Sunday, 23 December 2018

Old year, new home

Well, I'm on the move once more.  One of the beauties and the banes of renting instead of owning a  home is that moving is a regular occurrence, whether it be voluntary or forced. My current move is a bit of both, with my present flat going on the market early next year and my present job requiring me to live a little bit closer to my workplace.

Therefore, Christmas and New Year this year will be spent packing, cleaning,saying goodbyes and moving.  I've got three weeks off from work and so have been able to do things bit by bit instead of all in one go. Now, on the eve of Christmas Eve, my flat is looking rather bare, with boxes of all shapes and sizes lining the walls and the windows devoid of curtains.

That said, the Christmas tree is up in the corner and there are mince pies in the cupboard and some Prosecco to see in the New Year. And the weather may not be exactly festive, but I'm looking forward to getting out and doing some walking over the holidays.

I'm also using the time off work to revise my current WIP prior to resubmitting to Harlequin Mills and Boon in early January.  Once that's gone off, I'll be returning to my timeslip, which is simmering away quietly in the background of my mind.

So that's my Christmas! Whatever yours is, I hope it is filled with love, peace and joy and wish you all good things in 2019!

Melissa x

Monday, 19 November 2018

A different sort of writing

While I'm still aiming my work at Harlequin Mills and Boon, and have some revisions pending on my current WIP, I've also been working on a story in a new genre, a time-slip.  A romance is still at the core of this story but there is a bigger canvas to paint on, so there is also an historical mystery and an element of crime in my book.

 To get some guidance in how to write a crime scene, I went on a writing course this last weekend at Lilleshall Hall.  The course was entitled Getting away with Murder' and was run by multi-published author  Stephen Wade.   As it turned out,  none of the people booked onto this course was actually writing a crime novel, but books and short stories that had a crime or the potential for one.  But that didn't matter; Stephen adapted his programme accordingly and everyone, including me, got such a lot of information and inspiration, and a clearer idea of how to proceed. Focussing on character, plot, settings and scenes, Stephen helped me to reach my goal for the weekend, which was to write a draft crime scene, and also enabled me to view my criminal with much more insight.

The venue for the course - which also had programmes on romance, poetry and non-fiction - was in lovely Shropshire, one of my favourite counties. It was originally the demesne of Lilleshall Abbey, a 12th century Augustinian foundation, but after the dissolution of the monasteries, it was granted to the Levenson family, wealthy Wolverhampton wool merchants, in whose hands it remained until World War One.

Like many large country estates, Lilleshall suffered greatly as a result of the two world wars and during the interwar period. But unlike many, it re-emerged positively, being sold after WW2 and becoming a recreation centre. It's now a National Sports Centre (in 1966, the England football trained there prior to their World Cup success!), so as well as we writers, there were dozens of more sporty types there, who made my little foray into the gardens a bit of a stroll in the park!  

The grounds were huge, though much reduced from their original 30,000 acres, and very lovely, and there was a woodland walk with a nature trail.   I only managed to explore a very small part of it but I came across a pet cemetery, with little weathered headstones dating back to 1904 bearing grand sounding names like Czar (a wolfhound) to the more humble Sooty and Frisky.

Isn't it nice to know that animals were loved back then as much as they are now!

Monday, 1 October 2018

Wise words and old wives' tales

Going for a walk in the autumn sunshine today, I noticed that the holly trees were bright with berries and it got me thinking : Does this indicate that our lovely summer is going to be followed by a bad winter?  So, when I got home, I went online and looked up this old wives' tale.  Nowadays, it is thought that early and abundant holly berries are a result of a good spring and a mild September rather than an indicator of future weather, although there are a host of other superstitious associated with holly that are quite fascinating.

Christian symbolism connected the prickly leaves with Jesus' crown of thorns and the berries with the drops of blood shed for humanity's salvation. In Celtic mythology the Holly King ruled over half the year from the summer to the winter solstice, at which time the Oak King defeated the Holly King to rule until the summer solstice again. Holly was also believed to have protective properties, being commonly brought into the house to guard against malevolent faeries and was frequently left uncut in hedges to prevent witches running along them.

But whether holly in abundance in autumn is a forecaster of bad weather or not, berries of all sorts at this time of year undoubtedly brighten up our hedgerows as well as providing a good source of nutrition for birds like thrushes, blackbirds, redwings and fieldfares - and magpies too! You can read more about this colourful bounty for birds on the  RSPB website .

And the wise words in the title of this blog? Once more, these come from the wonderful Kate Walker.  I submitted a partial of my WIP to Mills and Boon last week, and this meant a revision of the one-page synopsis I'd sent in to the RNA's New Writers' Scheme back in July. The timing was perfect, as Kate had just posted a helpful guide to writing a synopsis on the RNA Facebook page and I had this next to my computer as I developed my synopsis. The main point of Kate's advice was to keep it simple and include the important things :

Tell the story from the emotional timeline, putting in the emotional turning points. The editor doesn't need huge descriptions/backstory/family connections but she does need your hero and heroine and their emotional journey, viz - 

  • Who are they?
  • Where do they meet ?
  • Why do they meet?
  • What keeps them apart?
  • Why?
  • What makes it worse?
  • Why?
  • Why do they fall in love?
  • What resolves it ?

Focusing on that vital question - why? - really helped me to produce a synopsis that, for once, I was happy with and felt worked - thank you yet again Kate :)

Friday, 7 September 2018

Signs of Autumn

Taking a stroll along the Mawddach river today, I found I needed not only a warmish coat but also a hat and gloves. It wasn't cold exactly but there was a keen breeze and, as I walked, I noticed sure signs that summer is finally coming to an end.

The leaves on the trees are still green but their rustle was a dry one and they are beginning to fall.  Flowers have bloomed and faded, the river is full of water after the long hot summer, and the cricket field is being prepared for the last match of the season next weekend.

The heating isn't on at home yet but the mornings and evenings are feeling cooler now so it is only a matter of time. 

However, even though the heatwave is already a distant memory, my summer has been a productive as well as a pleasant one.

I took a fortnight off from one of my part-time jobs during August, with the goal of completing three chapters of one of my two WIPs. By aiming at a thousand words a day, and sometimes writing even more, I managed to do that this week. Now comes some polishing and final edits, prior to submitting it later this month.

So, although the end of summer is always a bit sad, autumn is a lovely season. The colours of the trees, the sharpness of the air, and those long cosy evenings indoors are things to look forward to.  And, as the nights draw in and the mornings get darker, I will be switching my focus to my time-slip novel, with a view to reaching 30,000 words by Christmas.

What are your autumn plans?

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!