Tuesday, August 31, 2010

nearly there

Current work: Venice book (rewrite, final stages of)
Listening to: Green Day (21st Century Breakdown, on son’s recommendation)
Reading: next on TBR

Y’know I said I had an Indian translation? Turns out that it’s Thai (lovely Trish Morey enlightened me). Anyway, if you wanted to take a look… here’s the link http://www.sommjaibooks.com/index.php?mo=28&id=113283

What have I been up to? Working like a dog. The thing is, if you have to change the central conflict in a book, you can’t move scenes around and keep them as they are because the backstory is different; and that means rewriting. Lots of rewriting. It’s really depressing, working all day, with no increase on overall wordcount (i.e. I was cutting as much as I was writing). Next time I get something approaching a total rewrite, I’m going to be brave and cut the lot instead of wimping out and doing it in stages. Easier to cut and paste in, methinks, and then at least I’ll feel I’m making progress instead of running to stand still.

I’ve also been to the cinema a couple of times: Karate Kid (Jackie Chan was excellent) and Marmaduke (was OK but was another one that felt longer than it was – most of the best bits were in the trailer). And DH has been making me peruse brochures for the next research trip. Methinks there will be a trip to the travel agent later this week…

But, for now – last push on the book. (And keeping my fingers crossed that I don’t get second revisions…)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

new cover - plus a call to UK authors

Current work: Venice book (rewrite)
Listening to: Corelli (am in stress mode now)
Reading: next on TBR

Still head down, desperately working (and don’t ask about the gianduja consumption or the amount of proper caffeinated coffee I’m drinking: I’m overdoing it on both counts).

So instead of talking, today, I’m leaving you a picture: this is my first new-style cover for Medical Romance, in a 2-in-1 with my mate Janice Lynn. A Christmas Knight is out in December (sorry, that might be a wee bit obvious from the title!).

Call to UK authors (as per Society of Authors email) – please visit ALCS and sign their petition about PLR (if you’re not UK-based, the proposed cuts don’t affect you, so please ignore). Cheers!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Man Drawer

Current work: revisions on Venice book
Listening to: Corelli (am in stress mode now)
Reading: next on TBR

I’m screamingly busy and making no progress on the book – I’ll add maybe 3k, then revise the next bit… and that’s 3k out. Arrgh. (It’s turned into a complete rewrite. I think there might be two scenes left, and they’ve both been tweaked.)

So instead of blogging I’m going to be shameless and leave you with a very, VERY funny link sent to me by my mate Fiona Lowe. It’s Michael McIntyre talking about the Man Drawer – and now I know why all the drawers in my utility room and one in the kitchen (and the tea towel drawer, if he gets his way) have been annexed! Takes about five minutes but it's well worth watching - here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

elsewhere – and the importance of character

Current work: revisions on Venice book
Listening to: Bach
Reading: Fools Rush In, Kristan Higgins (enjoying, especially the puppy)

I’m talking about the places of dreams over at the Medical authors’ blog at eHarlequin – yup, Pompeii :o) So do come over and tell me about your dream place (and, if you’ve visited it, whether it lived up to the dream). (Oh, and if anyone has tips about Luxor, I am all ears.)

The Last Airbender was a wee bit disappointing yesterday. The premise was good (as were the SFX), but I would’ve liked a lot more emotion and heart in there. Apparently Shyalaman had to condense 420 minutes of material into 94 minutes, but I wish he’d taken at least another 15 minutes and used it to make us feel more connected to the main characters. It’s very much a ‘quest’ type film, which means you really need to care about the protagonist and whether he succeeds rather than feeling disconnected from him. One of the baddies, Dev Patel (Prince Zuko), has a fabulous conflict – but it did need more depth to bring it out. (Big potential twist there with Uncle Iroh… but I don’t think I’m going sit through the sequels to find out if I'm right, as the film was short but felt very long.) Overall, for me, it’s a long way from The Sixth Sense – which was a brilliant film,where you REALLY cared about the main character (and Shyamalan was directing at his best).

Ha. Big lesson there for romance writer currently fretting over revisions. Character is key :o)

Monday, August 23, 2010

queen ants, wussy mums, and Russian translations

Current work: revisions on Venice book
Listening to: Def Leppard (very loudly)
Reading: Fools Rush In, Kristan Higgins (enjoying, especially the puppy)

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was great fun on Friday – I do rate Nicolas Cage as an actor, and Alfred Molina is such a good baddie :o) There was also a trip to Waterstone’s to spend Daughter’s book tokens (and I bought Susanna Kearsley's new one - unless DH is reading this, in which case I've had that book for AGES...). Sorted out most of the rest of the school shopping (shoes, bags, stationery) and saw my latest book on the shelf, on publication day (there weren’t many left – but our Smith’s does tend to put the books out a few days early, so hopefully that’s a good sign).

Then Daughter decided that she did want her ears pierced, after all (we’ve been discussing it for months) – so she was very brave and went for it. My excuses for not having mine done (hearing aid, high blood pressure, general wussiness) were shot down in flames by the very nice woman in Claire’s Accessories, but I’m sticking to them! Wussy mum, absolutely.

However, Brave Daughter went very wussy when we arrived home to find flying ants everywhere. Especially in the kitchen. Have to admit, I dislike ants, wasps and daddy-long-legs (crane flies), so I went on immediate kitchen strike. DH and Son have been dealing with them. (Well, hey. If he’s taller than I am, he can deal with flying ants - right? Bless him, he was great and hoovered up the dead ones for me, too.)

Other than that, I’ve been head down working on the Venice book and trying very hard not to let myself get distracted by a little bit of family history research… but if you had just discovered that your great-grandfather’s middle name was Adonas, wouldn’t you be intrigued? I want to know where the writing gene came from in our family, as I’m the middle of three generations I know about – the others being my mum and my daughter. And the way it's spelled makes me think of the Shelley elegy about Keats. Could be that his mum was a bookworm (esp. poetry - and note the connection with the Romantics, because my beloved spaniel is named Byron) but his dad registered the birth and, being unfamiliar with the name, couldn't spell it... Yet another time when I wish my mum was still here, because she would've loved finding this out, too. Though I can share it with bestest uncle, so that's good.

Russian translation? Had my first, this weekend, with Temporary Boss, Permanent Mistress – very exciting. Also had my first Indian translation last week, along with a lovely Japanese edition. To think that people who don’t even share a common alphabet with me can read my books – I’m not sure if that’s more thrilling or humbling. Probably both.

Plan for today: squeeze in some work, and we have torrential rain forecast, so maybe we’ll go to see The Last Airbender.

Friday, August 20, 2010

publication day

Current work: revisions on Venice book
Listening to: Def Leppard (very loudly)
Reading: next on TBR

Today is publication day. Sort of a double publication day (turns out that the nonfic came out last week, though my copies haven’t arrived yet – but as The Book Depository has it down as today… I’m saying today!).

In fiction the first half of my French duo is on the shelves in the UK – Red Wine and Her Sexy Ex. (I'm still so chuffed that I have the Eiffel Tower on my cover... and am looking forward to a research visit there quite soon.)

In nonfiction my Essex book is out – Scandals, Sieges and Spooks: Ghosts and Legends of Essex. (I do have a copy in my hot little hands, now!)

And, because things are always better in threes… Lovely Liz Fielding told me that I have an audio book coming out in November – Playboy Boss, Pregnancy of Passion.

What am I doing today? Well, I’d like to be working. But we have the second half of school shopping to do (bags and stationery, plus son’s shoes), and we’re also going to the cinema. (I know. Twice a week. Bad habit.)

Visit to Dad yesterday was pretty mixed. Lovely beginning because he knew who I was, was pleased to see me, responded when I mentioned that the Essex book (dedicated to him) is out now, and talked about my cooking (so he definitely did know it was me). I was thrilled… but then the Lewy bodies moved and he turned nasty. (And still knew me, because then my name came into play, along with a tirade.) Sadly, I think this is going to be more frequent as his dementia progresses; and I guess it’s easiest to lash out at those who are closest to you (hence my stepmother and I get the tough stuff). But the staff at the care home are very supportive and kind, so we’ll muddle through this as best we can. And I'm very glad that my husband and children are just lovely and are very understanding if I go a bit quiet post-visit.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

talking, talking, talking

Talk was fun, last night. I think Caroline and I make a good double act as we both have completely different ways of working :o)

I’m talking about books over at the Pink Heart Society today.

And it’s a quieter day today – I have a friend coming round for coffee this morning. (Yup, more talking.)

Also need to visit Dad today. Hopefully he will be in a better mood than he was at my last visit, but I’m taking nothing for granted. And I really, really, REALLY need some uninterrupted work time.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New Voices, interviews and spooks

Current work: revisions on Venice book
Listening to: Vivaldi
Reading: next on TBR

Today I’m doing a talk with Caroline Anderson at Diss Library (7.30pm - 01379 642609 to book a place) about how to write a Mills & Boon. This is all part of the M&B New Voices initiative - to find out more, go over to their website. It’s definitely worth checking in with the website daily – prize giveaways, free eBooks, and a chance to vote for your favourite in the New Voices competition.

Yesterday was a fairly busy day – did an interview with lovely Karen Buchanan on BBC Radio Norfolk, then (as the kids were utter angels and waited patiently) took the kids out for lunch at Giraffe. And as my bank account was determined to haemorrhage money, I decreed that we were going to do the dreaded shoe/uniform shop and get it out of the way. I think the worst part was spending an HOUR in Clarks, and they didn’t have anything in son’s size. He’s so tall now that I think we’re going to have to buy him adult shoes. But they’ll be from an expensive shoe shop because I want him fitted properly – call me fussy, but I think it’s important that kids have shoes that fit properly when they’re still growing.

Today has also been busy - guitar lesson, picking up the projector for tonight’s talk, grocery delivery, interview with the Essex Chronicle about the spooks book (which is out now – I thought it was Friday but apparently it was last week, though my author copies are still en route. You can get it at a discount and free worldwide postage at The Book Depository). And then obviously there’s the talk tonight. And somehow in between I need to shoehorn in some time to work…

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

films, books and ‘pine mouth’ (aka catchup)

Current work: revisions on Venice book
Listening to: Michael Buble (plus some enforced Lady Gaga)
Reading: lots (see below)

Time to catch up. What have I been doing over the last two weeks? Well, the first week back from Sorrento, DH was on holiday, so we went out for days (and I also had fairly large revisions on the Venice book as my marriage-of-convenience didn’t work for either my agent or my editor – basically it was a slash and rewrite job, and it’s still ongoing!). We’ve been ten-pin bowling, and we’ve been to the cinema a few times – to see Toy Story 3 (excellent – and, just like the friends who warned me beforehand, I needed tissues); Shrek Forever After (good in parts – I would’ve liked much more Antonio in it, and was teased mercilessly by my daughter about that); Inception (loved the premise behind this one, and the film more than lived up to it – best film I’ve seen in a long, long time); Cats and Dogs - the Revenge of Pussy Galore (most of the best bits are in the trailer - but I had fun spotting films and series they paid homage to, including several James Bond movies, Silence of the Lambs, Mission Impossible and Heroes).

I’ve also been reading a bit. In Italy, I read:
  • Robert Harris, Pompeii – enjoyed very much (except the eel scene, which was a bit too much for my taste) and it was the perfect place to read the book as I visited Pompeii and Vesuvius shortly afterwards
  • AS Byatt, The Children’s Book – I’m a very long-term ASB fan, but found this a tough read as most of the characters were very hard to sympathise with. They were utterly selfish, smug and complete liars (and the pretentious claptrap they used to justify their behaviour and ‘free love’ – I was grinding my teeth). Having said that, it did come across as an accurate portrayal of upper middle class life in fin-de-si├Ęcle England, and I am SO GLAD I didn’t have to live in that society. I think my main problem was identifying with the main character, a children’s author. I couldn’t bear the way she treated her children and it’s made me paranoid that, as an author, I’m equally selfish – I know I’m a magpie and I borrow bits, but please don’t ever let me treat my family the way Olive did.
  • Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall – absolutely loved this; excellent characterisation throughout, good dialogue, excellent pace, and I want to read her backlist now. This is probably the best book I’ve read this summer, if not this year
  • Cally Taylor, Heaven Can Wait – fun and fluffy with a few moments that made me gulp
  • Milly Johnson, A Summer Fling – one of my mate Milly’s excellent summer reads (loved the, cough, vampire –and the underwear!)

Back home, the readfest continued, even though my working hours during the summer holidays are from the crack of dawn until the kids get up, then evenings:

  • Liz Fielding, SOS Convenient Husband Required – enjoyed very much, especially as it was another of her Maybridge books
  • Cara Colter, Winning a Groom in 10 Dates – a fun read, and I really liked the nerdy heroine
  • Lynn Raye Harris, The Devil’s Heart – intense, passionate and a very good read
  • Jennifer Crusie, The Cinderella Deal – I like Crusie’s books for the quirky characters and the dogs, and this was another goodie.

Other than that, I also came across something called ‘Pine Mouth’. Apparently it’s a syndrome that’s been going on for a while, and it’s very, very weird. It doesn’t affect everyone who eats pine nuts (or, in my case, an M&S pasta and pesto salad – my husband and stepmum weren’t affected by it); and you might have eaten pine nuts for years and years with no previous ill effects. But then suddenly, two days after you’ve eaten said pine nuts, you wake up with a really vile, metallic taste in your mouth. A bit like when you’re first pregnant. And everything you eat makes the taste worse, and you can’t get rid of the taste even with mouthwash, fresh breath spray or very strong mints. The only thing that doesn’t taste bad is water (and green tea with jasmine). And it lasts for up to two weeks. (I might be lucky as I managed coffee yesterday - am on the mend.)

I guess it’s good aversion therapy, because I found that bread was particularly bad (and yes, I know I shouldn’t have been eating bread in any case because I’m supposed to be low-carbing again, but this was French bread from Waitrose and it was too hard to resist). Even the guitar-shaped shortbread biscuits (yes, I sneaked into a kitchen shop and bought some new cutters) Chlo and I made and covered in chocolate tasted bad. And nice (expensive) Italian pinot grigio tasted like metal polish. (Not that I’ve ever actually drunk metal polish: it just tasted the way that silver polish smells.) So I needed a taste-tester when I made strawberry tiramisu on Saturday morning! OK, so it’s not proper tiramisu – I didn’t make a proper zabaglione, I used a mix of freshly squeezed orange juice and framboise instead of coffee and brandy, and I added in a layer of strawberries on top of each layer of savoiardi biscuits – and it got scoffed pretty quickly.

Plan for this week – radio interview today (just after 12 noon with Karen Buchanan on BBC Radio Norfolk); nailing the revisions; school uniform and school shopping (what joy - have promised more cinema as a treat after that); plus I’m doing a workshop with Caroline Anderson on writing for M&B at the library in Diss on Wednesday 18 August (7.30pm, call 01379 642609 to book a place). This is all part of the M&B New Voices initiative - to find out more, go over to their website.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Home again

The Sunday was our 18th wedding anniversary; it was blazingly hot, so we decided not to go out and spent a 'flop day' at the hotel, reading and playing games. (The children were fascinated by the Monkey Puzzle tree - and it took me quite a while to persuade them that I wasn't teasing about the name!)

Dinner that evening was gorgeous, with the chef showcasing his specialities. Here is the pudding plate (the bottom left was tiramisu, happy sigh).

The stage was still up in St Agnello, so we went to see what was happening; Sal da Vinci was playing on his I'll Mercato di Estella tour.
We stayed to listen for a bit and then went back to the hotel for a Bellini in the bar.
Monday, we had an early breakfast, then caught the bus to Naples. Poor Chris was quite travel sick but the bus driver was utterly lovely and understanding.
We had our last view of Naples.
The flight home was good (though we didn't have much of a view through the clouds)

And England felt absolutely freezing! Good run home; and then it was time to tackle four cases full of washing...

Big congratulations

... to Amy Andrews and Sharon Archer, who won the Romance Writers of Australia's Romantic Book of the Year for the short sexy and short sweet category respectively (and Sharon should be especially proud as it's her debut year).

If you want to go and say congrats, we have a thread on the Medical authors' blog here :o)

I have to admit that, even though I don't do Twitter (and I'm really not going to, because I think it would be a major timesuck for me - FB and blogging is enough!), I watched the news come in on Twitter, and it was just like being there at the ceremony. So thank you very much to the Aussie authors who took the time and trouble to make those of us on the other side of the world feel part of it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sorrento, day 6 - Sorrento itself

On Saturday, we took the train into Sorrento itself.
There were various horse-and-cab contraptions in the main square, and we saw one horse being groomed.
Then there were squeaks for gelati. This time, I didn't join them - my eye was caught by certain pastries. Sfogliatelle are crisp puff pastry filled with a ricotta and lemon mixture, and they're very, very, VERY nice.
The main streets were very crowded (not to mention full of shops selling limoncello, coral beads and wooden boxes to tourists).
But it only takes a moment to find quieter streets.
And, of course, the sea. If you look out over the bay, a certain feature looms - especially if the clouds are hovering over the volcano.
The children spotted a lizard sunning himself.
There are two marinas at Sorrento, and it's ironic that the 'marina piccola' (i.e. small marina) is the one with the port, whereas the 'marina grande' is the small, older one. This is where we stopped for lunch.
The stage was still there at St Agnello when we returned, so after dinner (and another glorious sunset)
we had a wander up to the main square with the fountains to see what was happening.
There seemed to be a local fashion show going on - then it turned into the regional heat of Miss Italia.
Which meant 15 very pretty girls in sparkly, skimpy dresses...
... and then in skimpy beachwear!
We didn't stay for the end because it did go on a bit; the presenter was kind of an Italian Bruce Forsyth at his cheesiest. Chlo was tired, so we went back to the hotel and then sat chatting at the bar for a bit.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sorrento, day 5 - 7000 steps in Herculaneum, part 2

The House of Neptune and Amphitrite has absolutely stunning decorations, as well as a glass paste mosaic with shells and lava foam.

Next was the House of the Beautiful Courtyard – which also had a display of bodies dug out of mud.

Then it was the Lanarius (fabric merchant’s) shop. This contains the only known example of a wooden screw press, which was used to iron clothes.

The House of the Bronze Helm took its name from the portrait of the owner’s home found here.

It’s easy to see where the Trellis House got its name. It was a boarding house, made from opus cracticium (wooden frames filled with crushed rocks, then bound together with lime and mud). Apparently it was an experimental building technique in Herculaneum (it’s not used for supporting walls in Pompeii).

Again, the name of the House of the Wooden Partition speaks for itself.
The partition is a folding gate used for privacy. And it’s amazing that it’s been so well preserved.
There’s another signinum opus floor (see Samnite House above).

The Palestra is absolutely huge, and was built for sporting activities. It’s only partly been uncovered.

There was a fish-breeding pond here, later replaced by another tub with a bronze fountain showing the hydra.

And I was fascinated to see how the columns here were constructed. (Sorry. Another nerdy moment.)

In the House of the Skeleton (named after the skeleton found in the upper floor in 1830 by C. Bonucci), there was an interesting nymphaeum (monument consecrated to nymphs).

Then we explored the original shoreline (the eruption in AD 79 added 400m to the shoreline), which involved coming out of the main complex and going down a tunnel.

We discovered the terrace of M. Nonius Balbus – he was a local senator and restored or built many of the public buildings.

From there, we went to the House of the Relief of Telephus – which may have belonged to M. Nonius Balbus.

And then the House of the Deer, named after the statues found here. Archaeologists found a loaf of bread here with the stamp on it of Celer, a slave freed just before the AD 79 eruption, so can say with certainty who lived here. The mosaic floor here was gorgeous.

We noticed on the way back from the train station that a stage had been built in the middle of the square in St Agnello, so we decided to be nosey in the evening. There was meant to be a concert, but it started to rain heavily, and when the lightning started we decided to go back to the hotel.
Most of the lightning was sheet (and it took me AGES to get a pic of it – not brilliant, but better than not) and we watched it for hour or so; also tried limoncello. (Quite nice but a little sweet for my taste.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sorrento, day 5 - 7000 steps in Herculaneum, part 1

On Friday, we caught the train to Ercolano. Given that we’d already visited Pompeii, there were mutterings of ‘it’s going to be the same thing but smaller’. However, as Herculaneum was covered by a pyroclastic flow and was better preserved, I thought that it would be worth the visit – and it certainly was!

It was a lot smaller than Pompeii – you could see the whole town from the top – but it was better preserved, and it turned out there were lots more frescoes and mosaics.
A lot has been removed from Pompeii to preserve it (in the museum at Naples, which we didn’t have time to visit) and I can understand that, but it would’ve been nice to see some reproductions in their place to put things in context. At Herculaneum, you had a much better idea of what the layout of the town and houses were like and what it was like to live there. According to the brief guide book, Herculaneum was seen as more ‘advanced’ than Pompeii.

As at Pompeii, there were raised pavements, but without the stepping-stones to cross the street. And I loved it.

The first place we visited was the House of Aristedes – so-called from a statue found there that was identified as Aristedes, an Athenian politician (though it was actually of an Athenian emperor, Aeschines).

Next was the Thermopolium (i.e. caupona where you could buy hot food and drinks).
Here, the dolia (jars) where the hot food was kept were very well preserved.
You could also see just what the archaeologists had to dig through to reach them.

Then we visited the Hall of the Augustals – the freed slaves (or liberta) became ‘Augustals’ (worshippers of the emperor Augustus) when they were trying to move upwards in society.
The frescoes show Hercules, Juno and Minerva. Apparently, in the caretaker’s room, a skeleton was found on the bed.

There was a fair bit of carbonised wood here, which I thought at first was lava used as bricks - then I spotted the tree rings and realised what it was. Here’s a close-up of a bit by the door – the wood was carbonised in the heat rather than burned, because the pyroclastic flow took out all the oxygen so the fire couldn’t take hold.

Next was the Cucumas shop, where the fresco showed four different coloured pitchers (cucumae) and listed the price of wine.

You really could see how things were laid out and imagine the delicate porticoes.

Next we saw the House of the Corinthian Atrium, which is one of the oldest buildings in the town.

I was very taken by the mosaic floor.

And it was amazing to see just how big the storage jars were (Chris is about 5 feet 8 here, possibly a little taller).

Because there were no stepping stones, there were crossing places where the stone had been worn away by people stepping on them (or maybe it had been carved - though it felt more as if it had been worn away).

This is the House of the Large Portal (i.e. door) – it was built just after the earthquake in AD 62.

Then we visited the Samnite House, which was built in the 2nd century BC and originally occupied the whole of the south side of the road.
I was particularly taken by the floor here – it’s made of signinum opus (or powdered terracotta mixed with lime and sand, to keep out the damp) and decorated with tiny white tiles.

The men’s baths were closed off during our visit, but we did get to visit the women’s baths. You go through the changing room (which has a barrel vault and a mosaic floor of Triton)
then into the tepidarium (warm room) which has shelves for storing clothes, and then the caldarium (hot room), which has marble benches.
The water was taken from a well behind the baths that was 8.25m deep, and heated by the furnace.