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Fragments of the RNA Summer Party 2017

Twice a year – once in the summer and once in the winter – RNA members and friends gather together in the Royal Overseas League in Park Place, off St. James Street, in order to party, and party the RNA certainly does in style! This year’s Summer Party, which took place on the evening of May 18th, was no exception, and as I do every year after the party, I’m posting some of the photos I took during the evening. I very much hope you enjoy looking at them.

When I arrived at the Royal Overseas League a little ahead of the AGM, I repaired to the bar, and whom should I meet there, but …

 

Mandy Baggot, Kate Nash, Jane Holland and Gill Stewart

After the AGM, we headed for the room where the party was to be held. Because I got there before the party was officially due to begin, some of the photos below were taken before the room had filled up. But from the moment we arrived, the fun began.

Virginia Heath, Carrie Elks

The contenders for the Joan Hessayon Award, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Jones

Lynda Stacey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jules Wake, Julie Stock, Jane Crane

Victoria Cornwall, Haydn Stacey, Morton S. Gray

 

Brigid Coady

Bernardine Kennedy/Marie Maxwell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maggie Sullivan,Gill Stewart. Imogen Howson, Kate Johnson

Alison May, me, Maggie Sullivan, Gill Stewart, Imogen Howson, Kate Johnson

 

Publicist Katrina Power

Julie Vince, Maggie Sullivan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kathryn Freeman

Henriette Gyland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jenny Barden, Janice Horton

Janet Gover, me, Julie Roberts, Claire Dyer, Sue Mackender

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artist Charlotte Fawley, Eileen Ramsay

Leah Mercer, Henriette Gyland & Laura E. James listen to the Joan Hessayon announcement

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Jackson

Sue Moorcroft

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apologies that the following two photos are so indistinct. I wasn’t in the best place for seeing last year’s Joan Hessayon Award winner, Clare Harvey, make her speech and congratulate this year’s winner, Kate Field.

Kate Field (behind the podium)

Clare Harvey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kate Macwhannell, Camilla Macwhannell

Susannah Hamilton, Jenny Barden, Jean Fullerton, Sara O’Keefe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allie Burns, Sarah Bennett, Annie Lyons

Roger Sanderson, Norma Curtis, Jan Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll leave the last words with Immi Howson and John Jackson, though I can’t imagine what John can be saying!

Over and out!

 

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Happy Birthday, Anita Burgh!

Tuesday, 7th June, was the first Tuesday in June. The monthly RNA Oxford Chapter lunch is always held on the first Tuesday of the month at The Victoria Arms, Old Marston. But not this June!

In the week that would be ending with the birthday of Annie Burgh, pillar of the Oxford Chapter, and long-time friend and mentor to writers published and unpublished, we decided to break with tradition and take the lunch to Annie, who now lives near Cleveden.

 

Annie at the last Ox Lunch before she moved away

Annie at the last Ox Lunch before she moved away

 

As you’ll see from the few photos below, the weather approved of our decision, and the sun shone down on Annie and Billy’s lovely garden.

 

Annie chats to Maggi Fox and Rebecca Leith (sitting), Carl Pengelly, Bev, Julie Roberts and Catherine Jones (standing)

Annie talks to Maggi Fox & Rebecca Leith (sitting), Carl Pengelly, Bev, Julie Roberts & Catherine Jones (standing)

Catherine Jones, Katie Carr, Gilli Allan chat while waiting for others to arrive

Catherine Jones, Katie Carr, Gilli Allan chat while waiting for others to arrive

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean Buchanan (sitting) and Catherine Lawless

Jean Buchanan (sitting) and Catherine Lawless

Maggi Fox

Maggi Fox

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Billy waits for everyone to sit down

Billy waits for everyone to sit down

Julie Roberts (standing) with Maggi Fox & Jean Buchanan (sitting)

Julie Roberts (standing) with Maggi Fox & Jean Buchanan (sitting)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bev, me

Bev, me

Gilli Allan, Jean Buchanan

Gilli Allan, Jean Buchanan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bev and bottle, Julie Roberts, Katie Carr and Catherine Jones

Bev and bottle, Julie Roberts, Katie Carr and Catherine Jones

Chatting, a glass in hand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food!

Food!

 

Carl Pengelly, Catherine Lawless & Catherine Jones at the buffet

Carl Pengelly, Catherine Lawless & Catherine Jones at the buffet

Rebecca Leith, Maggi Fox, Catherine Jones, Julie Roberts, Billy and Catherine Lawless wait while the others get their food

Rebecca Leith, Maggi Fox, Catherine Jones, Julie Roberts, Billy, and Catherine Lawless wait while the others get their food

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the table

At the table

 

You can’t have special lunch, in a birthday week, without cake! Katie Carr organised the cakes, which were iced with icing covers of three of Annie’s books. Each cake was a different flavour. Not only did they look amazing, but they were absolutely delicious.

 

The cakes!!

The cakes!!

 

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Annie with Katie Carr

Annie with Katie Carr

Annie, Katie Carr and Bev, who's getting ready to pour wine for our toast

Annie, Katie Carr and Bev, who’s getting ready to pour wine for our toast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crowding round to look at the cakes

Crowding round to look at the cakes

 

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I shall leave you now with a last glimpse of Annie and the cakes, on what was a really lovely occasion. I hope you’ve enjoyed the few moments I’ve been able to capture here, with the aid of Julie Roberts and Carl Pengelly, who kindly added their photos to mine.

May the coming year be a healthy, happy one, Annie!

 

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The RNA Summer Party. What else!

Repetition is the enemy of authors; nevertheless, I intend to repeat myself by saying what I’ve said after every RNA party – the RNA knows how to throw a fabulous party! The Summer Party 2016 was no exception, and a terrific time was had by all.

Once again, the party venue was the imposing Royal Overseas League in Park Place, off St. James Street, near Piccadilly. From here on, despite belonging a profession that enjoys using words, I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves.

 

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The Royal Overseas League

 

 

Let the party begin! Tania Crosse, Julie Roberts, Tracy Glover, Tony Robert

 

 

 

Starting to gather for the party

Starting to gather for the party

 

Terri Fleming, Charlotte Betts. Behind them, Maggi Fox and Jean Fullerton talk to Kelvin Woolmer

Terri Fleming, Charlotte Betts. Behind them, Maggi Fox and Jean Fullerton talk to Kelvin Woolmer

 

Kathryn Freeman

Kathryn Freeman

Berni Stevens, AnneMarie Brear

Berni Stevens, AnneMarie Brear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maggi Fox

Maggi Fox

John Jackson

John Jackson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyn Vernham

Lyn Vernham, with Kathryn Freeman behind her

Alison May

Alison May

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane Eastgate, Haydn Stacey, Lynda Stacey

 

AnneMarie Brear, Sarah Waights, Kate Johnson, Kathryn Freeman

AnneMarie Brear, Sarah Waights, Kate Johnson, Kathryn Freeman

 

Fiona Lindsay

Fiona Lindsay

Eileen Ramsay

Eileen Ramsay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laura E. James

Laura E. James

 

Gill Stewart, Henriette Gyland, Imogen Howson, Jean Fullerton, Laura E. James

Gill Stewart, Henriette Gyland, Imogen Howson, Jean Fullerton, Laura E. James

 

Julie Vince, Keer

Vicky Walker, Julie Vince, Linda Taylor

 

Rowan Coleman, Fiona Harper, Julie Cohen, Roger Sanderson, Jan Jones

Rowan Coleman, Fiona Harper, Julie Cohen, Roger Sanderson, Jan Jones

 

Guy Bispham, Alison May, Kate Johnson, Evonne Wareham, Imogen Howson, John Jackson

Guy Bispham, Alison May, Kate Johnson, Evonne Wareham, Imogen Howson, John Jackson

 

Me, talking to Lynda Stacey

Me, talking to Lynda Stacey

 

Kate Johnson

Kate Johnson, sitting next to Evonne Wareham

 

Kate's fabulous shoes!

Kate’s fabulous shoes!

 

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Ellie Darkins, Anita Chapman

Donna Ashcroft, Jules Wake

Donna Ashcroft, Jules Wake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liz Finn

Liz Finn

Jules Wake, Ian Skillicorn

Jules Wake, Ian Skillicorn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anita Chapman and me

 

If I were asked to sum up the RNA in one word, that word would be FRIENDSHIP. Writers of romantic fiction are the most friendly, supportive people. I hope that some of the enjoyment they find at meeting up with each other is conveyed by these photos.

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Afternoon tea? Don’t mind if I do.

I don’t know why, but the words SCONES & CREAM have a way of leaping out at me, wherever they appear. Funny that.

A recent leaping-out was on the invitation extended by the Chelmsford Chapter of the RNA, who’d had the inspired idea of organising an Afternoon Tea, which was to take place in Colchester last Saturday.

 

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Faster than you can say carrot cake, I’d emailed Fenella Jane Miller and Jean Fullerton, the organisers of the event, and booked a place. Sandwiches, scones, cakes and fizz, served up in a lovely place full of RNA friends – it sounded the perfect way to spend an April afternoon.

And indeed it was!

The tea took place in a lovely Grade II listed building, The Minories, which stands almost opposite Colchester Castle.

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Natalie Hames & Lynda Stacey in front of The Minories

Arriving there, we gathered in the Batte-Lay tea room, where we caught up with ‘old’ friends and were introduced to new.

Fenella Jane Miller

Fenella Jane Miller

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Jenni Keer & Sheila Norton

Ann Barleycorn

Ann Barleycorn

 

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Heidi-Jo Swain

 

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Sheila & Alan Norton with daughter Cheryl, &        Ann Barleycorn

Faye & Maynard Cunningham, with daughter Kim

Faye & Maynard Cunningham, with daughter Kim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our tables were soon groaning beneath a profusion of delicious things to eat, and soon we were groaning, too!

Natalie Hames, Samantha Yagiz, Lynda Stacey & cakes

Natalie Hames, Samantha Yagiz, Lynda Stacey & cakes

Fenella and Jean did a superb job of making sure that everything went smoothly, and then, when we could eat no more, Jean introduced the guest speaker, successful author Victoria Connelly.

Jean Fullerton introduces Victoria Connelly

Jean Fullerton introduces Victoria  Connelly

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Victoria, mid speech

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During her highly entertaining talk, Victoria made an impassioned plea for writers to guard against distractions that took them away from their writing, which was the most precious thing, and which was where the writer’s focus should be. She recognised that writers today were no longer expected just to write a good book, but they were also now asked to do much of the promotion too; for example, to spend their days on blog tours. But, she said, ‘Readers don’t want a blog post – they’re probably not even aware of most of the blogs out there anyway – they want another book from you, so get to it!’

 

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Sue Merritt asks Victoria a question

Liam Livings & Kelvin Woolmer

Liam Livings & Kelvin Woolmer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria finished her lively speech by saying that there’d never been a better time in which to be a writer as we can now write with or without the involvement of middle men. All that’s needed is ‘the passion and determination to put one word in front of another, to create our characters and build our worlds.’

Kelvin Woolmer chats to Natalie Hames

Kelvin Woolmer chats to Natalie Hames

Smiles all round from Lynda Stacey, Jean Fullerton & me.

Smiles all round from Lynda Stacey, Jean Fullerton & me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All that entertainment punctuated with good advice, plus cakes, fizz and friends! It was a brilliant afternoon. Thank you very much, Jean and Fenella, for organising it.

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Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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Oh, Indian Summers! What went wrong?

Indian Summers, trailed as lasting for five series, has just been axed while series two is still under way – there’ll be no series three. The initial audience of five million has dropped to one million.  On an advertising channel, such figures were always going to sound the death knell.

So why, despite the money lavished on the programme – the first series reputedly cost £14m to make  – and despite a strong cast headed by Julie Walters, and despite the exotic, turbulent background of the British Raj in the 1930s, did the programme fail to hold the viewers?

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In a word — planning. To add a few more words, there appears to have been a failure to outline the contents of all five series before embarking on the detailed planning for series one.

SPOILER ALERT. If you’re not up-to-date with viewing and intend to catch up, don’t read on!

Indian Summers is set in Simla, the summer seat of the British Government during The Raj. Lying in the foothills of the Himalayas, Simla offered an escape from the intense heat in the plains below. The aim of the programme was to depict the events and relationships among the group of British socialites and government representatives who went up to Simla for the  summer months. In doing so, over the course of the five series, they would cover the birth of modern India.

For a project of this scale, advance planning is essential.

JK Rowling said that before she started the first Harry Potter book, she’d worked out the story arc for the five novels. With Indian Summers, the narrative effort seems to have been confined to the first series, and the second series has been left to struggle along as best it can. Which hasn’t been much of a best. Take, for example:

Characterisation. Cynthia Coffin (Julie Walters) was a prize bitch in the first series, which gave the series life.

Julie-Walters

In the second series, not only was there unfortunately little for her to be bitchy about, but halfway through the series she was reborn as a figure for whom the viewer should feel sympathy! Her husband, we’re told, was serially unfaithful – indeed he was revealed to be the birth father of Ralph, a revelation which had all the excitement of a damp squib – and she’d suffered several miscarriages owing to the medical conditions he’d passed on to her.  Gone was the woman we loved to hate.

Gone also was the Reverend’s snide wife, Fiona, whose attempts at being accepted by the Simla socialites, made for good viewing in the first series. In series two, she’s a pallid shadow of her former self, and doesn’t seem to have a role to play.

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Taking over the role of malevolence and unpleasantness in series two is the new bad guy, Charlie Haverstock, the husband of Ralph’s sister Alice. But what he’s allowed to get away with is so unlikely that viewer-incredulity is the resultant outcome. Can viewers really be expected to believe that Ralph and the English community, hidebound by rules and their code of etiquette (eg all nasty goings-on should go on behind closed doors), would allow Charlie to humiliate Ralph’s sister every time they were in company, and more than likely abuse her in private?

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To turn now to one of the good guys, Ralph. He was the ‘hero’ in series one, and much of the interest was centered on him, strong, upstanding and powerful as he was. But in series two, he’s greatly diminished in stature.

 

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Would the Ralph of series one have allowed his adored sister to be so publicly humiliated? Would the original Ralph have agreed to his wife to indulging in nooky with the Maharajah in order to win the Maharajah’s assent for something Ralph wanted? Would Ralph have publicly acknowledged, and brought into his home, his mixed race son at the time when this was highly frowned upon and he was lining himself up for higher office? No, to all questions.

And if the characterisation is undergoing ill-thought-out changes, which indicate a lack of planning and consequent desperation, what about the cohesion of the story, which features the Indians as well as the British?

Background. The background to Indian Summers is the rise of the Indian Nationalism. Indian factions are fighting the British – fair enough, they want us out of their country – and they’re also fighting each other. Why? This is never made clear in Indian Summers.

 

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While I don’t want a history lesson on a Sunday evening – I want exciting story lines, gripping characters and to find myself at the end of each episode longing for the next episode – I do want sufficient understanding of the background to know what’s going on and to know for what the characters stand. Instead we have confusion as nothing is really explained.

I’m not even sure what Ralph wants, which is so important that he allows his wife to prostitute herself. If that was made clear, I must have blinked at the wrong moment.

Instead of us being given sufficient information for narrative clarity, we are left to struggle with a ‘story’ that seems all over the place, set against a background of confusion, with little vignettes that don’t seem to be going anywhere.

So, with apologies to Margaret Mitchell, Frankly, I and a great number of viewers no longer give a damn!

Do you agree or disagree with me? I’d be interested to hear.

 

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A tip about tips – literally!

To clarify the heading, the ‘tips’ in question are my fingertips, and the ‘tip’ is something that might save you money.

To show you my tips, here I am, holding a tiny Julius Caesar – I have the complete works of Shakespeare in miniature, each one being the unabridged play. I thought a reference to Shakespeare most suitable for the weekend upon which we mark the 400th anniversary of his death.

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You’ll note that my nails are a deep plum shellac. Since I have them done once a month only, you’ll appreciate that they get long, although not talon-long, and that being shellac, they’re hard. The result all too soon, alas, of something as hard as (my) nails hitting the keys with force as I type my novels is a bald computer keyboard, which has to be replaced.

About a month ago, while working on the third – yes, the third – keyboard I’d had since January, I noticed that the letter E had almost vanished, and the O was looking iffy. The erosion had begun again, I realised. It always started with the E, since E is the vowel that appears most frequently in the English language, and O swiftly followed suit. After the E and the O, I’d say goodbye to the T, to the R, to the S, and so on.

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I sighed deeply. I’d soon have to buy my fourth keyboard of the year. My frustration was great – there wouldn’t be a thing wrong with the keyboard I’d have to throw out, apart from the lack of the letters I use most frequently. But as I can’t touch type, that ‘apart from’ couldn’t be ignored.

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I was sitting back in my chair, staring miserably at my keyboard, when my eyes landed on a bottle of clear nail varnish that was on my desk next to the computer. I’d fixed a nail a few days earlier and hadn’t returned the varnish to its home (A not unusual situation, I’m afraid – it accounts for the mess of things that builds up on my desk).

I sat upright. I wonder, I thought, and I leaned forward, picked up the varnish and painted every key on the keyboard with it. Then, about ten minutes after that, I gave each key another coat of clear nail varnish for luck!

It was an inspired thought, though I say it myself! It’s now a month later, and the remains of the E and O are exactly as they were four weeks ago, and not one of the other letters has started to disappear.

It wasn’t the cost of each keyboard, which is relatively inexpensive, that hurt. It was having to throw away a keyboard that was perfectly good, apart from one thing. It always felt such a waste. But happily, that’s a feeling I won’t have again for a very long time now.

So my tip to you is CLEAR-VARNISH YOUR KEYS!

Spring seems to have arrived at last. Enjoy!

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I never knew that!

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I never knew that there were events that were FREE to attendees EVERY SINGLE DAY of the week of the Oxford Literary Festival, which takes place annually at the beginning of April. But apparently, there are free events for all ages throughout the week, with the weekend slots being given over to local authors.

DSC02208I’ve opened the programme of events for the week to show how many there were.

All the free events took place in Blackwell’s Festival Marquee, which had been set up in the courtyard of the Bodleian Library, opposite the famous Blackwell’s shop in Broad Street. Underneath my photo of Broad Street, you’ll see photos of Blackwell’s and of their Festival Marquee.

DSC02194Broad Street

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I hadn’t known about the marquee events until I was invited by author Sylvia Vetta, a fellow member of the Oxford Writers’ Group, whose publishing arm is Oxpens, to go to her talk about how she came to write Brushstrokes in Time, a beautiful and moving account of life in the dreadful, oppressive regime that flourished in China in so recent a past.

Arriving at the marquee on the Saturday morning, I found myself surrounded by books on one side, a café on the other and the sight of a lounge at the far end. Sheer bliss! I bought a couple of books and a coffee, and wandered down the marquee to the Shakespeare Lounge, which overlooked the beautiful Bridge of Sighs, and there I took a seat.

Below you have the view from my sofa looking ahead towards the books, and my view when I turned to look through the window behind me.

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I’m happy to say that the talks were sandwiched in the most pleasant way possible – the sandwich filling was lunch with friends in a venue not far from the marquee.

Before our lunch, I listened to Sylvia’s fascinating and informative talk, after which she signed books.

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And after the lunch, I went back to the marquee to hear Barbara Hudson give an amusing introduction to her debut novel, Timed Out, in which her central character, deciding that retirement was not the end, but a new beginning, placed a lonely hearts’ advertisement on the Internet and embarked on her new life, suffering disappointments and learning hard truths about herself.

Brushstrokes in TimeTimed out

 

 

And here are the covers of Sylvia’s and Barbara’s novels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the marquee events, I couldn’t resist going across the road to Blackwell’s. And lo and behold – look what I found on the shelf!

 

DSC02197Some of the four anthologies of stories set in and around Oxford, published by the Oxford Writers’ Group.

 

And now it’s time for me to stop writing and to get on with reading one of the novels I bought last Saturday, so I’ll say goodbye for this week!

 

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Write a series – a don’t, or maybe a do

Conversation was lively at the monthly RNA Oxford lunch last week, as it always is, but I found one topic particularly interesting. This may have something to do with the fact that I initiated the topic! It was about what was fair to the reader and what wasn’t.

IMG_20160405_131928Caught by the camera while waiting for others to arrive, Barbara Hudson, Heather Rosser, Maggi Fox, me, Jean Fullerton, Janet Gover, Mary Nuttall

I remarked that I’d been very disappointed at the end of the thriller I’d finished the night before, Broken Promise, written by one of my favourite authors, Linwood Barclay, as I hadn’t found the conclusion a satisfactory one.

I’m always gripped by Linwood Barclay’s novels, and Broken Promise was no exception. Slightly unusually, though, there were two main story lines. I’d predicted the ending of one of the story lines, and when I finished the book, I was pleased to discover that my prediction had been correct.

I also had ideas about the second main thread in the novel, and wanted to know if I was right, but when I reached the final page, I found that the thread had been deliberately left open. Instead of a satisfactory conclusion to this story line, too, the reader was given a chapter from the opening of what was going to be the second in the series.

I hadn’t realised that Broken Promise was the first of a series, the Promise Falls Series, but even if I had, I don’t think I’d have been any less disappointed as I expect every novel that I read to be complete in itself.

In the ensuing discussion, I quoted the Montana Sky Series Novels written by Debra Holland, several of which I’ve read, and said that each story in the series was satisfactorily rounded off, even though each contained a hook within it that intrigued the reader about a subsidiary character.

But that subsidiary character isn’t part of the main story line, so the fact that their story isn’t developed or resolved doesn’t stop the novel from reaching a satisfactory conclusion. Nevertheless, the reader is intrigued about what happened to that other character and, needless to say, that other character’s story is the next in the series.

Leaving a main story line open, I saw as a ‘don’t’: intriguing the reader into wanting to get the next book, I saw as a ‘do’.

In our discussion, I realised that I was the only one at the table who felt strongly cheated at the end of a series book if I found that I had to buy the second book in order to conclude a story line started in the first, and I’m curious to know if others feel as I do.

Does anyone else feel as I do?

 

 

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Kick him out, Helen!!

It’s no secret that I’m an Archers’ addict – I frequently comment on twitter about the storylines, and I’m noisily grateful to the The Archers’ producers for many hours of excellent listening. And in addition to that, The Archers was responsible for my great stroke of luck prior to the publication of The Road Back.

The stroke of luck was that I was introduced to Colin Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse novels, at an Oxford Writers’ Group party. Later, Colin read the manuscript and asked to endorse it with the words, ‘A splendid love story, so beautifully told’.  And he came to my launch at Waterstones Oxford.

Book Launch_14 Sep 2012_8526Colin Dexter addressing the guests at the launch of The Road Back

Colin and I had bonded at the OWG party over our mutual addiction to The Archers. At that time, we were both critical of the many new, difficult-to-identify young voices who’d suddenly been added to the cast, and we felt that the storylines needed a good shaking-up.

Well, we certainly wouldn’t make those same criticisms today! The story of Rob’s physical and emotional abuse of Helen has been absolutely gripping.

And this is despite some early confusion about Rob’s character. Let me explain what I mean.

When Rob moved into Ambridge, he was at loggerheads with his then wife, Jess, and it wasn’t long before he’d started a relationship with the emotionally-fragile Helen. Later, he divorced Jess and married Helen. Some time after that, Jess visited Helen, claiming to be pregnant with a child fathered by Rob after he’d married Helen. We, the listeners, believed Jess over Rob, and even more so when Rob refused to take a paternity test until he was effectively forced to do so. However, defying the listeners’ expectations, the DNA test results said that Rob wasn’t the father. Hmm, we thought.

p025zm44Louiza Patikas as Helen; Timothy Watson as Rob; Rina Mahoney as Jess

And then some of us started to suspect that Rob, who was already showing a nasty side away from Helen, had falsified the notification of the DNA test results. This idea was fostered by the return of Dr Richard to Ambridge. But we weren’t to learn if we were right as the issue of paternity was suddenly dropped. (Of course, it might still surface again.)

For a short time after that, it seemed that Rob’s preoccupation with Henry, Helen’s young son, and Henry’s sudden emotional disturbances and nightly bed-wetting, might be related. But this line was dropped, too. It would have been too dark for The Archers, I’m sure.

At the same time, we were watching Rob’s actions outside the house. For example, he tried to put a wedge between Adam and Ian prior to their marriage. Why try to do this, we asked. But we were never given an answer. He then seemed to have been dishonest at work, and promptly resigned when financial discrepancies were raised by his boss, Charlie. But Charlie didn’t pursue the matter. Why didn’t he, we asked. But again there was no answer.

timothy-watson-rob-archers-large‘Rob’

By then, the story of Rob’s abuse of Helen was beginning to surface, an abuse which was to result in her loss of self-worth, and in her blaming herself for her ‘failings’ as a wife and a mother, a sense of guilt induced in her by Rob.

For the listener, Rob’s verbal attack on Helen, which happened in real time, made for chilling and harrowing listening. It has had a profound affect on people, with Helen’s plight being taken to heart by listeners, and more than £80,000 being raised through a JustGiving fund set up by Archers’ fan, Paul Trueman, to help victims of domestic abuse.

louiza-large_trans++klybc9mpbXiHpaRsGe-RM1cFNNfxoPje6B6a_U8c3_8‘Helen’

Looking back at the different directions taken by Rob since his introduction to the show, it’s hard to avoid concluding that the writers originally intended Rob to go down one path, but then, drawing ideas from the way in which the actors/characters sounded together, changed their mind and sent him down several different paths until they happened upon the path on which he’s ended. This necessitated them turning their back on the several false starts and focusing solely on the domestic abuse of Helen.

The nature of radio means that storylines which are started and then abandoned, are done so in front of the listener. To give a literary analogy to this: it would be like experimenting as we wrote the novel with the ways in which our different characters could be used, and then publishing the novel without any editing.

Cavalier disregard for storylines that have already been started can be seen as an insult to the listener’s intelligence. However, when the story ends up being as powerful as the Rob and Helen story, I can forgive (almost) anything, and judging by the response from the numerous listeners, so can many others.

We authors are lucky in that we don’t have to leave the workings-out for the readers to see. If we have new insights into a character while writing the novel, we edit what’s gone on before so that every aspect of the story agrees with our changed vision. After that, the publisher’s editor will check that the novel works as a whole. By the time that our novel is put before readers, any inconsistencies and diversions will have been ironed out, and everything that happens in the story will be relevant to the story.

It’s Sunday morning and looking at the clock, I can see that it’ll soon be time for the omnibus edition of The Archers. As I don’t want to miss a single minute of it, I’m going to end now.

Over and out!

9781781893012The Lost Girl, out in paperback on 7th August

 

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And cake, too!

Two of the things that authors enjoy most are meeting readers and talking about their books, and last Thursday afternoon, three of us had the chance to do both of those things as Jean Fullerton, Janet Gover and I had been invited to give a talk at a Romantic Afternoon Tea, to be held at Hoddesdon Library as part of the Hertfordshire Literary Festival.

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And what a lovely afternoon it turned out to be! Throughout the afternoon, there was a warm and friendly atmosphere in a room so crowded that people were standing at the back. We were thrilled to learn from the Hoddesdon librarians that the turnout for our event was their highest turnout for an adult event.

2016-03-17 16.40.55 - Copy

Not surprisingly, we all thoroughly enjoyed telling the readers about our writing and answering the questions they put. At some point, too, each of us gave a short reading from one of our novels.

 

2016-03-17 15.13.52 - CopyWith Janet and Jean as we get ready to start the event.

At the end of our session, we joined the readers for tea, cake and chatter. Amazingly, I met a reader who’d actually been born in the same hospital as I!

I’d intended to take a photo of the delicious selection of cakes on my plate but funnily enough, they’d all vanished before I remembered my intention!

The librarians couldn’t have been more helpful and friendly, and the audience couldn’t have been more delightful. It was my first visit to Hoddesdon Library, but I certainly hope that it won’t have been my last.

2016-03-17 15.07.08A temporary (I hope) farewell to Hoddeston Library

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