Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Time and the Writer

We all have a lifetime’s training in time and waiting. 

On Amazon PB 
On Amazon Kindle 
Waiting to start school. Waiting for exam results. Waiting to meet The One. Waiting for medical news. Waiting in vain for someone to turn up. Waiting to give birth. Waiting for your child to start school. Waiting for your article to be in the paper. Waiting for your publisher to make a decision.

This lifetime’s training in waiting and time is useful to a writer.

 ‘How long does it take to write a novel? A short story?’ is a regular question when meet people in talks or workshops. I resist saying how long is a piece of string? I do mention that Barbara Cartland wrote dozens of novels a year and JK Rowling apparently took five years to write the first Harry Potter novel. 

My own answer is that it takes about eighteen months for me to research and write each novel. I can only conclude that because I’m looking back at quite a few.

A big part of the novelist’s toolkit is the management of time. I was reminded of this recently when editing my latest novel The Bad Child.

Questions of time for the editing process 
      How does time feature in lives of the characters for the duration of the novel?  A day? (See Ian McKewan’s Saturday)  A month? (See JL Carr’s A Month in the Country.) My own new one  takes place over a year in the life of twelve year old Dee. A generation? Almost any saga of families of high or low estate. Of course embedded within these novels – such is the magic of fiction – is the whole of the lives of the characters within them.

·    A most important time question in the editing process is how does the narrative deal with time? Does it jump backwards or forwards in invigorating leaps? Does it run forward smoothly, almost unnoticed? Most importantly how will this work for the reader?

·    Then there’s an important question regarding the timescale of the background of the narrative. War campaign? A political campaign?  The duration of a strike? (See my novel Lizza.) A day of festivities such as Bonfire Night or the Coronation? Your decision is whether you mark this element of time as a distinctive aspect of your novel or let it act as an unobtrusive background, perhaps making the story more generic, more universal.
     Importance of time in the editing process.If you have let the novel grow organically as I tend to, it’s really only at the editing stage that you realise just what you’ve done and how you’ve done it. This is when you make sure that it will work for the reader. It’s something like   fiddling with the innards of a clock to make sure it will tick away accurately on the background of your life. Once the job is finished, you don’t need to see the works of a clock to feel that time is significant in your life. The reader doesn’t need cues and clues to notice the passing of time in a novel unless the background is essential to the way the narrative works.

Stop Press:shiny copies of my new novel The Bad Child have just arrived. Early readers have commented that it ‘races along’. I was not so conscious of that when I was writing it. My preoccupation with the passing of time must have bitten deep into my soul and the pace of this novel – one year in a child’s life - is at the level of writer’s intuition, which is where it should be.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Floating Free after Finishing The Bad Child,

 I’ve just completed my newest novel The Bad Child, about twelve year old Dee, the misfit in her family, who decides not to speak at all. 

Now I’m floating free! Now I’m breathing great sighs of relief and satisfaction. This novel has been a joy to write. To know it is truly finished I have to be pleased with it and very sure it’s as perfect as I can make it.

The writing life is cyclic, offering different writing, emotional, inventive challenges at each point in the cycle. Writing a novel is an organic process, born of a glimpse, a thought, a new insight perhaps a year or two before.

 This could be a line from a book or a newspaper, an overheard
conversation, an image that fixes in the mind, a linked memory from childhood. When I have embraced this core idea I cast around and start to think, talk, scribble, and dream stories around this core idea in both my waking and sleeping life until it becomes a solid reality in my mind.

At last, into this mass of notes, ideas, research and story-telling, walks a distinctive character with a mind of her own.Then another. And another. These characters begin speaking to each other in different tones and accents, with different agendas and priorities in their lives. At one point I wake up with their conversations in my head.

And somehow out of this inchoate mass of stuff emerges a sense of a beginning, Eventually I manage to write a beginning that locks
these characters into  their certain time, their certain place, with their certain preoccupations. With my imagination now fully charged, the novel insinuates itself into my daily life, somewhere near the centre. And I write. And write.

Now and then, as I write on, I have to slow down just to check that the story I’m writing today has grown properly out of my yesterday’s prose, and that of the day before, and the week and even the year before.

So, after working for a year or so in this way I find that this self-willed creation begins to move towards  its close and I find myself
looking for a sense of an ending. Now is the time to  slow down again, to make the best ending that for this particular the story. If - as I do - you write close to real life, then ending a novel is not easy. The ending has to fit the narrative logic bedded in this story’s organic growth. As well as this, the ending has to imply a new logic, a new organic possibility, a spurt of new life – life beyond the story.

With The Bad Child I changed the ending four times before I thought it worked.

Once the end has been written, it’s time to put on my cap and gown and be my own editor – to check every word, every line, every paragraph for correct meaning, syntax, and spelling. I must check that time, place and characterisation serve the consistency and the dynamism of the story. At this point I usually read the prose out loud to check its that the sound flows.

Now the manuscript is as perfect as I can make it.

In the end, like any intelligent writer, I understand that my novel just cannot be perfect. The story has its own existence inside of me and I am not sufficiently objective to catch every flaw. 

And, like any intelligent writer, I know that my story needs a skilled, outside editor and proof-reader (not a ‘friendly reader’) before it can go out there into the cold world. This wizard of a person will inevitably pick up snags and flaws that I, with the narrative events printed on my soul, will have missed.

I discovered my own eagle-eyed editor/proof-reader  CliveJohnson two books ago. Since then I’ve realised that once the manuscript been through his capable hands I can proceed with confidence to the further challenges of designing the cover and going through the process onto publication.

Then the book will be published and my characters walk out there in the world.

Oh joy!  The time has come for me to start floating free again in the outside world, catching gossamer words and images in my mind that will eventually provide me with an organic core for an exciting new novel which will keep me alive and kicking, thinking, imagining and writing for the next eighteen months.

I am realising now that the nature of my floating-free process ensures that each novel is distinct from the others; a different species perhaps. This difference keeps me fascinated and- I hope – my valued readers intrigued.

Below you can see samples of  initial  art Work in Progress for the cover of    The Bad Child who  will be out there in the world walking alone in late August with a launch in early September.


You can observe these differences on my Amazon collection.  As you see, every novel is different. That's part of the fun

Writing at the Maison Bleue Contemporary novel set in the Languedoc On Kindle: and In Paperback  

Historical novel set in the cross-piece of Celtic Society and Roman occupation of Britain)

Clive Johnson Editor/Proofreader

Saturday, 9 July 2016

WIP What Dee Sees From her Deck

Clouds sitting on  the horizon
Flushes of greenery halfway up the slopes. 
Sunshine on one fell, shadows on the next
Rocks a rainbow of slate colours: 
blue, grey, brown, white, furred with lichen. 
(Look up lichen on your tablet, Dee
The wake of a passing boat rippling towards the shore. 
Shining on the surface as though someone has 
blown a bubble of lake. The trees lean over, 
preening in their reflection. 
The sun slashes a green path towards the lake 
that  widens like a smile.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Marseillan Family Retrospective: Meaning in Photographs

I was tempted to call this 'The Sixth Postcard from Marseillan'. But that would be cheating. 

I'm home again and going through the last ritual of unpacking - sorting through the photographs.
For you, here is a selection of Sean and my photographs. (His are the good ones...)

Every picture tells a story  of a time, a place, and great warm relationships. To complete the story scroll back to Postcards 1-5.




Wish you'd been there


Monday, 27 June 2016

Postcard 4 Poems, Morning and Sounds on the Lagoon,


Bright silver
morning sun crashing
onto the lagoon
breaking into
shards of
diamond light that shoal together
before breaking onto
the shore

Sounds on the Lagoon

The buzz of the coffee machine
The tap of a joiner’s hammer
The murmur of
considered conversations
Ducks quacking after their ducklings
The murderous shriek of seagulls,
loudest before it
The clanging of a ship’s bell
The click of masts chiming
The whine of wind driving
through a hundred spinnakers
The boom of a boat’s engine
ploughing through the water
the shush of its wake as
it streams through the water
leaving a creamy line
on its pulsing surface
The chirp and chatter
of children in ten  tiny boats,
being towed in a line,
like ducklings in a row.


Au Revoir

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Postcard 3, The Strawberry Moon and the EU Referendum

We watched for the ‘Strawberry Moon’ on Midsummer Night. This appears as the full moon coincides with Midsummer’s Eve, which only happens once in 47 years. Apparently it’s pink because it reflects at this time the sands of the Sahara. (How small is our world…)

I was thinking that 'primitve' people would - many times forty seven years ago - would have seen in as a great portent for the world. We watched as the moon rose, a delicate pale pink with its reflection in the waters of the lagoon.
I was thrilled to witness this phenomenon and there was much talk about it on the balcony. It has also almost superseded the talk about the Referendum.*. (‘Remain’ is winning all round....)
And then yesterday – the following evening – sitting on the balcony we watched the fullish moon rise in a deeper and even more distinctive rosy hue. In time its colour faded to butter yellow, then cream. But this time it started out even more strawberry pink than the night before. 
A perfect piece of holiday magic.
A propos. The youngest member our company  had us watching a brilliant University of Liverpool video were EU law expert  Professor Michael Dougan makes the soundest and impressively logical argument for us to remain in Europe. 

Apparently this video has gone viral. I hope everyone who votes today has listened to this coherent and unbiased discussion, Article HERE   

Two strawberry moons will, I hope, be a symbol for our more vibrant presence in Europe and good times ahead.

Au revoir

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Postcard 2 from Marseillan: Two Towns

Marseillan and Agde

We are staying in Marseillan, a small seaport between the larger Agde and the even larger Sête. Here, boats, surfboarders,  sailors anf holiday makers promenade on the newly laid shoreline path. 

To my left is a large-masted boat, apparently permanently docked. To my right is a large residential boat evolved from a barge – holiday accommodation of some kind. Yesterday we saw a chef in whites go aboard. There’s posh. And beyond that is a web of tinkling, small masted vessels clicking in the morning sun. Round the corner cafes line the quayside, each different in style and flavour. Such easy walking distance for that early morning cafe et croissant. 

Something near to Heaven perhaps.

With #lickedspoon in charge the wonderful food in the apartment is de rigeur, of course. And the talk has been good, referring to brilliant food writers – Ruth Reichl is a new discovery for me. We’ve also been reading the subtle Helen Simpson, the sharp-eyed   Alice Munro, the spiky Nell Zink – another new discovery for me.
We have ironic Muriel Spark as well as the sublime Norah Ephron who defines the creative process – in journalism, fiction and film – with finesse, political insight and humour. Re-reading her pieces is a refreshing writer’s education. And in crime we have Stephen Leather and James Craig. And – appropriate for the Football fest – John Cross’s biography of Arsene Wenger.

As usual S is winning for the annual ‘reading race’ - for reading the most books. His Kindle could be his secret weapon.

Recently we visited nearby Agde. This town is where we first
experienced the peculiar magic of the Languedoc - for several years renting a slice of a medieval fortress in the centre of the this very ancient market town, with its layers of history going back to the time when the Languedoc was not even part of France. It was always a port, welcoming traders from the the North, the East and the middle East – rich enough to be a target for pirates and invaders, and making a valuable access the mainland Europe.

With its feeling of a medieval market, this flourishing and crowded space is pure theatre.  Many of the customers are local, comingto the same place as their fathers and grandfathers   both to buy and to sell. 

All kinds of goods are for sale - from scarves and shirts to shoes and cheese, from bread and fruit to meat and soap.Essentially local, it provides a vibrant backdrop us people passing through. The sprinkling of visitors sit in the cafes and relish the distinctive drama.

 The town of Agde inspired a popular novel of mine called An Englishwoman in France, where the past and the present are curiously intermingled . It is also the focus of my novel Writing at The Maison Bleue. And in its ancient form it also plays a role in The Pathfinder. See if you can recognise it in that one. 

Did I tell you this place is inspiring for writers?

had coffee in the Plazza Cafe the Market Square then I filtered down the narrow old streets with their vague sense of threat, to the Cafe Capitaine on the quayside for a welcome glass of the rose wine of  the Languedoce

Needless to say I did a bit of scribbling…
Au revoir 


Saturday, 18 June 2016

Postcard 1 from Marseillan. Arrivé

A dark challenging winter meant that  for me this  holiday has been the most welcome ever.

As the plane landed in Montpellier I knew I could finally breathe out.  S. drove us through the  yellow and ochre landscape of South West  France, wiping out the memory of the lush green lanes of Yorkshire as we drove from County Durham to the airport.

Well, we got here. Nous arrivons. My dear sister was worried that we might be caught up in the ‘football riots.’ No worries. Wrong place.

Of course - three of four of us being football fans - we settled down to watch some matches on TV – no talking heads, just football, a accompanied by the soothing sub-murmur of the French commentary. Even I enjoyed it.

This apartment overlooks the Etang de Thau, the huge lagoon that sits alongside the Mediterranean. People drift by on the road below our balcony  – sun-tanned sailing types, couples hand in hand, smooth haired teenagers, mature cyclists, a small boy on skates and a little girl on a tiny scooter.

At the next table in the market café yesterday was a cluster of brown whipcord-fit middle aged cyclists, laughing and preparing for their ride. Couples pass by – the men middle-aged, solid and fit, the women smart in pedal pushers and leather sandals.

Our favourite companion here is Barney, silent in the flush of conversation, wise in his silence. His  French is improving, although he hasn't managed to lose his aversion to French bulldogs. He can sense them round the corner, one floor down, before they bustle into sight.

The apartment is elegant, pale walls, pale furniture,  natural wood,  with vast windows looking out in the étang, overcast now with streaming clouds. Yachts of all sizes turn to make their way into the harbour. 

The company is first class - as well as Barney we have the witty gourmet  lickedspoon, the problem- solving techno wizard and the English gentleman. And me. All Francophiles.

I never felt more European. And I voted to stay in, to live on in history alongside the engaging, down-to-earth French

Au revoir


PS And then there are the books we're reading, But that will take another postcard...

Monday, 6 June 2016

Find out about The Pathfinder : New book trailer and special insights into the story

Click!The  Pathfinder (paperback)
The Pathfinder (Kindle) 

I dipped into my ancient Welsh Heritage and found a population of artists, singers,storytellers and path-makers and fighters - all reflections of my 21st Century preoccupations.  So-o  writing this historical novel was a very personal journey, full of joy. So I made this book trailer (click below) to let you know how much I have loved it.

In this post I include the following:

The Story/  Book Trailer/ Story extracts/  Elen of the Pathways/A Brigante Welcome/    Quintanius/ 5* Amazon Reviews/ Press Reviews of my novels

The Story

In 383 AD a truly great love story blossoms between Magnus Maximus, the Roman leader in Britain - afterwards for five years Roman Emperor - and Elen, daughter of a powerful British king in the place we now call Wales. Magnus is fascinated by Elen, a gifted Seer and healer and a ‘pathfinder’ whose talented ancestors made straight roads in Britain long before the Romans.
As the Roman Empire begins to crumble the love between Elen and Magnus links the sophisticated Celtic culture, with its esoteric rites and rituals as  the pragmatic military culture of Rome now imposes Christianity on the known world.

 Trailer Click Arrow 

Story Extracts for You 

2. Elen of the Pathways:-

You should understand that as well as being born generations and trained as seers, members of my family have always been pathfinders – my father, Eddu, his father, Caradoc, and the grandfathers and grandmothers before him, going back seventeen generations …
… it was they who found the paths that criss-cross this island and the lands across the sea. I have learned that a thousand generations ago the pathways were slight, mere shadows in the grass, reaching out and up to the horizon …. 
… my father has told me that, like him, task is to find the paths that lead to peace between the clans and tribes and to make this island whole …
… our family has the magic and means to deal with such malevolence and impiety. I learned early from my father - and then more perfectly from my seer* teachers - that an enemy’s malevolence can expose his weak side …
·       ‘Druid’
… the intricacy of the inherited magic in my family is reflected in the stories my brother lleu and our father’s cousin Bryn – both trained by the seers – would sing by the fire after the feasting.  My father Eddu and his grandfathers were seers. They were great kings whose wisdom and power has always been known throughout the islands. I myself have skills in magic from my schooling, although I’ve not been called upon to perform the pig- or mouse-changing caper …
… my first memory of actually using magic, as opposed to knowing and learning about it, was the time I turned a girl into an owl.


Later in story…

7 A Brigante Welcome

Elen: So we reach the dense Aclet Forest and, travelling along the far end of our own straight path – now paved over by Caesar’s men – we arrive at my grandfather’s house on the eve of his summer revels.
I feel at home when I see my mother’s birthplace, clearly the house of a great Chief with its fine round hall, its round lodges, its flower-strewn temples, its cattle and sheep pens and its storehouses for wool and lead. My nose itches at the smell of smoke and roast pig and burnt honey.
 Snow leaps down to the ground and joins the other yelping dogs as they lead the way into the great shadowy hall. This is such a cheery place! Light spurts from torches lining the wall and the great central fire glints on the objects on the shelves around those walls. These are laden with family treasures of finely worked silver and gold -   beautifully wrought figures, cauldrons and buckets. The same light also flickers on the polished white skulls strung in a long line between the roof beams – the heads of the enemies of my grandfather. Some of these, I know, are those of his own grandfathers…

Later In Story  
Quintanius: Now Magnus has the girl’s hair in his hand and the maid stands up to look down at him where he sits, a scowl on her fair face. He puts her rope of hair into her hand and for a moment it looks as though he might kiss her. There is the shimmer of threat between them. Haven’t I seen that many times? I feel tense, wondering if the maid has a weapon about her. These British women are fierce and not averse to fighting as hard as their men.

Amazon Star reviews of The Pathfinder 

 *****Magnum Opus, The past has never felt so real as in the last days of Roman Britain and the uneasy peace between natives and conquerors portrayed in Wendy Robertson's 'Pathfinder'. Heroine Elen is a beautifully drawn character uniting natives with the conquerors. Pathways lead in two directions and fey Elen's 'honeycomb' mind leads back centuries into the mists of time. But she is young and resourceful and her ordained path leads from her beloved coastal marshland of West Britain into Roman Gaul when the Roma nleader of Britain Magnus Maximus falls I love with the native girl, drawing her father and warrior brothers into his military schemes.
The book is filled with believable,fascinating characters including Aunt Olwen a drowned spirit, song-writer brother Lleu and Quin the faithful Roman devoted to both Elen and Magnus Maximum. It is a delightful, thought provoking read and I could not put it down. So many questions answered so many tantalisingly left. Elen has a future in her homeland and I want to know more.  ‘Erica’
  *****Wendy Robertson is a consummate practitioner of the crossover novel, one foot in the 'now' the other in the 'then' but with this book she has planted both feet firmly on the same historical path and the results are wonderful. 'The Pathfinder' has allowed me to bury two of my reading bête noirs. One is that I don't like historical fiction, the other is that I avoid books that make me cry. However this book has confounded both of these prejudices. I loved the story, part fact, part fiction and I was genuinely moved - not manipulated- by the beauty of the writing and the incredibly sad but uplifting ending. 'Anne’

****This is an imaginative and convincing recreation of life in Roman Britain as the Empire crumbled. It reads almost like a fantasy novel, while being thoroughly grounded in careful research. ‘Helen’

 ***** What a treat! I have long been an aficionado of historical fiction, delighting in the sensation of living in another time and place. The Pathfinder transported me to a world of otherness, a world permeated by myths and mysteries, a world with vastly differing constructs of reality. Within this well researched novel I glimpsed not only the land of my forefathers but the people who populated it, people who came to life as they lived and loved in a country I know well but within a historical context I barely understood. Wendy Robertson is to be congratulated on her diligent research of a less well known era of British history, alongside her capacity to take the reader from a daily world dominated by scientific concepts of the 21st century to the magical ethos permeating pre and post Roman Britain. I walked in Elen's shoes. I observed through her eyes, I empathized with her feelings - all thanks to the skill of the writer.’ Judith Mary’

(I would thank Clive Johnson for his meticulous proofreading of The Pathfinder. All us creative types need a meticulous proofreader...)

Press Reviews of my Work  

 ‘A terrific read. A world on the cusp of change and we experience it intimately.’ Historical Novels Review.
 ‘A powerful writer.’    Mail on Sunday.
  ‘Wonderful…Robertson deftly intertwines two time periods, slowly absorbing one into the other through the remarkably likeable protagonist.’   Booklist USA.
 ‘A great storyteller… she weaves another tale with ideas that still resonate when the story’s over.’ Northern Echo.
 ‘Wendy Robertson is a rare breed – a writer with an exquisite gift for creating vivid, relatable characters.’ Scottish Daily Record.

Note: ‘ In The Pathfinder I have taken the available material and archeological history of late fourth century Britain and addressed the powerful pre-Arthurian myths of Macsen Wledig and the British princess Elen. My intention is to weave a story that has hope, truth and justice at its heart.’ Also I have used the word ‘Seers’, where others would have said ‘Druids’ to avoid stereotypimg
Wendy Robertson


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