So Where Were We? The new normal as the brain fog clears #Covid #writing #coping

A Weirdly Different World

When I said in my previous post that I’d be taking a couple of weeks away from the blog in order to press on with preparing my latest book for publication I certainly didn’t foresee how things would have changed for all of us by the time I got back here.

But before going any further I just want to say welcome to this safe and germ free online space. Thank you for dropping in and reading my ramblings. I hope you’re managing to stay well and to cope with all the ramifications of the Covid-19 virus wherever you are in the world and whatever your personal circumstances.

The C-word and me

I’m fortunate in that, as a writer, I work from home – at least as far as the creative side of things goes. But because of the virus protection measures I’ve obviously had to suspend any author talks, workshops and live book launches, but at least I have this online space – and other social media sites – where I can continue to interact with my readers and fellow writers.

However, I must admit that I’ve been finding it impossible to focus on work for the last two or three weeks. Getting my head around the all the cancelled events – professional and personal – and the full implications of social-distancing has been hard. That along with my concern for my own wellbeing, and that of others, has used up all my mental and emotional energy. I suspect it’s been the same for many of us.

But the brain fog is gradually clearing and I think/hope I’m getting to used to the new normal. I’m trying to remain positive. And I keep reminding myself I’ve a lot to be grateful for.

Gratitude

I’m grateful that I can keep myself safe – I have a home with a garden, I live in a quiet village with uncrowded streets and paths to walk on, I have enough money and food and I don’t live alone. I’m grateful to all our wonderful NHS (UK health service) staff – including my own sister who is a nurse at one of Scotland’s biggest hospitals – to the shopworkers, delivery drivers, bin collectors, teachers, train and bus drivers and to anyone else who is working to ensure vital services can still operate.

But, yes, I admit I still get anxious and afraid at times, and I don’t think I’ll be learning a new language or undertaking any other ambitious project to see me through – However, I do now have a plan.

The Plan

It’s an outline plan – and, most importantly, it’s flexible according to my mood. So, I plan to continue my writing work, but it’s going to have to fit around purely therapeutic activities.

The therapeutic activities that work for me are the things I’ve always done to aid my wellbeing, but for now they’re going to be my main focus. So my days will include a daily walk, doing some yoga – our local yoga teacher is doing her classes online for the duration – listening to music and of course reading. And in the absence of outings and a ‘real world’ social life, the more I’m keeping in touch with family and friends via video calls, WhatsApp groups and good old-fashioned phone calls.

As for writing, my focus will be on getting my delayed new book out and so I aim to see Fulfilment published later this month. I also plan to crack on with a new book – a new book that will be Covid-free. Yes, the imaginary world is a nicer place – a place of refuge – and I get to be in charge 🙂

The New Book

Fulfilment is the third and final part of my Rachel and Jack Skye series. During this month I’ll post the cover and a preview of the story. And if you haven’t read the first two in the series, there will also be special offer price reductions on Displacement and Settlement coming up – so watch this space.

Don’t Miss Out

And to be sure of getting news of the launch of the new book or the special offers, do sign up to follow this blog by email.

Blog Casualty

I know! I know! There was no Book of the Month post here for March. Apologies. Excuses – see all of the above. I’m suspending this feature for now. But I will do a reading related post very soon – which will include recommended reads from March and beyond.

Stay Safe

Thanks for dropping in and thanks for your interest and stay safe and well, everyone. But before you go, do leave comments below. How are you coping during this difficult time? What are your recommended tactics and strategies? What books would you recommend to get us through?

And remember, this too will pass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing a novel is the easy part: After you write ‘The End’ the hard work really begins #writing #amwriting #editing #books

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

In three recent posts I’ve written about where I get the ideas for the characters and plots in my novels, HERE, how I come up with and (to a certain extent) invent and adapt settings, HERE, and topics that I’ve had to research, HERE

If I get all that right I can then – she says modestly – come up with a pretty good 80 thousand word story. Job done.

Except it’s not. Oh no, writing that first draft is the easy part. And when I write ‘THE END’ it’s really only the end of the beginning – or the beginning of the end perhaps??

Whatever! There’s a lot that still needs to be done to get the story ready for readers.

Check and take note

First off, I have to go back to the beginning and read over the whole manuscript. And, all the time I’m reading, I’m also checking. I’m checking for errors – errors such as factual mistakes, inconsistencies in the plot, poor wording, sloppy phrasing, irrelevancies, boring bits, punctuation missing or wrongly applied, grammar crimes … and that’s not a comprehensive list.

Rewrite, rewrite and rewrite

Then, based on my notes from the above read through, I redraft and rewrite the manuscript. I’ll do this as many times as it takes for me to be satisfied that all is now well.

Off to the Editor

Once I’m sure it’s perfect, I send my story to my editor, confident he’ll find absolutely nothing wrong. I never learn! Of course he finds plenty. He’s an amazingly clever and astute alchemist of prose and much as I’d love to disagree with his constructive suggestions and recommendations as to what needs to be changed, I find myself going, ‘you know what, he’s right.’

Rewrite some more

So, after the editorial feedback is received, it’s time to rewrite some more and make even more changes to what is now draft number 526 (okay, slight exaggeration there).

But even after that I’m still not done. Oh no.

An irresistible backcover blurb

While all the editing is going on, I have to come up with the back cover blurb which will make the book irresistible to prospective readers who pick it off the shelf in their local bookshop, or who’re browsing that big online site that sells stuff. And, as if that wasn’t hard enough, I also have to produce a six (or so) word strapline for the front cover. This must be just as convincing as the back cover text that my novel is an unputdownable must-read. Writing both these reader-capture items is SO hard. I’d rather write another whole novel than condense my current one down to a paragraph – or worse still half a dozen words.

A beguiling cover

And while I’m agonising over the cover words, I’m also in discussion with the cover designer trying to come up with an awesome, attention-grabbing cover image. For someone as artistically challenged as I am this isn’t easy. But luckily as with my editor, I’m also very fortunate to have a fantastically talented and easy to work with designer.

After all the final edits are applied and the cover text and cover images are nailed and agreed upon, you’d think that would be it, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong.

Proofread and check again

While I’m agonising over and finalising the cover, my proof-reader, aka the husband, is reading the ‘final’ manuscript to check for any errors not spotted by me or the editor, such as a missing apostrophe, a misspelling or anything that seems unclear or just plain wrong. And you know what, he’s incredibly good at his job and will always spot something that has previously gone undetected.

All set up

Then, at last, the now pristine manuscript is ready to be formatted for both print and e-book versions of the novel. And, you guessed it, after that’s done it has to be checked over yet again – just in case anything has gone awry during the conversion process.

Okay, you still with me? If so, well done. If not, waken up at the back there!

Early readers

Yes, I’m almost there now. All that remains, after all of the above is complete, is to ask, beg, plead with members of my early-reading team to read at least part, if not all of my soon-to-be-published masterpiece and to let me know what they think, or better still to write a review, or maybe even a cover quote.

And publish!

Then, finally, publication date can be confirmed.

And, at last, I really can write THE END.

All that remains after this point is the launch and marketing plan. But that’s a post for another day. In fact I’m going to be spending most of March preparing for the publication of Fulfilment –  doing the final edits and checks and making that launch and marketing plan – and so I’ll be taking a short break from the blog.

Back soon.

Fiction isn’t all made up: researching the facts and knowing how to use them #writing #amwriting #fiction #books

Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

Research is vital – even when making stuff up

In my post a couple of weeks ago I shared where I get my ideas for my novels from and how my characters and their stories come to me. Then last week I wrote about how tricky it can be to come up with a fictional location even when the book is contemporary and set in the real world. In today’s post I’m sharing some of the research I’ve had to when writing my novels.

Not all down to imagination

Yes, fiction is, by definition, made up. The characters aren’t real people, the story is invented, and the settings maybe don’t actually exist. But writing a made-up story isn’t solely imaginative.

In order to flesh out the characters – their lives and the places they live – lots of credible details have to be included. Details such as jobs, workplaces, hobbies, lifestyles, health issues and politics – to name only a few. And that’s where research is essential.

Life experience isn’t enough

As an author, I can, of course, draw on my own life experience and fictionalise events etc. But this can only get me so far. It would all get rather dull rather quickly if everything was just a variation on the theme of me.  So I have to research all sorts of stuff to give my novels credibility and interest.

Below are just some of the areas I’ve had to explore. And some of it probably makes for an ‘interesting’ internet research history …

Things I needed to research

For my first novel Change of Life, although I shared the profession of primary school teacher with Rosie and had, like her, had a cancer diagnosis, I knew nothing about the profession of her husband Tom. So I had to a fair bit of research on the work of a heart surgeon. Other areas I had to investigate for that first story included adoption, drug addiction and the life of a photo-journalist.

When I wrote my (to date) only children’s novel The Silver Locket, I had, amongst other things, to check up on the historical details of the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

But the amount of research requiring to be done ramped up significantly when I was writing my Skye series.

For Displacement, although, like my main characters, I lived in crofting township on the Scottish island of Skye, I wasn’t working on a croft (in case you don’t know, a croft is a small subsistence farm common in parts of the Scottish Highlands and Islands). So I had to research various types of animal husbandry and how crofting works. I also had to research the organisation and ways of working of Police Scotland, the job of a children’s book illustrator, possible complications of pregnancy and the current political situation in the Middle East.

When I was writing Settlement, the second book in the series, I had to look into organised crime, gunshot wounds and how to treat them, as well as the likelihood of surviving a bullet in the chest. The finer points of producing watercolour and oil paintings was another area I had to investigate. And I also had to update my knowledge of both Police Scotland and the work of those on all sides who are working for peace and justice in Israel-Palestine.

Then for my latest book, Fulfilment – the third and final part of the Skye series, to be published next month – there was yet more research to be done. This time it included the use of polytunnels to grow fruit and vegetables, the use of quad bikes on hill farms, the adaptation of quad bikes to hand controls only, how to photograph the night sky, advanced sheep care, PTSD – its nature and treatment, the health implications for those who use a prosthetic leg following amputation, and the work of various social enterprises and charities.

And, as I say, the above list of topics contains just some of the stuff I’ve had to research in the course of my writing.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

But all this investigation of a wide range of topics doesn’t make me an expert in any of them. I hope I’ve done enough to add to the interest, credibility and level of entertainment that I hope my books contain. However, I can’t perform heart surgery, provide mental health therapy, deliver a lamb or treat a sick sheep. Neither can I paint beautiful pictures or photograph the Milky Way. I don’t need to do any of those things, I just have to know enough to convince my readers that my characters can do them.

The perils of research for an author

The downside of doing lots of research as an author is the temptation to justify the time spent doing it by including way too much of it in the story. So it’s a bit of a balancing act when deciding what to include and what to leave out. I know I have to be ruthless and only include what enhances the story or risk boring my readers with a load of irrelevant detail.

Disclaimer

I apologise now if I’ve made any factual errors in spite of my research and constant fact-checking. Any mistakes are most definitely mine and not those of the real experts I asked – or indeed of Mr Google. So don’t treat any of my novels as manuals 😊

I don’t profess to be an expert in everything included in my novels. But I do hope my research has been good enough. Thank you to everyone who has personally and patiently shared their true expertise with me. Respect to you all. I hope I’ve used my research appropriately and understood and interpreted correctly.

But, most of all, I do believe that the time I’ve devoted to my research has been well spent – and that my stories are better for it.

World Building When Writing Fiction #writing #writerscraft, #fiction #books #reading

The nitty-gritty of writing – it’s not all glamorous

In my previous post I talked about how when I’m writing a book it begins with a character – a character that comes to me out of the blue usually when I’m busy doing something completely unrelated to writing. And it’s in getting to know that character that the plot begins to develop, as does the idea of where it should be set.

The devil is in the detail – timelines, events & maps

But whereas I don’t do much in the way of detailed planning for the development of the story itself, preferring to see where my characters take me, I’ve learned the hard way that I absolutely must have a detailed record of the timescales involved, of the factual biographies of the characters, and of the locations where the action will take place. This is particularly important when writing a series as there’s only so much detail I can hold in my memory.

Timing is crucial

Therefore I’ll have a time frame for the duration of the action – be that over a year, a month, a week – whatever. And even if I don’t say it’s all taking place in, for example, 2017, I’ll make sure I have a definite year or period in mind, so that the continuity of the action works.

Character biographies

Linked to that I’ll also have the birth dates and ages of all the main characters decided on and noted – again no matter whether those details are mentioned in the novel. But as well as dates of birth, I also make sure to note all the relevant background details of the characters that might influence their actions and reactions in the novel – yes, regardless of whether these details are directly mentioned in the telling of the story. For example what their parents did for a living and what their names were, where the character grew up, their siblings if any, perhaps their health history or educational record. And most importantly I make a note of their physical characteristics – again – you guessed it – whether or not they’re directly referred to in the telling of the tale. This all helps bring the characters fully to life in my head and, as with the timeline, helps me check continuity.

Made-up places

And, although I use real world settings in my novels I do also apply some fictionalising to those real places. That way I get the best of both worlds and my already hard-working imagination doesn’t get overstretched.

So, for example in my Skye-set novels – the Scottish island is of course real. The main town of Portree, the famous mountains and other scenic sites are all places that exist, but the township of Halladale where my main character Rachel loves is entirely fictional – as are its hills and the local mountain, Ben Halla.

I made up Halladale because I wanted the freedom to include whatever houses, landscape and other features that I needed for my story to work. As for the houses where Jack, Rachel and other characters live – whether on Skye, or in the other locations the story takes them – they, too are all made up. However, although some are completely made-up, some are based on real places. Halladale is based on the place where I lived in north Skye. Rachel’s house is loosely based on my own Skye house. And the Jerusalem flat where Rachel’s brother lives is based on the apartment where a friend of mine lived when she was growing up there and which I visited.

Using made up or fictionalised places means that I draw out floorplans of the houses and note what direction they face and what can be seen from various windows and so on. I also draw maps – for example I drew a map of Halladale and noted how far it was (in my mind) from the real main town of Portree and where on the island’s northern peninsula I have placed it. That way I can have them leave their driveways and head in the right direction every time, and I can have them gaze out of their front room window at the same view of the loch as they had in a previous chapter.

All of these background details are essential. Shared with my readers or not, they help ensure consistency and credibility in my storytelling and having them written down saves me so much time as I edit, proofread and check my manuscript before publication.

Not all about channelling the muse

So, this writer’s life is not just a case of sitting down and having the inspired and wonderful prose flow effortlessly from brain to computer screen. A lot of effort goes into producing a novel – oh yes, it does – and there’s a lot goes on in the background that the reader never gets to see but is a nevertheless necessary part of the writer’s craft.

Which brings me to research – another essential item in the build-a-novel toolkit. But that’s a post for another day.

 

Tenth Author, Blogger & Social Media Birthday #writing #amwriting #blogging #books

Photo by David Ballew on Unsplash

 

Ten Years A Writer

It’s official! I’ve now been a published writer for ten years. Yes, it was in early December of 2009 that my debut book, Change of Life was first published.

It was a surreal, exciting and utterly terrifying experience. I had no idea what to expect, no idea if my book would sell and no idea how to make potential readers aware of its existence.

I had no online experience other than using email, but I quickly discovered I’d have to up my game in that respect. If I wanted to get the word out there that my book existed, I was going to have to wise up and get acquainted with social media.

Ten Years A Blogger

So it’s also nearly ten years since I started this blog.

This was my first post:

A small miracle happened to me recently.  I held my book – the book that I’ve been working on for several years – in my hand for the first time. A long gestation, a sometimes painful labour and at last it was delivered.  It was an overwhelming feeling, looking at this thing I had created, to run my fingers over its cover, to flick through its pages, to read my words on those pages.  It was the realisation of my longest held and most fervent ambition.  My maternal grandmother, herself a writer, and heroine of my childhood set me on the writing path and it’s been a lifelong, life-saving occupation for me. But for so many years it had to take a back seat. It had to be fitted in around family and working life – and it often got squeezed out. That all changed at the end/beginning of the millennium, after I got the ultimate wake-up call – i.e. intimations of my mortality in the shape of a cancer diagnosis. It was brought home to me that tomorrow doesn’t always come and the procrastinating had to stop. I promised the fates that if I survived the cancer I’d get down to some serious writing.

I beat the ovarian cancer and so had to keep my side of the deal. Writing still had to fit around work and family – but it was no longer squeezed out – priorities were reordered and the hard work began.

And now it’s here – my wonderful, beautiful first novel is here. It’s fully formed and it has gone off into the world on its own. It will now have to jostle for readers, for its place on the bookshelf – and I can only watch and support at a distance. I love my book and I want others to love it too. I’m thrilled, exhilarated and absolutely bloody terrified. I’ve never felt so proud and I’ve never felt so vulnerable.

So there you have it. Of course there’s more to the journey, more to the story than that and I hope to share more bits of it with you as I blog. I’m at the beginning of a whole new adventure and it’ll be good to have you along for the ride.

 There was no accompanying picture of the book cover, no buying links, and no mention of the book title or its content.

But over time I did get better at the whole blog post thing. The blog has been through several changes and upgrades and is now part of my main website. It has over 600 followers in its own right, as well as many more via Twitter and Facebook – yes, I joined them too.

Ten Successful Years

It’s been an amazing decade. I took early retirement from my work as a primary school teacher and writing is now my full-time job. I’ve now published four books with a fifth one due out early next year.

As time’s gone on I love writing more and more. I love the storytelling and the characters I write about, and I can’t imagine ever retiring. You’ve been warned!

In the last decade I’ve learned so much more about the art and craft of writing. I’ve learned how to talk about and share my writing – both in the real world and the online one. And I’ve gathered such a lovely and loyal readership.

And I’d like to thank any you who are reading this and are also part of that lovely and loyal band. Thank you for your support, encouragement and most especially for those precious, priceless reviews you’ve taken the trouble to write and post – whether on an online bookselling site or on your book blog. Reviews really do help sales and I’m very grateful.

What’s Next?

So, as I say, no plans to stop writing. The new book, which is called Fulfilment and is the third and final part in the Jack & Rachel Skye series ( which consists so far of Displacement and Settlement) is due to be published in early 2020. Watch out for more information on this soon. And, after Fulfilment‘s safely out in the world, I have lots of ideas to explore for my next novels.

I’ll be sticking with contemporary romance. I’m not sure whether to write a standalone story or to begin a new series set in the south of Scotland. If I go for a series it would focus on a community and each book would tell the romantic story of a particular pair of characters from that community. I need to think some more about that. And, if you’re a reader of my books, I’d be interested to hear your preferences.

But whatever I decide, it’s an exciting prospect to be starting on something new as the next decade begins. Here’s to 2020 and beyond!

Thanks for being with me on my incredible journey.

PS: you can find out more about my books and where to buy them by clicking on the cover photos – either in the sidebar or at the foot of this post – depending on the type of device on which you’re reading this. Or simply go to the ‘My Books’ page here on the website. You see I have learned a thing or to about marketing 🙂

 

Autumn Daze #writing #authortalk #reading

Home to autumn

I recently returned home to Scotland from a month away visiting family in Australia. I left behind Queensland’s hot and sunny springtime and came back to misty, mellow autumn days at home. So what with the jetlag and the dramatic change in the weather and daylight hours, it’s taken a wee while for me to get back into my writing rhythm.

But I do love the autumn. I take a childish delight in walking through fallen leaves and I love the quality of the light and the crisp fresh air. So I’ve been alternating spells at the desk with lots of nice long walks.

Back to work at the writing desk

And, as my writing schedule from now until the end of the year is pretty full-on, I intend to continue to find time for these mind-clearing, restorative and refreshing outdoor spells.

My first task on returning to work was to begin the redraft of the manuscript for my latest novel. I’ve made good progress with that and, after a bit more rewriting of certain sections, it will be ready to go off to the editor. The new book is called Fulfilment. It’s the third and final part of my Skye series of novels and it will be out early next year.

Author Talk

And speaking of Skye, where I lived when I write the first two books in the above-mentioned series, I’m heading back there this week on author business. I’ll be there as my alter-ego, children’s author Anne McAlpine, to talk about The Silver Locket, my Bonnie Prince Charlie/ timeslip novel for 9 to 12 year-olds. I’m going to be doing an author talk at one of the island’s primary schools and will also be doing writing workshops with some of the pupils. I am looking forward to it very much.

Book Sale

Then when I get back, I’ve got the pre-Christmas gathering and lunch of the Facebook group – Authors and Book Bloggers in Scotland – to go to in Edinburgh. And at the end of November I have a table at the local Craft & Gift Fair where I’ll be selling my books.

Lots of Reading

When I do find time to relax – and I will – then, of course, I’ll be reading. I read a lot of good books when I was away in Australia including, naturally lots of contemporary romance as well as a couple of cracking crime novels. Among the best were –

in crime: Lin Anderson’s Time for the Dead and Ann Cleeves’ Wildfire

in romance: The Day We Meet Again by Miranda Dickinson, Tropic Storm by Stella Quinn, Autumn at Blaxland Falls by Eliza Bennets and The Life She Deserves by Maggie Christensen.

And I’m currently reading and very much enjoying Kathryn Freeman’s latest contemporary second-chance romance – Reach For a Star

Questions for you

So, I reckon that’s us up to date. But before I go I’d like to ask if you have a favourite season and if so what is it that especially appeals to you about it? Also what books have you enjoyed reading recently and what are you currently reading?

As always please do leave comments below.

 

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 17 – an interview with romance author Maggie Christensen @MaggieChriste33 #VirtBookFest #books #reading #romanticfiction

Hello everyone and welcome to event number 17 in the Virtual Book Festival.  This is the third and final joint event with the Books For Older Readers (BFOR) Blog Blitz. You can find out more about BFOR at the website here.

Today it’s a pleasure to have romantic fiction writer, Maggie Christensen here to tell us about herself and her books.

 

Welcome, Maggie. Let’s begin with why and how you became a writer?

I’ve always been an avid reader and loved writing compositions in school. As an only child I enjoyed playing with and talking to my imaginary friends and this led to my making up stories about them, some of which I wrote down – I often pretended I had a twin brother and thought up stories of twins. I found the time set for writing in school very limiting – I clearly remember starting one story about a fishing boat disaster and being very frustrated as time was up just as I felt I was getting into the heart of the tale. I also recall submitting a short story about being lost in the snow to Girl magazine.

But it wasn’t till I was close to retirement that I began to write fiction seriously. I enrolled in a correspondence course on creative writing, which I gave up on, then an online course which I did finish and learned a lot from, the chief thing being the importance of writing something each day. One of the tasks was to start each day by writing for five minutes about whatever I was thinking.

My first attempts were two Mills and Boon type books – the first paragraph in one won an award in a competition at the Sydney Writers Centre.

But I soon realised these were not what I enjoyed reading, so switched to writing the mature women’s romantic fiction I love to read. I joined several writing groups before finding one whose members I could relate to, and encouraged by their success, I published my first novel, Band of Gold, in 2014.

Anne: I love that you didn’t start your writing career until you were close to retirement. It shows it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

 

What genre do you write in and why does that hold a particular appeal for you?

I write what I call mature women’s romantic fiction – the sort of books I enjoy reading – books featuring women who have lived, have some experience of life and who my readers can become attached to. I feel that too often older women are either ignored or stereotyped in literature and I like to write them as real people you might have as friends. I also like to bring back characters from my earlier books so that my readers feel they are meeting old friends.

Anne: I love this too – the idea that life is as rich and varied for those over forty as it is for younger folks –and that you reflect that in your fiction. And yes the links to previous characters that you include do work well.

 

How many books have you written? Tell us a bit about them.

I have written 12 books – 11 already published and the 12th currently with my editor. All feature women in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s who have experienced some sort of challenge in their lives – end of a marriage, death of a child, redundancy, end of a relationship, domestic violence. Three – The Sand Dollar, The Dreamcatcher and Madeline House – are set in Florence on the Oregon Coast where my mother-in-law moved to in her 80’s – The Sand Dollar features a woman who leaves Queensland’s Sunshine Coast for Oregon; two are set on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast where I now live – A Brahminy Sunrise and Champagne for Breakfast – and tie in with my Oregon series; three – Band of Gold, Broken Threads and A Model Wife -are set in Sydney where I lived when I first came to Australia and three – The Good Sister, Isobel’s Promise and A Single Woman – are set in my native Scotland, and tie in loosely with my Sydney books – the first of these, The Good Sister, being my only historical novel so far.

Anne: Wow! 12 books is quite an achievement – and they’re all first class reads.

 

Tell us about a typical writing day?

I like to start in the morning and get the bulk of my writing done, then go back to it late afternoon. While I’m writing, I take breaks when I read or do housework – and let ideas come to me. Sadly, I don’t always keep to my schedule as I also enjoy having coffee with my husband or friends. I also belong to a book club, and I deliver library books to a housebound lady, both of which take me away from my writing.

Anne: Oh, I think you’re allowed some time away from the writing desk. And how lovely that you deliver those library books.

 

Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing?

I’m very much what’s called a pantser. I start with my main character, a situation, and a location and go from there with only a rough idea of where it will lead. I enjoy writing this way. When I’ve tried to plan, it hasn’t worked for me.

Anne: Flying by the seat of your pants. The exciting way to work!

 

What comes first for you characters or plot?

I start with a character and a situation, then usually a man appears in her life and family; the characters develop and take on a life of their own. I’m never sure what‘s going to happen when I sit down to write – my characters often surprise me.

Anne: It’s funny how characters can do that – as if they’re real, breathing people who the writer isn’t in charge of.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

I take things I hear and read, then link some of them together and think ‘what if?’.

Some examples:-

Band of Gold begins with Anna’s husband placing his wedding ring on the kitchen table on Christmas morning and saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I heard of someone this happened to and started to wonder what would happen to her afterwards.

In Champagne for Breakfast, Rosa is sitting by the river drinking champagne on her birthday – by herself. One Sunday morning my husband and I were walking along the Noosa River when we saw a woman sitting alone with an empty bottle. I started to wonder what her story was and remembered Rosa, a secondary character in The Sand Dollar, who had recently finished a disastrous relationship. That woman became Rosa drinking champagne alone by the river on her fiftieth birthday.

The Good Sister is based on my aunt’s story. As a child growing up in Scotland, I had an aunt who was fond of telling us the story of her doomed love affair. I knew I had to write it one day. Her story became old Isobel’s story in this book.

Madeline House was written as the result of a trip to Florence after my mother-in-law died. During that trip, the woman who bought my mother-in-law’s house had arrived in town with only her car and her dog. At the same time, I became aware of the business of estate sales in the area. Also, I had once worked with a woman whose husband was very controlling and who had many of the same experiences of Beth in this book. These ideas all came together to produce this third book in my Oregon Coast series.

When I get stuck with a book, I often find inspiration when I’m driving or ironing – or falling asleep!

Anne: Yes, those ideas don’t always come when a writer’s at their desk. I like your magpie way of collecting small, sparkly ideas and developing them.

 

Have you got a favourite character out of all the ones you’ve created? Tell us about them if you have or is it too hard to pick just one?

I love all my characters – my heroines all have a little bit of me in them and my heroes a little bit of my lovely husband and soul mate. I feel most akin to Jenny in my Oregon books as, like me, she travels to Oregon when facing a redundancy and meets a lovely retired university lecturer like my own dear husband. But I think perhaps I like Bel best. Like me, she emigrates from Scotland to Australia to teach in her twenties, but unlike me she returns and meets the lovely Matt choosing to set up home there with him on the banks of Loch Lomond – a spot where, if I’d remained in Scotland, I’d dearly like to have lived.

Anne: I’ve a soft spot for Bel too.

 

Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers?

I’m thrilled to have found readers who want to read my books and who enjoy reading about more mature women. Many of them mention this in their emails and reviews. They also mention that I write about real people and that my books have a good sense of place.

One of my favourite comments comes from one of Mrs B’s Book Reviews in which book blogger, Amanda, calls me ‘the queen of mature age fiction’. I also love her comment that, ‘Maggie Christensen’s writing is like a nice warm cup of tea. It is warm, nourishing, comforting and embracing.’

Another favourite review is by Anne Williams of Being Anne book blog

‘The author’s story-telling is just wonderful: she introduces you to her characters, sets the scene, and the story then unfolds around you – and her characters are always real people who you can’t fail to take to your heart as you watch them making their choices and mistakes.’

Anne: I completely agree with those reviews.

 

And now I’d like to thank you very much indeed, Maggie, for agreeing to take part in the festival today and for providing us with such a fascinating interview and insight into your writing.

But before you go, we have an extract from your novel A Single Woman below.  Tell us a bit more about this particular book and why you chose it for the extract.

A Single Woman is the third book in my Scottish Collection. While it can be read as a stand-alone novel, readers of the first two will welcome to opportunity to reconnect with old friends from the earlier books.

In the words from your review in Put it in Writing, it’s ‘a second-chance, midlife romance where the last thing either protagonist is looking for is to fall in love. It’s set mainly in the Scottish city of Glasgow, and it’s the thoughtful and touching story of the developing relationship between two rather damaged people.’

From the back cover:

Isla Cameron, headmistress at an elite girl’s school in Glasgow, is determinedly single, adroitly avoiding all attempts at matchmaking by a close friend.

Widower Alasdair MacLeod is grieving for the wife he lost two years earlier, struggling as the single father of two teenagers, and frustrated by the well-meaning interference of his in-laws.

When a proposed school trip to France brings Isla and Alasdair together, they find a connection in the discovery that each is suffering the loss of a loved one, but neither is interested in forming a relationship.

As their friendship grows, Alasdair struggles with his increasing attraction to the elegant schoolmistress, while Isla harbours concerns about the complications a relationship with him would bring.

Can Alasdair overcome his natural reserve, and can Isla open her heart to love again?

 

The extract from chapter 8 takes place when Isla is attending a Christmas Eve party held by an old school friend. I chose this extract as it the first time the two protagonists meet. Christmas is a sad time for both of them.

Extract:

A Single Woman

Having imagined herself alone, Isla turned quickly to see a tall, wide-shouldered, fair-haired man standing almost hidden by the branches filled with Christmas ornaments and tinsel.

‘You escaped, too?’ he asked, with a conspiratorial grimace.

Isla nodded, hoping he didn’t see her tears.

‘Look,’ he stammered, ‘I need a breather. Why don’t you join me – get away from all that…’ He gestured in the direction of the room they’d both left where the sound of carols was beginning to drown out the chatter.

Isla hesitated. What she really wanted was to go home, but she needed to sober up a bit before she could consider driving on the icy roads. Fresh air would clear her head.

Seeing her waver, the man spoke again. ‘Get your coat and we can sneak away.’

About to do as he said, Isla looked down at her heels. They were not made for walking on icy roads.

‘You’ll be fine. The pathway around the garden has been cleared.

‘Okay.’

By the time she’d put on her coat, her companion was opening the door, and the pair slipped out, closing it silently behind them.

After the centrally-heated house, the frosty air hit them like sharp needles, their breath forming clouds in the cold air.

‘By the way, I’m Alasdair,’ Isla’s companion said.

‘Isla.’ She shook his outstretched hand before returning hers to her pocket, while wondering what on earth she was doing out here with a strange man on Christmas Eve.

‘How do you know Kirsty?’ he asked, as they walked.

‘We’re old school friends, though until a school reunion a few weeks ago, we hadn’t seen each other since. You?’ Isla didn’t really want to know, but felt obliged to ask.

‘Sister-in-law, for my sins.’

Isla almost stumbled in surprise. If Alasdair was Kirsty’s brother-in-law, then it followed he was also Fiona MacLeod’s father and, if she remembered correctly, it was around this time of year his wife had died.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

‘Yes, thanks.’ Should she tell him? Tell him what? That she was his daughter’s headmistress? What would be the point of that? They were two strangers, grabbing some fresh air, escaping from a party it seemed neither of them wanted to be part of. That was all.

At the corner they turned, and without any further conversation, they walked back and stepped into the Reid home just as silently as they’d left.

In their absence, the gathering seemed to have become even more raucous, the loud beat of music and chorusing of old hit songs emanating from the living room. It was like being at one of the parties Isla remembered from her schooldays. She’d never been a social animal. She grimaced.

‘Not your scene either?’

‘No. I think I’ll make my thanks to Kirsty and leave.’

Still in her coat, Isla peeked into the room catching sight of Kirsty in the centre of a jolly group of choristers. She hesitated, unsure how to interrupt.

‘You’ll never manage it. Call her in the morning,’ Alasdair advised. ‘I’m going, too. Tomorrow…’

‘Is Christmas Day. Yes.’

Isla supposed he’d be involved in some sort of family celebration. She shivered. She would be alone. For her, it would be just another day, nothing special, no celebration. Another day when she’d try to keep the memories at bay.

 

Want to read more:

A Single Woman is available on all digital platforms just go to this link:  books2read.com/ASingleWoman

 

About Maggie:

After a career in education, Maggie Christensen began writing contemporary women’s fiction portraying mature women facing life-changing situations. Her travels inspire her writing, be it her frequent visits to family in Oregon, USA, her native Scotland or her home on Queensland’s beautiful Sunshine Coast. Maggie writes of mature heroines coming to terms with changes in their lives women who have learned to live and love in later life and the heroes worthy of them. Heartwarming stories of second chances. She has recently been called ‘the queen of mature age fiction’

From her native Scotland, Maggie was lured by the call ‘Come and teach in the sun’ to Australia, where she worked as a primary school teacher, university lecturer and in educational management. Now living with her husband of over thirty years on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, she loves walking on the deserted beach in the early mornings and having coffee by the river on weekends. Her days are spent surrounded by books, either reading or writing them – her idea of heaven!

She continues her love of books as a volunteer with Noosa library where selects and delivers books to the housebound.

You can connect with Maggie online at the links below:

http://maggiechristensenauthor.com/

https://www.facebook.com/maggiechristensenauthor

https://twitter.com/MaggieChriste33

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8120020.Maggie_Christensen

https://www.instagram.com/maggiechriste33/?hl=en

https://www.bookbub.com/profile/maggie-christensen?list=about