Day Trippers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Corona Diaries – Part 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…

I’d Rather Be Writing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My House Move and Other Horror Stories

Bookish things have taken a back seat over the last month or so. Sometimes life just gets in the way. Basically I’ve had a lot of “stuff” going on. If I was a master of self-publicity I would use these episodes – a house-move, car trouble, elderly mother’s deteriorating health, preparations for imminent arrival of daughter, boyfriend and her dog (how is he going to get on with the cat?) from Budapest, to my advantage and continued to Tweet, FB and Instagram about my personal life to raise my social media profile.  People do but when I was knee deep in corrugated cardboard and bubble-wrap the last thing I thought about was dropping a picture onto Instagram – ooh look, another box to unpack. Anyone else have Tupperware that breeds? Some people might find that interesting – personally I don’t and I always judge my social media posts by what I consider something I’d want to read – and this, I realise is where I’ve been going wrong.

This is when I wish I’d used a pen name when writing my books because with a pen-name I could have created a whole new persona who’d be one step removed and could twitter on about anything. Suzi Smith (yes, I name I really did consider adopting) would be ever present on social media with witty comments, and even non-witty comments on every day life. She would be continually posting to keep her presence afloat (this is a tough business and if you don’t float, you sink without trace). Suzi Smith would be putting herself out there and using every situation to her advantage – even in her darkest hour.

Don’t you just love the NHS – mum’s hip operation cancelled due to chronic iron deficiency. Never mind at least we got a free cup of tea and a cheese sandwich after three hours waiting in pre-surgery. LOL!

Now I know why estate agent insisted on using the back entrance when he showed us around the house. Loving our genuine Arts & Craft front door but wish I could get it open…

New house teething problem number 2 – who doesn’t love a soft-close toilet seat. Just wish it would wait until I’d finished doing my business before it starts closing. OUCH!

By the way, have you ordered a copy of my latest book? Just £1.99 on Amazon…

Suzi Smith would not only be the master of self-publicity she’d also  write very commercial women’s fiction; her novels would be highly marketable – and here’s my next dilemma. My faithful old desktop crashed just before our house move. Had I backed up my latest WIP? Well yes, but not since about the 25K word-mark and I last left it at 40K. But now that my precious data has been recovered (at considerable cost, I might add – that’ll teach me to ignore those messages reminding me to back up my PC) I’ve taken another look at Book 3 and decided my efforts to write something a little more commercially orientated a la Suzi Smith are not winning me over, in fact I don’t actually like the hunky all-American boy-gone-bad-but-he-will-redeem-himself hero I purposefully created to attract a wider audience.

Stressing over things we cannot change is wasted energy. Today, I feel like I have emerged from a long dark tunnel. Over the last few weeks it seemed impossible to imagine I’d ever have the time, let alone the inclination, to return to the keyboard.   But now, as watery sunshine filters through the canopy of the enormous Caucasian Wingnut tree at the end of my new garden (it’s a very rare specimen – we viewed the house in winter when it was half the size)  I feel a welcome sense of calm.  

My mum has accepted she’ll never get a new hip unless she eats more greens (slipping into Suzi mode here) just as I’ve accepted she needs a little more looking after than she currently receives – but other carers are available. As always it’s a question of attitude. I’ve decided the dent in my car gives it far more character, as does the crack in the windscreen, the Hungarian Dachshund-cross compatible dog food has been ordered on-line (the cat will love him), and as much as I appreciate the historic merits of my rustic front door, a new one I can open, shut and lock is already on its way.

It’s time to pick up the pieces and crack on. I do want to complete another novel and the answer I believe lies in a good murder. In fact, I’ve decided all-American boy is going to be my first victim. His girlfriend – un-named as yet but I have one in mind – may well be my second.

Poor Suzi, what a horrid way to go...

Failure to Plan

My other half, who has worked for a mega multi-national organisation for more years than is good for him, is fluent in corporate speak. One of his favourites is failure to plan is planning to fail – a little gem about time-management, something which has never been my forte.

My WIP (work in progress) is currently zooming along at high speed but in a very haphazard fashion. This is because I’m a “pantser” – when it comes to writing I fly by the seat of my pants and I make my stories up as I go along – as opposed to a plotter who researches and constructs their novel – chapter by chapter in some cases – before starting.  

A first draft is allowed to be messy, it’s where you write down all your ideas and don’t worry too much about the finer details. However, a plotter will have a plan, while a pantser is constantly going back to join the dots to make their story work.

I can totally understand the need for some prior research if you’re writing a historical novel. I write contemporary fiction and look up my ‘facts’ as I go along. However, not having a cohesive plan does have its drawbacks when it comes to consistency or when a fact no longer fits the plotline. For example, at the very start of my WIP my heroine is attending an event which could only take place in the summer.  Several chapters in I mention something that implies we are in winter – so now I either have to find an alternative event or put her in the southern hemisphere to solve the problem of what she is doing, but there again she has to nip back to the UK pretty swiftly to deal with the initial point of change – the dilemma which sets the story off – so I have to delete the wintery weather, which then has other implications as the story progresses….

Of course a plotter would have little details like this sorted – they’d have a calendar, a timeline and full character profiles and CVs. They’d know exactly what their character was up to and where and when she was doing it.

However, I like watching my characters develop. My current hero has mesmerised my heroine but to be honest he hasn’t mesmerised me yet, therefore he needs more bulk to his personality; he has do something that will have the reader rooting for him. Looking good is not enough; my hero need more than finely chiselled features and few rippling muscles (although that does help). Therefore a fact he has kept hidden about himself until a later chapter will now need to come out sooner to evoke a little sympathy. So back I go again…

At the moment I am going back more than I am going forward, but that’s ok.  I’m more than a third of the way through the book now and I think my idea has legs so it’s worth perserving to see how far it’ll run.

Both hero and heroine have changed names, as have several minor characters. You can’t have too many names that begin with the same letter; sometimes a name that seems to fit at the start, no longer seems appropriate. Nationalities and occupations have changed. The sub-plot which kicked the book off has fallen a little by the wayside and will have to be brought back to the forefront  before the reader forgets all about it, and the secondary plot is  vital, not just to keep the reader engaged during a lull in the main action, but because I want the two separate storylines to come together at the end.  See I have done a bit of planning – even if it’s just in my head. I do know how this book will end – or at least I think I do…

So being a pantser keeps the story fluid and organic. My characters drive the story forward and although leap-frogging backwards and forwards to drop in clues as the story progresses might seem like a less constructive use of time, not having a set plan makes writing fun and unpredictable! I’m just as much in the dark as to what my characters are going to get up to next as I hope my readers will be. A heart attack? I didn’t see that one coming but it so works…

Itchy Feet & Itchy Fingers

Last week we moved house.

Anyone who knows me well will know that I am a bit of a serial house mover.  Stay in one place too long and I get itchy feet.  This was actually our 11th house move in ten years and yes that does mean that in some years we’ve moved more than once (in 2012 we moved three times).  In theory I should be getting good at it. I pack boxes like a professional – but I don’t think we’ve made one house move yet where something hasn’t been mislaid along the way. In this house move – it was most definitely my writing mojo that got lost. The stress of securing a buyer, then the stress of not losing our buyer, and finally the stress of not finding a property we wanted to buy, seemed to cancel out every ounce of creativity. A new novel just wasn’t happening.

We made the decision to go into short term rented, which isn’t without its own inherent problems, and the date of our actual move, dictated by our buyers, couldn’t have been worse – just a week  after the launch date for Your Secret’s Safe With Me.   Just before the launch date I hit on this brilliant new idea for a potential third book. In fact it was so brilliant, I abandoned the stilted 10K words I’d eeked out over the last few months, and wrote a totally new 10K words in a matter of days.

Do you ever have that feeling where an idea is just beyond your grasp? It’s as if you have a glimpse of something but it’s not fully formed, something on the periphery of your vision, and then all of sudden it’s a solid mass, within reach. That was what this rush of creativity felt like. It was also a relief. The muse was back, I wasn’t going to be permanently muted – but then the curse of the house move struck again because boxes needed to be packed; practicalities took over and the tap so recently switched on was turned off again. The flow of words halted.

We’ve been in our new temporary home for a week, but when I sat down at my desk this morning it was an ‘and breathe’ moment. We haven’t done a great deal of unpacking – no point when we’re not planning on staying put. Half the furniture sits in the garage and some has been sacrificed to fend for itself in the garden (although this has created a very useful outdoor writing space). But the one saving grace is that the next move is not yet on the cards, and I can’t wait to pick up where I left off on the WIP. New characters have already appeared in my head, a new plot twist.  My fingers are itching to get tapping away on that broken keyboard (yes something inevitably also gets broken in every house move – this time a foot broke off the keyboard and a leg fell of an IKEA wardrobe. The IKEA wardrobe is now propped up on a brick, the keyboard on a wad of paper.) When we finally get to the dream house it’ll all get repaired – or replaced. The good thing is work on my next novel doesn’t need a dream home before it gets restored. I can start now.

The garden writing retreat!