Why What You Wear Matters

In my last blog I talked about how I see my characters. Part of that picture is, of course, what they wear. In “Picking up the Pieces” Liz is partly defined by her hippy skirts and un-tameable hair, Elsa by her designer outfits, while Bernie’s clothes come from chain stores. In “House of HOS cropped AShadows”, black is Jo’s colour. She is an artist and with her silver blonde hair, her black top and jeans and dramatic silver jewellery the image she projects of herself reinforces what she does.

Jo loves beautiful things and although she works with paint and mixed media, using her hands as well as her brushes to produce her paintings of Kingsfield, with their sinister implications, even in her studio she can wear her usual black and look elegant and very much herself.

Years ago, my sister, Anuk Naumann, said that she thought she ought to dress like an artist. She had just given up work as an architect to concentrate full time on her painting. Changing her way of dressing was both symbolic and practical. There is no doubt when you first meet her that Anuk is what she does.Anuk and book

What you wear is a signal to the rest of the world, for we all make instant judgements about the people we meet, and can lead to useful conversations, or at least when you tell someone you write then that does not come as a complete surprise.

It also shows what you think about yourself and how you are feeling. Not bothering, or even being able to wash and dress can be a sign of severe depression. Dressing conventionally, never daring to try anything different, can reveal a lack of confidence, as can,  choosing to dress in a particular role and taking on all the attributes that go with it.

This paradoxically can also be liberating, because dressed as a Goth or a biker, or a punk, you are free to behave in ways you could not before and to explore areas of your personality that would otherwise stay hidden.

On a deep level, what you wear and how you look reinforces your view of yourself. Being a writer is a solitary way of life. It is too easy to slop around all day in pyjamas or old jeans, but for me to look as I see myself, is vital.

We are visual creatures. As writers we use this in our work. In real life it matters too.

Question is, what does a writer look like/wear? I’d love to know your views.

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Food for Thought: Tea at The Grand

Tea at Avon Gorge

On Saturday, I joined my mum, my daughter, my sister, niece and sister-in-law for afternoon tea at the Avon Gorge Hotel in Bristol. We were there to celebrate two big family birthdays, but one of the reasons I chose that hotel from all the others in Bristol is that the Avon Gorge is the model for The Grand in “Picking up the Pieces.”

Being brought up in Bristol and going to school just down the road, this hotel had always intrigued me. Clinging to the side of the Gorge it looks out on the Suspension Bridge and the river far below. I imagined it as a romantic place and conjured up an Art Deco Interior with a large Victorian conservatory, where my characters would meet and Elsa would break the devastating news that sets off the action of the novel.

In real life, however, it was very different. There was no glass Palm Court with a small orchestra playing tunes from the shows, or supercilious Maitre d’ and the customers were a greater cross section of people than I had imagined.

None of this distracted from the day. We had a lovely time, chatting and laughing and eating. It did, however, give me food for thought.

As a writer, I find that my ideas often come from places I know. So far my novels, “House of Shadows”, “Picking up the Pieces,” and the forthcoming “Shadows on the Grass” are all set in Bristol.

Although in most of the books, I am fairly accurate there are times, as in “Picking up the Pieces” when it is either not possible, or I don’t want to be accurate about what I am describing. After all, this is a work of imagination not a travelogue and I wouldn’t expect anyone to be able to find my way around the city from my descriptions.

Places are a starting point, then the imagination takes over as do the needs of the story. At least this is how I work.

The first chapter of “Picking up the Pieces” won’t tell you much about the Avon Gorge. It will, however, introduce you to Liz, Elsa and Bernie, three women in their fifties who have to face the total collapse of their lives with the help of each other and much cake.

The novel is currently on offer on kindle for 99p and makes a good summer read. Enjoy.

PUTP picatAvonGorgeHotel1

 

Should you be buying your friends’ books?

friends-books

It’s almost Christmas  and most of us are in the middle of, or have done,  our shopping for presents. For me much of this is done on Amazon. I scroll down wish lists, or remember books I think would suit the recipient and send off for them. A couple of days later, the doorbell rings and that’s another person ticked off on my list.

The best presents I can give my writer friends is to buy their books. A couple of years ago, this worked really well for me. “Sussex Tales” by Jan Edwards was a perfect choice for my sister, while both my husband and brother-in-law enjoyed Jem Shaw’s novel, “The Larks” about flying in the First World War.

My daughter gave her mother-in-law “House of Shadows” and my sister-in-law got a copy from my mum. Result!

None of my writing friends are, as yet, on the best seller list, but buying each others’ books is a way of spreading the word and most of all of supporting each other.

Writing is a solitary occupation and sometimes on a dreary, dismal December morning, when each sentence is wrung painfully out of your consciousness,  you wonder why on earth you do it. When someone tells you that they’ve read and enjoyed your book, then you know.

 

 

Water Spaniels?

water-spaniel

Yesterday I was at a dog show. It was an open show for Irish Water Spaniels and it set me thinking about the breed and the part these dogs play in  my books.

For those of you that don’t know, an Irish Water Spaniel is quite a rare creature. It looks a little like a poodle, with a brown curly coat. Unlike poodles, however, they have a bare chest and a thin whip like tail, which they wag with great enthusiasm. It is best not be anywhere near striking rage of these because they can really hurt. They also have a silky fringe which covers their eyes. Eyes which can be as melting as chocolate, or as evil as a large puddle of stinking mud.

Even the most loving and devoted of owners admit that these dogs have “character” which is, in the dog world, an euphemism for being bloody minded and doing exactly what they want when they want. They can be trained, they can be brilliant gun-dogs and great pets. They cannot, rather like a small child, be relied on to behave under all circumstances.

It’s this particular aspect of the dog that appears in “Picking up the Pieces”. When Bernie, Liz and Elsa set up their catering business Woody plays havoc with their first booking. In “House of Shadows”  Geordie is the reason why Mrs Armitage leaves Damien and Jo to go  alone into the church to search the parish records for the identity of the girl in the blue dress. In my current work-in-progress Jake will bring Eddie and Debbie together. A Water Spaniel also appears in “Master of Trades” the third book in  my  “Dragonfire” trilogy.

So why is this particular breed of dog so important to me? My husband Mike Herwin used to breed them and over the ears we’ve had a number of very distinctive canine personalities who have deigned to share our home.

Having moved into town, we no longer have a dog, so I suppose that writing about them is one way of keeping them in my life. Then, of course, there is the challenge.

Years ago, when we first met, Mike challenged me to write a story which began “It was a dark and stormy night” and ended with “And in one bound Jack was free. ” And it had to include an Irish Water Spaniel. The story was written and published. In the Irish Water Spaniel Year Book, naturally. But this was not the end of it.  He wanted to know if I could put a Water Spaniel in any book or story.

In a short story that is not always possible, or indeed desirable. In a novel however there is always space for one of these “Bundles of rags in a cyclone” (Memoirs of an Irish RM by Somerville and Ross) or as Jo Docherty puts it in “House of Shadows” “It’s like a walking hearth rug, but the face is beautiful, soft as velvet and those eyes under that fringe of ringlets are like chocolate.”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Strutting Your Stuff

SONY DSC

Every writer has to do it. If we want to reach our potential readers we have to get out there and strut our stuff. The picture above was taken on the steps of Kings Weston House, the inspiration for “House of Shadows” my time slip novel. As well as spreading the word I also had copies on sale in the cafe at Kingsweston and read excerpts at various gigs. 

There was a mini-launch for friends at my house and a reading at the Market Drayton Arts’ festival among other events.

I have to admit to enjoying all those occasions, because I love to strut my stuff. Give me half a chance and I’ll be out there, reading from my novels, leading workshops, or being on a panel.

In that respect, I’m lucky. Many writers would rather consume their toenails than perform in front of an audience.

That, however, in today’s media driven climate is not an option. Not if you want to sell books.

For those people who find it hard to sell themselves in this very public way, I’d suggest starting small. A reading at the local library would be a good way in.

Which leads me neatly to 6×6. Six writers reading for six minutes, four times a year. Hosted by Hanley Library in Stoke-on-Trent and inspired by a similar event in Birmingham, it showcases your work to a receptive and supportive audience.

Want to know more? Visit our FB page.

 

Looking on the Bright Side.

Editing Blues..

Editing Blues 2

I thought I’d finished. “Slipping Through the Net” was ready for the world. Then I got the feedback from two editors I greatly respect, Jan Edwards and Nic Hale, and they both said the same thing. The book starts in the wrong place and Jan hated the use of the present tense.

Then my beta-reader reported back.

I was brave. I didn’t cry or scream. I acted professionally and re-read my manuscript. And bit by bit I realized they were all right. I didn’t agree with everything they said, but the first couple of chapters had to go.

Now I’ve done this before. With “Clear Gold” I ditched the first 30,000 words. With “House of Shadows” I changed the structure completely, so none of this was new, but somehow this time it felt different.

I don’t know why but I sank lower and lower under the carpet. I was a failure as a writer, what on earth was I doing even imagining I could write, let alone critique my own work. As the days went on I felt worse and worse. I avoided opening the file, I found other  “more urgent” tasks to do.

A pot of tea with Jan and things began to fall into place and I began the re-write.

I cut and pasted, deleted and changed tense and POV. My confidence increased. I was on a roll.

Whether this version is better, or not, it has proved to me yet again that writing is incredibly hard work. It sears the soul, wakes you at 3am and won’t let you go, but in the end after you’ve sweated it out and worried yourself silly, in those moments when the words flow and the ideas leap out of the page, then it really is worth it.