The one where I learned how to murder people … in books, that is!

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I had a lovely day out yesterday at the Festival of Words in Beverley, East Yorkshire. My good writing friend, Sharon Booth, and I had bought tickets for ‘Murder Day’ which involved 5 x different sessions, all with authors of crime.

Session 1 was with author Martin Edwards, interviewed by local author, Nick Quantrill. He spoke about the golden age of crime, which is the era between the two world wars during which Agatha Christie wrote. It was a really fascinating insight into the popularity of this genre and the influence it has had on writers since.

IMG_7165During the break, we grabbed a drink and I treated myself to something I’ve never tried before: a chocolate scone. I posted on Instagram that it was surprisingly nice and my younger brother made me laugh by asking why it was surprising: chocolate good, scone good!

A discussion panel was the set-up for Session 2 with Nick hosting. Jess Kidd, Chris Simms and debut-novelist Amanda Mason talked about their gothic thrillers and each read an excerpt from their books. It was interesting hearing the very different writing voices.

Prolific writer, Kate Ellis, spoke alone for Session 3, taking the audience through the inspiration behind her 23-strong DI Wesley Peterson series and her other novels.

We had a break after that and went to the cafe library for a spot of lunch, joining another author friend, Sylvia Broady.

After lunch, Session 4 was the one I’d been really looking forward to: The Art of Forensics. Author Margaret Murphy hosted a discussion with Anne Cleeves and Helen Pepper. Ann Cleeves writes the books which were made into the TV series Vera and Shetland. I confess I haven’t read any of her books but I absolutely love Vera; brilliant series. She’s started a new series based in Devon which has been optioned for TV so I treated myself to a signed copy of the first in the series. Helen is a former CSI from Co Durham and now trains police recruits in forensics. She advises both Anne and Margaret on the forensic elements of their books and is the advisor on the TV series Vera.

IMG_7157It was a brilliant discussion. When I’ve written my books, I’ve reached out to experts via social media or explored websites/blogs to check out information relevant to my storylines but I’ve never thought about an author working with an expert on more of a consultative basis like this, yet it absolutely makes sense, particularly for something so important and specialist like forensics. The discussion was also very funny. Ann was very down to earth, admitting that she avoids doing anything that seems like hard work – for example writing the scripts for the TV series of Vera – because she really just enjoys sitting in her jogging pants and “making up stories”. Helen was exceptionally funny too and I bet she’s fascinating and fun to work with.IMG_7170

We had another hour’s gap before the final session so nipped into town. There’s a Paperchase in Beverley so I treated myself to a bear desk pad and post-it notes from a lovely new range there.

Poor Sharon had been battling with illness all day and was wiped out so she headed home and I attended Session 5 on my own. There was a change of venue from the Memorial Hall to The Art Gallery and the final speaker was Cath Staincliffe, interviewed by Nick again. Cath had written several books before she hit her big break with the TV series Blue Murder starring Caroline Quentin. I loved that series. Whereas Ann Cleeves wrote the Vera books ahead of the TV series, Cath had created a character ready to write a book and it became a script first. It was therefore really interesting to hear how she then retrospectively wrote the books. She was then asked to write the prequel novels to the popular series Scott & Bailey so she talked about those too, as well as writing for radio.

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I’ve been to a few talks over the years as part of Scarborough Literature Festival which later became Books by the Beach but I’ve never been to another venue or attended a full day of events. I thoroughly enjoyed my Murder Day and hearing from so many crime writers. It’s not my genre but it’s always fascinating to hear from other authors, whatever they might write.

As I was listening to the authors speaking I found myself wondering if, one day, I might be the one up there. It’s my absolute dream to be a guest author on Scarborough’s Books by the Beach festival but I’m under no illusion around my ability to draw a crowd so it would be many years yet – if at all – before that might happen. Still, it’s good to have dreams.

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The other thing I thought about was how much I’d have loved to throw question after question at the authors about their writing day, their publication journey, and a whole host of other questions that are of interest to me as a writer but probably wouldn’t necessarily appeal to the readers in the audience. There weren’t many questions asked of Cath at the end session so I did sneak one in about whether she had any traditions or superstitions. She talked about writing long hand, always on the same type of paper, with the same type of pen. I wanted to explore more but could easily have monopolised the conversation for ages if I had!

Thank you to all the authors for their input and to the organisers for such a fabulous day.

Jessica xx

 

 

 

Books, books, everywhere

I like big books and I cannot lie … Hmm, that sounds like the start of a rather dodgy song so I’ll leave it there! I like books. I like to own them. I love my Kindle (despite battling against getting one) but I will always love the physical look and feel of books. All books. I love books with pictures in them, books full of facts, and proper reading books. The problem is storage. We don’t have a big enough property to be able to devote a whole wall in the lounge to books or a wide enough hall to have bookshelves down one side. Shame. The consequence is that I have pockets of books everywhere so this is a walk-through them. Apologies that the photos aren’t brilliant. My hubby is the talented photographer in this house but he tends to take forever to set up a “project” and I know he doesn’t have the time just now.

P1050579Let’s start in my lovely new office. This was formerly the spare bedroom but, as it had probably been slept in for 6 nights over 3 years, I managed to win the battle to convert it to my writing space. Hubby finally put me some shelves up a few weeks ago. These play host to most of my paperbacks (and one or two hardbacks). I’m pretty anal and, whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to colour organise them (my clothes are colour-organised!), I have some logic to my organisation. Naturally multiple books by the same author appear together but I’ve tried to group genre together. The top shelf, bottom shelf and half of the middle shelf are predominantly romcoms or similar (except the Harry Potter ones, of course) whereas the right-hand side of the middle shelf is a bit of a mix of other genres. My triplet teddies guard them – Toffee, Fudge and Caramel. It’s not a very extensive paperback collection. Two years ago, it was double the size and I realised I was going to have to part company with half the collection or I’d be forever tripping over boxes of books. It was with a heavy heart that I freegled a stack of books I’d read and loved – Jill Mansell, Marian Keyes and many other favourites – hoping that someone else would get the joy I’d received from reading them. I regret it now but needs must!

P1050581Also in my office, under the bookshelves, I have another collection of books on top of a cupboard. These are my writing-related books. “How to” books/guides, The Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook, Baby Name book (invaluable for character names) and my Writer’s Bureau course nestle there. Really must finish my course one day soon!!! Oh, and some teddy bears. The big boy is a Charlie Bear called Asia. He’s gorgeous. I got made redundant last summer and really struggled to find a job. I finally managed to secure some minimum-wage seasonal work in a local garden centre. They sold Charlie Bears and, as I got a staff discount, I indulged when I managed to secure a permanent position (my current role). The little fella is a Thank You Me to You bear from my lovely writing friend Jay Bartlett for supporting her with the edits on her debut novel.

P1050582The books don’t finish there. I have one more stand-alone bookshelf in the office which houses an assortment of books, a stack of notepads (I have another cupboard full of them too) and books relating to one of my other passions and a former hobby. The passion is one you can probably spot from looking at the other pictures; teddy bears. I collect bears and will write a blog one day soon about my collectible ones. The books on the bottom left are all about the history of teddy bears and/or how to make bears. I can make them but it’s very time-consuming. The other hobby is flower-arranging. I took a night class about 8 years ago and got my first stage qualification. I signed up for the next stage but it all went wrong and ended up being cancelled. I’ve never bothered again since. Every year I make some arrangements at Christmas using the skills I’ve remembered but I probably won’t take it further.

P1050668Let’s leave the office and poddle across the landing into the bedroom. Not many books in there due to lack of space but we have a custom-made shelving unit by the bed that doubles up as a bedside table for my lamp, alarm clock and glass of water. This has a few hardbacks on it and, if you’re a fan, you’ll spot that four of them are Jill Mansell ones. I’m part-way through the Sophie Kinsella on the left but, of the remaining six, I’ve only read one so far. Must rectify that very soon.

The munchkin has a room absolutely packed with books, many of which are childhood classics I’ve enjoyed. She still loves her picture books even though she’s moved onto proper books with being in Year 3 now (juniors in old money!) The hubby doesn’t really do books so his shelves are pretty bare.

P1050585Downstairs, the dining room plays host to a couple of collections. When I met hubby, he was a member of something called The Folio Society. I’d not heard of them but they make gorgeous hardback books. You sign up for a membership and get a batch of books free then have a commitment to buy so many (four I think) across a 2-year period. Most of the books on the shelf here are Folio Society ones including a beautiful set of Fairy books (middle shelf) and a box set of Paddington ones (on the top of the cabinet). We’ve got an old set of Dickens classics (top shelf on the left). But, to my shame, I don’t think I’ve read a single book on this cabinet. You see, I love to own beautiful books but I seem to struggle to find time to read them. The TBR pile just grows and grows.

P1050584The other bookshelf in the dining room has more Folio books but is also home to a couple of shelves worth of recipe books and a bit of a mix of other stuff like guide books and dictionaries. Back to recipe books, herein lies another oddity. You see, I love to buy recipe books … but I don’t love to cook! It’s as though I love the idea of being able to flick through a recipe book and pull together an amazing dinner party menu … but the thought of actually doing it leaves me cold so I don’t have dinner parties and I never flick through the books. Am I strange? Don’t answer that! I used to have recipe books in the kitchen but I found they got sticky so my kitchen is a book-free zone.

P1050583The final book resting place is the lounge. We have a set of shelves on which we have a collection of “coffee table books” – those gorgeous factual books full of pictures and information which I buy thinking “I’d love to read this” but realistically just flick through the pictures instead. There’s a bit of a theme developing here, isn’t there? We’ve got some lovely books about bears (real ones as opposed to cuddly ones) from our honeymoon in Canada and lots of nature books. I will just point out that that the one that says “Joy of …” is “Joy of Nature” rather than “Joy of Sex”!!! But there are also books about forensics, the unexplained and Nostradamus. All things that fascinate me and I’d love to read about if only … yes, you’ve guessed it … if only I had the time!

I’d love to hear about you. Are you a compulsive book-purchaser like me? And do you actually read them??? Do you have books in one place or lots? I think the only places in our house without them are the bathroom/toilet/ensuite and kitchen as previously mentioned. But, if I was organised, the toilet would actually have books in. I’ve even sorted out the joke/comedy ones I’d put in there. Just need to put up a shelf. Just need to find time to put up a shelf …

Jessica xx