Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Well, it's out there now...

 Yesterday was publication day for A Wedding on the Riviera. 

This is the scary bit - now people get to  read it! So far reaction has been good and I got a lot of lovely messages from friends wishing me and the book well, and had a French style breakfast to celebrate.

I've been out and about too, talking about all sorts of things on all sorts of blogs. Everything from writing about sunshine locations to my academic interest in World War Two. If you missed any there are a links below. I've tried to talk about different things with all the fab ladies who invited me, so I don't repeat myself too much. There will be a few more next week, when a couple of visits will be with my crime writer hat. 

A Q&A with Claire

Talking to Jane Cable 

Themes and tropes - with Jessie

Spotlight with Katie

A guest post with Karen

Chatting to Chris

A Q&A with Joanne

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Less than a week to go!

 It's getting closer! A Wedding on the Riviera is released on 22 September as an e-book, with an audio version to follow. 

Although it's my fifth book for publisher Choc-Lit, it doesn't get any less exciting, or scary, especially now, as I have not had a book out for nearly two years. I know people a pre-ordering it, because it's in the top ten hot new releases on Amazon for French Travel. This is good, but - the big question - will readers like it? It has a couple of pre-publication reviews on Goodreads, and they seemed to, so I can only hope. 

I've been frantically busy, doing blog posts for lots of fellow authors who have kindly invited me to chat to them about the book and life in general, so you will be seeing me about a lot next week. The audio version is being recorded this week too, with the same narrator as What Happens at Christmas - David Thorpe, which is nice to know.  It's a very weird experience having someone voice your words, but I know I am in careful hands. 

Once blog day comes around next week, the book will out. Then we shall see. 

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Are you ready for the most fabulous wedding?

Save the date! A Wedding on the Riviera is out on 22nd September. That's just under two weeks time. Time to buy a new hat. And you will need one, because this is a very upmarket wedding.

There's the venue for a start - an amazing Art Deco Villa in the South of France, with stunning flower filled terraces leading down to the sea and even  it's own chapel. And with Cassie from Summer in San Remo doing the organising, and husband Jake picking up the bills, you know it is going to be unbelievably OTT.

As you might have guessed, I had a ball inventing the wedding for the book. Lots of research, to find out all the details that I might include. That was hard work, of course, but authors have to make sacrifices for their readers...

Then, as a gloss on top, I added anything else that I could think of to make it truly spectacular. Flowers, music, scents, food - it was a blast. A harpist, a string quartet, a specially created fragrance, masses of orchids and roses... I got to help Nadine pick out her wedding dress too. At Cassie's prompting she chose something slightly unusual, and I really enjoyed writing that scene.

As a genre, women's commercial fiction has lots of books that feature weddings. Often all the preparation is a time of tension, family feuds, bridezillas. I didn't have to cope with any of that. No stressed bride, fractious bridesmaids and interfering mother and mother in law.

If I wanted a cake covered in edible flowers, like the one I saw a few years ago in the craft tent at the Hampton Court Flower Show, I could have it. The wedding is initially part of the sting operation that is the plot of the novel, the means to trap a con man. But then... Well, you'll have to read the book to find out.

I don't think you will be disappointed. I had such fun creating my wedding on the Riviera, and I hope that fun comes across in the writing.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Now it's getting closer.

It's September. In three weeks time my fifth book, A Wedding on the Riviera, will be out in the world. In the run up to publication day there is a lot of writing of guest blog posts and interviews, all ready to go once the book is out. I'm knee deep in them now - they are particularly important to me, as it has been a longish gap since I last had a new book, so people have had plenty of time to forget me!

Writing romantic suspense, I get to approach things from two sides - love and crime. I'm doing posts for blogs that specialise  in romance and those that concentrate on crime. A romantic suspense novel has to be in balance. Perhaps that's why the genre appeals to me, as it is a balancing act, and I like things that are a bit of a challenge. I always say that I plot the crime and let the love story sort itself out, which is mostly true.  You know what your protagonists problems, strengths and weaknesses are, and the direction in which they need to go, but the way they reach their happy ending works out through their interactions with each other. And twined around it is the crime plot. That gives another layer - a peril, often life threatening, that adds a kick to the love affair.

Both sides have to dovetail and complement each other and be equally matched with time on the page, although it's always the love story that ends the book - the happy ever after. It's one of the things that I most enjoy, Real life can be messy and complicated, but in the pages of a book everything can be brought to a resolution.

One of the challenges of A Wedding on the Riviera was mixing a joyous celebration like a wedding with a very nasty con trick, another was that for stretches of the novel Nadine and Ryan are not physically together. I had to find ways of maintaining the emotional connection between them. The working out of the sting operation they are part of, has to match the development and unfolding of their attraction for each other. Have I managed all this? I hope so.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

The evolution of romantic suspense

If you speak to a UK writer of romance about the things that have inspired or influenced them, it's likely that the name Mary Stewart will be mentioned. Writing just after the Second World War, her books were the original romantic suspense - an independent heroine having sometimes alarming adventures in glamorous locations, with a complex hero involved in the action. Sound familiar? Yep, that's where I began.

There was considerable excitement therefore in the romantic community at the news that her first best seller, Madam Will You Talk, would be broadcast on BBC Radio. The first part was last Sunday, the second this coming one. If you missed it and would like to investigate, it's available on catch up HERE

It's difficult to  imagine the impact the books must have had in post war Britain. Escapism in its very essence. Locations that most people could only dream about visiting, warm weather, beautiful, often historic surroundings,  food and drink that still rationed Britons could only read about. And yes again, I'm still channeling all that too.

And then the heroine and hero. Her heroines are very modern women - they would be so now, but they must have been fantastic role models in the 1950s and 1960s, when many of the books first appeared.  They travel, often alone, they drive fast cars - Madam Will You Talk involves a car chase across Provence. They drink alcohol and smoke - more problematic now, but then a mark of modernity and independence. They get themselves into difficult situations and are not afraid to take risks. And they are open to the possibility of love.

Heroes are slightly more ambiguous. The books are written from the heroine's point of view, so often it's not so easy to gauge where the guy is coming from, and sometimes it is not entirely clear initially whether he is hero or villain, but they are always strong, capable and intriguing.

We've moved on a bit. I love the fact that I can write from the  male point of view, so you do know what he is thinking  and his vulnerabilities, underneath all that macho stuff.  Modern romantic suspense can be a bit more violent, and gruesome, on occasion.  My own body count can sometimes get to Jacobean proportions. These days the reader also goes beyond the bedroom door, but the originals still have their undercurrent of romantic tension.

I loved those books, and I know how much they have inspired me. Romance and mayhem, my kind of read.

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Working in two dimensions

The first set of edits went back last week and when you are waiting for the second round it's a bit of a case of being in limbo. Head in one book while wanting to get on with the next. But that messes with your concentration, trying to create something new while still involved with the previous book. 

Not yet ready for new adventures. 

I've been working out time lines, which has been complicated as I'm working with four generations of two families. I spent Sunday morning working out how everyone's lives would overlap and whether A would still be alive when B was born, and if so, how old they would be. It got very tortuous, but I think I have cracked it. 

I also compromised on the creative side by working on a part of the story that will go back forty years and will be a self contained episode, told through old letters and journals and a rather unexpected and tragic discovery, that I'm not going to divulge just now. The whole book, although it's set in Portofino and will have plenty of glamour and sunshine, and a very beautiful garden, has quite a Gothic feel to it, as the story has deep roots. I'm enjoying the play between light and dark, which I think will develop as the thing grows. In the meantime the second edits have just arrived, so the new one goes on the back burner. Gone, but not forgotten.  

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Now it's real

A book really gets real when the cover is revealed and it's up for pre-order. So, A Wedding on the Riviera is now officially  real!

I'm thrilled with the cover. To me it says so much about the Riviera and the vibe I was trying to channel when I wrote the book - think Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief. Sports cars, a beautiful coast road, a glamorous couple falling in love...

Nadine and Ryan aren't exactly Grace and Cary, but they are chasing a thief on the Riviera. The book is about their love story, but as a follow on from Summer in San Remo there is also the chance to catch up with a few old friends. It's escapist holiday reading, but it does have it's darker moments, with a manipulative villain running a sophisticated con operation. Jake McQuire, the hero from Summer in San Remo heads a group of friends who are determined to bring him down, but things don't go quite as planned, for anyone. But that's why it's called romantic suspense!

It's on pre-order as an e-book now, so if you want to be sure of your copy on 22 September you can find the details HERE

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Still editing. With dates. Sort of.

The edits for A Wedding on the Riviera have made progress. It now has a new ending, with added murder. Well, you know what I'm like. I'm supposed to be working, so this will be short, but I hope, sweet. The book is a mix of dark and light, because well, you know, weddings, and I had so much fun creating the wedding of my heroine's dreams, but also bumping people off. I hope readers will find the contrasts ... interesting?

I've seen three projected covers - all are gorgeous, but I must admit I have a favourite. It all depends now on whether the publishers' tasting panel, who get consulted over the choice, think the same way. Fingers crossed that they do!

Whatever the choice, the cover reveal is on the calendar for next week, with the book to follow in September. That's fast. Eek!

Think I'd better get back to those edits.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Quiet please, I'm editing. And going dark.

The edits arrived for A Wedding on the Riviera, and it looks like I'm keeping the title, so Yay! for that. Can't wait to see cover art.

But before that fun stuff, comes edits, which is when the book you wrote becomes the book that finally gets to appear in public. It's a process of concentration and fine tuning, so pardon me if this post is short.

After some exchanges with my editor, the book has taken a sudden turn for the dark, which pleases something disturbingly black in my soul and meant that I spent Saturday afternoon organising a murder. We writers have interesting lives.

Strawberry Hill 
I'm doubly happy about being encouraged to go darker, as this means that the next in series can follow the lead of its older sibling, and I can indulge myself in some Gothic style shenanigans, which will be great fun. (See black soul, above.) Gothic has taken my mind back to a visit a few summers ago to Strawberry Hill. Something to think about later.

I have to go now, but will find a picture of something pretty to prove I'm not entirely gone to the dark side.

This is apt, as the WIP has a garden, with roses. 

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Creating a smokescreen.

I had a good weekend with the WIP, which is coming along fine, creating some smokescreens. There has been some obscure stuff in the family's past which will only be pieced together as the book unfolds and it got me thinking about how rumour and gossip works, when people only know a small part of what really happened. As a result I am having a fun time creating a lot of Chinese Whispers, where snippets of the story get passed on and distorted and are partially true but only in bits. In a strange way, it has also helped me unravel the backstory, but don't ask me to explain how!

Anyway, all that is at an end now, as the edits for the last book have arrived, so there will be no new work for a while. I hope when I go back I can still remember where I was!

I'm being brave too and going out for a walk in the mornings, if the weather is good. I haven't taken the camera, but the picture below shows the view I haven't seen for several months.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

And the next book is on the horizon ...

It's been a busy week, as lock-downs go - several zooms, including the Romantic Novelist's Association  virtual conference  on Saturday. Lots of great speakers, and didn't even have to leave the house. The downside was that all the catering and washing up was down to me. It was remarkably   tiring too. I thought it was me, but at a chapter catch up later in the evening, everyone else said the same. There were the usual 1-2-1 sessions with agents and editors, that usually take place in person, and many friends got requests for manuscripts, so  lots of finger crossing going on.

The very big news since I saw you last is the I have signed the contract for the second Riviera Rouges, so I am waiting for scary edits. I also managed to send in the completely final version of the thesis, for publication on the university website, so now I am official and the project is now complete. I might even get some paperwork, eventually.

Getting the day job finally out of the way means that I should be able to concentrate on more writing, so I am hoping that it will not be two years before the next book comes out. I'm working on it, honest.

Except that there will be those edits ...

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Time line - then or now?

There has been a certain amount of discussion in writing circles about what people are doing about portraying 2020. Some are writing pandemic books, and I'm sure that there will be some interesting things emerging some time down the line, although it's not a route I personally plan to take. But then, I write escapist stuff.

Historical novelists don't have a problem, but those of us who write contemporary? Having begun a new WIP this week it has been very obvious to me that the things I am writing about now, and the events in the book I have just completed, simply couldn't happen at the moment.

So what's the choice, given that I'm not planning to start with a new genre - and I think readers are also looking for a bit of escapism in troubled times? Some are planning to adjust the clock a little, which means that there may well be a glut of books set in 2019. Another choice is writing in a sort of suspended present, a parallel universe with a version of 2020 that does not include a pandemic. It's a trope that has long been popular with writers, but in a much more overt way - stepping through a portal into somewhere, or sometime else - not just simply bypassing current reality.

I've not decided yet where I stand. But then, everything that is on the page comes out of the writer's imagination. It's a story. It doesn't have to be real.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

On being improbable

First - with an update on last week's post, there is now no dust under the sideboard and I have 34 pages of heiroglyphics otherwise known as the first draft of Riviera 3 - probably about  10,000 words. Sadly today I have to tackle the kitchen.

But now - back to being improbable. The deadline for submitting claims for PLR was yesterday - that's the payment that writers get for loans from libraries -  very welcome, and sometimes more than my annual royalties!  As another housekeeping exercise I just squeaked in with books I had not managed to register. Hunting for appropriate details I scrolled down my entry in a certain e-book seller, which included reviews - and the word 'improbable' jumped out at me. 

Yes - I will own up to that. My brain has a habit of throwing scenarios at me with a flourish and a demand that I 'Get out of that!'. Unfortunately often I cannot resist the challenge, hence the improbable. Actually, in my own mind I would define the things I write as fantasy - but these days that means elves and wizards, so it's a no go. It is though - a book creates a world of its own, and often that world is an escape from reality, and I don't see anything wrong with that. I mean - if you're going for improbable, look at Shakespeare! I'm not Shakespeare, but he's a fabulous role model.

Romance books often get a bad press for presenting a rose coloured view of love. This may be true, but I would give readers more credit for knowing the difference between what happens in a book and what happens in real life. Genre fiction, like popular TV, is larger than life and only shows a small part of it. We know that not every village in England has two or three murders happening every week - Midsomer Murders, I'm  looking at you - but we still enjoy watching them.  If you haven't caught up with Caroline Graham's books, from which the series began, by the way, I highly recommend them. Different from the  TV, and well worth a read.

Genre fiction is meant to entertain, to provide escape, to foster relaxation, to amuse, maybe to scare, if that's your thing. It is not real life. Suspension of disbelief is required. Plots might be improbable - yes alright, mine are - but within that, genre fiction requires is an examination and portrayal of emotions - and those - well, they are real - but that's a matter for another post.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

National Writing Day?

Well - Riviera Rogues 2 went off to the publishers last week. Now we just have to wait to find out it they like it enough to publish it! Finishing a book is a big thing in my house, mainly as it means I have to do some cleaning. I hate cleaning, and the idea for a new book arrived ready made when I was just wrapping up the old one, so you can guess which I'd rather concentrate on. Whether the idea will be quite as ready made as it appears when I actually get stuck into it properly is a moot point. Things that seem complete in your head often turn out to have disconcerting holes in them, when you get right down to it.  I am looking forward to finding out though, and visiting Portofino again, after a very long absence, if only in my head. And I have managed to clean the top floor of the house, so I get a gold star for that.

Today I have been reluctantly looking at the dining room, and the fluff under the sideboard. As it is National Writing Day though, I have decided to award myself an afternoon off and go after Riviera 3, currently titled The Villa in Portofino. Tomorrow the dining room - honest.

So far I have a heroine - Megan, a hero - Gideon and three potential female villains. I've not decided yet which will be the winner in the villainy stakes.  I have a deserted villa, (no prizes for guessing where) an overgrown garden, a mysterious inheritance, some echos from the Second World War, a tragic poet (much earlier that the Second World War - contemporary of Shelly and Byron) a ruined tower, and a touch of gas lighting.

It is going to be a lot of fun. I have quite made up my mind.

Much more fun than the dust under the sideboard.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Going, going ...

Not quite gone. 

Only a brief word today, as I am doing the last pass through the new manuscript before pressing send for it to go to the publisher. Then we all sit and bite our nails and hope they like it. I'm going to have to deal with the dust under the sideboard too at some stage, but we won't talk about that now.

Fingers crossed that I do get a green light. I'll update later (or maybe tomorrow) to let you know when it goes off.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Vision and Reality

The second in the Riviera series is very close to being ready to go to the publisher - fingers crossed, next week. Then we all have to hope that they like it.

I'm at the stage at the moment of the obsessional fact check. You can never be sure that you have absolutely everything right in a book, however much you try, but I do make the attempt. Which is why I have been watching videos of parallel parking (I don't drive) and checking the legal requirements concerning air guns, and consulting experts about motor cycles. Anything to do with cars is dodgy, as I have no experience to draw on. If you find me prowling around your car - as I did this morning, to a very nice Mercedes, on the way to the supermarket, you'll know why. Technology can be a bit of a challenge too, as I am not into the very sophisticated stuff. I have to go to the experts for that.

Writing a book is always a bit of a thing - making the vision you have in your head accord with something that relates to reality. For this one I had a very strong vision of an opening scene set at a wedding.  My villain was there for a very specific purpose, so I had to find the reason to support that. As part of the story someone present had to recognise him. I decided that would be my hero, and I then had had to find a reason that he was there, and for him being in a similar situation some months before. All those things dictated the role for my three main characters, because my hero's occupation dictated his relationship to my heroine. Confused yet?  It was complex to work out, and it gave me both people and plot for the book. All that from the mental picture of a wedding. I know I am guilty of complicated plot syndrome, but I do get a buzz from getting everything to work out.

Weddings got to be a theme of the book, and as I have said before, I had a lot of fun with that. The wedding that was the absolute core of the plot was simply vision - imagining the most up market wedding I could, then dialing it up even more. Sadly I had to cut quite a bit of the description, as I was over my word count, but if we make it into publication, I'll probably share the out-takes, but we have to get there first!

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Power of the Imagination

Yesterday the Cariad Chapter of the Romantic Novelists' Association did a Zoom workshop with the lovely Jenny Kane, with a lot of fun exercises to kick start the writer's imagination in difficult times.  One of the things Jenny said, among a lot of useful stuff and laughter, was that your imagination has no limits. Shortly after the end of the workshop I began  reading a new book on the Kindle - a new old book, actually, but you know what I mean! Anyway, the introduction of the Dorothy L Sayers Golden Age crime that I have just started to re-read  - Whose Body? - mentioned that Sayers was hard up when she wrote the book and very much enjoyed endowing Lord Peter with a fortune, and then spending it for him, including a luxury flat in Piccadilly, and a smart wardrobe. She recommended this inexpensive course of action to those also hard up. 

I am certainly doing that at the moment. I conveniently made the hero of the first Riviera book a billionaire, which comes in very handy when sorting out a lot of situations now he is the boss of the family detective agency. Money does talk, and he's funding a lot of the action in Riviera 2 which is very convenient for an author. I've got my characters into some sticky places, and it is very useful to have Jake around to bail me out where necessary. I understand exactly what Sayers meant about enjoying spending his money!The hero of the book, on the other hand does not have much money ... but that's all part of the story ...

In what I hope will be Riviera 3, there is an inheritance ...

Imagination is also playing a part, at the moment, in travel. Yesterday, doing what I hope are the last round of personal edits, before the book gets submitted to the publishers (Nail biting time)  I was in Bath and Bristol. By the end of the week I will be in Nice, and then Paris. And all without moving from the house.

Books take you places, as a writer and a reader. And at the moment, we need that.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

In a virtual world

Many organisations are showing remarkable ingenuity in presenting events that would have been live, in alternative forms. In the last week I've been to the Hay Festival and the the Chelsea Flower Show. I've never been to the former IRL, although I've been a regular at the latter - so virtual life can provide experiences that you would not otherwise get. In Zoom get-togethers too I have connected with friends who can only rarely attend normally, because of distance. I'm looking forward to a Romantic Novelists' virtual conference too in July. 

Those are the plus points - but of course there are losses in staying at home, notably in the three senses of taste, smell and touch. At the moment I have vases of flocks and roses that are providing scent, and jasmine in the garden and the honeysuckle is about to bloom. The scents are lovely. Taste comes by way of whatever meals I can concoct with whatever arrives in the spasmodic deliveries - which presents an interesting challenge. M&S are much fonder of bananas that I am, and there are many many bananas in my fruit box, but it is worth it, as I don't have to carry heavy stuff from the weekly supermarket raid and can buy the other heavy stuff, like porridge. I've found I like bananas cooked. I'm currently contemplating
what I might be able to do with a squash. Touch is okay, as long as it is not human, which is rather sad.  My pink unicorn gets a lot of cuddles. If I had a cat, the poor thing would probably be bald. But it can also encompass the feel of sunshine on skin, the softness of fallen rose petals and the crispness of a cotton sheet.

Writers are told to remember the senses, and I always take care to ensure that I have that covered, for the reader, but also for me. It's part of my enjoyment too. At the moment, writing about the South of France, I have lots of scope for all the senses. It's different kind of virtual reality - the one that goes on in the writer and reader's heads.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Destination - Italy?

It seems hard to believe that it's a week since I took the stage at the Choc-lit Ruby Virtual Festival. The authors are having a lot of fun with it, and I hope you've managed to catch some of the action. Today Jan and Marie are taking you to Greece and Paris, and if you haven't read my late afternoon extra from last week, on things to think about when choosing a location, it's the post below this one. It's aimed at writers - although readers might also find it interesting.

I had a hectic day at the festival. I'm out of practice, although I hope it didn't show, and it was an excellent refresher for when I again get a new publication day. Soon, I hope.

The festival is keeping authors in touch with readers in difficult times and bring a bit of brightness into lock-down, and as I said, we are having fun with it. And I got an unexpected bonus. As part of the action I put up a twitter poll to find which Riviera location people would most like to read about. It was a small sample, but the result was a surprise - the town of Portofino, on the Ligurian Riviera. I really didn't see that one coming, but it got the brain wheels whirring.

It's strange. Book ideas come in different ways for different authors, and sometimes in different ways for the same author! Sometimes it's just a scene, or even a phrase, or a plot point. In this case, I got the whole idea for a new story almost complete. It's got me excited, and I really want to write it. At the moment it's a novella, but these things do grow. It's quite a romantic story, although there is a bit of a mystery in there too, in the style of the Riviera series.  I have plans for a very hunky hero and a heroine who is looking to make a fresh start in a new country when she receives an unexpected inheritance.  I want it to have a Valentine feel to it. Who knows, maybe 14 February 2021?

First I have to get the WIP on it's way. It's showing remarkable sticking power in insisting it's not yet ready. And I have to agree with it at the moment, but we are getting there.

After that - off to a romantic and exclusive location in Italy?

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Ten things to think about when choosing locations.

We've all read the reviews that claim that the location is almost a character in the book - it can be that important, if you want it to be. Some locations can almost sell books by themselves - Cornwall and Scotland being two of the most popular, for both crime and romance, the genres I work in. Popularity with readers can be as good a reason to chose as any, provided you can make it authentic. It sells books! 

If you are imagining some different locations though, there are some things that it's useful to think about. Why that location? What will it give to the story?  If it's a universal story that could be set in any location, could your choice of setting still bring something extra, to add another dimension? Are there some things that your book has to have, that will give you a lead on where it should be set?

  • Weather. I'm notorious for liking to set my books in sunny places, although I had to compromise on that for the Christmas book and introduce a freak snow storm. Or did I? The thing about being an author is that you can make your own weather, within reason. Even so, logic suggests that you chose a place that fits. Readers have expectations - Christmas means snow and summer holidays mean sunshine - but it can sometimes be striking to play off contrasts and disorientation. Evil events happening in glorious surroundings, Christmas in a hot climate, a love affair where it's always raining. 

  • Knowledge of the location. Intimate knowledge of a place can add a lot to a book, think of Donna Leon or Phillip Gwynne Jones who depict Venice with an insider's eyes. Can you provide that kind of insight?  If you can't, the arrival of the Internet has provided all sorts of opportunities for research that were un-dreamed of even twenty years ago. You can find virtual tours of all sorts of places. It just takes a bit more effort to make sure that you have things right. But writers love research ...

  • Scenery - nice to look at, but also useful, for getting your protagonists lost and/or stranded, disposal of bodies, stirring memories, fish out of water scenarios, giving that romance a little extra push.  

  • Atmosphere - what does your location have that could make it useful? Does it have museums and galleries that feature a particular artist who might be special to your protagonist? Are there folk traditions and legends that enhance a spooky vibe? Standing stones? Beltane fires? If you've read Mary Stewart's Wildfire at Midnight, the Isle of Skye plays big part in that story. 

  • Contrasts  - a spin off from weather. What do you have that you can play with? The contrast between  a summer street and the cool of a church, between the hubbub of a city and the silence in the middle of a wood.

  • Specifics - is there something that your plot is going to need? If your protagonist is going on the run, somewhere with good transport links might be essential to start with. I set the opening of Never Coming Home in America, because I wanted a car crash on a road which you might expect to have very little traffic - in this country that might be a bit more problematic.  

  • Buildings - Public and private. Is your plot going to need secret meetings where the anonymity of big buildings that are open to the public would be useful? Or do you want a setting where everyone knows your protagonist and they are either sheltered or stifled by it? 

  • Using your setting against the protagonist. Does your location have the potential to make life harder and increase tension?  Torrential rain, remote location - an absolute Godsend to harassed authors trying to sabotage a mobile phone signal that would have finished the plot in five pages! Dropping the protagonist in an unfamiliar place can be fun too. 

  • Are you going to enjoy writing about this place?  You are potentially going to be living there, on and off, for many months. You could pick somewhere you feel comfortable, where the food, the scenery and the amenities are things you will get satisfaction from describing. You might choose somewhere that will challenge you, and if it's crime, somewhere not so salubrious - but it's good to make sure that you know what you are getting into from the start. 

  • Can you do the setting justice as well as making it work for you?  Is the research going to be too much? Are you going to be tempted to provide too much information? A well chosen location can add another dimension to the book, but it doesn't have to become too dominant. On the other hand it can be frustrating to the reader if a book is supposed to be in a specific place, and the author doesn't provide those little touches that set the scene. 

I hope these points are useful - they are only intended to be things to kick off ideas. Personally I think the most important thing about writing is being absorbed in your story and enjoying it - at least most of the time. I'm sure enthusiasm comes over to a reader. And if you can add to their enjoyment by the setting for your book, that can only be a good thing.

The Choc/Ruby Festival - Welcome to the Riviera (and a few other places)


Welcome to day three of the Choclit/Ruby Virtual Book Festival. I hope you are having as much fun with it as the authors are. I'm sharing the day with Angela Britnell, who will be talking about Cornwall and Nashville, so we're covering quite a bit of the globe today.

I've chosen to look at locations for my spot on the main stage. It's a chance to do some armchair travelling, sadly the only kind available at the moment. In fact today I was actually supposed to be in Cannes, in the South of France, doing research. It was a long awaited trip, and I was planning to go to places that featured in Summer in San Remo, as well as collect material for future books. Maybe I'll make it eventually.  The fact that I'm NOT there means I could do with  a little help, but more about that in a minute.

Florence - Never Coming Home

Many readers already know that I like to set my books in distinctive locations, preferably ones with sunshine! For Never Coming Home it was Florence, in Italy, one of my favourite cities. In Out of Sight Out of Mind it was the area around Tenby in South West Wales, where I've spent may happy family holidays. I also like to use locations in London, as I used to live there. (You can see photo tours for several of my books by clicking on the tabs at the top of the blog.)
Tenby Out of Sight Out of Mind 

Albert Bridge in London. Most of my London based characters have homes in Chelsea, as that's where I lived when I was working there. 

Summer in San Remo was a particular joy to write, as it had lovely locations AND sunshine.  I had a ball with the setting on the Italian Riviera, using places I had visited on holiday, although I had to rely on memory and Internet research, as I didn't have any photographs. I also really enjoyed remembering and describing the food - pasta, pizza, gelato ...
In fact I enjoyed writing that book so much I'm hoping that it will be part of a series and the second one is almost finished. This second book has a brand new hero and heroine but, as it centres on a case for the detective agency, there is a chance to catch up with Cassie and Jake and meet a few new characters who might get books of their own at some stage. The plot involves conning a con artist, and there's a lot of wedding planning. I've had so much of fun organising an out-of-this-world, no-expense-spared event in a fabulous villa on the Cote d'azur, although no one actually gets married. The action shifts from the UK to the South of France, with a side trip to Paris for the hero, when he .... no I'm not going to say any more. All will eventually be revealed, I hope. All that vicarious travel was one of the high points of getting the first draft done. Now I'm polishing it up before it get submitted.

And this is where the help come in. If circumstance were different I'd be visiting the locations in the book, to take pictures and soak up atmosphere, while I put the finishing touches to the manuscript. As I can't do that, I'm hoping that people will post photos to help me out. The four main locations are Bristol, Bath, Paris and, of course, the Riviera. In this case I've chosen to be on the French side, in the area around Nice.  If you have photos of the two British cities, Paris or the South of France I hope you will tweet them, or post on Facebook, so I can use them for inspiration.

I know not everyone will have appropriate photos, so I have another request to make too. As I said, I'm hoping that the 'Riviera' books will become a series. There are a number of locations on both the Italian and French sides of the border that I might use, but there are also many other places that like the glamour of being a 'Riviera' - Mexico, Croatia, Torquay. (I can't resist that one - I have a plot in mind for the English Riviera already that involves a murder mystery weekend and a hero who is a rather stuffy academic - but that doesn't last when the heroine enters his life). So - I'd like suggestions for other Rivieras, with pictures, if you have them, please.  Also any more unusual ideas incorporating the word - again I have a plot for cruise ship that has Riviera as part of its name, although it will be a while before I get to write that one. At this rate this is a series that will run and run.

PLease include your pictures or suggestions in a tweet, using  hashtag #ChocRubyFestival and @choclit in the tweet, or post on the Choclit Facebook page if you prefer.  We'll put all the replies in a hat and someone will be winning a book at the end of the day.  I'm really looking forward to all the suggestions - so now it's over to you.

(As a bonus for those who are writers as well as readers, I'm going to post later with Ten Things to Think About When Choosing A Location.)

Looking forward to those picture and suggestions.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Just checking

I have to say that I am a bit obsessive about fact checking for the manuscripts. This does not mean that I always get it right (unfortunately) but I do try. At the moment I am doing pre -submission editing of A Wedding on the Riviera, which means a lot of quick fact checking - OK, it also means some indulgent browsing too, but a writer has got to have a little bit of fun.

Checking an author's browsing history can be an interesting business and one which might, on occasion, give loved ones and close family a moment's pause. Body bags and spades, anyone? My checking for What Happens at Christmas included the length of time it might take to die of starvation. Not a conventional murder method, but if you've read the book, you'll know the context. (And if you haven't go and get a copy, now!)

Checking for the Riviera series is a lot less gruesome - for this one there was lots about weddings, naturally, including drooley stuff on wedding cakes, especially chocolate ones. Sightseeing around Nice. Hotels in Paris - that was fun, I love hotels and vicarious travel, sadly the only kind available at the moment. I know this, as I was supposed to be travelling to Nice myself, for research purposes, of course, this Saturday! The Internet can be very useful, even when you can't visit in person. I did a tour of the Marais district of Paris from my armchair which was a great help in describing my hero's short visit there.

Other things are more, intricate - fortunately I'd already checked the stops made by the TVG train between Paris and Nice and had written them down, as checking them when few trains are running was difficult. Luckily, after a bit of digging I was able to confirm that I had them right. I've also had to restrain myself from buying vintage dress patterns for 1950s cocktail dresses. No longer having a personal dresssmaker, they really would be an indulgence. This has not stopped me bookmarking them for the occasional drool.

The feel of the book owes a lot to the 1950's type films of crime style capers on the Riviera - things like To Catch A Thief . If you want a quick look, the trailer is HERE  It's gorgeous - clothes, scenery, sunshine. I hope my effort will create the same sort of atmosphere.

If we can't visit, we can still read about it.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Finally getting there?

One from the archives this week. In the midst of lock-down, I decided to have a prowl around the past for this week's post - and I found this one. It's from November 2016 would you believe and it's a post about finishing the draft of A Wedding on the Riviera. It was finished before Summer in San Remo  and What Happens at Christmas were published and has been waiting patiently ever since! I was well aware then that it was a draft, and that it would be a while before it would see the light of day as a (possibly) publishable project. I must admit it was a bit of a shock to discover that it has been that long, but in my defence, I have acquired some letters in front of my name in the interim, which was just a bit labour intensive.

Well, as regular readers know, I 'm currently doing the work on it that I mention in the post, which includes rewriting the last third of it. I'm enjoying that, and fingers crossed it will be moving out of the building fairly soon, even if I can't at the moment!  And it is very definitely full novel length, currently 85,000 words and counting.

So - here we are, from 2016 ....................

Well, people, this is a new book. Actually it might be a new novella - as you can see I write longhand, so word counts can get a bit slippery until there is a typed version. At the moment I think it is about 66,000 words, so it is a biggish novella.

But whatever it turns out to be, IT IS NEW WORK. The first since caring, bereavement, surgery and all the other joys that life can throw at you erupted and took my mind to other places.

It's not a thriller - I haven't been able to contemplate something dark for a while, although I have some partial manuscripts in the tin chest. Thanks to some lovely encouragement from the Romantic Novelists' Marcher Chapter at a recent workshop, I think one of them is going to be the next in the frame - thank you ladies. I also have to get back to the day job.

Right now, this minute, there is this romantic comedy, or whatever it is, currently titled  A Wedding on the Riviera, which kind of gives you an idea of what it might be about. It's a follow on from the light novella that has got gummed in the works (See above) but which I hope will be out some time in 2017.

As you can see from the picture, there is going to be some work going on before it is allowed out on it's own. If it ever is. I've loved keeping company with Nadine and Ryan, and had a lot of fun, and some angst, with them on the Riviera and in Paris, but I have to tell you that this is the one with the very outlandish plot. It may be that the powers that be decide that it is a bit too outlandish. We shall see.

In the meantime it has got me back to writing again, and given me the boost of finishing a manuscript, which I haven't had in a long time, so I will always be grateful to it.


Who knows?

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

But where is it set?

When an author talks about books, the subject of location invariably comes up. It can be very significant. Some locations, like Cornwall and Scotland, are known to help sell books, particularly romance. Some locations, not so much. Sadly Wales does not put a book into the auto-buy category. Why that should be so remains a bit of a mystery, as the Principality has all the scenery, history and legends that Cornwall and Scotland have. And we have our own language, in daily use!

I was prompted to write this post after reading a couple of Phillip Gwynne Jones’s Venetian thrillers. Yes, he is Welsh, but is also an ex-pat living in Venice, and it certainly shows. The books are steeped in the details of the city and you really feel as if you are there, experiencing it all through the eyes, and senses, of a local.

Not all of us have the opportunity to live in such lovely places. This is when research kicks in. You can do a lot these days by Internet – and at the moment, that, unfortunately is ALL you can do – and by visiting, but, speaking as a writer with obsessional tendencies, there is always that sneaky feeling that you might somewhere, somehow, have missed something that a local would have picked up.

The Albert Bridge, in London, which features
in Never Coming Home
I lived in London for many years and I always use places I know in the books, when I need scenes set in the capital. I also have an ambition to write a ‘London book’ that makes use of the city as part of the action. The homicidal potential of Tube trains also has a horrible fascination. Does this make me a horrible person? No – don’t answer that! I suspect that I will want to go back and stay for a while if that book ever rises to the top of the To Be Written pile. Suspect? Make that know. I love London. Any excuse to go back.

Not that where I am living does not have its attractions, including some fabulous local beaches, but I
I'm planning to locate
two houses above
this piece of local shore line.
don’t think it will automatically sell any books. If you live somewhere that does not lend itself as a location, so you don’t have the benefit of an insider’s knowledge, what do you do? The answer to that one is often to invent somewhere. Then you can move the scenery anywhere you like. As long as you remember where exactly you left that steep hill, the last time you used it, of course. I’ve got plans for a couple of romantic suspense novels set in created places, loosely based on the part of Wales that is my home, but re-engineered to suit the needs of the plot.

But that’s for the future. At the moment, I am firmly based in the Riviera, and really hoping that I will get to check out the locations I’m using again, in person, before too long!

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Vicarious living

My reading matter at the moment includes a bit of vicarious travel. Eloise James' account of her year living in Paris, Christopher Somerville’s January Man, about a year’s worth of walks in the UK. I would never follow in his footsteps, but I am enjoying the book. Cookery books for vicarious eating, and inspiration for what to do with things from the freezer. I’m doing nostalgia, by way of the British Library Classic Crime – I’ve enjoyed two by Michael Gilbert, one of which I had read before, one that was new. I’m sizing up very old favourites to revisit – Mary Stewart, Georgette Heyer. I'm also getting into some cosy crime.

That's the reading lists. I terms of writing, I'm spending at least part of every day on the French Riviera, re-writing the last third of what I hope will be the next book. It has rather an outlandish plot, hence the re-writing, making the whole thing hang together, so I am hoping that the Choc-lit tasting panel will not find it too far fetched and will give it the thumbs up. But in the meantime I am enjoying the hours of vicarious sun and mayhem on the shores of the Mediterranean. As well as hard work, Wedding on the Riviera is providing a lot of fun. Not only the weather and several scams and con tricks being played out, but food, the planning of an absolutely no-expenses-spared wedding (the title kind of gives it away) that includes a chocolate wedding cake, revisiting old friends from Summer in San Remo, introducing a few new ones, who I hope will feature in future books, and sorting out a pair of lovers who while not exactly star crossed, are definitely not finding the course of love running smooth. Researching the wedding cake alone kept me happy for hours. And no one actually gets married!!

I've also reverted to my addiction to holiday brochures. With two holidays abroad planned for this year - research, naturally - that will not now be happening, I'm back to the day dreaming. It's what writers do best, after all. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

A few virtual views.

With walking routes restricted at the moment, I've been leafing through old photos and thought I'd share a few.


In other news, the long delayed sequel to Summer in San Remo is coming along. I'm on the last third of edits, but doing extensive re-writes as I go. I'll let you know about progress.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Time for a new bucket list?

Bucket lists are usually a place for big ticket items – learning a new language, buying a house, writing a book, making a trip on the Orient Express. It’s aspirational, and probably expensive, either in time and commitment, or money. Often the list is time limited – ‘By the time I’m 40 I will …  Travel and experiences feature, with maybe  the occasional material treat, like a pair of earrings from Tiffany, thrown in on the lower slopes. Yes, they are on my current radar for the next time I write one. They have these dinky little gold hearts …  

I had a big item list some years ago, which is how I came to start the PhD eight years ago– but that is a whole other story.  I really must see if I can find that original list. I could cross off at least one item. I suspect that may be two, as I am now a published author.  

This post was prompted by a more modest list that I just found in the front of my diary – plans for what I wanted to do once the PhD was put to bed.  A haircut, a few exhibitions, seeing friends, cinema trips, some shopping, a concert or two, a couple of very long awaited holidays. Now all those have gone completely out of the window – although I am working on the next book, so that’s something. I suppose I shall get round to some de-cluttering and gardening eventually, if this is going on for three months or more. I have done the ironing …

I suspect that the current situation might cause a change in the things that get included on future lists, around the world. Spending more time with family and loved ones might move to the top. I suspect travel might still feature, but maybe material possessions and work ambitions might get a much harder look.

It might be time for a new list though, just for something to look forward to. 

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Strange times and virtual garden parties.

Yesterday I should have been at a workshop in Hereford with members of the Marcher Chapter of the Romantic Novelists' Association. On Friday I was down to give a library talk with fellow writer Jill Barry, and attend a celebration for Sue McDonagh's second Art Cafe paperback. Next Tuesday it was a research trip, with a friend, to Bristol, to the magic exhibition at the city museum.  All those were scrubbed off the calendar well before the world shrank to (mostly) four walls.

This is not actually an unusual experience for a writer/academic. Novels and theses only get written as a result of periods of social isolation, which may or may not involve some staring at walls. Although admittedly not overlaid by a pervading feeling of anxiety, except perhaps when a deadline is approaching. A lot of fellow writers are finding it difficult to concentrate at the moment. I'm currently typing/editing the second Riviera book, and am finding it therapeutic to lose myself in Bath, Bristol and the South of France and the intricacies of fooling a con man, while managing a love affair that has my protagonists apart for a chunk of the book. I had a vicarious clothes shopping expedition with my heroine this afternoon for a trip to Nice. Sadly my own research trip there will probably not be happening now, but it was still fun to shop with Nadine. As she's a lot younger than I am, we got away with buying some things I certainly couldn't wear any more.

Other than editing, a lot of reading is going on - biographies of Shakespeare (research) British Library classic crime and old favourites from off the bookshelf - comfort reading. I'm trying to make nice meals from what is in the cupboards and freezer. Heavy on the garlic, as I will not be breathing over anyone. I've brought a pot of narcissi in from the garden, delicate yellow stars and a lovely scent, and I'm sitting in the sun outside the back door, wrapped in a coat and a blanket. It could be a lot worse.

People are trying to keep in touch using social media in inventive ways. On Thursday there will be a virtual garden party for the paperback release of Kirsty Ferry's The Secret Rose. It would be lovely if you could join the Choc-lit authors for a celebration.  Keep an eye on the Choc-lit facebook and twitter feeds to stay in touch.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

What ARE you reading?

Apparently Albert Camus' novel The Plague has become a current best seller, along with several others dealing with pandemic disease.  This I do not understand, as I am going all out for distracting frivolity in my reading matter right now. And incidentally my writing matter as well! I doubt I'll be visiting the South of France this summer, as planned, but I can still write about it. 

Some people are obviously of a very different mind. It's not actually unusual, as apparently Georgette Heyer's The Spanish Bride was a top selling title during World War Two. That book is not one of her more light-hearted Regency offerings, but is based on a true story of Harry Smith and his child bride Juana, set against the backdrop of the Peninsula War, that culminated in the battle of Waterloo. The re-telling of events the war is apparently very accurate and some of the book's popularity was said to arise from its appeal to male as well as female readership because of it. Obviously there is a heavy readership that wants its reading matter to reflect its life.

That is not me. I'm reading at the other end of the spectrum - romance, cosy crime, hi-tech thrillers. Anything that will take me away from reality.

It takes all sorts.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Reading around the lines

A lot of writers will not read in their own genre when they are writing, in case they absorb too much and it gets into what they are doing. I don't avoid my own genre, then worry about it, which is fairly typical for me.  At the moment I'm doing OK, as writing in two styles has given me some leeway. Reading masters in your own genre can, of course, make you green with envy and totally despairing of ever being that good. It can also be an inspiration.

I've been thinking of a few of my romantic suspense/thriller favourites, and what I get from them - apart from an exceptional reading experience, that is. Something to learn. With all of them the suspense is a given, cracking fast moving plot, plenty of action, romance - not always front and centre, but always there.

To take four of them:

Greg Hurwitz - I am totally hooked on the Orphan X series. A little heavy on the boys' toys, but hey - if I ever have to equip my own personal SWAT team, I shall know exactly what to ask for. From his writing? Wheels within wheels. The story looks as if it's about to wrap up, but you know it can't because you are only a quarter in, and he just keeps doing that. 

Harlen Coben - secondary characters. His protagonists are  often surrounded by real or found family,

Jayne Ann Krentz - how to handle the spooky stuff, as her books often have a paranormal or supernatural edge, but it's all knitted into real life - contemporary, historical or futuristic. 

Karen Rose - incredible - and very hot -  love stories,  as an integral part of the fabric.

There are more, but those will do for now. You can read for pleasure, but you can always read also to learn from masters at their art.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Words of Love

When did you last write a love letter?

Have you ever written one?

I have - but it was nearly half a century ago. These days you are more likely to be wooed (and dumped) via social media, or a text. It's a lost art.

This post was inspired by a visit to the love letters exhibit at the National Archive at Kew. It's a small but well presented display of some of the letters from the Archives. They cover all sorts of situations, people and time  periods, but the thing that is striking is that they are all quite sad. Which makes sense, because if you're writing a letter, then you're most probably apart from the one you love. The sub title of the exhibition is love, loss and longing, which sums it up very well.

We may not write letters much now, but they are a staple of a lot of books - usually historical, of course. These days it would be an e-mail, which isn't quite the same.

Finding a letter kicks off so many stories ...

Maybe it's time to write one to someone you love?

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

And the award goes to ...

Not me, that's for sure, as I haven't had a new book out in ages - hope that will change this year. And as for an award? I've had my share in the past and know what a high it can be. Will I ever get there again? Maybe - you always have hope.

Quite a number of romance writers will be having a weekend of hope, as the Romantic Novelists' Association RONA awards will be presented on Monday. Always interesting to find out first the short lists and then the winners, and a good place to go if you are looking for something interesting to read that maybe you would not otherwise have seen.

I'm particularly interested in a new category this year, for romantic suspense, which is where my books would probably fit. Some of them, anyway. It's an intriguing line up, as you can see below - big names and maybe a few you've not heard of before.

Roll on Monday.


Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Evocative places

Writers and readers know the power of location. Not just for selling houses, it sells books too! How often have you picked up a book from the shelf, or nosed around it on your device of choice, because of a place name in the title. This is especially noticeable with the summer season approaching - we hope - and holiday locations in mind. A lot of my ideas of what makes a romantic suspense, or a romantic mystery were formed by reading Mary Stewart. Hands up all those who vicariously fell in love with the Greek islands from reading her books. Of course, the strong silent hero had nothing to do with it.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a pre concert talk about Beethoven and his association with Vienna. More of that in another post, later. I've never thought of Vienna as a location for a book, but of course now I am, and Mary Stewart used it in Airs Above the Ground. There are threads of a treasure hunt involving a lost manuscript floating about in the brain, but it is really going to have to wait its turn.

All this made me think of the way a place can become a shorthand for a mood. I had fun with a short list. In all of them, romance is a given.

Paris - sophistication, food, a lot of emphasis on scent and luxury

Vienna - much cooler, maybe an older couple or second time around romance. Music.

London - famous landmarks, speed, hustle, weather!

Greece - heat, beaches, laid back lifestyle

The French Riviera - one of my specialities. I always get a first image of a 1950 type movie, with sports car speeding along the Corniche. Which just about says it all.

New York. This is darker, noisy, more edgy

Anywhere in Italy - food again. Architecture, art, Icecream

And of course, Wales. I'm planning a lot of my romantic suspense to be set here, capitalising on the scenery and the Celtic heritage. Myths and mists.

I am sure you'd have a few to add.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

The most deadly sin?

The concept of deadly sins - sloth, greed, envy, and the rest, have provided quite a bit of material for writers, film makers and artists as a collection - the full seven. Often in creepy thrillers.They are also the motor power of a great deal of work individually, as themes or character traits, even in romance writing. The villain can quite generously possess all of them, but even a hero or heroine can exhibit elements, with maybe one in particular  that becomes an issue of the story, where its significance has consequences - maybe that one moment when laziness led a protagonist to fail in something vital - and/or the journey to overcome what is recognised as a potentially fatal flaw.

All writers are human, or we claim to be,  so we try and write characters who are human or have a semblance of human emotions, or how will a reader identify with them? I doubt if there is a human who has not experienced all the sins at some stage in their lives, even if it is only envying their sister for her curly hair when theirs is is poker straight, and vice versa. I'm not sure if there is a sin that covers that contrary human thing of of perversely wanting that trait that you don't possess, but a lot of people are not giving up on their hair straighteners any time soon. Isn't technology wonderful?

But the thing that struck me from my reading this week, and inspired this post, was how often what might be called the sin of pride is the king pin of a lot of romance writing, and crime too. Not in an overt way, but as the underlying force for keeping secrets, saving face, not wanting to be patronised, the object of pity, to look to be  lacking in some way. How often has the heroine in the romantic suspense insisted that she can stand on her own two feet, the hero retreated from an instance when he judged himself to have failed in some way, with consequences that stretch across the book?

Secrets are the life blood of romantic suspense, and pride and self worth are a great motive for having them and keeping them.  Having had the thought, I'm going to be watching my own work, looking for times when my characters are letting a variation of pride motivate them. I suspect it might be more often that I expect.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

The lives of supporting characters

I was going to call this killing the relatives, but thought it might be severely misconstrued. The post last week put me in mind of the 'problem' of your hero/heroine's immediate family. Like - do they have one and how much should they feature in the book? Should they feature in the book? And if not, why not? 

Some books are built around the idea of family - and close loving relationships, or the hostility that can only be bred amongst people who know each other very well and know about all the buttons to press. And of course home is supposed to be the place where they have to take you in. (Although they might not necessarily welcome you.) These tend not to be romantic suspense, though, or not the way I write it. My protagonists tend to be loners - which throws them nicely onto their own devices or the arms of the other protagonist. Horrible to say and experience in the real world, but bereavement is sometimes a necessity - orphan, widow, sole survivor - or, not quite bereavement - being an only child. I can write from 'what you know' on that one. Relatives and friends of all sorts are a severe handicap when you need to put your protagonists in a position where they have nowhere to turn and no one to help.

Sadly, this means disposing of the family, particularly parents, because whoever else you have in your life and whatever your relationship with them, everybody began life with two of them, even if that is only the biological truth. I was lucky enough to have a close and supportive relationship with mine, and I do know how lucky that makes me. I knew that I could (and did) always turn to them when all else failed. Which is probably why I get one of those pulling-you-out of- the-book moments when I read something when the heroine - and it usually is the heroine - doesn't pick up the phone and call home.

This is why, if you want to isolate your protagonists, the parents (and family) have to go. Hence the high incidence of plane and car crashes that I noted in last week's post, which is where this all began. You can go for various modes of distance, estrangement (which is a story in itself) or physical separation, like sending them somewhere suitably far away - and I have done that. But if you really want to remove them from the scene you have to kill them. Natural causes is an option, but you do have to do it twice for parents, to what are, these days, still relatively young people. Which is how we get back to the car and plane crashes.

I try to be more unusual with my treatment of relatives - so far I have a drive-by shooting, a train wreck  and am lining up a house fire. And these are the good guys! I do try not to be too horrible, but it is not easy to be fatal and inventive.

But you should see what I do to the bad guys ...

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Acting like normal people

Wrestling with my tax return this week, the thought occurred to me, along with a lot of swear words, which we will not go into here - when did you last read a book where someone was doing the same?  I'm sure there are references to doing accounts, making up the books, doing paperwork and so on, but a down and dirty, throwing things at the wall encounter with the delightful wad of incomprehensible forms? Maybe I'll use that sometime. Romantic novelists joke about whether you could ever have a hero who was a tax inspector. Now that has started a hare in my brain. The brain of a novelist ...

The tax return thing got me assembling a mental list of other stuff you rarely see - the ordinary stuff of living:

Doing the ironing
Sorting the recycling
Paying the window cleaner - and what about a hero who is a window cleaner?
Visiting the optician and getting new glasses fitted. That's got me on to a hero/heroine who wear glasses.
Changing library books ...

I bet you can add more.

On the other hand, based on a very unscientific skim through my own reading, heroes and heroines spend a lot of time hanging out in coffee shops, either working or meeting cute baristas, or both. Also there is generally a lot of drinking coffee/wine/gin, baking wonderful cakes, or having disasters while attempting it, walking on the beach, interacting with a cute dog/cat, having minor traffic accidents to provide the meet cute (and yes, the traffic warden is another 'not my hero' area). There's a lot of cute stuff in here. Also characters in books often have careers in the media, or publishing. They seem to suffer from an higher than average tendency to sprained ankles (see also meet cute, above). I saw a tweet last week too that mentioned that lots of characters seem to suffer from amnesia. And there is an exceptionally high instance of close relative suffering death by air or car crash. Which is not good if you happen to be a close relative.

And that's given me an idea for another post, so I'll do that one next week.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Serial Offender

Readers like books series, which means that publishers like them too. There are of course different types - some feature the same characters in different adventures - a lot of police procedurals follow that pattern. Some have a theme that runs though a set of stories - a family, an organisation, a quest. Sometimes individual books are episodes in an overarching and continuing story, a bit like a TV soap.

The question I'm toying with at the moment is 'How do you decide that this book is going to be part of a series?' As a romance writer who insists on a HEA ending - my hero and heroine have to complete their story and make a commitment to each other - I'm old fashioned, so that tends to be marriage - and so my stories tend to be stand-alones. The first and third options are not really going to be my thing. To tell the truth, as a reader I tend to avoid door number three as well. I don't go for cliff hangers. Which leaves the middle choice. Now that I can do, and will be, when I finally get the academic stuff put to bed, with the Riviera Rogues, which are kind of adventure/mystery romance.

That one began because I really enjoyed spending time with Cassie and Jake, was reluctant to let them go, and the potential of the detective agency which Jake takes over gave me some scope for further stories, each with a new central couple, but with the agency as a background. It gives me a chance for a new love story and to let characters wander through each others stories. I have Nadine and Ryan and Lisa and Mick lined up, with Michelle waiting in the wings for her story.  After that, who knows?

I have an idea that has gelled for a much more romantic series around members of a book group who are starting their own businesses, and lots of ideas for romantic suspense. That plan has an overarching background of a private security agency and sets of books in threes with groups of heroes who work together. I have one that is kind of a stand alone within the series, which I am now wondering might form a line around another theme, probably code breakers of some sort.

All this is very fine. When is someone going to invent the 48 hour day?

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

What's your problem?

Over the holiday I've been doing some writing - pause here for round of applause. This involved going back to the Christmas novel, or novella, not sure which, that has been on the back burner for a while. Which meant I had to re-acquaint myself with the characters. And their problems.

I was motoring along, unfolding some of the plot, which was fine, when I came to a stop. Hang on a minute - remember this is a romance! Now that he's stopped thinking she is one of the bad guys and she's stopped thinking he is remote and stand offish, isn't it about time hero and heroine spent some quality time together?

The only one who was going to give them that quality time was me - and I had the backdrop of the French Riviera to do it in, so there was no excuse for getting on with it. But I needed to get back under the skin of the characters to make it happen.

This meant I spent a happy morning excavating family trees, reacquainting myself with the things in their backgrounds that have made them who they are and how that will bring them together. In other words figuring out their problems. And how to resolve them. Wheels within wheels, because they still have to sort out the crime caper I have dumped them into as well.

It's complicated stuff, this writing lark. 

Monday, 6 January 2020

Promises, promises

As regular readers know. I don't really do New Year resolutions. 2020 has also started rather inauspiciously, as I have been stuck down by a rather nasty lurgy, which has taken a while to shake off. I'm still not functioning on all cylinders, but getting there. As a consequence I have done a lot of reading and sleeping, but I have done some work too, and the Christmas Riviera Rouges has gained some pages. I'm not yet sure if it will be Rogue 2.5 or Rogue 3 - depends how long it ends up. It was going to be a novella, but now I'm not so sure ...

Now that the holidays are over, I am also back doing corrections and final proofing for the PhD, which will be getting priority for the next few weeks, so the writing will be on the back burner again.

So - no resolutions, but a few promises to myself - that once the academic stuff is finally done, there will be writing - lots of it, I hope. Also some location visiting. And won't that be fun.


Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Happy New Year

Best Year Ever?

I hope so. I have lots of new books pestering me to be written. All I have to do is get on with it.

Happy New Year, everyone.