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Time to recharge the batteries but also to gain inspiration.

The RetroReview

It’s holiday time for most of us and like all folk who work for themselves, writers can often find it difficult to switch off.
I am no different. Since giving up the day job to write full time I have found it tricky to set aside designated periods specifically to relax. Of course, I also have two children under ten, so this may account in some part for this, however, I definitely find myself thinking that if I stop writing and reflecting on my next project for too long, perhaps I’ll run out of ideas. In fact, taking a proper break from the keyboard has the opposite effect. Your brain needs time to rest and, most significantly, being in a new location will spark even greater creativity.
Something I like to do on holiday is to seek out those boxes of well thumbed paperbacks that you find in resorts and…

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It’s the school sports day season, but have #parents really got the stamina for it?

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I feel compelled to write this blog after attending my children’s sports day today. It was a great event; well organised and thoroughly good-natured fun. This being said, I’m still utterly exhausted.
Why? Because firstly, there is the constant and ever changing conundrum of the British weather. We were drenched in a heavy downpour at 9am and remained slightly damp for the rest of the day (the children were sheltered under marquees I hasten to add). There was a brisk, chilly breeze that one wouldn’t usually choose to sit outside in for six continuous hours. For most of the time we were bloody freezing.
Yes, it was wonderful to see our little ones in their races, but I would estimate that this accounted for about 5% of the time taken for the total event.
We have a family picnic at lunchtime, which is undoubtedly the best bit of the whole thing. The sun came out at this point for us as well and it’s lovely to watch your kids running about freely with their friends. Although, I am aware that this element of sports day can be the most onerous for some poor souls. At my kids’ place, it’s considered posh if you’ve got Blue Riband chocolate biscuits in your lunchbox rather than Tesco’s own brand. Everyone’s pretty down to earth. Thank God. We do have teas, coffees and scones laid on by one of the cookery teachers, which would probably be considered wildly bourgeois in many circles.
But I do know that in some institutions, their sports day could give Royal Ascot a serious run for its money in terms of the incredible outfits worn by the ladies and the obligatory Fortnum and Mason champagne hampers strewn about the playing fields. This must be a nightmare for most ordinary parents. The pressure to conform a terrible strain.
Then comes the most dreaded aspect of all sports days. The mums and dads races.
This year, we had a tug-of-war added to the ubiquitous 100 metre sprint. Luckily, my children are sensible enough to know that the sight of me wobbling up the field at a medium jog wouldn’t do anything at all for their street cred, so I’m under no pressure from them to compete.
But the pressure is generated in spades by the parents themselves. Grown men and women stumble to the hard ground whilst running at full tilt to get the better of their next-door-neighbour. One year, a dad ended up in plaster. Not a great way to start the summer.
So, that’s my moan over. I love it of course, you never get these years back. But I just wish it could be a little shorter and yes, just a tad less competitive (in every respect) would be great.

My top 5 female detectives in fiction

The RetroReview

MY TOP 5 FEMALE DETECTIVES IN FICTION

When trying to decide upon my favourite of all fictional detectives I was struck by the realisation that, after the most obvious candidates, there are actually fewer female ‘lead’ detectives in mystery fiction than I had at first imagined. Of course, we all think of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and perhaps Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym- who are both classic creations that withstand the test of time. However, my other favourite women sleuths tend to have originated on the small screen; such as Sarah Lund and Jane Tennison- although they remain masterfully penned personalities nonetheless. I also then considered some of my favourite detective writers and their characters. For example, P.D James and Ruth Rendell, who have both certainly created strong female sleuths in their many books are yet best known for their male leads- Adam Dalgleish and Chief Inspector Wexford. I must admit myself that I prefer the Dalgleish novels…

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The twist in the tale?

The RetroReview

THE TWIST IN THE TALE?

The absolute keystone to a great piece of mystery fiction is the surprise twist at the end. Sometimes this ‘about face’ in the plot can take place somewhere in the middle of the narrative and then it can mark a neat shift in the direction of the story.
When I am setting out to write my novels, the ‘shock’ ending is one of the first elements of the plot that I plan. Then the whole novel can work up to this surprise conclusion. As a writer, you must ensure that you have placed enough clues along the way so that it is at least possible for your readers to guess what is going to happen, but you want it to be very difficult for them to do so. You do not want to deny them your deliciously unexpected resolution. You can always lay some alternative plot lines that you can…

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Forget Clarkson, what #TopGear really couldn’t survive without is the theme tune.

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It suddenly struck me, as my son was watching episodes of Top Gear that we have recorded from BBC3, that if Clarkson, Hammond and May go on to produce this spin-off car show, it won’t have the proper theme tune.
Now, I firmly believe that Top Gear can carry on perfectly happily without Jeremy. But the music? Forget it.
This realisation forced me to consider the importance of the theme tune to the success of a television programme. I wrote a blog recently about the ITV drama Home Fires. Whilst researching it, I was surprised by the amount of viewers who had commented on the choral score which accompanies the series. The music has been resoundingly popular and really makes the whole piece special.
The tune which book-ends the production shouldn’t make a significant difference to a programme, but somehow it really does. It’s one of the reasons why viewers get so annoyed with the ubiquitous trailers that interrupt the end credits.
So, here are some of my favourite theme tunes, without which, the programme just wouldn’t be the same:

Inspector Morse
I love this detective drama. The writing, acting and direction are superb and yet, without Barrington Pheloung’s score, which even included the piece of ‘Morse code’ at the start, it just wouldn’t have been the same.

Cagney and Lacey
I was too young to watch this gritty New York cop show when it first came out and had to go straight to bed after the theme tune, which is probably why it is so evocative for me! But I’ve watched all the re-runs since and although Tyne Daley and Sharon Gless absolutely owned the series with their terrific performances, it’s still that music which resonates with me.

The Onedin Line
Now, I really am too young for this, but I still know the theme tune and it sends a shiver down my spine whenever I hear it, which is exactly the effect I’m talking about.

Blackadder (Series 2-4)
The less said about series 1 the better, but the theme tune for the rest of the outings somehow fitted Curtis and Elton’s comedy perfectly. I loved the way the theme was modified to fit the historical period of each different series and the musical interpretation for the last series, ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’, was inspired. But who could ever forget that haunting final sequence, when the soldiers go over the top? Showing that sometimes, silence can be the most powerful accompaniment of all…

Perhaps because it was the decade of my television watching youth, the eighties seemed to be jam packed full of memorable themes from the ‘A’ Team and ‘Chips’ through to ‘Dallas’, ‘Dynasty’ and ‘Howard’s Way’. I’m sure there are many more. in several of these cases, the music was far greater than the programme itself! But I stick by my theory, unscientific as it is, that if you take a great theme tune away from a good show, it will seriously struggle to survive.

A walking holiday, with a generous helping of #art and #culture

I have just returned from a four day trip to the beautiful Peak District with my sister. Now, the merits of a sibling mini-break, without husbands and kids, is the subject for another blog entirely, so for the moment, I will concentrate on praising our wonderful surroundings.
The Peak District itself was a great discovery for me. I come from a family of keen walkers and our usual destinations are Scotland, Wales or Cornwall. It proved a revelation to discover that there are unspoilt hills and dales just a fraction of the distance away from my home in north Essex. The landscape of Derbyshire is sweeping. The undulating fields are delineated by a criss-cross pattern of ancient dry stone walls. It provides an oasis of calm between the many busy cities which encircle the national park.
Within this oasis lies the little village of Sheldon, just a couple of miles from Bakewell (of the tarts fame). This sleepy hamlet was the base for our stay. Our destination was Sheldon’s retreat, a charming stone cottage providing spacious and modern bed and breakfast accommodation. The place is extremely efficiently run by artist Jay Taylor and her husband Christian, who is a chef.
When we arrived for breakfast on our first morning, we were in for something of a surprise. The large breakfast room displays a selection of Jay’s original fine art which is of the quality that you would usually only find in a big city gallery. The tables themselves were adorned with her intricately painted stones, set off to great advantage by flickering candlelight. You get to enjoy a perfectly cooked breakfast in an atmosphere of calm and beauty. For folk like my sister and me, escaping our busy lives for a few days, it was absolutely ideal.
I have added a gallery of the photographs I took of Jay’s artwork and jewellery, but my amateur shots certainly don’t do her pieces justice! Please go to her website http://www.jaytaylor.co.uk to see her work in its full glory.
We had a fantastic stay at Sheldon’s retreat and I would highly recommend it. For artsy types like us, it was the perfect mix of the great outdoors married with a generous dash of art, culture and stimulating conversation. Just what we like.

Jay Taylor produces a wide range of original artwork and jewellery, so please refer to her own sites to discover more. She is on twitter: @JayTaylorArt
and on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jaytaylor.uk
Thanks for a wonderful holiday!

But for now, it’s back to the book…

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