Exciting news for 2015!

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I’m thrilled to bits to announce that I’ve been selected for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme 2015. I’ll be writing a romance for the scheme, set on the beautiful island of Madeira – and as with my other novels it’ll be creating a strong sense of time and place, for you to transport yourselves to the sights, sounds and smells of the tropical island. More about that later.

I’m excited to be joining the wonderful authors in the RNA and meeting them soon, I hope, both nationally and in the local chapter! I loved the Festival of Romance Fiction in Leighton Buzzard last September and am thrilled to be taking part in the festival this November, this time in Stratford upon Avon. Can’t wait!

The next news is that I’ve been accepted into the hallowed halls of the Society of Authors, along with some very well-known names. So I’m really looking forward to the meetings in London.

A great start to the new year, and I hope that all my readers are also having a wonderful 2015.P1000847P1000860P1000880

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) November 2014

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Can’t believe I made it!

For the whole of November I’ve been holed up with my laptop, writing my work in progress. Other than when I was working for the university, supporting my doctoral students, and walking in the countryside. Oh and going out and organising family Christmas! Looking back I’m not sure how I did it!

NaNoWriMo has been a great experience. It’s an international support strategy for getting on with your writing (or starting if you’re an aspiring writer). The target is to make 50,000 words by the end of the month.  It was the first time I’ve participated and I wasn’t sure about it. There are local groups for support but I knew that I wouldn’t be bale to make the meetings. Very soon, a group of romantic fiction writer friends, some of whom I met at the Festival of Romance Literature this summer, got together and we started our own support group as an off-shoot from NaNoWriMo and named it NaNoRomMo. Every day has started with a visit to the site to compare notes. It’s not competitive with each other, but very encouraging.

It’s not about who gets there first (although I think maybe some of the folks in the local group might have seen it that way!). It’s about helping each other to get the motivation and maintain the momentum to get there, as and when.

All in all, It’s been a good experience; all about competing against myself, setting targets instead of just rambling through a WIP as I normally do. Knowing it didn’t matter if I didn’t make it but that it would be a great achievement if I did; it was about taking part and trying. And it’s been about support and friendship and encouraging each other. I’ve made some lovely new friends with whom I share a lot, as writers and in life.

I’m sure I’ll do it again next year for my next WIP, which will probably be the last in the Drumbeats trilogy. In the meantime above this post is my award certificate and the preview of the cover of the book that won it, Walking in the Rain. Thanks to everyone for all the support … oh, I feel an Oscars speech coming over me …!

My new novel – coming soon! Romance and tragedy against a backdrop of civil war in Africa …

DRUMBEATS_300dpi  My new novel, Drumbeats, is the first of a trilogy following Jess through her life. Drumbeats starts it all off in the mid-1960s as eighteen year old English student, Jess, flees to West Africa on a gap year, escaping her stifling home background for freedom to become a volunteer teacher and nurse in the Ghanaian bush. Apprehensively, she leaves her first real romantic love behind in the UK, but will she be able to sustain the bond while she is away? With the idealism of youth, she hopes to find out who she really is, and do some good in the world, but little does she realise what, in reality, she will find that year: joys, horrors, tragedy. She must find her way on her own and learn what fate has in store for her, as she becomes embroiled in the poverty and turmoil of a small war-torn African nation under a controversial dictatorship. Jess must face the dangers of both civil war and unexpected romance. Can she escape her past or will it always haunt her?

The West African setting of Drumbeats, my new book

2012-06-22_19So, as I have mentioned in previous posts, my new novel that I am working on ( Drumbeats) is about Jess 18, who flees to escape her stifling family to Ghana as a volunteer teacher and nurse in the African bush.  She’s on a gap year before going on to university and a career. The book is about love and loss, adventure and tragedy, and it’s the story of coming of age, growing up, and finding yourself.

I myself did actually spend a gap year in Ghana and taught at a school in the bush, so the setting is authentic.

The school I worked in  was quite privileged, a secondary school, and many of the parents were wealthy by Ghanaian standards, professionals, doctors, politicians, engineers, etc. I was eighteen and not a trained teacher so it was often hair-raising. The pupils could easily become hysterical for very little reason, like a gecko running into the classroom, when they were in fact an extremely common sight. Then the girls would shriek and jump onto the tables.  Several times there were snakes, sometimes dangerous species, slithering into the classrooms. It could be pretty un-nerving! But I loved teaching although it was hard work, and for years afterwards my former pupils kept in touch.

The most striking memories, though, are of the work I did in the bush villages around the school, at Kakomdo and Ebubonku. I took first aid and did what we now call “primary care”, basic nursing and teaching first aid to the villagers. Ghana was a very poor country with a low literacy level, and many families in the bush villages were living in great poverty,  so the work was essential.

Many children in the bush suffered from kwashiorkor, or malnourishment and starvation. They also had tropical sores which attracted flies and quickly became infected in the African heat, so a large part of my job was to dress the  tropical sores and teach families how to cope. If these wounds were left unattended the children eventually either became very ill, suffered blood poisoning  or lost a limb. Infant mortality was high and I saw death there many times, and horrifying sickness. It was especially dreadful when the victims were young children, babies and toddlers. I tried hard to nurse the sick, tend the wounds and provide emergency care, without proper facilities and medicines. I worked hard to offer  training, and  scrounge equipment and supplies for medical care.

Malaria was a constant danger and I tried so hard to persuade the villagers to use the mosquito nets which I managed to rustle up for them, with a great deal of nagging to charity organisations.  But they were often diverted to other uses. It was frustrating.  Malaria pills, quinine, proved difficult to acquire for the villagers, they were like gold-dust. Many people relied on traditional medicine and practices to “protect” themselves and their children from the dreaded and ubiquitous mosquito.

Parents often painted their children with chalk dust and hung special beads around their necks “to ward off evil spirits”. It was a huge task to educate the families about hygiene, welfare and nutrition. A large number of the population lived in huts made of mud or adobe. They had no running water or electricity, just buckets of water collected from the village well (if they were lucky enough to have one) or from the river, and kerosene lamps for light. Cooking was done over open fires outside the huts in the blazing sunshine.

Meals were an education to me: groundnut stew with rice, chicken and fufu pounded in huge bowls with beaters, gari, yam, papaya, mango and coconut. Tropical flavours and so exotic to me at the age of eighteen in the 1960s.

My over-riding impression was that the people of Ghana, however poor and lacking in material things, were happy, joyous and generous. They would literally want to share their last crust with a stranger. And that was why it was important to try to nurse the sick children and treat their families with respect and dignity, even in the midst of squalor and poverty.

But I was in West Africa at a time of civil war and danger. I was caught, literally, in the midst of gunfire, in Upper Volta (now Burkina Fasso), in Mali and in Ghana itself. Many times I was in fear for my life. I looked down the barrel of a machine gun and felt weapons held at my throat. I was held captive  for a time without food or water in the intense heat, wondering if I would ever see home again. And these experiences fed into my story, Drumbeats.

I chose the title because at night when my day’s work was done, I would stand on my balcony and look out over the bush, over the pawpaw and mango trees, palms and jungle vegetation, and listen to the talking drums, the dondo and the kpanlogo djembe, and wonder what messages they were sending between the villages. This was the memory which gave rise to my novel, Drumbeats.