Friday, 16 July 2010

Romantic Novelist's 50th Anniversary Conference, Greenwich, London.

From the X Factor to Best Evidence to how best to incorporate social media into a writer's busy life, this conference had everything and more.
And the it was the more that made it stand out for me as a first time visitor or RNA conference virgin.
I can honestly say that I can't think of any other conference where I have been so warmly welcomed by colleagues in such a genuine spirit of sharing knowledge and generally being helpful, so very very friendly and supportive of one another.
The conference kicked off for me with the wonderful Jean Fullerton's trip to the Police Museum on the banks of the Thames at Wapping. Jean was a wonderful hostess at her 'local' 'The Town of Ramsgate' pub, which I had some difficulty in locating, in fact, I have to confess to ending up on the wrong side of Tower Bridge at one point, but boy was it worth the walk! One of the pivotal scenes from Jean's book 'A Glimpse of Happiness' takes place in this pub so for me it was great to imagine that fight taking place all those years ago.
I had feared that I might struggle at this event with not being personally acquainted with any of the attendees; but within moments of arrival, Juliet Archer and her friend, children's author Carol Hedges introduced themselves to me and we were soon chatting away like old friends. Juliet had recently visited Cannon Hall near Barnsley to give a talk so we soon found common ground.
The lunch was great and afterwards the talk at the police museum was even more fun.
We were shown round by retired policeman Joz Johnson who explained the history of both the river police and the museum since 1793. Some of the interesting artefacts on display there included the actual flag from the ill fated Princess Alice. Joz was a wonderful colourful personality, and a former bodyguard to the late Princess Margaret. We soon learned that we were in exalted company as he has previously given tours to not only the late Queen Mother but also the head of the CIA and his wife. So well done and thanks to Jean for setting that exciting prelude up.
On arrival at Greenwich university I was overjoyed to find I'd been placed with my Yorkshire friends and also some new ones who as it turned out, in combination, formed a sparkling group of people who all bonded immediately. We had some great fun and scarcely noticed the fact that we had only 3 mugs between 8 of us!
It's hard to pick out the highlights because there were so many. On the industry day what was said about the supermarkets and their attitude to books and authors was a real eye opener to me. Someone suggested we ought to have one of their buyers in for their take on this at a future event.
I absolutely adored all the social occasions which is interesting because I'm hardly a social butterly; perhaps my favourite being the barbeque when Katie Fforde's presentation of the Elizabeth Goudge prize became so emotional and memorable for all present.
I loved all the sessions I attended but the most useful for me were probably Kate Hardy's on planning (as I probably procrastinate too much)along with Lucy Inglis' on Trades for 18th Century Women and Stephen Wade's on Crime writing. The former certainly debunked a few myths and I can recommend Lucy's Georgian London blog if you don't already follow it.
What else can I say- roll on next year!

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Inspiring visit to Stourhead, Wiltshire.

I was meant to attend a writing workshop in Swindon on Monday but it was sadly cancelled due a mix up on the ticketline leading to lack of interest. I'd been planning to combine this with a visit to nearby Stourhead, which has long been on my 'to do' list, and I certainly wasn't disappointed.

I travelled by train to Waterloo and then to Gillingham in Dorset; where a charming lady taxi driver regaled me with tales of David Niven being stationed nearby during the war; and the fact that he had scratched his name into one of the beams at the hotel I was going to stay at: 'The Spread Eagle'.

In the event, I actually didn't find any trace of one of the finest film actors of his day but I did find a pleasant hotel with 5 double rooms actually situated on the Stourhead estate. An absolute gem and great bonus is you have access to the gardens 24 hours a day, long after the hoardes have gone, perfect for inspiring the writer. They even provide torches in reception for those hardy enough?!

Access to both house, garden and Alfred's tower is free to guests at 'The Spread Eagle' which is reasonably priced and the staff are polite and helpful.I didn't have dinner there though some of the volunteers I chatted to at the house told me it is excellent. But I can certainly vouch for their breakfast- top notch.

The garden, in particular Flora's Temple, provided me with the first draft of a short story even though I was only there one night.And the next morning when I visited the house I learned from enthusiasts how Edward Gibbon was inspired to write 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire', when he saw the cabinet the cabinet originally made for Pope Sixtus V 1585-90 in what is known as the 'Cabinet Room.'

Quite by accident on my way out through the gardens near the house, I came across 'The Ice House'; a great symbol of prosperity for those in the late 18th and 19th centuries; well before the advent of the domestic refrigerator. A most fortuitous discovery as it may well help resolve a crucial conundrum that was evading me in my as yet untitled second novel.

Friday, 5 March 2010

'A Contract for Happiness'

Am making solid progress on my first romantic novel which is a historical set in the Sheffield iron industry during the period 1776-1781. I am currently enjoying a retreat in North East Scotland which has really allowed some of the characters to come alive.

When I arrived at Aberdeen Station on 28 February I had 10,000 words of my first draft; and I leave with almost double that. Plus there's still a six hour long train journey tomorrow to go at!

My next deadlines are to get the synopsis for 'A Contract for Happiness' and the first 5,000 words to the team at the York Festival of Writing by March 15, where I have some one to one sessions with editors and agents booked.

I also aim to have completed half of the book by the time I next meet up with fellow Yorkshire Romantic Novelist Association members at our monthly meeting.