Wednesday, 28 July 2021

How the ideas get in

 Writers are like sponges - well this one is. While I would never conform to that old joke about "Be careful or I'll put you in my book" - I don't do the vampire thing on people - I do tend to absorb and use other things.

It's strange too how things co-incidentally turn up. Take the WIP. It features a wealthy family whose members are collectors. For one of the collections I chose the idea of clowns. I had in mind the Stephen King kind and the possibility of something a bit creepy. When I googled clown art though, a lot of what came up were figures from the Commedia della'arte  - especially Harlequin and Pierrot. I was looking for examples of expensive art and was quite surprised to find that Picasso and Jean Cocteau were among the artists who painted and sketched these subjects repeatedly. Immediately things began to shift. Then I did one of the Wallace Collection's weekend lecture series ( I find them very good and very enjoyable) The subject was  the painter Watteau. And his subjects? - often characters from the Commedia delle'arte. He also had the advantage that many of his paintings have been 'lost'. Which may mean  that some have been in private hands for a long time and have dropped out of sight. Perfect. My clown collection, although keeping the name, has moved over to something much more romantic and picturesque, with a couple of unknown Watteau canvasses of my own devising. I've had a lot of fun creating my expensive clown collection which soaked up something that was totally unexpected. 

I'm also attempting to clear out old paperwork - I've bought a new shredder and everything. Author's  homes tend to accumulate papers and books in quantity. One drawer I've just sorted was 'ideas' - all kinds of bit and pieces - leaflets, clippings from newspapers, scribbled notes. Although I hadn't looked in the drawer for ages, I found that a lot of the topics had found their way into books anyway. There was an article on jewel thefts in the South of France which is an overarching background theme in the Riviera books, and another on parkour - which involves a lot of athletic and  scary running about on roofs and buildings and which made an appearance in What Happens at Christmas.  

I've got some interesting stuff still to explore - white-hat hacking, survival skills, lots about art, folklore and magic. Plenty to keep me busy - and I hope a lot of fun. 

Wednesday, 21 July 2021


 Authors often have quite a thing about names - a character with the wrong name, especially if it is hero or heroine, can throw the whole thing off. Weird, but there you are. 

Names are one thing, but I have been thinking about what comes before the name. I began to ponder it when my new energy provider addressed me in an e-mail by my first name. Chummy and all that, but I wasn't sure that I approved. I can be old fashioned like that, and I am employing them! It started me thinking. The optician always calls me Ms. Wareham. The doctor varies - Ms. in correspondence, first name in person. The university it's always Dr. Wareham. 

It can be a small but important detail when you are writing. My heroine in A Villa in Portofino has a PhD and as much of the book is set in Italy - who would have guessed - where I understand there is more formality over this sort of thing, I have scattered Dotoressa around liberally. Maybe too liberally. My editor will not doubt tell me. I was reading a crime novel recently - can't remember title unfortunately - where a particularly unpleasant and supercilious type kept putting the female police officer in her place by referring to her as Miss, instead of by her rank. 

I remember while I was growing up all the neighbours were referred to as Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Smith even when they were friends and spent long times on the doorstep gossiping. Tradespeople and shop keepers then would certainly not use first names. Worth recalling if you are writing "Historical". Although I do not see how something that I remember can be historical!!!!!

It's a small thing, but worth thinking about for subtlety and for the reader to appreciate that the writer knows how things were done in the past. 

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Just an update.

 The new Choc-lit/Ruby anthology Sunny Summer Treats came out yesterday. A collection of short stories and flash fiction with a summery theme and a holiday feel, with the proceeds being donated to the mental health charity MIND. Do you have your copy yet? If not, there's a link HERE

My short-short story is set in Paris and is the last one in the book - there are plenty of goodies before that to be enjoyed. I hope you do enjoy them and that they tempt you to sample some of the full length works by some of the Choc-lit and Ruby authors featured. 

In other news - my contract for The Villa In Portofino has arrived. Not yet read and signed, one of the fun bits of being an author, but necessary. Edits are on their way, so I will have my head down dealing with them for the next few weeks, with the aim of having the e-book out in September. Posts might be a bit brief until then. 

I'm looking forward to sharing some of the "backstage" elements of writing the story in the run up to publication, and a few of the outtakes that didn't make it into the final cut. My final cut that is. I have a feeling there might be a few more before the thing finally makes it into print. Always a wrench to murder your darlings.

Wish me luck, and I'll see you on the other side. 

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Where are we now?


Well - I'm still waiting for a verdict from the publisher on The Villa in Portofino, but I have begun book four of the Riviera series. 

I have twenty thousand words of Masquerade on the Riviera done and I have just hit a junction where the story turns, so am having a moment to re-group. This is the point where I am always convinced that I do not have enough story and it will only end up as a novella. Three months later I am usually scratching my head wondering how I can knock off at least five thousand words to bring it in on the respectable side of one hundred thousand. We shall see how this one shapes up. 

I'm having a ball so far- although I do need to get my head round some productive plotting soon. I spent the Sunday afternoon before last arranging a robbery, and it was great fun. Somehow I have managed to get a secret passage into the action. You can blame that on a childhood addiction to Enid Blyton. I have to figure out how to get my characters to Monaco/Monte Carlo, how to get something squishy involving lychees into the plot, how get that scene in the car park to work and how to stage a very grand ball. I suspect the book might end in Las Vegas, which is not the Riviera, but that one is still in the melting pot. 

Of course all this goes on the back burner if I get edits back. I hope I do get edits! 

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Summer Treats


Something special from Choc-lit and Ruby for the summer - an anthology of short fiction that will take you to holiday destinations and sunny locations even if you're on a staycation - or even just in the back garden. With stories that travel from the Greek Islands to Portugal to Paris - that one is mine  - you can enjoy some short reads from sixteen Choc-lit and Ruby authors with the proceeds from sales going to the mental health charity MIND. 

It's out as a e-book on 16th July but you can pre-order it now to be sure of getting your copy.


Wednesday, 23 June 2021

DIY Tropes?

 It has recently occurred to me that I am starting to manufacture my own tropes  - recurring themes. I seem to have developed a bit of a thing about towers - the romantic gothic kind - there's one in the book that has just gone to the publisher and one has sprouted in the new WIP. Also vintage clothes - both Nadine in A Wedding on the Riviera and Megan in The Villa in Portofino have vintage outfits. This is a bit strange, because IRL I don't have any vintage gems in the wardrobe - well only ones that have got that way all by themselves with the passage of time. I do love the old styles though - vintage Hollywood in particular. I've also been used to having my own in-house couturier service which may have had something to do with it. Sadly this is no more, but there are still plenty of "designer" things in the wardrobe and I can still get into most of them.

The most disturbing repetitive trait, which I noticed some time ago and have tried to curb, is a startlingly high incidence of people falling from great heights, usually with unhappy results. Despite  murdering people in a variety of other ways, pushing people off buildings seems to be my method of choice for sudden death. I was congratulating myself on a murder that I haven't used before for The Villa in Portofino when it occurred to me that there were also three other instances of falls - two are off cliffs and only two are fatal, but even so ...

I'm pondering this, without much success. A therapist might be able to help? Why is falling my default setting? I must admit I do have a bit of a thing about my balance on staircases and I did manage to break my wrist pitching off the front steps while putting out the recycling, so maybe that has something to do with it. 

I'm going to have to watch what I am doing in the WIP - that tower has to stay romantic, not deadly. 

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Grit in the Oyster

 If you ask a writer where they get their ideas  from you're apt to get a hollow laugh. One reason is that it is a much too frequent question and the other is that we often have absolutely no idea. Things get scooped up and jumbled together in the subconscious and sometime later a book results. Or a bit of a book. Or a few lines. Or something. 

Take the very new and hardly fledged WIP. I have no clue why I decided that it would feature Egyptology. I mean, why Egyptology? Like I know anything about that? Fun finding out though - and it is getting modified a bit to make it more manageable - I'm not totally daft.  I just have this creepy scene in my head - in the dark with a lot of sarcophagi looming out of the murk and this ominous creaking noise ...

It has occurred to me though that, Egyptology aside, things can get absorbed - like grit in the oyster - and end up re-appearing in a modified form.  I've got two of those so far in said WIP.  When I was a guest on crime  writer Lorraine Mace's blog a while ago she asked about sites for dead bodies - crime writers have those sorts of conversations all the time - it tends to make for nervous spouses on occasion. I mentioned that I've always felt that the carrels in an academic library had distinct possibilities. In the evening with low lights on the quieter top floors. It hovered for a while and now, what do you know, there in the first chapter of the WIP ...

The other idea came out of an off the cuff exchange over Facebook with my favourite Cardiff jewellers about a hand over of some family opals in a cinema car park. (They have now been turned into a gorgeous brooch) The idea appealed to me and we joked about putting it in a book. Then the grit began to work. The WIP features a spectacular necklace. I am now pretty sure it will also be featuring some sort of exchange in a car park - although it will be on the Riviera, not a local cinema. I'm looking forward to explaining to a tour guide, when I finally get back to research trips, that deserted car parks are high on my list of "must visits" 

So - that's how two bits of grit might have got into the oyster. It remains to be seen if they emerge as pearls ...


Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Cover story

 Now that the latest manuscript has gone to the publisher I have a new set of milestones - what the readers' panel thinks of the book - I hope it's positive because the next two depend on it - the edits - not so much fun - and seeing the cover which is always exciting. You often hear horror stories of authors who hate their covers so maybe I am lucky as I have loved all mine. If we get that far, it will be interesting to see how the designer interprets the villa and it's garden. There will definitely have to be roses. 

There are fashions in covers. I am just a little bit addicted to standing in front of the book display in ASDA admiring them. There are good old tropes - back version of a woman usually dressed in a red coat - although lately I have seen bright yellow creeping in. She is walking or running depending whether it is a romance or thriller. Or there's the back view of a man - these are thrillers - with some sort of desolate urban scene in the background. Lately romances seem to be either rural or beach scenes with either a house or a figure or simply a plain pastel background with a variety of odd items scattered over it. Pink and turquoise seem to be popular colours. Crime/thrillers have been featuring hard blues and yellows for a while, with an indistinct background for a bold font for authors name and title and often with a sub title interleaved thorough it. 

I have to admit that when you are looking at a row of books - at least when I am - they tend to blur into each other. A bit of variety might be nice. On the other hand these covers clearly give out a signal for readers about the contents - that solitary guy walking down sepia mean streets probably isn't going to find romance at the end of them - or if he does she will probably meet a nasty end at the hands of the villain so he can go back to walking those mean streets alone, just that little bit more damaged and jaded. Cynical? Me? 

I know it is good for readers to understand what they are getting - to be able to pick up a book with confidence that they have a head start on the possibility of enjoying it, but it's that blurring again. But then fashion is fashion.

And I still can't wait to see what sort of cover the new book might get. Will it have roses?

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

So many tropes, so little time

 Well book three of the Riviera series has gone to the publisher. Now we have to see what the readers' panel will make of it. In the meantime, I have begun book four - but it will probably be slow going as I do have housekeeping tasks that have been on hold for too long to be ignored much longer. 

What's the new one about? At the moment it seems to be somewhere between a county house mystery crossed with something creepy involving Egyptian mummies, but I'm going to have to sort that out shortly!!! Books sometimes change quite a bit in the process of being written, the latest one did. 

My trouble? I'm easily led. If I read something that I enjoy, then I want to have a go. Sometimes that involves turning the idea on it's head, which is how A Wedding on the Riviera came out of reading a couple of runaway bride books in quick succession.  I've always wanted to play with an amnesia book and I definitely have plans for a treasure hunt book, with clues and cyphers and everything, and then there's stolen art ...

I've just been reading the Josephine Tey classic Brat Farrer and now I want to write an imposter book - one where a long lost heir comes back to claim an inheritance. Mary Stewart's The Ivy Tree also has a hand in that. It's interesting - two different treatments of the same idea. You know from the start that Brat is an imposter. In The Ivy Tree the identity of the heroine is much more ambiguous. It's many decades since I read that one for the first time, but I recall changing my mind several times over whether this really was Annabel the lost heiress. 

Thinking about it, it would probably be much more of a challenge to write a contemporary version - DNA being what it is - but maybe that would be an added attraction - how to get around it. I think you'd need more than one conspirator - not just a coach to ensure the imposter had all the knowledge and background but someone in the house, to run interference. See - the possibilities are fizzing around already. There's a whole lot of tension just walking in the imposter's shoes, wondering if they are going to make a slip ... 

Another trope to put on the list. 

Wednesday, 26 May 2021


The third book in the "Riviera" series  - The  Villa in Portofino - is finally finished - at least for the moment. Now is the scary part - asking the publisher if they want it. Fingers crossed.

It's a complicated book - which may be why it turned into a bit of a marathon. It has an overall time scale of one hundred years, give or take a few, with three families, set over two continents/three countries. The oldest player has a birth date of 1890, but the story really starts in the Second World War. A friend said that it sounds as if I've written a romantic suspense saga - she may not be wrong! The book that  it turned out to be is not the book that I started with and it has quite a bit of me and some of my family history in it, but I'll talk more about that at a later date - when I know it is going to be published! 

It runs over four generations and sometimes it was tough to keep them all straight. Much resorting to time lines and family trees. I had a panic as late as last night over when a pivotal event took place and who was there. When I checked the time lines - there are more than one, I found I had time lined it and it was fine. Present me thanks past me very much for that! 

What is it about? The core is the villa of the title, unexpectedly inherited by the heroine, and her efforts to restore it, especially the garden, to it's former glory. Put like that it sounds quite simple! The bulk of the story is set in the present - well 2018/19 if you want to be picky - so I suppose even that is historic. I write escapism, so no pandemics, except Spanish Flu, which does get a very brief mention.  

As it is about families there is a lot about secrets - not necessarily ones that are deliberately kept, although there are a few of those, but the kind of secrets that come from different generations of a family only have part of a story, or family memory that is not actually what really happened. I derived a lot of enjoyment from constructing that spider web - I just hope that the reader doesn't get too confused. (and that my editor doesn't want me to iron out the anomalies too soon!) I have ironed most of them by the end, although there are a few tails that are not quite tucked in, or where the solution is only conjecture. Theirs and mine. Working with a few very elderly protagonists I was able to blame faulty memory on occasion, which was an excellent get out of jail free card. That was what nearly got me into trouble last night, until I realised that Edith  had not recalled events in chronological order. 

So - that book is moving on to its next phase of life, ushered to completion by tonight's full moon.

And now I have a big choice - clean the kitchen, or start the next one? 

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

I'll just check that.

 Caution -  anxious author alert! 

Pink roses - because they feature rather a lot in the book and the list.
Pink roses - because they feature
quite a lot in the book and the list. 

I'm on the very last steps of getting The Villa in Portofino ready to send to the publisher. In theory this should just be proof checking, but with me, it also involves a lot of fact checking - not the big research stuff, but the little details. I know this is the result of an element of OCD in my nature. It would not take ten minutes every night to convince myself that I really have turned the cooker off before I can go to bed, if I wasn't a bit in that direction. I also know that it is not possible to get everything right - that old thing about not knowing what you don't know - but I have to try. So - as it is on my mind at the moment - the blog today is about ten random things I've checked for this manuscript - because everyone likes a list, don't they?

  1. The sort of reinforced work boots a gardener would wear. 
  2. The name of the Roman goddess of Justice
  3. Roses that grow on the Riviera
  4. DIY wills
  5. Transatlantic voyages in the late 1960s
  6. Famous American authors in 1950s and 1960s
  7. How to construct a labyrinth
  8. What a symposium is
  9. The date that American President Richard Nixon was inaugurated
  10. The history of Royal Albert "American Beauty" china

That is a real mixture and only a fraction of the things I looked up. The Internet is a wonderful place - and full of the most glorious rabbit holes. 

I wondering about what a reader can get from that list. If anyone wants to hazard a guess over what the book is about - I'd love to hear. 

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Diary Day

 Today is Mass Observation Diary Day when members of the public are invited to send in a one-day diary for 12 May. 

You may have heard of Mass Obs through the Nella Last Diaries - Housewife 49 - the war time record of one of it's most diligent observers. It was made into a TV film starring Victoria Wood. 

Mass Observation was started in 1937 by Charles Madge, Tom Harrisson and Humphrey Jennings as a social research project. It's best known for its detailed recording of the thoughts and opinions of ordinary people during World War Two, when it was commissioned by the government to report on morale. The fear of a massive breakdown in civilian morale was a big worry for the powers-that-were in WW2. There was a deeply held conviction that the effects of bombing might paralyze the war effort at home. One of the ways that government and civil service could check on opinion in the street was though MO's work. That massive failure never happened, but it's given historians, me included, plenty of material to play with since. 

The Mass Observation records - diaries and reports and questionnaires are a valuable resource for historians of the war and that is my experience of them. I've used the old records, but hadn't realised that Mass Obs had reincarnated as the Mass Observation Project under the auspices of the University of Sussex. It's now collecting information on the everyday lives of people all over the UK and inviting people to anonymously share a dairy entry for inclusion in the archive. Last year they had 5000. 

If you have been journaling during the pandemic - or even if you haven't and want to take part, you can find all the details HERE

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Classic Romantic Suspense

 As a celebration of the pagan spring festival of Beltane, which takes place on 1st or 13th May, depending what calendar you are using, I decided to re-read Mary Stewart's classic romantic suspense, Wildfire at Midnight. 

Mary Stewart is cited by many romance authors as one of their early influence and she was certainly one of mine. I can trace a lot of my traits as a writer back to her books - my enjoyment of glamourous settings, an independent heroine, a mystery running alongside the romance. Whenever I read a Mary Stewart I'm struck by how exotic they must have seemed in a grey post war world. Her heroines smoke, drink, drive fast cars and have careers, although there is always a man in the offing and marriage is the ultimate destination. Her locations - the Greek Islands, Vienna, France, the Pyrenees, Damascus must have been total escapism at a time when foreign travel was limited. Several of her books have a supernatural element to them, which adds to the mystery.

Wildfire at Midnight is not quite so exotic, as it is set on the Isle of Skye in the run up to the Coronation in 1953. It has a serial killer and some of the deaths are rather gruesome ritual murders. The thing that struck me most when re-reading it was the detailed description of scenery and wildlife, particularly birds, which are a Stewart characteristic. It's one of the things that a current author would be advised to cut out - we don't have time or attention for lyrical description these days - but in this book the landscape and the weather are an integral part of the plot and it works beautifully. I'm going to stow that thought away for future examination when my love affair with the Riviera wanes and I return to setting books in my native Wales. 

Two other characteristics of Mary Stewart are the wonderful titles of her books and her habit of having a hero and anti hero, with the heroine and the reader having difficulty deciding which is which.  The titles - often from Shakespeare or other Jacobean drama - are an element I love. Would you get away with those choices these days? Not so sure on that one. Often the publisher decrees the title and fancy dramatic ones are not in vogue. We're more pragmatic these days. 

I don't think I would ever use the hero/anti hero device myself, as one of the things I enjoy writing is the developing relationship between hero and heroine, and you don't get that if the heroine doesn't know who he is - does wonders for the suspense element though. Never say never though. If I can find a way to make it work for me, it would be fun to try. 

One thing I can say was that re-reading this classic was a very enjoyable experience. It's always good to be in the company of an expert - it reminds you of what excellence is, and what you need to aim for.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

How may cups of coffee are too many?

Or - are my characters in danger of being over caffeinated? 

It's a topic that writers occasionally discuss - not just coffee, but food in general. In real life many social interactions involve food and beverages - adult or otherwise. It's a part of life to be sociable and hospitable - meeting for drinks or a meal, offering guests refreshments - even business meetings usually involve a refreshment break. If you do all these and more in a week, it doesn't seem strange. Exhausting maybe, and bad for the waistline, but not strange. But in a novel? What would be normal in real life can slide into over use. I'm having this problem at the moment, because my characters always seem to be drinking coffee - which is in itself ironic as I rarely drink the stuff - I'm strictly a tea drinker. I do have five varieties currently in use, including a fruit tea and one that tastes of toffee. Somehow I can't envisage a hero who drinks tea. Hey, actually I can - I think the hero of the next book might be a tea drinker. The heroine thinks he's stuffy and snooty with a poker in an uncomfortable place, so drinking tea might suit him. He isn't, of course, but she and I are going to have fun finding that out. But I digress, as usual. 

My characters like to eat. What a surprise! I always describe what they are eating as my mother gave orders that I should, because as a reader she liked to know. Always try and please the readers. For meals in the current book I am trying to serve things that would be local to the Riviera and Liguria. What people eat can also be a clue to character - back to that tea drinking. Actually I think Elliot would probably like that toffee tea - which means he has a sweet tooth. I can see that he's going to be one of those disgustingly lanky types who can eat chocolate and cream cakes and never put on weight. Many of my books feature ice cream, because I like ice cream, although the current one doesn't.

And you can be pretty sure in my books that any food around will get eaten. One of my pet hates as a reader is the scene where the characters are having a meal which is abandoned because of some big emotional drama. My dramas don't mean lost food. If you are going to emote, please step away from the table. Scenes where a meal is prepared and the intended recipients don't turn up are a no-no as well.  Waste not, want not?

None of this solves my coffee problem. I'm going to have to count them up and see what I can do. Substitute gin? 

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

It's not what you know ...

 At last night's zoom meeting of the Romantic Novelists' Association Cariad chapter the conversation got round to research, as it often does when writers get together. A couple of us, including me, were in the late stage of a Work in Progress - the messy time-consuming stage of fact checking and generally tidying up, while others were contemplating new books and what they would need to do by way of research, to make them happen. 

Putting a book together, at whatever stage, involves a lot of second guessing - do I have that right? Is there a different way of looking at that? How much detail should I include? The last two are author choices - the first is a scary minefield with the twin UXBs of "Things I think I know" and "Things I don't know I don't know". 

One of the things I am attempting to check out
 and get right at the moment are roses
 that would grow on the Italian Riviera! 
At the stage I am at, there is a lot of second guessing - and third and fourth. You would not believe how many things a neurotic author can find to question, once the book is written. As an academic I know that one of the biggest things about studying anything is the appreciation of the amount you - the "expert" - are aware you don't know.  The more you study, the more there is out there to find. As a writer, the principle the same. Yet another thing to wake up and worry about at 3 am. One thing you do know - there is always someone out there who does know.

Even the simplest contemporary story can pull in questions that only make themselves apparent when you are doing that final check. The "Hey, I wonder if that is actually legal/possible/advisable?" moment.

There is only one answer, Think hard, check everything you can and do your best. And try not to stress about it. Hah! 

But this does explain whey the WIP has not yet winged it's merry way to the publisher. I will get there, but it's slow going. 

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Words with emotional freight

 I'm a writer - words are what I do. The building blocks to be manipulated into a story. I enjoy them and what they can achieve. When you're writing, and reading, some words carry more weight than others. As a reader I particularly notice this with the sad words - forlorn, dejected, heartbroken, desolate - all stir something inside that goes a bit further than just unhappy. On the other side, ecstatic give you a lot more than happy, although happy is good too.  

Power to convey an emotion with just one word is heady stuff. It's not just the "emotional" words though. We invest all sorts of words with their own emotional baggage - possibly in a way that is unique to each of us. It all comes down to our experience as humans. Think of something like the word midnight - what do you get? Dark for a start, probably mysterious and after that it might begin to get down to personal association. Maybe romantic - the time when trysts are made and magical things happen in fairy tales. It might be spooky, assignations in graveyards and things that go bump in the night. In folklore terms it might be classed as perilous - boundaries, crossroads and thresholds being dangerous places, and midnight is the crossing place from one day to the next. I go with the romance/mystery - it's secret meetings and the glitter of jewels and swish of silk on the turret stairs, masks and long cloaks and masquerades, although there's a suggestion of the dangerous stuff in there too. 

As a writer it can be a challenge to go against the grain of words. The word wedding usually conjures up a joyful event, so making it an occasion for the predations of a con man in A Wedding on the Riviera was interesting. 

Writers are told to look at strong substitutes for more ordinary phrases - instead of 'walk quickly' you can hurry, rush, sprint, bolt. Even those can have gradations though, or they do for me. Bolt suggests running away - possibly with an element of alarm attached. Or maybe that's just me?

This post may have been inspired by the fact that I am currently doing the penultimate pass though the work in progress. I tend to write long, and I am attempting to chop off anything up to five thousand words, so am looking to make shorter substitutions. The use of words that will convey everything I want in one place is exercising my mind - that and removing some of the descriptive bits. I'm gathering those together as outtakes - maybe they'll be the subject of another blog at some stage. 

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Creating a villain

 Many authors will tell you that they love their villains - or love creating them. It sounds a bit sinister, but there is a lot of fun to be had making up something that is really nasty. I always tell myself that it's therapeutic, letting out all my inner evil. Some people claim to take out their real life frustrations - with a unpleasant boss or colleague perhaps, by writing them into the story. I don't do that. My villains come straight out of my imagination, which is possibly just a little bit disturbing? 

While  revising the current WIP and thinking about books to come, I've been pondering the nature of villains. They are not all presented in the same way. In the last book I unexpectedly had two - one evolved during the official editing process. Before that he was a shadowy bit player. Sometimes the identity of the villain is a secret - the essence of the whodunnit, with the final unmasking. In the WIP - The Villa in Portofino - the reader knows from the outset who the villainess is - which gives me the chance to develop her personality, and her motives and also let the reader know in advance what she next has in store for the heroine and hero. That is a variation of the pantomime 'He's behind you.' Possibly it's the easiest format to manage. I don't know how satisfying or not it is for the reader - maybe that's one for a Twitter poll sometime in the future. (Makes a note) You do get the chance to enjoy the villainy up close. 

At the moment I am contemplating the shape of the next book - Masquerade on the Riviera - I want to have two villains, one seen and one not. At least that's how it looks at the moment. I'm wrestling with the complexities of keeping the identity of the second player secret, while still showing the reader what they are up to. I will work it out, but at the moment it is taxing the brain. One of my favourite romantic suspense authors, Jayne Ann Krentz is very good at a final twist with a second villain, so I am trying to channel her expertise. 

Does a book have to have a villain? For romantic suspense, yes. In other genres there might be an antagonist - a mother in law from hell, a stroppy ex, a business rival. In one of the favourite romantic tropes - enemies to lovers - the hero and heroine do it all themselves - very economical that. It's not for me - I enjoy my villains too much.

Now, about this hidden villain ...

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Progress report

 Update on The Villa in Portofino  - Book Three in the Riviera Series

It's made progress from something that looks like this 

to a typescript. Theoretically this is the second draft stage. Mostly it's just that I have got the words into type. 

Now the tricky stuff starts. This is the bit where all the proof reading, fact checking, and re-organising occurs. As I write long, it has to come down by a few thousand words. All the bits and bobs have to be put together, so that names and descriptions match. Yesterday I spent the afternoon sorting out a family tree - I have a Welsh family over four generations so I had to check when everyone was born and died and where they overlapped, and also fit them into a time scale for another family in Italy who also overlap at crucial points. It's done, and I am pleased with it , but even so there is still the nagging fear that I've got it wrong somewhere and someone is 120 years old!! I've trawled for Italian names and slotted those in where the draft helpfully said 'X'.  I've just checked on Italian Prisoners of War in Wales, to make sure those dates are right and I still have to check my thesis notes to confirm when there were POW's working in the cemetery in Cardiff. All the POW stuff is the story before the story, but I still need to make sure that it is right. As I go through cutting and editing I'll be making a list of all the other things that need fact checking, and a final time line to make sure that holds up to scrutiny. (Editors have eyes like eagles over stuff like that!)  I've shifted the timescale of the book significantly from what it was when I started writing, to make it fit with the growing season in the garden that is a major factor in the action. I'll be looking at that too - I have lots of magazine cuttings about growing roses to sort thorough. 

Bet you never think about all that backroom work when you're reading. Necessary scaffolding for the story. Writing the book is the easy part!

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Meeting Claire Sheldon - to talk about her second book - A Silent Child


An expression you will frequently hear in writing circles is “The Difficult Second Book”. The next book after a debut is supposed to be notoriously difficult to write.  There are some supporting factors for this idea. The first book might have been written and revised over a long period of time, years even. If the writer attends courses or belongs to a professional organization it may also have had the benefit of all sorts of advice and critique services. Then, after the euphoria of actually being published, reality strikes. You have to do it all again.  Your timetable is now in months, not years, and you have an editor to please!  And the biggest factor of all – you have readers – people who hopefully enjoyed the first book and are looking for more of the same, expecting it to be as good or even better.


With this in mind, when I invited Claire Sheldon on to the blog today I suggested this was something we could discuss. Clare’s first published book – a twisty thriller called Perfect Lie came out in June last year. Now her second in the “Lisa Carter Files” - A Silent Child, arrived as an e-book and paperback from Ruby fiction on 23 March 2021, and is already picking up great reviews.


Claire was happy to talk about the work that went into both books – but was the second book a problem?


For the first book, Clare’s protagonist, Jen, didn’t start out as a detective


When Perfect Lie was originally written Jen was going to be a former MI5 agent - same storyline and with the same characters but Max and the team were MI5 agents and not detectives. I had some interest from another publisher and when working with them we decided that it was best if she was just a former detective which is how Perfect Lie made it into the format it is in today.


As often happens in the world of books, that deal didn’t actually materialise, but Claire had already taken all the best advice for would-be published authors and was well into writing the next book - A Silent Child.


When I was signed by Choc-Lit/Ruby  I had one and a half books, but had to go back through A Silent Child and remove or change all the references to MI5 and then complete it to submit, which I did around the time Perfect Lie was released.


So far, so good. Difficult second book, what difficult second book? It was all systems go for book three. (And book four)  But then you throw in a pandemic.


I was all yeah I’m going to write book three and get it submitted when A Silent Child gets released! HA! I’ve been struggling! I have an idea for book four, contract permitting, but the events in book three have to happen first and any sort of creative writing has gone out the window. I don’t know if that is due to Lockdown and home schooling while spending most of my day sat at my computer working from home or the fact I brought a new computer game with my first Choc-lit pay cheque! The third book isn’t happening and won’t be being submitted by the 23rd March. Some say it’s the second book that is the killer, but in my case it is most definitely the third!


 I have every sympathy for that “life intervenes” scenario. My first two books were already written when Choc-lit took me on – they’d been completed for a reality writing contest in America – then life threw me a couple of curve balls and  there was a long gap before the next one came out. Claire clearly has her plans for books three and four mapped out. While she may not have met her own strict time table – and writers can be notorious perfectionists - there is still plenty of time for another installment to be ready for 2022.  We will be cheering her on, and in the meantime there are Perfect Lie and A Silent Child to enjoy.



The brand new book – A Silent Child


The streets are no place for a child ...

After a traumatic event that almost ripped Jen Garner’s family apart, life is finally starting to get back to normal.
Then a woman’s body is found in the river. Shortly afterwards, a young boy is discovered wandering the streets. He refuses to speak to anyone, just repeats one name over and over, to the confusion of most of the local authorities –but Jen knows exactly who he’s asking for, and it’s enough to make her blood run cold ...

To buy your copy click here



The first in Series - Perfect Lie


What is ‘perfect’ trying to hide?
Jen Garner tries her best to be ‘wife and mother of the year’. She helps organise school plays and accompanies her husband to company dinners, all with a big smile on her face.
But Jen has started to receive strange gifts in the post ... first flowers, then a sympathy card.
It could just be a joke; that’s what she tells herself. But then the final ‘gift’ arrives, and Jen has to question why somebody is so intent on shattering her life into pieces ...

To buy Perfect Lie click here.

Claire’s biography

Claire lives in Nottingham with her family, a cat called Whiskers and a dog called Podrick. She suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and as a result of the disease had to reduce her hours working in insurance for an Insolvency Insurer. This spare time enabled her to study a creative writing course which inspired her to write her debut, Perfect Lie. When Claire isn't working she enjoys reading crime novels and listening to music - the band Jimmy Eat World is her biggest muse! Claire is also an avid reader and book blogger. The inspiration for her novels comes from the hours spent watching The Bill with her grandparents and auntie; then later, Spooks and other detective programmes like Morse, A Touch of Frost and Midsummer Murders









Wednesday, 17 March 2021

A new Welsh Crime Festival

Fancy spending a Saturday evening with Lee and Andrew Child of Jack Reacher fame? 

Well you can, as part of the Gŵyl CRIME CYMRU Festival.

It's a brand new Welsh festival when readers get the chance to hear crime authors talking about their work. There are some other familiar names like Elly Griffiths, Clare Mackintosh, Peter James and Martin Edwards, but there are loads more writers too, who may not have crossed your radar yet - members of Crime Cymru - authors who have connections to Wales, and who write all sorts of books from historical  crime to thrillers. It's a chance to discover something new and have some fun. You might pick up a new favourite author or two. There are also events related to Welsh crime on screen - The Pembrokeshire Murders and Keeping Faith - and a Welsh language event. 

The festival starts on 26th April and runs until 3rd May and this year, as it is on-line, it's free!

Next year it will all be live in Aberystwyth. You'll have to pay then. If you've attended or read about events like Bloody Scotland, Crimefest in Bristol or the Theakstons' Crime Festival in Harrogate, you'll have an idea what to expect. This is the Welsh version. If you've not experienced this kind of festival before, I'm pretty sure you will enjoy it. This year is an opportunity to find out from the comfort of your arm chair. 

As I said, this year is free, although you do need to get tickets. There won't be a chance to get books signed, have a drink in the bar and maybe a chat to an author, but we'll have all that to look forward to next year. The festival is linking with a selection of Welsh indie bookshops, so you can order books through them, if something takes your fancy having heard a talk. 

You can find more details, and sign up for the festival newsletter on the website here. FESTIVAL WEBSITE

I've got my tickets, so I'll 'meet' you there. 

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

All in the name?

 If we ever get back to having live events for authors, you know, with people together  in a room, like a library or a bookshop - remember them - it's likely that the audience will at some stage be given the chance to ask the captive author questions. If you'd like to ask something slightly more inventive than usual - 'Where do you get your ideas' I'm looking at you - you could ask about choosing names. 

The power of names is very strange. Many authors will tell you that a book is not working, and then they change the name of the protagonist and it falls into place. When you have a few books out there in the world you have to keep tabs on supporting cast - keeping on repeating the same name can cause confusion. My 'go to' all purpose name appears to be Bobby. Why? I've had to change it at least once to avoid confusion. I currently have two partially written manuscripts in my stash, separated by about twenty years,  that I want to go back to, and both the heroes are called Luke. This will be a problem, because the name fits both of them. I think one is going to have to become a Luc/Lucian - I'll have to give him a French mother. He might even become Jean-Luc. Not a problem. 

Are there fashions in names? This post was prompted by reading my third novel in a month with a hero named Kit, short for Christopher. I love the name - fell in love with it reading Georgette Heyer's False Colours. I must remember it for a future hero. 

Names do have to have qualities attached to them. Very sorry to all those who bear that name, but I could never call an alpha hero Nigel. It just wouldn't feel right.  Names can denote age and social position. I frequently trawl those internet sites that give the most popular baby names in a particular year in order to make sure that I get a good fit. At one time there were choices you wouldn't make for a contemporary novel, but with old style names like Ava, Archie and Wilf coming back into fashion, everything has changed again.  Bible names are usually a safe choice, whatever the era, although better for males than females. Shakespeare is quite good for pretty names for girls. As I'm slanting work towards settings in Wales, Welsh names are coming up my agenda. I know that authors who write historicals swear by a trawl around a cemetery. Those who write vampire stories do too, but for somewhat different reasons. You can denote eras quickly with the right choice of names. A Regency hero, or a contemporary one, might be Justin, but the name is not such a good fit for a WW2 flying ace - he'd be more likely to be a John or a Peter. 

It's a very simple thing, or it seems that way, but naming of characters can be a fine art. 

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

It's a secret

Authors love secrets. If you pick up any fiction book off your bookshelf, it's pretty likely that someone in it will have one, or that the whole plotline is based on a secret. Secrets, of course, have to be kept, which gives you the plot driver straight away. 

I must admit that as a reader, I'm picky about my secrets. I get can quite annoyed when protagonists keep things from each other when if they just talked the whole thing could be resolved. Of course that would also be an early end to the book.

I suppose one of the criteria for a secret is that it had to have weight. Disclosure has to have significant consequences - life or death ones being the best. Also those that have consequences for people other than the protagonist. Protecting the innocent is another powerful plot driver. 

Why, as readers, do we have such a fascination with secrets? Is it innate nosiness? Is it the chance to play detective and try to figure it out? Is it identification -  shared experience or the chance to try on an experience that you've never had and can't imagine having. I must admit those books where a group of friends get involved in something terrible  as teenagers and then go off to live their lives with that secret behind them sometimes gets me speculating. How would you cope? I'm not sure that I would be able to. There's a common story that if you phoned any group of people and muttered the equivalent of 'Fly - all is discovered' a large proportion would be packed and at the railway station by nightfall. 

At the moment I'm unwinding secrets in the WIP, which is why they are on my mind. The majority are not being deliberately hidden, which is why I say unwinding - they are family mysteries, things that my heroine simply didn't know about. I think those are quite common 'secrets'. How often have you read about families discovering a father or grandfather had a distinguished war record that was never mentioned? The advent of popular DNA testing is taking that in a whole different direction too.    

In the future I've got an idea for a book that will involve a very big secret, that has been kept for centuries. It's an idea that I've been carrying around for a long time. I hope the time will soon come to write it.  

Writers love secrets. 

Monday, 1 March 2021

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

This time last year...


I have an anniversary of sorts on 28th February, which is Sunday. On that date last year  (a Friday) I spent the day in London, at the National Archive, doing a final reference check for the PhD. It was a good day, I enjoyed myself, found all the files I needed, looked around the With Love exhibition - love letters from the archives. (It's now on line and highly recommended, poignant and beautifully presented.) I travelled home on a packed train. It seems like a lifetime ago. Reports of a new virus were beginning to sound disturbing. Roll on a couple of weeks and my planned next trip to London to see a friend, once I was free of academia, had to be cancelled. And that was that. 

Who could have imagined?

One year later and the idea of travelling on a train or a bus gives me shivers. I'm out of practice. Going to the supermarket is scary enough. Like everyone, I'm waiting for the escape route of a vaccination, but even then I think it's going to be quite a while before I'm comfortable in crowded places or transport. I miss libraries, archives, exhibitions, cinema, theatres but I'll need to be very sure of myself before I venture into normality again. The social skills have gone up in smoke. 

Lockdown does have a few compensations, Zoom being one of them. Regular on-line meetings with writer friends means that get togethers can encompass attendees from all over the country or even the globe. I'm also enjoying a lot of on-line lectures and courses that either would not have been offered that way, or I would not have thought about joining. I have one on painting coming up in March, but at the moment I'm working through sessions from the International Thriller Writers, based in the USA. It gave me a small buzz, when passing the book display in Asda, to see books from Karin Slaughter and David Baldacci, with whom I had a masterclass on Monday.  Okay - it was a recorded panel session and they didn't know I existed, let alone that I was there, but it was very good and I got that little buzz. Reflected glory. I have been to that conference in New York and hope one day to go again, when I will get the chance to be in the room with those big names. You take what you can get when you're confined to the house. Sadly you can't currently buy the books in the supermarket, as they are classed as non-essential items.

Other than the scary supermarket and the occasional  delivery, the big excitement of the week is sorting the re-cycling! 

I'm really hoping that the next anniversary on 28 February 2022 will be very different, for all of us. 

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

What make a series?

 I'm currently contemplating a possible new series. Yes, I know I have more to do on the Riviera first. I did say contemplating. It's legal, doesn't cost anything and it's fun. The messy part starts when you begin writing the stuff. 

It's made me think about what constitutes a series. Obviously the books need to have something in common. On TV a series/serial can be installments of one story line, or possibly several, over a period of time. Or a group of characters appearing in each episode with a different story for each installment. The first would cover any of the soaps, the second detective dramas - same sleuth, different mystery. I think the first one might be a little more difficult to sustain in books in it's pure form, as the story would never complete, but lots of authors develop a plot line over a trilogy to good effect. The second option of course applies to numerous successful crime series in books or on the tele.

I've been thinking about other possibilities too. There might be a shared location - a village perhaps, with stories for different inhabitants. Lots of rom-coms are based on that sort of set up and the location becomes part of the attraction, and feels very real, like coming home to a familiar place. 

The model I've been using for my Riviera Rogues is using broadly the same location - various places on the Italian and French Riviera - with a loose connection thorough the detective agency and a new couple each time. The idea that I'm mulling over, like many romantic suspense novels, would be based around an organisation. Crime fighting - good guys but not official. I'm not planning on researching police or any of the alphabet soup agencies. If I invent it, I can do as I like with it. My game, my rules - or probably theirs, once the characters start getting up off the page and giving me grief. I'm thinking interlocking partnerships and again a new couple for each book, and the chance of a glimpse at characters who have had, or will have their own stories. 

I've done that a bit with the Rivera books - it's fun when you get an idea for including characters from other books in the current story. That's tended to be spontaneous; when I needed a Hollywood star it was natural that it would be Dan Howe from What Happens at Christmas.

This would be more organised and planned in the new idea. (Until the characters start doing their thing - see above) . So nice to have a plan - or think you have. 

So- as I said, I'm contemplating. At the moment that's taking the form of wondering how all the different ideas I have, some of which are partially written, can be brought together. That's the fun bit. 

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Sentimental journey?

 When I was in school He Who Would Valiant Be - with it's refrain of 'to be a pilgrim' was a favourite hymn. I guess that it may not be sung quite so much now in school assemblies, if they still have those. John Buchan's Pilgrim's Progress might not be a set text these days either. I'm sure I read it, but I don't remember it. My school days were a long time ago. 

The word came to my mind when I was writing the post about travelling last month, and I mentioned a pilgrimage I want to make to Scotland. A pilgrimage is defined in the dictionary as journey to a sacred place, and even in our secular society, there are many that still happen for that purpose, across many religions. A looser definition  that I have also seen used would be be a journey with a purpose, and my proposed trip to Scotland would encompass that. 

It is a very sentimental journey. One I promised I would make several years ago, although personal circumstances and pandemics have intervened. The place I want to go is to to the Isle of Orkney, most specifically to Scapa Flow, where the World War Two wreck of the warship HMS Royal Oak still lies. The ship was sunk by a U Boat in the second month of the war. I want to visit, as my mother's cousin, my cousin, once removed, was one of the sailors who went down with the ship. Ruben was just 20 years old, an only child, just out of training, who had a long standing ambition to join the navy. apparently it was all he ever wanted to do. His parents were naturally devastated, as were so many others who lost sons, fathers, brothers in a global conflict. 

With a writers imagination, which can sometimes be a burden as well as a blessing, I've often thought that his parents probably only had a sketchy notion of where their son died, and as far as I know they were never able to visit what would be his grave. I decided then that I wanted to go, for them. Very sentimental. It's my little pilgrimage, and I hope that I eventually get to do it. Maybe next year? 

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Retail therapy?

As regular readers will know, I'm incorrigibly nosey. I always say it comes of being a writer, but I suspect it's just a character flaw. I'm also a collector of unconsidered trifles - the magpie complex. You never know what that snippet heard on the radio or read in the paper might be useful. This time I heard a piece on the radio about changes in shopping habits since we've been  getting most of our retail fix on-line. Predictably fewer party dresses and more stuff for lounging in. I also read that one popular shoe designer is not doing shoes with heels for next season as we are all wearing flats and trainers. This is good for me, as I can't seem to manage heels these days. 

I don't think that any of this is going to be of any use for a book, although I must admit that I do like to send my heroines shopping on occasions. They also sometimes wear my clothes. Someone has to, if I'm not going anywhere to get some use from them! 

This got me thinking about my own shopping since lockdown, aside from food and other necessities. At first I was buying clothes for the much anticipated holiday on the Riviera that was supposed to be happening in May, and then in October - and then - well maybe this year, but not until I get my jabs, so that's not for a while. I now have a capsule wardrobe of two trouser suits, a dress, two jackets and a linen shirt all ready to go. Please don't ask if they still fit. I don't dare check. My other big expenditure is chocolate. 

Once I'd figured out that no, I was not going anywhere significant any time soon, and that Zoom only required a reasonably tidy top half, I stopped with the clothes  - except for the Christmas jumper, which was the result of bullying on the part of some of those Zoom attendees, who like to call themselves my friends. You can call it peer pressure if you like, but the result was that I caved and now have a red sweater  with glitter and reindeer. 

So - what took the place of additions to my wardrobe? Fairly predictably, books - the e-kind and and those supplied by post by my nearest lovely indie bookshop Griffin Books in Penarth.  A number of those were travel books - research for novels to come, I hope. I've also signed up for a number of online courses including some modules from the International  Thriller Writers' MBA programme all the way from New York and featuring some big names in crime writing, so I'm really looking forward to those. New adventures. My last indulgence, surprisingly, was jewelry. I have a decided weakness that way, and Facebook seems to have noticed and keeps showing me adverts for lovely stuff. I've been good and not bought anything in the last two months - had to pay the tax accountant and the gas people for the boiler insurance, and all those subscriptions to writing organisations that come due in January. Will I hold out for long now that the bills are done for the moment? I shall try.

Now comes the nosey part. I'd really love to hear about other people's indulgences while in lockdown. Is anyone brave enough to confess their shopping secrets in the comments? I promise I won't tell. 

Monday, 25 January 2021

The Romance of Wales

 Happy St Dwynwen's Day!

I'm blogging a little early this week in order to be part of the St Dwynwen Day celebrations with fellow members of the Cariad Chapter of the Romantic Novelists' Association. St Dwynwen is the Welsh equivalent of St Valentine. If you want to know more, see last week's post.  As with St Valentine, it's a day to do romantic things - give cards, flowers, gifts, cook a special  meal, tell someone you love them. 

When I was thinking about something that was distinctively Welsh, beautiful and romantic, one of my first thought was the landscape. Something that makes Wales unique in the world is having a waymarked Coastal Path that runs for the whole coast of the country and that passes close to St Dwynwen's church on Anglesey. In January and in lockdown making a visit is probably one for the bucket list at the moment, but we can still daydream.  I'm lucky - I was born and brought up by the sea and the local stretch of the path runs very close to my home. 

On the way around Wales the path traverses wild areas, cityscapes, traditional seaside resorts. It has wonderful unspoiled beaches, castles, poetic connections, wildlife, churches, Neolithic tombs, seabirds and islands. It's not just the sea either, there are vast expanses of open sky. Walking on the beach at sunset, or sunrise, has to be one of the best romantic scenarios - those photo shots of two sets of footprints in the sand - how romantic is that! The only thing Wales doesn't have is the perfect weather - although the sea has it's own charms in fog or storms, as long as you remember  to stay well away from dangerous locations in high tides. Like the tiger at the zoo, beautiful to observe from a safe distance, but don't get too close. The ideal place might be a cosy pub, if you can find one, or a hotel. I'm planning to create one of those for a future book.  A boutique hotel, with a Martha's Vinyard feel, gourmet food and a resident ghost. That's the big thing about being an author, if it doesn't already exist, or it's not in the right place, you're free to invent it. If you want to know more about the real thing, this is a link to the Visit Wales Site HERE

I've raided my photo archives for some pictures of bits of the path, which I  think show that Wales can be just as as lovely as any other parts of the British Isles, and a fine setting for romance. Most of them were taken when it was misty though - so you will have to add your own sunshine. It's a good setting for thrillers too - but that is another story. 

Enjoy St Dwynwen's Day. 

Jackson's Bay

Barry Island from Nell's Point 

Nell's Point from the Promenade 

The Dock breakwater and Jackson's Bay

Tenby Harbour - in the rain

One of Tenby's beaches at dusk

View over  the sea from Barry town 

The funfair at Barry Island