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This week, my Take Two Characters series continues with a guest post by Kate Field.  Kate's contemporary novels delve into the complexities of relationships and family life.

 

Her debut novel, The Magic of Ramblings, won the Romantic Novelists' Association' s Joan Hessayon Award. This was followed by The Truth About You, Me and Us and The Winter That Made Us. She also contributed one of the stories to the short story collection, Miss Moonshine's Emporium of Happy Endings. Kate's latest book is The Man I Fell In Love With.

I was delighted when Susanna asked me to take part in her new blog feature, because it sounded such an interesting idea. The timing was perfect too: my post was scheduled for February, the month that my latest book was due to be published, which spared me a tricky decision over which of my characters to choose!

 

The lead character in The Man I Fell in Love With is Mary Black. Mary has been contentedly married to her best friend, Leo, for almost twenty years, and she’s at the centre of a close-knit family – so close, that her mother lives in the converted garage, and Leo’s mother lives next door! Her family, and especially her two teenage children, are everything to her and so her world is shattered when, in the opening chapter of the book, she discovers that Leo has fallen in love with another man.

 

What would you do?

 

The idea of the story came to me when I heard about a similar situation, and I wondered if there were any circumstances in which a wife would support her husband in his new relationship.

 

Mary wandered into my mind during the course of that day, and I abandoned the book I’d been planning to write so I could tell her story instead.

 

Not everyone will agree with the way Mary reacts; some readers will think that she should have been angry or taken revenge. I’m not saying that Mary’s choice is the right one, or the best one, and I’m certainly not sure that I could behave in the same way. But it is her choice, because of what has happened to her in the past, and because she wants to protect her children. I think it would take real strength to hide your own pain and put your family first.

 

I loved writing about Mary; she’s loyal and determined, funny and kind, and I hope that readers will root for her as she reshapes her life, and agree that her story has the ending she deserves!

I pondered for a long time about which other character to choose. My ‘go to’ answer for every question about a favourite book or character always involves Persuasion by Jane Austen, so I tried to think of something else. But the more I thought about Mary Black, and how much I admired her quiet strength, the more I realised that I liked the same thing about Anne Elliot, the lead character in Persuasion.

 

I was lucky enough to study Persuasion for my English Literature A level, but I was the only student in my class who liked the book – my teacher even wrote a tongue-in-cheek message in my autograph book when I left school, to say that I was the only one who really understood it!

 

Like Mary Black, Anne puts her own happiness last: she gives up the man she loves because she’s persuaded by the maternal figure in her life that it’s the best thing to do. Years later, they meet again, and the book is full of agony and joy as she sees him attracted to someone else, but eventually return to her.

 

 

Anne is a quiet, bookish character, past her bloom as Jane Austen puts it, but she’s kind and understanding, and her true strength is shown in a crisis. I first encountered her when I was a shy, insecure teenager, and she’s stayed with me because her story gave me reassurance that it’s okay not to be the loudest person in the room, and that even quiet characters can have an important role to play.

 

Kate's Links:

Twitter: @katehaswords

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KateFieldAuthor

The Man I Fell in Love With: Kindle edition

Kate's author page on Amazon

 

A Matter of Single-Mindedness

Posted on 1st February, 2019

Going back a few years, I worked in a place where the offices were in different buildings - an arrangement called “hen and chickens” - a large building in the middle with smaller ones around it. I worked in one of the “chickens” and four days out of five, I was first to arrive. Each day I popped into the “hen” to pick up our post, then unlocked our building and, having taken the key from the key-safe, unlocked the secretary’s office to put the post on her desk.

 

I switched on the water-boiler in the staffroom, so others would arrive to a hot drink. After that, I turned on the computers in the main suite, including logging into all of them and opening the appropriate programs. Only then did I go down the corridor to my own room.

 

That happened four days a week. On the fifth day, a colleague – let’s call her Maggie – arrived first. I would arrive about twenty minutes later…. to find the post hadn’t been collected, the hot water hadn’t been switched on and the computers hadn’t been touched. Even the lights were off. Maggie had simply marched straight to her room without even switching on the light in the corridor.

 

I’ll be honest – I resented it. But then I pictured how she was immediately getting started on her work and decided to give her technique a go. But on the one occasion I swept inside and headed straight for my room, I felt so guilty when the next person arrived and started setting things up, that I never did it again.

 

Yes, Maggie’s behaviour annoyed me – but d’you know something? I admired it too. Imagine being single-minded enough to ignore the “polite” need to do the setting up for everyone else.

 

Maggie has flitted across my mind a few times in recent months. When I was made redundant from my day job last summer, I took the plunge and became a full-time writer. Should I now adopt Maggie’s attitude to work? Is this a good way to be, if you are a writer – or indeed anyone else who is self-employed?

 

It worked well in November when I used NaNoWriMo to plough my way towards the end of a book. My attitude then was “Tell me if the house is on fire but otherwise leave me alone,” and, with the cooperation of the rest of the household, this worked. It worked to the tune of 66,000 words.

 

But... I couldn’t be like that all the time. It isn’t me. And it would be unpleasant for the rest of the household.

 

But... should it be me? This is now my job. Should I adopt a tougher attitude?

 

The way I have got round this, is by regularly “going out to work”, ie by taking my writing elsewhere... leaving behind my redecorated, re-carpeted and freshly curtained office, complete with the pretty, Edwardian desk that was a present from my husband and the view of Mount Snowdon in the distance.

 

Thoughts, anyone?

 

 

Today I welcome to my blog my good friend and fellow Sister Scribe, Cass Grafton, to share the latest in the Take Two Characters series, in which authors choose a favourite character of their own, and a favourite of someone else's, to tell us about.

 

Take it away, Cass!

 

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I’m delighted to be participating in Take Two Characters on Susanna’s blog, despite the stress I endured trying to pick only two characters to write about (something I share with Jen Gilroy, Susanna’s previous guest on this new feature)! I’ve been a bookworm for all my life - how was I to pick just two I found memorable?

 

In the end, I let circumstance be my guide. We live in Switzerland at the moment, and I had to leave many boxes of books behind in storage in the UK. The books on my shelves here are the ones I felt I just couldn’t live without for a few years, the ones I love to browse or re-read.

 

My eyes drifted over books by JK Rowling, JRR Tolkien, Daphne du Maurier, Jilly Cooper, Marian Keyes and Jane Austen before falling on Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and I knew it was the answer.

 

For a character from one of my own books, I turned to a novel co-written with Ada Bright, one of my best friends, namely The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen. Who knew, of all the characters I could have chosen, both would share a common first name?

 

When we first started to brainstorm the plot for The Particular Charm, one thing Ada and I were clear on was that Jane would not be a main character. Writing her was going to be too difficult! How could we ever make her believable, capture the right tone of wit? Yes, we’d let the two female leads of the story take centre stage, and Jane would just be there, in the background... except Jane Austen didn’t agree.

 

She grabbed the plot with two hands and in the end became quite the star of the show, so much so, we had readers telling us they missed her when she wasn’t in scenes!

Photo by Steve Scheidler

 

 

In the story, Jane has slipped through time from 1803, when she was living in Bath, to the present day just as the annual Jane Austen Festival kicks off, only to become trapped here. Having left the past before any of her books were published, everything to do with her is wiped from history. Jane Austen is nothing more than an unsolved missing person case from early 19th century Bath!

 

Relishing being freed from the restraints of her life 200 years away, Jane begins to enjoy the 21st century and everything it offers to a single young woman of 27, but what about her lost literary legacy? How can it be restored?

 

It was important we did all we could to make Jane appealing to readers, credible in her incredible situation, and also ensuring she would be ‘familiar’ to readers who knew a lot about her life and background. In the end, it was great fun writing her, and she was a joy to be around.

 

As much as Jane Austen in our book was ‘ahead’ in time, Jane Eyre was, for me, a heroine very much ahead of her time.

 

I studied Jane Eyre at school and since then have re-read the novel umpteen times.

 

As an insecure teen when I first met her, I was taken by her inner strength and her sense of self-worth. She was an orphan, abused by the relatives raising her, yet she wasn’t afraid to speak up, to stand up for herself and for others - even as a child. Criticised for being passionate of nature, Jane refused to be intimidated and stood firmly by her principles. Despite the Victorian prejudices against women and the poor, Jane believed in gender and social equality. She also had a deep faith, which guided her actions.

 

I’ve never lost my admiration for her, and I’m still in awe of her courage, her fierce determination in the face of adversity and her quest for freedom and the future she deserves, despite all the challenges placed before her - ones which tested both her heart and her faith.

 

Susanna, thank you so much for the chance to visit your blog and participate in this feature. It really made me think about what makes a character memorable!

 

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Reading for Solace

Posted on 5th January, 2019

This isn't a new blog post. It is a guest post I wrote some time ago for a fellow writer's website. It was very well received and, as the hosting website has been offline for some time undergoing re-structuring, I decided to re-produce the article here.

 

I hope you enjoy it and that it givevs you something to think about.

 

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Reading for Solace

 

A while back, Maggie wrote a blog post covering the various reasons why people choose to read fiction. It was a lively and interesting post, but I felt there was one reason missing: reading for solace. So what does that mean? Obviously, it is closely linked to reading for escapism, but it is a specific type of escapist reading.

Solace. According to the Concise OED my parents gave me one Christmas years ago, and which remains my favourite dictionary no matter how many more modern dictionaries have climbed onto the bookcase since, solace is: comfort in distress or discomfort or tedium.

Now I must confess I didn't have tedium in mind when I wrote a reply to Maggie's blog. It was distress I was thinking of.

So what is reading for solace? The best way to explain it is to give you an example. My dad died in his 60s, which came as a brutal shock to the family. Through that first week, I stayed with my mum. Understandably, she had trouble sleeping, but after the first couple of nights, she came downstairs in the morning and showed me a book.

“This stopped me going mad,” she said.

Was it a self-help book? A discussion of grief or widowhood? No, it was a novel. The book that had got my mum through the first endless nights was a story.

I wish I could tell you what it was, but I can't. All I can tell you, based on my mum's reading habits, is that it was written by a woman (or by a man using a woman's name) and the plot was set at some point after the building of the railways. I seem to recall it was a contemporary novel, but I couldn't swear to it.

I remember years ago reading an interview with Dick Francis, who described receiving a letter from a man who had lost a companion in a car accident. The accident happened in the middle of nowhere; no other vehicle was involved. The man walked until he found a phone box, then he returned to the car to await help, knowing his companion was dead. Assistance took a couple of hours to arrive and the man started to read a book that had belonged to his late companion – a Dick Francis novel. In the letter he subsequently wrote, he thanked Dick Francis for keeping his mind off a tragic situation.

Another example that comes to mind is linked to the person who introduced me to the phrase “reading for solace” – a former boss of mine, the late Wendy Drewett, who for many years was the head of library services for children and schools in Buckinghamshire. There was nothing Mrs Drewett didn't know about children's and teenagers' books. She knew about authors, reading development, dyslexia, avid readers, reluctant readers... you name it. Above all, she knew about getting the right book to the right child at the right time.

In the course of her career, she worked alongside many families, teachers and schools and it was from her that I first heard the words “reading for solace” in connection with children who live with a chronic condition that means they cannot lead an ordinary physical life. (Maybe there is an element of comfort in tedium here?)

An example of this is the wonderful Rosemary Sutcliff, who suffered from juvenile arthritis from the age of two, which left her wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life. Although she famously didn't learn to read until she was nine (why bother when she had such a gifted storyteller for a mother?), she grew up on a diet of legends, myths and folk tales; and it was these, together with her ability to examine things close to her in minute detail, that occupied her mind and her imagination.

Reading for solace? I don't imagine for one moment that Rosemary Sutcliff thought of it that way, any more than the reader of the Dick Francis novel did at the time – any more than my mother did at the time. I don't think it's something you do consciously. I think it's something that, in certain circumstances, simply happens; and you don't realise until afterwards.

What do you think?

And if the author of the book my mum read is reading this blog – thank you.

 

After the daily blog all through November keeping you up to date with my NaNoWriMo progress (huge thanks to those of you who dropped by every day), it's time for 'normal service' to be resumed and this week I am thrilled to welcome back Jen Gilroy to my blog to share two of her favourite fictional people in the Take Two Characters series.

 

 

Take Two Characters:

 

Jen Gilroy Chooses Two of Her Favourite Fictional People

 

I was delighted when Susanna asked me to take part in this series on her blog. Not only is she a dear friend, but she’s also a favourite blogger and I’m always happy to visit here and chat with her readers.

However, I must confess that her request to choose two favourite fictional characters, one from my own books and one in a book by another author, was challenging. As a reader, I have so many favourite fictional characters. How could I choose only one? And as an author, I’m attached to my characters as a mum is attached to her children. Choosing one over all the others smacked of favouritism!

 

 

The decision was made, though, when Susanna noted that this guest post aligns with the first book birthday for Back Home at Firefly Lake, the third book in my series of small-town romantic contemporaries set in Firefly Lake, Vermont.

As I celebrate that milestone, I’m also celebrating one of the characters in Back Home at Firefly Lake, Cat (Catherine) McGuire who has much in common with one of my favourite characters created by another author, Valancy Stirling from Canadian author L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle.

 

Cat returns to Firefly Lake

 

Cat appears in my first two Firefly Lake books from a brief reference in The Cottage at Firefly Lake to small appearances in Summer on Firefly Lake. When the time came to give her a story of her own, she’d already lived in my head for over a year.

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Single mom, daughter, sister and sympathetic friend to many of the other characters, Cat is someone who has never felt comfortable in her own skin, or in Firefly Lake. Academically gifted, she’s happy in the world of books…until, all of a sudden, she isn’t.

 

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When in her mid-thirties, life brings her back to Firefly Lake, she has to confront the awkward teen she once was and face her fears (including her childhood crush, ice hockey pro Luc Simard) to finally become the woman she truly wants to be in life, work, and love.

 

Every book I write is, at some level, a story of female transformation and empowerment and Cat is no exception. In the end, and while she earns her happy ending with Luc (the story is a romance!), she also gains so much more—confidence in who she is and what she wants in all aspects of her life, not only in a romantic relationship.

 

Valancy and her Blue Castle

More than ninety years before Cat McGuire, Valancy Stirling appeared in L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, first published in 1926 and, in contrast to the much better known Anne of Green Gables, one of the few Montgomery books defined as ‘adult’ fiction.

 

 

A ‘spinster’ at the age of twenty-nine, Valancy lives a life of dull routine, dominated by her narrow-minded family and gossipy rural community. With limited education, no practical skills except for cooking, and at a time where women of her social background had few options in the world of work, she finds escape in reading.

 

But when she receives a supposedly devastating medical diagnosis, she decides, for the first time in her life, to truly live.

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Letting go of her fear of what her family and society will think, she finds meaningful work caring for a childhood acquaintance who became pregnant while unmarried (shocking for that time and place) and, in the end, finds her happy ending and a fulfilling life with an intriguing man with a mysterious past.

 

In the tradition of much contemporary women’s fiction, she becomes her ‘best self’ inside and out—including having the last laugh on her snobbish family.

 

My two favourite characters

Although Cat and Valancy are different women living at different times and in different contexts, they are nevertheless similar in how they face their fears, seize life, and don’t let their pasts continue to shape their futures.

 

That possibility of change and, correspondingly growing through challenges, motivates and shapes my own life. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, it’s also reflected in the characters that speak to me most as a reader, as well as those who people my books—and it’s why Cat and Valancy each have a special place in my heart.

 

Jen’s links

 

Website: www.jengilroy.com

Blog: http://www.jengilroy.com/category/blog/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/JenGilroyAuthor

Twitter: www.twitter.com/JenGilroy1

 

 

About Jen

Jen Gilroy worked in higher education and international marketing and business development before trading the corporate 9-5 to write contemporary romance and women’s fiction with heart, home, and happy endings. 

After many years living and working in England, she returned to where her roots run deep and lives in a small town in Eastern Ontario, Canada with her husband, teen daughter and a floppy-eared hound. When she’s not writing, Jen enjoys reading, travel, singing, and ballet. She’s also known for her love of ice cream, shoes, and vintage finds.

Jen’s first book, The Cottage at Firefly Lake (and first book in her Firefly Lake series), was a finalist for Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) Golden Heart® award in 2015. It was also shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) Joan Hessayon Award 2017.

She’s a member of RWA, RNA, and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA).

 

NaNoWriMo 2018. Finishing Book 6.

Posted on 1st November, 2018

It's November and that means it's NaNoWriMo. On my blog all this month I'll be tracking my progress as I head towards getting book 6 finished. Last year, I had a few blips along the way and my writing pretty well stalled. This year I am determined to keep writing at a steady pace.

 

If you would like to leave a few words to cheer me along, they would be greatly appreciated. As anyone who has ever done NaNo will tell you, it's hard!

 

Day 30 - the end!

 

66,401 words in 30 days! From the start of Chapter 14 of book 6 to the end of Chapter 32. There's still a bit more to write, but I am delighted and proud to have written so much in NaNoWriMo. It's great to get that purple 'Winner!' flash.

 

Day 29

 

This time yesterday I wondered whether I might make it to 60,000 words by the end of the month and here we are at the end of November 29th and I've clawed my way past that number. So now it's jst a question of how much more I can get written tomorrow before I claim my win officially and download my NaNoWriMo certificate.

 

 

Is it me or does the new graph (which, since I've topped 60,000, now goes all the way up to 80,000) make my word count bars look less impressive? Or should I just celbrate the fact that my chart has had to be expanded?

 

Day 28

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There have been several days throughout November in which I wasn't able to get masses of writing done because of prior commitments, and this was one of those days. Still, I managed 1317. Not bad.

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The question now is, can I make it to 60,000 words in the next 2 days? 3308 to go. Can I do it? What do you think?

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Day 27 - a good day!

 

Words written today - nearly 3,000. A very good day. But I have realised how different it feels writing in NaNo when you have already made it to 50,000. The anxiety, the feeling of pushing yourself, has evaporated. To be blunt, I've gone off the boil!

 

I have quite a few more scenes left to go and I have to get as much done as I can this week - preferably I need to get the whole book finished - as next week the copy-edits of The Poor Relation will arrive in my inbox; plus I'm organising a big family do for the second weekend in December...

 

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Day 26

 

As I mentioned on my Welcome page, today's word count doesn't reflect the work I've done today. The morning was spent mapping out all the remaining scenes in detail, though I must admit I did intend to get more written today.

 

 

Incidentally, the Nano word count may be 52,398, but you may be interested to know that the word count for the book stands at 98,201. Will I get it past the 100,000 mark tomorrow?

 

Day 25

 

A measley 216 words were added to the NaNo count today, but that doesn't mean I've had a day off. I am now approaching the book's final sequence of scenes, so today included working out some of the logistics of getting everything in exactly the right order - something that isn't always obvious when you are writing from several viewpoints. Also, I went back through the book to check the timeline was correct.

 

 

But, yes - I have felt very relaxed today. Can't deny it. I have to get back into the swing tomorrow.

 

Day 24 - and I've hit the 50,000 mark!

 

Last year I scraped past 50,000 words on November 30th, spurred on by the success of my friends Kirsten Hesketh and Tara Greaves. This year - 50,000 on day 24. Yay!

 

 

But that doesn't mean NaNo is over for me. I could 'declare' my win at this point, but instead I am going to keep my stats open for more as I carry on with the intention of finishing book 6 by the end of the month.

 

Day 23

 

Today's writing included writing a scene that I hadn't planned but it suddenly came to me and simply had to be included. Other than that - well, to tell the truth, I could have worked a lot harder today and got more done. Am I slowing down because the 50,000 is within my grasp? That would be a big mistake, as I'm aiming not for the 50,000 (though that will be great) but to get book 6 finished. The NaNo word count may be 48,201, but the book word count is 93,784 and is going to be over 100,000 when finished.

 

 

I wonder if I am slowing down because I know that there is a scene coming up for which I still haven't worked out the logistics. One of my characters is going to end up in danger and two others have to rescue him... but how are they going to find out where he is? Hm. Tricky.

 

Day 22, otherwise known as publication day of The Sewing Room Girl

 

Well, you won't be surprised to hear that much of today was taken up in celebrating the hardback and e-book publication of The Sewing Room Girl... and NaNoWriMo received less attention accordingly. Still, I managed to get a little short of 2000 words written. I now have 5 days ahead of me when I will have plenty of writing time. Remember, I'm not just aiming for the NaNo 50,000 words, but to get book 6 finished. That's one reason I have knocked off today - so that I can do a spot of planning this evening. See you tomorrow.

 

Day 21 - a much better day!

 

A better day, yes, though not as good as it could have been without the interruptions... You know how it is! Tomorrow's "interruption" is going to be publication day of The Sewing Room Girl... though that's one interruption I'm looking forward to!

 

 

Day 20

 

Today was the 4th of 5 days in November when commitments meant that there wouldn't be much time for writing. I got a bit done, as you can see, but only a bit. Have got to do masses tomorrow.

 

Day 19

 

Not quite as agood a day as yesterday but it's another day when my daily word count is in the green instead of the below-par blue (see day 16). I must admit I was expecting to get more than 2738 done today, having set aside the whole day for writing; but you know what it's like. Something came up that I had to attend to.

 

Tomorrow is going to be one of the 5 days in November when I'll be out all day, so it's going to be a challenge to get much done. Fingers crossed, please!

 

Day 18

 

It's been another good day. I wrote a couple of thousand words during the morning, then went out for a walk by the sea in the beautiful November sunshine before coming back to do more writing. I didn't manage to get as much written as yesterday, but it was still a good day.

 

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Thank you to all of you who are following my progress day by day. The blog's view figures are steadily mounting over the month and I appreciate your interest.

 

Day 17. Yay! Big success!

 

After a slow and frustrating morning, I got into my writing stride and steamed ahead this afternoon and evening. Are you like that? Does your writing flow more and more the further you get into it?

 

 

Day 16 - and I've slipped backwards a bit...

 

Well, I was out for most of the day, so maybe I shouldn't mind so much about not getting up to the target daily average, but it still feels a shame. Should I have ploughed on and done another 100 words? Probably. But I'm tired. Maybe I'll get a bit of planning done this evening to put towards a flying start tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Day 15

 

1755 words today. Nothing like as spectacular as yesterday, but it's an achievement to write more than the daily average of 1667 words. Tomorrow I will be out for much of the day, so this evening I'm going to get plenty of planning done, ready for a mammoth typing session when I get home. Wish me luck!

 

 

Day 14 - a great day!

 

3,493 words added to the Nano total today - far and away my most productive day. It's wonderful to see my bar not just peeping over the diagnal line but obviously above it.

 

Today got a bit complicated when I was part way through writing a scene ending, only to realise it was attached to entirely the wrong scene, so I had to move it elsewhere, which involved a bit of jiggery-pokery as I grafted it into the place where it needed to be. Worth it, though.

 

 

Day 13

 

After yesterday's Nano-disaster, things went much better today, fueled, it has to be said, by all the lovely folk who responded to my despondent tweet about yesterday's frankly awful word count. The online writing community is so generous.

 

Day 12

 

176 words. 176!! That's all that I wrote today. Well, no, it's not all I wrote - I actually wrote quite a decent amount, but the "decent amount" was for a book proposal my agent asked me to produce. 176 words! And I had been doing so well. 176... Feeling crushed.

 

 

Day 11

 

A little over 2000 words were written today - the first scene of Chapter 19. If I can get the 2nd scene written tomorrow, I'll count that as a success, even though the scene isn't likely to be anything like as long. Tomorrow is one of the days when I'm not going to be free to do much writing, so that bit of my bar graph that is above the line is probably going to be somewhat closer to the line this time tomorrow.

 

 

Day 10

 

NaNo works on the basis of 1667 words a day - that's what the diagonal line up the graph represents. My word count puts me a day ahead, which is good, obviously, but I still have a lot to write to get my book finished so I do need to get a move on.

 

Day 9...

 

...and that blue line next to 'Words Written Today' means I haven't managed to add the 1667 words, which is the average needed to get to 50,000 in 30 days... which I'm putting down to being tired at this point and rather headachy. Hoping for better things tomorrow. Night night.

 

Day 8

 

Day 7 - and I'm making good progress...

 

... but nothing like the amazing progress made by my friend Cass Grafton, co-author with Ada Bright of The Particlular Charm of Miss Jane Austen, which is being reissued by Canelo next year. Cass has already topped the 17,000 words mark. Wow!

 

Day 6 - and it's looking good, but...

 

But what will happen on day 8, when the chances of writing will be minimal? I need to pull further ahead to make up for that.

 

 

Day 5 - and my word count is peeping noticeably above the line. Woohoo!

 

The challenge this week is to keep above that line in spite of being out all day on day 8. That means writing more than the daily average of 1667 on every other day.

 

 

Day 4

 

Day 3

 

Day 2

 

Day 1

 

 

 

This week I am delighted to welcome my friend Jane Cable to my blog. Jane's novels include an intriging element of mystery and suspense. The first book of hers that I read was Another You and it kept me thinking right to the end. 

 

Jane's first novel, The Cheesemaker's House, was a finalist in the Alan Titchmarsh Show's People's Novelist competition and won Words for the Wounded's independent book of the year award in 2015; and The Faerie Tree tells of a couple who meet twenty years after a brief affair only to discover that their memories of it are completely different.

 

Jane recently signed with Sapere Books, who will publish two titles next year.

 

Jane is here today to contribute to the Take Two Characters series, which Heidi Swain started off in the previous blog. By the way, thanks to all of you who said on Twitter how much you like the idea behind this series.

 

Let's see what Jane has to say.

 

 

 

TAKE TWO CHARACTERS

 

After thinking long and hard about my favourite characters, the answer suddenly came to me; my favourite character is actually in my favourite book. A book I have loved for so long that it’s almost part of me: Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers. And of course the character is Penelope Keeling.

 

When the book was first published in 1987 it was a brave choice to put an older woman at the centre of the story, with Judith Krantz, Jackie Collins and Danielle Steel dominating the best-seller list with their sexy young heroines. But there is an enduring quality about Penelope, and I suspect she resonated with readers of all ages – those who, like her, had come through World War Two as young women and those, like me, who found she reminded them just a little bit of their mothers.

 

There are two characteristics I love more than anything about Penelope – her wisdom and her energy. She isn’t prepared to moulder away in the country, she has an active and fulfilling life and is more than capable of making the most courageous decisions on her own. A proper heroine for the twentieth – and twenty-first – century.

 

Perhaps Penelope Keeling is also the reason there is a wise older person in all my books. Perhaps it was because I had such a strong relationship with my mother. But I always feel the need to create a wise council, a broader perspective – an alternative view of life from that of my other characters.

 

One in particular has a very different world view. Jennifer Dodd in The Faerie Tree is not a woman you’d expect to live in a rambling house in a smart Hampshire village, but nevertheless the community respects her. In every way she defies their narrow conventions; letting her young grandsons run wild in the woods, taking in a damaged stranger, and most of all by practising her gentle pagan beliefs.

 

The Faerie Tree is a book about what happens when Robin and Izzie meet again twenty years after their brief affair and discover their memories of it are completely different. I introduced Jennifer early in the book – during their first date, in fact – but she went on to play a huge part in Robin’s life. It is only through Jennifer’s wisdom that he even has a meaningful life, learning through her to deal with good and bad in the world around him by seeing nature as a source of strength and joy.

One thing I was always sorry about was that there no space in the narrative for Jennifer’s back story and perhaps, like Penelope Keeling, she deserves a novel of her own. Married young to a British soldier stationed in her native Iceland just after the war, she never realised that her new life in a foreign country would mean an outward denial of everything she held dear, but despite everything her independent spirit remained strong.

 

That’s the joy of the more mature character for me – not the wrinkles that may or may not be on their skin, but the invisible lines and scars that shape them down the years and give them so much depth.

 

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Here's a picture from a recent holiday - oops, sorry, I mean writing retreat in Bath.

 

Top to bottom:

 

Jane Cable and Cass Grafton

 

 

Kitty Wilson and Kirsten Hesketh

 

 

and yours truly.

 

 

This week I am delighted to welcome Heidi Swain back to my blog. The first time Heidi appeared here, it was before her debut novel, The Cherry Tree Cafe, was published; and now she is a Sunday Times bestselling author with a string of wonderful, heartwarming novels on the bookshelves.

 

Today Heidi is here to launch my new series,

Take Two Characters.

 

Firstly she is going to tell us a bit more about a favourite character from her own writing; then she'll share her love of a character created by another writer.

Take Two Characters

When Susanna kindly invited me to take part in this fabulous feature I knew instantly which of my own characters I wanted to talk about. There is one person who plays a part in every single one of my titles and yet she has never had a book of her own.

 

Lovely Jemma who owns The Cherry Tree Café and runs it with her best friend, the queen of crafts, Lizzie Dixon, has been with me right from the very beginning of my Wynbridge writing journey.

She’s an astute business woman, a wife, mother, daughter, sister-in-law and firm friend to many Wynbridge residents and she gets stronger with every title.


She might not have her own book, but she’s a force to be reckoned with nonetheless, always in the thick of things and poised in my next book, Snowflakes and Cinnamon Swirls, to announce another exciting string to her business bow. This latest development was completely her own idea. When I was writing one particular scene, the words flowed from my fingers as easily as if she was standing next to me and dictating what to write. Which actually, I’m certain was what happened.

 

Originally Jemma’s role was to support Lizzie but she has stretched far beyond the pages of that first title and I often find myself thinking ‘what would Jemma do?’ when faced with either a fictional or real-life problem.

And my readers love her too. She’s an integral part of the Wynbridge package, even making her presence felt in Nightingale Square, but I don’t think she needs a book of her own. Jemma’s voice sings loud and proud throughout the telling of everyone’s else’s tales and I think she rather likes it that way.

* * * *

Picking a second character for this feature was not so easy and I went back and forth for a few days before finally settling on… inimitable Mrs Weasley from Harry Potter and the mighty pen of JK Rowling.

There are many things I love about Molly Weasley – her fabulous home for a start. I would love to live in The Burrow, even if I didn’t have dishes which washed themselves – and perhaps it would be best not to get me started on her unique sense of style and dress – but of course there is a whole lot more to her character than that.

What really stands out in my mind when I think about Mrs W are the two very different sides of her personality. On the one hand she’s a home loving wife and mum, a domestic goddess with a knack for knitting (or bewitching her needles). She welcomes Harry into her family, treating him as one of her own without question, but on the other hand she’s an incredibly strong woman who is fiercely protective of her friends and family. When her daughter is threatened we hear the lioness roar and her power can’t be matched. She knows the value of her tribe and stands up for what is right, whatever the cost.

So many of the female characters in the Harry Potter series show strength and ambition, (not always positively), as well as tenderness and love but for me, Molly Weasley is the perfect amalgamation of all those traits which are best in both men and women. Or should that be wizards and witches?

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Today I welcome Kirsten to my blog for her last appearance as a regular contributor. Since the start of last year, she has shared the ups and downs of her writer's life in what has become a very popular series. I think we have all enjoyed and appreciated her frank and humourous anecdotes.

 

Kirsten is now moving onto her own website and blog, so here is her last Despatch From the Querying Trenches.

 

Many thanks for all the guest posts, Kisrten. It's been huge fun, having you as a regular visitor. xxx

 

 

* * * *

 

 

Despatches from the Querying Trenches.

 

The Last Post

 

This will be my last post on Susanna’s wonderful blog for a while and the last in the Despatches from the Querying Trenches series. I’ve now set my own website and it’s time to move on.

 

But it’s still sad and I hate goodbyes so I will be short and sweet.

 

I’d like to thank Susanna for giving me a regular slot on her blog. It was such a generous gesture and I feel so fortunate, as an unpublished writer, to have been given the opportunity. And I’ve really enjoyed taking stock each month and sharing my highlights and lowlights. I hope it’s been interesting. Thank you so much, Sue.

 

And thank you to all of you, my lovely readers, especially those of you who have been kind enough to comment, both here and on social media. Writing can a pretty lonely business, full of uncertainty and setbacks, and I’ve been overwhelmed by your support, empathy, humour and encouragement.

 

I hope I will be able to come back and do the odd post here and there and I am very much looking forward to hosting Sue on my website in due course. And, of course, I’m looking forward to reading Sue - and her guests’ - posts going forward and continuing to champion her fabulous blog. I’m sure it will go from strength to strength.

 

But, for now, au revoir and thank you again.

 

It’s been a blast.

xx

 

When A Scent Takes You Back Through The Years

Posted on 14th September, 2018

I finished a bottle of bath oil this week. It's a bottle I have been hoarding and ekeing out for just short of 20 years. Why hang onto it for so long? Well, it was part of the last birthday present I received from my late husband. He didn't buy it himself - he was too ill by then. Instead he despatched the lady next door to find a suitable gift and birthday card. She bought one of everything in a range of smellies called Kuyusu that was being sold by Boots. Kuyusu has long since vanished from the shelves, making my little collection even more precious.

 

This is all I have left now from that birthday gift. The blue colour has faded over the years but the distinctive fragrance is still intact - an instantly recognisable aroma that immediately transports me back through the years.

 

Have you noticed how certain smells can do that? They evoke a place, a person, a particular incident, a certain time in your life, as nothing else can. 'Evoke' seems a weak word to use - as if what is conjoured up is a faint replica of the real thing. What these smells do is hurl you back in time in a flash of memory so intense it rocks you to your core.

 

Another smell that means a lot to me is that of homemade mincemeat being prepared in the oven. Ever made your own mincemeat? It takes ages to assemble everything in the bowl; then you leave it to rest in its own juices for 24 hours; then it goes in the oven on a low heat... and the smell starts to fill the house.

 

When I was little, my Gran lived with us and she made mincemeat every year, ready for Christmas. When the mincemeat went in the oven and the house started to smell of oranges and lemons, that was the first sign that Christmas was on the way.

 

The first time I made my own mincemeat, I had forgotten about Gran's. Then I put mine in the oven and went off to do something else... and the pungent smell of oranges and lemons began to filter through the house.

 

 

At once I was plunged into the past, into childhood and the house I grew up in and Christmas and Gran and Ginger, her old cat, who had his basket beside the fire in the living room.

 

Are there any smells that throw you into the past?