Welcome to my blog. I am not a very regular blogger, but I try to keep this site updated with news and information. If there's none of the above I may just share my random ruminations.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

What has Writing Got to do With Owls?

Editing or making that ugly ill-formed lump into a thing of beauty


Early one summer, when I was fifteen, I found a fledgling owl on a pavement near our house. He couldn't fly. I took him down to the vet. I was told it was relatively easy to rear owls. But that rearing them in order to return them to the wild was more tricky. They are easily tameable. I named  him Timmy and took him home..........

I’ll tell you in a minute what happened next.



Editing is the best bit of writing because every time you do it you’re making your book better.  But before you can start the editing you have to have the raw material to work on.  Sorry to state the obvious! 

Writing doesn’t come easily to me. To get the original story out and onto the page is a slow, hiccupy sometimes painful process.  It was when I was thinking about the creation of that first ugly, misshapen draft, that the image of my owl came to mind. In the wild, owls eat the whole of their prey, bones, fur and all.  They then regurgitate a pellet of the indigestible part of the diet. So, if you’re rearing a young owl, you have to incorporate some of these elements, to keep this mechanism working.

My mum did not really relish the prospect of having a tame owl round the house, we already had a dog and a cat, so Timmy lived in a large box in our garage (my dad's car was banished to the drive). She devised the idea of shaking a jar of dried beans whenever I fed him, so that he would associate the noise with food.  In those early days I lifted him out of his box and he would sit on my lap to be fed.  It wasn't long before he gave me a surprise by taking off for a test flight. From then on he lived in the garage rafters, from time to time uttering strident screeches, which to me sounded more like Weee-eee-eeeeb rather than Tu Whit.  I now had to climb up a set of tall step-ladders to give him his food. He would still sit on my lap and would allow me to stroke his head while I gave him the scraps of meat wrapped up in rabbit skins (available from a local butcher in those days, and kept in the ice-cream compartment of our small under-counter fridge). I often watched him, sitting up there on his favourite rafter, regurgitating pellets.  It looked a very uncomfortable process;  it looked like it took a great deal of effort;  it looked like Timmy would far rather be doing something else as he gagged, retched and eventually brought up a surprisingly large and steaming lump of matter.

Back to writing. It’s only after the horrible process of excavating that first draft out of myself, that the fun begins.  It’s only when I read the whole thing through that I realise it’s not (usually) as bad as I feared. But even when it is pretty rough and ready, the ideas about how to improve it start to flow. And it’s not just the way I’ve expressed myself that can be tidied up.  New revelations come to me about the characters and their motivations - why did X say that and Y do this?  Flaws in the plotline show up, but also the solutions.  The story may even go off in new and surprising directions.  All of this is like magic and is deeply rewarding.


After we released Timmy we’d leave his food out in the garden every evening on the top platform of the step ladders. And we would shake the jar of beans until he flew into the garden and alighted next to his evening repast. Gradually he stopped coming and we could only hope that he had taught himself to hunt and survived.

One summer night, a year later, we heard a very loud - and very close - ‘tu-whitting’.  It sounded just like Timmy. My dad shone a torch onto a full-grown owl sitting in one of our beech trees.


As we watched he flew down and perched on the top of the side door to the garage where Timmy had lived.  He sat there for several minutes then flew off. It was almost as if he had come back just to tell us he was all right. He'd made it.

 I’ve since discovered that my conviction that Timmy was a boy was misplaced. It’s the females who go ‘tu-whitt’ and the males who go ‘tu-whoo’.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

To celebrate the paperback publication of  One Cornish Summer author Liz Fenwick is running a  'Cornish Summer Memories' feature.

I was delighted to be invited to share my own relections on Cornwall, where my family and I spent many happy holidays.

Left to right - my brother Laurence aged 4, my sister Janis aged 13, and me, aged 8

As I leant towards this calf, it began to suck the end of my plait!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

A Proud Mother

At the moment I can think of no better use for my blog than to celebrate the achievement of my son, Thomas Williams


Thomas Williams


It's less than a year since the hardback of his book VIKING BRITAIN was published by William Collins.

August 9 is the publication date ot the paperback version of his book  and here it is in all its glory.

NB: Since I wrote this two weeks ago the publishers are already talking about a paperback reprint!



VIKING BRITAIN - A History

There are a few of my illustrations in the book but the very striking cover illustration was produced by Joe McLaren.

To follow Tom on Twitter - @battlescapes
To follow Tom on FaceBook - https://www.facebook.com/thomasjtwilliams



Tuesday, May 1, 2018

DON'T JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS......

Things aren't always what they seem.  


You've heard about the woman who walks into doors? Well In my case it was the sheep wot dun it. 

The only near eruption of physical violence in my marriage came from me.  I still recall the incident vividly. We were sitting side by side in the parked car, me in the driving seat. I was seething and drew my arm back to hit my husband. But it wasn't just the impracticality of the location for a physical fight which stopped me. I just couldn't do it. The trigger for the argument was trivial and certainly did not warrant anyone getting bruised - physically or psychologically - I ended up giving him a half-hearted shove.

This happened in the early years and since then, despite no re-occurrence, I have always accepted the label of being the aggressive one in the marriage - relying on my husband’s admission that even if that blow had landed where I initially intended, he probably deserved it.


As you've probably guessed, all this is just a preamble..........

About six weeks ago I took myself out for a walk, on my own. My initial aim was to walk down to the farm and back. I say “down” as the farm is lower than we are but the road skirts the side of the valley. It dips, then climbs and then dips again.  Undertaken briskly, this short walk takes about half an hour but delivers a bit of a work out.





















By the time I reached the farm’s entrance I was still feeling fresh.  Instead of retracing my steps I turned right, taking the uphill lane opposite the farm’s driveway. “I’ll just walk as far as the sheep, to say hello,” I thought to myself.

Entrance to farm
Lane leading to the field with sheep




















This lane is steep at first, but then begins to level out. I began to look ahead for the 6 extremely plump and woolly sheep in a field that abuts the road. The last time I’d visited them I guessed they might even be pregnant.  But as I progressed I couldn’t see the sheep, let alone any lambs.  Then I realised that the furthest field of the small-holding was partially obscured by the contours of the land.  And wait….!   I spotted a few creamy humps just beginning to protrude above the green slope. The backs of the grazing animals.


The next moment I was lying flat on my face - half on the lane, half off it - feeling extremely stupid. There'd been no heart-stopping lurch when you know you’ve tripped. No time to throw out arms to break the fall. No sense of disaster.  Just bang! One moment upright, the next splayed horizontal. To paraphrase Tommy Cooper's famous line - Ground face, face ground!

On revisiting the spot today I confirmed what I'd suspected. For several yards the ground is broken away at the edge of the road and, while looking ahead, I'd put my foot in this gully!


(What I also discovered today is that there are now two lambs. Mother and babies are separated from the others.)





















Needless to say, after my prat-fall I gave up on my intention to visit the sheep.  I walked home with blood dripping from a deep graze on my hand, various aches and pains, mainly around my ribs, and a sore face.

It wasn’t till the next day that I truly realised what I’d done to myself. While affording me some measure of protection - but not to themselves - my glasses had rammed hard against my cheekbone, brow and the side of my nose. Fortunately my black-eye did not puff and close up, but the livid bruise took over four weeks to completely disappear.


Tomorrow I am going into town to collect my new glasses

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Karen King's 'Rise of the Soul Catchers'

I am delighted to be one of the stops on Karen King's Blog Tour for 
Rise of the Soul Catchers

In introducing this book the one thing I am sure of is that it's for Young Adults.  But I don't know whether to describe it as Paranormal, Romance or Adventure. Or maybe it's a mix of all three...?  Better still, I'll shut up and hand over to Karen


RISE OF THE SOUL CATCHERS 

Can love survive anything – even death?




Sapphire and Will vow to love each other forever. But when a car crash ends that dream all too soon, they find themselves separated in an afterlife with zones named after the colours of the rainbow. Determined to find each other, they start an adventurous journey alongside a cast of characters they don't know whether to trust. They finally meet again in the terror-fuelled Red Zone where the dreaded Soul Catchers are planning on taking over the entire afterworld and are plunged into a dangerous battle. Is their love strong enough to survive against the odds? 

 (Previously published as Sapphire Blue


Extract from Sapphire’s Viewpoint:

My mind is a mess. I can’t leave Will. I’ve got to help him. But how can I? I don’t know this world. If I don’t go with Grandpa and my family, I’ll be on my own. The Soul Catchers might get me too. 

Soul Catchers. The very name makes me shudder. Have they got Will? What are they doing to him?

Will and I promised to love each other forever. How can I go without knowing he’s safe? I can’t leave him. But if I stay, how can I help him? My head is such a mish-mash of thoughts and fears I’m hardly aware of Grandpa leading me over to the silver bus, of climbing up the steps to board it.

It’s crowded so we have to go right at the back to find a seat. Grandpa gently pushes me into the seat by the window. I look out and see the guy still waiting on the steps. He’s not giving up on his sister. How can I give up on Will so easily?

That guy belongs here. He knows his way around, I remind myself. I’m new. I need to stay with Grandpa. Besides, the zone guides will find Will.

What if they don’t? I might never see him again.

The realization smacks me like a punch to the stomach, momentarily winding me.

I can’t go. Going with Grandpa might mean leaving Will forever and I can’t do that.

I can get another bus and meet up with Grandpa later, when I find Will. He could be on his way here, right now. I think of him walking in alone and confused like I was, of running to greet him, hugging him, letting him know that even though we’re here we still have each other. I have to wait for him.

I get up from my seat, almost jumping over Grandpa in my haste to get off.

“I’m waiting for Will,” I shout as I race down the aisle toward the closing door.

I can hear Grandpa and Aunt May calling me to come back but I ignore them. The doors are closing. With a final burst I reach them, slip through the narrowing gap and leap out, landing sprawled out on the ground. I hear the doors slide shut behind me and a loud whoosh. Scrambling to my knees I swivel around just in time to see the silver bus rise up and soar off into the sky, swiftly disappearing behind the clouds. Okay, so that’s why it’s called a sky-bus. Now what the hell do I do?

Rise of the Soul Catchers is  published on 25th April.


Karen King writes edgy YA with a heart and sassy, heart-warming romance. Her first YA, Perfect Summer, was runner up in the Red Telephone Books 2011 YA Novel Competition and her second YA, Sapphire Blue, now republished as Rise of the Soul Catchers by Littwitz Press, was called ‘the best YA book out there right now’ by a reviewer for Ind’Tale magazine.
Karen has four romcoms published by Accent Press, and a fifth one is due out in June this year, Her latest romcom, The Cornish Hotel by the Sea, was #3 in the Amazon bestseller holiday reads.  She has recently signed a two book-contract with Bookouture for more romance novels.
Karen has also written several short stories for women’s magazine and had 120 children's books published. When she isn’t writing, Karen likes travelling, watching the ‘soaps’ and reading. Give her a good book and a box of chocolates and she thinks she’s in Heaven.

Author links:
Twitter: @karen_king




Monday, March 26, 2018

LIFE BITING BACK - the genesis of FLY OR FALL

Maybe I should write a book about winning the lottery!


“Where do you get your ideas from?” is a frequent question posed to writers. For me the simple answer is: I make stuff up. And then I ask myself : But what if...?
It’s more complicated than that, of course. Imagination on its own is never enough. My own experience informs and deepens my writing, and provides me with ideas and directions, but the finished story is never a word-for-word account of the life I’ve lived.
But when the stuff you did make up begins happening in ‘real life’, perhaps that’s when you should start to worry!

Fairy Dance - Arthur Rackham
I was a fey, day-dreamy
I loved dressing-up. Me as a 'gypsy'
child. I resisted letting go of fairy tales, Santa Claus and magic. Eventually I had to grow up - probably far later than many of my peers - but oddly, when I did, I felt I’d taken a longer step forward than they had. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the teenage comics and romances my friends read, but I wasn’t an uncritical sponge. I took them with a large pinch of salt.


Perhaps I’m too much of a cynic, but the endlessly regurgitated tale of the hard-done-by heroine, whose extraordinary beauty goes unnoticed - even by herself - until the rich, handsome, toned, maybe a touch arrogant but otherwise impressive (and universally admired) hero, comes along and notices her, seemed a bit soppy to me. I was more drawn to the quirky hero's of the Edwardian writer, Ethel M Dell. Or - more worryingly - the old-lady-murdering hero of Dostoevsky's Crime & Punishment - Rodion Raskolnikov!

It's a good thing that these days there is far more variety in contemporary women’s fiction, but the parameters were far more rigid when I first seriously attempted to write a love story. To have any chance of my book being published I knew I should try to write a typical category romance. Knowing what you should do and accomplishing it, are two very different things, however. Once I’d begun ‘Just Before Dawn’ it took off, following its own, unconventional trajectory. I knew it wasn’t keeping within the rules but I was too excited following a story which seemed to know better than I did, where it was going.

Re-published in paperback
My own design
Having almost immediately found a publisher for it, and feeling undeservedly complacent, I made no attempt to keep my second book - ‘Desires & Dreams’ - within the supposedly acceptable ‘romance’ guidelines. I was aware I’d been lucky, but not sufficiently aware just how lucky. In retrospect I can more clearly see how much of a fluke it was to have so quickly found a newly established publisher whose mission statement fitted what I was writing so perfectly. The publisher's demise hardly more than five years after their launch is an indication of just how difficult it was then to buck the system.

Re-published in paperback
My own design










From then on, I struggled to find another publisher, in part perhaps because I was continuing to write stories which confronted the realities of contemporary life, good and bad, without flinching or looking away. Stories in which flawed characters face life’s inevitable hurdles - love, death, marriage, sex, parenthood, infidelity – not always doing the right thing but ultimately finding a way through the maze to peace and a credible, happy-for-now, ending.



My original cover -
before the book was re-published
by Accent Press
My original cover -
before the book was re-published
 by Accent Press















Eventually abandoning my quest to find a publisher, I went independent and self-published TORN and LIFE CLASS. After receiving good reviews, I wished I had another book to bring out. Wait a minute! I did have another book! I’d begun it years before, it was the next book I planned to offer my original publisher. But at a stressful time of my life I'd abandoned it, even before my publisher folded.
My original cover -
before the book was re-published
 by Accent Press
The initial concept for FLY OR FALL came to me four years after we’d moved-house from South London into Surrey, a move instigated by me.  But what if I hadn't wanted to move.......?

What if a woman who dislikes change is persuaded - against her will - to move-house from Battersea in London to an area where she knows no one? And what if her mother has just died?  And what if the new house is old-fashioned and run down and in need of major modernisation....?

I'd had some experience of having work done on the house, but nothing too disruptive, and there'd been no untoward incidents to base a story around. It was then I had a very surprising conversation with a woman I knew slightly. I’d never been propositioned by a worker in my home but for her flirting (and, I inferred, much more) with builders, was a commonplace and welcome add-on to home improvements!  Dragging my eyebrows down from my hairline, I latched onto another idea.  Like me, my heroine, Nell, is not that kind of woman! She is very unlikely to respond positively to a pass from a stranger. But what if I put her in a house full of builders, and the man with the reputation as a local womaniser fails to make a pass at her? Would she feel relief or resentment?

At that time in my life I was working in the bar of a sports club for a few evenings a week. It struck me that my heroine might take a similar job which could expose her to an entirely different world to the one she’d left behind in ‘right on’, ‘politically correct’ Battersea. I still had no overall story, but all of these thoughts were rumbling around in my head in a lumpy, unconnected way, and I was laboriously writing them down, hoping that something would begin to gel.


Irene Allan - 1922-1986
Suddenly, everything in my life was turned upside down by the totally unexpected and early death of my much-loved mother. Despite this disturbing coincidence with my heroine’s life, I continued writing. It was an escape from the grief.  But very soon afterwards, my husband was head-hunted. The job was many miles away in Gloucestershire, and I found myself faced with the self same dilemma I’d confronted my heroine with!  I was in shock.  What was going on?  Instead of writing a story using my own life as a resource, my life had begun to mirror the story I was writing!  I was happy in Surrey.  My son was at school and I was putting down roots, forming a network, and I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to move ever again, let alone to a county neither my husband nor I had ever even set foot in. But it was a good opportunity and we made the joint decision to go for it.

I found myself living through many of the life events and emotions I’d only previously imagined, including the major  upheaval of building, electrical and plumbing work!  The unfinished untitled manuscript was put away.  So it was, that many years later, only when I wanted to add to the body of work I was independently publishing,  I decided to have another look at this book.  I immediately saw that it had potential; better still, the intervening years had healed the rawness of the bereavement and dislocation I’d felt, and I was able to look back on that period of my life more dispassionately.  My well of experience had, by this time, deepened considerably, giving me far more to draw on. And the perfect title jumped out at me. I updated and finished FLY OR FALL.

All three books are now available from Accent Press.

To find out more about FLY OR FALL, go to Books in my Handbag
A character interview with Patrick Lynch
A character interview with Elizabeth Whitgift
A character interview with Eleanor (Nell) Hardcastle



Monday, March 19, 2018

Becoming a Writer Was NOT a Foregone Conclusion.


Despite writing all through my teenage years, I never took it, or myself, seriously. I was well aware I was writing rubbish. I’d managed to get into Grammar school but I wasn’t in the top set. If I received a B+ for an English essay I was pleased with myself, usually getting no better than a B or B- . I felt that I was intelligent, but I couldn’t prove it. I was too impatient, careless or lazy. (In recent years I’ve become convinced that I am on the dyslexia spectrum, something that was not even recognised at the time.) So, the fact that my hobby was to write (or, more precisely, to begin writing) romantic novels, did not mean I harboured ambitions to be an author. I knew I wasn’t clever enough. It meant only that writing answered a need in me, satisfying my pubescent cravings for love. After all, “Art” was where I was headed in life. My parents were convinced of it, I agreed with them. It was the only subject I was unarguably good at. And yet, and yet..........



I have a vivid recollection of travelling home on a commuter train from Charing Cross, to my family home in Orpington, Kent. I was working at the time as a sales assistant in a department store. At the time I saw this as a short interlude between art-college and a “proper” job, but as time ticked by, and the number of West End stores I'd worked in multiplied, I became increasingly depressed. A situation not improved by the continuing desert of my  love-life.

The train crossed The Thames and I was struck by a stunning sunset over the Palace of Westminster. I stared and stared as we travelled through Waterloo and then London Bridge, where the rail track skims the roof-tops. I found myself trying to find a satisfactory way to describe the sky. And I wasn’t simply listing the colours I saw but trying to construct the most lucid and engaging form of words to precisely convey the scene. The way the blue of the sky grew watery, bleeding down to a luminous duck egg green, how the bruise dark clouds reared up, slashed horizontally where the light from the setting sun bled through in gouts of brilliant orange and scarlet. (I told you the memory was vivid!) But even as I stared, shuffling words and sentences in my head, I remember thinking that as a supposed artist I should be mentally selecting the paints with which I’d render the scene. Why was I trying to describe it in words?


More than a decade and a half later I’d worked for years as an illustrator in advertising, I’d met and married my husband, I’d had our son Tom and he was in his fourth year. I began to wonder what I could do from home to earn money. Free-lance art work was a possibility, but with a toddler in tow it would be difficult. I did do some work in those early days of motherhood, but I postponed a real push to get back into commercial art until Tom was older. It was then the light bulb went on above my head and I made the decision that would alter my life. “I know what I’ll do now, I’ll write a novel.”