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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Blissfully Romantic Location.

We have just come home from two weeks in Greece.  The unarguable beauty; the warmth; the scents of pine resin, thyme and sage; the continuous swooshing of the sea and the clanking of goats’ bells - and from our vantage point high above it, we even saw a huge turtle swimming up the bay - all combine in a seductive sense memory that I've filed away to be revisited whenever I need a boost.

Our villa is terracotta, halfway up the slope
















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By the time it came to leave it was a wrench, not just because we had enjoyed a lovely holiday,  but because we felt we were leaving friends.  Betty and Venettia, the caretakers of our villa, took us on a trip - it was at their own instigation. We prefer not to have a hire car and they were concerned we were missing out. They refused any contribution towards petrol, and collected us and drove us home, despite our insistence that we would get a taxi.

Venettia
Betty














Members of the older generation of the family
The brothers












Dimitris and Christophoros, seemed bafflingly interchangeable, popping up to 'wait' at one or another bar or taverna. We then discovered that many of the eateries are a family concern, and that they are only two of the four brothers and three sisters of the family.

Andreas and Anait run the delightful and invariably excellent Nefeli taverna, with the help of Aleko (or Oleg) at front of house, and many others - including Anait's mum, in the background.

Aleko
Anait with her fiancé and business partner, Andreas



The Nefeli












I have to mention Katerina and her daughter, Maria, who run the Minimarket, and their cat Nausicca. (Poor Nausicca was pregnant when we first met her, but by the end of our holiday she had given birth and then lost her first litter of kittens. It is thought they were predated.)
When I went to buy some olive oil made from the olives grown on their own farm, they insisted on giving it to me.

Last but not least, marathon man, Christos. He is the owner of the villa we stayed in and could not have been more charming, enthusiastic, helpful and eager to chat to us - despite his pidgin English, and our, even more pidgin, Greek. Amazingly fit, he had retired as a colonel only four years previously, from a 36 year career in the Greek army, in the paratroop regiment.

Christos and me - enjoying his famous frappé
I can understand why Romance writers choose places like the Greek islands to set their stories.  The location is idyllic, lending itself to languorous glances across a candle-lit dinner table; the balmy evening breeze and the lulling sound of the sea; fragrant evening strolls among the Oleander trees and the Gardenias, but.....

When I am asked if I am a romance writer, I usually disclaim the description, or at least attempt to qualify my kind of fiction. I am not a snob about it - I'm a member of the Romantic Novelists Association after all - but I need to manage the expectations of my potential readers. If someone picks up one of my books wanting to immerse themselves in an escapist world of hearts and flowers, yachts and fast cars, glamorous locations, then they will feel very let down. But, if the reader wants a more down-to-earth story about real people, in real-life situations, then my books might be just what they’re looking for. 

Life is not a fairy tale - most of us, at some time, have to deal with bereavement, marriage, childbirth, infidelity, separation, illness and ... love, in its many facets.  There is the love of parents for children, and vice versa.  There is the love between brothers and sisters. There is love between friends.  Even the love in a relationship, is not always - or only - romantic.  It grows, changes, deepens and sometimes, sadly, fades.  I see love as a part of life, probably THE most important part, but still only a section woven into the plait that makes up our lives. 

So, of course, I write about love, but I don’t just write about its heady and breathless joys. I write about love where it’s gone wrong or dies. I write about the bad consequences of love and sex, as well as its rewards. And I don't deny that locations such as the one I've just left, are very very romantic. I just don't write that kind of book. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

BLUEBELLS




A week or two ago I went for a solitary walk in the woods above our house.  I needed the exercise, but I was going with intent. I knew there would be bluebells. It is a favourite time of year for me, some years better than others. 2016 was a good year, made more enchanting by the fact that the wood anemones, wild garlic and violets were also out at the same time.















In LIFE CLASS, my character Stefan lives in a house on a wooded hillside. So how could I resist including a passing reference to one of my favourite flowers?

Stefan wants, above all things, to concentrate on his career as a sculptor. It is his intention to live as a solitary artist, without the messy demands of love - in any of its incarnations.   The ghosts from his past are his object lesson; love only comes with shame and guilt.

In this section, his mood is understandably depressed. His neighbour, an old lady he helps out with shopping and odd jobs, has died. But more than this, he is continuously troubled by Dominic, the damaged young man currently living with him. Dom has been living dangerously and has put his health at risk.  And now there is a woman, a member of the art class he teaches, who intrudes too often and too disturbingly into his thoughts ... and into his life. How did he find himself in this position? He wanted to keep his life clear of the clutter of the unnecessary emotions that come with caring about other people.

It was cool but bright. As Stefan walked from the house to the barn, he saw a violet haze, wreathed smoke-like beneath the trees. Bluebells plus sunshine should have raised his spirits but, since the death of his neighbour, he’d yet to fully appreciate a lifting of his sense of responsibility. Was it because that weight had been replaced by another burden that touched his emotions far more closely? As he pulled open the barn door he was relieved to see Dom drawing at the table.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Jeff Gardiner visits WRITER CRAMPED

I am pleased to welcome a fellow Accent Press author to my blog.  Hello, Jeff. Thank you for visiting me and telling me all about PICA. It sounds like an enthralling read.

Jeff Gardiner's YA novel, PICA, explores a world of ancient magic, when people and nature shared secret powers. 
Luke hates nature, preferring the excitement of computer games to dull walks in the countryside, but his view of the world around him drastically begins to change when enigmatic loner, Guy, for whom Luke is reluctantly made to feel responsible, shows him some of the secrets that the very planet itself appears to be hiding from modern society.
Set in a very recognisable world of school and the realities of family-life, Luke tumbles into a fascinating world of magic and fantasy where transformations and shifting identities become an escape from the world. Luke gets caught up in an inescapable path that affects his very existence, as the view of the world around him drastically begins to change.





PICA Extract

A magpie (Latin name – Pica pica) has been persistently knocking on Luke’s window, and everywhere he goes he sees magpies. One day he decides to let the magpie in…

As soon as I pushed the window outwards the waiting bird hopped in, making a sound that almost equated to a tut. That can’t be right. I was imagining things again. My first fear that the magpie would squawk and flap about madly was unfounded, but I still felt nervous in its unpredictable presence, and had to keep trusting it wouldn’t poo on my bed. 
But it didn’t. In fact, it acted with excellent manners. What kind of bird was this? Wild birds don’t enter houses after knocking politely. If a bird does accidently get into a house it goes completely mental and craps everywhere. This one looked at me with eyes that gleamed with intelligent understanding. It knew me. I swear, it looked at me and knew I wouldn’t hurt it. In the old days I would have looked for a stick or a weapon. Now things were different, and I stared back at him with utter fascination. I moved even closer, confident I wasn’t in any danger.
‘You need to choose your friends more carefully, Luke.’ 
I stumbled slightly and had to grip the windowsill with my fingertips to hold myself up.
What the –?
The sodding bird had only gone and spoken to me. It snapped its beak, glared at me sideways, then flicked its tail. 
Was that for real, or had I lost the plot? Being with Guy had obviously turned me into a nut-job.
Up to now, I’d witnessed some amazing sights – but they could all be explained in encyclopaedias. However amazing the creatures Guy showed me, each one existed in the real world. But a talking bird? Now we’d suddenly jumped into a different dimension. 
And it had used my name. 
Had Guy sent this amazing bird to me to blow my mind even further?
It had to be Guy’s doing – sent on a crazy mission … unless …
‘Guy?’
Now I felt really stupid talking to a bird. 
‘Hello, Luke.’
Bloody hell. Take me to a padded cell. I’d lost it. Maybe I never had it!
‘Guy? Is that …’ This was crazy. ‘… is that you?’

If, like me, you've been inspired by this tantalsing extract to seek out Jeff's book, you can find PICA at W.H.Smith or at  Barnes & Noble . Of course, it can also be purchased through Amazon - UK, US or Australia


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

“Superb writing”

......who me? 




It goes without saying that reviews are important. But hang on ... does that statement truly “go without saying”? Have the reading public any real idea what a difference a good review makes? I am not just talking about sales figures. And anyway, it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy that books with a lot of reviews will have better sales than those with only a few. What we know for sure is that the author with 150 reviews for a particular title, has probably already sold getting on for that number.  And the author with only 10....?  Well, you can do the math, as they say.

Of course it’s not as simple a calculation as it looks. Perhaps you need to analyse the type of book. Is a more escapist story read by people who are more likely to leave stars and reviews? And is the more challenging story read and enjoyed by those who are less likely to leave comments and enthuse?

Is one author very proficient at promoting herself, making friends, and optimising every social media channel?  While the other is less comfortable with that side of things, and is probably allowing opportunities to gain visibility slip past her.

Does one author give away hundreds of review copies, while the other doesn’t even like asking for a review.

All this sounds like special pleading.  To be brutally honest it probably is.  An author who believes in what she’s written, has to rationalise why her book, over which (cliché alert) she has sweated blood and tears, hasn’t sold. Why isn't it in the Times Literary Supplement’s top ten, why hasn’t it been longlisted for that prize or received a gazillion 5 star reviews on Amazon? But when I started to write this piece I was not actually thinking about sales or celebrity, money, prizes or public plaudits, I was considering something subtly different.

The true difference a good review makes is to the author’s self-esteem, to the author’s well-being and sense of achievement. It gives her permission to say to herself: “I haven’t been wasting my time. I did create something of value.”

Last year, when LIFE CLASS was about to be republished, I contacted Anne Williams. I had seen her name on social media and knew she was a prolific book blogger and reviewer.  That is all I knew.  But I stiffened my resolve and approached her, asking if she’d be interested in featuring me.  Anne proved to be a charming and friendly correspondent, and I duly did an interview click here which came out in November. Although I didn’t ask her to, Anne offered to read and review LIFE CLASS. Needless to say, I was delighted.


When Anne's review arrived in my inbox (she allowed me a sight of it before it went live) I was overwhelmed.  It actually made my knees go weak. But what I really want to share here is a snippet of our subsequent email conversation.

“I really, really, really loved it,” Anne assured me, as if suspecting I thought she was just being kind. She then went on to say, “I actually desperately wanted to say something about the part where...[deleted!] ...and the wonderfully real bedroom scene that follows, but I didn't want to risk giving away too much of the story - but that was such superb writing!”

The sense that a reader has really 'got' you, is precious.  I will treasure “superb writing!” far above any number of five star reviews,  for a long long time to come.

But please don't hold back if you feel moved to award LIFE CLASS the aforementioned accolade!Winking smile Winking smile









Saturday, October 31, 2015

Sisters - A special bond.....

and sometimes a source of inspiration


I was sitting on a beach in Greece, when I had the 'Eureka' moment. Of course - they HAVE to be sisters! But, before I explain what I’m talking about, you need some background about my sister and me.

We are very different people. Janis is older by nearly five years and has enjoyed a long and successful career in personnel (these days I should probably call it human resources). Of the two of us, Jan was and is far more outward going, social and talkative, and, it has to be said, bossy. But I was a shy kid and was often lost for words when grown-ups talked to me. If I stayed silent, my big sister would butt in and answer for me.  I liked that.  It saved me the embarrassment of having to try to explain myself. It also saved me the bother.

I am creative.  My first jobs were fill-ins until I landed a position as junior illustrator, in an advertising design studio. I worked in that area of art for about ten years but then, when my son was little, I turned my hand to writing and quickly had two novels published. Ever since, although I’ve continued to write, real success has eluded me, and I’ve essentially been a stay-at-home mum.    As an adult I am more of a loner than my sister, more quiet, inward-looking, a bit indecisive and I can be stubborn.  But when I reflect on my nature, I perceive a duality.  I still lack self-confidence, and yet....  there’s an unassailable core of self-belief in me - or maybe it’s just misguided optimism - that one day, I will be successful.

A few years ago we were on holiday as a foursome - my husband and I, with Jan, and her partner, Roger. The resort we’d chosen was mainland Afissos, on the eastern side of the Greek Pelion peninsular, on the Pagasetic Gulf. Jan & Roger are seasoned Greek travellers; over the years they’d spent very many extended holidays there, mainly island-hopping. They’d been to Afissos before, had really loved it and wanted to show us the quiet, largely unspoilt resort, which was still redolent of the old Greece. It had apartments and a few modest hotels but - although Greeks holidayed there - the small, harbour side village was not yet fully geared up for the hordes from other parts of Europe.

We were in separate, modern but small, apartment blocks.  They were called self-catering - but not a lot of self-catering went on. After a long hard day on the beach, we’d return home to shower and change, and then Jan and Rog would walk from their block to ours bringing lemons which had dropped ripe and luscious from the many trees en route. And we’d sit up on our balcony drinking duty free gin and tonic.  Several lemony gins later we’d wend our way to the sea front, debating... “Now, which taverna shall we eat in tonight?”

I didn’t have TORN - the book I was currently writing - with me on holiday. I say “writing”, but it’s more precise to say I was going through the long and dispiriting process of showing it to literary agents, receiving their rejections, RE-writing it, and sending it out again.  But I was also attempting to cultivate the seed of an idea for my next book.  It was refusing to germinate.  Pretty much all I had was the title - LIFE CLASS.  I had attended life drawing classes for very many years. There was a changing group of students, as well as a changing cast of tutors.  There had to be a story in there somewhere, I reasoned, but I had only got as far as a rudimentary decision about my characters. There would be four - two men, two women.  But “Who are these people?” I kept asking myself.

Now, back to our favourite beach.... It was a fifteen minute walk outside Afissos, so it didn’t get crowded. And very importantly, as far as we were concerned, this beach had a wooden kiosk on the more solid ground at the back - built and run by an entrepreneurial English woman and her Greek husband - where we could get drinks and snacks.

I don’t recall precisely what Jan and I were talking about that day. She was probably being a bit officious and annoying, and “big sistery”.  I was probably being intransigent and mulish, because I hate being told what to do - even if the person doing the telling is patently right.  So, there we were, sitting in the sun, digging our toes into the gazillions of tiny, different coloured shells and pebbles that made up the beach, and having a not very serious - and almost certainly pointless - argument, when I suddenly had the brainwave. The two major female characters in LIFE CLASS had to be sisters!

We do also have a baby brother, Laurence (pictured here).
Sisters don’t always get on, of course, but the bond between them can be so much deeper, more complex and long-standing than mere friends. And I had a wealth of experience to draw on. No need for research.  I know my sister well; I know myself.  All I needed was the big cocktail shaker of my imagination to mix us up a bit. And so, Dory, the career woman, and Fran, the arty stay-at-home mum, were born.  As for their adventures?  There may be some real experience in the ingredients of the cocktail, but...  I’m a writer, aren’t I?  It’s (almost) all made up!

NB When I came to look for a picture of just my sister and me, in Afissos, there were none. Not even one which I could edit. I then, looked through a few albums, before and after that time. The only one I was able to find is the one above, taken during the winter following that holiday.  

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Opening Excerpt From Life Class



I am utterly thrilled.  LIFE CLASS is the last book in my three book deal with Accent Press. It now sees the light of day in its new incarnation. 

Lyn Sofras, the Manic Scribbler, says: 
"....kept me spellbound, unable to find a place to stop reading and therefore carrying on long into the night. I love it when a story does that for me and that's why it has to have five stars. Read it - you will not be disappointed."






About art, life, love and learning lessons, LIFE CLASS follows four members of an art class, who meet once a week to draw the human figure. All have failed to achieve what they thought they wanted in life. They each come to realise that it’s not just the naked model they need to study and understand. Their stories are very different, but they all have secrets they hide from the world and from themselves. By uncovering and coming to terms with the past, maybe they can move on to an unimagined future.

Chapter One - Christmas Eve

‘I work in the sex trade,’ was her usual answer. It amused her to watch the battle for self-control on the face of whoever had asked the question, and their dawning relief when she added the qualifier, ‘… the clean-up end.’
      Her job had always had its lighter moments, but today, since she’d come back from her lunch break, her mood had plummeted. On the pin board above her microscopes, official instructions about hygiene, circulars, and timetables jostled with the cartoons and jokes members of staff had attached. Her contribution – NEVER TRUST A SMILING HETEROSEXUAL – was boldly inscribed on a Post-it note. Even though she’d become used to seeing it, it usually it made her smile. Now, it was neither funny nor relevant.
     She had only seen the patient’s back view but had recognised the boy instantly. And it was impossible not to start putting two and two together, given whom she’d spotted waiting in his car outside.

Earlier, she’d walked back from the city centre, her mind buzzing, consumed by thoughts of the house, her mad offer for it … and its owner. She’d had to juggle with her bags, umbrella, and key fob to get the boot of her car open and stow her purchases. Just as she slammed it shut, the sun came out and a sudden flare off a puddle momentarily blinded her. She averted her eyes. In that instant, she recognised the man she’d been thinking about, sat in the car parked next to hers.
     What a comedown. But it didn’t have to mean anything. Perhaps it was just a bizarre coincidence. Even if they had come together, there were any number of explanations. Perhaps he’d come as a ‘buddy’, or in loco parentis to support the boy. She rubbed at her forehead. Why was she trying to convince herself that the obvious conclusion was the wrong one? And what was it to her, anyway? If you work in this field you can’t be judgmental, she reminded herself. Other people’s lifestyle choices are none of your business.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Who knew The Battle of Britain lasted for longer than one day? Not me.

It was done and dusted in about an hour after Sunday lunch, wasn’t it?


Whenever this pivotal moment in the war is mentioned, I always think of my parents.  They had no connection with it other than it was fought above their heads, but for many years, my understanding of the battle was grossly distorted by an anecdote they told, which came down in family lore.  

It wasn’t until I was a grown up woman with a child of my own that it really came home to me how close WW2 was to my own life.  Even though the world I grew up in was peppered with bomb sites, there were still ration books, and my parents’ reminiscences were full of stories about their wartime experiences, the war was somehow remote to me.  It was long ago.  The olden days.  History.  I never truly absorbed, on an emotional level, what my parent’s and grandparent’s generation went through during those years. 

But I am not writing this to expound on their heroism, or their contribution to the war effort.  My father, John Allan,  had what is known as a lucky war.  It could have been very different.  Before the war he’d joined the Territorial Army, but he’d lied about his age.  When war was declared he was sent to France with The Expeditionary Force.  He was too young and his mother immediately wrote to The War Office informing them that a mistake had been made.  It was a mistake which, in any other circumstance, might have passed with a shrug from the powers that be.  

But my grandmother was a woman to be reckoned with, and although I can’t know for sure, I guess she pursued this indefatigably, writing to them over and over again.  Their simplest recourse, under the assault from Gran, was to give in; her son was sent home before the debacle of Dunkirk. After my father died I found three letters from The War Office, which confirmed the story.

My Dad then spent the remainder of the war posted to various locations inside the UK. For a long time he was in South London, first as a gunner on anti-aircraft gun emplacements,  then his artistic skills were utilised in the making of plotting boards - I’ve always assumed these were used in planning bombing raids.
 He always claimed that one of the men he worked with, at this time, was Cecil Day Lewis.  It has to be said that my father was an embroiderer of the truth but I have just Googled Cecil Day Lewis and apparently he worked for The Ministry of Information during the war.  It is not a tremendous leap of the imagination to put the two men together at some point.  It was only after the war was over that my Dad was sent out to Germany with the British Army of the Rhine.

My parents had just begun ‘courting’ as the war began. My mother, Irene Kelsey, wasn’t herself called up into the ATS for a couple more years, and so in October 1940 she was an eighteen year old, still at home in Orpington, with her parents and younger sister.  And, very luckily, her nineteen year old boyfriend, my Dad, was stationed nearby and was a frequent visitor.

Stubborn, fiery, and anti-authoritarian, my Mum, was also down-to-earth with a prosaic, matter-of-fact streak. Later, she was an early adopter of the underlying principles of Women’s Lib.  It was a movement which confirmed instincts she already possessed.


My Mum & Dad in 1940. 
Back to the war.   It was a Sunday in October 1940, and my Dad was at my Mum’s home, to join the family for Sunday lunch.  He loved my Mum’s parents, and loved his future mother-in-law’s cooking.  The two men - my Dad and my Granddad - their bellies comfortably full of main course and pudding, got up from the table to go outside and watch the skies. And while there, the spitfires buzzing above, I am quite sure they enjoyed a companionable fag.

“Rene! Rene! Come and look at this,” my Dad called to my Mum.
“I can’t!”
“Why?”
“Because I’m doing the washing-up!” she shouted back. Her tone of voice needs no qualification.   I can just imagine it; in her mind it was something that HAD TO BE DONE at that moment, no matter what.  But at the same time she wanted her boyfriend to know that she was deeply resentful - even if she couldn't yet put it in these words - of being stuck in this archetypal female role. 

So, that's the story. For all of my young life I thought my Mum missed seeing The Battle of Britain because she was doing the washing up.