UNFORGETTABLE MOMENTS…

As I don’t use my blog as an electronic diary of events in my life, I have to come up with different topics each week to write about.  Inspiration can sometimes be incredibly slow, either that or suitable subjects suddenly become not so suitable.  This weekend was one of those occasions.  Something I’d thought would make a good subject completely dried up on me, leaving me totally adrift.  It was only in the early hours of this morning when I woke up that I decided to wander back to the subject of holidays.

I think some of the most memorable holidays aren’t the ones where you jet off and lie peacefully in the sun for a fortnight. They are the ones where strange, quirky things happen.  Like going on a sherry tour in Herez, Spain when one of the group got shut in the tasting room and left behind.  He was a little South American guy who was visiting Spanish relatives.  We’d finished tasting the various types of sherry and the guide had ushered us all out and locked the door. We were making our way down the corridor when his friends realised he was missing.  Returning to the tasting room, there he was, perched on a stool downing yet another glass of sherry, obviously making the most of his captivity!  Here are a few more memorable incidents:

Beggar’s Banquet

We were in Spain on holiday one year sitting outside a restaurant in Malaga having lunch.  Along comes this guy on crutches and stops at each table begging for food.  I couldn’t believe it when he reached our table and leaning on his crutches indicated he would be grateful if we offered him some of the food we had there. We indicated no very politely and he moved on.  Moments later I happened to look up and saw someone on one of the other tables handing him several Euro notes from his wallet. Thanking him the guy hobbled away. Reaching the end of the building he stopped, tucked his crutches under his arm and ran off!

Arachnophobia in France

CNV00025 (597x400)In 2005 we rented a farmhouse in the Dordogne.  It was miles from anywhere with no near neighbours – so relaxing and peaceful. The British couple who were renovating it retreated to a caravan in a small wood which bordered the property whenever they had paying guests but were always on hand if needed. In the kitchen to the left of the sink was a very small blue enamel bucket. On the first morning I took a look inside – andFarmhouse Kitchen (429x640) wished I hadn’t.  There nestling in the bottom was one of the largest spiders I had ever seen.  Our friends were still in the process of getting up so I got my husband to eject the thing, knowing like me, our friend’s wife Jan absolutely hated spiders.  At home although I don’t like them – too many legs and a nasty habit of homing in on you as if they can sense your fear – I can generally deal with a spider situation.  No way was I getting involved with this large black thing though.  So my husband launched it into the nearest flower bed and that was that.  Only it wasn’t.  The next morning it was back and the morning after that. It became known as the Homing Spider and in the end in desperation we took to leaving the bucket outside the back door and that seemed to work – it was happy there.

How Much?

During the week we visited the local market in Le Buge, our nearest town.  An amazing experience not only for the food but other things, like an old mobile horse-box converted to carry all these amazing grandfather clocks!  Us girls sent the men off to get some cheese.  Not a difficult task you would think.  Meeting up later when we asked about the cheese there were guilty glances before they produced a very large thin segment which had obviously been cut from a truckle. ‘That’s enough to last the whole week.’ I observed looking at it. ‘We did sample before we bought. It’s very tasty.’ came the enthusiastic reply, not that it had anything to do with my comment. The embarrassed glances continued. ‘How much did it cost?’ Jan asked curiously. ‘Oh, you know…’ Two voices blended mumbling different amounts. ‘How much?’I asked as we both stared at our men. ‘Only Thirteen Euros.’ My husband decided to come clean, brushing off the extortionate price with a smile as if he’d got a bargain.  I opened my mouth and got as far as ‘Only…’ ‘But it really great cheese.’  My husband enthusiasm drowned me out, solidly backed by Jan’s husband’s agreeing nod.   ‘You’ll love it.’ He said. End of argument as far as they were concerned and the expressions on their faces dared us to say otherwise.  Jan and I looked at each other, shook our heads and walked away.  Now if we girls had paid such an extravagant price for cheese we would have never heard the last of it but as I’ve learned over the years men have a habit of setting their own rules don’t they?

 

Spanish Dancing and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Afternoon

 During the same holiday as our sherry tasting in Herez we also spent a few days in Seville.  We booked into a hotel in the north of the city within ten minutes walk of the centre.  On our first morning we took off after breakfast for sightseeing.  Arriving at the Plaza d’Espana we stopped to watch a small group of young women wearing colourful flamenco costumes and dancing on a raised platform.  The music was coming  from a tape on a large portable radio set in one corner of the platform.  A crowd had gathered to listen and everyone was joining in, clapping.  The music is very passionate and energetic accompanied by feet stamping and a lot of that was going on.  It took me a moment to realise the stamping sound was coming from the tape because unbelievably all these girls were wearing trainers under their costumes!

Moving on we spent the morning taking in the sights and stopped for lunch before beginning our trek back to the hotel.  And then we found a friend.  I don’t know where this dog, an Alsatian cross, came from but no matter what discouragement was given it simply would not go away.  My husband and our friends decided to stop hoping it would get bored and wander off.  Me, on the other hand, who can only really deal with small dogs, kept walking.  The dog trotted pass the other three and started closing in on me.  Up close it seemed friendly and quite harmless. Of course, my new best friend caused a lot of amusement and in the end we gave up and just continued with our journey.  On imagesZOE55CBHreaching the hotel the dog followed us in and settled itself quite comfortably on the marble floor of the reception area.  I thought someone might have shooed it out but no one did, in fact the staff found it a bowl of water making me wonder whether this dog had latched onto unsuspecting tourists before. When we came down again later it had gone.  My overactive writer’s imagination left me wondering whether I had just missed out getting myself my own personal Game of Thrones Direwolf.

 

I’m Bulgaria Air – Fly Me

And finally, last year an absolutely priceless moment.  We had booked a week in Lake Garda, Italy for September.  Two months after the booking Tui, the holiday company, transferred the flight to an Italian airline.  We didn’t have a problem with that but we did with the change in flight departure times.   Outward was at midday, the same as our original Thomson flight but our new return journey meant we had to leave the hotel at 6am in the morning to get to Verona Airport. On departure day we  arrived at Bristol Airport and checked in our luggage. Eventually we were called to the gate for boarding.  Everyone got on the bus and it pulled away, taking us off to the western edge of the airport.   It drove past this plane and everyone was commenting about it. How old it was and ‘laughs’ who was going to be flying out on that then?  Actually it turned out we were!  Apparently our scheduled plane had to be pulled in for a service and the Bulgarian plane was called in to cover.  The shocked and in some cases horrified expressions on faces as the bus pulled up to the bottom of the plane steps was, as I said above, priceless.  Some people even thought it was a hoax.   I have to say despite it being an older jet we had a smooth flight and the cabin crew,  although having limited English, did a great job of looking after us.

 

So that’s it for now.  I’ll be back next Sunday.  In the meantime have a good week everyone!

THE NAME GAME

It’s been a great week away.  The weather was obviously the icing on the cake, bearing in mind UK

summers are notoriously fickle.  Sometimes holidays simply feel they are going to be good right from the start and this was definitely one of them.  I know I do tend to bang on a lot about South Hams which is where Dartmouth, Kingsbridge, Totnes and Salcombe are situated. Having said that it is

 a wonderful place to be, especially if the sun is out.  Years ago we actually kept a boat on the south coast of the UK and spent most weekends there, so water and boats have always been a magical combination for me. Now, it’s all just a warm memory with a collection of photos to back those cerebral imprints up. When I got home and began to download I was amazed that I’d taken 180 photos.  Digital cameras have turned holiday photography completely on its head.  No more dropping off a film with your local processor then having your bubble burst when you get them back and the results show you weren’t quite the David Bailey you thought you were. No, now it’s great.  You can weed out the disasters, download onto the computer and even print your own photos if you want to.  A complete revolution.

 

Moving on, I had a lot of time over the last week to think about a main topic for today.  In the end I decided it would be interesting to talk about fictional names. A new writing project involves many component parts – the story, the setting and, of course, the players.  Not only do these individuals need to have a bio so we are familiar with their personalities and backgrounds, they also require names.  So what triggers the decision on what to call your characters?  It’s not something I have ever discussed with fellow writers, but I guess like everything else to do with the writing process, it’s all down to personal choice.  As for me, my first rule is to avoid names I do not personally like. I also try and avoid using the first names of people I actually know. That’s probably because if I did I would be visualising that person instead of the character as I wrote, which would be both distracting and a little surreal! It’s also important for me to use a name which sits well with each character and feels authentic. I have to say 99% of my choices work first time around but I do tend to keep an open mind because there might be an odd occasion when as soon as I start writing the character/name combination doesn’t feel right and will need to be changed. 

 

In the Little Court series which was spread over five books, there were a huge array of names (a cast of thousands one of my friends once amusingly remarked) so attention to detail when drawing up a character list for each new book was very important to avoid any embarrassing duplication. As you can imagine, the farther I got into the series the bigger the headache became in finding suitable names! This was because not only did we have the central families who had expanded over the thirty year span of the books, there were also secondary characters both in the village and the two provincial towns which were the settings for the stories.  A Herculean task and one I’m not sure I want to repeat! 

 

I have made a decision that my saga series days are now definitely behind me. There was a certain easiness in writing about people you already knew in settings that were familiar, but that was then and this is now.  Time for a change and a new challenge. My current WIP, Summer Moved On, has a smaller cast and I’ve actually managed to find not only names I’ve not used before but ones which I think really do match their characters.  The most unusual is Talún which is Gaelic but then there does have to be something special about that central character you hope all your female readers will fall in love with doesn’t there?

 

Enjoy your week, back next Sunday.

 

Jo

ON THE HOLIDAY TRAIL…

This is my last post before I pack for holiday.  The thought of going away for a whole week is a great feeling. In fact I have to admit I do love holidays.  OK I know what you’re all thinking.  I quit my job last year; I’m a self-employed writer so I’m my own boss. That means I’m no longer tied into a nine to five. If I don’t feel like working on a particular day I don’t have to and I can organise a lunch meet or a day shopping with friends any time I want. In a nutshell I’m director of my own destiny.  So that must mean my life is almost like a permanent holiday right? Well, yes in a way I guess that is true. However, with this new life comes a level of responsibility.  I do have a time plan but it’s not as fixed as when I was working for someone else.  I do still have to work though.   Therefore what I term ‘proper’ holidays are still very special to me.  It’s the ability to get away from all that the normal stuff and go somewhere completely different to chill out, relax and take in some new experiences.

Since I’ve been a published writer I’ve drawn on some of my travel destinations for settings. I’ve found it’s much easier to write about somewhere  I have actually visited as I can call up the sights and scenes I’ve experienced and make everything feel much more authentic. Dartmouth, where we’re headed this coming Friday was featured in The Other Side of Morning and I’ve also used Italy in three of my five books. The Ligurian Coast featured in Love Lies and Promises. Venice in Between Today and Yesterday and for The Other Side of Morning Lake Garda.

DSCF2172
Hotel Regina Adelaide, Garda

We holidayed in Garda last September, returning to the Regina Adelaide where we’d had a wonderful vacation in 2001.  Because we loved the lake and all the towns there so much we had decided it was time for a return trip. Booking into the same hotel again there was a moment when we wondered whether we might be making a mistake.  Our twelve-year absence meant both the hotel and resort were now a bit of an unknown quantity.  There was the worry that so much might have changed and not for the better.  What crazy people we were worrying!  We found Garda exactly the same; friendly people, beautiful flowers everywhere and that laid back continental atmosphere each evening in its bars with their live music. Trips to Riva, Sirmione and Salo didn’t disappoint either. And as for the hotel, well there was the same warm welcome and excellent service. And there was an added bonus because not only did we have a fantastic holiday, I also sorted out a seemingly impossible problem I had been having with my current WIP.

I had been struggling to start the final chapter of The Other Side of Morning but the more attempts I made the more it refused to come right.  At the very beginning of the chapter I had to bring Marco and two of the key characters together.  I had a few ideas about where they would meet but every time I attempted to write something, I wasn’t happy with it and I ended up deleting everything.  Had I been using paper I’m sure the office floor would have been overflowing with my failed attempts! With the holiday imminent and rapidly running out of patience, I decided to shelve the whole thing, contenting myself with the fact that I would be a lot fresher to do battle with it when I got back.

DSCF2160 (640x480)
That inspirational place in Bardolino!

Our first morning in Garda saw us walking to neighbouring Bardolino.  After a wander around and some shopping we stopped for a glass of wine outside one of the hotels. It was a beautiful morning and the four of us sat under a large canvas sun shade watching people passing by and the ferries coming and going.  All of a sudden it hit me that this could be the place to begin that last chapter with Marco sitting here drinking wine just like us. The scene started to come together in my head and I managed to hold it there until we returned to the hotel. I quickly scribbled down my thoughts and on my return home began to write – and everything fell into place perfectly!

 

 

Spain2008_%20caceres_11
Storks in Caceres
Toledo_Skyline_Panorama,_Spain_-_Dec_2006
The Alcazar on Toledo’s city skyline
015 (480x640)
The Mesquita, Cordoba

During the 1990s we spent a lot of time in Spain.  Our friends owned an apartment just outside Marbella and we had some really good holidays there. Some years we would use it as a base and travel inland for stopovers in places like Granada, Seville and Herez.  The apartment was sold in 1998 which coincided with a milestone birthday for all four of us.  To celebrate we decided on a Spanish road trip.  We booked a flight to Madrid, hired an MPV and arranged three two-night stopovers in Toledo, Caceres and Cordoba.  This would take up one week of a planned fortnight and then we would drive down to the coast where, for the final week, we had rented a friend’s house.  It was an amazing holiday.  First Toledo with its narrow streets, swords and suits of armour – a place where El Cid was reputed to have captained the garrison.  Then on to medieval Caceres with its nesting storks who flew about at night reminding me of feathered pterodactyls. And finally Cordoba and the fabulous Mesquita and Palace of the Christian Kings.   All three place left special memories, whether it was joining in with the fiesta which was going on in Toledo when we arrived, watching the eerie flight of the storks at night as they circled over Caceres or embracing Flamenco in Cordoba. This was the real Spain and absolute magic!

 

 

We last holidayed on the Costa Del Sol in 2003.  A joint wedding anniversary trip with friends.  We rented a villa just west of Calahonda, minutes from the beach.  We had a great time, toasted our skin, ate and drank far too much and made our usual pilgrimage up into the hills above Marbella to Benahavis – the place for great Spanish food and hospitality. There was a boutique hotel there – the Amanhavis –  each of its nine rooms themed to celebrate either a period of the country’s history or a famous Spaniard.  The Galileo room had a large telescope and a glass ceiling so you could lie in bed and look at the stars! Checking on-line today the hotel is still there and receiving good reviews – an average of 8.5 out of 10. So if anyone wants an off the beaten track stay at a hotel with a difference then that’s the place to go.

portboatlarge
Cabopino, Costa Del Sol, Spain

It’s always a little sad when a holiday comes to an end; you’ve had a good time but now it’s time to leave and return to the real world. That Sunday morning we vacated the villa early and on our way to the airport stopped off in Cabopino.  If any of you remember the ill-fated British soap Eldorado, Cabopino was used for the marina scenes in the series.  We had coffee there and then wandered out onto the breakwater where several elderly Spanish men were fishing.  I remember looking back in land and all I could see were cranes and building work going on. I remembered 1991 when we first made this coast a holiday destination. It made me realise not only how fast the urbanisation had spread over those twelve years, but given the extent of the current activity, how much more there was to come.  I realised then that maybe our time here was coming to an end.  Far better to move on and hold onto those memories of what a good place it had once been before the building tsunami had taken hold.   As we all climbed back into the hire car it appeared that everyone had been thinking the same thing.  It was time to look for new places to spend our summers.

Tamariu, Spain

Since then we’ve been all over Europe, Greece and Italy being the favourites. We did actually return to Spain in 2010 to a place called Tamariu just up the coast from Barcelona.  It’s a small quiet coastal village, favoured by Spanish holidaymakers – in fact while we were there we hardly heard a British accent. It was early July and we arrived during the time the last matches were being played in the World Cup; evenings when the bars were full with enthusiastic locals watching on wide-screen televisions.  We were eating out in a beach restaurant the night Spain won. The atmosphere was electric and the partying went on well into the early hours.

So now I’m back in the present quietly sorting out what to pack and crossing fingers for some decent weather. Nothing, of course, is guaranteed in the UK.  We might hit a heat wave or we could well spend the week trudging around in wet weather gear, who knows?  See you all in a fortnight.

JO

LOST IN WONDERLAND…AGAIN

So here I am a day behind schedule (yet again!).  There is so much of Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit in me lately, lost somewhere in Wonderland with a tendency to be playing catch up all the time especially where blogging is concerned.

 

So what’s my excuse?  Well the reason for the delay has been a good one.  My latest book had been going so well last week that yesterday with the words still flowing I simply could not stop -when the muse is with you, you simply have to stay with it!  This is my sixth book and I have to say probably the most enjoyable I have written.  Maybe that’s because it’s a fresh project.  The other five were a series all linked to the same family. However, it’s also got a lot to do with the way this current plot has come together  – like it’s meant to be.  It’s had the feel good factor since I first started typing and that has never left me.  I’m also loving these new characters I’ve created and this early on in the book that’s unusual too.

 

Write about what you know the advice goes so my stories have always had their roots in village life.  Having grown up in one it’s familiar territory, not only from a landscape point of view, but from kind of characters you find there. Of course since my childhood days things have changed dramatically. When I was growing up in rural Wiltshire there were very few ‘incomers’ from the town. People in those days weren’t interested in living somewhere they perceived as being miles from anywhere. These days, however, it seems country life is the ‘must have’ for a good many people.  The area surrounding Bath has appealed to many with that dream. With good rail and road links to London there is the ability to have the best of both worlds: highly paid jobs in the capital and an enjoyable life in a pleasant village outside it.  There are some, however, who have gone the whole way and chosen to work as well as live here, deciding on a complete overhaul of their lifestyle.  This migratory trek west has been going on since the mid-80s and I think in some ways is responsible for the city we have today. When I came to Bath in 1981 it was a different place, provincial and quiet.  Now it’s opened up tremendously; it has great shopping, excellent hotels, amazing restaurants, two universities and a definite cosmopolitan feel. Alongside this, of course, are the things it has always been identified with – the Roman Baths, the Abbey and the amazing architecture of buildings like the Circus and the Royal Crescent.

 

Currently I live only three miles from Bath but if you look out of our windows in any direction you would never think you were that close to a city of  176,000 people. There are fields and woods all around.  A wonderful, peaceful place to live and only a short drive away from everything the great Roman City has to offer.

 

The Abbey
Pulteney Bridge and The Weir

 

 

Roman Baths

 

The Royal Crescent together with some of the Bath Lions
The Circus

Back to my WIP. For this new book the location has changed.  Saying goodbye to the West Somerset setting of my Little Court series, I have now moved to South Devon.  It’s a place I know really well and somewhere I never tire of coming back to.  Dartmouth, which actually featured briefly in my last book, is in fact one of my favourite UK holiday destinations. I love that mix of boats and the water.  We stay right on the marina and the apartment has a huge window which gives great views of everything that’s happening on both the river and the estuary. There’s an amazing atmosphere there at night too.  Walking back from dinner at one of the many excellent restaurants in the town I never get tired of seeing that magical blaze of lights across the water at Kingswear.  This part of Devon is known as South Hams; a beautiful part of the British Isles and a perfect setting for this  new book.

Kingswear at night from Dartmouth

So that about it for this week.  Everything is going well I’m in a good place. I’m working on a topic for this coming weekend too so currently I’m ahead of the game. However I’m not sure with all the things I seem to pack into each day the White Rabbit tag is going to be one I can shake off very easily! I am trying very hard though, believe me!

See you  next week.

Jo x

Please note: this post has also gone out on Blogger.