Reflections

It’s my birthday! I have now reached the grand old age of fifty-one and, frankly, I can’t believe how quickly the last year has flown.

A few days ago I re-read my blog posts from last June: Embracing the Crone was all about my feelings on turning fifty, a truly milestone birthday. Seven Go Mad in Filey recounted my birthday weekend away with six female family members in a caravan. There was a lot of alcohol involved apparently. And cake, obviously. I honestly can’t believe how much has happened in these last twelve months and I find it scary how quickly time is passing.

Last June – and I can hardly believe I’m saying this – I met my lovely writer friends Julie Heslington and Alex Weston for the first time. I’d come across Alex on Romna when she introduced herself to the group (Romna is the online branch of the Romantic Novelists’ Association) and I was drawn to her post as she was writing a romantic suspense novel set in Glastonbury, called Beltane. The book I was writing at the time had a scene involving Beltane, and I’d spent some time in Glastonbury the previous summer and absolutely loved the place, and had just read three books by Phil Rickman set in Glastonbury (Marco and the Blade of Night, Marco’s Pendulum and The Chalice, if you’re interested. You should be. They’re fab!) Anyway, because of all this I contacted Alex and we exchanged a few emails and then she suggested we meet up and added that she’d like to bring along her writer friend Julie who was also a member of the NWS.

I was frankly scared stiff. Meeting new people was a real ordeal for me, but I desperately wanted to talk to others who were in the same situation as me and would be happy to talk about writing, so I agreed. Thank God I did, because that meeting led to a really supportive friendship and I honestly don’t know where I’d be without them now. ¬†They encouraged me to finish the novel I was writing which was, to be honest, in a bit of a mess and submit to the NWS and with their support I completed it and sent it off just in time to beat the deadline.

Because of that very positive and helpful critique, I managed to pluck up the courage to send a revised version of the novel to five beta-readers, including Julie and another member of their group, The Write Romantics, Jo Bartlett. With their help and feedback, I finished the novel and then, at our last meet-up, I put a selection of titles to Julie and Alex and they helped me choose There Must Be An Angel. Since then, I have completed book two, A Kiss from a Rose which has gone off to be critiqued now and I have been asked to submit a short story to the Write Romantics’ charity anthology in aid of The Cystic Fibrosis Trust and the Teenage Cancer Trust. Incidentally, The Write Romantics are running a competition to name the anthology so if any of you have any suggestions here are the details.

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t answered Alex’s post on Romna that day, and all that stuff has happened to me in a year!

Not only that, but a year ago I was living in my daughter’s spare bedroom. I don’t know if I ever mentioned that? ūüėČ I tried not to talk about it too much…Since then, my daughter got married, I moved back in with DH, we moved to a new house and we have been blessed with two new granddaughters! No one can say that the year hasn’t been eventful.

I used to dread birthdays, seeing them as reminders of how quickly time was passing and how much of my life I was wasting. I seemed to spend a long time treading water, unsure of what it was I wanted and where I was going. This year has been so different because I have been doing things I really love doing and have found my confidence building and my happiness increasing.

I see this birthday as a landmark – a flag in the map of my life. This coming year will bring more major developments, I’m sure of it. One way or the other, by the time my next birthday comes around I will be a published author, and I’m incredibly excited and optimistic about that. I don’t know if I will ever be traditionally published or if I will choose the indie path; I’m not expecting to make a fortune from writing; I’m not dreaming of winning the Man Booker Prize or any awards for my novels. What I do know is that as long as I keep loving what I do, enjoying my writing, falling for my heroes and cheering my heroines on, I will keep doing this and that knowledge makes me look forward to the future with delight. ¬†Maybe that’s what success is, after all, and who wouldn’t look forward to the future with that in mind?

Have a great week xx

A Canter through Childhood

I was really saddened yesterday to hear of the death of Josephine Pullein-Thompson. For those who don’t know, Josephine was one of the Pullein-Thompson sisters who wrote the most fabulous pony books, and was one of my childhood heroines. Along with those of her younger sisters, twins Christine and Diana, her books just about filled my bookcase in my little bedroom at home. I remember our school library being choc full with pony books and I used to take armfuls of them home every week, and the vast majority of them were by a Pullein-Thompson.

I posted a comment on Facebook and Twitter, saying how sorry I was that she’d died, and was surprised to find that many people responded saying they’d loved her, too, and had hugely fond memories of the sisters’ books, as well as those by their mother, Joanna Cannan, who wrote the fabulous Jean books, as well as many others, including the very funny They Bought Her A Pony, and is widely credited with inventing the pony book as we understand it today.

I was soon embroiled in a conversation about our other favourite childhood pony books and the memories came flooding back. I confess, here and now, that I was a total book geek when I was a child. My favourite presents at Christmas were, invariably, books and I spent all my pocket money on them, heading into town on the bus every Saturday morning and rushing to WH Smith, my heart fairly pounding in anticipation. In those days, there were shelves and shelves of pony books to choose from and the real problem was trying to choose which one I would buy that day. It used to break my heart, having to leave so many behind and having to wait a whole week before I could return and get another one! Nowadays, there are few pony books on the shelves and I suppose the ones I devoured so eagerly would have a hard time fitting in with the lives of today’s children. And yet, I wonder…cb2

The first book I ever owned was a Noddy book by Enid Blyton. Our neighbours were moving house and I was heartbroken. I can still remember standing by my front gate in tears as they loaded up the removal van and prepared to leave, not just the house next door, but the city. I knew I’d never see them again and I was devastated. The lady of the house came to say goodbye to us and she gave me a farewell present. When I opened it and saw that brightly-coloured book I experienced a wonder I can still recall over forty-five years later – the wonder of owning my very own book; the delight at the beautiful cover, the smell and feel of those pages, the weight of it in my hand. Until that point, books had been things at school that the teacher plonked on the desk and sat with me while I proved that, yes, I understood that it was a very big lorry, and she was quite right, the hen was little and red even though it looked more like a tawny brown, if you asked me. Having my own book was a joy and I read it endlessly.

children's booksI was lucky. My parents both read voraciously and considered books to be great gifts, so every Christmas brought three new books – invariably Enid Blyton novels. My mother was quite understanding when I begged her to buy me the book that the teacher was reading to us at school every afternoon – The Cat That Walked A Week by Meindert DeJong – and even though it was a hardback and quite expensive, she duly ordered it from our local bookshop. Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory quickly followed. She even gave in when I begged incessantly for a copy of the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson which was in the window of our local newsagent. I’d never heard of him, but the cover drew me to it and I stared through the glass every day when I passed the shop, gazing in awe at the picture of a lady dressed all in white and surrounded by snow and ice, wondering who she was.cb13

Enid was by far my favourite author in those days, though. I progressed rapidly through The Three Golliwogs, Mr Pinkwhistle, Mr Twiddle and Brer Rabbit, devoured her stories about Jesus, Robin Hood and King Arthur, her interpretations of Greek mythology, onto the daring adventures of The Secret Seven and The Famous Five and then, one by one, each book in the Malory Towers series. By the time I was reading her Secret books, her Mystery books¬†and her farm books, I was developing another passion…ponies. Enid’s Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm had a pony scene in it and featured a very horse-mad girl called Jane who lived in jodhpurs. I had no idea what jodhpurs were but it all sounded great fun as she mucked out and groomed and generally had a jolly time with her pony Merrylegs.cb11

At school one day, we were sent to an adjoining classroom for a shared lesson with another class.  This afforded me the opportunity to sneak a peek at a different bookcase and my heart almost stopped. A Stable for Jill! A bright yellow cover sporting a picture of a whole string of children riding ponies. There were books, just about ponies? I had no idea. I duly headed to the main school library after class and browsed the shelves, discovering Ruby Ferguson for the first time and quickly taking my very first pony books home. A Stable for Jill was just the start. I also borrowed Ponies Plot by C Northcote Parkinson, and Look At Ponies, a factual book by Pamela Macgregor-Morris which contained some great illustrations and a whole load of information about ponies. I was hooked. cb7

When I moved up to High School at the age of eleven, I already owned shelves full of books, but the school library had all the Jill books and the Collins Pony Library and a whole lot more. While most children in my class struggled to find a single book they wanted to take home with them during the fortnightly library lesson, I would stagger to the desk to check out around eight books at a time. At first, the English teacher was doubtful, questioning that I would actually read them all. I quickly proved that I would and did, and after a few of these lessons he would laugh and shake his head and even help me look for new titles sometimes!

cb3I was never happier than when I had my head stuck in a book, and I remember many times my mother despairing and asking me why I didn’t just go outside and play. How to explain that the world inside those pages was far too interesting and exciting to leave behind? I was fairly galloping through all those pony books now, my shelves were groaning. It was time to move onto the next step. Writing my own.

I’d dabbled with writing before, of course. I wrote a hundred page novel complete with illustrations when I was about eight. It was absolute rubbish and about a rather feeble girl at a ballet school for some strange reason. However, my passion for ponies and my love of Enid Blyton’s adventure stories was stirring me to put pen to paper and come up with my own novel, featuring mystery, adventure and a whole lot of ponies. I can’t remember what I wrote or if I ever managed to complete an entire novel, but I do remember the excitement I felt as inspiration struck me and I rushed to find pen and paper and started to jot down my ideas. I have no idea how many times I wrote “Chapter One”, though I doubt very much that I wrote many “Chapter Two”s.

The point is, those books inspired me to write. They encouraged me to read. They changed my life – literally. I cannot imagine my childhood, or indeed my adult life now, without them, because if I hadn’t discovered those amazing authors like the Pullein-Thompson sisters, Joanna Cannan, Enid Blyton, Ruby Ferguson, Monica Edwards et al, how dull life would have been. I may never have “progressed” to adult books, or taken up writing again, or developed this all-consuming love for a good story. How scary to think of that alternative future!

People think the old-fashioned pony book is something no child would want to read now – seeing it as too far removed from the modern world. Well, let me tell you something. In the mid-seventies, a time of glam rock and platform shoes and trousers a foot wide and with waistbands a foot high, I was eagerly reading about children who wore their hair in plaits, wore jodhpurs that flapped like elephant ears and tweed jackets, ¬†and were overcome with delight to open their presents on Christmas morning to find a hunting tie and a hoof pick. They went hunting, mucked out stables and worried about affording a new bridle. They went to livestock auctions and bought ponies with mysterious things called guineas and went to pony club events and were shouted at by people called Major and Colonel. ¬†They lived in country cottages with paddocks and orchards and a loosebox in the garden. I lived in a three-bedroomed semi in a small town and the only thing I rode was a turquoise Shopper bike. ¬†Nothing about the world of the pony book heroine was anything like mine, yet I never questioned it. I never scorned it. I never doubted it was all perfectly, gloriously possible. It’s called imagination. I think maybe our children are being short-changed somewhere along the line.¬†cb4

All these years later, my shelves still groan with pony books. I made the switch, when I was about fifteen, to adult books – the first one by Catherine Cookson. I immediately loved her gritty, passionate novels and read them with the same devotion I’d shown my favourite childhood authors. When Jilly Cooper brought out Riders it was like everything I’d ever loved was right there in the pages of that book. Horses, passion, humour! I became a massive fan of hers and waited eagerly for every book she brought out. I quickly discovered Fiona Walker, Jo Carnegie and Veronica Henry and that was that…I’d found a whole new genre of fiction. Now I read lots of different books – chick lit, sagas, romcoms, contemporary, crime, thrillers, suspense, supernatural, paranormal…they all fill me with wonder and delight.

Yet I still have A Stable For Jill. In fact, I was delighted to discover that the Jill books are being reprinted by Fidra and I have begun to collect the new editions which have all the original illustrations. Not only that, but there is a whole new generation of pony book writers such as Victoria Eveleigh – whose Katy’s Ponies trilogy, Joe series and The Midnight Stallion are exceptionally well-written and would delight any modern child – ¬†and Janet Rising, whose Pony Whisperer series gives the pony book a very unusual twist. In another exciting development, Girls Gone By Publishers are reprinting the Monica Edwards Punchbowl Farm and Romney Marsh stories that I adored; the Follyfoot novels of Monica Dickens have new editions; the Jinny and Shantih books by Patricia Leitch have been reprinted; Fidra are also reprinting books by the wonderful K M Peyton, Joanna Cannon – ¬†and also Josephine Pullein-Thompson.¬†cb12

So we’re back to the beginning. My beginning. This post was written as a tribute to Josephine and to all those marvellous authors of children’s books that made my childhood so wonderful. Life as a youngster isn’t always perfect. It can be a scary, lonely time. It can bring sadness and fear and isolation. Entering new realms created by writers can make it all bearable. Stepping through those pages into other worlds can make all the difference – like stepping into a wardrobe and finding yourself in Narnia. Thank you Josephine, Christine, Diana, Joanna, Ruby, Monica, and all the other wonderful weavers of dreams.

Thank you, Enid, who started the whole thing for me. And thank you to all the children’s writers of today who have taken up the baton and are busily taking our children on the most fantastic journeys. Magic exists and it’s to be found in the pages of all those books.¬†

Have a great week xx

Fair Girls and Grey Horses by the Pullein-Thompson sisters

Fair Girls and Grey Horses by the Pullein-Thompson sisters

 

For information on pony books you can’t do better than to read Jane Badger’s fabulous book, Heroines on Horseback: here¬†(can also be purchased direct from publisher)

Fidra books: here    Girls Gone By Publishers: here   Enid Blyton books: here

Victoria Eveleigh books: here¬† ¬† Monica Dickens’ Follyfoot books: here

Patricia Leitch books: here¬† ¬†Janet Rising’s Pony Whisperer books: here¬†

A Study in Pink

With apologies to Sherlock fans whose hearts may have leapt into their mouths when they saw this title, this is not about the first episode of that fabulous series. Sorry! ¬†This is, in fact, about characters. My characters. And what they taught me about writing and the difference that’s made to my writing process.

I said in a previous post that writing book two has been a very different experience to book one. It was much quicker, for a start. I took two and a half years to write the first book and only a few months to write the second. Now book two, A Kiss from a Rose, has gone off to the NWS to be critiqued and the nail-biting starts all over again, because what if the fact that I wrote it so quickly means that it’s total rubbish?

It’s funny because when I was writing it I found myself thinking, well this is okay but it will need loads of tweaking when I’ve finished the first draft, although I laughed out loud at several scenes and really enjoyed writing it. After I’d completed it I put it away for six weeks and for the whole of that time I was convinced I’d written a pile of rubbish. I didn’t look at it once while I finished editing There Must Be An Angel. When I finally went back to it I was quite astonished. I really liked it! It was a pleasant surprise to discover that there wasn’t half as much to do to it as I’d expected. I had to add a couple of scenes and I cut one scene completely, and obviously there was a lot of chopping and changing of words and sentence structure and a hefty amount of flicking through the dictionary just to double-check and Googling information and so on. Even so…it didn’t take long at all to reach the point where I felt it was ready to go to the NWS, so I duly printed it out and posted it off.

And then the doubt set in. The thing is – and what is the main difference between Angel and Rose – that book two was most definitely character-led. When I wrote Angel and sent it to the NWS, the report I got back was overwhelmingly positive and encouraging, but the reader did wonder if I’d started with the plot rather than the character as she said it was over-complicated and there were parts where I seemed to forget about the integrity of the characters. I was quite puzzled by this because, in my mind, I had started with the characters. That is, it was the characters who popped into my head first and I wove a plot around them. However, writing A Kiss from a Rose, I finally understood what my reader meant.

For a start, my two protagonists weren’t supposed to be the hero and heroine of book two at all. In fact, they were supposed to be part of a secondary plotline in book three. However, my heroine leapt out of the pages of There Must Be An Angel at me and some of my beta-readers, and I just knew she had to be the heroine of book two. She insisted, in fact. I felt I knew her really well, and liked her in spite of all her faults. Now, that’s one of the main differences right there. Eliza, the heroine of book one, was extremely difficult to get to know. I wrote draft after draft and she simply wasn’t coming alive. It was only when I switched to writing in the first person that she began to talk to me and I finally started to understand and like her. By the end of that book I truly loved her, but it was a long journey to get to that point. With Rose, the heroine of book two, it was instant. It was the hero who was the problem because he was so quiet…it took me a good while to figure out what his problem was. The thing was, I didn’t rush him. I let him take his time telling me. And it worked.

The truth is, with Angel, in spite of the fact that the characters came first, I didn’t really know them. I came up with their names and a general idea of their appearance, and their ages and some basic facts about them, and then I wove an over-complicated plot around them. It took a long, long time to get to know them, but once I did, the plot changed, a lot of minor characters and sub-plots disappeared and the story became truly about them. With Rose, I didn’t even have a plot. I had characters. Real characters. I knew who they were, what they felt. I knew how they would be at the beginning of the book and I knew how they would end up. Then I left them to make their own way, letting their personalities dictate what happened to them. Really, at times it felt as if the book was writing itself.

The problem is, Rose has quite a few flaws. I wasn’t aware of them really when I wrote her into book one – at least I didn’t know I was aware of them, if you see what I mean. When I look back, I did in fact sow the seeds for some of those flaws back then. I just didn’t know I had. I guess I’m quite nervous now because, what if the reader decides she’s too flawed, or the character quirks she has are just not suitable?

Then there’s my hero, Flynn. *Sigh*. I really, really love my hero. But he has a secret and it’s quite a big one and I’m not sure how that fits with a romantic comedy. But really, what can I do about it? Rose is far from perfect and Flynn has a whopping big emotional scar to deal with. I can’t help that. They told me all about it and I just wrote it down for them. The fact is, I love them both, scars, flaws and all. And I guess I’ll just have to wait and see if allowing the characters to dictate the action was a wise move or not. I foresee chewed nails and a lot of worrying ahead.

And the study in pink? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out why I chose that title. And hopefully you’ll get the chance pretty soon…:)

Have a great week xx

And the award goes to…

versatile-blogger

Most Influential blogger award

 

I don’t know. You wait years for an award – any award – and then two come along at once! I’ve been awarded the Versatile Blogger award by Tracey Scott-Townsend, author of the truly outstanding debut novel, The Last Time We Saw Marion. Tracey’s blog, Traces in Time is quite lovely. Find it here. I’ve also been awarded the Most Influential Blogger award by those lovely Write Romantics. I’m quite stunned by both awards. Thank you, ladies.

Apparently, I have to pass the baton on. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are a whole host of fabulous blogs out there. Who to choose?

Well, for me, the Most Influential Blogger award should go to Jane Badger, whose blog – Books, Mud and Compost. And Horses. – is endlessly fascinating, inspirational and fun. Jane is THE expert on pony books and her book Heroines on Horseback, published by Girls Gone By, is a truly fabulous source of information about the books I read and loved growing up. You can buy the book here. Jane’s blog also covers book reviews, lots of horsy stuff, and she has some great guests, too. Find Jane’s blog here.

Now for the versatile blogger award.

To those I’ve nominated, here are the rules for nominating your versatile bloggers:

‚ÄúWhen you consider nominating a fellow blogger for the Versatile Blogger Award, consider the quality of the writing, the uniqueness of the subjects covered, the level of love displayed in the words on the virtual page. Or, of course, the quality of the photographs and the level of love displayed in the taking of them.‚ÄĚ

Nominated bloggers should also tell the person who nominated them, seven things about themselves.

Seven things? Really? Blimey, I don’t think I have seven things to tell, unless they don’t have to be interesting in which case I could tell you loads of stuff. If you want interesting things, however…well, I may be gone for some time.

Okay, I’m back. I’ve only been away three hours. Well, here goes…

1. I’ve been married to the same man three times – and I’m still wondering if he’s Mr Right. (It’s okay, he never reads this!) ūüėČ

2. A lollipop man once stopped a car carrying The Bay City Rollers and made them wait while I crossed the road. Ha ha. I always preferred The Osmonds.

3. I have a vast collection of pony books and Enid Blyton books and still read them. I don’t care how old I get. God forbid my childhood books ever lose their charm.

4. I have spent a long time researching my family tree and discovered that my great, great grand-father was Prussian. A fact no one else in the family knew. I also found out that I am distantly related to the wildlife photographers Richard and Cherry Kearton. Just after discovering this fact, I found a book written by them in a second hand bookshop in Beverley.  To this day, I regret not buying it.

5. Almost all of the characters in my novels have the surnames of my ancestors.

6. I wrote my first novel – about a ballet school – when I was about eight, made everyone call me Jill when I was a child (after my favourite pony book heroine) and wrote under the pseudonym, Sharon Elizabeth Baxter. Don’t ask me why. I distinctly remember drawing a cover and titling my second novel The Elizabethan House by Sharon Elizabeth Baxter. I was about nine. ¬†I was a very odd child.

7. I am a very shy person and find it extraordinary that the solitary occupation of writing has led me to meeting so many interesting people, making friends, socialising and putting myself “out there” in the public eye. I’m extremely happy in my own company so the last couple of years, networking, blogging, even physically meeting up with fellow writers has been at times scary, challenging, but fun!

So here are my Versatile Blogger award nominations:

Roz Morris, whose Nail Your Novel blog has provided me with so much information, advice and inspiration. Roz’s books on writing and editing were enormously helpful to me, too. No doubt she already has a multitude of awards and may even have this very one already but she’s never been awarded it by me before, so there! Find Roz’s blog here

The Write Romantics are a bunch of writers with a varied mix of writing achievements. Some are in the NWS, some are self-published, some are traditionally published. All are extremely talented. Their blog is fabulous and they pose some fantastic questions in their Wednesday Wondering slot and have interviewed some marvellous guests. See for yourself here.

The New Romantics 4 are – unsurprisingly – four writers of romance who are truly inspiring. They are indie writers who have had amazing success and are a great lesson in determination, talent and hard work. They have a great grasp of the media and marketing and are four really generous, kind women whose love of the written word shines through. Find them here.

I’m actually supposed to nominate fifteen bloggers for this award. I’m stopping at three because, frankly, ¬†I’ll be here all day and I have a job to get to. I should also say that I won’t be in the slightest bit offended if those I’ve nominated don’t take up the baton. They are all extremely busy and time is precious. I just wanted to say how much I admire them all!

Hope you find the time to pop by and have a look at them all. They’re well worth a visit!

Have a great week xx

Mega Monday: We’re influential bloggers!

With many thanks to the lovely Write Romantics for their nomination. I’m deeply honoured xx

thewriteromantics

most-influential-bloggerThank you to Carol Cooper who awarded this badge to the Write Romantics.  We already loved Carol for inviting us to review her wonderful novel, being interviewed for the blog and for agreeing to write the introduction to our anthology, but now we love her even more.

IOne Night at the Jacarandan case you didn’t know, Carol is a doctor, teacher, writer, broadcaster and mother, whose debut novel, One Night at the Jacaranda, has received a wealth of rave reviews on Amazon. Carol is also a successful writer of non-fiction books, mainly on child health and parenting, and is The Sun newspaper’s doctor. As well as being a great friend of the Write Romantics blog, Carol has a fab blog of her own. If you’ve been missing out on Carol’s beside manner up until now, then you really should check out her blog.

Now we’re passing on the award to ten other bloggers. They…

View original post 856 more words