Wednesday 10 July 2024

What happened to our sunshine?

 Here in the UK the summer of '24 has been notable by its absence - although I gather we are promised some warmer weather later this month. 

Apart from the fact that it is COLD, the lack of sunshine was brought home to me while I was limping around Cardiff in the search for a frame for my second Jackie Collins finalist's certificate. The limp because of back and hip problems and the search because no one had what I wanted - the right size frame capable of standing up rather than being wall hung. Wilko, we miss you! I didn't find a frame, but I did notice large areas of stores given over to the goods of summer - picnic blankets, hampers, outdoor furniture and tableware, lanterns, barbeques - and the kind of food cooked on them - were pretty empty of customers, which was rather sad. All that bright cheerful merchandise sitting neglected on the shelves.  

So - where do we go for that summer feeling - other than leaving on a jet plane? You could try a book. Increasingly these days in the romance field, publishers are looking to issue two offerings  a year. Summer and Festive. Both designed to compliment the season, or get you in the appropriate mood if weather and circumstance are not coming up with the goods?

Do you buy the Summer book to read by the pool - or to replicate the feeling?  Does 'summer' in the title - and there are quite a few of them out there - make you disposed to buy? I have to say it does me - but I have always been one for warmth, sun and escape. 

When I was a kid and my dad went off on one of his Sunday day trips to a meeting - he was very involved in the national administration of his hobby, sea angling - mum and I often had an indoor picnic instead of Sunday lunch- all the picnic things, complete with table cloth on the living room floor. It was fun, and it didn't matter if it was cold or raining. 

If it won't happen you have to invent it - and a book is as good a place as any. Only one thing that worries me. If the summer season has been disappointing will all those retailers be starting their Christmas even earlier?

At least the weather is appropriate. 

Wednesday 3 July 2024

Managing expectations

 I've just finished reading a book - spooky goings on and ghosts - where it was mentioned several times that good things rarely happen in basements. Very true. Places where young women should not venture in the dark when the local serial killer is on the loose. 

It got me thinking about 'short cuts' in novels - ways of telegraphing expectations to the reader. This can be very obvious - publishers' obsession with covers showing women in red coats running thorough various landscapes to denote a thriller is an obvious one - but it can be more subtle than that. 

As in life - a phone ringing between the hours of midnight and 5 am is unlikely to be  a Good Thing. Basements are creepy - although for some reason a cellar doesn't have quite the same connotation, possibly because of the link in the mind to wine cellar? 

Attics mean secrets - storage for old papers, dressing up boxes, childhood debris. You can have a good time in an attic. I had fun in A Villa in Portofino making mine virtually empty, but of course there was still a room full of luggage.  A character who announces they are going up to the attic - well, you just know they are going to Find Something. Libraries and studies mean books and papers, desks and filing cabinets so more potential for secrets. Kitchens equal meals and baking - places of comfort. Similarly cafes. 

Town houses, cottages, mansions, lofts - all property that denotes a certain style of life and inhabitant. Writing seasonal and festive books gives you a whole lexicon of images from carved pumpkins to fairy lights and tinsel to set a scene. 

At the moment I am heavily into creating a garden. Now gardens can have multiple personalities. The one I am working on is a sanctuary - a place where a WWI veteran coped with his shell shock and decades later a woman running from an abusive marriage can find a refuge. But I also have in mind another story with a derelict garden, a creepy half ruined green house, maybe a falling down summer house ... 

Some things are great for signifying an activity or a mood - but it's also good to have a wide open canvas. 

Wednesday 26 June 2024

Work in Progress

 'Progress' is a bit slow, but I am working and enjoying it. Not sure what the finished product will look like - definitely not a 'Riviera' book, or even in that style. I've envisages it as one of a pair of books, the link being that security business run by the two heroes- Nathan and Luke, but it is going to be a while before we get there. 

But writing is not just about actually putting words on paper. Not words that will eventually be read, that is. Knowing I was getting myself into a few knots with the time lines of the various characters in the secondary plot that is the pivot of the story I spent an afternoon sorting out their overlapping time lines and producing a fancy board to prove it. As shown below. Now I have a better idea of what I am doing! Emrys - who is a famous artist - was born in 1924 and was old enough to serve in WW2, which is an important part of the story. The other lines on the chart are the women in his life - his first love, the woman he eventually married and the Shakespearean actress who became his muse in later life. The ramifications of those relationships play out in the contemporary part of the story. It's not exactly dual time, maybe a present day story with roots in the past? While I was doing it I discovered some important facts about the personalities - notably that although it was generally assumed that Emrys and the actress were lovers, in fact their relationship was platonic as they were both married to other people.

I also had to do some ongoing research. I have a list. 

  • Obituaries of the great and the good.
  • Honours awarded to servicemen for bravery in WW2
  • Dates and ages for call up during the war.
  • Dates and details of the Nuremberg Trials and Dame Laura Knight, who was an official war artist. 
  • The rules of probate
  • Herbs with associations with Wicca. What every good witch would have in her rather wild garden. That one was fun, as I did an on-line course and now I know what my 'witch,' Iris will have in hers. 


All of the above are essential to the plot but probably won't merit more than a passing reference. They are building blocks that are the foundations for the book. 

And a wonderful excuse for productive procrastination. 


Wednesday 19 June 2024

Chelsea Flower Show

 As I special treat I got myself an 8a.m to 8 p.m  ticket for the first members' day of the Chelsea Flower Show. Staying just moments away I fully intended to be there when the gates opened. But then the RNA Awards came along and my plans went up in smoke with a late night of celebration! I made it to the show a little later than planned and reading the runes on the weather did the marquee first. This was the voice of experience as once the rain began everyone came flocking in and I was ready to wander around the other exhibits under my trusty umbrella. The gardens were lovely - I got a few ideas for the Tuscan idyll I eventually want to create outside my back door. There were some drool worthy plants. I celebrity spotted Monty Don and Rachel De Thame being interviewed for the TV. I bought lilies and a mushroom growing kit and a few other odds and ends and had a good time, despite the weather. 

The Newt's Roman Villa garden
This is a hydrangea - I thought it was an azalea. On the plant of the year shortlist and on my wish list. 

An Italian Balcony - Venice, not Tuscany, but I'll take it. 

The lilies I hope are going to grow for me.
I'll try anf rememebr to post the results, and the mushrooms! 

Wednesday 12 June 2024

The Joffe Garden party

 As part of my fancy week staying in London I was able to attend my first publisher's party - a garden party no less, in the grounds of the Royal Overseas League, off Piccadilly. Luckily it was a lovely evening - the rain had stopped. The Choc-lit authors met up first in the pub around the corner and then it was on to the party. It was a lot of fun with the chance to meet and talk to the staff of the publishing house - including the man himself - Jasper Joffe - and other authors including a few friends from the Crime Writers' Association, as Joffe publishes crime as well as romance. It was the tenth anniversary for the publisher, although the Choc-lit family has only been with them just over a year. It was good to celebrate with glasses of bubbly and some very fancy - and tasty - canapes. We all enjoyed ourselves, photos were taken (I've stolen a few again) and the rain stayed away. Looking forward to doing it again next year. 

Meeting in the pub. 

Me. Carol Thomas, Jasper, Morton S Gray
and Jan Baynham

The Joffe authors. 

Wednesday 5 June 2024

What I did in Chelsea.

 My original plan for my recent London trip was a day at the Chelsea Flower Show. I decided to do something I'd had in mind for a while and book a couple of nights in the mansion block where I lived when I worked in Eaton Square. Then the awards were announced, and my new publisher Joffe invited me to their annual garden party and the few nights became a week. Cost a fortune, but I had a wonderful time. The apartment in the mansion block is the one that features in Summer in San Remo and Masquerade on the Riviera. It was good to re-visit old haunts.  I had a studio, which was fun and spent a couple of days flaneuring around the neighbourhood.  I did the RHS show - more of that in a future post -  and the party - more about that later too. I spent some time in the re-vamped Battersea Power Station - lots of shops, a very nice bookshop and lunch at Gordon Ramsay's restaurant. I accidentally had dinner in Tom Kerridge's London pub too, without realising. It was raining, I was tired after wandering around the show and the pub was the nearest eating place, at the end of the street. And very good it was too.  I ate icecream in several up market icecream parlours, went to a concert in Cadogan Hall, which was just around the corner,  a ensemble called Voces8 which I had never encountered before, and which was very enjoyable. As well as the flower show, Chelsea had it's own flower festival going on, with all the shops dressed to the nines, so the place was manic on Sunday with florists getting ready and then on all the days after with tourists taking selfies. I intended to take some too, but it was just too crowded! I had a wonderful, if expensive, time. Now I'm wondering if I can do it all again next year. 

There will be a full post on the flower show later - but until then these are a few of the friends I made along the way. 

Wednesday 29 May 2024

Well - I didn't win ...

 But I had a wonderful evening. 

It was great to be on my publisher Joffe's table to celebrate simply being nominated. Sue Fortin won the Jackie Collins but she is a friend so I have forgiven her. Next time! 

I enjoyed wearing my sparkly jumpsuit. I took the long gloves then forgot to put them on! I wondered if traveling on the Tube to the venue at Tower Hill from Chelsea at 4 p.m. in all my finery would be 'interesting'  but except from one young girl no one batted an eyelid. 

Anton Du Beke was an excellent celebrity presenter, along side the RNA's Brigid Cody and he was super generous in posing for selfies with everyone. There was food and drink and photos and excitement. Lots of gossip and laughter and the chance to see old friends.  Finalists had to arrive early for a photo shoot, but I haven't been able to get those photos to open! The tension built up from there until the moment when the envelope was opened. If you want to see - and read - all the winners you will find them on the RNA website. A real variety of popular romantic fiction. 

The awards were only the start of a fabulous week I spent in Chelsea. More posts over the next few weeks. 

I've  borrowed the photos from Fellow finalist and Cariad Chapter member Jan Baynham and from the official photographer Katie Hipkiss Visuals. Ownership acknowledged with many thanks. 

Table awaiting guests.

My name in lights

Deep in conversation - and where did the sumo wrestler arms come from? 

Posing with Anton along with fellow Joffe contender Jan and her daughter Jo.