Author Archives: Sophie

Writing in Lockdown: challenges met, challenges missed

To begin with, I thought writing in lockdown was going to be a doddle. My normal working life was sitting alone for hours alone staring at a computer screen. Then there were those bursts of high energy word-cookery. What would change?

Actually, I was even crazier than that. Staying home and not seeing people, I thought, would give me oodles of time to complete the umpty-um projects on my 2020 schedule. Maybe this was the year I completed three books, cleared out the study, got to grips with social media and started exercising regularly.

Um – no.

The Big Freeze

snow in March 2016What actually happened was that I froze. Pretty much immediately. And completely. Could hardly do a thing.

It was a nasty shock. I was ashamed and a bit scared. At the time, I didn’t tell anyone.

The house got more and more of a tip. I started things I didn’t finish. But for a while I was self-isolating. So nobody knew.

That stage didn’t last. But struggling out of it took me time. And, from things I have been hearing, I’m not alone. Writing in lockdown can be harder than you’d think. Continue reading

Before The Crown there was a love story

COMING 17th September: Before the Crown

One of my favourite authors has written Before the Crown, the wartime love story between a very young Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, RN.
I asked Flora Harding to tell me about it.

Young Royals

Sophie        I say a very young Princess Elizabeth. But actually she and Prince Philip must have known each other all their lives. Weren’t they related?

Princess Elizabeth with Dookie

FLORA   Yes, they’re both directly descended from Queen Victoria and part of an extended network of royal relatives. They would have come across each other at odd family occasions like weddings or George VI’s Coronation.

But there was a five-year age gap. They don’t seem to have had much to do with each other until the famous encounter in 1939. Continue reading

Finding Your Voice

When two writer friends meet their first talk is of editorial revisions. You don’t risk a word on that unfinished book in case it stays that way. And you don’t talk about horrible reviews until you’re on at least your second glass.

But revisions are common to all writers and moaning about them – or sometimes sharing the joy – is a truly bonding experience.

This is the season when reports from the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers Scheme  start to come back. Many of them will contain suggested revisions. Welcome to the club, guys!

But sometimes the report (or a book doctor or even an experienced reader friend) may say: “I don’t think you’ve found your voice yet.” “Inauthentic” may even be murmured.

What does it MEAN? And what can you do about it? Continue reading

Sentimental Romantic

Dirty draft readerThis week I have been considering the nature of a sentimental romantic – and wondering whether I qualify.

Let me put this in context. On Thursday a friend phoned me to say that he had just read a story which he had much enjoyed and thought very romantic. He had told the writer – whom he knew – of this response.

The writer said he was “intrigued”. My friend – let us call him Robert – explained his reasons. Eventually the writer decided that he was OK with the  romantic label “as long as he didn’t mean sentimental.” Continue reading

Reader work

reading with catReader work is a new concept for me. Reading, especially with Companion Cat purring beside me, has always been my purest pleasure.

Fact, fiction,  annual financial statements, cornflake packets, I read them all. And I revelled in the otherwhere of the printed word, quite apart from whatever I learned from the text in question.

During lockdown, I have been reading even more than I usually do. Some old friends, for the dark times. Right Ho, Jeeves never lets me down. Nor does Sylvester. Or Wyrd Sisters, Fire and Hemlock, Persuasion…

But also new voices. Recommendations, serendipitous discoveries, long postponed titles from TBR pile, curiosities. All were interesting, many fitted my mood or preoccupations of the time. A few were utterly fabulous and I binge read everything else the author had written.

But what surprised me was that reading a new book tired me. Especially the ones that I really loved. Nearly as much as writing the damn stuff.

Reader Work – Co-Creation?

Think about it. Reading a new book is nearly as tiring as writing a new book? Continue reading

Reading Fantasy

romantic novelist reading aloudDuring lockdown I’ve been reading even more than usual – and looking back over my Kindle intake for the last 13 weeks, I see that a surprising amount of it is fantasy. I use the term to embrace novels that may be classified also as paranormal, speculative fiction, time travel, alternative history, steampunk or even science fiction.

I was telling a friend this and he looked rather shocked. “You must have been desperate,” he said.

World building fantasy mirrorWell yes, I was – desperate for a cracking good read that would take me somewhere other than a world I was rather fond which seemed to be going to hell in a hand basket. But not so desperate that I lurched into uncharted jungle. I like fantasy. I’ve always read quite a bit of it anyway. Didn’t he?

He shuddered. “Oh romance!” he said. (Actually he said something rather crisper than that, and I found it funny and shouldn’t have, so I’m not sharing.)

I conscientiously did not take umbrage. (And a lot of it was not at all romantic, anyway.) But it set me thinking. 

Why Read Fantasy?

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Gone With the Wind

Cherokee rose, state flower of Georgia

Georgia’s Cherokee rose

This week my eye was drawn to a couple of exchanges about Gone With the Wind on social media.

Gone With The Wind First Edition coverThe book has always been controversial, even when it was first published. It was a huge, instant bestseller, so you couldn’t ignore it. But historians challenged its accuracy and many people were disturbed by its depiction of slave-owning as acceptable and the novel’s attitude to the slaves themselves.

It was published in the USA in 1936, between the end of the Great Depression and the start of the Second World War. It was a debut novel, written by Margaret Mitchell, a 35-year-old woman, and set in her native Georgia.

And it was enormous, a five-part tome covering the whole of the Civil War in the South and its aftermath.

In spite of that, it sold 1 million copies in its first year and won her the National Book Award in 1936 and the Pulitzer Prize in 1937.

Hattie McDaniel, actress in Gone with the WindThe 1939 film of the book was the great colour-filled masterpiece, from the gloriously costumed drawing rooms of Clayton County to the terrifying burning of Atlanta.

It won ten Academy Awards, including Hattie McDaniel’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar, the first award ever to an African American. Though her treatment at the ceremony was shameful, as Queen Latifah is the most recent to point out. It’s all part of the long controversy, social, artistic and academic, that the work has inspired.

Gone With the Wind – the Reader’s Dilemma

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Scribbler’s Progress: Learning from Fellow Writers

writer's tools for scribbler's progressTrying to write during lockdown has set me pondering my Scribbler’s Progress.

I have learned a lot about writing over the years. Some came from experience; also, an occasional discovery of my own. But a lot was quite simply from reading great books or discussing with and listening to other writers.

Remembering has been a pleasure – and salutary for my next project. So I thought I would share, in case some of this might help someone else.

Scribbler’s Progress Milestone 1

@sophiewestonbks in IrelandI wrote stories very happily as long as I could remember. It was a nasty shock, therefore, when I found myself living half way up a cliff in Country Kerry re-writing the same scene for SIX WEEKS until I ran out of time and money.

So I cobbled something together and sent the thing off to publishers. They all  turned it down. I heaved a sigh of relief and haven’t looked at it again.

But the experience shook me. Maybe I wasn’t a writer after all? Until I vaguely remembered something I’d read… Continue reading

Favourite Places and Virtual Visits Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, Sarah and Joanna took you on a virtual tour of some of their favourite places. We hope you enjoyed the ruins — from all around Britain — and the other inspirational locations they took you to.

Now, since we’re still in lockdown, Liz and Sophie are going to be your guides for a second instalment.

Ready? Your trip starts here…

Libertà’s Favourite Places #3 : Standen House & Garden (Liz)

At the first sniff of spring, the DD and I usually head off to our nearest National Trust property,

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Dawn Chorus in a Time of Lockdown

Redwing, fieldfare. ring ouzel

Redwing, fieldfare, ring ouzel

Welcome to Dawn Chorus Day. Yes, it’s a thing. It’s been a thing since the 1980s apparently, Started in Birmingham. Now it’s international. Makes me feel sort of proud and very grateful.

I was talking about birds with my friend Susan last week, We hear them so much more clearly during lockdown. We both bemoaned the fact that they’re yelling their heads off and yet we can’t identify them.

BBC Radio and the Lockdown Effect

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