Monday 23 February 2015

Feel the Fear and Use it

When I put this picture on the blog, I had to stop my heart racing. To most of you, it is just a picture of a tunnel but to me it signifies everything I fear: blackness and small spaces and crowds. It's a problem that has seen me refuse to use the London underground, visit caves or basically go anywhere with no natural light or the potential to be trapped in darkness.

Unlike some people with claustrophobia, I can pinpoint the exact moment my problem started. I was very little and had arrived in France for a holiday with my parents. I'd fallen asleep in the car and been carried into the gite we were staying in and put to bed. When I woke in the middle of the night, the room was dark... in fact it was so pitched black it felt like I could touch it. I remember holding out my hand to try to push it aside. My first thought was that I had gone blind, swiftly followed by the fear that maybe I had died.

Still thinking I was in my bedroom at home, I got out of bed and felt my way around the wall to where the door should have been but it wasn't there and neither was the light switch. I can feel the mounting panic even now, over forty years later. Of course, I know now that the reason the room was so dark was because the French shutters on the windows had been closed so that no light was able get in. To this day, if I am staying anywhere away from home, I have to make sure that the there is at least a chink of light coming into the room through the curtains.

Fast forward thirty years and I am on a tube train with my sister. It's rush hour... it's hot... the train slows... then stops... the lights flicker.

I won't tell you more because it would spoil it for anyone wanting to read my latest story, 'Out of the Dark', in The People's Friend Special. The story came about because I was determined to take my fear and turn it into something positive. I decided to write about what would happen if someone like myself were forced into a situation where they had to confront their worst fear.

I'm pleased with 'Out of the Dark' because I was able to take the essence of my fear and use it to help write the important scenes, such as the one at the tube station. 

Interestingly, the story itself is a big departure from what you might expect from a People's Friend story. There are no cosy kitchen scenes or kittens - just someone trying to overcome a fear to help someone they love. There is also another reason this story is different from the norm but I can't tell you that either without spoiling the ending. Never underestimate the type of story this magazine will accept.

Claustrophobia can still be a problem for me at times (just ask my husband) but I am trying to manage it and I think I am a little better than I was but the moral of this story is to think of something that has happened to you that has caused extreme emotion: fear, hate, jealousy, sorrow and use it to bring your stories to life. You'd be surprised at how affective it can be.

On a lighter note, I have a very exciting announcement. My second collection of short stories, The Last Rose, will be published on 2 March  and everyone is invited to the launch party on my blog next Monday. It will be open house all day and there will be music, good food and the chance to win a free paperback. Hope to see you there!

Monday 16 February 2015

My Fabulous Star of the Chateau Makeover

What an amazing Valentine Weekend I've had!

It all started last December while visiting my daughter in Hamburg. I switched on my phone to find that I had won a competition I'd entered on book blogger and reviewer Tay Pickering's website, Chicks that Read. It was to promote the lovely Karen Aldous' new romance, The Chateau, and the prize was a makeover with Karen's daughter celebrity makeup artist Gemma Aldous.

You can imagine my excitement. The first thing I did was to look at Gemma's website where I was overwhelmed by the number of the A-listers she had done the makeup for. It was certainly going to be a challenge for her to turn me into the star of the chateau - especially as my only sight of a red carpet had been when I'd spilt wine on it!

My only problem was going to be the whole 'Getting to London' thing.Those of you who are regular readers of my blog will know that I'm not a great traveller and this is where my lovely husband came to the rescue. In fact he proved to be very deceitful – but in a good way! He couldn’t think of anything to get me for Christmas so decided to combine my prize with a weekend away. He got in touch with Karen and asked if the makeover could be linked in with a Valentine Ball at Gray’s Inn he wanted to take me to so that I had somewhere to go to show off my make-up. Not only that, but he also booked for us to see War Horse the following day, so the weekend became a very special one indeed. I didn’t find out about all this until Christmas day!

To say my weekend was amazing would be an understatement. Karen, her husband Glyn and Gemma met us at The Royal Horseguards Hotel, where we were staying, for a lovely lunch and then the men left us so that we could start the highlight of my weekend - the celebrity makeover. The beautiful view of the Thames from the window (and a bottle of Prosecco) set the scene and soon Gemma was opening her very large suitcase of cosmetics. The first thing Gemma did was to ask me what type of make up I usually wore and what I liked. I said that I was happy for her to make all the decisions as long as she could find me some cheekbones!

Without a mirror, I could only guess what was happening, but I know it involved a lot of brushes! It was fabulous to feel so pampered but I was a teensy bit apprehensive to see the results as the last makeover I'd had had ended up in my looking ten years older and resembling a clown. How silly of me! I'd forgotten that Gemma had made up the likes of Pixie Lott, Emeli Sande and Sheridan Smith. After curling my hair she said, "You can look now."

What I saw nearly made me fall off my chair. Kylie Minogue was staring back at me... how had she done it! My husband has always liked Kylie but there was no way that Gemma could have known that. I couldn't wait for him to come back to see the results!

"Who do I look like?" I asked when he came in.
"Kylie!" he replied picking up his jaw which had dropped to the floor.

Not surprisingly, we had a great Valentine Ball and then the following day, which was Valentine's Day, we went to see War Horse which was quite stunning.
 So I owe a huge thank you Karen, Tay and Gemma for such a wonderful prize and of course to my husband for making it the best Valentine's weekend ever. If you would like to find out more about my celebrity makeover, Karen has interviewed me on her website. You can read it here.
Click here to purchase The Chateau by Karen Aldous

Monday 9 February 2015

How's the Novel Going?

Okay, okay, I can't dodge the question any longer.
What question? I hear you ask.
The one referring to the thing that starts with N and ends with L.

I blame Tracy Fells of course. To be honest, I thought I'd got away with it as we had been sitting in the cafe talking for nearly two hours about the usual writerly things and she hadn't brought the subject up. Then just as we were about to pay for our teacakes (yes it's that time of the month again) and leave the cafĂ©, she did.
"How's the novel going?"

At first I pretended not to have heard, but Tracy knows me too well and was not going to let me get away with it that easily. My target was to write at least 2,000 words of the novel a week, so the question she wanted to know was had I managed it?

"Well..." I said. "It's like this..."

Tracy cut in. "Don't tell me. You haven't had time because of your dancing, zumba, dog walking... oh, wait a minute that's it, Bonnie ate it!"

Very funny.

In actual fact my excuses for not having reached my target that month, and having only reached 12,000 words in total, were rather better than that and perfectly true: I'd had a serial to finish and a new collection of short stories to prepare for publication (watch out for it early March), I'd got stuck when I realised I hadn't planned the novel out properly and I'd changed the tense and viewpoint about ten times. You see, I'd been very busy!

The look on Tracy's face, though, told me all I needed to know - she was having none of it. I bowed my head. "I promise to do better next month Tracy."

"You'd better, or there will be no teacakes."

Now that is a threat (and one I think I've heard before) so this last week I've been setting aside more time for the novel. I wrote another chapter and managed to get a better idea in my head of where my characters were heading. I thought I was doing well then, out of the blue, I had a crisis of confidence - how could I be sure that what I had already written would have the makings of a readable novel?

The breakthrough came when someone gave me the following piece of advice (if I could remember who, I could thank them). They suggested I send what I had written to my kindle and read it as a reader would, rather than as a writer. That's what I did this morning and, because I haven't written a great deal, I was able to read it all the way through and the result was very exciting. I found I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen next. It was the push I needed.

At last I can believe that what I am writing has the potential to be a story that I will enjoy writing and that someone will hopefully enjoy reading ... and I can't wait to carry on!

In other news, I have a story in this week's People's Friend (out Wednesday) and The current People's Friend Special and Woman's Weekly Fiction Special.

Monday 2 February 2015

More than Words - Inspiration Behind the Story

My husband and I are alike in a lot of ways but in one particular way we are very different... in our choice of cards for each other. I usually choose mine from my local bookshop or arty card shop. They will be quite minimal, often with no words inside and definitely none on the front. I take care when choosing them and the result, I hope, is simple and tasteful.

My husband also takes care when choosing cards for me: birthday, Christmas, Valentines and especially on our anniversary. He reads the words on the front and makes sure that they have the word 'wife' on somewhere and if a heart, fluffy kitten, puppy or flowers can feature as well, then all the better. Then comes the inside - if there isn't some sort of sentimental rhyme inside, then my husband will discard it as unsuitable. An example of some of the cards I have received over the years are shown in the photo.

Now, I don't want anyone to take my post the wrong way because much as I might not chose a card like this myself, I would be devastated if my husband decided to stop giving them to me. I read the rhyme inside, knowing that he has read many more and chosen this one in particular because it is meaningful. I would miss everything about them: the word 'wife', the special messages... even the puppies and fluffy kittens!

This lead me to think about what it would be like if a husband like mine overheard his wife telling her friend that she thought the cards were tacky and would rather one from the art shop. What it he stopped giving them to her and chose a plain one with no rhyme inside? I thought about how I would feel and More than Words my story in The People's Friend was born. The illustration is by Ruth Blair.

The strange thing is, the title for the story was changed but the one they chose, More than Words, was the song that we chose to play at the end of our wedding as we signed the register... now that is spooky.

So, if you're reading this, husband, I expect an especially pink, fluffy card with 'wife' on the front and a slushy rhyme inside on our anniversary in May - or there'll be trouble!