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.