Monday, 18 August 2014

Time for Reflection

I love visiting favourite places on the spur of the moment, especially when in a reflective mood rather than work mode! So I was delighted to revisit the wonderful Pollok House in its country park on the outskirts of Glasgow this weekend. The Georgian house itself never fails to impress me, no matter how many times I see it while the grounds and gardens are ideal for a walk in pleasant surroundings.

Although it's now partly looked after by the National Trust, from October until April it belongs to the people of Glasgow and is free to explore during this period. It's a lovely idea as the house is worth seeing more than once. You can take a leisurely walk around the inside by yourself to view the graceful furnishings and wonderful art collection, or let one of the friendly guides explain its fascinating history.

On this occasion, we only went down to the former servants' quarters in the lower floor for coffee and cake in the café housed in the old kitchens with its copper pans still on display. A couple of small shops are now in other former work rooms. On one occasion, the cook's tools were nicely laid out as though for imminent use!

As well as being inspiring, the whole country surroundings of the house are so good for a reflective type of walk and I came home refreshed in every way. Let's hope such a lovely historical setting continues to inspire my writing again.


Monday, 11 August 2014

The Write Focus

I mentioned on twitter last week that I sometimes have trouble focusing on which project I should be writing or finishing first and received a few replies from fellow writers, empathising and agreeing that it happens to them too. Maybe it goes with the job, or perhaps it depends on personality type and that old question if we are we plotters or pantsters. I still can't plot or plan in advance, much as I think it might help at times!

Perhaps it's more to do with the seasons. Summer is my least favourite season because I don't like too much heat, or the expectation I should be outside more often, so I find it more difficult to concentrate on a writing project at this time of year. Conversely, I actually get quite excited about the thought of autumn arriving soon (though it's quite autumnal here today) and I'm sure my eagerness to work will increase as the days and nights become darker and cooler.

Right now, I have the following to finish - these are all at various stages:

  • Middle grade time-slip book to Ancient Egypt
  • Contemporary novel set in Scotland
  • Two contemporary novellas
  • Victorian crime novel (eventually)

This is not including the half dozen or so other ideas (at least) that have a few paragraphs here and there, or all the short stories, articles and poetry that I want to go through and try to use, or all the ideas that are only a title and line or two in my notebook. You can see why I need to organise my writing time more effectively!

So that's my aim for the middle of September onwards: finish what I've started and find a consistent way of working. Meanwhile, I'm waiting for news of one novel's fate and, strangely enough, that's also interrupting my concentration, as this one is important to me.

If anyone else is struggling with writing focus, you might find this article interesting, How to Create a Writing Schedule that Works for You.


Thursday, 7 August 2014

Debut Author Spotlight: Frances Evesham

Today, I'm delighted to welcome to the blog author Frances Evesham, whose début novel, An Independent Woman, is set in the Victorian period, one of my favourite eras. I only recently started the novel as my TBR list is toppling over, in print and e-book, but I can’t wait to continue it from a great beginning that conveys the period very well. Frances has kindly answered the questions I put to her but first, here’s a little about the book.

An Independent Woman

With nothing left from her childhood except a tiny portrait of a beautiful woman and the knowledge of a dreadful secret, Philomena escapes the dangers and fogs of Victorian London, only for a train crash to end her quest for independence and freedom.

Trapped between the upstairs and downstairs occupants of the great country house, she hears whispers of the mysteries that lurk in empty corridors and behind closed doors. Her rescuer, the dangerous, enigmatic Hugh, Lord Thatcham, wrestles with his own demons and makes Philomena’s heart race, but she must fight her passion for she can never marry.

Haunted by her past, Philomena’s only hope of happiness is to confront the evil forces that threaten to destroy her.

An Independent Woman is available from Amazon UK and US, Amazon Universal and the Wild Rose Press
For UK residents only, signed print copies are available from Frances Evesham’s author website and blog.

Here's the lovely trailer to whet your appetite!

A warm welcome, Frances, and thanks answering the following questions!

Hello Rosemary. I'm very proud to be interviewed by you on your blog. I've admired your progress as a writer and used your success as a prompt for myself when I wondered whether I would ever find a publisher for my first novel.

Oh, that’s such a lovely thing to say - thank you so much! It’s great to see your first book published.

Please tell us a little about how you became a writer.

I wrote my first story sitting on the floor of my bedroom. It was about horses, because every book I read was about horses when I was ten. I think the world is better off without that book.

I don’t think I would ever have completed a full-length novel except for the invention of the word-processor, or at least the type-writer. I love the idea of writing with a beautiful pen on silky paper, but my handwriting is so bad that anything not typed is indecipherable. I truly envy anyone who writes in longhand.

I aim to write mystery stories with a strong plot, plenty of twists to keep the reader guessing and a little feel-good romance. I want my reader to keep turning the pages until the end, then sigh with pleasure.

Is there a particular reason why you chose the Victorian period?

When I was a child, I met my two tiny great aunts, Annie and Winnie. They were Victorian ladies living in a village post office in the Cotswolds. They wore lace collars, their manners were perfect and they expected me to behave properly, too. They kept a caddy of tea in a special corner cupboard, hung on the wall in the parlour, for visitors.

True Victorians, they were interested in everything I had to tell them, even though they were over 90.  They’d worked all their lives, one as the post-mistress, the other as a teacher. They never married. I loved their active minds and they would have adored the internet.

Passionate curiosity about the world led the Victorians to build railways and bridges, construct sewers and invent photography for all. They even designed special hidden cameras for spying.

The world was changing fast in the 19th Century and I found it exciting to set a novel in that time, when people believed anything was possible.

Your aunts sound lovely!

Did you have to do a lot of research for this novel and how did you do it?

An Independent Woman moves from the London slums to a great country house, so I had to understand both these settings. Fortunately for me, there is a wealth of information available about the Victorians, both on line and in print.

I have a shelf of books, including the wonderful London Labour and the London Poor, by Henry Mayhew, which includes rich verbatim conversations with people on the streets of London. “Gander,” for example, was a crossing sweeper, proud of being “the fust boy as ever did ornamental work in the mud of my crossings,” drawing anchors and laurels in the black mud.

Mrs Beeton is a great source of information on the ways of the Victorian middle classes.

I think one of the challenges of setting a story in the past is avoiding the trap of modern expressions without resorting to convoluted “historical” speech. I'm constantly amazed to find the Victorians talked much like us. I was part of a project a few years ago, editing some of Charles Dickens’ journals as they went on line, looking for errors in the scanned versions and I often look at the Old Bailey Online to read the witness statements.

Sometimes I find surprises – like the woman who described how she “tea’d” with her aunt, in the same way we would say we “dined.” I hadn't come across “tea” used as a verb before.

Great resources and fascinating snippets!

What is the most difficult part about starting a new book?

It’s hard to marshal all the ideas buzzing around in my head into a single narrative. There’s so much that has to be left out.

An Independent Woman took shape first when I found out about a real event, the Sonning Cutting train crash on the Great Western Railway, that happened on Christmas Eve in 1841. That event became the catalyst that threw Philomena, a poor, working girl, into contact with the aristocratic Lord Thatcham.

Once the hero and heroine became real, they took hold of the story and it moved into areas I hadn't expected when I began. It’s very strange how characters take on a life of their own. They become part of the family!

How do you promote your book and does it work?

Like so many other writers, I find this the hardest part. My great aunts would have been shocked at the very idea of marketing or promoting themselves. They would think it very vulgar! On the other hand, I've met plenty of interesting people through social media.

I do have a written strategy and plan for marketing, because I spent many years working as a project manager so I like to know where I think I'm going. It’s long term, because I'm planning to write a good many more books, so I don’t yet know whether it will work. It’s based on identifying exactly who likes to read my books, growing my Twitter presence and building an email list, so I can talk directly to readers.

I love Twitter, because I can talk to anyone about anything, whenever I want to. It’s great to meet other writers there and it’s also full of people who do other, equally exciting things.

I do have a Facebook account and a separate author page, but I spend less time there. I like writing guest posts and have hosted one or two on my blog. I think that’s one of the best ways writers can help each other.

I write snippets of Victorian trivia on my blog, and I even made a video trailer for An Independent Woman, mainly because I took your advice, Rosemary. I used iMovie on my iPad. It was enormous fun and I’d recommend everyone to have a go, so thanks for that great tip!

I also followed your example and held a Facebook launch party. I held a Victorian tea party, the sun shone, it lasted for just three hours and was tremendous fun. I’ll certainly do that again next time.

Wow – you’re much more organized than I am and it sounds as if you’re doing all that you can to succeed. And I enjoyed that tea party!

Do you have a favourite writing place?

I'm not sure it’s exactly my favourite place, as it’s the tiniest bedroom in the house, available now that my three children have grown. I searched high and low for the smallest desk in the world, so it fitted in. I write with my nose inches from the monitor!

The truth is, once I'm writing, I don’t even notice where I am, so I keep the garden views for coffee breaks.

Do you find time for hobbies?

I'm truly lucky. Writing feels like a full-time hobby because I love it so much. I live in beautiful Somerset, within reach of both the beach and the countryside, so I walk when I need to untangle a messy plot.

I enjoy good food and wine and I like to try out new recipes, though really I'm happiest with pasta and cheese!

What are your current writing plans?

I've returned to Thatcham Hall for my next novel, with a new hero and heroine who have to untangle a different mystery. Along the way, they meet some old friends from An Independent Woman. I'm hoping to get that off to my editor in the autumn and then start work on the next story.

Thatcham Hall is beginning to turn into a sort of Midsomer, where anything can happen!

I also write about communication. I worked as a speech and language therapist for many years, and I've written books for parents on helping their child learn to talk. I've got a non-fiction idea that keeps tapping me on the back and asking me to write it, but at the moment I'm having too much fun in Victorian England.

Lots to keep you busy there!

Any tips for new writers?

I read everything I can get my hands on to help me write, from Stephen King’s On Writing to writing blogs. I also read advice from publishers on how to write query letters and synopses.

I wrote one draft of An Independent Woman, then went back again, and again … The story that came to publication was version 13.

I think the best tip of all is to keep going, learning from rejections. I truly did not believe I would find a publisher, but one day, after hard work, disappointments, despair, nail-biting and vast quantities of Earl Grey tea, I found someone who liked my book. It really can happen.

Great answer – and it shows the necessity and power of perseverance!

You can connect with Frances on her website, Amazon Author Page, Facebook and twitter

Frances Evesham writes historical romances and books on communication, leaving her enough time to enjoy bad jokes and wish she'd kept on with the piano lessons.

She collects grandsons, Victorian ancestors and historical trivia. She likes to smell the roses, lavender and rosemary, cooking with a glass of wine in one hand and a bunch of chillies in the other. She loves the Arctic Circle and the equator and plans to visit the penguins in the south one day.

She's been a speech therapist, a professional communication fiend and a road sweeper and she's worked in the criminal courts. Now, she walks in the country and breathes sea air in Somerset.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Children's Encyclopedia

We've been clearing out again at home and can’t believe how much we've already given away to local charity shops – everything from clothes to small items of furniture. Far too much kept and accumulated in this modern detached house since we moved here well over twenty years ago from a large four-floor Victorian semi. We’re hoping to eventually downsize again, sooner rather than later, hence the reason for our continuing efforts at getting rid of as much as possible before then.

As all writers and readers know, parting with books is one of the hardest decisions. I've so far managed to empty one tall, narrow book case (out of nine!) but despair of ever emptying even one more. What to keep and what to let go? It’s easier with paperbacks that I can replace if necessary, or read on kindle. But this weekend, I've been rediscovering my precious set of The Children’s Encyclopedia edited by Arthur Mee.

We didn't have a lot of spare money for books when I was a child and I haunted the library as soon as I could get there by myself. However, my father bought a complete set of The Children’s Encylopedia for us and I discovered a whole world of learning, imagination and wonder. Much as I enjoyed playing outdoors, I loved rainy days sitting at the table in the cosy living room with one of the huge volumes open in expectation.

From these, I grew to love Aesop’s fables, nursery rhymes and fairy tales that my mother hadn't already read to us, legends, art history, French, history, literature and a passing interest in dozens of other subjects. I don’t think it's a coincidence that French was always one of my favourite subjects and that I eventually went on to study literature, history, philosophy, art history and music in the first year of my Open University degree. Not content with that, I then did the MA in literature with history as a mature student.

These encyclopedias, which were brought into my ordinary, large family in a working class area in the west coast of Scotland, built the foundation of my life-time of curiosity, learning and imagination. They are now rather the worse for wear and one of the ten volumes is missing, but one look through a few pages this morning convinced me these must stay. And I think I’ll be spending some of the winter gradually skimming through them again. They may be out of date as far as modern thinking is concerned, but those pages contain worlds of knowledge that can never be replicated by the Internet. More importantly, they’re testament to a wonderful childhood and a priceless introduction to education.

Does anyone else have a set?


Monday, 28 July 2014

Flotilla of Boats on Clyde

As part of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, a large flotilla of boats sailed up the River Clyde on Saturday morning, from Customhouse Quay in Greenock right up to Pacific Quay in Glasgow. We managed to find a good vantage point near Port Glasgow so I could get some photos. Unfortunately, the weather started to break that day and, although still warm, it was very overcast so the lovely hills are only just visible.

What a great atmosphere there was right along the river, with everyone in celebration mode. One of the smaller Caledonian MacBrayne ferries led the way festoned with bunting and we could vaguely hear the commentary from onboard about the Clyde's history. This was followed by a couple of hundred boats of all shapes and sizes - I believe a few people even came over from other countries to take part.

It was wonderful to see the river so full of boats again and my husband remarked on how we don't make enough use of our waterways. The old paddle steamer, The Waverley, still offers occasional sails down the Clyde and across to some of the west coast islands during summer, but it would be good to have more regular sailings. In my childhood, our holidays began with a train ride to Wemyss Bay then the steamer across to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute - in common with half the people from this side of the river!

The Waverely
The last time we saw so many boats on the River Clyde was a couple of years ago when the magnificent Tall Ships called at Greenock. Sometimes, it's only on days like this that we really appreciate what's right on our doorstep.


Thursday, 24 July 2014

Debut Author Spotlight: Joan Fleming

I am so delighted to welcome my friend and writing colleague, Scottish author Joan Fleming, to my blog today. Joan’s first novel, What the Future Holds, was released by Tirgearr Publishing a few weeks ago and it is already receiving lots of great reviews. I'm not surprised, since the writing, the setting of the Isle of Mull and the enjoyable story are all so appealing. Joan has kindly answered some questions I put to her, but first a little about the story.

A warm welcome to the blog, Joan – hope you’re managing to keep cool in this unaccustomed heat!

What the Future Holds

Anticipating a relaxing holiday in her idyllic holiday cottage on the Scottish island of Mull, 29 year-old Amy Wilson realises her plans will be ruined by a letter she finds when she arrives. It contains a proposal to build a holiday complex directly in front of her cottage.

The application is in the name of a member of the McFarlane family who are distant relatives of Amy. In their youth, Amy and Sandy McFarlane spent holidays on the island together as part of a larger group of young people.

Whilst she has no wish to enter into a conflict with Sandy, Amy nonetheless determines to fight the plan. This sets in motion a chain of events which changes her entire life, not only in Mull, but also in Glasgow where she works as an accountant and lives with her partner, Matt.

She is about to lose control of the steady pattern of her life, and has no idea what will replace it, what the future holds...

What the Future Holds is available in all e-formats through Tirgearr Publishing and on Amazon Kindle in the UK and US and all other countries.

Firstly, Rosemary, thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog.

It’s a pleasure, Joan!

I know you had a good career as a language teacher, Joan. Please tell us a little about how you became a writer.

Like many writers, I have always scribbled. When the time came to start work again after the early years staying home with my children, I had a decision to make. The education service was crying out for women to return to teaching in certain subjects, one being modern languages.

Around the same time I entered a serial story competition in The People’s Friend. I didn’t win, but I was asked to attend an interview with an editor in the Central Hotel in Glasgow, which I did. She suggested I make a few alterations – and they would publish the story.

My plan was to take the teaching job, and write in my free time! But the free time never materialized. I still scribbled, purely for my own enjoyment. But The People's Friend did publish a short story when I eventually began writing in earnest.

You also write short stories and articles, and now novels. Do you have a preference – and why?

Once I’m started on a novel, I like to carry on, but I sometimes break off, to do one of the exercises set by my writing group, Erskine Writers. If it’s a short story or an article, I get carried away by that. Then it can take me a while to relax into the novel again.

So the answer is: I like them all, but with the encouragement of publication, I’m on a novel roll at the moment.

And a very good roll it is!

Your debut novel is largely set on the lovely Isle of Mull which you describe beautifully. What made you set your story here?

I know and love the island. My father-in-law came from Mull, and we visited regularly as a family. I have a fascination for all the Scottish islands, but Mull is the one I know best.

I love islands!

Did you have to do much extra research for What the Future Holds?

Not really. My main challenge was the names of my characters. The story and the characters are entirely fictitious, and I didn’t want the names of any real people mentioned in the book. A friend who lives on Iona even lent me a book of Mull names!

I did look at maps to judge distances etc. Even so, my lovely editor at Tirgearr Publishing picked up a couple of factual mistakes for me.

What is the most difficult part about starting a new book?

Sitting in front of my computer screen and typing in the title. By that time, I’ve made the decision to write this one, rather than one of the others swirling around in my mind.

Sounds like a good way of doing it!

Do you have a favourite writing place?

It’s very traditional: in my tiny study. I prefer a desktop computer and a QWERTY keyboard and mouse. The small window faces east, but my view of the West Highland Way is on the west side, so I’m not distracted.

How do you promote your book and does it work?

I’m on Facebook and Twitter, I have a blog and a website, but these are all part of a learning curve for me at the moment. It’s hard to say if it works, as it’s only three weeks since my book was published.

Do you find time for other interests?

I enjoy walking, travelling, listening to all kinds of music. I also have a keen interest in the life and work of Robert Burns. And, of course, reading – but that’s the other side of the writing coin.

What are your current writing plans?

I’m in that decision-making period of where I go from here. It will be a novel – but which one? I’ve still to type the title.

Any tips for new writers?

Someone once said that the world takes you at your own evaluation of yourself. If you write, you’re a writer. Believe in yourself.

That’s great advice! Thanks for the interesting answers, Joan, and wishing you lots of success.

I was born and educated in Edinburgh. After graduating in Modern Languages at the University of Edinburgh, I became a teacher of French and German, mainly in schools in the West of Scotland. Since leaving teaching, I now have more time to devote to writing.

I’d been writing for pleasure for many years, and decided to join Erskine Writers, a supportive group which has members at all stages of their writing development – from published novelists to complete beginners. This group is affiliated to the Scottish Association of Writers. I am a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association (RNA) and also of the Society of Authors.

I write short stories, children’s stories and articles, some of which have been published. I’ve written several longer pieces, including full-length novels, which I submitted to the New Writers’ Scheme of the RNA. In the light of advice I was given, I revised my manuscripts, and in December 2013, I was offered a contract by Tirgearr Publishing to e-publish one of my shorter novels, What the Future Holds, which appeared at the beginning of July 2014.

You can connect with Joan on her Website; Blog; Facebook and Twitter: @Joan_Fleming

Monday, 21 July 2014

Article in The Highlander

Every now and then, I enjoy going back to writing articles and short stories as a change from longer novels. That's how my writing career started out many years ago and it's great see new work being published. I've always liked the immediacy of short pieces, and the quicker payment!

One of the magazines I occasionally write for is The Highlander in the USA. This is a lovely magazine full of historical articles about Scotland and famous Scots or events from the past and I've had quite a large number published there over the years - a couple of my friends also write for them sometimes. It's very photo led so they like plenty of good photos to illustrate the articles if possible.

My latest article in the new issue is 'Inchmahome: the Priory on the Lake' - this is one of my absolute favourite places to visit every year or so. All lakes are called lochs in Scotland, apart from the one on which the Priory is situated, the Lake of Menteith. I won't replicate the article here as I've been paid for it in the magazine, but I wanted to share a couple of my photos, which you may have seen after our last visit there (can't remember if I put them on this blog!). I also provide all the photos for my own articles in the magazine and it's an added pleasure seeing some of them being given a half page each.

The Priory is mainly a ruin, with only the Chapter House intact but it has a great history and it's easy to imagine it during the 13th century and the subsequent years until it fell into disuse. Being on a small island, there's an amazing sense of peace once we've taken the tiny boat across the short distance, even on the busiest days. I can't wait for another visit soon.


Monday, 14 July 2014

RNA and Blists Hill

What a fabulous Romantic Novelists' Association weekend conference at the Harper Adams University Campus near Telford! I was lucky enough to take part in the historical authors event at the Blists Hill Victorian Town at Ironbridge on the Friday morning, a wonderful recreation of Victorian times. We were given the Goods Shed in which to set up our displays and books and most of us had dressed in some kind of costume according to the period in which we write. Some were stunning and very authentic (like Christina's) and it all added to the fun and interest for visitors.

Victorian clothes

Draper's Shop

Christina Courtenay
I adapted a dress and various items from home and brought my parasol and fan. A friend, Myra Duffy, had kindly allowed me to display her fold-out Victorian Dolls' House which attracted some admiring views and I had a wooden cup and ball game to keep any children amused. The displays were all so attractive and conveyed a lot about different historical periods. I also made sure to see some of the Victorian town while there and wasn't disappointed!
Dentist's Chair

Baker's Shop
Friday afternoon saw the official beginning of the conference and from then on, it was a whirl of interesting talks, chatting, eating, drinking and much fun and laughter, plus receiving the famous goody bag filled with books, promotional material and chocolate! A highlight for me this year was to meet up with lots of online friends in person at last and they did indeed feel like friends. I also made some new ones this year. On Saturday evening, we were treated to a wonderful gala dinner and, as always, all the glam outfits and gorgeous shoes attracted lots of attention. 

There's nothing like a gathering of like-minded people and professionally delivered talks to send us home inspired to get on with writing - once we recover from the lack of sleep and the travel home. I now have pages of notes to absorb and lots of ideas to develop or finish, plus a renewed sense of what is possible for authors these days. Roll on next year in London!


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Preparing for RNA Conference

I do love a good writing conference and I'm really looking forward to this year's RNA Weekend Conference at Telford, near Shrewsbury. Apart from all the interesting workshops and speakers, I'll be getting the chance to meet up with many online friends in person at last. I tend to forget I have a Scottish accent (though not a broad one) until I'm down in England, and our voices will add another dimension to our online persona.

This year, there's the added excitement of taking part in the RNA 'Love of the Past' at historic Ironbridge on the Friday morning. I've always wanted to see the Blists Hill Victorian Town and we're being given the use of the Goods Shed in which to display our historical novels, games and posters - from all the different periods in which we write. As I write both Regency and Victorian, I'm delighted to be able to get involved since I'm going down a day early. We've even to dress up if possible - and, yes, I will be doing so! Hope to post some photos afterwards (possibly). I'll be taking along the fan in the above photo.

The rest of the weekend will be on the University Campus and if it's anything like the two I attended at Penrith, it will be exhausting with all the listening, absorbing and chatting! Hopefully, I'll be able to share some of the highlights on here next week. If anyone reading this is going, please come and say hello in case I don't see you in the busyness - I believe this is one of the biggest conferences so it might be easy to miss a few people!


Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Second Newsletter

A quick post to say that my second newsletter is now available and has been sent to subscribers. As well as news, it includes a couple of opportunities. If anyone else would like to sign up for it, you can put your email address in the box on the side of the blog.

Trying to get everything organised for the RNA conference at Telford in just over a week. Really looking forward to it, not least because I'll get to meet up with lots of my lovely blogging friends in person! I'll tell you more about it later.

So pleased that my friend, Joan, has her début novel, What the Future Holds, released today by Tirgearr Publishing. An exciting time for her and I'll be featuring Joan on the blog after the conference.