Wednesday 25 December 2019

Season's Greetings

Wishing everyone a Happy and Peaceful Christmas, with lots of books and time to read. 

I will be writing, so with luck you might be reading the results next Christmas.

Wednesday 18 December 2019

Writing for Christmas

I'm not a big fan of Christmas. I don't like the weather, for a start, although by the time the big day comes, we have passed the solstice, so I at least know that it will gradually be getting lighter. I'm fine with the core elements - the nativity story, carols, fairy lights, home made cakes and puddings, but I'm not one for Christmas jumpers or special pyjamas, or bed linen or table settings, or any of the other things the shops are attempting to persuade us are essential. I was very puzzled by an empty box marked Christmas Eve that was on sale at the supermarket, until it was pointed out that it was for things like the pyjamas, and films and so on, to be opened on Christmas Eve. It was a box too far for me!

Given my lukewarm feelings, it is rather a surprise to find that I quite enjoy writing Christmas stories. I have one in print - What Happens at Christmas - and two more in the pipeline. I've been amassing catalogues and magazines to get in the mood for them - a bit like story boarding - and it is fun. In What Happens at Christmas  I cut my characters off with a carefully engineered snow storm, without any electricity, so they had quite an old fashioned Christmas. The two that I'm incubating both involve entertaining on a lavish scale, so I am having fun with lots of posh food and very expensive decorations. One has a bit of crime in it, for which the lavish partying is a cover, the other centres around a hotel, so I am indulging my very first serious career choice, which was hotel management. That didn't work out, but the impulse is obviously still there. You really never know what your mind is going to latch onto in the search for a story.

Christmas by proxy is clearly more my thing that the actual event. When I was still working on a paying job the best present my family could give me was a few hours of uninterrupted time on Christmas Day to write. And that is what I am planning to do this Christmas Day too. I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Inspired at the museum?

Those of you who are into dinosaurs will know that Dippy the Diplodocus currently on tour. He's at the museum in Cardiff at the moment, and I have a date with a friend to go and visit before Christmas. I will report back later on the results, but I have to say, I am looking forward to it. I know, like a big kid.

I don't expect he will be making it into a book anytime soon, but I expect we will look at other exhibits while we are there, so some of them might. Writers do like to use art, museums and famous houses as hooks to hang a story on. Lots of history, human interest, maybe some scandal, or something tragic, or creepy. If you read time slip, I bet you've encountered a painting, or maybe a photo that has acted as a entrance to a past or alternative reality. Sometimes it's an object that acts as a catalyst. Often those are the creepy ones, like the M R James story Whistle and I'll Come to You. Writers also like archaeology - digging up hidden things. With the added bonus of the overtone of buried treasure.

I have a weakness for art - as I have said before, usually thinking about ways to steal it. There is a reason the both versions of The Thomas Crown Affair are among my favourite films. I'm fascinated by lost paintings too. Those can be one that have been stolen and never recovered, or ones that have simply disappeared somewhere in history. Friends send me links and press cuttings, which may or may not get me into trouble one of these days. I've done some research on Caravaggio for a lost painting book, He has a few real ones, although in this case it will be an invented lost painting, as I have a specific subject in mind. His life was so eventful that there is plenty of room for him plausibly to have painted and lost an extra canvas along the way. The popularity of those telly programmes about lost art, or pictures proved to be genuine old masters, or fakes, suggest that other people are just as fascinated.

Books and libraries are another catnip. I have a weakness for those adventure stories that involve some sort of old manuscript, diary or book. A friend took me to see the chained library in Hereford Cathedral, and of course before the visit ended we were speculating on the possibilities. I have a couple of 'old book' books simmering, one of which goes all the way back to Shakespeare. I haven't discarded the possibility that  I might use one of his lost plays one day, but the idea that I really hope to be working on in the near future involves a very dangerous manuscript that he has a hand in keeping safe. I have a whole back story brewing for that. Not sure how much of it will make it into the finished book, but I still have to know. I'd love to set a book in some of the London museums and libraries, and I can remember wandering around the New York Public Library, trying to figure out what I might do with that.

History, art and money. It's an irresistible combination.

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Collecting pictures?

Writers have a variety of techniques for sorting out the stories that run riot in their heads. I know one who allegedly wraps a roll of wall paper all round the room and plans the whole thing on that. Post-it notes, in various colours, are very popular. One of the more artistic ways is to make a story board. An author will collect pictures - hero, heroine, the dog, the perfect cottage, the car ... you get the idea - and put them together like a collage. It always looks like a lot of fun, although I'd worry about getting a bit obsessed with collecting, rather than writing. That comes under the heading procrastination, and we all know how authors love to do that!

I don't use pictures of people, my characters usually arrive in my head without that, but I'm wondering about doing a bit of story boarding of things and places for future books. I already do it in a small way, as I have a bag of odds and ends that are going to fit into a story sometime, but they tend to be written stuff, not visual. I like to create location tours for books, but those are usually done after the book is written, not before.

When I was in London last week, I took a few pictures of interesting things, including this one, of a garden area in a very up market block of apartments It looked even prettier lit up after dark. I made up  my mind then that someone was going to live in one of those apartments, and soon came up with Romily, who is a actress with a very rich daddy, who could certainly afford to buy her one - maybe it was a birthday present. She's not going to be appearing in a book for some time though, as she is heroine of book three of a romantic suspense trilogy.

Which gives me plenty of time to collect some more pictures to make a board.

Maybe I've started something here?

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Visiting London

Regular readers - you know who you are, and thank you - will know that I usually make a trip to London in November, to attend the Romantic Novelists' Winter Party. Actually, I will jump at any reason for a trip to London, but this is an especially good one. I hadn't actually been away anywhere since submitting the PhD, so I had a few extra days, with the party as the high spot at the end.

As I stayed in the Premiere Inn at County Hall, the first night I got myself a ticket for Witness for the Prosecution, which is an Agatha Christie court room drama which is staged in the old Council Chamber for the Former Greater London Council. Not a really a court room, but it was very atmospheric, the acting was good and I enjoyed it. I also had a chance to see the posh end of a building I used to visit many moons ago when working for a London Borough, like any public building, plenty of boring offices behind the facade. I was particularly interested in wall plaques with the names of former leaders, including Herbert Morrison who left in 1940 to become Home Secretary in Churchill's wartime cabinet. He gets a few mentions in the PhD as a result.

Next day I did a very special exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery on the PreRaphaelite Sisters - the women who inspired, modelled for and generally supported the more famous male painting group. The exhibit was the best I have seen for quite a while, staggering in the amount that these talented and dedicated women achieved, largely out of the spotlight, as well as raising a family. I'm sure they will find their way into a book sometime. After that I took myself off to afternoon tea in the National gallery next door and then to see Ian McKellen in his one man show which is touring the country to celebrate his 80th birthday. His Richard II was my first experience of seeing professional Shakespeare in the theatre. I'm not admitting how long ago that was, but it got me hooked and it has
been down hill ever since.

Thursday was the party. I didn't take pictures - camera wouldn't fit in my handbag, just as I didn't fit in the first three outfits I was hoping to wear. PhD spread!! It was a new venue, lots of space and lots of old friends. Plenty of pictures on the RNA website, if you want to have a look.

In between I found lots of locations and ideas for future books, including the Christmas market on the South Bank and a very very grand and expensive apartment blocks where a future heroine is going to live. All in all, it was a very good trip. 

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Ten things I will probably never write about.

With all the stuff about elections flying around, I started to think idly of things I would be unlikely to write about. I say unlikely, because never say never. I wouldn't really have expected to write about Christmas or about snow, but I've done both. I think we are pretty safe on the following though:

Although this was a big part of my working life, since I've turned over to being a writer/academic I've left it behind. I probably wouldn't write about religion either. I'm quite happy to admit that the other famous taboos, money and sex, do find their way into my books.

I might possibly have a hero who played rugby or cricket, off the page, but the heroine - well, probably not. This is the girl who organised dental appointments every Wednesday morning for a month, in order to avoid playing hockey. I was much happier at the dentist!

A heroine who can't cook
Or a hero for that matter. I like to cook, and I have to say I am very snobby about people who can't or don't. I like to eat, and write about meals. One of my quirks.

A heroine who doesn't like shopping
I LOVE retail therapy. Even buying a loaf of bread does it for me. A shop is a shop.

Outdoor pursuits
I have to be a bit careful here as I have a hero in the pipeline - well, let's just say he is a bit of an outdoors type. But you won't get books built around climbing, or marathon running, or camping holidays. Glamping, maybe. I rather fancy a yurt, just for a night or two. 

Locations that require long distance flights.
This is a bit of a regret, but as I like to set books in places I have visited, or hope to visit, and I hate flying, that rules out anything that involves long haul. 

Maybe a bit might occur in a book, if absolutely essential, but  nothing more than a little light dusting. Decorating, yes - I'd rather paint it than clean it, and my tile laying skills are awesome, or they used to be, when I didn't need a crane to get off the floor. 

Wimpy heroines
My heroines have to be able to look after themselves, up to a point. They have to have careers, and be capable of supporting themselves, which is another of my quirks. 

Anything involving survival skills
Heroes have to be able to take care of themselves, so they might have something rufty tufty in their repertoire, but you won't get any heroines lost in the jungle or the mountains after a plane crash. I'm a city girl to the core.  

Sad endings
I get teased about my love of a Happy Ever After, but I don't like downbeat endings to a book, so I wouldn't write one. No problem with plenty of angst on the way there, but it has to be over by the end.

That's it, ten. Looking at them, I can see a theme - a writer has to be committed to what they are writing. If it doesn't interest you, and you have no emotional experience to draw on, then it is probably going to come over in the book, so it's a good idea to write the stories you would enjoy reading. 

In that case,  I can confidently say that no-one will be playing hockey in any of my books. ☺

Wednesday 13 November 2019

How did this happen?

Can someone please explain how I seem to be writing a Christmas novella that is a prequel to a series that I haven't written yet?

Writers are weird.

A. I am not supposed to be writing anything at all. I'm supposed to be doing preparation for my PhD Viva which is approaching far faster than it ought to be.

B. If I was 'writing' I have a completed half edited book and two half written manuscripts that come first in the queue.

C. How can this be a prequel to an unwritten series? I know. I can hear you saying it. If the series isn't written, then why isn't it just the first, not a prequel? I don't KNOW. It just is.

It's driving me nuts, but in a fun way. I told you - weird.

You see I had this idea, and as it wasn't going away, I decided to write a bit until it stopped. So far it hasn't, but I am going to have to pull the plug on it imminently. Hah!

I blame reading too many Christmas books. I ordered a raft of them from the library, ready for festive reading, and they all arrived much earlier than I expected.

A writer's mind is a very strange place.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Theatrical Inspiration

Having shaken loose, at least temporarily, from my academic bondage - although preperation for the forthcoming viva has to begin this week - I have been indulging myself with a few trips to the theatre. Writers can get inspiration from other writers and I always find it interesting to watch how dramatists have done their thing. So - what have I learned from four productions?

The Mousetrap - vintage, but still going strong, the current tour visited Cardiff and I enjoyed the performance. What did it offer a writer? Suspense, and red herrings, from a mistress of the art. Agatha Christie knew what she was doing. I'm going to see Witness for the Prosecution in a few weeks time - it will be interesting to see how the two compare. Classic detective whodunnit against court room drama.

Midsummer Night's Dream, the current Watermill tour. If it's Shakespeare it has to be the poetry. A play full of words and all about the power and madness of love. What more could a romantic novelist ask?

Frankenstein - now this was an unknown quantity, a new play by Rona Munroe, which I saw on Halloween. It told the story of the book, but included the original author, Mary Shelley, in the production. It was an intriguing concept, and Mary's struggles to get he characters to behave, to make connecting bridges between the scenes she had tumbling through her mind, and frightening herself with what she had imagined and called into being, in the monster, were very familiar.

Cyrano de Bergerac, at Bristol Old Vic. I'd not been to the theatre since it had a major revamp, so it was interesting to see the results and try and fit what was there now with how it used to be. The play - love, poetry, swordplay and swashbuckling, a damaged hero, and a poignantly tragic ending. Not one I would have written as I am firmly wedded to the HEA, and my publisher expects it, but still a masterclass in love and the tension that accompanies it. And I have not given up the idea of finishing that Georgian smuggling story I have lurking in a drawer.   

Four very different plays, but I got something from all of them, which I hope will inspire future writing.

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Absolute power?

One of the plus sides of being an author is the power to re-arrange aspects of the world in the way you want them. My particular favourite is the weather. If you want snow, or rain, or a long hot summer, you can have it. (I tend to go for the latter, personally) You do have to observe some natural laws, of course. Snow in the UK in July might be pushing it a bit.

Geography can be a little more tricky. You can invent your own, or interfere with what really exists, but the reader has to be prepared to go with you on that. Willing suspension of disbelief. Some things are difficult. Moving mountains around, having the whole of the south of England covered in forest, that sort of thing. There is only so much latitude for invention. I'm currently incubating a Welsh Village that doesn't appear on any maps, which is a lot of fun, but it will have to be based in an element of reality. Sort of, says she, blithely. We'll have to see how that turns out.

Time, unless you are writing time slip, is not really to be messed with. If it takes two hours to make a car journey, for instance, there is no way you are going to get the heroine there any faster. History can be difficult to re-organise too.  Maybe some jiggling at the edges, conflation of events, a little reorganising of the order on occasion. But it is going to be hard to reschedule the battle of Hastings to 1067, however much you want to.

If you are into supernatural, paranormal or fairy tale, then things are a lot more fluid, but even there things have to make a certain sense, at least within the story itself.

This power thing occurred to me last week when I  reorganised the train timetable to suit my convenience. I discovered I'd managed to have my hero on a journey running backwards from the route he would have taken - a salutary reminder that you really do have to check everything. Something had to be done, so for once engineering works came to the rescue. I shut the line he was on for emergency work and sent him across country on an alternative route, to get him where I wanted him to be. Maybe it wasn't the way the train company would have organised it, but it was plausible, so hopefully that is enough to get by. Took a bit of figuring out, mind you. With power comes responsibility.

It's power, but it does have to make sense. The reader has to be able to accept what you have done.

But I do love having control over the weather.

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Keeping up with your characters

A couple of tweets this week from two big name authors, bewailing the fact that the characters from their Works in Progress have not lost the plot, but simply run off with it, got me pondering about what goes on inside a writer's head. Many writers will tell you a similar story, of protagonists who refuse to co-operate, doing  their own thing, disappearing  into the distance, sometimes running, often laughing ... It's an occupational hazard.

But -  the big problem is, although the characters feel as if they have an independent existence, and wills of their own, they all actually originate with the author. It is a totally disconcerting, but fascinating realisation. Clearly the mind has it all worked out, because the characters' independent adventures usually work out in the end.  The weird thing they did on page 40 suddenly makes sense on page 192.

How does that happen? I really wish I knew. There is probably material there for a scientific study.Or is there? If the author doesn't know, can anyone else find out? Presumably it's all to do with the subconscious mind, which apparently has a heap of rich independent stuff going on.  This is presumably where murder, mayhem and villainous villains originate, which is the disconcerting bit. I'm not sure, but I'm wondering if this is also where the problem of characters' names comes from. Sometimes you just know that a character is not right, and it turns out that they have been labouring under the wrong name. Or the supporting character who grows and grows and attempts to take over the story. I haven't had that problem personally, yet, but I know friends who have been forced to promise them their own book, just to keep them quiet. It's all very mysterious.

I'm not doing any original writing at the moment, other than my homework for evening class - more of that anon, as they say. I'm currently mostly sorting out chaos left over from months concentrating on the PhD, with some revising and editing of something I hope will be going to the publisher early in the new year. When I start writing again I will try and make a note of what is going on with plot and characters. I strongly suspect it will remain a mystery though.

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Tangling with the facts

Most writers will tell you they LOVE research. Well, who wouldn't, if it involves holidays - sorry - research trips - or maybe having lunch with an expert on something, even an afternoon going down all the rabbit holes on the Internet on your chosen subject - you can call it work and it doesn't involve, you know, actually writing anything. What better way of spending a wet afternoon than exploring rabbit holes on unknown poisons and the price of body bags - the stuff that is going to look really good on your browsing history if the police/your nearest and dearest, ever have occasion to look at it.

That's one of the problems with research - it's seductive. You can so easily get carried away with something that you didn't know you wanted to know, or that you will never use - probably. Although you always justify yourself with the excuse that it will make a book, someday. (At the moment my somedays are probably going to involve living, and writing, until at least 110.) There is also the special law of diminishing use, that applies to most research. The more you have, the less you actually use. Restraint is the key here, otherwise you get the infamous info dump. We've probably all read that book where the author has done the research and you are going to know about it. All of it. In detail. Although, in fact, when you encounter one of those it should really be cherished, as an Awful Warning.  Sadly you have to choose - three days research will give you maybe two lines or three nicely spaced facts in the final manuscript.  But you did have the fun of that wet afternoon on the Internet.

The other peril author research is hoarding. I have a very large bag, and a drawer, full of interesting snippets that took my fancy. Also extracts and bookmarks on the computer that might one day come in handy. Some of them are hallmarked for an actual manuscript, a lot are in the someday category - see above. I really must go through them to see what is in there. Maybe there's even the makings of a book. And you know that thing, about the police looking at your browsing history - well, it's got me wondering about a cosy crime. But I don't write cosy crime.

See what I mean - seductive.

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Accidental Alphas

If you are considering a possible ingredients list for a romantic suspense, an alpha hero is definitely on it The makings of a classic alpha usually involve the guy's job - the military, some variety of law enforcement, black ops, a private organisation that provides specialist security services ... All those are catnip for a romantic suspense writer. A hero with an unusual skill set, who can look after himself and, if necessary, the heroine, who has an edge to him, possibly a troubled or murky past, but is still ultimately one of the good guys. Like I said, catnip, and somewhere I really want to go back to.

I have to say though, that the last romantic suspense, What Happens at Christmas, and the two new drafts that are at present warming up on the runway, do not have classic alpha heroes. For reasons of plot,I seem to have got into a run of what might be called accidental alphas - guys who have found themselves in situations that call for something way beyond their regular comfort zone. 

I must admit that I have found it a bit disconcerting, as I have always considered the alpha hero a given. Without a hero who is law enforcement or whatever, the author has to work harder to establish credibility. With Drew from WHAC that came in the reckless stunts he throws himself into, in the name of research. In draft mark two, the hero knows he is putting himself in danger because ... No, I'm not telling you why, it'll spoil the plot. The guy I am having the most trouble with is Ethan, the hero of what will probably the next suspense, which at the moment is called Where Were You That Night? He's a reclusive musician, and there is a definite streak of Beauty and the Beast in there, but he is not your regular alpha. I'm still not quite sure where he came from and what he and I are doing together. He does come with a lot of baggage though. And you know I love baggage. I think we may be looking at tormented, rather than alpha, this time around. Can I do that? I hope so. 

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Going Back to the Compost Heap

One of the most useful pieces of practical advice, that is often given about writing, is to let a piece of work compost for a bit, before doing anything else with it. I've always tried to do that, even if, when I was working, that was only the space of the time it took to boil the kettle or make a phone call.

At the moment though, I have composting at extreme ends of the scale. I am going back to work that was done BWT - Before Writing-up Thesis, which means it is edging into over a year since I last touched it. This is quite interesting, as there is stuff there that I don't remember at all. I also have trouble reading my writing, which adds an element of exciting discovery to the process. Some of the pages are a bit like those letters described in Regency romances where the writer did not want to pay to post two sheets of paper so has written all round the edges. And then there are the cryptic notes that say 'insert' with a choice of two or three lines that are supposed to go in. But in what order? It must have made sense at the time ...

On the large level, things have clearly been working in the back of the brain, however. At the moment the WIP is editing the next rom-com, provisionally titled A Wedding on the Riviera. There are several plot lines in there which I know I want to change, which have clearly refined themselves during the gap.

Possibly the most interesting of all is what will probably be the next romantic suspense. Quite a lot of the beginning is written, and I have taken it to a RNA Chapter workshop and got favourable feedback, but the end was always a bit murky, to the extent that I was planning on it ending up as a novella. Since I have been thinking about it, without the Second World War getting in the way, I can see that threads that are established at the beginning clearly have to be worked out, and will be on a much bigger canvas. It was all there, but I just didn't see it. That sounds crazy, because I wrote it and I must have always have intended the way it would work out, but there was only a gap, where the plan should be. The bits and pieces are coming together now, and I'm looking forward to putting it all together. Not for a while yet though. It's going to get a bit longer to compost before it gets its moment.   

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Making conversation

Dining with friends the other evening, the subject came up of the effect that things you read may have on what you write. I've never been much for literary fiction. I write escapism, I read escapism.If I want to get serious, I let my academic side out, but that means history. All other attempts to improve my mind have been sadly doomed to failure. I did confess that when I was supposed to be ploughing through a list of literary works in order to sit what was then an 'S' level in English - when dinosaurs still roamed - I got half way through the first book and gave up. I did the exam on the basis of play texts - I was theatre mad, even then, I got a merit and as far as I know, my English teacher never found out.

That led us on to the question of the effect of reading plays on writing dialogue, which I have been thinking about since. Two of my favourite playwrights are Shakespeare and Harold Pinter, miles away from each other in time and style, but I suspect both may have had an influence.

With Shakespeare, it's rhythm and the shape of a sentence. A good way of testing what you have written is reading aloud, and I often add a word to a sentence when doing that, as it seems to help the flow. Is that Will's influence? I think it might be.

Pinter is at the other extreme - pauses and half sentences and non sequiturs. The way people speak in real life, although stylised for the stage. I'm pretty sure that absorbing a large number of Pinter's plays at an impressionable age had an effect. I think it taught me to listen to the gaps between the words and not to be afraid of  them. When people talk, they speak over each other, don't finish sentences, don't reply exactly to what the other person is saying.

It's a messy business, as you can hear if you eavesdrop on other people's conversations. And these days you get phone calls as well. And most of the writers I know are incorrigible eavesdroppers. I would never use a conversation I overheard, but I love listening to the rhythms and patterns of speech. Those I can use. And, of course, I'm horribly nosey.

Wednesday 18 September 2019

The villain of the piece

Practically every writer I know, and most of them are really very nice people, will tell you that they love writing villains.


An expert would probably have theories about it, but all I can say is that it is extremely satisfying to let your imagination free to be nasty. The term villain can be a broad one, from a bossy mother in law to a serial killer and everything in between. It is still fun to write. Should I really be saying that? Fun?

Thinking about my own writing, I suspect I get something from knowing that evil will eventually get its 'reward', because I am the one manipulating the plot, and that is how it is going to be. I like to tie my endings up with a positive resolution, and because of that, I won't let the bad guys thrive. No ambiguity or cliff hangers. Not always true to real life, I know, but as I have said before, I write escapism, so I can decide how the order will apply.

My villains are villains, and come to a sticky end, but there is also the big issue of the hero with the Dark Past. I have a few of those, and I like them too. Guys who have walked the dark side, know all about how it works, and have turned away from it. But, of course, they bring a lot of stuff along with them ...

I've got an idea that has been a long time brewing, for a series that is sort of the reverse - good guys going over to the dark side to put right something that can't be managed any other way. That one takes a bit of thinking about, because I'm cautious about anything that looks like vigilantism. I'm still working that one through, but it will get there. That one started with a Georgian romance that I partially completed for fun, before I was accepted for publication, and I realised that the group of spies and assassins I'd created there could easily carry forward into the present day. An organisation for justice that has survived for a couple of centuries. Plenty to play with. As I said, working on that one. Hope I might have enough time to write the series from both ends. Wouldn't that be fun.

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Returning to the scene of the crime

I like to write romance. I like the developing love story, the baggage that the protagonists bring to the party - lots and lots of baggage, please - and I definitely like the happy ending. I can find plenty in the real world to depress me, so between the covers I like things to have a positive resolution and hope. I'm an escapist reader and I write for those who feel the same way. So why do my books always seem to have a crime in them?

And it's getting worse. The romantic suspense have crime, that's a given, that's the suspense bit. I love writing them, and exercising my darker side. But now the rom-coms are going that way too. Summer in San Remo had what I call a light dusting of crime, but the sequel, on which I am now working, centres around attempts to catch a con artist, and the two others that are floating about in the ether, have jewel and art thieves. They are still the lighter, more glamorous side of crime, if you can call crime glamorous, which is, of course, very debatable. No one wants to be on the receiving end of a crime, but there is no doubt that we like reading about them. I expect learned theses have been written about this, but I think it comes down to vicarious excitement. A little walk on the wild side, from a safe place. My rom-coms are about jewel thieves on the Rivera and the Ocean's Eleven type efforts to thwart a villain, but even if it's jewels and art it's still crime. Theft and fraud, but still crime. Somehow it seems that stealing art and jewelry make it more romantic. Which is weird, when you think of it, but there it is. Two of my favourite films are the two versions of the Thomas Crown Affair, which must have an effect on the romantic comedies. Also there is the plotting. Not the kind that goes into the book, but the sort you see on the screen or page, a team or an individual planning and executing something that eventually runs like clockwork. Sometime the watcher doesn't even understand what's going on, but it's still fascinating.

No one dies in the rom-coms, unlike the romantic suspense, when quite a lot of people die, and some of then in a quite unpleasant ways. My next romantic suspense has a gruesome opening setting, of a murder/suicide, although you don't actually see anything. I think my imagination, and yours, can paint a picture without too much description.  I know that detailed descriptions are quite popular at the moment in some books, but its not for me. I'm more interested in the effect that the horror has on my hero and heroine, who manage to lose each other on that night, and only re-discover each other after a long period apart. And, of course, that means there is quite a lot of baggage ...

Wednesday 4 September 2019

Now what?

It is a week since I handed in the thesis. I'm still very tired, but I have seen friends, replaced two light bulbs, done the ironing and cleaned the kitchen. And slept a lot. I have not been anywhere near the garden, rehung the cupboard door or sorted out my tax return, although I have made an appointment at the dentist.

I have also dug in the depths of the metal trunk that keeps my special paperwork and unearthed the partially completed manuscripts. There are three rom com, including the complete first draft of the second Riviera Rogues book, at the moment called A Wedding on the Riviera, and a couple of chapters of a Christmas novella, Christmas in Cannes. There are also three manuscripts for romantic suspense novels in various states of completion. Now I just have to sort them out and get my head back in the game.

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday 28 August 2019


Eight years of my life came to a close today, when I finally handed in the PhD thesis. The little blighter was finished a 3am yesterday morning!

The first call I made yesterday, after taking it to the print shop, was to my hairdresser, The first facebook post when it was finished, was to my Romantic Novelists' Association Chapter, both of which probably say quite a bit about me.

My writing friends have been with me every step of the last year, writing up 80,000 words that was not a novel. Now I'm wondering about making a popular history out of it. But that is the future. I have to get through the viva first. I also have a hundred and one jobs to do in the house. Don't mention the jungle that was once a garden, and all the paper work, starting with the tax return, and I really need to go to the dentist. And the first thing I did, today, having handed the thing in at the History Department Office, was to sign on for an evening class. Some people are just nuts. It's all about fairy stories, with a fabulous tutor, and I know it is going to be  a lot of fun. So there might just be a fairy story in my future,

But that is the big thing. I now have the chance to write again. If my publisher still wants me, there should be some new stuff next year. It will be good to be back.


There will be news.


Wednesday 21 August 2019

Written in haste ...

Just to say total panic here. The deadline for you-know-what is one week away and I have my head into proofing and correcting. Normal service will resume as soon as possible!

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Looking a lot like Christmas?

Okay - with publishers presenting their festive offerings and my local restaurant leafleting their Christmas Menu, it looks like Christmas now begins in August.

I'm focused on a date  much closer than that. The thesis has to be delivered two weeks from today and .... well, you've all seen a building site ,,,,

When I do finally get it done, the to-do list is a mile long, beginning with fixing the cupboard door that fell off yesterday, changing three light bulbs that require steps .. and please don't mention the tax return ....

One thing though - writing is there on the list. I'm even hoping, dimly, that there might be something fit to go to the publishers by, well, Christmas.

I can't actually promise that. But there will be writing. Books are definitely on that list. That is a promise.

Wednesday 7 August 2019

Post from the Past

Another one from the archive again. I'm nearly done with the thesis, so then ....

In the meantime, this is from August 2016 ...

Stuff I like to put in books.

Write what you know. We've all heard that. But what about writing what you like? I mean things you like, not 'What you like.' Oh - you know what I mean!

I like to read and write romantic suspense, and lately some of the lighter holiday style stuff too - although it always has a crime in it.

But what about the other stuff? The small things?

I found myself making a list again.

  • Food - you know that already
  • Art - usually stealing it, but art is art, right?
  • Gardens. 
  • Old buildings - anything from castles to churches to standing stones - or maybe standing stones should be a category on their own?
  • Trains - you knew that too.
  • Sunny places.
  • Shopping
  • Galleries and museums
  • Hotels and restaurants
  • Books - and bookshops. And libraries.
  • Clothes - and shoes. 
  • Plays and theatrical stuff. And theatres.
  • Magic and illusions
  • The sea and the beach.
  • Spooky places - although I don't actually like them, except in my imagination, to write about. 

Some of those would make a plot of a book, some are incidentals - helping with the atmosphere. Could I make a book with all of them in? Maybe. 

I think it might turn out to be one of those exercises where you try to get a word like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious into a report for work. All right, yes, it can be done But why? 

I can guarantee that some of them will be in future books, Because that's what I like.

And there's no point in writing if you don't enjoy it. 

Wednesday 31 July 2019

Can I use that?

It's a short post today, as the deadline for the thesis is getting scarily near, and I have my head more or less buried in it, which has got me thinking. In the bits of my brain that still have room. Can I do something with this?

The thesis is about  WWII in Cardiff. I have toyed with the idea of turning it into a popular history and have had quite a bit of encouragement for that, but what about fiction?   I have a wartime family saga in the bottom drawer that is about twenty years old and approaching the size of war and peace - one of those books that don't know when to stop. Now I know a lot more, about the war and about writing. I have a plan for a romantic suspense which involves the war, but that is the military side - the one I want to go to Italy to 'research', but this would be a domestic one. So - another family type saga, maybe a whole series? Or  time slip? Actually I have a romantic suspense time slip on the back burner that might get written in another five years. The ideas are milling around. One of them might stick. In the mean time, I really must get back to work.

Wednesday 24 July 2019

From the Archive

Another one from the vaults today. Looking through old posts I thought it would be fun to re-visit this one. Gromits in Bristol, from the summer of 2013. There were 80 of them, dotted around the city and I had fun in the sun, taking photos of a few. Can't believe it was six years ago!

A Gallery of Gromits

Isambark Kingdog Gromit
Outside  Temple Meads station

May Contain Nuts - and Bolts - at the barrier at Temple Meads.

Bark at Ee in Queen's Square


Butterflies - at the Bristol Old Vic.

Salty Sea Dog

The King


Gromitasaurus - in the shopping centre

Launcelot -  in Quakers Friars

Collarful - in Castle Park

Bunty - with the Bristol skyline, outside St Mary's Radcliffe

Blazing Saddles

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Running away to conference

 I spent the weekend at my old university, in the company of several hundred romantic novelists, at the Romantic Novelists' Association annual conference in Lancaster. It was a long awaited and much anticipated break for me, although I now have to fight my way back to the mindset of the PhD, and get over the exhaustion! It was a fabulous weekend. In glorious sunshine, I revisited old haunts on campus and in town, watched the bunnies on the lawns, met up with lots of old friends, sat in on panels and lectures, ate meals that I hadn't prepared, took part in a panel on romantic suspense, with some other lovely authors, learned a lot, laughed a lot and helped write  a book in an hour. When I tell you it involved a mermaid, a set of handcuffs and a synchronised swimming team, you might get an idea of how mad that was. Most of the sessions were serious though, and some a bit scary, like how long it really takes for agents and editors to decide how far they will read in a slush pile submission. I enjoyed the session on writing crime, discussion of writing sensitive material and learning a lot about what agents and editors are looking for at the moment. Lots of people had one to ones with those agents and editors, with requests for manuscript submissions, so there were lots of happy faces. I also found that Never Coming Home was among the nominees for inclusion in the list of best books in the last 60 years, which will be part of the RNA Diamond Jubilee celebrations next year. I have no expectation of being on the final list, but to know someone had nominated me was a great boost. Looking forward to next year, when I might even have a new book in the works!!!!

Wednesday 10 July 2019

Looking forward to research

I have a new passport!! The old one was very expired - I only found out when I tried to use it for ID to renew my membership card for the National Archive. As I haven't been able to travel for reasons of health and PhD it didn't matter. Now that the end of the latter is in sight - and I am panicking that it won't be done by the deadline, I've been cheering myself up with the idea of a holiday. Where, when, and how, and what to pay for it with, I don't know, but you can't have everything. As passports used to take a very long time and I had to go to the post office to pay some bills, I decided to use their renewal system. It took about ten minutes, including photo of me impersonating an axe murderer. And I got the new one back a week later!!!!! A Week!!!!

So now travelling is possible. I have a list of locations, as you know. Top of it is research for the rom coms, so anywhere on the Riviera. And Italy and Greece. And Amsterdam and Antwerp, for Riviera Rogues 4. I have that covered with a cruise next year. Yes, I know that's not the Riviera, but I have a plan ....

Now I just have to get the PhD done.

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Borrowing ideas

I came across a book last week from a favourite author that I hadn't read. It was Robert Goddard's Found Wanting about a modern (well 2008, which was when it was published) mystery intertwined with the question marks over the survival, or not, of the Romanov royal family. Did the Grand Duchess Anastasia survive? Was the woman who claimed for years to be her the real thing, or an impostor? There was lots of skull-duggery in both strands of the story, and of course there was money at the bottom of it. Lots of money. Always a good motive for skull-duggery. That and love. Or sometimes revenge.

Either I hadn't read it, or I have completely forgotten it, so we'll go with hadn't read it. It was Goddard's usual corkscrew plotting, and it chased across quite a lot of Scandinavia and central Europe, a lot of it by train.  I enjoyed it, and, of course, it got me thinking.

I'd like to do something with protagonists rushing about by train. I love trains, and the possibilities seem tempting. It's one for the to-do list.

The big question now is - do I make it a romantic suspense, or a romantic comedy. Or can I do both? Not in the  same book, of course. A borrowed idea to think about.

Wednesday 26 June 2019

Dipping into the archives again

 A bit of fun that I found among the old posts 

I wouldn't do that, if I were you.

Recently reading a synopsis of an upcoming book, I recognised a familiar thriller theme. It didn't deter me from looking forward to the story when I could get my hands on it. But it did get me
No time to go walking in the woods!
thinking about the things that characters in books, particularly thrillers, should NEVER do - like

Opening that tin trunk in the attic.

Taking a short cut through the woods at twilight. And  certainly not in high heels. (This tends to be largely, but possibly not exclusively, a female characteristic.)

Reading that old bundle of letters you found in the tin trunk in the attic.

Going back to the small home town and digging into that 20 year old unsolved murder.

Re-opening any cold case involving an unsolved murder, a disappearance, an unexplained/suspicious death, crime in general. Come on, you know someone out there is not going to take it kindly!

Entering any room in a house where the lights have inexplicably failed - especially the cellar.

Entering the cellar at all - particularly at night, when alone in the house.

Believing that just because the serial killer has been caught that the mayhem is over.

Not checking the petrol level in the car (that's gas, for my US readers) before setting off on that journey to that creepy remote cabin in the woods. You can add checking the weather forecast to that.

Going to the remote creepy cabin in the woods at all. Ever.

Drinking/eating anything in the company of a chief suspect.

And for the villain - telling the hero/heroine all about how clever you are and how the crime was done - don't you know that's the end of the book and your downfall is nigh?

Of course, if the characters listened to any of that, stories would be a lot thinner on the ground.
So, it's a good job they never do.

Wednesday 19 June 2019

Celebrating a Birthday

Not mine - my publishers, Choc-Lit, who have been producing fabulous books for ten whole years. I haven't been with them since the beginning, but it's been a while, and I will always be grateful to them for giving me my break, turning me into a published author and an award winner. And also for the cupcakes. Well, how else do you celebrate but with a surprise, and cake? That's how Choc-lit and sister company Ruby celebrated last Friday. A surprise parcel, with something delicious inside, so - I give you the story of a cup cake.

The parcel!
This was a clue who it was from.
The contents. They looked wonderful, but the picture can't give you the lovely scent of buttercream when I opened it. Took me back to the butterfly cakes my Mum used to bake, The top was sliced off the cup cake and wedged into buttercream to make wings. I think they were my absolute favourite cake, so this was a box of nostalgia.
They were chocolate (of course) with vanilla buttercream, I think, and salted caramel sprinkles. Are you drooling yet?
Me, doing my version of the famous headless heroine - you know the book covers I mean.
I'm terrible at selfies. 
The inevitable result. Here's to the next ten years!

Wednesday 12 June 2019

If you're not writing books, what are you doing?

Well, today I'm unpicking a chapter on Air Raid Shelters in Cardiff.

Hey - whatever floats your boat, right?

In three months all this academic stuff will be over and I will be back to writing fiction. I promise.

I did actually do something writerly this week. I spent a lovely evening talking books with Vanessa Savage as part of the Cardiff Library Crime and Coffee Festival. It was fun, with a super audience. Reminded me why I enjoy being a writer. The Festival was fab. I hope they do it again next year and I can be part of it. Maybe even with a new book on the horizon!

Wednesday 5 June 2019

Out of the past

It's another from the archives today, as I am buried so deep in the PhD I may never get out again. Except I have to, as there are books out there, or in here, waiting to be written. This post was about a bit of research I did for a few, a couple of years ago. They are still waiting patiently in the wings. I hope they might start seeing daylight next year! Re-reading the post has really made me want to write them.

Welcome to my world?

World building. Something I associate mainly with sci-fi or fantasy. Except that at the moment, I'm having a go at it for some new romantic suspense. I'm creating an island off the Welsh coast, where three new books will hopefully be set. On it I'm also creating a house, which was built in 1793, so it's not just the architecture and the furnishings but how the place has evolved since it was first constructed, and the people who have lived in it ...

The house - Ty Newydd* -  began as a setting for an historical series (smugglers, revenge, gorgeous men, wearing lace and velvet - you know the sort of thing) which is currently trapped in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet, but which I'm sure will escape one day and refuse to go away until I write it/them. When I was thinking of a discreetly out-of the-way site for my new  branch of the security services - more world building - the house popped into my mind. It's been through love, marriages, children, Victorian modernising, two world wars, the hint of a ghost or two - and I get to work all that out. It may not all make it into the final books, but it's enjoyable, if time consuming. And I have to say my ability with drawing plans and maps leaves a bit to be desired, so my attempts at explanatory doodling leave a bit to be desired too. :)

My security service also needs a London HQ. Which is why I was wandering around the side streets near St Paul's on a recent away-day, looking for suitable locations. It was tipping down with rain, so I have no photos and my explorations had to be curtailed as I was in danger of being soaked to the skin, but I now have a sense of the atmosphere of the part of London I want to use. I think I'm going to have to invent the tiny Georgian Square I have in mind, so that's another to add to the list.

At the risk of drowning by torrential rain, I took refuge at the Wallace Collection, one of my favourite London galleries/museums. And one with a large number of exhibits from in and around the time that my Ty Newydd would have been built. I may well be pinching some of their fireplaces, and I'm pretty sure that the original owner of my house is going to have a small collection of paintings by Canaletto, mementos of a youthful Grant Tour ...

World building is complex but so much fun. And all that lovely research - such a wonderful way to procrastinate ...

* New House, in Welsh.

Wednesday 29 May 2019

Crime and Coffee

The Second Crime and Coffee Festival will be taking place in Cardiff next week - from 3rd to 8th June, with a day full of events at the main library on Saturday 8th. Before that there are lots of talks, including some in Welsh, and a book launch and a workshop, some of which are taking place in the branch libraries. I shall be talking to a long time friend, Vanessa Savage, at Cathays library on Tuesday 4th at 7pm. Tickets £5, if you want to be there. The link is below. It will probably be worth getting a omnibus ticket if you are a crime fan. That will get you into all the events. If it's as good as last year, and the programme looks as if it is, it will be a lot of fun.

Vanessa and I met as members of the Romantic Novelists' Association. She's moved on to write crime/horror now, but we're still friends! We'll be talking, among other things, about the importance of relationships in genre fiction. I mix my crime with a love story and the dynamics of couples and family are what makes Vanessa's work tick. That and a lot of creepy stuff.

If you can come along, you'll be most welcome.


Wednesday 22 May 2019

The power of scent

At the moment the garden is full of jasmine, just coming into bloom. The stuff grows like weeds for me. We won't mention the real weeds, which are romping away as I am engrossed in the day job. It will be a flame thrower and a hacksaw when I finally emerge. Or maybe I'll just move.

Authors are encouraged to use all five senses in descriptions.  Perhaps because it grows so well in the garden, jasmine is a flower, and a fragrance, that I use a lot in books. On the whole I like to describe nice smells, just as I like to write about sunshine.

There is a tendency, particularly in historical novels, to dwell on the nasty ones, and I have to say, I get a bit bored by it. Unpleasant smells are all just that, unpleasant, and you can encounter plenty in real life, and I am an escapist reader at heart. Why dwell on the nasty stuff, when you don't have to. Of course I also like to write dark and scary along with the romance, which is a bit contradictory, but at least everything smells good while I'm doing it.

And there are so many nuances and layers to the attractive scents.

The second Riviera Rogues, which is written, and not too scary, but still needs a lot of work, has a garden in it. It's surrounding a sort of villa/farmhouse in the hills near Nice, on the French Riviera, where my hero and heroine spend a kind of lost weekend. I've been thinking quite a bit about it, as I remember planting quite a lot of jasmine in it when I was creating it. It's set around now, time wise, and all the scent in my own garden is reminding me. Or maybe it's just that I really do want to get back to some writing again that's not academic. It will be a while yet, but it's good to know it's there, waiting for me.