And now it’s over to you…

As you know, I write genre fiction – that is to say it fits neatlyish into a specific genre type of book – I write mysteries. My books are not, by any stretch of the imagination, literary, nor are they ‘general’ what ever that is. Some writers are quite apologetic and embarrassed that they don’t write something high-brow. Not me. I believe that genre fiction has huge benefits and there’s no need to feel that I ‘only’ write mysteries: ‘Oh it’s only a mystery’ or ‘I really only like romances, I’m afraid.’

You see, I believe that books are lifesavers. Books are companionship for the lonely, entertainment for those who are bored. It doesn’t matter if you can’t hear, or if you can’t walk, if you’re old or young, you can enjoy a book. And if you can’t see, you can listen to audiobooks. Books can be a comfort and a much-needed means of escape from what is sometimes an anxious, or difficult world. We all need a break – and a book is perfect for that.

I had cancer a few years back, and whilst I had tests, surgery, appointments, sat in busy, soulless waiting rooms, and anxiously waited for a prognosis, I read books. It was a relief to get out of myself and my thoughts and into a world where the only bad things that happened would be solved by a detective and the villain locked up. Bliss! A few hours free of my own troubles was just what the doctor ordered. I realised as never before just how wonderful it was to get lost in a good book. I was so grateful to the authors who offered me that respite.

I was lucky, and I am now free of cancer and healthy, but my love and respect for books and their authors will never die.

So a little while ago, I asked my mailing list subscribers some questions about what they love. Here are a few of the most popular responses I had:

Q1. I asked, What is the best thing about finding a new book you love?

You said:

  • Finding a new book can be tough, and it’s important to find relatable characters, an engrossing plot and a style that appeals.
  • Many people said they were drawn by the cover – which is exactly what they are designed to do – to lure you in!
  • For some, finding a new book or series is like meeting a new friend.
  • When readers find a new book or series, they love to tell their friends and family about it!
  • Readers like the idea that the book will be theirs to read again and again, and to refer to, a book that adds to their knowledge or understanding (mainly reference books)
  • People love the sense of starting out on a journey, of ‘meeting’ new people and having adventures along the way. A kind of vicarious holiday.

Q2. Do you always read the same genre, or do you like a lot of different types of book?

You were largely split over this, with many people saying they read anything and everything, and others stating that they only ever read the same kind of books. I’m largely that way myself. I do enjoy the odd history book and classics, and poetry, but almost always I turn to crime, figuratively, of course!

Q3. When do you read?

Again, responses were quite split between those who read during the day, usually with lunch or a coffee or cup of tea, and those who read almost entirely at night before going to sleep. Some people read during commuter journeys on trains and buses. Now that I’m at home during the day, I tend to read with coffee or lunch. When I was working in the big wide world, I used to read on the bus or when I had a lunch break. It’s so nice not to have to sit on a bus for hours on end anymore.

Q4. Actual book or eReader?

The odds were almost overwhelmingly stacked in favour of ‘actual’ paper, hold-in-your-hand-and-sniff-the-pages books. Most people who read on eReaders said they did so mainly for the convenience. I must admit I’m the same. My trusty eReader goes with me when I travel or am away from home, but when I’m at home and reading in comfort, it’s always a ‘real’ book. The great thing about eReaders of course, is your nearest and dearest have no idea just how many eBooks you’ve bought – that little secret is between you and your gadget. One person pointed out that the advantage of reading at night on an eReader is that you don’t need to have a light on in the room, so you don’t disturb your partner. A great point!

Q5. What are your other favourite past-times?

Wow we have a lot of pastimes! Here are just a few:

Writing! Reading, obviously. Walking the dog, taking pics of your cats, gardening, flower-arranging, cooking, various arts and crafts including model-making, embroidery, card-making, painting in oils, painting in acrylics, crochet, knitting, drawing, sewing, photography. Then we had the DIYers, the mad exercise buffs, the tennis-players, the golfers, the swimmers, the dancers, the joggers, the cyclists. You like playing board games and card games, going to the pub, spending time with family and friends, eating out, sport, sport and more sport. You love travel. You love learning new things at evening classes. Some of you like to help others in the community, or volunteer in charity shops or care homes. You play musical instruments, you babysit your grandkids, and all kinds of other amazing stuff. You guys are seriously impressive! No wonder you sometimes need to sit down with a book and just chill.

And lastly…

Q6. What are your favourite TV shows, if you watch TV?

Again, a huge range of results here: people gave general responses such as drama, crime, reality shows, documentaries, comedy etc. but we also got some very specific shows mentioned: Peaky Blinders, Line of Duty, Gogglebox, Brooklyn 99, Poirot, Family Guy, Outlander, Once Upon A Time, Bridgerton (I know why you like that!), The Bay, QI, Mock The Week (RIP – and yes I did sign the petition…), Would I Lie To You, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, The Great British Bake Off, Strictly Come Dancing, Made In Chelsea, Any Star Trek, Star Wars, or Marvel thing, Famalam (not for those who don’t like very, VERY naughty words… but truly hilarious), Unforgotten, any football, all cricket and rugby, True Crime documentaries, and so many more…

I hope you find this as fascinating as I did. Some of the responses were so similar to my own, I feel we could easily be best buds.

***

And I think we all know why Jane Austen adaptations are so popular these days…

Sneak peek from Midnight, the Stars, and You: Dottie Manderson mysteries book 8

Book 8 of the Dottie Manderson mysteries: hitting virtual shelves near you in December 2023

This week, I thought I’d share another sneaky scene from the new Dottie book that I am currently working on. I’ve already posted one scene on here a couple of months back, and so to prove that I am actually working, I thought I’d share another. ;D

So here it is…

Sir Nigel always ensured that Lady Matilda Cosgrove – one of his oldest and dearest friends – had the Ormulu Room whenever she came to stay. In fact, he rather counted on it, because otherwise he’d have to invite fewer guests or get them to share their rooms. Very few of the other guests would feel comfortable surrounded by so much ornate, gilded wood coupled with a rather dark marble. Lady Matilda liked the room. As far as Sir Nigel could tell, she was the only person in existence who did like the room.

It was a quarter to seven on a Saturday evening in June when Lady Matilda sat at the vast gold and dark brown dressing-table and allowed her maid to dress her hair in what they both deemed to be the most becoming fashion for a lady in her late sixties. They were deep in conversation about which gown Lady Matilda had worn to a certain affair in the Spring of 1881, when there came a tap on the door.

Salt, Lady Matilda’s maid, set down her comb and perfume bottle and turned to the door to state, ‘Come,’ with as much dignity as her ladyship herself.

The door opened. A timid little red-headed maid stood on the threshold looking extremely nervous.

‘Well?’ demanded Salt. She was a fierce protector of her ladyship’s privacy.

‘Begging your pardon, my lady,’ the young woman began, ‘but Sir Nigel’s compliments and would it suit your ladyship to place your jewellery into Sir Nigel’s safe for the evening? There’s been two break-ins on this square in the last week, and Sir Nigel doesn’t want to run any risks with your ladyship’s valuables. In fact, I’m to go to all the ladies – and the gentlemen – and take their valuables down to his lordship’s safe.’

She accompanied this information with a kind of bobbing curtsey, all the while nervously wringing her hands. Lady Matilda thought she was rather a sweet little thing.

‘And what is your name, my dear?’ demanded her ladyship.

‘Eliza, ma’am. Eliza Smallwood. I’m new in this establishment.’

‘Well, Eliza Smallwood, I should be most obliged if you would take my jewellery case to Sir Nigel at once and thank him for his good sense and kind thoughts. Salt, give the child the case. But make sure ot keep out what I need for this evening, obviously, won’t you.’

‘Yes, my lady.’

Salt extracted several glittering items of great value. Once Lady Matilda had nodded her approval, the case was locked up again, the tiny black key slipped into Salt’s pocket, and the case was handed to the young maid.

She gave another little bob and clutching the jewellery case to her as if her life depended on keeping it safe, she said, ‘Thank you, your ladyship. I’ll take these to Sir Nigel directly. Good evening.’

The door closed behind her, and Salt and Lady Matilda resumed their discussion relating to the precise colour and fabric of the gown worn on the evening of the Royal Gala over forty years earlier.

It was not long before the bell rang for dinner, and Lady Matilda descended the grand staircase to meet the other guests for a pre-dinner aperitif.

Sir Nigel greeted her with a beaming smile, taking both her hands in his and kissing first her left cheek then her right in his usual warm manner that Lady Matilda found delightfully Continental.

She lost no time in thanking him again for his invitation to stay for the weekend whilst George was overseas on his usual ambassadorial duties. As always, she offered her compliments on the charming Ormulu Bedroom, which had, she said, a rich glamour that one didn’t see everywhere. She asked after his health, heard with patience of his sciatica and stiff knees – she was herself a martyr to her knees, and promised to let him have Salt’s remedy for the relief of the discomfort – then she remarked,

‘It was so thoughtful of you to send up that sweet little girl to fetch my jewellery. I shall feel so much happier knowing my grandmother’s diamonds are safely locked away. These robberies are such a worry.’

He stared at her for a second or two too long, and she immediately divined that something was amiss. But before she could quiz him about it, the door was flung open and Salt ran in, tears streaming down her face, causing everyone to turn and stare, drinks halted halfway to their mouths.

She wailed, ‘Oh my dear lady, I’ve just found out. There isn’t any such maid as that Eliza girl in the house. And she’s gone off with all your valuables!’

And indeed she had. She had practically run down the back stairs with the jewellery case in her arms, knowing she had only a minute or two to make her escape. The side door was still ajar, and unseen by anyone, she slipped outside, pulling off her cap and apron and throwing them onto the grass, then she hopped into the waiting car at the end of the drive.

It sped off before anyone in the house had even realised there had been a robbery.

***

Reflecting on my protagonists

Dottie Manderson mysteries book 7 – out Nov 2022

My characters mean so much to me, they definitely feel real.

Very often in a cosy mystery, you meet a large collection of characters (and FYI it’s a nightmare and a half trying to think of names for them all, I have a spreadsheet and everything…) so there’s not always space in the story to give everyone their own life without totally confusing the reader. I always seem to have a ton of characters, and I tried putting in a character list at the start, I thought it would be helpful but I got complaints about that. So in the end it was just easier to leave it out. Sorry about that. Maybe you could create your own spreadsheet?

In my Dottie Manderson mysteries, I have two detectives who are the ‘main’ protagonists, Dottie herself of course, and Inspector William 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 isolated individuals brooding alone with their ghosts or their issues. No, mine both have families who pop in and out, often the source of useful information or connections, or they can act as a sounding board for ideas and theories, or just provide encouragement in low moments.

About to press ‘upload’ on The Spy Within a couple of years ago

But making characters 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, and limited skill as a writer.

I think that’s the same for most of us. We always bring our own life experiences, attitudes, beliefs, our flaws and strengths with us when we create anything. It’s been said that authors put something of themselves into what they create. How can they not? So I try to compensate for this by doing research, and by trying to create people who are not much like me. I’m not sure how well I succeed with that. However, I’m not young, I’m not elegant or fashion-conscious and so I like to think Dottie is not too much like me. Though I am incredibly nosy.

I don’t like to read books where the detective is perfect. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying 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 make mistakes or get confused, puzzled or just plain upset. My characters are all too flawed, and as readers will know, they sometimes make disastrous decisions. And, like us, then have to live with the consequences.

I’d like to think they grow. I sometimes stop reading a series if I feel the protagonist continually makes the same mistakes, or acts 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. And if we don’t, sooner or later we get called into the office and the boss tells us we are going to be unemployed.

The gorgeous Gary Cooper – in my head this is a bit what William looks like.

Does William grow? I think he grows a little. He becomes more accepting of himself and his situation as a working copper, and doesn’t spend too much time agonising over the past. He makes some stupid mistakes, but Dottie does too, so we have to forgive him, don’t we?

Does Dottie grow? I think she does. When we meet her in book 1, Night and Day, she is very young (19) and is mainly interested in having fun and dancing with attractive young men. After two years of stumbling over corpses, she has become more confident, more caring towards others, she is more mature, and is growing a career and trying to understand the world around her, losing her childish idealisation of people. But I like to think she stays true to herself: she passionately believes in working hard, doing the right thing, and in trying to help people. She is terminally nosy and always wants to understand what’s going on in people’s lives. And of course, to help if she can. But she still loves to dance. (With a certain someone…)

Which of course will bring her into conflict with people who manipulate and hurt others, people who do terrible things and try to get away with it, and in the course of her ‘helping’ she will definitely get in the way of a certain police officer trying to solve a case.

A Meeting with Murder: Miss Gascoigne mysteries book 1 of my spin-off series set in the 1960s came out last October.

As the relationship between herself and William progresses, (spoiler alert) I’m not sure quite how Dottie will manage to solve murders and juggle her commitments. Will we see her pushing a perambulator with a couple of kids along to interview suspects? I just don’t know. Maybe I will leave her to raise her family and we can come back to Dottie in the 1950s when she is a mature woman with more or less independent children? Who knows. Maybe she will be a kind of Miss Marple detective as she gets older. I didn’t want her to be one of those detectives who remains the same age throughout all the books. Yet as I immerse myself in this pretend world I have created for Dottie, as time passes I am all too aware of the even greater threat looming on her horizon: World War II. How can I leave out something so important and far-reaching in its consequences and still keep this series ‘cosy’? I’m not sure I can.

American actress Loretta Young – my inspiration for Dottie.

This could well be one of the reasons why about four years ago I began to think about a new series with a new character. So I came up with Diana ‘Dee’ Gascoigne, adopted daughter of Dottie’s sister Flora and her husband George, confidently stepping out into the 1960s, wearing high heels and a brightly-coloured mini-dress, long hair back-combed and flicking up at the ends, ready to take on the modern world. The detective is the son (spoiler again!) of Dottie and William, known as Bill. (I’ve given away quite a bit now…) He has followed his father into the police. Having seen at close quarters his mother ‘meddling’ in police affairs, he tries to warn Dee off, but of course, she doesn’t listen. As he says, ‘She comes from a long line of nosy women.’

Keeping it in the family: this has led me to think about the successive generations. Will there be a Dottie-spin-off set in the 1990s? The 2020s? They seem so real to me, I find it hard to believe that they won’t go on and on, one generation giving way to the next, just as we do in the real world. Maybe there will be a Dottie and a William in the 22nd century, nailing criminals with technology we can only dream of. I hope so.

***

(and sorry for the really long post this week…)

Me at work on another draft of book 8…

Reading a mystery

As you know, I mainly write cozy mysteries, some set in the 1930s or 1960s, some in the ‘now’, and one even set in both the present and the past. Cozy mysteries or cozy crime is the genre where I feel most at home, and those are the kind of books I love to read. I have been reading this genre since I was about 9 or 10 years old, when I began first with the Famous Five, then the Secret Seven, then on to Patricia Wentworth and Agatha Christie. I have always loved the idea of detecting along with the ‘official’ sleuth, trying to get to the clues and figure out ‘whodunit’ before the book’s detective.

If you ever get stuck for books to read, maybe cast your eye over this list and see if there are any names that are new to you. These are the mystery authors whose books I enjoy the most, some are old and some are modern. When you find an author you really like, do you read their books over and over again, or do you remember the too well to do that?

I love to revisit old favourites, but I have a pretty good memory for characters and plots, so I often remember a book too well to enjoy it unless a lot of years have gone by. There are some books where I just reread the beginning – I love a good beginning that sets up the story perfectly and for the reader, there is that delicious sense of anticipation. But I do reread books that I know really well, sometimes I enjoy watching something unfold on the page even though I know exactly what to expect and when.

So then, my favourite mystery authors, here we go, and in no particular order:

Agatha Christie: obvs you’ve all read her books! But have you tried Death Comes As The End – set in ancient Egypt, it’s an interesting variation on the classic murder mystery genre. My personal favourites are Evil Under the Sun, Death Comes As the End, and Death on The Nile.

Patricia Wentworth: if you like ‘em traditional with plenty of romance, these are for you! Often overlooked these days though her books have been enjoying a new lease of life through reprinting. My favourites are: The Girl In The Cellar, The Listening Eye and The Chinese Shawl.

Mary Stewart: not a cozy as such, her books fall into the category of romantic suspense along with authors like Phyllis Whitney. Of Mary’s books, I really enjoy: The Gabriel Hounds, Madam, Will You Talk? and Nine Coaches Waiting. She does that thing where she uses a quote from scripture or Shakespeare as a chapter subtitle. I love that!

Phyllis Whitney: this lady wrote zillions of books before she passed away just a few years ago. My favourites are The Red Carnelian, Columbella and The Turquoise Mask.

Another romantic suspense author is M M Kaye. Look for her ‘Death in…’ short series of 6 books. For me, the best ones are Death in Zanzibar, Death in the Andamans, and Death in Berlin. Try them and let me know if you have a different favourite!

Coming back to modern cozies, how about trying Helena Dixon? I am a big fan of her Miss Underhay series, which like my own books, are set in Britain in the 1930s. Book 1 is called Murder at The Dolphin Hotel, and although you can read them in any order, reading from the beginning will enhance your pleasure as there are continuing storylines that carry on from one book to the next.

Don’t forget to give Sara Rosett a go – she has a couple of series of mysteries, and of course you mustn’t forget Frances Brody, Vaseem Khan and Julia Chapman. Or Julie Wassmer’s Whitstable Pearl series, now wonderfully adapted for TV and starring Kerry Godliman as Pearl.

Or you might try something a little less cozy – perhaps try Ann Cleeves, Abir Mukherjee, Robert Galbraith or Val McDermid to name some of my personal favourite authors.

Let me know how you get on! Who are your favourite mystery authors? Happy reading!

***

 

Hunter’s Blood by Val Penny #blogtour #HUNTERSBLOOD

Welcome to my part of the blog tour to celebrate the publication of Val Penny’s Hunter’s Blood:  A DI Hunter Wilson Crime Thriller.

About Hunter’s  Blood:

DI Hunter Wilson never has just one problem to solve. Three elderly women he knows have died in mysterious circumstances. Hunter appears to be the only link.A little girl goes missing on a cold winter’s night. When his team discovers cocaine hidden at the farm where she was living, the search becomes even more urgent. Why did the women die? And what did the child witness?Hunter must find the answers to these questions to ensure his family and his city are safe.

About Val Penny

Val Penny has an Llb degree from the University of Edinburgh and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer but has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina or owning a candy store.

Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories, nonfiction books, and novels. Her novels are published by SpellBound Books Ltd.

Val is an American author living in SW Scotland. She has two adult daughters of whom she is justly proud and lives with her husband and their cat.

My thoughts on Hunter’s Blood:

DI ‘Hunter’ Wilson has his hands full with family matters. His elderly aunt wanders out of a hospital, she is found suffering from shock and raving, full of odd stories of evil people hurting her on the hospital ward.

Meanwhile a group of friends get together for a weekend house party and amid tensions between the different guests, end up searching for a missing five-year-old. More than one person has a secret, and there is a claustrophobic sense of each of them watching one another.

Then we have Linda’s story as she lays waiting for help to reach her inside her boss’s van which has come off the road and turned over. why is the new owner of the company so particular about his vans?

Hunter’s Blood is full of twists and turns as these three apparently unrelated incidents gradually converge. We begin to see the strands of the stories intertwining and overlapping one another until gradually a new picture forms and it’s up to Hunter and his team to put the pieces together and find a ruthless killer.

But who would want to kill three frail elderly women? And more importantly why?

This book had me studying each character in turn, thinking, ‘Was it you?’ ‘Or you?’

At times grim and shocking, nevertheless this is a satisfying read.

SOCIAL MEDIA LINK – You can find Val Penny on these social media platforms:

Author Facebook Page 

Author Twitter Page 

Author Instagram Page 

WEBSITE LINKS

Website – https://www.valpenny.com

Amazon Author Page – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Val-Penny/e/B07C4725TK

***

 

eReaders – this is what I use mine for…

I got my first eReader around 12 years ago. It only lasted a couple of years and then needed replacing. But the one I have now, I’ve had since then, almost ten years. The poor thing should be in a retirement home for bewildered gadgets by now.

What do I use it for?

I play games: An eReader is great for playing games on but still looking busy. You’re playing truant really but everyone leaves you alone in case you’re doing something important. What games do I play? Nothing modern – no ‘call of’ anything or ‘squid’ something… I keep it simple.

Woodblock game – it’s similar to Tetris. The thing I really like is being able to change the background, so I can have a wintery scene with snowflakes coming gently down, or a very therapeutic green leafy scene with raindrops trickling down my screen. Love it! Great for hypnotizing me into another world where sudden ideas come out of the blue.

Spider solitaire – I think my win rate is something like 6% – I mean I’m absolutely terrible at it. But it’s great for killing time waiting for something or someone.

all these books on one eReader? Yes – but for me it’s not the same reading experience

I don’t stream anything, I don’t listen to podcasts or even music on my eReader, don’t even have social media or my emails on there. But I could…

My favourite thing about my eReader is Evernote. It’s a note-making app. I very, very rarely go out and about without at least one notebook with me. Though that is a good way to acquire new notebooks – I’m out in the big wide world (at least twice a year, just to keep my hand in) and realise I ‘need’ to buy one because I haven’t brought one with me. It’s not an option or an extravagance…honest! I sometimes need to make a note of something that has either just caught my attention or something I’ve just thought of – so on it goes to Evernote, which syncs with my computer once I return to base. Here is an eclectic array of notes I have on Evernote:

  • Rose Petals and White Lace (next Dottie book)William gets demoted and chastised for his ‘mishandling’ of the Parfitt case which resulted in Gervase Parfitt ***************** (spoiler alert! Sorry, you’re not allowed to read that in case you haven’t read the others!)
  • Story Idea – A woman who works in a big house as a companion or governess, comes out of an upstairs room at night and bumps into a man in a mask and a cape. He smiles and bows and puts a finger to his lips, saying, ‘Shh! I’m a secret agent on a mission!’ She laughs, assumes he is a guest at the party downstairs that evening. She says something like, ‘Why sir, your secret is safe with me, I shall never betray you.’ He could then laugh and present her with a rose, ‘A token of my deep appreciation,’ or maybe (even better!) he could say ‘perhaps this rose will buy your silence.’ Anyway, he compliments her eyes or something. And after these sexy pleasantries are over, he goes back downstairs and she returns to her room. And in the morning discovers there has been a jewel robbery!!!! Or a murder????
  • Haiku – from Feb 2019 (as I said, I’ve had my eReader almost ten years btw, some of these notes go back a long way) February’s here/Green shoots promise the/end of winter’s icy hold
  • My daughter, talking in her sleep when we were on holiday, ‘That comment sounds pretty cool!’ I thought it was an odd thing to say. I asked her about it in the morning, she had no idea what it related to.
  • Exclamations of the 1930s (gleaned from Agatha Christie and Patricia Wentworth’s books of that era): ‘Oh my hat!’ ‘What the devil…?’ ‘So-and-so can go hang as far as I’m concerned’, ‘Oh my word!’ ‘That’s frightful!’ ‘Blast it!’ etc. I try to use one or two of these from time to time – they are so ‘of their era’ that I think they lend a bit of local colour.
  • Philamot: According to my Patricia Wentworth book, The Rolling Stone, a fashionable colour either late 1800s or early 1900s was Philamot (lovely word) from the French feuille morte meaning dead leaves. (a kind of beigey fawn)
  • Minette Walters’ The Ice House: I noted, “watching this again after many years, I’m struck by the similarity between the ice house in this and the Neolithic tombs of Skara Brae and other Orkney sites. What if a landed family discover their ice house is not as usual 300 or 400 years old, but three or four thousand years old…?”
  • Fab quote from TV series Endeavour: ‘Don’t let him worry you, ‘cos his sort’s nowt a pound and sh*t’s tuppence, as my old gran used to say. Northerner.’ (that was Fred Thursday talking to Morse… Love that quote, it made me spit my coffee all over myself.)
  • Standard issue firearm for British army for both world wars was the Webley mark IV revolver, taking a .38 calibre bullet. It remained in service until 1963.
  • And this one from 2014: if a person is standing when they are shot dead from the front, they always fall and land with one leg crossed over the other at the ankle – this is known as ‘dead man’s fall’. (I think I used this in Scotch Mist…)

Oh yes – I also have books on my eReader!  You were probably beginning to wonder. To date I have purchased around 700 eBooks, though my preference is for paperbacks. With eBooks I very often forget I have them on the reader. I only find out when I go to buy them, and Amazon smiles, shakes its head, and says’ You’ve already got that one, you eejit!’

Usually, if an author is new to me, I ‘try’ the eBook as a kind of taster. If I like it I will then – obviously – buy more of their books, but if I really love it, I will swap to paperbacks. I get a lot more out of a paperback, I seem to find it easier to immerse myself in the story whereas reading an eBook can sometimes (for me) feel like it all happens on the surface and I don’t truly ‘lose myself’ in the plot.

What about you? Do you read eBooks? Do you have a dedicated eReader or read books on your phone, tablet or desktop computer? Or are you strictly ‘real’ book all the way? Do please let me know!

I work on several different gadgets, but my own computer in my own office is my favourite!

***

The world of the murder mystery

Not sure this guy is really a detective, or just a businessman who is late for a meeting.

As you may know, I love traditional detective fiction aka murder mysteries. You can get mysteries where there’s no murder, but if the stakes aren’t high, my attention isn’t grabbed. And if you’re here, reading this, the chances are, you probably like them too!

In the old Golden Age of detective fiction, there is generally a Countess clutching her pearls, casting disapproving looks at the corpse leaking blood onto her Aubusson carpet, and declaring that surely the perpetrator is some stranger, some tramp or wandering vagabond. ‘It can’t possibly be one of us.’

For me, the thrill of these books is the certain knowledge that, yes, it is most definitely one of ‘us’. One of these characters, outwardly so genteel, so polite, offering around the drinks decanter, or standing when a lady comes into the room, or smiling pleasantly and asking after the vicar’s marrows, it’s one of them. Most of them have known each other for years and see each other almost every day out walking the dog or playing tennis, or at drinks parties or dinner parties, at bridge evenings and coffee mornings. (Because this is the life of villagers of that era, we feel.)

An old lady with glasses can be the rich countess, or the village spinster/busybody. She doesn’t mind whose role she plays so long as she’s busy and well paid in scones and tea.

Like the suspects now before us, we too would like to believe that those around us are just like us, and thereby comes the assumption that no one ‘like us’ could possibly do something so sordid as to kill another person. Because such an action implies loss of self-control, unacceptable levels of emotion, and of course, a denial of the never-say-die attitude that instils us with hope for a better tomorrow. Or if not better, then at least no worse.

So when someone—let’s call him Major Wainwright—is found underneath the billiard table with his head bashed in or a hat pin piercing his eye to skewer his brain, we automatically think, no one I know could possibly commit such an act. Therefore, it could only have been done by someone ‘not from here’. Here endeth the first act of our little fiction.

Sorry about that graphic image, by the way, that fictional situation got really bad, really fast, didn’t it? I’ve been reading Agatha Christie this week, in case you’re wondering. And while I’ve got you here, I’ve no idea why it’s always a major. I can only assume that a warrant officer or a corporal just doesn’t have the same ring?

But when we look at those cast members or story characters around us, we suddenly think, how well do we really know them? This is what writers sometimes call the second act world of the ‘unknown’ or the ‘new world’, where we suddenly see everyone as different and unknowable.

Let’s look at this bunch of weirdos and oddballs.

Take the major’s wife, for example. She’s known for her knitting circles and good works. As is the vicar’s wife, busily visiting the elderly and infirm, taking care of the vulnerable.

The major enjoys civil war reenactments, often heard to say ‘That’s not how I would have done it.’

Then there’s the vicar himself. Does he really need to spend so much time shut away in his office muttering scriptures or Latin phrases to himself? What’s he really doing in there?

What about Miss Simmons, the village busybody, who knows everyone and everyone’s history. They say she has a heart of gold, but is she really over that old romance? After all, she’s never married, does she still carry a torch for that certain someone? these country villages seem to always have a nosy old woman. (Often that’s me.)

What about the village doctor—I bet he knows a secret or two.

Then there are the rest who can change from story to story, as required: there might be a visiting artist, or an aunt from another village, or perhaps a daughter just returned from university to care for an elderly father who once threatened the organist with his walking stick. And of course we have the organist himself. But don’t stop there, there’s the butler, the maid… oh all sorts of people. Maybe a weekending couple, he is ‘something in the city’ and she is a famous model, renowned for her torrid affairs before she settled down to marry a man twenty years older than herself. then there might be a gay couple, known locally as ‘artistic’, (that was euphemism my mum used for a couple of gay men we knew when I was a child in the early 60s) in those unenlightened days, they may have been viewed with suspicion.

But in spite of all these people with their secret backgrounds, their secrets thoughts, ideas and attitudes, we still keep coming back to the same thing: surely no one I know would commit such a vicious crime?

But how well do I really know them? As I watch them gathered around the corpse, their various emotions—triumph, relief, satisfaction, fear, horror, dismay, anger, sorrow—fleetingly appearing on their faces, I’m forced to admit it feels as though I am in a room filled with strangers.

It’s the job of acts 2 and 3 to unmask all their carefully concealed pains and plans and desires to arrive at the truth. Any one of them could be the killer…

And for readers of mysteries, that’s the beauty of it!

***

From Idea to Publication

There are a number of components to creating a book, and I’ll admit I hadn’t realised just how much was involved when I set to write my first one. Which has still not been published, by the way, it was truly terrible. You’re welcome.

A writer begins with the germ of an idea, a creative spark, just a little something that falls into the imagination from the ether and says, ‘Hey, you know what would be a good story? This…’ It’s hard to say where inspiration comes from. It’s the first question people always ask me: ‘Where do you get your ideas?’

And it’s almost impossible to answer that, because ideas or inspiration can come from so many, many varied sources, and are often a kind of amalgamation of a number of different threads that come together seemingly from nowhere. I wrote a blog post about this a while ago. If you’d like to read it, you can follow this link:

After the germ or spark, comes the ‘mulling things over’ phase. You begin to add more and more to your idea, like the layers of an onion. You test it to see if your initial thought will work in practice. You begin to think of snatches of dialogue, or scenes or names or any number of little details that add the colour and richness to your bare bones. At this point I usually have to start making notes, a bit worried I’ll forget something – I know what I’m like!

Then comes the beginning of the writing. For me, this usually happens quite quickly – I feel very excited, I write as fast as I can in an actual paper notebook, I’m not one of those people who creates a first draft on a computer or who uses a special app. This is the honeymoon phase that I never want to end. It is joyful and fun.

BUT.

Then comes the dark night of the soul, the ‘I can’t write for toffee’ phase, imposter syndrome raises its ugly head, and I am consumed with doubts about myself, my ability and my work. At this point all I can do is to dig deep and become really stubborn and tell myself I WILL do this. I push on, writing even though I’m pretty much convinced that it’s a waste of time. I didn’t realise until just a few years ago that almost everyone feels like this about their work, whatever it is. It’s taken me many years to realise that persistence is my most valuable tool. Another thing I’ve blogged about before!

Finally my first draft is complete. I let myself and my story rest for a few weeks or several months. I take a break to enjoy doing other things, like cooking or gardening, I read loads, sometimes do a bit of editing or proofreading. I blog, of course, and dip in and out of social media. Or dare I say it – I might go out – (we are able to do that now in the UK, not sure if that will all change again, it still seems a bit naughty to go out of the house for anything other than the bare essentials).

There’s till loads to do on the book. A first draft does not a book make, and I will need to revise, edit, polish, revise, edit and polish several times over before it’s ready to be ‘properly’ edited, have a final proofread, then released on an unsuspecting world. At this stage, I need to let go of my favourites – not necessarily in a ‘kill your darlings’ kind of way, but just letting go of scenes or phrases and being honest with myself if they just don’t work.

Then my technical – or lack of – skills come into play. These were the things that provided the biggest learning curve for me as a new self-published writer some years ago. I didn’t have the money to pay someone to do all this for me, and I wasn’t with a traditional publishing house who do so much for their authors. So I had to learn how to create a reasonable book cover, (Canva, I love you so much), how to format my eBooks and paperback books, and how to make marketing materials. I had to learn what metadata was, and how to use advertising. I had to learn to negotiate the online world to publish and market my books. People were very kind and there are loads of helpful sites and books if you get stuck or don’t know how to do something, but you have to be determined to work your socks off and learn a ton of new skills, even if you are not a techy kind of person.

But finally, the big day dawns and your book – or my book, in this case – is out there is the big wide world. It’s a bit scary, doesn’t seem real, and is hard to believe you actually made it from that first little spark of an idea months or sometimes years earlier. The book writer’s journey has often been compared to pregnancy and the birth of a child. I think that’s a pretty good analogy, especially when it comes to the ‘don’t you ever come near me again’ part of the process, and the shouting, swearing and throwing things. Certainly I’m not raring to get writing another book as soon as the first one has come out. I need my recovery time of a month or two before I’m ready to start all over again.

Aww, doesn’t my new baby look cute?

***

Desert island author

‘I thought this was voluntary?’

I’m thinking of doing my own mock-up version of Desert Island Discs. For those of you who don’t know, there is a long-running radio show called –you’ve guessed it—Desert Island Discs. Each week a guest selects their favourite music along with a book and a luxury item to take with them to be stranded (I assume deliberately) on a desert island. It’s a fresh (even now after over 3000 episodes) way to interview celebrities of all kinds and find out what makes them tick.

A certain amount of belief needs to be suspended here as we are assuming a minimum level of survival comfort and apparently electricity on this desert island… Try not to worry about the details. (How did the stranded person get there? What if they need medication? A special diet? How long will they be there for? What furniture/food/shelter/clothing do they have? Are they alone? Where is the fresh water supply? What about a loo? Ignore all that.)

Just out of curiosity I Googled the show and it’s been running since 1942!! I was astonished. Hugely famous and influential people have guested on the show, here are just a few names to wow you:

Ivor Novello, Humphrey Lyttelton, Leslie Howard, Arthur Askey (at least twice), Wing Commander Guy Gibson, Claire Luce (who took the original part in Gay Divorce when it was a play, before Ginger Rogers made it her own in the movie, I based my first Dottie book, Night and Day on this version.) Michael Redgrave, Celia Johnson, Deborah Kerr, Stewart Granger, Peter Ustinov, Ian Fleming, Alfred Hitchcock, and so many, many more. The castaways were not just British actors, musicians, Members of Parliament, war heroes and other popular names, but there were many, many others including US stars and notable figures: Tyrone Power, Count Basie, Blanche Thebom, Earl Hines, Paul Robeson, Dave Brubeck, (quite a few musicians, I notice), Paul Gallico, Regina Resnik, Tallulah Bankhead, Louis Armstrong, Andre Previn, and James Stewart.

Me playing the piano in my ballgown as my leggings dry on the sand…

James Stewart chose a piano as his luxury item. Actually most people seemed to choose notebooks and writing implements, or canvases and paints to take as their luxury item. Perhaps there is a sense in all of us that thinks that, given enough time, we’d get through all our routine basic duties or tasks and finally have a moment to do what we really want to do – be creative. Others wanted to take photos of their family, or their favourite tipple: plenty of good quality claret was requested!

Don’t ask me to do without this…

It’s odd, isn’t it, discovering what is most important in our lives? If we know our loved ones—and the cat/goldfish/gerbil are safe, what else is important? If you’re going somewhere with no shops, businesses or commerce, do you need money? Or jewels? Or designer clothing?

Here are my own 8 choices of music. I should just say, I like most kinds of music, but some are dearer to me than others. I cheated by going for albums rather than individual tracks 😊.

  1. Corinne Bailey Ray’s album called ‘Corinne Bailey Ray’.
  2. Riverside’s ‘Out of Myself’.
  3. Nina Simone: ‘Feeling Good: The Very Best of Nina Simone’
  4. Handel: Messiah (this is a big compromise as I like different versions of this by different orchestras/choirs depending on the track…)
  5. Paul Weller’s ‘Modern Classics’.
  6. The Very Best Of Jimmy Somerville, Bronski Beat & The Communards (You can get a lot of extra mileage with ‘best of’ compilations, just a little tip for you, in case you’re ever in this situation.)
  7. Simply Red: ‘Men and Women’.
  8. Can I bring the whole set of ‘The Marriage of Figaro’? I don’t think I can choose just one track… It won’t take up much room, I promise. Oh, and the libretto so I can sing along – there’ll be no one around to scare with my voice.

And for my book—Again, to show just how times have changed, and also, to bend the rules a wee bit, I’ll take my Kindle eReader. Hahahahahaha! (charging point is assumed…)

Which means, my luxury item is going to have to be a bottomless tub of Options white hot chocolate too. Then I’d truly be happy.

Oh wait, I forgot my notebooks and pens. No, it’s okay, my Kindle has got my Evernote note-making app on it. Phew. For a moment I almost got out of the boat and went home again.

And that’s it. I suppose what I wanted to say really was, wow what a huge number of really special people were on Desert Island Discs. It’s no wonder it’s considered an institution. I would love to have spent half an hour talking to so many of those people, sadly no longer with us. If you want to know more, you can take a look on Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert_Island_Discs

Or on the BBC’s page:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qnmr/episodes/player

Who would you want to interview?

If you were the castaway, what items would you take with you? What music would you choose? It’s a dilemma!

***

Ten (awful) things about me

Of course, I don’t wear the anorak all the time. It’s for special occasions.

I thought I’d tell you ten things you might not know about me. Why? Well, we’re all besties now, right, so that means I can off-load some of my mess special characteristics and just—you know—really be myself with you.

  1. I got a 10-yards swimming certificate when I was ten years old. So if I’m ever on board a boat that sinks really, really close to the shore, I’ll be fine.
  2. When I was out for a walk with my family in a park when I was eleven years old, I needed to go to the bathroom, and there were no bathrooms, so I went behind a tree, and a man and his dog came over and asked if I was okay. (I didn’t realise there was a path behind the tree as well as in front of it.) I was too embarrassed to say I was peeing, so I made up a totally unlikely story about losing my pocket money behind the tree and said I was looking for it. Crouched there as I was, I half-heartedly raked through the  leaves by my feet. The only problem was, this kind man decided to help me look for it…. It was about five long minutes before he must have realised what was going on, and with a panicked expression got up, said goodbye, and that he hoped I’d find my ‘pocket money’, then he and his dog ran! Aww. My parents laughed, but I was mortified.
  3. I failed my English Literature ‘O’ level. Though I later went on to complete a Bachelor’s degree in English and History so I certainly showed them!
  4. I also failed my Sociology ‘O’ level. Ironically, it was the only subject I really studied hard for. I must have guessed how bad I was at that subject. To make matters worse, my teacher told my parents I wasn’t going to pass and so they had to pay for me to be allowed to sit the exam. All for nothing. Is it too late for a resit?
  5. I love cats and dogs but I’m allergic to fur and dander.
  6. I love learning new languages, but I am hopeless at it. I always get the different languages muddled in my head, and I may start a sentence in French, but I’ll just as likely end it in Spanish or German…
  7. I once peed myself laughing with my cousin, then had to throw myself in a handy nearby river to disguise my ‘accident’ so as not to get into trouble with the dreaded parents. I was about twelve at the time. I was a horrid child! I also fell into a river on Boxing Day, then sat in a tree in my underwear hoping my clothes would dry in the breeze and went home an hour later frozen half to death in sopping wet clothes. Me and bodies of water do not get on.
  8. My work experience week coincided with my sixteenth birthday, and I was sent to spend a week with the local newspaper. I spent my sixteenth birthday covering court cases as a junior reporter. It was fascinating and I got well and truly bitten by the true crime bug!
  9. I once rode my bike into a fence and smashed it. And I took myself to the front door of the fence owner to confess all. He was so astonished at my honesty that he let me off. (Another pre-teen escapade!)
  10. I got thrown out of our school’s church service for asking too many questions about God. I wasn’t even a disbeliever, I just was asking tricky theological questions, which apparently was not okay. (Still eleven!) Oh well. I also got a prize in school prize giving for Religious Education, so maybe they forgave me after all.

So yeah. That’s me. I can kind of see how I ended up being a writer.

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