Setting Out, Setting In

You’re in for a treat today, as Ron Askew , one of my favourite writers, is my guest. We hark back to authonomy times, when he was an enthusiastic supporter of my first novel. He gave me the confidence to persevere. His book  One Swift Summer holds a permanent place on my kindle.


I have never thought much about story setting before. It is just there, a background feature. Story and character have always taken precedence, with the question of which drives which, story or character, always seeming a more important focus, at least for me. That said, setting may clearly influence story and character in certain circumstances and even become a dominant factor. When Napoleon and Hitler invaded Russia they were both thwarted by General Winter. That said, are climatic conditions really to do with setting? Arguably, yes. Similarly, in The Cruel Sea and The Old Man And The Sea, the sea seems to play such a strong role as to shift from background setting to being an active player. So, too, in Hardy’s Wessex novels, the countryside is a consistent presence and its moods seem almost human at times, especially Egdon Heath in The Return Of The Native. Though here, too, it is often the climate rather than the physical setting that Hardy uses to reflect or influence the mood and behaviour of his characters.

Thinking about it, my recent writing has been set in London in part or wholly. In Watching Swifts, the story is set entirely within Kew Gardens, though the buildings and locations are fictional. This mix of fact and fiction serves two purposes. Most people have either been to or heard of Kew Gardens. It evokes an idea that acts as a hook upon which to hang fictions. This is great. Some readers may not realise they are fictions. And I am not going to tell them. Not that it matters. There is no such building as The Old Specimen House at Kew Gardens, for example. But there is in my story. I don’t like the idea of nailing everything down in faction. It’s too mundane. Having everything in a work of fiction just as it is in reality seems…

bookIn The Room With Three Doors gyrates from London to Hampshire. London is seen as a monster. It kills Rhi’s twin sister in a cycling mishap at Old Street roundabout. Rhi stands on Blackfriars bridge, seizes the phones of Matt and Jamie and hurls them into the River Thames, with the lights of Canary Wharf as a backdrop. But that is enough setting. The story then shifts to the dynamics of their love triangle. Setting reasserts itself as a feature in the final third of the story when the action has shifted to a watercress farm in Hampshire. Again, I know there are watercress farms in Hampshire, but I did not have a specific one in mind. To have done so would have got in the way. It is easier to invent one. The finer details don’t matter. Anyone looking for detailed nailed down accuracy will not find it. What they will get is an impression. The setting of a tranquil Hampshire watercress farm is deliberately there to symbolise a different way of life to that offered by London’s Canary Wharf.

Harking back to Watching Swifts, I suppose the use of a garden within the city was similarly symbolic because the principle character was a refugee from himself who had sought to escape from modern life to the peace offered by Kew Garden, one of London’s famous green lungs.

My most recent story (MMRS), as yet unpublished is set in a specific corner of London’s Kensington. That said the street and especially the house at the core of the story are fictional. They mock the reality of the real streets of Kensington by striving to be more alive in their own way. But isn’t that what fiction is about? It’s not a mirror to reality, more a procession of half-truths and lies. But this is wonderful, as absolutely anything may and does happen.

Being a longer story than the previously mentioned, MMRS shifts to a manor house in Hampshire, where a hill with a Celtic burial mound plays a key role, to the swimming pool of The Marina Bay Sands Hotel a mile high in Singapore. It shifts again to a beach in Cornwall and finally to a backwater in rural Shropshire. Of course, all this water symbolises emotion and fateful undercurrents. Yet to the reader, the setting is purely background. There are no lengthy descriptions of hills, trees, views or weather. The story is paramount in the way it allows the characters to evolve. In terms of art, for me at least, the human portraiture of character is more interesting than the landscape of setting.

That’s it. It’s the unstated features of setting that are its most useful feature, especially when used sparingly. Were setting to be too heavily emphasised that might get in the way of character and story, at least for this reader.

Looking ahead, I have started to think of what to write next. So far I’ve got no further than wondering ‘Who is it about? Who does what and why?’ The where of it has not featured, so far. The idea of starting with ‘where’ doesn’t work for me. That’s not to say a story can’t evolve from a ‘where’. Maybe if you go and sit in Antibes, say, and petition The Great Demon God of Stories for copy, a yarn might present itself. But then it might not be anything to do with Antibes. Maybe another aspect of setting is the pre-story setting of the writer as he waits to receive his next handful of flash.  In which case my present setting is a small room with no view to impede the inner eye’s creative vision.


Ron is from Lancashire, and lives in London in the heady world of Reuters and Fleet Street. You really must read about him on his author page.

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Minor Problems and a Canal Trip

Carcassonne, France.

It is still our first day. We had a quick shower and change in our well appointed Casa del Teisseire and the fifteen-minute walk back to the station, downhill and without luggage was a doddle. We sauntered along the Canal du Midi guided by Carrie-Ann’s google maps and found our publishers’ abode, no problem.

The other authors were already there, and for the next three hours we sat in the pleasantly shaded patio imbibing wine, chatting and partaking of endless platters of delicious meats and salads. A veritable feast – made even more welcome as I’d eaten little since arriving in Toulouse early that morning.

We walked back with Miriam to her hotel Bistro opposite the station and went home without having to rely on the mobile directions at all. We were already feeling at home.

A shrill peeping noise woke me. And another a while later… it wasn’t until dawn and a conversation between us that I realised it was the battery fading on the smoke alarm. The ceiling was very high and there was no way we could reach to take out the battery. The peeping continued, and I messaged airbnb before we went out for a canal boat trip up the Midi. The 12.30pm ride advertised did not materialise, so after buying ourselves sandwich breakfasts, Miriam came back with us to the Casa.

There was a message on the table from Marion – she’d heard no peeps. Perhaps we’d removed the battery? We must have just missed her!

The sharp peeps continued to interrupt our thoughts as we passed the time, pouring over maps and making plans. I messaged Marion again, saying we were going out soon, and wouldn’t be back ‘til late at night, and the peeps were still sounding. Could she please renew the battery!


We walked back to the Midi and boarded the boat for an afternoon ride; a pleasant, peaceful ninety minutes through foaming locks.

canal trip

Leaving the suburbs of Carcassonne behind us, the boat slipped quietly between borders of green foliage and tall trees.

citadel view

We turned back and stopped for a romantic sighting of the Citadel with the sun striking its ancient towers. (You’ll see a better picture of it next week.)



Our guide, a lively buxom wench with an unruly mass of bright orange corkscrew hair, regaled us with snippets of information in French, English and, privately to a couple behind us, in Spanish. At one lock a man in dirty jeans appeared on the shore. He had short-cropped hair and a fuzzy chin. Lying in provocative manner along the wall, he assisted with the ropes. On tiptoe, she reached up to him. The water rose and the lock filled. They waited; closer and closer…

“Are they going to kiss?”

Just as the gap between them narrowed to a mere couple of inches, he got up, handed back the rope, and sauntered away.


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Letting Lucinda Loose

I always enjoy reading Lucinda Clarke, whatever she writes. She fills me with joy and I never know what she’s going to say next..


First, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Jane for her courage in letting me loose on her blog.  She has suggested I chat about settings for my books, an easy question to answer.

To date I’ve written 3 memoirs, a 4 book Amie series and a comedy – oh and the freebie I offer to anyone

WRS sign up 3 APRIL

 All of them (but one) are set in – guess where? Yes, Africa.  

My only excuse for this is I lived there a long, long time almost 40 years and I didn’t want to leave. It gets into your heart, your mind and in some unexplained way it heightens your senses. 

We began in Kenya – well that was me – the Ex was carted off to
Tanzania – leaving me to cope on my own with a 9 week-old baby, in the bush 25 miles outside Nairobi.

Next stop was a five-year spell in Libya on the north African coast. Life was different but interesting. I taught and worked on the radio and produced the second baby. Ah, but then we were PI’d (thrown out) after the Ex was locked up. Bit embarrassing when your infant cries out in the playground: “Please get Daddy out of jail.” I was a teacher there at the time and it didn’t do much for my reputation. 

Next stop was Botswana and it was here, still teaching and running that rather desperate riding school, that I remember with most fondness. Nothing quite beats riding off across the dry river bed on the back of a horse, meandering through the villages and cantering slowly (and very carefully, I’m a terrible coward) across the wide- open savannah. 

Then it was South Africa. Now we were on the fringe of the cities it was more first world – high rise buildings and highways. Later, my work filming took me deep rural and I was so privileged to meet the peoples at grass root levels. I spent days with them, learned about their lives, their aspirations and their triumphs and struggles. I visited/met/worked with: farmers, vets, teachers, road menders, witchdoctors, nurses, doctors, patients with AIDS and all kinds of other illnesses, museums, schools, prisons, drug rehabilitation centres, abattoirs, airports, government offices, news rooms, international world leaders and celebrities – the list could go on and on.

Many of the wonderful people I met have popped up in both my career memoirs in the Truth, Lies and Propaganda series:

my personal memoir 

and as characters in my Amie novels.

31956016_2073860759497078_6609426112688685056_n We came to Spain in 2008 side-lined due to Africanisation policies. My clients wanted my work, I wanted to work for them – the government said ‘no’. We had little option but to leave and it broke my heart.

Initially I modelled Amie on my own experience – moving to Africa as a newly married wife. But then to make it more exciting I embroil her in a civil war and pop her into prison and then …

The physical descriptions of places in my books are a combination of Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique and Kenya. 

I’m hoping to publish the 5th book in the series, plus two back stories before the end of 2018.

Now the theory in coming to Spain was to lie about in the sun all day, sipping sangria and chilling out. Two problems with that: winters are cold here – well after Africa they are – and do you realise how boring it is doing nothing? Within 3 months I was itching to write, but apart from a few commissions in the early days, I had no clients.

Solution? Commission myself – and the most obvious medium was from scripts to books. I didn’t bother to look up my old agent nor the traditional publishers I’d worked for. When you’re a wrinkly you just don’t have the spare years to make all that effort.

So, I became an indie and I’m proud of it. I think I take as much care as any traditional publishing house with editing, proofing, cover etc. to make my books the best they can be. As I am my sole client I give myself lots and lots of attention!

The huge difference of course is the marketing but let’s not go there and write about depressing stuff.

I’ve ordered the outer shell for next time round – Goldi Hawn’s hair, Madonna’s figure, Einstein’s brain and Mata Hari’s sex appeal. That should give me a head start. But would I be a writer? Of course! I’m addicted and couldn’t stop if I tried. However, the above ‘extras’ might just help me get my books converted into Hollywood blockbusters. Hey, I can dream can’t I?

You can find me here.

Web page –

Blog link  then add date

Amazon page

Twitter  @LucindaEClarke



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The Trials of Travelling in a Foreign Country…

I’d never been to France; I don’t speak French, nor can I understand what they’re saying. But I can sort-of get the gist when I dig deep into my memory of O-level written French.

It is Sunday 23rd September 2018.

I wake up, ready to be collected at 6am, only to discover a message from Carrie-Ann saying she is coming fifteen minutes earlier. I rush through my ablutions, grab a glass of cranberry juice to swallow down my daily pills, and run out to the car, its headlights glowing along the street.

At Gatwick I sampled the inner workings of checking in. Carrie-Ann had pre-checked her bag into the hold, but when I tried, I baulked at the £37 price. We went towards security. I was ready with my bottles and tubes visible in a plastic bag – but my special body lotion was too large, and no way was I going to sacrifice it. The man at security was very helpful. I could go back and check my case in “hands free”. He suggested I asked for assistance. We submitted ourselves to rigorous exit security (passport, stand in the specified area and have our faces scanned) before retracing our steps.

This time, an attendant was at hand to work the machine while I played helpless at her side. It worked! A five pound swipe with my card and a preferential tag on my case, before we returned to security and sailed onto the Easyjet plane for the smooth ninety minute flight to Toulouse.

It took some trudging along hard pavements while my companion used her mobile google map to find the shuttle to Matabiau train station. And we nearly booked ourselves on the coach instead of the train to Carcassonne. 

Forty-one minutes through parched harvested countryside, the Pyrenees rising dimly in the distance. We took an earlier train than planned, so Steph didn’t meet us in her car at the station as arranged. We’d be able to walk to our Airbnb cottage on Rue Arago and back to our publisher’s home near the Canal du Midi for a welcoming barbeque.

Carrie-Ann brought out her mobile with confidence, and once she’d established the orientation, we walked through a square of fountains and up dusty streets dragging our luggage. Laborious, uphill. Even though I’d been sitting for many hours, my legs ached. We stopped in front of a wooden red door in a rickety frame and rang the bell. Denise opened it in a fluster. It was only 3pm, we were early, and she wasn’t ready! We needed to spend a penny; she showed us quickly round; we left our luggage out of the way under the stairs, and she gave us the key to get in, showing us how to unlock the door. Then we were hustled out to kick our heels for half an hour.

Narrow, one-way streets, drab, with tiny pavements; cars creeping by as we cringe against the walls.

St. Martial bastion

The Garden of Calvary, Carcassonne

We turned a couple of corners, and happened on the Garden of Calvary, the Bastion Saint-Martial. A rocky, overgrown place with winding path punctuated by niches on either side, depicting the stations of the cross in dramatic stone carvings. We rested on the step with our backs to the “judas kiss”. Carrie-Ann didn’t like the creepy atmosphere of the place, but I wanted to explore further. Glimpses of three giant crucified figures, touched by the golden sun, rose through the tangled trees above us. Bravely, she followed me. The crucifixion scene, too large to encompass in a single photo, confronted us. We wandered round the small bastion, dallying before each niche, and the minutes sped by.

Denise had gone – and we couldn’t unlock the door. We hadn’t listened properly to her instructions. We both tried twisting, turning, pulling and pushing, in efforts to uncover its quirky warp. Despairing, I looked over my right shoulder towards a neighbour, who was showing signs of offering assistance – when suddenly I happened to pull and push at the right moment. Voila!


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Money Money Money

Final insight into my new book.

The real-life launch at People Matter yesterday, complete with bubbly, and graced by our MP, Stephen Llloyd, past clients, friends and associates was my best ever. I hardly slept a wink last night.

To make your new business work, you need customers – but you cannot pluck them from trees. You need to go out and find them.

What – expose myself? And where can I find them?

Yosemite Half Dome (640x399)

I give you a few tips to go on with – HERE

And where do you get finance if you need it?

Here’s an open secret…. My book shows you how to keep records, and even to take a look into the future. Those who wish to perform a simple “What-if” analysis on sales-forecasting and budgeting for their business, can download a free Excel spreadsheet. Full instructions on how to use this useful tool can be found in the book.

Meanwhile, I invite you to think again about those ten personal dreams I helped you identify in my blogs over the past two weeks. You will have decided on the year you hope to achieve each one.

Your task now is to think about how much achieving each of those dreams would cost. You could work it out in today’s terms. You could even try some educated guesses. But if you want the full benefit of the exercise and give yourself a chance of fulfilment, it would be well to do some real research and decide on the details.

Now do some simple maths: work out the number of years to your goal, divide the total cost by that number, and – to make the objective even easier to envisage – divide the answer by twelve, to find out the monthly sum you will need to save, to achieve your goal.

Put your detailed list at the bottom of your in-tray, and re-visit it every year. You’ll be surprised how many you can strike off as achieved, allowing you to add more dreams each time.

And, remember – you can always change the goal posts!


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A Sense of Place

I have known Kristin Gleeson ever since I  tried to find a publisher for my first book, although I’ve never met her in the flesh. The Authonomy peer review website brought many of us close, and we’ve maintained contact through the years. If you want to experience a very real sense of place, I fully recommend her books, which have made a great impression on me. My review happens to top the Amazon site of In Praise of the Bees!

Enjoy the experience….

‘A sense of place’. It’s an idea that is very important to me. Whether it’s a setting of a book or a particular location, ’a sense of place’ conveys a deep, resonating connection to the reader/observer. A ‘sense of place’ features in many of my books, but in the case of my novel, In Praise of the Bees, the story actually began as a ‘sense of place.’

Even before I moved to the area in Ireland in which I now live, West Cork, I’d visited it several times, staying with family. The first time I visited I was taken to St Gobnait’s well, shrine and the old church with its graveyard. The site itself, along with its well dates back to pre-Christian times, but during the early Christian period, about the 6th century, it housed a community of community of women headed by St Gobnait. There she tended her bees and healed the sick and performed miracles. That’s what I learned on my first visit.

I saw a statue erected in the 1950s, dedicated to her, a well with cups lined beside it for use of those who still visited the well; ruins of a roundhouse dating to that time period; the site of her grave with many offerings beside it; a stone ball lodged in a space of the old church wall; and stone carving up along the church’s gable end depicting a man, the gadai dubh, or the black thief. The stone ball and the stone carving were part of the legend surrounding St Gobnait.

Walking around I felt a real sense of calm, a special stillness that held a numinous quality that marked this as a unique site, along with the ancient well nearby. It stayed with me and drew me back time and time again. The ancient well in particular stood draped with clouties and offerings of all kinds, showing that others marked it the same way. In some ways it felt like being transported to another time.

There are many legends and traditions surrounding St Gobnait who came to Ballyvourney, probably around the late 6th or early 7th century and established a community of women. One legend says that she was descended from Conaire, High King of Ireland. In Kerry it is said that her father was a pirate and that she came ashore in Fionntráigh. An angel came to her and told her to travel until she saw ‘nine white deer grazing together,’ and that would be the place of her resurrection. Her travels took her many places in Munster and eventually she made her way to Borneach (Ballyvourney) and saw nine white deer grazing at Gort na Tiobratan (the field of the well). There she built her community and installed her bee hives. The bishop, St Abán, was her contemporary and some legends have it that he set aside the land for her to begin her community.

During the course of her life in Gort na Tiobratan St Gobnait became known for her healing, using the honey the bees produced. She also performed many miracles, including sending a swarm of bees after cattle rustlers, throwing a bulla or heavy ball to raze a stone structure built by intruders, and the catching the gadaí dubh, the dark robber who tried to steal her horse and the stone mason’s tools (his image is inscribed on a stone in the church ruins at St Gobnait’s shrine).

Many of the religious communities of women in Ireland disappeared after the death of the primary woman who established it because the founder usually established it on her own land which would revert to her kin at her death. St Gobnait’s community was established independently of any kinship ties and the community continued after her death, but it is uncertain how long, another reason that I admired Gobnait and saw her as fairly unique in the Irish landscape of the time period.

St Gobnait’s shrine is still a place many come to say prayers for healing and complete the ‘pattern’ or ‘rounds’, a series of prayers said at specific places. The rounds are also said on her feast day and on Whitsunday. The area includes the church, the well, and her burial site. There is also a twenty-seven inch 13th century wooden statue kept in the Sacristy of the Ballyvourney Parish Church which is brought out on her feast day and on Whitsunday.

From the first I wanted to capture something of the place and St Gobnait in writing. The more I came to know about that remarkable woman, the more I felt I wanted to write a novel, but I waited years so that I could fully immerse myself in the place, the people and her story. The novel is centred around a woman who suffers appalling injuries and arrives at Gobnait’s community of women to be healed and discover who she is, though doing so may place her in danger.

I enjoyed writing the book so much I knew I would return to the location again. And lately I was asked to write a short story for a forthcoming anthology on the Black Death and it provided the perfect opportunity to do so. The story took hold of my imagination to such a degree a novel is now in the works.

In Praise of the Bees Cover MEDIUM WEB

The links for Amazon, apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo are:
Thanks for the opportunity!

kris pool vignette crop1

Originally from Philadelphia, Kristin Gleeson lives in Ireland, in the West Cork Gaeltacht, and works as a librarian, plays the harp and sings, in addition to painting the beautiful landscape around her.  
She holds a Masters in Library Science and a Ph.D. in history, and for a time was an administrator of a large archives, library and museum in America. She has also worked as a public librarian in America. 
Kristin Gleeson
twitter @krisgleeson
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When Sales are Poor…

Sometimes people fall into a business without much thought. Authors, for instance  write books, and we only realise we need to be business-like when sales are poor.

Can you turn a hobby into a business? Lucky you, if you love what you do. But you cannot hope to love everything you need to do in order be a success.

There are so many types of business – a plethora of possibilities – which provide endless opportunities for RESEARCH, which is the essence of forming a PLAN… which is of course what my book is all about.

MARKETING is of vital importance and branding is a piece of jargon which you will learn about.

This was one idea for a cover of my book, brainstormed by a good author friend, Ailsa Abraham.

First banner

If you study the pictures below the title, you may be reminded of a gardener, a leather worker, a disco jockey, a computer expert and a jaguar – illustrating some of the clients who have come my way, whose stories I have used in my book.

I encourage you to revisit the dreams you wrote down for last week’s blog, and set a time frame for each one. It is important to state the actual YEAR you want to achieve it. Don’t agonise over this too much – you can always change the goal posts later.

Write a year against each dream, using a little bit of realism in your calculations.  


When I wrote down my dreams all those years ago, I didn’t state a timeframe. I didn’t think any of them were really going to come true. But these are the dreams I fulfilled:

EM waved albatrosI went to the Galapagos Islands, in 2004. It was a wonderful cruise.

124 First sight of the Treasury

My dreams of Israel and Jordan came true in 2008 when I experienced the peace of the Sea of Galilee, the bustle of touristy Jerusalem, and the wonderful ancient city of Petra.


Not only did my dream of finding a publisher for my book come true in 2013, but I’ve written several more since then.

– and, do you know? Five of my seven grandchildren have already claimed from the Granny Travel Fund and widened their horizons.

1 Jane (472x640)

But my biggest dream, when I blew the head off a dandelion at the age of six, was to go round the world….. that was achieved fifty-five years later.

I’ve blogged extensively on that in the past.

Next week, I’ll reveal the final link to making your dreams come true… unless you can’t wait, and would like to buy the book now!


A general step-by-step guide to keep beside you, which uses stories based on true experience to illustrate different scenarios. Most of it is just old-fashioned common sense, but when you start a new venture, common sense seems to go out of the window. This guide will help you focus on making your new business a success.
Universal Amazon link:



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