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…

06694-rosemaryatburbanklibraryjpg

  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

WORDS & MUSIC – AND INSPIRATION…. By ROSEMARY LORD

                     

We writers write to express ourselves, to share an idea, to inspire – to give a glimpse of another life. We write to take people on a journey that they might never take in reality; journeys to places they might never see, in a time or a world they may never inhabit or discover. But, if it’s written well, our readers feel they have been there, maybe have lived that life, fulfilled that ambition – vicariously.

After finishing a good book, readers know more about that distant place or country, that time in history – or even the fictional future. Our audience has had the opportunity to have learned something new about people, their work, their pursuits and more about the world – vicariously.

Reading books is a way we ‘meet’ new people that we would normally never get to encounter and the chance to have wonderful, or perhaps scary, or even exotic, or romantic adventures, without ever leaving our armchair or couch.

Within these stories, the writer skillfully creates characters and plot lines that touch on parts of our own personal qualities and idiosyncrasies that we, as the reader, can identify or empathize with. Or perhaps the characters brought to life are those we recognize as someone we know or have met along the way.

The books that readers immerse themselves in are a wonderful escape from the humdrum and the stress of everyday living. They broaden our horizons and sometimes inspire people to make changes in their lives, to try something different or find a new perspective.

Inspire: there’s that word again. So, what inspires us writers to spend such long hours composing in our notebooks or wrestling with words on our computers?

Writers – Where do you find your inspiration when you’re stuck?

For me – music often inspires me. As I’m driving or when I’m washing the dishes or cleaning up, and I hear a particular song or piece of music, a story idea often pops into my mind. I find the inspiration for maybe a new twist on something I am writing. Sometimes it’s simply the title – often, the lyrics – and the music brings it all together. Songs can inspire perhaps a new character to solve a plot problem or a change of scenery that will move my story along.

The lyrics of some of our classic songs tell a story. When you think about it, just as poets have that special skill to say so much in a few (usually rhyming) words, so lyricists have a special gift of creating characters and a scenario, which they edit down to just a handful of words that say so much. Those carefully chosen simple words meld seamlessly with the melody and can touch on a story that we novelists can fill in, color, investigate, enlarge upon. We can be inspired to creat a whole world around a brief stanza that we then nurture into many thousands of words of a completed novel. That is our writer’s talent.  

As a scribe, we can change the names and places, (to protect the innocent and the copyright!) but the plot line in some songs is already set out. So, when you’re stuck for what to write next, think of, say, the Beatles song Eleanor Rigby. What a poignant story for us creative minds to fill in the gaps. Or the dark storyline in Mack The Knife. Johnny Mercer’s Moon River is a more whimsical tale of “Two drifters off to see the world…” And how about Cole Porter’s 1934 facetious tale of the hanging of a society woman after she murders her unfaithful lover – the song made famous by Ethel Waters and later Ella Fitzgerald: Miss Otis Regrets, she’s unable to lunch today

Take George Gershwin’s An American in Paris – inspired by his time in the City of Lights in the 1920s. Apart from the lush musical score, what story could that simple title inspire?  Glenn Campbell’s Wichita Lineman, “I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main roads…” could be the start of an intriguing tale. Barry Manilow wrote about showgirl Lola’s ambitions stymied by a jealous admirer in his disco hit Copacabana: there’s a tale ripe for embellishment. 

What about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Memory from his musical Cats, based on T.S. Elliott’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats? Or Elaine Stritch’s signature song, Here’s To The Ladies Who Lunch, from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company. Perhaps a more whimsical tale could be based on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Girl from Ipanema.  You get the idea.

Today, even traditional world-famous book titles can inspire us. I notice that some of the new books now use old and borrowed titles anyway. When authors had worried about their ideas being stolen, someone pointed out that if ten writers were given the same assignment, their styles and experience would be so varied that the ten books would turn out to be totally different.

And so I pondered: what if we wrote our own version, inspired by just the title, of A Tale of Two Cities, The Man Who Came to Dinner, A Caribbean Mystery or Witness for the Prosecution? The results would be as varied, as creative and fascinating as befits our own individual talents. Some scribes’ version would be a romantic comedy, or a hardboiled noir, others would produce a thriller, a cozy or a charming escapade.

Today I see inspiration everywhere – and am frankly open to ‘borrowing from the best’ when I get stuck. I like to channel their inspiration. I enjoy any way I can to write and to perpetuate writing for all of us. To paraphrase Pinocchio’s chanson – “Hi-diddle-dee-dee – A writer’s life for me….

PERFICK!

By ROSEMARY LORD

Just Rosie 2

I’m trying not to be – perfect.

Or ‘perfick’ – as H.E. Bates had Pop saying in The Darling Buds of May. For Pop, each day and everything around him was – ‘perfick.’

And that’s what I have always aimed for.

I’m very much a ‘Pollyanna,’ and always seek the best in every circumstance and find positive outcomes for the most dire situation. When someone tells me ‘No, you can’t do that. It’s not possible…” My reaction is always: “I’ll find a way!”

I have also been my harshest critic. Until a friend recently said, “Rosemary, you don’t have to be perfect. You are too hard on yourself. And you expect everyone around you to have those same high standards. They don’t. So don’t beat yourself up about it.”

Hmm. Food for thought.

Life has been a challenge for everyone in the last few months.

At first, I found the lock-down a sort of blessing. An opportunity for us all to take a collective breath and count our many blessings, reassess our lives, and think about what is really important for each of us. Find what it is we really want to do with our lives.

heartofhwd-wch-sketch-6_orig   It certainly gave me time to sort out a lot of Woman’s Club files, paperwork and organization. That makes it easier for me to delegate and hand over the reigns, so I can focus full-time on my writing once more.

And, working on the WCH from home, I was able to squeeze in writing time. I found more and more new writing ideas and goals and decided it was time to put my own life first. To make writing my full time work again. Sooner, rather than later. That’s the plan – and I’m getting closer!

As the Brazilian author of The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho, said, “There are moments when troubles enter our lives and we can do nothing to avoid them. But they are there for a reason. Only when we have overcome them, will we understand why they were there.” Paulo’s parents committed him to a Mental Institution when he was seventeen, after he told them he wanted to become a writer! “Not to punish me, but to save me from that life,” he later said. They failed. Today he is a highly successful author.

Mercy! Makes us appreciate our own parents, doesn’t it? Thank you, Mum and Dad, for being you!

file3171299616544         But after weeks of world-wide shut-downs and no travel permitted, I also saw how small some of our lives had become. Often out of fear. When we do something out of fear – we cease to think rationally, boldly. Our courage leaves us. Some never get it back, especially as we get older.

We did as we were told and stayed home, closed down businesses, gave up jobs we liked, cancelled vacations and celebrations. We stopped going to the gym, too. And having our hair cut. (Well, that’s my excuse for my temporary extra pounds and my ‘mop’ of hair!)

 

Internet Friends World

But all was not lost, as many people became very resourceful and creative. They shone through this adversity. They found new ways to keep small businesses going, create sideline businesses, found new ways to communicate, and celebrate. Not worrying about being perfect, they just got the job done. People offered help to their neighbors and strangers, and acknowledged gratitude to those who continued daily schedules in the community as ‘essential workers.’ So, the Covid shut-downs had also brought out the best in some people.

But life had been put on hold.

Meanwhile, I have spent long hours at my computer, at home, on Woman’s Club matters. I’ve accomplished much in working through these months, including resolving a complicated, year-long IRS Audit. But I wished I could be speedier with that very work. I wished I could work faster and do shorter days. I wished I were more technology-minded and that I could work more quickly in these areas. I wished I could do more for the club with online events. But I don’t know how – and felt a failure in those areas. I chastised myself for not doing better.

Remember school reports? “Rosemary could do better. She could try harder.”

So that stuck with me. I could never do well enough for me. And that’s where my friend pointed out my frustrating perfectionism. I had created my own fear – of having to do everything to perfection. Are there any other perfectionists out there? It’s a disease, I tell you!

So, I have taken a deep breath and let go of some of it. Or I’m trying to… They say old habits die hard. And it’s really tough, sometimes!

Lady Typing 2   In my former writer-life I spent many solitary hours writing. I was oblivious of the world around me. I forgot to eat. Not good when you had a husband hoping for dinner, after returning from a long day’s work! But Rick was very patient and sometimes cooked for us, and a plate of food would appear in front of me, on top of my typed pages. “You haven’t eaten in hours. You’ve GOT to eat…” he would grin and return to listening to his music through headphones, so as not to disturb me. But I loved what I was doing. He knew that, so he was happy.

And I’d lost that joy since he’s been gone.

So, after losing Rick, I took on the responsibility of saving the Woman’s Club, as a way of  escaping or forgetting, I guess. But it was such a different challenge. So much administrative work I’d never dealt with before. But I made myself learn. How hard could it be. Ugh! But I felt I must do a perfect job – in order to succeed.

I changed, I later realized. I rather lost my sense of humor. I was NOT amused by the battle I had to fight. The corruption. The thievery! I gritted my teeth and battled on through horrendous episodes. I had taken on a responsibility and I was not going to give up.

But I lost my writing along the way. And that wasn’t all. I’d lost spending time with good friends; friendships neglected. Life was whizzing by neglected and unlived.

These months working alone again at home I realized that, yes, I was a perfectionist where the WCH was concerned. Although no-one else seemed to notice. After my friend pointed this out, I realized I was being too tough on myself. I wasn’t having any fun – and I’d lost my sparkle. A girl has to have some sparkle. And I don’t know where I’d left mine.

So, I began to turn my attention to life around me again. Little by little. Now, new people have appeared to take some of the responsibility of the Club from my shoulders. And if they are not doing it as perfectly as I would like, that’s okay. It’s good enough. Gets the job done. They’re champing at the bit to get back out there. Back to work. Organize fun, interesting events. Escape from the Zoom Room. They are energized, brimming with ideas. And they think it’s fun!! What a relief.

06694-rosemaryatburbanklibraryjpg So I am becoming a happy writer, once more. I’ll be even happier once we’re allowed to travel, too. Even if I’m not going anywhere, at least I like to know that I could if I wanted to. I’m a dreamer, too.

So, my less-than-perfect writing schedule is coming along. With my less-than-perfect editing in my less-than-perfect office space – also known as a messy desk. And my definitely less-than-perfect filing system works just fine.

I’m remembering to eat, most of the time. Sometimes it’s a late-night dark- chocolate bar. And so my girlish figure is less-than- perfect. But that’s okay too. I still occasionally mutter, “I promise to do better.” But now that makes me giggle, instead.

I LOVE what I’m writing, and can’t wait to sit in front of my computer and create – or grab my pad and scribble notes.

writer Lady 3

Mark Twain once said “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bow-lines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Sounds wonderful to me…

Just perfick!

 

 

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