Dogs as Characters in Fiction

March 29, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Image 8I often am asked, “Do you base some of your characters on real people?”  Well, fictional characters are just that:  made up in the author’s mind.  However, there’s no denying that there are often ‘real life’ figures who sometimes serve as inspiration.   And, as I learned this year writing That Summer in Cornwall, the same goes for dog characters.

However, just to show how tricky a subject this is, you should know that this Border Collie actually is known by another name as a ‘real-life’ member of the Cornwall Search and Rescue Team…  In my novel, the Border Collie T-Rex–aka Rex–became the name I gave my hero Sebastian Pryce’s dog after I met this dog, seen here having coffee at the famous Poggio’s Trattoria .IMG_6240

Say hello to the real T-Rex…the Great Dane, affectionately known by his intimates as “The Mayor” of a maritime village in the San Francisco Bay Area. This big boy truly was what inspired my naming this important search-and-rescue dog who figures prominently in the novel.

(Well…at least, both boys’ coats are black and white).

IMG_6241And both animals have tremendously good hearts—to say nothing of their amazing noses—and, of course, I asked permission of the original T-Rex’s mistress, artist Lucinda O’Connell, if I could “borrow” his moniker.Image-20-199x300

And then there was the heroine’s dog, a sheep-herding Corgi from the pastures of Wyoming.  The sassy, smart little dog started out in the first draft with the name of “Jasper”—called that in honor of my godchildren’s ‘real-life’  Corgi.

But there was just one problem:  Jasper the Corgi is a boy dog with a boy dog’s name, and as I got into the plot, there were some very compelling reasons to make “him” a “her”—especially since the two dogs have a memorable “meet-up” in Chapter One—much to their human companions’ chagrin.

Therefore, in urgent need of an appropriately feminine name, the first thing that popped into my head was my friend, romance writer Cynthia Wright ’s late, great black lab, seen here with her daughter, Jenna.  So “Jasper” was transformed, via a “global search and replace” on my Mac, into “Holly”– along with profuse apologies to my godchildren Andrew and Grace.


So, there you have it!  Life in the fictional world can be just as rough as Hollywood…and some of the best performers are left on the cutting room floor…

Spring Comes to Cornwall

March 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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IMG_0753Where I live in a waterside village on the San Francisco Bay, gardening enthusiasts exalt when we get a dose of nice, steady rain as we did this week. “Oh, it’ll be so good for the garden!’ they say with broad smiles–and sure enough, everything around here is starting to burst forth.

However, secretly I’m saying to myself, “But you should see what’s probably happening in Cornwall, England right about now!”

imgres-2 On my multiple trips to the West Country (as it’s known locally) to visit our English relatives and research both A Cottage by the Sea and its just-published, stand alone sequel, That Summer in Cornwall, I have seen magical Cornish gardens that make even Black Thumb types like myself swoon with envy and admiration. imgres-3If you need any convincing, just check out The Great Gardens of Cornwall  “…home to a wealth of the most exciting, rare and beautiful plants and trees in the British Isles.”  Thanks to the sweeping presence of the Gulf Stream, even palm trees grow in Cornwall…to say nothing of the m flowing plants.


Palm trees and flowers in Cornwall Garden


There had to have been true creative genius among the early nineteenth century Cornish garden owners, for they had such a hunger and passion for the exotica, they put up fortunes of money to sponsor what can only be termed “The Great Victorian Plant Hunt,” bringing back to Cornwall the first rhododendrons, camellias, hydrangeas, and all manner of botanical curiosities, including palm trees.

The result of sending their minions—and sometimes trekking themselves—to far-flung places such as China and South America on expeditions that brought back to Cornwall seeds and plants has been that, some hundred and fifty years later,  travelers can see some amazing examples of what one brochure calls “wild and magnificent living theatre.” url

Caerhays_CastleAt Caerhays Castle, the model for “Barton Hall” in That Summer in Cornwall , rhododendron plants put in the soil there a hundred years ago have now grown toweringly tall.

Even many private gardens, along with the beauties run by The National Trust, are open to the public on specific days during the year—and especially in April and May when the plant world in the West Country of England runs riot with color…imgres

So, next time you’re feeling afflicted with a big dose of spring fever, plan a trip to Cornwall…

…or if that’s not in the budget, cruise around the websites listed above–and just feast your eyes…


To Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day: Bake a Scone!

March 15, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ciji in Polruan, across from Fowey, Cornwall - Version 2These past months working on the now-published That Summer in Cornwall and starting the research for That Autumn in Edinburgh–which will be published next fall—has stirred up so many memories of my own family history.

This week, as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, I thought a lot about my own Scots-Irish-Cornish heritage and it got me longing to make a fresh batch of “Elfie McCullough” scones. (That’s her in the b&W photo)5 generations of McCullough Women copySO!  Here, below, is my Great Grandmother, Elfie McCullough’s recipe handed down by my Great Aunt Marge and adapted by me over the years. (This is Aunt Marge in white with my McCullough clan at one of my book-signings in New Orleans fifteen years ago). sc00043e55

My father’s family–the Wares– originated on the border of Devon and Cornwall in England, and migrated in 1642 to Massachusetts and eventually to the mid-West, where my father was born.

Cornish countryside facing Channel





My mother’s family–the McCulloughs–were Scottish who left Ayrshire to work as estate factors in Northern Ireland and eventually landed in the Tidewater region of America in the late 18th century.  They made their way to Missouri where they raised Hereford cattle and were fabulous cooks! I was 15 when Elfie died and a grown woman when Aunt Marge passed away, in her nineties.

Marge wouldn’t share this recipe unless I promised to use “real butter.”IMG_0739




So, here’s to St. Patrick’s Day with a Scottish-Irish-Cornish “hybridized”  scone recipe–from the United Kingdom via America!  (If you can’t cut-and-paste this off your screen, email me via the Contact page and I’ll send you the file).




Preheat oven 425 degrees. This recipe makes about 6 to 8 scones, depending on how small you make them.

                1 cup                    Self Rising Flour (be sure it is fresh)

                ½ cube                 Butter (either salted or unsalted is fine)

               ¼ cup                   Sugar

                ¼ cup                  Heavy cream (or milk)

                1 egg yolk beaten with a little milk


Sift or mix the flour and sugar together in a medium-size bowl. 


Hand cut butter into flour and sugar with a pastry cutter, until crumbly–but do not over work.


Add enough milk (I use cream if feeling naughty) to make the dough ball come together (this will vary according to your level of humidity, but don’t use too much or the scones won’t rise much; I use a wooden spoon to mix together, then my clean hands to make the dough come together).


Turn dough out on floured surface and pat into a round or square shape with your hands, ½ inch to 1 inch thick, depending on hall high you want your scones. (I like 1 inch tall dough).


I use a round cylinder, 2 inches in diameter, to cut the scones, or you can just use a knife and make triangles.  Your choice.  Put on jelly roll pan or cookie sheet, non greased.  Brush the tops of the scones with the egg yolk/milk mixture.


Bake for 12 minutes until lightly brown.   When cool, split the scones if you made the high ones.  Serve with a dab of whipped cream, clotted cream, or crème fraiche and a dollop of your favorite jam.


Enjoy! And by the way, Great Grandmother Elfie McCullough and Aunt Marge send their regards….


Researching a Novel The Old Fashioned Way

March 10, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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 Ciji at ABC RadioI spent more than twenty years as a working reporter (mostly at the ABC television and radio affiliate in Los Angeles) and as a magazine journalist—and my first instinct when I get an idea for an historical or contemporary novel is to go where the book is set.Ciji in front of Caerhays Caslte nr. Mevagissey - Version 2







With That Summer in Cornwall—a stand-alone contemporary sequel to my “time-slip” novel A Cottage by the Seathe action takes place a good decade after the ending of the contemporary part of the novel.  In my mind, there was no choice:  I had to return to the area because the premise of the new book was: “What ever happened to that babe in arms in the first book…and what’s Cornwall, England like some ten years, plus, later?”

IMG_6786 - Version 2Once I determined I was, in fact, going to do a sequel to the original novel set in Cornwall, I immediately called up my good writing pal, romance novelist Cynthia Wright with whom I’d made my first trip to Britain’s West Country to research the original book (and she, a couple of her own) and said, “Wanna go back to Gorran Haven and Mevagissey with me and see what trouble we can get into again?”  Her answer? “Absolutely, if we can also go to that seaside village, Polperro and Lansallos, where all the eighteenth century pirates hung out. I’m thinking of doing a couple of books that deal with smuggling…”IMG_6743

So off we went in October of 2012, retracing some of the same areas we’d visited in the late 1990s and heading off into new territory as well.  We still managed the six-mile “Hall Walk” a second time, and paused at the bridge at Pont Pill where we’d rented a Lime Kiln Cottage from the National Trust on the first trip.  For the research jaunt last autumn, we decided to rent a suite at Caerhays Castle near Gorran Haven, the model for “Barton Hall,”  an important element in both books set in Cornwall.

Image 2This contemporary novel centers on the story of Meredith Champlin—a cousin of Lady Blythe Barton-Teague who is the mistress of Barton Hall and the heroine in CottageMeredith wakes up one morning in her home state of Wyoming to discover she is the official guardian of an unruly “Beverly Hills brat” whom she’s never met and hasn’t a clue how to serve as the unhappy child’s surrogate mother. Her elegant cousin Blythe, now the mother of two thanks to her second marriage to the wonderful Sir Lucas Teague, urges Meredith to come to their shabby-chic castle on a remote cliff in Cornwall for the summer to see if they can’t transform this angry, difficult child (whose mother is Blythe’s estranged sister and has died in a private plane crash) into “a decent human being.”  For me, returning to actually reside within the castle walls allowed me to capture the unique atmosphere of the place local novelist Daphne du Maurier called “Enchanted.”Image 8

Not only did I call on my reportorial skills to capture the local color and feel of this special part of the world, but I also conducted a number of interviews about the amazing volunteer search-and-rescue work in Cornwall performed by highly trained dogs and their handlers who find “holiday makers” known for falling off cliffs, down abandoned tin and copper mine shafts, along with “despondents” who have wandered up on the moors to commit suicide.  The enigmatic hero, Sebastian Pryce, a British Army veteran of the Afghan War who served as a K9 specialist in a dog bomb-sniffing squad, persuades Meredith to co-found a dog obedience academy, with many unexpected consequences flowing from their decision to work together—including, of course, their falling in love.

Image 11I even managed to wangle an interview with the chief Dog Unit Manager for the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary (ie the police), Anthony Jordan, who walked me through police operations that coordinate the volunteer corps, Coast Guard, Royal Air Force, and other organizations that make up the network of the search and rescue community.

Their work was amazing and thrilling in so many ways, and I hope that my use of reportorial skills to capture the authenticity of their various activities shines through That Summer in Cornwall–while also telling a ripping good story!  Image-20-199x300

And if any readers are of a mind, a nice review posted on your favorite e-retailer site would be most appreciated.  You cannot image how hugely helpful reader reviews are to get out the word when a book is launched.  The print version will be available sometime later in March.

How to Build a Cottage in Your Mind

March 2, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Grandpa Ware stone cottage Carmel circa 1950s

I admit it:  over the years, I’ve become a rather obsessed “cottage collector.” Perhaps it’s because, at around ten years old, I began visiting my Grandfather Ware at the tiny stone cottage perched on a sand dune on Carmel Beach that he rented the same year we moved as a family from Los Angeles to the amazing village of Carmel-by-the-Sea.DSCN0267  My father, writer Harlan Ware, would escort me along the streets-with-no-sidewalks to the Forest, Studio, and Golden Bough theatres thriving in our town where I would perform in semi-professional plays when I was growing up.  We’d pass by cottage after cottage that could have served as illustrations in the Book of Mother Goose.  Cottage life, to me, seemed an idyllic way to live, even during the years when I dwelled in the cities of New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

c10So, when I first walked through this gate fifteen years ago on the central coast of Cornwall, England on a research trip for A Cottage by the Sea, I knew this was the perfect spot to set this story and had in my mind  exactly how the fictional “Painter’s Cottage” should look.  It would be a stone structure with a slate roof and floor-to-ceiling artists’ windows facing the English Channel. However, on that day, all I could see across a broad field was a tiny structure clinging to the cliff on a curving bay between Nare Head on the West and Dodman Point to the East.


As I picked my way across the loamy turf, I began to make out what was actually an abandoned “lookout” stone structure, a small, squat building–and in 1997, minus a roof.   Never mind, I thought, enraptured by the sweeping view and the sheep and Scottish Highland cattle dotting the slope, this was the place I would build my perfect cottage in my imagination.  On another research trip years later to prepare for the sequel, That Summer in Cornwall, the field’s owner—the Caerhays Castle estate–had recently restored the roof, perhaps in the hope they could add it to a list of estate outbuildings they offer to paying guests.  Luckily for me, I had that privilege last October at Bottom Lodge…once the gatekeeper’s cottage.

IMG_6352Talk about a novelist surrounding herself with the atmosphere of the place she would write about!  This is “Bottom Lodge” where visitors to Caerhays Castle (aka “Barton Hall” in my two novels set in Cornwall) can book into the left turret. I was “in residence” in October of 2012 and it was totally an experience of a lifetime!  I spent my days tramping all over the estate, reveling in what it must have actually been like to live here a hundred and fifty years ago, and also got a solid grasp of what a struggle it is in the modern world to keep these big houses solvent.IMG_6375 - Version 2


IMG_5654In the two, stand-alone novels (and certainly in my mind), I easily expanded the small structure I’d spotted perched on the cliff into a two-story cottage with a sleeping loft and a faintly baronial fireplace opposite windows facing the English Channel–and no cattle wandering in and out! (This cottage with the sailboat actually exists in Talloires, France–but I loved the fireplace and imagined it as part of Painter’s Cottage!)  On  my most recent trip to the environs of Gorran Haven in central Cornwall, I dared to get pretty close to those long-horned Scottish Highland cattle who’d made the old stone lookout hut their personal shelter…and what a view! Beyond those clouds, that’s Brittany across the English Channel…IMG_6534

The vistas through the abandon lookout’s glass-less windows were even more incredible. Imagine, I thought, if the Caerhays Estate eventually rehabs this stone lookout and allows their “paying guests” to stay here as they did with bottom Lodge?  But I loved the location so much, I decided as I was writing That Summer in Cornwall that the heroine would claim the “newly rehabbed” Painter’s Cottage for her own while she pitched in to help her Anglo-American cousins return the eight-hundred-acre estate to solvency.

Image-20-199x300I could easily imagine the overstuffed furniture in front of a cozy fireplace, surrounded by the magnificence of the Cornish coast.  To me, Painter’s Cottage truly exists as part of a shabby-chic castle clinging to a remote Cornish cliff–even if all you can see if you visit there this very day is a small, squat, abandoned stone hut that may one day see new life again.

In a novelist’s mind, anything is possible…


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