it’s not easy writing true stories – even bits of the truth inserted into the novel you’re working on – as I have found. But sometimes you can’t help it. It can be helpful, sad, happy, cathartic.
When I first started out being published [I had been writing for many years before then] I was persuaded to write romantic ‘shorts’. After a lot of digging in my heels, insisting that I was not a romance writer and preferred suspense, I gave in. Getting inspiration, for me, was the hardest thing to do – no problem with the suspense. Now, of course, I marry the two and am finally succeeding [hopefully] towards writing the out and out suspense. When my late agent told me that I had turned the saga he wanted into a wartime thriller you can guess how thrilled I was. That book, of course, was The Glory Girls  which had one of my three great-aunts ‘sort of’ in it.
Long before The Glory Girls, I ploughed on gainfully with my novellas, but, to the surprise of my writer friends who, at that time, only wrote romance, these shorts were accepted and well received. One of my favourites – well, even writers have their own favourites which they have written – was Valley of Brave Hearts . This was inspired by my first dog, Bertie  a most beautiful cross beagle and collie who came from an animal shelter at the age of 3-4 months.
Bertie was five when we came out to France to live and the local farmers used to stop me on our promenade around the field and admire him. I was always relieved that they went away happy with all fingers intact. Bertie was only friendly once people were inside our house, as long as our guests was ‘doggy’ people. He was my protector. Despite his ‘issues’ I loved him to bits.
Three weeks after our arrival in France my stepdaughter got married. I was supposed to go and put him into a shelter recommended by the only person we knew here in France at that time. I knew the minute I saw the place and the people running it that there was a chance I would never see Bertie again. I cried all the way home and my husband decided that the best answer was for me not to go to the wedding and stay here with Bertie, which I did – and thank heavens.
He came out of the shelter less than 24 hours later, soaked in stale urine and with a huge haematoma on one of his back feet. I told the vet that it was a tumour, but he refused to believe it and treated it as a cyst. There were numerable operations – I had to spend a whole month dressing the wound on my own with Bertie’s head clamped between my bare feet – I thank goodness that I still have all my fingers. The vet was amazed at how well I had done. Unfortunately, the ‘cycst’ soon turned into cancer and he had to have a total amputation. But he could still chase next door’s cat over a high wall and lived until he was 15. I still cry when I see him on that last day, having suffered a stroke overnight, dragging himself across the kitchen floor, big smile on his face and making sounds like: ‘Oh, Mum’, look what’s happened now!’
So, he was a perfect secondary character for Valley of Brave Hearts. I cried all the time I was writing it.
I'm not one for making public appearances or getting involved in public speaking, finding it all a bit stressful. However, in the last ten days I've given a 20 minute talk on my writing to an audience of English readers and attended a French book festival, sporting most of my recently published books - on of which [Heritage de la Guerre] - is in French. The first was quite enjoyable. The second made me feel like a fish out of water and nerves made me forget my camera. My photographer husband was so anxious to get back to sport on the telly that he forgot his camera too. I'm hoping that my fellow-writer friend Ruth Hartley will send me some photos, so watch this space. I've put it all down to experience and lesson well-learned.