On Location with Natalie Normann

After all the excitement of my book launch (which was very successful, thank you for asking), I’m very happy to put my feet up this week. Continuing my series of literary travelblogs, I’m delighted to welcome Scandanavian author Natalie Normann who takes us on a journey to her native Norway.

Where I go to be inspired

When my dream to write in English suddenly appeared (it did), I panicked. I had a wonderful editor, a contract for two books and the brief was to write contemporary romance from Norway.

Honestly, there was really only place that would do. My hometown. I love my memories of growing up there, and wanted to see if I could capture that in a story.  Most of my writing career I had avoided it, thinking it would be to small, to local, to far away from everything.

I grew up in Haugesund, a small, but historically important, town on the west-coast. It was called ‘the most isolated town’ in the country, because it’s stuck between two long fjords and a mountain plateau. The easiest way to travel anywhere was by boat.

When I was a teenager, the only interesting thing in town was the library. I knew there was history, but there was no drama, no romance, nothing that caugth my interest. And that was despite the Viking history of the area …

Growing up, I thought Haugesund was all about fish and ships, then oil and oil platforms, cannery factories, herring oil factories (and the horribly smell that came from them). None of it caught my imagination. I didn’t like herring (still don’t), I couldn’t go to sea because I was a girl, and working in the oil industry was for people who liked maths and had a lot more practical abilities than I ever had.

So, shortly before I turned 18, I was off to Uni in Oslo. I was going to study literature, become a proper writer, and never write about my hometown. I achieved the first two, and failed splendidly with the third. My first book was set in Hamburg, the next books were all set in Oslo.

And then I started writing historical romance series, and discovered how interesting and fascinating the history of a small shipping town can be – when you start digging through the local history, getting to know the people who lived there, how they lived – I also discovered how important this little strip of land had been way back when the Vikings roamed the shore.

I’ve asked myself why I find writing about my town so fascinating. I haven’t lived there for many years, but I do think the place a person grows up, imprints on you. It becomes a part of your voice when you write. If you let it.

When I write, I try to use everything that I love about the landscape, but also the history and the people. I don’t write about actual people, but there’s inspiration there too.  Norway used to be a place of hardship, with poverty and nothing much to show for your efforts. It’s changed now, of course, but the culture is still there. And when I do research, I find inspiration in the people I meet from the past. Maybe writers are ghosthunters who don’t kill ghosts, but write about them instead.

Which is why Summer Island and Christmas Island are both set on a small island just outside of my hometown. I loved exploring memories of trips to islands, of the weather, the stunning landscape and all the quirky characters I know are there. Even in real life.

Also, I had so much fun in making Nordic less Noir. Yes, the winters are bleak and cold, but they are so much more than that. And the summers are glorious, even if the water is can be so, so cold.

 About Natalie 

Natalie Normann grew up in a small shipping town on the west-coast in Norway. She wanted to be a writer as soon as she realised that books were written by real people. Her debut novel was published in Norwegian in 1995. Since 2007 she has written Historical Romance in Norwegian and recently published her 66th book. Summer Island and Christmas Island are her first books in English. 

Links to social media and buy links: https://linktr.ee/NatalieNormann

Many thanks to Natalie for taking part and providing an insight into her writing. Norway has always been on my wish list of places to visit, fingers crossed I’ll be able to make it in the not too distant future!

On Location with Marie Laval

This week we’re heading back up north with another Location, Location, Location feature. I’m delighted to welcome author Marie Laval to talk about the inspiration behind her latest novel.

Happy Dreams at Mermaid Cove is the third of my novels set in the Scottish Highlands… and it definitely won’t be the last. I have always felt a very special attraction for Scotland and its wild, romantic and magnificent landscapes. I have only been there twice but my dream would be to travel all around the Highlands, then stay in a cottage near the sea for a few weeks, perhaps even on the Isle of Skye where my story is set – although not in the Arrandale Peninsula, since I made it up!  

Getting the setting just right was essential for my story and I spent a long time reading about different Hebridean islands, including Muck and Rum. One of my favourite books was the fascinating A Drop in the Ocean by Polly Pullar and Lawrence MacEwen – the laird of Muck – about his family, his work and his life on Muck. In the end I had to choose an island big enough and with enough people living there to have a mobile library service and I decided on Skye. However, having never visited the area I didn’t want to get anything wrong, so I invented Arrandale and its Gaelic name of Fearann nan Aislingean Sonathe Land of Happy Dreams.

My inspiration for Happy Dreams at Mermaid Cove was the photo of a yellow mobile library on a deserted Scottish road that author friend Melinda Hammond posted on Facebook at the beginning of 2020. It captured my imagination so much that I started writing a story about it straight away. I knew a little about mobile libraries because a very long time ago, I actually worked in one in the Wigan area for a few weeks, and what fun it was. Of course Wigan and its surroundings are very flat, unlike Arrandale, and there were no Highland cows crossing the road or fierce storms battering the countryside… and no mermaids.

About Marie Laval

Originally from Lyon in France, Marie now lives in the Rossendale Valley in Lancashire. She writes both contemporary and historical romance. Her novels include best selling contemporary romantic suspense novels LITTLE PINK TAXI and ESCAPE TO THE LITTLE CHATEAU, which was shortlisted for the 2021 RNA Jackie Collins Romantic Suspense Awards, as well as A PARIS FAIRY TALE and BLUEBELL’S CHRISTMAS MAGIC. Her historical novel, ANGEL OF THE LOST TREASURE, was published in February 2021, and HAPPY DREAMS AT MERMAID COVE is her latest contemporary romance. Marie also contributes to the best selling Miss Moonshine’s Emporium anthologies together with eight author friends from Authors on the Edge.

Blurb

From the big city to a little yellow mobile library on the Isle of Skye … When Jenna Palmer agrees to the new position of mobile librarian on the tiny Arrandale peninsular of the Isle of Skye, she knows she’s signing up for difficult working conditions and mediocre wages. But Jenna needs to get away, and a little yellow mobile library called Buttercup could be her escape to happier dreams …
However, whilst Jenna can get to grips with foggy island roads, local mermaid legends and even big purple monsters, she never expected to have to contend with a boss as grumpy as Daniel McGregor, or a young book lover as enthusiastic as his niece, Katrina.
Arrandale might represent Jenna’s safe port in a storm, but could she and Buttercup also become a beacon of hope to Daniel, Katrina and the entire island community?

HAPPY DREAMS AT MERMAID COVE is available as an ebook on Amazon and Kobo.

Many thanks to Marie for taking part. The idea of working in a mobile library on a remote island is very appealing, although I definitely wouldn’t want to come too close to the Highland cattle!

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!

On Location with Sharon Booth

While I recover with my feet up after my epic hike around the Isle of Wight, I’m delighted to hand over this week’s post to author Sharon Booth. Continuing our locations theme, Sharon talks about a beautiful part of North Yorkshire which is very close to her heart.

The Whole of the Moon, my latest release, is the fourth and final book in the Kearton Bay series. Kearton Bay is a fictional village on the North Yorkshire coast, but it’s strongly inspired by the real-life village of Robin Hood’s Bay, just a few miles south of Whitby.

Robin Hood’s Bay was somewhere I discovered when I was fourteen and staying in a holiday cottage near Whitby with my parents and siblings. I was enchanted by this pretty village, with its twisty cobbled streets, narrow passageways, chocolate box cottages and gurgling beck.

The stone or whitewashed walls and red roofs of the buildings are a stunning sight to behold as you gaze down the steep hill which leads to the seafront. It’s a beautiful walk down to the beach — not so great when you’re struggling back up, though!

Robin Hood’s Bay has a long history of smuggling, and it’s rumoured that a bale of silk could get from the beach to the top of the hill without ever seeing daylight, thanks to the secret passages and tunnels beneath the houses. It was bound to stir my imagination.

In the third book in the series, Once Upon a Long Ago, I used those passages and tunnels as part of the story. It was set around the beautiful Elizabethan Kearton Hall, but I’ll admit that the real-life inspiration for that house comes from Burton Agnes Hall, which is actually near Driffield, in the East Riding of Yorkshire. It’s one of my favourite stately homes, and I visited it lots of times to get a good idea of the layout and figure out where the entrance to the secret passage would be.

Kearton Bay is one of several fictional towns and villages I’ve created in that part of North Yorkshire, which make up my book world. Places like the market town of Helmston (which is based on Helmsley), Moreton Cross, Bramblewick and Farthingdale are also mentioned in the books, and they’ve featured in other series, too. In Saving Mr Scrooge, one of my Moorland Heroes books, for example, the heroine lives in Moreton Cross and the hero in Farthingdale. Bramblewick spawned an entire series of its own.

I refer regularly to Whitby and York, as I feel that anchors my fictional settings in the real world, and makes it easier for readers to imagine where my characters live and what sort of landscape they work in.

The heroine of The Whole of the Moon, Rhiannon, lives in The Hare and Moon pub, which stands on the seafront of Kearton Bay. It’s an old, whitewashed inn, with a red roof and stunning views over the North Sea. In real life, there’s a pub which stands on the very same spot, though it’s not as old as The Hare and Moon, as it started life in 1828 as The New Inn. Today it’s called The Bay Hotel and marks the end point of Alfred Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay.

I love it when readers recognise Robin Hood’s Bay from the descriptions in my books. I don’t work for the tourist board, and I’m not on commission, I swear, but I would recommend a trip to this picturesque spot on the North Yorkshire coast. It’s absolutely beautiful and I love it — even more so now I picture it as the home of my characters. When I visit these days, I can’t help but look out for a glimpse of Rhiannon, Rose, Eliza or Lexi. We can but dream!

Author Bio

Sharon Booth writes uplifting fiction with a touch of magic. Happy endings are guaranteed for her main characters, though she likes to make them work for it.
Sharon is a member of the Society of Authors, the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and an Authorpreneur member of the Alliance of Independent Authors.
She loves Doctor Who, Cary Grant movies, hares, and horses – not necessarily in that order.
Sharon grew up in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and the Yorkshire coast and countryside feature strongly in her novels.

Her stories are set in pretty villages and quirky market towns, by the sea or in the countryside, and feature lots of humour, romance, and friendship. If you love gorgeous, kind heroes, and heroines who have far more important things on their minds than buying shoes, you’ll love her books.

For all Sharon’s latest news sign up to her newsletter. All subscribers get a free and exclusive novella, and there’s a chance to win a prize every month!

Sharon now has a readers’ group on Facebook where readers of her books are very welcome to chat to her and to each other.

You can visit her website for information, or find her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as other social media sites. For all links visit:

https://linktr.ee/sharonboothwriter

You can buy The Whole of the Moon at https://getbook.at/kb4

Many thanks to Sharon for taking part. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Robin’s Hoods Bay and Whitby for the first time a couple of years ago and it really is a spectacular part of the country. Sharon’s post has definitely whetted my appetite for a return visit.

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

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.

Holiday Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends in the North

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

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

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

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

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Shakespeare’s birthplace

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

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

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

Beatrix Potter’s Garden

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

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

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

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

We will be back!

A Postcard from 2018

Everybody is doing a big fat quiz of the year, but here’s my personal postcard from 2018 – edited highlights of what has been a rollercoaster ride.

January – The excitement of starting a year knowing I had just signed my first publishing contract is offset by panicking about packing for a six week trip to Australia and New Zealand. How many pairs of pants…

February – Visit Australia and New Zealand. Too many wow moments to mention and definitely too many pants in my suitcase, but fulfilling a childhood ambition of cuddling a koala pretty much tops the highlights list. I know it’s not ‘PC’ but the opportunity was there…

March – Coming home from Australia and discovering we had missed the Beast from the East and all the fuss about the snow. First steps into the magical world of publishing as I begin working with a professional editor on The Theatre of Dreams.

April – Discovering two short stories I’d submitted to Writing Magazine competitions had been shortlisted in the same month.  Another successful competition entry at Hampshire Writers Society for the first 300 words of a commercial women’s fiction novel, is actually mushrooming into a commercial women’s fiction novel. Could this be Book Number Two? Yes it could. Change name of book from competition title of Marrying Mother to Your Secret’s Safe With Me after all sorts of plots twists infiltrate the original idea.

May –The rush is on to finish Your Secret’s Safe With Me so it’s out of the way before the launch of The Theatre of Dreams.

June – Choosing my book cover, writing blurb and dedications and then coming home from a week’s holiday in Spain and finding a paperback copy of The Theatre of Dreams waiting for me on the doorstep.

July – How do I launch a book? Surely if I just throw a few tweets out there, chat about it on Facebook, add a few Instagrams, tell a few friends…that’ll work, won’t it? The first Amazon reviews are in and they’re very good – but they are all written by people who know me.  Fulfil another personal ambition and visit Hampton Court Flower Show on the hottest day of the year.  We all wilt and have to be revived by large doses of Pimms. I do, however, gather ideas for a winter knitting project if the writing career plummets.

AugustThe Theatre of Dreams is officially launched into the world and the euphoria soon ends with a look at my sales figures.  How do you make one book stand out against so many millions of others? Maybe I should have done a bit more tweeting and making friends on social media. Maybe I should have just paid out big bucks for a professional book promotion service.  Maybe I need a much bigger family. It’s a steep learning curve but on the plus side more reviews are in and they are not written by people who know me…

September –  We set sail on a two-week cruise to the Baltics.  After traipsing through a mere smidgeon of the 22km of corridors at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg it’s easy to see why the Russians had a revolution.  It’s jaw-dropping opulence in the extreme. Publisher accepts Book Two.

October – Do what we we’ve been meaning to do since we returned from the Netherlands twelve months previously – put house on the market and plan an escape to the country. Yes we are that couple of empty-nesters looking to downsize to a house with sweeping views in rural isolation but close to all local amenities and obviously we still need something big enough for all our stuff, and our children’s stuff that didn’t leave the nest with them…

November – Onwards and upwards to conquer the Everest sized mountain of book marketing and self-promotion.  Meanwhile, start edits on Your Secret’s Safe With Me.

December – First author talk, nobody fell asleep which I take to be a good sign.  Continue to try and make self more alluring and interesting on social media. House sold – first challenge of 2019 will be to find a new one that ticks all our 101 boxes. Edits complete on Your Secret’s Safe With Me and launch date set for 18 February 2019.  Who’d have thought, this time last year…

Book Links:

The Theatre of Dreams

Your Secret’s Safe With Me

 

Many thanks to everyone who has supported my writing journey and also to my fellow authors who have guested on this blog during the year, either talking about their favourite comfort reads or their own magical books.

Wishing you all a very happy and prosperous 2019.