Crime and Plotting

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Checking the programme for ‘Alibis in the Archive’

I spent last weekend listening to authors and publishers extolling the virtues of a life of crime at an event held at Gladstone’s Library in Flintshire, along with eighty other interested people. In mainstream fiction, crime pays. We were told that it is the best selling genre. We even had a presentation on the various ways and means to poison someone. Luckily nowadays you are less likely to get away with it than you were in the nineteenth century when forensic science was an emerging discipline.

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The speaker’s platform in the library

I was particularly encouraged though to hear two successful writers admit that they don’t plot their novels ahead of time. These were Ann Cleeves, author of the Vera and Shetland detective novels, and Stella Duffy OBE who has crossed several genres with her books—notably crime and historical.

They were also impassioned presenters, speaking for forty minutes without notes, sharing anecdotes and insights into their thought processes with the audience.

Some members of the audience were astounded to discover that you can write a good crime story without knowing the ending at the start. Ann Cleeves said that when she started writing the first Vera book, The Crow Trap, she didn’t even have the character in mind. She was three chapters into writing the story when someone opened a door and there was Vera.

Stella Duffy is currently working on finishing a Ngaio Marsh novel, Money in the Morgue. Marsh left three and a half chapters and some notes—however with nothing to indicate whodunit or even the names of a lot of the characters. This sounds a rather daunting task but having seen Stella speak, I am sure she is up to the challenge.

I can’t compare myself to either of the above-mentioned authors, but this is very much how my stories develop. Sometimes the direction a story takes comes as a complete surprise.

For example, when I started writing the second book in the Starling Hill Trilogy, Arc Over Time, this scene in Chapter Two came out of nowhere and put a whole different spin on how Jasmine Pepper’s character was going to develop.

Just walking up the road to Max’s house was a thrill. This was a part of London she could only dream about living in. Her parents had helped her pay the deposit on her small garden flat in Stoke Newington and she was still paying off the mortgage ten years later.

She stopped outside the large white Georgian house, the engorged purple flowers of the climbing wisteria vine hanging lusciously over the front door. Taking a deep breath, Jas lifted the brass knocker but the door opened before it fell back in place.

“Ms. Pepper. Please come in.” The speaker was dressed in a maid’s outfit, although a more risqué version than any worn by those employed at nearby royal palaces. When the maid turned to lead her down the hall, Jas got a view of the young woman’s bare cheeks. She swallowed nervously. What was she letting herself in for?

Max was leaning against the fireplace in the large sitting room where the scantily-clad maid had taken her. The sight of her hostess looking imposingly handsome dressed in a close-fitting tuxedo dispelled her misgivings. Whatever this evening was leading to, it was likely to be more fun than a lonely night in front of the telly watching repeats of Rizzoli & Isles.

Interesting what happens when a door opens.

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Gladstone’s Library

It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend and I can recommend a visit to Gladstone’s Library. I will certainly be keeping an eye on their yearly programme of events as a return visit is definitely on the cards sometime in the not too distant future.


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Buying Links:

Running From Love: Affinity Rainbow Publications / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Christmas at WinterbourneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK /Barnes & Noble /Bella Books / Smashwords /Apple iTunes

Christmas at Winterbourne is in print…available on Amazon: Amazon UK / Amazon US


 

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Stepping back in time

It does feel like going back in time, stepping onto the site at Vindolanda or any of the fort sites available to view on Hadrian’s Wall. Tomorrow I will be there again as I mentioned in last week’s blog.

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Seeing this photo brings to mind thoughts of my first three published novels, now known as the Starling Hill Trilogy. I really hadn’t expected to write a trilogy. Starting Over, my debut novel, was complete in itself. But when I thought about what to write next, it was clear to me that there was more to explore… particularly in the development of the budding relationship between Professor Kathryn Moss and the journalist, Denise Sullivan.

They didn’t get off to the best of starts in the first book, and although they both claimed they were fine with a long distance relationship, when I started writing the second book it was obvious that wasn’t an arrangement Den was going to be happy with for much longer.

I’ve been told that the second book, Arc Over Time, hasn’t proved to be as popular as the first book because readers didn’t like Kathryn. I’m sorry about that, not because I desperately crave more sales, but because I have a soft spot for her. She’s not the easiest person to get along with and she doesn’t even have the only child excuse for not having learned at an early age how to socialise. Archaeology was a good career choice for her, dealing with the detritus left behind by people who lived thousands of years ago.

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It was after I had taken part in my first dig at Vindolanda that I wrote this for inclusion in the story, to give some explanation as to why Kathryn did choose her profession:

Deciding to use her free Sunday for a busman’s holiday, she had made the hour-long journey from her hotel to visit some of her favourite archaeological sites. From Vercovicium it was only a mile or so to Vindolanda. The ongoing excavations there were always fascinating as each year they uncovered more artefacts from the second and third centuries and incredibly, more of the writing tablets that had given historians valuable insights into the everyday lives of the soldiers and their families here on the furthest frontier of the Roman empire.

Walking amongst the ruins she was reminded of the many Sundays during her childhood spent roaming the moors above Sheffield with her father, often venturing into the Peak District. Her first sight of a stone circle had inflamed her imagination and she was hooked then. Luckily her father shared her passion for the early history of the British Isles. She had moved through the ages and finally settled on the Roman period as her favourite. When it came to choosing a future path, it was archaeology that beckoned.

Later on, in the third book, Carved in Stone, Kathryn and Den’s relationship is still in a state of flux. Den proposed to Kathryn at the end of Arc Over Time and in book three she moves to Durham to live with her. It’s a period of adjustment for both of them and at one point Kathryn attempts to explain her unease with the situation:

They stood facing each other. As usual, Den was finding it hard to gauge Kathryn’s mood. The professor broke the silence after a few minutes.

“Den. I’m sorry. This marriage thing. It’s going to take me some time to get used to the idea. I just never thought this was something I would have to even consider. I always thought it was one of the bonuses of being a lesbian. And now, just because we can, it doesn’t mean we have to. Lots of straight couples just live together…”

“I know. I never thought about getting married before either. When it wasn’t an option, I didn’t think it was important.”

“What’s changed?”

“I’ve met someone I want to spend the rest of my life with, and I want people to know. To show the world that our relationship is just as valid as anyone else’s.”

Kathryn twisted the ring off her finger. “I want to be with you, Den. But we both know I’m not ready for this step. Take this and ask me again at Christmas, if you still want to by then, that is.”

Den tucked the ring away to an inside pocket of her jacket. She pulled Kathryn close and whispered, “I will always want you.” Their lips met and Den was overwhelmed by the intensity of Kathryn’s response, her teeth opening to accept her tongue.

I enjoyed writing the second and third books of the trilogy, and I hope in time, they may appeal to a wider audience.

Meanwhile, it’s back to digging into the past for the next two weeks.

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Buying options for ebooks:

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Christmas at WinterbourneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK /Barnes & Noble /Bella Books / Smashwords /Apple iTunes

Christmas at Winterbourne is in print…available on Amazon: Amazon UK / Amazon US


 

The Vera Effect

There comes a point in the books I’ve written so far, which I’ve named “the Vera effect” after the detective in the TV series set in Northumberland.

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DCI Vera Stanhope (photo credit)

In most episodes, Vera and her sergeant will have spent three quarters of the allotted two hours talking to various people and trying to make connections that will lead them to the killer. Eventually she tells her team to gather round in their very nicely appointed squad room. They sit on the couch and stare at the crime board they’ve built up during the case and Vera will say: “What are we missing here?”

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Crime board (photo credit)

Very often it is a minor detail that they missed early on. One of the detectives will make a comment that seems insignificant or off the wall, and it switches on the light bulb. Vera and her sidekick (it was Joe, now it’s Aiden) charge off to apprehend the right person, finally—usually in the last five minutes.

So, I find this relates to my writing. I’ve set up the situation, the characters and their backgrounds and have gotten a fair way along in the story when it hits me. What am I missing here?

It’s time then to step back and look at the whole picture. This means re-reading what I’ve written so far, checking through any notes I’ve made. And then something will stand out. When I was almost at the finish line with my first novel, Starting Over, I made a discovery that led to writing a sequel, and then a third book to complete the trilogy.

I could keep you all guessing and when there was only the one book this would have been a spoiler. But as anyone can now read the back of the book blurbs and look at the cover of book three, the revelation is out there. (But if you really don’t want to know, stop reading now!)

When two complete skeletons are discovered on Starling Hill Farm in Starting Over along with a lot of quality bling, I decided that my archaeologist, Dr Kathryn Moss, had made the discovery that would be the envy of anyone involved in searching for British antiquities. One of these set of bones had to belong to Cartimandua, leader of the Brigantes tribe at the time when the Romans came back for a second go at adding Britain to its empire. (Her final resting place hasn’t been discovered, so I was able to take some historical liberties here.)

Not a lot has been written about Cartimandua. However, Roman historians, writing a century or so later, clearly had a way of keeping their readers interested. One of the things they do say about the queen of the Brigantes wouldn’t be out of place in a modern soap opera. She, apparently, had an affair with her husband’s armour bearer, Vellocatus. So, it seemed to me, that when she disappears from historical record, she could have gone somewhere with her lover. And then came the light bulb moment. Why couldn’t Vellocatus be a woman?

I’m sure it would have been very difficult to pass as a man in the first century, particularly amongst Britons who had adopted Roman habits, such as communal bathing and bathrooms. However, I’m writing romantic fiction, so I didn’t feel it was necessary to worry about such details.

So, if you like the idea of a lesbian tribal leader in the 1st Century, take a trip into the hills above Huddersfield, West Yorkshire…and read all about it in The Starling Hill Trilogy.


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Buying options for ebooks:

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books /Smashwords Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Christmas at WinterbourneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK /Barnes & Noble /Bella Books / Smashwords /Apple iTunes

Christmas at Winterbourne is in print…available on Amazon: Amazon UK / Amazon US


 

Working in magic

Vindolanda is a magical place—a site occupied by the Romans over several centuries. Evidence from the ongoing archaeological digs suggests that it was in use before Hadrian’s Wall was built.

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First view of Vindolanda approaching from the east

This was my third year of taking part in a volunteer session and each time, even though it is ten days of unaccustomed physical work, I am always reluctant to leave.

It is such a privilege to be part of the excavation team. Scraping away at the soil with a small trowel, uncovering pieces of pottery and animal bones, nails, boot studs—and if we’re lucky, a coin or a ring—it is a thrill to think that these objects have lain undisturbed for almost two thousand years.

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I was working in the fort, known to be the last stone fort built on the site, as I have done for the last three years. Hard to believe that four years ago it was a grass-covered field. Layer upon layer has been removed to provide the archaeologists with a growing portfolio of evidence of how life was lived in the fourth, third and second centuries.

A large part of the fort was a barracks for the cavalry and the soldiers would have slept with their horses. On the second day, I was working in the decurian’s house. His position entitled him to more luxurious quarters that even included a section of under floor heating.

Visitors often stop by the fence to watch the excavation in progress, usually to call out—‘have you found anything?’ The more knowledgeable ones add—‘of interest?’ I didn’t mind the questions as they afforded a chance to get up off my knees for a few minutes to explain what we were doing. One of the visitors made me laugh when she said the kneepads I had placed on top of a wall section looked like a large bra. I told her they were useful for when I needed to lie down to excavate.

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Kneepads

Along with the team of diggers there’s a post-excavation crew who work tirelessly cleaning and cataloguing the daily finds.

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Some finds – before cleaning

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Some finds – after cleaning

Excavating the fort is relatively clean work compared to working in the vicus, the civilian settlement. The moist conditions here help preserve the artefacts. This year alone, over 400 shoes have been taken out of one ditch. But extracting these requires painstaking sifting through each barrow load of claggy mud. Dog and cat bones were also found—no human remains as yet.

Volunteers and visitors come from all over—Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada, Europe, and all parts of the UK. Volunteers’ ages for this particular session ranged from 19 to 79. It is a fantastic experience, not just the digging, but also spending time with people who share the same enthusiasm for this period of history—being able to see it, feel it, touch it.

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A misty morning in the fort

I didn’t know that the excavation bug would take hold during my first dig session in 2014. The main reason for going was to undertake research for my debut novel, Starting Over. The sequel to this book, Arc Over Time, was released during my second visit in 2015. I told one of my trench-mates about my writing and he promptly downloaded Starting Over when he got back to where he was staying. This year I felt more comfortable telling anyone who asked that I wrote lesbian fiction when I wasn’t excavating. Although I don’t expect a massive upswing in sales, it did feel good to be able to talk about it and I was encouraged by the positive responses.

This magical place continues to linger in my memory until the next time I visit and I hope I will be able to do so for many years to come as more secrets of the past are revealed with each layer of soil removed.

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Chesterholm – part of the gardens behind the museum

Detailed information about the extraordinary work carried out at Vindolanda is available on the website and blog. And if you’re in the area, it’s worth taking the time to walk around the site and visit the museum.


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Book links:

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/ Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Relationships and dreaming bones

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The trilogy is here!

I was asked to describe my books using only one word in the Q&A for my author profile on the Lesbian Review website.

The word I chose after much deliberation, and consultation with my wife, was: relationships.

Not a terribly sexy word but it covers a lot of territory.

The characters in the books go through different phases of relationship. In Starting Over, Ellie and Robin are struggling to maintain their long-term one. For a large part of Arc Over Time, Denise is trying to get Kathryn to commit to a relationship, not willing to suffer through a continually frustrating LDR. And Jasmine discovers something about herself that leads to happiness. In Carved in Stone, Jo finds a love interest whose lifestyle is pretty much the opposite of her own wandering one.

Some readers have commented that they don’t think Robin and Ellie are a good match and don’t hold out much hope for Kathryn and Den to succeed in their relationship either. But, as in real life, what do we know about other people’s relationships? We’ve all met couples where we’ve thought – ‘how on earth did they get together?’ – or – ‘what does she see in her?’ We make judgments all the time that generally turn out to be wrong. And that is the joy of both reading and writing. We can get inside people’s heads and in the process some things will resonate about our own relationships, both good and bad.

 

Bones can dream

This almost became the title of Carved in Stone because of the character who isn’t there but who pervades the imaginations and subsequently, the actions, of the other characters.

In Starting Over the bones of a long dead historical figure are discovered at Starling Hill farm. They turn out to be the bones of Cartimandua who was the chief of the Brigantes tribe in Britain when the Romans turned up in force in AD43. I hesitate to use the title ‘Queen’ because I doubt that was a title bestowed on her by the tribe. It was used by the Roman historians who wrote about the period much later. We have no written records of this time in Britain. However, for the sake of not having to ascribe other words to denote her leadership, she is generally referred to as Queen Cartimandua.

Archaeologists in this country would love to be the discoverers of Cartimandua’s final resting place. No one knows where she went once her reign ended.

In these stories, and particularly Carved in Stone, Cartimandua becomes another presence. It is her influence on their lives that brings all the characters together one way or another.

This is fiction, of course. But I hope that one day Cartimandua’s actual bones will be found to give archaeologists the chance to piece together her life and what happened to her in those final days.

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Digging at Vindolanda – finding mostly cow bones!


Book links:

Starting Over: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Arc Over Time: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Carved in Stone: Amazon US / Amazon UK

(All three books are available on Kindle Unlimited for the next 3 months)

 

 

 

Writing a weekly blog

I’m not very good at this. You would think it would be easy, being a writer and all. But actually, it’s really hard. Almost as hard as writing a synopsis for a novel or the back of the book blurb (I’m thankful to have a publisher who helps me out with that!).

The synopsis though, I have to write myself. After all, this could be the deciding factor in whether or not the publisher is willing to take a look at the novel. What’s so hard about it? You’ve just written a novel of 60,000 plus words and you can’t come up with a 400-word description of what it’s about?

I’ve seen various bits of advice about how to do this. One absolutely brilliant idea is to write a synopsis before you write the book. But that pre-supposes the concept that I will know what I’m going to write before I write it.

You can gather from this statement that I’m not a great plotter. My stories start with a few characters, a location, a situation…and go from there.

Pretty much like this blog. I started with the title and started writing.

Some people write fantastic blogs. I look forward to reading these. Fellow Affinity author, Annette Mori is particularly good at writing about her life, adding in funny memes and photos. I feel rather inferior by comparison.

(Stop reading this and head over to Annette’s blog. She may even have some cute kitten pictures to share as well.)

So, surprise, surprise! I’m going to fall back on promoting my next book. This is called Carved in Stone and it’s the third book of a trilogy (good that…trilogies come in threes, don’t they?).

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Up front and personal – Queen Cartimandua and her lover get top billing!

My publisher had some reservations about publishing this. Book I sold well, Book II not so well, so why should they take a chance on the third? Especially as I no doubt submitted a crap synopsis.

Well, I’m pleased to say they did decide to go with it and the first two books are being re-released along with the third one on 5 February. They will all be available on Kindle Unlimited…so if you’re a subscriber, get in there!

What’s the book about? Now you’re asking. When I pitched the idea to them, it went like this:

The title is Carved in Stone. If you’ve read Arc Over Time you’ll know these are the last three words in the book. CiS starts immediately after the end of Arc. Jo has been left at the farm to look after the chickens and the cats while Robin and Ellie are at the Cartimandua exhibition in London. Awake in the night and hearing strange noises, she finally phones 999. One officer shows up to check things out and she becomes Jo’s love interest in the story. Interesting for Jo, as with her travelling lifestyle she’s never had a girlfriend with a proper job.

Meanwhile, Robin’s concerned about Ellie, who ever since seeing the reconstructed head of Cartimandua at the exhibition, has been ‘talking’ to her. Ellie says that the queen wants a proper re-burial with a monument. When it’s pointed out to her that this will cost a lot of money, the queen says that’s not an issue as there is a hoard of coins buried at the farm. (Venturing into the paranormal here!)

Kathryn and Den have their problems as well. Den realizes that Kathryn’s not ready for engagement, let alone marriage. Den huffs off to London and while she’s away Kathryn adopts an abandoned kitten (and the ice queen starts to melt, a little).

Robin decides to support Ellie’s conviction that she’s communicating with the long dead queen, and makes an effort to find the hidden hoard. She also hatches a cunning plan to get Den and Kathryn back together.

Max Fleetwood comes into it briefly as she attempts to reclaim Jasmine. So Steph and Jas go on a road trip up north – visiting both the farm and Durham.

And throughout all this, Jo and Ash (the police officer) are tentatively finding their way to love.

Carved in Stone has romance, adventure, a treasure hunt, and happy endings for all.

Some of this rambling made it into the back of the book blurb – see earlier note about how bad I am at writing these.

I don’t have a reservoir of cute kitten photos to fall back on, so this will have to do. She is the inspiration for the kitten in the story and was found on the doorstep shivering from the rain. (Unfortunately we couldn’t keep her because we’re both highly allergic. But we found her a good home…couldn’t leave you without a happy ending!)

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We named her ‘Piddles’ because she had no control – but I’m sure her new family renamed her.

5 February 2016 – make a note – Starting Over, Arc Over Time, Carved in Stone – all available from Amazon and on Kindle Unlimited too!

Long nights and new covers

The nights are getting shorter, but slowly it seems. I always think that January feels like the longest month. There’s the come down after Christmas and New Year festivities, the weather is dismal and we’re still getting up in the dark and going to bed in the dark. Spring and summer are distant memories (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway).

I don’t think I would diagnose myself as a SAD person suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (no surprise that the support organisation is based in the UK). But I do find myself looking forward to brighter days…and a holiday in Tenerife.

And I really don’t have anything to be sad about. I enjoyed a wonderful Christmas break with my wife and friends who we meet up with every year. Our home has survived the floods that have devastated homes and businesses in the area where we live. And I have two novels being published in February and March.

A happy dance is in order, I think.

The first book, due out on February 14, is the third and final installment of the Starling Hill Trilogy. As I have mentioned before I didn’t set out to write a trilogy. My first published novel, Starting Over, had a definite ending. Or so I thought at the time. But there were two characters in particular whose stories weren’t quite finished. Arc Over Time developed their relationship and it could all have ended with that book. But, no, someone else in the story felt they needed a resolution.

It was a matter of ‘if these bones could talk’…and talk they did. While I was mulling over this idea, there were discussions going on about where Richard III should be reburied. The discovery of his bones under a car park in Leicester was a media sensation, not just in the UK, but also around the world.

My royal personage, whose bones were uncovered in Starting Over and put on display at the British Museum in Arc Over Time, wanted a reburial as well. (As one of the characters in the story remarks – “Has she been watching the news?”)

Carved in Stone brings all this to the fore, along with further developments in the lives of the living characters.

All three books are being released on 14 February (re-releases of the first two) under the banner of ‘The Starling Hill Trilogy’. As Starling Hill is the name of the farm where it all started, it seemed an appropriate title for the series.

So, here it is – the big cover reveal – of not just one, but two books…the new one, Carved in Stone and Arc Over Time, which has had a makeover. (I like to think it’s a Hogwarts-type picture – one character has wandered off and another taken her place.)


 

Publications:

Arc Over Time – available from Affinity eBook Press /Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Bella Books / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / iTunes

Starting Over – available from Affinity eBook Press / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / iTunes.

Short Stories

There Was a Time and The Christmas Sweepstake – both available FREE on the Affinity website

Plans for 2016…or no plans?


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Some writers are very disciplined and actually have a proper plan of what they are going to achieve each year.

My writing career has so far been of a more organic nature. In other words, I’m making it up as I go along.

I started along the path of being a published author in the middle of 2014 when Affinity accepted my manuscript for Starting Over. (How we got to this point is pretty well described in this first guest blog I did for Women & Words).

Suddenly I found that it wasn’t just about writing. Along with the publishing process of editing and making decisions on cover artwork – there was also the job of keeping up with Facebook posts, writing blogs, and generally trying to make a name for myself.

So for most of 2014 and all of 2015, I didn’t have a plan at all. Things happened. I knew that I would be attending the GCLS Conference and as well as doing a reading there, I had volunteered to be on two panels. These were firsts for me.

An invitation to be part of the inaugural Lesbian Authors Festival at a venue closer to home was unexpected. The Hideaway Café in Urmston (Manchester, UK) provided an excellent opportunity for seven authors to read, answer questions and sell a few books. (Plus they had awesome cakes!)

Having a hysterectomy wasn’t part of any plan and I only discovered that I needed to have one a few days after the Hideaway Café event. Luckily the operation went well and I’m now on the road to recovery (and, no, I won’t be posting photos of my scar – although it is very neat).

To help with promotion, as well as participating in author Q&A sessions on Facebook, I’ve done guest blogs on the Women and Words and UK Lesfic sites and taken part in several online interviews, including a podcast. I would like to thank the interviewers for their time and effort: Lynn Lawler, Fiona McVie and Clare Lydon. (Links to the blogs and interviews are on the ‘Guest Appearances’ page.)

2016 promises to be another busy year. I have two books, possibly three due for publication. The first of these is Book 3 of the Starling Hill Trilogy. Carved in Stone completes the journey undertaken in Starting Over and Arc Over Time. Book 3 is being released on Valentine’s Day – so make a note in your new diaries – 14 February 2016. Although each book can be read as a standalone, I think readers will enjoy the story more if they read all three (well, I would think that, wouldn’t I?).

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Christmas promo for Books 1 and 2 of The Starling Hill Trilogy

Another book, due out in March, is a completely new story with different characters and is called The Circle Dance. No archaeology in this one, but there is a nod or two to the surfeit of stone circles in the UK. You don’t have to go far to find one here. Not all as magnificent as Stonehenge, but compelling evidence of an ancient culture’s communication network. That’s one theory, anyway. The circles are thought to be the sites of ritualistic gatherings – I prefer to think of them as precursors to the modern pub and that maybe the people who met at these places just sat around and told each other stories. (A lot of people are out celebrating the winter solstice at Stonehenge today.)

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Met Office photo of Stonehenge

A third novel due for publication in 2016, title to be confirmed, is scheduled for later in the year as it has a Christmas theme.

So, there will be more promoting to do for each of these books. So far the only event I’m planning to attend is the GCLS Conference in Washington, DC. I’m looking forward to meeting up with many of the people I met in New Orleans as well as meeting those I didn’t have a chance (or time) to talk to then.

Will 2016 be any different in terms of planning? I somehow doubt it. I will continue to make it up as I go along. Having to undergo a major operation, the timing of which coincided with the terribly sad and sudden passing of Sandra Moran, has left me with the notion that I can only take each day as it comes. And to appreciate each day fully – which is easy to forget in the midst of everyday occurrences.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday, however you celebrate at this time of year…I wish there was more peace and love in the world, but perhaps we can all just do our bit wherever we are and hope it spreads.

 


 

Publications:

Arc Over Time – available from Affinity eBook Press /Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Bella Books / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / iTunes

Starting Over – available from Affinity eBook Press / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / iTunes.

Short Stories

There Was a Time and The Christmas Sweepstake – both available FREE on the Affinity website

Talking about writing

How easy is it to sit down in front of a blank page and start writing?

Bernard Cornwell was asked this question in a recent interview and his response was simply: “It’s not hard — you just write the first f**king sentence and go from there.”

Some days it works this way, other days it is a struggle and you wonder if the words are going to come…and how many cups of coffee will need to be consumed. Or maybe a glass of beer, once the pirate ship’s gone past (see Note below).

Boats on Windermere

My main writing tool for the last two years has been Scrivener. The books I have written during this time have had a large number of characters but I’ve limited myself to six or seven points of view. Scrivener is particularly useful for me as the writer to keep the characters separate, and hopefully this helps readers as well when they see the finished product.

This is what the binder on one of my Scrivener files looks like, listing Chapter scenes from Carved in Stone (due out early next year).

Scrivener binder list

A recent blog by Jordan Redhawk gave some very useful advice on using a colour-code to easily identify scenes. I think that’s a great idea that I may employ in future manuscripts but so far just using the character’s names has worked.

With Scrivener I can also add Character Sketches, which is great if I’ve forgotten what hair or eye colour one of the characters has and saves having to scrabble through scraps of paper or a tattered notebook. That was my method BS (Before Scrivener).

This doesn’t mean I never handwrite anything. I do still have notebooks with bits of information, things that come to mind at odd moments, bits of research, and sketches for future scenes. Sometimes even a bit of planning ahead (what a novel idea!). Just a line or two can be all I need to spark the idea for a scene. The notes on this page are for the early chapters of Arc Over Time.

Notebook page

Sitting down in front of a blank page – it’s not always easy. But when the words come it is immensely satisfying to read it back the next day and realise you have achieved something. That you have, perhaps, moved the story on or created space for another plot development. This is the way I write, chaotic at times, but in the end, with the help of Scrivener, I can draw the threads together.

Well, I think the pirate ship went past some time ago. Cheers! Happy reading.

The pirate ship went past

  • Note: this is a reference to a holiday my wife and I took many years ago. We noticed that the pirate ship, a tourist excursion, sailed past the beach we were sunbathing on at the same time every day, about 11:00 in the morning. That was the cue for one of us to go to the bar. Ever since then, whenever we wonder if it’s time for a drink, we’ll say “it’s okay, the pirate ship’s gone past”.

Books:

Arc Over Time – available from Affinity eBook Press /Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Bella Books / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / iTunes

Starting Over – available from Affinity eBook Press / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / iTunes.

Short Stories

There Was a Time and The Christmas Sweepstake – both available FREE on the Affinity website

October thoughts – a lot of firsts

I love this time of year with the change of seasons, as the trees start to change colour and we sometimes have crisp clear days as in this (yet another canal photo) picture I took during my walk on the first day of October.

Willow tree on canal

A year has passed quickly with many personal milestones. On 1st October  2014, my debut novel was published. Along with the thrill of seeing my work in print, came a whole new set of things to worry about:

Would anyone buy my book?

Would readers like it?

Would reviewers like it?

The sales for Starting Over went well but I quickly got caught up in the newbie author habit of checking my Amazon ranking every day. I’ve now weaned myself off this – down to once a week. The book currently has 19 reviews on Amazon US and 11 on Amazon UK. I’m incredibly grateful to all who took the time to put reviews there and for the book to have a star rating of 4.8 and 4.4 respectively.

There were many ‘firsts’ for me during the months that followed publication. Having the book nominated in two Golden Crown Literary Award categories – Debut Author and Traditional Contemporary Romance; writing my first guest blogs for Women and Words and UK Lesfic websites with book giveaways, signing my first book, attending the GCLS Conference in New Orleans – meeting the Affinity team, including many of their other authors;  two public readings, one at GCLS and one nearer home in Manchester; and taking part in a radio-style interview with Clare Lydon (which has had at the time of posting this, 727 plays).

Author signing session at GCLS

My second book was published in May 2015 – Arc Over Time, a sequel to the first. Sales-wise it hasn’t been as successful as the first book, but all the reviewers and also readers who have contacted me via Facebook, have loved it. With a 4.8 star rating on both the US and UK Amazon sites, it seems to have hit the spot with those who have read it.

So, with the above questions answered, I have managed to keep writing – with two books scheduled to come out next year and the first draft of another book coming along nicely.

And I haven’t mentioned the two short stories that were published last year – another first was the publication of There Was A Time which came out a month before Starting Over, and then there was my contribution to the Affinity 2014 Christmas Collection – some fun in space with The Christmas Sweepstake –and possibly a third story coming up in the next Affinity anthology.

Along with these other firsts – the pleasure of seeing my book on the shelf of our local independent bookstore, The Book Case in Hebden Bridge. (And they’ve even sold a few copies!)

Book Case shelf

When I retired two years ago, I couldn’t have imagined any of this. I thought I would be spending most of my time playing golf, shooting arrows and going on holidays with my lovely wife. I am, just about, managing to fit these activities in as my writing life continues to expand. Retirement, it seems, it just another word for finally getting to do what I’ve always wanted to do – be a full time author.

I’ll keep writing – and I hope you will keep reading!


Books:

Arc Over Time – available from Affinity eBook Press /Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Bella Books / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / iTunes

Starting Over – available from Affinity eBook Press / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / iTunes.

Short Stories

There Was a Time and The Christmas Sweepstake – both available FREE on the Affinity website