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Tips For Writers - Week 2

Posted on 16th August, 2019

Welcome to the second in my summer series of writing tips. Last week’s blog had well over 100 visitors and I hope that number will increase for this and subsequent posts as word gets round.

Karen Coles (writing as K E Coles) is the author of the Mesmeris trilogy, a darkly compelling tale about a malign religious sect.

"Whether at the first draft, revision or editing stage, my main rule is to always have a pen and paper handy wherever I go – on a journey, in the bath, next to my bed, in the kitchen etc. I often go through scenes in my head while doing other things (mostly when cooking, oddly), and have imaginary conversations. I have to write them down immediately as the wording is usually much better and more natural than if I try to recall it later. I write both on the laptop and on paper, but when writing a totally new scene, the ideas seem to flow better on paper. I’m not the greatest typist so often spell things wrongly and have to amend them, which takes me out of the story."

 

Karen's Amazon page

 

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Ros Rendle writes historical sagas and contemporary romance.

 

"I’m not a major plotter but I always make myself write down a rough outline and allocate the number of chapters to each section, ensuring that by 25% or 50% etc. of the way through I have the correct structure in place – more or less. After that the plot and the characters tend to drive the story. At the end when I come to editing I’ll add whatever or take out the bits that detract. Taking out is hard of course but I’m better at surrendering those for good writing these days."

 

Ros's website  

 

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Margaret Kaine has written sagas about life in the Potteries between the 1950s and the 1970s, as well as Edwardian novels.

 

"Once I've completed a chapter, I find it invaluable to read it aloud. I wait until the house is empty, then project my voice as if I'm reading to an audience. This seems to work better than reading quietly, in revealing repetitions, flat passages, or whether the writing flows or lacks pace. I then edit immediately. After several days I read the chapter aloud again, before a final polish."

 

Margaret's Amazon page

 

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Sharon Booth is a prolific indie-writer of contemporary romance and romantic comedy.

 

"Never, ever throw away old writing. Seriously. You might feel you've written total garbage that is only fit for the recycle bin, but one day you may stumble across something you've forgotten about, and look at it in wonder, realising it's exactly what you need for the new book you're working on. So hang onto your old stuff, even if you think it's the worst thing you've ever read, because you could reread it, awestruck at your amazing talent."

 

Sharon's Amazon page

 

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Jessica Redland writes contemporary romance. She has recently signed with Boldwood Books.

 

"Don't get obsessed with Amazon positions or reviews. It's great to know how you're doing in the charts, but your book can fluctuate massively from one day to the next. Don't worry if it suddenly drops 80,000 places, because it might rise 85,000 the next day! As for reviews, read and enjoy the good ones and learn from the bad ones if they're written constructively. If they aren't, ignore them! Mind you, that's probably easier said than done. At the time of writing, I haven't had less than a 4-star review and I'm sure my first 1- or 2-star will have me sobbing bucket-loads, but I will remind myself that it's just one person's opinion and there's a stack of other people who loved it!"

 

Jessica's Amazon page

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That’s it for this week’s writing tips. I hope you found something that strikes a chord and that will help with your own writing. Or, if you aren’t a writer, I hope you enjoyed this insight into the writing process.

 

See you again next week with more ideas.

 

Tips For Writers - Week 1

Posted on 8th August, 2019

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

W Somerset Maugham

 

Writers are always seeking advice and there is an abundance of it out there – websites, blogs, workshops, courses, magazines and How To books. Writers are always on the look-out for ideas that will help them improve their craft. When you find a practice that works for you, it becomes one of your personal writing rules.

 

Back in 2016, I ran a series of blogs called It Works For Me, in which I invited writer friends to share their personal writing rules with the rest of us. Over the next few weeks, I am going to revisit some of those rules and post them here for writers who missed the series first time round and especially for new writers who are looking for some support.

 

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Let’s start with Jan Baynham, who has recently signed a three-book deal with Ruby Fiction. Her debut novel, Whispering Olive Trees, will be published next year.

 

Write first, edit later:

This was very hard for me to learn but it worked when I attempted NaNoWriMo for the first time. My novel-in-progress was taking forever and whenever I started writing, I'd go back and change things. Once I adopted this rule, the story seemed to flow and I was able to immerse myself in the book, get to know my characters and thoroughly enjoy the process of writing. I may have made editing harder but unless there's a story to edit, I won't know!

 

https://twitter.com/JanBayLit 

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Linda Huber writes psychological suspense novels under her own name and romance novels as Melina Huber.

 

Keep a list of over-used words and expressions.
You know, things like: just, that, really, only, actually, surely etc etc. My characters also have a terrible habit of wincing, frowning, sighing, raising their eyebrows, and gripping each other’s elbows… They pull faces quite a lot too. I don’t worry about this while I’m writing, but when the first draft is finished I go back and check through the list – easy with the ‘find’ function on Word.

 

https://twitter.com/LindaHuber19 

 

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Kate Field writes contemporary romance novels. Her debut novel, The Magic of Ramblings,won the RNA’s Joan Hessayon Award.

 

Character Names Are Crucial

I can’t start writing until I know the full names of the main characters – and they have to be the right names. I once tried to write a short story and struggled to move past the first page. Changing the name of the heroine solved the problem: she took on a new identity with her new name, and I understood where her story needed to go.

 

I spend a long time mulling over names. I usually start by looking on the internet at the most popular baby names for the years around which the character was born. Other good sources are TV credits, newspapers and magazines.

 

https://twitter.com/katehaswords 

 

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Jen Gilroy is the Canadian author of the Firefly Lake trilogy. Her latest novel, The Wishing Tree in Irish Falls, will be published in October.

 

Take small steps towards a big goal

 

I’ve wanted to be a published author since childhood, but it was only in February 2009 that I started working seriously towards that goal, and set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) goals along the way.

 

It took six and a half years, multiple manuscripts, and numerous rejections before my agent called to tell me that she’d sold The Cottage at Firefly Lake. Although I persevered to reach my big goal, I got there in part because I set a multitude of small goals. Those small steps in my writing journey included submitting manuscripts each year to the RNA NWS for critique, entering writing contests, and becoming active on Twitter to connect with other writers.

 

https://twitter.com/JenGilroy1 

 

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I hope you have enjoyed this insight into what makes these writers tick and maybe you’ve found a writing tip that strikes a chord with you. If you have, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you – and so would Jan, Linda, Kate and Jen.

 

 

When a writer starts getting reviews and other feedback on a new book, there can be some surprises in store. For example, there might be one character whom everyone seems to latch onto and love. In my latest book, The Poor Relation, this has happened with Helen Rawley. So what makes this crotchety old lady special to my readers?

Well, it can’t be that she’s a nice person, because she definitely isn’t. Helen Rawley is a spiky individual, with a waspish tongue, who is quick to make judgements and who makes a habit of alienating the very people she most wants to be close to. She isn’t above a spot of manipulation when she sees the need – hence her scheme to get her great-niece Eleanor assigned to her as companion-help. And she doesn’t appreciate being thwarted – hence her unpleasantness, even one or two moments of cruelty, towards Mary when Mary is sent to her instead.

 

She doesn’t sound like a character with much appeal, does she?

 

So what is it that readers have latched onto? At the outset, I think they feel a certain sympathy for her. Helen is an elderly lady who never married. The story is set in 1908-1909, so most of Helen’s life was spent in the Victorian years as the spinster in a well-to-do family, dependent first upon her father and then upon her brother for the roof over her head and the food on her table; also for her dress allowance – hence her glee in buying glamorous under-garments and presenting her starchy brother with the bill.

 

When her father died many years previously, he effectively left Helen in his will to her brother Robert, who henceforward was responsible for her care and well-being. It wasn’t exactly a match made in heaven. Robert did his duty, but, as Helen was all too well aware, he enjoyed being in a position of power over her.

 

As it says in the book:

"Robert had called her a chattel. 'The old man left me all his goods and chattels, including Helen here.' He would wave the stem of his pipe in her direction, inviting his dinner companions to enjoy the joke; but beneath the chuckle lay something more, a suggestion of pleasure and power."

 

At the start of The Poor Relation, Robert has died and once again Helen has been left to a male relative – this time to her nephew Greg, who is the very last person on whom she would wish to be dependent.

 

As Helen says, ‘God knows, I hated my brother at times, but I never once felt vulnerable. Ever since the reading of the will, I’ve been apprehensive. The will may be watertight, but he (Greg) feels no obligation.’

 

And she is right to be apprehensive – as the reader soon learns.

 

But it isn’t because of feeling sorry for her that readers like her. They enjoy her crochety character because her flaws make her real. And they like her spirit. As the story progresses, the extent of Helen’s dogged determination is revealed. Kept very much in her place by her brother, and ignored by Lady Kimber, the leading light of local society, Helen has never enjoyed a place in the world of dinner parties and at homes. She even has to undertake her charitable works in secrecy and let someone else take the credit for them – something that she finds deeply galling.

 

One of the themes of the book is the way women were regarded both socially and legally. With everything Helen Rawley has had to contend with throughout her life, a lesser person might have lapsed into being a downtrodden doormat. But not Miss Rawley. As one reviewer said of her, ‘had she been born a decade or so later, (she) would have been among those publicly fighting for women’s rights, I’m sure’ – because, above all else, Helen Rawley is a woman of spirit.

 

The Poor Relation       

 

on Kindle      

 

on Kobo            

 

in hardback from Amazon     

 

in hardback from Waterstones  

 

in hardback from Allison & Busby    

 

pre-order the paperback from Amazon  

            

The Poor Relation as an audiobook, read by Julia Franklin 

 

on Audible  

 

on CD or MP3 from Isis Soundings

 

 

A Week in A Writer's Life

Posted on 15th July, 2019

A week in a writer's life - well, just over a week, actually - and not a typical week either, but certainly a happy and interesting one for me.

 

It started with a visit from my dear friend Jen Gilroy, who is a Canadian writer of contemporary romances. She came to stay with us last year before the RNA (Romantic Novelists' Association) Conference but only for a couple of days. This year, she came for longer, which was perfect because it gave us plenty of talking time!

 

I took Jen to the Imperial Hotel on the promenade to have afternoon tea.

 

The paperwork in the photo is the various talks that were going to be held at the RNA Conference, but most of our time that afternoon was given over to talking about a new novel that Jen is planning. It's a real honour when a writer shares her book-plans with you.

 

To give you an idea of how engrossed we were.... We sat down at 3 o'clock and some time later, when we imagined it was about half past 5, it turned out to be 7.20!

The RNA Conference was superb. The best bit, as always was meeting up with friends. As lovely and supportive as non-writing friends can be, there is no substitute of the support of people who understand because they have the same hopes and the same problems.

 

 

 

Jen is the one standing up on the right-hand end. You will see my fellow Sister Scribes there and also Jan Baynham, who has recently signed a 3-book deal with Ruby Fiction (front row, first on the left), and Sue McDonagh, who writes for ChocLit (beside Jen).

 

 

On the last evening, everyone got dressed up for the gala dinner.

 

L - R, top: Sue McDonagh, Maddie Please, Cass Grafton, Jane Cable.

 

Seated: Kirsten Hesketh, Jan Baynham

 

And of course we had to have a Sister Scribes photo....

 

 

 

Leaving the Conference was a bit of a wrench, but it is wonderful to be home and breathing that fresh sea air.

 

On Monday morning I went for a walk around the Great Orme....

hhh

 

.... and came home to find that Julie Barham, who runs the Northern Reader book blog, has posted her review of The Deserter's Daughter. 

 

Julie says:

"This saga is an intelligent and complex study of family life when desire, money, greed and fear become muddled with loss and hatred.... What makes this book so special is the way that Bavin creates a world of deceit and criminality in which the innocent suffer, and mistakes are harshly punished. As in Bavin’s other book, the research into the era is absolutely impeccable, giving not only the facts but also managing to convey the feeling of the period in so many details.... Sometimes brutal, even tragic, the hope and love which perminate this book with the basic strength of the characters means that it is difficult to put down, as tension and surprises maintain the reader’s interest. A flowing and immensely readable book, I found it a fascinating read. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book."

 

Wow! As you can imagine, I felt quite overwhelmed when I read this.

 

The Deserter's Daughter is currently available in these formats:

 

£1.90 on UK Kindle 

 

£2.00 in paperback at Amazon UK  

 

£2.00 in paperback at The Works (also part of the 3 paperbacks for £5.00 deal)

 

£2.63 on UK Kobo 

 

$2.38 on US Kindle  

 

CDN$3.19 on Canadian Kindle  

 

$4.39 on Australian Kindle  

 

 

 

Well, there we are. That was my writing life this past week and a bit. Oh yes - one last thing. While I was at the RNA Conference, I received from my agent the edits she wants me to work on, for the book that is coming out in May 2020. I am pleased (and relieved!) to tell you that the edits are purely surface edits - which means that they are minor additions or changes that don't have a knock-on effect on the rest of the plot. Phew! So that's my next writing week taken care of....

 

If you enjoyed this glimpse of my writing life, do leave a quick comment. I'd love to hear from you.

 

See you next time.

 

 

I am delighted to welcome Mollie Walton to my blog to take part in the Take Two Characters series. Mollie is a debut saga author and her novel,The Daughters of Ironbridge, is the first book in a trilogy centred around the world of the iron industry.

Take Two Characters – by Mollie Walton

 

I’m thrilled to be appearing on Susanna’s blog today and with such an interesting subject to talk about. Characters, for me, are the most important thing in literature. I can read the most ingenious plot devices but if the characters don’t feel real, I don’t give a damn what happens to them. The characters I like best are those who are given space on the page to show themselves in all their variety, with their successes and failures given equal importance. Only then can we appreciate them as people, fascinated by their strengths and their flaws.

 

 

My character I’d like to discuss is Anny Woodvine, from my novel The Daughters of Ironbridge, the first book in The Ironbridge Saga. The novel is set in the 1830s in the heart of the industrial revolution in Shropshire. When we first meet Anny she is twelve years old, helping her mother with the washing work at home, then rushing off to take her father’s lunch to him at the ironworks. Anny has learnt to read and write – an unusual skill for someone of her class at that time – and she is bright and sparky with it. She has red hair and freckles, which she despises, but she admires her feet, which she thinks are slender. When she falls in love, she falls hard and gives her heart completely. She is optimistic and has much ambition to improve her lot in life.

 

 

What I like best about Anny is that she is not obsessed with her looks or even her class. She isn’t ashamed of her origins; rather she wants things to be better for everyone. She actually just wants the world to be a better place. She is also strong in the face of adversity, even though she doesn’t believe herself to be strong. As ever with saga, she is put through the mill and has many hard times ahead. I admire her strength but I also understand her bitterness about what she’s been through. She’s not an angel or a devil; she’s somewhere in-between and I think in life most of us are negotiating that middling place between our best and worst selves.

* * * *

The other character I want to talk about is Clary Cazalet, from the set of 5 novels by Elizabeth Jane Howard commonly known as The Cazalet Chronicles. I read these 5 novels back to back over one summer a few years ago and I was completely addicted.

 

They tell the story of a family from just before WW2 and then well into the 1950s, as the children from the first book have grown up and had children of their own. It’s a masterful piece of writing, one of the best writers I have ever read. The characters feel so real to me, that when I think of them, they seem to be people that I knew well once but have since lost touch with.

 

When we first meet Clary she is a child, an awkward child who is left about by her cousins and is a bit of a loner. Her mother has died and her lovely father has remarried to a spoilt, younger woman, who Clary initially hates. Clary loves to read and write, later becoming an author.

 

What I love about Clary is that she is completely herself. She never tries to alter her character or appearance to fit in with other people’s expectations. She has a deep belief in herself, even though she doesn’t really realise this and that stops her from being arrogant. She is an outsider and I identify strongly with that. I often felt that growing up and I’ve met quite a few other writers who feel the same way. Perhaps there’s something about being a writer that necessitates being on the outside looking in. It’s about having the time and space to observe the action, rather than necessarily being the centre of it. There are plenty of examples of extrovert authors, don’t get me wrong. And also, Clary may be an outsider, but she’s certainly not backwards in coming forwards. She’s delightfully gobby! She’ll give her opinion on almost any subject, whether she’s asked for it or not. And she is brilliant in arguments. Despite all her faults, or maybe because of them, I believe she is the heart of the Cazalet novels and a wonderful creation.

 

So, those are my two characters. I think I chose them because – despite their differing stations in life – both of these young women are true to themselves, they suffer and yet they prevail. And neither of them are perfect.

 

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The Daughters of Ironbridge is available on Kindle, in paperback, on Audible and as a CD audiobook.

 

 

This week I welcome Linda Huber to my blog to chat about two favourite fictional people.

 

Linda grew up in Glasgow, but went to work in Switzerland for a year, aged 22, and has lived there ever since.  Her day jobs have included working as a physiotherapist in hospitals and schools for handicapped children, and teaching English in a medieval castle. After spending chunks of the current decade moving house, she has settled in a lovely flat on the banks of Lake Constance, where she writes psychological suspense novels as Linda Huber, and feel-good novellas under her pen name Melinda Huber.

 

Stolen Sister is her eighth book. The final novella in her 'in Switzerland' series, Wedding Bells in Switzerland, was published last week.

 

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First of all, big thanks to Susanna for asking me to come on her blog. ‘Take Two Characters’ is such an original idea for a blog series!

 

I thought for quite a long time before deciding which of my own characters I’d write about, and eventually chose Vicky from my newest book Stolen Sister. Like me, Vicky grew up in Glasgow with a short stay in Edinburgh. The similarity between us ends there, though, for she has a lot more to cope with than I ever did as a child.

 

For nearly four years, Vicky lives in in a happy family unit on the south side of Glasgow. Little brother Jamie, who has severe cerebral palsy, is two years younger, then baby sister Erin is born. Not long afterwards, Vicky and Jamie go for a weekend to Great-Aunt Maisie in Edinburgh while Mum and Dad take Erin to a class reunion in Cumbria. And that’s where family life stops for Vicky. Her parents die in a fire at the hotel; Erin survives, but disappears. Maisie can’t cope with the other two children for long, so Vicky and Jamie grow up in foster care, with no memory of their little sister, because for reasons of her own, Maisie allows them to forget Erin.

Fast forward twenty-two years, and Vicky is called to Maisie’s nursing home to say a final goodbye. ‘Find Erin,’ is Maisie’s last wish, but she can’t give Vicky any more information other than the fact that a little sister once existed. Vicky’s search begins…

 

Years ago, I did some research on my family tree, and I was gobsmacked by what emerged - I have a distant little cousin who drowned on school trip to a public swimming pool in the 1940s. I’d never heard of her before I started researching. Then there’s my paternal grandparents, who were married in Bombay. Why? Nobody knows, and there’s nobody left to ask. And around that time, my mother showed me a photo of my other grandmother’s neighbour, who went to America on the Titanic, and no, I have no idea, not even a name, and the photo is lost.

 

Even nowadays, it’s not impossible for a baby to disappear, like Erin did, and grow up unaware of their roots. And for Vicky, with no family left apart from her profoundly handicapped brother, finding her sister comes to mean finding herself, her family, her identity. Family, even when we’ve never met them, are part of who we are. And Vicky does find hers, although ‘Erin’, in one way, no longer exists.

 

For my other character I turned to Mary Higgins Clark – I love her books. She writes about strong women, and although there’s often a man around somewhere in the background, it’s the women who carry the story and propel the action forwards.

The character I’ve chosen is Jenny in A Cry in the Night. She’s head of a one-parent family in New York, where she has a demanding and poorly-paid job which means her two small girls spend their days with a childminder.

Jenny doesn’t have two pennies to rub together – and then she meets Mr Perfect, Erich Krueger, rich, appealing, and hopelessly in love with her. Or that’s how it seems, anyway, and it isn’t until they’re married and living in a tiny community in the middle of nowhere that Jenny sees what is really going on. When Erich disappears with the little girls, Jenny too is left searching for her family, terrified her girls will come to harm.

 

In the end, both Jenny and Vicky succeed – although success wasn’t what either woman thought it was going to be…

 

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Linda's Links:

 

Website: https://lindahuber.net/

 

 

Twitter:  LindaHuber19          

 

 

Linda on Amazon  

 

Melinda on Amazon 

 

I am delighted to welcome my fellow Sister Scribe, Kitty Wilson, to my blog. After years living in Cornwall, Kitty now lives in Bristol. She writes the popular Cornish Village School series, which is published by Canelo.

 

Take two characters…

 

When Susanna asked me to write about two characters, one from a book I had written and one written by someone else that I found memorable, I thought knew exactly who I would write about. I have surprised myself.

 

Mine was easy, in the first book in The Cornish Village School series, Breaking the Rules, I have a character called Marion Marksharp who is the head of the PTA and I love her. Like a velociraptor dressed in Cath Kidston, she stalks the school and is terrifying - quelling rebellion with an eyebrow and being the subject of fear and loathing from all of the parents and most of the staff. She is the archetypal competitive playground mum and as both an ex-teacher and parent to two children, I have memories of many real-world incarnations of Marion who both scared the bejesus out of me (whilst bragging about what book-band their child was on and doling out looks of faux-sympathy) but whom I learnt, over time, to admire for their tenacity and determination.

 

Marion began as a side character, a small cast member in the school community but soon developed into a force of her own. I enjoyed writing her and she made me laugh so much that she soon took on a major role, shaping the story far more than was ever intended, her character becoming more complex the more I wrote.

 

What I didn’t expect was readers to enjoy her as much as I did. As I was obsessively reading reviews after publication of the first book, I was surprised to see that Marion was by far the favourite character. This made me so happy and, as I was in the midst of book two, meant that I felt encouraged to feature her heavily, once again giving her a role that shaped the story. As the series has progressed, I have found that I’m so fond of her now that the series arc is based upon her and the final book (spoiler warning!) will tie up all the threads from the first four books and be about Marion’s very own Happy Ever After.

 

Never when I wrote the first book in the series did I imagine that this side character would develop into a steady thread and take over the whole series in the way that she has.

 

When it came to choosing the second character for Susanna’s blog I assumed that because I read so widely as an adolescent, my favourite character would have to come from that time of my life. I have considered Katharine Swynford, Dona St Columb, Sara Dane and Jane Eyre to name just a few but I have surprised myself and landed upon a character that I re-read about very recently. This is partly because the characters that I grew up adoring I haven’t read for many years and I have little faith in the accuracy of my memories but also because of the power of Madeleine Miller’s Circe - her characterisation of this enchantress made me question and revisit my own attitudes and limitations.

 

I’m a terrible history geek, I adore the Homeric Epics and think that The Odyssey has some of the most memorable mythical characters ever devised. There was Cyclops, who many of us may remember from primary school, the Lotus-eaters, the Sirens - a great list that has continued to shape storytelling to this day. Amongst this number was Circe, whose tale has been re-imagined and re-told by Miller and was published last year.

 

When I studied The Odyssey many moons ago, I recalled Circe as being an enchantress, a witch who turned Odysseus’ men into pigs and then returned them to their form as sailors but kept them trapped on her island for a year. Despite the fact that she offered advice on how to avoid some of the dangers Odysseus faced on his way home, fed a shipload of sailors for a year and allowed them to stay for a prolonged period, I wrote her off as a villain, a two-dimensional character who Odysseus had to use his cunning to defeat, to allow him to get on with his journey. Despite being aware she was an enchantress, l pictured her as an older woman with warts and ratty hair - the archetypal witch conjured up in popular culture for centuries. So much for my feminist credentials.

 

The re-telling of this character by Miller drew her as a daughter and a sister, ridiculed and reviled and placed on the edges of society, only to be cast out entirely when she rebelled against the dictates and hierarchy of the ancient Gods.

 

As she became older, she became a lover, a mother and fully embraced her status of witch and the powers it gave her. I saw her anew, as a supporter of Odysseus, a woman who nurtured and encouraged those she loved, sacrificing her own desires to aid those that she cared for. She was a hero of the highest order and, with Miller’s re-telling, I have learnt to adore her. I could write pages and pages in praise of this Circe – I won’t – but it is an interesting lesson in how a character and a story that has existed for millennia can be reinvigorated and reborn in the hands of a truly skilled storyteller.

 

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Kitty's links:

Her Twitter page  

 

Her Amazon page 

 

What’s in a name? More than you might think – certainly more than I thought. Names are very important to writers. When creating characters, it is essential to find the right name for each one. In my experience, characters generally arrive in my mind fully formed, complete with name – though not always.

 

Take Carrie, the heroine of The Deserter’s Daughter. She went through several names but the moment I thought of Carrie, I knew I’d found the right one. Her sister, Evadne, on the other hand, was Evadne from the start. Likewise, Ralph’s name was always Ralph Armstrong, though it took a while to find the right name for Adam.

In A Respectable Woman, the heroine is Nell Hibbert, named in honour of Eleanor Hibbert, which was the real name of the writer Victoria Holt.

In The Sewing Room Girl, the heroine is Juliet – a name that was hers from the moment I thought of her. Her difficult but vulnerable mother is Agnes and her domineering grandmother is Adeline – again, names that the characters already had when they arrived inside my head. In fact, I had no difficulty at all naming any of the characters in the book – Rosie, Mr Nugent, Hal, William Turton… Each one appeared in my mind, complete with name.

 

So why the question at the start of the blog? Well, there was one character in The Sewing Room Girl who didn’t have a name – not because I couldn’t think of one, but because she was never intended to have one. She only had a walk-on part, so she didn’t need to be called anything.

 

Early in the story, Agnes is given the job of resident seamstress in the household of Lord Drysdale. Because Juliet isn’t old enough to live on her own, she is allowed to accompany her mother to Moorside, the grand house where the Drysdale family has lived for generations. Not being an official member of the household means that Juliet isn’t invited to eat in the servants’ hall. Instead, meals are carried upstairs to the sewing room for her and Agnes.

 

And this is where my walk-on character appeared. In the first draft of the book, she was referred to as nothing more than “the maid who brought their tray upstairs.” I called her that once. Then, a little later, it was necessary for her to appear with another tray, so I called her “the maid who brought their tray upstairs” again.

 

The trouble was, she appeared a third time and – well, I couldn’t go on calling her “the maid who brought their tray upstairs,” could I? So I gave her a name. It didn’t matter what the name was, because she only had a walk-on part. I called her Cecily.

 

And from that moment, there was no stopping her. Before I knew it, she was Juliet’s best friend. Not only that, but she her own sub-plot and her own love story.

 

I swear that Cecily was never meant to do anything more than fetch and carry meal-trays. But the moment she was given her name, she also acquired a full personality – and a family – and an unshakable determination to bag herself a husband.

 

What’s in a name? As it turned out, considerably more than I had expected.

 

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If you like the sound of Cecily and The Sewing Room Girl, I hope you will request the book from your public library; or if you would like to buy a copy, here are the purchase links:

 

UK Kindle   UK paperback   UK Audible read by Julia Franklin  UK Kobo   

 

US Kindle   US paperback   US Audible read by Julia Franklin  

 

Canadian Kindle  Canadian paperback  Canadian Audible read by Julia Franklin   

 

Australian Kindle   Australian paperback   Australian Audible read by Julia Franklin     

 

Publication Day Memories

Posted on 23rd May, 2019

I am writing this earlier in the week than normal - Thursday May 23rd. Today is that day that all unpublished writers dream of, and the day published writers wait for eagerly - publication day. For me, it is publication day for not one but two books - the hardback and e-book of The Poor Relation and the paperback edition of The Sewing Room Girl.

 

 

Here are a few special memories from today...

 

   ...some of the cards...  

Good wishes from friends mean everything, whether they come from non-writers giving support and saying how proud they are; or from fellow writers, celebrating the special day with an understanding that you get only from other people who are in the same boat, especially if they are the writer-friends who were by your side during the time before you got an agent, a publisher, a book contract.

 

Not all good wishes, of course come in card form these days. I had many messages on Twitter and Facebook. It is truly exciting when other people share or retweet posts about your book, or make comments.

 

And of course there are the flowers. Suffice it to say my study looks like a florist's shop at the moment. Here is the bouquet sent by my Sister Scribes, Jane, Cass, Kirsten and Kitty, which is not only a joy to look at, but also smells heavenly, thanks to the inclusion of the freesias and the stocks (two of my favourites).

 

 

 

Another gift I'd like to show you is the new charm for my writer's bracelet.

 

 

h

Isn't that just lovely?

 

Other excitements today were the announcement of The Sewing Room Girl's blog tour, to celebrate paperback publication....

 

 

 

.... and the launch of a prize draw givaway, in which the prize is a set of my four published books. To join in, click this link https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/d17a052e3/ 

 

You will need to log in via either Facebook or your own email address. The giveaway is open to UK readers only. The link will also be available on the book blog sites.

 

So there it is - a glimpse of publication day. Huge thanks to everyone who has helped me celebrate. You have made my day very special.

 

 

 

 

Well, it's good news all round this week. Here I am with my friend Jan Baynham, and we both have splendid news to share with you.

 

 

Jan's news is that she has signed a 3-book deal - yes, a 3-book deal! - with Ruby Fiction. The first book, Whispering Olive Trees, will be published in 2020. When she announced it on Twitter, Jan said, "I didn't think it would ever happen and am still in a bit of a daze."

 

My own news is that The Deserter's Daughter has been selected by BBC Radio Berkshire as their Book of the Month and it will be discussed on Radio Reads on June 4th. Fingers crossed, please, everybody, that the panel enjoys it!

 

After Jan's wonderful news, it makes it even more special for me to welcome her back to my blog to take part in the Take Two Characters series. Jan is a Grecophile who writes about mothers and daughters. Her stories all have secrets at the heart of them. In a recent blog she said, "I'm fascinated by the way families have skeletons in their cupboards and these sometimes come to light only when a family member dies."

 

Here are the two characters she has chosen:

 

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I have been enjoying the ‘Take Two Characters’ feature on Susanna’s blog where she invites writers to choose two fictional characters, one from their own writing and another from a novel they’ve admired and enjoyed. As an as yet unpublished author whose debut novel is going to be published by Ruby Fiction in 2020, imagine how thrilled I was when Susanna invited me onto her blog to talk about my choices.

 

Elin Morgan is one of the main characters in my dual-narrative mother daughter novel, ‘Whispering Olive Trees’. Brought up in rural mid-Wales, she is an only child who has been left devastated when her father dies suddenly.

 

Having completed her studies at Art College, in the summer of 1979, she travels to Greece, the country her dad loved so much, and enrols at the Simonides Painting School based on an idyllic Greek island. There, she is enthralled by the beautiful colours of the sea, the beaches, the heat and the friendliness of the Greek people.

 

She understands why her father used to talk about his travels to the country with such passion. Her time there is cut short by a tragic event and she is forced to leave behind the man who has stolen her heart.

 

Elin is very much a creature of her time and its social conventions. In her eyes, she does the right thing and, in doing so, she sacrifices her own happiness. She never paints or mentions her time in Greece again.

However, she does have a conscience and leaves her diary of that summer to her daughter, Lexi, to be read after her death. Lexi travels to Greece to find out more about what happened to make her mother keep a life-long secret.

 

I loved writing about Elin and wonder what decisions she would have made had she been living today. Was she right to keep her secrets from Lexi? Setting the story in Greece also took me back to the times we visited my auntie and Greek uncle on the beautiful island of Spetses and to the holidays we’ve spent in Crete since.

 

It was hard to choose one character from all the wonderful characters I’ve met through my reading but in the end, it had to be Nerys Watkins in ‘The Kashmir Shawl’ by Rosie Thomas. Nerys, like Elin, is from rural mid-Wales. As an innocent newly-wed, she accompanies her husband, Evan, on a Presbyterian missionary posting to Kashmir in India. Although disillusioned at first, she is determined to make the best of her new circumstances. Life changes for her when the men are sent away to war and she becomes a young wife struggling to cope in wartime, eventually blossoming into a different woman. In view of her husband’s apparent indifference to her, it seems perfectly understandable to me that she is attracted to a handsome charismatic mountaineer.

 

The sounds, smells and colours Nerys would have experienced are brought to life in the writing. I felt I was right there with Nerys in 1940s Kashmir. It is a world bursting with vibrancy, with the Second World War always present but not obviously so.

 

Evan seems to be too austere and serious for her but Nerys would never leave him and, like Elin, she does the right thing in her eyes, keeping secrets to the end of her life. How Nerys comes to be in possession of the beautiful Kashmir shawl isn’t revealed until near the end of the book after her granddaughter, Mair, embarks on a journey to India to find out about her grandmother’s life there during the war years.

 

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Jan's Links:

Twitter - @JanBayLit

Facebook – Jan Baynham Writer

Blog – www.janbaynham.blogspot.co.uk