Monday, 21 November 2011

Back to Books...

In the same way that the UK is out of step with the rest of the world in terms of Downton Developments (sounds like a construction company) we're also a bit ahead in book scheduling, so I've been delaying posting about Part 2 of my duo until it was a bit closer to its US release date. It's still another month until In Bed With A Stranger hits the shelves on the other side of the Atlantic, but at least the first part of the story is out now, so it doesn't feel too premature to be talking about its follow up. I'll try not to give away too many spoilers!

In the post I did on Craving the Forbidden I mentioned the minor panic I had when nearing the end about writing a sequel. At that stage, deeply immersed in taking Kit and Sophie to their grand Happy Ever After, the thought of anything jeopardising or undermining it was unbearable. And I hadn't really thought about what would happen in the second book either, or what could possibly come along to rock Kit and Sophie's love for each other. When it comes to writing I'm really not a natural planner, but the prospect of having no roadmap at all felt slightly insane, even by my standards.

But then I realised that real life is like that all the time, and that if Sophie and Kit themselves had no idea of what storms that lay ahead there was no reason why I should. I also decided it wasn't a case of drawing out the conflict that had already kept them apart (any couple that keep going round in circles with the same old arguments without resolving them probably won't be getting a telegram from the Queen on their Diamond wedding anniversary) but at looking at aspects of their characters and their history that had the potential to develop into new issues entirely. The ingredients for the second story were all there in the first. Kit's (*ahem* - trying to avoid spoilers) family background, along with his unwillingness to show emotions were two areas that raised red flags for future peace and harmony, along with the chip Sophie has on her shoulder about her own upbringing, and a minor health problem that had been put into the first book for fun (and for the sake of realism!) From there, and with a desperate urge to get them out of Alnburgh and somewhere a bit warmer and more exotic, the story kind of fitted itself together .

It wasn't without its traumas though - mostly when I heard back from my editor that the ending I'd masterfully orchestrated needed completely rethinking. I love my editor and after five years of working with her I trust her completely, so once I'd finished sobbing my way through a whole box of tissues and eaten all the biscuits in the tin I thought about it and realised she was absolutely right. In my eagerness to tie up both books I'd brought back the alluringly red wine-and-Gitanes-infused Jean-Claude from the opening of book 1 to throw a spanner in the works, without pausing to notice that in doing so I'd made the conflict completely external. Duh! Schoolgirl error! Once I'd banished him back to his loft in Paris or wherever, Kit and Sophie were left to thrash it out alone.

I'm always going boringly on about writing to music, and the book started to flow much more easily once its soundtrack came together. It all began with this song, which really suited the happy/sad mood of the beginning when Kit comes home but communication between them stalls...

I also had to throw in a bit of Sting when the action moved to Marrakech (thank goodness Kit's mother hadn't decided to live in Margate) and this wonderful song, by Loreena McKennitt, which could have been written specially for one of the scenes in the book.

Other songs in the constant loop on my ipod included this one from new discovery Maria Mena, and this one, which inspired the scene on the beach. I also listened to this song a lot - mainly on youtube so I could enjoy the MV too (I thought I was hard on my heroes but it seems I have a long way to go before I'm playing with the big girls.) Finally - there's a tune that gets a mention right at the end, at Kit and Sophie's wedding. Knowing Sophie wouldn't walk down the aisle to anything traditional I thought for ages about what she would choose, and eventually decided that as she moved forward into her future with Kit, she'd want to embrace her past. So she comes into church to this tune.

I have copies of both UK and US releases cluttering up the floor of my study here and since I can't write in an untidy study I could do with getting rid of some. If you'd like one just send an email via my website contact page, containing your postal address, and I'll pick out 3 Modern winners and 3 Presents winners. I'll put all the people who entered the last giveaway and weren't lucky back into the draw too (whether they like it or not. I'm bossy that way.)

Friday, 11 November 2011

My Favourite Remembrance Day Poem

LAST POST by Carol Ann Duffy

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If poetry could tell it backwards, true, begin
that moment shrapnel scythed you to the stinking mud…
but you get up, amazed, watch bled bad blood
run upwards from the slime into its wounds;
see lines and lines of British boys rewind
back to their trenches, kiss the photographs from home-
mothers, sweethearts, sisters, younger brothers
not entering the story now
to die and die and die.
Dulce- No- Decorum- No- Pro patria mori.
You walk away.

You walk away; drop your gun (fixed bayonet)
like all your mates do too-
Harry, Tommy, Wilfred, Edward, Bert-
and light a cigarette.
There's coffee in the square,
warm French bread
and all those thousands dead
are shaking dried mud from their hair
and queuing up for home. Freshly alive,
a lad plays Tipperary to the crowd, released
from History; the glistening, healthy horses fit for heroes, kings.

You lean against a wall,
your several million lives still possible
and crammed with love, work, children, talent, English beer, good food.
You see the poet tuck away his pocket-book and smile.
If poetry could truly tell it backwards,
then it would.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Downton: It's all over bar the Christmas episode

**Warning - contains SPOILERS and a little bit of SNEERING**

The first morning of winter here today; frost on the cobwebs, mist over the fields and a feeling of deep sorrow in my heart as I contemplate Sunday nights devoid of Downton. OK, so this series really failed to live up to expectations on a serious drama level, but blimey it's been fun. Even in parts when 'fun' might not have been entirely appropriate - like last night when half the cast went down with Spanish Flu at the exact same moment over dinner, leaving everyone else to rush around, bursting into rooms and saying 'you'd better come quickly!' Notably the only people not rushing and bursting were Matthew and Lord G, who foolishly saw the incapacitation of their partners as a convenient moment to indulge in a swift bit of almost-philandering, little realising they were setting themselves up for a dose of guilt and self-loathing that's going to last well into Series Three.

The plot devices have been about as subtle as Matthew's graveside makeup and the time-frame frankly bewildering; galloping at a cracking pace through historical events while the characters and their relationships remain curiously static. Branson the Upstart Chauffeur first exchanged meaningful glances with Lady Sybil in 1912, declared his feelings for her in 1916, touched her waist at some point in 1918 and kissed her for the first time in 1919. If Mary and Matthew's on-off romance has frustrated us viewers over eight weeks, imagine how it must feel to them to be still unresolved after almost eight years. At least Mary's character has developed, although it's a shame she's gone from feisty and fabulous to martyred and moany. The reason I want her to get it on with Matthew in the Christmas episode is simply because they deserve each other; wicked Sir Richard might not be as posh as her but he's certainly far more charismatic and interesting these days. He'd be well advised not to set a date for the wedding just yet and wait for a Bright Young Thing to come along in the next season.

Anyway, I loved every minute, which perhaps shows that 'worldbuilding' (I might just have made that word up) is one of the most important things in creating any kind of fiction. Because the house and the characters and the historical period are brought to life so richly (if not always entirely authentically) it carries you along and makes you willing to ignore the cynical voice inside your head sneering 'that would never happen'. The only really awful jarring note for me this series was Matthew's miraculous recovery, which stretched credibility about a million miles too far. No doubt there are useful lessons to be learnt from it all. Don't put plaster dust in your wedding cake, for example, and go easy on the make-up at funerals, chaps, if you don't want to find yourself shunted over to the cast of The Vampire Diaries. I'll probably have to watch all the episodes again to work out what it has to teach us in writing terms though.

(In the meantime, I'd probably better just get on with doing some...)