I’m often asked during author talks about my hobbies and interests, on answering I find that the audience are taken with my answer which includes bell ringing. There’s an interest and intrigue which is quite magical, so I thought I’d outline the basics which covers the questions I’m usually asked.
Firstly, a selection of questions which I’ve been frequently asked where the answer is either ‘no’, or ‘no, that doesn’t usually happen.’
Do you fly through the air like the monks on the old Mars bar advert?
Do you wear ear defenders whilst ringing?
Do you have to be a Christian to ring church bells?
Were you a bell ringing family?
You have more than a rope, surely?
Seriously, ear defenders? That’s a funny question because whilst ringing you aren’t actually in the same room as the bells. You stand in the ringing room beneath the bells which are hung in the belfry, the ropes are channelled through the ceiling – we’d certainly need ear defenders if there wasn’t a ceiling/floor between us! Though it means playing … ringing an instrument/bell that you can’t see – now, there’s an issue in itself. Many of the bells I have rung I have never laid eyes on. I’ve climbed into the belfry of several churches where I regularly ring but that’s a mere fraction compared to the number of bells I’ve rung in five years.
We tend to refer to bells as female, due to the vessel shape, so sorry if that offends though some are famously known and named as males – I still find that strange.
OK, the basics. Not all churches have bells, and not all churches with bells have the same number of bells in their belfry. I ring at several churches in my local area so have access to rings of five, six, eight and ten bells. Bell ringers are a dying breed in my area so I travel between churches and ring when needed and necessary so it helps to be flexible and adaptable which serves the community – which is a primary function of ringing. Though Christmas can be a stretch – one year, I travelled between and rang at four different churches in one day to accommodate different church services.
I’ll talk about a six bell tower and you can adjust the patterns accordingly, the principal remains the same. There are two ways of ringing bells: call changing or methods. Call changing relies upon the tower captain giving verbal instructions for changing the sequence of the bells being rung – which changes the sound sequence.
Usually bell one is called the treble – lightest bell in the ring while the heaviest bell is known as the tenor. Most towers refer to them by name until call changing when numbers are used to eliminate confusion.
Each bell has a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Each bell has a place in the round: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
A tower captain tends to shout an instruction which is carried out on the next round.
For example: 1 2 3 4 5 6 rounds
Can become: 1 3 2 4 5 6
The tower captain’s command would have been ‘3 to 1’, so bell 3 has moved from third place to second place – it remains named as bell 3 but its actual place is different. Likewise bell 2 has moved from second place to third place, but is still called bell 2. You only ever switch bells which are neighbours. In order for the bells to shift position bell 3 would need to move quicker and bell 2 would need to ring slower by being lifted a fraction higher allowing a gap for bell 3 to move into and then sound after she’s sounded. All with the use of your rope and pure timing!
A tower captain will continue to move the bells as they wish so the original sequence of
1 2 3 4 5 6
1 3 2 4 5 6
1 3 4 2 5 6
1 3 4 5 2 6
1 3 4 5 6 2
If you follow each line you’ll see bell 2 has moved from second place to the back of the sequence. That’s a fairly simple change, but it shows the principal.
Some sequences are fairly traditional, eg. Queens is odd numbers followed by even numbers. Bells 1 2 3 4 5 6 becomes 1 3 5 2 4 6 if the tower captain gives the calls ‘3 to 1’, ‘5 to 2’ and ‘5 to 3’ to reach the desired Queens (calling down to the front). Or some towers call up which results in the same sequence using ‘2 to 3’, 4 to 5’ and ‘2 to 5’ – I respond to either calling up or down as I visit towers that call different ways. Some ringers only feel comfortable with one call style – I’ve just got used to it by thinking ‘bell ? follows bell ?’ – doesn’t really matter when you bear that in mind.
Tower captains tend to call a sequence which starts in a basic round and ends back in that basic rounds – unless it goes wrong and we start clashing and crashing the bells, they rarely quit part way through. They quit a sequence, on occasion, because the entire community can hear our errors!
Methods are easier to explain – you have to learn a pattern sequence – there’s no calling out and each change occurs on each hand stroke or back stroke (each time you pull the rope basically). You memorise the pattern and hopefully, if everyone has memorised the sequence you can move your bell into the right place and it sounds wonderful. If someone hasn’t done their homework or can’t remember it correctly, it doesn’t work. I’m at the stage of learning methods. I love and hate it at the same time. I can recite my moves out loud prior to attending practice nights but put me a rope in my hands and ask me to move a bell amongst a ring of ten and well, it goes totally wrong as my brain and hands/eyes aren’t connecting. Practise, sheer practise.
For example: the simplest method is 'plain hunt' which on ten bells looks like this:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
2 1 4 3 6 5 8 7 10 9
2 4 1 6 3 8 5 10 7 9
4 2 6 1 8 3 10 5 9 7
4 6 2 8 1 10 3 9 5 7
6 4 8 2 10 1 9 3 7 5
6 8 4 10 2 9 1 7 3 5
8 6 10 4 9 2 7 1 5 3
8 10 6 9 4 7 2 5 1 3
10 8 9 6 7 4 5 2 3 1
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
9 10 7 8 5 6 3 4 1 2
9 7 10 5 8 3 6 1 4 2
7 9 5 10 3 8 1 6 2 4
7 5 9 3 10 1 8 2 6 4
5 7 3 9 1 10 2 8 4 6
5 3 7 1 9 2 10 4 8 6
3 5 1 7 2 9 4 10 6 8
3 1 5 2 7 4 9 6 10 8
1 3 2 5 4 7 6 9 8 10
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Each bell visits each placing and returns to its home position.
Hopefully, next time you hear the church bells ringing you’ll understand the basics of what we’re 'trying' to do. In addition, some of us are trying desperately hard to recall the method and not mimic the monks in the Mars bar advert!
UPDATE: having gone backwards in my ability due to the lengthy absence caused by covid, I finally managed to revise and successfully ring Plain Hunt amongst ten bells on Wednesday, 4th May 2022. Thanks to the other ringers as I can't ring without nine other bodies!
'A Shetland Christmas Carol' has officially left the building! On my final morning of structural edits, I cried three times! Yep, you read that correctly – I made myself cry by reading and amending specific chapters. That has happened with previous books for various reasons. This time I think it was a combination of the details, tiredness and the thought of saying ‘goodbye’ to characters who I’ve lived with, on a daily basis, since April 2019. And, it definitely is goodbye! I’ve had a couple of readers contact me and ask if there’s a Book 5 in the pipeline – the answer is ‘no’. I’m not keeping secret surprises, I’m being honest – no.
On pressing the ‘send’ button forwarding the amended manuscript to my agent and editor, I felt numb. It’s the strangest sensation; I’ve worked for a month to deliver the goods then once it’s been sent you simply sit staring at the screen. Weird author behaviour. Anyway, I soon needed tea, so moved on from the moment.
Almost immediately, my brain threw up three tiny little details that I’d wished I’d included. This is typical of me, it happens every time so I have a notes sheet already waiting for when the copy edits arrive back. On one occasion, I actually thought of a better ending for a book when I woke the next morning so emailed asking for the manuscript to be returned. Seriously, I did. My editor must have thought I’d lost the plot rather than created an improved version. Anyway, I rewrote the ending within a day and away it went for a second time. I should be grateful I only have a notes sheet for Shetland 4.
So now what? Firstly, my brain has to download the information which I’ve been cramming for several months. It’s a bit like the day after an exam, all those little bits, strategies and planning needs to fade which only occurs when you turn your mind to something else. It doesn't fade simply by switching to another book, so I complete tasks enabling the spring clean to occur. I’ve kept myself busy by painting watercolours, long dog walks, reading and completing my bell ringing homework which is a mental challenge in itself. I’ll elaborate on the final activity in another post as readers and other writers have previously shown interest in what we actually do given we don’t have sheet music in front of us whilst ringing. I know from experience that some readers won’t have realised that before; a ringer has to remember the method pattern that is being rung, like dance steps but with bells.
I’ve had Friday, Saturday and Sunday off to clear the little grey cells and tomorrow, bright and early on Monday morning, I’ll be returning to my desk. I have a short story that I wish to capture plus, I have my Camp NaNo to complete before 30th April. My participation in Camp NaNo was affected by Shetland 4’s structural edits arriving, so I haven’t had the creative fun that I usually experience with a NaNo project. I have one final week to grab that opportunity.
And my final task for this weekend, in preparation for tomorrow’s return to work is … I’ve repainted my writing chair. Having written and published ten book using the same little chair I fancied a change. I’ve waved ‘goodbye’ to the duck egg shade of blue and hollered ‘hello’ to a fresh repaint in a delightful pale green. If you’re wondering why I use such a crass, wooden, hard backed chair (let’s face it an old pub chair) and not some luxurious padded, all tilting, all swivelling, with head and arm rests, namely a proper author chair – it is simple. By using my little wooden one, I have to stand up every thirty minutes which is better for my body, spine and eyes; as it gets me away from the screen.
It’s been a while since I’ve given you a little update, so here goes: Firstly, I’ve been quiet in recent week as I’m juggling. Camp NaNo started 1st April of which I was fully prepared for, but my structural edits for Shetland book four landed back on my desk at the end of March meaning the two have overlapped. I’m happy to see Shetland book 4 again, don’t think I’m not, but I didn’t want their delivery in April.
As a result, my previous Camp NaNo plans of indulging my creative muse in compiling a fun draft has gone to pot. I’ve literally managed the basic word count of 1667 each day ensuring that I hit the 50,000 words goal by 30th April. Each afternoon, I’ve then switched projects to Shetland book four for the rest of the day as my deadline is 21st. The constant switching between projects and retaining the plot information does take its toll, as it’s much easy focusing on one project, but needs be. The only solution would have been to abandon Camp NaNo – which is never an option in my world!
The good news is that the end is in sight regarding the structural edits for Shetland book 4, so I’ll be waving those goodbye on Thursday and will be diving into Camp NaNo for the final week!
Secondly, my other news is that my little handwriting project which I started way back in autumn has reached a mile stone: I’ve finished draft one. I’ve put it aside in recent weeks (see above for details) as I need to start the laborious task of typing up the three notebooks that I’ve ended up filling. Actually, the typing isn’t the issue – reading my scribbly handwriting might be! I’ll let you how it went once the deed is completed. There’s definitely pros and cons to handwriting a book – I have more appreciation for the Jane Austen brigade having tried it.
Anyway, that’s a little about what I’m squirrelling away at – I’m counting down the days until Thursday, Though, to be fair I’ll be sorry to see Shetland book 4 returned to my editor as this is the final book in the series and saying goodbye to my lovelies is drawing closer.