Wednesday 26 December 2012

Boxing Day and Christmas presents

I had the best Christmas present I could give myself in the week before the big day, when I finally pressed 'send' on the very last  edits of Out of Sight Out of Mind. The text is as good as I, and the editorial team, can make it and the cover - back and front, looks great - so now it's on its final journey to print. The next time I will see it will be when my box of author copies arrives. Last time, with Never Coming Home, that was an emotional moment, and I sat down and cried on the stairs. (Shades of Rod Stewart!) This time I think I might break out the champagne. The book has already got a fantastic preview review from The Bookseller - I hope other people will like it too. I think it is a bit more romantic that Never Coming Home, but the plot revolves around mind reading, which is not everyone's cup of tea. Well, we shall see.

This time last year I did a post on how Kaz and Devlin, hero and heroine of NCH, might spend Christmas. This year I've been thinking of Madison and Jay from OSOM. I have to say that my first though was that as they are both totally wrapped up in their work, they might just see Christmas as an unwelcome intrusion. Madison is not totally scientist to the core though - she does have a very feminine side, and she does like to enjoy herself, when she remembers to do it. She has no family, so she has only herself to please at holiday time. I can see her jetting off, at the very last minute, to some warm, exotic location with a beautiful spa, where she will try all the pampering treatments, totally chill out and relax. I wish she would take me with her.

Jay - now he is a completely different story - I think intense is the best word for him. A complete workaholic. But - when the book opens he's a homeless man, with no memory, so his Christmas would very likely be spent in a homeless shelter, or a shop doorway. A sombre thought.

But then he meets Madison ...

I'd like to wish everyone a very happy Boxing Day. I've enjoyed your company here, and on the Choc-lit blog, over the year, and I hope we will be meeting again in 2013. There will be all the excitement of the launch of Out of Sight Out of Mind, I'm planning another photo tour of the locations I used in the book, and I also have plans for a series of posts on my inspiration as a writer. I'm calling them the Inspiration Files. I hope you'll join me to read them and will find them interesting.

Enjoy the rest of the holiday - see you in 2013!

Wednesday 19 December 2012

A successful launch - and old friends.

There weren't many left by the end of the evening.
I had a lovely time last week - a short stay in London, which included a day at the British Library's newspaper archive, in Colindale, immersed in war time editions of the Local Government Chronicle (Hey - to each his own!) Then an evening at Goldsboro books in Cecil Court, for the Crime Writers' Association Christmas party - packed, noisy with writers, let out of their ivory towers for the night, and the chance to catch up on friends and meet new ones. Many thanks to Rebbecca Tope for introducing me to some interesting people.

The next day was spent in Uxbridge - my home for many years - and one of the settings to the new book. I spent a frosty morning wandering with the camera, taking pictures of locations mentioned in Out of Sight Out of Mind, which will be part of a new location tour when I have a complete set - I need a trip to West Wales for that. It is such a hard life, being a writer.

In the evening I had a date with another Choc-lit author. Henriette Gyland was having her launch party in Waterstones in the Chimes Shopping Centre and I was there to introduce her and her fabulous book - Up Close. It was a lovely evening - and a few friends from my old workplace, whom I have not seen in a long time, came to meet me, so it turned into a nostalgic trip down memory lane. Everyone enjoyed themselves, Henri read an extract from the book, beautifully capturing its atmosphere, and books were sold and signed. Waterstones were great hosts - altogether a lovely evening and a suitable launch for a smashing debut novel from another Choc-lit author.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Up Close ... in Uxbridge

I have a very exciting date on Thursday evening, at Waterstones in Uxbridge. I'm introducing Choc-lit's latest release, Up Close and its fabulous debut author, Henriette Gyland, at her official launch. Up Close is a romantic thriller and I have to say, as another author of romance from the dark side, it is nice to have some company down in Choc-lit's slightly creepy basement. Henri's book is set in Norfolk, has tons of atmosphere and a hot hero in a wet suit - what more can a girl ask for?

I'm especially looking forward to Thursday as I lived in Uxbridge for many years and still have friends in the area, although I have not seen some of them for quite a while. They are coming to the launch party, so it should be a really fun evening all round.

I'm looking forward to visiting old haunts too, on my brief visit, which will be especially apt as my second book, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, which is out in March, is partially set in Uxbridge. Although I must admit, I have taken some liberties with some of the geography. I'm planning to take the camera - so there should be a location tour for that book, on the same lines as the one for Never Coming Home. If you haven't caught up with that yet, click the link above on Pages, to learn more about the locations and the writing of the book.

So - if you are around in Uxbridge, you might see me out, with the camera. And if you're in the vicinity of The Chimes Shopping Centre from 6.30 onwards on 13th December, I might see you  at  the Up Close book launch.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

A literary lunch

Writers always claim that we don't get out much.  Awwww!

Engrossed in conversation

Chris, Kath, Sandra, me, Jean

Lorraine, Chris, Kath

So when we do, it is something of an occasion. The Cardiff and Carmarthen chapters of the RNA met in Cardiff on 4th December for a not quite Christmas lunch - Sandra (aka Toni Sands), Chris Stovell, Lorraine Hossington, Kath Eastman, from the Nut Press, Jean Fullerton, the RNA Chapter Liaison officer, all the way from London - and me. We had a good time, eating and gossipping and generally sharing writer type 'stuff'.

Cherry and Chocolate fondant.

It was so good we are hoping to do it again.

P.S. I've been blogging recently about Out of Sight, Out of Mind. This is the notorious second book - the one authors dread. Will the people who read the first one like this one too? I have an added complication that this is a paranormal romantic thriller. Relieved and heartened to find that the Bookseller magazine has previewed it as 'a terrific thriller'. Wow!

Monday 3 December 2012

On location - Never Coming Home

If you're currently reading Never Coming Home and you want to see some of the locations used in the book, the pages link is above.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

But it's all romance

When you write romance, you get used to hearing the stereotypes - bodice ripper probably being the favourite. I have to say that no bodice has ever been ripped in one of mine. Attending the Festival of Romance, and listening to large numbers of authors reading from their books, prompted me to think about the wide variety of work that comes under the heading of 'romance'. Some of the extracts were comic, some were about families and relationships, some were gritty, some were scary, some were sexy, some were sweet, some were set in the past, some were set on a different planet ... you get the picture. I would guess that if you asked the authors what made their book a romance the words 'Happy ever after' would probably feature, but other than that, the variety of setting and circumstances was huge.

This is something that interests me about categories for awards and competitions. Most awards for romantic fiction sub divide as a minimum into historical and contemporary. But such wide groupings mean that a book set in the Medieval world can be placed alongside one set on the Titanic. Or one that is about a woman leaving a life she has outgrown, or a failed relationship, can be matched against the none too serious adventures of a group of friends who are looking for Mr Right. And all that gets even more complex if any of those involved just happens to be a vampire. Or a serial killer ... 

What am I writing?
American contests tend to have wider groups of categories. Over there what I write is called romantic suspense and usually has a category of its own. In the UK, where everything is on a more compact scale, I'd simply be in the 'Contemporary' section - as a romantic thriller - and where you might also find those paranormal stories, and maybe one or two taking place on another planet, or a parallel universe, alongside the ones set in a big city cocktail bar or a country village. A good book is a good book, but I don't envy contest judges trying to untangle all that. A bit like trying to compare apples and pears? 

Categories are exercising my mind at present as I am in the process of editing my second book, Out of Sight, Out of Mind. My first, Never Coming Home, mixed a love story with an extremely high body count. Those of a delicate disposition will be relieved to know that OSOM does not have quite so many bodies - but it does have a paranormal twist, as both the hero and heroine read minds. So now I have a paranormal romantic thriller/romantic suspense on my hands. Talk about trying to fit a square peg, with bits sticking out and one side side shaped like a triangle, into a round hole.

I can never make things easy for myself, can I? 

But it does have a happy ending. 

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Fun at the Festival

It's official - I had a great time at the Festival of Romance. And I make faces when I read aloud. And sometimes at other times also. Unfortunately I have the photographic evidence to prove it :) The Festival was a whole weekend of celebration of romance - involving parties, readings, talks, courses and awards. Congratulations to Christina for winning best historical and Choc- lit for publisher of the year. And big thanks to Kate Allan and her army of helpers for the organisation, and the people of Bedford for being so welcoming. Quite what the population in general made of an invasion of romance writers I'm not sure, but those I met seemed to be enjoying themselves. I was only there on Saturday - sturdier souls did the whole three days - but it was a hectic day, with lots crammed in. And I have photos. Hence knowing that I pull faces!

My first appearance was at the Coffee and Cake morning - where authors read aloud to guests who had bought tickets to eat cake, drink tea and coffee - and listen to authors read to them. Interesting evidence that inside a lot of writers is an actress trying to get out. The cakes were good and the reading were a complete mix - funny, creepy, sombre, thought provoking, romantic - not all at once. Thanks to Lizzie Lamb for the photo. And we did not drink all the bottles lined up behind me!

I did a stint on the Choc-lit bookstall over the lunch period with Christina, Liz, Sarah, Jane and Sue appearing and disappearing as events called them away. Then it was the Readathon at the Shopping Centre. Authors reading bits of their books to unsuspecting shoppers. Not sure what most of them made of it - but the Mills and Boon Stall was doing a brisk trade in ladies who wanted to feature as part of their cover art and yes, I did have a go. I can't remember who took the piccie on my camera (I may also already be featuring on M&B's Facebook page!!!!!) but thank you, and thanks to poet Oscar Sparrow who read from his work and who took the photo of me reading from Never Coming Home.

Then it was all over, for me anyway, and back on the train to London. I had a lovely day. Look out Bedford, we will be back.

My photo gallery appears below.

Photo gallery. At the Festival of Romance

Reading in the Harpur Centre. Why are there shoppers running away?

Being a cover girl - pity about the blonde fringe!

The ceiling of a function room at the Corn Exchange. Taking this was an accident, but when I saw it, I liked the balloons. 

Sarah and Liz on the Choc-lit stall, and Liz Fenwick minding the RNA table next door. Lots of goodies, books - and Chocolate.
Oscar reading his poems. Thanks for taking the photo.
Reading at Coffee and Cake, at the Lane. Thanks Lizzie Lamb, author of Tall, Dark and Kilted, for taking the photo. See that I'm wearing my Kiss of Death Badge? Romantic suspense chapter of the Romance Writers of America.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

The chance to be Romantic - for a whole weekend.

This weekend Bedford is going to be the the romance hub of the UK. Authors of romantic fiction will be descending on this unsuspecting market town from all corners of the country. There's a lot happening, and all of it fun. I'll be there on Saturday. First there will be a morning of authors and readers meeting over coffee and cake. Readings and refreshments- I'm the last to read. That's an event that requires a ticket, but there is plenty going on that is free, and the chance to buy books too. I'll be at the Choc-lit bookstall in the Corn Exchange at lunch time, and then I'm taking part in the Readathon in the shopping centre at around 3pm.

... the Millennium Centre  
Reading at ...

I've read my work in public before, notably in the Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay, but a shopping centre will be a new experience.

If you are in Bedford, please come along. You'll be very welcome.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Keep Talking

The popular image of an author is someone sitting in a rather nice study, probably lined with book shelves, alone with their muse, creating novels. This might be true, but there are just as many being typed on kitchen tables, scribbled on trains, in cafes, on buses. And authors don't spend all their time alone with their muse, either. We are allowed out sometimes, to talk to people. As my nearest and dearest never tire of informing me, I'd learnt the concept of sentences, and conversation, by the time I was eighteen months old, and I've not stopped talking since, so I really enjoy that part of being an author. Last week I had a chance to indulge myself - twice.

The Caldicot Writers' Group, who meet regularly in Caldicot library, invited me to talk to the group and I spent a very enjoyable morning with them chatting about becoming a published author and telling the story of how Never Coming Home made it into print. They are a lively lot, and I had a good time. I hope they did too. And we had a very nice lunch at the pub afterwards.

The next day I was in Ross on Wye. Another pub, another lunch, this time with the Wye Chapter of the Crime Writers' Association. As I write romantic thrillers I'm able to be a member of the CWA and the Romantic Novelists' Association. Twice as much chance to socialise, and twice as much chance to gossip!

On Saturday 17th November I shall be at the Festival of Romance, in Bedford, with the opportunity to talk my head off. The Festival has a number of events where readers and authors can meet, with the emphasis on readings and conversation. I'll be having Coffee and Cake, and reading a bit from Never Coming Home, on Saturday morning, and doing a stint afterwards on the stalls that Choc-lit and the Romantic Novelists' Association will be running during the day at The Corn Exchange. There's a rumour that the Choc-lit stall may have chocolate and other goodies to share. There will be books to buy - and plenty of information on books and authors. There is also a Readathon, taking place in the Harpur Shopping Centre, and I think I may be involved in that too. It's going to be a hectic day. Will I be hoarse at the end of it? Possibly. But I'm sure it will be fun.

If you have the chance, do come along. Some of the ticketed events are sold out, but there will still be opportunities to meet authors, and hear their work, around Bedford during the weekend. You'll be very welcome, and it will be a chance to do some early-ish Christmas shopping. With the variety of novelists attending, there will be plenty of books to chose.

And you get to hear an author talk.

Monday 5 November 2012

Never Coming Home - a look at the locations.

Just a quick reminder that the Never Coming Home location tour can be found by clicking on the pages link above.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Are you scared yet?

31st October - Halloween. Traditionally the scariest night of the year, when the veil between the real and the supernatural worlds is reputed to be at its thinnest. For weeks the shops have been full of masks, fancy dress, singing skeletons, biscuits with ghosts on them - you name it, they produce it. I think the most realistic looking edible thing that I have come across was a magazine recipe for severed fingers - thin sausage rolls with black olive fingernails at one end and tomato ketchup blood at the other. Now those did look quite gruesome!

Ghost and horror stories, the supernatural and the paranormal, have a long tradition in literature and drama - from Shakespeare's witches, through Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, Dickens's ghosts to Susan Hill's long running play The Woman in Black - still shivering spines after twenty plus years. It seems we like to be scared. But there does appear to be a change in the nature of the scare. Vampires and werewolves used to be the inhabitants of nightmares. These days finding a vampire sitting on the end of your bed may be more likely to provoke joy than terror. I know it depends on the vampire :) Fashions change, but the unknown is always a constant fascination. And scary things can take many forms and be portrayed in many ways.

Last week I saw a performance of the RSC touring production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. A play primarily about politics and civil disturbance - yet even that has its paranormal moments - the appearance of the ghost at the end of the play and the prophetic uttering of the soothsayer - in this production a spectacular figure based on an African witch doctor, on stage for a large part of the action and managing to combine both menace and a degree of pathos. It was a memorable supernatural figure which will stay in my mind for a long time  - human, but with a special power, in touch with something fundamental and unknown.

Hands up everyone who turns to the horoscopes fairly soon after picking up a newspaper or a magazine? Yes - I thought it wasn't just me. Prediction, prophecy, fortune telling - all have a perennial attraction. The future may be the most deeply scary thing a human can confront. We KNOW that the things that go bump in the night are not real - mostly - but we don't know what tomorrow might bring. Doesn't stop us trying to find out though.

I write thrillers. I put people into difficult situations and challenge them to get out of them. And for me, that is the key - difficult situations, not impossible ones. They have to be problems that my characters can resolve from their own resources, physical and mental. Situations that you might possibly meet in real life. If you were very unlucky. I don't write the stuff that sends shivers down your spine, but I do like to put readers' hearts in their mouths.

Enjoy your Halloween - and may all your vampires be handsome ones.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

But will they like it?

Second books are notorious. They're legendary for being difficult AND scary.


For the author, there's the problem of producing something as good, if not better, than their debut. They may be producing it to a deadline for the first time. They have to think of something new and different, but sufficiently similar, so that any fans they may have acquired are not disappointed. The first book - well, that may have been the product of years of work, that has been refined over time, at a leisurely pace, with no deadline pressures and with no-one but the author and a few critique partners to please. Not that critique partners let a writer get away easily, but you know what I mean.

But the second book? The second book is the proof that the first one wasn't just a fluke.

I'm pondering all this, because I am in the middle of editing my second book to be published, and am closer to it at the moment than I have been in several years. I'm not quite a typical 'second booker' in that Out of Sight, Out of Mind was written before my debut novel, so I haven't been producing it to a deadline. As an unpublished manuscript it was actually more successful in competitions, so theoretically it has just as good a pedigree as Never Coming Home.  

But - the new book is different. Never Coming Home is a fast paced thriller, with a high, and rather gory, body count. Quite where all that gore came from, I'm not too sure.  A lot of people have said how much they enjoyed it, and how much they are looking forward to the next one. Out of Sight, Out of Mind is a love story, and a thriller, but it's not the same as its predecessor.

For a start, it has a paranormal element. Both my leading characters can read minds. I like to think I've explored that phenomena as a challenge that sets them apart and which they have to learn to live with, but some people just don't like anything in their reading matter that isn't 'real'. I think Out of Sight, Out of Mind is more romantic than Never Coming Home, as most of the scenes are between my hero and heroine and the focus is very much on the development of their relationship, which is actually one of the hinges of the plot. It has a few deaths, but nothing like the number in the first book. At the opening my hero is destitute and homeless, not exactly conventional stuff. So - a lot of things are very different ...

I still love the story. I hope other people will too ...

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Full Supporting Cast

"Finish, good lady; the bright day is done, and we are for the dark."

This is one of my favourite lines of Shakespeare - why? I don't really know, probably the very simple contrast of light and dark and the sense of going into the shadows, never to return? Whatever it is, it's one of my spine chilling moments, as I was reminded when I heard it in performance at the Chichester Festival Theatre a few weeks ago. The play is Anthony and Cleopatra, and the line is spoken by Iras, one of Cleopatra's maids - a supporting character. Enjoying the line made me think about the importance of supporting roles. 

In Shakespeare a number of plays open with minor characters discussing events - an insight into the back story that would be classed as an 'info- dump' in modern terms - but necessary on Shakespeare's stage where there were minimal props, costumes and scenery. It's difficult to imagine what it must have been like to be in a first night audience for a new play from Shakespeare - that would be top of my list of places to go if I ever got hold of a time machine. The only way you'd know where you were would be from listening to the actors. And Shakespeare has some memorable openings - in Hamlet, the battlements of Elsinore, with a ghost wandering, the Scottish play, with three witches casting a spell, Othello, which begins in the middle of an argument - all great scene setters. And then throughout the plays supporting characters report and comment on the action, keeping the playgoer up to date with what has gone on off stage. 

We're a little more sparing with our supporting cast, these days. Early in my writing career I was picked up in a critique for inventing too many people. I was writing a rom/com and they were all having funny and witty conversations all over the place. At least, I thought they were. Except, as was crisply pointed out to me, they were detracting from the main protagonists, the hero and heroine, on whom attention should have been focused. I wasn't happy with the criticism. I'd worked hard on all those witty asides, but I kept it in mind. 

Now, writing romantic thrillers, I find I'm much less tempted to over indulge in supporting cast. While the hero and heroine must have someone to bounce ideas off - the hero needs a side kick and the heroine a best friend - part of the tension comes from isolating the protagonists and throwing them back on their own resources, and on each other. Which means they have to trust each other ...
These days I chose my supporting cast carefully - when they do appear, I want to be sure that they have a significant role. 
Listen carefully to that supporting actor - what they have to say may be a matter of life or death.  

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Inside Cardiff Castle

Exterior of the house

My day at Cardiff Castle.  
Discovering William Burges. 

The Tower - with Burges' decorations.

Exterior details 
The Winter Smoking Room - the blue figure is Dusk

As readers will probably have gathered by now - I have a bit of a thing for Gothic style art and architecture - so the chance to spend a day finding out  more about William Burges and Victorian Gothic, as part of a study day with Matthew Williams, the curator of Cardiff Castle, was too good to miss. Burges was a genius/eccentric, who believed that an architect's brief extended to the inside of a house - decorations, furnishings, windows - as much as the outside. He was also very expensive - so his involvement with the Third Marquis of Bute - who shared his taste and had the money to indulge it, was one of those serendipitous events that sometimes occur in history.

'Wednesday' window
The day was labelled 'Research' in my diary. I leaned a lot, some of which is supposed to find its way into a book. Eventually. At the moment, the emphasis is on 'eventually'. Although I do have an updated picture in my mind, of a painting, which will be a significant part of this projected book, which now features some rather distinctive wall hangings ...

I had a lovely day. The lectures, the conversations with other enthusiasts and the food, provided by the castle cafe, were excellent. After the lectures Matthew took us on a quick tour, and I was able to snap some interior shots of the Winter Smoking Room. As you can see, Burges' decorative style is  ... distinctive. You might say hectic. The theme of the room is Time - the days of the week, the seasons, the phases of the day. It has all the accessories of a lads' retreat, including storage for cigars and various alcoholic beverages, in specially designed furniture.

The mantle over the chimney - winter pastimes. 
We also had the chance to look at some of Burges' original drawings for the decorative work - many are not simply sketches but full blown watercolours that are works of art in themselves. As watercolours feature in my ideas for this projected book, they were particularly interesting.

This is only a brief glimpse, but it give you a flavour of the Castle. It's an amazing place.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Announcing - The Location Tour

I promised something special today, now that my first set of revisions for my second book - Out of Sight, Out of Mind  have gone to the editor and I have a short breathing space before they find their way back to me.

Here it is - in the post below, and the tabs above - my first attempt at adding pages to the blog.

A project I've been working on for a while and am excited about sharing. I hope it adds to the enjoyment of Never Coming Home.

Never Coming Home - The Location Tour

A number of people have told me that they were saving their copy of Never Coming Home to take on holiday with them. I hope they all enjoyed it. Now that the summer and the beach holiday season is drawing to an end, I thought it was a good time for some arm-chair travel, either to remember places visited, or to plan holidays to come.

So, I give you ... 

Never Coming Home - The Location Tour. 

The book moves around the globe at a brisk pace. The settings for the action were important to me - a way of adding extra texture to the manuscript, and a chance to re-visit my own memories as I wrote. Thankfully, none of my experiences were as scary or heartbreaking as those I created for Kaz and Devlin. I've visited, or lived in, a lot of the places I wrote about. And taken photographs. Now I'm sharing them. I hope a glimpse of the locations which inspired me will add to your enjoyment of the story.

To see the tour, just click on the pages link above.

Bon Voyage!

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Editing Frenzy

Only a short post today, as I am deep in the first round of edits for Out of Sight, Out of Mind - that's the part where your editor points out that your plot has a hole in it on page 200 and weren't his parents living in Spain in Chapter Four?

I do have something special in mind for a future post - I hope next week, which I have been working on for some time. Something to look forward to.

Before I shoot off, there is one thing that I've been meaning to say for a while. Blogger has a device that lets you find out where in the world people who are reading your blog are living. Don't panic - it's only the country, not the address :0)

From that I have discovered that I have regular readers from the UK, US, China, Sweden, Russia, Ukraine, Canada, Singapore, Hungary, Italy, Germany and Malta.  It's nice to meet you, and I am flattered at your interest in what I have to say each week.


Wednesday 19 September 2012

Why do we fall for a hero?

An awful lot of ladies seem to have fallen for Devlin, the hero of Never Coming Home. I've been told, on a number of occasions, that he is 'to die for.' This, I know, would surprise him, as he would never consider himself hero material. And that 'to die for' quote might be a little too close to home for comfort, considering what he's done, and been, in the past. But Devlin is 'hot'.(I'm very glad to know this, as I put a lot of effort into making him that way.)

It's more than good looks and physique, although that helps. I try not to describe my heroes in too much detail, so that readers can fill in the blanks for themselves, but they are usually fairly tall, and I have a personal weakness for a good set of shoulders, which inevitably creeps in somewhere. A man with the physical stature to protect the heroine, even if she doesn't actually feel that she needs protecting. He's experienced, in and out of the bedroom. Quiet competence, wherever it occurs, can be very compelling.

Protection, experience - and trust. Again, readers have identified this one. Do you trust this guy? If you're going to fall for him, then the answer ought to be a resounding yes. But this is a thriller, so the questions get scarier than that. Would he die for you? Even more scary, would he kill for you? For the hero of a thriller, the answer has to be yes, to both. He has to be powerful enough to follow through, and live with - or die by - the consequences. Shiver down the spine territory.

In terms of classic stereotypes, thriller heroes probably belong in the knights in shining armour category, although the armour is usually decidedly battered and rusty in places. These men have flaws, which is what makes them interesting and, in certain situations, vulnerable. The bad boy, the damaged warrior, the hunted, the driven, the outsider - who nevertheless lives by some personal code that stops him from tipping over into being a villain. A fine and dangerous line.

An irresistible line?

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Visiting Strawberry Hill. Research, or just having fun?

I've got a taste for Gothic revival architecture. I've also got the glimmerings of a plot  for a book that will allow me to indulge my interest. So my most recent trip to London included a long awaited pilgrimage to Strawberry Hill, the grand-daddy of Gothic flights of fancy, created by Horace Walpole, who is also credited as the creator of the Gothic novel tradition.

I think there may be a pattern emerging here.  Books, and over-the-top architecture?

Walpole's house has recently been restored - it's mostly empty, but the rooms are magnificent, if you like that sort of thing, and I do. It's also not what you anticipate from a Gothic mansion. Gothic these days conjures up unrelieved black, skulls, bats, spider webs - very Halloween.

Strawberry Hill is not like that. It isn't like anything that you might expect. It's not on a hill, for a start. A large part of the exterior of the building is gleaming white and  although it has its share of what Walpole christened "gloomth" it is definitely not dank and dark. The gallery, in particular, is a light-filled space of red walls, mirrors and extravagant gold leaf. Walpole's idea was to create a progress though the house that involved a journey from dark to light and back again. There are cubby-hole rooms, where treasures were stored, painted windows, fireplaces based on some of the famous tombs to be found in various English cathedrals, fake cloisters and an impressive library, minus books (They are looking to fill it, should you have any antique tomes you want to dispose of.) There is/are also a very nice cafe, gift shop and knowledgeable volunteer guides stationed in every room.

The staircase where Walpole saw the vision of a mailed fist that inspired his book, The Castle of Otranto, no longer has a full set of armour on the landing, and I found the model animals holding shields on the balustrades cute rather than threatening, but it is certainly distinctive. Walpole was a magpie collector and in his time the rooms were stuffed with art and oddities, like the mirror belonging to Dr Dee, astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I. You have to imagine everything lit by candles, and the impact of a progress thorough the house, as made by Walpole's many visitors, to the sound of a hidden orchestra.

Walpole, it seems to me, was a showman, with a strong sense of theatre. Almost everything you see is created from wood and papier-mache, not stone or marble - the tricks of the theatre. Artifice, as high art. That ambiguity, of things not being as they seem, speaks to the thriller writer in me. I hope eventually that there will be a book in it, although probably not my version of Otranto!

It's in there. One day it will find its way out.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Things to do in London

I'm just back from a research trip to London - at least, that's my story, and I am sticking to it! No question about enjoying myself, or going to theatres, or anything like that. The research is supposed, one day, to become a book. And a thesis. In the meantime I thought I'd share a few odds and ends about being in London. Some are odder than others. A kind of unofficial guide book.

  • Trail following. These trails pop up from time to time - decorated objects on display around the city. At Easter it was Faberge type eggs, at the moment it is Wenlocks and Mandevilles, for the Games. Apparently there are 82 of them. I came across 6. My friend in the picture is the Novel Wenlock (I'd have said Oscar Wilde was drama, but as you know, I have theatrical leanings.) He's just off the Strand, behind St Martin's church, alongside the Wilde statue.  

  • Plaque spotting. Blue plaques, recording the former homes of famous people. I find who lived where fascinating. 
  • Looking up. This actually applies in any city - all sorts of things are visible on the tops of buildings - my favourites in London are the occasional weird glimpses of trees that indicate a (probably very posh) roof garden. 
  • Window boxes. London is full of them. Usually they have predictable stuff - bizzie lizzies, geraniums, begonias. I spotted one, outside an up market restaurant, that looked like a small wild flower meadow. I might have thought they'd forgotten to weed it, but there were contract gardeners carefully renewing the planting at the time.  
  • Scooters. If you see someone on a scooter with a map propped up in front of them it may be a would-be cabbie, doing The Knowledge. Black cab drivers have to have an exhaustive knowledge of the city and are tested on it, hence the riding around the back streets. Someone I once worked with was studying to apply for his licence. Lunch times were spent testing him on fictitious routes. 
  • Buskers. For some reason all the saxophonists in the city seem to emerge in hot weather. 
  • Walking. The centre of London is not as big as you think. On Sunday morning I was on Hungerford Bridge (the pedestrian, Jubilee bit)  looking at the newest landmark on the London skyline, The Shard. Three quarters of an hour later I was standing almost underneath it. It's big - and a very strange shape for an office block. 

So- that's it, my odder guide to London.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

A weekend in Australia

It isn't easy to travel to Australia just for the weekend - unless you make it a virtual journey. And what better excuse for a quick trip than attending a virtual conference for romance writers?

The Claytons conference is staged by the Romance Writers of Australia, to run alongside their regular conference - the one that takes place in the material world. The name Claytons comes, I gather, from an alcohol look-alike beverage for those who are not drinking alcohol. When I read about it, I was curious. Only one way to satisfy curiosity - have a go. I signed on, looked up the time difference between GMT and EST and set my alarm clock.

How do you operate a virtual conference? Forums and chat rooms.
Is it easy? No.
Is it fun? YES.

We had plenty of preparation. There was homework. Rehearsals took place the weekend before. Having led a sheltered life, it was the first time I'd ventured into a chat room. Once I'd cottoned on to the need to press return to get my contribution to show, things got considerably less one-sided and the  insults hurled at the computer went back to normal levels. It was disconcerting that I was finishing my breakfast while the delegates down under were looking forward to dinner. They were thinking about a Friday night glass of  wine, I was drinking green tea. That got even more interesting in the conference proper. When everyone else had attended the social event on Friday evening, gone to bed and woken up to begun the serous stuff on Saturday morning, I was still finishing Friday, without having been to bed at all. I did have a snooze, during the evening. That's why I needed the alarm clock.

Jenny Schwartz, author of the Bustlepunk Chronicles for Carina, was the principal organiser, helped by a team of volunteers and guest speakers who generously gave their time and risked their sanity by attempting to make presentations  where there could be multiple conversations going on simultaneously, a time lapse of minutes between questions and answers and a sudden disappearance of part of the audience. It was hectic, occasionally chaotic, informative and very enjoyable. Many thanks to all those involved and to those who generously donated prizes for contests and give-aways. The scavenger hunt during the Friday social hour generated serial website crashes as everyone went looking for clues. I hope they are all recovered now. :)

 I listened to editors and booksellers. Paranormal and fairy tales seem to be popular in Australia at the moment. Of course we talked about those books - you know, the mega selling ones with the monochrome covers. I chatted to lots of people. I hope I made a few new friends. I won a prize or two. One for a self portrait dressed in pink. Those of a nervous disposition, shut your eyes here!

Jenny conducted an intensive session on High Concept - getting your book into that all-important single sentence. I was too zonked to take part in the attempts to distil a book to one line, or the fast fiction challenge that Jenny issued, but the results others produced were amazing. I called it a night at 3.30 am Saturday, but was up again by 9 am and at breakfast for the Saturday evening Social. I said it was confusing!!!

Would I do it again - yes - I hope so. It's fun and it's free, even if you do lose a little sleep.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Not quite your conventional castle

Cardiff Castle has been around since Roman times. It's seen some action, through the years, right up to the air raid shelters that were constructed at the base of the walls for use in the Second World War. It's a landmark in central Cardiff, at the end of the main shopping street, and a tourist attraction.

It has all the usual things on a check-list for a castle - thick walls, turrets, a keep - but it is also a huge and amazing example of a Victorian folly, created by the architect and designer William Burges for a nobleman who at the time was reputed to be the richest man on earth.

The interior is a heavily decorated Gothic masterpiece - or monstrosity, depending on your taste. Rooms painted with medieval scenes, knights and ladies, myths, flowers, foliage - carved furniture, a table built to accommodate a whole grapevine ...

Outside there is less of the folly to be seen, just the tower, with its highly coloured embellishments ... and the animal wall. When I was little, whenever we went to Cardiff, my grandmother would take me to see the animals. I loved it. Looking at it now, it's a wonder that I didn't get nightmares, as the birds and beasts are all pretty ferocious, strange or exotic. Or all three. Bears, lions, monkeys, a vulture, a pelican, what I think is a leopard, an ant eater ... Actually, he is rather cute, with his nice new nose.

Over the years the wall fell into a poor state of repair and the animals were looking very sad and sorry for themselves, but renovations have recently been done and they are back at work, clambering over the wall, intimidating passers by. I could never decide whether they were escaping from some sort of stone menagerie in the castle grounds, or whether they had been magically turned to
stone as they climbed.

I've never seen anything quite like it anywhere else and I don't know why it was created.

But that's a folly for you. It doesn't have to make sense.
It just is.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

The Journey of a Book

I can rarely pinpoint a single source for the idea that kicks off a book, so I don't know how I decided that I wanted to write a book about mind reading, which eventually turned into Out of Sight, Out of Mind. It wasn't the nuts and bolts of  thought transference that interested me, but the emotional life of the characters, coping with a 'gift' that set them apart and might equally be considered to be a curse. Even more, I wanted to look at how they would react to meeting the person who might be their soul mate, when they were afraid to reach out, because of past hurts. Also they both have secrets to keep. My hero, Jay, has an added complication as he has no memory, but suspects that there is something very nasty lurking in the parts of his mind that he can no longer reach.

The first drafts of the book were written over five years ago. At that time expert opinion suggested that there was no market for any kind of paranormal fiction in Britain, and that if I wrote it, I would never be able to sell it. When you write part time, around the day job, writing time is precious, and if you hope one day to be a published author you can't waste that precious resource on a book that no-one will want, however much you love it. Because of this, I did something that I rarely do, which is write out of order. I wrote the scenes that were clamouring to be written, got them out of my system, then put them away, with regret, in the infamous bottom drawer, where all half finished manuscripts lurk.

I don't know how long they were there. I went on to other things. I never forgot them, but I couldn't use them. Then I picked up a copy of Romantic Times magazine, and saw the call for entries in the American Title contest - paranormal entries. Was mind reading paranormal enough? The dictionary suggested that the paranormal is something outside the scope of regular science. Right - that was good enough. I got out all the bits of the book, sorted them into piles on the floor, and re-read them. I still liked what I had, so then it was a matter of linking, redrafting, pulling the whole thing together ...

Jay and Madison developed and grew  in the time I worked on the book, and showed me complex bits of their characters that I'd not previously seen. It was  wonderful to have an excuse to write an idea that had never really left me. And the result was Out of Sight, Out of Mind.  

And of course, now Britain reads paranormal, along with the rest of the world.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

A day at the Eisteddfod ... with pink tents

I've never been to a national Eisteddfod, but as it was taking place this year in the Vale of Glamorgan, the chance to get a brief experience of the event was too good to miss, even though I don't speak Welsh, the language in which the formal presentations and competitive elements are conducted.

The train ride was an adventure in itself - a journey I have not made in years, across the Harry Potter style viaduct and following the coast for much of the way, with glimpses of the sea. (Shame about the glimpse of the cement works, but you can't have every thing.) The transfer to the Maes, by special shuttle bus, was quicker than I expected. And then there it was, pink tents and all. And they were gorgeous - the most wonderful deep raspberry colour. What was going on inside them sounded pretty good too.

Everyone said it would be muddy - it was, but not impossibly so, if you were careful, and watched where you walked. There was a rainbow selection of patterned wellington boots being worn, and gravel and wood chippings had been put down to soak up the soggiest patches. I had a really good time simply wandering around, listening to Welsh being spoken, absorbing the atmosphere and looking at the various stands and stalls, which covered just about every organisation and activity in Wales that you could think of. There were lots of stalls selling crafts - I coveted some particularly lovely travel bags that mixed tapestry and leather. Many people were commenting that they had already started their Christmas shopping and one vendor had completely sold out of bunting embroidered with Nadolig Hapus (that's Happy Christmas, in Welsh). I particularly admired a stand of the most beautiful harps, all carved in different coloured woods. They were beautiful as objects, leaving aside the music.

 A murky morning turned into a glorious afternoon and when the sun came out, the temperature rocketed. A number of Welsh publishers had stands, and I think I visited them all - every kind of book you could wish for, from Welsh classics to coffee table editions with mouth watering photos of seascapes and old buildings. I dropped into the Literature Wales stand, where they were selling tickets for events later in the week, and also the large display from the Welsh Book Council, where I was pleased to see books by fellow members of the Romantic Novelists' Association, Leslie Cookman, Jane Wenham Jones and Juliet Greenwood, who all have Welsh publishers.
I came away with some shopping, a vast number of leaflets and booklets, which will keep me innocently amused for quite a while, and a warm glow from the sunshine and the experience of many people enjoying themselves. The number of coaches lined up along the road outside, from all parts of the Principality, testified to the popularity and enthusiasm for the event. The crowded station platform, when the train pulled in, caused amusement from local commuters who were alighting and exclaiming that they had rarely seen their station so busy.
A lovely day, and well worth the trip.

Mud and Bards?

Writers are known for their curiosity. Not being a Welsh speaker, I've never been to an Eisteddfod. But now the National Eisteddfod has come to me. It's happening, all this week, in the Vale of Glamorgan. I can get there on the train, so today I'm planning to give it a whirl. I think it may have been pictures of the marquees that did it. How can a romantic novelist resist a tent the colour of a raspberry sorbet?

That's why the short post. If I make it, I'll be reporting in full, later.

Sunday 5 August 2012

Interview on Americymru

Posting on Sunday to highlight an interview with Americymru - an American site for all things Welsh. I had a fun time answering Ceri's questions - he asked some really good ones.

The site is an absolute treasure trove of items of interest relating to Wales. And I love their Stars and Stripes dragon.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Archives - It's not just about the paperwork

The local Record Office isn't the first place that comes to mind when looking for entertainment in a wet and windy summer. If the Glamorgan Archive is anything to go by, you might be surprised. Apart from the obvious - the opportunity to look at local records, trace your family tree, check up on the history of your house, the Glamorgan Office runs regular programmes of talks and events, open to all, usually free, sometimes with refreshments. All they ask is that you let them know you're coming.

This summer, during August, the Glamorgan Archive is running a series of Friday afternoon film shows for both children and adults.The children's cartoon shows are through the medium of Welsh, suitable for learners. The adult shows feature archive footage of Cardiff, from the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, and include a glimpse of Billy the Seal who lived for many years in a pool in Victoria Park. There is even a promise of popcorn!

More information from

Thursday 26 July 2012

Shhh! Can you keep a secret ...

Everyone has secrets
Some are stranger than others
But when you can't remember what yours are --
That can get you killed.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind  is a book about secrets.

Madison Albi works in a scientific research establishment that specialises in unusual talents - she doesn't make a habit of revealing that her special skill is mind reading.

Jay is an amnesiac - he knows he has a secret - probably more than one. He senses that it is a threat. But he doesn't know for sure.

The cover of a new book is usually revealed with an impressive fanfare.

But for a book about secrets - maybe it's better to be discreet about what it's going to look like ...

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Walking in the rain

When you live by the sea, you always have somewhere to go. Occasionally I remember to take the camera with me.

Wales is unique. Apparently it's the only country in the world with a path around it's entire coastline. I live within ten minutes of a section of it, and walk there as often as I can.

 This summer it's mostly been in the rain. It's still lovely, and the noise of the waves is one of the most evocative sounds you will ever hear. The vegetation is thriving, threatening to take over the path at some points.

The sky and the sea are mostly the same colour on a dull day. And the rocks are black. Very sombre. Or dramatic.

You have to be careful on this bit, if the wind is blowing. There's nothing between you and a drop onto the beach. Except a few of those rocks. Scary.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Partying in Penrith

What else is there to talk about this week but the Romantic Novelists' Conference in Penrith? The Internet is awash with photos and reminiscences - and here are mine.
Fabulous goody bag this year. Lots of promo, chocolate and books. Suitcase on return journey was very heavy.  It wasn't the shoes, I only had three pairs. Sadly, none of them made it into the Beauty Pageant :(

It's always a hard choice to decide what talks to attend, and this year was no exception. Full conference sessions at least take away that dilemma. It's become a tradition for the proceeding to kick off with celebrations of achievements during the year - stories of agents and contracts gained and books published and sold. My share of the celebration was to be presented  with the Joan Hessayan trophy once more. It now has my name engraved on it. I managed not to cry, this time. Just.
Janet Gover came all the way from the US to chair an industry panel on international publishing. Actually, I think she might have come to have fun at the conference as well. It was lovely to catch up with her. Discussions in the kitchen that evening included 'The woman we would all like to be when we grow up.' Joanna Lumley got that vote. Hugh Jackman and Alan Rickman got the votes for 'The men who ...'
Well, I'll leave that to your imagination.

Saturday kicked off for me with Talli Roland's talk about on-line marketing. That girl is a phenomenon. I took notes. Now I just have to put them into practice ...
I was one of the next panel, talking to members of the New Writers' Scheme. I hope we managed to be encouraging and informative. Lunch was lasagna and I indulged in trifle afterwards. Louise, Linda, Lynne and Liz talked about writing co-operatively - which included collaboration, contributing books to series, and ghost writing. I don't think I ever want to do it - it sounds far too complicated - but it was fascinating to hear how it worked.
Moira Briggs from Vulpes Libres has a dry sense of humour, much in evidence as she talked about blogging and book reviews. In the last session the team from MIRA brought everyone up to speed on what they are looking for. And then it was the GALA dinner. Juliet Greenwood has posted pictures on Facebook of the excellent food. The outfits were spectacular (especially Rhoda Baxter, in a beautiful sari), the conversation even better.The noise level was deafening. Kitchen conversation later  included Jane's encounters with a bat and a black cockerel - and it's not what you're thinking.

I was proud to be up in time on Sunday for the 9am 'hangover' slot. Jane Wenham Jones surveyed the highlights of her career to date. Like the other Jane, the one from the war time cartoon, she's an expert in losing her clothes. She also had advice on how to be photographed to avoid the dreaded 'sumo wrestler arms'. Hands on hip, plenty of white space between arms and body, tummy in, chest out, chin up. Now I have to put that into practice too. Failing miserable so far, if the photographic evidence from the conference is anything to go by. RNA Chairman Anne Ashurst gave an inspiring presentation on handling the back story, and then it was the last session - a round table discussion for published authors. And yes, the subject of 50 Shades of Grey did occur in the conversation ...

I had a great time. Next year it's Sheffield. Have they been warned?