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