In The Plotting Shed

In The Plotting Shed
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Wednesday, 31 January 2018

I have a confession to make...

It's been a traumatic time.
Driven by a desire to bring all my books up to the writing standard I hope I have now acquired through diligent application, hard work and the help of many others, cleverer and more skilled than me, I have re-edited all the books in The Katherine Wheel Series. 
Of course, it was partly procrastination. With all the joyous busyness of last Christmas, when both our kids came home and we got together after a bit of a bruising year, the current work in production (WIP) got left behind.
Instead of cracking on with it, I came up with this brainwave of tidying up the ones that preceded it.  For those writers among you reading this, you will understand the many and varied ways most writers will employ to put off the moment of returning to the very hard work of a first draft.
Woodbine and Ivy is a challenging project, because of the research about the second World War involved but also because it has to pull all the threads left hanging in the last book, Speedwell, together into a magnificent (we are talking aspirations here) emotionally satisfying ending.
It took the best part of 2 weeks, some days working 12 hours a day, to get those edits accomplished and I was horrified at some of my punctuation and lack of speech tags! I have learned a lot in these last five years since I published The Twisted Vine, my debut book. But, the task was hugely satisfying and I felt vindicated when Daffodils rose significantly in the charts, and is still doing so, ever since.
Phew - so - nothing else for it but to return to the first draft of the complex story that will be Woodbine and Ivy. Then my computer started playing up. Wouldn't switch on enthusiastically, would sometimes accept the internet, sometimes not, graphics played up - all very scary. I decided I had to buy a new one soon.
In uploading the paperback of Speedwell onto its publishing forum, I needed to get my dear husband to do some tricky formatting that I could not make this temperamental computer accept. He has a gift for technology that I sadly lack.


We'd just had a lovely romantic candlelit meal. He is left handed and pushed the computer to a different angle. I went away and left him to it. When  I came back, the candle flame had burnt a hole through the back of the screen.
Although it was ten o'clock at night, I had to walk up the garden for some deep breathing.
I decided I had to buy a new computer the next day.
Transferring files, bookmarks and all the familiar sites and comfort zones, let alone remembering all the passwords, was a nightmare. I now have three cloud spaces and one external hard drive with all my stuff on it. I never want to repeat the trauma!
And do you know what? Somehow,
through all of this panic and mayhem, I have managed to squeeze out 5000 new words into that first draft of Woodbine and Ivy. The scenes I have written are full of tension and stress  - maybe that computer disaster will bear fruit after all!

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Research adventures

Research trips make great excuses to travel. Winter can be a dreary time, though it's often a productive one for a writer. This week research took me to London.
Canary Wharf couldn't be more different than the Gower peninsula. All those lights for a start!

I went to the Science Museum as well. It's going to be really useful to have been so close to a WW2 spitfire and 1930's flatbed lorry:

All in all, a great way to cheery up these short January days.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone, especially those who've taken the time and trouble to write a review or tell friends about my work. I appreciate each and every one.
I'm hoping to publish Woodbine and Ivy at some point in 2018, I'm about a third of the way in and looking forward to getting back to work early in the new year but for now it's time to eat, drink and be merry!
Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and all you desire in the new year.
But for now, have a whiff of my cranberry sauce:

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Dreams realised #amwriting

I fulfilled a lifelong ambition on Tuesday.  I went back to Devizes where I used to live and took my books into the bookshop there. The Rose Trail is set in Devizes and the historical section is based on the battle of Roundway Down an iconic range of hills above the town. Oliver's Castle - which is not named after Oliver Cromwell, who joined the English Civil War after this Royalist triumph - looked even more magnificent than ever, laced with frost. The ground underneath my feet was still frozen and the tiny segments where it had thawed were lethally slippery. I went to the very spot where the Roundheads fell to their deaths and shivered - and it wasn't from the bitter wind.

The Katherine Wheel series is also set nearby. We used to live in Erlestoke, just outside Devizes, and the village above its steep valley is called Great Cheverell. These are the two villages that I've named Upper and Lower Cheadle. Cheadle Manor itself is entirely fictional but there was a big estate between the villages. It burned down in World War Two and has now a much more prosaic and sombre role as one of Her Majesty's Prisons.
However some of the minor details of the stories do come from real anecdotes from our time there. The book is dedicated to Old Harry for a good reason. A raconteur who mined a rich seam of a life of nearly a hundred years, Harry could tell a yarn  like no other. He had a wooden leg, lost - not in the war as you might suspect - but through scything it through while working on the railway sidings and cutting the grass. It was Harry who told me about the village pump being the only water supply - the one that had such a devastating effect on little Florence in Daffodils. He told me how the row of cottage in which we both had little 2 up, 2 down homes shared a tap at the end of the row at first, then one between two - which were still there - and then the great day dawned when they had sinks installed in lean-to kitchens at the back of the cottages. A sink of their own; he still remembered the joy of it.
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We (and Harry) lived in the row of cottages to the left.

He'd lived through it all. As a boy he'd worked in the walled garden above our cottages. Like everything else it belonged to the estate, and provided it with fruit and vegetables. It must have been glorious in its day, as the beautiful warm red brick walls curved around the southerly slope to catch all the rays. Not easy in such a steep valley. It was a work of art. Harry remembered those walls covered in apricot and peach trees, espalliered against the terracotta clay bricks. As a boy he was a runner, carrying fruit and vegetables up to the big house, across a bridge that had been demolished after the fire in World War Two.
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It was Harry who was really the boy who ate half the strawberries by the time he reached the cook at the big house. And it was because of Harry that scales were introduced into the garden so that cook's scales matched the weight of the produce before and after it was ferried across!
I look back with great fondness on that time living in that historic village, and not just because both my children were born there. It is a wonderful feeling to know that the story that grew out of that time is now sitting on a shelf in the local market town's bookshop.
A heartfelt ambition achieved.

Monday, 4 December 2017

The Women's Land Army in #WW2

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Today my research focus has shifted to the Women's Land Army (WLA). Woodbine and Ivy has three characters' points of view. One is in France, another in the WLA and a  third has yet to be decided.
I've seen lots of posters for the WLA with young women looking radiantly healthy and full of vim and vigour, pitchfork in hand, the sun shining on their smiling faces.
I've discovered, as did many of them, that the reality was a little more gritty. Unfortunate for many of those ladies, but great inspiration for a story!
I had assumed, incorrectly, that food on a farm would still be abundant during the second World War but the Ministry of Food and Agriculture placed strict restrictions even on farmers. Livestock was drastically reduced, which surprised me, in favour of arable production. A great many wildflower meadows were ploughed up to grow crops like barley and wheat. Hundreds of years of evolution gone.
The land girls worked long hours - 48 per week in the winter and 50 in the summer. They seemed to be a cheerful lot, despite the sceptism they were greeted with on arrival and the physical toll of the work. I read of one woman who had to weed an entire field of thistles - without gloves! Being a gardener myself, I can only imagine the blisters by the end of the day.
Beetroot sandwiches seem to be a staple diet with cheese only eaten once a week. Bread wasn't rationed during the war and neither were potatoes so these women ate lots of carbohydrates and little protein - the opposite of health advice today - but they must have burned all of it off doing jobs like mucking out pigsties, heaving wheat sheaves and carrying water. It's both inspiring and humbling to see what they went through, far from home, in pretty poor conditions.
Often they slept in barns or outhouses on rough beds made from wood nailed together in a hurry and some dubious mattresses. One woman said she had to shower after a bath as the bath water, never very warm or deep, would be full of hay lice after a day on the threshing machine during harvest. Ugh!
The uniforms seem to have met with general approval; however I was shocked to learn they had to be handed back - even darned socks - at the end of the war. The only item they were allowed to keep was the much-loved overcoat. They were issued with 10 clothing coupons as compensation.
Above is a picture of one Land Army girl in full regalia in one of those seductive posters with a picture of some women doing real work below!

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Friday, 1 December 2017

Antidotes

I'm researching Paris in 1939 during the 'drole de la guerre' or the phoney war at the moment. War is a grim subject to dwell on but a necessary part of exploring how people responded to it. I've found it fascinating to discover how my characters react under these sorts of pressures but after several hours of that I need to get out and see a distant view. I'm so lucky to live where I do on the Gower peninsula and the distant perspective of the sea relaxes my mind and rests my eyes after hours of staring at the computer screen. The days are short but although bitterly cold, they have been sunny this week. Here are a couple of pictures taken just before the sun slips behind the horizon.