Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Alibi in the Archive Part Two

Saturday at Alibi in the Archive was a packed day. Starting with a fresh look at Sherlock Holmes from the inimitable David Stuart Davies, who had played a very convincing murderer in Ann Cleve's murder mystery the evening before, we next whizzed through  the publishing history of Agatha Christie's monumentally successful books - beginning with a three book contract in 1924, from David Brawn, who now looks after the Christie legacy.

I was particularly interested in Martin Edwards' talk on the Detection Club, which began in 1930 as an invitation only dining club for crime authors which is still going strong now, and the Crime Writers' Association, the professional body for crime novelists, begun in 1953 by John Creasey. The weekend was to celebrate the Gladstone Library acquiring the archives of both bodies. If you are interested in the luminaries and forgotten names who were once best sellers in the Golden Age of Crime, I recommend Martin's award winning book, The Golden Age of Murder, the product of years of passionate research, and it shows.

After lunch those with strong stomachs enjoyed Linda Stratmann's look at poisoners, particularly those of the Victorian era, Linda is disturbingly expert on arsenic and other delights! I've blogged before on the crime classics that the British Library is publishing - particularly the wonderful covers, based on vintage travel posters. A talk from Rob Davies from the British Library, provided the background on how the series came about, with a glimpse of what may be to come. After tea we had a look at clerical crime, with Kate Charles - priests, nuns, monks, ministers and rabbis, historical and contemporary, who all combine their calling with a little sleuthing on the side. It fell to Kate Ellis to round off the day with a look at the way past and present supply ideas for novels. Kate was also responsible for the after dinner murder mystery, which was great fun, with the actors getting into the spirit in costume and the whole thing revolving around the discovery of a corpse in a trench at an archaeological dig. I couldn't make up my mind which of two candidates was the culprit - of course I opted for the wrong one!

Sunday morning brought a illuminating and entertaining talk from Stella Duffy, who has taken on the job of finishing a partially completed Ngaio Marsh story - three chapters and some notes, set in New Zealand at the end of World War Two and taking place over the course of a single night. And that night being the midsummer solstice!!! I can't wait to see how she manages it. Her descriptions of researching places in New Zealand that are connected to Marsh, and the locations she may use was fascinating.

Two last sessions looked to the future - for the Crime Classics series and a past and present round up, with all the speakers.

As I've said, it was a really brilliant weekend. So brilliant, in fact, that they are now hoping to repeat it next year.

And if that gallop though the proceeding has whetted your appetite, I have a little surprise. The Library records it's talks, and a number from the weekend are already up on their 'cloud'. If you want to hear more from Martin, Linda, Ann and some of the other speakers, and they were all fabulous, then try this link HERE

You'll need to scroll to find the ones you want. Happy listening.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The Gladstone Library and Alibi in the Archives.

I just had a fabulous weekend at the Gladstone Library in Hawarden, North Wales, for what now appears to be the inaugural Alibi In the Archives, weekend - but more of that later.

The Gladstone Library outside
First, the library - a library with rooms which has been on my radar for some while - highly recommended by other writers if you have a book to begin, finish or sort out in the saggy middle, I had a booking for a few days there in late 2014 but had to cancel when life got in the way, so this was my first visit and the chance to check it out. I wasn't actually staying in the guest rooms - they'd filled up before I organised my ticket - so I stayed in a nearby hotel with a day ticket for all the events and food. I have to say the food, surroundings, and general ambiance did not disappoint, and I now have to put a return visit on the bucket list. Whether that will be for a book or the day job  - we'll have to see.

The purpose of the weekend was to mark the  Library giving a home to the archives of the Crime Writers' Association and The Detection Club - a select, invitation only dining club that was begun between the wars and boasted some of the huge names in Golden Age crime fiction. It's still going strong and some of the crime names who are now members are not exactly dusty, either!

The Gladstone Library inside.
The programme focused on Golden Age crime, partly inspired, I think, by the crime classics currently being re-released by the British Library. I've blogged about them before. If you like classic crime and want to explore some authors who were very successful but have now slipped into obscurity, check them out.

The weekend started with some gentle after dinner sleuthing, when participants had the chance to pit their wits against Ann Cleeves, in a particularly devious crime scenario, a murder in a garden next to a large conservatory, enacted by some brave members of the audience and complete with a forensic report. I say it was devious, because I had no idea whodunit. I know who would have if I'd been writing it, but I didn't have a clue on the night. It was a lot of fun and a really good start to the weekend.

Ann was also one of the guest speakers the next day, giving some insights into having both her Vera and Sheltand novels turned in to TV series and talking about the circumstances that led her to chose the all important settings and how the characters developed.

It was a packed weekend and I want to do it justice, so I'm going to stop there. Part 2 next week!

Link to the British Library Shop and the crime classics catalogue. HERE

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Just a walk by the sea

Sometimes you just need some space. On Sunday, after an overcast day, the evening cleared.

I went for a walk and took some pictures. You can't smell the elder flowers blooming in the hedges, or hear the sound of the waves, but the sea and the sky are still blue.

Just a walk by the sea.

Above Jackson's Bay - the beach used by the locals

The island of Steep Holm is just about visible on the horizon
 if you know where to look.

Whitmore Bay - or Barry Island  - the bandstand on the prom.
The Big Wheel in the Fairground

A last view over the beach and the sea

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Taking Snaps in London

On my recent trip to London I did a little research for a book that I really want to write - it's the one that harks back to the war, so it really has to be done soon, or one of the essential characters will be over 100! but it's not fully on the radar yet.  It's a romantic suspense - what I call a treasure hunt book and I know that it is going to feature locations around London, which gives me a chance to go out and prowl around the city in the name of research. 

St Stephen Walbrook
I made a modest start in The City, with one of my favourite churches - St Stephen Walbrook, designed by Wren, which I found by accident many years ago when sheltering from a sudden rain storm. There was a choir practising, and the whole thing sent shivers up the spine.
The other church I wanted to look at was St Mary's Woolnoth - which is a Hawksmoor church - not one I have looked at before, although it is only around the corner, but it has a
particular feature that I want to use. And no, I'm not telling you what that is. 

St Mary Woolnoth

I took pictures of both, which  will be useful when I finally do get the book in my sights. That area of London is dotted with churches, often on sites that have been used for some form of worship for a very long time. Despite being such a busy area, to me it has an underlying spooky feel. And in the evenings and at weekends when the offices are closed and the place is quiet that feeling is accentuated.  But that may just be the novelist in me surfacing. I also wanted to see the ruin of the Temple of Mithras - that one goes back to the Romans - I told you the area had been used for worship for a long time. I couldn't find it - I think it is part of a large construction project on Queen Victoria Street. Hopefully it is and  it will have emerged again by the time I want it - that is for yet another book that is in my head, and partially down on paper.

I'm hoping that taking pictures will store information in the memory banks that the subconscious will use to feed the plots of both novels, as they are still in the planning stage.    

Not the same colour as the one in Dr Who. And not as big. 
Whatever use I make of it, it was a pleasant morning. I also took a picture of an old police telephone box, - not the Dr Who kind, but similar.  I couldn't resist it.  A relic of the days before landline phones were commonplace, let alone mobile phones, and the police needed a way of communicating.  No idea what I might use that for, but maybe something will turn up.   

It's all research. 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

On the road

Last week was a busy week, and a lot of fun. To London for the RNA Summer Party, at which the 2017 Joan Hessayon winner was announced - sadly not one of the 3 Choc-lit debut authors who were in the line up - but a win for a Welsh publisher! Kate Field was awarded the trophy for The Magic of Ramblings published by Accent.

It was a fab party, I got to stroke the trophy - all the past winners come over a bit 'precious' when in it's presence - it's hard to believe that it is 5 years since I won it!!!

I renewed my card for the British Library - looking forward to spending some time there later in the year, and did a bit of research, book related, not for the day job, but more of that next week.

The lovely Lusana from Choc-lit, sizing up
the room for the best layout 
Then it was down to Southampton for the second Choc lit road-show. An afternoon of talking, quizzes, chocolate and  a lot of laughter at Southampton Library, in the company of an enthusiastic audience of readers and a few hopeful writers who had the chance to pitch a book to Choc-lit as part of the proceedings. And all the attendees got a goodie bag to take away. I did manage to snaffle a bag, but not the contents - and I did sneak some of the chocolates, so that was probably a win:)

Goodie bags and book stall, waiting for the audience. 

I had a lovely time with Jan Brigden, Liv, who is one half of Isabella Conner, and Laura E James. Luckily the audience seemed to enjoy themselves too, so it was was worth the trip. The next show will be up north, Stockton on Tees, as part of their literature festival, and there is a whisper about a date in London in the autumn, If there is, I hope I'll be there. I took a few pictures, so you can get the idea of how it all went.
My fellow panelists
The chance to talk about yourself and your books - what's not to like? And it was good to start doing some book related things again and to tell people about the new summer book that is in the pipeline. coming soon, I hope.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Are you ready for this?

No, it's not a cover reveal, but I did think it was time I told you the title of the new book. As I've said, often, it is not romantic suspense. No dead bodies in this one. (You'll have to wait until Christmas for more of them) It does have a mystery in it, which is what gets the hero and heroine to the Riviera, chasing a couple of crooks. I had in mind all those romantic comedy films from the 40s and 50s  - glamorous settings and sunshine and fantastic scenery and beautiful people and luxurious villas and fast cars. And food. There's quite a bit of that too. It's a summer book. A holiday sort of book and I hope that it's going to be the first of a series. It had to have a holiday type name and after a meeting with my publisher at the London Book Fair, it got one. Very simple, but sums up everything about the book.

So, now, drum roll, please - It's going to be called Summer in San Remo and that's exactly the sort of mood I was after.

And the series title? Ah, now that was suggested by the lovely Kath, from The Nutpress, right here on the blog. The whole series will be  Riviera Rogues. All of them will have a mystery, sunshine and a holiday feel - and the rogues won't all be just the villains. Some of the heroes have a way to go before they win their heroine. Starting with Jake ...

I'm looking forward to a bit of lighthearted fun, in amongst the darker stuff, and I'm already thinking of all the places that can be categorised as 'Riviera'.

Oh, and that cover reveal? It will happen, I promise.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

There's a word for that.

I couldn't find a 'word' picture,
but this one is pretty.
New words. As a writer I'm always curious about those. I used to make up words as a child and had to explain to my puzzled Mum what I was talking about. Now, not so much.

But I am interested when I happen on something new. I'm not talking about those political constructions or the contractions of a person or a couple's name or names- usually involving celebrities - that often seem rather ugly, but the new inventions that can be useful to a writer, usually involving some kind of emotion.

The latest one I've come across is hangry. Which means, apparently, getting irritable because you are hungry. I found it in a book and thought at first it was a misprint, or an attempt to portray some sort of accent, until the context explained it. And then a couple of days later I was in a meeting and someone used it, and I was very pleased that I know what it meant. You can get a lot from book, not just the story.

Another one which I discovered and I've used in a book (which is part written and might some day see the light of day)  is ghosting - ending a relationship by simply fading away without explanation. It fitted exactly what I wanted to convey about the heroine's clearly now ex-boyfriend. The hero who is about to come into her life is a much better bet, even if he does have emotional and physical baggage and the sort of job ... Well, actually, he could end up ghosting her too. But he doesn't. At least I don't think he does. When I finish the book, we'll all find out. But I'm wandering, as usual.

My last new  word isn't that new, but has come to prominence recently because of The Archers. Gaslighting - emotional manipulation to isolate a partner and make them think they are losing it, big time.   It's a concept that's been in my rummage bag of ideas for a while but not surfaced yet. There is one partly ploted that might be classed as a form of gaslighting, so maybe it has surfaced, but not in the conventional form?

Anyway, that is for the future.  By then there will probably be more that I want to get my teeth into.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Being able to read

I was in a stationery store the other day. Writers, stationery - it's a thing. Anyway, there was a gratitude diary with pages to record things you were grateful for, with a series of questions to answer. I didn't buy it - such restraint, but it did make me think. And that got coupled with reading a short story from Veronica Henry. It's called The Apple Orchard and it's currently free on Amazon with a large chunk of her next release, The Forever House in the back. The short story is a bitter sweet one, a bit of a tear jerker, actually, and features a character who is unable to read. I don't think that's a spoiler, as he says it on the first page.

It made me think about being able to read, and how life would be if you couldn't, and all the things I have read, in the last few days, starting with that short story

  • Red Herrings - the magazine of the Crime Writer's Association
  • Part of the Waitrose Food magazine, the Boots Health and Beauty magazine, The Garden - which is the monthly magazine from the Royal Horticultural Society and The Romance Writers' Report, which is the magazine of the Romance Writers' of America.
  • Various sell by dates on items in the fridge and the instructions on the chicken I cooked yesterday.
  • The train information screen at the station
  • About 150 e-mails, and who knows how many tweets and F/B and blog posts
  • Screeds of my handwritten notes about Cardiff in World War Two
  • The first few pages of what  I hope will be the Christmas Novella - (just started to transfer it to type)
  • The side of the soya milk carton to confirm that yes, I had inadvertently picked the sweetened kind
  • About half of Tessa Dare's Do You Want To Start a Scandal?
  • The local free newspaper
  • Various party political literature for the up coming local elections, junk mail , my bank statement and credit card bill. 'I owe you how much?'

The list could go on.

The power to be able to read, and it is a power.

Something to be grateful for.

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.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Thieves of Time

We've all said it - 'If I had more time I'd ...'
You can fill in your own blank, but write, sleep and walk on the beach more often would probably go in mine.
In an effort to make more time for the stuff I like/want to do - along with a resolution to de-clutter the house - and good luck with that!  - I've been considering how my days are spent - and come to the conclusion that there are a number of hidden but quite lengthy pockets that steal time out of the day. I don't mean looking a videos of cute kittens on social media, although that counts too, but the small jobs that have to be done, yet don't actually amount to much when you are trying to figure out exactly where the day went.

I've been timing some of these stealth jobs, and it's surprising how long some of them take. A good half hour, in some cases.

In no particular order

  • Putting things away - anything from shopping, to clean laundry, to paperwork.
  • Dealing with recycling/rubbish - putting it all in the allotted bags and then trekking it through the house.
  • Waiting for things - deliveries, the kettle to boil, the bus to arrive, the buffering to stop.
  • Looking for things - see putting away, above, but also those things that you only use occasionally and have to be tracked and disinterred from wherever they have hidden themselves  
  • Opening things. I recently made spare ribs for the first time in ages. It was one of my mother's favourite recipes from my repertoire and it's taken me a while to want to cook it again, with the result that all my ingredients were well past their sell by date and had to be replaced. And every bottle and pot had to be wrestled and subdued in order to give up its contents - so many tags, lids and fancy tops. I accept that they keep the contents safe, but it was a fun ten minutes - and there are some brands I no longer buy, simply because I just can't get the tops off!
  • Peeling things - I love cooking, but preparation can take up quite a bit of time. 
  • Checking 'use by' dates - does anyone else have a periodic shuffle through the cupboards to unearth the ones getting close to the edge? Or is that just me? 
  • Hanging out washing/taking it in again. 
  • Washing up or loading/unloading the dishwasher. I always seem to be washing up.
  • Watering houseplants/garden.

I'm sure there are a few I've missed, but those are enough to be going on with - one or two can make a nice hole in your morning, without anything much to show for it.

So next time you've been wondering where the time went ...

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

An Interview with Kirsty Ferry

As regular readers will know I have a cupboard full of 'To be Written' books that keep banging on the door, trying to get out. One day. Quite a lot of them feature works of art - usually getting stolen, but that's a romantic suspense author for you.
Today I have a guest who has centred her series for publishers Choclit on works of art by the PreRaphaelite painters - who I must say are also some of my favourites too -beautiful colours and pictures that tell a story. The series is actually called The Rossetti Mysteries, with a modern day hero and heroine, but with more than a few ghosts wandering through them! The latest, third in the series, is out as an e-book on 7th March (on pre-order now if you read on Kobo) and this time has both art and photography. It's called The Girl in the Photograph. I'm pleased to have the author here to tell us about the book (which has a gorgeous cover by Berni Stephens) and answer a few questions about writing inspired by art and artists. I will be taking notes.

A big welcome to Evonne on Wednesday to Kirsty Ferry.

I told you it was gorgeous.
The Girl in the Photograph
What if the past was trying to teach you a lesson?
Staying alone in the shadow of an abandoned manor house in Yorkshire would be madness to some, but art enthusiast Lissy de Luca can’t wait. Lissy has her reasons for seeking isolation, and she wants to study the Staithes Group – an artists’ commune active at the turn of the twentieth century.
Lissy is fascinated by the imposing Sea Scarr Hall – but the deeper she delves, the stranger things get. A lonely figure patrols the cove at night, whilst a hidden painting leads to a chilling realisation. And then there’s the photograph of the girl; so beautiful she could be a mermaid … and so familiar.
As Lissy further immerses herself, she comes to an eerie conclusion: The occupants of Sea Scarr Hall are long gone, but they have a message for her – and they’re going to make sure she gets it.

 I asked Kirsty to tell us more about her novels, her approach to writing about famous people from the past, research, and knowing when to stop - oh, and also about those ghosts.

* As your books have ghosts in them, I think of them as supernatural, rather than paranormal. Is that how you feel?
I think you could use both terms – ghosts are more ‘supernatural’ and more unexplained in a story, and a lot of people immediately assume that a ‘paranormal’ novel involves vampires or werewolves, so I can see where the confusion would lie. Out of interest, I just did an Internet search for ‘supernatural romance books’ and it brought up a whole host of vampire romantic fiction! I suppose that suggests that the terms are interchangeable, but it’s a very good question!

* Where do your books start out - with the love story, or the supernatural element?
The supernatural element I would say. I think of a place and a ghost and then I wonder how I can incorporate a modern day viewpoint and a dual timeline– which naturally leads onto the romantic element. I have done a couple of contemporary love stories as well, and the first one I did was really tough – I kept wanting to put a ghost in it. By the time I did the third contemporary, I’d sort of got the hang of it, but I do love my ghosts!

* Many of the stories are centred around pieces of art - what research do you do (and how do you stop yourself doing too much)?
For the Rossetti Mysteries books, I started with lots and lots of reading. I have acquired a huge pile of books on the Pre-Raphaelites, many of them from charity shops, second hand shops, bargain book shops and second hand sales on amazon. I also have a friend who is a Librarian by nature and by training, and she loaned me lots of her books as well. I use the Internet quite a bit too, and as I studied Lizzie Siddal in some depth for my Masters degree (which was Creative Writing and Research), I used a lot of academic resources as well. Tullie House Museum in Carlisle is about fifty miles away, so we’ve had some day trips there to see their Pre-Raphaelite collection, and my local art gallery in Newcastle has a few Pre-Raphaelite paintings too. On holiday, we went to the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, which is all about photography, and even little local museums like Bellingham Heritage Centre near Hexham have resources on photography I can take information from. Plus I had a tutor for one of my Degree modules who is an authority on Laura Knight, and Laura crops up in The Girl in the Photograph. I’ll even email people if I see a website and think they would be able to answer a question. How do I stop myself from doing too much? I don’t really. I do a lot, and take away what I need; then use the rest for a different project if I can! I’ve done several projects on Lizzie Siddal, for example, all stemming from the same research but all very different. I think the thing to do is not info-dump in the novels. I end up with loads of information stored in a Word document, but only some of it finds its way into the story, and only, usually, enough to support a particular point.

* The books are the Rossetti mysteries - do the real members of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood feature - and/or are your characters based on them?
Yes! The Girl in the Painting incorporates the real members of the PRB as a major thread in the novel. Daisy Ashford, my Victorian heroine, is obsessed with Lizzie Siddal, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais. Daisy turns into a bit of a stalker, and leads the world, through her diary, to believe that she posed for Millais’ Ophelia painting when Lizzie Siddal was indisposed. Daisy does everything in her power to emulate Lizzie and make Dante fall in love with her, and it was an interesting journey to slot this crazy, drug-addicted - and quite wonderful - fantasist into the ‘real’ world of the PRB. It did involve fictionalising the members of the PRB, which I actually found quite easy to do – but I had to have the dates and events spot on and fit Daisy into the ‘real’ timeline. So I hope I got it right! Some Veil Did Fall is based more on the concept of Dante’s poetry about Lizzie – about soulmates and reincarnation – and The Girl in the Photograph is more about Pre-Raphaelite photography and Julia Margaret Cameron’s influence on one particular woman; so the only one I’ve given voices to real people in was The Girl in the Painting. But I loved every minute of writing about them.

* Do you invent works of art for the books, and would you base these on existing paintings?
I invented a ‘found’ Rossetti painting for The Girl in the Painting, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that there could be some of his work floating around in attics or in private collections that we know nothing about. I also invented a painting of Daisy by Henry, Daisy’s art tutor, which was in the PRB style, and I made up a Landseer portrait of Lady Ella Carrick, my Victorian heroine in Some Veil Did Fall. Ella’s portrait was based on umpteen portraits I’ve seen in stately homes over the years of beautiful Victorian ladies posing for the artist. The ‘found’ Rossetti was simply out of my head – an image of a redheaded woman looking very sensuous, but with her face hidden. The picture by Henry was maybe a bit more traditional – but again, based on an idea, rather than anything in particular.

* The new book is 'The Girl in the Photograph' what made you chose a photo, rather than a painting?
It was a natural progression. Some Veil Did Fall was based on poetry. The Girl in the Painting is set a couple of years after Veil, and as the PRB moved more into art, my book did the same. The Girl in Photograph is again set a few years after Painting – and by then, the Pre-Raphaelites had a foothold in photography with the likes of Julia Margaret Cameron coming along and translating their paintings into photographic plates; so it just seemed the right thing to do to tie up the series.

* Do you have a favourite Pre Raphaelite painter and picture?
It’s a difficult choice – I do love Waterhouse’s work, and I love his Tempest picture which is the painting on my blog. However, I think the most special painting has to be Ophelia by Millais, as I lived and breathed it when I wrote The Girl in the Painting. I do love some of the more informal sketches of Lizzie Siddal by Rossetti – so much passion
shows in those few pencil lines. So art wise, I’d say Millais and Waterhouse were the most talented; but Rossetti is the more interesting character. So I have lots of ‘favourites’, really!

Thank you Kirsty for sharing some of your writing processes. And good luck with the launch of The Girl in the Photograph. 

Kirsty is from the North East of England and won the English Heritage/Belsay Hall National Creative Writing competition in 2009 with the ghostly tale Enchantment. She has also written North East based novels, short stories and articles for magazines such as Weekly News, Peoples Friend, Ghost Voices and It’s Fate. Her timeslip novel, Some Veil Did Fall, a paranormal romance set in Whitby, was published by Choc Lit in Autumn 2014. This was followed by another Choc Lit timeslip, The Girl in the Painting in February 2016 and The Girl in the Photograph in March 2017. The experience of signing Some Veil Did Fall in a quirky bookshop in the midst of Goth Weekend in Whitby, dressed as a recently undead person was one of the highlights of her writing career so far!
Kirsty’s day-job involves sharing a Georgian building with an eclectic collection of ghosts – which can sometimes prove rather interesting.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

And breathe ...

This is the next one. In the summer series, that is.
The Christmas one is not quite so long. 
The manuscript has finally left the building. After what I hope is the last round of major edits.

How do I feel? Relieved, scared, excited - all the usual stuff about getting a book on its way.

This novella has been a very long time in the process, and even now I have no idea when it will finally see the outside world. I hope it will be soon, but I'm sure it will be back for more tweaks and corrections before anything else happens. And it needs a name, and a cover and then maybe ...

It's a summer book, so I'd love for it to be out for the summer holiday season - sunshine days and sultry nights, even if it's only on the page.

There were times when I wondered if I should give up on it, that the universe was sending me a message that it was never to be. I didn't give up, and I'm glad of that because although it was a long while ago now, there was so much joy when I was writing it, the words spilled onto the page, and I think some of that feeling is still there, in Cassie and Jake's romance.

So - now we wait.

And what's next? That will be sorting out the Christmas novella, ready to submit it. Then we will all have to cross our fingers that my publisher likes it. Snow, not sun for that one. And I really hope it won't take so long as it's immediate predecessor!

Wish me luck.