If my writing partner could talk she would be able to tell you almost everything about me because unless she’s asleep she has me under constant surveillance. Not that everything she would say would be complimentary. I know she thinks I should put all food scraps into her dish instead of into the food caddy recycle bin, and she would also tell you that two small meals a day are not nearly enough. This is because having a slim waist and a single chin are not as high on her priority list as they are on mine. She would also mutter about having to walk to heel when small children, horses or cyclists happen by, especially children because they are her favourite people. Her other pet hates are not being allowed to rush out into the garden and bark at every passing bird, nor is she allowed to bark at the people who walk past the house. She has to save that for actual visitors. She would probably complain that I spend too much time at the computer too, even though she has her own bed beneath the desk and can loll around on it as much as she pleases when I’m busy.
On the upside she’d be enthusiastic about the walks. Beaches, sand hills, woods, heathland, she gets to visit them all on a daily basis, and doesn’t care at all that she is usually windswept and often bedraggled. As long as she can meet other dogs, say hello to her growing band of two-footed friends, and collect a handful of rewards for being good along the way, she’s happy. Chasing rabbits is high on her agenda too, and birds. Not that she ever gets close.
As for me, our daily walks are my inspiration. The time we spend together in such beautiful surroundings are not only a counterweight to the sedentary life that can so easily overcome a writer, they give me thinking time too. We also talk…well I do because you see nobody questions a woman talking to her dog, whereas a person walking on her own and chatting to herself is decidedly suspect. So my small companion gets to know my thoughts about people, happenings, and what I am going to write about next. Actually, now I come to think about it, having a writing partner who can’t answer back so isn’t able to disagree with my ideas is very pleasant. I doubt it makes me a better writer but it does give me the time I need to argue with my characters, not all of whom want to do what I’ve planned for them. I guess it keeps me just that bit healthier too. Now I’m off to play ‘hide the dinosaur’ so she won’t be able to say that I haven’t given her enough attention today. The things she’ll do if I have enough rewards in my pocket!
I often have animal characters in my books. In my When Paths Meet trilogy, Blue and Cora, both labradors, and Buckmaster, a beautiful chestnut horse, play key parts throughout the books, especially Books 1 and 2. They are all available from Books We Love.
Once upon a time I blogged regularly, then I travelled to Australia to spend 5 months with my son, his wife, and my newest granddaughter, and that was the end of my blogging. I went full of good intentions, but looking after a baby, catching up with Australian friends and spending quality time with family meant there were not enough hours in the day for writerly things. Indeed, the book I was halfway through, Miss Locatelli, didn’t have a single word added to it while I was away. Now, however, 6 months back into my regular life, I’ve finished it and it has just been published by my very patient publisher, Books We Love
Picking up a manuscript halfway through is tricky. For a start I had to re-read every word to see if I still liked the characters I’d created. Fortunately I did but I had to get to know them again before I could move their lives forward. Then, before I could really begin to concentrate on the story, there was the business of settling back into my life in the UK. If you’ve never spent almost half a year in another country then you won’t realise how disruptive it is. Friends move on and you have to catch up with them. Relatives become ill and need visiting. Others change jobs or school and want to bring you up to date, and in my case there were also my other beloved granddaughters who needed to be listened to and cuddled after such a long absence. Having grandchildren on different continents is a real heart-wrench because you spend most of your life missing someone. My little Australian granddaughter is always with me however, because in the 5 months I helped to care for her she stole of piece of my heart.
My contemporary romance Miss Locatelli fits this pattern though. Although the book is about a failing jewellery business, it is also about travel and families and separations. In the tradition of the best romantic fiction, all is well in the end of course, but not before Arabella Locatelli, the heroine, has almost given up on everyone she loves.
Now I’ve started writing again, and blogging, I aim to get back to my old habits. Instead of an occasional blog, I hope I’ll be talking to you a great deal more in the future. In the meantime, check out Miss Locatelli if you’d like to read about life in Italy and London. You might even like to compare Arabella’s family with your own!
The series is available from Amazon at amzn.to/ZSyLpf
All 3 books are published by Books We Love at http://bookswelove.net
Covers by Michelle Lee at http://www.michelleleedesigns.net/
Well I did it. I finished my ‘When Paths Meet’ trilogy but what a roller-coaster of a ride it’s been, and did I enjoy it? There are two answers to this…yes…and no.
I loved getting to know my characters better, but to keep some of them going through 3 books and over a fictional 15+ year time scale was a challenge. People change when their life circumstances alter. Children are born, careers develop, friendships blossom, and a writer has to keep track of everything that happens. She has to remember names, ages, the sequence of events, and in some cases even the details of the very minor characters who appeared briefly in Book 1 and didn’t resurface again until Book 3.
I loved introducing new people into each book but they had to be the right people. There was no point bringing someone in who wasn’t going to fit. No point either in trying to change someone…I learned that very early on when one character refused to do as I asked, and another proved to be less resilient than I expected.
I also wanted a ‘happy ever after’ for each book (because that’s what I write – happy ever after romances that give readers some ‘time out’ from the exigencies of every day life). With such a diverse set of characters populating the three volumes, however, it was a sometimes a challenge to weave happy endings into the ongoing storyline.
Overall I loved writing it though and now I’m finding it difficult to say goodbye. The characters have been part of my life for so long that they feel like friends, especially the ones in Mending Jodie’s Heart. They ‘live’ so close to my own home on the northwest coast of England that when I pass the house that triggered the storyline, I can almost see Jodie riding through the gate on her horse, or Marcus, walking down the bridle path to the sand dunes, and I’m almost sure I can hear the younger versions of Izzie and Luke talking to one another in the stable yard.
This house is integral to Book 1, and also features briefly in Finding Bella Blue. In Books 2 and 3, however, the fictional village of Corley and its country estate is the main backdrop to the story. The people are the same though, I’ve just added a few more, and encouraged them to visit one another.
In Saving Katy Gray – the final book – Katy is the heroine, but if you look carefully, you’ll discover that her hero made an earlier appearance in Book 2, although when you met him there was no indication he would ever have more than a walk on part in the story. That’s the fascination with writing…heroes know what they want…I just follow them.
Now though, I’m saying goodbye and leaving them to get on with the rest of their lives. Will I write another series? Probably. Will I be writing it straight away. No. I have to get over the loss of my fictional family first, then, maybe, I will start again.
The series When Paths Meet was originally published as The Pathway Trilogy, and Mending Jodie’s Heart was first published as Pathway to Tomorrow. Finding Bella Blue also had the sub-title Pathway to Success.
I’m still talking about the things that happen on a journey that are often so much more interesting than the journey itself and today I’m remembering what happened to me in Thailand.
If you think of Bangkok you might conjure up images of elaborate and beautiful temples, huge statues of Buddha covered in gold leaf, shaven headed monks in saffron robes, and the picturesque floating markets where women sell tropical fruit and vegetables, fresh, ready-to-drink coconut juice and even local food cooked from the floating kitchens on their boats. All these things would be true, of course, as would images of flower bedecked hindu shrines and the ubiquitous 3-wheeled tuk tuks that are used all the time by locals while the less adventurous stick to a conventional taxi. There is the exciting and colourful nightlife too. Full of beautiful girls, and of the even more beautiful katoeys who are so feminine that it’s almost impossible to believe they’re not female, and who work for airlines, at cosmetic counters in upmarket shopping malls or star in cabaret shows. Some are even television celebrities.
There are the markets too. Vast affairs. In Bangkok the largest is the 35-acre Chatuchak market which has more than 8,000 market stalls with just about everything possible on sale, from underwear to live animals, or, if you’re feeling tired, you can have a restful foot massage instead. Then, of course, there is the food. Thai food is wonderful. It has so many flavours, one for every palate, and the best food is very often found in shopping malls and on the street. Thai people love to cook and they love to eat and I once had a wonderful meal sitting at a dilapidated table outside a cafe only a few feet from the road. Frequented mainly by locals, every dish was such an assault on the taste buds that I didn’t care at all about the traffic zooming by.
This post is not about all that, however. I’m not going to go into detail about any of the above. Instead I’m going to show you what was truly magical about my visit.
Overwhelmed by the noise of bustling Bangkok we decided to spend a few days at Hua Hin. Once a tranquil fishing village it became a Royal resort when King Ram VII discovered it in the 1920s, and even though it is now a popular holiday centre it still retains some of its original quaintness and peace. In addition, its beaches are spectacular, with clear blue seas, palm trees and all the other things that make for a cinematic setting. So was the highlight of my trip a few days in the tropical sunshine topping up my tan, or was it just resting under an umbrella while I sipped a beachside cocktail? No, those things didn’t happen. Instead I went swimming with a baby elephant.
It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t touristy, I was just there when the mahout brought the baby onto the beach for his first glimpse of the sea. Although my elephant is probably full size by now, his behaviour was exactly the same as the one I’ve posted here. He was nervous at first, then excited and finally, totally elated as he rushed in and out of the waves and let them roll him over. And while he did all this I swam with him and played with him, and then, when he was finally too tired to do anything else but totter back up the beach, I was allowed to share his bananas. I had one to his dozen or so, and feeding them to him was wonderful. He took them so delicately and gratefully, and at the end, just before his mahout led him away, he kissed me. Well that’s what it felt like anyway when he gently touched my cheek with the end of his trunk.
I know it is possible to have elephant ‘experiences’ in elephant sanctuaries and I’m sure those experiences are enjoyable but the magic of my encounter was that it was entirely spontaneous and natural. My baby elephant wasn’t trained or domesticated, he was just full of the energy and joy de vivre of the very young. How lucky I was to be on that beach that day. I will never forget it.
What makes a writer? There must be a thousand answers to that but in my case it’s because other people fascinate me, and on my recent journey to Russia that fascination got the better of me despite the glory of my surroundings.
The Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg is almost beyond description. The 3 million people who visit each year cannot begin to view even a fraction of the millions of artifacts on display or stored in its ten buildings, seven of which are monuments of 18th and 19th-century Russian culture, so when I was taken to the banks of the River Neva to admire one of the most iconic views of the city, I should have been concentrating. Instead something else caught my eye.
Sitting close together on the edge of the cobbled walkway were a young couple. Next to them were discarded takeaway coffee cups. She was holding a camera. Why was I more interested in two strangers than in the magnificent view opening up before me? Why did I stop looking in the direction of the tour guide’s pointing finger, and what made my ears deaf to the history all around me?
The answer is simple. I am a writer. So while my companions listened to the guide’s potted history of the city and how, once upon a time, it had been a great trading port, I was more fascinated by the couple in front of me who appeared to be completely oblivious to the rest of the world.
Why were they here? It was eight thirty in the morning, which explained the coffee but nothing else, so while everyone else in my tour group learned about the construction of The Great Hermitage (1771-87), the Russian Revolution (1917), and how more than a million items were evacuated from the museum to the Urals during World War II, I began to create a story about the here and now.
Were they illicit lovers who were stealing a few moments together on their way to their respective jobs, or were they new lovers who couldn’t bear the thought of having to spend a whole day away from one another? On the other hand, maybe the camera was the clue and they were just tourists like us who had set out to enjoy the view and been sidetracked.
I was intrigued by their body language too. The woman was slightly hunched against the early morning chill, one hand in her pocket, so had it all started when he’d put his arm around her to keep her warm? Was that her clever ploy? Was this their first kiss? Or maybe they were they saying goodbye, knowing they wouldn’t see one another again for a long time, if ever. No! They looked too happy for that. One thing was for sure, they were in love…hopelessly and ecstatically… and for a Romantic fiction writer like me it was a joy to see.
I’ll never know their story of course, and nor should I. I will use that short glimpse into their lives though. One day, in one of my books, there will be a young couple sitting beside a river and they will be so locked into their own world that they will be completely oblivious to the people passing by. She might even be wearing a green coat…but the story will be mine. Whether The Great Hermitage will also feature remains to be seen!
Choosing a blog topic is complicated. At one time I used to promote fellow authors on my blog. It kept it live and made the featured writer happy but it ate into my writing time in a big way, so now I mainly tweet their book links instead.
I sometimes blog about my own books of course but there is only so much I can say about them before self-aggrandizement sets in, so for a while I’ve been stuck for a topic. Then, yesterday, I had an inspiration. My website strapline is ‘A ticket to Romance’ because so many of my books are loosely based on the countries and places I’ve visited. For example Cabin Fever is set on the cruise ship that took me from Auckland in the North of New Zealand right down to Sydney in Australia, whereas Reluctant Date takes place in a small town in Florida where I had one of the best holidays of my life.
As well as being hugely enjoyable, travelling, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures has changed my perspective on life. To quote Mary Anne Radmacher, ‘I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.’
I’m not, however, going to turn my blog into a travelogue. Anyone who is interested in the places I write about in my books can find out about them on the Internet. Instead, I’m going to talk about the flip side of travellings – the many things that went wrong, or made me laugh, or cry, or both, because ‘Travel is glamorous only in retrospect’ ― Paul Theroux.
This means that I have no choice but to start with India and the two weeks I spent travelling between Delhi and Amritsar with no luggage, not even a change of underwear. It was New Year so the shops were closed – well the shops that sold western clothes were – and I would have looked ridiculous in a shalmar kameeze or a sari because I am so obviously from northern Europe. I worried too about offending the Indian families I was going to visit, some of whom lived in remote villages where many of the inhabitants had never seen a white face. I didn’t want to upset them by choosing a wrong colour or an inappropriate style.
Fortunately, because it was winter I was travelling in layers, so my solution was to wash the sweater while I wore the blouse, and vice versa, while the jeans, boots, woollen jacket and cape were easy to dress up with scarves and cheap jewelry, things that I was able to acquire. At night I festooned our various hotel bathrooms with drying lingerie while I went to sleep in a pair of my husband’s pajamas. I also borrowed his socks.
The experience had a profound effect on me. Once I’d accepted that the airline really had lost my luggage I was able to enjoy the trip in a way I’ve never experienced before or since. While others were busy unpacking or repacking their suitcases, I went sightseeing or talked to strangers. While they prepared for each formal visit or outing, I could only brush down my jeans, shrug on my jacket and think about the day ahead. I saw more, heard more, learned more and worried less. It was totally liberating and I also learned that in the wider scheme of things, a suitcase full of clothes, a hairdryer and a change of shoes is neither important nor necessary. I learned that it really is possible to travel light.
Oh, I forgot to say…my lipstick was in my handbag. Now if that had gone missing it might have been different story!
Come back next week for another traveller’s tale from the flip side. In the meantime, what would keep you sane if your luggage went missing? I’d love to know.
OK so I got it wrong. Having been so full of how I was going to upgrade my website and blog and, at the same time, blog less frequently but more consistently, I failed. Well almost. The website is definitely better although still not fully tweaked, but the blogging has been a disaster. I do have several excuses…a husband undergoing a serious back operation that led to complications…happily now resolved, a new grandchild, husband returning to hospital as the result of a freak accident, caring for older grandchildren, and a whole host of other things, most of which have also slowed down the progress of my latest book. In the middle of all this, however, I received some exciting news. Bouquet of Thorns, the fourth of my Retro Romances, has just been published.
With so much else happening in my life, having a new book published with very little effort on my part is a wonderful boost. So too is the knowledge that all those 1980s romances are having a new lease of life thanks to Samhain Publishing.
Bouquet of Thorns is set in and around Buckinghamshire in the UK, where I used to live. The heroine, Sarah, is a florist, as was my mother, so I didn’t have to do much research for that part of the story. As for the rest, well I just had to visit the occasional wine bar which, in the 1980s, were all very similar. Checkered tablecloths, candles in old chianti bottles set in wicker wine carriers, dim lighting, and a fairly basic menu of lasagne, cannelloni and spaghetti bolognese, all smothered with pre-grated parmesan that was more like sawdust than cheese. Chianti was always the wine of choice.
I can remember feeling very sophisticated whenever I ate in one. Goodness how times have changed! Although the old favourites are still on most menus, Italian food has moved a very long way since those heady days, and I still love it. Unfortunately that doesn’t come across in the book because her brother’s wine bar is one of the thorns in Sarah’s side. There are many more…Sean Marlow for instance…but you’ll have to read the book to find out about him. In the meantime you can read a sample if you click on the book icon at the top of the website. Enjoy!
I read this post by Luc Reid and know from experience that everything in it is true so, thanks to his generosity, I am reposting it.
My 16-year-old son Ethan recently wrote his first short story intended for publication, and my niece, a high school senior, is visiting colleges like Middlebury, Williams, Wesleyan, and Bennington looking for a school that can help her develop a career…
When I go on holiday I rarely read the books I take with me. Instead I read the books that previous holiday makers have left behind. Crammed onto shelves in the reception area, scattered on tables in the guest lounge, stacked beside the TV in the villa or apartment…wherever we happen to be staying there are always abandoned books. And what treasures they are. On holiday I’ve discovered authors I’ve never heard of, learned new things, been reminded of long forgotten stories, looked at situations in a different way and, in the reading, remembered why a new book is always such a joy.
Of course reading on holiday has an added bonus because it’s one of the few times it’s possible to read a book from cover to cover in an afternoon. This week I have read The Color Purple by Alice Walker and in the process learned a whole lot more about the American Deep South in the early part of the twentieth century. By the time I finished it I was so entranced that I followed it up by listening to the actress Whoopi Goldberg being interviewed on the UK Radio programme Desert Island Discs. Whoopi Goldberg won so many acclaims for acting in the Steven Speilberg film of the book that I wanted to find out more about her, and thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I did just that. Apparently she was so deeply affected by the story that she wrote to the author asking for a part if a film was ever made of the book. Alice Walker wrote back about two months later to tell her she had sent the necessary paperwork to the studios. The film script for The Color Purple was then written specifically for Whoopi Goldberg. It was her first big motion picture. The rest is history.
After I’d allowed myself enough time to think about what I’d just read, I turned to something that I thought would be very different but which turned out to be linked in the strangest way. This was Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson who is a well known British author. It is a semi-fictional autobiography. I know this sounds like an enigma but I assure you it’s true. To understand what I mean, however, you’ll have to read it.
Like Celie in The Color Purple, Jeanette Winterson is someone who lives on the edge and who has also spent much of her life searching for love as well as for a lost love. I didn’t see the similarities while I was reading because one was about a black community in the American Deep South in the 1920s while the other was set in the 1960s in a poor northern town in the UK. In both books, however, the main character was lonesome and abandoned, and immensely brave. It was only afterwards that the similarities became clear, and that is another benefit of this random holiday reading…there is far more time to think.
There have been other books too, more random choices, and while I’ve been reading them an amazing thing has happened. In each one of the holiday books I’ve read, I’ve discovered a fact that is crucial to the next story I’m going to write.
I set off on holiday determined to develop the outline for Book 3 of my Pathway Trilogy. Before I write any book I have to ‘see’ the characters and develop the back story. Within days I had all this clear in my head. What I didn’t have, however, was the detail. I needed to research a lot of things if I was to get my facts right but, happy that I had the outline, I decided to concentrate on my holiday and worry about the detail when I returned home. So with my selection of random books I settled down to do just this. I had no plan when I chose these books…I knew very little about them and wasn’t even sure I was going to enjoy them… yet despite this they seemed to have a plan for me. In every book I read I discovered a nugget of information that I needed to flesh out my own story. I was also confronted by a new way of looking at a situation, something that has made me reconsider how one of my characters is going to react. After two weeks of reading random stories my research is complete without any effort on my part…so to every writer whose book I’ve read in this villa in the sun, thank y0u. And to every holiday maker who has left a book behind, thank you. Random reading has much to commend it.
No, this post doesn’t have anything to do with the James Bond film, it’s about Empty Hearts, a romantic novel I wrote in the early 1980s. It’s set in Moscow even though I’ve never been there. How did I research it? Well I certainly didn’t use the Internet as at that time it wasn’t available for home use. Nor did I type it on a computer because I didn’t own one. Every word was produced on my old portable typewriter, in triplicate, using Tippex when I made a mistake. It was a slow and tortuous process, made even slower by having to research everything via the reference library and an encyclopaedia as well as something more specific – the National Geographic magazine. Someone gave me a bundle of back copies and for a while they remained piled, unread, on the bookshelf. Then, one rainy day when I was looking for inspiration for my third book, I happened to pick one up. Pretty soon after that I was engrossed in an article about Moscow. I was enraptured by the descriptions and wanted to use them, but how? While I was pondering, two things happened. First I met someone who was very decidedly hero material. Secondly I read a newspaper article about a writer who, to make ends meet, combined caring for other peoples’ children with research. With those two snippets it wasn’t long before the book began to take shape.
Would I dare to write the same story now? Definitely not. Although I frequently use exotic backgrounds for my stories, these days I only use those I’ve visited first hand, which means I can write from the heart. Thanks to National Geographic I think I got most of my facts right in Empty Hearts but nowadays, with the Internet linking almost every town and city across the world, I would worry that my readers would see right through me.
And what of the man who was the inspiration for my hero? Well he never found out, even when I met him again a couple of years later and he asked me if I ever based my characters on real people. And who is he? Well I hate to admit it, but all these years later I can’t even remember his name!
So there you have it. The inner workings of a writer’s mind.
A short excerpt about a visit to the open air ice rink at Moscow’s Gorky Park where Holly, already disturbed by the fraught relationship she has observed between her employer, Dirk, and his young son, Peter, is determined to find a way to help them bond. Unfortunately it’s not going to happen at Gorky Park, not now she has very stupidly flirted with Dirk in the hope that it will make him want to spend more time with her and Peter.