Things that inspire me – Part 2
Colours are very important to me in my writing, and in my life in general. They’re useful descriptors, to help transfer the picture I “see in my head” to the page and give readers a sense of characters and settings in my story.
Everyone knows what blue eyes look like. They’re, well, blue. But for me blue isn’t just blue; it’s aquamarine, baby blue, china blue, cornflower blue, crystal blue, denim blue, electric blue, forget-me-not blue, gunmetal blue, ice blue, indigo, laser-beam blue, sapphire, sky blue, steel blue, and so on.
It’s important also to bear the rhythm of a sentence in mind – it’s a lot easier to say, “Oh, those baby-blues of his… how could she tear herself away?” than “She looked deep into his cerulean blue eyes”. The first is a description many of us would use, the second is more likely to conjure up an image of an artist’s studio with half-squeezed tubes of oil paint everywhere – which is, of course, entirely appropriate if you’re writing about an artist 🙂
Sometimes I find it useful to have a visual tool handy when it comes to qualifying a colour. This is where colour charts from paint companies can help. To the left you can see one fro Farrow & Ball which I actually had framed because I liked it so much! Notice the way the colours are sorted into cold/warm and light/dark. And the names are fantastic, like “Dead Salmon” or “Arsenic”. Sets off my imagination.
Colours can also subtly twist what you’re saying. If you refer to someone with mousy hair, we can immediately picture the colour because a lot of people have this hair colour, and nothing is out of the ordinary in the image. If, for example, we say instead that “her hair was the colour of a dead mouse”, it suddenly changes the mood of what we see because it creates an image of a person who may be ill, or sad, or unwashed, or even all three. And that is a different story altogether…
Colour collections are everywhere. Here’s a photo of an eye shadow palette I took at a NYX make-up counter recently. Using qualifying words I’ve managed to come up with some descriptors. In the top row there is “Roman Roof” and “Liquid Gold”, in the bottom row I have “Rhubarb Compote” and “Tin Soldier”, among others.
This is from my own imagination, of course. I can’t remember the names on the actual palette!
Things that inspire me – Part 1
As a writer I’m always looking for inspiration, whether consciously or subconsciously, and because a lot of this is happening at the subconscious level it’s impossible for me to list everything which captures my imagination.
But I’ve narrowed it down to a few areas, and today I’ll be talking about places, or rather one place which got my creative juices going. Despite the stress of airports, I do love traveling, and in May this year I went to Venice, a city I’d never visited before. I only had one day there so had to think carefully about what I wanted to see and do. Forget about the Doge Palace and being serenaded in a gondola – I wanted the REAL Venetian experience!
Instead of taking one of the many ferries which are moored just outside the central train station, my travel companion and I decided to walk to the St. Mark’s Square area, through the narrow alleyways and over tiny bridges, in search for an optician’s. Yes, that’s correct 🙂 He’d visited the shop before and wanted to order a new pair of glasses. As one does in Venice…
We did a few touristy things too, and some window shopping (Venice is not cheap), but it was waiting by that optician’s which made me feel I was part of the city, and not just on the outside looking in. I became attuned to my surroundings in a way I may not have become otherwise.
The tang of brine in the air, the sound of footsteps on stone paving travelling upwards to be met by expressive, melodic voices somewhere above. The cool and slightly damp, crumpling plaster on the walls, a stark contrast to the tiny, tidy and well-lit shops everywhere, and the sense of water around you at all times, even when you can’t see it. I pondered at the curious metal guides on either side of people’s doorways when I realised that this is where the inhabitants slide in a metal plate to protect their houses against the acqua alta (Italian for “high water”), floods which occur between autumn and spring.
Being from Denmark, which is mostly surrounded by the sea, means that water has always had a special significance for me, and I suppose it’s no surprise that my first novel Up Close is set on the English east coast.
Dinner was a typical Venetian dish called cicchetti, which are small snacks or side dishes, a bit like Spanish tapas. The importance of the cicchetti isn’t just the food itself but also how, when and where they are eaten: with fingers and toothpicks, usually standing up by the bar. They’re incredibly cheap and on offer in cicchetti bars pretty much all day. I had deep-fried courgettes and risotto balls, and ended up making a real mess because they fell apart in my hand. So much for trying to blend in with the locals!
Of course, as a writer I simply had to visit Harry’s Bar, which was one of Ernest Hemingway’s hangouts, and where he drank himself into oblivion. The bar is famous for its dry martini, which is exceptionally dry (be warned!), so I opted for a Bellini instead, another of their signature drinks. It consists of peach juice and sparkling wine, and is extremely yummy, but very expensive at 22 euro.
Venice was enchanting, and going back to the train station at the end of the day was like leaving a fairytale kingdom behind. But I came home, brimming with ideas: narrow alleyways, fog, jealous lovers, dysfunctional relationships, a sense that something is lurking around the next corner, murder…
Surely this hasn’t been done before? 🙂
A Big Blanket for Christmas
While I was writing my Christmas novella, A Lion Is Not Just For Christmas, I thought a lot about Christmas and what it means to me. It’s a time of joy, warmth, giving and togetherness, and of tolerance and forgiveness. Sadly it’s not like that for everyone. For many it equals isolation and desperation.
So, I was honoured and delighted when myself and two friends were approached by textile lecturer Gina Pierce from the London Metropolitan University and asked to knit a small section of a Big Blanket for the charity Crisis. We were given a pattern by the organiser, consisting of 24 squares of 25cm x 25cm, making a blanket measuring 100cm x 150cm in total.
Other knitters across London participated too, and when all the individual blankets were finished and handed in, they were laid out together to form a larger pixelated image.
This was done at Conway Hall on Red Lion Square, and the aim is to raise awareness of homelessness in the capital. The 50 blankets have since been distributed to the needy or homeless at various Crisis centres this Christmas, and the recipients are immensely grateful.
If you wish to support the charity, here is a link to their donation page:
And here are two other charities who welcome support, particularly at Christmas:
St. Mungo’s: https://www.mungos.org/get-involved/donate/
Salvation Army: https://donate.salvationarmyappeals.org.uk/b/my-donation
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
A time to read Christmas stories
The run-up to Christmas can be incredibly hectic, and sometimes the stress of it can rob you of your Christmas spirit. Therefore, to get myself into the “zone”, I read as many Christmas stories as I can, simply to maintain that sense of miracle and mystery. Here are a few that I’m currently reading or planning to dip into very soon.
These eight tales boldly re-imagine the stories of Christmas while celebrating the power of love and compassion. This enchanting treasury includes:
“Miracle”, in which a young woman’s carefully devised plans to find romance go awry when her guardian angel shows her the true meaning of love.
“In Coppelius’s Toyshop”, where a jaded narcissist finds himself trapped in a crowded toy store at Christmastime.
“Epiphany”, in which three modern-day wise men embark on a quest unlike any they’ve ever experienced.
“Inn”, where a choir singer gives shelter to a homeless man and his pregnant wife-only to learn later that there’s much more to the couple than meets the eye.
And more . . .
A Christmas to remember
Lori France and her four-year-old niece Misty are settling in to spend the holidays away after unexpected events leave them without a place to stay.
Best-selling author Andrew Vitruvius knows that any publicity is good publicity. His agent tells him that often, so it must be true. In the run-up to Christmas, she excels herself – talking him into the craziest scheme yet: getting himself kidnapped, live on TV.
Little do they know they’re about to make a discovery and experience a Christmas they’re not likely to forget …
What if you don’t want to be home for Christmas?
Spending Christmas away from home is one thing but English nurse Katie Brooks is spending hers in Coorah Creek; a small town in the Australian outback.
Katie was certain leaving London was the right decision, but her new job in the outback is more challenging than she could have ever imagined.
Scott Collins rescued Katie on her first day in Coorah Creek and has been a source of comfort ever since. But Scott no longer calls the town home – it’s too full of bad memories and he doesn’t plan on sticking around for long.
Scott needs to leave. Katie needs to stay. They have until Christmas to decide their future …
Debbie Macomber brings you home for Christmas!
A Cedar Cove Christmas
Mother-to-be Mary Jo Wyse arrives in Cedar Cove on Christmas Eve, pregnant and alone. And there’s no room at the local inn… However, the people in Cedar Cove are all willing to lend a hand. There’s more than enough faith, hope and love to go round this Christmas!
Call Me Mrs Miracle
Emily Merkle (call her Mrs Miracle! ) is working in the toy department at Finley’s – a store that needs a Christmas miracle to keep the business afloat. Fortunately, it’s Mrs. Miracle to the rescue. Next to making children happy, she likes nothing better than helping others – including just a bit of matchmaking!
‘Silent Night’ is a collection of thirteen Christmas stories by Wendy Clarke, a regular writer of fiction for national magazines.
And did I mention my own Christmas story…?
Publication day & Christmas prep
Yesterday was publication day for my novella A Lion Is Not Just For Christmas, and because I’ve been so busy working on the book, I haven’t had much time to prepare for Christmas.
I’ve always loved the run-up to Christmas. Not the commercial side of things – I really hate it when the shops start selling their decorations in October! No, for me it’s the little touches which remind us that this is the season of goodwill as well as a religious celebration.
When I was a child, my sister and I each had a Christmas calendar with a small present every day. Nothing fancy, maybe just a pen or a rubber, Christmas-themed stickers or even a little chocolate Santa. Simple ways of saying “I love you” and “I know you”. I’ve carried on the tradition with my own children, starting with toy cars, pencils, miniature dolls, tiny puzzles etc., then graduating to nail varnish, make-up, socks, small humorous books etc. as they got older, and then only at the weekend otherwise it would be ruinous!
This year I even have my own for the first time as a grown-up, courtesy of my ever-thoughtful daughter.
Another thing I love is the lighting of candles. I’m originally from Denmark, and one of the highlights of the lead up to Christmas is the advent wreath. It has four candles, and on the first Sunday in Advent we light a candle in the afternoon when it gets dark and let it burn about ¼ way down. Next Sunday we light the second candle and burn it ¼ way. And so on, until on the last Sunday in Advent all the candles are lit in a staggered pattern and are allowed to burn down fully.
Advent wreaths can vary, from pine twigs on a straw base (yes, that’s right!) to glass, metal, and even silver, which you can decorate as you want. I’ve opted for a small and simple one this year, as you can see from the picture.
Christmas preparations are quite different in my novella. And, of course, with a lion featuring as part of the story, it’s a little on the wild side!
The Knitting & Stitching Show
Shamefully I’ve been neglecting my blog in the past year. Blame it on house renovation, an ambitious gardening project, and my daughter’s GCSE exams. Excuses, excuses, I know
Anyway what better way to kick-start it than to talk about something I love, and which gives me a lot of pleasure: knitting.
At the weekend I went to the Knitting & Stitching Show at Kensington Olympia with friends Janet Gover and Jane Coulthard. Usually I visit Alexandra Palace for this event, but being a West London girl, Olympia is a great deal easier to get to.
This show is a cornucopia for those who knit and sew (although the wool stands were few and far between), but it’s also a showcase for some extraordinary work from various textile artists.
Here’s what I saw and experienced:
Apart from loving my day out, getting inspired for my next knitting project(s) – with my credit card glowing red hot! – I was a little disappointed. As I mentioned above, there were fewer knitting-related stands this year, and these were quite spread out and therefore hard to find.
A woman on one of the concessions told us that although it was never a 50-50 balance between knitting and stitching stands, it was at least 30% knitting, and now it’s less than 20%.
So, is knitting becoming less popular, I wonder, or do the knitting concessions choose to exhibit at other shows? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.
Happy birthday to Choc Lit!
My wonderful publisher Choc Lit are celebrating their 7th birthday today on the 15th June, and I thought I’d blog about something 7-related. So, here are my 7 favourite places in London, and why.
1. The Victoria & Albert Museum
A treasure trove for anyone who loves to look at beautiful and interesting artefacts, some from far-flung corners of the Earth, others just very old. When I was doing research for my swashbuckling historical romance The Highwayman’s Daughter, I spent several hours there studying clothing, furniture, jewellery, and other items relating to the 18th century, the period I was writing in. One dress, worn by the hero’s cousin, is inspired by one in the V&A collection.
2. The British Film Institute
I love the cinema, but the BFI is a slightly different cinematic experience. The films showing aren’t the new releases, and the monthly programme is often thematically put together. In the last 6 months I’ve seen It’s a Wonderful Life, The Big Sleep, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Each of these different films have been a source of inspiration to me. Love the dialogue in The Big Sleep – the quips just keep coming!
3. Kew Gardens
Come rain or shine, each season has its own special beauty in Kew Gardens, and the many greenhouses their unique environments. The Palm House and the Temperate House are the 2 biggest and most famous, but there’s also the Waterlily House and the Princess of Wales House. The first is self-explanatory – it’s a big indoor pond with numerous varieties of waterlilies, but in contrast the Princess of Wales House has rooms for plants needing hot dry conditions and other rooms for moisture loving plants. Go and see the orchids growing on the bare walls!
A large compound with a lot to see, e.g. the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s Gallery, and the Cutty Sark. Greenwich and surroundings have been used in films many time, from Patriot Games and Four Weddings and a Funeral to Pirates of the Caribbean and Les Miserables. The park is the perfect place for a picnic, and if it’s overcast, there are plenty of cafés and restaurants in Greenwich itself as well as the Trafalgar Tavern on the riverfront. And travelling to Greenwich on a Thames riverboat makes it an extra special day out.
5. Royal Albert Hall
I recently attended a concert here comprised of music from science fiction films, e.g. Star Wars, Star Trek, and Space Odyssey 2001, just to mention a few, but also music with an astrological theme like The Planet Suite by Gustav Holst. The acoustics in the Royal Albert Hall isn’t perhaps the best, although experts have done a lot to improve it with weird shapes suspended from the ceiling (which incidentally look like flying saucers…) , but the stunning Victorian architecture makes up for it.
6. Heathrow Terminal 5
Am I mad, you might ask. An airport as a favourite place? Well, as airports go, it’s not too bad. There were some teething problems in the beginning (once had to wait 2 hours for my luggage), but these seem to have been ironed out. It’s used exclusively by British Airways and Iberia airlines, the building is sleek and stylish, it never feels too crowded, and they even keep you updated on how busy the security desks are. (And, no, they’re not paying me to say this!)
7. My house
2 years ago I bought a bijou 1930s cottage, and have been working at making it a home ever since. This hasn’t been too difficult – although the house was perhaps aesthetically challenged, as some might say :-), it was as if it put its arm around me the day I moved in (okay, houses don’t have arms, but go with me here…). Since then it has provided me with comfort and security, somewhere to think, to write, to be me.
My Top Five Reads of 2015
As per usual, I’d like to share my favourite reads of the previous year, and here they are:
The Chateau on the Lake by Charlotte Betts
Imagine traveling to France at the height of the Revolution… That is exactly what Madeleine Moreau does when after a personal tragedy she goes in search of the French side of her family. This takes her to the heart of France in 1792, right when the country is in the grip of the terrifying Reign of Terror.
Foolhardy, yes, and the very idea of it had my toes curling in horror, but the author weaves a beautiful tale of a different side to Revolutionary France. Even so, the strong political undercurrents are undoubtedly there in everything which occurs, and it seems that no one is safe – the authorities react with merciless swiftness to anonymous tipoffs, cutting down innocents rather than letting people not sharing the required revolutionary zeal “get away”.
This novel packs a punch with romance, intrigue, and mystery, the pastoral charm interspersed with horrific scenes, and the author’s research is impeccable.
The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hogdson
Set in the notorious debtor’s prison in London in 1727, this is a gripping murder mystery. The author hooked me from the start with that classic thriller structure, a Prologue detailing the brutal murder itself, and then the main story. Here this is divided into 3 parts: Robbery, Murder, Life and Death, with the Murder section occurring over five days. It may sound contrived but this structure really works because it highlights how much action actually takes place in the span of a very short time.
The wastrel Tom Hawkins lands himself in debtor’s prison shortly after a murder has been committed there and soon becomes embroiled in an investigation. The Marshalsea is vividly described, with emphasis on the segregation of the prison into the paupers’ section, which for many inmates spelled certain death due to the appalling conditions, and the section for the more privileged debtors like gentlemen such as Tom.
Even so, this is no walk in the park for Tom, with violence and betrayal lurking around every corner. It’s a page-turning read from start to finish and even includes a budding romance, a little light in the darkness.
Fatherland by Robert Harris
I’ve always wanted to read this seminal novel, or indeed anything by Robert Harris, but never got around to it. As the author recently published another novel, I decided to start from the beginning, as it were.
Fatherland is an intense political thriller set in Berlin in 1961 against the backdrop of an alternate reality in which Hitler and the Nazis won World War II. The discovery of a body near the house of a high-ranking official days before the Führer’s 75th birthday takes homicide investigator Xavier March right into the corridors of power where he unearths a cover-up on a grand scale: the murder of six million Jews.
With the knowledge of history we have today, including the knowledge of this genocide, it’s hard to imagine a nation of people as isolated and indoctrinated as the German population in this book. Some obviously suspect that something has happened but dare not question the status quo, but most are just ordinary people who simply want to go about their business and survive in this totalitarian regime.
I read this very quickly because it was so gripping, right from the moment inspector March steps out of his car to inspect the dead body, but also because of the spine-tingling premise. A modern classic in my opinion.
A Cruel Necessity by L C Tyler
This is a classic whodunnit set during the time of the English Republic. John Grey, a young lawyer, literally stumbles upon the body of a murdered man, and the local magistrate, a retired colonel from Cromwell’s army, reluctantly accepts that John now has the task of finding the killer. It soon appears that the murder could be linked to a Royalist conspiracy to restore Charles II to the throne.
It was refreshing to read a novel where the majority of the characters’ loyalties lie with the republic and not the monarchy like so many other novels, presumably because Royalists are perceived to be more “dashing and romantic”.
John Grey is neither. He’s young and inexperienced and fumbles his way through the investigation, landing himself in political hot waters on more than one occasion. This makes for a very endearing hero and the plot so much more realistic because in real life nobody is perfect. At the same time it doesn’t pay to underestimate him, nor his mother who constantly exasperates her son but has a very sharp mind. The final denouement is not quite what I expected, but all the more rewarding for it.
The Wedding Cake Tree by Melanie Hudson
Celebrity photographer Grace Buchanan doesn’t expect to lose her mother Rosamund so soon in life, but even so Rosamund has the ability to reach far into her daughter’s life beyond death. The terms of her will state that for Grace to inherit her mother’s peaceful Devonshire cottage she has to drop everything for two weeks and go on a journey around the country with world-weary ex-soldier Alasdair Finn.
This isn’t quite what Grace had in mind, but she goes along with it because she realises that she didn’t know her mother as well as she thought she did. It turns out to be the journey of a life-time for both Grace and Alasdair, who are the quintessential odd couple.I loved the way Alasdair was in charge of each letter from Rosamund to Grace as well as the various items to be revealed at each stage of the journey. It gave him an important role in Grace’s life, one she didn’t particularly welcome, as well as setting the scene for love to blossom. Otherwise, as a character, he could so easily have been a bystander to the plot.
I read this debut novel with a strong sense that this was an author who was going places, and lo and behold, Melanie Hudson has just won a RoNA prize for the best contemporary romance of the year!
The Festive Season 2015
2015 turned out to be a rather hectic year; I settled into my new house, my son completed his A-levels then started university, and my daughter started the first year of her GCSEs. I also did a lot of traveling in the UK to some of the beautiful cities including Lincoln, Bath and York. Despite all odds, I managed to have a relaxing warm-up to Christmas and New Year, which is a first because normally I find it very stressful.
On the 25th of November I went to the Ideal Homeshow at Christmas with my good friend Jane. Olympia Exhibition Centre was just brimming with inspiration for gifts, home decoration, and interesting food and drink to sample, as well as talks etc.
Christmas itself I celebrated in Copenhagen with my family. Teenagers can be grumpy, and Christmas is no exception, but it’s a joy to see that they’re not too old (and too cool!) to feel the excitement of decorating the tree. Long may it last.
New Year’s Eve was a Casino Royale party at the house of an old college friend, and everyone were dressed to the nines in 007 glamour style. Great fun, great food and company, and I even got to hang on the arm of the roulette high roller. If only it were real money…
Saturday the 2nd of January I went ice skating at the indoor ice rink at
Westfield shopping centre. It’s been at least two years since I last was on the ice, and predictably I fell flat on my front and had the wind knocked out of me.
The holidays ended with a real treat: seeing Jersey Boys at Piccadilly Theatre. This is the true story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and their roller-coaster journey to fame. The music is both sad and uplifting at the same time, but always life-affirming.
Now it’s back to the grind. Which means doing what I enjoy most – writing – so I’m not complaining!