Out of Office

I was absolutely thrilled when my short story “Out of Office” was selected to feature in “The Word for Freedom“, an anthology published by Retreat West Books to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage. The book is raising money for the charity Hestia so it’s all for a very good cause. The anthology is on sale here, but if you fancy a preview of my story, then you can watch it on YouTube. It’s narrated by yours truly, and it was put together by the clever folk at Retreat West.

 

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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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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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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…