Sunday, 30 August 2015

From Stormy Seas to a Safe Harbour

As this is a holiday weekend in the UK I'm celebrating by offering Safe Harbour as a free download on Amazon here. I've had such fabulous feedback that I thought I'd share some of the questions I've been asked about the book:

What inspired the setting for your book?
I’ve been on several cruises, each different in its own way, to diverse destinations in various types of weather. Every one, though, had an almost mystical feel about it, an excitement and an awareness of things to come, as yet unseen. There is a romance about cruising that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the love between two people, though of course that isn’t the case in Safe Harbour. Nothing could be more to the fore than the feelings Beth and Ryan have for each other.

I heard you had a problem with naming your characters?
I didn’t actually have a problem at all. They, on the other, had strong objections to their original names and insisted I change them. As I did so their personalities asserted themselves and my characters became more real to me. I’ve learned over time that try as I may to write my protagonists they always have the last word.

Beth, shows a huge amount of courage in taking the action she did? Are all your heroines so strong?
I like to think so. I’ve never been able to write the type of woman who fawns on her man without having a mind of her own. I believe we’d all like to trust we would take what we saw as the right decision, rather than the easy option. There’s no doubt that Beth does that!

Beth faces a terrible dilemma. Was there no other action she could have taken than the one she did?
I suspect there might have been several. None, though, would have allowed her to remain true to herself and the principles that guide her. I prefer to believe that the heartbreak they go through in the end forges an even stronger bond between her and Ryan.

There is one chapter in the book that is quite sexually explicit. Did you find this difficult to write?
Strangely enough, no. Perhaps had I thought about it I might have done but once I started I didn’t think about it…just wrote to the end. Naturally it needed a bit of editing but I truly believe that if I’d stopped to consider it would have ended up being stilted. I don’t believe it is. In fact, I have received several compliments that it is very sensitively written.

I loved your characters in Safe Harbour. Can I look forward to seeing any of them in future books?
You aren’t the first person to have asked me this question. I felt a strong affinity with Ryan’s sister, Siobhan. I think it’s possible her own story is waiting to be written.

I have Safe Harbour downloaded onto my Kindle but would like a signed copy for my friend's birthday. Is this possible?
I’d be delighted to send you a signed copy. If you let me have your details by email at I’ll be happy to arrange this with you.  

Is Safe Harbour available to borrow from my library?
Not at the moment but I’m happy to say it will come on stream in March of next year.

What are you writing at the moment?
I’m very excited about this. Having written three contemporary romances – the second is published and my latest is at present with my agent, Lisa Eveleigh – I have decided to take a leap of faith and attempt a romance set in Regency times. I grew up with Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen and I love the elegance and etiquette of that period. This project will be longer in the writing – Safe Harbour took about six months – as there is a huge amount of research to do first. It’s important for my own sake and that of my readers that I get it right.

It’s been a delight to reproduce some of the questions here. Do you have a question you would like to ask about the book?

If you've already read Safe Harbour please tell your friends they can read it for free if they download before midnight on Sunday 30th August. If you haven't, I hope you enjoy it. I’d love to hear from you. 

Friday, 28 August 2015

Strolling in St James's

Pursuing my research into Regency London, I managed to find a day when it didn’t rain to take a stroll around St James’s. This was nothing short of a miracle considering the mixed batch the weather has thrown at us recently.

A lifetime resident of our amazing capital, I still never cease to be amazed at its beautiful and varied architecture. I think it’s easy sometimes to dismiss what’s on our own doorstep while eulogising over the treasures on offer in other cities of the world. Impossible though not to be affected by the sight of a wide ribbon of water with its many iconic buildings on either side as one drives across one of the bridges that span the Thames. Or to marvel at the history as one takes a boat trip with the added benefit of a running commentary.

On this day though I was on foot and heading for an area that was frequented in times past by characters, both real and imagined, who appear in the novels of my heroine, Georgette Heyer. Even the modern day traffic and the roadworks barely impinged as I turned into St James’s Street. Instead I imagined horses, imposing carriages, beautifully dressed men and women, people on foot - though I was pulled up short when I considered the surface of the streets. Were they cobbled? Made of mud? Covered with wooden slats? I realised I had (and still have) no idea and I would appreciate any input from those of you in the know.

Blue Bell Yard
Many delights assailed my senses as I trod my way down the now, thankfully for me, solid pavement, but there were hidden gems as well. I turned into Blue Ball Yard, a narrow way which led into a beautifully preserved mews dating from the 1740s. With its stables below and rooms above I could, even in its modern day presentation with outdoor seating and hanging flowers, imagine noble steeds as grooms brushed their coats to a shining finish, well-maintained tack, the pleasant smell of a horse yard. For a time I was lucky to be the owner of a skittish but lovable half-Arab horse so the things this experience evoked were real memories, not just my imaginings.

I returned again to St James’s Street to enjoy its delights before taking another diversion into Pickering Place. Through the passage to where it expanded at the end, I found myself standing where it was reputed the last ever duel in London took place in the 1840s. Was it swords or pistols? I must check. Pickering Place was also home a notorious gaming hell which Georgette Heyer mentions in several of her books.

At the end of St James’s Street at the junction with Pall Mall stands St James’s Palace. It is historically and to this day a very important royal residence and though its doors are not open to the public it is much used for official functions. On the day of my walk, though, I could only imagine the royal princes in residence in times gone by. I have no doubt there was much that was sordid in Regency times, as indeed there has been in most periods of history, but to me it evokes elegance, etiquette and beautiful buildings. I’m looking forward to continuing my research as I plan my next novel, an innovation for me. I am moving from contemporary romance to an inspiring bygone age. I hope my heroine enjoys her time there.

I am indebted to Louise Allen for her wonderful guidebook, Walks Through Regency London

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Journeys Back in Time

If you follow me on Facebook and Twitter you will know that I visited the Imperial War Museum earlier this week in the company of Elaine Everest, Viv Brown and Sarah Craven. While the historical period I am hoping to write about wasn’t represented, I had a wonderful time at the ‘Fashion on the Ration’ exhibition. Here is Elaine to tell us more about it.

Elaine's book and some she purchased at the IWM
When my students mentioned ‘school trips’ during the summer break from The Write Place I suggested  the Imperial War Museum as I had an ulterior motive – the ‘Fashion on the Ration’ exhibition. My sagas are set in the 1930s and 1940s so to be able to see garments up close from the era was a chance I couldn’t miss. I wasn’t disappointed. I felt as though I’d stepped back in time and could see many of my ‘girls’ wearing the frocks and underwear on display. Peggy from Gracie’s War was the perfect example of the women who were advised to ‘make do and mend.’ As rationing was introduced women had to be inventive in order to look smart and keep up their morale.

In my forthcoming book, The Woolworths’ Girls (Pan Macmillan, March 2016) Maisie, one of my Woolies girls, is a keen dressmaker and could be relied upon to turn any second hand item of clothing into something chic for herself and her friends. ‘Keep up the morale of the Home Front by preserving a neat appearance.’ (The Board of Trade 1940) could have been written for Maisie!

My one worry as I walked through the exhibition was that I’d made a mistake. Was I right to have my young bride, Sarah, wear a nightdress made from a whisper of satin on her husband’s return from fighting the enemy? As I turned a corner and faced a display of undergarments and nightwear I knew my research was spot on. In front of me was a mannequin wearing the very garment that Maisie made for her best friend.

Even if you don’t write historical fiction I recommend a visit to the IWM for a dose of nostalgia before the exhibition ends at the end of August.

Thank you, Elaine. And now for a trip even further back in time. 

On my journey to the Imperial War Museum I immersed myself in quite another period of history. What amazing facilities are available to those of us who wish to write about an age other than the one in which we live. Here is what I did.

The postman doesn’t deliver very early these days but he came up trumps on Tuesday morning and my excitement mounted as I opened the envelope because I knew what it contained. I had ordered a copy of Louise Allen’s Walks Through Regency London. There’s a big hint in the title! I (along with many others) am a huge fan of Georgette Heyer and my ambition is to write a romantic novel set in the capital in Regency times.

While I acknowledge that the Kindle and its equivalents are a great boon to the reader on the move I decided to order not the ebook but the slim volume I now have in my possession. I wanted to be able to flick the pages; to look at the images; to jump from one place to another with ease. There are ten walks, each of approximately two miles. Such is the detail that I only had time to study the first walk. So engrossed was I that I nearly missed changing trains at Waterloo. A nice touch that, Waterloo, since it fits so well into the time frame. The detail is quite extraordinary. Because it is essentially a guide book I had expected it to be quite dry. Here is where I apologise to Louise Allen because it’s no such thing! It’s interesting, evocative of its time and it drew me straight into places I know so well from between the covers of my heroine’s books.

Even as I type this I am becoming more excited because the first walk is named St James’s and it starts at Green Park Station in Piccadilly. It just so happens, and this really is a coincidence, that I am meeting my sister this coming Friday afternoon in that very area. I will travel up to London in the morning with the book in my handbag and sample the first of what I know are going to be huge treats. I expect it won’t be long before my copy is covered with notes, highlighted in yellow and curling at the edges. I make no apology for this. It’s a book that's meant to be used. In the meantime, huge thanks to Louise for all the footwork (sorry!) she put in. I have already gained a great deal of pleasure and I haven’t even started yet!

Guess what my next blog’s going to be about.