Perilously close to Dalmuir…

Ooh dear. So here’s the thing. There’s this lovely lady called Emma Baird. She is a writer. And I’m going to blame her for this because in all honesty, I can’t remember if I said to her, ‘Wow what a great idea if…’ or if it was her who said that to me.  So let’s blame her. Next Monday, not today but next week, she and I are going to step WAY out of our joint comfort zones and stand–or sit, they might have chairs–up in front of easily tens of people, and talk about what it’s like being a writer, and in particular what’s it’s like being an Indie or self-published writer. (note to self: check blouse for food stains, you know what a messy eater you are and no one needs to see that.)

So if you are in the Dalmuir area at 7pm next Monday, the 19th November, and you think, ‘Ooh, it’s a bit chilly out here, what shall I do?’ go into the library and sit down and listen to a saintly Scottish young woman and a mad old bat from England (that’s me) waffle on about what writing is to them, why they do it, how they do it, and why that means you could do it too. Because, think about it, you could!

Isn’t that amazing? Because five years ago, no one had even heard of me, and now, at least 12 people know me and have read my books. I’m exaggerating. It’s about 11.

Seriously though, it’s been a weird five years, full of highs and lows, full of challenges, tears, and ecstatic ‘OMG it worked!’ moments. There was that one crazy day shortly after I published my first book Criss Cross (which is still FREE for eBook download btw) when someone I didn’t know bought a copy of my book. If you have never done this, I really don’t think you’ll understand, unless you paint and people buy your work, or you sing and people pay to listen to you, or… that kind of thing. It was one of the most genuinely surreal moments of my life. Because yes, I know I had written it, rewritten it, edited it and uploaded it to the relevant platforms for the exact purpose of selling it to unwary members of the public, but even so, I cannot help but marvel at this magical revelation: someone bought my book.

Once, a couple of months back, ‘someone’ (no idea who, well, I have a couple of ideas, but no specific evidence) mentioned my book on Twitter, and in one (glorious) afternoon and evening I had 3800 downloads of the eBook. And this of course led to increased sales across all my books for a few days. That has happened a couple of times actually, and it is so strange when you can almost see the little dot that represents your book sales going up and up and up before your very eyes. To think that someone I don’t know, whom I may never meet, who probably lives thousands of miles away from me or perhaps, just a mile down the road, has chosen my book. That is why I do this. It’s not about the money, though that helps, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t matter, but it’s not the main reason. the main reason is that weird connection thing, where you have written something that someone else thinks, wow, I’d like to read this.

So thank you for buying my book, nebulous, anonymous person-I-have-never-met. I really hope you enjoy it. And as for you Dalmuirites: get ready!

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Full Release: Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery

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My latest book, Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery is now available for all major formats, so please tell your friends!

If you don’t fancy a Kindle eBook or paperback, why not give pdf or ePub a go? Here are the links for a number of different versions:

iPad, also available at iTunes at the Apple Store.

Mobi for Android etc

Nook, also available from Barnes and Noble.

Kobo, also available through Kobo direct.

ePub for Sony, Android etc.

for pdf, lrf. pdb etc

And of course, here once again is the link to Amazon for Kindle and Paperback!

So what’s the book about?

In London, November 1933, a young woman Dottie Manderson, stumbles upon the body of a dying man in a deserted night-time street. As she waits for help to arrive, she holds the man’s hand and tries to get him to tell her what happened. But with his last breaths he sings to her some lines from a popular stage show. But why, Dottie wonders? Why would he sing to her instead of sending a final message to his loved ones? Why didn’t he name his attacker?

Dottie needs to know the answers to these questions and so, even though a particular very annoying young policeman is investigating the case officially, she feels compelled to carry out her own investigation into the mysterious death.

If you’d like to read an extract, please click here: Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery.

Happy reading!

Kindle launch of Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery

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Today’s the day! Technically, it’s the first of two days, but today’s the day Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery is released on Amazon for Kindle ebooks. For various reasons, I don’t mind telling you guys in confidence, it was touch and go whether the book would be put out, but I got there in the end and – ta-da!

Many thanks to my friends and family who helped plod through tricky first drafts and almost disappeared down plot-holes. And they are still smiling. I think that’s a smile. And especially a huge hug and thank you to my daughter who nagged I mean encouraged me to the finishing line. I owe you a packet of marshmallows, missus.

So what’s the book about?

In London, November 1933, a young woman Dottie Manderson, stumbles upon the body of a dying man in a deserted night-time street. As she waits for help to arrive, she holds the man’s hand and tries to get him to tell her what happened. But with his last breaths he sings to her some lines from a popular stage show. But why, Dottie wonders? Why would he sing to her instead of sending a final message to his loved ones? Why didn’t he name his attacker?

Dottie needs to know the answers to these questions and so, even though a particular very annoying young policeman is investigating the case officially, she feels compelled to carry out her own investigation into the mysterious death.

If you’d like to read an extract, click here: Night and Day: a Dottie Manderson mystery.

Night and Day is out today on Amazon for Kindle ebooks, and also on Amazon or Barnes and Noble in paperback. On November 4th, the following ebook formats will be released: iPad, Nook, Kobo, Android and pdf. These will be available through Smashwords, and Nook will also be available from Barnes and Noble, Kobo from Kobo, and for iPad from iTunes/Apple store.

Happy reading!

World building

 

World building. Of course only sci-fi writers and fantasy writers do that, don’t they? Don’t they?

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Every time you write fiction, you build a world. I could even come up with arguments to support this idea regarding non-fiction, but this is my fiction writing site so I won’t do it here. But yes, every fictional work is set within a created world, regardless of genre. You might write contemporary fiction, set in world very much like our own, and peopled with characters very much like ourselves. But it is still not the same as the world you see outside your window. It is an interpretation (one of many) of that world, with elements missing or removed or emphasised, whether deliberately or unwittingly. Sometimes we choose to ignore certain aspects of the world around us, sometimes it’s just that our viewpoint doesn’t enable us to see or understand what is there. Whatever the reason, we are essentially engaged in the creation of a new world as we write our story.

Which gives us a lot of freedom, actually. We can have whatever we like because our world can be whatever we say it is. I write murder mysteries. Some of those are set ‘now’ and some are set in the past. But whenever they are set, I have to sit in front of my computer screen and visualise the world of the story in order to make it come alive for my readers. I have a responsibility, in fact, to make the world of my story real for everyone else. Otherwise they won’t buy into my premise, they won’t get absorbed into the story and they will chuck my book aside and complain, ‘huh, I just didn’t find any of that believable.’ And I don’t want that.

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So whether you write romance, action, sci-fi, fantasy with wizards or fantasy with werewolves, detective fiction of any kind, set in any era, or if you write erotica, drama, or children’s fiction, you need to build a world for your reader which is engrossing and utterly absorbing, and which fits the story as if it wasn’t created at all but just sprang to life fully formed. Can you imagine Harry Potter set in any other world? Lord of the Rings in any other landscape? Remember those stories of our childhood where rabbits and mice live in houses in tree trunks with little round windows, and sat in comfy chairs beside roaring fires? The fact that we can still picture all of these images is a tribute to the compelling creativity of their authors. We, as readers, believed it all.

When my character Cressida Barker-Powell-Hopkins flings wide one of the many doors to her copious wardrobes, I have to show her huge range of designer clothes, even though I’ve never had designer clothes myself, and know little of fashion, cheap and practical, or expensive and exclusive. I’ve never hated anyone so much I’d like to kill them, especially not my mother-in-law: quite the contrary, my mother-in-law is lovely. I’ve never lived in a small village, or in a huge house, or had servants. I don’t even drive. I’m not slim enough or fit enough to climb on top of a garage roof and get into a house through the bathroom window to sneak poison into foodstuffs in the kitchen of my nemesis. But Cressida is, and does.

When I get into Cressida-mode, and turn on the computer, or I take up my notebook and pen, it is like opening the band Day (3)edroom curtains on a new world, a world where all these things are possible, but only if seen through the eyes of my character. I must be her, and see with her eyes the world around her, which she inhabits. As the Bible quotation goes ‘in which we live and move and have our being’.

In my new series, the Dottie Manderson mysteries, (not yet available) the stories are set in the 1930s, and so I had to think about everything – furniture, fashion, idioms and culture, style, attitudes, historical setting, technology, travel, pastimes, work and education. Everything. You might think it’s not a problem, that to a certain extent you can ‘wing it’ and just start writing, filling in any gaps later.

But I ran into problems immediately. If you take a look at my WIP Night And Day page on this site, you will see why. I was immediately stumped by terminology (lounging pyjamas, mannequin), by the mechanics of getting my character from A to B – were taxis horse drawn in the 1930s – hint: no! Would a young woman of good family gone about on her own late in the evening? Hint: no! By what was on at the theatre (the song!) – in fact that’s why I had to change the era of my book – because it was originally set in the 1920s, too early for the song I wanted to use.

When Dottie steps out of the theatre into the London of November 1933, we all need to go with her, and peeping over her shoulder, we need to see what she sees, the dark rain-drenched streets, the tall buildings, the streetlamps which provide such inadequate illumination. We as readers are faced with a newly created, fresh-minted world, and it needs to feel authentic.

 

My NaNoWriMo sneaky peek – ‘Night and Day’

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people around the world  are currently taking part in the annual November write-off ‘NaNoWriMo’ (National Novel Writing Month) a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. I am taking part for the fourth time. Not sure if I will quite make the deadline by November 31st this year, I may be a few days late. But, hey, I’ll still have written a whole book, so – wow!!!!! Currently my word count is up to 22,000 words, it should be about 26,000 or 28,000 – so who knows, i might make up the shortfall. In previous years I’ve written two fantasy novels and one mystery. This year I’ve gone to the mystery genre again. I already had an idea in my mind, and in October I did a little background research so I wouldn’t bog down during the crucial period. I got my sparkly new notebooks ready, along with my list of potential character names and a few other bits and pieces, and on 1st November, away I went. I have given the story the working title of @Night and Day’ though I’m not sure if I will keep that when the book is polished and revised and finally (I hope) released on an unsuspecting world. There are a number of novels with that title already, sadly. But whatever it ends up being called, here is a little from the opening chapter. The setting is London, November 1933. This is the first draft, completely unrevised, so it’ll be somewhat holey.  🙂

Dottie Manderson had planned to walk the short distance from the theatre to her sister’s house, but as soon as she came out of the warmth of the theatre and stepped out onto the pavement, she realised it was raining again. She put up her hand to hail one of the waiting cabs, all queuing to catch people as they came out into the miserable November evening in London’s West End. One pulled up. With a profound sense of relief, she got in.

‘327 Mortlake Gardens, please,’ she said and sank back against the leather. It was so nice to be out of the weather even though a moment ago she had been far too hot in the theatre, but the rain was coming down in torrents, and her fashionable but tiny hat virtually useless, her hair was already dripping. It was also good to be off her feet. She stretched one elegant foot out in front of her and regarded her neat ankle with a mixture of satisfaction and concern. Being on your feet all day may be good for the figure, but it played havoc with your ankles. If she wasn’t careful, by the time she was thirty she’d end up with fat, bulging ankles like Mrs Carmichael, and the only model the old dragon would allow her to show would be the longest, most-covering up ones, the floor-length gowns and the lounging pyjamas.

She looked out at the rainy street. It would be rather late by the time she arrived of course, but she had warned Flora about that. And Flora never cared about that sort of thing, she wouldn’t throw anyone out before midnight at the earliest—later if they were all having too much fun.

In spite of the weather—or perhaps because of it—the normally quiet residential streets were just as busy as they were at six o’clock in the evening. She gazed out of the window at the glistening world of night-time London, but her mind was elsewhere, remembering the show, remembering her companion. She hoped she would see Peter again. He was such a nice chap and danced beautifully. And he was the only chap in their set who didn’t smoke cigars. Dottie hated the smell of cigars.

She had thought of asking him to come back with her to Flora’s but in the end had decided it would be better not to: she didn’t want to make more of it than it was, and Flora was always the last person you introduced a young man to—unless you wanted her to start ordering the rose petals and white satin that is. Just because she was married, she seemed to think everyone else ought to be married too.

‘327 Mortlake Gardens, Miss,’ the cabby called as they halted outside a fashionable villa. ‘Mind your step now, the pavement’s more like a river just here.’

Dottie handed him his fare plus a modest tip. And he came round to help her to descend. As she did so she looked about her properly. This wasn’t it. The cabby slammed the door. And Dottie immediately realised what had happened. ‘Oh my goodness, did I say 327? I’m such an idiot—I meant 237. That’s the second time I’ve done that this week. Really I shouldn’t be allowed out on my own.’

‘I can easily go back a bit Miss, you jump back in. It’s no bother…’

‘No, please don’t worry about it. The rain’s stopped and it’s not far—I keep getting the number of my sister’s house mixed up with my aunt’s. Really, I must try to remember.’

‘If you’re sure Miss?’

‘I am, thank you. Goodnight.’

‘Goodnight Miss.’

Dottie stood there for a moment then set off back along the street. Although it wasn’t so very late, the street felt deserted and a little unfriendly. One of the lamps was out a few yards away, and the stretch between the one behind her and the next one along seemed to yawn blackly in front of her. She bit her lip and told herself not to be a ninny. The canopy of a large tree added to the general gloom. But feeling determined, she fixed her gaze on Flora’s house further along. The house was all lit up and even from here she could hear the sound of voices, laughter and music all spilling out on the night air.

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If she hurried, she shouldn’t get too wet. She had been hopelessly optimistic when she told the cabby the rain had stopped. It hadn’t. Dottie drew her fur coat more tightly around her and held onto her hat, now not much more than a bit of limp lace and ribbon. But almost her first step took her an inch deep into a puddle and she couldn’t help a little yelp at how cold the water was, and the shock of it.

‘Blast it,’ she grumbled, and leaning against a nearby gate-post, she shook the worst of the water from her silver sandals. Almost new, too, she thought ruefully, and almost certainly ruined. At least her dress hadn’t seemed to suffer too badly. She hitched the skirt up a little higher and made to continue her short but eventful journey.

A sound came to her ears. A soft shushing sort of sound but almost melodic. She paused a moment. Listened. Her eyes, growing accustomed to the darkness, made out a shape on the pavement not ten yards ahead. Her heart gave an odd lurch, as if a cold hand gripped it.

‘Idiot,’ she muttered to herself, and forced herself to keep going. She really shouldn’t read gothic novels late at night, it made her jumpy. No doubt all she would find was the pages of a newspaper all spread about by the wind and made to look odd by the streetlight behind her casting odd-angled light and creating shadows.

The sound came again. A little louder, a little more insistent. It sounded almost like…

There was someone—a man—lying on the pavement. She felt a little shimmer of fear. Could it be a drunk? Perhaps she ought to step into the road, walk round him very carefully, keeping her distance but…

The head moved very slightly. And she saw that the lips moved too. It was him making that odd noise. So it was a drunk, after all. He was singing to himself in a soft sibilant whisper. Her ear caught the rough melody of it, and even then, just as she saw the blood on his shirt-front, one part of her mind was saying, I know that song.

She forgot her fears and ran to his side.

‘What happened? Are you all right?’ she asked, then berated herself for asking such a stupid question. Because it was all too obvious he was not all right. She knelt beside him and put out a hand to take his grasping one.

He was quite young, a little older than her own age, and clearly well-to-do, although she didn’t recognise him. No more than in his early thirties. Fairish hair, slightly receding, and dark from the rain. One of those moustaches that were all the rage at the moment. Blue eyes, very blue like a child’s, wide and astonished-looking. The blood—oh the blood. So much…

‘What h—happened?’ she repeated but he seemed barely able to take in what she was saying. With infinite gentleness she lowered his head to the ground again, laid his hand on his chest and picking up her skirts she raced the last few yards to pound on Flora’s door, screaming for help. And without waiting for a response, she hurried back to the man’s side, taking his hand again.

‘Someone will come,’ she promised him, promised herself even more, ‘they’ll be here in a moment, just hold on a little longer.’

The door was opening and George’s head poked out. Thank God it was George. She yelled, ‘Oh George! Help! There’s been the most terrible… he needs a doctor. I c-can’t stop the b-bleeding.’

George, bless him, was perfect in any crisis. ‘Right ho, old girl,’ he said and disappeared back inside. She could almost hear him going around the house trying to find someone Useful. No doubt there was a doctor present among his many cronies. George was not only a dear, he was a sensible man, and she could quite see why Flora had married him.

The street seemed so quiet. The other houses were all mantled in darkness, not one light, not a sound. The houses along this part of the street might have all been empty. The music and the laughter from Flora and George’s party seemed worlds away under the other streetlight, and here, in her little oasis of shadow, nothing touched her and the man on the ground. Dottie could hear the laboured sound of his breathing, gasping, as if he was snatching at air too thin to breathe. Yet he was still singing that song in that peculiar soundless whisper.

It came to her now what it was. She had been to see the show only last week at the theatre with George and Flora and a couple of other friends. Gay Divorce. The divine Fred Astaire, and Claire Luce in her gorgeous dresses that Mrs Carmichael was already offering copies of to her best clients.

Dottie looked into the wide blue eyes.

‘What’s your name? Can you tell me anything? What’s…’ She heard the sound of a door slamming and running feet clattering on the wet pavement. ‘Help’s coming, hold on,’ she said. He gripped her hand in a tight, painful grasp, tried to raise his head a little.

‘Night and d-day, you – you – are the one, only you be – neath the- moon and under – the s-sun.’

‘Please, save your strength,’ she begged him. George and a couple of others were there, Flora opened the door again and had come out to stand on the steps looking anxious, a little knot of other crowding behind her to see what was happening.

‘Whether – near to m- me or far, makes no – diff – rence darling w – where you are…’

He wouldn’t stop, he wouldn’t let go of her hand even as the doctor tried to pull him back onto the ground to see to his injuries. George’s hand was under her elbow, trying to raise her and guide her away, but the man clutched at her, his fingers digging into her arm, refusing to let her go. She could see it in his eyes, the determination to hold onto her, there was something he simply had to tell her.

‘I think – of – you…’ his voice was less than a whisper, she bent her head to catch the sound of it even though her memory was reminding her of the words, and as his eyes lost their focus and glazed, his final breaths telling her, ‘night…and…’

He was gone without finishing the line. A slight convulsion had him jerking then falling back onto the wet ground, and she sat back on her heels, her free hand covering her mouth, then George was pulling her up and leading her away, his arm warm about her shoulders. ‘Oh,’ she said, and once again felt foolish for saying something so pointless. George waved to Flora who hurried over, gasped at the sight of the man, the pool of blood where he lay was, as Dottie now saw, huge. The doctor and the other man were still with him, two pals of George’s, she knew them so well and yet just for now their names were a mystery to her.

‘Come away, dear,’ George said, and he and Flora drew her into the house, past the staring guests.