Saturday 31 December 2011

WoW! Writing Magazine.

Posting out of turn on grounds of excitement. I'm the featured writer for February  in Writing Magazine's Debut Author slot, being interviewed by thriller writer Adrian Magson. Talking, naturally, about Never Coming Home, and about the journey to publication with Choc-Lit.

What a great way to begin 2012. The start of a memorable year?

Wednesday 28 December 2011

A Life in Chocolate

As you might guess, being published by a company called Choc-Lit means that chocolate features rather heavily in the lives of its authors.

At this time of year selection boxes are high on the list of gifts given and received, and this also happens to be one of the favourite ways of describing the novel selection offered by Choc-Lit, to help guide readers to the type of book they might enjoy. It's a handy device. I can make it clear that my writing is at the dark end of the box. If you're looking for sweet romance, this is not the place. Villains, a high body count and an even higher heart rate - from thrills and passion - that's me.

The authors also play the game of matching characters to types of chocolate. In the case of Kaz - heroine of Never Coming Home - I can't resist matching her to some of the unusual combinations appearing from artisan chocolate makers that involve flowers. I've sampled milk chocolate petals containing strawberry and geranium from fair trade choccygirls, Plush, over the holiday - delicious and reminiscent of Turkish Delight. They're perfect for Kaz as she's a gardener by profession. And Devlin? Definitely the darkest chocolate you can get. He's a man without a past, so there's not too much to know about him, until Kaz begins to get close and persuades him to talk! So - he'd probably be a very simple bar of dark chocolate - the finest and the richest, to reflect his complex personality - whatever he thinks about himself, I think he deserves the best.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

So - How do they spend Christmas?

The celebrations over at the Choc-Lit blog got me wondering. How would the key players in Never Coming Home spend Christmas?
For Suzanne - my heroine's mother, the theme would be glamour and elegance. A fashion model in the late 60s and early 70s and later the muse and companion of a world famous artist, her emphasis has always been on style, even in her days as a flower child. I can see her shopping in Harrods and Harvey Nichols, hopping on Euro star to hit the boutiques of Paris, or picking out distinctive gifts at Christmas craft markets in atmospheric cities like Bath or Lincoln - or even further afield in France and Germany. She'd be sure to find some special hand-made tree decorations, to entrance her granddaughter, and probably some edible goodies, to add spice to her own entertaining.
Christmas Eve would be spent in cocktails with friends, followed by dinner, wearing Vivienne Westwood or vintage Dior. After a leisurely breakfast on Christmas morning, it would be a short, brisk walk to her daughter's house in Chelsea, in time for present opening and to help with dinner.

For Kaz, Christmas would be a lot more hectic. Juggling her gardening business - clients wanting their winter gardens in top condition for their holiday entertaining - with preparations for giving her small daughter the time of her life. As a recently divorced single parent Kaz tries hard, perhaps too hard, to ensure that Jamie doesn't miss out on anything. Raised in a bohemian artistic community, whether in a palazzo in Venice or a chateau in France, Kaz craves the traditional and cosy. She's clear-sighted enough to know that some of the effort she puts in for Jamie is for herself too.
So- the house will be decorated using foliage and berries, along with fairy lights and tinsel, the tree will be tall, and trimmed with classic decorations that she hopes will be passed on and treasured by her daughter, when she grows up to have a home and family of her own. Kaz probably won't get out of her jeans, until shooed upstairs by her mother to put on something festive on Christmas night. Christmas Eve will find her hosting a group of excited five-year-olds for her daughter's birthday celebrations, then trying to stuff far too many small presents into an overflowing stocking, helping Jamie leave out the home made mince pie - a little crumbly, but made together, with love and laughter - for Santa, plus carrots and sugar lumps for his reindeer, and wondering if the turkey really is too big for the oven.

That's Suzanne and Kaz's Christmas. At least it was. Until tragedy struck, leaving only grief in its wake.

Devlin's Christmases have been ... well, somewhat different. While he was working for an unacknowledged Government Agency, on assignment, deep under cover, it was enough to make it through the day, like any other day, and still be breathing at the end of it. Since he's been 'retired' and working as a security consultant in America, he's taken delivery of a very flash and fast hire car on December 24th and simply pointed it at the road. He's spent Christmas in bars in one-horse towns, in diners in the middle of nowhere, in fancy hotels and flea pit motels, all across the States. Wherever he happened to be where hunger or tiredness hit.
This is a guy who's faced death on a day to day basis. But, the scariest thing of all? Trying to do Christmas as part of a family. If you've ever seen a hard man panic, this would be it.
But, if he's going to have a Happy Ever After, and I really do want that to happen, he's going to have to put some work in.
And there would be Christmas things he'd be good at. Like - anything that requires analysis and heavy lifting - from selecting the tree, to carrying home the turkey - and hauling it into the oven. He'd be a perfect escort to a festive ice rink, or fair ground, especially one with white knuckle rides. He'd be excellent at making space near the front at open air events and parades, although that air of contained menace might not be exactly in the festive spirit.
The softer stuff, cards, candles, wrapping paper - that's going to take a while. But anything is possible with sufficient motivation. And what better motivation than love?
There is one thing I'm sure of. He knows exactly what to do when it comes to mistletoe.
On that, he's a expert.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Christmas In Character

From Monday 19th December, over on the Choc-Lit site, the author team will be blogging the not quite twelve days of Christmas.  I’ll be doing my bit, talking about the guy I’d like to find beside my tree on Christmas morning, amongst other things. There will be loads of reminiscences, recipes and revelations from the Choc-Lit ladies, and maybe a few Christmas surprises for a few lucky blog followers. There are ten of us Choc-lit authors now – Liz and Henri have just joined the group, with fabulous books to be published in 2013. Both are graduates of the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme – which means that Choc-Lit will have two candidates in the lineup for the NWS New Writer’s Award in 2012 – that’s Linda and me, and two more in 2013! Not bad, for a niche Indie publisher. I’m really looking forward to the awards party, but that’s not until next May – lots of other stuff going on before then. Like the launch of a certain book …
Talking of parties – of course it’s the party season, and thinking of all things Christmassy got me wondering how the characters in Never Coming Home would celebrate.
So, next Wednesday I’ll be spending a little quality time in pre-Christmas preparation with Kaz and her mother Suzanne. For Suzanne, an ex-model and muse of a famous artist, the theme will be elegance. As a single parent, Kaz will be trying, perhaps a little too hard, to make a fun-filled and memorable day for her small daughter.
And then there’s Devlin.
This is a man who can face down abductors, assassins and serial killers – but do you want to know the words that can bring a hero who prides himself on his icy control out in a cold sweat?
I think you can guess what they are. That innocent little phrase family Christmas.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

All I want for an e-Christmas

All I want for Christmas -- is an e-book reader.  I'm not that much of a gadget person, but this is one piece of kit I do covet.  The idea of all those books (the voice drops and eyes glisten manically) stored on something the size of one paperback.

I'm a compulsive reader – I read anything from the back of the cornflakes packet to the heavy scholastic tomes.  You know, the ones that break your knee trying to keep them on your lap.  Quite a few of those around the house these days, although I don't always claim to understand what's in them.  This compulsion to read is inherited.  My mother and my grandmother are/were the same.  Is this in the genes or is it learned behaviour?  I've no idea, but whatever it is, I know I get close to panic if I'm stuck somewhere with nothing to read. Or if I think that my stack of books To Be Read is going down.  Now that one is just plain daft, because like any academic /writer/reader, the house is groaning at the seams with books -- but somehow those are  'best' books -- for special purposes or occasions, like going on holiday.  But when the pile of everyday books -- the ones from the library -- starts to go down, that's when the terror starts to mount.  And an e-book reader -- books, just a click away, and no need to buy yet another bookcase to put the little blighters in -- bliss. 

I already have my electronic TBR pile -- a number of my fellow American Title contestants are e-book published -- Savannah and Pat, Edie from ATV who is proving very successful at self publishing, Barbara who has recently debuted with Harlequin’s e-book imprint Carina.  Then there are other writers who have careers based almost solely on e-books, like Lynn Connolly.  One of her latest, Bloody Crystal, features vampires in Llandudno.  I used to visit Llandudno quite regularly when I was working on things involving the Welsh Assembly; it's a favourite Welsh conference centre. When I was there I never encountered any sexy vampires -- clearly I was missing something.
All those books, just waiting. So - an e-book reader is definitely on my list for Santa Claus. 

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Big news from Choc-lit

Great things going on at Choc-lit.
Apart from a string of recent author awards, the company has just joined up with an American distributor, IPM, to make the Choc-lit library available in the US from 1 January 2012. A red letter day.

And something for all short story writers  - a contest with the theme of chocolate. Judged by Choc-lit authors Sue and Margaret, the winner and runners up are in line for some delicious prizes - a lot of them the edible kind. Get typing now.

Detail of all these news items, and the rules and entry fee for the contest, from the Choc-lit website.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Looking for a Hero (Or a Heroine)

Fairly early in my career as a would-be author, when I devoured as many how-to books as I could get my hands on, I remember one of those writers - it may have been Mary Wibberley in To Writers with Love - commenting that you could see potential heroines walking down any street, but heroes were a different matter. It's a remark that stayed with me, and one I test out from time to time. It came back to me yesterday when I was spending some time at the university. A lecture had just finished, and the place was full of gorgeous women, in their late teens and early twenties, who could have filled a heroine's shoes with no problem at all - whether they were Nikes, or Manolos.

Outside, in the court yard, I changed my focus to studying the young men.

I tell you, this writing business, and the people watching involved ... Well, it's a hard job, but someone has to do it.

And it was perfectly true - there were athletic young men, attractive young men, young men who looked as if they would be a terrific friend and a lot of fun, but there wasn't one with that dangerous alpha edge that would make him a hero. I suppose that's the key - it's not often that you encounter a certain kind of alpha man that makes the cut as a romantic lead. Which may be one of the reasons why women like to read romance. Sheer escapism. 

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Party Time

What makes the perfect party?
Good food - and drink? A lovely setting? The chance to see and be seen, to catch up on gossip, to mix with influential people, to admire beautiful dresses and amazing shoes? My own favourite thing is meeting up with old friends, and making new ones - people who share a particular passion, so that you know you are among friends, even if you've never met before.

Some of the Choc-lit team
at the summer party in May

The RNA parties are renowned for all those things, and I haven't missed one in years. Sadly, for a number of reasons, I won't be at this year's Winter Party, which takes place at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers tomorrow.

I'm totally envious of those who will be there, and can't wait for the pictures to start appearing on blogs and websites.

 I know everyone who attends will have a great time, and will raise a glass to absent friends. Enjoy.

Thursday 10 November 2011


The posts have been short and erratic for the last couple of weeks, but I hope to be back on track now. This week's post, on The Big Read in Newport is below. And only a day late ...

The Big Read In Newport

Which of these was most influential?
The ‘Big Read’, staged by Newport libraries at the Riverfront theatre, is an annual event - great fun and informative for anyone who loves reading. The theatre is a lovely venue – as the name suggests, situated on the river - it’s a modern space, with comfortable seating, a selection of breakout rooms and a pocket size cafĂ©.  I attended the event last year for the first time and really enjoyed it. When I got a letter inviting me to this year’s day of authors and their books, I didn’t waste any time getting my ticket. The event has a number of mix and match streams, for children and adults, poetry and prose, Welsh and English. My choice this year took me to talks by Lesley Pearse, Lynda Page, Paul Doherty and Gwilym Games. All entertaining speakers and recommended if you get the chance to hear them at another venue.
Lesley and Lynda were frank, funny and informative about the path to being a writer – plenty of information for the fan who loves their books, and there were many of those in the audience - but also of interest and inspiration to anyone also hoping to achieve a publishing contract. As so many other authors suggest, hard work, persistence, a bit of luck and a thumping good story seemed to be the right ingredients.   Paul Doherty, historian, headmaster and author of a range of historical crime novels, covered ground from various royal murders and other scandals to the planning of the perfect murder. Of course the perfect murder is the one that has never been found out …
My wild card for the day was a talk by Gwilym Games about the horror writer Arthur Machen, rated as one of the greats by no less than Stephen King. Two of Machen’s books have recently been re- issued as part of the Library of Wales’ collection. I knew a little about him as a writer of gothic horror but it was particularly interesting to hear about his use of landscape in his work - of Gwent, around Caerleon, where he was born, and later of early 20th Century London. As setting is important to me as a writer, I’m always interested in how others handle it. He also wrote on Arthurian legends, which I’m currently researching for a book project. When one of the librarians attending the talk mentioned that Newport library has a collection of original Machen source material, the information definitely went down in my notebook. Mentioning original sources to an historian is like offering catnip to a cat!
One member of the audience was making a study of which author each speaker considered to have been the most influence on them, and asked the question in each session – interestingly it wasn’t one of the classic names who was most mentioned, although Charles Dickens did score quite highly. The author most often given credit was Agatha Christie, for her plotting and the page turning nature of the stories. It looks like everyone loves a puzzle.
 All in all it was an extremely enjoyable day. Hats off to Newport libraries for organizing it – already looking forward to the next one!

Friday 4 November 2011

Maybe Next Week

No lengthy post again this week, due to events way beyond my control.

Hope everything will stabilise in time for next Wednesday.

I recently attended the Big Read, run by the Newport Library Service - it was a fun day and I'm really looking forward to sharing it.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Normal Service Will Resume ...

No proper post today, as I am burning midnight oil, busy with edits. See you soon.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

A Question

What do a homeless man with amnesia and a reclusive research scientist have in common?

Well - for a start, they can both read minds ...

And they might just be about to fall in love ...

And someone is defintly out to get them ...

They're Jay and Madison, the rather unusual hero and heroine of Out of Sight, Out of Mind the book that took me to the final of the Romantic Times Magazine's American Title Contest for the first time.

Now I'm thrilled to be able to say that Choc-lit will be publishing Out of Sight, Out of Mind as my second book from them, in the autumn of 2012.

As hinted above, it's a paranormal. Not the claws, paws, fangs, fins type, just two human characters, with human problems that are complicated by the paranormal power that they share. Both Jay and Madison have secrets. Unfortunately Jay can't remember what his are. But someone else knows, and that's where the trouble starts.

If you want to read a little more, please check out the 'Books' pages on my website.

It looks like 2012 is going to be a very exciting year for me.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Leaving it to the Imagination

It was my turn to choose the Wednesday man on the Choc-lit blog today, another of my ambiguous heroes, if you want to hop over and have a look.  I’ve followed the career of the actor in question for quite a long time.  And when thinking about the post, I naturally reviewed my memories of his career.  The first time I saw him on stage the part involved nudity. The second time the part was an ambiguous one -- a charmer with evil under the surface.  Now, if you had asked me, I would have said that the nudity came second, but researching the two plays it was the other way around, which leads me to something I've been meaning to explore in a post--- memory and the tricks it plays.  So I had two possible posts today, nudity and memory.  Funnily enough, I decided to choose naked actors and to keep unreliable recollections for another day.

Everything goes in phases. At one time nudity on stage was very much the thing.  In fact, it got a bit boring.  ‘Oh yes, dear, I've seen all that. Now could we have a bit of acting please?’  Either that, or the audience was laying bets on how far into the play it would be before a member of the cast stripped off.  Mind you, I don't claim to be an angel and I have been known to purchase a front row seat on more than one occasions to see the same play, knowing that a particular favorite would be appearing, without barriers, as it were.  In my defense, I have seen plays multiple times when all the actors remained fully clothed at all times, so it's not my only reason for going. 
Absolutely the most memorable nude scene ever was a multi award winning play called Take Me Out at the Donmar Theatre.  Now that theatre is a very small space, and the play included a shower scene involving a whole baseball team.  That’s nine men, with only a bar of soap between them.  It was a brilliant scene from nine brave and talented American actors.  Strangely, when theatrical memories are being exchanged amongst my group of friends, that one is quite frequently mentioned.  Nudity on stage has rather gone out of fashion of late -- although I gather that in the National Theatre's recent production of Frankenstein the monster appeared in the buff, which does have certain logic to it.  I saw the performance on the cinema relay, where the assets were covered, and I can't say that the addition of a loincloth in any way detracted from my appreciation of the performance.  And that's what I'm getting to, in this lengthy excursion into nudes I have known and loved.  It is possible to leave some things to the imagination.  And that, I think, is one of the beauties of books.  The author tells a story, but the setting, characters and events are fleshed out in the reader's own mind.  And every book is different for every reader.  There is a lot of debate in writing circles about headless covers -- you know the ones, where you only get hero or heroine from the chin, or neck, down. While they look a bit strange, they do have the advantage of not imposing an image of that hero or heroine.  You can imagine what you like.  And that's the thing about writing books -- the writer can only do so much.  It’s a contract.  What the reader brings to the party is their own imagination.  And that's a powerful thing

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Listening in

Most authors will admit to being compulsive eavesdroppers. I know I am, and while I would never use any overheard conversation in a book, I do take special note of the way that people speak. Expressions that they use, the rhythms and the sentence construction. When you write genre fiction conversation is a huge part of the book and it's good to get it as realistic as possible. You don't reproduce all the ums, ahs and you knows that make up an awful lot of what we say, but pauses, broken sentences, emphasis and interruptions make it sound authentic.

I find that characters do develop their own way of speaking.  I remember a friend and fellow author reading a manuscript for me and commenting that I'd used one particular phrase over and over again. I was puzzled, as it wasn't a phrase that I was particularly aware of using. When I looked back at the manuscript I could see what had happened. It wasn't me, it was the character in the book. It was her favourite expression and she used it a lot, and I hadn't noticed. I was hearing her voice, not reading words off a page.

That's another thing I do, which is read dialogue aloud to myself. That's not too bad, but acting out dialogue, playing all the parts, with facial expression, in public places? That can get you some very funny looks. And sometimes you don't even realise you're doing it. For some reason I often catch myself doing that on the way to the railway station. So - if you meet me on the way to the trains, and I'm talking to myself again, take no notice.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Ambiguous Heroes

I’ve been musing this week on the Choc-lit blog on the nature of heroes. Alan is here, in his Sheriff of Nottingham era, as an illustration of the kind of actor who plays heroes and villains with equal talent. And because it’s always nice to look at a picture of him. Thanks to Mary for this one. If you want to have a look at another actor who’s equally at home on both sides of the tracks, check out the Choc-lit blog today, as it was my turn to chose Wednesday’s hot man.
That’s how I like my actors, and that’s how I write my heroes. They all have some pretty dangerous stuff in their past and with a flip of the coin they could be either hero or villain. Not necessarily the sort you want to cuddle up to. So my heroines have to be the kind of women who can handle that. I’ve got four men in my life at the moment.
Devlin – the hero of Never Coming Home has worked for an un-named government agency that does unspecified things – dark deeds, done in the dark. He’s retired from that now, but he can’t change his past and has great difficulty in believing that Kaz can accept him for what he is. He’s also pretty good in a fight, which is useful when you’re chasing bad guys all over Europe, trying to find out what happened to your daughter.
Jay – he’s the hero of the other book that made the final in the American Title contest, Out of Sight, Out of Mind. (If you want to know more about that, have a look at my website.) Jay has a big problem. He doesn’t remember who he is, or anything about his past. He has a horrible suspicion that it’s something pretty black and that somehow he’s a threat to Madison, my heroine, who’s trying to help him. And of course, he’s right.  
Oh – and he and Madison can both read minds. Just so you know.
Luke – he’s the hero of The Last Thing You See and an old friend. This one is a bottom drawer book. I love the story – and Luke, naturally - but it was an early effort at romantic suspense. When the third person who read it gave me exactly the same list of things that were wrong with it, I heaved a sigh and put it away. But I love the book, and after a couple of years I have an idea of what I’m going to do with it. It’s a Romeo and Juliet story, only Luke survived the tragedy and now has to live with it.  And without Miranda – until he gets a very strange e-mail. I’m really looking forward to going back to this one to try again with it.
Zack – he’s the man in my work in progress. I call it that, but The Camelot Game is still very much at the thinking about and research stage. Zack is a slightly different hero, maybe a little less of an Alpha, which may be the effect of issues he has from someone trying to bury him alive. Kate, my heroine, gets to come to his rescue on one occasion, and he’s confident enough in himself to be OK with that. This book is a treasure hunt, with stolen art work and conspiracies and clues to an old Victorian mystery. The research is going to be fun, but time consuming, I think.
So – those are the men in my life – or at least on my pages. I hope you’ll get to meet them all one day.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Life's a Beach

Tide going out - or maybe coming in!

Shells and pebbles.

One of the standard questions for any author interview is 'Where do you get your ideas?'
Living by the sea doesn't exactly give me ideas, except for my pirate/smuggler historical series, which I hope to get back to writing some day. That is set firmly in the area where I live, and I have a very clear idea of all the locations involved and what takes place in them, although I have taken a few liberties with the geography. But hey, I'm a writer - it's what we do.
If you live by the sea you always have a place to walk to. And a walk, and a look at the ocean, is my favourite way of sorting out hiccups in the plot, characters who won't behave or too much staring at the computer screen.

Coming into harbour
So - I thought today I'd share some of the photos I've taken, when I remember to put my camera in my pocket. I was walking the other evening, there was no wind, and the sea was literally like a mirror. Very weird. Of course, that night I didn't have the camera. I did have it in my pocket to capture a shot of a tall ship, coming into harbour. It's a modern version, but it looks like a good stand-in for my pirate ship to me. So maybe that walk did give me some inspiration.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Hold the Back Page!

You're in a bookshop, choosing  the one that's going home with you tonight, to keep you company for the next day or two - or maybe it will replenish the TBR pile. How do you make that choice? Maybe you've read a review. Maybe you've read something else by that author. Maybe you've had a recommendation from a friend.

If none of these apply, then the first thing that draws you will be the cover. Then you might flip the book over, to see what's on the back. Then you might open the book, to read the first page. And it's only then that you get to the bit that is down to the author. The creative talent that goes into the cover and the synopsis on the back are in other hands.

Whenever writers gather there are always stories about horrific covers - the rom-com decked out like a misery memoir, or vice versa. And we've all read the blurb on the back that tells you the whole story before you've even bought the book. A bit like modern film trailers, which show you all the high spots, so you feel as if you've already seen the film. Sometimes the trailer is better than the film!

Choc-lit work hard on their covers and the story on the back of the book to ensure that they reflect the story inside the book. The back cover synopsis for Never Coming Home is now on the Choc-lit website, if you'd like to take a look.

What do you think?

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Finding the Plot

One of the classic questions in any interview with an author is - Are you a plotter or a pantser?  i.e. do you plan your writing or simply fly by the seat of your pants. A more elegant expression for that is writing into the mist.

Well, I would have said that I'm in the second category, but I'm currently doing my first ever edits/re-writes - for Never Coming Home  - and the questions my editors are asking have sent me back to my original working papers for the book. And what did I find? Far more plotting than I ever remembered doing. I have time lines for the characters, charts of how old they all are at any given point, diagrams of where in the world everyone is at crucial moments. (I remember that one - it was when I woke up in the middle of the night convinced I had my murderer in two places at once. I hadn't, but I worked it all out, just to make sure.) There are lists of character's motivation, timetables for fight scenes and family trees.

I think I'd forgotten how much work I did as it was not all done at once, but gradually, as I needed it. Once I'd worked it out and written the scene, what was written took over and the stuff on the back of the envelope faded into the background. But it's there, like a skeleton or a scaffolding, holding the whole thing up.

Nice to know I'm a lot more organised than I thought.

Wednesday 31 August 2011

An Update for my Website.

I first got into writing romantic thrillers when I made it into the final of the American Title Competition, run by Romantic Times magazine. I didn't win, but everyone said I really must go to the RT Convention, in Pittsburgh, as it would be a once in a lifetime experience. So I did, and it was amazing. And the next year I entered the contest again, and got into the final again. And that book was Never Coming Home. I didn't go to the convention that year, but I do hope to repeat the trip one day. Maybe next year, in Chicago?

The slogan used by the finalists in ATV.
The convention is a huge affair. As well as parties, lunches, balls and book signings, there are a large number of panels, where writers can learn all sorts of skills. I attended several, and was surprised to hear that a website was considered essential, even for an unpublished author. A number of editors and agents made it clear that they would check whether a writer had one, as soon as they received a manuscript. I thought about it for a while, and then decided to give it to myself for a birthday present, two years ago.

It was designed for me by the lovely Paul, and I was thrilled with it. It's now been updated with some new information on the books and work in progress. If you want to check it out, you'd be very welcome.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

The Joy of Research

Yet more Archives!

Just back from another archive trip - not the National Archive this time, despite the photo. This time I really got around - the British Library, the Newspaper Archive in Colindale, the London Metropolitan Archive and a lovely little gem in the City - the Museum of the Order of St John, better known these days as the St John Ambulance. More about that at another time. I also crammed in some theatre. More about that later too. All this activity may be why I feel this morning like someone has borrowed my brain, and forgotten to return it. Archive research is essential for the academic stuff I'm involved in, and a delightful and justifiable indulgence/wonderful displacement activity, if you write historicals. (Can't actually write anything today - not until I've researched eighteenth century medicine, or the battle of Waterloo, or this very important detail about gentlemen's wigs ... you get the picture.)

As my chosen genre of the moment is contemporary romantic suspense, I don't get to do a lot of archive stuff for that. Devlin, the hero of Never Coming Home is more your action hero type. Actually he'd probably look over his shoulder if you called him a hero, wondering who you were talking about, as he doesn't think of himself that way. But I do, and so does Kaz, so he'll just have to get used to it. Only don't tell him I said that. I don't want to get on the wrong side of him. No-one wants to get on the wrong side of Devlin. Kaz can manage him, I'll leave her to sort him out. If we say he's a hero, he's a hero. And I'll hide behind her while she tells him.

RNA Party - IME Library - Jan and Myra, looking very glam.

But - back to the research - for Never Coming Home it was more practical stuff, which is why, when I was writing it, I spent a morning before an RNA summer party researching exactly which bench in St James' Park was suitable for murder. There are a lot of benches in St James' Park, but I found one that was just right. And then I had to work out how long it would take to get there from Scotland Yard. After my third trip around the block I began to worry about getting arrested for showing a suspicious amount of interest . 'Well, you see Officer, I'm writing this book ...

Then, the day after the party, I went down to Hayes, an old haunt when I lived in London. (I still have fond memories of the prefabs in the grounds of the Town Hall - my first 'proper job'.) That day I was looking at derelict buildings. I needed one close to the railway line. I won't tell you what for, but it did stop all the trains in and out of Paddington for a couple of hours. No - not what I did - (We're back to being arrested again.) I was a good girl and stood on the pavement, in the rain, and peered at suitable buildings. It was what Devlin did that stopped the traffic. I'll leave that one to your imagination. That's the fun part about being an author, you can do just about anything you like.  Anyway I found several that were close enough to the line to make what I had in mind plausible, and there you go. Worth the train fare and the rain.

It's a hard life, making all this stuff up.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Cardiff Landmarks

The fountain - the Torchwood bunker was meant to be under here.

With Torchwood back on the screen, although no longer located in Cardiff, I thought I'd dedicate today to a few of the city's landmarks that fans might recognise. I used to work in the area of Cardiff where the series was filmed. Filming usually took place at night, and I frequently ran into camera crews, with equipment still strewn all over the road, while on my way to work in the morning. The night scenes contributed to the edgy atmosphere of the show, and it was always fun trying to work out which part of the city you were looking at.

Torchwood was not the only series to be filmed around the Bay and in the surrounding area. Doctor Who was/is also filmed around here. 

The Pierhead Building

The original pilot for the recent modern version of Sherlock Holmes, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor Watson, was also made in Cardiff Bay. If you have the DVD of the series you get to see it, but the version that was actually screened was re-filmed using London locations. I preferred the Welsh version, but maybe I'm biased.

The Millennium Centre

The Millennium Centre is
 another familiar landmark from Torchwood. It was also the location of the first public reading from Never Coming Home.

But that's another story.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Women's Fiction Festival - Matera

The Sassi
Looking through stored photos recently, I came across some that I took in Matera in 2009, when I was there for the Women’s Fiction Festival. Matera is in the south of Italy, and if you want a writing festival that’s a little out of the ordinary, it’s definitely a candidate. The unique feature of the city of Matera is the Sassi - ancient cave dwellings. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and like nothing I have ever seen before. People still live in the caves, and there are even hotels set into them. I think they have a few more amenities these days than in the Paleolithic era.
Run under the direction of ex-pat American author Elizabeth Jennings, who herself writes romantic suspense, the fiction festival is a mix of editors, agents, writers and readers from the UK and other parts of Europe and from America. There are talks and workshops, mostly conducted in English or with translation facilities, plus social events and the chance to pitch to editors and agents. It was the chance to present work to the American market without travelling to the States that particularly attracted me. And the fact that if someone even says the magic word Italy too loudly in my hearing I’m already packing a bag.  

View from Matera
What was the experience like? We had to put our own travel package together, my first taste of the delights of booking and travelling with Ryanair, and I must say it all went very well, which was a good thing as I hate to fly. There are services to organise transfers and hotels. I was a bit apprehensive about arranging all that from the UK, while not speaking Italian, but that all worked out too. It was late September, and I packed summer stuff. Big mistake, as it was very cold. Luckily I did take my leather jacket. It went everywhere with me. It also rained a little, but nothing that an umbrella couldn't take care of. Being from Wales I have experience of rain. The food was fabulous – mostly from small family restaurants. Not a lot of English spoken. On one memorable occasion the chef was brought out of the kitchen to explain what was on our plates – he was the only one with any English. Often the dishes didn’t have a name; you’d get a description of the ingredients instead. The hotel we stayed in was what I think of as very traditionally Italian, antique style furniture and lots of marble. The Sassi  - an extended complex of caves, over many levels, walking shoes required - has an amazing atmosphere – a warren of narrow streets, terraces and alleys. I was immediately trying to think up a plot for a novel that would involve a chase up and down the winding slopes. Still working on that one.

The festival itself? Very enjoyable and informative. I learned a lot, on the hoof, about pitching, and got multiple requests for manuscripts. I didn’t sell as a result, but I did get some excellent feedback and the chance to try out the elevator pitch on a very exacting audience.  It was good to meet a wide range of writers, particularly from Europe, and to hear speakers from both sides of the Atlantic. It’s not solely a romance writing festival, but there is plenty for the romance writer to enjoy.
A very different experience, in a unique setting.
I hope to go back one day. But next time I’ll put a few sweaters in the suitcase.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

On being an Archive Addict

I love archives. This is a Good Thing, as when I have my other hat on - not the one that says 'Danger - Romantic Novelist', but the one that says 'Trainee Academic', I spend a lot of my time in them. They are a world of their own - where the pencil is mightier than the pen, no sharp objects are allowed and you have to leave all your possessions outside the door. It's a world that is becoming a lot more familiar to a lot more people these days, with the current fascination with exploring the family tree, fostered by all those TV programmes with celebrities finding out about their ancestors. If you visit any archive these days you will usually find someone exploring the census or military records in search of Great Uncle Arthur. (You know - the one that the family doesn't talk about.:) )

National Archive - Kew
I don't do family history. Not yet anyway. I know the bug will get me one day.  My interest at the moment is local councils during the second world war. Yes, I know, people keep telling me I need to get out more. But I find it fascinating. Just the look of the old volumes, leather bound, embossed, curling a bit at the edges, with a lovely soft pillow to support them and their share of decades-old dust - and I never remember to make sure I have a handkerchief. (See above, about leaving all your possessions outside.) There are stories in there, if you look- and have a vivid imagination. Two of the councils I've been studying were planning celebrations for special anniversaries in late September 1939. Fireworks, parades, floodlighting the Town Hall. Of course, I knew that the war would intervene. And sure enough, there were the sad little entries cancelling or curtailing the celebrations. And they'd put so much effort into them.
Then there were the deckchairs. The Parks Committee of Cardiff Council wanted to buy deckchairs for use in the summer in the municipal parks - somewhere for people to sit while they listened to the brass band. After the ritual tussle with the  Finance Committee, who didn't want to part with the cash, they got half of it - which, if they were good negotiators, was probably what they had planned in the first place. They got their deck chairs - and a few months later those same deckchairs turned up again, being used in the first-aid posts and air-raid warden stations for the volunteers to sit on as they waited for the air-raid sirens.
This is what fascinates me about archives- the stories - but then, I'm funny that way.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

What Country, friends, is this?

Location. Location. Location

Whenever romance authors get together and begin talking about early influences on their writing, the name Mary Stewart invariably comes up, particularly amongst those who write romantic suspense. Her books have the classic ingredients - ambiguous alpha hero, who may be a good guy, or maybe not, independent heroines who are more than a match for the tough guy and European settings which, at the time they were written, must have seemed impossibly exotic - the Greek Islands, the south of France, Austria, Spain, the Isle of Skye (before they built the road). The impact on readers in post war Britain, ten years after the war, but with rationing only just ended and the package holiday still many years into the future was surely exactly what a good romance novel must be - an escape into another world.

And location is still a key ingredient in books and films. Reviews of so many books talk of the location as a character in its own right. Films like The Tourist have ravishing settings - in that case Venice - which give the stars a run for their money in drool appeal. (Although I must say that a cameo appearance by Rufus Sewell brightened the screen considerably for me, and diverted me from rampant palazzo envy.)
I still like books which take me to places I consider to be glamorous - with plenty of sunshine please. And those are the books I like to write. Being in a foreign place is an added layer to the uncertainty felt by the hero and heroine - essential stuff for thrillers/suspense. And it throws them together - essential stuff for the romance. And I get to enjoy the sunshine, even if it is only in my head.

It wasn't until I began thinking about this piece that I realised how much my teenage reading of Mary Stewart had shaped what I now like to write. The power of early influence?  All the ingredients are there - particularly the settings.
There are other things I know influence my writing, but they're something for another post.
And the heading of this one? That's Mary Stewart's influence as well - many of her titles are quotations, often from Shakespeare. That's something we don't do so much now.
Maybe that's another post too - spot the quote.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

First Post

Hello and welcome to my brand new blog.

My name is Evonne Wareham, I'm a writer and my debut novel will be published by Choc lit in 2012. It's a romantic thriller, entitled Never Coming Home. 

Choc lit are independent romance publishers who believe that books and chocolate are a perfect combination. Never Coming Home is their first thriller.  

I plan to blog on one day every week and Wednesday seemed like a good day. Right in the middle. Just about recovered from last weekend, and looking forward to the next one.

I needed a name for the blog. Evonne on Wednesday seemed to fit.

I hope you'll join me here regularly.

On Wednesdays.