Wednesday, 24 November 2010

So easy to be a writer

What an easy life you must have, being a writer, people say. You only need work when the muse strikes you, and it doesn’t really matter where you live. No hassle, a stress-free life… and much more in this vein. I hate to disillusion them but it isn’t like that at all, sad to say. I work flat out for several hours a day, most days of the week, month after month to produce a novel. Yes, I love what I do, but easy it isn’t. And there are also frustrations, certainly in living where I do in rural Spain.

I won’t bore you with the tale of trying to get a telephone. Still working on that one, although we do now have a radio phone which also provides us with the internet via microwave, would you believe? I keep hoping it might also cook my dinner one day.

And then there is the postal service.

When we first came to live out here, we’d been living in the village for some weeks and were beginning to worry, having received not a scrap of post. Fortunately those who’d been there before us pointed out that we hadn’t introduced ourselves to the postman. Ah, we thought, this must be an essential courtesy in Spain. So along we went to do just that and Pedro declared himself delighted to meet us, welcomed us to his village and handed us a large bundle of our mail which he’d been saving for us. It turned out that he was dyslexic and couldn’t read, but once he’d connected your written name with your face, everything worked fine after that, except when we have to send a large parcel which seems to be fraught with unexpected difficulties.

We tried Fed Express. Unfortunately the nearest office is in Almeria, an hour’s drive away, and the Spanish don’t see why they should travel all that distance just with one parcel, so they hang on to it in the hope they’ll get something else for this remote part of Spain, while telling me that for sure it will be with me this week. I wait in, sitting by the phone, ever hopeful. Days later we’re running out of food and milk, or climbing the walls with frustration. We ring them and they swear they’ve tried and failed to find us in, which we know is a lie. Why didn’t you ring and we’d meet you somewhere? I say. ‘But of course we rang, senora. You did not answer.’

Eventually I gave up with them and took my next manuscript to the post office in the nearest town and asked that it be sent the fastest possible way. Urgente is the Spanish word. The man behind the counter was appalled by the weight of it, and took great pains to explain how much such a transaction would cost. An arm and a leg at least. I kept insisting that was fine as it had to be in London by Friday. Unconvinced that this little English lady understood a word of what he’d said, he called upon the entire assembly of customers gathered in the Post Office to help him, found someone who could speak English and had them explain to me exactly what I was letting myself in for. I agreed, and accepted the terms. It must be there by Friday, I said. In five days. It would be, he assured me. It took three weeks. The next time I sent it by ordinary post and it was in London in 3 days.

Thank goodness for email. Now all my mss come down the line, including copy-editing scripts and proofs in a pdf document. God bless technology. I do so love being a writer, and it really doesn’t matter where you live!

Here's the latest, set before and during World War I when they didn't have the internet, and no doubt their post was delivered in 24 hours flat, that is if they got a letter at all from their loved ones out in the trenches. We should perhaps consider ourselves very fortunate.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Mary's Oscar Saga

I found this article whilst researching Mary Pickford, whose stunning appearance was copied by young women of the 20's, including my own current writing heroine, Birdie Connor. Mary's Oscar controversy - you simply couldn't match the intrigue in fiction - continued long after her death.

"...the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences sued the heirs of actor Charles "Buddy" Rogers' second wife; the point of contention is Mary Pickford's best actress Oscar, the first for an actress in a talkie, which she won for the 1929 release Coquette.
The case is a bit complicated.
At the time she won her Oscar, Pickford, one of the Academy's founding members, was the wife of Douglas Fairbanks, living in the couple's fairy-tale mansion in Beverly Hills. After her un-fairy-tale-ish divorce from Fairbanks in the 1930s, Pickford married Buddy Rogers, whose film career was then in the doldrums. (Pickford herself retired from film acting in 1933.) They remained married until Pickford's death in 1979.
In the early 1950s, the Academy instituted a bylaw stipulating that Oscar winners would be able to sell their statuettes only after offering them back to the Academy for US$10. This bylaw was not retroactive, meaning that previous Oscar winners were free to sell their Oscars to the highest bidder. (According to a Seattle Times article, prices have ranged from $50,000 to $1.5 million.)
And here's the glitch:
At the 1976 Oscar ceremony, Pickford was given a special Oscar for her contributions to the art of motion pictures. When she accepted her honorary Oscar at her Beverly Hills home, the actress, then in her eighties, seemed not only quite frail but also a bit incoherent. According to the Academy, at that time Pickford signed an agreement stating that neither of her statuettes could ever be auctioned.
After Pickford died, Rogers remarried. Following Rogers' death, his widow inherited his belongings. The second wife died last January, and in her will she requested that Pickford's Oscar for Coquette be sold and proceeds (estimated by a family member to be around $500,000) be given to the Buddy Rogers Youth Symphony in Palm Springs, Calif., and to other charities dedicated to the welfare of young actors.
And the winner will be decided at the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Pickford's Oscar, by the way, was for what must have been one of the worst performances in the pioneer actress' distinguished career. Her shrill Southern belle in Coquette, in fact, may well be the very worst performance to result in an Academy Award win in the best actress category."

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Kitty McKenzie

Here is an excerpt of my Victorian historical, Kitty McKenzie, which is out in both ebook and print and available from and and The Book Depository which has free postage worldwide.


1864 - Suddenly left as the head of the family, Kitty McKenzie must find her inner strength to keep her family together against the odds. Evicted from their resplendent home in the fashionable part of York after her parents’ deaths, Kitty must fight the legacy of bankruptcy and homelessness to secure a home for her and her siblings. Through sheer willpower and determination she grabs opportunities with both hands from working on a clothes and rag stall in the market to creating a teashop for the wealthy. Her road to happiness is fraught with obstacles of hardship and despair, but she refuses to let her dream of a better life for her family die. She soon learns that love and loyalty brings its own reward.

 Kitty caught her breath at the magnificence of Kingsley Manor. In comparison, her old home, although large, looked like a poor cousin. When they arrived, Benjamin’s parents were out visiting after Sunday morning church service. Alone, Benjamin gave her a private tour of the house. In each superbly decorated room, he stopped and kissed both her hands until it became a game and their laughter echoed throughout the house.
 However, Kitty’s first impression of the beautiful Georgina Kingsley chilled her. The woman wore a frozen expression of horror on her face the moment she looked at Kitty. Distressed, Kitty lowered her gaze and fumbled with her black skirts. She wore the best clothes she owned, her black skirts and cream blouse, but her crinoline was bought from the market and her black lace gloves possessed the glassy shine of frequently washed clothing.
 After introductions, Benjamin’s father, John, took Kitty’s hand and led her into the conservatory. A maid waited by a table laden with a silver tea service and silver stands filled with dainty little cakes and sandwiches.
 “So, Miss McKenzie, Ben informs us you have started a business?”
 “Indeed I have, Mr. Kingsley, tearooms.” Her lips thinned into a tight smile.
 They were all aware of Georgina’s intake of breath.
 “It is a rare thing, a young woman going into business by herself. It must have been quite a decision to make.” John Kingsley’s gaze didn’t waver as he looked at her.
 “Upon my parents’ deaths we were left with vast debts that took everything we owned to pay off. For my siblings and myself to survive, I needed to acquire a living for us all.”
 Georgina put down her teacup and saucer. Her cold, blue eyes narrowed. “Surely there are relatives who could have helped…your…er…situation?”
 "I’m afraid we don’t have a large quantity of relatives. No one offered to help us. There was very little we could do, but sell everything.” Such intimate talk of her family unnerved her. She wished the conversation would turn to a much lighter subject.
 “Did you not find that odd, your relatives turning away from you?”
 “I hardly think that distant relatives, whom we rarely saw, should have to alter their lives to suit us.” Kitty hated the woman for making her defend the people who ignored her pleas for help.
 “And how many are there of you, Miss McKenzie?” Georgina raised an eyebrow. She wore her disgust like a cloak.
 “I’m the eldest of seven, Mrs. Kingsley.”
 “My, my, so many of you. So, where do you live now?” Georgina flicked an imaginary speck of dust from her beautiful, gray, raw silk dress with its crinoline so wide they had to move the chairs to accommodate it.
 "We are to live above the tearooms, Mrs. Kingsley.” She felt like a noose hung around her neck and with each look and question from Georgina Kingsley the knot tightened.
 “How extraordinary. To live above one’s own shop.” Georgina didn’t hide the foul look she directed at her son.
 He turned away to smile at Kitty. “Of course, it will only be temporary, until I return from the colony. Then we shall be married.”
 Georgina paled and her hand shook as she reached for her teacup and saucer. Kitty wasn’t sure whether it  was due to shock or anger.
 John Kingsley stood and held out his arm for Kitty. “Come, Miss McKenzie, let me show you the gardens and my fine hunters. They are the best in York I assure you.”
 When John and Kitty exited the conservatory, Ben stood abruptly and faced his mother. “How dare you,” he ground out through clenched teeth, his whole body rigid with anger.
 Unperturbed, Georgina sat quietly drinking her tea. “How dare I?” she asked with laced sarcasm. “My dear, I don’t know what is troubling you.”
 “Why must you behave in such a way? She is going to be your daughter-in-law. It wouldn’t have hurt too much for you to be kind to her and make her feel at ease. Instead of treating her like she was something a cat dragged in!” Ben’s chest heaved.
 “She is not one of us, my dear. Your union would be a most drastic mistake.” Calmly, Georgina leaned over and selected a small tart from the cake stand.
 “That is where you are wrong, Mother! She is one of us. Her father was a doctor, her mother a lady. They lived well and entertained many of the people you do.”
  “No, my dear. They were never one of us, for we wouldn’t have let our children be thrown onto the streets upon our deaths.” Georgina contentedly nibbled her tart, secure in the knowledge of her own wisdom.
  “Bankruptcy can touch anyone, Mother, even the Kingsleys.”
  “Benjamin, you do realize I recall the McKenzies, especially the wife? I cannot recall her name, however.” Georgina’s wave was dismissive. “I was introduced to her some years ago at a party. And let me inform you, she was one of the most vulgar women I have yet to meet. She was loud and dreadfully flirtatious. She was attractive, I’ll acknowledge that, but she was no lady.”
 “I don’t care a jot, Mother. It is Kitty, not her parents, who I shall be marrying.”
 “Then you are a fool and you will be ruined because of it.” Georgina glared.

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Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Unknown Warrior Is Home At Last

The day we remember in the year that commemorates the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians during the wars, is November IIth. On this day 1918, all major hostilities ceased between the warring countries. It was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, a date that the world never forgets. An irony, perhaps, that those wars still continue whilst we revere our dead. All my family were involved in both World War I and World War II. I'm a result of the troops returning home, one romance that had a happy ending. My first book, LIZZIE OF LANGLEY STREET, unsurprisingly therefore, tells of the aftermath of war and the struggles of one man's family to survive tragedy. So I'm more than happy that Simon&Schuster have decided to publish my seventh novel, EAST END ANGEL, set during World War II, in the East End of London, on Armistice Day. The eleventh of the eleventh, 2010. How cool is that? I spent over two years writing LIZZIE, taking the story from the very beginning and going into the lives of a war veteran who lost both his legs. I have a little note in front of me, which reminds me of the starting point of this very challenging story.

"Just before midday on November 10th, H.M.S. Verdun, with an escort of six destroyers, leaves Boulogne with the Unknown Warrior aboard. The destroyer Vendetta meets them half-way with its White Ensign astern at half-mast. A salute of 19 guns is fired from Dover Castle as the Verdun slips alongside Admiralty Pier in Dover Harbour. The entourage of servicemen and coffin board the train to London. One hundred sandbags of earth from France accompany them. King George V places a wreath on the gun carriage that takes the coffin from the Cenotaph to Westminster Abbey. The Unknown Warrior is decorated with wreaths. One of them is laurel from the ruined gardens of Ypres. All is silent in the Abbey, save for the gentle clink of spades, as the Unknown Hero is finally and fittingly, laid to rest."