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Writing in the Sunshine. Writing in the Shadows.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

2018 - what do you think of it so far?

Well, we've just had Blue Monday - alleged to be the most depressing day of the year, and did you know that January is apparently the loneliest month? And how are all those New Year resolutions going?  Or shouldn't I ask?

Actually, I quite like January, mainly because the days are slowly and subtly getting lighter and longer. And the bulbs in the garden have begun to come through, and now it's all down hill towards warmer weather and summer.

Looking forward to spring!

For me 2018 is going to be all about the PhD - lots of visits to archives and writing up, but I hope there will be some other kinds of writing going on too. 

My publishers have agreed that they would like to see the second installment of the Riviera Rogues series, so I have to find time for that, and get it into a fit state to put before the selection panel. Fingers crossed they will like it. The story revolves around a wedding - and weddings are going to be very fashionable this year. 😊 I'll share more, including the possible choices for a title, over the next few weeks.

I'm hoping for other interesting and exciting things to happen during the year too, as well as a lot of work, but we'll have to wait and see ...

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The gentle art of letter writing

When did you last write a letter?

 Possibly a note to put in with a Christmas card, to send to someone you don't see very often?

But before that?  We don't write letters like we used to - e-mails. texts - but not letters. We're not like the heroines of classic novels who could always retire to their rooms to write letters when they wanted to avoid the hero, their mother, the verbose curate ...

I started to think about letters when I saw an item on the TV about pen pals. I thought about it some more when I was at the National Archive, for the day job, prowling thought the Home Office files for World War II. They were correspondence files, with quantities of letter exchanged between civil servants. I got some good stuff for the PhD, but I found the format of the letters themselves just as interesting. Apart from references to the occasional phone call, everything was by letter - and with two postal deliveries a day, using the post was probably almost as good as sending an e-mail.

It was the construction that was a glimpse of a lost era. Carefully set out by the typists - no DIY typing here - with addresses of sender and recipient in specific places, salutations that used only surnames - it was Dear Smith - not Dear Mr Smith - (it was all misters - no females in sight) and the first lines of many were almost like reading code, with use of terms like Inst and Ultimo for dates. The letters themselves were very formal - on paper that was now tattered and yellowing - signed either with an old fashioned fountain pen, or for run of the mill stuff with a rubber stamp. I remember having custody of one of those for the Town Clerk when I first started work - used for allotment agreements and grave grants. As the war progressed the paper got smaller and thinner and letters were typed on the back of other documents - one of the ones I found relating to Cardiff was on the back of a draft intended for Jarrow - but they were all still laid out in the formal manner.

We don't correspond like that any more. 

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

A visit to the Mithraeum

I didn't get photos inside the temple, so this is
the police box near Bank Station, which is close by! 

Do you remember, back last summer, when I had a prowl around the City of London, looking for the Temple of Mithras? I didn't find it, but suspected that it was under a massive building site. Well, it was, although I wasn't looking in quite the right place - and now it's open to the public again. It's been reconstructed under the Bloomberg building - along with displays of contemporary art created in response to the temple, a small collecting of Roman artifacts found on the site and an interactive interpretation area, with sound and lights and information screens. Kudos to the Bloomberg organisation putting all this together and making it available to visitors for free - although you do have to book in advance.

Mithras was a Roman god, said to be the soldier's god as he was a favourite of the army, although there were other followers too. He's usually depicted ritually sacrificing a bull. My first encounter with the cult of Mithras was in Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave, when her young hero, Merlin, has a vision of the ceremony. It's a powerful scene, and the interest has stayed with me ever since. As a writer I'm drawn too to theatrical spaces - not just theatres themselves, but churches and temples too. And standing stones. Places where mankind has conducted special rituals, often for thousands of years. Places that have an atmosphere all their own.

I was interested in this temple as I have a serial killer who wanted to dump a body there. In it's original location, which was an outdoor site, which I dimly remember, this would have been possible. Not going to happen now that the whole thing has been reconstructed so beautifully - indoors. I've left him thinking about another Mithric temple at Hadrian's Wall ...

I enjoyed the visit to the site. The temple is on the lowest level, where it would have been when it was first built. The remains of the walls are in place, with viewing platforms over and a sound and light show that recreates what a visit to the temple would have been like  - a dark entrance way, torchlight, an image of the god, astride the bull - a babble of male voices. The cult was strictly men only, apparently, and the temple would not have been used to actually sacrifice a bull - good to know - as it was too small. It was probably used for ceremonies and feasting - lots of chicken bones were found when the site was excavated.

While I was pleased to have visited, I have to say that I didn't find the site as atmospheric as I'd hoped. There were no 'shivers up the spine moments' like the one I had looking into the grave space of Richard III, when the King's skeleton gradually emerged in the ground in lighted silhouette. There was just a few seconds, when I stepped onto the platform at the centre of the temple ...

Although numbers are controlled, there were quite a lot of visitors, and I think that broke up the atmosphere. I'd like to go again, hopefully with fewer people. It was a spectacular space and I'd like to have another chance to appreciate it. And maybe I'll re-read The Crystal Cave, in the meantime.

Monday, 25 December 2017

Compliments of the Season

A very Merry Christmas and a bright and brilliant New Year to everyone.

And if you haven't read it yet and are looking to top up your e-reader with something a bit different for Christmas - don't forget ...

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Never Work with Children and Animals

That's reputed to be an old saying in the movie industry.

In What Happens at Christmas, I did both.

I have no idea where Misty - the heroine's four year old niece - and Griff, her very independent minded cat, came from, but they were an essential part of the story. And as soon as I knew there was going to be a cat, my thoughts immediately turned to Ming. And he became a kind of pattern for Griff - not in personality, because Ming was a much gentler cat that Griff is - but the fact that he had a big enough spirit to become a family legend.

Most of Ming was white chinchilla, but he had a patch over one eye that was ginger and so was his tail. My Mum said it looked as if it had been stuck on. I can only go by what my Mum said, and a few old and blurry photos, because Ming actually died before I was born.

But he was remembered. And that takes a cat with personality, which is what I wanted for Griff. There were all sorts of family tales about Ming. He arrived home as a tiny kitten in my aunt's handbag - one of a litter from a girl she worked with. He was covered in lipstick and reeking of scent, as all the girls in the beauty salon had kissed him! My Mum named him, as naming of  family cats was apparently her job, and as London Zoo had just acquired a new panda, called Ming, that was what he became. (Although apparently the original panda was a she, who has recently been immortalised as a statue at the Zoo. )

And then there is the family legend - Ming was a very loving cat, who would meet my mother and my aunt at the bottom of the street on the way home from work and follow them home, jumping from wall to wall,  and he wasn't supposed to sleep on the chairs, but my grandmother always knew, because of the white hairs and ...

Well there are countless stories, and I wanted to create that sort of cat. I hope I have, with Griff.

And that's why one of the dedications in the book is to commemorate Ming. I think he deserves it. 

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Bringing Devlin Back

Writing my new Christmas novella - What Happens at Christmas - was a bit of a surprise. It was never on the radar, until it was! I've gone into the details of how that happened in a post on the Being Anne blog, which was part of last week's launch week book blast.  There's a link at the bottom of this post, if you haven't read it yet.

Bringing Devlin back was a bit of a surprise too. After publication of Never Coming Home lots of people asked if I would be making him the star of a series - he got compared to Lee Child's Jack Reacher - a lot - which really surprised me. But I never expected him to have a role like that. He has his Happy Ever After with Kaz, and that's the story, for me.

Except when I was writing What Happens At Christmas, I knew that Drew was going to need some help. He's an action man, but he doesn't have the skills - or the connections - to get himself out of the mess I've dropped him in, on his own. I'd already given him a flat in London - I can't remember if it was already in Chelsea. It may have been, as it's an area I used to live and know reasonably well.

When I realised about the needing help thing, and exactly who was going to be perfect for the role, it didn't take much to make them neighbours in Chelsea, then friends.  And of course Devlin was exactly the person Drew would be able to reach out to, when he needed that sort of skill set.

It was actually great fun to bring Devlin back, in a cameo role, and to get a glimpse into his family life. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I have half an idea for another story with Devlin and Drew. It would have to have another hero too - and a new heroine and a new love story ...

But, three heroes!!!

Can I cope with that?

At the moment it is just an idea. Just an idea.

Three heroes.

That really would be another story 

(Link to the blog post on Being Anne is HERE )

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Celebrating Launch Day.

The best way to celebrate the launch of a book is with friends. Yesterday I was at the Marcher Chapter of the Romantic Novelists Association and we had cake. Roulade, to be exact. Meringue, cream, almonds, fresh strawberries ...


About to cut it, with Jill Barry and Christina Courtney in the background
Elevensis is not always like this at the Marcher Chapter.