I can't believe it's been months since I last blogged. My excuses are: first I was busy selling and promoting Stranger on the Point, and then I was getting absorbed in the new novel. After a slow start I set myself writing targets in January and have been making great progress. It has been hard work though as I try to get the small details right. The novel is set in WW2 and follows the story of Helen, granddaughter of Alice, and niece to Lily. At times I just seem to be going round in circles, as I write one thing and then learn it is historically wrong so I have to start again. I had Helen standing on the platform at Lydd Station, when I discovered that passenger trains stopped running the year before. So, the poor woman ended up having to travel to Dungeness on the Brewer's Dray. Once at Dungeness, she walked past the Pilot, but the pub has changed location, and that had to be re-done! What else features in the novel? There are plane crashes, bombs and scenes of women in the NAAFI tea van, alongside the return of well-known characters and new ones too. All Lydd and Dungeness scenes so far, with a brief outing to New Romney. The novel should be completed in a couple of months, but then there will be several more months of checks, with special attention to the historical details. The photo shows a leaflet, which I borrowed as part of my research. It told me about the fund-raising for the repairs to the bombed church of All Saints
Wow! I've been so busy since I ordered Stranger on The Point. Before the books arrived, I set up three book signings and started advertising on Facebook. As interest came through facebook, I sent everyone a message to make contact. Then I started on my list - the first of many - noting down what books were wanted and where people lived. When I had a delivery date, I then started contacting people and arranged my first delivery run covering Brookland, Lydd, and Dungeness in the morning and Dymchurch and some rural areas in the afternoon. The books arrived and I set out, with books and lists, delivering in torrential rain. I love delivering the books. I get to meet so many people and everyone is happy to see me and interested in what I do. The next week, I delivered to Lydd again, then along the coast - Greatstone and Littlestone - and to New Romney and St Mary's Bay. It was still raining! After all that rushing around, I was grateful to spend a day at the fantastic Romney Marsh Visitor Centre, where I am always made so welcome. The book signing was made really special because both Leigh, who painted the hagstones on the cover, and Aaron who designed the cover, came to see me. It's amazing when people come especially to see me and buy my books! The following week, I had a meet the author event in Mary's Tearooms, Dymchurch. Such a lovely morning, sitting drinking tea and eating cake, while chatting to different people who came in. It was a great atmosphere and the cake was yummy as always. It's been exhausting but brilliant fun and I couldn't do it without all the support I get from local people. A huge thank you to everyone who buys my books, comes to see me and writes positive comments on my facebook posts.
As I wait for Rosemary, my proof reader, to send back Stranger on the Point, I'm pausing to reflect on all the support I've had in the last year. Much of it comes from people who are new friends. Of course there have been people who have been there for me throughout my writing journey, but this is for the people who have come into my life in the last year. When I joined Facebook a year ago, with the intention of promoting myself, I wasn't actually brave enough to do it! So huge thanks to Neil who insisted I join groups, tell people about my books and has been a great supporter. He even featured my novel in Lydd Panto! I've has so much support from my new Facebook friends and it makes a massive difference to sales. All your positive feedback encourages other people to buy. I can't mention you all, but special thanks to Alec and Caroline Hobbs who took a chance on buying books from an unknown author and have been constant promoters of my work. It's tough recognising that you're good enough, so a big thank you to Dave who told me never to put myself down for being self-published. I listened and I don't anymore! I'm really proud of my books and their quality. Last spring, I met Mary from Mary's Tearooms in the post office. She offered me an author talk (my first!) and sells my books, taking nothing for herself. Of course I now have to keep going and buying tea and cakes in the tearooms, it's a tough life...! And also thanks to Grant from the post office who sells my Dymchurch novel; it's great to have local support. Also on facebook, I've met authors James Collins and Chris O'Donoghue. It's been great to chat to you both, to gain your support and advice. I could go on and on, I am over-whelmed by all the lovely people I have met this year and the interest there is in my books. I appreciate every comment on facebook and every time someone goes out of their way to come and meet me at a book signing. Thank You! The picture shows me signing a book to the lovely Sue Parry at the New Romney Day Centre talk.
I started my blog in February, when I had just finished But First Maintain the Wall and was thinking about the next novel. So here I am, about seven months later and I've just finished Stranger on the Point. It's been an amazing seven months with But First Maintain the Wall selling really well. More and more people are hearing about my books and supporting me, which is fantastic. For the first time I really made an effort to promote a novel and I've loved meeting so many new people, chatting about my writing and passion for Romney Marsh. Now, I'm back where I was last February, but with a new book. It's just gone to the proof reader and I'm thinking about cover designs. Hopefully I'll be ready to reveal a cover design very soon and the novel should be ready by the end of November! I'll be planning some meet the author events and book signings, as well as promoting through Facebook. But as before, my thoughts are also on the next novel. Another sequel to Secrets of the Shingle and Stranger on the Point, this one will take readers to the Second World War. I'm going to need a different approach this time though. Usually I start a novel with an event and just see where the characters take me. I work hard at making it historically accurate within the Romney Marsh setting, but don't plan the plot. But now I need to study Romney Marsh at War and make a timeline of key events, and have an idea of what to include. I guess my characters will still do whatever they chose to do, but the framework will be more structured. I've decided on the opening scene, and the ending. Just got to fill in the other eighty thousand words!
Phew... just before the panic set in, I decided how my latest novel is going to end. I never do much planning, I just start with an event and see what happens. It's fun and can be unexpected. Yes, I do get a few moments of concern that I'll run out of ideas, but I always keep going. A week ago, as I reached about 72,000 words of a 80,000 novel, I still hadn't decided on the final scenes but fortunately inspiration came. I went to visit a ruined building for the first time and realised it was the perfect location to bring the story to an end. I can't say where I was, but it was an amazing place to discover. I've just written 1500 words of the last chapter, as I was so excited about it and I plan to finish it tomorrow. But... I did skip ahead and have another chapter to go back and write. What next? I need to work through my list of things to check, just small queries that need finalising. Then the last chapters need to be checked by my good friend who reads everything as I write it, and will flag up any concerns about character development and consistency, as well as any phrases which are too modern or sentences that don't flow quite right. She also writes lots of lovely comments about my writing! Then it is off to the proof reader. While it's being checked, I'll be thinking about the cover design and organising that. I can't add a photo of the place I discovered, so here is one of the stunning Dungeness landscape.
A few months ago we explored the uses of hagstones in Marsh Ink Writers' Group. These stones, found on local beaches, have holes running through them, worn through many years of erosion. People often collect them and sometimes thread them with wire or string. A book of local anecdotes educated the group about some of the magical purposes of hagstones and inspired our creative writing. Did you know that placing a hagstone under your bed could relieve cramp or rheumatism, possibly caused by a hag or witch sitting on your stomach at night? Or that milk passed through a hagstone will not curdle? In my novel, where I return to Dungeness, there are hagstones aplenty and I decided to feature them in my writing. I'm using a Scandinavian custom of pouring ale through the stone in order to ease birth pains, and a cord of stones which is whirled to dispel bad weather. But for my character, the most significant use will be as a pledge stone. I'm coming to the end of the novel now. Stranger on the Point is booked in with my proof reader for mid-September and then I'll need to be thinking carefully about the cover design. I can't believe it is almost finished; it wasn't that long ago when I was blogging about my first chapters!
This weekend Dymchurch celebrates the novels written by Russell Thorndyke with re-enactments and events throughout the village. I was offered the opportunity to sell my books in the village hall, alongside the Dymchurch Art Society who were displaying their work. They made me so welcome and it was lovely to join them; we had lots of locals and visitors through the door which was fantastic. Heavy rain one afternoon forced the Romney Marsh Morris to dance in the hall, and so we had some entertainment too. I met people who had already read some of my books and some who were new customers. A fantastic weekend with some lovely people. The photo shows a selection of cards I bought. Good to support local people.
Last week I moved away from Romney Marsh and wrote two Ashford based chapters to be included in my new novel. Secrets of the Shingle had two chapters set in Willesborough, Newtown and the town centre. The sequel includes Eastwell Lake, Victoria Park and the town centre. The Eastwell Lake scenes were inspired by my editor who spoke of a marble figure which used to be in the church when she was younger. She recently found the same figure in the Victoria and Albert museum. I'm hoping she'll have a lovely surprise when now finds her in my pages. I joined an Ashford facebook page and soon had some of my queries answered; now the tearooms and local newspaper have names rather than highlighted ???? in the text. So, the Ashford pages have been competed to my satisfaction and my characters are once again back in more familiar surroundings. I also re-visited Newtown earlier this month; it was an area which really interested me when I wrote the earlier novel and as I re-read it, I was once again drawn to explore the area. One of my photos shows Newtown Green with the tall building being the public baths. The other is the marble lady of Eastwell Lake - isn't she grand!
Last weekend, I went to Dungeness. I thought it was important to go exploring as I am re-reading Secrets of the Shingle and am now half-way through writing the sequel. I retraced Alice's (my fictional character) footsteps from the old mainline train station, along the tracks to the remains of the school. Very little is left of what was once quite a substantial building – just a few scattered slates, bricks and some concrete bases. The school was built in 1876 and closed in 1940. It also served as a church, with a curtain pulled across the east window and altar during the week. Accommodation for the teachers was attached. The shingle now has far more plant life on it than in the 1890s; it would have been even bleaker in those times. The school also featured in a Malcolm Saville book but he described it as having two storeys, which doesn't appear to be accurate from the photos. Monica Edwards also takes her characters from Rye Harbour to Dungeness, where they use the RH&DR steam train to travel to Dymchurch. I've now written 43,000 words of the new novel, which is fantastic progress for me and I am so enjoying writing this book. I don't start with a fixed plan. In fact, I start with very little plan at all. Just an idea of a dramatic event to begin with, a main character or two and then I see what happens. It's good fun and I do get a few shaky moments when I wonder what is going to happen next. But it all works out and the words keep flowing. As with the previous novel, my main character will go to Ashford and I am just about to write a couple of chapters set there. That's all quite new to me, so a bit of research to be done. I had best get on with it if this novel is going to be ready for the end of the year...
This week I went on the Romney Marsh Historic Churches Tour as part of JAM on the Marsh. We visited four churches and learned a huge amount about the history of these gorgeous buildings, thanks to Joan Campbell. In the past I learned about a possible anchorhold at St Nicholas in New Romney. Joan spoke about the belief that only the most saintly went straight to heaven on death and most of us had to work our way through purgatory. The more the living could do to ease the deceased through purgatory, the better. One of the most extreme examples is to brick someone up in the walls of the church, with a window towards the altar and another to the churchyard. The anchoress' whole existence was devoted towards praying for the dead person in order to speed up their journey to heaven. This inspired me to place one of my characters in an anchorhold in What the Monk Didn't See. What inspired me this time? I love East Guldeford Church. It is so different to the other Marsh Churches and equally beautiful. The freeze of angels shown here is high up on the walls. Joan suggested they were painted in Victorian times at a time when the fashion was for the 'less advantaged' women of the parish to become engaged in pursuits to improve their minds. Wouldn't you love to know who painted these angels and what impact it had on their lives to be involved in such a project? Maybe one day I'll put these women and their painted angels into a novel.