What’s in a title? A Much Winchmoor update – and the Covid ‘culture shock’

2020 has been what I’ve seen described as a ‘train wreck’ of a year and one in which, for the first time ever  in my writing career, my writing mojo completely deserted me and the fourth book in my Much Winchmoor series which had been galloping along at a cracking pace slithered to an ungainly halt.

I know I was not alone in this and there’s a brilliant explanation of why I, like so many suffered from what I think of as ‘pandemic brain fog’ on an excellent blog called The Killzone which I’ve enjoyed following for several years now.

The Killzone is described as ‘insider perspectives from top thriller and mystery writers’  and the article, published in September 2020 and entitled ‘why you don’t feel like writing’ is written by James Scott-Bell, author of some of my favourite how-to writing books, as well as an impressive number of first rate thrillers.

James explains that there is a understandable, biological reason for this brain fog. Your brain, according to  the article he quotes by Peter Olson, (the link is here. https://www.alifeoverseas.com/covid-and-culture-shock-feel-the-same-to-your-brain-and-heres-why/) is suffering ‘culture shock’ and goes on to explain:

“When someone moves to a completely new culture, many of the ‘autopilots’ your brain uses for thousands of small decisions every day become ineffective. In a similar way, your current environment has likely changed sufficiently enough that many of your own ‘autopilots’ are no longer working. When this happens, the next remaining option for your brain is to use a second decision-making process that requires far more effort and energy (glucose) to operate. Your body can only supply glucose to your brain at a certain rate – a rate far below what would be required to use this kind of thinking continually. Thus, additional thinking about routine matters has likely left you with a chronically depleted level of glucose in your brain. All to say: You are experiencing “culture shock”.

The link is https://killzoneblog.com/2020/09/why-you-dont-feel-like-writing.html

Anyway, I’m very happy to say that my brain fog has lifted and my book is now once more racing towards the finish line, thanks in part to a dog called Harvey and a cat called Max.

Some time during the middle of this brain fog I thought it might clarify things in my mind if I could come up with a title for my book which until then had been stuck with the unimaginative working title of Much Winchmoor 4 – which I didn’t think my lovely publisher, Darkstroke, would think a good look on the front cover. 

I don’t usually have a problem with titles – I already have one in mind for the fifth Much Winchmoor which I’m pretty sure is going to be Death of a Dame. (There’s a bit of a pantomime thing going on here)  But I was getting nowhere in my search for a title for MW4. (I blame my culture shocked brain!) 

So I turned to my lovely readers and put out a plea on Facebook, Twitter and this blog (link here) and turned the problem over to them.

I had a brilliant response and was spoilt for choice.  In the end I settled for Murder on High and my thanks go to Jane Odriozola and Robert Crouch who both came up with the same title.  I felt it fitted the theme of my story perfectly which starts off in the village church.  What do you think?  Here are the opening lines of Murder on High plus a picture of the church in my village to set the scene.

Murder on High

The top of the tower of the church of St Oswald in the small Somerset village of  Much Winchmoor was the perfect spot from which to get a bird’s eye view of the place, spread out like a relief map some hundred feet below, where it nestled between the  curve of the Mendip Hills to one side and low lying willow-fringed pastureland and  Glastonbury Tor on the other.

According to the poster on the church noticeboard, it was the perfect spot, too,  from which to launch 35 teddy bears in a week’s time. The proud owners (or, as was more likely, their parents) had each paid £3 to watch their precious bears abseil down off the tower, thereby boosting the fund for the restoration of the children’s play area by £105. According to the poster, it promised to be a fun day out for all the family with refreshments and bric a brac stalls in the church grounds and village hall.

Realisation came in a flash.  Because it was also, without doubt, the perfect spot to commit a murder. 

After all, abseiling is only the second fastest way down a church tower.

The ‘prize’ for coming up with this title was to have a pet of their choice featured in this or an upcoming Much Winchmoor title and I was very relieved when I saw that Jane and Robert had a cat and dog respectively.  If it had been Bearded Dragons or exotic fish, that would have called for a bit of hasty research.

But, after a week of working on these two newest recruits to my Much Winchmoor character list, I feel I’m definitely the winner here because they have both fitted in perfectly and given me some great ideas for moving the story along.  Let me introduce you to them.

This is Max and he belongs to Jane Odriozola.  I asked Jane for a few details of Max’s character – although I think you can see what sort of a character he is, don’t you? This is a cat with attitude.

As soon as I saw his picture and read what Jane had to say about him, I knew immediately where Max was going to fit in the story.  Gran Kingham is a reasonably new character introduced in Murder on High (although she does get a mention in previous books.). She is Cheryl’s mother (Kat’s grandmother) and is, to quote Kat, a ‘total pain’.

A couple of weeks before the start of Murder on High she arrives in a taxi, unannounced, at Cheryl’s house, with her arm in plaster, a towering pile of Louis Vuitton suitcases and an extremely cross cat in a basket.  Gran K has broken her wrist and announces that she will be staying with Cheryl while her arm heals.

I’d been worried that Gran K was in danger of becoming a stereotype.  She is a thoroughly unpleasant, self centred person with no redeeming features and I felt she needed something to soften those hard edges.  After all, no one is all good… or even all bad, come to that, are they?

And then, along comes Max!  A gorgeous, sleek black cat who turned up on her doorstep one morning five years ago and refused to go away.  And while Gran K may not be very fond of her daughter (or if she is, she’s unable to show it), has no time for her son in law, Terry and is constantly disappointed by her granddaughter, (who she insists on calling Kathryn, as she feels Katie – Kat’s real name- is not ‘posh’ enough for her only grandchild), she absolutely adores Max. And the feeling is reciprocated.  She shows Max the sort of affection she is unable to show any of her family, which is quite sad, don’t you think?

The next new character to arrive in Much Winchmoor is Harvey, a little West Highland  white terrier who belongs in real life to fellow crime writer Robert Crouch.  Harvey is no stranger to the crime fiction scene though as he appears regularly in Robert’s excellent Kent Fisher Murder Mysteries (his fictional name is Columbo). 

. Where does crime writer Robert Crouch get his ideas?

http://www.robertcrouch.co.uk

To start with I had a little trouble placing Harvey.  Robert says he’s feisty,  independent and will ‘rebel against the pack leader when he choses’. So how, I wondered, was he going to get on with Prescott, the feisty and independent Jack Russell terrier who definitely sees himself as leader of the pack!  I couldn’t see him fitting in with Kat’s dog walking group.

Trying to find a suitable owner for Harvey actually helped me out of a bit of a plot hole.  As I was working my way through a long list of characters who’d be a good fit for him I came across Fiona Crabshaw, who’s also  appeared in previous Much Winchmoor books.  

Kat’s keen to talk to Fiona about something but Fiona doesn’t trust Kat (they have a bit of previous history!) and is not going to sit down for a girly chat with her anytime soon.  However, Kat knows where and when Fiona walks Harvey every morning and I was thus able to engineer a meeting between Kat and Fiona and finally move the story along.  And I gained a whole new scene and a slight change of direction in the process.

So a big thank you to Max and Harvey and to Jane and Robert for allowing me to ‘borrow’ them.  And rest assured, they will be well looked after.  No animal ever comes to harm in my books.  Humans, yes.  Animals (and children), never!

Where does historical novelist Sally Zigmond get her ideas?

It is my great pleasure to welcome historical novelist Sally Zigmond to my blog this week.  I featured Sally in my Ideas Store column in the December 2020 Issue of Writers’ Forum magazine in which I asked her where she got the idea for her novel, The Lark Ascending, which I had recently read and enjoyed.

She explained how a shopping trip on a snowy January day was the inspiration behind the book which is set in Leeds just after WW1.

“When we lived in Harrogate I often shopped in the city centre and loved its celebrated Victorian shopping arcades.

“One day in a freezing-cold January day I took shelter under the beautiful glass roof of the Queen’s Arcade and shopped until I dropped (well almost). When I emerged into busy Briggate, I realised it had been snowing for a long time but I hadn’t noticed! 

“So there and then, I had the first scene of my next novel, The Lark Ascending, about a shop assistant who worked in the arcade and a strange day on a cold January morning. Only I wanted a change from the Victorian age and settled on the period just after World War One.”

The Lark Ascending is a beautifully told story and deals with some quite difficult subjects that faced people in that post-war era with great sensitivity and empathy.  I can really recommend it.

So I invited Sally to come along to my blog and answer yet more questions from me. And, happily, she said yes!

Me

Welcome, Sally.  And thank you for agreeing to appear on my blog.  Thank you, too, for giving me several hours of reading pleasure from The Lark Ascending.  I don’t often read historical novels but I loved it so much that I’m really looking forward to reading more of your work.

Do you write series of standalones?

Sally

I write historical novels and my published short stories are mainly historical. So far all my novels are stand-alones but the novel I am currently writing could well be the first novel in a three or four-book series.  I shall wait and see!

Me

I’ll look forward to that.  I love getting into a series.  So, what inspires you most (apart from snowy shopping arcades, that is!)? Is it characters?  Or settings?  Maybe even books you have read?

Sally

For everything I write, whether it be a novel or short story, I have to first choose a setting and a historical period. Then the main character(s). Plot comes much later. I think of my character at the beginning and where I hope to finish. Then I start fleshing out how that character (or characters) gets from on to the other. That’s the novel.

Me

And how did your writing journey start?  Have you always written? 

Sally

I’ve always loved reading and writing. English was my favourite subject at school and I studied English Literature at Uni. When my children  were  settled in school, I took various adult education classes. I then spotted one called “Writing For Pleasure and Profit.”  So began a long learning curve.

Me.

Ah, I remember taking a course with a similar title!   Now tell me a little of your future writing plans.

Sally

As I mentioned earlier I am currently writing a novel which may be the first part of a three or even four part serial beginning in the 14th century and concluding in the 16th.

Me

That sounds exciting.  And finally, tell us three things that we may not know about you.

Sally

1      I used to work at New Scotland in Interpol.

2      When I was on a train from Paris to Lyon full of French soldiers we were halted for 3 hours by a bomb scare.

3         Diana Dors once bumped into me on Euston Street in London and almost knocked me flying!

Me

Wow!  Plenty of material for a writer there then!  There’s your challenge for 2021 then – to try and work all three of those things into one story!

Thank you so much Sally for answering my questions so patiently.

The Blurbs and buy links for Sally’s books

HOPE AGAINST HOPE

Stoical and industrious Carrie and carefree and vivacious May lose both home and livelihood when their Leeds pub is sold out from under them to make way for the coming of the railway. They head for Harrogate to find work and lodging in the spa town’s hotel trade. But the sisters fall prey to fraudsters and predators and are also driven apart by misunderstanding, pride and a mutual sense of betrayal and resentment.

Alex Sinclair, a bold and warm-spirited Scot, has eschewed the wishes of his father to become a railway engineer. His companion, Charles Hammond is the dissolute heir to a vast fortune, withheld from him by an overbearing mother and grasping stepfather. Charles bides his time as a physician, a profession for which he lacks both aptitude and enthusiasm.

The futures of both men will become bound up with those of the two sisters.As time passes the sisters overcome their adversities: May becomes the most sought after dressmaker in Paris; Carrie, the proprietor of the most successful hotel in Harrogate. Alex pours himself into new railway projects. Meanwhile, having been almost destroyed through gambling, drunkenness and self-loathing, Charles starts on the long and difficult road to redemption and fulfilment.Carrie and May have now been estranged for several years. But in 1848, the Year of Revolutions the streets of Paris erupt in bloody insurrection while Alex Sinclair is commissioned to bring the railway to Harrogate. 

CHASING ANGELS ( novella)

In 1794, Henriette d’Angeville was born into a French aristocratic family in crisis.Her grandfather was guillotined and her father imprisoned but later released causing the family to live on their memories in an impoverished château. In 836, she was the first woman to reach the summit of Mont Blanc – in a bonnet and petticoats!This novella is a fictional account of her life in which her love of the outdoors and her determination to excel in her climbing endeavours, which made her an object of derision and pity, is examined in a witty and sympathetic portrayal. We see her father, her mother and her younger brother. We see her at school and the circumstances in which she ‘rescued’ her companion, Jeannette, from destitution. We meet the Protestant ladies of Genevan society and the men of Chamonix who accompany her on her expedition.Starting close to her death, Henriette looks back on her life and her great achievement. Full of humour and love, Chasing Angelstell the story of a truly remarkable woman

THE LARK ASCENDING

Leeds 1919. The war is over but young Alice Fields, who hates her job in an old-fashioned shop, isn’t celebrating. However, her life is about to change when a rich customer leaves behind an expensive fur stole and Alice makes great efforts to return it. Dark secrets bring not only money but misery, too. During the contrasting worlds of the roaring twenties and the General Strike, love and deep friendships bloom like poppies on the devastated battlefields over which the lark rises again. 

Social Media Links, blog, website etc.

My blog needs attention and more time! Sallyzigmond.blogspot.com

Twitter. @sallyzigmond

 Facebook. sallyzigmond

Buy links

The Lark Ascending

Hope Against Hope

Chasing Angels

Author Bio

I was born in Leicester, moved to Lincoln then back to Market Harborough. Leics where In attended senior school. I studied at what is now Queen Mary |University, London where I met my husband. We moved to Yorkshire where my two sons were born. Now retired, we live in Middlesbrough with stunning views over the Cleveland Hills.