Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Writing my Novel Spate of Violence

 One of my readers asked me the other day if I intended writing a sequel to my novel Spate of Violence. I must admit that I had not intended doing so. It was always meant to be a stand-alone novel. Something I wanted to get out of my system and onto paper. Although it is not based directly on my experiences nor on people I encountered during my voluntary work in a crime victim support organisation, like most writers, I do draw on those experiences to a certain extent. Writing it was a painful process in many ways.
I had the idea in my head for several months before I got down to writing it. Although it is set in a small town in Germany, it could really have played out almost anywhere in the world. Set in Bitterfeld, a fictitious town near Frankfurt, it tells the story of Karen and Sebastian and their two children - a family whose lives are changed forever when they move to Bitterfeld, a town beset by petty crime.
At first they try to establish themselves and make friends but they become slowly aware of the dark undercurrents. The town is divided into those living in the high-rise apartment blocks in what is euphemistically called The Park and the wealthy "what can you expect from them" factions.  Karen becomes involved in a community scheme to assist disadvantaged women much to her husband's disapproval. She cannot know that this will ultimately cause her much heartache. Sebastian is determined not to get involved until their daughter is viciously attacked. He agrees to join the Citizens for Bitterfeld which has vowed to clean up the town. 
As the violence escalates, the ultimate tragedy can no longer be prevented.
Available as a Kindle or in paperback

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Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Stating the Obvious

In every writing course I attended we were told to write clearly and not to use too many fancy words. That wasn't all we were told, of course. Have something to say and write it in such a way that your readers will understand was the message. Sometimes easier said than done but practice makes for reasonable performance.
I was reminded of this the other day when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announced they are expecting their third child. Prince Harry was asked by a reporter how he felt and later several newspapers carried the headline "Prince Harry delighted with the news" or words to that effect. I have to ask: did the reporter who asked him how he felt expect him to say "how awful"? And do I really need to see a headline saying he is delighted to learn how he feels?
If I were to write a novel along those lines: main character's brother (or brother-in-law depending on which point of view you want to take) is delighted at prospect of the arrival of third child, I would not have much of a plot. Almost without exception every piece of fiction requires conflict of some kind  to make it interesting to the reader. I wouldn't know what to write if everything was going smoothly in my novels.
We are overloaded with useless - and some useful - information these days. The battle to fill space is a tough one. The news has to be sold instead of being told. 
Having said all that, what can writers learn? What can they avoid? There is so much advice out there for writers that we tend to get lost in it. However, from my own personal experience, I love to read novels which are well-written, have interesting characters that I can relate to, and have a story that grips me from the first page or at least the second chapter at the latest. That's a lot to ask of other writers - and of myself. For me, it means many hours of revision and editing to ensure the story is looking its best. I wouldn't give it up for all the printer ink in the world.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Cherishing Your Books - Dog-ears and Bookmarks and things that might go bump

I recently read a debate about people who dog-ear books they are reading and how some readers (the ones who use book-marks) find this so hard to understand.
I must confess that I do both. I use book-marks but not the kind you buy. Currently I am using an old suburban rail ticket from my last train ride in Germany. At some point it will be discarded because it will simply get too tatty. I don't do this to all my bookmarks. I have a cherished bookmark from my visit to the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague around fifteen years or so ago. It reminds me of that wonderful weekend there with my daughter. She was a little dubious about going there, not being an "art freak" as she put it, but she really loved it. I just use it as a bookmark in books that I cherish - not the novels I read and then give to the charity shop. And every time I see this entrance ticket for the Mauritshuis, I remember that when we arrived in The Hague that morning there had been a power cut, the shops were without lighting and we couldn't get a hot drink anywhere. One of the many "adventures" I shared with my daughter and which will always be precious to me.

So, yes, I am a fan of bookmarks but if I'm travelling, I will usually just dog-ear the page. In fact, when I browse the secondhand bookshops, it can be very interesting to see what has been dog-eared by previous readers. Some novels are marked and abandoned, as you can tell by just one dog-ear, while others have been read all the way through (several dog-eared pages).

But, you know what? It hardly matters, does it? Either you find a book you just love to read or you put it away after a number of chapters as being not your kind of novel. That's the world of variety we enjoy.
I am currently reading John Simpson's "We Chose to Speak of War and Strife - the World of the Foreign Correspondent". It is a fascinating read and yes, I'm using that suburban rail ticket to mark where I left off reading.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Return from the Continent

It's great to get away and visit family but it is also wonderful to arrive home safe and sound.
I am just back from nearly a month in Germany. It was very hot - too hot for my liking - most of the time. Lots of thunderstorms, which I enjoy. 
The journey there and back always involves a day's travel. I suppose I shouldn't complain (well actually I'm not complaining, just commenting) because in the days of Jane Austen, the trip would have taken nearly a week. And - staying with Jane Austen, in her novel Persuasion, the heroine notes that matters which were of first importance in one village are of little interest in the neighbouring one, remarking that we should know our own insignificance beyond our own circle. I find this to be the case when I travel from one country to another (perhaps not surprisingly).
My return journey made me think about what travel would have been like two hundred years ago. Boarding in Frankfurt was nearly an hour before scheduled take-off. Once the information on the departure gate was up, off I went. I half expected to see the lights of Dublin since I must have walked miles. I survived the passport check and the hand luggage scrutiny, and even though the scanner did not even so much as hiccup, the grim faced lady on the other side still patted me down, or maybe she liked my capri pants and wanted to check what the material was.... Everyone squeezed onto an airport bus which drove us out to the aircraft. I always maintain that the Aer Lingus airplanes are parked out near the refuse bins. The journey out there is interesting if you like observing traffic at airports. I had had the presence of mind to claim a seat near the rear of the aircraft so managed to get to it without having to wait for those wonderful passengers who root around in their carry-on bags and hold everyone up.The flight was fine. When we got to Dublin, it was another long walk to get to the exit with lots of stairs, which made me wonder what happens if you are a bit shaky on your feet but not ready for wheelchair transport. Next, I took a bus to the railway station (one hour) and from there a train (nearly three hours) and then another bus which should have taken fifty minutes but took well over an hour because of traffic.
Home never looked so good when I finally closed the door behind me. But it was worth it all and anyway, I enjoy travelling. There is the whiff of adventure and glamour, despite all the checks and delays. No matter how often I travel, I still find something new to surprise me.
If you are travelling for your holidays, I hope you have fun!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Summertime and the living is pretty easy

Summer. Sunshine. Sea breezes. Watching the sailing boats. Walking on the sand. How I love it all!
It would be nice if we could keep memories stored in a bottle and be able to let them out whenever we liked. The feel of sunshine on your skin in the middle of a cold, grey November day would be something, wouldn't it?
We have a mini heatwave here in Ireland two weeks ago. At the weekend everyone took off for the beach. People had barbecues in their gardens. We all walked around in shorts and t-shirts and summer dresses. It was wonderful while it lasted!
I'm not a dedicated hot weather fan. I'm inclined to wilt if the mercury gets above 24C here in Ireland where it is humid or 27C on the continent. I will be off to Germany later on this summer to look after my grandchildren. Currently the temperature there is around the 37C mark, falling to 32C or so after a thunderstorm. It is a dry heat, which makes it slightly more bearable, but when you have thundery weather it does get humid. So I'll be travelling light. It always seems strange to me that a short journey by airplane takes you into a completely different atmosphere both from a weather and a current affairs point of view..
To everyone who's looking forward to their annual summer holiday:  Have fun, don't get sunburned, and come back fit and relaxed!
If you want a feel-good family romance to read, try my novels:
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Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Romance of Travel

I have just finished reading They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie. It is one of the few novels of hers that I have not read. As always with Christie, it is an entertaining read. It did make me smile to realize how very different modes of travel were in her day. She wrote this around 1950 when air travel was not as common as it is now.  It got me thinking.

Sixty years or more ago, travel was a leisurely affair. People packed hampers with turkey and ham sandwiches, flasks of tea and bottles of milk, to take with them on train journeys because it took hours to get anywhere. Race-goers at Ascot and other racecourses around the country added wine and champagne to the hampers (as some do even to this day) and made a big day out of it. It was all fun. When you set out on a journey by train you felt you were taking part in an adventure. There was the sleeping car, the dining car, the carriage proper where you sat and watched the countryside roll by and very often you met interesting fellow travellers. You could have fun when the train stopped at railway stations along the way and you watched passengers embark and disembark

Nowadays, it is all rush, rush. We don't have time to wait or to watch other people, so many of us are glued to our mobiles that we bump into people rather than looking at them. At airports, we have to get through security, find the departure gate, find our seat on the plane (squeezing past those fellow passengers who suddenly remember they need something out of their hand baggage about one minute after they stow it in the locker), remember to put our phones in flight mode, pay attention to the safety drill, wave away the offers of duty free stuff we don't want.
Train journeys are only slightly less of a scramble. In the old days, a friendly porter would carry your luggage and see you safely ensconced in your seat. Nowadays you have to find the right platform, find a seat if you haven't booked one or even if you have and stow your luggage yourself. Oh, and keep an ear open for announcements in case the train you wanted to get has been cancelled or delayed. There isn't really an ounce of excitement or pleasure in it all.

When I was at school, many years ago now, we read some of  Robert Louis Stevenson's essays. The one that appealed to me most was his An Apology for Idlers, which is against very many principles which are held dear by so many today.  Stevenson maintained that "extreme busyness" was a "symptom of defective vitality" and complained that when waiting for a train, the "busy man" had a wooden expression because he did not know what to do with the time on his hands. Stevenson advocated being idle, by which he meant taking in our surroundings and, like the poet William Henry Davis in his poem Leisure watching Nature's feet "how they can dance".
Let's start doing this from now on.Every day will be a big adventure.

Monday, 29 May 2017

The Sweetest Words for an Author's Ear

The sweetest words that an author hears are when someone says "oh, you write those Romance novels I'm so fond of" or "Just read your crime novel and loved it" or anything in a similar vein. It just makes all the hours of hard work, editing, re-editing the editing, struggling with the plot, having a really bad day - or days - and having a really good day - or days, when all goes right and the writing flows.
These -ahem - deep thoughts cross my mind recently when I met two readers who had read both my Sergeant Murray crime fiction books (written under my pen name P.B. Barry) and my Sunshine Cafe Romance novels which I wrote as Peggy O'Mahony. It really did give me a lift, especially as I was having a hard time getting part of the plot of my third Sergeant Murray mystery to gel into a suitable shape.
Authors are very sensitive creatures, I think. We constantly need encouragement, we need to know that yes, there are people out there who enjoy reading what we write. It's the human condition, isn't it? the need for reassurance, even if, like me, I write for the fun of it and not for fame or fortune. Of course it would be nice to have a list of best-sellers to my name and to appear at book launches and sign my name on my books for all the adoring fans, but that isn't going to happen and I'm not sure if it would suit me if it did. Being a self-published author, I can choose my own time to write (no pressure!) or not to write. I am not tied to any deadline. I do work hard to make my novels as good as possible and I am a very harsh critic of my own work, but aside from that, I don't let it dominate who I am or what I do. It's just great fun to spin these tales and invent this little world inside my head.

But when someone comes up to me and says they loved my novel, well, that's a very special feeling and one I wouldn't swap for anything.