Author Archives: Sophie

Earwigging, Active and Passive. And James Bond

The Listening Servant, Hubertus van Hove,
image courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum

I hooted over Joanna’s post last week. It made me remember a couple of earwigs of my own.

In the first, I overheard a memorable exchange. It came out of the blue, in truly exceptional circumstances. I’d use it in a book, if I could write one good enough.

In the other I was, as it were, earwigged. But I bet the earwiggers remember it. Both cheered me up enormously.

So I thought I would share.

Setting 1: the Exotic Holiday

Buffy's Librarian cocktailOccasionally, I travel with a Birdwatcher. This is frequently rewarding, not least in restoring my writing energy . But best approached with caution.

Imagine a Birdwatcher says, “Come with me to the Caribbean, there’s lots to see.” That’s birds. Where do birds hang out? Rubbish dumps. Sewage plants. Very early in the morning. Think the Dawn Chorus.

So we were on a Caribbean island but this was not a Birdwatcher-planned holiday. We were staying on an old sugar plantation, playing croquet after lunch and drinking planter’s punch at the cocktail hour.

Fabulous birds popped in, going about their normal business. Bananquits (I’m not joking) stole our breakfast sugar. Humming birds, like flying jewels, buzzed about our walks. Fireflies danced after sundown. But…

Scene 1: The Rain Forest

There was a trip into the ancient rain forest which covered the centre of the island. We set off after breakfast and would return for tea. Very civilised.

Also informal. Maybe a little under-organised.

It was a party of, say, seven. Plus two cheerful local guides. They, like us, wore good solid boots, mosquito repellent and binoculars. The others didn’t.

One of the party had to be carried back. (Ankle injury. “No biggie,” said junior guide, the one with a Devon accent.) So they took up the tail end of the group and deputed The Birdwatcher to lead the way down.

Conflict 1: Rivalry

Not difficult. On the way up, the guides had taken a machete to any vegetation that overhung the well-marked path. But one of the party, a Captain of Industry, thought he should be in charge.

His nice wife brokered a peace — I suspect she told him the Birdwatcher’s binoculars had swung it. Well, that’s what I thought myself. We set off, the Birdwatcher leading.

The Natural Leader continued to grumble. And stride down the path, as if he were in a race and trying to overtake.

The terrain made the path zigzag. Sometimes members of the party were a lot closer to each other, as the hummingbird flies, than they quite realised. Behind us, the Natural Leader constantly urged his wife to hurry up

I’m sure that’s why I — though not the Birdwatcher, avian-focused — heard the wife’s patience finally snap.

“I’m sorry Sidney,” she said crisply. “I can’t help it. Some of us are Tarzans and some of us are Janes.”

It’s going to be hard to write a book as good as that!

Setting 2: the Backstory of Bond — James Bond

The street where James Bond livesLondon, a very small residential street of terrace houses. Neighbours sort of know each other, mostly by sight. I live there with two cats.

Senior cat is James Bond. He is v. handsome and strolls the street like Burlington Bertie, especially after the pubs close. (Don’t ask.) Everyone in the street knows James.

One neighbour, returning from a weekend’s shooting, rings my doorbell. Embarrassed, he introduces himself. He has brought me a brace of grouse. I am surprised, but charmed. Then he explains: “For James.” Because senior cat waltzed into their house and pinched one the weekend before.

Oh. Right.

I thank him prettily and ring my mum — what do I do with bird carcases? “Take them to the butcher,” says the fount of all wisdom with great firmness.

Scene 2: The London Underground, Morning Rush Hour

Botswana, elephants in herd at sunset ©JoannaMaitland2019I work in the City. I commute. Today the platform is heaving with people.

I fail to get on the first two trains. The third arrives, and the crowd tenses, like a herd ready to charge. I might not jump for this one, but then again, I might. I limber up a bit…

And someone taps me on the shoulder. I swing round, prepared to repel boarders, long lost schoolfriends and chuggers.

To come face to face with a complete stranger. “Excuse me,” she says in a soft American accent. “You don’t know me but…”

Conflict 2: Rivalry?

“You’re Sophie Weston, right? From Number 3?”

I can’t deny it.

“I’ve just been posted to London. We haven’t met but I moved into the street a couple of weeks ago. And I’m afraid I’ve got a confession to make.”

She is clearly embarrassed.  So I suppose I should have guessed…

She swallows and says bravely, “James has been sleeping with me.”

blue question marksThe train arrives. Its doors open. Up and down the platform, the herd bounds forward like one animal, possessed. It leaps, it shoves, it tramples over the fallen.

Except at our end, eerily still. The doors to the carriage that has stopped in front of my new neighbour and me are wide open. A few people get off.

Nobody gets on.

Indeed, the keenest commuters, who had pushed their way to the very front of the crowd, have now turned their backs on the train and are straining to hear my reply.

Me, sighing: “Don’t worry about it. If you leave your window open, he’ll be in like Flynn. Nearly gave Priscilla a heart attack when she moved into Number Twenty-something last year. He jumped on her in the dark.”

She, relieved: “Oh, that’s all right then.”

James Bond (cat not spy) in full gloryAnd to prove it, she sent me a photo of the blasted animal. He had taken over her very best chair and wasn’t moving for anyone.
Of course, he wasn’t.

It was the start of a great friendship.

But I’ve often wondered how many of the earwiggers staggered off to their jobs that morning, utterly convinced that the world was now going to hell in a hand basket.

 

Sophie Weston Author

Sophie

Romantic Novel Awards 2020

On Monday three of us from the Libertà Hive went to the Annual Awards of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association in this their 60th year. It was much less formal than the first awards. (Denise Robins wore black velvet, diamonds AND furs back then.)

But I’m willing to bet this year’s was much buzzier. One Year Dennis Wheatley was guest of honour and sent everyone to sleep with his speech. Mainly about his own books. Even the redoubtable Barbara Cartland failed to catch his eye and get him to Sit DOWN.

RNA AWARDS 2020 Ceremony

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Reading Romance : Why do we do it?

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer with antihero the Duke of AvonThis month I’ve been thinking about reading romance. Who does it? Why? When? And, well, what qualifies as romance? Troilus and Criseyde? Jane Eyre ? Anna Karenina? These Old Shades? Gaudy Night? Bridget Jones?  Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music?

I’ve read them all and I’d say “yes but” to all of them. Many people, maybe most, would disagree with me on at least one.

On 3rd February the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association published its short list for this year’s awards.  It’s the RNA”s 60th anniversary and this year there are nine categories.

My seven stories above would each fall into at least one of them.

Love is in the Air

And then there was St Valentine’s Day last Friday. That always brings out a flurry of saccharine fluff, embarrassing stunts and grimmish think pieces in the media.

Commercialism – shock, horror! Unrealistic emotional expectations from reading romance – fie, sir, write me a sonnet or leave at once! Head for the pub, lads, and fast. Continue reading

Writer’s Clues

This week I have been considering – no, make that marvelling at – writer’s clues we novelists leave sprinkled about our stories. The clue is always a key to unlock some crucial element of plot or character when it becomes important. In other words, later. A breath from the future.

Some are for the readers, especially if we’re writing some sort of whodunnit, whether the crime is murder or stealing a pig.

But some are for ourselves. And some come as a complete surprise to us when we get to the crucial moment. Continue reading

Thanks to Music

Thanks to MusicThis week I’m going to be unashamedly personal, thanks to music. Indeed, I want to say thank you – to friends and well-wishers, fellow writers, musicians of all kinds and the universe.

To put you in the picture – several weeks ago I booked tickets for a concert to take place this past week at the Wigmore Hall.

inner reader, mystery womanIt appealed to me for all sorts of reasons. There was history, discovery (some of the programme was so obscure I thought I’d probably never hear it live again), drama, even youth studies. There was a band I love.

And then there was a sort of deep satisfaction in participating in a major enterprise that would last as long as Mozart’s life.

BUT…

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Writing a Reader Review

publish for impact blurbI find it really difficult to write a reader review of a novel. As an author I am hugely grateful to the kind people who leave reviews of my books on Amazon and other sites. I deeply feel I ought to reciprocate more. But the whole enterprise is fraught with danger.

This is a recurring problem at this time of year. Between Christmas and the end of the year I usually read a lot.

I finish books I’ve left midway during the year for some reason. And I read my Christmas present books. I read books I’ve been setting aside so I can take a good long run at them. And I experiment with books that other people have recommended during the seasonal socialising. And I go back to old favourites because, let’s face it, this is the time of year when memories get hold of you and I’ve got some lovely Bookish Memories. Continue reading

Comfort Reads

The BBC’s recent 100 Books that Shaped our World has started me thinking about comfort reads. What are they? When do we want them? Maybe even need them, indeed. What do they do for us? And how do we find them in the first place?

And is comfort reading a Bad Thing?

Escapism, after all, has got a bad press ever since the word was first coined, apparently in thirties USA i.e. at the height of the Depression. The Oxford English Dictionary defines escapism as “the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.”

Hmm. Continue reading

Romantic Fiction, Readers’ Lives and 100 Novels

reading one of 100 novelsThis month, rather to my surprise, I have found myself thinking a lot about romantic fiction and where it sits in readers’ lives. I write it, read it and love it, as regular readers of this blog will know. And there are some times in my life when nothing else will do. Not every romantic novel, of course. Maybe Persuasion. Or Sylvester. Perhaps The Morning Gift. Or…

But this is not about me…

100 Novels that Shaped Our World

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Slow Burn Story

Successful writer, murder your darlingsThis week I have been finishing a slow burn story. Writing has totally absorbed me. Hardly had time to eat and sleep, let alone read my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Actually Tweet or post Facebook status? Haha. In a contest between us, snowballs in hell would be the bookies’ favourite.

It’s been great. But…

Connecting with a Slow Burn Story

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Lies and Liars – Writer’s Perspective

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about lies and liars. I am writing one story and editing another and find that my characters in both lie much more than I am used to.

The lie is a major tool in the writer’s workbox. Often it turns the plot a full one eighty degrees. Sometimes it drives the whole story. Think of de Maupassant’s The Necklace.

But for a lie to work in a novel, you have to have a convincing liar. By that I don’t mean someone who is habitually economical with the truth. I mean someone who has a good reason to lie and does so. And, even more important, someone whom another person, or even many people, will believe.

Lies and Liars in Romance

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