If one is good, two is better, right? #WritingaMystery

Writing a new book: it’s like being in love

Oh I am loving this writing something new lark.

For a few reasons, I have been working on the same two books for about three years. As you may know if you’ve followed my ramblings on this blog before, I recently published my new murder mystery A Meeting With Murder: Miss Gascoigne mysteries book 1.

And at the moment I am still putting the finishing touches to Rose Petals and White Lace: Dottie Manderson mysteries book 7, which is due out on 9th December this year – only just over a month to go.

(Eek!!!!! What am I doing writing this?)

But… and you’ll think I’m mad. Okay, if you know me you probably already think that.

…I’ve started writing another book this week.

I won’t tell you what it is yet, I think that’s best kept quiet for now. It’s all far too early to start penciling in publication deadlines. It’s so new I haven’t even got a cover for it yet.

Not long now!

What I wanted to share with you is the sheer joy of working on a new NEW project after having a dodgy couple of years working with the same books and feeling like they were never going to happen.

It’s so invigorating, refreshing, inspiring. I feel like singing. Or dancing. Or just telling the world. It’s weird, I feel an urge to go up to actual strangers and–okay not hug them, I’m not a monster–but at least smile pleasantly. It’s just sooooo good to be creating not editing, feeling my way forward, laughing at my own jokes, mulling over all the myriad possibilities of a brand new story.

It feels as though anything is possible, anything can happen, and most probably will. I feel in control, I feel fulfilled. I even got up early to write!!!! New fresh ideas are buzzing, and I am writing feverishly, it’s like being in love.

My natural pessimism/caution requires me to just briefly add that by next week it could all be over, and I might be drowning my sorrows in a vat of hot chocolate, or I’ll be deeply mired in the slush that forms the slough of despond known as the soggy middle.

But right now, I’m just so ecstatically happy to be writing something new that I just had to tell someone!

Me, about a hundred years ago, but already books had the power to take over my life.

***

A quick catch-up with Criss Cross

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.

If you fancy reading a bit more, you can find a sneak peek here.

NB – just to let you know, I’ve been toying with the idea of continuing this series, so who knows – watch this space, it might end up a series.

***

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

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

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

And here’s a little taster…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who’s with you? Matt?” she snarled.

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

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

“Shut up, I’m the one who…”

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

I hope that’s got you interested…

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

 

Blue Sky Thinking?

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“October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.”
― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

We often are told in writing to draw on our senses to bring reality and immediacy into our writing, to create texture and believability, creating a world for our reader to step into in their mind. The same is true of the weather. Painting the weather into your story works every bit as well as using sensory information: capture a background, a stage, a canvas, on which your characters can live out their lives.  Weather often overlaps with sensory description – you make your reader feel the warmth of the sun on their skin, or the raindrops on their face, let them hear the thunder or feel the rising humidity or the biting of a north wind every time the cabin door opens and someone struggles to push it shut again.

“The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold, wet day.”
― Dr. SeussThe Cat in the Hat

Where you are writing about a specific time of year, remember that extremes of weather can be used to move a plot forward – an unseasonably warm spring day, a summer downpour leading to flooding.  In Judith Allnatt’s book “A Mile Of River” the events of the story unfold in Britain’s long drought of 1976, to devastating effect.  I can remember snow falling in July once in the 1980s when we lived in Aldershot, and five years of living in Queensland – even with its reputation for being damp – has made me love grey skies and rain. One of the first people we met was a cab driver from Hull who had been in Aussie for 35 years.  He told us he hated the sun and longed for drizzle. so weather can also be part and parcel of who we are and affect our outlook on life.

“It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life.”
― P.D. JamesA Taste for Death

I’ve always wanted to use that phrase so often featured in the Peanuts cartoons: ‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ Originally used by a British writer, Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1830, it was ridiculed from the off for its melodrama.  So I haven’t used it.  But it’s tempting! I love storms and it always feels as if anything could happen during a storm.  Likewise we think of spring as bright, happy, a time or hope and rebirth…

“April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.”
― T.S. EliotThe Waste Land

I have adorned a funeral with pouring rain in my WIP, Miss Burkett Changes Her Mind (no, I still haven’t finished it .) I always think a large black umbrella is full of possibilities for crime or romance. But sometimes, regardless of your misery and grief, the heavens refuse to open, and the sun shines, the birds sing, almost in mockery of your emotions. And this too, can produce a mood that works nicely on paper, inducing your character to take some form of action.

But don’t overdo it.  You don’t need to update your readers on every other page unless it’s a book about climate change, or you’re engaged in rewriting Wuthering Heights. (I’m sure they would all have lived happily ever after if they hadn’t lived in such a bleak and lowering spot.)

“But who wants to be foretold the weather? It is bad enough when it comes, without our having the misery of knowing about it beforehand.”
― Jerome K. JeromeThree Men in a Boat

Woo hoo – exciting news!

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I am delighted to announce that Cross Check, the sequel to my novel Criss Cross, is now available from Amazon and Smashwords, in a variety of formats to suit tablets and eReaders and even laptops and PCs.

Not got a Kindle? You can still buy eBooks from Smashwords and read them on your tablet, laptop or PC using a variety of different formats:

epub; mobi (kindle for tablet); pdf, rtf; pdb; txt; and even – readonline !!!!
Also, if you just want a taster to get you in the mood, you can download a free sample which equates to about 4,300 words, or up to page 21

Please note: the language is foul and there is a fair amount of violence. Not much sex though. Sorry about that.

Many, many thanks to my lovely friends and family for all the support and encouragement you have given me over the last year as I laboured with these two books, and many others!

Now I’m going to put my feet up!  (Not really!)

Not long now …

cross check
I’ve been spending the last week editing the second draft of my new novel Cross Check. I’d already done most of the donkey work, so this time around editing has been a walk in the park, but all the same I am so glad it’s almost over! All on course for publication the first week in February.
Someone once told me that if you are not sick of the sight of your story, you haven’t done enough work on it. I have to say I’m beginning to see what they meant. I’m not exactly sick of the sight of it, but I am beginning to feel pretty excited about writing something else and the prospect of spending some months later this year writing the third book in the Posh Hits trilogy is something I’m not yet ready to contemplate!

So won’t you please …. be my little baby

holding figure

Just before the start of NaNoWriMo on November 1st, I was pondering various ideas and little bits and pieces, a bit like the pieces of a puzzle or of a collage, which together create a whole picture.  Snippets of songs, pictures, story ideas, dreams, poetry and memories – all these things were telling me or showing me something, an indefinable thing whose presence I could sense but not see.  Well, after last year’s NaNo attempt I was a bit reluctant to take up the challenge for this year but in the end I decided to take a bit of a risk and set aside my WIP for a few weeks to concentrate on the November challenge, and I’ve been quite revoltingly smug that I had a good experience this year, and felt and still feel I have begun to tap into the buzz my brain had created from all those fragments.

And so I have returned to my poor neglected WIP, that should have been released on an unsuspecting public by the end of October but is still not ready, and now I am mentally pencilling in end of January for a possible release date.

Which leads me on to the next question – what next?  Again the brain is working on ideas and motifs and snippets, and I am wondering about the possibilities …

I love music.  I don’t play any instrument.  I’m not now and never have been in a band.  But music has been tremendously important to me in my life, and I like a lot of different kinds of music.

And now this is what I’m mulling over:

Ronettes: Be My Baby  (Be My Baby – would make a great working title and I have searched on amazon for a mystery/thriller book of that name but found nothing as yet.  Beloved Object also a good title but maybe a bit too close to the Jennifer Aniston film Object Of My Affection – based on the bestseller by Stephen Macaulay)

These lyrics seem a bit menacing when you think about them; Psychological dependency – what would she/he do to gain the approval and adoration of the one she/he loves?  How far would they go?  And in the end, what happens when they suddenly are confronted with the fact that the beloved object does not return their feelings?  And they will see all the (perceived) sacrifices they have made, all the efforts they have made to try to please the beloved object and achieve their love – and for what????  How could you do that to me?

A bit like the Police song Every Breath You Take, which was used as the title for the excellent novel by Cath Staincliff, this one also has overtones of obsession that make it uncomfortable as a reality, though people always see it as romantic.

“The night we met I knew I needed you so

And if I had the chance I’d never let you go

So won’t you say you love me? I’ll make you so proud of me

We’ll make ’em turn their heads every place we go”

I’m not sure this is a relationship that you could easily extricate yourself from.  Thinking of a story set back in the days of slicked back hair and that whole new scene for teenagers – or older – of freedom, obsession, new styles and opinions.  I’m thinking about big hair, cardigans with the top button done up, big flaring skirts and evenings at the dance hall.   But there will only be one way out of this relationship.

“Be my – be my baby – my my only baby …”

Rejection – or, Moving On

 

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Rejection.   It’s something we all fear, I guess.  We are born craving acceptance – if we are not accepted we will die.  Or at least be put up for adoption.  Writers are no different in this respect to new born babies.  Or maybe we are more like the loving mothers urging our offspring on to others and not able to see if its not really as beautiful as we think.

It’s no secret that I have had a bad review for my book on Amazon.  I had known that sooner or later it would happen, but when it did, being pre-warned was no help.  I went through the usual stages of grief:  I started with a kind of ‘so what’ shrug, then went into a depression and a downward spiral, felt like everything I wrote was worthless and what was the point anyway, I was surely kidding myself I could write?  I asked a Facebook contact, who is a very well-established, successful and admired writer, what do you do, how do you deal with this?  She told me what I already knew.  You can’t please everyone.

The thing is, it would be so easy to try to change yourself, your style, your genre, everything, in order to please the one or two dissenters who don’t get you or your writing and probably shouldn’t have read it in the first place.  If you are a lover of fantasy or paranormal fiction, I don’t understand why you would choose to read something totally different and then complain that its different?  That’s like going to a book shop and asking for sausages.

So I got over it.

To begin with, I don’t flatter myself I have universal appeal, and just as there are books I would not enjoy reading, I realise that my books may not appeal to everyone.  I have to be myself.  I’ve tried writing the ‘proper’ way, as I was taught by a number of well-meaning and in some cases, very successful writers and teachers of writing.  But I have to be me (visualise someone running down the road into a golden sunset, arms outstretched in triumph, singing “I Gotta Be Me – just gotta be free”) – I need to write to be happy and also I need to be happy to write, so I set aside the slings and arrows and choose not to let them hurt me or distract me from what I am trying to achieve.

I’m now moving on.

 

 

 

Still thinking about it – writing in – not on – the brain! A kind of mental patchwork.

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So I’m still thinking over what I want to say in my new story. Still clueless about a title, although I have a couple of alternatives to ponder.  I’m drawn to old stuff, I’m drawn to the past.  I’m thinking of all the Summer of Love protest songs, but no, too recent, go further back.

I’m thinking rural, villagey, fields, water, trees.  I’m thinking of sorrow and haunting, of deeds never talked of.  I’m thinking of shame and sacrifice, I’m humming old pastoral songs and rhymes, of Scarborough Fair, of the occasional duplicitous nature of the minstrel, wandering, legitimately planting one foot in each camp.

I’m thinking of myths and legends, hills cloaked in mist, an unseen bird calling in the gloom, of the soft insinuating sound of the wind.  I’m thinking of that moment when you come home and you know someone else has been there, the house is guilty, complicit, hushed as if someone had been speaking and stopped when the door opened.

I’m thinking of The Waste Land (all-time No. 1 for me) by T S Eliot,   Snatches of it: “Speak to me.  Why do you never speak?” “What are you thinking?” “What is that noise?  The wind under the door.” “Do you know nothing?  Do you see nothing?” “I remember/Those are pearls that were his eyes.”

I am thinking, staring at the falling leaves, driven across the grass by a pushing wind, and I am thinking of long ago, of people who may not have existed, but who may come into being in my imagination.  I am thinking of a man at a window staring out, his mind working on things he cannot speak.

I’m thinking of a boy coming over the hill.  Of grass, green, long, dewy.  Of the sun, soft, golden, gentle as a mother’s hand, just touching his hair, his shoulder.

I remember.  It was all long ago and afar away.  I’ve said that a lot lately.

Gray’s Elegy “Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,/And all the air a solemn stillness holds.”

Autumn spookiness

graveyard

 

What is it about the Autumn that always bends my thoughts to things that go bump in the night?  Is it the pumpkin-suit wearing tots that pound  on the door demanding ‘trick or treat’?  Is it the proliferation of black felt bats or  witches costumes?  Or maybe the prospect of fireworks and an effigy burnt on a pyre?

Whatever it is, when the evenings crowd in and I huddle indoors with books and comfort food, this is the way my thoughts turn.  I gaze into space and hear the long-ago-and-far-away sound of a creaking stair or see a candle gutter and revive, and my mind is away, fashioning old gloomy houses with uneven floors and unreliable electricity.

Last November’s NaNoWriMo saw me writing not quite 60, 000 words under the title of The Silent Woman, a ghost story set in haunted converted buildings.  I fully intended to revise and publish that story this year, but everything else got in the way, so maybe next year.  It’ll do it good to ‘lie fallow’ for a year.

This year it looks as though I might do something similar.  I have the germ of an idea floating just out of reach, just beyond my field of vision, i can almost glimpse it sometimes, but it is not yet ready to come into view.  It began in the middle of my two-week temping job in mid-September.  It was a job which required me to perform vast numbers of scans of old documents and maps.  This was a job of the hands and the eyes.  My brain was busy elsewhere …

I pictured a hospital room, an old man lay dying, a young woman sat with him, holding his hand in those last moments, his daughter/niece/granddaughter, I don’t know yet.  He thinks she is his wife, when young, he forgets where he is.  He says, “Whatever happened to the boy?  I never told anyone, like you asked.”  He sleeps for a few minutes then stirs again, still holding her hand and says, “remember when we were young?  There was a photo – all of us – that spring.  I still have it somewhere.”  He points in the direction of the chest of drawers in his bedroom, he forgets he is in hospital.  Later he dies, and she is left wondering.

And now, so am I.