Wednesday 26 September 2018

Books passed their read-by date?

I made a day trip to London recently for a talk and a book launch - which involved a trip by train from Cardiff to Paddington. A train line and a journey that feature in both my first two romantic suspense novels - Never Coming Home and Out of Sight Out of Mind. Looking out of the window it occurred to me that things have changed a bit since I wrote the books. The derelict buildings line side in Never Coming Home, just outside Hayes station, where Devlin has his encounter with Luce, have finally be demolished and replace with new flats and offices. And with new trains on the GWR line there are prominent notices informing passengers that they are on CCTV - so Madison's hope to avoid any cameras in Out of Sight Out of Mind is now a vain one. Life moves on.

I always find it interesting to check the publication date in the front of a book - that's an academic quirk as you have to cite it in references - but it can be quite illuminating, particularly if the book is a re-issue from an author's back list. Habits - in life and in writing - change. In many books that are twenty years old and more it is commonplace for all the characters to smoke - and they can light up in public places too. And, of course, the most glaring detail is technology - books without mobile phones and computers rapidly give the game away. It is not just the habits though. I find that heroes in older books can appear overbearing and domineering, which was the convention at the time to illustrate the protective alpha male. The world turns and things change.  Now the hero has to be strong and sensitive.

I find it interesting to read older stories and reflect on changes. Often a plot that is perfectly plausible would collapse with a single call from a mobile phone. Age doesn't change the calibre of the story, but it can change how you react to it. The overbearing hero or delicate stay-at-home heroine would not have raised any eyebrows at the time, but can now make you feel a little uncomfortable. And it can be quite a shock if you do not realise that what you are reading is not a recent release.

It pays to look at the date.

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Research - planned and unplanned.

I made a trip to York last week - to have some fun, at the RNA Afternoon Tea, which was worth the six hour trip in itself, but I also wanted to complete a little piece of research. When I was last in York - probably about twenty years ago, we stumbled on a gatehouse in the city walls that had a small museum to Richard III. In one of the books that is half written and will be leaping back to life - I hope - once the day job is put to bed, the heroine reads a copy if JosephineTey's Daughter of Time (If you haven't read it you must)  and takes herself on a Richard III tour of the country. (I'm keeping her away from the hero at that point, so it has a purpose.) I did Bosworth and the new tomb and the car park and everything some time ago, but I wanted to complete it with the museum from York - which I was able to do, so now that is all taken care of and I only have to write the thing. It will probably only have a few lines in the book, but I wanted to visit all the places, for fun, as much as anything. You know about writers and research.

Interior of the gatehouse
The gatehouse from the city walls

I had a fabulous time in York - it is a lovely city. I stayed in a quirky boutique hotel, which has fed some ideas into a similar hotel which will be in another book, in a new romantic suspense series. I found an original copy of a book by author Elizabeth Gouge in a shop in the Shambles and treated myself as a memento of the weekend. (One of the Romantic Novelists' Association competitions has a trophy in her honour.) The hotel had a large library/lounge with a wild and wonderful selection of books - including a copy of the Dictionary of National Biography for the period of World War Two, which I have been trying track down for details on the man who was the Regional Commissioner for Wales - so I was able to take notes on that.  On Saturday morning I watched a troupe of Border Morris
The beautiful minster - I gatecrashed evensong.
dancers, and chatted to one of them about the costume. Forget bells and hankies - the Border Morris involves tattered black coats, hats and feathers, cudgels and black faced make up - a traditional method of disguising identity - quite spine stirring. There is a Border Morrris in another book of that romantic suspense series - one of the heroes plays the fiddle for them. It was good to see a troupe in action. I was so busy watching I didn't take pics!

Then on Sunday I discovered Fairfax House, which is a glorious Georgian building fitted out with correct period furniture. It was amazing - and gave me two more bits of research - a spinet and a bureau with multiple secret drawers. That is for a Georgian romantic suspense series which I have partly started and want to return to. It is where the private security service that features in the contemporary series begins - a secret society of dangerous rakes and dandies. I really want to write that one too.

All in all York was tremendously inspiring. Now I just have to get to those books in waiting - the characters have started to line up, demanding to be written and I don't know how long I can hold them off.

Once I get WW2 fixed ...

Wednesday 12 September 2018

There's always a story ...

Two men in casual clothes are standing in the street, in front of a house that is currently undergoing renovation. They are clearly there by appointment, have knocked, and got no answer. After knocking again, one of them gets out his phone and walks a little way down the street, with it pressed to his ear. His companion stays, looking thoughtfully at the house  ...

Okay, confession time, this was not the start of a story, it was me, looking out of the bedroom window the other morning. You know writers are horribly nosey. I was a good girl and didn't stay, partly because I had not yet had my first cup of tea. While drinking that tea I started to think about the scenarios that might come off that little scene. For a crime writer there would probably be a body in the house - or maybe it would be a missing person story. Actually, I like that one - I could run with that. For a romance writer the men would probably be handsome hero and best friend (who will probably get his own story in due course) who are there to look at the renovations. Gorgeous heroine - who has bought/inherited the money pit -  has got held up and will arrive delightfully flustered, and/or steaming mad at the driver who backed into her car. Or she is inside in some predicament involving a ladder, from which hero will, of course, rescue her ...  It can't really be an historical, because the clothes are wrong, but you might be able to do something with time slip. Or fantasy, if the house has a portal in it. And don't get me started on horror .... 

All that, from two gentlemen in the street. Writers can make something of anything. If you gave ten of them the same scenario, all the stories would be different. Making up stories is one of the innocent pleasure of my life - I assume other writers do it, but I'm not sure about the general public - you know, real people. I know my grandmother did it. She told my mother wonderful tales about neighbours she had never met, so it might be something in the genes. 

I don't put real people in my books, but I do use ideas. So - what can I do with an empty house ...

Wednesday 5 September 2018

Books on display

When I am struggling to summon the enthusiasm to roll out of bed in the morning - I don't do mornings, if I can help it - I usually make a blind stab at the radio, then doze thorough whatever is on, until the time checks tell me I really should be getting up and there is, after all, a potential cup of tea waiting downstairs in the kettle. Which is how I half heard an item about a politician who had apparently been pictured with some very heavy reading matter, which had prompted a slightly tongue in cheek discussion on what the choices on your bookshelf say about you.

I have to say that the proverbial visitor from Mars (who, I have just realised has replaced the wartime 'little man' - you can tell I am knee deep in the day job) would have a very confused idea about me from the books on my shelves. A certain retailer must have a lot of fun too when the little robots attempt to offer me some selections. The front room is mostly research - World War Two is all over the floor, as I am currently working. The shelves have my own books, some from other writers, mostly friends, as yet unread, and a glorious selection of writing research books - travel guides, history other than WW2, gardens and art, the witchy/magical end of folklore, exhibition catalogues ... The man who came to read the meter last week must have been a bit confused, but we had a nice chat about being a writer when he saw my books.

The dining room has my small collection of vintage crime, my old university text books - poetry and plays - and my cookery books. In the hall there are books on the way to or from the library. Upstairs are my keepers - Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart, C S Lewis, Jane Aikin Hodge, Jayne Anne Krentz, Nora Roberts, Stephen Donaldson, Jilly Cooper, Tolkein ...

At the moment the bedside table has my Kindle and that has a similarly disorienting collection from all my interests.

That's my reading selection - and I have no idea what it says about me.