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Archive for the tag “new novel”

Getting back to work

It is a long time since I last posted on here. Big apologies to anyone who has looked for posts, but I haven’t been writing for a couple of years and I just haven’t got round to it!! Lazy, I know, but somehow other things have filled the gap. I have read more, watched more films, done more crosswords, cooked more (including some fantastic world street food recipes!), and Marc and I have been learning Portuguese, (480 consecutive days on Duolingo and I can now say, with confidence, that there is a large shark residing under the table!)

Also the pandemic made us realize what a privilege it is to live in this corner of beautiful Pembrokeshire. We have relished our land (we have planted 100 baby trees to add to the 400 we planted 8 years ago,) we have turned our garden into a wildlife haven, (this year we have newts and toad spawn in our old bath tub pond), and we have watched Hera, our Greek rescue dog become jollier and jollier as she runs around our fields.

So now things are slowly returning to normal, whatever that is. Or are they? Just as we feel the Covid threat has lifted, we have major new problems confronting us. The idiotic Brexit decision continues to cause difficulties here in the UK, businesses are struggling, the issues over Northern Ireland’s status rumble dangerously on, a rapidly rising cost of living is making actual living very hard for many. Even holiday makers are facing problems, flights being cancelled, huge queues at airports and ferry terminals due to lack of staff, and extra security checks (all due to Brexit). Our government is in disarray, led by someone clearly unfit for office. We can no longer move or trade freely with our closest neighbors. And all this, just when Europe is needing to pull together to stand up to Vladimir Putin.

Suddenly, horribly, it doesn’t feel a million miles away from 1930’s Europe when Adolf Hitler was beginning his murderous rampage. The death and destruction, the refugees, the privations, the hard decisions, the political vacillation, the ominous threat of escalation. This has inevitably led me to think about my Lavender Road books, and about all the fascinating research I did then. There are so many parallels, and so many stories I didn’t use at that time.

So, I am beginning to think about writing another series. I have already done some outlining and some extra research, and I think I might have found some interesting characters and themes to pursue!

I can’t promise that it will be soon though as I plan to do the bulk of the writing next winter when we will probably be back in hibernation! But maybe, just maybe, there will be something else for you to read next year!!

Does all this constant judging spoil our pleasure?

not judgingYesterday I had a brief telephone conversation with a young customer service person at my bank. Afterwards I had to rate the poor boy 1-5 on a number of criteria, his speed of response, his effectiveness with dealing with my query, his general helpfulness, his manner, and whether I would recommend him to my friends.

Returning to the edit of my latest wartime novel (yes, it is coming soon!), I reflected that nobody in 1943 was ever asked to rate anything, never asked to mark a customer service operative out of 5, (5 being delirious, 1 being disappointed) never asked to give a star rating, or to fill out a satisfaction form.

My research indicates that most of the petty frustrations of life in those days were either accepted with a kind of gritty resignation, or firmly laid at Adolf Hitler’s door. Nobody expected too much. Rationing and privations inevitably made perfection difficult to achieve. Queues and delays prevailed. But people were prepared, eager even, to try to enjoy what pleasures they could find. Shows were well attended despite ragged costumes and bomb-damaged sets. Restaurants served dull, utility meals, but it was still a treat go eat out. And holidays consisted of a week in a strict, under heated guest house, where you had to be out of the building between 10 and 5, whatever the weather. Nobody minded. Or if they did, they didn’t feel obliged to say.

It is so different for us. We all spend so much time assessing and critiquing, I sometimes think we have forgotten about enjoying.

We are so used to giving star ratings or marks for customer service, utilities, television programmes, hotel rooms, books, holidays, products and contestants on TV shows, that we are quick to notice when things fail to come up to our exacting standards.

Instead of relishing a meal out, we are wondering what Michel Roux might think of it. We have been programmed to expect so much that almost everything is a disappointment. There are a few ‘Fab-u-lous’es but they are few and far between, outweighed by the frequent longing to say ‘You’re fired’ to irritating waiters, salesmen, public servants or doctors.

But I am doubtful whether this critical thinking really helps to make anything better. It certainly doesn’t make us any happier. Especially when it transfers, as it inevitably does, to things that probably shouldn’t be judged, like friendships, colleagues, people in our community, our family.

The mantra of the war was that everyone pulled together. That may or may not be true, but what is certainly true is that people expected less. They hadn’t been influenced by endless soap operas to fight with their neighbours, nor to find fault with their friends and families. Perhaps as a result, communities were tighter, and friendlier. The war helped of course. They really were all in it together. But in a sense so are we. Maybe the time has come when we should try to expect a bit less and to enjoy a bit more!

Wildlife in war

While I have been researching the novel I am writing now, the fourth in my Lavender Road series, among the trauma of WW2, I have discovered one small, unexpected, beneficial aspect of war. (And I am not just talking about winning and ridding the world of the Nazi/fascist cruelty of Adolf Hitler and Mussolini.)housemartins

It is an odd fact that, even as people are fighting wars, the natural world gets on with its own routines and migrations. During WW2 there was a cessation of shooting wild birds in Europe. The inhabitants of Italy, Greece, Malta and the other Mediterranean islands were too busy shooting each other, or their enemies, to carry out their traditional, brainless slaughter of migrating birds. As a result, the populations of song birds, swallows and swifts etc., increased considerably, (only, sadly, to be targeted once again the minute the war was over.)

I found other odd side benefits too. In prisoner of war camps across Europe, British POW amateur ornithologists kept meticulous records of birds passing by, creating a comprehensive log of species, some of which were previously unrecorded.

While fighting the Japanese in the jungles of Malaya, a British SOE agent, Freddie Spencer Chapman, recorded the wildlife he encountered with scientific dedication.

In London, for years after the WW2, the broken, damaged buildings and undeveloped over grown bomb sites provided homes for a plethora of birds and insects. Nobody was too bothered about appearances at that time. Certainly not to the extent of knocking off under-eaves house martins nests because they made a bit of mess on the walls, as so often happens now.

When we visited the Falkland Islands a few years ago we were interested to see how the failure to clear the mines off the beaches there has had a beneficial effect on sea bird populations. Protected from human interference, too light to set off mines, their numbers have increased steadily.

Most modern warfare seems to be more detrimental. The on-going unrest in Africa, Afghanistan and the Middle East has devastated wildlife habitats. Oil waste from damaged vehicles has contaminated land and natural water sources. Deforestation and pollution are rife, and conservation largely impossible.

But on the other hand, there are reports that, like the migrating birds of WW2, and perhaps due to people being too busy shooting each other to bother with slaughtering other species, the survival rate of Asiatic black bears, grey wolves, leopard cats and porcupine in certain areas of Afghanistan has improved.

I am (clearly) no expert. But while I can understand the inevitable effects of warfare on wildlife, I do wish that, where war or privation isn’t to blame, people would try to give wildlife a chance, whether it be welcoming a martin’s nest under their eaves, leaving a gap in a converted barn roof for an owl, cutting down on the use of slug pellets, or signing a petition to stop the relentless slaughter of migrating birds over the Mediterranean.

The Next Big Thing

Last week I was tagged by Laurie Gilbert to take part in The Next Big Thing. This is a viral blog chain which apparently you ignore on pain of death!! So here I go answering the questions …

1 What is the working title of your next book?

2 Where did the idea come from for the book?
It follows on from my previous three Lavender Road novels – the original idea was suggested by Rosemary Cheetham at Orion who to publish a wartime series set in London. We had a brief wrangle about where it was to be set (she wanted it to be in the East End of London, but I managed to convince her that Clapham in South London was an equally (or perhaps even more) interesting area!) She then commissioned me to write the three book series, which was great.

3 What genre does your book fall under?

4 Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’d choose Dan Stevens (Mathew from Downton) for Ward Frazer, Dani Harmer (brilliant on Strictly) would make a great Molly Coogan, Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame) would be perfect for Helen de Burrel, and I think Ryan Gosling could play André Cabillard. Emma Thompson would be fab as Celia Rutherford, Jenna-Louise Coleman (from Dr Who) would make a wonderful Jen Carter and how about challenging Meryl Streep to play Jen’s mother, Joyce?! Any other suggestions gratefully received!

5 What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
As the war enters its fourth year the people of Lavender Road long for peace, but instead they find themselves right up against it, challenged by privation, love and unexpected danger.

6 Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m not sure yet. Previously, for my physical books, I have been represented by an agent (A.M. Heath) and published by a big publisher (Orion). But when the digital revolution began I decided to set up a small publishing imprint (TSAP) to publish eBook versions of my novels myself. These have done so well I may well decide to go on down that route.

7 How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I haven’t finished it. It will probably take at least six months.

8 What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
William Boyd, Wendy Robertson, Freda Lightfoot, Sebastian Faulks and Jack Higgins have all written great Second World War novels / family sagas, they aren’t the same but if you like them you might like mine and vice versa!

9 Who or What inspired you to write this book?
When I was first thinking about writing the Lavender Road series I was living in South London and had got to know quite a few people who had lived through the war years there. I was fascinated by their stories of the courage and resilience that people showed during those difficult years and thought I could weave some of them into a wartime street saga. The success of the first three books in the series has encouraged me to write LONDON CALLING, set in 1943.

10 What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
My readers seem to love with my characters. I try to make them as ‘real’ as possible so the reader can engage with them and experience their highs and lows. Most of the old favourites will feature in this next novel – Jen Carter, Katy Parsons, Helen de Burrel, Joyce Carter (and of course the gorgeous Canadian Ward Frazer) – but I will also be taking up the story of the young nurse Molly Coogan who has only had a small role in the previous novels. Exhausted by her relentless wartime routine and compelled to live with an awful secret, she longs to get away, only to find when her wish is granted that she has jumped out of a very calm frying pan into a tumultuous and life threatening fire.

Thanks for reading! I am now passing The Next Big Thing baton onto my friend and up and coming writer Natalie Lloyd Evans … at http://www.wordyhood.com and her connected blog http://natmegevans.wordpress.com

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