Things that inspire me – Part 2

Colours are very important to me in my writing, and in my life in general. They’re useful descriptors, to help transfer the picture I “see in my head” to the page and give readers a sense of characters and settings in my story.

Everyone knows what blue eyes look like. They’re, well, blue. But for me blue isn’t just blue; it’s aquamarine, baby blue, china blue, cornflower blue, crystal blue, denim blue, electric blue, forget-me-not blue, gunmetal blue, ice blue, indigo, laser-beam blue, sapphire, sky blue, steel blue, and so on.

It’s important also to bear the rhythm of a sentence in mind – it’s a lot easier to say, “Oh, those baby-blues of his… how could she tear herself away?” than “She looked deep into his cerulean blue eyes”. The first is a description many of us would use, the second is more likely to conjure up an image of an artist’s studio with half-squeezed tubes of oil paint everywhere – which is, of course, entirely appropriate if you’re writing about an artist 🙂

Things that inspire me - colour chartSometimes I find it useful to have a visual tool handy when it comes to qualifying a colour. This is where colour charts from paint companies can help. To the left you can see one fro Farrow & Ball which I actually had framed because I liked it so much! Notice the way the colours are sorted into cold/warm and light/dark. And the names are fantastic, like “Dead Salmon” or “Arsenic”. Sets off my imagination.

Colours can also subtly twist what you’re saying. If you refer to someone with mousy hair, we can immediately picture the colour because a lot of people have this hair colour, and nothing is out of the ordinary in the image. If, for example, we say instead that “her hair was the colour of a dead mouse”, it suddenly changes the mood of what we see because it creates an image of a person who may be ill, or sad, or unwashed, or even all three. And that is a different story altogether…

Things that inspire me - NYX colour palette

Colour collections are everywhere. Here’s a photo of an eye shadow palette I took at a NYX make-up counter recently. Using qualifying words I’ve managed to come up with some descriptors. In the top row there is “Roman Roof” and “Liquid Gold”, in the bottom row I have “Rhubarb Compote” and “Tin Soldier”, among others.

This is from my own imagination, of course. I can’t remember the names on the actual palette!

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Things that inspire me – Part 1

As a writer I’m always looking for inspiration, whether consciously or subconsciously, and because a lot of this is happening at the subconscious level it’s impossible for me to list everything which captures my imagination.

But I’ve narrowed it down to a few areas, and today I’ll be talking about places, or rather one place which got my creative juices going. Despite the stress of airports, I do love traveling, and in May this year I went to Venice, a city I’d never visited before. I only had one day there so had to think carefully about what I wanted to see and do. Forget about the Doge Palace and being serenaded in a gondola – I wanted the REAL Venetian experience!Venice street sign

Instead of taking one of the many ferries which are moored just outside the central train station, my travel companion and I decided to walk to the St. Mark’s Square area, through the narrow alleyways and over tiny bridges, in search for an optician’s. Yes, that’s correct 🙂 He’d visited the shop before and wanted to order a new pair of glasses. As one does in Venice…

Venice - handbagsWe did a few touristy things too, and some window shopping (Venice is not cheap), but it was waiting by that optician’s which made me feel I was part of the city, and not just on the outside looking in. I became attuned to my surroundings in a way I may not have become otherwise.Carnival costume

 

 

The tang of brine in the air, the sound of footsteps on stone paving travelling upwards to be met by expressive, melodic voices somewhere above. The cool and slightly damp, crumpling plaster on the walls, a stark contrast to the tiny, tidy and well-lit shops everywhere, and the sense of water around you at all times, even when you can’t see it. I pondered at the curious metal guides on either side of people’s doorways when I realised that this is where the inhabitants slide in a metal plate to protect their houses against the acqua alta (Italian for “high water”), floods which occur between autumn and spring.

Being from Denmark, which is mostly surrounded by the sea, means that water has always had a special significance for me, and I suppose it’s no surprise that my first novel Up Close is set on the English east coast.

Dinner was a typical Venetian dish called cicchetti, which are small snacks or side dishes, a bit like Spanish tapas. The importance of the cicchetti isn’t just the food itself but also how, when and where they are eaten: with fingers and toothpicks, usually standing up by the bar. They’re incredibly cheap and on offer in cicchetti bars pretty much all day. I had deep-fried courgettes and risotto balls, and ended up making a real mess because they fell apart in my hand. So much for trying to blend in with the locals!

Bellini cocktailOf course, as a writer I simply had to visit Harry’s Bar, which was one of Ernest Hemingway’s hangouts, and where he drank himself into oblivion. The bar is famous for its dry martini, which is exceptionally dry (be warned!), so I opted for a Bellini instead, another of their signature drinks. It consists of peach juice and sparkling wine, and is extremely yummy, but very expensive at 22 euro.

Venice was enchanting, and going back to the train station at the end of the day was like leaving a fairytale kingdom behind. But I came home, brimming with ideas: narrow alleyways, fog, jealous lovers, dysfunctional relationships, a sense that something is lurking around the next corner, murder…

Surely this hasn’t been done before? 🙂

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A Big Blanket for Christmas

While I was writing my Christmas novella, A Lion Is Not Just For Christmas, I thought a lot about Christmas and what it means to me. It’s a time of joy, warmth, giving and togetherness, and of tolerance and forgiveness. Sadly it’s not like that for everyone. For many it equals isolation and desperation.

IMG_0801-17-11-17-01-25So, I was honoured and delighted when myself and two friends were approached by textile lecturer Gina Pierce from the London Metropolitan University and asked to knit a small section of a Big Blanket for the charity Crisis. We were given a pattern by the organiser, consisting of 24 squares of 25cm x 25cm, making a blanket measuring 100cm x 150cm in total.

Other knitters across London participated too, and when all the individual blankets were finished and handed in, they were laid out together to form a larger pixelated image.Big_Blanket_0001

This was done at Conway Hall on Red Lion Square, and the aim is to raise awareness of homelessness in the capital. The 50 blankets have since been distributed to the needy or homeless at various Crisis centres this Christmas, and the recipients are immensely grateful.

If you wish to support the charity, here is a link to their donation page:

Crisis: https://www.crisis.org.uk/get-involved/donate/

And here are two other charities who welcome support, particularly at Christmas:

St. Mungo’s: https://www.mungos.org/get-involved/donate/
Salvation Army: https://donate.salvationarmyappeals.org.uk/b/my-donation

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

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A time to read Christmas stories

The run-up to Christmas can be incredibly hectic, and sometimes the stress of it can rob you of your Christmas spirit. Therefore, to get myself into the “zone”, I read as many Christmas stories as I can, simply to maintain that sense of miracle and mystery. Here are a few that I’m currently reading or planning to dip into very soon.

Connie WillisThese eight tales boldly re-imagine the stories of Christmas while celebrating the power of love and compassion. This enchanting treasury includes:
“Miracle”, in which a young woman’s carefully devised plans to find romance go awry when her guardian angel shows her the true meaning of love.
“In Coppelius’s Toyshop”, where a jaded narcissist finds himself trapped in a crowded toy store at Christmastime.
“Epiphany”, in which three modern-day wise men embark on a quest unlike any they’ve ever experienced.
“Inn”, where a choir singer gives shelter to a homeless man and his pregnant wife-only to learn later that there’s much more to the couple than meets the eye.
And more . . .

A Christmas to rememberEvonne Wareham
Lori France and her four-year-old niece Misty are settling in to spend the holidays away after unexpected events leave them without a place to stay.

Best-selling author Andrew Vitruvius knows that any publicity is good publicity. His agent tells him that often, so it must be true. In the run-up to Christmas, she excels herself – talking him into the craziest scheme yet: getting himself kidnapped, live on TV.

Little do they know they’re about to make a discovery and experience a Christmas they’re not likely to forget …

Janet GoverWhat if you don’t want to be home for Christmas?
Spending Christmas away from home is one thing but English nurse Katie Brooks is spending hers in Coorah Creek; a small town in the Australian outback.
Katie was certain leaving London was the right decision, but her new job in the outback is more challenging than she could have ever imagined.
Scott Collins rescued Katie on her first day in Coorah Creek and has been a source of comfort ever since. But Scott no longer calls the town home – it’s too full of bad memories and he doesn’t plan on sticking around for long.
Scott needs to leave. Katie needs to stay. They have until Christmas to decide their future …

Debbie Macomber brings you home for Christmas!Debbie Macomber
A Cedar Cove Christmas
Mother-to-be Mary Jo Wyse arrives in Cedar Cove on Christmas Eve, pregnant and alone. And there’s no room at the local inn… However, the people in Cedar Cove are all willing to lend a hand. There’s more than enough faith, hope and love to go round this Christmas!
Call Me Mrs Miracle
Emily Merkle (call her Mrs Miracle! ) is working in the toy department at Finley’s – a store that needs a Christmas miracle to keep the business afloat. Fortunately, it’s Mrs. Miracle to the rescue. Next to making children happy, she likes nothing better than helping others – including just a bit of matchmaking!

Wendy Clarke‘Silent Night’ is a collection of thirteen Christmas stories by Wendy Clarke, a regular writer of fiction for national magazines.

 

 

 

ALINJFC - high res

Available on Kindle now UK & US

 

And did I mention my own Christmas story…?

 

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Publication day & Christmas prep

Yesterday was publication day for my novella A Lion Is Not Just For Christmas, and because I’ve been so busy working on the book, I haven’t had much time to prepare for Christmas.

I’ve always loved the run-up to Christmas. Not the commercial side of things – I really hate it when the shops start selling their decorations in October! No, for me it’s the little touches which remind us that this is the season of goodwill as well as a religious celebration.

20171213_113643When I was a child, my sister and I each had a Christmas calendar with a small present every day. Nothing fancy, maybe just a pen or a rubber, Christmas-themed stickers or even a little chocolate Santa. Simple ways of saying “I love you” and “I know you”. I’ve carried on the tradition with my own children, starting with toy cars, pencils, miniature dolls, tiny puzzles etc., then graduating to nail varnish, make-up, socks, small humorous books etc. as they got older, and then only at the weekend otherwise it would be ruinous!

20171213_114017

My loot!

This year I even have my own for the first time as a grown-up, courtesy of my ever-thoughtful daughter.

Another thing I love is the lighting of candles. I’m originally from Denmark, and one of the highlights of the lead up to Christmas is the advent wreath. It has four candles, and on the first Sunday in Advent we light a candle in the afternoon when it gets dark and let it burn about ¼ way down. Next Sunday we light the second candle and burn it ¼ way. And so on, until on the last Sunday in Advent all the candles are lit in 20171213_080656a staggered pattern and are allowed to burn down fully.

Advent wreaths can vary, from pine twigs on a straw base (yes, that’s right!) to glass, metal, and even silver, which you can decorate as you want. I’ve opted for a small and simple one this year, as you can see from the picture.

Christmas preparations are quite different in my novella. And, of course, with a lion featuring as part of the story, it’s a little on the wild side!

ALINJFC - high res

Available on Kindle now: UK & US

 

 

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The Knitting & Stitching Show

Shamefully I’ve been neglecting my blog in the past year. Blame it on house renovation, an ambitious gardening project, and my daughter’s GCSE exams. Excuses, excuses, I know

Anyway what better way to kick-start it than to talk about something I love, and which gives me a lot of pleasure: knitting.

At the weekend I went to the Knitting & Stitching Show at Kensington Olympia with friends Janet Gover and Jane Coulthard. Usually I visit Alexandra Palace for this event, but being a West London girl, Olympia is a great deal easier to get to.

This show is a cornucopia for those who knit and sew (although the wool stands were few and far between), but it’s also a showcase for some extraordinary work from various textile artists.

Here’s what I saw and experienced:

Knitted vegetables

These knitted vegetables look good enough to eat!

Tim Peake

Tim Peake’s spacewalk. A quilted wall hanging based on a still from BBC News as seen on an iPad.

 

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Zebra

This zebra is made entirely from sewing machine stitches, and it only took the artist 5 hours. Only…?!

Volcano

I’d love to have this quilted picture of a Hawaiian volcano on my wall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knitted jumper

Remember the 1980s jacquard knitwear picturing idyllic country life? But look more closely, and it might not be so idyllic after all…

Leper's hands

Hands of a leper. This touching wall hanging makes something beautiful out of an ugly and scary disease.

Apart from loving my day out, getting inspired for my next knitting project(s) – with my credit card glowing red hot! – I was a little disappointed. As I mentioned above, there were fewer knitting-related stands this year, and these were quite spread out and therefore hard to find.

A woman on one of the concessions told us that although it was never a 50-50 balance between knitting and stitching stands, it was at least 30% knitting, and now it’s less than 20%.

So, is knitting becoming less popular, I wonder, or do the knitting concessions choose to exhibit at other shows? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

My stash

My “stash” (which was quite modest this year).

 

 

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Happy birthday to Choc Lit!

CL T-shirt
My wonderful publisher Choc Lit are celebrating their 7th birthday today on the 15th June, and I thought I’d blog about something 7-related. So, here are my 7 favourite places in London, and why.

1. The Victoria & Albert Museum
A treasure trove for anyone who loves to look at beautiful and interesting artefacts, some from far-flung corners of the Earth, others just very old. When I was doing research for my swashbuckling historical romance The Highwayman’s Daughter, I spent several hours there studying clothing, furniture, jewellery, and other items relating to the 18th century, the period I was writing in. One dress, worn by the hero’s cousin, is inspired by one in the V&A collection.

2. The British Film Institute
I love the cinema, but the BFI is a slightly different cinematic experience. The films showing aren’t the new releases, and the monthly programme is often thematically put together. In the last 6 months I’ve seen It’s a Wonderful Life, The Big Sleep, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Each of these different films have been a source of inspiration to me. Love the dialogue in The Big Sleep – the quips just keep coming!

3. Kew Gardens
Come rain or shine, each season has its own special beauty in Kew Gardens, and the many greenhouses their unique environments. The Palm House and the Temperate House are the 2 biggest and most famous, but there’s also the Waterlily House and the Princess of Wales House. The first is self-explanatory – it’s a big indoor pond with numerous varieties of waterlilies, but in contrast the Princess of Wales House has rooms for plants needing hot dry conditions and other rooms for moisture loving plants. Go and see the orchids growing on the bare walls!

4. Greenwich
A large compound with a lot to see, e.g. the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s Gallery, and the Cutty Sark. Greenwich and surroundings have been used in films many time, from Patriot Games and Four Weddings and a Funeral to Pirates of the Caribbean and Les Miserables. The park is the perfect place for a picnic, and if it’s overcast, there are plenty of cafés and restaurants in Greenwich itself as well as the Trafalgar Tavern on the riverfront. And travelling to Greenwich on a Thames riverboat makes it an extra special day out.

5. Royal Albert Hall
I recently attended a concert here comprised of music from science fiction films, e.g. Star Wars, Star Trek, and Space Odyssey 2001, just to mention a few, but also music with an astrological theme like The Planet Suite by Gustav Holst. The acoustics in the Royal Albert Hall isn’t perhaps the best, although experts have done a lot to improve it with weird shapes suspended from the ceiling (which incidentally look like flying saucers…) , but the stunning Victorian architecture makes up for it.

6. Heathrow Terminal 5
Am I mad, you might ask. An airport as a favourite place? Well, as airports go, it’s not too bad. There were some teething problems in the beginning (once had to wait 2 hours for my luggage), but these seem to have been ironed out. It’s used exclusively by British Airways and Iberia airlines, the building is sleek and stylish, it never feels too crowded, and they even keep you updated on how busy the security desks are. (And, no, they’re not paying me to say this!)

7. My house
2 years ago I bought a bijou 1930s cottage, and have been working at making it a home ever since. This hasn’t been too difficult – although the house was perhaps aesthetically challenged, as some might say :-), it was as if it put its arm around me the day I moved in (okay, houses don’t have arms, but go with me here…). Since then it has provided me with comfort and security, somewhere to think, to write, to be me.

Garden arch

A cosy place to write

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