Making the most of the sunny autumn weather today, I went for a stroll along the Mawddach trail in Dolgellau. Crossing over the bridge, I was lucky enough to spot a heron sitting in a tree, though I couldn't get a close up with my phone camera, sadly. It sat there for quite a while - on the biggish branch over the river - maybe soaking up the sun in between spotting for fish!
I really do love this time of year, when the heat and hurry of the summer is over and the bustle of Christmas yet to come. Everything around seems to be taking a rest and enjoying a period of calm, not least Mother Nature.
It was a lovely crisp, clear afternoon and the colours of the trees was stunning. In a month or two, their branches will all be bare and the sky not always so blue, but for now the landscape truly is a sight to behold.
And others, of course! One of my day jobs, and by far the most creative and satisfying for me personally, is designing websites. I've been dabbling in this for over a decade now and have recently taken the plunge and gone freelance. Website design fits in perfectly with the job of writing because it can be done from home. It can also be done flexibly over the course of several days or weeks.
Typically, I use Wordpress because it has an extensive choice of 'themes' and also because it is easier for customers to manage their sites themselves once complete. But, far from working 'off the shelf,' I prefer to establish a close relationship with my clients, in order to design them an attractive site that best reflects their personality and their work.
A word of warning, however, if you are feeling tempted to rush off and get yourself a website - choose your designer with care! Wordpress, while powerful and flexible, is also pitted with holes that are a godsend for hackers. The first thing I do, once I've chosen and installed a theme, is to get a tried and tested security plugin and then I go through the settings with a tooth-comb to make the site bombproof.
Recently, I've created two websites specifically for writers Helen Aherne and Jane Fenwick, tailoring each to reflect and promote their different genres and styles:
Occasionally I come across an author whose name I've known for as long as I've been reading romance, and recently I 'discovered' one of these, namely Victoria Holt, aka Jean Plaidy, aka Elbur Ford, Kathleen Kellor and Phillipa Carr - real name Eleanor Hibbert. As you might suppose from all those pseudonyms, she wrote a lot of novels. And she did - over 2000 in fact!
Anyway, I picked up a copy of The Lord of the Far Island in a second-hand bookshop recently and, once I'd begun to read, I was hooked. It's a modern Gothic romance, rather derivative of Daphne Du Maurier, but none the less enjoyable for that. And, having raced to the end in a few days, I ordered some more of Victoria Holt's book online. These are the ones I chose and the blurb on the back convey far better than I could why they are so hard to put down even now, fifty years after publication.
Bride of Pendorric: Favel Farington and her new husband were almost strangers. In Capri, the dashing young heir to Pendorric had swept the lovely English girl into marriage with the sudden fierceness of a summer storm. Favel was dazed with happiness - until she discovered that someone was planning a very special place for in the family - in the vault with the other legendary 'Brides of Pendorric' who had all died so mysteriously and so tragically. 'Till death us to part' took on a new and ominous meaning . . .
The Curse of the Kings: Ever since she was a child, Judith Osmond has cherished a romantic dream - to marry Tybalt Travers, a brilliant archeologist, and help him make some wonderful discovery. So when Tybalt asks her to be his wife and go with him to Egypt in search of the Pharaoh's buriel chambers, her happiness seems assured. But once in Egypt her joy is short-lived. Here, in this strange, arid land, the rumours of misfortune and death that surround the tombs seem all too real. And gradually Tybalt changes. From a loving attentive husband he becomes a stranger - silent, watchful menacing . . .
On the Night of the Seventh Moon: Helena Trant has always felt a special fascination for the myths and legends of Southern Germany, where she is living. So, lost in the forest one day, she feels little surprised when a handsome stranger appears and leads her to safety - there is a Prince Charming in all good fairy stories. But this idyll suddenly becomes a nightmare. The passionate love that grows between Helena and her rescuer seems destined to inspire hatred, treachery, even murder in others. And, as Helena draws near to the source of the evil that pursues them, she begins to feel that there will be no happy ending to her story . . .
And with these deliciously lurid, 1970s covers, can you blame me for wanting more . . . ?
The weekend before last, I was at Lancaster University for the RNA's annual conference. The venue, which I'd been to before, was lovely and as usual I was sharing a block with my wonderful writing friends, including HMB authors Kate Walker and Rachael Thomas . And, as usual, the 'Naughty Kitchen' was well stocked with gin, prosecco and nibbles (thank you lovely Andrea for the delicious pink gin and vegan chocolate :)
The Heroine's Journey
The conference sessions, all in the University's George Fox Building, were particularly good this year and especially relevant for me. Among the highlights were 'The Heroine's Journey' with Fiona Harper, which was really useful for me and my current HMB heroine; 'Quiz the Agents,' since I'm aiming my timeslip wip at agents and mainstream publishers; and a very illuminating session entitled 'Slush Pile Slam,' that highlighted the whys and whynots that make agents and editors read on beyond the first page of a submission - or not!
The RNA Hub
There was a louder than usual buzz in the Hub too this year, and we had to spill over into the session rooms at lunchtimes. I met some lovely new people, including independent editor Donna Hillyer and caught up with some old acquaintances, including Sophie Claire, whose new book The Christmas Holiday will be published by Hodder and Stoughton in October. I absolutely loved Sophie's debut novel, Her Forget-Me-Not Ex, so am really looking forward to reading her next.
This weekend, I went to Gregynog in rural Powys to an afternoon tea and a musical concert of a Bach programme of arias for tenor, flute, cello and harpsichord,
performed by the Flemish tenor and French Baroque
ensemble A Nocte Temporis. The concert was wonderful and very special as it was this group's first ever appearance in the UK. In the lovely setting of the Music Room, and the peaceful surroundings of the gardens, it was an evening to remember.
For those who don't know Gregynog, here's a quick bit of history. For hundreds of years, it was one of Montgomeryshire’s leading
landed estates but in 1913 a huge
estate sale saw Gregynog’s farms, cottages and woodlands sold off, many
to their tenants. Gregynog Hall might have been demolished had not the
wealthy Davies sisters acquired it in 1920 to become the headquarters of
their enterprise to bring art, music and creative skills to the people
of Wales in the aftermath of the First World War.
For twenty years the house was full of music, fine furniture and
ceramics, hand-printed books from the Gregynog Press and, most
extraordinary of all, the sisters’ collection of paintings by artists
such as Monet, Cezanne and Van Gogh. At the end of the 1950s, after wartime use as a Red Cross
convalescent home, Gregynog was bequeathed to the University of Wales as
a conference centre. But the old Gregynog lives on – the music, the
art, the printing press and the gardens.(http://www.gregynog.org)
From 1932 to 1938, an Annual Festival of Music and Poetry was held
here, conducted by such musical luminaries as Sir Henry Walford Davies
and Sir Adrian Boult. The music festival lives on too, as each year in June, Gregynog plays
host to an annual music festival, featuring performances by some of the
world’s leading classical musicians (.https://gwylgregynogfestival.org/gregynog-festival-2019)
On the writing front, I'm back at the computer after the upheaval of a house move and juggling two day jobs. I entered the Harlequin Presents Blitz earlier this month and received very encouraging feedback. As usual I've given myself a deadline - crucial for any writer committed to publication - for early September. I'm also going to the RNA's annual conference in July, at Lancaster University this year, where I've got a couple of industry appointments with agents and publishers, but best of all, I'll be catching up with some very dear writing friends.
Last weekend I spent a wonderful few days with some writing friends in Shropshire in an old Rectory near Burford House and Gardens. Even though most of us didn't actually do any writing, there was much discussion about current trends and sharing of experiences and, as always, just to be in the company of fellow writers was an infusion of much needed energy, creative and otherwise.
The location was lovely. Shropshire is one of my favourite counties and Burford a hitherto undiscovered area for me. Although just off the busy A49, the house we were staying in and the surrounding area was unbelievably pretty and tranquil. Right opposite us was Burford House and Gardens, which I discovered was a real haven for lovers of history, plants and nature.
The Georgian house itself serves a variety of purposes now - from gifts for the home to a beauty parlour to a wedding venue. Attached is a nursery and cafe and the stunning gardens behind the house, which ask for a donation to visit, are really what a country house garden should be - eclectic yet very English, welcoming and relaxing, bursting with wildlife, and with some exotic surprises, like this vibrant Judas Tree.
So even though I didn't do any writing, I had a very restful weekend, with good friends and conversations that at least got me thinking about writing, whether that was while exploring the gorgeous Rectory grounds or simply sitting with a coffee in the lovely conservatory and soaking up the sun and the blissful atmosphere of being in a place out of time for a while.