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AWARD WINNING AUTHOR

Writing in the Sunshine. Writing in the Shadows.


Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Why you should never look at a writer's browsing history ...

... especially a crime writer.

You never know what you might find. This post originated with a reminder I'd left in the middle of some harmless notes on something to do with World War 2 for the day job. What else I was reading at the time I have no idea - evidence suggests it was a thriller of some kind - but right there in the middle of the page, carefully printed, so I could actually decipher it, was 'tactical pen' and 'survival bracelet.'

So of course, once I'd found it, I really had to Google. The results kept me innocently occupied for at least half an hour. I had no idea that this sort of stuff existed. The tactical pen is, well, a pen, but made of metal and designed so it can be used as a weapon. Now I have to admit that I was tempted by the Smith and Wesson version (other tactical pens are available) simply to be able to say that I owned a Smith and Wesson - and you can apparently get it in pink - but weaponry is really not my thing.

The survival bracelets - and there seem to be multiple versions available - are bracelets constructed of parachute cord with added extras - fishing hooks, a compass, lights, whistle, kit for water purification, medical supplies - my mind began to boggle at the possible weight of the thing - hey I'm female, I have a handbag - I know how much 'stuff 'weighs - but it was when it got to the ones that had duct tape and handcuff keys that my mind really began to boggle. Some of the pens had handcuff keys too.  Now Drew, the hero of What Happens at Christmas has friends who carry handcuff keys as a matter of course, but I was confused as to why you might want them in the 'real' world. And the duct tape seemed to be getting a little dark. I have used it for emergency repairs on the shower hose, but I've never felt the need to carry it about with me.

Who knew about all this kit? It's certainly made my browser history look somewhat threatening, but it already has things in it like 'How long does it take to die of dehydration?' (that was What Happens at Christmas, too) so perhaps not so much.

Of course my writer's lizard brain is storing all this away for future use, but in the everyday world, I don't see it as a part of my life. But it's there on my browser history, should anyone be looking.

But I told you that you shouldn't. It's research, not real life. 

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Locations for atmosphere

I was reading an article in History Today recently about castles - and how they have moved from being terrifying places of battle and repression to romantic tourist attractions driven by the stories - from the likes of Sir Walter Scott - that have been woven around them.

Castles used to be scary places -
though not this one. Castell Coch is a
Victorian folly. But a much earlier building on
the site could have been very different. 

It made me think about the use to which landscapes and buildings can be put in the devious mind of the writer, Churches are places of peace and sanctuary, but they are also large spaces with shadowy corners that can be described in a way that makes them feel scary and sinister.  Woodland can be idyllic - full of birds and bluebells, but after dark ...

What about modern spaces like multi story car parks? Even children's playgrounds, when they are deserted. How often has the image of the deserted roundabout or swing been used to  denote something frightening? Places that are usually full of people, like fairgrounds or shopping centres, can be particularly threatening when empty, simply because of that contrast.

Darkness and absence of people are two particular tools that will manipulate the most innocent building into something threatening.

Light and people do the opposite - think busy cafes, villages with shops and tourist attractions. My favourite location for the romantic comedies that I set on the Riviera is a beautiful villa, bathed in sunshine, with a pool and a garden. And gardens give you scent. Can the smell of jasmine ever be threatening? I suppose it could, if it had unpleasant associations?

Even light itself - candle light can be the epitome of romance or a very chancy means of illumination in a different setting. The weather is also a factor - a landscape that can be benign on a sunny day can be terrifying in snow or storm.

Locations can be used too as shorthand for atmosphere. Say 'graveyard' and you immediately think creepy - Gothic shadows and fog.  'Alley' conjures up a narrow space with grime and litter.

Sound is powerful. Silence can be oppressive and think of the effect of some small sound - footsteps say, in the knave of a church that is mean to be empty.

Using settings against the grain can also work - an Italian city where you are expecting beauty and culture, a beautiful beach turned into something threatening.

I've used a number of these locations and ideas for scary stuff. I need to think up a few more. The idea of a deserted beach appeals - maybe with sand dunes?

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Crime and Coffee - Cardiff Library

Crime and Coffee is a new two day festival being staged by Cardiff library on 1st and 2nd June, which will feature writers living and/or setting their crime fiction in Wales. There will be a host of authors involved, including me. There are some well known names, including Belinda Bauer and Christopher Fowler, with a full supporting cast of authors who write all sorts of crime - the cosy, the historical, the downright scary. Workshops, panels, talks - a great chance to hear about crime novels you might not have discovered yet, and maybe even buy a few!

I'm sharing a platform at 1pm on Friday 1st with local authors Derec Jones and Phil Rowlands.

Derec is an artist as well as a writer of both novels and poetry. You may have come across his Boys from the Back Fields, which involves the then and now of a 50 year old murder on a Welsh council estate. Phil Rowlands is another writer with extra talents on his CV, including acting and screen writing. His debut novel Siena is out now - featuring a Welsh heroine and some fabulous locations in Italy. And, of course, I'm writing romantic suspense and very light romantic crime. We are all quite different, but we all have Welsh roots in common and I'm sure we'll have a lot to talk about. I'm looking forward to it.

You can buy tickets for the day or for individual events and I'm told they are selling fast. I hope I might see you there.

Ticket link Here



Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Filling the Research Bank

This week I have been playing truant - both from the 'day job' and the re-drafts for Riviera book 2. I spent two days at a conference celebrating the Collingwood Archive, and I had a very good time. One of the pluses of  the 'day job' is the occasional arrival of information on interesting events - this was one of  them. It had nothing to do with either the PhD or even a back burner book - please stop whispering 'procrastination' at the back - but it caught my attention and it was about archives, and you know how I am about archives.

This particular archive is lodged with Cardiff University and the conference was to celebrate the work that has been done to open it up for use. The collection comprises private papers, diaries, correspondence, books and art work of WG Collingwood and his family and there is clearly some fascinating stuff there that will keep PhD students in clover for some time. W G Collingwood was a writer, an artist, an academic and a lot of other things besides.The word polymath got bandied about quite a bit, and the rest of the family were also extremely talented. I had never come across the name before, but my attention was attracted by the connection to John Ruskin,  the art critic associated with the Pre-Raphaelites, and with Arthur Ransome, the author of Swallows and Amazons, who were both friends of the family. Now I know a little and look forward to finding out more in the future.

So - why was it not procrastination? Well first I enjoyed it, and enjoyment is not to be sneezed at. Also I think that doing something outside your area of knowledge refreshes the brain - and mine can always do with that, but the main reason I wanted to go was the idea of pre-emptive research - of looking at something interesting that might one day be useful for a future book.

Writers' curiosity. Taking the opportunity to explore something new and unknown. In my case it is always likely to be something academic, or possibly associated with travel, but every writer will be different. Curiosity and taking opportunities when they offer is one of the tools in the box that don't get talked about too often, but it's something to keep in mind. You never know where the next book might come from.

And I have to tell you, it worked. It has given me ideas. None of them will be a book in the near future, or possibly in the far future either, but I know they will sit quietly percolating and one day something is likely to emerge.

Getting my research in first as it were. Before I know what it might be used for.

When I find out, I'll let you know. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Weather? Or Not ...

I've blogged before about weather in books, but I'm coming back to it again, probably because of the weird changes of weather we've been having in the UK lately. I mean - snow on 1st April and summer on 19th?


When I created a freak snow storm  for the Christmas novella I did it with tongue in cheek, and then nature follows art ... I'm currently editing and re-writing Riviera 2 with sun and fine weather, so here's hoping. I'm also playing with a short story that features a thunder storm. I don't think I've ever written thunder and lightening before.


As I say, frequently, I don't usually do bad weather in books, I like even my murder to be sunny, but a Christmas book rather calls for snow. And. of course, all kinds of weather can be useful to a writer. Like everything, it just depends how you use it. The 'good' side of snow is the cosy element, children playing, hot chocolate, being indoors and watching it through the window - then there's being out in it - cold, miserable and dangerous, and there's plenty of that in What Happens at Christmas. Just ask Drew!  


The Riviera books are, and will be, if I keep writing them, solid sunshine, although there may be some dark deeds going on as well as the fun and the romance. For the romantic suspense - well I like good weather in those too. And the contrast between sunshine and nasty goings on can be very atmospheric. I mean, have you ever had one of those times in your life when your world is falling apart and the sun is shining and everyone else is going around living their normal life and enjoying it? Yes, that.


If you're writing a full length book you can be with your characters for a long time, which is why I can't write unsympathetic leads. Or, rather, I don't want to, although they are popular at the moment. If I'm spending all that time with these people, then I really need to like them. The villain is different - don't ask me why villains are fun to write because I don't know, and when you think about it, it's a disturbing idea, but that's just how it is.


And the same with the weather. If I'm in this book for a long time, I'm going to have some sunshine while I do it, even if it's tipping down outside.


Now, about this thunder storm ...

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Among the flowers.

It's time for what appears to have become my annual blog canter around the things that took my eye at the Royal Horticultural Society Flower Show, in Cardiff. I had a great day, even though the weather was not particularly kind. It didn't rain on the day, but it had been raining all week before, and the ground was very soggy. I got an e-mail the day before reminding me to wear stout shoes - these days all my every-day shoes could be classed as 'stout' so that was not a problem. I must admit that if you stood still long enough there was an ominous feeling that you might just slowly sink into the ground. But that might have been author's imagination. As I said, I had a good day, came home with some loot, but managed not to spend too much on what would only become  gourmet dining for my slug and snail population. I replaced the scented geranium that had died as the result of the snow and a bought it a friend with pretty pink and white flowers and also some seeds that I will start off in doors. By the time I put them out I hope they will be too big for the snails to find tasty. My complete indulgence was a metal leaf with a quote from Shakespeare on it, which is now on my desk, to inspire me.

But the day was undoubtedly all about the flowers - not just because there were some beautiful ones on display, but because the show gardens were - well let us just say they were not to my taste. Concrete and rusty corrugated iron does not do it for me, but to each his/her own. I could have happily brought home a few of the summer houses though. I have the space, but sadly, not the dosh - still, they were lovely, and everyone can dream.

So now - the pictures...... I have to say, things seems to be a bit pink ...

This is what's known as lasagna planting - in layers, so the bulbs come up
one after another in the same pot. I keep meaning to have a go.


Not flowers, but aren't they lovely? Wish I could still grow tomatoes.
(See slugs and snails, above)

Gorgeous - and the scent

Dianthus - aka Pinks. And as you can see - lots of pink.  


I always mean to attempt a planting like this. One day. 


Peonies - said to the the favourite flower of a certain royal bride-to-be
and likely to appear in her wedding bouquet. We'll have to wait and see. 



Not flowers, but I had to take a picture - large chess sets have slightly creepy overtones for me, which I suspect comes from watching 'The Prisoner' at an impressionable age!

A lastly - a hot tub - what every author needs, along with the summer house?
This one is definitely going a book sometime.
 Including the floating tray, to hold the champagne! 



Wednesday, 11 April 2018

What did you read today?

I have to have a book in the process of being read. If I don't I get decidedly twitchy. But reading isn't just books. Think of all the other things you might read in a day:

The blurb on the side of the cereal box
The destination on the front of the bus
The instructions on the flat pack furniture
The ingredients in the recipe
The address on the letter
The sign on the door
The warning poster
The text that says 'I love you'
This blog
The church clock
The railway sign
The holiday brochure
The commemorative plaque
The file on the desk
The cast list for the play
The inscription on the gravestone

There's a story in there somewhere. The story of a day?