My protagonist and me

There is a convention, some say a misconception, that writers base their main character–their protagonist–on themselves. Not me, of course.

I’m nothing like, for example, the main character in my Friendship Can Be Murder trilogy, Cressida Barker-Powell.

Nothing like her.

She lives in a massive house–we could justifiably call it a mansion, it cost millions,  with a husband worth at least another couple of million. Cressida also has a lady who comes in and ‘does’, whilst I have to wash my own dishes, and heat up my own baked beans.

Cressida wears designer clothes, has accessories to match; she goes to dinner and cocktail-parties in smart restaurants; weekends in posh houses; pops off to London for a few days’ shopping, or nips to an exclusive spa for some ‘me time’. Whereas the highlight of my social calendar is going to the supermarket for the week’s groceries.

And–lest we forget–she kills people. Not just one. And not by accident. She deliberately plots and plans and obsesses over multiple murders in a vicious and calculating manner. I never so much as step on a woodlouse if I can avoid it. And if I do–well there are tears, self-blame, and a very charming funeral for all its friends.

And yet …

It was me who researched those murders. I put the ideas into her fictional head. I wrote the words that come from her perfectly-lipsticked mouth. I chose her designer outfits, her bags, her shoes. When she complains about people who annoy her in some way, her impatience is mine, her anger, even her acerbic wit is mine. I even placed her victims in their lives, specially to annoy her.

So when, in those rare and tender moments, she does something nice for a change, that’s me too, isn’t it? (It doesn’t happen often.)

I tried. I had hoped to succeed–at least in part–in making her so, so different to me. Some of her views and attitudes and certainly her experiences and lifestyle are different to mine. But differences can be positive as well as negative. I would never–I hope–kill anything or anyone, but part of me can’t help but admire her decisive (if somewhat ‘final’) method of dealing with things and people she is unhappy about, or her willingness to exact her cold revenge for the sake of people she cares about (those few, few people!) whereas I am very passive, and I agonise and fret and usually fail to act.

It’s quite cathartic sometimes to allow her to do those things I choose not to do. To be able to do the unthinkable, the immoral, to do exactly as she pleases. It’s the kind of vicarious pleasure we get from watching box-sets of evil people doing terrible things and willing them to get away with it.

But she’s nothing like me. Let’s be clear, she is a monster, but she is bold and decisive, and she takes action in ways I never could. She’s nothing like me. She’s not me.

She’s more like my big sister.

If you’d like more information about this trilogy or a sneak preview, please click here!

 

(warning: these books contain terribly naughty words and graphic scenes.)

 

 

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What was the ‘Golden Age’ of British mystery writing?

We sometimes hear or read this term, ‘so-and-so was a Golden Age author’ or ‘in the Golden Age style’. But what was the Golden Age? When was it, what did it mean, who were the exponents of the Golden Age, and is it still relevant today? Here is a (necessarily VERY brief) overview of the term and its legacy.

When was it? Well, according to some sources I’ve studied, (Encyclopedia Mysteriosa by William DeAndrea, Google and Wikipedia, obviously 🙂 Twentieth Century Crime Fiction by Lee Horsley and The Oxford Companion to English Literature edited by Margaret Drabble) there is a general consensus that The Golden Age of mystery/detective fiction began in 1920 and ended in 1939 at the outbreak of World War ll.

What was it, and why was it new or different? Although there had been notable forays into detective fiction in the nineteenth century eg Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins to name just a couple, a lot of fiction had been in the form of short stories, usually with an ‘improving’ moral or message, or as novella-length, often rather highbrow, works. Essays and poetry, philosophy and criticism had been popular for decades. But the growth of a literate public, the rise of libraries and more disposable income, led to a desire for lighter, more accessible works of a purely entertaining nature. Mysteries became socially acceptable too, and were enjoyed by the well-to-do and well-educated, as well as by working class men and women.

Mass market fiction or pulp fiction was no longer a thing to be scorned, but became more generously regarded. The detective element of the story transformed it into an intellectual exercise. I would perhaps suggest that, following the trauma of World War l, detective stories provided a means of sanitising violence and putting danger at arm’s length, and keeping it under control. The genre required that good would triumph and order be restored at the end of the story.

Detective fiction of this time became all about the puzzle. Readers were very sophisticated and demanding, requiring more and more complex riddles to entertain them. This cerebral pastime acquired a kind of moral kudos, described by Phillip Guedalla, a well-known British writer and barrister of the time, as ‘the natural recreation of the noble mind’. Others said that it had become ‘feminised’, doing away with the macho, aggressive ‘male’ approach of might and power, with both readers and writers exhibiting the traditionally female qualities of intuition, insight, and I might add, craftiness. Perhaps that is why so many of the most successful authors of the era were women.

So in these works, the emphasis was on cerebral/intellectual puzzle rather than physical action and strength. Gore and violence was contained, and mainly ‘off-stage’; there was a defined resolution; and the reader expected to read a story peppered with clues and red herrings that she or he could solve alongside the detective. The emphasis was on the pursuit of Justice and Truth, and doing what was Right. There was a moral high-ground to be held. As Dorothy L Sayers detective, Lord Peter Wimsey says, ‘…in detective stories, virtue is always triumphant, they’re the purest form of literature we have.’ (quoted, 20th century crime, p52)

Who were these Golden Age authors? Many of them came, flourished briefly and went again, but some of the biggest sellers in crime fiction today are authors from that era. Here are just a few:

Agatha Christie – often considered the foremost leader of the genre, she both established and contravened the definition of the classic mystery. She was often accused of ‘not playing fair’ with the reader, never more so than in the (grudgingly admiring) outcry following the release of her book The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in 1926. She famously began writing detective fiction as a bet with her sister. The Mysterious Affair At Styles was her first published novel in 1920, and featured Hercule Poirot who became arguably the most recognisable sleuth in detective fiction, on paper, and on the TV and film screen.

Ngaio Marsh – New Zealand born, she famously wrote her first murder mystery out of boredom. In 1934 the release of A Man Lay Dead led to 30+ other novels, all featuring Inspector Roderick Alleyn. The books were turned into a popular TV series. Marsh was also renowned for her work in the theatre. She was a grand master of the Mystery Writers of America, and new books continued to be published until the 1980s.

Nicholas Blake – pen name of Cecil Day Lewis; wrote poetry, criticism and essays, as well as twenty detective mysteries towards the end of the Golden Age era, 16 of which feature Nigel Strangeways, a consulting detective who helps both police and government as required. First of these A Question of Proof 1935.

Anthony Berkley – a writer and the founder of the Detection Club in 1928 whose aim was to preserve and promote the classic detective story. Wrote as A B Cox, Anthony Berkley and Francis Iles. As Francis Iles he wrote some of his best known works, Malice Aforethought in 1931, and in 1932 Before The Fact which was filmed as Suspicion with Alfred Hitchcock as the director.

Freeman Willis Crofts – born and raised in Ireland, author of The Cask 1920 which was a huge success, selling 100,000 copies. He was one of the first authors to focus on police procedure and not merely the enthusiastic amateur detective. This was the same year as AC’s Mysterious Affair Styles and is taken as the landmark year to commence the era. He wrote other books, collaborating with the authors of the detection club and also a book of short stories.

Other well-known authors of the era included: G K Chesterton, Gladys Mitchell, Dorothy L Sayers, Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham, Michael Innes, and many more. In the United States, there were also authors writing in the genre, although here the ‘hard-boiled’ mystery quickly became popular. Here are just a few of those authors:

S S Van Dine – he is mainly remembered for his detective Philo Vance, but there were other works. Van Dine was embarrassed by his authorship of popular fiction as he had higher aspirations, and he used his pen name to conceal his identity for a number of years. The first mystery novel to feature Philo Vance was The Benson Murder Case in 1926, followed by more works within a year or two, making him one of the USA’s top selling authors at that time, and his works were turned into films.

John Dickson Carr famously termed detective fiction as “the grandest game in the world”.

In 1935 his novel The Hollow Man (The Three Coffins in the US) was published and it is still considered his finest work. He was a master of the locked room puzzle. he often used English settings and even characters, for example his best known detectives were Brits named Dr Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale, but there are others, and books set in other nations. He also wrote stand-alone novels:  such as The Burning Court which appeared in 1937, in all he produced over sixty mystery and historic novels, in addition to short stories and plays under the name John Dickson Carr and as Carter Dickson.

Ellery Queen – Was actually two men, writing under the pseudonyms of Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee. Their first book was The Roman Hat Mystery published in 1929; subsequent books shared the title style, being all ‘The something something mystery’, which in many ways is still the standard form of title today. There were over thirty books in all, plus other series eg Drury Lane series etc, and other pen names. And notably, the hugely successful TV series, and the magazine.

What is the legacy of the Golden Age of detective fiction? Currently Crime, Thrillers and Mystery makes up one of the largest categories in fiction, apart from possibly romance. You can see endless variations on the detective theme from crime noir to cosy, with subgenres in legal, hard-boiled, gay and lesbian, spy, medical, political, police procedural, and even paranormal mystery. If the parameters have changed in regard to content and character types, if attitudes have changed, and settings have become exotic, or even practically a character in itself, we are still as in love with the puzzles presented by murder mysteries as those readers of the 1920s and 30s. We love to curl up in an armchair and lose ourselves in a mystery where the Reader is in fact the main detective.

 

 

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All change!

I decided on the spur of the moment to change the covers on my murderous journal-style trilogy. I’d had the same covers for books two and three for a few years, and I’d only changed the cover to book one within a month or so of its original publication four years ago. I just felt it was time for a face-lift for the set. I also changed the subtitle of the trilogy which has been ‘The Posh Hits murder mysteries’ up to now. At

the time, I wanted a descriptive subtitle to give potential readers a bit of an idea what the books were about, but I’m not sure Posh Hits ever really worked, but at the time I was a bit short of ideas!

Now I’m using the byline from the cover of the three-in-one version of the book. So the books are now going to be tagged with ‘Friendship can be murder: book 1’ etc in addition to the name of each volume.

I feel quite pleased with the results, hopefully the books now look a bit fresher and have more colour and eye-appeal. I kept the cocktail glasses motif on the covers, as in book one, my main character is quite a socialite and is often knocking back a colourful drink laden with fruit and stirrers. As the story progresses, she becomes less ‘posh’ and a bit more of a down-to-earth mum and family-oriented woman. So I was tempted to put a cup of hot chocolate on the cover of book two and maybe a herbal tea on book three, but in the end they just didn’t look quite right. So I kept the cocktail glasses theme going.

If you would like to know more about this series, please click this link:

The Friendship Can Be Murder trilogy

A little bit about the books:

Spoilt society girl Cressida Barker-Powell confides to her journal that she plans to murder her unbearable mother-in-law. But when she arrives at the scene, she finds the old woman already dead. Obviously her Hitchcock-Movie-loving best pal, Monica, has carried out the deed for her!  Taking the murder-switch idea from the movie Strangers on a Train, Cressida decides the only proper way to show her gratitude is by killing off Monica’s philandering husband and his bimbo girlfriend.  After all, Monica of all people should appreciate the idea of swapping murders? That’s what she wants, right?

Wrong! Cressida quickly discovers that unfortunately this was not what her friend had in mind, and now Monica is devastated and planning to exact a terrible revenge. Which means their friendship is definitely over. Isn’t it?

 

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The new notebook – it’s a geeky writer thing

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What is it about a new notebook that feels so special and exciting? I remember when I used to get a new exercise book at school. The pristine, crisp cover with its straight, perfect corners. The clean white pages, somehow calling me, inspiring me yet at the same time seemingly forbidding. With the same irresistible allure as an expanse of pure untrodden snow.

And of course, this untrammeled beauty demands the neatest handwriting, the loftiest thoughts and the total absence of mistakes or crossings-out. I’ve failed in all three areas today. But that won’t stop me. I don’t need to put on airs and graces here.

A new notebook marks a new beginning. Nothing that has gone before will affect this notebook. There’s no memory here of previous failures. It doesn’t know of the times I’ve written trite, shallow, meaningless, unsatisfying rubbish. It doesn’t know of the times when I’ve tried a wee bit too hard and sounded like a Shakespeare wannabe, or worse, like a textbook on How To Write Fiction Really Really Well.

The new notebook opens up a world of new possibilities. It invites me to take risks and to experiment – it promises not to tell anyone if things don’t go quite right. It is a co-conspirator, a friend, a confidante. I could write anything in here, and it won’t give me away. I think I’ll try it. What have I got to lose? Nothing. But I could gain everything I’ve ever wanted. Or even just take one step towards that goal.

You could do the same.

New Release: Check Mate – book 3 of the Posh Hits Trilogy

checkmate cover ebook version

I am delighted to announce the release of Check Mate – book three of my murder ‘mystery’ trilogy.

Cressida Barker-Powell-Hopkins, reformed society girl, and now devoted wife and mother, is back. In this, the third book of the Posh Hits trilogy, we join Cressida as at first reluctantly then with greater zeal she pours out her heart into her journal, trying to deal with her feelings after the traumatic events of the previous year. Her hit-list is down to just one name. Cressida wants vengeance on the woman who has terrorised her family and almost cost Cressida her life. But her murdering skills are a bit rusty, and her arch-enemy seems to have moved house. What on earth can Cressida do now? 

And here’s a little taster…

As I took a step forward, she waved the gun.

“Don’t,” she said. I halted. The rain was coming down, if anything even harder than before and I was trying—and failing—to think of a way out of this situation. In books, in movies, the protagonist always feels that they are in a waking nightmare, they wish they could wake up and find everything is okay. We’re told things slow down until the seconds deafeningly strike your heartbeat, but it wasn’t like that for me. She had my gun, she had my father-in-law, how could this possibly end in anything other than a nightmare? My calling out of his name still echoed around in my head.

Surely Matt would be here soon? If I could just keep her talking a little longer…

“Let him go, Monica, your quarrel is not with him but with me.”

She laughed. “Oh very High Noon! But sorry, did you want us to have a duel, see who’s quickest on the draw? I’m afraid I have your gun.”

I should have kept quiet. She gave a snort of derision. “God, Cressida, is that the best you can come up with? An awful cliché, after all this time?”

“Please,” I said, and I meant it. I took a couple of steps forward without thinking and Sid motioned for me to stop.

“Cress…” he said, and she laid the barrel of the gun warningly on his shoulder.

“Don’t! I told you,” she said. Her face was a white oval in the darkness, her eyes a barely discernible gleam. “Keep your distance,” she added.

I saw that she was craning to get a good look at the car. I intuited that she was wondering if I’d left the keys in the ignition. I took a step to the side, blocking her view, at the same time hoping not to totally enrage her.

The tip of the gun was jammed into Sid’s neck. He yelped and I almost peed myself.

“Who’s with you? Matt?” she snarled.

I couldn’t afford to make her mad. I stepped away from the car, backed a few steps away, my hands in the air.

“No. No one, I came on my own. I don’t want to play games with you, Monica, I just want…”

“Shut up, I’m the one who…”

At that moment there was a massive clap of thunder right overhead. I leapt half out of my skin, Sid also jumped and Monica lost her balance and dropped the gun. As Sid automatically reached for it, I heard a hollow popping sound and he was on his face on the ground. She’d hit him with the bat.

I hope that’s got you interested…

Also available in mobi, print, pdf, epub, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Smashwords… please see the page called My Books for links…

 

Sneak peek of book 3 – Check Mate – out February 11th.

So as promised here’s a slightly longer sneak peek of the soon-to-be-published book 3 of the Posh Hits trilogy than currently available:

new powerpoint cover

Saturday April 25th—10.30am

Dear Journal, it’s been six months since my last confession.

Well, I don’t know what to write. Why my family and my therapist think this will do any good is beyond me. As if. In fact, I’m sick of them all telling me how to feel, what to do, how to cope. I am sooo not one of those women who bleat on about their feelings and how life has treated them and explore all their traumas! And looking back over all the tedious entries in my old journals, it looks like that was all I ever did—whine about my life and my family and my f*****g feelings. Well I’m not going to start doing all that again. I’m not that woman anymore. But, because I don’t want to upset everyone—and because my moronic therapist wants me to do it, I will haul this bloody journal around with me everywhere I go and pretend to write in it. That way, maybe they will all just back off and leave me alone.

I did take a quick peek through the two old journals. Most of the time I seemed to be planning and plotting to kill Monica, my one-time bosom pal, more recently my would-be murderer—but without actually ever achieving it. So here is my entry, folks, if it means so bloody much to you:

Day 1. I will find Monica Pearson-Jones and I will kill her! The End. Das Ende. Finito. Bon soir.

Tuesday May 5th—3.45pm

I think they’ve worked out I’m not really writing in here. And now I’ve got to, because I brought it with me into the garden room, and Matt and Lill keep popping in with drinks and questions and little tastes of the baking, but really what they are doing is checking up on me. When Lill came in the last time with a morsel from the kitchen for me to ‘test’, she looked so relieved to see me writing. I predict one of two things will happen…either Matt will also pop in one some trumped-up pretext in a few moments, or…

Bingo! He just stuck his head around the door to ask if I needed anything. He definitely saw the writing on the page and gave a little smile of relief.

The other thing I was going to say might happen is that I would then be left in peace for a decent interval, allowing sufficient time for me to ‘express’ myself and explore my feelings.

What the hell did I used to do with my time? I’m bored. So bloody bored.

They all have their routines, and their family life, all these people who live in this house with me. Yesterday, when I was feeling really low, and so, so angry, I wished it was just me living here. All alone. How nice it would be, I thought, to have one’s house to oneself. They don’t need me, anyway, they’ve got used to me not being here. And now I am, and all they do is clamour round me with questions about cups of coffee or where I want a particular planter positioned. Like it matters.

Matt has gone back to sleeping in his old room along the hall. Thank God. The last thing I want is any kind of intimacy. I let him kiss me, and I let him put his arm around me, but I have to grit my teeth, it’s so hard not to push him away because I just can’t bear anyone to touch me, especially not him.

God! I’ve just realised. I’m actually doing it, aren’t I? What they wanted. I’m talking about it all, talking about my feelings. Well no more!

Friday May 15th—7.15pm

Drove to Monica’s house. No one there. It looks as though she’s moved out. And possibly someone else is living there; the flower-pots by the front door are different. I’m not sure, but I think the curtains have changed too. I think someone else lives there now. Not sure what to do. How can I find her? If I can’t find her…

Sunday May 17th—4.10pm

Jess rang. She wants to know if we’ll be going up to Scotland for a visit in August. I said no. Then she wanted to chat. I love her to bits, but as usual I didn’t really feel like talking. She wanted to know if there was another time we could go up, would we like to all go up for Christmas? I made the excuse that I had to dash, I had a hospital appointment. No idea what I’m going to tell her. How do you say to someone who loves you, I don’t even feel like going as far as the breakfast table, let alone all the way to effing Scotland????

Every time the phone rings, I jump out of my skin. It’s the same if someone comes to the door. I get a sense of dread in the pit of my stomach. I feel sick and shaky. I can’t bear the thought of talking to anyone. From the moment I get up to the moment I crawl blissfully into bed and solitude, I am terrified someone will want to see me or talk to me or something…

Madison is another case in point. She keeps asking me to go for coffee, for dinner, for any bloody thing. I’m running out of excuses. Ditto Steve. Ditto everyone. Why must they hound me? I just want to be left alone. It’s a major shock to the system just being at home again after all those months.

It’s easier with the children. I can sit them on my lap and read with them, or sit at the table and do colouring or play-dough. We can look at bugs in the garden or watch TV. They don’t seem to feel I’m different. They are so undemanding. Even Tom is easy—which surprises me a bit actually about a baby, but once he’s been fed and bathed and cuddled and changed, that’s about it. He will happily gurgle on his mat on the floor for an hour, or snooze in his buggy if I go for a walk. The children are so undemanding and they don’t keep asking me to analyse my experiences every effing five minutes. They don’t keep trying to prove to me that they are still the same. They don’t keep checking up on me.

Unlike the adults, who are making my life hell. I don’t know what they want from me. Why don’t they understand, no matter how much they tell me otherwise, nothing is the same? Everything, but every single thing has changed forever.

I thought about ringing some of my old friends—I thought that perhaps somehow I could try to find out if any of them have seen or heard anything from Monica, or if they know where she is or what she’s up to.

I’ve tried to find out—and obviously it’s not easy because I’ve been trying to avoid everyone—whether any strange cars or women have been seen in the village recently. Or late at night. But it’s all so frustrating, I’m getting nowhere, and I can’t sleep because I have to keep going from one room to another during the night, checking the doors and windows are locked, checking the children are safe, checking no one is lurking outside in the front or back gardens. If Matt wakes—I just tell him I had to pop to the loo, or go downstairs for a glass of water. And of course when I do finally fall asleep, there are the nightmares. I feel like I’m hanging onto the cliff-face by my fingernails with a roaring drop beneath me, and the waves.

Wednesday May 20th—9.25am

So here I am, forced into this journal-writing lark. Privately I can admit that now I’ve stopped kicking against it and just resigned myself to doing it, I don’t really mind. Not that I want them to know that.

But it’s been so long. I hardly know what to write. It all feels a bit idiotic and pointless. But on the other hand, I’m exhausted from resisting everyone’s enthusiastic encouragement, and also from carrying around all these thoughts inside my head. If I write it all down, who knows, maybe it really will help me feel better, though that seems pretty bloody unlikely at this stage. My therapist said it would be, and I quote, ‘just like setting down heavy luggage after a long journey’. Tosser. Thinks that talking about how I feel and coughing down vitamin B-complex tablets is all it will take to get me back on the road to good mental health.

But now I can’t think of anything to write. All those things that have been swirling round in my head seem to dissipate like summer mist as soon as get my journal and pen out.

I shoved my old journals into the back of one of my wardrobes. I don’t want to read them. I can’t bear it. I don’t know why I’m doing this, it was a stupid, ridiculous idea. It’s time to feed Tom, anyway.

Later same day—7.35pm

Finally screwed up the courage to phone my old friend Cherub Bryston-Harrison. I’m a bit surprised to say that we had a nice chat. It was pleasantly normal for once—she hadn’t heard about my ‘accident’ so it was easy to leave all that out and just act as if I was normal. She congratulated me on the arrival of Tom, so of course I felt an obligation to gush a bit over the joys of motherhood etc and to tell her how simply wonderful everything is, blah blah blah. Finally, I asked her if she had any contact details for Monica. She hadn’t. I felt as though I had hit a brick wall, but then she said,

“But of course, she’ll be at the Mayburys’ Ruby Wedding bash next weekend.”

Of course. V. interesting. Cherub said she and Garrison were going, then she seemed a bit embarrassed about the fact that I hadn’t been invited but I glossed over that by saying I lost touch with so many close friends following my lovely first hubby, Thomas’, death and my subsequent move out into the sticks with new man and instant family.

She gave me a few more useful details, and of course I already have the Mayburys’ address somewhere. I asked her not to mention me, as I didn’t want “Poor dear Daphne to feel embarrassed about not inviting me,” and I also said that Monica was not talking to me since I married Matt—of whom she had been secretly enamoured, so again, Cherub sweetly promised to be the very soul of discretion.

No doubt she will blab, but hopefully not until the actual event, by which time it will be too late.

Saturday May 30th—10.15pm

A marquee in the garden—very nice! Very sensible in view of the mercurial nature of the British weather in Summertime. It would be typical of this green and pleasant land if, just as the hired waiters and waitresses in their smart uniforms began to make their way round the guests with the hors d’oeuvres and champers, the heavens opened and a deluge descended.

My SatNav sent me in completely the wrong direction, so I missed everyone arriving—was absolutely fuming by the time I’d found somewhere to park—miles away from the house. Couldn’t see a damned thing, especially once the predicted downpour began. As a stake-out, it was a total waste of time.

But it was quite cathartic to sit here in my warm, dry oasis. Windows wound up. Doors locked on the inside. Radio murmuring softly but unintelligibly in the background. And the rain, beating, beating down on the roof and the bonnet and the windows, drowning out my thoughts.

I fell asleep. Woke up suddenly with a stiff neck and a numb bum. But I feel a little better. I didn’t dream or if I did, the memory of it floated away as soon as I opened my eyes. And now, somehow sitting here within sight (possibly) of my quarry, I feel safer than at home, trembling behind the curtains. What am I talking about? If recent events have taught me anything it’s that I’m the quarry—she’s the hunter, at least I suppose that’s what she is.

I opened the window a little for some fresh air and turned up the radio, hopefully that will help me to stay awake. My leg and hip are aching. I didn’t bring my stick, so I can’t get out and go for a little walk. I found an old Mars bar in the glove compartment—still reasonably okay! That was my dinner.

It looks as though this party is going to last half the night. It’ll be dark soon, and I still have nothing to show for my trip. Every now and then I hear little cheers and wafts of laughter or snatches of music. Why did I think this was going to work?

Couldn’t see a car matching the description of the one that hit me—but if Monica has any sense at all she probably got rid of it months ago—right after the accident. So I’ve got no way of knowing if: a) she’s even here, and b) what her mode of transport is, or c) what she looks like.

Why did none of this occur to me before I left home?

I feel so stupid and ridiculous, sitting here on my mad stake-out like this—and I can’t make up my mind whether to brazen it out and gate-crash the party or if I should just carry on sitting here like an idiot and hope I somehow catch sight of her or if I should be honest and admit to myself that this is a colossal waste of time and just jack it in and go home.

I’m crying. I’m so tired. Will I ever recover? Will this ever be over? I just want everything to go back to normal.

I don’t want to go home.

If only I could rewind the months and go back to last Hallowe’en all those lifetimes ago…

The only thing I’m holding on to is this: when Thomas died, I didn’t want to go on living. And that’s how it’s been this time too, since I woke up those three months ago in the hospital and found I’d missed the birth of my baby. But gradually, after Thomas, gradually I came back to life and even laughed again and was happy. I’m just hoping that somehow, miraculously, the same thing will happen again, because if it doesn’t—I can’t live like this. I’m so scared, so hurt, I can’t do this anymore. I’m all adrift and nothing feels like it can get through to me or touch me, not even my family. Not even poor Matt or the children. Not even my desperately-wanted baby.

Saturday June 6th—11.05am

I still don’t know what to do now. Nothing useful was gleaned from my daft stake-out at the Mayburys’ last week. This week I’ve been in a daze, unable to determine on a course of action. Now what? I am completely clueless. I don’t have the faintest idea what to do now.

Matt has taken Lill and the children shopping. I find the weekends so hard, with everyone around all the time—God knows what it will be like in a few weeks when the children are on their summer hols, there will be a lot less time for me to hide away or be on my own. I’m dreading it but at the same time, I know it might be a good thing. Lill said something about Sid being engrossed in something in the workshop and not wanting to take time out of his busy schedule to take her shopping, so she nabbed Matt, though I suspect it could be an opportunist collaboration. I shall expect them to return looking as though they have something up their sleeves.

So here I am, with the three cats, a pot of tea and a plate of the crystallised ginger and white chocolate cookies Lill created yesterday. I’m a bit surprised that there are any left—but fortunately the children don’t like ginger, so I suppose that explains that. These cookies are rather addictive. Now I’m actually doing what everyone has been trying to make me do for weeks—relaxing and writing in my journal. But there will be no deep reflections on my life, no introspection. No, I am sitting here in this solitude and I am wondering how to find Monica and kill her.

A bit later same day, 11.55am

Sid just came in and cut my maundering short. And now I realise I was half-right, this whole thing was all a set-up. This whole situation was planned. The others all left specifically so that Sid could have a ‘quiet chat’ with me. I feel a bit annoyed by the conspiracy, but as Sid said, it’s only because they love me and want me to be happy.

Like it’s that simple.

I laughed when he said that—but it wasn’t a merry chuckle.

“I can only be happy when Monica is dead.” I said.

He sat down on the chair opposite me and nabbed one of my cookies. Flaming cheek.

“Yes,” he said, crumbs flying everywhere, “I thought you’d say that.” He put the remaining two-thirds of the cookie in whole, chomped briefly, then selected another. Then he said, “They’re worried about you, Cressida.”

“Yes, I realise…” I began.

“But I’m not,” he said. I stared at him. Surprised. More than surprised. He never fails to surprise me, my father-in-law. He’s an odd chap.

“You’re not worried about me?”

“No,” he said, “I know all you need is action. Seen it before on active service. When you’ve done what you need to do, you’ll feel better and life will be worth living again. S’obvious.”

Hmm. A little light-bulb glowed softly in my mind. It’s always nice when someone else, someone you really respect, confirms your half-formed instincts. He has always got my back, Sid. At the same time, I was thinking active service? Sid?

“So,” he said, reaching for a third cookie, “what are you going to do?”

I sighed then. It would be such a relief to unburden myself.

“I want to kill Monica,” I said, “but it’s so hard to know where to start. I don’t know where she is. I tried sitting outside the house of some friends in the hope she’d turn up to their party. But if she did, I didn’t see her. And I’ve been to her house—but she’s not there; I think she may have moved. So now I’m completely stumped, I just don’t know what to do next. Where do I go from here, Sid? How can I kill her when I don’t know how to find her?”

“I know where she is,” said Sid. He stuffed a fourth cookie whole into his mouth. I stared at him again, then had to look away. I poured myself another cup of tea and offered him the cookie plate.

“No, fanks, I’m cutting down. Gotta watch me figure,” he said, patting his hangover complacently. Surely he was kidding? Then I set myself to calmly addressing the elephant in the room.

“What do you mean, you know where she is?” I asked. “How could you know that?”

 

*****

Hopefully that has whetted your appetites. For those who don’t like journal-style novel, all I can say is, soz!

Catch up from end of book 2…

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I am so happy–and maybe ever so slightly relieved–to announce that book 3 of my trilogy will be released on February 11 2016. It is currently available to pre-order. I set out to write a murder mystery, but it’s actually more of a murder not-very-mysterious, as like in Columbo, you see quite a bit from the point of view of the killer (spoiler alert!), Cressida, who writes everything down in her journal. Even the stuff she probably should keep secret.

In a few days I will be posting a ‘sneak peek’ from book 3, but in the meantime, here’s a teeny snippet from the end of book 2 to remind us all where we had got to:

Friday 31 October – 11.10pm

What a f*****g nightmare! I can’t decide if I’m furiously, furiously angry, or if I’m desperately, desperately frightened. Probably I’m both.

Mavis and Henrietta came to collect the little ones for their evening of fun at half past four on the dot.

Paddy was dressed as a cowboy with dinosaur persuasions – green claw hands, and an intermittent growl – and Billy went as a fairy slash ballerina in a cute little baby-pink tutu borrowed from Sara – Millie has outgrown it (unfortunately she’s quite the little dumpling). Lill and I made the wings and the wand this afternoon. Billy was so excited. In fact, we were too.

I asked Sara if she was taking her kids out but it turned out she was taking them to her mother’s, and they were all staying overnight.

Anyway…

So the children looked gorgeous and I took a quick few pics just before they went out.

By six o’clock I was eagerly awaiting their home-coming, excited to hear how it went.

By a quarter past, with no sign, I was a bit edgy, a bit put-out.

Just before half past six, Henrietta, sobbing, along with Stephen and Madison, pounded on the door.

I feel sick just remembering. As soon as I saw them there, I knew something bad had happened. In my mind I saw an accident and their little bodies broken.  It was worse than that.

The old biddies had got talking to a friend they met in the lane.  They didn’t notice that Billy and Paddy weren’t there – that they were gone.

They looked around, checking back down the part of the lane they had already covered, asked a couple of people they saw – no one had noticed anything. The lanes were empty. No sign of two small children in the dark.

At first Henrietta and Mavis were too scared to come and tell us, so they kept trying to find the children, and they enlisted a few friends to help them comb the village, but then Madison and Stephen together had managed to persuade them to come back and let us know what had happened.

While Henrietta was telling us this, and sobbing as she did so, Matt was swearing and pulling on his trainers, Lill was trying not to cry, and Sid was on the phone trying to get through to the police. And I – I was just numb, sitting on the bottom stair, just staring at Henrietta. It couldn’t be true?

She kept saying she was sorry as we made our way back down the lane to where she and Mavis had last seen them. As we reached the spot, a couple of other people were coming just coming out of a garden gate.

“Anything?” Henrietta called out, almost falling into Mavis’s arms but reaching out to the other people.

“Nothing,” they said, shaking their heads.

Mavis tsked and said, “naughty little buggers, wandering off.”

I just managed to stop Matt from losing his temper completely – not that I was far behind – but it wouldn’t help matters if he punched an eighty-year-old. I was fighting back tears to hear someone I thought of as a friend talking about my children like that.

But I just said, “where have you already checked?” She waved her hand about her vaguely and said, “that way and over there, and your end. Pretty much everywhere.”

“If you’d looked everywhere,” I growled, “you would have found them.”

“Well really, there’s no need…”

“There’s every need,” I said, “have there been any cars through the village? Any cars or people you didn’t recognise?”

“There was a white Renault Clio parked down the hill a bit, maybe half an hour ago,” a woman I didn’t know said. At that moment, a few houses away, a firework went off and made me half jump out of my skin; I tasted blood and knew I’d bitten my lip in shock. Of course. It was only a few days from Guy Fawkes’ Night and there were always a few idiots with more money than sense letting off a stray rocket or something.

I shivered. I had to find them. Wewe had to find them. They’d be cold and scared by now. More than that I refused to even think about.

Matt and I headed off down the hill at a run, even though we could see at that distance there were no cars, white or otherwise, parked down there now. Mavis called something after us but I couldn’t hear what it was and I ignored her, still furious. That woman was no longer my friend.

The hill was one of those long, meandering ones. I had a vague recollection of an old, overgrown children’s play area near the bottom of the hill. Hardly anybody goes there any more as the equipment is largely broken and rusted, the site is up for redevelopment. The older kids go there to hang out sometimes and smoke cigarettes without their parents finding out. But I clutched at Matt’s arm,

“The playground.” I panted. Somehow I knew that was the place. Mercifully he didn’t ask me for an explanation, he just gave me a look and raced off ahead, leaving me to lumber along as quickly as I could. All those hot chocolates with all the trimmings were finally taking their toll on my fitness.

I was almost at the gate, he was already inside and running across the grass, I could hear voices, children’s and his. I was gasping “ohmygodohmygodohmygod,” as I was running, and as I pushed through the gate I managed to claw back sufficient air to call out, “have you got them? Are they okay?”

He yelled back a simple, “yes!” and at the same time I heard both the children break into overwrought sobs. The sudden deafening sound was more reassuring than anything I could have expected at that moment. I reasoned, if they could make that much noise, they must be okay. I blundered forward in the dark guided by the noise and bumped into all three of them.

For a few frantic moments we simply hugged the children and each other and reassured ourselves everyone was safe.

Then, “what happened?” Matt was asking.

“That lady brung us here.” Paddy said.

“What lady? Mavis?”

“No not Mavis, a new lady. She told us to stay here until Mummy and Daddy came to get us. She said it was a game and when you winned to give you the prize.”

In the dark he held something out to me, something small and thin and pointy and cold. I couldn’t see it clearly, but I knew what it was.

It was a photo. 

Monica had stolen my children.

 

I waited until the police had gone and the children were home safely and tucked up in bed in their fluffy PJs and with their teddies next to them before I came downstairs and fell apart.

The photo was from one of those old instant cameras, like the other photos I had been sent. It showed Paddy and Billy sitting on the step of the broken down old roundabout, side by side, in their cute little costumes, looking blatantly terrified, and Billy was sucking her forefinger, which she hasn’t done for weeks now.

That was when I threw up.

Lill made me some cocoa but I couldn’t drink it. I couldn’t calm down. Lill looked at me.

“We’ve got to get the bitch that did this.” She said. We all agreed with that.

A little while ago, at half past ten, just as we were all just beginning to calm down, the phone rang. I think I’d assumed it would be Monica finally calling to enjoy the fall-out of her little prank, and I grabbed the receiver, ready to scream a stream of invective down the wire to her crazed brain. But it was Henrietta.

She sounded so broken, so defeated, so frail, I felt awful. She apologised over and over again. I spoke to her for a few minutes but it was clear I needed to speak to her face to face – her and Mavis. I knew I’d been too harsh on them, and they were too old to be left to stew in their own juices with that much guilt.

So I’m just getting dressed again to pop back out. Hopefully I’ll only be half an hour or so as I’m absolutely shattered. Matt is coming with me, I think he wants to see them too, and in any case, he doesn’t want me going out on my own after what happened this evening.

 

 

Wed 12 Nov – 2.25am

Matt here. This is the first time I’ve written in this journal since I gave it to her. She loves it. But now it’s me that needs to get things of my chest. I never imagined I’d be sitting here beside Cressida’s bed. She’s got a private room in the hospital – a bit too bloody private, if you ask me, it’s like a morgue in here.

I brought this journal in so I could leave it on the shelf by her bed. I thought she might suddenly wake up one night and see it there, and she’d be pleased to see it, a familiar thing from home.

But now it’s been twelve days.

The doctors say she is “making satisfactory progress”. That means f**k all to me. All I know is, my wife – the woman I love – is lying in bed in a coma. I want her to be okay, of course I do, but mainly all I want is for her to be at home with us, reading to the kids, talking to her friends, doing what she always does, just – f*****g – being – there.

They keep telling me it’s going to take time, but they can’t tell me how long. They tell me she’s lucky to be alive and that I should be encouraged that she’s held on this long. But I’m scared. What if she never wakes up? What will we all do without her?

I know she’s killed people, I’m not saying she’s perfect. But none of us are, are we?

That night. We just came out of the house, on our way to Henrietta’s. Cressida just felt she had to go down and see them and let them know the children was all right and make sure Mavis and Henrietta weren’t too upset, and I think she wanted to say sorry for being so angry too. And I knew I had to apologise, because if Cressida hadn’t been there I know I could of hit Mavis, I was that bloody furious.

There was a car coming along the lane, slowly. I didn’t think anything of it. There wasn’t anything weird about it. And we was just walking along in the road – you’ve got to, the roads round our way are too narrow for pavements – but we were keeping in, there was room for the car to get by, so I wasn’t worried.

Then suddenly – I didn’t even have time to call out or do anything – suddenly the car just came at us, the engine was roaring and before I had a chance to shout or to grab her, she was flying through the air, there was a massive bang as she bounced off the bumper and onto the car roof then she was there lying in a ditch at the side of the road and the car was gone. People say things like that happen in slow-motion, but that’s not true, they happen so quick your mind can’t figure out what’s going on.

It was too dark to see more than that it was a small white car, and a woman with longish hair driving it. I think it was that Clio that woman said she saw. And last time we saw her, Monica had long hair. I think it was Monica, in fact I’m sure it was. I told the police it was her.

But none of that mattered.  As soon as I realised what had happened, as soon as I kind of came to life again, I ran to Cressida. I had my phone in my pocket and I was scrambling down into the ditch and can remember I was almost crying and I was practically praying, just saying please God, please God, over and over again, and yet I was sure, I was so sure she would be dead when I got there, and none of it seemed like it was really happening and I just couldn’t take it in.

I was too scared to move her in case I might hurt her worse and I was trying to explain to the emergency operator and I was trying to find a pulse. The operator was telling me what to do and I had to keep wiping my eyes because I couldn’t see what I was doing, and she kept saying, ‘they’re on their way, they’ll be there soon, just hang on.’

It seemed to take hours for the ambulance to arrive, and then there were problems with them trying to get her out of the ditch so that took a while.

Then she was taken straight into theatre.

By the time they let me see her it was almost four in the morning and she was in a coma. They knew the damage by then. Smashed kneecap, broken pelvis, broken arm and wrist, grazes, cuts, bruises, broken jaw, fractured skull, brain swelling.

But the baby – I couldn’t believe it – he’s all right. They say he’s fine.  Because she was hit from behind, all the injuries are on the back and right side of the body, or on her knees and hands as she fell, that’s what took all the impact. I thought for sure we’d lost the baby.

I rang my Mum, she was crying, I was crying. It was a good thing Leanne was at the house. First time ever she’s been useful, but it meant Dad could bring Mum to the hospital and leave Leanne to look after the children.

The three of us sat in the room with Cressida the last few hours of that first night, hoping she’d wake up. She didn’t. She still hasn’t. But we just keep hoping.

Please wake up, Cressida, I can’t do this without you.

Love Matt.

 

So I hope that’s served as a reminder for those of you wonderful people who’ve read the first two books, and if you haven’t read them, I do hope you’ll give me a try. Tune in next week for another episode!

What do I want to be when (if) I grow up?

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I recently answered some questions for an interview and one of the questions was: ‘if you think about your life as a writer, what has changed?’ I took this to mean, is it what you expected. it made me think about my early conception of what it was like to be a writer compared with my actual experience.

Well to begin with, when I first began to dream of being a writer, I imagined a publishing contract with a traditional publisher, because at the time, back when word processing was a lad, that was pretty much the only choice. Typewriters were standard and ‘hard copy’ was the accepted format. Indie publishing had not even been dreamed of. So that’s Huge Difference #1 

Huge Difference #2 is I imagined a lovely glamorous wealthy life, mainly based on TV shows like Murder She Wrote and Agatha Christie’s character, Ariadne Oliver. I pictured myself older, more sophisticated, swanning around in a twinset and pearls, solving mysteries and now and again tapping out a few words on a vintage collectible typewriter in some exotic location. Or maybe my office would look out onto some stretch of golden and unspoilt beach, or I would be glamping in a cosy log cabin in a woodland retreat. I never imagined fighting my family for my session on the family PC with my old cat snoozing half across the keyboard or sitting in front of the screen.

Of course that was a few years ago. Now I have my own office. It’s three feet wide by five feet long. Okay, yes, it’s a cupboard with the door taken off. But it’s mine, all mine. The internet connection is a bit sketchy and I daren’t move any of my books in case I can’t fit them back in place again. Also, one of the piles of books is actually holding up the shelf above my computer so definitely can’t move those! (There’s a reason I have more than one copy of my favourite books.)

Huge Difference #3 I imagined book signings, supermarket openings, literary festivals and panels, maybe even radio and TV appearances and book tours. I imagined champagne flowing at swanky hotels, book launches with celebrities where I give tearful but grateful thanks to all who have helped me. Be honest–we all thought that once upon a time, didn’t we? Well, I’ve just done my first interview, so who knows… I do fondly imagine being a in lift and someone timidly saying to me, ‘Excuse me, are you THE Caron Allan?’ to which I will humbly admit that I am she. (*snorts inelegantly in derision*)

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I remember reading an article once in which a writer said she was in a bookshop and saw someone pick up a copy of one of her books. The writer went over and said, ‘I’m the writer of that book,’ and the ‘fan’ looked her up and down then put the book back on the shelf and hurried away. See, it’s not only aspiring writers who can have unreal expectations…

I certainly imagined living in luxury off my massive royalty payments. Hopefully that will happen one day, if I work really hard. At the moment I can just about afford a medium cappuccino at Coffeebucks on my royalty payments each month.

So yes, in some ways there is a huge discrepancy between what I once imagined my life as a writer would be, and the reality I live now day to day. But I believe things will change. I will continue to write hard and try to learn and improve my skills as much as I can. I will try to promote my work and be market savvy, and hope to reach and appeal to more and more people. Being a glass-half-full kind of gal, I think that if my books are holding up the shelves in my office, at least I can be grateful that I have books, and shelves and an office of my own. And incredibly, wonderfully, there are a few people around the world who are enjoying my work.

So yes, I am. I’m living the dream.

In Media Res

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For a writer it can be a bit tricky to know where to start your story. When we write a mystery story, we have a tendency to want to tell the whole story. This often means that we begin far too early. We tell the reader in painstaking detail that our protagonist got up, had a shower, got dressed, had breakfast, went to work and that it was a day just like any other. But there’s a better way…

Let’s begin our story right there in the middle of the action. Let’s meet our protagonist at the crossroads, not on the way to the crossroads. The first time I meet the protagonist, I want to meet him crouched and panting in a dark alley, his heart in his mouth, in constant expectation of hearing a footstep.

Let’s meet her for the first time as she comes down the stairs in the dark and falls over the dead body, and let me see her raise a bloody hand in the candlelight.

Let me see your protagonist as they step on the brake at the top of the hill and discover the brakeline has been cut; let me watch as they career perilously ever closer to the wall or lumber-truck or cliff edge and their apparent certain doom.

Think of your favourite TV cop show. Remember how the maid always screams before the first ad break? That’s what we’re going for.

No more lengthy scenes a la Proust, unless you are Proust. No more stage dressing. Does the audience arrive to see the rehearsal? No, they only arrive for the main event. Don’t bother to tell your reader what your character had for breakfast unless that’s what killed them.

People watching – building a story idea from life

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I don’t advocate, as a writing tutor once did, that you actually follow people to get ideas for your story or to see what it’s like to ‘shadow’ someone. BUT I must admit I do covertly eavesdrop and watch people, especially in a coffee-shop situation. And what I see and hear often gives me ideas for a story. Here’s what happened today. I must just add, as a disclaimer, that all I saw were two people in a coffee-shop – my imagination, tawdry and cynical, and my love of detective fiction did the rest.

So I was sitting there with my cappuccino and my triangle of ‘tiffin’, in a Coffeebucksta Emporium in the town where I live. And I saw this:

A smart young man, late twenties, in a very modern suit, latest hair-do etc., all smiles and full of conversation and with him a frail and bent old lady in a wheelchair. She was also smartly dressed and her white hair was also short and chic a la Dame Judi Dench. But she was way too old to be his mother. Grandmother? Great aunt?

I’m already plotting a story around them. He parked her at a table and went to join the queue. She was reading the paper. Maybe she’s not a relative but his Sugar Mommy?

The idea appeals to me. I can remember several detective novels where scandal ensues due to an inappropriate attachment between a favoured young man and an older, vulnerable woman. I like the idea that even in this day and age, a young man can still cash in on his good looks, and an old lady can still enjoy having someone to dance attendance on her.

I think she’d have someone at home to help with her personal care. And also the cooking and cleaning. I’m picturing a large sprawling mansion, empty of people but stuffed with suits of armour and gloomy, grimy portraits of people who have been dead for hundreds of years. Lots of wood panelling. Surrounded by vast expanses of grass and tall dark trees. Maybe some peacocks? An old uneconomical car, with her cosseted in the back under blankets, and him in front at the steering wheel.

And I don’t want to think there could be anything sexual involved (eww!) but that he acts as chauffeur, secretary, assistant, companion and entertainer. He flatters her, makes her laugh and she pays him for his smiles.

I think of the people that know her, local villagers? I imagine them talking to me. Or to a policeman sent down from Scotland Yard to investigate some awful crime. Perhaps she’s been murdered? Or him? perhaps he’s the victim, not the perpetrator. Over our coffee, my informant tells me, “Well of course she gave out that he was her great-nephew, though I’ve never believed it. But she said it – you know – for appearance’s sake. He certainly is a charmer. And so patient. Well all I can say is, he’s worked damned hard for the money she’s left him. If there is any money. No one seems to be too sure about that.”

Was he a little too friendly with the nurse who looked after the old lady? Is that what they’ll say when her body is discovered? Did the old lady resent him giving those smiles to someone else?

I’m picking up on tiny details. He returns with a coffee for her. Nothing for himself. Odd. He sits. She leans forward and says something to him, and he takes her cup and has a sip of the coffee, and shakes his head. He returns it to its saucer. Too much sugar? Not enough? Does this taste a little odd to you? She doesn’t drink it.

They don’t stay long. I think he was actually in the queue longer than they sat over the drink that went almost untouched. Why didn’t he have anything? Does she hold on a little too tightly to the purse-strings?

Even though he is smartly turned out, perhaps his shoes are showing signs of wear? Not quite as new or of such good quality as they first appeared? Perhaps she doesn’t pay him so well after all? Are there arguments over money? She thinks he spends too much, or asks for too much. he thinks it’s unfair that he has to beg and plead and justify what he needs, thinks she is too keen on having power over others. Perhaps it’s not worth it after all? Perhaps it’s time for this ‘arrangement’ to come to an end?

For one mad moment I think about taking her cup for analysis before the table is cleared. Then I remember. Only in my imagination am I a detective. Here in the real world, I’m just another person sitting in a cafe. But in my mind, and in my notebook, I have the bones of a story.