Of paintings, lawns, blood, wine and chocolate

I was mowing this morning, pacing, meditating and cutting grass. I sometimes wonder what aliens would think if they looked down and saw me pushing the mower and muttering to myself as I work out where to take my characters next.

I’ve had an interesting week in the writing side of my life. A few days ago I had one of ‘those’ moments, when I realised what my main character wants, what he is about. For months I’d laboured on with the original idea and then I read what I’d written. When I woke up I came to the conclusion that my problem was the gender of my lead character. I was writing about a 70-year-old woman and she just wasn’t that interesting. Plus, I don’t write women nearly as convincingly as I write men. The motivations of women don’t interest me as much.

So I created her son and gave him the catalyst, a diary written during WW2 by a grandmother he didn’t know he had. It opens up a great many layers of discussion and emotion. And he can have a genuine desire for something that his new-found relations have, something to which he has a claim. Conflict. It gives Rafael Gomez another moral dilemma.

Since these important discoveries the book has been writing itself, in long streams and the characters talk to me when I’m doing other things. If possible I drop what I’m doing and race to the computer. Hard to do if you’re in the supermarket or about to take communion in church. And if you keep repeating sentences to yourself they tend to want to lock you up.

“Blood, Wine and Chocolate” is launched on March 9th at 5.30pm at PaperPlus Cambridge. I know some of you don’t live here and it is a little far to ask you to come. But consider yourselves invited anyway. It will be a grand night.

I have little wedding favour boxes with scorched almonds in them and some have numbers inside the lid. If you are lucky enough to get a numbered one you will be invited to peruse the prize table and find the corresponding number. Whatever is sitting on that number now belongs to you! It might be a bottle of Waiheke wine or a vase or a box of chocolates that holds 100 pieces of praline. There are over 40 prizes.

There will be a chocolate fountain and plates of chilli chocolate for the brave hearted. We will also do something delicious with a full sized chocolate stiletto before the launch date too.

I like launching books, it’s the fun part. I have a few speaking engagements coming up over the next few weeks too, Te Kuiti, Hamilton and Auckland. So, enjoy the last of summer, or the last of winter, depending on where you are and GO THE BLACK CAPS!!! (Cricket World Cup starts this week)

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Gardening, Books and Goodbyes

I begin with a rant. I have just been round my garden and given it a severe talking to. There are weeds! It was weeded four months ago for goodness sake, what right does it have to have weeds again? And I suppose it thinks I’m going to pull them out. I hate gardening. My next house won’t have so much as a pot plant. I’m none too fond of housework either…where are those days when writers could live in suites at fancy hotels and spend their days in the bar, drinking cocktails and composing their contribution to great literature??

Last Sunday we said goodbye to our lovely vicar, Andrew Hedge, and his family. He is off to Napier to become a Bishop. It was the culmination of days of cooking, planning and secret squirreling. The parish made him a memory box of cards, notes, photos and the like, the choir rehearsed a special blessing, there were farewell signs on the lawn and lots and lots of cooking. It was a lovely day and it all went like clockwork. Now we await the new vicar and see how he, or she, will fill the metaphorically enormous shoes Andrew has left behind.

I have finished Blood, Wine and Chocolate. It has had its edits and its poking and prodding and the next step is the page proofs. The cover will be sent to me soon and I have no idea what it will look like. I know how I hope it will look. Then there will be Advanced Readers Editions and first reactions to the story. It will be officially launched in March 2015.

Meanwhile, I am wrestling with Rachel’s Legacy. I have a strong feeling I shall change the order of the story completely in the next couple of weeks and take a different approach. It has to be a worthy successor to The Keeper of Secrets and do justice to the enormity of the story behind it.

The next book is already buzzing in my head and I fear I shall have to write the basic plot down in order to silence that “look at me!” noise that is steadily growing. It will be fun, and delightful and it will just have to wait its turn.

In two days it is the first anniversary of the death of a dear friend. She was wise and funny and had a huge heart and a wit as sharp as the sharpest tack. Like many of her friends I see things that I know would amuse her and I wish she was here to share them. But I feel blessed that I had her as a friend for ten years and she painted my world with laughter- thanks for the memories, Anita.

The Perfect Book

This morning I found a You Tube Clip which features a song. It’s an interesting song. It was written by Lord Lloyd Webber and Leslie Bricuss and it is called The Perfect Song. It was recorded by Michael Ball, who has a long history of performing in Lloyd Webber musicals, and features on his most recent CD “Both Sides Now.” I love Michael Ball’s melted chocolate voice and his interpretative abilities and his brilliant diction and his way of telling a story with lyrics. And I really love this CD. It is almost unplugged, there are songs recorded with just voice and piano. Many of the songs I didn’t know before, but they have now become firm favourites.

Still, I digress. The reason this songs fascinates me is because it is simple and clever. It is a song about writing a song, a perfect song. “If I could have just one wish of mine become reality, I would write the perfect song.” In his introduction to the song on the concert DVD, Ball asks if Andrew has ever written the perfect song. A subjective question. I guess an initial reaction can be, “of course not, there is no such thing.” For one person it might be an operatic aria (La Boheme comes close for me) and for others it might be heavy metal, rap or hip hop.

As an author I take the concept and apply it to myself. Do I wish I could write the perfect book? Is there such a thing? Of course not. And no, I don’t wish that, because if you did, where would you go from there? Not only do you want to improve with each book, but you re-read a book you wrote and wish you could have just one more try to improve it. I have a novel with an editor currently and in about three weeks it will come back to me with pages of ‘suggested changes.’ I’m thrilled by it, I love it the way it is, but I am not dumb enough, or precious enough, to believe that it can’t be improved. The editing process for The Keeper of Secrets was a real eye-opener for me. My editor was a very experienced and wise woman and she told me before we started that I had done an ‘astonishing job.’ Yet, every single suggestion she made strengthened the book.

If you think you’ve ever read The Perfect Book, or heard The Perfect Song, I would love to hear about it. In the meantime, we keep striving…..have a listen to the song. This video is an official one from the record label, so the visuals are a bit ‘PR like’, if you know what I mean, but ignore that and listen to the lyrics and let me know what you think. (And in the right hand column you will find a video for “Walk Away” one of my very favourites!!)

Going On a Holiday and a Bike

Today is another one of those days when I realise how much I love my life.

From the big things…I get to spend my days writing the books I love and have a wonderful publisher who understands me and supports me…to the little things, I can have a steaming hot shower on a cold winter morning and my dehumidifier means I wake up to a house that is warm and dry.

Another thing is making me excited today, I’m going on a holiday! I haven’t had a holiday since 2009 and life has been pretty rugged at times since then. In a couple of weeks I am going to the beautiful city of Melbourne. Yes, I’m visiting three museums that are important for the book I’m currently writing. And as I wander around the city I’ll imagine what it was like in 1950 for an immigrant family from Germany, but most of my time will be spent sightseeing, shopping, eating magnificent meals and drinking adventurous cocktails, a day spa treat and catching up with a dear dear friend I haven’t seen since 2009. We laugh, a lot.

Over the last few months I’ve nearly gone to the USA and then nearly gone to Germany and now I AM going to Melbourne. My frazzled brain can hardly wait.

I’m also buying some new transport. No, not a car, a bicycle. I am going to fulfil my dream of riding a bike with a wicker basket on the front, although it will also have 21 gears and a very comfortable seat. I’m hard at work thinking of an appropriate name for it, something suitably refined and literary. Agatha is in the lead at the moment, but these things take time.

So, on this glorious day, I am off into Cambridge, the rural town I am proud to call home and which I love so much. It is very possible I shall set out on foot and come home on a shiny new bike. If this does happen I’ll take a photo and put it in my next blog. If you have any ideas for a name, please feel free to let me know. Happy, happy day.

Gardens, books and winter

I know, it’s been too long, hasn’t it? Sorry. Life has just been busy.

A couple of weeks ago I went to New Plymouth for a weekend conference and gave a speech about my writing. It was great fun and I got to go to the New Plymouth Cathedral. What a glorious church! The oldest stone church in New Zealand, it is so beautiful and the service was lovely and funky and modern and not at all what I expected. I also got to carry a banner into the Cathedral and that was a rather wonderful experience too.

Jane has been attacking the garden, with a little help from me. Many plants have been removed, along with all the weeds. Now we are planning what to put in and the discussions have included a Japanese garden with gravel and stones, a chilli garden, a garden that will reflect my current literary project and some fruit trees and lovely smelling plants. It will be a joy once again.

Yesterday I finished my first rewrite of Blood, Wine and Chocolate. It is now much darker and funnier than it was and I’ve invented a new ending. It made me laugh as I was writing it and Jane roared with laughter, so hopefully this new ending works. The book will be published May 2015 and we have some great plans for the launch. Plans that involve copious quantities of wine and chocolate and, maybe, some fake blood. I’ve loved writing this book, it has brought light and joy and laughter back into my life and I hope my readers enjoy it too.

I’m 10,000 words into “Rachel’s Legacy” which is the sequel to Secrets and it is also going well. At some stage before the end of the year I’ll go on a research trip to Germany but it is looking increasingly likely that it will be October/November. I need to be ready and to know exactly what I need to research and at the moment I am far too involved with my thriller (see above) to rip myself away and travel.

It was the first heavy frost this morning and the garden was white. The house was cold and the people huddled around the heater. So winter is upon us, the time of year I love. The bed becomes a snug cave and the food reflects the temperature, creamy mash and steaming bowls of soup, pudding and custard and hot chocolate. Happy days!

Rachel’s Legacy

I started a book yesterday. It is the sequel to The Keeper of Secrets and it is called Rachel’s Legacy. So far I have written 2500 words and four much-loved characters have popped back up. It is flowing really easily and I am loving being back in the company of these ‘people.’ Once again this book will sprawl from pre to post-war Berlin, to East Berlin, reunification and to modern-day Washington D.C. Instead of the horror of the camps we will learn about the incredible bravery of the resistance in Berlin.

What else is happening? The kitchen has been cleaned and the pantry scrubbed and restocked. The deep freeze is full of home kill meat from farmer friends of Jane and I used some of the mince to make Spag Bol last night. It was some of the most beautiful mince I’ve ever cooked with, lean and rich and delicious.

Winter is coming and the temperature is dropping, especially at night. The drought has broken and the grass has greened up everywhere, the leaves on the trees are changing colour and the figs are nearly finished. I gather one or two a day and I suspect the little ones will shrivel up and drop, rather than grow big and plump up. Between you and me, I will be quite glad to not see a fig again for a few months. I still have a huge bag of frozen ripe figs in the deep freeze, underneath all the meat, and from time to time we discuss what to do with them.

We are trying to trap the family of mice that have taken over the house, they never come in ‘ones’ apparently, so, although one was kind of cute and I fed him, he is now legion. We tried mouse traps with peanut butter but they managed to retrieve the peanut butter and not set off the traps. It is war. We need a better mouse trap.

Today would have been my parent’s seventieth wedding anniversary in St Andrews Church up the road. Mum in her cousin’s dress and Dad in his fighter pilot’s uniform. A wedding breakfast on the farm, a spread the Aucklanders couldn’t believe because it was war-time and they weren’t used to farm butter, cream, meat, veges, eggs and fruit. They went to a local hot water spa for their honeymoon but I seem to remember Mum saying that all Dad’s Air Force friends invited themselves along. Happy anniversary folks, I trust you are celebrating it together again at last.

It is also my niece’s birthday and I hope she has a happy day. She’s a great girl, a wonderful Mum and a strong, loving, intelligent, funny, beautiful human being. Well of course she is, she’s a Thomas.

So, time for lunch and a break before I throw myself back into WW2 Berlin and the excitement and terror of being a spy. I love my job.

The Trip That Isn’t and The Book That Is

Today is April 9th and in less than a week I’m supposed to be jetting away to exotic places, to spend days exploring dynamic cities like San Francisco, New Orleans, Orlando, Atlanta, Washington D.C., New York and Chicago…you get the general idea. Except I’m not. I’m staying home.

Why? Because it is a trip too far, a trip I’m not ready to make. Financially, physically, emotionally and in every other way I would fall at the first hurdle. Yesterday I went for a walk into town and spent four hours doing stuff. By the time I got home my legs and feet were aching and by last night I had ugly red rashes on the inside of my lower legs and they are still there this morning. I was exhausted. Today I feel like crap, I just want to curl up in my bed and let the world pass me by. I miss my Mum. I’ve been sorting out wardrobe space and storing piles of things and I’ve found lots of memories. I feel angry and tired and like hitting something.

This is not a good attitude to have when you’re on the other side of the world and you have to sightsee and write a blog about the lovely places you went to and the things you saw today. I am not ready to do this. It will take money that I do not have, or I need for other things…like clearing out my guttering so I don’t get drowned inside again when the next big downpour comes. Maybe even buying a car?

I haven’t completely dismissed the idea, I guess I’ve put it in the ‘too hard this year’ basket. Maybe by this time next year I’ll be ready. In the meantime, I have a full length novel finished and with my publishers, which will (fingers crossed) be released by the end of the year. “Blood, Wine and Chocolate.” I love it. It’s black and funny and I am madly in love with my main character, he’s flawed and fabulous at the same time.

Today I finished a five page synopsis for my next novel. It’s called “Rachel’s Legacy” and it is a sequel to “The Keeper of Secrets.” Yes, the Horowitzs and the Gomezs and the Valentinos will all be back, along with some very important new characters. It will flow from pre-war Berlin, through the Berlin resistance in WW2, Soviet occupied East Berlin, the fall of The Wall, to modern day Washington D.C. I can’t tell you when it will be available because it’s not written yet, but at least it’s on the board. And I am excited about it.

I’ll be home for Easter and I love Easter at my little church. From next week I’ll have someone coming to stay with me. She and I have been friends for thirty years and she makes me laugh. When we were young we were ‘partners in crime’ so there will be wine drunk and stories recalled. I’ve been nearly two years in this house by myself and it will be such fun to have company again. I love her to bits and my legs love her shiny red car.

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