Creating Winter’s Child by Jenny S Burke

Jenny S Burke and I have been talking about books and writing for several years, and I wanted to share with you this very creative lady’s latest blog post in which she talks about what went into the making of her children’s book Winter’s Child.

Over to Jenny:

‘Once upon a time, there was a fierce winter. Snow drifts towered above me like white storm waves . . . cold, soft mountains I could tunnel into or slide down.

I was a young child when my family drove from the east coast to northern North Dakota. We gathered with relatives at my grandfather’s farm for Christmas.

There were no kids near my age, so I explored this new world on my own. “Winter’s Child”, my new book, has roots in this experience. 


          “She played in deep snowdrifts as tall as her head,
            And flew down the hills on her small wooden sled.
           She built snow castles with icicle towers.
        She played all alone for hours and hours.”

We built an enormous igloo from blocks of packed snow. A cold snow bench wrapped around the inner wall; snow sconces held candles. I “helped”.

​A dozen relatives crowded close on the circular bench while a blanket covered the entrance. Candlelight added flickering shadows.

​Within this primitive cave, I felt connected to generations of family and to our world. 

The sea called to me. I grew up and moved to the south to become a marine biologist. But I missed the snow.

One day, I folded a piece of paper and cut out a fanciful snowflake with leaping dolphins. A story grew in my mind.  

I wrote the fairy tale but needed more fantasy flakes to complete the book.  

Years later, I had designed and drawn many pen-and-ink flakes.

Now I realized that this story needed to be in rhyme,
like an ancient tale shared by firelight.

I soon learned that if one line
​can’t properly rhyme with the next line,
you need to start over with a whole new stanza. Yay.

Finally, the long story-poem was finished! I field-tested “Winter’s Child” with children and adults and adjusted a few pages.

What size should the book be?

7.5 inch wide X 9.25 inch high allows for generous margins, with room for illustration and text on each page.
​The 14 point font is easy on the eyes.

Next, the illustrations! A chance to experiment and gnash my teeth in frustration.

The fanciful flakes looked lost on a page;
they needed frames to hold them.
I drew boxes, printed the book,
and studied the empty frame above each poem.

What would capture the essence?
I wanted stylized pix with a feel of
stained glass windows.

I pencil-sketched a picture in each framed box
​and began to draw, but . . .
How do you draw the Wind?

​How do you draw a T. rex cloud ​that’s shifting apart?

I removed cloud limbs, made marshmallow teeth, and made the cloud more fluffy in humorous contrast to the dangerous, sharp-edged predator.   

I drew simple flakes for background snow.
Now the poem and pix were finished.
Even better: the very last word of the poem-story is . . . “end”! 🙂

​At last, the cover! Mariah and Wind are playing amongst the bare trees.
One ancient tree wraps around the spine, connecting the covers.

“Winter’s Child” is an upbeat, original fairytale
​in rhyming verse with fanciful illustrations.

It’s a story of the power of friendships,
which truly do change the world.
I hope you enjoy this book as much as it challenged me
​to properly complete my “once upon a time.”    

Thanks to all who helped. Thanks for stopping by!

About Jenny S Burke:

J. S. Burke is an author, artist, and scientist. She’s worked as a marine biologist,
 studying creatures of the dark abyss and diving on coral reefs.
 Her stories blend imagination with real science and author experiences.
 She lives with her family, rescue companions, and dragons! 

 The award-winning Dragon Dreamer series grew from her years at sea,
 a fascination with the alien, intelligent octopuses, and a love of dragons.

Burke has worked as manager of a marine research program and has five published marine research papers. She has degrees in Math, Science,
Marine Science, and Education. Burke has been certified to teach High School Math, H.S. Science, Middle Grades (all subjects), and Gifted students. 

You can contact Jenny at: http://www.jennysburke.com/blog/creating-winters-child

And to read previous interviews with Jenny, click here and here.

Find WINTER’S CHILD here:
PAPERBACK: http://www.authl.it/B09K21BLLX?d
KINDLE: http://www.authl.it/B09KZZX9TQ?d

A writer’s guide to naming characters

“That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet”

William Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet.

Shakespeare’s suggestion that names are not important is hopelessly wrong for writers. Who hasn’t sat, staring at a blank sheet of paper, agonising over what to call a character? And if it’s your protagonist, that only makes it harder. Without a character, you have no story.

Occasionally a name for a character just comes to me: Meredith Hardew from a book I plan to release next year, A Meeting With Murder: Miss Gascoigne mysteries book 1, and Cressida Barker-Powell from Criss Cross: Friendship can be Murder: Book1 published 2013 (whose name was a deliberate mutation of Parker-Bowles). These are names that sprang fully-formed into my consciousness as I began to write the story. I couldn’t even think of calling any of those people anything else. In fact this whole opening piece came to me in a flash, and I had to run to a stationer’s to buy a notebook to write it down before I forgot it. (Now I just put it into a note app on my phone! Ah technology, I love you so much.)

At forty-six, Meredith Hardew, with her handsome features, trim figure and excellent dress sense, was frequently taken for at least ten years younger than her true age. Not that she was in the habit of seeking out flattery, for she was one of those women who never thinks about herself, what she’s wearing or how she looks. She was far too busy running errands for someone or other.

Coming 2022

But it doesn’t always work out like that. I can spend hours, days even, agonising over the right name for a character. There are times when I have delayed starting a new story because I can’t seem to find the right name for my protagonist.  Though equally, when I am writing a first draft, I sometimes can’t remember the names I’ve already given my characters. I have even written several thousand words with varying numbers of capital XXXXs to denote each character, just to avoid abandoning the story and messing up the ‘flow’. But it can get confusing. In these circumstances I often have to write long explanatory notes to myself of who the person is, as well as the XXXXXXs. There’s usually a Mr XX, a Miss XXX and a Jeffrey X, or a Gladys XXXX, so it gets a bit muddled. But it does help me keep writing.

However, I can’t always trust myself when a name does just spring into my head. Like the time I wanted to call my main character Ben, then I needed to give him a surname. Sherman. Hmm, I thought, Ben Sherman sounds really good. It’s as if those two names were meant to go together somehow. What a great, natural-sounding name for a character, I thought. It sounds just like a real person. Which should have been my clue. So I told my daughter about my new hero Ben Sherman. She rolled her eyes heavenward in what can only be described as her ‘For God’s sake, Mother!’ expression. Turns out there is a real person, a famous designer, with that name. I was right, it did sound just like a real person. Oh well. Back to the book of baby names again.

That lightbulb moment when you realise your character has a famous person’s name.

Names can be absorbed by osmosis from society or culture, and we don’t always know where they’ve come from. I usually check my friends’ names on Facebook or for authors on Amazon to be ‘on the safe side’. I don’t want to use a well-known person’s name especially if my character is not a very nice person! I had also written five chapters of the Miss Gascoigne story before I realised that two of the main characters were named Meredith and Edith. Edith had to become Sheila. You need to keep the names quite dissimilar to avoid confusion, unless that is germane to your plot. Never feature, for example, Jack Peters and a Peter Jackson in the same book. I’ve known it happen, and the confusion accidentally created by the author seriously impacts on the enjoyment of the story! You can’t suspend belief if you spend all your time trying to remember who is who. At least, don’t do that if there is no deliberate intention to confuse the reader.

Names go through trends. So if you’re writing historical fiction, don’t give your character a modern name. If in doubt, turn to a census of the time for ‘in’ names or look to the royalty of the day. Equally if you’re writing modern stuff, don’t give young characters the names of your parents’ generation, few little ones these days or for the past 20 or 30 years have been called Barbara, Sandra, Hazel, Nigel, Richard, etc. They have a slightly ‘previous generation’ sound to them. However, go back a bit further to the grandparents’ generation and you’ll hit all the names that are now so ‘on-trend’: Jack, Alice, Freddy, George, Emily, Henry and so on. I hope in the next generation after this one, my name will be back in again!

When it came to creating character names, Dickens was a master. He used names to ridicule his characters, to reveal societal trends and attitudes, and to denote characteristics or personalities. Think of Gradgrind and M’Choakumchild in Hard Times, you can’t imagine them being good people, or warm and caring. These are hard names for hard people. Or think of Uriah Heep, Mr Cheeryble, Squeers. He also used another technique that is still useful for writers today. He used to take names that were ordinary and just slightly change them, creating something different and yet somehow familiar. Thus Philip became Chilip.

it can take a while to work things out…

That always makes me think of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games heroine, Katniss Everdeen, or of Margaret Attwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale – the woman Offred was the ‘property’ of Fred. Also for fabulous names it is impossible to beat Alistair Reynolds’ Pushing Ice character, Chromis Pasqueflower Bowerbird. So writers, don’t be afraid to play around with names and have fun. Changing one letter or the order of the letters can make a world of difference, and this works especially well with Sci-fi or Fantasy character names. Maybe Isaac can become Istac or Casai, Sophie can be Phosie, Mary can become Maare, John could become Hjon, Dohn, Joon.

In writing fiction, the names of your main characters are essential to the reader’s enjoyment and for creating a convincing world. Just make sure they are not the names of a successful designer.

See, easy!

***

So real to me

dottie 6 the spy withinMy stories tend to be character driven rather than plot driven. You might think that’s a bit odd for someone who writes what are essentially cosy mysteries, and you’d be right. Very often in a cosy mystery, you meet a collection of characters who tend to be caricatures, almost, of ‘typical’ people you might meet in the situation where the crime occurs. And I’m not saying that my minor characters are fully realised, well-rounded and recognisable individuals, but I try.

The problem for me is that my books usually have a vast range of characters in them (and FYI it’s a nightmare and a half trying to think of names for them all) so there’s not always the space in the story to give everyone their own life without totally confusing the reader. I have tried putting in a character list at the beginning of a story, thinking that would be helpful to readers (having been castigated for not putting one in) but I got even more complaints about that. So in the end it was just easier to leave it out.

In my Dottie Manderson mysteries set in the 1930s, I have two detectives who are the ‘main’ protagonists, Dottie herself and Inspector Hardy, with a supporting cast of around a dozen other ‘regulars’. Then each story has its own characters on top of that. My protagonists are not the isolated individuals of many books in my genre–no brooding detective all alone with their ghosts for me. No, mine both have a family who pop in and out, often the source of useful information or connections, or just serving as a distraction or to illustrate some aspect of the character of my main people. Or they can act as a sounding board for ideas and theories. crowd-g216161661_640

In addition, many of my characters also have friends, who must necessarily be commented about, especially if they are involved in a mystery, or the characters can have careers–William Hardy is a career police officer, and Dottie Manderson has become the owner and manager of a fashion warehouse–and they are both involved with work colleagues who cannot be completely overlooked.

And then as I say, each mystery requires its own cast of players–so again numbers are rising! But each story needs a perpetrator–sometimes more than one, and of course a victim–almost always more than one–and they have their own social and familial connections.

Making people really stand out can be a challenge. There are reasons for this.

New criss cross ebook coversObviously the first reason is me. I have only a limited experience of life. I think that’s the same for most of us. We always, consciously or unconsciously, bring our own life experiences, attitudes and beliefs, and our flaws and strengths with us when we create anything. It’s been said that authors put something–sometimes quite a lot–of themselves into what they create. How can they not? So I try to compensate for this by doing a lot of research, and by trying to create people who are not much like me. But I’m not sure how well I succeed with that.

But I don’t like to read books where the detective is perfect. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I’m bored by protagonists who are perfect, who always behave the right way, say the right thing, do the right thing, who think clearly at all times and never get confused, puzzled or befuddled or just plain upset. My characters are all too flawed, and as readers will know, they sometimes make disastrous decisions. And then have to live with the consequences.panic-g517b5b30c_640

I’d like to think they grow. I’ve lost track of how many detective series I’ve stopped bothering with because I couldn’t deal with the fact that the protagonists never ever learn from their mistakes, and keep on acting in an implausible or unprofessional manner despite twenty years as a police inspector etc. Because in real life we do learn, most of the time, don’t we? Or we try to. And if we don’t, sooner or later we get called into the office and the boss tells us we are going to be unemployed.

My character Cressida in the Friendship Can Be Murder trilogy grows a little. As the trilogy goes on, she travels from being a designer-label obsessed airhead to being a caring mother and family-oriented person who doesn’t mind seaside staycations as that brings a lot of fun to all the family. Okay, she does still love a nice outfit, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of her life. And yes, she is still a bit manipulative, but she genuinely cares about the people close to her. which is why she gets into the messes she gets into, trying to help people by getting rid of some of the–ahem–nuisances in their lives. It can’t be denied that she can be a bit unforgiving if someone hurts a person she cares about.fashion-g02a75addc_640

Does Dottie grow? I think she does. When we meet her in book 1 of the Dottie Manderson mysteries, Night and Day, she is very young (19) and is mainly interested in having fun and going dancing with attractive young men. After two years of stumbling over corpses, she has become more confident, more caring towards others, she is more mature, and she is growing a career and trying to understand the world around her, losing her childish idealisation of people. But I like to think she stays true to herself: she passionately believes in working hard, doing the right thing, and in helping people and giving support to those who need it. She is terminally nosy and always wants to understand what’s going on in people’s lives.

Which of course will bring her into conflict with people: people who manipulate and hurt others, people who do terrible things and try to get away with it, and in the course of her ‘helping’ she will definitely get in the way of a certain police officer trying to solve a case.

As the relationship between herself and William progresses, (spoiler alert) I’m not sure quite how Dottie will manage to solve murders and juggle her business and her family commitments. Will we see her pushing a perambulator with a couple of kids along to interview suspects? Only time will tell. I have planned several more books, that cover the next couple of years in Dottie’s life but after that… I just don’t know. Maybe I will leave her to raise her family in peace? Maybe we can come back to Dottie in the 1950s when she is a mature woman with more or less independent children? Who knows. Maybe she will be a kind of Miss Marple detective as she gets older. I never felt like I could leave her ageless and frozen in time as some authors do with their creations. Yet as I immerse myself in this pretend world I have created for Dottie, I am all too aware of the even greater threat looming on her horizon: World War II. How can I leave out something so important and far-reaching in its consequences?

DSCF8558

100 years old and still bringing murderers to justice!

This could well be one of the reasons why about four years ago I began to think about a new series with a new character, who would take over the reins. I’m thinking of Diana Gascoigne, stepping out confidently into the 1960s, wearing high heels and a brightly-coloured dress, long hair swinging, ready to take on the modern world.

Keeping it in the family: this has led me to think about the successive generations. Will there be a Dottie-spin-off set in the 1990s? the 2020s? They seem so real to me, I find it hard to believe that they won’t go on and on, one generation giving way to the next, just as we do in the real world.

miss g 14

Coming 2022

***

A first time for everything

Presentation1I love firsts.

I do engage with the rest of a series: if a story idea or a bunch of characters ‘grab’ me, I will read all of the books available. Or if I love the author’s style, I will avidly consume all of their output, like all their other fans, eagerly waiting for each new release.

But when it comes to any series, I’m in love with first glances. I think I just love the potential – the range of possibilities that are present right from the outset, the sheer number of choices the author can choose. I love that first time we meet each character, especially recurring characters. I love ‘seeing’ the setting for the first time, getting it fixed in my imagination. I get that buzz of anticipation as the characters assemble and the action begins – it’s really like watching a stage play and seeing the curtain go up and the action begin.

That’s why I go back to the first book time and time again.  I will reread the first book many times, and where very often I will only read subsequent books once before I move on to the next, I will read book one many many times. 

The problem is, if I find I don’t like the way an author develops her or his series, I will very likely stop reading. Sometimes I might give them a second chance, and reread the offending volume that turned my interest off, but the problem is there are sooooo many books and sooooo little time!

I’m the same with TV shows. I have watched episode one of many series repeatedly, whilst only watching the rest two or three times. I sit there full of anticipation, even though I know what is going to happen. It’s a bit like when your child wants the same bedtime story over and over again. They know every word by heart and every picture. Heaven forbid you try to sneakily miss a page out or you summarise some of the paragraphs. They KNOW!child-4573129_1920

I love first albums, I love first songs, poems, films, TV series. I just love setting out on the journey and walking towards the unknown.

Here are some firsts I love:

The first Bourne film – The Bourne Identity. The others are good, but this one grabs me from the outset.

The first Timothy Dalton-as-James-Bond film – The Living Daylights (‘whoa oh oh oh the living daylights…) The chemistry between James B and his lovely cellist is perfectly achieved, and the humour and action are second to none.

The first episode of Vera – Hidden Depths – where we meet Ann Cleeves’ wonderful (but curmudgeonly, and terminally disinterested in her appearance) detective Vera Stanhope. And lest we forget, the scrumptious David Leon in the role of sidekick Joe Ashworth.

The first episode of Death in Paradise: We meet DI Richard Poole – another curmudgeonly yet (I think) lovable and definitely smart character as he arrives on the scene already complaining the weather and his lost luggage. (Note: I think it’s a missed opportunity that they killed off this character instead of merely sending him back to London where he could have presided over a new spin-off series. Guys, what were you thinking? And here’s my top tip for the next incarnation of the show: stop sending out white senior officers (we’re over that now) and bring out a black guy or girl from London, who resents the insinuation he/she should embrace getting ‘back to his/her roots’, and allow the island to slowly work it’s charm on him/her. Also, have a white sergeant as support, who will always be assumed to be the senior officer…but you’ll have to do it in a light cheeky way – we don’t want to ruin the ambience of the series. And whatever you do don’t let Selwyn retire, we love Don Warrington. Just sayin’.)

The first series of Shetland.

The first series of Endeavour.

The first episode of Lewis. The way we meet Sergeant – now Inspector Lewis as he returns (again from the Caribbean!) and we are so anxious to find out what has happened in the intervening years since the end of Morse, and we yearn for him to find happiness once more. Plus, you know, great mystery at the sleep institute. Also, incidental music that is Muse’s Hysteria.

New stuff:

We’ve been enjoying Whistable Pearl (with the amazing Kerry Godliman in the lead role! Yes she acts!) based on Julie Wassmer’s books, and also featuring huge sexy hunk Howard Charles as the detective we hope/assume she will fall for. Which she pretty much already has.

And of course Madame Blanc starring Sally Lindsay who is also the brains behind the whole series and my husband’s secret (but I know all about it) crush. Also with Steve Edge (my secret crush – not sure if hubby knows…). You just hope they are going to get together. which they pretty much already are…

Oh yes, I read too…more on that another time!

***

Job vacancy: armchair sleuth required

We at LaughingAtLife.org (not a real company!) have a new part-time vacancy for the role of armchair sleuth.

About this role:

You must be ready, willing and able to deliver timely advice to all suspects and potential victims. (But not too timely. Whilst we agree that forewarned is forearmed, if you’re too good at your job, you may find the number of victims drops alarmingly and you are left with no one to investigate/suspect which will lead to everyone at LaughingAtLife.org moving into the genre of romance. Or maybe Fantasy. No one at LaughingAtLife.org wants that to happen.)

You should be highly experienced in delivering comments such as ‘I knew that was going to happen’ or ‘You could write this (insert offensive vocabulary here) stuff yourself!’

If you have fancied taking part in shows such as Gogglebox, this job could be for you!

Essential qualifications:

Eagle-eyed attention to detail.

Nerves of steel.

Ability to pick locks with a hair pin or safety pin. Or a lock-pick.

Suspicious of everyone and everything.

Able to sniff out spurious motives and supply educated guesswork.

Possess own monocle or pince-nez or (misplaced) reading glasses.

Should be able to demonstrate a long-established habit of putting your fingertips together in a thoughtful manner before speaking.

You must have a luxurious moustache which you continually fondle or trim or dye a suspiciously dark colour. This role is open to all genders.

Or, failing the moustache, you may have a knitting fetish, and take knitting everywhere with you so that you are ready at a moment’s notice to disarm suspects with your apparent inoffensiveness and the sense of calmness that you radiate.

Must be able to recall a long series of villagey anecdotes you can crowbar into any conversation.

Must know the difference between a colonel and a major. Must equally be conversant with the differences between life-peers and the other sort, whatever they are.

Must be able to shake your head sorrowfully from time to time and say ‘The world is a very wicked place’ or make some quote about the fallibility of mankind.

Additional desirable qualifications:

Knowledge of Shakespeare, Milton and the Bible useful.

Must not be liable to scream or faint when confronted with a gory scene.

Encyclopaedic knowledge of deadly fungi and herbs could come in handy.

Must be able to dip fingertip in any powdery drug and taste it without dying and also must be able to identify said drug.

Salary:

No salary, just the reward of knowing you did your best, and served your country. Or, failing that, completed at least one matinee jacket for the new baby of a friend of a friend.

Perks:

No perks. There is no holiday allowance, as every time you go on holiday, someone will do something stupid and you will find yourself ‘embroiled’ in a new murder case. Even if you have a staycation, the grumpy colonel in the Old Manor House will upset someone who will then disguise themselves as a vicar and whack the colonel over the head 47 times with a fire-iron. You will of course realise that this was almost inevitable given the colonel’s manner, and also it will be just what happened with Mrs Castle’s little boy in Northampton when he skived off school that day.

There is no sick pay, apart from the satisfaction that your last days will be repackaged and sold as ‘Mr X’s, Ms Y’s or Mrs Z’s Final Cases’ with a picture of the actor who plays your role on the front cover.

How to Apply:

Seriously?

***

Notebooks as far as the eye can see…

Well, maybe not quite that many, but I certainly have a large number of them!

Like many people I have something of a notebook fetish. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never (yet) met anyone in a dark alley who has glanced all around, and on me delivering the correct password (‘Narrow feint!’) then proceeded to open their raincoat to reveal notebooks in rows and rows of pockets, but let’s just say we can’t rule it out.

Not that I buy the super expensive ones with the magnetic closure or the little extra pockets at the front and back for – what? I can only imagine it’s more notes??? No, my notebooks are of the strictly practical and affordable type, that way I don’t feel bad for writing line after line of ‘What on earth am I going to write?’ or ‘Day 27: still haven’t written anything’. I am easily intimidated by superior quality notebooks, so I am content with Pukka Pads and Notemakers: good solid notebooks that won’t let you down.

We’ve had a massive clear-out at home recently – in fact we’ve had one large and two small skips outside to take away all our old junk that we’ve hoarded in the loft, the

shed, the various rooms of the house, and bizarrely, in the storage unit under the bed.

You know, ‘decluttering’ can be so addictive, you can end up by throwing out all sorts of stuff you had no intention of getting rid of. But the therapeutic effect of space clearing is so good you just can’t help yourself. I did however, hold on to a small box of old notebooks, because these are full of ‘amazing’ ideas and notes about forensic crime scenes, or how bodies decompose or how to clean up lots of blood that I felt I had to hold on to these ‘just in case’.

Yes, before you ask, I do still have my husband. He did not go in the skip. Neither did any of his toys tools/hobby equipment.

I used to have over 1,000 books in my office–which is really the little boxroom bedroom of our house. They lived on four bookcases. And the floor. And on all the little gaps between the shelves. And on the window sill. And the desk… Now, I only have two bookcases, and after one week, there are still no books on the floor. See, I can be organised! I’m not Marie-Kondo-organised, but let’s just say if you wanted to borrow a copy of A A Milne’s Chloe Marr, it would only take me half an hour of searching the shelves of my two bookcases before I remembered it had gone in the skip because the mould on it triggered my asthma, and all the middle pages were brown and falling out. Yep, it was a really old, falling-to-pieces copy. (Maybe a good excuse to by a new copy?)

(note to self: remember I still haven’t put books in alphabetical order by author’s surname – which is why it takes me half an hour to figure out I haven’t got something particular.)

Small, adorable and not at all annoying quirks of mine: I hate it when I have to divide books by the same author onto separate shelves. Sigh. If only all my Agatha Christie’s could budge up a bit to make room for the four books that won’t fit. It’s like splitting up a family.

Useful and interesting things I recently found in my old notebooks:

Great ideas for band names:

Rumble Bucket or maybe Rumble Pumpkin. I feel their repertoire would be mainly folk songs and the odd medley of Lonnie Donegan songs.

Jamzz – boy band from Nottingham

BizR – boy band from Matlock

Density’s Angels – girl band from Belper

Angel’s Dancities – girl band from Stoke on Trent

Great book titles:

Octavia Splendid and the… (insert name of weird item here) (sounds like a 1950s school story!) ( Or Harry Potter fan fic) (Would also make a great pen name if I was bold enough to go for it!)

A Gripping Madness

Strictly something: Strictly Confidential; Strictly Between Us, Strictly Business, Strictly Prohibited. (But these sound more like erotica titles than mysteries…)

Great pen names to try:

Marjorie Maynard ( I have a feeling she’d write about her time as a nurse during WWII)

Kym Spiers (gender neutral term, I bet she/he/they write fantasy)

Michael P Maynard (Marjorie’s brother, writes westerns but he’s a well-to-do Brit who’s never even been on a horse)

Edvard Spein – def writes Scandi-noir with cringe-inducing sex scenes.

Haralddottirs Dottirsdottir – writes Scandi-noir with no sex scenes, but lots of waves crashing onto beaches and tons of geysers erupting.

There have been some advantages to all this decluttering:

  1. WeBuyBooks sent me some money for the books they agreed to buy from me. Thanks guys!
  2. I now have actual space on my desk, there is room for me to sit there and do work!!!!
  3. I now have an excuse to reclutter.
  4. I feel so much happier now I can see the floor again and remind myself that the carpet is still that yucky beige colour.
  5. There are now only 27 spiders in my office instead of the 346 there originally. Less competition = more flies for everyone.
  6. I can reach the window. This will probably lead to the arrival of more spiders.

Marie Kondo might not be proud of me, but at least she’d have to admit I gave it my best!

But I still prefer to sit in a caff and stuff my face whilst pretending to write

***

Autumn brings renewal

I know I say this every year, but for me, it is not Spring, but Autumn and Winter that form my season of creativity. I have no idea why this is. I don’t know why, but for me, autumn is not the season for rest and consolidation, but of flights of imagination taking wings. I get quite excited about the approach of autumn and winter. Maybe it’s the cuddly jumpers, I don’t know.

It seems as though the rest of the world is full of new life in the Spring. Is it because I’m an October baby, my lifecycle naturally goes from Autumn onwards? Or because when we lived in Brisbane, October was in the Spring? But how can five years there undo the habits of the other fifty-six years I’ve lived in the Northern Hemisphere? Or maybe it’s because for parents everywhere in the UK, Autumn is when the children go back to school and you at last get two minutes to sit in silence and just enjoy hearing – nothing. Ah, bliss!

New ideas are taking shape, even before the old ideas have been put to bed. I’m thinking about what I want to say in a new story. I’m having a wonderful time creating book covers, and though I’m struggling to come up with new titles, I have some ideas to mull over.

I’m always drawn to old stuff, I’m drawn backwards into the past. I’m thinking of long print frocks, ladies in beads, feathers in their hair, tea-dances, afternoon picnics on wide sweeping lawns, croquet. I’m thinking of couples dancing on a veranda under the stars, the doors open to let out the soft lamplight and the music from the gramophone. The music is softened by distance and the soft evening breeze ruffles hair.

I’m thinking rural, villagey, fields, water, trees. I’m thinking of sorrow and haunting, of deeds never talked of, of the guilty secrets of the past. I’m thinking of shame and sacrifice, I’m humming old pastoral songs and rhymes, Scarborough Fair, children’s songs and folk songs, ‘Bobby Shafto(e) Went To Sea, He’ll Come Back And Marry me… Bonny Bobby Shafto(e).’ Or the old folk song and pop hit from the 70s, Whiskey in the Jar – ‘When I was going over/the Cork and Kerry mountains…I saw Captain Farrell and his money he was counting…’’

I’m remembering the duplicitous nature of the minstrel, wandering, legitimately able to plant one foot in each camp, never on any side but his own. A useful means for conveying information, often ill-gotten. And he can sing out in public everyone’s secrets, and how can you stop a man doing that?

I’m thinking of myths and legends, hillsides cloaked in mist, an unseen bird calling in the gloom, of the soft insinuating sound of the wind, like a sigh, like a breath, or like a dragon’s terrible approach. I’m thinking about the returning home of the prodigal, how we carry the past with us, inside, even when we are looking forward and moving on, something draws us ever back.

I am thinking, staring at the falling leaves, driven across the grass by a pushing wind, I’m lost in my thoughts. I am thinking of long ago, of people who may not have existed, but who could come into being in my imagination. I see images in my mind, people, objects, places, and weave stories about these imaginary characters.

I am thinking of a man at a window staring out, his mind working on things he cannot put into words. What should he do? Has the time for action finally arrived?

I’m thinking of a woman, always waiting, wringing her hands in front of the window, her own shadow cast out across the lamplit stones of the yard. When will he return? Will he ever return? The waiting woman. The unspeaking man.

I’m thinking of a boy coming over the hill. Of grass, green, long, dewy. Of the sun, soft, golden, gentle as a mother’s hand, just touching his hair, his shoulder of his white cotton shirt. How long has he been away? How much has changed? Will anything ever change?

If I never have another new idea, I’ve already got enough to keep me writing for the next twenty years. I only hope that’s possible.

‘Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,/And all the air a solemn stillness holds.’ Thomas Gray’s Elegy.

Autumn – not for sleeping but for creating anew.

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Devil’s Cauldron by Alasdair Wham blog tour

Welcome to another blog tour review post. This week I am excited to tell you about Devil’s Cauldron by Alasdair Wham. This book has been described as ‘a belter of a story…dramatically entertaining’.

BLURB

What would you do if you saw your father murdered and no one believed you? When he was twelve Finn McAdam, saw his father, a scientist, murdered. No one believed him. Now he has returned to his native Galloway to discover the truth. Wherever it leads him. Whatever it costs. But the conspiracy he discovers exposes a cover-up involving leading political figures and places his life in great danger. Some people are determined that the truth must not get out.

MY REVIEW

This is the first book I’ve read by this author, so I wasn’t certain what to expect.  But I was quickly drawn into the story, which turned out to be a tense, pacy read, with main characters who were desperate for answers.

It was action-packed, a thriller that kept the momentum going and I just had to keep reading to reach the end and find out what had happened. the story launches very quickly from one situation to the next, and you may well find you are afraid of missing something vital if you put it down. I also enjoyed the ‘local colour’ as there are descriptions of places in Scotland I know well, and plenty of interesting information if you want to make your own trip, or if you are, like me, mainly an armchair traveller.

I would award this book 5 stars.

5 Bonus points for mentioning Banchory a couple of times, too! 😉

I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys an intriguing puzzle to unravel.

I’d classify the book as a ‘clean’ thriller, there is some violence, but it’s not too frequent and there is occasional mild bad language, and no sex scenes.

Want to know more? Read on for a ‘sneak peek’:

Chapter One – Part 2

I couldn’t believe it. I felt vindicated, others would have to believe me now. Sis would be alarmed, of course, especially after last year, worried about what I was going to do.
Strangely, the wrath I had nurtured for all those years was not my main emotion. I was in shock. I gripped the railings, knuckles white, steadying myself. My mind was a whirl, planning my next move. Obviously, I couldn’t just run after him and attack him – first I needed to know more about him, find a place for interrogation, get answers to my questions, but then what?
Soon the familiar rage kicked in, barely suppressed trauma erupting as memories seared in my mind flickered into consciousness. Time for action. This was my opportunity, unexpected as it was, and I couldn’t risk losing him. Already he was about a hundred yards away, strolling down the main shopping street in the town – King Street. I crossed over the road and started to trail him, keeping in the shadows, dodging into shop doorways in my amateurish attempts to follow him without being seen.
I was a few yards behind as he reached the local Post Office. He strolled, steady pace, not a care. I could change that. I desperately wanted to. Then he disappeared into a newsagent’s. My breathing was laboured as I stopped outside the shop, pretending to gaze at the display of local books in the window but trying to peer inside. And there he was, paying for a newspaper, smiling at the shop assistant. She seemed charmed, oblivious to what he had done to my family.
I leant against the shop window, my head on the cool glass. My breath pulsed against it forming dancing patches of condensation that quickly evaporated. He emerged a minute later and headed down the street, a copy of The Times neatly folded under his left arm. He gave no signs of noticing me, only ten feet behind him, and then he stopped at the kerb, weaved between two parked cars and headed across the street to a cafe. I watched him for a minute and then followed. He stepped inside and by the time I reached it, he was being shown to a table by a wooden-slatted wall under a display of pictures of local scenes. There were several empty spaces and I followed him inside.
The waitress smiled, a young girl neat in her black trousers and white shirt, and I pointed towards a seat in the corner a few tables away from him. I sat down, the chair scraping on the tiled floor, but he didn’t look up. I grasped the laminated menu from its perch between the salt and pepper pots and looked at it trying to control my shaking hands.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY 

Alasdair first two two novels were set in Islay and Mull (islands on the west coast of Scotland) and have proved very successful, rich in local detail with interesting plots.
His third novel, Devil’s Cauldron, is set in Galloway which is in south-west Scotland. He likes to write about places that he knows the best.

Before he turned to fiction, he produced a series of books exploring Scotland’s lost railways, a hobby that he enjoys  with his  sons and that took him all over Scotland.

CLICK HERE FOR AMAZON LINK TO BUY

You can find Alasdair Wham on these social media:

FACEBOOK

AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE

 

#DevilsCauldron

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Finding inspiration – coming soon to a cafe near you!

I often talk about sitting in cafes, notebook and pen in front of me, along with a cappuccino and – ooh, naughty – a bit of cake. It’s my favourite thing.

Yes, I know we have coffee at home. And even – occasionally, cake, or I could buy a supermarket cake and eat a slice at home for a fraction of the cost of a cafe. Or, I could bake a cake of my very own – it could be any size, shape or colour. I could have any flavour I like, and it could be a tray-bake, a torte, a good solid fruit cake with cherries on top, a long sugary loaf oozing with bananas or dates. It could be a sponge with ganache or cream or even just jam in the middle. It could have nuts on the top, or frosting, or strawberries in a creamy heap.

There are just two problems with that: 1. I’m a terrible cook. And 2, that wouldn’t inspire me to write. Which is, after all, the whole point of this exercise.

I love to go to cafes with my family, singly or en masse. But those are occasions for talking and laughing, not times for me to be alone with my thoughts. And as we know, ‘You can’t write if you’re never alone.’ (It was Winifred Watson who said that. She was a very successful author in the 1930s who gave up writing once she married and had children. her book Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day was made into a film starring Ciaran Hinds and Frances McDormand and I highly recommend it.)

Also, I love people-watching. Sitting in a cafe is a bit like sitting in a theatre, with the play going on around you. For around £6 or £8 you can get a lovely piece of cake, a gorgeous big cup of frothy coffee (and not have to wash up the dishes afterwards) and a stage-side seat to LIFE. Just make sure you’ve got plenty of paper and a couple of spare pens.

TIP: Never, ever tap people on the arm, ask them to repeat what they’ve just said so you have more time to write it down, don’t ask them how to spell their auntie’s dog’s name, and never, ever say out loud, ‘Wow, he’s a moron, you should dump him’ or ‘How dare she say that to you!’ or that kind of thing. People don’t mind you watching them discreetly, just don’t make it too obvious.

I’m often asked where I get my ideas. But inspiration comes not from one, but from many different places. It’s more that ideas come looking for me than I go looking for them. I’m incredibly nosy about other people, and I am an incurable people-watcher. This fuels my imagination and leads me to ask myself questions, develop scenarios until… ooh, look, a chapter from a story!

I don’t advocate, as a writing tutor in Brisbane once told a group of creative writing students, that you should actually follow people to get ideas for your story or to experience what it’s like to ‘shadow’ someone a la detective fiction. BUT I must admit I do covertly eavesdrop and watch people, especially in a coffee-shop situation. I don’t actually record conversations or film people, though it is SOOOO tempting.

Tip: If you sit in a cafe or restaurant with your notebook open in front of you and your pen tapping on your chin as you ponder, I guarantee staff will panic-tidy the whole area near you, smile and ask if you’re well, and possibly ask if there’s anything else they can get you – even in self-service cafes. At first I didn’t know why that was, now I’ve realised it’s because they think I am a food critic! Once I made the mistake of saying that I was a writer, and got a look that was half eye-roll and half disgusted sneer. They left me alone immediately.

And so that’s why I go to cafes and eat cake. What’s your excuse?

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Life Springs Ever Green

I’ve been thinking about colour(s).

There’s a surprisingly large amount of theory about colour. Colours have meanings, they create feelings and emotions in us. So much so, you can have colour therapy, where you sit in a room (white I assume, or maybe completely dark) and they bombard you with light in the colour you require to produce the effect needed. I quite like that idea. Maybe I’ll try it sometime.

Picasso had his Blue Period, then his Rose Period, where these colours dominated his work in a range of hues.

I don’t know if other artists, or writers, have times of colour. I see it in my life from time to time, a particular colour seems to draw me, or mean more, or stand out or in some way influence me. This year my colour is green.

When I was a teenager, wanting to wear teenager-black all the time, my mother nagged me out of it. She associated the colour black with depression, grief and mourning, with oppression and poverty. So I can understand why she hated to see me swathed neck to ankle in black. But it’s a colour people–especially teenagers–wear when they are still trying to find their identity, or when they are part of a crowd of others who all wear black, it ‘goes’ with that mind-set of searching earnestness.

And of course we always say black is a slimming colour, and if you are a larger lady like me, you’ll find huge chunks of a retailer’s range of clothes are only available in black. It’s also the colour of formality so you find loads of people wearing black in offices, you see everywhere the ladies in their black trousers with a shirt or jumper or a jacket and slinky top. I used ot have a ton of black ‘work’ trousers. I think it’s also a practical colour, again in clothes, seeming to show the passage of time less noticeably than other colours and going with pretty much everything, and suiting pretty much every complexion.

Red is the colour of guts and courage, of anger, of ‘Stop!’ and ‘Attention’. Red used to be associated with masculinity, no doubt due to its use in military uniforms, of blood, of bravery. For this reason (I’m talking about 120 years ago) pink was the accepted normal colour for baby boys as a kind of watered down red suitable for little men. Yep. Pink was for boys, blue was for girls.

Why? Well as we all know females are at constant risk of madness and hysteria due to their female body parts, and therefore have to be swathed in blue from earliest babyhood to calm them down. Blue is a calming colour!

I think it was a member of the royal household around the 1910s who first defied convention and clothes her daughters in pink – and thus a new convention was born. Now, as soon as we see a baby in pink, we know it’s a little girl.

I can remember when my daughter was very small, and clothed (partially at least) in pink, an elderly lady said to me ‘what a beautiful baby, what’s his name?’ And I smiled and replied, all the while thinking silently to myself, ‘mad old bat, clearly she’s a girl, look at all the pink!’

Yellow is another colour I love, but depending on the shade, doesn’t always suit me. Yellow is believed to promote higher thinking, creativity, reasoning and logic. It’s also a happy uplifting colour, as we know when we get a lift every time we catch sight of a patch of daffodils after the dreariness of winter.

For a long time, I’ve been wearing black, grey and blue (jeans mainly), with white or occasionally burgundy accents.

but for the last few weeks, I’ve been craving green. I’ve dusted off my existing green tee-shirt, and bought another one. And I’m enjoying looking at greenery in pictures. I’m not looking at beach scenes (blue & sort of sandy brown), it’s the green of leaves and grass etc that appeals ot me. I get a kind of little ‘bong’ in my chest when I see them (Remember Lovejoy and the sensation he used to get in his chest when he ‘divvied’ a true antique?)

So I’m giving in to my green period – a time of rebirth, perhaps, or of tranquil moments, rest and recovery. or a time of peace and a return to nature? Who knows? I just know that this is what is feeding my soul at the moment.

Of course green is also the colour of jealousy – the ‘green-ey’d monster’ of Shakespeare’s Othello. Or of inexperience and innocence – also Shakespeare, (Anthony and Cleopatra)  ‘My salad days. When I was green in Judgement.’

But I’m ignoring that side, I don’t think I’m particularly a jealous person. And I’m too old to be inexperienced, although I love to learn new things. So I’ll just embrace the restorative and peaceful nature of Green.  Have you found the colour that fills you with joy?

Here are a few quotations about ‘green’:

Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.

Pedro Calderon de la Barca (17th century Spanish dramatist)

 

The garden of love is green without limit and yields many fruits other than sorrow or joy. Love is beyond either condition: without spring, without autumn, it is always fresh.’

Rumi (Persian poet from 13th century)

 

‘When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy, And the dimpling stream runs laughing by; When the air does laugh with our merry wit, And the green hill laughs with the noise of it.’

William Blake (UK Poet/Artist 1700s-1800s)

 

‘All theory, dear friend, is gray, but the golden tree of life springs ever green.’

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (German author/poet 1700s-1800s)

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