Wednesday 27 March 2024

But the detail is right.

 I've had a few discussions with groups of writer friends recently about books set in made up locations. Quiet a few writers I know, me included, use familiar real locations but re-invent them, with new features if necessary, to suit the story.  

One thing that I have noticed though - that even if the location is made up other details have to be as correct as possible. Which is why a fellow author has carefully researched a medical condition experienced by her heroine and why I spent half an hour earlier in the week checking out what long distance trains leave from Bristol Temple Meads station. The devil is in the detail.

Does it matter to readers? I think it does. 

I've just completed two fabulous on line courses offered by Cardiff University on historical gardens so that I can get my facts right in the WIP. For the most recent in the Riviera series Masquerade on the Riviera  I researched all things Egyptology (well, maybe not all, but a lot) because my hero was an Egyptologist and the plot turned on a cursed necklace that may or may not have been genuine. The same friend is off to Greece shortly with a list of questions to answer so she can be sure that the details of real places in her latest WIP are correct before she submits it to the publisher. Hmm - that piece of research may not be that much of a hardship - but you get the picture! 

Authors who write romance, any variety, are often accused of peddling illusions. Encouraging unrealistic expectations of life and relationships. Seeing the world through rose coloured glasses.  I think romance readers are better than that. Books are escapism. I'm unashamed of saying that about the ones I write. I think that readers understand, within certain parameters, that what they are reading is not necessarily a complete mirror of life. But the details matter. And so do emotional truths. Love, betrayal, pain of separation, joy of reunion, uncertainty, grief, achievement, simple happiness. Okay - probably not many of us are going to experience that meet-cute that sets up the romance or love at first sight, or even a marriage of convenience, but the feeling accompanying falling in love is exactly the same, whoever you are and whoever the object of your affections. If authors can get the detail right then the book is valid, however escapist the subject matter.  

Which is why we do our best to get the details right.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Written by hand

 I am a dinosaur. 

My manuscripts are written by hand for the first draft. 

I say written - after years of note taking professionally and as a student my writing now resembles a kind of short hand - or maybe hieroglyphics!  If I want anyone but me to read it I have to print. And yes, sometimes even I can't read what I have written. Apparently for writers the connection between hand and pen and the act if writing can benefit the flow of words. All I can say is, it works for me. 

Handwriting is very personal. Your signature is still your most significant distinguishing mark. Even so, my handwriting, in the days when it was more legible, resembles my mother's'- taught in the same school system, but is nothing like my father's, brought up in a different area. I have to say that coming unexpectedly across a sample of their handwriting is one of those moments that can make you catch your breath with memory.  

This post was inspired by a recent Point of View broadcast on Radio 4 by Tom Shakespeare when he was musing on the art of writing and why his own handwriting had got so bad. I can't remember what  his conclusion was, I think it was that he was not called to write very much these days. I know he mused on whether the skill of writing might be endangered. Would future generations need it? Texts, computers, audio communications - maybe not. The thought of not being able to write to express my self disturbs me a lot. 

But then I am a dinosaur. 

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Food Glorious Food

 I have been noticing lately in my reading some distinct trends in what characters in books have to eat. 

Eating is a basic human requirement so it is not unexpected that it should happen in books. It is also often linked to social activity - meeting friends, going on dates, business meetings ... so double reason for food to make an appearance. 

So - what are the most popular foodstuffs for fictional characters? Based on my own reading?



Other sugary items such as cinnamon buns 

Eggs - often but not exclusively as breakfast items, often paired with toast or with sausage. 


You can probably guess that my reading tends towards the criminal side of the spectrum and police and law enforcement all over the world seems to run on dough and sugar - pizza and donuts.  

All washed down by oceans of coffee . 

I must admit to having been guilty of feeding my character pizza on occasions, but I would never offer donuts as I don't eat them myself. I don't drink coffee either, but recognise its popularity.

When my mum was still with us she always said how much she enjoyed reading about what people in books had to eat. In her memory I always try and include some meals and give descriptions. And I find it fun. Meals in the 'Riviera' series involve a bit of research to find out what local specialities would be applicable to the location.  There is a scene in Masquerade on the Riviera that has hero and heroine having dinner on the terrace, and I had a lot of enjoyment from creating both the setting and atmosphere and the food. That book also has a full scale afternoon tea in it - also fun. And I broke the mould on the coffee by giving Elliott a partiality to Oolong tea. 

I was going to say that I haven't managed a meal yet in the WIP, but then I realised that I have, but not in the way that you might expect. That's all I'm saying for the moment. We'll all have to hope that the book makes it into print and everyone will understand. 

Wednesday 6 March 2024


 I mentioned this in a previous post. Friends and families are quite a thing in novels at the moment - especially found families - the ones you make, not the ones you are born to.

And that actually opens a whole can of worms. You have a 'new' family - what happens to the old one?

I've had several occasions when I've scratched my head  over what to do with the protagonists' parents. You can deal with siblings by not giving them any, but I had very supportive parents who would never have let me flounder around in the trouble I have dropped my hero or heroine into. This might be the reason that this bothers me when writing. I can't just ignore the parents. So, sorry, but they have to go. Divorce and loosing touch is an option, but then they are still THERE. The obvious thing is kill them off - heartless but convenient - but there are only so many fatal car crashes you can stage - and I know I wince a bit when I am reading and come across yet another one. It's a dangerous business having kids in fiction. Emigration is a possibility and I have used that for a sibling that I carelessly allowed my hero to acquire. Other than that - I've made the parents older - to allow for natural causes, I've staged a fire, a drive by shooting, an accident on an archeological dig ...

Or you can keep them around and make them a problem in themselves. I must say I have a bit of a weakness for books where the family is trying to coerce the protagonist into something and there is an on-going battle. Always good to be able to cheer for the protagonist. 

And if all else fails, there's always that fatal car crash ...