18.7.18

2018 RNA Conference

I enjoyed a most interesting conference with RNA this last weekend. The first thing I had to do was take part in a talk about sagas, together with Lizzie Lane, Jean Fullerton and Diane Allen. We all gave some interesting comments on this subject. A saga is generally a multi-generational story, about relationships, a sweeping tale of courage and bravery, pitted against evil. Families lived together in the past, forming close-knit communities. This is something we have lost in the modern world, family members often having to travel far to find work, family break-ups, and partners choosing not to marry at all. I’m sure it was equally difficult back in the old days, but it’s somehow easier to consider such issues back in the nostalgic past. Study the history of the period you choose. The genre should also use a multi-layered viewpoint and a page-turning plot, dealing with universal themes in a small domestic setting, and social history. The setting must be an intrinsic part of the book, a genuine sense of place that we know well and readers can recognise and identify. It’s not simply a question of painting pretty scenery. People love to read about a place they know, but do study the reality of the period involved in your story. I have fortunately written 35 sagas and 11 historicals, which have done well. Always enjoy writing those.

After that we were welcomed by Nicola Cornick, then listened to various talks given by other writers. On Friday evening I was welcomed by the Indie group, having supported them in the past to help them become full members of the RNA. We had a lovely glass of champagne and a good chat. I love to spend time with them and hear about the success of their self-publishing.

 
On Saturday there were plenty more talks on various subjects, including self-editing, romance, and adding mystery to your history novel. My favourite speaker was Barbara Erskine, interviewed by Nicola. I’ve heard her speak once before and loved her books from her very first one, Lady of Hay, many years ago and lots of others since. We then went on to experience a classic RNA evening meal, provided with a free drink before it. I was seated with a group of my friends, which proved to be delightful, as we kept on chatting till quite late at night.


Then on Sunday my favourite talk was given by Liam Livings and Virginia Heath about sensual love scenes. I generally do try to put some sex into my books, but they gave a reading of a written version that was absolutely hilarious. Such great fun! They then gave us good information and we had time to discuss with each other how to plan such love scenes in our next book. The last talk I heard was given by Patricia Rice, Mary Jo Putney, and Andrea Penrose. All from the US and excellent writers, giving us fascinating details of how they work. Then after lunch it was time to take the train home, which was sad and took quite a while from Leeds. But the whole conference had been excellent. Always good to meet up with old friends as well as remind ourselves how to keep writing.

13.7.18

A View of Characters

Creating characters, their names and making them believable in whatever book I’m writing, is always fascinating. Their appearance and behaviour comes into my head as I write, but I do try to work out in advance what kind of people they are. What is their main characteristic, and their major flaw? Often the two facets are linked. Independence can easily slip into stubborn obstinacy. Everyone has faults and it is these human failings which can bring a character alive for a reader, and explain their motivation for behaving as they do. Their backstory is also important, and how they relate to other people. Mothers do not treat their daughters in the same way as their father, certainly not in Girls of the Great War, but why? She’s a difficult woman who says nothing about her husband. Considering the various problems and viewpoints in a character can help to round them out.

To me, characters always come first. Also, they won’t always perform to my bidding. In Gracie’s Sin, I planned for one of the Timber Girls to have an affair, fearing she’d lost her husband in the war, but she loved him and determinedly remained loyal. Once I know a character thoroughly, who starts to live in my mind, I have to accept who they are and their plan in life. All I have to do is listen to their voice, write down their comments and the rest follows. I know it sounds crazy but that’s how it is. If I try to plot too much in advance, I somehow lose the drive to get the story down.

Though my characters often live in a fictitious village or street, which allows plenty of scope for my imagination about who lives in it and what they do, I put this into as accurate a setting as I can. I enjoy research and spend a great deal of time seeking out those little details to create a sense of reality. I take a great many photographs, draw maps and talk to people who have been involved in the type of industry or lifestyle which I am trying to recreate. I find inspiration and ideas from many sources: family memories, history of the places I’ve lived in such as the beautiful English Lake District and Cornwall. I also interview people, pick up ideas from newspapers, TV, and I have hundreds of books, old magazines, memoirs and documents of all kinds that I squirrel away in case they come in handy one day. A strong sense of place is essential for the kind of sagas and historical fiction I write.

Getting started on a new book takes time. I always have an overview, a beginning, middle and end, although how I will get there takes time for me to decide. I’m not a great plotter and planner. Once I have an idea of the main characters and the premise, I start writing into the mist and see what comes. Usually, by chapter four and five, I know what the next section will be about. When I reach three-quarters of the way, knowing all the characters well, comes the desire to write the book at greater speed, and then to edit, of course. And of course, I do lots of edits and rewrites once the original section is finished.

Extract from Girls of the Great War: 


Chapter One 

Christmas 1916 
Lights dimmed as a man dressed as Pierrot in a bright blue costume and pantaloons, peaked hat and a huge yellow bow beneath his chin, skipped merrily on to the stage singing ‘All the Nice Girls Love a Sailor’. He was quickly joined by a troop of dancing girls. They too were dressed like Pierrots, all of them looking ravishing in a pink costume with a wide frilled collar, long swirling skirt decorated with fluffy bobbles, and a tight-fitting black hat. They were complete visions of beauty who brought forth roars of excited approval from the audience. Pierrot waved his gloved hands at them, the theatre being packed with British and Belgian soldiers who responded with cheers and whistles.
    Cecily smilingly watched from the wings as she loved to do most evenings. A part of her ached to join the singers, something her mother would never agree to. Viewing herself as the star performer she expected her daughters to wait upon her hand, foot and fingers. Not that Cecily believed herself to be a good assistant, being too involved with working as a conductor on the electric trams now that most men were caught up in the war. Her mother disapproved of that. Cecily, however, firmly believed in making her own choices in life.
    Feeling a gentle tap on her shoulder, she found her sister at her side. ‘Her royal highness Queenie requires your assistance,’ Merryn whispered, her pretty freckled face wrapped in a jokey grin. ‘I’ve been dismissed, as she’s engaged in her usual bossy mood.’
    ‘Oh, not again!’ Stifling a sigh, Cecily accompanied Merryn back to the dressing room. Gazing in the mirror she recognised the familiar lack of focus in her mother’s blue eyes, proving she’d again been drinking. Despite seeing herself as a star, Queenie too often felt the need to overcome a sense of stage fright before she performed.
    ‘Merryn has made a total mess of my hair,’ she stuttered in a slurry voice.
    ‘I’m sure she didn’t mean to, Mama,’ Cecily calmly remarked, and reaching for a brush began to divide her mother’s curly blonde hair across the back of her head.
    ‘Never call me by that name. You know how I hate it.’
    She’d chosen to name herself Queenie years ago as she considered it more appropriate for her career than Martha, the name she was born with. And that was what she required her daughters to call her, having no wish to be reminded of her age. Merryn seemed to accept this. Cecily always felt the need to remind her of their true relationship, which irritatingly was not an easy one. She carefully twisted up a small strand of her mother’s hair and clipped it, then tucked the other portions neatly around before pinning them together with a glittering silver hair slide on the top of her head.
    Grabbing a curl, Queenie pulled it down to loop it over her left ear. ‘I’ve no wish for my hair to be all pinned up. Flick some over my ears.’
    ‘I thought you liked to look as neat and tidy as possible, Mama,’ Cecily said.
    ‘No, fluff it out, silly girl. How useless you are.’
    Cecily felt quite inadequate at this job and checked her success or lack of it by viewing her mother in the mirror. She was a slender, attractive woman with a pale complexion, pointed chin and ruby lips frequently curled into a pout, as they were doing now. But she was also vain, conceited, overly dramatic, emotionally unstable, selfish, overbearing and utterly neglectful. Queenie was never an easy woman to please, even when she was stone-cold sober. She was an exhibitionist and a star who demanded a great deal of nurturing and support, a task Merryn was extremely skilled and happy to do, save for when Queenie was completely blotto, as she was now. And having been scolded and dismissed countless times when her mother was drunk, her sister would sit in the corner reading Woman’s Weekly, taking not the slightest interest. Once Queenie sobered up she would happily treat her younger daughter as her favourite child in order to make Cecily feel unwanted, even though she’d done her best to help. Not that she ever felt jealous about this, always eager to act as a surrogate mother towards her beloved sister as Queenie could be equally neglectful of them both, wrapped up in herself and her tours.


Cecily Hanson longs to live life on her own terms—to leave the shadow of her overbearing mother and marry her childhood sweetheart once he returns from the Great War. But when her fiancĂ© is lost at sea, this future is shattered. Looking for meaning again, she decides to perform for the troops in France. 

Life on the front line is both rewarding and terrifying, and Cecily soon finds herself more involved—and more in danger—than she ever thought possible. And her family has followed her to France. Her sister, Merryn, has fallen for a young drummer whose charm hides a dark side, while their mother, Queenie—a faded star of the stage tormented by her own secret heartache—seems set on a path of self-destruction. 

As the war draws to a close and their hopes turn once again to the future, Cecily and Merryn are more determined than ever to unravel the truth about their mother’s past: what has she been hiding from them—and why? 

Amazon UK

Amazon US 

6.7.18

Cecily worked for the Suffragettes

A section of this book is about the suffragette movement Cecily is involved in. originally focused in Manchester, that was where Emeline Pankhurst and her family had lived. The general election of 1905 brought it to the attention of the wider nation when Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenny interrupted Sir Edward’s speech with the cry: ‘Will the Liberal Government give votes to women?’ Many women were very much in favour of that, and some were charged with assault and arrested.

They further shocked the world by refusing to pay the shilling fine, and were consequently thrown in jail. Never before had English suffragists resorted to violence, but it was the start of a long campaign. Their headquarters were transferred from Manchester to London and by 1908, by then dubbed the suffragettes, they were marching through London, interrupting MP’s speeches, assaulting policemen who attempted to arrest them, chaining themselves to fences, even sending letter bombs and breaking the windows of department stores and shops in Bond Street. They went on hunger-strikes while incarcerated, brutalised in what became known as the ‘Cat and Mouse Act.’ This ‘war’ did not end until 1928 when women were finally granted the vote in equal terms with men. They showed enormous courage and tenacity, were prepared to make any sacrifice to achieve their ends.

Fortunately, Cecily managed to avoid the risk of jail as she went off to France to entertain the soldiers in the war. But she believed very strongly in working for the suffragists and happily helped to organise a meeting before this idea came to her. Later she met one or two people who greatly intrigued her.

Excerpt from Girls of the Great War: 

This afternoon, being a Saturday, they were attending a Suffrage meeting, which offered much satisfaction. Cecily had worked alongside this organisation from before the war, taking part in parades and demonstrations. She’d always felt a sore need to help, as she strongly believed in the rights of women. She’d spent every evening the previous week happily delivering notices to encourage people to come to this meeting.
    ‘The place is packed,’ Merryn, who was seated beside her on the front row, softly remarked, glancing around. ‘You did an excellent job encouraging so many to come.’
    ‘Thank goodness there are plenty of women here.’ This had been helped by the fact that Annie Kenney, a most special lady, was attending the meeting. As a working-class factory girl who started to follow the Pankhursts she was now almost as famous as them and she certainly gave excellent talks, being very down-to-earth. ‘Unfortunately, some working women are unable to attend these suffrage meetings because they have families to feed after they finish work, or else they fear to offend their bosses or family. Irritatingly, the occasional sour-faced father or husband would toss away the notice I delivered!’
    ‘Men can be very commanding,’ Merryn agreed.
    ‘I would never allow one to control me,’ Cecily sternly remarked.
    ‘I can understand that your sense of independence is partly the reason you enjoy working with the suffragist movement to help them seek the vote. Me too, although I am in favour of marriage and willing to be a fairly obedient wife to make my husband happy.’
    Cecily chuckled. ‘Hang on to your rights, darling. I have no doubt that we will achieve the vote one day and find the love of our life.’
    ‘Exactly.’ Stifling their giggles they listened to Annie Kenney explain how Lloyd George, who had always been supportive, was now helping ladies achieve their goal, having finally replaced Asquith as Prime Minister last December. ‘We have every reason to believe that a vote will soon be granted, if only to women of a certain class who own property and are over thirty,’ she announced.
    ‘Why is that?’ Cecily quietly asked her sister, only to find herself hushed.
    She firmly disagreed with her mother’s attitude against the working classes, particularly regarding her beloved Ewan. It seemed politicians were equally disapproving. How would she, Merryn, and most other women, ever achieve the right to vote unless they succeeded in improving their status and raised enough money to buy themselves a house? Deep in some secret part of her soul, there lurked the hope that by stimulating the new talent she’d discovered in herself during that one performance on stage, it might happen again one day and earn her an independent income. Shutting down these dreams she realised Annie Kenney was explaining the reason for this puzzle.
    ‘The government is wary of the fact that women are in the majority. Men have been in short supply for some years. Many went to work in the colonies before the war in order to find employment, a situation that could grow worse once this war is over, as so many young men have already been killed. Therefore, the number of surplus women will increase.’
    ‘Is this lack of a vote for all women, whatever their age or income, because the government has no wish to be taken over by us?’ Cecily asked, giving a wry smile. Others in the audience laughed and cheered at this remark.
    ‘I’d say that is the reason, yes,’ Annie replied with a cheerful nod. ‘As a young Yorkshire lass wishing to help women get the vote, I packed my little wicker basket, put two pounds safely in my purse - the only money I possessed - and started my journey to London to join the Pankhursts. Fortunately, Lloyd George and Asquith both now agree that the heroism of hard-working women doing men’s jobs during the war has made them reconsider our situation. This bill will make a start on improving our rights. Given time and more effort, we will hopefully succeed in widening its scope.’
    As the meeting came to an end, Cecily joined the group of stewards to help collect donations from those women able to contribute. Some carefully ignored this appeal, not being well enough off, but she did manage to gather a fairly large sum.

 
Cecily Hanson longs to live life on her own terms—to leave the shadow of her overbearing mother and marry her childhood sweetheart once he returns from the Great War. But when her fiancĂ© is lost at sea, this future is shattered. Looking for meaning again, she decides to perform for the troops in France. 

Life on the front line is both rewarding and terrifying, and Cecily soon finds herself more involved—and more in danger—than she ever thought possible. And her family has followed her to France. Her sister, Merryn, has fallen for a young drummer whose charm hides a dark side, while their mother, Queenie—a faded star of the stage tormented by her own secret heartache—seems set on a path of self-destruction. 

As the war draws to a close and their hopes turn once again to the future, Cecily and Merryn are more determined than ever to unravel the truth about their mother’s past: what has she been hiding from them—and why? 

Amazon UK 

Amazon US