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 ...