On Location with Natalie Normann

After all the excitement of my book launch (which was very successful, thank you for asking), I’m very happy to put my feet up this week. Continuing my series of literary travelblogs, I’m delighted to welcome Scandanavian author Natalie Normann who takes us on a journey to her native Norway.

Where I go to be inspired

When my dream to write in English suddenly appeared (it did), I panicked. I had a wonderful editor, a contract for two books and the brief was to write contemporary romance from Norway.

Honestly, there was really only place that would do. My hometown. I love my memories of growing up there, and wanted to see if I could capture that in a story.  Most of my writing career I had avoided it, thinking it would be to small, to local, to far away from everything.

I grew up in Haugesund, a small, but historically important, town on the west-coast. It was called ‘the most isolated town’ in the country, because it’s stuck between two long fjords and a mountain plateau. The easiest way to travel anywhere was by boat.

When I was a teenager, the only interesting thing in town was the library. I knew there was history, but there was no drama, no romance, nothing that caugth my interest. And that was despite the Viking history of the area …

Growing up, I thought Haugesund was all about fish and ships, then oil and oil platforms, cannery factories, herring oil factories (and the horribly smell that came from them). None of it caught my imagination. I didn’t like herring (still don’t), I couldn’t go to sea because I was a girl, and working in the oil industry was for people who liked maths and had a lot more practical abilities than I ever had.

So, shortly before I turned 18, I was off to Uni in Oslo. I was going to study literature, become a proper writer, and never write about my hometown. I achieved the first two, and failed splendidly with the third. My first book was set in Hamburg, the next books were all set in Oslo.

And then I started writing historical romance series, and discovered how interesting and fascinating the history of a small shipping town can be – when you start digging through the local history, getting to know the people who lived there, how they lived – I also discovered how important this little strip of land had been way back when the Vikings roamed the shore.

I’ve asked myself why I find writing about my town so fascinating. I haven’t lived there for many years, but I do think the place a person grows up, imprints on you. It becomes a part of your voice when you write. If you let it.

When I write, I try to use everything that I love about the landscape, but also the history and the people. I don’t write about actual people, but there’s inspiration there too.  Norway used to be a place of hardship, with poverty and nothing much to show for your efforts. It’s changed now, of course, but the culture is still there. And when I do research, I find inspiration in the people I meet from the past. Maybe writers are ghosthunters who don’t kill ghosts, but write about them instead.

Which is why Summer Island and Christmas Island are both set on a small island just outside of my hometown. I loved exploring memories of trips to islands, of the weather, the stunning landscape and all the quirky characters I know are there. Even in real life.

Also, I had so much fun in making Nordic less Noir. Yes, the winters are bleak and cold, but they are so much more than that. And the summers are glorious, even if the water is can be so, so cold.

 About Natalie 

Natalie Normann grew up in a small shipping town on the west-coast in Norway. She wanted to be a writer as soon as she realised that books were written by real people. Her debut novel was published in Norwegian in 1995. Since 2007 she has written Historical Romance in Norwegian and recently published her 66th book. Summer Island and Christmas Island are her first books in English. 

Links to social media and buy links: https://linktr.ee/NatalieNormann

Many thanks to Natalie for taking part and providing an insight into her writing. Norway has always been on my wish list of places to visit, fingers crossed I’ll be able to make it in the not too distant future!

I Made This!

We’re not travelling anywhere exotic this week, but staying put at my writing desk in Southampton. I am going to talk about a journey though, my writing journey, and why I decided to head down the self-publishing route for my latest novel, A Crisis at Clifftops, which launches next week.

It’s three years since the publication of my first book, and two and a half since the second. There are various reasons why it’s taken me so long to produce a third. I’m a slow writer, I’m not one of these dedicated 5000 words a day people, I’m an as and when, and sometimes life just has this habit of getting in the way.  I’m also a perpetual tweaker with a serious case of self-doubt, so even when I’ve got what looks like a finished product, I’ll edit, re-edit, reinstate paragraphs I took out six months ago, add in a new character, start a new project, force family and friends to read my work, incorporate their comments, and edit it all over again…

Then there’s the whole submitting to agents/publishers debacle, which for anyone who doesn’t know, takes ages. You send out a query letter and wait for a response. And wait. And wait. Not just days. Or weeks. Months.

I felt I had to give it go. Of the handful of replies to my queries, I received a couple of “encouraging” rejections. It’s wonderful to be told there ain’t nothing wrong with your writing, BUT also disappointing when compliments are inevitably followed by a BUT (and even more disappointing when one of the big BUT’s appeared to be because of my heroine’s occupation!)

Over the last twelve/eighteen months of lockdown I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and contemplate. I knew if I carried on submitting, my book might eventually get picked up, BUT there would have to be changes and compromises, and another long wait until publication day itself. I’ve seen authors on Twitter shouting about new books coming out in 2023 – I didn’t want to wait in the literary wilderness for another two years. Making a decision to self-publish was like stepping off a hamster wheel.

I know what the publishing world is like. Creating a main character who played golf was a risky strategy, BUT even so those rejections were demoralising. I write because I enjoy writing. It’s a creative outlet, it keeps my brain cells ticking over, it’s something to do in the winter when it’s cold and wet and I can’t go outside.  And for me, being creative also means creating something that doesn’t mimic every other book out there on the market.

I must admit I did have a wobbly moment and wonder whether I ought to play down Eliza’s sporting prowess in my book blurb in case it put readers off, but then I thought, what the heck! Self-publishing means taking control and having the freedom to write the books I want to write. My heroines don’t have to conform and bake cakes. NOT that there is anything wrong with heroines who bake cakes, I know the public love cake-baking heroines, in fact I’m one myself, I BAKE CAKES, in fact here’s one I made earlier, together with the book I made too…I’m just talking about giving readers choices and diversity!

The self-publishing process has been a learning curve. I haven’t been reckless. I did consult an editor, and splashed out on a wonderful cover designer. I’ve taken a professional approach and enjoyed the process – which is what it’s all about.  I know I don’t want to be hunched over my laptop 24 /7 days to meet deadlines. I don’t want to spend every hour or every day on social media promoting my books.  I also have to be realistic about what I can achieve.

I have fingers crossed for next week’s launch. I hope readers will love Eliza, Lillian and Charlie as much as I do, and will want to follow their adventures into the next book in the series. And if they don’t, tough. I’m writing it anyway.

Here’s the A Crisis at Clifftops blurb for those of you who haven’t yet checked it out!

When Lilian Hathaway is named as the chief suspect in a murder enquiry, her granddaughter Eliza drops everything to rush to her side. After a string of crushing defeats, professional golfer Eliza is facing a career crisis of her own. She seizes the opportunity to hide away with Lilian at Clifftops Hotel, the family’s home on the Isle of Wight, determined to defend her beloved nanna’s innocence.

But just how innocent is Lilian?

As the evidence starts to mount up, Eliza turns amateur sleuth in a race to uncover the truth. Family loyalty is stretched to the limits when she discovers a series of events in her grandmother’s past which could have far-reaching consequences, not just for Lilian but also for Clifftops, and Eliza’s own future.

Available exclusively on Amazon Kindle, A Crisis at Clifftops is a fun and original cosy mystery, set against the backdrop of an old-fashioned seaside resort and featuring a feisty heroine who quickly learns life outside the sporting arena doesn’t always follow the rules.

On Location with Marie Laval

This week we’re heading back up north with another Location, Location, Location feature. I’m delighted to welcome author Marie Laval to talk about the inspiration behind her latest novel.

Happy Dreams at Mermaid Cove is the third of my novels set in the Scottish Highlands… and it definitely won’t be the last. I have always felt a very special attraction for Scotland and its wild, romantic and magnificent landscapes. I have only been there twice but my dream would be to travel all around the Highlands, then stay in a cottage near the sea for a few weeks, perhaps even on the Isle of Skye where my story is set – although not in the Arrandale Peninsula, since I made it up!  

Getting the setting just right was essential for my story and I spent a long time reading about different Hebridean islands, including Muck and Rum. One of my favourite books was the fascinating A Drop in the Ocean by Polly Pullar and Lawrence MacEwen – the laird of Muck – about his family, his work and his life on Muck. In the end I had to choose an island big enough and with enough people living there to have a mobile library service and I decided on Skye. However, having never visited the area I didn’t want to get anything wrong, so I invented Arrandale and its Gaelic name of Fearann nan Aislingean Sonathe Land of Happy Dreams.

My inspiration for Happy Dreams at Mermaid Cove was the photo of a yellow mobile library on a deserted Scottish road that author friend Melinda Hammond posted on Facebook at the beginning of 2020. It captured my imagination so much that I started writing a story about it straight away. I knew a little about mobile libraries because a very long time ago, I actually worked in one in the Wigan area for a few weeks, and what fun it was. Of course Wigan and its surroundings are very flat, unlike Arrandale, and there were no Highland cows crossing the road or fierce storms battering the countryside… and no mermaids.

About Marie Laval

Originally from Lyon in France, Marie now lives in the Rossendale Valley in Lancashire. She writes both contemporary and historical romance. Her novels include best selling contemporary romantic suspense novels LITTLE PINK TAXI and ESCAPE TO THE LITTLE CHATEAU, which was shortlisted for the 2021 RNA Jackie Collins Romantic Suspense Awards, as well as A PARIS FAIRY TALE and BLUEBELL’S CHRISTMAS MAGIC. Her historical novel, ANGEL OF THE LOST TREASURE, was published in February 2021, and HAPPY DREAMS AT MERMAID COVE is her latest contemporary romance. Marie also contributes to the best selling Miss Moonshine’s Emporium anthologies together with eight author friends from Authors on the Edge.

Blurb

From the big city to a little yellow mobile library on the Isle of Skye … When Jenna Palmer agrees to the new position of mobile librarian on the tiny Arrandale peninsular of the Isle of Skye, she knows she’s signing up for difficult working conditions and mediocre wages. But Jenna needs to get away, and a little yellow mobile library called Buttercup could be her escape to happier dreams …
However, whilst Jenna can get to grips with foggy island roads, local mermaid legends and even big purple monsters, she never expected to have to contend with a boss as grumpy as Daniel McGregor, or a young book lover as enthusiastic as his niece, Katrina.
Arrandale might represent Jenna’s safe port in a storm, but could she and Buttercup also become a beacon of hope to Daniel, Katrina and the entire island community?

HAPPY DREAMS AT MERMAID COVE is available as an ebook on Amazon and Kobo.

Many thanks to Marie for taking part. The idea of working in a mobile library on a remote island is very appealing, although I definitely wouldn’t want to come too close to the Highland cattle!

On Location with Sharon Booth

While I recover with my feet up after my epic hike around the Isle of Wight, I’m delighted to hand over this week’s post to author Sharon Booth. Continuing our locations theme, Sharon talks about a beautiful part of North Yorkshire which is very close to her heart.

The Whole of the Moon, my latest release, is the fourth and final book in the Kearton Bay series. Kearton Bay is a fictional village on the North Yorkshire coast, but it’s strongly inspired by the real-life village of Robin Hood’s Bay, just a few miles south of Whitby.

Robin Hood’s Bay was somewhere I discovered when I was fourteen and staying in a holiday cottage near Whitby with my parents and siblings. I was enchanted by this pretty village, with its twisty cobbled streets, narrow passageways, chocolate box cottages and gurgling beck.

The stone or whitewashed walls and red roofs of the buildings are a stunning sight to behold as you gaze down the steep hill which leads to the seafront. It’s a beautiful walk down to the beach — not so great when you’re struggling back up, though!

Robin Hood’s Bay has a long history of smuggling, and it’s rumoured that a bale of silk could get from the beach to the top of the hill without ever seeing daylight, thanks to the secret passages and tunnels beneath the houses. It was bound to stir my imagination.

In the third book in the series, Once Upon a Long Ago, I used those passages and tunnels as part of the story. It was set around the beautiful Elizabethan Kearton Hall, but I’ll admit that the real-life inspiration for that house comes from Burton Agnes Hall, which is actually near Driffield, in the East Riding of Yorkshire. It’s one of my favourite stately homes, and I visited it lots of times to get a good idea of the layout and figure out where the entrance to the secret passage would be.

Kearton Bay is one of several fictional towns and villages I’ve created in that part of North Yorkshire, which make up my book world. Places like the market town of Helmston (which is based on Helmsley), Moreton Cross, Bramblewick and Farthingdale are also mentioned in the books, and they’ve featured in other series, too. In Saving Mr Scrooge, one of my Moorland Heroes books, for example, the heroine lives in Moreton Cross and the hero in Farthingdale. Bramblewick spawned an entire series of its own.

I refer regularly to Whitby and York, as I feel that anchors my fictional settings in the real world, and makes it easier for readers to imagine where my characters live and what sort of landscape they work in.

The heroine of The Whole of the Moon, Rhiannon, lives in The Hare and Moon pub, which stands on the seafront of Kearton Bay. It’s an old, whitewashed inn, with a red roof and stunning views over the North Sea. In real life, there’s a pub which stands on the very same spot, though it’s not as old as The Hare and Moon, as it started life in 1828 as The New Inn. Today it’s called The Bay Hotel and marks the end point of Alfred Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay.

I love it when readers recognise Robin Hood’s Bay from the descriptions in my books. I don’t work for the tourist board, and I’m not on commission, I swear, but I would recommend a trip to this picturesque spot on the North Yorkshire coast. It’s absolutely beautiful and I love it — even more so now I picture it as the home of my characters. When I visit these days, I can’t help but look out for a glimpse of Rhiannon, Rose, Eliza or Lexi. We can but dream!

Author Bio

Sharon Booth writes uplifting fiction with a touch of magic. Happy endings are guaranteed for her main characters, though she likes to make them work for it.
Sharon is a member of the Society of Authors, the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and an Authorpreneur member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.
She loves Doctor Who, Cary Grant movies, hares, and horses – not necessarily in that order.
Sharon grew up in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and the Yorkshire coast and countryside feature strongly in her novels.

Her stories are set in pretty villages and quirky market towns, by the sea or in the countryside, and feature lots of humour, romance, and friendship. If you love gorgeous, kind heroes, and heroines who have far more important things on their minds than buying shoes, you’ll love her books.

For all Sharon’s latest news sign up to her newsletter. All subscribers get a free and exclusive novella, and there’s a chance to win a prize every month!

Sharon now has a readers’ group on Facebook where readers of her books are very welcome to chat to her and to each other.

You can visit her website for information, or find her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as other social media sites. For all links visit:

https://linktr.ee/sharonboothwriter

You can buy The Whole of the Moon at https://getbook.at/kb4

Many thanks to Sharon for taking part. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Robin’s Hoods Bay and Whitby for the first time a couple of years ago and it really is a spectacular part of the country. Sharon’s post has definitely whetted my appetite for a return visit.

Island Hopping

Continuing on the theme of locations, this week I’m talking about the setting for my new book, A Crisis at Clifftops.

For my previous novels I created my own slither of the south coast to suit my plotlines. I drew on aspects of familiar local surroundings to create the fictional run-down resort of Hookes Bay in The Theatre of Dreams, and the sailing village of Kerridge in Your Secret’s Safe With Me. For my third book, I’m heading overseas – or at least across the Solent to the Isle of Wight.

At just 23 miles across at its furthest points east to west, and at approximately just 150 square miles, the Isle of Wight is England’s largest island. Prior to the arrival of Queen Victoria and her chum Alfred Lord Tennyson, who turned the island into a fashionable holiday hot-spot in the late 19th century, fishing, farming and boatbuilding were the mainstays of the local economy. Today the island is probably best known for the annual music festival and Cowes Week sailing regatta. It’s a mix of typical British seaside resorts, lush, rolling downs and stunning coastal cliff formations.

I grew up in Southampton, and as a child we had regular days out and took family vacations on the island. Even though it was just a few miles from home, that ferry ride made all the difference. As a schoolgirl I undertook a healthy hike around the island staying in youth hostels. A few years later I went back and spent an unhealthy week partying with a group of girl friends in a holiday park.

But when I reached my twenties, my tastes changed. The island and its vintage accommodation options had lost its allure. Boating lakes, crazy golf courses and end of the pier style entertainment weren’t enough to keep me amused. I craved exotic Mediterranean food and cheap, duty free booze. I needed guaranteed sunshine, beaches where I could relax without the backdrop of slot machines and amusement arcades. The Isle of Wight slipped off my radar and there it stayed for many years.

It was only when me and Mr T returned to the UK as empty-nesters three years ago that we vowed to explore what was our own doorstep with the same vigour we’d adopted when living abroad. When you move somewhere new, especially overseas, you tend to research the “must sees”, ticking off a whole host of historical monuments and natural wonders. We realised we’d never been to Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s holiday home, so we took a trip over to the island, had a fantastic day out, and thought we ought to return to see a bit more…

Several day trips later we booked a short break with our grown-up kids on the island. While on a blustery winter walk along the boarded up esplanade at Shanklin, the idea for a story hit me. It was a very vague idea, but when I combined it with another half-baked plot already brewing, I realised I had the potential to create not just one novel, but a whole series of island based mysteries. Sub-titled “Eliza Kane Investigates” after my whisky swigging, golfing heroine, the series is meant to be fun, and entertaining, and just a little eclectic – a bit like the island it’s set on.

Us local mainlanders always used to joke that a visit to the island meant turning your watch back 40 years. Now that I’m older and a lot wiser, I can see the charm of life at a gentler pace. The appeal for island life has grown, and while Ryde and Sandown still retain that old-fashioned kiss-me-quick ambience, the bijou former fishing village of Seaview is sophisticated and very much sought after amongst jet-set second-home owners.

The Isle of Wight has become one of my favourite places – I love it so much that me and Mr T will be walking the full 70 miles of its coastline for our 2021 holiday.  If you want to know how we get on, I’ll be posting up pictures on Facebook and Instagram and there will be more about our hike, and the book, in the coming weeks. Meanwhile I’ll leave you with this stunning view of Tennyson Down and the Needles.

No News…

I’m very aware I’m failing on the communication front, and that’s not good for business. My first blog post of 2021 didn’t happen until February and I’ve posted nothing since.  I’ve got plenty of excuses, lack of anything exciting to blog about being the main one. However, if I want to be a successful author, I need to keep my readers in the loop, and with a creative mind I should be able to make the mundane sound mega interesting.

So firstly, here’s a picture of some plants I’ve been cultivating over the last few weeks in my greenhouse. Growing your own is very rewarding and the results can be almost instantaneous, especially if you sow radish seeds.

Books on the other hand, are slow-growing, and a writing career has to be viewed as a long term project.

My current bedtime read is the illuminating Stop Worrying, Start Selling, The introvert author’s guide to marketing by Sarah Painter.  Marketing has always been a big bug-bear, and now that I’ve committed to going down the self-publishing route, I have to conquer my fears and be far more pro-active.  I’m finding this book very helpful.  I now realise I don’t have to apologise for promoting my own books – I write because it brings me pleasure and I want to publish what I write because I think my stories could bring pleasure to other people.

As Sarah points out in her book, if I designed a comfortable shoe, I wouldn’t be apologising for trying to sell something that could enhance your daily hike – avid walkers would want to know about it! And whereas lots of marketing advice is to “sell yourself” – Sarah says not. I’m selling Rosie Travers Author, writer of fabulous, original, entertaining fiction, not shy retiring little old me who fills her spare time gardening, knitting and going on long walks in countryside.  It’s important to recognise the difference.

It’s also a question of measuring success. It takes time to build up an audience. I’m a relative beginner and shouldn’t make comparisons with authors who are two or three steps ahead with multiple books and/or large publishers. I have two books currently on the market – that’s an achievement in itself.

And the third is on its way. As suspected A Crisis at Clifftops came back from its professional edit with lots of comments – in fact I felt like I’d been wrung out through a mangle. However, I put on my big girl knickers and rose to the challenge of making some major changes. Hopefully I’ve come out the other side with a better book, and still aim to publish this summer.

I’ve engaged a cover designer, and am working on my fabulous, original and entertaining branding,  commissioning a new cover for The Theatre of Dreams at the same time.   I have to see Rosie Travers Author as my business, although I’m under no illusion I’m ever going to make big-bucks from my writing. To be a successful author in the current market takes a huge level of dedication and energy, which to be honest, I just don’t have – mainly because I also want to spend time cultivating radish and taking those long walks in the countryside…

But having invested in an editor, and a cover designer, it would be foolish not to up my game. The latest trend in author marketing is the newsletter.  Last year it was Facebook Groups, but me being me naturally I didn’t jump on that bandwagon. I’m in a few author Facebook Groups and it’s hard enough work keeping up with all the posts and comments, let alone having to instigate them. On the other hand a newsletter sounds achievable – it’s just like a blog, but as one of those people who regularly ticks the ‘do not send me any other material’ boxes whenever I buy anything, I have this moral dilemma. Do I want to be responsible for infiltrating inboxes?

Yesterday I sat down at my laptop with my serious author head on and explored MailerLite, which is supposedly one of the easiest and simplest newsletter formats. I have the IT skills of a fruit bat – yes I’d rather hang upside down in a tree than read about pop-ups, domains, URLs and RSS feeds. In fact after a couple of hours and a thumping headache, I gave up picked up on my knitting. I felt a lot happier.

Once I’ve finished knitting my bike, I’ll go back and give the mailing list idea another try, but at least it prompted me write this blog post!

Keep watching this space for more book news coming soon, and if at some point in the far distant future you see a pop-up asking if you want to subscribe to my newsletter, you are under no obligation to tick yes! Although you may miss out on the great radish give-away…

Reasons to be Cheerful?

Two months nearly in to 2021 and this is my first blog post of the new year. Where have I been? What have I been up to? Has anyone missed me?

I know we’re all struggling to remain upbeat. My world has got smaller. This morning’s Facetime with a friend  revolved around a discussion on our attempts at knitting, extreme jigsaw puzzling, and the weather. The only consolation I’m taking out of this lockdown is that at least I haven’t got children who need home-schooling.

Blogging has been way down my agenda, but next week marks the 2nd anniversary of the publication of my second book, Your Secret’s Safe With Me.  A book birthday is always worth celebrating.

Your Secret’s Safe With Me was very much intended as a romance; it’s a story about repairing hurt and love conquering all, although then some pesky modern-day smugglers crept in, and a wedding fiasco, and an unexpected baby, because why stick to one theme, when you can include several.

It would be a lot easier when people ask me what my books are about if I could just reply ‘it’s a romance’, or ‘it’s a thriller’ or ‘it’s the greatest, funniest thing you’ll ever read.’ How do you fit 300 odd pages of love, laughter, action and angst into just a couple of words?

And talking of crossing genres, I do have another reason to be cheerful this week.  The completed manuscript for my new novel is off for a professional edit. Yes, the plunge has been taken and step one to self-publishing is underway. Learning from my experiences with the first two books, originally I was adamant I was going to stick to one theme – the cosy mystery.  Both my previous two books contain elements of intrigue and I liked revealing new layers of plotlines, dropping in subtle hints and clues. As I know nothing about police procedures and I don’t like reading, let alone writing, about blood and gore,  whatever ‘crime’ story I created was always going to be ‘cosy’ in the extreme. My new novel wasn’t just planned as a snuggly suspense, it was going to have its slippers on too.

Yeh, right, slippers, me? Naturally I wanted my heroine to have a job that was different to any of the other amateur sleuths/female crime busters currently out on the market, so I gave her a set of a golf clubs, and made her a professional sportswoman, which as I’ve since been told, is a commercial no-no. I can untick that ‘cosy crime’ marketability box straight away.

And there weren’t going to be any dead bodies turning up at the church fete in my book. Oh no, my heroine was going to investigate something original, a vintage  mystery she uncovers while poking her nose into her grandmother’s past, and then I thought it would be quite amusing if Granny told her side of the story too.

Okay, so I haven’t written a cosy crime at all. I’ve written another mash-up.  I’ve included a dual timeline, a heroine with career crisis as well as a moral dilemma, I’ve divided family loyalty, and sprinkled it all with some local history, yet again.

But what about the romance, I hear you cry.  You’re in luck. I’m a romantic at heart and I just couldn’t, even though I tried, write a book without an element of romance in it.

So what exactly do readers want from a leading man?  At least here, surely I can’t go wrong, can I? Literature is full of flawed heroes. Sorry for the spoilers but Heathcliff digs up his ex’s dead body, Mr Rochester locks his first wife in the attic, Christian Gray is a sexual deviant, and when we think Mr Darcy, we don’t think rude snob in Pride and Prejudice, we just see Colin Firth in that white shirt (or in Bridget Jones). Flawed doesn’t come anywhere near it. Men I’d want to steer well clear of is the correct term.

However, we all want escapism, including me. Romance readers don’t mind a defective hero because by the time the story ends ultimately he will have changed; smitten, humbled, moulded into our idea of perfection.  And we all want that fantasy because it simply doesn’t happen in real life. I’ve been married to Mr T for thirty years, love him to bits, but he still can’t replace a toilet roll.

Book three, working title A Crisis At Clifftops (it could all change) is out of the building, and will no doubt come back, covered in red ink.

And reason to be cheerful number three? Successful completion of dry January. I won’t be doing that one again in a hurry. And definitely not during lockdown.

The Joy of Writing

I suppose this post should really be called the Corona Diaries the Sequel, but we’re barely a day in. The difference this time round is we all know what to expect, and whereas back in the spring I lacked the enthusiasm and concentration to use those long lockdown hours for writing, this time I’m fired up and ready to go.

And the reason for this potential burst of productivity – winning “Star Letter” in Writing Magazine, or rather the feature in Writing Magazine that prompted my letter.  Last month the magazine featured an article on young gay writer George Lester and his path to publication. In the article George mentioned how he adopted the phrase Write Your Joy as his mantra, a term he picked up from his mentor, another writer Peter Ness.  George had been struggling to find his author voice, but once he let rip and gave himself the permission to write what he actually want to write, his voice won through.

There was something about this article that struck a chord, reminding me why I started writing novels in the first place. I wanted to write the books I wanted to read – not something that fitted in an already over-crowded pigeon hole, but multi-layered stories about unique but relatable characters, in familiar local surroundings facing challenging situations, all told with a good dose of my inimitable sense of humour. That’s my style – my author voice.  

Quite frankly it’s demoralising continually submitting chapters and covering letters to agents only to hear the same thing.  All authors take heart from the story of JK Rowling and her numerous rejections, but after a while, especially when you do receive the odd positive response, ie we like your writing/story/style/voice but… you do start to wonder exactly what publishers are looking for. I used to think finding a publisher validated my writing, now I don’t. Publishers are only interested in profits – one look at the best seller list verifies this, celebrity authors rule OK.

But this isn’t a post about feeling sorry for myself, in fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s a post about coming to terms about what I write and who I am. Write your Joy resonated with me because – yes of course I’d love to write a million-dollar best seller – but actually what I enjoy is writing; the act of creating my characters, picking them up and placing them out of their comfort zone, then setting them off on an obstacle course to reach their goal.

I’ve had enough positive feedback from my first two books to know that there is a place for my feel-good-fiction-with-a-twist. I’ve set my heart on publishing my Isle of Wight mysteries next year and so far only book 1 is complete, book 2 needs finishing and book 3 is yet to be plotted.  I’m going to ask Santa for a self-publishing budget and learn how to blow my own trumpet rather than standing in the back row tootling away on my recorder.

As Mr T has already stocked up on gallons of paint to continue decorating the house, and I have somewhat impulsively ordered 10 metres of fabric to make new curtains, I sense my time-management skills are going to be put to the test over the next few weeks. My next lockdown post may well be entitled the Art of Multi-Tasking aka the Art of Tearing My Hair Out.

Ps If you read my Star Letter you’ll see I compare my writing to playing golf. Mr T would just like to point out he would actually like to win a championship.

Day Trippers

The happy staycation continues. Me and Mr T have trekked and cycled miles over the last month.  As well as exploring the New Forest – the edge of the national park is just a 15 minute walk from our doorstep, we’ve also made made three separate day trips to the Isle of Wight – rapidly becoming my new favourite place.

As a writer I’m often asked where do I find my inspiration. The answer is simple – it finds me. My first two books were all set in fictional locations in Hampshire. When it comes to research I’m fairly lazy. Setting my books in places I know well is one less thing to worry about. Over the last few weeks of exploration I have had a deluge of new ideas. Yes I know I said all things bookish were going to take a bit of a back seat, but try as I might to buckle it in, that writerly instinct remains unrestrained.

Take this for example.  “That’s a rusty old boat” Mr T remarked on our recent trek along the River Medina from Cowes to Newport.

Well yes, my inner writer replied, that is a rusty old boat but how did it end up dying in the salt marshes? What’s its backstory?  My imagination conjures up visions of the travellers who might have passed along its gangplanks, slept in its cabins, danced on its decks (later googling revealed an extensive career as leisure cruiser, ferry, hotel and disco). It was love at first sight – this boat or my own reincarnation of it and its occupants, are perfect story material.

My current writing project is a cosy mystery series – so cosy in fact if there was a sub-genre of snuggly crime, this would be it. I know I should stick to mainstream but I just can’t. I have this inner urge to rebel against market forces – there have to be readers out there who want something that little bit different.  

My series is set on the Isle of Wight, not because of our recent excursions, but because the original whiff of an idea emerged while we were on a mini-break there a couple of Christmases ago.   

It’s probably fair to say I have now completely fallen in love with the island (obsessed Mr T might say as he drags me away from checking out house prices on Right Move). Traditional family friendly old-fashioned kiss-me-quick resorts rub shoulders with exclusive up-market hidden retreats. Inland quaint chocolate box picture postcard villages dot the largely rural landscape, while the coast boasts craggy cliffs, chalk stacks, swathes of golden sand and intimate pebble bays. Alongside the tourist industry there’s a rich maritime heritage and a history of pioneering aviation. Dinosaurs once strolled across the Downs, as did Queen Victoria and Alfred Lord Tennyson. There’s the annual big-name music festival, world famous yacht racing, and a top security prison.  For a small place there’s lots going on, providing a wealth of ideas.

I’ve already been told by people in the know that the market is now awash with cosy crimes, but I also recently received one of the nicest rejections from a literary agent ever. I’m not giving up yet. A floating hotel cum disco fits perfectly into my snuggly mystery series. Already my mind is racing ahead to the next book. What dastardly deed once happened on board that has remained hidden until my amateur sleuth stumbles across the story. My heroine is a nosey-parker with a professional career crisis who pokes into the past and unearths mysteries from the island’s 20th century history. In fact she’s a bit like me although I don’t drink whisky or play golf – her Unique Selling Points, and yes I know to be more commercially viable she ought to run a tea shop or be titled aristocracy…

And before anyone thinks I’m working for the Isle of Wight tourist board, trust me, I’m not, this is a post demonstrating the wonders of spontaneous INSPIRATION.  Take this picture captured on a recent walk. This is Calshot, just a few miles from our house, a disused, half-demolished power station. If I wrote thrillers, or more serious crimes, something dark and dystopian, this eerie ghost on the landscape would undoubtedly feature. (Incidentally it still could, because the site is currently being used to store wind turbine blades which are shipped across the Solent from the factory that makes them on the Isle of Wight…)

I’ll stop now. Unbelievably, it now two whole years since I became a published author. The Theatre of Dreams was officially launched on 1 August 2018. The path since has not been easy – maintaining momentum and enthusiasm for a two year old book in a flooded market is tough. In recent weeks I’ve received some lovely new reviews from readers which has been a huge boost, so thank you!  

If you haven’t downloaded a copy – what are you waiting for? Comedy, drama, mystery and romance all for less than a price of takeaway coffee. And there’s no mention of the Isle of Wight – although no wait a minute…

The Theatre of Dreams is available on Amazon for just 99p https://www.amazon.co.uk/Theatre-Dreams-Rosie-Travers-ebook/dp/B084C5753Y/

Out & About

Lockdown is all but over and we have entered a new era, not just globally but in our own cosy corner of the world. Mr T has officially retired, but as he has been working from home since March, it’s not such the huge lifestyle adjustment it could have been. We’d always promised ourselves that once he retired we’d ‘get out more’ and with grand plans for foreign travel curtailed for the foreseeable future,  a ‘staycation’ is the obvious answer.

Walking, like gardening, and knitting, and any form of exercise is good for the soul (although I see that even poor old Joe Wicks was finding his daily schedules too much and has given up – you really can have too much of a good thing and my leg is nearly better, thank you.)

A couple of years back Mr T received a copy of the AA Guide to 50 Walks in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in his Christmas stocking, a book which due it’s scant attention to detail and somewhat ambiguous directions, should really be entitled 50 Ways to Get Lost in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

Last week we picked a gloomy day to complete the six mile trek along the River Itchen and back from St Cross to Winchester. It’s a walk we’ve done several times before and are pretty familiar with.  I could tell Mr T was still in work mode; while I paused to ‘smell the roses’  ie take numerous pics of flora and fauna, Mr T forged ahead as if he had to be somewhere by a certain time. Perhaps it was the lure of a pasty pit-stop in Winchester.

Winchester is wonderful, one of those select genteel British cities which is too posh for its own good, the sort of place where it’s perfectly normal to overhear a woman pointing out a medieval building in the cathedral grounds to her companion with a loud “and that’s where Titus went to prep school.”  I also realised Mr T hadn’t quite disengaged when he announced he’d spotted a dumper truck contravening all health and safety regulations by reversing for length and at speed on a construction site. I hadn’t even noticed the dumper truck, let alone that it was going backwards. Too busy looking at those bumble bees…

This week, we tackled new territory, part of Hampshire we’d never been before. Hampshire is a huge country and I’m only familiar with my native coastal region. Inland there are vast areas of unspoilt countryside, rolling fields, and chocolate box hamlets. We headed for Rockbourne, close to the Wiltshire border. Rockbourne is famous for its Roman villa, but as we discovered when we took the small detour as suggested in the guide book, the villa is currently closed. Undeterred we back-tracked and continued the planned circular five mile hike, and after scrambling up steep banks and clambering over numerous stiles, we arrived at the dreaded, yet inevitable, field of cows.  I have a thing about cows. I know it’s illogical but ever since I read of two Austrian women walkers who were trampled to death in an Alpine meadow, I’ve seen cows in a different light. If you don’t believe me, Google it. Don’t be fooled by those big brown eyes and that seemingly docile manner. On average four people a year in the UK are killed by cows, and I know from past experiences, if these evil creatures not waiting for you at the entrance to their field, they’ll be lurking at the other end, huddled around the exit stile. 

The cow pats were still steaming. I knew they were there somewhere. The guidebook said follow the path parallel to the edge of the field to reach a stile leading to a track and a wood. What did it mean by parallel? Was that straight on, then why not say straight on?  It must mean around the edge, so we skirted the edge of the field with no sign of those sly bovines, seeking our escape route. We saw the wood, but no stile so we climbed over a five bar gate instead only to realise we were now heading off through someone’s back garden…

Yes we had gone wrong. However, I felt totally vindicated when we found an alternative route to the path we should have been on because we’d outwitted those cows. There they were, in their field, waiting for us at the designated exit, but thanks to the map reading error, we were already safely on the right side of the fence.

After two and a half hours we returned to Rockbourne unscathed.

I have no news to report on the writing/publishing front, only that I received my feedback from the virtual RNA conference from industry professionals. Two contrasting opinions on my work, one which made me feel I should give up now, the second quite the opposite. So I’m sitting on things for a bit. Checking Amazon stats and putting yourself out there in front of agents and publishers is not good for mental well-being. My social media feeds are full of other authors plugging their books, or authors telling me how great they’re doing. I’m tired of living in my author bubble. I want to escape to the real world. Both daughters have now been able to visit and daughter number 2 (because she was born second, not because she’s second favourite) is training to be a clinical psychologist so you always have to watch what you say. We had a little chat about my writing. I realise I have to concentrate on the doing the things I enjoy.  

Taking the positive feedback on board, I am going to finish writing my mystery series. I can’t get away from the fact I love writing. I’ve also picked up on a sequel to the Theatre of Dreams I started a while back and which is now coming on nicely, with the aim of self-publishing a novella in the autumn.  But I want to do things at my pace. I’m also going to buy some wool to knit another jumper, and there will also be a lot more visits to the countryside observing the butterflies and the bees. After all we’ve still got another forty walks to complete.  I may be gone for some time.