Wednesday 30 May 2018

Unaccustomed as I am ...

Being a writer has its advantages - it's possibly the only job you can do in your pyjamas, in bed, surrounded by toast crumbs, if you want. I only confess to the pyjamas. Occasionally.  While you're producing the books, no one cares what you look like. But then there comes that moment when the book is done and out there and members of the public are meant to be parting with hard cash to read it - and you have to start promoting it.  And that often involves the exact opposite of the pyjamas and toast crumbs - you have to speak,  in public.

I'm lucky that I had an English teacher who believed that writing and giving speeches was one of the things she needed to teach us - agony at the time, but useful since - and I've always had jobs where I've had to get up and talk, and I think I'm also a bit of a frustrated actress too - but even so, making an appearance, talking to readers, is still an event.

This is on my mind as I'm appearing at the Cardiff Library Crime and Coffee Festival this weekend. I'm part of a panel with two other local crime writers, Derec Jones and Phil Rowlands, so we can share the load, and I think it will be fun, once we get going, but it still needs a deep steadying breath before anything starts.

I have to say that the thing I like best about doing public appearances is the questions from readers. It's interesting to know what interests them, and also to hear what other writers have to say about their writing process. Sometimes there is a question that really makes you think, and if the audience have read some of your work and ask about that, it's a real bonus.

All that is in store on Friday. I'm looking forward to it, I think.

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Why you should never look at a writer's browsing history ...

... especially a crime writer.

You never know what you might find. This post originated with a reminder I'd left in the middle of some harmless notes on something to do with World War 2 for the day job. What else I was reading at the time I have no idea - evidence suggests it was a thriller of some kind - but right there in the middle of the page, carefully printed, so I could actually decipher it, was 'tactical pen' and 'survival bracelet.'

So of course, once I'd found it, I really had to Google. The results kept me innocently occupied for at least half an hour. I had no idea that this sort of stuff existed. The tactical pen is, well, a pen, but made of metal and designed so it can be used as a weapon. Now I have to admit that I was tempted by the Smith and Wesson version (other tactical pens are available) simply to be able to say that I owned a Smith and Wesson - and you can apparently get it in pink - but weaponry is really not my thing.

The survival bracelets - and there seem to be multiple versions available - are bracelets constructed of parachute cord with added extras - fishing hooks, a compass, lights, whistle, kit for water purification, medical supplies - my mind began to boggle at the possible weight of the thing - hey I'm female, I have a handbag - I know how much 'stuff 'weighs - but it was when it got to the ones that had duct tape and handcuff keys that my mind really began to boggle. Some of the pens had handcuff keys too.  Now Drew, the hero of What Happens at Christmas has friends who carry handcuff keys as a matter of course, but I was confused as to why you might want them in the 'real' world. And the duct tape seemed to be getting a little dark. I have used it for emergency repairs on the shower hose, but I've never felt the need to carry it about with me.

Who knew about all this kit? It's certainly made my browser history look somewhat threatening, but it already has things in it like 'How long does it take to die of dehydration?' (that was What Happens at Christmas, too) so perhaps not so much.

Of course my writer's lizard brain is storing all this away for future use, but in the everyday world, I don't see it as a part of my life. But it's there on my browser history, should anyone be looking.

But I told you that you shouldn't. It's research, not real life. 

Wednesday 16 May 2018

Locations for atmosphere

I was reading an article in History Today recently about castles - and how they have moved from being terrifying places of battle and repression to romantic tourist attractions driven by the stories - from the likes of Sir Walter Scott - that have been woven around them.

Castles used to be scary places -
though not this one. Castell Coch is a
Victorian folly. But a much earlier building on
the site could have been very different. 

It made me think about the use to which landscapes and buildings can be put in the devious mind of the writer, Churches are places of peace and sanctuary, but they are also large spaces with shadowy corners that can be described in a way that makes them feel scary and sinister.  Woodland can be idyllic - full of birds and bluebells, but after dark ...

What about modern spaces like multi story car parks? Even children's playgrounds, when they are deserted. How often has the image of the deserted roundabout or swing been used to  denote something frightening? Places that are usually full of people, like fairgrounds or shopping centres, can be particularly threatening when empty, simply because of that contrast.

Darkness and absence of people are two particular tools that will manipulate the most innocent building into something threatening.

Light and people do the opposite - think busy cafes, villages with shops and tourist attractions. My favourite location for the romantic comedies that I set on the Riviera is a beautiful villa, bathed in sunshine, with a pool and a garden. And gardens give you scent. Can the smell of jasmine ever be threatening? I suppose it could, if it had unpleasant associations?

Even light itself - candle light can be the epitome of romance or a very chancy means of illumination in a different setting. The weather is also a factor - a landscape that can be benign on a sunny day can be terrifying in snow or storm.

Locations can be used too as shorthand for atmosphere. Say 'graveyard' and you immediately think creepy - Gothic shadows and fog.  'Alley' conjures up a narrow space with grime and litter.

Sound is powerful. Silence can be oppressive and think of the effect of some small sound - footsteps say, in the knave of a church that is mean to be empty.

Using settings against the grain can also work - an Italian city where you are expecting beauty and culture, a beautiful beach turned into something threatening.

I've used a number of these locations and ideas for scary stuff. I need to think up a few more. The idea of a deserted beach appeals - maybe with sand dunes?

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Crime and Coffee - Cardiff Library

Crime and Coffee is a new two day festival being staged by Cardiff library on 1st and 2nd June, which will feature writers living and/or setting their crime fiction in Wales. There will be a host of authors involved, including me. There are some well known names, including Belinda Bauer and Christopher Fowler, with a full supporting cast of authors who write all sorts of crime - the cosy, the historical, the downright scary. Workshops, panels, talks - a great chance to hear about crime novels you might not have discovered yet, and maybe even buy a few!

I'm sharing a platform at 1pm on Friday 1st with local authors Derec Jones and Phil Rowlands.

Derec is an artist as well as a writer of both novels and poetry. You may have come across his Boys from the Back Fields, which involves the then and now of a 50 year old murder on a Welsh council estate. Phil Rowlands is another writer with extra talents on his CV, including acting and screen writing. His debut novel Siena is out now - featuring a Welsh heroine and some fabulous locations in Italy. And, of course, I'm writing romantic suspense and very light romantic crime. We are all quite different, but we all have Welsh roots in common and I'm sure we'll have a lot to talk about. I'm looking forward to it.

You can buy tickets for the day or for individual events and I'm told they are selling fast. I hope I might see you there.

Ticket link Here

Wednesday 2 May 2018

Filling the Research Bank

This week I have been playing truant - both from the 'day job' and the re-drafts for Riviera book 2. I spent two days at a conference celebrating the Collingwood Archive, and I had a very good time. One of the pluses of  the 'day job' is the occasional arrival of information on interesting events - this was one of  them. It had nothing to do with either the PhD or even a back burner book - please stop whispering 'procrastination' at the back - but it caught my attention and it was about archives, and you know how I am about archives.

This particular archive is lodged with Cardiff University and the conference was to celebrate the work that has been done to open it up for use. The collection comprises private papers, diaries, correspondence, books and art work of WG Collingwood and his family and there is clearly some fascinating stuff there that will keep PhD students in clover for some time. W G Collingwood was a writer, an artist, an academic and a lot of other things besides.The word polymath got bandied about quite a bit, and the rest of the family were also extremely talented. I had never come across the name before, but my attention was attracted by the connection to John Ruskin,  the art critic associated with the Pre-Raphaelites, and with Arthur Ransome, the author of Swallows and Amazons, who were both friends of the family. Now I know a little and look forward to finding out more in the future.

So - why was it not procrastination? Well first I enjoyed it, and enjoyment is not to be sneezed at. Also I think that doing something outside your area of knowledge refreshes the brain - and mine can always do with that, but the main reason I wanted to go was the idea of pre-emptive research - of looking at something interesting that might one day be useful for a future book.

Writers' curiosity. Taking the opportunity to explore something new and unknown. In my case it is always likely to be something academic, or possibly associated with travel, but every writer will be different. Curiosity and taking opportunities when they offer is one of the tools in the box that don't get talked about too often, but it's something to keep in mind. You never know where the next book might come from.

And I have to tell you, it worked. It has given me ideas. None of them will be a book in the near future, or possibly in the far future either, but I know they will sit quietly percolating and one day something is likely to emerge.

Getting my research in first as it were. Before I know what it might be used for.

When I find out, I'll let you know.