When in Rome – how Rome proved an inspiration and spawned a novel

I am off to Rome again and can’t wait! I love Rome at any time of year but spring is my favourite season and it can be reasonably warm in the Eternal City on a sunny March day, even though recently Rome has been under snow!

This time I am hoping to visit the Caracalla Baths, take in a concert or two – Rome is a feast of opportunities if you like opera and classical music, as well as contemporary rock events. There are also fantastic buskers – opera singers, jazz musicians, and a great rock duo who play near Castel Sant’Angelo sometimes.

I shall do some shopping – not too much, I hope, although it is always advisable to book extra luggage allowances when travelling to Rome.

I am also visiting the Forum – it is a site that you can see easily by walking along via dei Fori Imperiale, but I am planning a good look round it this time.

The Borghese Gardens will be where I shall spend Sunday morning, walking in the vast grounds, enjoying a coffee and panini at a cafe, watching people roller blading past – then wandering back down via Vittorio Veneto for lunch at my favourite cafe, if I can get a table.

Via Vittorio Veneto in Rome is where I first had the idea for my novel ROME ALONE, on a solo break from work in 2005, when I arrived tired and left inspired.

ROME ALONE has now grown into ROME AGAIN, VERONA ALONE and VERONA AGAIN – the final two books in the series will be ROME AT LAST and VERONA AT LAST.

At least, I think they will be the final two books in the series…

 

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The Writing Process

As a writer, you grow very attached to your characters, which is why I spend time with them and do not start writing early in the development process as I feel I would be imposing my own view of them on the story, rather than  allowing the characters to grow organically. Getting to know and understand a new character is like getting to know anyone you have just met.

While writing one novel, I am usually planning the next two at the same time, so I know well in advance what the story will be – but over time it is surprising how the story can develop if you allow it to inhabit your head and incubate. By the time I start writing, I know the story from beginning to end and all the characters – occasionally minor characters will appear, also, and they might re-appear in the next novel. Nothing is written down apart from any scribbled notes I have made on post-it notes. I find if I write a chapter too early, it can be an obstacle to the story developing and can be a lot harder to re-write – a bit like having to unpick a jumper you are knitting.

Some of my characters are drawn larger than life because they are not the sort of people you might meet in the course of a normal day – or want to meet, in some cases. As one of my characters says:

“You go on vacation, you see new places, you meet interesting people.”

I started writing ROME ALONE in 2005 and in 2007 it was one of 100 winners in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’s Centenary Award. However, life and work intervened and it took another ten years for me to finish it and publish it on Kindle. Since then, I have written three sequels and am working on the last two books.

I do not write the books in strict chronological order, but carry the stories around in my head for a long time before I start actually start writing – I begin to write, the hard work has already been done. I wrote half of the final book VERONA AT LAST before I started writing the fifth book ROME AT LAST. Currently I am writing each one simultaneously, something I have never done before, but it makes the writing process interesting. I am a freelance writer and am used to having to write quickly to deadline.

Characters

I like creating stories which are part travelogue, part romance and part adventure – and are set against an ever changing world and the challenges of that.  The six novels are set against a background of organised serious crime and how this impacts on the central characters’ lives without many of them being directly involved. I hope the novels are humorous, despite tackling adult themes and criminality. I like my characters to get out and enjoy themselves, but they are not without their moral frailties and excesses. I find the characters grow organically the more you spend time thinking about them before you start writing. If you feel blocked with a character, it may be more time is needed before you start writing, or there is an aspect of the character or the story that needs more analysis or understanding. The best characters write themselves, though, and they exist somewhere in the ether – or your subconscious – and it is up to the writer to discover them and tell their stories.  When a character takes off, the process of writing down the story is almost like automatic writing or taking dictation – sometimes when I finish a writing session I remember a piece of dialogue or a scene I meant to include and feel I have not, but when I go back I find I have actually written it, but was not consciously aware of having done so.  That is the benefit of spending time thinking about the story beforehand – the details organise themselves for you in your mind and eventually all you have to do is sit and write.

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In Rome Alone, Dr McCarthy stumbles across this in The Forum and wonders if it is a sign

 

 

 

 

 

Writing sex scenes

I deal with a lot of adult themes and sexual encounters – I am more interested in the psychology than the nuts and bolts of a sex scene, however, and what it means to the characters ie what does the encounter signify to them, or how does it help them fulfil their needs and wishes, apart from the physical aspect? As a writer, you have to describe any sexual encounters exactly as your characters might be feeling it and that in itself is a challenge. Sex is one of the most delicately balanced areas of our lives, which can so easily tip over and cause harm, as much as it can cause pleasure.  I try to deal with this aspect of my characters’ personal lives to show how they have been shaped by this natural basic instinct.

In ROME ALONE, all the sex scenes are close together – this is because I was thinking of editing them out but was advised not to, as they were part of the characters’ journeys. Later the encounters became crucial to the characters’ lives and the storyline.

I never set out to write an “adult” novel – but my direct ancester is the Welsh bard Dafydd Llywd ap Llywelyn ap Gruffud (aka Dafydd Llywd o Fathafarn (c1400–c.1490)) who wrote erotic poetry in dispute with the female erotic poet Gwerful Mechain (1460–1502), one of Wales’s premier female poets. Great grandpa Dafydd also wrote secular poems and religious works and was a champion of Welsh independence – but it is maybe the distant family gene for writing erotic verse that has helped me deal with this challenging aspect of novel writing.

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Preparing to write a novel

As a fiction writer, I make lots of notes on post-it notes when ideas or information comes to me – a few of which I might review and use; but most of the information is ingested, processed and spat out again from my subconscious when required. The notes often remain in a folder unread – the act of making the note in itself seems to set in motion a subconscious thought process.

My method is to sit down and start writing when I feel the time has arrived for the story to be told, rather than planning rigorously and writing out character backgrounds and plotting the storyline, which I do in my head.  I work instinctively.  If I am writing and a character suddenly decides to do something I had not thought of initially, I go with it because I know I have enough background information accumulated inside my head for there to be a reason – the more you get to know your characters before you start writing, the easier it is to write dialogue, also, without having to literally put words into their mouths. I find my characters start to speak for themselves as I write and develop their own voices and I do not have to plan dialogue, as it becomes almost automatic.

I have been writing professionally for a long time and writers have to stuff their heads with information as a matter of course – in fiction writing, you never know when your brain will suddenly decide the time is right to use any accumulated information.

I have a good memory and like to carry everything around with me, rather than make notes and plans – it is like having your own bio-Cloud and I am thinking about my work all the time, which can sometimes make for sleepless nights. I have even written scenes or dialogue while asleep, something which many writers seem to experience. In between writing, I visit Rome or Verona – and my characters aways come with me. If I see someone who looks as I imagine the characters – a Dr McCarthy or a Bee or a Gussie, sitting by the Trevi Fountain, wandering along via del Corso or down via Vittorio Veneto – I cannot help but smile at the possibility my characters exist somewhere than other in the pages of a novel.

When I started writing ROME ALONE, I wanted to write a romantic novel that was not just a romantic novel and that would last for an entire holiday – it is always a disappointment when your holiday reading ends before your holiday! So the books are intended to be read on a sun lounger, on a balcony, tucked  up in a holiday cottage – or simply at home over the holiday season. The story continues with each novel, but the characters are the same, as their lives intertwine. Each character has their own choices to make and paths to take, just as we all do – but who will live happily ever after remains to be seen!

You can download the ROME ALONE novels FREE at Kindle Unlimited, or for £2.40 or £2.60.

Download ROME ALONE

Download ROME AGAIN

Download VERONA ALONE

Download VERONA AGAIN

Buon viaggio – and happy reading!

 

Back on via Vittorio Veneto, where it all started, when inspiration took hold and would not let go…

 

 

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Writer in search of lunch

 

 

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