Monday, 28 September 2015

The Grapes of Love

It might look as though I've been gallivanting again but... oh, okay, I have!

After an exciting week where I celebrated the completion of my first novel (you can read about it here) my seven friends and I went for a long weekend to Bordeaux. Usually we stay in England but this year we fancied some September sunshine... and that was what we got. It was glorious.

We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in the centre of the city with wonderful high ceilings with decorative cornices - but only one loo between the eight of us! Amazingly, we didn't have to resort to a rota ... but it was touch and go.

Bordeaux is a lovely city, especially in the early autumn and I particularly loved the Mirroir d' Eau (Mirror Pool). It's a giant slab of granite, covered with 2cm of water, set in front of the beautiful Place de la Bourse. The way it alternates between a mirror effect which reflects the 18 century facades of the buildings behind and a mist, is magical. No wonder it's the most photographed site in the city.

We also visited the lovely town of St Emilion and did a bit of wine tasting - well you have to don't you! 

It was a coincidence that at the same time I was touring the vineyards, my love story, The Grapes of Love, was in Take a Break Fiction Feast. The setting is a vineyard called Domaine de la Bergerie and the story takes place during during the vindage. I actually sold this story a year ago but missed the boat for last year's October magazine so they held it back a year.

'Below her, the vineyards stretched out as far as the eye could see until they reached the blue ribbon of the river in the distance. The air was filled with the musky scent of the harvest...'

I like to think that it could be describing one of the vineyards we saw.

Last week also saw the penultimate instalment of my People's Friend serial, Life at Babcock House. It's so exciting to see what illustration has been created for it. As it's about a year since I wrote the serial, I've forgotten a lot of it, so I've reading it again - this time with the eyes of a reader.

Now I'm back, I can feel some serious novel editing coming on and (surprise, surprise) I've come home with a short story idea or two.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Day I Typed THE END!

Today I am celebrating the moment I finally wrote THE END at the bottom of my novel. So how do I feel?

Proud, amazed, relieved and scared!

Actually, I can hardly believe I've done it - there were times, especially around the first quarter, when I wondered whether I would ever manage to write those two little words. 

There were several things that got me through the bad patches and the days of self doubt: my daughter in Germany demanding to read the rest after I'd sent her the first half (even though she already knew the story); my husband ignoring my calls of 'dinner's ready' (unheard of) as he was so engrossed in it; the editor at the RNA conference who asked to see the whole thing once I'd finished; the need to send something to my New Writers' Scheme reader; the three agents who 'favourited' my pitch in a #PitchCB Twitter event and last but not least, a good talking to every once in a while from writing buddy, Tracy Fells!

These were all real boosts but what ultimately kept me going was the fact that I really loved writing the story and had faith in it even when the going got tough. 

The novel is a contemporary romantic mystery/suspense and from the photos you'll see that it's set on a Greek island. The small island in my story is fictitious but loosely based on Alonissos in the Aegean. 

The novel started life as one of my published magazine stories but soon evolved into something very different - only the central theme, main characters and setting have remained the same. I've been on many Greek holidays (several mentioned on this blog) and used my memory of the places I'd visited, along with online research, to write the novel. I scoured the internet for pictures an island that best fitted my idea of the harbour and old town where my story is set and when I came across Alonissos I knew I'd found what I was looking for.

With this in mind, last week (with the novel in its final stages) my husband and I went to visit the island so that I could check details, take photos of the trees, flowers, beaches etc and ask questions. We had a fabulous holiday - staying in the small village of Agnondas on the island of Skopelos (next to Alonissos). We stayed in the lovely Lithanomon Apartments, 20 metres from the beautiful pebble beach with its three tavernas, and as it was out of season we had the place and the pool to ourselves. Lucky us! 

We swam, we walked, we looked in churches, we hired a small boat to visit deserted beaches and we took a boat trip to Alonissos to visit the old town on the hill which features in several of my chapters.
We even climbed the vertiginous 100 steps to the chapel of Agios Ioannis (the one featured in Mama Mia) on the North of the island. We expected there to be hundreds of tourists - but there was just us! I was fine until I got to the final steep part and then I looked down and froze. It took great willpower to climb the last part, but I really wanted to ring that bell to tell the world I was up there. 

All that was left was to come home and finish the novel. Luckily with my head full of sights, sounds and smells of the islands it didn't take long.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Life at Babcock Manor - My Second Serial for The People's Friend

It's been a busy time publication-wise over the last couple of weeks but by far the most exciting has been the first episode of my serial 'Life at Babcock Manor' in The People's friend.

This is my second serial and is an 'upstairs-downstairs' style family saga set in the 1850s. It starts when governess Emily arrives at the house owned by Doctor Craven and his wife to tutor their daughter, Elizabeth. Why is beautiful Mrs Craven so strange and distant? What trouble will her brother Lewis cause for the family? Will new maid Elsa come between kitchen maid Jenny and young footman Robert? I can't tell you the fun I had trying to answer these questions and more.

The inspiration behind Life at Babcock Manor was a Christmas story I wrote for The Friend a couple of years ago called, The Last Candle. Even as I was writing it, I knew there were more stories to be told about my characters. Eagle-eyed readers might remember some of the characters: gruff Mrs Banbury, the cook; serious housekeeper, Mrs Peters; Jenny's little brother, Jed. All of them return - along with new characters, flighty ward Belinda, dashing Lewis and kind new doctor James Upton. Governess, Emily, was the heroine in my People's Friend canal-side story, Workshop of the World. I love re-using characters, moving them to different locations and seeing what happens to them.

As I've mentioned before, the People's Friend is holding a serial writing competition. To help promote it, I was asked by Writers' Forum columnist, Doug McPherson, to give a few words about serial writing to go alongside those of fiction editor, Shirley Blair. Seeing this photo had made me realise I really must get a new one done - it's been around too long.

Alongside Life at Babcock Manor is my short story, The Iron Man. It opens the magazine. Did you know that this is the name given to the wind pumps on American farms? No, nor did I until I started to write the story for the great illustration my editor sent me, and did some research. Every now and again I'll write a story set in another country just for a change. I find writing about a different place (especially one I've never been to) challenging but also refreshing.

I also have a story called The Grapes of Love in Take a Break Fiction Feast, but as it relates to something I shall be doing in a couple of weeks time, I shall leave the inspiration behind this story until then.

Finally, for the first time, writing chum, Tracy Fells, and I have joined forces for a feature! We are talking to Lynne Hackles in her Novel Ideas column about the importance of writing buddies and teacakes -what else! Without Tracy's support I wouldn't have achieved half of my goals... honestly.

You can find Lynne's Column in Writing Magazine.

So that's it for this week. On Tuesday I am off to Skopelos for a week to soak up the sun and to add the final details to my Greek romantic suspense. It's all but finished and will hopefully be ready to send out to agents once I'm back. Exciting stuff. Can't wait!