Failure to Plan

My other half, who has worked for a mega multi-national organisation for more years than is good for him, is fluent in corporate speak. One of his favourites is failure to plan is planning to fail – a little gem about time-management, something which has never been my forte.

My WIP (work in progress) is currently zooming along at high speed but in a very haphazard fashion. This is because I’m a “pantser” – when it comes to writing I fly by the seat of my pants and I make my stories up as I go along – as opposed to a plotter who researches and constructs their novel – chapter by chapter in some cases – before starting.  

A first draft is allowed to be messy, it’s where you write down all your ideas and don’t worry too much about the finer details. However, a plotter will have a plan, while a pantser is constantly going back to join the dots to make their story work.

I can totally understand the need for some prior research if you’re writing a historical novel. I write contemporary fiction and look up my ‘facts’ as I go along. However, not having a cohesive plan does have its drawbacks when it comes to consistency or when a fact no longer fits the plotline. For example, at the very start of my WIP my heroine is attending an event which could only take place in the summer.  Several chapters in I mention something that implies we are in winter – so now I either have to find an alternative event or put her in the southern hemisphere to solve the problem of what she is doing, but there again she has to nip back to the UK pretty swiftly to deal with the initial point of change – the dilemma which sets the story off – so I have to delete the wintery weather, which then has other implications as the story progresses….

Of course a plotter would have little details like this sorted – they’d have a calendar, a timeline and full character profiles and CVs. They’d know exactly what their character was up to and where and when she was doing it.

However, I like watching my characters develop. My current hero has mesmerised my heroine but to be honest he hasn’t mesmerised me yet, therefore he needs more bulk to his personality; he has do something that will have the reader rooting for him. Looking good is not enough; my hero need more than finely chiselled features and few rippling muscles (although that does help). Therefore a fact he has kept hidden about himself until a later chapter will now need to come out sooner to evoke a little sympathy. So back I go again…

At the moment I am going back more than I am going forward, but that’s ok.  I’m more than a third of the way through the book now and I think my idea has legs so it’s worth perserving to see how far it’ll run.

Both hero and heroine have changed names, as have several minor characters. You can’t have too many names that begin with the same letter; sometimes a name that seems to fit at the start, no longer seems appropriate. Nationalities and occupations have changed. The sub-plot which kicked the book off has fallen a little by the wayside and will have to be brought back to the forefront  before the reader forgets all about it, and the secondary plot is  vital, not just to keep the reader engaged during a lull in the main action, but because I want the two separate storylines to come together at the end.  See I have done a bit of planning – even if it’s just in my head. I do know how this book will end – or at least I think I do…

So being a pantser keeps the story fluid and organic. My characters drive the story forward and although leap-frogging backwards and forwards to drop in clues as the story progresses might seem like a less constructive use of time, not having a set plan makes writing fun and unpredictable! I’m just as much in the dark as to what my characters are going to get up to next as I hope my readers will be. A heart attack? I didn’t see that one coming but it so works…

Comfort Reading with Angela Wren

In France, 1 April is known as Poisson d’Avril and according to the internet (so it may not be true at all) the idea of playing jokes on friends and family evolved from the tradition of giving the gift of fish at the end of Lent. So in keeping with the French theme, albeit very tenuously, I’m delighted to welcome self-confessed Francophile Angela Wren to my blog this week to discuss her favourite comfort reads.

Hi Rosie and thanks for inviting me to your blog today.  I know it’s April Fool’s Day today, but my book choices are genuine despite the title of the first one!

Peacock Pie by Walter de la Mare – This book, published in 1946, wasn’t bought for, or by, me.  But it has been in the family home ever since I can remember.  I love it because some of my earliest experiences on stage are wrapped up in it.  As I flicked through the pages when I picked it off my shelf, I had to stop at ‘Silver’.  Before I’d even looked at the page properly I found myself reciting the first stanza :

Slowly, silently, now the moon

Walks the night in her silver shoon;

This way, and that, she peers, and sees

Silver fruit upon silver trees…

I was surprised that I could still remember the lines.  I was 6 when I first recited it for a poetry speaking competition and took 3rd prize.  Later I had to learn ‘The Bees’ Song’ and a couple of years after that, ‘The Listeners’.  It reminds me of the unencumbered bliss of being a child

Island-Nights’ Entertainments by Robert Louis Stevenson – I discovered this little gem, published in 1907 and leather bound, in a box of books in a junk shop whilst on holiday with my parents.  It cost very little from my holiday money and, once I’d started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.  This and some of the poems I had to learn for Mrs Burns – my speech and drama teacher – probably turned me into the RLS groupie that I am today.   Stevenson has been with me all my life and I have just about everything he wrote, some stories in more than one edition!  I know that, at times of great stress or difficulty, I can pick one of his books from my shelves and become lost for a while in the magic.

The Lost Girl by DH Lawrence– I came across my first copy of this book (the one in the pic is the first edition I bought later) as a twenty-year old.  I can recall reading it on the bus to work, and as I got to the most crucial point in the book, the Inspector demanded to see my ticket.  I just fished out a handful of tickets from my jacket pocket, slapped them in his open hand and went on with my reading.  The tears that had already formed began to cascade down my face but I kept on reading.  Eventually, I realised I was being spoken to, and it dawned on me that the ticket he wanted was the one in my book being used as a bookmark.  I thrust it at him and continued reading.  I did manage to get to the end before I had to get off the bus.  Each time I re-read this story, I see something new in it, but I always cry at that same page.  Have often wondered what the bus Inspector thought, though!

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorn – I studied this book for my English exams at school and was not especially impressed.  I came across this copy in a bookshop in my thirties and decided to read it again.  Realising I had missed so much of the essence of the writing, and the skill of the writer, I started to build a collection of Hawthorn’s books.  I have copies of his adult and children’s books – some of them very fine editions.  It was Hawthorn, I think, that turned me into the true book collector that I am now.  It was also Hawthorn that taught me that a book is for the words and that there will never be enough of them.

The Golden Reign by Clare Sydney Smith – Published in 1949 this little volume charts the life of T. E Lawrence following his return from Arabia until his death in May 1935 whilst serving in the RAF under the pseudonym of T. E. Shaw.  Written by the wife of his commanding officer it charts the friendship that developed between Mrs Clare Sydney-Smith and Lawrence through their letters, her remembered conversations, and some diary entries.  As a memoir it is one of the most fascinating I have ever read and I came across it by accident.  The foreword, written by Lawrence’s mother, states that the title was ‘his own name for the happy time’ he spent with the Sydney-Smiths.  Considering his vilification following his return to the UK, this book presents a picture of a very different man.

Bio

Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre.  I’ve been writing, in a serious way, since 2010.  My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life.

I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work.  My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical.  I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio.  The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.

Blurb for Montbel (Jacques Forêt Mystery #3)

A clear-cut case? 

A re-examination of a closed police case brings investigator, Jacques Forêt, up against an old adversary. After the murder of a key witness, Jacques finds himself, and his team, being pursued.

When a vital piece of evidence throws a completely different light on Jacques’ case, his adversary becomes more aggressive, and Investigating Magistrate Pelletier threatens to sequester all of Jacques papers and shut down the investigation.

Can Jacques find all the answers before Pelletier steps in?

Links

Amazon : AngelaWren

Website : www.angelawren.co.uk

Blog : www.jamesetmoi.blogspot.com

Facebook : Angela Wren

Twitter : Angela Wren

Goodreads : Angela Wren

Contact an author : Angela Wren

Thank you very much Angela for taking part and sharing her love of some very classical and historical books.

Comfort Reading with CJ Sutton

Continuing the international theme this week I am joined by Australian author C J Sutton. C J writes horror/psychological thrillers, so his take on ‘comfort’ reading could be very interesting!

Hi Rosie,

Thanks for hosting me on your blog. When I think of comfort reads, I think of books that allow me to escape everyday life on such a level that they may inspire me to try something new, visit a different location or research an interesting topic.

Here are my top 5 comfort reads:

The Beach by Alex Garland

This book instilled my desire to travel. This desire has since waned as I’ve hit my thirties with more responsibility, but The Beach is written in a way that has one assessing their thirst for adventure. I first read The Beach when I was in my early twenties, and the narration style of the writer and the personality of the protagonist quickly drew me in. I pictured someone not too different from me, searching for something so far away from everyday life that one must physically look for it. The idea of finding a secluded haven untouched by technology and the eye of the public is a pipedream you can enjoy here, on your couch, without all the risks that befall poor Richard.

Low Men in Yellow Coats by Stephen King

I always enjoyed writing to some degree, but this book made me want to dedicate my life to becoming an author. This short story is found in Stephen King’s compilation book which has some of his lesser known works that became popular movies, such as Shawshank Redemption. But Low Men in Yellow Coats, more commonly referred to as Hearts in Atlantis starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, manages to balance a love of books with the wonder all children possess. There is a side of King’s horror in the background, but this story thrives with a young boy learning how to survive in a small town. My favourite King story, even if the film didn’t do it justice.

Fallow by Daniel Shand

Here is possibly the best representation of why exploring the relationships between family members can venture deeper than any other topic. Two brothers are hiding in the wilderness after one is released from jail, and while living out of a tent they regularly enter towns for a beer and socialisation. We are led by an unreliable narrator for a reason, and all is revealed in the book’s shocking conclusion. But the interplay between brothers is realistic, raw and emotional. Despite the Scottish backdrop, the road-trip style and the fun dialogue, it is their relationship that makes the book a remarkable read. I explore this theme in my own stories, and here is the benchmark.

Gone series by Michael Grant

Being able to enjoy a sci-fi series not intended for my age bracket is a guilty pleasure. Gone is the story of a suburb being shut off from the rest of the world, as children under the age of fifteen develop powers beneath a giant dome and everyone older than fifteen just disappears. Some would call it teenage X-Men, but the series is so much more than powers and battles. It’s Lord of the Flies with higher stakes. There were six books in the first series, and such was the impact on the author that we now have another series of three books set after the conclusion of the original story. But at its heart, this is a story about teenagers trying to find their place in the world, taking on the role of parents and trying to keep each other safe against the unnatural threats developing underground. I smashed this series and would do so again. To me it has a nostalgic feel I only really get when watching a movie from my childhood.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

A big book with big ideas, Shantaram is a sprawling tale across India that was written in jail by a man who either has a great imagination or has led a truly interesting life. Gangs, war, drugs, love and philosophy are explored with a cast of unique characters and the swelter of an accurate Indian portrayal. Weeks can be lost in this giant tome of a book, the scenarios all-encompassing and shocking. Perhaps the reason I associate Shantaram with comfort reading is that I carried it with my during my trek through South East Asia and found a relaxing spot to read at every pause. But I am also inspired by this writer’s willingness to succeed, as he wrote this manuscript in full multiple times only for the guards to throw it away. He started again and again, and this is the result.

About CJ

CJ Sutton is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. He holds a Masters in journalism and creative writing, and supports the value of study through correspondence. His fictional writing delves into the unpredictability of the human mind and the fears that drive us.

This Strange Hell by C. J. Sutton –

A suited man runs from a burning tower in Melbourne as bodies rain down upon him.

Before the city’s millions can compose, he boards a train into the countryside. Hiding his identity and changing his appearance, the man finds his way to Sulley Ridge, a lawless town in the heart of the harsh Victorian outback.

The following day, a burned man wakes up in a hospital bed. Surging with rage, he speaks a name. Within an hour, the suited man’s face is across every screen in the country. It’s the greatest manhunt Australia has ever seen.

But as he tries to camouflage in Sulley Ridge, he soon realises the town has its own problems. Under the iron fist of a violent leader, the locals are trapped within slow and torturous decay…

As we learn more about the night of the burning tower, the connection between the suited man and the burned man threatens to leave a trail of destruction across the state.

Here is the story of a man on the run from his past, as the line between sanity and evil is danced upon.

Here is the tale of This Strange Hell.

mybook.to/thisstrangehell

http://www.cjsutton-author.com/

https://www.facebook.com/cjsutton.author

https://twitter.com/c_j_sutton

https://www.instagram.com/c.j.sutton/

Thanks to CJ for taking part.

Comfort Reading – Guest Tom Halford

This week I’m heading across the Atlantic to meet Canadian author Tom Halford. Tom lives in Newfoundland where I suspect the chilly winters provide ample opportunity for comfort reading!

Thanks for having me on your blog, Rosie. I really appreciate it.

When I think of my favourite comfort reads, I always think of the bildungsroman. The bildungsroman is roughly defined as the novel of development, and these types of books usually focus on a younger person coming of age.

Here are my top five comfort reads.

Of Human Bondage W Somerset Maugham

When I started reading this book, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I can remember sitting in my parents’ basement over the Christmas holidays. There was this dusty, smelly red-orange chair that I had stuffed into my bedroom. This was where I befriended Philip Carey, Maugham’s protagonist, who has to come to terms with the fact that he will never become a professional artist. He chooses a more practical path and becomes a doctor. This book had a strange effect on me. Even though the conclusion was ultimately about choosing to be practical, Maugham’s style and character development led me to be even more obsessed with writing novels. I come from a family where almost everyone is a dentist (this sounds like a joke, but it’s true). After reading this book, I knew that had to at least try to be a writer. If I became dentist, I worried that I’d never really be happy.

David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

Where was I when I read this book? I believe I was staying at my parents’ camp while I worked at a nearby campground on Lake George, New Brunswick. This was one book that I didn’t want to end. There are a number of parallels between Philip Carey and David Copperfield.  Both of them lose their mother at a young age. Both meet a host of characters both good and bad. I’m not sure why I was so drawn to these two books. I don’t have much in common with either hero, but they’re both great company, and they were my very good friends for a little while.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, JK Rowling

By the time I read the Harry Potter series, I was finally out of my parents’ house. My wife and I even own our own house now!

 Currently, I end up driving everyone to where they need to be and am in our van for roughly an hour and a half each day. In the fall, I listened to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in the van on a loaned copy from the library. Harry Potter is an incredible main character, and each one of the supporting characters are entertaining in their own way. Hagrid has to be one of the most likeable characters in any novel that I’ve read. I’m a big fan of Rowling as an author for a bunch of different reasons, but I’m stunned as to her ability to write so well in multiple genres. The Cormorant Strike series is another one of my favourite comfort reads, but I’m not including it in this list because it would be difficult to argue that it is a bildungsroman.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Samuel Pepys

 On that note, I’m going to argue that The Diary of Samuel Pepys can be considered a bildungsroman. It’s not a novel but a series of diary entries spanning from 1660 to 1669, so I’ll lose the battle in relation to the “roman” of bildungsroman. However, it is a book where the reader gets to see a clear development in Pepys. These developments are not always better for Pepys on a personal level. His relationship with his wife becomes increasingly strained, but he advances considerably in his professional life. So, even in relation to “bildungs”, I’m on shaky ground as well.

I don’t care though. I love Pepys. Of any literary figure, Pepys is the most alive to me. I feel as though I have gone back in time between 1660-1669 and hung out with him. This was at a lonely time for me, before I’d met my wife (yes, I also read The Diary of Samuel Pepys in my parents’ basement), and reading about Pepys’s life was one of my most comforting reads.

Mean Boy, Lynn Coady

 Lynn Coady’s Mean Boy is more of a kunstlerroman (artist novel) than a bildungsroman, but I’m being loose with my definitions here so leave me alone. Of any book in this list, Mean Boy was one where I could closely relate to the narrator. Coady’s novel is set at a small university in Atlantic Canada, and it’s about an English major who is learning that his literary heroes are also fallible human beings. When I discovered Mean Boy, I had finally moved out of my parents’ house to a city about an hour away. I was reaching a point in my life where many bildungsroman end. I was the young, main character leaving the nest. Finding Mean Boy and spending time with the narrator Lawrence Campbell was important to me at the time. I don’t know if I’ve learned as much from any other book.

The comfort that I find in the bildungsroman genre is that the main character usually becomes a friend. I learn about his or her life from a young age, the struggles and the successes. In a way, I feel like Philip Carey, David Copperfield, Harry Potter, Samuel Pepys, and Lawrence Campbell are more than characters; they are good friends who I knew very well for a short period of time.

About Tom

Tom Halford lives with his family in Newfoundland, Canada. His novels are are set in New York State, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada. He writes comedy and crime fiction.

He maintains a Twitter page: twitter.com/tomhalfordnove
And he maintains a Youtube account: youtube.com/user/CyrilTrout

Tom’s debut novel Deli Meat is published by Crooked Cat Books and available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Deli-Meat-Tom-Halford-ebook/dp/B07FF5ZDKW/

Thanks to Tom for sharing his choices and an education. The theme of finding friendship amongst characters will resonate with many readers and writers, and ‘Bildungsroman’ is definitely the word of the day!

Itchy Feet & Itchy Fingers

Last week we moved house.

Anyone who knows me well will know that I am a bit of a serial house mover.  Stay in one place too long and I get itchy feet.  This was actually our 11th house move in ten years and yes that does mean that in some years we’ve moved more than once (in 2012 we moved three times).  In theory I should be getting good at it. I pack boxes like a professional – but I don’t think we’ve made one house move yet where something hasn’t been mislaid along the way. In this house move – it was most definitely my writing mojo that got lost. The stress of securing a buyer, then the stress of not losing our buyer, and finally the stress of not finding a property we wanted to buy, seemed to cancel out every ounce of creativity. A new novel just wasn’t happening.

We made the decision to go into short term rented, which isn’t without its own inherent problems, and the date of our actual move, dictated by our buyers, couldn’t have been worse – just a week  after the launch date for Your Secret’s Safe With Me.   Just before the launch date I hit on this brilliant new idea for a potential third book. In fact it was so brilliant, I abandoned the stilted 10K words I’d eeked out over the last few months, and wrote a totally new 10K words in a matter of days.

Do you ever have that feeling where an idea is just beyond your grasp? It’s as if you have a glimpse of something but it’s not fully formed, something on the periphery of your vision, and then all of sudden it’s a solid mass, within reach. That was what this rush of creativity felt like. It was also a relief. The muse was back, I wasn’t going to be permanently muted – but then the curse of the house move struck again because boxes needed to be packed; practicalities took over and the tap so recently switched on was turned off again. The flow of words halted.

We’ve been in our new temporary home for a week, but when I sat down at my desk this morning it was an ‘and breathe’ moment. We haven’t done a great deal of unpacking – no point when we’re not planning on staying put. Half the furniture sits in the garage and some has been sacrificed to fend for itself in the garden (although this has created a very useful outdoor writing space). But the one saving grace is that the next move is not yet on the cards, and I can’t wait to pick up where I left off on the WIP. New characters have already appeared in my head, a new plot twist.  My fingers are itching to get tapping away on that broken keyboard (yes something inevitably also gets broken in every house move – this time a foot broke off the keyboard and a leg fell of an IKEA wardrobe. The IKEA wardrobe is now propped up on a brick, the keyboard on a wad of paper.) When we finally get to the dream house it’ll all get repaired – or replaced. The good thing is work on my next novel doesn’t need a dream home before it gets restored. I can start now.

The garden writing retreat!

Comfort Reads – Guest Jennifer Wilson

Today I am joined by historical fiction writer Jennifer Wilson, and there is a definite theme amongst her choices for her top five go-to reads!

Hi Rosie, and thanks for the chance to visit your blog today; it’s been lovely thinking about my five comfort reads, bringing back some great memories too!

The Animals of Mulberry Common, by Hilary Cannock

I know this isn’t the first book I ever read (Puddle Lane or fairy tales probably count somewhere for that), but this book has come with me everywhere I’ve ever lived for some reason. I just cannot let it go. It’s a tiny, pocket-sized book, about, unsurprisingly, the animals which live on the fictional Mulberry Common, and has plenty of action and adventure, as well as a hint of danger in some of the stories. But then, books for children often do have underlying danger, just look at what could happen to Peter Rabbit if Mr McGregor ever did catch him, not to mention the death and destruction throughout the Harry Potter series. I haven’t re-read this for a while, but just knowing it still sits happily on my shelf keeps me smiling.

Bloody Scotland, by Terry Deary

As a child, I adored history, and found the Terry Deary books a brilliant way in to learning about periods of history which simply weren’t covered at school. Being obsessed with Scottish History meant that this was an immediate favourite, and I was thrilled to bits when the author came to my school, and I was able to get my copy signed. It’s since been reissued as just a Horrible Histories Special on Scotland, but frankly, I think this title is more fun!

Despite having read this dozens of times, there are still cartoons and lines which make me laugh out loud, and I did refer to it when I was researching Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile, so there’s definitely some solid facts in there, as well as the humour.

The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory

I love this book. The writing is brilliant, and I think the fact that Philippa Gregory is able to make you believe (spoiler alert) that Anne Boleyn might just be about to be saved, and sent to a distant convent, and not executed after all. I was given a copy to read by a colleague, despite not being interested in the Tudors at all, because she was convinced I would enjoy it. She was right. I devoured it in a matter of days, and that was it; I was hooked on the Tudors. As a result, I began reading as much fiction and non-fiction as I could (see below), and became absolutely obsessed with the era. Once I’d read a lot about the Tudors, I decided I didn’t want to move ‘forward’ in time, to the Stuarts, and decided to go ‘backwards’ instead, and that’s when I discovered the Plantagenets, and in particular, Richard III.

Whenever I’m sick, or stressed, this is the book I go back to. It doesn’t matter that I know the plot inside out; for some reason, on every re-read, I seem to find something I hadn’t noticed, and still enjoy it as much as the first time. It’s the perfect ‘ill read’, as I can open it at any point, read as much or as little as I like, and put it aside without even worrying about a bookmark for next time.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII, by Antonia Fraser

This is one of the books I bought as a result of having read The Other Boleyn Girl, and again, however many times I read it, I find different nuances, or facts, that I go and research further in other places. It was also where I found ‘my’ Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, for Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, due to the stories, quotes and reported words. It’s another ‘ill read’ for me, like The Other Boleyn Girl, and I always enjoy going back to it.

The Story of Scotland, by Nigel Tranter

This is one of those perfect history books, which makes facts read as addictively as fiction, just like The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Scottish history always makes fascinating reading, but it can at times be a little complex, especially when you go back so far that the history itself isn’t 100% certain. The book writes every period as though it was a chapter of a novel, and makes it nice and accessible. I’ve never used this as a resource specifically, but I do enjoy my Scottish history, and have often used it as a ‘jumping off’ point, to then go and read more about a particular person, or part of history.

About Jennifer

Jennifer C. Wilson is a marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history and historical fiction whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots on childhood holidays (she has since moved on to Richard III). Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east of England for work reignited her pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since.

She lives in North Tyneside, and is very proud of her approximately 2-inch view of the North Sea.

Website:         https://jennifercwilsonwriter.wordpress.com/

Amazon:        https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jennifer-Wilson/e/B018UBP1ZO/

Facebook:     https://www.facebook.com/jennifercwilsonwriter/

Twitter:                      https://twitter.com/inkjunkie1984

Instagram:     https://www.instagram.com/jennifercwilsonwriter/

Celebrating The Second Book

Yesterday saw the launch of my second novel, Your Secret’s Safe With Me. Without a doubt, my character novelist Pearl would have been cracking open the pink champagne to celebrate. Did I? Not exactly. Traditionally Monday night is pub quiz night and if/when you read Your Secret’s Safe With Me you will realise that participation in a pub quiz plays a pivotal role in the story!

My regular Monday night outings provided just a little of the inspiration for the plot twist that brings my heroine and hero together, so instead of celebrating with champagne on ice it seemed fitting to spend the evening with my team mates enjoying scampi and chips playing rock’n’roll bingo as usual (we know how to live it up!)

So, what is Your Secret’s Safe With Me all about?

Well, it isn’t about a pub quiz team! All families have taboos – don’t they? The ‘things’ no-one wants to talk about, the ‘closed subjects.’ Pearl and Becca Gates are no exception, they have plenty of skeletons lurking in their closet, but then, so it seems does everyone else they encounter when they arrive at their new home in the sleepy south coast village of Kerridge.

Pearl, a successful romantic novelist, throws daughter Becca’s organised life into chaos when she makes a series of surprise announcements.  Apart from a wedding to arrange, there’s also a career change, and a relocation from London to a rural waterside community on the south coast. As Pearl embraces a new life amongst the local sailing fraternity, Becca encounters an unwelcome face from her past and receives a grim warning that all is not as calm as it first appears in her picturesque new surroundings.

Your Secret’s Safe With Me is a story about the intricacies of family relationships and the consequences of keeping secrets. It evolved from a competition entry for the opening 300 words of a novel focussing on the relationship between mother and daughter. I liked the dynamic I’d created between Pearl and Becca, who works as her mother’s PA, and wanted to take their story further.

Many of us dream of a new life in the country but for Pearl and Becca the move signals not just a complete shift in their relationship, but it also spells danger.   There’s romance, of course, plot twists and intrigue, and it’s all told with a good dose of humour. Once again my native local south coast landscape provides the setting.

I hope you enjoy meeting Pearl and Becca, younger brother Freddy, and Nick, of course, that unwelcome  (or is he?!) face from Becca’s past. And when you do read their story, pay attention. I may be asking questions later!

Your Secret’s Safe With Me is available in paperback and on Kindle https://www.amazon.co.uk/Your-Secrets-Safe-Rosie-Travers-ebook/dp/B07L9K978J/

Comfort Reads – Guest Paula Williams

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘comfort’ as a state of physical well-being; in pluralthings that make life easy or pleasant. To me that term is synonymous with reading, and I think today’s special guest, cosy crime writer Paula Williams would heartily agree!

Thank you, Rosie, for inviting me to talk about my comfort reads.  It was incredibly difficult to pick just five to talk about because, to me, reading is the ultimate comfort activity.  Curled up, reading on a cold, rainy day when the wind is howling outside and I’m snug and warm – that’s my idea of bliss!

So, as I can’t include the entire contents of my bookcases/Kindle I’ve checked them out and found the following precious (to me)  books.

1. The Discontented Pony.   Noel Barr

This tops the list because this book was the reason I was such an early reader.  It belonged to my older sister and I loved it so much and used to beg people to read it to me.  But my mum didn’t have time (I have 5 siblings!) and my sister didn’t have the inclination.  So I learnt to read.  I don’t remember how, I only know I would spend hours bent over this book, trying to make sense of the words. The copy in the picture is not my sister’s. That disappeared years ago. (She doesn’t share my need to hoard books)  I found it in a charity shop many years ago and leapt on it with cries of joy. It has pride of place on my Treasured Books shelf ever since.

2. When We Were Very Young.  By A A Milne. 

Having just said that nobody in my family would read to me, my maternal grandmother used to read this to me when she was visiting or we went to stay with her.  I loved it and knew many of the poems off by heart. (Still do, in fact!)

It is the reason my eldest son is called Christopher.  There was never any doubt in my mind what my first son was going to be called, even before I became pregnant!  And, I’m happy to say, that he loves the book as much as I do – although I can’t help wondering if part of the appeal came from the fact that if I started reading the poems as a bedtime story, I would find it very hard to stop at just one. It was a brilliant way of extending bedtime.

Years later, I read the poems to my grandchildren, although they didn’t like them quite so much, with the possible exception of The King’s Breakfast, which I do with all the different voices.  How come I forget where I put the car keys yet remember in perfect detail every single line of that silly poem?

3. The Footsteps of Angels.  H.W. Longfellow

Hope it’s all right to include a single poem as my comfort read.  Now this really was a comfort read – at least it was when I was nine years old. 

 I’ve already mentioned my maternal grandmother and how she died when I was young.  I was devastated by her death as she was a gentle, bookish lady and we really enjoyed each other’s company.  She lived with us for the last year of her life and I missed her so much when she died.  Our household was a noisy, very boy dominated one, (I have four brothers and my sister was away at school for a lot of the time) and I treasured the precious quiet time my grandmother and I spent together.

After she died, I inherited many of her books, one of which was a book of poems by H.W. Longfellow which she’d been awarded back in 1907/08 for ‘Regularity, Progress and Conduct.”  It amuses me to see that Longfellow is described in the Preface as one of the ‘modern’ poets!

This book, like the other two, lives on the shelf allocated very precious books.  The pages are all brown and crumbling and the whole thing is falling apart but I still treasure it.

I learnt The Footsteps of Angels just after her death.  All ten verses of it!  I had the idea that I was learning it for her.  Reading it through now, I can see it’s very sentimental but at the time, it was a real comfort to grieving little nine year old me and brought me a little closer to my sorely missed ‘Nan’.

4. The Big Four.  Agatha Christie.

My mother introduced me to Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy Sayers when I was about 12 and I have loved crime fiction ever since, both as a reader and a writer.

I hadn’t read any Agatha Christie for years although I really enjoyed most of the television productions, especially the ones with David Suchet as Poirot and Joan Hickson as Miss Marple.  But a couple of years ago, we were staying near Dartmouth in Devon and were waiting to take the steam train up the Dart Valley.  Of course, being as we were in the heart of ‘Agatha Christie’ country, there was a whole selection of her books on sale in the station shop.  I chose The Big Four as I didn’t remember the story – and I was totally drawn in.  I’d completely forgotten what a great story teller she was and couldn’t put it down.

That particular book brings back many memories, of my mother and, more recently, of a lovely holiday in a beautiful part of the world.

5. On Writing.  Stephen King.

I bought this book ages ago and resisted reading it for year, mostly because I’ve never read any of Stephen King’s fiction (nor seen any of the films), as I don’t enjoy horror stories.

But I’m so glad I put my prejudice aside. Because here is a man in love with writing and every time I get a bit down and think I’m not cut out to be a writer and that maybe I should give it up and take up crochet or something, I dip in to this and my world is restored.

And isn’t that the point of a comfort read?

Author Bio

Paula Williams is living her dream. She’s written all her life – her earliest efforts involved blackmailing her unfortunate younger brothers into appearing in her plays and pageants. But it’s only in recent years that she discovered to her surprise that people with better judgement than her brothers actually liked what she wrote and were prepared to pay her for it.

Now, she writes every day in a lovely, book-lined study in her home in Somerset, where she lives with her husband and a handsome but not always obedient rescue Dalmatian called Duke.

She began her writing career writing fiction for women’s magazines (and still does) but has recently branched out into longer fiction. She also writes a monthly column, Ideas Store, for the writers’ magazine, Writers’ Forum.

But, as with the best of dreams, she worries that one day she’s going to wake up and find she still has to bully her brothers into reading ‘the play what she wrote’.

Her debut crime novel, Murder Served Cold, is a murder mystery set in a small Somerset village which bears a striking resemblance to the one she lives in. (Although, as far as she knows, none of her neighbours are cold-blooded murderers!)  It was published by Crooked Cat Books in October 2018, and is the first in the Much Winchmoor Mysteries series, the second of which, Rough and Deadly, will be published soon!

Murder Served Cold can be bought at:  https://mybook.to/murderservedcold

Social Media Links

Blog. at paulawilliamswriter.wordpress.com

Her facebook author page is https://www.facebook.com/paula.williams.author.

Twitter.  @paulawilliams44.

Website  paulawilliamswriter.co.uk

Many thanks to Paula for taking part.

Story Time Part 2

Further to my post a couple of weeks’ back, here, as promised is my shortlisted sci-fi story from Writing Magazine. I have to admit sci-fi would never be my chosen genre to read, or to write, but that’s the wonder of writing competition prompts, they can take you off into another world!

Voyage into the Unknown

There were reports of riots in the emigration lines. Brad said it wasn’t worth taking the risk. We’d left it too late anyway. A family who’d been waiting two weeks were turned back when they reached the departure gate because one of the children was sick. The next day the family reappeared minus one. Rumour had it the father had sacrificed the poorly child to ensure the others’ safe passage. That’s how desperate people were.

We’d been on emergency rations for the last six months. There was no hope of replenishing supplies. Even the black market had dried up. We’d been forewarned this would happen. Back in my parents’ day prophets had predicted a catastrophe on a global scale. The politicians had taken no notice. The wheels of industry would not be stopped. When one resource became depleted, another was harnessed. Technological advances sucked the goodness from the soil, the sea and from the atmosphere.

The oceans had dried up; the earth was parched and barren, vegetation and livestock dead. Only the very elderly could remember the days of fresh food. As a child I’d been repulsed by my grandfather’s salivating lips as he described the taste and texture of cooked meat. I couldn’t imagine consuming anything that hadn’t been cultivated in a petri-dish, but even laboratory manufactured foodstuffs needed water.  We’d been too greedy. Our planet could no longer sustain life.

There had been a cull to reduce the population. I’m surprised the family with the sick child made it through the rigorous screening process.  The majority of diseases had been eradicated. Medicine was one area in which scientists excelled. Cures existed for all but the rarest of cancers, and for those incurable conditions, euthanasia was encouraged.  As a race we were supposedly the fittest and strongest we’d ever been. We just hadn’t developed a way of adjusting our lungs to cope with the polluted air that smothered our planet. A few more years of research and we might have conquered it.

Brad had worked on some of the initial investigations into the sustainability of the satellite colonies. In theory, we should have been first in line for one of the emigration ships but it seemed such a drastic step. If we could survive a few months, I was convinced the rains would come. There had been droughts before – the longest on record was five years.  We were currently in our seventh.

Old fashioned words such as frugality, restraint and recycling were being bandied about by the told-you-so brigade; those smug academics who took great delight in witnessing the planet’s demise. They would stay to the bitter end, whatever. They stood chanting on street corners in ethereal white gowns, although we all wore white by then, to reflect the brutal heat of the sun.

Brad said there was talk of a new exploratory space expedition. ‘We know there are other solar systems out there,’ he said. ‘We know there is another planet just like ours.’

Sometimes I took the snippets of information Brad brought home from work with a pinch of salt. He liked to tease me with sound-bites picked up eavesdropping on his superior’s conversations. However, there was something about his manner that made me think this time he genuinely knew more than he was letting on.

I made discreet enquiries amongst our friends, or at least the small group of acquaintances we had left. You couldn’t blame those who had already chosen to evacuate.

‘What do you want to leave for?’ Our neighbour Meritt asked. ‘We were expecting you guys to host our end of the world party.’ Our apartment was double the size of Meritt’s, one of the advantages of working for the Space Agency.  Merrit had stockpiled alcohol and now lived on a diet of home-brewed Vapour Juice. Vapour Juice had been outlawed long ago. It had become too precious a commodity to be left in the public domain. Battery packs could run on Vapour Juice.

‘As far as I see it, you have two clear choices,’ my cousin, Rico, said. Rico was a chemist who had devised a best-selling over the counter euthanasia pill. ‘You stay until the bitter end and swallow one of my little smarties, or you take the risk and head off into the unknown. Either way you’re going to die. Do it now, or do it later.’

He offered me a couple of his pills at a knock-down price and I told Brad to find out more about the expedition. It turned out I was right. Brad knew an awful lot more than he’d first divulged.

‘I didn’t want you to get too excited,’ he said, ‘in case I failed the vetting procedure. I’ve applied to be the onboard technician. We’d get co-habitee status. This could be our chance to escape.’

Escape to where? The more Brad talked about light years of space travel, of algorithms of probability and worse case scenarios, the less I listened. It could well be this talk of a planet, so similar in make-up to ours, was nothing but a myth. Why would anyone sign up for a once in a lifetime jaunt to nowhere?

As the days went on, the idea became more of a reality. News began to filter back from the satellite stations. There were food shortages and fighting amongst the immigrants.  Security personnel were losing control.

Brad confirmed the rumours. ‘They’ll last six months at the most,’ he said, his face grim. Everyone was grim these days, apart from those like Merrit who were comatose. ‘The satellites will never sustain permanent settlement. We knew that all along.’

I thought of the father who had abandoned his sick child only to lead the others to death on a remote space station.  No wonder the immigrants were up in arms.

Brad said there had already been a reconnaissance mission to seek out the new planet. It had all been kept under-wraps because communication with the exploratory ships had been lost. However, the task-force crew had been fitted with embedded transmitters which sent signals processed from their thoughts. I didn’t know such technology existed, but Brad assured me it did, although it was still very much in its infancy. Experts were working around the clock to decipher the readings which were still being received.

‘We’ll have to be induced into an advanced state of stasis,’ Brad explained. ‘It’s the only way to travel for so far and for so long. An electrical surcharge will be programmed to wake us when we reach our designated orbit.’

‘And you are convinced this planet really exists?’ I asked.

‘I’m convinced it’s worth taking the risk,’ he replied.

So we set off, a crew of ten adventurers; a mixed bag of technicians and scientists, including Brad’s colleague, Jarvis, a communications expert. We each shared the conviction that doing something was better than doing nothing, although being in stasis was hardly a pro-active state.

We woke as we broke through atmospheric layers charged with meteor debris and radioactive gases. I stared in amazement out of the narrow cockpit window. There beneath us was the mythical planet, as blue as ours had once been.

‘Recognise those white swirls?’ Brad said, his green eyes ablaze with excitement. ‘Remember them? Clouds.  Not full of toxic waste and chemicals, but water. There’s a whole eco-system down there. We can start from the beginning, and this time, we can do it right.’

‘What if life here already exists?’ I asked. ‘Do you think we’ll be made welcome?’

Brad smiled. ‘We’re a party of ten refugees, hardly an invasion force. In any case, this planet is new compared to ours. Whatever life-form exists, it won’t be very advanced.’

We landed in a desert, so similar in appearance to the dying landscape we’d left behind I momentarily wondered if the vivid blue ocean we’d witnessed from above was nothing but an optical illusion. But then the life-forms approached, sitting astride mechanical vehicles.

‘What do they look like?’ Jarvis asked, joining us in the cockpit. He craned his stubby neck to peer over my shoulder.

It was impossible to tell whether we shared any characteristics apart from the obvious four limbs and upright stature. ‘Tall,’ I replied, watching the aliens dismount. ‘Bubble heads.  I think they’re wearing some sort of protective breathing suits. Maybe the air isn’t as fresh as we think. Perhaps this planet isn’t habitable after all.’

Brad frowned. ‘I’m sure these co-ordinates correlate with the landing site of the exploratory vessels. Jarvis, are the transmitters up and running? Can you check the external probes?’

The communication network had been spewing out light years’ of technical information since we broke orbit.

‘Oh it’s habitable all right,’ Jarvis replied, studying his network screen and scratching his bald head. ‘At least for now, but there appears to have been some sort of terrible mistake.’

A message from the Space Agency had come through just hours after we slipped into stasis. The code-breakers had at last unscrambled the garbled thought processes from the task-force crew. The order had been very specific.

‘Mission to be aborted. Change course immediately and head to nearest satellite colony. Do not proceed to planet known as Earth. Dominant species hostile and aggressive. Repeat. Abort mission.’

We discovered too late what had happened to that earlier delegation. As the aliens marched us to their headquarters we saw the task-force vessels moored in a vast warehouse, and we found the crew, or at least parts of them, dissected on the aliens’ operating slabs. We tried to tell them, those tall, small-headed creatures (the breathing bubbles were apparently just to avoid contamination – as if we would contaminate anybody) about the climatic disaster that had obliterated our own planet, but they either didn’t understand, despite Jarvis’ attempts at translation, or they simply didn’t want to know.

I knew I should have stayed at home and drunk myself stupid on Vapour Juice. It would have been a far more pleasant way to end it all.

You can check out my flash fiction web page here

Comfort Reads – Guest Post with Nicola Slade

This week I am delighted to welcome fellow  Crooked Cat author Nicola Slade to my blog. Nicola was the first ‘Cat’ I met after I signed my publishing contract and I value her friendship and support. She lives near Winchester and also sets her novels in Hampshire

Thank you, Rosie, for inviting me to talk about my comfort reads.

I have so many old friends that I read over and over again that it would be difficult to limit them to only five, so I thought I’d mention a few of the much more recently-discovered books that have quickly become comfort reads.

I can’t abandon all my much-loved treasures though, so here’s my top favourite, the book I think of as my Desert Island book. The Pillars of the House by Charlotte M Yonge, first published in 1873 is considered by many to be the Victorian best-selling novelist’s masterpiece.

Pillars of the House – Charlotte M Yonge

I was brought up on the novels of Charlotte Yonge, notably The Young Stepmother, but it wasn’t till I was grown up and with a young family, that I discovered her gripping story of the thirteen young Underwoods left to manage for themselves in the 1850s when the eldest, Felix, is only sixteen. He and his sister Wilmet are the ‘pillars’ of the title and their story ranges across several sequels as they struggle to bring up their crowd of younger siblings, including the twins who are born almost at the moment their consumptive father, a curate, dies.

It sounds grim, but Charlotte Yonge created wonderful characters and I love them – and still cry over one particular family tragedy, no matter how many times I’ve read the book. https://amzn.to/2RHOugn

Landscape in Sunlight – Elizabeth Fair

Elizabeth Fair is a recent discovery. I first came across her in the blog, Furrowed Middlebrow, when Scott, the blogger, embarked on a publishing adventure and re-issued all six of Elizabeth Fair’s gentle novels set between the 1940s and 1960. Similar to Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels and gently funny, but without the snobbery and acid wit. I love them all and it’s difficult to choose a favourite, but Landscape in Sunlight gives the flavour of all  the books which usually contain: a small village, a gentry house, usually a doctor, a middle-aged bachelor, a vicar, a vicar’s wife (usually a managing woman), a church fête and, of course, a pair of lovers. https://amzn.to/2AVcjqK

City of Shadows – Ariana Franklin

I read several historical novels by Diana Norman and particularly enjoyed her two books about Henry II, always a bit of a hero of mine. I wasn’t so keen on her later books until I discovered she had reinvented herself as Ariana Franklin and was writing mediaeval novels about Adelia Aguilar, a 12th Century female forensic pathologist at a time when no such creature could possibly exist. A doctor had to be a man and bodies certainly could not be dissected to look for the cause of death, but Ariana Franklin manages to take this unlikely scenario and make it plausible and enjoyable.

However, City of Shadows, her standalone novel as Ariana Franklin, is my favourite and quite different. Set in Berlin just after the First World War, it’s a marvellously evocative story of that city in the dark and dangerous throes of the rampant inflation of the 20s and the rise of Hitler. It also happens to be the best Anastasia mystery I’ve ever read – so plausible that I wish it had really happened that way! https://amzn.to/2ATg2VE

The Little Women Letters – Gabrielle Donnelly

Brought up on Victorian novels, of course I love Little Women and its sequels by Louisa Alcott and was thrilled, years ago, to visit Orchard House in Concord, the model for the March family home. I was delighted to spot a mention of The Little Women Letters somewhere, probably on Facebook, a few years ago.

Set in contemporary London it’s the story of three sisters, Emma, Lulu and Sophie, whose American mother, Fee (short for Josephine) is the great-granddaughter of ‘Grandma Jo’ Bhaer, who turns out to have had a third child, a daughter, from whom the girls are descended.

It’s a fascinating concept that has Jo fabled in the family as having been a writer, though as it turns out her stories were the penny-dreadfuls of the type written by Louisa Alcott. Little Women, it seems, was never written and Jo faded into obscurity.

This is a good contemporary family story, easily readable by someone who has never read Alcott’s book, as it doesn’t hammer home too obviously the three sisters’ story arcs which do follow their famous originals to some extent. It’s when one of the girls is rummaging in the attic and finds a cache of faded letters written by Grandma Jo, that the story comes alive. It adds depth if you’ve read and loved Little Women, but even without that, it’s a very warm, satisfying book.

https://amzn.to/2Cwo3zY

Sally’s Family – Gwendoline Courtney

Published in 1946 this is another family story set in the immediate post-war atmosphere of 1945. Sally Hamilton has not seen her motherless younger siblings since she joined the A.T.S at the beginning of the war, and they – two boys and three girls – were all evacuated after the family home was bombed. Their father died in Burma but had saved the life of one of his comrades, Major Selwood, who feels obliged to help Sally collect up her family and make a home for them.

Written originally for teenagers, it nevertheless gives a very clear picture of the difficulties at that time: rationing, shortage of most household furnishings, shortage of housing, shortage, in fact, of everything – and the way Sally manages to turn five strangers into a family is warm and fascinating.

A relatively new find for me, but one that’s already a favourite.

https://amzn.to/2Mpgik0 (Not available as an eBook)

Bio

Nicola Slade was brought up in Poole, in Dorset, and since then has lived in various places including Cairo, in Egypt. Nicola’s books are all set in Hampshire and her first published novel, Scuba Dancing, a romantic comedy, will be reissued in February 2019 by Endeavour Media. She then turned to crime with theCharlotte Richmond Mysteries, an historical series featuring Charlotte Richmond, a young Victorian widow, and The Harriet Quigley Mysteries, a contemporary mystery series which features recently-retired headmistress, Harriet Quigley and her clergyman cousin, Canon Sam Hathaway.  In 2017 The House at Ladywell, a contemporary romantic novel with historical echoes, was published by Crooked Cat books. It is currently a semi-finalist in the Chatelaine awards based in the USA.

The Convalescent Corpse, a cosy historical mystery set in 1918, was published, also by Crooked Cat Books, in November 2018 and is the first in a planned new series. Nicola wrote magazine short stories while her three children were growing up and at one time was an antiques dealer. She now lives with her husband near Winchester.

Links

Website: www.nicolaslade.com

Blog: www.nicolaslade.wordpress.com

Twitter: @nicolasladeuk

Facebook: www.facebook.com/nicolasladeuk

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/nicola8703

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/2SrDDUt

Amazon.com: https://amzn.to/2QRCEeh

Thanks Nicola for taking part. I’ve just finished reading The Convalescent Corpse and highly recommend it!