Location, Location!

Melbourne at night - free image Pixabay

After living in Australia for fourteen years, we made the decision to return to the UK to be nearer to my family. We left Australia on October 20th 2014 and so it seemed fitting that almost a year on (we arrived in the UK October 26th), I write about the setting for my novels so far.

I spent nine years in Melbourne and five in Sydney and Australia will always hold a special place in my heart. I set my first novel in a fictitious town on the Central Coast with my characters visiting and working in Sydney itself, then Handle Me with Care was set in the fictitious suburb of Huntley. Handle Me with Care really let me embrace my love for Melbourne and talk about all the fantastic places that have seen it named the World’s Most Liveable City several years in a row. I love everything about Melbourne – the friendly and approachable people, the tram network that’s just so easy, the surrounding green space.

My third novel is due to be released in only two weeks’ time, on November 3rd, and yes, you guessed it, it’s set in Australia too. This time I’ve set the story in a fictitious town called Magnolia Creek and What Rosie Found Next is the first in my Magnolia Creek series. The series will be made up of standalone stories but will all be set in the same beautiful area nestled in the Dandenong Ranges near Melbourne.

The Dandenong Ranges always hold a good memory for me, not only for their beauty. When I first arrived in Australia a friend and I decided we would go to the Dandenongs and explore – we’d heard there were quaint little shops that sold freshly baked scones with cream so we were sold. Now, remember these were the days before iPhones and Sat Navs so armed with our copy of the Melways – an enormous book of maps – off we went.

Disappointed, we returned to work the next day moaning to colleagues, and a little embarrassed, that we hadn’t seen Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges with their breathtaking scenery, low mountain ranges, rolling hills and Mountain Ash trees, and when we told them we’d been to Dandenong and seen a suburb much like any other, the people we worked with found it hysterical. Dandenong is a whole different place…’The’ Dandenongs were in a different direction entirely.

Anyway, we lived it down, eventually, until the day we went to visit the Grampians, but that’s a different story altogether!

koala - free pixabay imageSetting my books in Australia came naturally when I wrote The Friendship Tree. I’d been living in the country for such a long time that I never considered a different place. I had fun with fictitious suburbs and when I formed Magnolia Creek I wanted to return to Victoria but set my story in a small town with gorgeous Australian scenery, a vibrant community, characters who had stories to tell and problems to solve.

So will I always set my stories in Australia? Well, that I’m not sure of. What I do know is that I’ve had a lot of fun with the setting so far and I’m already back in Magnolia Creek as I work on the first draft of book four bringing new characters to town. But who knows where it’ll be after Magnolia Creek…maybe over to another country entirely. Now that could be fun!

Helen J Rolfe.

What Rosie Found Next - bookcover - KDP version

 

What Rosie Found Next is the first novel in the Magnolia Creek series and it’s available for pre-order now. The book will be released November 3rd 2015…

Secrets are unearthed, promises are broken, friendships are put to the test and the real risk of bushfires under the hot Australian sun threatens to undo Rosie once and for all…Will Rosie and Owen be able to find what they want or what they really need?

What Rosie Found Next – Available for pre-order now

 

 

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Wednesday Wondering – The Ex Factor

Well, that’s it, summer is over and the darker nights are creeping in. We hope you’ve had a good summer and, if you’ve been away, that you’ve had lots of opportunity for reading. As the days turn colder and the nights turn darker, it’s the perfect opportunity to do even more reading, snuggled up on the sofa with the fire on, or hidden under the duvet.

I’ve recently started a new job which sees me doing a short commute by bus. The brief time on the bus and the wait at the bus stop have given me an opportunity to read far more regularly than I’ve been able to recently and it’s been lovely. I’m getting through roughly two books every three weeks so will hopefully start to conquer my TBR pile soon!

Of course, reading a lot means I meet more characters and, as my preferred genre is romance, I encounter more relationships. Sometimes the hero and heroine are strangers, sometimes they are friends, and sometimes they are blasts from the past, which is what prompted this month’s Wednesday Wondering:

It’s impossible to stay friends with your ex boyfriend. Discuss

I don’t think I’ve inspired the Write Romantics with my question this month. Either that or post-holiday season and back-to-school/work craziness has got on top of us all as I’ve only got one taker this month. Thanks, Jo, because it might have been a lonely WW this month!

Jo says …

Sam horse pic 1I think it’s definitely possible to stay friends with your ex, but there has to be enough beyond a romantic relationship to keep you together in a friendship after that last kiss.  My sister went out with a guy when she was between the ages of about 20 and 25 and she absolutely adored him. I’m going to call him Greg, to protect the innocent.  My sister’s now married to Greg’s childhood (and current) best friend, and Greg’s wife is now one of my sister’s best friends… are you still following?!  They all share a passion for show- jumping and my sister, her husband and the ex-boyfriend have a huge shared history too, having been friends for over thirty years now.  As for me, I’ve only had two really serious boyfriends and I married them both! Whilst I wouldn’t say I’d stayed ‘friends’ with my ex-husband, we’ve been able to sit together at our daughter’s school productions and sports days and she won’t have to worry about us not being able to sit on the top table together at her wedding. I’m don’t know how I’d feel about my current husband being friends with an ex, though.  I like to think I’d be cool about it, but I’m not so sure!

As for me, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to stay friends, but I’d suggest it’s difficult. But it depends on the circumstances of how the relationship started and also how it ended. When I started university, I had a boyfriend who I’ll call Steve. Steve and I met at uni and were friends who became something more partway through the first term of our first year. For a multitude of reasons that seem very trivial now, we split up in our second year but we remained friends. Well, we tried to remain friends. It was a bit tempestuous because I knew he still wanted more so there was always an undercurrent when we were together which made things a bit awkward. Then he met someone else. She didn’t like me (because I was the ex) and made it clear that she didn’t want me hanging around him which made it hard to continue our friendship. He continued to do his final year but I did a year out and we stayed in touch. In fact, we stayed in touch for many years afterwards and visited each other from time to time, but it became too difficult any time one of us met someone else. Eventually we lost touch completely.

In my final year at university, I made another friend who we’ll call Richard. Richard and I were great friends for a year, then got together in the summer after I graduated. It was a distance relationship and it suited us both because he could concentrate on his studies and going out with his mates while I settled into my new job and established my friendships too. There was only a 75 minute drive between us so we could still see each other fairly easily. I liked him a heck of a lot, but it wasn’t love. He claimed he felt the same way and that I should just enjoy the here and now. When he graduated and secured a job in Birmingham where I was based, I had to keep getting his assurance that he really wanted that job; not that he was taking it to be near me. He assured me it was just the job, but it wasn’t. Now that we were living in the same place at the same time, it was obvious that the relationship needed to step up a level … or fall apart. I ended it and we said we’d stay friends. I met someone else. It didn’t lead anywhere but he didn’t like it. He met someone else and didn’t tell me. I’d made it very clear when we agreed to stay friends that honesty was essential and that, if he met someone, he had to tell me because it would be awkward finding out by mistake. I found out by mistake. He’d repeatedly cancelled arrangements to go out (as friends) and I’d asked him outright on many occasions if he’d met someone else, but he was adamant he hadn’t. Then a friend of his accidentally dropped him in it. I wanted to stay friends but it was hard to trust him. Then he admitted that the new girlfriend didn’t like him spending time with me and, sadly, it became me or her. He chose her and they’re married now with two kids (we still have some mutual friends) so it was absolutely the right decision, but I lost a good friend.

Other relationships I’ve had haven’t ended well so there’s never been an option to stay friends. From my two experiences of staying friends, it hasn’t worked out. In both cases, new girlfriends didn’t like having the ex on the scene and I think this is one of the main sticking points. Putting myself in their shoes, I don’t think I’d like an ex hanging around all the time so I’m not surprised at how these women have reacted towards me. I was never a threat in that I was never going to get back with Steve or Richard, but perhaps the shared history was the threat and they wanted to create their own without me.

What do you think? Is it possible to remain friends with your ex boyfriend or ex husband? Do you have personal experiences of this? We’d love to hear from you. There’s a ‘comments’ tab at the end of the words below. Click on that and you can join in the conversation.

Jessica xxx

Wednesday Wondering – What are your childhood summer memories?

P1060508Welcome to August’s Wednesday Wondering. A few weeks ago, my eight-year-old daughter broke up for the school holidays; the start of a whopping 7 weeks and 2 days off! That’s a phenomenally long time. Panic set in. Would we be able to keep her entertained for that long, especially as we’d booked our main “summer” holiday for October half term so wouldn’t be going away and I’d started a new job and had very little time available to take off? Thank goodness for grandparents is all I can say on that one! Thinking about the long summer break ahead of her got me a bit nostalgic for my own long summer holidays as a child so my question to the Write Romantics this month was:
What are your memories of the long summer break as a child? Endless days playing out? Bored? Caravan holidays? Tell us all about it.
So they did …
Deirdre says …
Endless blue-skied days spent playing outside were very much a feature of my school summer holidays – because, wasn’t it always sunny, back then?  The freedom of being able to stay out until dusk, making ‘camps’ with the grass at the back of our flats when it was cut, hurtling down the slopes on roller skates, wandering round the estate where we lived and visiting friends’ houses – all of that made the holidays special.
Patty & Deirdre 1But my favourite time was when my two cousins, Pat and Linda, came down from London to stay with our Nan and Grandad for a week, and then I would be despatched by bus, with my little suitcase, to stay with them too.  The three of us slept in one double bed and of course there was more giggling than sleeping.  There were some old books about film stars, and Pat used to read to us out of them, making up funny accents.
Being Londoners, Brighton beach was the main attraction for the cousins, and Nan would take us down to spend most of the day there.  The photo shows Pat and me (I’m on the right) enjoying a splash about.  We’d stay in the sea until our skin was wrinkled like the skin of an old apple.
When the cousins had gone home, there were trips into the countryside to enjoy, just Mum, Dad and me.  We were lucky in that we had a car – hardly any of our neighbours did – and that was because my father worked in a garage and could get his hands on old bangers for very little money.  But they did us a turn, and we would pack a picnic and set out for our favourite spots.  No thermos flasks of tepid tea for us – we had a tiny stove that ran, I think, on methylated spirits or some such.  It was housed Leslie and picnic stovein an old biscuit tin and my Dad took great pleasure in getting this thing going in order to boil the kettle for the tea.  This photo of Dad plus stove is one of my favourite pictures of him.  I do remember great consternation – and a bit of a row – when on one occasion, nobody had remembered to bring the milk.
If I was ever bored in the summer holidays I don’t remember it.  I do remember feeling a bit miserable when all the other kids had gone indoors but I was an only child, so I was used to amusing myself.  At those times I’d escape into the current library book. This is nothing to do with summer holidays but that reminds me of something my Dad used to say, especially in his last years, after Mum had died: You’re never alone if you’ve got a book to read. Nice that, isn’t it?

Jackie says …

As a family we always went to Wales for our summer holiday and my memories are mostly of wearing a clingy, plastic rain mac, dragging it through puddles in Borth as water dripped into my eyes from the rain lashing down. I do recall the wonder of seeing flabby jellyfish lying in the sand and of finding tiny cowrie shells, clutching them furtively in my palm in case my dad said I wasn’t allowed to keep them. I’ve never seen them on any other beach in the UK since.

But the holidays I remember the most, were camping with the Girl Guides in the days when you had to make tripods for your rucksacks to sit on, and dig latrines in the ground with a tent put over the hole. By the end of day one, the tent was buzzing with flies and the smell was pretty horrific. When it was full, someone would then be told to fill in the hole and another one would be dug. 

I remember spiders and daddy long legs giving me evils from the top of the tent, and I remember trying to wash my hair in a round washing up bowl that was perched on a homemade tripod, and the whole thing tipping up on my shoes. 

There were frogs in the swimming pool and Captain pushed me and another girl in, and I thought I would die of fear and shock as I splashed into the cold water, although I don’t know what I thought the frogs would do to me! Nowadays she would probably be reported, but back then it was just considered par for the course.

My middle sister had Blancmange clumped in her fringe for most of the week and my elder sister cried when we sang ‘Taps’ around the camp fire before going to bed  ‘cos she missed my parents so much. That song makes me cry now. All I have to hear is the opening bars of ‘Day is done,’ and I’m welling up!

The most magical time of that holiday was being allowed to sleep under the stars on the last night. Us younger ones were hemmed in by the older girls as we all laid on the grass in our sleeping bags. We stared up at the clear sky, sprinkled with silver stars while Captain told us about each of the constellations and stories of how they got their names. 

I clearly remember appreciating the miracle that was the world I lived in and felt truly blessed to belong to it. 

I don’t think any of us realised how lucky we were to have our Captain, ‘Chad’ as she was known by the ones ‘in the know,’ But if she is still out there, I would love to be able to tell her how much she shaped my childhood and made me question and appreciate the world I live in. 

Thanks Chad, with love and respect from Jackie Dormouse.

Rachael says …

The long lazy days of my childhood summer certainly feel that way now. Firstly because life is so much busier today, but also because they were days of summer, if you know what I mean!

For me, six weeks out of school meant time to go for long walks with the family dog, to cycle  – on my mother’s old shopper, to go to town and feel all grown up hanging out in the city centre with my friends. Most of all, it was family time. With three younger brothers to keep in order, the noise level in our house was far from quiet and the activities we embarked on were varied to say the least. From playing on the garden swings to playing schools, to just generally fighting on the living room floor. They are all conjured up in my mind when I think of the summer holidays.

photoHelen P says …

I loved summer holidays, mainly because I hated school but it meant that we had our annual family holiday to Scarborough to look forward to. The whole family would go including my three brothers, nan, Aunty Dot & Uncle Pat. We would always stop in a self catering holiday flat and I loved it. In fact I still do, I took my own family there about ten years ago and they loved it too.

Below is a rare picture of Josh & Jeorgia enjoying playing out at Primrose Valley Caravan Park. It doesn’t seem that long ago, time really does fly.

P1060511

As for me, I smiled when I read through the responses as they had so many echoes of my own reaction to summer. We usually had two weeks away on holiday as a family. When I was very young, we had a tent, but this was swapped for a caravan. We had a lot of UK-based holidays, but we also travelled abroad with the caravan including very long trips to Germany and Norway. The caravan holiday that stands out the most for me was a trip to Great Yarmouth. It was probably the biggest caravan site we’d ever stayed on with a pool, huge playground and a clubhouse with entertainment until the early hours. My second cousins Andrea and Lisa were also on holiday in the area with their parents and we met up with them a few times, including a couple of nights at the campsite disco. I absolutely loved it.

P1060509But that still left about four weeks. Like Deirdre, I remember sun all the time. I used to play out on my bike and build dens in the fields and hedgerows that bordered our housing estate. Sometimes I played adventurous games with the boys in the neighbourhood and sometimes I wore dressing-up clothes or donned my roller boots and played out with the girls.

Days out with the family – including those whilst away in the caravan – always involved pre-prepared picnics. I don’t remember ever eating out. Mum would always prepare a jug of juice and we’d huddle round the back of the car, or sit on deck chairs in lay-bys with our sandwiches and juice. I can still picture that jug with it’s sealable lid and those beakers now, and hear the little sigh as the lid was eased up ready to pour. Isn’t it funny the little things that stick in your mind?

Sharon says…

It’s funny, but the summer holidays seemed to be always sunny and bright when I was young. I don’t remember it raining at all, though I’m sure it must have. Well, except for the summer of 1976, when the drought stretched on and on, and water was rationed, and it was too hot to do anything much except lie on the grass or eat ice cream.

Most summers, we went away to Primrose Valley. That was in the days before Haven owned it, and it wasn’t as big as it is now. I remember there was an outdoor roller skating rink and swing boats on the cliff top. There was a small shopping arcade, and a pub, “The Log Cabin”, where we all met every evening, and where my sister and I would sit in a little room drinking Coke and eating peanuts while the grown-ups had all the fun!

I loved those holidays because it seemed as if all the family went – grandparents, great aunts and uncles, cousins, half-cousins, the lot. My grandparents and aunt stayed in a pretty bungalow in the village, and we were in a posh caravan in a field across the road. There are photographs of those holidays stretching right back to when I was a baby in my pram on the beach, but the first time I remember going, I recall how shocked my parents were when we walked into the caravan and saw how grand it was. I don’t know what they’d been staying in before! We used to walk along the beach from Primrose Valley to Filey, and go winkle picking on Filey Brigg. Then we’d get fish and chips in Filey and walk back along the sands, tired but really happy.

At home, the days were spent roller-skating up and down the street, playing games like “May I?” and “Mr Wolf” across a road that had remarkably few cars passing through it, brambling, and going to the local swimming baths to cool off in the outdoor pool. I also remember warm summer evenings, sitting on the front garden wall, waiting eagerly for the ice cream van while Dad mowed the lawn. To this day, the smell of freshly-cut grass reminds me of those early evenings, sitting on the wall with my sister, watching my dad in the garden and listening out for those familiar chimes. Happy days.

We’d love to hear all about your summer memories. Please click on the comments at the end of the words below to join in the conversation.

Jessica xx

Wednesday Wondering – What’s in your bag?

photo 1Welcome to another Wednesday Wondering. A couple of months ago, I attended a one-day workshop at my local theatre, exploring the art of script-writing. When we were exploring our characters, one of the exercises we were asked to complete was entitled ‘What’s in your bag?’ I hadn’t come across this before, but it’s apparently quite a popular one and helps you to get into the character’s head. Are they the sort of person who’d have a small bag with minimal belongings? Do they have loads of sweet wrappers in there? Photos of a baby … but they have no children? A gun? The possibilities are endless.

I certainly wasn’t expecting any confessions of gun-toting Write Romantics, but my question this week was, quite simply: What’s in your bag?

11401148_10153473538909073_6035331668307733151_nIt feels quite fitting that this question has arisen this month. You see, I have a little tradition that each time I change job, I buy a brand new handbag for work. This is never an expensive purchase and usually my bags will be from M&S or Debenhams. They need to be fairly sizeable to fit all the stuff I need for work, and they need to be able to sit comfortably on my shoulder. I found out last week that I’m being made redundant. Hopefully I’ll secure something pretty soon which means that it’s nearly time to buy a new bag. Which is probably a good thing because I don’t like mine. It’s a lovely colour and it’s comfortable but it has this inside lining that everything is meant to go into but it flaps about and I frequently can’t find anything because it’s gone into my bag outside the lining instead. Drives me crazy.

I have the obvious things in my bag: purse (including overspill wallet for store loyalty cards), phone (not in the pic because I used it for taking the photo), house keys, tissues, lipsalve etc. Not really sure why I have two handcreams. Most peculiar. Anyway, I thought I’d pick out the more interesting items. I always have my Kindle on me, just in case I’m waiting for a lift or stuck somewhere and can make good use of the time. I have a parking disk (something that’s common round our local area). I have a spare set of sunglasses as my eyes are extremely light sensitive and I need to wear shades most times I drive, even in the winter. There’s a set of postcards for my debut novel which was launched last week so I have them on me just in case. I’m a Brown Owl and it was a Brownie enrolment last night. I discovered that two of my promise badges were damaged so I’ve got those to return. And, perhaps poignantly, I have some keys, a parking permit, and a compliments slip to secure free parking at a charitable project I managed through work last week … but will be handing these back in soon (and recycling the compliments slip) given the unexpected news from last week.

Over to the other Write Romantics…

Jessica xx

Deirdre says…

I’m not a hoarder of bags as I tend to get rid of one as a new one comes in, but I do have bags in all different sizes. I have really small ones only fit for the shortest trip, or going out at night, which hold no more than a purse, comb and tissue, and large ones to use on a long day out. The trouble with a large bag is that I tend to cram it with more stuff than I need ‘just in case’. I might take spare shoes, should my poor feet protest at the ones I’m wearing, a cardigan or fold-up mac I probably won’t need, and my make-up which I hardly ever bother to re-apply. Consequently I’ll spend the day regretting all this extra stuff as the bag weighs a ton!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This red bag is somewhere between the two, and it’s my current favourite everyday bag, a bargain from TK Maxx.  Although it’s not that big, it holds a surprising amount of stuff. Currently this ‘stuff’ will comprise: Purse, phone, diary (which doubles as a notebook), pen, tissues, medication, a fold-up shopping bag, a neat little pink case which opens out into a mirror and hairbrush, reading glasses, sunglasses (or mini-umbrella, depending) and a few sweets.  I can also get my Kindle in if I arrange things properly. I do spend an inordinate amount of time groping around in my bag for things I need when I’m out, so as I go along, things like my glasses tend to end up in my pocket.

I do like bags, and would probably have more if I had room to store them. I mainly buy them in places like TK Maxx or in sales. Ollie and Nic bags are amazing. I’ve had several over the years, and only got rid of them when they fell to bits. We used to have an Ollie and Nic in Brighton but it closed down, which is probably just as well as it saves me from temptation.

Lynne says …

I’m looking in my bag now and wondering how much I should confess!! I use my bag as a place to stash all sorts of treasures. In the words of that old sage William Morris, ‘have nothing in your house that you do not believe to be beautiful, or know to be useful….’ except in my case swap the word house for bag.

As I look now I can see lipgloss – essential, any colour that is fairly natural, hairbrush (goodness knows why – I’m always forgetting to brush my hair), kindle (wonderful, if I need to call the RAC that will keep me busy, pens (fingers crossed they don’t leak). Now we’re getting to the interesting bit… postcards of my first wonderful book cover, I still love it every time I look at it, a handful of change usually for school dinners & general expenses, and then the tasty bit, a packet (or two, or three) of those wonderful parma violet sweets just like I used to get at school. Mmm, they are yummy, but my taste can change to mints or something so you can never be totally sure!!

Helen P says …

photoWhat’s in my bag? At the minute not a lot… I cleared out my accumulation of junk just the other day but the bare essentials for me are – my Chanel No 5 because I feel like a grown up when I have a squirt, a Chanel lipstick which has been discontinued so I use it very sparingly and I totally loved that colour as well.

Some glittery nail varnish, you just can’t get enough glitter 😉

My business cards that I never remember to give out. My gorgeous notebook my daughter specially designed and printed for me. Pink pens because why write with black ink when you can have pink. Ibrufen (one of life’s essentials), chewing gum, an emergency chocolate because you just never know and a collection of Costa Coffee napkins, just in case.

Sharon says …

I’m not a big handbag lover. I consider it a necessity, but I don’t go all gooey over them. I wouldn’t spend a lot on one. In fact, I’ve never spent more than twelve pounds on a bag and I really begrudged paying that! I only get a new one when the one I have collapses. I’m currently lugging around a fairly large, black bag from George at Asda, which I’m quite pleased with, as it seems to be pretty sturdy and very roomy. I really could do with a decent, smaller bag for ‘going out’. I’ve never bothered before because I don’t go out much and it never seemed worth it, but I’ve been popping my head round the front door and testing the outside world a little more lately, so an evening bag seems to be next on my to-buy list.

10603499_800515630065678_7979225131319844607_nI can never find anything in my bag because it’s full of junk. I’ve taken a photo of the current contents of my bag, which is truthfully what I’m carrying around with me every day. I have, however, removed loose painkillers that were rattling around in the bottom of my bag, a few coins which I didn’t know I had so that was good, a couple of letters and some wage slips that have been there for months, and enough receipts to paper my living room.

So what’s left in there? As you can see from the photo, I’m currently carrying with me my purse, a comb, my keys, a current diary, a 2012 diary (because it’s got Dr Who on the cover and I can’t bear to part with it. Besides, there are some notes in there that I need. Yes, I know I could write them in the new one. Shut up!) A model of the Eleventh Doctor…Look, I don’t know why! I just carry it around with me, all right? When I’m at home he sits on my computer desk. He’s my muse. We all have our quirks! A pack of birthday cards, in case I’ve forgotten anyone’s birthday and turn up for work and everyone else is handing them cards, a notebook, which was a publication day present from lovely Alys West, a pen, a box of paracetamol “because you never know when pain will strike”, a tube of hand cream, my reading glasses, some tissue paper (clean), a couple of till receipts, and a People’s Friend pocket novel (written by Write Romantic Lynne) which I’m reading as and when I get a minute. It’s bookmarked with my invitation to Jessica Redland’s book launch now, though last week it was bookmarked with a bill. When the invitation arrived I thought I’d much rather carry that around with me, and it’s safe between the pages of the book so it’s win, win! There’s also a large bottle of water in there, although I only carry one of those when I’m going to work. What I didn’t photograph was my computer glasses which I also carry around permanently (I have to use them at work) and my mobile phone, because I used it to take the picture. No wonder I can never find my flipping phone when it rings under that lot!

Jackie says …

image1I usually have a few handbags on the go and at the moment have this rather strange one on the go as it will hold my MacBook when it needs to, but I can fold it over when I don’t need it. I am a bit (a lot!) of a messy handbag person and can never find what I need in the depths – shopping receipts, tissues, bits of scrap paper etc usually clog up the innards of any bag I own. However, this is my essential stuff that is always in any bag I have with me. Was horrified to find I didn’t have a pen in there. Call myself a writer!

Helen R says …

photo-1When Jessica asked us to talk about our bags and their contents I must admit I drew in a sharp intake of breath! My bag is full of a lot of stuff I probably don’t need but here’s the list: bottle of water, plasters, purse, phone, keys, tissues, a pencil, old receipts, small umbrella, paracetamol, headphones, handwash, handcream and a couple of hair ties.

When I went to London last year I took a tiny bag and then proceeded to buy quite a few things, books included, and stuff them into the rucksack my husband was carrying. He was so unimpressed that he sent me into one of the tourist shops to buy a bag. I’ve had my ‘medium purple bag’ ever since and I love it. It’s got short handles so doesn’t make my shoulder ache and it fits a lot in too.

I’m a bit of a bag lady I have to admit, and I’ve been meaning to buy another for quite some time. I’m not sure why I love them, but they’re the perfect accessory. I’ve taken a picture of just some of my bags (at the top of this post)… I had a clear out before we moved from Australia but still have a selection 🙂 If I’m going out to dinner or for drinks I take a smaller bag but essentials are phone, purse, keys, handwash and tissues. Sometimes this is a challenge with the smaller varieties!

Rachael says …

IMG_0178What’s in my handbag? Well I’ll let you know some of things which lurk within the depths of my handbag. Obviously there is my purse, a lovely Italian leather purse I bought in Lucca two years ago whilst on a writing holiday with friends. Then there is the usual pack of tissues, hand cream and lip balm. At the moment I’m carrying round a pair of sunglasses, just in case summer decides to grace us with her presence. My phone of course, is a must.

Then there are those important bits, showing as a writer, you are never really off duty. I have my notepad and pen and a copy of my latest Mills and Boon book, just in case I can press it into the hands of an unsuspecting reader.

One thing I hardly ever do is change my handbag. I’m not very good at a bag for every outfit. I do have evening bags and a small bag big enough for my phone and a small purse when travelling, but prefer to leave everything in my everyday bag. At least I can’t forget anything then.

Over to you. What’s in your bag? We’d love to hear from you. There’s an option to comment at the end of the tags below this post. Thank you.

The Wednesday Wondering – When do you write?

The Write Romantics are a good mix of ages and backgrounds. We have retired members, self-employed members, those who work part-time, those who work full-time and those who aren’t of retirement age but are able to write full-time. I’ve previously asked where the group write but, this month, I was curious as to when they write. Is it the case that the more time you have to write, the less you actually get done?

Helen R says…

deskmeI’m lucky that I can write during the day when the kids are at school. As soon as I’ve dropped them off it’s straight to my desk and I find that the quiet really helps. I’ve found that getting myself into a routine of doing this really helps me to be more productive. I start with social media and allow myself between 30 and 45 minutes, but then I’ll stay away from it for a while so that I can write or edit. If I left Twitter and Facebook on all the time, I’d never get anything done. It’s a lot of fun but so easy to spend too long on there.

I’ll also work a few evenings a week depending on what deadlines I have but I’ll shut myself in the study and put music on so that I can’t hear anything else in the house. The music helps me to zone out. I tend to take time off at the weekends so I won’t work Friday or Saturday evenings as the weekend is family time. I’ll go onto social media quickly though, because it’s easy to do when you’re out and about or the kids are otherwise entertained 🙂

I also try to fit in exercise during the week when the kids are at school, so two mornings a week I’ll do Pilates and one cardio class…most likely Zumba although I’ve been playing a bit of badminton recently. I need to do the exercise or I find I get too sore sitting at a desk all day.

I think the most annoying part of my daily writing routine is that the good ideas always happen, and the best writing always flows, at three o’clock when I have to get out the house and pick the kids up from school!

Deirdre says…

When I first retired from the day job, I had a strict routine. I was going to treat writing like a new job, and I made sure I was dressed, breakfasted and at the computer by 9 am. That was then… Things have deteriorated somewhat since. It’s the freedom that comes with ‘retirement’ I suppose, although now I’m getting published I no longer consider myself retired. But still I have the wonderful freedom of that ideal state, the downside of which is that I procrastinate like mad because there’s always ‘later’. Unfortunately, ‘later’ doesn’t always come and I can get to the end of the day, having perhaps been out for coffee with a friend, seen to this and that in the house or garden, watched Bargain Hunt (only over lunch, you understand!) and somehow the rest of the day has drifted by and I haven’t been near the writing.  Although I will have checked Facebook, Twitter and caught up with emails. Funny that.

When I’m really into a writing project, though, I do knuckle down. That certainly happens when I’m in the last quarter of a book, can see the end in sight and want to get it done. The beginning has me putting in the hours too. It’s the middle where I’m most likely to be faffing about and putting it off. I suspect that’s true for lots of writers.

When am I most creative? Probably if I had to pick a time of day it would be early morning, but only once my OH has left for work at 8am. I want to be alone – who said that?

If I do manage to sit down at the computer that early, I may not be dressed. No, I definitely won’t be dressed, because the words are flowing and I don’t want to stop. So I can still be tapping away at ten o’clock in my pyjamas, without having had breakfast, and hoping to goodness the front door bell doesn’t ring!

Alys says…

IMG_0472Over the past year or so I’ve discovered that I write best first thing in the morning. As I’ve never thought of myself as a morning person this has taken a bit of getting used to. On weekdays I tend to get up at about 7, make myself a mug of green tea (usually in my ‘writing’ mug) and write for an hour or so in my pyjamas. I’m lucky enough to be self-employed and can work fairly flexible hours so if I’m really into what I’m writing and keep going for a bit longer then it doesn’t usually matter. At the weekends I generally get up later and sometimes even have breakfast before I start. There does seem to be something about the pyjamas though and whole Saturday mornings can pass with me typing away until I realise I really do have to go and get dressed. Editing is very different though. But maybe that’s just because I never feel inspired to bounce out of bed and get on with it!”

Jo says…

I can write anywhere, whilst the TV is on and the rest of the family are getting on with life around me. I did wrote some of Among A Thousand Stars sitting around a pool in Spain, but my favourite place to write is sitting by the wood-burning stove in my front room. Maybe that’s why so many of my stories end up with a key Christmas or winter themed scene in there somewhere. I mostly snatch time to write whenever I can but, when I’m on a deadline, I have been known to write up to 10k in single sitting. Editing, on the other hand, takes much more discipline on my part, as I’d rather do almost anything (including cleaning the bathrooms) than get on with that!

Rachael says…

One of the things life on a busy dairy farm had taught me is that I cannot be precious about when I write, that I need to take every opportunity to write I can. Over the years, that has been anytime from whilst travelling to while waiting for children to participate in sports practice.

Now I make myself a schedule to work to in order to meet my deadlines. When I’m working on a first draft, getting the story from my head onto the page, I like to write first thing in the morning. Whilst the morning milking is being done I’m at my desk doing my daily word count. That way, the madness of life on a farm doesn’t usually interfere with my writing too much. Later in the day I will come back to my desk, and do anything from blog posts to revisions.

_MG_2804-EditAs for me, evenings are my writing time and have been for many years. I was fortunate enough to secure a flexible working pattern last November whereby I work a full-time week, but across four longer days. On a Tuesday-Thursday, I finish at 6.30pm and, on a Friday, I finish at 6.00pm. My usual evening routine is catching up on Facebook while my eight-year-old daughter is in the bath. Ideally I’d use her bath-time and subsequent reading time as writing time, but I find she constantly disturbs me and I start to feel very agitated and impatient so it’s just not worth trying. As soon as she goes to bed at 8.00pm, I write for two-three hours depending on how tired I am. This doesn’t always mean ‘proper’ writing (by which I mean on a novel or novella). It can often be blog posts or catching up on emails.

In theory, my flex day (Monday) is all about writing and it’s amazing how much I can get done in that one day. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a ‘normal’ flex day for quite some time. I’ve had errands to run, or deadlines to meet, or it’s been school holidays so the munchkin has been home. I’m preparing this post on Monday and I’ve had to go into town today to buy her a new Brownie uniform as hers is too small, I’ve been promoting my debut novel coming out for paperback pre-order today, and I’ve had a phone call about a very part-time job I do as an internal verifier for a distance learning programme. After the school run, I’m off to the local library to talk about doing a tour of the local libraries to talk about my book. I’ve had small chunks of time between all of these activities, but not enough to really get back into writing book 3, which always seems like a missed opportunity on a flex day.

Over to you. When do you write? We’d love to hear from you xx

Jessica

Wednesday Wondering – What Does Easter Mean to You?

P1060222Happy Easter! Okay, so the bank holiday weekend with the key days of Good Friday and Easter Monday is now behind us, but it’s still school holidays and some of you may be enjoying time off work still. I was back to the non-writing day job yesterday, but I’m looking forward to having tomorrow and Friday off too.

My question for the WRs this week was, quite simply, ‘What does Easter mean to you?’

I attended church until I left home for university aged eighteen and remember there being a Palm Sunday parade from The Salvation Army Church at one end of the high street, past my church (Methodist) and up to the Church of England church at the other end for a multi-denomenational service. I’d parade as part of the uniformed organisations (Brownies, Guides, then Rangers) and I my over-riding memory is of being absolutely freezing because we weren’t allowed to wear coats or jumpers. Back then, the Brownie uniform was a dress, although I was certainly grateful for my bobble hat. I remember being giggling each year because the donkey always seemed to go to the toilet outside the church. I’d then spend the rest of the service trying to warm up, knowing that we’d have a freezing cold parade back again!

P1060226As a child, we’d get loads of Easter eggs – one from each set of grandparents, and from each auntie/uncle. My childhood home had an extra room downstairs called the study. It was originally a garage before we moved in and had been converted to a room, but it always retained that cold feeling of a garage. As such, it was the perfect place for storing Easter eggs and selection boxes at Christmas, keeping them nice and cool. It was also the perfect place for helping myself to chocolate when nobody could see me! I used to raid my Easter eggs and those of my older brother; such a pig! When I was 19, my habits hadn’t improved. My boyfriend in my 2nd year of university bought me a fabulous Easter egg. It was a large Cadbury’s crème egg one with a picture of a juggler on the front. The hollow chocolate egg was his stomach and his juggling balls were 2 normal-sized crème eggs and 7 mini crème eggs. I’d been presented with it about a week before we broke up for the Easter holidays and it sat enticingly on my shelf with strict instructions not to eat it until Easter. I think I lasted about a day before I broke into it. If I just ate one of the mini eggs then placed the foil back in the mould, that would be okay, wouldn’t it? So I did that. But it was really yummy. So I had another. And another. By the time we broke for Easter, I packed my Easter egg to take home. Except there wasn’t any chocolate left in it; just a plastic mould with the foil wrappers shaped into it to look like it was all still there! Oops!

Jessica xx

So, what does Easter mean to the WRs?

Sharon says…

P1060225I have very happy memories of Easter. One of the main ones is watching Jesus of Nazareth starring Robert Powell. We all – my mum, dad, sister, brother and I – gathered round the television to watch it, enthralled. My mum and dad weren’t religious at all, but they were really absorbed in the programme. As for me, I cried absolute buckets. I totally believed in the Easter story and it broke my heart to see it played out on screen before me.

Easter, for me, has always been one of the most important times of the year. Of course, when we were children, it also meant Easter eggs and time off school to me and my sister. One year, we got thirteen Easter eggs each from aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, family friends…Quite ridiculous, really.

When my own children were little I made it very traditional. Fish on Good Friday, Easter eggs, lots of Easter themed television, a turkey dinner on Easter Sunday and sometimes church, too. Now they’ve all left home and my faith has sadly dwindled, I think, in my mind, Easter is simply tied in with spring – daffodils, new lambs, new life, new hope. In that sense, I suppose it has that much in common with a story of resurrection and overcoming even death. I do think that, if you’re a Christian, Easter is the most special time of year, even more than Christmas. I wish everyone – of all faiths or none – a happy Easter.

DSCF0005-smallRachael says…

Easter time here on the farm is like any other day. The daily jobs of milking and feeding continue regardless of what holiday it is. This only makes family time all the more precious, although with two older teenager’s social lives to be factored in this Easter, it may prove difficult to all be around the table for dinner on Easter Sunday.

As with most families, Easter is also about chocolate eggs and probably far too many of them! It’s good also to stop and reflect about why we are celebrating Easter. Just as Christmas isn’t all about the gifts under the tree, Easter isn’t all about mountains of chocolate.

I hope you all had a lovely Easter weekend and that you haven’t eaten too much chocolate!

Lynne says…

P1060224Easter to me is a time of new beginnings when the world wakes up from its winter slumber. For me my reading tastes change a little, from the fireside reading of winter, when I love P.D.James and Charles Dickens to livelier, more summery tomes. This year is a special treat, because there’s so many of my lovely Write Romantics’ stories available now in print and electronic form. Roll on better weather when I can loll around in the sun with an iced drink and suntan lotion and call it research!!

Jackie says…

church and daffodilsI was brought up as a reasonably strict Catholic and went to a Convent school from the age of ten. I would attend St Dominic’s church every Sunday in my best hat (even if I had a terrible cold and sneezed through most of the service) Lent was all about the money I would give to charity if I gave up sweets etc, rather than an excuse to diet or stop the booze (which it seems to have turned into today) and Easter was all about Christ dying on the Cross. So my memories of Easter are mostly about the dreaded Stations Of The Cross in church. There were I think, fourteen ’stations’ and the gathered congregation would kneel and pray at every icon reflecting on the image of Jesus at his crucifixion, before standing and walking to the next ‘station.’ I recall this took forever and one time I got a fit of the giggles with my best friend. She suppressed her laugh rather too much and it came out the other end as a loud ‘trumpet’ noise. This made us laugh even harder and she continued to ‘trump’ for Britain. People around us started tittering, but the nun in charge of us hoisted us up and sent us to the back of the church to reflect on our sins. She didn’t say what our sins were as I suspect such a thing as a ‘blow off’ couldn’t be acknowledged as it was far too unladylike! It was actually a bit of a result as we messed around with the rosaries and ‘palms’ that were for sale at the back of the church until it was all over.

Deirdre says…

Easter for us is a quite a low-key affair these days – not that we ever did a great deal but certain little traditions, like painting the shells of boiled eggs for breakfast, have slid off the radar now, mainly due to not having any children in the family, and the demise of my mother-in-law who celebrated Easter as she did everything else, with a cook-fest.  She used to make scrumptious spicy hot cross buns which were sent down to us on the morning of Good Friday, not before, not after.  Then on the Sunday there’d be a family gathering at her house for the big roast, followed by Christmas pudding from the batch she’d made the previous year.  She made simnel cake thick with marzipan and iced in lurid green which is the traditional colour, and on the top was a plastic egg decoration with a chick inside which came out year after year.  If we weren’t full after that lot there were home-made Easter biscuits sparkling with green-coloured sugar (no worries about additives for her), as well as the Easter eggs themselves and other chocolate treats.

Peggy at EasterI still do a roast – which has to be lamb, nothing else – and this year I was farseeing enough to get an extra Christmas pudding, having let them all down so badly last year by not providing one.  We have Buck’s Fizz mid-morning and champagne with lunch.   Any excuse.  The boys still get eggs, old though they are (the boys, I mean, not the eggs) and I always have daffodils in vases to brighten things up.   In the loft we have gigantic folded-paper rabbits and another rabbit that plays a tune which we stand about, if we remember to get them out.  We always invite my husband’s Aunt Peggy.  She’s 91 now.  This is a photo of her at ours last Easter.  As you can see she’s still got a sparkle in her eye, as well as in her glass.  We don’t do outdoorsy things at Easter. The weather always seems so cold, but we usually go for a drive in the country on Easter Monday and maybe stop off at a likely hostelry.  That’s something we did when I was a child, and we used to pick primroses if they were out in time, but of course you can’t do that now.

I do like Easter-time.  It’s so colourful with the daffodils and other flowers, and the Easter displays in the shops.  And of course you know that summer’s not that far away – always a cheering thought.

image1Helen R says…

We’ve never been a religious family so Easter has never been a big event in our house. This is hard when the kids fire questions at me about ‘why do we have Easter?’ Only as an adult did I find out eggs are given to each other to signify new life and it’s nice to have a basic understanding now.

As for the chocolate side of things I’m afraid I’m over excited this year. It’s my first Easter in the UK since 2000 and the Easter eggs on display in the shops are amazing. I shall make my selections this year and remember the meaning of the occasion.

Jo says…

disc 3 612I think Easter, a bit like Halloween, is a lot *bigger* now than when I was a child.  I don’t remember Easter egg hunts or anything like that, but my mum would make birds’ nests from strands of shredded wheat, dipped in chocolate, and fill them with little candy eggs.  We had a big family and so would receive lots of chocolate eggs from relatives and they’d all be lined up on the sideboard.  My sister would still have most of hers in June, but I’d eat all of mine by the week after Easter. Once or twice I even broke into her stock and tried to smooth out the foil after I’d eaten the egg, to make it look like it was still in there.  It’s no wonder she’s three sizes smaller than me, even now!

With my own children, we’ve always had Easter egg hunts, even when we’ve been away on holiday – which we often are for the school break.  Here’s a photo of the eldest three when we were in the New Forest one Easter and about to set off on a trail through the woods.  This year is no different, we’ll be staying in a converted barn in the Llyn Peninsula in north Wales and I’ll be hiding eggs for the big hunt on Easter Sunday.  I’ve tried suggesting that they might have outgrown it now that they’re 10, 13, 14 and 16, but they’ve insisted they’ll never be too old for an Easter egg hunt.  Here’s hoping I’m not still looking for places to hide their eggs when they’re in their forties!

What about you? We’d love to hear about your Easters past and present. You can comment by clicking on the ‘comments’ tag at the end of the teeny words below this post. Thank you xx

Book Review – The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

miniaturist

I chose to go way out of my comfort zone for this month’s book review, and chose a  historical novel.

The Miniaturist was an amazing debut novel by Jessie Burton. The sense of time and place were astounding with minute details drawing me in to a completely different era and world in Amsterdam. Burton’s descriptions in scenes were powerful and evocative and fitting with the time period. At no point did I lose faith as a reader at this author’s accurate portrayal of the character’s story.

I admired the heroine, Nella, tremendously. She went from being a quiet, innocent girl at the start of her marriage to a woman in control. And believe me, she was faced with plenty of unimaginable challenges along the way.
Each character had a story to tell and themes ran deep in this book – I won’t list them all as don’t want to spoil the plot!

Throughout the entire novel was the hook of the miniature dolls house which was a mystery as much as the characters’ lives. The book had excellent chapter hooks which kept me reading late into the night and my only criticism was that the story sometimes left me drained and emotional. But I guess that’s what powerful story telling can do.

Jessie Burton is definitely an author to watch out for. I’m excited to what she’ll write next!

Next month, join us again when Jackie will be reviewing Jill Steeples’ Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.

Helen J Rolfe.