Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Once More Unto The Bookstore (or, how I accidentally ended up with a book blog)

I've always loved books. I started with my mother's Enid Blyton collection and some great big books of fairy tales from the 1920s/30s, which I originally believed had belonged to my father but now I think they were probably my grandmother's. (You can read more about the books which influenced me as a writer here.)

I devoured every book I could find, some quite unsuitable for my age; I read Shirley Conran and Jackie Collins while I was still at school. On one occasion I remember borrowing a book from the school library and taking it back the next day, and the teacher refusing to believe I could have possibly read it so quickly. I felt quite offended!

Of course the thing about reading a good book is that I immediately want to tell everyone about it - how great it was and why they really should read it themselves right now. Although the drawback to that is I'd end up having to loan out my own precious copy and, as you know, I've never been great at sharing. The other drawback is that most of the people I know in real life don't read the kind of books I like. So here I am, reading all these great books and having no one to tell ...

During the summer one of my Twitter friends, Terry Tyler, told me about her idea to encourage people who would not normally write a book review to post one on Amazon. You didn't need your own book blog, or be any kind of professional or regular reviewer, to take part. To help spread the word, the reviews were hashtagged on Twitter as #August Reviews and promoted by other book bloggers, including Rosie Amber. And I gave Terry a whole load of reasons why I couldn't take part:

(1) I'm a writer.
(2) I know too many other writers. 
(3) I could never give another writer a one star review (which I might be likely to do, as I'm far too honest for my own good).
(4) I've never been able to get on with Goodreads.
(5) I love reading books and having to write a review afterwards would be too much like doing homework.

Ironically, last month I needed to teach myself Wordpress for another project. I had to set up a new blog and blog about something. What could I blog about? Books, obviously!

September turned into October and I went through my Kindle to dig out all the spooky books I could find, intending to read them in the weeks leading up to Halloween. Mainly because I have a really bad habit of downloading cheap and free books, and then not reading them. (Any author reading this, and thinking of running a free promotion, bear that in mind - people are more like to read your book if they've paid for it!) 

As I read each book I wrote a review - and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. When the Wordpress project came to an end I was loathe to let my new blog go. So I moved it over to Blogger and carried on for a bit, just to see if I could.

If you want to check out the new blog, it's called Once More Unto The Bookstore. I'm only reviewing books I've enjoyed and that I've bought myself, because I'm a writer not a book blogger. If you're interested to know what I'm reading, I'd love to see you over there. And if not, this blog will still carry on as usual with me talking about myself.

Some things never change.



Related Posts:


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Images Copyright: Shutterstock (girl reading) and Fotolia (book)

Monday, 8 August 2016

8 Tips for Writing in Cafés

It's the summer holidays, and while my children are no longer at that age where they expect to be entertained every minute of the day, there is that expectation that mum will be the one driving them to where they expect to be entertained every minute of the day. Which is how I found myself working from a café for two mornings last week, instead of my nice snug study.



It certainly brought back memories. When the children were younger I would regularly take them to one of those indoor play centres. They would go crazy sliding through twisty plastic tunnels and getting lost in ball pits, and I'd drink lots of coffee and write. Much of Breathless was written this way - but it did help that I'm the kind of person who can screen out background noise as I work!

But even I was surprised at how much I managed to achieve last week. I'm not sure if it was the coffee, a different environment or just being away from the Internet - probably the latter! So if you feel the need to get away for a few hours, just to write, here are my tips:

(1) Choose a café where you are already known, or one that's part of a large chain where you'll blend in with everyone else.

(2) Go during a quiet time so you're not seat hogging, and sit in a quiet area so you're less likely to be disturbed or asked if you're writing a book - although this is a good opportunity to hone your elevator pitch!

(3) Order plenty of drinks to keep the staff happy enough that they won't turf you out, but don't go mad because it'll get expensive. Preferably, use a café that has a loyalty card scheme - after a few visits you'll get a free drink!



(4) Sit facing the room unless you want people reading your draft sex scenes over your shoulder. There's no greater temptation than an open laptop. 

(5) If you're the kind of person who can't write in a noisy environment, try revising or proof-reading instead. In the old days I used to cart around a huge A4 lever arch file with my manuscript in it, now I copy my work onto a Kindle. Alternatively, just print out a few chapters.



(6) Consider using a (shock horror) notebook and pen. A notebook doesn't need charging, you don't have to worry about it being damaged and it's far more portable. But take more than one pen, in case it runs out, and ensure that it's comfortable to write with.

(7) Don't expect to write perfect prose. In fact, don't expect to write anything at all. Start off writing notes, like a long synopsis. With any luck you'll find the notes will get longer and turn into snatches of dialogue or description and then whole scenes. Before you know it, you'll have drafted an entire chapter.

(8) But if you find writing fiction in a café doesn't work for you, try something else - outline a new story, or write a blog post or article instead.

And if all else fails, get out your camera. You never know when all those Instagrammed coffee shots are going to come in handy ...




Related Posts:

A Room of One's Own
Getting Noted
My Writing Process
Seeking Inspiration
Where I Write (written for Novelistas Ink)


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Monday, 25 July 2016

5 Random Things From My Desk

For this week's blog post I thought I'd write something completely different.    

I should be writing my new novel but yesterday afternoon I ended up tidying my desk instead (expert procrastinator, remember?) and, along with a forgotten bar of chocolate (still within sell-by date: yay!), I found a selection of random objects that to anyone else might seem totally weird.


Reno from Final Fantasy

I won Reno in a competition organised by one of my favourite authors, Anne Stuart. Anne used Reno as inspiration for one of her own characters in a book called Fire and Ice. She's blogged about it here. He usually sits on my tub of paperclips. I love him.

I've also got a Ninja Minion, a glow-in-the-dark polar bear and a large pink frog wearing a crown, but we won't go into that.


Hotel Business Card

This is an advert for the Waterton Park Hotel, where my husband stayed about a year or so ago. He had the  idea the photo would appeal to me because it's of a Palladian house built on an island in the middle of a lake, and he thought I might want to put it in one of my books! It was one of those really strange coincidences because he was unaware I'd just created a similar house (Hartfell) in Trust Me Lie - although in my book the house is a very modern one.

Postcard of Marilyn Monroe

I found this old postcard when I was sorting through some old photographs. It was sent to me over 30 years ago by my school-friend Tracey. She had recently moved away and would write to me every week with a Marilyn Monroe postcard - one of my favourite actresses. I kept all the postcards but this one somehow came adrift from the others and now sits on my desk.



Packet of Forget-Me-Not Seeds

If my friend Sophie Claire is reading this, she will not be pleased with me! These seeds were part of a goody bag from the launch of her book, My Forget-Me-Not Ex. Part of the goody bag included a cute little terracotta pot to plant them in, so I had no excuse not to do so.

Sorry, Sophie! I'll sow them soon, honest!




The English Housewife in the Seventeenth Century
by Christina Hole (1953)

I have lots of modern paperbacks piled up on my desk but this is a book picked up on my most recent trip to a second-hand book fair. I love second-hand book fairs, particularly the really old books with interesting inscriptions and pretty bindings.

But I bought this book because I love history but I don't know much about the seventeenth century other than the events of the Civil War. Here's an extract:

"Cottage women could not afford many candles, and for all ordinary purposes they relied upon rushlights which they made themselves ... The rushes grew wild in the water-meadows and under hedges, and the grease in which they were coated came from the scourings of the frying pan and the cooking pot. They were gathered in summer while they were green and kept in water until the housewife was ready to make the lights. Then the green rind was peeled off, leaving a narrow strip along one side. The next step was  to bleach the reeds by putting them out of doors for two or three nights and letting them soak in the dew, and afterwards they were dried in the sun. Then they were laid in long iron pans filled with melted grease, and when they were thoroughly coated and dried, they were hung in bark containers on the wall."

All that trouble to go to when you consider all we do now is reach out and click on an electric light!


Now, what weird and wonderful things are lurking on your desk?

My desk: The tidy version
(for the untidy version you need to click here)


Related Posts

Where I Write (for Novelistas Ink)


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Monday, 27 June 2016

Trust Me I Lie (or, the true confessions of a writer on social media ... )

I've never been great at lying. If you're worried that your bum looks big in whatever you're wearing, I'm not the person to ask for an opinion. I'm also a blurter, so I've probably let you know before you've even thought to ask. Or, as my husband puts it, 'Louise, you have the subtlety of a breeze block'. It's one of the reasons I prefer the written word. I can go back and check how many times I've put my foot in it before I hit send/post.

Not me, obviously
(I need to have a nice photo here to illustrate
the post when it's auto-shared on social media)

But being a writer means I get to lie for a living. All those characters and events in my books? Totally made up. (You probably guessed that, right?) What a great life I have, drifting around in my pyjamas, drinking endless cups of coffee (actually, it's decaff), waiting for the muse to strike - when I'm not down the pub with my mates celebrating the launch of another book ... 

Me with Novelista Trisha Ashley
Yeah, right. 

Don't believe everything you read on social media, particularly anything tagged #amwriting. Because, obviously, I can't be writing if I'm on Twitter. And if I do have a writing day planned, just putting #amwriting in my status is enough to put a curse on it. I'll have some kind of domestic disaster and, instead of actually writing, I'll be lying in a foamy puddle trying to unblock my washing machine. Or one of my children will get sick (and then we'll all get sick), or something important will drop off my car and I'll have to get it fixed.

My real writing life is opening my laptop at 7.00 am (or earlier) and thinking 'I'm sure I was only here a couple of hours ago', and I probably was if I was on a deadline. My real writing life is having my laptop crash three times while I'm trying to do an essential update to my website. My real writing life is struggling with the tenth rewrite of the chapter-from-hell when I have the kind of migraine that I could quite cheerfully drive a stake through my head if I thought it would help. 

My not-quite-so-real writing life is smugly announcing on Facebook that I've written over 10,000 words that day and isn't that brilliant? Of course it is, I usually only manage 1,000 a day if I'm luckyBut some poor would-be writer will see that update and think I'm writing that amount every day. The same would-be writer who sees a photo of me at a book launch and thinks what a wonderful, glamorous life writers lead. (See puddle story). 

What else do I lie about? Well, there's my bio for a start. I used to have a beautiful view of Snowdon (famous Welsh mountain) from my window - but then we moved house eighteen months ago and now I have a beautiful view of the village bus stop instead. Doesn't have quite the same ring, does it? Although I can probably still see Snowdon if I go into my bedroom, stand on my dressing table and lean out of the window.

Beautiful view of Snowdon!
(one of those blue smudges ... )
Then there is the photo of my desk, which accompanies all those 'Where I Write' blog posts. All nicely tidied ...


Here's what it actually looks like right now (it usually looks worse). But I did dust first - I don't want you thinking I'm a total slob.


And then there's the photo of me, with make-up, looking all glamorous with my hair straightened to an inch of its life by a professional hairdresser. (When I try it, I just burn my fingers).


And here's how I look the rest of the time (taken yesterday on the webcam).


Yes, I really do look that harassed. And this is the first time I've used the webcam, hence the pained expression. And I hate having my photo taken.

So there you go, I'm a writer on social media.

Trust me, I lie.


Related Posts:



Trust Me I Lie is also the title of my latest book (see what I did there?)

When Milla Graham arrives in the picture-perfect village of Buckley, she tells everyone she’s investigating the murder of her mother who died eighteen years ago. But there’s already one Milla Graham buried in the churchyard and another about to be found dead in the derelict family mansion.

Obviously she’s lying.

Detective Inspector Ben Taylor has no life outside the police force. Even his own colleagues think he’s a boring stick-in-the-mud. But now he’s met Milla and his safe, comfortable life has been turned upside down. She’s crashed his car, emptied his wallet and is about to get him fired.

He knows she’s a liar because she cheerfully told him so.

Unless she’s lying about that too …


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Photo credits: Girl with fingers crossed: Shutterstock

Friday, 24 June 2016

New Book: Trust Me I Lie

In which I talk about the inspiration behind my latest novel.


Writing a book is like baking a cake. There is not just the one idea (ingredient) but several, all coming together to create the story. I had the original idea many years ago, while chatting to the crime writer Jessie Keane about the plot of her book The Make, in which the main character's brother ends up in a coma. And for some reason (I have no idea why - that's just how my brain works!) I thought of the classic fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty.

I've always loved fairy stories, particularly those with a darker edge, although I still prefer them to have a traditional happy ending! I blame my grandparents, who bought me two huge books of fairy stories when I was about six years old. Although I still own them, they are in a crate in storage so I can't show you a photo but oh, I did love them! I also owned the Ladybird versions, particularly Cinderella, which I loved because she got to go to the ball three times, in a succession of spectacular dresses. Yes, I know, I'm shallow: what can I say?

So, Sleeping Beauty + ballgown obsession = girl being found dead 'as though sleeping' in vintage Dior. This, for writers, is also known as the light-bulb moment!

The next ingredient (the location) popped into my head during one of my walks through the Welsh countryside near my home, where I stumbled upon a ruined mansion called Baron Hill, which looked as though it had come straight out of Sleeping Beauty. Although built in 1618 by Sir Richard Bulkeley, it was rebuilt in the late 1700s in a Neo-Palladian style. It was damaged by fire around the time of WW2 and has been left to become derelict. It is a very sad-looking place and, although there has been talk of restoring it, I feel it is far too gone to save it.



 
Although I've 'borrowed' part of the history of Baron Hill - built in the 1600s, and destroyed by fire - Baron Hill has been abandoned for far longer than the house in my novel.

When I started writing Trust Me I Lie I decided I was going to call it Something Wicked, but the more I wrote, the more I realised the title didn't fit. I'd also had the idea for a historical backstory, similar to my novel Breathless, but I soon realised that didn't work either. So I split the story into two books: the first one became my novella Something Wicked, the second became Trust Me I Lie. If you're a writer, I don't recommend doing this - I recommend properly planning your novel in the first place! (See my post, How I Write). But I've learned from this, and hopefully won't make the same mistake again. (Knowing me, I'll just make a whole load of new ones ... ) 

And the last ingredient? I moved to a village just outside Llandudno, where I came across these curious statues dotted around the town. Known as the Alice in Wonderland Trail, they reference the fact that Lewis Carroll's inspiration for Alice (Alice Liddell) once lived in the town. (And I've blogged about that here).



Any other completely random facts? Well, the scene where my heroine, Milla, finds two strange men trashing her sitting room is based on a nightmare I once had! And anyone who's read Nemesis might recognise Milla's apartment - it's the same one Alicia lived in before her marriage. And finally, if you want to see more photos of Baron Hill and the things which inspired me, be sure to check out my Pinterest board!

I hope you enjoy the book!

Trust Me I Lie

When Milla Graham arrives in the picture-perfect village of Buckley she tells everyone she’s investigating the murder of her mother, who died eighteen years ago. But there’s already one Milla Graham buried in the churchyard and another about to be found dead in the derelict family mansion.

Obviously she’s lying.

Detective Inspector Ben Taylor has no life outside the police force. Even his own colleagues think he’s a boring stick-in-the-mud. But now he’s met Milla and his safe, comfortable life has been turned upside down. She’s crashed his car, emptied his wallet and is about to get him fired.

He knows she’s a liar because she cheerfully told him so.

Unless she’s lying about that too …



Related Posts:

Ten Authors Who Influenced Me (or, you are what you read)


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Monday, 16 May 2016

A Walk on the Not So Wild Side: Bodnant Garden

When we first moved to Wales we lived just around the corner from the beautiful Bodnant Garden, and would visit practically every weekend. I loved it because of the extensive woodland walks, the stunning view of Snowdonia, and the beautiful rhododendrons, which reminded me of Exbury Gardens in the New Forest (Hampshire) near to where I grew up - and the inspiration for the area when my books are set. So last weekend, when the sun was out, we decided to go back and see if anything had changed.


The house at Bodnant
Bodnant Garden was created when the estate was bought in 1874 by Henry Davis Pochin. At that time it consisted of Victorian shrubberies and a sloping lawn, and the house, built in 1792, was typically Georgian. Henry enlarged and altered the house, and created what was to become the famous laburnum arch.


The laburnum wasn't out,
so this photo is from a previous visit!

But it was his grandson, Henry McLaren (the second Lord Aberconway), who would go on to develop the garden over the next fifty years, including designing the series of Italian style terraces overlooking the mountains.

Below is a photo of the Lily Terrace, named for the water lilies which bloom from June to September. It was designed around two existing cedar trees, which had been planted in 1875.



The Lily Terrace and Snowdonia
(taken from the Croquet Terrace above)

Below the Lily Terrace is the Canal Terrace, with an open air stage at one end and The Pin Mill at the other.


A glimpse of the 'stage' from the Lily Terrace above

The Pin Mill and the 'canal'

The Pin Mill was originally built as a garden house in about 1730 at Woodchester in Gloucestershire. Later it was used as a factory for making pins and then as a tannery. By 1938 it was in a very dilapidated state. Lord Aberconwy bought it and had it transferred to Bodnant.

The Pin Mill

The interior

From the Canal Terrace we took the path descending through the Rockery to the River Hiraethlyn, which is bordered on each side by the Dell. The conifers here are massive (over 100 feet) and were planted in 1876.


The Old Mill 

Since our previous visit, the garden has now been extended beyond the waterfall and Mill Pond to include Far End and the Skater's Pond, with this cute little island in the middle. (That's going in a book!)

Skater's Pond

Tadpoles!

Finally, on the way back up the hill towards the house, we passed 'The Poem', overlooking the Dell and built by Henry Pochin as the family mausoleum.


The Poem


Sources & Links:

Bodnant Garden (National Trust)
Bodnant Estate Website


Related Posts:

A Walk on the Wild Side & the Lonely Knight
Walking the Walls of Conwy


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Tuesday, 3 May 2016

I Need a Hero

This week I'm talking about the kind of hero I love to write.  

When I first began writing, my heroes were always tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed and had a good sense of humour - mainly because I was married to a man who is tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed and has a good sense of humour - and I still am! But I soon realised it's not such a great idea to try and shoehorn one's husband into every story - he won't always fit. Besides, I would hate to think any of my heroes could be taken out of the environment of their own book and carelessly plonked into another with only a change of name and hair colour. I've worked hard to ensure they all have their own very different flaws, quirks and problems, which is why I love them - and why the basic idea for my stories has to come before I create them (see My Writing Process).

Not me, or my husband, or my house
(which is lucky, as they seem to have a serious case of woodworm)
For example, in my current work-in-progress I wanted to give both hero and heroine a whole heap of trouble relating to their respective (and very eccentric) families. The hero's way of dealing with this is to studiously ignore the fact he even has a problem, whereas the heroine is planning on being a little more proactive - maybe too proactive. And, because I'm evil, obviously all their best efforts to avoid a crisis are about to go horribly wrong. It sounds simple, doesn't it? Characters creating themselves and the story writes itself? The reality is not quite as easy as that.

So what kind of heroes do I like writing best?

I'm very fond of the stranger-comes-to-town-and-is-he-all-he-seems hero (pretty much like any western you've ever watched). Why? Well, think about when you meet someone for the first time, and they tell you their name, and maybe a bit about their job or their family. What if it's all a pack of lies? Or, worse, they're pretending to be someone else entirely?


I also find anti-heroes fun to write, but not necessarily more popular with readers. If obnoxious, he has to have some redeeming qualities or he'll come across as a complete arse - or, in romance terms, an 'alpha-hole'. In Why Do Fools Fall in Love I had two possible heroes (going on the principle of why have one when you can have two): the wise-cracking Luke and the tortured-by-his-horrible-childhood Ross. (Spoiler alert). Guess which one my readers liked best? Luke. And why was that? Because Ross had one (and, as it turned out, almost fatal) flaw: he treated women horribly, including the heroine. And by the time he'd realised his mistake it was too late. So he'll have to put in a lot of work if he wants to find his HEA.

If I have a hero-with-a-tragic-past, like Greg in Breathless, he's got to have a very good reason for the whole brooding mysteriously thing, unless he wants the heroine to mistake his hidden depths for basic sulking. In Greg's case he felt responsible for the death of his sister. Bryn in Nemesis has a similar background but, as his personality is more proactive, he feels he has far more important things to do than stakeout a graveyard and look moody - like solve his cousin's murder.


As most of my books do have a murder to solve, I've had heroes who've been police detectives or investigative journalists. It's easier that way; the police are very picky about who they let walk all over their crime scenes. I also like using characters who are celebrities: Luke in Why Do Fools Fall in Love, Zac in Breathless and the heroes of my Proposal series, because they come with their own (usually self-inflicted) set of problems.

I don't describe a hero's physical appearance much beyond hair and eye colour. This is deliberate. I know what the character looks like inside my head, but I want the reader to do some of the work too. Too much detail from me will read like a 'most wanted' poster. And, by basing a character on a real person - a hot actor, for example - I'd be assuming that because I find a certain type of man attractive, my reader would too. Surely it's better to let them cast their own hero? The other danger to casting a famous actor as the hero of a novel is that (assuming I've never met him in real life) I'd be reusing the character he is most famous for playing rather than the man himself - a bit like fan fiction. I'd rather be original. And I do my best to ensure my heroes are too.


Perfectly Imperfect (Why rockstars make the best romantic heroes)


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Photo copyright: Fotolia