Sunlight on water

I knew I’d not be posting much over the summer holidays, but I didn’t plan to disappear so suddenly;  I even had a couple of posts half written. But then one weekend morning, after looking at my phone for a bit – probably twitter, or the news, or texting a friend – I realised that my vision was a little – odd. Off to one side, low down, not exactly out of focus, not blurred or blacked out, just distorted.

Just.

IMG_4405 (987x1024)

I lay in bed, looking at my vision, staring at the area, closing one eye then another. It seemed to be on the left side and left eye, but even when that one was closed I could see the distortion in my right eye’s field of view. It was as if I was looking through shifting lights, like watching sunlight dancing on moving water and then when you look away the rippling lights are still there over what should be solid.

I knew enough to suspect a migraine and even though my head felt fine I took a pre-emptive painkiller and waited for half an hour as the shimmering lights moved up and over all I could see, fortunately never covering more than a quarter of my vision at a time. And when they had finally passed? Then the searing nauseous headache and nothing for it but to lie in a darkened room for three hours and to wince at bright lights for the next few days.

IMG_4283 (1024x433)

I didn’t panic too much. I knew I was overdue an eye test and that my reading glasses were no longer strong enough. I maybe look at my phone too often, and at this laptop. Dr J pointed out that the weather at that time was very oppressive and muggy. Many possible reasons.  I’ve had a doctor’s appointment and am awaiting test results but I delayed writing this, partly because it seems like tempting fate – as soon as I say it was a one off a month ago, number two will come along.

But there it is, an unexpected reason for not blogging and for being absent on twitter. It may have done me some good to have a break – although nothing can shield one from the horror of global news lately. I haven’t read much either, in case that strained my eyes further; thank goodness for audio books and radio 4 and 4 extra dramas and comedy. I apologise if anyone has missed me, or if anyone is sorry to see me return. The end of the holidays approach and I hope to return to full reading, writing and blogging – health permitting. In the meantime, as these recent pictures of sunlight on water show, it hasn’t been a totally lost summer and maybe a little break from electronic light will benefit more than just my eyes.

IMG_4282 (1024x768)

 

 

Advertisements

A bout of about me

The first week of April I planned a post which explained that there was no post as I had spent my blogging time that week writing an “about” page. I worried slightly that it might seem like an April Fools’ joke as anyone who has read even half my posts knows that everything here is very much about me. It ended up taking a lot longer than planned due to trying to put links to some of my most popular blog posts under images on the page.  Let me know if the time was worth it.

IMG_3003 (1024x813)
This toasted marshmallow also needs to be added to my manuscript

One of the nuggets of advice I’ve seen on the endless “dos and don’ts for bloggers” was “don’t apologise for not blogging or make excuses.” The idea being that it’s your blog and your rules and if you start letting yourself be governed by what you “owe” other people then you are letting the blog rule you. I like the idea, but alas I am British and sorry is my middle name, so I am going to apologise for the recent dearth of posts. Excuses however are not worth it and tend to make the situation worse, drawing attention to the dereliction of duty; I will not therefore harp on about the latest round of colds “oh it’s a fifteen week cough” said the doctor blithely, nor blame school holidays (I know by now that blogging is impossible with small persons underfoot.)

So it’s not an excuse, just a fact, that I have been concentrating on getting my manuscript into shape to be submitted to an editor. My deadline of Easter was self-imposed and could have been reached if I hadn’t got cold feet about the idea of a new submission arriving just as an editor was trying to clear her desk before the holidays. Even so, I nearly overrode such fears (there’s always an excuse to put off something like this if you look hard enough) except for having a sudden inspiration to up the suspense in the story which then opened up a whole new avenue of thought. Just add a child’s pov for three tiny scenes I thought, it’ll make the threat more human and immediate, oh, and then I can replace two smaller characters with this one and make that later scene more intensely suspenseful and personal, and what a coincidence I had already given a minor character a divorce in their backstory, now I can utilise that and the hero can see echoes of himself in the child and the child can offer inappropriate hero worship and make the hero see his actions in a different light and….suddenly I was adding snippets here and there and one tiny improvement was causing a slight but very significant rewrite of the second half of the story.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sorry, it will make the book so much stronger – and is also obeying my critique partner’s plea to cut down on named secondary characters or to merge some of them. The rush of “yes!!!!” as each knock-on effect occurred to me and I scrambled to write them all down is one of the greatest joys of being a writer. Nothing changed plot or character-wise, I just found subtler lights to shine on them and ways to draw out the motivations that had been driving them and helping/hindering them from falling in love. I wish I’d thought of this a few weeks ago, but far better to have thought if it now rather than after I had sent it off. The only difficulty has been switching from editing/revising mode to writing fresh passages, they seem so stilted after weeks of not writing anything new and I’ve been hunting down my writing “voice” – here’s hoping this post helps.

One woman’s clutter is another’s motivation

img_0086-765x1024

What does this picture tell you? That someone treasures their pony books as much as their older fiction? That they have eclectic reading taste – Gothic, Ancient Greece, Medieval Britain, Hollywood noir, spies? What about other things on the shelves? The stash of Cadbury’s crème eggs, the clutter of perfume bottles, the envelopes of photographs – is this an historical picture? The small brick-like mobile phone and the audio cassettes suggest this is a pre-digital time, or is it a current photograph and this is where things go before they are thrown away? Or are they all precious? Pine cones and bits of stone?

This was my bedroom in my flat and everything on that bookcase was put there very lovingly when I set up my own home at last. I had lived for four years in a bedsit; one room, a tiny kitchen and freezing bathroom. A sofa bed. This is why I bought a super kingsize bed for one and would lie there every weekend morning feasting my eyes on beloved books and prized possessions that had lingered in boxes for years.

But many visitors or a burglar would have overlooked them. Why did I have these things on show?

  • The cat statuette that looks more like a fox painted black was a present for a University friend that I have lost touch with. I regret that and keep the ugly little figure as a reminder not to be so careless again.
  • The cut glass bottle was my gift from the bride and groom when I was maid of honour at my best friend’s wonderful wedding. Inside it is the toenail that got flipped off as I moved into the flat. A reminder of the day it was finally all mine and useful if I ever disappear and the police need some DNA for any reason.
  • They could also use the wisdom tooth on the top shelf, kept because I still can’t believe I had a root that big pulled out in my lunch hour.

There are three small pieces of red pumice stone, collected at the top of an extinct volcano in Iceland. After pocketing them I careened down snow clad slopes in a mild blizzard. The sight and feel of those lightweight rocks in my hand brings back the harsh beauty of the country, the blue of the glacier we crossed, the toilet with no door that looked over a lake, the five days of trekking across the island and how on our return we went to a karaoke bar as it was the only way to keep drinking all night. I remember watching my fifty-nine year old father singing along to Dancing Queen before stumbling down to the harbour in Reykjavik to watch the sun rise even though it had barely set and then standing outside a youth hostel drinking whisky from a hip flask and trying a cigar to celebrate having had my first shower in seven days.

img_0086-pottery-735x337

There are at least two bits of red pottery there. One from an archaeological dig in Hampshire where, again, I only showered once a week – slightly worrying theme developing here. The other is from Tiryns, a Mycenaean site in Greece. It was closed for refurbishment when we tried to visit and lots of small fragments of pottery had been dumped outside the gates as waste.

img_0086-horses-832x472

These two horses date back to when I was seven or eight and my sister and I stayed for a few days with my step-grandmother in Bognor Regis. We’d only been away from our parents once before and it was both exciting and scary. Although she must have been in her late 60s or 70s she was full of life; she was a volunteer at “Hep the Aged” because she didn’t consider herself old at all, she swam in the sea every day and tried to teach us how to do underwater handstands. I remember her driving excitingly fast in her Mini around the town and taking us to visit a distant relation who lived in an Edwardian terraced house crammed full of dark antique furniture, dusty chandeliers and enormous mirrors. The pewter pony was bought in Bognor’s largest department store and the carved wooden foal in one of the charity shops that my granny helped out in. One evening, she walked us through the town park and as the shadows deepened under the trees and the roses turned to sepia, she taught us how to waltz in the deserted bandstand.

img_1897-1024x730

So many memories that can be summoned back by a few simple trinkets, or dust magnets. And what of the bookcase itself? It used to belong to a library and you can still faintly see where years of sunlight on the etched glass signs have marked the shelves for Art and Sport. I paid only ten or twenty pounds for the shelves when the library had a reorganisation and got the complete Oxford History of Britain at the same time for about the same price.

I could go on with everything in sight.

  • The broken gold bell that is older than me and that I always hung on the Christmas tree near my presents so its clear chime sounded whenever I picked up a parcel and wondered what lay beneath its layers – it’s yellow bead clanger is still waiting to be reattached.
  • The hat-brush painted with the name and profile of the first pony I looked after at a riding school when I was nine.
  • The shell that I picked up at Agios Konstantinos, a small port on mainland Greece that a boyfriend and I reached after a night flight, a taxi driver who ripped us off and a dusty battered bus drive through endless Athens suburbs. It had not been a good start to a holiday and then we arrived at the port, bought tickets to Skopeleos and the sun came out. I found the shell as we waited for our ferry and knew that things were looking up.

img_0086-bell-and-pumice-1024x240

The reason for listing all this, apart from giving more background on me than anyone could ever want, is to show how one item can have a history and meaning for a character in a book that is far greater than its appearance or size. I wrote before how the ways each protagonist views a room tells us as much about them as it does the setting, and likewise the importance the person places on a seemingly insignificant object can reveal so much about their personality, or about their past. It doesn’t have to be as obvious as X picks something up and says “what’s this junk?” before Y tells all about a fascinating or traumatic incident in the past, but a writer can imagine that scene and then allude to its significance elsewhere.

I’ve spent plenty of time planning or describing the locations my characters inhabit and I feel that I know their back stories and motivation, but I’m always looking for new ways to convey that rather than introspection, information dumps or stilted conversations.  Far more interesting to have Y pick up the object and have X watch how their face and posture changes – in sadness, joy, regret, anger? X can ask why later, or Y can reflect on it alone, it gives a solid tangible sense to pure emotion and is hopefully showing, not telling.

When the idea for this post first came to me I tried to picture my current heroine’s bookcases and wondered what oddments she would have like this. I could think of none, couldn’t picture such a shelf. Then I realised that that was key. She has given up her own career twice for her family and not yet had a chance to rebuild a proper home. All such mementos are packaged away safely and that in itself tells me and the reader a lot that we need to know. Someone who has locked away precious memories and daren’t bring them out yet, who doesn’t feel at home anywhere, or not proud enough of herself to display her desires or achievements to anyone else. This is only very obliquely alluded to in the manuscript but it’s helped me a lot in having a rounded picture of my heroine and gave me the key to a later confrontation scene where things locked away in a bookcase are highly emotive.

I know that my next heroine has a large collection of art postcards but very little else, and I know why. And suddenly I wanted to give one of my Egyptian jackal heads to another heroine; making her have a passion for Egyptian history and archaeology has opened her up to me in ways I hadn’t thought of before.

What trinkets, junk or precious objects are on your characters’ shelves? Or what are the stories behind some of the treasures you look at every day?

I do know how to spell tangentially, honest

Does the world really need another writer’s blog? Let alone an unpublished writer? My goal is not so much to share my path to publication (positive thinking) as to share thoughts on all aspects of being a reader, a writer and someone whose other interests – walking, mountains, ruins, gin, tv – may also be worthy of mention. Anything that makes you laugh and cry and think and feel is never going to be wasted.

Hence the title of my blog, Tangent Alley (not simply a misspelling of tangentially). I have never knowingly written anything too brief, not even text messages or tweets (just take a look at the “about me” post below for a dizzying mix of run on sentences complete with comma, semicolon, parentheses and dash abuse). But sometimes what looks like a random diversion or detour can bring unexpected rewards, new vistas and ways of looking at the old. And in truth, when walking, riding or driving I have always gone out of my way to make it interesting; I would far rather allow extra time to drive the back routes rather than motorways, or head off without a map altogether (such an attitude meant I once drove from Heathrow to Gloucestershire via Guildford (on purpose) and I can still picture some of those villages and empty lanes in the afternoon sun)

I have been around long enough to remember when authors first started advising each other to have blogs, it was at the same time that they also debated the merits of facebook or myspace. Yes I’ve been around that long. Blogs sprang up everywhere and I dutifully bookmarked and followed many – hardly any of which are still with us as authors have moved on – to Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram and probably many other areas I am unaware of. But perversely, having decided all those years ago that it would be too scary and hard work for me personally, I find that blogs are still my favourite place to go to follow authors, preferably as part of regularly updated and easy to navigate websites.

The received wisdom 10 – 15? – years ago was that you had to blog daily, always be interesting, always end with a question to make people post answers and try to use images to catch peoples’ eyes. A lot of that put me off, the discipline needed to post that often, surely it would take away from writing time – as if I needed another excuse to not be working on an actual wip. I didn’t even have a digital camera at the time and I didn’t own a mobile phone either, not that they would have cameras for some time

Advice and “rules” about the image you portray as a writer, or to put it more bluntly marketing oneself, change all the time. The best advice I have seen is to do your research and do what suits you and your needs at this time.

I am planning to post a blog once a week on a Friday, in my old 9 – 5 job that was always the time for my “hooray its nearly the weekend” relaxed trawl through varied websites.  Maybe people will find and respond as time goes by and having a back catalogue of thoughts and writing will show my voice and for now, the idea of writing into a void is liberating.

Until next week, hello and cheerio to anyone out there. Indeed, as it’s Friday, cheers; this more than any other day is sure to have a gin in it. I should warn readers with sensitive livers that gin will get a lot of mentions here. And wine. And tea. And coffee. A Romantic Suspense writer’s life is full of lubrication.

IMG_0475 (1280x960)
Writer fuel (“tasteful” 1980s kitchen tile optional)

About me

I can’t remember a time when books weren’t part of my life. IMG_4814 (2)Our house was full of books and my parents always read to us at bedtime  – Mary Plain books, Winnie the Pooh and Narnia are those I remember best. Once I learned to read myself I was addicted; I kept books in the downstairs toilet cupboard to read before school, tried to hide books on my lap under a napkin during breakfast and read under the bedclothes with a torch at night – although that may have been partly due to thinking that books like the Famous Five ought to be read by torchlight.

Before long I was continuing these stories in my head and then writing them down – although to be honest plotting, drawing maps and making lists of characters was always more fun than actually writing the story (still is if I’m not careful). My other early passion was ponies and as soon as I was old enough I would walk to meet the mostly tame ponies living on the hill above us. I had devoured every pony book in the library – including the technical ones – long before I was allowed to have riding lessons (and as with so many things in life learned that theory and practice are very different).

Pony stories (I had over 300 by my teens) were what I wanted to write, and then I discovered Mills and Boon books and the similar pattern to so many of my beloved horse books captured me – the heroine was pony-less at the start, would work hard, learn, take many falls, almost lose hope (and maybe the pony) and finally triumph at the local show. They weren’t all like that obviously, and I’m not saying I compare heroes to horses – although a good ride is essential – but the familiarity and endless variety within a relatively compact book inspired and captivated me.

I actually submitted my first attempt at a romance to M&B when I should have been doing A level homework – and hence failed most of them and my book was deservedly rejected (it was, I now realise, simply a first draft with no plot, no conflict and no black moment. All it really had was a nice description of the Greek island of Cos).

My next submission was over ten years later and its rejection led me to join the RNA (Romantic Novelist’s Association) and to look on line for advice. Finding the forums with their seemingly infinite amount of help and advice in the community at harlequin.com changed my writing life, not least in directing me to the Silhouette Intimate Moments line of book (published here in the UK as Silhouette Sensation) later as Silhouette Romantic Suspense and now Harlequin Romantic Suspense. This is where my reading and writing tastes are now happiest.

I grew up in a small town on the edge of the Cotswolds and early memories and photos show lots of walks involving hills, woods and mud. After a degree in Ancient and Medieval History at Cardiff University (with too few excursions further into Wales and plenty of mud on archaeological digs), then 15 years living and working in Oxford (pretty, too flat and good for murders if you believe fiction and drama) I have ended up in the wilds of Worcestershire. Again within tantalising distance of proper Welsh mountains and where as soon as you walk out of the door you have to go up or down a steep hill. And where there’s mud.

I live with my partner Dr J who is a University lecturer and our two small exhausting daughters. Plus a ginger fiend in the shape of a cat and her ever expanding collection of corpses. We are lucky enough to have a garden that attracts amazing wildlife, mostly of the bird variety but bats as well and at night we are kept awake by the cry of owls, deer and foxes (not all of which are prey for the cat – yet).

IMG_0446 (853x1280)

I have been using one photo as my on line presence for at least four years and it’s therefore a bit out of date, I certainly have more chins, wrinkles and grey hair now but am still wearing the same walking outfit. Here’s the complete picture with the first peak of Cadir Idris in the background, the one at the top is from a year earlier at my best friend’s wedding and is probably the last time I wore make up or earrings.