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.

Ten Years On

There’s been a lot of stuff flying through my Twitter feed regarding the start of the new decade and the end of the old – I’m caught up in a circular post urging me to sum up the last ten years in five words. One of my resolutions for the new year – although I don’t actually make resolutions as such because they’re just more things to feel bad about failing to achieve – is to concentrate on the things I enjoy and  I’ve never felt particularly comfortable talking to strangers.  I didn’t feel compelled to join in with the Tweet and I’m sure no one was offended.

But it did make me think. Five words. Where would I even begin?

Since 2010 my life has changed enormously. I could probably fill five books summing up the last decade – ten years of international house moves,  of leaving a very large carbon footprint and ticking off various sights that regularly appear on  bucket lists (but not mine because bucket lists are another thing I don’t do). I’ve been very privileged to have travelled extensively during the last ten years, to have lived in different countries, I’ve come right out of my comfort zone, I’ve made a whole array of new friends and acquaintances, I can speak Dutch (okay just a little and very badly).  I’ve watched my 2010 teenagers mature into confident young women, both now making their own independent way in the world and I’ve remained healthy – always a bonus.

But it’s always better to look forward than over your shoulder.

This was me at the start of 2010 – and that’s another one of those social media things we should all be doing, isn’t it – the ten year photo.

Well don’t be fooled by this idyllic snap because despite that sunshine, that pool, that glorious mountain backdrop – I was in the depths of despair. We had moved from our home in Southampton, UK, where I’d grown up and lived for the last forty something years, to the town of Arcadia on the outskirts of Pasadena in Californina. I’d never felt so lonely and isolated. Sunshine counts for a lot but it’s not the be-all and end-all. One daughter had accompanied us – the other hadn’t. She was only 18 and 5000 miles away – as were all my friends and extended family members. And after younger daughter and husband had left for school and work each day – I was on my own and I knew no-one. Yes, I did feel sorry for myself – and anyone who is ever been in that position will probably tell you, you know it’s totally irrational, you know how lucky you are, you know you need to snap out of it – but on the other hand…

I did have a set of new year’s resolutions for the start of 2010. I developed a mantra. I had a to do list and on that list was walk. I walked every day for at least an hour around the housing estate where we lived. I found a second hand book shop and I read all those classics I’d never had time to read during my busy working life.  I found a voluntary job one morning a week doing something I loved – gardening – and although I had to force myself out there amongst strangers – every little bit of social interaction helped.  I wrote copious emails to friends back home, and then the idea came to start a blog about the vagaries of our new ex-pat life.

Retaining a sense of humour at all times was vital for survival and I really enjoyed writing my blog, but one post a week wasn’t enough fuel for those creative juices. I received compliments about my style of writing, and that’s when the idea that I could write novel was born.

2010 was the year I began my writing journey and ten years on I’m a published author with two books under my belt. A third is on its way and although I’ll be looking for a new publisher in 2020, I’m still very positive about my writing career. Writing comes naturally, and after ten years I can’t imagine life without it.

I feel far more relaxed and positive about what the next ten years will bring, than I did at the start of 2010.

Ten years older and wiser. Perhaps those should be my five words.

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…