I’m delighted to welcome Anne Harvey to my blog today. Thank you for taking part, Anne!
You’ve written two books so far, A Suitable Young Man and the follow-up novel Bittersweet Flight. Tell me about the setting for these books. Was it inspired by a real place?
That’s an easy one to answer. I based both the books on a real place, Horwich, a small former mill town in Lancashire. I’ve been told by writer friends that it’s always a risk to use a real place as people tend to see themselves as characters, even more risky if the character is flawed. For instance, I had to be particularly careful about naming my villain! He’s in both books and in the third book in the series, which I’m working on at the moment. They’re nostalgic tales of family, friendship, love, loyalty and loss set in 1950s Lancashire, a time when rock and roll first came to Britain and, hopefully, reflect the social attitudes of what was seen as a new Elizabethan era.
Which brings me to my next question, do you have any idea of the layout or maps?
Well, Horwich is my home town and, although I spent much of my childhood with my parents living in domestic service, I spent my formative teenage years there. Because of this, the layout is imprinted on my mind, especially the places where we used to hang out as teenagers. As the timing is the 1950s, that’s how I remember it. During that period, it was a thriving, bustling sort of place, with the massive Locomotive Works and three cotton mills. It’s that vibrant period that I hope I’ve captured in the books. Now, with the Works and the cotton mills long since closed and a retail park built a couple of miles away, it’s mere shadow of its former self, though there are signs of new life, like the former butchers/abbatoir that is now a trendy coffee shop called, ironically, ‘The Cow Shed.’
The only visual aids I have are a reasonably up-to-date street-map of the town to refresh an ageing memory and an old street-map dating from the early 20th century. Obviously some things had changed by the 1950s but, because the first half of the 20th century wasn’t a particularly affluent period, not by that much.
Interestingly, part of my third book is set on an RAF base. Because of ongoing security problems, my base is completely fictional, though it is loosely based on a real RAF base in similar location. In this instance, I did lots of research on the internet and also obtained a couple of brilliant books about what life was like around that time for a serviceman’s wife. That’s been fun to do! The rest of the book is still centred around Horwich though, and yes, readers will be pleased to know that my villain does get his come-uppance.
What’s the first book you remember where the setting made a vivid impression?
Now you’re asking! At my advanced age, I must have read thousands of books so it’s hard to be specific. Having said that, one series that does stick in my mind for its setting is the ‘Clan of The Cave Bear’ by Jean Auel. That’s because it’s set in a pre-historic time and some of the descriptions of the various landscapes and the way of living are portrayed vividly. As one of my interests is archaeology, I found these books particularly fascinating.
What are you working on at the moment?
As I’ve said previously, it’s the third book in the series, working title In The Thick of It. I’ve written the first draft and completed an initial edit but it needs a lot more work before it will be ready for publication. Fortunately for me, I’m independently published and can work at my own speed. At my time of life, I don’t need the pressure of working to a deadline!
I’ve also been putting together a collection of short stories with the theme of everyday angels and I had hoped that this would be available for pre-order by the time your blog came out. Unfortunately, a problem with the cover has been discovered so that needs to be resolved first.
Looking into the future, my dearest ambition is to write a ‘real’ historical novel and I’ve already done lots of research. Again, and importantly, the setting will be Horwich but it will be in the 18th century when Horwich was a sleepy little village until a prominent Lancashire family, the Ridgways, decided to base their bleaching and dyeing business there. Although it will be fictional, much of the action will be around the Ridgway family and their influence on the town. And to whet your appetite, one of their descendants is a well-known ex-Prime Minister!
Anne has written many family history articles and short stories published in national magazines. Having been unsuccessful in finding either an agent or a publisher, she took the decision to self-publish, a decision she has never regretted. She has published two family sagas, A Suitable Young Man ( www.tinyurl.com/qy9yth7) and Bittersweet Flight (www.tinyurl.com/zmnek57) and has enjoyed considerable sales success, not only in the UK, but also among ex-pats in the United States, Canada and Australia.
She has a memoir-based blog Passionate about the Past at www.annelharvey.blogspot.co.uk, is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Anne.Harvey.10 and on Twitter as @annelharvey1.
Today I welcome Crooked Cat author, Lynn Forth to my blog for the second in my series of blog posts on the theme of setting. Thanks for joining in, Lynn!
Tell me about the setting for Love in La La Land
Thank you, Tora, for asking about the locations of my novels as, in each one of them, the setting plays an important role in the both character development and plot. Love in La La Land, as the name suggests, is set in in the glamorous film world of Hollywood. My writer heroine, Jane, a down-to-earth Yorkshire girl, soon feels like a fish out of water as she swims in the shark pool of Tinsel Town (Hmmn …is that a mixed metaphor …sorry).
In my next novel, Love Lies and Café au Lait, (spookily published this next Halloween), my heroine, Annie Roberts, swaps rain-swept Accrington for stylish Nice and has to find her feet there.
My current WIP is set on the Costa del Sol so I’m basking in the virtual sunshine there at the moment.
Was it inspired by a real place?
All my novels are set in real places. As a reader I love to escape to sunny locations and imagine what it would be like to actually live there, so enjoy doing the same as a writer. I also like to challenge my heroines by making them face situations on their own, which happens when you are a stranger in a new place.
How did you research the area, and did you refer to maps or plans when writing the story?
Although I have been to San Francisco and a few other places in America, I have to confess I have never actually been to Hollywood, so for Love in La La Land I had to do a fair bit of research. But as you can do a virtual tour of stars’ homes and wander down the streets of L A on your computer, it wasn’t difficult to do. A lot of my reviewers assume I have in fact been there and have commented on how well I capture the atmosphere, heat and general atmosphere of L.A, which is rather pleasing.
On the other hand, Nice, the setting for my second novel, Love Lies and Café au Lait, is one of my favourite places in France and I have been there often. The story was inspired by my first ever visit to Nice when, like my character Annie, I had an epiphany of delight at sitting in a café in the sun in such a wonderful place. I hope I have done justice to what an amazing location the Riviera is to explore.
Do you have any special routine, visual aids, etc to get you into the right ‘place’ when writing?
I like to wait till the afternoon to start actually writing. I have usually spent the morning warming up to it as I go about all the daily jobs, or exercising at Zumba classes or attending meetings etc. Then after lunch I feel the rest of the day and evening is mine to write the words that have been tumbling through my head all morning.
What’s the first book you read where the setting made a vivid impression?
As a child I usually had two books on the go, an upstairs one and a downstairs one, so wherever I was I could snatch a few minutes reading time. As a small child I devoured a whole series of fairy stories from many different lands. Later I do remember loving the self-sufficiency of The Children of the New Forest as they survived on their own and evaded the dangers of the Civil War raging around them.
Have you ever chosen a book purely based on its setting? If so, what was it and why did the setting appeal?
I often choose novels books about places I am about to visit, for example Helen Dunmore’s The Siege before I went to St Petersburg and Girl with a Pearl Earring before I went to Amsterdam and Delft. Also, prior to a recent big trip to Australia and New Zealand, I read lots of books set there, both novels and Bill Bryson’s excellent Down Under.
I’m hoping readers might want to save themselves a journey and choose my books if they want to be transported to faraway places or, like me, use them as inspiration to escape to distant sunny climes.
About the Author
I’ve had a lifelong fascination with words and people, leading me to study English and Psychology at University. Later, as a lecturer at a local College, I tried to pass on my love of words and learning itself, to students of all ages. Perhaps I succeeded a bit as, in 2007, I was thrilled to receive a National Star Award for Outstanding Teaching at a glittering ceremony in London. A very proud moment indeed.
As a word lover, I am obviously an avid reader and I have kept a book diary for decades recording personal critiques of all the novels I’ve read. And, related to this, is my love of discussing books, so I run two Book Groups. These are not the much- satirised posey wine drinking meetings, but are full of people as passionate about books as I am, so discussions are warm, frank, funny and always enlightening.
As you can probably tell from the title and subject matter of my debut novel, Love in La La Land, I also love films and belong to a local film club where we view and discuss a vast range of foreign and unusual films.
As I like setting my novels in foreign climes, so I obviously need to travel to research various locations such as frequent visits to Nice and the Costa del Sol, the setting for my third novel. .
Although not a big exercise fan, I do enjoy dancing and music so combine the two enthusiastically in my twice weekly Zumba sessions.
I do like gardening as well. I’m a profusionist and love planting so many flowers that you can’t see the weeds.
Facebook Page: Lynn Forth
Author Page: Lynn Forth Author
My book is available as both eBook and paperback from Amazon myBook.to/LoveinLaLaLand1
Love in La La Land
In the city of stars, will English author, Jane Jones, come to earth with a bump? Or can she write her own happy ending?
Excited to be in glitzy, glamorous Hollywood, Jane is thrilled by the prospect of seeing a scene from her novel being filmed and starring screen heart throb, Scott Flynn. Too bad, she is accompanied by the cynical Jack Clancy, the screenwriter who has ruined her story but seems totally unrepentant about all the changes.
Both men seem intent on pursuing her. But do they have ulterior motives? Is Jane a mere pawn in a game between two fierce rivals?
In the sleazy world of La La Land’s glittering parties, hovering paparazzi, and powerful movie tycoons, Jane begins to feel adrift.
She must quickly learn who can be trusted…and who can’t.
Today is the start of a new series of guest blogs on the theme of setting. I’m delighted to welcome Choc Lit author, Morton S. Gray to kick it off. Thank you for being my very first guest, Morton! Over to you.
Tell me about the setting for The Truth Lies Buried.
The Truth Lies Buried is set in my fictional seaside town of Borteen and the nearby city of Sowden. Borteen is a mix of lots of the seaside towns I have visited over the years and Sowden is a variation of the city of Worcester.
My debut novel The Girl on the Beach was set in Borteen too and the town is now so real to me that I can walk down its streets and open the doors to the shops and walk inside in my mind. With the second novel, my editor wanted a clearer idea of the layout of the town, so I drew her a map and stuck on pictures of the buildings. I hope one day to draw this up in a neater fashion so that it can be shared with my readers. I’m hoping that there will be many more novels set in this location.
Do you have any special routine, visual aids, etc to get you into the right ‘place’ when writing?
An interesting question to which my initial response was no, but having said that I find if I am struggling with a scene, I will write a few prompts in my notebook as to what I am seeking to achieve in that section of the book before I go to bed. Often when I’m in the shower the next morning the answer will come to me. You might think that I’d leave a notebook in the bathroom, but I usually forget, very often ending up scribbling frantic notes on the inside of a toilet paper tube I’ve ripped open for the purpose.
I do most of my first draft writing away from my computer. I find that the frenetic atmosphere of a coffee shop, along with strong coffee, allows the words to flow. When I’m in this first draft creative phase, I write on trains, buses, in doctor’s and dentist’s waiting rooms, in my car when I’m parked awaiting my son’s train to arrive, in fact anywhere I can. I love this creative phase of a novel watching my story unfold on the page, the part I find more difficult is the revising and editing phases – I grit my teeth and get through those.
What’s the first book you read where the setting made a vivid impression?
I think that would have to be Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore. I was captivated by the Doone Valley, the church where Lorna gets shot and the farmstead where John Ridd lives. I can even tell you where I was when I first read the book – on a Scottish holiday with my parents and sister – I hardly noticed the scenery in Scotland, as I was too busy reading in the back of the car.
Have you ever chosen a book purely based on its setting? If so, what was it and why did the setting appeal?
My husband is from the North East of England. After I began to trace his family tree, I wanted to see the villages in the areas of County Durham and Northumberland where his ancestors lived. After that first visit, we holidayed for many years in the areas, so when I saw that a new author, L J Ross had based her novels in many of the places we had visited – Lindisfarne, Hadrian’s Wall, High Force, Cragside I wanted to read them. I am hooked and have just pre-ordered her eighth novel!
Blurb for The Truth Lies Buried:
Two children in a police waiting room, two distressed mothers, a memory only half remembered …
When Jenny Simpson returns to the seaside town of Borteen, her childhood home, it’s for a less than happy reason. But it’s also a chance for her to start again.
A new job leads to her working for Carver Rodgers, a man who lives alone in a house that looks like it comes from the pages of a fairy tale – until you see the disaster zone inside …
As Jenny gets to know Carver she begins to unravel the sadness that has led to his chaotic existence. Gradually they realise they have something in common that is impossible to ignore – and it all links back to a meeting at a police station many years before.
Could the truth lie just beneath their feet?
About Morton S. Gray
Morton lives with her husband, two sons and Lily, the tiny white dog, in Worcestershire, U.K. She has been reading and writing fiction for as long as she can remember, penning her first attempt at a novel aged fourteen. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.
Her debut novel The Girl on the Beach was e-published in January 2017, after she won the Choc Lit Publishing Search for a Star competition. The story follows a woman with a troubled past as she tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her son’s headteacher, Harry Dixon. This book is available as a paperback from 10 April 2018.
Morton’s second book for Choc Lit The Truth Lies Buried is published as an e-book on 1 May 2018. Another romantic suspense novel, the book tells the story of Jenny Simpson and Carver Rodgers as they uncover secrets from their past.
Morton previously worked in the electricity industry in committee services, staff development and training. She has a Business Studies degree and is a fully qualified clinical hypnotherapist and Reiki Master. She also has diplomas in Tuina acupressure massage and energy field therapy. She enjoys crafts, history and loves tracing family trees. Having a hunger for learning new things is a bonus for the research behind her books.
You can catch up with Morton on her website www.mortonsgray.com
On Twitter - @MortonSGray
Her Facebook page – Morton S. Gray Author - https://www.facebook.com/mortonsgray/ and
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/morton_s_gray/
Purchasing links for The Girl on the Beach:
Pre-order link for The Truth Lies Buried:
I have my cover art! Isn’t this gorgeous? The artist, Debbie Taylor, worked a miracle translating my descriptions, and the heroine is very close to how I imagine her. I really want that dress now!
Here’s the blurb:
Norman heiress, Matilda Comyn is desperate to escape her grasping guardian and reclaim her inheritance. After a lifetime of being let down by men, she wants to rule her lands on her own terms. She can’t escape without help and battles her mistrust when compelled to join forces with a Welsh spy.
Huw Ap Goronwy has a rival claim to Matilda’s castle and has sworn a blood oath against the Comyns. When his king rules they must marry, he struggles to reconcile his attraction with his need for revenge. But they must form a truce if they are to seize their castle.
Risking capture and death, they will only succeed if Matilda learns to trust, and Huw allows his love for Matilda to overcome his need for revenge.
I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve signed a contract with The Wild Rose Press to publish my Welsh spy novel, Bound to Her Blood Enemy. I’ve just started the editing process, so I hope it won’t be too long before I have a release date and a cover to share with you.
Until then, I’ll leave you with this picture as a taster. It shows Hawkstone Follies in Shropshire, which is inspiration for the location of the opening chapters. This dramatic cliff just cries out for a castle, and I think it’s a terrible shame there isn’t one. That’s why in my story, I stuck a castle on top and called it Redcliff. Not an easy place to escape from, but that’s precisely what my heroine needs to do. It’s a good thing there’s a gorgeous spy in the offing…
Another castle features heavily in the story, but more on that another time.
Last weekend I went away with twelve other members of my writing group to North Wales for our annual retreat. I’ve been on five retreats now, and they’ve become one of the highlights of my year. Here are five reasons why I keep going back.
1. Kick-starting a project
On retreat, we do our own thing during the day, then get together in the evenings. Because I’m away from home and all its distractions, this time alone enables me to concentrate on nothing but getting words on the page. This year I was about 20,000 words into the first draft of my WIP. By the end of the weekend I was at the 35,000 mark. Now I’ve got that momentum going, getting the first draft finished doesn’t seem such a daunting task.
I don’t spend all day writing; I also go for walks to explore the local area. We always choose beautiful locations in Wales, and being in such breathtaking surroundings never fails to inspire. It’s amazing how a problem with a plot or character can suddenly be resolved in a flash of inspiration in the middle of a walk. Which is why it’s vitally important to carry a notebook.
3. A change of routine
Working from home, it’s easy to fall into the same patterns day after day, and become jaded. Gradually my writing starts to suffer, sometimes even coming to a grinding halt. A change of surroundings never fails to refresh me, and helps me look at my projects in new ways.
4. Spending quality time with other writers
Writing is a lonely business, and I find it all too easy to get dispirited, sometimes to the point of wanting to give it all up. Getting together with other writers is very important to me. It’s an opportunity to be with like-minded people, get encouragement, motivation and inspiration. I always come back from retreat feeling energised and determined to persevere.
5. Living the dream
Let’s face it, the life of a writer isn’t the glamorous life we’d love it to be. Before I started writing seriously, I used to imagine a writer’s life involved getting up when I wanted, breezing through a chapter of my next bestseller in a couple of hours, going for a walk or cycle ride in the afternoon and maybe swanning off to a glamorous publishing do in the evening. In reality it involves getting up at 6am to write before starting my paid work then collapsing, exhausted, at the end of the day. Okay, so I do usually manage a walk at some point, but the swanky publishing events have yet to materialise. Going on retreat allows me to spend a few days in a beautiful location, providing the perfect backdrop for the fantasy lifestyle. For the duration of a long weekend, I’m a successful novelist, living the dream.
What about you - what’s your idea of the perfect retreat?
Have I gone completely mad? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for the past three days after signing up for NaNoWriMo 2017. For the next thirty days I’ll be bashing away at my computer keyboard, doing my best to add 50,000 words to my WIP.
Actually, I’m excited to be able to join in this year. In past years I’ve either been in the middle of revisions or had too much going on in my life to be able to commit to writing 1,667 words each day. This year I’m 15,000 words into my WIP, so ready to dive in. My routine for the next month will be to get up at 6am, write for a couple of hours before starting the day job, then fit the remainder of my daily word count into the evening. I might even manage a couple of meals if I’m very good.
To get me off to a flying start, I’m off to Wales on Thursday for a writers’ retreat. The only problem is that Wales is so beautiful I’ll be tempted to spend far too much time out walking. For once I won't mind if it rains.
Good luck to everyone else doing NaNo. See you on the other side...
If you’ve seen my Facebook page recently, you’ll know I’ve been reminiscing about my twentieth anniversary of going to teach in Botswana. I’ve been re-reading the diaries I wrote during my three years there, and one thing they’ve brought back is how little I was able to take with me—I had to pack everything into three boxes. Worst of all, I soon worked out I only had room for five books, once I’d packed the guide books and text books I needed. Being an avid reader, I obsessed over this far more than which clothes, shoes or household goods to take.
I was able to cheat a bit, because I had an old copy of the complete works of Jane Austen, printed on very thin paper, but it was still an agonising choice. I wanted a mixture of familiar books I enjoyed re-reading, and new books. Here’s what I ended up with:
How about you? If you were going away for three years and could only take five books, what would you choose?
I love a good rant from time to time, and I think it's high time for another writing-related one. For a reminder of my rant on how writers are depicted in film, see this post in my previous blog.
This time it's another matter close to my heart: maths. Or, rather, the perception that an attractive woman can’t be good at maths. I see it again and again in books—romances in particular—and if one thing is guaranteed to make me scream, throw a book at the wall and never pick it up again, this is it. (I see it in films and television, too, but I can’t afford to throw my tv at the wall each time it happens.)
For example, at some point in the book, the author wants to impress upon us how feminine, lovable and endearingly ditzy the heroine is. So the heroine, upon being presented with a problem involving maths, bats her eyelids and says something like, “Ooh, I was never any good with numbers.”
Seriously, I've just caught myself grinding my teeth as I wrote that.
Don't get me wrong, I know some people (men as well as women) find maths difficult, just as some people find reading difficult. There's nothing wrong with admitting it and trying to find a strategy to cope. What I object to is the implication that the ability to do maths is somehow unfeminine. That a woman who can work out the square root of minus nine is unattractive.
I used to teach secondary maths and it broke my heart to see intelligent girls unwilling to show their ability because they thought it would make them unpopular with boys. This attitude is deeply ingrained in our culture, but surely as enlightened members of the twenty-first century we shouldn’t go along with it. Every time a writer describes a woman as useless at maths (unless it’s an integral part of the plot) they are compounding the problem. So please, do women a favour and stop using a difficulty with numbers as a lazy shortcut to demonstrate how appealing your female characters are.
I’m sure there must be plenty of books out there featuring mathematically able heroines. Any suggestions?
With the conference less than two weeks away, it’s time for the final instalment of my mini series on Shropshire literary connections. I’ve saved my favourite until last and chosen a writer who’s had a huge influence on my writing. Thanks to her, I discovered the plots, battles and blood feuds of Welsh history. Thanks to her I was inspired to take one of the most memorable holidays of my life and travel to the mountains of Slovakia. Thanks to her, every time I visit Shrewsbury I can’t help but imagine a twelfth-century monk browsing the river banks for herbs and hunting for clues that will guide him to a murderer.
You’ve probably worked out by now that I’m talking about Edith Pargeter, who also wrote as Ellis Peters. She was born and lived in Dawley—now part of Telford—and wrote and published over 70 books. She is probably best known for her books featuring Brother Cadfael, the medieval monk-turned-detective, which arguably kicked off a whole sub genre of historical crime fiction.
A lesser-known fact is Edith Pargeter’s lifelong interest in what was then Czechoslovakia. She taught herself Czech (having two Czech sisters-in-law, I’ve studied Czech myself, and it’s flipping difficult, let me tell you!) and in addition to her own fiction is internationally recognised for her translations of Czech poetry and prose into English. In 1966 she published a crime novel, The Piper on the Mountain - one of a series featuring Inspector George Felse and his family. Set mostly in the High And Low Tatras of Slovakia, it features George Felse’s son, Dominic, who solves a murder involving a plot to sell secrets to the Soviets and still manages to get the girl. It’s great fun and inspired my own trip to the High Tatras.
However, the first books of hers that I read were the four books comprising The Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet: Sunrise in the West, The Dragon at Noonday, The Hounds of Sunset and Afterglow and Nightfall. It introduced me to Welsh history and I was hooked from the start, drawn in by the struggles of Prince Llewelyn to overcome his scheming brothers and build a Gwynedd—and, ultimately, Wales—that might be strong enough to stand against the Norman threat. If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend them. As an added incentive, they also feature my first literary crush: Llewelyn’s conflicted, treacherous brother, David. The ultimate bad boy!
Hopefully this has whetted your appetite for the conference. Of course, there are many more writers associated with Shropshire. If you have your own favourites, I’d love to hear about them.k here to edit.
My writing, research and any other randomness that seems like a good idea at the time.