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!

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.

Location, Location, Location

I currently live on the south coast of England and I use my local surroundings as the settings for my books. In a new series of guest posts I’ve invited some author friends to talk about the locations which have inspired their writing. The magical thing about books is that they allow us to explore new destinations from the comfort of our armchairs – not a bad thing in current times!

Kicking off the series, I’d like to welcome Scottish crime writer Val Penny.

Writing Hunter’s Chase was an exciting challenge, and now it is available on audiobook too. I am thrilled about that. But let me start at the beginning, because before I could even create the story, first I had to choose a setting for my novel.

I toyed with the idea of creating an imaginary town for DI Hunter Wilson to inhabit, as Peter Robinson has done with DCI Alan Banks and the town of Eastdale in Yorkshire. However, after much consideration, I decided there was no more beautiful setting than Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland in which to set Hunter’s Chase.

The story is set in late 2012, shortly before the Police Forces in Scotland were united into one national force. Hunter and his team are based in the Headquarters of the Lothian and Borders Police Force at Fettes, in the north-west of Edinburgh.

Much of the action in the story, Hunter’s Chase, takes part in and around the south-west of the city. DC Tim Myerscough lives there with his girlfriend, Lady Sophie Dalmore, in a first-floor flat at the edge of Tollcross and Bruntsfield, while his father Sir Peter Myerscough has a house at East Steils on the outskirts of Morningside. 

The young lovers, Annie and Frankie do not live together. Annie lives at home with her family in Steele’s Place near the Morningside Clock. Her father, Joe, frequents a local pub, Bennett’s Bar. Annie and Frankie often walk through the beautiful area of parkland known as the Hermitage of Braid to meet each other, as Frankie lives with his parents in Liberton. 

However, the principal character, DI Hunter Wilson, following his divorce has moved to a second floor flat on the east side of the city, at Easter Road. He enjoys the company of the regulars he knows in his local pub, the Persevere Bar.

I hope those of you who are familiar with Edinburgh will enjoy exploring it again with Hunter Wilson in Hunter’s Chase and those of you who have not yet visited this historic and beautiful city will be persuaded to do so after listening to the new audio version of the book, read by Sean Pia.

Author Bio

Val Penny’s other crime novels, Hunter’s Chase Hunter’s Revenge, Hunter’s Force Hunter’s Blood and Hunter’s Secret form the bestselling series The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries. They are set in Edinburgh, Scotland, published by darkstroke Her first non-fiction book Let’s Get Published is also available now and she has most recently contributed her short story, Cats and Dogs to a charity anthology, Dark Scotland.

Val is an American author living in SW Scotland with her husband and their cat.

Thanks to Val for telling us about this beautiful city. I was lucky enough to visit Edinburgh for the first time last September in between lockdowns, and would love to go back and explore it in more depth. You can find out more about Val and her books on the links below.

Author Contact Details And Buy Links

www.valpenny.com

https://www.facebook.com/Authorvalpenny

www.facebook.com/valerie.penny.739

www.facebook.com/groups/296295777444303

https://www.facebook.com/groups/167248300537409

www.twitter.com/valeriepenny

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17300087.Val_Penny

https://www.bookbub.com/profile/val-penny

Buy Links

mybook.to/hunterschase

mybook.to/huntersrevenge

mybook.to/huntersforce

mybook.to/huntersblood

mybook.to/hunterssecret

bit.ly/LetsGetPublished

mybook.to/darkscotland

mybook.to/thefirstcut

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.

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/

The Corona Diaries Part II –

Day Whatever…It’s over a month since my last blog post and the diary entries remain the same: Exercise, interspersed with the weekly shopping trip, the distribution of groceries to elderly family members, nurturing my veggie seeds and the knitting project (only one sleeve left to complete). Joe Wicks is right, endorphins are good for you.

However, firmer thighs are not the only positive improvements in recent weeks. The writing mojo is back, and it wasn’t thanks to a Charles Dickens Masterclass, or even a tutorial from Neil Gaiman, who still regularly pops into my FB feed, but a good old fashioned book. I went back to basics. I sat in my garden and I read.

(Not me not my garden)

With hopes of a summer holiday dashed, I took advantage of the hot sunny Easter weekend, set up the sun-lounger and devoured a serious number of pages in a relatively short space of time. So what was this marvellous book which worked its magic and reminded me of just how much I wanted to be a writer? The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris.

Joanne’s book Chocolat remains one of my all time favourites. The Strawberry Thief picks up the story of the same characters several years on, and just like its predecessor, it’s a book that had me captivated from the word go. It’s one of those books you want to immerse yourself in, to roll amongst the pages, which, as the story reaches its end, you want to turn slower and slower, to savour every moment, to linger, knowing you will feel bereft at leaving behind the characters whose journey you have shared.

This is what I love about writing! Creating that feeling, evoking that emotion. I want to write stories that weave their way into hearts, leaving warm glows of satisfaction, I want readers to invest in my characters, to share their hopes and fears, to cheer them on. And even if my books don’t send readers into a soaring frenzy of appreciation and rapturous exaltation, they might at least put a smile on a face.

So yes, I returned to my keyboard – determined to carry on.

At the start of lockdown Mr T’s conference calls were an unwelcome intrusion in my creativity. Now they have become my background white noise. And I’ve done more than just write, I’ve bitten the bullet and started submitting my new book (previously referred to as my WIP) to a handful of literary agents. Submitting is a laborious process and quite naturally no two agents want the same thing (why make things easy?) Every e-mail has to be hand-crafted and attachments customised. Naturally I’ve heard nothing back, which isn’t totally unexpected. I’ve been here before. I know how long these things take and this time I will be patient. I know the system. I’m older and wiser this time round. I also know publishers, and readers, want a series, a ‘brand’, so I’ve picked up where I left off,  and am continuing with a half-baked sequel (the new WIP), which is now growing daily, despite the attention seeking endeavours of Ed the cat (who seems to be going through a period of lockdown neurosis) to distract me.

Ed pleased to be back at his desk

But then disaster struck! Just as that enthusiasm returned,  I discovered a particularly picky 2* Review on Amazon for the Theatre of Dreams.  I’m a writer, my books are out there in the big wide world and I know everyone is entitled to their opinion, but remember guys, although I’ve done my best to develop a writer’s suit of armour, that rhinoceros thick skin, every little knock still hurts!  All those insecurities returned. Do I really have what it takes? Am I totally wasting my time? Why couldn’t they just keep quiet if they didn’t like it…

The last thing I need is a bad review when agents might be checking out my Amazon page (do they do that?) But then, just days later, this happened (punches air with glee!) – a review for Your Secret’s Safe With Me featuring my favourite word “immersive“:

“Sometimes I get to read a book that stays with me days after I have finished it and this is one of those books. Deeply immersive, beautifully drawn characters, and an intriguing family drama. Highly recommended.”

I know I can’t please all of the people all of the time, but I don’t have to. That’s not why I write. Some of the people, some of the time will do for me (although obviously if any literary agents are out there reading this, then of course my books will appeal to absolutely everybody…)

https://www.rosietravers.com/your-secrets-safe-with-me/

https://www.rosietravers.com/the-theatre-of-dreams/

The Corona Diaries

I know everyone is doing this right now – keeping their ‘lockdown diary’ – preserving this moment in time for future generations.  If your daily routine is anything like mine, then these diaries are hardly going to be riveting reading.  

Woke up, got up, had breakfast, stayed home….

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not bored. I’m filling my day, and there’s no end of suggestions out there of how to spend this ‘idle time.’ However, I’m ignoring them.

The internet clearly knows I’m a writer because my FB and Twitter feed is full of adverts for those author masterclasses. Now is my chance to write like Neil Gaiman or Margaret Atwood. I don’t want to write like Neil Gaiman and certainly not Margaret Atwood (dystopia is not my thing and even less so right now). I’d be perfectly happy writing like Rosie Travers if the words would come and they’re still not. I can’t keep blaming the presence of Mr T in his home office for this – it’s a question of concentration.

I know they tell you when you retire you should take up an intellectual challenge, be it a daily crossword puzzle or learning the violin, to regenerate new brain cells, but retirement is very different from this enforced isolation. I’d be happy to take up on-line Astrophysics if I thought after half an hour I could pop out to the garden centre for a large chunk of carrot cake and a natter with a couple of a girlfriends. But I can’t. That’s the difference.

I don’t need an intellectual challenge, I don’t need that pressure to self-improve, I need feel-good vibes, something to block out that gnawing anxiety, that uncertainty, and not just for myself. Yes I’m healthy, yes thankfully so are my family, but I worry about people I don’t know who’ve lost their loved ones, or their jobs, their livelihoods. The repercussions and implications of this unprecedented situation will be long term.  

We’re all doing our best to cope in whatever way we know how.  My advice, for what it’s worth, is just do something that makes you happy.  If baking is your thing – bake. If it’s jigsaw puzzles, jigsaw. It’s dot-to-dot, just do it!  

Last week I tweeted about my Corona knitting project – and it clearly struck a chord. I received more likes and engagement on that one tweet than I’ve ever had on anything I’ve ever posted about my books.  (Likewise my garden pictures on Instagram although this might reiterate how inadequate I’ve been at book marketing…)

I know there are people out there who will revel in the opportunity to take up a new challenge, who will see the act of sowing a handful of vegetable seeds as the ultimate in the mundane – but each to their own. In troubled times people need to take comfort, and personal well-being has to be paramount. If your lockdown diary consists of a daily timetable of  9.00 am Art with Vincent Van Gogh, 11.00 am Mozart’s Piano Masterclass 12.00 Story telling with Charles Dickens, so be it.

Personally I’m sticking with 9.00 am Joe Wicks  (because we all know exercise produces those feel-good endorphins) 11.00 am limp out to greenhouse to check on seedlings, 12.00 collapse onto sofa, knit.

Eat your heart out Samuel Pepys!

Top of the Class

Last Thursday was World Book Day, and so when daughter No 1 asked if I would like to come and talk to her class of five year olds about being a writer….how could I refuse?  Quite easily actually, because I don’t write children’s books, and with both my daughters now being in their twenties, I’ve long lost an affinity to all things child related.

However, budgets are tight at my daughter’s school, and it wasn’t so much an ask, as a plea, so of course I said yes. I’d love to come and talk about being an author and deliver a ‘workshop’ to the class on story writing, after all the principles of story writing are the same for adults as for children. All books have a beginning, middle, and an end, and invariably involve characters with a problem or dilemma to overcome.

It’s a long time since my children were in infants school, and as a dutiful Mum I always tried to do my bit when parental help was needed – but my daughters went to school in semi-rural Hampshire. My daughter teaches at an inner city school in North London. A completely different kettle of fish.

However, I accepted the challenge and decided to keep things simple and concentrate on “creating characters” rather than re-writing War and Peace. Find me some hats, I told my daughter, and we’ll go from there. She approved my hastily drawn up plan – because naturally I had no more than a few days’ notice (why would I need any more?) – and I hurriedly composed a short story to read at the end of the session, because there’s no point pretending to be a magnificent story-teller if you haven’t got a story to tell.  Children can be very astute.

The plan was for groups to work as a team to come up with a character who wore their hat and plot a very basic story outline. Naturally there were squabbles, because although the hats were randomly placed on each group’s table, not everyone was happy with their allocated headgear. I tried to encourage imagination, think outside the box, take your character on a journey – we had picture prompts, boats and trains and buses. We talked about how an ordinary walk to school can provide inspiration; how listening to grandparents’ talking of the good old days, an overheard conversation on a bus, a favourite pet, can all spark ideas for stories.

Although the teamwork aspect left a lot to be desired, overall, I was impressed with the variety of characters the children created. Naturally the fireman’s hat belonged to a fireman, but with a few prompts, a story developed of a team of firemen who lived in their fire-engine, sleeping in bunkbeds. We had a pilot who took his plane into the future and into the past – and to Jamaica so that he could have a McDonalds, and possibly a swim and sit on the beach. We had a giraffe who escaped from London zoo, and a far less charming and slightly alarming plotline from one child which could have come straight out of a Quentin Tarantino movie.

My own story involved Buttons the Bear, who worried too much, unless he wore his grandma’s hat, which he subsequently lost.  The story seemed to go down very well with Year 1, but when I repeated the workshop to Year 2 – where flesh eating pizzas appeared on one group’s storyboard – they seemed slightly less enthralled. Sadly, Buttons is probably not going to be the next Gruffalo.

However, the staff were very grateful I had turned up. Visitors always go down well, something different to break the routine. Once, along ago, I mentioned to my mother I’d like to be a teacher. My mother – who was a teacher – promptly handed me a book entitled ‘Don’t Do It’ which had been given to her back in the 1950s when she first qualified.  It was always going to be a no-go area for me, but my daughter is a natural and I have every admiration for anyone who can stand up in a classroom of thirty children – of varying abilities and levels of engagement – and motivate them to be the best they can. After one morning in the classroom I was exhausted.

It was another journey out of my comfort zone; with no financial reward, or opportunity to self-promote, but this wasn’t about me.  This was about sharing my love of reading and writing and hopefully instilling a little of that passion in others.  And who knows, I could well have inspired a whole new generation of authors – because when I asked who wanted to be a writer when they grew up, thirty hands shot up in the air!

That’s the magic of books!

And in a post-script to my last post, over 900 people have now signed the petition at Lowford Library protesting against Hampshire’s plans to cut services. Fingers crossed the community will continue to have access to their local libary.