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.