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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Who Would I choose?

 

Some writers know from the start not only what their characters look like, but who they would like to play them in a film, or TV adaptation. As part of their character building, they find pictures in magazines and make character boards, on Pinterest, or paste photos on noticeboards.

I don’t work like that. Liz, Bernie and Elsa in “Picking up the Pieces” all came as ready made images.Picking Up The Pieces I could see Liz striding along The Downs with her long hair escaping from its pins and her flowing hippy type skirt, while Elsa in matching coat and dress, perfect hair do, nails and rings was waiting for her at The Grand. Bernie too came fully formed, in her slightly too tight best dress and uncomfortable shoes.

Poppy, Liz’s actress daughter, is based on my daughter Posy and I’ve taken the photograph of her clutching her cat from real life.

If I had to cast my characters in a film, however.

Kristin_Scott_Thomas_Cabourg_2013Kristin Scott-Thomas would play serious and self-analysing, Liz

Miranda Richardson, the fluffy, materialistic Elsa.Miranda Richardson

And Olivia Coleman, responsible and caring, Bernie.Olivia Coleman

Though if I could manipulate time, Zaza Gabor would be perfect for Elsa.

As for Ed. Well there is only one choice. George Clooney.George-Clooney

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.