Wednesday, 28 September 2016

On the trail of a king

I talked last week about research. Last weekend I had a really good time doing some.

It began with a romantic suspense that I have about  a quarter completed, but which got overtaken by life and stuff. I'd actually got to a bit where the heroine is spending a few days exploring the UK before facing something big and rather traumatic - but I'm not telling you about that, 'cos it's a major spoiler!

Anyway, I was thinking about the places she might go and at the time the re-interment of Richard III at Leicester was in the news and I had a light bulb moment - well, maybe a small candle, but still a moment. So - having picked up a copy of Josephine Tey's  Daughter of Time - which, incidentally, is the book that made me a Ricardian - my heroine decides to visit some of the sites related to Richard.

The romantic suspense got gummed in the works at about that point, but I knew that if and when it ever re-started some on-the- ground research would be called for. I'd been to York and seen locations there, but I wanted the Bosworth battle site where he fought and died, and the brand new stuff for the king they rediscovered buried under a municipal car park. I put organising that in the forward plan. Sometime.

Then, when I was beginning to wonder about the story again, and if and how I was going to restart work on it, the question of that necessary research came up. And  I found that the Travelsphere company was offering the exact weekend that I needed. So I spent last weekend in Leicester, in the company of eleven lovely ladies and one brave gentleman, and ably and enthusiastically led by Min, the tour manager, looking at all the places my heroine is going to visit. And, of course, talking pictures. These are a few of them.

The banners of Richard III and Henry VII on the hill overlooking the battle field.
A view down to where it is now thought the battle of Bosworth, where Richard died, took place. 
The new tomb - 
- which is in Leicester Cathedral
Commemorative stone on display at the visitors' centre where you can see the excavated grave site. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

It's all research.

Writers will often tell you how much they enjoy research - the chance to feel that you are working, while not having to do any of that - you know - pesky writing stuff. So talking, or blogging, about research is probably well up there, even higher on the procrastination chart.  Writers are also magpies - at least, this one is - collectors of odd facts and experiences. Who knows, they might come in useful some day - maybe they'll even meld themselves into a book, somewhere in the back of the subconscious and re-emerge as something different entirely.

I couldn't find anything that said archaeology,
so used this instead. Pretty, isn't it?

Being an academic at heart, I favour books, lectures and exhibitions for gathering my research material. Sometimes because I know that I want to use the subject matter, sometimes just - because. And even better if they are free. Which is why the series of monthly lectures put on by Cardiff University in collaboration with the Historical Association called Exploring the Past has strong attractions. Okay, so some of them can be a bit specialist - topics probably only an historian could love - but the 2016/17 series kicked off last week with a talk from Doctors Oliver Davis and Dave Wyatt about the Caerau Iron Age Hill  Fort, which is in the Ely area of Cardiff and which is being excavated as funds are available. Apparently in the past it has featured on Time Team, so you may know about it already.   

I wasn't looking for anything in particular this time. Just interesting things about my corner of Wales. I learned about the way that the community is being involved in the work on the site, and how local people have really got behind the project and become part of it, especially the local schools. And also about some of the finds that have been made during different digs, all the way from Neolithic to Roman. As regulars will know, I have all sorts of plans bubbling for books that involve my part of Wales, so archaeological information is very useful indeed. I'm pretty sure it will find it's way into a book at some stage, although it will probably be a site of my own invention. So that I can mess with it at my leisure. As you do, when you're a writer. But always good to know that what you are messing with has a basis in facts.

Who knows, maybe I'll have a hero who is an archaeologist. (Indiana Jones, anyone?) More probably a dead body found in an excavation trench, knowing me. It all depends what the sub conscious has a fancy for at the time.

It was an excellent lecture to start the series and I'm looking forward to attending a few more, during the winter. Who can tell where they might lead?

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

It's Autumn now.

Despite T.S Elliot's views on the cruelty of April, the month I dislike most is September. A lot of it is personal. Many of my loved ones have left me in September, so the month is a succession of sad anniversary dates. But I dislike it too, as it's the start of autumn. The weather may be having a last stab a pretending summer is here, and don't think I'm not grateful for that, but I know it won't last. April is spring and light and possibilities. September means that winter is coming. Cold, dark, wet. You can talk all you like about falling leaves and roaring fires and hot chocolate - it doesn't do it for me. I don't even like Christmas that much. Although by then it does mean that the nights have begun to get shorter again.

So that's me - spring and summer for definite. Which is why it's a bit of a surprise that several of the ideas I have in mind at the moment are set in the autumn. This may be something to do with general mood - see loss of loved ones above, but it's also connected to wanting to use legends and traditions and some Welsh spooky stuff as atmosphere. And the time around Halloween seems good for that. This is in the romantic suspense part of my brain, which has not been active lately, but which is beginning to show signs of revival of interest.

Before that there will, I hope, be two summer novellas. NOT romantic suspense. Sunshine, holidays, the Riviera, food, wonderful scenery, beautiful houses. Did I say sunshine?

I seem to be developing a light and dark side. A summer/winter persona? Which is not to say that the romantic suspense will not go back to menace in the sun. Wales does have sunshine, and fabulous beaches, and countryside, and castles, and atmosphere. It's not all rain. At least, not all the time :)

And not all the ideas are set in Wales. I still have ideas that involve Italy, and London, and maybe Greece?

What I need now is the stamina to write all the things happening in my head.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Swotting up on Shakespeare.

As it's the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death this year, as you would expect, there have been a lot of Bard-themed events going on. I've managed to get to two of the exhibitions - not for long, as being still convalescent I find can't stay on my feet for too long. But long enough. Both of them were libraries, both involved books - folios and first editions - the kind of thing that gives you a buzz, even behind glass. Well, it does me.

The first was at the British Library - one of my favourite haunts for the 'day job'. That one was all about Shakespeare in performance - photos and costumes as well as those books. A bit scary when I found that I'd actually seen more than one of the 'historic' performances on show. But I did start my love affair with Shakespeare at a very young age. My Mum said I was about three, and I take her word for it. It was on the TV and I think it was Julius Caesar - I was probably fascinated by all the men wearing bed sheets. 

But I digress. The second exhibition was Shakespeare's Dead, in Oxford, all about, as you might have guessed, the ways in which Shakespeare handles the portrayal of death and it's prevalence in the plays, even the comedies. As you can imagine, as I have a tendency towards littering the scene with corpses in my own literary efforts, I was especially drawn to that one. My most recent work - and there has been some recent work, I'm glad to say - has been much lighter stuff, but I'm beginning to hanker after something with a Jacobean body count again. So that's a watch this space moment. And I really enjoyed that Oxford exhibition - ideas to think about. I've always wanted to write a modern revenge plot. It's not happened yet, but it will, I'm sure. 

And what about something with all those ghosts ...

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Mystery and Crime in Oxford

The weekend before last I crossed something off one of my bucket lists. If you are a list maker you will understand that one list is never enough. If you're not, just trust me on this.

I finally got myself organised to attend the annual crime fiction weekend held at St Hilda's College, Oxford every August for the last 23 years. And I had a wonderful time. Good company, good food and fascinating speakers, including Lee Child and Martin Edwards, along with excellent organisation and a well stocked bookshop, provided by Blackwells. I cheated a bit and stayed in an hotel rather than the full student experience. I don't do shared bathrooms if I can help it, so I had the best of both worlds. 

Despite having the conference on my radar, and that list, for quite a while, I didn't know what to expect. The format was different from that of all the other crime conferences I've attended, on both sides of the Atlantic. No author panels, but instead individual speakers each giving a paper on a chosen topic - the theme of the weekend was genre and crime, so there was everything from clerical crime to historical crime to crime and humour. No romantic suspense, but you can't have everything, and what there was was enthralling. This being Oxford (which seems to be a catchphrase of the conference) the style leaned towards the academic with comprehensive research. Love of the subject came thorough from everyone in a totally accessible way, that gave food for thought and increased the 'To be read' pile on a grand scale. All the speakers were fabulous, but I have to admit that Chris Ewan sharing his burglarising research (He writes the 'Good Thief' books as well as stand alone thrillers.) was a highlight for me. And I bet I'm not the only one looking up 'shims' on the Internet. I shall also treasure Lee Child's revelations about his writing methods - basically the story unfolds to him as a story and his response to any queries from his editor about possible changes is to insist that how it is written is how it happened. All the authors in the audience were storing that one away for future use. Sadly, I suspect that you may have to be Lee Child for it to work.     

The audience was international, readers and writers. I saw old friends and I made a few new friends whom I hope I will meet again. And I sandwiched in a whistle stop tour of the Pitt Rivers Museum, which is research for a very future book. And also a fascinating Shakespeare exhibition - but more of that next week. All in all a lovely weekend - I think you can tell, from all the superlatives.

Now I really want to go again next year.

Lee Child's talk was live streamed and you may still be able to catch it HERE

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

You can have a starring role.

You'll have seen the tee shirts and the mugs and all the other stuff - you know the ones 'Be careful, or I'll put you in my novel' And I know some people do that. Base their characters on people from real life.


No way!

I'd be much too scared that someone would recognise themselves and take offence, Or worse. Besides which, my characters tend to arrive with their own personalities - not exactly fully formed, but knowing who they are, and not afraid to tell me about it.

An awful lot of authors also auction the chance to be named for a character in a book - again I'd be a bit nervous. What if the recipient didn't like who I'd chosen to make them? But then, I'm the nervous sort.

Which is not to say that I don't do a little cannibalising, here and there. Clothes - I might borrow them, although usually they are from my own wardrobe, or former wardrobe - or maybe my 'I wish' wardrobe.

But the thing I'm most guilty of 'borrowing.'?


I don't own one, so they are a bit of an unknown quantity. My usual ploy is to decide what my character would drive then go on a hunt to find one in the metal, as it were. Supermarket car parks are very good for this. Not sure what the CCTV makes of it, but the cops have not come knocking on the door yet. I got a bit stymied when I wanted a Bentley. For that I had to go to the posh show rooms and prowl, while looking as if I could really afford one. I got a very nice Porche out of that trip too, so it was time well spent.

So - I won't put you in my book. But I might steal your car.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Twisted plotting

Following on from last week - on holiday reading, I bet that there's at least one novel billed as a 'psychological thriller' in your holiday choice, as they seem to be the thing at the moment.

I like the twisty stuff too - to write and to read - although I like a shot of romance as well, to lighten the dark stuff. I can never decide whether I like to have some idea what is going on - to be able to follow the clues, or whether I'd rather to be completely in the dark. Both, I think, depending on the mood. It's very gratifying to have an inkling of what might be going on, and be proved right.

One thing I have noticed though, about the ones that come in the 'totally mystified' category, very often I can remember the plot later, but not the ending. Now this may be reading too fast - so intent on getting to the end that you're still reading at 3 am, Sometimes though, dare I say it, I think the ending doesn't live up to what has gone before - rather a damp squib - and that's why I don't remember. A case of the journey being more gratifying than the destination?

They say that the end of a book sells you the next one by the same author, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who has jogged along with a book and found that the last 50 pages are more exciting than the rest.

Ideally it should be both, of course. I think that's where the advantages of having that shot of romance is useful - two chances at a satisfactory conclusion. But you do have to get all your strands running together. Twisty plot and twisty love story.

It's a hard life ....