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.
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.
I like to think I’m very organised with my writing. But I’m not. I tell myself several lies as I write: a) I know what I’m doing, b) I will remember what I was about to say when I broke off from my writing, c) I will remember where I put those crucial notes, d) I will know where I saved the various versions of my draft.
As I said, lies, all lies.
I’ve just spent about ten days trying to piece back together the draft of a novel I wrote six or seven years ago. In January I had the ‘most brilliant’ idea for it, suddenly it came to me, out of the blue, the direction to take the story in, all the background and setting, after years of pondering, fell into place and seemed so–right.
It took me an hour to put all the separate chapters into one complete draft, and reading through, I realised there was a lot of material missing. I had:
No chapter 39
Or chapter 40, though I had a 40a (???)
No chapter 41
Two chapter 42s (different chapters, not an original and a copy)
No chapter 44
Two chapter 47s (again different, not an original and a copy)
And although the story ends in the middle of the action – I cannot find the ending. And for some reason, there are a lot of very short chapters in this book, so it feels like a lot to keep track of.
I always back up my works in progress (I’d advise anyone to do this) – imagine something terrible happens, your house is flooded, there’s a fire, or your computer goes up in flames… (ditto important documents and of course, photos of your babies). I back up through several methods, and whilst these are a bit haphazard, (don’t judge me!) I’m slightly more organised than I used to be. So I save my WIP onto the computer, obvs, then onto a USB stick, and then I email the Word file to myself, and I save onto ‘the cloud’, int his case, my OneDrive account. Because you never know, right?
I saved all my files titles and so none of them were the same. So as I say, I’ve spent the last ten days trying to put a full draft together so I can see what I need to do with the story to make it work, and to try to make it good. This, by the way, is known as the half-baked writing system. I don’t recommend it as a process.
By the time I’d finished this on Tuesday, I was frazzled, because I’d muddled my brain trying to figure out what I already had, and what I still had missing. I had two files Windows just point blank refused to open. I had several that were basically entirely html – but with a bit of text in the middle. I’ve definitely honed my detective skills this week. I felt like I had a big uphill battle ahead of me to rewrite/replace all those missing and corrupted files. It was beginning to feel as though it just wasn’t worth the effort. I didn’t do much work on Monday/Tuesday, I was too low.
Yesterday, I started fresh, and went through everything, even the stuff I already ‘l knew’ I’d looked through. I pulled out my paper files and went through two lots of early drafts. I found my missing chapters! I went through all the back-ups of my backed up back-ups and found non-corrupted files to replace the ones I couldn’t open or that were mostly comprised of html. I still have no ending. But this morning I found a note to myself written in 2015 that says ‘Still need to do this, this and this,’ and having calmly sat and worked through everything, I realise I do have a ton of notes signposting the way I planned these missing chapters to go.
I only hope the end product will be worth it. I’m planning a new series. Did I mention that? This book will be the first of those, and I hope it will be out in the big wide world in 2021. That seems quite close now, even though we’re still only in April 2020. this has been a weird few months, hasn’t it?
It’s that time again. I’m working on a new book, the next in the Dottie Manderson mysteries series set in the 1930s and featuring an amateur detective Dottie Manderson. The new book is to be called The Spy Within and I plan and fervently hope to release it in July(ish) of this year.
In case you haven’t heard of these books, I published the first in the series, Night and Day in 2015, and it’s been followed by The Mantle of God, Scotch Mist (a novella), The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish (sorry about the long and unwieldly title of that one, at home we call it Dickie Dawlish for short, even though Richard hated his name shortened) and last year, The Thief of St Martins came out.
The main character is Dottie Manderson, obviously, she is the one the books mainly are about, and although she isn’t always the one who solves the mystery, she is nevertheless habitually embroiled in the action. Dottie is only 19 in the first book and ages gradually through the series. In the one I’m writing now, The Spy Within, she is almost 21. She is from a well-to-do family and after leaving her ladies’ college at 18, she worked more or less full time as a mannequin (model) for a Mrs Carmichael at her independent fashion warehouse, Carmichael and Jennings, Exclusive Modes, in London. Dottie lives with her parents, and has a married sister, Flora. Dottie and Flora are very close. George, Flora’s husband, adores Dottie almost as much as his wife does, she is very much his sister too.
Unfortunately the books aren’t quite stand-alone. That is to say, there are ongoing story-lines that progress through the novels. I wish I’d though about that a bit more carefully when writing them because with book 3, Scotch Mist being a novella, and therefore cheaper to buy, people often buy it and then haven’t got a clue what’s going on. I really must revise it with a bit more explanation to help those who dive into the series at book 3. Still, we live and learn, I guess! Hopefully I won’t do that next time around.
So what’s new for The Spy Within?
Well, those who have read the books up to this point will be aware that Dottie has been seeing a ‘gentleman’ by the name of Gervase Parfitt for a couple of books. Sadly in the last book, he let her down rather badly by not supporting her when she needed him most. Oh, Dottie had such hopes for Gervase to begin with. But he seems to be not quite as nice as she’d thought, and there’s a rumour going round that he’s likely to be substituted.
If you’re Team William, this could be music to your ears.
William Hardy, police inspector and all-round good guy (most of the time) has been in the background for a while now, and if you’ve loved all the flirty looks and romantic thoughts, then prepare to enjoy some more. It’s Valentine’s day in 1935, and love is in the air. I think. Or is it? You’ll just have to wait and see.
In other news, the Manderson’s maid, Janet is at last tying the knot with police sergeant Frank Maple in this book. They’ve been walking out together since the first in the series. Don’t expect any tears, it’ll be a happy day for all. And it’s about time they made things all above board, because as Dottie said in The Mantle of God, ‘I wouldn’t mind if they did any actual walking out. And how Mother hasn’t caught them, I’ll never know. From what I can make out, they spend all their time indoors.’
So that’s about all I can say at the moment. If I’ve piqued your curiosity, please take a look at a draft version of Chapter One here. Just bear in mind, I might change it a bit by publication day, and hopefully I’ll remember to tidy it up and make it a bit more succinct. I hope you enjoy it.
All that I need to do now is to say a huge thank you to my family and friends and some wonderful, loyal, encouraging and amazing readers who say nice things that cheer me up when I’m down and keep me keeping on. Thank you all. XXX