Being on a list with your sheroes

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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

Last year, my first novel, Ghostbird, was nominated for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize by the generous blogger, Anne Williams whose blog Being Anne is up there with some of the best on the circuit. When I read the extremely long long list, one the names that stood out was Edna O’Brien. Quite. The actual Edna O’Brien: one of my favourite writers. I was highly amused & for a while one of my passwords was ‘onalistwithednao’brien’ & I’m not even kidding. I lunched out on it for weeks not caring that I was never going to make the shortlist. I was just tickled pink to be on a list with one of my literary sheroes. And indebted to Anne for her generous & genuine support for my book.

(And this year, by the way, one of my sister Honno authors, Sara Gethin, did make the NTB shortlist! For her wonderful book, Not Thomas. I’ve been lunching out on that accolade too!)

With my second novel, Snow Sisters out last September, time flew & all at once it was that time of year. The readers (in particular the book bloggers) began posting their lists of favourite books of 2017.

Back in April 2015 when I got an offer from Honno for Ghostbird, it would never have occurred to me that it would end up on anyone ‘all-time favourites bookcase’ (see Hayley at Rather Too Fond Of Books) or be anyone’s favourite book of the year. Or, that two and a half years on, my second book would not only be considered worthy of inclusion on several lists, in one instance it too would be awarded the top slot. I am indebted to all the book bloggers who chose Snow Sisters & in particular, Linda Hill of Linda’s Book Bag for making it her Book of the Year 2017.

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And there’s this: another of my favourite book bloggers, Anne Cater of Book Connectors fame & randomthingsthroughmyletterbox brought Snow Sisters to the attention of Prima magazine & the book was included as one of 9 Perfect Autumn/Winter reads. Colour me joyful!

There are other people I am indebted to – too many to list to be honest. One or two are fabulous writers who have stunned me by their kindness & ongoing support for my writing. Louise Beech is one, Amanda Jennings is another as are Rebecca Mascull & Su Bristow.

Being on a list with Edna O’Brien will always be my secret thrill but hanging out on so many lists & with such a fabulous gang of tremendous writers has blown me away. My thanks to everyone who has supported my writing, bought my books or reviewed them.

Happy New Year you lovelies.
Be kind, be brave & read books! xXx

 

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A short, true story, for Christmas Eve

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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

In 1942, on Christmas Eve, my parents were married. My dad was a soldier, my mother a nurse. Leave was at a premium and it was the only day available. They were together, in love, for thirty-six years, until Daddy died, too young aged only sixty-one.
With rationing still in place, and fabric expensive, a great many wartime brides had to improvise in order to create their wedding dresses. The fabric of choice was parachute silk. Some of it was repurposed nylon silk but a few lucky brides were able to get hold of the real thing.

The following is a true story.

Wedding Dress

It hung on the back of the wardrobe door.
The silk shimmered. A slight movement of air caught the hem. It lifted, rippled and fell back into place. Her fingers still itched from pushing the thimble against the needle. She took such care, the single drop of blood that fell made a tiny red heart and she sewed it into the cuff of a sleeve.
She’d been lucky – real parachute silk was like gold-dust. When he’d handed her the parcel – a trade with a mate from the parachute unit – the smile split her face.
It took her three weeks to make her wedding dress, sewing the long seams by machine, hand-stitching the hem and cuffs. Tiny pearl buttons taken from an old cardigan fastened the dress at the back.
In wartime, even a wedding was no excuse not to make do and mend.
Pulling the dress over her head, she gasped as the silk slithered along her arms, across her hips and down her thighs, pooling at her feet. Fastening the froth of veiling to her dark hair she stood in front of the mirror. She looked so beautiful, two doves came to the window just to gaze at her.
Letting out a slow breath, her finger touched the place where the secret heart lay and she made her best wish.
Forever.

Mum & Dad

Outside the church, under a cold Christmas Eve sky, her best friend handed her a silver horseshoe.
‘For luck.’
She breathed in the earthy scent of the chrysanthemums: another winter gift to wartime brides.
‘I won’t need luck, but thanks, it’s perfect.’
‘Come on then, kiddo, he’ll be waiting.’
‘I’m worth waiting for.’
After the ceremony, in a room set aside for pictures, the photographer waved them closer together. She thought how handsome her new husband looked, in his freshly dry-cleaned suit and with a buttonhole borrowed from her bouquet.
As she slipped her hand into his, she felt him curl his fingers around hers.
‘Your dress, it’s lovely,’ he whispered. ‘You look beautiful.’
‘You look like Frank Sinatra.’
As they smiled into the camera, he brushed her fingers again. ‘You wait, I’m going to buy you a bunch of mums every Christmas Eve for rest of our lives.’
‘Forever?’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Forever.’

And so forth…

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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

Another of my random, insular ramblings…

I’m mired in delicious muddle. I ought to be terrified but I’m not because I can smell this story – deep in the seams of the forty thousand words I’ve written so far: a sweet scent I can’t quite identify.

And Mistress Crow is indefatigable, overseeing my days & keeping me on my toes like a feathered slave driver…

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I always know how my stories begin & usually, how they’re likely to end. That said, even if I have a fair idea about the bit in the middle, I still have to make it work: find a way to get the narrative to carry me from the opening to the closing chapter.

My writing is rarely linear & although I always create a detailed outline, as I get the bit between my teeth & my characters begin to let me in, I often find myself writing extended scenes in isolation. By definition, there’s little or no continuity to them, & not much structure. Which is both part of the problem & exciting. Each one is an unconscious exploration of both my characters & my various plot scenarios. Some are random conversations which can occur to me in the unlikeliest of places. (Often in the bath.)

Speaking of the unexpected, having decided to change from an experimental Third Person Present back to plain Third, I ‘wasted’ several hours of writing time this past week ‘resetting’ my manuscript. The upside was an unavoidable but joyful ‘edit as I go’ scenario which reinforced my conviction that I’m on to something. The ‘voices in my head’ are becoming clearer – the way untangles, one chapter at a time…

One step at a time

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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

Returning to the theme…

Mistress crow is in her tree, gazing out across a mist-laden wintry sky. A run of glorious red-sky mornings has given way to grey & the mystery is upon me again which suits me down to the ground.

Unintentional segue but yes, a bashed up foot has meant rest – & me very grounded. As a result, I’ve put in extra hours at the typeface. My word birds have been making merry & process has been achieved. I’m heading for the halfway point.

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I love this story but from the beginning, one thing has been niggling me. Names. I think a lot about names. They have to work on every level, not least in the eye of the reader. I’d given my two main protagonists gorgeous, Welsh names. One uncomplicated, the other less so & not necessarily easy for a non-Welsh speaking reader to pronounce.

Last weekend, a conversation with Darling Dau made me question both names. She pointed out that not every Welsh person has a typically Welsh name. Not everyone in a Welsh story has to have one. She threw a random, English ‘such as’ into the mix for character #1 & I pounced! I knew within seconds that quite unconsciously (or was it?!) she’d given me the right name & within minutes I had the other one too.

As can often happen, when a writer makes a fundamental change halfway through a draft, the entire feeling of the story can alter. Changing names in particular. These new ones are perfect & my relationship with these two central characters has now shifted onto a new level. It’s as if they, having been given their right names, have decided to let me in a bit more, show aspects of themselves I hadn’t yet spotted.

I’m chuffed to buttons. Thanks, lovely Daughter Person! And what with one bruise & another I’m making the most of my enforced rest, propping my foot on two cushions & cracking on.

 

The art of not writing

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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

Two weeks ago I was felled (I love it when word usage genuinely fits) by an upper case Damned Bloody Virus upon which I now wish every level of Hell. It’s a fortnight of my life lost to misery, moping & mucus. For several days I couldn’t read never mind write – drifting in a pastiche of every tragic ‘heroine scenario’ you can imagine & in which the chaise longue took centre stage.

I know…

In my head however real story scenes floated, not all of them useless. It’s writing but not writing as we know it… And it’s a trick most writers manage in spite of the obvious obstacles. Like forgetting stuff because the DBV has Taken Over Your Brain.

The problem with not being able to write anything down means my notoriously unreliable memory has put to the test. After the first week I was able to begin scribbling notes again & miraculously much of what I conjured in extremis appears to have survived. Mostly ghostly, slightly surreal, but given my state of mind, hardly surprising.

And the DBV may have done me a sideways favour. I knew before it hit I’d been consciously searching for a different internal pattern to the voice of this new story. It’s a tale concerning identity, on a deeply fundamental level. The echoes of motifs I recognise from my reading of books steeped in Gothic Romance are refusing to be silenced. I’m digging deeper & my characters will surely follow suit, into the shadows & cobwebbed corners of my imagination.

My word birds have been kind & patient but they’re getting restless & I love them for it. Taking it easy is still A Good Thing but cobwebs notwithstanding – & a new moon on the rise – I’m determined to return to my story very soon. Because, damn – I can sense it & it’s whispering – like my ghost, like the birds…

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Small magic

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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

Yesterday I attended a local Library Event. I live an hour away from the venue so yes, a short journey to get there. As I drove, with the early morning mist drifting heavy as smoke between the trees, I was struck by the simple beauty of it. I thought about what the mist might conceal, what wonders I might discover if only I knew the magic words to let me through.

But I was driving & there was somewhere I needed to be. I contented myself with the wondering. The road unwound, the mist magic changed shape & it occurred to me how well authentic magic holds the world together. How cleverly nature presents us with a version of unreality we don’t have to explain, because now and then we can suspend disbelief & enjoy small magic.

We were a merry band – most of us knew one another & we were there because we care about what we do. About writing, books & yes, libraries. If we were disappointed by the small footfall, we made the best of it. The staff were fabulous: they supplied us with coffee, tea & biscuits, expressed their gratitude to us for supporting them. We sold the odd book (or not) & chatted with each other.

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With Christoph Fischer – the Dude

I could have stayed home & cracked on with my new story. I’m glad I didn’t. I’m pleased I filled the day with people, books & engaging conversations. The space in between the pages of my new draft is full of placeholders, for what I don’t yet know. The clocks went back last night & this morning I woke to delicious darkness (another small magic we take for granted.) I contemplated my new ghost: the improbable (perhaps the impossible) & how I might make it imaginable.

In that bright, welcoming library, as I signed my one sale – & dedicated it to the wife of a lovely man who bought it because he knew her well enough to know it would be her kind of book – I was reminded that days like these are small magic & the best kind.

‘It is a delicious thing to write…’ *

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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

‘… to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating.’

Thursday’s new moon slipped in under my radar. What with one book thing and another, I’ve been preoccupied & not kept up with Lady Lunar’s activity. I do love a new moon though – time to make a fresh plan (I’m an Aquarian – we love a plan.)

My latest one involves diligent routine & writing every day. With Snow Sisters safely out in the world it’s time to settle in & concentrate on the next book. This is a time of genuine renaissance for me. Inside my head the stories are piling up, begging to be written. I’m too motivated to do anything other than knuckle down, listen to my word birds & keep up.

There’s nothing on earth as creatively exciting as falling headlong into a new story. The same terror grips – can I do it again? I’m beset by the same moments of insecurity but I’m back in my favourite place: looking out on the changing, shifting Welsh sky. Book 3 unfolds in a muddle of randomness (my usual modus operandi.) My brave word birds refuse to be put off by the wild weather. Between us, we have another tale to tell.

This time I’m embracing the mantel of Welsh Gothic my editor generously & unexpectedly conferred on me at the launch for Snow Sisters. Set on the bleak Welsh hinterland, this story has a ghost no one can see, sisters who don’t know they are & a lady mechanic who is anything but a lady.

You’re welcome.

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Gustave Flaubert

Blogger love & not being ‘impeded…’ *

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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

The other day, Anne Williams said to me that during the course of the blog tour for Snow Sisters, ‘…you’ve made many new friends…’  It certainly feels that way. The tour covered twenty dates, which is twice as many as I booked for my first novel, Ghostbird. From Anne herself, who kicked off the tour, to those who brought it to a close (& kept the momentum going – not the easiest of gigs), I have been utterly blessed. First & foremost by their professionalism & generosity. Book bloggers do this for nothing! And Book Connectors bloggers are the absolute best.

Oh my heart! You women took such care of my ‘sisters’ & I’m indebted to each & every one of you. I’ll never forget any of you, for your kindness, friendship & dazzling reviews.

Writing Snow Sisters was my second foray into the world of ghosts – a world tilting at the quirky with a dash of Welsh Gothic, attempting to place it in the mainstream. It’s unlikely I will – until English bookshops start stocking books published in Wales, with Welsh themes – mythological & modern – those of us who take our inspiration from this magical, gutsy, singular country will sit on the sidelines.

We’ll have our notebooks at the ready mind – pencils sharpened, alert to what comes next: writing, always writing. As for me, I’m already listening for my word birds, already in love with my new ghost.

* “I will not be “famous,” “great.” I will go on adventuring, changing, opening my mind and my eyes, refusing to be stamped and stereotyped. The thing is to free one’s self: to let it find its dimensions, not be impeded.”
~ Virginia Woolf

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Blog Tour – Day 20

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It’s a perfect Island Life day – you will have to take my word for it when I tell you, my crow is in her tree. It’s as if she senses it’s time to let go of SNOW SISTERS & crack on with book the third.

To my delight, at the last minute, Janet Emson at FROM FIRST PAGE TO LAST agreed to join the blog tour. She sent me a list of interesting questions, the final one of which is a brilliant way to wind up what has been a fantastic couple of weeks.

You can read our conversation here.

My crow has gone – it’s raining hard & the top branch of a birch tree isn’t the ideal spot, even for a crow with waterproof wings. She’s said her piece & I’m listening. I best get on – write the stories caught in the cracks…

There will be more at the weekend – I’m not entirely done with this tour: too many memories, too much kindness & too many amazing women I need to talk about…

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Blog Tour – Day 19

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This then is the penultimate stop on the SNOW SISTERS tour.

To be honest, I’d half forgotten this post & in saying this I mean no disrespect to Emma Mitchell over at THE LITTLE BOOKWORM. On the contrary – when she contacted me about the tour she sent a list of potential topics one of which I seized on with glee! Which writer wouldn’t relish the opportunity to discuss the creation process of a specific character? Not least when that character is, to say the least, complex.

I am indebted to Emma – you can read our conversation here.

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