THE WRITERS’ CONFERENCE THAT WASN’T…  

By ROSEMARY LORD

 

Writinhand           Well – who could have known…

I was heading for the Left Coast Crime ‘Murder’s A Beach’ writers’ conference in San Diego.

Two Southern California authors were being honored: Rachel Howzell Hall and T. Jefferson Parker. I was moderating a panel, “Hooray For Hollywood: Tinsel Town as a setting…” with Kellye Garrett, Lee Goldberg, Sherri Leigh James and Pat Broeske on Friday.

These conferences are always a great time to catch up with other writers who live far and wide – all coming together because of their love of books, of reading and writing – and especially mysteries. They readily share their knowledge, expertise on novel writing and their encouragement to those in pursuit of a publisher. It’s also a chance to meet their readers and fans.

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I bumped into old friends writer/magician Stephen Buehler, wine-expert Nadine Nettmann, Catriona McPherson, Sheri James and Pat Broeske on my way in. But I’m getting ahead of my self.

It was a long, slow drive from Hollywood through a heavy rainstorm, averaging 9 miles an hour. 4 hours later, as I drew into the Marriot Mission Valley, I was looking forward to all the panels and lectures I had marked on the busy schedule.

Having checked in, left my bags in my room, I had already missed the ‘Not Too Distant Past: 20th Century Historical Mysteries’ panel that I wanted to hear, so I headed for the Rio Vista ballroom to listen to Toastmaster author Matt Coyle being interviewed. I stood at the back, as it was already underway.

A small cluster of somber-faced women with clip-boards arrived and stood at the back. Hmm. At a long pause in questions, they walked up to the front and one announced. “Please everyone stay in your seats – do not leave!” Then, the dreaded words followed that the San Diego Health Department was shutting down the conference, due to the Covid-19 virus concerns. Effective immediately. (The Arizona Book Festival and the L.A. Times Festival of Books would soon follow.)

Microphones

The conference organizers had spent 3 year planning this what-would-have-been-wonderful 4 days of panels, discussions, celebrations and networking. They were, naturally, devastated. They announced they would be emailing us about refunds. Some in the audience suggested that we return any refund to put towards the huge cost of putting on this event. Then there was the discussion of the Saturday Night Award Banquet, when awards for the Best First Novel, Best Historical Novel and so on. No solutions yet. The crowd promised to meet up at the next Left Coast Crime conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in April 2021.

We were asked to vacate the ballroom. Immediately.  

“But we’re here, together, now – can’t we at least have the Opening Cocktail Reception before we leave?” rippled through the crowd. A glass of wine and hors d’oeuvres sounded very welcoming at that moment. Alas no. They shut that down too.

But, as we filed out of the room, the hotel staff wheeled out trolleys of spring rolls and wantons into the corridor, offering us plates to help ourselves as we left. They explained that they had cooked them, so we might as well eat. But the wine-bar was quickly moved out of sight!

The rest of the evening was spent congregating in the bar-café area as we figured out our next step. I had a relatively short drive, compared to many who had flown in from Canada or the East Coast, with return flights booked for Sunday.

Ladies Study

The attendees include not only writers, publishers and editors, but many readers – fans. They seem to often be older women – often Agatha Christie fans who love meeting other mystery writers, collecting signed copies of their books. I wondered how many of these fans lived alone and, having had just had their big, exciting vacation crushed, would be returning to empty apartments and homes. I also thought about the struggling writers who spent hard-earned money on promotional items such as pens, notebooks, bookmarks to give out at various events during the weekend, attempting to sell their books. And then there were all of the extra hotel staff hired especially to work this conference. What happens to them?

Although I appreciate that this is insignificant compared to the health risks of those who are felled by this awful virus and the impending suffering of so many workers, travelers and businesses affected by the quarantines in force.

But it was sobering to observe this sliver of the rippling effect.

But I don’t want this to be all doom and gloom, for this, too shall pass. We will get beyond this bizarre situation we have all been thrown in together. And when we come out the other end, we will be much wiser and a lot more appreciate of the freedoms we usually enjoy, of the good friends we have, aware of the health and safety of our loved ones, friends and co-workers. Many of our parents lived through World War Two. The motto then was KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON.

I shall be working from home for the next couple of weeks, having closed down the Woman’s Club as a health precaution for our members, guests and volunteers. Although I still have a large stack of club paperwork to tackle, I shall be able to take more time to work on my Lottie Topaz books and a couple of new ideas I have.

It’s a chance for all of us to take some time to reflect on where we are going with our lives and our writing careers, to count our blessings and make wonderful plans for a bright future.

So just remember to check on friends and neighbors living alone. Stay safe and healthy.  See you on the other side of this pandemic.

So keep calm and carry on writing….!

Keep Calm

THE HAPPY WRITER….

                     by Rosemary Lord

 

Happy 2020!

Well, this new year has got off to a busy start. It’s not just a new year, but a new decade. Where, oh where, did these years go? It seems to have been a decade of run, don’t walk, through life, ducking and dodging life’s many ‘surprises.’

I, for one, am very happy to move on to 2020.

 

For me, the last 10 years were overshadowed by the intense work on the whole sorry Woman’s Club saga, which began when the property was stolen February 8th, 2010. Almost 10 years ago! The club finally came out of bankruptcy at the end of 2019 and back on its’ own feet last month. I was glad to see the end of that challenge and the end of that decade.

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Although the biggest shadow, and the most devastating happening of the last decade, was the sudden death of my wonderful husband, Rick, in 2012. I subsequently buried myself in the dramas of the Woman’s Club, which helped me move through the grief.

Trip of a Lifetime 2009 240

During this time I made several trips back to be with my family, my siblings in England and Greece, for which I am so very thankful. We spent much wonderful family time together, reminiscing and healing the loss of a husband and, for them, a much-loved brother-in-law. And we re–discovered each other and created an even closer family bond.

We had adventures and we laughed a lot, amidst the tears.

 

Sideswiped by that grief, it was a decade where I had mostly abandoned my novel series about Lottie Topaz. But writing is as important as breathing, for me. So instead I wrote this Blog and I wrote updated versions of my Los Angeles Then and Now and Hollywood Then and Now books. The latest Los Angeles Then and Now, a travel-size edition, is to be released this March, 2020. But these are non-fiction, historical research books. So they’re not an emotional journey for me or the reader, unlike Lottie’s tales.

 

I love Lottie, and find myself laughing and crying with her as she whispers her stories in my ear. I am her conduit and her typist. And so it was difficult working on her books until this new year, when the  new decade dawned. January 1st, 2020 it felt different. Now, Lottie and I spend every hour I can spare, editing her first book.

writer Lady 3

I am now fastidiously logging each chapter and every page – giving myself a clear map of what I have managed to weave. I did a brief version of this chapter outline early on, but realized it was not enough. This is a serious, freshly focused chapter log!

Lottie Topaz and the Flicker Murders (the full title of this first book in the series) has been rejected by some agents – without even a cursory reading – not even the first 10 pages – due to the length, I have learned. Novel submissions must be 75-90,000 words. Apparently, only established, successful novelists can earn a publishing contract with much longer manuscripts.

At the California Crime Writers’ Conference I was told that agents and publishers are so inundated with prospective books, that it is a way to eliminate and cut down the number of manuscripts they have to read.

The draft I sent out was almost 120,000 words. Okay – so I got carried away – I will fix it. Hence my map of where I may trim more than just a few words – probably whole scenes – which I will put aside and hopefully use in one of Lottie’s other books. That is the plan afoot. Besides, reading it through after all this time, I have fresh eyes and find it easier to see where things need to speed up, or where descriptions or conversations are superfluous.

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So this year I have fallen in love with Lottie and her travails all over again. She and I have also been working on Lottie’s second novel,” Seven for a Secret” in which we go back to her beginnings in London, as well. It’s bliss. I’m a happy writer.

This new year, this new decade, I have found my love for writing again.

 

And look at how this past decade has opened up so many new avenues for us writers. The flourishing world of self-published books has been brought out of the shadows and finally feted and honored alongside the traditionally published books. Writers can happily control their own literary destiny. And instead of dire warnings of an over-saturated market, I have heard both here and in Europe that people are reading more than ever.

 

Young readers have their own burgeoning world of YA favorites, children’s books are increasingly popular and the genres for everyone have expanded into a multitude of worlds, time-zones, creatures and beings – only limited by the imaginations of writers and readers alike. Today reading has been expanded into so many new forms: be it on a kindle, with audio-books, through pod-casts or faithful paperbacks and hardbacks.

Old Books

So I do declare, from my happy writing desk, that this wonderful new year, this exciting new decade will be the The Year of the Writer – nay, The Decade of the Writer – with happy readers discovering us all.

Happy New Year everyone!

Rosemary at Burbank Library JPG

 

 

PADDY’S HOUSE

by Rosemary Lord

 

Paddy's house 1Paddy’s House was finally open for visitors. It’d been long enough. For 3 or 4 years, during our summer and winter visits, my siblings and I had peered through endless tall shrubs and overgrowth at the seemingly abandoned house, wondering what was going to happen to this magical home in the middle of nowhere. It was at the water’s edge of the remote little town called Kardamyli in Greece’s southern region of the Peloponnese.

Paddy himself youngerThe house had belonged to British-born writer Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor – known as Paddy to friends and followers. A great traveler and adventurer, at age 18 in 1933, he walked across Europe, from Holland to Constantinople. He was travelling through Germany just as Hitler came into power and carried on to Greece at the outbreak of World War II, when he joined the Irish Guards. Having learned several languages along the way, Leigh Fermor joined the S.O.E and fought to help free occupied Crete.

Many years later the film Ill Met By Moonlight retold this wartime episode, with Dirk Bogard playing Sir Patrick.

Paddy's book 1Patrick Leigh Fermor’s first non-fiction book was The Travellers Tree, followed by his only novel, The Violins of Saint-Jacques which was published in 1953. His later books about his travels include Mani, Roumelli and A Time of Gifts. These he wrote first in longhand at his Kardamyli retreat.

 

 

Paddy's house 2Paddy began building this charmingly beautiful, rambling Kardamyli House in 1965. He paid the local youths a penny a rock to gather small and large boulders from around the craggy area and help him create a rustic hideaway. He wove rock and pebble designs throughout the floors inside and outside in the meandering seating areas. Stone benches abound, each with a different inspiring view of the sea or the towering Taygetos mountains behind the property. A series of individual guest rooms surround the main house. In the centre of the house is the large living-room with long built-in, comfy seating at either end, under the windows that cover the length of the room and overlook the craggy rocks leading down to the turquoise waters of the Messinian Gulf.Paddy's house 3

In the ensuing years Paddy and his wife Joan played host to writers Lawrence Durrell, John Betjeman, Henry Miller and painters Picasso, John Craxton, Ghiko and other literati of the day, inspired by the surroundings. This was how ‘Paddy’s House’ got its reputation.

Now Paddy’s house has been lovingly restored. It is light, airy, simple and very welcoming. Just the place to hide away and write a book. It was finally opened to the public this October and exhibits his vast book and art collection and is once again a writer’s retreat. Writer guests are chosen by a panel from UCLA, Princeton and the Banaki Museum, sponsors of this refurbishment.   Elpitha, Paddy’s house-keeper for his final eleven years after his wife Joan died, gives private tours and shares glimpses into Leigh Fermor’s life. She would clean for him, cook his favorite moussaka dish, drive him places and told us that he would clamber down to the sea and swim each morning until not long before his death in 2011 at the age of 94. He spoke mostly Greek to her.

Paddy himselfPatrick Leigh Fermor certainly had a full, well-lived life, as his books tell. Living in such a remote part of Greece – or anywhere in the Mediterranean area – would seem like a perfect place to inspire creativity; to write and paint. Or is it? It certainly is a wonderful respite from the hustle, bustle, traffic and cacophony of Hollywood or London – for a week or two. A wonderful place for me to meet up with scattered family members. A chance to relax, recharge one’s batteries and catch up on sleeping, eating – and writing. But I realize that I find my inspiration from my surroundings. The everyday tales of those I meet. The lengthy chats about youthful adventures. The revelations of the history of our surroundings.

I really look forward to my sojourns with no thoughts of any time-keeping. Instead, timeless days spent wandering through olive groves, exploring ancient ruins and unfamiliar towns. Or walking along the deserted beaches, watching the distant tide creep in and turn to crashing waves and then, later, marveling at the fierce summer thunder and lightning storms in the night. Hours spent enjoying free-flowing conversation over a simple, leisurely meal. What’s not to like? But would I want to live there?

I have a feeling that, were the opportunity to arise, I would get little work of any sort done in those surroundings. Especially writing. At my impending return to the ‘civilization’ of Hollywood, I relish the chance for another fresh attack on my next book. I look forward to sitting at my newly re-ordered and de-cluttered desk. It awaits all of the inspiration gathered during my travels. A new blank page waiting to be filled with fresh ideas and newly remembered forgotten words.

What’s not to like? How do you re-charge your batteries?

Typewriter and desk

HERE THERE BE DRAGONS….. by Rosemary Lord

Here there be dragons“Here there be dragons…”

In the 1700s, this phrase was used by cartographers when drawing maps. They knew so little of the world in those days – a mere 100 miles or so beyond their own spheres. So, when they did not know what lay in those outer regions, they would mark it with drawings of sea monsters and the warning, “Here there be dragons.”

But it is still used today to warn people away from unchartered or unexplored places and areas. Untried actions. Hmm.

There are a lot of dragons about today, it seems. I don’t know about you, but I keep wandering off into uncharted waters. Unintentionally.

I’ve recently faced all sorts of dragons where the Woman’s Club of Hollywood is concerned. We are finally steering our way out of the choppy waters of bankruptcy. We’re removing the tentacles of uninvited outside parties, desperate to make a quick buck on another land grab of a historical Hollywood property.

ATT00019“It’s just a bunch of middle-aged women who don’t know what they’re doing. They can’t stop us,” one was overheard saying. Oh, that set my blood boiling.

I found strength I didn’t know I had and learned to dance very fast, maneuvering through loan papers, legal documents, escrow. I – who know nothing about real estate! But I’m learning.

I’m a writer, following my own instinct as to what would work best. I asked for the impossible – and got it. Borrow $4 million? Sure. If that’s what it takes to stop evil and greed.

As certain parties saw the promise of all that real estate money being moved out of their reach, desperate last-minute threats (some ugly and personal) came my way. But I was on a mission. Them there dragons can be quite scary.

But then the magic started. The wonderful, angel-people began to step forward to help, guide and encourage me. So many ‘coincidences’ happened. People turned up just when I needed them. Old friends and acquaintances stepped up.

The Woman’s Club in bankruptcy was as if it had leprosy. People shied away. But now, as I faced the dragons and survived, wonderful opportunities have opened up and I have a fabulous, strong team now working on the future of this historic institution. I don’t have to shoulder it alone. And as I can step back a bit, I get to return to what I really need to do: my writing.

This whole saga has taught me so much – and of course I will write about it, too.

Here there be dragons 2It can be scary stepping off into the unknown. It took me a long time to find the courage to sit down to write a mystery novel, for instance. I had no idea where to start or how to go about it. Those were baby dragons and easily overcome.

As well as my Old Hollywood adventures of Lottie Topaz, I now have several other, totally different books swimming around my head, waiting to be written. Those are not in dragon-occupied lands. Just perhaps amongst porpoises – and the occasional mermaid.

It’s the realization that tomorrow is promised to no-one, so you’d better get on with it. Dragons or not. Carpe Diem and all that.

Life has thrown many of us some challenges this past year. But we have dealt with them. So maybe it’s time to make a fresh start – take a few risks. Try writing something totally different. Start painting, sketching, pottery – do something else creative to get those juices flowing again.

One idea I heard is to write your own obituary. No – it’s not as grim as it sounds. Honest. Write out how you would want to be remembered. Was it for having the cleanest home in the world – or was it for writing that brilliant, life-changing book? Did you write an amazing character that brought pleasure to millions of readers?

And what happened before all that acclaim? How did you actually write that book, or paint that picture? Work your way back in your life. Before you hit the Best Seller list – or won the Housekeeper-of-the-year award – what led up to that? Keep going back until you are where you are today, when you made a decision to change your path. To really follow your hidden dreams. To step out of your comfort zone and risk rejection. Start with the day you decided to step off in to that unknown world, despite all the warnings of “Here there be dragons…”

I am amazed at what has happened in the recent months. It’s not been easy. And I often thought that I could just not go on. But I did. And it has been exhilarating, when I look back and see where I came from, the new path I’ve taken – and how brilliant the future looks. Those dragons turned out to be quite magical….

Who knew?

Dragon with book (2)

 

 

 

WHAT JUST HAPPENED…? By Rosemary Lord

06694-rosemaryatburbanklibraryjpgDo you ever look around and think “What just happened?”

“How did I end up here?

A flurry of self-searching thoughts tumble out:

Where did the months – nay, years go? This was not what I intended…

I had intended to have at least three or four best-selling novels published by now, maybe a movie deal and a writer’s award or two.

Well, your Honor – it was like this…. Life got in the way. As it does.

As writers we observe people, we notice things. It’s just that sometimes we are so busy looking and living elsewhere that we don’t notice ourselves. We fail to notice our neglected selves as we deal with what life throws at us. We get distracted by life’s fun-an’-games and dramas, family matters and assorted other happenings. Our dreams and goals get left by the roadside.

Then one day we get a breathing space and notice, “Hold on a minute – where am I? What happened to ME? What about my dreams and goals…?”

I’ve had a lot of ‘Shirley Valentine’ moments lately: you remember the movie starring Pauline Collins as the worn-down housewife who had big dreams and realized twenty years later, when she wins a free holiday in Greece and has time to stop and look at her life, that she has let life pass her by? “I’ve lived such a little life…,” she says, “when inside me there is so much more that I could have lived. I disappeared…. I got lost in all this unused life… ”  Author Willy Russell’s words are so observant and poignant.

In fact, I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve lived a very ‘big life.’

TravelI’ve lived in England, Paris, Holland, Spain, Malta – and now Hollywood. My movie work has taken me to Germany, France, Spain, Miami, Bermuda, Minneapolis, Colorado, New York. So I really can’t complain. I’ve met and worked with amazing people. I’ve had tremendous adventures – until recent years, when my creative-self got buried.

Sometimes we just get lost on the wrong road and it takes a while to turn things around and find our way back.

But if we creative types – writers – didn’t have these challenges in everyday life and wrong-turns, what would we write about? These diverse roads we follow give us rich fodder for our stories.

The myriad of jobs we have undertaken – sometimes under duress, or to support families and sometimes simply to support our writing habits – give us fuel for our imaginations.

Think of the English writer P.D. James, a Civil Servant, caring for her husband invalided in the war and wrote her first novel when she was 40. The late Michael Crichton, MD, was a doctor, who wrote Jurassic Park, Westworld. Lee Childs was a TV producer in England before he wrote the Jack Reacher thrillers. Agatha Christie worked as a chemist and was married to an archeologist. All great sources of information for their writing.

On the bright side, in looking back through the “What just happened…” in my own life, I realized I have been given a wealth of material to write about. A veritable extravagant buffet of characters, settings and stories. Even living in Hollywood brought me my first publishing contract for Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now, which led to my 1920s Hollywood mystery Lottie Topaz and the Flicker Murders.

Hollywood SignI’ve worked at all the major Hollywood film studios as an actress or as a writer. All the dramas and angst of saving the Woman’s Club of Hollywood has taught me a lot about the American legal system, skullduggery amongst women and more about the law courts than I wish to know – as well as how to maintain an old historic building and run a business office.

trip-of-a-lifetime-2009-240I dealt with the sudden death of my darling husband, Rick Cameron. I’ve taken care of elderly, lonely neighbors and an ailing mother-in-law and learned far too much about hospitals, nursing homes and Medicare!

But my earlier life was much easier; travelling on the original Orient Express to Athens as a nanny, then sailing round the Greek Islands. I worked as an assistant fashion-designer in London’s ‘Rag-Trade,’ attended the Cannes Film Festivals, movie premiers, working in the theatre, TV and movies in England with some legendary actors, doing dozens of assorted ‘temp’ jobs in London, flying in a tiny 2-seater plane to the race-tracks of France….goodness. I’d forgotten so much from my youth.

I re-discovered a lot of this in my recent de-cluttering sessions.

And I have recently uncovered a stack of novels I’d written that finally need finishing. The material is right there, in our own lives, if only we can see it.

Think of our fellow bloggers here: Gayle Bartos Pool was a private detective, she lived and attended school in France, where her father was stationed with the U.S .Air Force. She has used all of this and more in her Eddie Buick and her Gin Caulfield series and her many short-stories.

Jackie Houchen travelled to Africa and Europe, teaching little kids to read and write. Her children’s stories are richer for her experiences. Linda O. Johnston was an attorney before she wrote her Harlequin romances and Nocturne shapeshifter novels. Her love of dogs and knowledge of King Charles Spaniels have launched dozens of books in her Pet Sitter series and her Barkery and Biscuits successful series. Linda has sold over one million books – imagine!

Miko Johnson was a librarian before writing took over her life, with ample research experience for her Petal In the Wind trilogy.

English-born Jill Amadio has lived in many exotic places, was a journalist in England, became a motor-racing correspondent for a magazine. She has ghost written biographies for a WWII pilot, Movie legend Rudee Vallee and an array of interesting subjects while writing her Tosca Travant “Digging Too Deep” series. Madeline Gornell lives way out of town in the Mohave Desert near the famous Route 66. This is where her inspiration for such as Counsel of Ravens, Rhodes, The Caretaker and so many of her fascinating stories originates.

So you see, all is not lost – however much time has escaped. Those intervening years have provided us with a wealth of knowledge through experiences.

Mary Wesley, author of The Camomile Lawn, had her first book published when she was 72. Grandma Moses started painting at 84. So, there’s hope for all of us, isn’t there?

What just happened? LIFE just happened!

 

OF CABBAGES AND KINGS….

                  by Rosemary Lord

Walrus“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing wax – and cabbages and kings…” So wrote Lewis Carroll.

And as I have been in Europe, travelling around with my siblings, my mind has been darting all over the place; seeing new and old places, marveling at new sights, meeting new people. A hundred new story ideas, new characters, new snippets of conversations and odd words have been buzzing around my head.

Greece SceneI was recently chatting with my family over coffee in a little taverna in southern Greece – as you do…  “What’s the positive of disgruntled, disheveled and dismayed?” came up. We don’t say “She was gruntled – or “I looked sheveled…” After spilling lots of coffee with our bursts of laughter and giggles, we couldn’t solve that one, but went on to marvel at the intricacies and rather bizarre vocabulary of our amazing language.

Olde English Dictionary Where do these words originate? Most of them we can trace to Latin, Old English or European origins – but there are others that leave us baffled as we delve back into history for a clue. There are so many delicious words for writers to paint a myriad of pictures with. Our language is so rich and colorful when used by good writers and orators.

Not just fiction and non-fiction writers, but poets and song-writers. When you think of the moods created by Henry Mancini’s Moon River lyrics, or Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, the cheery Oklahoma theme, or He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother and Paul McCartney’s poignant Eleanor Rigby – to Y.M.C.A. and Get Me To The Church on Time. All these present such different stories, different moods – using the same English language. Clever writers.  Beautiful language.

I wonder how today’s kids, who rapidly text for seemingly hour after hour, will find the opportunity to explore the wonders of our language if their thumbs are trained to only to write “thx, OMG and LOL.” Thumbs may get a workout but what about their imaginations?

Railway ChildrenSpeaking of imaginations: We went to see the stage version of the children’s classic The Railway Children, by A.E. Nesbitt. I’m clearly still a little kid and absolutely loved it. Such an imaginative way to portray the story of the children who watched the trains go by their house every day, and decided to enlist the help of one of the regular passengers they had spotted (a Rich Old Gentleman) to find out what happened to their father who had disappeared. It turns out their father had wrongly been jailed for embezzlement and the Rich Old Gentleman helps clear his name. The book had long ago been turned into a film starring Jenny Agutter. So the stage production had the challenge of dealing with a real train as the central character. The imaginative designers used a portion of the real, working railway tracks at London’s King’s Cross Station with a real steam engine waiting in the wings.

The story is set over one hundred years ago, and the show starts the minute you walk in from the box office into the old-fashioned station waiting room, instead of a theatre lobby. The theatre staff are all dressed in the railway uniforms of that period. We are ushered through the door onto the station platform. The seats are either side of the real railway tracks, audience facing each other. The cast, all dressed in their Edwardian costumes, wander onto the platform, luggage in hand and greet the audience as if we are all fellow travelers. “Are you travelling far today?” and so on. Then, slowly, the play begins. A small square stage area, with tables and chairs for a dining room scene, is pushed along the rails by costumed railway porters and stops in front of the audience as the actors take their places and begin the scene. The set is moved off at the end and another scene appears. Scenic changes are created with spectacular lighting effects and sleights of hand. The whole thing moves along very quickly and the huge climax at the end when the real engine chuffs into place, whistles blowing and people cheering is very moving for kids and adults alike. Words written over one hundred years ago mixed with 21st century technology, amazing designer talents and wonderful imagination all come together to create a happy, moving experience.

Old BooksOf course I came back from my travels with more books in my suitcases. A nice habit I have noticed in England and Greece is the book-exchange. Charming little cafes have walls lined with used books and signs such as “Take one and leave one…” So people bring in the books they have read and swap them for another. Although writers may not benefit financially, it’s a great way to discover new authors. Then I head for Foyle’s bookstore in Charing Cross Road or the Owl Bookstore in Kentish Town to stock up on new authors.  No wonder my luggage gets heavier and heavier. The English tea and custard powder I bring back doesn’t way much. But I am a happy girl, anticipating all the new books I have to read – and even more happy and inspired at the books I am about to write – about cabbages and kings and all sorts of things.

Big Ben

 

START BY MAKING YOUR BED… by Rosemary Lord

06694-rosemaryatburbanklibraryjpgI have just returned from a long weekend in Vancouver – as you do. I went up there for the Left Coast Crime Writers’ Conference, A Whale of a Crime!

 

The air was fresh with Spring promise and the weather mild – after much cold and rain, I am told. It was expensive. All the attendees were moaning about this – until some of us found a hidden MacDonald’s and the Canadian equivalent, Tim Horton’s. But the local people and hotel staff were very friendly and helpful as we rushed from lectures to book-signings at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Vancouver, just a few blocks from the waterfront.  What’s not to like?

 

It was great to discover so many authors – mostly Canadian – new to me.

Books

A Keynote speaker was British-born Maureen Jennings who emigrated to Canada as a teenager. She is now one of their most successful writers and author of the Detective Murdoch mystery series and, since 2007, a highly popular television series, Murdoch Mysteries.

 

Welsh-born Cathy Ace was Toastmaster. Now a Canadian resident, Cathy created the highly popular series of books about the WISE all-women detective agency solving cases in Wales – and eight books about criminal psychologist sleuth Cait Morgan.

 

Ghost of Honor was the late Canadian author, Laurali Rose Wright, winner of several awards for her mystery novels, who died in 2001. There was a special tribute to the late Sue Grafton, too. American Guest of Honor was cowboy author C.J. Box – who never took off  his cowboy hat .

 

signIt was a great time to meet up with old writer friends like Stephen Buehler, who’s short story is in the new collection Murder-a-Go-Go, novelist-sommelier Nadine Nettmann, now Arizona resident and ex-fellow blogger Kate Thornton, Travis Richardson, Craig Faustus Buck, award-winning Scottish Catriona McPherson, and award-winning Brit Rhys Bowen.

 

There were many readers and book-fans, as well as authors. And there was much talk about getting kids to read. Apparently, today around 65% of children leave school not being able to read properly. I was shocked, as my family devoured books almost as soon as we could totter over to the book shelves. In some homes today, they don’t even have books. So there were discussions about how to help and encourage today’s children to read.

 

Internet Friends WorldAnother thing that was pointed out was the lack of children’s and YA books written with boy heroes. Boys need heroes, too. There are plenty of books with princesses and other assorted girl heroines. Most writers have female protagonist and there is a decided lack of boy sleuths and boy role models in today’s books for children and young adults.

 

When I was a kid, we had Enid Blyton’s wonderful adventures of The Famous Five and The Secret Seven: boys and girls solving mysteries on their summer holidays, often at the seaside where there were caves in which to explore, or on a grandparent’s farm. Very wholesome adventures, where these boys and girls meet up each holiday and get caught up in another adventure. But it was girls and boys, with equal focus. Today’s writers seem to focus only on girls.

Okay, fellow writers, how about that? Anyone inspired to remedy this? There’s a whole untapped market out there that publishers and writers could fill.

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Another topic that came up during the children’s illiteracy discussions was how important it was to “get them while they’re young.” To guide and encourage children from a very early age to find their own individual path in life. To encourage children to think for themselves, to be curious about different subjects that will stand them in good stead as they grow older. How many of us writers knew from a very young age that this is what we wanted to do?  We just had to pursue other paths for ‘a real job’ to pay the bills – but we knew our ultimate goal, even if we wrote only in stolen hours.

 

Children need exposure to all sorts of different subjects in life – and not have their heads stuck in video games where they speak to no-one and lack person-to-person communication skills. Kids need to communicate with real people of all ages. This gives them confidence to deal with life’s challenges. And what better way to inspire this than through books they read.

 

Children need encouragement. People need encouragement. Some more than others.

I remember being taught to make my bed first thing in the morning. If you just do that each day, you have accomplished something. If you’re so down in the dumps that you think you have done nothing with your life, when you go to bed at night you see a freshly made bed – even if it’s not that neat. You did something that day. It is always the little, almost insignificant things that make the difference. Little things we can build on, little step by little step.

So, here I am surrounded by un-opened mail, half-unpacked luggage from my stolen literary weekend, tired from lack of sleep and jet-lag, with a mound of laundry waiting. I sleepily wonder what to do first? I promised so many new friends made at the Vancouver conference that I would contact them…. and yes, I would get new business cards made, finish my website… Most importantly, finish the second Lottie Topaz book. I have serious reports to write for the Woman’s Club with deadlines of today – for the sorry saga of saving this historic Hollywood landmark that is so close to great success.  I have to write the Writers In Residence Blog. I have a heap of bills to pay. I have nothing to eat in the fridge, so I need to go to Trader Joe’s. It is just getting too much. What was I thinking! I feel such a failure. Where do I start….?

I start by making my bed. There. I’ve accomplished something. Now I feel better. Now for a cup of tea….

 

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