Meet my Character Blog Tour – 16th August 2014

I was invited to participate in a “Meet My Character” blog tour by highly acclaimed author, Jane Cable, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Winchester Writer’s Festival. Jane’s big breakthrough in writing came when she was picked as a finalist in The Alan Titchmarsh Show’s People’s Novelist competition in 2011 and whose first published novel, The Cheesemaker’s House, is a gripping romance-suspense.

Click Here to read about Jane’s own Character

In this post, I’ll to be talking about my debut novel, Beginnings, which is the first book in my British thriller series, “Same Face Different Place.” When I first published on Kindle in 2012, my book attracted enough favourable reviews to motivate me to continue writing. So I’m going to reveal a little about ‘Eleanor’, much loved main character in this series.

SFDPbeginnings-thumb1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Eleanor Chapman a fictional character, who evolves throughout the series. In Book 1 ‘Beginnings’, she is a naive, yet feisty 16 year old, who’s spent the majority of her teenage years at boarding school. Now, she is back home in London, ready to start the school holidays, where her life is about to change forever.

2) When and where is the story set?

The story begins in 1972; an era characterised by Glam Rock fashion, flares, platform shoes, as well as early 70’s hippiedom. Most of the scenes are set around the dark criminal underworld of East London, which includes the shadier areas of Whitechapel, Poplar and Bethnal Green. 

3) What should we know about him/her?

Eleanor is a kind, sensitive and attractive girl of mixed race. Her mother (a glamourous afro-carribean nightclub singer, likened to Diana Ross) died when she was small, leaving her father in an emotional turmoil. She is not entirely sure what he does for a living but they never seem to go short of much. She is already suspicious of his mysterious, night time disappearances – struck by the notion, his boss is some sort of gangster.

What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

Eleanor’s father is forced to go on the run, leaving her in the care of an unscrupulous couple, who dump her in a brothel. Eleanor only very narrowly avoids becoming a prostitute, when she attempts to escape – except, to add to her troubles, she is caught up in a sinister conspiracy, when she discovers a young Dutch man, (Jake), being kept prisoner. She knows he is about to be killed and rescues him, oblivious to the mortal danger she is about to land herself in.

What is the personal goal of the character?

To stay hidden from dangerous enemies. She falls in love with Jake and will do anything to him him alive. They are lying low, desperate to escape from London to reach Jake’s homeland – and preferably without being spotted by the ruthless gang leader who is hunting them. Her later goal is protect their unborn child.

Is there a working title for this novel if it is a WIP, and can we read more about it?

The title of the book is ‘Beginnings,’ first book in my series, ‘Same Face Different Place’ (available on Amazon.) More information about this book and others in the series can be found on my website http://www.samefacedifferentplace.co.uk and also via my blog http://samefacedifferentplace.wordpress.com/ which has regular updates on the latest books in the series.

Helen Christmas

Bio: Helen Christmas was born in Chichester, West Sussex and now lives in a grade II listed cottage, with her husband, close to Aldwick Seafront. 

“Writing is something I am not only passionate about, but feel has always been in my blood. I have been writing stories since I was 6 years old and have always wanted to be an author.”

Helen is dedicated to writing not just one book, but four. She describes her series ‘Same Face Different Place’ as being “quintessentially English, with a powerful connection to the music, fashion, culture and politics of each decade.” The novels are part thriller and part romance, at the heart of which lies a mystery, which unravels over 4 decades.

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Characters in Context – 14th August 2014

I have recently been invited to take part in a “Character Blog Tour”  so watch this space, for when I publish this at a later date.

With characters on the brain, it struck me (as I am editing my 3rd novel ‘Pleasures’) that in the current chapter, a lot of characters are featured. This is unusual. It is a multi-stranded tale, with a huge cast of characters from both Books 1 and 2, where chapter, by chapter, the book tends to focus on one group, in particular. 

It seems odd, how so many have converged in this chapter – on the other hand, it is 1989, the story is about to hot up, as both sides prepare for war. So this is where I am at; and a great opportunity to blog about characters. For a change, I thought I’d list them as they appear throughout this chapter. I am not going  to describe them fully, but feature a book snippet for each one of them, to create a first impression.

Forest Scene:

Joshua Merriman (music journalist from London, now living in Aldwyck)

Joshua pulled up his hood and set off on foot. He strode along the woodland path – secure in the knowledge, the cloak of trees would conceal him, until finally, Westbourne House slid into view.

Toby Baxter (gentleman farmer)

“His original plan was to demolish the walled garden, to make way for a conference centre; but there was an outcry. Planning permission was refused.”

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Pub Scene: 

Joshua, his girlfriend, Lucy, along with the locals, including Toby’s father, Herbert and the pub landlord, Boris.

Joshua and Lucy squeezed into a corner, close to the bar – choosing one of the upright barrels, which served as a makeshift table. In some ways, Joshua hoped they were sufficiently hidden behind Herbert’s vast bulk, as he propped up the bar, still crowing over their victory.
“I swore to those kids, we’d keep an eye on that place!” he smirked, raising his beer glass, “get straight onto the council, if there was ever a hint he was trying to ruin it!”
“That was after ‘J’s’ funeral,” Boris reflected dreamily. “It seems, you kept your pledge, Herbert.”

Perry (ambitious property developer)

Rowena (his haughty wife)

Elliot (their long suffering butler)

Without warning, Perry strutted into the pub. His cold eyes swept around the room like searchlights, piercing into each one of them in turn. Rowena wandered in after him and to Boris’s even greater surprise, Elliot ambled submissively at the rear. Herbert stood his ground, turning on his heel, resolute in protecting Joshua from his probing eyes. Toby was quick to follow his lead – wary, the couple had already been given some hassle – and without knowing why, they suddenly felt nervous for them.

Caravan Scene:

Nathan, Perry’s security guard.

She opened her mouth as if to speak – when the angry roar of a motorbike burst through the silence. Joshua backed away – clocking the leather clad figure, straddling a Harley Davidson, now rolling towards the caravan.

Community Centre Scene:

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Rowena, Elliot 

Deep down, Rowena knew otherwise. She knew what demons lay in Perry’s past and it was an admission which turned her cold.

“Would you like me to enquire on your behalf?” Elliot suggested.

Peter (counsellor and manager Community Centre manager)

Peter stroked his chin, careful not to ask too much – unsure how much Elliot knew.
“And what sort of advice is Rowena hoping I can give you?” he frowned.

Eleanor (heroine of the story: nurse, mother, community volunteer)

Eleanor turned – she almost dropped her tray of cups, as he ambled, smiling towards her. “What are you doing here?” she breathed.

Avalon (aristocratic 19 year old, who works as an antique dealer)

Avalon found herself drifting towards the Community Centre, then froze. Her eyes stopped dead, as a familiar black Jaguar shimmered in the sunlight – her father’s old car? It couldn’t be! She found herself backing away, unable to make sense of it.

Avalon’s Dinner Party:

Avalon, Peter, William (Avalon’s brother, currently a sixth former)

By the time William came bounding into the room, he had changed into his denim jeans and a T-shirt, bearing a yellow smiley face and caption ‘Acid is Music, not Drugs.’
“So, tell me about Elliot!” he breathed, grabbing a beer from the kitchen. “You say, you saw him outside the Community Centre? With Rowena Hampton!”

Richard, Avalon’s boyfriend

For a moment, she studied his arrogant face – the small beard, which in some way, enhanced his pained expression and something inside her flipped.
“Avalon, for God’s sake!” he whined. “We need to talk…”

Village Scene:

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I could finish without mentioning the kids of the story, as they visit Aldwyck Village. Avalon and William, joined by:

Elijah (Eleanor’s 15 year old son, a visionary and an artist) 

Almost on cue, Elijah wandered into view. Ben smiled, clocking his appealing young face, the sweep of his long, slender brows, above those mysterious eyes. He might have sprung a little taller, but his looks hadn’t changed. Even the reddish gleam of his hair was discernible, despite the persistent gloom which sapped all the colour from the landscape.

Andrew (Elijah’s older step brother)

Andrew was impressed. He had only ever met Joshua very briefly. Yet he too, was captivated by this couple – loving their eclectic lifestyle, their slightly hippy style, as well as Joshua’s dedication to music. “You get to travel to gigs and interview bands?” he mused. “That sounds cool!”

Margaret (Elijah’s younger step sister)

Yet, no-one appeared to notice, that Margaret had said very little – her eyes dreamy, as they drifted beyond the window, where the allotments lay under a mantle of drizzle.

Matt and Angel (friends of Andrew)

Moments later, Elijah clambered into Joshua’s land rover, followed by two boys he didn’t recognise: one slightly hippy-like, with long, mousy hair tied in a ponytail – the other, some laid-back, West Indian boy, who’s long, loping strides reminded him of a panther.

Finally, Perry’s son Ben Hampton spies on them, accompanied by Nathan

“So, what do you supposed they’re up to?” he muttered, as if thinking out loud.
“What, other than surveying their precious land?” Ben sneered. He snatched back the binoculars, assessing the situation. “You’re right, this does seem a little odd. My guess is, they’re plotting something – though, I can’t imagine what.”

(Note: whenever an initial was used, I didn’t want to reveal who this character was)

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Retaining a Political Thriller Element 29th July 2014

Does the idea of a political thriller appeal? It certainly does to me. I have just edited a very powerful scene which really gets to the roots of the political conspiracy behind this series.

I am quite fascinated by politics, which is why I included this subject in my story – but without banging on about politics too much. I am trying to keep the subject light.

Urquart from UK TV drama 'House of Cards'Does anyone remember BBC’s 90s political thriller, ‘House of Cards?’ It is about a Machiavellian MP and his quest for power. He does in fact sound very much like my own arch villain, ‘Perry’ and leaves me hankering to watch it – especially as it contains scenes in Westminster. Sounds like a fun way of doing more research.

Maybe, I was a little too young to understand the real dirty nature of politics. Much as I love debates about politics, my early memories are based around listening my dad bellowing at the TV set, usually when someone like Arthur Scargill came on the news! But now I’m a little older and wiser.

On reflection, most of us find politics quite an interesting subject – yet our true interest only really lies in the way it affects our own lives. 

Same Face Different Place (the series) can loosely be described as my take on Britishness. It is filled with rich examples of the political scene from each decade. People may remember the trade unions, the strikes and power cuts of the 70s – the privatisation and soaring property values of the 80s.

But my book is not just about politics: it includes a political conspiracy, yet only lightly touches the subject of politics. The book is more about the characters, where the murder of a British MP is the underlying vein of the story – yet, it is how this atrocity penetrates the lives of a community, that creates the over-all drama.

Westminster

Lastly, I couldn’t finish this piece without a little teaser. 

Even Eleanor sensed, how excruciating it must have been to divide her loyalties. She had been allied to the Liberal Party, of which Albert was formerly a member; yet her relationship with Perry went deeper. Ever since their University days, they had known each other – they had even been lovers. In fact, they had remained close, right up until the day, Evelyn had bumped into him at that service station – where no-one could have failed to register the agony in her voice, given the horrible way their friendship had ended.

“Albert rose to power,” she mumbled. “He clawed his way up to the top and was almost unanimously accepted as new leader of the Labour Party. Ted Heath was Prime Minister. Yet, Labour were rapidly gaining popularity, especially with someone as passionate as Albert at the helm. It looked for all the world as if he would sweep the board at the next election, so Perry’s loathing intensified. As if being denied a chance to be an MP, wasn’t enough! But to see his rival, rise to power – it was unbearable! So he started a smear campaign.”

This is an extract from Book 3 ‘Pleasures’ which is currently in progress

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What is Pleasures about? 4th July 2014

This is a follow up to my last post 1st Edit of Pleasures gets underway.

In the opening chapters, characters both good and evil go head to head in a battle over a lucrative piece of land. At the same time, Eleanor is following a trail – determined to solve a mystery which will forever haunt her, though fearful of placing her only son in danger.

young-lovers-lightThis is also a story, where the children from Book 2 are growing up fast; affected by the events which left them scarred and determined to fight against injustice. In between the intense action and mystery solving, lie the minor story lines which reflect their everyday lives. This is how I develop and strengthen my characters and turn them into people who are believable – and so they suffer the growing pains of adolescence and form their first loving relationships.

Pleasures not only concentrates on the good characters in this saga, but the evil ones. Characters like Ben, whose hedonistic London lifestyle continues much as before – while desperately seeking a path into the criminal underworld. When he’s not tooting cocaine or making a mint at the London Stock exchange, he is getting up to all sorts of debauchery. Ben also has unfinished business – his warped mind wrapped around his one obsession, Avalon – determined to find a way of getting back into her life again.

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Readers will also see the return of his evil sidekick Nathan, a shaven-headed thug, whose dodgy connections eventually draw them into the domain of some very nasty criminals. Perry meanwhile, continues to keep him onboard as his spy – in addition to his glamourous Asian mistress, Alesha. Together, they are keeping Eleanor and her allies under careful watch – which means, she has to stay one step ahead of them.

Book 3 also sees the return of Dominic Theakston, menacing gangster from Book 1. He swears he’s severed all connections with organised crime for good, but has he? Outwardly determined to forge his own business empire, his link to Eleanor’s past is never going to go away – a situation designed to inject a new era of fear into the community.

Where Visions captured the characters’ ambitions and dreams – Pleasures is based on their desires. What turns people on? The issue of raves and acid house parties is a powerful theme, as the story moves towards the 90s and where recreational drugs and sex play an important role.

rave

It’s an ambitious work with story lines considerably more sensual than in the last two books. It’s now just a matter of making sure this story goes out with a bang, rather than a whimper – lastly, I aim to write one hell of a cliffhanger which will leave readers hankering for the final book of the series: Retributions.

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1st Edit of Pleasures gets underway – 3rd July 2014

I haven’t done much blogging lately, but on the other hand, I’ve been too busy writing – or more specifically, cracking on with the 3rd book of my series, ‘Pleasures.’

I began writing Book 3 on October 17th 2013 and on this occasion, prepared a very strong synopsis. This differs slightly to the the way I wrote my first 2 books. I had a head full of ideas, but I  was unsure as to how I would develop the story, until I actually knuckled down to it and then the ideas just kept flourishing. I sort of made it up as I went. But I am not exaggerating when I say, my second book, Visions, ran into problems. This deeply moving drama (which was the book I always wanted to write), did not pan out quite as I hoped which resulted in almost a total re-write. Even Book 1, Beginnings suffered major plot changes. So by the time I launched into the 3rd episode, I wanted to be sure, I knew, exactly where the story was going, before I wrote a single word.

It was good to go in with a plan: and as usual, I backed my writing up with research starting with a good look round the Internet and Youtube, delving into such subjects as Rave Culture, the 1987 Hurricane and the stock market crash, Black Monday – all significant and newsworthy items for the era in which the book is set. I also managed to squeeze in another trip to London, this time venturing into Pimlico (home of villainous Perry Hampton) which I never even wrote a blog about.

Pimlico London

1st Look at Pimlico using Google Earth (Prior to my visit)

By the end of June, however, it was time to pause – reflect on what I’ve written so far: because by this point, the story had spiralled to a gripping climax which left me suspended on a massive adrenalin high – and this is the problem. It is such an explosive storyline, I’m floundering – unsure how to wrap it all up, without the story fizzling out.

So before I write the ending, I have decided to do a first edit to see how the book is shaping up so far. I have to say I am very pleased with it, in it’s current form – and with no desire to re-write it!

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A Rambling Good Holiday in the Lake District – 10th June 2014

There are few places I have been, which offer quite such dramatic scenery as the Lake District – but ever since we arrived home from Cumbria, I’ve had this yearning to jot down the memories, while they’re fresh in my mind.

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We did in fact, have a little taster when we stayed in a friend’s family cottage on the way up to Scotland, last year; a time when it rained constantly, leaving us wondering what splendid views crouched behind the curtain of thick grey mist, surrounding Derwent Water. We were at least able to snatch a tiny glimpse of Buttermere, which was enough to lure us back there. So we arrived at the same rustic cottage, with its crumbly white walls, surrounded by a wild landscape of bumpy grass, dry stone walls and where our only neighbours were a few cows and hundreds of sheep.

On the first day, we set out for Skiddaw – but petrified by the first sight of a razor-sharp ridge leading to an impossibly high peak, we headed for nearby Mungrisdale (convenient, considering we forgot to pack my walking boots) so with little other choice than to walk in crocs, we opted for a gentler route. But neither myself or my husband are that fit! It took a couple of hours to slog up that never-ending hill. By the time we reached the top, I thought I was going to die – though, the views up there were stunning. Piles of rocks marked the 2,400 ft peak, before we picked our way cautiously down the heather cloaked hillsides to ‘the Tongue’ and back through the valley, before finally collapsing in The Mill Inn, for a well deserved drink.

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With aching calves, backs, sore feet and stiff bum muscles, we pursued day 2 at a slightly more moderate pace – starting with a visit to the stone circle known as ‘Long Meg and her Daughters,’ (Local legend claims that Long Meg was a witch who with her daughters, was turned to stone for profaning the Sabbath, as they danced wildly on the moor!)

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We also explored the village of Little Salkeld and discovered its beautiful watermill and organic teashop, where we stopped for coffee and toured the mill, before purchasing a loaf of their delicious wholegrain bread, along with shortbread and treacle flapjacks. We rounded off our day with a lovely walk, passing the old railway line, a patchwork of farmland and a beautiful river, before we arrived at some unusual caves, carved from reddish brown rock.

On the 3rd day we went our separate ways, where Peter and I visited Grasmere for the day. It’s a popular area, which draws an abundance of Japanese tourists, yet we discovered ‘Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread Shop’ a tiny kitchen, built in 1630, where we were able to purchase a few local goodies as gifts.

The highlight of our day, however, was a guided tour of Dove Cottage: home to the famous poet, William Wordsworth.

Sarah Nelson's Gingerbread Shop (L) and Dove Cottage (R)

Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread Shop (L) and Dove Cottage (R)

We were lucky to enjoy a day of sunshine, where his garden presented a relaxing haven, we found almost impossible to leave – a tranquil setting, filled with flowers and the chime of birdsong. We sat in a small wooden shelter, enjoying the mountain views, in between leafing through the poems – I even felt a compulsion to write something myself, in the little notebook I carry around, just so I can say “I wrote this paragraph in the garden of William Wordsworth” – hoping it might be a lucky omen.

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Two days of gentle sightseeing left us restless – time to venture out for another challenging walk and this time, we drove to Borrowdale; first to view some of the local beauty spots which included Ashton Bridge and Bowder Stone; before we attempted to stop at Lodore Falls. The weather was wet for the first time this holiday, which culminated in an entire day of almost non-stop rain; but it didn’t deter us, as we resolutely made our way to Rosthwaite, before heading up to Castle Cragg: another long, uphill trudge which gradually became steeper as we struggled to reach the top.

borrowdale-combi

Despite low cloud, mist and rain, the views were stunning. The homeward journey was nearly as challenging as my rain soaked boots squelched their way down the spongy, waterlogged hillsides. But a quick stop in the warming embrace of the ‘Flock In,’ teashop was a memory worth cherishing and serves sticky toffee pudding in two sizes: ramblers’ portion or plodders’ portion!

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Next day, and after the gruelling ordeal of Castle Cragg, we combined a driving tour with a slightly shorter walk, where nothing could compare with the enchanting beauty of Aria Falls. A tranquil woodland walk guided us gently uphill, via a series of steps cut into the footpaths, leading to magical views of the waterfalls, tumbling from various different levels.

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The rest of the day was taken up by a leisurely drive around Ullswater, taking in the stunning scenery of Kirkstone Pass and Troutbeck. We even managed a quick glance at the historic Yeoman’s farmhouse of Townend (now owned by the National Trust) though didn’t quite have enough time to visit.

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The last day was special and like a gift from the Gods, the sun came out – a perfect opportunity to indulge in a boat trip around Derwent water, where the waters reflected the sapphire blue light of the sky. As it was a ‘hop on hop off’ tour, we were able to stop at various points, where we finally got to see Lodore Falls – followed by an attempt to climb ‘Catbells’ though the weather was so sunny, we were satisfied to get half way up from where the views of the lakes took our breath away.

derwent-combi

Lastly, we had booked tickets to Keswick Beer Festival and with over 200 beers to choose from, it was difficult to know where to start. I’m not actually a big fan of tepid real ale! Though I did discover a brew known as Castle Rock ‘Screech Owl which possessed a sweet and pleasing flavour.

It really was a very nice holiday and we plan to go back. We only really explored the northern end of Cumbria, with the southern lakes yet to explore.

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Bluebell Woods – Another beautiful feature of Britain – 28th April 2014

Whenever I am invited to write a guest blog, such as my recent ‘Teatime Interview’ courtesy of ‘A Woman’s Wisdom,’ I am often asked for a short bio: I nearly always make mention of the fact that my husband and I share a passion for long country walks and belong to a local walking group.

Of course, England is renowned for one thing, this time of year – BLUEBELLS. Which is one of the reasons we nearly always offer up a bluebell walk – and this year was no exception! Together we ventured up to Slindon Folly, to discover a woodland floor which was literally smothered in a carpet of rich purple. It’s such an amazing sight and these flowers sweeten the air with a most delightful floral fragrance.

Bluebell Woods in East Ashling

Bluebell Woods in East Ashling

But  English bluebells are sadly, becoming a species under threat as a result of the more invasive and larger Spanish bluebell. It is distinguished from the common bluebell by its paler, larger blue flowers, more erect flower stem, broader leaves, blue anthers (where the common bluebell has creamy-white ones) and little or no scent compared to the strong fragrant scent of the northern species. Wherever you see Spanish bluebells they can cross-pollinated with our indigenous ones – but as the Spanish variety is more dominant, they are slowly taking over. More worryingly, its distribution has also been increasing in woodland areas – the preferred habitat of the UK’s native bluebell and home to some of its oldest populations.

Hannah Briggs from the BBC quotes: “Native bluebell woodlands are one of Britain’s most iconic countryside images and we should make every effort to protect them.” See: www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17597489

All I can add is that we should cherish our native bluebells while we still have them – so visit your local beauty spot where they grow, take photos, publish them on social networks – and if you wish, please share this post!

A White variety of bluebell

A White variety of bluebell

Lastly, I couldn’t end this post without quoting a small extract from Book 2 VISIONS – since our lovely English countryside is always such a powerful inspiration behind my story writing:

“… Eleanor continued to absorb herself in the splendour of his estate, helplessly oblivious to the unravelling thread of events, about to alter their destiny. As Spring turned into summer, so they witnessed a gradual change in their surroundings; from the last bluebells of May, where a prolific carpet radiated an iridescent purple haze – to the towering spikes of foxgloves, alongside banks of intense blue delphiniums. By June, even the first roses had begun to reveal their beauty – a time when Eleanor had almost forgotten the troubles which had plagued them in the past. Charlie too, became fully immersed in his various building assignments – privileged to be in command of such an exciting restoration.”

For further information on my second novel, Visions, a psychological thriller based in the idyllic English countryside of Kent, check out my link on Amazon.

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