Wednesday 28 September 2022

Yes, I know I'm a bit weird ...

 I would argue that most writers are  ... shall we say ... just a little different?

After all we do have alternative worlds with imaginary people playing out in our heads.

We all have our little quirks. 

I realised the other day that, along with the imaginary worlds, I also have a bit of a thing for abandoned government buildings. Now that is weird. I was passing an old estate of unused government offices on the outskirts of Cardiff. You know the kind, a cluster of tall buildings, several stories of concrete and blank rows of windows, wonky blinds, high fences and gates, expanses of empty concrete car park, a security booth beside the entrance ... 

I found the place fascinating, thrilling even. Which is very weird. It conjured up spies and secrecy, danger, threat, desolation ...

Silent abandoned spaces ...

A relic of the 60s and 70s. A modern version of gothic? 

This is not a new thing. I used a derelict office building for a major scene between hero and villain in my very first published novel - Never Coming Home. I was writing grittier stuff then and the block I imagined was one of those overlooking the rail line out of Paddington station in London. They've mostly all gone now, replaced by new blocks of flats. 

Interesting to know that the fascination is still there though.  

Wednesday 21 September 2022

Done any good thinking lately?

 If a writer wants to build up their practical skills there are all kinds of course and resources available - plotting, character development, editing, the nitty gritty of grammar and punctuation, world building - you can get good help on everything you might need. When I was an aspiring writer I soaked up all the talks, courses and books I could find and afford, some of which did not suit my writing style - I know that now, but it took a while to find out and that is another story anyway. 

Some of those courses cover the idea of writing with all the senses - excellent advice. And that got me thinking. As well as building practical skills, what about thinking time? Do we overlook it in favour of learning something we can measure? 

Is there value in setting some time aside to build up your own library of sensations? I think there might be. Just sitting outside can start a list. The buzz of insects - I have some fat and friendly bumble bees that are very interested in my fuchsia bush at the moment. There's the scent of jasmine - one I'm particularly fond of as it grows like weeds in my garden. The noise made by a bird's wings - have you actually listened to how noisy a sparrow can be, simply flying from bush to bush? Sitting quietly can produce a soundscape - children playing, a barking dog, a noisy motorcycle, seagulls on the roof. All of that can give you atmosphere. There is also the power of silence - absence of sound can be just as useful. 

What about scents? The nice ones, of course, but just mentioning the smell of burnt toast can tell you that a character was under pressure at breakfast time - or maybe they are not very expert at cooking? Unusual ones - the distinctive smell of a library or bookshop, of an underground garage, of a garden shed. Scent is a powerful component of memory too and a good way of taking a character back into their past in quick flashback. What or who does it conjuror up, and what were the circumstances? And don't forget how things taste. And what about colour? I have a navy blue bowl full of small red tomatoes on my kitchen counter and every time I catch a glimpse of it it says "Mediterranean" to me - even here in Barry Island! Mind you, the South of France style sunshine probably helps. 

One of those things that are undoubtedly dealt with in those skills courses is the need to cut down on description. These days readers - and editors, particularly editors, dislike it. The languid scene setting of previous decades will earn you a red pencil comment in the margin.  But stories don't happen in a vacuum. As a reader I get irritated when a book might as well be taking place in a white box of the type that was beloved of theatre directors in the 60s and 70s. So - we have to be short and sneaky these days. a bright colour, a waft of scent, a background noise and you are there, in maybe a dozen words. But they do have to be the right dozen words. Words you have collected - hoarded - for just this occasion. 

Gaining skills is great, but spending some time staring into space simply absorbing might be another way of adding depth to your writing.

Just a thought. 


Wednesday 14 September 2022

Nothing lasts forever ...

 ... although we often wish that it would.

In this week there was only one possible blog topic - the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

She has been the monarch for the whole life of most of the population of the UK. We don't know anything else. 

A nation has lost a much loved monarch, a family has lost a beloved mother, grandmother, great grandmother.  Many people have commented on social media that her death has stirred up unexpected grief for their own lost family members.  My mother died in September seven years ago, age 95. Now I mourn the Queen and think of the past, along with many others around the world. 

But we have a new king, Wales has a new prince and princess, and life will move on. 

The Queen will stay in our memories as an example of service and dependability, a constant in the changing world during 70 years on the throne.

Rest in Peace your Majesty. 

Wednesday 7 September 2022


 Authors are frequently asked "Where do you get your ideas?" The usual answer is "I haven't a clue - they just happen."

I subscribe to this opinion - I don't get "Inspiration" at least not that kind of inspiration, But I do recognise that there are certain ideas that interest me and those do get into the books. 

I've just finished reading the book on The Angel of Mons by David Clarke that I bought on the bookshop crawl a few weeks ago. It's a story that I have found fascinating for a long time - an incident early in the First World War when British soldiers claim to have been protected by some sort of supernatural intervention. Clarke dives deeply into the origins of the claims and the way the thing modifies and snowballs - troops are protected by angels, St George, the bowmen of Agincourt ... the idea of supernatural activity is taken up on the home front and is replayed in everything from letters to parish magazines. The tale is told over and over by witnesses who are claimed to be reliable sources. 

The "truth" will probably never be known. The story may have originated in a short story by author Arthur Machin. It is replayed by "a friend of a friend", not a direct witness. The public interest in spiritualism at the time provided a backdrop for the idea of otherworldly interaction. Like I said, the phenomenon is fascinating.

I don't write the kind of book where I would directly use that story, but the concept is one that does get into my plotting - the way gossip and rumour, hearsay and speculation can build a picture. It was one of the ideas that underpinned the family mystery in A Villa in Portofino - and the way that heroine Megan builds up a history of the aunt she never met that is based on logic but is not actually the real story. The new book, Riviera 4 (if it makes it into print) centres around a mysterious necklace with a chequered history. More rumour and speculation. 

It's obviously something that interests me. But  is it inspiration?