Reflections from the Yorkshire Dales – 22nd July 2016

It’s that time of year when we’ve returned from our holiday and I’m bursting with inspiration to write about it! As an author, we couldn’t have picked a better place than the Yorkshire Dales, (though I had no idea at the time that this lovely, hidden part of Britain was also home to the Brontë sisters.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We were fortunate to arrive in clear sunshine where the view from our stone-built cottage, in the conservation village of Luddenden, rewarded us with breath-taking views over the hills. Aptly named ‘Cottage in the Sky’ it was located on a steep hill set above another property, a style known locally as an ‘over-dwelling’ unique to the Calder Valley.

So what can I share about this wonderful location to tempt people?

It is a perfect place for walkers, great for the dog and the people are very friendly. It was this ‘village community’ spirit that uplifted us from day one, starting with the trip to the local pub. People had plenty of time to chat and make us feel welcome. After tottering down a steep, cobbled hill to ask directions, a local lady explained, it was ‘down’t hill, turn left and on’t right’ before we got chatting. Ten minutes later, my husband got caught in a another conversation with two lads, delighted to give us a run down of their best recommendations for our stay.

When we eventually got to the pub, I was tempted by the homemade ‘Cheese and Potato Pie.’ Why not order something local? (when in Rome etc…) It was delicious but as I was only able to manage half of this sinful stodge-fest, I knew I needed to do a lot of walking to burn up those calories – not a problem. Luddenden is a most idyllic place for rambling with ancient woods, streams and fields of sheep, criss-crossed with dry stone walls – soaring hills dotted with pretty stone cottages, farms and even a local winery.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hebdon Bridge

Nearby Hebdon Bridge, our nearest town, was also a delight with quirky, artistic shops, galleries, lovely stone architecture and we took our Barney to a dog friendly café, the Lamp Post – with sack beds to lie on and a menu for ‘hounds and humans.’ Further afield we discovered Hardcastle Crags, a steep ravine of wooded paths, pine forests, white water rapids, waterfalls and millstone stacks braced high up in the ferns.

Hardcastle Crags

Hardcastle Crags

Harrogate

We visited Harrogate too – a beautiful spa town with elegant shops and acres of floral parks. A walk through Valley Park and beyond led us to panoramic views and the RHS Gardens at the top where we visited ‘Betty’s Tea Rooms’ if only to gaze at their stunning cakes and confectionary; a super place to buy gifts.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Keighley and Worth Valley Railway

My favourite day by far though, was a steam train adventure on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, travelling through the staggering Yorkshire countryside with stops along the way. It was during this trip, we stopped in Haworth and visited the famous Bronte Parsonage Museum where I was hit by a strange sense of fate…

Haworth

How incredible to gaze across a writing table where Charlotte Brontë created her world famous masterpiece, Wuthering Heights; to discover artefacts, from pen nibs and quills, to extracts from notebooks. I was particularly moved by a review written of the ‘Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ by Ann Brontë – so much, I actually wrote it down: “The Bells are of hardy race… The air they breath is not that of the hot house, or of perfumed apartments: but it whistles through the rugged thorns that shoot out their prickly arms on barren moors, or it ruffles the moss on the mountain tops.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The spookiest thing happened when I wandered downstairs, to feel a needle sharp jab in my finger as it was pierced by a splinter. One of the curators was quite alarmed and yet it was not; as if I was thinking of suing them – far from it! What I felt was a sense of destiny. I had a splinter from the original Brontë staircase embedded in my flesh like a thorn which immediately called to mind that review – its reference to prickly arms. Was this the ghost of one of the sisters? A chance to look deep into my soul and contemplate my place in the literary world? It’s unlikely I will be famous and this is not the reason I write. But it would be nice to imagine that one day, one of my stories may touch others as I was stirred by their presence in this magnificent museum that was their home.

Posted in England, Locations, Social History, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Author Q and A Sessions – 27th July 2016

I’ve been involved in a few more Q&A sessions recently thanks to two kind-hearted Book Bloggers who took the time and trouble to publish an author’s interview on their websites for me:

The latest article coincided very nicely with a Summer Reads promotion I was involved in with CHINDI Authors (a networking group of self-published authors who get together to share ideas, host events and generally help other writers who want to get their work published.) Summer Reads was something quite different.

Summer Reads

As well as promoting our books, we used Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest as forums for sharing writing tips and we also put up a few 6-word story writing challenges.

Helen Christmas writing tips1 twitter Helen Christmas writing tips2 twitter Helen Christmas writing tips3 twitter

And finally, we held some interesting author Q&A Sessions live on our Facebook page.

These a lot of fun and a good way of using social networks to share our ideas and keep others informed about our individual journeys into publishing. I won’t say much more about my own live session but I decided to include a transcript (from Facebook) to show how this transpired. I hope it will inspire others to run their own Facebook Q&A sessions and hope some of the answers I gave will be of interest to other authors.

Facebook Transcript from a live Facebook Q&A Session:

Live Facebook Q&A

Chindi Authors Hello Helen, Good luck and for those who have not yet read your books, how would you describe your series of romantic thrillers Same Face Different Place?

Helen Christmas Hi to all the Chindi Authors out there. There’s a lot to this series – such as conspiracy theory and police cover ups, the criminal underworld of the 70s and more… the principal characters in book 1 are two young people on the run, who fall in love. It is the start of mystery that unrolls over 4 decades.

Chindi Authors Do you base any of your characters on real people

Helen Christmas I love this type of question! Well Ted Heath featured in the first book as did Maggie Thatcher in the 2nd but not as characters. The characters in my story are all fictitious, though some of their traits are based on real people.

Christine Hammacott Hi Helen what made you set your stories in the past?

Helen Christmas Hi Christine. I’ve seen a lot of political and social changes throughout my life so I wanted to include a bit of that history. I also loved the music and the fashion of each decade. As soon as I’d finished book 1, I actually quite missed the 70s. But I enjoyed revisiting the 80s which is where the 2nd book kicks off.

Chindi Authors Who are your favourite authors, who do you feel has influenced you the most?

Helen Christmas I was a big fan of Jilly Cooper, Leslie Pearce and Martina Cole but I greatly admire the work of Ken Follett (official) who writes wonderful sagas based around real life historic events.

Carol Thomas Writers are often readers too, what is on your summer reading list?

Helen Christmas Hi Carol – well you’ll be pleased to know that yours is on that list but I have a few others lined up to take on holiday. 

M’TK Sewer Rat – End of Empire by Delinda McCann
A contemporary drama set in a fictional third world country which sounds intriguing.
A Taste of Ash by Christine Hammacott which is a psychological thriller and looks to be very gripping.
I have a couple of hard backs too, including Past Imperfect by Michael Parker, so plenty to choose from.

JJ Morval Hi Helen, how long does the first draft, or ‘creative’ draft, before you get to the editing stage of each book, take for you, and do you have a plan that you work to?

Helen Christmas Hi Nick! Book 1 Beginnings took me about 6 months to write from start to finish, I just stormed through. But I made some changes to the first edit which influenced the whole book, so it was a bit of a rewrite. For the later books, I reckon about a year for the first draft and then another year for all the editing stages so it’s about 50/50.

JJ Morval When I start writing, not all of my characters are there, and sometimes I like not knowing everything. Do you ‘know’ all your charcters before you start?

Helen Christmas No, not at all, many have developed along the timeline of the story and became bigger characters.

JJ Morval Thank goodness I’m not alone…:)

Alexander Wallis Hi Helen, what advice would you give to young people who say they don’t like reading?

Helen Christmas If the world seems empty and nobody is listening, pick up a book and read… It might help.

Alexander Wallis Beautifully put!

Chris Casburn Do you translate your books for an American audience?

Helen Christmas No. My series is a quintessentially English series, as depicted in my Facebook page Helen J. Christmas – author of Same Face Different Place

Chris Casburn I’m not a big fan Of Anazon. Are your books available anywhere else?

Helen Christmas Yes, they are available from the Chindi Authors Book shop as signed paperbacks PLUS I have made a feeble attempt to get my book on i-tunes too (via a company called Draft2Digital who do all the hard work for you) so Book 1 Beginnings is available through other channels. I need to do the others in the same format to reach a wider audience. Thanks for the reminder:)

Kirsti Lelliott What writing rituals do you have, special pens, places to write, etc?

Helen Christmas Sorry for the delay, Kirstie. Writing rituals… I start at 6am, pour myself a glass of water and our dog joins me in the office whilst I write for a couple of hours. Early mornings are good – no distractions x

Kirsti Lelliott No worries thank you for the replies:-) x

Carol Thomas – Author I know you gave a talk at the Worthing Wow festival about social media, what is your top social media tip for writers?

Helen Christmas Establish a brand that represents you and your books, be it a cover image, a colour scheme or background. My debut thriller had a striking image of London’s cityscape in the 1970s which I used in the background of my Facebook and Twitter headers as well as on my website and blog. It helps people to recognise you as an author.

Mason Thomas Hi Helen, are your books available as audiobooks if not is this something you plan to do?

Helen Christmas Hello Mason. No, I’m afraid not. I did approach a company through Amazon but there were no offers for auditions (possibly needed someone with a cockney accent). Maybe one day, I will create the audio books myself.

Angela Petch How do you go about editing? It is a tricky business for self-published authors BUT very important.

Helen Christmas Hi Angela and yes, it is. Writing that first draft is the fun part because it’s all about us and what turns us on. The next editing stage is for our audience. I usually do at least 2 edits before I pass the work onto beta readers to get their feedback. After that, I take on board their comments and do another edit. It’s an exhausting process but you want to get it just right before you publish.

Doreen Mason Your book covers are very striking, who creates them for you and how did you decide on the images?

Helen Christmas Thanks so much, Doreen. I actually designed them myself. I am a graphic designer by trade with access to lots of photo libraries and I also use photoshop. Book 3 Pleasures is actually a combination of 3 images, from 123RF and istock.

Doreen Mason Well you obviously do a great job!

Helen Christmas I’m really pleased you like them, thank you =D

Kirsti Lelliott Hi Helen:-) Do you interview people who have lived through the decades you write about or do you rely on other sources?

Helen Christmas Hi Kirsti:) Yes, I have interviewed real people – one is a retired army officer who served in the 90s and has really helped me with book 4. Others include a police officer (and dare I say it) a former ecstasy dealer and DJ who was big in the 90s rave scene.

Carol Thomas – Author Which of your books have you most enjoyed writing and why?

Helen Christmas Thanks for asking: Books 1, 2 and 3 are 99p on Amazon at the moment, so I hope I can tempt some new readers… I absolutely loved writing the first one and got completely swept away by it, not only the setting (which was a result of extensive research) but the story line and the characters! It took me to another world.

Doreen Mason Hello, how often do you write and how long does it take you to complete one of your books?

Helen Christmas Hello Doreen. I make time to write every day, usually first thing in the morning (I always wake up about 5:30) and read it back later in the evening when I do a few edits. On average, it takes about a year to write the first draft and then comes the editing – Book 2 Visions and Book 3 Pleasures each took me about 2 years from start to finish.

Carol Thomas – Author How do you divide your time between promotion and writing?

Helen Christmas Writing is the fun part, Carol, the marketing is a relentless chore but we all have to do it if we’re self published. I give far greater priority to the writing which is maybe where I go wrong but at the end of the day, you have to blow your own trumpet because no-one is going to do it for you. I’d say about 75% writing and 25% marketing for me. That might change when I’ve finished the series.

Angela MacAskill How do you keep track of your plot, characters, sub plots and so forth as you write?

Helen Christmas Hmm… I have a synopsis as a blue print and I am currently working on a first draft but things do change. There are parts I have scrapped and new parts I have added but when you write a series, you really get to know your characters; their back story, their lives and everything that happens to them. It’s all in my head but I have my notes, synopsis and research to refer to as well as the earlier books.

Rob Lelliott Evening Helen – are you influenced by films and TV dramas, if so which?

Helen Christmas Hello, Rob. I used to love the Inspector Morse series and this was mainly the reason I went for a very convoluted plot with lots of characters. But I write from the heart – so good character stories work well for me too. I liked the TV series ‘Bad Girls’ and I also like ‘Game of Thrones’ for its amazing characters.

Angela MacAskill How many more books do you plan in the SFDP series?

Helen Christmas Hello Angela. Thanks for asking. I’m writing the final instalment and it’s huge! It progresses through the 90s and has covered 5 years but ideally, I want the big finale to happen in the year 2,000 followed by an epilogue which will be a catch up in 2012 where all the characters are reunited again.

The Creatures of Chichester Do you have any tips on editing your books?

Helen Christmas Hi Chris, lovely to hear from you and I hope you had a great time in Sicily! (lucky thing) To answer your question… from the 1st draft, the second edit is a visionary process – you have to turn your work into entertainment and write it for your audience and not for yourself; for me that means cutting out any waffle and tightening up the story to keep the pace moving. After that, it’s a case of polishing up the writing style, dialogue and descriptions. After that it’s a matter of fine tuning it and making sure it all flows.

The Creatures of Chichester If your books were made into a film. Who would you pick as your leading actors?

Helen Christmas That is a tricky question, Chris and I can picture my characters in my head but here goes… there is an actor Ben Drew (also known as singer, rapper Plan B) who would be brilliant as the evil gangster in the later part of the series (from Pleasures onwards) and Billy Boyd (played Pippin in Lord of the Rings) would be great as Peter Summerville, a gentle Irish Community worker.

Sylvia Endacott Hi, how are you going with your further book. Having written the first three, are you finding it more difficult to tie up the loose ends.

Helen J. Christmas – author of Same Face Different Place I tied up another of those loose ends today! Some of these characters deserve a truly happy ending :) and there is now just one final section to finish.

Sylvia Endacott Great news.

Helen J. Christmas – author of Same Face Different Place I tied up another of those loose ends today! Some of these characters deserve a truly happy ending :) and there is now just one final section to finish.

Posted in Blogging, England, Fictional Characters, Self Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Writer to Picker – 15th June 2016

Just for a change, I thought I’d write a blog about something completely different: my work experience as an online shopper at Sainsbury’s which is unlike any other job I have ever known.

People wonder why I did this job for as long as I did but I’m not complaining – after a lifetime of high stress jobs in marketing, graphic design and publishing, it was good to get back to the grass roots of a working community. Being in a proper work place was refreshing; a sense of camaraderie that we were all in the same boat! The reason I did it in the first place was to earn some extra cash as a Christmas Temp but in March 2015, I was offered permanent contract.

Online shopping

The Positives:

People in the job came from all walks of life; from 18 year old school leavers to folk who were nearer retirement age and interestingly enough, lots came from ‘high’ professions. Among my colleagues were senior accountants, nurses, designers and computer programmers. So the barriers of age, sex, class and education didn’t exist here. It was the closest I have ever come to a truly egalitarian society.

The work is repetitive but by no means dull. Online shopping is massive and has been on the rise for the last decade – so the job was in effect ‘shopping’ for other people. I didn’t mind. I actually quite like food shopping anyway, so it didn’t feel like work to begin with. You get to see all the new brands and the choice of products is staggering.

Another aspect of ‘online shopping’ I couldn’t help doing was picturing each customer as I shopped.

  • Small single items such as sardines, prunes and custard suggested an elderly customer.
  • Bigger shops with plenty of lunchbox snacks, crisps and sweets suggested a busy parent with kids.
  • Healthy customers who choose organic products and lots of veggies.
  • The ‘not so health conscious’ who pack their order with biscuits and crisps (with few veggies)
  • I had the ‘budget shoppers,’ who chose ‘value’ products (easy to spot since the packaging was orange)
  • and my favourites, were the discerning customers who like ‘taste the difference’ items (just as easy to spot since the packaging is purple) and prefer no substitutes.

So after having completing 8-24 ambient shops and 4-12 chilled shops, I had gist of the people I might have shopped for, even though I never met them face to face.

The Negatives
pickers1

It’s a good thing to be an early riser since a job as an online shopper at Sainsbury’s requires getting up at the crack of dawn! It was a wrench to start work at 5am (and many  started at 4am!) The majority of shoppers (i.e. those who do their own) prefer us off the shop floor before the store gets busy. No-one appreciates big trolleys clogging up the aisles, though at Christmas, it wasn’t always possible. Large orders meant people like me having to stay late while a stampede of early birds came in at 6am to get their Christmas shop over with! Needless to say, we got in each others’ way.

I can’t deny the hours were unsociable. I thought it was awesome to finish at 9:00 in the morning and have the rest of my day. But it did leave me with a dragging tiredness, leading sluggish brain syndrome! As a writer, a bit of a problem, creative flow severely hampered.

stephanieLastly, the work was intense, fast and physical. My best picking speed was 130 items per hour yet there were times it fell below that and however fast you went, they always cranked up the pressure to go faster. But that’s the modern work place. The reason I had to leave was an acute tendonitis in my thumb joint and severe wrist pains from lifting heavy items and handling the totes when they were loaded with shopping. Milk for example, weighs a ton, especially when customers want 5 x 6 pint flagons of the stuff!

Reflection

I’m pleased I stuck this out for as long as I did. I met some great people and the work, whilst hard, was absorbing – in fact, the time flew by. I got quite used to it eventually, as well as the early start not to mention little nest egg in my bank.

Now I’ve finished, I’ve have fewer aches and pains and it’s good to have my ‘writing time’ back – with Book 4 ‘Retribution’ to finish, I am on a mission to complete the series now.

Who knows, my next book might be set in the future where online shopping will play a major part, so maybe this experience will come in useful one day!

Posted in England, Environment, Research, Social History, The Decades, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Christoph Fischer

How Research can turn into Inspiration

christoph-portraitIt is an absolute pleasure to invite fellow author, Christoph Fischer as a guest writer on my blog. It was several years ago, I was lucky enough to meet him and we got to know each other by networking, mostly via Facebook. I have read and reviewed his book, the Luck of the Weissensteiners, a passionate wartime drama of a jewish family’s under the threat of the Nazis. I was curious to know how he might have researched his novels.

Over to you, Christoph

Most of my research starts out as regular reading, un-related to writing. For example, while digging up information about my family’s roots in Slovakia, I first had the idea for my novel “The Luck of the Weissensteiners”. Suddenly the reading became more involved and I started to make fact sheets for locations and dates to use while writing the novel. I made a timeline for all the big background events, read novels that were set at the same time and tried to get hold of eye witness reports, so as to know as many details about the history as humanly possible.

I’m very nervous about being “caught out” by historians and always make sure that I have information from two independent sources before using it in my work, preferably one printed and one on the internet.

Even for my mystery books I try to check all the facts as not to distract expert readers with a silly error. For my medical thriller “The Healer” I consulted a friend who is a Doctor to make sure that my descriptions of all procedures were accurate.

I’m consoled by a story from Ian McEwan who spent months shadowing a surgeon for “Saturday”, only to find that the car he assigned to his character in the novel came as automatic only, and not as gear driven as he had mentioned in the novel. It gets to show how many traps there are for a writer.

Yes, I can identify with that! I’ve made similar mistakes myself so it is definitely worth checking these things out – so on to the next topic:

How has the research process shaped your latest novel?

With my latest novel, “Ludwika”, things were a little different. Friends of mine asked me to help them to find out more about their Polish mother’s time in Nazi Germany. Since they didn’t speak German, my sister and I had to conduct the search for them. We had contact with archives and eye witnesses who were still alive. I got drawn into reading books about the time and places and searching Wikipedia pages. What had happened in Poland during the war, beside the death camps and the Warsaw Ghetto? I wanted to know for myself.

Ludwika’s was a real story, so I had no intention to use it for a book. However, Ludwika and her story, the mystery behind what we didn’t know about her, and the tragedy of that we did know, gradually formed a narrative and a character that I couldn’t leave alone.
So I did the same as with “The Luck of the Weissensteiners” and composed fact sheets, time lines and began writing.

Research is like solving a puzzle.

It is incredible how writing can draw you into a different world and the book sounds really intriguing. So can you tell us more about it?

Ludwika: A Polish Woman’s Struggle To Survive In Nazi Germany

ludwika-book-conceptIt’s World War II and Ludwika Gierz, a young Polish woman, is forced to leave her family and go to Nazi Germany to work for an SS officer. There, she must walk a tightrope, learning to live as a second-class citizen in a world where one wrong word could spell disaster and every day could be her last. Based on real events, this is a story of hope amid despair, of love amid loss . . . ultimately, it’s one woman’s story of survival. 

Editorial Review: 

“This is the best kind of fiction—it’s based on the real life. Ludwika’s story highlights the magnitude of human suffering caused by WWII, transcending multiple generations and many nations.

WWII left no one unscarred, and Ludwika’s life illustrates this tragic fact. But she also reminds us how bright the human spirit can shine when darkness falls in that unrelenting way it does during wartime.

This book was a rollercoaster ride of action and emotion, skilfully told by Mr. Fischer, who brought something fresh and new to a topic about which thousands of stories have already been told.”

You can download, the book on Amazon here: http://bookShow.me/B018UTHX7A

And finally, a little about Christoph

christoph-booklaunchChristoph Fischer was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. In 1993 he moved to the UK and now lives in Llandeilo in West Wales. He and his partner have several Labradoodles to complete their family.

Christoph worked for the British Film Institute, in Libraries, Museums and for an airline. His first historical novel, ‘The Luck of The Weissensteiners’,  was published in November 2012 and downloaded over 60,000 times on Amazon. He has released several more historical novels, including “In Search of A Revolution” and “Ludwika”. He also wrote some contemporary family dramas and thrillers, most notably “Time to Let Go” and “The Healer”.

Useful Links and Social Networks

Website
Blog
Goodreads
Amazon
Twitter
Pinterest
Google +
LinkedIn
Facebook

A very big thanks goes out to Christoph for sharing this with me and I wish him the very best with his future writing projects.

Posted in Guest Posts, Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Back to Writing: an update – 6th May 2016

BookCover-BlackSince I wrote my post ‘Time for a Break‘  on April 11th, I am pleased to be back in the writing saddle, so to speak. I am now pressing ahead with the final chapters of Book 4 Retribution before the book (and indeed the whole Same face Different Place series) reaches a dramatic finale.

I have given myself a deadline until August to complete the first draft but then comes the editing; the process of reshaping everything I have written so far into a tighter, more cohesive novel. In the three decades I’ve covered, I’ve brought in a lot of characters and with each developing story line, so emerged many more. My promise to readers of the previous books is that there is more of everything the series is renowned for – larger than life gangland villains, heart-wrenching emotions, love, hate, cruelty, compassion and suspense by the bucket load. It’s not easy to say when the book will be released but I’m gunning for summer 2017.

In the meantime, here are some other things I’ve been up to:

Blogging

Last month, I was delighted to be featured as a guest blogger on Sandra Danby’s website, talking about research. To see the feature, click here.

I have joined a new group ‘Mystery People’ run by Lizzie Haynes with her own blog, Mystery People website and e-newsletter filled with reviews and features for mystery crime writers.

Now I’ve started engaging with other new writers and book bloggers, I have some exciting author Q&A Interviews lined up in the coming months which I will promote as they occur.

Event

At the end of May, I will be participating in a talk at Worthing Library event with CHINDI authors. The event is scheduled for 7-9pm on Tuesday 31st May at Worthing Library. Between us we will be covering the topics of  different Publishing Platforms, Book Cover Design, Editing & Proofreading, PR and Social Media before throwing the floor open to questions.

New Publicity Material

I have just designed a new poster, covering the first 3 books and matching postcards in time for this event. Designs are as below (you can click to enlarge the images).

Postcard-2016

poster-2016

So that’s it for May and I expect I’ll be doing an update on the Worthing talk, unless there is any other exciting news in the mean time.

Posted in Blogging, Self Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Beauty of Listed Buildings – 19th April 2016

A chance visit to Blackburn in Lancashire inspired me to write this post, mainly because it evoked my love of historic buildings. The Mercure Blackburn Dunkenhalgh Hotel and Spa in Clayton Le Moors is such an example, described as ‘a converted 700-year-old country manor in a tranquil setting.’

mercurehotel

Modern architecture has its place in today’s society where a progression of more efficient construction techniques and machinery has resulted a rapid turnaround and faster return, compared to the years of exhaustive toil endured by hundreds of labourers. Yet it is important that these older buildings are preserved, if for no other reason to honour the skill and craftsmanship that prevailed in years gone by.

The first sight of this building was breathtaking; a square construction of golden stone, two wings topped by crenelated battlements reminiscent of a castle. The interior was even more beautiful. The rooms feature panelled ceilings with decorative plasterwork (known as a cornice) as well as huge windows. They are adorned with pelmets and drapes of a heavy brocade and the furniture has a traditional feel that reminds you of a stately home.

Panelled Ceilings are an attractive feature of historic Houses

Panelled Ceilings are an attractive feature of historic Houses

So why this interest in traditional architecture? It was the sight of the fine staircase that prompted me to write this – allowing me to recapture memories of my second book Visions, the start of a long and absorbing research project into the restoration of older properties.

I was interested in period property before I wrote Visions; a subject that is extremely complex where I found myself hankering to express some of my passion into my novel.

The plot is equally complex. James Barton-Wells is the owner of a magnificent country hotel built in the 1700s and passed down through his family – but it is the fated visit of a property developer from London that sends his life plunging into chaos. The house is in need of extensive restoration and without it, James faces the agonising prospect of losing his ancestral home.

Little does he know that he is the unwitting victim of a scam and about to fall prey to the rapacious Perry Hampton. It is Perry’s lust for power that has drawn him to James’s property, thinking he can turn it into a corporate venue and a potential gold mine. First he must drive the current owner out by making him bankrupt. It is a scheme which involves some unscrupulous players of his own; from a chartered surveyor who issues the first damning survey – to a shady building firm. Their instructions from Perry, to delay the reconstruction of damaged staircase, is designed to keep the hotel closed for as long as possible, forcing James to lose valuable income. Yet this is just the start – Perry’s utter ruthlessness is guaranteed to keep his victims in a state of fear as the destiny of Westbourne House hangs in a veil of suspense…

And while I’m still thinking about that beautiful staircase, here is an extract:

James allowed his eyes to travel back down the staircase, where the tapering grace of the vase shaped balusters struck him as being particularly beautiful; the open string formation was punctuated at intervals by newel posts – the entire construction, built from dark wood, had retained its charm for over two centuries.
“It is lethally dangerous, Sir,” Edward added gravely.
“Dangerous…” James pondered, feeling the first chill of anxiety.
But Edward had not quite finished. “The woodwork has started to crumble. To be honest, I am surprised one of your guests hasn’t put a foot through it…”
James followed his gaze, observing the patterned carpet which trailed down the path of the stairs. Even those colours seemed faded – as if to betray the deterioration of the stairs underneath.
“This staircase must not be used until the damage is rectified,” Edward said bluntly. “Someone could injure themselves. Say, one of your older guests grabbed the handrail for support – any one of the balusters could shatter. The results could be disastrous!”
“Are you trying to scaremonger me?” James whispered in horror.
“Not at all,” the other man replied, unfazed, “though I must insist you close off this staircase.”
“But it’s the only access to the west wing,” James spluttered, “as well as the guest accommodation. If I close off this staircase, I might as well close the entire hotel!”
“I’m afraid that may well have to be the case,” Edward agreed, pinning him with his intense stare again. For several torturous moments, he was silent as he continued to scrawl his notes. But eventually, the tense silence was broken – where the next few words were more damning than James could have predicted.
“You cannot jeopardise the safety of your guests. The fact is, you could replace this entire staircase at a cost of around £2,000 but in its present state, you could be sued ten times that amount if, say, a healthy adult suffered an accident. In the event of this happening to someone elderly, it could be fatal. That figure could run into millions! Do you really want to run the risk?”
“Of course not,” James whispered in a voice which was drained of strength.

This staircase features the same open string formation as described.

This staircase features the same open string formation as described.

VISIONS can be read as a standalone mystery thriller and available from Amazon in Kindle and Paperback formats. It is the 2nd book in the series ‘Same Face Different Place.’

Posted in England, Locations, Novel, Research, Social History, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time for a Break – 11th April 2016

I really feel it is time I published something about progress on my latest book. I don’t want to keep anyone in the dark but it is coming together very nicely.

morechocolate

There were times when I experienced moments of panic – I glanced at the synopsis and wondered how on earth I was going to create this amount of story matter! Writing this whole series has been a huge undertaking but had I bitten off more than I could chew?

Several months down the line, it has occurred to me that given all the complex twists and character plots, I’ve somehow managed to develop ALL those story lines. Book 4 Retribution, is still a work in progress but I’ve reached a point where it is time to stop and recapture everything that has happened in the novel so far.

With 35 chapters written and the final quarter of the synopsis still ahead of me, I have a clearer vision of how this series will end but it is a finale needs that requires careful planning and execution. Everything that happened, has happened for a reason – so with various loose ends to tie up and a extremely complex mystery to resolve, I have my work cut out.

In Book 3 Pleasures, there was a similar point in the writing process where I hit a brick wall. I had reached the end of a very gripping scene with only the finale to complete – but I was unsure how I was going to get there without the story losing its momentum. 

bookofchocolateSo I am going through a similar process and this could be advice for other writers.

There are times when it is an idea to take a breather; recapture the essence of the book before soldiering on to the end. It doesn’t mean you’ve lost your way. But I know I will create a much better ending if I can digest the story so far.

And while I’m blogging about my thoughts, I have been thinking about the cover. With credits to use up on one of my stock photography accounts, I was forced to make a decision last week. The cover reveal below is an idea I have had for a while now and is probably the one I will run with. 

BookCover-Black

The cover can be clicked to see an enlargement

Note: the top photo is from i-stock.com – fire image from 123RF.com

Posted in Blogging, Novel, Self Publishing, Story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments