Virtual Book Festival: Event 25 – Just Imagine – an article by author Claire Baldry #VirtBookFest #books #writing

Hello everyone! This is the 25th and penultimate event in the Put It In Writing Virtual Book Festival. And it’s my pleasure to welcome second-chance romance author Claire Baldry to the festival today. Claire is going to share her thoughts on the use of imagination in her writing.

So over to Claire:

Just Imagine….

I have always believed that imagination is the finest of all human qualities. It allows us to empathise with people in situations we have never experienced. If we let it, imagination has the power to improve our world and build new inventions. It has the potential to stop us hurting others, because we can envisage their potential pain. As writers, imagination allows us to combine pieces of our experiences together and create a whole new world.

So when people ask me ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ the only reply I can offer is:

“You never know what’s in your head, until you start pulling it out.”

Again and again, I hear authors explain that, however hard they plan their novels, the characters seem to take over and lead the storyline in all sorts of unexpected directions. And that is the same for me. Imagination is a powerful and mysterious tool.

The deeper I get into writing a book, the more likely it is that I will find myself talking to my imagined characters. So when I’m asked “Are your characters based on real people?” I always reply “Not one person, but bits of loads of people I’ve known, and some I’ve seen on TV or read about, and some who just seem to emerge.”

How does the power of imagination translate into writing? I’ve tried to unpack this a bit and take a look at some of the characters and the setting in my latest novel ‘My Daughter’s Wedding’. The bride, Charlotte, is very self-centred, inconsiderate towards her mother and partly formed by the indulgence of her father. But she is also a hard worker, a good mother, and still only twenty-four. Is she based on my own daughter? Certainly not, but there are occasional echoes of my own daughter in the most self-centred phase of her teenage years. And when Charlotte loses control of herself in an emotional and hurtful outburst, she can’t stop. That bit of Charlotte is me, admittedly not often, but it does happen.

The mother of the bride’s new man is also a mixture. His perceptions as a teacher are definitely mine, but his humour comes from my husband whose wit is always sharpest in the company of women.

The looked after child, Carly, is partly based on pupils and families I encountered as a teacher, but I also drew on a variety of second-hand experiences told to me or watched on TV to enable me to enter the head of the abuser with whom Carly has a relationship.

I hope I have been successful in creating these characters. Blogger, Linda Hill was kind enough to observe……

Claire Baldry has created a cast of people who felt real, flawed and authentic.” (Linda’s Book Bag)

And yet I have chosen to take these fictional characters and place at least some of them in my own hometown of Bexhill in East Sussex. The setting is real. It was a pleasure to weave my imagined characters into such familiar places. I hoped that asking my readers to use their imagination was a good way to promote my coastal hometown, which relies on visitors as part of its economy.

Blogger Anne Williams described the benefit of the setting.

And I must mention another element of the story I loved, its vivid sense of place. Bexhill, Hastings and their surroundings are unknown territory for me, but I felt like I’d had a rather lovely holiday – the descriptions are just wonderful, the restaurants and the markets, the geography and the attractions, the detail drawn with care but never intruding, just enhancing the backdrop for the story.” (Being Anne)

I would like to write a sequel to ‘My Daughter’s Wedding’, to develop the lives and personalities of some of the characters into a whole new story. As yet, I have no inspiration, but if I keep delving into my head, hopefully my imagination will eventually pull something out.

With grateful thanks to Anne Stormont for allowing me to share my thoughts as part of her Virtual Book Festival.

Anne: And thank you to you too, Claire for this fascinating insight into how you use a mix of imagination and reality – to excellent effect – in your writing.

And now we have an extract from Claire’s above-mentioned book :

 

My Daughter’s Wedding

From the Back Cover:

When ‘bride to be’ and single parent, Charlotte, discovers that her 61-year-old widowed mother is in a new relationship, she struggles to come to terms with it. “Why do you need to have a man, at your age?” Charlotte asks, “Can’t you just be a grandma?”

The growing tension between mother and daughter combined with preparations for the wedding impact on both family and friends. In this compelling and unashamedly romantic tale of finding love in later life, the experience of a young care-leaver who is tasked with making the wedding bouquet, is skilfully intertwined with the family’s – sometimes turbulent– preparations for a modern wedding.

 

CHAPTER ONE

Monday Lunch

Angie was fastening her jacket when the phone rang. “Mum, it’s me. I need a favour.”

“Ask quickly then. I’ve got my jacket on. I was on my way out.”

“Why on earth are you wearing a jacket? It’s boiling out there.” Angie was irritated by her daughter’s increasing habit of treating her like a child.

“It’s breezy on Bexhill seafront. What do you want, Charlotte? I’m in a hurry.”

“Can you pick Joe up from school on Wednesday? His dad’s let me down again.”

“No, I’m sorry Charlotte, I can’t. It’s Uncle Jack’s funeral on Wednesday.”

Angie could hear daughter’s annoyance. “I still don’t see why you have to go. You didn’t like him.”

“I’m the only one left now on Grandpa’s side. I’m going to represent the family.”

“Uncle Jack won’t know you’re there.”

“I’m just doing what I believe is right. Sorry about Joe, but you’ll have to find someone else. Charlotte, I have to go.” Angie put down the phone. She grabbed her bag and stepped out of her flat and onto the wide landing. She deliberately walked past the lift and descended the four flights of stairs.

“I am not yet old,” she told herself, “I have a right to my own life.” The July sun was strong. Angie began to feel hot as she hurried along the promenade. She was pleased Charlotte wasn’t watching as she removed her jacket. By the time she reached the little Thai restaurant, her friend Alison was already seated at a table. Alison waved an empty glass at Angie.

“Wine? You look flustered.”

“I am flustered, and yes please. Well done for remembering to bring the bottle.” The restaurant wasn’t licensed, so the two friends took it in turns to bring wine to their weekly lunch.

“Let me guess, it’s Charlotte.”

Angie let out an exaggerated sigh. “She talks down to me as if I’m senile. And she forgets I have a right to a life of my own. I’m her mother, not her servant.”

 

Want to read more? You can buy a copy of the book here

 

About Claire:

Former headteacher and English Advisor, Claire Baldry, lives on the East Sussex coast with her husband Chris. She has published five booklets of amusing poetry, an autobiographical novella and two novels. Claire has a very regular schedule of engagements as a speaker and light-hearted performance poet. She regularly fundraises for charity, and Claire and her husband were awarded the SE Diabetes UK fundraising Inspire Award in 2017. Claire is passionate about promoting books and poetry with protagonists and issues which appeal to readers in mid-life and beyond. She is the creator of the ‘Books for Older Readers’ website and has won two awards for her poetry from the Silver Surfers website.

You can connect online with Claire at the links below:

Website

Facebook

 

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 20 – Historical Novelist Anne Stenhouse @anne_stenhouse #VirtBookFest #writing #historicalfiction #books

Hello and thank you for visiting the Virtual Book Festival. Today it’s my pleasure to welcome historical novelist, Anne Stenhouse. Anne is going to tell us about her route into writing novels, why she chose to write historical fiction and how this has developed.

Q. What do you write?

A. Dialogue rich Scottish Regency with a touch of humour

People will ask ‘What do you write?’ and I normally answer historical romance, although I do write contemporary stories, too. And at heart, I’m a playwright. Prose writing took me some time to master even with the assistance of the wonderful editor, Judy Roth, then at publisher MuseItUp and now freelance http://www.judy-roth.com/. What was the attraction of the historical genre in the first place?

 

QUALIFICATIONS AND INFLUENCES

Drama and the written word crafted to be spoken, remain my favourite forms of communication. I think in conversations. Any incident replays in my head with different nuances. But, and it’s a biggy, drama only exists once it is performed. Performing drama needs actors, directors, stage crew, venues…

Or, put at its bald reality, money.

After a few years of minor successes and a spell as a Playwright in Residence with Theatre Broad of Stirling, it became clear that I wasn’t going to attract the thousands of pounds needed to make a Fringe breakthrough production. So, how to use the hard-won knowledge of what makes a scene dramatic and what makes conversations sound real?

Georgette Heyer has a lot to answer for. Many historical romance writers credit Heyer with their initial interest and ongoing love of the classic Regency novel.

I’m no exception.

We do have other mentors such as Jane Austen, but Heyer’s eye for the absurd and ear for Regency cant (slang) are a potent and captivating combination. She also uses a lot of dialogue.

In addition, I began at university taking enough papers in both English and History to enable me to choose Honours in either when the time came. I opted for English and American Literature and haven’t ever regretted that choice, but it does mean I have a grounding in British and European History which is useful for the author interested in writing a historical.

So, those were my qualifications and influences. Coupled with a desire to entertain and amuse, the choice was easily made.

 

PERIOD AND THE ROMANTIC ARENA

Having settled on historicals, what would my period be and what would the focus of my romance be?

The period was an interesting conundrum as I sometimes set my work into the 1820s and, therefore, just out of the Regency period. The Western world at that time was changing rapidly in the wake of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. Rapid industrialisation was fuelling discontent of the non-establishment male. Entrenched legal idiocies fuelled discontent of all females.

I’m not an issues’ writer. My job is to entertain. But, I hope I’m not an irresponsible writer. I try very, very hard to get into what must/might have been the mindset of my heroines. I do try to show my heroines dealing with their problems in the way they would most likely have had to do in their period.

Readers who haven’t read much history may be surprised by some of the restrictions that held sway in Nineteenth century times.

No, a woman could not vote, attend university classes, keep her children after a divorce, keep her property after marriage…

If I leave my readers pondering how close to all of that we remain, then I’m happy. If they go on to reflect that in many parts of today’s world women still face such restrictions, then I’m even happier.

But, as I’m not an issues’ writer,  where do I find that holy grail of writers, the CONFLICT and its resolution, the ROMANCE?

I find it in the age-old Battle of the Sexes. We start early, if we have brothers or boy cousins, and we progress through mixed school classes. In the early nineteenth century, of course, while brothers and cousins were facts of life, mixed classes were harder to come by.

This is an opportunity for the romantic novelist because there are so many, and so patently ludicrous, stereotypes to work with. From the woman who thinks all men eat most of a sheep for breakfast to the man who thinks no woman ever eats, the material is endless.

Did I mention how I like a fair dollop of humour in my work? I do write to bring out the ridiculous and help people recognise it. My first published hero, Tobias, is taken aback to discover Miss Mariah Fox would rather teach urchin children than become his Countess. However, he’s a man and he’s got her in his sights so he tricks her into a little delicious scandal and she’s in the bag. Along the way, he buys and sends her most of the cut-flowers available in London. There is a darker seam in Mariah’s Marriage, though, and through its resolution Tobias comes to realise he does love this woman.

 

THE SCOTTISH ANGLE

Bella’s Betrothal, which is featured below, opens in Dalkeith and features a lady escaping from a scandal which is life-changing rather than delicious. I was prompted to think of the Edinburgh setting when I discovered that there were Assembly Rooms in Haddington and Glasgow as well as Edinburgh. And there’s little anywhere to rival Edinburgh’s New Town. I find I like the microcosm. I enjoy the concerns of a small society which mimic those of the larger and I’m fascinated by the rise of the architect.

So, as well as Georgette Heyer, David Bryce has much to answer for. My hero in Bella’s Betrothal is of the smaller landed gentry, but he’s a rising architect in the manner of the eighteenth and nineteenth century greats like Bryce, the Adams’ family members and William Burn.

 

WHERE NEXT?

Last year I was commissioned to write an anniversary serial for People’s Friend magazine. It was set in 1869 and marked their 150th year of continuous publication. I enjoyed moving forward in time to the later years of the century and I enjoyed the wider canvas afforded by writing a story which, while it included two young married couples, was not essentially a romance. Walking around the New Town of Edinburgh, I do experience a shiver of recognition. There are many young ladies whose stories need to be told. I also had a fruitful discussion with an editor at this year’s Romantic Novelists’ Association conference and it was about a contemporary story. Writing is an ever-changing challenge.

Anne Stormont: Thank you so much Anne. That was a fascinating read – a great insight into what’s involved in producing a period novel. And all the best with the move into contemporary.

Below we have an extract from one of Anne’s novels. I’ll let her introduce it:

BELLA’S BETROTHAL was my second historical romance for  MuseItUp and it is set in Edinburgh just post Regency. I wrote this book during the only NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) event I’ve taken part in and it is full of the energy NaNo demands to produce 50,000 words in a month. Bella and Charles are among my favourites of all the characters I’ve created over a lot of writing years and their story plays out in Edinburgh which is the city of my heart.

 

From the back cover:

While she is travelling north to find sanctuary from the malicious gossip of the Ton, Lady Isabella Wormsley’s room in a Dalkeith inn is invaded by handsome Scottish Laird, Charles Lindsay. Charles has uncovered a plot to kidnap her, but Bella wonders if he isn’t a more dangerous threat, at least to her heart, than the villainous Graham Direlton he wrests her from. Bella settles into the household of her Aunt Hatty Menzies in Edinburgh’s nineteenth century George Square where Charles is a regular visitor. She has been exiled to the north by her unfeeling mama, but feels more betrayed by her papa to whom she has been close. Bella hopes the delivery of her young cousin’s baby will eventually demonstrate her own innocence in the scandal that drove her from home. Bella’s presence disrupts the lives of everyone connected to her. Direlton makes another attempt to kidnap her and in rescuing her a second time, Charles is compromised. Only a betrothal will save his business and Bella’s reputation. Mayhem, murder and long suppressed family secrets raise confusion and seemingly endless difficulties. Will the growing but unacknowledged love between Bella and her Scottish architect survive the evil Direlton engineers?

Extract:

“Lady Isabella, my name is Charles Lindsay. I am a neighbour of your uncle, Mack Menzies. Indeed he and I are distant cousins. My country property is in Strath Menzies.” He stood back from Bella’s chair and came around. She could see him in the flickering light of her candles and the few coals still burning in the grate.

He was a man of around thirty. He wore no jacket and his linen was smeared by muck from his climb across the roof. As he drew a hand over his chin, Bella watched the long fingers leave a trail of mud across the stubble there. His grey eyes, rather deep set, gleamed with intelligence and certainty. Yet how could she believe him? Hadn’t she been so sure Aubrey Daunton was genuine and hadn’t she been so very wrong?

“You doubt me, ma’am. Mrs. Menzies, the former Miss Hatty Lennox, has the same fiery mass of red curls that you…”

“Mr. Lindsay, if that is your name, these things you offer me as proof of your bona fides are all things anyone seeking to ingratiate himself with me could learn easily. If you are a friend of my uncle and aunt, then why not wait to be presented to me in their drawing room?” Bella snapped, although like him, she kept her voice low. She had no wish to be discovered with a man in her bedchamber, particularly one as personable as her visitor.

“Why not wait to be presented? Do I wish to know you, Lady Isabella? There are some who would say acquaintance with you must tarnish my name and reputation,” Lindsay said.

Bella rose up abruptly, and catching him by surprise, tipped him off balance. She grabbed the poker and swung it round hard against the back of his knee.

“You little hell-cat!” He groaned in pain, but caught Bella’s wrist with masterful ease as she drew the poker back for another swipe. “What did you think to achieve?”

“The removal of the self-satisfied affront that denies me any defence of my reputation.” Bella squirmed as his grip tightened around the fine bones of her wrist. She would have a ring of bruises showing through her pale skin on the morrow. How would she explain them to her aunt?

“In London I have been used to sticking a hat pin into the idlers and Beaus who trap me among Hatchard’s book shelves.” The memory of several unpleasant encounters nonetheless cheered her. There were one or two men who would now think again before acting on assumptions.

“But as you do not wear a hat to bed, you attack me with a poker,” Lindsay said, and she saw him suppress the smile it almost brought to his strong boned face. “I did not say I agreed with those who have condemned you, ma’am.”

“You do not have to say it, Mr. Lindsay. Your presence in my bedchamber tells me exactly what you think of me,” Bella retorted, and desolation flooded her. Would life never return to anything like the normality she had once known?

You can buy Bella’s Betrothal here

About Anne:

Anne Stenhouse has always been a story-teller. Her favourite form is the written word crafted to be spoken and Anne enjoyed the Debating Society at school. She much enjoyed writing one-act stage plays and loves the opportunity to write dialogue presented by writing prose fiction. Anne has been a civil servant, addictions’ worker, full-time wife and mum and hands on granny. She lives in Edinburgh where she is a member of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club and of Capital Writers. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

You can find Anne online at:

Novels Now blog https://goo.gl/h4DtKv

Facebook www.facebook.com/annestenhouseauthor

Twitter @anne_stenhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 19 – writing in life’s difficult times by Christine Webber @1chriswebber.com #VirtBookFest #writing #books

Welcome to event number 19 at the Virtual Book Festival.  Today I’m delighted to welcome former TV news presenter, agony aunt, psychotherapist and writer, Christine Webber, to the festival.

Christine is taking a look at how real life issues can sometimes hinder the writing process but she also acknowledges how it can help during times of great stress.

 

So, over to Christine:

 When Life Gets in the Way of Writing

We all know about displacement activities that keep us from our keyboards:

  • I need to watch this TV drama – for research purposes
  • I better do something about those windows, they’re filthy
  • Perhaps I should get dressed before switching on the laptop
  • I’ll think I’ll just rearrange my CD collection in alphabetical order…

As writers, we also know that books or articles don’t appear by magic. At some point, the distractions have to be junked and we have to put some words down – rather a lot of them – on paper or a screen. It’s hard, but we do it.

But what happens when it’s not just delaying tactics getting in the way of our masterpiece, but major life events?

I remember hearing Margaret Drabble say that when her children were small, she usually had a baby on her lap while she was writing and had to reach her arms out over the top of that infant so that she could bash away at her typewriter on the table in front of her.

Motherhood is still a big deal when it comes to writing. As is holding down a full-time job, which so many really good writers have to do in order to pay the bills.

Then there are life’s reverses – a parent has dementia, our heart is broken, a child is being bullied at school, we move house and think we’re losing our sanity… These are tough times, but one might argue that they provide some of our best material. And the strange thing is that during these periods, we may find that though we cannot concentrate well enough to read someone else’s book, we have a strange compulsion, and ability, to carry on writing our own.

My biggest challenge came when David, my husband of thirty years, became terminally ill. I wanted to continue writing as it felt like the only normal thing that was happening. But I also wanted to spend most of my time caring for him as it became apparent that he was going downhill more rapidly than any of his doctors had forecast.

During those months, I was writing my novel It’s Who We Are, which has five leading mid-life characters and three locations, including the west coast of Ireland where David and I had had so many wonderful holidays.

At the beginning of his illness, he was still managing to continue his own work as a medical columnist, so our routine was not too altered, though there were loads of hospital visits, and scans, and blood tests to fit in. But during that period, I got the bulk of my first draft written. And I found that, actually, you can be more episodic in your writing habits than usual, and still complete a manuscript.

But around late summer 2017, David had to give up his last regular writing job – a weekly column he had had for fifty years – and began to spend many more hours a day in bed.

This was when the challenges mounted up, and people who have been through this will know what I mean when I say that my brain felt overwhelmed and overloaded with arranging carers, doctors’ visits, endless medication, trying to find food that would appeal and not take too much effort to eat and – most importantly of all – spending hours just talking together and celebrating the wonderful past we had had as we jointly planned David’s remaining future and my life after that.

Somehow though, writing was a thread that held together during that time, not least because my lovely husband was as supportive as he had always been. And what I found was that when I had no capacity to produce new material, my mind was capable – and indeed really enjoyed – editing.

And of course, those of us who are indie writers have a host of other activities to tackle in order to produce a book, so when we can’t summon up our creative juices, we can perhaps sort out our marketing ideas, or start planning a blog tour, or finalise a cover.

Somehow, It’s Who We Are was finished, and it came out in mid-January 2018, by which time my husband was terribly ill. But I had dedicated it to him, as I had all my previous books, and I was able to sign his copy, and put it into his hands. It was a poignant moment.

Now, seventeen months after his death, I am writing another mid-life ensemble novel.

It will not surprise you to know that one of my three protagonists is newly widowed. And I am sure that in many ways, I’m processing my own loss by attributing it to a character. We writers are so lucky, aren’t we, to be able to do that?

 

Anne: We are indeed fortunate in that respect, Christine. Thank you so much for sharing your, at times, moving thoughts on the difficulties but also the rewards of being a writer.

And now we have and extract from Christine’s book It’s Who We Are. I’ll let Christine introduce it.

It’s Who We Are

This, without any doubt, is my absolute favourite out of all the fiction and non-fiction I’ve written over almost four decades. It’s a story about identity and change, and it reflects the turbulence so many of us experience in mid-life just when we had assumed we would feel stable and secure. The novel takes place in Norfolk, where all the main characters were born, as well as in London and the west coast of Ireland.

And the plot centres on how often the demise of parents can lead to us discovering family secrets that shock us to the core. The surprise in this book is beyond what the characters, or indeed any reader, could ever imagine. And poses the question: do you really know who you are?

This segment is from a chapter near the end of the book. Philip and Wendy didn’t know each other at the start of the novel but as it has developed, they have become very good friends and she has been a huge support to him after a bad accident. They are in a hotel after leaving a party for her, which has been hosted by the other main characters at a house in Norwich.

 The two of them are chatting in the lounge and discussing their evening, and Philip takes the opportunity to outline a new business project to her, which Wendy responds to enthusiastically.

 

His smile broadened. ‘I knew you’d understand and run with it. Is it any wonder that I really, really love you?’

‘Well, I love you too, Philip. You’re a great person and a wonderful friend.’

‘No, but I mean, I love you!’

Wendy wrinkled her nose in puzzlement.

‘Do you understand?’ He pressed her.

She continued to look bewildered for a moment, then she raised her eyebrows as she considered a new option. ‘Do you mean, like, in italics?’

His face creased into the grin that she had become so fond of. ‘Yes, exactly. Not just as in “I love this smoked salmon drizzled with lime juice”.’

‘Mmmn, but that sounds really good! So, you mean you love me more than that?’

‘I do, actually. And in a rather lustful way.’

‘Lustful! But I’m sixty in…’ she looked at her watch, ‘forty minutes. Surely not? Are you drunk?’

‘Not at all.’

‘But do you really mean what you’re saying?’

He nodded. ‘Totally.’

‘Gosh!’

‘Are you surprised?’

‘Flabbergasted. I mean, we’re the two who’re well aware we’re hopeless at sex, and even worse at relationships.’

‘Perhaps we could try to push that assumption into the past tense?’

Her eyes glinted with fun. ‘Do you mean what I think you mean?’

‘I imagine so.’

She giggled. ‘Well, I’m game to give it a go, if that doesn’t sound too impossibly romantic!’ Leaning towards him, she planted a tentative kiss on his cheek. ‘Your room or mine?’

‘You choose,’ he said.

‘OK, mine. Here’s your stick. Can you manage the stairs, or do we need the lift?’

‘Do you mind if we take the lift? Sorry, but I want to conserve my strength.’ He sighed as he rose to his feet. ‘Wendy, I’m hardly love’s young dream.’

‘I’m the one who’s about to be sixty! We’ll just do our best, shall we?’

‘I might have to experiment to find a position where my ribs or my leg don’t hurt, or my wrist doesn’t give way!’

She took his arm. ‘If you don’t shut up you’re going to talk yourself out of this, just when I’m getting keen on the idea!’

You can buy It’s Who We Are here

 

Connect with Christine online:

Christine can be found tweeting on a wide variety of subjects @1chriswebber

She is also active within various book groups on Facebook including Books for Older Readers, Book Connectors and The Alliance of Independent Authors where she is a partner member.

 About Christine: 

Christine Webber originally trained as an opera singer but had to re-think her career plans when her voice professor commented: ‘Your voice is ok, but your legs are very much better!’
Musical theatre beckoned. There was some success. But not much.
However, eventually, in 1978, she became a news presenter for Anglia TV. At last she had found something she enjoyed that other people thought she was good at. It was such a relief that she stayed for 12 very happy years.

Next, she became an agony aunt for various publications including TV Times, Best, Dare and BBC Parenting. She also wrote a column for the Scotsman and one for Woman called Sexplanations.

During her ‘problem page’ years, she trained as a psychotherapist and started a practice in Harley Street which she shared with her late husband, Dr David Delvin. That experience greatly informed much of her writing.

She has written 12 non-fiction books including How to Mend a Broken HeartGet the Happiness Habit and Too Young to Get Old, and has broadcast extensively over the decades on mental health and relationship issues.

In 2016, she embarked on a fresh career as a novelist and has now produced three titles: Who’d Have Thought It?,  It’s  Who We Are and a re-written version of her first book published in 1987, In Honour Bound.

Following the death of her husband, she’s returned to live in East Anglia because that’s where most of her good friends are. Forthcoming projects there include hosting an arts awards ceremony, judging the non-fiction section of the East Anglian Books Awards and a number of talks to women’s groups. She has also become a Trustee for a charity that provides mentors for offenders, to support them when they leave prison.

Further afield, she has become an occasional presenter and interviewer for the Royal Opera House Insights Programme and recently had the honour of interviewing Royal Ballet star Gary Avis and Britain’s best-loved baritone, Sir Bryn Terfel.

Next month, she is presenting and producing a series of video podcasts about staying as young as possible for as long as possible. And, having recorded the audio version of one of her own novels, she has now been approached to narrate a couple of others.

 

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 12 – Where are we going? Bringing Story Locations to Life with Crime Writer JJ Marsh #VirtBookFest #writing #books

Location, location, location

 Hello and thank you for coming along to event number twelve at the Virtual Book Festival. Estate agents put a huge amount of importance on location when it comes to selling houses – and for writers, too, getting the setting right can be crucial to a book’s success. Today it’s the turn of JJ Marsh author of the fabulous Beatrice Stubbs crime novels which are set in various locations around Europe and she’s brilliant at conveying the settings. So I’m delighted she’s going to share her thoughts on the use of location when writing fiction. And we also have an extract from her latest novel Honey Trap which is set in Italy.

Welcome, Jill – and over to you.

 The Little Differences

“You know what the funniest thing about Europe is? It’s the little differences.” (Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction)

Authors such as Monique Roffey (Trinidad), Stef Penny (Canada), Alexander McCall Smith (Botswana), Barbara Kingsolver (Mexico) and John Steinbeck (Monterey, California) have all transported me to places I’ve never seen but can vividly imagine, thanks to their descriptive skills.

Nothing makes me happier than when a reader tells me they’ve been transported to the location by one of my books. A sense of place is integral to my work and I consider the city, village or countryside to be a character in its own right and worthy of as much attention as any other.

Creating a sense of place requires a variety of elements: sensory detail, geographical, architectural and meteorological notes; observations on cultural habits and perhaps even upending some clichés. But the primary consideration must be perception.

 

Whose eyes?

Think about your last holiday. What did you notice, photograph and remember to tell your friends? I’ll bet it was all those little differences that aren’t the same at home.

What matters is deviation from the norm. The setting for The Beatrice Stubbs Series is Europe, varied enough to be interesting, close enough to be familiar. And that is the key word – familiar. To whom?

Let’s start with the character. For example, we’re in the city of Naples. A tourist is likely to exclaim at the chaos of traffic, the plethora of Vespas, the strength of the coffee and the constant noise of the cobbled, crowded streets.

Our local man sees all that as background. He’s much more likely to notice his usual route blocked due to a political demonstration or the looming clouds over Vesuvius suggesting a storm.

Now turn this point-of-view into a recently arrived immigrant. Some elements will delight and others dismay in comparison to what she knows. Does the volume of everyday conversation reassure or alarm? Depending on where this person is from, trying to cross the road may seem terrifying or surprisingly ordered.

 Five Senses

How do we experience a new environment? Via our senses and comparative memories. In many European languages, the question word people use to elicit subjective description is ‘How?’ – Comment, Wie, Como, Hogyan, etc. In English, we ask ‘What was it like?’ In other words, please compare it to something I understand.

Sensory detail can wield immense suggestive power, particularly in combination. Taste and smell, texture and sound can all equal the overworked first choice of descriptive passages: sight.

A walk along Porto’s River Douro is a feast for the eyes. Washing flapping from wrought-iron balconies, crumbling façades the colour of sponge cake, the retro-style wooden trams and shimmering water reflecting the masts of the distinctive black barcos.

But take a deep breath. Absorb the details. There’s a peixeira (fishwife) selling pungent salt cod while humming along to the fado from the nearby café. Hop on the tram and run your fingers over the cracked leather seats. Leave the trundling vehicle at Foz, take your shoes off and press your toes into the sand till you find a beachside bar with a free deckchair. Enjoy a glass of white port and a plate of grilled sardines while you inhale ocean spray from under a striped umbrella.

Smooth not lumpy

That chunk of description above is all very well in terms of employing all the senses, but where’s the story? Where’s the assassin with his mirrored sunglasses? Or rippling chested romantic hero bounding across the dunes? Or massive shark leaping out of the waves to consume you and your sardines?

Anyone who’s ever listened to a story or anecdote, whether round a fire, tucked up in bed or with a gang of mates in the pub, knows the formula of scene-setting. And it’s not just English. Every European language I’ve attempted to learn has at least two forms of past tense: what was happening (set the scene) and what happened (action).

SCENE SETTING: The sun was shining, the birds were singing and the breeze was ruffling Anastasia’s blonde locks as she rushed to the creek, desperate for cool water against her sunburnt skin.

ACTION: She slipped off her dress and stood on tiptoes to dive into the pool. A crashing noise startled her from the undergrowth. A Martian burst from the tree-line, tentacles akimbo, its seven eyes focused on her slight form.

Description doesn’t just belong in Scene Setting, it should play a part in Action. Weave in your perception, sensual nuances, weather, environment and atmosphere into everything, but make it matter. Use detail – not flowers but daffodils. Not birds but ravens. Plant that wobbly plank in the early chapters and bring it back to trip your axe-murderer when you change into fifth gear.

SCENE SETTING: Sun beat through the palms and parrots shrieked like cheerleaders as Anastasia ran for the creek. Sweat ran down her temples and her blonde locks dampened into honey-coloured curls, a light breeze encouraging her to sprint the last five metres. She focused on the limpid turquoise pool ahead, craving its cool green relief and the balm it offered to her rosy skin.

ACTION: On her favourite smooth stone, she peeled off her dress and stood on tiptoes. Nothing could stop her now. She bent her knees and raised her arms to the point of an arrow, preparing to dive. Just as she drew her in-breath, the foliage behind her burst into life. Both impossible and recognisable, a shape emerged. Seven matt-black eyes fixed on her slight form, its tentacles vibrating with unearthly energy and a sulphurous stench emanated from its suppurating flesh. What else could it be? The last surviving Martian.

Upending cliché

This is where working with other writers opens your eyes. Our lovely hostess, Anne, noted on an early draft of my first novel that my characters descended into a crypt, lit by wall scones. As opposed to wall sconces. Apart from such oafish examples of my clumsiness, my mentors and editors have saved me countless times if standards slip.

One element is finding new ways to circumvent the dull, bland adjectives of ‘hot’, ‘dark’, ‘tasty’, ‘disgusting’, ‘smooth’ for something less expected. My Triskele colleague Liza Perrat (Queen of Descriptive Language) told me off for lazy writing. “The sky darkened ominously? – not good enough. What colours? What did it remind you of?” The reworked line developed into ‘Grey, yellow and violet clouds – the colours of a bruise – obscured the white tip of the mountain.’ Liza’s insistence on raising basic to beautiful is a lesson I won’t forget.

It’s not easy to find new way of avoiding natural collocations such as ‘heavy rain’, ‘imposing architecture’, ‘rolling hills’ because that’s our shorthand in conversation and the fast food of journalism. Writers need to work harder, winkling out the detail which means something to the character. Raindrops on metal? An unpleasant recollection of the refuge at the border or a happy memory of that saucy weekend in a caravan?

The Little Big Things

Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue between two hit-men is superbly judged. They are who they are, they do what they do, but a glimpse of another culture holds them both in thrall. There’s another world out there and the safest observation point is from a story.

Expressive touches that transport a reader come from many sources but I’d argue the key elements are creative use of detail coupled with your character’s view of the world. Only from details do we – as readers and adventurers – form the big picture.

 

Anne: Thank you so much Jill. What a fascinating insight into location and all the nuances that go with it.

Below is an extract from Jill’s latest novel along with an online link for buying the book and some more information about Jill.

Honey Trap

From the back cover:

“Chaos or order is simply a matter of taste”

 A half truth is a whole lie

 Ecco, the world-famous Michelin-starred restaurant in Naples, has a problem. A chef is dead and there’s a spy in the kitchen, selling their secrets to competitors. What they need is a food-loving detective to go undercover. Isabella Lopez knows just the person.

 Over Holy Week in Italy, Beatrice Stubbs takes on her first paid job as a private investigator, accompanied by family and friends. Posing as a wannabe pastry chef, her job is to hook the worm out of the apple.

 Meanwhile, her men folk explore the city, the volcano and the ruins of Pompeii, followed by a man in a black beret. Who or what does he want?

 At the restaurant, kitchen staff are scared and mistrustful, the head chef is explosive and Beatrice’s culinary skills lack finesse. The pressure is on. She sets a trap for the mole before anyone else gets killed.

 The Neapolitan family network and business links grow increasingly tangled, dragging in everyone Beatrice loves. This catch is bigger than she thought and she can’t handle it alone. Has PI Stubbs bitten off more than she can chew?

 ‘I thoroughly enjoyed Jill Marsh’s presentation of a hot and flustered Beatrice Stubbs amidst Italian pots, pans and flans, who at the flick of a whisk, manages to regain her cool and resolve a tricky Neapolitan intrigue and murder.’ – Janys Hyde, owner at Creative Retreats, Italy

 A thrilling career change for Beatrice Stubbs amidst the chaos, beauty and gastronomy of historical Naples. – Liza Perrat, author of The Bone Angel Series

 

 

Extract from Honey Trap

 

 

The speedboat bounced across the waves, jolting the passengers perched on the plastic benches. Adrian found the spray and speed exhilarating, as did Luke, but Matthew’s posture remained stiff, as did his smile. The leathery boatman reached out a muscular forearm to assist them as they clambered onto the quay.

 

Adrian spotted the subtle transfer of Euros as Matthew shook their pilot’s hand. They all waved goodbye and gazed up at the colourful peak of Capri. The weather was warm enough to turn pale British skin pink, clusters of purple heather and yellow broom seemed to erupt from each corner and the cheerful chatter of the quayside lifted everyone’s spirits. Too romantic for words. Adrian was glad he’d re-watched The Talented Mr Ripley before leaving London. Now he knew exactly what to expect.

 

Luke ran ahead up the steep narrow street, pointing out ice-cream shops, souvenirs and on every other doorstep, reclining cats. Basil, oregano, thyme and marjoram grew on most windowsills, adding a herbal note to the lemon-scented air. They strolled uphill, snapping pictures of one photogenic panorama after another: small coves changing colour with each wave and cascading terraced gardens. On the winding streets, tiny one-person utility vehicles carried suitcases, their drivers hooting to clear a path between the tourists. Of those there were plenty. Adrian guessed the nationality by dress sense before he could even hear the accents. He took a decision to stop being judgemental and admire the beauty of this little island with its celebrated history.

 

Luke’s energy took him further ahead than Adrian deemed comfortable, while Matthew’s slow progress stretched the distance between them to a worrying degree. Adrian caught Matthew’s eye, indicated Luke and made the motion of a grabbing claw to indicate he’d catch the boy. The ex-professor rested against a wall and nodded his permission. Ducking groups of tourists dawdling up the congested little street and taking selfies, Adrian loped after the six-year-old, scanning both sides for a small blond head. With a surprising sense of relief, he spotted Luke watching a street vendor waving beribboned sticks to attract young eyes. Right behind him stood an older man in a black beret, equally absorbed in the display.

 

Adrian drew Luke away with a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Let’s stick together. Your granddad isn’t as fast as you and we shouldn’t spilt up. Now I’m not sure what you think, but I wonder if it’s too early for an ice-cream?”

 

Want to read more? Here’s the Buy Link https://geni.us/honeytrap8

 

About JJ Marsh

Writer, journalist, teacher, actor, director and cultural trainer, Jill has lived and worked all over Europe. Now based in Switzerland, Jill is the author of The Beatrice Stubbs Series, a founder member of Triskele Books, co-editor of Swiss literary hub The Woolf and reviews for Bookmuse.

 

You can connect with Jill online at the links below:

Website: www.beatrice-stubbs.com/relaunch

Facebook: www.facebook.com/jjmarshauthor

Amazon: www.amazon.com/author/b007wihq5u