Tamworth LitFest: Romancing the Word

What a lovely day we had in Tamworth (Staffordshire) at the LitFest, with the theme Romancing the Word. Great to see and chat with readers and fellow authors, sign our books and (for me) give a talk. All in the welcoming and beautiful library and the amazing and very interesting historic church, St Editha’s. Here’s what we got up to in the pics below …

Me, signing my books; my children’s novel S.C.A.R.S seemed very popular!

Laura Morgan who writes a variety of powerful other-worldly novels and with whom I discussed time concepts and quantum mechanics!

Christine Smee, who gives talks on medieval herbal remedies with whom I had a very interesting chat about the medieval world. Loved her costume.

Jane A Heron, a lovely lady with a great book stall and lots of goodies. Good to meet her daughter and fiancé.

S J Warner (Sally) who has a great line in personalised key rings  and showed me how to use a logo effectively on swag (hers is a gorgeous – and naughty – pink corset!).

L A Cotton (Leanne) who writes fabulous contemporary romance and romantic suspense.

The Tamworth Writers – what a wonderfully supportive and lively group; I wish I lived in Tamworth!

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And others I didn’t get to photograph: AA Abbott (Helen) who writes crime thrillers, Sue Flint publishing great short stories and articles, Carol E Wyer, who is a whizz at romantic comedy, Helena Fairfax, a fellow RNA member who gave a super workshop, Lucy Felthouse, Pat Spence  … and more … Wow, what a line-up.

It was a fantastic day of laughter, fun and sharing. Days like this make me realise what a wonderful community writers create, and what enormous joy they give to readers. I’m sure that the readers who attended enjoyed the day and returned home enlivened and inspired.

Many thanks to all who organised the day: the Tamworth LitFest team, including Tina Williams, Anthony Poulton-Smith, Caroline Barker. A day to remember.

“If music be the food of love, play on …”(Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night)

 

My homage to the Bard on the 400th anniversary (last weekend!) of his death, is a quotation which often comes to mind and is very meaningful to me. Just as certain music is the soundtrack to my life (another post on that to come soon!) also music is the sound track to my writing and often works its way into my novels.

In my children’s book, S.C.A.R.S, it’s rap. In Drumbeats it’s (apart from Ghanaian village drums and 1960s pop) the piano pieces which my hero Jim plays for Jess, for example Fauree’s Cantique do Jean Racine and Mozart’s Requiem. And also the LP records he plays her of Mozart’s clarinet concerto in A and of Bach. In my latest, A Shape on the Air, it’s Nella Fantasia, probably made famous by El Divo but played in the novel by mandolins.

Maybe music is the food of love, because my heroines have a habit of falling in love with the men who play this music to them. In Drumbeats, Jess loves to watch Jim’s hands and fingers as he plays the piano and it touches her heart. There is something about a man’s hands playing the keys sensitively that stirs her (and me!). In A Shape on the Air, Viv plays the music on her ipod and the Rev Rory has the same on his voicemail.

As I write, I always listen to music, usually classical but sometimes the songs I’m learning for Rock Choir. If I’m writing music into my words I always listen to those tracks to inspire and set the scene for me – get me in the mood.

Recently, I’ve been interested to read my lovely friend, Elaina James’s blog in Mslexia  about which she, in her own words, says:

“My blog series has focused on chasing your writing dreams, told from the perspective of a lyricist with stage fright. The final blog focuses on the unexpected chance to turn my words into an actual song with music.”

It’s a great blog series and I do recommend it for a good read. It’s at

http://www.mslexia.co.uk/author/elainajames

and Elaina’s website is

http://www.elainajames.co.uk

Do check them out.

My Lovely Blog Hop

I’ve been invited by the wonderful Berni Stevens at http://bernistevens.blogspot.co.uk  to join in the Lovely Blog Hop. Berni is my talented cover designer at http://ww.BerniStevensDesign.com. She’s also a writer of fantasy romance. The blog hop is intended to let you in on a few of the lesser-known things about my life that have helped make me who I am. You’ll find some links to other blogs and writers I like. The writers have all agreed to take part hopping and blogging and being lovely!

First Memory

Sitting in the branches of my favourite tree in our garden, reading, of course. I spent a great deal of my childhood reading and writing (and climbing trees and building treehouses! I was a bit of a tomboy!). I had real friends but many of my best friends were the characters in books: feisty girl heroines who had the adventures I wanted, too.

Books

My first books that I remember clearly are the Anne of Green Gables series. My mother used to read them to me, I think from way before I really understood any of them! I loved them. Gilbert Blythe was my first fantasy romance. And Anne was my role model: feisty and brave. You see a theme here? I think I subsequently read every LM Montgomery available! I collect old books: leather bound, gold tooling, silk bound, hide bound – you name it. I have a wonderful 17th century family bible and an early copy of Pilgrim’s Progress. I love the feel of them in my hands. I have a tatty early copy of Winnie the Pooh which  my daughters loved – here it is, all fixed together with cellotape! Books are to be used not kept in a cupboard! P1000783

I never thought I’d get used to kindle reading, and I resisted for a long time, but I travel so much and for fairly long periods of time, and being an avid reader, I simply can’t pack all my reading in my suitcase, so my kindle was actually a blessing! There I have hundreds at my fingertips. I spend a fortune on Amazon; I think I single-handedly keep them in business!

Currently I’m reading Sophia’s Secret by Susanna Kearsley (also published as The Winter Sea), which was recommended to me by Amanda Grange who also set the seeds in my mind of the book I am now writing for the RNA NWS. Thanks to Mandy!

Libraries/Bookshops

My life! My husband has to drag me out before I borrow/buy the whole stock. I spent a lot of my childhood in libraries; there were just too many books I wanted to read for me to afford to buy them. I was (and still am) a voracious reader. And I love those bookshops with coffee and relaxation areas. There’s a wonderful one near us, in the cathedral quarter, called the The Bookshop Café that serves lunches too.

One of my biggest memories of my daughters’ childhood was going to the local library for the story telling sessions and we all sat on huge bean bags drinking orange juice and coffee.

I love having a pile of books waiting to be read and having the joy of thinking – which one next? It’s not quite the same with a kindle, but … hey ho …! Here’s my first book The Old Rectory on special display at one of my favourite bookshops, The Bookshop at Kibworth: Bookshops April May 2014

What’s Your Passion?  

I have quite a few! Apart from reading and writing, I love walking in the countryside and cooking for family and friends. There’s nothing like a great chat and a laugh over a good meal and a glass or three of wine! Family and friends are very important to me and the joy of my life.

Choral singing has given me a great deal of joy over the years, especially in a local choir where the range encompasses classical, modern, gospel, rock and pop. They also say it’s very good for you (I have long term asthma) so there are health benefits from singing too. The utter joy of reaching the soprano highs in Mozart’s Requiem in the Albert Hall last year was fabulous. It sent shudders down my spine – an inspiring, ethereal moment to share with the others. Here’s me ready for it! P1010060

I also love swimming; I’m not a strong swimmer but I find it relaxing and it makes me feel fit, especially when it’s somewhere hot in an outdoor pool!

One of my greatest passions has to be travelling and exploring new places. We aim to go away overseas at least four or five times each year: I love Italy, France, Spain, Portugal. I’ve travelled quite a bit in the USA, Australia, and West Africa, although there’s far more to investigate! We have an apartment in Madeira where we go and chill out every summer.
P1000847 I would really love to explore India and China. And I’ve never been to the Caribbean which I’d love to do; we’re planning a cruise … I’d love to visit the island where Death in Paradise is filmed! A cosy crime romance novel coming up??P1000860

A recent passion: meeting and chatting to the very supportive folks in the Romantic Novelists’ Association, both online and in the flesh. They are such a lovely, generous, giving crowd and I love them all. So important for the isolated writer, sitting over a hot keyboard! Writing is essentially a lonely profession, by definition, so you need those contacts, the ready support and encouragement, and time out with like-minded folks.

 Learning

I always loved English: literature and language, but also I was intrigued by the way people behaved and interacted, and I ended up at university studying English, Psychology and Sociology. It turned out fortuitous because I did my PhD in socio-linguistics. Getting my doctorate was a real highlight of my life: a “mature” student and on my second marriage. I truly believe that it’s never too late to do what you want.

I hated Maths at school because I hated the teacher: she was an Amazonian woman, very severe and impatient, fair hair stretched back in a bun, large winged glasses on her nose. She scared me to death. When O levels came along I was determined to get a good grade in Maths (which we needed for university entrance in those days, along with Latin, which I loved) – simply because I couldn’t bear to retake and have Mrs Schneider for another year! I remember taking all the Maths text books home and systematically ploughing through them. And suddenly the whole thing clicked! A eureka moment! I got an A, the same as for English. Sheer determination. And strangely enough it stood me in good stead when I had to do statistics and economics as part of my Sociology!

I’m convinced that motivation is a prime factor in learning. And a good sympathetic teacher who can inspire that motivation. Later I became a school teacher and latterly a university lecturer and researcher. I love helping pupils/students to research and learn.

I can’t get enough of researching; I love that part of writing – I’m constantly investigating on Wikipedia and finding papers and books on the time, country or subject. I find learning new things very exciting. I drive my family mad calling “Hey, did you know that …?”

Writing

I’m literally just about to publish the second in the Drumbeats trilogy called Walking in the Rain. It follows Jess from Drumbeats, back from Ghana and about to go to university. She marries the man she truly believes is the love of her life, but then discovers that he is not the man she thought he was. There’s tragedy and danger again for Jess. How does she cope?

Drumbeats Berni    WALKING IN THE RAIN_300dpi

and the last in the trilogy, due out early 2016 …

I’ve always written – I mean literally ever since I could hold a pencil in my tiny hand. But you need support and encouragement and I lacked that (“writing isn’t a proper job!”) and ended up following the conventional route through school, university, teaching … etc etc!
I wrote many academic papers and contributed to multi-authored books in my subject, but creative writing (preferably novels) proved elusive, mainly because I didn’t have the time: marriage, two children, divorce, fulltime sole bread-winner, remarriage, two step-children…

Then I started writing again, egged on by friends, and eventually published a memoir/recipe book (The Old Rectory: escape to a country kitchen) about our acquisition and renovation of a Victorian rectory in the heart of the English moorlands, along with recipes from my country kitchen.

After that, there was no stopping me … I made wonderful writer friends, joined groups for support, and the rest is history! As well as adult novels, I like to write for children, the 9-14 age range, and my first published book for this group came out last autumn – S.C.A.R.S, which is about a troubled boy who slips through a tear in the fabric of the universe, to find himself on a quest in a fantasy medieval land. I think I might just write more in that vein!

Currently I’m working on my novel for the RNA New Writers’ Scheme (brilliant scheme!) which is a romance with a time shift element where the heroine finds herself slipping into a parallel universe of the early middle ages.

HOT NEWS UPDATE: Just 3 days ago I received a new publishing contract, so watch this space! All my books are available on Amazon in both paperback and ebook editions, at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Julia-Ibbotson/e/B0095XG11U/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1377188346&sr=1-2-ent

and a book trailer to enjoy, for Walking in the Rain https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3pUErb8cZc

and for its prequel, Drumbeats https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OYlEXhHvsc&list=UUP3hKZjeUBuTMoyvZmBXbow

I nominate the following friends to take up the baton in the lovely blog hop:

Pauline Barclay at http://www.paulinebarclay.co.uk/

Lizzie Lamb at http://lizzielamb.co.uk and at http://newromanticspress.com

Rachel Brimble at http://www.rachelbrimble.com/

Gwyneth Williams at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Gwyneth-Williams-Author/1518528911735022?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

And some more to come, hopefully, which I’ll add!

New book soon out: Walking in the Rain, sequel to Drumbeats

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The second in the Drumbeats trilogy: Walking in the Rain due out very shortly, in time for Easter! It continues Jess’s story from Drumbeats when she returns from Ghana to the UK, and sees her through her marriage to someone she believes is the love of her life. But what happens when she realises that he is not the man she thought he was?

Tragedy and danger stalks Jess’s life. How will she cope?

 

 

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.