O Come All ye Faithful to Malmesbury Abbey

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On Saturday night, I feasted on music, gorging on the angelic singing of Malmesbury Community Choir, and delighting in the heavenly voices of the Westonbirt Girls’ School Chamber Choir. It was quite a treat and it conjured up Christmas on a count of four!

I tried to join in with some of the singing, alas my sheepish bleating failed to rise to the occasion. God and all His Saints must have been cringing up in Heaven at my tragic rendition of O Come All ye Faithful.

The beautiful Malmesbury Abbey was packed and bursting at the seams, so we had to find a place to sit beside King Athelstan’s tomb, on – as it happened – a very cushy little sofa, left there for the sole purpose of accommodating late arrivals from the far end of the county. We also had an unorthodox view of the goings-on. We were looking at the conductors, observed their animated faces and even more animated bodies.

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Watching a conductor in action is something else! The male conductor’s hands were in constant motion as if he was kneading dough: squeezing and stretching it, massaging it with his fingers, pulling, flicking and leaving it to rise. The lady conductor was like a weaver: picking thin strands of wool and dragging them through the air, then feeding them into the body of the melodic fabric, extracting loose ends on the other side, tying them into small knots and snipping the frayed bits at the end. It was all like some mysterious sign language that only the singers could understand, and respond to with their song.

And then at the end, the conductor put his finger to his lips. Motionless silence.

I sang carols all the way home, just like the fifth little Piggie, to my poor husband’s utter dismay. All stars ran away from the firmament, leaving only one crestfallen Moon and one disoriented Star.

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The importance of being idle

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I am not a natural early riser. My alarm clock and I aren’t the best of friends; more like cats and dogs. Every morning the bloody thing growls at me, digs its teeth into the delicate fabric of my dreams and shakes me awake, my dreams shattered in an instant. I fight back, best as I can. I kick and scratch, I hiss, but I stand no chance. In the end the damned yapping ankle-biter wins. I hate the bastard.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There are my Fridays: late-rising days. The yapping ankle-biter is where it belongs – in a dog-house. I sleep. Dreams seep into my slowly unfolding reality. Ideas form in my well-rested brain, come and go, sometimes vanishing without a trace, leaving only a hint of themselves, a niggling something that follows me around like a scent of something I once knew, a long time ago, in my childhood. Books and stories write themselves before my closed eyes, and they are out of this world – unique, one-and-only, unimaginable. If only I could remember them…

I love my late-rising days. Idleness breeds creativity. A well-rested brain busies itself with its own occupations, because let’s face, one is never quite perfectly idle. There is always some activity. Only when we go about our daily routines, imposed on us by the circumstances of our everyday obligations, we lose that subtler, more refine side of us, that side that is so ethereal and so elusive that it evaporates on contact with the hard-biting reality (in my case, my hard-biting alarm clock), like camphor. I so love capturing it on those blessed Friday mornings. It feels like stealing, like catching beautiful butterflies in a net. It is bad and frowned up by our labour-intensive reality, but God, it feels amazing!

I can understand now why great writers need to take the risk of abandoning their day-jobs to be able to write. Writing is a take-it-all occupation, which requires late rising and altogether a form of firm detachment from time and place. It is a risky affair, an affair with impropriety, a costly affair at that! But that is the choice one has to made: forsake one’s financial security to capture those elusive snippets of dreams and stitch them into a grand new story. I bet Jane Austin never had to use an alarm clock. I don’t believe Stephen King does, either.

A remedy for a cold winter night

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Watercolour, ‘Water Villa, Meeru Island, The Maldives’ (c) Steve Wylie

 

Chilled to the bone by the wintry weather, I have no choice but to reach for ‘Swimming with Sharks’ and immerse myself in the sweltering-hot world of a Maldivian island. A gentle touch of heated mystery will go a long way.

I see offers of new paperbacks of ‘Swimming with Sharks’ at a humble £2.74, lower than the kindle price!  For link, click here:   https://www.amazon.co.uk/Swimming-Sharks-Gillian-Marsh-Legat/dp/1783759658/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

What speakers do best

I am a proud owner of the first draft of Wide Angle, a Gilbert and Alice mystery. It is a light-hearted look at crime, something one would call cozy crime, the sort you’re not afraid to take to bed with you at night. Murder happens, naturally, but amidst all that bloodshed there is room for quirks and oddities, eccentricities of the highest order and outright silliness – generally speaking: my life and the people that populate it.

Don’t let any writer tell you that any similarity between the characters in their books and any living (or dead) persons is purely coincidental. No such thing as absolute fiction!

To give you an example of the kind of real life incidents you may find yourself cosied up to in bed when reading one of my books:

Yesterday, I asked Daughter to carry a pair of heavy speakers to Husband’s study. My back, you see, is shot due to a spot of aeroball. She obliged (grudgingly) and placed the speakers oddly in the doorway, kind of facing each other, like so:

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I was intrigued and confused by that awkward positioning, but you see, I shouldn’t be at all, because the speakers were doing what speakers do best – they were speaking to each other!

You can see it, can’t you?

 

Clueless in Honolulu – Virginia King

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A big welcome to Virginia King, author of  The First Lie! She is dissecting the process of writing a mystery that has the capacity of taking the reader by surprise. How is it done? Over to you, Virginia…

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How does a mystery writer create the unpredictability needed for a mystery to be ‘mysterious’? Experienced reviewers often comment that after you’ve read a few mysteries and thrillers they can start to feel formulaic. Why?

The Limits of Plotting

Here’s the blurb for a writing workshop on plotting:

Time spent planning a story before sitting down to write can prevent a laboured or stalled work. Lack of planning can result in flawed plots, stereotyped characters, clichéd dialogue and derivative style.

Sounds good in theory but exactly the opposite is true for me. In my experience a blue-print is too static. It kills the freshness of an evolving story, especially a mystery. And a character profile is like a straightjacket. Goodbye unpredictability. Any ideas I have at the beginning need to evolve in unexpected ways with the writing, not limit what happens by being set in place at the start.

When prize-winning author Kate Grenville created an outline of her first novel, she wrote later: “A weariness came over me at the thought of fleshing this out. I closed the exercise book and put it away. I never wrote in it again.” Then she says about her process: “I’d … write without a plan, following thoughts and images into the unknown … The criterion was energy.”

The Energy of ‘Clueless’

I approached my psychological mystery The First Lie with no idea what was around each corner. The resulting mystery contains layers I could never have plotted. If the writer is on the edge of their seat wondering what the hell is going to happen next and why, then so is the reader.

Without a plan in mind, I dropped my main character Selkie Moon into Honolulu because the story hadn’t been working when it was set in Sydney. What felt like a ‘crisis of place’ flipped into something edgy and unpredictable. If I’d stuck with a story plotted in Sydney I would have laboured away at a location that lacked spark. The move to Hawaii was exhilarating – and terrifying – for me and for Selkie.

Here are some examples of how Honolulu inspired a ‘clueless’ approach to The First Lie:

The role of the stranger

Selkie is all alone, a malihini (newcomer) in town, bringing an edge to her relationships and experiences. When a voice in a dream says, Someone is trying kill you, she’s forced to investigate what it’s got to do with her. A new friend tells her that in fairy tales it’s the newcomer who heralds the truth. This message becomes the theme of the book.

A cauldron of cultures

The Hawaiian, Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese, Filipino, American, English, Irish and many other cultures who inhabit Hawaii create opportunities for quirky characters. How about a kahuna who lives in the bus shelter, available for roadside prognostications? She only speaks Hawaiian or pidgin (tricky for me as a non-speaker) so she’s an oracle who gives one-word pronouncements: Pilikia, she warns Selkie. Trouble.

A smorgasbord of mythology

You can’t wander around Hawaii without falling over an old graveyard full of ghosts, or a visionary mirror, or a cursed lava rock, or a character from folklore such as Pele the volcano goddess, who might hitch a ride with you on a dark lonely road. These mythical motifs created layers of clues for the ‘clueless’ author.

One Way to Go ‘Clueless’

My process is to write a scene, letting it create itself and following up any thoughts that pop into my head with research. Then I allow my subconscious to explore everything (usually while I’m asleep).  Most mornings I’m scribbling my overnight thoughts – connections I didn’t know were there, snippets of dialogue that give me new insights into characters, tangents and twists that might work, links to experiences I’ve had or things I’ve read or overheard. Then I weave these ideas into yesterday’s scene. I don’t control the story, but I use my judgement to shape and cut it when I’m redrafting.

Now I’m writing Book Three in this way. Selkie is drawn to an Irish mystery dating back to the 1890s, so I’m ‘clueless’ in County Kerry!

The First Lie is a winner of a B.R.A.G. Medallion.

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Description

Someone is trying to kill you.

When Selkie Moon flees Sydney to start over in Hawaii, it’s to live life on her own terms. But Life has other plans.

Though she tries to dismiss the warning as just another nightmare, it soon becomes apparent that someone, or something, is stalking her. Attacked by frightening visions and mysterious compulsions, she must piece together the fragmented clues before time runs out.

Virginia King effortlessly blends funky creativity and deep spirituality – with a dash of Celtic folklore – to craft a story of one woman’s fight for truth, and her discovery that the lies we tell ourselves are the most dangerous of all.

You can read more about Virginia’s ‘clueless’ writing process in her recent interview about her first draft on Rebecca Bradley’s blog: https://rebeccabradleycrime.com/2016/05/20/whats-your-first-draft-like-virginia-king/

A Free Ghost StoryGhost

This is how I wrote Laying Ghosts, a 24-page standalone haunted house story tangled up in a Russian folktale and a murder ballad dating back to the 1700s. It’s also the prequel to the Selkie Moon Mystery Series and explains to the reader (and the author!) just why Selkie suddenly took off to Hawaii. Download your free copy http://www.selkiemoon.com/#popup

 

KAREN KING – you are what you read

A big welcome to Karen King, a romantic novelist, writing guru and, naturally, a ferocious reader. Let’s find out what lurks on the shelves of her bookshelf…

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I’ve always loved reading. I was lucky enough to live around the corner from a library when I was young and would take out four books a day in the summer holidays (the maximum limit then). I read every book in the children’s section and had to start reading them all over again. I’d read anything (apart from horror) but my favourites were funny books and adventure stories. I loved the Just William books by Richmal Crompton. I used to laugh out loud when I was reading them. I’d love to be able to write humour like that myself but it’s not my forte although I do write joke books, and there is some humour in my new chick lit ‘I Do? – or Do I?’ recently published by Accent Press.

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I loved Enid Blyton’s books too, especially the adventures of The Secret Seven and The Famous Five. These inspired me to set up my own detective agency with my two brothers when I was about ten or eleven. We called ourselves The Blue Lamp Detectives and made ourselves badges and membership cards. We toured the local area with our notebook and pencils looking for criminals and crimes to solve. Then one day we spotted a man that looked just like the photo we’d seen in the newspaper of a murderer who’d escaped from prison. Terrified, we legged it home. We lost our enthusiasm for being detectives after that.

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As I got older I read the Saint books by Leslie Charteris and Agatha Christie’s books, so my love of detective stories continued. It was this love of detective stories that inspired me to write a podcast detective series called The Amy Carter Mysteries for Top That publishing.

 

As I grew older I enjoyed reading books with feisty heroines such as Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With The Wind. I like to read about flawed characters who are basically good at heart – to me these are more credible and easier to relate too. People who mess up without meaning to. Like Cassie in my chick lit ‘I Do? – or Do I?’ and Sapphire in my YA Sapphire Blue.

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I don’t have so much time to read now, I wish I did, but when I get chance I’m quite an eclectic reader and will happily immerse myself in a variety of genres providing they’re not too wordy. I don’t want to be reading a book with a dictionary by my side. Some of my favourite authors are Sophie Kinsella, Maeve Haran, Marian Keyes, Sue Moorcroft, Mandy Baggot and Sharon Shinn – I loved her Samaria series.

My latest book

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I was over the moon when Accent Press wanted to publish my chick lit ‘I Do? – or Do I?’ and contracted me to write two more, as well as publishing my back list. Basically, ‘I Do? – or Do I?’ is – to quote Accent Press – ‘a hilarious take on Monster-In-Laws, disastrous weddings, and love triangles.’

Here’s the blurb

Local journalist Cassie is getting married to hot-shot lawyer, reliable Timothy, and his mother, Sylvia, who Cassie has nicknamed ‘Monster-in-Law’, wants to plan the entire wedding. When Sylvia books the exclusive ID Images to take photographs of the extravagant do, Cassie has no idea what she’s walking into.  The elusive JM, ID Images’ newest photographer, just so happens to be Jared, Cassie’s first love and ex-fiancé, who broke off their engagement to travel and take photos of far-reaching wonders. He’s back to pay for his next wild adventure.  Cassie decides it’s best to pretend not to know him, but when she’s asked to write an article for her newspaper, she’s tasked with a column surrounding all things wedding related. When Cassie jokingly writes a column meant for herself depicting her situation, a co-worker submits it in place of the real article and it’s soon making headlines, with readers asking the age old question – Who Will She Choose?

Buy Links

Amazon – http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01CGKLOKQ

Waterstones – https://www.waterstones.com/book/i-do-or-do-i/karen-king/9781910939345

Book Depository – http://www.bookdepository.com/book/9781910939352

A bit about Karen

Karen King is member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Society of Authors and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists. She writes sassy, contemporary romance just right for reading on the beach. ‘I DO – or Do I?’ is her first chick lit for Accent Press. She’s been contracted to write two more for them.

Karen has had two other romance novels, several short stories for women’s magazine and 120 children’s books published.

Karen loves to inspire both children and adults to read and write. She is a writing tutor and a Patron of Reading for Blessed Edward Catholic College, Worcester.

When she’s not writing, Karen likes travelling, watching the ‘soaps’ and reading. Give her a good book and a box of chocolates and she thinks she’s in Heaven.

Author links

Website: http://www.karenking.net/

Twitter: @karen_king

Karen King Romance Author Facebook Page

Karen King Children’s Books Facebook Page

Pinterest: https://uk.pinterest.com/karenkingauthor/

In The Chair 68

I’m ‘in the chair’ chatting to Jan Ruth about Count Karenin and talking over the meaning of life with Milan Kundera.

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Welcome, Anna Legat.

11102784_844407928976852_7866671121152746412_nHow would you describe your writing style in only three words?

Anna: Pacey, acerbic and character-driven.

If you could have a relationship with one of your fictional characters who would it be and why?

Anna: It would have to be Count Karenin! And I don’t mean the stiff, elderly character from Anna Karenina but the one from my DI Marsh mystery, Swimming with Sharks. His real name is Mikhail Lakso – Misha. He is handsome and even more exotic than the Maldivian location of the book. He has a deep Russian soul where many of his dangerous secrets are buried. It’s uncanny how some women are attracted to those dark, broody types. I am one of those women and on occasions (especially those innocuous fictional occasions from which I can walk away unscathed) I like to throw myself at the mercy of a dangerous man. Misha may…

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Signed and dusted!

Thank you to everyone who came to support me at the launch of Swimming with Sharks at The Shires Waterstones yesterday. It was amazing to see so many wonderful people: friends (including one I hadn’t seen in 18 years since we both left South Africa), family (including one who can’t read yet – ha, can’t walk either, but was there to hold my hand for a bit until he drifted to sleep), fellow author Alison Knight and my wonderful editor Greg Rees all the way from Cardiff.

And the winner of the champagne pulled out of the bottle by Greg is…. TARAAAA: Sarah Cobb! Congratulations!

Swimming with Sharks links:

http://www.accentpress.co.uk/swimming-with-sharks

https://www.waterstones.com/book/swimming-with-sharks/anna-legat/9781783759651

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1783759658

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Swimming-Sharks-Gillian-Marsh-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B01BSS2NR0?ie=UTF8&redirect=true&tag=accentpress-21

http://www.bookdepository.com/book/9781783759651