What is a cosy mystery anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*please note: other crimes are available!

***

 

My Mystery Author Heroes: Patricia Wentworth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish: coming VERY soon!

It’s nearly here! The fourth book in my 1930s Dottie Manderson mysteries is about to be released. I’m still clutching it possessively and cooing over it, but I promise, I absolutely will deliver it to be published on the 17th December for Amazon Kindle and 3rd January 2019 for other formats, including paperback, Nook, Kobo, iPad and more. It is now available for pre-order, if you would like to do so.

It’s been a bumpy journey, but phew… almost there, and I’m already planning the next book in the series and the next non-series book to publish. I’m not sure I can equal the output of many modern authors who put out six or more books a year, but even if I only publish two books this year or next, I shall feel pretty smug, let me tell you. Because as Aldous Huxley said, ‘A bad book is as much of a labour to write as a good one, it comes as sincerely from the author’s soul.’ A lot of people come up to me and say, ‘I’m thinking of writing a book,’ or ‘I feel I have a book in me,’ and my response is the same: go ahead and write it!

Here, if you haven’t already seen it, is the first chapter of The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish: a Dottie Manderson mystery book 4. It is rather long, I’m afraid, but I hope you like it.

Chapter One: Hamfield, just outside Nottingham, June 1919.

The war was over. That was the main thing. That was all that mattered. Not the lives lost. Nor the devastation. Not the hostile, resentful power struggle throughout Europe. Not even the victory. In the end, all that mattered was that the long years of anguish and despair had come to an end.

Up and down the country, people celebrated the fact that life could now go back to normal. Whatever that was. Women left their war-jobs in the factories in their tens of thousands, and went home to cook, clean and have babies. Men lay aside their rifles and bayonets and took up their hammers and saws once more. They hammered their swords into ploughshares, figuratively if not literally, and tried to forget what they had seen.

Across the nation, there were street parties, tea parties, balls, lunches, drinks evenings, galas and dances to celebrate the return of the heroes and the return of everyday life as it had been years earlier.

No one mentioned the dead.

The Member for Hamfield and West Nottingham, the Honourable Norman Maynard, with his charming wife Augustine, hosted one such event at their elegant home in the leafy suburb of Hamfield.

It was a glorious evening. The weather for the first week of an English June was perfect: warm and sunny, with a cloudless blue sky and the merest hint of a breeze ruffling its fingers through the early roses, bringing their fragrance lightly into the house.

The ballroom, a recent and somewhat garish addition when viewed from the outside, inside flowed neatly on from the other reception rooms. By the simple expedient of moving the furniture and flinging wide the folding doors that separated the rooms, the whole of the downstairs was transformed into a vast space where guests could mingle, and roam drink in hand, from the dancefloor to the buffet and back again.

In one corner of the ballroom, on a small, purpose-built raised platform, the little orchestra played a series of popular dance tunes, and couples, young and old, circled the floor just as they had done five years earlier. All around them, people gathered in little groups, laughing and talking. Cocktails of all kinds were knocked back in massive quantities.

And obviously, no one mentioned the dead.

The war, Richard Dawlish reflected as he sipped his champagne cocktail with great reluctance, might never have happened.

No one mentioned the dead, but he could still see them: their clutching, decaying flesh protruding from muddy dips and hollows, and at night the rats would come out of their hiding places and nibble the naked vulnerable limbs. Richard didn’t even need to close his eyes. The images were always before him. He carried them with him wherever he went, whatever he did, in his head, in his dreams, his mind, his eyes. He began to think they would never leave him. Even when he was an old man, he would still see those corpses, like so many strange species growing in a wasteland of mire.

Turning, he looked out through the open doors at the long lawn surrounded by blossoming borders. Was this what those millions had died for? A perfect flat green lawn? He took another drink. He couldn’t think of anything else to do, so like the others, he just took another drink.

Behind him in the ballroom, someone tapped a spoon against a glass to get everyone’s attention. The chattering stopped, the laughter faded, and everyone turned to face the Honourable Norman Maynard positioned at the front of the stage. He embarked upon a rambling, largely predictable second-hand speech, culminating in, ‘So let us raise our glasses in a toast as we welcome back our heroes, and thank them for their part in keeping England’s green and pleasant land free of tyranny and destruction.’

There were loud shouts of ‘Hear, hear’, and ‘Just so’, and everyone repeated some jumbled form of the toast and drank. Maynard then said, ‘And another toast to celebrate the fine achievements of some very special young men in the field of combat, and who are here with us this evening. Please join me on the stage: Captain Algy Compton!’ There was a loud and raucous cheer. Maynard continued, ‘Next, I’m very proud to be able to honour my son, Group Captain Michael Maynard.’ There was a further, louder chorus of cheers and catcalls, then someone at the back shouted, ‘Thinks he can bloody fly, so he does!’ There was general laughter, though some of the ladies tutted at the language. Norman Maynard, smiling proudly, responded with, ‘Aye, well, from what I hear, he can fly!’

‘Showed the bloody Boche a thing or two, let me tell you!’ came another voice from the back. Again, everyone laughed, and Maynard said, his good humour slipping slightly, ‘Indeed. But let’s keep it polite, gentlemen, remember the ladies.’ He looked down at his bit of paper. ‘Er, next on the list, is some young scallywag by the name of Second Lieutenant Gervase Parfitt. A second lieutenant at only twenty years of age! That’s a sterling achievement, Gerry, my dear boy!’ A lanky youth nodded, and received with blushes the back-slaps and cheers of those around him as he made his way forward.

The audience, less bored now and enjoying the fun, turned back to Maynard, whose glass was being topped up by a servant. ‘And we mustn’t forget Gervase’s little brother Reggie, better known as Sergeant Reginald Parfitt,’ Maynard paused to drink his toast, then went on, ‘Then there’s yet another of these overachieving Parfitt brothers, this time it’s none other than Artie, a Lieutenant in His Majesty’s navy, which as we all know, is just some strange, salt-water name for a Captain! Lieutenant Arthur Parfitt, ladies and gentlemen. Then last, but by no means least, my nephew Algy’s comrade-in-arms, Lieutenant Richard Dawlish. Richard, my dear fellow, do step up with the others for the photograph. Let’s have some applause for this excellent display of British—er, and colonial, of course—manhood.’

Richard had smiled dutifully and raised his glass for each toast. He had wondered if he would be mentioned and was a little surprised that he was. As a ripple of polite applause went around the room, he made his way forward, embarrassed but smiling. Maynard shook his hand, then the six young men stood together whilst the photographer arrived to capture the moment for posterity. The photographer had some difficulty getting the right light reading and focus, no doubt due to the dozens of dazzling artificial lights in the ballroom coupled with the bright sunlight coming in from outside.

‘Your black face is mucking up his lens, Dickie,’ Reggie laughed. He swayed, clearly fairly tipsy. The others joined in with the joking and laughter. Richard smiled politely and said nothing.

‘Everybody stand perfectly still, please,’ called the photographer.

‘Don’t call him Dickie, he doesn’t like it,’ Gervase said.

‘Oops I forgot! So sorry, Rich-ard,’ Reggie said, slapping Richard’s shoulder. Reggie pronounced the name with the emphasis on the second syllable, in an attempt at mimicking Richard’s strong Jamaican accent. Again everyone laughed, and Richard looked at his feet.

‘Hold still gentlemen, and—smile!’

It seemed to take the photographer forever to get everything how he wanted it and take the wretched photo, but at last they were free to go back to the dancing and drinking.

Richard felt a hand on his arm, and looked round to see Miranda Maynard, smilingly standing on tiptoes to plant a kiss on his cheek. She kept her arm through his, a show of solidarity it seemed. She, the darling of the ball, and he the outsider with the black skin, united against the rest of them.

Richard couldn’t help but notice one or two ladies shaking their heads in disapproval. These ladies muttered to their gentlemen escorts and together they all turned away. Richard was neither surprised nor offended. The British almost universally despised him for his skin colour. And not only them. Even the enemy soldiers he’d come across had been surprised to observe a Jamaican among the ranks of the British armed forces that had overwhelmed them. Especially a Jamaican who gave orders. In their eyes, his honoured achievements and Courage Under Fire would never rise above his complexion.

Miranda gazed into his eyes. ‘Take no notice, darling. They don’t know you as I do. They can’t help being fearfully ignorant.’

She kissed his cheek again. Richard felt she was in danger of incurring her parents’ wrath. He was about to tell her he wasn’t upset by the cold shoulders around him or the comments, but she carried on speaking.

‘Algy, Michael and the rest of them are planning a little drinks party in the pavilion. They’ve snaffled a couple of crates, Mike said, and I’m going down to join them now. Algy is bringing Dreary Deirdre, but in spite of that it should be laugh. You could come too, it’ll be good to let our hair down away from this stuffy lot. And you can keep that awful limpet Reggie away from me. What about it?’

It sounded like a good idea to Richard.

‘And you never know,’ Miranda said softly for his ear alone, ‘you and I might finally get some time alone, if you know what I mean.’ She gave him a wicked smile. Yes, he thought, he knew exactly what she meant.

‘I don’t know. They didn’t invite me, they might prefer it if I didn’t come along. I was thinking of getting back to my lodgings.’

She slanted an eyebrow at him. ‘Good idea, I could come with you.’

That wasn’t what he had in mind. He hastily added, ‘On the other hand, why not, we deserve to relax a little.’ Miranda wrapped herself around his arm and giggled.

Ten minutes later they reached the ‘pavilion’, as the Maynards called it, but which to Richard appeared to be a spacious if somewhat dilapidated summerhouse. Two wide, long steps led up to the door, and the group of young men and girls were sprawled all over the steps, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer.

‘Hello Dickie-Dick-Dick!’ Arthur Parfitt called and cackled at his own hilariousness. Like his brother Reggie, he was quite obviously very drunk.

‘Don’t call him that, you know he doesn’t like it, Artie.’ Miranda snapped, folding her long skirt neatly about her and taking a seat on the bottom step. She took a drag of her friend’s cigarette, and watching him through the blue swirling smoke, like the starlets she’d seen in her favourite films, she added, ‘It’s not like you to be so queerly bitchy.’

‘That’s because he’s a bitchy little queer!’ Gervase, drunk, said. Everyone, including Richard. Laughed at that.

Artie clapped his hand to his heart as if mortally wounded and subsided theatrically onto the step. ‘Oh Miranda, Gervase mon frère! I’m cut to the core by your marvellous jibes! Though actually, darling, I prefer to be called Artie. It’s better than Arthur any day of the week. Anyway, Dickie knows it’s just a bit of fun, don’t you Dickie-Dick-Dick?’

Richard ignored him, and took a seat on the other side of Miranda. He accepted a bottle from one of the other girls. She must be Margaret, Richard thought. Her errand completed, she turned back to Gervase, who put a possessive arm about her shoulders. Beyond her, Algy and his girlfriend Deirdre were kissing with complete abandon, ignoring the others nearby. Richard hoped things wouldn’t get too out of hand. The fourth girl was Miranda’s little sister Penny, a sweet kid who looked almost as uncomfortably out of place as Richard felt. She was too young to be drinking beer and talking about the kind of things the rest of them were likely to talk about. He’d give it half an hour, walk Penny back to the party, say goodnight to the Maynards, then make his escape.

He sat in the shade of the large and very beautiful copper beech. It was no blue mahoe, and the leaves were far smaller but they were still more or less heart-shaped, like those of the trees from his homeland. He repressed the aching flashes of memory: playing outside his grandfather’s hillside home, of the little village where his family had been schooled for the last three generations. Lois looking into his eyes, the sound of her laughter. Not long now. He’d be home in six weeks, and still be able to enjoy the long Caribbean summer.

There was an aged swing hanging from the lowest branch of the beech, and at intervals one or other of the girls went to sit on it, and the men took it in turns to push them, although really it was a contest to see who could get the girl to fall off, perhaps flashing her underwear at the same time.

Miranda was chatting with the other girls, and Richard drank another beer Algy handed him, then found he had another in his hand, and he drank that too without even really thinking about it. After half an hour or so, Miranda stubbed out her third cigarette, took his hand, removed and set down his fourth bottle of beer, and pulling him to his feet, drew him off into the copse of rhodedendrons and azaleas, amid catcalls and jeers.

They were gone for twenty minutes. When they returned to the group, both of them were sullen and silent. Miranda went to sit with Deirdre, Algy, Margaret and Artie. Richard sat for a moment beside Penny before asking if she wanted to go back to the main party. She jumped up, relieved, and they set off back to the house.

 

‘How any lady can go home just on one shoe and not notice is beyond me,’ Norman Maynard’s butler remarked. It was early the next morning, and he, the footman and two maids, were surveying the scene of the party with dismay. They had brought boxes into the ballroom to clear away the debris, which consisted of discarded food, drink, crockery, glasses, napkins, items of clothing, cigar and cigarette butts, the lady’s shoe in question, a cigarette case, two pipes and a host of other oddments. The house was a mess, and on inspection it was discovered that the lawn outside was hardly less strewn with rubbish.

George Blake, the footman, was despatched to the pavilion to clear up after the ‘secret’ drinks party enjoyed by some of the young people. He was pleased to go, as it meant he could enjoy a sneaky cigarette and dawdle for a few minutes in the sunshine. He paused to light his cigarette as soon as he rounded the shrubbery which hid him from the house. He stood for a moment, holding the smoke in the back of his throat before raising his head, eyes closed and his face raised to the sun, then slowly releasing the held breath. It was a perfect morning.

But as he neared the pavilion, something odd on the ground caught his eye. As he came up to it, he saw it was the narrow piece of wood that formed the seat of the swing. He picked it up. Coming slowly closer to the pavilion, the hair on the back of his neck prickling with caution, he beheld the body of Richard Dawlish, hanging by a rope from the stout lower branch of the copper beech tree just beyond the building. The man’s tie was hanging loosely down, his hands swinging freely by his sides, the feet together and turning as if by their own volition as the body swayed with the breeze, first to the left, then to the right, then a little left again, his boots still smartly polished. George Blake vomited onto the bottom step of the pavilion, then throwing aside his cigarette and wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he ran back to the house, saying over and over to himself, ‘Oh my God, oh my dear God.’

Under the watchful eye of the local police, Richard’s body was cut down and carried into the house, where it was laid upon a table in a back room. Several of the young men were up and about by this time, and stood about the room, eyeing the proceedings and sharing cigarettes. The Honourable Norman Maynard was consulting quietly with his friend, Edwin Parfitt, the chief inspector sent out from Nottingham. For once, no one felt much like making jokes about Richard’s name.

Gervase, pale and shocked and looking far too young, said, ‘Never thought he’d be the sort to hang himself. Bit of a quiet one, a loner, perhaps, but suicidal? What do you think, Algy, was he the mental sort?’

‘I wouldn’t have said so.’ Algy’s hand shook as he lit a cigarette. Reggie and Artie were already smoking. Reggie’s hands shook as badly as Algy’s and he said, ‘No one knows what someone will do when they’re a bit queer in the head. Penny said he was saying all sorts to her last night. She was glad to get away from him and back to the party. Drink makes some people more depressed rather than cheering them up. And old Dickie had had an awful lot to drink.’

As the door opened to admit the doctor, Miranda was also there, shocked, her hand to her mouth as she took in the scene. She pushed past the doctor and rushed to Richard’s side, sobbing hysterically, forgetting that she wore only her nightgown and that her negligee was not tied about her. Gervase Parfitt and her brother Michael between them tried to drag her away.

‘Come away, old girl, nothing we can do for the poor fellow now,’ Mike said.

‘You don’t understand!’ she cried, turning to face the lot of them. ‘None of you understand. I loved him! We were going to be married!’

Then she fell down in a dead faint upon the floor.

 

*

 

Autumn brings introspection, and our new annual tradition

I’m always going on about nature and how it makes me reflect on life in general and my writing in particular. Outside my window is a damp, red-yellow scene. We’ve had a fairly mild autumn here in Derby, England with only a little frost, and unusually for us here on our little hill, a lot of rain. It’s never quite enough rain for me. Ever since we came back from Australia, almost seventeen years ago, I’ve been kind of obsessed with rainfall.

But autumn brings with it a conflict of pace. In town, everything is gathering speed as we head towards Christmas; the shops are already selling glittery shiny stuff and there is red tinsel everywhere. But away from this commercial world, the earth is heading towards its winter sleep. The leaves fall, gently, wearily, laying themselves on the ground with a sigh. The animals are hoarding foodstocks, and searching for warm hideaways. Crops come to the end of production, the last petals fall from the roses, herbs turn to straw, and the trees reach naked limbs into the chilly air.

There is so much inspiration to be gained from an observation of the natural world at the moment. As I bring one novel to an end, and prepare to start another, as our new annual tradition of NaNoWriMo gets under way, we all will need all the help we can get with our writing. Now is a time when we are lured by sleep, yet we have to dig down deep to find the stamina and the energy to stick with it and write on into the gloomy days of winter.

My advice is, write early if you can. Get your 1660 words or so written as early in the day as you can. All too often we get to evening and have run out of time or impetus. If you can relax secure in the knowledge you’ve already done your daily word count, you will feel justifiably smug for the rest of the day.

And don’t forget, if you are taking part in NaNoWriMo, keep your WIP on your computer up-to-date: you can’t verify a word count at the end of the month if your story is all written by hand on scraps of paper, or even in your sparkly new notebook! Write as many extra words as you can at the beginning, as you will need this to ease your way towards the end. But hang in there, keep writing, don’t panic. It will come together. Take the occasional day off if you need to, but remember to make up the word count so you don’t fall behind and leave yourself with a Herculean task late in the month.

See you on the other side.

***

 

Searching for Agatha

The newspapers had a field day and speculated about disguises.

As I said last week, literally thousands of people joined the search for Agatha Christie in December 1926 when she disappeared for eleven days. Her car was found, run off the road, at a place called Newlands Corner, in Surrey, in the South of England. Her fur coat was still in the car, and there were some clothes in a suitcase, and some documents, notably an expired driving license. It was assumed–or feared might be a better word–that she had either been kidnapped or murdered–or as her depressed state came to light, had committed suicide.

Indeed, in interviews a few years later, Agatha Christie did admit she had had suicidal thoughts, but it was her Christian belief that suicide was a terrible sin that prevented her from carrying it out. We can see this attitude so often in the news and fiction of that era. When someone kills themselves, they are seen not only as sinful, but as weak, selfish, lacking in moral backbone, and cowardly. So it wasn’t particularly a viable alternative for someone in desperate straits. But to go away, to be completely unknown and anonymous, that was a whole different thing. The prospect of disappearing–even if only for a few days–must have been a tempting one.

Agatha and her daughter Rosalind

But how did she get from Newlands Corner to Harrogate, a distance of 230 miles, having abandoned her car? True, she didn’t check into the hotel for twenty-four hours after leaving home, but I really don’t think could have walked it, no matter how ‘outdoorsy’ she was known to be. She left the house at about 9.45pm on Friday night the 3rd December 1926. The met office reported it as slightly above the average for the time of year, and dry, and about 40f or 4c: which is still pretty chilly. (You can read old met reports here–if like me you revel in that stuff: it’s a fascinating site)

In an interview later, quoted in Surrey Life magazine (Originally published in Surrey Life magazine October 2008/Words by Alec Kingham) says ‘For 24 hours, I wandered in a dream, then found myself in Harrogate as a well-contented and perfectly happy woman who believed she had just come from South Africa.’ It’s not mentioned here but stated elsewhere, that this newly-invented character was a widow, and I find that interesting: is that why this character was happy? Notably, Agatha was said not to have been wearing her wedding ring, though in view of the wreck of that marriage, perhaps that’s not entirely surprising, though the wronged party often does continue to wear their wedding ring, especially until the divorce is finalised. The breakdown of a long-term relationship is known to trigger a deep sense of bereavement.

Alec Kingham claims that Agatha walked to an inn in Shere (interestingly, this is the same small neighbourhood where Archie had gone to a weekend house-party of a friend, and to be with his mistress) and she stayed there  overnight, then went on by train the following day, a tortuous route via local lines to reach Guildford, and from there to London, across London and then on to Harrogate, arriving at the Hydropathic Hotel in the evening.

In my view, she had to have planned it. I’m not talking weeks or months, just a couple of hours is all she would have needed. But I don’t believe this could have all been accomplished off-the-cuff. Is it possible her secretary helped? She was supposed to have been unaware of what had happened, other than the fact that Colonel Christie had left the house for good with his belongings following a final scene, and that Agatha herself went out a little later.

It’s been suggested that the site where she crashed the car had been deliberately set up to resemble a crime scene. And certainly if anyone could have planned and created such an event, she could. Who else would carry an expired driving license on her if not a mystery writer out to set up her own disappearance?

Archie Christie told the police that she had once said that if she wanted to disappear, she knew exactly how she would do it, and she maintained she’d never be found. Perhaps that’s why the newspapers featured her photograph with various disguises such as different hair colour and styles, and with glasses.

Certainly she’d have needed money. She had to travel all the way to Yorkshire, presumably by at least three trains and either underground or bus across London. Even in the 1920s, you’d need hard cash for that. And luggage–no respectable hotel will take a guest with no luggage at all, even if they said at the reception desk, ‘Oh I’m only staying for a day or two, the rest of my stuff is in the car.’ So let’s take it as read she had at least a small holdall or suitcase, with a change of clothes. And some cash.

She knew where she was going, she had everything she needed with her. She had to have planned it. Whether or not she had any help from another person remains a mystery, but this could not have been a spur of the moment occurrence.

***

Hatless and coatless at 6am: Agatha’s famous disappearance.

1926 was the worst of years for Agatha Christie in spite of her successful career as one of the world’s most famous detective fiction authors. Her sixth novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was published that year. Yes it was, and still is, massively successful, but it had its critics and detractors, becoming almost a notorious book, and a difficult one to follow up.

Agatha’s husband Colonel Archibald Christie took himself off, overseas then to London, leaving Agatha to cope with first the illness, then the death of her mother, alone. She had the task of clearing her childhood home, again, without her husband of 12 years’ support. Meanwhile, he had announced he was having an affair with Nancy Neele, the former secretary of a friend, and that he wanted to end his marriage to Agatha and marry Nancy.

After a brief reconciliation in 1926 which Agatha described as ‘a period of sorrow, misery and heartbreak’, on the 3rd of December he packed his bags and left for good, stating that he wanted a divorce. That was the day Agatha disappeared. He went to a friend’s for a weekend house-party, planning to meet Nancy Neele there. She left the house late that evening, and was not seen again for eleven days.

Her car was found abandoned off the road at Newland’s Corner in Surrey. It’s a fairly remote spot, even today, and a beautiful, popular place for walking. Her fur coat and a suitcase containing clothes and an expired driving license were found in the car, prompting fears of kidnapping or worse. It was all over the news, with sensational headlines such as ‘Where is Mrs Christie? Foul Play?’ and my personal favourite, from the Surrey Times: ‘Riddle of Newlands

Corner: Strange Disappearance of Authoress: Hatless and Coatless at 6am’. It’s easy to see how exciting this all was for everyone not actually involved. A mystery author caught up in her very own mystery. She had left home the night before, so the ‘At 6am’ bit was a melodramatic invention. But they came by that because a man claimed to have been stopped by a woman who asked him to start her car for her, and the description answered hers. It’s all a bit tricky to piece together now, as this was supposed to have been at Newland’s Corner, so did she drive off then come back to the same spot? Or did he just want his fifteen minutes of fame? Anyway, she was gone, and it wasn’t until the 14th December that she was found, 230 miles away.

Agatha Christie was found at the Hydropathic Hotel (now called the Old Swan, a lovely-looking place) in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, where she had been staying, registered under the name of Mrs Teresa Neele, purporting to be a widow from South Africa. It was said that she had seen the newspaper reports and had even joined in with the speculation about the fate of the missing author. Staff and guests at the hotel had seen her dancing the Charleston, doing crosswords, reading the newspaper and playing Bridge, apparently unaware of the furore her disappearance had caused.

And it was a furore, too. There were an estimated 500-1000 police officers involved in the search for her, and approximately 15,000 people volunteered to help in the search of the area in Surrey. Bloodhounds, Beagles and German Shepherds sniffed the area, and even her own fox terrier was brought in to try to track her down. Local ponds were dredged or searched by divers, airplanes flew over the area.

In the literary world, her colleagues were keen to help: Arthur Conan Doyle took a glove of Agatha’s to a medium as he feared she was dead, but received no help from the ‘other side’. Dorothy L Sayers searched for clues and generally did her bit as a sleuth to try to get to the bottom of the problem. Rewards were offered and Archie Christie wanted Scotland Yard to be called in.

A couple of people said they made this discovery and rang the police to claim the £100 reward, a member of the hotel staff, a musician in a band playing in the hotel. Whoever did it, the police, and Archie Christie arrived in a media flurry to claim both. Christie and the truth about what happened. Officially, she hit her head and lost her memory. Archie got her to a psychiatrist or two to bear out the story, and then took her home to recover.

The theories abounded. Some said it was a fake, a mere publicity stunt to boost book sales (not that she needed to). Others said the memory loss was genuine, amnesia is not always total. Psychiatrists seemed to be divided in their opinions. Officially, the line was never wavered from: she hit her head when she crashed her car, and she lost consciousness. When she awoke, she thought she was someone else. Still other opinions suggested she had sought revenge on Archie, and wanted to either panic him, or make him realise how much he still loved her, or even, in extremis, to have him arrested for her murder.

But she came home, the marriage was dissolved, somehow life got back to some kind of normality. And the books continued to be written, Including Unfinished Portrait, a book under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott, where a woman attempts suicide, prompting parallels to be drawn with Christie’s own life. 

My personal view is, this was a woman at a crisis point in her life. Her mother had died, her husband was leaving her, and a successful career was a daunting and unforeseen prospect for a shy country woman. She was known to have suffered periodically from depression and had by her own admission had thoughts of suicide, though her Christian upbringing precluded that as an option. I think she just had to get away, fix herself, rest, and the amnesia story was the only half-credible way out of the fix. These days celebs and career people dash off to little refuges and retreats to get away from the media. In those days, I’m not sure they did. I just think she felt out of options.

***

Between a rock and a hard place: what was it like in the 30s? Part One

Madeleine Carroll: The 39 Steps (Hitchcock 1938). She was once the highest paid actress in the world and in 1938 earned £250,000.

I’m fascinated by the 1930s. That’s why I write a series of murder mysteries set in the 1930s and featuring Dottie Manderson, a young female amateur detective, as the protagonist. I wanted to show just how different life was for everyone, not just young women, in the 1930s. I’m writing from a British perspective, as that is my own nationality and my research and writing centres around this, but the era presented both challenges and successes for many nations around the world. Let’s go back to Britain in the 1930s. What was life like for the majority of people? It was very much a time of transition. Things were still getting back to normal after the war, as villages and towns slowly rebuilt themselves literally and figuratively. Attitudes were poles apart, with very ‘modern’ liberal ideas sitting at the same dinner table as conventional, very reactionary, right wing beliefs.

To set the scene for this inter-war period: the gaiety and extravagance of the 20s was over. The Great War, as WWI was known, was becoming more distant, and the Second World War was as yet undreamed of. In fact, there was a common consensus regarding the Great War that ‘it could never happen again’. It was ‘great’ in the sense of huge and terrible, not in our modern sense of brilliant and something admirable. Even language has changed since then! It’s no exaggeration to say that millions of lives were changed forever. There were an estimated 40 million casualties, a little less than half of whom died, the rest were injured, many very seriously. 40 million. How could such an incomprehensibly vast sum of people die or be injured in the space of just a few short years? Is it any wonder that people, especially the young, were a little bit crazy, a little bit over-exuberant in the 20s? Yet even in the early 30s, there were already the rumblings and murmurings that would lead to a repeat of that terrible disaster.

While their menfolk went to war, thousands of women left their homes to take on their jobs. For many, working outside the home was a new and liberating experience. But when the war was over, the men came back and they wanted their jobs back. The newly-emancipated women were in many cases reluctant to go home and cook and clean and have babies. They had their own money for the first time, they mixed with other women and learned new skills, often embracing possibilities that had never been available before. How could they give all that up? On both sides of the gender divide, there was social tension over the conflict between a desire to maintain the status quo, and a desire for freedom and equality. This continued to grow throughout the 20s, into the 30s and is still an issue today.

And let’s not forget that millions of men simply never did come back, and their wives, sweethearts, mothers, daughters and sisters had to become their own breadwinners. It’s not very surprising that they also wanted the same advantages as men, in terms of work, pay, sick pay, working conditions, opportunities for advancement and education. Women had won the right to vote in 1918, following many years of campaigning by both men and women. But the right to vote was only for women over 30 who were married. (Or who were voted parliamentary representatives, an almost, but not quite, impossible task) Was it presumed, as was often said, ‘your husband/father will tell you how to vote’? It wasn’t until 1928 that everyone, regardless of gender or marital status, was allowed to vote, and this came down to everyone over 18 in 1967. But in the 1930s there was still the sense of something new, something experimental, and many women either didn’t want the responsibility of political decision-making, or lacked the information they needed to make an informed choice. Women began to move into political life, but still very much, generally speaking, in a supporting role. Nancy Astor was the first British MP to take her seat in Parliament in 1919, with Margaret Bondfield, a Labour politician, becoming a cabinet minister in 1924.

People of colour and of different backgrounds were, in the majority of cases, socially separate from the white Christian majority. Again this continues today, doesn’t it, though it seems incredible to discriminate against someone due to skin colour. Reading the popular literature of the day could lead you to think there were no people of colour in Britain in the 1930s. But there have been vibrant non-white communities living in Britain for over two thousand years. We just didn’t admit it. People of colour were treated with hostility and resentment, and opportunities were often denied them through financial penalties or social stigma and racism. But here too, there were pressing demands for social change, and many welfare and interest group sprang up, working to change attitudes and lives practically and politically, for example, The League of Coloured Peoples and The Negro Welfare Association, to name two. However, there were successful non-white professionals such as lawyers as early as the 1850s, for example, John Thorpe and in the 1860s, Monmohon Ghosh. (More info available from the Society of Black Lawyers) And the Jazz age (1920s and 1930s) was enabling black musicians, artists, entertainers and actors to produce and perform their art, albeit without the same freedom and acceptance of white people.

Next week: Life in the 1930s: Technology and Fashion.

***

Going Indie – part four

First of all, many apologies for the delay of this post – life, eh, what can you do? Never enough hours…

We’ve been talking about self-publishing, what it is, what it entails. This week I shall try to briefly touch on Keywords, Promo, and the thorny issue of ‘Do I need a website/blog?’ Please bear in mind there isn’t room in one (or indeed, four) blog posts to tell you everything you need to know, I’m trying to give an overview, not a definitive guide. But there are LOADS of eBooks, paper books, blogs and chat-rooms to help with these issues, and all the publishing platforms have their own FAQ/How-to/Help etc pages to guide you through the process. Or you could ask an Indie author specific questions and get specific answers.

So after weeks and months (possibly even years) of agonising, slaving and panicking, you’re finally ready to press ‘Upload’. It doesn’t take long for the cogs to whirr and for the publishing platform of your choice to announce Ta-da! Manuscript successfully uploaded! or words to that effect. Your next reaction, after the euphoria has died down, is likely to be Help!!!

Because now, you need to put in your keywords.

What are keywords? There are different types of keywords – words you use to categorise your book to slot it neatly into your genre or type of work on the publishing platform/shop (the BISAC category); words you use in your blurb to help with SEO and make your book more discoverable; or words you use in your advertising campaigns.

Put simply, they are the words potential readers type in to the Internet (all of it) or a specific site such as Amazon, to find a book. As simple as that. So they might type in, Caron Allan, author extraordinaire, or, far more likely they will type in: Murder Mystery or Chick-Lit or Western Romance or something of that sort. A keyword is a kind of catch-all mini-phrase to help them find their book, because as we all now know, online book retailers are in many ways a sophisticated search engine.

Or to put it another way, all the books that are available have been filed away, but you need to find a way to recognise and retrieve them. Now someone could type in ‘Once Upon A Time’ by Timothy R Author, but if Timothy R Author is a newbie who has self-published his exciting new work just this week, it isn’t very likely any reader would know of his book. So how will he reach his market?

If you are writing in a genre category, you probably already know your category. If you are writing something that doesn’t fit snugly into one category, then you will need to use multiple keywords. For example, say you’re writing a murder mystery but your detective is actually a vampire… then you might choose one category as:

Fiction – Paranormal – Vampires

and another as:

Fiction – Mystery & Detective – Police Procedural

Fortunately you have the option to use a number of categories, usually two or three, when you are setting up your book on your chosen publishing platform.

When writing your blurb, don’t just give a brief plot outline but mention your categories/genres, and descriptive terms such as ‘traditional’ or ‘cosy/cozy’ or ‘action-packed’ or maybe mention it if there is a big twist at the end, that kind of thing. This will be picked up by search engines. Books very often have subtitles these days, such as ‘a gripping thriller that will leave your breathless’ – it’s all to do with discoverability.

Advertising campaigns are too large a ‘thing’ for me to mention here other than to say, when setting keywords, I find the names of other authors of my genre more effective in generating sales than ‘amateur sleuth’, ‘female protagonist’, etc. Try to keep up-to-date with your genre.

Do I need a website?

New authors often ask, ‘But do I really need a website or a blog?’ The answer, you might be surprised to discover, is ‘No!’. No, you do not need a blog.

You only need a blog if:

  • you want to connect with other authors,
  • you want to connect with readers
  • or you want to sell books.

So yes, sorry Hon, you DO absolutely need a blog. Otherwise how will readers, authors etc, find out about you? How will you keep everyone in the universe up-to-date with your news? One of the first things you need as an author, is a blog. And yes, you will need to update it regularly – at least a couple of times a month, if not weekly. A lot of people post new material daily. I don’t have that kind of time, but I’ve got a suspicion that if I did, I would increase my following really quickly. I’m not the greatest at posting new stuff, life just gets in the way for me all too often at the moment, but I try to add a blog post at least every fortnight, and preferably weekly. It can be hard to think of things to say, but don’t sweat it, get hints and tips from everyone, ask yourself what you would want to know about an author, then put that on your own site. You can schedule posts in advance, say if you know you’re going to be busy or away on your hols or something fun like that.

And yes, you ALWAYS need a picture for your blog posts!!!! Get royalty free images from Pixabay or other similar sites. Some sites require payment to download an image. Pixabay ‘suggests’ a payment in the form of a ‘buy coffee’ button, but you don’t have to. However, to my mind, if you are using an image, for example on a book cover, where you could potentially make money, possibly quite a lot of money, I think it’s only fair to acknowledge the source of the image and send some ‘coffee money’ to the wonderful person who enabled you to create your book cover. It’s a business for them as well as for you, respect their time and effort.

‘But I don’t know anything about blogging!’ you cry. Welcome to the Indie World, where you can learn to do anything for next to nothing. Your go-to site should be Indies Unlimited, those wonderful guys and gals tell you how to do everything. You should also sign up to Alli – the Alliance of Independent Authors – they have a lot of very helpful material too, and are working to raise the profile and professional standing – and quality – of Indie Authors and their works.

‘But I don’t know html or how to ‘do’ websites,’ you wail. No. Neither did any of us, and now look. Seriously, if I can do it, you can do it. It takes a wee bit of patience and a bit of perseverance, but you’ve got those, right, because you are, after all, an Indie author, those are the main commodities we all have in abundance.

The good news is, there are loads of books out there, loads of sites out there and loads of lovely Indie authors out there who will help you. And you absolutely can do it all for nothing, or next to nothing. You can get a WordPress blog for nothing – they have loads of free templates. (see here: https://wordpress.com/themes/free )

And there are other blog providers out there (of whom I know nothing, because I’ve had and loved my WordPress blog for five years or so). WordPress have a massive amount of info and how-to guides and even do mini online courses.

Promo

Ooh tricky. Yes, you see, you need to promote yourself. Don’t be coy, be realistic. If you want to sell your books, you need to tell people about them, That’s what promotion is. It’s not boasting. It’s not lying. It’s not ‘cashing in’ or being materialistic. It’s being smart and helping readers to find a book they will love. There are millions of readers around the globe. And there are (I’m sure) millions of books. How are readers going to hear about your book if YOU don’t tell them about it? Yes I know you’d rather stay at home and write peacefully; I know that you’re an introvert and get shy, embarrassed, tongue-tied and stammery when you have to tell someone that you have written a book, and possibly, if they’re not too busy, and they don’t think it’s too expensive, could they please buy a copy. I’m the same! Yes, really, I’m very uncomfortable telling people about my books and asking them to buy one. I feel like I’m busking in a shopping mall or begging on a street corner. BUT. How else can we do it? Mr Amazon might do a wee bit of advertising on your behalf – but it’s up to you to do it.

So use social media to tell everyone about your books. Make some snazzy little graphics on Canva (I’ve told you before about the wonderful Canva – they do templates the perfect size for Instagram or a Facebook post or a Twitter post etc) and post them from time to time – don’t bombard the social media world with promos and ads mornign noon and night – mix them with other types of subtle promo – pics of your cat, hints, tips, news, likes and retweets/reshares of others’ output. Pay for a few Facebook ads (you need a Facebook Page to do this…a profile/timeline doesn’t work quite as well.) And maybe do paid ads on Twitter or Google too if finances allow. You can set a daily or project budget limit to avoid nasty surprises. You could put leaflets through doors, give away a few freebies at fetes, fairs, galas, book-type events, jumble sales, craft fairs, car boot sales… Ask your loved ones to big you up to everyone they know. Phone or write to your local newspaper, library, book group, community centre, school (if writing for kids…), radio station and so on. Contact everyone you can think of, tell them about your book. you may need to supply a few sample copies, but it’s all good, right?

A quick word about the promo people you see advertising on Twitter especially – some of them have now discontinued. I’ve tried a few, and can honestly say they didn’t work for me. But they may work for you, especially if they don’t charge very much to advertise your books. They may boast that they have 100K+ members or followers or whatever. The thing to bear in mind is, most of these followers are other authors trying to sell their books. Take a look and see how many retweets these ads get on average. Usually the only people who see them are people trying to sell their own book, and you will be lucky to get more than a handful of retweets or comments. If the fee is low, do it, otherwise, I wouldn’t bother.

There are some promo sites who charge a lot and offer big results. I haven;t tried any of them. Some of them have entry requirements such as a level of sales or reviews/ratings. What I say is, go in with your eyes open, and try everything you can afford, see what works and what doesn’t.

It takes time to build a following. And it takes time to build your author platform. You need patience, and you need to keep on keeping on. Meanwhile, play nice with the other authors you ‘meet’, don’t compare yourself to others and don’t ever, ever give up. Go for it.

***

Going Indie – part three

Welcome to part three of what was originally a one-part blog post. There’s another part next week too…there just seems to be so much to say on this topic, and, I’m not quite sure how it happened, I’ve gone from my general feelings about being an Indie author to an actual nuts-and-bolts how-to… I’m just going with it now, too late to stop.

Formatting

Formatting is important, I can’t stress how important actually, but if you’re on a budget, it is actually not that difficult to do this yourself. I would never pay someone to do this for me. There are books to tell you how to do it, and numerous internet posts and docs to tell you the same. I use two: I use Indies Unlimited for all how-to info and technical stuff. Seriously, if you don’t follow Indies Unlimited then you’re very very naughty indeed, because they have information about EVERYTHING you will ever need to know. Here’s a link to their formatting stuff:

https://www.indiesunlimited.com/2017/06/26/our-new-book-formatting-resource-page/

I also use a paperback book I bought a few years ago now. It’s by Michael Boxwell and it’s called Make an Ebook. If you are buying a book, especially a printed book, to tell you how to do this kind of thing, do check the date of publication and the scope of the content. There are loads of books out there, and a lot of them are seriously out of date, as I have discovered to my cost.

The basic watchwords of formatting are, for Amazon, keep it consistent, keep it simple. I’ve put together a kind of crib-sheet with my tips on formatting a book for KDP publication and for Createspace. It doesn’t cover everything, and I assume you are reasonably good with IT and word processing. Hopefully it will help. You can read it here. If there is anything I’ve missed out that you really need to know, please send me your questions! Or if I’ve made a mistake again – we need to know this stuff!

Blurb – how long, how many versions?

Don’t confuse the number of characters with the number of words. It’s best to check your limit by opening your text document, and in Word, you can find the character total by clicking on the little bit at the bottom left of your screen where the number of words is displayed. This will bring up a box which shows the character numbers too.

You need four versions of your book blurb:

one Amazon Ad promo length (140 characters – that’s REALLY short)

one Twitter new length (240 characters, quite a decent, usable length now)

standard ‘short’ publishing/sales platform blurb length, around 400 characters

long version – can be anything from 1500 to 4000 characters. This will appear on your Amazon product page, any other book distributer product page ie Draft2Digital/Nook/Barnes and Noble/Kobo/Apple or anywhere else you choose to put it – on your blog, website, Goodreads etc.

End matter/Front matter

These are: Copyright page, dedication, other books by this author (useful to have!), and about the author. I also include a sneak peek of the next book if I can, and there can be a contents list at the front or an index at the back.

Some authors advocate putting all ‘front’ matter at the back, as it means that the Search Inside function on Amazon gives the reader more ‘meat’ in terms of reading material from the actual publication, and not mainly ‘filler’ in the form of front matter which can be unhelpful in making the choice whether to buy a book or not. And it can be annoying if you’re trying to get a feel for a book and have to wade through pages of posh reviews that are no help at all. I personally do a bit of both. I keep the copyright and dedication at the front, and the contents page, and a character list if I’m using one, and the acknowledgments, author’s note, author’s bio and other books bit I stick at the back.

Write them in advance, so that you don’t delay your publication by having to quickly knock up yet another Word document. Also, you can use these items in subsequent publications with a few simple updates.

Copyright page

Yes, you do need a copyright page, don’t ever think you don’t. It can be very short and simple. This is what I use:

The Mantle of God: a Dottie Manderson mystery by Caron Allan

Copyright 2016 © Caron Allan

The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the owner of this work.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including but not limited to: graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any informational storage retrieval system without advanced prior permission in writing from the publisher.

This is a work of fiction, and is not based on a true story or on real characters. (Unless it is, of course, in which case I’d skip this bit.)

You can either type copyright in full or get the symbol from the Insert tab of your Word doc. You can change the size to whatever you want, both of the symbol and the copyright statement as a whole. I like to keep it small and so usually select a font size of 8 or 9. You may feel as an Indie author that you don’t need – or deserve (some people have told me this) – to protect your work. That’s (insert profanity of choice here) rubbish. You worked hard and you NEED to protect your author rights. Please don’t be naïve and think it’s unnecessary. Possibly you will find you still get plagiarised; for some books, it seems to be endemic, I don’t know why, and although there are steps you can take, it’s very difficult to stop it completely, as some authors have found to their cost.

Contents

I don’t feel these are useful for fiction eBooks as eReaders remember where you got to, you don’t have to look it up. And very often, authors chapter titles are plain and simple: Chapter One, Chapter Two, etc. If you are publishing a non-fiction, you probably need the contents list.

Biography

Tell people about yourself. Be quirky, be human. Put a face to the name for them. Use this bit also to include your social media contacts and advertise your website or blog.

You can survive with just one or two versions, a long one and a short one. Ideally though, you need as many biographies as you do blurbs, and of the same kind of length. That way you’re good to go no matter what. Write them in advance, so you don’t have to have a last-minute panic, and update them periodically as your details and available books changes.

Also by: this is a useful bit to include, as readers can see all your stuff, and even the reading order if appropriate. I also add in a Coming Soon bit on mine to let them know what I’m likely to bring out soon.

Dedication

I like to say thanks to a few people or tell them how much I appreciate their help. It’s just a line or two. I like to have it at the front. Anything more lengthy, I turn into an Acknowledgement and have it at the end!

Contents page

You can generate a Contents Table page in your Word doc without too much grief. Just, for an eBook, remember to click Format Table and take out the page numbers! If you tweak your manuscript, or make any kind of adjustments, you must remember to Update Table before you upload your document.

A quick word about Word. If you are planning to upload your word doc to Amazon, your contents page should be fine, but for some reason, some authors prefer to save their Word docs are a pdf and upload that. If you do this, you need to do a whole new contents page as the pages will not be ‘clickable’ in your pdf. It’s a bit of a faff to build a clickable contents page in in pdf doc but it’s not hard, it’s just messy and tedious. If you want to do it, maybe Google it? I don’t have a crib-sheet for that as yet. Personally I recommend uploading a Word doc, it’s just easier all round. However, you need to remember to save your final version as a Word 1995-2003 document as Amazon don’t support the later versions of Word, or at least, last time I looked, they didn’t.

 

Next week: Keywords, Promo and Do I need a Website.

***

The small ads: “ordinary writer seeks same for mutual support.”

Some weeks(most weeks!) I just don’t know what to say on here. It’s quite hard if you’re writing a blog, to pick a topic with a broad appeal. Usually I witter on about ‘life’: things I’ve observed on my jaunts around town, or I might have something to say based on my own experiences as a self-published author, sharing tips and hints that I hope might help other authors. And occasionally I share about what books mean to me or why I write.

I think I’m a typical middle-aged, middle-educated, Indie author – I mope around the house a lot, don’t write as much as I should, and yes I’ve got cats and I love coffee. So that’s all pretty ordinary, even a kind of author-cliche. This is why when it comes to the big topics of Marketing and Promotion, I struggle enormously. I find it hard to put into words what it is that makes me different, that special ‘whatever’ that enables me to stand out from the crowd and make my voice heard above the rest.

But in a kind of epiphany moment, I realised it is through my very ordinariness that I stand out – because being just like everyone else is my superpower. Being so… dull… is how I relate to others, know what makes them tick and what motivates and interests those around me. So I am able to write books that hopefully will have a broad appeal, not be hidden away in some secret little niche or so highbrow even highbrow people need a stiff drink before they resume reading my immortal prose. I am here in the everyday world and it suits me.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to have aspirations, to aim high or to strive to achieve. I believe it is important for adults to continue to learn and discover new things. I don’t believe for a minute that education is something only done by children. Learning should be life-long process. If you don’t continue to learn and move forward, the world will leave you behind and you will not be able to communicate with your children, grandchildren and others in the future. You will be a dinosaur, extinct and known only by a few highly-educated professors.

So don’t be a dinosaur, be ordinary, blend in with the crowd and enjoy being surrounded, actually or virtually, by a bunch of people who are always there for you, and whom you in turn can support.

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