Monday, 6 March 2017

How are those resolutions going?

Two months in and they’ve been pretty busy ones for me – and my excuse for such a large gap since my last post.
When I was last here I talked about starting a new book. Ten thousand words in and I realised it wasn’t working for me. I just wasn’t engaging with my heroine. Usually when I’ve written this much my characters are telling me where they want to go and the excitement of following their lead, or reining them in as is sometimes necessary, is one of the joys of this job. Reluctantly, but only because of the hours lost, I abandoned her. Perhaps we’ll come together again at some time in the future. In the meantime I read through an unfinished Regency and oh boy did that call me back. I had to finish Phoebe’s story! Not only did she demand it of me but I demanded it of myself. When I typed ‘The End’ we were both satisfied. I hope one day my readers will be too.

So the moral of this little tale is, know when to give up but never delete. Phoebe was tucked away in a file waiting to be rediscovered and, who knows, maybe one day so will Peta.

I may have to
visit a few of these

Where do I go from here?
Plans are being laid for my next book, a contemporary this time, but with a thread which will take a considerable amount of investigation. Wonderful as Google is I may have to take several excursions in the name of research. I know. It’s tough, isn’t it! But someone has to do it. My characters are ready and my outline is there. Frankly I can’t wait to get started but…

I HAVE JUST SIGNED A CONTRACT with HQ | HarperCollins Publishers
…which will necessitate me dropping everything else when the edits come in. The turnaround time was pretty quick from submission (30th January) to acceptance (15th February), with projected publication in the summer. And I can’t believe I’m saying this but I’m actually looking forward to the edits. And I can’t wait to see what the cover will be like! And…well, there are lots of ands. Suffice it to say I’m pretty excited.

So, if you don’t see me here again for a little while, at least you’ll know where I am. Till next time.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Turning Over a New Leaf

I’ve looked up this phrase and can’t find the origin anywhere. Sources say ‘unknown’. So does this mean literally turning over a leaf…on a tree? Why would you unless you’re looking for caterpillars and I don’t suppose that applies to too many of us? Not enough anyway to have generated a special phrase. And if it’s on the ground it’s probably an old leaf. So without further information I have to conclude that it refers to a new page, a leaf in a book. Today, 1st January, is not just a new page, it’s a whole new book. Take the one on the right for example. A 2017 Diary. Unprepossessing on the outside but inside a leaf for every single day. I hope by this time next year it will be filled with wonderful things. 

Coincidentally I am writing a whole new book. You’ll forgive me I hope for a tiny bit of cheating. I have already written the first chapter but this venture is still very much in the planning stage so I think it’s fair to describe it as new. I’ve decided to return to contemporary romantic fiction and to my beloved Cotswolds. I’m planning a short visit with my daughter next week, in the name of research of course, and maybe to buy some sweeties. It’s some months since I was last in the area and the feel of a place is so important. The warm honey-coloured stone seduces me every time and it would lovely to think I could instil some of that into my novel. So, with a few leaves already turned over, it is still to me a new leaf.

I woke up this morning wondering what it must be like to have a birthday on New Year’s Day. Yes, I really am writing this on Sunday, 1st January 2017. I’ve always felt sorry for people whose birthday falls on Christmas Day – one or other must inevitably be diminished. But the beginning of a whole new year, a personal whole new year. That must surely be something special. So I leaped out of bed, figuratively speaking, and ran down the stairs, also figuratively speaking and here I am. I had no thought of writing a blog today but sometimes you have to go where the mood takes you and this one has me all fired up.

So, for anyone who has a birthday today, may your day be as wonderful and special as you would wish. For the rest, the overwhelming majority, I wish you a very Happy New Year and hope every leaf you turn produces some magic.

Monday, 19 December 2016

A New Beginning

A New Beginning…

which if you think about it is a bit of a silly phrase. Aren’t all beginnings new in one way or another? Am I guilty of an overuse of adjectives – not quite as bad as the dreaded adverb but coming close sometimes. Since I cannot find anywhere that new can be used as a noun I will explain rather than apologise.

New Friends

But first, the ending. The last three months of 2016 have been full of excitement and trauma, if not in equal measure then certainly in impact. We have been blessed with a beautiful grandson. We had a wonderful holiday where we made friendships that I hope will last even across the Atlantic. We celebrated our Silver Wedding Anniversary and two birthdays. And sadly we suffered two bereavements within the space of a fortnight.

December brought a change of direction in my writing life and in the past couple of days I have drawn up the outline of a completely new book and written part of the first chapter. Now here’s the thing. People who know me will be aware that I usually begin a story and carry on until it’s finished, bringing in sub-plots that occur to me as I go along, though the main plotline is always in my head from the moment I start. This time it’s going to be different! I think! Well, I’ve said that before haven’t I? But it’s a new book, a new year, a new frisson of excitement. My online dictionary defines frisson as  a sudden, passing sensation of excitement. I hope it doesn’t pass. One of the thrilling things about writing is the discovery of new things, things that before had no shape or substance. Things that become real as they appear before you on the page. That isn’t to say I don’t have my troughs. Those days when I think I’ll never have another idea; that I’ll never write again. But the frustration of typing lalalalala several times usually puts paid to that and leads to something a little more interesting. Well, anything would be, wouldn’t it?

My new strategy is to attempt a mixture of ‘as it has been’ and ‘how it will be in the future’. I don’t have it in me to chart meticulously before I begin a new novel. If I’ve learned anything over the years it’s that I lose the essence of what makes me a writer if I try too hard to follow a pattern. But not all patterns have to be complicated. Just a few jottings about each chapter will, I hope, keep me on track, prevent me falling headlong into those troughs or hitting a brick wall. It’s a sort of obstacle course. As a youngster I always loved taking part in sports and I’m a lifelong fan of quizzes. This obstacle course will be a metaphorical combination of both and I am ready to attack it with enthusiasm.

Thank you for being with me this year. 2017 is just over a week away. A New Beginning. Bring it on!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Stairway to Heaven

Welcome to Queen’s House. After a massive refurbishment Inigo Jones’s gem has reopened to the public. The Tulip Staircase is probably its most famous feature but there is such a lot to see here in the heart of Greenwich, home to so much history.

Join me on a short pictorial tour:

The Queen's House

The Old Royal Naval College
The Queen's House sits opposite the Old Royal Naval College. If you look carefully, in the background of the first picture you can see the Royal Observatory. And yes, that's the River Thames between to two iconic buildings in the one on the right.

The Tulip Stairs weren't the first in the Queen's House. The Greenwich Park side of the Queen's House was originally the front of the building and the South Stairs formed the main stairway. Its two half landings were resting places for ladies in their heavy dresses! Changes from the 1660s meant the side that faced the river became the main frontage. The South Stairs then became a discreet route to the Queen's private apartments.

The Tulip Stairs
seen from below

The Tulip Stairs were the first centrally unsupported stairs in the country. The stone treads lock so perfectly into each other and the wall that no central structure is required to support them, giving this unobstructed view to the sky. The wrought iron rail has been restored to a striking smalt blue and the designated tulips are more probably lilies.

The Grand Hall
Music practice
The Grand Hall is a perfect cube. During our visit a music group was practising. When we came back through the hall they had gone and it was being set up for a function, a dinner to celebrate the reopening of the house. We don’t know whether or not the two were connected but it was a bonus to have a short concert while we stood on the balcony.

Kings Charles II
Inigo Jones (honest)
While these images of Inigo Jones are almost impossible to see (the flash didn’t work on my camera) it seems disrespectful not to post them.

And here in the King’s Presence Chamber you might just be able to recognise the image of Charles II.

On a plinth outside on the park side, and nothing to do with Queen’s House, is the biggest ship in a bottle I have ever seen. In Royal Greenwich, so famous for its naval history, it seems a suitable final image.

I may have mentioned before that I live within two miles of this wonderful historical area. With the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House, the Old Royal Naval College and others, it is a glorious architectural feast. And that’s only on the outside. Most if not all of these treasures are open to the public and what can be found within is equally spectacular. Visit if you can.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Summer isn't over yet!

Working on the premise that most of you will by now (in the nicest possible way) have ploughed your way through all those lovely books you bought for the holiday season, you'll be delighted to know that more fantastic deals are up for grabs. 

Throughout the Bank Holiday weekend both Safe Harbour and Honey Bun will be available at the knock-down price of 99p. I know it’s hard to believe that some of you still haven’t read either, or both ,so here’s your opportunity to get them at a bargain basement price.

What do you do when you discover your boyfriend of two years is married to someone else? Beth Walker seeks to escape her heartbreak by taking temporary work on a cruise ship. Instead, on the very first day she meets Ryan Donovan and is drawn to his soft Irish lilt and mischievous eyes. Her plan to forswear men recedes like the waves at the stern of the ship...but it isn't quite that simple. There are many obstacles that stand in the way of her happiness - and then she learns she is pregnant. It seems her problems may only just be beginning. Antagonism between Beth and Ryan abounds and there are misunderstandings aplenty. Can these two warring factions find a happy ever after?

When Guy Ffoulkes walks into Honeysuckle Bunting's teashop after an absence of fourteen years her world goes out of sync. Guy was her brother's best friend; she was Basil's scruffy younger sister. For Honey Bun though there had always been more...

Honey had been heartbroken as Guy, kissing the top of her head in brotherly fashion, left Rills Ford to go to university. So why was he back now, standing in her shop? When Honey learns the reason for his reappearance her excitement at seeing him again swiftly turns to dismay. 

It’s a strange thing, is writing. It’s been two years since each was published – hence the amazing offer – and almost as long since I read them myself. Because writing is a craft upon which we are continually building layers, I wondered how I would feel reading them again at this distance, for there is no doubt my writing has changed in that time. To tell you the truth, I was a bit nervous. Imagine my delight then in deriving an enormous amount of pleasure from the re-reads. Bear in mind that when you move on to the next project, and the next, you tend to forget what you wrote before. It was like diving into the pages of someone else’s book. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next!

Here is a five star review for Safe Harbour:

I read this lovely story more or less in one sitting. It's a short novel, but manages to pack in all the necessary emotion, twists and turns, misunderstandings, exotic cruise ship setting and medical drama that a good romance needs. Natalie made me like her characters and care about what happened to them.  

Thank you, Writeread...and my thanks also to Sarah for this one on Honey Bun:

A terrific read. Couldn't put it down. Had to reschedule my life in order to read it through from start to finish, without stopping. The story and characters stayed with me for days. 

So I wouldn’t dream of saying ‘Please buy my book’. But if you do, here are the links and I hope you enjoy.

Safe Harbour:

Honey Bun:

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Country House Tour

Approaching Littlecote House
Somehow a house tour takes on an extra dimension when it’s a Grade I listed building and you’re staying there! The Littlecote House of today began life around 1250 as a Medieval manor owned by the de Calstone family, though the Roman mosaic in the grounds and iron-age artefacts are proof of much earlier settlement. The Pophams acquired the house in 1589 and the Elizabethan manor was added.

The Great Hall
Our tour began in the Great Hall of the Tudor mansion which was constructed by Lord Chief Justice, Sir John Popham. It was at Littlecote that Henry VIII courted Jane Seymour, though the Hall had not yet been built. Sir John commemorated their courtship in one of the stained glass windows in the hall, setting it with four roundels, the Tudor Rose; Henry VIII’s coat of arms; Jane Seymour’s coat of arms and a love knot for Henry and Jane, though Jane's initial appears as a Latin I. A long banqueting table, referred to as a board, lines one wall. It was on this that the popular game of shove ha’penny was played. The game was overseen by a ‘chairman’, thus the term Chairman of the Board! Some armoury still graces the walls though much was purchased in the 1990s and is now displayed in Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds.

The Chinese Room
Medieval House on right viewed from
Chinese Room - and what a view!
From the Great Hall we moved to the Chinese Room, named because the incumbent in 1810 considered the oak of the Tudor house too dark and transformed the room into Regency style. The panels are papered with handpainted Chinese wallpaper - there is a faint pencil drawing of a bird where the artist failed to paint it in - and valued today at £55k each. The wooden chandelier, valued at £35k, has been known to move when addressed: Good morning, Elizabeth. Yes, of course the house has a ghost. In fact there are said to be three. At the time this room was refurbished a wall was knocked through to create an Orangery. In the 1920s it was converted into the first ever indoor heated swimming pool to be installed in a private house. The pool, which is listed and cannot be demolished, is today boarded over. A new pool was added in the Stables Leisure Block when Warner Leisure built the hotel.

The Library
Mahogany doors lead from the Chinese Room to the Library. Many of Judge Popham’s law books were purchased by Oxford's Bodleian Library. During WWII the room was used as the headquarters of American Colonel Bob Sink, Commander in Chief of the 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne.

The Dutch Parlour
Don Quixote

The Dutch Parlour was a gentlemen’s smoking room and its walls are covered in satirical paintings executed by Dutch prisoners of war in the 1660s. Most of one wall is occupied by scenes from Don Quixote. Small areas have been cleaned and restored, the rest much smoke-stained.

We moved through the Brick Hall and Diamond Hall to the Chapel which would in its day have been the Great Hall of the Medieval manor. On completion of the Tudor Great Hall it was converted into a chapel. The pews were so high we found ourselves reaching for the floor with our feet and trying not to slide off. They were designed that way to keep the congregation awake and today we still use the expressions ‘keeping you on your toes’ and ‘dropping off’. Amazing the things you find out isn’t it. I had no idea!

The Long Gallery
View from oriel window
From the haunted landing we peeped into the haunted bedroom from where
we made our way to the Long Gallery. Though the original ceiling frieze remains the panelled walls are more modern. It was in this room that ladies would take their exercise without dirtying their hems or harming their complexions. From the oriel window they could watch the men hunting. The view today is far different from the one they would have seen when forest still covered the land. The River Kennet runs along the back of the land though it is inaccessible to today’s visitors.

Entrepreneur Peter de Savary bought Littlecote House in 1986 and lived there for some years. Forced by bankruptcy to sell, it was acquired in 1996 by Warner Holidays who built the present hotel in 1997. The new buildings are sympathetically constructed. I can’t tell you how many bedrooms there are but the faux Tudor dining room holds four hundred people! Somehow the vast room seems very intimate and the floor to ceiling windows look out onto the beautiful gardens.

Littlecote House from the gardens
Part of the walled garden
I've left out as much as I've put in. If you want to see you'll have to visit yourselves. Littlecote House is set in beautiful grounds in a lovely part of the country and we were lucky enough to begin our stay the day summer arrived! Boy was it hot!!!

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

My Hero

It is rare for me to post on a subject that doesn’t in some way involve writing but this time I’m hanging it on my hero – my real hero; my husband. He has for many years been one of that quiet band of self-effacing people who give of their time and energy, sometimes in very difficult circumstances, for the welfare of others. At The Mansion House on 4th July, along with twenty-eight others, he was recognised for his contribution at the annual ceremony of The League of Mercy.

Louis with Ellen Tumelty
It all started several years ago when Louis began volunteering at the Greenwich & Bexley Community Hospice. It may be that I am biased but the people who work at the Hospice are most certainly not. On many occasions at fund-raising quizzes or summer fetes I have been told what a wonderful man he is (as if I didn’t already know). At the ceremony I was lucky enough to meet Ellen Tumelty, Modern Matron, who worked with my husband for many years and who speaks of him with great affection.

I had never before met Lord Lingfield, President of the League and a truly charming man. As each recipient was called to receive his or her Badge, he spent several moments chatting, with no diminishing of enthusiasm even by the time he had reached the last. 

The ceremony was held in the Egyptian Room at Mansion House and took place with all the pomp one could wish in those beautiful surroundings. If you would like further information about the League you will find it here.
The Egyptian Room
The Egyptian Room

At the close of the ceremony the recipients were held back in the Egyptian Room 
for the taking of formal photos, a copy of which they will receive in due course.

The Salon

Insignia from the Past
The rest of the assembled company, a personal guest and a representative of the nominating organisation, were all invited to take tea in the salon, a magnificent room where we were joined by the participants after the photo shoot. The trustees somehow managed to talk to everyone present.

It was for me a day filled with pride and humility. We all have our heroes, don’t we. They may appear in books, in films, on our television screens or in the news. I have my own at home. Congratulations, Louis Kleinman, on the public recognition of work undertaken so discreetly but with such far-reaching effect.

The Badge of
The Order of Mercy