Wednesday 31 December 2014

Night in the City?

New Year's Eve and a lot of people will be celebrating with a night on the town. I thought I'd share some of my photos of the London skyline at night. What is it about lights in the dark that appear romantic and glamorous?

Moon over skyscrapers

St Paul's
From the South Bank
Not quite the same in the daylight!

Wednesday 24 December 2014


Christmas Eve, and many, many people will be making plans to spend time with their family. But sometimes, sadly, there are painful gaps in the family circle. Loved ones who have passed away and will only be recalled in memory and reminiscence. We will miss them.

But 'missing' can have more than one meaning. People who go missing are a great fascination for writers - crime writers in particular - a mystery with so many possibilities. In real life the pain of not knowing must be unimaginable.

The commemorations this year for the outbreak of the First World War brought home just how many young men were missing in action - soldiers who have no known grave, commemorated by name only on war memorials.

For those who will be missed - this Christmas.

Monday 22 December 2014

Writers'Forum -The Ideas Store - Talking about Inspiration.

If you want a good chance of seeing an author cringe, ask them where they get their ideas. Very many of us don't really know. They just happen along. Often like buses. Nothing for ages, then too many to count. If you're lucky some of them will ease the congestion by combining and making themselves into plot and sub plots. Like a big bendy bus?

I think this bus thing is getting out of hand - you can tell I'm waffling, can't you? All this began when I got a request from Paula Williams to say something about inspiration for her column The Idea Store in Writers' Forum magazine. Luckily she asked me particularly about heroes and heroines, so I was able to talk about that, which was much easier than ideas in general.

But of course it got me thinking. You can never stop a writer doing that. 'Where can I hide the body?' 'Is she really going to do that!' 'Where did I leave my glasses?' (The last happens a lot, even when I have them on a string round my neck.)

I didn't really get anywhere, except to the conclusion that a lot of my 'inspiration' is as much about atmosphere as it is about ideas. A theatre set, the interior of a church, a painting, a dark street in the rain, sometimes a piece of music - they all feed into a feeling that might come out in a book. But none of them are actually ideas. Except perhaps the painting - I might be thinking about stealing that. And the dark street might have a serial killer waiting ...

It's not so much about ideas as a kicking off point - something that gets you thinking. But if you're a working writer, you don't sit and wait for it or you'd be forever looking at a blank page/computer screen.

So it's a good thing that those buses are there, queueing up.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Out of the dark

Christmas is on the way, but before that there is another date that makes me very happy - the Winter Solstice - otherwise known as the shortest day. This year it is 21st December and, like a kid for Christmas, I can hardly wait!

More sun, please.
Considering that I like to write romance with a dark edge, I hate the dark in real life - dark mornings, especially, when it's particularly difficult to get out of bed.

For the solstice itself - like a lot of authors, the phases of the year interest me. Summer and Winter Solstices and the Vernal and Autumn Equinoxes when light and dark are equal. I have a couple of ideas fermenting that involve these times of the year, all of which seem to have a degree of mystery about them.

It will be a while before those books see the light of day - I'm having too much fun researching festivals and myths and creating my own to go in them. At present I'm in the middle of the editing curve for a novella - which is something different from me, as it is not at all dark. I can't tell you the name yet, because it doesn't have one. I certainly haven't abandoned romantic suspense and have started work on something suitably scary which will be next year's WIP. It's an idea that has been following me around for a while, but it doesn't have any myths or significant dates in it. If real life will stop getting in the way, I might make some progress with it.

And it will be better when the days are longer and I don't have the temptation to hide under the covers in the morning!

Wednesday 10 December 2014

A Fairy Tale Castle

Everyone probably has an idea what a fairytale castle is supposed to look like - turrets, high conical towers, a drawbridge, spiral staircases, a romantic hilltop  setting in the woods.

Wales has one - it's Castell Coch (which means red castle) It's a Victorian folly, build on the location and partial ruin of a very much older structure, just outside Cardiff.

I visited it for the first time recently. And of course, took pictures.

The way through the woods

The first view

Close up of the tower
Fairytale towers from inside the keep

Wednesday 3 December 2014

I wouldn't do that, if I were you.

Recently reading a synopsis of an upcoming book, I recognised a familiar thriller theme. It didn't deter me from looking forward to the story when I could get my hands on it. But it did get me
No time to go walking in the woods!
thinking about the things that characters in books, particularly thrillers, should NEVER do - like

Opening that tin trunk in the attic.

Taking a short cut through the woods at twilight. And  certainly not in high heels. (This tends to be largely, but possibly not exclusively, a female characteristic.)

Reading that old bundle of letters you found in the tin trunk in the attic.

Going back to the small home town and digging into that 20 year old unsolved murder.

Re-opening any cold case involving an unsolved murder, a disappearance, an unexplained/suspicious death, crime in general. Come on, you know someone out there is not going to take it kindly!

Entering any room in a house where the lights have inexplicably failed - especially the cellar.

Entering the cellar at all - particularly at night, when alone in the house.

Believing that just because the serial killer has been caught that the mayhem is over.

Not checking the petrol level in the car (that's gas, for my US readers) before setting off on that journey to that creepy remote cabin in the woods. You can add checking the weather forecast to that.

Going to the remote creepy cabin in the woods at all. Ever.

Drinking/eating anything in the company of a chief suspect.

And for the villain - telling the hero/heroine all about how clever you are and how the crime was done - don't you know that's the end of the book and your downfall is nigh?

Of course, if the characters listened to any of that, stories would be a lot thinner on the ground.
So, it's a good job they never do.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Short story long

If anyone says the words 'Short Story' to me I show a distinct tendency to hyperventilate. It's not the 'story' part that gets me - I love to tell stories, I've been doing it all my life. The bit that has me running for the hills is the 'short'. My evolution as a writer has shown that I like complicated plots. Complicated plots tend not to fit into small spaces - so, I don't do short. I do very small - like a few hundred words, but not 'short'. Yes, I know - but writers are weird.

Which is why, when my publishers, Choc-Lit, started to talk about an anthology of short stories a while ago, I did the equivalent of sticking my fingers in my ears and humming loudly. But then everyone else was doing them, and I started to wonder. And then I had an idea that I thought might turn around in a smaller space. Might. Just might.

So, I had a go, and produced a story I was rather pleased with, considering I don't do short stories. But when the anthology was ready - the first Choclit collective, Love Match - I was up to my eyes with editing and proofing for Out of Sight Out of Mind and the prospect of more of the same was not top of my agenda. I waved the others, and the anthology, on with a smile and promised myself I'd look at it again some day, with a view to making it longer, and turning it into a novella.

But - the guys at Choc-lit Towers don't give up that easily. When the idea of a second anthology was suggested - Fairground Attraction was added to the list and is making its debut in Kisses and Cupcakes. The brand new Choclit collection, just in time for Xmas. It's an autumn story, set in November and it doesn't actually have a cup cake in it. I hope reader will like it, even so.

And you can buy it from Amazon here

Monday 24 November 2014

Book Signing

I'll be joining a host of authors signing books at the Caerphilly Book Fair at Caerphilly ICE next Saturday, 29th November. It would be lovely to meet people there. A chance to buy some Christmas presents and have them signed. Find out too about the forthcoming 'novella with no name'.

All sorts of authors, including non fiction and children's. Come along and make it a great day out!

The line up so far is Diana Brook | Annie Cooper | Eva Detko | Mark Dorey | Jermaine Harris | Sam Kates | Will MacMillan Jones | Steve Lockley | Lis McDermott | Marit Meredith | Simon Okill | Colin R Parsons | Tim Richards | Andrew Scowcroft | Sophie E Tallis | Evonne Wareham | E Mary Wilce | Brenda May Williams

See the Fair on Facebook by clicking here.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

10 things I like in books

I was daydreaming on the bus the other day, on the way to Cardiff and for some reason started on a list of things I enjoy in books. So today I thought I'd share it.

One of my favourite things to find in a book. Food!
1. Attractive settings. I like places I've been to, or might like to visit.

2. Food. Preparing it and eating it. I love descriptions of cooking and eating. And that's an opportunity for a shameless plug, as Choclit have an anthology of short stories out called Kisses and Cupcakes. With recipes.
Kisses and Cupcakes buy here on Amazon

3. Art. I'm definitely drawn to books with painting, sculpture, etc. Usually someone stealing them!

4. Gardens - creating them, restoring them,walking in them.

5. Interesting occupations - I'm always open to learning about jewelry making, or glass painting or micro brewing, or whatever, Provided it's not over done. I don't need to know everyhting that the writer knows on the subject.

6. Sunshine.

7. Buildings - stately homes, small hotels, coffee shops, a B&B on the beach. I'm a push-over too for those stories about people renovating old buildings.

8. Amusing and/or intelligent animals.

9. History - but I'm a bit picky about that, Academic stuff is the 'day job', so I prefer the more frivolous kind in my escapist reading - swash buckling stuff. Yes, I know I'm a lightweight.

10 A happy ending. If I've made it to the end of the book, I want something positive at the conclusion.

That's my list. I don't think I'd ever score all of them in one book, but three or four and I'm a very happy reader.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Fairground Attraction

Choclit has a new e-book anthology out and I have a story in it. Romantic suspense, set in November - right around now, in fact. The anthology is called Kisses and Cupcakes. There are 18 stories, with recipes. But my recipe isn't for a cup cake. If you read the story you'll find out what it is.

Oh, and the story is called Fairground Attraction - it's the last in the book.

I've had fun with a video. Don't watch it if you suffer from coulrophobia.

This is the link. Fairground Attraction

Friday 7 November 2014

A Brand New Anthology from Choclit

Just in time for Xmas - a stocking filler or a present to yourself - a well deserved treat after cooking that enormous turkey - Choclit has a new short story anthology out.

Kisses and Cupcakes has stories and recipes from 18 Choclit authors, including me. 

Out now on e-book.  And here's the link to buy it!  
Kisses and Cupcakes

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Time to Remember

The month of November has two events associated with the idea of remembering. The first is a UK phenomenon, Guy Fawkes night - tonight. 
Remember Remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot. 
An anniversary commemorating a failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament and now an occasion for bonfires and fireworks.

The other commemoration is more sombre. Remembrance Day. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, chosen as the date to honour the dead of the Great War - the First World War - the day that marked the end of that conflict and now also commemorating the dead of many subsequent conflicts and marked with the emblem of a poppy.

My 'day job' involves study of the Cardiff area in the Second World War. I take any opportunity to look at things associated with the period and had the chance to see the war memorial to the staff of Cardiff City Council on a recent trip to City Hall. The names of the dead for the 1914/18 conflict took up maybe three quarters of the wall - the panel beneath - the 39/45 war - the one I possessively consider to be 'my' war, was a much smaller panel. Which says a lot about the conduct and the technology of the two, with so few years between them. And the Second World War was different too in that for the first time, because of the possibilities of aerial warfare, the civilian could be as much in the front line as the soldier. Men and women volunteered to drive ambulances, put out fires, watch for bombers, dig casualties out from heaps of rubble, defuse un-exploded bombs, sometimes on a nightly basis, night after night. It's them I'm studying. I hope I can do them justice.

November. A time to reflect. And remember.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

A little something for Halloween?

Drum roll, please, while I present the Choclit  Halloween Round Robin. 

Five Choclit authors who ought to know better were prevailed upon, against their better judgements, to produce a story for Halloween.  You know the format - everyone writes their bit and passes it on. Doing it is fun and a bit scary.  The moment when you open the e-mail, read what  the others have done ... and decide to leave the country. 
Anyway we did it and the result has spells, musketeers, magic ... 

Owing to a slight  technical hitch two of us managed to write part four, but with a little adjustment everything worked out. The running order and links are below. I'm now part five on Reviewed the Book, actually on Halloween, and Berni will be finishing the story on the Choc lit blog


Berni Stevens  on Bookaholic Confessions 27th October Here
Jane Lovering on The Romaniacs 28th October Here  
Christina Courtenay on Dark Readers 29th October  Here    
Kirsty Ferry on Girls Love to Read 30th October Here 
ME on Reviewed the Book 31st October Here 
Final part by Berni Stevens (the story comes full circle) — Here  

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Mirror, Mirror?

The clock is ticking ...
I recently read an article on the blog of the history magazine, History Today, that I found quite fascinating. It was about mirror years - and the time line of your life. (And you know I can never resist a time line!) The proposition behind it is that you can actually be closer in time to an event that took place before your birth than something that happened during your lifetime. Think about it.

You find your 'mirror year' by subtracting your age from your date of birth. I'm not telling you mine, but at the moment it's the same year that my grandmother was born. That's another thing, it changes as you age. My mum is 94 and in her current mirror year Beethoven was still composing. I'm not sure how she'll take that, if I tell her!

There has to be an idea for a book in this. At the moment I've no clear thought on what that might be, but I can feel some sort of stirring around a time slip. I expect my subconscious will come up with a plot, if and when it is ready.

If you want to look at the original article, you can find it here

Worth a look to find out what events Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling have close to them.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Must like Chocolate?

As I repeat at frequent intervals - my books have Alpha heroes. Tough guys, with shady pasts. And at the moment I have a dilemma. Logan, who is waiting for his place in the Work in Progress queue, is mad, bad, dangerous and apparently given to riding motor bikes off cliffs if the need arises. I haven't yet been able to talk him out of that one. He visits from time to time, just to remind me that he is still there and keen to get together with Sarah, his heroine, and usually with an idea he wants to me to use - like the business with the motor bike.

Except this time he's come up with a character trait that I'm not sure about, and he seems quite determined about it. He says he has an addiction - to chocolate. Ever since he's mentioned it I have an image of the contents of his fridge - beer, and chocolate. Black chocolate - the darker the better. From the look of the fridge, he's a connoisseur of both, as there is some pretty exotic stuff in there. Now this sudden fixation might have had something to do with the fact that his creator was standing in the chocolate department of Selfridges at the time, admiring the display, but the picture just won't go away.

The thing is - does  a passion for chocolate go with the alpha image? Do tough guy's eat chocolate? I don't think Logan cares, but as keeper of his image, I have to care on his behalf. Do I persuade him out of it? Or let him get on with it?

And what about the research? Am  I going to have to taste some of this stuff?

I may need some help ...

Sunday 12 October 2014

Congratulations to the Maggie winner

Well, I didn't win the paranormal category of the Maggies, but I had a good time participating and it's an honour to be chosen for the final in such a long established contest. I'll wear my badge with pride.

Many congratulations to Lori Dillon who won with Fire of the Dragon. I don't think it's a Welsh dragon though. :) Looking forward to reading it - and it's the first of a series!

Thursday 9 October 2014

Pontyclun rescheduled

Owing to unforeseen circumstances the trip to Pontyclun this Saturday has had to be postponed. It will be taking place but late in the year. I'll let you know, 

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Books are my Bag

The Books are my Bag campaign, which kicks off tomorrow (Thursday 9th) is a nation wide project
to celebrate and support bookshops.

On Saturday 11th all sorts of author events will be taking place, hopefully at least one in a bookshop near you. It's a great opportunity to have some fun and, dare I say it, perhaps do some early Xmas shopping? What better present than a book, signed by the author?  You might even get your hands on one of the canvas bags with the logo. I seem to have acquired three - some people are just plain greedy. This year there is a special collectors item edition, designed by the artist Tracey Emin.

I'm doing my bit at Books&Pontyclun - in, you'll have guessed, Pontyclun. At 16 Cowbridge Road, to be exact. I'll be signing books, maybe reading a bit, answering questions, chatting, As you do. So, if you are in the area, please drop in on Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Glamorous words.

There are certain words in book titles that will guarantee that I will pick them up and take a look. I don't think I'm alone in this. Names of cities/places do it for me, Paris, London, practically anywhere in Italy, ditto any Greek island, New York ... Some people would add Cornwall to that list. And anything that suggests Scotland or Ireland - How many books can you think of with the word 'Highlander' on the cover?

I also have some what you might call 'second string words' - titles that include Beach, Bay,Coast, Island or Cove usually require a look. And some words to do with transport - like 'flight' and 'train'. The word 'Summer' will usually push my buttons too. For other people it's vampire or werewolf.

It's all to do with atmosphere - those words conjure up images that resonate. Think about your reaction to the phrase 'Orient Express'. I bet it's an image of glamorous, well dressed men and women, 1920's and 1930's settings, luxury, extravagance, champagne and gourmet food - maybe crisp linen and fine china and possibly a detective with a notable moustache lurking in the background. All from two words.

Powerful stuff, titles .

Wednesday 24 September 2014

One lovely blog?

I've been nominated for this by fellow Welsh author Jan Baynham
whose blog about her writing journey can be found here

Apparently I have to tell you stuff about myself and then suggest some other blogs. Not unlike the thing I did for Facebook a few weeks ago,

I'm not sure how many more secrets I have to reveal  - as you know, I love secrets and I think I need to keep a few to myself.

But there are a couple of things I can say.

I currently have five jasmine plants in pots in my garden - the stuff seems to grow like weeds, but smells heavenly in the summer.

The first public reading from any of my books was in this place - impressive, huh?

My favourite writing spot is the corner of the dining room, overlooking the garden - back to the jasmine again!
I have a bit of a thing for Cardiff Castle and am attempting to work it into a Xmas novella. Next Xmas, not this one :) It may turn out to be a novella written in real time. On the other hand it may not turn out at all :)

Talking about novellas - I'm about to start the edits for one. It's a bit different from what I usually write - much lighter. I had fun writing it. It will be out as an e-book in the new year.

Some suggestions of other blogs? Fellow Choclit authors Jane Lovering and Chris Stovell blog regularly - and of course there's Choclit's own blog, where you can find posts written by all the Choclit authors.
Jane - From Behind the Keyboard
Chris - Home Thoughts Weekly
ChocLit Corner

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Inspiring images?

Writers get their inspiration from a lot of different places. The theatre is one of mine. I'm not usually a fan of musicals - I prefer plays - frequently ones where the playwright has been dead for several centuries.

There is a particular image, though, connected to a musical, that has a distinct attraction - a poster that was used to publicise the show, The Bodyguard.  I've not actually seen a performance, though maybe I'll be able to rectify that as I gather it will be touring next year and coming to Cardiff, but the poster image always made me stop and look. Often in inconvenient places, like narrow corridors in the tube!

What is the fascination? It just seem to sum up for me the heroes I like to create - a protective alpha taking care of the woman he loves. Strong, romantic, glamorous, dangerous ...

Inspiration - it comes from many places - images, words, atmosphere, location, a song, a piece of poetry.

This is just one of mine.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

That's for me to know ...

... and you to find out.

In other words - it's a secret.
And the definition of a secret is something along the lines of 'not generally known', 'hidden', 'concealed'  ...

Why am I musing on secrets this week? Well, that's for me to know ...

Hah! Isn't that where we came in?

I've been pondering all the things people don't know, ever since my friend Barbara Longley tagged me on Facebook to divulge five things no one knows about me. If you want to check out my choices, they're reproduced below and are on my Facebook page. If you go over there you'll find some other lovely lists from the five Choc-lit authors I tagged in turn,

1) I fell in love with William Shakespeare at the age of four.
2) My favourite painter is John William Waterhouse.
3) I crossed the Atlantic in the original Queen Elizabeth (both ways).
4) I've been a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association, off and on, since 1988.
5) My favourite houseplants are orchids. 

Of course making the list required some thought - which is when I reached the conclusion that whatever I included, the items would be 'Things not many people know' rather than 'Things no-one knows'. Everything on the list is known by at least one other person, or can be inferred from observation. (Touch of the Sherlock's there.)

Think about it. Unless you are alone when the event (if it is an event) happens, then there is always someone who knows. And even if you are alone, there may still be ways of someone finding out, because of any subsequent consequences.

A secret is really only a secret when it's not known to the circle of people you are with. Which means there is always the possibility of being found out.

Secrets are wonderful things to a writer. All my characters have them. Gradually making them known is what the story is all about.  

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Sightseeing – writers do it their own way.

At least, this writer does. As you probably already know, I’ve not long returned from a trip to New York.  While I was there, I visited the sights and took pictures. But not exactly the conventional tourist stuff.

I started out OK, with pictures of the New York Library, a beautiful building just down the street from the Thrillerfest convention hotel. It reminded me of the buildings of the Civic Center in Cardiff - lots of white columns and statues.
The lions of the New York Library

So far, so good. When I ventured inside I was probably the only person who was wondering where I’d stash the dead body (I hope I was, unless there was another crime writer on the premises) but no one else knew that, so I could keep my quirks to myself.

After that – well, I took pictures, but not of the things tourists are supposed to take pictures of. If I want to study a shot of the Empire State Building I can always find that on line – but street signs, yellow cabs, police vehicles? Maybe, but now I don’t have to worry. If I need it, I have my own photo library of ‘interesting’ stuff. Like the way the buildings tower when you look up from the street - and the perpetual scaffolding that seems to cover half the city.

Skyscraper canyon

Possibly my crowning achievement is a snap of the entrance to a parking garage. Not in the top ten tourist sites to be sure, but for the writer of romantic suspense? My hero/heroine are just as likely to be
So- I'm strange. I'm a writer. 
running for their lives, or their car, diving into a garage on the streets of Manhattan,  as they are admiring the view of the Statue of Liberty. Possibly more likely. And now I have the picture to show me exactly what I should be describing.
Writers look at things differently.

 Or is that just me, then?

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Good News Week!

It's been one of those weeks - I'm happy to say that I've just signed the contract for a brand new novella, which will be coming out as one of Choclit's e-book line - Choclit Lite.  It's a bit different from what I usually write. Quite a bit lighter - crime, but no dead bodies at all. (Don't worry, the bodies will be back in the next one.) The novella is a little holiday from the dark stuff -  lots of fun chasing my hero and heroine around the Italian Riviera for 50,000 words or so. I can't give you a title yet as the publisher is thinking of changing it - until then, we're all in suspense.

The other big news was a complete surprise and I really mean complete. Last year my debut novel, Never Coming Home had quite a bit of success in some of the contests organised by regional chapters of the Romance Writers of America - ones for published authors, judged by readers, booksellers and librarians.

I didn't plan on entering Out of Sight Out of Mind, my 2013 paperback release, for any of them, because of the cost of postage, etc.  But my friend, the American author, Barbara Longley, who I got to know when we were both competing in the American Title contest, had entered her contemporary novel Far from Perfect for the 2013 Maggies - run by the Georgia chapter of the RWA - and won her category. Inspired by Barbara, I thought I'd have a go. I hadn't tried that contest in 2013. I had nothing to lose but the postage.

My entry went off, went through the judging, and a few weeks ago the finalists were posted. Out of Sight Out of Mind wasn't one of them. I was disappointed, naturally, but that's life.

But yesterday I got an e-mail from the organiser. There had been a glitch in the scoring, and Out of Sight Out of Mind was a finalist after all!

The Maggie Awards for Excellence have been given out by Georgia Romance Writers for over three decades. It is a highly respected award in the writing community. I'm thrilled and honoured to have been chosen as a finalist. 

As a taster for the book, the video is below.

The video for Out of Sight Out of Mind

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Does it need to be real?

John Constable's painting of Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows is currently on a tour of museums and galleries in the UK. The tour began in the National Museum in Cardiff, and the painting is there until 7th September.

I've always thought of Constable as a chocolate box sort of painter - rosy cheeked yokels and hay wains, reproduced on biscuit tins, but I'm always interested in learning more about art, so when the Museum offered a study day earlier this year I signed on - and learned a lot. For a start, Constable isn't just about chocolate boxes. The Salisbury painting is quite dark and dramatic - and he also painted other buildings and ruins that have a Gothic feel and are really rather spooky.

I also learned something else. Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows is big and beautiful - but it's also not accurate. From the position that the picture is painted the rainbow, which is a key element of the composition, would not appear in the way it's portrayed, the size of buildings in front of the cathedral are out of proportion, the church to the left of the painting isn't visible from that viewpoint ...

But none of that has any effect on its beauty or its impact.

Which got me thinking about the constant issue of creativity and reality - also known as 'poetic licence'. I do my best to be accurate in my books, and the settings and locations are very important to me. They are a key part of what I write, essential for the atmosphere and feel of the book. But there are occasions when you do need to invent or change things. And these are stories, after all. They're not real. If you add a building to a well know city-scape, create a beautiful bay, out of your imagination, invent a whole island, as I'm in the process of doing - does it matter? I know that there are some readers who would say that it does, and that always bothers me. If I was writing sci-fi I'd be world building, so why not in romantic suspense?

I don't have an answer - I suppose it's really up to the individual reader.

But it is nice to think that if it was good enough for John Constable ...


Wednesday 13 August 2014

Thrillerfest - Chapter Three

One of the best things about an event like Thrillerfest is the people you meet - readers, aspiring authors, big names. An especial attraction for me was being able to spend time with leading authors in the romantic suspense genre, writers like prolific talent Heather Graham and Thriller Award nominee Alison Brennan, who are not as well known over here as think they deserve. Where ever you happen to be there is always someone interesting to talk to. Thrillerfest authors cover every field you might imagine - from  books about FBI profilers to eco-crime. It was good to see friends too, like Meg Gardiner, who gave me a lovely cover quote for my first book. One of the big features of the event is a breakfast with debut authors who have made it into print in the past year. One of these was Elizabeth Heiter, a fellow member of the Romance Writer's of America Romantic Suspense chapter, appropriately entitled the Kiss of Death. Her debut is out now and she will have six further books out in the next year - an output to swoon over. And the breakfast where we met the debutantes was good too - bacon, eggs, muffins, fresh fruit ...

And then back to the panels. I picked one on conflict overload. And the message I took from that one? Fear is more potent than descriptions of physical damage. Of course I had to be at the panel on building sexual tension. I write romance! My message from that? Sex should complicate things. (Believe me it does - and that is soooo much fun to write.) A panel of legal thriller writers arguing over sticking to the facts diverted me enough that I didn't take any notes, and one on techniques to get your readers invested in your book from the get-go produced a number of ideas - my favourite being 'Figure out what the chase is and cut to it.'

A view of the New York skyline from the roof of the hotel What was I doing up there?
Hah! I'll be posting about that later in the year. 

And then it was nearly over - brought to a fabulous close by the gala cocktail party, a delicious gala dinner - including the announcement of the 2014 Thriller Awards - and the after-party. I know taking a picture of what you are about to eat is becoming a joke, but I really couldn't resist a snap of the prawn starter and the choux pastry dessert in the background. And in between there was steak. A distinct change for the usual chicken or salmon at this kind of event. And then I had to coax all my party clothes and shopping into my suitcase for a short trip to New Jersey and some time with the American branch of the family. Thrillerfest was an experience I'd like to repeat. I don't think I'll be able to do it next year - the bank manager wouldn't like it - but, as the saying goes. 'I will be back.'

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Hot in the city - Thrillerfest 2

When I arrived in NYC for Thrillerfest the temperature was lurking in the high 80s/low 90s - but that wasn't unexpected in July. A hot, noisy and exciting city.

Grand Central Station, exterior.
The hotel was in a glamorous location on 42nd Street, close to the Chrysler Building and the New York Public Library, with spectacular public areas, and right next door to Grand Central station. When I first visited New York, many more years ago than I will admit publicly, the one thing my mum asked especially to see was that station - scene of so many of the movies she'd watched on the other side of the Atlantic but never thought she'd visit. It was impressive then and it's impressive now - although it has changed. A bustling space with a food court that houses every kind of sustenance from 'grab and go' to 'sit and people watch' - and I did both. I ate fish in the legendary Oyster Bar, clam chowder from a counter specialising in soups - and did you know they have a branch of the famous Magnolia Bakery ...

I'd signed on for the main part of the Thrillerfest convention, but flew over early as there were lots of other things going on around the conference proper. Including a day with the New York FBI in their Down-town offices. How could I resist? I don't think I'm ever likely to have a hero or heroine who actually works for the FBI as I'm not into police procedurals, but the chance to have an insight that will add depth to background or supporting characters was like catnip. They were generous and charming hosts and hostesses - taking us on a whistle stop tour through all the departments that the Bureau covers. All too often crime novels depict the FBI agents as stupid or obstructive and they were unashamedly keen to show around 100 crime writer that this was not so. I made pages of notes. And
the chance to meet and observe was invaluable. And I now have a name tag with the FBI crest on it. Wow!

Thrillerfest buzzes for the whole week of the convention - there are craft classes and legions of nervous hopefuls taking part in Pitch fest - where they get the chance to 'speed date' agents and publishers. I listened to some fabulous pitches from those who were practising their delivery. I hope they all got oodles of requests. I would have bought the lot!

Each evening there was a reception, so a variety of 'best dresses' got an outing. I even wore heels for the first time in ages. Well, when you only have to mince down from the 18th floor to the ballroom ...

My part in the convention began early - 8 am on a panel looking at how to build a strong story line. We were a little worried that no one would be up that early, but we were wrong - people were interested in what we had to say, even at that hour. Kelli Stanley as panel captain guided us through some excellent discussion points - 'us' was Matt Cook, Dani Pettrey, Ursula Ringham, Suzanne Rorhus and me. It was fun, and I don't think I said anything too outrageous - although the knowledge that the event was being recorded for people to purchase later did give me a moment. All of us were writing in different styles and genres and all our approaches were different. I think the general consensus was that the way that you find most comfortable is the right way to do it. I hope we gave everyone some ideas for fresh techniques along the way.

Art in the hotel entrance -  I said it was impressive.
After that the days were just for fun and for learning. A discussion on themes and symbols threw up some interesting views on agenda driven fiction - what I took away from that panel was not to let theme get in the way of the story. I did a bit more FBI research too, as they put on a panel as well as the special day. This one concentrated on cyber crime, securities fraud and jewelry. I was most interested in the jewelry - influence of too many movies about dashing jewel thieves swanning about on the Riviera - I'm sure the reality is not at all like that. I'd dearly love to write a 'thief' book, or even a series. Food for thought. As was a lightening tour of the Secret Service from the Deputy Assistant Director of the Office of Government and Public Affairs. There was clearly a lot that could not be divulged, but when I study my notes I know there will be things there that I can use.
I also attended a couple of feature panels with the likes of Ian Rankin, Lisa Gardner and Anne Rice - to name only a few. And for them I have to admit that I went completely fan-girl, just listened, and didn't take any notes at all.

And now I think I'd better call a halt and review the rest of the convention next week.

Wednesday 30 July 2014


Everyone must know by now that because I write romantic suspense, I claim to go to twice as many literary parties - those for romance and those for crime writers. And that applies to conventions too. Last year I went to the ginormous RT Booklovers convention in Kansas City, so this year for my trip across the Atlantic I chose Thrillerfest. Not quite so big, but just as fascinating/informative/enjoyable.

What is Thrillerfest? It's the annual get together of an organisation called International Thriller Writers - which is, you've guessed, exactly what it says on the tin. Thriller writers from all over the world. As well as holding the convention they have an e-magazine, present awards and publish their own anthologies, with contributions from some of the biggest names in the business, which is how the organisation finances itself. The current one is called Face Off  with authors like Lee Childs and Steve Berry donating stories. I'm going to include a fact file at the end of the blog post, and you can get more details from the sites in the links there.

Who attends? Just about everyone, predominantly authors and aspiring authors and mostly from the USA, but with a strong sprinkling from the rest of the world, which this year included me. Plus fans and readers and industry professionals from all branches of the publishing world.

The hotel - on 42nd Street
Where is it held? Always in New York and always at the Grand Hyatt on 42nd Street, which is right next to Grand Central Station - good for fast food and transport links if you are hungry/want to do the whole sight-seeing thing. The hotel's public rooms are impressive and an excellent setting.

What goes on? There are a variety of strands and events - for fans, for aspiring authors who want to pitch to publishers and agents, for authors looking to hone craft skills and for everyone interested in what makes up the thriller scene today. Panels, receptions, a gala awards dinner ...

I signed up for the core conference, which was from Thursday 8th to Saturday 12th July. I was part of a panel. I went to a fabulous 'extra' day, with the New York FBI. I spoke to Ian Rankin in the elevator (and no, I'm sure he won't remember our memorable conversation. Me 'Have you just arrived?' Ian 'Yes'. Then we stopped at his floor, and that was that.) I took a trip to the roof of the hotel. I had lunch at the famous Oyster Bar in Grand Central - and no it was not oysters. I indulged in a little shopping. (Victoria's Secret and Sephora for Bumble and Bumble shampoo, if you must know.) I took pictures of stuff that only a writer would want to photograph and managed not to take pictures of things that I probably ought to have. And I met and/or listened to some amazing people. I had a great time.

Having set the scene I'm going to end there. What I write isn't called 'suspense' for nothing.

Next week - my journey through Thrillerfest. Hanging out with the FBI, meeting some big names in the Romantic Suspense world, talking about strong story lines at 8 am ...

Fact File
This year's Thrillerfest site is here
International Thrillerwriters Organisation is here
The venue - the Grand Hyatt NYC is here

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Hi Honey, I'm home.

There really should be a maid service especially for those returning from a holiday. I'm just back from a fabulous two weeks in the United States, which took in the amazing Thrillerfest convention in New York.

And now?

You'll recognise the scenario - a mountain of washing, a garden that looks like a jungle - the bits that haven't died or attempted to escape into next door to get some attention, a teetering pile of mail. And bills. An empty refrigerator. Nearly 1000 emails to be dealt with, as my account went into deep sulk and wouldn't let me in while I was away. And I haven't dared look at my university account yet.
But my lilies waited until I was home to burst into full flower - so there is something good in the garden. I thought I'd share a picture - I can't share how fantastic they smell - you'll have to imagine that.

I'll be blogging next week about Thrillerfest - hanging out with the FBI, sharing an elevator with famous authors, speaking on a panel about building strong story lines ...

In the meantime - if you could just hand me that box of washing powder over there  ...

Wednesday 16 July 2014

The Quality of Silence

Having lived in London for may years, where it is rarely quiet, even in the early hours of the morning, one of my favourite things about being back home in Wales is the silence. Especially at the moment, when we are having some summer weather, and I can sit out in the garden with the first cup of tea in the morning. You can almost touch the silence, except for the odd gull on the roof. When it's very still, I can hear the clock chimes and the peal of church bells from the mainland. Not exactly silence, but something that is possible because of it. Of course, when the sun shines and the beach is full there are plenty of other sounds- traffic, the funfair ...

Then there is the silence in the middle of the night, when the rest of the world seems to be asleep and only you and the moon are awake. Until the local cats decided to come and sing under the window. You don't get that in London - or at least, not in a 5th  floor flat!

But silence can be a powerful thing. One of may favourite playwrights , Harold Pinter, is famous for his pauses - the use of silence to convey an atmosphere - usually something menacing. Perhaps it's the playwright's influence, but my heroes tend to be big on manipulating silence. If you don't speak, then other people feel compelled to fill up the gap. And maybe give away more than they intended ...

I've been thinking about how to convey an ominous silence too - not quite so easy in a book. People talking - well you just write down what they say - but when no one is speaking? It's all down to conveying an atmosphere. I'm playing with a scene set around this time of year, when the nights are short and something distinctly threatening is about to be revealed, just as the dawn comes up. Pale light first, then strange shapes where bushes and undergrowth are not fully visible. Maybe a little rustling sound that might be the breeze, or a bird or an animal.
And a figure, standing motionless among the trees. ....

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Where am I?

By the time you read this, I will be in New York.

Yes - New York. USA.


Attending Thrillerfest. That's a gathering of some of the biggest names in crime and thriller writing from both sides of the Atlantic. It's going to be hectic and I hope it is going to be fun too.

And the big big news - I'm going to be on a panel VERY early on Friday morning (11th July) with authors Matt Cook, Dani Pettrey,Ursula Ringham, Suzanne Rorhus and panel master Kelli Stanley discussing how to build a strong story line, one brick at a time. Apart from having to be on stage by 8 am, I'm really looking forward to it. Although, with the effect of jet lag, my body clock will be thinking it's lunch time, so maybe that won't be so bad. And after that I'll be signing books.

If you're attending Thrillerfest, I hope you'll chose to come along.

If you're not, I'll tell you all about it when I get back.

Wednesday 2 July 2014

Island Life

One of the best things about living on (almost) an island, is being surrounded by the sea - the other is the number of bays and beaches. Although we are connected to the mainland now by a road and rail link, this didn't happen until just over a hundred years ago. And we still have the bays and beaches.

They get into my writing. Especially at the moment, when the sun is shining and I'm brewing a new novella set on an imaginary stretch of coast that - surprisingly - bears a strong resemblance to where I live, but re-organised to suit me.

It's not all sunshine though, the beaches are just as good in the winter, provided you can stand upright in the wind. Sometimes they are better, as you get them to yourself, if no one else is mad enough to venture out.

I was trying to think of a way to describe what we are, now we have the mainland links - and came up with lots of lovely words. Hey, I'm a writer, I love words. I was wondering about isthmus (try saying that after a few beers)
but apparently that is a strip of land with sea on either side, linking two bigger pieces of land, so that is probably what the causeway to the mainland is. Then there's peninsula, which is a long narrow piece of land, projecting into a sea or lake. (You can tell I took the Oxford dictionary to bed with me last night) We might be a peninsula, but we're not long and narrow. Then there's promontory, which is probably my favourite, because of it's Shakespearean connections. The quote I have floating about in my brain soup has something to do with a mermaid. I would have said it was The Tempest, but apparently it's Midsummer Night's Dream. Both plays are favourites - Tempest, because it's set on an
island, of course, and Dream because it's set at my favourite time, Midsummer - although the weather described in the play is not actually very pleasant. I suspect they were having a lot of rain when it was written. Dream also has Oberon - an  archetypal alpha male and one of my first on-stage crushes. And of course they both have magic in them, which just about makes them irresistible.

But this is a long way from a promontory, which is apparently a high cliff jutting out into a sea or lake.  Now I always imagined it as a long finger of land - more like a peninsula, actually. It just shows you what you can learn from the dictionary.  (and I have to say, from the Internet, where you get pictures.)

We probably have all three of those things on the Island.  I've attached pictures, so you can have a look.

That's another thing about being on an island - there's always something to photograph ...