Dear Readers: Sophie is currently hors de combat with a broken arm so we’re republishing one of her inspiring nature blogs: this one is about owls (from 2019). Enjoy.
First you should know: I love owls. When I was at college, I lived for a time in a cottage opposite a field. We had a visiting Little Owl. I first encountered it when I came home at dusk to find Something sitting on the stone wall that surrounded our garden. I thought a child had dropped a stuffed toy and I reached to retrieve it. Until it OPENED ITS EYES.
It was a Little Owl. And they are really small, as you see. 1.5 bricks tall, max. But the message was direct, unmistakeable and compelling: DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.
It’s not often Cricket, Cary Grant and Dracula come up in the same conversation. Oh, and Banksy. But they do here, following my Bristol research trip.
Why Bristol research?
Why not? It’s my home town so a research trip really appealed! It’s the city where I spent the first decades of my life. I am currently writing a book, set in the Regency, with scenes around the docks and in what was then South Gloucestershire, now just outside the city centre…
But more about the book at a later date
For today’s blog, I want to share with you my delight in a Bristol research trip where I discovered an area of the city that I only knew by name. Montpelier. Continue reading →
Since I made the major step to turn to crime writing (with just a touch of romance) I’ve noticed how many other romance authors have decided to turn to crime.
In my case, the story that became Murder Among the Roses (which is out in audio later this month) had been at the back of my mind for years. I had written a few thousand words, but had never had time to take a serious look at it. But it never let go. It was always there, a little voice nagging at me to get on with it.
It was lockdown, combined with the end of a publishing contract that did it. I realised that if I didn’t write it then, I never would. That gave me the push to take six months away from romance and go for it.
Crime needs more Characters
It was a sharp learning curve. Writing crime is a lot more complex than romance, no matter how many twists and turns it takes to get to the happy ending.
You need a lot more characters for one thing or, as I quickly discovered, the murderer is going to be obvious from about chapter two!
And some advice to anyone thinking of starting a series. You need to keep a very clear bible of who they all are, as they appear, and all the places you mention.
When I started writing my Maybridge Mysteries series, the opening scene for the first book had been in my “ideas” file for years. And I already knew that my main character, Abby Finch, was going to be a gardener.
I had a title in my head – A Rose for the Dead. Since I envisaged a series, it seemed like a really good idea to have a plant name in all the titles.
However, since it appears to be the convention for cozy crime is to have either murder, or death in the title, my publisher, Joffe Books, changed it to Murder Among the Roses.
Having spent thirty years having my working titles changed by my publisher, this didn’t come as a huge surprise. I still prefer mine but whatever sells the book. And I had my flower.
Since the use of plants was going to be part of the branding of the series (next up this autumn, Murder With Mistletoe), I fell down the research rabbit hole looking for plant life that can kill. Continue reading →
This blog is about the unexpected confluence of three crucial strands of my life: a novelist, an ornithologist and War.
It is in one way, pure serendipity. In another it feels as if it has been waiting for me for a long time. It is sobering, yet at the same time it has brought me deep joy. The latter in particular is not at all easy, in this time of terrible news at home and abroad and I am sincerely grateful for it.
And to me it feels like a sign that I am, creatively speaking, in the right place and will find a good path.
See if you agree with me.
An Ornithologist Starts It
The triangle started to come together on 6th June. I was horrified by the wilful destruction of the Nova Kharkova Dam in Ukraine, a short sighted brutality that has caused not only great human suffering but is an ecological atrocity that will run and run.
To divert me, a friend I was visiting pointed out a robin visiting his garden. The bird seemed to have a twig in its beak.
So OK, I couldn’t just sit there for ever, radiating despair over the human condition. I aimed for a sensible question: wasn’t it a bit late for nest building?
We began to talk robins. And pretty soon my host was bringing out a small, slightly worn hardback book. It had a plain parchment coloured cover with a crimson rectangle on the front bearing the title and author’s name: The Life of the Robin by David Lack. It was published in 1943 by H F and G Witherby and cost 7/6.
“It’s wonderful,” he said, patting the little book like an old friend. “Still stands up brilliantly. And it’s very readable, too. Fantastic that the publishers were allowed the paper to print it in wartime.”
I got the message. Civilisation will creep through the cracks, even in wartime. I really did begin to feel a little better. So who was he, this inspiriting author I’d never heard of? Continue reading →
I’ve been a published romance writer for more than thirty years now. That’s seventy books for Harlequin Mills and Boon and a few more for other publishers.
I was in a groove – some people might call it a comfortable rut – but I was producing books that enough people loved to keep me in contract and an advance and royalties coming in.
It’s hard to give up that up just because you’ve had a story in your head for a very long time that refuses to go away.
When you’ve had that security for thirty years, to write a book in a totally different genre — crime — on spec, with no publisher, no advance or promise of publication is like stepping off a cliff.
Sink or swim?
Image by J Garget from Pixabay
Maybe it was lockdown, the sense that life was out of control and might never be the same again. The sense that if I didn’t do it now, then when? That if I didn’t take the risk, would I go to my grave regretting that I didn’t have the courage, or the self-belief that had the “do it now” bells ringing.
I’d delivered the last of the books on my current contract. I could take six months out for a passion project – I knew the story – inspired by a documentary I’d seen. I had my victim, I had my murderer, I had my “sleuth”.
I’d lived with them in my head for a long time. I could give them six months of my life.
Home again, and celebrating another voyage of discovery, complete with devil and postman. Don’t you just love it when you are driving along and suddenly discover something new?
That is what happened to me when I recently travelled back from my writers’ retreat with the Liberta Hivies (and a few others).
It was a dreich day…
Despite the weather, we were taking the scenic route home…
What I didn’t know at the time was that this was the old coaching road. Mailcoaches used this road in the 19th century to carry the mail between Dumfries and Edinburgh.
We have all seen pictures of the mailcoach dashing through the countryside, horn blaring, but did you know there is a monument? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out more about that. Continue reading →
Unwritten conversation very often kicks off a story of mine. I will be elsewhere, not even be thinking about writing, and my imagination will pluck something out of the whirlwind and give it to me. And I know there is more —and the more is a story.
It’s almost like eavesdropping. Even a bit spooky sometimes.
For instance – I was once dozing gently in someone else’s garden. We’d had a good lunch and lot of laughter and she had gone inside to make tea. The other two were talking and I was looking at a couple of apple trees and not paying attention to anything much.
“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”
I imagine, for most of us, our first encounter with a garden in fiction will be Frances Hodgson Burnett’s wonderful book, The Secret Garden. The garden, locked away by a grieving man, is where Mary Lennox, with the help of a friendly robin, and two new friends, discovers a hidden world full of magic and life that transforms all their lives.
“The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in no one knew where she was. It seemed almost like being shut out of the world in some fairy place. The few books she had read and liked had been fairy-story books, and she had read of secret gardens in some of the stories. Sometimes people went to sleep in them for a hundred years, which she had thought must be rather stupid. She had no intention of going to sleep, and, in fact, she was becoming wider awake every day which passed at Misselthwaite.”
Much has been made during the last couple of years of the healing power of nature. That is what Mary’s secret garden does, for her, for her sickly cousin and for her grieving uncle.
January sees the publication of my 70th book for Harlequin Mills and Boon and in the darkest days of winter, it offers the scents and colour of warm early summer days.
Redeemed by Her Midsummer Kiss
Click Cover to buy the book
When a book is written and has been through the publication process, I often struggle to remember what inspired the original idea. How it got from a blank screen to the physical book that I’m holding in my hand.
Redeemed by Her Midsummer Kiss was like that.
I do know that I was thinking about an earlier book in which the garden had featured heavily and which I’d loved writing.