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 I attended several, and was surprised to hear that a website was considered essential, even for an unpublished author.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.