Z is for Zaftig

Zis for Zaftig. Do you know what zaftig means? I didn’t till I was frantically scouring the internet for words beginning with Z. It actually means, “having a full, rounded figure”. I can relate to that, so out of all the words beginning with Z, that was the one that caught my attention.

Having a full, rounded figure isn’t easy. Well, actually, getting a full, rounded figure is all too easy. It’s one of life’s bitter ironies that you can diet for months, and manage – after being super-virtuous and cutting out all chocolate, cakes, sweets, ice cream, and anything else that makes life worth living – to lose around a stone, only to find, after celebrating this milestone with fish and chips, that you’ve gained eighteen pounds overnight. It’s frighteningly easy to put weight on, but taking it off is a battle that seems endless.

Adele_Julio

Too fat? Adele

Unfortunately, in today’s society, having or being zaftig (not sure which it is) is frowned upon, unless you’re auditioning for a role in Hairspray. Thin is in. Confusingly, magazines insist that thin isn’t in at all, and that they advocate a healthy weight and want to employ “normal” sized models. Then they publish photographs of female celebrities with a tiny roll of fat round their tummy or a bit of cellulite on their thighs and scream about how these poor women have let themselves go, and inform us that said celebrities are depressed and battling “weight issues”. Good grief.

I’ve battled with my weight ever since I had my first baby. Actually, that’s not strictly true. The battles are few and far between. Mostly I just accept defeat and pretend it doesn’t matter. Occasionally I put down the cake long enough to decide that this thing won’t beat me and manage to lose half a stone or so. Of course, it goes straight back on. Usually, all my efforts earn me is a few bonus pounds. It’s like I’m trying to collect them. Lose seven, gain ten! Yay!

Too thin? Victoria Beckham

Too thin? Victoria Beckham

I suppose over the years I must have lost and regained the same amount of weight over and over again. All my weight-loss attempts have got me is an ever-increasing waist measurement. Maybe I should just have accepted my shape all those years ago and not worried about it. I’d probably have lost all the excess fat if I had.

When I wrote about Eliza in There Must Be An Angel, it was important to me that she wasn’t naturally thin. I wanted her maltesers_single_bag__70839to be a chocaholic who battled with her weight, and knew what it felt like to drink diet drinks alongside a family-sized bag of Maltesers. Eliza joins a slimming club because I think many, many women can relate to that. I certainly can. I’ve been to so many I’ve lost count. Lightweights, the slimming club run by Sophie Crook in Kearton Bay, is a mixture of all the clubs I’ve attended over the years. I well remember starving myself all day before class so that the scales would be kinder, then going home to feast because I had a whole week before the next weigh day! Madness, but I certainly wasn’t the only one.

I can think of several women in the public eye who are “bigger” ladies and look fabulous. Having said that, I ewes_not_fat_ewes_fluffy_photo_plaque-re78ed9b6bfc6441486e3d52c1233acbd_ar56b_8byvr_512have no problem with women who are slim or even thin. My problem is with the pressure put on women to look a certain way. It’s hard enough for “normal” women. Can you imagine the pressure on women in the public eye? Celebrities like Dawn French, Adele, Pauline Quirke and Fern Britton are constantly talked about in terms of their weight loss or gain, as if none of their other amazing achievements count for anything. Dawn and Pauline are brilliant actresses. Adele is a fantastic singer. Fern Britton is a great presenter and best-selling novelist. They are also loving mothers, best friends, partners, daughters, all round good women. Yet for the magazines, what matters is their current weight. Every pound lost and gained is documented. When they’re fat the headlines say they’re struggling, out of control and desperate. When they’re thin they say they’re obsessed, unhealthy and depressed. They can’t win. Who says thin is in? Who says big is best? Whose business is it, anyway? Thin or fat or somewhere in between, if you’re happy and healthy and accepting of your body, you’re beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

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This was my last post for the A to Z Challenge 2015. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my posts, and thank you very much for dropping by and for the comments you’ve made. I really appreciate it.

Have a great day xxcelebrate-311709_640

Y is for Yorkshire

YI know this may come as a surprise to you, but I’m from Yorkshire. I know! I hid that well, didn’t I? Yorkshire people are, quite rightly, extremely proud of their county, which is, in case you didn’t know, actually God’s Own Country. It’s the biggest county in England and its size has led to it being divided up into different ridings and districts several times. The subject of its boundaries is quite complicated and I’m not here to talk about all that today. I want to celebrate the county of my birth, in all its magnificence. If you’ve never been here you’ve missed out, and should rectify the situation immediately!

Yorkshire

Yorkshire

It’s a county of contrasts, encompassing heather-clad moors, rolling dales, glorious coastline, gentle wolds, bleak flat plains, harbours, factories, mills, castles and abbeys. It has a rich history and has played a major part in the fortunes of the British Isles. Most of all, it’s home to some of the warmest, friendliest and funniest people on earth. Not that I’m biased, of course…

the Humber Bridge

the Humber Bridge

I grew up in East Yorkshire, in a small town by the mighty Humber. There was no Humber Bridge in those days, so when we wanted to cross the river to Lincolnshire to visit places like Cleethorpes and Mablethorpe, we took the ferry. This was quite an adventure and I used to love those ferry crossings from Hull to New Holland. Sadly, when the bridge was built the ferry was no longer needed. The bridge is much more convenient but not half as exciting!

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Bishop Burton

East Yorkshire has some beautiful little villages, such as Bishop Burton,

Bridlington

Bridlington

which is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen, with its pretty red-roofed cottages and duck ponds. Beverley is a thriving market town and has a wonderful minster and some great book shops! The flat landscape of Holderness, with its crumbling coastline, stretches all the way from the mouth of the Humber to Flamborough. It’s in stark constrast to the gentle, rolling wolds, which are also part of the hidden beauty of this region. East Yorkshire is often overlooked, but it contains some real hidden gems, such as the lovely town of Driffield, “Gateway to the Wolds”, the magnificent Burton Agnes Hall, and the traditional seaside resort of Bridlington with its fabulous beaches, historic old town, and fun attractions.

Bronte Parsonage

Bronte Parsonage

West Yorkshire boasts the largest city in the whole of Yorkshire – Leeds. It’s a very different landscape to East Yorkshire. For a start it’s completely landlocked, whereas both North and East Yorkshire have coastline. It has a rich industrial background, and was known for its woollen mills and coal mines. It has many tourist attractions, including the world famous Bronte

Hebden Bridge

Hebden Bridge

Parsonage in Haworth, home of Emily, Charlotte and Anne Bronte, and the stunning Harewood House. It is networked by numerous canals and waterways and has a beauty all of its own. Calderdale is famed for its lovely scenery and waterways and includes the market towns of Halifax, Rippondon and Hebden Bridge, the latter of which has many literary connections – not least the fact that Ted Hughes was born nearby and his wife Sylvia Plath is buried in a medieval settlement in the hills above the town.

Meadowhall

Meadowhall

South Yorkshire was once an industrial heartland, but it’s got quite a reputation these days for its leisure activities and places to visit. It’s the home of the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, Doncaster Races and Magna Science Adventure Centre. The vibrant university city of Sheffield is a busy shopping attraction with Meadowhall Shopping Centre drawing thousands of visitors every day.

Roche Abbey

Roche Abbey

The Peak District is on the doorstep, and Penistone, the highest market town in the country, is a great base to explore the beautiful countryside, with the trans-Pennine trail nearby. Then there’s the ruins of Roche Abbey. Cared for by English Heritage, it has “one of the most complete ground plans of any English Cistercian monastery, laid out as excavated foundations.” (English Heritage: click on Roche Abbey link for more details.)

Goathland

Goathland

Finally, we reach North Yorkshire, the granddaddy of them all. North Yorkshire is BIG and it’s also absolutely beautiful. Here you’ll find a fantastic coastline, adorned with the precious jewels of Whitby, Scarborough, Robin Hood’s Bay, Runswick Bay, Sandsend, Filey, and many other gems. North Yorkshire is home to two national parks – the awe-inspiring Yorkshire Dales and the wild and utterly magnificent North Yorkshire Moors. Outside the parks, you can find such delights as Knaresborough, home to the castle where the knights who murdered Thomas a Beckett in Canterbury Cathedral took refuge, and birthplace of the renowned Mother Shipton – seer and wise woman. Or visit Ripon with its grand cathedral, or York with its famous

Sutton Bank

Sutton Bank

Minster. There are castles and abbeys galore in North Yorkshire, including Rievaulx Abbey, Fountains Abbey and Richmond Castle. The Moors are dotted with pretty villages such as Goathland, famous as Aidensfield in television’s Heartbeat, Hutton-le-Hole where sheep

Thornton le Dale

Thornton le Dale

meander along the road and where you’ll find the Ryedale Folk Museum, and Thornton-le-Dale which has a pretty thatched cottage that must be one of the most photographed homes in the land, having featured on chocolate box lids, jigsaws and goodness knows what else.  If, after all this exertion, you find yourself in need of sustenance, you can get the finest fish and chips in England in our coastal towns, or visit Betty’s Tea Rooms in York or Harrogate for a fine afternoon tea. We have pubs and restaurants and tea shops galore, so you’ll never go hungry or thirsty.

This post may read like an advertisement for Yorkshire, and I guess it is. I would like everyone to come here and see for themselves how truly amazing this place is. I feel very blessed to have been born here and to have such wonderful places within a short drive from me. My Kearton Bay books are set on the North Yorkshire coast and I have plans to set my next book in the Dales. Maybe I’ll set a book in every area of Yorkshire! Who knows. 🙂

Have a great day xx

X is for X and I’m Not Even Joking!

Xis for X. Wow, that took some thinking about. When I signed up for the A to Z Challenge, I was very aware that two letters, in particular, would prove testing. X and Z are not the easiest letters and I have spent the last couple of weeks half-heartedly wondering what on earth I could blog about. It was quite a horrifying moment yesterday when I suddenly realised that I was almost out of time. The letter X was upon me. What could I write about?

I scoured the online dictionaries, frantically seizing on words and checking their meanings. I found a brilliant site here, which gave me lots of ideas. It’s 2822163801_858aecbcf6_oquite extraordinary the amount of words there are beginning with this letter. Did you know, for example, that xerosis is the abnormal dryness of body parts? Or that a xoanon is a primitive wooden statue overlaid with ivory and gold? Wouldn’t want one of those in my house, thank you very much (ivory!) but that’s another story…I discovered that a xylocarp is a hard and woody fruit, and that xebec is a small, three-masted pirate ship. Interesting. But could I really blog about any of these subjects? Not really, though I’m sure someone, somewhere, already has.

Peter-rabbitI did consider a post about xenogenesis. This refers to a generation of offspring entirely unlike the parent. Ah, now that I can relate to! I have often mentioned that I’m convinced I’ve been beamed into the wrong family. My children are quite unlike me. They don’t read! It’s true. I remember when my eldest son was little, I paid, what seemed to me at the time, a small fortune for the complete collection of Peter Rabbit books. They were beautifully illustrated and I absolutely loved them. I made the mistake of thinking he would love them too. One night, DH and I were watching television when we suddenly noticed it was snowing. This was quite odd, given that it was summer. It took a moment to realise that the “snow” was actually pieces of torn paper fluttering into the front garden from my son’s bedroom window, and a few minutes later I made the heartbreaking discovery that the paper was the Peter Rabbit books, which were now reduced to empty covers. I have tried to coax them into reading, to no avail. I was stunned recently to discover my youngest had read There Must Be An Angel in one day! I almost forgave her for insisting that films were better than books. Almost…I’m not, however, convinced that this is the sort of thing that scientists are referring to when they discuss xenogenesis, so I won’t blog about it, after all.

I could blog about a xanthippe, which is an ill-tempered woman. I know a few of those. But then, I have to face them, and I’m pretty sure they’d recognise themselves from my description and, quite frankly, they’re so ill-tempered I wouldn’t want to risk it.

39d3ed7c-07f5-48a1-87d6-2a4f5a1399c7_image_jpegHmm, what else could I blog about? What about xenodocheionology? This, I kid you not, is the love of hotels. Yes, well, I possibly could blog about that, except I’ve never actually stayed in a hotel. No, not once. I have no idea what the term is for the love of luxury caravans with power showers, central heating and double glazing, but I doubt very much it begins with X.

I could discuss the election. That would be a real treat for you, wouldn’t it? I mean, you put the X in the box of your choice and help to shape the future of Britain, so it’s relevant. But, to be honest, whether you’re voting red, blue, yellow or sky blue pink with yellow dots on, it would still be an incredibly dull post and I’m already suffering from pre-election blues. The party of my choice will either win or it won’t. What else is there to say?

I could talk about the X-Files. I used to love that programme. Mulder and Scully and a whole lot of simmering passion – and aliens, of course. Can’t forget the aliens. Scully had nice hair and a big coat. Mulder talked without moving his mouth much. Okay, I’ve covered the X-Files.ms_09

What about the X Factor? Oh, God, no. I can’t even bring myself to try. I don’t watch it and have no interest in it, so let’s not even go there.

X marks the spot. I could talk about treasure maps. Or sex. Oh, that’s the G spot I’m thinking of there. Unless I mean X-rated. Should I talk about X-rated? Considering I blush and look guilty reading Jilly Cooper books I doubt I could manage to blog about such things. Although, to be fair, I do love a naughty novel. The sort of thing Jilly writes, or Fiona Walker, or Jo Carnegie. I think that’s as daring as I get. I couldn’t cope with erotica. Fifty Shades of Grey would turn me Fifty Shades of Scarlet.

Okay, what else is X? X stands for Xmas, which I always assumed was a very disrespectful way of saying Christmas, but which, I recently discovered, is actually quite all right, as X is the Greek letter chi which is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ – Christos. So that’s all right, then. They haven’t taken Christ out of Christmas after all. christmas-195704_640

People who couldn’t read or write used to sign their name by making their mark – an X. X is also how we denote kisses. We sign cards and texts and letters with xxx or x or xx, depending on the level of emotion we feel for the person. I’m never quite sure how many kisses you’re supposed to put. Sometimes I put the number of kisses that matches the person’s age if it’s their birthday. I drew the line at my mother’s birthday card. Once you get past sixty it just gets silly. Not to mention crowded.

Really, it’s terribly difficult to think what on earth to write about that begins with the letter X. I’ve racked my brains but I still can’t think of anything. Maybe I’ll just take today off instead…

Have a great day xxx…or xx…or x 🙂

W is for Weddings

Wis for weddings. Aw. Everyone loves a wedding, don’t they? Certainly, in the romance genre, books quite often reach their happy endings with a wedding, or at least the promise of one. Many films and books are based around the mishaps and misadventures that occur on a wedding day; others are based around the industries that have sprung up to cater for weddings – the wedding planner, wedding dresses, wedding cakes, wedding favours, and, of course, the all-important honeymoon.

I love weddings, too. I must do. I’ve had three of them myself. Yes, three of them. And, believe it or not, they’ve all featured the same groom. Third time lucky, they say, and fingers crossed they’re right. I wouldn’t care but neither of us even likes wedding cake.

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First wedding day!

First time round we were incredibly young and naive and had no idea what we were getting into. Still teenagers and thinking that the Beatles were quite right. All we needed was love. So we had no money, nowhere decent to live – so what? Sonny and Cher sang our theme tune. I Got You, Babe. A few years down the line and I was tempted to change it to Bang, Bang. (My Baby Shot Me Down). I won’t bore you with the details of all that followed. Suffice it to say, we married for the third (and most definitely final) time in 2004. This time we were older, wiser, a bit battered around the edges and, having been through some pretty harrowing times, we felt stronger and surer of each other than ever. We headed off to our beloved Cornwall and were married in Truro. Our closest family and some friends came with us. We all stayed in Cornwall at a holiday park on the Lizard and had a fantastic time. The sun shone every single day and after two weeks I was actually brown! Me! I usually go from pale and freckly to lobster red and then my skin peels and I’m back to pale and freckly again. This time I had a proper suntan, in spite of using lotion. It was the best holiday we’ve ever had and I’m glad to say it proved to be lucky for us. Eleven years on and we’re still married. A record! 🙂

The First One - Friends

The First One – Friends

Weddings are fascinating things. In spite of the soaring divorce statistics and the general cynicism about marriage, people still want to do it. And the rest of us still turn up to the church or registry office or hotel or wherever, and throw confetti at the happy couple, and hope and believe that it will last forever. Weddings are a time for optimism. People are happy at weddings. Well, that’s always supposing the bride doesn’t do a Rachael and run out on the groom, as happened in Friends. (Thank goodness she did. Look what we’d have missed if she hadn’t!)

I love people watching at wedding receptions. You see all the fabulous outfits, the hats, the shoes. People are nodding and smiling at each other, greeting relatives they haven’t seen for years and telling them how wonderful they look. Then you hear the mutterings start. ‘Doesn’t Myrtle look a sight in that dress? Who on earth invited Auntie Elsie? You know she’ll only get drunk and start singing wartime songs again! If I catch Jim flirting with Molly today I’m filing for divorce.’

Kids are devouring the buffet before it’s even officially open. The bride is smiling bravely even though her shoes are absolutely killing her. The groom is mortified that the best man has gone too far in his speech and completely embarrassed him. The mother of the bride is gritting her teeth as she poses with the mother of the groom who she absolutely cannot stand. The best man is completely sozzled and telling everybody how much he loves the groom and how things will never be the same again. The family lech is leering at every pretty girl who passes. The usher is feeling like a spare part and starts sobbing into his beer about the “girl that got away”.The newly-divorced sister is sitting in a corner assuring everyone that the whole thing is a waste of money because everyone knows marriage doesn’t work. The bridesmaid is snogging outside with someone’s drunken husband. And the father of the bride is telling everyone how much everything cost and that he got no help from the groom’s good-for-nothing family towards paying it. Honestly, I wonder if that’s the sort of thing that went on at William and Kate’s wedding? 🙂

Love the grumpy bridesmaid!

Love the grumpy bridesmaid!

I love soap weddings. They’re always such a disaster! I was watching Gail and Michael’s wedding in Coronation Street the other night, and wondering what  could possibly go wrong. After all, they’re the perfect couple. Even if Gail is hiding the fact that Michael’s son isn’t really his son because his real son is actually dead, and Gail’s own son was hiding a multitude of injuries caused by his estranged wife’s drug-dealing ex in retaliation for the fact that Gail’s son had blackmailed Michael’s son who isn’t his son into planting drugs in said drug dealer’s car. Meanwhile, Gail’s other son is still recovering from brain injuries caused by formerly mentioned son, in revenge for the fact that he had slept with the formerly mentioned son’s wife who is now missing having been thrown out by formerly mentioned son for taking drugs from drug-dealing ex who, as an aside, has recently been sleeping with Gail’s daughter just to taunt formerly mentioned son even though formerly mentioned son doesn’t know for sure that this has been going on. And after all that, the wedding cake was completely destroyed by drunken granddaughter of Gail, daughter of the daughter who has been sleeping with the drug-dealing ex, who, although only fourteen, has been helping herself to the champagne and seems intent on destroying her mother’s life, although the mother, who is only thirteen years older than her own daughter after all, was too busy bonking the drug-dealing ex to notice.

Either this is some weird party game or....

Either this is some weird party game or….

This is all very tame compared with the weddings that take place in other soaps, such as Eastenders, Hollyoaks and Emmerdale, where weddings invariably end in someone being carted off to prison, run over by a car, or shot. And remember that wedding massacre in Dynasty all those years ago? Phew! Marriage can be tricky, there’s no doubt about it, but you’d think the scriptwriters would let them at least get the honeymoon over and done with first!

One of my favourite films is Four Weddings and a Funeral, but I do have an issue with the ending of that film. If I’d been writing it, Hugh Grant’s Charles would have told Andy McDowell’s Carrie to stick her flying saucer hat where the sun don’t shine, and gone off with the best friend who had loved and adored him for years. All right, so she was a bit brittle, but that’s the English upper classes for you. With a bit of love I’m sure she’d have softened up a bit. At least she wasn’t a user like that awful Carrie! Sleeping with him even though she was engaged, playing with his feelings when she knew he loved her, and then turning up just in time to destroy his own wedding by telling him that, after all that, she was now divorced and so she was willing to put up with him after all. Jeez. Big deal. Thanks very much. Such a disappointment that he ended up with her…I’ll give it five years, max.

The hat will need a room of its own!

The hat will need a room of its own!

I loved the wedding in Love, Actually. Keira Knightley walking back down the aisle with her new husband and suddenly the church erupts in a chorus of All You Need Is Love. I have no idea how all those singers and musicians managed to hide their instruments so successfully in the church. Have you seen how little leg room there is between pews? Still, it was a lovely moment.

One of my absolute favourite films is Confetti. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about three couples who are competing to win a house in a competition held by a bridal magazine. They have to come up with original concepts for their weddings, with the help of two gay wedding planners, who are absolutely wonderful. One couple wants a huge, Busby Berkley type musical extravaganza, another wants a tennis-themed wedding and the third – unfortunately for the magazine – wants a naturist wedding. There is a fantastic cast, including Martin Freeman, Jessica Stevenson, Olivia Colman, Jimmy Carr, Robert Webb and Alison Steadman, and it’s so funny, but also quite poignant.

The Confetti couples

The Confetti couples

The very first scene in A Kiss From A Rose takes place at a wedding, and it finds our heroine having an embarrassing moment or two of her own. There was quite a bit about weddings in this novel, and I really enjoyed writing it. Weddings are enormous fun to write about, and easy to plan – at least on the page. Unfortunately, they’re not so easy to plan in real life! I don’t think I have any weddings to attend this year – although you never know – but luckily, Rose will be published in September and I can enjoy re-reading her wedding mishaps instead!

Have a great day xx

Why not check out the other blogs taking part in the A to Z Challenge?

V is for Villains

Vis for villains. You’ve got to love a villain. Let’s face it, they can be great fun! Of course, I’m not talking about in real life. Real life villains are pretty scary and not someone you’d want to meet or spend any time with at all, but in fiction the villain can be a source of thrills, fear, hilarity, scorn, disgust, hatred or even a sneaking admiration. All in a very safe way.

Some of the most memorable characters in fiction are the villains – whether it be in the page of a book or on the screen. Think of Hannibal Lecter, for instance. No one forgets him! Then there’s Captain Hook in Peter Pan, or the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, or Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. They are absolutely essential to the 5139794496_f75ce6e0a0_ostory. What would Harry’s life be without He Who Must Not Be Named? Basically, a boarding school story with spells and the odd game of Quidditch. What demonstrates the integrity and kindness of George Bailey better than the greed and selfishness of Mr Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life? Would Mark Darcy be less appealing to Bridget Jones if she hadn’t suffered the betrayal of Daniel Cleaver?

wonderful-5I have to admit I had a great time creating my “villain”. Harry Jarvis isn’t a villain on a Hannibal Lecter scale, but he is a prime example of a selfish, vain, self-obsessed liar, who puts the heroine through the mill and shines a light on the goodness and integrity of the hero. Harry is a coward. He doesn’t have the guts to tell his wife what’s really going on or how he feels. When the truth comes tumbling out, he’s still not man enough to accept any blame, but tries to pin it all on her, knowing her weaknesses and insecurities and attacking them, making her feel even more wretched. Yet when Harry gets what he wants, he is still afraid, and clings to his old life like a comfort blanket, not caring about the effect it is having on the people he’s hurting the most.20111214-192806

Harry was fun to write because he really is quite tactless and thoughtless and would just say whatever came into his head. I loved his total belief in himself and his vanity, his sarcasm and his total absorption in his own life and interests. Yet Harry wasn’t a pantomime villain and I had to make sure he had some good qualities – at least at the end. He had to be real. If he was completely bad who on earth would fall for him? He had to have something that redeemed him, so for a start I made him funny. Even as I was appalled by his behaviour I was laughing at the way he went about things. I also had to soften him up a little, and I think I achieved that by the end of the book, but you’ll have to read it for yourself to see if you think I succeeded. chitty_chitty_bang_bang2

Villains really can grab the attention in a way that the nicest hero or heroine can’t. Is there anything more creepy than the evil child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Didn’t you just want to scream at Lizzie Bennet for believing the lies of Wickham in Pride and Prejudice? Doesn’t Moriarty send shivers down your spine in Sherlock?  And don’t get me started on Doctor Who! Daleks, The Master, The Cybermen…what would that programme be without them?The Pandorica Opens (1)

Sinister Count Fosco from Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White; cruel Bill Sikes from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist;  creepy Mrs Danvers from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca; or the most famous vampire of them all, the title character from Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula...Who’s your favourite villain?

Have a great day xx

Why not visit some of the other blogs taking part in the A to Z Challenge?

U is for Unseen Help

Uis for unseen help. If you’ve bought There Must Be An Angel – and if you have, thank you so very much! – and you’ve read the acknowledgements, you may have noticed that the final thank you was to Emma Crook and her kind. It’s an unusual thank you and I suppose a lot of people, if they knew the story behind it, would think I was a bit eccentric at best, and certifiably insane at worst. Nevertheless, I’m going to take the risk and tell you about her.

Way back in 1985 I visited a clairvoyant. I was in a pretty dark place at the time. I’d just had my second child and my hormones were all over the place. I was very depressed and there was a lot going on in my life that wasn’t helping. I needed something to hang onto, I suppose. When my friend suggested we visit a clairvoyant that she’d heard really good things about, I wasn’t impressed with the idea. I didn’t really believe in them, and I thought it would be a waste of money. But my friend really wanted to go, and it was a couple of hours away from the children, so I thought, why not?

The clairvoyant wasn’t anything like I’d expected. She was quite young, blonde, attractive, and wore jeans and a T-shirt rather than a shawl! She didn’t have a crystal ball or anything like that. She simply took my hand and held it for a moment in silence. Then she began to talk.

There were some things she said that day that immediately struck a chord with me. The first thing she said, in fact, before I’d even opened my mouth, was the main reason I’d been feeling so low. There was no way she could have known, but she did. Other things she said made little sense to me at the time. It was only years later they struck home, and I was filled with awe that she’d told me they would happen. For instance, she was insistent that I had five children in my timeline. I told her there was no way. I’d just had my second – and last – baby. I was quite adamant on that subject! She told me quite gently that she saw five children, and that’s just the way it was. Six years later I gave birth to my fifth and final child. How had she predicted that?  I certainly hadn’t! There were other things. She told me about a medical problem that one of my sons would have, and that I shouldn’t worry as it would be corrected and that he would be football mad. I only had one son at the time, but later, my second son had exactly the trouble she had told me about, and he lives and breathes football – unlike my two other sons who aren’t interested in it at all.

She gave me quite a lot to think about that evening, and before I left, she told me that I was never alone, because I had a guardian angel who stayed with me. She said that the angel was an old lady, a member of my family, whose name began with E. I simply couldn’t think of anyone because, although my grandmother had recently died, her name began with N, and the only two of my great grandmothers names that I knew of both began with A.

It was many years later that I started to research my family tree. I discovered quite a few ladies I was descended from whose name began with E, and I often wondered which one of them was my guardian angel. I was particularly keen to research my paternal grandad’s family as, when I was a little girl, my grandad had given me a “big penny” and told me it was a medal won by his father in the Great War. I later discovered that it was a memorial plaque, given to the families of those servicemen who had been killed in the First World War. My great grandfather was in the navy and had been killed during the Battle of Jutland in 1916. My grandad had been just four years old at the time. I was touched that he gave me the plaque to look after and I treasured it. I still have it with me as you can see from the photograph.blog pic

So I wanted to find out more about my great grandfather, and I did. I got his navy record and learned he had dark hair and grey eyes and that he’d lied about his age when he joined up. He was actually younger than is stated on his official records. He’d joined the navy when a teenager, and had been killed when he was forty-one, although officially he was forty-two. He’d left behind a widow, Ellen, and their children, and his parents, George and Emma. I wanted to know more about his parents, so I sent for George and Emma’s marriage certificate.

I was really struggling to finish a degree I was doing with the Open University at the time. I was studying literature, and with a couple of my children still at home, grandchildren, college and other commitments nagging at me, I was wondering if it was worth continuing with my studies. It all seemed a bit pointless. What was I going to do with a degree anyway?

Then George and Emma’s certificate arrived, and I remember the strange sensation I felt when I opened that envelope and read the paper. George and their two witnesses had made the mark of the cross as their signatures, but there, in slightly wobbly but defiant writing was Emma’s name, Emma Crook. Emma was the only one who could write her name! I felt so proud of her. I can’t explain the feeling it gave me to see those two little words. I was filled with love and pride for this woman who I had never met, but who had raised and lost a beloved son in war, and had been the grandmother of my own darling grandad. I felt quite shivery, and suddenly I was absolutely sure that Emma was the guardian angel the clairvoyant had told me about, all those years ago. Because I saw that signature, because I realised what an achievement it was, I was filled with a new determination to complete my degree. Emma Crook became Emma Booth, and because of that, when I write, I use my maiden name – a name I share with her.

I said in my acknowledgement that Angel was for Emma Crook and her kind, because I wanted to dedicate it not just to her but to all those ancestors who came before me, including my own lovely father, without whom I wouldn’t be here. And I said, ‘Oh, I really hope you know why,’ because I do. Somewhere, somehow, I hope they know how much they mean to me. Angel is for them.

Have a great day xx

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T is for Themes and Titles

Tis for themes and titles. As I’ve said previously, when I started writing, I didn’t really have a clue that books were supposed to have themes. It had never occurred to me before – at least, consciously. Subconsciously, I realise I was constantly picking up on the themes of other people’s books. It just never hit me before that they were there deliberately, which sounds absurd now.

When I wrote There Must Be An Angel I hadn’t, as I’ve said before, thought of a theme for it. It was only after several rewrites that I realised there was an emerging theme – that of fathers and daughters. It had other themes, too. Friendship, being true to yourself instead of trying to live up to other’s standards, and having faith in someone so that, no matter what you heard about them, you would stand by them and believe in them.

With A Kiss From A Rose, it became clear fairly quickly that the main theme was mothers and daughters. Rose has huge issues with her own mother, and she’s struggling with her daughters, too.  Rose is also about believing in yourself and realising that you’re as good as anyone else. It’s about overcoming your own lack of self esteem and allowing yourself to be happy because you deserve to be. I find it quite fascinating that these themes developed without me even noticing.

It was only when I looked back at both of these novels that I noticed the themes, but for the third  book I’ve decided on the theme first and am building the book around it. Whether that will make a difference to the writing I don’t know. I know some writers choose the themes first and work this way, while others only discover the theme after their work is complete. I’ve tried one way so now I’m trying the other, and I guess I’ll discover what works best for me!

I think I’ve got a title for Book Three, but I won’t reveal it yet as it may change. There Must Be An Angel changed title several times. It started off as I Heard A Rumour, changed to There Must Be An Angel, then I decided on Angel In The Marble, then switched it to Can’t Fight the Moonlight before finally, after consulting Julie and Alex, my Write Romantic pals, over a slice of cake, it was changed back to the title it now carries for good.

The second book was initially called Moonlight and Roses, but from the first scene it became obvious that A Kiss From A Rose was exactly the right title. There was no swapping and changing after that. It was a done deal.

For Book Three it’s been a bit more tricky. A theme has emerged in my titles – they are song titles, and what’s more, they both have five words. It seemed appropriate that the final two books should follow the same pattern, so I’ve had to have a good old think. I’ve changed the title four times so far, but finally, I think I have one that suits the book exactly and fits the pattern. I’m very lucky because I can choose my own titles. Some writers don’t get that luxury, and some have the titles they’ve chosen changed to suit their publishers. That must take some getting used to!

It’s really interesting to take your favourite books and work out the themes within them. It can make you read the story in a completely different way and it’s fascinating to see how the writer has built the scenes around the theme to reinforce it. Or perhaps they only discovered it for themselves after the book was completed…It can happen that way, you know!

There Must Be An Angel is currently free for Kindle, but the offer ends today so hurry! Click on the image in the side bar to get your copy.

Have a great day xx

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