Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Its a bit hectic around here.

 Life has been little chaotic for the last few weeks, but it is settling down now. I hope so, as I do have a book I want to finish and get to my publisher! 

After the excitement of the CWA conference I came home and went straight into having my bathroom re-modelled. Long story, but the short version is that my shower sprang a leak and attempts at having 

a bath after many decades were traumatic in the extreme. You've heard the one about the three old ladies. This was one old lady who having got in, couldn't get out. The work took twice as long as it was supposed to, and I decamped to the nearest hotel for a couple of nights in order to be able to enjoy - gasp- a working shower. The picture is work in progress, which gives you an idea. The shower is done now, and it is beautiful. Still stuff to do in the room, notably the floor, but we will get there. 

In amongst all this, lovely and longstanding book buddy Margaret James had invited me in January to be a guinea pig for a new column she was trying out in Writing magazine, and the feature, Five Quick Questions was published in the latest addition. Many thanks to Margaret. It was fun to do and I hope it will give readers an insight into how I got where I am today. It was a long journey. Never give up should be the writers' motto. 

 Having got the bit between my teeth I am now attempting to organise other work that needs doing around the house and of course get that book done. The end is nearly in sight, I hope. It got a boost yesterday when the RNA Cariad Chapter had another on-line retreat day, again beautifully organised by the tireless Jessie. It gave the work a boost, as I had no excuse to be diverted to house type stuff.  And it was fun. So good to have support and hear about what other writers are achieving during their day. 

The book is top of the agenda for next week. Wish me luck. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Greenway - Agatha Christie's Holiday Home

 This is the last post from my recent trip to the English Riviera. As part of the Crime Writers' conference a number of extra curricular activities were organised, I jumped at the chance to spend Saturday afternoon at Greenways. It was a perfect day to visit, as I think the photos below will show - bluebells, primroses  and ramsons (wild garlic) were in bloom in swathes under the trees, along with magnolia and rhododendrons. The grounds were glorious, on a glorious day, and the house, which is now in the charge of the National Trust, was fascinating. It also revealed a slightly spooky, writerly "thing", which I am trying to get my head around.  

For the work in progress I have created a wealthy family of collectors - some of them rather eccentric - who have been amassing their own particular treasures over generations.  With some it was first editions, Pre-Raphaelite paintings, alchemical tracts. One very significant collection from the 1920s is of Egyptian artifacts, which is central to the story. I decided that at least one of the collections would be slightly unusual, so I decided on the theme of clowns  - art works, sculpture, theatre costumes and posters - anything that would attract a collector, with the idea that some of the things might have creepy overtones - thank you Stephen King.  When I began to research art work that would have been modern and cutting edge at the time it was collected, I found that pieces by artists like Picasso and Jean Cocteau that were labeled as clowns, proved to be Pierrots and other characters from the Commedia dell'arte rather than the red-nosed circus clowns we are more used to now. This fitted in with older collectable art from French painter Jean Antoine Watteau, whom I had just studied in an excellent on-line course from the Wallace Collection in London. Watteau had a fondness for the Commedia characters, including Pierrot and Harlequin.  This was fine - I shifted my focus and we were good to go. The "Clowns" have their own important part in the story.  

It was very disconcerting, on visiting Greenways to discover that not only were the generations of Christie family great collectors, but that Dame Agatha had a lovely collection of Commedia figures that she had inherited which were on display  at the house. I really didn't know any of this. Or did I? Had I heard about it and forgotten until something surfaced from the past? Was it coincidence? Was it some sort of ESP? I know didn't change my plan from the circus/Stephen King type clown until I saw those pictures from Picasso.  

Strange and disconcerting. But that's life as a writer.

Greenways, in Devon

Beside the River Dart

Bluebells and ramsons

The upper garden, with lawns. There is a walled garden and tennis court too. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

A Trip to the English Riviera

 Ever since I began the "Riviera" series I've had it in mind to set a book on the English Riviera. Now I've finally done it. The WIP opens in Torquay, which is not only on the Riviera but also has numerous connections with the "Queen of Crime" Agatha Christie. The book has Christie type overtones as it begins with a house party during which a valuable necklace goes missing. Add in that the necklace is alleged to have belonged to Cleopatra, among others, and you can tell how much fun I have had with this. And don't worry - the grand finale takes place in Monte Carlo/Monaco - so there is some Mediterranean sunshine in the mix too. 

My trip to Torquay for the Crime Writers' Conference gave me the opportunity to prowl the town and  get some pictures for atmosphere. I thought I would share a few of them below. 

The Pavilion that marks the entrance to the pier.

The harbour/marina - lots of fabulous boats

Dame Agatha herself comemorated in a metal likeness

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

A Criminally Good Weekend

 I'm just back from the Crime Writers' Annual Conference - an "annual" conference that has been in abeyance since 2020! It was good to finally see friends and visit the English Riviera - Torquay - which I really wanted to do for research for the work in progress. What can I say - the welcome was warm, the weather was perfect, the company was excellent and the speakers ditto. I prowled around the town, getting the pictures I wanted, visited Greenways, Agatha Christie's old home - the town and surroundings are inescapably linked to the Queen of Crime - I ate super meals that I didn't have to cook, including posh hotel breakfasts and locally caught fish, and generally had a perfect weekend. I now have builders demolishing my bathroom, so I'm glad I enjoyed it!

What did I do? 

The conference location was the Imperial Hotel, a grand old fashioned place, of the kind I adore. A little faded now, but still impressive. Agatha Christie was a native of Torquay and attended many social functions at the hotel, and also used it in a number of books, under the guise of "The Majestic" Poirot and Miss Marple have sat on its terraces

The "Majestic" Imperial

Dame Agatha is celebrated with a plaque
 in the foyer

The impressive interior -
my idea of the perfect hotel 

The dining room - a view of the sea - and just look
at the linen and silverware!

I arrived on Friday afternoon to find I had a lovely room, with its own balcony and sea view, and treated myself to afternoon tea sitting in the glassed-in lounge with another sea view. 

The hotel grounds 

The view from my balcony

Amazing afternoon tea

The tea was amazing, arriving in it's own set of shelves -  sandwiches, sausage roll and crab tart, scones and  cake. 

Friday evening was taken up with a reception at the local museum. As I had decanted my essentials into a tiny handbag I didn't take the camera, so was not able to photograph the Egyptian exhibits which I had not expected and which would have been very appropriate for the WIP. You will just have to imagine statues of gods and a sarcophagus. 

On Saturday morning we had a selection of speakers covering law enforcement from a number of angles. Saturday afternoon was a trip to Greenway Agatha Christies' old home, now run by the National Trust The house was fascinating and the grounds were beautiful - full of spring flowers. I'm going to post next week on that - I think it deserves special attention. Ditto the pictures I took on my ramble around Torquay - I can tell you about the WIP too. 

Saturday night was the gala dinner during which the long lists for the CWA Dagger Awards were announced. There were several friends in the line up and I got a special buzz being in the room to hear Alis Hawkin's name as a contender for the Historical Dagger. Alis is a guiding light for Crime Cymru - the collective a Welsh Crime Writers of which I am a member 

The Torquay marina

All too soon it was Sunday - speakers from the Society of Authors and an interesting presentation on self publishing from CWA members who are doing it for themselves. All too soon the official weekend was over, but I was able to go on the town to prowl  for location shots and then sat for a while in the sunshine on my balcony, reading. 

All in all it was a wonderful weekend. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

It's the atmosphere.

 Last week I was talking about popular buildings that feature in romance novels. That got me thinking a little wider - popular occupations and popular locations. 

It's a given that any book with Cornwall or Scotland in the title will probably do quite well. What are we buying - holiday memories, wish fulfilment? The idea of escaping to some wild place, particularly if it is a coastal location seems to be a big draw. Not sure if Cornwall in high season would qualify as a wild place these days, but you get the idea. Escape, getting back to nature, living a simpler life? It doesn't really matter if the reality is a little different - in fact maybe it's better that way. It's a dream, and romance authors are big on wish fulfilment. 

The other things that seems to get idealised  quite a bit are occupations. This loops back a bit to the buildings - baker, guest house owner, bookseller, maybe librarian. All these seem to be things we want to be. No one seems to dream of being a tax inspector, although I have threatened for a long time to include one in a book.  Pet sitter, dog walkers, gallery owners, artists, they are all in the list. I suspect that self employment may have a bearing on some of this - the lure of being your own boss. Of course that means that you are where to buck stops, but we are talking wish fulfilment here. 

And of course an awful lot of books feature writers. 

I have to tell you writing for a living it is not as glamourous or as lucrative as it is made out in books. That has to be wish fulfilment on the part of the author. Writers in books go out to lunch in expensive places, drink champagne, get six figure deals, are interviewed by magazines, get offered film deals, go on perfectly organised international book tours, do their writing in immaculate offices or maybe in their own purpose built shepherd's hut. 

Some of that does happen. All of it happens to a few authors, some of it happens occasionally to the rest of us, but not that often. And the average income of an author for the majority is actually below the living wage, so it's not even really a living. But we still do it. Like all those bakers and dog walkers and booksellers, we're doing our own thing. The thing we love.

And who knows, maybe that six figure deal is just around the corner. 

Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Special kinds of building for romance readers?

 Many romance readers will be familiar with the idea of a trope - there are quite a lot of popular ones. Fairy tales - Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast are top ones there - then there's friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, only one bed, runaway bride, marriage of convenience, secret baby ...

It occurred to me, browsing in the library last week, that there are certain types of buildings that seem to be developing trope-like status. There presence on a cover can give a book added shelf appeal. I started on a list:

Beach Huts - The epitome of the English summer? Sea, sand dunes, picnics ...

Old Houses - How many books can you think of that have the word 'House' in the title?  Often there is a mystery - an old family home, an inheritance - and of course a garden, in various states of wildness. (Yes - I'm guilty on that one.) 

Castles - mostly but not exclusively historical romance - probably located in Scotland. Wales has an abundance of them, but they don't seem to feature quite so much. 

Libraries  - comforting, or spooky depending on the nature of the books. And an object of envy for the dedicated reader as well.

Bookshops - a variation on the library? Often offering a new career for the protagonist. 

Bakery/Cafe another career location - a place where people meet, and if there is cake ...

Bed and Breakfast/Guest House - another variation on the career location - the potential for a cast of characters - and you get all the meals. 

Trains - not really a building, but a journey has so many possibilities. Planes and road transport don't seem to have the same allure as a rail journey.  

Water - again, not a building but bodies of water seem to have drawing power - lots of titles involving water - lake, cove, bay, beach. 

What are we looking for when we take these books from the shelf? I'd say it's escapism, potential for an alternative lifestyle that seems attractive - even though we know that in real life the Bookshop/Bakery/B&B would involve hard work. Also you will no doubt have noticed that several of these locations would be as happy hosting cosy crime as romance.  You can take you choice on that  - a corpse or a clinch.

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

Putting yourself in your books.

 Writing is a strange occupation. I've heard it described as telling lies for a living.  And all the stories/lies come out of you own head, which is even stranger. Disturbing when you are enjoying writing a villain. Perhaps even more disturbing when your characters take off and start doing things you never intended. 

There's a classic joke - 'Be careful or I'll put you in my novel.'  I would never do that - too afraid of possible consequences - but I have noticed lately that I'm putting myself in my novels. Not as a character, but using specific memories and experiences. 

I'm currently transferring the WIP from hand written to type written - a bit of a laborious process, although it is also the first rough edit, so it is useful. I've just transcribed a scene in and around Sloane Square in London, and I was struck by how much of my daily walk to work had influenced the scene in small ways. Re-reading it on Saturday took me back to the Square on a sunny day, the cafes and restaurants, the people, the shops, the entrance to the tube station. I know the geography of the square and the positioning of the zebra crossings is going to be significant for the plot in a future scene. It was nice to remember.

I've blogged previously about how  I used objects I've inherited in A Villa in Portofino - you can see a 'tour' of these in the special pages at the top of the blog. One object, or set of objects, in particular stands out - the postcards that my father must have brought home from his time serving in Italy during the Second World War. They are views of the major cities and some more obscure ones too. I know nothing about them as my parents were engaged before and after the war, but not during - long story - and Mum and I did not find them until we were sorting out things after he died. 

Why did he keep them? 

I'm guessing that it might have been accidental. You know how it is - you find a box, have a quick look through and then put it back where you found it, to be sorted out another day. And there is something about throwing away photos. 

One of the things I wanted to explore in A Villa in Portofino was the idea of family 'secrets' that are not really secrets but have simply come down the generations only partially explained.

Those postcards formed the stepping stone into Megan's  mystery of the Italian poetry books. A small 'mystery' that the depths of the writer's mind embroidered into a completely different direction. You can get 'inspiration' from all kinds of places. Then your characters take it and run with it and that's how you get a book.