‘THE END’… Naah – not really…!   

                      By Rosemary Lord

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So, how d’you like our Blog’s new look?

We weren’t ready to call it a day! We just needed a change – a fresh view. And we have two new writers joining us in our blog sandbox: Hannah Dennison and Maggie King.  What fun. Just in time for the holidays.

The holidays… so soon?! As we gallop towards the year end, one tries not to panic, not to think of all the things one had intended to do, to complete. But never quite got there.  The short stories not written, the scattered memoir attempted, the unfinished novels. A half-finished website comes to my mind. Hmmm.

Perhaps, instead, stop for a moment to remember what we have accomplished. Fer starters –  we’ve all written our Blogs for this shared writers’ venture. Look back at the unforeseen distractions life gave us. All the positive, unexpected things we’ve done this year. The new people we have met or old acquaintances with whom we’ve re-connected. Those shared memories are often inspiration for the next tome we attempt.

I’ve done masses of research for different projects – that’s always my favorite. Made wonderful discoveries that set my mind charging down different avenues. I’ve done a quick script outline for a couple of new projects – even if they’re not yet completed. Well, at least I started.

Lots of de-cluttering, re-decorating, re-planting, re-designing was accomplished with new, fresh eyes. Another diversion prevalent this year was travel.  I think a lot of us, so relieved to be allowed out of our Covid-cages, have travelled far and wide. Therefore, we’ll forgive ourselves for that wonderful distraction and appreciate the terrific story ideas and new characters we have encountered along the way. Ideas and characters just waiting to be poured out onto the blank page.

I’ve been reading a lot, too. Especially on plane journeys. And, as the days get shorter, who doesn’t like to curl with a good book. (When I should have been finishing my writing!) I think my Kindle said 51 books this year! Although I have abandoned quite a few after a couple of chapters. And I have shelves of new REAL books!

I have re-read, for the umpteenth time, some of Rosamund Pilcher’s wonderful escapist novels. Her ‘Winter Solstice’ is especially timely. It’s about a group of strangers who find themselves stranded together in the snow over the Christmas holidays in Scotland.

But I’ve also been finding new, younger writers; lots of ‘finding-oneself’ novels set on far flung shores, many of them self-published, so they have a different voice, different settings and different styles. A different way of writing. It’s opened up my eyes to new options.

But I sometimes find myself getting frustrated at the endings. I like a satisfying ending. I want questions answered, problems solved and nuanced solutions to characters and relationships. But sometimes, in these new books, it’s as if the writer suddenly noticed their word-count and decided to jump to ‘The End.’

Hey! Not so quick! You can’t just hurry up and finish. That’s not fair!  

The intrepid old standby, ‘Who? What? When? Where? Why?’ seems to be missing a syllable or two. The journey we create on the written page needs to lead us in that direction, that ties up all the bits and pieces. Instead I find myself asking – “but what about so-and-so?” Or, “How did that come about – that was quick!”

I’ve been tempted to write my own version –  a new chapter of the book I’m reading, that really wraps up everything. And sometimes I have become so invested in characters, that I want to know more about them. Where did they go after that particular drama was solved. Again, my imagination has come up with intriguing storylines for the next episode in their lives.

I often get annoyed when film makers produce a copy-cat version of a classic movie. Well, a cheap, poor, knock-off, really. Why don’t they instead write and produce a sequel – or a prequel. That would be much more creative. Why don’t they use their imagination, instead of trying to duplicate someone else’s talent? Or why don’t they write a “What If…”? What if Romeo and Juliet had not died so young? Would they have lived happily ever after, with half a dozen children running around Verona? Would they have stayed together? What work or careers would they have pursued? That gets one thinking… 

Do you ever think of writing a new ending to someone else’s story? Or even a new beginning. That’s even more important. There are a couple of characters I’ve encountered recently, that I’m thinking of ‘borrowing’ and installing them in a totally different book.

As you can see, my mind is all over the place at the moment. My unfinished To Do list lurks just outside of my grasp, with my promises of “- soon…any minute now…”

But I’m inspired by our New-Look Blog page and by my fresh, yet seasoned,  eyes on my own writing, as we emerge from our Covid cocoon.

Refreshed. Re-energized. Ready for tomorrow.  Ready to write some more – and keep reading….

                                    ……………………………………………………..

(This blog entry was posted by Gayle Bartos-Pool for the wonderful Rosemary Lord. Thanks for dropping by.)

AS ONE DOOR CLOSES – 

ANNUS MIRABILIS BECKONS

                                                              (a remarkable year)

by Rosemary Lord

Just as I was thinking, “Aah, I can relax, just focus on my writing. I’ve got things covered…” Then everything goes topsy-turvy – again. Why is that?

I’ve been working on a book on the history of the 1905-founded Woman’s Club of Hollywood. I’m thoroughly enjoying diving back into research – one of my favorite things! It’s fun, pulling out the documents and newspaper clippings of the Club history, therefore early Hollywood history. Local Hollywood papers in the 1920s were full of Club news! I love recreating those early 1900 scenes.

Maybe I should just stop there. Because, next, I started on the more recent history story. I gathered the copious notes, Court Reports and endless pages I’ve written about the last ten years of thievery, skullduggery, break-ins, bankruptcy and lawsuits. However, this rendered me emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed, as I relived the stress, the 18-hour days, the threats, physical attacks, the police protection, the ugly shenanigans I endured. My goodness – how did I get through that? That was quite depressing. So, I’ve put that book aside for now. I’ll get back to that later…

Much better is my work on a new Lottie Topaz novel. A wonderful adventure. I’m busy plotting – or rather, following Lee Goldberg’s idea and writing a simple movie script of the story as a basic map. It’s very helpful. I’ll add the fun color my imagination creates later.

I’ve also started a sort of ‘memoir; about my early days in the British movie industry, based on all the diaries and scrapbooks gleaned from my Christmas visit to England. My apartment is littered with these stacks of post-it covered papers and files.

So, I’m loving my writing life once again. And the Woman’s Club was humming along nicely with new volunteers and only part-time attention required from me.

But then the L.A. Building and Safety Inspectors decided to complete their inspection of our Historic buildings, explaining their report was delayed due to Covid-19 shutdown backlog. The original report was from May 2011. It only took them 11 years to catch up! The Hollywood School for Girls schoolhouse was built in 1903, so we knew we had a long list of repairs, upgrades and restoration. We’re doing as much as we can without funding for the expensive, specialized work on our historic landmark buildings.  

But the stringent Building and Safety regulators were not satisfied with our progress, issuing a new To Do list, with a fourteen-day deadline! And a fine for the violations! (Such as missing 1903 building permits!) They added $64,000 worth of termite and pest-control tenting and remedying! Hmmm.

Although the Inspector I met was very sympathetic and gave me a time extension to complete. Phew!  So now all we have to do is raise about $200,000 to pay for this…

Then the Fire Department joined in. We’re always very careful with brush clearance. In the 1990s, a carelessly tossed cigarette from the apartments next door caused a fire that destroyed four of our small 1915 wooden classroom-cottages. So, we’re really cautious! We shook the trees to remove any dried-out dead bits. One of our younger members climbed some of the trees to remove dead branches. With the help of our local police, all the dead brush was safely removed. We thought.

Aha! We missed a bit! The Fire Department noticed that some of the palm trees – over 100-years old and over 4-storeys tall – had a few more dead branches. More fines! I’m now trying to find someone who can shimmy up those palm trees and thwack off the offending branches. The professional tree trimmers charge thousands – which we don’t have. I thought I might even stop by the Fire Station that cited us: they have tall ladders and are not afraid of heights…

But, I’ve been through worse with this Club. And I shall persevere. People will come in to help, I know. As one door closes, another always opens. I’ll canvas the Hollywood community for donations. This, too, shall pass.

So, all this stopped my writing flow and dragged me back into another world.

Then, last week – just as I was getting back into writing mode – much of the World was shocked and saddened by the news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. I was surprised at how emotional I was. I know she was 96 years old – but we thought she would go on forever. She was always in my life.  It’s like losing your favorite grandmother.

 Queen Elizabeth truly devoted her life to the service of Britain and the Commonwealth. Growing up in England, I accepted that girls – women – could do anything they wanted. Even become Queen! Elizabeth was not born in line for the throne. She had an ‘ordinary’ (if privileged!) childhood and served in the Army during World War II.  People all over the world loved and admired her grace, her sensible approach to life, her love of animals – and her sense of humor. Although, even the Queen had her bad times, her “annus horribilis,” dealing with wayward offspring and grandkids.

But, as one door closes… Britain now has a new King: Charles III. People have been buoyed at the way he is dealing with these early days in his new position as King, knowing that he has had a long ‘apprenticeship’ and will follow in his mother’s footsteps in service to the people. And so, my sadness was soon replaced by hope and pride, watching the new King step into those big shoes! A new door opened – a fresh start.

Excuse my ramblings, as I, too, open a new door in my life. Instead of allowing these ‘challenges’ from the Woman’s Club to destroy me, I’m re-focusing once more on my writers’ life.

And with this view through a different door, I’m really looking forward to an “Annus Mirabilis.” A wonderful Year ahead!

(Rosemary’s delightful blog was posted by Gayle Bartos-Pool.)

MY GREEK SOJOURN….

 By ROSEMARY LORD

Rosie Selfie

I love to see the writing trends and what’s being read in different locales. So here I am doing my research in far away Greece. Well, someone has to do it!

You see, my older brother, Ted, is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer and my sister Angela – an ex-dancer – is recovering from knee surgery. So, the best idea was to scoop everyone up and retreat to this sleepy village on the Greek coast, where we can do family healing and recouping – and where I can get a proper break from running the Woman’s Club of Hollywood.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, during those cold winter months.

And, as I sit on my balcony in the afternoon sun, while my siblings take a siesta, I concluded that this was indeed a very good idea!

Rosie in Greece 2

Behind me, the Taygata Mountains shield us from the rest of Greece. In front I can see the waves of the Ionian Sea rolling in, then rhythmically retreating. Olive trees and the occasional lemon tree fill in everywhere else, colored by a profusion of wildflowers wherever one looks. The birds – chaffinches, sparrows, house martins and the constantly-cooing doves – provide the background music. With the occasional bleat from a stray goat, or a distant dog bark.

Not many distractions for industrious writers here.

Rosie and sister 2 croppedAnd there are small writers’ groups in the little villages. Especially poetry writers. Mostly American, German and English ex-pats, who escaped the cold winters of their homelands to have a fresh start here.

An ideal place for writers – except that it’s very hard to get work done in such an idyllic surrounding. It was in the next village that Nicholas Kazantzakis wrote about the legendary local man, Zorba the Greek – the black-and-white film of the book had the iconic music as Alan Bates and Anthony Quinn danced on the local beach. Ernest Hemingway, Lawrence Durrell, Dorothy Parker and other writers would stay nearby at the home of British writer and war hero, Patrick Leigh Fermor. His home has recently been turned into a writers’ retreat, with programs through UCLA and the New York and the British Library. We watched it being restored over recent years and toured the light and airy library and living and writing rooms. A magical place.

But, back to today’s writing. In the small local Katerina supermarkets, I always head for the book stands to see what’s being read. Jeffrey Deaver, Lee Childs and James Patterson head the English-language shelves, with Danielle Steele and Mary Higgins Clarke perennial favorites for holiday reading. The same titles printed in Greek and in German occupy the next shelves. Victoria Hislop’s beautifully written and researched sagas based on Greek and Spanish civil wars are prevalent and, on a lighter note, Joanna Trollop, Lucida Riley, Leah Fleming and, still, Agatha Christie paperbacks remain popular purchases. At one of the nearby cafes there is a “bring one/take one” wall of books, where one can swap a book you’ve finished and read something different.

Rosie and Sister

Here I am with my sister Annie.

There’s a lot of sitting in the shade of the olive trees or under an umbrella on the beach and reading done here. Forget about TV in this part of the world – so there’s a lot of reading and writing going on. Until you nod off, that is, and awaken 40 minutes later, wondering where you are and what you’re supposed to be doing! I have done that many times since being back here! I’m catching up on lost sleep!

But getting away from one’s normal routine can be very productive. As Marcel Proust pointed out: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.”

Looking at one’s life and work from afar brings new perspectives.

I have long been working on a book of the history of the Woman’s Club of Hollywood that has occupied my life for lo these many years. Here, I have been able to attack it with a different, fresh approach. I have also taken a different slant with two of my other half-finished novels that really need to be ‘out there.’ And I’ve been sketching a new mystery set in these parts.

I picked up an interesting idea from the prolific Lee Goldberg (who wrote the “Monk” television series, “Diagnosis Murder,” and recently Hallmark’s “Mystery 101”) on my recent trip to the Left Coast Crime Writers’ Conference, where we were fellow panelists.

Lee explained that script writing was much easier and quicker for him than all the novels he had written. Novels take him many months to write. Scripts could be done in a matter of weeks – often due to the pressing time allowed by the studios. So now he does a simple script of his new novel first. In the script, he said, he writes the step by step ‘what happened.’ No back-story and scant descriptions. Because, in a TV or film production, all the other departments fill this in.

The Casting Department bring in the actors whose personality, looks and ability provide the story’s characters. The Costume designers create the clothes for everyone, based on their view of the script they have read. The Production Designer designs the sets and, with the Art Department, select the locations and the back-drops. The Prop Master decides all the bits and pieces that fill the set, bringing it further to life. It’s a collaborative effort. They all meet up and discuss their ideas, along with the Cinematographer, Lighting and sound people. They each add their own talents and experience, orchestrated by the Director and the Producer. Writing the script, Lee says, is the simple part. He may not agree with or recognize the end-product on the screen, but, as long as the check didn’t bounce, he’s okay with this.

And so, he uses that basis for his novels now. He says it’s quicker than the old outline route. He writes the basic storyline as he would a script. With this, he can see if there is a part of the mystery or plot that doesn’t work, or something left unfinished. Once he knows he has the story worked out, he will go back in and fill in the character details, the background, the setting. This is the stage where he adds in any research he has undertaken and adds the touches of flavor and nuances. Whatever that particular novel needs to bring it to life.

And so, as the sun begins to sink behind the olive trees, I have re-assessed my various writing projects with fresh, ‘new’ eyes. Would fresh, ‘new eyes’ change your current writing?

                  Love from Greece,

                              Rosemary

Rosie in Greece 3

WHAT ARE WE MISSING?

by Rosemary Lord

Well, we wanted this year to be different, didn’t we? Or, did we yearn for The Good Old Days of yore: that is pre-Covid? The truth is somewhere in the middle…

For two years, we did as we were told. Because lives were at stake, and livelihoods, businesses, careers. We shut our lives down, following the Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines. We did the best we could.

But now, not a moment too soon, our world is supposed to be opening up again. How’s that working for you?  What are you looking forward to doing, as we get out and about, and happily smile, bare-faced, at each other again?

I don’t know about you – but, as a writer, I really missed all the Writers’ Conferences and workshops. It was a chance to get together with other creative folk from all over the world – writers, publishers, readers, agents – and swap ideas, hear news and get inspired and encouraged once more. Whether we attended in person, participated via Zoom or read about them online. They always made me feel part of a wonderful, chattering, writers’ world.

I loved reading about the conferences far, far away. Especially those sublime Writers’ Retreats in Tuscany, Greece or exotic Eastern islands. I mean, who could afford them? Even the fare to get there? Who had the time? But it was lovely to dream about the ‘one day’ when I had several best-selling novels under my belt and knew I could write the expenses off from my high taxes of my super-successful writing career.

I also learned a lot reading the descriptions of the workshops offered. Some were business oriented, about how the super-successful J. K. Rowlings and her compadres ran their writing careers or businesses. Or had someone else do it for them. Details of the foreign retreats that focused on creativity had descriptions to drool over: the leisurely, dreamy days gazing out on azure seas, after early-morning yoga, while tutors encouraged one to write something totally different from your usual style. To explore hidden corners of our creative brains. A morning of writing would be followed by exquisitely prepared meals of fresh, local produce served ‘en-plein-air’ – in the shade of exotic trees. To be followed by an afternoon saunter to the local farmers’ markets – or perhaps a wine tasting at the local vineyard. Then return to your room for more writing time. That is, if you could stay awake after the food and wine! Those Writers’ Retreats are VERY expensive. But one can dream…

In reality, most of us attend the more practical conferences packed with workshops on different styles and genres, on research, on editing our tomes, and how to wrap them up with an eye-catching pitch. There are always plenty of opportunities to attend agent-lead workshops, meet publishers and editors and hear lectures by our successful counterparts. I used to love listening to the late (and dearly missed) Sue Grafton. She always made us feel that if she had achieved success, then we could surely do the same. Charlaine Harris, Ann Perry, Lee Child, Ann Cleeves, Michael Connelly – I could go on – but they all spoke at these numerous events, sharing advice and encouragement for their fellow writers.  

These conferences are held all over the country. The annual Bouchercon was to have been in New Orleans last year but was cancelled due to Covid. I was looking forward to that! This year it’s in Minneapolis in September. The last Left Coast Crime Writers Conference I attended was in Vancouver in 2019. The 2020 one in San Diego was cancelled. This next one is in Albuquerque in April. (I’m moderating a panel of screenwriters and guesting on a panel about Twentieth Century Mysteries.) Malice Domestic Conference will be in Bethesda late April. The International Thriller Writers Conference is June 4th in New York.

There are several more venues for writers to hone their craft and network, including the California Crime Writers, which has gone online due to Covid precautions. There’s something for every writer: romance writers, mystery writers, screen writers, short-story writers. Something for every genre, for beginners and experienced career writers, traditionally published, self-published and ‘pre-published.’ In that long conference weekend, we get to talk about writing, meet new writers and readers, new agents and publishers, learn the latest forensic discoveries, the new publishing trends – and often, we plot how to commit murders that we can get away with! For our literary characters that is, of course! Although that discussion might well happen at the Romance Writers Conference occasionally, too!

            Many conferences were in California, so I would drive to them. But other times I would fly to another state.  Apart from the fun adventure of travelling to these events, I’ve missed seeing my writer friends from all over the globe. We laugh a lot, catch up on each other’s lives, eat a lot – and the bars are always open. It’s a lovely escape – before we return home to our usually isolated writing life. There, we scribble in our endless notebooks, then tap away on our computers – until we have something completed that we can discuss at the next writers’ conference.

So, we’re back to normal – sort of.

Almost.

Yay!

What part of your writers’ life did you miss most these past couple of years?

WORDS AND PICTURES – AND MEMORIES….

By ROSEMARY LORD

NEW YEAR PIC2

It’s fun, isn’t it, to start a new year? We rush in, brimming with scintillating ideas – relieved to see the back of last year, when all did not go according to plan. We had some wonderful memories, but – nah – let’s look forward.

I think we enjoyed this Holiday Season – Hanukah, Christmas, New Year festivities and the like – as a chance to take a deep breath, chill out and set our course on totally new horizons.

Speaking of ‘chilling out’ – I spent Christmas in England with my siblings. For the first time since we were teenagers! And the Kent countryside was so beautiful – like a winter wonderland painting. But it was freezing cold! For me, anyway. Used to California temperatures, it was a shock to my system, since I’d not been there in December for decades. London (where I stay with my brother, Ted) was not much better – only fractionally warmer. I was wrapped up in a long, quilted coat over a leather jacket, a fleece jacket, sweaters, vests (!), thermal underwear including long-johns. I wore gloves, a huge warm scarf, woolly hat and – the best bit: faux-fur earmuffs. The obligatory face mask actually helped keep my face warm!

Big Ben

So my brothers Ted and Phil, brother-in law Peter and sister Annie and I had a wonderful old-fashioned, cozy Christmas filled with lots of laughter over childhood memories. Christmas lights everywhere and hours ‘mucking in’ together in the kitchen, preparing endless delicious meals to fill tables groaning with food. It was especially meaningful, as Annie and Peter had moved into this spacious, welcoming house last March – in a truly delightful ‘Miss Marple’s style village – during the Covid lock-downs. So we gave the house a wonderful Christmas launch.

They had moved from a picturesque, 18th century cottage further out in the country, with 4 acres of fields with stables. With no horses, those stables became the repository for all sorts of boxes, trunks – and assorted exercise equipment.

One of those trunks was mine. With my roaming all over, from the moment I left school,  before I settled in Hollywood, California, my Mum had saved my ‘stuff’ from my childhood bedroom, from my travels and beyond. And when Peter and Annie downsized for their house move – a whittled down version of my ‘stuff’ came with them. So, some of this Christmas was spent going through this large box of my life. I’d forgotten I’d saved all my old 9×12 inch diaries, filled with all my appointments, interviews and auditions from leaving school through my early acting and journalism years. There were letters from big-time film directors that I had naively written to, asking for an acting job! In those days they actually wrote back to me! Alfred Hitchcock, Fred Zinneman, Elia Kazan, Bryan Forbes, Carl Foreman, Delbert Mann and so on. Wow!

rosie-and-the-hollywood-sign    I found my old, long-forgotten scrapbooks, filled with pictures of sunny Hollywood, palm trees, movie studios. Photos of the movie stars I wanted to emulate – Audrey Hepburn, Olivia DeHavilland, Irene Dunne, Gene Tierney, Grace Kelly. And those gorgeous actors that made girls swoon – Tyrone Power, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Gregory Peck. Pictures and articles of them all – and how they had accomplished their dreams. And now I have that large box of diaries, letters, several scrapbooks, that Mum had watched over for me – and that my sister had stored for me.

Looking through this treasure trove of memories, I reconnected with that skinny little girl with pigtails and freckles who had Big Dreams. Dreams of living and working in Hollywood, after devouring all those black and white Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movies on the telly. Bette Davis, Greer Garson, Gene Kelly, Cary Grant. That was the world I wanted to inhabit. And so I did.

I remember, not long after I had made Hollywood my home, I was having coffee with Tony Hopkins (as you do!) at the luxurious Beverly Hills home he and his wife Jenny lived in. He was giving me a ‘pep talk’ about following my dreams. He said that before he became an actor, living and struggling through life in a small town in Wales, he had dreams of becoming an actor and living in America. So he kept some pictures cut from magazines of the life he aspired to. Including a beautiful home in a sunny American setting. Many years later he moved into this beautiful home, where we were sitting, and realized that it was the same house that he had kept a now dog-eared magazine picture of all these years.

It’s amazing the things we keep. Especially us writers. We hang on to notes, scribbles, pictures, photos, pages that pique our interest. And what a good thing that we do. For this is often where we glean our ideas and inspiration.

69a16-hollywood2bthen2band2bnowLos Angeles Then and Now new cover

My first published writing in England and America, was about the Movie Stars I had interviewed. About the city of Hollywood and the Movie Studios. I wrote for magazines and newspapers – all about Hollywood. Especially the Golden Era of Hollywood. That led to my first published books on the history of Hollywood and Los Angeles. And it all started because I had kept cuttings, articles and pictures of the life I wanted to live – in Hollywood.

So now I have a whole new box of memories to plow through, that will inspire many more stories. Although now they will not only be about Hollywood, but inspired by all the other places I have visited on my journey here. With a murder or two woven into my stories along the way. Boy, am I glad I kept all that ‘stuff.’ Stuff that now feels like a goldmine to me.

Do other writers and readers out there keep ‘stuff’? Do you save articles, pictures, notes that have later inspired you to write something wonderful? Did you ever make those Vision Boards filled with inspiring words and pictures? And did anything ever come of them, I wonder? And what would your visions be now, today, for your future? Have you accomplished your childhood dreams? And have your earlier desires and ambitions changed? To what? I see another story emerging here….

(Posted for Rosemary Lord by Gayle Bartos-Pool)

A Life of Unfinished things…

 

 

By Rosemary Lord

Many of us get very reflective around this time of year, as we look forward to spending Thanksgiving with friends and loved ones.  I love this American tradition. As a transplanted, naturalized American, over the years, I have spent this annual celebration in so many different places, with many different people. I’ve listened to memories of childhood Thanksgivings, of different family traditions across the nation, handed downfrom great grandparents to sons and daughters and then to their offspring, in due course.

Frankly, I envy these traditions. And I just love the importance of all the special family dishes that are served. The recipes handed down through the generations have their ownstories. And the simple custom, at so many tables, of each person sharing what they are thankful for. It’s a wonderful time when everything else stops for a while, and people from different generations, different religions and all walks of life get together to simply say “Thank you.”

 After such a strange couple of years, I think many of us realize we have a lot to be thankful for. Maybe for things that we previously had taken for granted. Such as walking out in public bare-faced and exchanging smiles with strangers… an impulsive stop by your favorite family-run café – that is still in business. Or simply – hugs with friends.

As writers, we are more easily able to notice these little things that have come to mean so much. And as writers, we are especially fortunate that, whatever external restrictions the dastardly Covid plague inflicted on so many people, for us scribes, we could just keep on writing.

However, so often we get our story ideas from a chance remark in a casual conversation overheard – or eavesdropping (‘ear-wigging’ is the more colorful informal English term.) I would often make up my own version of the end of some snippet I’d heard and that would sometimes turn into a whole story.  

But during these cloistered times, we’ve missed out on overhearing strangers’ conversations.

The Covid situation affected people differently. All around us, some were having meltdowns, dramas, or ‘wobblies’ – as in “She/he’s having a wobblie” – a charming current English phrase. Others found a strength and a fortitude they hadn’t realized they possessed. They found a new purpose, as they stepped into the fray to help the home-bound, the elderly living alone, or the children without an open school to attend. They volunteered wherever they were needed. Many new friendships were created. Everyday heroes emerged, as people found innovative and creative ways to handle the situations we all found ourselves thrust into – and along the way, found ways to improve other people’s lives.

For writers, fascinating tales appeared for our writing brain to feed on. People stories.

These interminable lock-downs have given many people the chance to write that novel they always felt they had in them – but never had the time to pursue. For the uninitiated, they had their first crack at completing that novel. For us old-timers, it was the opportunity to maybe write outside our normal field. (Did I tell you I have a quarter of a noir, dark and creepy contemporary novel done? Who knew I could write that?) And for writers at every level, the burgeoning self-publishing market has been a boon and a blessing.

I have discovered so many new writers from all over the world – especially when I can get the bargain price of a used book, I don’t feel so guilty if I don’t like it. Plus, I have a whole slew of new books to read on my Kindle.

I must confess that my own, personal reading, at the end of a long day wrestling with Woman’s Club administrative ‘stuff’ is more and more escapist. Often tales of a newly widowed or newly divorced woman who decides to start a new life on the other side of the world and open a bakery or her own winery.  I’m re-reading my Rosamunde Pilcher favorites and re-discovering what a good, simple, nuanced writer she was. Her books are inspiring – usually about starting again, uncovering deep family secrets that lead to wonderful, happy endings. I like a happy ending. Especially these days. 

I think I have a life of unfinished things….  That’s what it seems like to me at the moment. Some painting and fixing things around my apartment. Some sewing bits and pieces. But mostly unfinished novels and stories, which is a good thing, because I have started some new writing projects and my busy mind keeps thinking of more. Not so good because I haven’t had time to complete them. And the characters in my stories are still whispering, nay yelling, in my head to share them with the world…

But I’m thankful for every moment when I am able to write – and plan that “next year it will be different. Promise!” Hmm, I think I’ve said that a time or two before. But I really, really mean it this time!

………………………………………………

IT’S A SMALL WORLD – OR IS IT…?

 

By Rosemary Lord

Did you notice how small our world became during the Covid-19 lock-down?

For those of us in California it’s been over eighteen months of confinement, and it’s not over yet. We were prohibited from travelling, other than for emergency/essential needs. We were discouraged from meeting anyone, other than those we lived with. For those of us who live alone – too bad!  In case we caught or spread the Dreaded Disease. 

Our in-person Writers’ Conferences were cancelled. First the Left Coast Crime Conference in San Diego was cancelled March 2020, just after I’d checked in!

Even last month’s ‘Blood on the Bayou’ Bouchercon Writers’ Conference in New Orleans, was cancelled at the last minute.

Our hardworking conference organizers must have wept as years of planning were wiped away. But you can’t keep writers down for long. We always find a way… They came up with various creative online offerings.

There was no travelling to meet other writers or to research places for our stories. We stayed home, becoming ‘shut-ins,’ locked in our own little castles – be it one room or a whole rambling house. We were still ‘confined to barracks.’ We didn’t drive – there was nowhere to go. People had everything delivered. (Cardboard box-makers must be making a fortune!)

Lives the world over changed. We became resourceful. We helped relatives, friends and neighbors. We re-evaluated our world. But the fear the Media shared, became pervasive. It was – and still is – difficult to escape.

But, as writers, we had our own escape – into our  private, isolated writing world. Some writers flourished, with no distractions, completing novels, articles, scripts – all sorts. Other writers struggled, unable to concentrate. I wrote some, but not as much as I wanted.

I read a lot more. Most of us did. Unable to get the creative juices flowing and seeking diversion, I found something quick and easy, re-reading  “Eats, shoots and leaves” – which I’ve written about before. It’s Lynn Truss’s witty book on sloppy punctuation. It still made me laugh. Just what I needed. Lynn Truss bemoaned the fate of proper punctuation, claiming that it was an endangered species, due to low standards on the internet, email communication and “txt msgs”  She explained, “Eats shoots and leaves” is a joke about pandas. They eat (bamboo) shoots and leaves – and not, by the simple addition of an errant comma, a comment about a violent criminal act. (Although pandas can give a very nasty bite.)

Then there’s Michael Caine’s interpretation of a line in a script that read,  “What’s that in the road ahead?” By adding a simple dash, Caine had his fellow actors in fits of laughter when he announced: “What’s that in the road – a head?”

Or the Australian take on bad punctuation, taught in schools as a way of making students remember the grammatical rules: “Let’s eat Grandpa,” sends Aussie kids into helpless giggles with such a picture. But it’s not a cannibalistic suggestion, merely the absence of a comma in a sentence that should read:  “Let’s eat, Grandpa.”  That’s why Eats, Shoots and Leaves became so popular, reminding us of school lessons that seem to have vanished in today’s hurried world.

So, my lock-down reading provided some laughs, and I learned a lot of new things. (Just don’t get me started on Social Media for Dummies, or U-Tube attempts to teach me ‘techie’ things with my computer or Social Media. Urgghh!)

But at least I discovered a terrific search engine: DuckDuckGo – where you don’t get followed by advertisements and constantly besieged by sales pitches for something you were looking up. 

My reading veered from my usual research about Old Hollywood, to total escapism. Mysteries in far off places: Peter Mayle’s The Marseille Caper, Victoria Hislop’s The Island and Rosanna Ley’s The Saffron Trail – to name just three. Clearly a theme here: my yearning to travel again!

Unless you’re half of a writing partnership – we write alone. Although, when I’m immersed in my writing, I’m enjoying a world with all sorts of characters – so I don’t feel alone. Our writing community is filled with a smart, imaginative assortment of writers. But this long, lock-down was different.  And as much as we did Zoom Meetings, phone-calls and Webinars, we missed that personal interaction, spontaneity, the regular Coffee Shop meetings sharing our latest pages and new ideas. We missed meeting friends – especially the hugs. Waving at the end of a Zoom meeting is not the same.

So now, as we venture out again, we are cautious. Driving any distance, after eighteen months of only running local errands, was most disconcerting. The intrepid journey on not just one, but three, freeways, took me back to learning to drive when I was seventeen – in a clunky old Morris that would not go much faster than thirty miles an hour. I was right back there on that quiet English road, holding my breath until I reached my destination. I found going to a shopping center almost overwhelming. Where did all these people come from? I’d got used to the quiet isolation of my apartment building. But I wasn’t alone. We had stopped interacting with each other. Stopped those lovely unexpected meetings of friends and acquaintances we bumped into on the street. We’d not been out on the street for eighteen months.

 But I discovered that friends and family were going through the same thing. The enforced isolation was more difficult than many of us realized. Not wanting to make light of kidnap victim’s suffering – but many people appear to be suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome.

We’d learned to keep ourselves ‘safe.’  Our world had become so small. Walking out again into the big, brash, noisy world was scary. It was tempting to run back inside and close the door. But, adventurers at heart, we writers have stepped back into the fray. Into that great big, bright, scary world again, that’s just waiting for our participation and our imagination. Hey, World, we’re back!

 

……..end……..

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

A TOPSY-TURVY LIFE….

    

                                    By ROSEMARY LORD

           

Do you ever feel that your life seems to have been turned upside down these last couple of years? Topsy-turvy. All those goals you had listed, carefully planned, trips scheduled, Writers’ Conferences booked. Gone. Banished. Cancelled. Due to the Covid pandemic lock-down. So, you took a deep breath and made yourself a cup of tea, coffee or poured a nice glass of something stronger. “Okay,” you told yourself, “I can manage this. Find another approach…”

            How did that work out?  Do I hear peals of laughter?

            I recall that in my Blog of November 2015, Time Out – To Remember,  I was overwhelmed with a too-busy schedule and too many other things on my plate and on my agenda, when all I wanted to do was write my next novel. “Don’t you sometimes wish,” I unwittingly wrote,” you could stop the clocks – just for twenty-four hours – so you could catch up?” I’d become so busy with my other work, there was no time for my writing. I was thwarted by my promise to at least write during my lunch hour, realizing I didn’t have time to stop for lunch. Weekends free to write? I wish…

            So, the Covid 19 shut-down should have provided that time  – not just 24 hours –  but fifteen months to catch up. Yikes! Except that’s not what happened for so many. First was the traumatic health concern and challenges. Then came financial loss to small businesses and to those who ran or worked at those businesses and to the self-employed who relied on customers. I think the techies of the world probably made out okay. But once the external/in-person meetings, lunches, appointments, travel, shopping, et al, stopped – so many other things took over our lives.

            As for those with large families, lots of kids in need of an education, all crammed into the house for longer than a couple of days at Holiday Time. That must have been fun – or not! (Sometimes there’s an advantage to being a singleton again.) 

            On the upside, was the massive de-cluttering we all did. Very therapeutic, if time consuming. After that forced isolation went way beyond the initial thirty-days, we adjusted to our own company – which writers relish. I did eventually write – several different things, still incomplete. I did a major edit, too. So many other writers I know had the chance to try writing something totally different, venturing into different genres.

It gave everyone the chance to re-evaluate the path they had been on and ask, ‘Is this how I really want to spend my life?’

            A lot of people decided to move house – across country, some returning to their family fold, others found the place of their dreams. Some even moved across the world. Others discovered that, like us writers, they could work from home anywhere. New careers were created, less-stressful jobs accepted. Our world was topsy-turvy.

      Serendipity, the Oxford English Dictionary says, is “The faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident” Or – when you start out in one direction and fate takes you in a different direction. Sort of like Yak Shaving….  Remember Yak Shaving? It’s when you start out to do something fairly simple, but have to accomplish small steps (or annoying distractions) along the way, before you can complete your original, simple task. And so, that early morning chore is still not completed when, exhausted, you fall into bed that night and promise, “I’ll try again tomorrow…” 

            But we’re a resourceful lot, us humans. We worked through trials and tribulations.

We reinvented not only ourselves, but our lives. At times some of us felt like Sisyphus, pushing that rock uphill, only to be so close to the top when it rolls back down to the bottom and forced to start again. But we don’t give up.

            And as the world begins to open up again, we pick up the pieces of our former lives, now with clearer eyes, so we discard the bits that we no longer want – and add new ventures, new goals to our To Do lists.

            For me and many writers, we’ve missed the in-person writers’ meetings and conferences, where we meet up with old friends from all over the world, and we make new friends, new contacts. In our recent lock-down world, we stopped our instinctive human connection with others and now are gingerly learning social graces again. Do we hug, do we shake hands (That seems currently a taboo!), do we wave-from-a-distance, nod a ‘hello’ – what’s acceptable? Hey – I’m a hugger, as much as I can be these days.

A be-masked clerk at the DMV told me she was terrified of seeing people’s faces again. She didn’t know how she’d react! How sad, I thought. I can’t wait to see everyone’s smiles again. I love the unspoken language of expressions. I’m always ‘reading’ people’s faces – just as we read their body language.

            So, okay, everyone. Are we ready for this new world? Considerate and understanding of some folk’s cautious behavior, while rejoicing the exuberance of others celebrating the new freedom.   The lock-down has left many with new challenges with finances, health, mental-health issues and facing new lives, new careers. We’re putting our lives back together. All of us. It’s like writing a mystery novel, where we purposely misdirect the readers and plot red-herrings and diversions. But at the end, we writers have to tie it all together for a flourishing dénouement.

And so with our lives, this new, topsy-turvy world is waiting.

What fun. What larks, eh Pip? ***

*** In case any young ones are wondering who is Pip: It’s Pip in Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations – and this is a favorite quote of Judy Dench.

A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN

            By Rosemary Lord

            It was Virginia Wolfe who, in 1929, famously said, “A woman must have money and a room of her own, if she is to write fiction.”

            I thought about that as I de-cluttered my office-space for the umpteenth time, trying to create more writing space. I’d even bought myself a new smaller office chair – petite, chrome with pale gray leather. Much prettier than the traditional tall black swivel chair I’ve had for years. You see, I don’t have an actual office – a separate room – but use the far corner of my living room, surrounded by bookshelves, for my office. It would be nice, I thought, to have a separate office with a door – that I could shut at the end of each work day, and ignore my mess of research papers and note pads.

            Agatha Christie had a lovely, bright office in her sprawling country home, Greenway, on the River Dart in Devon. Now a National Trust property, the view from her office window is of green lawns and masses of colorful wild flowers. But she said she really did her thinking, about her plots and characters, in the huge claw-foot bath-tub in the upstairs Victorian bathroom.

            Men who write fiction need a room of their own, too. I also visited Bateman’s estate: Rudyard Kipling’s Jacobean home in Burwash, Sussex. You can walk into his book-lined study and see his wide writing table covered with travel mementoes, his inkwell, pen and assorted hand-written pages. Next to the table is a daybed, where Kipling would spend part of his writing day reclining and thinking through his books before he committed his tales to paper. Tall windows overlooking rolling fields and farmlands, made the room surprisingly light.

            Beatrix Potter began writing as a very young child, when her nursery was on the top floor of the family’s tall, Victorian London house. (At least she had a room of her own.) She would be brought downstairs to visit with her mother for an hour each afternoon. Her only companions were the household staff. When her lunch (delivered to her room daily on a tray) was late one day, a maid explained “Cook’s got mice in the kitchen!” Beatrix was intrigued: “What’s ‘mice in the kitchen’?” A houseman brought one of the mice in a cage for the little girl to see. The rest, as they say, is history. She asked to keep the caged mouse as company and began to draw the furry creature and write stories about it. Her literary work expanded when, as a teenager, they moved north into the countryside, where she found Mrs. Tiggywinkle and all the other characters she brought us.

            In today’s world, most writers have a room of their own in which to write.  Although Carol  Higgins Clark started out writing on the corner of the kitchen table. She would retype her mother’s (Mary Higgins Clark) novels to send out to her agent. Carol said her mom explained everything she was doing, so that eventually Carol was able to write her own novels and found her own literary success, following her late mom’s very successful path. She now can afford her own office.

            Jackie Collins wrote hugely successful novels set in glamorous Beverly Hills and Hollywood in her equally glamorous office, with big picture windows overlooking Beverly Hills. The furniture was light beige and luxurious, her desk semicircular with a high-back soft beige leather chair. Jackie wrote all her novels by hand on yellow legal pads. She wrote daily from nine to five, with a short lunch break.

jackie-collins-study

            Danielle Steel has not just one Room of Her Own – or office – but two: One is in Paris, where she grew up, and the other in San Francisco. She travels back and forth. The mother of nine now-grown children, Danielle has written almost two hundred books. Her passion for writing has led to an intense schedule. At her desk, built to resemble a stack of her books, Danielle begins at 8 am each day and does not leave until a draft is complete. Sometimes she just stops for four hours sleep and carries on until the book is finished. She wears her comfy cashmere nightgown and eats at her desk, with refills of de-caffeinated iced coffee and a stash of bittersweet chocolate. When she is in San Francisco, she writes on her 1946 Olympia standard typewriter. As I said, Danielle Steele has TWO rooms of her own in which to write her fiction.

danielle-steeles-desk

            I remember visiting fellow Brit-born writer, Jacqueline Winspear. She had a lovely, small home-office, where she wrote many Maisie Dobbs novels. The walls were lined with shelves of books, research, and jumbo post-it notes, with a large table under the window and a comfy chair. Jacqui said that when she shut the door and closed the blinds, she could lose herself back in the Maisie Dobbs world of England in the 1930s.

            I was envious that Jacqui had a room of her own in which to write. A room with a door that she could shut. I remember thinking that if I had a cozy office with a door that I could shut, then I could easily write at least one novel a year – just as Jacquie has done.

            But now, as I settle down again at my table in the corner of the living room and start scribbling another segment of my next Lottie Topaz novel, I look across the room to the patio and the pool outside. I realize that I can’t continue without another cup of tea. Kitchen here I come. Then I have an idea for a contemporary mystery I’m working on set in St. Tropez. You see how quickly I distract myself?

            While other writer friends have churned out dozens of novels, I realize that I have allowed my life and time to be torn in different directions, sorting other people’s problems and dramas. But, hey, I’m getting better. At least I am writing a few times a week, for a couple of snatched hours. I just want to be totally dedicated to writing several hours, every single day, like the aforementioned writers. What’s wrong with me?

            Aha! I have found the real reason behind my lack of focus. I don’t have a

proper office – with a door that I can shut on all those distractions. I need a room of my own.     

            Well that’s my excuse for today…. What’s yours?

LadyWriting

Posted for Rosemary Lord by Gayle Bartos-Pool.

WHAT MAGELLAN STARTED…

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  by Rosemary Lord

Hmmm. Well, it’s been a year of discovery, hasn’t it?

When our world was stopped a year ago, by the dastardly Covid pandemic, we had to re-think our entire lives. The way we did everything. The way we worked, lived and communicated. For those of us living alone, we learned more about ourselves. Those quarantined with loved ones and family members, probably learned more about them than they ever wanted to know!

A year later, look at how much we have discovered about us and everyone else and about the world around us. Our priorities have changed. We have learned to appreciate so many things. We have adjusted, we have compromised. We have discovered whole new worlds into which we never would normally have ventured when, at times, the internet or The Discovery Channel were our only companions during this past year.

That’s where Ferdie comes in. Ferdinand Magellan was born into poverty in Portugal in 1480. He was orphaned at 10 years old. Not a great start in life – but he had an imagination and a curiosity. At 12 years old, he was appointed as a page to the Queen of Portugal. He received an excellent and diverse education at the palace. The more he learned, the more curious he became about the world that he knew must be out there, somewhere. Portugal appeared uninterested in his adventurous ideas, so he turned to the King of Spain. The King listened. When Ferdinand Magellan set out to discover new worlds on his Spanish expedition to the East Indies in 1519, he had a goal. He had carefully plotted. (Take heed, writers: plotting can be useful!) He had a plan.

He had decided to prove Copernicus and others wrong, and prove that the earth was not flat.  Magellan became the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe. And he didn’t fall off the edge! He even named the Pacific Ocean such – because it was more peaceful than the Atlantic Ocean he had traversed. He studied clouds, discovered penguins – and the Spice Islands! How exciting!

All because he had planned and plotted and Life had taken him in a different direction and on a different adventure. And because he was curious…

Curiosity – that’s what is so important to writers. Curiosity and a sense of adventure. With a year of no actual travel, many people have turned to ‘armchair travelling.’ Luckily for us writers, people have been reading books as a way of escape, as a way of learning about new lands, new places and people. They’ve been reading far more books than usual. They didn’t have time before. And many have been so inspired by the places they have visited on the written page, that they have resolved to travel far and wide – once the Covid regulations allow.

Our writing has that effect on people. We paint pictures of enchanting islands where romance lingers in the air, or dark, mysterious back-streets winding through spice-scented villages, or vast golden sands stretching out to reach the azure skies. Perhaps an overcrowded city-scape, where throngs of bustling people hurry on about their lives, speaking an unfamiliar language – or the quiet charm of a Cotswold village of fifty years ago, or a painted houseboat on the Ganges…

There’s a whole world out there that we, as writers, have introduced our readers to. Often places we, ourselves, have never visited. We just love to do research and we’re good at it.

For generations, people the world over felt doomed to travelling every rush hour to a cubicle office in an anonymous tower, to work in order to earn a pay check to support their families.

Well, this past year, they discovered that, like us lucky writers, they could do a lot of work from home. Lives changed forever. People got creative and reassessed just how important is that promotion, that fancy office title? Perhaps they could downsize and lessen their financial burdens. Maybe they could stay home and become a carpenter, or a painter – or write that novel they had always felt they had in them… Well they did. And they have.

This past year our writers’ world has changed, too. Without Writers’ Conferences, we have Zoomed, Skyped and learned the mechanics of Webinars. We’ve learned our way through self-publishing, while waiting for traditional publishers to resurface. It seems that more books than ever have been published and more books than ever are being read. If you’re not commuting to the city every day – you have time to read more. A lot more.  So it works out for everyone.

This past year of discovery has affected our writing, too. During the decluttering that we enthused over, we have unearthed and finished old, forgotten manuscripts. Some writers are exploring writing in different genres. They’ve found a different voice. A different song to sing. 

So the adventures and challenges (big and small) of this past year and our discoveries about ourselves and our life today may not sound as exhilarating – and certainly not as dangerous  – as Magellan’s. We may be on a different path now, and not where we thought we needed to be. But it’s still our own discovery and just as magical in its own way. Thank you, Ferdie, for leading the way….             

Posted for Rosemary Lord by G.B. Pool

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