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

Groscar

Butterflies - at the Bristol Old Vic.

Salty Sea Dog


The King

Hero


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.

TICKETS HERE





















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. 

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

A walk in the dusk

With the lighter evenings - which I love - and the fact that I have my head stuck deeply in the PhD, my daily walk beside the beach has moved to the end of the day. It's a liminal time, quiet enough to hear the surf, twilight enough to be mysterious, And I love the way that lights are visible on both sides of the water. I haven't yet remembered to take my camera, so these are a few pictures from the gallery. 




Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Salvaging something

This week's post was nearly all about pig swill. In the Day Job I'm deeply enmeshed in the struggles of Cardiff Council in WW2 to satisfy the demands of the Ministry of Supply that they collect more food waste. In those days it didn't go for composting, it was fed to the pigs. While I find the struggles fascinating I'm not sure you will, so I'm putting up something from the archive instead. It's a post from 2 May 2012, when we seem to have been having some dire weather. Not unlike it is now, in fact. Although we didn't have downpours in April this year. And 'summer' was at Easter. But basically does anything ever change?

The nine men's morris is filled up with mud ...

Crosser than a wet hen. That was me, last Wednesday, caught in a downpour on Sloper Road, on my way to the Archives. Too far along to go back to my favourite bus stop – the one I always shelter in when I get caught in a downpour on the way to the Archives (Can you see a pattern here?) I waded on, and arrived Very Wet Indeed.  


Then on Saturday/Sunday night, with the wind howling round the house and things falling over on the back yard, my writer’s imagination began to work overtime about what exactly was making that ominous crashing sound. In the daylight? Nothing I could see. Obviously not in my back yard. 


Then yesterday, on a quick train trip to London, seeing new ponds in the middle of fields – despite the drought.  


Weather is looming large in my mind – and I’m sure I’m not the only one. 


The waterlogged fields brought up that quotation from Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s part of a complex speech from Titania, claiming that the problems with the weather arise from a falling out between herself and Oberon, the fairy king. After the wettest UK April on record, and with the predictions for May not much better, I’m beginning to wonder if they are still arguing. What exactly is a Nine Man’s Morris? My ancient Signet version of the play confidently asserts that it is squares cut in turf for a game, played with nine counters, but I’ve heard that folklore experts cannot identify any such game ever being played. I don’t know what is right, but it is one of those quotations that always sums up horribly wet weather in my mind. I can just see the squares in the turf, slowly filling up, and oozing …
I seem to be a bit obsessed with Midsummer Night’s Dream at the moment, possibly because I am already beginning to be afraid that this is going to be yet another year when we don’t get a summer – although actually that is not true – we had that week. In March.
I know my dislike of cold and wet influences my writing – and reading – habits. I’ve just abandoned a book because the setting was unrelenting snow – the descriptions were excellent and it was making me too cold to read it. One of the pieces of advice sometimes given to writers is to make your characters uncomfortable. It’s supposed to make a book edgy, to have your protagonists physically miserable. I can’t do that. I’d much rather make them emotionally miserable, while the sun shines on them. I get more fun out of that, and keep my feet dry. Although I did give my hero, Devlin, his own personal rain cloud after he walked out on Kaz. (Bad decision, good reasons – at least he thought so.) It followed him around for quite a few chapters. I think of my books as holiday reading – which is why I like to set them in beautiful places, where the sun shines.
So – if you want something dark and sinister, to read on the beach …

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Summer in San Remo - in Norwegian

One of the exciting things about being an author is getting copies of books with your name on, It's just as exciting even when you can't read a word! This is the Norwegian version of Summer in San Remo. Love the cover they have given it.


Wednesday, 24 April 2019

A visit to the flower show and a touch of nostalgia

The week before last I went to the RHS Flower Show in Cardiff - it's the one that kicks off the flower show season and I've been to almost every one. It was a sunny day, but with a chilly wind. I had a good time, but it was bitter/sweet too, as many of my happy memories are of having my Mum's company looking at the exhibits and the gardens. When I lived in London we used to go to the Chelsea Flower Show, which is much bigger and more glamorous and expensive - a habit started when I used to get free tickets from work. The Cardiff show is on a different scale and fun in  a different way. Getting Mum there took a bit of organising. Taxi to the car park and then one of their buggies to take us into the show, but it was worth it. I missed her, as I always do. I particularly remember the time we had two ice creams instead of lunch. That's two ice creams each. Mum loved ice cream and it must have been  a warm day.

I took some pictures. The gardens are nothing like those at Chelsea, but the flowers are lovely and I bought a few plants and some lily bulbs. Now I have to plant them and keep the slugs from eating them, and they will be a reminder of a day in spring.

One of the gardens. Not sure what the theme was. 
This one was a kind of den for a young girl to hide away and read.
Peonies. Such a brilliant colour
Bougainvillea. I was very tempted to buy one, but decided on the bulbs instead.
 Maybe next year. 

These are some of the bulbs I chose. Will they look as good as these?
Depends on the slugs!




 

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Barry Island Book Fest - TODAY

Just a quick post to say I will be at the Book Fest at the Museum at Barry Island (next to the railway station) TODAY. Drop in between 11am and 3pm and talk to local authors and publishers and buy signed books! Free entry. The cafe will be open and there will be steam trains!



Wednesday, 17 April 2019

An Easter Competition

To celebrate Easter, and hopefully the arrival of some warm weather, I'm running a little competition to win a mug that features the lovely cover of my sunshine romance Summer in San Remo and a bag of mini chocolate Easter eggs.

My publishers, Choc-lit, are taking care of all the organising and arranging to draw the lucky name. To be in with a chance to win, all you have to do is tell them the titles of two of my other books. It's that easy.

Answers have to be in by 18th -that's tomorrow - answers can be registered on facebook or twitter. You'll have to scroll down a bit to find it. While you are there there is a Choc-lit contest too - more chocs and books, so you might have a try at that as well.

twitter

Facebook



 And here is the prize.  Mug and chocs, but minus the daffodils.



HAPPY EASTER

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

It's not just the writing

At the moment, with my head stuck in the PhD, it feels like that's all there is. It can get like that when you're stuck in a book too, especially in the editing phase, if you are on deadline. It's nice to remember sometimes that you can do other things. And those other things make you the writer you are, even if you don't always realise it.

I'm chuffed at the moment because I took some time out to re-visit my Allen key skills to put together a new desk chair from a certain Swedish retailer. When I opened the box and saw all the bits I had serious doubts about whether I still had what it took to put the thing together, even though the house is full of other stuff that I have assembled, including some scary cupboards with glass doors that are bigger than I am. I still had my plumber's mate then, so it wasn't a solo effort.

Anyway, dear reader, I did it. Here is Reggie, enjoying the result.



In fact the hardest part was taking the chair it replaced upstairs for my office in the smallest bedroom.

And when I was brushing up the floor in the dining room/other office yesterday I remembered how I had laid the floor tiles for almost the whole of the ground floor. Not sure I'd be able to do that again, but that's down to the arthritic knees.

It's not always easy to remember the other things that you can do, or might be able to do - it's not just in the past. And all those things feed into the writing. I have a book in the 'to be written pile' that involves the renovation of a house, and I know that the floor tiling and things will get into that, may even have prompted it, for all I know. And doing things that are a bit testing, or scary probably feed into writing strong heroines who can look after themselves at least some of the time. Well, at least ones who are not scared of a Swedish chair. It's useful to draw on that.

And we all need strong heroines.


Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Armchair travel

Regular readers will know I have a thing about holiday brochures. I have a fine collection, much thumbed, and the holiday companies add to it on a regular basis, which is fine by me.

Lately all my travelling has had to be the arm chair kind, for various reasons, but I'm hoping that might change later this year. When the thesis is finally done, and I may have stopped paying for Christmas, I might be able to actually go somewhere.

I have a list. All research, of course. And I am having a great deal of fun auditioning  the brochures on what they have to offer. Top of the list are the French and Italian Rivieras, because I have a second Riviera Rouges drafted and two more in the planning, and it's one of my all time favourite holiday destinations. I have three different escorted tours in the running, all going to slightly different places, all gorgeous.

Then there's Amsterdam and Antwerp, for another rom/com, and then Italy - the Amalfi Coast, but also Montecassino, which was a battle site in the Second World War which I want to use in a romantic suspense. Last year I managed a trip to York, which almost completed the locations for another romantic suspense that is partially written. I really need a trip to the Isle of Man to finish that one.

And I want to make a trip to Scotland, for family reasons, which I'll tell you about one day. I expect it will make it into a book too. And I've never been to Cornwall. And I want to go back to Greece and see some of the islands I haven't managed to get to yet, and the historical sites. I've done Crete and Knossos, but I've always wanted to see the theatre at Epidaurus, and Delphi, and Olympus. And I'm sure I could set a book in the Italian Lakes, another favourite place, and re-visit Florence. I love visiting gardens too, and I've found there's a tour based in Rome ...

It's a long list, and getting longer. Now all I need is for a Premium Bond to come up, big time.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Research - It's not just stuff in books ...

... which is why, at the weekend, I was doing what might be called active research. 

I have a rom/com book in very slow progress which involves the heroine starting her own bakery. I have no idea when, if ever, it will be finished, or whether the publisher will like it when it is, but for the moment it's the WIP.  Which is how I came to spend last Saturday in the company of eight other ladies, one brave gentleman, a vast amount of equipment and an inspiring teacher, refreshing my bread making skills.

I have made bread before. I'm not revealing how many decades ago that was, but the techniques and a few new ones that teacher Claire recommended did come back. My first effort was a sad little pancake, but by the time I got to the focaccia I'd got into my stride and was quite proud of the results. We also learned how to turn bread dough into buns, which I was thrilled about, as one of the plot points of the book turns on a bun, as it were.


It was an energetic day, and I came home shattered, but with a fabulous haul of new bread and up-to date experience of the whole process.

The final focaccia. This will be going into the book!

Research - it's not just about stuff you read in books or look up on the Internet. Sometimes it's about learning and actually doing stuff too.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

When the machine knows more than you do. Or thinks it does.

That's the spell checker, in case you're wondering. Don't get me wrong, I love the little beast. I shudder to think what my manuscripts would look like without it, as I've never been able to spell, despite the efforts of numerous people to try to teach me. That's why my hand writing is so bad. If you can't read it, you can't tell me it's spelled wrong. The typing is a bit dodgy too. And don't get me started on the voice recognition software ...

But sometimes the spell checker gets just a bit full of itself. I find it fascinating to watch auto correct doing its thing on a jumble of letters and turning it into what I thought I was typing, but some times, no, sorry, that's not what I wanted. Sometimes that's OK, we can negotiate. Sometimes it's a pain.

People have asked me how Andrew Vitruvious, the hero of What Happens at Christmas, got his unusual surname. Well, the answer to that is, the spell checker chose it. Originally he was called Ventris, but the spell checker kept giving me Vitruvious, and in the end I gave in, and now I like it. It's different, to say the least.

That one worked out, but at the moment the spell checker and I are wrangling over what it thinks I meant and what I did mean, and I'm not giving up on this one. I can't, because this time it's not something I have a choice about. When writing about the Second World War - thesis, long story - the phrase 'heavy raid' makes sense. It's what I want to say. What I need to say. What I am saying. And I'm saying it quite often, it appears, the number of times we're arguing about it. (I can tell you all about the heavy bombing raids on Cardiff, if you have an hour or so. Oh, you don't want me to?) 

Unfortunately I keep typing 'heavy riad', which doesn't help, and spell checker doesn't know I'm writing about the Second World War and keeps wanting to change it to 'heavy rain', which is no good at all. Even when we both get it right, it doesn't give up. It keeps showing me the word highlighted in blue, to tell me it still doesn't approve. I keep telling it that's what I want. And it still isn't listening. It thinks it knows better than I do.   

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Always something to think about

On Tuesday I had a fabulous day.
I got out of the house and away from the second word war for a whole day.
I spent it in the company of the lovely and talented writers from the Romantic Novelists' Association Marcher Chapter.
The amazing ladies from Liberta aka Sophie and Joanna put on a terrific workshop for us on adding bling to your work.
It was great to talk books and writing for a day.
It was great to have the opportunity and the stimulation to think about the nuts and bolts of writing - the chance to step back and absorb
It was interesting to see how six different writers tackled the short exercises, and yes, we all produced very different results from the same prompts, but we all went for the dark side when it came to choosing three atmospheric words. Maybe it was Storm Gareth and torrential rain what did it.
It was worth leaving and arriving home again in the dark.
And now ... back to the war. I have some fascinating stuff on the Ministry of Home Security ...

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

On not reading serious books

Anyone who knows me knows that the part of my brain that doesn't do the academic stuff is mostly full of feathers. Actually, I suspect the feathers are trying to invade the academic bit, but that's a story for another day.

The feathery bit of me doesn't read serious book unless absolutely necessary. Like research or something. I have lots of samples of books on my Kindle - Marlowe and Shakespeare, labyrinths and mazes, Queen Guinevere, various guide books, railways, grimoires and other spooky stuff, - all research which I will turn into full scale books when the time is right. Or maybe write. At the moment they are marking the place, as it were. Otherwise I only read trashy books. Nothing that is going to teach me anything, preferably as far away from real life as possible. I can get plenty of real life at home, thanks.

Which makes it rather a surprise that I am currently reading Phillip Pullman's Daemon Voices, which is a books of essays (yes, essays) on storytelling. It's a serious book, made up of lectures and short articles and programme notes and other odds and ends, with an index and everything, and I am enjoying it. I think the last time I read essays was Orwell and that was in school, but this is about telling stories, and about being a writer, and what sort of writer and where do you get your ideas from and all that kind of thing.

I don't do book reviews either, and this isn't one, but I think a reader would be interested and a writer fascinated by a lot of what Pullman has to say. I am.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Changing the weather

One of the advantages of being a writer  - amongst other things, you get to control the weather. If you want to have a long hot summer in the book, you got it. Need a convenient storm, fog, deluge of rain, all you have to do is call it up. Most writers try to keep within the bounds of possibility though, just. The idea that the UK has long hot summers as a matter of course, can be a bit hard to swallow sometimes, but it looks as if truth is beginning to look stranger than fiction, and making the unlikely a lot more plausible.

When I was writing What Happened at Christmas, I wrote a freak snow storm with my tongue slightly in my cheek. And then the Beast from  the East  arrived and a sudden amount of heavy snow didn't look quite so much like something a writer might invent. I must admit that the snow in the book did disappear conveniently quickly, but you can't have everything.

And now we have record temperature in February. I must say that I have often taken a picnic lunch to the beach in February, but it's usually been eaten with my coat on. In the last couple of days in the middle of the day it's been like summer. Still frosty at night though, which is an interesting contrast. Apparently it is going back to 'normal' later in the week, but the precedent for unseasonable weather has been set. And don't get me started on the garden. Daffodils, jasmine, bees. In February.

There are some things that don't change though, sunrise and sunset are fixed points and one of my pet 'things'. I get annoyed if I'm reading and other authors don't take note of them, and I've had to change planned scenes in my own books when I've realised it would be too dark, or too light for what I had in mind.

Not everything is in the writer's control. You still have to work with nature sometimes.   

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Not quite research

Authors make jokes about research, Everything is research - even chocolate. This week I did some research in reverse. Stocking up on ideas in advance, as it were. It's not inspiration, because I don't have a story out of it. It's just a bit of information, that I might be able to use, and it came from a visit to the exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci drawings in Bristol. They are from the Royal Collection and there are small exhibits of about a dozen pieces in each, in various galleries all over the country. There's one in Cardiff, which is on the agenda for later in the year.

The Bristol display was fascinating. Drawings and sketches from da Vinci's note books - horses, cats, skeletons. A bit like an author's collection of post it notes, only a lot more elegant. And older. I enjoyed the exhibition, and there was one little nugget of information that I stored away for future use. Maybe. There was a lovely sketch of a woman's head that may have been have been for a picture of the Madonna, but not one that is known about. The exhibit mentioned several Madonnas and Child that da Vinci was working on towards the end of his life that have completely disappeared.

Now my friends know I collect missing pictures - not the real thing, unfortunately - but little snippets about paintings that have dropped out of sight for one reason or another. It has become  'a thing', to the extent that they collect anecdotes for me. I'm so predictable. So I now have the possibility of an unknown da Vinci to play with, if I ever want it, and I know what she will look like. I just have to  wait for a story to go with it.

If it's meant to be, it will happen.

If you are interested in the exhibition, this is the link Bristol Exhibition

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Write what you know - or write what you like?

One of the received wisdoms that new writers are handed as sage advice is 'Write what you know.' Which is yet another of the seemingly impossible things you are supposed to do, along with figuring out where to put the commas and wrestling a story arc. And it's all very fine, if you have an exciting day job, or home life. But if you are just an ordinary Jill, or Joe? That's hard. But when you think about it, how many of those stories you like to read start with the protagonist at a point of change, very often moving away from the ordinary to something new and scary?

I finally came to the conclusion that, like a lot of advice, you had to moderate it to suit. If you start thinking in terms of what you like, love, are interested in, are prepared to find out about i.e. research, and we all know about writers and research ...

If you are curious, then you can go on the journey with your protagonist. And of course the Internet is a boon - which is one of the reasons you should never look at a writer's browsing history, if they write crime. There's a hint in that too - write what you know - but I don't think that any of my crime writer friends are serial killers in real life. I hope not!!! But they can tap into imagination and emotion. We've probably all had times when we have felt we wanted to murder someone.  Thankfully it usually lasts only a few seconds, but in those seconds it's there. And your imagination does the rest. And all the other human emotions too - love, envy, home-sickness, regret, jealousy, contentment ...

I've reached the conclusion that the mantra needs to be 'Write something that interests you - preferably something that excites you.' And this may not be something from everyday life. As an historian, I should probably be writing historicals, but that's never been what really attracted me.

Except ... I have a new idea, and disconcertingly it is playing into lots of things that I actually know - or think I do. It's not in any danger of being written any time soon, or even ever, but it's always fun to day dream.   

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Which comes first - the cover or the title?

Cover reveals are an important event in the life of a book - the first time it gets to appear on the world's stage. A cover sums up the contents of the book, so it's quite exciting. But I have been wondering lately about the relationship between cover and title. On a paperback book the way it looks on the shelf is probably more important, but with e-books? I know that a cover is meant to look good as a thumb nail - but a thumb nail is a very small area. Can you really make out too much detail, except for the colours? 

And such a lot of covers look rather like each other. Thrillers with a indistinct but colourful background and the title in large letters, often with a strap line as well, or even more than one. The title - words, being the thing that stands out. And all those historicals with an interchangable, partly dressed heroine in a succession of pretty, colourful gowns. It really can be difficult telling one from another.  And the cookery and self help books with the picture of the chef or the guru. And the thrillers that are all about some sort of quest, that have a vaguely historical looking scene, often with the back view of a figure in it. Sometime running. And sagas with a group of girls or a group of children or one child, looking woebegone in period costume. And the drawing of a cottage on a village green for romantic comedy. And snow scenes at Christmas and beach scenes for holiday reading. And we won't mention all those guys who have managed to lose their shirt somewhere along the way. All those covers do their job - they immediately tell you what the genre is - but it seems to me that lately it's the title that makes the difference.  Which is rather gratifying, because a title is words, and books are about words. 

But,of course, the author often doesn't get to choose the title ... 

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

From the Archive

Rambling around the further reaches of the blog and looking at old posts, I found this one on a perennial subject - the setting of books. It also talks about one of my great influences - Mary Stewart. In the current grey end-of-January weather, I thought it would be good to give it another airing.

Location. Location. Location

Whenever romance authors get together and begin talking about early influences on their writing, the name Mary Stewart invariably comes up, particularly amongst those who write romantic suspense. Her books have the classic ingredients - ambiguous alpha hero, who may be a good guy, or maybe not, independent heroines who are more than a match for the tough guy and European settings which, at the time they were written, must have seemed impossibly exotic - the Greek Islands, the south of France, Austria, Spain, the Isle of Skye (before they built the road). The impact on readers in post war Britain, ten years after the war, but with rationing only just ended and the package holiday still many years into the future was surely exactly what a good romance novel must be - an escape into another world. 

And location is still a key ingredient in books and films. Reviews of so many books talk of the location as a character in its own right. Films like The Tourist have ravishing settings - in that case Venice - which give the stars a run for their money in drool appeal. (Although I must say that a cameo appearance by Rufus Sewell brightened the screen considerably for me, and diverted me from rampant palazzo envy.)
I still like books which take me to places I consider to be glamorous - with plenty of sunshine please. And those are the books I like to write. Being in a foreign place is an added layer to the uncertainty felt by the hero and heroine - essential stuff for thrillers/suspense. And it throws them together - essential stuff for the romance. And I get to enjoy the sunshine, even if it is only in my head.

It wasn't until I began thinking about this piece that I realised how much my teenage reading of Mary Stewart had shaped what I now like to write. The power of early influence?  All the ingredients are there - particularly the settings. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

The delight of too many commas.

Writing up a PhD calls for a complete change of my writing style, or maybe a return to my academic style?

When I'm writing fiction I go for short sentences, and paragraphs - one line is not unknown. Lots of dashes and ellipses, a complete disregard for the rule that says you never start a sentence with 'And', 'But' or 'Because' - although I do try to steer clear of ending with a preposition. I was brought up, right, me. 

My academic style is another thing entirely. Loooong sentences. Hello subordinate clause - haven't seen you in  a while. Commas, including Oxford, (although I think I put them in the fiction too) colons and semi colons! Liberal use of 'however' and 'therefore' and the occasional 'nevertheless'. Not used 'hertofore' yet, but I have hopes. Many Many Capital Letters. As my topic is WWII this is staying in period, as they were very fond of Capital Letters.

I still have the dashes and the paragraphs are still fairly short. I do have one or two one liners, but I expect they will come out in the edit. (Do you edit a PhD?)

Actually it's quite fun, weaving around all those commas and clauses and trying to make the stuff sound important. I think the word is 'verbose'.

Hope it doesn't stay with me when I finally get back to writing fiction again though.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Simple pleasures


At this time of the year, with the weather mostly grey and a long slog of the day job still ahead, I'm not at my best. A time for appreciating some simple pleasures. I don't have time to spare for complicated ones! 
So: -


  • The first cup of tea of the day - which is what gave me the idea for this post
  • Very slightly but progressively lighter evenings - noticeable when I go for my afternoon gallop 'around the block'
  • Looking at the sea - part of the gallop
  • Things beginning to happen in the garden - the green shoots of bulbs now a few inches tall. Actually the garden is weird at the moment - mild weather so I have honeysuckle and rosemary flowering. I also have a visiting blackbird who has enjoyed stripping the berries off the pyracantha. He's welcome, but I worry that the neighbourhood cats might enjoy him in quite a different way.
  • That mild weather - I hate the cold
  • The company of friends - last week it was meeting my local RNA Chapter and celebrating the launch of a debut novel that is going to be a mega seller, this week an unexpected dinner out.
  • My stash of Christmas chocolate
  • Finally finishing the ironing!


Not a long list, but one to be grateful for.
One of those recommendations you get for the start of a new year is keeping a gratitude diary. I don't have one of those, but the blog is a good substitute. I won't be doing it every day though!

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

So many plots - and no time. At all.

Writers' Block is fairly well known - when a writer finds he/she cannot write for some reason. At the moment I appear to have whatever the opposite is - Writers' Avalanche?

I have ideas coming from all directions and none of them have any hope of being written in the foreseeable future, because, you guessed it - the day job. Until the thesis is finished I won't be writing anything that doesn't have lots of  'howevers' and 'It should be noted ...' and footnotes in it. And that won't be stopping until August.

I suspect that the aforementioned avalanche is my mind playing tricks with me - because it knows it is quite safe from having to deliver on any of this stuff, it is wandering around having the most tantalising fun it can think of. As a result, I have:

Regency assassins, including a lady poisoner. And don't anyone mention that I don't actually write historicals

A contemporary series about a shadowy security agency - to be fair, that one has been knocking on the door for some time. One of the episodes is partially written.

Another contemporary series about female friends setting up businesses in a small town - no suspense in that one. I may have a few pages of that, courtesy of a retreat day that the Welsh RNA Chapter held before Xmas. Well I had to write something, didn't I? And I really did not want to take the thesis. It was meant to be a day away from the thesis, and it worked - except I now have this new series ...

Another contemporary of a group of strangers thrown together on a package holiday. That doesn't have any dead bodies in it yet, but the plot is yet young ...

Something with clowns, because I snuck off for a day out over Christmas to the Clown Exhibitions at the Art Gallery on Bristol. I am now waiting for that idea to surface.

I have a horrible feeling that when I am finally free, all these ideas will evaporate like mist in the morning. Even so, I have at least three more of the Riviera series to go, some of them in various states of being written. And there are two stand alone contemporaries, partly done, one featuring second time around lovers, with added serial killers. I also have a partial of a mildly supernatural that has two romances and three separate villains. And there is that old manuscript that i uncovered the other day and started to wonder about un-picking ...

Ahhhhhhhh!!

The brain is a wonderful thing - but right now mine is supposed to be focused on the day job.

I'm sure it's all a plot. Or too many plots ...



 

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

2019 ... What if?

Well, the first question is - where did 2018 go? It only seems five minutes since it was New Year's Eve last year!

One way or another 2019 is going to be a big year - and that has nothing to do with politics, I hasten to add. The day job, a.k.a the PhD, has to be completed, so that is the first priority. Actually, it's the only priority. At the moment the thing is a MESS, but I am working on it. I hope it will get better, soon.

Once that is off my hands, and it will not be until August, I'm afraid, I can get back to some writing again, which will be a relief, as I have sooooo many books all lined up and demanding to be written. I think it is a plot, or a trick of the mind, or something. As I know there is no hope of writing any of them now, they are buzzing around like bees on a buddleia, Enough for about the next twenty years or so. Once the day job is finally wrapped up, all of them will be off into the sunset, I bet you. Won't see the little blighters for dust. All there will be is a pile of obscure post-it notes that don't make sense. I bet that too.

I don't do resolutions - all those more or lesses - you know, eat less, exercise more. I do have hopes though. And there is something about a brand new year.

Potential, and maybe just a shiver of excitement? Possibilities?

Time for that classic writer's question - What if?

New adventures? Maybe. I don't have plans - 'cos PhD, but it would be nice to do some new things this year, even, just maybe, have a proper holiday?

Who knows? Except that before you know it another new year will be rolling around?

Life's like that.

Make the most of this one.

HAPPY NEW YEAR.