Tag Archive | novels

Romantic Mysteries and the Melbourne Writers Festival

I have to admit that I’m confused. Again. Uploading books to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is not for the faint-hearted. I might have been fearless when I uploaded my first novel four years ago, but I’ve learned to be wary of my biggest stumbling block: Categories.

As an author, you are allowed to choose two categories (genres) to describe your book to would-be purchasers. In each category, there are sub-categories which narrow down the choices so that readers who might enjoy your book can actually find it in a niche which appeals to them. For example, for a novel you would select Fiction, then narrow it down within that by choosing Action & Adventure, further narrow it down to Mystery, Thriller & Suspense and then narrow it down again to Mystery.

Fantastic, you think – you’re now listed amongst your peers! Many peers. Too many peers.

Unfortunately, with around 4,000 titles for readers to choose from in that Mystery category, your book is probably going to be listed on page 390 out of 400 pages. This means that no one is going to find it because no one is going to have the patience to wade through 390 pages to find yours. Likewise with the second category you choose.

Beware, the author who misjudges her initial broad category! I received a less than favourable review from someone who thought that my mystery should have had more action and adventure, and less soppy romance. My romantic mysteries are more about the romance than the mystery, unlike Dan Brown who writes fast-paced, action-filled mysteries.

The trick is to select the category that is most predominant in your book. So I considered re-categorising mine as Romance, followed by Action/Adventure. Fortunately I browsed first and what did I see?  Erotica, sexy adventure, action sex, and so on. Neither the action nor the adventure that I had written about! Clearly a major re-think was needed.

Back in the 1960s, the great Mary Stewart pioneered the genre of Romantic Suspense, or Romantic Mystery. On Amazon, if you choose Romance first and then look for Mystery within that it doesn’t exist, but Suspense does. However, if you browse Amazon using keywords, Romantic Suspense brings up what others call Paranormal Romance – relationships involving werewolves, vampires or other supernatural phenomena. Mary Stewart’s Romantic Suspense novels are not about those things, and neither are mine.

As a confused writer, I attended the Melbourne Writers Festival, thinking that a little insight into current writing trends might help me. I chose my sessions carefully, hopped on a train and opened my mind. Opened it a little too wide, maybe. Shades of Pandora and her troublesome box, perhaps, but I really enjoyed my time at the festival.

The first session I attended was about romance writing, comparing the treatments between the Young Adult and traditional Romance genres, and was entitled Losing It. With a title like that, I should have guessed – but didn’t – that this session was all about losing one’s virginity. YA literature is almost exclusively about this topic, according to one of the panel members, Fiona Wood.

Well, I wouldn’t know, would I? I don’t write YA, and it didn’t exist as a category when I was in that target age group. For the modern YA reader, loss of virginity is more often non-consensual than consensual.

Romance novelist Melanie Milburne agreed that the Romance genre usually follows the same pattern, albeit aimed at a slightly older age group. Even in Historical Romance, the traditional “bodice-rippers” seem to imply that sex is non-consensual. In other words: rape. Well, imagine my shock and horror! I always thought that Romance was supposed to be about… you know, Romantic Stuff.

For example, my novels – my romantic mysteries – centre on the exploration of a mutual quest, in which two people start off on opposing sides and gradually change as the story evolves. The female protagonist gets to know another side of the male hero slowly over the first 100 pages, and their budding relationship is advanced by the mystery they both need to solve.

Along the way, diversions include the occasional picnic or shared bottle of wine, followed by an unexpected awakening of emotions, culminating in a midpoint consummation behind closed doors, heralded by that most diplomatic of writer devices: the chapter break.

In the second half of the novel, the tension notches up as the Bad Guy closes in. The romantic couple cling together through increasing danger, during which they respectively realise that they have each found their life partner through the most extraordinary circumstances, only to possibly lose that person due to the misdeeds of the Bad Guy. When all hope seems lost, the indomitable lovers gain the upper hand, solve the mystery, save each other and restore a new balance before the final Happy Ending.

Just your average falling in love, bells ringing, music and flowers Romance.

That’s certainly how I would like to fall in love and find my life partner. Reality check: maybe that’s why I haven’t found him yet! Second reality check: maybe that’s why the stuff I write is primarily categorised as fiction…

Does this mean I don’t write Romance after all? Should I try a new approach and re-classify my novels as something else?

The words in my novels are not just thrown together in some random order to tell a mediocre story quickly and earn me a fast buck. A lot of thought, planning and research goes into my plots, so they are more than just romances and have a strong historical or artistic theme. They delve back into the history of a particular era or movement, with the emphasis on archaeology, art, lost loves of a previous generation, and so on. Thought provoking stuff, so perhaps what I write could be considered Literary Fiction?

This led me to attend a discussion on Literary versus Genre Fiction. Once again my eyes were shocked into the surprised open position as I learned from writer Krissy Kneen that generally, Literary Fiction seems to be another term for Erotica. Harrison Young, an American-born writer, set out to write what he thought was Literary Fiction, but his novel was re-classified by his publisher as a Thriller. He felt this was unfair because some readers of traditional thrillers thought that his book was too different from the norm, and not to their usual thriller tastes.

Writer Honey Brown confessed that she didn’t think about genre at all when writing, because that was for her publisher to sort out. I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of jealousy for both these two writers – lucky them for having publishers to take on the task of deciding on categories!

As a last resort, I attended a session on Women’s Fiction. It came as no surprise that Women’s Fiction is all about politics: the politics of domestic abuse, the politics of the glass ceiling for women in a so-called “man’s world” and the politics of women fighting against any ingrained, immovable system. This is very noble stuff, and I have the deepest respect for the people who write it. It is obviously extremely popular, judging from the queues of people (mainly women) waiting to get in the door at this session.

Unfortunately my writing is far too frivolous to be this noble, this edgy. I don’t write about politics – the single biggest reason why I was unable to find a publisher in South Africa. Some do, some don’t write Women’s Fiction. I happen to fall into the latter group.

Towards the end of the session, a woman in her 70s stood up at the back and asked: “Why is no one mentioning Chick-Lit? Surely that falls under Women’s Fiction too?” Despite the fact that the floor was carpeted, you could’ve heard a pin crashing onto it if someone had dared to drop one in the ensuing silence. The bemused expressions on the faces of the panel members made me want to laugh out loud.

The term Chick-Lit doesn’t seem to be used anymore – it’s now called Romantic Comedy – but regardless of the label, its writers have a knack for comic timing that I can only dream about. While what I write is light and frothy, fairly clean and thought by at least one reviewer to be “more Hallmark channel than cable,” I cannot claim to be a writer of Chick-Lit, but I do enjoy reading it.

One theory remained constant through all the eye-opening which I experienced at this festival. Cross-genre writers definitely need to first choose the category which reflects the main genre of the book. As explained by Harrison Young (whose Literary Fiction novel became a Thriller), writers cannot afford to disappoint habitual readers of any genre. We must give readers what they expect, plus something extra that they didn’t realise they wanted. Maybe it will expand their reading horizons, and they will come back for more. I took his words to heart and made my decision on my Amazon categories based on them.

So, after all that, what did I choose? Romance and Mystery, of course. In Romance I have chosen the sub-category of Suspense, and in Mystery I have chosen the sub-category of Cozy. Let’s see how that works out. Watch this space…

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Tea-Drinking Writer, Interrupted…

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What many people don’t understand about some of us old-fashioned writers is that writing can be a long process. Just like that fat lady who waits until the end of the opera before singing her most heart-rending aria, a novel isn’t ready until the writing of it is over.

I’ve said this before: I will never be the kind of writer who churns out a new book every few weeks or months. I am a mature writer who likes to drink tea while she works, or wine when she has something to celebrate. Both of these beverages require slow brewing, slow maturation, and slow sipping.

How can I put this another way? I’m not a person who believes in rushing anything. If I ever reach the point in my life where I can write and produce one novel a year, I’ll be extremely proud of myself. I have quite a way to go before I can achieve that, but I’m working towards it, despite the interruption of having moved from one country to another.

The last six to eight months have brought major disruptions into my life. For someone who is determined to continue writing against all the odds, I’m not succeeding at the moment, but I won’t give up trying.

In fact, the last five years haven’t been easy, since my sister and her husband made the decision to leave South Africa and move to Australia. From the moment of their announcement I knew I would do everything possible to follow them. If my family home-base was moving to the other side of the world, then so was I.

What I didn’t realise back then was just how difficult that would be; how disjointed and drawn-out the process was to become, how lonely and insecure I would feel left behind in an increasingly violent and potentially dangerous country, run by a corrupt, inept government.

As always, I turned to my writing to get me through the storms. When my sister left, my sense of urgency to get my unpublished books “out there” into the world increased. Up until then, my experiment at being a novelist had been – like the tea and wine – a long, slow process.

My first novel had taken me four years to write. The second took me less than two. Both of these (despite being complete) are never likely to be published unless they are extensively re-plotted and re-written, but they were a necessary part of the journey that honed my writing skills.

I’ve mentioned before that there is a theory that you cannot call yourself a writer until you have written at least a million words. I think I reached my million about halfway through my honours creative writing module in 2009. The project I worked on for that course not only stretched me as a writer, but took me to places inside myself that I hadn’t bargained on finding.

After the project was finished, I turned my back on my first two novels, consigned them to a comfy virtual trunk on my hard drive, and began working on what I refer to as my Greek novel. The Epidaurus Inheritance took the whole of 2010 to write, and then it spent the next year with Penguin SA. In 2010 I tweaked my 2009 creative writing project, turned it into an historical novella and entered it into a novella competition, where it achieved third prize.

At the end of 2011, my Greek novel received a glowingly positive reaction from Penguin, but was ultimately rejected. By now I was tired of trying to convince South African publishers to take a chance on a romantic mystery that I knew was never going to be the next great political epic they all wanted, so I took the decision to self-publish it on Amazon as an e-book.

In the meantime, I had begun writing another romantic mystery in the same vein, but with an Italian setting. In mid-2012 I uploaded my historical novella – From Daisy with Love – onto Amazon, and a few months later I followed it with my now completed full-length Italian novel – Benicio’s Bequest.

Three books on Amazon within one year! The urge to continue writing never stopped, but unfortunately the available writing time diminished.

My current work-in-progress, which I call my Australian novel (I’ve yet to find the right title), was inspired by my first visit to Australia in early 2012. I wrote two chapters in Melbourne and then shelved it until later that year when I punched out the first draft in less than three months.

Although this draft was completed in January 2013, the re-working of it continued through the next two years. Despite feedback from beta-readers in the second half of 2014, I have yet to complete it. The fat lady had to postpone her big aria, because in January 2015 I received the green light to move to Australia.

This happy, welcome news nevertheless involved a lot of domestic upheaval! Amidst the sorting and packing, I drank the tea and gave away most of the wine, but unfortunately I’ve done no work on the novel apart from a three day session with one of my beta-readers a few days after I received the news. For the next five months everything else took a number and waited in line.

I’ve now been in Australia for two months, and to be honest, I’m finding it hard to concentrate on getting back into a writing routine. Somehow, amidst the months of packing my life into boxes, the endless lists and the closing of certain doors, making the big move to Australia has shortened my attention span somewhat.

So many things are still up in the air, so I haven’t quite settled here yet, but I know that’s to be expected. People have warned me that I won’t feel completely established until I have been here for at least six months, sorted out my employment options and found a place of my own.

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Last week my Move Cube container with all my personal belongings arrived, so that’s another door I’ve been able to close. A friend of mine suggested in an e-mail a few weeks ago that I needed a break – a sabbatical, she called it – and I think that’s a good idea. My writing life has been interrupted because the writer in me has been interrupted, and the Me who became that writer is worrying about treading water and trying to find her feet. Instead I should be slowing my breathing and floating for a while. We all need a few deep breaths before jumping into a new life and expecting to fit right in.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a person who takes time to adapt, and that’s what I’m doing as I sip my slow-brewed tea (or wine), listen to some of my newly-discovered classical CDs, and savour the process of adjustment while waiting for that fat lady to hit the high notes…

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Casting Characters: How Do We Picture Them?

Just in case anyone out there is wondering if Harrison Ford is the centre of my existence, let me assure you that I am far more shallow than you imagine me to be. I drool over many film stars. Which one do I like the most? Well, to borrow Ado Annie’s line from Oklahoma: “Whichever one I’m with!”

Or in my case, whichever one I’m currently watching in a movie. Movie-watching is a necessary part of life as a writer, and the ones I watch provide me with a casting selection for the characters in the books I am reading as well as the ones I am writing.

Back in 2009 I was part of a creative writing class in which there were nine students and two tutors. Seven of the students were in their 20s, two of us were… well… a decade or two older, as were our tutors.

When it was my turn to read an excerpt from the WIP that would later become my novella From Daisy with Love, I chose a passage quite far into the work, leaving out the detailed physical description of my main character. The setting was Durban in 1915, wartime, and my listeners discovered that Daisy had just celebrated her 18th birthday, she had dark hair and eyes, and her slim frame was the opposite of her chubby sister’s.

After the reading, the younger members of the class all wanted to know exactly what Daisy looked like, but my three older colleagues replied that they didn’t need a detailed description because they could picture their own version of her from the little I had inferred in the text. The four of us had grown up in the pre-television age of radio and our imaginations were able to concoct a whole from very few parts, but those who had grown up watching television needed to know more exact details in order to picture her.

Alarmingly, the younger members of the group couldn’t get into Daisy’s head and understand her as a character until they knew exactly what she looked like.

The opposite of this extreme is a remark I found on the Internet, that a POV character should never be described in full; we shouldn’t even be told the colour of the character’s hair or skin, so that readers of every ethnicity can relate.

So which one is correct? Well, I’m going for the middle ground here. I always enjoy a good fence to sit on.

Think of a character in a book and let’s cast someone in that role. Just like an actor is cast in a play.

My theatre training puts me in a unique position here, having attended numerous casting sessions over the years. Each character has basic requirements that must be met in terms of gender, age group, ethnic group and general physical characteristics. Casting agents send to the audition only the clients who fit those minimum criteria – as well as the necessary talent, of course, but we’re not dealing with that here.

Any actor who auditions is imagined in the context of the play, and the producers and director work with what is in front of them, bearing in mind who else they are casting in other roles, and who suits this particular role the best. They look for the right fit in other ways too – a romantic hero who is half a head shorter or has a much smaller frame than the leading lady might give a more comic impression than intended.

Unless the script is specific, the only guidelines about the character’s looks are the ones above. I call this The Hamlet Question, as in: What does Hamlet look like? Based on the above, he is male, about 30, fit enough to fence well (ignore that remark of his mother’s that he is “fat and scant of breath” because we also know that his opponent Laertes is an exceptionally good fencer), and his ethnicity does not have to be blond and Scandinavian (just because the original play was set in Denmark), but can be whatever suits the style of that production.

So Hamlet looks like the actor who is chosen to portray him, of course. He can be rough and hairy Mel Gibson, cool and blond Kenneth Branagh or whoever you saw on stage the last time you watched a production of it.

I wish I could remember who said that to picture a character in a book you have to imagine seeing them at a distance through slightly narrowed eyes, so the details are blurry but the gender, body shape, colouring and overall impression are captured – rather like a figure in the background of an Impressionist painting. Specific details such as a scar, dimple or particular coloured eyes can be added to this general image early in the text, but after that it’s up to the reader to fill in further details in their mind’s eye.

Because I love watching movies, my mind’s eye contains a database of actors that I can imagine playing the various characters in any book that I read, and I don’t have to worry about who is short and who is tall, because in my mind I can picture Tom Cruise as tall as Peter O’Toole if that’s what my imagination shows me. Actors can also be any age – I can just as easily picture a young Richard Burton as an older version, because I’ve seen both in the movies.

I like the idea of a blurred impression through narrowed eyelids. To take the earlier example I used in my writing class, I imagined very old photographs of my grandmother when she was young (the character of Daisy was loosely based on her), but from the few impressions I gave my readers, they could have imagined anyone from Anne Hathaway to Juliette Binoche and it wouldn’t have mattered to anyone else. As long as you could see a person within that age group, tall and slim, and dressed in old-fashioned clothing in a hot country during the First World War, that image would carry you through the book. At least that’s how I see it.

The problem is that sometimes the writer might wait until page 150 before mentioning the character’s blue eyes and then the reader who has imagined Anne Hathaway now has to scrabble about, rejecting images and trying to picture Alexis Bledel or Angelina Jolie in the role instead, so I prefer these basics to be mentioned early on when the reader is still trying to concoct a picture.

As a writer, I am guided by voice as much as looks here. In my first novel, The Epidaurus Inheritance, I pictured Penelope Cruz as my leading character through the first two drafts of the novel, but something in me couldn’t imagine her saying the dialogue I had written, and certainly not with a South African accent. Penelope Cruz is a beautiful woman and she has the most endearing Spanish accent, but seeing her as my main character just didn’t work. She was simply too perfect.

When I changed the casting and pictured Kate Winslet instead – with long hair like she had in Titanic, dark like it was in Quills – the character fell into place. Her body shape changed, as did her impression of herself. I rewrote her as big-boned and statuesque rather than small and slim, and this added a whole new dimension to her persona. It also fitted in with the hero’s character, because to him the perfect woman is like the Greek Caryatid statues on the Acropolis. He is an archaeologist and has probably been fantasising about them his whole life.

Kate Winslet has played so many different characters on screen that it wasn’t a huge stretch of the imagination to see her as a living Caryatid. Or to give her a slight South African accent. (No more than my own, which is not that pronounced and English in derivation, like many English-speaking South Africans.) I am not saying that everyone who reads that book will picture Kate Winslet, but it was important for me to picture her so that I could keep the character looking and sounding consistent throughout the writing. If you’re happier picturing Penelope Cruz, that’s fine too.

In my next novel, Benicio’s Bequest, while trying to think of a beautiful actress for the hero’s Italian ex-girlfriend, I pictured Penelope Cruz. Having a near perfect damsel as the heroine’s love rival added weight to her feelings of inadequacy. Since I speak no European languages, the Spanish accent was not an issue for me, but if you want to picture Monica Bellucci in the role instead, she’s perfect too.

As for my male characters, they can be played by British, American, South African or Australian actors, as long as they can do a variety of accents well. I find that many Brits and Aussies are particularly good at accents, which is probably why they’ve crossed that international divide, but don’t discount the remarkable accent abilities of American Robert Downey Jnr, who pops up in my books in various guises because he is so versatile, and I can hear his voice in many different accents in my head.

I also try to use actors who look different, so that all my leading men don’t turn out the same. Well okay, they do all tend to be tall, dark and handsome chaps, but there are plenty of excellent actors to choose from. Once again, just because I picture Hugh Jackman doesn’t mean that you have to. If you think the character looks more like Robert Downey Jnr, then please go with that. As long as my hero’s eyes don’t change colour on page 150, then we’ll all be happy in our respective little book worlds!

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So What Was 2014 All About?

It’s that time of the year when everyone looks back on the previous year and weighs up what rocked and what sucked. If 2013 was the year I moved house twice because of the ants, then what will 2014 be known as? Probably the year that I made two trips to Australia. And let me tell you, that was a lot more fun than moving house twice!

I was lucky to fit in both trips to Australia last year – one in January and one in October – and both of those rocked. The first trip included a whirlwind visit to New Zealand as well. I spent time with my sister and her family and had two fantastic holidays. You can read all about my day in Hobbiton and one of my scary plane trips.

In between those two trips were several things that sucked, but I’m sure you don’t want to read the horrible bits, so I’ve left them out. For the positive bits, read on!

In January 2014 I joined 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day and began knitting, to the detriment of my finger joints. This wonderful blanket drive is ongoing, has spread internationally and to date has gathered over 6000 blankets for the poor and homeless. My first blanket took me nearly five months to knit and left my fingers swollen and sore.

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My second blanket is being made on a hand loom and is progressing well, minus the painful joints. I’m hoping to have it ready to hand over soon.

In March last year I finished the seventh draft of my latest novel, and gave it to five beta readers to work their way through it. Early in April I had a car accident, and between that and a really nasty thing that happened to one of my best friends, things went downhill. I felt not only worn out but blocked creatively, so I looked around for a new project.

In May I enrolled in an online course to learn a little more about different ways of writing online and increasing one’s online presence. It’s all very well to write in a vacuum but if no one knows you’re there, how are you supposed to find readers – for your blog or for your novels? After much thought, I migrated my quiet little writing blog from Weebly (which still hosts my website) to WordPress.

As the blogging world opened up to me, I discovered several things:

  • It’s really hard to keep blogging about only writing;
  • It’s much more fun to write about almost everything else;
  • Writing about other things (even knitting a blanket) is less dry and boring;
  • People seem to be fascinated by my life in theatre;
  • Some readers would far rather read about my life in theatre than the books I’ve written, or how I write them.

So I started my second blog, called Beginning, Middle and Entertainment. It’s about theatre, of course.

Well, technically, it’s my third blog because my writing blog is actually my second blog. For the last few years I have been contributing monthly to the Scribbling Scribes blog, and some of those posts I mentioned earlier are from there – also on WordPress. We’re all writers but we don’t always write about writing. Also, there’s a group of us so there is variety. That’s a good thing, we think, and variety seems to have paid off on my own blog too.

My move to WordPress wasn’t easy, but it certainly wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I’ve learned a lot and I’m still learning. The more I find out, the more I realise how little I know. I’ve just enrolled in the latest WordPress Blogging 101 course so I’m all set and ready to learn lots more.

By the way, about that latest novel – I’m hoping to get it back from my sixth beta reader soon, then I’ll do one more edit and hopefully get it up on Amazon within the next month or so. I promise to keep you posted…

Wonder-Filled Inspiration

As a teenager I dreamed of overseas travel, yearning to see not only the scenery, but the artworks and architecture of the world.

I was fourteen when television started in our country, and one of my most vivid memories is of watching Lord Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation. The series was almost ten years old by then, but it didn’t matter. Each episode fascinated me, and there was plenty of time to mull it over before the next because they were broadcast every alternate Sunday evening. During the weeks between, I searched the school library, looking up the artists and the buildings, hoping to see colour pictures, because our television was – of course – black-and-white!

Yes, if you’re wondering how I was able to appreciate such things on an ancient monochrome television (of if you’re baffled by why I took the trouble to page through actual dusty books to see tiny reproductions), let me assure you, it wasn’t a chore!

Six months after I graduated from university with my arts degree, I went to Europe with my boyfriend – a man I met soon after graduation, and with whom I shared a passion for theatre, art, literature, old churches, galleries, castles and in fact, anything of historical interest. We did the whole Grand Tour, just like the Victorians but in different clothing (and in slightly more modern transport). We also fought a lot, but the good memories outweigh the bad…

Anyway, back to the art. We walked around Michelangelo’s magnificent David, saw his Pieta from a distance across the crowd, and were able to get up close and personal with his Moses on that first trip. Together we stood beneath Juliet’s balcony in Verona, took a gondola ride through Venice and watched the glass blowers on the island of Murano. We picked our way across the stones of the Acropolis, gawped up at the Parthenon and saw a modern day performance in the ancient theatre of Epidaurus. Later, in the Louvre, we craned our necks to see the Mona Lisa and walked unimpeded around the Venus de Milo. We crammed a lot into six weeks!

A few years ago when I found Lord Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation series on DVD, I bought it immediately. Didn’t even check the price. I took it home and wallowed in the luxury of the entire thing once again – bit by bit, usually on a Sunday night, and with my own collection of art books and overseas photographs to hand. It’s a toss-up as to whether the most striking thing was the ability to rewind, pause, zoom and relive the best bits, or the fact that I could now see it all in glorious colour, and on a bigger, clearer screen!

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Much of the series I had forgotten in the intervening thirty years so I was able to feast on its delights anew, but I also realised just how much had remained in my subconscious during that first trip to Europe, guiding me through the Uffizi gallery and the Louvre, up the leaning tower of Pisa, and past Michelangelo’s timeless works.

Six years after that first trip, I took a second one and I’m not ashamed to say that I revisited many of the same places with my three travelling companions – even managed to drag two of them up Pisa’s leaning tower, back in the days when one could still go up it and stand in front of the huge bells on the top. Something about those incredible, old places fired me up and inspired in me all sorts of romantic and creative dreams. It was as if I couldn’t get enough of the roots of western civilisation. In retrospect it was just as well that I stored all the memories up inside me because I’ve never since been able to afford to go back.

After twenty years of not venturing beyond the borders of my own continent, my family’s circumstances changed a few years back. I’ve now been to Australia three times. On my first visit I feasted on Shakespeare under the Stars, drank in Melbourne’s unique architecture, mosaics, domes, arcades and bridges, and shed tears at the Shrine of Remembrance. In Federation Square I visited Melbourne’s monument to film: the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), and later sampled the culinary arts of Lygon Street.

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I gazed at bronze and marble sculptures all over the city, contemporary graffiti in the lanes and sand sculptures in Frankston.

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On my second visit to Melbourne two years later I listened to local pianists tinkering on the keys of brightly decorated pianos left out in the open for an initiative called “Play me, I’m Yours.” IMG_0999

I drifted around the Tyabb Packing House with its acres of antiques, wore down my shoe soles in the Melbourne Museum and both venues of the National Gallery of Victoria. In the larger of these, I found myself gazing in wonder at Impressionist paintings, as well as sculptures by Rodin and Henry Moore. Two visits to this gallery weren’t enough to see everything so two days after arriving back in Melbourne on my third trip, I legged it down St Kilda Road in the pelting rain for another drool!

So what does this have to do with writing? Nothing on the surface, but it has everything to do with inspiration. I am well aware that not everyone shares my passion for European history or western civilisation (or whatever other name you choose to call it, particularly in my home country where anything western is now regarded as the work of colonial devils) but it has always been – and will always be – a part of my long-ago heritage, my current mental make-up, and my inspiration for the novels I write.

History evolves as fast as it’s created, but some things linger longer in our subconscious than others. Certain stories resonate or touch us more than others. My great triggers are the Trojan War, related tales by Homer and the Greek playwrights, ancient Rome, the bittersweet romance of Romeo and Juliet, Renaissance art, the First World War and absolutely anything to do with theatre.

The list is long and should provide me with plenty of ammunition to conjure up stories to write for the rest of my writing career, but for anyone out there whose triggers are gratuitous violence and destruction, chemistry or science, corporate banking or politics, the wonders of accounting, mathematical skills, motherhood, babies or courtroom drama – well, I think you’ve probably guessed by now how I feel about those. Everyone has their own favourite corridors in the library of life, so you won’t find too many of those subjects in my book bag.

If everyone loved the same things I do, I’d be a better-selling author by now because more readers would be as enthralled with my subject matter as I am. I’m old enough to know and accept that this will never be the case, and I don’t write the type of high adventure favoured by Dan Brown, John Grisham and James Patterson so my mysteries are more whimsical, more romantic and consequently a lot less popular.

For those loyal readers who worry that I might change my style and jump on bandwagons that include fifty shades of erotica, sci-fi or fantasy, police procedurals or vampires, fear not! I will always be here with my own peculiar brand of history-soaked, romantic mysteries.

Following hot on the heels of my three previous works (the stories of a South African set designer and a Greek inspector of antiquities; a World War I letter writer and the two soldiers in her life; an art teacher and an Italian sculptor) comes the story of a romance in Melbourne between a travel agent and a Lygon Street pianist.

Watch this space…