Wednesday 29 March 2017

Re-inventing myself

I think March may well be my favourite month of the year. More daylight, weather improving, things in gardens coming into bloom, and the summer still to look forward to. I've had a Wordsworth of daffodils, in a variety of pots, and now the tulips and the Forsythia are having their turn. The latter is bitter sweet, as it was a stalk that my mother planted and, like everything she planted, it rooted and grew. And now I have it in a pot as a standard. I think her walking stick would have sprouted if she had left it in the ground long enough.

And it's not just in the garden that things are growing. Last Friday I went to lunch with the lovely authors from the Wye Chapter of the Crime Writers' Association, which involves a bus ride from Hereford to Ross, and back again. All sorts of pale green stuff was sprouting in the hedges, making me feel cheerful just looking at it.

So, Spring is doing its thing, and I'm also having a go at reinventing myself.

This year there will be a book. Yes, really. Fairly soon, I hope. It has a title, and a series title and eventually it will have a cover and a release date. And - as with the addition of an epilogue which no one at Choc-lit has read yet, but I hope they will like -  it has now tipped over the 60,000 word mark, it's no longer a novella, apparently, but has been promoted into a book.

So in it's honour, I have been streamlining and sprucing up my various social media profiles. Soon there will be pages on Facebook, and a Newsletter and I will be harassing everyone to 'like' and sign up. I'll let you know when. Actually, I will probably be difficult to avoid. But for the moment I'm just looking at my biographies and all that stuff. And thinking about what I should say to reflect the person I am today. As you know, the new book - I love saying that - is not romantic suspense. More like romantic comedy, with people running about on the Riviera, in the sunshine. I'm still thinking about that one, but in the meantime I'm looking at the words that define me at present.

For the last few years the main word would have been 'carer' and after that, 'convalescent' but now I'm moving on, or trying to, so for the time being I've chosen something simple -  'writer, historian and mature student'.

It's Spring, and I'm looking forward. I hope it's going to be a lot of fun.

Wednesday 22 March 2017

Flaming June - a visit to Leighton House

I spent a fabulous few days in London last week - I was at the Romantic Novelists' Association Awards on Monday night and was able to cheer home several friends who won. On Tuesday I was at the London Book Fair at Olympia and had the chance to talk to my publishers, Choc-lit, about the book that we both hope will be out this summer! More of that at another time - then you'll be fed up with hearing me talk about it!

On Wednesday I caught up with an exhibition that has been on my radar for a while, but I wasn't able to make it to London. This time I managed it, and just in time, as it will close in a few weeks. It was possibly appropriate too, as apparently Leighton House has been voted the country's most romantic museum. And the painting I went to see has some mystery in it's past. And I love mysteries. Romantic suspense?

When I lived in nearby Chelsea, many moons ago, I often visited Leighton House, the former home and
studio of the painter Fredric, Lord Leighton. It's an unusual building - in some ways everything you
The exterior of the Arab Hall
would expect from a Victorian home, but with an artist's studio on site, a secluded garden and a fabulous Arab Hall, with mosaics and tiles and a working fountain. It wasn't a family home, Leighton lived there alone and his modest bedroom is one of the rooms open to the public, but it was a working studio and also housed the painter's own art collection.

The reason I particularly wanted to re-visit was the exhibition centering on the painting Flaming June, which was one of the last paintings Leighton exhibited at the Royal Academy before his death. The sumptuous painting - and I think that is an appropriate word - of a woman in a flimsy orange gown, sleeping under an awning on a marble terrace beside a glittering sea, has become one of the painter's most well known works, frequently reproduced.

The curators have recreated the exhibition of six paintings that were sent to the Royal Academy for the show in May 1895. Leighton was President of the Academy, but by then was an ill man, and was unable to attend the private view and banquet, as he was travelling for his health, hoping that warmer weather in North Africa would aid his heart condition. The exhibition shows not only the six paintings - all of which are worth seeing and which have been assembled from various collections around the world - but sketches and preparatory work that was done and influences that can be seen in Flaming June. It spoke a lot to me of the effort that has to go into any creative exercise, and the determination and desire to continue to create, even when suffering from illness. Food for thought.

Lachrymae and June are from the exhibition.
Corinna of Tanagra, on the left, is elsewhere in the house.
Photography inside the building, and of the paintings, is limited,  so I have pictures of the outside of the building and my postcards. I sat in the room with the paintings for quite a while and it was wonderful to have that opportunity, knowing that this was the place in which they were first brought into life.

You can see more about the exhibition from the Museum website, HERE.

Wednesday 15 March 2017

The more things change ...

I've been reading a book called Queen Bees, by Sian Evans.

It's one of those multiple biographies about six society hostesses between the wars. (That's what  it says on the cover, but it actually stretches longer than that, from before the first to after the second world war.) I picked it up originally because Nancy Astor, the first woman to take her seat as an MP, is one of the six, and I was hoping for some information on her for the 'day job'. I didn't get it, but the book is fascinating on the 'soft power' wielded by these society ladies. At balls and in drawing rooms and during country house weekends, they were the 'behind the scenes' movers and shakers of the day. The whole thing reads like a whose-who of famous names - politicians, film stars, royalty - everything from the Abdication Crisis to the Profumo Affair.  If you are interested in the era, it's a worthwhile read. Just the descriptions of the fabulous jewels that these ladies owned had me hooked.

And those women worked hard on their social whirl - charts and lists of guests and their preferences, endless invitations and letters. One of them even had a drop down desk in the back of her car so that she could deal with correspondence while travelling between engagements. While I was reading it occurred to me that what I was reading was familiar - what we would call social media - keeping up, keeping in touch, exchanging gossip, only we do it electronically and they did it all by hand. These days it would be a computer and a spreadsheet.

Human beings don't really change.

Wednesday 8 March 2017

Thieves of Time

We've all said it - 'If I had more time I'd ...'
You can fill in your own blank, but write, sleep and walk on the beach more often would probably go in mine.
In an effort to make more time for the stuff I like/want to do - along with a resolution to de-clutter the house - and good luck with that!  - I've been considering how my days are spent - and come to the conclusion that there are a number of hidden but quite lengthy pockets that steal time out of the day. I don't mean looking a videos of cute kittens on social media, although that counts too, but the small jobs that have to be done, yet don't actually amount to much when you are trying to figure out exactly where the day went.

I've been timing some of these stealth jobs, and it's surprising how long some of them take. A good half hour, in some cases.

In no particular order

  • Putting things away - anything from shopping, to clean laundry, to paperwork.
  • Dealing with recycling/rubbish - putting it all in the allotted bags and then trekking it through the house.
  • Waiting for things - deliveries, the kettle to boil, the bus to arrive, the buffering to stop.
  • Looking for things - see putting away, above, but also those things that you only use occasionally and have to be tracked and disinterred from wherever they have hidden themselves  
  • Opening things. I recently made spare ribs for the first time in ages. It was one of my mother's favourite recipes from my repertoire and it's taken me a while to want to cook it again, with the result that all my ingredients were well past their sell by date and had to be replaced. And every bottle and pot had to be wrestled and subdued in order to give up its contents - so many tags, lids and fancy tops. I accept that they keep the contents safe, but it was a fun ten minutes - and there are some brands I no longer buy, simply because I just can't get the tops off!
  • Peeling things - I love cooking, but preparation can take up quite a bit of time. 
  • Checking 'use by' dates - does anyone else have a periodic shuffle through the cupboards to unearth the ones getting close to the edge? Or is that just me? 
  • Hanging out washing/taking it in again. 
  • Washing up or loading/unloading the dishwasher. I always seem to be washing up.
  • Watering houseplants/garden.

I'm sure there are a few I've missed, but those are enough to be going on with - one or two can make a nice hole in your morning, without anything much to show for it.

So next time you've been wondering where the time went ...

Wednesday 1 March 2017

An Interview with Kirsty Ferry

As regular readers will know I have a cupboard full of 'To be Written' books that keep banging on the door, trying to get out. One day. Quite a lot of them feature works of art - usually getting stolen, but that's a romantic suspense author for you.
Today I have a guest who has centred her series for publishers Choclit on works of art by the PreRaphaelite painters - who I must say are also some of my favourites too -beautiful colours and pictures that tell a story. The series is actually called The Rossetti Mysteries, with a modern day hero and heroine, but with more than a few ghosts wandering through them! The latest, third in the series, is out as an e-book on 7th March (on pre-order now if you read on Kobo) and this time has both art and photography. It's called The Girl in the Photograph. I'm pleased to have the author here to tell us about the book (which has a gorgeous cover by Berni Stephens) and answer a few questions about writing inspired by art and artists. I will be taking notes.

A big welcome to Evonne on Wednesday to Kirsty Ferry.

I told you it was gorgeous.
The Girl in the Photograph
What if the past was trying to teach you a lesson?
Staying alone in the shadow of an abandoned manor house in Yorkshire would be madness to some, but art enthusiast Lissy de Luca can’t wait. Lissy has her reasons for seeking isolation, and she wants to study the Staithes Group – an artists’ commune active at the turn of the twentieth century.
Lissy is fascinated by the imposing Sea Scarr Hall – but the deeper she delves, the stranger things get. A lonely figure patrols the cove at night, whilst a hidden painting leads to a chilling realisation. And then there’s the photograph of the girl; so beautiful she could be a mermaid … and so familiar.
As Lissy further immerses herself, she comes to an eerie conclusion: The occupants of Sea Scarr Hall are long gone, but they have a message for her – and they’re going to make sure she gets it.

 I asked Kirsty to tell us more about her novels, her approach to writing about famous people from the past, research, and knowing when to stop - oh, and also about those ghosts.

* As your books have ghosts in them, I think of them as supernatural, rather than paranormal. Is that how you feel?
I think you could use both terms – ghosts are more ‘supernatural’ and more unexplained in a story, and a lot of people immediately assume that a ‘paranormal’ novel involves vampires or werewolves, so I can see where the confusion would lie. Out of interest, I just did an Internet search for ‘supernatural romance books’ and it brought up a whole host of vampire romantic fiction! I suppose that suggests that the terms are interchangeable, but it’s a very good question!

* Where do your books start out - with the love story, or the supernatural element?
The supernatural element I would say. I think of a place and a ghost and then I wonder how I can incorporate a modern day viewpoint and a dual timeline– which naturally leads onto the romantic element. I have done a couple of contemporary love stories as well, and the first one I did was really tough – I kept wanting to put a ghost in it. By the time I did the third contemporary, I’d sort of got the hang of it, but I do love my ghosts!

* Many of the stories are centred around pieces of art - what research do you do (and how do you stop yourself doing too much)?
For the Rossetti Mysteries books, I started with lots and lots of reading. I have acquired a huge pile of books on the Pre-Raphaelites, many of them from charity shops, second hand shops, bargain book shops and second hand sales on amazon. I also have a friend who is a Librarian by nature and by training, and she loaned me lots of her books as well. I use the Internet quite a bit too, and as I studied Lizzie Siddal in some depth for my Masters degree (which was Creative Writing and Research), I used a lot of academic resources as well. Tullie House Museum in Carlisle is about fifty miles away, so we’ve had some day trips there to see their Pre-Raphaelite collection, and my local art gallery in Newcastle has a few Pre-Raphaelite paintings too. On holiday, we went to the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, which is all about photography, and even little local museums like Bellingham Heritage Centre near Hexham have resources on photography I can take information from. Plus I had a tutor for one of my Degree modules who is an authority on Laura Knight, and Laura crops up in The Girl in the Photograph. I’ll even email people if I see a website and think they would be able to answer a question. How do I stop myself from doing too much? I don’t really. I do a lot, and take away what I need; then use the rest for a different project if I can! I’ve done several projects on Lizzie Siddal, for example, all stemming from the same research but all very different. I think the thing to do is not info-dump in the novels. I end up with loads of information stored in a Word document, but only some of it finds its way into the story, and only, usually, enough to support a particular point.

* The books are the Rossetti mysteries - do the real members of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood feature - and/or are your characters based on them?
Yes! The Girl in the Painting incorporates the real members of the PRB as a major thread in the novel. Daisy Ashford, my Victorian heroine, is obsessed with Lizzie Siddal, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais. Daisy turns into a bit of a stalker, and leads the world, through her diary, to believe that she posed for Millais’ Ophelia painting when Lizzie Siddal was indisposed. Daisy does everything in her power to emulate Lizzie and make Dante fall in love with her, and it was an interesting journey to slot this crazy, drug-addicted - and quite wonderful - fantasist into the ‘real’ world of the PRB. It did involve fictionalising the members of the PRB, which I actually found quite easy to do – but I had to have the dates and events spot on and fit Daisy into the ‘real’ timeline. So I hope I got it right! Some Veil Did Fall is based more on the concept of Dante’s poetry about Lizzie – about soulmates and reincarnation – and The Girl in the Photograph is more about Pre-Raphaelite photography and Julia Margaret Cameron’s influence on one particular woman; so the only one I’ve given voices to real people in was The Girl in the Painting. But I loved every minute of writing about them.

* Do you invent works of art for the books, and would you base these on existing paintings?
I invented a ‘found’ Rossetti painting for The Girl in the Painting, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that there could be some of his work floating around in attics or in private collections that we know nothing about. I also invented a painting of Daisy by Henry, Daisy’s art tutor, which was in the PRB style, and I made up a Landseer portrait of Lady Ella Carrick, my Victorian heroine in Some Veil Did Fall. Ella’s portrait was based on umpteen portraits I’ve seen in stately homes over the years of beautiful Victorian ladies posing for the artist. The ‘found’ Rossetti was simply out of my head – an image of a redheaded woman looking very sensuous, but with her face hidden. The picture by Henry was maybe a bit more traditional – but again, based on an idea, rather than anything in particular.

* The new book is 'The Girl in the Photograph' what made you chose a photo, rather than a painting?
It was a natural progression. Some Veil Did Fall was based on poetry. The Girl in the Painting is set a couple of years after Veil, and as the PRB moved more into art, my book did the same. The Girl in Photograph is again set a few years after Painting – and by then, the Pre-Raphaelites had a foothold in photography with the likes of Julia Margaret Cameron coming along and translating their paintings into photographic plates; so it just seemed the right thing to do to tie up the series.

* Do you have a favourite Pre Raphaelite painter and picture?
It’s a difficult choice – I do love Waterhouse’s work, and I love his Tempest picture which is the painting on my blog. However, I think the most special painting has to be Ophelia by Millais, as I lived and breathed it when I wrote The Girl in the Painting. I do love some of the more informal sketches of Lizzie Siddal by Rossetti – so much passion
shows in those few pencil lines. So art wise, I’d say Millais and Waterhouse were the most talented; but Rossetti is the more interesting character. So I have lots of ‘favourites’, really!

Thank you Kirsty for sharing some of your writing processes. And good luck with the launch of The Girl in the Photograph. 

Kirsty is from the North East of England and won the English Heritage/Belsay Hall National Creative Writing competition in 2009 with the ghostly tale Enchantment. She has also written North East based novels, short stories and articles for magazines such as Weekly News, Peoples Friend, Ghost Voices and It’s Fate. Her timeslip novel, Some Veil Did Fall, a paranormal romance set in Whitby, was published by Choc Lit in Autumn 2014. This was followed by another Choc Lit timeslip, The Girl in the Painting in February 2016 and The Girl in the Photograph in March 2017. The experience of signing Some Veil Did Fall in a quirky bookshop in the midst of Goth Weekend in Whitby, dressed as a recently undead person was one of the highlights of her writing career so far!
Kirsty’s day-job involves sharing a Georgian building with an eclectic collection of ghosts – which can sometimes prove rather interesting.