Saturday, 26 November 2011

Children or Books – or both?

Children or book, children or books… that quote was something that haunted my days at university and after. I WANTED to write and I WANTED children. Why couldn’t I do/have both? At the time I thought I could. And, actually, I can. But some one – Nietzsche*? – had said otherwise.

And it is really difficult. Books – the writing of them – take part of your soul, your emotional energy, the meaning of your life. They suck you dry, maybe not for ever, but certainly during the process of creation.

And children? Well, they take all of that and more. And not just during the process of creation!

I’m lucky enough to have both – wonderful children (although I’d be happier if they studied more, and tidied their rooms) and four novellas published (under the nom de plume Gillian Villiers). I have written more books and hope to revise and improve on them and write still more in the future.

So is it really a choice? No, it’s not. But those words do have a kernel of truth to them, like many memorable phrases (momento mori is one of my favourites, but that’s for another day). I know some people do manage to write before (almost during) and after the birth of a child. But that’s not for me. I want to be totally engaged in the thing that is most important to me.

When my children were young, that was my children. But now they’re not so young, there’s time for me – and my books.

And what particularly interests me at the moment are books for children. Maybe that’s the perfect way to combine my two passions?

* I checked with a good friend from university to see if she could remember who this quote was from, and she also thought it was Nietzsche. However, despite extensive searches on the web, I can’t actually find it. If anyone does know the origin, I’d be delighted to hear. And, in the meantime, here are two other quotes from Friedrich Nietzsche:

And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Do whatever you will, but first be such as are able to will.

Pretty good, I think.

Monday, 21 November 2011

RNA party – and new brand

Thanks to Linda for such a vivid description of the RNA Winter Party! To those who go regularly, the ultimate objective is to wear a pair of shoes that are a) extremely glamorous and b) supremely comfortable. This is clearly impossible so there are various options possible.

  1. Wear flatties. Preferably under long trousers that cover this sin.
  2. Wear a small wedge, kitten heel or similar that isn't too excruciating after three or more hours.
  3. Wear glam knee-length boots (as Linda's daughter Sarah did) with a low heel. Potential pitfall = overheating.
  4. Wear uber sexy three-inch heels and take them off three minutes in.
  5. Ditto, but manage half an hour.
  6. Ditto, but survive the evening and pay for it with either shredded feet the next day or bunions years later.
The choice is yours! Take a look at the RNA blog to see what I mean ...

The main focus of the Winter Party this year was the launch of the new RNA brand, which I was heavily involved in. Our President, Katie Fforde, brought it to the world in great style. Here it is, in all its glory. Hope you like it!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Post party syndrome

It's not fair.....I moderated my drinking, downed loads of water and yet my body still feels as though it's been hit by a steamroller! Just back from London - memory intact you'll all notice as I'm remembering to post! - and the Romantic Novelists' Association's Winter Party, which was held in some splendour at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers on Thursday evening. We gather in the library there, where none of us makes a mad dash for the books because what do we want to know about centrifugal this or that?? Is centri-whatsit a word?
Anyway, I got persuaded into a pencil skirt and lacy tights by darling daughter who came with me. Oh, and heels which looked good but which I had to kick off and drop in height by a good three inches or so part way through the night. I think dd was just keen to see me out of my M&S stretchy, hide all sins, jeans - but now she has I've decided I like the look.
Lots of teensy but delicious nibbles were brought round on silver (possibly EPNS but who cares!) salvers by girls and boys from all parts of the globe, but what with a handbag and a glass of wine in one hand, some complimentary champagne (who provided that and why I'm still wondering) in the other I didn't get to eat much. Besides, the second you pop something delicious in your mouth someone always asks a question, don't they?
And talking of questions.....I was quite surprised when a big name writer I know came up to me because she'd heard I'd done a booksigning for the RNA anthology locally(that's down here in deepest Devon for those who don't know) and wondered if I could fix one up for that was a bit of networking on a grand scale for me. Going to get on with that later today.
While I'm talking all things RNA I have to say the annual fee is well worth paying money for because it give us access to The New Cavendish Club where dd and I stopped overnight. We've stopped there before and what I like about The Cav (as it's affectionately known by those in the know) is that while the public rooms - and especially the staircase going up for the foyer - look rather grand it isn't pretentious. No ironed newspapers or any of that tosh. After a couple of taxi loads of us got back from the Winter Party, we went into the bar and re-arranged all the chairs so we could sit and natter and drink more wine - well, some of us did but Saint Linda here had tea.
Got to say that what with my cloth ears and the level of writery chat in the room on Thursday night I'm sure there must have been some people who were puzzled at my responses to something they for any of them reading this.....sorry.
Is it worth the expense of the rail fare, the overnight stop, the party ticket to go to an event that lasts a max of three hours you may well ask? Most definitely! So much wonderful times I felt like the late Queen Mother who never approached anyone but just stood there waiting to be approached....and that's how it was for me a fair bit on Thursday night. My main reason for going, though, was to meet up with my publisher and publicist for Choc-Lit. They've now given me a date of May 2012 for my debut novel - TO TURN FULL CIRCLE.....feel I have to put that in upper case.....:)
I was hoping to put a photo from Thursday night - possibly with our own lovely Jenny in it because she was wearing a wonderfully colourful dress (but then, she looks good in anything!) - with this blog but I left my camera back in Devon and dd left hers in The Cav on the night. Another time.....:)
So, enough already......edits to get back to - two days off swanning about up and down Oxford Street and in and out of Primani means I have to work the weekend......earn some more for another trip.
Happy weekend, girls and boys.
Linda xxxxxxx

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Bargain Hunting fun

It took nearly seven months – but yesterday, at last, BBC1 screened our effort at Bargain Hunting.

I applied to go on the show back in May, when my husband, Robin, was just retiring after 12 years as an MSP in the Scottish Parliament. We both love watching antique programmes (it fits in with his love both of history and recycling!) and I thought this would be fun. It was!

First we had to pass an audition – where we met the lovely Rachel and Guy from the BH team – then we found ourselves catapulted into a day of filming at Ingliston Antique Fair near Edinburgh. With expert Nick Hall to help us, we set off to spend our £300 on three items, in one hour. Time flew past. We found a pair of 'Waterford' claret jugs (actually moulded glass with a silver plate top and handle) that I liked very much, followed by a beautiful pair of Chinese bronze vases – and hey presto, we had spent £210 already! A lovely 14-carat gold pendant with a topaz stone (maybe?) followed. The clock for the permitted hour is set strictly and although we found our items in good time, I can imagine the pressure for those who find themselves with just a few minutes to go and items still to buy.

After each purchase, the clock is stopped and there are more takes, from different angles, of what you have just done. Who was holding the vase then? In which hand? Did you pass it to Nick or to Robin? The BH team are well practiced at all this but we found it fascinating. Even though Robin had appeared many times on television as a politician, this kind of filming was new to him too.

We didn't get any make-up (I was hoping the wrinkles would disappear, but alas, no), but we got a great lunch! The best part was meeting all the other contestants – who we saw two weeks later, at the auction in Glasgow – and meeting Anita Manning, the lovely Glaswegian auctioneer who contributes so much fun and knowledge to many of the antique programmes you can see on TV.

If you've never been to an auction, do go. It's such a fun experience – though when you are trying to squeeze a profit, it's a bit nerve-wracking too. The auction of our three items passed in a flash and although it was all very tight, we were extremely fortunate to make a small sum on every purchase, thereby qualifying us for the rare Order of the Golden Gavel (actually a small stick pin). Nick had spent £12 on a piece of 60s glass with the balance of the cash we gave him. Robin had loved it at the Fair so of course we chose to auction it – and that made a respectable profit too.

To get on Bargain Hunt, just go to the BBC website, find Bargain Hunt and fill in the online form. It was a great day out – two great days, actually – and may provide you with a starting point for a whole novel, some fantastic characters, background insight, or some hitherto undreamed-of motivations. Who knows?

Friday, 11 November 2011

Writing a Series of Novels

Writing a Series.

I did not set out to write a series when I started writing sagas. People seem to think it must be more difficult and wonder why I keep on, but in fact some aspects are easier. The first book is the same as starting any other new novel, getting to know the characters, setting the background and surroundings, but the following books carry on naturally as life does for anyone moving to a new community. You get to know the people, some die or move away and new ones come along or children are born. I enjoy this continuity and following the changes, not only in the development of my own characters, but also in the changes and developments of the period in which each book is set. As my books have a farming background I like to show the developments in farming too. The good thing about fiction is the problems can be resolved and conclude with a happy ending, or at least with hope and optimism – not always the case in real life.
          So what are the difficulties? It is vital to keep a note of the details of each character, especially dates of birth. I often go back to check how old a certain character will be if he/she first appeared in an earlier book, or if she has become a parent or grandparent, and how the stage in her life fits in with the period, including changing fashions. Physical details are important. Eyes can't change colour from one book to the next in the same character. Showing changing monetary values can be difficult, especially as there were big differences after decimalisation. Each book must stand alone in case they are read in a different order. There will be a continuous thread through all of them – maybe a place or character(s) or both, but each novel will have its own story, and usually a satisfactory love affair, or maybe more than one.
          When asked which is my favourite series I usually believe it is the one I am working on at the time – mainly because I am "living with the characters – loving some, hating others, but developing them all and bringing them alive" – at least that is what I hope. I have to confess I am not a fan of TV soaps.
          The Fairlyden novels were my first family sagas and you may wonder why I am mentioning them here. They seemed to sell well and were reprinted twice in paperback as well as hardback and large print but they are no longer available except from online book sellers and occasionally on Ebay, so I intend to upload them to Amazon and Smashwords to make them available for digital E-readers. This may take a while since I also need to get on with my new novel.
            As E-books they will have different covers because the designer and publisher have the copyright for the original covers. 

Fairlyden starts in the nineteenth century and Fairlyden at War finishes just after the second world war.
Fairlyden  - To those who know and love her, Mattie Cameron is beautiful and intelligent but she is vulnerable because she has been deaf since childhood. It is her father’s dying wish that Sandy Logan should protect her when his death ends the three life lease on Nethertannoch.

Mistress of Fairlyden  Mattie’s daughter, Sarah, is now married to William Fairly and is Mistress of Fairlyden. She is longing to share the news of her pregnancy with her childhood friend, Beatrice Slater. She defies her husband’s wishes and goes alone to Muircumwell Mill but there she encounters the ruthless and vindictive Edward Slater. The dreadful consequences, and the disturbing secret she discovers, haunt Sarah for the rest of her life.

Family at Fairlyden  As the years pass Beth’s friendship with Sarah’s son, Logan Fairly, develops into a deep abiding love but war is looming in Europe. Logan loves the farm and his horses and cattle but he feels he must fight for freedom. Problems arise bringing clouds of doubt and sorrow and uncertainty but there has to be hope for tomorrow and for the future of Fairlyden.

Fairlyden at War  It is the 1930’s with men desperate for work and food. Fairlyden has survived due to Logan’s skill and his wife’s thrift. Their daughter, Kirsty is proud of her father’s achievements but her brother, Luke is afraid of animals and his fear leads to tragedy.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Guest blog: Lesley Cookman

The Novel Points of View bloggers are delighted to welcome our first guest blogger. She is Lesley Cookman, whose latest novel in the Libby Serjeant series is published today.

I’m Lesley Cookman, and I write the Libby Sarjeant mystery series, of which the ninth, Murder At The Manor, is just out. I’m delighted to be the first Guest Blogger on Novel Points of View, and very honoured.

I’ve read all the previous blog posts and found some really interesting points. Do I read more or less as a writer? About the same as I always have, I think. And yes, from Enid Blyton onwards. Books mean everything to me and always have. My author pic (see above) was taken in front of the piano in my sitting room, and like Gill, I like it because it shows a fraction of the bookshelves which wrap round three walls.

Kindle or not? Oh, yes. I truly cannot understand the doom-mongers who constantly complain that the ebook is the death of print. Codswallop. Television wasn’t the death of radio, film wasn’t the death of theatre, audio books weren’t the death of the print book. Let’s embrace all ways of reading, and bless the technology that allows it. The only thing I complain about with the Kindle is the ease of downloading books. Finished a cracking read? Want the next by the same author? Click, click – there it is, ready to read immediately. The bank balance is far less healthy.

And what happens to your work when you’re a novelist. Yes, that’s a bit of a blow. You wonder why on earth the publisher took you on if they want that many changes. I’ve frequently told the tale of being asked by my editor to change the murderer, as there was too much sympathy for him by the end of the book. OK – you try it. Almost a complete rewrite, which I managed in a couple of weeks.

And coming right up to date, here’s the problem of the series writer. I write in the genre the Americans call 'Cosy'. I have an amateur sleuth who somehow has to keep getting involved in murder, and that’s a trifle difficult in itself. I feel Steeple Martin, my heroine’s home village, is becoming a property black spot like Cabot Cove and Midsomer county. And methods. Yes, I’ve just come completely unstuck over a murder method, which is necessitating a complete rewrite of the first chapters. If I manage it, this will become Murder by Magic, due out next June, with a cover already up on Amazon. No pressure, then.

But would I do anything else? If I came into a fortune, would I stop? My four grown up children look at me pityingly when I say I would. They’re probably right.

Sunday, 6 November 2011


November is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo and all over the world thousands of people are working furiously on their novels. I signed up for what the website describes as ‘thirty days and nights of literary abandon’ in which the aim is to write 50,000 words – that’s 1,667 words a day – by midnight on November 30.
This is not the first time I’ve joined in the world-wide writing frenzy. I tried and failed miserably last year – and the year before – and swore I’d never try again.

So, why did I sign up yet again and what has changed this time? Well, a couple of things have made a difference. Partly, it is down to that word ‘abandon’. In previous years I’ve found it impossible to squash my need to edit as I go along which meant, as a result of constant rewriting, I made pretty slow progress. Before I’d reached the half way point in the month I was so far behind on the word count I knew I’d never catch up. Besides, what I’d written was trite, unpublishable nonsense. 

This time round I’ve managed to abandon the inner editor who kept asking, “What’s the point of writing rubbish?” Instead, I began to look at the process as being a bit like ‘morning pages’ as recommended by Julia Cameron in her best-selling book The Artist’s Way. Designed to rediscover creativity, the rule was to start each day by writing three pages – in longhand. You didn’t edit, you didn’t read them back until months later, or even not at all. I tried it for a while and when I did look back on those stream-of-consciousness scribbles I found lots of little nuggets worth developing into poems and ideas for stories. Now, by pretending NaNoWriMo is an extended version of morning pages, written at anytime of the day or night I can keep going. I’ve also abandoned the notion I need to have long stretches of time – undisturbed time – in which to write. I can’t take time off work so I have to be prepared to grab at any spare minutes to add to the all-important word count.

The other, and I suspect major, part of why I’m convinced I’ll succeed this year is because I have a NaNoWriMo writing buddy. She emailed me the day before the month kicked off to say she’d seen I had signed up so decided to have a go as well, to kick start her long-planned novel. She nominated me as her writing buddy. We can encourage each other not to give up, to keep going when we think it’s all a waste of time. And we can check each other’s word count. She was a thousand words ahead of me when I last looked. I was going to shut down my computer for the night but her word count spurred me on to continue writing for another ten minutes, which turned into almost an hour. It’s not competitive in that I want to have a higher word count or reach the target before she does – it’s more a case of “if she can do it, then so can I”. So, thanks, Running Shoes, it’s great to be your writing buddy.  

Obviously there’s still a way to go before the end of the month and who knows what obstacles lie in wait. A sick son home from uni has rather slowed things down a little this weekend, but I’ll catch up.

When I started this year I didn’t really have a plot. I began to develop characters who, for the first couple of days wandered around aimlessly. They broke all the point of view rules, had banal conversations with each other or very long inner monologues, the purpose of which, I guess, was to inform the reader of what is going on in their world. I couldn’t seem to figure out how to make them do anything of interest and the temptation to give up was strong. Then, a new character appeared, sparking a variety of reactions from the other characters (some of whom – the really boring ones – will probably be quietly dropped now) and scenes started being played out.

There may be a certain lack of continuity and I’m still not entirely sure where the story is going – but I can sort all that out later. For now, I’m focussing on reaching the end of November with a 50,000 word novel. It may only be a skeleton with some of its bones still missing or connected at funny angles but it will make me glad I signed up again for NaNoWriMo’s month of literary abandon.