Why do they do this?

DSC04113“Ballet Shoes” by Noel Streatfeild is one of my favourite books. As I kid, I read and re-read it until, as you can see from the photo, it fell to pieces.

The story was set in the 1930s and I loved the concept of the three feisty Fossil girls, Pauline, Petrova and Posy who, when the money ran out, had to earn their living. What made this even more enticing was that they worked in the world of theatre.

The three girls had been adopted, as babies, by fossil-hunting Great Uncle Mathew, GUM, who promptly disappeared leaving them in the care of his niece Sylvia and her old nanny.

When I discovered there was film of the book, starring Emma Watson, Lucy Boynton, Yasmin Paige, Emilia Fox and Victoria Wood, among other well-known stars of stage and screen, I couldn’t wait to see it. download (2)

However… Great though the acting was and the period detail was immaculate what really, really annoyed me was the gratuitous romantic sub-plot. It was, it had to be admitted very subtly done, but a blossoming love affair between Sylvia and the lodger Mr Simpson, who incidentally is neither a father nor a widower in the book, is totally unnecessary.

A rose tinted happy ending is not what this book is about. Noel Streatfeild is too good a writer to leave us with any romantic illusions.

Life as an actor or dancer is hard. The competition is fierce and you may be judged, as the talented but plan Winifred finds, on how you look, rather than how good you are. There is little security and a constant jockeying for jobs.

To succeed you have to be single minded, as Posy is, or be prepared to sacrifice your dream, as Pauline ultimately does for the good of the family.

Given the need for good role models for girls in the twenty-first century, the women in the book are outstanding. They make their own way in the world, never relying on the men around them but making their own decisions. They don’t need romance, or a rose petal wedding. So why did the makers of the film end on this saccharine note? Was it that they ultimately didn’t trust their audience? That they did not believe that without a romantic element the film would not work? If they did, then they were wrong. Sticking to the original would have made a much stronger story.

 

 

 

 

 

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Cars and who drives them.

Ping in snow.

Ping in the snow

As far as I’m concerned all I want from my car is reliability, energy-efficiency and heated seats. I don’t really care what it looks like, or how fast it goes and all the other things that matter to dedicated drivers.

There have been one or two cars that I’ve owned in the past that I’ve been particularly fond of: Ping, my yellow Renault Five, because it used to belong to my sister and Little Blue, the Yaris had a charm of its own, but general, so long as they go when and where I want them to, that’s all I want.

Cars in my novels, however, are a different thing all together and last week saw me trawling through page after page of cars to find the right one for my character. In my current WIP Thea is a successful young lawyer. Living in Bristol, she has to drive a city car, but one with just enough, but not too much, glamour that suits her personality.

Initially I gave her a Mercedes SLX, only to have it pointed out to me by the annoyingly wonderful Jem Shaw that Jo, in “House of Shadows” drives the same car. The two women are very different and what is right for Jo is not for Thea, hence the research.

Luckily, Renegade writers came to the rescue and the choice narrowed down to two, a Range Rover Evoque or a Fiat Abarth. Armed with more information about both than I could possibly want I made my decision.

Why does all this matter? Because like clothes, hairstyle, choice of house, or food, you choice of car reflects who you are, your age, your status, how much you earn, what interests you and so much else.

In the case of “Bevedere Crescent” Thea was finally give the Fiat: the convertible in metallic blue is perfect and I can go back to a state of blissful ignorance…until the next time.

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A Family Affair

Birthday cake

Multi-Coloured Cake. Delicious!

Yesterday was my daughter Lucy’s birthday lunch. It was held at her brother’s house, because David and Tasha have lots of room and it’s easy for us all to meet there. Being with kids and grand-kids, ex-husband and his wife, plus Mike it was a real family affair.

Which led to me think about writer and their families.

Do writers expect their nearest and dearest to read their books? From dedications by best-selling authors you get the impression that their partners do just that, which when those books provide you with a great life style is what you should do. But what about the rest of us?

It’s always great to be told that someone has enjoyed your novel, but there was something very special about my sister telling me that “Picking up the Pieces” was so absorbing that it got her through a bad bout of illness, or my mum saying that that she stayed up until the early hours of the morning to finish it.

Being as I write primarily for women, I wouldn’t expect to get the same reaction from my son, or even from my husband. So, for me I suppose it depends on genre. What I do get from the men in my life is support for my writing, David on twitter, Mike on his blog and when he talks to other people.

And my wider family buys my books. So all in all, I’m lucky.

As for anything I write that I wouldn’t want them to read…that is where writing under another name comes in.

 

The Missing Quote

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Finding a title is, for me, one of the most difficult things about writing a book. Most of my novels have a name that I know will not make it to publication. All my books, to date, started out as something completely different that, as the novel progressed, or my editor/beta-readers gave their feedback I realised simply didn’t work. Then it was back to searching for an appropriate phrase that hooked potential readers.

Mostly this involved hours of brainstorming and searching through the text for that magical combination of words that no one would be able to resist.

As you know, from pervious blogs, “Shadows on the Grass” started as a full scale historical novel which I called “Daughters of the Eagle,” which I thought worked well as four of the main characters, Maria, Mimi, Hannah and Marianna had all lived through the tumultuous history of Poland in the late 19th to mid-20th century and the eagle referred to the Polish coat of arms.

With a shorter novel, much of which is set in sixties Bristol this did not work as well, so once again I had to re-think my original concept.

The phrase “Shadows on the Grass” was used in the early version by Marianna but deleted in the new version so I felt that if I wanted to use it, I would have to find another source.

A quick Google and I found,

“What is life? …It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot, Blackfoot Warrior and Orator.

Since “Shadows on the Grass” does indeed deal with the impermanence of life, this was perfect.

Why then did it not find its way into the final version?

Well, this is where I have to admit to a total slip-up. When Peter Coleborn, who proof-read and formatted the book, asked for the prelims, I forgot to send the quote. When he asked me to check that everything was in order, I missed it.

So no one to blame but myself.

Lesson to self: be more careful next time. Though hopefully the lack of the quote has not taken away anyone’s enjoyment of the novel.

 

 

Showering

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When someone asks me where my ideas come from, the question is so open-ended that I never know where to start. Do I talk about the sudden spark that comes from an overheard conversation, the image of a character that floats across my brain, the memory from childhood, or the “what if” that appears to arrive at random? What happens to these prompts is shaped by the conscious and the sub-conscious mind. Sometimes there is a deliberate choice to write to submit to an anthology, or to try out a genre I haven’t attempted before. On other occasions the arrival of a certain character demands that their story is told. Then again, a couple of lines of dialogue lead seamlessly into a longer piece.

It’s as if there is so much going on in my brain that I only have to reach out and snag something I want, or need to write about.

And the place where these stories come into my mind is often…the shower.

There is something about standing under a fall of water that sets the creative processes flowing.

Maybe, symbolically the brain is being washed clean and made ready. Or the shower is a place to relax, get the alpha waves working and unblock any impediments to the imagination.

Whatever the reasons, quite often I have to leap out of the shower and start writing.

Years ago an agent told me that many of her writers work in the same way. She was surprised by this finding, I am not.

All I wish is that someone would invent a waterproof notebook and pen, so that I could stand under a shower of blissfully hot water and write whatever comes into my head.

PS Why the waterfall? It’s much more beautiful that me in the shower.

 

 

Happy Mothering Sunday

Four Generations

Four generations of women in my family

It’s that day in the year when we are all supposed to think about our mothers, send cards and flowers and take them out to lunch.

In the beginning, however, this tradition was nothing to do with mothers but it was the day when people went back to their mother church, the church where they were baptised, or the local parish church, to celebrate Laetare Sunday.  Anyone who did this was said to have gone “a-mothering.”

In later times, Mothering Sunday became a day when domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother church, usually with their own mothers and other family members. It was often the only time that whole families could gather together, since on other days they were prevented by conflicting working hours, and servants were not given free days on other occasions.

The children would pick wild flowers along the way to place in the church or give to their mothers. Eventually, the religious tradition evolved into the Mothering Sunday secular tradition of giving gifts to mothers.

Lovely though it is to be given a special day the relationship between mothers and children is an on-going one that begins at birth and continues often beyond the end of life.  Whether our mothers are still alive of not their influence conscious and sub-conscious continues shaping our thoughts, emotions and behaviour.
It’s this link between mothers and daughters that is a constant theme in my writing. In “House of Shadows” Jo’s mother refuses to see herself in that role, preferring to be treated as an older sister and leaving the mothering to Jo’s Gran.

Picking Up The PiecesIn “Picking up the Pieces” independent, resourceful Liz encourages her daughter to go travelling, but misses Poppy dreadfully while she is away. While self-absorbed Elsa is enough of a mother not to want to trouble her son with her problems.

“Shadows on the Grass” follows the lives of a grandmother, mother, daughter and aunt showing how the care, or lack of it, can make a profound difference in the way a young woman sees herself and what she can expect of life.

Even in my latest work in progress, the children’s book “City of Secrets”, Letty Parker has an unconventional relationship both with her mamma and her step-mamma.

 

How my book came to be written

 

Mum and me2

Mum and me.

“Shadows on the Grass” came out as an e-book in January and after the first flurry of excitement, there’s time now to sit back and reflect on the whole process.

This book has taken many, many years to write. Not because I am a slow writer, quite the opposite in fact, but because it started out life in a very different form.

Back in the day I was interested in writing historical novels, I was also, at more or less the same time, researching my family history.

My parents came to England after WWW2 and settled in a country that was totally foreign to them. Because at that time Poland was behind the Iron Curtain they had very little contact with any of their relatives and neither did we. Curious to know more about my family background I began asking questions and listening to the stories my mother told about her childhood.

Some of this material was incorporated in the original version of “Shadows on the Grass” a long shambling novel that had no real centre, or any particular theme. I remember finishing it one snowy December day and rewarding myself with a glass of vodka, then putting the manuscript away in the box along with all the research I had done on Polish history.

Of course what I should have done was to get feedback and start on the next draft, but somehow I had lost impetus. Life got in the way and it wasn’t until some years later that I took it out again, decided there was something in what I had written and decided to give it another go.

The first thing that went was the structure. Instead of following a chronological narrative, I went for a series of flash backs so that the story of the Dzierzanowski family would be told through the view point of three main characters. Grandmother, mother and daughter. And so a theme emerged, the relationship between the three of them became the focus of the book.

I have always been fascinated by how the generations interact, in particular mothers with their daughters. This pivotal relationship in a woman’s life can give her the confidence to grow into her own person, or prove incredibly destructive.

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Mum at ninety

 

In my own case I was lucky. My mother was a nurturing parent who was only concerned to do the best for her children and we’ve all grown up as fairly well-adjusted people. I hope I’ve done the same for my children, but other people I have known have not been so fortunate.

In “Shadows on the Grass” seventeen year old Kate is a rebellious teenager who both loves and despises her ever patient mother, Hannah. Who in her turn is struggling with her feelings for her mother Mimi and trying to find her way in a foreign country where she feels she will never quite belong.

The paperback is now available and if you would like a copy of either format here’s the Amazon LINK