Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Arctic thrill

Must be Christmas. Have a third ebook contract! This time it's for Half Life, a film-noir thriller set in Norway in the late 1930s. Nuclear fission, naughty Fascists and lots and lots of snow. Rob and I wrote this one together, which was a blast. I know far too much about 1930s German-built seaplanes, thorium and cyclotrons than is strictly healthy, but hey.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Ice and fire

When we heard about the contract for ICE TREKKER, my husband suggested coming up with a new cocktail to mark the occasion. It seemed appropriate, and having just purchased a bottle of blue curaçao ostensibly for Christmas, I based it on that. Courtesy of my cocktail bible, I adapted the recipe for Galactica, and came up with Ice Trekker, the Cocktail.

So, here goes. Use equal measures vodka (Norwegian, if you can get it), blue curaçao, dry vermouth and fresh lime juice, with a dash of crème de cassis. Shake over ice. Purists could dip the rim of the cocktail glass into some spare lime juice and encrust with sugar for a frosted effect.

The cassis gives the blue a deep, Arctic quality. It really does. And wow, how can something so cold be so volcanic! Also, it made my tongue blue, which was fun.

My next mission is conjure up a beverage to mark the signing of DARK INTERLUDE. I was thinking of Tia Maria or kahlua, but I’ve made some sloe gin for Christmas, and feel an experiment coming on. As the story’s set in Scotland, there should be whisky, too. Hm.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Visiblity

There’s nothing like being visible to focus one’s attention. I’ve had scores of warm welcome messages from fellow Muse authors on the writers’ forum – thank you, all – and finally got round to finishing off some of those fiddly blog pages that I’ve been putting off. Now I have a virtual catalogue of all my books, complete with blurbs, taglines, synopses, genres, cover mock-ups … I’m exhausted just thinking about how much effort I put into it all. Check it out under 'books'. What next? Machiavelli’s Acolyte beckons. Only problem is, when I left Viktor, my murderous anti-hero, he was stuck in a privy, eavesdropping. Serve him right, of course, but I need to plot-wrangle him out of there. I can feel a long dog walk coming on. Best way to solve it, I think.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Pause for thought


I don’t know why people say they’re scared of a blank page. I like the concept.

It’s supposed to symbolise all sorts of mystic nonsense about writer’s block. Block. Smchock. Call me Ikea Minimalist (actually, she’s a minor character in a steam punk drama, who’s really quite charming), but I like a blank page. At least no-one’s been there before. White carpet of snow, just waiting for my imprint.

Sidebar. I used to work with this magic bloke. He would sit in front of the keyboard (and he was old school - a typewriter was really his MO), and when he needed to birth a feature, he’d gaze into the distance in a mystic way for several seconds, hands hovering over the keyboard, then something would click, and he’d set to, and write this perfect piece of prose. Right take, right balance, right word count. Perfect. Total professional.

My contribution was attempting to do the layout to the perfect length - down to the line. And this was in days when you did your page plans on paper. With a ruler!

So, blank page. No probs. It's an invitation.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Hit and myth

Holding on to my hat. I've just signed a second contract! This time it's for Ice Trekker, a fantasy teen adventure set in the icy wastes of Krønagar, a mysterious uncharted land to the north.


The story was inspired by a trip to Tromso a little while back. It's quite bonkers, full of strange beasts and mystic legends, all with a definite Icelandic flavour. Not Nordic noir, but Greenland gris, perhaps.

I was asked to come up with a 20-word tagline, and all that I could think of was 'In a land of myth and a time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young man. His name? Merlin.'

It's a cracker, and once it was in my head, I knew I didn't stand a chance of thinking of anything else. So, I found myself watching the blooper reels of Arthur et al on YouTube. Never knew Anthony Head was such a giggler. Maybe something will come to me ...

Meanwhile, already pondering a sequel, with the working title of ...
Questiny. I think John Hurt could make it work.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Left to my old devices

Woke up the other day – and my Kindle had gone berserk. The screen image was broken up and looked as if someone were trying to communicate from the other side. Cue creepy music. But, the gods were smiling, because it was still in warranty – just. By noon the next day, a brand new one arrived! And there was me all set to boycott Amazon over the tax thing.

Meanwhile, I’d been reduced to reading a real book – left to my old devices, as it were. I found a delightful Gladys Mitchell murder mystery, with a macabre cover and luscious parchment-thick pages. But, blow me down if it wasn’t set in Glasgow! (I’m being haunted by the place.) But the really odd thing is, I’ve become so accustomed to having a single page on display at a time that I find myself distracted by the right-hand page, and I have to stop myself from trying to sneak a quick look before I’ve finished the left. Most peculiar.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Character-forming

When did I start this blog? The idea was to chart the agonies of epublishing. Appeal to wannabe writers in all of us. Agonise over the failures, the nearly made-its, the almosts, the coulda woulda shoulda. SIGH.

I'm rather stonkered to admit I've just e-signed the first contract. I'll let you know who when it's all done and dusted, virtually speaking.

A contract.

I type the words and feel skittish. Yup. A contract. Well, e-contract, but hey. I read my Kindle all the time, despite Flybe telling me I shouldn't. [I sense another post.]

Now, when I say sign, you just use a different font in the boxy thingy. Well, font fetishist that I am, that had me going for ages. Comic Sans? No, I think not. Bookman? Please. No pretensions allowed. Rob suggested Courier. Not bad.

So, guess the font I chose. All right, it was Times New Roman. I owe it to TNR. I've written EVERYTHING in TNR. Everything. It's elegant, clear, unambiguous. You know where you are with TNR. I love TNR.

Tonight I love everything. Well, maybe not the snotty rejection letters from the past, but they were just character-forming. Ha.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Introducing Biff

Blog-wrangling, plot-hatching, research – oh, and writing, too. All very well, but how careful are any of us about screen breaks?

All the activities above require fingertips to be glued to the keyboard, eyes to the screen and bum to the ergonomic chair. Not healthy. We are a physio nightmare.

I am perfectly decently workaholic, but there is someone who obliges me to insert intervals into my work-filled fury. Introducing Biff Screen-Break. And here he is.


Who is this mysterious character, you may ask?

He is my four-legged canine hero who ensures I don’t suffer from cramped fingers, sore wrists and stinging eyes. 

It’s not his real name, of course. It’s his Super Dog alter ego persona that comes into force every half an hour or so. First, I hear the humph as he emerges from his slumber. Then there’s the light tinkle of the collar. The long stretch. The subtle exhalation of wind escaping from his nether passageway. Sorry. But I know what’s coming next … The cold, wet nose under the armpit. Not such a problem in winter, but quite shockworthy in summer. And Biff’s pièce de résistance? The full body lunge across the lap. His trademark move pins me in my ergonomic chair until I am forced to upend him, in the manner of a large wheelbarrow, and take a few minutes off.

Then it’s time to play with an old sock, throw a tinkly ball down the garden, or simply say ‘squirrel’ very loudly, open the door and stand well back. Well, it keeps me happy.

In the real world, Biff goes by the modest monicker of Chester.

Ah. It’s time to go. Sixteen, no, 17 minutes after canine tea-time. Lottie, my other four-legged friend, is telling me it's dinner time for dogs.

Amazing I get anything written at all.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Greenhouse gasbagging

Curious how life’s minutiae can overlap. There I was, busy completing pages for the blog companion to The Lost Orchid, blissfully dredging up all manner of (copyright-free) images of glasshouses, orchids, Darwin and eccentric plant hunters. All the while I was tapping away, I was thanking the rain gods for being so busy and preventing me from having to do any actual horticulture myself.

The afternoon drew on, the sun set, the blackbirds retreated squawking into the shrubbery. Let’s have a fire, tonight, said I. Time to stop work, said he. I fished out an old mag, and stopped short, having nearly ripped up a genteel article on … Mrs Darwin’s Greenhouse. What a gem it was, tucked away in a rather upmarket varsity publication, featuring ‘secret Cambridge’. I’m a sucker for Victorian glasshouses (and in another weird coincidence, I live in Glasshouse Lane), and this piece was all about the conservatory acquired by Emma Darwin, wife to the naturalist, in 1883, after his death.

The details were wonderful, even noting that it has remained unaltered, but refurbished, built from cast iron and wester red cedar, an American timber whose natural oils prevent it from rotting. The panes are arranged like fish scales to encourage rainwater to drain away from the woodwork. The greenhouse is now in the grounds of what Murray Edwards College (ex New Hall). All the heating pipes are original, and the current-day gardener has sympathy for the poor lad who would have had to get up in the night to stoke the boiler in the winter.


While I’m an orchidmaniac, I was fascinated to read that Mrs Darwin probably kept ferns there, its sunken design helping to conserve the heat. There are also some hart’s tongues lingering within to confirm the theory. So, all in all, perfect fodder for the sequel to The Lost Orchid, which I’ve called The Ladyfern Conspiracy. Of course, I’m already planning that blog too! You can read the article online and see a photograph of the greenhouse. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it – it’s a mirror image of Charles Darwin’s own orchid house at Down House.