Saturday 22 April 2017

The Pink Sofa meets writer Amanda James

The PINK SOFA is always delighted to welcome back guests, especially when they bring scones. Therefore it is delighted to host Amanda James, who comes armed with bakery goods and a new book. She's visiting the Writer's  Attic to share what inspires her lovely novels. (With added scones, and Cornish clotted cream of course ...)

Inspiration comes from many places ... and sometimes out of the blue Cornish sky!
''Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog today, Carol. I thought I’d talk to you today about inspiration. I am often asked where my inspiration comes from when writing and the answer is not straightforward. There is no one place or thing, it comes from anywhere and sometimes I’m not too sure where my ideas pop up from.

As you know my first book with Choc Lit was A Stitch in Time which I adored writing and it only took me six weeks for the first draft. I have never written one as fast before or since, but the ideas just flowed. I feel most comfortable with the suspense/mystery genre however, as those are the kinds of books I enjoy reading the most. Though I guess really, even though it is time travel, A Stitch in Time is full of suspense and mystery and I was so pleased to be able to return to the characters to see what they had been up to when I wrote my sequel Cross Stitch.

Anyway, I digress. I was inspired by the novels of suspense authors, Dean Koontz in particular. He has sold over 450 million books yet still had the time to answer my letters in his own hand. He encouraged me to keep writing! As a reader, I love to try and figure out what is going to happen, what the secret is or who done it etc. He often has a romantic element in his stories and so do I. Koontz often has a paranormal angle also and I enjoy writing those too. I like reading straight suspense novels, but the added excitement and freedom to go ‘outside the box’ which is afforded by the paranormal is very liberating as both a reader and writer.

Certain people inspire me to keep going when the going gets tough too. There are many, but one in particular sticks in my mind. Korczak Ziowalski was a sculptor who decided to dedicate his life to carving a memorial to Crazy Horse the great Sioux leader. The sculpture is actually made from a mountain in South Dakota! It is as yet unfinished and being continued by his family after Korczak’s death more than twenty years ago. He started it all by himself in 1948 with a tent, an old Jeep, $174, and a dream. His motto was , ‘Never forget your dreams.’ I added ‘never give’ up to that. I was lucky enough to visit the memorial and found it an enriching and life-affirming experience. His remarkable story can be found here :

I often get the whole story from a title. I can’t actually put finger to keyboard if I don’t have one. I think of a title, something catchy or familiar like ‘a stitch in time’ for example, and then I build the story around that. Somewhere Beyond the Sea was a combination of being by the sea, Doc Martin and the need for a catchy title. The old Bobby Darin song was perfect. Sometimes I really don’t know where I get ideas from. They just kind of pop up. The inspiration for Summer in Tintagel came from a walk along the cliff tops. As I stood on the edge looking onto the rocks I thought how easy it would be to step off and end it all ... if a person was so inclined. I’m not, in case you were wondering! Then it kind of came to me from there. I visited Tintagel Castle a few weeks later and thought that it was the perfect setting for a novel – full of history and mystery.

My new novel, Behind the Lie has lots of secrets, mystery, and suspense and set in London, but mostly on Crantock, the idyllic Cornish beach about twenty minutes from my house.
One day I was walking on the beach as I often do and looked up at a beach house. It was the kind of house that I tend to drool over from time to time, as although I can see the ocean from where I live, it is five-miles distant! It’s the white square one with all the big windows.

My imagination began to make up the person that lived in the house, and Holly West, my main character waved at me from the window. Well, she didn’t really, but you know what I mean.... Also the lonely rugged coast helped me to visualise Holly and all her problems and I knew I needed to help her solve them. I am also in love with the sea. My dream from being very small was to move to Cornwall particularly the north coast and I am overjoyed to have realised it. Just the sight and smell of the sea lifts my spirits and inspires me.''

Book Blurb Holly West has turned her life around. She’s found a successful and loving husband in Simon and is expecting twins. She is definitely a woman who has taken back control of her future.
Until she gives birth, only for one twin to survive. Holly can’t let it go.
Holly’s world is in a tailspin and suddenly she can’t trust herself or anyone else. No one believes her, not her husband or her best friend. Because she thinks she knows the truth…her son is still alive and she won’t stop until she finds him.

Mandy's books
Summer in Tintagel (Urbane Publications July 2016)
Cross Stitch (Choc Lit December 2014)
Somewhere Beyond the Sea ( Choc Lit April 2014)
Dancing in the Rain (Choc Lit March 2014)
A Stitch in Time (Choc Lit) -
Righteous Exposure (Crooked Cat) -


Author links 


Twitter  @akjames61

Saturday 8 April 2017

Eyebrows & Other Annoying Stuff

The older I get (nearly 67 now!) the more I am baffled by the world and its wiles. Here are some of the things currently baffling me. Feel free to add your own.

1. Eyebrows 
One of my A level students has recently had her eyebrows 'enhanced', by whatever process this happens. She now has what looks like 2 furry caterpillars crawling across her face just above her eyes in a Frida Khalo sort of way.  It makes her face look all 'eyebrow' and I find myself addressing the whole lesson to them by default. I have noticed that a lot of the assistants in Space NK are similarly eyebrow-enhanced. And people I pass in the street,

My eyebrows have been slowly shrinking for years and now consist of a pathetic straggle of greying hair that I attempt to corral into some sort of arch with an eyebrow pencil. The right hand one always resembles a switchback as I can't draw with my left hand.

It is a sad truism that the older one gets, the more one needs some sort of facial enhancement before leaving the house. Failure to use make-up results in people asking if you are feeling OK. Or crossing the street. Or both. Too much makeup, and the elderly face resembles a cake left out in the rain: overfilled cracks and hollows, damp and patchy areas and, if one has unwisely applied rouge, what I call the Refugee from Clown Class look. 
One has to find the balance between crone and casual. It is not an easy thing to achieve, believe me. What amazes me is the amount of stuff I am supposed to put on my face in order to look as if I haven't actually put on any makeup. Cleanser (can't use soap any more apparently. Too drying), followed by toner, followed by serum, followed by moisturizer, followed by sunscreen, followed by colour corrector, followed by contour cream, followed by insanity.
There are a whole range of products just for making up one's mouth! If I religiously followed the 'correct' procedures, I'd probably never get out of the house pre-lunch.

3. Fashion 
I read the 'Style' sections of the Sunday Papers with a sense of growing dread. Not only is there nothing I'd ever want to wear, it is all at eye-watering prices. A small bracelet that looks like it's been made of paperclips: £2000. Seriously? Does anybody buy this stuff, let alone wear it? And I DO resent the 'drape it on some willowy older model and then we can claim it's a universal look' thing.

Last week, the Sunday Times Style featured a pair of gold hoop earrings at a price that might buy you a small terraced house in Doncaster. And chip your front teeth every time you suddenly turned your head. As for jeans ~ don't get me started. Mind you, women of my age are not supposed to wear jeans in the first place. Or any place. Not even the retro-sixties ones that are now back in fashion, and that we wore in the real sixties. Step away from your youth, sister. It no longer belongs to you!

So here I am, a castaway on a small unreconstructed island, watching the ship of style sailing away into the distance. I am browless, fashion-free and improperly made-up. Do I care? Ah, well, that's another story!

Saturday 1 April 2017

Brexit ~ Tudor Style

Queen Elizabeth 1: the Ermine Portrait

On 29th of March, Sir Tim Barrow, the UK's ambassador to the EU, entered the Europa building in Brussels carrying Prime Minister Theresa May's Article 50 letter, signifying the beginning of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. A momentous event with unseen consequences for every citizen of the United (so far) Kingdom.

 But it was not the first time that an exchange of diplomatic correspondence had far reaching consequences. On May 24th 1570, some time between 2 and 3 in the morning, John Felton, a wealthy Catholic, pinned a copy of Pope Pius V's Bull, 'Regnans in Excelsis', excommunicating Queen Elizabeth 1, to the gates of the Bishop of London's Palace, situated close to St Paul's cathedral.
A Papal bull with the 'bulla'
The Queen was served with this religious 'Brexit'  for ''usurping Supreme Control of the Church in England''. She was described as Elizabeth, pretended queen and daughter of iniquity”, and was in effect, publicly branded a heretic. The fallout was immediate: the whole country was cut off from doing any trade or business with Catholic Europe. At that time Philip 11 of Spain controlled most of trade in the Low Countries, especially in Antwerp, where 70% of the country's woolen cloth was traded. As a result there was a sudden and complete collapse of the most important of England's exports.

It became a matter of extreme urgency for the country to find new trading partners as quickly as possible. Elizabeth decided to send emissaries to Persia, North Africa and Turkey. These were Muslim countries, and were 'forbidden' territories in the eyes of the Catholic Church. It was therefore not only an act of desperation, but a sub-textual two-fingered reply to the Papal Bull.

As a result of the Queen's actions, great trading companies like the Turkey Company, the Muscovy Company and the Levant Company were formed. They traded in metals: lead and tin, taken from sacked Catholic churches and sold for the production of arms, which were in turn used against the Catholic church and its forces by the Islamic world. 
Spanish galleon

The other form of trade, far more questionable, was that of pillage and plunder. Spanish treasure ships were regularly targeted by the English fleet under Francis Drake, who was commissioned by Elizabeth in 1572 to act as a privateer targeting Spanish ports and raiding Spanish ships. The cargoes were looted and brought back to England to add to the Treasury. In one raid alone in 1573, Drake's men took 15 tons of silver ingots and about 100,000 pounds of silver coins. A fortune in contemporary terms.
Francis Drake

It is tempting to see the reign of Elizabeth 1 as a Golden Age, but that would be wrong. The loss of trade with Europe was considerable and was never compensated for by the long distances and astronomical costs of opening up new markets. The collapse of the woolen cloth industry and the rural economy that supported it meant that large parts of the agricultural population were reduced to starvation. 

It wasn't until James I came to the throne in 1603, uniting the two countries of England and Scotland, that any sort of economic stability was restored through his policy of deliberate re-engagement with the European continent. And although the situation in 1570 cannot be compared to that of today, the past still offers a salutary lesson for citizens of the UK as we stand upon the threshold of a second Brexit.

(Thanks to BBC Radio 4: The Long View presented by Jonathan Freedland, for inspiration)