically mean their lives are either happier or more enriched. Certainly, good conduct as well as the attainment of academic standards was stressed and valued when Charles and Annie were at school. It was taken for granted that all children – unless they had a learning disability - would be able to read when they left school. I do not have statistics to prove it but believe those children who completed their elementary education unable to read were a tiny minority. Sadly, this is not true today. There are frequent articles in the newspapers and mention on television news broadcasts about children who leave secondary school unable to read at the age of sixteen.
The following gives me an idea as to the basic education Annie received.

The following are the six Standards of Education contained in the Revised code of Regulations, 1872
Reading One of the narratives next in order after monosyllables in an elementary reading book used in the school.
Writing Copy in manuscript character a line of print, and write from dictation a few common words.
Arithmetic Simple addition and subtraction of numbers of not more than four figures, and the multiplication table to multiplication by six.
Reading A short paragraph from an elementary reading book.
Writing A sentence from the same book, slowly read once, and then dictated in single words.
Arithmetic The multiplication table, and any simple rule as far as short division (inclusive).
Reading A short paragraph from a more advanced reading book.
Writing A sentence slowly dictated once by a few words at a time, from the same book.
Arithmetic Long division and compound rules (money).
Reading A few lines of poetry or prose, at the choice of the inspector.
Writing A sentence slowly dictated once, by a few words at a time, from a reading book, such as is used in the first class of the school.
Arithmetic Compound rules (common weights and measures).
Reading A short ordinary paragraph in a newspaper, or other modern narrative.
Writing Another short ordinary paragraph in a newspaper, or other modern narrative, slowly dictated once by a few words at a time.
Arithmetic Practice and bills of parcels.
Reading To read with fluency and expression.
Writing A short theme or letter, or an easy paraphrase.
Arithmetic Proportion and fractions (vulgar and decimal).
I assume that my paternal grandparents, George and Florence, were expected to achieve the goals set out above. However, George was a younger member of an old established West Country family of landowners. He received a superior education, enjoyed reading the Bible and studying politics newspapers, magazines and journals. He pasted cuttings about topics of national importance and the First and Second World wars in large leather bound scrapbooks. Yet his country roots always remained with him. By the time he married, he had moved to Kent and owned no more than a large back garden where he enjoyed keeping chickens and grew fruit and vegetables. Possibly, he would not have been deeply interested in computer technology. On the other hand, he might have enjoyed downloading articles, printing them and sticking them into his scrapbooks.
Florence, daughter of an architect, received a reasonable academic education at school, and, at home, a thorough education in deportment, social airs and graces and all matters domestic including sewing. Florence’s skill with the needle was much appreciated; she sewed for herself, her family and for church bazaars. One of my happiest memories is sitting on a stool at her feet stitching bugle beads onto chiffon. ‘Fairy stitches, tiny fairy stitches,’ she used to say to me. Thanks to her, I have always enjoyed sewing and knitting.
Today, ‘liberated’ women have a multitude of modern conveniences, career opportunities, access to television, computers, the world wide web, e-mails, Amazon, kindle etc., but, by and large, are they as contented as my grandmothers, who had the love of good men and took pride in their domestic skills? What, I ask myself, would they have made of modern technology?
In 1902, seven years before my father was born and eight years before my mother was born, the School Boards were abolished and Local Education Authorities replaced them. For the first time, secondary school education to the age of fourteen became compulsory. Would my grandparents have enjoyed further education? Regardless to the answer, I know Charles would have been as amazed by online publishing as he would have been by modern aircraft, although he stood on Highgate Hill with his small daughter’s hand in his and told her: ‘Nothing will come of those flying machines.”

Saturday, 3 September 2011

How to Critique a Novel or Short Story

How to critique a Novel or Short Story

As the recipient of many critiques and assessments of my work I have sometimes been dismayed by a critiquer’s comments about my novels and short stories. On the other hand, on occasions, a critiquer has been too full of praise instead of suggesting improvements. The best critiques have been a balance between the positive and the negative.

I belong to three online critique groups and Watford Writers, which meets every Monday at Café Cha Cha in Cassiobury Park at 7.30 p.m. Watford Writers hosts manuscript evenings at which members may read their work, whether it is non fiction, short stories, extracts from novels or poetry.

Members of the online critique groups post chapters of their novels and receive critiques in return for critiquing other members’ critiques. In each group members choose four or more partners whose chapters they critique once a month or more. Over the years most members have offered constructive comments. Those who have been negative or who have ‘flamed’ have been a small minority who the moderators have dealt with – occasionally excluding the offender from the group.

Watford Writers are a friendly group whose feedback I find invaluable. No matter how often I read my work silently or out loud from the computer screen or from the printed page I always miss things which need to be improved. Reading my work aloud to an audience helps me to identify problems for myself and to receive good advice from other writers.

In return for other authors’ generous help I always try to offer the best possible advice and bear the following in mind.

To begin with, I concentrate on the positive and ask myself what I like about the author’s work.

I then consider various issues, which I hope will be helpful, and sometimes remind the recipient that the suggestions in any critique only reflects one person’s opinion, and that the recipient is free to accept or reject them.

I ask myself if I enjoyed the story and, in the case of novels, ask myself if I want to read on and find out what happens next. My next question is who would want to read it and does it stand a good chance of being published?

Important considerations are as follow.

Does the first line make the reader want to continue? Do the opening paragraphs grip the readers’ attention? Will the conclusion make the readers sigh with satisfaction and be sorry they have finished the novel?

I then consider and comment on the nuts and bolts of the writing, not forgetting to praise a few particularly well-turned phrases and ask myself the following questions.

Is there sufficient conflict to make the work interesting?

Do the major and minor characters spring to life? Are they believable and do they act in accordance with their personalities with sufficient emotional depth?

Is the plot believable and do the theme/s grip me and make me want to find out what happens next?

Are the settings believable? Has the author checked the world in which the characters move?

If the novel is historical has the author researched it carefully and are the characters of their time?

Is there enough dialogue to move the story forward and is it well written or either awkward or stilted? If the author uses dialect is it believable?

Has the author jumped from one character’s viewpoint to another’s? If so does this make it difficult for the reader to identify with the characters?

Overall is the manuscript well written and is it properly formatted.

In my critique I make everything I like clear and also answer the above questions to the best of my ability.

Most of my critique partners tell me they appreciate my critiques so, thank goodness, I must be doing something right.


Forthcoming releases from MuseItUp Publishing

Tangled Love set in England in Queen Anne’s reign 27.01.2012
Sunday’s Child set in the Regency era June.2012