Thursday, 12 November 2015

Space to breathe, space to work

The cottage is progressing gently, surveys have come back (not falling down), money has been collected and a million forms filled in. We will have a cottage by the sea hopefully by the end of December. the idea makes us both more imaginative, walking along the seafront makes us feel like children. This is a dream come true for us - who thought we would ever be able to afford to live in such a nice place, just for fun? OK, it's our entire pension fund as well - worth having anyway. 

Planning a space only nine feet wide is fun too -   it does make you think carefully about what can go where, how wide everything is. My parents live on a narrowboat so are experts in narrow living, nearly nine feet seems capacious beside a boat. Hopefully a lot of our spare stuff can go to the cottage, including the odd spare offspring. 

The Twins book is almost finished, I'm onto a third draft, just a run through to fix a big plot twist that didn't work. Going through the second draft I found a much better one. I think some writers struggle to do a first draft, think they can tidy up the language and the grammar a bit, and it's done. Maybe it is for some people, but I'm not one of them. Mine evolves between and during drafts. I know my characters so much better now, I know the sub-plots, I can see where a character came in and then just disappeared. More work, more time but I want to get it right.

Meanwhile, I'm making linocuts and these are drawing out strange poetry. All inspired by Appledore.


Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Secrets of Blood and Bone - the paperback!

The Secrets of Blood and Bone comes out in paperback today! Apart from being in the final stages of polishing book 3, The Secrets of Time and Fate for its release next year (can't wait, it's my favourite!) the book coming out in paperback is a treat. Hardbacks are lovely things but most readers want a paperback. I've been lucky to get some lovely reviews in America after the launch there, and hope we'll see a bit of feedback over here too!

Meanwhile, I've been engaging with bloggers and internet publishing sites in the US, answering questions and writing articles: (never mind the name!)

It's been a long time coming, I'm thrilled to see it out and hopefully book 3 won't be too far behind. It was great fun to take the characters further, to resolve the whole story arc. Book 3 involves Kelley at sea in the pirate ridden, storm driven Mediterranean, Felix trying to uncover the science behind borrowed time with an unlikely ally from the Bathory legacy, and the key to longevity coded into obscure poems by Eliza Weston - Kelley's daughter -  as she struggles to outsmart Elizabeth Bathory.  And, of course, resolves what happened to Jack, last seen dropping off a bridge into the river... As other writers will tell you, trilogies are hard - where do you draw the line between writing a standalone book and keeping a longer story running through. I hope the whole series will be resolved at the end of book 3 although I have already started writing, for my own pleasure, book 4. The characters live in my head now, they are part of the family!

Meanwhile, I've been collaborating with a lot of local writers on an anthology of short fictions, poems and memoir, which also comes out today. More about that later!

Meanwhile I have to find mental space to get back to work on the Twins book, the second draft is pulling together really well, ready to go off to my agent. Although writing has seemed like crawling through treacle, this year I have written pretty well two whole books and planned a third. It's giving me lots of editing to do up to Christmas.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Once upon a time...

...I dreamed of a cottage by the sea. The sea feeds my imagination like nothing else, it fills me with energy, I even sleep better when I've been out on the beach. But our new house is tucked away by a big river, a few miles inland. Then I inherited some money, and if my son and I put our little funds together we could - almost - afford the shabbiest, tiniest, most story-book wreck of a cottage. It's pretty run down - my son is unimpressed by the rather basic kitchen and plumbing arrangements - but I love it. I love it so much a book is writing itself out of the house, even before we get the keys. Now we're balancing paperwork from the bank, the solicitors, the mortgage (we didn't quite have enough) all to buy a two-up, two-down writing retreat a few yards from the quayside at Appledore. You can hear the sea through the cracked single glazed windows. Sea breezes rocket down the open chimneys and fill the air with soot. The only toilet is outside in the yard. I love it.

It's been a strange two years. My first book was published in the same week my husband got the news that he had a virulent cancer and it had already started to spread. His reaction was that he wanted to move from my lovely house to this new town, which has been a sensible and grown up thing to do. But my imagination, somehow, didn't get packed. Writing books I started in 'the big house' was fine, but I was starting to worry that new ideas were just not coming. Well, that's all changed. Not only do I have my creative non-fiction project to work on, I am starting a new Sci-Fi book and writing this 'house' book. I'm looking forward to working on it in the house.

The place is very small, and completely cluttered, and we're all excited about ripping out carpets, rubbing down window frames and rewiring so it can at least be warm. Warm and dry. And sparsely furnished with the pieces that didn't fit in the new house that I miss. The aim is to create a writing retreat to give me somewhere to de-stress, and perhaps let it out to fellow creatives in time. the whole loft is a big studio space, lit by two roof windows, one facing south and one north, looking over the roofs to the estuary beyond. Lovely. It's a bit of a shame you can only get there climbing up a ladder like a bookcase. Maybe we'll have enough money after the rewire for some proper stairs.

Book 2 has come out in the states, and I'm thrilled about it. It even looks gorgeous, I love the cover.

Monday, 10 August 2015

In creative chaos

I'm up to my neck in creative projects at the moment which is - mostly - Yay! but slightly ARGHHH as well. I sit down to work and a dozen projects claim my attention. Grant applications, job applications, marking, teaching workshops, two books almost finished, promotion, a legacy to organise from my mother-in-law's death, an investment property to (maybe) buy... the list goes on (and on). The problem is the sheer number of choices to be made. Not to mention all the kids' stuff and normal family stuff. I'm looking forward to October when it all calms down, books will be out, paperwork will be done, decisions made, kids back at college/university. 

We wanted to make a sensible investment by buying a nice little house around the corner. Since then, information has come to light that the shop next door is going to become three flats - all of whom are going to want to share the property's parking space - which comes with the property but I don't want to spend the rest of my life asking people to move their cars for the benefit of our tenant. Anyway, it seemed like a very safe option, and part of me wants something a bit more exciting. I have just spent half an hour speculating on buying  railway carriage by the sea...

The Lorina Bulwer project is marching on whatever else I think about, the words just fall onto the page in capitals, partly influenced by August, when my daughter died after her final illness. I'm just so glad she died at home, but the horrible rawness of that time stays with me, mostly because I can't think about it too much except each August when it demands to be seen, and experienced and grieved. Now the words just come gently, and pierce the printed cotton strips and say their own thing. I'm amazed at the power of the very personal words and the way they feel sort of finished once they are stitched. Very therapeutic, maybe stitching helped Lorina deal with her feelings. 

Other themes wander in, the wonderful Bellacouche studio in Moretonhampstead makes woollen shrouds, and in Yuli Somme's church studio she has felt shoes on each stair which brought so many ideas into my head, now getting space on the fabric. 
And so on. Who knows where it will go or how it will edit itself? It doesn't have to be poetry, the lack of punctuation plays games with the meaning as it goes anyway. It's also absolutely addictive to do. Lorina appliquéd figures and then ranted over the top, I'm going to have a play with that next on a separate piece. 

Meanwhile the Twins book is powering on, I'm presently standing with my back to a locked door while two nutty characters play out their end game. It's all just adding to the decision making stress. Will they get out of this alive, and if so, which one? I look forward to finding out. Perhaps I ought to stitch the scene onto fabric...

Monday, 3 August 2015

Finding a new voice

Every instinct is saying 'write a fictional character' but all that comes is my own story. Lorina's words trigger my own memories, both sympathetic and antithetic. I wrote a few notes about her learning the piano, and my own childhood experiences of pianos came to mind. She wrote about her anger about being unable to complain, I found myself choked up on her behalf as well as my own. I still find it difficult to stand up to doctors. But her childless state, her living at home with her mother (for fifty-five years) suggests a domestic dullness that I have never suffered from! I even found a detail of her will.
I was surprised to find she had so much money on her death, effectively almost three hundred and sixty pounds. Which I suppose explains the various threads and fabrics she had in order to produce her rants! I'm playing around with both an autobiographical voice (I'm reading everything Julia Blackburn has done at the moment - amazing writer!) and my fictional character as well. Part of me knows no-one wants to read about me, but it's a way to compare Lorina's life to a modern voice. Which a fictional character could do. I'm not sure, more head scratching to do.

The story has drawn me in, so much that I find myself writing snippets in the middle of the night when I can't sleep. I wish I could sleep, insomnia is getting a bit tedious. When I was younger I would just come downstairs and work for a few hours, but I'm too tired to concentrate.

The Secrets of Blood and Bone comes out in the US on September 1st and I am writing bits and pieces of publicity enquiries as they come in. It's lovely to get back to book 2 and I find I'm getting more excited about it. It comes out in paperback in the UK on October 8th. Then book 3 will have its turn, and the trilogy will be done, which nicely rounds the series off. Except for me, I'm already drafting out book 4 (just for fun, but it's a bit compulsive).

Meanwhile, it's hard to concentrate on the Twins book, which I hope to get back to shortly, because we have builders coming to take off all the asbestos on the roof and hopefully put nice, reclaimed slates back on. Of course, high winds and torrential rain are forecast...

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Evolving projects

It's a strange thing how one idea can lead to another and another... like stepping stones across a changing landscape. I'm enjoying 'finishing' the Twins Book, although finishing is putting a rather glossier gleam on it than what it really is - completing the first draft. There are people who write perfect first drafts, I don't, I'm over it. The book already has the seeds of exciting new directions in it, like forking over the compost heap and finding a peach stone growing. Or an avocado, which would be unusual since I don't like avocados and never throw stones away. But, anyway, new ideas spring up, especially about The Project, which is gathering pace.

The writing is slowly evolving, from what I thought could be a novel about a therapist exploring the rants of an angry, possibly mentally ill woman, to considering autobiography/biography. I realised my fictional character was grieving for a significant loss trying to make sense of her own feelings and those of her loved one. She was even the same age as me when my sister died, for goodness sake, and the character name was one letter away from Sarah. I accept that I am as bonkers as Lorina and rapidly unravelling as I stitch but there's something very therapeutic in that. Of course, the big debate is whether a reader might find a fictional character more interesting (and more believable) that a real life, even told in fragments. Not to mention most people find it hard to weigh and edit writing about themselves in the same way they sort out fiction. Anyway, the stitching is a bit addictive so I'll see where it leads me.

The bird decided to join us, I don't know why, the original figures were appliquéd, and a fox is going to join it soon. It's a bit disturbing when a project takes over but that's what books do, too. It's all go here, one daughter has moved into her first house, another has got into college - all in the same few weeks. I'm looking forward to seeing my brother and his wife next weekend, and I'm teaching character, which is disturbing in itself. 

'Let's make up some people who can do crazy things in our heads...' 

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Project

Despite the rest of my world still needing attention, I've managed to make a start on The Project. This is me attempting to write a novel about a not-famous person but a fascinating record of her inner thoughts, stitched into an amazing rant from the injustice (as she saw it) of being dumped in a workhouse as a lunatic.

I've started by sewing together some strips of cloth and having a go at embroidering words on them. One thing has become obvious - it's hard to hold focus on a rant when you're going at one letter every two minutes. I'm already choosing words with less of those pesky curves in (O takes seven stitches) and more angular words with A and W. She wrote entirely in capitals which is interesting too, it feels like she's shouting it, screaming it even. I find myself getting wound up inside pretty quickly, just because the letters are so big and - shouty. 

This is a bit of the big piece. 
She didn't punctuate at all. This makes it really hard to read but when you sew, it creates lots of short phrases, odd combinations that you don't expect, as you stitch it very s l o w l y

So I'm writing very slowly, without many little words like 'and' and 'the' so it's already open to interpretation, and finding odd connections. I find myself using a lot of verbs. Yesterday I wrote (in slow motion) WATER SKI ON ROUGH SEAS SHOCK ICE SALT IN MY FACE DOWN MY THROAT BURNING CHOKING. It's a fascinating project, and as I sit over my stitching I find myself brooding and wondering how to get ideas down in as few words as possible. REB CROSS GET CHOCOLATE seems to be the end point.  

Lorina Bulwer found a lot of rhymes too, they're a bit addictive, along with words that morph into new words. STITCHING BITCHING IN THREAD NEEDLE SLIPS SILK CUTS COLOURS BLEED WITCHING STITCHING INTO CLOTH WINDING IN WORDS WORMS WORLDS (my words not hers). 

This was my first sampler.

I'm starting to feel the need for illustrations too, just like she did, although I haven't managed to work out what her pictures were for. I wonder where it's all going, but it does seem to be going somewhere. I feel like the needle thing is so moreish it pulls me into the fabric. Maybe I'll be found dessicated, neatly stitched into a quilt. 

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Head buzzing with ideas

I don't sleep amazingly well, and I don't seem to need that much anyway. But recently I've been up, tired and grumpy but wide awake at 5.30. Since I can't get to sleep before 12.30 at the earliest, sleep is in short supply. The reason is two-fold. I've been given a baby dose of thyroxine to counter a slight shortfall, and like all hormones, it has a strong effect. At least I'm not feeling cold all the time. But the main reason is that my brain is buzzing with ideas.

As a writer who is a bit compulsive about writing (yes, I'm back writing everyday like a word junkie) I want to write the twins book. I'm working on a local writers' anthology, which is coming on well but I always forget just how much work these are. And I'm contemplating The Project, complete with possibilities of PhD etc. I don't know what I should do, but my time seems split between different projects and all I want to do is write.

I've been reading books on 'hermaphrodites' and intersex (or disorders of sex development) through the ages. While the historical picture is predictably blunt and shaped by patriarchal societal norms (some boys with very small penises were 'adjusted' to look more like girls), terrifyingly, the picture in the 1980s and 1990s wasn't much better. Babies with 'ambiguous' genitalia and/or chromosomes were operated on so they would look normal at school. I'm glad to say my genitals were not, at any time at school, shared with the class. And if they were, if a wide range of 'normal' genitals were accepted and the person's own feelings on their gender (or not) were considered, how many children would have avoided being mutilated? The picture has improved: as long as a baby can pee and poo, time is now allowed to explore physical development, the hormonal picture and how the child self-identifies. Fascinating stuff but more work needs to be done to allow people who do not choose a polarised view of their gender, whether intersex or not, to be themselves. All grist to writer's mill, though.

Otherwise, we're worried sick about an older relative. It cuts at our family, even our sixteen year old (who has just got into college without a GCSE to her name, go Rosie) and is probably one reason I wake at 5.30 and lie awake thinking about being old. “Old age ain't no place for sissies.” ― Bette Davis     

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Developing an idea and finding it has wings

I love it when my brain gets fired up with a new idea. I'm presently paddling in the very fertile waters of imagination, research and art, a great place to be. It's hard holding all the elements in my head at once - so not much sleep - but words and picture ideas are pouring out and I've pressed them into a project book like wild flowers, like butterflies. (I would never press real butterflies into a book, but idea butterflies are fair game. Anyway, they still get away, they refused to be limited by the thin range of words I have to play with. They are the flat ghosts of butterflies). 

I'm at a crossroads with ideas at the moment, looking for studio space in my head and maybe for real. The house is TOO SMALL to contain all the work and the living and the kids and cats and furniture. I need an overspill space, and I'm looking for somewhere else. It's that or turf Russell's beloved car out of the vast and top-lit garage and convert it.  Not his first choice.

I've been looking at research about Lorina Bulwer, This has sparked a renewed interest in patchwork - the letters are embroidered into patched fabrics, although it's not clear where she got them from. Maybe her pre-workhouse wardrobe. 

I've been looking at the text itself, and wondering whether anyone has ever tried to use a grounded theory analysis approach to it, or whether it is seen as entirely within the arts and as a medical artefact. From my brief look at it (having not studied grounded theory for a gazillion years) I can already pull out themes, just reading it every day for a few days. Fascinating stuff, and those themes could inform the book. 

I also came across a fascinating document by Elizabeth Parker, a servant girl raped and beaten by her employer, driven to the edge of suicide then taken in by a kinder woman. She wrote about her life in an amazingly complex cross stitch piece. This was from 1830, another group of women with no voice crying out in the only way acceptable to others. Samplers and stitching were used to demonstrate domestic skills and 'a proper disposition', as well as teaching a range of stitches. This one seems purely cathartic. 

Monday, 22 June 2015

The embroidered letter

I've been looking at teaching jobs, at lecturing in creative writing (which is why I studied writing in the first place). But the strange things about going on a journey like a job application is it leads to other things, wandering about touching on other things that matter. Several things have come up for me this year:

  • I will stop home educating this year after 22 years, my youngest is off to college
  • I love writing more than I expected and I'm writing easily (and stuff I like)
  • I need an adventure
  • I miss the Isle of Wight and my friends
  • All the time I've been a creative writer I've been creative in other ways e.g. textiles
  • I'm fascinated by psychology, and the social construction of 'madness'
  • Looking into a new job made me look at THIS
The embroidered letter of Lorina Bulwer

This is the rant of a middle aged woman locked up in the imbecile ward - full of dementia patients, alcoholics and mentally ill and learning disabled people - of a workhouse. She came from a middle class, well educated background,  and lived with her mother until the latter's death. Her rants reveal evidence of sexual abuse, that was not acknowledged at the time (her abuser is named and was suspected of abusing another 13 year old. He confessed to having written the child a number of explicit letters but denied touching her).Then her brother placed her in the workhouse.

I'm itching to use this amazing story in a project, so I have looked into this course. It inspires me as the sister of someone who wrestled with mental illness and had her voice taken away, as well as an artist and writer. Who knows? I'm also in the strange position of having some money to invest, so there might be a little income to spend.

I have no idea where this idea will take me, or whether it's a step in the direction of something else, but it's great to feel like we're moving forward again! 

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

When is poetry good poetry?

This question came to me a couple of times when I was sorting through a stack of entries to a North Devon anthology. As usual, the standard is very variable, with a lot of very accomplished pieces of fiction and memoir. Writing groups in North Devon have a high standard and are happy to critique constructively, most aren't of the 'well, that's lovely dear' variety. (There's a place for them too, I know). Consequently there is a marked difference between the poetry and the prose entries.

Which is what I'm thinking about. Writing fiction and poetry is so cathartic for many people, so satisfying - does it have to be 'good' as well? If the writer likes it and their family and friends like it, is that enough? What standard do we judge to?

Of course, there's another element here, people want to be read, they often want publication. And mainstream publishers are extremely fussy, they can afford to be. For them to hand over hard cash it has to be a) well written b) saleable and c) turn up at the right time. But in pursuing publication, are we overlooking the value of all of that less 'good' writing out there?

I enjoyed working through the anthology fiction pieces and discussing them with my other judges. Generally, we agreed on what should be included and when we didn't, we included as much as we could. But the poetry creates a dilemma. For me it's simple, put the best of the poetry in, but home-grown poetry isn't like literary poetry. Where a short story in a  magazine and short story submitted to the anthology aren't that far apart, the poems are much further from the literary ideal. Perhaps this is because there are lots of outlets for fiction in popular magazines, and few for poems, but I think at its heart the problem is one of reading. Amateur poets don't read the same poetry as published poets, so their idea of a poem is different. Here's some advice on telling the difference. How to tell a 'good' poem from a 'bad' poem

The problem for me is I see lots of poems that by those criteria are pretty good. They lack focus very often, the biggest problem with most of them is they need a lot of editing and development to get to their best. But they have the right stuff in them, they do the job. They evoke a feeling or an event in an interesting way, they connect people. but they aren't good poems by literary standards.  

So what do we do with the not-literary poetry, the poems that don't look or sound like the ones in the poetry magazines and collections? Some of them are just too sentimental, some lack structure or timing or include clichés, but they are still full of emotion and imagery and heart.  Perhaps we should call them something else, spoken songs or poetry of the people, because I think they are an important part of the total scope of creative writing in this country and we need to cherish them. In the meantime, I shall encourage local poets to keep reading, not just the popular poetry but some of the literary stuff as well. Here's a sample of poems to read that will start you off - and entertain you. They run in the poetic veins of our culture, but are they all 'good' poems?

Monday, 4 May 2015

Moving in to a new house

It's taken me eight months to move house, even though we actually moved at the end of August last year. I've been trapped by stuff in boxes, stuff waiting to go into storage, stuff to go in furniture and on shelves. And I couldn't face doing any of it. I just couldn't imagine living here. It feels weird to be here, surrounded by the familiar books and belongings, my special people, yet feeling like we were temporarily waiting for our new house to be available. If I had been plonked down on the pavement surrounded by boxes I wouldn't have felt less at home. It was someone else's house.

This weekend something shifted. Something in me, I suppose, even though it felt like it was driven entirely by Russell. My 'study', the dumping ground from the move, started to shift. 

'I could move your desk if you like.'

That was all it took, really. I had three bookcases in the corner, and I asked him if he could change them around so I could slot my (huge) desk in them somehow. Within two minutes of looking at the bookcases, sucking a pencil and a bit of measuring, he announced that he could, so I called his bluff. 

'Go on, then.'

Anyway, he did. This necessitated me packing up all the books I had moved (but will never read again), reference books that are redundant thanks to the internet, kids' books that can just go into storage waiting for grandchildren and anything I really don't need (800 A4 envelopes that don't stick any more, anyone? Eight almost empty boxes of matches with none of that striky stuff on the sides? Half-eaten feathers that the cats have chewed?).  

Now I have room to write, enough storage and room to teach from home, getting around the problems of finding a space cheap enough to rent. That will keep the cost down to writers. One problem was the large chest of drawers we had in the room, which had everything from maps to candles to batteries, wrapping paper, string, scissors... you can understand why I wasn't sure we could get rid of it. But it's been emptied, relocated to the youngest daughter's room, her room given a makeover, a new bed and it's tidied up. Now all I have to do is tidy my desk, always difficult. The truth is, I write better when my desk is clear (I know, I know, but...) so it's a good thing to do. It's still the hardest bit, even though we must have moved seven or eight hundred books and a lot of furniture this weekend. But I've done my words for the day so I have to tackle it. I'll post a picture to prove I did it!

I did it! Notice I don't show the floor...

Getting more organised... Russ put my pictures up too. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Writing three books at once...

I know writers who fall deep into a book and write and write and write... I can't do that. Sooner or later I get stuck, I run out of plot and wonder where it's all going. (This would be easier if I was a plotter, I know, but I just can't organise a book until I've written it.) But I'm in the happy position of having a book to finish (A Baby's Bones 2), a new book to write and a book to edit (Secrets 3). It's refreshing going back to a project that I haven't read for many months, while I still get to play creator with the new chapters. I don't know why I write two books at a time more easily than one, but in the last eighteen months (the cancer years) I have written at a snail's pace. Getting back to normal is lovely.

Meanwhile, I have had the pleasure and privilege of reading books by a local writer. You know one of those people that writes fluent, rich books but can't get a book deal? I could see what he was doing wrong - and it's a familiar story, I made many of the same mistakes when I started out. Too many characters, no clear main character, too complex a structure with too many point of view characters, soft chapter beginnings that don't drag the reader in. If I have learned one thing on this journey it is to consider the reader. What are they going to get out of the book? What do they need to enjoy the story?  I know the answer for my genre is characters they find interesting. So often fantasy writers focus on the fantasy, but that's just setting. Ultimately, we want to invest in the people on that journey. I hope to see my friend progress towards publication - he certainly has the persistence and imagination to do it. 

I've also been succeeding with a problem I've had for fifteen years - type 2 diabetes. My blood sugar had shot up and I finally had symptoms. I was looking at more medication and insulin. I've finally given up on the NHS advice of lots of complex carbohydrates and looked into a new approach. It's finding approval in the US and Sweden already and research is pushing it into the NHS as well. My blood sugars are in the normal range, not OK-for-diabetics and I will have to reduce my medicine. Better still, my mood has stopped rocketing around with my blood sugar. As a welcome extra, I've lost a lot of weight, but that's not the best thing about it. Diets are incredibly hard to stick to because you get hungry, and crave your favourite foods. This diet cuts off the sugar rises and falls which dictate appetite. I can feel empty but not yet hungry - in fact I have to be careful I don't just fast all day. Anyway, this is a man who recommends you break up 70% chocolate into squares and put them in a jar, to help yourself if you get the munchies, so he understands. If you're worried about developing or have type 2 diabetes, you might like to look at this website or this book:

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Back on the merry-go-round

I still have a book to polish up for publication by Del Rey UK, and I'm very grateful for that. But those books are written and I need to look forward to a new deal somewhere. I feel as if I'm back where I started but with a bit more to put in my writing CV. 

So a book I wrote several years ago will (hopefully) be landing in editors' inboxes at some point, courtesy of my new agent Jane. It only takes one of them to like it, I suppose, but the closer I get to a draft the less confident I become. I'm so familiar with the characters now they seem commonplace and ordinary. So I've spent some time looking through A Baby's Bones again and falling in love with my two principal characters again. 

It's also helped me with the sequel, because I am crawling through the contemporary strand incredibly slowly, barely making 3000 to 4000 words a week. (Note to self - check which box I packed my writing mojo in). It's growing, but I think I'm too distracted with other stuff (losing my mother-in-law, illness, settling into the house) to come up with story. As soon as a moment of plot suggests itself I'm off for a chapter or two - then stagnation again. It will all come together, it always does. Meanwhile I'm still playing with my ghost story. 

Meanwhile, one of my sons is studying archaeology at the University of Southampton, and I am JEALOUS. The more I read, the more fascinating the subject becomes. I'm looking forward to him coming home for Easter to see what his course has shown him - something will spark for the book, I'm sure. He was a fan of ABB and that's a good reason to get on with ABB 2. Love you, Isaac!

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The merest suggestion of Spring

I have just realised I write books and set them in the present season. Books get written in spring or autumn because that tends to be when I start a new book. But just to make life difficult, I have set the contemporary strand of A Baby's Bones 2 in the autumn, but unconsciously I am filling the story with daffodils and late snow showers which I can see from the window. Not as obviously as that, of course, but somehow it's creeping in. Reading it back it stands out, and worse than that, I set the historical strand in the spring too, so it would be confusing to switch backwards and forwards. But I did the same for ABB 1, setting the contemporary story in March and April, and the historical strand from August to Christmas. I seemed to get away with that, and I enjoyed writing it, swapping from one to the other. This time it just doesn't seem to work, I'm getting confused. I'm getting my March and October mixed up.

In other news, I'm about to start rewriting and tidying up book 3. I think it's the best of the three Secrets books, I'm learning as I go. But in many ways it's the biggest of the three with the biggest breadth. I suspect it will need a lot more work, and I still don't have a title for it! ARGH! I'm rubbish at titles.

Having been a bit under the weather for the last few months it's nice to be feeling better, almost as the spring unfolds. Maybe that's why it's sneaking into ABB 2. There's a bit of me in all my characters so I suppose it's natural to identify with the characters, but I really do feel closest to Sage, my archaeologist character. Writing her conflict between being a wife and mother and being a professional archaeologist reflects some conflicts in me. I've been the mother of at least one child since 1984, that's officially forever, and today our youngest turned 16. I no longer have a 'child', even if she's still dependant on us she's already looking out at the world. Five years ago I would have said that was a painful thing, but after a lot of grieving as they all moved on or out, I've started to speculate what life on the other side is like. Will I have to take up golf and/or flower arranging? Because all I want to do is catch up on some of the things I missed having my children young. I think it's time to misbehave and shock the 'children'. Maybe Sage can let her hair down too.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Finding the right locations

Last week was all about finding the right location. If I've been somewhere, I write with more conviction and somehow that makes the book seem better. So we drove down to Dartmoor to find a village, a church and a house that could work together for A Baby's Bones 2. We didn't expect the coincidences to lead us all over East Dartmoor like a treasure hunt.

Let me explain. I had to come up with a name on the fly so chose Gould (first 'G' name in the phone book). I had to invent an arrangement of big standing stones on Dartmoor (so I called them Gabriell's Gate - no reason) and I had the fragments of a ghost story about a tiny place on Dartmoor called Lustleigh.

We went to Lustleigh first (because it's on the way to Moretonhampstead which has a tea shop which serves gluten-free cakes, to be honest). The village, which is very picturesque, has an old church - exactly what I was looking for. Thirteen hundreds. added to and extended, tiny. 

Inside, there was a war memorial panel. On it was the name Gould, prominently displayed. The church had some lovely details, including some early memorial carvings moved and set into the walls, and sixteen hundreds memorial stones set into the floor. 

I then went off to look for churches near the fictitious 'Gabriell's Gate'. We had narrowed it down to the Postbridge area - where the local church is called: 

Walking back to the car I was a bit frustrated that no Tudor buildings were nearby, although a glimpse of a house through the trees did catch my eye: Hartyland.

Underneath the 1930's exterior is a thirteenth century farm house, and as luck would have it, it was recently put up for sale, some of the interior photographs were available on Rightmove. Perfect size, perfect location, stone construction, and once you look at the house up close its tall, granite chimneys give its earlier origins away. It's the house. 

Now I can roam about the house - past and present - to my heart's content. It makes you want to rush home and write, which I sort of did. I even missed my gluten-free cakes.  

Monday, 9 February 2015

Sequels, sequels

It's been months since I wrote a blog post but for good reason (or very bad reasons). I've been distracted by various disasters and stresses, and a bit of a wobbly health moment, and the writing just stalled. I could edit, review, organise, but I couldn't find the concentration to find story enough to sit and write new stuff. That seems over because I have rewritten the historical strand the sequel to A Baby's Bones, snappily named ABB 2.

The first book is about an archaeologist (Sage) investigating why a baby's bones are found in a sixteenth century well. I followed Sage's adventures while also writing what happened back in 1580, when a fourteen year old girl (Viola) was embroiled in the story of an illegitimate birth, overwhelming jealousy and loss. I always wanted to know what happened to Viola next. She was such a great character, so I'm sending her off on a journey that a lot of well-born girls made - to stay with a female relative to learn how to be a married woman. I may not have been writing but I have been reading - the life of a Tudor housewife was as a manager of team of male servants. Wives, even noblewomen, had to be the expert cooks, apothecaries and house managers of essentially largish hotels, where a constant stream of visitors and their servants had to be housed, fed and entertained. If anything happened to that female figure and her senior staff the place would fall into chaos quite quickly. The other thing I found strange was how close the relationship between family and servants was. There was a culture of seeing servants as dependants, there was a great sense of responsibility. With men doing almost all of the inside work bar very personal care, women were surrounded by male servants all with their own areas of responsibility. So different from later centuries where there was a great divide between the ruling classes and the ruled! One commentator described being 'scolded' by her hall steward for leaving sewing out and forgetting to oversee the laundry maids. I need a hall steward, he can keep track of all the papers and books presently filling up the study.  

In the absence of servants, I'm waiting for notes about the Secrets book 3, presently without a title. I've been reading Venetian Navigators: The Voyages of the Zen Brothers to the Far North by Andrea di Robilant, the (possibly true) story of Nicolò and Antonio Zen as they travelled from Venice across the North Atlantic - possibly reaching the New World. In the 1380's, way before Columbus. The Venetians were amazing explorers and it's been great brushing up my maritime knowledge before I travel again with Kelley down the Mediterranean, in an open boat, through corsair infested waters.