Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Holiday reading

I have decided that the problem is not the internet connection but my laptop which is so-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o slo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-w that checking email or doing anything else online is excruciating.  It’s amazing how life changes when you’re not spending your time Googling or Facebooking or Twittering or emailing.  For a start there are hours more in the day, and I am feeling very detached from ‘real life’.  I have been trying to write 2k words a day, but it’s more important to go out for a walk and enjoy the hills and the water, and rediscover the fact that there are few surer ways to restore a sense of proportion than standing on a sunny beach throwing sticks into the sea for a dog.    

I’m staying in the holiday house that’s been in the family for over 30 years, and like all good holiday homes, it has a store of old books, the kind you would scorn to read at any other time, but are somehow just what you want when you’re away.  Over the years, a motley assortment has been left here over the years.  We seem to have a lot of truly dreadful thrillers from the Seventies, some dated blockbusters, tattered historical, war stories, and the odd literary novel which has clearly been brought for effect and then discarded in favour of easier reading.  Oh, and a set of Jessica Harts, of course!

I like to work my way through the almost complete collection of Agatha Christies when I’m here.  It was Murder on the Orient Express last night.  There’s something incredibly comforting about them.  I don’t care that I’ve read them many times and know who the murderer is.  I don’t mind the fact that the plots are dated and contrived and turn on silly coincidences.  An Agatha Christie is a master class in PTQ: you pick one up, intending only to flick through a page or two for old time’s sake, and suddenly you’re turning the next page and then the next, and before you know where you are, you’re absorbed in the story and refusing to do anything else until you’ve finished it. 

I wouldn’t take an Agatha Christie away on holiday with me, and I wouldn’t read one at home, but here in Scotland, they’re just what I want.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to The Mysterious Affair at Styles ...

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Bad connections

Screel from the Muckle

I have decamped to Scotland for a couple of weeks, but the internet connection is very ropey so had better keep this brief.  Sending a simple email is an exercise in acute frustration, as the screen keeps freezing, or is overlaid with the tool bar so that you can’t see what’s underneath, or sometimes the message disappears altogether until I am ready to take a hammer to my laptop. 

I am SO missing my lovely fast Mac.  Don’t even want to think what it’s going to be like uploading this to the blog, but will give it a go.  Just block your ears to the language.  Aaarrghh will be the least of it.


On the plus side, the whole process is so fraught, I am only checking my email twice a day which is very good for me.  Likewise, Facebook and Twitter are out, and in theory I have a lot more time to write.  I am here to keep my mother company while my father, coming up for 89 and almost totally deaf, has taken himself off on a cruise around the Black Sea.  So it’s a whole new routine, which involves a lot of little meals and a lot of dog walking.  No hardship when the dog is as sweet-natured as Roxy, and the walks are all through scenery like this.  The sun has even been shining ... so far! 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Bio culling

This is the first of my two days left at home in April, so I am in full list-ticking mode, otherwise known as hyperventilating.  My main project today, apart from the vital business of getting my hair cut and my legs waxed, is to supply all the missing content for my new website.  The design is agreed, but now I have to scan in 45 covers, provide urls just in case anyone feels like buying a book, and rewrite my biography.

I tackled this the other day. When I was looking at other authors’ bios, I came across Anne Gracie’s, and really liked seeing her old pictures and reading about the experiences that had made her a writer, so in shamelessly copycat mode I did the same and had a lovely time going through all my old photo albums. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as restrained as Anne and got a bit carried away.  When I sent it to the designer, he very tactfully suggested it might be “a bit too long maybe”  (subtext: for God’s sake, woman, who’s going to be interested in this?) so I must cull a good 1000 words today. 

It does seem a shame to waste all that scanning, though, so while I was scratching my head about what to blog about in my brief stop at home, I thought I would shove up some of the pictures that won’t make it onto the website.  Look away now if you have a low boredom threshold!

My first memories are of Africa, which is perhaps why I ended up with incurably itchy feet.  This is me simpering with my father at Qolora Mouth in South Africa in 1964. 

My first trip to Australia (spot the clue) in 1968, aged 9, en route to PNG. The start of an enduring love affair with the country, even though it was winter, and I didn't make it to the outback until much later.

And here I am back on that side of the world in my gap year, 1977, with my cousin Jenny.  We spent four months in New Zealand, including several weeks cooking on a sheep station so remote you had to fly in, or get on a horse and ride across a river.  We did get pretty sick of mutton by the end of our time there but it was such fun.  I remember laughing the whole time. In fact, I’m wondering now why I’ve never written a book set in NZ ... maybe it’s just too long ago. Sigh.

Ah, well.  That’s enough nostalgia.  I need to get on. Picture me scan, scan, scanning for the rest of the day.  I’m off to Wales on Saturday, home on Sunday, and Scotland on Monday for a couple of weeks, but I will be taking my laptop and endeavouring to do some work while I’m there, so I’ll try and keep the blog updated at the same time.   

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Stocking up the Kindle

Taking a deep breath as we plunge into April … I won’t bore you with my complicated itinerary, but between Yorkshire, Wiltshire, Wales, Bristol, South West Scotland, Edinburgh and Rome I will only be spending five days at home this month.

Perfect holiday reading
My priority before I go away is to make sure that I have a whole stack of books on my Kindle so that I have something to read at all times.  I spent a lot of yesterday clicking aimlessly around Amazon, but I just wasn’t inspired. Scrolling down a screen just isn’t the same as picking a book up in a bookshop and turning it over to read the blurb (I know, I know, I’m sounding middle-aged again).  I’m one of those weird people that likes to read the last page to get a feel for the book and to make sure I get a happy ending, and you can’t do that on Amazon.

Thrillers/romantic suspense are my preferred holiday reading, but I appear to have read everything by my favourite ‘travelling’ authors (Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Nora Roberts, P.J. Tracy, Tess Gerritsen …) Why can’t they write quicker?? (Not Nora, of course – no one could write more than she does!) I’ve tried a number of other thriller writers that get rave reviews – people like Michael Connelly, Karin Slaughter and Mark Billingham – but have never quite clicked with them in the same way. 

In the end I bought books by Lisa Gardner and J.A. Kerley, both new to me, and a Linda Howard set in the Amazon which sounds fun, so we’ll see.  It’s so wonderful when you find an author and can work your way through their back list, isn’t it?  Somebody recently recommended Laura Kinsale here, and I bought and enjoyed Lessons in French very much, so I’m looking forward to reading more of her books when I’m home and in the mood for historical romance. 

In the meantime, all recommendations for romantic suspense very welcome.  I’ve got a lot of travelling to do in April, and I’m going to need a lot more than three books to keep me going!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Revisions (and pineapples)

So, it was 5.30 on Friday evening, and I’d done my 2000 words for the day. I was ahead of my schedule.  Feeling pretty pleased with myself, I was looking forward to the weekend.  I was just getting up to make myself a cup of tea when I heard the tell-tale ‘ping’ of an email arriving in my inbox … and there was my editor’s response to the book I sent in so long ago I’d almost forgotten about it. 

This was the kind of book referred to my fellow romance writers as a ‘pineapple’.  As in what it feels like to give birth to one. I love this expression which perfectly expresses the agony of dragging a story kicking and screaming onto the page.  After which I had to rewrite the entire thing in four days flat.  So when I saw the subject line of the email my heart sank. 

I was braced for “Well, it was a good try but perhaps it’s time you gave up”, but in the event the suggested revisions weren’t too onerous.  So successfully had I wiped the entire sorry story from my mind that when I first read my editor’s comments I couldn’t remember who half the characters she referred to were, which was a bit disturbing.

So my first task was to re-read the entire manuscript and remind myself about all the incidents that had left me blank.  It’s always good to come back to a story after a complete break as invariably it’s better than you remember.  I don’t think this is going to be one of my favourite books – although I thought exactly the same about Ordinary Girl in a Tiara (another massive pineapple) which has done far better than those rare lovely books that write themselves.  So perhaps there’s a lesson there!

Anyway, the main change was making the reasons for Frith’s need for control more explicit.  I felt a bit as if this meant laying it on with a trowel, but I’m pragmatic about revisions and do what I’m asked to do.  If my editor doesn’t get it, then I guess the readers won’t either, even if it does seem obvious to me. 

She also commented that I’d thrown away the declaration scene where George tells Frith he loves her, and when I read it again, this was so true I winced.  Talk about being in a hurry to get to the end!  So I beefed that up, too, and made one or two other changes. 

It made for a couple of afternoons’ work, but after getting it last thing on Friday night, I was able to return it first thing Monday morning -  AND I got to enjoy the weekend too, so it could have been a lot worse.  Fingers crossed that’s number 59 done and dusted.

Now, back to time slip #2 …