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Posts Tagged ‘Places that inspire me’

I have just come back from beautiful Pembrokeshire and the Narberth Book Fair, organised by fellow Honno Press Authors Judith Barrow and Thorne Moore.

Last year, the book fair was in Tenby, so it was exciting to meet in a new venue and a new location. Sadly, there was no sea, but Narberth turned out to be a vibrant place – and there’s even a ruined castle!

The fair itself was bustling, with such a varied selection of authors, including plenty of us representing Honno Press. I had great fun talking to readers and other writers, as well as helping Carol Lovekin celebrate the publication of Snow Sisters – and grabbing a signed copy into the bargain.

It was definitely inspirational to have a day buzzing with books, and to meet up with fellow authors afterwards for even more book talk! Writing is such a solitary business, it’s always great to have a get together and exchange ideas.

It’s a long drive from Snowdonia to Pembrokeshire, so my adventures did not end with the book fair. The following day I took refuge from the rain in the dome at the Botanical Gardens of Wales, with its fascinating collection of plants. Not a bad place to have a Greek Salad in Mediterranean surroundings, while the Welsh rain does its thing outside!

I couldn’t quite leave Pembrokeshire without going to Tenby. By the time I got to the B&B, the sun was shining, so I spent the evening wandering through the walled town and along the beach, watching the surfers as the tide came in and the harbour lights come up as the light faded.

The final morning was also clear and sunny, so I headed off to Colby Woodland Gardens, a little inland from Tenby, with its atmospheric walled garden and miles of woodland walks.

A book fair with good company, sea and gardens – I’m already looking forward to next year!

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As I now live in beautiful Snowdonia, in North Wales, I always feel a bit sad that conventional wisdom states that no one wants to read stories set in Wales. So I’m delighted that my alter ego, Heather Pardoe, currently has a historical serial set in Llandudno, just up the coast from me, and famous for its connection with Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland.

‘Together We Stand’, currently being serialised in ‘The People’s Friend’, the longest running weekly women’s magazine, is a serial that I (or rather Heather) had great fun writing, with a suffrage ladies’ tearoom, an intriguing inheritance and a touch of low-down skullduggery reaching back to the Crimean War.

The view from the pier

It’s funny where your ideas come from as a writer. I’d been toying with the idea of the picture wagon (an early mobile photographic studio that has been used by one of the first war journalist in the Crimean war) on and off for years. When I trained as a photographer in London, it was (I have to confess) before the days of digital, when we used studio cameras that had changed very little from 1904, when the serial is set, and it was darkrooms and chemicals and never being quite sure what you had taken until the print began to develop in front of your eyes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my digital SLR, and I never go anywhere without my little compact camera in my bag, and I wouldn’t go back to using those eczema-inducing chemicals if you paid me. But it has left me with a fascination of just how such unwieldy cameras were used. So it’s no coincidence that Tanni, the heroine of ‘Together We Stand’ is left an inheritance that encourages her set to up as a studio photographer, just as Bea, the heroine of my novel ‘The White Camellia’ becomes one of the first female photojournalists, covering the campaigns of the suffrage movement in London.

Unlike Bea, Tanni doesn’t have to dodge the police when using her camera, as 1904 was before the more militant campaigns began. But she does have her own brush with danger, and an unknown foe who is determined to prevent her from succeeding, all against the backdrop of Llandudno and the Great Orme, which I had great fun in researching.

The other inspiration for ‘Together We Stand’ was a night I spent in one of the old hotels on the edges of Llandudno, where I’ve placed the guesthouse in the story. The hotel was old and atmospheric, and from my tiny room at the top I had a view of the bay. I’m usually dashing round Llandudno, or taking my dog for a walk round the Orme, so it was a real treat to simply be able to wander around in the evening, and parade along the pier, searching out the locations (including the pier) that play a vital role in ‘Together We Stand’. That night, there was a stunning full moon over the bay – a truly magical memory!

The view from my room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So now I’ve set historical serials in Coed y Brenin, famous for its cycling trails and its goldmine, in Conwy, famous for its medieval town wall and castle, and in Llandudno. Time, I think, to start looking for another great Welsh location.

Mind you, I had a wonderful time last year in picturesque Tenby

 

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I love Bodnant Garden, near Llandudno on the North Wales coast. It’s the kind of place you can spend all day, and never grow tired of revisiting. There are winding paths through different plantings, formal gardens, wilderness gardens, and a steep dell with a lake and a river below.

 

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Living so near, it’s easy to not make a special time to visit, and so to miss the changing of the seasons. I’d been meaning to go with a couple of friends for weeks, but you know how it is, with three busy jobs, busy studying and busy lives. Then, this Monday we all happened to be able tobodnant-trees-5-small take the day off. So rain or shine, this was it.

At it turned out, we were incredibly lucky. The day dawned with perfect autumn sunshine, and stayed that way all day, while the late summer flowers were still going strong, and the trees were at their most spectacular. Because it was so unexpected, it was a truly magical day. We wandered around for hours, exploring this way and that, chatting and catching up with news and gossip, and pausing to talk to complete strangers who, like us, were marvelling at the vivid red of the leaves, and bodnant-trees-2-smallthe beauty brought out by the sunshine. And of course I couldn’t resist the opportunity of having a few author pictures taken in such lovely light and glorious surroundings.

 

It was only looking back at the photos afterwards that I realised just how relaxed we’d been, and how great it had been to take time out from our lives and have fun. I didn’t get a thing done on the next book that evening, the intentions didn’t last beyond a cup of tea and falling asleep in the chair, much to Phoebe the collie’s disgust (related to lack of squeaky duck action, rather bodnant-4than her human finishing the next chapter). But then the next morning, that particularly knotty bit in the middle of the soggy middle of the next book (ha!) that I’d been bashing away at for days, de-knotted itself without fuss and neatly fell into place as if it had always been there. Which just goes to show.

bodnant-2-smallI shall definitely be making my way back to Bodnant before long to enjoy another changing of the seasons, to return refreshed and invigorated, and ready to go. Here’s to precious autumn days, good friends, and the deep creative power of sharing the beauty of our world, and pure, unadulterated, fun.

 

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Idwal

Lake Idwal in Snowdonia – an early morning walk!

I’m at that odd point in the writing life, where ‘The White Camellia’ has been waved off to the copy editor, and so finally complete, never to appear in manuscript form again, and the next WIP has reached that grind-to-a-halt stage where it looms large as a complete dud. This happens to every book at some stage or another, but (like childbirth) it’s the bit you forget, or you might never attempt another, ever again. No way.Camellia 2

What I had forgotten, of course, is my old remedy. It’s been too cold and damp a spring here to really get into walking, but now the sun’s arrived, I’ve taken a few hours each day to lengthen the dog walk.

Despite the creaking, it’s worked. I’d wondered if it had been wishful thinking, and this was just a way of avoiding getting down to writing. But there’s something about walking, ambling along with a dog, taking in the view and not too much a slave to the 10,000 steps a day, that doesn’t half get the brain de-knotted. I’ve realised I’m still processing the last bits of ‘The White Camellia’, still letting go of the characters I’ve lived with for so long, and that I’m still at the fluid, early stage of the new book where anything could happen. Indeed, one has already inadvertently changed sex, and several have appeared from nowhere at all.

 

Pool 1The light is stunning at this time of year, and I’m lucky to live near to forests and rivers, with the mountains of Snowdonia a few minutes’ drive away, where I can shoot off in the early morning before the day job and the writing calls. Taking the time from bashing at the keys to be out there has calmed me down, loosened up the creative muscles, and reminded me that writing is a process. It’s always hard to go from the final finishing touches, where a book falls into place, back to hewing a vague shape out of nothing, before the real work begins.

Gate reflection

 

I always start with an amorphous mass of stories and ideas, however hard I think I’ve planned. I always get to the point where it feels totally beyond me, and I ask myself why I don’t just stick to proofreading others’ work and have a nice life in between. But of course, I’m always called back. My battered old writing laptop is always sitting there calling. I can’t walk away. The characters and stories are still there, demanding to get in, taking over the place, and leaving a trail of havoc behind.water art 2

In the end, I wouldn’t have it any other way. So thank you to the rivers and lakes, and the pristine light of early summer in Snowdonia. My doubts (and my plot) have been de-knotted (for now), and inspiration has returned.

Let a summer of walking (and a new book) begin!

We That are Left is on Amazon UK at £0.99p at the moment: Click here

At on Amazon.com at $1.45: Click Here

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Mousehole

If you follow me on Facebook, you will know that I’ve just spent a week in Devon and Cornwall collecting photographs for the launch of my next book with Honno Press, out next year.

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Inspiration at Westwood Ho!

‘The White Camellia’ is based around a mansion with a tragic past on the North Cornwall coast, near St Ives. So when I was invited to be one of the panel of writers at the Exeter Short Story and Trisha Ashley Awards, it was a chance I couldn’t resist.

 

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A riot of colour at Lanhydrock

Of course, I couldn’t go straight from Exeter to St Ives without stopping off at St Austell and visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project. I’d regretfully decided I would have time for Lanhydrock, but my satnav had other ideas, and I’m so glad she did. The sun came out as I found myself passing by – so of course I had to go in.

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The melon house at Heligan

I didn’t have time to see the house (next time), but the grounds were a riot of colour, and the views spectacular. I could have gone back the next day, but I had a date with what will always be the highlight of my trips to Cornwall – the Lost Gardens of Heligan, whose flower gardens inspired ‘Eden’s Garden’, and whose greenhouses inspired Elin’s beloved kitchen garden of ‘We That are Left’.

 

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The office at Heligan

PotsI loved every minute of my day in the Lost Gardens. Having lived through the First World War with my characters, it was very moving to see the offices and greenhouses that, with a way of life, were lost due to the ravages of the war.

I’ve been longing for ages to visit the Eden Project – and it definitely didn’t disappoint! I could have stayed much longer, but rain was forecast for the next day, and I wanted to get photographs of Mousehole and Limorna Cove while the sun was still shining. After a day in beautiful St Ives, I made my way up the wild north coast, ending up back in Devon, in Westwood Ho!, where I’ve spent several happy holidays, before making the drive back to Wales.

Wild seas at Perranporth

Perranporth

It was a blast of a week. I drove nearly 1,000 miles in all, and packed so much in, all I could do in the evenings was stagger back to the B&B and just about manage dinner and a bath before collapsing into bed. I had never been to Cornwall so late in the year, so it was a pleasure to see the late flowers and autumn colours. I was very lucky with the weather, with none of the promised rain arriving, and I’ve got all the photographs I could need.

Squash at the lost gardens

I’m still absorbing my week in Cornwall. This blog post has been a whirlwind tour, but there will be many more to come, exploring the sights and the sounds. I’m buzzing with ideas and feel energized and inspired and ready to go. And I shall most definitely be going down again. I saw so much – but I know there’s plenty more to see!

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The Giant’s Head at Heligan

 

 

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When I was first trying to get a feel for the world in 1914, I returned to the beautiful Glynllifon Estate, near Caernarfon. I hadn’t been there for years, and it was just as I remembered it, green and magical. The grounds had been created as a miniature world in themselves. There are woodland walks past rushing streams, a secret cave, and even a hermit’s grotto. It was easy to imagine the Victorian and Edwardian inhabitants of the grand house rambling through this secret, fantasy version of a wilderness, lying beneath the shadow of the vast, and in those days, dangerous and inaccessible wilderness, of the mountains of Snowdonia.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile I was catching up with the first episode of ‘The Crimson Field’ this week, I was reminded of Glynllifon. It was this protected, settled world that those three new VAD recruits, like so many of the young women on the front line, had left behind when they set off to face the horrors of the Great War. Okay, maybe not always so grand as Glynllifon, but the with the same opulence and order that had probably changed very little since medieval times. The same protected confidence that the world could be managed through money, status and force of will. The same pre-Raphaelite, daring-do, heroic idealism that had sent their brothers into the trenches to save the world.

The slate amphitheatre

Of course, there were other women, too. Many of them older women of intelligence, energy and ambition, who- like their Victorian mothers – were not content to stay idle and look decorous at dinner parties. These were the women who, behind closed doors and under the safe guise of ‘charity’, had set up, staffed and ran hospitals for the poor – fighting the legacy of extreme poverty and disease among so many of the inhabitants of a rich nation, that was only generally recognised when so many men were found to be unfit to fight.

It was this experience that took many of these women out to use their skills and experience on the front line, including setting up and running their own field hospitals, often in the face of prejudice and non-cooperation. When women first set up an women’s ambulance corps, they were simply laughed at.

 

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I was thinking of all those women, as I returned to the entrance of the Glynllifon estate, and how their lives were changed forever. The grand house is not a museum piece, the nearest you come to it is ‘Yr Iard’, the yard, which houses some of the tools belonging to the vast army of workers who built, maintained and fed this opulence. Theirs is also a story of lives changed forever.

It was this photograph, taken at harvest time 1913, that had me stopping in my tracks.

 

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The last harvest of a world that, on the day the photograph was taken, must have seemed to have lasted forever, and would never end. The last harvest of a lost world. There were terrible injustices and inequalities in that world, and, as a woman, I have no hankering to live there – particularly as my ancestors would have been in the yard rather than the house, and my life would most probably have been one of daily physical drudgery and perilous childbearing, accompanied by the pain of watching many of my children die. But it was – and still is – haunting to look into the eyes of a lost world. And to know, as none of them could have ever foreseen in their darkest nightmares, the fields where the men would be by the time of the next harvest, and the courage and resilience those girls would need to do – as women always do – to pick up the pieces and forge a new world, one that would never be the same again.

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Thank you to Lucinda Rose of  Rose Reads  for nominating me for this beautiful blog award. Lucinda nominated me a few months ago – I’ve finally got there!

The RULES for this award ares:

Thank the person nominating your for the award: THANK YOU LUCINDA, and for being bright and beautiful and sunny each time, come rain or shine. You can read all about Lucinda here

Then:

List ten things about yourself

And

Nominate SIX blogs you think deserve the Kreativ Blogger Award.

So here goes! The ten things about me are:

1. My favourite place to visit is Portmeirion

2. My best holiday was a week in Venice with a pass for all the boats, sailing the canals and visiting the islands.

3. My cats are brother and sister and called Mitzi and Maxwell. They kind of get along. In a sibling sort of a way.

4. I love autumn, for its richness and touch of fragility

5. I learnt to swim in a mountain stream. Very cold.

6. When the mountain rescue helicopter comes over my cottage it could be Prince William at the controls!

7. I have two wildlife ponds in my garden. One was supposed to have fish, but the frogs got there first.

8. I hate housework

9. I love gardening and all gardens, large or small

10. I studied photography at Hounslow College. A long time ago. We had chemicals then.

And my six nominees for their stunningly creative, inspirational, colourful and beautiful blogs are:

Claire McAlpine ‘Word by Word’ http://clairemca.wordpress.com/

Susan Jones  http://susanjanejones.wordpress.com/

Cosy mystery author Nancy Jill Thames  http://nancy-jill.blogspot.co.uk/

Carol Hedges author of ‘Jigsaw Pieces’ http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/

Kat Ward http://keepingsane.com/

Brynne http://www.presenceofmagic.blogspot.co.uk/

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