Wednesday, October 31, 2007
One of my loops is attempting to compile a list of the fifty most fanciable men. I am ashamed to admit that I didn't recognise a lot of the names, but the serious drooling that was going on over Richard Armitage sent me to his web page hoping that he might just might prove a lookalike for the hero-in-progress.
He's not a match but I thought I'd post a photograph anyway. Just for you. :)
This gate is four thousand years old. It was on the dh's "most want to see" list but he wasn't sure where it was, then on a trip to Castell del Cyclope he turned around and there it was. Magic.
That's him looking v. small beneath it. And the walls, glimpsed behind, were all constructed of blocks of stone that size. Four thousand years ago. On the top of a mountain. Amazing.
This is the view from the castle. That's Arpino on the hilltop below -- we went there last year and thought that was pretty high up. It's where Marius and Cicero were born (and Cicero was murdered for those of you who watched "Rome").
And these are some olives in situ on the tree.
Travelling on the train from Rome to Bari we saw millions of olive trees. And thousands of buffalo, too. And both the Mediterranean and the Adriatic. It took five hours but I really enjoyed it. I'd have enjoyed it a lot more if I'd had a decent book.
This one offers a master-class in how not to write dialogue -- even Victorian dialogue.
AND THANK YOU
Finally a huge thank you to everyone who commented on the branding issue. I was overwhelmed by the wonderful things that you all said -- to be compared to chocolate, words fail me. Or maybe not.
"Liz Fielding -- surprisingly better than chocolate..."
It's not exactly snappy is it? I begin to see why they pay experts six figure sums to come up with this kind of slogan.
Monday, October 22, 2007
I’ll post a few more pictures of Italy in a day or two (although here is the picture of Bacchus that somehow got left out of an earlier post).
Occasionally, however, something closer to home catches my eye and this morning – in dressing gown and slippers -- I snapped this amazing sunrise from my front doorstep and thought it was worth sharing.
There’s something about an all-guns-blazing sunrise that is just such a joy – although I have to tell you that the morning has not lived up to such a stellar billing.
It’s turned grey and a bit claggy, with that nasty little chill that gets into your bones, not that my bones need chilling. I’ve spent the last week laid up with a cold that the dh picked up on the aircraft coming home and very generously shared with me.
No work has been done since last Tuesday.
I left my poor heroine dangling over the edge of a precipice in true Pearl White fashion. An end of the chapter cliff-hanger in more ways than one. Could this be the way my writing is heading?
While I’ve been hors d’combat, with my feet up on the sofa, I’ve been dwelling on the “branding” issue. We all need a “brand” these days, apparently, so that our readers know exactly what to expect.
The best I could come up with was “Be surprised by Liz Fielding….”
I quite like it, but it kind of misses the whole branding/marketing issue. The whole point of branding is that you should know exactly what you’re getting so that you’ll reach for it without thinking – whether it’s chocolate, cheese or a book. I understand the concept. I can choose which kind of chocolate I want to fulfil my taste needs at the time. Milk or plain. Bitter or sweet. Bubbly or smooth.
With romance reading I can choose a Lucy Gordon Italian to sigh over, get nostalgic with a Betty Neels heroine, have my heartstrings rung by Natasha Oakley or get hot and bothered with a Penny Jordan sheikh.
You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? Being “surprised” tells you nothing. Except that you don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s a feeling my editor is familiar with. I rarely share my ideas with her since she gets a touch nervous when I go off the radar.
I have to admit I was very nervous about the novella I delivered back in mid-August. That’s the one with the discovery of a jewelled khanjar called “The Blood of Tariq”, the heroine who finds herself married to a man she’s only just met – he didn’t bother to ask first -- and the kidnapping.
Bless her, she said it was “exciting”; that she was “gripped until the very last page” and she "loved it", which was a bit of a relief, to be honest, especially since “exciting” and “gripping” are words singularly missing from the “Romance” guidelines, but then this novella is going to be in an anthology with a Medical author and a Presents author (I’ll tell you more when I have full details) so maybe it doesn’t matter.
No title as yet, but it doesn’t have to be in copy-editing until November so no one’s panicking about that just yet. Surprised by the Sheikh, anyone? :)
BRIDES FOR CHRISTMAS
Early notice that I have one spare copy of BRIDES FOR CHRISTMAS, with stories by Carole Mortimer, Jessica Hart and my own A Surprise Christmas Proposal (clearly M&B are ahead of me with the branding thing).
This is one for members of my Yahoo Newsletter Group.
If you’re not already a member just click on the icon at the top of the sidebar.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
The Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera has been running now for four years and offers a combination of every delight. Wonderful weather, great food and wine, and good company. Small wonder that it attracts a growing numbers of writers, publishers and agents from the US and Europe.
Matera is in the south, a few miles from the coast in Italy’s “instep”. Once one of the poorest and most deprived areas in the country, as described in Carlo Levi’s book, “Christ Stopped at Eboli”, it is now protected by UNESCO as a place of “collective memories … layers of history”.
Here the people once lived in caves in the Sassi, which means, literally, “rock”. The Sassi, one of the oldest inhabited places in the world and clinging to the side of a hill overlooking a deep gorge, has barely changed in centuries and has been used as the site of several movies including, most recently, Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ”. The caves themselves, once each the home for families of up to twelve people and livestock – even the horse -- have now been turned into first class hotels and desirable homes, but the rock churches with their thirteenth century frescoes are still there and the Sassi now brings in visitors from all over the world.
Our hotel, the Sant’Angelo, had been put together from a group of converted cave dwellings which was certainly different, but very comfortable with a modern en suite bathroom. We arrived too late for the Festival welcome reception and so walked (make a note of that word walk) to a nearby restaurant and, having eaten a hearty meal, we collapsed into bed. We were going to need the rest.
After breakfast the following morning the receptionist directed us to Le Monocelle, beside the duomo, where the Festival workshops were taking place. I’ll draw a veil over the next half an hour, which consisted mainly of walking up steps. And more steps. And yet more steps. The good news is that you can eat all that wonderful Italian food because every morning and evening you’re going to get a cardiac workout whether you want one or not. To be fair, this was not the easiest route and we discovered that the hotel had a car available (no charge) to drive us up there whenever we wanted. Walking down was no trouble – although comfortable walking shoes are a must – as even the narrowest steps are well lit at night. There are also hotels situated much nearer the centre of things.
The first morning session consisted of a welcome from Amy Bliss, the American Consul in Naples, and then a fascinating talk on the subject of “Love in the Time of Tarantell” by Dorothy Zinn, an American cultural anthropologist who lives in Matera and whose thesis on the area was a best-seller in Italy. She told us of a passionate 15th century female poet who lived in the area, and about Philomena, a local beauty who, in the 19th century, murdered her jealous husband by stabbing him in the throat before running off to the join the brigands who lived in the caves. Lots of great stuff for the historical writers. She also told us touching stories recently collected from grandparents by local schoolchildren about their courting days – arranged marriages were still taking place here as recently as the middle of the twentieth century.
After that, Phil Doran, a Hollywood scriptwriter and author of “The Reluctant Italian”, had us in stitches as he read from his book and talked about how his life had changed following the phone call from his wife which began, “I’ve bought a house…”
The coffee breaks deserve a mention if only for the cakes – I refer you to the cardiac workout I mentioned earlier – and the espresso. And the opportunity to talk with agents, publishers and other writers, both published and unpublished, on a terrace high above the town in glorious sunshine. Here Barbara Samuel, Cat Cobain from Headline, Kayla Perrin and Karin Stoecker, Editorial Director of Harlequin Mills & Boon are comparing "cake" notes. Barbara gave a stellar workshop on Using the Five Senses in your writing. Layering in the lusciousness -- and I can't wait to read her wip, which has a working title of Cooking for the Dead. Her notes can be downloaded from her website.
The Festival programme was packed with workshops, including talks on the international drug trade and spyware by special agents from NCIS, and crime and cybercrime from experts in the field . There were also agent and publisher panels and some great author workshops. “Getting to Know Your Characters” from Ann Roth; “Writing for a Small Press” – the pros and cons -- with Rosemary Laurey; “Writing With the Five Senses” and “Writing Erotic Novels” with Rachelle Chase, Madeline Oh and Kayla Perrin.
Each evening opened with a “happy hour” in a piazza in the centre of town, followed by events – open to the public – as varied as a workshop on Writing Erotic Novels, Books Into Films and author signings. Here I'm getting acquainted with Stephano and Alessandra Bazardi from the Harlequin Mondadori office.
One of the most impressive, and valuable, features of the Festival was the opportunity for appointments with high powered agents – Carole Blake, UK; Kylee Doust, Italy; Katherine Sands and Christine Witthohn, US -- and publishers such as Karin Stoecker from Harlequin Mills & Boon, Catherine Cobain from Headline and Raelene Gorlinksy from Ellora’s Cave. These were not five minute affairs with the chance to do little more than use your “elevator pitch” but in-depth meetings that gave authors the chance to talk through their publishing experience with excellent advice on progressing their careers. Conference goer Margaret Moore reported having spent three-quarters of an hour with Karin Stoecker and thought her conference fee well spent.
The climax of the Festival was the award of the Baccante Prize to author, Federico Moccia before, finally, the reason for my invitation to the Festival which was the presentation of a translation contract by Harlequin Mondadori to Christina who won the annual translation competition for which my short story, “The Cinderella Valentine”, had been used as the set text.
The Matera Fiction Festival has everything. Great speakers and workshops, a fabulous setting, and dawn to dusk sunshine and I look forward to returning very soon.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Day Three of the Great Italian Adventure
The bronze roof was robbed -- the story goes that it was used to make canons by an early pope to defend the Castel San'Angelo -- the marble has gone, apart from a few fragments that cling here and there. When it was new it must have looked liked a huge and glorious wedding cake.
It is still a stunning sight. The thing is, that on the television, you see these great momuments and the camera angles always suggest that they are in vast areas of space. On the contrary. They are all tucked away, hidden, so that you come upon them without warning, an architectural, historical kick in the guts. We passed Trajan's column on the way to the Pantheon, standing in the tiniest little square, surrounded by tall buildings. We didn't stop, there wasn't time and in fact a mould was taken of the column donkeys years ago and a copy -- in rather better condition than the original -- resides in the V&A. So we can take a really close look any time.
The Pantheon is fronted by a charming square. A street cafe where you can sit and just look. There's an obelisk in the centre for the photo opportunity, charming houses, a sign at the side indicating that something important involving a wedding happened in the 14th Century. By then the Pantheon had been standing there for fifteen hundred years.
The reason for its preservation is simple. It was converted from the Pantheon of the gods to a Christian church in the 5th century. It's still in use today, it's niches filled with saints rather than statues of Roman gods.
But forget all that marble. This is it's true glory. The roof.
The dome is half of a perfect sphere. A masterpiece of engineering design that still looks as crisp and new and the day it was finished.
Okay, I've been married to an civil engineer for thirty-five years, watched concrete being poured in more countries than I can remember and the enthusiasm tends to be catching. But there were tears in the engineer's eyes as he looked up in wonder.
There was just time for one more visit to our favourite spot in the Piazza del Popolo, time to take this photograph of Bacchus, then it was time to take the train and go south to Matera and the Women's Fiction Festival. The journey took around five hours, speeding through Italy on one of those fabulous tilting trains, with long tantalising view of both the Mediterranean and Adriatic before we arrived at Bari to be met by Matteo.
We arrived after dark at our hotel, deep in the Sassi caves, then stepped out to walk to a nearby restaurant. This was the view. And yes, that pale disk on the left is a great big full moon.
Day Two of the Great Italian Adventure
We made an early start on day two and since we didn't want to wear ourselves out before we reached the forum, we walked around the corner to the Piazza del Popolo and picked up a cab. The driver dropped us in the perfect spot.
Watching all those programmes about the Romans on the television hadn't been wasted. I immediately spotted Trajan's market -- on the other side of a four lane highway, Augustus's forum was to the left of it. But below us lay the big deal. The glory that was Rome.
Everyone had told me that the forum was "small" and, admittedly, on the television you only see that little bit with stubs of columns. Listen. I've walked around it. It is not small! There's enough there to keep a body captivated for days.
The Curia Julia, the tomb of Romulus, the temple Augustus built in honour of his uncle, the deified Julius Caesar which, following his defeat of Anthony at Acteum, he adorned with the rostra of Anthony's ships.
My photographs don't do it justice but the dh is hors d'combat with a cold picked up on the plane home so his will have to wait until he's feeling better.
This is the arch of Titus. Those of you who enjoy Lindsey Davis's Marcus Didio Falco books will remember him as the irritating son of Vespasian.
We met a charming American couple whilst admiring the Arch. Seeing we had a guide book, they stopped to ask if we spoke English.
A bit, we admitted and paused for a chat; these unexpected meetings of mind are one of the joys of travelling.
We didn't make it up to the Palatine. When they talk about the seven hills of Rome, believe me they aren't joking. That was one hill too many and we'd already worn our legs down to the knees.
We paused to take a look at Vespasian's greatest monument, the Coloseum, which is right next door to the forum. We'd already driven around it twice. There were about a milion visitors swarming around it and despite the fact that the dh's engineering soul longed to look at the gubbins, neither of us was capable of walking another step.
We didn't get to visit the Domus Aurea, either. That's another place that requires an advance appointment to see.
Never mind. Next time.
After a pause for breath we did make it to an art gallery. It was the wrong art gallery. Worse, once we'd got in there, we couldn't find out way out. I didn't like anything I saw hanging on the walls, but I did like a notice informing visitors "What To Do in an Earthquake". The first instruction was "Do Not Panic".
Fans of "Dad's Army" will understand why I'm still grinning.
Dinner was at a pavement cafe. There is a photograph, taken by a kindly German gent, but it's out of focus. A pity. It's probably the only photograph taken of me in the last two weeks in which I'm not flushed with exertion!
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
The trip to Rome was brilliant. The drive to the airport, the flight, the arrival were all without incident, which is exactly the way it should be.
On arrival in Rome we took a taxi into the city. The driver was fabulous. He gave us a running commentary as we drove Italian-style – ie fast. Here was Antico Rome, and the catacombs, there was an aquaduct, here was Valentino’s villa (I can’t tell you a thing about the villa, but he has a very impressive hedge). Then we reached the walls of the city, huge, impressive and then, wow, ohmigod, he turned sharply through an arch and took us right through the Roman wall and into the city.
On the left was the Domus Aurea -- Nero’s house -- and then, like a thump in the chest, there was the dome of St Peter’s in the distance, on the far side of the river and the Colosseum. Amazing.
By the time we’d checked into our hotel – a Roman Palazzo with genuine mosaics behind the glass wall of the lift – it was dark. Time for a g&t and then dinner in the open air roof restaurant. Utterly romantic. We were bowed and scraped over like a count and his contessa – something I could truly get used to.
We walked through narrow streets boasting the names of the great designers and arrived at the mausoleum of Augustus – had to pay our respects. It was sadly closed -- you have to make an appointment to go inside apparently -- but having done our duty by the old boy we walked on to the Spanish Steps. It was early, they had just been washed and there were very few people about.
We took photographs of Keats house, the polizei, a gorgeous penthouse apartment that would certainly be the perfect home for a hero.
Hot, leg weary, we sat in the piazza and had iced coffee with ice cream and because when you’re in Rome, etc, we did what the Romans do and had a siesta!
We ate outside at a street café in that evening -- further scrummyness and no guilt because of all that walking -- then fell into bed.
Having fun is so exhausting!