Deleted scenes two: more ‘outtakes’ from The Spy Within

I think I’ve mentioned a couple of times that Dottie Manderson’s latest outing, The Spy Within, book 6 in the Dottie Manderson mystery series, was quite a lot longer than I’d anticipated. Because of that, I had to cut out a large number of words, two or three major scenes in fact that I felt muddied the waters and delayed the action a little bit too much.

But as scenes, I felt they worked really nicely. Authors are often told to ‘kill their darlings’ – for me this isn’t so much about killing off a beloved character but chopping a scene that works really well, earns its wages and yet in spite of everything, just doesn’t belong. It is often with great reluctance that I cut out a scene then have to find another way to bring in the information the reader needs to figure out what’s going on.

This next scene is a case in point. If you haven’t read The Spy Within, or the previous books come to that, maybe you should browse elsewhere for the next ten minutes or so – spoilers abound!

So in The Spy Within we see William Hardy – police inspector – and Dottie Manderson – amateur sleuth – discussing Dottie’s beau Gervase Parfitt (boo, hiss!). William has been asked to investigate allegations of corruption and other possible crimes lodged against Gervase Parfitt who is an ambitious assistant chief constable. William has also been told to enlist Dottie’s help in finding evidence, as his superior officers know she is a friend of William’s, and is on the point of becoming engaged to Parfitt.

But what the higher-ups don’t know is that the relationship between William and Dottie is far more complicated than that and there is quite a lot of baggage that needs to be resolved. William tries to get out of asking her, but is told he must. Reluctantly he tries to find a way to tell her that Parfitt is under investigation – which he believes will devastate her – and yet still be able to gain her trust and get her to help him.

In the final version of this book, William has a couple of attempts at doing this. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that he has passively allowed his old fiancee back into his life, and both women are jealous of one another from the outset. The conversation becomes an emotional minefield for both Dottie and William.

You will also see some of my notes to myself in the midst of the scene – I often leave myself reminders or notes when writing my first draft; these serve as signposts when I come to revise the manuscript later.

Here it is:

William arrived at a quarter to three. He had invited her to meet him at three o’clock.

He had felt that the conversation might go better if they met at the Lyons’ corner house nearest her fashion warehouse. For one thing, after their last meeting, he didn’t really expect her to turn up at all, or if she did, he thought she’d likely be very late. He was fully prepared for her to still be furious with him. So long as she didn’t look at him with that bleak, defeated look, it should be all right. Rage he could deal with, but he doubted he could cope with that cold misery. Or tears.

At least if he was in a Lyons’, he could just order more tea and cake whilst he waited, if she came very late. Or, if she was furious, he thought—or hoped, might be more accurate—she might keep her temper in check in a public place, whereas in her home, or his, she could very well pick up the teapot and throw it at him. Not that, given the current situation, she was at all likely to offer him tea, he realised now. In any case, he hoped she wouldn’t do that in Lyons’, though he was by no means certain.

She arrived five minutes early. Punctuality was important to her, he remembered belatedly, and besides, she was a busy woman these days with a business to run, which by all accounts, she did very well.

She had pulled out the chair and sat down before he had a chance to leap to his feet and pull it out for her. She glared at him.

‘Well?’

Clearly she was, as expected, furious. He forgot every word of his carefully planned, meticulously crafted speech, and stared at her, dumb. She raised an elegantly curved eyebrow.

He said, ‘Er…’ and executed a kind of half-rise together with a sort of bow and bumped his knee on the leg of the table, making the vase of flowers jump. He swore loudly at the sharp pain that went through his knee. Several other patrons tutted and shook their heads. Dottie frowned and looked away.

He removed the end of his tie from his saucer, wiped the dribble of tea from his shirt and bent to pick up his wallet that had fallen on the floor, only narrowly missing hitting his head on the edge of the table. Dottie had to conceal a smile.

‘Damn thing,’ he said as he replaced the wallet in his pocket. More tutting and head-shaking from an elderly lady at the table behind them.

Dottie noticed that the leather was rather shiny and new looking. His initials, W F H, for William Faulkener Hardy, were embossed in gold on the front of the wallet. Dottie preferred the old, battered wallet he had had for years.

‘Did she buy that for you?’ she couldn’t help asking.

He paused in the middle of dabbing at his shirt. ‘What, the wallet? Oh, er, yes.’ He blushed. Everything was going wrong. ‘She said the old one was too shabby.’

‘It was,’ she said. ‘Although I preferred it.’

She was looking at him now less as though he was a bug that wanted squashing and more as a smelly dog that needed to be put outside in a kennel. He felt it was progress.

‘I can’t get used to this one. And it’s bigger, so I can’t keep it in the inside pocket I kept the old one in, which is why I keep dropping it all the time.’

It seemed the subject had run its course, as she made no reply.

‘Tea?’ he asked. She shook her head. The hovering waitress frowned and stalked away.

‘What do you want, William?’

At least she’d used his first name rather than his rank and surname. Another point for progress, he decided.

(note to me: when has he told her about his doubts about Gervase and the fact that he is tasked with investigating him???) ‘I thought we should talk about Parfitt, and how I would like you to help me.’

She made a little grunting sound, more or less an affirmative. Then she turned and flagged down the waitress. ‘Just a pot of tea, please.’

‘Certainly madam, and for the gentleman?’

William was about to order tea, but Dottie said, with a fierce look at him, ‘He’s not having anything. He’s about to leave.’

‘Very good, madam.’ The waitress bobbed and returned to her area to make the tea.

William said nothing, deciding not to push his luck. He quickly outlined what he wanted her to do. Before she could comment, the waitress appeared with the pot of tea, milk jug, and cup and saucer.

There was a long pause as Dottie dissolved a sugar lump on her spoon then stirred it in. He thought it odd, and wondered when she had started taking sugar in her tea. As she set the spoon in the saucer, her hand trembled slightly. Only now did he realise how upsetting this all was for her.

In a very low voice, one that only she could hear, he said, ‘Dottie.’ He tried to take her hand but she snatched it away.

‘What would Moira think?’ she snapped. ‘You can’t go around holding girls’ hands now you’re engaged.’

Heads turned once more. Dottie’s temper subsided. She sat back in her chair, her attention fixed on her hands folded in her lap.

He felt he should apologise, but didn’t, couldn’t. The silence stretched between them until it had gone on far too long for him to apologise. In the end, he simply spoke from the heart, but quietly.

‘What a bloody mess.’

He watched a tear roll down and splash onto her skirt.

‘Yes.’ She didn’t dare look at him.

He reached for her cup and took a drink of her tea. Waited another minute, then said, ‘Well, we’re stuck with it, and it’s all our own blasted fault.’

‘Yes,’ she said again. But this time she reached for a handkerchief and discreetly blotted her eyes. Only as she put it away did he see, first that the white cotton handkerchief was a man’s, and next, that the monogram in the corner was WFH. (in my rough notes for this scene I’ve got William Edward Hardy – so I need to check whether I’ve given any of these middle names out in my books so far – obv need to keep to that.) It was one of his own handkerchiefs—one of several he’d given her over the year and a half of their acquaintance—that she was using.

He reached across and took her hand. She didn’t try to stop him. ‘I want you to know I’m so, so sorry. For everything. Dottie, I so deeply regret…’

She pulled her hand away now. Her voice wobbled as she said, ‘What use is that now?’ She sighed, then added, ‘It’s all right, William. It’s my fault, I know that. I should be the one…’

The waitress went past, and Dottie broke off. She sipped her tea. It steadied her. An elderly couple pushed past to find a seat. William looked about him, surprised to see how quickly the place had filled up in the last few minutes.

But the short interval was enough to allow her to compose herself. When she spoke, it was in a more measured, firmer tone.

‘Are you absolutely certain about Gervase?’

Parfitt’s name was like a splash of cold water in William’s face. But it was as well to get back to marginally safer ground.

Remembering that she had once—briefly—thought she was in love with the man, William said gently, ‘Oh yes, quite certain. There’s no doubt, I’m afraid.’

She nodded. Leaning forward, she gripped her teacup in both hands. ‘Tell me what you want me to do.’

***

Interview with Debaleena Mukherjee, poet and writer of observational life pieces

This week I’d like to welcome Debaleena Mukherjee to my blog.

Debaleena and I go way back. We’ve never met (who knows, maybe one day?) but have been friends for years. We first met online through a shared love of murder mysteries. Talking about books led to talking about family, work and cake. The important things in life! Debaleena has also been a staunch supporter of my writing, and I am proud now to be able to do the same. Debaleena writes poetry, the first volume of which was published a few months ago by Blue Rose Publishers.

Debaleena, welcome. It’s amazing to have this conversation with you! Congratulations on publishing your first book of poems, I’m sure there will be many more. I wasn’t entirely surprised when you announced the book was coming out – you’ve always shared such lively and passionate posts on Facebook and Instagram. Your powers of description are so vivid that I often feel as if I’m there with you. I particularly love your posts about the various festivals you celebrate.

But let’s move on. My first question is, What do you write?

I write poems; and I am now experimenting with short stories. It started with Facebook posts, Book Club reviews: that’s how we met, remember! I would write little notes about my day; like little letters to myself . Then I translated a Bengali poem for someone very close. And I could do it, although I’d been very hesitant and nervous about poetry. Poetry has always been “the impossible dream”. After that little translation, I got a bit braver. One night I started out very very tentatively. And I saw I could do it: very rough and cobbled together; but I could feel my thoughts in my words. My writing is just as  the title suggests – Ink smudged dreams: by the reading light. All written in the later hours of the night when I would drowse, browse and write. They are not about any coherent thoughts or convictions. They are more of inarticulate thoughts, emotions: ramblings you could say. So the poems were written.

There is a strong observational thread in your writing, so lovingly shared, that marks you out as a great writer. Question two, What were your earliest influences? What did you read as a child?

I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer; the cobwebs in my mind have never been swept away.  As a child I remember, I would  sit quietly for hours together, playing in my head. Now this head game was very interesting. I would imagine different scenarios- people, families, foreign countries I’d seen in photographs. I would spin stories in my head about people and places. Then I would imagine myself in castles and mansions. But it all had to be happy. This head game continued and I loved it. Later I would look at houses ; especially old houses; distant windows, silhouettes of people through the windows and concoct stories about their daily lives.

I really can’t remember a time when I didn’t read. Before I learnt to read, I would  love looking at illustrated books, magazines. I remember I had a book on dolls and I would look at it all day long. Then, once I learnt my ABC: I found the Ladybird series of fairy tales. Let me tell you the enchantment still remains as fresh as ever. Those covers! My favourite was The Beauty and The Beast. That started my life long enchantment with fairy tales. By the time I was ten, the Enid Blyton world became my world. I simply lived in those books. They were like a perpetual picnic life for me. Of course Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, school stories, they kept appearing in my life, and my head was a lovely place to visit. Then of course Mr. Rochester entered my life when I was twelve or thirteen – all ready to fall in love. By fifteen I got to know Mr. Darcy, whom – I know you’ll be shocked – I did not love. Mr. Knightley was my hero! Then  came Charlotte Bronte’s books- Shirley, Villette. And Louisa May Alcott. I used to imagine myself as Jo. We all do. I decided that Professor Bhaer would be my love for life. Until I read about some other character the next day, that is! Isn’t it delightful: to fall in love with so many heroes all at once! And I have a macabre taste for horror. So I wallowed in  gruesome murder mysteries. Then I was given an Agatha Christie book: The Man in the Brown Suit. After that there was no looking back. Christie led me to Victoria Holt, Bram Stoker, Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown. As well as a wide range of Bengali literature of all genres. I am also a fan of romantic fiction, esp the mean and moody hunks that are Mills and Boon heroes! 

We read very similar things as children and young people, it seems, I was into all those books too. I’ve already touched on this next question a bit, but, next question, do you believe your culture influences your writing, and if so, how?

Oh yes! My culture has a profound influence on my writing, as you can see in my poems. They are imbued with a sense of belonging to my land and my people in every which way. This is more pronounced in the sections in my book, The Prayer and Hymn to the Earth. I am writing about my way of life. I realised that I’ve chosen colours, comparisons, ambience that are totally inherent to my culture. I’ve grown up reading our mythological stories, the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, as well as my parent tongue-Bengali literature- folk tales, fairy stories, poems. For me Gitanjali by Tagore is the ultimate prayer book.

I think culture can often be an almost hidden extra character in our writing. But looking ahead, what can we look forward to in the future from you?

Now that my mind block is gone, and I’ve tested the waters, I have become quite adventurous. Poems definitely. I’ve discovered this about myself that as I grow older, poetry grows more appealing. I find that I now can interpret life and emotions better through poetry. It is an instinctive response.

Like I told you – short stories. I am trying my hand at those. It’s very challenging but extremely interesting. And intriguing. Writing in someone else’s skin, creating another individual, different points of view: I find it extremely fascinating. I have to construct a short story, not just pour it out. So it is a constant process of study too. I have to keep going back to little research, references to literary devices, unity of time, place and action; and above all keep a firm track of all the threads.

Oh short stories are the slippery slope to novels! That’s exciting news for us! We’ve talked a bit about the books that influenced you, but who are your favourite authors? Do you have certain favourite books you return to again and again?

I am glad you asked “authors” and not “author”? You know we cannot have just one favourite. Ever. I of course love  re reading the classics like Jane Eyre, Emma, the Little Women series, Rose in Bloom. My comfort and enchantment lies in Mary Stewart’s books. I read them whenever I need a holiday of the heart. Elizabeth Peters is another favourite. I started reading Georgette Heyer pretty late in life, but I find her delightful. What shall I say about Patricia Wentworth! I adore Miss Silver and I still pine for Frank Abbot. One author who is a verbal illumination is Eva Ibbotson. I find her books poetic prose. I simply love medieval mysteries, and I keep discovering authors in this genre. Even more, I like the thrillers based on archaeological mysteries, religious relics, and mythological mysteries. And now: there’s Dottie Manderson. I am loving this return to the cozy mystery genre, very exciting and warmly familiar. Like I said, and I know you too agree: that one cannot have just one favourite.

Absolutely – and I know that like mine, your to-be-read pile is very substantial! What do you do when you are not writing or reading?

I am a homemaker. And not a very efficient one at that please! But I try. I do try! I cook. I cook traditional meals every day. Very often there are kitchen secrets that I dare not share. Of splattered oil, exploding blender. But yes, I prepare our Indian, especially Bengali cuisine ( that sounds so much more impressive than “food”). I enjoy baking, more so because I eat most of the cake myself. Music! That is my soul balm. I love to listen to oldies goldies: English, Hindi and Bengali. Instrumentals are my ‘go to’ solace when I am tired of words. And as I’ve been told “I have the spirit of enquiry”. Do you think it’s a polite way of saying I am nosy? I love people watching. My best pastime is to sit in a cafe and watch the world go by. As I watch people, I make stories about the passerby in my head. Another thing is that I haunt bookstores; especially old books, pre-loved books. All the obscure, dusty corners: I am very good at finding treasures there. Long drives with music in the car. I sit absolutely silent in the car and I soak up the peace and the purr of the car.

I’ve often heard you talking about the meals you prepare – your descriptions make the mouth water. But I remember that you used to be a teacher. How has that inspired you or helped you with your writing?

It gave me insight. That’s the crux of my teaching experience. I’ve learnt to probe into people’s minds and see stories there. Teaching young teenagers and college students made me more receptive and absolutely non- judgmental. That helps  when I write. I learnt from students and colleagues, that as a teacher I am not dealing with folders that you open at 9.am and shut at 5 pm. Everyday I found something new in my work. And that influenced my writing . Most of all it heightened my sense of humour as well as the perception of the Absurd in life. Not to forget teaching made me quite tech savvy about which I love preening and boasting.

Debaleena, it’s been an absolute delight and I’d love to talk more about these things. In the meanwhile, where can readers find your book?

My book: ‘Ink-Smudged Dreams: by the Reading Light is available as an eBook from Google Play, or from BlueRose Publishers online store, or for those readers living in India, from Amazon India and Flipkart . 

Thank you so much Caron for this wonderful and warm interaction. And for giving me this opportunity to talk to you. You’ve always been an inspiration. You encouraged me all the way. But I still envy you Dottie. Thanks so much for helping me reach out to readers with my Ink- Smudged Dreams: by the Reading Light. They’re just that- dreams, that as I penned down, the ink was not candid and clear; but smudged in places with tears, and vivid in places with smiles.

Thank You.

Debaleena, my pleasure xx

ABOUT  DEBALEENA  MUKHERJEE

Debaleena is a homemaker, who has also been a teacher and college lecturer over the course of years. She grew up in Jamshedpur and did her schooling at Sacred Heart Convent School,Jamshedpur, and Rajendra Vidyalaya, Jamshedpur. She has done her Masters and M.Phil in English Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata.She lives with her husband in Bangalore, and she  has a twenty four year old daughter. Reading is Debaleena’s way of life. That’s what she is always doing. She enjoys the moonlight and roses kind of music. She loves travelling to places from the pages of history text books. Haunting bookstores is her pastime. She loves going on shopping expeditions for shoes, bags, and bling.  Observing people as they go about their lives, fascinates her. At the end of the day she needs her recliner, her books, and coffee. With some cake.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Ink-Smudged Dreams: by the Reading Light is a collection of poems. Poems that reflect the many facets of my life: maybe any woman’s life. Certain moments, fleeting experiences, lasting impressions, unknown anxieties, silly apprehensions, humble realisations, intense joys and every hurt felt; these are the poems’ moods . And above all a growing perception that life is not about tomorrow: it is about today. But all these are not my consciously addressed ideas. Each day, they have gently enfolded me. Then in the quiet of the night, I would sit down and pour my heart out on paper. Drowsy, blurred, and very close to my heart. These are those ink-smudged dreams by the reading light. 

You can find Debaleena on Facebook as Debaleena Mukherjee from Bangalore, and on Instagram as m.debaleena

***

 

Gender in the mid-1900s

In 1918, the Great War was over. 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 in the space of just a few 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 the 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 back home to cook, clean and have babies.

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 has often been said ‘working class women have always worked’ but even they tended to be mainly working in a domestic or a factory setting.

Factories, so often decried as a nightmare of modern life, in fact brought new freedoms to many women. 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, equality and progress. This continued to grow and as we know, gender equality is still an issue today.

For the majority of the middle classes it was all new. Many of them had never done anything like that before, having been daughters at home, then married women who were by default homemakers. But they had to have a living, so they went out and got jobs, and undertook training and they learned how to function in the job market.

It’s not very surprising that they also wanted the same advantages as men in terms of pay, sick pay, working conditions, opportunities for advancement and education, and pensions. 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 representatives, an almost, but not quite, impossible task) Was it presumed, as was often said, ‘Your husband will tell you how to vote’? It wasn’t until 1928 that everyone, regardless of gender or marital status, was allowed to vote, but it wasn’t until 1967 that this came down to everyone over 18.

Jewellery and other accessories in the colours green, white and mauve were a sign of solidarity and support for the women’s suffrage movement.

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. Women began to move into political life, but still very much 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. By the 1930s things hadn’t changed all that much but there was a sense that it could change. Looking back at that time, an MP named Edith Summerskill said, ‘Parliament, with its conventions and protocol, seemed a little like a boys’ school which had decided to take a few girls.’ Only 2% of MPs were female, and they were—of course—white and wealthy. But in 1931 there was an election where female candidates took seats from other females, a first for Britain in that there were more women entering the political arena and even more being voted into office.

As far as gender went, though, until very recently there were only two acknowledged genders, and only one acceptable sexual orientation. Crossdressing, as it was called, was viewed as laughable, ridiculous or of dangerous and perverse tendencies equated with mental derangement.

Homosexuality was not decriminalised until 1967. Before that, there was a risk of imprisonment if you were caught in the act. But the changing of the law did not change attitudes overnight and for many, their experiences didn’t change a great deal. Homosexual relationships were still condemned as sinful, shallow, transient and perverted. Even if there were merely suspicions that you were anything other than heterosexual, career prospects could be ruined: gay people could not serve in the police force or the armed forces, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers, as recently as the 70s, the scandal surrounding the exposure of gay MPs who then were forced by public opinion to step down, their careers over. Homosexuals who kept their orientation a secret and enlisted in the armed forces could face prison or at the very least a dishonourable discharge from military service, which would cause scandal and disgrace not just to those immediately involved but to family members and known associates.

I’m so glad things are changing. Although let’s not forget that in many nations, it seems as though attitudes are going backwards rather than forwards with societies becoming less tolerant and less accepting as homosexuality is outlawed and discriminated against, and even actively, often violently, oppressed. I wonder if, within my lifetime, we will ever see true equality in terms of gender, sexual preference, skin colour, age, or any other perceived difference between person number 1 and person number 2. It’s been said that it takes 100 years to change an attitude. I think that, sadly, it’s a lot longer than that.

Admittedly this is from the late 1800s rather than the 1900s, but I’m using it anyway! 🙂

***

An author interview with Vonnie Winslow Crist

This week I have the honour of interviewing an author who is new to me but who recently made my acquaintance, and so I am pleased to be able to share  some insights into this lady’s work, and hopefully readers will spread the word and rush to buy her books. Vonnie Winslow Crist, a warm welcome, and let’s dive straight in.

Q1. What kind of books do you write?

I write story collections, novels, children’s books, and poetry collections. What my books have in common, is almost everything I write is based on folklore, fairy tales, myths, or legends. Plus, everything I write, even when it’s written with adults in mind, is Young Adult friendly.

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

I taught myself to read at age 3 using old, 12-page fairy tale booklets published in the 1930s by Platt & Munk Co. The illustrations were lovely and the stories were simplified, though not simple. On the back page, there was a short poem which summarized the tale. I think those booklets influenced me to become first an illustrator, next a poet, and finally a fiction writer. I quickly graduated to all sorts of other books. Early favourites were the My Father’s Dragon middle grade series by Ruth Stiles Gannett and The Borrowers by Mary Norton.

I loved the Borrowers books when I was a child, and I think I still have a copy or two somewhere… Moving on, 

Q3. What are you working on at the moment?

I’m promoting my latest story collection, Beneath Raven’s Wing. Here’s a link to a free story, “Lady Raven,” which is included in the book: FS January (flipbuilder.com) I’m scrambling to finish a novel before I need to work through the editing process of my next story collection, Dragon Rain. Plus, I’m scribbling a few stories for anthologies I’d like to be a part of.

“Raven holds the secrets of night

beneath her wings,

guards that knowledge

with claw and blood.”

—Vonnie Winslow Crist, River of Stars

Q4. What can we look forward to in the future from you?

Lots of short stories appearing in various speculative anthologies, a collection of dragon stories, a collection of horse stories, several non-fiction books, and another novel or two. I try to keep busy!

And how!

Q5. What writing groups do you belong to and why?

I’m a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, National League of American Pen Women, and a couple of other groups. Each of these groups requires professional sales for membership, and they have resources for their members which save time when looking for markets, writing advice, and problem solving. But the most important thing they offer is an opportunity to network with other writers at a similar stage in their writing careers. Writing is a lonely business. It’s nice to be able to interact with others going through the same ups and downs.

Absolutely. I think writers need input and support from others in the same field, as you say, it can be a lonely business.

Q6. Who are your favourite authors?

JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, George RR Martin, Andre Norton, Deborah Harkness, Suzanne Collins, Kristin Cashore, Marissa Meyer, Sharyn McCrumb… (this list could go on).

Q7. What do you do when you’re not reading or writing?

I enjoy sewing (I cut, stitched, then donated over 600 masks to eldercare & school facilities this past year), gardening, knitting, crocheting, embroidering, baking, sketching & painting, and travelling.

Wow you really are creative! I’m so in awe of your productivity. I mainly plan to do creative projects then forget about it.

Q8. What is your writing process?

Something inspires me. Then, I come up with a story idea and think about it. Often in the beginning stages, I’ll do some research on the science, geography, folklore, etc. that inspired me. By the time I sit down to write, the story has come together in my mind. The writing part is easy, because I’m just putting to paper a tale I’ve already written in my imagination.

Q9. How hard is it to keep writing in these strange times?

Life presents obstacles for writers all of the time. I decided the covid-19 pandemic was one of 2020’s obstacles, and I wouldn’t let it stop me from writing. I used anthology submission calls as inspiration. If a long story seemed too big a hill to climb, I wrote poems or drabbles. (A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words, not counting title and byline). When writing something new seemed overwhelming, I revised older work. When writing anything seemed difficult, I organized my stories (both published and unpublished) into several thematic collections and sent those off to publishers. That is how my story collection, Beneath Raven’s Wing, came to be published January 30, 2021 by Fae Corps Publishing. It’s also why a different publisher has offered to publish Dragon Rain.

Q10. What single piece of advice do you wish someone had given you 30 years ago?

Stay focused and persist!

I completely agree. If I could talk to my 30-years younger self I would say, don’t procrastinate, don’t doubt yourself, just get on with it!

Q11. I have many old favourites that I read over and over again. What books do you regularly reread?

See Q6 for my list of favourite authors. Most of what I re-read was written by them.

Q10. lastly, before we say goodbye, where can readers find you and your work?

Website

Amazon Author Page

Facebook  

Blog

Twitter

Buy Link for Beneath Raven’s Wing

Thank you, Caron, for hosting me. It was fun to answer your questions. I hope your readers enjoyed the interview and will take a look at the free story.

You’re so welcome, and thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us, and I’m sure you’re going to find many new readers for your wonderful work.

Vonnie Winslow Crist is author of Beneath Raven’s Wing, The Enchanted Dagger, Owl Light, The Greener Forest, Murder on Marawa Prime, and other award-winning books. A member of SFWA and HWA, her writing appears in publications in Australia, Japan, India, Pakistan, Italy, Spain, Germany, Finland, Canada, the UK, and USA. Believing the world is still filled with mystery, magic, and miracles, Vonnie strives to celebrate the power of myth in her writing.

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***

Everyday life in the 1930s – part 1

I’m fascinated by the 1930s. That’s why I write a series of detective novels set in the 1930s and featuring Dottie Manderson, a young female amateur detective, as the protagonist. I write cosy mysteries, or cosy crime, and therefore there’s not a lot of space for too much social reality. Besides which, life is already tough enough, we all could do with a bit of escapism now and then, right?

I wanted to show just how different life was back then for everyone, not just women, in the 1930s. I’m writing from a British perspective, as that is my own nationality and my research and my writing centres around this.

Loretta Young, the actress whose soulful expression gave me the character of Dottie Manderson

I often portray the glamour of the era–the fashion, the socialising, all the dancing in long flowing gowns, the polite flirting with gentlemanly fellows in smart evening wear who offered one a drink or a cigarette and didn’t (most of the time) immediately pinch our bums. This glamour and glitz is what I love about it, but even I as a die-hard romantic idealist would have to admit this is the stuff of dreams—of the wonderful cinematic fictions of the time. It’s largely a gloss put over real life to get us through tough times and keep us keeping on. In reality we didn’t dance down to Rio or sip champagne, we were too busy trying to put bread on the table and keep the rent man happy.

So 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. Attitudes were poles apart with very liberal ideas sitting at the same dinner table as conventional, very reactionary, right wing beliefs. And these differences would grow to a huge divide that came to a head in the 1940s, although as many other things, many of the same issues still rumble on today.

To set the scene for this inter-war period: the gaiety and extravagance of the 20s was over. The harsh reality of the 30s set in with mass unemployment, vast financial meltdowns that would devastate the economies of the richest nations and wipe out many fortunes leaving plenty of millionaires bankrupt and desperate. For the poor, things went from bad to worse, with job cuts and losses, and the increased mechanisation of tasks previously done by human beings left many without work and therefore without the means to feed themselves or their families. But for many middle-class families—those with money, skills and professional qualifications and the less demanding costs of keeping up their homes and lifestyles, things were not too bad at all.

Gary Cooper, irresistibly ‘cool’.

The Great War, as WWI was known, was becoming more of a distant memory, 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 in the space of just a few 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 the disaster.

***

A quick look at Art Deco

Exactly what we look for in an Art Deco building. Clean lines and plenty of light were important aspects of the design. Very reminiscent of a ship, I always think. I would love to live somewhere like this.

Is there any more evocative style than the one we know as Art Deco? It is immediately recognisable for its elegant lines, swirls, geometric shapes and high contrasts in both colour and texture.

A Tiffany lampshade

After appearing in the first decade of the 1900s, Art Deco actually only reigned supreme until the early 30s, but in the popular imagination it conjures up everything from the Titanic to Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective and his obsession with symmetry.

The Seven Stars pub in Earls Court, London. Unfortunately it looks as though it needs a little TLC.

We can still see Art Deco architecture and design all around us. From the smallest ornament for the front of a car to a massive block of flats, they share these characteristic lines of simplicity and brightness.

The iconic Chrysler building, once (and briefly) the tallest building in the world, built towards the end of the era.

It wasn’t just buildings or home decor that got the Art Deco treatment. This is a BMW R7 motorbike from 1934. Even I’d be interested in this! I can almost picture Dottie riding pillion with William.

Another Art Deco house, this time in Florida

another lamp

Even railway marketing adopted some of the principles of Art Deco, leaving plenty of clear space and using statement images.

The stunning Spirit of the Wind by Rene Lalique. I can’t imagine this on the front of my husband’s Ford Mondeo!

The term Art Deco came from the name of the Paris exhibition in 1925, the Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts), and has come to mean pretty much all things to all people – anything which is white/cream/gold contrasting with black, anything where the design is uncluttered, or symmetrical, or consists of very straight lines.

The style was associated with glamour, new technology, modernity, and heralded a new era, moving away from the dark, fussy and cluttered styles of the Victorian era and moving forward to embrace the concept of progress. As a style it is still incredibly popular today, and for me, typifies the era of my Dottie Manderson books, a time poised delicately just before the second world war came along to change everything.

No more fussy old Victorian spinach and rust for us! We want something modern and bright!

Reblogged: I am interviewed at Maureen’s Lifestyle

Many thanks to Maureen Wahu at Maureen’s Lifestyle for this interview following her review of The Spy Within: Dottie Manderson mysteries book 6 last week.(you can check out the review here)

Caron Allan Interview

What inspired the Dottie Manderson series?

I’ve always loved the glamour of Golden Age mysteries, and so I wanted to try my hand at something like that. But I wanted to have a young protagonist as most of the books I’d read had older, spinster ladies as detectives. But I didn’t want to write anything too sweet, or too separate from the real world. So in my books, yes, there is glamour and romance, and the bad guy or gal always gets caught (though sometimes not immediately) but there is also heartbreak and the harsh reality of life not being easy, especially as my chosen era of the 1930s is so close to the war.

What is the hardest part of your writing career?

I suppose it’s juggling all the different aspects of being a writer in today’s world – the social media, obviously, I know everyone says they struggle with that, but also all the technical things – covers and document formatting, creating promotional materials, then remembering to share them, setting up a blog and remembering to create something new most weeks. And then remembering to do actual writing too, and stick to my deadlines. So much to do!

Would you ever use a pseudonym?

I always use a pseudonym. In fact have have several, but the only one that I’m using at the moment is Caron Allan. I wanted to use a pen name because to begin with, it gave me the space and privacy to completely mess up without feeling ‘exposed’. And also, I felt my real name was dreary and unromantic!

When writing a series how do you determine where a book should end and it’s sequel should start?

It’s not always easy, and I’m not very good at it, but fortunately because I write mysteries, that kind of gives a natural end, when the perpetrator of whatever dastardly deed is unmasked and taken away in handcuffs, or however they exit the story, it seems right to just have a short wrap-up and end the book. Though I do have ongoing story-lines – mainly the romantic side of things – that continue through the books and aren’t resolved immediately. In book 1 Dottie, my protagonist, is only 19. I think 19 in the 1930s was a lot younger than 19 today in many ways, and so we see her growing and maturing through the books, coming to understand the world, and relationships, but she is very idealistic and so she can be led by her emotions, and is sometimes bruised by life. She’s not perfect, she’s on a journey, and I like that about her. I don’t want to read about or write about a heroine who doesn’t change, and especially one who doesn’t have depth and dimensions to her character.

Who were your biggest critics and cheerleaders in writing this series?

My family are a huge support, my daughter especially is a massive practical help as well as my cheerleader, as writer herself she knows where I’m coming from. I have a couple of very special friends who are also writers and who are so helpful and encouraging.

If you could go back in time which historical figure would you like to meet?

Oh dear, that’s quite hard. I know we’re always supposed to say Marie Curie or someone incredible like that, but maybe just meet my great great grandmother? How did she cope in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century with all the domestic responsibilities and none of the labour-saving devices we have today? Plus she had six kids, and i only had two, so I am in awe of the women of that era. I’d like to meet Agatha Christie, and Patricia Wentworth when they were in their story-writing heyday, and get as many tips as I could, and also express my admiration for their work.

What should we expect from your upcoming series?

Well I will continue my Dottie Manderson mysteries: Book 7, Rose Petals and White Lace will be out around November 2021. In this book, we will see Dottie trying to find out who wants to get a local tea-shop closed down, and why. It’ll be a gentler mystery for Dottie after the previous couple, but nevertheless there will be at least one fatality, and if you’re not a fan of creepy-crawlies, this might not be for you!
I also will be launching a new series, set in the 1960s this time, and featuring the daughter of Dottie’s sister as the detective-protagonist – these will be the Miss Gascoigne mysteries, and begins with A Meeting With Murder. Diana Gascoigne has been ill and goes to the coast for some good sea air to recover, but obviously there are dire doings afoot and she will want to find out who killed an elderly disabled woman. the Diana books will be a little different to the Dottie books, as we know, the 60s were a time of growing freedoms especially for women, and Diana is not an ingenue like Dottie, but a little older, a little wiser and more aware of the difficulties that a woman can face, and she wants independence and more autonomy in her life. But she has the same determination to seek justice and truth.

Would you ever consider writing a biography of your life?

LOL, that would be so boring! I’m not adventurous or glamorous and I’ve done very little with my life other than sit with cats reading or writing. I really don’t think it would sell!

Do you ever experience writer’s block? Sometimes. I don’t agree that it’s not a real thing. I usually find it stems from discouragement, fear or being overtired. I tend to push myself, and I’m always thinking of plots and story ideas, so I get quite mentally tired, and don’t always remember it’s okay to just do nothing and relax. Maybe I need to watch my cats even more than I do! I find rest, music and mundane chores help.

How can your fans reach you and connect with you?

I can be found on twitter: @caron_allan or instagram: @caronsbooks or through my blog, caronallanfiction.com and I’m also on Facebook, but I have to confess I don’t go on there very much, I’m more of a Twitter person.

Find all of Caron Allan’s books on Amazon.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you, Maureen, it was fun!

***

 

Deleted scenes from The Spy Within

This will be my last post before Christmas – so best wishes one and all, and here’s hoping you and yours enjoy health, wealth and happiness this season. It’s been a truly horrendous/peculiar/just plain weird year, and for many people it’s been hard to keep smiling and to carry on. Let’s hope for better things in 2021. So a big thank you to all the nice people out there – those who help others and who care. Thanks also to all the wonderful people who have supported me in my writing this year, and previous years. Let’s pray that 2021 is kind and plague-free.

When I was writing The Spy Within: Dottie Manderson mysteries book 6 earlier this year, it very quickly became apparent that I had way too much material, and I had to cut some of my favourite scenes just to make the book a slightly more sensible length. I had to remove a couple of subplots too.

So here are a couple of bits from the ‘cutting room floor’, so to speak.

If you haven’t read the book, this might not make too much sense, but I’m hoping there’ll be enough that you can waste five minutes in a pleasurable way.

To begin with, in my rough drafts I gave Gervase Parfitt yet another illegitimate child, a nineteen-year-old boy called Gerry, who would infiltrate the Manderson family and report back to Gervase. I also took the reader behind the scenes to spend a bit more time with the Mandersons’ staff – it’s not only the wealthy who create history, and I love to read in books about the lives of the below-stairs people, that’s where my ancestors came from. So here are the ‘out-takes’ or deleted scenes:

Sally Butler was queuing in the post office. There was quite a long queue ahead of her and she had only just joined it, but being young, she was already bored.

You never minded a queue in other shops, she thought, but in the boring old post office or the butchers, there was nothing to look at, it was as dull as dull. Still, what couldn’t be enjoyed had to be endured, as her mother always said.

Not that it really mattered. There was nothing much to do back at the Mandersons’ and she was getting paid for her time. At least she was inside in the warm, not waiting at a bus-stop or something. She was looking forward to her afternoon out. She’d got to do a few things first, of course, then have her lunch, then do all the dishes after lunch, but then she had four hours of freedom to do whatever she liked.

Not that she had any plans. Although now that fair-haired young fellow outside lounging against the door had caught her eye a couple of times and given her a grin and a wink, she began to think she might have plans after all.

He was smoking and reading a paper. Not that he looked old enough for either, she thought. He didn’t even look old enough to shave. He looked almost young enough to still be at school. Yet he had to be eighteen or so—her own age—as he was tall and his shoulders were quite broad. He looked strong, and he was all-right looking. More than all right, really. Though she expected that he knew that and expected that he already had far too good an opinion of himself like most of them did. She looked away, just to give him something to think about.

But she couldn’t help turning back, and caught his eye again. She grinned back, not meaning to, it just happened. He was really quite good-looking. His clothes looked half-decent, neither cheap nor expensive. He wore boots, admittedly, but from where she was, they looked to be sound, and were well-polished. His hat was clearly a bit too big for him, he’d had to push it back a few times when it slipped forward.

She pretended to consult her list, but really she was watching him. He was gentlemanly, she decided. He helped a lady down the pavement with a heavily laden pram: shopping hanging off the handle and on the rack underneath, and a large baby at one end inside of the pram with a toddler on reins perched on top at the end nearest the mother. The woman smiled and said something to him, and he tipped his hat to her.

Sally smiled. He seemed sweet. He had nice manners, and she liked him all the more for it. He seemed like the sort you could take home to your mum. She was eager to finish in the post office and get outside to see what might happen.

Her imagination dwelt pleasurably on the possibilities of a trip to the cinema, and she wondered if he was a good kisser. The last one had been as slobbery as her aunt’s Labrador. Into this daydream came the demanding voice of the postmaster.

‘I said, next!’

Sally suddenly remembered why she was standing in the post office queue.

*

All I’m saying,’ said Cook, ‘is that he’s asking a lot of questions, and you need to remember to be careful what you tell him. What if he’s a burglar or summat? ‘Casing the joint’, don’t they say? And in my experience, with young men, you just never knows.’

‘Oh but he’s ever so sweet!’ Sally protested. ‘And I’m sure he’s just being very nice, interested in what I do and all that. There’s nothing dodgy about him. I know I’ve only seen him three times, but I’m telling you, he’s a nice boy.’

‘Hmm,’ said Cook, which was always the last word on any subject.

But half an hour later, she said to Sally, ‘Perhaps you’d like to invite him back here to afternoon tea when you have your next afternoon out? He might like to see the inside of the place, meet us all, if he’s really that interested. I’m sure Mrs Manderson wouldn’t mind.’

‘That would be lovely,’ Sally said with a big grin. She added, ‘An’ it might even set your mind at rest once you’ve met him yourself.’

‘Here young lady, you’re that sharp, one day you’ll cut yourself,’ Cook laughed. Sally took the tea things through to the scullery and began to wash them up. Cook settled into her chair and pulled her account book towards her. She shook her head, a little worried. Not that Sally wasn’t a pretty girl. She was. Just like her older sister Janet. In fact the whole family were good-looking. But Cook was uneasy at just how quickly things were moving with this new young fellow. For Sally’s sake, she hoped the chap was every bit as good as he seemed, or before too long there’d be a broken heart in the house. If not worse.

Not that she had much experience of that sort of thing to draw on. She’d been married and widowed in the first year of the Great War, and no other man had ever come into her life after her Walter. So she wasn’t as used to the ways of youngsters when they took a liking to each other as she might have once been. But she couldn’t get over it, how quickly it had all happened, and how perfect it all sounded. Too perfect by half. Something about all this felt off. This was what she couldn’t seem to make Sally understand. Sally was like all girls—too trusting, too romantic, her head full of all the stuff that went on in the films. Real life wasn’t like that.

She sighed then opened her book at that week’s page. But her attention wasn’t on her accounts, and soon she was looking through the window to the area steps outside. It was getting dark. The glass in the door became the cinematic screen of her young life.

Her and Walter at Southend pier in February 1914. It had been so grey and cold on the seafront, but she hadn’t minded. He’d bought her some chips and then later, some whelks. They’d walked the length of the pier then back. They’d spent some time looking in those wonky mirrors that made you look all out of shape. How they’d laughed.

He was a star turn, that Walter, always making her laugh. Always chatting nineteen to the dozen, and wanting to hold her hand. She’d let him kiss her the second time he’d taken her out. She smiled to remember the embarrassed giggling and blushing that followed, and the warm happy glow that filled her.

Her father had caught her once, ‘saying goodnight’ to Walter in the front porch. Pa had hit the roof. But right then and there, Walter had said, bold as anything, ‘I love May, and I wouldn’t never take advantage of her. I think the world of her and I want to spend my whole life with her. So if you’d be so kind, would you please let me have her hand in marriage?’

Tears started in Cook’s eyes. She sighed and shook her head again. She concentrated on her book and adding up her figures, though the page kept blurring. How could it have been twenty years ago yet still feel like yesterday?

*

‘These scones are delicious, Mrs Harrison. The best I’ve ever tasted. And my grandmother’s were very good, I never thought I’d see a better scone than what she could make.’

He passed his plate across for another. Cook added a slab of Victoria Sponge to the plate too, carefully using the tongs to budge the scone up a bit to make room for the cake. She beamed at him. Anyone who knew her would have noticed that her smile was not reflected in her eyes.

‘Well now, it’s a pleasure to feed up such a fine appetite as yours, Gerry, I’m sure. Another cup of tea?’

Before he could answer, she’d said to Sally, ‘Sally, just pop the kettle on again, there’s a good girl.’

There was a sound on the area steps outside, and the door opened, bringing with it a gust of sharp February wind and two or three leaves left over from the autumn.

‘Just in time, Margie,’ Sally called to her. ‘Tea? Or coffee?’ She knew Margie enjoyed coffee, mainly because the actors she admired on the silver screen also enjoyed a coffee at seemingly almost every opportunity.

Coffee, please.’ Margie was getting out of her coat and spilling raindrops everywhere. Cook scolded her for that, and Margie hurried to the back lobby to hang up her coat and hat, sending a laughing look at Gerry, Sally’s new friend.

Sally came out to fetch the milk from the scullery, and the two girls had a rapid, whispered conversation.

‘He’s a bit of all right!’ Margie began with another grin.

‘Oh he’s gorgeous, I know. Far too handsome for me.’

‘Rubbish. You’re a catch, you are!’

Margie noticed Sally’s flushed face and dancing eyes.

‘Lor,’ she said, ‘you’ve got it bad. You’ve only known him for a week.’

‘Don’t you believe in love at first sight? I do!’ Sally laughed and hurried back to the kitchen. Margie ran to use the you-know-what, as she always called it, then came back to sit at the long kitchen table, opposite Gerry.

She took her coffee and a thin piece of cake, murmuring something about her figure. Gerry was appraising her figure very frankly as she spoke to Cook. She noticed that Gerry was very polite and respectful when he spoke to cook, and gently teasing and flirty with Sally, but under the table his long leg was stretched out and pressed against Margie’s. She sent him a bold look under her eyelashes from behind her cup. He winked at her when the others weren’t looking.

Later, after he’d left, and Sally had gone upstairs to see to the fires, Margie said to Cook, ‘You were right, he’s not as nice as he pretends.’ She told Cook what had happened. Cook pursed her lips.

‘Hmm. Did you notice he doesn’t talk like us?’

‘What? ‘Course he does.’

‘No, Margie love, he talks like a posh boy I once knew as tried to pass himself off as a commoner. For a bet, like. I’m telling you, our Sally’s in for a bad time with him. I’d put my last shilling on that.’

‘Lor!’ said Margie. ‘Poor Sally.’ She took a knife from Cook, plunged it into the hot soapy water, and gave it a good scrub. ‘He’s too good to be true.’

‘Yes me duck, and that’s usually how you can tell.’

After Gerry left the Mandersons’, he walked as far as the end of the road, reminding himself to turn back every ten steps or so to wave to the besotted young woman still standing at the top of the area steps, waving and watching.

Stupid little cow, he thought. Once he was clear of the corner, he hailed a cab to take him the rest of the way.

Ten minutes later he ran up the steps of the members’ only gentlemen’s club, signed in as a guest and was conducted to the lounge, where a man set down his newspaper and looked at him.

‘Well?’ said Gervase Parfitt.

 

Thanks for reading. Happy Christmas.

***

 

She’s such a character!

My stories tend to be character driven rather than plot driven. You might think that’s a bit odd for someone who writes cosy mysteries, and you’d be right. Very often in a cosy mystery, you meet a collection of characters who tend to be caricatures, almost, of ‘typical’ people you might meet in the situation where the crime occurs, and it is the story – the plot – that is of primary importance. I’m not saying that my minor characters are fully realised, well-rounded and recognisable individuals, but I try.

The problem for me is that my books usually have a vast range of characters in them (and FYI it’s a nightmare and a half trying to think of names for them all) so there’s not always the space in the story to give everyone their own life without totally confusing the reader.  It can be hard for me, let alone the reader, to keep track of everyone. With Night and Day: Dottie Manderson mysteries book 1 I put in a character list à la old-school mysteries, thinking that would be helpful to readers (having been castigated for not putting one in) but I got even more complaints about that. So in the end it was just easier to leave it out.

And I’ve tried to create complex, realistic people as my main characters. They have faults and flaws. It is not my intention to write a book where the main characters don’t grow or change, or are completely perfect. I want them to mess up – and my main characters do that big-time. I want them to be relatable.

In my Dottie Manderson mysteries set in the 1930s, I have two detectives who are the ‘main’ protagonists, Dottie herself and Inspector Hardy, with a supporting cast of around a dozen other ‘regulars’. Then each story has its own characters on top of that. My protagonists are not the isolated individuals of many books in my genre–no brooding detective all alone with their ghosts for me. No, mine both have a family who pop in and out, often the source of useful information or connections, or just serving as a distraction or to illustrate some aspect of the character of my main people. In addition, they also have careers and are involved with work colleagues who again cannot be overlooked all the time.

And then as I say, each mystery requires its own cast of players–the numbers are rising! Making people really stand out can be a challenge. There are reasons for this.

Obviously the first reason is me. I have only a limited experience of life. I think that’s the same for most of us. We always, consciously or unconsciously, bring our own life experiences, attitudes and beliefs, and our flaws and strengths with us when we create anything. It’s been said that authors put something–sometimes quite a lot-of themselves into what they create. How can they not? So I try to compensate for this by doing a lot of research, and by trying to create people who are not much like me. I’m not sure how well I succeed with that.

But I don’t like to read books where the detective is perfect. I’m bored by protagonists who are perfect, who always behave the right way, say the right thing, do the right thing, who think clearly at all times and never get confused, puzzled or befuddled, who don’t lash out, or say the wrong thing, or believe liars or cheats. My characters are all too flawed, and as readers will know, they sometimes make disastrous decisions. And then have to live with the consequences.

In addition to that, I’d like to think the characters grow. I’ve lost track of how many detective series I’ve stopped bothering with because I couldn’t deal with the fact that the protagonists never ever learn from their mistakes, or keep on acting in an implausible or unprofessional manner despite twenty years as a police inspector etc. Because in real life we do learn, most of the time, don’t we? Or we try to.

My character Cressida in the Friendship Can Be Murder trilogy grows a little. As the trilogy goes on, she travels from being a designer-label obsessed airhead to being a caring mother and family-oriented person who doesn’t mind seaside staycations as that brings a lot of fun to all the family. Okay, she does still love a nice outfit, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of her life. And yes, she is still a bit manipulative, but she genuinely cares about the people close to her. which is why she gets into the messes she gets into, trying to help people by getting rid of some of the–ahem–nuisances in their lives. Oh yes, she is still a mass-murdering monster – but a nice one.

In my stand-alone novel, Easy Living, the main character Jane goes from a rose-tinted truth-denying outlook to recognising and facing up to the truth about her relationship – and it hurts her a great deal to come to terms with that. It’s a good thing she has three close – though dead – friends who are determined to stick by her side every step of the way.

Someone recently sent me a personal message on Facebook to outline all the things she disliked about my work. We’re not friends. I hadn’t explicitly invited her to give me any career pointers or to advise me on my work. I say ‘explicitly’ because in a sense, by publishing my books, I have invited a certain level of criticism. And I do believe that we should have free speech and that people should be able to say what they think. I don’t believe in censorship that tells people what they are allowed or not allowed to say or think.

However, part of me wonders what this woman intended to achieve with her message. I admit I don’t really understand why she did it. Did she think I’d immediately promise to rewrite all my books her way? Or that I’d stop writing? Or that I’d learn some kind of valuable lesson from her and turn my life around? Or did she want her money back? An apology? If I have ever disliked a book, I’ve just not read any more by that author. No writer can be all things to all people, and a writing style I like may not appeal to someone else. I’ve never contacted someone directly to tell them I hate their work.

To that person, I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the book. It’s perfectly fine that you have an opinion. I don’t plan to contact you to explain myself.

Does Dottie grow? I believe she does. When we meet her in book 1 of the Dottie Manderson mysteries, Night and Day, she is very young (19) and is mainly interested in having fun and going dancing. She’s a teenager, after all, and from a well-to-do, privileged background. She works from choice, not necessity, and can please herself entirely with what she does all day.

After two years of stumbling over corpses, she becomes more confident, more caring towards others. She becomes a business-woman and has to learn, almost from scratch, how to run her business. Added to that, as she grows up and goes out into the world around her, she is trying to understand life and human experience, is losing her childlike idealisation of people. Not only was the world of Britain in the 1930s light-years away from life in our era, it was also a time of massive sweeping changes. I like to think Dottie stays true to herself: she passionately believes in working hard, doing the right thing, helping people and giving support to those who need it. She is terminally nosy and always wants to understand what’s going on in people’s lives. In that respect, I believe she is relatable and ‘realistic’, hopefully sympathetic.

Obviously, I’ve only been writing for a few years. I published Criss Cross in 2013, and had only completed six full-length novels before that. So I consider myself still very much a learning writer. One day I hope to be an excellent writer. Until then I plan to grow and learn, and I hope my characters will do the same.

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Interview with cosy mystery author Judith Cranswick

I’d like to thank Judith Cranswick, murder mystery author, for sharing her writing world with us. Hi Judith, thank you so much for coming along and allowing yourself to be tortured in this way! I understand you’ve got some great news to share with mystery book lovers?

Yes Caron that’s right. I’ve got a new book coming out TODAY! Blood Follows Jane Austen is a Fiona Mason Mystery. This time Fiona stays in England and takes her party on a tour of sites associated with Jane and her novels. Fiona’s problems include an antagonistic guest lecturer, a difficult passenger intent on upsetting all and sundry plus the usual dead body. Fiona’s relationship with MI6 chief, Peter Montgomery-Jones has once again become strained. He is busy dealing with the repercussions following the assassination of a central African leader, but she needs his help to prevent the wrong person from being arrested. Although it is the 7th in the series, it can be read as a standalone.

That’s exciting news. I have to admit I’ve already been lucky enough to read this book, and I loved it, so if any mystery fans are reading, you should definitely order it now by clicking this link!

Q1. In case anyone hasn’t figured this out by now, tell us what kind of books you write, Judith?

The quick answer is the kind I like reading. I love whodunits in the Agatha Christie style, lots of hidden clues, red herrings and a relatively small number of suspects.

I tend to call my two series travel mysteries, and they probably come under the cozy umbrella because you won’t find any excessive violence, bad language or sex in them. A touch of romance for Fiona but that’s it.

Having said that, my first published books were standalone psychological suspense novels. I enjoy writing them (I have a couple of ideas I’d love to tackle if only I had the time), but my readers are always telling me they can’t wait for the next Fiona or Harry and Aunt Jessica story.

Q2. What first drew you to writing mysteries rather than, for example, romance or fantasy/sci-fi?

The first novel I wrote was an historical novel, ‘The Tribune’ about a 4th century Romano-British soldier inspired by a trip to Chedworth Roman Villa. The second book was ‘Magic for a Magician’. I entered a fantasy short story competition, fell in love with my 7’2” magician and the story became chapter one. I couldn’t get a publisher interested in either of them.

In the early 2000s, I was reading a great many psychological suspense novels – writers like Nikki French, Barbara Vine, Minette Walters and Val McDermid. I loved the edginess of their novels. That gave rise to my ‘All in the Mind’ and ‘Watcher in the Shadows’ both of which won awards.

My then agent, suggested I try writing books with a series character which led to the first Fiona Mystery – ‘Blood on the Bulb Fields.’

Q3. What comes first for you, plot or characters?

Neither. I start with a scene such as a woman being mugged in an underpass (as in ‘All in the Mind’). How the main character reacts to the situation influences what happens next. I’m not a plotter and for me the fun of writing is discovering how the story line and the characters develop on the journey. Rather like Minette Walters, I never decide on my murderer until the final few chapters. I may have a vague idea who it will be midway through the book but then often change it right at the end.

Obviously, with my series books I do have my small core of main characters (who I hope continue to grow with each book) plus the country where the tour will take place, but from then on it’s just start writing. By halfway, I probably have some idea of where I want to end up, but it’s all very fluid.

Q4. Do you buy books as gifts at Christmas? Can you tell us about any surprises in the Christmas stockings this year? (we promise not to blab)

Choosing books for other people is difficult. I did when family members were small but then changed to book tokens. Only my son has a long wish list of books on Amazon and most of those are reference books.

Q5. What do you do when you’re not writing or reading?

I teach yoga and tai chi and in a usual year I would probably be doing several cruises as a guest lecturer. I began running writing workshops on board ship, then went to giving talks on writing, became a port lecturer and in recent years I’ve been asked to give history lectures. Ancient history is another of my passions.

My husband and I also take several holidays each year, mostly as research for my novels of course. (Well that’s my excuse.)

I spend my mornings either at the gym teaching or doing Pilates or Zumba, and two mornings line-dancing.

Q6. What’s next for your writing?

My next project is another Harry and Aunt Jessica novel set in Persia. Our last holiday, back in November 2019,was to Iran. It’s an amazing country, full of breath-taking architecture, Persian palaces and sumptuous mosques, and a fascinating history. Accompanying our trip was the same history lecturer who came on our Morocco holiday which is what gave me the idea for my first Aunt Jessica Mystery.

Q7. If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you do?

I became a published writer when I retired. I taught geography and eventually became a headteacher.

Q8. What’s the biggest challenge for you as a writer? What can be a struggle at times?

Even though I’m retired, finding time to actually write can be difficult. I don’t write quickly and on average it takes me a whole year to produce a book. Starting a book is never a problem but I’m not a plotter and I do tend to languish in the middle before I get to the final rush at the end. This last year, by far my biggest problem has been research. Long before I even work out the story line, I visit the area as a passenger on an organised tour, which forms the basic framework on which to develop the plot. This year, that just wasn’t possible.

Q9. Do you have a set routine when you’re writing? Do you set yourself a daily word count to achieve?

My best writing time is probably early in the day but, in normal times, I’m out every weekday and life does tend to take over. I may need to stop everything to research and prepare PowerPoint presentations for a lecture cruise. I spend on average six weeks at sea, but preparing the lectures takes at least as long. My overall plan is to write a book a year. The actual writing – first draft – stage takes five to eight months, then comes four major rewrites, then to my editor, major rewrite, beta readers, more rewrites then proof-reader. During the intensive writing stage, I probably have a daily word count of around 500 to 800, but nothing is set in stone.

Judith, it’s been so lovely to catch up with you and good luck with the new book.

Readers who want to know more about Judith and her books can follow this link to Judith’s blog where she posts a lot of insights into her books and especially, the journeys that inspire her highly popular books.

Happy Reading!

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