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It's All in the Name
Category: Writing
Tags: writers abroad creative writing settting place names inspiration

 

As some of you may know I’m travelling around the coast of Ireland, North and South, on a trip down memory lane with my husband, Simon who grew up near Belfast.

As we’ve been negotiating the beautiful – no, stunning – landscapes I’ve been struck by some of the wonderful place names they have here. In Southern Ireland, the place name signs are written in Gaelic as well as English, which is even more enchanting. A name gives a sense of what we might expect… or not. For writers, these names can be an important part of the whole story, as places and settings, can be as powerful as characters with their own personality, challenges and romantic notions.

Favourite Famous Fictional Place Names

  • Hogsmeade – features in the Harry Potter tales and is the home to Hogwarts, the school of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
  • Castle Rock – appears in many Stephen King stories, a typical town with dark secrets
  • Middlemarch –  the 19th Century fictional town created by George Eliot and features as the title of her novel.
  • Bedrock – a prehistoric city and home to The Flintstones
  • Ambridge –  the fictional village which serves as the centre for the long running series ‘The Archers’ on Radio 4
  • Atlantis – a legendary lost continent supposedly sunk in the Atlantic Ocean

Need help with defining some new settings for your story? Here are some Place Name Generators which may do the trick. (Warning! Many of these will generate all kinds of stuff and you could find yourself still playing around hours later…)

Fantasy Name Generators

Springhole

Name generator

Writing Exercises Name Generator (will even provide descriptions!)

Pseudo Elizabethan Place Name Generator

Or just take a map for some inspiration. Here are some that I’ve come across on our trip thus far (all Southern as we don’t cross the border for another week…

  • Mohill – the Gaelic is Maothail
  • Knockawaddra  - there are a lot of places beginning with Knock, some could be funny, others a little bit more surreal
  • Bunacurry – the Gaelic is Bun an Churraigh, and it used to have a monastery.
  • Inishbofin- a very small island off the coast of County Galway
  • Achill Sound – the Gaelic being Gob an Choire

I’m sure to those familiar with Ireland these names will not be new, but for me having never visited the country (or should I say countries?), or spoken Gaelic before, it will be somewhere I will return for inspiration.

Where do you get your inspiration from for your setting names? Are they based on real places, fictional ones or a mixture of the two?

Edit. Edit. Edit. Or not. Tags: writing editing

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as writing a page or several pages of stream-of-consciousness prose. Or poetry, I guess, though I’ve little experience there. Releasing the creative juices in that fashion leaves me with a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Sometimes. But then what? Edit.

Reading it over straight away can leave me with the impression that it should be left as it is. Raw. Straight from the heart. Put the piece aside for a few days and glaring errors jump off the page.

Even so, I believe this kind of writing should be treated with silk gloves. It’s all too easy to kill the original spark of creativity that sets us off and kill the very essence of the writing. Plot, story, theme, characterisation can all be worked on, but not the essence. That precious unknown quantity.

So how much do we edit? Personally, I go for the usual suspects: grammar and punctuation, overuse of adjectives and adverbs, finding a stronger verb, saying the same thing twice, using the correct word, over-writing, making sure I’ve started in the right place. Often I delete the first paragraph completely. The same goes for the ending. And so it goes, on and on and on – ad infinitum – until my head is dizzy and I lose the will to live.

I read of one author – interviewed in Writing Magazine – who said that he’d edited/rewritten his novel 50 times before it was ready for publication. No surprise then that it took him 15 years to write! Authors lucky enough to have publishers and deadlines wouldn’t have that luxury (probably the wrong choice of word). In any case I’d be sick to death with the sight of a novel long before I’d reread it 50 times.

I write mostly short fiction and have been guilty of editing a story to within inches from its grave.  Because rereading two or three thousand words is easy, the temptation is there to edit and edit and edit. I’ve done this with travel articles as well, but luckily when commissioned the deadline kept editing within reason as time ran out. Competitions also have deadlines, the problem is if you miss one there’s usually another one with a later closing date. And so the editing continues.

I don’t know if any of you get this sudden moment of truth, when a little genie whispers, ‘Stop! Send it off.’ Enough is enough. I can tell I’ve gone a bit OCD when I start turning the verbs I’ve changed in the story back to the originals. Aargh. Stop. Stop. Stop.

Some articles or blogs I’ve read on the subject suggest you can never rewrite enough. On the other hand, here’s a quote from Margaret Atwood: ‘If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.’

It probably won’t surprise you after reading this that I’ve hardly edited this blog at all. My little genie whispered ‘Post or we’ll be here all night!’

Hair, it's our Crowning Glory Tags: creative writing hair fictional characters human hair trade Emma Tarlo hair in fiction

 

At least that’s what women are led to believe from an early age and the beauty industry is more than happy to divest us of our money in pursuit of that ideal. I’ve been thinking about fictional characters’ hair a lot recently. In films and novels Caucasian women often have character-defining hair. Black; witchy and duplicitous, red; fiery and vivacious; blonde; angelic or tarty, brown; plain and intelligent, grey/white; wise and intellectual, curly; unpredictable and bubbly, straight; cool and calculating. This left me with a dilemma because I was struggling to choose the hair colour and type of my young, female protagonist, but I didn’t want to push her into any of those stereotypes.

 

 

In a Tangle

So I began to tackle the problem in a circuitous way and by happy accident discovered the fascinating, non-fiction book, Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair by Emma Tarlo. Now, like you, I knew that both men and women can need wigs for a variety of medical, cosmetic or religious reasons but I had no idea of the global, largely covert, billion-dollar trade in the procurement and processing of human hair into wigs and extensions. Sourcing hair generally starts in third world countries. Some women sell their hair to barbers for a short-lived respite from poverty in China, India, Myanmar and Pakistan. On the other side of the world, relatively wealthy women choose to boost their income by selling their hair directly to the client via the Buy and Sell Hair website. The reasons for sale are as various as the hair types on offer. Hindus have their hair tonsured in Indian temples as a way of showing thanks, or to seek rebirth; indeed the vast temple of Tirumala acts as a magnet for pilgrims drawing people and hair from all over India. Each year the tonsured hair adds around 20 million pounds to the temple’s coffers.

 

Giveaway Hair

Sometimes, hair donation is purely altruistic as in the recent case of the Duchess of Cambridge donating seven inches of her locks to the Little Princesses Trust for children and young adults who have lost their hair through cancer treatment. How bizarre to think that a sick child somewhere will be wearing our future Queen consort’s hair. Truly a crowning glory! The hair is sorted anonymously so no one will ever know that their wig contains Kate’s tresses.

 

Decisions, Decisions

While all these hair stories make fascinating reading, it isn’t taking me nearer a solution in my writing dilemma! What it does show me though is how important this decision is and how much identity and status are invested in luscious locks or lack thereof. Would Dennis the Menace be as naughty without his black, unruly mop? Could Heathcliff have been blonde? Could Pippi Longstocking have had mousey-coloured hair? Would Bond villain, Blofeld, have been as menacing if he weren’t bald? How do you decide your characters’ hair colour and type? Can you think of fictional characters defined by their hair? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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