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!


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 ...