I have recently typed two of my favourite words. The End. I have finally finished the fourth book in my Much Winchmoor Mysteries.
Of course, it isn’t the end of the process but merely the end of the beginning as it is now with my publisher. And ahead of me (always assuming they decide they want to publish it, of course!) are the edits, the blurb writing, acknowledgements and all the social media and marketing involved in the run up to a book launch.
It is exciting and terrifying in equal measure.
It seems like this book has been hanging around on my laptop for ever. And, indeed, it has certainly taken longer to write than the previous three. I started it just as Covid hit and I had a long period when I couldn’t write a shopping list, least of all a murder mystery. And even when the brain fog began to fade, it took ages to pick up the pieces and join all the bits of the jigsaw together. (And, as I write this, I am still not one hundred per cent certain that there aren’t any missing pieces)..
But I think I managed to tie in all the loose ends (apologies for the switching of metaphors) even though there was one scene that I don’t remember writing at all.
Usually, I leave the final scene until I’ve written the second, sometimes even the third draft. And I thought I’d done so in this case and as I was getting closer to the end, I was still dithering about how to end it.
But there, to my astonishment, was the final scene. And I honestly don’t remember writing it or making the decision to finish it the way I did. But when I read it through, I really liked it and didn’t change a single word. Having said that, of course, my editor might hate it!
This stage of the book’s journey is very much like being back at school and that anxious wait to get your homework back.
Until then, I thought I would put myself in the hot seat this time and ask myself the dreaded question:
Where did the idea for Murder on High come from?
In fact it came from two very different sources. The first was a local fundraising event, the other a non-fiction book that I’ve had for ages.
For many years we had a time share in the Lake District and would make the great trek north (from Somerset) every November, I love the area and have set many short stories, three serials and two of my large print novels there.
I’ve always been in awe of the amazing work done by the Mountain Rescue teams and wanted to write about it so I bought several books as research material. One of them was Rescue: True Stories from Lake District Mountain Rescue written by John White who for many years was a member of a Mountain Rescue Team.
The book was published way back in 1997 and I probably bought it around that time. One particular phrase stuck in my mind all that time. He is describing a rescue involving an abseil which almost went wrong and he makes the comment that abseiling is only the second fastest way down a mountain.
And the other source of inspiration? That was a fundraising event in my village which involved abseiling teddy bears down from the top of the church tower. This involved lowering the precious bears extremely carefully down from the top of the tower to their anxious owners waiting below.
And I thought, as I stood there watching all the activity, that it would make a great location for a murder because, as we all know by now, abseiling is only the second fastest way down a church tower.
So my thanks to John White and to the members of my village hall committee for the inspiration behind Murder on High.
So what’s next? Is there a fifth Much Winchmoor in the pipeline?
There certainly is. I have a title (Death of a Dame) and a victim but I have yet to settle on a murderer or, even, a motive. Although I have a few red herrings lurking in the shallows.
I also have a shiny new Scrivener file, just waiting to be filled. And a pile of real (as opposed to digital) index cards. And, once again, this takes me back to my schooldays.
I used to love the start of a new school year when we’d be given brand new exercise books and a new ‘rough book’. This was a notebook that was only to be written in in pencil as once the book was filled up, we were supposed to go back to the beginning, rub it out and use it again. By the time the end of term came around, my ‘rough’ book had certainly earned its name and was decidedly rough around the edges. I would like to say that this was all about saving the rain forests, but it was far more likely to be about saving money.
The exercise books, though, were written in ink, as were the teachers’ marks and comments. So each new school year was a new beginning. All those C minuses from the previous year wiped away. A clean slate. And every year I promised myself that I would work harder and that this year my books would not be marred by C minuses and comments about ‘could do better’.
(My English teacher once wrote “shrunk to this little measure?” on some spelling corrections I was supposed to have done but hadn’t. She said she’d let me off doing them if I correctly identified the quotation! I could – and she did! Please let me know if the comments if you did and I promise not to make you write a page of spelling corrections.)
So now, here I am back at school waiting for my homework to be marked. And when it does come back, I know it’s going to be littered with red marks, just like my schoolwork was.
But no C minuses, I hope.
Certainly the process of being a published author is very much like being back at school. But I’m not complaining. I absolutely loved school, apart from the C minuses, of course. So I am in my happy place when I’m writing.
But the marketing? Ah no. That’s a bit like me and the dreaded physics lessons. I never could quite work out what was going wrong and why everyone else just seemed to ‘get it’ and I didn’t.
And it was physics that earned me all those C minuses.
…..and finally, just because I can, here’s a random picture of Duke.
Towards the end of 2020 I was delighted to be included in an anthology collated by one of my favourite Facebook groups and sold in aid of a very special charity.
UK Crime Book Club is a thriving, well run book club on Facebook with a great mix of authors and readers. (As I write this there are 18.7k members, of which over 500 are authors, including big names and some not-so-big names – like mine.)
The anthology, Criminal Shorts, is available in ebook and paperback format on Amazon (link here) and was the brainchild of authors Kath Middleton and Will Templeton. Several times a year UKCBC produces seasonal short stories (eg Christmas, Halloween etc) written by UKCBC members and shared on the UKCBC Facebook page.
“The idea of compiling an anthology first occurred to me a while ago, when the ‘Seasonal Shorts‘ events became so popular,” Will Templeton explains. “I discussed the notion with Kath Middleton, but between us we dismissed it as being too much hard work!
“When the idea was raised again in the UKCBC admin group chat it became apparent there was a strong interest in it and we wouldn’t be able to duck out of it so easily. (Just kidding!).
“The charity was chosen by the admins as one of our author members has a child at the Red Kite Academy, (www.redkitespecialacademy.co.uk) so we felt they would be an ideal recipient of the proceeds.
“The call for submissions brought us a staggering number of stories of a very high quality. This made whittling down the entries to a manageable amount very daunting, assessing originality and ingenuity to finish with a selection to impress the most discerning reader. We hope we have succeeded in creating a unique and exciting book.”
And they certainly succeeded. The anthology is a superb collection of finely crafted stories and I enjoyed every one.
So I asked the 22 authors involved if any of them would be kind enough to share with the readers of my Ideas Store column (in the UK magazine Writers’ Forum ) where they got the ideas for their stories from and was delighted when thirteen of them responded. So much so I had way too much material for one issue of my single page column and I had to spread them over three issues!
Also, because of issues of space, I was unable to supply the authors’ links or buy links and am happy to rectify this here.
I don’t want to make this post too long so I am splitting up the 13 authors who contributed quotes in my column into two posts, with the second being published within the next few days.
Kath Middleton. Short story: Dark Fires
“I began with the idea of a girl being set up to take the blame for her twin brother’s fire-raising,” Kath explains. “As she was the subservient twin, it would be easy for him to fool her, and make her incriminate herself. As the story evolved, I started to consider the concept of gaslight, so the whole focus changed. Sometimes you don’t write the story you thought you would.”
From Kath’s Amazon author page
Kath Middleton began her writing with drabbles (100 words stories) and contributed a number to Jonathan Hill’s second drabble collection. It wasn’t long before she moved up a size to contribute short stories to anthologies. Shortly afterwards, she progressed to writing longer pieces and her first solo work, Ravenfold, was published to much acclaim. This was followed by the novella, Message in a Bottle. There are now several more publications from short stories to novels.
Kath likes to put her characters in difficult situations and watch them work their way out. She believes in the indomitable nature of the human spirit (and chickens).
Kath is retired. She graduated in geology and has a certificate in archaeology. When she’s in a hole, she doesn’t stop digging.
“The idea behind this was to try an do something different…and I remembered the Francis Ford Coppola film with Gene Hackman as a surveillance operative. It was called The Conversation – superb film,” he says.
“And that’s what started the idea of Brooks, a gun for hire, a cleaner; someone who sorts out someone else’s mess. I thought why not two men in a room having a conversation about sleazy goings on with a Government minister? Brooks would question the minister about his unpalatable habits and actions, each of which is revealed as the conversation progresses. Ultimately, the minister accepts that he has to resign.”
Brian has published two full length novels, short stories and novellas. He is currently working on follow ups to A Long Way from Home and The Tin Man, a new full length novel set in the US called Close To The Edge and a book of horror shorts.
The link to his Amazon page is
Tony Forder. Short story: Mission Accomplished
“My story, Mission Accomplished, emerged out of pure panic,” he admits. “I had no story, so turned to my most read characters in an act of desperation. My first thought was: what if I send Jimmy Bliss to Ireland to see his mum and [something] happens? My second thought was: what if I send Penny Chandler with him? That was it. I started writing their journey from the airport and finished the entire story in a single sitting.”
It’s a cracking story and a testament to the strength of his characters when an author can just sit down and write an entire story straight off!
From Tony’s Amazon author page
Tony J Forder is the author of the bestselling DI Bliss crime thriller series. The first seven books, Bad to the Bone, The Scent of Guilt, If Fear Wins, The Reach of Shadows, The Death of Justice, Endless Silent Scream, and Slow Slicing, were joined in December 2020 by a prequel novella, Bliss Uncovered. The next book, The Autumn Tree, is scheduled for release on 24 May 2021.
Tony’s other series – two action-adventure novels featuring Mike Lynch – comprises both Scream Blue Murder, and Cold Winter Sun. These are currently unavailable, but will be back in 2021.
In addition, Tony has written two standalone novels: a dark, psychological crime thriller, Degrees of Darkness, and a suspense thriller set in California, called Fifteen Coffins, released in November 2020.
“DCI William Wright is a character from my Bunch Courtney crime series,” she says. “Wright was following a lead in my current work in progress that went nowhere useful. It is referenced in a very minor way in the book’s narrative, but I knew it was never going to fit, no matter how hard I tried. Trouble was that tentacle of thought simply refused to lay down and be quiet and so ‘Down the Sea’ came into being.”
From Jan’s Amazon author page
Jan Edwards is a UK author with several novels and many short stories in horror, fantasy, mainstream and crime fiction, including Mammoth Book of Folk Horror as well as various volumes of the MX Books of New Sherlock Holmes Stories. Jan is an editor with the award-winning Alchemy Press (includes The Alchemy Press Books of Horror series. Jan was awarded the Arnold Bennett Book Prize for Winter Downs, the first in her ww2 crime series The Bunch Courtney Investigations.
Winner of the Arnold Bennett Book Prize; Karl Edward Wagner award; Winchester Slim Volume award (for Sussex Tales). Short listed for both the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction and Best Collection.
“My story, Robbed, came from thinking about how someone who has served a prison sentence might feel when they are released,” she explains.
“So many things will seem familiar, yet so many things will have changed. The story starts with Robbie, on his release day, coming out of prison, determined to reclaim his dues and settle a few old scores.”
From Susan’s Amazon page
Susan Handley grew up in England, in the Midlands and despite a love of literature, and crime fiction in particular, she never dreamt of being able to carve out a career as a published writer. But the desire to write never left her and after years of writing by night she has at last been able to share the results of her efforts.
Susan now lives in a small village in rural Kent with her husband and two cats. When she’s not indulging in her love of writing crime fiction she loves walking (the hillier the better), bike riding (the flatter the better) and tending her veggie patch.
Susan has published three novels. A Confusion of Crows is the first to feature DC Cat McKenzie, a one-time marine biologist turned detective. In the second in the series, Feather and Claw, Cat is holidaying on the sunny isle of Cyprus when the death of a fellow guest sees her put her holiday on hold and turn detective. In the third Cat McKenzie mystery, The Body Politic, Cat finds herself investigating the violent death of local councillor. As she uncovers the truth, Cat learns as much about herself as she does the dead man.
Susan has also produced two short story collections: Crime Bites Volume 1 and Volume 2. Full of bite-size crime stories there’s bound to be something to suit all tastes.
Cecilia found her inspiration from a series of walks she did with her sister-in-law on the Fife Coast Path.
“In the story I wanted to weave together the walk itself, the uncovering of a secret, and the main character developing as a result of her experiences,” she explains. “At first the walk was the most important thing, but in the end I feel the character development came to be the core of it.”
From Cecilia’s Amazon page
Cecilia Peartree is the pen name of a writer who lives in Edinburgh and has worked as a computer programmer and a database manager.
She has been a compulsive writer since she first learned to write, and by the age of sixteen she had a whole cupboard full of unfinished stories.
Cecilia writes the Pitkirtly series of quirky mystery novels set in an imaginary town on the coast of Fife, and the Quest mystery/adventure novels set in the early 1950s. Recently, almost without meaning to, she has also written a short series of Regency novels.
As befits a mystery writer, she is often surrounded by cats while working on her novels.
“I was intrigued by the idea of starting a book with someone walking into a situation he didn’t understand. It seemed a good place to start for a short story, too,” she says. “Apart from that the story was one of those ones that just seems to happen – though I can say that the room in the story that contains only a cistern handle and nothing else was something we found when viewing a house, once!”
From Lexie’s Amazon author page
Lexie Conyngham is a historian living in the shadow of the Highlands. Her Murray of Letho novels are born of a life amidst Scotland’s old cities, ancient universities and hidden-away aristocratic estates, but she has written since the day she found out that people were allowed to do such a thing. Beyond teaching and research, her days are spent with wool, wild allotments and a wee bit of whisky.
Bill Todd has written seven successful crime thrillers featuring wounded ex-soldier turned private investigator Danny Lancaster. “For the UKCBC anthology I thought I’d have a shot at a Danny short story which presents different writing challenges.”
A challenge to which the author rose magnificently as his short story, Lucky Break, made me want to read more about Danny Lancaster and I’m now really looking forward to reading the first in the series, The Wreck of the Margarita. The ebook is currently free on Amazon. (link here)
Bill’s author bio
I’ve spent my working life as a journalist. You meet a lot of people, see things, learn stuff. For a crimewriter, it’s a plot factory.
I’ve also done a lot of travelwriting. It’s not all cocktails under the palm trees but it is a fantastic job that’s taken me to more than 40 countries, from the white wastes of Arctic Finland to the deserts of Namibia.
People often ask my favourite place. In a world of globalisation, many destinations look the same but Iceland and Namibia are like stepping onto another planet. Go if you can.
I’ve also enjoyed a long love affair with Western Crete, the mountains, coastline, food and people. And I was delighted and surprised to receive the Ed Lacy Gibraltar travel award in 2007.
Another interest is my family tree. I’ve traced the ancestors back to William of Byfield, a farmer in 1600s Northamptonshire, just down the road from Shakespeare.
I love maps. They might seem old fashioned in the age of GPS but they tell stories, make promises. I have a ragbag collection of more than 3,000.
I’m also a fan of interesting cheeses, good beer and wilderness. They’re like Marmite, you’re an empty places person or you’re not.
I have written six crime thrillers and a book of short stories featuring Danny Lancaster, a wounded Afghanistan veteran turned private investigator.
I am now well in to Book 4 of my Much Winchmoor Mysteries. It’s going pretty well and I’m having so much fun catching up with all the old characters and mixing them up with a few new ones.
I have the murder method, the murderer, the victim and, of course, an entire shoal of red herrings to, hopefully, mislead my readers. I have the ongoing romance between my main character, Kat, and her long suffering boyfriend, Will plus an added complication in the shape of a tall, good looking Irishman with a voice that could melt the polar ice caps.
I’ve also got some new animals to add to the ones that have already appeared in the previous three books. These are Prescott, the feisty little Jack Russell whose bark is worse than his bite, Rosie the laid back labrador and Prescott’s best friend a gorgeous Irish wolfhound called Finbar. Then, there is the pub cat called Pitbull and, new to the gang, the vicar’s cockerpoo called Archie.
But what I haven’t got is a title. And it’s driving me mad. At the moment, the book is called MW4, which I don’t think my publisher will go for as it won’t look very good on the cover.
I’ve never had trouble with titles before. In fact, sometimes the title has been the inspiration for the book or story. (Wouldn’t you just love to have come up with “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, one of my favourite titles ever. I’m not sure why, maybe because it takes me to the original quotation, from John Donne’s poem which includes the lines “never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” Chilling!)
Much of my writing career has been spent writing for magazines where it doesn’t pay to be precious about titles because they will inevitably be changed… and not always for the better. I once wrote a story about a little boy who was embarrassed by his mother’s big swirly cape that caused havoc wherever she went (based on a real life event that my son claims to have been traumatised by). I called it “Here Comes Batman” but the magazine changed to “Oi! Boy Wonder.” Hmm.
My latest serial that has recently finished in My Weekly was inspired, as are many of my stories, by a dog. This one was called Monk who’s a Search and Rescue Dog and the story opens with Monk, alone on a mountain, searching for his owner who’s gone missing.
I loved that opening. So I’ve set it out below, just because I can!
Monk. Opening scene.
The dog stood at the point where the rough stone track forked into two. He sniffed the chill November air. He smelt sheep further up the left hand track. He smelt a sandwich wrapper to the right and his empty stomach grumbled at the thought of food. He smelt rain, thick and heavy, as it swept down the valley and up the fell sides towards him.
But he did not smell what he was searching for. He did not smell the familiar scent of the man. The man who’d trained him, all those years ago, to search the mountains for people who’d got lost. And now, he, the man, was lost. And the dog was searching for him.
And even though he was now an old dog, his legs not as strong as they used to be back when he could run up and down these mountains all day without tiring, yet his nose and his brain were as sharp as ever.
So he’d keep looking, like he’d been trained to do, until he found the man.
He knew no other way.
Does that make you want to read on? I hope so.
I wanted the title of the story to be ‘Monk’. It’s an unusual name for a dog and I felt it set the tone of the story. Needless to say, it was changed and became Castlewick Crag which was ok. It’s an editor’s privilege and they probably know what appeals to their readers better than I do. But I still preferred Monk and if I ever expand the story to a full length novel which I may well do as I loved the characters, particularly Monk, so much I shall revert to my original title of Monk. Something to look out for.
The first short story I ever had published had a brilliant title, even though I say it myself and this one wasn’t changed. Wouldn’t you want to read a story called “Angels on Oil Drums”? That story always retains a very special place in my heart.
But, back to my current work in progress. MW4 and its lack of a suitable title. I’ve spent far too long fiddling around with various ideas, none of which appeal. When it comes to choosing a title, it’s very much a question of “I’ll know it when I see it.”
My problem is I haven’t seen it yet.
And this is where I am reaching out for help. On my Facebook author page, I have set up a post asking for suggestions for a title based on the opening (very short) chapter.
This is it. (Or at least, the present version of it. It will probably change but the gist of it will remain)
MW4. Opening scene
The top of the tower of the church of St Oswald in the small Somerset village of Much Winchmoor was the perfect spot for a bird’s eye view of the village, spread out like a relief map some one hundred feet below. To one side, the village nestles in the curve of the Mendip Hills while the other side is a view across low lying willow-fringed pastureland towards Glastonbury Tor and beyond.
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.
It would be, the poster promised, a fun day out for all the family with refreshments and bric a brac stalls in the church grounds.
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.
Ok, so that’s the gist of it. No prize for guessing what the murder method is going to be. But there may well be a prize for coming up with a title that gives me that ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ moment. My publisher likes my titles to contain three words, if possible. (He’s thinking cover design here).
So, if you’d hop over to my author page and add a suggestion or two that would be wonderful.
Before I was married I used to work in Bristol city centre and would catch the bus (it was, if I remember, the #18 for Clifton) to and from work.And the buses were, at times, erratic.No electronic thingy in the bus shelter showing when the next one was due.You just waited and waited – and then three would come along all at once.
All that is a very long winded way of saying that I haven’t posted to my blog for several weeks and now I’m posting twice in one week.I could tell you it’s because I’ve been poorly, but you don’t want to know that and I’ve waffled on quite enough.
So the reason for this, the second post of the week is the fact that issue 216 of Writers’ Forum is out this week and in my Ideas Store column, I said (among other things)….”and you can read the whole story on my blog.”But, of course, it wasn’t there.
So apologies if you went to my blog hoping to find it.But it’s here now.(Although chances are, you have voted with your feet and decided not to bother, in which case I am talking to myself again.)
In my column I was writing about notebooks and how I’ve kept one, on and off, for the last 15 years.My first notebook was an old A4 hardback that I’d liberated from the day job but once I’d filled that, (it took my four years) I started using Moleskine notebooks because I was earning some money from my writing by then and could afford the luxury.
When I was writing short stories, I needed a steady influx of ideas to keep the stories coming.(Wendy Clarke, who also started her writing career as a short story writer, touches on this in my interview with her).
Very often, I would use a prompt, many of which came from Judy Reeves’ A Writers Book of Days.I hope you can see from the illustration how well used my copy is.One of these days I am going to add up all the stories that I’ve sold as a result of this book!
But the story I feature in this month’s Ideas Store, The Kindness of Strangers, does not come from a prompt but from my Fiction Square.In Judy’s book, there is a prompt for every day of the year and I’d already used that day’s prompt in a previous year and had sold a story as a result of it.So I didn’t want to use that again as I couldn’t get the original story out of my mind.Instead, I used the Fiction Square from my column.
If you’re not familiar with the magazine, there is a 5 x 6 grid printed each month, showing 6 characters, traits, conflicts, locations and objects.The idea is you roll a dice to find all the ingredients of your next story. On this particular day my dice rolls came up with:
Character 1. a sullen child
Character 2. an heroic climber
Location: charity shop
Object: a book.
I began writing in my notebook: Ok, I see a boy. Sullen, defensive.He’s shoplifting.Been dared to do so by so-called mates.But, like everything else he tries, he’s not very good at it. He’s Billie-No-Mates.
Caught in the act by the climber, Rob.(Something more valuable than a book) Rob is broken.On crutches? Certainly doesn’t climb any more.Why?An accident.What’s he doing in a charity shop?Helping someone – his mother? No, he’s a customer. He’s a hero because he got a party of children to safety.Doesn’t feel like it because one of them died.
Since the accident, he’s been numb.Blames himself even though the enquiry exonerated him. Praised him for his courage. He’s walked away from everyone who cares about him. Drifting from one dead end job to another. One dead end town to the next.Sleeping rough. Shopping in charity shops for warm clothes.
My notes went on for another two pages and at the end of it I had almost outlineda complete story. I’d like to tell you it always worked like that but, sadly, that is not the case.In fact, at one time I thought it had the makings of a serial.Which it may well do one day.Who knows?
So, as promised, here is the final version of that story, which was published in the UK magazine, My Weekly and has had subsequent overseas sales as well.
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
As shoplifters went, the kid wasn’t even very good. Drawing attention to himself with each furtive glance. The idiot might as well be wearing a striped jumper, black mask and carrying a bag marked ‘swag’ over his shoulder.
Mac took a jumper off the hanger. It was a horrible mustard yellow, hand knitted thing, which was probably why it ended up in a charity shop. Not that he gave a toss what it looked like. The people he mixed with didn’t set too much store on sartorial elegance any more than he did. It was warm. It was cheap. Job done.
He turned to take it to the till. The kid was still by the CDs. Probably just browsing after all. Whatever. None of his business.
The kid’s head suddenly shot up as three lads of about the same age as him came up to the window. One signalled him to hurry up. Mac watched as the boy slipped the CD into his pocket and hurried out to his giggling mates. He saw him show them what he’d got, heard the shrieks of derisive laughter. He saw, too, the kid’s head go down, shoulders hunched, as he shoved the CD back in his pocket.
Mac shrugged. No need to get involved. He’d be moving on tomorrow. To another dead end job in another dead end town. But at least this time accommodation of a sort went with the job. That would be good. The nights were getting too cold to spend many more on the streets and the pain in his leg was getting worse, the colder it got. Sleeping rough was not one of his better ideas.
The girl at the till looked ridiculously young to be alone in charge of a shop. No wonder the kids were stealing off her. Mind you, if she kept the more valuable items, like that little egg cup he was pretty sure was silver,nearer the till, that would be a start.
“I’m so glad someone’s bought this,” she smiled as she folded the jumper. “My gran knitted it for my brother and he refuses to wear it.”
“Lucky for him he can afford to be choosy,” Mac growled – and instantly regretted it. It came across as whingey, and self pitying and he was neither.
“Oh Lord, I’m so sorry.” A flush stained the girl’s pale cheeks. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“You didn’t,” he said tersely. Why didn’t she just bag the thing and let him go? He didn’t come in here to get her life history. Didn’t want to know about knitting grannies. Certainly didn’t want to think about his own, who didn’t knit. But worried. Even though he was thirty two next birthday, she still worried about him. Probably a little less now he’d given up climbing.
“I don’t usually work in the shop,” the girl was saying. “I’m happier looking after the animals. But the rescue centre needs the money desperately and when we had the chance of this empty shop for a few months, we jumped at it. But I’m not very good at it, as you can probably tell. Take these biscuits, for example. There were eight of them but now there are only six and I know I haven’t sold any. Look, I’m going to have a cup of tea and a biscuit while they’re still here. Would you like one? I made them, so it’s ok.”
“No thanks.” Mac grabbed the bag and headed for the door. What? Did she think he was a bloody charity case? Or, maybe she thought he was the one who’d been nicking her precious biscuits? He might look a down and out. He might shop in charity shops. But that didn’t mean –
He stopped. He was angry. Hell, yes, he was angry. It was the first time he’d felt anything, except an icy numbness, since The Accident. Correction. Since the day after, when Mrs Pearce had screamed at him, called him a murderer. Said she hoped the knowledge that he’d killed her daughter would haunt him for the rest of his life. Well, she wasn’t wrong there.
He’d coped by training himself to feel nothing. No pleasure. No joy at the sight of a sunrise, no warmth in the company of friends, nor even the comfort of a soft bed. It was, he reckoned, a price worth paying. To be where no one knew him. Or tried to make him feel better by saying the accident wasn’t his fault. That he’d done all he could.
When he knew, just as Mrs Pearce did, that he hadn’t.
Why then, had he got so angry, because a young woman with a big soft eyes and a sweet smile had offered him kindness? Was it because she’d seen him as an object of pity? Someone who couldn’t even afford the price of a cup of tea and a biscuit? Who relied on the kindness of strangers?
Much better save her pity for the downtrodden donkeys and abandoned dogs.
As he reached the door, he was surprised to see the young shoplifter approaching and stood back to let him in. Then, on an impulse, he turned and followed him back into the shop. Outside, the others were urging the kid on. Obviously, the CD was not to their taste and they’d sent him back for bigger fry.
The kid reached into his pocket, took out the CD and put it back on the shelf. Mac watched as he edged up to the shelf where the silver egg cup was. Saw the furtive look as he picked it up, the relief when he saw the girl was busy on the other side of the shop.
Without realising he was going to do it, Mac walked across, put his hand over the boy’s stick thin wrist. Waited until the hand opened and the boy let the egg cup go. He looked up at Mac, his eyes wide with fear.
“Look, I’m sorry, mate,” Mac said loudly. “It’s no good asking me about volunteering. You should ask the lady over there. It’s her shop. I’m sure she can do with some extra help. Isn’t that right?” he said as the smiley girl came across to them. “Who knows? She may even offer you a cup of tea and a biscuit while she tells you all about the rescue centre.”
She looked surprised. Saw, too, the egg cup, upside down on the shelf. He could see she understood what had happened here. Would she call the Police? Up to her. It was stupid of him to have got involved anyway. It was just there was something about the kid. He’d seen it many times before.
Back in the day, before The Accident, he’d worked with kids just like him. Not bad kids, most of them. They came to the Outdoor Pursuits Centre where he’d worked, full of bluster and bravado when they first got there. Scared witless at their first sight of a mountain close up. Trying desperately not to show it. Hell, but he used to get such a kick out of the ones who ‘got it’, the ones who scraped their knuckles, cramped their legs muscles, forced themselves so far out of their comfort zones they’d never be the same again. The ones who stood with him on the top of the mountain, their eyes full of awe, their faces full of wonder.
This boy wasn’t a bad kid. Just had some bad mates. Not that Mac gave a toss what happened to him, of course.
“Here,” the girl gave the boy a beaming smile and handed him a leaflet. “It’s really good of you to enquire about volunteering. We run the rescue centre on a shoestring, you know, and need all the help we can get. Why don’t you read that and, if you’re still interested, come up to the centre, meet the animals and we’ll talk about it?”
The boy mumbled something barely audible and scuttled out of the shop.
“Thank you, Mac” the girl said quietly. “You handled that really well.”
He spun round, his mouth dry. “You know me?” he whispered, rubbing his hand through his straggling beard, his long lank hair.
“I do now. You are Rob McKinley, aren’t you? I wasn’t sure when you first came in. But my brother – the one who hasn’t the wit to recognise a good jumper when he sees one – he has a poster of you on his wall. Climbing’s his passion. You’re one of his heroes.”
Hero? He was no bloody hero. He was the guy who hadn’t been able to stop a young girl fooling around on a mountain. Hadn’t insisted she stayed with the group and not forge on ahead. Hadn’t been able to get down to her quick enough. Hadn’t been able to stop his own out of control tumble down the treacherous scree covered slope as he tried to reach her, his leg snapping like a twig during the fall. Hadn’t been able to move her, nor force her to hang on to life as they’d waited for the rescue party.
Had cradled her lifeless body, long after she’d gone.
“I was so sorry to hear about your accident,” the girl said softly. “Sorry, too, about the girl. It wasn’t −”
Mac’s hands were shaking as he wrenched open the shop door. Time to move on. Fast. Before she had chance to tell him that the accident wasn’t his fault, that he was – what had they said at the enquiry that had exonerated him? – a hero.
So he did what all ‘heroes’ do when they come up against something they can’t handle. He ran – as fast as his wreck of a leg would carry him.
“Thank you,” Mac said as the man dropped money into the bowl. He felt a cold nose touch the back of his hand and reached to fondle the dog’s head. Archie was never far from his side.
“Well, how are we doing?” Beth asked.
“The money’s rolling in,” Mac said. “It’s typical of Tom to turn his leaving do into a fund raising bash, isn’t it?”
“He’s a great kid, isn’t he? And he’s going to be a great vet, too.”
“He’s got a long, hard slog ahead, though. Getting into vet school’s one thing. Staying there’s another.”
“He’ll be fine, Mac. Don’t be such a pessimist.”
He pulled her towards him and kissed the top of her head. “You always see the best in everyone. And I love you for it.”
He loved her for a whole load of other things as well and there wasn’t a day went by that he wasn’t thankful for the way she’d run after him that day. Taken him back to the shop, made him sit and listen and eat those damn awful biscuits she’d made.
“Of course I see the best in people,” she said. “And you don’t, I suppose? That day in the shop, you could have had Tom arrested for shoplifting.”
“And so could you. You knew as well as I did he wasn’t in the shop to volunteer.”
“Yet look where volunteering’s taken him,” she said. “I knew, from the first moment he turned up at the rescue centre that he was as nuts about animals as I am.”
“Nuts being the right word.” Mac ducked quickly. Beth could pack a hefty punch, a result, she claimed, of standing up for herself against her bully of a brother.The same guy who was now Mac’s best friend, climbing partner and soon to be best man at their wedding.
“Well, get on with it,” Beth said. “There’s a load of people heading this way who haven’t bought raffle tickets yet. You’re slipping.”
Mac smiled as he watched her hurry away to talk yet more people into sponsoring donkeys or adopting ducks.
Beth could never resist a stray. She treated the frightened, the abused and abandoned with the same quiet patience she’d dealt with him. Gently, but firmly, she’d chased away his demons and dragged him back to life.
A life which, amazingly, she wanted to share. Along with four donkeys, a foul mouthed parrot and goodness knows how many dogs, cats, chickens and ducks.
Joan has recently appeared in my column in the UK magazine, Writers’ Forum where, as always I am pushed for space. But here, I can ask as many questions as I like without the strait-jacket of a word count.
I am thrilled to feature crime writer Joan Livingston on my blog this week. I have read and really enjoyed both books in Joan’s Isabel Long series and am eagerly looking forward to the next which she tells me is due out early in 2019.
Welcome to my blog, Joan and thank you for dropping by. So, where did you get the idea for your Isabel Long series from?
Prior to starting the Isabel Long series, I never thought about writing a mystery. My previous books were literary fiction, but I was inspired after reading one an author friend wrote. When I thought about it, my life has been immersed in mystery. Since I was a kid, I’ve read mysteries and watched suspenseful shows and movies. I enjoy figuring out whodunit and being surprised by a plot twist.
And before I was a fiction writer, I was a journalist. Often, I had to piece together a story using clues and sources. Certainly, as my protagonist, Isabel Long, learned, these are transferable skills.
So, I sat at my computer and began writing Chasing the Case. I didn’t use outlines, notes, or programs. The story came from “somewhere” and I was the conduit. As the words flowed, I learned three things: the amateur P.I. would be a woman; her cases could be related to her former career as a journalist; the setting would be rural Western Massachusetts (US).
How does a woman disappear in a town of a thousand people? That’s a 28-year-old mystery Isabel Long wants to solve
Me.What inspires you most? Characters? Settings?
Isabel is what the French call une femme d’un certain age. She’s been a widow for a year and has an adult romance. She’s a bit of a smart-ass, so I let her tell the story. (I admit there’s a bit of me in her.) Her sidekick is her 92-year-old mother who came to live with her — my 95-year-old mom is her inspiration. Strong characters I’ve created move this series along.As a writer, I take what I know and have my way with it. I use a rural setting because I’ve lived many years in small towns (a thousand people or so) and understand what they are like. As a reporter, I covered them.
Me. How did your writing journey start?
I was fortunate to have great teachers when I went to public school as a child. My fourth-grade teacher encouraged me to write short plays and have my classmates perform them. In fifth grade, I was part of a group chosen for an enrichment program — Wednesday afternoons we would gather at a school for advanced science and creative writing classes. The science was okay, but I was hooked by the creative writing, learning about metaphors and similes at such a young age. I recently found the little pieces I wrote and found them charming.
I should also say I was a big reader, thanks to my mother, who took us to the library twice a week.
I had a bit of a drought until I went to college, where I got into poetry in a heavy way, publishing and doing public readings. I fancied myself a poet.
I recall my creative writing professor telling me something that has continued to stick with me: Tell it like nobody has told it before.
Me: Have you always written?
I will confess that I had a 25-year writer’s block. It coincides with motherhood when my creativity naturally went into raising six children. I had given up on poetry. And I found to my dismay, I couldn’t sustain a thought in prose although I wanted to be a writer.
My situation began to change when I became a part-time correspondent for the local newspaper, where I was paid by the inch to cover news and features in the small hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. Besides being immersed in the hilltowns — the source of inspiration for my fiction these days — I learned to write unadorned prose. I also listened to the way people talked and behaved, which I believe has been beneficial to writing realistic fiction. I also enjoyed people’s responses to what I reported and wrote.
But the 25-year writer’s block didn’t really break until I was promoted to editor. The job had more responsibility, but it didn’t drain my creative juices. Suddenly, I found it was a rare day when I wasn’t writing fiction. It was part of who I am. That is true today. Writing is my form of expression, one that brings me great happiness.
Ah, but publishing is another thing all together. I’m sure I could swap war stories with other authors about that.
The books’ blurbs
CHASING THE CASE
New to the game. But that won’t stop her.
How does a woman disappear in a town of a thousand people? That’s a 28-year-old mystery Isabel Long wants to solve.
Isabel has the time to investigate. She just lost her husband and her job as the managing editor of a newspaper. (Yes, it’s been a bad year.) And she’s got a Watson — her 92-year-old mother who lives with her.
To help her case, Isabel takes a job at the local watering hole, so she can get up close and personal with those connected to the mystery.
As a journalist, Isabel never lost a story she chased. Now, as an amateur P.I., she’s not about to lose this case.
Her next case. She’s in it for good.
Encouraged by her Watson — her 92-year-old mother — Isabel snaps out of it by hooking up with a P.I. and finding a new case.
Isabel Long is in a funk months after solving her first case. Her relationship with the Rooster Bar’s owner is over, but no surprise there. Then cops say she must work for a licensed P.I. before working solo.
The official ruling is Chet Waters, an ornery so-and-so, was passed out when his house caught fire. His daughter, who inherited the junkyard, believes he was murdered. Topping the list of suspects are dangerous drug-dealing brothers, a rival junkyard owner, and an ex-husband.
Could the man’s death simply be a case of redneck’s revenge? Isabel is about to find out.
Me. Do you have any future plans?
Once I finished the first book, I was onto the second — Her next case. She’s in it for good. — then the third. I will stick with the series as long as I am interested in the exploits of Isabel Long and the cases she takes.
But to be clear, the plots for Chasing the Case, Redneck’s Revenge, and the 2019 release, Checking the Traps, are not based on anything that happened. The same is true for my characters. They are only real to me and I’m glad many of them can join me for more than one book.
Thank you so much for stopping by, Joan. That was brilliant. And I can’t wait to find out what Isabel and her mother are up to next so I’m really looking forward to Checking The Traps..
Next week is an important one, Friday 21st December has been written in big red letter in my calendar and on my wall chart for months now. It is DEADLINE DAY.
I think my second book, which will (probably) be called Rough and Deadly, will be ready in time for submission to my publishers. But every time I look at it I find another plot hole, another end that I haven’t sewn in!
To celebrate finally hitting the send button on it, I’ll be posting a short story on my blog. It’s one of my all time favourites because it features a Dalmatian and, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will know I am absolutely dotty about Dalmatians. This one is called Jemima. Unlike the real Jemima the one in my story is beautifully behaved – until she comes up against a hooligan boy dog with the unlikely name of Dolly.
Daily Prompts. 16th – 31st December
Please refer to this post for advice on how to use these.
16. Things I never told my mother
17. An abandoned pet (dog, cat, your choice)
18. The mellow tones of a saxophone drifting in through the window
19. “I could murder a cup of tea,” Aunt Mildred said seconds before she died.
20. You’ve planned a quiet, romantic Christmas dinner for just the two of you. Then, you discover on Christmas Eve that your partner has invited the in-laws/the rugby team/the guy from the pub who after a couple of pints of Guiness sings Danny Boy over and over again.
21. It was Sunday morning. (Or Deadline Day!!! See above)
22. In a cemetery
23. The overnight snow had transformed everything.
24. If I could turn the clock back, I’d…. (Write about something you’d do differently)
25. A time someone lost control
26. She was the kind of woman who….
27. You’re stuck in a traffic jam, going nowhere. The road is closed and you’re late for the most important meeting of your life.
28. I have this terrible weakness for…..
29. Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods. Cats have never forgotten this.
When I started this blog, back in March, it was only intended as a record of my faltering steps towards publication of my debut crime novel Murder Served Cold which was published in October. Link here.
The publication date is the reason for the longer than intended gap between posts as I completely underestimated the amount of time the marketing/social media aspect side of the writing business would take – not to mention the fact that I’m busy writing the second in the series, provisional title Rough and Deadly,to a very tight December deadline.(No Christmas shopping for me this year! Yayy!)
Having achieved my publication date goal, I would now like to change the emphasis of this blog slightly and include interviews with other writers. I shall still continue to post about my own progress (or lack of it) as I get down to what I am fast discovering is the really hard bit about writing a novel – ie getting it ‘out there’.
The blog will still include my daily prompts and the current ones (albeit slightly late, for which I apologise) are, as always at the end.
Why a guest post?
When I’m not writing crime fiction, I also write a monthly column, Ideas Store, for the UK magazine, Writers Forum.(Link here). I have been doing so for eleven years and have ‘met’ so many great authors in that time who patiently and generously respond to my question: Where do you get your ideas from?
But there is never enough space in my column for all I would like to include, nor room for author pictures or book links.So I’ve decided to include some of them as guests on my blog on a regular basis.
One of the big bonuses for me when Crooked Cat Books agreed to publish my first book, Murder Served Cold, was being introduced to a galaxy of new to me writers, one of which is my first guest, crime writer Val Penny.
Val is the author of the Edinburgh Mystery Series featuring Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson.I have read and very much enjoyed the first two books in the series and am looking forward to the next one.
My interview with Val Penny’
Hi Val, Thank you so much for agreeing to appear on my blog.Now, that question that all writers dread to hear:
Where did you get the idea for your book from?
I always find this question the most difficult to answer, but I will try! I first began writing novels when I was being treated for breast cancer. I was very ill and had little energy except to read, watch daytime TV and try to beat the disease.
As anybody who has been poorly and subjected to daytime TV will attest, it gets very old very fast, so I began a blog to review the books that I read www.bookreviewstoday.info
When I began to recover, I still had little energy, but needed something to occupy my mind. It was at this point that he who is known as Handsome Hubby suggested that, if I knew so much about what made everybody else’s books good, or not, I should write one of my own. (If only it was that simple!) Anyway, I accepted the challenge and, as my favourite genre to read is crime, I decided to try my hand at writing a crime novel.
The first character to be created was Joe Johnson: he came about from a throw-away comment made by an assistant in my office many years ago. She said she liked to be able to see the customers before she could smell them! So Joe Johnson was born and the rest of the story in Hunter’s Chase was created around him.
Me: Tell us a little about your book.What is your genre? Is it a series or standalone?
I write crime thrillers: the sub-genre is probably police procedurals. The novels I write form a series, The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries. I like to be able to tell the stories of the individual character’s lives as well interesting my readers in the crime DI Hunter Wilson and his team have to solve.
Crooked Cat Books published the first in the series, Hunter’s Chase, on 02.02.2019 and the second, Hunter’s Revenge on 09.09.2018.The links are:
The third in the series, Hunter’s Force will be published in Spring 2019.
The book’s blurb – Hunter’s Chase.
Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson knows there is a new supply of cocaine flooding his city, and he needs to find the source, but his attention is transferred to murder when a corpse is discovered in the grounds of a golf course.
Shortly after the post-mortem, Hunter witnesses a second murder, but that is not the end of the slaughter. With a young woman’s life also hanging in the balance, the last thing Hunter needs is a new man on his team: Detective Constable Tim Myerscough, the son of his nemesis, the former Chief Constable Sir Peter Myerscough.
Hunter’s perseverance and patience are put to the test time after time in this first novel in The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries series.
The book’s blurb – Hunter’s Revenge
Who would want to harm the quiet, old man? Why was a book worth £23,000 delivered to him that morning? Why is the security in George’s home so intense?
Hunter must investigate his friend’s past as well as the present to identify George’s killer.
When a new supply of cocaine from Peru floods HMP Edinburgh and the city, the courier leads Hunter to a criminal gang, but Hunter requires the help of his nemesis, the former Chief Constable, Sir Peter Myerscough, and local gangster, Ian Thomson, to make his case.
Hunter’s perseverance and patience are put to the test time after time in this taut crime thriller.
Me: That’s great, thank you.Now, tell me a bit more about your writing life in general, please. What inspires you most?Characters?Settings? Books you have read?
I am most inspired to tell the story of my characters and how these play into the crimes investigated in the novels. Having said that, the setting of the beautiful city of Edinburgh is also important and it is a treat to have to research areas of the city that I would not have a chance to visit otherwise.
Me: How did you writing journey start?Have you always written?What was your first published piece.
I have always enjoyed writing and telling stories. Even when I was a little girl I used to make up stories for my little sister. However, my first published pieces were all non- fiction articles published in dry, dusty old journals and my first creative pieces, were poems included in national poetry anthologies.
Me: And your future plans?More in the Edinburgh Crime series, I hope!
I am now about to start the edits for the third book in The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries series, Hunter’s Force and I am writing the fourth in the series, Hunter’s Blood.
I was also asked to speak at The Swanwick Writers’ Summer School this year and I, as I lectured at Heriot Watt University for years, I would be thrilled to get more involved in speaking at writers’ conferences.
Thank you so much for that, Val.That was fascinating and I wish you the success you so richly deserve with the Edingburgh Mystery Series.
Would you like to be featured here?
If you’re a writer and would like to be featured either in this blog or my column in Writers’ Forum (or preferably both!) please get in touch.Or, if you have read a book that you really enjoyed and can’t sleep at night until you find out where the author got that particular idea from, do let me know and I’ll do my best to find out..
And no, I hadn’t forgotten the daily prompts. If this is your first visit to my blog, check back to this page for advice on how to use them.
Daily Prompts. 16th October – 15th November
16. My heart leaps up when I behold/A rainbow in the sky (Wordsworth)
17. “This time,” he croaked, “I’m really, really ill.”
18. There’s a first time for everything.
19. You wake up – and everything is different.
20. Write about falling.In love?Down a hole? On a dream?You decide.
21. She was wearing my ring.
22. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks (Proverb)
23. Catching someone in the act of cheating
24. “It’s all you could expect,” he said.
25. An abandoned house.
26. Your first car.
27. It’s too soon to tell.
28. Being lost along the way.
29. Returning takes too long.
30. The difference between men and women.
31. This is what was left when he had gone.
1. On this day in 1848 the first WH Smith railway bookstall opened on Euston Station.
2. I hate this time of the year.It’s so …….
3. Write about a time someone said yes.
4. Before I was born…..
5. Rising early to begin a journey
6. One man (or woman) and his/her dog.
7. “Love comes from blindness, friendship from knowledge. (Comte de Bussy-Rabutin)
This past week I’ve been booking a blog tour of book reviewers. This has involved filling in loads of forms, with author pics and bios and I’m very excited to say that I have a tour booked with Rachel’s Random Resources for 10th –16th November.
In my last blog post I was whingeing (sorry, writing) about how difficult it was to write a blurb for my book.This week I’ve found another hurdle that had me skittering away like a spooked pony and was a major stumbling block when I was filling out Rachel’s form.
My stumbling block consisted of just three little words.
So I did what I always do when I’m spooked.I turned to the experts.In this case one of my go-to how to write books, ‘Love Writing’ by the very talented Sue Moorcroft (link here) who knows more about writing than I ever will ever.
Sue says genre is important for these reasons.
1. Publishers need to know where to place a book on their lists.
2. Booksellers need to know where to place it on their shelves.
3. Publicists need to know to understand what they’re promoting.
4. Most important of all:Readers need to know if you write the kind of thing they like to read.
Now there’s no point reading the advice of an expert like Sue if you’re not prepared to buckle down and act on it.So, that is what I did.
This is the conversation between me and my Inner Critic (IC) , the voice in my head that’s nagged at me ever since the moment I signed the contract for Murder Served Cold and everything became horribly real. (Publication date October 19th…. eek!)
Me:It says… (groans) Define your genre.What?I can’t do this.
IC: Of course you can’t.You don’t even know what genre means.
Me: Yes I do.I’m a writer. I know things.
IC: Go on then.What does it mean?
Me: Well, um,it means what sort of a book is it.
IC: Oh right. I see.Is there a genre then for rubbish, then?
Me: No, it means where would you find this in, say, a bookshop or a library?
IC: The waste bin?The recycling box?
Me: According to Sue, it’s to help people decide whether or not they want to read my book.Say, for example, you were a lover of horror, then my book would probably not be your thing.
IC: So whose ‘thing’ will it be?Who do you think will want to read Murder Served Cold?
Me:Well, it’s a murder mystery –
IC: Really?I’d never have guessed from the title.So, does that mean there’s lots of blood and gore in it?
Me: Oh no, nothing like that.I’m a bit squeamish and not very good at blood and gore.But there’s plenty of humour, as well as a touch of romance.
IC: Ooh! Lots of sexy scenes then?
Me: Well, no.I’m afraid not.I’m not very good at sexy scenes either.I keep thinking of people I know reading it.
IC: But just now you were worried that nobody would read it.
Me: I know.But if they did…Anyway, I’ve got to come up with a genre.It says so here on Rachel’s form.So I’ve been checking out other books that are similar to mine and I think I’m going to put Cosy Crime as the genre.Besides, that’s what it says on my book’s cover.
IC: Cosy crime?Do you mean it’s about little old ladies who knit running round solving mysteries, helped by their cats?
Me:Absolutely not.Kat is a struggling young journalist – or she would be if someone gave her a job.She’s part of the ‘boomerang’ generation.There’s no knitting involved.
IC: Ha! But there’s a cat in it.I knew it.
Me: Not that sort of cat.Her name’s Kat, only no one ever remembers to call her that.And she – oh, you’ll just have to read the book.
IC: Me?You’ve got to be kidding.Cosy Crime is so not my ‘genre’. Particularly if there are no knitting grannies or crime solving cats in it.
On a lighter note…
If, like IC above, cosy crime is not your genre either then how about revisiting the classics?
I have recently discovered dailylit.com, a website that delivers bite sized pieces of fiction which are sent to your inbox every day.At the moment, I am thoroughly enjoying revisiting E.M. Forster’s ‘Room with a View’, something I haven’t read since my schooldays.
(I wonder if E.M. Forster had to worry his head about what genre ‘Room With A View’ was?)
I find I really look forward to each day’s instalment and am at present on part 18/81.I love the gentle pace of the book and had forgotten the pleasure in reading something slowly.Everything I do at the moment seems to be done at breakneck speed, but this daily dose of E.M. Forster is a little oasis of calm in my busy day and I love it.
It’s not just the classics on offer from DailyLit but most genres (that word again!) and include fiction and non fiction.
Daily Prompts.1st-15th October.
I hope you’refinding my Daily Prompts useful as starting off points for your great ideas. (link to Where do you get your ideas from?) I look forward one day to a writer, in answer to my question, “Where do you get your ideas from” replying: Why, Paula, from your Daily Prompts, of course! (IC: Huh! Watch out for flying pigs!)
1. “Where am I going?I don’t know/What does it matter where people go?” A.A. Milne
2. My first day at school.
3. Leaving somewhere (or someone) for the last time.
4. My favourite place.
5. Riding for a fall.
6. Divided loyalties.
7. Holding a new born baby.
8. Hearing an echo.
9. You’re walking alone, along a dimly lit street, when you hear footsteps behind you.
10. A fall from grace.
11. Just beyond the edge of the woods.
12. Attempting to avoid someone.
13. “This is not about you,” I yelled.
14. The first star of the evening.
15. He that suppeth with the devil needs a long spoon. (Proverb)
What’s your favourite genre? And do you read slowly? And, go on, tell me: where do you get your ideas from? I’d love to know.
I’m later than I meant to be getting down to work because today’s dog walk took even longer than usual.Several of the fields around our village have been cut and baled and our Dalmatian Duke insisted on stopping to wee on every one of them! (It was a big field and there are a lot more bales out of shot, all duly marked by Duke).
The first hurdle – and how I fell at it.
I started writing this blog after reading “The Author Blog: Easy Blogging for Busy Authors” by Anne R. Allen (Anne’s blog) which is crammed full of useful advice for newbie bloggers such as myself.
Unfortunately I’ve fallen at the first hurdle because one of Anne’s pearls of wisdom isabout being consistent.Blog regularly, she advises.
Ah yes, I thought.I can do this. SoI set up a schedule (I’m very good at setting up schedules.Keeping to them, however, is another matter) and decided I would blog fortnightly.I then entered the fortnightly publication days in my diary.
I chose to post fortnightly (a) so that I wouldn’t clog up your inboxes and (b) it would give me some breathing space to get on with my life… and, of course, the day job.
But that is where the problems started.Life , the day job and the local farmer’s hay making (see above) got in the way which is why, according to my schedule, I am now two postings behind.So, if you’ve been waiting impatiently for the Daily Prompts from May 16th onwards, please accept my sincere and grovelling apologies.
I have finished it. Almost on schedule. And if you’ve ever wondered what goes on during the creative process of writing a pantomime, take a look at a (totally unedited) page of my notepad whichsits beside me when I’m writing.It’s either a snapshot of the creative mind at work – or the ravings of a madwoman.You decide.
A new serial.
Yay! I have a new serial coming out at the end of the month.My eight part murder mystery entitled All The Birds of the Air starts in the People’s Friend on June 23rd.
This serial is the result of an approach by People’s Friend’s Fiction Editor, Shirley Blair, asking if I’d be interested in writing a crime serial for them.Now I’d love to let you go on thinking this is an everyday occurrence for me and that editors are regularly contacting me in this way.I wish!
Usually it happens the other way around.I get an idea for a story, write it and then spend the rest of my time and energy trying to persuade an editor to buy it.So after I said yes to Shirley I found myself in the unusual situation of looking for something to write about.
This was where my ideas box came in handy.It’s an old document box, crammed with tattered files and dog eared notepads, most of which make as much sense as the one in the picture above.
But then I found a notebook from a creative writing class I took at my local Further Education Centre many years ago.I enjoyed the class very much except for those times when the tutor would set us a challenge to write something really clever which we then had to read out to the rest of the class.
I was, and still am, absolutely rubbish at that sort of thing.My brain freezes and Isit there doodling while the rest of the class scribbles away furiously.That particular day, the brain freeze was obviously a full on glacier because this is what I wrote:
Who killed Jock Dobbin?
That was it.Apart from a weird drawing of what I think was supposed to be a cat and a reminder to myself that my son had cookery in the morning and not to forget the sultanas. (He’s all grown up and sensible now and buys his own sultanas.)
But the line intrigued me and I started thinking about a man called Jock Dobbin who dies suddenly.His death is put down to natural causes until a series of anonymous notes begin to appear around the village.These notes are all based on the rhyme “Who killed Cock Robin?” and that, of course, gave me the title as well. Then I started thinking: “What would you do if a total stranger left you everything in his will?”
All the Birds of the Air was such fun to write and there will, I hope, be a sequel.But that depends on whether the readers of People’s Friend enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Fingers crossed.
Today’s writers don’t have to hunt around in dusty old boxes for inspiration. At least, not the ones who follow this blog.So here, better late than never, are the Daily Prompts, as promised for May 16th – June 15th.And I promise I’ll be back before June 15th with the prompts for the rest of the month. I’ve already put it in my schedule.
16. Write about being bullied.
17. When you fear the worst and the worst happens, there comes that moment when you realise there is nothing left to fear.
18. My brother/sister had this really annoying habit….
19. Write about what you didn’t do.
20. Opening line.Where were you last night?
21. Dark behind it rose the forest (The Song of Hiawatha.HW Longfellow)
22. Once, when nobody was looking…
23. The end of the day.
24. You are in a hotel room.Alone.
25. Actions speak louder than words. (Proverb)
26. Buried treasure.
27. Write about a time you felt abandoned.
28. Something you bought mail order.
29. You’re taking an exam you are totally under prepared for.
30. You walk into a bar and a sudden silence falls.But no one will meet your eye.
31. Slipping in and out of the shadows.
1. Married in the month of June/Life will be one long honeymoon.* (see below)
2. It was the family wedding from hell.
3. Write about an anniversary.
4. ‘I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”. (Eric Morecambe)
5. Write about a balcony.
6. If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you’d do?
7. The first time I saw my baby brother/sister I felt….
8. Write about being the last person to be picked for a team.
9. “Last night I dreamt I went back to Manderley…”(Or Myrtle Avenue, or wherever)
10. He walks into a room and there is complete silence.All heads turn in his direction.Then he smiles and walks up to her.“Hi, I’ve been looking for you….”(Feel free to change he/she etc)
11. I love you because (Do you remember the old Jim Reeves song?)
12. Ann Frank was born this day in 1929.Write about keeping a diary.
13. “It wasn’t my fault, Mum, honest.It just….”
14. “There are two ways of spreading light. To be the candle or the mirror that receives it.” (Edith Wharton)
15. A funny thing happened to me on the way to…..
Footnote: I got married in June and, on the off chance that my husband reads this, yes, it has been one long honeymoon! (Most of the time, anyway)
As I started writing this week’s blog, the flag of St George was flying from the flagpole on the top of our village church for St George’s Day, England’s patron saint.
I have good reason to celebrate St George’s Day because it was the inspiration behind the very first story I ever sold.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write.As soon as I was old enough to hold a pencil, I was writing. Plays, stories, comic books, poems and even a pageant or two. Throughout our childhood, I bullied my three younger brothersinto appearing in various ‘plays’ I’d written which we’d then perform for all our neighbours – at least, the ones who weren’t quick enough to come up with a decent excuse.
My first publicly performed work was a bit of a cheat as it didn’t involve any original writing.It was a pageant, enacted to the words of the hymn “For all the saints, who from their labours rest…” to celebrate St. George’s Day.
The ‘stage’ was to be our front lawn, the backdrop Mum’s washing line with a couple of old grey blankets draped over it.I’d filled two large jugs with armfuls ofpink and white blossom which stood at the front.It looked perfect. Except for the oil drums.One on either side of the ‘stage’.
My mother drove a hard bargain and insisted that if she was going to allow her garden and washing line to be turned into a stage, then my two youngest brothers (three year old twins) had to be given parts in the pageant.I was not keen.But, in the end I capitulated and said they could have non-speaking parts as angels – as big a piece of miscasting as Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher.
But there was a slight problem (and I’m not talking Tom Cruise here).The twins were quite small and so would not be seen. So I had the brilliant idea of standing them on upended oil drums, one either side of the stage. (Now why didn’t Tom Cruise think of that?)
I then tied one of Mum’s sheets around their necks to cover both them and the oil drums and commanded them to hold their arms up as wings.I also made them beautiful blonde wigs from unravelled binder twine which, they complained, itched.(Did I say I was also the costume and set designer?Not to mention writer, producer and chief press-gang officer).
I was St George, of course.After all, it was my pageant.And my other brother, Mike was the unfortunate dragon who spent most of the time being beaten around the stage by me wielding a wooden sword.
We were about half way through the first verse of “For all the saints...” when the left hand ‘angel’ started to fidget and fell off his oil drum.The right hand ‘angel’, who probably had more sense than his brother, decided he was bailing out before he too fell off his oil drum and made a dash for freedom across the garden, trailing his sheet behind him and ending up hiding in the middle of the raspberry canes.He was closely followed by the family dog who thought this was the best game ever.
I, like the trouper I was, carried on singing.And beating the dragon about.Until he decided that he, too, had had enough.So there I was, St George, victorious and alone, singing away to myself and failing to notice that my mother had disappeared into the raspberry canes after my brother and the dog.And the rest of the audience was falling about with laughter.
After all these years my brothers still claim they were traumatised by the event, which gets told and retold at every family gathering.So when, about twelve years ago I was looking to break into the short fiction market and trying to follow the advice ‘write about what you know’, I wrote this short story based around my ill fated pageant.
“Angels on Oil Drums” was the first of many stories I sold to Woman’s Weekly and it still remains one of my favourites.Not such a favourite with my brothers, though – although I did buy all three of them their very own copy of Woman’s Weekly which I’d like to tell you they have treasured to this day.But I very much doubt it!
A few years ago now, my brother Mike (the ex-dragon) came to one of the pantomimes I’d written for our village theatre group(link here to my thoughts on writing this year’s). He remarked what a reliefit was for him to come and see something I’d written that he hadn’t been bullied into appearing in.
My story, Angels on Oil Drums, will be in my first collection of short stories, entitled “Selling My Grandmother” which will be published later this year.Watch this space!
I’m finishing the final edits of the final chapter of my serial, The Primrose Path, this week – and am at that stage where I think I’m never going to be able to cut it down to the required word length.Although I always do, somehow. As for tying in all those loose ends…
Duke, the Dalmatian has had a poorly paw and after a week on anti-inflammatories and antibiotics is now confined to lead only walking for another two weeks.Trying to keep a Dalmatian quiet and rested is like trying to contain a Jack-in-the-box with a faulty lid. But if you’ve got to do an on-lead-only walk, then the beautiful Bishop’s Palace Gardens, in Wells, Somerset has got the be the place to do it.
I always keep a note in my journal of where the ideas for each new story came from and I can see that of the fifteen, four made it as completed (and sold) stories.So it does work!
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May (Shakespeare)
A time when you wanted to leave but couldn’t
Being discovered in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I have spread my dreams beneath your feet/ Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” (WB Yeats)
Suffering the consequences of doing something to excess.
Write about a premonition
Your first day at school, work.
Look back in anger. (John Osborne’s play of this name opened in 1956)
Fear of getting old.
Things done in the heat of the moment.
He/she is the sort of person who….
Write about your earliest memory
Living the dream
Through the open window comes the sound of someone playing the piano.
On this day in 1918 the first regular air mail service began. Write about receiving an unexpected letter.
Thanks for reading this far. Each time I post, I promise myself that I’ll keep it short and snappy this time. But I never do. And that’s what I love about blogging. After three days of trying to cut 5800 words down to 3300, writing this has been sheer bliss!
Plus a Can’t Fail Writing Tip and More Daily Prompts
On my usual morning dog walk the other day, I took a different path. It was rough, muddy and overgrown – but there was this big, barky dog on the other path and I was in no mood for canine fisticuffs. And even though my dog promised to be on his best behaviour and that butter wouldn’t melt in his little spotty mouth (he’s a Dalmatian in case you think I’m getting personal) I didn’t really believe him. Or at least, I wasn’t prepared to take that chance.
But taking the more difficult path had its rewards, one of which was it took me somewhere I’d never been before and afforded a stunning view of the lovely Wells Cathedral, seen from a slightly different angle.
Back home, as I scraped the mud of the dog (and quizzed him as to how he managed to get some on the back of his head) I started thinking how good it is for life in general but my writing life in particular to move out of my comfort zone occasionally.
(And to pay him back for all that mud, here’s a rather inelegant shot of Duke looking totally in his comfort zone.)
But, dog walking aside, this is the time of the year when I move so far out of my comfort zone I go completely off piste.
So what am I doing? Can you guess from the last three items on my internet browsing history?
Italian processed meats
Witch name generator
The Addams Family
I’m writing a pantomime. Oh, yes I am!
For the benefit of overseas readers, a pantomime is a peculiarly British form of entertainment, put on around Christmas and the New Year and tells a story (usually a well known fairy story, such as Cinderella or Jack and the Beanstalk) where men dress as women, women dress as men, there’s lots of singing and silliness and the audience is encouraged to be very rowdy.
I live in a small Somerset village where for the last five years we’ve put on a pantomime. And every year, at about this time, I say I’m never, ever going to write another one. That’s it’s not my thing. That I write anything from short stories to full length novels; from magazine serials to a monthly column; from this blog to angry letters to my local paper complaining about the threat to our library service.
BUT I do not write pantomimes. Never again.
Then she-who-makes-things-happen comes to see me about 48 hours after the final curtain on the final performance of the last pantomime I will ever write and she says:
“I’ve been thinking, Paula. How do you fancy…..?”
Last year she reeled me in with Calamity Jane. And yes, I know I said pantomimes are usually fairy stories, but we do things differently in our small corner of Somerset. In my hands (because I can never write anything straightforward) Calamity Jane became Calamity Wayne and involved a man dressed as a woman who dressed as a man until ‘her’ transformation scene when he/she dressed as a woman.
Are you still following? It was complicated.
Where to start?
Once I’ve finished moaning (like I am now) about how I can’t write what she-who-makes-things-happen wants me to write and that it will never work, I start with the list of available cast members which gives me an idea of how many parts to write.
And yes, I know that’s probably not the way the Alans Ayckbourn or Bennett start writing their plays. But they’re not writing for a small village theatre group where everyone wants to be in the pantomime and the men’s ‘dressing room’ is a very small, very old caravan parked outside the village hall. It’s a bit of a challenge for the man dressed as a woman dressed as a man when he has to wriggle into a hooped crinoline for the final scene! But our members are nothing if not resourceful.
Once I know how many I’m writing for (and the numbers increase every year) I then start thinking about the characters’ names. This year, the ‘how do you fancy having a go at….? question was followed by… The Addams Family.
My answer was, not really. But here I am, after binge watching black and white episodes of the Addams Family on YouTube and I’ve got the title. “The Fladdams Family – the Panto.” This at least warns the audience that things might not be quite what they’re expecting. In fact, it’s going to be a sort of Addams Family meets the Sound of Music, with maybe a little bit of Downton Abbey thrown in. Oh, and lots of rude noises.
My ‘can’t fail’ tip for writing pantomimes.
If the script is dragging and you’re in need of a laugh, have Sound Effects make a rude noise. (He’s very big on rude noises, is our Sound Effects guy). Or say something rude about the people in the next village.
And if you really want it to go with a bang, then make a rude noise while saying rude things about the people in the next village. I promise, it will bring the house down (which, given the state of the ceiling in our village hall would not be difficult).
And those internet searches?
I was looking for characters’ names. So far, I have got:
Mortadella, his wife
Bugsy, their son
Thursday, their daughter
Evanora Crowe (Mortadella’s mother)
Dowager Countess Grimley
Pancetta Von Trip (Mortadella’s sister)
Uncle Pesto (Fernando’s brother)
Anti Pasta (his wife)
Grunch, the butler….
Albert Snaffles, international jewel thief
Sidney Sniffles, his side kick.
…… And assorted servants, villagers etc.
I could go on. But I’d better not. I’ve got a pantomime to write. Oh yes I have. (And this is where the audience shouts: Oh no you haven’t!)
Back to the sane world of blogging
I am very grateful to Helen Yendall for putting a link to this blog in hers. Helen’s blog (link to blog here) is a wonderful example of how to build and maintain an informative and entertaining blog. I am in awe of her!
I’m still finding my way around the blogging community and recently came across Helena Fairfax’s blog. ( link here) She’s writing about the inspiration behind and the writing process involved in her novel Felicity at the Cross Hotel (which I have read and very much enjoyed). Helena’s also included a list of writers in what she calls a ‘Round Robin’ who are also blogging about the same thing. It’s a fascinating list and I can’t wait to read them all. Yet more to add to my tottering TBR pile.
In the meantime, I’ve got to get back to the thing at the top of my even more tottering TBW (to be written) pile. So far, I’ve written:
Act 1, Scene 1. Front of curtain. Enter Albert Snaffles and Sidney Sniffles.
And that’s it. The rest of the page is a terrifying blank. Actually, that’s not strictly true. As I wrote in my last blog, Writers’ Prompts. A limitless supply of story inspiration sometimes sitting down and writing about not knowing what to write about is all it takes to unclog the log jam in your mind. I can now see exactly how that first scene is going to go now. Pity about the other five scenes though….
I hope you’re enjoying the prompts from my last post. (see above paragraph for link) In between my pantomime, I’m writing a crime short story based on the prompt ‘a host of golden daffodils’. (March 21st). I’ve almost finished the first draft and it seems to be working out ok. I’d love to hear how you’re getting on.
April prompts. 1st – 15th April.
These are the daily prompts for the first fifteen days of April.
There is no fool like an old fool
My father always told me….
The kindness of strangers
Cinderella, set in the present day… Or maybe even the future?
She lived alone and few could know/When Lucy ceased to be/But she is in her grave and oh,/ the difference to me. (Wordsworth)
These are the things you can trust.
You are standing on one side of a closed door.
Be careful what you wish for
The first book of crossword puzzles was published this day in 1924. Write about a puzzle fanatic.
‘He that stays in the valley shall never get over the hill.’
Hindsight is always twenty twenty.
Write about a person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing
There are some interesting nuggets in there, don’t you think? Who knows, I may be able to work one into my current work in progress. There’s nowhere in my rules that says it has to be a completely new piece of work.