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A Sense of Place…

Right, I’m having a pit stop this weekend so no guests.  However, I thought it might be an opportunity to post something.  Now I’m not exactly the most regular of posters basically because this fifth novel of mine has taken up so much time.  I hate to say it but at times I’ve become totally obsessed with writing it and now that’s over, undertaking the editing.  This as all writers know, is not a healthy place to be in.  My work I know is so much better when I step back for a while and give myself a break.  So this weekend having no Tea and Talk guests, I thought I would shut the manuscript away in its electronic file on the computer and put some thoughts down about creating backgrounds for my novels.

DSCF1263So how do you create your backdrops, the places where your action takes place?  Do you invent them?  Or do you borrow places?  Well I do a bit of both.  When writing my first three books which formed a trilogy I obviously did a lot of visualising but in order to have some ‘glue’ to bind the whole thing together and give it shape, I also borrowed locations.  Firstly, for the village where some of the earlier action takes place, I used Bathford, where I live.  It’s quite a large village which sits either side of a river valley with road and rail running through as well. The south east side has a wood above and that part of it seemed absolutely right to be cast as the West Somerset village in my story.  So it was absolutely perfect when writing to gaze across and imagine I was in Meridan Cross – it made telling the story so much easier.

Then there was the small fictitious provincial town of Kingsford where the three central girls Ella, Jenny and Issy attended Kingsford High.  Described in the book as an old seventeenth century manor house, I took my own school, 300px-Fitzmaurice_Grammar_SchoolFitzmaurice Grammar School, Bradford-on-Avon, which was closed in 1980 following establishment of one large comprehensive in the town.  It remained derelict for some time afterwards before being converted into expensive retirement flats and renamed Fitzmaurice Place.  Fitzmaurice actually started its life in Victorian times when Lord Fitzmaurice of Leigh turned the manor house into a school.  You can pick up the history on Wikipedia.

947e876388f3f615af4c0aa5cc9697fc3largeIssy’s parents owned The Bridge Hotel in the town and for this I used The Georgian Wine Lodge which is situated down by the river in the centre of Bradford on Avon.  When I was at school it was The Westbury Hotel and in between sitting our ‘O’ levels we used to come down here and spend time in the coffee bar which was situated through the archway behind the hotel.   We whiled away the time drinking Coca Cola, discussing fashion and playing the latest hits on the coffee bar’s juke box.  Oh and I met my first serious boyfriend there!

Next the girls moved onto College in Abbotsbridge, another slightly larger local provincial town.  For this I again revisited my own history.  I spent two years at Trowbridge College of Further Education where I took an ONC in Business Studies coupled with Shorthand, Typing and Audio.  It was promoted as a senior secretarial course and was quite intensive with subjects like Economics and Law as well as building speeds in shorthand and typing.  So where better to place the three friends than following in my footsteps?   As you can see from the photo it was sadly a typically unimaginative 1960s building!220px-WiltsCollTrow

Next The Mill Club.  This was fundamental to the whole trilogy; a place where central  characters Matt and Ella met and fell in love and Matt’s band The Attitude were discovered.  Matt’s father, ex-fifties singer Tad Benedict owned and ran it.  It was situated by the river and hosted live bands as well as having a resident DJ.   Inspiration for this came from The Keel Club a very well known club on the outskirts of Bath which was run in the sixties by entrepreneur Keith Johnson; quite a visionary.  Formerly known as The Weir Tea Gardens, he bought it and renovated the building, creating The Keel Club – one of the most sought after local ‘in’ places to go in the late sixties, with the same live band and DJ format as I borrowed for  The Mill.DSCF0386_800x600

So there we have it,  five places which I deliberately chose to put into The Behind Blue Eyes trilogy.  Of course having these in mind did make it much easier when setting or describing a scene and gave it more credibility.    As I said above, fact is the glue essential to bind the story together and give it a defined shape, making it more realistic.  It’s a platform for the imagination the writer uses to create the characters and situations that drive the plot.   But I can only speak for myself, other writers may see things in a completely different way of course! Well, how do you go about this very important part of writing?

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Tea and Talk with Lizzie Lamb author of Tall, Dark and Kilted

Welcome Lizzie, lovely to have you here at Sally Lunn’s today for tea and lots of chat.

Sally Lunns Tea House2012-09-12 09.24.39 (2)My first question as always is to ask a little bit about yourself.

Hi Joanna, can you make sure that the coffee is good and strong. I have a feeling this is going to be a lovely long chat and I want to stay alert.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer but was unable to pursue my dream because of the ‘day job’. I was a teacher for 34 years (the last 16 years a deputy head of a large primary school) before taking early retirement in 2006. As you can imagine, with all the marking, preparation and assessment there was little time for breathing let alone writing!

What was the trigger which started you along the writing trail?

I’m a dreamer and live inside my head. When I look back in family photo albums I see a child with a far away look in her eyes, escaping reality and living in a world inhabited by princesses, dragons and derring do. I’ve been scribbling in notebook since I was about seven years old – read my blog post : I have notebooks, boxes full of old manuscripts and novels on floppy disc and locoscript discs. I even had an agent in the late 80’s when I was trying to break into the Mills and Boone market (isn’t that where all romance writers started?!) But we parted company when it became clear that I couldn’t do the day job and write. The day job paid the mortgage and writing was at that point pie in the sky.

How did the NEW ROMANTICS 4 come about?

We (Lizzie Lamb, Adrienne Vaughan, Mags Cullingford and June Kearns) are all members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme and were having lunch with Amanda Grange – Mr Darcy’s Diary et al – in June 2012. Mandy was going through the process of e-publishing her back catalogue and suggested that we should stop waiting for agents and publishers to lift us off the slush pile and publish our novels ourselves. She warned us what a hard road it would be without an agent or a publisher, but said that we’d have the freedom to write what we wanted, when we wanted and decide our own deadlines. Even conventionally published authors have a welter of self promotion to do, so we’d be no different in that respect. In the end, we decided we had nothing to fear other than fear itself – the blue touch-paper was lit and we were off on the road to self publication.STEVE HODGKIN / Credit - CHADWICKS -

Do you see the group expanding at all? If so, how many members would you envisage?

We have no plans to expand. The four of us get on really well together and have a common goal, which is to publish our next book by October 2013. If there were more of us, I feel that it would become unmanageable.

Your debut novel Tall, Dark and Kilted was a fabulous read, I really enjoyed it. What’s next? Have you anything new in the pipeline?

Thanks for the vote of approval, Joanna. Tall, Dark and Kilted was indeed a labour of love and I miss the characters I created. I’ve promised myself that when #2 is finished I will go back and read it at my leisure. At the moment I am 85,000 words into my new rom com (title and cover reveal in September) and have exchanged the hills and mountains of Wester Ross for the mysterious salt marshes of North Norfolk. It’s a Rom Com with elements of suspense but lots of romance and laughter. I have a brand new hero for BookCoverPreview (2)-001readers to fall in love with, although I hope he doesn’t oust the gorgeous Ruairi from their affections.

Adrienne and I have been invited to host a Literary Lunch at the Belmont Hotel in Leicester as part of 2013 Book Fest. Guests will receive a drink upon arrival, a three course lunch – during which we will talk about our books and how we came to write them. Then each guest will leave with a signed copy of Tall, Dark and Kilted and The Hollow Heart. How fab is that? This link takes you to the poster we’ve designed for the event:

Who are your favourite authors?

Again, can I direct your readers to which details all the books which have influenced my writing? I think if I had to name just three writers, they would have to be Jilly Cooper and Helen Fielding. If I want a comfort read I head for the short Jilly Cooper books: Emily, Prudence etc. And of I can’t leave out the Queen of Chic Lit – Sophie Kinsella – I’ll never give away ‘Can You Keep a Secret’ or ‘Twenties Girl’ as they’re great fun and I still re-read them from time to time. .

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading a pre-publication copy of Jean Fullerton’s CALL NURSE MILLIE to coincide with its publication later this month. If I had one wish, it would be this: Dear Reader, please leave a little review on Amazon/Goodreads after you’ve finished our novel to let us know if you’ve enjoyed our book. For example, quite a few readers have written to me to say that they’d like a sequel to Tall, Dark and Kilted . . .

If you were stranded on a desert island what three things would be your essential ‘must haves’ ?

My husband (aka Bongo Man) as he is the most practical, supportive and loving person I know. Our naughty parrot, Jasper, because he would make us laugh when the going got tough. And pencil and paper, of course.

And you’re not going to get away from another of my set questions – dinner guests. If you could invite four guests for dinner who would they be and why?

I always find this question hard to answer but I guess it would have to be the other three New Romantics4 – Mags, June and Ade. The event would be catered for by sexy chefs and luscious waiters who would drift in and out with courses, topping up our champagne glasses. That would leave us free to talk about our books and our plans for the future without any one telling us to stop talking shop!!.

Thank you for coming along today Lizzie it’s been great to meet you.

Thank you for asking me, Joanna. Now – can I have a fresh pot of coffee brought to the table or is it wine o’clock yet? Wine – actually make it Prosecco, this is a celebration after all.

I love Prosecco too and yes, we’ve actually reached wine o’clock, so the choice is yours.  Glad you liked the coffee – it’s their Jane Austen blend – appropriate for my writing guests don’t you think?

For more information about Lizzie, her writing and New Romantics 4 click on the social network links below.

Tall Dark and Kilted:




twitter: @lizzie_lamb twitter: @newromantics4



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A Saturday Chat at Sally Lunn’s with author Pauline Barclay

Sally Lunns Tea HousePauline 3Well Pauline, thank you for making it to Sally Lunn’s for a special interview and I’m amazed that I’ve been able to lure you away from all that sunshine in Lanzarote  Many people may not know that you and I go back a long way;we met on line in 2009 when our debut novels – Magnolia House and When Tomorrow Comes were published at the same time.

What fascinates me is that all your books have been set in different times and in their own right are very different stories, is this deliberate or just as the inspiration comes?

It is a little of both. I want my books to be different. The idea is that once you’ve read one of my books you know the next one will not be the same. The characters, setting and time will be very different.

Having asked the question above, I can see there is a common thread for all of them though.  What attracts you to a story when you decide to write it?

Now I am intrigued because I don’t set out to create a common thread or any relationship with any of my books. You must divulge when you have time! Sorry, I digress! What attracts me to a story? Gosh a difficult one, lots of different things, even smells can trigger of a memory that spills over into an outline of a story. Also I pick up ideas from listening to people, sometimes it is just a phrase, others a full story. From this I begin to formulate an idea for a story.

The working title was The Summer of Sixty Five.  What was the reason behind the new title?StormClouds-small-web-use

There were several working titles for this book. The summer of sixty-five, at the time, seemed appropriate, but I was never totally comfortable with it. In the end it did not convey what I feel the book is about. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to come up with a title that reflected more about what was happening to all the characters in the book. Storm Clouds Gathering just came into my head one day and I knew that it was perfect.

Have you a new project?  If so is it under wraps or are we allowed to know a little bit about it?

Yes there is a new project and I have written around 24,000 but keep deleting  and changing things around! The working title is Maddisons (we two dd’s!!) Though I am confident this will not be the published title. Maddisons is set in the present time and is a story about the price of trust. I’m sorry, but at this stage, I don’t want to say any more, though I can say, love does come into the story, but the trust I am talking about is more about action and the dire consequences of what happens when you give your trust to someone you believe loves you.

Which is your favourite book out of the four you have written?

Mmmm! This is a question I am asked regularly and it is a tough one. I loved writing Satchfield Hall and my characters from Storm Clouds Gathering are still very close to me. But having said this, Mrs Leonard from Magnolia House stole my heart with her heartrending story and Doreen from Sometimes It Happens… made me laugh. Honestly, Joanna, I don’t know!

And lastly to change the subject completely, if you could invite four guests for dinner who would they be and why?

Paul O’Grady, because he’s fascinating.

Jamie Oliver as he has inspired so many young people to cook

Bruce Forsythe as he has brought dancing back into fashion for all ages

Colin Dexter for entertaining us with his brilliant Inspector Morse, both on-screen and in books.

Thank you Joanna for having me at your wonderful Sally Lunn’s beautiful tea rooms, the food here is fantastic, and letting me rambling on about my writing and my latest love, Storm Clouds Gathering.Pauline-desktop-2013 (1)

If you would like to know more about Pauline and her books her social network links are below:

Sometimes It  Happens… B.R.A.G. Medallion Honouree
On Sunday I shall be talking with Lizzie Lamb, author of Tall Dark and Kilted.
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Birthday Weekend

DSCF1638 (480x640)We left Bath under grey skies on Friday morning 2nd May.  Was hoping it might clear but obviously not meant to be.  Had lunch at Bampton then drove north towards Exmoor and dropped down along the East Lyn river valley.  This is Doone country.  Have not read the book for absolutely ages so thought I might now download on Kindle just to reacquaint myself with the story of star-crossed lovers John Ridd and Lorna Doone.   Sadly this story appears to have been overlooked in any recent TV adaptations of historical novels and to my mind is well worth bringing to the small screen.  As is Poldark – absolutely loved the series and it would be great to see a new fresh version.

Driving down we had my iPod playing on this occasion.  Usually in-car music is via my husband’s iPod, very much an acquired taste I’m afraid.  According to him I’m the big production girl and I guess it’s true – I love guitar driven rock in particular – melody, power and lyrics are essential both for the iPod and for working on the PC when I’m writing.  The three and a half hour drive was therefore wonderful, everything I love with not one Yes or Robert Plant track! I guess it could have been worse – Status Quo or Robbie Williams (apologies to SQ and RB fans reading this!)

Lynmouth, as always, was totally unchanged as was the Heatherville – Richard and Kay were there on our arrival with their usual warm welcome plus tea and home-make cake.  As we were driving along the river valley I thought ‘This is just like coming home’.  It’s our third stay and they are such fabulous people, more friends now than B & B proprietors.  They have worked incredibly hard since they took The Heatherville over in 2009 and this year it has been given AA 5 star rating for accommodation, breakfast and evening meal (which Kay will cook to order).DSCF1627 (640x480)

Once we were fed, watered and unpacked we walked down into the village and yes, it is a village.  Apparently out of season there are only 67 souls on the electoral roll here.  And such a different life to ours in Bath where we have every kind of shop imaginable.  Outside food shopping these residents have to travel to Taunton 40 miles away for anything esle they want.  The pace of life is slower here too and people are very friendly although like Bath the place is overrun daily with tourists in the holiday season.  I have to say once we reached the harbour it was cold; very cold.  We had dinner in the Bath Hotel that evening, a really weird experience in a large square room with absolutely no atmosphere or background music and only one other party of eight there.  It was a bit like attending a wake!  The food was good though, lots of it and inexpensive.

Lynton and Lymouth - Mike's birthday July 10 042 (640x480)On Saturday morning we caught the funicular railway up the cliff to Lynton, a place which I think could be described as half way between town and village.  DSCF1561 (640x480)After a browse we had coffee in a small restaurant.  Their menu board proclaimed it did ‘Steak and Owl Pie’ – we did point this out to the waitress but she didn’t think there was anything particularly wrong so perhaps there were indeed owls in the pie!  Or maybe it was a wind up the tourist moment who knows?  After this we headed out of Lynton to the Valley of the Rocks which is quite spectacular. The wind was so strong that if there had been rain and we’d had umbrellas we would have definitely had a Mary Poppins moment and been blown away.  Once we reached our destination we had lunch and a large mug of hot chocolate to warm us (yes it was that cold!)  Afterwards we took the coastal path back to Lynton which meant facing a gale all the way and almost being blown back one step for every two we took.  However, despite this discomfort the gorse and the whole cliff side looked quite spectacular and not one goat in sight, although a lot of goat poo on the path.  And I must again emphasise that yes we had blue sky but no it was absolutely freezing!DSCF1554 (640x480)DSCF1550 (640x480)DSCF1553 (480x640)

DSCF1551 (640x480)Saturday afternoon the remaining members of the weekend party joined us and in the evening we ate out at The Bistro, a really good restaurant which specialises in locally caught fish.  After the meal which included several bottles of wine it was back to The Heatherville’s bar to finish off the evening, courtesy of my husband, and then eventually to bed, most of us rather worse for wear!

Sunday dawned with blue sky and cloud and hooray, no hangover!  The wind had dropped a little, although walking down to the harbour that morning it still had that cold edge.  We then headed up the East Lyn river to Watersmeet for a coffee and a pit stop before making our way slowly back again to Lynmouth and a sandwich lunch.

DSCF1608 (640x480)DSCF1600 (640x480)For the little afternoon that was left I sat outside the B & B and read my Kindle.  I had purposely tried to avoid my own writing that weekend.  It was all about celebration and having a good time but, of course, writers never switch off and – this is true  mad woman that I am– the back page blurb for my latest book came to me at 5pm on Sunday morning.  Thank goodness I had a pad and pen with me.  I would never have held it in my head until I got home – it HAD to be written down otherwise I would have lost it.  I can tell you this is the one part of writing a book I don’t enjoy at all and I had been agonising over exactly what should go on the back page for ages.  Whatever I scribbled down eventually ended up with a line through it.  Too vague, too detailed, whatever I wrote, it would not come right.  But as usual it’s all a case of keeping calm and waiting for that inspirational moment.  I guess after four books I should have got used to this by now.  You just can’t hurry it; it comes when it comes and that’s it.

Sunday evening saw us all at The Rock Hotel for another excellent meal and then back to Richard and Kay’s to finish off the evening in their bar.

And then it was Monday morning and time to go home.  How can a weekend go so quickly?  I think we were all sad to leave.   We made home in three hours, crossing the moors again and coming up through Taunton and Glastonbury.  Four of the group were going to stop off and climb the Tor.   For me whenever I go to Glastonbury there is a definite atmosphere.  It might be banned substances on the wind of course, but joking aside, Glastonbury for me is very special, full of myth and magic.  I would have loved to have been able to stand on the Tor on 1st May to see the sunrise when the druids were up there celebrating Beltane.  Amazing place!

So now we’re back and it’s work tomorrow.  In the blink of an eye the weekend has gone, leaving lots of photos and good memories and of course, that excess weight!  I’m back on the diet now as we look forward to our next holiday away in South Devon at the end of June, – somewhere else I absolutely love.  Dartmouth, Kingsbridge, Totnes and Salcombe – all fabulous places.  I had lost five pounds before the North Devon trip with another six to go to get me down to the weight I really wanted to be.  Luckily all the walking this weekend plus keeping to fish and avoiding the pudding menu meant I didn’t put on too much.  However, we’ve been out to lunch today and with two large glasses of wine (alcohol is definitely the villain of the piece) I’ve not exactly made a good start.  Never mind I’m not going to beat myself up over it, I’ll be back to the Ryvita’s tomorrow with a vengeance.

If anyone reading this blog plans a holiday on the North Devon coast then Richard and Kay’s Five Star Heatherville is a must – it’s absolutely brilliant and you must go.  You will be treated like royalty!  The house is set high up above the village so the access road is a bit of a north face of the Eiger moment in the car.  We had to reverse the last stretch of road this time to get into the car park and the clutch did not like it one little bit!  And as for walking, well remember on your outward journey the village is downhill all the way and coming back?  Your calves may protest but you’ll be doing your cardio-vascular system a service – remember there’s no gain without pain.DSCF1634 (480x640)DSCF1534 (640x480)