Wednesday, 26 April 2017

It's all in the title.

A few tongue in cheek Welsh titles you might recognise.
The title of the book - that's the thing, along with the cover, that tells you what is likely to be between the covers - and whether you are likely to enjoy reading it. So - the title need to tell you something. It needs those buzz words that register in your brain to make you pick or click. There are a lot of jokes around at the moment about every book having to have the word 'Girl' or the word 'Cupcake' in the title, or maybe both.

But in our time-starved lives, buzz words can be a great help.

On the romance side, the current vogue for books set in places that can be thought of as comforting is clear in titles that use words like 'little' and 'cosy' and are set in bookshops, tea-shops, cafes, guest houses and beach huts. Summer, beach and sunshine are up there too. Maybe we're all looking for something small and familiar in a turbulent world? A while ago the fashion was for historic mansions and gardens, usually in need to renovations, but we seem to have downsized a bit lately.

On the thriller side, 'secrets' and 'lies' are very current - but then, secrets never go out of fashion. And, of course, those words that conjure atmosphere, like 'dark', 'silent', 'dying', 'evil', 'scream'. You know that you might be sleeping with the light on if you chose one of those.

I'm a sucker for titles with destinations in them, but they have to be sunny and what I consider to be glamorous. Antarctica probably wouldn't do it for me. Mysterious would - I enjoy Elly Griffiths' books set in the Fens, with more than a touch of the spooky about them, and I am incubating a few set in my native Wales that I hope will draw on some of the folklore and supernatural elements that are part of the Welsh landscape. Land of Legends is the theme chosen for this year by Visit Wales and there are a couple of links at the bottom of the post that you might like to explore.

And don't get me started on TRAINS. They are becoming an addiction. Anything with Orient Express in the title gets me, and the classic mysteries that are set on trains, and I have just finished Andrew Martin's Night Trains, non fiction, and sub titled 'The rise and fall of the sleeper', in which he attempts to re-create some of the famous night train journeys of the past, with varying degrees of success. I really enjoyed it. I've never traveled on a sleeper. It's on the bucket list.

And I just remembered that what I hope will be the Christmas novella has an opening scene involving a train. And it's set in the Brecon Beacons.

I think I've wandered a bit from my start point of titles. My preoccupations are showing as I need to make a start on editing and tidying up that novella if it's going to get submitted for a chance at the Christmas list.

And of course, it will need a good title.

Visit Wales - Land of Legends
Literature Wales - Interactive map

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Guilt trip - get your tickets here.

Flowers are one of my guilty pleasures -
but an orchid is a plant, so that doesn't count.
This post was inspired, if that is the right word, by one that fellow Choc-lit author Victoria Cornwall did on the Novel Points of View blog, on Guilty Pleasures. She asked a collection of writers for theirs, and the result was some fun confessions! There's a link to blog at the bottom of this post, if you want to check it out.

Mine would have been expensive hair products, fresh flowers and astrology magazines, if I'd got my finger out to tell her when she asked. As I've said, it's a fun idea - but it also got me thinking - while I was drying my hair, actually - back to the fancy hair products - why do things that give us pleasure have to make us feel guilty? And a bit more about guilt in general.

I'm not talking here about the big stuff - guilt that involves crime, or those deeply personal ones that centre on things done and spoken, or not done and not spoken, but those little nagging  'Coulda Shoulda Woulda' ones we all seem to carry around, The ones that involve too many cream cakes, or not enough exercise, or 'Just one more chapter and then I'll ...'

 Why do we do that?  And why do things that we enjoy doing have to make us feel that we should not enjoy them? From personal experience, the guilt trip tends to be towards the negative - the things not done. But the whole thing is negative, and self sabotaging and energy sapping. So why do we do it? Are our brains programmed that way, or is it upbringing?  Where does this feeling that you are not allowed to have any fun, and that however much you do, it is not enough, come from?  Being a major offender, I don't have answers, except to say that I really do think we should be kinder to ourselves.

And of course, guilt is a gift to a writer. The guilty secret - where would we be without it? It opens up so many possibilities - retribution, revenge, blackmail, domestic chaos. But it's probably the guilt bit that has the most possibilities for examining the emotional turmoil of your characters, and emotional stuff is what makes the book tick - at least, it does for me.

So perhaps having that personal experience of guilt, even if it is only that I haven't got round yet to potting up the plants I bought at the show last week, is worth something after all. The plants are quite happy, I'm watering them and making sure they are comfortable, so I really don't have anything to feel guilty about, do I?

Victoria's Guilty Pleasures post

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

At the RHS Flower Show in Cardiff

Authors are allowed out sometimes, and I regularly take my chance at an escape when the Royal Horticultural Society's travelling flower show arrives in Cardiff, sometime in April. It's a bitter/sweet day out, as I have memories of going there with Mum, and last year I was just getting over a major operation, so it was a very quick look. I'm happy to say that this year, in the sun, I had an excellent time - and the show was very good this year. I spent too much on plants, but that's a given.

Happily the memories of my Mum are fading away from the miserable hours spent sitting beside hospital beds, into the good ones, like the day, at another sunny Cardiff show, when we had two ice-creams for lunch. That's two each. I can still see her grin, and her emphatic nod, when we'd both finished the first one and I asked her if she wanted another. She loved ice-cream. And no, I didn't have one, this year, as my jeans are getting snug. I bought another plant instead.

The flowers were lovely, the gardens had the theme of myths and legends, which brought out some interesting ideas, and there seemed to be an even better selection of craft stalls this year. The lady selling sun hats was doing a great trade. I was looking for a chance to sit down - that's one of my only complaints, the RHS shows are not over provided with places to sit - so I wandered into the part of the marquee where a talk was taking place, and found myself listening to a fascinating half hour on the National Garden of Wales and it's Regency heritage. And now I know what the connection is between the garden and pirates, nutmeg and the television series, Taboo. And I have another location to put on my 'places I must visit' list.

I took pictures, so now I'm presenting my gallery of the show.

Enjoy. I did.

The tulips were especially good this year

I couldn't resist snapping this - a reminder of the
Choc-lit cartoon tour bus
I loved the colour of these.
One way to fill a bicycle basket.
Yes, this was a garden. A representation of standing stones.
And it won a medal. 
A more conventional display garden
Can you see the metal owl?
I took this one because I was thinking of Jane Lovering and of the owl in her latest book
Have you met Skrillex yet? 
This was another medal winner - a depiction of the story of  Blodeuwedd
who was made of flowers and got turned into an owl. 
As this was Wales, and the theme was legends,
there were a few dragons about.
More lovely colours
I bought a bulb to grow these, but mine will be pink, I hope. if the slugs don't get them first.
And I can't remember what they are called!

The garden of my dreams is going to have an olive tree in it.
As it will also be in the South of France, I think it's going to stay a dream

This display said everything about spring to me.


Can you read the label? I loved this.
And the cacti were good too.
My grandfather used to grow cacti. As a kid, I was not very impressed.

lipstick pink peonies.

This is more like my real garden, but tidier.
And not so many slugs.

The food crops on this stand in the marquee were spectacular.

Hosta - I love the cool green

Another dragon
I have all the ingredients to create one of these. Now I need the time!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Just one line ...

A few weeks ago writer Sophie Weston gave a workshop to the London Chapter of the Romantic Novelists' Association. I'd have loved to be there, but I'd already used up my London allowance, so couldn't make it. But like all good things, people who were there talked about it on social media. And one of the points that came out of it was the idea of plotting with dialogue. Just a few words that kick off the plot, or turn it in a new direction. And that struck a chord, as that often happens to me. I can hear a line or two, and then the whole book sort of unfolds itself. I have no idea where the dialogue comes from - well, I suppose it's from my subconscious, but I hear the words as if someone is saying them.

There are two lines from the new book that did that. Actually, when it started it was two books, and I didn't know that they were going to combine themselves, but somehow that happened too.

The first line was supposed to be the first line of Book A and it was 'I have to have a husband by this time tomorrow.' I can still hear Cassie, my heroine, saying it that way. It's a strange start to a contemporary - something that sounds like it might belong in an historical. In the final article it isn't actually the first line, as Cassie strides into her office before saying it, and it now reads 'I have to have a husband by tomorrow morning.' because I realised that 'this time tomorrow', although it sounds more dramatic, would be too late, as by then she and Jake will be well on their way to London to get on with the plot. Jake is the hero, as you might have guessed. And practically the whole of the plot came from that single line.

The other line, which was from an exchange that didn't have a Book B to go with it, was 'Don't just stand there, take your clothes off.' Somehow that scene got incorporated into Cassie and Jake's story. She says it to him, by the way and it sets the tone for their relationship through the rest of the book. And I had so much fun writing the scene that went with it. All the scenes, actually, even the sad ones.

The book was one of those where large chunks just flowed onto the page.

And it all came from hearing a few lines of dialogue in my head.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Re-inventing myself

I think March may well be my favourite month of the year. More daylight, weather improving, things in gardens coming into bloom, and the summer still to look forward to. I've had a Wordsworth of daffodils, in a variety of pots, and now the tulips and the Forsythia are having their turn. The latter is bitter sweet, as it was a stalk that my mother planted and, like everything she planted, it rooted and grew. And now I have it in a pot as a standard. I think her walking stick would have sprouted if she had left it in the ground long enough.

And it's not just in the garden that things are growing. Last Friday I went to lunch with the lovely authors from the Wye Chapter of the Crime Writers' Association, which involves a bus ride from Hereford to Ross, and back again. All sorts of pale green stuff was sprouting in the hedges, making me feel cheerful just looking at it.

So, Spring is doing its thing, and I'm also having a go at reinventing myself.

This year there will be a book. Yes, really. Fairly soon, I hope. It has a title, and a series title and eventually it will have a cover and a release date. And - as with the addition of an epilogue which no one at Choc-lit has read yet, but I hope they will like -  it has now tipped over the 60,000 word mark, it's no longer a novella, apparently, but has been promoted into a book.

So in it's honour, I have been streamlining and sprucing up my various social media profiles. Soon there will be pages on Facebook, and a Newsletter and I will be harassing everyone to 'like' and sign up. I'll let you know when. Actually, I will probably be difficult to avoid. But for the moment I'm just looking at my biographies and all that stuff. And thinking about what I should say to reflect the person I am today. As you know, the new book - I love saying that - is not romantic suspense. More like romantic comedy, with people running about on the Riviera, in the sunshine. I'm still thinking about that one, but in the meantime I'm looking at the words that define me at present.

For the last few years the main word would have been 'carer' and after that, 'convalescent' but now I'm moving on, or trying to, so for the time being I've chosen something simple -  'writer, historian and mature student'.

It's Spring, and I'm looking forward. I hope it's going to be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Flaming June - a visit to Leighton House

I spent a fabulous few days in London last week - I was at the Romantic Novelists' Association Awards on Monday night and was able to cheer home several friends who won. On Tuesday I was at the London Book Fair at Olympia and had the chance to talk to my publishers, Choc-lit, about the book that we both hope will be out this summer! More of that at another time - then you'll be fed up with hearing me talk about it!

On Wednesday I caught up with an exhibition that has been on my radar for a while, but I wasn't able to make it to London. This time I managed it, and just in time, as it will close in a few weeks. It was possibly appropriate too, as apparently Leighton House has been voted the country's most romantic museum. And the painting I went to see has some mystery in it's past. And I love mysteries. Romantic suspense?

When I lived in nearby Chelsea, many moons ago, I often visited Leighton House, the former home and
studio of the painter Fredric, Lord Leighton. It's an unusual building - in some ways everything you
The exterior of the Arab Hall
would expect from a Victorian home, but with an artist's studio on site, a secluded garden and a fabulous Arab Hall, with mosaics and tiles and a working fountain. It wasn't a family home, Leighton lived there alone and his modest bedroom is one of the rooms open to the public, but it was a working studio and also housed the painter's own art collection.

The reason I particularly wanted to re-visit was the exhibition centering on the painting Flaming June, which was one of the last paintings Leighton exhibited at the Royal Academy before his death. The sumptuous painting - and I think that is an appropriate word - of a woman in a flimsy orange gown, sleeping under an awning on a marble terrace beside a glittering sea, has become one of the painter's most well known works, frequently reproduced.

The curators have recreated the exhibition of six paintings that were sent to the Royal Academy for the show in May 1895. Leighton was President of the Academy, but by then was an ill man, and was unable to attend the private view and banquet, as he was travelling for his health, hoping that warmer weather in North Africa would aid his heart condition. The exhibition shows not only the six paintings - all of which are worth seeing and which have been assembled from various collections around the world - but sketches and preparatory work that was done and influences that can be seen in Flaming June. It spoke a lot to me of the effort that has to go into any creative exercise, and the determination and desire to continue to create, even when suffering from illness. Food for thought.

Lachrymae and June are from the exhibition.
Corinna of Tanagra, on the left, is elsewhere in the house.
Photography inside the building, and of the paintings, is limited,  so I have pictures of the outside of the building and my postcards. I sat in the room with the paintings for quite a while and it was wonderful to have that opportunity, knowing that this was the place in which they were first brought into life.

You can see more about the exhibition from the Museum website, HERE.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The more things change ...

I've been reading a book called Queen Bees, by Sian Evans.

It's one of those multiple biographies about six society hostesses between the wars. (That's what  it says on the cover, but it actually stretches longer than that, from before the first to after the second world war.) I picked it up originally because Nancy Astor, the first woman to take her seat as an MP, is one of the six, and I was hoping for some information on her for the 'day job'. I didn't get it, but the book is fascinating on the 'soft power' wielded by these society ladies. At balls and in drawing rooms and during country house weekends, they were the 'behind the scenes' movers and shakers of the day. The whole thing reads like a whose-who of famous names - politicians, film stars, royalty - everything from the Abdication Crisis to the Profumo Affair.  If you are interested in the era, it's a worthwhile read. Just the descriptions of the fabulous jewels that these ladies owned had me hooked.

And those women worked hard on their social whirl - charts and lists of guests and their preferences, endless invitations and letters. One of them even had a drop down desk in the back of her car so that she could deal with correspondence while travelling between engagements. While I was reading it occurred to me that what I was reading was familiar - what we would call social media - keeping up, keeping in touch, exchanging gossip, only we do it electronically and they did it all by hand. These days it would be a computer and a spreadsheet.

Human beings don't really change.