It’s always a pleasure to have guests on the blog and Samantha Tonge is no different. Here to launch her latest novel GAME OF SCONES, Sam is talking about settings.
Most of the settings of my novels are based on places I know. In Doubting Abbey, Applebridge Hall has similarities with a stately home local to me, that I visited whilst doing research for my fictional building’s interior and many times when the children were small. I lived in Paris as a young woman, so had many memories to draw on for my next book, From Paris with Love. And Mistletoe Mansion is set in Harpenden, a quaint Hertfordshire village I grew up in. As for Game of Scones, the story takes place on the Greek island of Kos. I went there with a group of girlfriends years ago. Plus my husband and I honeymooned on Zante.
So for me, I have so far balked at setting a book somewhere I have absolutely no experience of. Granted, my memories of Greece may not be sharp now, but I still have deep-seated sensual memories– the garlicky smells and sea breeze sounds, the rich taste of the food, the vibrant colour of the sea. From Paris I recall the stuffy odour of the underground, the universal soundtrack of busy tourists speaking in different languages and the delicious sweet smells wafting out of bakeries.
For me this basic, hands-on understanding of a location is important. I might get the overall “feel” of an alien place wrong, if I just go by information on the internet. Although online resources are fantastic for filling in the detail, and I don’t know how authors used to manage before the invention of the World Wide Web.
Before I became published, I had a number of editorial reports on my first novels done, and one pointed out that my settings just weren’t clear enough. I had a strong vision in my head of say a main character’s flat, but wasn’t transferring that to the page. So now I realize how important the smaller bits of information can be – some crumbling brickwork or the exact shade of that magnolia wallpaper. And the beauty of the internet is that the building blocks of your setting can be easily enriched. Thanks to photos and videos and tourist spot descriptions, you can create a realistic vision of a place you don’t actually have day-to-day knowledge of.
For Game of Scones I’ve read tourists’ reviews ad nauseam and studied town maps until I’ve got a headache; have scrutinized photo after photo of local food; then there’s hours of Googling the fragrances of certain local flowers and trawling gardening sites to find out exactly when they bloom. Plus I listen on Youtube to hear how a Greek person speaking English really does sound and also I studied local architecture, to get my descriptions of towns just right.
Doing all of this, in advance, helps the story just spill onto the page and hopefully, by the end of the book, the reader really has become immersed in your fictional world. However, by the same token, I try not to become too hung up on getting every single detail right. After all, I’m a fiction writer, not a tourist guide.
Wait a minute, though. Thinking about it, I did once write a book based in a country – and era – totally foreign to me. Lunchdate with a Tombrobber is set in Ancient Egypt. It is chicklit meets Carry on Cleo, and in my opinion my best book. Sadly no publisher agrees with me and it doesn’t fit neatly into any genre! I had huge fun researching it, but didn’t get lazy about the detail. In fact I found a wonderful Egyptologist online, who agreed to answer any questions for £1 a pop, via PayPal. Is setting as important in historical fiction, as no one can say that they’ve experienced it and that your version is wrong? Probably more so, as you have to get the reader’s imagination working hard too.
Some people say “write what you know” and to a certain extent, I agree. However, I’m not one for setting anyone – myself included – boundaries, so who knows… Perhaps in the future, I’ll set a chicklit novel on Mars and find out if that really is where men come from!
A story of icing and flour…and how love doesn’t always go to plan!
Growing up, Pippa Pattinson’s summers were spent in the idyllic Greek island fishing village of Taxos. There she spent many long hazy days determinedly ignoring thoughts of the life her parents had mapped out for her (a dreary-but-secure accounting job and obligatory sensible husband!) Instead she daydreamed of running her own tea shop – serving the perfect scones –with mocha-eyed childhood friend Niko by her side…
Arriving back in Taxos for the first time in years, with suave boyfriend Henrik, Pippa barely recognises the tired little town – but is relieved to catch glimpses of the quaint, charming village she’s always loved. Together Niko and Pippa put together a proposal to save Taxos from tourist-tastic ruin, and at the heart of their plan is Pippa’s dream project – The Tastiest Little Teashop in Taxos. It’s time for Pippa to leave her London life behind and dust off her scone recipe that’s guaranteed to win over both locals and visitors. And amidst the rolling pins and raisins, it seems romance is blossoming where she’s least expecting it…
If you’re a fan of Lindsey Kelk or Lucy Diamond then don’t hesitate to step into Samantha Tonge’s truly delightful tea shop.
Samantha lives in Cheshire with her lovely family and two cats who think they are dogs. Along with writing, her days are spent cycling, willing cakes to rise and avoiding housework. A love of fiction developed as a child, when she was known for reading Enid Blyton books in the bath. A desire to write bubbled away in the background whilst she pursued other careers, including a fun stint working at Disneyland Paris. Formally trained as a linguist, Samantha now likes nothing more than holing herself up in the spare room, in front of the keyboard. Writing romantic comedy novels and short stories is her passion.
Samantha has sold over 80 short stories to mainstream women’s magazines. Her debut romantic comedy novel from CarinaUK Harlequin, bestselling “Doubting Abbey“, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award, 2014. Its fun sequel is From Paris With Love. Mistletoe Mansion is a fun standalone Christmas novel.
I’m sitting here staring up at the empty space where my ceiling used to be… A few weeks ago, it was just a ceiling – white painted, a light in the middle, it did the job it was meant to do. But then there was a leak that made a hole and then we decided to get the house re-wired. When the electrician turned up, he looked at the ceiling and said why not pull it down and get it done again properly, rather than patch it up and keep on making do. Cost-wise, there wasn’t much in it. Yes, there would be mess, yes there would be disruption and yes, it would take longer, but in the end it would be perfect. Finished, perfect and just how we want it. (Hold on – I am coming to a point with this.)
Sitting there, staring at the mess, it struck me that this is just like editing. My book was finished – first draft done, it was okay; it did the job it was meant to do. But there were plot-holes, a saggy middle, a bit of a tangle at the end… I looked at it again. I could patch it up, but I’ve decided to pull it apart and get it done properly. Yes, there’ll be mess and yes, there will be disruption and yes, it’ll take longer, but in the end I think it’ll be worth it.
So that’s where I am with my writing – the old edit is in bits in the back garden and I’m looking at the bare bones of it, getting ready to put the new ceiling up.
The timing for my week on Life Cycle of a Writer has turned out to be perfect –
At the end of last month, I was thrilled to be awarded a bursary from Literature Wales for my work-in-progress The Murder House. The bursary is allowing me to take six weeks off from the day job to write, and this week is the first week of that bursary period, the rest of April and the whole of May stretches before me with nothing to do but write (well, between the hours of 9am and 3pm anyway – then it’s back to school runs and after school activities and real life.)
It means for the next six weeks, for six hours a day, five days a week, I’m being paid to write – I’m getting a taste of living the dream. Even with no ceiling and an awful lot of mess.
I’ve spent the last few weeks planning my time – setting myself targets to get the most out of the time. I want to have The Murder House finished and polished by the time I go back to work – and I’m also hoping to have the next book, which is currently just a few fragments floating about somewhere in my brain, plotted and planned and ready to go.
At the moment, writing is limited to evenings, the odd day off work and sneaky half hours snatched at the weekends. Being a full time writer is a long-held dream and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this little taste of it. I’m not going to waste a second of it, so if you see me on twitter, tell me off and send me back to my desk.
See you later – I’m off to live the dream.
Today, we welcome to HQ, Gabrielle Mullarkey …
Gabrielle’s contemporary romance novels, Hush Hush and A Tale of Two Sisters, were originally published by Town House & Country House/Simon & Schuster respectively.
Corazon Books republished Hush Hush as an e-book in November 2014, with A Tale of Two Sisters scheduled for 2015.
Gabrielle, a journalist by profession, also writes short stories regularly for women’s weeklies, and facilitates creative writing for wellbeing and therapeutic purposes.
Hush Hush in a nutshell
Reclusive widow Angela is afraid to dip a toe back in the job market – let alone the dating game. But egged on by her bossy mother and her best friend, she resolves to find a job and even try a solo holiday – which ends with a luggage mix-up and an encounter with a rugged Irishman called Conor.
Back home, Angela is keen to take her new romance slowly, particularly as Conor’s (non-holiday) baggage includes the original ‘child from hell’ and an ex-wife who’s less ‘ex’ than Angela expected.
But there’s a deeper reason for Angela’s acute self-doubt – a trauma in her past that threatens to overshadow her chance of happiness, even as it lies within reach.
The fine line…
Hush Hush and my second novel, A Tale of Two Sisters, were printed in 1999 and 2001 respectively, so seeing my writing reincarnated as e-books (and updating it accordingly) has been like greeting old friends, as well as revisiting myself at a different time in life.
When I started Hush Hush, I was living in Ireland by accident rather than design, after I’d met an Irishman while on holiday over there – which kind of inverts the process in the book, Angela meeting her beau on her way back from holiday!
Not that it was an overnight decision to relocate. It took five years, a mini career crisis and a lot of arm-twisting to take the plunge.
However, as I’m second-generation Irish, family and friends discounted serendipity and assumed I’d implemented a long-nurtured cunning plan: return to roots, snag ethnically suitable specimen, learn to play the bodhran, develop love of Guinness, master Irish dancing, reclaim and celebrate heritage.
Of course, there was no such grand plan (I wish!). I simply met someone when I wasn’t looking, I can still only play Chopsticks on a piano, Guinness doesn’t agree with me, and as a child, I was possibly the worst Irish dancer. Ever.
But a funny thing happened as I started to write Hush Hush: while both characters and plot – which I wanted to be absorbingly twisty – were pure fiction, my conflicted feelings about my identity did begin to edge into the pages, many such sentiments expressed through humour (my natural default setting). However, it was only when interviewed or questioned about the book after its publication, that I thought about this osmosis, and wondered how deeply it affected my writing generally.
Since then, my research and training in creative writing for therapeutic purposes has introduced me to the adage that writing fiction helps us ‘say the unsayable’, perhaps without even realising we’re doing it – or that we considered such self-exploration ‘unsayable’ in the first place.
I still don’t set out to plunder my life directly for incidents or anecdotes, but I also know there’s a fine line between fictionaliser and recollector. In Hush Hush, Angela’s mistakes, triumphs and misunderstandings were sometimes directly my own. For example, just like Angela, I really did have a summer job in a factory where I managed to print all the clock cards upside down!
So, all these years later, it’s fascinating to look back and compare the writer who wrote Hush Hush with the one writing this post. Lots of wonderful writers have influenced me down the years and continue to do so (everyone from Robert Goddard to Laurie Graham), but I also continue to be an enduring influence on myself – and hopefully, a rich resource of ever-surfacing memories.
Connect with Gabrielle on Twitter @authorgabrielle
The time has come for me to give you lovely people a round up of what I have been up to since I last posted.
Whilst I haven’t got exciting news like a book deal or a competition win, I feel over the last few weeks my writing has taken a huge change in direction – for the better!
For a while now, I have been playing about with my writing to find where I belong. It takes a little time, as a writer, to find your place, your ‘voice’ as some call it, and realise where you fit in. Whilst I thought I already had, I think the way in which I have moved forward so quickly since January has proved that finally, I know who I am. Whilst romance always plays a huge part in my stories, I have come to realise that the stories I want to tell are more relationship based books, family dramas, domestic stories. My stories always have an issue based plot whether it be a young woman dealing with grief and depression, or someone in a violent relationship desperate to escape. Or even a couple entering into IVF not realising the devastating effects this could have on their already rocky relationship. These are everyday issues that everyday people fight. I write about ordinary people finding their modern day fairytale ending.
So, realising that my writing had taken an alternative route, meant a total overhaul of my image. I had been promoting myself as a romance author, and whilst that is still true, I didn’t feel it gave my followers a true definition of who I was and what I write. So, after discussions with my agent and a few of my writing friends, I decided to re-launch myself:
I feel this describes me much better. With this reinvention, came a shiny new website and an author page on Facebook. Please do pop over and have a look at both – and feel free to ‘like’ and subscribe if you want to!
Now I had a lovely website, a stronger presence on Facebook and Twitter and a plan. It was then time to sort out my submissions.
In my last post I told you about ‘Love Hurts’. This book has now been retitled as ‘Fractured Love’. I have completed another edit of FL after some tweaking by my agent (Sarah) and it has now been sent off to be proofed by her. Head over Heart, which was my first completed novel, is now undertaking a huge re-write to reflect my new ‘real life, real love’ route. When I first wrote HoH, I was still very much concentrating highly on romance being the main factor and it was lighter than it needed to be. When I finished FL, my agent and I agreed that HoH needed a complete overhaul to match the pace and quality of my latest novel. My writing has developed ALOT since I wrote my first book and this rewrite needs to reflect that. I am excited about the new direction I have taken and I cannot wait to work this into Sophie’s story.
I have also written a brief outline of the next book that I am to work on. This is currently untitled but it will focus on IVF and the effects – both good and bad – that it can have on some relationships.
Whilst my books are not directly linked, I do have a theme running through them all which ties them together. Because of this, I will be submitting them as a series this time round. And hopefully that submission will be soon. Just a few last minute tweaks and reads before Sarah hits SEND. Fingers crossed for me…
Another exciting turn that my writing has taken recently, is the development of a CHILDRENS SERIES! Writing for children is something that has also been an ambition of mine. I work in a nursery with 0-5 year olds in my day job and I love working with the little ones. So I think it was a natural development that my writing was bound to take. I will reveal more of this as it unfolds but at the moment it is very much in the early developmental stage. Because I plan to aim this series at both the fiction market as well as the educational market, I am doing lots of planning and research first.
Another hurdle I have come across with this is the decision of whether to have a separate pseudonym for my children’s books. Whilst I don’t write erotic fiction or anything like that, I do approach hard hitting issues and swear etc in my adult novels. So would it be best to create a whole new persona to promote my children’s books with? What do you all think?
I have also been more active in the competition stakes recently, entering my most recent novel into both the Lucy Cavendish Annual Fiction Prize and The Bath Novel Award. Entering competitions is something that I haven’t really done much, but it was something I vowed to do more of this year. So that was where I started. I am also going to try to write more flash fiction/short stories to send into magazines and competitions, too. It is all part of my being more proactive!
All that is left to say is that I shall be attending the Romantic Novelists’ Association Summer Party this year so I do hope to see a lot of you there!
PS. My ironing pile has also resumed residence on my spare bed… I wouldn’t be able to call myself a writer if I didn’t have a horrendously large ironing pile and/or an overdue list of housework chores. Come on, you know I’m not the only one…