Friday 30 December 2011

A Sense of Perspective

This was my birthday loot - gorgeous, eh? A whacking great crate of booze.

Except it isn't, of course. When seen in perspective, it is an elegant small crate of liqueur chocolates.

Which made me think - there are times when everything happens at once. I feel a bit off-colour, perhaps, or a piece of writing has taken longer than I expected, and all of a sudden the small jobs are all bumping into each other and spilling off the To Do list and events seem to spiral out of control.

But today I heard some grim news about a friend that made all my clicketty, fidgetty worries fall silent.

So this year I'm going to keep things in perspective. I'm going to widen my field of vision and decide what is important at any one time.

And I'll start with a liqueur chocolate, that pencil and the next scene in the serial-in-progress.

Happy balancing act to you all.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Birthday roses and ginger brack

When my mother was alive, she used to give me flowers every week. Partly this was to say thank you for taking her shopping and running her around. Mostly it was because she thought they brightened a place up and besides, she liked buying flowers.

Since she died, I've tended not to buy flowers for myself. Not sure why, it just felt slightly wrong. Now and again, though, when I see some particularly pretty ones, I feel a sharp prod in my back and a voice in my head telling me to stop messing about and for goodness sake put them in the trolley.

Which is why I bought these today for my birthday. I could feel the approval as I went through the checkout.

And because it is my birthday, I am also eating Ginger Brack and drinking tea. She would have approved of that too.

[Ginger brack from the wonderful Bothams of Whitby]

Thursday 1 December 2011

A different kind of launch!

Yesterday I went to the launch of Beryl Kingston’s new novel from Hale:  Off The Rails about George Hudson of York. Born in 1800, Lord Mayor of York for three terms and known as the 'Railway King' because of his assiduity in becoming chairman of as many Railway Companies as possible, he was a colourful and not always fiscally responsible character. Indeed, his creative accounting led to his being imprisoned later on in his career.

The launch was held in York's Holy Trinity Church with its Georgian box pews, giving a semblance of privacy to the worshippers - and as we discovered, cutting off the worst of the draughts! It was lovely for me sitting in the pews and imagining what my own characters might get up to in the semi-privacy. Some of the pews were large family ones and some were a lot smaller. Certainly hands touching when sharing hymn books and feet rubbing against each other would not have been an impossibility.

Beryl Kingston with 'George Hudson'
Ahem. Back to Beryl's launch. The pulpit is a central one (giving a landscape feel to the church rather than a portrait one) and the ‘difference’ in this launch was that a local actor used the pulpit as a focal point for a dramatic monologue by ‘George Hudson’ himself, romping entertainingly through his timeline. I shall, of course, read the book, but the dramatic content brought the man very vividly to life and will enhance the experience.

The mulled wine and sausage rolls that followed were more than welcome on a very cold day!

[Many thanks to Holy Trinity and Mike Jarman for photographs]

Saturday 26 November 2011

Penny Plain - final part

The final part of Penny Plain is now out. All the loose ends get identified and tidied away neatly, just as they should.

I'm going to miss seeing the illustrations each week

Saturday 19 November 2011

A Wonderful Coincidence

The story behind Part Three of this year's Penny Plain Mysteries is one of those  serendipitous coincidences that we are told never to use in our writing, because no one would believe it. But this one DID happen, so I did use it - albeit in a fictitious manner.

Earlier this year, when I was writing the second series of Penny Plain, I received an email through my website from Betty, now living in Canada, to say that she always had People's Friend sent to her from the UK and had thoroughly enjoyed the first Penny Plain story.

Betty in 'them thar' days
She went on to say that she had particularly liked the unusual jigsaw-code-breaking strand, and mentioned that back in the 1950s she had worked on aircraft crash data, trying to establish the weak points in the new aeroplanes then being developed.

At which point I leapt off my chair shouting "Yes, yes, yes!" and "FABULOUS!" and "I don't believe it!" Because - as I immediately emailed back to her - I was at that very moment writing the new series of Penny Plain which included a mysteriously crashed plane from the 1950s!

We have since kept up a regular email correspondance, and I was so grateful for the easiest research ever, that I wrote Betty - in very fictionalised form - into this week's episode.

Whetted your appetite? Good - go buy it.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Penny Plain - episode two


The second part of The Penny Plain Mysteries is out today. This episode centres on the rather worrying goings on at Fellside Farm. I love the way the illustrator has captured a typical Lake District farm with the hills in the background.

And the ice cream? What does that have to do with the story? You'll never know unless you buy the issue.

Thursday 3 November 2011

Penny Plain rides again!

Where is the year going? I delivered the second Penny Plain Mysteries serial back in the spring and thought of the November publication date as months away. Which it was, of course. So I forgot about it and got on with other projects.

So imagine my surprise when I opened up the first page of this week's People's Friend to find this! (Several other people in my aisle of the supermarket were likewise surprised. One lady rushed over thinking I was having a minor heart attack.)

It's the first time I'd seen the illustration and I love the way the artist (Ruth Blair) has got the characters just right.

It's another four part serial involving - oh, let me see - 1950s aircraft, the Women's Institute... and ice cream. And an overarching mystery and a few other bits and pieces as well.

You'll have to buy it to find out. Just like the lady in the supermarket.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

RNA Regency Day

To St James, on Saturday, to the Regency Celebration at the Royal Over-Seas League run by the Romantic Novelists' Association. It being cool, I wore my sturdy cotton day dress with a useful shawl about my shoulders.

I was conducted to a vastly elegant salon, with a prodigious table of books for sale presided over by two very persuasive gentlemen.

I confess the soldiery quite turned my head,

which must account for the very breathless state I found myself in after a somewhat lively cotillion.

Fortunately, there was an opportunity to sit down with some of my bosom bows and listen to an eminently sensible discussion on my favourite author, Miss Austen.

(I admit to a covetous sensation on viewing Mrs Cohen's gown. Quite glorious, is it not? No wonder she took such pride in wearing it.)

Later, there were chances to try on bonnets and gowns,

a demonstration of scents, and the prospect of a guided stroll around the area or a hand or two of cards over tea.

Discretion forbids me to reveal the subject matter of my own panel, touching as it did on matters commonly taking place beyond the bedroom door.

The high point, though, was my purchase of a new biography of that splendid novelist, Georgette Heyer, and listening to her chronicler Dr Jennifer Kloester.

A very fine day indeed.

Wednesday 5 October 2011


This Saturday, I shall be at the Romantic Novelists' Association Regency Celebration Day where I have been persuaded by my friend Christina Courtenay to be on a panel discussing sex and the Georgians and volunteered by my friend Louise Allen to help out with a Regency walk around St James. In costume.

Now, I have quotes for the panel, so that's okay. I have a map and notes for the walk, so that's okay.

I have a faux Regency dress, a pretend spencer, and shawl to wear.

But what do I do with my hair? I'm really tempted by Miss Harriet and Miss Elizabeth Binney (John Smart 1806)...

No, you're right. It'll be a scrunchy, a thousand hairpins and a lace hanky to cover the lot up.

Friday 30 September 2011

The Deserted Daughter - radio style

Last night I went to Bury St Edmunds (again!) to see another play in the Theatre Royal's 'Restoring The Repertoire' script-in-hand strand. This one was The Deserted Daughter, written by Thomas Holcroft in 1795, and was performed slightly differently to previous rehearsed readings.

As ever, the cast had only got together at 10 o'clock that morning to read through the script for the first time and did fantastically well.

The difference this season is that the plays are being recorded so that a wider audience can listen to some of these forgotten Georgian gems. This is fabulous news for those of us who would like to be able to have a taste of the sort of entertainment available in the Georgian & Regency era. As radio drama, it worked very well. The actors really concentrated on the words and the language and put everything into their voices.


But to begin with it felt ... odd. It was peculiar watching the players talk into their own microphones instead of interacting with each other. I think it was a bit strange for the actors too - having to direct their voices to the mics when their natural instinct was to play to the audience.

They did incredibly well, and quickly found a happy medium where they could look at each other - and us - and still record. In a lot of ways, the radio style suits Thomas Holcroft who - as co-director Colin Blumenau says - never uses one word where ten will do. The characters are sufficiently different that it is easy to tell who is who and the stage business was suggested by scuffles and distance-from-microphone.

So all in all another triumph. Well done, team. Looking forward to the next one!

Monday 26 September 2011



I have just found out that The Kydd Inheritance has been shortlisted for the Choc Lit Best Historical Romance award at the Festival of Romance!

It's a very strong list, so I'm thrilled to be included on it

The full list is:

For the Choc Lit Best Historical Read Award:
Charlotte Betts - The Apothecary's Daughter (Piatkus)
Annie Burrows - Captain Corcoran's Hoyden Bride (Mills & Boon, Historical Regency)
Christina Courtenay - The Scarlet Kimono (Choc Lit)
Jean Fullerton - Perhaps Tomorrow (Orion)
Jan Jones - The Kydd Inheritance (Robert Hale)

There is also another award, so congratulations to all my friends on that one too:

For the Total-E-Bound Best Romantic Read Award:
Juliet Archer - Persuade Me (Choc Lit)
Fiona Harper - Swept off her Stilettos (Mills & Boon, Riva)
Carole Matthews - Wrapped up in You (Sphere)
Sue Moorcroft - Love and Freedom (Choc Lit)
Talli Roland - The Hating Game (Prospera Publishing)

Background: the Best Romantic Read Award is for contemporary novels of any romance genre, and the Best Historical Read Award is for novels of any romance genre set prior to 1961.

The Romance Reader Awards are judged by a panel of real readers who considered the submissions on readability and enjoyment.

The winners will be announced at the Festival of Romance Have A Heart Ball and Awards on Saturday 22 October, along with the Festival of Romance New Talent Award to recognise writers of great talent who have not yet been commercially published.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Dick Turpin's Last Ride

As soon as I opened the door to my box at the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds last night to see this horseshoe-shaped scaffolding-and-plank set, I was hooked.

The play itself is an incredibly clever piece of writing from Daniel O'Brien with music by Pat Whymark which takes a legend and deconstructs it in a way that emphasises the romance whilst laying the truth behind the myth brutally bare.

cast in rehearsal
Played and sung BRILLIANTLY by a cast of five, Dick Turpin's Last Ride weaves together the fact and the fiction of Richard Turpin, born 1705, hanged 1739, who was a poacher, housebreaker, rapist and thief - and certainly no hero. The myth endures because a Victorian storyteller cobbled it together from half a dozen other sources, dressed it in poetry and sent it out into a world hungry for romance.

The characters of historian Thomas Kyll, disillusioned colleague Richard Bayes and writer William Harrison Ainsworth recount the life, death and legend of Dick Turpin. The five actors turn effortlessly into about fifty different characters in such a way that the audience is never in doubt as to who they are. The music, the fusion of modern and Georgian costumes, and the fluid movements around the set are a joy.

I was blown away.

Theatre Royal always puts on high class productions and this is no exception. I want to follow it round the country on tour and watch it every night. I want to applaud until my hands are sore. I want to stand here and yell out to the whole country, "THIS is what The Arts should be about. This."

Go see it. Seriously.

Saturday 17 September 2011

Jojo Moyes - an inspiration

On Thursday 15th September, Jojo Moyes gave a talk to the Romantic Novelists' Association.

Perfectly ordinary sentence, right?

What it doesn't say is that on Thursday 15th September every single rail line within reach of Jojo went into meltdown at precisely the time at which she'd thought of leisurely setting out to London, on which journey she would buy lunch, sip water and hone a nice talk.

As soon as the full horror of the transport situation dawned she rang, and I said we could reschedule. "Certainly not," she said. "I'll be there. It's just a matter of how."

And she was - through tortuous means - and she was brilliant. She talked about realising in her early days that if writing was the only thing she wanted to do, she was going to damn well do it properly. She talked about not understanding what agents meant when they were turning down her first few books, but doggedly writing on until she DID suddenly know what she was doing, and the rush of excitement at knowing she was doing it well.

And she talked about something that struck a deep resounding chord with me. She'd recently sent in her tenth book, within deadline, and had it accepted. And then she'd re-read the manuscript and realised that while it was an okay book, it wasn't the best book she could write. So she's taken it back and cut 60,000 words out of it and is now frantically rewriting.

That's what I do - albeit on a smaller scale. I'm obsessive about getting each and every word just right. I polish until I throw up on opening the file. I know I could earn more money from my writing if I submitted something that was good enough, and in every other area of my life (I'm thinking particularly of housework here), I do just that. But not writing. Whatever I write has to be the best I can do.

So thanks, Jojo. Thanks for being a total professional. And thanks for bolstering me. And you can just bet that I'm going to be first in line when the new book is published.

Jojo Moyes won the 2004 Romantic Novel of the Year with Foreign Fruit and is the current holder with The Last Letter From Your Lover. We in the RNA are very proud of her.

Friday 16 September 2011

Regency Readers' Day

I have lots of events to look forward to this autumn - and one of the first is this:

A day dedicated to Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen and the Regency period. What could be better? For details, go to the Romantic Novelists' Association website.


Tuesday 6 September 2011

sky blue pink

As a child, I often used to wonder what colour 'sky blue pink' really was. I reckon this might be it, don't you?

Thursday 1 September 2011

Off at a party

Today is the first of the month, so I am over at Historical Romance UK talking about one of my very favourite places, the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds.

William Wilkins (1778-1839)

As yesterday was the birthday of William Wilkins, architect, theatre proprietor and all-round control-freak, the post is about his present to the town - and how it nearly went horribly wrong.

Happy birthday for yesterday, WW.

Saturday 20 August 2011

Final part of An Ordinary Gift

The issue of Woman's Weekly containing the final part of An Ordinary Gift is now on sale!

Ely museum

In this episode Clare visits Ely museum (housed in the 13th century gaol),

learns about 16th century witchcraft ...

and finally understands her 'ordinary gift'.

Friday 12 August 2011

Ely serial - part three

Part Three of An Ordinary Gift is now in bookshops and supermarkets. I've really loved writing my 'Ely' serial and getting the atmosphere of this island town into the story (no, really, it honestly was an island until the Fens were drained in the 17th Century - hence the name, "Isle of Eels") .

Amongst the things Clare comes across in this week's episode are a plaque to the Wisbech Martyrs

and a cannon presented to the people of Ely by Queen Victoria. [Note: very nice of her, but Clare and I can't help wondering what QV thought the people of Ely would do with it!]

Oh, and a priest hole with old, old, memories...


Thursday 11 August 2011

RNA Blog

If anyone wonders what goes into organising the Romantic Novelists' Association annual conference, pop over to the RNA blog where I am being interviewed this week.

Mind you, the conference seems a very long time ago now!

Sunday 7 August 2011

An Ordinary Gift - part two

Part Two of An Ordinary Gift is out now!

In this episode, Clare visits Ely cathedral, meets some choristers and looks out of her window at a garden.

None of which is as it sounds.

Except for the cathedral.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Warning - VERY cute cats photo!

Brotherly love

My cats are quite ridiculously photogenic - and also remarkably cute at times. Being brothers who have never lived apart, Archer and Merlin often curl up together, but this was a particularly sweet pose last night.

All together now... Ahhhhh.

[PS: I'm blogging today over at Historical Romance UK]