I’m a few days into my new writing now, and things are starting to get muddled interesting.
Like an idiot, I decided to keep writing the story I was already writing, which is of lower priority than the new one. And, at the same time, I’m wrestling with THE NEW BOOK and trying to keep my head clear – and the right characters and scenes in the right book. I must admit, my brain is beginning to complain about the hard work it’s having to do.
One of my main problems is names. Place names, character names, I forget most of them apart from those of the major characters. I resort to writing an X as a placeholder for the character’s name. the trouble is, by the time I’ve written a few pages, this can be complicated. it’s not as though my characters exist in isolation, they are a sociable bunch and soon they are out of the house and wandering along the street to have tea and cake or a pint of beer with loads of other people, all also known as X.
Occasionally, in a bid to keep things straight in my mind, I might put ‘write Pete’s mate’s name here’. But this doesn’t work either, as Pete – annoyingly, has several ‘mates’ and sees them all as often as possible.
And then there are the places, the settings. At the moment they are variously recorded as ‘Pete’s mate’s pub‘ or ‘Pete’s mate’s lock-up‘ or Cemetery/Graveyard/which one do I mean?
Now if I was more like you, dear reader, and properly organised, I’d probably have remembered to create myself a list beforehand.
Well, in fact, in my defence, I did write out a list, but I can’t find it. I think it’s in a notebook, but I’m not sure which one and by the time I’ve found it, the fabulous idea for my scene might have fizzled away, so I plod on with my Xs and my hints. I like to do things my way. It may not be tidy, elegant, efficient, or even sensible, but it’s worked for me, kind of, so I stick with it. By the time I come to rewrite, I will have fixed all these little annoyances and – theoretically – created a nice, polished draft.
Though once I forgot and Mr Amazon had to email me and say, ‘This book you’ve uploaded looks like it might not be your final version, would you like to check and make sure?’ Nice chap. he was right. There were the ‘Pete’s mate’ and Xs. Oops, good thing this was spotted by Mr A!
So what am I writing?
Well, I’m working on the not-at-all-urgent book 4 of the Criss Cross trilogy (go with me here) as I decided I would extend the series to a ‘ten years later’ scenario, I just felt suddenly inspired. Book 4 will be called Dirty Work, and I have no idea when it will be out, sorry.
The more pressing new book is book 2 of the new series, the Miss Gascoigne mysteries. it will be called A Wreath of Lilies, and you can find out a teeny bit more here. It’s going to be a while before it’s finished, so don’t get too anxious. It’ll be October, I should think, a year after book 1.
This week I thought I’d share a flashback-kind-of-thing.
It’s been ten years since I published my first book.
(I was about to write something about that, but then I reread what I’d just written – ten years since… Isn’t that what addicts say? I wonder if I am actually an addict? This writing thing – it’s impossible to stop. Maybe I need professional help?)
Anyway… I was going to say, it’s been ten years since Criss Cross: Friendship Can Be Murder: book 1hit the Kindles and bookshelves, and firstly, where has the time gone, and secondly, I bang on about my other books but this series gets overlooked. So I thought I’d share with you chapter one of Criss Cross, and also just mention quickly in passing that next year, I plan to bring out book 4 in this series. The series started life as a trilogy but I just love these characters so much. So Dirty Work, book 4will be out in the mid to end of 2023.
If you feel like reading on, I should just add, there are BAD words in this chapter, and it is VERY long. Oh and it’s written in the first person in diary entry-form. Sorry, I know (now!) that everyone hates that:
Sun 24 June
To my darling Cressida
Happy Birthday, Sweetheart! Have fun writing down all your thoughts and plans and dreams, then when we’re old and grey we can sit together on that terrace in Capri and watch the sun go down, drink a glass of wine and you can read me the spicy bits from this journal and we will have a good laugh and talk about the old days!
With all my love forever and ever
Same day: 10.35pm (Cressida writes:)
She must die!! I hate her!! I refuse to put up with her a moment longer, she is an evil, conniving old bitch without a grain of family feeling and it’s time she was dead!!
Mon 25 June—2.35pm
Have you noticed how some people just never seem to realise they’ve gone too far?
I was going to start off my new journal with something terribly erudite and wise. Like a new school notebook, I particularly wanted the first page to look lovely. But I suppose it really doesn’t matter if the first page isn’t perfectly neat and everything: the whole purpose of a journal is to pour out one’s innermost thoughts and give vent to all the frustrations that, as a nicely brought-up person, one can’t give full reign to in ‘real’ life, and so obviously even the first page can get a bit messy. And now just look at it!
But I digress. I must explain from the beginning…
It was my birthday yesterday. 32 already. God, I’m old! I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror this morning and even in the flattering south-facing light and all steamy and fresh from the shower, I’m absolutely certain I could see the tiniest line down the left side of my face from my nose to the corner of my mouth—I’m convinced it wasn’t there yesterday. Wonder if I’ve left it too late for Botox?
Among a number of very extravagant birthday gifts, my Darling Thomas gave me this sweet little journal. I’d mentioned weeks ago that I used to keep a journal when I was a melodramatic teenager, and how nice it was just to write down everything that happened and to really get it out of my system and add in lots of ‘grrr’ faces and heavy underlining, and lo and behold, the dear man, he surprised me with this journal for my birthday. So here I am.
It’s an absolutely beautiful book. It has a hard cover with a weird kind of gothicky design in the most gorgeous shades of black and purple and gold, with a magneticky bit in the front flap to keep it closed, and the pages, somewhere between A5 and American letter-size, are edged in gold too, so it feels very glamorous to write in—In fact I was a bit afraid to begin the first page, hence all the fuss about it looking nice and neat, I almost got a kind of writer’s block!
But all my good intentions and deep thoughts and years of accumulated adult wisdom and the desire to create something really special went out the window when my cow of a mother-in-law turned up on a ‘surprise’ visit and now my first page—well second really, under that really sweet little message from Thomas—Is absolutely ruined! I only hope to God Thomas doesn’t read it!
Not that she’d remembered it was my birthday any more than my own mother had—oh no! One can’t expect her (or either of them in fact!) to keep track of trivial little details like that. No, she needed Thomas’s advice about some financial matters, and thought she’d pop over. After all what’s an hour and a half’s chauffeured drive here or there? Of course she didn’t bother to ring first, see if we were in or free or anything. Clarice is used to everyone falling in with her plans.
‘I knew you wouldn’t be doing anything important,’ she says as she breezes in, dropping her coat in the middle of the hall, frowning around at the décor before settling herself in the drawing room, demanding tea. Not just the drink! By ‘tea’ she means that Victorian/Edwardian meal between luncheon, as she calls it, and dinner. She expected crustless sandwiches, crumpets, cakes (large and small), scones, jam and cream, the works. And copious amounts, of course, of tea-the-drink. China, not Indian. With lemon slices in a dainty little crystal dish, not 2 litres of semi-skimmed in a huge plastic container.
Thomas reminded her that it was my birthday and that consequently we had plans for the evening. She waved a negligent hand. Her hair, a shade too brave, was salon-perfectly waved if somewhat stiff-looking, and her clothes were at least one generation too young for her, but hideously expensive as well as just—well, hideous. Did I mention I hate her?
‘Oh that can be set aside. You can easily go out some other evening. My financial affairs are of the first import.’
Thomas looked at me. He didn’t want to fight with his mother and I knew there would be no point in trying to push him to resist the onslaught, so for poor Thomas’s sake, I sighed and shrugged and he sat down next to the old dragon and asked what she wanted to know. Meanwhile I dashed off to ring Monica Pearson-Jones and a few others, to let them know that we would either be horribly late for the theatre party, or quite possibly not turn up at all. I have to admit I was feeling quite cross and rather sorry for myself. However, Huw and Monica’s machine had to take the terrible news, as they were out. I hoped to God they weren’t already on their way.
When I got back to the drawing room, Clarice was banging on about her bloody cats, and Thomas was all glazed over and away-with-the-fairies-looking. Clarice just looked up and taking in my flat tummy and slender waist (which take me hours to maintain, btw) glared at me and said ‘so, still not knocked up yet then?’ And before I could respond with a frosty, well-constructed rebuttal, she turned to Thomas and said, ‘I told you she wouldn’t be any good. Why you couldn’t marry that Filipino girl the Honourable Addison-Marksburys brought back with them, I’ll never understand. Very good child-bearing, the Filipinos. And it’s not as though she would have expected you to take her anywhere.’
Thomas said nothing helpful, of course, just sat there like a rabbit in the headlights. And then, before I could recover my breath enough to pick my jaw up off the floor, at that moment, Huw and Monica arrived. I raced out into the hall, thinking I might be able to head them off, but just as I was discreetly mumbling to them just inside the front door, Thomas dashed out looking frazzled and dragged them in for a cuppa. Huw, only too glad to wade into a fight, immediately went in with Thomas, whilst Monica exchanged a ‘families, what can you do!’ eye-roll with me and we followed on at a more sedate pace, I with the awful sense that things were about to go even more horribly wrongerer!
How right I was. I could see Clarice eyeing them up and down. I knew she wouldn’t like Huw, because he can seem a tad brash on first meeting. He might have the breeding she prefers, but he doesn’t always act like a gentleman. Plus he takes great delight in saying exactly the wrong thing. Loves to shake things up a bit, does our Huw. But Monica, well, she’s lovely! Clarice couldn’t possibly find anything objectionable in Monica, surely?
She found something.
After eyeing them very obtrusively for several full minutes and barely murmuring even the merest of pleasantries when Thomas made the introductions, Clarice said to me, quite loudly enough for them to hear, though it was supposed to be a whisper,
‘Married his secretary, did he? She looks that type. Coarse. Rather Cheap. Eye to the main chance, one would imagine.’
Monica turned to glare, but before she could say anything, and as Huw was about to stroll to her defence, Thomas got their attention by forcing cake on them, but to no avail as, inspired once more, Clarice leaned towards me with another little gem.
‘He’s obviously a drinker. And looks like a bit of a lech, too. Just like Millicent Huntingdon’s first husband. Thoroughgoing bastard, that one. No back-bone, morally speaking.’
Our friends left just seconds later, Huw saying something over his shoulder about a ‘vile old bag.’ In fact the duration between Clarice’s comment and their car careering off down the drive was less than thirty seconds. I think that’s probably a record. I say ‘our friends’ but after the insults from Clarice, we’ll probably never see them again. Then of course, on being reprimanded for her poor manners, Clarice sulked and kept going on about how she didn’t know what the younger generation were coming to and blaming Thomas for not executing better judgment.
‘In more ways than one,’ she said, and eyed me with malice once more.
So as I was saying to begin with, some people just never seem to realise they’ve gone too far!
I mean, the vast majority of normal people, people like you and I, we just instinctively know the correct way to behave. We apologise when someone else bumps into us, we begin every complaint with ‘terribly sorry to be a nuisance, but…’ We’re nice. Pleasant. We have a kind of in-built mechanism, straight as a line in damp sand, an invisible barrier which prevents us stepping beyond the realm of reasonable and acceptable behaviour.
Some people do not.
Some people never read the signs, they ignore all warnings and plough doggedly on, intent only on saying what they want to say and doing what they want to do. They don’t care about your feelings. They turn up unannounced and uninvited, they change your plans without considering your wishes. They don’t notice the look on your face, the halting of your phrase, they are oblivious to the cooling of the atmosphere around them. They never notice that infinitesimal pause before you continue to hand around the petit-fours, a fixed smile plastered on your face, inane pleasantries tripping off your tongue. Some people remain completely and utterly ignorant of all the signs.
Everyone else, metaphorically speaking, has grabbed their handbags and jackets, collected their madeleine-tins from your kitchen, tossed the keys to the Range Rover to their husbands, dashed out of the door leaving kisses still hanging in the air, and are already on the slip road to the motorway whilst That Person is still looking vaguely around as a few motes of dust drift gently down to the Axminster. They are wearing that idiotic expression that says, ‘who me? What could I have possibly said?’ or even worse, ‘well I only said what everyone else was thinking’.
And they are always, always, always completely unaware when they have outstayed their welcome.
There’s only one way to deal with people like that.
One way and only one way.
You have to kill them.
They never take the hint, you see. They fail to detect the slight frost in your demeanour as they witter on, insulting your loved ones, criticising your friends, your home, your life. Such people cannot be taught, changed or reasoned with. In the end, it’s just easier for all concerned if you get rid of them before they truly become a Nuisance and make everyone with whom they come into contact completely and utterly miserable.
And if that seems a little harsh, just think for a moment about what these people do to your self-esteem, to your inner calm, to your peace of mind. When the phone rings, these are the people whose voice one dreads to hear. One begins to dread all family occasions and holidays because of That Person. Frankly, it’s just not worth the emotional and psychological trauma of putting up with them. Life is quite challenging enough. And that is the stage I’ve now reached with Clarice.
That said, it’s one thing to say to oneself, Monday, water plants, collect dry-cleaning, go to library, bake fairy cakes for the One-to-One drop-in day-centre fundraiser, and quite another thing to just sort of slip onto the bottom of your to-do list, ‘oh and kill mother-in-law and get everything tidied up because dinner will be on the table at seven o’clock sharp due to drinks at eight-thirty at the Pearson-Jones’.
Things—unfortunately—just aren’t quite that simple.
The Grandes Dames of the murder mystery genre, practising their art in the early and middle parts of the twentieth century—what one might term the ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction—espoused the pleasures of poisoning. Fly-papers were meticulously soaked to extract their lethal properties, berries and toadstools were carefully gathered and sliced and diced and surreptitiously introduced into steaming casseroles and tempting omelettes. On every domestic shelf such things as sleeping draughts and rat poison and eye drops sat unnoticed and unremarked, and a home was not a home without at least a few jars of cyanide or arsenic sulking forgotten in garden sheds and garages.
But, sadly, these items are notoriously tricky to come by nowadays in our ‘Nanny state’.
Of course, one watches these TV programmes that explain all about the forensic process, so that one is pre-armed with useful information. Knives wielded by the left-handed protagonist cut quite differently to those employed by a right-handed person. Equally so the short protagonist and the weak slash feeble protagonist.
In addition the actual wound inflicted by a classic blunt weapon can yield so much information about not just the weapon itself but also the attacker—the approximate height, stance, and even weight and probable gender, for example, and the ferocity of attack is sometimes a gauge as to motive and psychology. Firing a gun leaves residue on one’s clothes, gloves, and skin, and, contrary to popular belief, it can be quite a job laying one’s hands on a firearm.
According to the Daily Tabloid, a gun may readily be obtained at certain pubs in our larger cities for as little as £30, usually from a gentleman going by the name of Baz or Tel, but the problem is, these tend to be the kind of establishments one would hesitate to enter in broad daylight, let alone late in the evening.
Remember, it’s very difficult to get a decent glass of Merlot in this kind of hostelry, and one can’t just go in and hang about without making a purchase of some kind. If you do just go into the bar and stand or sit in a corner, the other patrons are likely to stare and nudge one another. They may even whisper to one another, ‘wot jer fink er game is then?’ or possibly, ‘Oi Tel, woss up wiv er, she too good fer us or summink?’
This is especially the case when one gentleman approaches and states that he and his friend, Gaz or Stevo or even ‘Arrison would like to buy you a beverage of some description, usually a Mojito or similar, and you are forced to politely but firmly decline. They are apt to be offended.
And if you do order a nice glass of Merlot, there’s always a momentary look of confusion on the face of the Landlord as he tries to recollect whether he has a corkscrew within easy reach, or how long ago he opened the half-empty bottle on the back counter—was it recently enough to avoid the expense of opening a brand new bottle?
Then he’ll ask if you’d like ice and lemon. Might as well add a cherry-on-a-stick and a little umbrella! And there’s no point in trying to charge it to your Diamond Visa or Titanium Amex—they much prefer to deal with cash. It’s altogether a rather unpleasant experience.
In any case, Baz or Tel are always surprisingly suspicious when one asks them if it would be possible to purchase a small Eastern-European revolver, something with a fairly hefty slug but small enough to slip into a small Louis Vuitton clutch-purse, or at a pinch into a Mulberry shoulder bag, or even, and here I may be straying into the realms of fantasy or James Bond (same thing, I suppose), even into the top of one’s stocking.
The gentleman invariably looks a bit puzzled and says something along the lines of, ‘‘ere that sounds a bit dodgy Darlin’. I don’t do nuffin like that.’ Well, of course it’s a bit dodgy, one points out, one is illegally attempting to buy a gun in a corner of the car park of a fleabag pub at eleven o’clock at night, and paying cash into the bargain. How could one possibly see it in any other light than dodgy? It doesn’t matter if you offer them £100, £200 or even £500 at this point, they just walk away shaking their heads and saying, ‘screw that, I don’t wanna get cort up in nuffin dodgy.’
I ask you.
The criminal classes aren’t what they once were. But what other choices does one have?
A pillow over the face in the dead of night is liable to leave a filament of goose-down in the lungs of your chosen recipient. This will immediately be detected by any half-decent forensic examiner and blabbed all over the Car-Crash Telly channel in a late-night special called Toffs Who Kill or something of the kind.
A bit of a bump with the car in a quiet part of town on a wet Wednesday afternoon may lead to eyewitnesses or CCTV footage recording your number plate for posterity. For goodness sake, tiny fragments of paint from the wing of your vehicle may embed themselves in the depths of the wound you inflict, and these same may be delicately reclaimed by a steady-handed science-nerd in a lab coat wielding a pair of sterile tweezers.
Murder is a difficult road to travel. But one must bear in mind the old maxim that nothing worthwhile is ever attained without a struggle. Therefore it is imperative to be utterly committed, to be dedicated in one’s approach, to persevere in the face of adversity and to make copious notes so that one may learn from one’s mistakes. And of course, it goes almost without saying, each stage must be planned in intricate, even tedious, detail.
Today I went to my local stationer’s—It’s so vital, I feel, that one supports local businesses wherever possible—and bought two notebooks, a small index card box, a set of ruled index cards, and a rather nice fountain pen. My husband seems to be under the impression that I require these items to catalogue my shoe collection. Sweet! And not a bad idea…but first things first.
Now, I’ve worked out I have approximately six weeks in which to plan and carry out my little project, and still have time for a decent mourning period before we have to be in Scotland for the ‘glorious twelfth’, my Thomas’s cousin Jessica (lovely woman!) always has a house party. Actually this year it’s the glorious thirteenth as the twelfth falls on the Sabbath, and one never shoots in Scotland on the Sabbath. Der! Thomas loves his shooting, so although I’m not a lover of messy pastimes, I always like to encourage him to relax and have a bit of fun, stockbrokers work so hard don’t they, and such high stress levels, one obviously doesn’t want them to crack up under the pressure!
Not, of course, that we would need a mourning period as such, as Thomas hates his mother almost as much as I do, but one must maintain appearances, and I’d need a good week, I’m absolutely certain, to sort out the contents of Highgates—she has accumulated so much old tat, although most of it is stored in boxes in the disused bedrooms, and has been sitting there untouched for simply decades. But it will take me a full day just to sort through the Spode and other china and porcelain in case there are any little gems lurking amongst the dross.
There are also two rather elderly and smelly cats that will have to be put to sleep, and of course the whole legal side of things to sort out. Thomas will have to see to that.
Then there’ll be the funeral to arrange.
Now one thing I do think is really important, and that is to ensure a really beautiful casket is purchased. And of course, it’s no good skimping when it comes to fittings, not if you want to do the job properly. Brass, highly polished, is the only thing that will do. Not that horrid plated stuff that rubs off as soon as you touch it. That’s what happened to Thomas’s colleague Miranda Kettle (she’s got the biggest nose I have ever seen, and the smallest chin! Nothing grows in the shade, does it?). She skimped on her mother’s coffin. We all noticed the green stain on the pall-bearers’ gloves, of course. No one said anything obviously, and in any case, Miranda herself didn’t notice. She had her nose buried in an extra-large gentlemen’s handkerchief most of the time, she was so inconsolably upset. Poor woman. Absolutely distraught throughout the entire funeral. Thought the mortgage had been paid off years ago! Such a beastly shock.
Same day: 5.45pm
I’ve just had a bit of a break to think about this a little longer. So I went to sit out on the terrace with a cup of tea. Then it came to me, and I had to dash indoors and fetch this journal.
Of course, the very thing!
The scourge of society nowadays: the house-breaker. Or, more precisely, the drug addict, who, as the tabloids will no doubt report, desperate to gain some funds for another few grammes of white powder to snort, breaks into a nice house in an attractive part of Ely in the hope of some opportunistic gain. Then is surprised by a feisty, elderly lady with a bit of oomph about her, and during the course of a desperate struggle, the evil perp bludgeons the poor old dear and makes off with some loot.
Meanwhile, I could be enjoying a well-deserved break at a health spa in—ooh, let me think—Cambridgeshire, perhaps?
This might actually work!
Things to do:
Purchase rubber gloves, not those cheap ones, they make me itch.
Ditto black woollen ski mask or balaclava
Also some black shoe polish (for face, obviously, so must make sure I purchase a ‘gentle’ formula) as I believe we’re actually out of black shoe polish at the moment.
I think I already have a black (or navy would suffice at a push) pac-a-mac somewhere in the rear cloakroom from that ill-fated walking holiday of 2010—Thomas had wanted to try something different—suffice to say, we went straight back to Antigua after that.
Oh, and black slacks.
Next, book visit to health spa. Tell Thomas am going away for a couple of days to a nice, reputable place in Cambridgeshire. Must buy a copy of The Lady in case none of my pals can think of anything in that area.
Will need to purchase a cheap, disposable holdall for disguise. (Could use a plastic grocery bag, I suppose, but it’s not really me. Also, this might scream homicidal housewife slash amateur-hour and want to look like I know what I’m doing, right tools for the right job etc etc but can’t actually use one of my own in case it’s traced back to me).
No need to buy a bludgeoning implement, as plenty of scope at Thomas’ mother’s house. Lots of beastly vases and figurines—some really quite large and heavy and ghastly but without any actual value—and, as will obviously have gloves on, can leave figurine in situ once used, no need concern oneself about disposal of same. Actually leaving the weapon behind looks better from a not-going-equipped point of view. More impromptu.
You know, I’m so excited. I really think this might actually work. Must just go and fish my little filofax out of my bag to work out a timetable. Then I can start writing in the headings on my index cards. Ooh Goody!
I self-published my first book in January 2013, so nine and a half years ago.
(note to self, you should have waited until January 2023 so you could do a 10-year anniversary post.)
(note back to self from self: I might still do that, no one will remember that it was only six months earlier that I did this post, will they?)
The book was Criss Cross, and it was the first book of a trilogy called initially the Posh Hits Murders then I changed that rather clunky title a few years ago to the Friendship Can Be Murder mysteries.
Why did I self-publish?
I finished the book in 2012, (congrats, self, it’s been ten years…) and finding that people were still rather scornful of self-pubbed books – and still are today, btw – I tried to persuade around thirty publishers and agents to take it. The responses varied from dusty silence for months on end with tumbleweed rolling by, to responses two or three weeks later of ‘Sorry it’s just not for us, so sorry, but no,’ to responses by return of mail, saying, in effect, ‘Hell no!’
Some people said, ‘We enjoyed it but it won’t sell, it’s not commercial enough. It doesn’t fit into a genre.’ (True)
Lots of them said, ‘Good luck with that.’
And so that was why I thought I would ‘give it a go’ as a self-published author. Whilst waiting for replies from the latest victim, I had read quite a lot about self-publishing and thought it sounded like something even I, technologically challenged as I was, could do. So I did.
It was a long and difficult process as I had never done anything like that before. I knew very little about editing, or formatting of manuscripts. I was still working full time, so I had very little time to do anything ‘extra’, and I had no spare cash to pay anyone to do anything for me. In those days I didn’t know any other writers either so I had no one to ask. I learned it all from a book. and from research on the Interweb.
And then apart from the technology, I had another issue: I was really really scared!
What if people didn’t like it?
What if I discovered that I was genuinely a terrible writer?
What if the publishers and agents had been right and it was a huge failure? Well that one at least wasn’t too much of a problem – if it flopped, who would know or be worried apart from me?
It took a while to overcome my fears and just go for it. But eventually I got tired of wondering ‘what if’ and just – did it.
And yeah, it’s not made me a millionaire. I sell something like 100 of my Dottie Manderson mysteries to every one of the Criss Cross books I sell. But every month I sell a few, a nice little handful of eBooks and paperbacks and even large print paperbacks.
And yeah, not everyone likes it. One of my earliest reviews – which could have stopped my writing career right there if it wasn’t that I am super stubborn and contrary, was a one star review that said ‘This is the worst book I have ever read.’
Quite honestly they did me a favour. Because that was exactly what I had been dreading all that time, so once it came, everything else seemed okay. And by that time book 2 was out, followed by book 3 and book 1 of the Dottie Manderson mysteries.
I think most writers dream of getting an offer from a publisher to publish their works. That’s never happened to me and I don’t know how I would feel or what I would say if it did. I kind of just kept on with the self-publishing as it seemed pointless to waste time trying to place my books when they could be ‘out there’ within a day or two. I make a nice living now from my books. Currently I have ten books published and two more about to come out later this year. I’m not a millionaire. To be honest I’m okay with that. I love the creative control of my books and I enjoy working with other authors to edit or proofread their works or to offer ideas or support.
And I have received so much help from many lovely authors. Now, I quite often get emails or message from readers telling me they like my books. I usually apologise first. then thank them.
Readers, you have no idea how amazing it is when someone tells you that something you came up with out of thin air has given them pleasure. Thank you, wonderful readers, for your kindness and support too.
What’s the book about?
So what’s Criss Cross about?
Loosely speaking, it’s a murder mystery. But it’s written in the form of diary entries by the protagonist, Cressida, and is from a limited-ish first person point of view.
(And those are some of the aspects of it that were not commercially viable for a publishing house.)
She’s terribly posh and entitled, and has a plan to kill off her mother-in-law who is making her life a misery.
I can’t really say it’s a mystery as quite a lot of what happens is told to the reader directly by Cressida. But of course, she herself doesn’t always know what’s going on, so there is that element of mystery. But there is a strong chick-lit vibe, and there’s romance.
(More reasons why it’s not a good choice for a publishing house.)
As the story moves on, the body count piles up, because stuff just happens, as Cressida quickly discovers. Outwardly self-sufficient and uncaring, she is really a fairly lonely person who builds herself a family, and it is these relationships that she wants to protect at all costs.
It’s humorous, a bit snarky, but warm and occasionally poignant. Each story leads on from the previous one, these don’t quite work as stand-alones, I’m afraid.
I recently read somewhere that routine hinders the creative process. To really be creative, we need to let go of organisation, routine and any kind of rigid preconceptions or framework, to allow ourselves freedom to explore in any direction and form that appeals to us.
I couldn’t disagree more strongly. If you think that routine is a hindrance and obstacle to being truly creative, I’d like to invite you to reconsider.
I suggest that it is routine that brings freedom and that freedom is often to be found within boundaries, not outside of them. Because parameters do one great thing for us, yes, even us creative types. They give security. And if you feel secure, you have the freedom to be creative.
All art is created within boundaries. Or a framework of conventions, if you prefer to call it that. Mozart created wonderful music. Yes, undeniably, he was incredibly creative and had a flair for genius. But. Musical composition is, in many ways, one of the most rigidly ‘controlled’ art forms in that very deeply-held conventions dictate the agreed (not necessarily explicitly agreed) common elements that must be adhered to, in order to create any form of music. Sonatas have a specific set of rules, if you like. All sonatas have common elements that make them what they are. Similarly, concertos, arias, opuses and symphonies all have elements which dictate how they are created and underpin the very stylistic identity of a given piece of music.
Now I am tempted to take a long detour at this point and show that this is exactly the same as the genre conventions in writing, but I won’t, as I’ve already waffled quite a bit, and I want to keep this blog fairly to-the-point (wow, who’d have thought it?).
Sometimes, I just go with the flow, letting words pour onto the page. There’s nothing actually wrong with that, but it doesn’t make for good reading, it rarely fits neatly into a novel, and I am a novelist, so that is what I need to write. Unfocussed, meandering writing is great fun, very cathartic and can help you to improve your writing overall. But for ‘everyday’ working writing, you need focus, not indulgence.
Within a framework, we have the freedom to be creative. Routine can be just such a framework. I’m actually not a very organised person with regard to my writing. But I have discovered that an established routine is my friend when it comes to cracking on with my WIP and meeting deadlines.
If you are organised, you can relax and focus on the job in hand. You make the most of your time, and have something concrete to show for it, so productivity is improved and you feel good about what you’ve achieved. Which makes it more likely you’ll do it again tomorrow. In addition, good output leads to increased confidence and positivity, and as many writers know, these are commodities that can be hard to come by.
Planned routine is anticipated, your subconscious inner writer is actually hard at work long before you sit down at your desk. You know what is expected, and what your intentions are. This means you ‘hit the ground running’ and are ready to go straight away with no need for warming up or getting yourself in the mood.
As I’ve said already, routine planned writing leads to increased output and measurable results, you see the word count piling up and you see that you are moving towards your deadline or goal. This gives you the impetus you need to write through the tough sections of your book, those tricky little scenes and the mid-book blues.
For me, one of the main advantages to this type of organised approach to work is that I remain ‘current’ with my WIP. I literally don’t lose the plot. By that I mean I don’t lose track of characters and plot strands the way I do when I’m here and there and all over the place writing whatever takes my fancy. The resulting draft is more seamless, the scenes transition more smoothly, and small details are less likely to be overlooked.
They say it takes six weeks to develop a new routine: three weeks to break old habits, and another three to establish new ones. Give yourself six weeks, starting today. Who knows, by the time we reach mid-April, you may be firmly in the Routine is my Friend camp.
Writing tutors always advocate keeping a journal or writing diary. I keep one sporadically, writing an entry a couple of times a week, then maybe not for a month, then four times in one day. It depends entirely on what is going on in my life.
Why is it useful?
Well, to begin with it’s therapeutic. You can use it to de-stress your life, like a best friend, it won’t tattle on you. You can pour out your heart and soul and love and bile into a journal, and no one will slap your face or lecture you. If you keep it private, you can say and do whatever you please, and know that your dodgy experiments and weak efforts, your anxieties and temper tantrums will never see the light of day, and your loved ones will be unscathed by the trauma that exists inside the average writer. So it’s a safe place to try new stuff or give a voice to things that are bothering you, or to learn how to do new stuff by practising and honing your skills.
It is a great way to keep track of what happens when in your life – all too often, especially once you reach ‘a certain age’, you can forget what happens in your life and how it affects you. Later you can look back and think, Oh I was writing such-and-such when Great Aunt Jemima had her hip replacement. It’s useful more often than you’d think.
I also use mine as a way of noting down odd things I see. I often write a blog post based on a journal entry about people watching. Title or character ideas can also be quickly noted down, or I might write something along the lines of ‘a funny thing happened on the way to the supermarket’. I also make notes of ideas – either for a story that is already part of my life, or a new idea that has just come to me or that I’m playing around with to see if it has enough oomph in it to create a whole novel from.
I write to-do lists along the lines of ‘Tues: finish chapter three, do blog post, tweet, Facebook, and emails to X, Y and Z. Wed: chapter four and think about a flash fiction or poem. Thurs: more social media; create graphic for marketing.’
I make notes about the technical side of writing and self-publishing – keywords to try, niches and genres, blurbs, other books to read, ‘how-to’ tips and ideas.
AND the main thing I use it for – to write rough drafts of chapters for ongoing work. On top of all these, if I have an epiphany on the bus into town, I can haul out my notebook and scribble away. I often add sticky notes to the page edges so I can find something important later.
I don’t use fancy-schmancy notebooks, I just use an ordinary lines A5 notebook. Okay so big confession: I am a bit of a sucker for a pretty cover. And I like thickish paper, otherwise ink just blobs through flimsy pages and ruins the next page or two. But I still don’t spend a fortune on them. Not individually at least, though I do buy them often and in quantity, but that’s our little secret. I’ve got stacks of them in drawers and on shelves and in boxes. I love to go through them sometimes, perhaps even many years later, and often get a fresh insight into an old problem, or find a forgotten piece that I can use in my writing or on my blog. Sometimes it’s just nice to look back and see a mention of a hope or cherished dream and think, ‘well I’ve done that now’.
Journals can be a gold mine, as a writer you really can’t be without one.
The ‘fear’ of the blank page is a common problem for writers. I guess perhaps less so now we can fill our screens with formatting and editing marks. But still, for some it’s an excruciating obstacle, for others a brief gulp and pause before pushing onward. It’s useful to have a coping mechanism if this is something you can relate to. I write my first draft longhand, and that’s where the blank page seems to become an in surmountable fence between me and my creativity. So I always write my ongoing word count in the margin at the top and bottom of each page, and I write dates, titles, or chapter headings as required at the top of each new page. These small scrawlings help to break up the expanse of white paper and make the page seem already ‘inhabited’, thereby solving my problem. If I’m going through a dry patch, having trouble getting down to writing, I might even make notes in pencil on the ext page for the following days work. So if you sometimes struggle, maybe give these a try and see if they work for you too. Drop me a line if they do!
Huge numbers of people still love to read fiction set in the past. Consequently, many modern authors seek to write works set in bygone eras. The first thing you notice when you read books written by Jane Austen for example, is the difference in language. If I compare a contemporary novel to Pride and Prejudice, for example, then yes, clearly they are both written in the same language, and use hundreds, if not thousands, of the same words. But they don’t always use them in the same way.
Language is a living thing, and it changes and evolves, just like us. Our attitudes change, and as the years go by, we learn, we develop, we change. And as we change, the language we use also changes.
For a writer it can be difficult to find the right words to express what you want to say. If your writing is set in the past it can be really tough. You want your prose to read like it could have been written by Austen, but you don’t want it to be dull, dense or overly complicated for twenty-first century readers who are less used to reading a style full of long sentences and descriptive passages.
My advice is, keep it simple. Write in a slightly more formal, grammatically correct style than you usually do, but don’t overdo it. Keep your sentence structure modern in the sense of being shorter, clearer and to the point, and avoid being too ‘wordy’. Then examine your writing for modern phrases and sayings, or modern concepts and allusions that have sneaked into your work. Make sure your work is carefully positioned in the world you are writing about. Don’t use words, phrases and ideas that would have been alien to your chosen era. To use Jane Austen again to illustrate an example, don’t refer to objects and things as stuff; stuff was another word for fabric or material. Many words have changed their meaning so make sure you use language consciously.
If you’re not sure about something, and research and interest groups haven’t helped you, then my suggestion would be to leave it out if you possibly can. Never underestimate the knowledge of your reader – if you have introduced an anachronism – something from the wrong time period – you can bet your reader will notice!
Round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran. (rock not included)
We all know that one, don’t we. Though I usually get rugged and ragged back to front. I have to remind myself that whilst a rascal can be rugged or ragged, a rock can pretty much only be rugged.
As we learned in junior school, alliteration is putting together words with the same initial letter. In the case of the above phrase, R, the pirate’s favourite letter.
This can be a useful literary device when writing, and like most literary devices, it is used to make the reader feel, view or interpret your writing in a particular way by creating a mood or appearance. But use it sparingly. The problem with any literary device, is that all too easily it can draw attention away from what you’re writing and turn the focus on itself, distracting your reader from you’re story in the same way you can sometimes fail to see the puppet-show because you’re focusing on the strings.
Sibilance is the repeated use of an S sound, or a hissing sound. You put together words with lots of s, sh and soft c sounds: Sid’s silly scented snake slithered smoothly across the shiny façade. Unlike with Alliteration, the repeated sounds don’t have to be confined to the beginning of the word.
Assonance is the repeated use of vowel sounds: cut jug, heed beat, or the same or similar consonants with different vowels: jiggle juggle, dilly-dally.
Consonance is the repetition of matching consonant sounds: ruthless cutthroats, repeated reports. It can quickly descend into Alliteration if only the initial letter(s) are repeated!
These can all be useful for creating a certain mood, or an attitude, or making the reader see a character or setting in a particular way. It can also imbue your writing with a poetic or lyrical quality. In fact most poetry contains some or more than one of these devices. Think of Wordworth’s I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud, with all the repeated Ls, the Hs, the Ds, the long vowels of wandered, lonely and cloud.
It can also have a unifying effect, making all parts fit together with a repetition of shared letters and sounds. But like all good things, in prose it needs to be used in moderation.
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.
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. We – we 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.
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!
Sometimes little snatches of narrative come to me and I have to write them down “just in case”. Evernote on my Kindle and on my PC is great for this as you can be out and about with your Kindle (or any tablet or phone …) then sync the ideas or notes when you get home. I have set up a number of ‘notebooks’ – ‘various ideas’ then also WIP-specific notebooks in case of a sudden flash of inspiration – or desperation – when I’m away from home, or just can’t be bothered to go to the PC, so I can make notes and save them all in one folder, so linked ideas are together. I’m still very new to Evernote, so you no doubt have better ways of working, but at the moment, I’m feeling pretty smug about this!
Below is one of my flashes, it’s a bit florid, I don’t know if it’s going anywhere but I enjoyed the moment of high drama, seeing in my mind a noblewoman on the deck of a ‘Tudorbethan’ wooden ship.
The Errant Queen Cornered
I would sooner risk ending my days in the cold grey waters of our English channel than turn to safe shore and meet His Majesty’s hot rage and spited vengeance in the Tower. or so thought I when I fled.
But now the moment has arrived, and I find I must pause. My courage hides itself behind these woman’s skirts and I cling the rail with white hands, hesitating. I do not wish to hasten death. And yet – what other choice have I? Tell me, is there some other way I have o’erlook’d? No, no, so thought I. His Majesty’s clipper approaches from the South, the Royal Pennant can be seen even from this reach, and they will be upon us all too soon.
How good of you to come so far at my blighted side, faithful friends. So I leap. And yet – yet – truly say me, is’t other course still to be found? No, no, I reckoned it stood thus. Well then, adieu or as God allow, fare thee well. I leap. Sure the sea appears full deep and chill. God grant my skirts shall weigh me down and end it quickly. Take my arm then, good knight, help me over, and I pray thee, I may yet see thee anon. The lack of me shall free thee all, His Majesty shall not vent his wrath upon any of my friends, it will suffice that I am gone. Farewell.