Showing posts with label Lynne Benton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lynne Benton. Show all posts

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Deadlines by Lynne Benton

 Every month, as the 14th approaches, I become increasingly concerned that I won’t think of anything to write about, especially when I read what others have written in the preceding days.  Other people’s blogs always seem to be so very erudite/knowledgeable/entertaining/full of excellent ideas etc., that all my ideas seem very dull or trivial in comparison.  I had thought of writing about New Year Resolutions, only I notice that the blog on the 11th was about New Year Resolutions, so I can’t do that one! 

So instead I’ve decided to write about Deadlines - a subject that’s always going to be topical, whether they are deadlines for getting your book finished, or sent out, or a deadline for fulfilling some other obligation, or for doing the dreaded Tax Return before 31 January (yes, that comes next, after I’ve finished and posted this blog!) 

So – first, getting my book finished.  Yes, done, read by various Beta Readers and adjusted accordingly.  Ready to get it out there as soon as possible, especially since having discovered that there is a wonderful window of opportunity in 2022 for which my book would be just right!  (My book is set in 1953, at the time of the Queen’s coronation, and I now discover that in 2022 there are to be great celebrations of her Platinum Jubilee – which could give my book an excellent hook, if someone would publish it at the right moment!  Fingers crossed for that one! And it’s another deadline, of course…!)

Anyway, in order to get my book out to a mainstream publisher, I could do with finding a new agent to represent me – my previous agent, who was lovely, had to give up the agency some years ago due to ill health, and since then I’ve been going it alone.  Self-publishing is fine, except that unless you're already famous, sales are not great!  Obviously it wasn’t sensible to start the hunt for a new agent just before Christmas, so it meant starting the ball rolling in January…

As anyone who has tried agent-seeking lately will know, all agents want you to send them different things: one wants the first three chapters, one wants the first 30 pages, another wants the first 3000 words, while yet another wants to see the whole manuscript.  And they all want synopses of different lengths too – anything from one paragraph to two pages!  Of course it’s important to find the right person to represent you, and obviously you can’t just send out exactly the same letter to several agents at once, but it all takes rather a long time.  As I’m finding.  But although I’ve applied to three so far, I aim to approach two more before the end of the month.  Yes, a deadline, even if it’s one of my own making!

I’m also kept very busy planning, writing, recording and sending off my monthly Music programme to Local Radio, as well as reading the next part of my book for Local Radio which goes out every week.  These both have to be sent a week before they’re due to be broadcast.  Thankfully I’ve just sent off the music programme which goes out next Sunday, which is a relief!  I reckon each one takes me three days to put together: one day to come up with a theme, think of the music to go with it and find the relevant CDs (from several rather large piles…!), one day to play the pieces I’ve chosen and time them – some CDs, irritatingly, fail to tell you how long a piece is, which is vital to know when you’re planning an hour’s programme! – and another day to write the script, including doing whatever research is needed, time it and then do all the technical stuff: recording the script, followed by all the CD tracks, and then sending them all to the radio station.  Then the tech guy adds the signature tune and puts all the pieces of music in the order I want (the computer arranges them differently, which I can’t do anything about, so I have to send him a list of the correct order with the recording!) Then he sends it back to me to check that it’s all okay.  Listening to it takes another hour, but I’m glad he does, because then I know it will go out all right on the day.

When my husband does his music programme, at least he does all the choosing, timing and writing the script, but I still do all the technical stuff: the recording of script and music tracks and sending them all to the radio station, and then checking them afterwards.  So I reckon when he’s doing it, it still takes me at least one day, if not two, to do my bit.

And when it comes to reading the next part of my book for radio, the first thing I have to do is write a “The Story so far” piece to read at the beginning.  Then I have to record that, followed by the next two chapters of the book (the whole episode takes about half-an hour, but I like to check it’s recorded all right before sending it off to the tech guy, who again adds the signature tune and sends it back to me to check.)  And that happens every week, a week before it goes out on air.

So although we are both still enjoying putting together our music programmes, and I’m still enjoying reading my book on air, it’s beginning to feel a bit relentless!   Deadlines are always looming.

Not to mention totally unrelated deadlines due to the ongoing Covid restrictions – working out when I want my next supermarket delivery, finding a slot and planning the food I’m going to need, what needs using up first etc. etc.  (I know most people are facing this one at the moment, but it all takes time, and if you need to add/subtract to your order you have to meet another deadline, ie 12.00 the day before the delivery is due!  Which I forgot about this week until 1.30, when it was too late to add things!)

So even if some of my deadlines are of my own making, they are still deadlines and I fully intend to meet them all, no matter what.  Especially the deadline for my Tax Return.  And for this blog!


Monday, 14 December 2020

Twelve Days of Letters - by Lynne Benton

 I couldn't resist posting this wonderful piece, written by John Julius Norwich.  If you haven't come across it before, I hope it will brighten your day in the midst of all your preparations!

 Twelve Days of Christmas

A Correspondence


John Julius Norwich

25th December

My dearest darling,

That partridge, in that lovely little pear tree!  What an enchanting, romantic, poetic present!  Bless you and thank you.

Your deeply loving Emily.


26th December

My dearest darling Edward,

The two turtle doves arrived this morning and are cooing away in the pear tree as I write.  I’m so touched and grateful.

With undying love, as always, Emily.


27th December

My darling Edward,

You do think of the most original presents: whoever thought of sending anybody three French hens?  Do they really come all the way from France?  It’s a pity that we have no chicken coops, but I expect we’ll find some.  Thank you anyway, they’re lovely.

Your loving Emily.


28th December

Dearest Edward,

What a surprise – four calling birds arrived this morning.  They are very sweet, even if they do call rather loudly – they make telephoning impossible.  But I expect they’ll calm down when they get used to their new home.  Anyway, I’m very grateful – of course I am.

Love from Emily.


29th December

Dearest Edward,

The postman has just delivered five most beautiful gold rings, one for each finger, and all fitting perfectly.  A really lovely present – lovelier in a way than birds, which do take rather a lot of looking after.  The four that arrived yesterday are still making a terrible row, and I’m afraid none of us got much sleep last night.  Mummy says she wants us to use the rings to “wring” their necks – she’s only joking, I think, though I know what she means.  But I love the rings.  Bless you.

Love, Emily.


30th December

Dear Edward,

Whatever I expected to find when I opened the front door this morning, it certainly wasn’t six socking great geese laying eggs all over the doorstep.  Frankly, I rather hoped you had stopped sending me birds - we have no room for them and they have already ruined the croquet lawn.  I know you meant well, but – let’s call a halt, shall we?

Love, Emily.


31st December


I thought I said no more birds; but this morning I woke up to find no less than seven swans all trying to get into our tiny goldfish pond.  I’d rather not think what happened to the goldfish.  The whole house seems to be full of birds – to say nothing of what they leave behind them.  Please, please STOP.

Your Emily.


1st January

Frankly, I think I prefer the birds.  What am I do to with eight milkmaids – AND their cows?  Is this some kind of a joke?  If so, I’m afraid I don’t find it very amusing.



2nd January

Look here, Edward, this has gone far enough.  You say you’re sending me nine ladies dancing: all I can say is that, judging from the way they dance, they’re certainly not ladies.  The village just isn’t accustomed to seeing a regiment of shameless hussies, with nothing on but their lipstick, cavorting round the green – and it’s Mummy and I who get blamed.  If you value our friendship – which I do less and less – kindly stop this ridiculous behaviour at once.



3rd January

As I write this letter, ten disgusting old men are prancing about all over what used to be the garden – before the geese and the swans and the cows got at it; and several of them, I notice, are taking inexcusable liberties with the milkmaids.  Meanwhile the neighbours are trying to get us evicted.  I shall never speak to you again.



4th January

This is the last straw.  You know I detest bagpipes.  The place has now become something between a menagerie and a madhouse, and a man from the Council has just declared it unfit for habitation.  At least Mummy has been spared this last outrage: they took her away yesterday afternoon in an ambulance.  I hope you’re satisfied.


5th January


Our client, Miss Emily Wilbraham, instructs me to inform you that with the arrival on her premises at half-past seven this morning of the entire percussion section of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and several of their friends, she has no course left open to her but to seek an injunction to prevent your importuning her further.  I am making arrangements for the return of much assorted livestock.

I am, sir, yours faithfully,

G. Creep,


Thank you, John Julius, for that gem!  I hope you all enjoyed it.

Saturday, 14 November 2020

Three Little Words by Lynne Benton

 Some years ago, the famous actor Charlton Heston was asked in an interview, “What is the secret of your long and happy marriage?”

He smiled and said, “Three little words – ‘I was wrong.’”

Not what people were expecting to hear, I’m sure, but I think he was spot on!  It was the equivalent of saying “Sorry”, only it meant much more – it meant being prepared to admit he was not always right. 

And how rare a quality is that?

When did you last hear a politician utter those words?  You may have to think back, and back, and back…  They may, very occasionally, say “Sorry”, though even that is rare, but they will never, never admit to having been at fault in the first place.  Instead, when forced to admit they got something wrong, it’s not only politicians who sometimes avoid apologising properly by adding that weasel word “if”.  There is a world of difference between saying “I’m sorry I upset you”, which means “I regret that what I said upset you, and I apologise”, and “I’m sorry if you were upset by what I said”, which effectively means “I was right to say it, so if you were upset it was your choice and I take no responsibility."  It puts the onus right back on the person who was upset, or offended, so it is no apology at all.  Everyone gets things wrong sometimes, so why not admit it?

The words “Never apologise, never explain”, are often attributed to Winston Churchill, but were actually a misquote from Benjamin Disraeli, who said, “Never complain and never explain.”  Which is rather different. 

We all teach our children to say sorry for any misdemeanour, as in “Say sorry to your brother for taking his toy!” or “Say sorry for being naughty.”  Though admittedly a forced apology is not as good as an unforced one, we hope that by the time they are grown up they will have imbibed the necessity to apologise for whatever they have done wrong.  They should all be familiar with the word from an early age.

When I wrote my first book, many years ago, it was a retelling of a folk tale for the educational market.  It was the story of a couple who were given three wishes but foolishly misused them, so they end up apologising to each other.  A very moral tale – and of course I needed to use the word “Sorry”.

However, my editor told me the advisors had said I couldn’t use “Sorry” – because 7 year-old children couldn’t read that word!!!  I was horrified, but at that stage not confident enough to argue, so I asked what they wanted me to put instead.  The reply was, “You should write 'I shouldn’t have done it',” which seemed to me very unwieldy and a lot more difficult to read than “Sorry”.  Still, I did as I was told and altered it accordingly, though I wasn’t happy about it.  Shortly after that my editor got back to me and said, “We’ve decided you can use “Sorry” after all!”  Apparently someone else writing for the same series needed it for her book too, so they’d decided maybe children should learn to read it!  And a good thing too.

It is such a valuable word, and it makes so much difference to the person who is being apologised to.  Whenever we do or say something that upsets someone else, saying “Sorry,” really does help. 

An article in The Independent in 2004 said:

"Sorry'' is a necessary word in marriage and friendship, unless you happen to be a saint, which is a rare condition. "Sorry'' is balm to wounds, and breaks cold silences. It's often the prelude to kissing and making up. It may be painful to say "sorry''. It means you have to swallow your pride. But such apologies have to be spontaneous to be worth anything. An apology extracted is a humiliation that satisfies only the pride of the recipient. It heals no wounds, may even breed resentment in the person forced to say "sorry''.

I’ve always thought it a great shame, even though I know there are legal difficulties, if someone is involved in a minor accident, that they are not supposed to say “Sorry!”.  Legally, apparently, that means they have admitted blame, even if it’s not their fault.  But I still think it would make people feel a lot better if someone actually apologised for something they’d got wrong.  I often think it would be very useful to have a little button in your car that you could press if you realised you'd made a mistake, such as getting in the wrong lane, or forgetting to signal.  If "Sorry!" flashed up on the back windscreen, the driver behind would know you were apologising for your mistake.  Hopefully he/she might accept your apology instead of getting stressed and shouting at you or giving you the finger.  It could even lead to less road rage!

Of course, in order to properly apologise, we have to admit to having been wrong in the first place.  In other words, we have to be a bit humble.  Some people seem to think this is a sign of weakness – I’m sure we all remember a certain person in a position of authority across the pond telling an interviewer “I am a very humble person.  I am more humble than you can possibly imagine!”  Without realising that insisting that he was the best at everything, including humility, somewhat negated what he was trying to say!

Sometimes those three little words, "I was wrong", may make all the difference to how our friends, and in some cases the world, see us.

See my website:

Latest book:

The Giant and the Shoemaker

published by Franklin Watts

Wednesday, 14 October 2020


 Continuing my Blog from last month, which revisits some Tips for Writers put forward by fellow-writers at a writers' retreat last year, and updates them for use during the current pandemic.  Last month I revisited the first 12 tips, so this month I continue with:

13 Shut the door!  Protect your working space.   

This is particularly apt during lockdown if your children are home from school and your partner is working from home too – it’s all too easy to allow them to take over your working space, so DO shut the door on it.  Put up a useful notice if you like, eg “DANGER – WRITER AT WORK!  ONLY DISTURB IF THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE.

14 Try to recapture the joy.

This may be rather difficult at the moment, when the news, social media etc. keep telling you daily how terrible everything is, and how much worse things are going to get, but do your best.  The joy is still there, somewhere, and one day we will be out the other side of this pandemic, and we will need joyful people.


15 Anything that helps your writing, do more of it.  Anything that doesn’t help, do less of it.

What a brilliant piece of advice!  And this is still the same, even at the present time – do as much as you can of whatever helps your writing (such as walking, painting, cooking, even cleaning (?)).  And try to avoid doing things that definitely don’t help, such as watching the news, listening to politicians arguing etc.  (In my case, cleaning comes into this category, but everyone’s different!)

16 Learn to listen.

Not to politicians arguing, but to people talking, either to you or to each other – you can pick up some useful ideas like this!  And of course to anyone, agent, editor or Beta reader, offering advice, even if you don’t think it’s particularly helpful at the time.  Sometimes you can go back and realise there was a germ of truth in it, or, alternatively, that you were definitely right in the first place.  Both are useful!

17 If things are going badly, tell yourself “This too will pass.”

OH YES!  Especially at the moment.  The pandemic will pass, even if it takes longer than we’d all anticipated, but it WILL pass one day.  And so will whatever writing problem is bugging you at the moment. 


18 Keep to a writing routine, eg start writing at 9.30 on the dot.

Whoever suggested this one evidently had a good reason to start writing at 9.30, though some readers of my original blog thought this was far too late (and possibly others thought it was far too early!)  It really doesn’t matter what time you start, but the important part of this tip is Keep to a Writing Routine that suits you!  Everyone’s family issues are different, so it’s hard to make a routine that suits us all, but if you can possibly stick to it, it will help you!


19 Accept any writing-based offers.

Oh yes, this is such a good one.  Before this pandemic I was rather unsure about accepting writing-based offers, thinking they really needed a Big Name, ie someone better than me.  But now, as some readers of my previous blogs may remember, I’m reading my books on local radio every week, and loving it!  The fact that the chance to do it came because of another part of my life, my membership and co-chairmanship of a local Recorded Music Society, was what led me to realise it was me they wanted, not anyone else.  It was because of our connection with the society that my husband and I were asked to present a Classical Music programme on local radio every week, which we happily agreed to do, especially because since the pandemic our society has been unable to meet.  Then my husband said, “Well, Lynne writes books, so if you want someone to read children’s stories too…” and they jumped at it!  So yes, now, if anyone else invites me to talk or participate in some event, I shall jump at that too!

20 List three positive things that happen each day.

What a good idea!  In the midst of so much doom and gloom, coming up with three positive things every day can only help to raise your spirits.  It doesn’t matter how small these things are – it could be something like “my normally bad-tempered neighbour smiled at me”, or “I had a nice chat on the phone with a friend”.  So yes, do that!


21 Make a “business morning” once a week to deal with all business matters.  Don’t feel you have to reply to everyone instantly.

Another excellent idea – business matters can be so boring, so it’s a really good idea to bunch them all together and deal with them all at once, rather than dragging them out through the week.  And for people who don’t find them boring, (there may be some around, I suppose?) that day will be something to look forward to every week!

 22  Learn to accept praise!  If someone praises you and/or your work, don’t say “Oh well, it’s only…”  Just smile and say, “Thank you.”

Yes, it’s still the case that you have to accept praise wherever you can find it!  It’s hard not to say “oh well it’s only” when someone else has had a big book published (which must have taken years to write) while your own is a little book for early readers.  Yours is still a book that you’ve had to work on in order to fit in with the guidelines, word count etc., and it’s achieved publication, which many people would give their eye teeth for, so it’s just as much of an achievement!

23 Praise other people's work - everyone needs appreciation!  Tell them how much you enjoyed their book/write a review of it on Amazon.

Oh yes, they certainly do!  I've often emailed a writer I know, even slightly, to tell them when I've really enjoyed their book, and I've reviewed it on Amazon, and they are always surprised and delighted that I've bothered.  Writers are not necessarily chock-full of confidence, no matter how Big their Names are!

24 Think positive!

Of course think positive.  Back to numbers 14, 17 and 20 - it's so important to think and behave as if this year is a mere blip in the great scheme of things, and the pandemic will be beaten eventually.  So by the time it's all over, you will have plenty of work under your belt (or on your computer!), ready to send out...

25 Don't give up!

This one almost goes without saying, though I have heard of people saying things like, “What’s the point?  Nobody’s going to want to read my book at the moment!  It’s only the Big Names that are going to get published.  Agents will be overwhelmed with manuscripts at the moment, so they won’t want mine.  Why should I keep flogging a dead horse?” etc. etc.  All wrong.  If you keep going, no matter what, you will soon have plenty of work ready to send out when you feel the time is right.  Which might be sooner than you think, so this is NOT a good time to give up.  Just carry on writing - and Good Luck!

Latest book:

The Giant and the Shoemaker
Published by Franklin Watts

Visit my website:

Monday, 14 September 2020

Tips for Writers During the Pandemic by Lynne Benton


Going through my past blogs, searching for inspiration for this month’s blog, I found one I wrote over a year ago called “Tips for Writers”.  Several fellow-writers at a writers’ retreat I’d recently attended had put forward tips they found useful, and most of them are still valid.  However, in the current difficult circumstances I felt some may need a little modification.    

Here is the new version for 2020:

1 Set yourself achievable goals.
This may not be quite as easy as it once was.  Okay, for the moment the children may be back at school, and your partner may be back at work, but there is every chance that things may change again very quickly.  (Indeed, some things have already changed since yesterday when I wrote the first draft of this blog!)  Then you may find yourself once again having to help/teach/work around your children who have been sent home from school for an indefinite period because one in their bubble has the virus. You may also have a partner who has suddenly been sent home from work for the same reason, and who may require your empathy in either raging with or soothing him/her.  And all of them will need constant feeding!  So what may once have felt like an achievable goal, such as finishing your current book in x weeks, could take you a great deal longer.

2 Walking is great for sorting things in your head. 
Yes, it still is, if you can find the time to get out of the house.  Here I think people with dogs have a great advantage – everyone accepts that the dog will always need walking, no matter what else is going on in your life and your family’s life!  Without that necessity it can be difficult to make time in your day, and easy to make excuses for not going out.  Even though you know it would do you good!

3 Avoid Social Media until after you have done your work for the day! 
It depends what you mean by Social Media.  Facebook and emails could be important/urgent, so I would glance at them first, though replying can usually wait till after I’ve done my work for the day.  I don’t do Twitter, but I gather from people who do that it is full of people directing their bile against anyone who disagrees with them, and other people (or maybe the same ones?) coming up with weird conspiracy theories.  (Not to mention a certain President who glories in posting incendiary tweets on a regular basis!) So I would avoid Twitter at all costs.  To that I would also add avoiding following the news until after you’ve done your work – hearing about the latest crackpot idea someone has come up with can make you shout at the television and put you in a bad mood for the rest of the day.  Save it all till later, and then shout away! 

4 Keep fan letters to remind yourself how much people enjoy(ed) your work. 
Excellent idea!  Remind yourself that you can still do it, in spite of current limitations.

5 Collect inspiring things around you. 
Yes, of course.  As long as they are thoroughly sanitised in case you dare to pick them up!

6 Eat plenty of chocolate!!!  

YES!!!  That hasn’t changed!  I’d even given it up for the good of my waistline, but the Pandemic put paid to that plan – I felt I needed something to cheer me up, and I’m now thoroughly hooked again!

7 Don’t beat yourself up about things you can’t change…
…like Covid19 and all the restrictions about seeing your families, social distancing etc.  You can’t beat anyone else up, either, (I'm thinking certain politicians here, not your nearest and dearest!) so maybe find another useful outlet for your frustrations.  Making bread is a very therapeutic exercise, with the added benefit of providing you with something good to eat!  And one friend of mine, who lived on a farm, used to take a broom and beat up a bale of hay whenever she felt angry, and said it did her a lot of good!

8 Keep a work diary to show how much you’ve actually achieved every week.  
Yes, this is still a good idea, even if it shows how much less you’ve actually done than what you’d hoped to do.  Bear in mind the restrictions you’re living under at the moment and forgive yourself!

9 Fake enthusiasm, even if you don’t feel it. 
Yes, if you can, though you may offend some people who are having a hard time, or find others giving you strange looks.

10 Keep going, no matter how slowly.
Yes, even though you may find it going even more slowly than you’d imagined.  Many writer friends have said that although they had initially looked upon Lockdown as an opportunity to do lots of writing, they found that unaccountably they’d done less than usual.  There are too many other things taking up your headspace.  So don’t worry if your book is taking a long time to write, you are not alone!

11 Writing can help you through difficult times, eg divorce, bereavement etc.
This is a really useful tip to bear in mind, especially at the moment!

12 Reread an old book of yours to remind yourself just how good you are/were/could be again.
This is still a good tip, especially if you are despairing of ever writing anything publishable ever again.  Which you will, you will!

In fact, there were 25 tips in all in my original blog, so maybe I’ll just do half of them this time, and save the rest for next month (when I may be having a similar dearth of new ideas!)

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Tuesday, 14 July 2020

The end before the beginning... by Lynne Benton

I hope Kelly will forgive me for piggybacking on to her blog of Saturday 11th July about people refusing to read prologues.  Reading her blog, and the varied and fascinating comments afterwards, gave me the idea for what my blog should be about today!

Some people, it appears, always (or frequently) turn to the end of a book to see how it turns out BEFORE they start reading it!!!  I had a dear friend who used to do this and it drove me nuts – so to discover that she was not alone, and that some others do it too as a matter of course was quite horrifying!  Do they not realise (or care) that the writer has spent many hours/days/weeks carefully crafting the story in order to mystify the reader and possibly lead them up the wrong path before the final reveal at the end which explains the whole thing?  Surely the writer’s efforts have all been in vain if the reader turns to the reveal first – they will read the book with foreknowledge of what will happen in the end.  I know one comment on Kelly’s post pointed out that once our books have been published we have no say in how the reader approaches them, which of course is true, but that’s not the point.  Why would anyone want to read the end of a book before the beginning?  Do they hate surprises on principle?  Or is it just a habit?  And if so, how and why did they pick up this habit?

Like many others, I read everything in a book, including introductions, acknowledgements and prologues – though I do prefer to read the acknowledgements after I’ve read the book (I’m always slightly afraid it will give away some of the plot!)  This applies too to the blurb on the back cover, which again I tend to leave until after I’ve finished the book.  So often it tells me too much about the book, which I would prefer to find out for myself.  But saving things to read till after you’ve read the book is quite different from reading the end before you get there!

Reading most crime novels would be completely spoilt if you read the end first.  The whole fun of reading such books is to try to work out whodunnit and why.  If you knew that before you started reading, it would destroy most of the pleasure in doing your own detective work.  There are, of course, a few books which turn this idea on its head and tell us who the murderer is first, but there's still going to be some sort of shock ending which you don't want revealed too early. It's no surprise that anyone going to see Agatha Christie's play "The Mousetrap" is asked at the end not to reveal the identity of the murderer to anyone else once they leave the theatre.  So why would you want to know the end of a crime novel first?

This reminds me of two incidents which I shall never forget.

The first was over fifty years ago, when a friend and I went to the cinema to see the latest Big Film (which I won’t name, for those who still may not have seen it), and at the last minute her (then) boyfriend decided to come with us.  My friend and I loved the film, and during the interval we both sniffled and dried our tears and looked forward to the second half.  Then her idiot boyfriend said, “He dies at the end, you know!” and couldn’t understand why we both rounded on him and berated him for having told us the ending.  (He seemed quite surprised at our reaction - he said in injured tones, “Oh, I just thought you’d like to know!”  I said he was an idiot – he was also, very soon afterwards, my friend’s ex-boyfriend!)

The other incident was several years ago at a Literature Festival.  At the beginning of the week I’d gone to hear a well-known author talk about her latest book, which I was in the middle of reading.  (It turned out to have a major surprise ending, but of course the author hadn’t given it away in her talk, and for obvious reasons I won’t mention which author or which book it was.)  However, later that same week, at another event at the same Literature Festival, I went to hear a famous actor talking about recording audio books, and in answer to one question he decided to pontificate about one book he’d recently recorded, adding the name of the author and the title of the book – the same  book its author had talked about three days before, and which many in this audience had bought but not yet had a chance to read.  And then, unforgivably, he gave away the surprise ending!  In my memory there was a shocked gasp from the audience, but that may only have been me!  By that stage I’d almost finished the book and had just about guessed the twist for myself, so it wasn’t entirely spoilt for me, but that doesn’t excuse the cavalier way he ruined it for so many of his audience.  Had he not checked that the author had appeared there earlier in the week and would doubtless be selling her latest book?  It wasn’t as if it was necessary to name either the book or the author – he could have said, “in one book I read recently…” but no.  It was all about him and how clever he was, and I’ve never forgiven him for spoiling the book for so many readers!

I’ve just realised that because I’ve been so careful not to reveal the titles of the aforementioned film or book, I can’t illustrate this blog with pictures of either, so I can only use the cover of "The Mousetrap".  However, I still think it’s important to read a story in the right order, and leave the ending, whether it's a great surprise or not, where it’s suppose to be - at the end.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Words and Music by Lynne Benton

Earlier in the year my husband and I were asked to present a series of programmes of Classical Music for a new local Community Radio station. It was fun going through our mountain of CDs to find pieces we wanted to play, making sure our scripts were as good as we could make them and fitting each programme into the hour slot we had available.  The only problem was that we had to travel 9 miles to the venue and get someone else to record us reading our scripts, and leave it to him to add the music we’d brought with us on a memory stick in the right places and just hope it all worked out.  (There were a few initial blips, but on the whole it worked.)  Then the Lockdown happened, and it was no longer possible to travel to the radio station to make the programmes, so we assumed that was that, at least for the time being. 

However, a few weeks ago the boss of the radio station emailed to ask us if we could record our programmes from home, as some of their other contributors had done.  So we, or more accurately I (since I appear to be the technical expert in our house!) set about learning how to do so.  It has proved to be something of a steep learning curve – but then, we’re all supposed to be learning a new skill in Lockdown, aren’t we?  So now, with the aid of an inexpensive microphone (bought online) which plugs into my computer, I can record both our scripts and the music excerpts myself at home and send them all to the radio station, where their technical wizard puts everything together in the right order and broadcasts it.  We’re both still enjoying making the programmes – though given the time and hard work involved, perhaps I should say we’re enjoying HAVING MADE the programmes, so when we’ve done all the work we can just sit back and listen to them!

And the payoff to all this is that the radio boss also wants to broadcast my books!  To date I have recorded the first instalment of my first Roman book (the first three chapters together take about half an hour to read), leaving it on a cliffhanger, of course, ready for the next instalment.  The boss listened to it and was very enthusiastic, and said he will definitely find a slot for it, though he's not sure yet when it will be.  As soon as I know the date and time I can put it on facebook, just in case anyone is interested in listening to it online, wherever you happen to live.  (Although we live quite near to the radio station, we can’t get it on local radio – I gather the hills are in the way!  So we also have to listen to it online.)

Anyway, before I started recording it, I thought it would be even better if there was some sort of signature tune to introduce the story – as most serials and series on radio and television have one (think The Archers, Desert Island Discs, Downton Abbey etc.)  Usually the signature tune bears some relation to the theme of the story, and certainly if it’s a good one it can fill you with anticipation of the next episode.  But glancing again at our aforementioned mountain of CDs, I didn’t know where to start.  How hard was it going to be to find a suitable piece of music to use for “The Centurion’s Son?

Then, by a lucky chance, while looking for a piece for my music talk, I came across a piece that was ideal!  Given that “The Centurion’s Son” is the story of a children’s mystery set in Roman Britain involving the Legionary Army, I was delighted to find a piece called “The Phantom Regiment” by Leroy Anderson.  It's a light martial tune backed by a steady beat that sounds just like ghostly marching feet.  I sent it over to the radio station, and the technical wizard added it to the beginning and the end of the episode, fading it in and out beautifully, so I’m really pleased with the result.

Of course I’m now thinking: Suppose the book goes down so well that they ask me to record another of my books, what signature tunes might I come up with for them?  I’ve had an idea for one, and I’ve already come up with the perfect one for the book I’m currently writing, though that’s a little previous, I know!  But as for the others… well, there’s plenty of time to think before they might be needed!

So I wondered, if you could choose a signature tune for any of your books, how would you go about choosing it?  By thinking of the tune first, because of the theme, or the period it evokes, or the feeling it gives you when you hear it?  By scrolling through your personal playlist?  Or by painstakingly going through a stack of CDs, like me?  Of course, if the BBC, or Hollywood (or Netflix) came calling I assume they would want to choose the music themselves, but for the moment, for me, I’m very happy to be able to choose my own music for my own book. 

What would you choose for yours?


The Centurion's Son

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Bring on the Experts - Please! by Lynne Benton

A senior politician once famously said, “We’ve all had enough of experts!”  I wonder if he still thinks the same, now that most of us are crying out for people who actually know what they’re doing?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an expert is: “a person who is very knowledgeable about or skilful in a particular area.”  In other words, someone who is very good at his/her job.  Which is surely what we all need at the moment.

If we are ill, the experts we need are medical ones – nurses, doctors, care workers etc – the people who work for the NHS for whom we all turn out and clap on Thursday nights.  It’s been proved over and over again that these heroes are finally being sung (as opposed to unsung) and appreciated as never before.  They are experts in the most important field of all – that of keeping us well and/or making us better during this extremely worrying and difficult time.  What would we do without them risking their lives to keep us all safe? 

Similarly, if anything goes wrong in our houses, our cars, or our lives, we need other experts to sort us out.  But during Lockdown, some of these experts are unavailable, mostly because of the rule that we should all practise Social Distancing at all times (a recommendation by other experts, of course – scientific ones this time, on whom we are all relying heavily at the moment.)

This was brought home to me again last night when my daughter phoned and mentioned that her husband had lost a filling from his tooth.  Of course his dentist is currently unable to treat patients, so recommended buying a special substance online which could be used as a temporary filling.  I don’t think “amateur dentistry” was ever one of my daughter’s ambitions, but in these difficult times we are all having to turn our hands to things we had never expected to do, so her next job is to fill her husband’s tooth, if only temporarily!  So yes, surprising as it may seem to some, we appreciate our dentists too!

Similarly, how many parents ever expected to have to “educate their children at home” for weeks on end?  Given that it is still the teachers who have to plan all the lessons in line with the national curriculum, make them available online and mark the children’s work afterwards, it’s not really “home educating” as such.  However, for many parents it must come as a bit of an eye-opener to discover that children don’t necessarily want to sit quietly and get on with whatever work is set for them, especially if there are several children in the family of different ages.  I’m not underestimating the difficulties parents face here, though as an ex-primary school teacher I shall be quite glad if when this pandemic is all over teachers are rather more appreciated by the general public!  I’m sure there will be a collective sigh of relief from parents all over the country when the experts take over again.

Since this blog is supposed to be about writers and/or writing, I should perhaps mention that I quite appreciate that we writers are among the lucky ones (provided we stay well, of course!)  We are used to spending hours at a time on our own, with only our computers for company, so in that respect Social Distancing isn’t a problem - though many of us may currently also be expected to educate/entertain young children, which is not necessarily conducive to creative thinking.  And of course we are all constantly having to think about food and feeding all the family all the time.  (Keeping younger children entertained is one thing, but keeping teenagers fed is quite another.  It must be infuriating to find that your carefully-planned food for the family's evening meal has been sabotaged by a teenage son who has eaten half of it for a snack!)  Other than that, all we need is our computers to keep functioning, so we don’t need to call in the expert to fix it.  (Though they too will be much appreciated!)  However, in spite of this, we can still write during Lockdown.  Our job will, we hope, still be there when it’s all over, we tell ourselves that “people will always want stories!”, and that agents and publishers have nothing to do at this moment but wait for our manuscripts to land on their (home) desks (!)  So yes, even if we're not actually earning much at the moment from festivals, school visits and the like, as well as our books, we are the lucky ones.

As for other experts – of course we need them, all the time.  We need our internet connection for all those WhatsApp, Zoom and Skype calls with which we can keep in touch with our families.  If our broadband goes down, or is intermittent, we will need to get an expert to fix it as soon as possible.  Similarly if a tap leaks or the boiler goes out, we’ll need an expert, but if we can’t ask them to come into our homes to sort out the problem, what are we expected to do?  At the moment in our house we need an electrician to fix two wall lights that have inexplicably failed, and although we’ve tried everything we can think of, nothing will make them work again.  I know they are not exactly vital, but we really miss them, and we still don’t know how long we will have to wait before we can expect an electrician to come and fix them!  He/she too will be greatly appreciated.

Similarly, hairdressers – if, as is suggested as a possibility, we can start going back to our hairdressers on 1 July, it will be 17 weeks since I was able to get my hair cut!  If I had long hair it wouldn’t be a problem – I could just tie it back.  But my hair is short, and short hair that’s overgrown just looks messy.  Maybe it’s as well that we’re all practising Social Distancing – nobody can see me close up!  So I'm currently missing my hairdresser almost more than I miss my family and best friends.

So I would beg to differ from that ridiculous statement that “we’ve all had enough of experts.”  On the contrary, we need them now more than ever, in all walks of life.   So bring them on please!  Now!  We all appreciate you!

Latest book: The New Baby


Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Books, books, and more books! by Lynne Benton

I spent much time trying to decide what this blog should be about, given that most of us have only one thing on our minds at the moment.  In the end I decided it had to be something to brighten our day, since in spite of everything, there are some good things to be said for this current lockdown.
So what did I decide? 

Books, of course!  Books!  And time to read them!

When I read a good book I soon find myself so immersed in the story that I barely notice if anyone speaks to me, because I’m in the world of my book.  I know the characters better than I know my friends, and I feel as if I know the setting too, and the atmosphere.  Surely there is no better time than now to get lost in a book!

Having read and enjoyed Vanessa’s blog of two days ago about comfort reading when she was a child, I was reminded of the books I particularly loved at the age of eleven.  I suppose they were comfort reading, though I never thought of them as such at the time.  They were just my own private worlds.   Four of my all-time favourites spring to mind:

1:    Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  

This, as surely everyone knows, is the story of orphan Anne Shirley who is mistakenly sent to live with elderly brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert on Prince Edward Island, and how she turns their lives around as much as they turn hers.  Anne is a delightful character who wants to be a writer (inspiration there, then!) and I entirely empathised with her and felt as though she was my best friend, and as though I knew the island better than my own home.

2:    White Boots, by Noel Streatfeild.  

Noel Streatfeild wrote many books about children with various different talents who found their niche, as in “Ballet Shoes” (which I didn’t choose because Vanessa had already chosen it, though it was also one I loved) or in “White Boots” when Harriet, whose doctor advised her to learn to skate after an illness, and finds herself caught up in the world of ice skating.  I first heard it dramatised on “Children’s Hour” on the radio, and subsequently found the book, and a great many of Streatfeild’s others, in the library and discovered I loved them all!

3:    The Swish of the Curtain, by Pamela Brown.  

This too I first heard dramatised on “Children’s Hour”  (a wonderful way of introducing listeners to new books, authors etc.) and is the story of a group of older children who find a disused hall with a stage and set up their own theatre company.  Again I found it and subsequent books in the series in the library, and fell under their spell.  I wished so much that I could find a group of friends with similar ambitions, and I even remember cycling around my home area looking for a disused hall that might serve as the Blue Door Theatre, but to no avail.

4:    Wings over Witchend, by Malcolm Saville.  

I was introduced to this series about the Lone Pine Club by my form teacher in the first year of the grammar school – she read one book from the series to us, and I really loved it, so went hotfoot to the library to see if I could find it and others in the series.  I was lucky, and read most of them, and again became so involved in the stories of this group of older children who formed the Lone Pine Club and solved mysteries in and around the Long Mynd in Shropshire that I tried to form my own Lone Pine Club among my friends, though none of them loved the books as much as I did!

I realise now that I may not have been so caught up in (obsessed by?) all these series had it not been for the library!  I could always go and borrow more books in the series, or more by the same author – it was wonderful!  I appreciate that things are different these days, that people can buy books quite cheaply online, or in Charity shops, or can download them on their kindles, but they still cost money, which in many families is in short supply.  Wouldn’t it be fantastic if, by the time this lockdown is over, the government has realised how vital libraries are for encouraging children to read – and decides to reinstate more of them?

Saturday, 14 March 2020

A Retreat (from normal life) by Lynne Benton

I have just come back from a writers’ retreat in North Yorkshire.  It was organised by the brilliant crime writer Sophie Hannah for her Dream Authors – a group support system for writers which she set up last year – and it was wonderful!  For one thing, the setting was idyllic – two former mills, renovated to a very high standard, with beautiful grounds and a lovely walk between the two.  I stayed at Bents Mill, which entailed a 5 minute walk to get to Hewenden Mill, where the sessions were held – but such a walk!

There was also a ford across the millstream which was sometimes passable on foot but at other times not.  On the first night it was two inches underwater, so we needed transport to get across, but the next two days it was dry and easily walkable.  Only on the last morning did I confidently stride out to cross it and find that owing to some overnight rain it was flooded again.  However, the lovely housekeeper, Susan, soon collected us in her car, so we weren’t stranded.

All the sessions were empowering and encouraging, as is Sophie herself.  Some were taken by her and others by Jon Appleton, a well-respected editor, and all were really interesting, so I took loads of notes.  Although none of us knew each other to start with, we soon got to know who was who and who was writing what, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to come away having made several new friends.  Every morning we had breakfast in our own rooms followed by free/writing time until 11, and from then on we had sessions and meals until 9.30 at night.  And one thing that proved to be really invaluable was our one-to-one sessions with Sophie – each of the 21 writers had half an hour with her, talking about our WIP, a short blurb of which we’d given or sent her in advance.  She made some really helpful suggestions about the wording of the opening of my blurb, and I certainly came away feeling that the whole story definitely "has legs".

All too soon the weekend came to an end, and I had to say goodbye to the place and the people I’d met there and go back to normal life.  The retreat bubble has burst for now, but it has left me raring to get on with my book.  Which is obviously what a retreat is all about!

Though I gather not all retreats are like this…  I am reminded of an incident when my granddaughter was about ten, and her father, a vicar, was about to go on a religious retreat.  “Daddy, what do you do on a retreat?” she asked.
“Well, we think a lot, and we pray a lot...” he said.
Tabitha frowned.  “H’m,” she said.  “Doesn’t sound much like a treat to me!”

Friday, 14 February 2020

Writing a Series by Lynne Benton

As an adult reader, I really enjoy reading series fiction.  There’s something very comfortable about reading about a central character you feel you know and like, and finding out what happened to them next.  And as a child I enjoyed reading series fiction about the same central character too, but now I think about it these were mostly “timeless” stories, ie the central character/s never grew any older while he/she had all these adventures (Just William, Jennings at School, The Lone Pine series etc.)  

There were some in which the main character grew up, such as Anne of Green Gables, What Katy Did, Little Women etc., but on the whole series books for children retained the protagonist/s at the same age throughout the series.

And now I’m a writer too I can appreciate the reason why this is the case.

When writing a book for adults, the adult central character/s can age from, say, 20-50, without the reader finding much discernable difference in their lives, or their ability to do their job, other than maybe the “addition” of marriage and/or children.  They can continue to do their main job, whether as a detective, amateur or otherwise, or as a writer, doctor, archaeologist or whatever.  Over the years they can have various things happen to them, but still they can retain the reader’s interest in their activities.  I’m thinking here of characters like Hamish Macbeth, Hercule Poirot, Inspector Gamache, Maisie Dobbs, etc.

However, it’s not the same when you write for children.  The enormous changes in a child's life between the ages of, say, 9 and 15, mean that their stories will be completely different, and, crucially, will appeal to a completely different readership.

I think it helps if you decide before you start to write the first book what sort of series it is going to be.  Will their adventures continue to appeal to the same age of reader?  (I’m thinking Horrid Henry, Dougal Daley etc, as well as the Famous Five who had umpteen summer holidays while they remained the same age!  The same goes for series such as Skating School, Rainbow Fairies and Magic Ballerina, in which several different characters have adventures at the same time.)


Or will time proceed through the years, so that the children grow older in each successive book?  (Anne of Green Gables, What Katy Did, and of course Harry Potter.)  Sometimes when you've written a book, the editor/publisher wants the story to continue.  And that can make things difficult if you hadn’t actually thought of a sequel to your original story.

When I wrote “The Centurion’s Son” I had no thought of it continuing.  As far as I was concerned it was a one-off, about two children aged 11 and 12.  But by the time I’d finished it I had a few ideas about what might happen to them next, and, as I recall, my agent agreed.  So as I began to plan Book 2 I realised that it would be a sequel rather than another book about the same children set at the same time.  Because of what happened in Book 1 that was impossible anyway.  So Book 2 had to happen one year after the first book.  By then the two protagonists were 12 and 13, which was still okay.  But by the time I realised I wanted to write a sequel to that one the children would be 13 and 14, so I knew I would have to finish the series there.  It would have to be a trilogy rather than a series, or the children would be too old for a children’s book, and their priorities would have changed dramatically once they were both in their teens.  As would their readers’ priorities. So I finished with Book 3, giving it an ending that I hope made it clear there were no more books about those particular characters to come.

When J K Rowling came up with the idea for Harry Potter, she knew right away that the stories would follow him all through his senior school life, so she always knew there would be 7 books in the series, and I gather that from the word go she worked out roughly what would happen in each book.  Which is why they all hang together so well.  

And she reckoned on her readers growing up at the same rate as Harry and his friends, which, of course, they did. (She may not, however, have reckoned on her books being read by such a vast age range that the publishers decided to have different covers for all the adults who wanted to read them but didn’t want to feel embarrassed by being seen reading a children’s book!)  Similarly, once the films came out many children once considered far too young to read the books were keen to do so – which can’t be bad!

So while writing a series can be a really good idea, since it can be a great way to gain and retain a vast collection of enthusiastic readers, it certainly helps if you know from the start what sort of series it will be.