Romance, mystery and magic, with a touch of spine-tingling suspense …

The Art of (Not) Writing (April Blog)

Posted: April 2024

What is it about being asked to produce a blog, writers – well, those I know – aren’t terribly keen.

I’m keen, really keen. And what right on it when a book blogger asked to me write one recently. Here’s what happened next …

I opened my notebook, selected a pen and … a full hour, one cold cup of coffee and two excellent doodles later … hadn’t come up with one word.

Hmm…

So, before taking myself off to ‘urgently’ dust a shelf or put the bin out at least four days early, I decided to face that demon head on.

Of course, it’s that old devil Procrastination, then there’s his sibling Research – also known by her pseudonym – Timewaster.

I defy any writer to claim these two demons do not appear at least once during any full-on writing session. Always arriving unbidden to distract and detain the Muse, as she sits ‘rigor mortis’ like in front of the blank screen or page.

Don’t for one minute think I’m belittling research – not at all. It’s the backbone to many stories – but goodness, it sweeps you away.

Suddenly, I’m surrounded by Greek mythology and Roman emperors. Recipes for mead and lists of poisonous plants, pile up beside sailing times to the Caribbean − depending on what kind of vessel my characters choose. Hang on, none of my characters are going to the Caribbean!

You get the picture.  

So, determined to put something down, I glanced around my writing space for inspiration and lo and behold there it was.

A solid, glittering collection of the finest examples of procrastination and timewasting research I’ve ever seen. And because I’m a novelist – it takes a while to write a book − I’ve been living with these ‘fine examples’ for some time. I’m fond of them, treasure the memory of finding them, or of having been given them and yes, in many cases these companions (for that is what they have become) have inspired storylines, character traits and plot twists.

So beguiling are these wonderful items, I thought you might like to meet them …

My latest novel is Secrets of the Shell Sisters, so naturally you’d expect shells, but my first timewasting trip took me to an antiques shop where I discovered Mauritia a mermaid rag doll with wire wool hair. She was sitting on a shelf behind a Victorian fireguard and now each of the ‘sisters’ in the novel have one, made by their mother before she mysteriously disappears.

Mauritia is one of three mermaids sharing my writing space. Next is Mary the Mermaid. She’s from Ireland – where the ‘sisters’ live – and is a beautiful silver sculpture, gifted by my sister. Mary sits overlooking my desk, and her flowing hair is echoed when one of the ‘sisters’ submerges in a water butt and her hair floats to the top. This came from much gazing at Mary; procrastination at its best.

My third mermaid is a tiny bronze of The Little Mermaid, discovered on a research trip to Age Concern. She sits on a bookcase beside the conch shell – acquired during another timewasting session back at the antiques shop. This now features as one of the ‘sisters’ special shells and is the centre piece of my own collection.

One of the characters in the other Rosshaven book, Summer of Secrets, has a gift for Tarot reading and I was delighted to conduct many hours of further Tarot research when she appeared in the ‘sisters’ book too. Staring at the beautiful illustrations was so procrastinating, I had to put the pack somewhere I couldn’t see it. 

Then there’s research of shells themselves …

… who knew there were so many different ‘families’ and that some shells found on our shores are prehistoric? And how many writers can boast a clutch of Gastropods beside their keyboard? The Usborne Spotter’s Guide to Shells became my bible. I still check my latest finds against the beautiful photographs in this little book.

Yet what of actual, proper, ‘get out from behind your desk’ research?

The ‘sisters’ run a hotel and I was pleased to list in acknowledgement all the inspirational hotels – including the Grand Hotel Europe in Saint Petersburg – we’ve visited. 

And finally with the wind in my hair and the taste of salt on my lips, my last piece of research for this book. On a boat off Ireland’s Ancient East Coast − where the novel is set − the captain pointed out a swirling whirlpool of water at the mouth of a cave, explaining this is a merging of tides. Perfect – exactly what I needed for a pivotal scene in the novel.

Lighthouse Wicklow Harbour

And ta da! My work here was done, apart from the writing of course.

So perhaps, far from berating my demons, I should welcome them in. Just not for too long, or I’d never finish a book.

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