Using Undercurrents to Lift a Story

What do I mean by undercurrents? I write women’s fiction, mainly romance, so each story has an exploration of love at its core and the promise of a Happy Ever After at its end. But I want each book to have its own unique sense of atmosphere – that almost intangible, often emotional, awareness that stays with you long after you have finished the book. While this is created by a number of different factors, such as the plot, the style of writing, the setting, the personalities of the characters, the weather and so on, there is a subtler tool that you can also employ.threadsMost people refer to this as a motif: imagery or symbolism that is repeated throughout a narrative. I call it an undercurrent because of the way it weaves and threads its way through a story, like a secret message, often hinting at something sinister or unexpected to come.undercurrentsFor example in Kindred Hearts, the undercurrent I chose was water – not the refreshing, life-giving aspect of the element, but rather the lurking, conductive, slippery power of water and its potential threat. Near the start of the book my characters are innocently playing in the water as children, but as the story progresses the water resurfaces, several times and with varying degrees of menace – like waves eating away at sand – right through to the epilogue. It isn’t a theme I expect a reader to consciously pick up on, but my hope is that it underpins the atmosphere and helps tie the story together.

seedlingsSo what other motifs tease a reader’s subconscious? Aside from the remaining three elements (earth, air and fire), there are an unlimited variety of objects, actions, sounds, colours and phrases that can be employed as symbols. For instance in Safe With Me I use plants to echo my main characters’ struggle to put down roots and grow, and in the second book of my Wildham series, Before We Fall (due to be published August 2018) I use the colour scarlet to hint at blood, sex and death.scarlet motifThere is often more than one undercurrent running through a story, and if you are a writer you may find that they develop naturally through your writing anyway, but I suspect the key is to be both subtle and consistent.

Which undercurrents run through your favourite book?

The Natural Ingénue

While exploring the idea of Natural Romance it occurred to me that my own personal style – the way I dress – also fits into this theme.Childhood styleLike most people, as a child, my parents dictated my outfits. In my case that meant wearing clothes that tended towards the tomboyish and outdoorsy – dungarees and checked shirts that were practical, hard-wearing and wouldn’t show the dirt – and chunky seventies style knitted dresses for special occasions. Does anyone remember Clothkits? (I’m really defining my age now).

Later, as a teenager, the garments I picked out were all about copying the latest fashions and trying to fit in with my friends, rather than choosing what might suit me personally. Experimentation was all part of the fun back then, but a glance at photos from that time is enough to prove that mistakes were made.

Grace Lowrie Teenage Years
Grace Lowrie, the teenage years

Trend-following has become far less important to me as I’ve grown older – feeling good in my own skin and not wasting money on clothes I won’t wear, have become priorities. A few years ago I attended a series of three style analysis sessions with Margaret, a wonderful woman from House of Colour, with the aim of determining which colours and clothes would suit me best, thereby making future wardrobe choices both easier and wiser. It was a lot of fun (I went with two friends), I learnt a great deal and I can highly recommend it.Autumn threadsAs a result of this process I was interested to discover that a Rich Autumn colour palette best suits my skin-tone (rather than black) and that and my predominant style personality is that of a Natural Ingénue. Basically I’m the sort of (contrary) person who looks good wearing feminine dresses teamed with chunky leather boots. Of course this is not to say that I don’t still favour the rock chick vibe on occasion, or that I don’t spend whole days in slouch pants and my comfiest, ugliest, slob gear, because I do – regularly – but I never felt less like myself than when trussed up in a smart suit and heels. Since the style classes I no longer feel any pressure to make that look work for me (luckily my day job doesn’t require a strict dress code) and I have more confidence in my own personal style.

Dress and bootsWhat I can’t help wondering is this: did the way my parents dressed me as a child have any bearing on what is now considered to be my style personality as an adult? Or would I always have ended up this way…? I won’t bore you with pictures of my various outfits – that’s what Pinterest is for – but I’m a sucker for a pretty fabric, so here are some of my favourite florals with a hint of romance:Grace Lowrie FabricsWhat is your style? Do you have a favourite outfit for writing in?

Secret Garden – Vanessa Conyers

Vanessa ConyersFor Christmas my wonderful sister gave me a beautiful gift – a small vase designed by ceramic artist, Vanessa Conyers. The vase, a part of her Secret Garden range, is so lovely and so perfectly fits with my idea of Natural Romance that I had to share it with you.

Secret Garden Vase

The original ‘devilishly delicate’ collection… A magical meadow where bunnies bounce and stags bellow under a molten sky…

Standing at just 8.4cm tall and 6.3cm in diameter this vessel is modestly-sized with a soft, slouching, overlapping shape – as if composed of fabric rather than finely-rolled clay. The exterior draws inspiration from nature and is lavished with a lustrous design of rose blooms and gold-flecked grass, while the interior is patterned with blue lace to striking effect. For me this vase perfectly bridges the divide between traditional and contemporary styles and lends a subtle, but glamorous, edge to my bedroom dresser.

Secret Garden InteriorDo you have a favourite piece of ceramic?

My Chelsea Flower Show 2017

I was in two minds about attending Chelsea Flower Show on Tuesday – partly because of the devastating terrorist attack, which had happened the night before in Manchester and left me feeling shaken and emotional, and partly because I usually visit the show with my mother. This year she was unable to accompany me due to ill health, but she insisted I go without her.

And I’m glad I did. It was a wonderful spectacle of colour, sunshine and positivity. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take as many photos as I intended because of problems with my camera phone (gotta love modern technology) but the few I did take I thought I’d share with you.

Chelsea Flower Show 2017

For me Kate Gould’s City Living garden was a particular highlight, as was Kazuyuki Ishihara’s Gosho No Niwa – No Wall, No War. The gardens are perfect illustrations of how even the smallest of spaces can be greened up – something becoming increasingly important in our cities where human population growth is exerting so much pressure. Pictures and details of all the show gardens can be found here:
https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show/Gardens

Rogue PrimulaOne of my favourite pieces of planting was the woodland area of Chris Beardshaw’s Morgan Stanley garden – where a rogue, red primula utterly outraged a woman next to me in the crowd. The deliberately placed bloom, with its quietly clashing audacity, made me smile and, in my opinion, lifted the whole planting scheme. What do you think?

Cover Reveal – Safe With Me

I’m absolutely delighted to be able to share the brand new cover for my latest book with you – I think you’ll agree Accent Press have done me proud!

Safe With Me by Grace Lowrie

An emotional and evocative story about the deepest bonds of friendship.
Abandoned as children, Kat and Jamie were inseparable growing up in foster care. But their bond couldn’t protect them forever.
From a troubled upbringing to working in a London greasy spoon, Kat’s life has never been easy. On the surface Jamie’s living the high-life, but appearances can be deceiving.
When they unexpectedly reunite, the bond they share becomes too intense to ignore. But as secrets come back to haunt them, are they destined to be separated once more?
Perfect for fans of Hilary Boyd and Nicholas Sparks.

Safe With Me, a standalone novel and the first in The Wildham Series, will be published in both paperback and e-book on 22nd June 2017 – in time for the summer holidays – and is already available to pre-order online here:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B071F2QZB7

A massive thank you to the team at Accent Press for all their hard work in bringing this book to life!

Where to Write?

I am lucky enough to have a dedicated space in which to write – a desk by a window where I can gaze out at the sky and idly watch the birds in the trees while I juggle (or wrestle) with words in my mind. Inspiring objects and images clutter the windowsill; I have a laptop-stand to raise my screen to an appropriate height; and my chair, although not fancy or ergonomic, is relatively comfortable. When time is short, as it usually is, my desk is a suitable, convenient and efficient place to write.

Girl WritingAnd yet, some days, the urge to sit there is oddly lacking.

On these occasions a change of scenery is called for, and even a small one can make all the difference. In colder months I might only stumble as far as the living room sofa, and on really dark, wet days you’ll find me snuggled up in bed in a nest of cushions and blankets with my laptop propped on my knees. But when the sun is shining my favourite place to write is my back door step. Leaving modern technology behind I will take a notebook, a pen and a hot cup of coffee and perch in a patch of sunshine – scribbling down notes to the ambient sound of birds, trains and lawn mowers.

Writing in Bed

If this doesn’t work and the ideas are still not flowing, it’s time to go for a walk. It may only be a quick zip to the postbox and back, or a stroll through the park, but if time allows I really enjoy a wander through my local nature reserve; absorbing the green tranquillity of the woods and the calm of the water, while fictional characters hold conversations in my head. Before long I have to find somewhere to sit – a bench or log – and get pen onto paper, while the words are fresh in my mind. Many planned, extended walks have been curtailed by the urge to write.

Al Fresco Writing

In general I prefer quiet in which to work – to better hear the inner voices – but if it’s fresh human inspiration I need; coffee shops, libraries, art galleries and train stations are great places to people watch. I tend to get too distracted to achieve much actual writing, but I know many writers who thrive on the buzz of such social spaces.

Art Gallery

One of the perks of writing fiction is that I can pick a setting that I’ve always wanted to go to, and actually go there – write in situ, as it were. It’s a real kick, if a little weird, going somewhere and imagining my characters right there with me. I’m able to incorporate the details of the place – the way it smells, sounds, tastes – directly into my story, which hopefully lends some authenticity. So far I haven’t used my writing as an excuse to visit an exotic, far-flung country, but I fully intend to one day.

Girl on Swing

Writing’s often a solitary practice and if you’re anywhere near as introverted as me, I’d recommend using your writer status to get yourself out and about in the world. You don’t necessarily have to start conversations with strangers, but write anywhere you can and don’t forget to enjoy it.

Where do you write? Where would you recommend? I’d love to know.

Ten Favourite Book Romances

I enjoy reading a wide range of fiction in a variety of different genres and my favourite authors range from Iain Banks to Sarah Waters; Chuck Palanhiuk to George R.R. Martin; and Kate Atkinson to Stieg Larsson. But I write Women’s Fiction and mainly Romance so I’ve come up with a list of ten favourites.10 Fave Book RomancesWhile not all are classed as ‘Romances’ these books contain love stories that inspire me. I am drawn to those with an unusual quirk to them, a sinister edge or a tragic undercurrent – traits that I try to bring to my own work. To narrow down the selection I’ve excluded fave classics such as Pride and Prejudice, and focused on those published within my lifetime. (The list is arranged alphabetically, because that was easier than trying to order them by preference).

Archers_VoiceArcher’s Voice by Mia Sheridan

Archer Hale, the tortured male lead in this story, is both original and beautifully compelling and the main reason this book made such an impression on me. Bree Prescott is a girl with her own problems, but has the right combination of skill and determination, to draw Archer out of his shell.

AtonementAtonement by Ian McEwan

A masterfully written book, by one of my favourite authors, which starts in 1935 and takes us on through the Second World War. The potential relationship between Cecilia and Robbie, is witnessed second-hand through the eyes of Cecilia’s younger sister Briony, and yet it is as romantic, powerful and moving as any I’ve ever read.

ControlControl by Charlotte Stein

I’m a huge fan of this author’s work – she has a distinctive, almost neurotic style of writing, which quickly becomes addictive. This is the story of a woman torn between two, very different, potential lovers and the book is both erotically charged and laugh-out-loud funny in places. I can’t recommend it enough.

Gabriels_InfernoGabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard

For those who like a bit of taboo, this explores the relationship between a university professor and his student, and has a deliciously Gothic feel; woven out of literary themes of sin, hell and spiritual love. I must admit I didn’t enjoy the second book in this series as much, but I highly recommend this first one.

Night_OwlNight Owl by M. Pierce

This book also features an enigmatic male lead, in the form of reclusive writer Matt Sky, who is as bold and darkly intriguing as he is secretive. This book is the first in a trilogy, and although I’ve yet to read the third, I definitely recommend the first two.

One_DayOne Day by David Nicholls

The quirk of this book is how it cleverly follows the relationship between two people over twenty years, but only on the same day of each year. The characters of Emma and Dexter are brilliantly written and believable and the story moved me to tears.

On_The_IslandOn The Island by Tracey Garvis Graves

The enduring appeal of this gem of a book for me, aside from the main characters being stranded together on a desert island, is the unusual dynamic between the two – Anna is thirteen years older than TJ and was due to be his tutor before they found themselves marooned. But as they struggle to survive, with only each other to rely on, the years pass and their relationship strengthens and deepens.

OutlanderOutlander by Diana Gabaldon

A gripping time-slip novel set in rugged Scotland. Claire, the heroine, is feisty and determined, and Jamie Fraser – a true hero in every sense of the word – is perhaps my favourite leading male character of all time. I don’t usually choose to read historical novels, generally preferring a contemporary atmosphere, but I am in awe of this author’s epic work and am currently reading the eighth book in this phenomenal series.

The_Bridges_Of_Madison_CountyThe Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

I first devoured this book, in one sitting, when I was just a teenager and I have never forgotten it. The poignant story of two people who meet and have a brief tender affair in middle age, is as memorable for its quietly beautiful setting, as it is for the fact it made me cry.

The_Time_Travelers_WifeThe Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

An enduring favourite and one of those books that really made me want to write. Henry is a sporadic time traveller but with no control over his ability, which often leads him to some dark places. The journey of Clare and Henry’s unusual relationship (she has known him since she was a child) is deeply emotional and told from both points of view.

What are your ten favourite book romances?

Natural Romance

While trying to decide what to blog about, I brainstormed a list of random things I liked – things that attracted and inspired me – without analysing or worrying about their importance or relevance as possible topics. So I was surprised to discover a common theme emerging – a sense; an overall tone – linking several of my passions. It seems my unconscious style choices, tastes and aesthetic preferences may not be as randomly scattered as I once assumed and I found myself asking:

What is this common thread, which helps to define me as me?

Girl at WoodsOf course I now have an urge to explore this idea – to name it – as if it’s a genre or flavour, or some kind of philosophy; as if by ordering and making sense of it, I might better understand myself. I’m calling it Natural Romance for now, until I come up with something better, but I don’t think it’s something unique to me; on the contrary I suspect that as a general concept it may well resonate with many other people, women in particular, but do let me know if you disagree. In a nutshell I’m drawn to nature and love and the crossover/interaction between the two.

When I say nature I’m mainly referring to plants (rather than animals or the elements) as that’s the aspect I’m most familiar with. I worked as a garden designer for many years and I am instinctively drawn to green spaces and the beauty of flowers. Humans have long tried to tame and control nature and while our gardens range from highly manicured Zen spaces to relaxed wild-flower meadows, and everything in between, nature’s gritty and optimistic spirit always finds a way to shine through.

Wild butterflyAnd when I refer to romance, I don’t mean a twee, cliched perfectionism, but rather the messy and often beautiful struggle of love in relationships.

Love struggleIt is this emotional mix of nature, love and hope that really appeals to me – especially when expressed through design. Over time I intend to blog about a variety of different topics that fall under this heading. But one of the most obvious examples must be the international style of Art Nouveau, defined in the Collins English Dictionary as follows:

A style of art and architecture of the 1890s, characterised by swelling sinuous outlines and stylised natural forms, such as flowers and leaves.

My mother has collected vintage decorative tiles of this period for years, so it was easy to be swayed by their beauty. It’s only now that I realise just why these 6×6 inch tiles appeal to me so much, and I wanted to share some of my favourites with you.

Art Nouveau Tiles CollageFor me these designs capture the essence of nature with a feminine sensuality that speaks of romance. So are you a fan of Art Nouveau? Perhaps you prefer the cleaner lines of the Art Deco style – there is often overlap between the two. Do let me know.

Amsterdam in June

I recently spent a week in Amsterdam…Sketched scene AmsterdamIt was my first visit to the city, and indeed the Netherlands as a whole, and I’m delighted to say that it exceeded my expectations in the very best of ways. So much so in fact, that it has taken me a fortnight of mental digesting to be able to put my experience into words.
Forgive my general ignorance and naivety, but before this trip my impressions of Amsterdam were, to a large extent, from tales of rowdy stag parties visiting strip clubs and getting stoned. Yes, an array of scantily clad women line the streets of the red light district of an evening and yes, marijuana is readily available in the coffeeshops, but there is so much more to the city than that.

Amsterdam in June

Rijksmuseum Research Library
Rijksmuseum Research Library

First let me explain that I took this holiday with my mother, and though she is young-at-heart, open-minded and at ease in a city with a studenty vibe, visiting a brothel was never going to be top of her to-do list. For us it was the lure of museums, art galleries, a diverse range of restaurants, and the antique, flea and flower markets.
The hotel we were lucky enough to stay in, was extravagantly-decorated, welcoming and a joy to return to each evening, and every person we spoke to was kind, friendly and helpful – even after the shock news of Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
For the most part we enjoyed sunshine, missed the worst rain, and, having hastily got to grips with the rules of the cycle lane network, successfully managed to avoid causing any accidents. But this isn’t a holiday review where I recount our itinerary and rate each place – I’m not a travel writer and I’d rather leave that sort of thing to those who are – I simply have an urge to express my love for some of the beautiful places I discovered.
Canal houseIt seems much of Amsterdam’s aesthetic charm can be enjoyed by simply wandering about:
the canals which loop and lace their way through an endless network of curvy cobbled bridges, lending an air of casual serenity to an otherwise bustling city; the rows of narrow houses leaning into each other with regal grace; the intricate brick pavements where parking spaces nestle between flowering potted plants, beneath tall trees; the alfresco corner cafés by the water, which invite you to sit and relax and stay all day; and the bicycles, the endless tangles of bicycles, everywhere, in a kaleidoscope of colours and decorated with fake blooms.

Amsterdam places1And then there are the places you can actively seek out: the tiny courtyard gardens tucked between the buildings and crammed with hydrangeas; the rooms of the Rijksmuseum containing seventeenth century treasures, such as Artus Quellinus’ model of Atlas, Petronella Dunois’ dolls’ house and delicate hand-cut collages by persons unknown; the tranquil parks with their live music, fountains and ponds; and the wonderful array of restaurants providing everything from traditional Dutch home-cooking to Parisian art nouveau ambience.

Amsterdam places2

But as with any holiday, it is perhaps those little, unexpected moments that will stay with me the most: being moved to tears in Anne Frank’s house upon hearing a recording of her father speaking; watching a heron gracefully alight right next to a girl practising yoga in a park; listening to a talented accordionist play Vivaldi in a busy tunnel; stumbling upon an intimate wedding ceremony in the garden of the Museum Van Loon; and the lively street festival that sprang up around our hotel on our penultimate day.
I thoroughly enjoyed Amsterdam and I am keen to return one day, but even if I don’t hopefully I can use my experiences in a book; rediscover it through my characters. For me that’s half the fun of being a writer. Does anyone else feel the same?
Do you have any special memories from Amsterdam you’d care to share? I’d love to hear them.

Evening sunlit canal houses