In the small gap between one ending of one book and the beginning of another is the writer’s down-time. And there are so many things to cram into that small window of opportunity, I don’t know where to start. In a way, it’s easier to just start another book.
I feel a bit lack-lustre this week. A Meeting With Murder came out on the 7th, and now, what on earth do I do until I start revising Rose Petals and White Lace?
Sigh. Okay so I’ve done some laundry. I haven’t put it way yet. You can’t rush these things. And I’m not ashamed to say I vacuumed. I flicked a duster round in the sitting-room. I put out the rubbish. And the recycling! I swept the utility room. It doesn’t look any better, but I know I did it. I cleared out my cupboards. The fridge is full. As is the freezer. I bought more bird food. I threw away that old half-bag of flour that was best before something beginning with a 1 and a 9. I bought more tomato paste, only to discover I already had a new tube… I thought about wiping the skirting boards down, but I decided to save that job for when I need more excitement in my life. Next week, probably.
I am just lost this week. I’ve started reading a couple of books. neither of them ‘grabbed’ me. Not the books’ fault, I’m feeling like that about everything at the moment. Now that my WIP is no longer IP, I feel as though I’ve misplaced my glasses or left the tap running., you know? Like half of my attention is elsewhere. My brain is a bit frazzled.
I’ll let you into a secret. I’ve already made a start on revising Rose Petals. I didn’t know what else to do with myself. I’ve done chapter one. It’s okay. I took out a bit, and put in a new bit. The word count stayed pretty much the same. I’m puzzling over some of the logistics the crime(s) require, but that’s something I need to really think over.
Even the back looks quite good!
I’ve made loads of notes for new story ideas. I worry that I’ll die before I’ve written them all, because there are LOADS of them. I might have to double or even triple up, using more than one audacious scheme for each book, just so I can get through them. I’d hate for any to go to waste. And I’m wondering if I can get away with writing a contemporary Dottie spin-off – maybe her great grandson could also be a copper or a detective? Would that be a spin-off too far, do you think? And where would I find the time? Maybe I’ll just write a small sneaky one for my own amusement.
Tune in next week for a blog post I started writing two weeks ago and still haven’t finished. It’s about vintage collectables and the love people have now for the stuff their parents or grandparents thought of as ordinary. It turns out, value is in the eye of the beholder.
As you may know, I’m working on the first book of a new series. It’s another cosy mystery series featuring a female amateur detective. The series is to be known as the Miss Gascoigne mysteries, and Diana ‘Dee’ Gascoigne is the detective. It will be released on the 30th September, and the Kindle version is available to pre-order. The paperback and large print paperback will be published shortly after the eBook.
If you have read any of the Dottie Manderson mysteries set in the 1930s, some of these names may sound familiar. Dee Gascoigne is the baby Diana who is born at the beginning of The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish. Now it’s 1965, and Diana is almost 30, recently separated from an abusive husband and still carrying a not-very-secret crush for her not-quite-cousin Bill Hardy, detective inspector, and eldest son of Dottie and–you’ve guessed it, William Hardy from the Dottie Manderson mysteries. (SPOILER!!! They do get together, don’t despair!)
In A Meeting With Murder, Dee has just lost her job due to the scandalous fact that she plans to divorce her husband–divorce was still a very big issue in the 1960s. Next, following a bout of bronchitis, Dee goes off to the seaside to recover. Of course, even in a small village, or perhaps because it’s a small village, there are malign forces at work. Dee, like her Aunt Dottie, feels compelled to investigate, and perhaps start a whole new career for herself.
Here’s a short extract from A Meeting With Murder: Miss Gascoigne mysteries book 1.
I hope you like it!
Dee had a leisurely afternoon. She took another walk around the village, marvelling that she didn’t happen to meet anyone, considering the place was so small but well-populated. She had afternoon tea with Cissie in what was rapidly becoming a ritual, one that she would miss a great deal when she finally returned to London.
That evening, Dee looked at the two letters yet again, mulling over them long and hard. She knew them by heart now. Not that there had been much to learn, both were short and direct.
The first one, in the usual style of cut out words or single letters from magazines or newspapers, said simply, ‘Your seCREt shame will NOT be a secret much lONger.’
The second, more recent one, said, ‘Your bAstard cHILd will pay for YOUr sin.’
The word bastard had been made up from several sections of type: the b was a separate letter, then the Ast were together, presumably formerly part of a longer word. The next a was a single letter again, then the final two letters, rd, were once more part of the same word, and likewise, the YOU of your was formed of a word in capital letters with an extra r added to the end.
On the one hand, it was laughable that anyone would think this was still a scandalous secret in the modern era. But on the other, Dee remembered what Cissie had said to her when she first explained about the poison pen letters. It must have been a shock, Dee decided, for Lily to open the envelopes and find these letters inside. To think that someone who knew her, someone familiar to whom she no doubt spoke on a regular basis, had composed these spiteful notes.
Dee sat for a long while pondering the letters. At last, she put them away, neatly folding them and slipping them into the zipped mirror pocket of her handbag for safe keeping.
The next morning she was up bright and early, had her breakfast, and humming along to a song on the radio, she tidied the cottage and got ready to go out to meet her brother’s train, eager to see him, eager to tell him everything she’d learned. She came out of the dim house into bright sunshine, and walked directly into a man going past the cottage.
Then as he gripped her arms to steady her, and helped her to stay on her feet, she saw who it was.
‘Oh!’ she said, covering her sense of shock by becoming angry instead of flinging herself into his arms. ‘So Scotland Yard finally turned up, did they? A bit late in the day.’
The tall man in the smart suit—surely a little too smart for ordinary daywear, especially in the country, Dee commented to herself—took a couple of steps back, clearly as shocked as she was at having literally walked right into her as she came out of the front door of the cottage as he and the other man with him were walking by on their way from the railway station to the pub.
Just looking at him was enough to set her heart singing, much to her annoyance. Meanwhile he was frowning down at her with what was known in the family as the Hardy Frown, his dark brows drawn together over long-lashed hazel eyes that were just like his mother’s.
‘What the hell are you doing here anyway? You’d better not be interfering in my investigation. I’m not like my father. I don’t allow private citizens to meddle in official police business.’ He was holding his forefinger up in a lecturing manner.
‘Oh shut up, Bill, you’re so bloody pompous,’ Dee said and stormed off.
‘I take it you know that lady, sir?’ the sergeant asked, eyes wide with curiosity, following the lady as she went.
‘You could say so, sergeant. Listen to me. On no account are you to tell that woman anything about this case. Don’t give her documents to read. Don’t accidentally leave your notebook lying around for her to ‘just happen to find’ and snoop through. Don’t answer any of her questions, or tell her our line of questioning, or anything about our suspects, or just—anything. She comes from a long line of nosy women. Do you understand me, sergeant?’
‘Ye…’ the sergeant began.
‘Because if you do any of those things, believe me, I shall make your life a living hell.’ Hardy caught himself and stopped. Then added, with just a hint of a smile, ‘Not that I don’t already, I expect you’re thinking.’
‘Oh sir, as a mere sergeant, I’m not paid to think.’ Sergeant Nahum Porter risked a grin at the inspector.
Stifling a laugh, Hardy said, ‘I’m very glad to hear it. Now come on, we’ve got things to do.’
This week, I want to share with you the third in a series of three mystery/crime-genre blog tours to celebrate new books. This week I was honoured to be asked to take part in the blog tour for Marsali Taylor’s new novel The Shetland Sea Murders.This worked very well for me as I’d been planning to read some of Marsali’s work for quite some time.
Here’s a little bit of what her book is about:
Marsali Taylor returns with the ninth gripping mystery in her Shetland Sailing Mystery series.
While onboard her last chartered sailing trip of the season, Cass Lynch is awoken in the middle of the night by a Mayday call to the Shetland coastguard. A fishing vessel has become trapped on the rocks off the coast of one of the islands.
In the days that follow, there’s both a shocking murder and a baffling death. On the surface there’s no link, but when Cass becomes involved it is soon clear that her life is also in danger.
Convinced that someone sinister is at work in these Shetland waters, Cass is determined to find and stop them. But uncovering the truth could prove to be deadly…
Other reviewers said:
‘Definitely the best of the Cass Lynch series yet!’ 5* Reader Review
‘The beautiful descriptions of Shetland life, traditions, it’s landscape and even language bring everything to life.’ 5* Reader Review
‘This series gets better and better’ 5* Reader Review
‘A beautifully written story, with descriptions so vivid you can smell the sea and beautiful countryside.’ 5* Reader Review
‘The perfect lockdown read for anyone who longs to be back on the sea.’ 5* Reader Review
As I said, I’ve been aware of Marsali’s books and planning to read them for some time now. So this was my first experience of this series, and I wasn’t too sure what to expect.
I was a bit worried to begin with because of the boating stuff. A lot of the story takes place or a boat, or has information to do with boats or things like weather and tides etc. I’m a confirmed landlubber. I like to be on a boat, on a nice sunny day, when all I have to do is stand on the deck and daydream, I’m not a ‘storm’s a-coming, haul in the mainsheet’ kind of boater… So I was concerned I would either find the references to boating or shipping or whatever it is (please excuse my ignorance) too complicated or well, boring, actually. But I’m happy to report that when the boating bits became ‘hardcore’ – towards the end of the book – I was gripping my lines and staring into the mist like a true-born shipping type person. It was tense, let me tell you. And I was right there in the midst of it with the spray on my face, hanging on to every word.
This is an absorbing mystery, and chock full of a sense of place. The story is set, as the series title and this book’s title suggest, in and around the Shetland Isles. Everything is described with affection and an attention to detail that just brings it to life. It also helps that there is a glossary of Shetland linguistic phrases at the back of the book. There is also history, and Girl Power.
The story is also an immersive experience. As the events of the story unfold, you as the reader are drawn into not just the minds of the characters but their lives and relationships too. When you’ve finished, there is that time lapse sense of unreality when you look up and realise you’re not out on the ocean or on a Shetland isle, but in your sitting room snug at home.
I give this book an unhesitating five stars. Highly recommended.
You can find out more about Marsali Taylor and her work on her website:
Here’s a bit of what it’s about, then I’ll tell you what I thought.
Incarcerated in the gloom of a Highland asylum, a young mother finds illicit love. And death.
Kate Sharp’s family is a mystery. Her mother, Ellen, disappeared into the shadows of Craig Dunain psychiatric hospital when Kate was a child. When her grandmother dies, Kate is desperate for answers. What were the circumstances of her mother’s life and death? Who is her father?
Kate’s not the only one trying to uncover the truth. The remains of two bodies with murderous injuries have been found buried in the forest next to the former hospital.
And someone else is searching for answers, and he will stop at nothing to find them.
As the tale of Ellen’s tragic unravelling unfolds, the secrets that led to her death are exposed, along with the shocking truth about Kate’s father.
Unaware of the danger stalking her, Kate continues her search.
Will she find the answers? And can she save her own life?
If this was on a popular online store, I’d give Unravelling five stars.
First of all let me just say, I’m not very good with writing reviews – I tend towards the brief, so I’m trying to be more expansive here.
I read it in three sittings: session one was out of mild curiosity – was this a book I felt I could get into, was it the kind of the thing I would enjoy? I find it hard to take part in a blog tour if I haven’t genuinely engaged with the material – I don’t want to lie to my readers. So I quickly read the opening 30 or 40 pages.
The second reading session was a panicked, ‘Eek I almost forgot and there’s only four more days until my post is due out…’ so I read another 50 or so pages, thinking, I like how this is unfolding, I’m definitely intrigued, I’m confident I am going to love this book.
The third sitting, with 250+ pages to go was one of those, ‘I don’t care how long it takes, I am not putting this book down for anything except Rege-John Page or Theo James.’ I mean, I was hooked.
Reader, I devoured it.
And this is my conclusion:
Unravelling by Helen Forbes is an engrossing, claustrophobic psychological thriller. It was tense at times, and sorrowful. The insights into serious mental illness were so emotive, and I admit I blubbed. It was compulsive too – as I said, I just hadto read on, I had to know.
The ending was swift and satisfying, and hopeful.
For me, I felt that Kate’s story was in a way a – not redemption exactly – more a second chance for Ellen. I can’t explain (words are my job too! Rolls eyes.) It was the pay-off that we the reader got after the long personal journey of self-discovery of both Ellen and Kate.
I enjoyed the style. To begin with I was a little confuzzled by the shift in points of view, but got used to it, you can identify the narrators easily enough. I think it was a bold move to separate Kate’s story into two halves and put Ellen’s story in the middle. I’m not sure I’d have made that choice myself, but I think it works, though when I came back to the second part of Kate’s story I had to quickly ‘revise’ what had happened in the first part. But I think it worked, and as I say, I was hooked – it was definitely an unputdownable, engrossing read, and I highly recommend this book!
Do check out Helen Forbes’ website – link here – to find out about the DI Joe Galbraith books, also set in Scotland, and about the author herself.
You can also catch up with Helen and all her news on the following social media:
And please review the book if you love it – let other readers know what’s good! You don’t have to write an essay – just a quick comment of ‘Loved it’ or ‘highly recommended’ – it’s okay to be brief, because every little helps as they say. Thanks!
Hold everything! EBook NOW available to pre-order (paperback will be released at the same time)
This is an update on the progress of Dottie Manderson book 6 – The Spy Within. Like most of my posts about new books – it begins with an apology. I know, I know in a rash moment of optimism and craziness I said ‘coming Summer 2020’. Even as I said it, my fingers were crossed and I was telling myself, ‘But Summer can be any time between June or August, right?’
But you know, guys, look at what the rest of 2020 has been like. I’ve got a good excuse, haven’t I? Probably the best I’ve had so far. Therefore I’m pleased – though slightly worried – to announce that I plan to release The Spy Within ‘some time’ in October this year. That’s not long! (Note to me: Oh heck, that’s really not long! Argh!) I’m sorry it’s late, but it’s been a tough one. I know I say that about all of them.
To begin with, for some reason it was really, really long. I waffled far more than usual. So I’ve had a lot of tightening up to do. And I had too many strands of plot to juggle. (Sorry about the mixed metaphor). I’ve therefore had to cut loads out, constantly asking myself, ‘Yes that’s fine, but does it really tell us anything new?’ ‘How does it get us further forward?’ It’s quite hard to cut out a scene you love but which deep in your heart, you know serves no purpose at all. I have a document which is all outtakes. Not as funny as the ones you see on TV, that’s for sure, and getting longer every day.
The Spy Within is another crossroads story. Dottie is faced with some new and demanding situations, and of course uses her genuine love of people to find out the truth behind certain rumours and to ferret out answers to help William. We are going to find out a bit more about William’s background, meet a couple more of his family, enjoy quite a few afternoon teas (always high on my list of priorities), and finally the Mantle will come together, a year after the case in which it first featured. (The Mantle of God: Dottie Manderson mysteries: book 2.)
If you are Team Gervase, get ready for some hard truths to be revealed. And – hint, hint – to see your fave wiped off the slate. Sorry about that. Sorry not sorry. Haha.
If you are Team William, get ready for things to finally start going your way. (Less of a hint, more of a massive nudge.) You might need chocolate, wine or your preferred indulgence/support for emotional scenes.
Chapter One is the only part of the book fully revised and currently not surrounded by warning signs, men in hard hats, and scaffolding, and if you’re bored enough tempted, you can read it here. Hope you like it.
It’s that time again. I’m working on a new book, the next in the Dottie Manderson mysteries series set in the 1930s and featuring an amateur detective Dottie Manderson. The new book is to be called The Spy Within and I plan and fervently hope to release it in July(ish) of this year.
In case you haven’t heard of these books, I published the first in the series, Night and Day in 2015, and it’s been followed by The Mantle of God, Scotch Mist (a novella), The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish (sorry about the long and unwieldly title of that one, at home we call it Dickie Dawlish for short, even though Richard hated his name shortened) and last year, The Thief of St Martins came out.
The main character is Dottie Manderson, obviously, she is the one the books mainly are about, and although she isn’t always the one who solves the mystery, she is nevertheless habitually embroiled in the action. Dottie is only 19 in the first book and ages gradually through the series. In the one I’m writing now, The Spy Within, she is almost 21. She is from a well-to-do family and after leaving her ladies’ college at 18, she worked more or less full time as a mannequin (model) for a Mrs Carmichael at her independent fashion warehouse, Carmichael and Jennings, Exclusive Modes, in London. Dottie lives with her parents, and has a married sister, Flora. Dottie and Flora are very close. George, Flora’s husband, adores Dottie almost as much as his wife does, she is very much his sister too.
Unfortunately the books aren’t quite stand-alone. That is to say, there are ongoing story-lines that progress through the novels. I wish I’d though about that a bit more carefully when writing them because with book 3, Scotch Mist being a novella, and therefore cheaper to buy, people often buy it and then haven’t got a clue what’s going on. I really must revise it with a bit more explanation to help those who dive into the series at book 3. Still, we live and learn, I guess! Hopefully I won’t do that next time around.
So what’s new for The Spy Within?
Well, those who have read the books up to this point will be aware that Dottie has been seeing a ‘gentleman’ by the name of Gervase Parfitt for a couple of books. Sadly in the last book, he let her down rather badly by not supporting her when she needed him most. Oh, Dottie had such hopes for Gervase to begin with. But he seems to be not quite as nice as she’d thought, and there’s a rumour going round that he’s likely to be substituted.
If you’re Team William, this could be music to your ears.
William Hardy, police inspector and all-round good guy (most of the time) has been in the background for a while now, and if you’ve loved all the flirty looks and romantic thoughts, then prepare to enjoy some more. It’s Valentine’s day in 1935, and love is in the air. I think. Or is it? You’ll just have to wait and see.
In other news, the Manderson’s maid, Janet is at last tying the knot with police sergeant Frank Maple in this book. They’ve been walking out together since the first in the series. Don’t expect any tears, it’ll be a happy day for all. And it’s about time they made things all above board, because as Dottie said in The Mantle of God, ‘I wouldn’t mind if they did any actual walking out. And how Mother hasn’t caught them, I’ll never know. From what I can make out, they spend all their time indoors.’
So that’s about all I can say at the moment. If I’ve piqued your curiosity, please take a look at a draft version of Chapter One here. Just bear in mind, I might change it a bit by publication day, and hopefully I’ll remember to tidy it up and make it a bit more succinct. I hope you enjoy it.
All that I need to do now is to say a huge thank you to my family and friends and some wonderful, loyal, encouraging and amazing readers who say nice things that cheer me up when I’m down and keep me keeping on. Thank you all. XXX
It’s nearly here! The fourth book in my 1930s Dottie Manderson mysteries is about to be released. I’m still clutching it possessively and cooing over it, but I promise, I absolutely will deliver it to be published on the 17th December for Amazon Kindle and 3rd January 2019 for other formats, including paperback, Nook, Kobo, iPad and more. It is now available for pre-order, if you would like to do so.
It’s been a bumpy journey, but phew… almost there, and I’m already planning the next book in the series and the next non-series book to publish. I’m not sure I can equal the output of many modern authors who put out six or more books a year, but even if I only publish two books this year or next, I shall feel pretty smug, let me tell you. Because as Aldous Huxley said, ‘A bad book is as much of a labour to write as a good one, it comes as sincerely from the author’s soul.’ A lot of people come up to me and say, ‘I’m thinking of writing a book,’ or ‘I feel I have a book in me,’ and my response is the same: go ahead and write it!
Here, if you haven’t already seen it, is the first chapter of The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish: a Dottie Manderson mystery book 4. It is rather long, I’m afraid, but I hope you like it.
Chapter One: Hamfield, just outside Nottingham, June 1919.
The war was over. That was the main thing. That was all that mattered. Not the lives lost. Nor the devastation. Not the hostile, resentful power struggle throughout Europe. Not even the victory. In the end, all that mattered was that the long years of anguish and despair had come to an end.
Up and down the country, people celebrated the fact that life could now go back to normal. Whatever that was. Women left their war-jobs in the factories in their tens of thousands, and went home to cook, clean and have babies. Men lay aside their rifles and bayonets and took up their hammers and saws once more. They hammered their swords into ploughshares, figuratively if not literally, and tried to forget what they had seen.
Across the nation, there were street parties, tea parties, balls, lunches, drinks evenings, galas and dances to celebrate the return of the heroes and the return of everyday life as it had been years earlier.
No one mentioned the dead.
The Member for Hamfield and West Nottingham, the Honourable Norman Maynard, with his charming wife Augustine, hosted one such event at their elegant home in the leafy suburb of Hamfield.
It was a glorious evening. The weather for the first week of an English June was perfect: warm and sunny, with a cloudless blue sky and the merest hint of a breeze ruffling its fingers through the early roses, bringing their fragrance lightly into the house.
The ballroom, a recent and somewhat garish addition when viewed from the outside, inside flowed neatly on from the other reception rooms. By the simple expedient of moving the furniture and flinging wide the folding doors that separated the rooms, the whole of the downstairs was transformed into a vast space where guests could mingle, and roam drink in hand, from the dancefloor to the buffet and back again.
In one corner of the ballroom, on a small, purpose-built raised platform, the little orchestra played a series of popular dance tunes, and couples, young and old, circled the floor just as they had done five years earlier. All around them, people gathered in little groups, laughing and talking. Cocktails of all kinds were knocked back in massive quantities.
And obviously, no one mentioned the dead.
The war, Richard Dawlish reflected as he sipped his champagne cocktail with great reluctance, might never have happened.
No one mentioned the dead, but he could still see them: their clutching, decaying flesh protruding from muddy dips and hollows, and at night the rats would come out of their hiding places and nibble the naked vulnerable limbs. Richard didn’t even need to close his eyes. The images were always before him. He carried them with him wherever he went, whatever he did, in his head, in his dreams, his mind, his eyes. He began to think they would never leave him. Even when he was an old man, he would still see those corpses, like so many strange species growing in a wasteland of mire.
Turning, he looked out through the open doors at the long lawn surrounded by blossoming borders. Was this what those millions had died for? A perfect flat green lawn? He took another drink. He couldn’t think of anything else to do, so like the others, he just took another drink.
Behind him in the ballroom, someone tapped a spoon against a glass to get everyone’s attention. The chattering stopped, the laughter faded, and everyone turned to face the Honourable Norman Maynard positioned at the front of the stage. He embarked upon a rambling, largely predictable second-hand speech, culminating in, ‘So let us raise our glasses in a toast as we welcome back our heroes, and thank them for their part in keeping England’s green and pleasant land free of tyranny and destruction.’
There were loud shouts of ‘Hear, hear’, and ‘Just so’, and everyone repeated some jumbled form of the toast and drank. Maynard then said, ‘And another toast to celebrate the fine achievements of some very special young men in the field of combat, and who are here with us this evening. Please join me on the stage: Captain Algy Compton!’ There was a loud and raucous cheer. Maynard continued, ‘Next, I’m very proud to be able to honour my son, Group Captain Michael Maynard.’ There was a further, louder chorus of cheers and catcalls, then someone at the back shouted, ‘Thinks he can bloody fly, so he does!’ There was general laughter, though some of the ladies tutted at the language. Norman Maynard, smiling proudly, responded with, ‘Aye, well, from what I hear, he can fly!’
‘Showed the bloody Boche a thing or two, let me tell you!’ came another voice from the back. Again, everyone laughed, and Maynard said, his good humour slipping slightly, ‘Indeed. But let’s keep it polite, gentlemen, remember the ladies.’ He looked down at his bit of paper. ‘Er, next on the list, is some young scallywag by the name of Second Lieutenant Gervase Parfitt. A second lieutenant at only twenty years of age! That’s a sterling achievement, Gerry, my dear boy!’ A lanky youth nodded, and received with blushes the back-slaps and cheers of those around him as he made his way forward.
The audience, less bored now and enjoying the fun, turned back to Maynard, whose glass was being topped up by a servant. ‘And we mustn’t forget Gervase’s little brother Reggie, better known as Sergeant Reginald Parfitt,’ Maynard paused to drink his toast, then went on, ‘Then there’s yet another of these overachieving Parfitt brothers, this time it’s none other than Artie, a Lieutenant in His Majesty’s navy, which as we all know, is just some strange, salt-water name for a Captain! Lieutenant Arthur Parfitt, ladies and gentlemen. Then last, but by no means least, my nephew Algy’s comrade-in-arms, Lieutenant Richard Dawlish. Richard, my dear fellow, do step up with the others for the photograph. Let’s have some applause for this excellent display of British—er, and colonial, of course—manhood.’
Richard had smiled dutifully and raised his glass for each toast. He had wondered if he would be mentioned and was a little surprised that he was. As a ripple of polite applause went around the room, he made his way forward, embarrassed but smiling. Maynard shook his hand, then the six young men stood together whilst the photographer arrived to capture the moment for posterity. The photographer had some difficulty getting the right light reading and focus, no doubt due to the dozens of dazzling artificial lights in the ballroom coupled with the bright sunlight coming in from outside.
‘Your black face is mucking up his lens, Dickie,’ Reggie laughed. He swayed, clearly fairly tipsy. The others joined in with the joking and laughter. Richard smiled politely and said nothing.
‘Everybody stand perfectly still, please,’ called the photographer.
‘Don’t call him Dickie, he doesn’t like it,’ Gervase said.
‘Oops I forgot! So sorry, Rich-ard,’ Reggie said, slapping Richard’s shoulder. Reggie pronounced the name with the emphasis on the second syllable, in an attempt at mimicking Richard’s strong Jamaican accent. Again everyone laughed, and Richard looked at his feet.
‘Hold still gentlemen, and—smile!’
It seemed to take the photographer forever to get everything how he wanted it and take the wretched photo, but at last they were free to go back to the dancing and drinking.
Richard felt a hand on his arm, and looked round to see Miranda Maynard, smilingly standing on tiptoes to plant a kiss on his cheek. She kept her arm through his, a show of solidarity it seemed. She, the darling of the ball, and he the outsider with the black skin, united against the rest of them.
Richard couldn’t help but notice one or two ladies shaking their heads in disapproval. These ladies muttered to their gentlemen escorts and together they all turned away. Richard was neither surprised nor offended. The British almost universally despised him for his skin colour. And not only them. Even the enemy soldiers he’d come across had been surprised to observe a Jamaican among the ranks of the British armed forces that had overwhelmed them. Especially a Jamaican who gave orders. In their eyes, his honoured achievements and Courage Under Fire would never rise above his complexion.
Miranda gazed into his eyes. ‘Take no notice, darling. They don’t know you as I do. They can’t help being fearfully ignorant.’
She kissed his cheek again. Richard felt she was in danger of incurring her parents’ wrath. He was about to tell her he wasn’t upset by the cold shoulders around him or the comments, but she carried on speaking.
‘Algy, Michael and the rest of them are planning a little drinks party in the pavilion. They’ve snaffled a couple of crates, Mike said, and I’m going down to join them now. Algy is bringing Dreary Deirdre, but in spite of that it should be laugh. You could come too, it’ll be good to let our hair down away from this stuffy lot. And you can keep that awful limpet Reggie away from me. What about it?’
It sounded like a good idea to Richard.
‘And you never know,’ Miranda said softly for his ear alone, ‘you and I might finally get some time alone, if you know what I mean.’ She gave him a wicked smile. Yes, he thought, he knew exactly what she meant.
‘I don’t know. They didn’t invite me, they might prefer it if I didn’t come along. I was thinking of getting back to my lodgings.’
She slanted an eyebrow at him. ‘Good idea, I could come with you.’
That wasn’t what he had in mind. He hastily added, ‘On the other hand, why not, we deserve to relax a little.’ Miranda wrapped herself around his arm and giggled.
Ten minutes later they reached the ‘pavilion’, as the Maynards called it, but which to Richard appeared to be a spacious if somewhat dilapidated summerhouse. Two wide, long steps led up to the door, and the group of young men and girls were sprawled all over the steps, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer.
‘Hello Dickie-Dick-Dick!’ Arthur Parfitt called and cackled at his own hilariousness. Like his brother Reggie, he was quite obviously very drunk.
‘Don’t call him that, you know he doesn’t like it, Artie.’ Miranda snapped, folding her long skirt neatly about her and taking a seat on the bottom step. She took a drag of her friend’s cigarette, and watching him through the blue swirling smoke, like the starlets she’d seen in her favourite films, she added, ‘It’s not like you to be so queerly bitchy.’
‘That’s because he’s a bitchy little queer!’ Gervase, drunk, said. Everyone, including Richard. Laughed at that.
Artie clapped his hand to his heart as if mortally wounded and subsided theatrically onto the step. ‘Oh Miranda, Gervase mon frère! I’m cut to the core by your marvellous jibes! Though actually, darling, I prefer to be called Artie. It’s better than Arthur any day of the week. Anyway, Dickie knows it’s just a bit of fun, don’t you Dickie-Dick-Dick?’
Richard ignored him, and took a seat on the other side of Miranda. He accepted a bottle from one of the other girls. She must be Margaret, Richard thought. Her errand completed, she turned back to Gervase, who put a possessive arm about her shoulders. Beyond her, Algy and his girlfriend Deirdre were kissing with complete abandon, ignoring the others nearby. Richard hoped things wouldn’t get too out of hand. The fourth girl was Miranda’s little sister Penny, a sweet kid who looked almost as uncomfortably out of place as Richard felt. She was too young to be drinking beer and talking about the kind of things the rest of them were likely to talk about. He’d give it half an hour, walk Penny back to the party, say goodnight to the Maynards, then make his escape.
He sat in the shade of the large and very beautiful copper beech. It was no blue mahoe, and the leaves were far smaller but they were still more or less heart-shaped, like those of the trees from his homeland. He repressed the aching flashes of memory: playing outside his grandfather’s hillside home, of the little village where his family had been schooled for the last three generations. Lois looking into his eyes, the sound of her laughter. Not long now. He’d be home in six weeks, and still be able to enjoy the long Caribbean summer.
There was an aged swing hanging from the lowest branch of the beech, and at intervals one or other of the girls went to sit on it, and the men took it in turns to push them, although really it was a contest to see who could get the girl to fall off, perhaps flashing her underwear at the same time.
Miranda was chatting with the other girls, and Richard drank another beer Algy handed him, then found he had another in his hand, and he drank that too without even really thinking about it. After half an hour or so, Miranda stubbed out her third cigarette, took his hand, removed and set down his fourth bottle of beer, and pulling him to his feet, drew him off into the copse of rhodedendrons and azaleas, amid catcalls and jeers.
They were gone for twenty minutes. When they returned to the group, both of them were sullen and silent. Miranda went to sit with Deirdre, Algy, Margaret and Artie. Richard sat for a moment beside Penny before asking if she wanted to go back to the main party. She jumped up, relieved, and they set off back to the house.
‘How any lady can go home just on one shoe and not notice is beyond me,’ Norman Maynard’s butler remarked. It was early the next morning, and he, the footman and two maids, were surveying the scene of the party with dismay. They had brought boxes into the ballroom to clear away the debris, which consisted of discarded food, drink, crockery, glasses, napkins, items of clothing, cigar and cigarette butts, the lady’s shoe in question, a cigarette case, two pipes and a host of other oddments. The house was a mess, and on inspection it was discovered that the lawn outside was hardly less strewn with rubbish.
George Blake, the footman, was despatched to the pavilion to clear up after the ‘secret’ drinks party enjoyed by some of the young people. He was pleased to go, as it meant he could enjoy a sneaky cigarette and dawdle for a few minutes in the sunshine. He paused to light his cigarette as soon as he rounded the shrubbery which hid him from the house. He stood for a moment, holding the smoke in the back of his throat before raising his head, eyes closed and his face raised to the sun, then slowly releasing the held breath. It was a perfect morning.
But as he neared the pavilion, something odd on the ground caught his eye. As he came up to it, he saw it was the narrow piece of wood that formed the seat of the swing. He picked it up. Coming slowly closer to the pavilion, the hair on the back of his neck prickling with caution, he beheld the body of Richard Dawlish, hanging by a rope from the stout lower branch of the copper beech tree just beyond the building. The man’s tie was hanging loosely down, his hands swinging freely by his sides, the feet together and turning as if by their own volition as the body swayed with the breeze, first to the left, then to the right, then a little left again, his boots still smartly polished. George Blake vomited onto the bottom step of the pavilion, then throwing aside his cigarette and wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he ran back to the house, saying over and over to himself, ‘Oh my God, oh my dear God.’
Under the watchful eye of the local police, Richard’s body was cut down and carried into the house, where it was laid upon a table in a back room. Several of the young men were up and about by this time, and stood about the room, eyeing the proceedings and sharing cigarettes. The Honourable Norman Maynard was consulting quietly with his friend, Edwin Parfitt, the chief inspector sent out from Nottingham. For once, no one felt much like making jokes about Richard’s name.
Gervase, pale and shocked and looking far too young, said, ‘Never thought he’d be the sort to hang himself. Bit of a quiet one, a loner, perhaps, but suicidal? What do you think, Algy, was he the mental sort?’
‘I wouldn’t have said so.’ Algy’s hand shook as he lit a cigarette. Reggie and Artie were already smoking. Reggie’s hands shook as badly as Algy’s and he said, ‘No one knows what someone will do when they’re a bit queer in the head. Penny said he was saying all sorts to her last night. She was glad to get away from him and back to the party. Drink makes some people more depressed rather than cheering them up. And old Dickie had had an awful lot to drink.’
As the door opened to admit the doctor, Miranda was also there, shocked, her hand to her mouth as she took in the scene. She pushed past the doctor and rushed to Richard’s side, sobbing hysterically, forgetting that she wore only her nightgown and that her negligee was not tied about her. Gervase Parfitt and her brother Michael between them tried to drag her away.
‘Come away, old girl, nothing we can do for the poor fellow now,’ Mike said.
‘You don’t understand!’ she cried, turning to face the lot of them. ‘None of you understand. I loved him! We were going to be married!’
Then she fell down in a dead faint upon the floor.
So it’s been a rough time these last few weeks, or should I say, months. I have to admit there have been more occasions during the writing of Scotch Mist: a Dottie Manderson mystery novella than usual for me to get hysterical, shout, swear and throw things, or descend into despair. I’m honestly surprised to have got through it, largely due to support from friends and family.
Writing a novella has been so much harder than I expected, too. Usually I write full-length fiction. And even in a text of 80,000 or 100,000 words, I can waffle quite a bit, and have to really cut out a lot of what the industry calls ‘padding’, and I call ‘chapter 47’ or ‘chapter 54’. Therefore I was convinced a ‘mere’ novella would be a doddle.
I had originally intended Scotch Mist to be around the 30,000-word mark. When I finally typed those magic words ‘The End’, it was almost 40,000 long. And as the word limit crept higher and higher, I was tempted to go ‘What the hell’, and write another 30,000. But I didn’t. Mainly because of time constraints, and the fact that the book has already been promoted as a novella, and because it would have required a lot more plot!
But, now it’s done, and I can sit back and relax for a few days before I crack on with something else. Not quite sure what. The next Dottie Manderson book is waiting in the creative wings: it’s already got the title of The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish, andI hope to have it ready for an autumn/winter publication this year. Or shall I write something else? Something new, fresh and exciting? I’ve even got completed manuscripts lying in a heap in a dark dungeon somewhere. All they need is a bit of TLC and extensive rewriting 🙂
We will have to wait and see how and when the muse strikes me when I come back to work the week after next. Meanwhile I intend to read some books, drink some wine, and plant my tomatoes and some herbs. Have a lovely weekend everyone.
Book 3 of the Dottie Manderson mysteries is out on 30 April 2018. Please note it is a novella, not a full-length mystery. It is available to preorder through Amazon now and once published, will also be available for Nook, Kobo, iPad, Android, Sony eReaders etc, as well as in paperback form.