Wednesday 30 December 2015

What I did on my holidays.

This Christmas had to be different - so I spent it in London. Took pictures, as you do, which turned out to be mostly of statues. And I thought I'd share a few. The first four are from Christmas day, when I revisited old haunts around Kensington and Chelsea, where I lived and worked. Then I did the sales and snapped Churchill and Roosevelt at the bottom of Bond Street - that was just window shopping - but very pretty Christmas windows in most of the shops. and Selfridges chose the signs of the zodiac, this year. Then I spent a day at the British Museum - with an in depth look at the 'Celts' exhibition. That was research - and very interesting too. My last outing was a concert in St Martin's in the Fields which is not in the fields any more, but Trafalgar Square - so you got the traditional Christmas picture. It was a good few days.

He was leapfrogging a bollard off King's Road.

This is the composer Bela Bartok
close to South Kensington tube.
The Christmas weather was actually warmish and wet - not like this mural.

Wartime memories.
Celts - art and identity. Lots of ideas for the latest romantic suspense. Now to write it!

The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree. It's not blurred - it's atmosphere. 

Wednesday 23 December 2015

It's that time of the year ...

How often, when you've asked a friend or colleague about the kind of Christmas they spent do you get the reply 'Quiet.'? Or 'It was just the family.' Or even 'There was a huge argument.'

I have a theory that many of us have this image in mind of the exciting Christmases other people are enjoying - cocktails, sparkly dresses, friends and neighbours dropping by, the perfectly decorated tree, house and table, immaculately chosen and packed presents, the perfectly cooked lunch, the wonderful buffet snacks served by a serene and polished host and hostess. All heavily fueled by advertising and social media. And I'm not knocking that. I love the shiny adverts and shop displays,with their lavish escapism and the promise of sparkle and glitter to lift a dark and depressing time of the year. And a lot of us achieve some of that perfection, some of the time. But on the whole life, unfortunately, is a lot messier. The over or under-cooked turkey, the warring relatives, the hectic last minute rush and scramble. We've all been there. The point where 'Quiet.' looks like an excellent idea.

Life. Much messier.

And a lot sadder. There are wars and suffering that never seem to end, but at the moment I'm thinking closer to home. Of the empty place at the table where a loved one used to sit.

Last Christmas was probably the most stressful I have ever experienced. Actually there was no Christmas. The food was bundled into the freezer, the presents into the spare bedroom. They didn't come out again until March.

This Christmas will be one of the saddest, I have spent.

For all those who will have an empty place at their  table this year I wish you good memories and healing and hope for the future.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Life's small excitements. Or not.

We don't have lions outside my local library.
Not like New York.
Every now and then I have a binge and reserve a slew of books from the local library. Then I have the fun of the phone call telling me a book is available. Sometimes they come quickly, sometimes it can be months and I've forgotten I ordered them and try to order them again. Sometimes, like this week, several come at once. But back to the phone call - or often, the answerphone message. Now sometimes the librarian tells me what the book is, but often they don't, just that there is one on the shelf with my name on. And then I know I have a little surprise waiting for me. Yes, I know, But I did say it was life's small excitements. You have to get your thrills where you can.

I did a batch last week - which is why I had three to collect this week - but while I was looking up new offerings from favourite authors and putting them on hold, It occurred to me how many writers used to be on my list who are not there any more. It wasn't because of poor writing or unconvincing dialogue, or anything like that. They had simply dropped off my auto list, because I had stopped enjoying their books. And that got me thinking 'Why?'

I'm a writer. Writers do 'thinking'. A lot.

In some cases the author had begun a new series that just didn't chime with me. Others had taken an existing series in a direction that I didn't go for - or maybe I got bored. Relationships, even the literary kind, sometimes end. One or two had begun to take a 'Ripped from the Headlines' approach to plotting - which is something that does not appeal to me, personally, although a lot of people like it. And as I have blogged before, a frequent reason for leaving a book on the shelf was simply that the books were depressing the heck out of me.

Sad, gloomy and often unremittingly violent. Not what I want to curl up with on the sofa.

My books are thrillers - violence and dead bodies, but I hope they have something positive too, which is why I write romantic suspense. Romantic suspense. The love story is, I hope, what lifts them away from the depressing. The thriller part makes them exciting. At least, that's the theory.

So, that's what I'm looking for too when I read. I don't mind dark, or tear jerking, in moderation, but I'm not into depressing.

I know that reading as escapism is often frowned on. But I can get real life in real life, thanks.

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Really, it's just like knitting ...

Blue sky thinking?
If you want to wind a writer up, there's a good chance that you can do it by asking us where we get our inspiration. Not all of us, of course, but quite a few. It rattles our cages, because very often we don't know. It just happens. In my case odds and ends of ideas float around aimlessly, with no indication of where they might go, and then they combine with something else and I weave the threads together, and they start having a life. A bit like knitting - except that I can't knit.

I'm not doing a lot of writing at the moment, but I am thinking. I have a series sloshing about that keeps moving itself back. I had a three book sequence planned, then I had an idea that would come before them. Fine, no problem, start there. I have hero, heroine, plot, setting, villain - all the right ingredients for a book, but it also has a back story. So - is the back story a novella in it's own right? Possibly. So that should be written first? But does the whole thing really start there?

I've been jumping back and back with it, and sideways, as something else started to stir, with the result that I had two stories that came off the same back story - and I didn't really have the back story- only the plot, which is not quite the same thing. Have I confused you yet? No? Good.

I was peering into the mist, looking for this first story that would start the whole thing, feeling that I couldn't progress with either of the other two until I had sorted it out. Not really a problem, as I have a stand alone that I have partly written that I will go back to once I start writing again, but it is nice to know what might be in the pipeline. And thinking is like research, a feeling of doing something without the hard work of putting the words on the paper.

The blank when I tried to identify what might be the start point was very dispiriting though - it was just a blank. And then, suddenly there it was. The two stories did not have to be side by side. One of them could be the that elusive back story. I haven't figured out the nitty gritty yet, but I think it is going to work.

Where did that come from? No idea. Why didn't I see it before? No idea about that, either. It's all a mystery.

Thinking time is actually very important to me. I work out a lot of stuff in my head before I get round to actually writing. I realised only recently that in another book, also swimming in the mental soup, the villain has been showing me a dislike of animals which bordered on fear, that I hadn't picked up. A lot of pieces of the story fell into place at that point. I already knew that various animals would be instrumental in the story and that one in particular would help to bring the villain down, but I hadn't realised how significant that could be. That is is going to be really useful and already has my mind churning. A triumph of thinking time. Now it has to be written.

One day ...

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Scent of a heroine

The stuff I'm sampling comes in a bottle
At this time of the year the shops are full of enthusiastic sales persons eager to spritz you (or a small strip
of card/ribbon) with their brand's latest fragrance, in the hope that you will like it enough to buy it, as an Xmas gift for someone else - or that you will persuade someone else  to buy it for you. I frequently succumb to these offers of a whiff of a nice new scent. The pockets of my coats often smell very exotic if I've stashed one of the card strips and forgotten about it. I'm not doing this on my own behalf though - I have two fragrances that I am faithful to - Origins' Ginger and Channel's Chance.  (The original, not the later versions, if you're buying.) No - I'm doing it on behalf of my heroine. It is a new idea for me, something to help build a character. I gather the actress Penelope Cruz uses the same technique, choosing and wearing a different fragrance for every part she plays. I got that information from the Boots' magazine, along with the discovery that, when surveyed, men considered women wearing spicy floral perfumes to be up to 12 lbs lighter than they really were and those wearing grapefruit scents were thought to be up to 5 years younger. Just on the power of a smell! Strong stuff, this perfume lark.

Scent is very evocative for fixing memories, which is why writers like to use it. And it's not just heroines, of course. Describing how the hero smells is practically obligatory. (We won't mention that this also provides an opportunity to study the publicity for fragrances promoted by the likes of Jonny Depp, Simon Baker, Gerard Butler ... Just for research purposes, of course.)

The heroine I have been working with most recently (although not lately) started me on the idea. While the book is rooted in the tragic events of one night, the main action takes place 15 years later. I was thinking how much the heroine would have changed in that time and the idea of what perfume she might now wear was something that occurred to me.

And, of course, the effect this might have on the hero, and the implications of change and the passage of time. It's helping with plotting the layers of the story and the emotions that the hero in particular is feeling.

All from a small, if expensive, bottle ...

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Where are we now?

Landmark London by night
I recently treated myself to a trip to the cinema to see the film 'Burnt'. A top chef (Bradley Cooper) self destructs, then climbs back to win 3 Michelin stars and probably Sienna Miller. Not a rom/com - maybe more a 'with romantic elements'. Lots of F words and plate throwing and a few of my favourite character actors in 'blink and you miss them' bit parts. The critics were a little lukewarm, but I enjoyed it. I'd have liked a bit more information about the food we were seeing on the plate though. And I seriously want Sienna Miller's hair.

But one of the chief reasons I decided to see it was the London locations that I glimpsed in the trailer. It was set in the Langham - which I visited when it still housed the BBC staff bar.(I was with the engineers - the nerds equivalent of 'I'm with the band.') And I've stayed there since it was reinvented as a posh hotel. On a cheap weekend offer, I hasten to add.

There were lots of shots of the river Thames and the bridges - I'm a sucker for bridges. And the back streets and alleys around Leicester Square. I have my doubts though about the scene that seemed to imply that the Langham had a
And by day
river frontage.

It made me think again about that perennial question of location. If you know a place, does it add to the attraction of the book or film? In this case it certainly influenced my decision to go. And what about locations that are made up?  In that case, the author really has to do their work to make it real.

Places I know, or which are vividly portrayed certainly add to the atmosphere for me.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

That wish fulfillment setting

Dreaming of living  close to the sea?
There's bound to be a book for that.
Following on from last week's post, I was thinking about the ingredients for the setting of one of those re-write the lifestyle books. Yes folks, it's another list! Again, in no particular order :-

  • Beautiful countryside - suitable for long healthy walks. Or horse rides. Or maybe a bike ride?

  • Quiet - where the noisiest sound is the birds. But - take it from me, if these are seagulls, that's pretty noisy.

  • Local food/produce - buying vegetables from the market, local sausages, wine, beer...

  • Clear skies - for romantic star gazing.

  • A local community - friendly neighbours, book groups, allotment societies.

  • An artistic community - studios, talks, classes

  • Impressive weather - i.e. wonderful sunshine, spectacular storms, cloud formations to make Turner weep. Not too much rain, unless it's the warm summer kind - cue one of those romantic scenes where hero and heroine have to dry off together - well, you can imagine the rest. Or a sudden torrent at the black point of the book, so the hero/heroine is physically devastated as well as emotionally. 

  • Attractive buildings - to included stately homes, fisherman's cottages and the derelict with potential.

  • Historical atmosphere - historic sites, traditions, folklore. Particularly if these have some sort of public celebration attached, like a parade or a fair.

You probably wouldn't have all these in one book and I'm sure there are more, but that's all that strike me at the moment. They are fairly transferable too, whether it's Cornwall, Tuscany or Indiana. Whether they actually exist in real life, and how attractive they would be on a permanent basis - that's another question, but I take the view that one of the purposes of genre novels is to help readers to dream, and if necessary, to escape for a while. If writers can create a bit of wish fulfilment as part of a story - for me, that's all good. Others like their fiction gritty, mine are also scary - at least I hope they are - but always with a positive ending.

As they cliche says, it takes all sorts, which is what makes life, and reading,  interesting.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Living the Dream

Running away to the sea?
We all have our little fantasies. No - not that kind of fantasy. I'm talking about the ones where we run away to the seaside, the countryside, rural Italy, an island somewhere ... and start on a whole new way of making a living. This usually involves something creative, self employment and spectacular scenery. Writers, being good with fantasies - we make stuff up all the time - are always ready to oblige, either with books with protagonists who have done just that, or books set in the dream situation/location.  Just for fun I've assembled a few suggestions. Yes - it's a list, folks. My baker's dozen of new life dream escapes.

In no particular order :-

Other 'creative' retail - bakery, patisserie, sweet-shop, florist.
Plant nursery/smallholding/vinyard.
Art Gallery
Pottery/artist studio
Restoring and opening an historic house/garden to the public.
Running a museum/staging a festival
Interior/garden design
House sitting/dog walking
Running a B&B/boutique hotel/holiday let.
And, of course, writing that best selling novel.

It's interesting to speculate how far these are dreams, fun to read about but not for real life, or secret hopes and plans. Are writers feeding fantasies, or ambitions?  

Maybe a bit of both?

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Standing at the crossroads?

When something that has been a fixture in your life for a long time suddenly changes - as has recently happened to me - it can be a catalyst for a re-examination of goals, lifestyle, etc. And, of course, it is exactly the sort of situation that writers love most. The kicking off point for the story. Catching your character at a point of change. Which got me thinking, as you do, about some of those classic change points. And I made a list:-

Loss - a loved one, a job, a home.

Gain - a dream job, a new relationship, the birth of a baby, a legacy. Silver linings that might just have a cloud attached.

Rites of passage - leaving home, a significant birthday, marriage, divorce.

Threat - now, in the kind of books I like to write, that's likely to be the ominous phone call, a visit from a stranger, a violent incident, but it can also be something like illness or accident.

A mystery - a letter from the past, a tin box in the attic full of family papers, a discovery about the family tree ...

An acquisition - I'm thinking of the kind of thing that might kick start a time slip novel - a painting, a house, a piece of jewelry.

Travel - a holiday, a business trip, a journey for family or personal reasons.

Discontent - the hero or heroine is unhappy with their life and decides to change it.

Those are the ones I could think of, but there are bound to be a whole lot more.

Crime writing, if it is a police procedural or features a professional/amateur sleuth, might be a bit different as it is often linked with an event - like the discovery of that unexpected body in the library ... But then there can be consequences for a whole circle of people, all with their own journeys to follow.

Whatever your genre, if you have your character standing at a cross roads then there is bound to be a story. The points where two road meet have traditionally been thought of as dangerous places ...

In some cases the journey from the change point can lead to one of the others - loss of a job to landing that dream job for instance. And we writers do like to tie things up neatly. I've often thought, when reading, that in real life you don't get a sudden windfall, or meet that fabulous new love, or inherit a house, just at the moment you most need it. But if you write fiction with a positive outlook, especially if it is romance, with an expectation of a happy ever after, that's the way it has to be. I believe readers do know this, but the whole point is optimism and possibility. An affirmation that things can be worked out.

I've got a lot of support from those affirmative books while standing at my crossroads. I'm grateful to the authors who have written the stories that are keeping me going.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Falling through the cracks

I've been looking for diversions recently - books, but also DVDs - films I hadn't managed to see in the cinema, but also a few favourites. One of those was the heist movie involving  magicians - Now You See Me. Pleased to know that sequels 2 and 3 are on the way. Will they have the magic of the first? Ouch! Sorry.

Watching it again, I enjoyed it just as much, but was aware of a few gaps in the explanations. Of course, as one of the characters says - that's magic. Looking back, I posted something in a similar vein when I saw it the first time. Carried along by the film, you don't actually care if something is out of place. Known as suspension of disbelief - a compact between watcher and film not to enquire too closely.

My favourite editor?
Not so easy with a book, when the reader can flip back and check up on you - or when you have an eagle-eye wise owl of an editor asking awkward questions. Or when you're asking your own awkward questions. Sometimes when I'm going through something I've written I'm aware not of a change of eye colour, or a character being in two places at once, but of some sort of flaw in the logic - and they are a b....r to track down. You know that something doesn't add up - but what? Or is it all in your mind? Are you just too close? That's the point where I worry the script like a terrier until the stuffing falls out of it. 'I know you're in there, I'll get you in the end ...'

It's fine to create an alternative world, where vampires are real, people can read minds, or become invisible, buildings appear or disappear from familiar landscapes. But it still has to add up. Suspension of disbelief only gets you so far. This is not real life, but you have to make it look as if it might be.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Who am I today?

Don't you just love those automated telephone systems - press button zero if you want to ...

And you are?
After a while, once you've got the hang of how those work, it's not so bad, but have you encountered the next layer up - the ones acting as gatekeepers, where you have to answer questions before the machine will pass you through to speak to a real human being? This gives you a problem if you're not the person the machine would like you to be. I tangled with one of those recently, in the course of settling my mother's affairs.

Writers are used to pretending to be other people so, in the end, in order to talk to someone, that's what I had to do. Which probably makes me guilty of impersonation for the purpose of trying to sort out something involving money. (Trust me on this  - there is usually money involved somewhere.)

And then there are the forms - her address, my address, her date of birth, national insurance ...

As a result of all the phone calls and form filling messing with my mind, at any given point I can be a bit confused about who I happen to be at that moment. Of course writers have all sorts of people living in their heads most of the time, but I've never had to settle a bill for any of them. Yet.

Naturally too, being a writer, this idea is percolating in the back of my brain. There must be something I can use here in a story. Not sure yet what that might be - but there must be something.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Taking refuge in books

You know how it is - you read an article, or a short piece in a magazine, or a note somewhere on the Internet and then the same topic seems to be coming up everywhere. In this case, it's how good for you reading is. What a lot of us have known for quite a while is apparently official now. Escaping into a book helps lift your mood and combat depression. I have to say I've been taking refuge there recently - not my usual crime and romantic suspense, but more pure romance, historicals or romantic comedy. Thanks to Georgia Hill, Veronica Henry, Jules Wake, Chris Stovell, Tessa Dare, Janet Gover (I know there are more, but those are the ones I can remember) for assisting my escape at a difficult time. I've been to Italy, Herefordshire, Australia ... The chance to slide into another world, when this one is getting too much, via the pages of a book, is one of the easiest ways of loosing yourself for a while. I hate to be without a book in progress. Writing them has a similar effect - somewhere to go that is not HERE - but takes a lot more work and I'm not ready for that yet.

Is the reading gene inherited? Is it nature or nurture? If there are books in the house and you see your family reading, does that have an influence, or does it run deeper than that? I know my grandmother was a great reader. And my mum. Her ability to read and the joy she got from it never left her. The pile of books on her trolley table in the hospital was witness to that, and frequently remarked on by the nursing staff.  The last complete book she read was Anna Jacob's Peppercorn Street. She was eagerly looking forward to the rest of the series. She knew, from living with a writer, that she could read 'em faster than we could write 'em, but it didn't stop her wanting to know when I thought the next one might be ready.

She never got to finish Ann Baker's Wartime Girls.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

It's the little things ...

Saying the final goodbye to a loved one also involves dealing with the material things that are left behind. Which is why my front bedroom windows are now inhabited by matching aspidistra plants that are older than I am.

And then there is other practical stuff, like giving notice to have the phone disconnected ... and realising that you are never going to ring that number again and get an answer. That number has been with me for most of my life. My Mum took it with her through three house moves. I can remember the excitement when the phone was installed for the first time. It had to be in the kitchen as that was closest to the telephone pole and it had pride of place on top of the fridge. It was a chunky affair, made of cream plastic, with a rotary dial, of course, with that lovely whirring sound as the dial moved around. With the current interest in all things retro you can get modern push button  reproductions, which is one of the things on my wish list for when I reorganise my work room. When I was talking about my ideas for that, Mum confessed that she still had that original phone. She couldn't bring herself to throw it away. So I'm going to find it in a cupboard somewhere ...

Of course the number has nothing to do with the instrument itself - that's had numerous incarnations since that first one. It's the line that is the bit with the number attached. So many of the dramas of my life have come down that line - it's heard laughter, tears, secrets, frightening things and joyful ones. And now it's going. Presumably, in due course, it will be re-allocated to someone else who is still old-fashioned enough to want a land line. And the cycle of laughter and tears will begin again.  

Wednesday 30 September 2015


A tribute - and an explanation.

Early in the morning of 19th September I said goodnight to my mother for the last time. Today is her funeral. The final goodbye. It is going to be a hard day, but thanks to love and support from friends, I am going to make it through. I know that the mother/daughter relationship can be a difficult one - but ours was one of the good ones. Which is not to say that we are/were not both independent, opinionated, bossy women. The apple does not fall far from the tree. She was fiercely self sufficient, living alone for 25 years after the death of my father, until the last few months, when progressive ill health began to take its toll. She was my biggest supporter and always believed that I could achieve ANYTHING. And of course, because of that belief, sometimes I could.

I've assembled some photographs which I hope will be a small tribute to her. They seem to have a theme - which actually does not surprise me. Her greatest love (after my father and myself - I hope!) was her trade. She was a dressmaker. She has made me countless outfits over the years. The last was a pair of trousers  - the ones with birds on, for those who have seen me wearing them. She  was always learning. The last dress she made me was for the ball at The Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention in Kansas City in 2013. She'd never worked on sequin covered lace before, but the dress turned out a dream. She was then 93 years old. In her head she was still 18.

And now for the explanation. I have not said much up to now about what has taken me away from work, except for hints of personal issues. In the past few years my mother suffered an escalating series of health crises which left her increasingly frail and in need of care. - which is why there has been no new book and no PhD. Everyone has been very understanding - although the characters in the books who were demanding to be written - maybe not so much. At the moment all the books have fled and the studies remain simply a pile of notes. I hope that I will gradually get them back. At present I am very tired. I also have health issues of my own to face, so it may be a while. I desperately want to write and to study again. I want there to be a growing pile of books with my name on. I want to complete my doctorate.
I know she would encourage me all the way.
Now it is up to me to make it happen.

The pictures

The top picture is her wedding day, showing off the back of her suit, modelled after Dior's New Look which was unveiled earlier that year. She made most of it, but my honorary Aunt Margaret made the sleeves as it was considered unlucky to make your own wedding dress.
The bottom picture is a mystery, she didn't remember having it taken, but we suspect that from her glamorous up-do her sister had a comb in it. My Auntie Glen was a hairdresser.

This was the first picture I took with my new camera. If I'd known it was going to be such a lovely one of her, I'd have moved the washing out of the way.
Much more recently

The last dress, which left a trail of sequins over both our houses, but was worth it. I'm looking forward to one day having an occasion to wear it again.

Goodbye Mum.

Saturday 19 September 2015


Today I lost my oldest friend, my staunchest supporter and  my own personal stylist. Always in my corner, and an inspiration. 


23 January 1920 - 19 September 2015

Goodnight Mum.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

You can't do that!

Writers are, of course, wonderful beings who can create a mood, describe a scene, script a passage of dialogue, so that the reader really feels they are present in the action. And readers bring their imagination to the party, which adds yet another layer to the texture. Even so there are some things even the best of writers can't, won't or shouldn't do. Some don't work on the page, some are judged to be technical errors, or disliked by some readers, others are just plain irritating.

As regular readers will know, I like to go to the theatre and get a lot of inspiration there - and not just from the leading man! One of the things that a writer would struggle to reproduce on the page is the show stopping visual spectacle. Description will only go so far. I'm thinking in particular of the visual joke. I remember, many moons ago, seeing the Sam Shepard play True West at the National Theatre, with Anthony Sher and the late Bob Hoskins. It is an unsettling, intermittently violent piece, but the second act opens with the most wonderful visual joke. I won't tell you any more, because of spoilers, should you ever get the chance to see the play, but it still makes me smile even now.  

Then there is the stuff you shouldn't do. I used to get into an awful lot of trouble on my journey through the Romantic Novelists' Association New Writers' Scheme for starting a book with a female character who was not the heroine. Romance readers apparently tend to assume that the first girl they meet is The One and I have a habit of attempting to disappoint in this area. I think I'm cured now. Maybe.

Of course readers also have likes and dislikes. Some readers will not tolerate interference with geography. Woe betide the author who puts a road or a shopping mall that doesn't exist into a real location. I'm afraid I'm guilty and unrepentant on this one. I have plans for an extra art gallery on Trafalgar Square and then, of course, there is my addiction to islands. I'm currently contemplating a

There's going to be a new island out there.

tax haven type, like the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, off the Welsh coast. This may be a problem in that I'm not sure if there is room between Wales and Ireland for what I want. I haven't looked into the practicalities yet, but it probably won't stop me. Did someone at the back mutter megalomaniac?

Some readers won't read a book with a prologue. I'm guilty on that one too. I tend to use them for a small but important incident - usually the one that kicks the whole thing off - where there is a significant time lapse before the main body of the book. In the case of the one I am currently not writing, this is 15 years. My justification for prologery is showing, not telling. Smug, or what?

Then there is the irritating stuff. On my personal list are puns and jokes that depend on different spelling of the same word - like dear and deer for instance. That always pulls me out of the story as I am thinking - hang on a minute, I'm seeing this, but the characters would not be hearing it.

And what about coincidences? Occasionally, yes, but not too often. One of my favourite authors is actually rather prone to this. I'm not naming names to protect the guilty, but I know I've ground my teeth while reading when, yet again, the protagonist just happens to meet a friend in the pub, or the street, who is the one the person who can sort out the plot twist the author has got himself tangled in. In that case the strength of the story-telling has always triumphed, but maybe one day it won't.

The final 'You can't do that.' point?

Wednesday 9 September 2015

It's not old ...

Once upon a time ...

(Do you remember when all stories started that way?)

Once upon a time 'vintage' was a term applied to wine. Now it seems to be turning up all over the place. We're nostalgic for the past. Someone with a qualification ending in 'ologist' would probably be able to make something deep and meaningful of that. I just think it's fun and am prepared to drool over retro soft furnishings and glamorous 40s fashions with the best. Not quite so keen on what seems to have been christened 'mid century', when that means 1960s and 1970s though. Lots of brown and geometric patterns. Been there, done that.

I snatched an hour at a 'Vintage Fair' at the weekend at Cardiff City Hall. Always good to get an excuse to nose around inside a building that features heavily in the 'day job'. Some lovely stuff on display on the stalls, but a severe test of the de-cluttering that is supposed to be going on in the house, as certain of the exhibits had a familiar ring about them...

There were quantities of vintage china, clothes and jewelry and some drool-worthy modern reproductions of 40s/50s dresses that I would like to investigate further, complete with what used to be known as a 'sticky-out petticoat'. Layers of net frills to make the dress on top stick out like a lampshade. Yes, I had one. For my party frock. I was about 7 at the time. Which may have something to do with the allure now.

Shabby chic, up cycled furniture, it's all part of the trend. I suppose one of the reasons is that it's a cosy look that is easy to live with. And what about the TV? Have you noticed an increase in drama set in the past? Not just costume stuff, but still far enough back to be classed as history. I have a feeling that present day use of DNA might be partly responsible for this trend in crime drama, taking the crime back to when the scientific stuff was much more basic.

Can authors who write time slip be classed  as part of this? Maybe. Books featuring old letters and diaries and hidden secrets from the past coming back to haunt the present? I have a few of those on the yet to be written list. Looking forward to them. One day.

I gather that books set in World War Two are having a moment. Now that period of history is definitely on my radar, and not just because of the day job. The crime fighting organisation that I intend to invent has major roots around then. And the secrets that are uncovered in what I thinks of as 'The Treasure Hunt book'.

And you know where this is going don't you? Research. A good dose of nostalgia and call it work.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Re-homing books

I'm doing my best to de-clutter the house. It is not progressing very fast, but I comfort myself with the idea that every drawer sorted and every shelf of books re-organised is progress in the right direction. And of course de-cluttering means that stuff has to be moved - preferable out of the house. Bags of clothes and bric-a-brac for the charity shop - easy. Books? Hmm.

A great many authors have very strong views on the fate of books once they have been read. The writer only gets paid once, so any afterlife that the book has does nothing for the author and might prevent someone buying a brand new copy - or borrowing one from the library, which generates a payment for the author. Individually those payments are small, but they can produce some surprising totals for books/authors who are popular with library readers. I know that some authors believe that a book should be destroyed rather than finding it's way into the second hand market. but I don't think I could ever bring myself to do that. I mean it's a BOOK. A precious commodity that has taken months, maybe years, in the making ...

So that means the charity shop. I comfort myself that at least the book is doing some good to whatever cause the shop is supporting.

The other palliative I offer myself is that someone just might pick up a charity shop offering and actually buy others by the same author - you know, in a bookshop, or on an e-reader. I'm probably naive and my mythical 'customer' will simply scour the charity shelves for more. But I live in hope.

Which is the reason I sort any books very carefully before I part with them, given that I have to let them go, or the house will collapse.

I select the books that are to be passed on so that they are suitable for the venue and the audience I think they might get. Stereotyping, I know, but part of that thing about a happy reader maybe going out and buying others, and an attempt to give the author of the hand-me-down the best shop window that I can. A way of salving my conscience for giving them away in the first place. But am I getting it wrong? Who would most appreciate those racy paranormals?

Complicated stuff, this de-cluttering.

P.S. I've heard, via the Society of Authors' newsletter, that the Chairman of Bookbarn International is attempting to address this issue. If he can pioneer a scheme, there will be many appreciative authors.

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Travelling light

Afternoon tea at the Randolph, anyone?
I think I may have mentioned once or twice how much I like travelling by train. Airports not so much, as airplanes are involved, naturally, and I'm not a fan. But I do like airport shopping malls full of ritzy stuff that you can't afford but is nice to look at. And I love staying in hotels. All sorts of hotels, from the glamorous modern sort, full of plate glass and fancy metal sculptures to the chintz and roaring fire types. My in-box will testify to this, as every other mail seems to be about train holidays and special offers on hotels. One day I'm going to do the Orient Express. One day.

Most of my journeys involve Cardiff station 
At the moment all my travel is the armchair kind, but I have a very nice collection of brochures to remind me of what is out there, just waiting round the corner. And at this time of the year it's not just the travel brochures. The bookshops have plenty of 'holiday reading' with pretty covers and travel type promises in the title, so it appears that I'm not the only one. It doesn't have to be just romance either. Think of how many Agatha Christie titles involve travel and exotic places. I think she must have had a fondness for trains too.

Of course the possibilities offered by any sort of travel are a gift to a writer. It's classic advice that you should begin a book at a point where your protagonist is at a point of change, and what better than a journey? It can be towards something, or away from something, Or a holiday or business trip to an unknown place. Or even a regular commute. There are a couple of places on the route between the commuter stations in Cardiff that always make me wonder ... But then again, crime writers are always looking at the most innocent places and wondering, so that's nothing new. Being out of their regular orbit can make a protagonist particularly vulnerable - always useful. Especially when they don't speak the language. And anywhere that throws a small group of people together - like a train, or a hotel or a country house is a fabulous setting. See Dame Agatha again. Of course you have to have snow, or a storm, or maybe a high tide, to keep them there. With my weakness for islands, the high tide has a particular appeal.

Apparently books with locations in the title are very popular, so I'm not the only one.  And if you can't actually make a journey, or stay in the posh hotel, reading about it has to be the next best thing.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Daisy chains

But not that sort of daisy.
Not ones with flowers, but the connections that lead from one thing to another when you are doing research.

In my 'day job' I work with a lot of material from archives. Which means places like the National Archive at Kew in London send me e-mail newsletters. Which sometimes include details of the offering from the on-site bookshop. I think that was where I saw Roy Berkeley's A Spy's London. It might have been something from the British Library bookshop. You can see where this is going, can't you? Temptation, right there in the in-box.

I resisted the physical book. (Sorry, whichever bookshop sent me the e-mail. I'm sure I'll make it up to you next time I visit.) But eventually I succumbed to downloading to the Kindle. Research, It's called research. But the book writing  kind not for the academic work.

I didn't realise until I dipped into it that the book is actually a series of walks around London, looking at places made famous (or infamous) by connections with espionage. I probably didn't read the blurb properly.

I'm now very much enjoying intermittent armchair walks around areas of London that I know quite well, and I'm learning a lot. And also finding out that there is a lot more to learn. Which in due course will probably mean more books. See what I mean, about daisy chains? One thing leading to another. I was delighted to find that the book has information that will be useful  for a number of the ideas that I have in my head - a time slip set partially in World War Two and the contemporaries that now have their own log book.

But If I hadn't been on the mailing list for the Archive/Library bookshop I probably would never have found it.

Daisy chains. Or possibly serendipity?

Wednesday 12 August 2015

Making lemonade

You know the old adage ... 'When life gives you lemons ...'

Turning this ...
As major personal stuff is seriously affecting everything else on the agenda at the moment, I'm on the lemonade trail, looking for things to stop the writing from fizzling out altogether and maintaining the idea that yes, I am a writer, and will one day be one again. This blog is one - and thanks for sticking with me and continuing to read it. I do appreciate it. The other thing that I've been knocking around in my mind for a while is creating a log book for a series that I one day want to write.  At the moment ideas are all scattered on scraps of paper around the house. One of the books has a dog in it and the dog has a name - but at the moment I can't remember it. I just hope that's on one of those scraps.

The books - I'm hoping there will be a series and maybe even a few historicals as well - if you are going to dream, dream big - involve a fictional section of Welsh coastline and an island and a London HQ for my clandestine crime fighting organisation. As well as those scraps I've been collecting articles and pictures and stuffing them in a drawer. And drawing the occasional map, and deciding on the occupations for the residents and researching folklore and archaeology. I even have a piece of flash fiction which may or may not involve a ghost.

... into this.
I'm a writer. (Keep repeating that.) Having decided that all these bit and pieces should be organised, there was of course an immediate need for stationery. So I now have a eye popping file and notebook to collect stuff in and I'm looking forward to moving things into it. Once I've finished cleaning up the cubed glass from the disaster in the china cabinet.

But that is entirely another story.

One day there will be some books to go with the file. I'm promising myself. Then I'll be glad I collected all that research in one place.

Wish me luck.  

Wednesday 5 August 2015

That certain phrase ...

Evocative words.

Those shorthand phrases and expressions that conjure a feeling, an image, an idea.

I've been collecting some of my favourites in my head, on long traffic strewn bus rides. (Can't read, makes me travel sick). Some of them are cliches, some have been used as song/book/film titles. They all bring something with them that goes beyond the words - or they do for me.

Midnight train
Summer afternoon
Summer in the city
Stormy night
Cocktails for two
Dinner at eight
Deserted road
Footprints in the sand
Walking in the rain
Secret garden
Springtime in Paris
Roaring fire
Cucumber sandwiches
Scent of roses

See what I mean? I hope it's not just me. The phrases have an atmosphere. An instant snapshot. The fact that the reality of a midnight train probably means a cold wet platform and a selection of over refreshed travelling companions doesn't dispel the mental glimpse of velvet cloaks, clouds of steam, cabin trunks with exotic labels, runaway lovers, sinister strangers ...

Yes I'm an old romantic with an over active imagination. Of course. And I love words. And the images they can make in my mind.

And it livens up those boring bus journeys.


Wednesday 29 July 2015

It's my party ...

Gorgeous cover, gorgeous flowers. The cup cake didn't last long.
Last weekend I did something I haven't done for a while - went to a launch party. I don't know whether the absence of parties is to do with the increasing tendency for e-book or e-book first, or whether it is a comment on my sad social life - but whatever it is, it was a pleasant change and I enjoyed it. It was a celebration for Ella Griffin's third book, The Flower Arrangement.

Penarth's indie bookstore, Griffin Books, had arranged a lovely afternoon of cupcakes and tea, beauty products and Welsh gifts for sale, a talk and a reading from Ella and, of course, flowers - from Sweet Peony, also from Penarth. I liked them so much I came away with one of the table decorations. And a book, of course. The cupcake is gone, as you might have guessed, but I did briefly save the sugar plaque with the picture of part of the cover on it. (How do they do that?)

Anyway I had fun, everyone else also seemed to enjoy themselves and many books were bought and signed. I'm looking forward to reading my copy.

But ...  There is always a but. I have enough rejection letters from publishers to know this. It started me thinking about launch parties in general and those for romantic suspense in particular. How do you do a theme party for that? The next book I have out of the starting gate - it will get there, I keep promising myself that - is not a problem. The first of a series (I hope) that at the  moment are known helpfully as 'the Riviera books' it's much lighter than my usual stuff. Flowers and cake would be quite appropriate. I have toyed with the idea of reproducing the party that is held in the book - but hero Jake is filthy rich and I'm not going to be able to provide Kir Royale, smoked salmon canapes and a string quartet, much as I would like to. Always nice to dream though.

But what about romantic suspense? How do you chose something appropriate? What is appropriate? Serving red wine only? Raiding the Halloween recipes for suitable looking nibbles? Venus flytraps as table decorations?

Actually, I think I'd rather have the tea/wine and cake. A big one, with the cover reproduced as one of those sugar paste plaques. I'll save the scary stuff for the inside of the book.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

What you don't know won't hurt you.

Write what you know. The famous advice. And the older you get the more you know, or at least remember. Or maybe not?

I was rather  indignant to discover that some of the undergraduate courses offered by my university's history department were about events I'd lived through. Huh! I was more amused to see a recent magazine article referring to a collection of vintage cookery books - some of which appeared to be ones printed by M&S in the late 1970s. I think they sold for £1. I have a large collection and yes, I still use them.

Thing like those cookery books can be a useful if unconventional research tool. I also find articles and magazines celebrating anniversaries can be be useful for an overview. The current ASDA magazine (no, they haven't paid me for the promo) is celebrating 50 years of the store and there are all sorts of reminders of food and fashion. I think that one will be going in the odds and ends of research drawer when I've read it. And yes, I remembered quite a lot of those too.

This post is making me feel very old.

But - there's a danger in all this. If you need to know something you research it.  Easy. But what about the things you think you already know? 

I've talked about this with other writers. There doesn't seem to be a solution, except more research. Of everything.  Where do you draw the line? And of course there's also the matter of reliability of memory. That way madness lies and I'm scaring myself just thinking about it.

I don't have an answer. The best an author can do is their best.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Into Italian

The Italian version of Out of Sight Out of Mind has just appeared on Amazon.
Here it is if you want to take a look.

Interesting to see the different covers for the English and Italian editions of Out of Sight Out of Mind and Never Coming Home.

Wednesday 8 July 2015

The power of silence

I'm a long time fan of the late Harold Pinter - whose plays famously make significant use of pauses. A masterly use of silence. I try to remember that when I'm writing, but find it a bit more difficult to convey in a book, without benefit of stage directions. The best I can come up with is the three dot ellipsis ...

I've been blogging about the senses recently, hearing being one. But absence can be powerful. Secrets, and I'm a great one for secrets, thrive on silence. The things left unsaid. And of course there's the strong, silent hero. A cliche, but an almost irresistible one. The heroine who can get the taciturn hero to open up is on to a winner in novelist terms. I'm not so sure how it would work out in real life. I suspect that the reticence would be habitual and might be difficult to live with, but hey, romantic fiction is about escapism, not real life.

What about the potentially creepy silence when you are alone in the house? And don't you just hate it when the cat or dog suddenly goes on the alert to something you can't hear?  Ominous silence, oppressive silence, companionable silence - how do you convey those? The challenge of describing a void? Although the first two could feel strong enough to be almost tangible. And very atmospheric.

Or there's silence in crowd - the lull in conversation when a chance remark can be clearly audible or the moment when a whole room falls silent - often because of the entrance of Someone Significant. Silence can, of course be uncomfortable. We want to fill it, especially if we are nervous in any way. I know I've used that one - let the hero keep quiet and wait for the other party to rush into speech and reveal something.

There doesn't have to be noise to have impact. There's a lot of fun in silence.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Walk, look, listen ... smell?

I've been walking the same route every morning and sometimes in the evening for a while now. The scene changes and the view is stunning, but I've also been thinking about the sounds and scents in particular.

Of the five senses, touch gets a look in when the wind is blowing or it's raining, And, on one memorable occasion, when I fell over while navigating some road works in the dark. There is now a new road on the Waterfront that has my blood in it, and I have an interesting and, I fear, permanent scar on my knee. Beware the current fashion for jeans with rips in them. But I'm wandering off the subject of the senses. Taste is sadly absent from my walk but sound and smells are interesting. There is a permanent background noise of traffic and seagulls. The latter is much more prevalent if it happens to be refuse collection day on any part of the route. (See also smells - below) There is non-seagull birdsong - surprisingly while crossing the dock as well as the paths that have vegetation on both sides. Occasionally there is a siren - police, ambulance, fire. One morning, when it was misty, there was a quite creepy sound of murmuring voices coming from a new but unoccupied building. Sometimes there are children playing, dogs barking, lorries announcing they are reversing and people yelling down mobile phones. There is the sound of the sea, caged in the dock, but still noisy when the waves are up. There is the sound of heavy plant on the construction site and what might be a generator that runs continuously. Sometimes there are trains - particularly spectacular if you happen to be in the tunnel under the track at the time. Footsteps and voices echo in there also. Very occasionally there are church bells - and noises carried from the fairground.

On the smell front, if smell can have a front, the two most memorable are food - from the local deli cooking pasties and sausage rolls and the huge new supermarket baking bread and cake. If it is refuse collection day and the gulls have been at the bin bags there are less happy scents. Sometimes there is aftershave or perfume from a passer by. Traffic fumes.The smell of the sea, wet vegetation, mown grass, drains, turned earth from the diggers.

I've made up my mind to try and remember some of these for future books. It could make all the difference in setting the scene. Or even inspiring one. I'm hoping something might come of those creepy voices.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

What's the sense in that?

Writers are often reminded to make use of all their five senses when writing, and include the results in the manuscript. Not always as easy as it sounds.
Sight - that's pretty much a given - if you're describing it then you are seeing it. Hopefully your reader is too.
Hearing - mostly obvious, but maybe slightly more testing? If your book has conversation, then that sense is covered, but what about other noises? Everything from music to the roar of a motorcycle? I think this one might be especially useful to those who write horror and generally creepy stuff. Hearing something without being able to see it is pretty creepy. Where would that haunted house be without the clanks, creaks and the odd mournful wail? Footsteps in the dark, rustling in the bushes - the imagination works overtime - which is what it is all about, after all.
Touch - the favourite one for er ... intimate moments. But it's got it's place in description too, the feel of the pile of a velvet dress, the softness of cashmere, the roughness of a brick wall. I'm wondering about that awful squelch when you step in something and you don't know what it is. If it's on the other side of your shoe, does that count?
Jasmine. My garden smells heavenly at the moment. 
And that leads nicely into Smell. I know a lot of historical novelists really go to town on the way history must have reeked and I have to admit I get a bit bored with it. I can get plenty of nasty niff's in the real world, thanks. At the pleasant end of the spectrum, there is perfume and of course it's another for the intimate scenes. But there are other issues too. Scent is apparently one of the biggest reinforcers of memory. I know I once freaked out in a big way while washing my hands in a  ladies loo in a department store in Paris. The soap in the dispenser was exactly the same as that in the hospital where I'd had a major operation, and it took me right away from a lovely day (Paris, retail therapy) to a very dark and scary time. And I didn't even know it was in the memory bank until it happened. I've got to use that one in a book sometime. Don't anyone steal it, or I will come and haunt you.
And the last one - Taste. Is this the trickiest one? Food is the obvious source and of course that intimate stuff again. In fact. S.E.X. seems to a be a good work out all round for the senses. There is occasionally the chance to use this sense in a more unusual setting - the taste of the salt in the wind and such, but it needs a bit of care if it isn't going to sound daft. Babies are experts in putting stuff into their mouths to find out what it might be, but once you've reached the age of discretion, not so much.  

What got me going on all this? Well, I've been doing quite a bit of early morning walking lately and been thinking about the things going on around me - an experiment in creating a town scape. I'll tell you about that next week.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Dreams and Nightmares and Midsummer Night.

Ill met by moonlight ?
Fellow Choclit author Alison May's latest book came out in ebook last Friday. One of her Twentieth Century Bard series, it's a modern reworking of the Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Called, appropriately, Midsummer Dreams. As part of the launch celebration a number of fellow authors blogged about dreams and nightmares, and that got me thinking about the fact that both are the stuff of romantic suspense.

Extreme emotions are the bedrock of the genre - fear and love. How often have you heard it said that a painful experience in the waking world was 'a nightmare'. And, of course, love is so often linked to hopes and dreams. Really, when you think about it, this has to be day dreams, as sleeping dreams usually don't make sense. At least, mine don't.

Nightmares don't make sense either, but the emotion they usually provoke, of fear, is real. And that's where I come in, turning those emotions into a story. (Pause for evil laughter.) Why are we, as readers, so interested in crime and mayhem? No wants it in real life, but between the pages of a book - that's different. And, of course, love and romance turn up the heat too. Crime and romance are two of the most popular genres of fiction. Plenty to get your heart beating faster in both of them!

As I say frequently, it is very much easier to turn up the heat between hero and heroine when they are facing some external threat together. Nothing like fighting for your life to persuade you that the guy/girl fighting next to you just might be 'The One'. But first the writer has to decide on the threat. Nightmares are not much good for plot, the writer has to provide that, but they are great for the scary stuff - claustrophobia, being chased, being thrust into a situation that you are totally unprepared for. Anxiety dreams - but all the ingredients of a romantic suspense hair raiser, right there, in your own comfy bed.

Alison's book is in a much lighter vein, but if it follows the Shakespeare play, it has it's dark moments too. I'm looking forward to finding out how she has handled the supernatural elements of the play. Are the lovers going to be held under the spell of a mysterious love potion? And it all has to work out in the span of one night, The seasonal dates on the calendar have always had a certain resonance - the summer and winter solstices, midsummer, Halloween, points where supernatural realms are mean to be much closer to the regular human ones. Time when you can believe in magic. And dreams?

About Alison May's Midsummer Dreams

Four people. Four messy lives. One party that changes everything … Emily is obsessed with ending her father’s new relationship – but is blind to the fact that her own is far from perfect. Dominic has spent so long making other people happy that he’s hardly noticed he’s not happy himself. Helen has loved the same man, unrequitedly, for ten years. Now she may have to face up to the fact that he will never be hers. Alex has always played the field. But when he finally meets a girl he wants to commit to, she is just out of his reach. At a midsummer wedding party, the bonds that tie the four friends together begin to unravel and show them that, sometimes, the sensible choice is not always the right one.

You can download the kindle edition of Midsummer Dreams HERE