Behind the Scenes

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be featuring posts from author friends sharing the inspiration behind their books. I’m going to start off the series by talking about The Puzzle of Pine Bay.

Writers’ minds are like sponges, we soak things up subconsciously and then years later out it comes. If you’ve already read The Puzzle of Pine Bay, or at least the blurb, you’ll know that some of the plot revolves around a holiday camp. Way back in the very hot summer of 1976 we had a family holiday in the Isle of Wight, at a holiday camp, and the memories of that holiday, and that camp, have stayed with me ever since.

Searching through my mum’s old photograph albums I came up with a few pics from that holiday, not all of which are fit for public viewing. Here’s my parents posing very happily with a large bottle of navy rum (why?) and another of our wonderful upmarket chalet. Sadly I can’t publish the one pic we have of the camp’s entertainment compere because my sister would never forgive me (but if you saw it, you would know where I found my inspiration for a certain character in the book!)

However, the “puzzle” Eliza sets out to solve takes her back to the mid-1990s as opposed to the 1970s, and I have to assume the entertainment, and the accommodation was a little more sophisticated by then. Today, I think the old Hi-de-Hi image of holiday parks has long gone (or at least I hope it has!)

The sub-plot of Eliza’s house renovation is also based on my own experiences. Eliza has taken on a challenge, and anyone who has moved house as many times as I had will have run into the same old problems of finding tradespeople to carry out necessary repairs. I also know that people do tend to leave items behind when they move out – whether out of sheer laziness, or simple forgetfulness! I’m guilty as charged! But as for Kyle, the boy next door, he’s definitely a total figment of my imagination (or wishful thinking…) I have to admit, though, I am addicted to garden makeover programmes.

When it comes to the missing magician – I wanted to create an enigmatic character who weaved his magic on and off the stage. A talented illusionist or a charlatan? I hope readers will find him in intriguing!

As for the setting – with a coastline like this, who wouldn’t be inspired by the wonderful Isle of Wight? I’m a sucker for the seaside and the island’s economy is embedded in tourism. There’s plenty of material there for several books!

The Puzzle of Pine Bay launched yesterday and is available at the bargain price of 99p for a couple more weeks. https://amazon.co.uk/dp/B09ZV7GL7R Early reviews have been good, and I’m just going to blow my own trumpet here for a bit with some quotes from Goodreads:

gripping and full of fab characters”

“wonderfully paced and a joy to Read”

“a wonderful book to laze in the sunshine and imagine the beauty of the Isle of Wight.”

Paperbacks of Pine Bay should be out in time in fill up those Christmas stockings!

Pre-Launch Nerves

Who’d be an author? First you have to come up with an original idea, then you have to write it down, several times over, then you have to sell your story to potential readers while waiting with baited breath for reviews. It’s a never ending wheel of stress and trauma.

Too late, the deed is done! The Puzzle of Pine Bay is out there on Amazon, available to pre-order and it really is a horrible feeling. I should be celebrating the achievement, and I am, kind of, but I’m also having a bout of pre-launch nerves as the doubts continue to rumble. What if no-one enjoys my new novel, what if I get bad reviews, what if readers think it’s a load of old twaddle? (Having said that, I’ve read plenty of books in my time that I know some people might refer to as old twaddle and I’ve still loved them. I’ve also read books that definitely were old twaddle, but I wouldn’t dream of telling the author…) Sending a book out into the big wide world is just like bringing up children. You do your best as a parent, cross your fingers and hope you’ve managed to mould your offspring into well-grounded loveable little humans who other people will find as endearing as you do.

The Puzzle of Pine Bay with its fabulous cover designed by Berni Stevens

Self publishing brings an addition layer of angst. As much as I love the control I have in keeping my story the way I want it, choosing my own cover, and setting my own publication dates, there’s no one else to blame if it all goes wrong. It’s not so much the financial investment at stake, as the emotional. To me the financial commitment involved in self-publishing is the same as Mr T purchasing top of the range go-faster running shoes to improve his athletic performance. He doesn’t expect to recoup a financial return for his outlay, his reward is the pleasure of an enhanced sprint along the pavement. I want my books to look professional, and although I can’t compete with established authors, and those with publishers and marketing departments behind them, I still want to do the best I can with the resources I have available. (And obviously yes, one day it would be wonderful to earn enough income from writing to cover all my expenses!!)

If you follow this blog regularly you will already know that The Puzzle of Pine Bay kicks off where A Crisis at Clifftops left off. Eliza Kane has quit playing competitive golf and decided to make a permanent home on the Isle of Wight. At the start of the book she moves into her new house in the picturesque resort of Seaview, only to make an alarming discovery in the cellar. The plot thickens from there.

When I wrote a Crisis at Clifftops, I already had Lilian’s story drafted before the additional idea of Eliza popped into my head. This time it was the other way round.  I knew how Eliza solved the “puzzle” she uncovers at Pine Bay, but I needed to give her a personal motive to investigate it. Hence Lilian has a pivotal role to play again.

Both these characters have become very dear to me. In fact, Eliza Kane is my new best friend. If you’ve read Clifftops, you’ll know Eliza is sassy, passionate and punchy, she can be impulsive, doesn’t always think things through and she drinks ever so slightly too much. We have a lot in common, but the one thing we don’t share is a love of sport. Golf is a male dominated game, and Eliza has had to be gritty and determined to reach the top.  

I realised early on in her creation that Eliza Kane is a tribute to Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby, the only other fictional female professional golfer I’ve ever come across.

The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite books and the character of Jordan Baker has stayed with me since I first read the novel nearly forty years years ago. Jordan is the girlfriend of Nick Carraway, the narrator. Jordan is hard, cynical, and self-contained, and following her involvement in a cheating scandal, described as “inherently dishonest”.  I would never describe Eliza as dishonest, but like her 1920s counterpart, she is tough and independent, and she can be devious when she wants her own way. It’s Eliza’s sporting background which has given her the skills to solve crimes and makes the perfect amateur detective.

I have everything crossed that readers will enjoy Eliza’s next adventure. Much of the action revolves around some sinister shenanigans at an old holiday camp, Pine Bay. Inspiration for this part of the story comes from my own recollections of family holidays on the Isle of Wight, although the characters, and scenarios, are all total figments of my imagination!

Blurb

Injury has forced sporting heroine Eliza Kane into premature retirement. With a new house to renovate and a romance to rekindle, she moves back to the Isle of Wight, eager to start the next chapter in her life.
However, her plans soon unravel when she discovers of a stash of abandoned stage props in the cellar of her new home. Eliza is drawn into a search for a charismatic magician who hasn’t been seen on stage for the last twenty years.
Eliza’s enquiries amongst his former fellow entertainers at the old Pine Bay holiday park hit a wall of silence. When she finds herself threatened and in danger, she starts to question whether there is something more sinister about the missing magician’s vanishing act than a simple trick of t
he eye…

If you pre-order now, The Puzzle of Pine Bay will ping onto your Kindle on the morning of 5 July. Paperbacks will follow in the autumn.

Good News!

It’s been far too long since my last blog post but I’ve been waiting until I had something exciting to report, and now I do!

My second Isle of Wight cosy mystery, The Puzzle of Pine Bay will launch on 5 July 2022. This is later than originally planned but I’ve had distractions with weddings and other people’s house moves. In addition, although everything is now ready to go – bar the dreaded formatting and uploading onto Amazon, I’ve got holidays booked in May and June. I don’t want to launch a new book and then not be around to promote it.

There is another reason I’ve held this novel back. That old lack of confidence crept in again. Am I really cut out to be a writer? Although my first round of readers all sung the story’s praises, these people know and love me very dearly, I needed that extra validation of a neutral opinion. Once again I sent the manuscript off to a professional editor, and I’m pleased to report her feedback has helped me to improve the storyline in a way that I now feel confident will keep readers satisfied.

I don’t want to give too much away about the plot of The Puzzle of Pine Bay until the pre-order is ready – just to keep you in suspense a little bit longer! However, the story picks up where A Crisis at Clifftops left off. Eliza Kane is buying her first permanent home on the Isle of Wight. Moving in day turns out to be a little more dramatic than planned when she makes an unexpected discovery in the cellar of her new house. Old flame Charlie is still in the picture, and Nanna Lilian has another secret to impart, only this time she wants Eliza help in solving a mystery, as opposed to hindering her…

Here’s a little teaser for the cover, which I will be revealing in full in the coming weeks, along with pre-order details.

I always planned my Isle of Wight series to be never-ending – or at least three books, but up until a few weeks ago my plot for Book 3 was nothing but a flimsy piece of drivel.  However, inspiration has hit. The word count is now growing daily as the characters start to take over the plot – or rather plots (there are several!)

As for my own reading, March and April has been a mixed bag. I’ve tackled a couple of heavyweights, Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum, which I enjoyed, and Libby Page’s The Lido, which I found too slow going (my old creative writing tutor would be having kittens if I devoted an entire chapter of one of my books to a description of a fox rummaging through waste bins). After that I devoured The Custard Tart Cafe by the Sea by Isabella May, which was gorgeously entertaining, and I’ve just finished Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I was quite sceptical about Crawdads because it’s one of the those books that received an awful lot of hype. I had the impression from its Amazon reviews that it’s either a book people love or they hate. Personally I was hooked, despite the fact that a huge part of the plot is totally implausible – girl abandoned to live a shack in the swamp at the age of 6, no electricity, no running water, no education, no medical attention, no dentistry, turns into a stunningly desirable young woman who writes poetry and illustrates nature books. A novel clearly written with Hollywood in mind.

If only…

That’s the wonder of reading and writing fiction though. It doesn’t have to be real, or make sense. For me it just has to be entertaining and enjoyable.

Meanwhile, to put you in the mood to return to the Isle of Wight, here’s a few gorgeous pics of the some of the locations which inspired The Puzzle of Pine Bay.

Priory Bay
Freshwater
Freshwater

All’s Well That Ends Well…

2021 has been a bit of a bumpy ride for all of us, and just when we thought things were getting better… the year seems to be ending as it started.

For me personally 2021 hasn’t all been doom and gloom. Along with the lows there have been highs, the biggest of which has to the publication of A Crisis at Clifftops. I proved I could do it – more to myself than anyone else, and I’m pretty proud of what I’ve achieved.  Not having had a highflying career, I don’t have a lengthy CV of professional accomplishments. Self-publishing and launching Clifftops probably comes third in my list of all-time personal triumphs, only surpassed by giving birth to my two daughters. Writing a book and sending it off into the big wide world is pretty similar to raising children. You do your best and just hope other people like them. It’s definitely a Proud Mamma moment when I see my babies altogether (and yes, the kids are pretty special too!)

Promoting my work still remains my biggest bugbear. I spent a large part of 2021 maintaining what I considered to be a chirpy social media presence with the aim of making myself more alluring to  potential readers. Of course it wasn’t enough to generate mega sales, but I exceeded my expectations and received enough good feedback to have the confidence to go ahead with a paperback version of Clifftops. I lack the mindset, skillset, stamina and patience to be a good marketeer and of course I should have been more prolific, telling my Twitter followers what I had for breakfast every day and posting artistic pictures of it on Instagram. But there’s only so many ways I can make yoghurt and berries look enticing, and none at all for a bowl of Weetabix and chopped bananas. Besides who actually cares?

What I do care about though is travel. Unlike breakfast cereal, travel is interesting, informative and enlightening. I love looking at other people’s holiday photographs and I am very happy to post up my own. With so many restrictions in place over the last twenty months opportunities to explore have been few and far between. Me & Mr T look back on our wonderful hike around the Isle of Wight as a highlight of the year, along with our road trip to Ireland. Both excursions provided scenic photo opportunities galore. 

We also just managed to squeeze in an escape to the sun before restrictions changed and spent a 10 days in Tenerife at the beginning of December. It was our first trip to Tenerife and will probably be our last. I didn’t post up an awful lot about it on social media because I didn’t find the place particularly inspiring, nor did I we have wi-fi in our hotel, which was actually a blessing in disguise because it made me realise yes I can live without Facebook 24/7, and in fact, I’ve hardly been on social media since we got back. Tenerife was good for re-charging the batteries, and although I say I didn’t find it inspiring, I did come up with a potential novel plot – Murder on the Mobility Scooter. I’ve never seen so many of the things in one place – they were everywhere, including tandems. I may send Eliza Kane off there at some point in the future to investigate a rogue tourist who takes revenge after been pushed off the pavement one too many times…

And talking of Eliza, her next adventure, The Puzzle of Pine Bay, is now pencilled in for launching in early summer 2022. Life has got in the way again and I’ve got side-tracked by other stuff. I’m also a perfectionist and I’m not going to rush something out there that I don’t think is ready. And that’s why I know self-publishing is the right route for me. I’m appalling at time management and need flexible deadlines!  

The downside of being an indie author is that slipping off the social media radar is not good for business. Ebooks sales have slumped, but that’s only to be expected when I’m not constantly maintaining online visibility. But I have found other ways and means of spreading the word which are, quite frankly, far more enjoyable. An author talk postponed from 2020 finally took place in November and if I say so myself, I went down a storm, or maybe not a storm, this was the WI after all. I went down with a polite ripple. But I sold books, and acquired another booking. I’ve also got a potential library talk on the back of my first podcast. And in case you’ve not listened to the podcast, here’s the link. http://wormhole.carnelianvalley.com/podcast/episode-48-rosie-travers/ Friends and family have also been doing their fair of sales on behalf, and for that I’m very grateful!

As we tick off another year, I’d like to thank everyone who has supported my writing career throughout the last twelve months and to all those guests who joined me on the blog to talk about the locations which inspired their own writing. March to November was pretty full on working on and promoting Clifftops, and I’ll be continuing my social media break into the new year. I’m looking forward to polishing off Eliza Kane’s next adventure, and wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and peaceful 2022.

Me & Mr T after one too many Christmas sherries!

One Month On

After a few weeks with my feet up, I thought I ought to pen my own blog post this week. A Crisis at Clifftops has now been out in the big wide world for a whole month, and it seems a good time for an analysis/appraisal of how things have gone.

Success, no matter how small, should always be celebrated. I’m a complete technophobe but I managed to upload my book onto Amazon – woohoo! I’m shy and reserved, yet I’ve managed to convince people they’ll enjoy this book enough to want to download their own copy – go me! Seriously, I am totally chuffed at the response.

My book launch was low-key. I’m working on a very tight self-publishing budget, prioritising editing and cover design, to ensure I had a professional quality product. I knew I would have to publicise this book organically with no paid promotions, not even a blog tour. I knew sales would be limited, but if I’m honest they’ve exceeded my expectations.

A Crisis at Clifftops was never going to become an overnight Kindle bestseller, but we made it to the dizzy heights of being a HOT NEW RELEASE, and at one point it was sitting at NUMBER 3 in its golfing category, which gave me something to sing and dance about.  I apologise now to anyone who follows me on Facebook –  every time I post something I can hear a chorus of “there she goes again, banging on about her b****y book.” The thing about being self-published is that if I don’t bang on about my book, no-one else will.  I have to keep it visible.

We all know about Facebook algorithms which limit who sees what, and anything I post on Twitter always disappears into a void. I’m grateful for every re-tweet and share by friends who understand how hard it is for independent authors like me to reach a wider audience.

Goodness knows how many books have been published in the last month. A Crisis at Clifftops will soon disappear off the radar. It will settle somewhere low down in the Amazon charts.  I do get a little flutter of excitement every time I see it move up in its Amazon category. I know those BIG bestselling authors never have to check these things – Richard Osman would be in a constant flap, but for me, each flutter is special, even more so because I made it happen all by myself.

There was a time after the publication of my second book back in 2019 when I felt totally disenchanted and deflated with the whole publishing/writing thing. Seriously I could have happily never written another word again.  

However, this time round I knew exactly what I was capable of. I set myself different targets. In the last four weeks I’ve received some amazing reviews from readers and from within the writing community, together with messages and comments which have totally restored my confidence and made my heart sing! And yes, even more exciting, readers can cope with a heroine who plays sport for a living!

I know not everyone who buys the book is able, or will be willing, to leave a review. There’s a minimum spend requirement on Amazon, and to be honest I don’t review every Amazon purchase I make. It’s a crochet hook – it crochets. It’s already got 1000+ reviews it doesn’t need another one…

I dream of 1000+ reviews, but us writers are needy, fragile creatures.  I genuinely want to know if you’ve enjoyed what I’ve written. So if A Crisis at Clifftops has made you smile, provided a few hours of escape, let me know. (And don’t forget to tell your friends if you think they might like it too – there are loads of people out there who would benefit from having this book in their lives, if only they knew it existed…)

Meanwhile, The Puzzle of Pine Bay, Eliza Kane Investigates Book 2, is on its way. I originally intended to have everything ship-shape and ready to set sail later this year, but that’s not going to happen. Apart from the fact that the Christmas novel marketing deluge is already underway (yes I know, ridiculous right? I don’t even feel I’ve had my summer yet), my plot was far too complicated. I’d basically tied poor Eliza up in knots. It’s not exactly back to the drawing board, more an extensive unpicking (why do you think I bought that crochet hook?!) Seriously, Pine Bay will be out early in 2022.

Making the decision to self-publish was very much about taking control, not just of what I write, but about publishing under my own terms. I’m really pleased (and relieved) with how these first steps have gone. To everyone who has downloaded a copy of A Crisis at Clifftops, you’ve made me very happy. Thank you. And if you haven’t downloaded a copy yet, what’s your excuse?

I Made This!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But just how innocent is Lilian?

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

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

Six Days, Four Friends & One Coastal Path

Not the title of the next Richard Curtis movie, but a post about our walk around the Isle of Wight. (Obviously I’d be more than happy to sell the film rights to Mr Curtis, although I suspect he’d want to change the leading characters from two middle-aged couples to four thirty-something singletons and a token American.)

According to the guide books, the The Isle of Wight coastal path can be completed in four days. We opted for six. We also booked overnight stays in B&Bs, rather than campsites, and a courier company to transport our bags. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, hiking for lightweights.

We were on holiday! We wanted to enjoy our walk around the Island, take in the scenery, soak up the ambiance of quaint rural villages, stop and smell the wild roses in the hedgerows and marvel at the stunning coastal vistas. We’d done our research and our training, we knew we could manage the ten or twelve miles required each day without too much effort. The friends we were going with had also done their training, at a slightly faster pace than us. But hey, once we’d got over that first sixteen miles of Day One at record speed, we agreed we were very happy to keep their back views in our eyeline, and let them forge on ahead.

Day One was always going to be the killer – Cowes to Yarmouth, an area of the island none of us were familiar with, off the tourist trail, remote and wild, and with a distinct lack of suitable pitstops.

The salty sea marshes around Newtown Creek take the coastal path along boardwalks and a meandering, but very pretty, detour inland, but with both pubs on the route shut, our planned long lazy lunch subsequently involved a mad dash to Shalfleet village shop five minutes before closing time to grab the last three packets of sandwiches and an impromptu picnic in the local graveyard. A valuable lesson learned on Day One – when you see an eating opportunity, take it.

Day Two, Yarmouth to Freshwater – cross-country no more than four miles, in fact it was doing that walk last year with our friends which sparked the whole idea of the round the island hike. The coastal path takes ten but you get to experience the tourist trap of Alum Bay, before enjoying the natural wonders of the Needles and Tennyson Down. Valuable lesson learned on Day Two – when you see an eating opportunity at a tacky tourist attraction, avoid it.

Day Three Freshwater to Chale, along the Island’s spectacular southern coast and in my opinion the highlight of the trip. Never mind the sunburn, the blisters, the fact that the path hangs precariously close to the edge of the cliff and in some places disappears altogether (seven acres of the island are lost into the sea every year according to the landlady of our gorgeous B&B in Freshwater). With the stunning view across the English Channel to our right, and rolling fields to our left, we hardly saw another soul all day, although we did spot a peregrine falcon.

Day Four, Chale to Shanklin, another delightful trek, but by now we realised we should have done more gradient training. This walk also took us to Ventnor, which is where most of A Crisis of Clifftops is set. Ventnor, eerily shrouded in midday mist, was pretty much as I remembered it from our visit a couple of years ago (big sigh of relief no major edits of location descriptions required when I got home!)

Day Five, Shanklin to Seaview, passed through the dubious delights of a rather rundown Sandown, not looking its best first thing in the morning (do any of us?) and onwards to Bembridge and beyond, the second longest leg of the trip.

Day Six was Seaview back to Cowes.   After Ryde much of the path is inland to avoid trespassing through the grounds of Osborne House, but the route twists along country lanes through quaint villages, until the outskirts of East Cowes when it becomes disappointingly urban.

All the way around the island the coastal path is well sign-posted, and areas of danger – and there are many – fenced off and diversions in place.  The courier service was excellent and our luggage was always picked up and delivered on time. Overnight accommodation was clean and comfortable, and we did spice things up a bit on occasions by tossing our room keys into a hat to see which couple won the ensuite with a bath…

You do always wonder when you holiday with other people, how you’re going to get on. Apart from providing inspiration for a whole new series of crime novels, Murder on the Mudflats, Bludgeoned on the Boardwalk, Calamity on the Cliff Path, when our friends did pause for breath, they were great fun. Seriously, we’re still talking!

I thought I knew the Isle of Wight pretty well, but walking the coastal path was a great way to see its diverse and contrasting flora, fauna and natural landscapes from a whole new perspective. Two weeks later the blisters have healed and we’re already already planning our next trek!

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.

The Joy of Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day Trippers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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