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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’.

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!


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Okay, I’m as bad as everyone else for letting this blog slide. So many hours in the day, so much to do, but I’ll try a post and see if anyone is listening.

Of course, it involves a touch of promo  but it’s more about how my home country inspires me to write. All but a couple of the twenty odd novels I’ve written are set in the UK. I’ve learned to set them in areas I know or at least can easily research. It makes life so much simpler. So popular settings are – Greenwich, Yorkshire – Leeds, Harrogate etc, Derbyshire, Northumberland, Scotland. I’ve dragged poor husband all over the place to take pictures of locations (though I didn’t notice him grumbling when we went to Miami to scout out details for one the books not set in the UK) We were already in Florida so a five hour drive in tropical heat didn’t seem too unreasonable. Oh and five hours back. oops.SDC10108

My latest book – okay – twist my arm and I’ll tell you – Every Move He Makes – out with Samhain publishing, involves a British spy – so I needed pictures of that building on the Thames that’s hardly secret but holds our secret service. I took so many pictures, I kept expecting to get a tap on the shoulder and to whisked away by 007. Well, a girl can dream. Research on what the building is like inside came up woefully short so I had to make up some bits. I think readers will forgive me.







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Nestled within Snowdonia National Park Wales is a small little village that thousands are drawn to every year. In a deep valley surrounded by hills and mountains sits Beddgelert.

The literal translation of the name is Gelert’s Grave. Although this may in fact be a mistranslation and the origin of the name is somewhat murky, possibly relating to a seventh century saint known as Gelert or Celert. The most popular belief comes from a 19th century tale, the story of Prince Llewelyn and his faithful hound Gelert.

The tale, which can be read on a large piece of slate, speaks of the day Prince Llewelyn left on a hunting trip leaving behind his beloved son and his favourite hound Gelert, whom for some reason he couldn’t find. When he returned from the hunt he found the door of his house opened and to his horror he discovered the babies crib covered in blood with the swaddling ripped.

From a corner happily bounded Gelert whom was also covered in blood, believing that his favoured hound had killed his son he drew his blade and slew Gelert. As the dog howled his final breath his howls were responded to by cries from the baby.

Investigating the Prince discovered the baby safe and unharmed, a body of a wolf laying near by.

Realising he had jumped to the wrong conclusion he became overwhelmed with grief and buried Gelert in his favourite place.

It may be only a story, but it is one that draws people to the village over and over. However from one village many stories can develop and Beddgelert is also famous for being the home of the creator of the endearing bear Rupert. Many of the paintings used in the cartoons were based on the mountains all around the village and trails can be taken to visit those areas.

More about the area can be found here: http://www.beddgelerttourism.com/gelert/

If you ever get the chance to go to Snowdonia, make sure to stop by!

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I’m beginning to understand how bloggers find so much to say. Fortunately, my lethargy will continue to prevent me spending too much time putting this new-found knowledge into practice but, with another train journey to fill, I can muse a little on a totally insignificant event which nevertheless managed to achieve some momentum – and which I think I can twist into something connected with the writing process.

I was in my daughter’s car, being driven to Loch Lomond, her two sons (aged 8 and 4) in the back with her, her husband at the wheel. In front of us, a VW Beetle. Dangling in the centre of the rear window was a plastic, half peeled banana – exactly the same colour as the car.

‘Oh look, an amusing banana,’ said my daughter, with the devastating satirical tone which is obviously my legacy to her.

Never one to be out-satired, especially by someone for whom I’ve striven to be a role model for years (with limited success), I challenged her choice of adjective, suggesting that it might actually be quite a serious banana. Bananas, after all, have a bad press in that they’re always held responsible for unfortunate slip-ups (NB and sic) by politicians and others. Rather than being mere instruments of comedy as they lie on pavements or in corridors of power waiting for unwary strollers, their intent may well be to draw attention to aspects of the ideology, theology or overall morality of those whom they target.

So compelling were these considerations that we didn’t even progress to speculating on the owners of the car, who’d chosen a dangling ornament which was colour-coded exactly with their paintwork, but implicit in that choice was a whole history involving jaundice, egg yolks, fluorescent safety vests, cowardice in the face of the enemy.

And so on, and so on.

Indeed, had my two grandsons not pretty soon made it clear that the various banana analogies were becoming homicidally tedious, we could have still been analysing the socio-political influence of bananas and their role in the development of Western Philosophy when Ben Lomond loomed over us.

I know that the main effect of this blog will be to make you vow never to return to it and certainly never to share a car with me, but it does have a point, at which we’ve almost arrived.

I put a short note summarising the above on my Facebook page, whereupon one of my friends wondered whether we’d considered there might be links with a banana republic.

So my point is this. When people ask ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ the answer is ‘Everywhere’. Because it’s not necessarily the original idea that’s so important but the life it takes on and the  infinity of directions it can follow. Words generate other words, synonyms, antonyms, and all of them open more doors, bring more layers of meaning. The banana was a silly example but, for that very reason, it makes the point better. If the initial idea is of greater significance – the death of an individual, the revenge of one person on another, the pulsing of some extreme passion – its ramifications are correspondingly greater.

All of which means that writing’s dead easy, doesn’t it?

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After a certain amount of sneering from the musicians who play for my morris dancing side, it dawned on me that my largely ornamental bodhran, which I bought years ago from some unknown location, was regarded by the musos as “not a real instrument.”  So I decided that this Christmas I would ask for a proper bodhran by a respected bodhran maker – one which did not immediately proclaim me to be a completely ignorant amateur.

I got some advice from our resident bodhran player and I’ve decided to pass it on in case anyone else is thinking of buying a bodhran.

Why did I decide to pass it on?  Am I simply an interfering old busybody?

Well, possibly.  But on Saturday I went into the largest music shop in Cambridge, to see if they had any bodhrans I could test out.  And they did.  They had a whole stack of bodhrans, 18″ in diameter, non-tuneable, with struts in the back and lovely looking decoration around the shell and on the drum skins themselves.

They were charging £80 for the cheapest of these, and I now knew enough to be appalled.  These were really badly made drums – worse made than my old thing, which looked like a quality piece of kit next to them.  They were worth perhaps £25, if you wanted something to learn on, or to hang on your wall.

What was so bad about them?


1. The drum shell was rough – neither varnished nor painted.  Not even properly sanded smooth.  You’d have got splinters from it.

2. The inner reinforcing ring, into which the tips of the staples/tacks holding the drum head protrude, did not even join.  There was a milimetre gap between the ends.

3. There was no tuning system (meaning that the skin would get lax and floppy in wet weather, and tighten possibly to the point of tearing in hot, dry weather.  It couldn’t be tightened or slackened off.)

4. The cross braces of the drum at the back were unsanded, and could not be removed.  Given that playing the bodhran involves the left hand travelling across the back of the skin, immovable cross braces are as useful as a headache.

5. The lip of the drum, across which the skin was stretched, was cut at a right angle.  This means that the tone of the drum will be flat and thin and knowledgeable listeners will wince when you play.

I thought “how awful!  If I was just taking up the drum and knew nothing, I might have bought one of these.  Then I’d be £80 out of pocket and the musos would still be laughing at me!”  So I thought I would do a post about what you should look for in a bodhran before you buy.

1. Unless you’re a giant with very long arms, 18″ is too big for most people.  I’ve borrowed a 15″ diameter one from John and that’s just right for a 5’5″ tall person like me.

2. It’s very important indeed that the lip of the drum, over which the skin is stretched, should be rounded.  This helps to give a truer note and a more mellow tone.

3. The drum shell should be sturdily and strongly made, and not show any signs of parting under stress.  It should be varnished or painted and butter smooth – you’re going to have it tucked under your elbow for hours, you don’t want splinters.

4. There should be an internal tuning system to tighten or slacken the skin depending on the weather.  You can get them with external tuning systems too, but I reiterate the bit about having it tucked under your elbow/armpit as you play.  Tuning bolts on the outside must be terribly uncomfortable.

5. You’re looking in a price range of approximately £150 and upwards for a good drum (but not that much far upwards.  If you’re into the £400s, you’ve probably gone too far.)  Ideally you would want to try them before you buy, but that’s not really possible unless you live near a maker or a really good shop.  I’ve had these recommended to me, so I’ll pass that on too:

Mog at Renegade Rhythms

Brendan White

Rolf at Bodhran Info.com

I’m currently borrowing a 15″ Mog, and I don’t really want to give it back 😉

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I must be getting used to this. I no longer get butterflies in the tummy as I go in through the door of Joe Daflo’s, I’m used to being the second youngest person present and I know that no-one will kill me if I say I write gay romance. I do still have the feeling that they’ll out me one day and discover that I’m not really a writer, but that’s more how I feel about me than how they feel.

Today’s speaker was Jenny Haddon – author, RNA treasurer and generally good egg. She was telling us about the history of the RNA, which celebrates 50 years of existence in 2010. They’ve undergone changes of name, and perhaps of mission, but the present day organisation’s aims are (in their words):

We work to enhance and promote the various types of romantic and historical fiction, to encourage good writing in all its many varieties, to learn more about our craft and help readers enjoy it.
Romantic Fiction covers an enormous range, from short stories through category romance and much of women’s fiction, to the classics. The nature of romantic fiction means that most of these novels are written and read by women. The RNA, however, boasts a number of very successful male authors amongst their membership.

The list of Past Officers boasts plenty of well known names, and it was the stories about some of these larger than life characters which enthralled us. There was no surprise in hearing tales of people who had Ivor Novello round to tea or ones who didn’t think you were ‘in’ unless you had royalty in your address book. What was more intriguing were tales of the author who travelled abroad to watch operas and came home wearing fur coats and jewels which belonged to Jewish people who were about to leave pre-war Europe (the valuables being, in effect, smuggled in plain sight so that when these émigrés arrived they would have something of value to sell).

Given the present hoo-hah on various fronts (you don’t need to spell that out, do you?) I listened to some of the early history trying to fight a wry grin. Back-biting, power struggles, people unable – or unused – to working together and having consensus decisions, all the familiar elements were there. Author branding and maintaining the image the public expect, the under-appreciation of romantic fiction by the ‘highbrow’ critics – plus ca change? And when Ms Haddon described organising authors as being like herding cats I wanted to shout out ‘Bingo!’

As I keep saying to any UK writers, find your local RNA chapter and hie thee hence. You’ll love it.

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So, this past Sunday was designated ‘The Big Lunch day, which was a campaign that set out to encourage people to get together and have group lunches – street parties, picnics, barbecues with their neighbours – all in the name of building stronger communities.

Now, I realise that it’s totally missing the point of the thing to drive a couple of hours over to my parent’s to have lunch with their neighbours, and that it’s missing the point with a cherry on top to then ask my best friend to drive an hour or so from the other direction to meet us for lunch, but opportunities to hang out with my family, chosen and blood, are not to be ignored.

The Big Lunch for my parent’s village was a hog-roast in the churchyard – a more food-oriented version of the Village Fair, in a way, with several familiar elements (the tents and gazebos, the bouncy castles, the twelve year old from the local school who not only wrangled the sound system but also stage managed the entertainments)

The local pub provided the beer tent, and local families chipped in salads, sides, and some mighty and delicious cakes for desert. Plenty of sharing of garden chairs and picnic blankets and so on. They got a good turn out too – most of the village, plus some family and guests – and I think they hit the desired note of ‘we’re all working together and having fun’.

A good day, then?

Yes, absolutely.

However: this is England, in July. That means, of course, it rained at us – not continuously, but in short, sharp, hard showers.

But then, this is England, in July, so the crowds merely retreated to the shelter of trees / tents / umbrellas and continued to picnic regardless.

There does come a point, though, when you are sitting there, eating your picnic, under your umbrella, in the rain, in a church yard with bunting and bouncy castles, and the sound system delivers Elgar, when you and your family and your best friend are struck by just how stereotypically English the whole thing is, and contract the helpless giggles.

So yes, a very good day!

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