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AFTER A FORCED ABSENCE

As some of you will know, I have been unable to access my ‘Writing From The Heart’ WordPress site for a few months. Every time I tried to write a new blog it reverted back to my old WordPress site. Today I have gone into some settings and Hey Presto! It seems to have worked. So, the good news, apart from this, is that I have another book coming out shortly! It’s the sequel to Where There’s a Will, my rom-com about Jess. In Losing The Will, Jess has a successful B&B/tearoom business in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, she’s in a rock-solid relationship with Eddie and they have a beautiful baby boy. But it’s not all coffee and cake. Her old enemy Lydia is still lurking in the background and two of her staff are at loggerheads. Will Jess be able to pull it all together before she literally loses the will?

This novel has taken longer than I anticipated owing to a few factors, one being the pandemic. I was at a loss how to proceed with it last year but, this year, I brought it out of hiding and cracked on with it until I had, what I thought, was a good sequel. I hope you do too!

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SOUP, GLORIOUS SOUP

I have always liked soup. When I was knee-high to a door handle my mother and nanna took in lodgers. They all ate their meals in the big dining room at a huge Victorian table beneath the window. I would sneak along the passage and watch them, through the keyhole, carefully lift their soup spoons to their mouths and break their bread rolls, in total silence. Each one was different in the way he or she attacked it and the procedure seemed to last forever. Whenever I was given soup I would try to copy one lady who very daintily broke her roll and sipped her soup from the spoon. After one sip she would tip the rest back into the soup bowl and take another spoonful to her lips. I was mesmerised.

When I volunteered at National Trust Cotehele near Saltash, I used to look forward to the soup that was made on the premises and brought up to the staffroom at lunchtime for the volunteers. The chefs excelled themselves with all the different flavours but I think my favourite was the curried parsnip. Delicious!

My other half makes excellent soup, butternut squash being his piéce de résistance. His lentil, and leek and potato are also good. Today we’ve resorted to Heinz tomato and basil eaten with a granary roll and butter. Always a good stand-by.

Soup is great on a cold winter’s day; now more than ever when we’re all trying to abstain from switching on the heating. Whether you eat in in the traditional way, from a soup bowl, or cupping your hands around a mug, the warmth is very comforting.

Tomorrow I am going out to lunch with friends in a Norfolk pub. I hope there is soup on the menu!

My Interview with Dawn Patricia Bolton.

Is writing your full-time career?

I am retired so I am very fortunate that I can write whenever the mood takes me, which is most days. If I don’t have anything to write I feel that there’s something missing!

Which of your books was the most enjoyable to write?

I have enjoyed writing all four of my books but my memoir is very close to my heart. In 1986 I was in a stale marriage. I boldly sent my first love a 40th birthday card not knowing where he was living or if he was married. I got the surprise of my life when he rang me from Sydney Australia and said he would like us to meet. No One Comes Close is written in diary entries with flashbacks to the 1960s. It took me twenty years from first hand-written draft to finally publishing it in 2017. Writing my rom-com Where There’s a Will was a bit of light relief after that and good fun to write. Next was my family mystery Bay of Secrets which is set in Cornwall. And lastly Losing The Will is the sequel to Where There’s a Will, published this year (2022) and equally fun to write.

Where do you find your inspiration for your stories?

My inspiration usually comes from the places I have lived and my real life experiences.

Do you have any new novels you are developing?

I have been wanting to write a historical novel set in the English Civil War for some time. However, I am caught up in the research, which I love, so I am uncertain when this will materialise!

Do you write stand-alones or series?

I have written two stand-alones; No One Comes Close and Bay of Secrets. Where There’s a Will and Losing the Will are a series. I did contemplate writing a third to complete the series but I’m not entirely sure if I would have enough material.

Tell us some things readers wouldn’t know about you.

I have kept a daily diary for most of my life ( still in progress). I have two daughters born eighteen years apart. I was a hairdresser in a previous life and I cut my own hair. Apart from creative writing, I can draw and paint and do calligraphy, although since embarking on my writing journey these have fallen by the wayside!

What is your preferred genre to read?

I like to read beautifully written time-slip novels with an element of romance. Kate Morton is one of my favourite authors and I have all of her books. I very much hope that my Civil War novel will be written along these lines.

Within that, what is your preferred trope?

I suppose the one I keep coming back to is the fairy tale trope like Cinderella. Rags to riches. That kind of thing.

What was the last book you read?

The last book I read and thoroughly enjoyed was The Witch’s Tree by Elena Collins. Beautifully written and emotionally engaging.

WATER, WATER.

There is a lot of talk on the media and elsewhere about how much water and other resources we’re using and how much it’ll cost us in the future. When I was a child in the 1950s my mother, father and grandmother all washed at the kitchen sink, using a bowl kept for this purpose. My mother and grandmother would ‘strip-wash’ using a flannel and toilet soap, usually Palmolive or Camay. My father didn’t use a flannel so the water would splash everywhere. I liked to stand and watch him wet shave with a Gillette razor and shaving soap, taking great care, whilst looking in the mirror on the cabinet, to get every part of his beard. The finishing touch was to dampen his hair with water and comb it back taking extra care with his calf lick. My mother would sit me on the kitchen counter to wash me, my knees coming under scrutiny when I had been playing outside. My grandmother would say, ‘You need some Vim on those knees!’ Vim was a scouring powder used to clean the sinks and the bath.

Friday was bath night. We had to share the bathroom, which consisted of only a bath and a wash basin, (there was a separate lavatory) with the boarders who lodged with us. They were charged 1/- a bath but their rooms had wash basins. My mother would always wash the bath out with Vim before running it for me. My hair was washed once a fortnight, in the bath, my mother repeatedly filling jugs of warm water to rinse it while I held my head back. We didn’t have a shower until 1969 and then it was the talk of the neighbourhood. My mother and grandmother went to the hairdressers’ to have their hair shampooed and set once a fortnight and a perm every three months.

So, to sum up, maybe we all need to go back to strip-washes instead of getting in the shower every time we need ‘freshening up’. Not only is it more expensive but we all need to use less water , electricity and gas if our planet is to survive.

MY SELF-PUBLISHING JOURNEY

The original reason I started out on this writing and publishing journey was because I had a true-life story I needed to let fly. This is my memoir NO ONE COMES CLOSE which I managed to publish in 2017. I had hand-written a first draft twenty years before and there it sat, in a cupboard, patiently waiting for me to do something with it, until I took some creative writing courses and joined some very active writers’ groups which helped me to rewrite it in the format that it is today. After a house move I tried to find a literary agent willing to take me on. But I was met with ‘Memoirs are very difficult to market unless you’re a celebrity or have done something notable to make a difference.’ They would not take the risk. I had heard about authors who use hybrid publishers and the extortionate fees they charge but, I thought, there must be another way.

Then, in the village I moved to, I met Tania who had moved in a week before me and who wrote poetry. She had also been a copyeditor and proof-reader. I told her about my work. We discussed it and she offered to edit it for me in return for her free haircuts! Tania and I had a lot in common. We became good friends and socialised outside of the writing world.

Next, I followed some Facebook groups where I learned that I could self-publish on Amazon. Dare I try it? How difficult could it be? Well, it was a huge learning curve for someone like me, a technophobe who did not have a literary background . From formatting to creating a book cover I had to learn new skills. But I took my time and crossed each bridge as I came to it. Was I proud of my book? You bet! I released it into the world and plastered it all over Facebook.

Tania edited my next two books, WHERE THERE’S A WILL and BAY OF SECRETS and I published them in 2018 and 2020 then the pandemic hit. We still met up and discussed our writing until she fell ill and was taken to hospital. Owing to Covid I was unable to visit her. She sadly died in January 2021. I felt lost. Not only because I had lost my very special editor but I had also lost my mentor and my very good friend. It was a long time before I felt motivated.

I had begun to write the sequel to WHERE THERE’S A WILL in 2019 but I couldn’t settle to pick it up again until late last year. The title? LOSING THE WILL, and sometimes that’s exactly how I felt! I had no one to discuss it with and no one to edit it. I was on my own. Then, three writer friends, two on Facebook and one I knew from years ago, offered to edit my novel. I had been over it with a fine-toothed comb, remembering what Tania told me, crossed my fingers and sent it to them. I was over the moon with their feedback! Next, I had to find a cover and one of my Facebook friends provided me with the perfect photo. I’m very pleased to say I published LOSING THE WILL on 7th July.

WHY DO WE WRITE?

Initially, for me, the answer is that I had a burning desire to put my heart on the page and write about something that began in 1966 when I met someone who was to have a huge impact on my personal life. The subject? Young love revisited twenty years later but at what cost?

I started writing ‘No One Comes Close’, in 1997, chronologically in longhand, taken from my original diaries. I filled three A4 notebooks. Initially this was a cathartic exercise. However, concerned that this story could upset the people closest to me, I hid these notebooks away in a cupboard hoping to do something with them in the future.

Cut to 2008. My husband and I had moved to Cornwall but instead of enjoying our new home and environment I found it stressful. One day I noticed a poster in our local post office window for a creative writing course. I decided to take the plunge and put my name down. In the back of my mind I was hoping that it would help me to turn my notebooks into a publishable manuscript. What I hadn’t realised was how much fun this course would be!

‘Finding Your Voice’ ran over six weeks and was a total revelation. Our tutor was a very inspiring lady, an author of many children’s books, who made our lessons exciting and playful. She covered a variety of genres, a different subject each session, and one of the things that came out of this was that I found I had a flare for writing magazine articles. I emailed This England and had my first article ‘A Day Trip to Ely’ published in 2010. I was overjoyed! Someone wanted my work!

During another exercise I came up with the beginning of what was to be my first novel, ‘Where There’s a Will’, although I didn’t know it at the time. I ran with it and after a few weeks I had written 50,000 words. A whole new world had opened up and I forgot about my problems.

Having been bitten by the writing bug I joined three writing groups. One of these was extremely helpful when it came to my memoir. We were invited to talk about our writing and to critique members’ work and I learned a lot. I transcribed my memoir into Word, printed off some extracts and gritted my teeth. I hadn’t anticipated their reaction. I felt like a schoolgirl who had been given a gold star! It initiated a lot of stimulating discussion – should I publish it in its present form or turn it into a novel? I decided on the former; I changed the names and wrote a disclaimer and left it once again on the backburner.

In 2014 we were going through another house move and to take my mind off the exasperation of the conveyancing I embarked on NaNoWriMo. This is a competition to write a novel in a month in November each year. I completed 50,000 words in the given time and received the certificate. One of the prizes was to have your novel bound in a hardback book for free. It’s a lovely keepsake but I have since redrafted the story to become my family saga ‘Bay of Secrets’. This novel is set in my favourite part of Cornwall and inevitably has some autobiographical elements.

But my memoir was still tapping me on the shoulder. I went through it again, played around with the format and talked it over with my editor friend who gave it the once-over for which I was immensely grateful. Next I approached some literary agents, none of which were prepared to represent me. I finally self-published ‘No One Comes Close’ in 2017. I have some very favourable reviews.

Having got that one under my belt I went on the self-publish my rom-com ‘Where There’s a Will’ in 2018. This is a rags to riches story set in SE London and the Yorkshire dales where elements of my family history come in.

Last but by no means least I published my family saga ‘Bay of Secrets’ at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps we writers produce our best work during stressful times?