Picturing women

I’ve just been writing a piece about one of the characters in my Elsa Simonetti Disneyland Paris novella, “Mistletoe and the Mouse”. The character is a lady in her early sixties. She’s tall, grey, stern and forbidding. Think of Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca and you won’t go far wrong. She was a fascinating character to write, she sprang to life without much input from me at all. However, my problems started when I tried to find some pictures from Pixabay to illustrate her story.

I found that searching for an image of someone like Mrs. Buchan was … difficult. It says a lot about how we picture women over the age of, say, thirty. This is what I found.

Search 1: “Woman”

Inevitably, a very general search returns thousands and thousands of picures of women. However, most of them are also tagged “girl” and they all seem to look like this:

Image by Rondell Melling from Pixabay 

This one had the tags “woman pretty girl hair” which says it all, doesn’t it? Most “women” are well under the age of thirty, it seems.

This wouldn’t do for Mrs. Buchan. I got more specific.

Search 2: “Old woman”

I thought I’d try and remove the “girls” from my search. So I tried “Old Woman” next. Pixabay tells me that old women are either figures of fun:

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Or else they’re ancient and tragic:

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay 

And they’re inevitably in their eighties at the least. Mrs. Buchan is none of these. I’ll be honest, there were the odd pictures of ordinary women who hadn’t quite reached the age of eighty amongst the “old woman” category, but they tended to be smiling and happy which isn’t the picture I wanted to paint of Mrs. Buchan.

Search 3: “Middle-aged woman”

I should have known better! Mrs. Buchan is too young for “old woman”, so I tried “middle aged”. It’s obviously not an American term, because this is what I overwhelmingly found:

Image by press 👍 and ⭐ from Pixabay 

Yes, it’s a woman from the “Middle Ages.”

Search 4: “Older woman”

Okay, so she’s not “old” and she’s not from the Middle Ages. What term might an American use to describe a woman who isn’t in her twenties, but isn’t in her eighties either? How about “older woman”? Well, there was one page of results. Two of them were women who were older than thirty but younger than eighty. I rather liked this image:

Image by kalhh from Pixabay 

She’s serious-looking, and between the ages of thirty and eighty, but sadly she’s way too glamorous to represent my character. But at least I found one image that wasn’t entirely unacceptable to me as a representation of an older woman. There was also one smiling woman with a dog who might have been in a similar age group, but my character doesn’t have a dog.

Search 5: “Mother and son”

However, the woman-and-dog image gave me another idea. Perhaps I’m barking up the wrong tree … Perhaps rather than a single image of a woman, I should be trying to picture my character in her role as a mother and picture her with her adult son. Well, I think you know how that search ended.

Image by Victoria Al-Taie from Pixabay

Search 6: “Grey woman”

Now I tried thinking laterally. I started by searching for adjectives that described my character. “Stern” provided many pictures of ships, “Forbidding” of roadsigns. I tried something less specific – grey. I describe her clothes, her hair and her house as grey at various points, so what about “grey woman”? That might provide something that provided the right kind of mood and atmosphere, even if the woman is too young. Perhaps if I could find a “grey woman” with her back to the camera, or in silhouette, that might do?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Well, it’s a great image, but it doesn’t sum up my character. It did nicely sum up how I felt about the search by this point.

Search 7: Doors

So, this is where I gave up. I realised that I wasn’t going to find a suitable picture easily and I didnt have time to spend hours on a blog post that I should have finished last week. So, I decided that as Mrs. Buchan greets James and Belle for the first time at her front door, that I’d look for images of doors instead. And so, Mrs. Buchan came to be represented by this image:

Image by Momentmal from Pixabay

Apparently it’s the best you can hope for if you’re a female aged between thirty and eighty.

Introducing Elsa Simonetti.

I know, this is Disney World, not Disneyland Paris. But it’s my favourite Disney picture!

I’ve been quiet for a while, largely due to the uncertainties of lockdown, and the problems of having a house full of teenagers most of the time! Now they are back to school and college I’m working hard again.

I’ve got a new Disneyland Paris-set novella entitled Mistletoe and the Mouse coming out soon (date t.b.c. – Coronovirus has held up publication) and a new persona! My pen name is “Elsa Simonetti”, as I wanted to keep these new, shorter and sweeter romances distinct from my other novels. “Simonetti” was my grandmother’s maiden name – I think it’s so pretty – and I chose Elsa as it’s another possible variant of Elizabeth.

Here is a sneak preview of “Mistletoe and the Mouse”:

Can a magical Christmas melt a frozen heart?

Join Belle and James as they visit Mickey Mouse for a sparkling holiday season at Disneyland Paris.

Belle has been numb since her mother died, and she can’t face Christmas at home without her. Instead she books a surprise holiday to her “happy place” – the Magic Kingdom. But her boyfriend James has problems of his own. He doesn’t “do Disney” and what will his mother think of him missing their family Christmas to go to Disneyland with Belle?

A festive romance with a sprinkling of pixie dust.

This IS Paris.

Coronavirus

I hadn’t anticipated a global pandemic. Who did?

Well, actually, I keep reminding myself that at the end of last summer, in a moment of idleness, probably lazing in a deckchair with a glass of Pimms or something like that, I said to my husband, “It’s been such a beautiful summer. This must have been what that last hot summer before the First World War felt like.” However, I didn’t add “I hope that we’re not heading for a major catastrophe like a global pandemic virus”, shortly afterwards, so I didn’t actually predict it – you can’t blame me for Coronavirus. Not this time, anyway.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

This week has been busy, and when I haven’t been “doomsurfing” (it’s a great term, but a horrible thing to find yourself doing, and I’ve been doing it far too much) I’ve been running around trying to work out what to do if X happens or when Y occurs. So I haven’t got anything interesting and uplifting to share, only a growing sense of dread. In particular, the dread of two teenage children cooped up at home for weeks and having to make them do schoolwork!

But on a positive note, our local councillor is collecting books to distribute to the self-isolating. I’ve included one of mine. It also features the end of a long, hot summer, and a subsequent disaster, followed closely by a happy ending. I wonder where it will end up?

Knowing my luck, probably back with me when I have to start self-isolating myself!

Make do and mend …

This post was inspired by Katey Lovell’s novel “Make do and mend a broken heart” which you can find here.

My heart isn’t broken but I am, like the heroine of Katey’s novel, redecorating. Leanne has the whole house to renovate, thankfully my husband and I have only got two rooms to tackle. We’re moving the books and my desk downstairs into the front room so that the bedroom which currently serves as my (very cluttered) study can become a proper spare bedroom again.

My study before renovations begin. A mess, as usual.

I began to consider what I could do to make my renovations more sustainable (and less expensive) and I’m starting with the bay window. It’s always been a bit cold and draughty, so I thought maybe new thermal curtains would help. Then I looked again at the old ones. Other than being a bit faded in the centre, there’s nothing wrong with them – they were expensive and I love the pattern. So I took them down, cut off the most faded parts and turned them round so that the faded parts were no longer in the middle but at the edges and therefore not so visible. I also lengthened them so that they reach right to the bottom of the window (OK, my initial measurements ten years ago were a bit off …) and cover the frame completely at the top. I did this using my nearly-one-hundred year old Singer sewing machine, which I love. I’ll admit, I ordered some new thermal linings for them, but that’s still cheaper and less wasteful than buying entirely new curtains. Or a new sewing machine!

I love my sewing machine. It’s beautiful and it smells good too.

Then I cleaned them. I decided against sending them to the dry cleaners and simply hung them over the washing line for a bit and beat them with the old fashioned carpet beater to remove the dust. I don’t know whether it helped, but I enjoyed the whole beating process!

I also love my carpet beater. Like the sewing machine, it’s quite beautiful in its own right.

So that’s part one complete. Curtains are better than ever, and I even found some of the left over fabric with which I can cover the noticeboard when I move that downstairs. Result!

I just hope that the renovation of my two rooms is as successful and as thrifty as Leanne’s. (I don’t think that’s too much of a spoiler!)

Planning a new novel

I’m rather pleased with my latest planning tool. I tried the whole “post it notes on noticeboard” planning technique, but the post it notes kept falling off and then I didn’t know what should happen next because all my scenes were scattered on the floor. I tried writing in little notebooks, but you can’t move the events if you change your mind about what order they should happen in. That occurs quite a lot when I plan something.

My little book of cards.

Then my daughter came home from school with a bunch of tiny revision cards held together on a book ring, and I knew I had found my perfect planning tool. I couldn’t find one in the local WH Smith’s, and my daughter actually wanted to use hers for revising, so I made one of my own. This had the additional benefit of having pages made out of fancy paper as well as plain paper which pleased me immensely.

Plotting

I can then take the book apart and write a plot point on each card (please note, this is not actually my next novel!) Then I spread them out in order all over the table, so I can see at a glance how the plot is going to work.

After that, I clip them back into the book ring, so I can work from a small notebook when I can’t spread all the cards out all over the desk. It even fits into my handbag, unlike my big planning notebooks. Oh, and I put my name on it in sparkly pink stickers (not my usual choice, admittedly …)

But the good thing is that the order isn’t set in stone, and so if I change my mind, or want to add another incident to the plot (or remove one) or simply change the order, then I unclip all the cards, re-organise the plot and put them back together again.

Re-organised cards.

I’m thinking of taking commissions, if anyone’s planning a novel?