The past few weeks have brought the real world colliding with my fiction one. I’ve been following the growing drama surrounding the FBI with dismay and at times, anger.
I’ll say right from the beginning that my fiction FBI is not perfect. It has its problems and corruption, but overall it is staffed by people of integrity who are dedicated to the people they serve. The real FBI has, to me, existed in a similar way – imperfect, but with genuine intent to serve well.
The building campaign over the past year or more to discredit the real FBI has interested, and then alarmed me. The questioning of investigations, sackings, negative comments, and blatant attempts to discredit the FBI has tainted my fictional organisation. The two no longer run side by side in their real/fictional states in harmony. One still is as I make it, the other is under attack. It’s a hard thing to reconcile.
The problem comes from my genuine attachment to the real FBI. When I wrote Roses I spent a lot of time researching the FBI from its structure, its mission, they way it operates, the roles within it, processes – you name it, I read about it. And I still do. Each time I write a White Rose book I revisit and learn new things about the FBI. I’m fond of them, I have a connection with them. I imagine most of you are well aware of this. My trip to the US last October had seeing the FBI headquarters as the highlight.
It’s was tough reading about the Nunes memo, and the vitriol of many subsequent comments directed at the FBI, really stung. And then I read the responses from some current and past FBI personnel, and was comforted. The dignity and determination to keep the work of the real FBI going, regardless of attack, confirmed my faith in them as an organisation. Still not perfect, but trying hard. The article I quote below resonated with me as I felt the actions of Josh Campbell was something one of my characters would do. At the very least it echoes their sentiments.
And it reconciled my two FBIs once more.
Excerpt from ‘Why I Am Leaving the FBI’, by Josh Campbell, 2/2/2018, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/02/opinion/leaving-the-fbi.html
“After more than a decade of service, which included investigating terrorism, working to rescue kidnapping victims overseas and being special assistant to the director, I am reluctantly turning in my badge and leaving an organization I love. Why? So I can join the growing chorus of people who believe that the relentless attacks on the bureau undermine not just America’s premier law enforcement agency but also the nation’s security. My resignation is painful, but the alternative of remaining quiet while the bureau is tarnished for political gain is impossible.
A small number of my current and retired colleagues have said that we should simply keep our heads down until the storm passes. I say this with the greatest respect: They are wrong. If those who know the agency best remain silent, it will be defined by those with partisan agendas.”
I don’t know what the future holds in regards to the real FBI. I imagine there will be more times when reality impacts on fiction, but I will continue to have faith and find ways to find peace with my two FBIs.
As is customary at this time of year, I’ve spent some hours over the past week thinking back over the year that’s almost finished.
And it’s been quite a year.
The highlight was, of course, the dream trip to the USA to visit the settings for my books. It’s been two months since I returned and I still think about it every day. And yes, I want to go back.
I’ve published another two books, Secrets Within and Bombshell, written three books, several short stories, over 60 blog posts, plus other bits of writing (my recent ‘random writing’ equalled one third of a novel). Not a bad effort.
Then there’s the thirty-seven books I’ve read—there’s been one more added to the list since my blog post last week. I also taught myself how to use InDesign (to a degree) and learned more special effects on Photoshop (which included a bit of frustration and the occasional swear word).
I learned how to deal with my personal physical limitations when it comes to actual writing, aka not pushing the dodgy hand so far that it spasms and hurts.
And I’ve had several more story ideas. Still no writer’s block!
What’s on the cards for 2018?
I will publish at least one book, hopefully two. One of the books is the third and final book for the New London books, and I’ll be celebrating that milestone with a launch party/celebration with family and friends. I hope you’ll think about coming along, but more about that later in the year!
My newsletter – Writing Roundup. The first edition of Writing Roundup is currently in the final stages of preparation for launch on this coming Sunday. I’ll be focusing a fair amount of effort on it each month as it will be my main way of giving back to my supporters.
I will write at least two new books. Depends on the hand.
I also want to do some professional development, particularly relating to book cover design. I have a course in mind and it should be fun to play around with techniques and ideas.
I think that’s enough goals to start with. No doubt the year ahead will throw up its own challenges and I’ll deal with those as they arise.
I hope you all have a wonderful New Year and 2018 is kind to you!
The big trip to the USA has been and gone. I was constantly awed by the places we visited, and that was increased ten-fold for the writing related stops. To walk the streets my characters had, to engage my senses the way they would, was an experience I can’t find words to describe. It was almost sad, as if they had been there and I had missed seeing them by a matter of days. Strange, especially when you consider they are works of fiction!
The bridge dominated the area, the magnificent structure spanning the Thames River between New London and Groton. Like all large pieces of engineering, I found it fascinating and beautiful. The river itself opened out in a similar way to the Derwent River here in Hobart and I found a lovely familiarity in that, as though the two places were somehow related. Seeing places that were so familiar to me was satisfying – I didn’t need to be told what certain structures or places were, or where they lay in relation to each other. The streets of New London were a little different to what I expected, but the feeling was right.
The submarine museum – wow! The website states that it takes one to one and a half hours to see it, but we were there for almost three hours! The displays, both hands on and other, were fascinating. I particularly loved the periscopes that went out through the roof of the museum. You could look into them like a real submariner and scan the surrounding area! The tour of the submarine, the USS Nautilus (the first nuclear powered sub) was excellent. They had the areas set up with mannequins so you could get a true idea as to how cramped the spaces were. All in all, a place worth visiting.
New London will also live in our memories as having the best taxi drivers – friendly, chatty, informative, and all round nice guys.
I feel no compulsion to revisit New London. Knowing I have written the first draft of the third book is probably behind that feeling. I wanted to visit the place, to see where my story is set, but having done so I was ready to move on and not return. I guess it was as though I was content to let my characters live their lives without any more scrutiny on my part. A weird feeling, but it’s a kind of closure for me.
It was strange to visit somewhere I’ve never been before, but be instantly comfortable because I knew it so well. Arriving was emotional. We flew in over the city and I saw the memorials from the airplane window. Leaving was just as hard, but I was ready to go on to the next stop of the holiday. I will return there one day, and knowing that made the leaving a little easier. We barely scraped the surface of all there is to see in that wonderful city.
The hardest thing about visiting DC was allowing time to sit and absorb it. There is so much to do and we had so many things we wanted to see that sometimes I had to force myself to slow down and take a long look around. The White Rose series still has books to be written, so it was as much a research trip as an affirmation (like New London). The experience of seeing the FBI headquarters building (which window would have been Warren’s?) was one of the most incredible moments of my life. I’d dreamed about it for so long, and I have fulfilled that dream. Our hotel in Crystal City, where my main characters live, was another satisfying experience. We spent some time walking around the streets and it was so perfectly right for the character’s home.
It was everything I could have hoped for, and more.
DC gave me so much more than just that. We were fortunate enough to be allowed to tour the Pentagon and we drew double luck with our guide. Jesse is a sergeant in the US Army and I can’t speak highly enough of his knowledge and his willingness to share elements of his overseas military experience. We followed the tour with a visit to Arlington Cemetery, a profoundly moving place. Jesse belonged to the same Regiment as the Sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and he gave us a lot of background on their training, expectations, and dedication. There were twenty-nine funerals at the cemetery the day we visited. Twenty-nine. We heard the sound of the gun salutes several times while we were there – a sobering experience. I felt a deep sense of connectedness with both of the places we visited that day. It’s been a long time since I left the RAAF, but I felt the strength of purpose, the commitment to country, the preparedness to make sacrifices, of those around me. A reminder of my own choice to serve and the reason why my writing revolves around law enforcement and military. A kindred spirit. It was an honour to be there, and I will never forget it.
Where to from here?
There are more stories to be written, memories to be sifted, ideas to write down (before they escape!), and the real world to be embraced again.
I made a dream come true. Not a bad feeling.
And my character’s world is now real to me and lives in my memory, not just my imagination.
The last day of our visit to Washington DC.
Yesterday we went out to the National Arboretum and I went for a walk through Fern Valley, the location of Beth and Warren’s wedding. It took a while, but right at the end I stumbled upon the perfect location – in my mind – for their big day. I won’t be posting a photo as I know anyone who has read the book will have their own mental picture and I don’t want to ruin that. For the record – wedding aren’t actually allowed in the arboretum, but this is fiction, so I can do what I want!
I’ve loved Fern Valley. There weren’t many ferns, but the area has been planted with the locate flora in mind and resembles the natural areas around DC. I loved the paths that wound through the area and sat at one of the benches for a while. It was beautifully tranquil after the past several days – just what I needed.
When we finally made it back into the city (that’s a whole other story) we spent some time around the incredible WWII memorial and then wandered along the side of the reflecting pool up to the Lincoln Memorial. There are so many people around these areas, but it doesn’t detract from the experience at all. It’s surprised me how well I’ve coped with the vast crowds.
Today we took a walk into one of the main shopping areas of Crystal City. It was wonderful to see the area my characters live in and I’ve taken pictures of the streets, buildings, and parks for future reference.
Visiting New London and DC has been a dream of mine for so long and bringing the dream to life has been better than I could have hoped for. I’ve walked the sidewalks my characters have strolled, and seen what they would have seen. I can’t say I’ve felt them with me, but I’ve pictured them around as though they have been showing me a photo album of their day to day lives. I’ve been flooded with inspiration for more White Rose books, plus completely different stories as well. It’s been a remarkable trip.
DC has been particularly special. It was right from the beginning, and the city has cemented a place in my heart. I’ve laughed with taxi drivers, been moved by memorials, listened to the stories of the places I’ve been, and been amazed by the stunning architecture. It’s everything I hoped for and so much more. I can’t wait to write more stories set in this wonderful place.
Next up is Texas and the dude ranch. I bet there won’t be a shortage of inspiration there!
(More images at the end)
Washington DC. I’ve wanted to come here for so long, and here I am. Another dream come true.
I’m typing this sitting in the café in our hotel, located in Crystal City – specifically chosen as this is the area my characters for the White Rose series live. It’s nice to know I’ve placed them in a location that suits them, ie, a place where people like them would live. I can picture them here, and it’s a satisfying feeling – not to mention giving me ample opportunity to do research into the area for future stories.
As I’ve said in Facebook posts over the past few days, DC feels comfortable to me. I know it’s because I’ve spent so much time researching the area and writing about it, and its yet another affirmation for me. We’ve played the tourist, but with an eye on my writing – we’ve walked streets my characters have walked, eaten at restaurants that have/will figure in my writing, and I’ve tried to absorb as much of it as I can.
Writing ‘items’ ticked off:
J Edgar Hoover building, aka FBI Headquarters
This was the number one item on my ‘must do’ list. I had to see where Warren worked, and hubby and I had lunch in a little bakery café across the road from the main entrance (by accident, honestly!). I had a real opportunity to watch people go in and out of the building and the amount of security they used. I didn’t make detailed notes or anything like that - I’m not silly - but it gave me a real world view of the everyday life around the FBI HQ. Oh, and it gave me the chance to have my photo taken with a copy of Roses outside!
Old Ebbitt Grill
I send Beth and Warren to this restaurant for dinner early on in the next White Rose book and I really wanted to have a meal there. Another thing that didn’t disappoint! The place was gorgeous, just the kind of restaurant I could picture my characters eating at. We walked from the area of the FBI headquarters to the restaurant – perhaps a walk that Warren does to meet Beth for dinner.
The National Mall
On our first day in DC we walked part of the Mall. It’s a place that is used day and night by the people in the area and again I had no trouble imagining Beth and Warren strolling along under the trees. The Mall was in a part of their story that got cut from the first version of Roses, but it will make an appearance in the future.
In particular, the FBI exhibition. It was interesting to look at the displays they had there and read about the work of the FBI. I may have bought a few FBI items from the Newseum store while we were there…
There are three places on my list to go. The first is the National Arboretum, and in particular, Fern Valley. Readers of Roses may remember this is where Beth and Warren had their wedding. Hubby and I are also going to revisit the WWII Memorial on the Mall, which also plays a role in the next White Rose book. We have done a ‘Monuments by Night’ tour (fantastic, even if it was drizzling most of the way), so we briefly saw it lit up at night, but I want a better look. The other thing I plan to do is spend part of a day exploring the Crystal City area. I want to see the shops, the parks, the streets, and take loads of photos.
Non-writing stuff that might become writing stuff one day..
We did a tour of the Pentagon this morning. Wow! No, I’m not planning to write a story based in or around the Pentagon, but our tour guide gave us lots of information about the history of the Pentagon and a feel for the US military. We also saw where the plane hit on 9/11 – not that there is any sign of it. When it was rebuilt there was a deliberate decision not to leave any scar or mark on the building. I love the defiance of that! This afternoon was Arlington Cemetery. The morning’s tour guide had told us about the Sentinel Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and it was a real privilege to see them in action. Away from the crowds (so many people!), the cemetery was a solemn and beautiful place. The sound of gun salutes echoing several times while we were there reminded us it is a working cemetery. There were 29 funerals held at Arlington today – a sobering thought. The cemetery gave me lots of inspiration and that and the Pentagon tour really brought back the feeling of my time in the Defence Force. An amazing day, all up.
Yesterday, as we sat opposite the FBI having lunch, we witnessed a cavalcade going through the city. First was a police officer on a bike, sirens and lights going, stopping all the traffic. Next came three coaches, with a police car weaving in and around them. The whole street came to a standstill as the cavalcade zoomed past – they weren’t going slowly! Fascinating, and more information stored away for possible future use!
I’ve loved every second of this amazing city so far. Okay, not every second. It was a little scary going into the Pentagon this morning, but once past the various security measures, and given a little time in the waiting area to relax, I started loving it! I can’t begin to express how I feel, seeing the places I’ve written about and channelling my characters to envision them here. It’s been a truly remarkable experience, and it’s not over yet!
Yep, more tears. I always knew it would be an emotional trip.
I'm sitting in New London, Connecticut, because of a Google search.
A few years ago I needed somewhere to set a book I’d been wanting to write and so I typed in ‘US Navy submarine bases’, and I chose Subase New London (just to clarify, the base in actually in Groton – New London is across the river).
So yesterday hubby and I got of the train in New London, checked into our hotel, and went on exploratory walk. It’s not quite how I imagined it would be. The place has a small-town atmosphere to it and was quiet—even on a Saturday. I somehow thought there would be more sailors and coasties (the Coast Guard Academy is here too), and while we saw a couple of obvious military personnel, there was no real sign of the large number of service personnel who live in the area. Okay, so the big coastguard banner was a giveaway, but there wasn’t much more.
It didn’t matter. It was still perfect.
While there are currently two books in the New London range, the third has been written, and I was thrilled to find the café we stopped at for lunch was perfect for one of the scenes. It’s so nice to have something real I can base a description on! I can imagine my characters walking or driving the streets, and seeing the things I see—its wonderful!
Today was the real treat. We caught a taxi out to the Submarine Museum, which is located at one end of the Navy base. The museum exceeded our expectations. They have equipment from a control room you can sit at, three working periscopes that jut out of the roof so you can survey the surrounds, cutaways of submarines, a life-size model of the first submarine – the Turtle, which was used in 1786 to attempt to attach a bomb to a British ship – and of course the USS Nautilus, the US Navy’s first nuclear powered submarine. It was fun (and squeezy) winding out way around the inside! I thought we might be there for a couple of hours, but it was over three hours before we left. Well worth the visit.
What really made it special was standing on the Nautilus and looked out at parts of the base. I couldn’t see much, but I did see the building Nell works in, and the roofs of some of the base recreational places (coming in the third book). The docks where the subs tie up was also partially visible. I soaked as much of it up as I could – the sights, sounds, and the knowledge of where I was. It has been a wonderful, incredible day. And yes, I shed a couple of tears. A dream has come true.
Next up is Washington DC!
It’s been a long wait. For years I’ve viewed images online and logged into traffic cameras and Google maps to see the places I write about, watch the people, the traffic, the environment. Each time I did so a longing to visit ached in my heart. It was almost painful to experience them from afar, but I kept doing it—for research and to feed the longing to be there. I’ve seen glimpses of the Presidential procession after the inauguration, a blizzard smother Washington DC in its white blanket, a police van positon itself for a blockade, and hundreds of people go about their daily lives. And I’ve wanted to walk amongst them.
Choosing DC as the location for the White Rose series was an accident. It just happened. The story in my head just developed in the setting, and that was that. I chose Crystal City as the location of my character’s home as it had the underground infrastructure I needed for the plot, and now I’ve chosen it for our DC base during our trip.
New London was the result of a Google search of US Navy submarine bases. As simple as that. The moment I found out there was a museum which is home to the first nuclear submarine and one end of the base, I had to go there too.
What do I expect? I expect to find things to be different to what I imagine, but the same. I expect to add layers to the settings – how they smell, the light, the sounds – it will be a natural extension of what I already know.
What would I love to happen? An unexpected offer of a tour of Subbase New London (won’t happen), to meet active serving submariner (possible), to meet an FBI agent (not sure if I really want that, but I sort of do), see a submarine go past in the Thames River at New London (possible), a tour of an FBI facility (not under arrest, but as a visitor – again, not going to happen), and to be able to absorb as much as I can about the places and the people who live there.
I almost can’t believe it’s going to happen. If you ever wanted proof that dreams can come true, here you go.
Three days to go, and then I’ll be heading off to the US.
I’ve put a lot of thought into what to pack when it comes to writing things. I need to be able to write if the inspiration hits, but I don’t want bulky laptops. I’ll also need to be able to record impressions and ideas, for both past and future stories, but I don’t want to be lugging a large bag around each day. So here’s what I’ve come up with as my writer travelling kit:
iPad mini and Bluetooth keyboard
Not perfect, but with the right apps on the iPad it works well for not only general writing, but for drafting and posting blog posts. The best thing is they are small and fairly light. These will be for use in the hotel. They may be light, but I still don’t want to drag them everywhere I go.
Probably the most important thing apart from a pen. I expect to be battered by ideas and thoughts. I want to note down how places look, sound, and smell, the movement of people, the shops and streets, and anything else that grabs my attention. With a notebook in my bag I can write down impressions before they escape.
I’ll be taking lots of writing specific photos. With a large part of the trip dedicated to visiting the places I’ve written about, I will take many, many photos. I’ll also use photos to remind myself of places when writing future stories, so there will be general streetscapes, photos of random buildings, parks, shops, etc. I want to capture the everyday as well as the spectacular. My camera is a part of my phone, and as my phone is a Sony Xperia, it is 20 megapixel camera – more than double the quality of an iPhone. Quite sufficient for my needs.
I’m paranoid about backing up my work. Not only that, but I’d hate to get all of those fabulous photos only to lose them! Online and USB backups are set and ready to go.
Do you really think I’m going to go all that way and not take a couple of my books for photo opportunities? Seeing Red in New London, and Roses outside the FBI Headquarters - at least!
I suppose the last thing I should say is tissues. This is going to be one heck of an emotional journey as far as my writing goes, and there will be tears. I get teary just thinking about some of the things I hope to see!
Just over one week to go.
It’s hard for me to believe the time is here and I’m about to embark on a wonderful, emotional journey. I’m getting teary thinking about the places we will go and the things I will see.
This whole trip happened because I was so tired of seeing Washington DC from a distance. The places I write about, the places my characters see—the desire to see them in person became too much. The result? My announcement that we were going to find a way to go. And we did! After more than a year of waiting, the dream is about to become reality.
I promised an itinerary, and here it is:
Hubby and I have set up a special page on Facebook (Cliffords Gone Travelling) to which we will upload photos daily. I’ll also be posting on my writer Facebook page, and doing blog posts.
All I have to do now is wait, but not for much longer.
The Tasmanian Writers and Readers Festival was everything I hoped it would be, and nothing like I expected it to be.
The two master classes I attended were worth every cent. The fiction writing one reinforced many things I knew, and showed me lots of things I didn’t. Or should I say it showed me things I knew, but hadn’t acknowledged I knew—those vague snippets of information that sit in the subconscious and act without me realising. It’s good to have the out in the open, so to speak.
The travel writing class. Wow. Just wow. The class was taught by Tim Cope, who had spent two and a half years riding across Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan to the Danube. He gave a small grabs of the story as he explained how his editor helped him to shape his writing and give it focus and theme. I was impressed how Tim gave credit where it was due, sharing his (often harsh) critiques with us to help us grow in our writing. He never once implied writing beautifully had come naturally to him, and freely acknowledged the work of his editor in teaching him the craft. I now have so many ideas for my upcoming trip to the States. I can visualise a companion book to my two series; a story of discovering the places that are familiar to me because of my writing, and connecting my travel to the stories in my books.
One the real highlights was meeting Tigon, Tim Cope’s dog. He was given to Tim in Kazakhstan, and travels Australia with Tim whenever possible. Tigon slept for the first part of the class, and then woke so he could make the rounds of all the attendees, collecting pats and back scratches.
Probably the biggest thing I learned from the whole festival is to seize opportunities when they come along. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not big on doing writing classes, but if I hadn’t gone to the ones I did, I would have missed so much.
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My thoughts on writing, the research I do, and what interests and inspires me as a writer.
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