Bringing sunshine to storms…

What weather we’ve seen in England recently. I feel so sorry for those affected by floods. How miserable.

I’ve been sheltering indoors, listening to the wind sweeping in from the sea, buffeting our house. But I’ve been getting into my next Italian novel, researching about the brave women resistance fighters of Italy and trying not to weigh down my new story with great wodges of information.

I’m also preparing for February 25th –  publication day for my second novel with Bookouture. The Tuscan Girl

The Tuscan Girl cover

On March 10th, my first “baby, The Tuscan Secret ,will be published in HUNGARY 🙂 . The cover is quite different from the English language version: rather whimsical, I think.  But, I like it and it is all very exciting to me. I wish I had some Hungarian friends. Maybe my book will find me some. Fingers crossed!

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Last week started well, with a dose of metaphorical sunshine. I was nominated by the lovely blogger, Jessie Cahalin for the Sunshine Blogger Award. Wow! How great to receive this award! I always feel as if I am blundering about on my blog, but if I have brought sunshine to even one person, then I am smiling.

Sunshine-Blogger-AwardNominee

As well as being a fantastically supportive blogger, Jessie is also an author  and her first book has the intriguing title of You can’t go it alone

Jessie set me 11 questions and here are my answers.

  1. Which three photographs would you present to capture your life?

It was hard to pick only three. I should really like to include photos of my five grandchildren but, sadly, I don’t think it is safe to post images of little children on the web 😦

Below are photos of me in Italy, where I live for six months of each year. I have more time to write and research in Tuscany. The beautiful countryside in the Apennines is inspiring and I’m blessed with a tolerant, kind, half-Italian husband who also loves walking and doesn’t mind when I bounce ideas off him for my stories.

2. I believe laughter is one of the best tonics in life. When was the last time you could not stop laughing?
Gosh, good question! I always laugh when I’m with my grandchildren. But, rolling around on the floor, tears running down my face, my tummy muscles hurting… I can’t actually remember the last time. This needs remedying…
3. Explain the last act of kindness you showed to a friend or stranger.
I buy a hot drink when I see a homeless person and talk to them. I was touched that our oldest grandson (7 years old) shared his pocket money with a young lad yesterday when he was in town with his Daddy.
4. Do you prefer the winter sun or the summer sun?
Although we live in Tuscany for six months, I far prefer a crisp winter day for a long walk, rather than a sweaty slog. It snows most winters in the Apennines and the scenery is breath-taking.
5. Describe your perfect Saturday evening.
It depends on how lazy or tired I feel. Could be by the log burner with my husband, with a glass of wine, enjoying a simple meal or cooking for half a dozen good friends and sharing more wine and conversation.
6. What sorts of characters do you prefer to meet in novels?
Unusual characters with unexpectedly big hearts. I’ve recently read Lisa Jewell’s “I found You” and I loved Alice and her dysfunctional family. She leapt off the page for me.

7. Give one sentence of advice to yourself when you were sixteen.
You are who you are and it doesn’t matter that you’re so tall and have big feet because it’s what’s inside your head and heart that counts.
8. Is there a friend from the past you would love to get in touch with and why?
My schoolfriend, Monica, whom I’d recently lost touch with. I went to her funeral two weeks ago and there was still so much I wanted to share with her.
9. What is your food heaven and food hell?
Food heaven would be home-made pasta with sauce made from fresh, homegrown basil and tomatoes from our Tuscan “orto”.
Food hell would be school gristly suet pudding that I got caught stuffing down the floorboards by a mean nun. She made me eat it…
10. Share your favourite recipe
I’ll share it in Italian, so you’re right in the atmosphere and learn some words!
It’s on You-tube, so I hope this link works. aubergine parmigiana

11. If you could travel back in time where would you visit and who would you take with you?
I’m intrigued by the Edwardian era but I would have to go above my station and visit above stairs in a grand house for a country weekend. I’d take my husband with me, but we would be in our twenties and have more energy for all the fun, food and games. (In reality I’d most likely have been a skivvy below stairs, but a girl can dream). I’d also have small feet and a waspish waist and look beautiful in the Edwardian fashions. (I think I’m being influenced by the scenes from Downton Abbey. 😉

 

That was a bit of fun. Thank you, Jessie And now, I get to nominate 11 more friends to continue this Sunshine Blogger Award (only if they want to... I know we are all very busy).

The Sunshine Blogger Award empowers bloggers to celebrate other bloggers who are creative and bring positivity to the blogging community. So, I nominate:

Angela Barton

Helen Christmas

Joanie Chevalier

Rosemary Noble

Carol Thomas

Sue Sharp

Kathryn Bax

Pamela Allegretto-Franz

Audrey Davis

Jane Cable

Kate Baker

There are a few rules to follow:

Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and link back to their blog.

Answer the 11 questions that I set below.

List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award on your own blog post.

Nominate 11 new bloggers and their blogs and ask your nominees 11 NEW QUESTIONS.

Here are my questions to you – with thanks to Mixtus Media

  1. When you were little, what did you dream about becoming when you grew up?
  2. What is something you like to do the old fashioned way?
  3. What is one of your favourite smells?
  4. If you could call anyone in the world and have a one-hour conversation, who would you call?
  5. What job would you be terrible at?
  6. If you had a million pounds/dollars, what would you do with them to help the most people?
  7. For one day, you can do whatever you want. What would you do?
  8. Give me three words to describe yourself.
  9. What is your favourite food treat?
  10.  What is your favourite outfit?
  11.  You have one last wish… go for it!
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Don’t put off until tomorrow …

It’s been a while since I blogged, so hello again.
It’s been quite a week.
Sadly, it started with the funeral of a dear schoolfriend. It was such a shock and as I have moved house (and country) so often, we’d lost touch in the last five years. One of the photos on the service sheet smiled back at me: an image of her posing on a Tuscan mountainside when, as giddy twenty-year-olds she had come to stay  with me for a while during my third year at university in Florence. Another showed us shivering in our school sports kit on a muddy pitch somewhere and there was one of her prancing about the stage in our VIth Form panto as the fairy godmother… I was cross with myself for not keeping in touch. She was such fun and too young to go and it was a sobering reminder that nothing lasts forever.

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Lovely Monica spreading fairy godmother gold dust

So, the next day I set off for a long-awaited writing weekend, run by Alison May, (Chairwoman of the fab RNA) in a comfortable Midlands Hotel. I was determined to make the most of it after the sadness of the previous day. I knew little about this part of England but, we were so busy with writing matters, it wouldn’t have mattered where we were.
I’m so glad I went. It was great not to have to lift a hand to prepare any meals and to luxuriate in an enormous bed all to myself where I was the only one snoring, but the advice shared by Alison was a gift. I hope to go next year too.

There should be a new term for us writers who are somewhere between pantser and plotter. Any suggestions?

The information we discussed in the group about structuring our novels was just what I needed. You will have to attend one of Alison’s excellent courses and for details of her “tool kit”, as she described it, but I came away regenerated, enthused and greatly encouraged. And it was very timely too. I signed a new contract for two more books with Bookouture (yay!)  and am at the beginning stages of my new novel. 😦  At the moment I feel as though I am telling, telling, telling and the words are turning into a great lump of information. Alison chatted to me during my one-to-one and how reassuring it was to learn that I’m not the only one who writes her first draft this way. Hemingway famously said, “The first draft of anything is …. a pile of poo” (or words to that effect). At the moment, my story is being spewed over paper like a muck spreader in a muddy, muddly field but … ommmmm! All will be well in the end, Alison said, because, “editing is fun”, she told us. Oh, really? I muttered to myself. Especially with the aid of post-its (and drawing pins so the precious little coloured papers don’t blow off your wall/board/door when the window opens and scatters your ordered structure plan all over the place).

There were so many useful tips shared. I can’t wait to arrive at the third stage when I’ll read my book backwards… yes, folks! Who would have thought of it as a genius proofreading tool?
Even the dreaded synopsis became a fun item. Yes! Believe me! And the elevator pitch. I might have to practise that in the M and S lift and hope a publisher stands next to me and the lift breaks down and I can spout out my brilliant three-liner and be published by one of the big five. Actually, what am I saying? I LOVE Bookouture and am more than happy to be part of this publishing family.
During the last session, fortified with the last of Alison’s chocolates, we shared the goals we had set for ourselves for the following week, month and year.
Now I have to make sure I stick to what I said.

There are a couple more of these Novel courses planned and spaces available: one in summer and the third in autumn. Alison is usually joined by Janet Gover and the links are for you to find out more details. I highly recommend.

Alison May     Find out about further courses

 

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Granny goes up to London…

Once upon a time, I was a commuter and worked in London for The Times, but that was almost a lifetime ago and it felt like a different world when I visited the capital city again.
Yesterday morning, excited, boots polished and feeling very “grown-up”, I took the train from our seaside town up to Victoria station to visit my young and lovely editor at Bookouture in Holborn. IMG_3330

It was a delightful day, starting with meeting the enterprising couple who had set up their coffee van outside Goring-by-Sea station. Good luck to Blue Brew  – they’re available to hire for events as well.

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It continued with the cheery lady selling railway tickets and dispensing chocolates to travellers. I approved of her charity book stall in the cosy waiting room. Books help make the world go round.

This shameless hussy of an author dished out cards with author details twice before arriving at Victoria: one to a passenger who was interested in buying Mavis and Dot as she is suffering from cancer herself (all proceeds for sales go to Cancer Research and yesterday we donated £556 from sales and more will come from gift aid. Thank you to everyone who has bought a copy.) The other card went to a couple sitting opposite me whilst I was working on notes for my next Tuscan novel. Small world: they saw the word “Tuscany” and told me they were flying that afternoon to stay with their daughter who lives in Bagni di Lucca. Interested in my books, I told them about another author, Katy Johnson, and her Tuscan stories. Books link people.

I have a sore foot at the moment and once I was spewed out of the train and into the throng on the platform, I felt bewildered as I limped along. This country girl is not used to bustle and everybody is in a hurry in London. But I couldn’t hurry. And nobody seemed to smile. I decided to smile at people, but I think they thought I was a weirdo. The only smile I received was from a girl with eyebrows (you know what I mean – this new fashion for painted brows) – but I think hers was just a fixed, surprised expression. On one side of High Holborn was a beautiful flower stall, and on the other, a soggy tent in the rain where a homeless person slept as everybody rushed by. To be fair, the helper at the underground had smiled at me. Who knew that you could flash your credit card on the yellow thingy at the turnstile, and that it was cheaper than buying a ticket? I think his smile was compassionate.

Meeting Ellen in the smart restaurant was fun. We had met face to face at the busy RNA Conference last July, but we normally communicate via email, phone and in tracking comments (for editing purposes), so it was good to take time and talk. A short walk afterwards to the Bookouture offices in their swanky new premises in Bloomsbury Way (highly suitable address for a publisher) and I met other members of the Bookouture team, as well as the CEO Oliver Rhodes – all hard at work. They call themselves a family and it really feels that way to me. I feel cared for, encouraged and inspired as they guide me through the editing processes towards publication and I feel so grateful to be on their books.

Their taking care of all the bits that I get myself in a twist about (formatting, cover design and marketing) means that I can concentrate on writing. My new cover for the next new book will be ready soon, and I can’t wait to see it.
Tired, but happy, Granny hobbled back to the underground and was lucky to find a seat on the sardine-packed train. Behind me was an Italian, nattering into his phone on a business call and, when he had finished, I told him I could tell from his accent that he was Florentine. It’s very distinctive; they swallow their “c”.  Italy is never far away from me.
I just wish I had accepted one of the Christmas cakes sent by one of the authors, that Ellen had offered me. I could have munched on it while I edited on the train, but Granny was trying not to be greedy.

IMG_3331Happy Christmas, everybody! Now, back to the edits.

 

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Find a balance…

It’s that busy time of the year again.

To be honest, I’ve found 2019 busy all year- round. Even when I’m not at my desk, my mind continually whirs with ideas. Writing can be all-consuming.
Apart from recognising that I’ve neglected family and friends, I know I need to find ways to unwind and create time for nurture.
So, my hubby and I took time out last weekend. We took a slow drive north and after popping in to visit his poorly mother, we stopped off in fascinating Lincoln for “us-time” before heading for Leeds, where our youngest daughter lives. It all felt good. A change is as good as a rest.

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(We decided not to opt for afternoon tea in Leeds city centre)

I’m a writer. I’m nosy. I asked fellow authors what they do to relax. Perhaps their thoughts might help you in your busy routine. I’ve wrapped them up to put under your tree. under the tree

Not surprisingly, walking is a popular relaxation. It’s free and a great antidote to sitting hunched over a laptop.

John Broughton , author of fascinating novels set mostly in the middle ages and who lives in Calabria, told me that “…getting the balance right between writing and relaxing is difficult… To do that, I escape to the unpolluted air and silence of our local mountains – we have them on three sides of or village. The nearest is the coastal mountain chain, the tail end of the Apennines. I usually go with one trusted friend who respects my silence when I need it. We sometimes take a bottle of red wine and a bread roll and make a long morning out of it. On occasions we have the mountain to ourselves. Each season has something different to offer. We enjoy the frozen waterfalls and the cooler contrast in the hot summer months but I love the carpets of cyclamen in the autumn as in my photo.”

John Broughton's woods

Helen Christmas has had a tough year. She shared her ways of pushing out “ negative thoughts.”
“Apart from taking ‘Kalms’ on a daily basis, I find yoga to be very calming. After a couple of sessions at our local gym, I immediately began to think more positively. We had a lovely holiday in France too, where the villa owner, Penny, teaches yoga and meditation. She has given me some MPs, so I can practise at home – the Chakra meditation is really good and helps clear the mind. Visualisation also works; picturing those beautiful mountains in France, or a sunset on a beach. Some nights though, when switching off your mind is impossible, I find Dan Jones’ Adult bedtime stories (on YouTube) are great for helping me to drift off.”

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Helen’s beautiful French mountains

Jessie Cahalin is an author and special blogger. I always enjoy her posts, and she’s recently shared her new mindfulness regime. Check it out
“I always seek solace in the simple things in life. A daily walk is essential for me to connect with my thoughts and relax. I leave the laptop behind and do not think about anything at all. Strolling works its magic and any plot tangles seem to sort themselves out. Just knowing I will pack up at ten and walk ensures that I use time efficiently. Furthermore, exercise also helps me to sleep well. I went through an intense period of writing and composing four blogs a week, and this resulted in terrible migraines. One of my daily strolls gave me the space to realise I was in control of my time and deadlines thus did not need to put myself under pressure. I am lucky to live in an area where meandering county lanes are on my doorstep. I love to watch the scenery transform through the seasons and documenting the changes with my camera helps me to take a closer look at those delicious simple things in life.”

 Jessie walking in the country lanes very near to her house.

Jessie - walking

Jane Cable has written one of my favourite books. I love a WW2 story and in her haunting story, Another You ,we have an intriguing pinch of paranormal. Jane writes romance with a twist and a nod over the shoulder at the past. I love her honest thoughts on how to relax.
“I would say walking is a good source of relaxation, but it isn’t exactly time away from writing because I am almost always plotting as I walk. So I should say Pilates, or maybe a little meditation, but no – I’m going to be truthful. To relax I go to the pub. We’re lucky enough to have a proper local and there is no better feeling than dragging a stool to the bar and, glass of wine in hand, putting the world to rights or doing the crossword with our friends. It’s the real world, far away from writing, and I absolutely love it. I say far away from writing, but one day sitting at the bar I heard a story so prosaic in the telling but so eerie in the content, I just had to write it. The result will be published by Sapere Books towards the end of next year.”

Photo for Angela's blog - courtesy of Victory Inn

Thank you, Jane – this really made me smile and I can’t wait to read your new book.

Finally, moving to the USA and friends I’ve happily discovered through social media, meet supportive Jenn Hanson-de-Paula. I find her help for authors inspirational.  She writes a fabulous blog and runs courses and I follow her avidly on Instagram and FB. Take a look at Mixtus Media
“Relaxing is something I’m having to relearn. As a business owner, wife, mother, someone involved in her community, and so on, it can feel like I have no time for myself. I know many women feel this way and are in similar situations.

I’ve tried various hobbies to try to relax, but they ended up being more work. So how I relax is very simple: I go to the library. There is something so soothing and comforting about that sacred place. Roaming the stacks of books, looking at other book lovers seeking out their next read, and talking with the wonderful librarians is a haven for me.

My husband can tell when I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed. He often will look at me and say, “Do you need to go to the library?” It’s my favorite way to relax! 😊

Jenna's library

Wow! Jenn’s library is a little larger than ours in the village where I live

Joanie Chevalier is editor and founder of RAC promoting the reader/author connection and another walker: “Walking is one of my favorite ways to relax and recharge. It’s my way of taking a deep breath to relish in the scents and colors associated with each new season. I am lucky enough to be able to live, work, and travel in my RV and I have taken walks on many beautiful paths, whether in the mountains, on the coast, at a national park, or inland in the desert. Even if I’m staying in a populated area, I still find the time to locate a peaceful spot. My doggies, Frankie and Lily, love it too, and together we explore and enjoy nature’s glory.”Joanie

Compiling this blog, I realise that my American friends all have names beginning with J – purely coincidental. For the final J in the American series, and more words of wisdom, meet American blogger, and golden lady, Jena C Henry :

“Shouldn’t it be easy to relax? Somehow, telling yourself to relax is like trying to fall asleep on a pillow that’s too hot or too cold. Impossible?! Especially during the holidays?? Let’s unpack this. You can find plenty of advice online. Try Instagram. #relax, has 104 MILLION posts. Change the hashtag to #relax and you can scroll through an additional 447 THOUSAND posts. What will you learn? Everyone is chilling with wine and cranberry vodka, bath bombs, and vegan unicorn smoothies. OR ARE THEY? I have a secret. I, too, show a different ME on social media. I act like I’m driven, eager to achieve, questing for likes, book reviews, sales, Number One, that’s me! But in reality, I have chosen to be lazy and relaxed my whole life. I happen to have been blessed with a good sense of time management- I’m always punctual and I know how to plan and get things done. In today’s jargon, I try to stay “mindful” and “in the moment”. Great skills if your real dream in life is to loaf. So, what does a typical, relaxing day for me look like? With apologies to The Grinch, here is a page from my “SSHHHEDUAL!” “My Schedule Won’t Allow it!” Reminder to me at the top of each page! 9 AM Coffee, Read, Putter on my Blog 12 PM Do I need to do anything today? Nope. Grocery, vacuuming, decluttering TOMORROW! 2 PM Announce that I am going to Water Aerobics; take a robo-call instead 3 PM Sit outside and talk to dog 5 PM- Stare into the abyss. Imagine traveling to Europe to visit all my new writing friends. Look for passport next year. 6 PM Dinner with me (and my husband). We can’t cancel that again! And that’s how I stay relaxed. I just do whatever comes along! I have plenty of time to chat and commiserate when friends and family call and I’m always available to wait and sign for UPS shipments for others. Go ahead- RELAX!! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Stay Golden!”

Jean Mader photo

 

So, there we have it, friends. We’ve travelled round the world together.
I hope you can extract something from this rather long blog to help you over the next months.
Have a peaceful, healthy, enjoyable, special time over the festive season and see you in 2020.

PhotoFunia-1575798087

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Location, location, location

Meet Lexi Rees, a fellow member of Chindi Authors – a group that I’m proud to belong to.

Lexi

Lexi’s latest children’s book was published yesterday: Wild Sky  (I love the title – it intrigues me before I start reading). As some of my five grandchildren are rapidly approaching Key Stage 2 (7 to 12 years), I’ve started to look out for new reading ideas for them. I still love the old classics, but things move on, don’t they?  Listen in to our chat over coffee and cake (without lashings and lashings of ginger beer.)coffee-1177533_960_720

Thanks so much Angela for inviting me onto your blog to chat about writing, and more specifically, the process of fictionalising locations.

When I do author talks, I’m always asked about the locations in my books. The Relic Hunters series is basically an introduction to dystopian fiction for young readers which means that whilst the basic world is recognisable, I’m in a position where I can take some artistic license. Also, because the series is essentially a quest story, I have a lot of locations. The journey in book one, Eternal Seas, moves from a tropical island, through bustling bazaars and culminates in a ruined castle on a remote Scottish island. The sequel – Wild Sky, published on 28 November 2019, sees the young adventurers leave the Scottish island and head for a monastery in the Himalayas. Given the huge variety, I find it very helpful to have a real place in mind when I set a scene. I’m lucky to have lived overseas and also backpacked around the world (admittedly when I was quite a bit younger), so I have a large pool of personal experiences of locations to use.

As we are  both members of a Chichester writing group, Chindi Authors, let’s take a deeper look at a local spot that I’ve featured. The Relic Hunters get a clue that means they need to find an observatory to look at the stars on the Cold Moon (the last full moon of the year). I chose to base this scene at Spitbank Fort, a former military stronghold in the middle of the English Channel near Portsmouth. This is perfect since the characters are smugglers who live on a boat, plus I’ve sailed round it many times myself and been intrigued by the lack of a pontoon to tie up on – there appears to be no more than a few iron railings, which obviously just adds to the appeal to a writer looking for a quirky setting.

fort

 

Spitbank Fort was built between 1865 and 1880, along with three other forts (the Palmerstone forts) at a total cost of £1,177,805. Obviously by the time they were finished the threat of invasion had gone so although the forts were armed, they were never used in battle. They were decommissioned in 1956 and put up for sale the 1960s, although they were not sold until the 1980s. Had I won the lottery, I would have LOVED to buy one! Actually, I would still love to live in one. Either that or a lighthouse. That would be awesome, although I appreciate Tesco’s might not deliver my groceries.

It’s actually now a luxury hotel – you can check here but I have used none of the interior. I had to have a domed observatory. The forts are currently up for sale. I gather the price is £8 million, but sadly I’m still waiting for that lottery win.

Anyway, back to the writing. Of course, given the diameter is only 50 metres, it’s not really enough for my required location. I needed to have my baddie set up a camp there and build an observatory, so the interior is entirely inaccurate. I plead artistic license!

I hope that was interesting. Happy to answer any questions!

And thanks again Angela for inviting me to join you.

You’re very welcome. That fort reminds me of pirate radio stations, or a modern-day Famous Five adventure destination, or a fortress to fight for, or a ghostly story, or…  I can see why you picked it for a location. Being a writer is an excuse to imagine a whole load of adventures, isn’t it?

If you’re looking for stocking fillers for youngsters in your lives, this would make an ideal gift. Another ticked off.

STOP PRESS: To celebrate publication of her new book, Lexi has a giveaway for you: a chance to win a copy of Eternal Seas and Wild Sky, both action packed fantasies for 7 – 11 year olds. (UK – choice of signed paperback or ebooks). (International entrants – e books only).

ONLY AVAILABLE FROM 24th November – 19th December. So – hurry!

 

Wild Sky Book blurb:

‘This action-packed blend of magical fantasy with classic kids adventuring is a swashbuckling read for 8+ year-olds, peppered with soft line-drawings and propelled by a strong sense of urgency.’ – LoveReading4Kids

‘Non-stop adventure with an exciting blend of magic and dystopia. Sinister villains, strange magic and thrilling adventure. I loved it!’ – Claire Fayers, author of The Accidental Pirates series, Mirror Magic and Storm Hound

‘Raging seas, snowy lands, fortresses and monasteries – the quest for the relics continues at an exhilarating pace. You won’t put it down!’ – Jude Lennon, author of the Hal series and other books

After delivering the pearl, Finn and Aria thought life would return to normal.

But with the survival of the clans still in peril, they must continue their quest.

Can they find the next relic before the forces of evil?

Not everyone is who they appear to be

And time is running out …

Author bio:

Lexi Rees was born in Scotland but now lives down south. She writes action-packed adventures and workbooks for children.

The Relic Hunters #1, Eternal Seas, was awarded a “loved by” badge from LoveReading4Kids and is currently long-listed for a Chanticleer award. The sequel, Wild Sky, is available for pre-order now.

She’s passionate about developing a love of reading and writing in children and, as well as her Creative Writing Skills workbook, she has an active programme of school visits and other events, is a Book PenPal for three primary schools, and runs a free online #kidsclub and newsletter which includes book recommendations and creative writing activities.

In her spare time, she’s a keen crafter and spends a considerable amount of time trying not to fall off horses or boats.

Website

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Twitter

Instagram

 

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What if?

It’s one month since my last blog (sounds like the opening to a Catholic confession). But I’ve been busy between my two lives. Packing up to leave Italy for the winter, like some migratory bird (albeit weighed down with more than feathers) and settling in for the winter months in England. It seemed appropriate that we left Tuscany with the landscape half concealed in mist.

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Between catching up with our family and nesting, I have had my head down with edits for my new book due out in February 2020. I know I have been bleating on about this and telling you I find edits hard but recently I have had a lightbulb moment. As is so often the way, simple is best and what helps, is the simple revelation that “what if” is  liberating and… fun. Why didn’t I realise this before?
I’m not talking about the “what if” in regret. What if I had done this or that? The negative, looking back kind of thinking. I mean the “what ifs” that can stir up my imagination.
So, when my lovely editor at Bookouture now suggests tweaks here and there, or to deepen the mystery, I’ve stopped those panic moments of despair that everything I have written so far has to be unravelled. Instead, I’ve had a great time thinking outside my original box of ideas.
Albert Einstein famously said:

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

Deepak Chopra’s statement is a great help too:

“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.”

I feel the mist has lifted.

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Changes…

I’m gardening and editing at the moment and the two processes are very similar. I received my second round of structural edits two days ago and as I move plants around, dig others out and stand back to gain perspective, it mirrors the thoughts mulling in my mind about my WIP.IMG_2816

There’s a lot of digging involved in my Tuscan garden. I have to remove nine very leggy lavender plants and I’ve come to the conclusion I shall need help. A shoulder operation a couple of years ago limits what I can do.
I am having help with my writing too. I am truly blessed to be working with my editor at Bookouture and she is very encouraging. When I read her opening words about what I had done so far, I was very happy: “Wow wow wow. I can’t stress enough how much I love the changes you’ve made at the last edit.”
But she is very honest too and there is more work to be done in the next couple of weeks, both in terms of packing up our Tuscan home and re-writing certain sections of my Tuscan novel. My editor’s words again: “Thinking in terms of dramatic thread, …[sic] what do these chapters add to the story – how do they progress the narrative?”
It is great to have this help. Having written over 100,000 words, it is hard to stand back and properly see. It is still my book, but an objective point of view from somebody who is in the business of selling books is wonderful. I would be a fool not to listen.

Two days ago, we also returned from the annual break we take once all our bookings for il Mulino are finished. We went south to Puglia. I hadn’t realised how tired I was, but a change is as good as a rest, they say. Before I went away – and even on the long drive south – I was typing words in my brain. But a break was needed and, after eight days, I’m ready to go again. When I am so immersed in my writing, I tend to neglect dear ones. I am sorry for that. A balance is necessary.


Just over the border into Basilicata, we visited the higgledy-piggledy town of Matera where people lived in caves (sassi) until the 1970s. Carlo Levi, a writer, painter and physician, wrote about their plight in Christ stopped at Eboli. Because of his anti-fascist activism, he was exiled to live in a remote area of Basilicata in 1935-36.

photo of Carlo Levi's book

It occurred to me that I had to read this book over forty years ago when I was at university, but I couldn’t remember much about it. My copy is still in my bookcase in England, with my maiden name written inside. I shall now read it again, but with interest this time, rather than because it was on my reading list. Youth is wasted on the young is a phrase easily bandied, but I do think I would get more out of studying for my degree now. But what-ifs are pointless. I am enjoying life now. Some writing friends wish they had started writing earlier in their lives, but I think I had to gather lots of experiences and adventures before I was ready to embark on my books.

The trip has inspired another book and I can’t wait to get started on it. I am so in love with Italy and cannot help but be inspired. It has its problems, but… so do we in Britain at present. I am not looking forward to returning to the divisive atmosphere that Brexit has stirred up.

Here are some photos of Puglia and Basilicata. Let the pictures tell the story.

 

Now, back to those structural edits.

Ciao for now.

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Allegories and edits…

Yesterday I went for a long walk despite needing to be finishing structural edits.
Discombobulated I was (love that word), and I needed an untangling session.

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I’d believed I was nearly there with straightening out and layering my next Tuscan book. On track to send it a day before we leave for our little holiday in Puglia. But my lovely editor at #Bookouture sent me an e mail out of the blue. She was apologetic about the timing, but had come up with some fresh ideas. The rug pulled from under my feet, all at sea, up in the air, bothered and bewildered, headless chicken, raised blood pressure, panic… yes, all those things… all clichés, I know… but I felt them all.
The thing is, I was self-published before. Now, I have somebody guiding me and it’s all new. ‘It’s MY book,’ I wanted to scream. What are you doing to me?’
‘Be quiet, woman,’ I argued back. ‘Look how you’ve been helped with The Tuscan Secret Did you manage to sell over 21,000 copies in its original version?’

So, abandoning my scatterings of notes and pages, I went for a favourite walk. It usually helps. The climb up the mountain is steep; a narrow, stony mule track through woods.

The verges were studded with tiny cyclamens, like little promises. Lizards scuttled back under leaves as I approached. Four deer ran across the path above me and disappeared (much like the four chapters I had already culled). Was this a message?
My destination was the tiny village of Tramarecchia, the home of my main character, Massimo. It’s one of the many uninhabited hamlets dotted around this corner of Tuscany. There are signs that the owners still visit from time to time: a pruned fig tree, the chains for a child’s swing, rosemary and sage growing by a front door, half the grapes harvested from a vine. I sat by the washing troughs in the middle of the grassy square and asked my characters what I should do.

They weren’t really there, I know. They have stepped into my book. I had created them from imagination and borrowed stories. But they are very much in my head and I did talk to them. I began to calm down, sitting there in the quiet. Usually I pull out a notebook and jot down ideas. But I listened. If I had invented them in the first place, I could tweak what happened to them. Sitting there quietly helped me gain perspective.
I know my editor wants the book to do well. And I shall do my very best to be objective while I complete the next days’ edits. But that does not mean I shall change everything.
On the way home, I felt less coiled up inside. My shadow, as the afternoon sun lengthened the shadows, walked tall in front of me, leading the way back to my edits. I stepped over wolf prints in the mud, but the danger was past.

I would love to know how others cope with this process? Do let me know.

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Don’t you just love coincidence?

And here is the new blog from another lady who attended #WriteAwayinTuscany. I’mlooking forward to reading her debut novel when it comes out in Spring.

Susie Sharp Scribbles

Or would you call it serendipity? Fortuity? Whichever term you prefer, I’m grateful for it. And here’s why …

Yesterday, a friend posted on Facebook. She recommended a blog on tips for using social media; exactly what I need right now. The article reinforced my belief that social media is the best way to build a productive network. Happily, I’ve ticked two of the boxes already. I just need to work on a Twitter account. Here’s the link … I recommend a read.

Today, I met a lovely lady. She’s the same age as the heroine in my next novel but, best of all, she’s a gardener. Exactly the job I’d envisaged said heroine doing! How’s that for chance? Fortunately, the lovely lady is holidaying near-by, so I will be able to pick-up a font of information. And, yes, I bet we end up as friends on Facebook!

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Writing In Tuscany

Lovely words from one of the participants in #WriteAwayin Tuscany that came to an end yesterday.

Rosemary Noble - author page

What a great week – I kept thinking of the quote from She Stoops to Conquer, which I appeared in twenty years ago now (a college production, I hasten to add). – “I love everything that is old; old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines.” So I love everything about a Tuscan writing week – new friends, simple, delicious food, free-flowing wine, great conversation, fabulous hosts, amazing venue and – time to write.img_20190912_104114

We sat underneath this bower of trumpet flowers each morning, staring up at clumps of ripening grapes, pen and paper at the ready for whatever exercise we were set, breaking for a lunch of fresh salads, different hams and sharp sheep cheese with vino of course. Then came time for our own writing or contemplation. I loved listening to the thin stream of water gurgling over the mountain strewn parchment of stones. One morning…

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