• Between a rock and a hard place: what was it like in the 30s? Part One

    Madeleine Carroll: The 39 Steps (Hitchcock 1938). She was once the highest paid actress in the world and in 1938 earned £250,000.

    I’m fascinated by the 1930s. That’s why I write a series of murder mysteries set in the 1930s and featuring Dottie Manderson, a young female amateur detective, as the protagonist. I wanted to show just how different life was for everyone, not just young women, in the 1930s. I’m writing from a British perspective, as that is my own nationality and my research and writing centres around this, but the era presented both challenges and successes for many nations around the world. Let’s go back to Britain in the 1930s. What was life like for the majority of people? It was very much a time of transition. Things were still getting back to normal after the war, as villages and towns slowly rebuilt themselves literally and figuratively. Attitudes were poles apart, with very ‘modern’ liberal ideas sitting at the same dinner table as conventional, very reactionary, right wing beliefs.

    To set the scene for this inter-war period: the gaiety and extravagance of the 20s was over. The Great War, as WWI was known, was becoming more distant, and the Second World War was as yet undreamed of. In fact, there was a common consensus regarding the Great War that ‘it could never happen again’. It was ‘great’ in the sense of huge and terrible, not in our modern sense of brilliant and something admirable. Even language has changed since then! It’s no exaggeration to say that millions of lives were changed forever. There were an estimated 40 million casualties, a little less than half of whom died, the rest were injured, many very seriously. 40 million. How could such an incomprehensibly vast sum of people die or be injured in the space of just a few short years? Is it any wonder that people, especially the young, were a little bit crazy, a little bit over-exuberant in the 20s? Yet even in the early 30s, there were already the rumblings and murmurings that would lead to a repeat of that terrible disaster.

    While their menfolk went to war, thousands of women left their homes to take on their jobs. For many, working outside the home was a new and liberating experience. But when the war was over, the men came back and they wanted their jobs back. The newly-emancipated women were in many cases reluctant to go home and cook and clean and have babies. They had their own money for the first time, they mixed with other women and learned new skills, often embracing possibilities that had never been available before. How could they give all that up? On both sides of the gender divide, there was social tension over the conflict between a desire to maintain the status quo, and a desire for freedom and equality. This continued to grow throughout the 20s, into the 30s and is still an issue today.

    And let’s not forget that millions of men simply never did come back, and their wives, sweethearts, mothers, daughters and sisters had to become their own breadwinners. It’s not very surprising that they also wanted the same advantages as men, in terms of work, pay, sick pay, working conditions, opportunities for advancement and education. Women had won the right to vote in 1918, following many years of campaigning by both men and women. But the right to vote was only for women over 30 who were married. (Or who were voted parliamentary representatives, an almost, but not quite, impossible task) Was it presumed, as was often said, ‘your husband/father will tell you how to vote’? It wasn’t until 1928 that everyone, regardless of gender or marital status, was allowed to vote, and this came down to everyone over 18 in 1967. But in the 1930s there was still the sense of something new, something experimental, and many women either didn’t want the responsibility of political decision-making, or lacked the information they needed to make an informed choice. Women began to move into political life, but still very much, generally speaking, in a supporting role. Nancy Astor was the first British MP to take her seat in Parliament in 1919, with Margaret Bondfield, a Labour politician, becoming a cabinet minister in 1924.

    People of colour and of different backgrounds were, in the majority of cases, socially separate from the white Christian majority. Again this continues today, doesn’t it, though it seems incredible to discriminate against someone due to skin colour. Reading the popular literature of the day could lead you to think there were no people of colour in Britain in the 1930s. But there have been vibrant non-white communities living in Britain for over two thousand years. We just didn’t admit it. People of colour were treated with hostility and resentment, and opportunities were often denied them through financial penalties or social stigma and racism. But here too, there were pressing demands for social change, and many welfare and interest group sprang up, working to change attitudes and lives practically and politically, for example, The League of Coloured Peoples and The Negro Welfare Association, to name two. However, there were successful non-white professionals such as lawyers as early as the 1850s, for example, John Thorpe and in the 1860s, Monmohon Ghosh. (More info available from the Society of Black Lawyers) And the Jazz age (1920s and 1930s) was enabling black musicians, artists, entertainers and actors to produce and perform their art, albeit without the same freedom and acceptance of white people.

    Next week: Life in the 1930s: Technology and Fashion.


  • What was the ‘Golden Age’ of British mystery writing?

    We sometimes hear or read this term, ‘so-and-so was a Golden Age author’ or ‘in the Golden Age style’. But what was the Golden Age? When was it, what did it mean, who were the exponents of the Golden Age, and is it still relevant today? Here is a (necessarily VERY brief) overview of the term and its legacy.

    When was it? Well, according to some sources I’ve studied, (Encyclopedia Mysteriosa by William DeAndrea, Google and Wikipedia, obviously 🙂 Twentieth Century Crime Fiction by Lee Horsley and The Oxford Companion to English Literature edited by Margaret Drabble) there is a general consensus that The Golden Age of mystery/detective fiction began in 1920 and ended in 1939 at the outbreak of World War ll.

    What was it, and why was it new or different? Although there had been notable forays into detective fiction in the nineteenth century eg Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins to name just a couple, a lot of fiction had been in the form of short stories, usually with an ‘improving’ moral or message, or as novella-length, often rather highbrow, works. Essays and poetry, philosophy and criticism had been popular for decades. But the growth of a literate public, the rise of libraries and more disposable income, led to a desire for lighter, more accessible works of a purely entertaining nature. Mysteries became socially acceptable too, and were enjoyed by the well-to-do and well-educated, as well as by working class men and women.

    Mass market fiction or pulp fiction was no longer a thing to be scorned, but became more generously regarded. The detective element of the story transformed it into an intellectual exercise. I would perhaps suggest that, following the trauma of World War l, detective stories provided a means of sanitising violence and putting danger at arm’s length, and keeping it under control. The genre required that good would triumph and order be restored at the end of the story.

    Detective fiction of this time became all about the puzzle. Readers were very sophisticated and demanding, requiring more and more complex riddles to entertain them. This cerebral pastime acquired a kind of moral kudos, described by Phillip Guedalla, a well-known British writer and barrister of the time, as ‘the natural recreation of the noble mind’. Others said that it had become ‘feminised’, doing away with the macho, aggressive ‘male’ approach of might and power, with both readers and writers exhibiting the traditionally female qualities of intuition, insight, and I might add, craftiness. Perhaps that is why so many of the most successful authors of the era were women.

    So in these works, the emphasis was on cerebral/intellectual puzzle rather than physical action and strength. Gore and violence was contained, and mainly ‘off-stage’; there was a defined resolution; and the reader expected to read a story peppered with clues and red herrings that she or he could solve alongside the detective. The emphasis was on the pursuit of Justice and Truth, and doing what was Right. There was a moral high-ground to be held. As Dorothy L Sayers detective, Lord Peter Wimsey says, ‘…in detective stories, virtue is always triumphant, they’re the purest form of literature we have.’ (quoted, 20th century crime, p52)

    Who were these Golden Age authors? Many of them came, flourished briefly and went again, but some of the biggest sellers in crime fiction today are authors from that era. Here are just a few:

    Agatha Christie – often considered the foremost leader of the genre, she both established and contravened the definition of the classic mystery. She was often accused of ‘not playing fair’ with the reader, never more so than in the (grudgingly admiring) outcry following the release of her book The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in 1926. She famously began writing detective fiction as a bet with her sister. The Mysterious Affair At Styles was her first published novel in 1920, and featured Hercule Poirot who became arguably the most recognisable sleuth in detective fiction, on paper, and on the TV and film screen.

    Ngaio Marsh – New Zealand born, she famously wrote her first murder mystery out of boredom. In 1934 the release of A Man Lay Dead led to 30+ other novels, all featuring Inspector Roderick Alleyn. The books were turned into a popular TV series. Marsh was also renowned for her work in the theatre. She was a grand master of the Mystery Writers of America, and new books continued to be published until the 1980s.

    Nicholas Blake – pen name of Cecil Day Lewis; wrote poetry, criticism and essays, as well as twenty detective mysteries towards the end of the Golden Age era, 16 of which feature Nigel Strangeways, a consulting detective who helps both police and government as required. First of these A Question of Proof 1935.

    Anthony Berkley – a writer and the founder of the Detection Club in 1928 whose aim was to preserve and promote the classic detective story. Wrote as A B Cox, Anthony Berkley and Francis Iles. As Francis Iles he wrote some of his best known works, Malice Aforethought in 1931, and in 1932 Before The Fact which was filmed as Suspicion with Alfred Hitchcock as the director.

    Freeman Willis Crofts – born and raised in Ireland, author of The Cask 1920 which was a huge success, selling 100,000 copies. He was one of the first authors to focus on police procedure and not merely the enthusiastic amateur detective. This was the same year as AC’s Mysterious Affair Styles and is taken as the landmark year to commence the era. He wrote other books, collaborating with the authors of the detection club and also a book of short stories.

    Other well-known authors of the era included: G K Chesterton, Gladys Mitchell, Dorothy L Sayers, Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham, Michael Innes, and many more. In the United States, there were also authors writing in the genre, although here the ‘hard-boiled’ mystery quickly became popular. Here are just a few of those authors:

    S S Van Dine – he is mainly remembered for his detective Philo Vance, but there were other works. Van Dine was embarrassed by his authorship of popular fiction as he had higher aspirations, and he used his pen name to conceal his identity for a number of years. The first mystery novel to feature Philo Vance was The Benson Murder Case in 1926, followed by more works within a year or two, making him one of the USA’s top selling authors at that time, and his works were turned into films.

    John Dickson Carr famously termed detective fiction as “the grandest game in the world”.

    In 1935 his novel The Hollow Man (The Three Coffins in the US) was published and it is still considered his finest work. He was a master of the locked room puzzle. he often used English settings and even characters, for example his best known detectives were Brits named Dr Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale, but there are others, and books set in other nations. He also wrote stand-alone novels:  such as The Burning Court which appeared in 1937, in all he produced over sixty mystery and historic novels, in addition to short stories and plays under the name John Dickson Carr and as Carter Dickson.

    Ellery Queen – Was actually two men, writing under the pseudonyms of Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee. Their first book was The Roman Hat Mystery published in 1929; subsequent books shared the title style, being all ‘The something something mystery’, which in many ways is still the standard form of title today. There were over thirty books in all, plus other series eg Drury Lane series etc, and other pen names. And notably, the hugely successful TV series, and the magazine.

    What is the legacy of the Golden Age of detective fiction? Currently Crime, Thrillers and Mystery makes up one of the largest categories in fiction, apart from possibly romance. You can see endless variations on the detective theme from crime noir to cosy, with subgenres in legal, hard-boiled, gay and lesbian, spy, medical, political, police procedural, and even paranormal mystery. If the parameters have changed in regard to content and character types, if attitudes have changed, and settings have become exotic, or even practically a character in itself, we are still as in love with the puzzles presented by murder mysteries as those readers of the 1920s and 30s. We love to curl up in an armchair and lose ourselves in a mystery where the Reader is in fact the main detective.




  • Lenny Kravitz and me

    As soon as the calendar is turned to the page for September, like many people, I begin to think of Autumn. Yet it’s still technically summertime, and the meteorologists have promised us another heat-wave, so really the year is less advanced than I imagine. We’re still in the third quarter, after all.

    But we can’t help looking forward, can we? We have a tendency to push ahead a bit faster than we should, always looking to the future, the next thing, always rounding up. Do we have a primitive urge to be cautious going out to meet trouble before it reaches our home? We seem to over-prepare these days (think how much you buy for Christmas or any time the supermarkets are shut for just one day), and we have a tendency to expect and assume the worst, whilst professing to hope for the best.

    For several months now, I’ve been thinking of myself as 58. I try to crowbar it into as many conversations as I can, as if I were 90: ‘I’m 58, you know!’  Partly it’s because I can hardly believe it myself. On the inside I feel like I’m still 14? 16? 30? But in actual fact, I’m not 58 until mid-October. So, I’m still 57, yet I actually only embraced the concept of being 57 when I was—you’ve guessed it–561∕2. I know I’m not the only one. Why do we do things like that? Is it so har dot be in the present?

    Remember that old song Enjoy Yourself? The line goes, Enjoy yourself, It’s later than you think. What a depressing thought. It’s already too late. Wow. Do we want to believe that? If so, we might as well give up now; what’s the point of trying?

    I’m trying to avoid the usual clichés, ‘take time to smell the roses’, ‘it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey’, but it’s quite difficult to do that and get my point across. (Yes I do have one…even if it’s a different one to my planned finishing point.)

    I have a stubborn streak. I think most writers do. We need it to get us through all the demands of writing, rewriting, polishing, revising, rewriting, editing… part of me says, it’s never too late. There’s always more to come, a bit more you can do. Like a soap opera, the story never concludes, the writers just add another episode. Like the Lenny Kravitz song, It ain’t over til it’s o-o-o-over.

    I’m going to live my life, and end on a cliffhanger. On my gravestone, I want the words: ‘To be continued…’


  • Author Interview – Paul Nelson, young adult fantasy author and other genres

    This week I thought it would be nice to take a break from ‘how-to’ and to showcase the work of an Indie author. 

    Paul Nelson is the author of Saving Worms After The Rain, and the Fisher’s Autism Trilogy. Paul is an advocate of autism and his main characters are autistic. It is Paul’s desire to open up the eyes of all of us to what it is to be autistic and to break through the preconceptions about autism and the way autistic people are treated.

    I recently started reading Saving Worms After The Rain, because the title grabbed me. I have an issue with rain-wrecked worms but as an adult I’ve come to control it, though I’m still really careful to step around them. The Fisher’s Autism Trilogy are also on my TBR pile. I can highly recommend these very original books, as they are warm, funny and very human.

    Now, over to Paul:

    Thanks for agreeing to be tortured in this way, Paul, I have a few basic questions for you, if you don’t mind. Hopefully these will help people to see the man behind the books!

    Q1. What kind of books do you write?

    I write fiction that includes those with disabilities, especially autism. Saving Worms After the Rain is an adult mystery with historical elements, and the Fisher’s Autism Trilogy are aimed at young adults and are mainly fantasy.

    Q2. What were your earliest influences? What did you read as a child?

    Reading was hard for me as a child. I think I have ADHD. When I got older, I read lots of short stories by Truman Capote in school. I also love John Steinbeck and Anne Rice.  I read a lot about spirituality…Richard Rohr and Buddhism.

    Q3. What are you working on at the moment? What can we look forward to in the future from you?

    I’m working on a novel about a young woman with an autistic brother. It’s historical and fantasy combined. They find a time portal and travel back in time. It’s about the Susquehanna River Valley, where I live.

    Q4. What are your favourite authors? What are you reading now?

    Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Richard Rohr, Anne Rice. I’m not reading too much right now. I’m trying to spend most of my time writing. 

    I know what you mean, I don’t read much when I’m writing either, it seems too much of a distraction, and I’m worried about bringing other authors’ voices and styles into my work. Plus I just don’t have the mental energy!

    Now on to Q5. What do you do when you’re not reading?

    I spend lots of time caring for my mom, who is 86. My autistic son also needs a lot of my time. I make sure I walk for at least 40 minutes a day. It’s good for the body and the spirit and mind. I do a lot of writing in my head when I walk. I also love movies. I wrote a screenplay of my first book. My son and I go to movies quite a bit.

    Q6. What is your writing process?

    I like to write in my head first. When I sit down to start writing a rough draft, I imagine what I want to write as a movie scene. It’s like storyboarding in my head. After I write all the scenes, I go back and embellish, add descriptive passages and link the scenes together. I’m a very visual person.

    That’s an interesting approach – I find it difficult to write until I’ve created a book cover – I need that visual stimulus to bring my story alive in my head, but I don’t do the full on storyboarding. Maybe I should try that.

    Thank you so much for sharing your writing process with us. I’m really looking forward to your new book – and all your subsequent books out there in the big wide world.

    About the Author:

    Paul Nelson is a former music teacher who has written a trilogy of fantasy fiction books inspired by his 19-year-old son Michael, who was born with autism. Michael has a hard time communicating on his own, but Paul knows his son has a story to tell. Paul wants to show the world that people with autism are not ‘badly behaved’, ‘badly brought up’ or ‘stupid’, but are creative, intelligent, compassionate people with something to say. On top of that, his books are a breath of fresh air. The books are available as a set in one volume called FISHER’S AUTISM TRILOGY, or as individual volumes, entitled: Through Fisher’s Eyes, Dark Spectrum and A Problem With The Moon.  In addition to this trilogy, there is also a novel for adults, Saving Worms After The Rain, which Paul describes as a mixture of mystery and the history of central Pennsylvania. You can follow Paul on his author page on Amazon.com or on Twitter.


  • Going Indie – part four

    First of all, many apologies for the delay of this post – life, eh, what can you do? Never enough hours…

    We’ve been talking about self-publishing, what it is, what it entails. This week I shall try to briefly touch on Keywords, Promo, and the thorny issue of ‘Do I need a website/blog?’ Please bear in mind there isn’t room in one (or indeed, four) blog posts to tell you everything you need to know, I’m trying to give an overview, not a definitive guide. But there are LOADS of eBooks, paper books, blogs and chat-rooms to help with these issues, and all the publishing platforms have their own FAQ/How-to/Help etc pages to guide you through the process. Or you could ask an Indie author specific questions and get specific answers.

    So after weeks and months (possibly even years) of agonising, slaving and panicking, you’re finally ready to press ‘Upload’. It doesn’t take long for the cogs to whirr and for the publishing platform of your choice to announce Ta-da! Manuscript successfully uploaded! or words to that effect. Your next reaction, after the euphoria has died down, is likely to be Help!!!

    Because now, you need to put in your keywords.

    What are keywords? There are different types of keywords – words you use to categorise your book to slot it neatly into your genre or type of work on the publishing platform/shop (the BISAC category); words you use in your blurb to help with SEO and make your book more discoverable; or words you use in your advertising campaigns.

    Put simply, they are the words potential readers type in to the Internet (all of it) or a specific site such as Amazon, to find a book. As simple as that. So they might type in, Caron Allan, author extraordinaire, or, far more likely they will type in: Murder Mystery or Chick-Lit or Western Romance or something of that sort. A keyword is a kind of catch-all mini-phrase to help them find their book, because as we all now know, online book retailers are in many ways a sophisticated search engine.

    Or to put it another way, all the books that are available have been filed away, but you need to find a way to recognise and retrieve them. Now someone could type in ‘Once Upon A Time’ by Timothy R Author, but if Timothy R Author is a newbie who has self-published his exciting new work just this week, it isn’t very likely any reader would know of his book. So how will he reach his market?

    If you are writing in a genre category, you probably already know your category. If you are writing something that doesn’t fit snugly into one category, then you will need to use multiple keywords. For example, say you’re writing a murder mystery but your detective is actually a vampire… then you might choose one category as:

    Fiction – Paranormal – Vampires

    and another as:

    Fiction – Mystery & Detective – Police Procedural

    Fortunately you have the option to use a number of categories, usually two or three, when you are setting up your book on your chosen publishing platform.

    When writing your blurb, don’t just give a brief plot outline but mention your categories/genres, and descriptive terms such as ‘traditional’ or ‘cosy/cozy’ or ‘action-packed’ or maybe mention it if there is a big twist at the end, that kind of thing. This will be picked up by search engines. Books very often have subtitles these days, such as ‘a gripping thriller that will leave your breathless’ – it’s all to do with discoverability.

    Advertising campaigns are too large a ‘thing’ for me to mention here other than to say, when setting keywords, I find the names of other authors of my genre more effective in generating sales than ‘amateur sleuth’, ‘female protagonist’, etc. Try to keep up-to-date with your genre.

    Do I need a website?

    New authors often ask, ‘But do I really need a website or a blog?’ The answer, you might be surprised to discover, is ‘No!’. No, you do not need a blog.

    You only need a blog if:

    • you want to connect with other authors,
    • you want to connect with readers
    • or you want to sell books.

    So yes, sorry Hon, you DO absolutely need a blog. Otherwise how will readers, authors etc, find out about you? How will you keep everyone in the universe up-to-date with your news? One of the first things you need as an author, is a blog. And yes, you will need to update it regularly – at least a couple of times a month, if not weekly. A lot of people post new material daily. I don’t have that kind of time, but I’ve got a suspicion that if I did, I would increase my following really quickly. I’m not the greatest at posting new stuff, life just gets in the way for me all too often at the moment, but I try to add a blog post at least every fortnight, and preferably weekly. It can be hard to think of things to say, but don’t sweat it, get hints and tips from everyone, ask yourself what you would want to know about an author, then put that on your own site. You can schedule posts in advance, say if you know you’re going to be busy or away on your hols or something fun like that.

    And yes, you ALWAYS need a picture for your blog posts!!!! Get royalty free images from Pixabay or other similar sites. Some sites require payment to download an image. Pixabay ‘suggests’ a payment in the form of a ‘buy coffee’ button, but you don’t have to. However, to my mind, if you are using an image, for example on a book cover, where you could potentially make money, possibly quite a lot of money, I think it’s only fair to acknowledge the source of the image and send some ‘coffee money’ to the wonderful person who enabled you to create your book cover. It’s a business for them as well as for you, respect their time and effort.

    ‘But I don’t know anything about blogging!’ you cry. Welcome to the Indie World, where you can learn to do anything for next to nothing. Your go-to site should be Indies Unlimited, those wonderful guys and gals tell you how to do everything. You should also sign up to Alli – the Alliance of Independent Authors – they have a lot of very helpful material too, and are working to raise the profile and professional standing – and quality – of Indie Authors and their works.

    ‘But I don’t know html or how to ‘do’ websites,’ you wail. No. Neither did any of us, and now look. Seriously, if I can do it, you can do it. It takes a wee bit of patience and a bit of perseverance, but you’ve got those, right, because you are, after all, an Indie author, those are the main commodities we all have in abundance.

    The good news is, there are loads of books out there, loads of sites out there and loads of lovely Indie authors out there who will help you. And you absolutely can do it all for nothing, or next to nothing. You can get a WordPress blog for nothing – they have loads of free templates. (see here: https://wordpress.com/themes/free )

    And there are other blog providers out there (of whom I know nothing, because I’ve had and loved my WordPress blog for five years or so). WordPress have a massive amount of info and how-to guides and even do mini online courses.


    Ooh tricky. Yes, you see, you need to promote yourself. Don’t be coy, be realistic. If you want to sell your books, you need to tell people about them, That’s what promotion is. It’s not boasting. It’s not lying. It’s not ‘cashing in’ or being materialistic. It’s being smart and helping readers to find a book they will love. There are millions of readers around the globe. And there are (I’m sure) millions of books. How are readers going to hear about your book if YOU don’t tell them about it? Yes I know you’d rather stay at home and write peacefully; I know that you’re an introvert and get shy, embarrassed, tongue-tied and stammery when you have to tell someone that you have written a book, and possibly, if they’re not too busy, and they don’t think it’s too expensive, could they please buy a copy. I’m the same! Yes, really, I’m very uncomfortable telling people about my books and asking them to buy one. I feel like I’m busking in a shopping mall or begging on a street corner. BUT. How else can we do it? Mr Amazon might do a wee bit of advertising on your behalf – but it’s up to you to do it.

    So use social media to tell everyone about your books. Make some snazzy little graphics on Canva (I’ve told you before about the wonderful Canva – they do templates the perfect size for Instagram or a Facebook post or a Twitter post etc) and post them from time to time – don’t bombard the social media world with promos and ads mornign noon and night – mix them with other types of subtle promo – pics of your cat, hints, tips, news, likes and retweets/reshares of others’ output. Pay for a few Facebook ads (you need a Facebook Page to do this…a profile/timeline doesn’t work quite as well.) And maybe do paid ads on Twitter or Google too if finances allow. You can set a daily or project budget limit to avoid nasty surprises. You could put leaflets through doors, give away a few freebies at fetes, fairs, galas, book-type events, jumble sales, craft fairs, car boot sales… Ask your loved ones to big you up to everyone they know. Phone or write to your local newspaper, library, book group, community centre, school (if writing for kids…), radio station and so on. Contact everyone you can think of, tell them about your book. you may need to supply a few sample copies, but it’s all good, right?

    A quick word about the promo people you see advertising on Twitter especially – some of them have now discontinued. I’ve tried a few, and can honestly say they didn’t work for me. But they may work for you, especially if they don’t charge very much to advertise your books. They may boast that they have 100K+ members or followers or whatever. The thing to bear in mind is, most of these followers are other authors trying to sell their books. Take a look and see how many retweets these ads get on average. Usually the only people who see them are people trying to sell their own book, and you will be lucky to get more than a handful of retweets or comments. If the fee is low, do it, otherwise, I wouldn’t bother.

    There are some promo sites who charge a lot and offer big results. I haven;t tried any of them. Some of them have entry requirements such as a level of sales or reviews/ratings. What I say is, go in with your eyes open, and try everything you can afford, see what works and what doesn’t.

    It takes time to build a following. And it takes time to build your author platform. You need patience, and you need to keep on keeping on. Meanwhile, play nice with the other authors you ‘meet’, don’t compare yourself to others and don’t ever, ever give up. Go for it.


  • Going Indie – part three

    Welcome to part three of what was originally a one-part blog post. There’s another part next week too…there just seems to be so much to say on this topic, and, I’m not quite sure how it happened, I’ve gone from my general feelings about being an Indie author to an actual nuts-and-bolts how-to… I’m just going with it now, too late to stop.


    Formatting is important, I can’t stress how important actually, but if you’re on a budget, it is actually not that difficult to do this yourself. I would never pay someone to do this for me. There are books to tell you how to do it, and numerous internet posts and docs to tell you the same. I use two: I use Indies Unlimited for all how-to info and technical stuff. Seriously, if you don’t follow Indies Unlimited then you’re very very naughty indeed, because they have information about EVERYTHING you will ever need to know. Here’s a link to their formatting stuff:


    I also use a paperback book I bought a few years ago now. It’s by Michael Boxwell and it’s called Make an Ebook. If you are buying a book, especially a printed book, to tell you how to do this kind of thing, do check the date of publication and the scope of the content. There are loads of books out there, and a lot of them are seriously out of date, as I have discovered to my cost.

    The basic watchwords of formatting are, for Amazon, keep it consistent, keep it simple. I’ve put together a kind of crib-sheet with my tips on formatting a book for KDP publication and for Createspace. It doesn’t cover everything, and I assume you are reasonably good with IT and word processing. Hopefully it will help. You can read it here. If there is anything I’ve missed out that you really need to know, please send me your questions! Or if I’ve made a mistake again – we need to know this stuff!

    Blurb – how long, how many versions?

    Don’t confuse the number of characters with the number of words. It’s best to check your limit by opening your text document, and in Word, you can find the character total by clicking on the little bit at the bottom left of your screen where the number of words is displayed. This will bring up a box which shows the character numbers too.

    You need four versions of your book blurb:

    one Amazon Ad promo length (140 characters – that’s REALLY short)

    one Twitter new length (240 characters, quite a decent, usable length now)

    standard ‘short’ publishing/sales platform blurb length, around 400 characters

    long version – can be anything from 1500 to 4000 characters. This will appear on your Amazon product page, any other book distributer product page ie Draft2Digital/Nook/Barnes and Noble/Kobo/Apple or anywhere else you choose to put it – on your blog, website, Goodreads etc.

    End matter/Front matter

    These are: Copyright page, dedication, other books by this author (useful to have!), and about the author. I also include a sneak peek of the next book if I can, and there can be a contents list at the front or an index at the back.

    Some authors advocate putting all ‘front’ matter at the back, as it means that the Search Inside function on Amazon gives the reader more ‘meat’ in terms of reading material from the actual publication, and not mainly ‘filler’ in the form of front matter which can be unhelpful in making the choice whether to buy a book or not. And it can be annoying if you’re trying to get a feel for a book and have to wade through pages of posh reviews that are no help at all. I personally do a bit of both. I keep the copyright and dedication at the front, and the contents page, and a character list if I’m using one, and the acknowledgments, author’s note, author’s bio and other books bit I stick at the back.

    Write them in advance, so that you don’t delay your publication by having to quickly knock up yet another Word document. Also, you can use these items in subsequent publications with a few simple updates.

    Copyright page

    Yes, you do need a copyright page, don’t ever think you don’t. It can be very short and simple. This is what I use:

    The Mantle of God: a Dottie Manderson mystery by Caron Allan

    Copyright 2016 © Caron Allan

    The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the owner of this work.

    No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including but not limited to: graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any informational storage retrieval system without advanced prior permission in writing from the publisher.

    This is a work of fiction, and is not based on a true story or on real characters. (Unless it is, of course, in which case I’d skip this bit.)

    You can either type copyright in full or get the symbol from the Insert tab of your Word doc. You can change the size to whatever you want, both of the symbol and the copyright statement as a whole. I like to keep it small and so usually select a font size of 8 or 9. You may feel as an Indie author that you don’t need – or deserve (some people have told me this) – to protect your work. That’s (insert profanity of choice here) rubbish. You worked hard and you NEED to protect your author rights. Please don’t be naïve and think it’s unnecessary. Possibly you will find you still get plagiarised; for some books, it seems to be endemic, I don’t know why, and although there are steps you can take, it’s very difficult to stop it completely, as some authors have found to their cost.


    I don’t feel these are useful for fiction eBooks as eReaders remember where you got to, you don’t have to look it up. And very often, authors chapter titles are plain and simple: Chapter One, Chapter Two, etc. If you are publishing a non-fiction, you probably need the contents list.


    Tell people about yourself. Be quirky, be human. Put a face to the name for them. Use this bit also to include your social media contacts and advertise your website or blog.

    You can survive with just one or two versions, a long one and a short one. Ideally though, you need as many biographies as you do blurbs, and of the same kind of length. That way you’re good to go no matter what. Write them in advance, so you don’t have to have a last-minute panic, and update them periodically as your details and available books changes.

    Also by: this is a useful bit to include, as readers can see all your stuff, and even the reading order if appropriate. I also add in a Coming Soon bit on mine to let them know what I’m likely to bring out soon.


    I like to say thanks to a few people or tell them how much I appreciate their help. It’s just a line or two. I like to have it at the front. Anything more lengthy, I turn into an Acknowledgement and have it at the end!

    Contents page

    You can generate a Contents Table page in your Word doc without too much grief. Just, for an eBook, remember to click Format Table and take out the page numbers! If you tweak your manuscript, or make any kind of adjustments, you must remember to Update Table before you upload your document.

    A quick word about Word. If you are planning to upload your word doc to Amazon, your contents page should be fine, but for some reason, some authors prefer to save their Word docs are a pdf and upload that. If you do this, you need to do a whole new contents page as the pages will not be ‘clickable’ in your pdf. It’s a bit of a faff to build a clickable contents page in in pdf doc but it’s not hard, it’s just messy and tedious. If you want to do it, maybe Google it? I don’t have a crib-sheet for that as yet. Personally I recommend uploading a Word doc, it’s just easier all round. However, you need to remember to save your final version as a Word 1995-2003 document as Amazon don’t support the later versions of Word, or at least, last time I looked, they didn’t.


    Next week: Keywords, Promo and Do I need a Website.


  • Going Indie – part two

    As I said last week, I’m a self-published—or Indie—author. This means I do all my own writing stunts, publish my own books and reap the rewards every month from Amazon and, via Draft2Digital, from Nook, Kobo, Apple, etc. But it’s only been the last few months that my rewards have been noteworthy. Before that I used to dream of selling 200 books a month, or in my craziest, most optimistic moments, 500 books!!! Now I am comfortably selling several hundred books a week. Yes, I know, it’s still not megabucks, but give it time. It’s more than I’ve ever earned in my life. If I’ve learned anything as an Indie author, it’s patience! And persistence. And optimism. (This could turn into one of those ‘What did the Romans do for us?’ discussions…)

    I also sell paperbacks online from Amazon in the UK and the rest of the world, and in the US, from Barnes and Noble online as well as Amazon. And they do sell, many people (I’m secretly one of them; my age, I suppose) still prefer to hold a paper book in their hands and turn actual not virtual pages. I’d love to sell paperbacks from high street stores, but it’s not happening at the moment. I could go to a printing firm and get hundreds printed up, but I just don’t want boxes upon boxes of books around my home, and I don’t want to be stuffing jiffy bags all day when I could be writing, or drinking coffee. Nor could I match the price the paperbacks sell at on the Interweb. The postage cost alone makes that a non-starter.

    One huge difference to my ‘wildest dreams writer scenario’ is that I pictured myself as (a much younger, obviously, and cool and OBVIOUSLY gorgeous) a kind of Jessica Fletcher character, pottering about in sensible cardigans and pearls, and solving real-life (non-dangerous) crimes, whilst fitting in the odd bit of typing on a vintage, collectible typewriter.

    Real life usually is more like me struggling to find a reliable internet connection, and trying to remember what I wrote yesterday, or wishing I’d remembered to buy toner for the printer, and wishing I could use my pretty notebook instead of my plain one. Or, as last week, spending seven hours in A & E with my Mum. Obviously (clearly my word of the day) I was glad to do it, she couldn’t have gone alone: she doesn’t know her surname, her date of birth or her address. She certainly doesn’t know her medications and their doses. Actually she doesn’t know me either. But interruptions to routine occur, and last week, I managed very little in the way of new work, which made me depressed. But real life is what gives us our story. Real life is where we fight to get the words down on the page in spite of all the other stuff we have to do. We’re not alone in that. In many ways, as an Indie author we can be more flexible about deadlines and publication dates.

    What else do you as a self-published author need to do apart from writing your book and creating your cover?

    I said last week I do my own editing and proofreading. I still do. I know you’re not supposed to, but I do. I can’t afford to hire someone to do it for me at the moment. I realise that it’s easy to miss a vital typo, and difficult to pick up on waffle, (always easy to rationalise that away) overused words or phrases, or even to be sure that what is clear to you, the author who knows the whole story, is just as clear to the reader who is learning the story a page at a time. That’s quite a tough one. I do have help with the final proofreading stage, and that is invaluable for picking up little annoying bits and pieces, but overall I trust my own instincts, and try to stay calm and focussed, try not to freak out at the enormity of the task, or the very great possibility of people hating my work. I also try to bear in mind George R R Martins’s comment that ‘writing is not a democracy’. That’s why it’s MY book, not someone else’s.

    The editing and proofreading process is far longer and more important than most people realise. I once read that if you don’t hate your book by the time it is published, you haven’t done enough editing. That is so true. By the time I’ve finished everything that needs to be done, part of me dies inside at the thought of reading it once more time. But that’s only temporary. Once your book is genuinely finished, and it’s out there in the big wide world, give yourself a little break, then come back and amaze yourself at how wonderful it is. You will think, wow, is that really my work? Surely I didn’t–couldn’t—write that? It’s a wonderful feeling.

    Editing—actual, practical steps:

    1. Read the whole thing through OUT LOUD to check for typos, meandering, unclear nonsense, missed words and phrases and overused words. I am terrible for overusing So and And! If you use an unusual word, for example, coterie—use it once, not many times. Unusual words will stick in the reader’s brain and annoy them!
    2. Check all character names and descriptions are consistent. Double check all relationships and partners.
    3. Check that all technology, science and social interactions are correct for the time period you are setting them in, or if you are inventing these, make sure they are logical and consistent, and properly explained without tedium.
    4. If you use real places, check you are correct in how you’ve used them—can the action take place in the way you described? Was that place in existence when you say it was? Was the technology, science and social stuff as you ‘think’ it was? Don’t say the beach is sandy if it’s not. Don’t assume there is an old church in the middle of the village. Don’t give a tiny little village its own police department. Readers will know.
    5. Be honest. Does it work? Does each step in your plot follow on logically from the previous one? Is there a believable reason—in your mind at least, readers may not always agree—for why a character acts a certain way? Have you over-explained? Have you under-explained? If it’s not working, admit it and correct it. Do it now before anyone sees it.
    6. Get rid of waffle. Shorten long meandering descriptions and overly-complicated sentences. When You read out loud, you will soon discover those sentences that trip up the reader and mess up the smooth flow of your story. Don’t overuse adverbs. Don’t tag all speeches unless you need to make it clear who is talking. In a dialogue between two people, this will only need to be done sparingly. There is nothing worse for the reader than every speech being tagged. What I mean by that is, you always say who is speaking. You don’t need to do this all the time. Read your work out loud and you will see what is superfluous. Also, don’t use a large variety of euphemisms for ‘said’, etc. Said should be your go-to speech tag. Followed by minimal use of replied, responded and similar words. Please do not use chortled, ejaculated, declared or any of the more emphatic words—they are horrid to read in dialogue. More importantly, they stand out like a sore thumb, ruining your lovely little ‘suspension of belief’ state you have lulled your reader into. Said is invisible, declared is not.
    7. Do a final proofread, out loud preferably, and get someone else (who owes you a massive favour or loves you to the point of obsession) to read the entire thing with you. Correct every single thing: missed commas, extra spaces, inconsistent title fonts, everything. Check every spelling, and all your facts. Don’t tell yourself no one will notice—I guarantee they will. And they will mention it in their reviews.


    Next week: Part three: what do you do next?

  • Going Indie – part one

    I’m a self-published—or Indie—author. And that is no longer something to be lamented or ashamed of, nor has it been for quite a few years. I published my first book in January 2013, and since then have inflicted several more books on the unsuspecting reading public, with many more planned for the future.

    If you are thinking about being an Indie author, or you already are one and are ready to quit and get a ‘real’ job, here is my take on Going Indie. I hope overall, I will encourage rather than discourage you. Shall I say at the outset that I am finally making money? Because yes, I write because I love it, and I love the creative process, but at the same time, I need to live. I need to buy food, notebooks, pay bills and assist my hubby in keeping a roof over our heads. And it has taken the best part of five years to get there, though I’m sure plenty of other people could do it in a shorter period.

    Fully aware of the unbelievably huge learning curve that awaited me, I decided in 2012 to ‘go for it’. How else would I ever see my books in print? How else could I share my words and my worlds with other people? I knew my chances of getting accepted by a publisher were virtually nil—as a creative writing tutor once unhelpfully pointed out to her newly enrolled class, we stood a better chance of getting onto the space programme. Well I was 50 in 2010, so I stood absolutely no chance of going into space (not that I wanted to) so where did that leave me with my dreams of being an author? It was obvious I only had one option available, so I took it, hesitating and afraid, but with a sense of audacity. Did I really dare to do it? Yes, I decided, I did. Oh and by the way, I was still working full time at that point.

    What did I have to learn? The short answer is everything.

    1. I had to learn how to edit and proofread. I read everything I could, did some courses to brush up my grammar skills, I even got a lot of work as a freelance proofreader and editor. I had to learn to do this myself as I couldn’t afford to pay anyone to do it for me.
    2. I researched how to format a book for the various self-publishing platforms. I learned how to do this myself as I couldn’t afford to pay anyone to do it for me. I had reasonable computer skills but knew nothing about creating a manuscript from a computer document. That was all new to me.
    3. I researched the different self-publishing platforms as I knew nothing about them, and I wasn’t really in any kind of group or society or anything where I could ask other people. I was at that time completely out of touch with other self-published authors.
    4. Then I had to write the books. And edit, then rewrite, then edit, the rewrite, then edit… I knew that you couldn’t just finish a first draft and put it on Amazon as a book. I now know that when I’ve finished a first draft, that is just the beginning of the process. It’s the bit I find hardest, actually. I love rewriting, that is freeing and creative, but putting the bare bones down on the page? That’s tough.
    5. I tried using betareaders. That didn’t work for me. All that happened was the nice ones said, ‘Yes it’s wonderful’, and the others all just said the opposite to everyone else. I ended up with a new opinion for everyone I asked. Not helpful. So I didn’t bother with that again. Though I do now have writer buddies I occasionally run an idea or dilemma past.
    6. I had to learn how to create book covers. I tried Fiverr, and sorry to be mean to anyone but I got nothing worth using. And again, I couldn’t afford to pay anyone to design and create my covers, so again, I had to learn to do it myself. Now I find it so satisfying and it helps me to fix a book in my head, makes it come alive. To begin with I used PowerPoint, with stock photos from Morguefile or Pixabay. You can create a slide the size of a book cover (research the correct size—a quick Google search will give you that) then when you’ve finished fiddling with it, you can save itas a jpeg. And hey presto! This is one of the first ones I made.

    It’s not great but I used it for quite a while before I made something a bit nicer.These days I still make my own covers, and I still use Pixabay or Shutterstock, but I now use Canva—which is wonderful flexible and FREE to make some very acceptable covers. And my other marketing materials. Here’s a couple of examples of covers I’ve made on Canva, I’m really proud of these even if they still look a bit homemade. I love them, and more importantly, the books are selling. so take time to think about a good cover for your work. It needs to both blend into your genre or niche, yet stand out. Prospective readers should get a vague idea of what the story is about, and know what to expect from your cover. It’s essential the title and your author name can be read in the thumbnail size, so make sure they are really bold and clear.


    Part Two of this blog next week:


  • Rose or Rat?

    I recently got into a conversation about my name – which is a pen name. (You know who you are – Caron Eastgate Dann, I’m looking at you!) So here’s the true story of Caron Allan.

    Firstly, to explain the title. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says that famous line, ‘A Rose by any other name, would still smell as sweet,’ (my paraphrase). So whatever I’m called, I’m still me, right? Erm… well, let’s leave that on one side for now. The Rat bit is a sideways smirk at Umberto Eco who wrote a brilliant book about the perils and pitfalls of translation. It’s called Mouse Or Rat, because, he says, in a lot of languages it’s the same word, though in English it’s obviously not. Plus in English, along with the different word, you have a completely different connotation: mice can be cute and teeny with droopy little whiskers and dainty little paws whereas rats are gigantic, plague-ridden rodent-devils.

    And so my problem.

    Six years ago, when I decided to opt for self-publishing, or being an Indie author, as we now, more politely call it, I wondered what to call myself. I didn’t want to use my real name for a couple of reasons. One, people might find out where I lived and come round and throw my books through my window whilst screaming and waving pitchforks. Two, people might attack me at work – I had a real job back then. Three, I’ve always hated my real first name – Carolyn – (there, I’ve said it, massive sigh of relief as onerous burden of guilt at my deception is lifted), so I welcomed any chance to ditch it. And four, I felt that my first name was old-fashioned, and conjured up all too clearly the image of a fat old woman (which I am), which would be incongruous (or so I thought) with the readership I wanted to reach.

    Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I now know that: most of my readers are probably my age or older, and that there’s no such thing as a secret identity. Especially if you can’t keep your own mouth shut. To start with I often post something on my author FB page then respond to comments from other people on my personal page – thus letting the cat out of the bag. In addition to my first name, my surname is also a horrid one. We just don’t think ahead, do we, and realise when we begin walking out with a handsome young gentleman, that his surname will someday become ours, and lead to a lifetime of explanations and misery and ridicule. So that had to go too.

    So what to call myself? I’ve agonised for years over the possibilities of what to call myself if I changed my name. And I’d never really narrowed it down to one final choice. I thought about taking my children’s middle names and creating a name out of that. To be on the safe side, I searched on Amazon to see if there were already authors with that name. There were! Eek! Good thing I checked, though.

    So bearing in mind the adjunct to authors to avoid using adverbs, I took the LY out of the middle of my name, and closed up the gap. Ta-da! Caron. Then I took my hubby’s first name, gave it an extra L. And Behold – Caron Allan appeared! (Cue applause!)

    Thank you very much. I love you all. I’d like to thank my agent – Oh wait, no, they all turned me down! 🙂

    By the way, completely off topic, I had my third post-cancer check-up at the hospital this week, and I’ve been discharged with a clean bill of health. Wow!!!! Eighteen months ago, I thought I was going to die. Now I know I will get to live first. One day I might write about that, but not just yet. Real people, behind the pen-names on your book covers.


  • Plodding on…and a sneak peek

    I feel that I haven’t achieved very much in the last few weeks. I didn’t publish a blog post last week, and I haven’t done a great deal of new writing. But I’ve been looking through my notes for the WIP, book 4 of the Dottie Manderson mysteries. This one is going to be called, you might remember, The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish. It should be published at the beginning of November this year. I’ve been thinking about this book for about three years, and I now know – or at least I think I know – where it’s going. It’s exciting, I feel like I’m embarking on a journey I’ve been planning for a long while.

    There’s quite a bit involved in working on the early stages of a new book. To begin with, I have to refamiliarise myself with the minor characters who have appeared in the first three books, as I’m terrible for remembering names. When I’m writing an actual first draft chapter, if I forget a character’s name, I just write X or XXX then go back later and fill in the person’s name. I don’t stop in the middle of a writing session to go and look up the name as I never want to interrupt the flow.

    I’ve also had to look up a few things to do with train travel in the 1930s, and to look up details about various places in the UK. Not really research, just kind of getting things straight in my head. Obviously I spend a lot of time tidying pens and notebooks and making sure I have enough sticky notes. I’ve checked that I’ve got the right month of 1934 printed up from my computer, so I can see where the weekends fall and that kind of thing. I always need to have a specific day worked out in my head to orient myself in the era and make sure my plot works.

    Unusually for me, I’ve made quite a lot of notes about this book. mainly because, as the series progresses, there are things I need to remember for future books. Whilst my books are stand-alone, there are also continuing storylines from one to the next, and sometimes across more than two books, and there are essential strands I want to make sure I don’t leave out. Hence the notes. Also, i did have a few plot quibbles I couldn’t decide on. Sometimes too many ideas is worse than too few; I find it hard to make a decision.

    Then, I have started typing up the handwritten first drafts, and I’m making a few amendments as I go, though I wouldn’t call it a rewrite, more tweaking along the way. Now I have three full (rough) chapters, and about 9000 words so far. I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve got. I feel like this might work.

    Later on, I will reach the panic stages of ‘It’s not going to work, it’s not going to work!’ But at the moment I’m calm. usually, when I get to the 45,000 to 50,000 word point, I again relax, finally confident that this book will actually come together and will be finished.

    In case you’re interested, here’s a little snippet of Chapter One. It’s not set in stone, it might disappear, and will undoubtedly get rewritten a dozen times, but at the moment, this is what sits at the outset of the story of The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish:

    The war was over. That was the main thing. That was all that mattered. Not the lives lost. Nor the devastation. Not even the hostile, resentful power struggle throughout Europe. Or even the victory. In the end, all that mattered, was that the long years of anguish and despair had come to an end.

    Up and down the country, people celebrated the fact that life could now go back to normal. Whatever that was. Women left the factories in their tens of thousands, and went home to cook, clean and have babies. Men lay aside their rifles and bayonets and took up their hammers and saws once more. They hammered their swords into ploughshares, figuratively if not literally, and tried to forget what they had seen.

    Across the nation, there were street parties, tea parties, balls, lunches, drinks evenings, galas and dances to celebrate the return of the heroes and the return of everyday life as it had been years earlier.

    Obviously, no one mentioned the dead.

    The Member for Hamfield and West Nottingham, the Honourable Peter Maynard, along with his charming wife Augustine, hosted one such event at their elegant home in the leafy suburb of Hamfield.

    It was a glorious evening. The weather for the first week of an English June was perfect: warm and sunny, with a cloudless blue sky and the merest hint of a breeze ruffling its fingers through the early roses, bringing their fragrance lightly into the house.

    The ballroom, a recent and somewhat garish addition from the outside, inside followed neatly from the hall, the dining room and the drawing room by the simple expedient of moving back the furniture and flinging back the folding doors that separated the rooms. The result was a vast flowing space where guests could mingle and roam, drink in hand, from the dancefloor to the buffet and back again.

    In one corner of the ballroom, on a small, purpose-built raised platform, the little orchestra played a series of dance tunes, and couples, young and old, circled the floor as they had done just five years earlier. All around them, people gathered in little groups and laughed and talked then laughed again. Cocktails of all kinds were drunk in large quantities.

    And obviously, no one mentioned the dead.

    The war, Richard Dawlish reflected as he sipped his champagne cocktail with great reluctance, might never have happened.

    No one mentioned the dead, but he could still see them, their clutching, decaying flesh protruding from muddy dips and hollows, and at night the rats would come out of their hiding places and nibble the naked limbs. Richard didn’t even need to close his eyes. The images were always before him. He carried them with him wherever he went, whatever he did. He began to think they would never leave him. Even when he was an old man, he would still see those corpses, like so many strange species growing in a wasteland of a garden.

    Turning, he looked out through the open doors at the long lawn surrounded by blossoming borders. Was this what those millions had died for? He took another drink.

    Behind him in the ballroom, someone tapped a spoon against a glass to get everyone’s attention. The chatter stopped, the laughter faded, and everyone turned to face Peter Maynard, at the front of the orchestra stage. He embarked upon a long and largely predictable second-hand speech, culminating in, ‘So let us raise our glasses in a toast as we welcome back our heroes, and thank them for their part in keeping England’s green and pleasant land free of tyranny and destruction.’

    There were loud shouts of ‘hear, hear’ and ‘just so’, and everyone repeated some rambling form of the toast and drank. Maynard then said, ‘And another toast to celebrate the fine achievements of these young men in the field of combat: Captain Algy Compton,’ there was a loud and raucous cheer, ‘Group Captain Michael Maynard,’ and further, louder chorus of cheers and catcalls, and someone at the back shouted, ‘Thinks he can bloody fly, so he does!’ There was general laughter, though some of the ladies tsked at the language. Peter Maynard, smiling proudly, ‘From what I hear, he can fly!’

    ‘Showed the bloody Boche a thing or two, let me tell you!’ came another voice from the back. Again, everyone laughed, and Maynard said, ‘Indeed. But let’s keep it polite, gentlemen, remember the ladies. Er, next on the list, is some young scallywag by the name of Second Lieutenant Gervase Parfitt. A second lieutenant at just nineteen. That’s a sterling achievement, my dear boy!’ A lanky youth nodded, and received with blushes the back-slaps and cheers of those around him.

    The audience turned back to Maynard, whose glass was being topped up by a manservant. ‘Then we mustn’t forget Gervase’s big brother Arthur, better known as Captain Arthur Parfitt,’ he paused to drink his toast, then went on, ‘And yet another of the overachieving Parfitt brothers, this time it’s none other than Reggie, a lieutenent in the navy, which as we all know, is just some strange, salt-water name for a Captain! Lieutenant Reginald Parfitt, and last, but by no means least, our good friend and my nephew Algy’s comrade-in-arms, Lieutenant Richard Dawlish. Richard, my dear fellow, do step up with the others for the photograph.’

    Richard had smiled dutifully and raised his glass for each toast. He had wondered if he would be mentioned and was a little surprised that he was. As a ripple of polite applause went around the room, he made his way forward, embarrassed but smiling. Maynard shook his hand, then the six young men stood together whilst the photographer arrived to capture the moment for posterity. The photographer had some difficulty getting the right light reading and focus.

    ‘Your black face is mucking up his lens, Dickie,’ Algy laughed. He swayed, clearly fairly tipsy. The others joined in with the joking and laughter. Richard smiled politely and said nothing.


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