Saturday, 24 September 2016

Villains in the undergrowth

"Look like the innocent flower..."

by Jennifer Young 

I’ve never really been a fan of the true villain. I’ve written a couple, of course. Most writers have. And some people do villains very well, deep, dark and twisted. 

I was weeding my sadly neglected garden the other day when I understood the nature of true villainy. It was there in front of me — and it’s actually very pretty, with a tall, graceful stem, topped by a head of tiny, bright orange flowers, rising from the centre of a rosette of leaves. 

But there’s a lot of it, this pretty flower. It grows in dense mats, with a solid layer of roots a couple of inches thick, smothering everything that tries to compete. From these dense mats it sends out long, trailing roots to pop up somewhere else and send up another plant to set up another mat. And to make matters even worse, it has monumentally prolific seed heads.

I declared war on this little beast. I pulled up several square feet of it and in two weeks it was back. Worse, even when I lifted the layers of ivy or the masses of rampant wild geranium (I told you my garden was neglected) it’s under there, laughing at me. 

I Googled this pretty little thing, to find out what to do with it. Noooooo! lamented one gardener on discovering it in his/her flowerbed. Disaster. Nuke it! said another. Take a flamethrower to it. Do whatever it takes. And yet another, more pessimistic, warns that it will never go away.

That’s villainy.

I’m not good at villains. I can’t help looking at the pretty flowers of orange hawkweed (this evil has a name) and thinking that, actually, it’s a shame to get rid of all of it. And I’m like that when I write my villains, too. I don’t want to create a real villain. While I did think my only real one (Faustino Manfredi, from the first two books of my Lake Garda series) was pretty convincing, I didn’t like writing him. 

That’s why, in the third book of the series (Running Man, out on Wednesday) the villainy is a little more nuanced. It has Danny, the man who’s already made a terrible mistake, and it has Matt, whose mistake is still to be made. They’re competing for the attentions of Giorgia — but the line between heroism and villainy is a blurred one.

There are real villains about, of course, but most people have good to shade the bad side of their character. I look for it in life — and that’s why I try to create it in fiction. 

Saturday, 17 September 2016


As days begin to shorten, we share ways we enjoy seeing the light. We'd love to hear your thoughts too...

Rae - After enduring a rather, dismal wet summer here in north-east Scotland, the past two weeks have been wonderful, as the sun has made a welcome reappearance. The warmth has been pleasant but it’s the autumnal light that has the power to stop me in my tracks. Like most writers, my to-do-lists (plural!) grow faster than mushrooms and although I live in the countryside and am surrounded by beauty that changes on a daily basis, I rarely take time to stand and stare. However, at this time of year I yearn to do just that, reminding me of the W H Davis poem Leisure.

Autumn, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
During autumn, the golden hour, that last hour of evening sunlight, seems to hold a special softening quality that enhances the vividness of the landscape. Perhaps it’s knowing winter is just around the corner, that forces me to focus on light, before the skies become low and leaden again. One autumn evening, several years ago, I was driving from Edinburgh, through rural Perthshire, on the first leg of my three hour journey north, when Sting’s ‘Fields of Gold’ began playing on the radio. The ripe barley on either side of the motorway swayed as it glowed, and between the romantic sentiments of the song lyrics and the luminescence of the fading sunlight, I felt forced to take time out from my race home, to pull over and simply enjoy the moment. I’m thankful autumnal light possesses the strength to make me stop and stare.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

by William Henry Davies

Gill - Recently Linda wrote a blog about summer and Christmas books, and I realised that one of my
The bonfire - a different kind of light
favourite times of year is actually spring. Then I thought, no, but I like winter, too. And autumn, when the colours are changing and the nights are drawing in, is just brilliant. It’s a time when there isless light outside, but the quality of it changes. It’s also the time of Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night, both of which use the light of flames which I love. I don’t know if it’s because my sister and I both have birthdays are in November, but autumn has always been a happy time for me - a ‘light’ time, even though the light is different.

 Jennie - We all need ‘Light’ in its many guises in our lives. For me this painting (artist unknown picture courtesy of pixabay) sums up the light in the South of France. One of the things I found difficult (there weren’t many I grant you!) about living down there was that the changing seasons didn’t really register. The clocks went back at the end of summer and the temperature dropped, but the sun still shone on a daily basis and there was rarely any autumnal foliage to remind one that winter was on its way. The year round light down there has enticed painters for centuries.

Whereas this photo is more reminiscent of this time of year where I live now in Brittany. 
Our skies are cloudier and darker as summer changes into autumn, falling leaves change colour, and the autumnal mists arrive. As September days pass and October arrives, we become accustomed to living with shorter days and longer nights.

This particular September has seen the 15th anniversary of  9/11 an event that shook the world and turned off the light for so many. Sadly since then there have been more atrocities turning the world these days into a scary place.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Linda - Most of us are full of good intentions – lose weight, drink less wine, see friends and family more, write every day. And then life gets in the way. We go to a dark place (that metaphorical tunnel) through, say, illness – our own or a loved one’s. Or marriages/relationships break down – again, our own or that of someone very close to us. We find that there are pieces to be picked up, and there are loved ones who need more of our time, or our money, or both. Our shoulders become damp from all the crying done on them, and we are – in the main – glad that we are there for them. So, the diet goes, replaced by soul-food doughnuts. We need that glass of wine at the end of a particularly sad/busy/worrying day. We’ve had to cancel lunch/dinner with family/friends yet again as it transpires we only have the twenty-four hours in every day that everyone else has. And the writing?
Well, there’s always tomorrow, isn’t there? As writers we can’t help logging little snippets in our memories – an image, a few words, a feeling – so we can drag them all out again one day and commit them to paper. And we must be very thankful that we are writers and that we have that facility. And do you know what? Tunnels – real and metaphorical – don’t go on for ever. There is always that little chink of light that beckons us eventually, gives us hope, beckons us on.

Jennifer - It's funny how light always comes in at the end, isn't it? It's at the end of the tunnel. It's the sun breaking through after a storm. It's the celestial light of the Last Judgement in a myriad church windows. Even the motto of my football team is 'Out of darkness comes light'. (Let's hope that last bit is true - it ain't looking good right now!)

As a writer I've never consciously articulated the way that the pattern of emerging into the light underlies almost every story I've ever written. It's partly because they're romance and so they must, by definition, have a happy ending. But even the non-romantic stories I write tend to have positive endings, even when they aren't altogether happy ones. Stories must reach a resolution and in my stories the resolution, whatever it is, has some kind of positive.

I take no pleasure into chasing my characters into darkness and pain. But I take great joy out of bringing them out again, and leaving them standing, at last, in the light.

Neil - As a landscape photographer, finding the right light is everything. It’s the reason I rise at unreasonable hours or trample the countryside when most are thinking of bed, as the ‘golden’ hour
for our work takes place around sunrise and sunset. During the day in summertime, the sun is too high and bright making it difficult to create the right shot. However, with the onset of autumn, as the sun drops lower in the sky, the light softens - a gift for photographers. At this time of year, landscape photographers often continue to take photographs throughout the day and many will claim autumn as their favourite season of the year.

Also, when choosing a location for a shoot, it’s important to balance light with shade, so that the overall piece has the correct sense of proportion. I imagine it must be similar for writers? As a photographer, light also dictates what settings I use, ...shutter speed, exposure and aperture. As the long, dark days of winter make it harder for me to indulge my passion for photography, I like to make the most of the autumnal light.  Hope you enjoy one of my recent shots…

Saturday, 10 September 2016


I’ve been thinking recently that I’ve not being getting the balance right – then I started to wonder what I meant about getting the balance right. And I realised there were two aspects to this.

Trying to get the balance right between this ...
... and this

Firstly, there’s my personal life and the balance I was thinking about was about time alone (mostly but not solely to write) and time with other people. I’m an introvert and I LOVE time alone. Moving to this new house has been ideal from that point of view. It’s a long way from anywhere and there is little chance of passers by dropping in, definitely no traffic noise, etc. It would be all too easy to spend days if not weeks without seeing anyone at all.

And much as I love solitude, I do love seeing people, too. And if I want to see people, living out here means I have to make an effort to do that. To organise for visitors to come here, or for me to go elsewhere. After a flurry of visitors over the summer we have very little lined up. So note to self – you need to make this effort. Not just because I enjoy the occasions for themselves, but also because afterwards they leave me with a new view on the world, new information, new ideas for writing. And an even greater enjoyment of said solitude!

Secondly, there’s my writing. Getting the balance right in my writing between my adult and teen novels isn’t always easy. But the most difficult thing is getting the balance right within a novel, that perfect mixture of romance, setting, character, action. How do people manage that? The best books make it look effortless. Maybe it is for some people, but not for me. I’ve been trying to plot my novels more, and, although this hasn’t been completely successful, it has allowed me to keep track of what is happening when (and sometimes, more importantly, what is NOT happening). It’s all about that dreaded word, pace, varying it and – yes – getting the balance right. It’s not something that comes naturally but I think I’m learning some of the tricks that will help me achieve it.

How do other people manage to balance everything in their own lives and work?