Harrogate Crime Writing Festival 2017

Picture the scene. It’s a rainy day in July and a group of strangers have met in a hotel to plot murder…Don’t worry, this was murder of the strictly fictional variety! The day in question was Creative Thursday at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival 2017.  The Festival takes place at the Old Swan Hotel which is famous for being where Agatha Christie hid away during her 10 day disappearance in 1926. What better location to host a crime writing festival?IMG_3828

Creative Thursday is a day devoted to the craft of crime writing, covering everything from creating a believable detective to plotting a plausible murder. And plot we did!

We went straight in at the deep end with the morning session, “Plotting the Perfect Murder: How to Create an Engaging Crime Story” led by Lesley Thomson and Elly Griffiths. We were divided into groups of six and had just five minutes to come up with a character to be our detective. We presented our characters to the other groups and everyone voted who should be the ultimate detective in our crime story, then who should be the murderer, the victim and finally, the suspects. It was amazing how in the space of just a couple of hours a group of complete strangers were transformed into a creative collective with the bones of a murder mystery story between them.

In our next session, we were introduced to the Book Doctor, aka Philippa Pride, writing guru and Stephen King’s British editor. Philippa helped us to unlock our creativity. She’s a big fan of using prompts such as music and pictures to help writers get into their flow. She also encouraged us to think of the five senses when we’re writing. To that end, on each of our chairs were two tiny glass bottles filled with scent. IMG_3846Halfway through the session, she asked us to open the bottles and smell them. Of course, in a classic murder mystery story, one of these bottles would have contained poisonous vapour! Thankfully, in real life, they contained a variety of scents such as citrus, lavender etc which we used as writing prompts to help us evoke a scene in a different way.

After lunch it was time to look at “How to Create Pace and Suspense” with Louise Welsh and Henry Sutton. They talked about how crime writing encourages us to look beneath the surface of people and places, and see what really lies beneath. In terms of creating pace and suspense, they advised starting the story as near to the end as you can, ie getting rid of any extraneous limbering up. Everything should be there for a reason and every scene should enhance characterisation, or move the plot forward, preferably both. They said it’s important for our characters to really want something, but of course as writers, we need to throw obstacles in their way. As the formula goes:

Story + Conflict = Plot

The final event of the day was the terrifying-sounding “Dragons’ Pen” where writers were picked out of a hat and given the opportunity to pitch their stories to a panel of agents and editors. The Dragons were actually very supportive, as was the audience, and I’m full of admiration for those who were chosen to pitch. It was really exciting to hear their stories and I’m looking forward to reading them, as I have no doubt some of them will be appearing in the bookshops before too long.

Aside from Creative Thursday, the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival also offers dozens of other events for fans of crime fiction, including author panels and signings, quizzes, award ceremonies and interactive forensics puzzles. I went along to the Grantchester TV panel which featured author James Runcie and actor Robson Green. It was absolutely jam-packed, but they had the whole audience in stitches. It was fascinating to hear about what goes into adapting a book into a TV series.

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My only regret is that I didn’t buy a weekend rover ticket so I could attend all the events of the Festival. Maybe next year! Basically, the moral of the story is the Festival is amazing, and as the banners around the hotel said, “The only crime would be to miss it!”

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The Magic of Romance at the Bradford Literature Festival

When my romantic comedy “Who Does He Think He Is?” was published back in December 2016, I had no idea that just over six months later I would be appearing as a bona fide author at the Bradford Literature Festival. IMG_3773I was invited to be a member of the panel at the Magic of Romance event alongside Sunday Times bestseller Milly Johnson and fellow debut author Sonya Lalli (look out for her romcom “The Arrangement”, out in August – I loved it!)

FullSizeRenderThe Bradford Literature Festival started in 2014, and in just a few years it has grown into a huge annual celebration of all things reading and writing, with over 50,000 people attending this year’s Festival. With events covering everything from comedy to crime, Manga to mythology, there is genuinely something to suit everyone. If you’ve not visited, what are you waiting for?!

Events take place in venues throughout the city, and you only have to be in Bradford for 30 seconds to realise how much support there is for the Festival. There were banners everywhere, people wandering around with books in their hands, and a pop up book shop right in the heart of Bradford City Park was doing a roaring trade.

I have to admit I was rather nervous about appearing at my first literature festival. I’ve been to plenty as an audience member, but it’s rather different being up there on the stage! Fortunately my nerves disappeared when I met my fellow authors and our wonderful event chair Jodie Matthews. After all, what could be better than talking about romance and writing with other enthusiasts!

The event took the form of a panel discussion, with lots of input from the audience as well. We talked about our writing influences, what makes a good hero (there was definitely some swooning over Jane Austen’s Captain Wentworth) and how we set about writing a book.

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The Magic of Romance panel from left to right: Jodie Matthews, Milly Johnson, Sonya Lalli, me!

It was really interesting to hear from my fellow panellists and to compare our different approaches to our work. It definitely made me think in a more analytical way about the genre as we discussed what factors make romance magic for us. We also laughed over how being a writer can sometimes make you seem rather crazy, for example when a character you’ve created does something completely unexpected and takes you by surprise!

The hour just flew by and I thoroughly enjoyed every second. And the icing on the cake was to see my books for sale alongside Milly Johnson’s and doing a book-signing at the end of the event. Thank you so much to the Bradford Literature Festival for inviting me along.

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RNA Summer Party and the Joan Hessayon award

The Romantic Novelists’ Association Summer Party….well, as it had ‘summer’ in the title, it was of course raining! As I splashed my way from Covent Garden to the party venue at the Royal Overseas League, I was extremely glad that I’d been organised enough to bring a pair of emergency shoes for the party.

It was my first time at the RNA Summer Party, and it was all the more special as I was attending as a finalist for the Joan Hessayon Award. The Joan Hessayon Award is a prize for authors whose books have gone through the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. It is awarded in memory of the late Joan Hessayon, who was a huge supporter of the New Writers’ Scheme. This year there were eleven finalists, including myself, for the award, and I was very proud to be among their number.

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The Joan Hessayon Award 2017 nominees

We finalists arrived early for our official photo, and to have a chance to have a proper chat with each other. It was really nice to compare notes about our journeys to publication and to talk all things writing. Before long, the party was in full swing. As you can imagine at an event for romantic novelists, the room was full of interesting and lovely people. I was nearly hoarse by the end of the evening from all the chatting! I’m beginning to think this is just standard at RNA events (see my blog post after attending the RNA Winter Party.)

The Joan Hessayon Award ceremony was held early in the evening when everyone was armed with a glass of bubbly to toast the nominees. It was really wonderful to hear such nice things said about my book ‘Who Does He Think He Is?’ and I’m so honoured to have been a finalist. The overall winner was Kate Field with her novel ‘The Magic of Ramblings’, which I’m very much looking forward to reading.

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I had a thoroughly enjoyable time catching up with old friends and making new ones. Thank you so much to the RNA committee for arranging the event, and also thank you to Dr David Hessayon for kindly sponsoring the award in memory of his wife.

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A day out at Harewood House

The birds are singing, lambs are playing in the fields and the big yellow thing in the sky has actually deigned to put in an appearance. I think spring might actually be here, gasp! To celebrate that very thing, my mum and I went for a day out at the beautiful Harewood House in West Yorkshire.

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Harewood House

Harewood House has always been one of my favourite places. When I was little, I loved playing on the amazing play equipment (seriously awesome slides!) As a slightly more grown up person (well, in theory) the stunning house and grounds at Harewood have captured my imagination. Daydreaming about what it must be like to live in such a place helped inspired my debut novel, Who Does He Think He Is? Unfortunately for my heroine Lady Aurelia, her estate Leydale Park couldn’t be more different from Harewood House, as it’s more of a pile in a state, than stately pile! But Harewood House and my fictional Leydale Park do have something in common in that they are both used as TV and movie locations.
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Serious bookshelf envy!

Harewood House has most recently graced our screens as one of the major locations for the ITV drama series, Victoria. Queen Victoria herself visited Harewood House in 1835, although she was just a princess at that time, so it seems appropriate that the house is featured as a double for Buckingham Palace in the TV series about her life.
I was delighted to discover on my visit that the house is hosting an exhibition inspired by Victoria. There’s lots to learn about life at Harewood during the Victorian era, but also on display are costumes from the Victoria TV series, along with a behind the scenes look at the filming of the show. The costumes are works of art in themselves, and they look very at home in the ornate surroundings of Harewood’s State Rooms.
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Some of the beautiful costumes worn by Jenna Coleman in the title role of Victoria

Another claim to fame for Harewood House is that it has played host to the delectable Mr Darcy not once, but twice. It featured as Pemberley in ITV’s series Lost In Austen (all about a 21st century woman who gets whisked back in time and meets Mr Darcy – lucky her!) and scenes for the BBC murder mystery series based on PD James’ book Death Comes to Pemberley were also filmed there. As you can imagine, my mum and I had great fun playing spot the location on our visit!
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We also enjoyed exploring Harewood House’s beautiful gardens and parkland. They were designed by Capability Brown and I confess I filled quite a bit of my camera roll with snaps of the myriad pretty flowers.
No day out would be complete without a spot of cake, and I’m pleased to report that Harewood’s lemon drizzle is particularly scrumptious! All in all, we had a lovely visit, and I’d definitely recommend it as a great trip out for everyone.
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Something to eat and something to read!

Confessions of a book binge-buyer! 

Have you ever read a book and loved it so much that you’ve gone out and bought ever single other volume written by that author? Yes, me too. I must confess that I am a classic book binge-buyer! When I find an author whose work I really enjoy, I just can’t help going out and buying as many of their books as I can find (not great for the bank balance I can tell you, but there are definitely worse vices!)

Last year I discovered the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mystery series by the marvellous Laurie R.King. After reading book one while on holiday, I abandoned the beach and used the hotel wifi to order the next three volumes so they would be ready and waiting for me when I returned home. 

Another author whose work I’ve recently discovered and binge bought is Jane Thynne, the creator of the Clara Vine mystery series. Set in 1930s Berlin, the backdrop of political upheaval and rising intolerance certainly strikes a worrying chord in these times.

I love browsing in bookshops, and almost without exception browsing will turn into buying. And when they have special offers on, well, it’s a no brainer! Who am I to argue with a three-for-the-price-of-two deal?

As a consequence of my book bulk buying, I am rapidly running out of shelf space, but I’m pretty inventive when it comes to stacking so there is hope yet. Besides, my excuse is that I’m genetically pre-disposed to book binge-buying. After all, my parents had to have the floor at home strengthened because it was sagging under the weight of all their volumes.  I haven’t quite reached that stage yet, but I’m sure it won’t be long…

A fable for New Year: the story of a little tug boat named Good Will

Once upon a time in a far away land, there was a little harbour. It was nestled in a curving bay surrounded by gently undulating hills. Seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, the little harbour was a constant whirl of action. Fishing vessels flocked in and out as they chased their catch. Cruise ships swept into their private moorings with an air of superiority, while container ships slowly carried their cargo into port with stolid determination.

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Overseeing this activity was the harbour master’s boat. This stately vessel motored up and down between the rows of ships, making sure the harbour followed the directives of the neighbouring town. The landlubbers of the town had little idea of the reality of life on the water, but their influence over the harbour was strong.

Every time the mayor’s car drew up alongside the harbour master’s boat, the ships in the harbour would rock nervously in their moorings. They were right to be concerned. After every such meeting, the harbour master’s boat would head out, engine spluttering, and make the ships move round into new moorings because the town wanted things done in a different way.

The fishing vessels would shake their rigging but they were the easiest to move. They were so grateful just to have a mooring, they were willing to tie up anywhere the harbour master’s boat told them to. The container ships and the cruise liners were a different matter. They were big boats, tough and difficult to manoeuvre. Even if they reluctantly agreed to move, they needed help to steer to their new positions. And so they turned to a little tug boat named Good Will. Good Will was an eager, hard-working ship. He loved the harbour and was proud to call it home. And because he was proud of the harbour and cared about its reputation, whenever the harbour master’s boat delivered the town’s orders, Good Will was happy to help.

The harbour went from strength to strength, img_2353but the more it thrived, the more demands the town sent in its direction. It seemed that every day the mayor’s car would draw up on the quay with new instructions about how business in the little harbour should be conducted. But the ships could not keep up with the demands. They had to rely more and more upon their tug boat friend. Eventually Good Will didn’t even have time to undergo maintenance. His ropes grew frayed and his boards started cracking. The other boats were worried about what was happening to Good Will, but they needed him too much to be able to give him the break he so desperately needed. Although they tried to speak to the harbour master’s boat about the situation, he just revved his engine louder and spluttered off into the distance.

One day a terrible storm struck the little harbour. The waves battered the sides of boats and the wind lashed their decks. The ships shuddered by the quayside and were happy to be safely in port. But then the mayor’s car pulled up alongside the harbour master’s boat. The ships rocked in their moorings. Surely the town would not have new directives for the harbour, not during such a terrible storm?

Sure enough, as soon as the mayor’s car left, the harbour master’s boat chugged out to deliver new instructions from the town. These orders were the biggest yet. The boats bounced around on the waves. “This is madness,” they cried. “This is too much to ask. We refuse.”

“I don’t care how it happens, it has to be done,” replied the harbour master’s boat. “If you won’t move yourselves, I know I can rely on Good Will to make it happen.”

Good Will was anxious about going out in the storm. Nevertheless with the words of the harbour master’s boat echoing around his deck, he chugged out into the wind and rain.

Today the town wanted the biggest cruise ship moved to a new mooring at the opposite side of the harbour. Good Will dutifully tied the cruise ship’s weighty ropes to his deck and started the difficult journey across the water. The waves slapped over his bows and the wind rattled his rigging. As he tried to make progress forward, the combined forces of the storm and the heavy cruise ship pulled him backwards. The harbour master’s ship watched from the safety of his sheltered mooring.

“Come on, stop messing around,” he called. “If you don’t get this sorted, I’ll want to know the reason why.”

There was a dreadful cracking noise as one of Good Will’s boards snapped in half. Water started to pour in and Good Will realised he could no longer steer. He was heading for the harbour wall with the heavy cruise ship on a direct collision course behind him. Now the whole harbour was at risk.

The cruise ship shouted across at the harbour master’s boat. “This whole place works because of Good Will. You have taken advantage of Good Will and pushed him too far. Now you have destroyed everything.”

The cruise ship fired up its powerful engines. With inches to spare, it managed to reverse away from the harbour wall. It powered away from the harbour and out to sea, dragging the poor wreck of the little tug boat Good Will alongside.

That was the last the harbour saw of them. But from that day onwards, the little harbour started to decline. Boats no longer wanted to moor up there, no matter what the harbour master’s boat tried. Stories began to circulate of another port, just along the coast, somewhere safe and welcoming. Somewhere run by a little tug boat…