A League Of Their Own, The Queen and me

Princess Elizabeth ( later Queen Elizabeth II) as an ambulance driver during WW2

Whatever your views on monarchy there is little doubt the passing of Queen Elizabeth II signifies the end of an era. For a 96-year-old woman to continue working for her country is phenomenal. She devoted her life to her service, which seemed to be a facet of the war generation who put duty first.

When I was doing research for my debut novel, Warm Pearls And Paper Cranes, I interviewed people who lived through WWII and the theme through all the narratives was the overriding sense of duty, of putting their needs aside for the greater good. This was something Maud held true to, just like the Queen.

Despite her wealth and power, the Queen had very little wriggle room to express herself, and she was supposed to be entirely neutral. I love that she engaged in a little humorous subterfuge, making political comments even though she never said a word out of place. For example, she wore a brooch given to her by the Obamas, when she met Trump; she wore a floral blue and yellow hat that looked like the European flag in post Brexit Britain; and drove the Saudi prince herself in her Land Rover. I also wonder if Paddington Bear coming to tea for the Jubilee was not just about the joke about what she had in her handbag, but also that she welcomed the bear from Peru, the refugee, at a time when the Government is making refugees criminals and deporting them to Rwanda, rather than treating them with the compassion and respect they deserve.

The lack of expression and opportunities was even more so with ordinary people. Ironically, women were only given opportunities because of war, whether that was jobs or unchaperoned access to a social life, and there would’ve been no women’s baseball team if it hadn’t been for the Second World War.

Like any self-respecting lesbian, I devoured the series A League Of Their Own desperate for queer representation on the small screen. The storyline that resonated most was that of Max and Clance, their wonderful friendship, and battling for representation and access to equal opportunities, which was denied them, despite there being an edict to help the war effort.

Although there are more opportunities for people now irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation than there were when the Queen served as an ambulance driver during the war, we need to cling onto our rights and push for those who are denied to be who they truly are.

I did not Queue (capitalised of course) for hours to see the coffin, but I do mourn the end of the second Elizabethan age, and rue the passing of the putting-others-first war generation, and hope that we will continue to approach life with discussion across the divide and retain a sense of humour.

Of Art and Artists…

Gentileschi, Artemisia; Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria; The National Gallery, London; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/self-portrait-as-saint-catherine-of-alexandria-243732

Last week I completed the final edits on my new novel, Of Light and Love, which tells the story of a famous artist, Caro, who loses her muse when her wife dies and she can no longer paint. She has to resort to letting out a room to a younger woman, Laura, who is studying animation. It is a sapphic age gap romance, and also gave me an excuse to explore the nature of art. Naturally it required a lot of (extra) research, which was interesting, although most never reaches the page.

I thought it would be fun to include some of the paintings referred to in the book. The main picture is by Artemisia Gentileschi, who is Caro’s hero (and mine). She was an amazingly resilient woman, and despite a traumatic life she painted until old age with passion and sensitivity. Caro and Laura travel to the National Gallery in London and rave over the painting above.

Three other paintings mentioned in the book are Escher’s staircases as depicted in Relativity, which distorts perspectives and gravity; what should be coming up is going down etc. This is how Caro feels some of the time, following the death of her wife. The next painting also features a staircase, and is Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. This was one of the first representations of movement in a painting. Caro decides she’d like to paint Laura as she dances around the kitchen when she’s cooking. The final painting shown above is one of a series of paintings by David Hockney, done during lockdown on an iPad. Laura and Caro have a “discussion” about whether you can really paint using digital media. Caro is not impressed.

Anyway, fingers crossed Of Light and Love will be out in September. In the meantime if you would like a free story, do sign up for my quarterly newsletter. Follow this link http://eepurl.com/h2Bien and receive a free copy of When Hannah met Suki. Hannah and Suki are two main characters from my debut novel Warm Pearls and Paper Cranes.

Cover for When Hannah met Suki

Exploding Out of Writer’s Block

Hindenburg disaster
Hindenburg Disaster 1937

Okay that’s a tad dramatic, but to be honest I’ve been struggling the past few days to get words on the screen, for my latest novel, working title Love in a Green Climate. Ironically, I wrote more words per day when I was on holiday in Lanzarote than I have at home with no distractions. I even resorted to clearing out part of the garage and waiting in the line for the recycling centre to avoid writing. The story is all plotted out ( thanks to the Global Wordsmiths retreat a few weeks ago) and I have written the backstory of my characters, but the words flowed as readily as bitumen, by which I mean hardly at all.

I didn’t like the characters very much. It’s an enemies to lovers tale (two people on different sides of the climate change debate) and they were just being snarky and bitchy with each other. I thought there’s no way these two would ever get together. I pushed through, trying to force them together but nothing worked. They made it very clear they didn’t want to be in the same room together, never mind anything else.

So I paused and let them settle and sulk while I did more research on the whole climate change debate. I love electric cars but it worries me that lithium, which is critical in batteries, is a finite resource and is devastating for the environment when it’s extracted. I then explored the use of hydrogen, which got a bad rep after the Hindenburg disaster in the 1930s, yet the latest technology uses smaller cells and is less explosive than fossil fuels. To be truly ecological though the hydrogen needs to be made using renewable energy. As always there are compromises and concerns, and I wanted to show this in the novel without becoming proselytising. I’ve taken copious notes, but I was still stuck on the writing.

If you don’t like your characters how can you write about them? I can’t, and I’m sure people wouldn’t want to read about them either, unless they have a very strong understanding of why they are as they are.

This morning about five am I woke from a strange dream where I was running. Although I entered half marathons and 10ks in the past, I haven’t run for about ten years because my knees have had it, but it seemed obvious that my characters needed to go for an impromptu run to break down the barriers while they sweated and competed against each other. I don’t know if it will make the final cut, but it was the breakthrough I needed to get me back on track. I was going to say “off and running” but thought that would be too groan worthy.

Finally, my characters are talking to me. But they’re feisty, strong women and don’t want to be coralled where they don’t want to go. So I’ll let them have a bit more rope and see where they take me. Wish me luck.

Everything is Blue and Yellow

Download a copy today on getbook.at/LesFicEclecticUkraine to read some great WLW stories and raise money to help Ukraine

Facing down the barrel of another war it is too easy to slip into helpless rage and sorrow, even though it may be pointless.
I don’t normally make political comments but I detest unfairness and lack of compassion and humanity towards the Ukrainian refugees.

I wrote a poem after the capitulation in Afghanistan, but sadly it applies equally to the Ukraine where people fleeing war are denied access to the UK and have to go through ridiculous bureaucratic processes to have their visa applications scrutinised.

On the passing of Priti’s Bill
( Priti Patel is the UK Home Secretary responsible for visas to enter the UK)
January 2022

Desperation does not wait
for embassies to file
its visa application,
If the embassy’s still there,
Or the authorities approve.
If you need to flee
to save your life
To catch the last plane out
You go.
And all the lives
And limbs blown up
The scrambling of minds
Was it worth the sacrifice?
For nothing?
Our shame at leaving Kabul to its fate,
The women’s lives undone, unwound,
The promises we’ve broken,
The lies we told.
Where is humanity?
Hiding in fear
Along with trust
And cowering under cover.
And the minister of liquid lies
Says we’re all right
Don’t worry
Like giving a dummy
To a baby.
But we know, we see, we witness.
We stand, we shout, we tear down walls.
If there are no rights for everyone
There are no rights at all.
—-

And so months later we are faced with another humanitarian crisis, this time in Ukraine. As individuals we cannot stop the war, but we can support those agencies who are on the ground making a difference, and those who are making small acts of resistance where they can.
I admire those in Russia opposing the war, like the old woman on the metro wearing yellow and blue, I wish her courage.
To those in Ukraine resisting as they can I wish for strength and resilience.
For those fleeing war I wish for safety and welcome.

For those who mock and satirise i am grateful for the smile, like the council in Don Laoghaire, Ireland who have proposed a change of address for the Russian Embassy from Orwell Road to Independent Ukraine Road.

If everyone of us did a little we can impact the lives of those fleeing and help.
When Robyn Nyx of Butterworth Books asked if I’d be happy for my story to be included in the lesfic eclectic 3 anthology which is now being sold through Amazon to raise funds for the Disaster Emergency Committee in Ukraine I jumped at the chance.
So please donate what you can directly to DEC

https://www.dec.org.uk/


And also,
do yourself a favour,
download lesfic eclectic 3.
You raise money to help agencies in Ukraine AND you get to read some fabulous WLW fiction from both established authors and newbies like me.
The link to purchase is:

getbook.at/LesFicEclecticUkraine

Thank you.

🙏

To Read or Not To Read, That is the Question?

Recording studio for a day

There is nothing so excruciating as hearing your own voice played back with all the stumbles and sibilants. I take my hat off to the professional voice actors who do this day in and day out. My editor suggested that I record me reading my debut novel, Warm Pearls and Paper Cranes. I would have loved to pay for a professional to bring the characters to life, but it is a dual timeline, dual romance book, which means it is long, and would be beyond the budget of a debut author, unless I treat it as a loss leader!

We only recorded three chapters ( of fifty) as a sample and it took all morning. I was very lucky that a friend has all the equipment ( and editing skills) and was happy to do it as a favour, but I felt guilty at taking up his time. I couldn’t help giggling at a malapropism or two and was surprised at all the pacing errors, sharp intakes of breath, and crinkly trousers. Who knew walking trousers have a noisy rustle to them?

You would have thought with two degrees, professional qualifications and a career’s worth of presentations that I would be able to read my own words without sounding inarticulate, but no. To be fair, Paul, my friend, said with some practice and chopping it down into smaller segments I could get there. The question is whether I want to invest the time and effort and maybe still not be happy with the result. Conversely, I could squint at my bank account and pay for a professional, but what if they don’t voice my characters as I have them in my head, and I’m still disappointed?

So I’m left with a dilemma; to record my own work or not. What are your views on authors narrated their own works?

The Unexpected Emotions On Completing the Shitty First Draft

Finish of the Shitty First Draft…

I’ve completed the shitty first draft of my latest novel with a day to spare. The revised goal was to complete it by the end of the year, and it has been a struggle as I’ve spent a large chunk of the last few months looking after my 92-year-old Dad and my brother who has just had a major operation. I was then laid low with labyrinthitis, which sounds like it ought to by a sequel to a film by Guillermo Del Toro, but is an infection of the inner ear, so it was sit up and throw up for a number of weeks. I’m very grateful to the help of my friends and the writing retreat run by Global Wordsmiths to get me to the finish line.

After dancing around the lounge in celebration, I returned to the computer, was faced with an empty page, and felt … bereft. I’ve got a million things to do, none of which appeals, and I know I’ll motivate myself to do at least some of them later on, but I was surprised by the strength of the emotion. It’s not as if I don’t know I’ll need to rewrite the novel a few times before it is fit for public consumption, because I do, but I expected to feel jubilation and relief and a sense of achievement, not an aching sense of loss. So, after a cup of tea and a little reflection I reckoned it was the loss of sense of purpose. Not the obligations and duties which seem to increase exponentially because those are always there with their heavy reminders, but the sense of doing something that fills my thoughts and warms my soul.

Does anyone else have this sense of deflation after finishing something?

Tea with the Vicar, or How (Not) to Market a Book

View to the church

I’ve been looking after my 91-year-old dad who has just come out of hospital after a bad fall. His confidence has been knocked and we still don’t know why he blacked out, but I can tell he’s improving. He’s started working on the fiddly bits of the galleon he’s building from scratch again, and there was a whole bingo card of swear words as he was engrossed in trying to get it right.

 My dad is fortunate in that he lives in a small village with a real sense of community. He has been heavily involved in the church and parish council for many years and there is a whole group of women in the village who have been looking out for my dad. In addition to umpteen phone calls, he had people calling in with eggs, biscuits and cakes all of which he was delighted to receive. Then he wonders why he has put on weight!

One call was from the vicar. She asked if she could pop around in the afternoon. Although she took over the three parishes just before Covid she hadn’t been inside my dad‘s house before.

So, the vicar came to tea. It sounded like a cliche.

Dad insisted I get down and wash the best China and prepare the tea and homemade biscuits when she arrived. I was happy to do that, and when I joined them in the conservatory, she was already discussing the readings for the next 8 o’clock service with my dad.

I asked her what the biggest challenge was in bringing together three parishes into one.

“Having three parishes is not the problem, the biggest challenge is trying to bring different factions together in the church. There are three different factions, liberals, the evangelicals, who are probably the most active, and the traditionalists like your dad. They all want something different for the church.”

We had an interesting conversation for about twenty minutes with Dad saying he didn’t want anything to change and he didn’t want the “happy clappy” services, thank you very much.

Then the vicar turned to me. “What do you do?”

“I’m a retired accountant, and now I write books.”

Most people would leave it at that, or say “that’s interesting,” and move on. However, the vicar is one of those people who listen intently and always seem as though they are genuinely interested in what you have to say. It’s very powerful and appealing.

“What’s the book about?” she asked and nibbled on a cookie, waiting for an answer.

Ah. How would I explain this? To add a bit of context, when I first came out to my dad many years ago, he cut me out of his will and had nothing to do with me for a long time. It’s been a long road back to being accepted and part of that acceptance is that we never talk me being a lesbian.

I tried to ignore my dad’s glare, although I could almost feel his eyes boring down on me, willing me to say nothing.

I wasn’t going to be silent, so I smiled at the vicar and said, “it’s a lesfic romance.”

She didn’t blink an eyelid, clearly knowing what that was, she returned the smile and asked, “Are you gay?”

I stole a glance at Dad, who stared at me stony eyed, his mouth a straight line.

“I am, but we don’t talk about it.” I indicated my dad.

“I’m not talking to your dad; I’m talking to you.” she smiled. “Tell me about the book.”

So, I proceeded to explain it being an intergenerational story, covering the period from 1939 to the present day, with themes of secrecy, prejudice and love.

“It sounds really interesting,” she said, “I’ll have to pre-order that.”

“You’ll have to shut your eyes on some of it.” I explained and she laughed and gesticulated that it wouldn’t bother her.

I have no idea if she has pre-ordered it, but I am very grateful. She acknowledged me, who I am and what I’ve achieved and wasn’t going to put up with any of my dad’s prejudices. It was the first time in twenty odd years that Dad has had to confront my whole truth (after the first disastrous time, I’ve never taken any girlfriends to meet him) and it was good for him to hear that the church has moved on, somewhat, and the vicar approves and encourages me and others like me.

Needless to say, Dad has not mentioned the conversation at all, but I think he’s had to think about it.

Afterwards, I thought how bizarre that I’m happy to chat about the book to the vicar, the plumber, and window cleaner, because that doesn’t feel like marketing. Yet I balk at having to sell myself, or go online onto the various Facebook and Twitter groups and say, hey you don’t know me but buy my book, it’s great.

That’s what I’ll have to do, though. Maybe if I can treat it as if I am just chatting with friends and they’re asking what I’ve been up to, then it will feel more natural.

Does anyone actually enjoy doing the marketing? To me it feels like selling myself, selling my soul, not letting people know about what I’ve been working on for the last year. And now it’s available to pre-order, it’s all starting to feel a lot more real.

Pre-release Anxiety and Excitement

Opening the proof copy of my debut novel, Warm Pearls and Paper Cranes

As it comes closer to release day for my debut novel, I’ve started to shred my nails, even though I haven’t bitten them for many years. I think I’m as nervous as when my daughter had her first day at school, knowing she needed to be out in the world, but hoping she wouldn’t be targeted by bullies or be called horrible names.

Releasing a book feels very similar. I’m quite a private person, having many acquaintances but a few really close friends I’d walk through fire for. So the thought of being vulnerable to strangers who have no interest in being kind or understanding is giving me nightmares. So far people have been kind, and I love that, with some exceptions, the lesfic world seems more interested in supporting and helping each other up, rather than pulling each other down. Long may it continue.

I was surprised by one very close friend, who typically does not read lesfic, said it seemed to fall between two genres: lesfic and romance. When I asked her to clarify she said it was all about the sex scenes. She thought they were unnecessary, and if it weren’t my book she was reading, she wouldn’t have gone past them. Not that there was anything wrong with the sex scenes, she said, just that she wasn’t expecting them, or if they were there, she expected there to be more at the end. When I explained it was not unusual in lesfic to have sex and romance intertwined within a book she seemed happy, but suggested that if I wanted to market it into more general/ women’s fiction maybe I should leave those out.

So, it got me thinking about whether you should tailor the book for distinct markets with different editions. Yet I have read some of the more recent women’s/ general fiction that can be quite explicit. Having said that when I was researching book covers, I noticed that some books have separate covers for different media (very crudely, kindle tends to be bolder and brighter, paperback more stylish). I guess the tweaking of the book could be done later, in the meantime I have some nails to bite.

And if you are interested the blurb for Warm Pearls and Paper Cranes is:

A family torn apart by secrets. The only way forward is love.

Maud Heaston has been in love with Beatrice Williams since they first met in 1939. They’ve been through hell and back; family, careers, and secrets have threatened to tear them apart, but their love has endured it all. Until now. Old age and illness have forced them into separate nursing homes and the family Maud trusted to take care of them are only out for themselves.

Hannah Jones is trying to put her past behind her and find her place in the world. Midway through a doctorate and living with Suki, the woman she’d like to be more than just friends with, the last thing she needs is Gammy, her interfering great aunt, back in her life. Though Gammy took Hannah in when her mother died, her overbearing nature and constant criticisms forced them apart. Now they barely speak.

Maud needs Hannah’s help to be reunited with the love of her life. Hannah needs Suki to take a chance on love. Can a reconciliation between Maud and Hannah free them both to be with the women they love or will the past destroy their future?

The release date is 15th October, and it can be pre-ordered now through the following:

getbook.at/WarmPearls

Should You Judge a Book By Its Cover?

If the cat sits tear it…

For the last week or so I’ve been trying to work up a design for the book cover for my debut novel, Warm Pearls and Paper Cranes. Having got a number of suggestions back from designers, I spread them all out neatly on the floor so I could do a compare and contrast exercise. Jerry must have strong opinions as he scattered them and then shred one. Clearly, he doesn’t appreciate the work and thought that’s gone into them. Or maybe he was just aiming to get my attention. He succeeded.

I rescued the remaining designs and asked my daughter what she thought. She dismissed most of them. Okay, all of them. They were either too dull, too cluttered, or only showed the WW2 side. Because the story is intergenerational it covers not just contemporary romance, but travels back to 1939 and it is really difficult to bring that together in a picture. We tried with letters etc, which links the two generations, and how Hannah, the younger protagonist, discovers the secrets of her Great Aunt Maud, but again they didn’t stand out, particularly when looking at a thumbnail, which is how most people will come across the book.

Robyn, my editor said I needed to consider the market, the tones and fonts that work and subject matter, and pushed a link through for the top lesbian romance and women’s fiction, where it could also fit. I took the hint that what we had wasn’t hitting the mark. Well, it wasn’t really a hint, but hey, I can wear my big girl pants.

So back to the drawing board, I mean computer. I downloaded a free piece of software called gimp, which is like a free version of photoshop. Seriously, that’s the name they decided to go with? They could have just called it IMP, image manipulation programme, and we would have just nodded our heads. Especially as I have been struggling with how to use the masks. No, I don’t want to go down this side line.

Eventually after some suggestions from a close friend, I worked on an alternative that seemed to hit the market (it features a young woman), and hints at the conflict – she’s wearing pearls, which seems a more old-fashioned style and also has a paper crane tattoo. It also has a strong visual impact which I was aiming for.

“No,” my daughter said, “that’s not Maud, and I can’t imagine Hannah wearing pearls.”

“The cover is not supposed to portray the characters completely, just intrigue the reader enough to pick up the book, or scroll down to read the blurb and hopefully decide they’ll download it.” I replied. My editor agreed with my daughter, saying it was an Audrey Hepburn knock off, so it hit the reject pile too.

The challenge got me thinking though. Do the covers have to be a literal translation of the characters? I know a lot of them don’t, particularly traditionally published fiction. If someone is described as really tall, or quite boyish/butch looking I don’t really expect to see two femmes together on the cover, but that does seem to be the norm. Because I like data, I did a quick straw poll. Of the eleven covers in the top fifty paid lesbian romance on Amazon that show two women together, nine were of two femmes together and the other two covers you couldn’t tell.

Would it put me off completely though, and do I feel disappointed? No, not if I’ve enjoyed the book. One of my favourite authors is Olivia Waite and the cover characters don’t look like they’re described in the books at all; they are definitely pitched within the romance genre showing two characters who happen to be female and very femme. Does it matter? I guess if I didn’t like the books that would be another mark against it, but I will happily pre-order whatever she has in the feminine pursuits series, irrespective of the cover, because I love her writing style and her characters.

Does it bug you if the people on the cover are very different from how you imagine them, or as they are described?

Excuse me, I need to get back to yet more cover design ideas.

Coping with Reopening Anxiety… ( kind of)

Teignmouth, Devon, England

I’ve had a very fortunate lockdown and I’m very grateful, because I live surrounded by beautiful countryside, I enjoy the company of the people I live with, I’ve been able to go out for walks with friends and I’ve been working on my novel. So I’ve been busy, engaged and even enjoyed zoom quizzes, poetry readings and catch ups with friends and family. Don’t judge me!

Of course I’ve had worries and concerns, one of the biggest being my 91 year old Dad but he’s been keeping himself busy and my brother and I have managed to visit him and deliver “red cross parcels” and sort out his ipad…again.

I know a lot of people have struggled and my heart goes out to them. So when one of my closest friends invited me to go away to a house in Devon overlooking the water, to help celebrate her birthday with a small group of friends, I should have been delighted. And I was. Then I panicked. Not so much about Covid,as we had all been double jabbed and had all agreed to take a test in the morning before travelling, but about seeing people, mixing with people and having to interact with them.

It was great, but exhausting. It was wonderful to be with friends and to see the sea, play games and go sightseeing. The issue that freaked me out was having to deal with other people’s energy, baggage and agendas. It’s as though over the past eighteen months I’ve become even more of an introvert than normal and need even longer to recharge my batteries and do my ‘reset’.

I thought it was just me. But when I spoke to others, when I was away and since then, and a lot of people seem to be having similar concerns. My daughter informed me there is a name for it, reopening anxiety. There is also a web page dedicated to it on the NHS website. https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/coronavirus/tips-to-cope-with-anxiety-lockdown-lifting/

So they great news is… we are not alone! I guess we now need to negotiate how we greet people (do we give them a hug or a kiss?), decide whether to wear masks or not (personally, I will be in public places) and do a risk reward assessment of every social event. I’m happy going to an art gallery or museum (I can’t believe how much I’ve missed that), but will avoid a raucous pub watching the football (soccer). That doesn’t stop me watching it on TV with a couple of similar footie nuts though.