Thursday, 29 April 2010


I hope that readers don't see the mistakes which writers  have made.  There are one or two even in the best edited, best written books, often the writer is just so close to the material that she can't see it objectively. Most of the mistakes which are made are sorted out by the editors but there can be things which even the most talented editor cannot find.

This was my first big saga, published by Hodder & Stoughton. I was so excited about it, I spent seven years, on and off writing and when it was accepted  I thought I had made a very good job of the whole thing and then oh, horror, we discovered that the heroine had been pregnant for a year!  The poor girl must have looked like an elephant. Luckily we managed to rescue her before we got the proof stage but missing mistakes like this causes nightmares to people in the industry.

I very often make mistakes with timing. It is so difficult to achieve and I can have people picnicking on the riverbanks in one scene and sledging in the next.  I do have to be careful.
There are problems with names. Saga writers do tend to have their characters' names ending in y or ie and in my first saga we had Lizzie and Katy and had to alter one.

While it should have been obvious it took us weeks to decide that Katy would be Kate because once you've named a character that's how you see her. As for men's names I have used my favourites over and over for my heroes.  My daughter bought me two Scottish name books, christian and surnames and they have proved invaluable because where I live lots of people have Scottish and border names and we are nearly all from Irish ancestry. You can scratch the surface of anybody's name here and somewhere among it you find a Leary or a McDonald.
My grandmother's family on my mother's side were originally from Londonderry.

This is the first book I wrote for Severn House and in it the hero comes to Durham from Scotland and he has spent time when he was a child having holidays in St Andrews. I described in this book the lime trees in one street in St Andrews and my clever editor knew that the lime trees in St Andrews did not grow there but in a different street. How's that for editing? You need to be a person of many parts.
I am forever changing the colour of people's eyes and then forgetting so that's another thing I have to be careful of.

My latest book, Snow Hall, which comes out in August,
has got to the proof stage.  We did the editing a few weeks ago and I had made a whole pile of mistakes which my copy editor found and now it seems funny but at the time it was very frustrating.

The main problem was that one poor character died in February and was still not buried in April. Oh dear! I had killed off this person and then inserted another chapter, forgetting that I had not put her underground and it put out the whole of the second half of the book including the fact that I had pregnancies in it which went on and on.

 Altering the seasons is very difficult as I try to be careful with my descriptions but I write about the season we're actually in because otherwise I have no memory at all for what the seasons are like so when I came to change it it was very hard. The proofs are almost upon me and I am keeping my fingers crossed that we have caught all the mistakes as it is costly to do anything about it now. The thing I have learned over the years is not try not to be a perfectionist because writing has so many different aspects and I could drive myself mad.

I think research can be hardest of all for saga writers because you have to imagine a world you never knew and can never know and try to get the period right in things like clothing and transport and attitudes and even language.  Georgette Heyer was famous for getting things like this right, I have always loved her books. Luckily for me I have lived in the Durham coalfield as they used to call it all my life and among men in industry and women with grit and one of the good things about getting older is that you can recall all sorts of things which you thought you had forgotten. Also it gives me a sense of place. Writers need a sense of place as much as they need any other aspect of their writing and one of the joys is to hope that the readers will learn to love the city and the countryside which surrounds it as much as I do.

Anybody else make mistakes like this, or different ones when they write?

Thursday, 22 April 2010

My favourite writing place

I have various places I go to write, I do write at home but I get bored there and if I can bribe myself with a cup of coffee, a cake and a friendly atmosphere I'm off!  My favourite place of the moment is the university's Botanic Garden. I went there last weekend. 
This is the cathedral beyond St Margaret's allotments on the way to the Botanic Garden. When you walk through the city you see so much more and it was a lovely spring day.

This is further along before you get to the traffic lights at the New Inn where you turn up to go out of the city, past some of the colleges and on to the Garden.

The house beyond the gardens, red brick. I used it as the house for my hero in one of my books, The Foxglove Tree.  I awarded him the house and the gardens.  I thought why not?  He's a barrister who comes back from the first world war in a very bad way and defends a woman who is accused of killing her husband. In those days a woman stood no chance at all in a courtroom. I love courtroom dramas, I like the atmosphere, the puzzle, the conflict, the wit, the way that the law is so brilliant and so stupid all at once and achieves so much and so little and has ridiculous prejudices and strange formalities. When I was a journalist I spent many hours in court rooms and was fascinated.

Isn't this wonderful, it's a big wasp!My favourite place in the garden, the Himalayan birches. They look like somebody Duluxed them.
I sat in the cafe and ate Victoria sponge cake and drank coffee and watched the local photographic group putting up their pictures for the exhibition. From the cafe you can sit and watch the little birds flying to and from various feeders.  There are summer houses, there are all kinds of trees and the garden has its own hives, you can buy honey there and it has its own flock of sheep. There are lots of places for children to run and hide and play games and you can sit outside and eat and drink and admire the very tall conifers, the waving bamboos, the blossom which is coming out, the twisting pathways and there is always something new, the giant waterlily is in the greenhouse and flowers there in magic splendour.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The Lucky Flower Lady

They call me The Lucky Flower Lady at St Cuthbert's Hospice where I help sometimes on a Tuesday morning. I am one of 360 volunteers who help at the hospice. I do this through an organisation I belong to which is called Soroptimists International. I joined the Durham branch about eighteen months ago.
 The soroptimists do charity work,local, national and international and they are pledged to advance the status of women, keep high ethical standards, try to achieve human rights for all and work for equality, development and peace through International goodwill and understanding and fellowship.  It's what they call a big ask.  We do what we can and one of our local efforts is to go and help in the coffee shop at St Cuthbert's Hospice.
Most weeks Marks and Spencer's at the Arnison Centre donate the flowers which they have left over. Sometimes they don't have any flowers and there are none to brighten the hospice but for some reason almost every time I go up there to collect them there are some. Sometimes my little car is filled with them and even when the folks at M&S say 'oh, there's only a few' or 'there's only one bucketful' it is surprising how many they put into my car and I drive across town and into the winding road which leads up to the hospice and carry them into reception.

You wouldn't believe the difference it makes. This week they thought they didn't  have many but I managed to fill the rooms with roses and daffodils, the cafe had daffodils on every table.If they don't have many in the summer I trot outside, sometimes in the rain and beg the gardeners for anything they might have but I'm not good at arranging flowers so when they come from M&S all you have to do is find the right sized vase and fill it with water and dash about taking them into the various rooms.

The first picture is a general view of the coffee shop.

In the second picture is Alwyn Pope, a soroptimist and helping her is Sandra Lawrence, friend of Barbara Hadfield who is a soroptimist.

You can see how lovely the cafe is, it serves sandwiches and cakes and pastries and is open to the public and it sells wonderful cards and jewellery and all manner of gifts and I like being there, everybody is open and friendly and it lifts my mood when I go there.  I also help in the cafe with Cheryl Penna who is president of Durham S.I. Cheryl is an expert with the till whereas I am always getting in a ravel with it. We wear black pinnies and serve toasties and baked potatoes.

The volunteers do all kinds of things at the hospice including gardening and DIY, reception and patient care and I once got to help in the kitchen where I found my forte in life - threading fruit on to skewers for a special event. I did feel clever!

St Cuthbert's Hospice provides care and support for people with life limiting conditions as well as their families and carers.  It makes no charge for its services so that it can help all those who need hospice care in North Durham. It receives a minority of its funding from the NHS and relies upon the local community to raise a further £1 million a year ( or £4,000 every day ) that is needed to carry on its work.    0191 386 1170

Audrey Dowgray and Rachel Eddy

Monday, 12 April 2010

Dream Breakers

I grew up in a little pit village high up on the Durham fells. My experiences as a child have formed the basis of almost all my books.The local Durham people joke about Tow Law and say there is sometimes snow in June because it's so far above sea level and the air is said to be rarefied and clear.
It's famous for its football team,they used to play in black and white - perhaps they still do - as Newcastle United did and were very respected as an amateur team from way back.I decided that I would write a football book and all the memories of being a small child in Tow Law and living beside the football field surfaced.
On Saturday afternoons friends would come to the house and drink mugs of Bovril and stand in the upstairs windows to watch the match.When we got older we used to sneak in under the fence and not pay.
It was the ambition of many lads to go and play for the local big teams,Sunderland,Newcastle or Middlesbrough.Some of them made it,others came back and went down the pits or to work in local shops or at the steel foundries but in the north east football is in the blood,the lads kick a ball about in the back lanes and beg their mothers for boots for Christmas in spite of the risk of failure.
When my father went to the Sunderland matches, taking with him his foundry manager, Mr Crummy, he would drop my mother and me in town and we would go shopping.
As research for my book I began reading. I read Hunter Davies' excellent book about the year he spent with Tottenham Hotspurs,The Glory Game.I read Gazza's autobiography and Shearer, My Story So Far by Alan Shearer and all about Bobby Robson who came from just outside Durham and the tragic tale of George Best.
I was around when Best was a pair of twinkling,dancing feet and even someone who didn't appreciate football could not help but watch the way that he moved,so graceful and so adept.
I was fascinated with the lives of footballers, their triumphs and disasters.I began to wonder what it was like to be a lad growing up in the sixties with a talent and ambition and what it would be like for a girl who worked in a shop like the local co-op and wanted a little house of her own.
The two main characters in Dream Breakers have different goals. Ruari dreams of being rich and famous, Jenna's ambitions are more modest and they are inevitably bound to destroy one another's desires with this conflict.
But I like that people have dreams and that they folllow them even if they come back having failed like some of the lads who didn't make the football teams.For many of those who do it is a hard game and the fulfilment of one's dreams is never as you imagined it.

This is the big print edition of Dream Breakers published by Magna Large Print Books. The audio which also came out recently has the same lovely cover.

This is the house where I lived when I was a child.  It looked slightly different then, it was detached and had regular oblong windows.

This is the football field from the house.

And this is the black labrador who escorted me around the garden when the people who own the house were kind enough to let me take photographs. I can't resist labradors. The people who own the property are doing up the garden and have lots of plans for the place.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

The Flying Ducks

The Flying Ducks is the name of the northern chapter of the Romantic Novelists Association, actually we are the north eastern chapter because there is a north west chapter.We started off as one,I think about fifteen years ago ( anybody know any better, or can remember properly?). There was Angela Dracup, Patricia Fawcett, Wendy Robertson, Una Horne, Helene Wiggin and me. We set up the group in the Boar's Head at Ripley and it grew and grew until there were about forty people attending, so many of us that we had to split in two.
We are called The Flying Ducks because we fly south to see our agents, publishers and friends at London parties and meetings.
The Flying Ducks meet eight times a year in the Smiths Arms at Beckwithshaw just outside Harrogate. It is a very comfy hostelry, has wonderful food, patient staff, fires in the winter and they put up with us making a tremendous row in the big back room and crowding around the bar.
Over the years The Flying Ducks has been a tremendous support to many people.

Our latest meeting was on April 1st. We didn't have a speaker, we had a round robin so that everybody gets to talk about their successes, their concerns or new information. This is Helene, looking very nifty. She writes as Leah Fleming.

From left to right Alison McGuire, who is Shirley's daughter and doing PR for her, Patricia Thomas, saga writer, Shirley Heaton whose book, Relative Strangers recently hit the shops and libraries and Val Margerison, saga writer.

This is Bill Spence who writes sagas as Jessica Blair and used to write cowboys. With him is his daughter, Judith who is an artist and also helps Bill with his PR.

Anne Hewland, Moira Morton, Joan Emory and Evelyn Orange. Anne has a very dry sense of humour and makes everybody feel better, she writes romance, Moira writes articles, Joan is writing a regency novel, Evelyn has published fiction and has just published a book on nutrition.

Ken McCoy with Bill. Ken writes sagas and crime novels. He is a brilliant after dinner ( or lunch or anything else!) speaker. Very funny.

Sylvia Brody writes romantic fiction, actually you might call it romance suspense and Frances McNeil who is writing crime fiction as Frances Brody for Piatkus.

June Moore and Angela Dracup, one of the original members of the group. Angela writes crime fiction for Robert Hale. June writes romantic fiction.

From left to right Linda Acaster, who has recently written Torc of Moonlight which is doing very well, Penny Grubb crime writer, Liz Gill, author of Paradise Lane and Val Wood who writes sagas.

Okay folks, I've only put in a little about everybody so if you want to add on more about your writing, a book that's coming out or has come out recently please help yourselves.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Paradise Lane

This is Paradise Lane, my latest book.It came out in January of this year.It isn't the first book I have written about Durham but it is of a different style than anything I have written before.It's a quest, the story of a young woman who comes to Durham to find her family in Edwardian times.
The picture on the cover is so exactly right for the book, it looks like the upper end of Weardale where parts of the story are set. Even the little bridge is so typical of the moorland and the image fits in with the desolate way that the heroine feels when she comes north from a rich leisurely life in London.
Annabel has problems when she gets to Durham so I gave her a very good place to stay,with Mr and Mrs Hatty in the Garden House Hotel in North Road. 

This is what it looks like now but I don't suppose it looked any different in 1902. Mr and Mrs Hatty never lived there but I like to think they did.
Annabel searches in the town and in the Durham dales to try and find her mother.She isn't even sure her mother is alive. She enlists the help of the young man who runs the newspaper office in Saddler Street, Ned Fleming and together they do everything they can to discover what happened to Annabel's family.

This is Sutton Street, the kind of house where Ned's uncle lived and which he moves into when he falls out with his father and takes over the newspaper that his uncle ran. It has the typical Durham bay window upstairs which I always think is a wonderful,mad idea.The house is very important to the story,not least because Annabel and Ned find a clue to her mother's history and possible whereabouts there.
Annabel begins work as a newspaper reporter and writes a report on a pit disaster from the woman's viewpoint and she also covers a wedding in the cathedral which is vital to Ned's future.

And this of course is the cathedral and the old fulling mill from across the river on a fine March afternoon. It's been there for eight hundred years. I love it dearly.
Paradise Lane is published by Severn House and will be coming out in big print and audio with Magna Large Print Books