Igniting the fire

I’ve blogged before about how important music is to my writing process – how I actually can’t write without a playlist – but I’ve realised it’s more than that.

Without doubt music sets the tone as I write a scene; it changes my mood and the way I write, and I can tailor my music choices to impact my creative output. But it also ignites the spark.

Allow me to explain.

When a piece of music or a song comes on it inevitably sets me off daydreaming (something pretty much every author is excellent at, by the way. I like to call it ‘working’). A certain lyrical phrase or brief lilting melody can be enough to put an idea in my head. Of course authors take inspiration from many sources but I’ve come to recognise that for me invariably music is the catalyst.

So many songs are short stories in themselves (have a listen to Del Amitri’s ‘Be my downfall’ as a perfect example…¬†https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GwASZpIHKLY) and sometimes I get an urge to fill in the missing details and tell the whole tale in novel format.

Classical music pieces (particularly film scores) are what ignite my idea-fire the fastest, however. They seem to be able to push my emotions up and down, as though they were riding the swell and dip of crashing waves, and as my emotions are manipulated so my imagination follows suit. I begin to imagine a scenario that fits the mood of the melody and that scenario becomes an idea and then a longer story, and eventually a novel.

How intrinsically linked the arts can be sometimes!

I only hope I shall never have to credit the composers who have helped me find my own words. I don’t think ‘Carly Rae Jepsen’ would look quite right as an acknowledgment in the back of a historical novel…

Winter in spring

imageOccasionally – very occasionally- I step away from writing novels and pen a poem or song. I thought you might like to read one. It’s short, which I find is usually a good thing where amateur poetry writing is concerned…ūüėČ


The bitter haze of a bleak morning, the bruise of winter.
White sun, an obscure and diluted orb, makes the world a gilded host as I step into its cold embrace.
My frosted breath, paints the air before me in a veil of the season.
Icicles as the path of a teardrop chiming on each naked branch like a mournful winter song.
Cold hanging; stinging, as needles
dancing on exposed skin.
Old clumps of snow lay like yellowed candle wax awaiting the kiss of a fresh fall,
Billowing out over the tumbling hills like a shaken sheet; a collage of quilted fields in patches of white.
The agreeable crunch underfoot of the frigid earth as it takes my weight.
In the naked poplars, ravens take flight in a loud burst of beating wings; startled by my presence- their harsh black forms flying and twisting out of reach of the spindly, bony arms of the trees as they stretch their unclothed winter limbs skywards.
The most perfect of seasons, where beauty is found in the barrenness and the wildness of nature’s heart sings.


History geek


I often get asked why I choose to only write historical fiction. The quick answer is, I don’t! I do, however, only choose to publish historical fiction. I also enjoy writing it above anything else. Far above anything else.

I am a history geek. There, I said it. I freely admit that I was the kid who loved history lessons and got really frustrated when¬†classmates were mucking around throwing ink bombs at the teacher. I was the kid who spent lunchtime in the library reading from dusty old tomes about the Black Death, life in Roman Britain, and Henry Vlll’s wives. I was that kid who sat daydreaming about being a Victorian maid, or a medieval lady, or heck, maybe even a Cornish smuggler in the seventeen century. I still do dream about those things, and I guess that’s the point. We write about what we love.

I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that I was somehow birthed in the wrong era. Modern times just feel too, well, modern¬†for this girl.¬†Take me to a museum exhibit about times gone by and I feel instantly at home. Watching period dramas on television, I¬†long¬†to be immersed in the visual spectacle of what once was. My heart belongs in a different time.

Since being small I’ve been deeply interested in the Amercian West – the gold rushes, Civil Wars, and territorial disputes over Native American land. I had no reason in particular to be so fascinated by this, I just was. I still am. I also loved stories of infamous historical figures – the smugglers and highway robbers and other bad boys of a distant age. And so I immersed myself in as much information as I could about them. I even went on to write a book about a Dartmouth smuggler (‘Black Pool Hill’).

When I began researching my own family history I found out about a great great Uncle who, bored with middle-class Victorian life, had taken himself off to the American West for an adventure and settled there permanently. He wrote letters back to his sister telling her tales of near-misses with stampeding buffalo, and dangerous encounters with native Indians, “naked as the day they were born, brandishing bows, arrows and tomahawks.” At last! Something connecting me to my love of that place and time.

As if he wasn’t interesting enough there was a Dartmouth fisherman (yes, really!), a whole collection of Huguenot weavers, and an infamous highwayman (who became the subject of my novel, ‘Highway’).

A strange coincidence? I don’t think so. I think I must have always known, deep down. I think my past is flowing through my veins through generations of passed-down genes and I just had to rediscover it.

I write about history, because I love history. Because I know history. Because I am history. One day I may write and publish a modern novel. I have some ideas for a good story and I may even do it soon. But first I have a novel about the old American West to finish, and you can read more about that here:



Set the author free

imageI have often wondered (and deliberated about on this very blog) why authors write – what motivates them. There are the oft mentioned reasons:

  • Because they have to – writing is a compulsion
  • Because they have a story to tell
  • Because they rather hope their novel will be the next ‘Game of Thrones’ or whatever, with its own TV series and cult following.

Whilst these are all valid reasons for writing (perhaps with the exception of point three), I think there’s something else. In researching and writing my fourth novel, I have noticed another motivation:

  • Because we are creating fantasy worlds to live in… not necessarily for our readers, but for ourselves.

Let me explain. Authors of fiction are dreamers. There are no two ways about it. We constantly create exciting stories in our heads (often in which we hold the starring role) as a form of internal amusement. It’s a form of elaborate daydreaming, but on the grand scale of a Hollywood movie. It’s escapism of the highest order. Don’t like your present situation? Fed up of bills and work and responsibility? Not a problem for the author, who can slip into an alternate reality without even closing their eyes. Suddenly real life ceases to exist and you are a princess in a castle, or a spaceman, or an FBI detective, or whatever floats your own particular boat. This is adult child’s play, and no one knows you’re doing it!

Until you start to write it. (And here’s the secret, readers. Whatever you read is a direct looking glass into the writer’s fantasy life). You can bet your bottom dollar that if a writer has created an epic medieval saga, they have been fantasising about being a knight or a maiden, or maybe even a peasant. A space travel story? They want to be Doctor Who.

I’m currently writing a novel set in the American West in the 1800’s. Have I been dreaming of cowboys and Indians? Honky tonk saloons and gold mines? Stetsons and spurs? Too right, I have. Would I secretly like to be a gun-toting, chap-wearing cowgirl? You bet I would.

But why write it down? Why turn the private daydream into a public document? That is the curious thing. Now, I can only speak for myself here, but I think it’s a strange belief that authors hold that if they write it down it goes some way to making the story become reality. It makes the dream come alive – it sets it free! Some parents live vicariously through their children – projecting their own life-long desires onto their offspring. Authors do the same with their characters. As long as people are reading it, then the story lives. I am that cowgirl every time someone turns that first page and immerses themselves in my tale.

So next time you pick up a book, take a moment to doff your hat to the author’s fantasy. You hold it in your hands. In reading it, you are about to set them free.


Life drawing


Things have been a little quiet on the ‘authoring’ front these past few weeks. I really haven’t had much time to put pen to paper (read ‘finger to keyboard’). Life has been a whirlwind of viewing properties, selling house, arranging mortgage, buying house, sorting cupboards (good grief – I AM Monica from ‘Friends’), and a whole host of other exciting activities. My laptop has never been far away, in a kind of hopeful ‘I might get a spare hour later’ kind of way, but thus far, every time I’ve opened it has been to reply to a solicitor or find the number of a removal company.

And here’s the thing… it’s killing me. Not literally, you understand, but certainly somewhere deep down in my creative soul. It has made me realise just how much of a part of me this writing malarkey is! I get snappy and irritable when I’m not releasing my ideas into a story. I start to resent everything else I’m doing – no matter how pleasurable. Every other activity I undertake is time I am spending NOT WRITING. Aargh!

Of course, life goes on. Even the most dedicated, best-selling, full-time author cannot spend every single minute of the day and the night scribbling stories (although I bet some would love to try!). But we must remember that it is the ‘other stuff’ that feeds our writing. When we are not writing we are learning and drawing inspiration from the world around us.

So I must remember to write a story about a girl who moves into a tumble-down old cottage that needs a lot of work… Really; a lot. I will certainly have plenty of real-life experience to draw from.

Ask an author


So, I’m researching gunshot wounds. Holy moly, I’m seeing things I never thought I’d see! Did you know a man in America once survived 21 bullets which entered various parts of his body all at once? And a bullet entering the brain travels faster than the tissue can tear, so the brain-matter simply expands and stretches as the bullet passes through, then rips in its wake. Er, wow.

One of the delights of being a writer of fiction (particularly historical fiction) is the amount of research one has to do. I’m sincere when I use the word ‘delights’. Even when I’m staring at hundreds of photographs of open gun wounds to the brain, or the chest, or one extremity or another, I’m learning something, and I love learning! Over the years I’ve researched smuggling in England; costume throughout the centuries; the history of currency, health & hygiene, and medicine; how transport has changed over time; furniture in medieval England (particularly focussing on wardrobes and cupboards); food eaten by different classes; farming techniques in Victorian East Anglia, and far more.

I doubt I am unique as an author in adoring researching a book. It’s half the work of writing a novel, after all, so finding it dull would rather cripple one’s career, I would imagine. I simply cannot understand why some authors choose to pay a researcher. Finding out facts to give authenticity to your fiction is FUN, and is part of the writing process.¬†If I don’t truly understand what I’m writing about, how will my readers believe in my stories?

Ever short of a team member for a pub quiz or a game of Trivial Pursuit? Ask an author. You’d be AMAZED at the weird, wonderful, and varied things they know from years of researching.

Later on this evening I have some intensive research on ‘the history of weaponry used in the American West’ lined up, and I can’t wait. Just make me a cuppa and let me get stuck in.