Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Cover story

 Now that the latest manuscript has gone to the publisher I have a new set of milestones - what the readers' panel thinks of the book - I hope it's positive because the next two depend on it - the edits - not so much fun - and seeing the cover which is always exciting. You often hear horror stories of authors who hate their covers so maybe I am lucky as I have loved all mine. If we get that far, it will be interesting to see how the designer interprets the villa and it's garden. There will definitely have to be roses. 

There are fashions in covers. I am just a little bit addicted to standing in front of the book display in ASDA admiring them. There are good old tropes - back version of a woman usually dressed in a red coat - although lately I have seen bright yellow creeping in. She is walking or running depending whether it is a romance or thriller. Or there's the back view of a man - these are thrillers - with some sort of desolate urban scene in the background. Lately romances seem to be either rural or beach scenes with either a house or a figure or simply a plain pastel background with a variety of odd items scattered over it. Pink and turquoise seem to be popular colours. Crime/thrillers have been featuring hard blues and yellows for a while, with an indistinct background for a bold font for authors name and title and often with a sub title interleaved thorough it. 

I have to admit that when you are looking at a row of books - at least when I am - they tend to blur into each other. A bit of variety might be nice. On the other hand these covers clearly give out a signal for readers about the contents - that solitary guy walking down sepia mean streets probably isn't going to find romance at the end of them - or if he does she will probably meet a nasty end at the hands of the villain so he can go back to walking those mean streets alone, just that little bit more damaged and jaded. Cynical? Me? 

I know it is good for readers to understand what they are getting - to be able to pick up a book with confidence that they have a head start on the possibility of enjoying it, but it's that blurring again. But then fashion is fashion.

And I still can't wait to see what sort of cover the new book might get. Will it have roses?

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

So many tropes, so little time

 Well book three of the Riviera series has gone to the publisher. Now we have to see what the readers' panel will make of it. In the meantime, I have begun book four - but it will probably be slow going as I do have housekeeping tasks that have been on hold for too long to be ignored much longer. 

What's the new one about? At the moment it seems to be somewhere between a county house mystery crossed with something creepy involving Egyptian mummies, but I'm going to have to sort that out shortly!!! Books sometimes change quite a bit in the process of being written, the latest one did. 

My trouble? I'm easily led. If I read something that I enjoy, then I want to have a go. Sometimes that involves turning the idea on it's head, which is how A Wedding on the Riviera came out of reading a couple of runaway bride books in quick succession.  I've always wanted to play with an amnesia book and I definitely have plans for a treasure hunt book, with clues and cyphers and everything, and then there's stolen art ...

I've just been reading the Josephine Tey classic Brat Farrer and now I want to write an imposter book - one where a long lost heir comes back to claim an inheritance. Mary Stewart's The Ivy Tree also has a hand in that. It's interesting - two different treatments of the same idea. You know from the start that Brat is an imposter. In The Ivy Tree the identity of the heroine is much more ambiguous. It's many decades since I read that one for the first time, but I recall changing my mind several times over whether this really was Annabel the lost heiress. 

Thinking about it, it would probably be much more of a challenge to write a contemporary version - DNA being what it is - but maybe that would be an added attraction - how to get around it. I think you'd need more than one conspirator - not just a coach to ensure the imposter had all the knowledge and background but someone in the house, to run interference. See - the possibilities are fizzing around already. There's a whole lot of tension just walking in the imposter's shoes, wondering if they are going to make a slip ... 

Another trope to put on the list. 

Wednesday, 26 May 2021


The third book in the "Riviera" series  - The  Villa in Portofino - is finally finished - at least for the moment. Now is the scary part - asking the publisher if they want it. Fingers crossed.

It's a complicated book - which may be why it turned into a bit of a marathon. It has an overall time scale of one hundred years, give or take a few, with three families, set over two continents/three countries. The oldest player has a birth date of 1890, but the story really starts in the Second World War. A friend said that it sounds as if I've written a romantic suspense saga - she may not be wrong! The book that  it turned out to be is not the book that I started with and it has quite a bit of me and some of my family history in it, but I'll talk more about that at a later date - when I know it is going to be published! 

It runs over four generations and sometimes it was tough to keep them all straight. Much resorting to time lines and family trees. I had a panic as late as last night over when a pivotal event took place and who was there. When I checked the time lines - there are more than one, I found I had time lined it and it was fine. Present me thanks past me very much for that! 

What is it about? The core is the villa of the title, unexpectedly inherited by the heroine, and her efforts to restore it, especially the garden, to it's former glory. Put like that it sounds quite simple! The bulk of the story is set in the present - well 2018/19 if you want to be picky - so I suppose even that is historic. I write escapism, so no pandemics, except Spanish Flu, which does get a very brief mention.  

As it is about families there is a lot about secrets - not necessarily ones that are deliberately kept, although there are a few of those, but the kind of secrets that come from different generations of a family only have part of a story, or family memory that is not actually what really happened. I derived a lot of enjoyment from constructing that spider web - I just hope that the reader doesn't get too confused. (and that my editor doesn't want me to iron out the anomalies too soon!) I have ironed most of them by the end, although there are a few tails that are not quite tucked in, or where the solution is only conjecture. Theirs and mine. Working with a few very elderly protagonists I was able to blame faulty memory on occasion, which was an excellent get out of jail free card. That was what nearly got me into trouble last night, until I realised that Edith  had not recalled events in chronological order. 

So - that book is moving on to its next phase of life, ushered to completion by tonight's full moon.

And now I have a big choice - clean the kitchen, or start the next one? 

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

I'll just check that.

 Caution -  anxious author alert! 

Pink roses - because they feature rather a lot in the book and the list.
Pink roses - because they feature
quite a lot in the book and the list. 

I'm on the very last steps of getting The Villa in Portofino ready to send to the publisher. In theory this should just be proof checking, but with me, it also involves a lot of fact checking - not the big research stuff, but the little details. I know this is the result of an element of OCD in my nature. It would not take ten minutes every night to convince myself that I really have turned the cooker off before I can go to bed, if I wasn't a bit in that direction. I also know that it is not possible to get everything right - that old thing about not knowing what you don't know - but I have to try. So - as it is on my mind at the moment - the blog today is about ten random things I've checked for this manuscript - because everyone likes a list, don't they?

  1. The sort of reinforced work boots a gardener would wear. 
  2. The name of the Roman goddess of Justice
  3. Roses that grow on the Riviera
  4. DIY wills
  5. Transatlantic voyages in the late 1960s
  6. Famous American authors in 1950s and 1960s
  7. How to construct a labyrinth
  8. What a symposium is
  9. The date that American President Richard Nixon was inaugurated
  10. The history of Royal Albert "American Beauty" china

That is a real mixture and only a fraction of the things I looked up. The Internet is a wonderful place - and full of the most glorious rabbit holes. 

I wondering about what a reader can get from that list. If anyone wants to hazard a guess over what the book is about - I'd love to hear. 

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Diary Day

 Today is Mass Observation Diary Day when members of the public are invited to send in a one-day diary for 12 May. 

You may have heard of Mass Obs through the Nella Last Diaries - Housewife 49 - the war time record of one of it's most diligent observers. It was made into a TV film starring Victoria Wood. 

Mass Observation was started in 1937 by Charles Madge, Tom Harrisson and Humphrey Jennings as a social research project. It's best known for its detailed recording of the thoughts and opinions of ordinary people during World War Two, when it was commissioned by the government to report on morale. The fear of a massive breakdown in civilian morale was a big worry for the powers-that-were in WW2. There was a deeply held conviction that the effects of bombing might paralyze the war effort at home. One of the ways that government and civil service could check on opinion in the street was though MO's work. That massive failure never happened, but it's given historians, me included, plenty of material to play with since. 

The Mass Observation records - diaries and reports and questionnaires are a valuable resource for historians of the war and that is my experience of them. I've used the old records, but hadn't realised that Mass Obs had reincarnated as the Mass Observation Project under the auspices of the University of Sussex. It's now collecting information on the everyday lives of people all over the UK and inviting people to anonymously share a dairy entry for inclusion in the archive. Last year they had 5000. 

If you have been journaling during the pandemic - or even if you haven't and want to take part, you can find all the details HERE

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Classic Romantic Suspense

 As a celebration of the pagan spring festival of Beltane, which takes place on 1st or 13th May, depending what calendar you are using, I decided to re-read Mary Stewart's classic romantic suspense, Wildfire at Midnight. 

Mary Stewart is cited by many romance authors as one of their early influence and she was certainly one of mine. I can trace a lot of my traits as a writer back to her books - my enjoyment of glamourous settings, an independent heroine, a mystery running alongside the romance. Whenever I read a Mary Stewart I'm struck by how exotic they must have seemed in a grey post war world. Her heroines smoke, drink, drive fast cars and have careers, although there is always a man in the offing and marriage is the ultimate destination. Her locations - the Greek Islands, Vienna, France, the Pyrenees, Damascus must have been total escapism at a time when foreign travel was limited. Several of her books have a supernatural element to them, which adds to the mystery.

Wildfire at Midnight is not quite so exotic, as it is set on the Isle of Skye in the run up to the Coronation in 1953. It has a serial killer and some of the deaths are rather gruesome ritual murders. The thing that struck me most when re-reading it was the detailed description of scenery and wildlife, particularly birds, which are a Stewart characteristic. It's one of the things that a current author would be advised to cut out - we don't have time or attention for lyrical description these days - but in this book the landscape and the weather are an integral part of the plot and it works beautifully. I'm going to stow that thought away for future examination when my love affair with the Riviera wanes and I return to setting books in my native Wales. 

Two other characteristics of Mary Stewart are the wonderful titles of her books and her habit of having a hero and anti hero, with the heroine and the reader having difficulty deciding which is which.  The titles - often from Shakespeare or other Jacobean drama - are an element I love. Would you get away with those choices these days? Not so sure on that one. Often the publisher decrees the title and fancy dramatic ones are not in vogue. We're more pragmatic these days. 

I don't think I would ever use the hero/anti hero device myself, as one of the things I enjoy writing is the developing relationship between hero and heroine, and you don't get that if the heroine doesn't know who he is - does wonders for the suspense element though. Never say never though. If I can find a way to make it work for me, it would be fun to try. 

One thing I can say was that re-reading this classic was a very enjoyable experience. It's always good to be in the company of an expert - it reminds you of what excellence is, and what you need to aim for.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

How may cups of coffee are too many?

Or - are my characters in danger of being over caffeinated? 

It's a topic that writers occasionally discuss - not just coffee, but food in general. In real life many social interactions involve food and beverages - adult or otherwise. It's a part of life to be sociable and hospitable - meeting for drinks or a meal, offering guests refreshments - even business meetings usually involve a refreshment break. If you do all these and more in a week, it doesn't seem strange. Exhausting maybe, and bad for the waistline, but not strange. But in a novel? What would be normal in real life can slide into over use. I'm having this problem at the moment, because my characters always seem to be drinking coffee - which is in itself ironic as I rarely drink the stuff - I'm strictly a tea drinker. I do have five varieties currently in use, including a fruit tea and one that tastes of toffee. Somehow I can't envisage a hero who drinks tea. Hey, actually I can - I think the hero of the next book might be a tea drinker. The heroine thinks he's stuffy and snooty with a poker in an uncomfortable place, so drinking tea might suit him. He isn't, of course, but she and I are going to have fun finding that out. But I digress, as usual. 

My characters like to eat. What a surprise! I always describe what they are eating as my mother gave orders that I should, because as a reader she liked to know. Always try and please the readers. For meals in the current book I am trying to serve things that would be local to the Riviera and Liguria. What people eat can also be a clue to character - back to that tea drinking. Actually I think Elliot would probably like that toffee tea - which means he has a sweet tooth. I can see that he's going to be one of those disgustingly lanky types who can eat chocolate and cream cakes and never put on weight. Many of my books feature ice cream, because I like ice cream, although the current one doesn't.

And you can be pretty sure in my books that any food around will get eaten. One of my pet hates as a reader is the scene where the characters are having a meal which is abandoned because of some big emotional drama. My dramas don't mean lost food. If you are going to emote, please step away from the table. Scenes where a meal is prepared and the intended recipients don't turn up are a no-no as well.  Waste not, want not?

None of this solves my coffee problem. I'm going to have to count them up and see what I can do. Substitute gin?