NaNoWriMo ups and downs (and two freebies)…

It started with a dream – something was buried in a garden… The idea swirled around in my head for a few days, becoming ever more detailed, so I noted it down. The note grew longer, and within a week I had a plan for the first half of a new novel. That was when I realised the date – it was Halloween. And I thought, why not try it properly this year?

November is National Novel Writing Month, when writers of all sorts and conditions aim to write 50,000 words of a novel. You can sign up to the NaNo website, and cheer each other on on social media, and if you succeed, you have a nice chunk of your work-in-progress done.

So off I went. I didn’t sign in officially, but I kept to my target of 1,700 words a day to complete the task. Having a plan already set out helped, as I didn’t need to work out what-happened-next all the time, and it also helped that Switzerland in November is fairly conducive to staying indoors with your mug of coffee and your laptop. I made my 50K with four days to spare, and heaved a sigh of relief.

Plus points of the experience:
An outside target like that does keep you focussed.
I got my plot going more quickly than I usually would. Instead of stopping to mull something over, I marked the place on the ms to mull over later, and carried on.
It was fun – and motivating – to see the word count grow all the way up to 50K. Below is the badge you get when you do it officially – which I didn’t, but I borrowed one anyway…

Minus points:
Only one, but it’s a biggie.
I felt I didn’t have nearly enough time to develop the characters. They were going through the motions, pushing the plot on, but they weren’t doing it as people in their own right, they were just figures in a story. As soon as I reached my 50K I stopped, went back to the beginning and started to make my paper people into themselves and not cut-outs. And that’s what I’m still doing, two weeks later.

Will I do NaNoWriMo again? I’m not sure. I think I would need to spend more time preparing, especially the characters, to make the experience more satisfactory. But 50K is 50K, and 20K more than I normally manage even in a good month. So the answer’s a definite maybe.

Two freebies to finish off with this week:
1) A Lake in Switzerland is FREE on Amazon all weekend! (ends Sunday night)
2) Stolen Sister is available as an audiobook now, and I have some free UK codes from Audible to give away. So if you’re an audiobook fan and would like one, email me using the contact form below the header image at the top of the post (✉), and I’ll send one. First come, first served.   ***OFFER NOW CLOSED***

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A picture post…

While I’m wrapping up my NaNoWriMo effort – I made it to 50k words this November, but more about that another time – here are a few photos I took between summer and now.

Our beautiful lake, Constance, in July and November. Spot the difference.

Our town’s whirlpool fountain, now emptied for the winter. I always think it’s wasted in the middle of a roundabout. It’s fascinating watching the water, especially at night when it’s lit from inside.

A new addition to our neighbourhood. ❤ He/she has catlike aloofness in spades.

Downtown Arbon – a roof terrace on Swiss National Day.

My newest fangirl screenshot – with Agatha Christie!!! 🤩

And to finish off – a photo of summer deceased. Roll on next year. No, I’m not a huge winter fan…

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The ‘G’ books… #A-Z books 📚


This is an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. Don’t worry, I’m planning on taking around 26 months to get to Z – each month I’ll post a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.

 

Today, it’s the ‘G’ books:

 

I’m a huge fan of Mary-Jane Riley’s Alex Devlin books. Like Mary-Jane, Alex is a journalist, and this time she’s involved in a missing man mystery. Gone in the Night is the fourth Alex book, all of which can all be read as standalones. Fast-paced, realistic and highly recommended!

 

 

 

 

 

I loved all Noel Streatfield’s books as a child, and The Growing Summer was one of my favourites. This is my own copy, showing Alex, Penny, Robin and Naomi in the car, motoring along the south coast of Ireland with Great-Aunt Dymphna, who was looking after them – or not – while their parents were away. A fabulous read.

 

 

 

 

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls is one of those books that leaves a lasting impression. It’s a memoir, the startling story of the Walls children’s childhood in America with an alcoholic father and a free spirit mother who didn’t want the responsibility of a family. I haven’t seen the film, but I’d like to.

 

 

 

Coming next month: the H books. And now I’ll get back to my NaNoWriMo project. Still a bit to go before I hit 50K!

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The Surplus Girls

Today I’m really pleased to welcome Polly Heron, aka Susanna Bavin to the blog. We’ve been friends on Twitter for quite a few years – I always enjoy her photos of lovely Llandudno!  Having read some of Susanna’s work, I was fascinated to hear about The Surplus Girls, due to be published on January 2nd next year. Here she is to answer my questions about the book and her life as a writer.

Tell us a little about where – and when – your book is set.
The Surplus Girls, which is written under the name Polly Heron, is set in Manchester in 1922. It is the first in a trilogy and each story covers four months of that year, so the first one takes place between January and April and the last one ends at Christmas. The year is important. The Great War has been over for some time, but everybody is still living with the consequences. In my heroine’s home, three generations of women are still in mourning for Ben – the son, grandson and fiancé they all loved – but whereas his mother and grandmother look set to remain in mourning for ever, young Belinda has laid her memories to rest and wants to look to the future, assuming she can build up the courage to tell her honorary mother- and grandmother-in-law, that is.


What kind of research did this book need?
I have always been interested in social and domestic history, so I already had a certain amount of knowledge. Specifically, I had to look into the lives of some real surplus girls, and women in general, to find out about their work prospects and the kind of living standards that their wages were likely to give them. This was crucial to the plight of the surplus girl. Having lost her chance of marriage, she faced a future of providing for herself.

How do you write – do you edit as you go, or have a specific routine, or…?
I am quite disciplined. I set targets. I set a word count target for the month and divide it into weeks. I edit as I go, but I don’t let the editing take over. It’s important to feel the book is moving along – and, of course, those weekly targets keep me focused. For me, the most important working day is Monday. It is important to get plenty done on Monday so that my week gets off to a good start. When I have finished writing the book, I send it to my agent, who makes editing suggestions for improving it. After I have worked on those, I return it to her for her to send to the publisher.

How do you relax?
I live at the seaside and I love getting out and about in the fresh air. Living beside the sea, and specifically living in Llandudno in North Wales, was a childhood dream of mine and we have been here for six years now. Best of all, I like to take my writing pad with me and settle down by the sea to work.


What’s next?
What’s next for The Surplus Girls in publishing terms is book 2, which is already written, and in writing terms, is book 3. As well as being part of a trilogy, each book is a stand-alone novel with its own heroine – Belinda, Molly and Nancy. Each book explores different a different theme. Loyalty and loss in Belinda’s story; independence and sexism in Molly’s; and courage and self-belief in Nancy’s.

Thank you, Polly!
And here’s some more about The Surplus Girls:

The Surplus Girls is a family saga set in 1922, four years after the end of the Great War. The heroine is Belinda, who got engaged at 15 to Ben, who died near the end of the war. Now Belinda is approaching 21 and, although she will always hold Ben in a special place in her heart, she knows it is time for her to move on. But how can she, when Ben’s mother and grandmother, whom she lives with, are still deep in mourning? As for Belinda’s own family – well, her father has lost more jobs than you can shake a stick at, and her mother, worn down with shame, is clingy and demanding.

When Belinda joins a secretarial class to try to better herself, little does she imagine that it will open up a whole new world to her. For not only does she learn to type, but she meets the beguiling bookshop owner Richard Carson… and falls head over heels in love. But who is this man to whom she has entrusted with her heart, and what does he really want?

Polly Heron has worked as a librarian, an infant teacher, a carer and a cook. She lives in beautiful North Wales with her husband and two rescue cats, but her writing is inspired by her Mancunian roots.

Polly’s saga series, The Surplus Girls, is set in Manchester and explores what happened to girls who, after the terrible death toll of the Great war, faced life alone. Each book is also a stand-alone novel.

Polly also writes as Susanna Bavin.

You can find out more about Polly on her website, on Twitter and Amazon.

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The ‘F’ books… #A-Z books 📚

This is an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. Don’t worry, I’m planning on taking around 26 months to get to Z – each month I’ll post a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.

 

Today it’s the ‘F’ books:

 

Mandy James’ The Feud was published last spring. Like her other books, it’s set in Cornwall and has a lovely atmospheric cover image that goes beautifully with the story. Matt, the new teacher in the village of St Agnes, finds himself in the middle of a 200-year-old family feud – should he go back to London?

 

 

 

 

 

I’d forgotten about this one until I was hunting around for my ‘F’ children’s book. It’s the story of Almanzo, who became Laura Ingalls Wilder’s husband. Laura’s Little House books are famous the world over and I devoured them as a child, though I didn’t read this one until I was an adult.

 

 

 

Dorothy L. Sayers has always been one of my favourite writers. I prefer Gaudy Night and Busman’s Honeymoon to this one, but like her others it’s a good murder mystery, and it’s set in Scotland, too. I must say I prefer the cover image my own copy has, but unfortunately it’s too well-read and battered to photograph for this blog series…

 

 

 

Coming next month: the G books.

(And I’ll just say very quickly that Baby Dear is on a UK/US 99p Kindle deal this weekend. As you were.)

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The Wolf of Dalriada

A few weeks ago I met Elizabeth Gates on Facebook, and when I heard that her new book The Wolf of Dalriada was set in my old home country, Scotland, I had a closer look. Isn’t it a lovely cover? Here’s Lizzie to tell us more about it:

Forty years ago, when the rain stopped but the mist did not lift, I heard shepherds calling in Gaelic to their dogs. On the hills of mid-Argyll, Scotland, the sound was entrancing but that was also one of those moments when something – you may not know what – is born. For me, that was the moment when The Wolf of Dalriada stories were born and they have followed me on and off though all my life ever since.

But life, like novels, needs a ‘What if? Moment’  too. And that moment, for The Wolf of Dalriada stories, came a few years (decades) after the Argyllshire Gathering. I was in a library and quite by chance I came across Caroline Weber’s wonderful book, Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette wore to the Revolution (2007). I wondered then, ‘What if a young seamstress from the court of Versailles was imprisoned in the Hills of Argyll? Given the Scottish ability to keep secrets, who would know about her? Who would hold her captive and for what surely evil purpose? And who would rescue her? And what would this hero achieve by doing so? Would he be free to enjoy the company of a beautiful and vulnerable woman? Or would he have other claims on his sword arm? And what would the French seamstress’s captor have to say about it all?

Hall of Mirrors, Versailles.

And so the story of the noble-born seamstress Adelaide de Fontenoy and the Laird, Malcolm Craig Lowrie, began to grow until it became a tale of obsessive and ruthless cruelty set against the break up of society’s norms. The whole of Europe was a maelstrom of ideas at the time (1793, the year of Marie Antoinette’s death). And in the Highlands of Scotland, the old ways were giving way to a more sophisticated and venal approach to land management – the Clearances.

Against this backdrop and fighting to survive are members of the Highland Clans or French families – aristos and others – swept into the maw of Madame La Guillotine. Survival is by no means certain. So then . . . who can save people who want only to live and love in the stark landscape of the Highlands and Islands or make their way in one of the most lovely cities in Europe? Who can ride the storm? Only, it seems, the young Laird, the Wolf of Dalriada . . .

But The Wolf of Dalriada stories also pose a question closer to home. How, in difficult and dangerous times, do you live from day to day? After all, even if you are in the throes of Revolution, you still need lunch. And this story provides a few ideas.

The first novel, The Wolf of Dalriada, is published and available through Amazon.co.uk and Troubador as an e-book or a personally-signed print book (in UK only) through my own website. In February 2020 – appropriate for Valentine’s Day – the second novel, Staining the Soul, will be launched. (Watch this space!) And I am currently writing the third in the series.

 

I started my writing career at the age of four when I discovered that no-one was writing the stories I wanted to read. My writing career continued and I was rather surprised when I grew up to find that not everyone wanted to write. But since then, I have worked throughout Europe and the United Kingdom, earning my living by teaching or writing or teaching writing. Because I love history, I love the research for world-building that goes with it. Because I love travel, I am at home in cities and wild spaces, in the UK and abroad. And because I love family, friends and labradors, I am always more than ready to ask the questions ‘Why?’ and ‘What if?’ This is why I’m a novelist.

 

Thank you, Lizzie!
You can find out more about The Wolf of Dalriada on Elizabeth Gates’ website, and follow her on Facebook, The Wolf of Dalriada page, Twitter, LinkedIn and Amazon.
The e-book can also be ordered from the publisher’s bookshop.

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The last of summer…

Summer is definitely over. Down on the lake bank yesterday morning, I saw the trees are turning, and in spite of the beautiful sunshine, there was a bite in the air. Time to coorie in for autumn…
But before we get the big slippers out, here are a few bits and pieces left over  from the summer season.

Wedding Bells in Switzerland, the final novella in my series, came out, and the following day I spotted all five books in a nice little row in their category in the Amazon charts. Wrong order, but who’s counting?

Then there was Baby Dear. Amazon take great pleasure in showing it with the most unlikely neighbours, and this was September’s offering. I’m not saying that people who enjoyed A Very Hungry Caterpillar wouldn’t like Baby Dear too, but… Or maybe it’s cross-genre promotion. Gone with the Wind and Where’s Spot (the dog) were a couple of books further down, too.

On a more serious note, Alison Baillie, Louise Mangos and I were delighted to be asked to contribute an article on writing crime in Switzerland for The Woolf, the Swiss writing magazine. You can read the article (Death in Switzerland) HERE, and here’s the photo they used to accompany it, taken a year or two ago at one of Louise’s book launches.

The three of us had several more informal meetings too, along with our women’s fiction writing friend Cass Grafton, who also lives in north Switzerland. It’s always lovely to get together and talk about the ups and downs of the writing life, and if someone’s hit a problem with their plot, we usually find an answer. Here we are at our last meet-up in Zürich. (Prosecco is always involved.)

 

While we’re talking about writerly things, I’m totally in love with my new double-sided bookmarks. Big thanks to son 2 for his hard work on these, and also on the website. Top tip to other writers: if you have children, steer one of them towards IT when they’re at the career-choosing stage. You will never regret it.

 

 

 

We’ll finish off with another of yesterday’s autumnal lakeside photos. (Excuse the cranes; they get everywhere.) In the background you can see most of the Alpstein range, with its highest peak Säntis at just over 2,500m.

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Summer in Switzerland – Einsiedeln and Hoch-Ybrig

It was my first visit to this area, right in the heart of Switzerland. I’d passed by Einsiedeln – best-known for its Benedictine Abbey with the black Madonna – but I’d never actually set foot in the place.

It was a lovely day when my friend and I arrived, but clouds were gathering and we decided to do our walking before they gathered too vigorously. Off we set in the bus to Hoch-Ybrig, where there are a multitude of chairlifts and trails. (We started out at the yellow-labelled lift on the right, and did a series of up, down and along hikes and rides to end up at the yellow Hoch-Ybrig station on the left.)

Going up in chairlift 1. By this time, the clouds were monopolising the sky, but rain wasn’t forecast so we weren’t (too) worried.

Our walk was a mix of cute cows, large hairy centipedes and a steep slope down to the valley.

Up in chairlift 2. By the time we arrived at the top we were beginning to wonder if the weatherman had been right in his rain-free prognosis…

A quick coffee, and down we went, and decided to return to Einsiedeln to see the Abbey. It was spectacular. (And the weatherman was right; the sun was splitting the skies back in Einsiedeln.)

You weren’t supposed to take photos inside so I didn’t, but if you click HERE (Google) then go on Images, there are some fabulous ones. In the distance, we heard the Salve Regina echoing around the abbey as the monks sang, so it was an atmospheric end to the day.

**In other news, Stolen Sister is on a 99p/c UK/US kindle deal, and it’s also free on Amazon Prime UK at the moment, so if you’re a UK Prime member, have a look for some great bargains!**

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The ‘E’ books… #A-Z books 📚

This is an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. Don’t worry, I’m planning on taking around 26 months to get to Z – each month I’ll post a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.

 

This time, it’s the E books:

 

First up is A.J. Waines’ newest standalone suspense novel Enemy at the Window, published this summer. I’ve been a fan of Alison’s books for years, and this is a good one – Daniel’s wife is sectioned for stabbing him – but what really happened?
As well as the standalones, Alison writes the Samantha Willerby Mystery Series, and I devour them all as soon as they come out.

 

 

 

Elidor by Alan Garner was one of my childhood favourites. Four children go into a ruined church, and find that time and space are changed. Darkness is spreading and the land of Elidor is dying. Can they save it?
This is the newest cover of Elidor, but I much prefer the one my ancient old paperback has, with the rearing unicorn.

 

 

 

 

Emma and I by Sheila Hocken is another with a newer cover than my edition has, but this time I’m all in favour –  just look at that face! As a teenager, Sheila was gradually going blind, and dreading the future. Then came Emma…
There are several books in this heartwarming series, which was first published in the 70s or 80s.

 

 

Coming next month: the F books. F may be one of the more challenging letters…

(And I’ll just say very quickly that The Paradise Trees is on a UK/US 99p Kindle deal this weekend. As you were.)

 

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The hottest day of the year…

I like hot weather. But 35°C and more is – whisper it – almost too much of a good thing. So a friend and I decided to spend a day up the Flumserberg, in the east of Switzerland. It’s only 60 miles from here so not too much travelling time involved to get there, and at over 2000m we might even see some snow. It would be cooler than down in the valleys – wouldn’t it? After all, it’s a ski area in winter…

So off we set, first in a lovely air-conditioned train and then in an equally air-conditioned Postbus. Up in the chairlift, and we arrived at the start of the Alpenflora Trail, which we intended to hike along. The views down over the Walensee en route were spectacular.

We arrived at the start of the trail and realised – it was still pretty hot up here. We were walking uphill, too. And there wasn’t much shade… But the Alpenflora was interesting.

Part of the way crossed with a Geology Trail that I’ve earmarked for another (cooler) day. I’m not sure what this is, but it made us laugh.

On we went, heat shimmering all around. We did see snow, in patches.

Ta-da! We were at the highest point.

Lunch, and a shady terrace, had never been so welcome.

Afterwards, we sat there, looking at the next chunk of Alpenflora Trail wind round the side of the Flumserberg… in full afternoon sun, a few brave souls inching their way along it in the distance… and we went for the little train down to base camp again. The train was a replacement for a chairlift under revision, and I can honestly say it was the shoogliest ride ever. The driver came into each carriage in turn before we started off and told us that ON NO ACCOUNT were we to stand up until we arrived back down. (And nobody did.)

A boat trip on the Walensee seemed like a good way to end the day. The heat was still smothering, but we had a breeze off the water. It was sensational.

What I learned that day: you’d need to go up a much higher mountain to escape the heat. My city-soul had a thought as we caught the train back home – a shopping centre would have been a whole lot cooler. But then, think of those views…

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