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I first heard of Wisley about six or seven years ago when, while staying with friends, they invited us to go along to what is the Royal Horticultural Society’s show garden. It seemed much larger during that first visit than it has ever done on our occasional return, but it changes throughout the year and hosts a number of events that makes a repeat worthwhile. We’ve been fortunate to see the orchards producing abundant crops, and to go along to such occasions as an autumn harvest and even a couple of sculpture trails. These yearly sculpture exhibitions are hosted by the Surrey Sculpture Society with 2013’s (which ran 24th-August-29th September) promising to be the biggest ever. I believe this quite possible, having taken numerous photographs of the exhibits on display; more, I’m sure than I did when I attended last year.

Although, as always with such displays, there are a selection that make me raise an eyebrow or scratch my head, this year the themes had a great deal to do with nature, and appeared to blend well with the natural environment. Many will no doubt inspire ideas for the garden even if one chokes on the accompanying price tags — the same as art is subjective so were our opinions on the prices asked. Some fair, some not so much. Regardless of the price, many definitely inspired creativity.

Having taken too many photos to make loading them to one blog post viable, I’ve opted to share just three of my favourites — one from 2012 and two from 2013’s exhibitions:

2012:

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2013:

 

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Unfortunately, I cannot recall the name of the sculptures or the artists, but more can be found about the RHS and Wisley, and the SSS on their websites:

http://www.rhs.org.uk/

http://www.surreysculpture.org.uk/

Note: I would love to be able to attend this year’s Harvest Festival, if only to get me in the mood for my two haunting October releases. A Not So Hollow Heart, and Seduced by a Legend are both appropriately out in time for Halloween.

I’ve played the ‘Novel Openings’ game three times, and each time I’ve learned more than I could have done reading three books about writing. Let me explain. You get a bunch of authors (at a lunch, at a conference, down the pub) and they each read the first 250 words from one of their works (finished or yet to be) then discuss them, either the specific extracts or story openings in general.

What always amazes me is how different they all turned out to be. Three times, maybe three dozen authors in total and never a duff beginning. All good, but as varied as chalk, cheese and chewed pen lids. Within that small amount of words (a double drabble and a half) the tone of the story was set, the writer’s “voice” was instantly recognisable, you could get a pretty clear idea in at least half the cases about where the story was going to go and you knew the era/setting even where there hadn’t been a Cambridge 1907 type heading at the start.

And – maybe most important of all – I think you had a ninety percent chance of knowing whether you wanted to read more. While all the intros were good, not all of them piqued my interest enough to think, “Read on, read on!” It’s a matter of your individual reader taste – is it your style, your genre, your era, your pace.

The first time I encountered the Novel Opening format (at the Festival of Romance) led me to think about submitting stories and the importance of them making an instant impact. I’ve been on the submissions team for four different anthologies, and I know we could pretty well tell by the end of the first page whether a submitted story was a ‘goer’. The same applies where submission calls ask for a chapter or three. It’s not helping your cause to say, “The first few chapters are a bit slow, so I sent five, six and seven,” or “they don’t represent the story as a whole”. They’re the first bit the editor will see and if he/she isn’t sold, what chance have you got of nabbing a reader? Do we have the patience to plough through three chapters of intro to get to “the good stuff”?

I’ll be facilitating Novel Openings again as one of the panels at UK Meet 2014. Why not come along and play?

Lessons for Suspicious Minds, Charlie‘s latest adventure for Jonty and Orlando, (her Edwardian sleuths) is now available from Amazon, http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00FBQZLYS, ARE and all the usual places.

The house is oddly quiet this week and next, since my husband Dave is off doing the famous (or should that be infamous?) Coast to Coast walk.

One coast... (St Bees Head)

One coast… (St Bees Head)

This is a marathon trek of around 190 miles from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire.  On route it takes in some spectacular scenery in not one but three separate national parks – the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors.  It also passes through some areas of surprising wilderness – surprising not least because they survive in this hectic twenty-first century.  Most people do the walk from west to east, not least because the most challenging terrain is in the Lake District and it’s better to tackle it while you’re fresh, rather than at the end of a fortnight’s plodding when your legs are reduced to stumps and your feet are on fire!

The other coast... (Robin Hood's Bay)

The other coast… (Robin Hood’s Bay)

The walk was the brainchild of Alfred Wainwright (more on him later) who devised it for one of his series of well-known guide books in 1973.  At that time, the idea of walking between two such little-known places was unheard-of, but in the intervening forty years a thriving business has sprung up catering for the thousands of walkers who tackle the route every year.  Busiest time, not surprisingly, is in late summer/early autumn, when the summer heat has died down a little but the nights are still long enough to make getting lost less of a problem.  Believe me, stumbling around in the pitch-dark on Nine Standards Moor is enough to reduce strong men to tears.

The late, great Alfred Wainwright

The late, great Alfred Wainwright

So, who was this Alfred Wainwright?  Well, originally just an ordinary bloke from an ordinary town in Lancashire, who took a day trip to Windermere in the Lake District and promptly fell in love.  Not with a person, but with some of the most stunning scenery – mountains, lakes, rivers, glaciated valleys – in the country.  Not long after, he sold up, took a poorly paid job in Kendal and moved to the area, and spent the next thirteen years climbing every hill and mountain by every available route (and a few that weren’t) and writing a series of guide books about the process.  The books are special, because not only did he write them in his own unique, drily humorous style, but he also illustrated them with beautiful blackand white sketches and annotated maps.  You can spend hours at a time flicking through the pages, poring over the routes up Helvellyn or Blencathra, and laughing at his occasional talking sheep.

Where it all started...

Where it all started…

We’re lucky enough to live within spitting distance of the railway station where Wainwright fist arrived in the Lake District, and within a 2-hour car journey of the start of the Coast to Coast walk.  It’s been Dave’s ambition to tackle the walk ever since we moved to the area.  He’s currently about a third of the way through, running out of useable feet, but enjoying every minute and every spectacular mile.  And very grateful to Alfred Wainwright for coming up with the idea in the first place.

I love living in a temperate country. Yes, the English weather is a constant source of amusement (all four seasons in one day at times) but variety’s the spice of life, so we never get bored. Some of our recent winters have been hard, unusually so; bitterly cold with deep snow abnormally early, and now we’re having a sub-tropical summer, high temperatures for days on end. Yet these extremes come as a constant surprise to us and we do get a fantastic range of conditions.

Winter brings misty, frosty, magical mornings where puffed up robins sit out on the hoary grass. In the summer we get warm, hazy days and mild evenings when the bats swoop and soar over the garden in search of insects. Then there’s autumn, with the countryside a quilt of colours and the sun dappling the trees with gold and amber. Then there’s my favourite. Spring. There’s a quality, a clarity, to the light in spring you simply don’t get at any other time of the year and the colour of the sky is a piercing blue.

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One of my characters has blue eyes and his lover likes to compare them to the sky on a fine spring day, although my meteorological inspiration was something even odder. It was November and we were standing on the old fortifications at Portsmouth; the morning was misty and the mist over the sea was cornflower blue. That was always going to be the colour of Jonty’s eyes.

I digress…

I love the feeling of hopefulness that comes with spring, the lengthening of the days and the emergence of buds and flowers. My family shake their heads indulgently over my enthusiastic response to the appearance of the first daffodils in the garden or to the emergence of the first beech leaves on the hedge down the road. I have to go and touch them – they’re as soft as the finest silk, a quality they only have for a day or so after coming out of the bud. (I wonder if my neighbours think I’m a bit touched in the head?)

When the flowering cherry comes out in our front garden the opulence and profusion of blossoms is almost decadent; when they’re almost done, we still shake the tree and stand in the pink snowstorm it produces, just as we used to when my daughters were small and wanted to play “here comes the bride”.

When I’m stuck for inspiration, when the right words or plot points won’t come, I go for a walk, under the great oak trees on our road or down by the beech hedges. Sometimes I go and knock seven kinds of brickdust out of the ivy that’s trying to take over my hawthorn, or perform some other equally mindless task, out under a blue sky with the colours of nature all around. I don’t stay stuck for words or plot for long.

But change is constant, and even spring’s wonders are transitory. The beech leaves harden, the blossoms turn brown and fall, the daffodils finish and the bluebells come. My garden never looks the same two months running, nor does the field and the woods we overlook. (The woods never look the same two days running, or even over the course of one day, when we can go from ribbons of mist hanging over the valley to blazing colours as the setting sun strikes the treetops.)

It can be depressing, that constant reminder of moving on, of the ravages of time, but change is inevitable; you either embrace it and enjoy it, or you sit and let it defeat you, locked in your own eternal January of the soul. Spring’s not just the time for daffodils – it’s a state of mind.

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Is anywhere safe from a writer’s clutches? Although I spent the first 21 years of my life in the Midlands, I now live in the North of England. I’ve never lived in London or the south but daughter works in the City and lives in the south-east. Everywhere she’s lived, I’ve used as a setting in my books – Greenwich in particular. She married in Chilham – church above – that I used for a funeral in ‘Every Move He Makes’. 
Chilham’s been used as the location for a number of films and TV series.

We looked at Penshurst Place for a reception but it was too small – but I used it in my book ‘Jumping in Puddles’ – the manor hall which held the faerie treasure. Not to say I don’t use places in the north, I do. But if I need my characters to go south, I have to rely on the places that I’ve already seen. Camber Sands – I used in ‘Cowboys Down’.
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I’ve realised I’m much happier with a real location to play with. I’ve only written a few stories where the action is in another world – sci fi or fantasy. I guess there really is no place like home – or someone else’s home!

Cornwall is the furthest peninsula in the south west of the United Kingdom bordered on one side by Devon, and on two sides by two seas — most notably the English Channel in the South and the Celtic Sea (Cornish: An Mor Keltek) in the north Atlantic ocean. The furtherest point is Land’s End, a place I recall visiting as a child as just a rocky outcrop angling down to the sea so that one could walk right to the edge to dip one’s toes. Today, this requires paying to get into the tourist facilities built around the spot so that no one can visit without payment — not a high point in tourism IMHO.

The south of Cornwall is often referred to as Cornish Riviera. It’s more sheltered from the rough and cooler high winds and is usually favoured with warmer weather. However, I’ve always favoured North Cornwall with its higher cliffs, less popularised beaches and the wilder coastline.

The area has featured heavily in fiction, possibly most well-known in tales such as Jamaica Inn at Bodmin by Daphne du Maurier (although she also set other novels in the county), and a Sherlock Holmes tale of The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot by Conan Doyle. Many famous novelists and poets were either born or chose to live near the area, which with its changing atmosphere, varied topography, diverse weather patterns, and local historical and legendary history is hardly surprising.

You can’t be British and not talk about the weather at some point. There’s a reason some say if you don’t like the weather in the UK, wait five minutes. While this ‘may’ be something of an exaggeration, the changeable weather certainly equates to some dramatic extremes, as viewed in these two photographs. They were taken during the same holiday a couple of days apart.

In the first there’s a lovely shot of the Camelot Castle Hotel (far right distance — originally known as King Arthur’s Castle Hotel) complete with a rescue service helicopter in action along the cliffs.

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In the second…well, there’s a hotel there somewhere, although it rather looks as if it’s being swallowed up in the mists of time reminiscent of a far different location, aka Brigadoon.

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2012 seems a million years ago, now. All the celebrations for the Queen’s jubilee and then the Olympics/Paralympics. Pomp, pageantry, well organised and inspiring events, all sorts of things which we Brits do extremely well, but refuse to shout about.

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And all of these were a tremendous celebration of what it means to be British. We’re a mixed up, muddled sort of society, obsessed with the weather and totally blase about the history which surrounds us but…we’re fun.

Last summer we “followed” the Olympic torch on its journey around the country, picking up some literary connections on the way, with a slant on LGBTQ fiction and authors. Seventy (count them!) days of posts about our gloriously diverse country and culture, well worth revisiting.

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