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.