Monday, January 31, 2011

the craft of songwriting

Current work: Gelati book revisions (last readthrough)
Listening to: Dire Straits, Making Movies
Reading: Jan Jones, The Kydd Inheritance (enjoyed very much – good adventure story, lovely heroine, gorgeous hero, great dialogue, and Jan writes such EXCELLENT villains)

Caught most of a good documentary on Friday about Mark Knopfler (though I was disappointed not to hear anything from Love Over Gold, my favourite Dire Straits album). Really interesting as he was talking about the craft of songwriting, and how phrases stick in your head and you end up mixing them together with other themes and ideas; that’s pretty much how writing fiction works for me, except obviously I don’t write a melody to go with it. Really interesting to see how the melodies happen, too; Jim and I were talking about this last week in my lesson (messing about with some George Harrison stuff) and how most melodies are really the arpeggio notes of the main chords (tonic, subdominant and dominant – though I’d be subversive and chuck in diminished chords because I really like them).

I do get melodies in my head every so often, so maybe this is the year I’ll go back to songwriting. (For me, that is, not for money.) The one that’s in my head right now (half-written, and it’s been bugging me for quite a long time now, except I haven’t had time to work on it properly) is quite bluesy, but I need to transpose it down a couple of keys because it’s a little too high for my very limited vocal register (and why am I writing in a difficult key like C# minor anyway?). It’s quite dark, too; I can see the influence of very early Led Zeppelin. Weirdly, though, the vocal in my head reminds me of Arethra Franklin crossed with Norah Jones. Hmm...

DH has been looking up Springer spaniel puppies this weekend. I did wonder if that meant I get a really special birthday pressie (as I don’t have a clue what I want this year – going to be a tough birthday as it’s two days after my father’s, so I think at the moment I’m blocking it out). Even though I'm quite broody for a pup (probably grief talking), it wouldn’t be fair to Byron to get a pup; he’s very settled in his ways and is used to being the only dog in the house for the last five and a half years.

More stuff to sort out today, but I guess at least it’s my own stuff for once. Fingers crossed for some P&Q so I can finish the gelati book!

Friday, January 28, 2011

crepuscular rays and pale shadows

Current work: Gelati book revisions (last bit)
Listening to: Def Leppard, X
Reading: Jan Jones, The Kydd Inheritance (still not started it yet as too tired to read last night)

Lack of sleep really isn’t agreeing with me, because I keep forgetting to put my camera in my handbag. Which I really should do in December and January because this is the time of year when the skies are gorgeous on the school run. This morning, there were some neon pink crepuscular rays. Stunning. But all I had available to snap it was my mobile phone, which doesn’t have a zoom on the camera; although I wouldn’t be unfair enough to compare it with my proper camera, I’m sure the camera on my old phone was a bit more effective.

Anyway. This is (a pale shadow of) what I saw this morning.

Last time I used my proper camera for crepuscular rays (and yes, this is the same place), the pic was rather better. Sigh.

And this is (a pale shadow of) the gorgeous sunrise I saw last week. (Given the differences between the two pics above, you can imagine what the real thing was like.)
Must. Try. Harder.

Hopefully by Monday I will be back on top of my work and other situations, starting the new book, and will be a bit chattier here than I have been of late. (Crossing fingers, touching wood that I haven’t just jinxed myself and now yet more hassles will come to roost. I would so like a nice, quiet, peaceful few weeks.)

Have a nice weekend!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

welcoming the newest Medical Romance author…

Current work: Gelati book revisions (aka new scenes) and FC stuff (yeah, you didn’t think I was getting away with it, did you?)
Listening to: Def Leppard, X
Reading: Jan Jones, The Kydd Inheritance (still not started it yet as didn’t get any reading time last night, but so looking forward to it)

You know my second bit of good news from Friday? Well, now’s your chance to go and meet Scarlet Wilson, our newest Medical Romance author – aka there’s a bit of a do over at the eHarlequin Medical Romance Authors’ blog. Do go over and say hello.

Things here: parents’ evening was excellent yesterday and am v pleased with son’s progress. FC meeting last night was very productive. And today, hip hip hooray, I should have a nice quiet day to work. In theory. Let's hope it's the same in practice ;o)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

royal weddings and coincidences

Current work: Gelati book revisions (aka new scenes)
Listening to: Daughtry
Reading: Jan Jones, The Kydd Inheritance (not started it yet but looking forward to it – major treat)

Up to eyes in work (not to mention FC stuff, sigh), plus it’s parents’ evening at son’s school tonight. So apologies for intermittent and quite short blogging right now. Busy busy busy.

I did however just discover something that I’d love to share: the Penhally series is finally going to the US! And my book in the series – The Doctor’s Royal Love Child – just happens to be out in April. It’s a book with a royal wedding in it. And a real-life royal wedding will be happening in the same month in the UK :o)

Serendipity, or what?

Righty. Back to the salt mines for me…

Monday, January 24, 2011

the best kind of weekend

Current work: Gelati book revisions (all motivated and happy today)
Listening to: Daughtry
Reading: Ruth Wind, In the Midnight Rain (can’t remember who rec’d this to me – was definitely a fellow Harl author when I was saying what a fab writer Barbara Samuel is, and was tipped off that this is one of her best earlier ones – anyway, I really enjoyed it, and thank you for the rec)

After giving me the wonderful news that I’d sold my 46th Mills & Boon, my editor ordered me to have a glass of wine, chill out for the weekend and enjoy myself.

So that’s what I did. Chilled out.

Lots of reading, playing with the kids (uhhh – whose bright idea was it to buy Kinect Dance Central for daughter? Oh, yeah, mine – well, I am so middle-aged now that I loathe most of the music, so she bullied me into doing the two songs I don’ t mind so much on it… and one of them happened to be the hardest. Have rediscovered some muscles), and messing about on the piano.

Best bits:
  • a lie-in on Saturday morning where I had a lightbulb moment about how to fix the big issue with the gelati book (I need to take out one scene but hadn’t worked out what could replace it. Now I have a pile of notes and draft conversations, yay)
  • going out to dinner on Saturday night with DH, the kids, DH’s best friend and his wife. I was very good and chose salmon in sweet chilli sauce with vegetables (note, no carbs). (Oh, all right, and then I was really bad and had sticky toffee pudding and custard.)
  • seeing two deer crossing the road right in front of us on the way home – beautiful animals
  • breakfast with daughter in M&S on Sunday (well, hey, if you’re going to have a girly shop, you might as well go the whole hog and be totally decadent)
  • girly shop with daughter (new Pandora bead to celebrate book sale; books for kids as they’ve both had commendations this week and son got A-star in his science tests, so in my view that merits a treat for working hard; Tempur pillow; oh, yeah, and a visit to a certain chocolate shop)

Today, have paid my tax bill, sorted out a couple of things re the family crisis (and am awaiting a further phone call, so might tidy my desk while I’m waiting as I’m not going to get the headspace to work). And then I’m not answering any more calls until after the school run – I’m working. I’m going to enjoy fixing my gelati book, along with the most brooding hero I’ve ever written. It’s nice to feel motivated to work – back to normal (or as normal as a writer gets, anyway, VBG).

Friday, January 21, 2011

and some more good news

My friend Susan got The Call! Do go and say congrats to her - she's worked really hard and deserves every bit of her success.

some really, really good news

Current work: Gelati book revisions (would’ve done a chunk had the FC not got in the way)
Listening to: Patrick Hawes, Into the Light (I really do like ‘Pavane’)
Reading: Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (just finished it, and enjoyed it very much – including the cliffhanger ending. Interesting to see how she structured it, because when I write a trilogy they have to be standalone books as well as being very closely linked. Will have to buy the next in the trilogy now. Also might borrow son’s current trilogy to see how that’s structured (Knife of Never Letting Go etc))

My good news? The absolute best. I had an email from my editor today that’s really made me feel like a dog with two tails.

Wait for it.

Wait for it.

Wait for - oh, nuts, I'm so excited that I have to blurt it out right now. The Capri medical revisions (only delivered very late on Wednesday!) have been accepted. ‘Italian Doctor, No Strings’ will be out in the UK in September 2011.

So that’s my first book sold in seven months. I’m so relieved and delighted (and rang her to tell her so). It’s the best bit of news I’ve had in – well, seven months. (And it came after a slightly frustrating day of dealing with the family crisis, so it was very, very welcome.) It actually feels as if I’m back to normal (well, as normal as a writer gets). And in fact I almost bawled my eyes out with relief, except the children were in the kitchen at the time and they started snoopy dancing and hugging me. (Have I mentioned lately that I have the most wonderful, wonderful kids?)

Have a nice weekend. Ours is definitely going to involve a celebratory dinner out :o)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

process and productivity

Current work: revising new Riva outline and then cracking on with Gelati book revisions
Listening to: Patrick Hawes, Into the Light (I really like this album – could work as well as Corelli for calming)
Reading: Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (very good world-building. Pleased that it does live up to the hype – not sure will let daughter read it yet as she’s a little young, but son will definitely enjoy it as he likes dystopias)

The Capri medical revisions have FINALLY left the building! I am so relieved. I was beginning to think at one point that it would never, ever happen. It actually took longer to revise than to write, but I guess that’s because I’ve had rather a lot on my plate for the last seven weeks. Still, is done now.

So, process: in this case, I mean the process of revisions.

One important thing first: by sharing my process, I’m not suggesting that this is the only way a book should be written (or revised). It’s simply how it works for me. If you find something useful for you here, great; if you don’t, then that's also fine, because it means you’re able to cross off a particular way of working because you can see it isn’t for you. My take on doing a craft post is that it’s a place for sharing ideas rather than being dictatorial :o)

OK. The scary stuff. I have a Word table with a timeline for each book (i.e. column 1 = chapter number and time period it covers in the book, column 2 = brief bullet points of main events in said chapter, so I can see the structure at a glance). At revision stage, this table gets an extra column showing the new stuff for revisions (so I know what I’m scrapping, what I’m moving around, and how I’m going to do it); and then I feed that information into the manuscript in note form (with a turquoise highlighter swiped over it so I know it’s a note to me and needs deleting before I send to my editor – and yes, I *have* left the notes in before when in a rush, which is why I use the highlighter now). Normally, I do everything straight to screen, and when I’m working on revisions I switch Word into ‘track changes’ mode so I can see what I’m doing (and also so I can retrieve bits if necessary).

Before I do the final ‘accept changes’, I stick a yellow highlighter over all the new stuff. This makes it easier for me to see what I’ve done and also helps me do a note for my ed at the end so I can tell her what changes I’ve made. (She doesn’t get that file. She gets a clean one with no highlighter. My agent gets the other file if she wants it, along with a warning to don sunglasses if I've rewritten more than twenty per cent of the book.)

So far, so organised and efficient (and scary).

Except, this time, my process just didn’t work. At the moment, life is a bit fraught (ha ha ha, Family Crisis – can’t blog about it) and I’m simply not getting the peace and quiet or headspace to work on screen. So I thought I’d try something different – something that hasn’t worked for a while (i.e. last time I tried it, I got to page 5 and then thought, nah, I’d rather do this on screen).

I printed out the manuscript and did the revisions with a pen.

It meant I could work wherever I liked; and I was amazed by how much I got done in the car, waiting for littlest to come out of school. (To get a parking place, you have to be there 45 minutes before the end of the last lesson – we live in the next village and cycling is not a safe option, so I have no choice. The iPad has been brilliant for work as I can prop it against the steering wheel and write in ‘dirty draft’ while I wait.)

Working in my new temporary office with pen and paper, I have blissful peace and quiet with no interruptions; my time is limited, so I have to focus and make the most of it; and I’m not at the desktop, lappie or iPad so I can’t play Spider Solitaire/Boggle while frustrated after yet another interruption.

Result: major productivity boost. (Guess which process I’m using for the Gelati book when I start on those revisions, later today?)

There is a downside. I have to decipher my handwriting, and follow arrows all over the place when I move things about (the ease of ‘cut and paste’ is one of the reasons why I prefer editing onscreen – and that works much better for me on a desktop than anything else). But on the whole it’s working well. It’s also taught me that my process doesn’t always stay the same, and it’s fine for things to change. When life settles down again, I may be able to go back to editing onscreen again. In the meantime, this is remarkably freeing.

Has anyone else found that their process has changed, recently? What helps your productivity?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

elsewhere today

Current work: Capri medical revisions (nearly there - would’ve been if the FC hadn’t sucked up all my work time yesterday, growl)
Listening to: Patrick Hawes, Into the Light
Reading: Nicola Cornick, The Undoing of a Lady (excellent, finished last night)

Elsewhere today – lovely fellow Riva/Presents Extra author Mira Lyn Kelly interviewed me for the Pink Heart Society. If you want to take a look, it’s over here

Other than that, today is not a normal Tuesday (swapped guitar to tomorrow, as I had the annual statement review at school today) so I’m doing OK. Just need some P&Q from the Family Crisis so I can get my head round the last bits of my book. (Chances? Sadly, not much. Grit teeth, think nice thoughts to lower blood pressure, wish for flame-thrower...)

Have discovered that my process has changed, too, but I’ll blog about that later in the week.

Monday, January 17, 2011

RWA Flooded Communities Book Appeal

Current work: Capri medical revisions (nearly there)
Listening to: Patrick Hawes, Into the Light
Reading: Nicola Cornick, The Undoing of a Lady (was meant to be my ‘carrot’ book for finishing, but… I’ve worked hard so deserve a treat :o) Enjoying hugely and only put it down last night owing to husbandly nagging to have the light off)

I think everyone must have seen pictures of the floods in Australia, and my heart goes out to the families involved. An awful lot of things will need replacing, and books are going to come quite low on the priority list – but books are food for the soul and can really help take you out of a bad place. (This is a personal truth as well as a general one. I was there last month, when my dad died and then a family crisis blew up – good books saved my sanity, they really did. And they continue to do so while the family crisis continues.)

So when I heard about this appeal, I wanted to publicise it as well as sending something myself. Basically, the Romance Writers of Australia have put together a Flooded Communities Book Appeal, and this is what they have to say:

What we need?
FICTION BOOKS! Romance books, children's books, young adult books, genre books, whatever – either new or in sparkling condition.

Please send them to:
RWA Flooded Communities Book Appeal
PO Box 1717
Noosaville Post Office
Noosaville BC
Queensland 4566

When to send them?
Now! And any time over the next few months. The books will be boxed and delivered to the appropriate libraries/schools/neighbourhood centres/community centres in batches as soon as the communities are ready to receive them. We’ll be liaising with councils, libraries and schools to ensure this is done appropriately. Feel free to pop a note inside, or if you're an author, sign it.

If you have a question about donations, email Jess Anastasi:
If you work in a library / council / community centre / school in a flood affected area, email Rachel Bailey:

What I’d like to add to that? OK, we’re in a recession, times are hard, and postage to Australia is expensive. But if lots of people send just ONE book (which, in the scheme of things, isn’t that expensive – maybe it’s the equivalent of one cup of coffee a week for the next month, which isn’t that big a sacrifice to ask), it’s going to make a huge difference.

Thank you.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Current work: Capri medical revisions (sigh)
Listening to: Corelli
Reading: Lucy Dillon, Walking Back to Happiness (enjoying)

Busy busy busy - or trying to be - on revisions.

Am talking about my new fave thing at the Pink Heart Society tomorrow - if you want to see Kate as Blob, do go over and look at the pics :o)

Other than that - I need headspace. I need to finish the revisions. And I would really, really like some peace and quiet. (Likelihood of this happening: er, pretty low.) But I have had a couple of phone conversations that will hopefully start to make life a lot easier shortly. I always thought the saying "if you want something done, ask a busy woman" was horribly sexist. I am discovering that it's true. Sadly, I am the busy woman: but things WILL get better! (All this, and no chocolate. Go, me.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

back in routine

Current work: Capri medical revisions
Listening to: Sheryl Crow
Reading: Lucy Dillon, Walking Back to Happiness (enjoying)

Now the children have been back at school for a week, I’m finally back in routine. Yesterday was tough, and I will admit to sitting at my desk bawling my eyes out first thing after the school run – it was the first ‘normal’ Tuesday since Dad died, except it wasn’t normal because I wasn’t visiting him. I mentioned yesterday that I’ve had no headspace since the funeral, so I guess that was probably the grief starting to come out. But hopefully things will start to get easier from now.

My mate India Grey posted a very thoughtful blog the other day about a gratitude journal. Three things for which I am grateful (very much so): for the friends who emailed me and rang me yesterday with common sense and kindness (you know who you are); for the hug and decent coffee dispensed by my lovely guitar teacher; and for the continued patience of my editor. Work has been a wipeout for way too long, and I want my career back on track.

Hence the next part of the routine: work. This means being more disciplined. Effectively: (a) schedule email/net breaks instead of letting myself get distracted; (b) call-screening during work time and only picking up calls from school/my editor/real emergencies. Harsh, perhaps; but working from home means the same as working from an office, except without the commute. I need to get that across to certain people. (Not blogging more on the subject but yes, this is heavily connected to the Family Crisis.)

I’m also being more disciplined with myself. Though I admit I haven’t quite started the exercise routine yet. Why not? Firstly, the Kinect fitness program only arrived yesterday, and I really need to get the revisions finished before I start playing (though I did have a quick taster and I like what I’ve seen so far). Secondly, yesterday I wasn’t really up to putting on a smiley face and going to an exercise class with complete strangers. Thirdly, DH has the lurgy, so swimming is definitely not going to happen this week. (He's the only man I know who refuses to have man-flu. He really needs to be home in bed, with me taking him a hot drink every so often and dispensing paracetamol every four hours, rather than going to work and spreading his germs. But will he listen? No. Male selective hearing.)

But I will get to the exercise :o) And my food diary is back in place. I think I’ve mentioned before; they’ve made logging your food intake even easier now, and the analysis section is excellent (both numbers and very clear visual representation). It's really well thought out and executed, so kudos to the designers. (And it’s free, btw. I haven’t joined the community as such, but I have posted some of my recipes and made them 'available to all', so hopefully that’s my bit of ‘giving back’ that will help someone else.)

Oh, and a message to the guy who tailgated me all the way into the city yesterday, then started making obscene gestures when I touched my brakes (all of twice) in a vain attempt to make him back off to a safer distance (on a wet road – and I was keeping up with the traffic, dead on the speed limit, too!). I hope you get stuck in a very, VERY long queue and have a huge revelation about your behaviour, then as a result grow up and drive much more sensibly, before you cause an accident.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

lovely review

Current work: Gelati revisions
Listening to: Bach (and playing it, today)
Reading: Lucy Dillon, Walking Back to Happiness (enjoying)

Julie Bonello has really made my day with a 5-star review of A Christmas Knight over at Cataromance:

Readers who like their romances believable, dramatic, emotional and with
plenty of heart will strike gold with Kate Hardy’s latest Medical Romance, A
Christmas Knight! A tender, passionate, beguiling and highly moving tale about
fresh starts, triumphing over adversity, past skeletons, hope and the power of
love, A Christmas Knight is another first-class contemporary romance from
favourite author Kate Hardy!

When you pick up a romance novel by Kate Hardy, you know that you’re
going to be reading a spellbinding novel which you will want to devour in a
single sitting and A Christmas Knight is certainly no exception. With its
wonderful heroine, sexy hero, beautifully rendered descriptions, breathless
medical scenarios, highly charged conflict and charming romance, A Christmas
Knight is another outstanding novel from this champion writer of romantic

You can read the full review here.

Thank you, Julie. This one was a bit special to me (the Aspie connection), so I was very pleased that it’s been well received. It’s still available at the Mills & Boon and eHarlequin websites, and on the shelves (and on the M&B website) in Australia.

Feeling a bit flat today. I think it's because today is Tuesday - and I won't be visiting Dad. And now that everything is back to routine, this is when it's actually hitting me. (That, and the family crisis meaning that I didn't have time to grieve properly.) Just as well the fridge is almost empty (grocery shopping is Wednesday) or last week's weight loss would definitely be all back on.

Have a nice day :o)

Monday, January 10, 2011

winner, first lines (craft post) and blogging elsewhere

Current work: Capri medical revisions
Listening to: Nickelback, Dark Horse (I’m especially enjoying ‘If today was your last day’ – very uplifting)
Reading: Lucy Dillon, Walking Back to Happiness (enjoying)

Thank you to everyone who was brave enough to post their first lines, and a hug to those who didn’t quite feel brave enough but left a comment here or on FB anyway. I do understand your worries about people commenting on your work, and I would like to reassure you that there will never be any snarkiness on my blog. In my view, making fun of people and coming up with ‘witty’ comments ripping people to pieces is a form of bullying. What does it achieve apart from hurting people? Constructive criticism is much more useful – being honest and pointing out why something doesn’t work for, you so the author can think about whether they might want to change something for the future, but doing it WITHOUT trying to make yourself look big at their expense. (And, as Lou pointed out on the FB version of the blog, people who comment here are all nice, kind people – long may it stay that way!)

I got my daughter to pick a name out of the hat after breakfast, and the winner of the book is Susan Wilson – Susan, please can you email me with your snailmail address, so I can get the book in the post to you?

There were some lines that really intrigued me, so I do hope you’re all going to keep it up and finish those books :o)

I’m not going to comment individually on the first lines, because I’m not an editor – and it’s an editor you need to impress, not me. What I will do is give you some questions to ask yourself instead, to help you move on.
  • Does your first line open the book at a point of change? (It’s conventional, yes, but it’s a convention that works well in any storytelling. I would give you technical terms, but I believe that sometimes it’s too easy to get hung up on those and if you write too much ‘from the head’ you can end up missing the point of a romance novel: it has to be driven by characters you care about, i.e. it comes from the heart. And I speak as someone who’s made that mistake before now!)
  • Does it shed light on the character and give you an idea of what kind of person he/she is?
  • Does it get your hero and heroine together on the page as early as possible? (Even if they’re not physically together, talking about each other will do the same thing – readers want to engage with your hero and heroine asap.)
  • Does it make the reader want to know what happens next?
  • Are you starting at the right place in the story, or too late, or too early? (Sometimes you won’t know the answer to this until you’ve written a couple of chapters and have to scrap them – which is painful, but it’s not wasted work. It’s information that you needed to know before you could write the book. And, yes, I’ve done that, too.)

The answers to those questions (and they have to come from you, from the heart, for the book to work properly) will give you one of two things: confirmation that you’re heading in the right direction, or a goal to work towards to make your book stronger. Good luck!

Two last things – Susan, please can let me know the title of that Harlequin book, because I’d love to read it? And Michelle, I had a 'snap' moment when I read your opening: guess what my Capri book starts with? ;o)

As for blogging elsewhere... I’m over at I Heart Presents later today, talking about my new US release, Champagne with a Celebrity (aka the perfume book) – and about the research that I absolutely LOVED doing for it. Do feel free to go over and leave a comment :o)

Friday, January 07, 2011

The best start to a book - and how to win it!

Current work: Capri medical revisions
Listening to: Nickelback
Reading: Lucy Dillon, Walking Back to Happiness (enjoying)

I'm not even sure that this book requires any introduction. It's simply one of the best starts I know for a romantic novel; whether you're writing your first or your fiftieth, read this first and you'll find practical advice within its pages that will make you think - and your book will be all the better for it.

It's Kate Walker's 12 point guide to writing romance - and I have a copy of the new third edition to give away. Each section focuses on a different aspect of the story and has questions and writing exercises that will help you make your book the best it can be. Best of all, Kate's book is the clearest and most user-friendly I know. I find some craft books scary - one that had better be nameless was recommended by friends and froze me for a fortnight. This one will do the opposite: it's practical, down to earth and kind, rather like Kate W herself.

To be in with a chance to win, all you need to do is post a comment below: tell me your first line. (Don't have one? Shy and would rather not? That's fine, too - leave a comment anyway, telling me that you'd like to win the book!)

I'll draw a name out of the hat on Monday morning UK time (i.e. when I'm back from e school run).

Thursday, January 06, 2011

refilling the well, part 2

Current work: Capri medical revisions
Listening to: Corelli
Reading: Lucy Dillon, Walking Back to Happiness (enjoying)

The other exhibition we enjoyed yesterday was the one about what people wore/carried in their pockets. (This one’s especially for lovers of historical romance – I know you’ll enjoy this as much as we did.)

The Norwich Shawl. This one is an early example, dating from 1810-20, and the manufacturers in Norwich were among the first able to produce shawls as fine as those from Kashmir. (I could tell you all about Norwich Red and what’s so important about the dye, but I know I can get a bit, um, parochial, so I will shut up.) Oh, and the dress is muslin, made from Indian fabric, around 1802-10. The white fabric is a status symbol (for obvious reasons - can you imagine how high-maintenance that was?); and the shawl is worn as it would’ve been back then. (I covet one, I really do.)

Regency dress. Actually, the photo looks a bit gaudy, but it was rather nice ‘in the flesh’, and daughter and I both picked this out as the one we would wear if we lived in the period. (Though I also liked the dark green velvet Edwardian dress decorated with tiny sea shells.) Anyway, this dress is made of mousseline de laine (literally, ‘muslin of wool’) and metal thread, dating from 1818-20. Apparently, it would’ve needed an under-dress in the same colour, as it’s so fine.

Fede rings. Anyone who’s read my ‘Hotly Bedded, Conveniently Wedded’ (aka the archaeologist book) will have worked out that I have a bit of a fascination for medieval jewellery. This is a pair of 15th-century betrothal rings (gold and turquoise), and the design has been used since Roman times – the clasped hands basically mean ‘hands in faith’, hence ‘fede ring’. Betrothal was as binding as marriage itself, in the period. (I covet one of these, as well. Hmm. Must point out to husband.)

Peacock fan. (Speaks for itself. I covet this, too. Must have a chat with my friend Louise Allen, who knows lots about this sort of thing.)

Visiting card holder. Actually, these were bigger than I expected (duh, of course they would be bigger than modern business cards – they were also used for writing notes e.g. thanking a host for entertainment or giving condolences on a loss, and women’s were larger than men’s). Daughter and I particularly liked this example – apparently it’s lined with pink velvet, but the outside is tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl. This one dates from 1845.

Come back tomorrow, and you’ll be in with the chance of winning a really useful and excellent book – the third edition of Kate Walker’s ‘12 point guide to writing romance’.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

refilling the well, part 1

Current work: Capri medical revisions
Listening to: Corelli
Reading: Lucy Dillon, Walking Back to Happiness (enjoying)

Yesterday was the last day of the school holidays. (Yes!!! Today is a proper work day!!!) (Overuse of screamers most definitely merited.)
I knew I wasn’t really going to get much done (and yes, the family crisis is still ongoing – and I am call-screening and only taking business calls in office hours, to save my sanity) so I took the children to the cinema. ‘Megamind’ was a very different take on superhero films, and much better than the trailer led me to believe. The dialogue was great, I enjoyed the romance element, and the soundtrack was brilliant. Highly recommended.

With an hour to wait before the show started, I suggested that we nipped in to see the new exhibition at Norwich Castle about faith in art. It was really interesting – some of the things I’d already tracked down across the county as part of research for other books (such as the Ranworth psalter and the coat of arms at North Walsham), some I’d already seen at the museum (the Sandys painting), but some were new to me. I particularly liked the Anglo-Saxon silver brooches from Pentney (absolutely stunning artwork) and the Thor’s hammers. (Couldn’t take pics, sadly, as they were not allowed.)

The natural history section also had some new exhibits, and it was a real delight. Our favourite bits included:

The chambered nautilus (so delicate and so very, very pretty)

The curator’s office (dear ed… oh, please let me do a timeslip set in a museum, please)

The polar bear (actually, this isn’t new – it was one of the very first exhibits when the museum opened in the 19th century, and I remember being terrified by this when I was about four years old)

The great auk and her egg:

And then there was the exhibition about how people dressed and what they had in their pockets… and I’ll save that for tomorrow, as I know readers of historical romance will really enjoy it :o)

Monday, January 03, 2011

the best start to the year

Current work: Capri medical revisions
Listening to: Corelli
Reading: Lucy Dillon, Walking Back to Happiness (enjoying, even though one of the themes is touching a bit of a nerve)

Last year didn’t end well – apart from losing Dad, Christmas was made very difficult by another family crisis. So, on New Year’s Day, I suggested we went to the beach.

Apart from the fact that the North Norfolk coast is the best place in the world in winter for blowing the cobwebs away, there was something special I wanted to see. Something really life-affirming.

At Horsey Gap, there’s a colony of grey seals, and at this time of year the pups are born. This year, 370 pups were born to the colony during December – it’s particularly heartening that the numbers are increasing, because four years ago half the colony was wiped out by a virus.

The beach is fenced off at this time of year, because if humans get too close it can cause the mums to abandon their pups. So we had a gorgeous walk on the dunes on a mild and calm day, and we got to see lots of seals – some were swimming, some were lazing around on the beach, and some were having a nap on the dunes themselves. (This bull was just enjoying the the sound of the waves hitting the rocks.)

This was my daughter's favourite - his expression reminded her of our spaniel, plus he flopped his way all the way up the beach and waved a flipper at her.

This pair touched me most.

I couldn’t get over the way the mum cuddled her pup the same way that a human mother would cuddle her child – including soothing strokes with her flipper, the way that a human mum would stroke a child’s hair. And she made sure she was between her pup and the bull, to protect the baby.

The seal warden told us that seals are weaned at the age of three weeks – and, during those three weeks, the mum concentrates entirely on her pup and doesn’t eat at all (and uses 30,000 calories a day in feeding her baby). She protects the pup from the bulls (who can be very mean to the pups – especially as the mum is ready to mate again, two weeks after the birth).The pups learn to swim at the age of around six weeks, and then they’re pretty much on their own; though their mums have taught them everything they need to know by this point. When they lose their white coat, it’s pretty itchy, so they come onto the dunes and roll around in the marram grass.

This seal was fast asleep and was oblivious to the humans who couldn’t resist taking a photograph of their own offspring next to the baby. (And yes, of course we did...)