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

 

How to Write a Good Summer Read

There’s a new genre on the block. It’s been around for a bit and comes into its own around this time of year… it’s the holiday read.

You can recognise them by the covers.

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That’s for the romance market. Or

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For those who want the darker touch of crime.

Most of us will go away with one, or other on our kindle, or, in the case of paperbacks, in our luggage.

They will be read at the airport, on the plane, on the beach or by the pool and for many people it will be almost the only books they will have time to read in the whole of the year.

So what makes a good holiday read? There are certain characteristics that they must have.

1 They’ve got to be easy to get into. When you’re stretched out on your sun-lounger, or tying to get comfortable on a plastic seat in Departures you have to be taken straight into the narrative. Whether it’s the finding of a dead body, the kidnap of a child, or boy meets girl, the reader’s involvement must be instant and sustained.

2 The characters have to be strongly drawn and not too complex. This is why Jack Reacher is a great read. He is the archetypical loner and man of deeds not words. A few spare sentences and you know what he looks like and how he thinks, then it’s straight into the action.

3 Which brings me to my final point. The story has to flow and it has to flow fast. There’s no scope for interruption, for having to go back and mull over details or cues, the reader has to be engrossed from the start. After all there are so many other things you might be doing, like wandering over to the bar for a drink, going for a swim, or simply having a snooze.

4 Short chapters, short sentences, not too much description and certainly no angst. Not all holiday reads will follow this pattern but it’s true for many of the most successful.

There are one or two strange people who go away with tomes of non-fiction, philosophy or economics, to while away the hours relaxing in the sun, but for most of us it will be either crime, psychological, cosy, historical and every permutation of those, or novels which at other times of the year are described as “Women’s Fiction.”

Anyone got any titles they can recommend for summer 2017?

A Summer REad 2

 

PS Picking up the Pieces is now only 99p. Special summer offer on Kindle

The Best Intentions…

The best intentions don’t always come to fruition. Once this would have sent up stress and tension, now I take a more laid back view. There is, after all, something very artificial about making resolutions on a certain date, which you promise yourself you will keep to for the rest of the year, regardless of what life throws at you, good or bad.

So, 2017 no New Year’s Resolutions, just a determination to do more of the same. After all 2016 was not a bad year.

It began with the publication of “Picking up the Pieces.” During which process a great number of lessons, some painful, others not were learned.

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Most important of all being, a thorough proof-read is vital. A good editor even more so. Thank you Peter Coleborn and Jeanne Wood.

What worked really well was the tea party I gave to launch the book. I kept it small and local. Cake was baked and wine chilled, friends and neighbours came and books were sold. Best of all, it was an occasion that everyone enjoyed and out of it came a sense of community that we hadn’t had before. Also, for me, it was another validation of myself as a writer.

W Slight cover

The autobiography project was another boost. Being asked to ghost write the life story of a local person was challenging, although my subject Wilhelmina Slight, couldn’t have been better. Not only was her life story fascinating, but as time went on she recalled more and more, so there was an abundance of material to chose from. And cake. At every interview she produced the most delicious coffee and cake.

 

That was followed by the Hot Air Literary Festival. Where I was on a panel on how to get published, talking about the place of the Indie Press in the publishing world. Thank you Penkhull Press and Tristram Hunt.

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At the end of the summer came the Live Age festival and another panel with fellow local authors. Jan Edwards, Ralph Alcock, Susan Bolton and once again Peter Coleborn, whose live-age16Alchemy Press has won well deserved awards, provided the professional view of small press publishing.

In the autumn, I hosted the annual Reading Cafe at the Gladstone Pottery museum and later on took part in my first public performance, “Our Lives in Art” with the Ages and Stages Theatre Company at Keele University.

Following that came the Christmas show put on the other drama group I go to. It was a condensed reading, thank you Jenni Spangler, of “Christmas is Cancelled” a play I wrote for a cast of thousands, which Jenni reduced very successfully to seven voices.

In the meantime, Jan and I set up 6×6 Reading Cafe at the City Library in Hanley and made regular appearances on 6Towns Radio.

And I wrote 65,000 words of my new novel. Edited the second edition of “Clear Gold” and read and commented on ms from other writers.

To round off the year my story came out in “Weird Ales 2” and was launched at Sledge Lit. 51htiaesyzl-_ac_us218_

 

 

 

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.”

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KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

How to sell ten books in an afternoon.

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“Picking up the Pieces” is a novel about friendship, cake and the mutual support that only lifelong friends can provide. What could be better than to launch it with a tea party inviting friends old and new to celebrate my new book.

For those friends that lived some distance away, I sent emails, for those close by I printed out invitations which I attached to promotional postcards I’d had printed.

Handing these to old friends was easy, what was more difficult was knocking on my neighbours, doors to ask them if they’d like to come to the launch. To my delight they all accepted. The offer of coffee, cake and wine may have had something to do with it, but I did make it clear that books would be on sale. Buying one, however, was not compulsory.

As it turned out, everyone did go home with a copy.

So ten books were sold and I had a great time doing it.It was good to see friends I’d not been in touch with for a while, but what was even better was the way they all got on together. I even managed to introduce people who had lived in the same street for years but had never met each other!

What did I learn?

First, target your readers. “Picking up the Pieces” is about three women of a certain age and more likely to appeal to a female readership, so all my guests were women friends, though I did allow cakes to be taken home for the men in their lives.

Secondly, bake. Cake is always good, but if you can’t bake then buy.

Thirdly, wine. Helps to break the ice and is good for the toast.

Fourthly, treat the launch as a social occasion, rather than a selling opportunity.

And last of all, enjoy. If you have a good time, your guests will too.

 

 

Why Do I Write?

Over the past few months I have been very busy promoting my new novel “Picking up the Pieces”.

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I’ve talked about my book at “Hot Air” the literary festival in Stoke-on-Trent, where I live: set up a Facebook page: sent out a pre-publication news-letter: searched the internet for bloggers who review women’s fiction: given out review copies: talked to everyone and anyone I’ve met and have just invited friends and neighbours to the first of a number of celebratory tea/mini launch at my house at the end of July. (There will be more such events, living room is too small to have everyone at the same time.) There will be coffee, cake and wine, hopefully followed by a few book sales.

Much as I enjoy all this, there are also the moments of panic familiar to all the writers I know about whether their book is good enough to see the light of day, let alone be read by the thousands/millions of readers we are hoping for.

It’s at times like these that I find myself wondering what this compulsion to write is all about. If it’s fame and fortune then that only happens for the lucky few. If it’s connecting with readers, which is vital, then I could simply post my work on this blog and hope that some of you will read and enjoy it. If it’s a way of passing the time, then I would be better off pulling weeds out of my vegetable patch.

Or would I?

For me the reasons why I write are deeply rooted in who I am. Writing for me is how I express my creativity. Left alone on a desert island I would still write, even if I knew for certain that no one would ever see my work, because the process of writing helps me to come to terms with what has happened and is happening in my life.  I don’t write autobiography. I’m not always conscious that the themes I choose reflect on recent or past experience, but they do. “Picking up the Pieces” for example was partly inspired by a chance remark in a supermarket, which got me thinking about the problems working women have to face and how the older woman, after a certain age, becomes invisible in our society. News readers on TV, have been replaced by younger women, while men remain firmly in post, whatever their age.

Serious themes for a basically light, holiday read, but that is the way I work, there is always a darker thread to my fiction, as there is in life.

Beyond distilling experience, however, there is another reason for writing and one that is so often forgotten in the race to sell books. I write because I love it. I love the whole process, even when the writing isn’t going well, I can’t find the right word in a sentence, or the right name for a character and have to type NAME or WORD until I can dredge it up from the depths of my subconscious. There are days when I can’t manage more than a paragraph and others when the words flow and flow and it’s hard to stop.

Whatever my state, or the state of my work, there is a basic joy and fulfilment in being a writer, which we should be acknowledging and celebrating.

Accept that and rejections by publishers and agents, poor sales figures, or indifferent reviews won’t matter so much. At the end of the day, you can concentrate on what is truly important and what, in my opinion, keeps a real writer writing.

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Friends

Padrick and Podge
Friends

I met my oldest friend when we were seven years old. I don’t know what it was that drew us together, but right from the start we had much in common. We certainly shared a vivid imagination. Break times were spent in our imaginary worlds, whether out in the Wild West, where we were breaking horses and riding bareback over the prairies, or in Regency England where we were the bad girls of the family always getting into trouble over some breach of decorum or other.
As we got older, we slept over at each other’s houses and on one memorable occasion spent New Year’s Eve at The Glen, a nightclub set in an old quarry. Quite why she ended up with such a bad hangover, I don’t remember. I do remember the following morning watching her eating scrambled eggs on toast, slathered in tomato ketchup. Every bite and swallow was an act of will, but she was determined to get it down as she was sure it was what she needed to get rid of the thundering in her head.
We grew up, we moved away to live and work in different cities, then different countries. But we were always there for each other. And that’s still true decades later, as it is for all my friends.

After family, friends are the most important people in my life and it is friendship, in particular the long standing sort, that is the basis of “Picking up the Pieces.” Friendship, cake and the mutual support that only lifelong friends can provide.