strap line

AWARD WINNING AUTHOR

Writing in the Sunshine. Writing in the Shadows.


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

A Christmas thriller?

As I mentioned the week before last, I have what might become a new novella in the works. A Christmas novella. (Don't panic, it will be next Christmas.) It began with a discussion on kidnapping over lunch that started off an idea, and as it was coming up to Christmas that seemed a good time to set it. (Atmosphere and all that.) And snow will be involved. Which is a bit of a surprise, as I do not like snow very much. But it will mean that I might get one of those pretty glittery snowy covers that Christmas books always have. I will try not to get bloodstains on it. As it is my hero who is getting kidnapped there had better not be any blood - or at least, not much.

So, I have a bit of a challenge going on. Romantic suspense is not generally the first thing you think of in relation to Christmas spirit. Cosy crime seems to get away with it, and ghost stories are part of the Christmas tradition, but thrillers? We're back to that body count again. I'm also determined that it will be a novella - 30,000 to 40,000 words, as I have other stuff I want to do, like getting back to a full length romantic suspense, not to mention the day job. But I'm wondering if that is enough for a thriller? I have a gut feeling that a true thriller takes a bit longer to develop. A novella? Too much menace too soon and it's horror, not enough and its crime rather than suspense?

Anyway. I am going to have a go. I have an interesting hero and heroine and a four year old, and a cat, and  a lot of snow, which is a surprise to them as it was to me.

And Devlin from Never Coming Home is going to make a cameo appearance. 

And there is going to be a helicopter ...

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Winter Solstice

Less of the dark ...
Today is the Winter Solstice. If you're in the northern hemisphere today is the shortest day, longest night. Once it's passed. it's all down hill until the sun comes back. I, for one, am very grateful for this, as I hate the short, cold and dark days of winter, despite my fondness for writing dark stories. When I mentioned on Facebook recently that this would be the shortest day and I would be pleased when it had come and gone, a lot of people 'liked' and commented, so I am not alone in looking forward to the return of the light.

... and more of the blue sky and sunshine!
Which is not to say that the Solstice does not have a certain fascination. Old Celtic customs, ceremonies, and celebrations of the dying of the year, often involving light and fire, have their attraction. It's a time of transition too. And any kind of border, in place or time, is potentially interesting to a writer - sites of change and possible peril. Advice to would-be writers often suggests that the protagonist of the book should be at a point of change in their lives, and if you write the dark, spooky stuff then ancient lore and magic adds to the atmosphere. You're plugging into something that has a long history and trails it's own echoes with it. And of course there are the stone circles - Stonehenge being the most notable - which are aligned to the Winter Solstice.  It's remarkable that there was sufficient precision all those thousands of years ago to make that happen. Stone circles are a mystery in themselves - not least how they were transported and raised, so it's not surprising that they still have a deep seated pull, even in 2016. I'm sure there were the usual druid groups at the stones this morning when the sun came up.

Wales is quite good for folklore and atmosphere and amongst the (many) plans I have for future books there is a series that will have some of those overtones - or should it be undertones - build into them. I'm looking forward to writing them, but it won't be for a while yet, unfortunately. In the meantime, there is research, which is always fun, even if it does come with short days attached.



Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Using the Experience

Atmosphere and emotion.
As you know, I don't put real people in my books, or situations lifted from real life, if I can help it. Writing romantic suspense, a lot of it has to come out of my imagination, so it's not a problem. What I do use is ideas and experiences.

Like the very long lunch a week or so ago with some friends, in which we discussed kidnapping someone. Yes - we're writers, this is what lunch is all about. The idea sort of stuck, and by the time I was on the train home I had an idea for a novella - I hope it will be a novella - that begins with a kidnapping. The hero is the chosen victim, which is going to be fun, if rather uncomfortable for him. I've actually already written the first bit, and it was very enjoyable. So, there you go. I'm weird. But you know that. 

And last week I was at the Millennium Centre for a matinee of Kiss Me Kate - Cole Porter's fabulous music, which I have been humming ever since, especially the rather heartbreaking love song, So In Love. And that's going in a book, too, as I realised that it spoke to me about the hero of the full length romantic suspense that I'm hoping to get to next year. He's a musician with a baby grand piano in his hall - it's a big hall -  and of course he ends up playing the song and thinking of the heroine. Which is me being sentimental, not weird. Maybe one day I'll get to use I Hate Men too, but that's for another day and another story!

So - it's writing what you know, but it's not about simply lifting something out of real life, at least, not for me. Overheard conversations give me rhythms of speech, not the words, songs give the emotions - and that's a key. How does it make you feel?

For me, that's what writing is about.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Can I come to the ball?

It probably hasn't slipped your notice that authors and publishers are promoting their Christmas releases. Lots of seasonal stories to be enjoyed at this time of the year - and given as gifts. Very important, that. Significant dates in the calendar - Mother's day, Valentine's, Christmas - they are all times to gently, and maybe not so gently, suggest that the present of a book is a Good Thing.

Which gives me a problem. When I write romantic suspense I'm a bit more difficult to invite to the party. You might take me on holiday, but a high body count is not considered the Right Thing for a romantic or sentimental occasion. Even though they do have a love story involved. So I'm left out in the cold, with my nose pressed up against the window, watching everyone else have fun. (And sales) Awwww!


But, I hope, not any more. Now that I have branched out and have begun to write lighter stuff as well as the dark, I'm hoping that will change. You will. of course, be kept up to date on progress. Then can I come to the party?

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Playing for Time


Time can be an issue for authors. I don't just mean getting time to write and do all the other stuff, but time as it appears in books. Even in Shakespeare it causes trouble. There is much academic debate about the fact that in the play Othello the short time span, only a few days and nights, does not allow for the wholesale infidelity of which Desdemona is accused. I always assumed that the play was just showing us scenes over a longer time-span, but what do I know?

Authors have to make decisions - is the time in the book going to be realistic or a little more, shall we say, fluid? And I don't mean the horror of your editor pointing out that you have just invented the week with three Tuesdays in it. Should characters age in real time? This can be a problem if you start something that subsequently becomes a long running series and your protagonist starts to get closer to retirement - or would in the real world.

It's slippery stuff too, when you have your characters travelling and you have to make sure they have sufficient time to do it. I've had fun with airline time tables and myriad notes on bits of paper on that one.

At the moment time is giving me pause for thought in two ways. I've hunted up the thriller I was writing in 2015, before life got out the sandbags, and I think I can do something with it. (Jacobean revenge drama, by way of Romeo and Juliet and Beauty and the Beast) But the time line is all over the place, so there is going to have to be some major re-organising before it goes much further.

The other time issue is a bit more subtle. As you know, I am really hoping that I will have a new rom/com novella out in 2017. And the novella I have just finished is next in series. It has a long way to go before it makes it to publication, if it ever does, but should it come out in say, 2018, there will be the matter of some characters carrying on with their lives in the meantime and the book being about 2½ years after the first one. You see the problem? As the plot is going to require a hefty suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, I think the timing may have to go the same way.

But that's a challenge for another day.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Party time

We scrub up good!
(Thanks to  Lynda Stacey for the photo.)


I got out of the Ivory Tower again last week - this time for a trip to LONDON. (Squeals of delight in background.)

A little trip that included many of my favourite things:


  • Staying at a nice hotel (no bed making, full English breakfast and NO WASHING UP)

  • Wandering over Waterloo Bridge at dusk,  with all the new skyscrapers in the city lit up, and St Paul's lurking like a ghost in the background. (OK, yes it was raining, but the Xmas market was in full swing on the South Bank, so it felt cosy and warm, in spite of the weather.) 

  • Going to parties in posh places (Author Trisha Ashley's lunch time get together at the top of Waterstones in Piccadilly and the RNA Winter party, plus the annual Industry Awards, at the Royal Overseas League)

  • Getting together with other Choc-lit authors and hearing about some exciting plans our publisher has for 2017. (You'll be the first to know, I promise. 😍)

  • An exhibition at the National Gallery - Beyond Caravaggio. (Some memorable art, but also research. I know I keep threatening it, but there is going to be a book with a 'lost' Caravaggio in it one day, I promise that too.)


All in all I had a very good time, but am now very tired. Lots of sleeping going on. Back to normal next week, I hope.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Getting out of the Ivory Tower.

And we wore our Choc-lit tee shirts.

I spent last Thursday afternoon at Ystrad Mynach library, in the company of Christina Courtney and Chris Stovell, doing a Q&A session. We were there as part of the celebrations for the re-opening of the library after refurbishment. And very good it looks too.

Not the stuff of romance?
We had a lot of fun, so I hope the audience did as well. The downside of the job is that writers don't get out much, so any opportunity to see a bit of the outside world is a bonus. There was chocolate, and lots of  chat about writing books, from choosing genres to undertaking research. Christina brought some of the costumes that the heroines of her Japanese novels would have worn. Somehow I didn't manage to get a photograph. Probably too busy talking. Or eating chocolate. Chris Stovell also illustrated the type of gear her heroines (who are quite likely to be involved with sailing, in her fictional coastal town of Little Spitmarsh) might wear. In the British climate you can give up on romantic images of bikini clad girls reclining on the gleaming deck - you are much more likely to be battling the elements in waterproofs and life jackets. The skill is making that the stuff of romance. I didn't have any costumes or props, so had to talk about visiting museums and art galleries instead.

The audience was great, getting involved and asking questions. Kath from The Nut Press brought Sqizzy, the famous squirrel muse, along. That's him, in his kimono, sitting on Christina's knee. There were refreshments supplied by the library. And did I mention chocolate?

It would be lovely to get the chance to do it again sometime.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Library Talk at Ystrad Mynach

If you are around the area of Ystrad Mynach Library on 10th November and fancy an afternoon of books and romance, three Choc-lit authors will be there, talking about Heroes, Heroines and Happy Endings. That would be me, Christine Stovell and Christina Courtenay.
The event is part of the celebration of the refurbishment of the library and is from 2pm until 4 pm. It is free, but you need a ticket. To find out more contact the Caerphilly library service -01443 812988 or libystr@caerphilly.gov.uk

 We'll be wearing our pink Choc-lit tee shirts and talking about writing books.








I expect Christina will mention her new time slip, The Velvet Cloak of Moonlight, which is partly set in Wales and features some of the history of Raglan Castle.
 (Christina also has a pocket novella out too, Marry for Love)





Chris Stovell has a new pocket edition of her novella, Only True in Fairy Tales just out, which is a contemporary romance.


Me? I don't have a new book to talk about. Awww! Not a published one, anyway, but I have high hopes for something in 2017.

Do join us, if you can. We'd love to see you.
 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Writing The End on a Manuscript


Well, people, this is a new book. Actually it might be a new novella - as you can see I write longhand, so word counts can get a bit slippery until there is a typed version. At the moment I think it is about 66,000 words, so it is a biggish novella.

But whatever it turns out to be, IT IS NEW WORK. The first since caring, bereavement, surgery and all the other joys that life can throw at you erupted and took my mind to other places.

It's not a thriller - I haven't been able to contemplate something dark for a while, although I have some partial manuscripts in the tin chest. Thanks to some lovely encouragement from the Romantic Novelists' Marcher Chapter at a recent workshop, I think one of them is going to be the next in the frame - thank you ladies. I also have to get back to the day job.

Right now, this minute, there is this romantic comedy, or whatever it is, currently titled  A Wedding on the Riviera, which kind of gives you an idea of what it might be about. It's a follow on from the light novella that has got gummed in the works (See above) but which I hope will be out some time in 2017.

As you can see from the picture, there is going to be some work going on before it is allowed out on it's own. If it ever is. I've loved keeping company with Nadine and Ryan, and had a lot of fun, and some angst, with them on the Riviera and in Paris, but I have to tell you that this is the one with the very outlandish plot. It may be that the powers that be decide that it is a bit too outlandish. We shall see.

In the meantime it has got me back to writing again, and given me the boost of finishing a manuscript, which I haven't had in a long time, so I will always be grateful to it.

Otherwise?

Who knows?

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

You and not you.

Having your books translated into another language is a strange experience. Something that has your name on it, but which you can't read. So you don't know exactly what is inside. 


My books are already in Italian, with interesting but somewhat different covers from the English language ones. And different titles too. Never Coming Home is Disappearance and Out of Sight Out of Mind is Lost Identity.

Now my publisher Choc-Lit has teamed up with Norwegian publisher Cappelen Damm, who will be launching Choc Lit in Norway in 2017. Cappelen Damm will be releasing nine Choc Lit titles in 2017 with roll out in to 2018. And Never Coming Home is one of them. It's exciting and an honour to be one of the ones chosen to be part of this, and I'm really looking forward to seeing my first cover in Norwegian. Still won't be able to read what's inside though!



Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Visiting the Society of Antiquaries

The 'day job' can sometimes get me into interesting places, which is how I came to be at a seminar with other PhD students at Burlington House, which is the London home of the Society. It is an amazing place full of all sorts of treasures, and a wonderful library which I hope to be exploring further at some stage in the future. The Society also looks after Kelmscott Manor in the Cotswolds which is the former home of Pre-Raphaelite  William Morris - so I'm putting that one on the agenda for next summer, when the house is again open to the public. In the meantime, back to Burlington House. Apart from the library, the house is full of quirky treasures and paintings - things that have been acquired and donated by collectors since the Society began in 1707. The various lectures and talks we enjoyed during the day have given me ideas for my research and also the stirrings of what might turn themselves into thriller plots at some stage in the future. We shall see.

Serendipity was at work at the start of the day - I had an overnight in a nearby hotel and on the wall in the street outside was a blue plaque for Sir Mortimer Wheeler, an archaeologist who was a TV personality when I was very young. I vaguely remembered a luxuriant moustache. His name turned up an hour or so later, as one of the Fellows of the Society.  The kind of slightly edgy coincidence that gets the brain going - or it does, if you are a thriller writer.

Remembering my recent research into Richard III (See the post for 28th September) I was interested in seeing the earliest portrait of him, and the Bosworth Cross, which is said to have been recovered from the battlefield where it was used by Richard in religious services. Both are among the Societies treasures. I was expecting to have to ask nicely to see them but the portrait was on display on the wall of the room where most of the talks took place and the Cross was in a glass case in the foyer. Which rather sums up the kind of place it is - a building with fascination stuff on display on every floor.

I had a wonderful day - even though the journey home was horrendous as the Severn Tunnel is closed and on top of nearly an hour for an extra  trip around Gloucester the train was 40 minutes late.

While the Society's London premises are not open to the public on a casual basis, you can book to have a paid tour and they have an active programme of free public lectures on a wide variety of topics. If you are into history and archaeology, well worth a look. And you get a peek inside the building.

This is a link to their site, if you want to explore further. HERE

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Mirror, mirror


Another of the Cardiff University monthly public lectures - this time one of my favourite lecturers, folklore expert Juliette Wood - talking about mirrors. Not just for seeing yourself in, but for divination and magic.

We got a whistle stop tour through natural surfaces, water, polished stones, to polished metal and then to the invention of mercury mirrors and on from there, and including superstitions such as the many variations about looking in mirrors and seeing a future spouse.

One of the things about attending a lecture is that it sparks ideas, and/or points out connections you might not have made. Something I learned - the frequency of mirrors, or materials that were probably used as mirrors, in ancient burials - and their probable magical significance. And that these occur all over the world, from Europe to Japan.

The other thing that I particularly took away was the incidence of mirrors in art. One of those things you kind of knew, but had never really thought about. The Pre-Raphaelites and Caravaggio were highlighted, and as I'm a fan of both and have dark plans to involve their art in some future books, this was one of my bonuses of the evening. Apart from enjoying myself, of course. I'm an especial fan of John William Waterhouse and he has quite a lot of slightly sinister stuff, involving mirrors and water and divination with themes from myths and fairy stories and legends.

I made notes, and am looking forward to using them in the future.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The love/hate of cover reveals.

 Cover reveal day - the first big date in the life of a book.

It has already been quite a journey to get to this point - writing the damn thing - and at this stage, the love can be spread very thin - then editing it, then all the process of getting it ready for the reader. And now it passes out of the author's hands - your baby is flying, or maybe fleeing, the nest.

Ask most authors and they will confirm that getting a good looking cover is a very important part of a book's success. Probably the first thing that prompts a reader to take the book from the shelf or track it down on digital or audio platforms. And the cover is very often something that is entirely beyond the author's control. A self published author has more autonomy, but there are still the issues of conveying a mood to a chosen artist, and paying for it. For those in the hands of a publisher - well, the industry abounds with horror stories of incorrect setting, time periods, hair colours, mood, even of authors not even seeing their cover until it is already in the public domain. My two so-far published books have fabulous covers - thanks to the talented Berni Stevens - and I know my publishers work hard on getting the right look.

Then, once you have this perfect cover - one that totally conveys the experience the reader is going to get when they open the book - then it has to be announced to the world. Cover reveal day - the day when the book becomes 'real'.  Lots of social media - maybe some posts with bloggers, maybe even an on-line event - everyone loves a party. I haven't had a new cover to celebrate for a while, but I am hoping - and I know it will be fun, and a bit scary. A day to love and hate? What if no one else likes it? And they say so? Probably worse, what if no one notices it? Like I said, fun and scary.

I was prompted to write this post by a brilliant cover reveal from Nicola Cornick - who writes historical/time slip. The books are great, and the new cover for The Phantom Tree is beautiful. But the way it was revealed, in the form of a jigsaw, was brilliant. I'm impressed and, of course, a bit green with envy.

I'll put in a link, so you get the idea and see the lovely cover - unfortunately, as I've completed the puzzle, I can't get it to unscramble itself, so you can  play too. Defeated by technology!

HERE













Wednesday, 28 September 2016

On the trail of a king

I talked last week about research. Last weekend I had a really good time doing some.

It began with a romantic suspense that I have about  a quarter completed, but which got overtaken by life and stuff. I'd actually got to a bit where the heroine is spending a few days exploring the UK before facing something big and rather traumatic - but I'm not telling you about that, 'cos it's a major spoiler!

Anyway, I was thinking about the places she might go and at the time the re-interment of Richard III at Leicester was in the news and I had a light bulb moment - well, maybe a small candle, but still a moment. So - having picked up a copy of Josephine Tey's  Daughter of Time - which, incidentally, is the book that made me a Ricardian - my heroine decides to visit some of the sites related to Richard.

The romantic suspense got gummed in the works at about that point, but I knew that if and when it ever re-started some on-the- ground research would be called for. I'd been to York and seen locations there, but I wanted the Bosworth battle site where he fought and died, and the brand new stuff for the king they rediscovered buried under a municipal car park. I put organising that in the forward plan. Sometime.

Then, when I was beginning to wonder about the story again, and if and how I was going to restart work on it, the question of that necessary research came up. And  I found that the Travelsphere company was offering the exact weekend that I needed. So I spent last weekend in Leicester, in the company of eleven lovely ladies and one brave gentleman, and ably and enthusiastically led by Min, the tour manager, looking at all the places my heroine is going to visit. And, of course, talking pictures. These are a few of them.

The banners of Richard III and Henry VII on the hill overlooking the battle field.
A view down to where it is now thought the battle of Bosworth, where Richard died, took place. 
The new tomb - 
- which is in Leicester Cathedral
Commemorative stone on display at the visitors' centre where you can see the excavated grave site. 




Wednesday, 21 September 2016

It's all research.

Writers will often tell you how much they enjoy research - the chance to feel that you are working, while not having to do any of that - you know - pesky writing stuff. So talking, or blogging, about research is probably well up there, even higher on the procrastination chart.  Writers are also magpies - at least, this one is - collectors of odd facts and experiences. Who knows, they might come in useful some day - maybe they'll even meld themselves into a book, somewhere in the back of the subconscious and re-emerge as something different entirely.

I couldn't find anything that said archaeology,
so used this instead. Pretty, isn't it?

Being an academic at heart, I favour books, lectures and exhibitions for gathering my research material. Sometimes because I know that I want to use the subject matter, sometimes just - because. And even better if they are free. Which is why the series of monthly lectures put on by Cardiff University in collaboration with the Historical Association called Exploring the Past has strong attractions. Okay, so some of them can be a bit specialist - topics probably only an historian could love - but the 2016/17 series kicked off last week with a talk from Doctors Oliver Davis and Dave Wyatt about the Caerau Iron Age Hill  Fort, which is in the Ely area of Cardiff and which is being excavated as funds are available. Apparently in the past it has featured on Time Team, so you may know about it already.   

I wasn't looking for anything in particular this time. Just interesting things about my corner of Wales. I learned about the way that the community is being involved in the work on the site, and how local people have really got behind the project and become part of it, especially the local schools. And also about some of the finds that have been made during different digs, all the way from Neolithic to Roman. As regulars will know, I have all sorts of plans bubbling for books that involve my part of Wales, so archaeological information is very useful indeed. I'm pretty sure it will find it's way into a book at some stage, although it will probably be a site of my own invention. So that I can mess with it at my leisure. As you do, when you're a writer. But always good to know that what you are messing with has a basis in facts.

Who knows, maybe I'll have a hero who is an archaeologist. (Indiana Jones, anyone?) More probably a dead body found in an excavation trench, knowing me. It all depends what the sub conscious has a fancy for at the time.

It was an excellent lecture to start the series and I'm looking forward to attending a few more, during the winter. Who can tell where they might lead?

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

It's Autumn now.


Despite T.S Elliot's views on the cruelty of April, the month I dislike most is September. A lot of it is personal. Many of my loved ones have left me in September, so the month is a succession of sad anniversary dates. But I dislike it too, as it's the start of autumn. The weather may be having a last stab a pretending summer is here, and don't think I'm not grateful for that, but I know it won't last. April is spring and light and possibilities. September means that winter is coming. Cold, dark, wet. You can talk all you like about falling leaves and roaring fires and hot chocolate - it doesn't do it for me. I don't even like Christmas that much. Although by then it does mean that the nights have begun to get shorter again.

So that's me - spring and summer for definite. Which is why it's a bit of a surprise that several of the ideas I have in mind at the moment are set in the autumn. This may be something to do with general mood - see loss of loved ones above, but it's also connected to wanting to use legends and traditions and some Welsh spooky stuff as atmosphere. And the time around Halloween seems good for that. This is in the romantic suspense part of my brain, which has not been active lately, but which is beginning to show signs of revival of interest.

Before that there will, I hope, be two summer novellas. NOT romantic suspense. Sunshine, holidays, the Riviera, food, wonderful scenery, beautiful houses. Did I say sunshine?

I seem to be developing a light and dark side. A summer/winter persona? Which is not to say that the romantic suspense will not go back to menace in the sun. Wales does have sunshine, and fabulous beaches, and countryside, and castles, and atmosphere. It's not all rain. At least, not all the time :)

And not all the ideas are set in Wales. I still have ideas that involve Italy, and London, and maybe Greece?

What I need now is the stamina to write all the things happening in my head.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Swotting up on Shakespeare.



As it's the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death this year, as you would expect, there have been a lot of Bard-themed events going on. I've managed to get to two of the exhibitions - not for long, as being still convalescent I find can't stay on my feet for too long. But long enough. Both of them were libraries, both involved books - folios and first editions - the kind of thing that gives you a buzz, even behind glass. Well, it does me.

The first was at the British Library - one of my favourite haunts for the 'day job'. That one was all about Shakespeare in performance - photos and costumes as well as those books. A bit scary when I found that I'd actually seen more than one of the 'historic' performances on show. But I did start my love affair with Shakespeare at a very young age. My Mum said I was about three, and I take her word for it. It was on the TV and I think it was Julius Caesar - I was probably fascinated by all the men wearing bed sheets. 

But I digress. The second exhibition was Shakespeare's Dead, in Oxford, all about, as you might have guessed, the ways in which Shakespeare handles the portrayal of death and it's prevalence in the plays, even the comedies. As you can imagine, as I have a tendency towards littering the scene with corpses in my own literary efforts, I was especially drawn to that one. My most recent work - and there has been some recent work, I'm glad to say - has been much lighter stuff, but I'm beginning to hanker after something with a Jacobean body count again. So that's a watch this space moment. And I really enjoyed that Oxford exhibition - ideas to think about. I've always wanted to write a modern revenge plot. It's not happened yet, but it will, I'm sure. 

And what about something with all those ghosts ...

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Mystery and Crime in Oxford


The weekend before last I crossed something off one of my bucket lists. If you are a list maker you will understand that one list is never enough. If you're not, just trust me on this.

I finally got myself organised to attend the annual crime fiction weekend held at St Hilda's College, Oxford every August for the last 23 years. And I had a wonderful time. Good company, good food and fascinating speakers, including Lee Child and Martin Edwards, along with excellent organisation and a well stocked bookshop, provided by Blackwells. I cheated a bit and stayed in an hotel rather than the full student experience. I don't do shared bathrooms if I can help it, so I had the best of both worlds. 

Despite having the conference on my radar, and that list, for quite a while, I didn't know what to expect. The format was different from that of all the other crime conferences I've attended, on both sides of the Atlantic. No author panels, but instead individual speakers each giving a paper on a chosen topic - the theme of the weekend was genre and crime, so there was everything from clerical crime to historical crime to crime and humour. No romantic suspense, but you can't have everything, and what there was was enthralling. This being Oxford (which seems to be a catchphrase of the conference) the style leaned towards the academic with comprehensive research. Love of the subject came thorough from everyone in a totally accessible way, that gave food for thought and increased the 'To be read' pile on a grand scale. All the speakers were fabulous, but I have to admit that Chris Ewan sharing his burglarising research (He writes the 'Good Thief' books as well as stand alone thrillers.) was a highlight for me. And I bet I'm not the only one looking up 'shims' on the Internet. I shall also treasure Lee Child's revelations about his writing methods - basically the story unfolds to him as a story and his response to any queries from his editor about possible changes is to insist that how it is written is how it happened. All the authors in the audience were storing that one away for future use. Sadly, I suspect that you may have to be Lee Child for it to work.     

The audience was international, readers and writers. I saw old friends and I made a few new friends whom I hope I will meet again. And I sandwiched in a whistle stop tour of the Pitt Rivers Museum, which is research for a very future book. And also a fascinating Shakespeare exhibition - but more of that next week. All in all a lovely weekend - I think you can tell, from all the superlatives.

Now I really want to go again next year.

Lee Child's talk was live streamed and you may still be able to catch it HERE



Wednesday, 24 August 2016

You can have a starring role.

You'll have seen the tee shirts and the mugs and all the other stuff - you know the ones 'Be careful, or I'll put you in my novel' And I know some people do that. Base their characters on people from real life.

Me?

No way!

I'd be much too scared that someone would recognise themselves and take offence, Or worse. Besides which, my characters tend to arrive with their own personalities - not exactly fully formed, but knowing who they are, and not afraid to tell me about it.

An awful lot of authors also auction the chance to be named for a character in a book - again I'd be a bit nervous. What if the recipient didn't like who I'd chosen to make them? But then, I'm the nervous sort.

Which is not to say that I don't do a little cannibalising, here and there. Clothes - I might borrow them, although usually they are from my own wardrobe, or former wardrobe - or maybe my 'I wish' wardrobe.

But the thing I'm most guilty of 'borrowing.'?

Cars.



I don't own one, so they are a bit of an unknown quantity. My usual ploy is to decide what my character would drive then go on a hunt to find one in the metal, as it were. Supermarket car parks are very good for this. Not sure what the CCTV makes of it, but the cops have not come knocking on the door yet. I got a bit stymied when I wanted a Bentley. For that I had to go to the posh show rooms and prowl, while looking as if I could really afford one. I got a very nice Porche out of that trip too, so it was time well spent.

So - I won't put you in my book. But I might steal your car.


Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Twisted plotting



Following on from last week - on holiday reading, I bet that there's at least one novel billed as a 'psychological thriller' in your holiday choice, as they seem to be the thing at the moment.

I like the twisty stuff too - to write and to read - although I like a shot of romance as well, to lighten the dark stuff. I can never decide whether I like to have some idea what is going on - to be able to follow the clues, or whether I'd rather to be completely in the dark. Both, I think, depending on the mood. It's very gratifying to have an inkling of what might be going on, and be proved right.

One thing I have noticed though, about the ones that come in the 'totally mystified' category, very often I can remember the plot later, but not the ending. Now this may be reading too fast - so intent on getting to the end that you're still reading at 3 am, Sometimes though, dare I say it, I think the ending doesn't live up to what has gone before - rather a damp squib - and that's why I don't remember. A case of the journey being more gratifying than the destination?

They say that the end of a book sells you the next one by the same author, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who has jogged along with a book and found that the last 50 pages are more exciting than the rest.

Ideally it should be both, of course. I think that's where the advantages of having that shot of romance is useful - two chances at a satisfactory conclusion. But you do have to get all your strands running together. Twisty plot and twisty love story.

It's a hard life ....

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Reading it all.



It's that time of the year. You know - holidays - when people get the chance to READ. Hands up who hasn't had to re-pack the suitcase because the books in it were preventing it being lifted off the ground? Electronic devices go some way to helping out with that, but there's always the nagging doubt - what if something happens to the thingy?  It doesn't like the local electricity. There is no local electricity. It gets stolen. Or maybe, in the way of electrical devices it suddenly and mysteriously dies for no reason ...

I bet you pack the old fashioned books too.

I've been reading a lot lately - convalescence, not holidays, unfortunately, but still enjoyable. I've also been thinking, sometimes, about the construction of what I've been reading. Author stuff - like - 'How does that work?' Point of view, chapter length, that sort of stuff.

One thing I have heard said recently is that some people never read prologues. Now we're all different, but this to me seems like not watching the first five minutes of the film or TV series. The author put it there for a reason, so it must have some use. Is the theory that it is back story and the author is too lazy or maybe  too incompetent to be able to include it in the body of the book - or to make the decision  not to include it at all? I don't know, but I read them. and write  them too. Epilogues don't seem to get the cold shoulder quite so much. Everyone likes to know what happened after the official end of the story, it appears. By now, as a reader, you are invested in the outcome, so you want to carry on?

Some people don't read descriptions of scenery. One thing  I don't read are descriptions of dreams - they never seem to advance the story to me, but that's me.

We all have our likes and dislikes.


Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Stuff I like to put in books.

Write what you know. We've all heard that. But what about writing what you like? I mean things you like, not 'What you like.' Oh - you know what I mean!

I like to read and write romantic suspense, and lately some of the lighter holiday style stuff too - although it always has a crime in it.

But what about the other stuff? The small things?


I found myself making a list again.

  • Food - you know that already
  • Art - usually stealing it, but art is art, right?
  • Gardens. 
  • Old buildings - anything from castles to churches to standing stones - or maybe standing stones should be a category on their own?
  • Trains - you knew that too.
  • Sunny places.
  • Shopping
  • Galleries and museums
  • Hotels and restaurants
  • Books - and bookshops. And libraries.
  • Clothes - and shoes. 
  • Plays and theatrical stuff. And theatres.
  • Magic and illusions
  • The sea and the beach.
  • Spooky places - although I don't actually like them, except in my imagination, to write about. 

Some of those would make a plot of a book, some are incidentals - helping with the atmosphere. Could I make a book with all of them in? Maybe. 

I think it might turn out to be one of those exercises where you try to get a word like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious into a report for work. All right, yes, it can be done But why? 

I can guarantee that some of them will be in future books, Because that's what I like.

And there's no point in writing if you don't enjoy it. 


Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Trains and boats and planes.


I don't drive. Which means I rely on public transport. A lot. Which has it's good side, as I can write on trains and eavesdrop/people watch on buses. And shiver and clutch at the seats on airplanes. Not keen on flying. But it is a crash course in fear, which can be useful when you write romantic suspense.

I found a book in the library on rail journeys in Britain yesterday, and am having great fun planning trips and the books to go with them.  Which got me thinking about transport in general, and how it can be romantic and scary. Chases across moving roofs,mysterious strangers, murders in first class compartments,dining cars, sleeping cars, steam locomotives.

So here is my short list of 'transport' books I'd one day like to write.

I wish.


  • Something involving the London underground. Dis-used tunnels and all that. 
  • Sleeper train. The Orient Express for preference, but the Riviera Express (Cornwall) or the Caledonian (Scotland) would be perfectly fine too.
  • Anything set on a cruise ship.
  • Something set on the former transatlantic liner Queen Elizabeth, as I've been on that one.  
  • The Welsh train lines, And Scotland too, please. And the line that runs along the Marches. And the Isle of Man. 
  • Steam trains - either nostalgia or time slip, Or both?
  • I don't do long bus journeys as I get bus sick, but I can manage to get up to the Brecon Beacons, so that's going in a book one day.
I'm sure I could think of more, but that's enough to keep me busy for about 10 years. 




Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Nostalgia in Lancaster


The Romantic Novelists' Association held their annual conference in Lancaster the weekend before last. You may have noticed the photos and reports sloshing around the internet - serious talks and not so serious pics of people holding wine glasses. I went, and yes, thank you, I had a wonderful time. Not without it's sad moments, as last year I only made it to 4 am on Sunday morning. That was when the call came to tell me that mum was in intensive care again. I know she would be pleased that I stayed the course this time.

Anyway, this is my conference post, but not talks and wine glasses. The trip to Lancaster was one I wanted to make, not just for the conference, but because it was where I was at university - as an undergraduate and later as a post graduate. And no - I am not going to tell you when, as we all know that I am not a day over 35 and you might get strange ideas about the way I do maths. 

A lot has changed in the time between then and now. A LOT. Like - er -  most of the campus was not in the same place. And the bits that were still there were different. Which is making me think about the passage of time, and about memory, which is a concept that has interested me ever since reading Pinter for school exams. My walks around the campus were a useful aide memoir of things to look for if you are writing in two (or maybe more) time periods.


  • Lifestyle changes - residence blocks demolished and rebuilt as students now expect en-suite rather than communal showers and toilets.
  • Nature - shrubs and bushes don't stand still as years pass.
  • Some things are less likely to change - nature again - hills and rivers. And large infrastructure - motorways and bridges. A view might be different, but the bones probably remain the same. 

I'm sure it will come out in a book someday. Or more than one. Or maybe it already has?
In the meantime, here is my picture gallery. 

View out of my bedroom window.
The new version of Cartmel College.
Um - it used to be on the other end of the campus. 
Those with exceptional eyesight will just be able to make out the rabbit in the top left corner of the grass. This was nostalgia - they would be having breakfast every morning when I opened my curtains.  
Furness College. Where I used to live.
The residence blocks have been replaced and my  department - history -  is not there any more either.
The bar is in the same place!
I seem to remember this bit of the campus was grass with a few saplings.
I think the trees have grown just a bit. 
The view. Still green, with a small stretch of motorway visible. I used to like to see the lights from the traffic when going home in the dusk by way of the back road around the campus. The perimeter is a lot longer now!

   

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Considering fairy tales

Genre fiction writers love tropes - or their readers love tropes. I just looked up the definition - 'significant or recurring theme'. In crime that's probably the serial killer, the hard bitten detective with the broken life, the chalk and cheese crime fighting duo. In romance, readers apparently love friends-to-lovers, hidden babies, marriages of convenience. And then there are the fairy tales.

The setting for that fairy tale romance?
There seems to be a whole sub genre re-working those themes. And why not? All the stuff of romance is there. How often have you encountered the Beauty and the Beast theme as the reclusive, maimed and sometimes disfigured hero, and the woman who saves him from himself? These days he's likely to be an army veteran and the heroine can be anything, as long as she is nosey and determined. And then there's Cinderella. It may not have anything corresponding to the glass slipper, but rags to riches is a favourite theme. Red Riding Hood - all those 'nasty stuff in the woods' books - vampires, werewolves and things that go bump, or growl, in the night?

I haven't thought of  one to correspond to Jack and the Beanstalk yet, but there's probably something. And a modern Aladdin, with something supernatural in the mix?

It doesn't have to be the full story either The bad fairy or wicked step mother can be translated into 'the other woman' - the predatory ex girlfriend, the demanding ex wife, maybe even the overbearing (bad fairy) boss. And villains? Writers love creating villains, so they might not need role models, but every good fairy story has to have one.

As you can guess, I've have a so-far unfulfilled urge to write a modern fairy story. I've got a romantic suspense with a reclusive hero who has survived a car crash, but it's not quite fairy tale stuff.

One day.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Always eating?

The novella I've been banging on about - you know, the one I'm messing about with, when I should probably be doing something else - the one with the con trick and the weddings? Well, I noticed, when I picked it up and was about to write another scene and someone had a coffee cup in their hand - these people are always eating and drinking. 


A number of scenes have a group of friends meeting on a project outside their regular work, and my instinct, when I get them together, is to feed them. Makes sense to me, as it is probably what would happen in real life, and gives me a lot of fun deciding what they are going to eat. And will it have garlic in it? I like books that have descriptions of food in them, but I am wondering if I am getting a bit over the top with this one so no more food, at least for the next few chapters.

But it made me think about things people like to read, and standing in the books aisle of the supermarket I realised that I am not alone. Have you seen how many books have food in the titles - or revolve around the hospitality industry? Admittedly the most popular food groups seem to be cupcakes or baking of some sort, not garlic bread and pasta, but still food.  And a lot seem to have 'cafe' or 'hotel', or sometimes 'guest house', in the title. Closely followed by 'cottage'. Which tends to conjure up images of cream teas in the garden and hot chocolate by the log fire, but that might just be
me. The hospitality industry is missing a trick, not giving all us authors unlimited access to their
wares, strictly for research purposes. But that might just be me, too.


The image of those words - cafe, hotel, guest house - are they actually aspirational? Do they all evoke ideas of community, holiday, escape, time out, chance to reflect, to change, to sample another lifestyle, to meet new people? I don't know. Maybe. But I do like to read about what people are eating.

And don't get me started on the decor of that seaside cottage, or we'll be here all day.


Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Suspending Disbelief - Or how preposterous can you get away with?

Um. The thing I'm playing with at the moment - you know, the one that might be a series light novella? Well the plot is a bit, you know, out there. Not impossible, but unusual. Yes, I think I can say that. Not likely to happen in real life.

And it does have a tendency, not to having holes in it exactly, but bits where, well, the reader is going to have to go with the flow. Suspend the disbelief while I finagle us around a few corners. Finagle. That's a very good word.

Thing is - how preposterous can you go before the reader starts chucking things at the wall? It's a romp. A bit daft but, I hope, fun. Will that work? If readers have enough invested in Ryan and Nadine's love story, will that carry it along? The whole thing is centered around a con trick - that's smoke and mirrors, so I am going to need a few of my own.





It begins in Bath and then is going to move to the South of France and that would give me a very good reason for a research trip, wouldn't it?  And there are a couple of weddings involved, so I am, of course, having to look at a lot of dresses. And venues, and stationery, and flowers, and cakes, and shoes.


Oh, well, if I finally decide that it is too silly to be allowed out, I'll have had a lot of fun on the way.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Crime Story 2016

Newcastle is a long way from Wales, but that's where I went the weekend before last.

Why?

Crime Story 2016, a New Writing North event at Northumbria University.

I wasn't the only one making the journey for  one day spent in the company of a variety of crime experts. Writers and readers seem to have travelled from all over the country, if the ones I spoke to were anything to go by. And, of course, an event from 9am to 5pm meant a two night stay for me. And it was very well worth it.

Panels, workshops, professionals in forensics, serving police officers, lawyers and judges, academic experts - we got the lot, all chaired by crime writer Peter Guttridge. It was an inspiring day with access to information that was worth gold. (Or at least the early bird fee of £79.)

The whole thing was brought together around a short story written by Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train, who apparently had attended as a participant the first time it was held, a couple of years ago. The story was revealed in instalments during the day, and acted as a focal point to discussions and questions with the panelists.

What did the broken glass tell you?
Would the wife have automatically been viewed as a suspect?
What about the mysterious visitor and the unanswered phone calls?
Who actually did it?

If you'd like a taster, this is Paula reading the first instalment HERE


I learned a  lot - some of which has already gone into the Work in Progress. I hope they hold more in the future and that I can be there. I just wish that this sort of thing happened a bit closer to home.










Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Birthday!

Many Happy Returns



T
oday is the 7th Birthday of my award winning indie publishers, Choc-lit.



L
ots of things happening on the Choc-lit blog today. Celebrations, flash fiction, prizes. Pictures of cake. 















Take a look HERE

Maybe there will be balloons?