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?

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?

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.

Apologies to Librarians

Hello world – welcome to my new website and my first blog post!
I’ve finally got this sorted because it’s Easter weekend (time off from the day job) and quite frankly I needed a break from my WIPs.

writer, Grace LowrieDon’t get me wrong, I love writing – nothing beats being sat at the keyboard letting my imagination pour out onto the page like glorious fresh wet paint. But then I have to go back and coax some order out of the chaos – get right in there up to the elbows, move things about and check every last detail makes sense – and that can be messy. I’m currently working on three separate novels with overlapping time-lines and reoccurring characters, so the editing process is proving to be even more complicated and protracted than usual. But hey, the end is almost in sight!

As you’ve probably gathered, I write stories – mainly romance – but like most writers I’m also an avid reader. I tend to prefer the pure escapism of fiction and generally something with a touch of darkness. Whether it’s a thriller, sci-fi, historical, contemporary, horror, crime, supernatural or romance, it makes no difference. I do enjoy a good bit of humour, but I’ll take a sinister undercurrent over chick-lit any day. Not sure what that says about me, but probably best not to dwell on it.

I have too many favourite authors to list and I hate the idea of leaving someone wonderful out, so here is a random selection from one of my blue shelves:blue books, Grace Lowrie

Yes, rather than organising my books in alphabetical order or by genre, I display them by spine colour for a cheerful rainbow effect – a habit which no doubt horrifies Librarians the world over, and often makes locating a certain book difficult. What can I say? It must be the installation artist in me. Unfortunately some of my best loved books are relegated to the bedroom floor, where they form three wobbly stacks in the corner; because who wants to look at a shelf full of black book spines?

So anyway, that’s a bit about me, what about you? Do feel free to say hello, I promise I don’t bite.

Brighton beach, Grace Lowrie