I’d Rather Be Writing…

Inspired by my holiday reading, my WIP is now romping ahead at full-speed. The muse has returned and I can’t type quickly enough.  I know I’m back in the zone because I’ve finally removed the detritus of my old dead PC from my desk to make a proper work space for my laptop. My characters are nudging me awake at night to relay their latest conversations, and new plot twists and unexpected developments are cropping up quicker than I can say I didn’t see that one coming…

Following advice from my new bible, Save The Cat Writes a Novel, the initial plan was to meticulously plot but I’m far too impatient for that. I just want to get on with the writing. I did do a plan, a sketchy outline of the main action, but already things are deviating from the track. A previous favourite scene is now totally irrelevant. A red herring uttered by character A might now be better cast into the story by character B, or maybe it’s not needed at all…

I’ve changed a few names, I’ve bought in a few new guys and deleted some of the old ones. Note to self – and any new writer – never change a character’s name using the simple search and replace tool in a Word document. I had previously thought Ted far too old fashioned for my tennis coach – a very minor character only mentioned in passing, so several chapters in I changed his name to Ryan. An awful lot of words in the English language end in the letters TED, especially when your novel is written in past tense. Far from being a minor character, RYAN became a major player. For future reference there is a way to get round this, which I have now learned thanks to the wonders of social media and helpful advice from the writing community (for all its faults Twitter does occasionally have its uses).

However, Ted has now popped up again, completely by surprise, parked on a rattan sofa at a garden party. This time he’s going to remain because this ‘Ted’ is an elderly gent far better suited to the name and now an integral part of the story – although he’s forgotten to mention a vital piece of information to my heroine so I’ll have to go back and add that in. Scribble another note to self.

My baby is growing and taking on a life of its own, and after several months in the writing wilderness it does feel like coming home. I’m excited. This is how it felt when I was writing The Theatre of Dreams and Your Secret’s Safe With Me.  Neither of these novels came effortlessly, they had a few false starts but once they got going, engines revved, they took off at a very fast rate of knots. And it was fun.

If I’m honest, my struggles with marketing these two wonderful novels (if you’ve not read them yet you really should) had a negative impact on my enthusiasm to write. My confidence took a serious knock, and there were times when I seriously questioned whether I should even bother to continue.  The enjoyment had gone – and as that life-style guru Marie Kondo dictates – if things don’t bring you joy, they have to go. I became very good at procrastination.  2019 has been an exceedingly busy year and I’ve found plenty of excuses to stay away from my desk.  We moved house – twice, helped both daughters settle into new homes, and have had some family health issues to contend with.  Of course I could have got up at six every morning and stayed up to midnight to snatch a few quiet moments on my laptop, but no…my creative juices were channelled instead into re-landscaping my new front garden, designing my fantasy kitchen, ordering new furniture and stitching soft furnishings.

So when Mr T suggested we did a spot of decorating this weekend, the first since we moved into our new house in June,  the old, uninspired me would have I’d have said yippee, bring it on, I’ve had enough of this yellow (the whole of our new house is decorated in various shades of custard cream). Instead I sat there thinking okay, but not until Ted has told Eliza about the fling with the air hostess, and what about this fabulous final scene that came to me in a flash at 3 o’clock this morning…

I’ve no guarantees my WIP will ever become a published novel, but in moments like this, writing becomes a compulsion. Words tumble around n my head uninvited and have to be consigned to paper. I am writing again, and I’m writing because it brings me joy.

To be fair, painting the front room also brought a certain amount of joy. The walls are no longer ‘Buttermilk’ but ‘Just Walnut’ – a colour which bears little resemblance to any walnut I’ve ever seen. Those people at the paint factory have very vivid imaginations. If the writing career doesn’t work out, I might well apply for a job with Dulux.

Holiday Reading

Holidays provide the perfect opportunity to indulge in a good book. My current reading habits amount to little more than a snatched five or ten minutes every night, so the thought of a week, on a beach, on a small island, seemed like the perfect opportunity to indulge.

My Kindle was already fully loaded with some 99p reads, but then as I did that last minute supermarket shop a book cover caught my eye and I thought, why not? Obviously a Kindle is much lighter for travel, I can take hundreds of books as opposed to two or three…but on the other hand there’s nothing quite like the smell of a paperback, the feel of those pages flicking through my fingers as the sand trickles between my toes…

One paperback wasn’t going to be enough for seven days, but a friend had recently passed on a novel she’d enjoyed on her own holidays, and I’d also ordered a book on writing tips with the hope of solving the issues with my current WIP which has basically come to standstill (not so much a standstill as a directionless ramble. It wasn’t keeping me enthralled, let alone the likelihood of any reader.) I decided to forego the Kindle completely. With Mr T travelling light, there was plenty of room in his suitcase for all three paperbacks.

We’d chosen our destination – Lanzarote – purely because of its climate – basically 25oc all year round – and the fact that we could fly there in less than four hours from our local airport. Our hotel was located in a resort which was sort of Frankfurt-meets-Dublin-by-the-sea, directly opposite a vast soft dark sandy beach.  As we sunbathed alongside elderly Germans, Westlife lookalikes and their young families, the pages on those paperbacks began to fly.

The first book was The Familiars by Stacey Halls – a historical novel about the witch hunts of the 1600s, not my normal cup of tea at all. I was seduced by the intriguing cover. I remain convinced that if either of my books were ever to make it onto the supermarket shelves they would sell pretty well based on their beautiful covers alone….  Anyway, back to reality. I enjoyed this book immensely. A plucky young wife fights the injustices of her social position and the wrong-doings going on around her. Obviously very well researched, the story was interwoven with vivid descriptions of the characters, period, and the Lancashire locations.

My second book of the week was Forget My Name by J S Monroe – a psychological thriller. I’m generally not a fan of psychological thrillers. I’m a sensible, level-headed person and psychological thrillers are populated by characters – predominantly women – who seem to make a series of very bad choices in the most implausible or coincidental of situations.  I know ‘fiction’ is just that – it doesn’t have to reflect real life to be wonderful – plenty of people could point their fingers at my books at say – hey, (SPOILER ALERT) individuals don’t normally save historic buildings by stealth, or wrestle with drug smugglers in small coastal villages…BUT generally I like to read books with characters I can relate to and empathise with. Forget My Name kept me turning the pages, so it wasn’t all bad, but I did donate it to the hotel’s library where as The Familiars came home with me.

Moving hastily on to my third book of the week – Save the Cat Writes a Novel. Save the Cat is a very well respected guide to screenwriting that has been around for some time. Now there is a new version for writing the perfect novel. Did I find it helpful? Well yes I did. I now need a vast wall-planner and a whole stack of post-it notes. My WIP is going to amble aimlessly no more – it’s journey will be plotted with precision.

I have come back from my week away feeling invigorated – and it’s not just to do with a good dose of vitamin D and the wonderful Canarian cuisine. I’m very good at procrastination and very bad at time-management, but within 48 hours of being home, I’ve written my first blog-post in a month, started a new notebook to breakdown the plot of my WIP and set writing goals for the next six months. The holiday washing can wait – after all, sadly, I don’t think be needing my bikini again anytime soon…

Friends in the North

After my last post celebrating the highs and lows of my first year as published author, I promised myself I would tackle self-promotion with new gusto. I’d get on and finish my WIP. I’d spend more time being jolly on social media. Have I done that? No, once again that old spoilsport ‘life’ has got in the way.

I only have room for so many worries and domestic/family niggles take precedence. All things ‘writerly’ have currently taken a backseat. There’s more important things in life than stressing about word counts and Facebook likes. However, last week we packed up our troubles and set off on a long promised trip to the north of England – which was to culminate in York, where I had been invited to attend the Romantic Novelists’ Association Afternoon Tea to celebrate ‘graduation’ from the New Writers Scheme.

The New Writers’ Scheme is a wonderful thing – aspiring writers can join the RNA and take advantage of all the benefits of the association. More importantly, they can have their potential book manuscripts assessed and critiqued by experienced authors. When I joined back in 2016, I already had one manuscript complete and a second under way. During my time in the NWS I was lucky enough to submit three different manuscripts for critique, two of which have now been published. Authors who become published during their time in the NWS are nominated for the Joan Hessayon Award, sponsored by Dr Hessayon of the gardening books fame. His wife Joan was a romantic novelist.

So our trip north already had a literary connection, but more by luck than design it turned into a literary feast! We arrived at our first stop Warwick Castle in record time; after a quick whizz around the ramparts (Mr T and I are seasoned speed-tourists) we realised the day was still young enough to pop over to Stratford on Avon for a peep at Anne Hathaway’s cottage and then on to William Shakespeare’s birth place.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Shakespeare’s birthplace

It was all very inspiring – as was dinner at the Spanish restaurant I’d booked that evening in Warwick purely on the basis of its Trip Advisor reviews. I’ve bought books on Amazon purely because of their wonderful 5 star reviews and have seriously questioned whether I’m reading the same novel. Not in this case – the food at Tasca Dali was outstanding, as was the service – and the best bit, it was a set menu. Takes all the stress away from the what shall we eat tonight dilemma. If you’re ever in Warwick, check it out https://www.tascadali.com/

From Warwick we headed north west to Blackpool mainly because we’d never been and we thought it would be fun.  It lived up to all our expectations so we quickly moved on. Having taken the slight detour I realised we were now close to Morcambe – home to the Midland Hotel. I’d come across the Midland Hotel during my research into art deco restoration projects for The Theatre of Dreams – so it was quite exciting to see the building in the flesh.  A lot bigger than my fictional pavilion but it does have a prime spot on the seafront and is a very impressive tribute to 1930s architecture.

From Morcambe we headed to Bowness-on-Windermere, our base for the next four days. I’m a hardened southerner and love living on the sunny south coast, but I could see myself becoming a northern convert. The scenery is stunning. There’s drama around every corner – glass lakes, craggy fells shrouded in clouds, and lush green fields dotted with sheep. We visited Beatrix Potter’s home at Hill Top. We viewed the gloomy rooms where she wrote her books (no kitchen – Beatrix was too posh to cook and had her meals delivered to her by the farmer’s wife next door – every writer’s dream!) and strolled through the vegetable patch in search of Peter Rabbit.

Beatrix Potter’s Garden

We visited Grasmere, where the poet Wordsworth famously wandered as lonely as a cloud amongst the daffodils. It was a wrong time of year for daffodils and the clouds – and crowds – were out in force so not quite the tranquil spot of Wordsworth’s time, but easy to see why he felt so poetic.

With the Lake District sort of ticked off we headed across the Pennines into Yorkshire and Whitby. If you are a fan of vampires, you’ll know that this is where Bram Stoker’s Dracula first came ashore. From Whitby we headed down to the beautiful Robin Hood’s Bay and Scarborough before finally arriving in York – and the RNA Tea.

The York Tea was my first RNA event and I sincerely hope it won’t be my last. It was a pleasure to meet so many ‘friends’ I’d so far only encountered on Facebook, fellow new writer scheme graduates and also to catch up with Crooked Cat authors John Jackson (the event organiser), Sue Barnard and Lynn Forth.  

I didn’t win the ultimate prize of the Joan Hessayon Award, but as Alison May, the chairman of the RNA, pointed out, to become published in today’s fiction market is no mean feat and an achievement worth celebrating in itself.   It was the perfect end to our fabulous trip north.

We will be back!

Why I Write

After my last post about my jumbled approach to writing, I thought it might be a good idea to answer the question of why I write in the first place. This is a question authors often get asked – not just coming up with the ideas, but taking the time to write them down and fine tune them into full-length novels.  For me the answer is quite simple, I write the books I want to read.

I’ve a very fertile imagination and I enjoy making things up. Writing novels channels that talent to lie and fabricate into something legal.

I’ve always been an avid reader and because I enjoyed reading, even at a very early age I realised it made sense to write my own books – my own versions of the stories I liked to read. One of my very early influences was the wonderful Joan Lingard. As a teenager growing up in the south of England in the 1970s I had little experience of the troubles in Northern Ireland, but I was soon scribbling down my own cheap imitations of the Kevin and Sadie series which continued into several notebooks.

Who remembers the wonderful Jackie magazine, and its contemporaries My Guy? I made up my own versions of these too – everything from imaginary interviews with the pop stars of the day, to cover design and my own comic strip style illustrated stories. And everything of course suited my style and tastes – I had complete control over what the reader (ie me) saw.

I soon moved onto a typewriter and even dared to submit a story to a teenage magazine.  After receiving my first rejection (it wasn’t even a rejection it was sorry not for us but why don’t you try this magazine instead…) I ripped my story to shreds and vowed never to show my work to anyone else again. Who knows what might have been if I had followed that advice instead of resorting to typical teenage petulance?!

It  was over a quarter of century later before I plucked up the courage to send my writing out into the wider world again in the form of my first blog about the exploits of a fairly sane (or at least I was at the beginning) British woman’s adventures in Los Angeles. And it’s still out there gathering dust in cyberspace!

https://lifeinthelabubble.blogspot.com

Encouraged by the pretty good response to my writing style I started submitting short stories to women’s magazines.  By that time I’d hardened up – those early rejections were simply spurs to make my work better, not consign it to the bin.

I have come to realise that ‘writing the stories I want to read’ doesn’t necessarily mean commercial marketability. My favourite review of The Theatre of Dreams is the one that begins Wonderful plot and refreshingly different”.  A writer should have a unique voice and I want to give my readers something that surprises them – something that doesn’t necessarily go with the flow of expectations.  The trouble is the publishing world does encourage readers to have ‘expectations’! I’ve realised my writing crosses several genres – mystery, romance, intrigue, humour – making it hard to pigeon hole and I fully appreciate it’s a concoction that won’t please everyone, (but I do wish more people would give it a try!)  But one thing that has come out of reviews for both my books is the ability to tell a good story.

And that is why I write.

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 – 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/

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.

Comfort Reading – Guest Paula Martin

De-cluttering guru Marie Kondo has caused quite a stir amongst the reading and writing community by stating we only need keep 30 books on our shelves. I’m a harder taskmaster than Marie, because I only let my guests choose 5 “keepers”! Today I’m handing over the challenge to romantic novelist, Paula Martin.

Thanks for inviting me to share my ‘comfort reads’ with you and your readers, Rosie. I must have read thousands of books in my life, so it wasn’t easy to pick only 5 books. In the end, I’ve chosen 5 which are ‘special’ to me for different reasons.

The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown

I first read this when I was ten or eleven, and then read it over and over again! It’s a story of seven children, each with different talents, who form their own theatrical group and write, produce, and act in their own plays. I’ve heard that this book (first published in the 1940s) inspired many future actresses, including Maggie Smith, Victoria Wood, and Eileen Atkins. In my case, it led to a lifelong love of the theatre, and also inspired me, when I was about twelve, to write my first full-length novel of over 60,000 words, which I called ‘We Wanted a Theatre.’ I still have it somewhere, written in long-hand in pencil on whatever paper I could find!

 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I ‘met’ Jane when I was twelve and my mother took me to our local repertory theatre to see a play based on the book. The next day I rushed to the library to borrow the book, and then asked for my own copy for my next birthday. I always loved Jane whose inner strength enabled her to cope with so many traumatic events in her life. She spoke her mind, and considered herself to be Mr. Rochester’s equal, even at a time when women were considered ‘inferior’ to men. In later times, I’m sure she would have been a suffragette or an ardent supporter of women’s rights! An interesting footnote to my love for this book is that a few years ago, I discovered Charlotte Bronte started writing the story when she was staying with a friend in Hathersage in Derbyshire, and based her heroine on a medieval brass on the tomb of Joan Eyre (hence the surname, of course) – and Joan Eyre was actually one of my ancestors.

 

Katherine by Anya Seton

In my teens I was hooked on Tudor novels, especially those by Jean Plaidy, but this book changed all that. Based on the factual story of Katherine Swynford, and set in the 14th century in the reigns of Edward III and Richard II, it brought the later medieval period to life for me. Historical people who had just been names became real people, especially John of Gaunt – and I must admit I fell in love with him! I was full of admiration for Katherine, too, who became governess to John’s two daughters (echoes of Jane Eyre here?). After his wife’s death, he and Katherine began their love affair, which continued until his second ‘political’ marriage to a Spanish princess. After Constanza’s death, John returned to Katherine and married her. This was at a time when royal Dukes simply did not marry their mistresses, so it is an indication of John’s lasting love for her. This book led to my fascination with later medieval history which I later studied at university, and in turn, led to my next book:

 

The Sunne in Spendour by Sharon Kay Penman

Many novels have been written about Richard III, but in my opinion this is by far the best. Sharon’s research is second to none and, like Anya Seton with the 14th century, she brings the events and historical characters of the 15th century to life. The story begins in 1459 with Richard as a young boy, covers the period of the Wars of the Roses, includes family and political intrigues, and ends in 1485 with Richard’s defeat and death at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Like many others, Sharon rejects the Shakespearean portrait of Richard as an evil monster, and shows him as a man with loyalty, courage and strong principles. It’s a novel I return to again and again, but as it is such a thick tome (over 1200 pages), I now have it on my Kindle!

 

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Not a novel this time, but a play, which I first saw on stage when I was eleven, and then bought the full script (a hardback book at that time) with my Christmas money. I love Wilde’s clever wit and brilliant one-liners, and also his satirical comments on the so-called ‘rules’ of Victorian society and morality. Every time I read the script, I seem to discover something new.

 

 

 

 

Bio

Paula Martin lives near Manchester in North West England and has two daughters and two grandsons.

She had some early publishing success with four romance novels and several short stories, but then had a break from writing while she brought up a young family and also pursued her career as a history teacher for twenty-five years. She has recently returned to writing fiction, after retiring from teaching, and is thrilled to have found publishing success again with her contemporary romances.

Apart from writing, she enjoys visiting new places. She has travelled extensively in Britain and Ireland, mainland Europe, the Middle East, America and Canada. Her other interests include musical theatre and tracing her family history.

Her most recent book is Irish Shadows, the fifth book in the ‘Mist Na Mara’ series, published by Tirgearr Publishing. All five books are stand-alone stories, set in beautiful Connemara in the west of Ireland, and combining romance with suspense and intrigue. They are available from various distributors (Amazon, Kobo, Nook, Smashwords) via http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/Martin_Paula/

Other Links:

Website: http://paulamartinromances.webs.com

Blog: http://paulamartinpotpourri.blogspot.com

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

Thanks to Paula for taking part – and for telling us about her intriguing personal connection to Jane Eyre. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to inspire a story, even if it is just in name only!