Wednesday 27 December 2023

My first two books

 My first two titles for Choc-lit are now being re-released by Joffe books. Both were written for a huge reality contest run in the US by the Romantic Times magazine and Dorchester Publishing - both sadly no more. And both books made the final! As you can imagine, that was a huge boost to an unpublished author, even though I didn't come anywhere near winning. Even so, it took a while to find a publisher here in the UK. Romantic suspense is not a well known genre, but then Choc-lit took a chance...

Although I would class all my books as romantic suspense, these two books are very different  from the Riviera series that I have been writing lately. Those books are lighter, escapist holiday reading. Never Coming Home and Out of Sight Out of Mind are still romances but much darker - and not just because they are both partially set in Wales, not on the Mediterranean! And I have to say that much as I love the Riviera books and love writing them, I have been hankering to return to my 'roots' for some time. The WIP is much more in that mould - and it's set in Wales. 

Since the books were first issued trends have changed. Now psychological thrillers are very much on trend and these two books are being marketed with that designation. I have to confess that this bothers me a little. They are thrillers, there are twists and turns, there is uncertainty, there is violence, there is bad language, they are scary and creepy in places, their heroes have dark pasts and the heroines have tragedy  in theirs, but they are still romances. 

Not sure how purist crime fans will view them. I'm braced for the reviews that mention Mills and Boon. I hope that there will be some new readers who will like a new view on the genre and a positive ending. 

Fingers crossed.  

Wednesday 20 December 2023

Out of Sight Out of Mind - re-release.

 As trailed last week - Joffe is re-releasing my first two published titles.  


Out of Sight Out of Mind is already out there. Never Coming Home will follow, before Xmas or soon after. 

Out of Sight Out of Mind only has a new cover - very modern and on trend. Never Coming Home has had some updating. Both stories remain the same. 

How it looked

While it is great that these two books are getting a second time around - I'm still very proud of them and both were award winners/nominees - I do get worried that people will think they are new. They are not - and they are very different from the Riviera books. Much grittier - not so escapist. They are both over a decade old. 

How it looks now

I was reading the Liberta blog at the weekend and Sophie Weston was writing about a category author Leigh Michaels has coined - the Accidental Historical - when a book that was contemporary is re-issued and becomes historical in the process. 

That's what these two books are. 

If you want to read the Librta post in full, you can find it HERE

Wednesday 13 December 2023

Coming around again.

My new publisher, Joffe Books, who have taken over the former Choc-Lit titles make something of a speciality of backlists and re-issues. It was only a matter of time before they re-discovered my older titles to give them a second time around, and now it's happening. 

Multi Award winning Never Coming Home and award nominee Out of Sight Out of Mind will be released soon with brand new covers. 

Both books are a decade or so old, written as competition entries for a big US reality contest where they both made the final,  and are very different from what I have been writing lately. They are very much in the romantic thriller mode, rather than romantic mystery.  More gritty, more violent, more bad language! (Sorry if that is not your thing.)  They still have independent heroines and red hot heroes, although the latter are a bit more ambiguous than the leading men in the Riviera series. 

Although I love the Riviera books and completely enjoy writing them I've been wanting for a while to get back to style of the books that began my career, so I am quite excited over the re-issue of these two. 

I have a new idea currently in research and development that lends itself to that style that will also take me back to locations in my native Wales, so I am looking forward to working  on it.

I have done some re-editing for Never Coming Home, and have seen the new updated cover for Out of Sight Out of Mind - which is very different and very on-trend, so it won't be long before I am able to share them with readers. Those who already have the books won't need to buy them again - unless you want to - but maybe there will be new readers out there who will be inspired to take a look. I hope so.

Working with those books I know that getting back to that style is going to be a challenge, but the new idea is one I have wanted to work on for some time. It will be a journey. I hope readers will come with me as I make it. 

Friday 8 December 2023

For one day only

Today Friday 8th I am the Joffe free book! Summer in San Remo is all yours for zero pence. It's the first in the Riviera Series. More of a rom-com with only a hint of crime/mystery, it was fun to write. The series gets much heavier on the suspense after that.

Wednesday 6 December 2023

Gadding about

 I'm a bit late posting this week as I have been out having fun. London at the weekend - a longer trip than intended as I got caught out by an unexpected train strike and had to stay over an extra day, not coming back until Monday. Then yesterday  I was out at Xmas lunch with some friends, and my last morning lecture today for the gardens course so it has been rather hectic

London was fun, as usual. Sang my first carols at a festive music concert at St Martin's in the Fields and ate my first mince pie - on the train coming home! 

The big event was the Romantic Novelists' Association London and South East Chapter Xmas lunch. I had a lovely time, met friends, ate nice food and got my picture taken with Santa, We were encouraged to take a book for the pic and to donate to prison literacy projects, which I was happy to do. 

I spent some time on one of my favourite things, wandering around London. Did some window shopping and some not window shopping, very indulgent and more so because I had the extra time to investigate the Glossier shop, in Covent Garden, which on weekends has long queues outside it but was much quieter on Monday!  The windows at Selfridges are always worth a visit and this year was no exception.  And I found a pop up shop in one of the back streets on the Portman Estate where you could send letters to Santa complete with golden pillar box.

I took some pictures and generally enjoyed myself 

Sending letters to Santa

Candy cane man, There is a face and body
 in there somewhere. 

I thought the masks on these three angels
were just a little bit spooky. 

Self indulgent shopping 

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Deep dive research

 At the moment I am researching. Yes, really. Lots of reading and a course on gardens with Cardiff university, which is fun and also very useful. Learning things that may go in this book, or the next, or maybe just stay in my head. Research is like that. 

When I was studying for the PhD I recall a panel discussion of some of the senior academics from the faculty, talking about that topic. One mentioned that your thesis would probably not contain half of what  you know. One of his colleagues admitted that in his case it was more like seven eighths. Like an iceberg, most of it is never seen.

I happen to believe that in-depth research adds richness to the finished product, even if the reader doesn't see it directly. Well - that's my story and I'm sticking to it, and don't anyone mention procrastination!

That conversation between academics came into my mind at the weekend when I was scribbling down a time line and family tree for the people who built and owned the house and garden that are going to be the centre of the work that will eventually be in progress. I knew I had to get it done, as there was a hole in my plans that was keeping me from moving on. By the strange alchemy that happens in writer's brains, bits and pieces from the garden course, books I had read and what I needed for the story melded together and I ended up with a full history for the people who came before her in the house that my heroine inherits. Will it make it into the book? I doubt it, at least not more than a line or two. But now I know, And it's going to make the story of Whitchwood House that much easier to tell. 

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Indie Love

 The mass signing was on Saturday 18th and I had a great time. The  Parkgate hotel is lovely, the event was fabulously organised by Alice and her team of terrific helpers and it all went much too fast. It was so good to talk to other authors and especially to readers. I have filed away lots of ideas of what romance readers might like to read in the future. It was a learning curve as I have not done one of these for years and then not in this country. The displays other authors had on their tables were amazing as were the give- aways and the books themselves. You can probably catch some pictures on Facebook - there are lots of them. 

I was bitterly disappointed to find that the pictures I took of my table were blurry. Don't know if it is the camera or that my hands were shaking with excitement! I've put the best ones below, which gives you a rough idea. A small blot in an otherwise exciting day. 

Hope I can do more in the future. 

Setting up

The finished table

Wednesday 15 November 2023

Indie Love: Cardiff


On Saturday 18th - next Saturday - I'm doing something I haven't done in a long time, and never before in this country - I'm part of a big signing of romance authors that's taking place at the Parkgate Hotel in Cardiff. There will be lots of authors there, writing all different types of romance and out to have a very good time. There will be many tables hosting those authors, books, swag, raffles, face painting, glitter! I'm not aiming  for the face paint and the glitter but I will be there for the fun. If you want to be there too and don't already have a ticket there are still a few tickets left, you can get in advance or buy on the day. 

I have books - including a new box of my latest in the Riviera series, recently arrived from my publisher. I have chocolate and I hope to be able to pick up a few more small goodies before the day. I have to say I have seen some of the swag that other authors are bringing and I am in awe. That stuff is amazing. I can't match it, but I am there to learn. I'm looking forward to meeting readers and other authors and I'm really hoping to chat to people about what they want in their romance reading. Like I said, it's a learning curve. At the moment the Riviera series is on hold while I explore a new idea. It will be good to find out what readers might  think of it. 

If you are going to be there, I look forward to meeting you. I have a feeling it is going to be one crazy day! 

Wednesday 8 November 2023

Wottcha reading?

 And why?

My house if full of paper - reading matter of all kinds. Looking around over the weekend I got to thinking about the different categories my reading falls into. 

Mostly it's relaxation, escapism. And increasingly that's electronic rather than paper - with the occasional burst of books from the library when I get the chance to browse. Usually romantic suspense, as it is my favourite genre, but I stray into rom com, historical, mystery and cosy crime on occasion. I have a weakness for Golden Age crime - the British Library imprints are always worth a look. I've read a lot of ECR Lorac and greatly enjoyed them.  

At the moment I have a lot of coffee table books on gardens. They are a result of the University course I'm taking, both of which - books and course - are research for the Work-That-Is-Going-To-Be -In -Progress. It's still marinating, but I hope I will be actually writing by Christmas. At the moment health stuff is getting in the way, but I will get there. 

What else? Apart for the backs of cereal packets and junk mail? Magazines? I'm not big on them, with the occasional dip into the house/lifestyle kind when I am looking for ideas for the revamping and renovations I am currently working my way through. Another thing that is keeping me away from the writing! 

A lot of the organisations I belong to send magazines as part of the membership package - Royal Horticultural Society, Crime Writers' Association, Society of Authors - I try to read them to keep up with  current events in my chosen world,  and for pleasure too. Always ready to learn something new. 

Brochures and catalogues are fun when they come with the junk mail. I have somehow got on to the mailing list for some very up-market dress shops in London - don't ask me how. Love to look, although the garments are usually out of my price range. Maybe not for my heroines? Is that how I got on the mailing list? Research? 

Reading is a huge part of my life. I'm edgy and bereft if I don't have a book on the go. My mum was the same, and I suspect my grandmother too. I know where my love of reading came from, and I'm very grateful for it. 

Wednesday 1 November 2023

The Christmas book

 As you know my Christmas book, What Happens at Christmas, has just been re-issued with a brand new cover and blurb. The story is the same though, so don't go buying it twice! 

There is a story behind how I came to write it. I'm not big on Christmas, although I like the traditional elements - carols, decorations and food. Especially food. Writing a Christmas romantic suspense novel - or any kind of Christmas novel - wasn’t on my immediate ‘to do’ list. I had toyed with the idea, and had conversations with friends over whether it was possible to do it. There are plenty of novels involving crime that are set at the festive season, but romantic suspense makes the crime so much a part of the love story - and then you need a touch of that Christmas magic …

It was an interesting challenge, something for the forward plan. Then, in the serendipitous way that books sometimes get hatched, I had Christmas lunch at a restaurant with some writing friends, and the conversation naturally revolved around writing, and somehow the topic of kidnapping came up – yes I know, but I did say these people were writers. Lunch ended and we all went our separate ways, but the talk about kidnapping stayed with me. By the time I got to my train home an idea for a plot had begun to stir.

I still wasn’t sure about actually doing anything with it, but the suspense thread had really begun to unravel in my head. Then a strong image of a hero and heroine began to form, and at that point I was hooked. The book was written over the holidays – some of it on Christmas day itself, which helped a lot with the Christmassy feeling! I really enjoyed doing it, so it became a little Christmas present to myself.

When the book opens neither Lori nor Drew is planning on a conventional Christmas, but they’re in no way anticipating the Christmas they actually get. Through an unexpected series of events, Lori finds herself making a Christmas for her four year old niece, and Drew finds himself involved in a TV kidnapping stunt for charity that has gone horribly wrong …

Add in a setting in the Brecon Beacons, a strong minded cat, a guest appearance from Devlin, who was the hero of my debut novel, Never Coming Home, a converted barn and a great deal of snow – and that’s the book. It doesn’t end at Christmas – the story unfolds over a year, until the following Christmas, but the core of the story – the part when Drew and Lori begin to fall in love - is in those first few snow-bound days in Brecon. I’ve tried to use the senses to create atmosphere, Christmas lights, flickering scented candles, log fires, starry nights, carols playing on the radio - and in the centre of it Lori and Drew - gradually becoming romantically aware of each other, over a few hours of peace in the midst of tension. Both Lori and Drew have their own back stories too – Drew in particular has very bad memories of Christmas past that he needs to deal with before he can move on.

Of course, there is tension, mystery, threat and danger and some characters come to unhappy ends – all the elements of romantic suspense. If you're looking for something edgy in your festive reading, you might like to try it. 

Friday 27 October 2023

Indie Love Event

  Something big is happening in the romance world in Cardiff on 18th November. A day long event to meet authors, buy books, have them signed and generally have a good (romantic) time. Fifty plus attending authors, including me! All kinds of romance, including the very hot kind! This is your chance to be there, as tickets are on special offer this weekend.   

You can find details and book 


Wednesday 25 October 2023

Addicted to books

 I'm currently researching for a new story - not a Riviera this time, but one set in Wales and featuring an historic garden. Of course as far as I am concerned that means books. I'm an old fashioned academic researcher and the printed word is my catnip. I'm also doing a short course on gardens with the Cardiff University  - you will probably hear more about that as the weeks progress - so I have a Reading List. Lots of fun in bookshops and my newly discovered source of supply, the libraries of the Royal Horticultural Society. As a member, which I have been for many years, they will send you books for free, although you have to pay the postage to send them back. Always a thrill when the postman staggers to the door with a large envelope - those gardening books are big and heavy - at least, it is a thrill to me.

As you know. research is a favourite occupation for writers who want to claim to be working but who are not actually producing the words. It's called procrastination. And what a lovely way to do it with a pile of books like the ones currently sitting on the end of the dining room table. I have got some words down on paper and tried them out on an audience of fellow romance writers at a workshop, with some very helpful feedback, so things are moving, honest! 

I promise the research will make it into a story eventually and I hope it will be a richer one for the background work. In the meantime, I am having a lot of fun. 

Saturday 21 October 2023

Special extra post - for a cover reveal.

 Along with a huge group of amazing romance writers I am going to be doing a mass signing in Cardiff on 18 November. More about that soon, including an offer on tickets, but in the meantime some of the authors have got together to produce an anthology of short stories. This is a cover reveal, with a link if you want to investigate/preorder a copy. I've not read it yet, but suspect that it will be hot, hot hot. Proceeds will go to a Cardiff Food bank charity. 

Find out more here.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Re-issue of What Happens at Christmas

 Some of you may have noticed that I have a Christmas Book out. Apparently it is 10 weeks until Christmas and retailers are already gearing up - and that includes the publishing industry. 

A warning note THIS IS A RE-ISSUE. If you bought it/read it first time around you don't need to do it again. Unless you want to, of course. 

When it first appeared in 2018 it looked like this.

I have to say that this is one of my favourite covers as it reflects elements of the book - the hut and the Welsh scenery - the result of some collaboration between me and cover designer Berni. 

It now looks like this 

Much more dramatic, but not quite so connected to the book. It says thriller and festive though, which are the main elements. It also has a love story - romantic suspense, remember - and it actually contains two Christmases because the story stretches over a whole year, and naturally the course of true love doesn't run smoothly. 

It's out now at a special e-book price of 99p/99c and you can read it on Kindle unlimited, if you have a subscription. 

If you don't have it in your collection, now is a good time. 

Wednesday 11 October 2023

New Looks?

 You may have noticed that the first three of the Riviera series are out as a box set and a special price with a brand new cover for the set. Very summery - in keeping with the current weather. 

You can get them on Amazon - and also as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription. 

There will be more news later this week too on another re-issue, with a brand new cover.  I'll keep you posted. 

Wednesday 4 October 2023

From the Archive

 I'm having a busy week this week - mostly boring medical stuff, so I've delved into the archive for this week's post. October 2013 - ten years ago. I was considering the part of my brain that writes the sinister stuff. I'm currently experimenting with a new idea that takes me back to the darker elements that I was writing when I began on this journey. I've tried it out at a writers' workshop, where I got positive and very useful comments. There is a lot of work to do, but I shall keep going and see where it takes me. 

As we have passed the Equinox and are heading into the darkest part of the year here in the Northern hemisphere, the revisited post seems appropriate. 

Into the Dark ...

When you write thrillers your books have to be ...well, thrilling. Which means tapping into the dark side. We're not talking a walk in the park here, at least, not unless it's midnight and there's a serial killer lurking behind that tree.

There, you see what I mean - if you write stuff that is intended to be thrilling then you tend to see the world - well, let's say your perspective is a bit skewed. Nothing is innocent, everything is potentially dangerous. There is usually some form of crime involved and your protagonists should be under some sort of threat.

To write that stuff, you have to go somewhere ...

I don't actually know where that is. I suppose it must somehow feed off  bad experiences that have happened in life, although I'm rarely aware of drawing on anything specific. I like to think I am a reasonably nice person, but give me a pen and paper ...

Conjuring up the scary and the gory isn't easy, but when the thing is working, in a perverse way, it can be a lot of fun. Now call me weird. You won't be the first.

Writing books is an exercise in fantasy, although that term tends to be applied these days only to stories with elves in them. Writers live in two worlds simultaneously. Here - and somewhere else entirely. It's solely inside your head, and that can be dark as well as light. Maybe there is an element of adrenaline junkie too. If you write it, you feel it. And now we're back to the 'fun' again.

I like writing the dark stuff, although I run a mile from it in real life. But, and it's a very significant but, my black stuff has to be tempered by a fully realised romance. Not just an add-on love affair. That's why I write Romantic Suspense. If I'm walking on the scary side I have to have the payoff of a hopeful ending and a new beginning to look forward to.

If I'm going into the dark, I have to know that something good is going to be waiting on the other side.

Wednesday 27 September 2023

According to plan?

 I spent a productive half hour train journey a few weeks ago drawing a location plan of a house and garden on a headland somewhere in Wales. It is fictitious, hence the need for a plan. I'm trying to get the story straight in my mind and having done timelines I realised I needed a map as the location was a hole in my thoughts. 

I'll also want a house plan and one of the garden, but I'll get to that. They are for me and I doubt if I'll ever share them anywhere, but it made me think of a discussion a little while ago in the Crime Writers' Association magazine, Red Herrings, on the value, or not, of plans, cast lists and family trees appended to books for illumination of readers.  Some liked them, others didn't. All a matter of taste. 

As a device used now, they sometimes have an old fashioned feel - I recall a number of Agatha Christie novels with floor plans as part of the text. - they would be an authentic touch for current cosy crime books that have an historical setting. I know I have found a cast list very useful when there are a lot of characters involved and a family tree can be invaluable to work out who is related to who - they usually appear in multi generational family sagas. 

The big difficulty these days is, of course, reading electronically. If any or all of these reader aids appear in a book they will be at the beginning. In a paper book there is no problem in flipping back for a quick look - a bit more complicated keeping your place on a reading device. 

Maybe this will mean that the practice eventually dies out? I think it would be a loss if it does. It doesn't suit every book, but if the author feels that it adds to the story, then why not?

Wednesday 20 September 2023

The power of tea?

 I'm late with today's post. Apologies to those who have been waiting with bated breath. I had rather a stressful day yesterday so didn't wake up until late and then couldn't resist listening to Just One Thing on the radio before I actually got up.  I'm functioning now, sort of. I have brushed my hair, so we'll call that a win. 

Just One Thing is a Radio 4 half hour, with Michael Mosley where he considers a relatively small thing that you might do to increase your well being and live longer. If we do them all we will presumably live forever, but I'm still trying to get to grips with brushing my teeth while standing on one leg. Good for your balance apparently. 

Today the topic was drinking tea. All sorts of benefits from keeping calm, to helping your bones and stuff to do with concentration and learning. I was still a bit dozy when listening so if you want to know more you can listen to the episode by downloading it. 

I was pleased to know though that it was good for me, as I drink about six or seven cups a day - all sorts of varieties, including one that tastes of toffee.  I was also amused as Elliott, the hero of the latest Riviera book, Masquerade on the Riviera, is a tea drinker. Oolong for choice. He can be a bit of a show-off at times. These academics! Good to know that the learning and creativity stuff  of tea suits him.  

It also seems that the advice that was so often given in papers to do with morale that I waded through for the PhD was actually sound. Tea does have a calming effect. 

Off now to make myself another cup! 

Wednesday 13 September 2023

Tools of the trade

 Attending conferences held by your professional organisations - in my case the Romantic Novelists and the Crime Writers - is a chance to acquire or hone skills. At the recent RNA event many writers were thrilled to be exploring the delights of Canva  and Scrivener. Me? No way. The description of how Scrivener works has me hiding my head in a hole and my one attempt of Canva ditto. I'll settle for pen and ink and Bookbrush, thanks. I seem to be able to find my way around the latter fairly well and the pen and paper stuff I've been doing since I was six. 

The differences in style made me think about how one uses the tools of the trade. Over my many many years in the RNA New Writers' Scheme I attended many workshops and seminars on 'How-to'. Some of the tutors in the dim and distant days in the beginning could be quite prescriptive  - not quite 'My way or the Highway' but very much - 'this is what you must do'. One of the things I learned in my long apprenticeship was - 'My brain doesn't do it like that'. 

I do have some quirks but mostly I'm an organic sort of writer - start at the beginning with a biro and a pile of scrap paper and then keep going.  I've used mind maps  ever since writing essays in the sixth form, but then I didn't know what they were or that they were even a 'thing',  I'm big on time lines - which is weird as for an historian I'm dreadful at dates. I have to know when people were born and if necessary die, and must get the generational things right if, as at the moment, I'm playing with a multi generational script. I live in horror of suddenly discovering that someone had a baby at twelve years old - not impossible, I know, but not in the current context. 

Something I also do is a bit of interrogation - not the kind where you have a list of questions like first pet or best friend in school and yes, that is one of the techniques I have been recommended and failed dismally at  - I go back to a question my Mum used to ask - probably when I was being annoying. 'What's your problem?' They always do have a problem, and if they don't you know that needs fixing. 
I'm currently doing it for a whole new series of characters.
Works for me. 

Wednesday 6 September 2023

The difficult second book

 I've seen a couple of posts/articles about this topic lately and it got me pondering. I never had the problem as my then publisher took both the books I had - finalists in American contests, so with a track record - and the second book was actually the first written. It was a paranormal that came out of nowhere and I have not been tempted to try one since. I am tinkering with some supernatural/spooky stuff  for the WIP- just a little bit witchy - we'll have to see how that turns out - it's just a sub plot/thread, not the whole story. Anyway, back to second book syndrome. When you think about it logically, there are perfectly reasonable explanations for doubts that have nothing to do with a superstition about the book's place in the running order. 

Conditioning - how often have you been told about 'the difficult second book'?

Deadlines - you have maybe been working on that first book for a long time. Now you have to produce to someone else's (probably shorter) time table.  

Expectations - now you have something to live up to. You have readers (we hope) and have been edited. You now have other people in the room with you, as well as your characters. Other people with agendas. And you don't want to disappoint them. 

Book One may have been 'the book of your heart' - the one you always wanted to write. Now like a certain famous Doctor, you have to find yourself another heart. 

It can be done. Writing books is hard. It's work. Don't let anyone tell you different - and if you ask any published author, whether they are on book five or book fifty, they will probably  tell you that the book they are currently writing is rubbish. The next one will be better - of course. 

We have high expectations - which is how it should be. Readers deserve the best. We just have to hang on in there and give it to them. 

Wednesday 30 August 2023

I have a plan?

 As I told you last week, I'm just back from a fabulous week in London. Some of that was the RNA conference but I spent a few days before in my favourite hotel, because I had a BIRTHDAY! Yes, thank you, I had a lovely day - surprise of flowers from a friend, balloons from the hotel, a super afternoon tea at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane - surrounded by cute mini Elsas - it was the matinee of Frozen - and some of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. In the evening I did a concert at St Martin's in the Fields. 

Having had a good time, and a little space away from home, gave me the chance to think. I don't often treat birthdays as milestones, unless they have a zero at the end, and this one didn't. But this time I have come up with a plan. Stay with me - this bit gets complicated. Last month I attended a meeting of the Marcher Writers' group, in Hereford - another first since Covid. The group usually has a workshop once or twice a year - anonymous scripts submitted for discussion by the group. Positive feedback - always good. I was thinking that I didn't have anything, but after the meeting the little voice in my head reminded me about that new idea that I really wanted to try. So, that's what I am going to do. It's new, it may be tricky in parts and it is going to take time, which is why I decided I needed the plan.  It's a programme I hope I can stick to for next year. Fingers crossed.

I've started the writing and am enjoying it, so now I have to keep at it. Is it any good? That will be a question for the workshop.  

Wednesday 23 August 2023

I had a really good time ... the RNA Conference. Honestly, despite the picture, which looks like I lost a fiver and found a shilling. 

The RNA Gala Party - photo courtesy of the inimitable John Jackson. 

It was my first conference since before Covid and it was so good to see old friends and be part of the romance world again. The venue was Imperial College, London, and you know I always love to travel to London. The accommodation was the usual student rooms and I can't say I was enthusiastic about the food, but all the talks I attended were very good and the atmosphere was stimulating. I met two of the editors from my new publisher for the first time and the chance to chat and put faces to names was great. They also took us to a very posh hotel bar for drinks - I've stored that one away for future trips, but as I will be paying for this little holiday for some months to come, it's not going to happen any time soon. We had an added bonus at the Gala as both the winners of the Joan Hessayon and Elizabeth Gouge trophies were Joffee authors! Much cheering and celebration. (Hope it might be a good omen for next year's RONAs?) It's good too to mingle with members of the New Writers' Scheme who are just starting out on their journey and  having 121 meetings with editors and agents and sharing joys and a few sorrows as a result. Been there, done that. It will eventually happen, I promise. You just have to keep on keeping on. 

I've come back energised for some new work. I hope I can keep the feeling and press on. 

Wednesday 16 August 2023

Tools of the trade.

Attending conferences held by your professional organisations - in my case the Romantic Novelists and the Crime Writers - is a chance to acquire or hone skills. At the recent RNA event many writers were thrilled to be exploring the delights of Canva  and Scrivener. Me? No way. The description of how Scrivener works has me hiding my head in a hole and my one attempt of Canva ditto. I'll settle for pen and ink and Bookbrush, thanks. I seem to be able to find my way around the latter fairly well and the pen and paper stuff I've been doing since I was six. 

The differences in style made me think about how one uses the tools of the trade. Over my many many years in the RNA New Writers' Scheme I attended many workshops and seminars on 'How-to'. Some of the tutors in the dim and distant days in the beginning could be quite prescriptive  - not quite 'My way or the Highway' but very much - 'this is what you must do'. One of the things I learned in my long apprenticeship was - 'My brain doesn't do it like that'. 

I do have some quirks but mostly I'm an organic sort of writer - start at the beginning with a biro and a pile of scrap paper and then keep going.  I've used mind maps  ever since writing essays in the sixth form, but then I didn't know what they were or that they were even a 'thing',  I'm big on time lines - which is weird as for an historian I'm dreadful at dates. I have to know when people were born and if necessary die, and must get the generational things right if, as at the moment, I'm playing with a multi generational script. I live in horror of suddenly discovering that someone had a baby at twelve years old - not impossible, I know, but not in the current context. 

Something I also do it a bit of interrogation - not the kind where you have a list of questions like first pet or best friend in school and yes, that is one of the techniques I have been recommended and failed dismally at  - I go back to a question my Mum used to ask - probably when I was being annoying. 'What's your problem?' They always do have a problem, and if they don't you know that needs fixing. 
I'm currently doing it for a whole new series of characters.
Works for me. 

Treasure hunting

 A treasure hunt book has long been on my bucket list of "books I would like to write one day", The outline that lives in my head is set in London and involves landmarks like Tube stations, museums and Wren churches. That one would require clues to be written and all sorts of planning and plotting, which is probably why it is still on the bucket list. 

The ultimate treasure hunt in a book is probably Kit William's Masquerade - a book of clues in words and paintings published in 1979 that erupted into the real world and had thousands  of people from all over the globe hunting for a golden hare buried at dead of night. 

Its influence has provided some of the impetus recently for Erin Kelly's The Skeleton Key - with a particular focus on the way the hunt became an obsession with a large number of people. The story is  as much about the effects of the hunt as following the clues. The book also exerted an influence on Janet Hallett in writing The Twyford Code. 

Masquerade is also drifting about in my mind as a thread in one of the works I have rumbling around in my head at the  moment. Again about the hunters rather than the clues. I've been doing research into the history of Masquerade and the effects it had on the creator, Kit Williams, on author and long term quiz master of University Challenge, Bamber Gascoigne, who was the man chosen to witness the  burial - the Arch Bishop of Canterbury and the Governor of the Bank of England having been discounted as probably unavailable - the people in the publishing house and the hundreds of ordinary readers who took up the challenge as a full time hobby. Gascoigne wrote a book about it, which is fascinating reading and rather hair raising in places  on the lengths to which some people would go to pursue a pet theory. Whole families became involved, holidays were structured around digging expeditions, complex theories were invented and insisted upon, even sometimes in the face of denial by Williams. The jewel was eventually uncovered - a story in itself - but apparently even then there were hunters who did not wish to give up, thinking that there must still be more. 

I'm enjoying the research - don't anyone mention procrastination - it will only be a small element of the plot I have in mind, but I am having fun with it, which is the main thing. I don't think the result will be exactly fun, as the concept for this book is darker than the ones I have been writing recently. I hope it will be as gripping as I have found the research. 


Wednesday 9 August 2023

The Georgian House, Bristol

 Now that I am getting back to regular trips out/out I'm starting on the bucket list. The Georgian House in Bristol was ticked off last week. It was an interesting morning - the house is small, in a quiet street, with a view from the upstairs rooms over the city. As with so many places in Bristol the family's wealth was involved in the slave trade and exhibits in the house explained and illustrated this. The rooms are furnished in period and I was impressed by the stone staircase and the 'mod cons' including a service lift that would take food from kitchen to dining room and the cold plunge pool in the basement. Not sure I would want to sample that one, but apparently it was a habit for the owner of the house. The range in the kitchen reminded me of the much smaller version in my Grandmother's house when I was  a child. The kettle was regularly boiled on the fire and she still cooked on it on occasion - and I remember making toast with a fancy brass toasting fork! 

As I am currently working on a short story that may or may not have a ghost in it, which takes place in a similar house in Bath, I can happily claim that the whole visit was research. We didn't meet any ghosts. 

front view

back view

first floor drawing room

main bedroom

those stairs

the kitchen range

Wednesday 2 August 2023

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

 Over the last two years I have had to have the walls to the rear of the house completely replaced. Expensive and messy and time consuming - and my pots of plants did not like it at all! 

The wall between the houses was always picturesque - faded terracotta plaster and old stones. That's a shot of part of it at the top of the blog. Then, when I investigated what was under the ivy, which was getting a bit out of hand, things were not good. The wall was in danger of falling down. The ivy may have been all that was holding it up.

Well, it's gone now - replaced by a brand new set of blocks. I have to say, it looks a bit bleak at the moment. Prison yard has been mentioned. Better now the plants are back from their huddle by the dustbins, but I still miss the old one keenly. I'm trying to look forward to planning what I can do with the new look. It will happen, but at the moment, although I appreciate the workmanship, and am very grateful it is not going to fall on me, the new version is not the same.    I'm going to have to perk up and look at all those gardening books for some inspiration. It is after all, only a wall. 



Wednesday 26 July 2023

A hidden gem

 It's always interesting to find something in your local area that you didn't know about. I've recently discovered a hidden gem in Cardiff. It's a tiled corridor in the old library, which is now a local museum. 

I know a bit about the life of the library during WWII thanks to the PhD thesis, mainly about the fire watchers on the roof who operated in shifts to spot and deal with incendiary bombs that might threaten the building. Didn't know a thing about the corridor until a visit with  a friend. It's covered floor to ceiling with colourful tiles depicting the four seasons. I have a thing for Victorian tiles, so I was thrilled to find it. I took pictures, but the corridor is quite dark - probably to preserve the colours? Will it find it's way into a future book? Maybe. As I said, I have a thing for those tiles and I like to feature Victorian and Edwardian buildings in the books. One of the ones I'm currently incubating has an Arts and Crafts house. I need to do some more research about the style of the interiors of those homes - at the moment I'm researching the garden. The dates suggest it might be feasible that highly decorated tiles might feature. We will all have to wait to find out. 

The drinking fountain in the foyer
 is in the light and more visible! 

Wednesday 19 July 2023

Just a sandwich

 On my trip to London last week I took the opportunity of revisiting old haunts from the time when I lived there. It was nostalgic and interesting to see how things had changed and also stayed the same. One of the things I did was have a hot salt beef sandwich in the Brass Rail in Selfridges, in Oxford Street. Now the place is a fully fledged and busy cafe, with waiter service - when I first went there in the 1970s you could sit at the bar to eat and watch the food being prepared. It was worth buying a sandwich simply to watch the knife skills involved in chopping a gherkin - in slices but not cut right through, and very fast. I enjoyed the sandwich and the trip down memory lane. It also stirred another  memory in another city. It was during a fabulous trip to attend Thrillerfest in New York. As part of the event the FBI hosted a group of authors for a day of talks - and lunch was provided. The catering was from a local deli, including salt beef sandwiches, And very good they were too.

It was interesting to note how threads of memory linked. Making the connections that provide the elements of the plot of a book have a similar pattern - lots of small things that add up as clues and twists. Sometimes. which is really spooky, you don't discover why you did something on page sixteen that finally makes sense on page two hundred.

Even something as simple as a sandwich can carry a lot of baggage with it. Witness my salt beef and gherkin. It might be the sandwich you remember your Mum making when you got home from school. It could be a posh afternoon tea at a fancy hotel as part of a celebration. It could be a soggy specimen from a less than attractive packed lunch. 

Writing a book is all about making those connections and plumbing memory and experience - that's what makes it fascinating.  

Wednesday 12 July 2023

Visiting Hampton Court - for the flowers.


I used to be a enthusiastic attender of flower shows - then came the pandemic - but last week I treated myself to a nostalgic trip to the Royal Horticultural Society show at Hampton Court. I had an afternoon ticket but sadly it was not possible to make the trip from the station to the showground via a boat on the river this year, which was always a high spot.  When I arrived, after a lengthy walk along the river bank and through the grounds of the palace - the gravel paths were hard going, like walking on a pebble beach - I was a bit disappointed, as everything seemed to be a bit low key and very crowded as it was a public day and I usually go on a members' day - but then I found the gardens and the flower tents and everything was fine. I didn't want to carry plants on the train back to Cardiff so I took lots of pictures of plants and labels so I can order and get them delivered to the door. 

I enjoyed myself - and collected plenty of ideas for when my mostly container garden stops being a building site again. (I told you that the wall that appears in the picture at the top of the blog was coming down - when I got home from London it was gone!) What did I learn? The plant of the show seems to have been the Achillia - everyone seemed to have one in their bag, although I have to say they do nothing for me. There was the usual sprinkling of brave souls with plants that were bigger than they were. I picked out two roses I would like to try, lots of grasses and ferns and I'm going to have another try at Hostas. although that will be a running battle between me and the snails. Lilies, ditto. The overall look of the show I would say was ethereal - lots of wispy plants. meadow flowers and things beloved of insects. I fell for a stand of Angels' Fishing Rods - Dierama - which were delicate and pretty. Will have a go at those too. My ego was stoked at a stand showing agapanthus - a lot of buyers and the stall holder herself had lost plants in the winter. Mine are magnificent - more flowers than I have ever had.  Even a mystery clump of leaves that I suspected was an offshoot but which showed no sign of flowering and which I have been threatening with the compost heap  for several years has produced one flower stem - proving that is a cutting off the big white one that I brought back from Madeira a long time ago, when one was still allowed to do that sort of thing.  At the moment they are all shoved out of sight around the corner at the end of the house away from the builders, but I hope they will still look good when they finally re-emerge. 

I had a nice afternoon and I have pictures to prove it. 



Child of my Heart

Angels' Fishing Rods

The meadow look

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Posh new office set up

 Backache. Occupational hazard for writers, except this time it wasn't going away when the round of intense editing and computer hunching was over. Old age? Yes - but also time to do what I've been promising myself for a very long time - spend some serious money to get my workstation properly assessed. 

I had a visit for an assessment, a report with recommendations, ordered the kit and talked to my computer guru - thank you Simon - about the technical bits and bobs and had an expedition to Ikea for a stand to put the laptop on, which of course involved  meatballs,. but did not result in the extension of the houseplant population. I'm already severely outnumbered in that regard - the dominant species in the house is fern - or maybe orchid. Or size and age wise it's aspidistra - because they are the biggest and older than I am. 

The specially constructed chair arrived and was assembled and now I have to get used to sitting up properly to type, not slumping over the laptop. I've not yet had the nerve/time to sort out the new mouse, which looks fearsomely complicated, but we will get there. 

So - I thought I would treat you to some pix of the new set up. I intend to remodel the whole room and move the desk away from the window, but that is future plan. As the wall outside has to be demolished and rebuilt - to great expense, it is going to take more time and saving, but in the meantime, I have my new chair. Now you can envisage where the books are being produced. 

Wednesday 28 June 2023

Out and about

 June was National Crime Reading Month and Cardiff Library staged a number of events, including a whole day of talks last Saturday, arranged in conjunction with Crime Cymru and Diamond Crime. I was one of the authors and it was a fabulous day. Lots of talent on show - all with connections to Wales, even if not all the books are set there.  We had a great audience, most of whom managed to stay with us for the whole day. I was the last session, discussing Psychological Thrillers with the lovely Louise Mumford who has a brand new book out The Hotel - which sounds like it is major creepy.  Although my genre is romantic suspense there is a lot of overlap - the importance  of place, the sense of menace, the personalities of the characters ...

It was fun, we laughed and I hope the audience enjoyed it. I hope we can do it again next year. 

Confession - I snaffled the picture from the library twitter feed - so fingers crossed no one minds. 

Thursday 22 June 2023

No - I didn't forget!

 A day late and a dollar short. Sadly because of events beyond my control. My Internet connection and landline phone went down on Saturday and has only just been fixed. So no blog on Wednesday. The isolation and panic have given me a strong prompt to do something about a smart phone that would at least help with some of the problems - but I don't think I could have written a blog on one! 

Anyway. I am here now. Waiting for the builders to arrive to investigate just how bad the crumbling of the wall between my house and next door is - I pulled off some ivy and it didn't look good. It's the wall in the pic that is header for the blog, by the way. It seems as if my summer are spent on restoring expensive walls - last year it was the retaining wall that kept the back of the garden from becoming the front of the garden. We won't mention the pile of rubble that the builders next door - other way - have made of that adjoining wall. Not sure why it was knocked down when they were not ready to re-build it - but that's not my problem, thankfully. .

The lack of communication facilities made me think about the issue in relation to writers. I've been reading quite a bit of cosy crime lately, a lot of it period stuff. (Would I like to write one? Hmm. Maybe?) Time periods well before everyone (except me) had a magic phone in their pocket/handbag. In relation to crime that is a two edged sword. Research and following clues is much easier for sleuths - amateur and professional - with the internet available but it has its downside Those of us who read period stuff have probably often come across a plot that would have been settled in a few moments, and so ended the book, if someone/anyone had had a mobile phone. And how often have you heard an author complain at the lengths they have had to go to make sure their characters can't get a phone signal at a crucial moment. That always seem contrived - although if you are a regular listener to the Radio 4 Today programme you will know just how often a connection is poor or fails completely - and not just when talking to someone overseas. The presenters probably squirm, but it cheers me up - See it does happen, often. 

Anyway I am back now and life is a lot easier. I hope it stays that way!!!

Wednesday 14 June 2023

Killer tropes?

 The existence of tropes - a recurring theme or plot element -  is an accepted thing and often discussed in romance writing. Lists are made and favourites declared - friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, secret baby, marriage of convenience, fake relationship, runaway bride, only one bed ... They are an excellent shorthand to describe a book and much loved and appreciated in the romance reading community. You know what you are getting and can chose to suit mood or preference - or avoid if that doesn't happen to be your thing.

I have found some Internet discussion about whether tropes apply to crime/thrillers/mysteries and what they are, but it doesn't seem to be so often explored as is the case with romance. Or so much agreement over what the tropes might be. 

This idea of crime tropes occurred to me as I was beginning to read the latest thriller by Harlen Coben - I Will Find You. Apparently it is a story involving a prison break - and I reckon this can be called a thriller trope.  

This got me going on a few others - 

Heists -  Ocean's Eleven type plotting

Gaslighting,/coercive relationships-  domestic noir territory

Mysterious disappearances and ambiguous strangers - Are they who they say they are?   

'Treasure hunts' - tracking down everything from Nazi gold to undiscovered manuscripts written by Shakespeare. With clues!

Secrets from the past - often popularly linked to events in the two World Wars. Can involve journals, diaries, letters ...

Serial Killers - these are are so ubiquitous I'm not sure they would count 

Enclosed settings - mostly islands, with a killer lurking. Or a snowed-in house party. I'm sure I also remember reading a British Library crime classic with a snowed-in train. 

Revenge - a favourite with Jacobean playwrights. I love those plays (Yes, you already know I'm bitter and twisted) I've always wanted to write one, but I haven't yet figured out how I would do it in a romantic suspense setting. One day, maybe. 

I'm sure there are a lot more - an interesting exercise to keep an eye out for new ones. 

Wednesday 7 June 2023

The Value of Money

Reading books written as contemporary even 20 years ago can show how much the world has changed. Communications, especially mobile phones and social media are the most obvious changes, but reading an early book by one of my favourite crime writers produced a  different focus  - money. 

The classic advice for authors is to avoid mentioning specific sums. The reader can fill in the detail, with whatever amount seems reasonable to them. One woman's fortune is another woman's pin money. But sometimes it's not that easy to leave the space blank. When writing Masquerade on the Riviera I knew I had to decide on a price that would be asked for the famous Cleopatra Necklace. There was no way around it. After some long and careful thought, I settled on five million. It might be considered rather on the low side, when compared with some of the lottery wins that happen nowadays, but I thought about the character of the person making the request, what they thought they could get away with and what they thought they would need to set themselves up in a new life. Five million seemed about right, so that's the sum I chose. 

The book that prompted these reflections was Past Caring, by Robert Goddard. As I have said, he has been a favourite over the years and this was his first book. I assumed that I had already read it, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that I hadn't. The time lines of the book were interesting. Published in 1986, it was set mainly in the 1970s - understandable as the action stretched back to 1910, with characters who have seen action in the Boer War. The constraints of writing about suffragettes and First World War soldiers who were still alive but very elderly is similar to those of us who currently write about survivors from World War Two.

But I digress.

The sum of money that brought me up short was the mention of £210,000 as sufficient to ensure the continued solvency of a middle aged character at the end of the book. It was fascinating to reflect on the value then of a sum that would now barely cover the cost of a modest terraced house in an area outside London.  We'd have to be talking around a million these days, I guess, but in the early 1980s, when the book finishes, that sum must have seemed like the equivalent. It makes you think, which is always good. Genre novels often get overlooked as social history, but they've got a part to play just as much as literary and non fiction.