Writing a Setting

Writing_a_Setting

Whether it’s the country in which your whole story takes place, or a small boat where just one conversation occurs, I’ve learned that the setting can make all the difference.

Love Boat

There are lots of options open to authors of fiction, even more for those of science fiction or fantasy, and yet when I’m enthusiastically scribbling down a first draft I still have to remind myself not to always necessarily go with my first idea. When coming up with a scene I now ask myself:

Does this scene (for example, an argument between two characters) have to have to occur on the living room sofa?

If so – fine, but what if they were actually on an aeroplane, or a remote mountain top, or in a shop selling lingerie? Would that make the scene more interesting/dramatic/awkward?

Mountain topAs Ra’s al Ghul says to Bruce Wayne in the film Batman Begins:

Always mind your surroundings.

As a starting point it is generally easier to write about places I’ve been to, or have experience of. Three of my books are set in Wildham, a fictional town somewhere north of London, but the town of my imagination is based on bits and pieces of real places – the market square, pubs and coffee shops – that I know well. Similarly Southwood’s Garden Centre, which features in Safe With Me, is fictional, but based on personal experience. My aunt and uncle built up their own successful nursery and garden centre from nothing, and I worked part-time in a garden centre for several years. I know first-hand the relaxed satisfaction of planting up hanging baskets; the tedium of dead-heading endless trays full of bedding plants, and the hours spent watering pots in the heat of the summer.

Dahlias

But for me the most exciting aspect of choosing a setting, is the opportunity to introduce somewhere I’ve always wanted to experience myself – it gives me the perfect excuse to go there. The roof-top garden cafe that appears in Safe With Me, was based on my visit to the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden Bar & Cafe at the Southbank Centre in London. I wanted to find a little oasis in the city; a metaphorical bridge between the greasy spoon that Rina has spent years working in, and James’s plans for a semi-rural idyll in Wildham. By going to the location myself I could soak up the atmosphere; make notes on the way it looked, smelled and sounded, and take photos to aid my memory. I could also sit there and mentally conjure up my characters; imagine what they might think or say, and picture how their body language might betray their feelings. I fear I must look a little crazy at times, when I’m focusing inwards and listening to my imaginary friends – ahem, I mean characters – but I try not to let it stop me.

Rural Dining

Of course much of this ‘research’ doesn’t feature in the finished book, but hopefully it informs the writing and makes the world I create, more immersive for the reader. What do you think? Do you agree? Do let me know. And if you get the chance to visit London in summer, I would highly recommend the Southbank.

NB – This post was first published exactly a year ago by the wonderful Sharon of Shaz’s Book Blog – thank you Sharon!! The original post can be viewed here: http://shazsbookblog.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/the-write-stuff-with-grace-lowrie.html

Cover Reveal – Before We Fall

Woohoo! Loving the cover of my next book, what do you think…???Before We Fall

When quiet Cally, an amateur ballet dancer, is diagnosed with cancer she runs away from her boyfriend Liam, her job in a call centre and her safe life in Wildham – in order to experience ‘real’ life in London. Taking a job as a stripper and flat-sitting in the top of an office tower she meets her obnoxious neighbour Bay; a tattooed, drug-taking, suicidal artist, haunted by the death of those close to him. Despite their differences, the two strike up a friendship – Bay pushes Cally to try new things while Cally provides Bay with a muse – and they fall in love. But their secrets threaten to tear them apart and time is running out…

Before We Fall, a standalone novel and the second book in The Wildham Series, will be published in both e-book on 9th August and in paperback on 16th August 2018 and is already available to pre-order online here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07D2CC9ST

A huge thank you to the team at Accent Press for all their hard work 😊

Taking Risks With Your Writing

When I wrote my first novel it was purely for my own pleasure. I had no intention of letting anyone else read it, no concerns about fitting into a genre or potential marketability and certainly no expectations of getting published. I wrote because a story had sprung up in my imagination, the characters wouldn’t stop talking, and I needed to get it all out of my head! No one was more surprised than me when, following an author-friend’s recommendation, I was offered a publishing contract. I still consider it a wonderfully brave decision on the part of Accent Press.
Taking Risks With Your WritingKindred Hearts is ostensibly an erotic romance novel – the story of a woman in love with her best friend’s brother – but that’s not all it is. At the time I created it, I had not read much in that genre, and with hindsight I think that afforded me a certain amount of freedom – to tell a story not guided by the usual ‘rules’ of romance. For anyone who hasn’t read the book, I won’t give too much away, but there is a third character, the protagonist’s best friend, who has equal, if not more prominence, than her brother, the male lead. Her name is Celeste.
Neither heroine nor villain, Celeste is attention-seeking, damaged and refuses to be sidelined, and yet, several years on, she remains one of my all-time favourite characters. But Kindred Hearts isn’t for everyone – the writing is raw, the sex scenes are graphic and the ending isn’t so much ‘happy’ as ‘bitter sweet’. So, where to go from there?
Ideas bookcaseHaving accidentally dipped my toe into the world of book publishing and inadvertently joined a vast online community of bookaholics and authors, I quickly gained a far greater understanding of the benefits of writing stories with potential readers in mind, and of sticking to genre. As a reader myself I appreciate having certain expectations fulfilled by a book – when real life is turbulent there is temporary comfort and reassurance to be found by escaping into a fictional love story, secure in the knowledge that you will be rewarded with a Happy Ever After. From a practical and financial standpoint it is also far easier to market a book to the right readers, if the genre is clearly defined – it’s common sense.
Wildham SeriesArmed with this new awareness and with a potential audience firmly in mind, I sat down to write a series of three new novels. And I am pleased with result, proud of the Wildham Series and excited to have people read these books, despite my characters persistently rebelling as I wrote them. Ultimately I have to write the stories I want to write, and these latest works, though romantic, seem to dance under the umbrella of Contemporary Women’s Fiction, due to the heavy themes involved. What can I say? I like a bit of grit to my fictional relationships – a dash of darkness to better emphasise the light – and I’ll always be a sucker for a juicy twist.
At the time of writing this, only Safe With Me, the first book of the series has been released, with the next, Before We Fall, due out in August, but I’m delighted to report that so far most of my readers’ feedback has been positive. I fully admit that I am still finding my feet as an author, but enjoying the process immensely. So do I regret the raw honesty of my debut novel?
Kindred Hearts, blue shelfNo. Sure it could do with a little polishing, and it will probably never make me rich, but I remain proud of it’s originality and like to think of it as the rough diamond in my collection – the black sheep if you will – full of glamour and sweet longing and skating dangerously close to taboo. My first, wayward, child.
Are you a writer? Have you written a story that colours outside the lines? If so how do you feel about it? And if you are a reader looking for something a bit different, maybe give Kindred Hearts a try and let me know what you think! 😉

My Favourite Childhood Book

It’s World Book Day and children everywhere are dressing up as their favourite book characters in celebration! My parents read hundreds of books to me as a young child – works by Roald Dahl, Ted Hughes, Judith Kerr, C.S. Lewis, A.A. Milne, J.R.R. Tolkien and Margery Williams Bianco, to name just a few – but there was one book that was always my favourite.World Book DayTilly’s House written & illustrated by Faith Jaques and first published in 1979, is the story of a wooden doll, a kitchen maid called Tilly, who decides to escape the dolls’ house she resides in, and find a home of her own. Along the way she befriends a teddy bear called Edward, who helps her on her mission and by the end, her journey is happily complete. It’s a simple story, plainly written, and seeing it again had me questioning why it made such a strong impression on me as a child.

Tilly's HouseThere is something universally appealing about dolls’ houses; miniaturisation; of viewing the world in a different scale, and of toys coming alive. A few examples in popular culture spring to mind: Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker ballet, Mary Norton’s book The Borrowers, the 1989 movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, the Toy Story franchise, and more recently, Jessie Burton’s novel The Miniaturist, which was made into a BBC television adaptation last year. It helps that Tilly’s House is full of charming, colourful illustrations. But for me I think it was more (or less) than that.
Tilly's decisionI suspect I was drawn to Tilly’s plight because it seemed utterly plausible (living toys aside) to me. As a character Tilly isn’t overtly beautiful, ambitious or heroic – she isn’t trying to save the world and doesn’t rely on a ballgown, magic powers or long golden hair in order to snag herself a prince. She is hard-working, friendly and quietly determined – she simply decides what she wants – independence – and sets about finding it. I can’t help but admire that.

Making one’s own home is part of the plan for most people, but for me, throughout sharing a room with my sister as a child, a student house at university, and then a cottage with my mother, it was my enduring, number one goal, even above finding Prince Charming. Leafing through Tilly’s House now I can’t help wondering if the little book was the initial seed of that relentless dream.Greenhouse-bench homeI’m happy to admit that nowadays, when entertaining friends in my own tiny flat, I feel the same, proud, sense of achievement as Tilly in her greenhouse-bench home. In fact, Safe With Me, the last novel I had published, features a woman who escapes from a life of drudgery to a semi-rural garden centre, so maybe Tilly is still inspiring me, even now. In my opinion the power of children’s books cannot be underestimated.
What’s your favourite childhood book and what effect has it had on you?

Playlist – Safe With Me

Kat, the heroine in Safe With Me, has suffered a tough existence – from being abandoned as a child and raised in foster homes, to life as a virtual slave to her husband. But Kat has an irrepressible spirit, a big heart and stubbornly clings to her love for Jamie, a small boy she once knew.
Nothing expresses Kat’s natural warmth and determination, nor complements her passion for dancing with abandon, more than her uplifting taste in music.KatBelow is a short playlist of the songs referred to in the book, which can also be found here on spotify:

Don’t Stop The Music – Rihanna
Shake It Off – Taylor Swift
Gravity – DJ Fresh, Ella Eyre
Real Love – Clean Bandit, Jess Glynne
Lost & Not Found – Chase & Status, Louis Mattrs
Slam – Pendulum
Highway To Hell – AC/DC

Have a read, have a listen, have a dance – and let me know what you think!Safe With Me - Kat

My Favourite Place – Holy Island

Lindisfarne CastleDespite being a Southerner I am lucky enough to have family in the North and, as a result, have spent many a happy holiday in the beautiful county of Northumberland. It’s an often underrated place that many people miss out on their way up to Scotland, and populated by warm and friendly folk who have always made me feel at home there. But I am not going to attempt to describe the entire county, my absolute favourite spot of all is a magical little place called the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

Gertrude Jekyll Castle Garden

It’s a tidal island, just 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, and cut off from the mainland twice a day. It boasts a rich history dating back to the 6th century; the ancient ruins of a monastery; a castle (a Tudor fort refurbished by Sir Edwin Lutyens); a Gertrude Jekyll garden; a working harbour; a former coastguard station; a small village; several churches; sandy beaches and a wealth of natural wildlife to enjoy.

Traditionally a quiet place of Christian pilgrimage, over the years Lindisfarne has become increasingly popular with tourists of all beliefs and backgrounds, especially in the summer months. In daytime throughout August, between low tides, the car parks, gift shops and tea shops fill up with holidaymakers, nature enthusiasts, children and dogs, and the village bustles with life. The local businesses rely on these waves of tourism and the income they bring. But for me, it is when the tide has come in and the day-trippers have gone home, that the island is really at its best.Holy Island wild-flowersPart of me is tempted to keep silent about this place – to hide my passion rather than share it; as if the island is some treasured secret all of my own. But of course I’m not alone in my love for Lindisfarne. Many an artist, poet, film-maker, musician and author have been inspired by it – Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Sir Walter Scott, Roman Polanski, James Blake and LJ Ross, to name but a few.Mist in the sand dunesDescribing the innate tranquillity of this small pocket of the world, and the effect it has on me, is a challenge. It can be cold and bleak in winter, exposed as it is to the winds off the north sea – I thoroughly admire the islanders who live there year-round – but even when it’s under snow and ice and it feels like you might lose your fingers to frostbite, Holy Island has a quiet, raw intensity that inspires and allures. And when I am nestled in the sand dunes of the north shore on an early autumn morning, watching mist creep in over an almost-still sea; or lying on a sun-drenched hillside among summer wild-flowers, listening to the ghostly calling of seals on the wind and waves crashing below; with my notebook in hand … I feel happy.
Holy Island harbourI have never been religious, but I feel Holy Island is my spiritual home. I urge you to visit if you can.

Where is your favourite place?

 

Ten Favourite TV Romances

With the evenings getting colder and bleaker and Christmas fast approaching, tis the season to stay in, wrap presents, drink mulled wine, eat mince pies and binge watch TV. Those of you with a jam-packed social calendar need not read on, but if, like me, you spend most evenings snuggled at home and are craving a little romance, I have a few suggestions for you.

When I’m not working, writing or reading books, I watch quite a range of TV shows; mainly fictional drama series’ (not reality shows or soaps) featuring anything from detectives to zombies. Some of my favourites include: Breaking Bad, The Fall, Inspector Montalbano, Happy Valley, This Is Us, Vikings, The Walking Dead, Orphan Black, Fargo etc. all of which I’d recommend. However, most of these productions are not known for their romantic storylines, and since I write Women’s Fiction, and mainly Romance, I have come up with a list of ten favourite shows which do contain love stories that inspire me (please note that I’ve deliberately omitted Pride and Prejudice and Friends from the list for being too obvious).

Ten Favourite TV RomancesPersonally I am drawn to relationships with an unusual quirk to them, a sinister edge or a tragic undercurrent – traits that I try to bring to my own books – so if that appeals to you too, maybe you’ll find a show worth trying here. (They are listed alphabetically, because that was easier than trying to order them by preference):

Battlestar Galactica (2004)Battlestar Galactica

There can’t be many female leads cooler than hotshot viper pilot Lieutenant Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace. In this American military sci-fi series set in space, life is tough and dangerous and Starbuck is both heroic and deeply flawed. The plot is gripping and although Starbuck and Apollo (Captain Lee Adama), her almost brother-in-law, are often too busy in conflict to acknowledge the deeply-rooted affection and sexual tension between them, it simmers deliciously throughout.

FireflyFirefly

Sadly this futuristic, space western was curtailed after just one season, but pressure from fans resulted in a feature film, Serenity, which helped tie up some of the loose ends. The banter and sexual tension between proud Captain Malcolm ‘Mal’ Reynolds and Inara, an equally proud, high-class escort, creates an interesting dynamic. But it is the touching relationship between Mal’s second-in-command, Zoe and her husband, their pilot, Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne, which really stayed with me. Zoe is a seasoned fighter – a warrior woman – and the interaction between her and her adorably soppy husband, is both amusing and deeply romantic.

FringeFringe

A Science fiction series exploring parallel universes, this show shares similarities with The X-Files, but I found the developing relationship between Agent Olivia Dunham and Dr Bishop’s estranged son, Peter, more satisfying than that between Mulder and Scully. I have long been a fan of Joshua Jackson (who plays Peter) and I’m a sucker for a romance between two people who first meet in childhood and then reconnect years later as adults (see my first two novels Kindred Hearts and Safe With Me). Unfortunately I feel the plot lost its way a bit in the fifth and final series, but don’t let that put you off.

LutherLuther

Though I’m not sure it technically counts as romance, a powerful attraction of some kind definitely brews between sexy Detective John Luther (Idris Elba) and supremely intelligent psychopathic murderer, Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson). Alice manages to be both an arch-nemesis and a friend to Luther and while she makes no secret of her fondness for him, as a man of the law he struggles with who she is and what she does. It’s addictively fascinating and I really hope there is a series five to come.

OutlanderOutlander

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the books that this TV show is based on, and I would recommend that you read Diana Gabaldon’s epic written works before watching the dramatisation if you can (Outlander features in my Ten Favourite Book Romances list). That said, the production team have made an excellent job of condensing the books down into screen format – in my opinion the casting is brilliant, the acting is above average for TV and the minor changes and embellishments they have made to the story are definite improvements. I could gush about the actor who plays Jamie Fraser but I will refrain and let you check out Sam Heughan for yourself.

Sex and the CitySex and the City

There are several reasons to watch this show – the contrasting four main women and the enduring friendship between them; the amazing fashions; the funny dating stories etc., but for me it has to be the epic on-off relationship between Carrie Bradshaw and her ‘Mr Big’ (whom, incidently, is played by Chris Noth, the same actor who plays Peter Florrick in The Good Wife below). The saga is a long one (spanning six seasons and two feature films) with many ups and downs, but the magnetic pull between the two characters is undeniable.

The Good WifeThe Good Wife

A courtroom drama full of litigation and American politics, this show is not heavy on romance, however, the subtle chemistry between the State’s Attorney’s wife – protagonist Alicia Florrick – and her lawyer boss and old college friend, Will Gardner, had me hooked. Despite her husband Peter’s public sex scandal and stint in prison, Alicia decides to stand by him, partly for the sake of her children. But she is a smart, independent, working mother, and he did betray her, while Will is giving her a second chance at a career of her own, when she needs it most. Alicia and Will try to ignore the attraction between them, but as a viewer you know it is there and I couldn’t help rooting for them to get together. If you do watch this for the romance, just be warned, you’re in for a shock in season five.

The OAThe OA

This supernatural/sci-fi series tells the story of a group of people who have been held prisoner for seven years, in glass cages underground, by a scientist who experiments on them. There is more to it than that, but I don’t want to give too much away for those who haven’t seen it. Prairie, the protagonist is one of these captives and over the years falls in love with Homer; the guy in the cell next to her. There is no overt ‘romance’ in this series (not in the first season anyway, I still have hopes for the second) but I’m fascinated by this idea of forming a relationship with someone while you are trapped together in very close quarters; sleeping next to each other every night, for several years – denied all privacy and freedom and unable to escape each other – and yet constantly, physically separated by a pane of glass. I think the tension and intensity of emotion created by eliminating the sense of touch between two people in love, holds potential for great romance.

True BloodTrue Blood

A must see for vampire fans this supernatural series is far grittier than The Vampire Diaries and rich with gore and dark humour. I found the chemistry between Sooky and Eric more interesting and convincing than the romance between Sooky and Bill, and again I preferred the earlier seasons to the latter ones, but overall worth a watch.

VictoriaVictoria

The enduring love between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert is legendary and notable because historically royal marriages tended to be arranged purely for political convenience with no consideration given to love. This sumptuous period production dramatises both the romance and the conflict in the couple’s relationship and appeals all the more to me, for being based on real British history.

So, what’s your favourite TV romance? Drop me a line, I’d love to know.

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?