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  • Hats

    There was a time when people wore hats whenever they were out of the house. In fact, before that, they often wore them inside the house too, especially if they were women. Married women wore little frilly caps on their heads, as a mark of their status, or perhaps to show they were ‘off-limits’? You’ll have seen those in the period dramas we often enjoy on TV.

    In addition, for centuries, there was a biblical requirement for women to cover their heads in church. This is still true today of various religions, both for males and females, but in everyday life hats are pretty rare. The first man to wear a top hat in London was fined for a breach of the peace, when a woman fainted from the shock of seeing this new head-wear. I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall when she was carried home in an ambulance or the arms of some burly cab-driver. What did she say when her hubster, returning from his office in the city, said, ‘So dearest, how was your day?’

    This is why I felt the impact of the headline about Agatha Christie’s disappearance, when I wrote about it in a blog post a few months ago. (If you missed it, you can read that post here.) One of the bylines carried by The Surrey Times on December 4th 1926  ran, ‘Hatless and Coatless at 6am’. That said it all, because in those days, a respectable woman would no more leave the house without a hat, than without her underwear.

    I mourn the passing of the hat. These days, most of us only wear a hat on a very specific kind of occasion. We can still obtain hats, but they aren’t as much fun as they once were. Department stores offer in the main, ‘Mother-of-the-bride’ type fascinators and picture hats. We have sun hats, beanies or bobble hats, we have baseball caps, and…? It’s not a big range. This is why I love writing about glamorous people living in the past. I think the 1930s would have suited me. Apart from not being able to text my nearest and dearest with such comments as ‘OMG that pill-box hat with veil and feathers is totes the biz. #needitnow’.

    It’s also another reason why I love the internet – there is so much hat-porn to browse, it’s just not true. If you are interested in vintage costume and accessories, (I’m looking at you, Lin) try the sites below for a trip through what we used to wear. I’ve never possessed a toque. Or a picture hat. Or… *sigh* …so many hats, so little time. If anyone in the fashion industry is reading this, please bring back mandatory hat-wearing, I’m begging you. Meanwhile, here are a few notable hat-wearing events from my own family:

    Hats for work/status

     

    Ceremonial hats

     

    Hats for function

     

    Celebratory/event hats

     

    Hats for occasions

     

    Hats for fun/frolics – we need to bring these back!

     

    A few sites of interest regarding costume and accessories, great for research, or just passing the time:

    https://stockportoldtown.co.uk/visit/hatworks/

    https://www.fashionmuseum.co.uk/

    https://www.ftmlondon.org

    https://www.thehouseoffoxy.com/

    https://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/fashion

    http://debyclark.blogspot.com/2013/04/1930s-fashion-history-inspiration-beach.html

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  • Write what you know…?

    Writing tutors, whether in books or the classroom, or by podcast, or webinar, often tell their students, ‘Write what you know.’

    Personally, I think that’s some of the daftest advice ever.

    First of all, how do you define ‘know’? Know in depth? Vaguely aware of? Have heard about? Worked in that field for thirty years? Know second-hand through others?

    Let’s add a bit of common sense. I mean, if you’re writing a self-help book on the subject of ‘Open heart surgery for beginners’, you probably need to know your stuff. I don’t think reading a few books will be enough to make that one work. After all, lives may be at risk. Not to mention kitchen implements and the new lino.

    But I’m talking–as always–about fiction writing, which is a whole other ball game. Because if you are writing fiction, you can know anything. That’s called research. You write what you come to know.

    There is a whole world out there full of podcasts, webinars, YouTube movies, books in digital, audio and paper formats. There are so many search engine, something-pedias, sites and blogs. Someone will always be able to give you an answer to any question you want to ask. You can even create and download calendars for begone years. I do that for my 1930s Dottie Manderson mystery books.

    For my own books, I have researched social culture, art, history, music, languages, religious beliefs, criminal forensics, icky medical stuff, popular figures, myths and legends, psychology, archaeology, literature, historical weather (yes you can do that). I’ve read old books, old newspapers, gone to museums, exhibitions and spoken all sorts of people. I’ve have drunk a serious amount of coffee and eaten siege quantities of cake, all in the name of research. ( I could write a book on coffee emporiums of the British Isles.)

    Joking aside, the point is, whatever you’re writing about, you can research it. I mean, how many people who write about Vampires actually are one??? How many people who write about time travel or missions across the universe have actually been into space? If we only write about ‘what we know’, why do any of us write anything other than books about being an ordinary person in an ordinary home and job, who never does anything extraordinary apart from pay their bills on time?

    So next time someone says you can’t write your book about back-packing shape-shifters in the Serengeti, tell them that’s a lie. You can write about anything.

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  • Hiding behind words

    This week I have been thinking about words and images and meanings. Sometimes we can’t quite find one single word that expresses the multitude of meaning, or the shades of meaning our imagination conjures up for us. I like to define things: people, words, stories, because I’m not very good at reading between the lines, to use a cliche, and I sometimes don’t understand what a person means if they are not really explicit. I am good at recognising images of shades of grey, not so much with spoken ones.

    Someone (Emma Baird!) said that she thinks I am a visual person. And I think she’s right. If I can’t picture it, I can’t write it. But I am always compelled to try to picture ‘it’ – be it a story idea or a cover design or a garden feature, a home makeover.

    So when I came up with the absolute vaguest idea for a title and story for book 10 of my Dottie Manderson mysteries, (let’s just remind ourselves, I’ve only recently started writing book 5, so I’m talking a possible publication between 2020 and 2022… I like to look ahead.) I wasn’t able to relax about it because I couldn’t picture a book cover, or a title, and this bothered me.

    I was mulling over cold heart, the coldest heart, your cold, my cold, everybody’s cold, colder or coldest heart. It was a nebulous idea that stuck in my head but refused to blossom. A browse through Pixabay’s images usually sets me off in the right direction, but not this time. I was offered images of hearts, literal and metaphoric, and ice cubes. This was not helping.

    A thesaurus is often a big help too, so I had a quick look and found suggestions of dead, unfeeling, (yes these were kind of what I was getting at), blue, uncooked (!?) and impassive (again, yes, kind of…). It just wasn’t the kind of thing you could find an image for on the image sites. A dead blackbird, a brick wall, a funeral. Just not quite what I wanted.

    Words have so many possibilities, don’t they? Even though a dictionary may define a word, we often use words in a very personal sense, with our own definition overlaying the ‘official’ one. Let’s not forget, no dictionary was beamed down from Planet X with a set-in-stone array of words and their meanings. The meaning of every word in use today – and those we will use tomorrow – has been developed, changed and somehow agreed upon over thousands of years of speech, social interaction, education and writing. It’s really quite amazing when you think about it.

    So I was overwhelmed by the possibility of choice and variation of shadow. I set it aside. Uneasily, as it irks me to leave something unsettled.

    Then on Saturday I was reading Dead before Death, a sonnet by Christina Rossetti. I love that gal’s poems. And what was the opening line? I’m glad you asked. It was:

    Ah! changed and cold, how changed and very cold

    With stiffened smiling lips and cold calm eyes

    And so, like a tiny bolt of lightning, inspiration dropped on me. The story, and its title, fell into my mind. So, book 10 is to be: Changed and Cold: a Dottie Manderson mystery. Phew. I’m still no nearer to a cover image, (suggestions on a post-card, please) but at least I’ve got something concrete to work on. Now all I need to do is write the next 5 books…

    ***

  • Coming soon: new book Easy Living

    I know I keep banging on about my books. I feel I should apologise for all that self-promotion, but then this is a blog about my books after all, so it’s kind of what I do here.  I’ve got a new book coming out at the end of March, and for a couple of reasons, I’m really excited about this and I want to tell as many people as possible about it. You might have heard some of it before, as it’s been on my ‘miscellaneous writing’ page for a while now.

    It’s called Easy Living. It’s a stand-alone novel, that is to say it’s not part of a series of themed or related books. That said, a couple of people have suggested it could be a series, and (shh, no one’s listening are they? *quick look round*) I did in fact write a sequel to it that I’ve never owned up to before now.

    As regards genre, I have got myself into a bit of a mess because although it’s a kind of mystery, and a kind of romance, it’s also about life after death and going back in time to reanimate a dead body and use it to get around. I do love a mash-up! Can we call it Romantic Detective Speculative Time Travel Reincarnation fiction, and move on? I have no idea what shelf this would be on in a ‘real’ bookstore. Any thoughts on that?

    This is a novel I first wrote in 1997, and as I said, it’s about death – as always. It’s so hard to know when the time is right to release a book, but after all these years, I’m finally ready. I love this book, which may well cloud my judgement a bit. I know I’ve mentioned before how very much like a precious baby a book is to he person who writes it, and this one is no exception. If anything, the long wait has increased my attachment to it. Halfway through writing the first draft, we (foolishly) moved from Hampshire in the South of England to Brisbane, in Queensland, Australia. For three frantic months I was separated from my ‘baby’ because for some stupid reason to do with carry-on luggage allowance, I didn’t pack my handwritten manuscript, but it came by rowboat twelve weeks later with the rest of our possessions. Meanwhile, I decided I may as well write another book… (Dolly, that one is called, also still not available in the real world, but I love that one too. It’s one of only two books I’ve written set in Australia.)

    Warning: this book contains language some readers may find offensive! (F-words and the odd other bad word, and references to sexy shenanigans going on, plus you know, people die in this book. A lot.)

    I hope this book will be available for pre-order really soon, and if you are interested enough to read the first couple of chapters, (subject to editing and rewriting!) please follow this link:

    Easy Living – about and early chapters

  • It’s a Book Thing.

    Reading, we are told, has a host of benefits; it helps us improve our word-power, it boosts memory, makes us more compassionate and caring, makes us more interesting, and it provides a means of escape from stress, anxiety and loneliness. So we ought to read, don’t you think?

    Writers, too, are told to read. The received wisdom from most writing tutors and mentors, is as Stephen King says, ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write’. We can learn so much about the ‘how-to’ of writing, simply by reading other peoples’ work. You can learn the grammatical rules, and how to break them. You can learn how to plot, how to create believable characters, you can learn how to create suspense or how to write dialogue. The nuts and bolts of creativity and writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, literary or genre, for adult or children, it’s all there to be absorbed, in the pages of other peoples’ books.

    But as we all know, life gets in the way. Apparently binge-watching TV shows is at the moment, the biggest ‘threat’ to reading. I say that in quotes because there’s always some new threat, and nothing ever seems to keep people away from books for good – thankfully.

    I’m as guilty as anyone for binge-watching TV shows. I’ve gone from being someone who seldom watches TV to one of those people who says, ‘It’s still early, let’s watch the next one…’ So yes, it’s eaten into my reading time. I can say without shame I have binge-watched the usual: The Making of a Murderer; How To Get Away With Murder; Imposters; The Staircase; Unforgotten; Homicide Hunter; Snapped: Women Who Kill; as well as all the usual British mystery dramas: Vera, Shetland, Hinterland, Midsomer Murders, The Loch, Endeavour, Morse, Lewis, Poirot, Marple, The Coroner (fluffy but likeable, and underrated), Death in Paradise…

    I’ve made a concerted effort this year though, to read more than I did in 2018. And yes, it is good to pick up a book and dive in, escaping from the world around me into a fictional place that I have never seen with my eyes, but which I feel instinctively I know in my head.

    As a child, I used to think all my favourite characters and heroes knew each other. That they all existed in a collective fictional world, just the other side of my perception. I imagined Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington meeting up for honey or marmalade. I thought that the Famous Five and the Secret Seven got together for the odd ‘case’, forming the Tremendous Twelve. These days we’d call that a mash-up, I think. Fifty years ago, it was just my daft idea. Maybe there’s some fan-fiction out there somewhere in which these things actually take place. (If you write this kind of stuff, message me!!!)

    Well you probably know that I love murder mysteries, but in fact I’m really a romantic suspense secret adherent. (We meet up, cult style, by candlelight wearing sheets and murmur the password, ‘You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.’ In a phone box – it’s a small group.) There’s a strong romantic streak in my work, and if I read a murder mystery ‘without shenanigans’, I’m bitterly disappointed!

    What I’ve read so far this year:

    By Patricia Wentworth:

    Grey Mask: the first Miss Silver book, published in 1928, and the Miss Silver character undergoes quite a bit of refining in later books. But I do love this one! A recent reprint.

    Danger Point: Another Miss Silver, but published later, in 1942 in the full power of Wentworth’s writing. This is one of her best, in my opinion, although others point to the weak heroine, and it’s true, she is a bit of a wimp, but I love this book. After a long time out of print, it has recently been reissued.

    The Alington Inheritance: Miss Silver again, one of the later books, published in 1956, and irresistibly romantic, with a young heroine, lost treasure, and a truly evil murderer that you instinctively hate from the outset.

    The Coldstone: older, non-series, not her best work, but ok, particularly good if you want to get a feel for idioms and customs etc of the 1920s.

    By Peter Robinson:

    Sleeping in the Ground: I’m ashamed to say I got bored with this about a third of the way in and couldn’t be bothered with it. Yet I’ve got most of Robinson’s books, having started collecting them in the later 1990s when we lived in Australia. I used to go into Brisbane city centre to a shop called Pulp Fiction, which sold only genre fiction and true crime. I loved that shop! And that’s where I first met Peter Robinson’s books, and those of Barry Maitland, Marele Day and John Baker.

    By Elly Griffiths:

    The House at Sea’s End: I bought this book because I loved the title. This is a great book for lovers of murder mystery overlaid with a historical context. The main character is a forensic archaeologist. And there are a few shenanigans between the main character and the second main character (spoiler alert!) Actually this is the third book of the series, so I really should get the first two next, and do my homework!

    By Julia Chapman:

    Date with Mystery: I love the continuing characters in this series, they are revealed with such affection and depth. I am a bit frustrated by how slowly the two main characters are getting together – if they don’t get together soon, I shall be really fed up! The mysteries are quite good, but the characters are better. This is book 3 of the series, book 4 is out in June. I shall definitely get that. I have done my homework here and read the first two!

    And by way of a change: By Rupi Kaur;

    The Sun and her Flowers: a book of amazingly touching and vivid poetry – you have to read this if you love language, or the intricacies and nuances of family life. Or life, generally. Absolutely beautiful. I bought it for the cover and the title, and loved it. The poetry is mainly short and very accessible, reflections on what it means to be a wife, a daughter, a mother. Beautiful, wise, and a bit intimate.

    Next to read:

    Cara Hunter: In the Dark.

    M J Rose: The Book of Lost Fragrances.

    Peter May: I’ll Keep You Safe.

    Chris Brookmyre: Black Widow.

     

    What are you reading?

    ***

  • Rejection for Indie Authors 101

    Just a few of my manuscript boxes!

    This is one of my favourite quotes on being a writer, and I often use it. Here it is again, in case you’ve missed all the other incidences of it on my blog!

    “A book is so much a part of one’s life that in delivering it to the public one feels as if one were pushing one’s own child out into the traffic.” (Quentin Bell, nephew of Virginia Woolf, and author of a number of biographies including the fabulous ‘Charleston’.)

    Yes, Quentin, that is exactly how one feels about one’s book!

    You see, it’s kind of a weird thing, but as you write, the book/fag packet/old envelope becomes a living thing. And like a child (or ‘one’s own child’, I love that!) it seems so fragile, so vulnerable, so at the mercy of strong winds and icy chills. And once you’ve bundled up said child/book to send it off into the world all alone, there is a certain amount of anxiety that attends its imminent return, and you hang around the front door, or the post box, wringing your hands, hoping for a glimpse, a clue, anything to tell you (or to tell one, I should say) how your baby is faring.  and of course, until the parcel is dumped in your greenhouse with a note through the door saying the postman has left you a package, you have no idea what is happening.

    Sometimes I look at my piles of paper, neatly wrapped up in the manuscript boxes on my shelves, and think, ‘There you are, all snug and safe, no nasty people are going to hurt you if you stay here with Mummy.’

    Of course, if I’m really honest with myself (usually about two o’clock in the morning), it’s me that is afraid of being hurt.  And it’s me who is afraid of being unappreciated/viewed as talentless/doomed to be unsuccessful. So really, each story I write, each manuscript is an extension of myself: and my hopes, my dreams.

    But if I want something to happen in my life, if I want anything to change, to have any chance of being appreciated, my books read, of gaining, increasing and developing my skill as a writer, of being in some measure successful, I have got to do it–I’ve got to step out into the traffic, or at least, put my child out into it and watch as it survives or dies.

    Rejection. It’s something we all fear, I guess. We are born craving acceptance–if we are not accepted we will die. Or at least be put up for adoption. Writers are no different in this respect to newborn babies. We need to be loved.

    Or maybe we are more like the loving mothers urging our offspring onto others and not able to see that our little angel has a huge nose or squinty eyes.

    I have had a few bad reviews for my books on Amazon over the years. When I first set out on this crazy road of self-publishing back at the end of 2012, I knew that sooner or later it would happen, that I would get a bad review, or maybe poor sales. But when it happened, being pre-warned was no help at all.  I went through the usual stages of grief:  I started with a kind of ‘so what’ shrug, then went into a depression and a downward spiral, felt like everything I wrote was worthless and what was the point anyway, I was surely kidding myself I could write? I stopped writing. And was even more miserable. Then, I took a big step and asked a Facebook contact, who is a very well-established, successful writer, ‘What do you do, how do you deal with this?’ She told me what I already knew: ‘You can’t please everyone. Accept it and move on. Don’t let it get you down. Don’t let it stop you.’

    To begin with, I don’t flatter myself that I have universal appeal, and just as there are books I would not enjoy reading, I realise that my books may not appeal to everyone. But I have to be myself. The thing is, it would be so easy to try to change myself, my style, my genre, everything, in order to please the dissenters who don’t ‘get me’. I’ve tried writing the ‘proper’ way, as I was taught by a number of well-meaning even successful writers and teachers of writing.

    But I have to be me: (at this point it would be a huge help if you could visualise someone running down the road into a golden sunset, arms outstretched in triumph, singing “I Gotta Be Me – just gotta be free”). I need to write to be happy but also I need to be happy to write, so I have to make a decision to set aside the slings and arrows, and choose not to let them hurt me or distract me from what I am trying to achieve. I write my way. Some of my sentences begin with ‘And’. I use adverbs without shame. I split infinitives, and I occasionally tell instead of show. Some people actually like that.

    So If you’ve had trouble with confidence, rejection or self-doubt, it’s now time to push it aside and forge ahead. If you don’t write your story, paint your picture, make your dress, plant your garden, train your hamster, bake your muffins or craft your craft, who will?

    ***

  • What is a cosy mystery anyway?

    I enjoy writing in a number of different styles and genres, but I’m a cosy mystery gal through and through. Even when I try writing a different genre, at some point my murderous instincts take over and drown out any other attempt to jump generic ship.  Maybe I’ve written myself into a plot-corner and I’m not sure what to do, or I feel my story lacks a certain something, or things are going all too easily for one character or another, and there’s nothing for it. Someone has to die. I think it was Raymond Chandler who said (my paraphrase) ‘If in doubt, bring in someone with a gun’. So I think it is fair to say that I lean towards cosy mystery writing, with the occasional ill-fated foray into other genres. But there are so many sub-categories within genres, and the Crime genre is no exception.

    For cosy mystery novels, some of the many subgenres include: international mystery, private investigators, women detectives, medical, legal, police procedural, technothrillers, and hard-boiled. The hard-boiled mystery, for example, is what is often referred to as Noir, or gum-shoe crime. they have evolved from the classics of the 40s and 50s and tend to be graphic, violent, and unconventional. The detective is usually an anti-hero, with all kinds of issues, anything goes, and the grittier and grislier the better. Often the end of the hard-boiled mystery is less cut-and-dried, leaving loose ends and a sense of a hollow victory.

    The cosy mystery genre is a world apart from the hard-boiled mystery. The cosy is a type of traditional murder mystery with it roots in the Golden Age of mystery writing as penned by Agatha Christie, Gladys Mitchell, Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Patricia Wentworth and many more. The plots often revolve around social situations, perhaps a house party or dinner, as cosies of this type tended to feature the wealthier classes at play, with undercurrents of malice lurking discreetly behind curtains or across the bridge-table. The relationships represented tend to be of a conventional, traditional type, and the novels are usually set in the present or the recent past. The hard-boiled or noir can be more experimental, and is well-suited to futuristic, non-traditional and even non-earth settings.

    Cosy means exactly that, these books are pure entertainment, with nothing too terrifying, nothing too realistic. In the Cosy, the story is all about unravelling the central mystery, usually a murder, and finding out whodunit by solving clues and working alongside the detective to find out the truth behind a crime, nearly always a murder*. Cosies will feature good believable characters without a great deal of introspection and issues. Usually there are only one or two main characters, and a host of minor characters, individualised to a greater or lesser extent. There will be a twisty, ingenious plot, and a keep-‘em-guessing array of clues and red herrings. Readers are expected to read between the line sin all conversations and to observe character behaviour minutely.

    The cosy does not feature large quantities of gory murder scenes or long descriptions of stomach-clenching forensic information. The cosy does not include explicit sex or stronger bad language. There may be some saucy shenanigans but nothing too graphic goes on ‘on-stage’, any filth is conducted behind carefully closed doors. Life lessons are not usually part of the cosy mystery, nor should you expect comments on social issues or deeply moving emotional scenes. Life is pretty good in the cosy mystery–for everyone except the perpetrator and the victim of course. Here again, in the cosy, the victim is not likely to suffer agonies or torture; death is usually contrived in a quick and ingenious manner.

    Usually, though not always, the main protagonist is the sleuth who is going to solve the mystery for us. They will likely–though not always–be an amateur detective, often someone involved on the periphery of the murder. Of late, it has become the trend to write themed cosies centred around a hobby or service. For example, a lot of stories are set in book shops, craft groups or cookery schools, hotels, or might involve pet-sitters, mediums, hairdressers, gardeners, wedding planners, or interior decorators. This allows the author to introduce a range of situations and characters, which is a great way to produce a detective and a series that will keep fans coming back time and again.

    The cosy is all about solving a puzzle, and reestablishing the status quo. The book should leave readers feeling ‘Ahh,’ at the end, not ‘OMG OMG!’ and they should definitely be able to pat themselves on the back for a detective job well done. The cosy is intended purely for escapist fun, which is another reason why the author needs to write plenty of them–readers will close one book and immediately reach for the next.

     

    *please note: other crimes are available!

    ***

     

  • My Mystery Author Heroes: Patricia Wentworth

    At the end of last year, I made a little foray into the world of Golden Age mystery writers, looking briefly at the work of several well-known exponents of the genre, and in more depth at Agatha Christie, her life and her work.

    This week I want to tell you a little bit about my favourite detective story writer, Patricia Wentworth, known mainly for her mysteries, but who also wrote romances.

    Patricia Wentworth was her pen name. She was born as Dora Amy Elles in 1878 in India, and was educated at Blackheath School for Girls, now Blackheath High School, London.

    She married quite young and had her first daughter. Her husband had two sons from a former relationship, one (or possibly both) of whom died in WWI. Her husband died in 1906, when she was still only in her late twenties. Wentworth moved to Camberley, Surrey, England, where she would live until her death in 1961. Wentworth met her second husband and married in 1920, and had another daughter. It was in Camberley Wentworth wrote most of her novels, with her second husband George writing down what she dictated.

    Today she is mostly remembered for her 32 murder mysteries featuring private inquiry agent Miss Maud Silver, a former governess, keen observer of human nature and quoter of Tennyson and the Bible. But there are more than 40 other books which don’t feature detective Miss Silver, mostly mysteries, but there are some historical romances, and some poetry and stories for children.

    For many years, I found it very difficult to obtain Wentworth’s books. But with the recent rise of small print runs and small presses, and the resurgence in interest in Golden Age and traditional mysteries, her work is enjoying a new popularity and reaching new audiences. Hodder have reissued the majority of the Miss Silver books over the last ten years, with Open Road Media and Dean Street Press publishing virtually all of the other books between them. Readers are often frustrated to find that the books have different titles in the UK and the USA, so please check carefully that you’re not buying the same book twice under different titles. There is an excellent bibliography on the Patricia Wentworth page in Wikipedia, along with publication dates.

    Her work has often dismissed as being ‘old-fashioned’, ‘middle-class’, ‘tame’ and dated, but nevertheless I would say these books should not be so easily set aside.

    To begin with, some of these books first appeared more than a hundred years ago, and are still popular. A Marriage Under The Terror won the Andrew Melrose prize in 1910, which earned her the handsome reward of two hundred and fifty guineas, quite a sum in those days. There was much speculation about her use of a pseudonym, claiming that it was impossible to keep her real identity a secret.

    So we need to see them within their own era. I would agree with critics that some of the novels are not as strong, or as innovative, as others, that several plot devices reoccur (notably the indoor, uncovered well), and that from time to time, ‘the butler did it’. They are strongly romantic, which for me is a good thing, so they don’t fit comfortably into traditional generic categories, but again that is something that current trends are more flexible about. I know some readers find them too sweet, too and that there is not enough guts and gore—but hey, they’re cosies, get used to it.

    The strengths of the books lies in the portrayal of the era, and in the way many of the characters are forced to find their way through unfamiliar and difficult circumstances. They are not all wealthy, they are not all high-born, artistic, celebrities or otherwise fortunate. The mysteries are pleasing, often very clever, and the reader can detect along with the protagonist. The writing is intelligent, clear, and lacking in long flowery descriptions, which I personally detest.

    I recommend them for students of creative writing who want to improve their dialogue and character writing skills, their plotting skills or anyone who wants to write novels set in the recent past, or for readers who love a traditional mystery without body parts being lopped off, or strong language, or who prefers romance without sex scenes, or who likes something with a strong sense of morality and a satisfying mystery.

    If you want to give them a go, below are a couple of my favourite titles:

    https://www.pinterest.co.uk/caronallan/patricia-wentworth-books/

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • 2019 – well that came around quickly!

    It’s become a ‘thing’ – every year we say that we don’t know where the year has gone and already here we are at the start of another new one – but it’s so true, isn’t it? Seriously, what happened to 2018? It flew by!

    I’m not a fan of New Years Resolutions. How often we make a little list of ways we intend to improve or change or extend ourselves, only to give up by the middle of January, and then we spend the rest of the month feeling bad. I’m not going to do that. I mean, I’m very aware that I need to get fitter and lose weight – I think most of us have to do that. I need to be more productive, procrastinate less and be more disciplined. My garden looks like a patch of waste ground. And my kitchen is a mess. I need to clean more, though that’s not exactly an aspiration, more harsh reality. I also need to be a bit less of a hoarder (though it doesn’t count if you’re talking about books – that’s not hoarding, that’s saving books to enhance the future of humankind if all the other libraries and stores in the world burn down) so I need to have a bit of a clear out and declutter. Charities, please put some donation sacks through my door, I guarantee they will be full in no time.

    I’ve already made a good start. Got myself a desk calendar to plan my workload efficiently. AND I’ve started filling it in! Got myself two shiny new project notebooks. No, don’t laugh, that counts as ‘planning’, and absolutely not ‘splurging’. I’ve got to that stage of a book series where I keep thinking, ‘What did I say in book 2 about…?’ So I’ve decided to develop a series bible to keep track of stuff like hair colour and living room descriptions etc. See! I’m being a grown-up. Reluctantly.

    I actually love the new start feel of January. This is a new year. Anything could happen. It has all the potential to be an unbelievably wonderful year. I hope everyone who reads this will have an amazing 2019. Let’s do this!

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  • Jingle all the way!!!

    I’m taking a short break for the Christmas holidays. I’m just about to release my next novel – the fourth in the Dottie Manderson murder mystery series set in the 1930s. That’s the second book I’ve released in what has been by any standards a bloody horrible year. I am SO looking forward to seeing the end of 2018 and looking ahead to 2019. Roll on New Year’s Eve. I don’t usually drink but I’m thinking I might get hammered this year (that’s half a glass of wine!). Either that or spend the evening in bed with a book and a box of chocolates.

    The highlights:

    My family and friends got me through some of the toughest experiences of my life this year. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    I’ve had some seriously good royalties this year from my books – thank you lovely book-reading public.

    I’ve met some wonderful people in Dalmuir, Scotland who dragged themselves away from their TVs and family to listen to me witter on about self-publishing and cosy mysteries.

    I’ve enjoyed getting to know people this year who were more like acquaintances before, namely: Emma Baird, author extraordinaire, and amazing cook. Angela Lloyd, pursuing literary excellence and a sterling cheerleader! There have been others but those two outdid themselves in being amazing to me.

    I succeeded, goodness knows how, in getting two more books written and published this year.

    The lowlights:

    My mum died at the end of November after a couple of awful years battling with dementia. I have not known anxiety like this before.

    My dad has also got Alzheimers. That still racks up the anxiety points.

    The admin and legal aspects involved in sorting out the lives of elderly people who can’t look after themselves and need help.

    My cat had to have an (expensive) eye operation. Again. So glad cats only have two eyes and not as many eyes as they have toes.

     

    That’s kind of all I want to say. Thanks again to all the WordPress blog readers, Twitter bods and Pinterest peeps and Facebook bods who have been so encouraging and supportive and have said (sometimes) nice things about my books. Instagram guys–I really mean it this time–I’m going to get to you soon. Maybe find a safe place to hide?

    Have a lovely Christmas and a happy and safe and loving New Year. See you in 2019!

     

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