Wednesday, 1 December 2021

I Hate Christmas!

 





That's not quite right. I don't hate Christmas - It's just that unlike some people, it's not really my favourite time of the year - too dark and cold for a start, and you know how I am about warmth and sunshine. As world travel and the bank manager prevent a quick bolt to the Caribbean, I've been looking at ways to celebrate. As you know, authors from Choc-lit and her sister imprint Ruby Fiction are quite good at Christmas books - you might say it's a speciality. And I have written a Christmas book myself, although it was, of course, a Christmas romantic suspense - the result of a challenge from a couple of author friends - and the hero ended up getting kidnapped and nearly murdered. It did have a very traditional snow-bound celebration in the Brecon Beacons in the middle, so it wasn't all bad! 

Anyway, in order to get in the mood for the festivities this year, I've done some preparations. I have two advent calendars - one for tea, from a company called Yawn, and one, of course, for chocolate, from Hotel Chocolat. I've opened the doors for 1 December today. The tea was Black Forest Black Tea - pomegranate, cherry stems, moringa, cocoa beans, cranberry, cornflower and safflower petals (plus the ubiquitous natural flavours) - and very nice too. A very good representation in tea form for the Black Forest gateau, for those of you old enough to remember when that was all the rage. It was loose tea, so I had to find my grandmother's little teapot to make it! The chocolate  was a mini Father Christmas - and he tasted good too.  


I'll update you on what is behind future doors in the posts this month, running up to the big day. I've had a scout around on the contents list for the tea and am particularly looking forward to sampling Ruby Amaretto on 11th, Sleigh Ride Tea Toddy on 14th and  Chocolate Fondue on 22nd, but there are plenty of other interesting ones in between too.   

The other thing I have done is invite some of 'the family' who have Christmas books out this year to come on the blog and tell me a few things from the books that will convince me that I really don't hate Christmas at all. I'm sure they will manage it - they are a talented bunch - and we will all have a some fun with it too. So in the next three weeks I'll be welcoming Kirsty Ferry, Angela Britnell, Marie Laval, Berni Stevens and starting off next week with  Helen Bridgett and Ella Cook, who actually celebrated Christmas in July! 

I hope you will join us and help me get into the Christmas spirit. 

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Props from A Villa in Portofino


No, it's not an invitation to tea. Well actually it might be.

I used the idea of family history when writing A Villa in Portofino and when I was writing it I also made use of some family artifacts which inspired their own small incidents in the story. Circumstances have prevented a location tour for the book, although maybe that will be possible in the future. Instead I thought it would add to the enjoyment for readers to see some of these props that were inspirations, so I have put together a small 'tour'. Today I am unveiling the results, which can be found in the 'Pages' section.  You can see the various tour menus at the top of the blog.  

WARNING - SPOILER ALERT

If you haven't read the book yet some of the pictures might give away parts of the plot - and the whole thing will make more sense after reading rather than before. If and when you have read it, I hope you enjoy seeing some of the items I drew on when writing it.  

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Writing the villain (ess)

When you write romantic suspense one of the essential ingredients is a villain. And for some dark and twisted reason many writers seem to like writing villains. I’m one of those. Mmm, I think maybe it’s best just to leave that one there.

In crime books it’s natural to assume that the bad guy will be some sort of criminal or gangster and I have written those, but in the case of A Villa in Portofino my evil doer is a villainess - Gabriella De Stephano - who is definitely nothing to do with organised crime and would be horrified and astonished that anyone would consider her in that way. She is a woman with an obsession, and while many of the other characters in the book consider her to be rather cold and creepy, the only one who really thinks she is capable of evil is her cousin Alcinda – and frankly Alcinda is a bit of a drama queen, so no-one really takes her seriously.

When I began on the first draft of the book my idea was that the reader would see all Gabriella’s plots and plans but would not know her identity until the big revel at the end. I soon realised that creating three or four women who might fit the profile was going to be a complexity too far, and anyway by then Gabriella’s personality was coming through very strongly. No way was she going to let me hide her away. She would look down her very well preserved nose at the thought. So the reader gets to sit in the passenger seat and ride along as she plots to secure my heroine’s inheritance for herself.

Gabriella turned out to be a deeply entitled snob, with decided views on how a lady should dress and behave and a superior attitude to all the dreary little people that she perceives are surrounding her. Circumstances force her to be sly and subtle in the means she uses, and I hope readers will get the same frisson of alarm at knowing what she is about to do as I got in writing her. Gabriella is wealthy and spoiled and determined to have her own way – but she is also deluded by her family history - a somewhat isolated and lonely figure because of that deep seated sense of superiority - and perhaps, at the end of the book, a slightly sad one, despite everything she has done.

It’s up to the readers to decide where they stand on that one.

Monday, 15 November 2021

Something fun for December

Just a quick post to say that some of my fellow authors from Choc-lit and Ruby Fiction are plotting something a bit special on the blog for the month of December. All will be revealed on Wednesday 1st! 



Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Welcoming a Special Guest - GB Williams


Today I’m joined by fellow Crime Cymru author G B Williams, as part of a blog tour to celebrate the paperback release of her crime thriller The Chair. Crime Cymru is a collective of authors who have a connection to Wales and I’m greatly impressed that Gail has her biography in both English and Welsh. Something for me to think about.

The book is a gritty, edgy thriller, dealing with some intense themes, which makes the most of the Welsh landscape and also manages to include a love story.

 

Welcome Gail

Can you tell us a bit about the book? What was the idea that kicked off the story for you?  

 

This book is the story of a hacker, Jay, who makes a mistake and, in running from his problems, crashes his car in a remote location, but then has the good fortune to be found by members of a mountain rescue team. They, Branwen, the local vet, and Cobb, a hermit with a past, provide shelter and safety to the hacker and stand up to the people who come after him.

 

The original story idea was a car crash and two people trapped together by a blizzard, and yes, it was intended to be a male/female romance. But that felt far too simplistic. Then, I started thinking about why the person who crashed would be in the middle of nowhere. They had to be running from something, and I had to work out what that was, which was when the idea of hacking came up, and running to a location that didn’t have good internet connections. Then I had to wonder why the first person was in the middle of nowhere too. People don’t cut themselves off without reason, and that was when Cobb’s back story started to form.

 

With those two storylines, I realised it was bigger than two people trapped by a blizzard. So, I threw the first idea out the window and turned it into the thriller it became.

 

 

The Chair is a complex story with a big cast with multiple viewpoints and a lot of threads running – did you have a special system to keep track of them all? 

 

Yes, it’s called Excel.  Okay, that’s not that special, but when I write the first draft I just let it flow, a few notes on character to make sure I don’t mess up descriptions, but I start with just freeform writing and a general idea of the end game. Through the many edits that come later I use a spreadsheet to keep track of what happens in each chapter and things like whose POV it is, who appears in the chapter, how it moved the story on, stuff like that.  This time around that was particularly useful as I realised that I had way too many point of view characters, and had to delete a number of voices to keep things straight. Those whose voices were cut out included, Emma, Shoreham, O’Rourke and Doc Pearson.  That made things much easier to follow, and meant that I had far more for Simons to do who was originally a bit under utilised.  But as complex as it is, I hope that people can follow it well enough.

 

 

The story covers a wide selection of settings and expertise – the music industry, cyber security, mountain rescue - to name a few. Did this come from your own background or research?  What are your favourite research methods? 

 

It was a true mixing point this one. I’m from the Southeast of England, but have lived in Wales for 30 years now.  So, I’m well aware of the differences in landscape and attitudes, which is something I tried to get into this novel. I know a bit about the mountain rescue, though not a member, I’m a geocacher, and that can take you to a lot of remote places. Now I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never needed to call the Mountain Rescue out, but I know geocachers who have. I’ve raised a fair bit of money for the Mountain Rescue too, and will continue to support them. The Mountain Rescue – all volunteers – do a great job and should be noted for that more than they are.

 

The rest is largely a result of research.  Oddly I am a bit of a sponge and soak up a fair amount of what I read and hear, and it all sits in the back of my mind until I need it. My hubby is also very good in that if he reads a story in the paper that he thinks I can use, he’ll cut the story out for me.  I have several pinned to my ideas board right now, and when the time and the story is right, I’ll use those ideas.

 

Once I settle on the story I want to use, I will do a lot of internet searching.  Since lockdown, that’s largely been the only kind of research it’s been possible to do. I’m quite diligent on trying to find multiple sources, and not just one, which is changeable by the public, I look for other sources to try to be sure. I’m also really fortunate in that I live opposite a serving police officer, so questions do get asked.  I also check books on police procedure, newspaper stories, and when I have a narrow enough question, I will go to certain internet pages where I can ask a direct question of relevant sources.

 

 

The Chair of the title, as well as having a more sinister meaning, refers to Cadair Idris, the mountain in the southern end of the Snowdonia National Park, in Wales. Can you tell us a bit about the importance of landscape to the story, and how you used it? 

 

Landscape is hugely important in the book, and it’s more than just a setting. The basic idea of Jay coming to Wales was because of the landscape. One of the features of a mountainous area is that a lot of communications don’t work well within them.  Without the mountain causing such problems, Jay’s journey to Wales makes no sense. The landscape is also why Cobb is there, it’s literally where he ran out of petrol, and where he then saw that he could live effectively alone and without neighbours while still in an area that would serve needs for life.

 

Of course, the land is also why there’s need of the Mountain Rescue, which in turn is part of why Cobb and Branwen have the skills they need through the book. Not to mention, that the landscape can be as much of a killer as those who pursue Jay.  It’s the setting of the final conflict and is equally dangerous to the players as they are to each other.

 

 

As well as some pretty gritty thriller elements you also have an on/off romance between local vet Branwen and mystery man Cobb. The book is not romantic suspense, but their relationship forms one of the distinct threads of the book – why did you want to include a romance? Was it an idea from the start, or did it evolve?  

 

It was always there. Once I had the story and saw that Cobb and Jay needed a go-between in the village, I knew that there would be a connection between Branwen and Cobb that went beyond neighbourliness. Their love affair was never going to be easy, both of them are hiding painful truths, both are wary of getting hurt again. And to be honest, they were so uncertain about their own futures that even I wasn’t sure what was going to happen in the end.

 

 

What’s next – any plans for a sequel or an on-going series?  

 

Though I have been asked to write more about Branwen and Cobb, the truth is, this is all the story they need me to write for them, their only public story. So, no sequel, sorry.

 

However, I’m currently looking for a home for a standalone thriller that takes an ordinary woman on a journey across Europe to find evidence of treason and discover the truth of the person she is inside.

 

Writing wise, I’m working on books 1 and 2 of a new police procedural series set in south Wales.  I’ll tell you more about that as I get closer to publication.


 

That is definitely something to look forward to. 


Thanks so much for being my guest today and telling us some of the background to the writing of The Chair 

 



About the book:

 

On a snowbound Cader Idris, death comes stalking.

Cobb retreated to Cader Idris for a solitary life of peace and quiet, and to escape his dangerous past. Though that illusion starts to crumble after he and Branwen Jones, the local vet, find a mysterious RTA victim and shelter him in Cobb’s home.

When elements of London’s criminal underbelly reach Wales, and their presence throws the close-knit community into stark relief, the chance to settle old scores could prove too tempting.

With no choice but to try and hide the RTA victim from people who want to kill him, Cobb’s not sure he’s ready to rejoin the world he’s running from, when that means putting another woman in the firing line. Meanwhile, Branwen’s not sure she can face the revelation of her darkest secret.

But as they face the final showdown, a race over the snowed-in mountain, will anyone survive unscathed?

 

 

 You can buy the book HERE

  

 

Biography

 


GB Williams specialises in complex, fast-paced crime novels, book one of the Locked Series, “Locked Up”, was released in 2017, “Locked In” publishes in Feb 2018, and “Locked Down” is due in Autumn 2018.  GB was shortlisted for the 2014 CWA Margery Allingham Short Story Competition with the story Last Shakes, now available in Last Cut Casebook. Crime novels are her stock in trade, but she has had success with short stories in other genres including steampunk, horror, and erotica.  She has also penned her debut steampunk novel, she launched in September 2017.  And she hates every photo ever taken of her. Find out more at www.gailbwilliams.co.uk.

 

Mae GB Williams yn arbenigo mewn llyfrau ditectif cymhleth sy’n symud yn gyflym Cyhoeddwyd y llyfr cyntaf yn y gyfres, “Locked,” sef “Locked Up” yn 2017, cyhoeddir “Locked In” ym mis Chwefror 2018 a disgwylir “Locked Down” yn Hydref 2018. Rhoddwyd GB ar restr fer cystadleuaeth straeon byrion Margery Allingham yn 2014 am ei stori, “Last Shakes.” Straeon ditectif yw ei harbenigedd ond cafodd lwyddiant hefyd gyda straeon byrion mewn ffurfiau eraill gan gynnwys arswyd ac erotica. Cewch mwy o wybodaeth ar http://www.gailbwilliams.co.uk.

 

 

Steampunk – stêmpync

 

 


Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Special Guest tomorrow - GB Williams

 

I have a special guest on the blog tomorrow - GB Williams is visiting as part of the celebrations for the paperback release of The Chair - her gritty thriller set in Snowdonia. Find out more about the book then. 



Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Out-takes

 

The Library at the villa. Most readers and writers I know have library envy.  I mean - a whole room, just full of books. One of the fun things about being a writer is living vicariously, so if I was creating the home of her dreams for my heroine I gave her a library. And a lot of books, inherited from her great- great aunt. I did a bit of research into the type of books that Aunt Olwen might have collected - best sellers over the years, dating from from the 1970s, when the villa was built. They were also a little insight into the kind of woman Olwen was - the kind of woman who would follow a man she barely knew into the unknown in the name of love. 

She’d found some interesting examples of the Aunt’s taste in fiction over the years, Sophie’s Choice, Love Story, The Bridges of Madison County, Scruples. She picked up a copy of Shirley Conran’s Lace, leafing through it. There’d been a copy on her Grandmother’s bookshelf, she remembered. Her Grandmother hadn’t had a copy of the Hite Report though, or a dog-eared paperback of Dr Alex Comfort’s Joy of Sex.

Megan pushed a lock of hair out of her face, wishing again that she might have known her Great-Aunt. She checked the date on the Comfort volume, 1972. Olwen would have been in her mid-forties then, but she and Uncle Eduardo must have still shared a passion. It was good to know that their love story had worked out, together with a tiny insight into the woman who had lived in the house and made the garden. Was it her spirit she could sometimes sense?

 The second set of extracts is a bit of a spoiler - it's from a description of the audience after Megan does her talk at the Institute.  I wanted to include her old tutor - a distinguished scholar from Oxford - to increase her prestige. In the event I decided he was a personal appearance too many and he got relegated to a character mentioned but not seen. There is also a reference to Gideon chatting with an architect - that line got taken out, but I re-instated the idea of the conversation in the revised draft. 

Dottore Marchiano was looking a little anxious, but Gideon was at ease watching the crowd. A tall man with a leonine head of grey hair and a good but old-fashioned suit was kissing her cheeks and drawing forward two young men. Megan’s delighted expression suggested this was an old friend. Her university supervisor maybe?

AND - (the group is moving towards the reception in the garden.)

To Gideon’s inner amusement Megan made something of a royal progress towards it, with himself, the Director and the two students as courtiers and acolytes. The leonine man was Megan’s old supervisor, breaking a journey from Oxford to Florence especially to hear the talk and introduce the graduate students.

Having listened to the lecture several times, Gideon found he could follow some of it when she drew him into the discussion about the possibility of the tower at the villa being the tower of the poem, then he found himself in conversation with an architect who had an interest in old structures and wanted to know about the old part of the building.


The last extract is pure self indulgence. Whenever any of my characters visit Nice readers get treated to a description of the Cours Saleya market, because it's one of the distinctive memories that I have of my visits to the city. This is the visit Megan made. She did a lot of shopping and brought home some of these goodies, but that got lost on the cutting room floor as well. 

Megan wandered first through the Cours Saleya market, admiring the displays of fruit and vegetables and flowers. She passed a stall entirely given over to olives of every kind, glistening in the morning sun, and another with a display of cheeses and preserves, and made up her mind to come early the next day to buy produce to take back to the villa. In a few weeks, when the summer season began in earnest, Nice would be flooded with land bound tourists and visitors from the large cruise ships. Now the market was busy, but not too overcrowded. With a last look at the colourful stalls, Megan headed out of the market.

 

There you are - some of the bits you didn't get to see. I hope you enjoyed them