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.

Rescue Dogs and the Making of a Subplot

February 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Image 14Like many millions on our planet, I love animals and have had a cat or a dog in my world virtually all my life.   My current pooches, seen here around Christmastime, are two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels: Ensign Aubrey and Charlock (a.k.a Cholly Knickerbocker).  They prove to me each day that dogs teach us our best lessons about noble behavior and unconditional love.9-11RobCimaHarley9-14-01

Around the time I was noodling about the plot for my stand-alone contemporary sequel to  the “time-slip” novel I wrote nearly fifteen years ago, A Cottage by the Sea–Hurricane Issac was bearing down on the Gulf Coast.  One day last August, I did an Internet search to see if an amazing group based in Ojai near Santa Barbara called the Search Dog Foundation would be sending dog/handler teams as first responders, an assignment they have shouldered for many of the cataclysmic events this past decade: 9/11; the Oklahoma City bombing; hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, and the earthquake in Haiti, and even traveling as far as Japan after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

WilmaTeams11-09EliotCrowleyI began to drill down deeper on their amazing website and learned more about their fantastic work of rescuing dogs languishing in shelters (where many unadopted animals, sadly, are ultimately put to death) and then training these lucky canines survivors to be part of search-and-rescue teams all over the United States.  The Search Dog Foundation, the brain child of the amazing Wilma Melville (on left, red jacket), is in the process of building a $14 million dollar K9 training “ranch” where firefighters and police officers are brought together with their newly-graduated “partners.”  As I gazed at their intriguing picture gallery on the site—I had a major epiphany!Image 15

The new book would return to central Cornwall where a craggy, windswept coastline, woods and moors often lured “day trippers” to this glorious part of Britain into dangerous situations requiring all out search and rescue efforts.  Did first responders in the UK use dogs on their search-and-rescue teams, I wondered?

Image 12On my first Google look-see, up popped all volunteer “Cornwall Search and Rescue Team”—and the stellar men and women who employ air-scenting dogs to help find missing persons who may have fallen off a cliff or down one of the many abandoned tin or copper mines in the area, or have wandered into trouble on the rough terrain of the many moors.

As I dug further into this subject, a sub-plot unfolded effortlessly:  that of stories about these wonderful people who bring others to safety in cooperation with official “rescue” organizations and institutions such as the Royal Air Force, H.M. Coastguard, and the local constabularies of Devon and Cornwall that coordinate both military and civilian enterprises engaged in search-and-rescue work.  Hey, even Prince William is a part of this world!Image 13

And then another brainwave!  Why couldn’t the hero be a veteran in the dog bomb-sniffing squad, late of the British forces in Afghanistan?  I remembered seeing an image of a TDH (tall, dark and handsome) fellow in a Ralph Lauren ad who was the perfect “model” for Sebastian Pryce, a mysterious figure that returns to Cornwall with a newly-trained search dog—and some secrets of his own.1004_MBlackL_LP_EN-FR-02

He suddenly appears at Barton Hall, a shabby-chic castle on a remote cliff near the village of Mevagissey, with the novice T-Rex, a Border Collie who very inappropriately attempts to have his way with a female dog on the estate belonging to an American woman who just stepped out of a battered Land Rover!

Image 18Suddenly the “search dog subplot” became key to the entire novel, That Summer in Cornwall about this same American who is stunned to learn that she is now the legal guardian of a child she’s never met.  At the urging of the child’s Anglo-American aunt (Lady Blythe Barton-Teague, heroine of the first novel), Meredith Champlin and her eleven-year-old “Beverly Hills Brat” decamp for Cornwall for the summer and—IMG_6723

Are you surprised I felt the need to return to the enchanting land of my Ware ancestors to refresh the research?  The workings of a novelist’s mind are mysterious, indeed…