strap line


Writing in the Sunshine. Writing in the Shadows.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Slightly spooky?

Please let Spring be on the way!
Yesterday was the Spring Equinox. My favourite of the four compass points of the year - equinoxes and solstices - as the days are going to continue to lengthen for a while and there is the prospect of warmer weather. Having said which, there is some talk of MORE snow for the Easter weekend!

The Equinox has made me think of our continuing fascination with thing that are associated with old traditions and celebrations, with a touch of the supernatural. Not paranormal, but old customs, myths and the slightly spooky elements that make it into so much romantic fiction - horoscopes, tarot cards, standing stones, time slip, fortune telling, ghosts - we may be an urban society, but old ideas still have power. I have to admit that I have a fascination and an ever growing library (Thanks, largely, to The Works!) of books on symbols, magic and other witchy goings on. This time it is all research, as I am far too much of a wimp to try any of it out.

Although I could have done with a few spells when my big computer, the one I do my writing on, died this week. I've had to get a new - well, re-conditioned - one and a new version of Dragon - the voice recognition software that I use to get the words onto the page. Both Simon the computer guru and the man on the other end of the phone who sold me the new Dragon were somewhere between astonishment and hysteria when they found that I'd had both for ten years. Well, if it's not broken ... So I have lost my dear old XP Professional and my disc based Dragon and now have to train a new one. I have a feeling it is not going to be easy. But I digress - probably because my mind is still very much on the disaster of losing kit that has become an old friend. We knew each others quirks. And I still have to transfer my backed up files to the new machine - shudder. Now that is really something horrible to contemplate.

But back to the equinox. I've been working on a romantic suspense that has supernatural elements in it - hence the research, although it will be a while before it gets finished as I'm now enmeshed in the day job and sorting out what I hope will be the next Riviera Rouges. Nothing supernatural in that.

I am wondering why we are drawn to darker things on the page, even if we don't really believe in them in real life. Why do we like being slightly scared? I don't read horror, or watch it, but I still have that fascination with an older system of belief and way of doing things.

Maybe lots of us are looking for a connection to something from the past - and that's why time slip in particular is a popular genre?

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Adventures in the Archives

We all have quirks. I like archives. A hobby I have taken to ridiculous lengths by embarking on a PhD in History.

Last week I spent a fascinating few days at the UK National Archive, at Kew, in London. Well, I found it fascinating, although I can see that not everyone would find that tattered and dusty files make their heart beat faster. But they do mine. I get a kick out of poring through documents that were typed/written in World War Two, when the world was a very different place. Typewriters and carbon copies for starters.

The index can be a bit of a mystery tour sometimes You order a file and take a gamble on what will be in it and whether it will be useful. I stumbled on something that is going to have a major impact on the thesis quite by accident, in a file I was looking at for a totally different topic. It was about air raid shelters in a file that was entitled Parades, Celebrations and Visits. Of course, it was the last item in the file, with no indication of what happened next. And the next number in the file series was for another part of the country. So - what did happen next? Will I ever find out? The hunt is on. I may need Sherlock, or Poirot.

I had my first visit to the second floor - I didn't know there was a second floor - that's where they keep the big/heavy stuff. I got a large and very heavy box, presented on a trolley, that contained wads of very well thumbed and dusty accounts. I finally found the piece I was looking for, and, of course, it was no use to me at all!

I also had a file with a mysterious envelope fixed to the back. With assistance from the staff I got it open safely and found that it contained photographs - supplied by the Chief Constable of Cardiff to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security, showing bomb damage to air raid shelters. Another first - I got issued with a pair of rubber gloves to handle them. It is probably many years since anyone looked at those photo. Until me.

One of my files appeared to be quietly morphing into a werewolf - it was distinctly furry - on the outside. After a discussion with the staff we speculated that it was some sort of preservation that had been put on and was breaking down. The file was about 70 years old. Apparently there are a few more in the vaults that are doing the same.Of course it was nothing sinister. But if members of staff start to disappear down amongst the stacks ...

I did a bit of sleuthing too, into my father's war. The war diaries of the RAMC unit he was attached to, and their progress up Italy. Scary and illuminating. That's for a book that I hope to write someday. I didn't find his name in any of the documents, but I still have fingers crossed on that one.

So - that's the fun week I had last week, playing in the dusty archives.

It takes all sorts.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Where are my pictures?




Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Mirror, mirror

On my last lightening trip to London, I was able to squeeze in a trip to see the Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites Exhibition at the National Gallery. I was attracted initially because of the Pre -Raphaelites, who are among my favourite painters, but I'm also a fan of the Van Eyck picture that was the starting point of the show - the Arnolfini Portrait. That's the one with the young couple holding hands in a bedroom that might be a wedding or a betrothal and where the woman may be pregnant. Or is it the style of the dresses of the time? Lots of mysteries about the picture’s subject matter, which is always a fascination. Funnily enough there is no mystery about the history of the picture as it has quite a comprehensive provenance right from the time that it was painted. That too is interesting as it survived war and moves through several countries before ending up in London.

The theme of the exhibition was the influence that portrait had on the Pre-Raphaelites and one of the major links, surprisingly, was mirrors - particularly convex ones. It had never occurred to me how many of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings feature mirrors. As The Lady of Shallot was one of their favourite subjects, perhaps it should have. The various depictions were fascinating and the chance to look into one of the mirrors which was owned by Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a high spot for me – one of those spine tingling moments.

Of course writers like mirrors too – illusions and images which may or may not be real. Smoke and mirrors. As I have been outlining a piece of work that involves a music hall magician, I think I may be introducing something involving a mirror into that. It is a long term project though so will not be seeing the light of day for a while.

It’s also given me a yen to own a convex mirror of my own. Although it won’t be as spine tingling as Rossetti’s. 

Although I suppose that might depend on whether it finds it's way into a book.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

On tour this week.

This week I am on a blog tour with the lovely Brook Cottage Books to highlight Summer in San Remo as 'the perfect summer read', in time for those of us lucky enough to be having an early holiday over Easter. And if you are looking for a sunshine read and prefer to read in paper rather than by electronics, then the book will be out in paperback in July.

The tour dates are -

Date: 26th February

I hope you will join me on some (or all) of them. There will be reviews and I've done a couple of very interesting Q&As with some fascinating questions. Not so sure the answers are fascinating, but I've done my best 😃

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The next book - maybe

I've spent the last few days disentangling part of the first draft of what I hope will be the next Riviera Rogues book - I say hope, because I'm also at the cold feet stage wondering if the Choc-lit tasting panel will like it (All right, what I'm actually saying is 'Do you really think you are going to get away with this one?' Really?)

Danger - manuscript in progress
It's got quite a complex plot (By complex, do I really mean complicated? Really?) It's an Ocean's Eleven type scenario with a group of friends getting together to take down a con artist. When you see those plots in films, the bit where they are organising the sting is usually a montage of members of the gang doing mysterious stuff, all of which becomes clear at the end. In a book people have to sit down and talk about it. (Is this bit boring? Really?) I do think I've ironed out the parts where disbelief wasn't so much suspended as dangled head first over a bottomless chasm, so that's a plus. I also seem to have a mystery involving my hero's parents which I don't remember writing (the joys of anaesthesia) and am pretty sure I have not resolved. It will be interesting to see if I did.  I'm not sure that the villain isn't too nasty for a light romantic comedy - but everyone likes to hiss a villain, don't they. (Do they? Really?)

On the plus side I got to spend more time with Cassie and Jake from Summer in San Remo. Considering that they both come out of my head, the chemistry between them is very confusing - I love writing them, and once they are talking, I have  a problem shutting them up. The new hero and heroine, Nadine and Ryan are different - more reserved. Ryan is more insecure that my usual male leads, but he has a very strong protective streak - a knight in shining armour, and quite cute with it. Nadine is a few years older than he is, a very successful business woman and a widow, so she has to convince him that she doesn't always need him to protect her and can stand on her own feet, although a shoulder to lean on is also very welcome on occasion. I think he's getting the message. Slowly.

It's set in Bath and then on the Riviera, naturally - the area around Nice. There's a old farm house in the hills where Nadine and Ryan get to spend some time and a gorgeous villa where the wedding is arranged to take place. Did I mention that the whole thing revolves around a wedding? At the moment it's called A Wedding on the Riviera, but that will probably change.

That's if it make it past the selection panel.  Writing about it here has made me a bit more hopeful. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The thank-yous at the front of the book

Acknowledgements. Those lists, usually at the front of the book - the equivalent of an award winning actor thanking everyone from their mother to the man on the 48 bus.

Do you read them - or just skip over them to get to the good stuff?

I read them. I'm nosey. I look in other people's baskets in the supermarket to see what they've bought. And at books other people are reading, to see the title. On the Tube last week (Got let out for good behaviour and ran off the the wicked city overnight, to do romantic novelist stuff) I went as far as asking the man sitting next to me what his book was. He got out at the next stop. I hope he wasn't too far from his actual destination.

Aspiring authors are told to read acknowledgements because the published author might have thanked their editor and agent and this might give Aspiring Author hints about who to follow on Facebook and Twitter, to advance their own career.

Acknowledgements can be intriguing, when the author thanks people for the information on llama farming, or shark fishing, or hot air ballooning. They can be sinister, like the thanks for information on famous poisoners. There is usually a list of people who have helped write the book, which sometimes reads like the cast of a Hollywood block buster, except books don't seem to have best boys and key grips. Sometimes the author has held a contest to name a character and you get to find out about who and what.

There are some author's acknowledgements that I particular enjoy. Harlen Coben is one, as his are often funny, which is a contrast to the thrillers that he writes. And Jane Lovering's are also likely to make you laugh.

That's why I read Acknowledgements - because they can be informative and are often amusing. And, speaking as someone who has written them for her own books, they are a genuine expression of appreciation to all those people who have helped with the book. It's nice to get the chance to say thank you.

I've written acknowledgements and I read them, but I never expected to be in one. But if you read Georgia Hill's Millie Vanilla's Cupcake Cafe books, which have just been amalgamated and released in one volume, you'll find my name, along with fellow author Wendy Lou Jones, credited for helping with the inspiration for the books. The three romantic stories are all together now, full of fun, but also with a share of heart break and, of course, with lots of delicious cakes.

Finding my name in the acknowledgements was a lovely surprise.

If you want to find out more about Georgia's books click  HERE

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Author talk - Vale of Glamorgan Library

Don't for get I will be 'in conversation' with Jill Barry at the Barry Library on 13th February. An early celebration of Valentine's day. 2 pm and it's free.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

In Translation

I've blogged before about the strange experience of seeing your book in translation. Your name is on the front, but you have no idea what the contents is really like.

This time it's Norwegian and the book is Never Coming Home. This is what they look like.  Isn't the cover lovely. It's released by the publishers Cappelen Damm. Here's the link  LINK

I hope my Norwegian readers enjoy it!

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Forthcoming attractions - on tour

February is going to be a busy month, with public appearances at local libraries in Wales on 6th and 13th. Love is in the air and Valentine's day is definitely in mind!

On 6th I will be part of a group of romance authors who are Romancing Rhiwbina - you need a ticket for those dates. On 13th Jill Barry and I will be talking to readers on the main library in Barry. It's an exciting time for Jill as she is about to have a new book out - and will, of course, be telling us all about it.

The details are on the posters. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Please leave your disbelief at the door.

This post is entirely motivated by jealously. 

When you write books, you don't get away with much. If there are holes in your plot, or something doesn't quite add up, or the whole thing is just pretty much preposterous, then if your editor doesn't get you then the readers will. But films? Hah! now that is a totally different kettle of kippers. 

What has provoked this? A trip to the cinema in which I accidentally managed to see The Commuter. I was planning to see Darkest Hour and claim it was part of the day job, but messed up on the start time. After a consultation with the box office lady we both agreed that The Commuter would be fine - because well, basically, Liam Neeson. And it was. I don't want to give you the wrong impression here. I thoroughly enjoyed it - because well - Liam Neeson. (Did you know a theatre critic once called him a towering sequoia of sex? I don't know which theatre critic, but they certainly have an interesting turn of phrase) And even in mature years, he still has it. And I'm a mature lady, so there you go. The film romped along -  lots of action, a train (and you know I love trains) and and the action was almost in real time, running against the clock. But the plot didn't so much suspend disbelief as annihilate it. I'm not going into detail, because that would involve spoilers, but - 

You.Would. Never. Get. Away. With. That. In. A. Book.

Hence my jealousy. 

I'm not alone in thinking this - other reviewers said it was highly entertaining nonsense. Also a bonkers pleasure.

And actually, I'm not so sure about getting away with it in a book. I've just finished reading a much hyped best seller that had holes, continuity issues, typos ...

Maybe it's just me ... 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

2018 - what do you think of it so far?

Well, we've just had Blue Monday - alleged to be the most depressing day of the year, and did you know that January is apparently the loneliest month? And how are all those New Year resolutions going?  Or shouldn't I ask?

Actually, I quite like January, mainly because the days are slowly and subtly getting lighter and longer. And the bulbs in the garden have begun to come through, and now it's all down hill towards warmer weather and summer.

Looking forward to spring!

For me 2018 is going to be all about the PhD - lots of visits to archives and writing up, but I hope there will be some other kinds of writing going on too. 

My publishers have agreed that they would like to see the second installment of the Riviera Rogues series, so I have to find time for that, and get it into a fit state to put before the selection panel. Fingers crossed they will like it. The story revolves around a wedding - and weddings are going to be very fashionable this year. 😊 I'll share more, including the possible choices for a title, over the next few weeks.

I'm hoping for other interesting and exciting things to happen during the year too, as well as a lot of work, but we'll have to wait and see ...

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The gentle art of letter writing

When did you last write a letter?

 Possibly a note to put in with a Christmas card, to send to someone you don't see very often?

But before that?  We don't write letters like we used to - e-mails. texts - but not letters. We're not like the heroines of classic novels who could always retire to their rooms to write letters when they wanted to avoid the hero, their mother, the verbose curate ...

I started to think about letters when I saw an item on the TV about pen pals. I thought about it some more when I was at the National Archive, for the day job, prowling thought the Home Office files for World War II. They were correspondence files, with quantities of letter exchanged between civil servants. I got some good stuff for the PhD, but I found the format of the letters themselves just as interesting. Apart from references to the occasional phone call, everything was by letter - and with two postal deliveries a day, using the post was probably almost as good as sending an e-mail.

It was the construction that was a glimpse of a lost era. Carefully set out by the typists - no DIY typing here - with addresses of sender and recipient in specific places, salutations that used only surnames - it was Dear Smith - not Dear Mr Smith - (it was all misters - no females in sight) and the first lines of many were almost like reading code, with use of terms like Inst and Ultimo for dates. The letters themselves were very formal - on paper that was now tattered and yellowing - signed either with an old fashioned fountain pen, or for run of the mill stuff with a rubber stamp. I remember having custody of one of those for the Town Clerk when I first started work - used for allotment agreements and grave grants. As the war progressed the paper got smaller and thinner and letters were typed on the back of other documents - one of the ones I found relating to Cardiff was on the back of a draft intended for Jarrow - but they were all still laid out in the formal manner.

We don't correspond like that any more. 

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

A visit to the Mithraeum

I didn't get photos inside the temple, so this is
the police box near Bank Station, which is close by! 

Do you remember, back last summer, when I had a prowl around the City of London, looking for the Temple of Mithras? I didn't find it, but suspected that it was under a massive building site. Well, it was, although I wasn't looking in quite the right place - and now it's open to the public again. It's been reconstructed under the Bloomberg building - along with displays of contemporary art created in response to the temple, a small collecting of Roman artifacts found on the site and an interactive interpretation area, with sound and lights and information screens. Kudos to the Bloomberg organisation putting all this together and making it available to visitors for free - although you do have to book in advance.

Mithras was a Roman god, said to be the soldier's god as he was a favourite of the army, although there were other followers too. He's usually depicted ritually sacrificing a bull. My first encounter with the cult of Mithras was in Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave, when her young hero, Merlin, has a vision of the ceremony. It's a powerful scene, and the interest has stayed with me ever since. As a writer I'm drawn too to theatrical spaces - not just theatres themselves, but churches and temples too. And standing stones. Places where mankind has conducted special rituals, often for thousands of years. Places that have an atmosphere all their own.

I was interested in this temple as I have a serial killer who wanted to dump a body there. In it's original location, which was an outdoor site, which I dimly remember, this would have been possible. Not going to happen now that the whole thing has been reconstructed so beautifully - indoors. I've left him thinking about another Mithric temple at Hadrian's Wall ...

I enjoyed the visit to the site. The temple is on the lowest level, where it would have been when it was first built. The remains of the walls are in place, with viewing platforms over and a sound and light show that recreates what a visit to the temple would have been like  - a dark entrance way, torchlight, an image of the god, astride the bull - a babble of male voices. The cult was strictly men only, apparently, and the temple would not have been used to actually sacrifice a bull - good to know - as it was too small. It was probably used for ceremonies and feasting - lots of chicken bones were found when the site was excavated.

While I was pleased to have visited, I have to say that I didn't find the site as atmospheric as I'd hoped. There were no 'shivers up the spine moments' like the one I had looking into the grave space of Richard III, when the King's skeleton gradually emerged in the ground in lighted silhouette. There was just a few seconds, when I stepped onto the platform at the centre of the temple ...

Although numbers are controlled, there were quite a lot of visitors, and I think that broke up the atmosphere. I'd like to go again, hopefully with fewer people. It was a spectacular space and I'd like to have another chance to appreciate it. And maybe I'll re-read The Crystal Cave, in the meantime.