Tagged with "Writing"
Magical Objects Tags: Apotropaia talismans superstition writing research Foreign Encounters Writers Abroad anthology The Idalo Man Northampton Museum Hidden Shoes I



During a visit to Yorkshire Sculpture Park last year a print by illustrator, Alice Pattullo, caught my eye. The poster was entitled, 'Apotropaic Devices For the Home.' I wasn't sure what apotropaic meant, but the mirror-image china dogs triggered a childhood memory of dutiful visits with my mother to an elderly neighbour who had the same ornaments on her mantelpiece. We had few decorative objects in our farmhouse apart from photos of prize-winning sheep or horses displayed on a sideboard. Our main source of heat was a Rayburn (similar to an Aga) so we didn't even have a mantelpiece to put china dogs on but still, I coveted them. After googling the word I learned that apotropaic meant designed to avert evil, and discovered that china, or Staffordshire dogs were not merely ornamental, they also guarded against malign forces entering through the fireplace.



Even though we never had china dogs, my mum was quite superstitious; always buying J-cloths or scrubbing brushes to appease Gypsies who called at our house to prevent them from casting spells upon us, always turning a horseshoe right side up so the good luck didn't fall out and always closing umbrellas before entering the house. Naturally, I inherited some of these behaviours. As I sit here typing, I can see at least three protective talismans in my home. The Indalo man (dating from the Paleolithic period), which was a lovely gift from fellow WA member, Chris Nedahl; a nazar (stylized glass eye) which I bought in Istanbul; and a Mexican day of the dead skull which I bought in Leiden's Museum of Ethnography.

Story Inspiration

Since leaving the depths of the countryside and living amongst the more rational Dutch I have become less superstitious but for our second WA anthology, Foreign Encounters, I wrote a story, Blow Me a Kiss, about a curious object which fascinated me. Displayed in the tiny but entrancing Butcher Row House Museum, in Ledbury, Herefordshire, was a child's shoe which had been found bricked up in the chimney of a local cottage. The museum attendant told me it was common practice to place shoes in portals of the home, i.e. chimneys or above windows or door lintels. The shoes were meant to ward off malicious forces, luring evil entities to attack the shoe rather than the wearer. A child's shoe might also promote fertility according to local beliefs so my initial impression that a child had died in the house was unfounded. The Ledbury shoe had merely been outgrown and granted a second life protecting the home's inhabitants.


An Archive of Hidden Shoes

The custom was so widespread in the UK that in the 1950s a Hidden Shoe Index was set up by former curator June Swann, at Northampton Museum. The index lists just under 3,000 shoes found in properties from the Shetland Islands to the Isles of Scilly, with the greatest number being from the south-east of England. The museum also holds 250 found shoes, the oldest dating to the 1540s from St John's College, Oxford (pictured above). The practice was taken by immigrants to the New World where it continued into the 1920s and 1930s. The current curator still receives two or three messages per month about found shoes from as far afield as the US, Canada and Australia. The museum index has recently been digitized and should you want to research further there is also a user-generated, online catalogue of hidden shoes with their locations on Historypin.


Are Writers More Superstitious?

So in an age where science and technology rule our lives what makes some of us still superstitious? Are writers and creative folk generally more superstitious than others? Does a writer's need to attribute meaning to events or objects when creating a story make us more susceptible to magical beliefs? Do you (consciously) have apotropaic devices in your home, perhaps you are even wearing one? Would these objects be a good way of describing a character who owned them? Or perhaps even the catalyst for a short story like the shoe I saw in Ledbury. I'd love to hear your thoughts.


With thanks to Alyson who reawakened my interest in hidden shoes by sharing this BBC article. Images courtesy of Alice Pattullo and Dr Ceri Houlbrook

This Week on Writers Abroad 29th January
Category: Site News
Tags: Writers Abroad writing ex-pat writers

January is almost over, thank goodness. Here in SW France it's been one of the gloomiest I can remember in 20 years. At least the evenings are starting to draw out and I've had plenty of time for writing.

Yesterday’s Formal Chat was somewhat sparsely attended, and I am one of the culprits with a last-minute commitment. Lesley will be posting up the minutes soon, so take a moment to read them and to look through the Skype chat if you have time.

Bruce’s blog post bemoans the need to shovel snow, since he lives in Sweden where it’s abundant, but it has provided him with some inspiration for snow poems.

Nicola has posted this week’s Monday Muses, a great selection to choose from with something for everyone, including – quelle surprise! – a horse picture. The usual drill: 500 words-ish or a poem in 20 minutes or so. Just let it flow.

The Bragging Stool is, as ever, groaning beneath the combined weight (no offence intended!) of Bruce and Debbie, who both appear in the latest issue of ArtAscent (Portraits), Chris and Sue whose flash pieces were accepted by Ad Hoc last week (how many weeks is that, Sue?) and Angela, who has had a flash fiction piece accepted by Cake Magazine.

STOP PRESS: Ad Hoccer par excellence Sue's interview with Ad Hoc is now up on the Bath Flash Fiction Award website. You can read it here

The February Challenges and Opportunities will be posted up this week and there is still Jill’s piece for the Swanwick Comp in the January forum. I’m sure she would appreciate additional comments.

In addition, there are various pieces posted in the Works in Progress forum, including Bruce’s ongoing ‘Medium Rare’ novella, so critiquing comments would, I’m sure, be welcome.

That’s all this week. If I’ve missed anything or got anything wrong please let me know.

Have a creative week. I’m off to get on with novel no. 3.


Jazz up your Writing Tags: writing words

Jazz up your Writing

Finished writing something and think you’re happy with it?  But then you come back the next day to edit and polish you find it’s a bit flat? This certainly happens to me. The sparkling prose that I thought I’d captured has escaped and left something dull and ordinary. How do you make your story cutting edge, so stands out from the slush pile?

            One method you can try is word substitutions. Check through your text and change mundane words for something unusual. One example I’ve seen recently is a story where the heroine ‘marinates in self-pity’. This makes the sentence more interesting than having her wallow in self-pity, which is a bit of a cliché anyway.

            “Marinate’ and other cooking terminology can ‘spice’ up stories. Words like chopping (someone can chop into your thoughts, chop through conversations), slicing (wind can slice, words can slice, sadness can slice), blending, and glazing all come in handy. Or what about scallop, garnish, baste?

            Take another trade and think of some of the terminology that goes with it. The building trade maybe: chiselling, plastering, scaffolding, grinding or hewing. Or hairdressing: feathering, styling, and layering. Or dancing: foxtrot, waltz, samba, or tango. Using any of these terms in a different way will add interest to your writing.

            Another vogue at the moment is to add an ending to words such as ‘rage’ as in deskrage or roadrage, or ‘ista’ as in barista, or ‘erati’ such as glitterati. Invent your own words for something your audience will understand.

            Combining two that are familiar to readers — such as eyecandy or mallrat — adds humour. Outside at the moment I can see children having a snowball fight. They are covered in snow and look like snowgnomes. Companies do this combination thing when they create names such as Wikipedia (wiki + encyclopaedia) and instagram (instant + telegram). No reason a writer shouldn’t as long as it’s not too far removed from the original and is recognisable to readers.

            Sometimes changing a noun to a verb will work. To blade for example from rollerblade or to waterfall – tears waterfalled down her cheeks, perhaps?

            Of course the spell checker won’t like any of this and wriggly red lines will appear throughout your text, but used sparingly some of these ideas might give your writing a bit more bite and hopefully find favour with an editor.

            Have you any favourite unusual words or phrases that you use to jazz up your writing? Any tips that will chisel you out from the crowd?




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