Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Please welcome, friend and author...

... Jennifer Wilson to my blog today.  Hello Jennifer, nice to see you again and I think you've got another book out haven't you? 

JW   Hi Angela, and thanks for inviting me back onto your blog today.  I thought, for a change, I’d do one of my own Sunday Sojourn-style posts, and write about one of the locations in my new novel, Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile, which is released tomorrow.

JW  Speaking of releases, just to be cheeky, you and your readers are all more than welcome to my online launch party, this Thursday, on Facebook. We’ll be having (virtual) food, drink and celebrations, as well as competitions and guests – click here and say ‘going’, to get involved.
AW   Thanks, Jennifer and yes I will make a point of dropping in when I can.

Holyrood Abbey
JW  But now, back to the location. I’ve always been fascinated by the history of Edinburgh Castle, tales of the Black Dinner, sieges and scaling cliff-faces, but for today, we’re heading to the other end of the Mile, to Holyrood Palace, a place that for some reason, I’d never thought of visiting until a couple of years ago.  Since that first visit though, I’ve become really fond of the place, and the final room, filled with historical treasures, is one of my favourite rooms in the world.
But to the palace itself.  Sadly, I’ve no photos of the interior, but then, neither do any other visitors.  As it is still a functioning royal palace (the Queen visits at least once a year, for about a week), photos are only allowed outside, but that’s stunning enough, so we’ll be ok with that!
The original Holyrood Abbey was founded in 1128, as ordered by David I of Scotland, who, according to legend, saw a vision of the cross in the area.  The Abbey became an important location for Scottish royals and ruling, with parliaments being held, and monarchs being buried there.  Then, probably to give his new Tudor wife somewhere more pleasant than the Castle to stay at, James IV built a grander Palace, attached to the Abbey; this was destroyed when the English sacked Edinburgh during the Rough Wooing.  Over the following centuries, the Palace was modernised, and abandoned for a while by the royal family when they became monarchs of Britain, not just Scotland, but was used by Queen Victoria, who was responsible for much of the current décor.
Holyrood Palace
One of the Palace’s most famous residents, Mary Queen of Scots, arrived in 1561, and her rooms are now probably the most famous, at the end of the public rooms.  It’s in this suite that one of the most famous incidents of the whole Royal Mile took place; the murder of David Rizzio, Queen Mary’s Italian secretary.  The man had been having supper with Mary and a couple of other companions in a (surprising small) side-room, when Lord Darnley, Mary’s husband, burst in with several other nobles, dragged the poor Rizzio out, and left his body in the queen’s ante-chamber, a total of 56 stab-wounds inflicted.
It’s the ante-chamber I mentioned earlier, one of my favourite rooms.  It’s full of pieces connected to Mary and the monarchs which followed her, with beautiful hand-written notes on each, in stunning glass cases.  It makes you feel like the first tourists who came through the Palace, having paid the housekeepers and other staff to let them in when the place wasn’t being used.
With so much history in the place, there’s no way I could write about Mary, and her Edinburgh, without including her Palace, and as it gave me an excuse to go and visit again, I’m extra glad that I did!
AW   What a fascinating place it is and when I'm next in the city I will visit.  Unfortunately when I was there last month, my time was short and I had a long list of other things to do and the palace just didn't quite make i t to the top of the page.  Thank you Jennifer and I wish you well with the book.

about the author... Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who spent much of her childhood stalking Mary, Queen of Scots (initially accidentally, but then with intention). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consulting since graduating. Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to develop her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. She is also part of The Next Page, running workshops and other literary events in North Tyneside.

Jennifer’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was released by Crooked Cat Books in October 2015, and Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile is coming June 2017. She can be found online at her website, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as at The Next Page’s website

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Interview with an Artist...

Just recently, I had the very great pleasure of spending the day with a long-time friend of mine.  As we were travelling by train to our destination, and a leisurely lunch followed by a play, we discussed a number of issues ranging from art to honesty.  But it was the debate about art that has kept creeping back into my mind.

My friend, who knows I’m writing this post but wishes to remain anonymous, so we’ll call her C for ease of reference, is an artist.  She produces lovely scenic views in watercolour but also likes to work with acrillic paints.  I happen to be the very proud owner of one of her watercolours of a village in France and it hangs in my lounge.

But – the conversation! It has stayed with me because I have realised that her talent for drawing and painting is not so very different from my own capability to spin words.  You see, we’d got to the nitty gritty of how she put what she could see in front of her onto a piece of paper.  ‘There’s a spontaneity about watercolour,’ she said. ‘You have to work quite fast.’  And later she said, ‘Washes are good for sky and the changes in the density of the colour can suggest the clouds, for instance.’

As the discussion progressed I was reminded of a time some years ago when we sat in balcony area of The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond and I made a comment about how to reproduce on paper the people opposite. ‘I would look at the light and the dark,’ she said.  ‘And the shades in between.’  On the train, she talked about recreating the colours on the paper which helped her to suggest shadow and light, depth and detail.

She then looked out of the train window at the houses we were passing and talked about finding a small detail of particular interest, an arrangement of brickwork, a lintel across a window or door, perhaps a fracture in the stone, anything of interest.  ‘I focus on that and draw it,’ she said.  ‘Once I’ve got that small detail I can add in the surrounding features and expand the picture.’

It was at this point I realised that, although C is a gifted artist and I’m only a spinner of words, we are not so very different after all.  As a reader, I never look at blurbs on the backs of books to help me decide if I want to read them.  I always turn to the first page and start reading and if I can’t see the colours in the writing after the first couple of paragraphs, the book goes back on the shelf.  And it’s the same when I’m sat in front of my computer screen.  If I can’t see the scene in my mind’s eye in full and glorious technicolour, then the words won’t be there.

I guess C and I just use our ability to see colour in different ways.  I did suggest to C that she become one of my interviewees for this blog – but she said no.  Asked would she consider making some of her pictures available for my blog.  And you guessed it, she said no.  So, to illustrate this particular post, I’m afraid you will have to put up with a couple of pieces of art that hang on my walls.  I hope yoiu like them.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Introducing Merle, the next Jacques Forêt mystery story...

... Over the last 18 months or so I’ve been busily writing book 2 in my Jacques Forêt series of stories.  The book is complete and is in the final stages of editing and I thought you might want to know a little more about it.

The old town of Mende
Merle, like its predecessor, Messandrierre, is set in the Cévennes in the south of France.  The title of this story is a real French word, unlike Messandrierre, which is a corruption of the name of a real place.  It means blackbird, but it is also used as a girl’s Christian name and as a surname. Capitaine Mathieu Merle, being one famous, or perhaps more accurately, infamous holder of the surname.  Mathieu Merle (1548-1587) was a Huguenot captain who was feared during the religious wars in France.  But he spent some time in Mende, the préfecture city of the département of Lozère.  A city that features in this story and where my fictitious suburb of Merle is located.

In Messandrierre, the story followed Jacques as he unravelled a police investigation into the mysterious disappearances of travellers to the tiny village of Messandrierre.  At the end of that story, Jacques had a decision to make and his love interest, Beth Samuels, had some serious thinking of her own to do.

Merle begins a few months after the end of the first book and...

Jacques Forêt, a former gendarme turned investigator, delves into the murky world of commercial sabotage – a place where people lie and misrepresent, and where information is traded and used as a threat.

The Vaux organisation is losing contracts and money, and Jacques is asked to undertake an internal investigation. As he works through the complexity of all the evidence, he finds more than he bargained for, and his own life is threatened.

When a body of a woman is found, it appears to be suicide. But as the investigation takes another turn, Jacques suspects there is more to it. 

Who is behind it all…and why? Will Jacques find the answer before another person ends up dead?

And here is a little taster from the very beginning of the story.

la fête des morts

   It was the tightly scrunched ball of paper that captured the attention of Magistrate Bruno Pelletier. His trained eyes swept around the room, only glancing at the naked body in the bath, and came to rest once more on the small, ivory-white mass, challenging and silent against the solid plain porcelain of the tiles. He stepped over the large pool of dried blood, iron red against the white of the floor, and, with gloved hands, he retrieved the object. Carefully prising the paper back into its customary rectangular shape, he stared at the contents and frowned as he read and re-read the single six-word sentence printed there.
    “Je sais ce que tu fais”
    After a moment, he dropped it into an evidence bag being held open for him by the pathologist.
    all hallows’ eve, 2009

Merle is published on July 5th and is available for pre-order  Merle

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Please welcome friend and author…

… Joanne Mallory.  Great to see you Joanne and thanks for finding time in your busy schedule to be here.

JM  Many thanks to you for inviting me over.
AW  I’m intrigued, Joanne.  You’ve got a new book coming out soon.  What’s that all about?
JM   I’d like to chat with you today about writerly things…
AW  OK.  You’ve got my attention!
JM   I’m a fiction writer – a romance, fiction writer no less.   Now this has been known (from time to time) to give a writer a bad name.  You see romance writers tend to get labelled for writing fluffy, chic lit, formula fiction or, my personal favourite; bodice rippers, and we get, well, written off, as not being able to do anything else.  Which kind’a narks me, because writing is hard, in all it’s forms, and all its genres.  I recently read a post (on Instagram) that said “Non-fiction writers have it easy…”
And I just want to clear up a myth here; No writer has it easy.  We just write what works best for us, as best we can.
AW  I couldn’t agree more!  I’ve tried writing romance myself and I found it especially difficult, for many different reasons, so I turned to crime, my current genre of novels.
JM   I write romance because I love the happy ending, life is confusing and sometimes cruel, hence I like my fiction to be of the warm and fuzzy kind – sue me.
But I’ve taken on a non-fiction project this year, I mentioned to my publisher that I could put lots of marketing tips in one place, and design the book around ‘cheap as possible ways to help writers organically grow their audience.’
And let me tell you, it was TOUGH.  I’m used to being able to switch up the plot and lead my heroine on a merry dance, but non-fiction is a whole different animal.  I checked and double checked my facts, putting as much information down on the page as possible, covering as many platforms as I could, and do you know what I was left with?
AW  I can guess, but tell me anyway.
JM  A dry text -- dry like the Sahara, with reams and reams of instructive, yawn inducing information. Now, stay with me here, because I’m going to tell you how I made it better in the hope that you might like to buy a copy…
AW  OK, let us in on the secret then…
JM  Saving this book-baby was going to take more than a little jiggery-pokery – It needed a full-on Frankenstein!   So, I went back to methods I hadn’t used since Uni; I printed the whole lot off, took a black Sharpie and a red pen and attacked it.
The manuscript looked like the remains of a horror victim by the time I’d finished with it.  All that was left was a few chapter headings and some ideas, and thus started the beginning of what is now the finished project.  It took lots (and lots) of runs to get the content to a place where the text, (hopefully) has a humorous tone, so that the reader (hopefully) feels like they are having a personal chat about their on-line self, and how they can make it work better for them.
I wrote Building An Author Platform and filled it with all the simple things I wished I’d have known when I first started, it would have saved me so much time.
AW  Thinking back to my first book… the number of times I said to myself, ‘I wish I had known that sooner’… So, I get that!  And what’s happening next?
JM  If you’re interested in finding out more, I’m having an on-line launch on Facebook on the 19th of
May, where I’ll be giving lots of tips and tricks on author marketing. Just click Joanne's Launch Event  to 
come along.

AW  Thanks Joanne, I will be at the theatre on the 19th, but I will certainly drop in at some point during the day.  I hope it goes well and thanks for being here today.

Joanne’s book Building an Author Platform is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Edinburgh, Robert Louis Stevenson and Me...

... Last weekend I was in Edinburgh for the Crime Writers' Association Conference - and what a fantastic event that was too!

Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities and whilst I was there I could not help but take advantage of any spare time to go and visit the Writers Museum which is located in a small secluded close just off the Royal Mile.  Lady Stair's House, as the museum is known, is worth a look before you go in.  The small door, the round turret above that houses the spiral staircase, the blonde stone of the lintels and windows against the darker and more varied  stone of the walls.  It's an  amazing piece of 17th century architecture.

Built in 1622 for Sir William Gray of Pittendrum it was a family home for many generations.  Lady Stair, Elizabeth Dundas, was the grand daughter of Sir William Gray, who married John Dalrymple, the first Earl of Stair.  She purchased the house in 1719 and lived there all her life.  By the end of the 19th century, the house had fallen into disrepair and was due for demolition.  However, the Earl of Rosebery, a descendant of the Lady Stair's first husband, bought the property, restored, renovated and gifted it to the city in 1907.  It first opened as a museum in 1913 and became the Writers' Museum in the 1960's.

Some of my Stevenson
The Writers celebrated by the museum are Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.  As much as I like the work of Burns and Scott, it's Stevenson that really brought me to the museum.  The rooms dedicated to Burns are interesting, if you want to see his sword-stick or a plaster cast of his skull. OK.  I'm more interested in the three pictures on the wall on the left as you enter the room.  A small, but colourful, scene from Tam O'Shanter, an engraving that depicts a scene from 'Tea a Moose' (To a Mouse of 'tim'rous beastie' fame) and a coloured engraving entitled 'Death and Dr Hornbeam'.  The rooms dedicated to Burns have equally interesting bits and pieces in them.

Downstairs are the Stevenson rooms.  The toy theatre, similar to one he would have played with as a child immediately captured my attention.  Considering my background in real theatre, I suppose that's not so surprising is it?  But its his wardrobe that is the most fascinating item to me.  It was built by a man called Deacon Brodie (1741-1788), a cabinet-maker, respectable tradesman and city councillor by day and a gambler, womaniser and thief by night.  Following a robbery from the Excise Office and Deacon's double-dealing, his thieving companions turned him in to the authorities.  He was tried and sentenced to hang.  But, Brodie would have no truck with that and he supposedly struck a deal with the hangman, to use a short rope, to leave him hanging for as short a time as possible and, to protect his neck he wore a metal collar under his shirt.  Did he get away or not was the question that seemed to attract everyone else's attention.

Not me!  I was left wondering if, little Robbie, alone in his room in the dark, thought about the maker of that wardrobe and perhaps 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' was born.  But then there's that scene in 'The Master of Ballantrae' where one of the brothers, thought long dead is resurrected from his grave only to apparently die again.  I was intrigued.  But then I remembered something from my own childhood, being awoken and frightened in the middle of the night by the door of my wardrobe
Edinburgh Skyline
suddenly swinging open.  Robbie's wardrobe in the museum was firmly locked.  But, perhaps one dark, damp Edinburgh night it too had swung open and maybe provided the inspiration for the tale 'The Sire Maletroit's Door.'  As I moved round the display cases and looked at the objects, other stories popped into my head - 'The Rajah's Diamond', 'The Wrong box', The Body Snatchers'.  There seemed to me to be something in the items on display that connected with each of these fantastic tales.  
Hmm... I guess I now know what I will be reading over the summer!