Saturday, 29 December 2018

Resolutions old and new

The old year is ticking to its close and it’s time to review my reading and writing resolutions from January. I made two, one more ambitious than the other and I can't be certain that I’ve fulfilled either of them because my main failure, as usual is in record-keeping.

I challenged myself to read an average of a book a week and to write an average of 1000 words a day — so, over the year, 52 books and 365,000 words. You wouldn’t have thought either was too hard to keep track of, but you’d be wrong.

I lost count of the books early on, telling myself it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t write down whichever book I’d finished late at night because I’d remember. Oh, and there was always my Kindle, which would keep a neat track for me. Except it didn’t. As any reader knows, books can sit on a TBR pile for many, many months and when I checked back a few weeks ago I didn’t know which of many downloaded in the latter half of 2017 I actually read in that year or which were carried forward to 2018. Oh, and I don’t read all my books on the Kindle. Yes, I can go through my bookshelves and hope I can remember which print versions  read when, but there are others that I've bought from second hand bookshops and given away again, or borrowed from friends and returned.

At the time of writing the confirmed minimum figure stands at 45, with five days of the year still to go in which I will certainly finish at least one more. I can, however, add a further six full-length manuscripts which I’ve read for other writers (again, that's a minimum. It's probably nine). Can I count those? And can I count the four full-length manuscripts I’ve written? In which case, surely I can says I’ve fulfilled the spirit of my resolution, if not the letter of it.

The same applies to the writing, or I hope it does. There were four books in my detective series (at various stages of drafts) plus an abandoned draft of a different novel, totalling 336,000 words. But can I include my blogs? Can I include the weekly article I write? If you allow me those, at roughly 4-500 words per blog post (about 30 of them) and 900 words per article (probably over 40), then I’ve covered that one, too.

All right, I’ve stretched things a bit, but even if someone were to quibble about the small print I’m happy with what I’ve achieved in terms of those two resolutions. I might be a bit more realistic next year, though. I might set myself to the book a week without committing to the thousand words. Probably more importantly, I think I’ll be resolving to keep a proper note of what I’ve read…

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Characters in Common

This week over on Novel Points of View we’re struggling with a conundrum: what, if anything, do our characters have in common?

Jennifer (Jo) says:

This is something of a problem for me at one level, because while some of my characters have something in common, I don’t always bother to tell you. So, for example, my male main characters are all football fans (as are some of my female ones). It’ll be there in their character profiles, but it won't necessarily make it into the book.

Sometimes it’s there. In Looking For Charlotte, my heroine, Flora, goes to the Boxing Day football with her male friend. In Storm Child Marcus’s missing key ring bears the crest of Stoke City and in my upcoming detective series, work repeatedly causes Jude to cancel his arrangement to go and see Carlisle United with his father.

My female characters are a more diverse bunch and have a lot less in common, although you can be sure that if you find one of them driving a Fiat 500 they’re definitely on the right side of whatever line I’ve drawn. And all the good guys, male or female, love cats.

Linda says:

It’s said that writers always put a little bit of themselves into all their work. A trait I know I have is for my heroine to take their coffee black, without sugar, and from a cafetiere – as do I. My heroines are always tallish – say 5’ 7” and slender – which I only am in my 5’ 2” dreams! A couple of readers have also told me that most of my heroines have a female best friend who is often not as well-educated as she is, but more than makes up for that in common sense and kindness, and loyalty. Said female best friend often has a rather naughty sense of humour – somewhat irreverent at times – and that’s probably because she’s not the heroine, with a problem to solve between the first page and the last, and she has this freedom to do that. Says, Linda, currently writing a wacky female best friend into her wip while the heroine drinks her coffee black, no sugar.

Rae says:

What do my characters have in common? At first I supposed nothing much. I try to make each unique, imagining their backstory and creating them from scratch. However, after some thought I realised food was significant for most of my protagonists. Perhaps not surprising as I read cookery books as part of my character development, much in the same way others create meaningful musical playlists.

During research for my work-in-progress, I discovered two very different, but equally brilliant, foodie writers. The first is best-selling entrepreneur and health enthusiast Ella Woodward, better known as Deliciously Ella, whose recipes are light and nutritious: Chickpea, Quinoa and Turmeric Curry; Mango and Avocado Salsa; Courgette Banana Bread. Whilst the recipe book helping me understand my second protagonist is A Girl Called Jack by award-winning Jack Monroe; 100 delicious recipes on a budget. Jack was a single mum with only £10 per week left to feed herself and her young son when she began blogging about how to make the most of the limited ingredients she had available. Her remarkable story is one of resourcefulness, thriving despite all life threw at her. Her recipes are both tasty and cheap.

My family are used to my research spilling over into meal times. Perhaps I should write a Christmas novella? The perfect excuse for my characters, and loved ones, to enjoy some festive treats. Seems my characters’ foodie obsession is here to stay. Merry Christmas one and all!

Victoria says:

There are a couple of things that link all of my favourite characters. The first is that they all live in Cornwall, which you would expect in a series called Cornish Tales, however the second link is less obvious unless you have read the novels. For this blog post I can reveal that the main character of each novel is a descendant of the heroine, Jenna, who features in the first book of the series, The Thief’s Daughter.

All the novels in the series are stand-alone tales, which means they can be read in any order, but the experience and character traits of the main character are naturally influenced by the generations who have gone before them. This did bring up the issue of being careful not to reveal too much about the generation before as I did not want to spoil the previous story if it was read in a different order. This is why in A Daughter’s Christmas Wish, I do not reveal who the hero’s mother married as her story will be released in the spring of 2019. It would be nice to one day reveal the full family tree, but as that would give away who ended up with who, that might be one “reveal” that stays firmly behind closed doors.

Jennie says:

I have to admit the subject ‘Is there something that links all your favourite characters?’ for our last joint blog of 2018 wasn’t what I’d been expecting.
Writing standalone books I always strive to make my main characters interesting and different in every book - I don’t want them to have things in common with previous characters. Okay, main female characters always need a best friend or someone feisty like an aunt, who basically tells them to stop being a whimp and get on with things when they confide in them, which helps to move the story on, but that’s about as far as it goes.

Cue a few days of muttering, ‘I can’t do this there is absolutely nothing that links the characters in any of my novels to each other.’

I decided to put it out of my mind and get on with my latest wip hoping that something would occur to me before the deadline. And it did! There IS something that appears in all my books (probably more than it should really!)

So, on behalf of Rosie from ‘Rosie’s Little Cafe on the Riviera’, Tina and Jodie in ‘A Year of Taking Chances’, Karen in ‘Summer at Coastguard Cottages’ ad Harriet in ‘The Little Kiosk By the Sea’ to name but four, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a Wonderful New Year with the champagne that links them all!

Terry says:

Blame it on Downton Abbey. British drama – including police procedurals, which are my absolute fave – kindled a passion for the giant country houses that require piles of cash and even more servants to make them run efficiently. (Think Midsomer Murders and the fabulous houses featured in each episode.) The people that live in these houses fascinate me. My writer’s mind often wonders what must it be like to set your feet on ancient Aubusson carpet each morning, to walk hallways that are hundreds of years old. My favourite fictional characters often are around houses such this. Sometimes they’ve lived in a home that has been in their family for generations. Maybe they’ve been forced out due to some dramatic circumstance that sucks me into the story. The rags to riches meme is especially charming, with the hero – having finally arrived home – gazing out the window at the sweeping view. My husband has often asked what sparked this interest in me. I don’t have an answer to that question, so I just blame it on Downton Abbey.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

In Which We Discuss #Resistance (And A Shamless Plug)

This week I’m sharing a project that I worked on which is near and dear to my heart. A wonderful group of authors has used their collective brilliance to publish a collection of short stories, the proceeds of which will be donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. I was honoured to write the foreword to this book. I am sharing  that with you here this week in hopes that your interest will be sparked. Here’s a bit about the book. 

The Darkest Hour: WWII Tales of Resistance. Come and get a glimpse of the invisible side of WWII - the Resistance, those who refuse to bow down to brutality. Hold your breath and hope for the best in the darkest of times, when our heroes and heroines risk all to defy evil so the light of freedom will shine over their countries again. This collection includes ten never before published novellas by ten of today’s bestselling WWII historical fiction authors.
The book is slated to release on January 22 and already hit the best-seller list. US readers can buy the book on Amazon here. UK readers can buy the book here.

There’s no doubt that World War II fiction is enjoying a huge popularity surge. Kristin Hannah’s “The Nightingale” published with critical acclaim, and Anthony Doerr’s “All The Light We Cannot See” swept the coveted Pulitzer Prize. This popularity is evidenced in television as well, with popular shows such as Bletchley Circle, Foyle’s War, and The Man in the High Castle. Why this surge in popularity, especially in the US market? Why do these stories that encapsulate a series of events that should have never happened intrigue us so? What do we hope to gain by reading stories about this war and the tyranny and horrors that accompanied it?

This question in itself presents a moral dilemma. Readers of fiction latch onto stories with a successful protagonist. We covet stories of resistance, courage, and survival. World War II provides an excellent launching pad for stories of reckless bravery by ordinary people. Those of us who root for the underdog seek out stories wherein the humble displaced citizen is able to make a difference. While this ethos is entertaining from a fiction standpoint, it is important to note the American experience of the Second World War’s heroics may not jibe with the global perspective. Many survivors of Nazi brutality came to America after the war and turned their stories into those of American pluck and heroism. It’s important to remember that these stories of successful heroes – at least in the context of World War II – are the exception and not the rule.
Given these divisive times and the current global political climate, it is my hope – and the hope of those who contributed to this anthology – that this trend in the popularity of World War II fiction will lead to curiosity, action, and prevention. For if you show an interest in this time in history and the stories that result from it, how can you not be curious and concerned about the events taking place now? The questions of how and why must be underscored with a resounding never again!

Some of the authors bring stories of resistance directly from their family history, all bring a unique perspective in the form of tight storytelling that will keep you intrigued from page one. This project for a good cause has morphed into a project of the heart. The passion of these writers is woven through the tapestry of their stories. It is important that the horrors of World War II are documented and remembered. World War II fiction gives us a story – with a protagonist and villain that entertain – that allows us to learn about history and garner a literary knowledge of the past. I believe these stories will invoke an emotional response that will keep the suffering and the sacrifice in our memories. While it is crucial – especially given our current political climate – that we never forget, it is even more important that we actively remember, and that we undertake to prevent the horrors of the Nazi regime before they happen again.
Terry Lynn Thomas
November 2018

Saturday, 8 December 2018


Warning: if you are of a sensitive disposition and rude words upset you, please don’t read this blog post. It is about swearing in novels, and therefore contains some ‘naughty’ words by necessity, to illustrate my points.

I write dual timeline fiction, where a historical mystery is uncovered and resolved in the present day. My books do reasonably well and get mostly good reviews, but I have had a couple of reviews complaining about the ‘bad language’ and recently was contacted via my website by someone who was so shocked at the swear words in chapter 1 of The Drowned Village that she found it hard to read on.

And yet, I don’t feel that I overuse swear words. It’s possible that I’m immune to them – I am married to an Irishman who uses swear words, particularly what one reviewer coyly described as ‘the F bomb’ practically as punctuation.

But I do have my characters swear if I think that’s what they would naturally do, in the situation I’ve put them in.

Here’s an example from The Pearl Locket (it’s not a spoiler). Context is that our hero Jack is fighting in 1944 in northern France, just after D-Day.

The mortar and bag of shells was there, but no Mikey. Only a smear of blood along the bottom of the ditch. ‘Shit, Mikey, what’s happened?’ Jack muttered. He followed the trail of blood a few yards further along the ditch, and found Mikey, lying on his back, clutching at wounds in his thigh and side.
Mikey, oh Christ, Mikey. Hang on, kid. I’ll soon patch you up.’ The thigh wound was pumping blood. Jack pulled out his knife and cut off the lower part of Mikey’s trouser leg. He tore a strip of it and tied it tightly above the leg wound, wadding the rest against the hole in Mikey’s side. He placed Mikey’s hand over this. ‘Push hard. Keep the pressure on. I’ll get you home.’
Never coming home,’ Mikey mumbled.
Yes you are, kid. You’re not fighting any more with those injuries. We’ll have you back on a boat in no time. Shit!’ Jack ducked as more machine gun fire rattled across the field. He felt the whoosh of a bullet right past the side of his head. ‘Too close. Mikey, look, I’ve got to get that mortar set up. We’ve no hope unless I can take out the machine gun. Keep that pressure on, and hang on in there.’

So, just two instances of ‘shit’ which given that Jack’s best mate has been mortally wounded and he himself is being fired at, does not seem excessive to me. I mean, you would swear in that situation, wouldn’t you?

And in the same novel, in the contemporary story, teenage Matt has just been dumped by his girlfriend Kelly.
Matt knocked the tray out of her hands. Crockery and leftover food went flying and a couple of girls at the next table leapt up squealing as they were showered with debris. ‘For fuck’s sake, Kelly. We’ve been together nearly a year and you do this to me? Well, that’s it. I’ve had enough. It’s over. Over! Happy now?’ He stormed out of the café.
Much later, Kelly turns up at Matt’s door, unannounced.
‘… It’s a long story. Can I just get rid of the taxi? Then I’ll explain. If it’s OK to come in… Thing is, I can’t go home, and I’ve no money and no phone…’
For fuck’s sake, Kelly.’ Matt dug in his pocket and pulled out a two-pound coin. He thrust it at her then turned and walked back into the house, leaving the front door open.

Matt’s use of ‘for fuck’s sake’ in these clips is part of how he speaks, as a modern day teenager who is being mucked about by his girlfriend. I think it’s warranted and natural. And these extracts are the only swearing in that entire novel.

The one that elicited the contact via my blog is this. It’s in chapter one of The Drowned Village, in an extended flashback. Laura has returned unexpectedly early to the flat she shares with her long-term boyfriend and best friend who is their lodger. She’s walked in on the two of them humping, and Stuart has admitted it’s been going on for some time. And then he says this:
‘Lols? I guess maybe you and Martine should swap rooms. I mean, now it’s all out in the open . . .’ Stuart said, with a shrug.

That did it. ‘Swap rooms? You think you just move me into the spare room now you’re bored of me, and Martine into our room? It’s as easy as that? You bastard, Stuart. You are a complete and utter GIT! And you –’ Laura turned to Martine – ‘how even could you? I thought you were my friend. My best friend. Well, fuck you.’ She picked up the nearest object to hand – a ring-binder folder of Stuart’s containing details of his work projects – and flung it across the room at them both. Satisfyingly, it popped open in mid-air, showering papers everywhere.

Again, in that situation, you would swear, wouldn’t you? I mean, ‘blimey’ or ‘you cad’ just wouldn’t cut the mustard, would it?

I like swear words. I like the impact they bring, in those heated moments, when you need to show the extreme emotions your characters are experiencing. I don’t use them lightly – I use them when no other word will do.

What do blog readers think? To swear or not to swear, in fiction? Does it bother you or not?

Saturday, 1 December 2018


I was writing a scene in my current wip this week where one of my characters, Vicky a would be writer, discovers a wonderful summer house in the garden of the villa she was staying in on holiday. She immediately decided that that was where she’d spend her time writing. The garden was beautiful, the view of the blue Mediterranean wonderful and she just knew that her writing would be inspired in this place. 
I got so carried away with my vision of this summerhouse that I began to research writer’s rooms and I’m sorry to say the little green eyed monster made an appearance. There were arty rooms, lived in rooms,spartan rooms, rooms with a view, rooms in cottages, rooms at the top of elegant townhouses. Many rooms were bigger than the sitting room in my quirky little cottage. Suffice to say - whatever they were like they were a million miles away from this writer’s life! Rather like this rather grand picture of a room in Harewood House.

I did learn a couple of interesting things though. Jane Austin, without a room she could call her own, settled near a door, writing on small pieces of paper which she could easily hide from prying eyes when the creaking of another door warned her somebody was coming. She apparently refused to allow the creak to be oiled.

Margaret Forster, interviewed for the Guardian’s series on ‘Writer’s Rooms’ years ago, said of her room: ‘The minute I walk into this room of my own, I swear I become a different person. The wife, the mother, the granny, the cook, the cleaner - all vanish, for two or three hours only the writer is left.’ 
And that really sums it up for me - we all need to find somewhere where we can become that writer for however little time we can spare to write.

As for me, I do have my own tiny writing space. Currently it’s in what was originally a lean to at the back of the cottage that has been converted into a bathroom and an extra room. I share this room with a put-u-up, the airing cupboard, the ironing pile and board and a chest freezer! It’s also not unknown for the roof to leak. Next year when we finally have a new roof I’m hoping to be able to move upstairs and create a proper writer’s room!

I know lots of my writer friends write on laptops sitting at the kitchen table or on the sofa but I find that an impossible scenario for me. I need silence and the ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign hanging from the door. 

So, do you have a room of your own like Virginia Woolf advocated ninety years ago as essential to women writers? Or maybe you run away from home to write? Find a friendly cafe where you can people watch as you write? Or does the silence of your library appeal more? If you stay home do you sit on the sofa and shut everything out? Do you need a view? A blank wall? What does it take to get you ‘in the zone’? If you have a room of your own do you obey Stephen King and shut the door on the real world to inhabit your imaginary one? Do tell us.