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?


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?


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.”



Strutting Your Stuff


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.

Letting Go

For some writers letting go of their precious manuscript is very hard. There is always another edit, a final read, a change of mind on this, or that minor point. Then when the book, play, short story makes it out into the world, they obsess about its place in the rankings, despair over bad reviews, are euphoric over the good.

Am I strange because I don’t feel that way?

As soon as my work has been published, or performed, I feel that it has gone. It has a life of its own out there with only a very slight connection to me, its author.

When we were living in Jamaica I wrote, ‘Stich and Bitch’  a play to be performed at the Canadian High Commission about the lives of ex-pat women. One of the actresses had to go back home and it was suggested I take her part. Could I learn the lines? I could not. In spite of the fact that I had written them, they simply would not stick.  It was as if I had never seen them before. I don’t believe it was stage fright, in the end I too had to go back to the UK and never got to act, or see the play. I think it was because for me the lines were as new as if someone else had written them. The play was out there. It was no longer mine.

The same is true of my short stories, some of which I find hard to recognise, let alone remember when I wrote them and indeed my books. Which makes it extra hard to throw myself into the whole marketing thing.

For three days over the Christmas period ‘House of Shadows’ has been on special offer as a free e-book. I’ve promoted, tweeted, FBooked and the response has been brilliant. The book reached #4 in the Time Slip charts on Amazon and I couldn’t be more pleased. Yet at the same time there is an element of unreality about the whole experience. It’s almost as if it’s happening to someone else.

Books have a life of their own. Release them, let them go and made their own way in the big wide world. Unfortunately in the 21st Century that’s not how it works.

If I have a resolution for 2015, it’s to do more to tell people about what I have written, to promote my books, to give them a helping hand on the road to being a best seller.

Happy New Year!