Monday, 26 November 2012

How much do People need People?

Shades of Appley Green is about the lives of individuals but it is also about ‘community life’. This is what I often say, but what does that actually mean? Different things to different people, I expect, depending on your interests, age and general circumstances. How much do people need other people? Are they necessary to give you an identity?
You may know I was brought up in Tetbury, a small Gloucestershire town of about 4,000 inhabitants; it gave that sense of belonging, where you felt connected.
Now living in Surrey since 1977, and many more places before that, I have never forgotten that feeling, where you could go down several roads and name each family who lived there. Here in 2012, it is a different world, where former villages have merged into something of a suburban sprawl and acquaintances are nationwide, even global.

Look on any map of Great Britain and you see an enormous mass of villages, but in towns, and even in the London metropolis, there are pockets where you can spot the hub of a community – an old ‘village green’ or park, a church, community hall, a school and a small parade of shops – where residents find a local identity.  
Before retiring in 2008 I was working as a Community Support Worker – a modest kind of job that involved supporting people with information and a listening ear. For two years I was with an organisation that helped teenage mothers, often lonely, who had little help from family or friends; and following that I went out, armed with a lot of empathy and leaflets, to see people with Parkinson’s. If you read Shades of Appley Green you can see and feel the pulse of village life, and strong characters who struggle and overcome on the one hand, single parenthood and on the other, the loneliness that can come with Parkinson’s. It is, I hope, an uplifting book, not a miserable one, but it does look at the downs as well as the ups of life!

Homo sapiens is hard-wired to be tribal – that is my belief. There is a basic instinct in us that drives us to belong – whether to a family, friends,neighbourhood, club, profession or via the Internet – social networking! ‘No man is an island’ – who said that?  Birthdays, weddings, and funerals are usually celebrated or marked in the company of our ‘tribal group’. In evolution, there was strength in numbers, co-operation was key to survival. Lone individuals or nuclear families proved inadequate to defend themselves or their territory. They needed back-up and, later, division of labour.
Of course, there are introverts and extroverts, requiring company and solitary hours in varying proportions. Personally I happily spend hours alone absorbed in what I am doing, but always in the knowledge that I regularly meet up with friends and family. I know gregarious people who can scarcely bear to spend five minutes on their own. I have visited (and been welcomed!) by people living alone insisting they are quite happy and do not need people at all; but then it slips out in conversation that they are on anti-depressants and wonder why they have a constant feeling of anxiety hanging over them.

I was wondering how the rest of you feel on this? Would you be one of those who claim you would be fine on that ‘desert island’? Or, are you a socialite who needs constant interaction? Are you able to achieve the optimum levels of company/solitude or is this something you don’t even think about or aim for? I’d love to know.
I was going to write about things I get up to in my patch of Surrey that help me, now that I do not work, with community spirit, but clearly that will have to wait until next time. Enough, already … !

Amazon UK Paperback and Kindle (Kindle only)

Monday, 19 November 2012

I Wrote it My Way - Ali Bacon

If you've been following the plot you will know, dear reader, that a variety (eclectic mix, it has to be said) of lovely authors pop over for a quick ramble here to tell us about how they 'wrote it their way'. The potted histories of how they found their genre and style have been fascinating - and so different!

Today I am delighted to welcome Ali Bacon, who joined the wonderful Love a Happy Ending group in the summer of this year. Her author biography there begins, rather tantalisingly, with the words, 'Ali Bacon was once banned from entering Switzerland, but since then has led a relatively blameless life working in libraries and IT.'  Are you left curious to know more?
She says,' My Way – or still finding it! One of the (many) fascinating things about taking up writing is finding out just what kind of writer you are. The trouble is it takes a while, and even when you have developed a theme, a genre or a style, things can still change!

In my first novel (some snippets on my blog here) a middle-aged woman loses her way when a past lover re-enters her life. Joanna Trollope? Well not quite (it didn’t get published for a start!) but I called it a literary love story and felt sure this was my territory.
Then A Kettle of Fish (just published!) came along and in many respects took me by surprise. I found myself writing about a young person (I am now of ahem mature years!) growing up in Scotland (which I left 30 years ago!) with all kinds of secrets emerging from the woodwork. The characters bore little resemblance to any I had written before. I also made a conscious (I hope not too conscious!) effort to give the book the distinctive flavour of the area where I grew up. I’m delighted it’s getting some really good reviews, but it’s neither  love story nor particularly literary. Oh dear, what next? Another coming-of-age book? Another Scottish novel?

Then while writing Kettle I got the germ of an idea for a new book set in Edinburgh – in 1843. Aagh! What happened to contemporary fiction?

So while most of my writing friends can put themselves squarely in one particular genre, I’m still thrashing around in search of what mine might be. But it does make for an interesting journey. So do take a look at A Kettle of Fish to get a feel for my style, and if you have any advice on where to go next, I’m all ears!'
Thanks so much, Ali. I found this really interesting and can empathise 100%, as I appreciate the necessity for labelling books, but it is not always easy to decide where your books belong. There are a couple of bits here on genre, way back when ? In November 2009! I seriously need to do a follow up on those ...

Here are some places where you can find out more about Ali and her writing.
A Kettle of Fish from Thornberry Publishing (Kindle edition)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Do drop in to Appley Green ... as you're passing by!

My three novels are all set in Appley Green – an amalgam of many lovely Surrey villages. I think it is the village green that makes them so special – so English!
Leaves beginning to turn in Frimley Green
I have been lucky enough to take holidays in beautiful, culturally varied and sunny parts of the world.

So, why would I not set my novels in a more exotic location?
A shady spot in Elstead
It is wonderful to see new and exciting places; very stimulating, as I am sure other holiday-makers will agree. For me, a visit does not dig deep enough into everyday lives, try as I may to talk to the locals and soak up their culture, history and traditions; so stretching my imagination into the realms of their reality would be risky.

Surrey is a lovely place to live. There may be prettier places – the chocolate-box honey-stone cottages in the Cotswolds, where I come from originally, for example. But perhaps ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, as the saying goes.

‘Rush-grass and bog-cotton could look bleak on a rainy day though, she knew that; but Steph loved the wilderness she was used to; the golden gorse and purple heather of summer, the all-pervasive bracken that would change its hue from springtime acid green to the copper tones of autumn.’ (from Shades of Appley Green)
I feel blessed to have lived in Surrey for about 35 years – with its relatively low crime rates, desirable homes, good amenities and really rather nice people, as well as an abundance of trees and panoramic views. Traffic can be irksome, in places, but an author can do something about that! This was one of the delights in creating my own village!

Although within easy reach of London, it is  ‘ …a village not blighted by the throb and fumes of through-traffic. Locals generally stuck to an unwritten code that the able-bodied should walk or cycle to local amenities when possible.’

Taken today ...

Anyone living in, say, Chicago, Manchester, Helsinki or Delhi might read about people’s lives in Appley Green and feel  transported to another world; while British residents will recognise a place they know, in some way or another; as well as the sense of community, family relationships and the human spirit rising against the odds.

I set my first novel Gypsies Stop tHere  in Appley Green, giving the village this name for two reasons. I wanted the word Green in it, and I thought Appley would loosely resonate with Appleby in Cumbria famous for the Gypsy Horse Fairs. Later, I stood on Appley Beach on the Isle of Wight and decided then that the name of my fictitious English village would be Appley Green. It just sounded right.
My first two novels, Gypsies Stop tHere and No Gypsies Served  do venture into another world that is on our doorstep all around England, but only as far as I feel I should, as a non-Gypsy.  Shades of Appley Green  is about something else.

‘Steph is a special, but troubled young woman. Chosen by the most venerated man in Appley Green to fulfil his mission, she feels publicly admired rather than privately loved. She certainly does not trust men!

In helping a once famous, elderly architect with Parkinson’s regain a social life, she finds herself taking personal risks, fending off objections, blind to danger. We wait for the moment when it dawns on Steph what is driving her deep-seated obsession; for only then can she find the happiness she deserves.

Appley Green is a charming English village. Everyone says so. But people are still people. With the emotional turmoil that comes with love, birth and death, a close-knit community can harbour betrayal and guilt, as well as joy and laughter.’

The book cover’s summery photograph was taken in Tilford Green. Landlord of this ‘quintessential English Country pub’, The Barley Mow, built in 1705, a stone’s throw from the park benches, told me the reason one of the seat arms was missing. A Gypsy had tied up his horse and … well you can guess. He had no idea about my first two novels, so that was quite strange.
“Nestling quietly in a middle-England wasteland of sandy heath, Appley Green straddles the boundaries of two counties south west of London.”

Monday, 5 November 2012

I Wrote it My Way - Carol E Wyer

Today I welcome my fourth guest author who tells us how she wrote it her way. It is so interesting to hear from other writers what set them off, and then led them to their particular style. We are uncovering some 'secrets' that help bring us closer to the writer behind the book.
There is a lovely profile of Carol E Wyer on the Love a Happy Ending web site. Her books 'take a humorous look at getting older' (not that old!!!). 
I am reading three different books at the moment. Two of them are in the name of research for my next Appley Green novel, enjoyable but quite serious; Surfing in Stilettos is for fun!

Here's Carol's Story:

'An addiction to seventies comedy semi-explains why I write humour. Before I wrote Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines I attempted a passionate romantic novel but sniggered all through the sex scenes. It was then I decided I was more of a ‘Carry On’ writer and so a frustrated comic became a humorous author.

I was always the class clown and mimic but it was thanks to some serious health issues in my youth that I became an adult with a keen sense of humour and an appreciation for life which I now try to pass on in my writing.

My stories and novels always attempt to help people appreciate the funny side of life or what they already have. Life is too short to be miserable and as Ken Dodd sang “I thank the Lord, for more than my share of happiness.” I am now trying to spread mine about.'

Thanks so much, Carol, for brightening our days!
Here are some places you can go to find out more about Carol and her amusing books.