Tag Archives: hysterical histories

Adventures In Research – Diet Books, King Tut and the Girl From The Magic Shop

I’m very nearly done with my new historical novel, which is so full of lies, duplicity and sheer bloody cruelty that I cannot wait to write the sequel to Fifty Shades of Neigh and spend the next few months wallowing happily in a big bunch of dick jokes.

I love writing historical fiction, but the main problem with it that all that research you did? All those lovely, carefully catalogued period details? All that time you spend immersing yourself in the popular culture of the era, absorbing the contemporary fads, fashion and slang?

Yeah – shut up about that.

In a good historical novel the characters will use enough contemporary slang to lend a flavour without making it incomprehensible to the modern ear. In a bad historical novel everyone will antiquey-speakey most verily even though yea, it sucketh great donkey balls, and in a really bad historical novel everyone will not only yabber on like they’re at a Renaissance Faire but also discuss the etymology of their gibberish. A really good historical novel will slip you a history lesson without you even knowing it. A bad one will beat you over the head with lumps of Wikipedia a la Dan Brown or go full on Downton and have people say things like “Well, indeed – after the War to end all wars we’re all in need of a little gaiety, and why shouldn’t Lady Ethel get her hair cut like the popular contemporary actress Louise Brooks in this year of our Lord 1926?”

This is not to say you can skimp on the research – you’d better damn well do it. I once came across a vampire novel that was utterly spoiled by the fact that not only was I supposed to believe that the vampire hero had trained as a Catholic priest in late 16th Century England but in the 1650’s had been quite the sexy young thing at the theatres and operas of old London town. You do research so that things like this don’t happen. Then you shut up about it. Research is essential but should remain invisible – sort of like Spanx.

So this is where blogs come in handy. Here’s just a taste of the fascinating stuff that either got a one line mention or kept an urgent playdate with the DELETE key. Continue reading




I don’t often write poetry. Some would say that’s a good thing.


Ding dong – here is the news.

She died today, which we took with a pinch

Since clogs so nice as hers surely shouldn’t be

Popped just like anyone else’s.

But there it was – her storied death, her shining shoes.

Always was so well turned out,

Neat as fresh fondant

Too fancy for pants, with her sugar spun hair

And her ladylike pearls.


She came from the East,

On a prayer and a promise,

Was said to be clever.

She had mastered the art, they said

Of mixing ice-cream with air

And charging twice the price.

It went further, she said, as we would

If we only stopped complaining

And bought company shares.


She brought us colour – true blue and pastel pink

Bigger televisions, better sound.

All the better to hear you, my dear

An investment – you see,

She’d spent so much money

On those Tate and Lyle tones.

Then discord in a Northern voice,

Emanating from that cold corner of the room,

Where our IceCream Queen usually shimmered and smiled.

A police baton, he said

Long as licorice, Pomfret black.

Caught him in the kidneys

And made him piss pink for a month.


We dressed in orange, in angry blues

Melancholy reds, optimistic yellows,

Blaring like bullhorns,

Trying to drown out the grey.

Battleship grey, like the floors scrubbed for coins,

The smell of disinfectant and the slow breaths of disappointment.

We settled our stomachs with halfpenny sweets

And went without milk.


It was no wonder we turned out badly,

We children of her revolution.

So, forgive us our bitterness, oh cupcake cognoscenti

We represent the lollipop kids,

And our childhoods were too sticky sweet,

Too short on moral fibre

For us to be better than we are.

How To See Ghosts

Ghosts – what are they? Where do they come from? We may never know.

What we do know is that ghosts are a cheap and interesting source of entertainment and a good way of livening up any slumber party. The main problem with ghosts is that they tend to be shy. It’s like they just don’t want to be photographed, documented or fiddled about with in any way shape or form.

You have to be bold with ghosts – they’re timid. Bigfoot timid. If they were any more timid they’d be hanging out in Loch Ness, pretending to be an extinct marine reptile with an astounding gift for avoiding sonar.

Loch Ness monster


So, allow me to present my simple five step guide to persuading the ghosts in your life to abandon their natural reticence and start doing proper ghost stuff, like banging on walls, setting fire to ouija boards, levitating the kids and killing your sleazy stockbroker boyfriend. (Okay, they might not do the last one – I can’t promise results on any of the below, so you might have to just dump him.) Continue reading

Character wrangling and Downton

So I’m just waiting on say-so from Amazon and Fifty Shades of Neigh is soon to be a thing, an actual book. Once that happens I will post the (sort of) thrilling conclusion and point you nice people to a place where you can get your very own shiny Kindle copy.

In the meantime I’m forced to think about proper writing – the kind that requires thought and research – and face the reasons why the novel I thought I wanted to write in November fizzled out before the fifteenth of the month.

I have a serious problem with the central love story. I’m just not feeling it. At first I had the two of them meet as strangers in chapter one and then came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t going to work. And now I try to grasp why I thought that in the first place I feel like my head is full of bees and I want to punch something.



I’m not sure if it’s my instincts as a writer talking there, or simply my menstrual cycle.

Of course the alternative is that he is someone she’s known for a long time as a friend and then they become lovers, which is tricky to say the least. I don’t want the love interest to come across as one of those clammy, whiny, wimpy Nice Guys who wait like Fry’s Dog for the woman they crave to become single and then act like they deserve her as a prize for their unending patience and kindness – kindness and patience that they would never have bothered with if they didn’t think there was a fraction of a chance that one day she was going to fuck them.

By the same token I don’t want the heroine to do that I-only-want-you-if-I-can’t-have-you thing that made Downton Abbey such a masterclass in How To Annoy Your Audience.

Yes, I’m aware that there are people who found the whole Matthew and Mary saga romantic, but those people don’t have to live in my head, in the company of fictional characters who I would prefer weren’t given to prevaricating, backsliding and generally behaving in a way that makes sane people want to gnaw off a limb.

I was trying to remember why she even broke off the first engagement with him. Was it something to do with the Turkish diplomat who died unexpectedly in her antechamber (And yes, that’s totally a euphemism.) or was it just because the way was clear for them to be together and nothing dries Mary’s snatch faster than a clear, uncomplicated path to happiness. (Except for maybe a dead Turkish diplomat.)

I asked my better half and he reminded me that Mary dumped Matthew first time around because Cora was pregnant with a possible Viscount, a baby who would mean Matthew would have to bugger off back to Manchester and practise law.

It’s easy to forget, because poor Cora didn’t stay pregnant, thanks to the chainsmoking amateur abortionist who does her hair, but then nobody stays anything in Downton for long. It doesn’t matter if you’re pregnant, paralysed, blind, diseased or Burnt Face Amnesiac Long Lost Cousin From Canada – it usually clears up in an episode or two, because we wouldn’t want to deliver on promised drama. That would just be spoiling the viewers.

I know I compared Downton to a deflated souffle but I never expected to be so right. The scene in the first episode where Daisy almost poisons the entire Crawley family but doesn’t is like a metaphor for the entire series.

Possible new heir? Holy shit – that’s going to change the whole dynamic. Quick, pass the soap.

Burnt Face Amnesiac Long Lost Cousin From Canada? Meh – it was probably nothing. Anyway, he got bored and wandered off after one episode.

Matthew got paralysed in the war? Oh shit son – what are they going to do now his penis doesn’t work? Will Lavinia have to hire a new gamekeeper?…oh, wait – he’s fine. Somehow.

The scene where Matthew leaps to his feet after six months in a wheelchair is one of the most gloriously silly things I have ever seen on TV, right up there with the episode of The Colbys where Fallon left the series in a spaceship. We were pointing at the television and hooting like gibbons – it was fucking great.

“What the fuck just happened?”

“Oh come on – didn’t you see it coming?”

“Well, yeah, but didn’t they have muscle atrophy in 1919?”

Apparently not. Apparently they didn’t have brains in 1919 either, if the Spanish Flu episode was any indication. Global pandemic comes to Downton? No problem. Come on over. Bring your baby. Bring your inlaws. We’ve only got three patients down with a vicious, fast acting disease which has wiped out millions – it’s probably not that contagious.

Of course, poor old Lavinia’s dance-card was marked since Matthew discovered that his wee-wee worked again and Little Miss I-Only-Want-What-I-Can’t-Have was positively moist at the thought that Lavinia had first dibs on the resurrected organ.

Exit Lavinia, who was tucked up in bed with some hot milk. As soon as she took a turn for the worse, enter half a dozen gawping Crawleys to stand around maskless, open mouthed and breathing heavily while she expired of an extremely contagious disease.

Downton Abbey? More like Darwin Abbey. Fucking hell.

I love that Lavinia got to miss out on heliotrope cyanosis and drowning horribly in her own fluids so that she could die like the unwanted plot point she was and bless the endless, boring, back and forth fuckery that passes for Matthew and Mary’s romance. And I love that Lavinia dying like an angel (in the face of all medical odds.) and blessing the endless, boring, back and forth fuckery then fed into into the endless, boring, back and forth fuckery, causing Matthew to wail that he and Mary were cursed and could never ever ever be together.

You’re not cursed. You’re just idiots. Go and lock yourself in a shed somewhere and fuck. Please. Nobody can take it anymore.

It’s so stupid. I love it. I love that annoying Fisher-Price revolutionary of a chauffeur, and his habit of barfing up chunks of A-Level History over Sibyl every time she goes down to see him.

“I love you – did you hear Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, has been assassinated?”

“Come away with me. They stormed the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg – I think there might be a revolution.”

“Kiss me, I’m Irish – and I lost relatives in the Easter Rising of 1916.”

God, it’s so terrible. I want the new chauffeur to be James Joyce – doing a spot of freelancing while he polishes up his next draft. He could make lewd suggestions to Lady Edith and send her screaming from the garage.

“Edith, he wanted you to do what on a glass topped coffee table?”

Downton Soufflé

I didn’t like GosfordPark. I thought it was soggy and far too pleased with itself. Similarly I’ve never cared much for Julian Fellowes. He looks like the result of right wing attempts to clone Stephen Fry, so that people on the other end of the political spectrum can have a frighteningly erudite celebrity of their very own, one who can present highbrow quiz shows and be relied upon not to spout leftie claptrap at dinner parties.

Unfortunately something went wrong with the cloning process and it’s not only the famous Fry nose they’ve missed by a mile – Fellowes is just not that talented.

So naturally I didn’t fancy Downton Abbey. Everyone told me that the costumes were gorgeous, the sets were stunning and everything was oh so beautiful, but I really struggled to care. I’ve never been that interested in the lives of the rich. For a start I’m not entirely sure what they do all day.

It’s partly because there’s not a lot to do all day that I wandered back to Netflix – there’s only so much writing I can do per day before my brain starts making brrr brr brr noises and everything I write after that is more or less gibberish. The ironing pile may be getting taller but there’s no rush, and as for cooking, forget it – I’m still recovering from Christmas Dinner and the three days of relentless preparation it took to get everything right on the night. Despite having things to do I’m still deep in that irresistable soupy meh-time between Christmas and New Year, before we all feel like we should take up some form of self-improvement – work harder, eat salad, lift weights. I know it’s coming, so let me sink in the soup awhile, at least until the first of January. Soupy-inbetween times seemed as good a time as any to lose my Downton Abbey virginity, so that’s exactly what I did.

Downton starts with glorious, anvil-like subtlety. The Titanic sinks and all the servants scurry about downstairs like mice in a grandfather clock saying things like “I thought it was supposed to be unsinkable!” and “Oh, how sad!” before the craggy butler scowls and tells them to piss off and iron his Lordship’s newspapers. No, really. That happens. They iron the newspapers so that his Lordship doesn’t get the print on his hands.

The French really had the right idea about these people, didn’t they?

Then Lady Mary gets out of bed in nothing but a transparent nightdress with the light behind her and I see in startlingly erotic detail why Lady Mary is the author’s special precious darling. Blimey.

A bell rings downstairs and the mice start peeping like the ones on Bagpuss and there is a lingering shot of a dish of rice and eggs which the cook helpfully tells us is kedgeree, because it’s a historical detail and this is a historical series and oh look at the history everyone.

Turns out the Earl’s cousin and his son bought it on the Titanic (More history). Whoops. The Earl mentions those ‘poor devils in steerage’ and how they’ve ‘gone to a better life’, except they haven’t really. If there isn’t a lovely afterlife awaiting them then the odds are that they drowned, alone and afraid in the black, icy waters of the North Atlantic, after wasting their single shot at life wiping the bums of pointless people who apparently need their newspapers ironed.

More tea, your Lordship?

The Earl goes upstairs to break the dreadful news to his wonky voiced transatlantic Countess, who is gravely concerned about breaking the news to Mary. As it is, she needn’t have worried. Lady Mary is miffed that she’s going to have to go into mourning and slightly relieved that she’s not going to have to marry her second cousin in order to tie up the estate. Okay, I’m with her on that bit. Ew.

Mary feels vaguely guilty that she doesn’t feel sadder about the dead cousin/fiance but that doesn’t stop her pointing out that even if she didn’t care for him then her plain sister Edith would probably have snapped him up. Mary doesn’t seem a very nice person, even though the author apparently loves her and she looks great in a see-through nightie. Is her second name Susan, by any chance?

Basically, the half-baked central conflict of Downton is that the sinking of the Titanic has dumped Lord Hugh Bonneville in the middle of a very bad heir day. He has none. All he’s got are the sisters Lear upstairs and due to some very boring inheritance law they can’t inherit, even though Maggie Smith turns up to outclass every other actor in the thing and scheme half-heartedly to make Mary the heiress of Downton.

Then a gay Duke turns up to demonstrate that most homosexuals were closet cases back in 1912, because you could go to prison for it – another magical history lesson from Julian Fellowes. Also the gay Duke might marry Mary, so the Countess and Dowager paint Mary’s tits with neon-signs and hurl her in his general direction.

Turns out that the Duke is awful – just awful. He’s such a lump that the butler comments that “His Grace turned out to be quite graceless,” and everyone laughed and laughed and laughed at this clever play on words. Well, Lord Fellowes probably did, but I think it’s one of those things only he gets, like the enduring allure of his personality disordered heroine.

Appalled by the Duke, the Earl decides to give that plan a miss and says he will carry on with his previous plan, passing the heirship over to a third cousin who is (gasp!) the son of a doctor. It’s practically trade.

Mary has a little mope when she realises she’s not going to be a Duchess. Edith says he’s slipped the hook and Mary says at least she wasn’t fishing without bait, which is presumably a reference to Edith’s not-that-gorgeous face and figure. No, seriously – why am I supposed to like this girl? Currently she’s coming across as a right little see-you-next-Tuesday.

Gay Duke goes gaily upstairs to frolic with Thomas the dead-eyed footman, only Thomas the dead-eyed footman is in a blackmailing mood. Ooh, excitement! Except we can’t have too much excitement because it’s bad for us, so the Duke snatches the written proof of their scandalous Wildean fuckytimes from Thomas’ drawers and promptly lobs them on the fire, putting paid to that almost-interesting plot strand. It’s about this time that I understand why Downton is addictive – because there are few things funnier than watching a plot soufflé deflate in full view of the audience.

Initially I resisted watching Downton because the class structure in that particular era and setting is enough to turn my stomach. I didn’t think I could handle watching the downstairs crew run around waiting on every whim of the dickheads upstairs, which was pretty much the plot of GosfordPark. And someone died. I think?

Anyway, there was a moment in Downton where Daisy the scullery maid almost accidently poisons the whole horrid lot of them, but is saved by deus ex machina in the shape of a second footman. At this point the sad fffffffffffffffffffffst of the plot soufflé deflating can be heard in Japan.

Now, Daisy’s alright, but that’s plainly her job. Daisy’s job is to skip around being the adorable, perky dishmonkey who says the things the viewers are thinking, just like housemaid Anna’s job is to be the compassionate one and dead-eyed Thomas’s job is to be dead-eyed and scheming and secretly gay. They’re not exactly well-drawn characters, so that kind of puts paid to creating much sympathy for them.

What I didn’t count on was the downstairs crew being as much a pack of charmless dickholes as the poshos upstairs. I’ve heard enough to guess that the new valet Bates is probably a nasty piece of work, but they don’t know that – they’ve just met him. To them he’s just a new valet with a bum knee, who turns out to have been batman to his Lordship in the Boer War. So he’s a veteran and you’d think they’d treat him with some decency because of that, but no, because everyone at Downton is a prick.

Instead they stir the shit at every opportunity and kick the stick out from under him, causing him to faceplant on the gravel in front of his Lordship and the Duke. They go to every length humanly possible to get the poor bastard fired and do, presumably knowing it will be damn near impossible for him to get a job elsewhere.

There must be something in the water in Downton, some mineral rich stream of horrible that runs under the house, poisoning everyone inside – except for Daisy, but let’s face it, she’s probably not allowed to drink from the taps. If she tries she gets a stern ‘No!’ and a bop on the nose from a rolled-up (unironed) newspaper and therefore remains quite nice.

I want to watch these worthless fuckers suffer. Fortunately history says that the early twentieth century will visit untold miseries on their awful heads – war, pestilence and death. Famine, of course, has already shown up and is gravely afflicting the ladies in the house, whose tiny twenty first century figures look frighteningly emaciated in 1912 fashions.

I absolutely get it now. It’s like Dynasty or Footballer’s Wives – reprehensible people in plush settings and expensive costumes, overacting and administering cunty remarks and occasional slaps. I don’t know why I didn’t figure it out sooner, because this kind of crap is like crack to me. I’m slow on the uptake these days – I must be the last person on earth to get the joke. Well, me and Julian Fellowes.