I wrote my first draft of the new book A Meeting With Murder: Miss Gascoigne mysteries book 1 in the first half of the year. In fact I started it towards the end of last year, but well, life, I guess, got in the way, and so here we are, eight weeks to release date and I’m still rewriting.
I’m not too worried at the moment, I know I have plenty of time. But it’s a weird experience reading your own work and shaking your head, alternately in despair or pride, thinking, ‘Did I really write that?’ Sometimes my word surprise me – I didn’t know I knew that word – other times I think ‘Ugh, this is awful, it makes no sense at all.’
One of the useful things ot pick up is the consistency, or otherwise, of language. I want the characters to sound as natural as possible and not too stiff and cardboardy. I’ve also realised I need to create a bit more tension and a sense of mystery. And I’ve spotted a biggish plot hole – it’s a relief to have spotted that now and not six weeks after the book is published!
I’ve got notes all over the place reminding myself about a range of things from character names to remarks along the lines of ‘need to bring him into it a bit more’. I love a sticky note. Unfortunately they don’t always stay in place and tend to gravitate towards one another. So now I have a jumble of sticky notes pertaining to several different books. I tell myself I will remember which is which, but I think I’m probably just kidding myself on that score.
I’m wrestling with what to leave in and what to take out. As this is the first book of a new series, there’s a certain amount of telling not showing (the opposite of what is usually recommended), of scene-setting and introduction. I will need to revisit the opening chapters a few times to see if I really need all that background info.
Then there are my old bugbears: repetition and too many qualifiers. I repeat so many words and phrases. Sometimes it’s a really good one:
Mrs H had been virtually drooling over the news, her gummy mouth open in a wide grin, her large loose lips wet with bubbles of saliva in the corners of her mouth.
I really like this phrase, but unfortunately I’ve used it about six times in this book and it’s lost its power. So I need to decide which is the best place to use this, and the most ‘eww-inspiring’. So five of those have got to go!
I also realised (from the read-through) that I use some words much too often. I found that I’d described everything as little – the little village, the little house, the little street, the little sitting-room. it was all too little. So the red pen had to deal with those.
Other words I use far too often:
He felt that/She felt that
He thought that/She thought that
The next morning…
And it’s not just words – I use far too many ellipses, dashes and emdashes. The writer in me loves to qualify, over-explain and enhance everything, the editor in me says ‘Ok, I’ll let you keep three of each…’ Out comes the red pen again.
I’m still only halfway through. Here’s hoping I can keep to my deadline and somehow bring this book to completion in time for releasing on an unsuspecting world.
I self-published my first book in January 2013, so nine and a half years ago.
(note to self, you should have waited until January 2023 so you could do a 10-year anniversary post.)
(note back to self from self: I might still do that, no one will remember that it was only six months earlier that I did this post, will they?)
The book was Criss Cross, and it was the first book of a trilogy called initially the Posh Hits Murders then I changed that rather clunky title a few years ago to the Friendship Can Be Murder mysteries.
Why did I self-publish?
I finished the book in 2012, (congrats, self, it’s been ten years…) and finding that people were still rather scornful of self-pubbed books – and still are today, btw – I tried to persuade around thirty publishers and agents to take it. The responses varied from dusty silence for months on end with tumbleweed rolling by, to responses two or three weeks later of ‘Sorry it’s just not for us, so sorry, but no,’ to responses by return of mail, saying, in effect, ‘Hell no!’
Some people said, ‘We enjoyed it but it won’t sell, it’s not commercial enough. It doesn’t fit into a genre.’ (True)
Lots of them said, ‘Good luck with that.’
And so that was why I thought I would ‘give it a go’ as a self-published author. Whilst waiting for replies from the latest victim, I had read quite a lot about self-publishing and thought it sounded like something even I, technologically challenged as I was, could do. So I did.
It was a long and difficult process as I had never done anything like that before. I knew very little about editing, or formatting of manuscripts. I was still working full time, so I had very little time to do anything ‘extra’, and I had no spare cash to pay anyone to do anything for me. In those days I didn’t know any other writers either so I had no one to ask. I learned it all from a book. and from research on the Interweb.
And then apart from the technology, I had another issue: I was really really scared!
What if people didn’t like it?
What if I discovered that I was genuinely a terrible writer?
What if the publishers and agents had been right and it was a huge failure? Well that one at least wasn’t too much of a problem – if it flopped, who would know or be worried apart from me?
It took a while to overcome my fears and just go for it. But eventually I got tired of wondering ‘what if’ and just – did it.
And yeah, it’s not made me a millionaire. I sell something like 100 of my Dottie Manderson mysteries to every one of the Criss Cross books I sell. But every month I sell a few, a nice little handful of eBooks and paperbacks and even large print paperbacks.
And yeah, not everyone likes it. One of my earliest reviews – which could have stopped my writing career right there if it wasn’t that I am super stubborn and contrary, was a one star review that said ‘This is the worst book I have ever read.’
Quite honestly they did me a favour. Because that was exactly what I had been dreading all that time, so once it came, everything else seemed okay. And by that time book 2 was out, followed by book 3 and book 1 of the Dottie Manderson mysteries.
I think most writers dream of getting an offer from a publisher to publish their works. That’s never happened to me and I don’t know how I would feel or what I would say if it did. I kind of just kept on with the self-publishing as it seemed pointless to waste time trying to place my books when they could be ‘out there’ within a day or two. I make a nice living now from my books. Currently I have ten books published and two more about to come out later this year. I’m not a millionaire. To be honest I’m okay with that. I love the creative control of my books and I enjoy working with other authors to edit or proofread their works or to offer ideas or support.
And I have received so much help from many lovely authors. Now, I quite often get emails or message from readers telling me they like my books. I usually apologise first. then thank them.
Readers, you have no idea how amazing it is when someone tells you that something you came up with out of thin air has given them pleasure. Thank you, wonderful readers, for your kindness and support too.
What’s the book about?
So what’s Criss Cross about?
Loosely speaking, it’s a murder mystery. But it’s written in the form of diary entries by the protagonist, Cressida, and is from a limited-ish first person point of view.
(And those are some of the aspects of it that were not commercially viable for a publishing house.)
She’s terribly posh and entitled, and has a plan to kill off her mother-in-law who is making her life a misery.
I can’t really say it’s a mystery as quite a lot of what happens is told to the reader directly by Cressida. But of course, she herself doesn’t always know what’s going on, so there is that element of mystery. But there is a strong chick-lit vibe, and there’s romance.
(More reasons why it’s not a good choice for a publishing house.)
As the story moves on, the body count piles up, because stuff just happens, as Cressida quickly discovers. Outwardly self-sufficient and uncaring, she is really a fairly lonely person who builds herself a family, and it is these relationships that she wants to protect at all costs.
It’s humorous, a bit snarky, but warm and occasionally poignant. Each story leads on from the previous one, these don’t quite work as stand-alones, I’m afraid.
Like many writers, I have written a lot of stuff that, for a number of reasons, hasn’t been published. It might be absolute rubbish, or it’s unfinished, or I am, as always, too busy on other projects…
That’s the case with a book of 110,000 words that I wrote in 23 days flat back in about 2005 or 2006. The story is called The Refuge. I mention it from time to time on here, and have posted a couple of extracts (click to follow the link to chapter one, if you’re a bit bored). The premise is that Britain is at war: towns are under attack from air raids, soldiers have invaded the country, and are subduing and capturing etc, as tends to happen in wartime. (Sounds a bit ‘current’, doesn’t it? And that’s one of many reasons this book is still on a shelf and not ‘out there’. It’s a bit real. )
The main characters are Anna, a journalist, and Mark who was a government advisor. They knew what was about to happen and had a few days to prepare. They move to an area near some caves, planning to hide there with Anna’s family, until it’s safe to emerge. As Anna and Mark make their escape they find it impossible to turn their backs on survivors they meet so the group quickly grows in size.
I often talk about ‘closed communities’ and how useful these are in mysteries to stage the crime. But what if it’s an actual community, a village, hidden for decades, maybe even centuries from the outside world? My characters find themselves in just such a place. They and their new friends have to fit in, and adapt to a new way of life.
Research for this book really made me think. What if this really happened? If I had to leave my home, knowing I might never come back, what essential items would I take with me? I think if there are more people rather than fewer, that actually helps as between you, you can carry more.
My first thought was, obviously, food. And water. But…
Am I going somewhere where there is no food or water? If so, what am I going to do? I can’t possibly carry and keep fresh sufficient food to keep me alive for a year, let alone the rest of my life. Can I? And I’m not alone, so we need more.
So I had to ask myself, how long might we be gone for? Are we going for a few days in the hope ‘it’ will all be over by then? If we can learn anything from history, (and current affairs) it’s that these things tend to linger on much, much longer than we expect or hope.
If we’re going ‘forever’ then a couple of packets of noodles and a few bottles of water isn’t much good, is it?
So are we leaving just so we can died quietly somewhere on our own terms? Or are we going to make a new life, to support ourselves ‘forever’?
If the latter, we need:
a) more information about what ‘resources’ are at the place we plan to head to.
b) based on that, are we going to become a hunter/gatherers? Farmers? Or are we going to take refuge in a community broadly similar to our own, where there is an established supply of food and water and hopefully other amenities?
It really wasn’t as straight forward as I initially thought.
My refugees in The Refuge decided they would initially camp out until they had a chance to figure out what to do next. The important thing in the first instance was just to get away. So they planned to take tents, sleeping bags, water, water purification tablets, matches, candles, some food, a spade, a few basic tools, etc.
Being sentimental humans, they gave into the urge to rescue their pets: Anna turns up with two cats in a cat basket, and Mark arrives with his German Shepherd. No doubt the dog was a bit more useful than the two cats, but at least the cats can forage for themselves…
I’m assuming it’s a given that my family are coming with me, so I asked myself, what would I take – what were the things I couldn’t bear to be separated from?
FOOD and WATER.
Not sure the baby photos, my notebooks and pens, or my reading materials would be a good idea. They’d be heavy and not actually contribute to keeping us alive, though they would give us something to entertain ourselves with in moments of leisure, or in a pinch, something to fling onto the fire…
If we had a chance to plan ahead, we could have everything neatly packed in backpacks and possibly take a few extra items that fell into that ‘not quite sure’ grey area:
Knife for veg/any cutting tasks; forks, spoons, plastic bowls, water in large plastic bottles, antiseptic or disinfectant, aspirin, loo paper (or??? I can’t decide about this one…); mirror, tweezers, scissors, plasters/bandages, clothing – just a couple of changes for each person. Some sturdy boots (on our feet so no need to carry), waterproof jackets. Comb, toothbrushes, face flannels and maybe small towels, soap for clothes and people.
Candles? Matches, definitely. Firelighters or briquettes, washing line, pegs, string, folding chairs (a luxury? But I can’t stand up for the rest of my life, nor sit only on the ground…) rope. Waterproof sheeting. Binoculars.
A screwdriver? Probably not – again – I’m just not sure, this is where I need a bloke to advise me. (Sisters can’t always do it for themselves.) A saw, hammer, nails, cutters? Am I building a shelter for myself, or…?
Large plastic bowl, kettle, small bowls to eat from, a wooden spoon? Small pans? Dried milk, tea, sugar, porridge, oil, stock cubes, dried beans, rice, tinned meat.
Tent or tents according to the number of people, sleeping bags.
These are all for our own survival. But what if, like Anna and Mark, we find ourselves in an already-established community? ‘Stuff’ might be less important and maybe psychology would be more important? What about the moment of our arrival? How would we fit in?
I think I’d feel eager to please. Eager to like everything, to approve of everything, to be accepted, understood and grateful, to be liked. Excited, keen. Then, a few months later, when difficulties arose and the ‘honeymoon’ period was over, I might feel lonely, homesick, and wonder if I should have just stayed where I was.
What about clashes of ideology? We might agree in public but at home, in private, we can say what we really think, do what we believe is right. Or can we? How private or safe are we really?
In my book, the small village is isolated, self-sufficient. It doesn’t cope well with ideas and attitudes from outside. I had to think about how relationships remained intact through the stresses and strains of everyday life in a new place. What about fallings out and antagonisms – how much do they affect everyone else?
For my people, going to the village instead of trying to cope on their own, meant:
initial relief at being with others, as this meant more support, the village was better established, more resilient, had a more structured way of life than simply living in a few tents. There was a sense of having reached a goal that seemed almost normal.
But then came the struggle to fit in when they realised attitudes, beliefs and way of life were different. It was hard to find common frames of reference. And although the majority adopted/embraced/adapted to the new way of life, a small number won’t/can’t seem to fit in.
Not all the villagers would welcome the new arrivals. There might be tension which leads to a sense of ‘us and them’, which could boil over into aggressive behaviour and even violence.
This in turn could mean that for some of the newcomers, there was a tendency to stay in the same groups and not to blend in.
And then of course, because I am a mystery writer at heart, I couldn’t resist adding a bit of difficulty of my own: the new arrivals have a gradual realisation that this is not a perfect society but is it possible or are they even morally justified in attempting to bring about change? Is it even okay to suggest change when you are an outsider, and need them more than they need you?
I had to consider that some of my characters might, eventually, feel they were not able to stay in this new place, no matter how convenient or safe it seems.
But at this the point, they may well discover the truth: no one is allowed to leave.
As you may know, I’m working on the first book of a new series. It’s another cosy mystery series featuring a female amateur detective. The series is to be known as the Miss Gascoigne mysteries, and Diana ‘Dee’ Gascoigne is the detective. It will be released on the 30th September, and the Kindle version is available to pre-order. The paperback and large print paperback will be published shortly after the eBook.
If you have read any of the Dottie Manderson mysteries set in the 1930s, some of these names may sound familiar. Dee Gascoigne is the baby Diana who is born at the beginning of The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish. Now it’s 1965, and Diana is almost 30, recently separated from an abusive husband and still carrying a not-very-secret crush for her not-quite-cousin Bill Hardy, detective inspector, and eldest son of Dottie and–you’ve guessed it, William Hardy from the Dottie Manderson mysteries. (SPOILER!!! They do get together, don’t despair!)
In A Meeting With Murder, Dee has just lost her job due to the scandalous fact that she plans to divorce her husband–divorce was still a very big issue in the 1960s. Next, following a bout of bronchitis, Dee goes off to the seaside to recover. Of course, even in a small village, or perhaps because it’s a small village, there are malign forces at work. Dee, like her Aunt Dottie, feels compelled to investigate, and perhaps start a whole new career for herself.
Here’s a short extract from A Meeting With Murder: Miss Gascoigne mysteries book 1.
I hope you like it!
Dee had a leisurely afternoon. She took another walk around the village, marvelling that she didn’t happen to meet anyone, considering the place was so small but well-populated. She had afternoon tea with Cissie in what was rapidly becoming a ritual, one that she would miss a great deal when she finally returned to London.
That evening, Dee looked at the two letters yet again, mulling over them long and hard. She knew them by heart now. Not that there had been much to learn, both were short and direct.
The first one, in the usual style of cut out words or single letters from magazines or newspapers, said simply, ‘Your seCREt shame will NOT be a secret much lONger.’
The second, more recent one, said, ‘Your bAstard cHILd will pay for YOUr sin.’
The word bastard had been made up from several sections of type: the b was a separate letter, then the Ast were together, presumably formerly part of a longer word. The next a was a single letter again, then the final two letters, rd, were once more part of the same word, and likewise, the YOU of your was formed of a word in capital letters with an extra r added to the end.
On the one hand, it was laughable that anyone would think this was still a scandalous secret in the modern era. But on the other, Dee remembered what Cissie had said to her when she first explained about the poison pen letters. It must have been a shock, Dee decided, for Lily to open the envelopes and find these letters inside. To think that someone who knew her, someone familiar to whom she no doubt spoke on a regular basis, had composed these spiteful notes.
Dee sat for a long while pondering the letters. At last, she put them away, neatly folding them and slipping them into the zipped mirror pocket of her handbag for safe keeping.
The next morning she was up bright and early, had her breakfast, and humming along to a song on the radio, she tidied the cottage and got ready to go out to meet her brother’s train, eager to see him, eager to tell him everything she’d learned. She came out of the dim house into bright sunshine, and walked directly into a man going past the cottage.
Then as he gripped her arms to steady her, and helped her to stay on her feet, she saw who it was.
‘Oh!’ she said, covering her sense of shock by becoming angry instead of flinging herself into his arms. ‘So Scotland Yard finally turned up, did they? A bit late in the day.’
The tall man in the smart suit—surely a little too smart for ordinary daywear, especially in the country, Dee commented to herself—took a couple of steps back, clearly as shocked as she was at having literally walked right into her as she came out of the front door of the cottage as he and the other man with him were walking by on their way from the railway station to the pub.
Just looking at him was enough to set her heart singing, much to her annoyance. Meanwhile he was frowning down at her with what was known in the family as the Hardy Frown, his dark brows drawn together over long-lashed hazel eyes that were just like his mother’s.
‘What the hell are you doing here anyway? You’d better not be interfering in my investigation. I’m not like my father. I don’t allow private citizens to meddle in official police business.’ He was holding his forefinger up in a lecturing manner.
‘Oh shut up, Bill, you’re so bloody pompous,’ Dee said and stormed off.
‘I take it you know that lady, sir?’ the sergeant asked, eyes wide with curiosity, following the lady as she went.
‘You could say so, sergeant. Listen to me. On no account are you to tell that woman anything about this case. Don’t give her documents to read. Don’t accidentally leave your notebook lying around for her to ‘just happen to find’ and snoop through. Don’t answer any of her questions, or tell her our line of questioning, or anything about our suspects, or just—anything. She comes from a long line of nosy women. Do you understand me, sergeant?’
‘Ye…’ the sergeant began.
‘Because if you do any of those things, believe me, I shall make your life a living hell.’ Hardy caught himself and stopped. Then added, with just a hint of a smile, ‘Not that I don’t already, I expect you’re thinking.’
‘Oh sir, as a mere sergeant, I’m not paid to think.’ Sergeant Nahum Porter risked a grin at the inspector.
Stifling a laugh, Hardy said, ‘I’m very glad to hear it. Now come on, we’ve got things to do.’
Yes folks, I’m doing it again! This is a great time of year for releasing a new murder mystery, it seems, and this week I’m really happy to share my review of Miriam Drori’s mystery novel Style and The Solitary.
Here is a short blurb to get you in the mood:
An unexpected murder. A suspect with a reason. The power of unwavering belief.
A murder has been committed in an office in Jerusalem. That’s for sure. The rest is not as clear-cut as it might seem.
Asaf languishes in his cell, unable to tell his story even to himself. How can he tell it to someone who elicits such fear within him?
His colleague, Nathalie, has studied Beauty and the Beast. She understands its moral. Maybe that’s why she’s the only one who believes in Asaf, the suspect. But she’s new in the company – and in the country. Would anyone take her opinion seriously?
She coerces her flatmates, Yarden and Tehila, into helping her investigate. As they uncover new trails, will they be able to reverse popular opinion?
In the end, will Beauty’s belief be strong enough to waken the Beast? Or, in this case, can Style waken the Solitary?
The characters: Asaf hasn’t got any friends. Even at work, hardly anyone knows him. Asaf is struggling to cope with social interactions and just wants to get on with his work and be left alone. In spite of this, he goes to work on this particular day carrying a note as a reminder to himself that things are about to change.
Unfortunately when Asaf is discovered with a dead body in his office building at the start of the working day, that note of his doesn’t help at all.
As he gets caught up in what surely has to be the worst situation you can imagine, the reader is able to know Asaf’s thoughts. We know that he is not the bad guy he’s believed to be, and it’s so easy to develop a sense of empathy for him.
And it’s not only the reader who has sympathy for Asaf’s plight. Co-worker Nathalie also passionately and completely has faith in his innocence. And she is determined to prove him innocent. Her flatmates are roped into helping Nathalie in her quest to find out the truth and exonerate Asaf.
This is a gentle, humorous and compassionate story about people and how they are. It is a book that embraces difference and encourages acceptance and respect. The mystery is almost secondary to the development of the relationships in the book.
The backdrop: I think this is the first novel I’ve ever read set in Jerusalem, so this was new and exciting for me, a kind of travelogue wrapped into the story. Although the details of the setting do not overwhelm, the location makes a welcome extra character, complementing and reflecting the many layers of history, culture and social interaction that come together to make the story.
I recommend this book.
Quick note: with no graphic violence, no bad language and no graphic sexual content, this book would make a great read for mid-teens and up, or anyone who enjoys a ‘clean’, gentle romantic mystery.
Miriam has a website, do click the link below for news and views, I know Miriam would love to hear from you.
Here’s a bit of what it’s about, then I’ll tell you what I thought.
Incarcerated in the gloom of a Highland asylum, a young mother finds illicit love. And death.
Kate Sharp’s family is a mystery. Her mother, Ellen, disappeared into the shadows of Craig Dunain psychiatric hospital when Kate was a child. When her grandmother dies, Kate is desperate for answers. What were the circumstances of her mother’s life and death? Who is her father?
Kate’s not the only one trying to uncover the truth. The remains of two bodies with murderous injuries have been found buried in the forest next to the former hospital.
And someone else is searching for answers, and he will stop at nothing to find them.
As the tale of Ellen’s tragic unravelling unfolds, the secrets that led to her death are exposed, along with the shocking truth about Kate’s father.
Unaware of the danger stalking her, Kate continues her search.
Will she find the answers? And can she save her own life?
If this was on a popular online store, I’d give Unravelling five stars.
First of all let me just say, I’m not very good with writing reviews – I tend towards the brief, so I’m trying to be more expansive here.
I read it in three sittings: session one was out of mild curiosity – was this a book I felt I could get into, was it the kind of the thing I would enjoy? I find it hard to take part in a blog tour if I haven’t genuinely engaged with the material – I don’t want to lie to my readers. So I quickly read the opening 30 or 40 pages.
The second reading session was a panicked, ‘Eek I almost forgot and there’s only four more days until my post is due out…’ so I read another 50 or so pages, thinking, I like how this is unfolding, I’m definitely intrigued, I’m confident I am going to love this book.
The third sitting, with 250+ pages to go was one of those, ‘I don’t care how long it takes, I am not putting this book down for anything except Rege-John Page or Theo James.’ I mean, I was hooked.
Reader, I devoured it.
And this is my conclusion:
Unravelling by Helen Forbes is an engrossing, claustrophobic psychological thriller. It was tense at times, and sorrowful. The insights into serious mental illness were so emotive, and I admit I blubbed. It was compulsive too – as I said, I just hadto read on, I had to know.
The ending was swift and satisfying, and hopeful.
For me, I felt that Kate’s story was in a way a – not redemption exactly – more a second chance for Ellen. I can’t explain (words are my job too! Rolls eyes.) It was the pay-off that we the reader got after the long personal journey of self-discovery of both Ellen and Kate.
I enjoyed the style. To begin with I was a little confuzzled by the shift in points of view, but got used to it, you can identify the narrators easily enough. I think it was a bold move to separate Kate’s story into two halves and put Ellen’s story in the middle. I’m not sure I’d have made that choice myself, but I think it works, though when I came back to the second part of Kate’s story I had to quickly ‘revise’ what had happened in the first part. But I think it worked, and as I say, I was hooked – it was definitely an unputdownable, engrossing read, and I highly recommend this book!
Do check out Helen Forbes’ website – link here – to find out about the DI Joe Galbraith books, also set in Scotland, and about the author herself.
You can also catch up with Helen and all her news on the following social media:
And please review the book if you love it – let other readers know what’s good! You don’t have to write an essay – just a quick comment of ‘Loved it’ or ‘highly recommended’ – it’s okay to be brief, because every little helps as they say. Thanks!
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.
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.
‘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. 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.’
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.
Hold everything! EBook NOW available to pre-order (paperback will be released at the same time)
This is an update on the progress of Dottie Manderson book 6 – The Spy Within. Like most of my posts about new books – it begins with an apology. I know, I know in a rash moment of optimism and craziness I said ‘coming Summer 2020’. Even as I said it, my fingers were crossed and I was telling myself, ‘But Summer can be any time between June or August, right?’
But you know, guys, look at what the rest of 2020 has been like. I’ve got a good excuse, haven’t I? Probably the best I’ve had so far. Therefore I’m pleased – though slightly worried – to announce that I plan to release The Spy Within ‘some time’ in October this year. That’s not long! (Note to me: Oh heck, that’s really not long! Argh!) I’m sorry it’s late, but it’s been a tough one. I know I say that about all of them.
To begin with, for some reason it was really, really long. I waffled far more than usual. So I’ve had a lot of tightening up to do. And I had too many strands of plot to juggle. (Sorry about the mixed metaphor). I’ve therefore had to cut loads out, constantly asking myself, ‘Yes that’s fine, but does it really tell us anything new?’ ‘How does it get us further forward?’ It’s quite hard to cut out a scene you love but which deep in your heart, you know serves no purpose at all. I have a document which is all outtakes. Not as funny as the ones you see on TV, that’s for sure, and getting longer every day.
The Spy Within is another crossroads story. Dottie is faced with some new and demanding situations, and of course uses her genuine love of people to find out the truth behind certain rumours and to ferret out answers to help William. We are going to find out a bit more about William’s background, meet a couple more of his family, enjoy quite a few afternoon teas (always high on my list of priorities), and finally the Mantle will come together, a year after the case in which it first featured. (The Mantle of God: Dottie Manderson mysteries: book 2.)
If you are Team Gervase, get ready for some hard truths to be revealed. And – hint, hint – to see your fave wiped off the slate. Sorry about that. Sorry not sorry. Haha.
If you are Team William, get ready for things to finally start going your way. (Less of a hint, more of a massive nudge.) You might need chocolate, wine or your preferred indulgence/support for emotional scenes.
Chapter One is the only part of the book fully revised and currently not surrounded by warning signs, men in hard hats, and scaffolding, and if you’re bored enough tempted, you can read it here. Hope you like it.
In my original draft, the mantle was red, but unfortunately I couldn’t find an image that reflected that, so I switched to green!
No I haven’t been to an exhibition. I have barely been out of the house for seven weeks! So I’m trawling through my old blog posts and notes to find something to rehash ahem, to look at from a new perspective.
Back in January 2017, I was about to start writing book 2 of the Dottie Manderson mysteries. The book was called The Mantle of God, and featured an ancient clerical vestment, a mantle, that is to say, a kind of cloak for priests. This topic had been triggered by a TV documentary I saw about Medieval English Embroidery, called Opus Anglicanum (English Work), that was on sometime over Christmas I seem to think. Anyway, a bit of research on the old interweb showed me that the V & A museum in London were holding a special exhibition, so thither went I post haste. Actually it was by Midland Trains but anyway…
I had to see it for myself. The enthusiasm of the narrator/presenter of the documentary (which I’ve forgotten the title of, and also the name of the presenter – I wish I’d made a note) made it seem so relevant, so real. Of course, life gets in the way sometimes, and in fact the exhibition was almost over so I nearly missed it but I am so glad I finally made it.
Due to it being the off-season, the number of visitors wasn’t quite as large as usual, and the organisers were happy to allow everyone to wander around and browse to their hearts’ content, and also due to the exhibition being busy but not cheek-by-jowl crowded, I was able to perch on a bench and gaze fondly at theButler Bowden Cope, which was the main item I had come to see ‘in the flesh’, amongst many other copes, mantles, chasubles, altar cloths and more. Being a writer, of course I had come armed with notebook and pen (and bought several more in the gift shop). I was able to sit and make notes without feeling a need to hurry along and make way for others. The items were fabulous, far beyond what I had expected, and beautifully displayed. Here is a little of what I felt and noted:
‘The red velvet background was, as I expected, greatly faded away to a soft, deep pinky red although here and there it remains fresh and vibrant, and the threads of the velvet fabric were worn and even almost bare in places. As is typical, tiers of Biblical scenes and characters are interspersed by smaller tiers of angels, and twining branches form vertical barriers between sections.
‘The figures are more or less uncoloured now, but their hair still shines softly gold or silver, and here and there a vivid patch of blue cloth has retained its glorious colour. Lions peer between branches of oak, their heads realised by spirals of tiny pearls, for the main part still intact after, what, almost 700 years? 700 hundred years – I can hardly believe it.
‘Actually, I feel rather in awe. Of the creators, their skill, and even of the measure of inspiration they enjoyed, and the careful, devoted execution of the work: it all touches me, and I feel grateful, even tearful as I look at these beautiful garments and draperies. Who knows how long it will be possible to move these often fragile items and take them to other audiences? And then, when they are gone… all we will be left with will be photographs and facsimiles. Somehow it isn’t enough just to go and look, I feel a need to record my experience, to capture it for the future.’
As you can tell, I was lost in the moment. As were–I noticed–almost all the other visitors.
The cafe, too, is well worth an hour of contemplation! The stunning blue delft tiles on the walls, the lovely ceiling and windows… Entrance to the main part of the museum is, as ever, free, but the specialist exhibitions such as the Opus Anglicanum, have to be booked and paid for. But this is surely a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I certainly didn’t mind paying the price of £12. I also spent an age sitting in front of the permanent exhibition in the hall of Flemish tapestries. Absolutely beautiful – and HUGE.
When Mantle of God came out, a couple of people said that the story was far-fetched – that no one would be prepared to sacrifice their lives to protect a clerical vestment, or to hand a piece of it down through the generations, protecting it the way I suggested in my book. But I based my idea on real evidence: the presenter discussed a similar item – a mantle, that had at some point been cut into four pieces and later–much later–the pieces had been restitched to create one whole garment again.
So I felt there was every possibility that a few loyal families could between them take and hide one piece of a mantle. If the worst happened surely at least one piece of the holy relic would survive? They were taking their lives in their hands for their faith.
Remember, in those days, Britain was Catholic, Protestant, then Catholic, then Protestant again. It was so incredibly dangerous to be caught on the wrong side of the faith-fence by your enemies. Literally having a tiny fragment of a priest’s garment on your premises could mean death. Churches that had been beautifully decorated Catholic places of worship were white-washed–the paintings and murals often not discovered until hundreds of years later. If found, the ornaments and attributes of mass were destroyed, or plundered for the treasure chests of royalty. There’s a reason they had priests-holes in those big old houses.