Written By: Jan Jacob Mekes - May• 05•14

Update your bookmarks, everyone! From now on, my official website will be… http://www.mekesbooks.com/

I’ll leave this site in place as a legacy to the past, but if you really want to be a part of the in-crowd, get your butt over to http://www.mekesbooks.com/ right now! :)

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Mothered available for pre-order!

Written By: Jan Jacob Mekes - May• 01•14

Finally, the day has come where Mothered is uploaded and ready to be read… well, not quite yet read, because the release date is July 1. See this as a soft release. That book isn’t the only thing that’s about to be released though, since I’m working on a brand new website. There’s just some behind-the-scenes problems at the moment getting it to work, but hopefully those will soon be resolved.

Meanwhile, please pre-order Mothered from:

…and keep your eyes peeled for news on the new site!

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RW/FF: 2K14

Written By: Jan Jacob Mekes - Jan• 06•14

For the first part of this post, I was going to look back at a similar blog post right on this site, where I look ahead at 2013… only to realize I didn’t have one. Doesn’t really matter anyway. First of all, the reason I’m a bit late (almost a week into the new year) with this, is that I’ve had a nasty cold, which has kept me from doing anything other than playing games on my new PC (yay!) and some obligatory freelance work. With my sinuses finally nearly cleared now though, I think it’s time to take a good, hard, and above all, honest look at the upcoming year. What do I want from it?

  • Mothered needs to be released, and the sooner, the better. I didn’t have any major book releases last year, apart from two short story collections. For a number of reasons, Mothered was delayed way more than I’d hoped, so that needs to get onto shelves ASAP.
  • Speaking of short story collections, there won’t be a Bouffon Stories 2013, because I’m going to do them differently. I’ll take down the ones I currently have for sale (they’re not doing amazingly well anyway), and then I’m going to just publish some collections with stories grouped by genre. That worked surprisingly well with Chief Inspector Jewel Friedman, which is by far my best-selling book (no, I’m not getting rich at all, not yet anyway), so it should help give my short story sales a boost. The Bouffon Stories format was an interesting idea, but it just doesn’t work.
  • Jewel Friedman. I haven’t forgotten about her, I just love that detective, and so do others (she’s like Marmite though, people either love or hate her and her stories). Not sure if I can work on anything for her this year other than 1 or 2 short stories, but we’ll see. Maybe 2015 will be her year.
  • Something that’s definitely going to happen is me finishing the sequel to Struglend Tales. Totally. I’ve got the plot worked out, I’ve written quite a bit already (well over 10K words), and I’m confident I can get that first draft finished this year. When it’ll be published I don’t know, but at least I can relax a bit with the thought that Mothered will come out this year, so that ‘s at least one big launch coming up in 2014.
  • Other than that, I should really spend some more time working on short stories. I’ve got a small backlog of things going on, among which one steampunk story I’m writing for someone, and a Jewel Friedman mystery that I’ve got plotted out and need to write. 2013 was a terrible year when it comes to short story production, and I need to improve there.
  • Finally, one other side project was me participating in the poem a day challenge at Writer’s Digest, which I should turn into a manuscript for a chapbook this month. Not entirely sure yet if I can muster up the confidence for that… poetry can be scary. Maybe I will just stick to prose for now.

So, that’s it for my year. Do wish me luck, and hold me accountable for my promises!

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Choicest Cuts: Bleak House (Part Three)

Written By: Jan Jacob Mekes - Dec• 22•13

Sorry about not posting last week – my internet was down because some diggers (treasure hunters?) with machinery decided it would be fun to hit a cable. I’m completely back now though, or at least until I get my new PC some time next week, which will mean another short period of absence from the interwebz. Right now though, here’s my final selection of quotations from Bleak House.

A Beautiful Day

The birds sang delightfully; the sparkles in the fern, the grass, and trees, were exquisite to see; the richness of the woods seemed to have increased twenty-fold since yesterday, as if, in the still night when they had looked so massively hushed in sleep, Nature, through all the minute details of every wonderful leaf, had been more wakeful than usual for the glory of that day.

Ah, can’t you just picture it now? What I like about this quote is that Dickens describes Nature (with a capital N) as sleeping and waking, as if to serve the furtherance of the glory this day holds for the human Thespians walking the stage of life.

Horror Without Horror

Sure, you can approach a scary story as if it were the screenplay of a B movie from the early 20th century, with lots of monsters, zombies, vampires, and what not… and it could work really, really well. But it’s not necessary. Poe is one of the authors who brilliantly demonstrates this, creating an atmosphere of horror without a variety of grotesque monsters and buckets of blood. There’s some of that in his works, yes, but most of it plays on our own psychology, and how we perceive the world around us and are sometimes scared by it. This is one of the only instances in Bleak House where Dickens does that, and he does it masterfully:

Now the moon is high; and the great house, needing habitation more than ever, is like a body without life. Now it is even awful, stealing through it, to think of the live people who have slept in the solitary bedrooms, to say nothing of the dead. Now is the time for shadow, when every corner is a cavern and every downward step a pit, when the stained glass is reflected in pale and faded hues upon the floors, when anything and everything can be made of the heavy staircase beams excepting their own proper shapes, when the armour has dull lights upon it not easily to be distinguished from stealthy movement, and when barred helmets are frightfully suggestive of heads inside. But of all the shadows in Chesney Wold, the shadow in the long drawing-room upon my Lady’s picture is the first to come, the last to be disturbed. At this hour and by this light it changes into threatening hands raised up and menacing the handsome face with every breath that stirs.

Gives me the shivers.

Nailing Your Accents

This is yet another example of Dickens striking the voice of a character just perfectly, without sacrificing readability:

A languid cousin with a moustache in a state of extreme debility now observes from his couch that man told him ya’as’dy that Tulkinghorn had gone down t’ that iron place t’ give legal ‘pinion ’bout something, and that contest being over t’ day, ‘twould be highly jawlly thing if Tulkinghorn should ‘pear with news that Coodle man was floored.

How do you achieve that? Well, I’d suggest watching lots of films or TV series, listen to how people in real life talk, and… when you’re done writing, read it yourself. Better yet, read it aloud to yourself. That way, you can check if it’s not just a clever reproduction of inflections and vocal mannerisms, but readable to boot.

Narrators Can Be Unreliable

It doesn’t have to be anything as drastic and dramatic as Humbert Humbert in Lolita, but narrator characters aren’t perfect… if only because they’re human. They might forget things. That’s one of the things that weirded me out in Bleak House a bit, the fact that Esther seems to remember everything so well. However, there’s an exception to that:

I had not once looked up. I had not seen the visitor and had not even appeared to myself to hear the conversation. It surprises me to find that I can recall it, for it seemed to make no impression on me as it passed. I heard them speaking, but my mind was so confused and my instinctive avoidance of this gentleman made his presence so distressing to me that I thought I understood nothing, through the rushing in my head and the beating of my heart.

Here, Dickens reminds us that Esther is human after all. Of course, she then proceeds to recall the entire conversation in great detail anyway… My point being, if you’re using one of your characters as a narrator, make them realistic, although not to the point of frustrating the reader by withholding important information (except when that’s part of how your plot’s constructed).

Poetic Prose

Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, right reverends and wrong reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us every day.

That last sentence there might just be the most beautiful, or at the very least the most memorable, of the entire book. I’m not even going to comment on it any further, because good wine needs no bush.

Stared into Stone

It is a dull street under the best conditions, where the two long rows of houses stare at each other with that severity that half-a-dozen of its greatest mansions seem to have been slowly stared into stone rather than originally built in that material.

Okay, this metaphor is so brilliant that it’s making me giddy. It reminds me that personification can be a beautiful thing, and that I should probably use it more often in my own writing. That is, if I can hope to come up with something even half as brilliant as this example.

The Verge of Change

Railroads shall soon traverse all this country, and with a rattle and a glare the engine and train shall shoot like a meteor over the wide night-landscape, turning the moon paler; but as yet such things are non-existent in these parts, though not wholly unexpected. Preparations are afoot, measurements are made, ground is staked out. Bridges are begun, and their not yet united piers desolately look at one another over roads and streams like brick and mortar couples with an obstacle to their union; fragments of embankments are thrown up and left as precipices with torrents of rusty carts and barrows tumbling over them; tripods of tall poles appear on hilltops, where there are rumours of tunnels; everything looks chaotic and abandoned in full hopelessness.

If you can recognize a fissure in time, a break with the past and movement into the future as it happens, and you can describe it properly, as Dickens did here… go for it! Nothing paints a picture of the changing nature of history quite like it. Of course, it helps if you’re writing about something that already happened, so you can both look back on what came before and how things will change afterwards.

Making Sense

Most of us have fives senses. The brilliant thing is you can use them all in writing, because the only limitation is your imagination. Consider:

Upon this wintry night it is so still that listening to the intense silence is like looking at intense darkness.

Not only does Dickens bring two senses to the fore here, he also cross-pollinates, as it were. Describing sound as sight is just one of the tricks writers can pull quite easily, but to great effect.

More Three-dimensionality

People in real life have mannerisms. Literary characters are no different in that respect. Like the inimitable Inspector Bucket here:

A servant came to the door to announce Mr. Bucket, which was quite unnecessary, for Mr. Bucket was already looking in over the servant’s shoulder.

Little jokes like this, a policeman who took the liberty of coming in before being announced, add flavour to the whole universe of your story, and give your characters something extra: a human dimension.

Repeat When Necessary

If you’re like me, you’ll likely cringe when reading the same word used twice in one sentence. It often sticks out like a sore thumb, but sometimes, rather than reaching for that find-and-replace tool, you can actually force an idea into the reader’s mind by using a word quite often in a row. Here:

He comes to a gateway in the brick wall, looks in, and sees a great perplexity of iron lying about in every stage and in a vast variety of shapes—in bars, in wedges, in sheets; in tanks, in boilers, in axles, in wheels, in cogs, in cranks, in rails; twisted and wrenched into eccentric and perverse forms as separate parts of machinery; mountains of it broken up, and rusty in its age; distant furnaces of it glowing and bubbling in its youth; bright fireworks of it showering about under the blows of the steam-hammer; red-hot iron, white-hot iron, cold-black iron; an iron taste, an iron smell, and a Babel of iron sounds.

The many instances of the word “iron” at the end are not at all jarring, and that’s because they’re accompanied not just by solid adjectives, but the whole ending of this sentence is set up by a resounding description of the ironworks, a description that pounds home its words like a hammer striking red hot iron. Play with your words, your descriptions, and match them up with what they’re trying to say.

And… that was actually my final quote. I don’t know when I’ll be doing something like this again; probably when I’m going to read another classic work on my Kindle (so I can easily highlight passages, and I don’t have to worry about copyright), but I don’t know when that’ll be.  I hope you enjoyed reading these first three parts of Choicest Cuts, and if you have a suggestion for a future book I might tackle in this fashion, let me know, please!

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Choicest Cuts: Bleak House (Part Two)

Written By: Jan Jacob Mekes - Dec• 02•13

After the previous episode, it’s time to look at some more quotes from Bleak House and see how you can use them to inspire you in your own writing.

Reminiscing Characters

“A family home,” he ruminates as he marches along, “however small it is, makes a man like me look lonely. But it’s well I never made that evolution of matrimony. I shouldn’t have been fit for it. I am such a vagabond still, even at my present time of life, that I couldn’t hold to the gallery a month together if it was a regular pursuit or if I didn’t camp there, gipsy fashion. Come! I disgrace nobody and cumber nobody; that’s something. I have not done that for many a long year!” So he whistles it off and marches on.

Whether you’re a bachelor by choice, a eunuch for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven or just waiting for that special someone, these feelings are probably familiar to you. Some people are just born to be single their whole life, and while they may have feelings like these, there’s nothing wrong with being single or having these thoughts. In fictional characters, it adds realism, pathos. Give your characters an extra dimension, and don’t be afraid to have them ruminate on some deeper things, even if they’re usually of the happy-go-lucky sort.


This comes in the category of inventing your own words.

Miss Volumnia rising with a look candlestick-wards,

Candlestick-wards. It’s a word that doesn’t exist, yet you instantly know what it means, and you feel it really should have existed long before. Don’t be afraid to play around with words and combining parts of existing words if necessary. Just as long as it’s clear what you mean.

Hilariously Distracted

“Thank your ladyship,” says Mr. Guppy; “quite satisfactory. Now—I—dash it!—The fact is that I put down a head or two here of the order of the points I thought of touching upon, and they’re written short, and I can’t quite make out what they mean. If your ladyship will excuse me taking it to the window half a moment, I—” Mr. Guppy, going to the window, tumbles into a pair of love-birds, to whom he says in his confusion, “I beg your pardon, I am sure.” This does not tend to the greater legibility of his notes. He murmurs, growing warm and red and holding the slip of paper now close to his eyes, now a long way off, “C.S. What’s C.S. for? Oh! C.S.! Oh, I know! Yes, to be sure!” And comes back enlightened.

This is just another way of making your characters feel more real. This Mr Guppy is having quite a hard time making sense of his own notes, a feeling that’s added to by the circumstances surrounding his meeting with her ladyship. Dickens masterfully paints Guppy’s confusion here by not only having him stammer and moving about nervously, but also having him walk into some birds and actually apologizing to them. I’m sure most, if not all of us, have at some point walked into something, even an inanimate object perhaps, and apologized when there was really no need to. It’s what humans do. Human beings can be awfully silly at times, so there’s really no need to exclude every single trace of silliness from our writing, as if the transfer to a page turns people into perfect robotic Hollywood actors.

Pain for Bones

Consider this bit of fantastic writing, as an ill boy describes his own symptoms:

“I’m a-being froze,” returned the boy hoarsely, with his haggard gaze wandering about me, “and then burnt up, and then froze, and then burnt up, ever so many times in a hour. And my head’s all sleepy, and all a-going mad-like—and I’m so dry—and my bones isn’t half so much bones as pain.

The whole first part of this already manages to capture so well the sort of feelings ill people may go through. Fever can do strange things to a body, not to mention to a mind, and that’s all noted here. But the real clincher comes at the end: “my bones isn’t half so much bones as pain.” It’s tragic, really, for the person feeling this, but man, what an interesting way of putting it. People, no matter how sick they are, can still have moments where they’re so lucid that they might say truly brilliant things. Perhaps being ill has their minds more focused. In any case, it’s a really good metaphor.  Do think out of the box when it comes to metaphors, and try to get into your characters’ minds, see what sort of things they would say. If they’re ill, think back to when you were ill, whether you were in a hospital bed before or after surgery, or at home, lying on the couch with a cold.

Embrace Controversy

“Now, is it not a horrible reflection,” said my guardian, to whom I had hastily explained the unavailing efforts of the two women, “is it not a horrible reflection,” walking up and down and rumpling his hair, “that if this wretched creature were a convicted prisoner, his hospital would be wide open to him, and he would be as well taken care of as any sick boy in the kingdom?” “My dear Jarndyce,” returned Mr. Skimpole, “you’ll pardon the simplicity of the question, coming as it does from a creature who is perfectly simple in worldly matters, but why ISN’T he a prisoner then?” My guardian stopped and looked at him with a whimsical mixture of amusement and indignation in his face. “Our young friend is not to be suspected of any delicacy, I should imagine,” said Mr. Skimpole, unabashed and candid. “It seems to me that it would be wiser, as well as in a certain kind of way more respectable, if he showed some misdirected energy that got him into prison. There would be more of an adventurous spirit in it, and consequently more of a certain sort of poetry.”

Oh my… that Mr Skimpole… did he really say that? How shocking!

And you know what’s most shocking about this? Not the fact that he actually said it, but that sometimes, some of us actually think shocking thoughts, and we shock ourselves while we’re at it. Indeed, we try to immediately banish those thoughts from our minds, perhaps even pray for forgiveness, but the truth is, people think and say controversial things all the time. We, as writers, shouldn’t be afraid to show that. We do need to pay attention to how we show it, in what light. If, like me, you believe writers should show what’s morally good (and that in itself is a hugely controversial opinion, I am aware of it), you need to be careful about how to frame these controversial thoughts and sayings. Just don’t avoid controversy altogether, because then you might as well not write at all.

A Hundred O’Clock

(I hope I got the capitalization in this subtitle right, by the by.) …parenthetical asides aside, let’s just look at this hilarious expression:

“Why, I said about ten.” “You said about ten,” Tony repeats. “Yes, so you did say about ten. But according to my count, it’s ten times ten—it’s a hundred o’clock.

Isn’t that just priceless? I’m tempted to use this in real life. “Uh, didn’t we have an appointment at eleven? It’s more like eleventy-one o’clock now!” Okay, so I’m not as funny as Dickens… but then, few people are, I’m sure.

He said, she said

There are people who say you should exclusively use “said” in dialogue tags. Those people are dead wrong, as this fine bit of writing shows:

To which Mr. Weevle returns, “William, I should have thought it would have been a lesson to YOU never to conspire any more as long as you lived.” To which Mr. Guppy says, “Who’s conspiring?” To which Mr. Jobling replies, “Why, YOU are!” To which Mr. Guppy retorts, “No, I am not.” To which Mr. Jobling retorts again, “Yes, you are!” To which Mr. Guppy retorts, “Who says so?” To which Mr. Jobling retorts, “I say so!” To which Mr. Guppy retorts, “Oh, indeed?” To which Mr. Jobling retorts, “Yes, indeed!” And both being now in a heated state, they walk on silently for a while to cool down again.

There’s a lovely rhythm here, and using “says” would just kill it. Sure, don’t overuse words like “exclaimed”, “whispered”, “ejaculated” and what have you, but you don’t have to stick to just one word if you don’t want to. That’d be like a painter painting with just one colour.

Throwing People

Mrs. Smallweed instantly begins to shake her head and pipe up, “Seventy-six pound seven and sevenpence! Seventy-six thousand bags of money! Seventy-six hundred thousand million of parcels of bank-notes!” “Will somebody give me a quart pot?” exclaims her exasperated husband, looking helplessly about him and finding no missile within his reach. “Will somebody obleege me with a spittoon? Will somebody hand me anything hard and bruising to pelt at her? You hag, you cat, you dog, you brimstone barker!” Here Mr. Smallweed, wrought up to the highest pitch by his own eloquence, actually throws Judy at her grandmother in default of anything else, by butting that young virgin at the old lady with such force as he can muster and then dropping into his chair in a heap.

Okay, this needs a bit of context. Just a bit. Mr Smallweed has this thing where, whenever his wife mentions money, he gets all nervous and throws something at her, usually a cushion. That’s at home, though. When in a carriage, like here, without anything suitable to throw, you just reach for the first thing you might use as a missile. Judy, in this case.

It’s a great running joke throughout the book, and there are two lessons for you here. One, include running gags in your books. Two, if you’re writing comedy, nothing’s too bizarre. Not even having old geezers throw young ladies at their wives.


I said it was not the custom in England to confer titles on men distinguished by peaceful services, however good and great, unless occasionally when they consisted of the accumulation of some very large amount of money.

See, writing is not for the faint-hearted. Sometimes you just feel like writing about something in society that frustrates you. Don’t resist that urge, because there are plenty of other people out there thinking the same thing. Sometimes they’re just waiting for, and in need of, a confirmation of their thoughts in writing.

Hopefully you’ve got some good ideas for your own writing. If so, don’t thank me, thanks Mr Dickens. And please join me next time, for the final part of the first instalment of Choicest Cuts.

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Choicest Cuts: Bleak House (Part One)

Written By: Jan Jacob Mekes - Nov• 23•13

Welcome to the first edition of Choicest Cuts, a feature that’s all about the best bits from books I’ve read, with some writing advice sprinkled in. If you were expecting something about actual meat as opposed to literary victuals, I have to disappoint you, because I don’t eat meat. Also, don’t expect this to be a very regular feature at all, just something I’ll do whenever I feel like it (i.e. the next one may be months, years, or decades away, but just revel in the present, okay?). Now, with that out of the way, the first book I’m discussing is Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.

I didn’t love the book, but then I didn’t hate it either. A bit too many things, plots, and characters going on for my tastes, and it does show at times that Dickens was furiously writing against deadlines. But then, this is not a book review, this is about interesting quotes from the book, so let’s just dive right in, shall we?

Pianoforte in Court

Eighteen of Mr. Tangle’s learned friends, each armed with a little summary of eighteen hundred sheets, bob up like eighteen hammers in a pianoforte, make eighteen bows, and drop into their eighteen places of obscurity.

This shows just how creative you can get with metaphors. Barristers with their black and white getups, moving about as if they possess no soul whatsoever… comparing them to a pianoforte just seems so outlandish, but when you think of it, it makes perfect sense.


It can be tough to use abbreviations in one’s writing, but it’s even tougher to invent some of your own and make them understandable. In this particular letter, Dickens succeeds in that very well:

Our clt Mr. Jarndyce being abt to rece into his house, under an Order of the Ct of Chy, a Ward of the Ct in this cause, for whom he wishes to secure an elgble compn, directs us to inform you that he will be glad of your serces in the afsd capacity. We have arrngd for your being forded, carriage free, pr eight o’clock coach from Reading, on Monday morning next, to White Horse Cellar, Piccadilly, London, where one of our clks will be in waiting to convey you to our offe as above. We are, Madam, Your obedt Servts,

There’s a bunch of missing vowels there, but I’m pretty sure you understood it perfectly.


Now, I think there’s nothing wrong with a bit of hankering for the past. Particularly if that past is really a non-existent one. Consider this example:

She had stopped at a shop over which was written KROOK, RAG AND BOTTLE WAREHOUSE. Also, in long thin letters, KROOK, DEALER IN MARINE STORES. In one part of the window was a picture of a red paper mill at which a cart was unloading a quantity of sacks of old rags. In another was the inscription BONES BOUGHT. In another, KITCHEN-STUFF BOUGHT. In another, OLD IRON BOUGHT. In another, WASTE-PAPER BOUGHT. In another, LADIES’ AND GENTLEMEN’S WARDROBES BOUGHT. Everything seemed to be bought and nothing to be sold there. In all parts of the window were quantities of dirty bottles—blacking bottles, medicine bottles, ginger-beer and soda-water bottles, pickle bottles, wine bottles, ink bottles; I am reminded by mentioning the latter that the shop had in several little particulars the air of being in a legal neighbourhood and of being, as it were, a dirty hanger-on and disowned relation of the law. There were a great many ink bottles. There was a little tottering bench of shabby old volumes outside the door, labelled “Law Books, all at 9d.”

I believe that in a time where the real world is more and more moving into the direction of the clinical and sterile aesthetic often seen in science fiction films (with notable exceptions such as the excellent Blade Runner), we appreciate clutter more and more. Who doesn’t love a bunch of miscellaneous bottles with handwritten labels and colourless liquids? Or a collection of sea shells, or old leather-bound volumes, a quill, parchment, tea leaves, and I could go on and on and on… cosy mystery writers in particular, take note!

Visual Communication

“I—certainly—did—NOT,” said Coavinses, whose doggedness in utterly renouncing the idea was of that intense kind that he could only give adequate expression to it by putting a long interval between each word, and accompanying the last with a jerk that might have dislocated his neck.

As a writer, it’s easy to get so hung up on words that we forget people communicate non-verbally as well. And you don’t have to limit yourself to simple hand gestures either, feel free to have some of your characters twitching if you like, even to the point of nearly-dislocated necks.

The Growlery

Don’t be afraid to invent words. And if you do, don’t be afraid to use them like any other word! Have a look at this introduction of the so-called growlery:

“Sit down, my dear,” said Mr. Jarndyce. “This, you must know, is the growlery. When I am out of humour, I come and growl here.”

Dickens not just introduces a new word, he gives a definition right away as well, in a very natural manner. The growlery makes several appearances later on in the book, and since it’s such a well-designed word, it just sticks in your mind, and you know exactly what it is, without any further explanations other than the initial one.

Poetry in Prose

Just because you’re writing prose, doesn’t mean your writing can’t be poetic as well. This is just one of the examples in Bleak House demonstrating that:

I am a School lady, I am a Visiting lady, I am a Reading lady, I am a Distributing lady; I am on the local Linen Box Committee and many general committees; and my canvassing alone is very extensive

Fashion Ideals

and the niece still cherishes her figure, which, however tastes may differ, is unquestionably so far precious that there is mighty little of it.

Very funny, great use of the multiple meanings/uses of the word “precious” here.

Writing in Dialects

Lia London wrote an interesting piece about writing with an accent, in which she advises writers not to take it too far. On the other hand though, if you keep it just within reasonable limits, writing as your characters speak can spice things up rather interestingly, as for instance in this sentence:

“Air you in the maydickle prayfession yourself, sir?” inquires the first.

What’s he saying? Maydickle? What does that… oh, I see… hee hee. See? It’s actually pretty funny. Particularly if you can use words like “maydickle”.

Verbal Diarrhoea

Yes, sorry, I couldn’t describe Mrs Piper’s (by the way, you’ll notice it says “Mrs.” in the quote, that’s because I read an American edition of the book, apparently) way of speaking in any other way. Here:

Why, Mrs. Piper has a good deal to say, chiefly in parentheses and without punctuation, but not much to tell.

We probably all know someone who speaks like that, and if so, we know how incredibly apt the comparison is.


It’s something you may not do all that often, paraphrasing dialogue. Internal monologue? Yeah, sure. But 99 times out of 100, what a character says is between quotation marks. Even if it isn’t, have you ever thought of trying out this device of retelling a character’s words in their own language?

Name, Jo. Nothing else that he knows on. Don’t know that everybody has two names. Never heerd of sich a think. Don’t know that Jo is short for a longer name. Thinks it long enough for HIM. HE don’t find no fault with it. Spell it? No. HE can’t spell it. No father, no mother, no friends. Never been to school.

It works really well here, in this setting of a cross-examination.

Silly Names

Charles Dickens is the King of Silly Names, or at least names that are wildly unrealistic while at the same time saying something about the character itself. He takes it to extreme lengths in this example:

Then there is my Lord Boodle, of considerable reputation with his party, who has known what office is and who tells Sir Leicester Dedlock with much gravity, after dinner, that he really does not see to what the present age is tending. A debate is not what a debate used to be; the House is not what the House used to be; even a Cabinet is not what it formerly was. He perceives with astonishment that supposing the present government to be overthrown, the limited choice of the Crown, in the formation of a new ministry, would lie between Lord Coodle and Sir Thomas Doodle—supposing it to be impossible for the Duke of Foodle to act with Goodle, which may be assumed to be the case in consequence of the breach arising out of that affair with Hoodle. Then, giving the Home Department and the leadership of the House of Commons to Joodle, the Exchequer to Koodle, the Colonies to Loodle, and the Foreign Office to Moodle, what are you to do with Noodle? You can’t offer him the Presidency of the Council; that is reserved for Poodle. You can’t put him in the Woods and Forests; that is hardly good enough for Quoodle. What follows? That the country is shipwrecked, lost, and gone to pieces (as is made manifest to the patriotism of Sir Leicester Dedlock) because you can’t provide for Noodle!

My point? Don’t be afraid to play around a bit. I’m sure Dickens had plenty of fun writing this particular segment, and it shows.

Make Some Noise

Writing music or sounds into your story is probably one of the most challenging things there are. You can always refer to an existing piece of music and hope the reader is familiar with it, like Tolstoy did with The Kreutzer Sonata, but there are more subtle ways to insert [musical] sounds into your story. Consider this:

“And he told me,” he said, playing little chords where I shall put full stops, “The Coavinses had left. Three children. No mother. And that Coavinses’ profession. Being unpopular. The rising Coavinses. Were at a considerable disadvantage.”

It’s such a clever way of using punctuation. Of course, it might not work if you’ve got an omniscient narrator, but in this case, Esther (the character narrating in this particular chapter) has free reign to break the fourth wall and use full stops for tiny bits of piano music. If you have a first-person narrator, be sure to use all the tools they have at their disposal.

More Romanticism

It was delightful weather. The green corn waved so beautifully, the larks sang so joyfully, the hedges were so full of wild flowers, the trees were so thickly out in leaf, the bean-fields, with a light wind blowing over them, filled the air with such a delicious fragrance! Late in the afternoon we came to the market-town where we were to alight from the coach—a dull little town with a church-spire, and a marketplace, and a market-cross, and one intensely sunny street, and a pond with an old horse cooling his legs in it, and a very few men sleepily lying and standing about in narrow little bits of shade. After the rustling of the leaves and the waving of the corn all along the road, it looked as still, as hot, as motionless a little town as England could produce.

Ah, how beautiful. Now, excuse me while I go look at some Kinkade pictures. (Yes, I actually like those, and no, I don’t care if they’re kitsch.)

Keep Out!

On one side of it was the terrible piece of ground in dispute, where Mr. Boythorn maintained a sentry in a smock-frock day and night, whose duty was supposed to be, in cases of aggression, immediately to ring a large bell hung up there for the purpose, to unchain a great bull-dog established in a kennel as his ally, and generally to deal destruction on the enemy. Not content with these precautions, Mr. Boythorn had himself composed and posted there, on painted boards to which his name was attached in large letters, the following solemn warnings: “Beware of the bull-dog. He is most ferocious. Lawrence Boythorn.” “The blunderbus is loaded with slugs. Lawrence Boythorn.” “Man-traps and spring-guns are set here at all times of the day and night. Lawrence Boythorn.” “Take notice. That any person or persons audaciously presuming to trespass on this property will be punished with the utmost severity of private chastisement and prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the law. Lawrence Boythorn.”

Ha! Doesn’t that sound like one of those little visual gags from a Looney Tunes episode, or just about any old cartoon, really (Scrooge McDuck’s Money Bin, seen below, is another example)? Things like this show that comedy is really something universal, and not just limited to our times.

Money Bin

Picture originally found here

How de do?

This is another good example of writing how characters speak.

“Ho! It’s you!” cries the old gentleman. “How de do? How de do?”

Because some people just do not say “How do you do?” No, they say “How de do?” Like a boss.

Pet Names

Now, this has caused my darling child—I didn’t mean to use the expression to you, Esther,” Caddy apologized, her face suffused with blushes, “but I generally call Prince my darling child.” I laughed; and Caddy laughed and blushed, and went on. “This has caused him, Esther—” “Caused whom, my dear?” “Oh, you tiresome thing!” said Caddy, laughing, with her pretty face on fire. “My darling child, if you insist upon it!

It’s not really even the pet name itself (“my darling child”) that’s really original, it’s the use of it in a conversation that seems extremely natural. This is what good friends do, tease each other good-naturedly. A perfect way of showing affection and companionship between two of your own characters.

Elaborate Language

You can easily go overboard trying to stitch too much brocade onto your language, but sometimes it does work well. Imagine if, for the next sentence, Dickens had just written “Mrs Chadband refused to listen.”

Mrs. Chadband composes herself grimly by the fire and warms her knees, finding that sensation favourable to the reception of eloquence.

It just wouldn’t have been the same, now would it?

The Lady is a Piano

Sometimes you just come up with the most outrageous metaphors, and it just cracks you up. If it seems too outrageous, don’t just delete it. Because it might just work, like in this case:

Mrs. Snagsby replies by delivering herself a prey to spasms, not an unresisting prey, but a crying and a tearing one, so that Cook’s Court re-echoes with her shrieks. Finally, becoming cataleptic, she has to be carried up the narrow staircase like a grand piano.

At this point I’m actually wondering if Charles Dickens has some sort of obsession with piano metaphors. Oh well. All this talk of pianos has made me feel like eating popcorn… on a piano. So why don’t we do just that, and I’ll post the remaining quotes along with my comments on a second part? See you then!

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Buy one, get one free!

Written By: Jan Jacob Mekes - Oct• 30•13

There’s a new feature over on Amazon where you can get the Kindle version of a book cheaper if you buy the paperback version, and Struglend Tales is totally participating in it. From now on, if you buy the print version of Struglend Tales, you get the Kindle version for… 50 % off? No. 75 % even, perhaps? Well, no. You’ll get it for 100 % off, which means free, as in beer. Or a bear. If you have already purchased the paperback version of Struglend Tales on Amazon, you can now download your complementary Kindle copy. If you haven’t yet, now’s a great time to do so!

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Have some clean reading

Written By: Jan Jacob Mekes - Oct• 04•13

You may have already noticed the link to the Clean Indie Reads site, over there, somewhere to the right. In case you’re wondering, let me enlighten you: CIR is an excellent initiative by Lia London, who was (understandably) rather tired of having to sift through oodles and oodles of pages of books full of swearing, sex, and graphic violence. Now, maybe that’s your cup of tea, but it’s not everyone’s. I happen to love Earl Gray tea, but imagine that’s the only available flavour of tea… even I might get sick of it. So what Lia did, she made this CIR website, where you can find great books by indie authors that don’t involve things you’d need to hide from your kids. And if that’s not enough to highly recommend the site to you… Struglend Tales is currently featured on there, along with a little interview with yours truly.

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The Cryptozoology Club

Written By: Jan Jacob Mekes - Sep• 01•13

Remember that Groupees story, which was part of the Groupees Community bundle bonus content? Well, I’ve now finished writing it, incorporating all the suggested lines. The result is The Cryptozoology Club, a story about a… cryptozoology club, a bunch of weird people who go hunting for even weirder animals in some far away jungle. It’s a very exclusive club though: you can only download it (in PDF format) if you’ve purchased the Groupees Community bundle. Just log in on the Groupees website and go to the “My profile” section, where the story (along with all the other lovely content from the bundle) will be waiting for you!

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Mothered in sketches

Written By: Jan Jacob Mekes - Aug• 07•13

You’d better believe it: August is Mothered month here at Bouffon Books! Now, before you get excited, it won’t be released this month, but… the little hamsters in their wheels (i.e. Ado and I) have been running faster and faster until they’ve almost spun out of their wheels. To give you an idea: Ado is currently working on the rather wonderful cover; I’ve just seen a colour impression of it, and it looks fabulous. As for myself, I’m using this month to finish up draft 2.5, which should be close to the final version.

Now, as a little teaser, here are three sketches by Ado. Keep in mind that the finished book will be featuring even more gorgeous illustrations!

If you’ve got any questions or comments about Mothered, do ask them in the comments section, or by contacting me.

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