Monday, 17 December 2012

 How Important is Setting?

This is the ghoulish entrance to the graveyard of St Olave’s, one of the smallest in the City and one of only a handful of medieval City churches that escaped the Great Fire of London in 1666.  The skulls commemorate the 300 plus victims of The Great Plague who are buried in the churchyard, including the woman who was widely blamed for bringing the disease to the capital. Charles Dickens was so taken with the entrance that he included the place in an article he wrote for his journal "All the Year Round" calling it ‘My best beloved churchyard’, and renaming it ‘Saint Ghastly Grim’.

I’ve just done a Dickens walk in the City of London and it didn’t take much imagination to think myself back to that era. All Dickens’ books are pervaded by their time and their setting - the hope and despair of Victorian London, the wealth and the squalor, the comfort of home and the  menace of the streets. He knew those streets inside out, he felt them through every one of his senses, and it set me wondering how important it is for any writer to feel as well as to know their setting.

When I thought about my own books I could see that feeling the setting has become increasingly important to me. The first two Regency novels I wrote took place in London and Bath. I know both cities reasonably well, though not in the same depth as I know my own county of Sussex. The third book was set in Brighton and in Lewes, my home town, and writing it felt different. I could experience my characters and their surroundings more sharply: the shape of the Downs, the sound of the sea, the calling of the gulls. The latest Regency is set in Rye to the east of the county. I’ve never lived in the town but I’ve visited a good deal and something of its atmosphere - the river and the sea and above all, the surrounding marshland - has seeped into my consciousness. Writing this novel, I still had to take an imaginative leap (and some writerly liberties) because I found few early 19th century maps of the area and its topography has changed considerably over the years. The river now follows a different course, for instance, and the sea is more distant. The imaginative leap was even greater for Walking Through Glass, set in the mid Victorian era, where I had only accounts of the destroyed Crystal Palace to go on, although an abundance of vivid images.

So is it important to have a deep sense of the place you write about? Is it important even to have visited? Or can you write just as convincingly out of your imagination? Hearing Ian Rankin talk recently, I was struck by the fact that he felt it necessary to drive the length of the A9 in Scotland, the road along which the missing girls in his novel had disappeared, in order to ‘feel’ the landscape. Very strangely, the place where he had imagined the first body would be found was exactly how he had written it! So what does that say about authenticity and the writer’s imagination?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

I've just been sent the cover art for my latest Regency romance, Unmasking Miss Lacey, which is due out next March.

The girl is a reasonable lookalike for Lucinda, but Jack!  Oh dear.  He would NEVER sport a moustache and beard.  And the long hair!  I wonder sometimes if the Art Department ever read the books they illustrate.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Do you read comments on your writing?

In a recent interview J.K. Rowling’s advice to would be novelists was ‘don’t read the comments – that way madness lies.’  She was responding to a question about some of the less than positive reviews that have appeared for her first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy.

Her words set me wondering whether writers should ever read comments in whatever form they come – whether in fact they are dangerous to an author’s wellbeing.  A bad review can hurt and destroy confidence and there are certainly a few people out there who seem motivated to destroy.  But there’s also vast numbers of readers who want to share their opinion of your work  in a constructive way.  Of course, their views are subjective and as long as you keep in mind that as a writer you are never going to please all of the people of all of the time, you won’t come to much harm.  Last week I experienced a brilliant example of this.  My book, Walking Through Glass, is selling on the Amazon US site and attracted two new reviews on the same day.  The first was headed ENGROSSING and gave the book five stars, the second was headed SLOW and gave it one star!

Reviews come at the very end of the publishing process, so what about comments that land in your lap earlier?  A lot of writers use beta readers, usually friends or acquaintances who will read their draft manuscript and whose judgement they trust.  But here again personal opinion plays its part and if as an author you’re convinced that you’ve got it right, you have to stick to your guns.  If, on the other hand, three or four of your readers are pointing to the same problem, you’d probably be wise to listen.

When the draft becomes a manuscript proper, then it’s the editor’s turn to comment and from my small experience, their input is crucial.  One of the difficulties with novels that are self-published can be the lack of an editor - not a copy editor who looks at grammar, spelling, punctuation etc – but an editorial editor who can be ruthlessly critical over pace, structure, coherence, the big things that make or break a novel.  I doubt that any writer enjoys this kind of criticism.  It was wonderful to see how a bestselling novelist such as Ian Rankin (‘Imagine’ last week) greeted his editor’s reservations with extreme grumpiness.  Nevertheless he took them seriously and did something about them.  Writers may fret and fume when the editor’s comments first come in but if they’ve got any sense, they’ll take notice and end up with a much better book. 

Did J. K. Rowling get those kind of comments with The Casual Vacancy, or is she too big a beast these days?  I have a feeling that if she had, she might be just that bit happier reading those reviews!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

One last mention for WALKING THROUGH GLASS.

It's off the Amazon free list but for a short time is selling at a reduced price - 93p in the UK and $1.50 in the US. and

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Next Big Thing

I've been tagged in The Next Big Thing by fellow author Emily Harvale whose second novel, Lizzie Marshall’s Wedding  will be out in November as an ebook, on Amazon. The rules of TNBT are that I have to answer ten set questions about my next book and then tag other authors to write about their Next Big Thing. So here goes:

Q: What is the working title of your next book?

A: Love’s Tangle or perhaps The Duke and the Dairymaid.  In the end it will be the publisher’s decision and they may come up with something quite different.

Q: Where did the idea come from for the book?

A: A couple of years ago I visited a country house in West Sussex called Uppark.  It had almost burnt down in a fire but the National Trust had been busy restoring it, including the dairy which was at the end of a flagged path if I remember rightly.  There was a wonderful story attached to this dairy.  Apparently in Regency times, the owner who had inherited the house and estate at a very young age, was a larger than life character.  He was a personal friend of the Prince Regent which probably tells you all you need to know about his lifestyle.  He scattered by-blows around the local countryside but never married – not that is until he reached eighty.  Then, you’ve guessed it, he fell for one of the young dairymaids and married her!  He left her and her sister the whole estate, too, so I imagine there were some very unhappy family members.  Anyway the story fascinated me and though my duke is not eighty – he’s young and gorgeous - the idea of marrying the dairymaid was still intriguing.

Q: What genre does your book fall under?

A: It comes under the heading of the ever popular Regency Romance.

Q: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

A: Definitely Richard Armitage as Gabriel and Elinor?  That’s more difficult.  She needs to be elegant,intelligent but also very sexy.  Perhaps Scarlett Johannson with an English accent?

Q: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A: Young girl escapes poverty by seeking the man her dying mother commends, but finds instead a mystery, an identity and a deeply passionate love – roughly in that order!

Q: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

A: I have an American e-publisher currently interested but so far nothing has been finalised.

 Q: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

A: It’s difficult to say since my first drafts get mixed with my second drafts and then the third draft takes over.  Overall, I would say the novel took about six months to write which is about average for me for this length of book.

 Q: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

A: I’m spoilt for choice.  Regency romances abound and as I say, they’re very popular.

Q: Who or What inspired you to write this book?

A: See my answer above.  I loved Uppark – it was small enough not to overwhelm but very beautiful, very stately.  And there were some fascinating family portraits hanging on the wall – they gave me the idea for the paintings that Elinor finds when she trespasses and that say to her quite clearly that she doesn’t belong!

Q: What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

A: It's a Cinderella story but with a heroine who is feisty and brave.  In fact both hero and heroine are strong characters, both have known unhappy times, and it’s difficult for them to believe that love has arrived.  But when they do believe, and let go, then wow!

I've enjoyed taking part in The Next Big Thing and I hope that you've enjoyed reading about my forthcoming novel. Here are several fabulous authors I've tagged, to tell you about their Next Big Thing, on Wednesday the 7th November:

Helen Hollick at

And Gillian Bagwell at


Monday, 29 October 2012

Barbara Pym

Does anyone read Barbara Pym today?Various people have told me over the years that I should but somehow I never borrowed her from the library or sought her out in a bookshop.She seemed just a little too quaint, a little too English, and the frequent comparisons with Jane Austen appeared a bit far fetched.

But now, two books in to the Barbara Pym collection, I’m beginning to understand the Jane Austen connection and even agree with it.There’s the same perceptiveness about human nature, the same understated humour, the same championing of lone women.And as for the clergy!If Pym’s vicars, bishops and archdeacons don’t rival Mr Collins in obsequiousness they certainly do in self-importance. These are great portraits – gently satirical but wonderfully human.The archdeacon in Some Tame Gazelle is my all-time favourite.

Philip Larkin once said that he would prefer to read a new Barbara Pym to a new Jane Austen.I’m not sure I’d go as far as that but I’m half way there. Her books are quaint, quirky, very English and may not be to the taste of everyone but they exude old fashioned charm and best of all, they are very, very funny.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Just to say that it's the final day that WALKING THROUGH GLASS is free on Amazon Kindle.

If you’ve time, do take a look. for the UK for the US

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Advance notice:  Walking Through Glass - a Victorian mystery romance - is free on Amazon kindle from the 25th so do take a look this Thursday. 

The link for Amazon UK is and for

Thursday, 11 October 2012

My very first blog is some kind of milestone, I guess, and it seems right to look back over the last three years since I gave up the day job and started writing seriously.  It has been an extraordinary journey.  You hear people talk of a steep learning curve – well, entering the world of writing has been one of the steepest I’ve ever encountered.  Precipitous even.  Not that I’m falling over the cliff – not yet at least – but sometimes I feel I‘m hanging on with just two fingers.

When I had my first Regency romance accepted by Harlequin I had no idea of the publication process.  Years ago in my youth I worked in the sales department of a West End publishers but I never entered the hallows of the editorial department – publishing was very hierarchical then and people from sales were seen as only marginally more acceptable than those from publicity!  So when I began working with an editor for the first time, I came to it as a complete novice.  I was happy to take her advice and suggestions (all of them resulted in a far better book) but I still found it hard to mould my writing to a particular audience’s tastes.  Or in other words, to think commercially.  There were things I didn’t like - having my title changed, being given a cover which in my opinion didn’t reflect the book, having my punctuation altered by a copy editor.  But I knew that if I wanted to write to be published, I must live with it.  In any case, there were other aspects which were thoroughly enjoyable – meeting people online who shared my interest, attending stimulating conferences, being taken out to lunch by my editor!

Publication was just the first step on the road and a whole load of learning was to follow: how to read a contract (no, I’ve never managed this one), how to understand royalty statements, signing up for PLR (Public Lending Rights) and ALCS (fees for photocopying your work).  Then I needed a website and stuff to put on it (Google loves content apparently) and a way of gathering statistics for how it was being used. 

And then there was all the other social media: facebook and twitter and linked-in and a hundred other things, including a blog, that I should be able to manage.  I have to confess it hasn’t come easily but when I self-published my Victorian mystery novel, Walking Through Glass, I knew it was essential.  Self-publishing, of course, is whole other learning curve.  If you’re not technically adept, and I’m not, formatting a book for Kindle becomes a monumental task.  But I managed it and more recently my confidence level has risen sufficiently to design my own cover – and leave me pleased with the result!

The latest step on the curve is preparing a ms for an American epublisher and right now I’m knee deep in different punctuation and different spelling.  That’s simply the mechanics but there’s also a cultural divide to jump because I’m learning too that some ideas just don’t translate well.  I describe my Regency hero in this book as having a lazy charm or lounging lazily against the wall.  For a British romance reader that would be an attractive image, at least I’m guessing so, but for an American audience ‘lazy’ has negative connotations, ‘not an attractive quality’, the editor has said.  And so the learning continues…..     

Sunday, 7 October 2012