Tuesday, 7 August 2018

A literary trip to the past

I'm currently reading a selection of books by Dorothy Whipple, having accepted an open invitation to 'read along' by author Clare Harvey, who is reading all nine of this forgotten writer's novels currently in print as part of her blog series My Summer With Dorothy.


I have to confess I'd never heard of Dorothy Whipple, or if I had, had forgotten her name. Maybe not surprising, as her heyday as a writer was in the 1930s and 1940s.  I'd heard of one of her books, They Were Sisters, because it was made into a 1945 film of the same name, and being a fan of old black and white movies, and of James Mason- oh, that voice! - I'd seen it but so long ago, I don't remember much about it.

As her books are rather expensive to buy, I ordered a few from my local library and was immediately transported back to the 1970s, when the mobile library that used to come around at 11am on the dot every Friday morning was the highlight of my week - when I managed to get that day off school, of course.

The copies of Dorothy Whipple's books I've got out on loan date from the late 1970s and early 80s, and they have those unique chunky hardback covers and that special aroma that took me straight back to those days with a surge of pleasure and nostalgia.



As a child I read voraciously, not Dorothy Whipple obviously, but pony books by the hundreds. And, like those popular pony book authors, the Pullein-Thompson sisters, Whipple's books are as readable now as they were when they were first published.  I suspect that some are more easily accessible than others, but her writing is quite wonderful, her narrative flows smoothly and the depth she gives her characters really brings them to life on the page, despite the distance of time.

It is also the picture she gives us of the period that makes these books so very enjoyable. The passing of a way of life, the yielding of one generation to another under the looming shadow of war in The Priory, kept me turning the pages long into the night.  Even with the rather predictable and whimsical ending, the book is very satisfying, and so far, the only one I've finished.

I've just started Greenbanks, which didn't immediately draw me in like The Priory did, but now I'm in, I'm hooked, and I may be posting again soon with the next installment in my particular Whipple summer!  Many thanks, Clare, for introducing me to her :)


Tuesday, 17 July 2018

RNA Conference 2018

As a writer, the annual conference is definitely the highlight of the year for me and, surprisingly, it seems to come around quickly each time. This year was no exception and, from counting down the months, then the weeks, then the days, suddenly I was packing and wondering which shoes would go with which dress!


Welcome with Nicola Cornick and Jan Jones

This year, the conference was in Leeds Trinity University, a campus just outside Headingly. Leeds is a lovely city but I didn't see anything of it beyond the train station. Horsforth, where the campus is located, was really nice though, and I enjoyed a short and pleasant walk from the train station to the campus with HMB author Rachael Thomas .









The conference sessions were useful and enjoyable and included a double presentation from Mills and Boon. This began with editors from the longer 'Trade' imprint giving a summary of the recent rebranding of the company, and concluded with the Series editors outlining the requirements of the different lines.






There was also a very illuminating session with Nicola Cornick in conversation with Barbara Erskine. I must have been the only one in the audience who'd never read Lady of Hay - something I intend to remedy immediately!









I also really enjoyed Liz Harris' session on pacing, which is something I always struggle with in my writing.  Her presentation was both useful and fun, as - in her own words - she'd gotten to grips with animation now and her analogy of pacing being like peeling an onion was an entertaining and invaluable one.

As always, the industry appointments were many and varied and making a choice was difficult. I got three in the end - reserve appointments with Mills and Boon longer series editor Anna Baggaley and independent editor, Laura Gerrard, and my first choice with Kate Bradley from Harper Fiction. All of them gave encouraging and helpful feedback on my timeslip chapter, which is an exciting new experiment for me, and I came away feeling encouraged but also with the realisation that I'll have to write the rest of it now!


Sunday, 8 July 2018

Baby Birds

Abandoned robin's nest

Over the last couple of months, we've been very busy on the nature reserve where I work answering phone calls from people who have found a baby bird and don't know what to do with it.  And the answer we normally give, unless it is injured, is do nothing and leave it where you found it.  The often harsh-seeming law of nature is that a third of baby birds don't make it, and that's why songbirds lay somewhere between 5 and 12 eggs, depending on the species.  The bigger the bird the fewer the eggs, with birds of prey only laying 2-3, or even just one.








Mink taking off with a goose egg




The bird breeding season is balanced to perfection, with birds delaying the laying until the optimum time and then prioritizing the raising of their brood according to conditions. If food is plentiful and predators few, then most if not all the chicks will make it; if food is scarce and predators are many, then the adults will feed only the strongest and biggest chicks to make sure that some at least survive.





Robust baby swallows


 Our 'humanizing' of nature causes our emotional and compassionate reactions, but the best chance of survival for a fledgling that's left the nest early is to let it alone.  The parents are probably nearby and will continue to feed it on the ground.  Granted, a predator might get there first, but that is the law of nature. And the predator is doing what every living thing does, hunting to live and raise its own young.






A proud mother goose!


 
At the end of the day, by rescuing baby birds, we are robbing them of their best chance of survival, ie, learning to adapt to their surroundings and learn the techniques that only other birds can teach them.  It can be heartbreaking to see predated eggs or fledglings being carried off by magpies. So I always remind myself that magpies are living and sentient beings and are entitled to survive too!


Many thanks to the wardens of RSPB Ynys-Hir for their stunning photographs!

Friday, 15 June 2018

Some recent good reads


Occasionally, I go through phases of reading purely for pleasure and two books I enjoyed recently were An Ordinary Gift and Fairlights by the wonderful Jan Jones.

These are romances, beautifully written, with gripping plots and a twist of the supernatural that, for me, really added an extra element of satisfaction.  An Ordinary Gift is a gentle love story with a hint of time slip and a tension that at times lifted the hairs on the back of my neck :

"New job. New town. New house. Everything Clare needs for a fresh start. She could do without the ghosts, though... Determined to put an unhappy love affair behind her, Clare moves to Ely in the Cambridgeshire Fens to catalogue an early music library. But why does the house she rents in this ancient city feel so familiar? Who is singing Gregorian chants that only she can hear? And what can she do about her growing attraction to Ewan, the site manager of the library, when neither wants a rebound relationship?"



What I especially loved about the book was the way Jan brought the historical city of Ely to life, making the archival setting positively thrilling.  Through Clare, we too see the ghosts and hear the chanting. When she puts her hand on the wall of the house, we experience what she does to the extent that our skin tingles too.   A warm and engrossing story and Jan's mastery of her craft and her excellent story telling takes this book into another realm altogether. 


Fairlights is also a romance with a supernatural touch. Underlying the day-to-day renovation of the old castle, there is an edge of mystery and a tension that builds and builds to a nail-baiting climax. In the Pele tower, Sorcha finally conquers her greatest fear to save the man she loves - with a bit of help from the fairwives: 

 "The fairwives faded away like a gentle, warm caress. I would write this, I vowed. I would write this in the account. My daughters, my sons' wives, they would need to understand. Because the fairwives were still there, layered in the past. I could feel them in my soul. Someday I would be one of them."

Beautifully written, intelligent and compelling reading, just what a romance story should be - with that something special that makes these two books stand out from the crowd.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Definitely a heatwave!

Admittedly, at 22C degrees indoors and just 18C outdoors, the heatwave seems to be more  applicable to southern England than to northern Wales!  But here too, it is glorious summer weather at the moment.  I've got a day off today, (which I've devoted to writing but more of that later) after working over the weekend at RSPB Ynys Hir near Machynlleth. It's been heavenly on the reserve during this lovely season, when birds are singing and nesting, bees are buzzing and butterflies fluttering, and a carpet of wildflowers is covering the woodlands.

As per every spring, a pair of Oystercatchers are nesting on a wall outside one of the estuary hides. They've bred there for the last five years and, despite their choice of site being completely exposed, have raised their young successfully nearly every time. Currently, they are sitting on three eggs, the male and the female both taking turns to do the sitting.  Osytercatcher eggs are large so the incubation period is long, around 26 days, and the young are dependent on their parents for food for at least six weeks after fledging, sometimes not being fully independent until they are six months old.




One of the other May highlights at Ynys Hir are the bluebells that appear in abundance in late spring.  Talking a walk around the reserve is not just a feast for the eyes; the heady scent of these lovely native flowers is overwhelming in places, and the vibrant blue colour scheme is interspersed here and there with sorrel and wood anemone, two other native flowers that are found in ancient oak woodlands. So if you fancy a spring walk full of the delights of nature, or would like to take advantage of some of the reserve's upcoming events, do pop onto the website :
www.rspb.org.uk/ynys-hir




And what of writing?  I've been determined to finish a book this year and this morning, I wrote those magic words - The End - on my manuscript and it sent off to the  RNA's New Writers' Scheme .  But there's no resting on my laurels - the annual conference is coming up in July,  so I'll be starting on a chapter for the industry appointments very soon. And, of course, mulling over my next book . . .

But, for today at least, I think I'll take a few hours out and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts!  How are you spending this balmy May Bank Holiday Monday?


Friday, 20 April 2018

Not quite a heatwave . . .

At least that's what the weather people say but it's certainly felt like one recently, with cloudless blue  skies, hours of sunshine and temperatures actually reaching double figures, even here in north west Wales!  I've been lucky enough to have the last few days off work so, after my morning writing sessions, I've been taking a stroll along the Mawddach in the afternoons. It is really tranquil and inspiring at this time of year, and it is lovely to see signs of early summer at last.




The trees along the river are bursting into bud, wild flowers are lining the paths, and the bleating of lambs and the sound of birds are a perfect accompaniment to a bit of head-clearing and gentle exercise.  And this afternoon, I saw the surest sign of all that summer is definitely on the way - the preparation of the cricket pitch on the Marian fields ready for the start of the playing season.



My walk today was especially satisfying because I finished the first 'dirty' draft of my current WIP this morning.  It still needs editing, of course, and a hefty bit of digging deep to really bring my characters to life before I send it off to the New Writers' Scheme next month.  But, having not finished a book for a while, my New Year's Resolution in January was to complete a story this year without fail. So, even though it's not quite the finished product yet, typing that final full stop just before lunch felt great :)




Thursday, 15 March 2018

Writing aides

We all use them and they come in many shapes and forms.  Having taken a week away from my WIP, I returned to it this morning and, as always, found it difficult to get going again.  Writing romance is a bit like being in a relationship - absence may or may not make the heart grow fonder but it is definitely out of sight, out of mind sometimes!  So as I sat there 'making notes' I got to thinking about the props and aides that writers rely on and I discovered that I am a real creature of habit - I don't need many aides but they are always the same ones, viz:




Coffee (obviously)
A cocoa bar (it used to be chocolate before I became a vegan)
Notepad and pen (essential for those 'why' questions)
A diary (as I like to record my word count and my thoughts about my progress, or lack of it, every day)
My invaluable little pink timer (this really works for me if I'm stuck. Setting it to a twenty minute countdown magically gets me writing, anything, even if I end up deleting it eventually)



I've also realised I work better perched on my breakfast bar as opposed to sitting at the table in my carefully prepared writing corner. Well, for one thing, it's nearer the coffee and cocoa bar, I suppose. And the view out of the window to the bird feeders is conducive to writing, although equally good for procrastination too!  

I guess at the end of the day, we writers find the ways and means that work for us, whatever they may be.  What are your favourite aides?