My writing ritual: stopping for an interview on my book blog tour

One of the stops on my recent book blog tour was at  Bforbookreview.wordpress.com

and it was an interview. Here is a transcript:

– When and where do you prefer to write?

Two main places: I do actually have my own study (husband banned, except for kindly plying me with coffee!) and I work at my antique desk with all my research books and papers handily in the big bookshelf next to me.  For A Shape on the Air, as with all my books, I have a ‘mood board’ on the wall beside me, with pics of inspirations for the main characters (it’s Rachel Weiss and James Norton) and pics that represent Dr Viv’s apartment, the mere and Anglo-Saxon life and times. I also like to write in the conservatory so that I can look out at the garden which gives me peace and inspiration. I write most weekdays as I resigned from the university in order to write fulltime and I try to write a session in the mornings and again in the afternoons, so I keep to ‘office times’ as far as  poss. It doesn’t always work out, though, because if it’s a nice day I want to be outside, walking in the countryside  or gardening!

– Do you have a certain ritual?

My main ritual really is that I go swimming first thing in the mornings (I do 20-30 lengths) and usually have a session in the gym while I’m there. Then when I get back home at about 9.30 I can feel ‘noble’ after my exercise and set my mind to my work. I ALWAYS take my first coffee of the day with me to the study. I check my emails first in case there’s anything I need to address, but I try to avoid social media until I’ve met my target for the day.

Is there a drink or some food that keeps you company while you write?

I’m afraid that I drink far too much fresh coffee while I’m working; I have a coffee pot constantly on the go. But I compensate with camomile tea at other times! I don’t eat while I’m on my computer but I do stop for breaks and usually have fresh fruit – or if I’ve been baking I grab a ginger flapjack or almond macaroon or whatever!

What is your favourite book?

It changes, because I’m an avid reader and the latest one is usually my current favourite. But some stand the test of time in my heart: I love anything by Kate Atkinson and Pamela Hartshorne. I love historicals and time-slips (because this is my ‘brand’ too)!

Would you consider writing a different genre in the future?

I have written in several genres already (contemporary and historical romance, children’s, etc) but at present I see my ‘brand’ as medieval time-slip mystery romance, which is what A Shape on the Air is – and also my WIP (working title The Dragon Tree)which is a sequel.

Do you sometimes base your characters on people you know?

I guess most writers base characters on people they know in some way (we’re terrible people-watchers) but mine are generally amalgamations of different people. I pick characteristics and merge them into my characters, so they are, hopefully, unique.  Possibly some of the characters in the Drumbeats Trilogy were nearer to known people than usual. But characters in A Shape in the Air mix up various friends of mine (don’t tell them!).

 Do you take a notebook everywhere in order to write down ideas that pop up?

I have a glorious collection of beautiful notebooks (constantly added to!) and I do usually have one in my bag, along with some of my collection of gorgeous pens. The only thing is that I tend to get ideas at awkward moments when I can’t pull the notebook out to write them down! I desperately try to keep the ideas in my head until I can scribble them down.

– Which genre do you not like at all?

I like most genres. I love crime, police procedurals and psychological thrillers, but I couldn’t ever write them (I don’t feel qualified enough). I don’t like anything gory or OTT blood-thirsty and I’m not keen on erotica or inflicted pain. I hated Fifty Shades!

– If you had the chance to co-write a book. Whom would it be with?

Barbara Erskine or Susanna Kearsley, because we’re on the same wave-length I think:  medieval -ish time-slip Or maybe my friend Lizzie Lamb: although we write entirely different sorts of books, she’s excellent at marketing and promotion, so I’d feed off her!

If you should travel to a foreign country to do research, which one would you chose and why?

Strangely enough, I’ve just been doing research in Madeira.  My latest WIP is set there and involves its medieval history, 14th and 16th centuries. It’s a time-slip again so there’s present day Madeira to imbibe too. It’s provisionally called The Dragon Tree and it has the same main protagonists as A Shape on the Air: Dr Viv and Rev Rory, because I liked them so much I couldn’t let them go! My next will be the third in the series but they will be back in England at the Derbyshire rectory and my other favourite character (Tilly) will be back.

A Shape on the Air is available from Amazon at

http://myBook.to/ASOTA

 

Which books make me cry? And 10 fun facts about me – hmm!

My book tour continues! Today I’m interviewed by Jasmine at http://bookreviewsbyjasmine.blogspot.com

She asks me about the books that made me cry and if you scroll down there are also ten fun facts about me that you never knew!

  1. What is the first book that made you cry?

Little Women (Louisa May Alcott) because I was mad with Jo and I thought that the gorgeous male protagonist married the wrong person (trying not to give spoilers). I was very young! Then One Day (David Nicholls) and latterly A Single Thread (Tracy Chevalier). I cry very easily, at just about everything! I even cry at my own books; A Shape on the Air, for example – what happened with Dr Viv’s partner, her mother, betrayal, Lady Vivianne’s betrothal, the mystery they had to solve … I’m almost in tears now!

  1. How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?

I usually reckon 6 months for research and 6 months to write the book. Even if I know the historical research base well (as with early medieval/Anglo-Saxon England which was my original research field), I have to research specifics for that particular book. For A Shape on the Air I had to research minute details of daily life in 499 AD. The same with my Drumbeats Trilogy, which begins in Ghana, West Africa in the 1960s, even though I had lived there I had to research the locations and what was happening at that time (music, books, politics, current events, etc). I love reading about how people lived in a different historical period so it’s a joy to do the research. My problem is where to stop!

  1. How do you select the names of your characters?

Oddly the names often arrive in my head before the complete plot. I tend to have a character and inciting incident/initial situation/conflict before I start. I always have a ‘mood board’ for each novel WIP on my pinboard beside my desk and when I have a picture of my character on it, the name follows pretty quickly. Maybe because when I sit in a restaurant/bus/train and do my naughty ‘people watching’ I give them names as well as jobs and situations. For A Shape on the Air, I chose a picture of Rachel Weiss and thought of Dr Viv, and James Norton and thought of Rev Rory. Don’t ask me why! But it’s also true that I had to find similar names that fitted both time periods: Dr Viv in the present and Lady Vivianne in 499 AD, Rev Rory/Sir Roland, Tilly/Tilda, and so on. I decided not to use completely authentic  names for 499 AD as the characters were from different ‘tribes’ or ethnicities (Roman, Celtic, Briton, Saxon etc) and some would not be so easy to read for the modern reader. For myself, I always found it hard to read names I have to really concentrate on to remember.

  1. What creature do you consider your “spirit animal” to be?

I’d like it to be a wise owl or an elegant horse or gazelle, but it’s probably a cat (curled up by the fire and looking piercingly at what’s going on around).

  1. What fictional character would you want to be friends with in real life?

Cormoran Strike (Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling). I think he’s fascinating, hard but a softy at heart. He’s had such interesting experiences and I think he’d be full of anecdotes. I feel he’d keep me laughing as well.

  1. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Don’t give up; keep at it and believe in yourself. Read through your finished draft as though you are the reader, not the writer; if it doesn’t capture your attention throughout, then it won’t for anyone else. Make a great opening that grabs the reader’s attention and a great ending that makes them rave about your book. Create memorable characters and get to know them inside out: make a profile of them, what do they look like (very important), what are their little foibles, what are their likes/dislikes, what’s their history? And for heavens’ sake, do your research!

  1. What book do you wish you had written?

Kate Atkinson’s Time After Time.  Brilliant. What an intriguing concept: what if there were different ‘realities’  and history could repeat itself, but change for the better (hopefully). It’s a bit like a time-slip, I guess, but one that actually alters history – something we normally try not to do in time-slips – for the benefit of mankind.

  1. Tell us 10 fun facts about yourself! 🙂
  • I love rhubarb and ginger gin and hate beer
  • I like rugby (watching!) and hate football
  • I love walking in the countryside and hate running (mainly because I have a spinal injury)
  • I love baking for family and friends: my current specialisms are ginger flapjacks (there seems to be a ginger theme going on here!) and almond macaroons, granary bread, and cauliflower & blue stilton cheese soup
  • I love crime novels, police procedurals and psychological thrillers, but I could never write them
  • I like gardening and growing my own vegetables and fruit
  • I’m really into healthy eating – all things fresh and homemade, not shop-bought, plastic wrapped and transport-miles
  • I actually have a PhD! In socio-linguistics, how men and women talk to each other. The research was fascinating!
  • I’m a qualified yoga teacher
  • I love clothes but hate shopping and changing rooms

And there we have it! That’s it for today. Let’s see what tomorrow has in store …

Need help with manuscript editing? Or need a writing mentor?

 

Have you ever thought: I wish there was someone I could ask about this part of my narrative, or my research report? Does it work for the reader? Does it make sense? Is it accurate – or are there errors?

Online 1:1 editing support

I have a new business venture coming onstream: Archbury Consultancy.

So many people have been telling me recently that they need help and support with their novel or short story manuscript. Or maybe with a piece of academic writing, a paper or article, or a draft of  a dissertation or thesis. It’s not entirely the content, it’s the getting your ideas down on paper more effectively. Sometimes we think we’ve written what’s in our head … but unfortunately it’s not really appearing on the page as we intended!

Even when we proof read and edit ourselves, it’s easy to miss spelling errors or punctuation problems, expressions that don’t come across well to the reader, even though they may be perfectly clear to us in our head.

At the moment I have a special introductory offer for my services through Archbury Consultancy so don’t miss out, find out more…

 

 

Apologies and news!

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Firstly my apologies that I haven’t posted for so long! We have finally moved house (what an exhausting procedure) having had our previous house on the market for over 2.5 years! And a serious health scare did not help! Nor did the nearly 2 months we were without broadband (thanks, BT!). However, here we are now in our new home and settling in well in the village, with friends old and new.

Other great news: I have an offer of a publishing contract for my new novel A Shape on the Air! The contract is sitting on my desk as I speak, waiting for me to sign. Very exciting. Not only that, but another publisher has told me that they will contact me by Monday! So I have to sit it out until Monday to see what will happen. Wonderful that I have a publisher anyway, whatever happens – so celebrations all round!

There will be more about A Shape on the Air shortly …

And a final apology to anyone who has tried to send me a message via my Contact Me page on this website – there is a problem and emails have not been getting through to me I’m afraid and currently it seems to be being passed backwards and forwards between BT.com and WordPress! Let’s hope they sort it out soon, hey? !

 

Madeira: sunshine, relaxation and 29 hours at one of the world’s most dangerous airports

The beautiful island of Madeira- we love it. It’s given us 18 years’ enjoyment of the chilled out holidays in the sun we all dream about. We swim before breakfast, then over a relaxed meal on our decking overlooking the deep azure blue ocean, we decide what we feel like doing that day: will it be sailing round the coast or to the Desertas Islands, taking the ferry over to the wide hot sands of Porto Santo, walking the levadas, golfing (my husband) or reading (me) … or maybe absolutely nothing but lying in the sun getting a smooth tan, and listening to Il Divo and Adele on the CD player/laptop iTunes?

The biggest decision we have to make is which restaurant we’ll choose for dinner: our favourite The Old Fort in Funchal, or the gorgeous O Classico, or musical Goya? Or maybe our annual retro meal at Casa Velha: steak diane and crepes suzette? Or perhaps we’ll just chill out on the balcony with a freshly caught espada, parcel-baked in our oven, jacket potatoes and salad? Listening to the haunting cries of the seagulls and watching the little bright-coloured fishing boats sail out.

Wherever else we go during the year for a more active holiday, we love to return to this ‘garden isle of the Atlantic’ with its beautiful scenery, flowers and interesting history. A novel set in Madeira is swirling round my head!

Each time we like to discover new things: last year I was exploring the old town of Funchal and photographing the lovely door paintings. This year we visited the new CR7 museum (Cristiano Ronaldo) and hotel, and we took the children to the waterpark for the first time.

And finally, another first – and this one, not so good. For the first time in 18 years we were subject to a delay at the airport. It happens in Madeira; it is, after all, one of the most difficult airport landings in the world, if the winds are high and especially if there are cross-winds that drive across the runway. We arrived at the airport to find that there were, oddly, no planes out there. After we had checked in the hold luggage we found out that no planes were landing in the winds. We could see the flares of forest wildfires above Funchal. We sat in the lounge watching the planes attempting to land but wooshing off into the distance. Our plane was supposed to be taking off at 5.25pm but there was no plane to take us off the island. In fact there were no planes. Full stop.

Eventually we heard (from the internet trackers) that our plane had been diverted to Tenerife. By midnight we were told to go to collect our hold baggage again (we’d have to go through the whole process again the next day) The comfortable premier lounge (which we always book because of my spinal injury) was closed for the night. No hotel was being organised for the passengers by Jet2. Yes, folks, we spent 29 hours on the hard airport seats – with all food/drink outlets closed. The temperature that day had been 34 degrees in the shade. We eventually were given a small bottle of water around 5.00am and a voucher for food around 9.00am – I had to queue for 1.5 hours to buy a sandwich and a coffee for us.

Our flight was rescheduled for 3.00pm the next day and then was delayed again until 7.30pm, with doubts as to whether we would, in fact, be taking off at all that day. Another night in excruciating spinal pain on hard seats was simply not on. We decided to claim our baggage back again and find a hotel ourselves. We were by then in contact with a friend and knew we had a room at a lovely hotel set aside for us. But at about 7.15 we saw on the departures board a call to the gate and that our flight was boarding. We pretty much ran!

We touched down in the UK nearly midnight and arrived home around 1.30am – exhausted. So, after such a wonderful sojourn in Madeira again, thank you (said with irony) Jet2 for our first – and hopefully last – experience of your passenger care policy …

 

 

 

 

Music – the soundtrack to my life

P1010066I wonder what songs or pieces of music you would choose to represent the soundtrack to your life? When I wrote my blog on “If music be the food of love …” I was thinking of the music and musicians in my books. I confess I have a ‘thing’ about men’s hands playing the piano, and that comes into Drumbeats, Walking in the Rain, Finding Jess and the new novel A Shape on the Air. In fact, Walking has a song title for each chapter which fits the plot but is also a kind of soundtrack to my own life. It was fun to look back at decades which were significant to me – my teenage years, my student years, first boyfriend and first serious relationship,  getting married, having children. etc, etc. OK, what would my ultimate list be?

First boyfriend: I Wanna Hold Your Hand

Teenage years: Cryin’ (over you)

First serious relationship:: Dedicated (to the One I Love)

Student years: A Whiter Shade of Pale

Getting Married: The Things we do for Love

Breaking up: Everything I Own

Getting over it: I can see clearly now

Second family life: You lift me up

What are yours?

My friend Elaina James has a lovely 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.

 

 

 

“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.