Wednesday 31 December 2014

Let It Snow ...

Most of my books are set during the summertime. I write romances and it's easier to get your characters out of their clothes when the weather is hot; you have to be a lot more creative when the temperature plummets! But I've always wanted to write a book set in winter, with frost and ice and lots of snow. I expect this is because of the kind of books I liked to read as a child, such as The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Can there be anything more magical than stepping through an old wardrobe and into a world where it's always winter?

I'm also a huge fan of fairy tales, and there is one part of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe which always reminds me of Hans Christian Andersen's Snow Queen. In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Edmund meets the White Witch in her sleigh and she enchants him with Turkish delight. Whereas in The Snow Queen, Kai falls under the witch's spell when she kisses him after he's hitched his sled to her sleigh (that's not an euphemism!). There's probably a moral in there somewhere, about keeping well clear of women in sleighs, but what struck me about both stories is how the snow is considered to be A Bad Thing. In Narnia it is 'always winter and never Christmas', and in The Snow Queen Kai becomes obsessed with snowflakes. And this contributed to my inspiration for Something Wicked.

I grew up on the south coast of England where we never saw much snow. I'd watch movies and read books where the characters had snowball fights, went sledging and got snowed in - it sounded like a lot of fun! The first time it snowed properly I was thirteen and I went completely mad. I built a whole family of snowmen and even an igloo for them to live in. The next time it snowed I was a lot older and supposed to be going on a hot date with a new boyfriend. I was totally unimpressed - both with the snow and, as it turned out, with the new boyfriend.  Then I married and moved to Wales, where it seemed to snow every winter.

Our first house was in the Conwy Valley and there was a hill directly behind it, which turned out to be perfect for sledging! When you see other people sledging, and think what fun it looks, it's easy to forget the slightly more important stuff. Sledges don't have brakes and sometimes seem specifically designed to dump you upside down in a snow drift, or worse still, a freezing cold stream. Being caught in a blizzard is pretty much the same as being caught in a heavy downpour, except you end up being half-frozen as well as absolutely soaked. And being snowed in isn't quite so romantic when the pipes begin to freeze over. Lots of inspiration there for a story about snow, right?

Hmm ...

Writers are always told 'write what you know'. Personally, I think it's a lot more fun to make it all up! When I began writing Something Wicked I thought I'd be able to put everything I knew about snow into my story. Except I didn't. There isn't any sledging. No one gets snowed in and the pipes are just fine. But I remembered how magical it is to watch the snow fall, to see those flakes whirl about, to watch patterns form and for all kinds of things to take shape.

And how, if you stare at the falling snow for long enough, you can almost imagine ...

Something Wicked

Katrina Davenport has opened a coffee shop and bookstore in the notorious Raven’s Cottage, once the home of a 17th century witch known as Magik Meg. The locals have told Kat stories, of how the cottage is haunted by the witch and her demon lover, but Kat doesn’t believe in witches, or ghosts, or anything that goes bump in the dead of night. Every strange thing that happened since she moved in must have a perfectly logical explanation.

Unfortunately it doesn’t really matter what Kat believes, because something wicked has returned to Raven’s Cottage.

And this time it’s come for Kat.

To read an extract, click here:

Something Wicked: Behind the Scenes

Related Posts:

Beyond the Bridge: A post about Tu Hwnt i'r Bont, the inspiration for Raven’s Cottage.
Music: Wings to the Mind: How music inspires me and influences my writing.
Dear Diary: How I love using diaries to tell a story

Sunday 7 December 2014

Where I Write

As I found out last month, I don’t need a room of my own in which to write. I can write anywhere. It doesn’t mean I have to like it though! I love having my own study – and it is definitely a study – ‘office’ sounds far too much like work. Writing can be very hard work but it’s also the best job in the world. Make stuff up for a living? What’s not to love?

So, welcome to my world! I’ve not written much here yet, as I’ve been too busy moving house. I don’t close the door, unless the writing is going badly. I’m incredibly nosy and I like to know what is going on elsewhere in the house. Having said that, I always listen to music while I work, to drown out background noise. I create playlists to help me get into the right (write?) frame of mind and I also have mood boards on Pinterest – but you can read more about my actual writing process here.

I write on a laptop. It enables me to work anywhere. I can touch-type as fast as I can talk – and believe me, I can talk very fast. If pushed, I can also write using paper and pen, although my handwriting is appalling – even I have trouble reading it back.

The box on the left of my desk contains recent issues of trade magazines – Writing MagazineThe AuthorRomance Matters and The Bookseller. The red box is my ‘pending’ tray. The action figure perched on the edge of the pending tray is Reno, my good luck charm. Reno is a character from a video game called Final Fantasy but he’s also a character in one of my favourite books, Fire and Ice by Anne Stuart. I won him in one of her competitions.

I am a terrible hoarder and hate throwing anything away. I collect mugs, and when they get broken I reuse them to store my pens. The white one with the crest on it is from Hampshire Constabulary, where I used to work as a civilian admin officer – this is why my characters are often police officers.

Unfortunately I don’t have room in my study for all my books – they live in plastic crates elsewhere in the house. This is probably a good thing; I’m the kind of person who can’t be trusted to be left alone with a book. The only books on my study shelves are there for reference.

I also rely heavily on my Kindle Fire for work. I edit on it when I’m out and about, and I use it for catching up with emails, social networking and blogging. It also contains over 1,000 books. I know because I counted them – and yes, I have read most of them! So if I should suddenly go quiet, I’m sure you’ll be able to guess what I’m up to …

Read More:

Sunday 23 November 2014

A Grave Obsession

It's weird the kind of thing that can inspire a blog post. Last week I found myself in Conwy*, a beautiful historic town close to where I live. Unfortunately, much of Conwy doesn't seem to open before 10.00 am, including the coffee shops, which is why I found myself walking around the churchyard.

To anyone who doesn't know me, this might sound slightly peculiar - but I've always loved churchyards. There is the general spookiness of them, for which I blame watching too much Scooby Doo in my formative years. They are also packed with history and very inspiring to a creative type; I think all but one of my books has a scene set in a graveyard.

The Church of St Mary's and All Saints is located in the centre of Conwy, entirely surrounded by 18th century houses. It has become my habit to take short cuts through the churchyard to avoid the tourists and traffic on the streets. Considering the location, the churchyard is incredibly peaceful and I sometimes wonder if the tourists even realise it's there.

This church was originally founded in the 12th Century as the church of the Cistercian Abbey of Aberconwy, and was the burial place of many of the princes of Gwynedd, including Llywelyn the Great. After King Edward I conquered Wales and built Conwy Castle, the abbey was forced to move to Maenan in the Conwy Valley - and they took  Llywelyn's remains with them. (Llywelyn's body was later moved again to the Gwydir Chapel in Llanrwst, where the empty stone sarcophagus can still be seen, but that's a whole other blog post.)

As you can see from the photo above, the majority of the gravestones in this churchyard are made from slate which, due to the close proximity of the quarries in Snowdonia, was in huge supply in the 19th century, making this grave (below) stand out in particular.

In 1798 William Wordsworth wrote a poem, We Are Seven, about a conversation with a child in a churchyard. Because the child says: 'And two of us at Conway dwell' this grave is traditionally considered the location of the conversation (although Wordsworth himself said the conversation took place at Goodrich Castle in Herefordshire). Souvenir hunters therefore continuously broke off pieces of the tombstone so an iron cage was constructed in the early 20th century to protect what was left.

Another interesting memorial in this churchyard is that of Hugh Griffith, a ship’s carpenter who went missing at sea and was presumed dead. When he turned up, alive and well, the inscription on the tombstone was changed to a Biblical quotation about being brought up from the depths.

And I suppose this is the real reason I find graveyards so fascinating. I'm a writer and a reader, and I love hearing stories. In a graveyard every memorial tells the story of someone's life, often heart-breaking, which might otherwise never have been told.

* The Welsh spell it 'Conwy', the English spell it 'Conway', but it's all the same place!

Related Posts:

Sunday 2 November 2014

A Room of One's Own

One of my more eccentric 'quirks' is that I have trouble telling people what I do for a living. When cornered, I try to get away with saying, "I work from home" - and hope they'll assume I'm mass knitting tea cosies or something similar. Well, that comment came back to bite me last month; I moved to a new house and found it had no landline and therefore no Internet. How have I managed to stay online? With a mobile Wi-Fi, Internet cafés and the generosity of friends; now I was working anywhere but home!

Ironically, it was at this point Sophie Claire asked if I would contribute to a series of blog posts she was collating for Novelistas Ink, entitled Where I Write. My first thought was wondering whether I could get away with writing a post about the local Waterstones café, which had become my new 'office'. But while writing that post, it got me thinking about where I write and how much writers rely on the Internet for their work - research, keeping in touch with other authors and readers, as well as promotion. The flipside is that the Internet is a huge distraction - which is why writing retreats are so popular. Now I had my own Internet-free writer's retreat - only without the retreat bit!

So, does it really matter whether I work in a café, a spare room or my own study?

I wrote my first book, A Girl's Best Friend at my desk at work during my lunch break. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes was written in the sitting room of our first house (a tiny bungalow) with the computer monitor wedged inside a cupboard, the keyboard on my lap and dance music bouncing off the walls. Why Do Fools Fall in Love was written in several spare rooms, as we moved around the country, from Hampshire to Bath and back again. Breathless was started in Hampshire and finished via another spare room in Wales and then -

And then I claimed my first 'study'! We had moved to a rambling Victorian house, where the dining room was at one end of the building and the kitchen at the other. So I claimed the redundant dining room for my study. I had an entire wall of shelving so, for the first time ever, I could get all my books out of their boxes. Heaven! It had a huge bay window, with a beautiful view of Snowdonia, and I positioned a sofa there - with the idea I could recline and daydream about my plots while I admired the scenery. Of course I never had the time to do that! Incidentally, this was the first time I put a room from my own house into one of my books - my study also became Alicia's in Nemesis. The castle you might just be able to see to the left of this picture is Penrhyn Castle and it became the model for Hurst Castle in the same book.

Then we moved again. My books went back in their boxes and I ended up with another dining room for a study, which was probably the prettiest I've had, with views across the Menai Straits to Mount Snowdon itself.

What have I learned from these upheavals over the years? Well, despite my whinging, it turns out I can write anywhere. It doesn't matter if I'm in a spare room or a café. I don't need a study and I don't need an Internet connection - in fact, as any author will tell you, we get more writing done without it!

It turns out that all I really need to write is ... my laptop and me. 

Read More

Keeping it (Un)real - why the best part of being a writer is making stuff up
You Know You're a Writer When ... (for Novelistas Ink)
Where I Write (for Novelistas Ink)

Wednesday 29 October 2014

New Covers!

So, I go silent for a over month and then write two posts in a week. Yup, sounds like me - but I couldn't wait to show you these new book covers for Breathless and Nemesis, designed for me by the brilliant Ravven, who also did the cover for Something Wicked.

To celebrate, the price of both books have now dropped to 77p/99c for a limited time (links listed below).

Breathless (Amazon UK)
Breathless (Amazon USA)

Nemesis (Amazon UK)
Nemesis (Amazon USA)

Monday 27 October 2014

Five Books Which Chilled Me

Sometimes my choice of book to read can be completely random. I can also be completely predictable. If there is one thing I love, it's reading scary books at Halloween. What do I like to read? Well, I'm a bit of a wimp, so nothing too terrifying! I love ghost stories, particularly the classic haunted house kind and I've a soft spot for vampires. So here, in no particular order, are my favourites.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries in his client's castle. Soon afterwards, disturbing incidents unfold in England: a ship runs aground on the shores of Whitby, its crew vanished; beautiful Lucy Westenra slowly succumbs to a mysterious, wasting illness, her blood drained away; and the lunatic Renfield raves about the imminent arrival of his 'master'.

I've always been familiar with the Dracula story but I hadn't actually read the book until I saw the Francis Ford Coppola movie. (My copy has the movie tie-in cover!) I absolutely loved the story, particularly the racing back and forth between Dracula's castle and England and I felt desperately sorry for Dracula, even though he was a monster. Indeed, I much prefer my vampires monstrous, rather than the kind which walk around in daylight.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, the sole inhabitant of Eel Marsh House, unaware of the tragic secrets which lie hidden behind the shuttered windows. The house stands at the end of a causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but it is not until he glimpses a wasted young woman, dressed all in black, at the funeral, that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold, a feeling deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black - and her terrible purpose.

Well, this book just plain frightened the life out of me! It has everything I love in a ghost story - a beautifully gothic setting, an old mystery and plenty of shocks. If you enjoy this, you might also like Susan Hill's other novellas, The Mist in the Mirror, The Small Hand and Dolly.

'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Ben Mears, a moderately successful writer, returns to 'Salem's Lot to write a novel based on his early years, and to exorcise the terrors that have haunted him since childhood. The event he witnessed in the house now rented by a new resident. A newcomer with a strange allure. A man who causes Ben some unease as things start to happen: a child disappears, a dog is brutally killed - nothing unusual, except the list starts to grow.

Another book which terrified my teenage self. In fact, it made such an impression, I've been too frightened to read it again in case it didn't live up to my memories!

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse is a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. She's quiet, keeps to herself, and doesn't get out much - not because she's not pretty. She can read minds. And that doesn't make her too dateable. And then along comes Bill: he's tall, he's dark and he's handsome - and Sookie can't 'hear' a word he's thinking. He's exactly the type of guy she's been waiting all her life for - but Bill's a vampire ...

I LOVE the mix of humour, mystery, suspense, horror and romance of this series. It was made into a TV series, True Blood, and now I'm going to be one of those boring people who go on about how the books are much better than the TV/movie version. But they are. And you should read them! There are thirteen books in the series.

Haunted by James Herbert

Three nights of terror at the house called Edbrook. Three nights in which David Ash, there to investigate a haunting will be victim of horrifying and maleficent games. Three nights in which he will face the blood-chilling enigma of his own past. Three nights before Edbrook's dreadful secret will be revealed.

Another traditional haunted house story, beautifully told, although the twist is perhaps a little predicable now. This is the first in the series featuring the character David Ash. The others are The Secret of Crickley Hall, The Ghosts of Sleath and Ash. I can't decide which is my favourite, between The Secret of Crickley Hall and The Ghosts of Sleath. If you have seen the TV version of The Secret of Crickley Hall, the plot is slightly different.

Well, that's five books which certainly terrified me! They are all now classics of their kind, so you've probably heard of them already. So I've listed a few more below, some of which are more suspense than traditional ghost/horror stories, but they should certainly keep you out of mischief until the 1st of November!

Happy Halloween!

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
This House is Haunted by John Boyne
The Séance by John Harwood
The Leper House by Andrew Taylor
The Greatcoat by Helen Dumore
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Don't Look Now (and other stories) by Daphne du Maurier

Read More:

I have a list of my favourite books over on Pinterest
Alternatively, read about my real-life ghostly experience
Or find out which five books influenced me as a writer

Thursday 25 September 2014

Writing What You Don't Know: Researching Locations

 The first time I heard 'write what you know', I was a teenager working as a typist for the local council. Did that mean I could only write about typists? How incredibly boring! But as it turned out, I 'knew' quite a lot. I knew what it felt like to fall in love, to be dumped, to lose a much loved member of my family - all those life experiences authors recycle into their books. When I crashed my car, I wrote about it in A Girl's Best Friend, along with my own experiences of what it felt like to be betrayed by a friend. When I lived in Bath I wrote about that too (along with all those movies and TV dramas I had seen filmed there), in Why Do Fools Fall in Love. And, being a writer, what I didn't know I made up.

So far, so good. But what happens when you have to write about something you don't know? When you have to do some actual *whisper it* research?

When I was asked to contribute to the Sunlounger anthologies (along with my fellow Novelista, Valerie-Anne Baglietto), the brief was to write a story set in a holiday destination. No problem, I'd just come back from a holiday in Sorrento, I'd write about that (The Indecent Proposal). Well, as it turned out, it's one thing going on holiday somewhere, quite another to have to write a story about it. I dug out my holiday photos and wrote notes about everything I remembered, but it wasn't enough. I had to do some research.

In the old days I'd have headed for the library; nowadays everything is easily available online. Maybe a little too easily, because there is one huge problem with information on the Internet. It's not always accurate. (Shocker!) So I have a rule of three - check facts three times from three different sources.

When it came to writing my story for Sunlounger 2 (The Accidental Proposal) I approached it differently. I'd have my characters arrive in New Orleans as tourists and I worked out an itinerary for them. (You can see my original notes for that here). Of course, that threw up a whole load of new problems. In my original story I had them visiting one of the famous cemeteries at night - it turns out they shut at night! There was a scene where the characters are standing in the street drinking cocktails. In some States that's illegal but fortunately (at the time of writing) it wasn't illegal in New Orleans. There was another scene I'd set beside the tomb of the famous Marie Laveau but vandals had just painted it pink! So, should I make the tomb pink in my story - to prove I'd done my research and show how clever I was? In the end, I decided the authorities were just as likely to repaint it white, and even mentioning the fact that it had ever been pink (no matter how deliciously quirky) it was likely to detract from the story.

So the moral is, always check your facts. It's no good assuming an editor will spot any mistakes in your research - it's not their job! If you're not careful, the first person to spot them will be your reader - and they won't hesitate in pointing them out to you - usually in a one star review.

But no matter how brilliant your research, nothing compares to visiting a location yourself! If you do get that chance, then I recommend taking lots of photos and making lots of notes - and it is the perfect excuse for a holiday!

Online Resources

Google Earth - Perfect for 3D images of locations. Many of cities also have 'street view' allowing you to 'walk' about. Bear in mind the images are often a few years old - if you look for my house, all you'll see is a field!
Pinterest - A great resource for images and you can create mood boards (I've blogged about Pinterest here). The photos often link to blogs.
Travel blogs - A brilliant resource but remember they are opinion pieces, read more than one if you want to view your location through your character's eyes, not the blogger's!
Travel agent websites - for hotels and tourists' itineraries (if you're writing about tourists!)
Tourist Board websites - Obviously!

Sunday 21 September 2014

Something Wicked

OK, first let me apologise for the blog posts slipping back to once a fortnight but I am in the middle of moving house (being me, I've blogged about that here!). Something had to give and I'm afraid it was the blog - I'm assuming you'd all rather read new books than blog posts?!! Normal service will be resumed in November.

So today's post is going to be a little bit different - a cover reveal for my next book, Something Wicked. Isn't it great? It was designed for me by the brilliantly talented Ravven.


Evil can be tempting …

Ten years ago Katrina Davenport washed up on a beach, with no memory of how she got there. Now she’s returned to find out the truth.

She’s taken over her aunt’s coffee shop at the notorious Raven’s Cottage – once the home of a 17th century witch. Some locals believe the cottage is haunted by Magik Meg and her demon lover, but Kat doesn’t believe in witches, or ghosts, or anything that goes bump in the dead of night. Every strange occurrence must have a perfectly logical explanation.

Unfortunately it doesn’t matter what Kat believes, because something wicked has returned to Raven’s Cottage.

And this time it’s come for Kat.
(Winter 2014)


I've been working on the novel after this one (Trust Me, I Lie) which is set in a new village called Buckley. Those of you who've read Breathless, will know about the legend of the smuggler Black Jack. So I thought Buckley should have its own legend too - a witch known as Magik Meg. There wasn't room in Trust Me, I Lie to tell her tale, and if I tell you any more I'll be giving away spoilers - but one of the characters from Breathless does make an appearance.

Something Wicked is romantic suspense, with a bit of humour and a hint of the paranormal. It is set in the middle of winter, although it's not a Christmas book - I just wanted to write about snow! But if you're the kind of person who likes to peek at your Christmas presents early, head over to my website where you can read the first chapter.


Keeping it (Un)real - my blog post about how I created the locations I use in my stories

Monday 8 September 2014

A Moving Experience

For those of you who follow me here or on the various social networks, you may have noticed that I've gone a bit quiet. This is because I'm in the middle of moving house. It's been seven years since our last move and our children are now teenagers, which means there is a lot of clearing out going on. Now the kids have done their bit, clearing out their bedrooms, my husband has unfortunately turned his attention to my study or, as he calls it, The Hoarder's Cave.

Sorting through my collection of DVDs and CDs wasn't too traumatic. A lot of the music we buy is now digital, and stored on a cloud somewhere. Then there were the books. I have boxes of books everywhere. In the attic, in the garage, in my study - even in the kitchen. Seriously, I have three boxes of books in the kitchen that have been there for so long no one actually notices them anymore. Our previous house had a room with an entire wall of shelving. In this house, the books live in boxes and, as it turned out, some of those boxes were still sealed from the last move - which my husband took as proof that a clear out was long overdue.

My husband has a bit of a hate-hate relationship with my book collection. He understands that I love books, he's not quite so sure why I need so many of them. In fact, he bought me my first Kindle and I'm starting to see why - all my ebooks are stored on a fluffy cloud right next to my digital music. Unless Amazon go bust they won't have to be moved anywhere - something the removal men are probably grateful for too.

My job over the weekend was to sort through three boxes of books and turn them into two. Well, I sorted through the three boxes but only found four books I was willing to part with. And then my daughter spotted one she liked in the charity bag, muttered "I can't believe you're getting rid of this one" and promptly went off with it. Fortunately my husband was distracted by finding two more boxes of books we'd both forgotten about.

So, although I've gone quiet I've not gone away. In a month's time, I'll be in a new study, in a new house and hopefully will have finished writing a new book.

But I'll still be the same old me.

(With the same old collection of books ... )

Read More:

I also hoard collect stationery and mugs ...

Sunday 31 August 2014

Keeping It (Un)real

Confession time. The places I write about in my books are not real, although I do occasionally take inspiration from an actual place or building. Hurst Castle in Nemesis, for example, is very loosely based on Penrhyn Castle in North Wales, but I often change elements to suit my plot.

It was never my intention to create my own world and I have written about real places in the past. Why Do Fools Fall in Love is set in Bath, and I've used Sorrento and New Orleans as settings in my Proposal stories.

From a writer's point of view, there is something very satisfying about creating a world of your own. You start off with a character or two. Your characters need friends, lovers, enemies - and somewhere to live. As soon as you've created (and decorated!) their homes, the neighbours will be popping round. So then you have to create places for all these people to visit to stop them getting into trouble - or perhaps, if you're that way inclined, encourage them into it! So that means pubs, clubs, schools, theatres - and before you know it, you've created an entire village and it's all got slightly out of control.

My first book to use an entirely made-up setting was Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. *Spoiler alert*. In it was a sub-plot about corruption in the police force. At the time I was working for the police and I didn't want anyone assuming I was writing about real people and real events. So I created Calahurst. I picked the name because every day on the way to work I passed a road called Cala-something-or-other and I added 'hurst' because I wanted to set my book someplace pretty, and I thought of the New Forest and places like Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst.

I drew a map of my imaginary village. This might sound self-indulgent but when you're writing about a place, real or made up, you really have to get it straight in your head where everything is or, before you know it, coffee shops start moving about. And I did come a cropper in A Girl's Best Friend, when I wanted my heroine to drive down a road which wasn't 'there', and I had to quickly 'build' one!

I've used Calahurst as a setting for my first three books and while I have recycled elements - one house in Smoke Gets in Your Eyes got a new owner in Breathless - I created another village (Port Rell) for my fourth book. And then I got very ambitious and added 'historical' legends - Civil War battles and sieges, and a notorious smuggler who turns up out of nowhere and then vanishes one day in much the same way. I had so much fun with that, I'm doing it all over again for my next two books. I have a new village, Buckley - previously mentioned in Nemesis, and a whole lot of new characters to get into trouble.

It really is the best part of being a writer.


My Pinterest board for Breathless has more photos of Lymington in the New Forest, which helped to inspire Port Rell (along with a few other places!)

My Pinterest board for Nemesis has more photos of Penrhyn Castle

Writing What You Don't Know - Researching Locations - a blog post for Novelistas Ink

Sunday 17 August 2014

Five Books Which Influenced Me

I very nearly called this post "Five Books Which Changed My Life" but, while I'm never one to let the truth get in the way of a good story, that did seem a little too hyperbole-y, even for me. But hey, I'm a writer, we're prone to telling fibs making stuff up exaggerating slightly. So, while these books didn't change my life, they certainly influenced me as a writer. Castle of Adventure by Enid Blyton
If you've read any of my books, maybe you've guessed this one already. I blame my mother. She had a huge collection of Enid Blyton books as a child, which she lost when she moved house. As soon as my brothers and I arrived, she set about recreating that lost collection. The Castle of Adventure was one of my favourites and might have been the one I read first, as my copy had a scary ruined castle on the front - and you know how I feel about ruins ...

Tregaron's Daughter by Madeleine Brent
My grandmother loved reading those gothic romantic suspense novels which were popular way back in the 1970s, so once I'd outgrown Enid Blyton I began raiding her shelves. Tregaron's Daughter is about Cadi, a fisherman's daughter, who only discovers she has aristocratic relatives when they whisk her off to Venice after his death. But are they as pleased to find her as they appear to be? This book has all the things I love in a book - family secrets, mysteries to solve and a dangerous hero - and it's set in Venice.

Polo by Jilly Cooper
I've already blogged about how I first discovered Jilly Cooper's early books, while on a rainy holiday to the Isle of Wight. Jilly wrote a series of romantic comedies with girls' names as the titles - Emily, Bella, Harriet, etc - before switching to writing these big, sexy blockbusters. My favourite Jilly Cooper book is actually The Rivals but Polo is a close second. I've never liked wishy-washy heroines and I love that the heroine of Polo (Perdita) is deliciously horrible at times. OK, most of the time. But that is her charm.

Tell No One by Harlan Coben
It was a friend who first got me hooked on Harlan Coben. I love reading mysteries but I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the way it was always so easy to guess what was coming next. Is this is a 'writer's thing'? My favourite books and movies are always the ones where I can't work out what is going on, or how it's all going to end, so I can just sit back and enjoy the ride. I've always tried not to do the obvious in my own books but Harlan Coben's work really made me stop and think about all those extra little evil twists I could add. This one is my favourite.

On Writing by Stephen King
I love Stephen King and I've read all his books, which have definitely inspired me to try and be a better writer. For me, On Writing is brilliant because in it he talks about his own life at the time when he wrote each of his books and he explains how he was inspired - just little snippets of detail that would trigger the creation of whole scenes. I always find this kind of information fascinating. Is it another 'writer's thing'? Or am I just nosy?

So there you have it, five books which influenced me as a writer - although I might not have realised it at the time. There are so many other wonderful books and authors which I love and, if you're feeling a little bit nosy too, you can pop over to my Pinterest board Most Favourite Books in the World Ever and check them out.

Sunday 10 August 2014

It was a dark and stormy night ...

Do you like my new mug? My husband bought it for me. I collect mugs - and notebooks (you can read about that obsession here), which I know makes me sound odd, but I'm a writer and we're allowed to be odd slightly eccentric.

Why did my husband buy me this particular mug? It's a running joke between us. Every time I start a new book, I grumble about how the opening sentence has to be absolutely perfect. This is his cue for helpful suggestions such as: "It was a dark and stormy night. It was a stormy night and very dark. It was night and darkly stormy." Author-baiting? Not recommended! It's lucky I have a sense of humour or he'd find himself wearing the contents of said mug.'It was a dark and stormy night' is the first line of the novel Paul Clifford, written by Victorian author Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton. It was published in 1830 and written in  the style which became  known as a 'Newgate' novel - where the hero is a criminal. They were popular between the 1820s and 1840s, and were a forerunner to the serialised 'penny dreadfuls'. In this particular story, the hero is a gentleman by day and a dashing highwayman by  night.  

The opening line has been much parodied, not least by cartoonist Charles M. Schultz, whose Peanuts character, Snoopy, always begins his novels the same way. (I'd post one here but I don't want to be sued violate copyright.) In fact, the phrase has become such a cliché, there is now an annual competition, known as the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, for the worst opening to a novel.

'It was a dark and stormy night' is not such a bad start to a book, but when you read the rest of it ...

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents - except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Sadly for Sir Edward, writing styles go in and out of fashion. In his day, long sentences and pages of text without a single paragraph break were fairly typical.

Despite his more recent incarnation as the poster boy for purple prose, Sir Edward was a hugely popular author in his time and friends with authors such as Charles Dickens. As well as novels, Sir Edward wrote plays and poems, and coined phrases such as 'the pen is mightier than the sword' and 'the great unwashed'. He was also an MP and a Secretary of State.

As an author myself, I think it's kind of cool that a line written nearly two hundred years ago is still quoted and appearing on mugs, T-shirts and the rest.

I wonder what Sir Edward would have thought?

(I expect he'd have liked the royalties!)

Sunday 3 August 2014

Writers Write (or, What I Really Do All Day)

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you're probably getting a very skewed idea of my life. I drink lots of coffee, I'm always sneaking off for champagne and cake with the Novelistas or shooing escaped farmyard animals out of my kitchen. You know I live in Wales, because I grumble about the weather and Instagram photos of sheep. And, oh yes, apparently I sometimes write books. Look, check the header, it's official: 'Sometimes writes books'.

I am supposed to be a full-time writer but sometimes it does feel like 'sometimes' rather than 'all the time'. So what, exactly, do I do all day?

Let's start with a photo of my desk. It doesn't always look like this. In fact, it never looks like this, which is why I took a photo of it about two years ago. If you could see it now, there are two huge piles of crap important paperwork on either side of me, with about an inch of space around my laptop.

I set my alarm for seven, even on weekends, even on holidays. (It's amazing how motivated you can be when you're self-employed.) While the rest of my family (one husband, two children, one hamster) fight it out for the bathroom (not the hamster; she makes her own arrangements), I switch on my laptop and read newspapers and blogs and link anything I find interesting to Twitter, Facebook, etc. Back when I had a 'proper' job (or, as my son likes to put it, 'when dinosaurs roamed the earth'), one of my roles was to read the morning papers and identify trends. I suspect I spent more time reading up on celebrity exploits rather than identifying trends, but the training came in useful and it's now become a habit.

Where were we? Oh yes, newspapers, blogs, social networking. Followed by chores. I have no staff (excuse me while I roll around the floor laughing) and you can tell how well the current book is going by how clean my house is. Then I stop for coffee, to include answering emails and more social networking. Tip: If you find yourself being sucked in by Twitter, Facebook and all the rest of it, set yourself a time limit! In and out. Think: Networking Ninja. Got it?

After my coffee break and the Networking Ninja-ing, I write until I break for lunch. (I've blogged about my writing process here and how I use notebooks to write here). If the writing is going well, I read someone else's book. If it's not, I'm stuck with reading my own book, emailed to my Kindle Fire. Somehow it looks different on a Kindle and I find it easier to identify which parts are not working. I use the highlighting feature: pink for the parts I need to delete, orange for the parts that need to be reworded, blue for punctuation issues and yellow for everything else. The text-to-speech option also helps me spot the odd missing or repeated word, and stops me falling asleep over my own book.

And then it's back to work. I stop to do the school run and cook dinner and sometimes work into the evening, or into the night if it's really not going well. It takes me a morning to write a blog post or an article, two weeks to a month to write a short story/novella (depending on length) and nine to twelve months to write a book. I also design my own book covers, which you can read about here.

If I leave the house (yes, I do occasionally leave the house) I take my Kindle with me, and when I go to sleep I'm sure you can work out what I'm dreaming about.

So there you have it, that's what I do all day: write books, novellas, short stories, blog posts and articles - and do you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way.

Because I'm a writer, and writers write.

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