On Location with Melanie Robertson-King

The miles are stacking up as we travel cross-country on our virtual travels, seeking out those inspirational book locations. This week Canadian author Melanie Robertson-King explains her unique and very personal reason for choosing Scotland as the setting for her debut novel.

I’ve noticed you’ve had some people choose Scotland as their location. Of course, that was my go-to as well, but I’m willing to wager my reason and connection to Scotland hasn’t been featured on your blog.

My father was born in the heart of Aberdeenshire between the towns of Insch (a Royal Borough no less) and Huntly in the parish of Kennethmont. He came to Canada as a British Home Child through the auspices of The Orphan Homes of Scotland after being raised there since his admission in 1917. I first visited both locations in 1993 and stayed at a farmhouse B&B in the Kennethmont area.

It was during this first visit that the seeds were sown, and ideas began to percolate. I changed the names of some of the towns/villages and the stately home to “protect the guilty.” LOL. Seriously, I knew the area well but giving people their privacy was the prudent thing to do. Insch became Duninsch – fitting since Dunnideer, and its hillfort overlooks the town. Kennethmont became Kendonald. Culsalmond became Williamsmuir, although it didn’t come into its own until the second book in the series. The farm’s name where my family lived in my novel and worked (actual name shall remain nameless) became Gordonsfield. And Wardhouse became Weetshill. The reason behind that is my father was born at Weets in Kennethmont parish, and some gazetteers referred to it as Weets, Wardhouse by Insch.

I deemed that other locations were far enough from the heart of the story that they could retain their identities (Huntly, Aberdeen City and Ladysbridge Asylum).

I’m not sure if it was the spooky ruins of Wardhouse mansion that started things, or maybe even the ghostly-looking trees on the road to the Picardy Stone. It was one of the two. There is a stone circle atop the hill at the farmhouse B&B, but I didn’t visit it on that first trip. But I did at least once before I started writing my debut novel and many times since.

I took this photo of Wardhouse mansion from the main road between Insch and Kennethmont in 2013. By this time, work on restoration had begun. At least removing the trees that were growing up inside this roofless hulk. I didn’t find out until years later that we could drive up there and wander around. You’ve got to love the Right to Roam. It wasn’t until September 2015, I got up close and personal with Wardhouse mansion, and I’m thrilled I did.

Isn’t it gorgeous? This photo graces the cover of the second book in the series. Not, only that but my grandfather was a tenant farmer for the Laird of Wardhouse. Pretty cool, eh?

The ghostly trees. Imagine seeing these on a moonlit night, the wind rasping through the leafy canopy. Send a shiver down your spine?

And let’s not forget the stone circle and the views from it. You can see Wardhouse mansion, the Ardmore distillery and of course, the farmhouse, barns and other outbuildings from it.

As a side note, I see faces in these stones. Once you see them, you can’t unsee them. 🙂

 With all this going for it, plus my familial link to the area, is it any wonder I chose Scotland as the setting for my debut novel?

About Melanie Robertson-King

Melanie Robertson-King has always been a fan of the written word. Growing up as an only child, her face was almost always buried in a book from the time she could read. Her father was one of the thousands of Home Children sent to Canada through the auspices of The Orphan Homes of Scotland, and she has been fortunate to be able to visit her father’s homeland many times and even met the Princess Royal (Princess Anne) at the orphanage where he was raised.

Follow Melanie at these links:

Website:  https://melanierobertson-king.com

Celtic Connexions Blog:  https://melanierobertson-king.com/wp02/

Facebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/MelanieRobertsonKingAuthor/

Twitter:  @RobertsoKing

A Shadow in the Past – Blurb

When a contemporary teen is transported back in time to the Victorian era, she becomes A Shadow in the Past…

Nineteen-year-old Sarah Shand finds herself in Victorian Era Aberdeenshire, Scotland and has no idea how she got there. Her last memory is of being at the stone circle on the family farm in the year 2010.

Despite having difficulty coming to terms with her situation, Sarah quickly learns she must keep her true identity a secret. Still, she feels stifled by the Victorians’ confining social practices, including arranged marriages between wealthy and influential families, and confronts them head only to suffer the consequences.

When Sarah realizes she has fallen in love with the handsome Laird of Weetshill, she faces an agonizing decision. Does she try to find her way back to 2010 or remain in the past with the man she loves?

https://books2read.com/shadowinpast

Many thanks to Melanie for taking part.

No News…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeling Festive?

I’m sorry for the delay in sending out a traditional festive greeting. If you read November’s post you’re probably eagerly awaiting news on the decorating/curtain making v writing challenge. I’m pleased to report it all worked out very well.  Even the under-stairs cupboard has received a makeover, and there’s only one room left to go (which we’re saving for lockdown 3 because it’s a big one). The curtains are up and look beautiful – if I say so myself, and while on my upholstery high I even recovered an old ottoman to match. Creativity abounds!

My writing mojo came and went between coats of paint, but sadly, Mr T lost his lovely dad at the beginning of December, which has somewhat put a dampener on things. I write very much from the heart, and to be honest, my heart has been elsewhere for the last few weeks.  I’m not prolific on social media – that part of ‘authoring’ is not a part I particularly enjoy, so I took even more of a step back than usual. Some people are quite happy posting up their personal stuff for all the world to see, but there’s enough misery out without me adding to it. I don’t enjoy reading about other people’s problems; I don’t want to inflict my problems on others.  My social media persona is very much like my books, chirpy and cheerful, and I want to keep it that way.

Chirpy books for chirpy people!

At times like this it’s hard to find humour. The corona crisis drags on and Boris has stolen a lot of people’s Christmases. We’re not the only parents who won’t see our kids this Christmas, I’m not the only woman with too many sprouts in her fridge (that will teach me for buying my veg too early).

Take a look at what you could have won kids!

Writing has always been a solace, an escape, and with just the two of us home for Christmas I know there will be plenty of time to retreat to my study and continue my WIP when the mood takes me. And if all else fails, there’s always the jigsaw puzzle. Back in September, in anticipation of a long winter ahead, Mr T bought me a jigsaw for my birthday.  Seeking simple comfort during a stressful period, we got it out, restricting ourselves to just an hour a day to complete a nostalgic Amsterdam canal scene. I once read Gwyneth Paltrow completed jigsaws on film sets to help her relax between scenes. Trust me, there’s nothing relaxing about discovering your 1000 piece jigsaw is actually 999. You know you’ve reached a crisis point when your normally laid back, super patient other-half is ripping open the vacuum cleaner bag looking for that vital missing piece. Personally, I blame the cat.

Guilty as charged!

So that’s it. 2020 has come to an end and I’m very glad to see back of it.

Thanks for reading, have the best Christmas you can, and roll on 2021.

A very rare picture of the author with her curtains!

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.

The Road Trip

The idea of taking road trip to Scotland was conceived one wet rainy weekend way back in February. With a holiday in Greece already booked to celebrate Mr T’s retirement in June, and another to the Canaries planned to soak up some winter sun, we felt September would be the ideal time to explore parts of the UK we’d never visited before.  

We ended up seeing a bit more than we originally bargained for. With Greece and the Canaries both off the cards, the road trip was the only holiday left on our calendar, and when daughter number 2 in Cardiff suggested we visit for a weekend at the end of the summer, it was a bit like, well, why don’t we just add Wales into the mix too because it’s on the way to Scotland, after all.

We’re fairly familiar with South Wales because not only is our daughter now based there permanently, but many moons ago Mr T worked in Pembrokeshire. The North however, was new territory.  The road trip was always going to be a whistle stop tour, one of those if it’s Tuesday, it must be Glasgow type of vacations, although Glasgow actually got crossed off the list when the second wave of Coronavirus hit.

After waving goodbye to the kiddo in Cardiff to clamber up and down waterfalls in the Brecon Beacons, we took a pitstop in the UK’s smallest city, St Davids, just because we could, before heading to the Snowdonia National Park for three days. We had a lot to squeeze in.

So many waterfalls, so little time…

Due to time constraints, we took the train up to Mount Snowdon rather than walk. The train no longer goes to the summit – it’s too crowded. Seriously, on the day we went, Snowdon was heaving with people, a steady stream of happy hikers, and no hope of social distancing. With overseas travel out of bounds, tourism in North Wales is booming.  From Portmeirion to Betws-y-Coed, the crowds were out in force.

Onwards to Scotland and our first stop was Balloch on the shores of Loch Lomond, and our first task, to find a launderette for a week’s worth of washing, which was no problem, because Balloch has its own fully automated open air launderette situated in a corner of the local garage forecourt. Every town should have one.

Washing complete we then took a boat tour of the Loch, which was as damp and grey as expected. However that mist adds atmosphere and a certain eeriness.

Fifty shades of grey in the Lowlands

The next day was dry, and Mr T suggested that as we had foregone the whole climbing Mount Snowdon experience, we ought to attempt to conquer Ben Lomond, overlooking the shores of the Loch, just a mere 100 metres less than Snowdon in height, and an hour shorter round trip up and down. How could I say no? Quite easily because I have a fear of heights, and grazing cows, and Ben Lomond featured both – but I’m proud to say I did it. I climbed my first Munro (Scottish mountains over 3000 ft in height) and there was a serious sense of achievement as I stood on the top and looked down on the Loch a very long way below.

From Loch Lomond we travelled north to the Isle of Mull where sheep and solitude abound. We stayed in Tobermory, now a tourist mecca after becoming the location for the children’s TV show Balamory (the only reason we went there). Top tip for anyone thinking of travelling to Mull, if you’re driving anything bigger than a Ford Fiesta, forget it. The roads are treacherous.

Next stop Glencoe and my birthday present – thank you Scotland. Glorious sunshine, a comparatively low-level hike against a picturesque Sound of Music backdrop, and a lakeside hotel with an indoor heated swimming pool. Travel in the time of Covid did bring some challenges, but having more or less exclusive use of a hotel swimming pool was a wonderful treat.

We rounded off our 2000 mile trip with a couple of nights on the shores of Loch Ness – never expected to see that bathed in sunshine – and two days exploring the delights of Edinburgh before returning south via Northumberland and an overnight stop in Yorkshire – another place where social distancing didn’t seem to feature.

Sunshine on Loch Ness!

Discovering two freezers of fully de-frosted food wasn’t the best homecoming ever – apparently our street’s electricity supply had been switched off for maintenance during our three week absence and for a reason that will always remain one of life’s little mysteries, the supply to our house had clearly failed to come back on. And although I had done my best to avoid social media and the internet during our break, morale slumped slightly after two more rejections in my email inbox. One, a typical straightforward thanks but not for us, and the other, more crushing in many ways because this editor did give feedback – my writing was good, she liked my style, my author voice, but as far as she was concerned a storyline involving a golfing heroine was a commercial no-no. So much for diversity in publishing.  I always knew it was going to be a hard-sell, and a bit like driving around the island of Mull, I do sometimes feel I’m on the road to nowhere on my publishing journey. On the other hand, as Mr T said as he literally heaved me up the last couple of hundred metres of that mountain on the shores of Loch Lomond, I’ve made it this far, I can’t give up now.

Still smiling at (less than) half way up!
And an exhausted grimace at the top!

Out & About

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Corona Diaries – Part III

Lockdown continues – or not quite lockdown, a lighter lockdown, although after weeks of not going anywhere and not doing an awful lot, I’ve no plans to visit the shopping mall or a zoo anytime soon.

It’s the end of an era – the corona jumper is finally finished and I’m already missing the click of the needles.  Joe Wicks has been abandoned – not because I don’t need him anymore, but because I’ve seriously pulled a muscle and have acquired a permanent limp. 

The seedlings in the greenhouse have more than sprouted – thanks to my careful nurturing they have taken off at a rapid rate. We now have fully fledged peas and more lettuce than we will ever eat. There’s the promise of carrots, spring onions and runner beans to come, and I’ve already harvested half my strawberry crop (okay it was only two strawberries but they were big juicy ones – quality over quantity!)

Anyone for lettuce?

We’re entering our ‘new normal’ of face masks and even more queues. All those thoughts of increasing sustainable public transport are now out of the window. Nobody wants to get on a bus, or a train.  We’re all back to hopping into our own cars. 

Will Zoom be here to stay? We will ever need physical social-interaction again in the work place? Mr T is living proof his company can manage without international business travel. He hasn’t left his man-cave-cum-office for weeks and the world of oil refineries hasn’t crumbled in his absence, although yes he is very relieved everyone is getting back into their cars and buying petrol.

Could background bookshelf staging be a new career path?

I had my first Zoom book club talk last night – and it went very well, although yes it would have been a lot nicer if we could have met in the pub garden as planned. This was a local book club who had been reading Your Secret’s Safe With Me.  As an author it’s very rewarding to hear people who’ve read your books speak about your characters as if they know them personally.

Sadly I have no news on my next project which is currently wending its way into the great literary agent chasm.  I’ve booked a couple of editor one-to-ones at the virtual Romantic Novelists’ Association conference in July so at least I’ll get some feedback. It may be time to re-assess. Interestingly, when I mentioned my new project was planned as a ‘series’ to the book club there were cries of dismay. I explained publishers liked a series. Readers apparently not.  Interesting.

The brief spurt of writing enthusiasm mentioned in my last blog post has died a death as that old spoilsport ‘life’ has got in the way again. Currently I have no kitchen – which in the ‘old normal’ wouldn’t really have been issue. We live on the edge of the New Forest with a plethora of country pubs on our doorstep. When we ordered and planned our new kitchen way back in December we saw ourselves heading out every day to try some new eatery or other, now in the ‘new normal’ we are managing with two electric rings and a mircowave on the dining room table.  We can’t even scrounge meals from friends, and the weather has turned against plans to BBQ.

Ed the cat looking very confused

I sound and currently feel like Mrs Grump. Lack of exercise due to injury has resulted in a serious deficiency of endorphins. Silence from literary agents has caused self-doubt. The house is full of plaster dust and I still can’t make plans to meet my daughters who both live with partners so can’t come to stay overnight in a ‘support bubble’.  Taking a day trip to meet mid-way between Southampton & Cardiff, or Southampton & London is a complete no-no without access to a public loo.

I don’t like the ‘new normal’ I want the old one back, or if not the old one – at least an open toilet in a public park with dog walking and picnic facilities somewhere along the M4 corridor…

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!

Working From Home

As I’m a writer I’m used to social isolation.  In fact, it was being ‘in isolation’ – moving somewhere new, being stuck indoors, not knowing anyone, having far too much time on my hands – that actually kick-started my writing career. I’m not by nature a gregarious person, I’ve always been quite good at keeping myself amused although I do venture out to meet up with friends once or twice a week, and I do go shopping, go to yoga, go swimming and enjoy long walks in the countryside… but to write, I need solitude.

In theory I should be relishing the conditions that have been now been forced upon us. This is the optimum time to complete another novel. But the problem is I’m very easily distracted, and I’ve never been able to concentrate on my ‘work’ when there are other people in the house.

And that’s the difference with this current period of enforced ‘isolation’. There are now other people in the house.

On the odd occasions Mr T has worked from home in the past he has spread himself out over the dining table.  He’s come home to write reports, or simply to get away from the interruptions of the office for the afternoon. However now he’s working full-time from home, the dining table isn’t practical (and I thought I was the messy one).  He has phone calls to make. In fact I’ve realised that when he is in proper working mode that’s all he does all day, make  phone calls. He needs a designated office space. He needs to be behind a closed door.

Fortunately we had just given my study a bit of a re-vamp and ordered a new compact work-station. My much loved well-travelled old desk had been unceremoniously shuffled along the landing to the box room, where it had to be dismantled to fit through the door, and re-assembled with the vague notion of this room becoming Mr T’s man-cave when he retires (and it is quite literally a cave – north facing room, small window with a view of the exterior wall of the extension, very little day-light). Just in the nick of time! The box room is now Mr T’s official place of work.

I do like a bit of background ‘white noise’ when I’m writing. I usually keep the radio on downstairs, and I’m also an open door type person – and that’s the problem. An open door means come-in. An open door means I can hear Mr T’s phone calls (and he tells me off for shouting when I’m on my mobile to my mother!) And there’s also Skype calls. Yes we nearly had had one of those BBC journalist with the Korean family moments when I didn’t realise he was on camera…

I want to crack on with a new project. Word count so far this week – zero. The garden is looking immaculate and my Coronavirus knitting project (a jumper I shall probably never wear simply because of the connotations of its conception) is coming on nicely. I’ve also dusted off the Wii fit and I’m rising up the Yoga Master rankings. We’re only one week in. Three or four I could possibly cope with as long as the restrictions on going out for exercise don’t tighten. I have devised a walking circuit that gets me out for at least an hour a day and can see it extending to longer. But the prospect of twelve weeks…

I sense tough times ahead. Yes I appreciate we are lucky. Mr T can work from home and is still on full-pay. We are both fit and healthy and fingers crossed that’s the way it will stay. But whether my fingers will hit the keyboard is another matter.

It’s no consolation to be told William Shakespeare wrote his best work while in quarantine from the plague. Good for him is all I can say. Clearly Mrs Shakespeare knew her place and kept well out of his way.