The London Book Fair

The London Book Fair was bustling with activity, as usual. Deals were being done all around, which was fascinating to watch, and plenty of evidence of digital and self-publishing. The panels and talks in the Author’s HQ were interesting but attracted larger audiences than could be comfortably accommodated. Definitely more seating needed here. It was much better in the Thames Room upstairs.

The best talk of the Fair in my humble opinion was that given by Barbara Freethy and Bella Andre. What an inspiration those two ladies are. Million Plus bestsellers, and all by their own self-published hands. 

The exciting part for me was being taken to lunch by my new editor. My new book, The Amber Keeper’s Daughter, has been bought by Amazon Publishing and is to be published in their Lake Union Imprint. What a thrill! I’m now looking forward to doing the edits, and I’m sure I shall enjoy working with them. Watch out for more news on this in the coming months.


The Hook of the Novel

A STRONG HOOK is vital as you have 30 seconds to catch the interest of a reader. You start as near to the problem as you can, with action and dialogue - not a long description of the place or the weather. Save the back story and explanations for later.

1. WHAT is the premise of your novel, including the problem your character will have to face? Preferably in one sentence. It may start out fairly trite or cliché, but you make it stronger by adding character motivation, problems and complications, and all the other nuts and bolts of novel writing. Most importantly, you add yourself. You can extend this into the blurb which you can check from time to time to make sure you are still on target.

2. WHO is your main POV character? Choose the person with most to lose. WHY is she is in this situation with this problem? We’re presenting the issue she faces here, not the solution, and certainly not all the back story. That will come out little by little as the story progresses. The best novels are character driven. Choose a narrator based on who is changed most by the story’s events. Powerful points of view from characters we care about. In fiction they need to be larger than life. Interesting, engaging, feisty, highly moral, or in the case of the antagonist strongly immoral. Yet with human flaws. They need to be deep and multi-layered, with strong motivation. Find something about them or their life which creates inner conflict. Look for the unusual, the unexpected or memorable.

3. WHERE and WHEN is the novel set? A sense of time and place is an intrinsic part of the book, as important as character. Write about what you know or know about what you write. Research only enough to get started, to give an overview of the period or place, and deal with specifics later.
You don’t know what you will need until you start writing. Story must come first.

WHAT, WHO, WHY, WHERE, WHEN - All of this should be evident in the first page or two, if not the first paragraph.

Here is the first page of Luckpenny Land, first in the Luckpenny Series and still a bestseller.

‘Anyone would think I was asking to go on the streets.’ The stinging slap sent the honey gold hair swirling about her face, enveloping her burning cheeks in a wash of colour that for a brief moment lit up the shabby kitchen.

Any ordinary face would have been hardened and cheapened by the cold light of the single Tilly lamp, but not this one. The girl’s face was arresting, alive with the urgency of her request. There was strength in the way she firmed the wide mouth, resolution in the sweeping arch of the brow, in the smoke grey of the eyes fringed by a crescent of dark lashes above cheek bones that would hold their beauty long after time had wrought its damage.

But there was no one to be captivated by Meg Turner’s youthful beauty here, certainly not her uncompromising father. Even her two brothers had withdrawn from the scene to a safer distance the moment supper was over, Dan to check the flock for any new lambs, Charlie reluctantly to clean out the sheds.

The remnants of the kitchen fire fell together with a small hushing noise. There was no other sound in the room, save for that of the rain that beat against the window. Outside, great waves of it washed down the hillsides from the high mountain tops, gushed into the overfilled beck and pelted onwards to the River Kent and the distant sea. They were used to rain in Lakeland and paid little heed to it, and the glowering skies seemed eminently suited to her mood. Meg wished she was out in it, letting it wash over her face and limbs, cleansing the pain and frustration from her as it so often did. The wind was rising, she could hear it whining in the great ash trees that lined the track to the farm and gave the name Ashlea to the place that had been her home for all of her nineteen years.

Inconsequentially, she remembered leaving a blanket loose on the line. She’d have to search for it in the bottom field come morning. Nothing that wasn’t battened down would survive the helm wind that scoured these high fells. Though the wind could not penetrate the walls of the farmhouse which were four feet thick, solid enough to withstand the worst mountain weather, and keep her within, like a prisoner.

Meg began to clear the table with jerky, angry movements, swallowing the bitter tears of disappointment that threatened to choke her. She supposed the slap was no more than she deserved. She shouldn’t have dared to repeat the rebellious statement she’d made to Dan earlier when he had caught her pulling pints at the Cock and Feathers.

‘Get your coat on,’ he’d bluntly told her. ‘You’re coming home with me.’

She hadn’t been able to believe her bad luck, having deliberately chosen the inn because it was far from the market area of town where her father conducted his business. Not for one moment had she considered the possibility of her own brother choosing to drink there. But losing her temper would get her nowhere. Hadn’t she discovered so a dozen times? Nevertheless, since it had taken her weeks to find this job, she wasn’t for giving in easily.



‘Perdita’ - Fashion icon.

Mary Robinson would never have been seen out looking anything but at her most elegant, although her style, at least in her early years, was less flamboyant than most. On her first visit to Ranelagh she wore a simple Quaker gown which ensured that she stood out. It was of light brown lustring with close round cuffs. She left her auburn curls unpowdered, upon which she pinned a plain round cap and white chip hat, without any ornament.

Later, when she became famous as mistress to the Prince of Wales, she set tongues wagging by entertaining lavishly, and sending female hearts beating with envy. Every new gown she wore, the very latest Paris had to offer, was imitated and emulated to the smallest degree. And ever the actress, she loved to drive about Hyde Park in her new blue and silver phaeton, drawn by milk white ponies, playing to the crowds. Sometimes she would be very simply attired wearing a straw hat tied at the back of her head in the style of a paysanne, at others painted, powdered, patched and rouged to perfection as any fashionable leader of the ton should be.

A courtesan, demi-rep, or member of the Cyprian corps, as they were sometimes known, was expected to dress at the height of fashion, own at least two carriages, and live in the most fashionable part of town. In the eighteenth century they were rather looked upon as celebrities. But this hedonistic lifestyle required high finance, supplied by a man of considerable wealth in return for her exclusive attention.

Unfortunately, Mary Robinson never did succeed in finding a man rich enough to afford her, and as a consequence of her love of spending she quickly fell into debt. Not that her concerns over lack of money ever taught her prudence. She considered her high living standards as necessary for her status. The £5,000 that she managed to squeeze out of the young Prince George after their brief affair ended, helped a little. She believed this allowance to be well deserved as she had given up her career on the stage for him. And of course credit was easily available in anticipation of more from the Prince once he came of age.

Money sometimes came her way if her husband had a win at cards at Brooks’s. And famous artists such as Hoppner, Sir Joshua Reynolds and George Romney would paint portraits of her without charging a fee as they could sell print copies to the masses because of her beauty and status as a fashion icon.

But a new love came into her life and Mary and Tarleton were very much the celebrity couple. Banistre Tarleton, a hero of the American War of Independence, with his famously cropped hair, looked exceedingly handsome in his hussar uniform of blue jacket, waistcoat and leather boots that fitted as tight as silk stockings. Mary was proclaimed as a fashion icon by Lady’s Magazine, who even named a hat after her. ‘The Perdita’, as it became known, was a chip hat with a bow tied under the chin and pink ribbons puffed around the crown. It proved to be immensely popular.

On her return from France in January 1782, Mary wore one of her Paris gowns of white satin with purple breast-bows for the opera. Her head-dress was a cap composed of white and purple feathers entwined with flowers and festooned with diamond pins. According to the Herald she looked supremely beautiful, so lovely that the audience lingered to watch as she stayed to select a box to rent following the performance. Her decoration of the box caused a flurry of gossip in the newssheets as she upholstered the chairs in pink satin, and lined the walls with mirrors.

Mary became famous for her gold clocked stockings and a cataract muff. This was also French with long-hairs that hung down like a waterfall. And then there were her gold-clocked stockings for which she was dubbed ‘Lark-heeled Perdita’. She caused a sensation by wearing the Chemise de la Reine to the opera. This was a simple muslin gown adapted from that worn by Marie-Antoinette. It had three-quarter length puffed sleeves and frills around the neck. Falling simply and gracefully it clung deliciously to the figure without hindrance of hoops or pads. It soon became all the rage among aristocratic ladies, not just with the Cyprian Corps, including Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. It did, however, result in some criticism from the press, as it made it much more difficult to judge a lady’s status by her appearance.

Despite the fact that Mary considered herself to be intellectually superior to most courtesans, and infinitely more sensitive, she was considered to be very much the leader of the Cyprian corps. But no one, not courtesan nor aristocrat could rival her beauty or style. Her life might have been considered utterly scandalous, but in her prime she remained very much the centre of attention.

Read more about Mary Robinson in my latest biographical historical.

Available as a hardback and ebook.
Trade Paperback coming soon.


Practical ways to stimulate the imagination and find ideas:

Write the first thing that comes into your head when you wake in a morning.

Try writing without stopping, thinking or criticising your work. ‘Stream of consciousness writing’ can throw up some wonderful ideas.

Think about your writing as you do chores or walk the dog.

Develop a hobby which occupies your hands but not your mind.

Keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas or bits of description.

Writers are squirrels. Keep an ideas box into which you can put any newspaper or magazine clippings, articles, interesting quotes, photos, pictures or maps of places you’ve visited, titles of songs or poems that you like, drawings, etc., Anything that could later spark off an idea.

Observe people and listen in to snippets of conversation.

Jot down any random ideas you have, and little by little they will turn into a story.

The unconscious mind also works as you sleep, so have the problem in your head and by morning you may wake up with it solved. It can happen.

Remember the best ideas come when you are actually writing, so keep going.

Writers Block: If you are stuck in your short story or novel it may be because you haven’t collected enough data. Do your research, making use of different media: TV, video, film, books, music, interviews, the more sources the better. If that doesn’t work, or isn’t the problem, then give yourself more time. Writing is not a process that can be hurried. Maybe you’re stuck because you’ve been rushing it. Relax. Step back and do something else. Then you can come back to it later and look at it with a fresh eye.


Character through Sense of Place

A sense of place is much more than pretty scenery.
It must have a character of its own. It needs to seduce the reader into feeling a part of it, to believe it truly exists. They need to feel the power of its personality. This is vitally important because many people buy the book because of where it is set. Descriptive passages are all well and good but they must have a purpose, and not simply be a piece of pretty padding. You need to understand a region, to be able to recreate the intrinsic character of the place, to understand its history, its values and social problems. Its morals and ideals, history, religion, politics and industry, just as you would if it were a character in your book. You need to know how all of this affects the people who live there.

1. A person’s character becomes closely associated with his or her roots. Where was your character brought up and when? What has he/she lived through?

2 Convey a strong sense of the times, some detail in the vast sweep of history to delineate it. What makes this moment in history similar or different to any other? Show social trends. What is her view of society, or the problems of the age? Her personal take on it. Show all of this through your POV character.

3. What effect does the psychology of place have upon your characters? What is their relationship with the place? Their memories or how they feel about it. Has the place changed, or changed them? Do they belong? Love it or hate it?

4. Put emotion and passion into your writing.

5. A good setting is in the detail. Clearly observed. Delineate mood and atmosphere. Needs to be closely observed in precise details, yet with a wide focus of importance. ‘A place is the sum of its parts.’

Minor characters:
These are an important and well recognised feature of English fiction. They can really bring a region alive. Vinegar-faced Joseph in Wuthering Heights. The local peasants in Hardy’s novels. They couldn’t have lived anywhere else. They can illustrate some particular feature of the area, a trade, a tradition, a way of life now gone, a period or class. They provide light relief or a window through which to view the times. Use them to your advantage.

Dialogue and dialect: 
The way a character speaks is important. You can’t write about a region without using some of the regional dialect but it mustn’t be overdone. It can look quite unreadable and off-putting if too accurately carried out. It’s best to give only an indication of the local twang, and restrict it to one or two characters. Remember it would be more marked among older people. One or two carefully selected local words can bring a character to life without resorting to making the speech incomprehensible. Use idioms and local sayings. There are often books on local twang for you to check spellings. But use the simplest form.

The Plus Factor:
You need to reveal that very special emotion which you personally feel for the area. You must love the region yourself, warts and all, then it will show in your writing. You can take photographs of the setting you intend to use in your book. You can do your research, note the architecture, the building materials, the small details such as circular chimneys which are common in the Lakes, tile-hung walls or thatched roofs, whatever is intrinsic to the area but do not inundate your reader with information. Use detail appropriately and sparely. What you are trying to do is make the place feel real. And the best way to do that is through the people who live there.

Read an extract from Polly Pride:



Steam yacht Parties on Lake Windermere

During the Industrial Revolution the local gentry, rich cotton magnates and entrepreneurs loved to socialise on Lake Windermere. They held weekend steamer and tea parties, the ladies showing off their elegant dresses and parasols, while the gentlemen competed for the finest looking steam launch. These would display the very best in velvet upholstery, carpets and leather seating. Even the boat’s name and their own family crest on the crockery. There would be lace tablecloths and servants would be present to serve lunch or the picnic, perhaps on an island on the lake.

The gentlemen might indulge in a little fishing for salmon, trout or char, while the ladies gossiped and relaxed. Char was considered to be a great delicacy in the 18th and 19th centuries. Regattas, FĂȘtes and Water festivals were an important feature of Lakeland life, a wonderful opportunity to show off a new boat, and take part in water sports, sailing and fishing competitions.

Kaiser Wilhelm II visited in 1895, while staying with the Earl of Lonsdale at Lowther Castle. The streets of Bowness and Ambleside were decorated with flags and bunting to celebrate the event.

Then there was the ice skating when the lake froze over, including the winter of 1929. Lily gets involved in many such events, although things do not always turn out quite as she expects.

Lake Windermere has been a focal point of the community since at least the time of the Romans, who could access it from their camp, Galava, at Waterhead. Medieval monks also used the lake as a source of food and transport.

Steam launches still operate on the lake to this day, where visitors can enjoy a sail and even tea out on the lake made on a Windermere kettle. To see a fine display of the most historic, the Windermere Steamboat Museum is most definitely worth a visit.

Lily Thorpe is a spirited, ambitious fisherman’s daughter, desperate to escape the poverty of her Lakeland home. When the rich Clermont-Read family spoils her plans, Lily embarks on a personal quest for revenge and marries their only son, Bertie, a handsome indolent charmer. Rejected by his family, the young couple soon find themselves battling against the very poverty Lily had hoped to escape... A twist of fate brings her the freedom she craves, but the price Lily must pay is vindictive snobbery from Bertie’s mother - as well as another far greater one, finally leading to a passionate affair with Nathan Monroe, a local steam boat captain. Now it is Lily who must protect herself against the threat of vengeance and decide who is more important, her husband or her lover.

Available in print and ebook from most good retailers.
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I've been given a lovely interview on the Catherine Gaskin site. I loved her books when I was a teenager. You can read it here: