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 ... )

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I also hoard collect stationery and mugs ...