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.