The Trouble with Titles (or ‘I’ll Know It When I See It’)

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.

Archie

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.

Where does crime writer Robert Crouch get his ideas?

It’s a great pleasure to welcome fellow crime writer, Robert Crouch, to my blog this week. 

I first ‘met’ Robert on the UK Crime Book Club on Facebook.  This is a brilliant group (link here) whose almost 11,000 members include a mix of readers and writers, including some very well known crime writers.  

The site was set up in 2016 by David Gilchrist with the aim of discussing and promoting the work of (mostly) UK crime writers and is one of my favourite  Facebook groups.  I am grateful to David as, through his group I’ve come across some brilliant, new to me authors, including Robert Crouch.

I really enjoyed No Accident, the first book in a series featuring Environmental Health Officer Kent Fisher.  I was intrigued by this unusual choice for a ‘sleuth’ so I contacted Robert and asked if he’d be interested in being interviewed for my column, Ideas Store in Writers’ Forum with the option of a longer interview for this blog.

Thankfully, he said yes!

The Writers’ Forum interview is in the current issue but unfortunately, as a result of lockdown the magazine’s publishers put publication on hold.  It was published recently, but as many of the WH Smith stores are still closed (at the time of writing this) this issue did not reach its usual number of readers.

So I am reproducing the interview here in which I ask Robert where he gets the ideas for his books.

Ideas Store, Writers’ Forum Issue 223.

“When I had the idea to write crime fiction, I wanted to create something new and distinctive, something different from the police procedurals and private eyes novels around. I wondered if an environmental health officer (EHO) like me could solve a murder,” he explains.

“I was driving around my district when the idea came to me. There was only one small problem. You wouldn’t walk into your local council offices and ask an EHO to investigate a murder. But what if the murder wasn’t a murder? What if it was something an EHO could investigate – like a fatal workplace accident?

“If the murder was disguised as a work accident, the police would leave the investigation to environmental health. Time for my hero, Kent Fisher, to step forward in No Accident, the first novel in the murder mystery series.

“After solving the murder, he’s a local hero with the credibility to investigate more.

“Aware I’d created something unique, environmental health had to be an integral part of the stories. I could give readers a glimpse into a world they knew little about, and plunder my extensive experience for inspiration and ideas.

“I’ve used infectious diseases, such as E. coli, which can kill the vulnerable, in No Bodies, the second mystery. If anyone dies without relatives to bury them, the local council step in. I used this in No Remorse, to draw Kent into another investigation.

“In No More Lies, the police seek his assistance with a cold case, linked to a café he closed for poor hygiene ten years before. The latest novel, No Mercy, features a restaurateur from hell, who complains about the poor hygiene rating his restaurant is awarded. When he’s found dead inside his deep freezer, Kent Fisher becomes a suspect and has to solve the murder to clear his name.

“The ideas aren’t restricted to murder. Having managed an environmental health team through austerity and cuts to public services, I use my experiences in the backstory, to add more depth, conflict and drama to the novels.

“EHOs work differently from police officers. EHOs can go into most workplaces and food businesses, offering almost limitless opportunities for settings, situations and plots that will hopefully keep my stories fresh and interesting for a few more years.

“But while I may harvest my experiences for ideas, everything is fictionalised to protect people. It’s also far more exciting to write.”

Of course, Robert Crouch isn’t alone in using his day job as material for his writing.  Agatha Christie herself qualified as a pharmacist’s assistant in 1917 and went on to use her extensive knowledge of pharmaceuticals in many of her novels. 

A few years ago now I worked as a village correspondent for my local newspaper and covered such exciting (not!) events as parish council meetings, jumble sales and flower shows.  I particularly liked covering flower shows as they always had long lists of prize-winners – and I got paid by the line.

 So when I was looking for an occupation for Kat, the main character in my Much Winchmoor Mysteries series, this was an obvious choice as it gave her the opportunity to go around asking questions.  She’s found, as I did, that the job doesn’t pay very well, so she’s also a dog walker (handy for discovering dead bodies in out of the way places) and a barmaid (incredibly useful for overhearing local gossip and, sometimes, careless alcohol fuelled talk).  

Kat has what is called in recruitment consultant speak as a ‘portfolio career’, which, according to her is: “when you don’t have one decent full time job but a variety of rubbish part time ones that no one else wants to do and for which you get paid peanuts. With, of course, zero staff benefits, such as holiday or sickness pay.”

Do you use the experience gained in your day job in your writing?  As always, I’d love to hear from you.

………………….

No Accident.  The Blurb.

A former gangster is dead. It looks like an accident. Only Kent Fisher suspects murder.

When the police decide Syd Collins’ death is a work accident, they hand over the investigation to environmental health officer, Kent Fisher, a man with more baggage than an airport carousel.

He defies a restraining order to enter Tombstone Adventure Park and confronts the owner, Miles Birchill, who has his own reasons for blocking the investigation. Thwarted at every turn, Kent’s forced to bend the rules and is soon suspended from duty.

He battles on, unearthing secrets and corruption that could destroy those he loves. With his personal and professional worlds on a collision course, he knows life will never be the same again.

Inspired by Agatha Christie and Sue Grafton, Robert Crouch brings a fresh voice and a new twist to the traditional murder mystery.

Agatha Christie fans will love it.’ Tamara McKinley.

Me

That made a great interview for the magazine, Robert.  Thank you.  Now for the ‘extras’. So, what inspires you most? Is it characters?  Settings? Or maybe books you have read?

Robert

This is almost impossible to answer inspiration is everywhere.  It could someone you see in the street, an overheard snippet of conversation, a headline in a newspaper, a comment on social media.

I love the characters I’ve created, the relationships they have, and the way they develop with each story. I love the South Downs setting I’ve created, Kent’s animal sanctuary, his workplace and job. I love coming up with the most complex and baffling plots I can.

But most of all, being different inspires me most.

It’s taking situations and themes you wouldn’t normally associate with crime fiction and building murder mysteries around them. A murder investigated as a work accident throws up a very different type of story and process.

My sleuth is an environmental health officer. He works differently to a police officer. When I started, I thought an EHO would struggle to investigate a murder. After all an EHO doesn’t have the powers, technology, forensic support, national database, DNA and a team of dedicated officers to help.

Instead, my EHO has to be more imaginative and creative to get to the truth. He has to work much harder and approach a murder investigation in a different way. That’s what inspires me most.

Me.

Being different certainly works for you. Your settings are great and I love the touch of authenticity your day job gives you.

So, how did your writing journey start? 

Robert

Like many authors, I imagine, it began with reading. My father taught me to read the newspaper when I was four, so I had an early start. When I started senior school, English soon became my favourite subject, especially the writing stories. I always achieved high marks thanks to my love and enthusiasm for stories.

For my 13th birthday, I asked for a typewriter and produced a comic/newsletter to entertain my friends. When I’d saved enough money from my paper rounds, I bought a much sturdier portable typewriter and wrote my first novel at the age of 17.

It still sounds pretentious, no matter how I describe it. That’s why I didn’t tell the publisher my age, believing they would think I was a precocious kid who thought he knew it all. They sent me a lovely letter, which I still have, complimenting me on my characterization and dialogue, but no offer to publish.

Sometimes, I wonder if life would have been different had I revealed my age.

Life, women and work got in the way after that. While I kept writing, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that I published my first piece of work. It was an article on the harmful effects of bonfire smoke. I sold it to national magazine, Practical Gardening and received about £40, I think.

More articles followed, including a regular column in Writers’ Monthly on technology. Computers were starting to become more widely available, along with the internet and email. It was great to get in at the beginning and secure a regular feature, which ran until the magazine closed down.

But I’d always wanted to write novels. After a couple of mediocre psychological thrillers, I found my niche with murder mysteries, thanks to Miss Marple, Morse and a fictional PI called Kinsey Millhone. Determined to use what I knew, I created Kent Fisher, an environmental health officer who solved murders. The stories were intended as a contemporary classic whodunit in the vein of Agatha Christie.

Thanks to Fisher’s Fables, a humorous blog about my experiences as the manager of an environmental health team, I found my author voice. It led to my first crime novel, No Accident, being published in 2016. Since then I’ve written four more whodunits.

Me.

I remember Writers’ Monthly and have always loved technology so I probably read your column!

What about your plans for the future?

Robert

I can’t think beyond the Kent Fisher novel I’m writing. As a pantser, I don’t plan in any detail. I usually have a scene, a snippet of dialogue or a theme I’d like to develop and start from there. As I write each chapter, the story becomes more complicated. I have more ideas as I progress until I reach a point where I have a fairly good idea what the story is about.

As the actions of Kent Fisher and other characters determine where the story goes, there are always surprises in store. They don’t always behave as expected and can take the story to places I hadn’t foreseen. When this occurs in the backstory, it can have a profound effect on what follows.

Before I start the next book in the series, I have to consider all the backstory issues, like Kent’s work, his animal sanctuary, relationships. Once I know where I’m going with these, I begin to think about the murders.

As long as this continues to work, and I write to a publishable standard, I will continue with the Kent Fisher mysteries.

I’ve also started writing a collection of the humorous events that I’ve had during my career as an environmental health officer. It’s provisionally entitled, When a Health Inspector Calls, and is a work in progress.

Me.

Sounds great!  I’ll look out for it.  Now, tell us three things we might not know about you.

Robert.

  1. I’m half Italian, though I can’t tell you which half.
  2. I won a national 500-word short story competition at the age of 12. This is what prompted me to ask for a typewriter for my 13th birthday.
  3. At the age of four, I almost drowned in a swimming pool. We were in a circle, playing Ring a Ring a Roses and I went under. No one noticed for some time, I was told, so I was lucky to survive. I was 15 before I plucked up the courage to enter a swimming pool again. That’s why I’m happy to remain on dry land.

Me.

Thank you so much for a fascinating interview, Robert.  It’s been fun.

Social Media Links, website etc.

Website – https://robertcrouch.co.uk

Twitter – @robertcrouchuk

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/robertcrouchauthor

Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B01HFPCYOM

The all important buy link.

No Accident – https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0747S2YMP

Author Bio

In a crowded crime fiction market, it’s difficult to offer readers something original and fresh.

Inspired by his love of cosy murder mysteries, featuring characters like Miss Marple, Kinsey Millhone and Inspector Morse, Robert Crouch drew on his extensive experience as an environmental health officer to create a different kind of detective.

Only Kent Fisher’s not a detective – he’s an environmental health officer who uncovers a murder only he can solve.

This fresh approach to the murder mystery adds a contemporary and often irreverent twist to the traditional whodunit, offering readers something familiar but different.

After reading No Accident, bestselling author, Tamara McKinley, believes ‘Agatha Christie fans will loveit.’

My short story – The 100 Day Journal (and an update on Duke)

Duke – an update

Our 9 year old rescue Dalmatian, Duke, has caused us a lot of worry when he had to have emergency spinal surgery in November and has since had to learn to walk again. His recovery is slow, which as anyone who knows Dalmatians will appreciate is not something that comes naturally to them. But, thanks to the skill of the nurses and surgeons at Langford Veterinary College and loads of physio and hydrotherapy he is getting there. Our biggest challenge is keeping him quiet and calm!

Note: The above picture shows him quiet and calm. This does not happen very often!

One of my favourite short stories

I was delighted to be a guest on crime writer Robert Crouch‘s blog recently and he asked some really interesting questions which were a joy to answer.

But the one that stood out – and the reason for this post – was: ‘what was the best compliment you’ve ever received for one of your books?’  (A great question to ask an author!)

I said:

“I think the best compliment of all is that someone has taken the trouble to read one of them and I am grateful to each and everyone of my readers, particularly those who are kind enough to leave a review.  I treasure every single one.  

“But one of my most treasured compliments came from a story I wrote for Woman’s Weekly.  It was about a widow, struggling to come to terms with her husband’s sudden death,  who was persuaded to keep a journal to write down her feelings.  She did so quite reluctantly but gradually came to discover just how very therapeutic writing can be. The magazine forwarded a letter they’d received from a reader, saying that she too had been recently widowed and that after reading my story, had tried keeping a journal.  And it had worked!  She found (as all writers know) that writing can be the best therapy.  That just blew me away!  

“In fact, while I’m thinking about it, I am going to put that story on my blog,”

And here it is!  So, if you’ve come here from Robert’s excellent website, welcome.

The 100 Day Journal

It was a beautiful book.  Thick creamy pages and a butter soft leather cover in a deep midnight blue.  Sue frowned as she flicked through the empty pages.

“What is it?” she asked out of politeness.  She didn’t really want to know.

“It’s a journal, Mum” Melanie said.  “You write in it.  I read this article that said how writing can be a good therapy and I thought it might help.  You know, if you write about how you’re feeling, that sort of thing.”

Help? If Sue had the energy, she would scream at her daughter.  “You think writing about my feelings would help?” she’d yell. “That putting a few words down on a page is going to fill this huge gaping hole in my life since John died?”

But Melanie was looking so anxious, so eager to help that Sue’s little spark of anger faded away, to be replaced by the usual numbness that settled back around her shoulders like an old grey blanket.

“Thank you,” she said quietly and put the book on the coffee table, intending to put it in a drawer later.  

Melanie gave a long shaky sigh, like she’d been holding her breath. “I read the article and it says that for it to work, you need to write in it every day for 100 days.”

Sue shook her head.  “I don’t think I can do that. I wouldn’t know what to write about.”

“Oh, that’s easy.  You just write about what you’ve done, or seen.  Maybe even what you feel.”

“But I can’t write -“

“It doesn’t matter.  You’re the only one who’ll see it.  Promise me you’ll give it a try, Mum?”

She looked so anxious that Sue found herself promising and quite forgot to ask why one hundred days.

Day 1.

Melanie came. Gave me this book. Said I should write in it every day for 100 days.  How I feel, what I’ve done. That sort of thing.  All nonsense really but I promised to give it a go.

Day 2.

Today I did – nothing. Felt – nothing.  Saw – nothing.

Day 3.

Today I did – nothing. Felt – nothing.  Saw – nothing.

Day 7 (I think. Forgot to count)

Today I did – nothing. Felt – nothing.  Saw – nothing. As usual.

Day 8

Melanie came. Asked how I was getting on with the journal.  Showed her and I could see she was disappointed that I’d written the same thing on every page.  But that is what my life is like now.  Same nothingness. Every day. No point in trying to explain though.

Day 9. 

Today I did – nothing. Felt – nothing.  Saw – nothing.

Day 10.

Today I did – nothing. Felt – nothing.  Saw – nothing. (Added later) Not true.  My sister came by and I’m really quite cross with her.  I thought it better to write it down rather than say it to her face.  Margaret, you’re a bossy, interfering woman.  Always has been ever since we were children.  Just because she’s a couple of years older than me, she thinks she knows what’s best for me. 

And now she wants me to meet this – this Arthur.  But there’s no way I’m going to do that.

Day 11.

Nothing. 

Day 12.

Margaret came today.  Took me to meet this Arthur.  And it was really funny.  He didn’t want to know me any more than I wanted to know him.  Ha! Serve her right for interfering.  “Give him time,” she said.  “He needs to learn to trust again. He’s got no reason to trust humans, not after the way he’s been treated.”

Day 13

I went to Margaret’s precious Animal Rescue Centre again today.  I wasn’t going to but that dog’s sad eyes haunted me so that I couldn’t sleep last night.  I told her I didn’t want a dog.  She said fine.  I told him I didn’t want a dog and that it was nothing personal but he turned his head away and wouldn’t look at me.  Margaret says it’s the human contact he needs.  He says (in dog body language) ‘Go away and leave me alone.’  Well, I know that feeling well enough.  So I will respect his wishes.

Day 14

Didn’t go to the Animal Rescue Centre.  But I can’t help wondering how Arthur is.

Day 18.

Margaret called to say Arthur’s not eating and they’re worried about him.  Said he seemed to have taken to me so will I come?  But when I got there, he was as aloof as ever.  But this time, instead of leaving him, I sat down next to him and talked.  There in that scruffy little cage thing that is now his home, I told him things I’ve never told another human being. Of course he’s not a human being. I know that. But even so I told him how frightened I was when John collapsed, how I was frozen into inaction.  How I’m sure there were things I could have done to have saved him.  CPR, I think they call it.  Only I didn’t.  I just stood there, shouting his name and panicking. How I thought if I shouted at him loud enough, he’d come back. And how guilty I feel about it now and how I can’t look  our Melanie in the eye, because my pathetic behaviour robbed her of her beloved Dad.  Arthur didn’t respond.  Kept his head turned firmly towards the wall and I can’t say I blamed him.

Day 23

I slept better last night.  Must be all the exercise I’m getting, now I’ve taken to going up to the Rescue Centre every day to walk Arthur.  Not that he seems to enjoy it.  Just plods around the field, does what he has to do.  Never stops to sniff or follow rabbits.  Still won’t look at me when I talk to him but  after we’ve finished our walk and I take him back to his pen, I sit down beside him and keep talking anyway.  Now that I’ve started talking to him, I can’t seem to stop.  He doesn’t tell me what to do, or say that I’m doing great when I’m not – or tell me what I should be feeling. So I told him about the central heating playing up today and how fixing it was always John’s job.  I was going to ask Margaret’s Brian to look in and sort it for me.  But do you know what, I got out the manual, read it through carefully, twiddled a few knobs and what do you know?  Job done.

Day 28 (I think.  Losing count!)

Melanie’s going to tell me off for not writing in this every day  but I can’t see what good it’s doing.  Every day is much the same.  I go to the Rescue Centre most days to walk Arthur and have a chat.  But he doesn’t respond.  Maybe that’s what I like about him.  I can (and do) talk to him about everything and he doesn’t try to make things right for me, or tell me what I should do or how I should be feeling.  He doesn’t respond to me in any way.  Except today.  Today, I was telling him about how I’d woken up this morning, thinking I’d had this awful dream about John being dead.  And that crushing, awful thud to my stomach when I looked across to his side of the bed and realised it wasn’t a dream.  As I was saying this, I felt something cold on my hand and went to brush it away, when I realised it was Arthur’s nose.  He touched my hand briefly then went back to his customary staring at the wall.

Now what am I going to do?  I told Margaret and she said that was a brilliant sign, that I was the first human he’d responded to.  But I don’t want him to respond to me. I don’t want him to be dependent on me.  And I certainly don’t want a dog.

Day 30

Five more nothing days.  I decided not to go to the Rescue Centre, that I was being selfish, letting Arthur think I cared about him when if I’m honest, I was only using him as a sounding board.  Might as well talk to the wall, like Shirley Valentine.  Only I don’t.  Any more than I talk to this journal.  Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

Day 32.

I went to the Rescue Centre again today.  Had to check up on Arthur one last time.  Margaret wasn’t there and the girl on the desk didn’t know me.  But when I went to Arthur’s pen, there was another dog there.  I asked the girl what happened to the other dog, the weird looking brown one with mis-matched eyes called Arthur and she said he’d gone.  Has he been rehomed?  Or was he -? She didn’t know.  Said she’d go and find out.  But I didn’t wait for her to come back.  I hurried away, came home and cried my eyes out.

You see, I knew I shouldn’t have got involved with that dog and am furious with Margaret for pushing me into it.  Then, in the middle of my cry, what do you know?  The bloody central heating broke down. Again.  Nothing I ever do works and I –

Day 33

What a day.  I was writing this yesterday when Margaret came by.  She said Gilli at the Rescue Centre was worried she may have upset me.  About Arthur.  It was her first day and she doesn’t know any of the animals or the helpers.  So, what about Arthur? I asked, hardly daring to breathe.  He’s fine, she said. Missing you though.  All the time you were coming, he was gradually improving, eating a little more, taking more of an interest.  But he’s gone back to the way he was when he first came in now.

I felt a wave of relief. I thought he was…  

Day 34.

I don’t want a dog.  I told Arthur that and he’s ok with that.  I said I’d come and visit him at the Rescue Centre and he shrugged and turned his head away.  I told him I was busy and wouldn’t have time for daily walks.  And that my garden probably isn’t big enough.  And I don’t have room in my kitchen for a dog basket.  He said nothing.  

I said I have the TV on too loud which he would hate.  I told him that I get days when I’m very, very low and don’t want to talk to or see anyone.  And that I’m grumpy in the mornings. I told him next door has a cat who would hiss and spit at him.  That there was probably room in my bedroom for his basket provided he didn’t snore.  And that if his presence in the garden kept next door’s cat away from my bird table, that would be a good thing.

He said nothing.  But gave a tiny, almost imperceptible flick of his tail as he touched my hand with his cold, cold nose.

Where does author Rosie Travers get her ideas from?

On my blog this week, I’m delighted to share with you an interview with author Rosie Travers who appeared in my Ideas Store column in the December issue of Writers’ Forum.

Ideas Store. Issue 206. December

IMG_3510In the current issue of Writers’ Forum,  (Issue 206, December 2018) my column, Ideas Store features two authors whose books I have recently read and enjoyed.  They are “Theatre of Dreams” by Rosie Travers and “The One That I Want” by Lynne Shelby

Because I’m always pushed for space in my column, I’m only able to use a small part of the interview I did with these writers.  But here, on my blog I can  bring you the interviews in full.  

This week I’m focussing on romantic novelist, Rosie Travers and hope to bring you Lynne Shelby’s interview next week.

Rosie Travers

Me 

Hi Rosie, and welcome to my blog.  So, where did you get the idea for your debut novel, Theatre of Dreams?

Rosie

In my debut novel, The Theatre of Dreams, a devious octogenarian recruits a disgraced actress and a bankrupt architect to play a part in an elaborate plot to save a historic seaside pavilion from demolition. The idea was partly inspired by a building – the Lee Tower entertainment complex in Lee-on-the-Solent in Hampshire. The Lee Tower was built in 1935 and demolished just 40 years later by the local council. When I learned about the existence of this vast art deco pavilion in what is a small, sleepy coastal town my imagination was well and truly captured.  I wondered why the complex hadn’t been preserved for future generations and decided to re-write history. I already had the character of a veteran performer with a somewhat chequered past in my head and now I’d found her a purpose – saving her family’s seaside theatre.

Me

What is your genre?  Is it a series or standalone?

Rosie

I like to think of my writing as feel-good fiction. The Theatre of Dreams covers many themes – friendship, family loyalty, ambition, as well as containing a family tragedy, an unsolved mystery and a romance – it’s hard to put it into one box. It is a standalone story although I haven’t discounted the idea of a spin-off in the future!

The blurb

Book 2.jpg
The stunning cover of Theatre of Dreams!

Musical theatre actress Tara is down on her luck and in desperate need of a job. When terminally-ill octogenarian Kitty invites her to take over the running of her former dance academy in the old-fashioned resort of Hookes Bay, Tara thinks she’s found her guardian angel. But it soon becomes very clear Kitty is being far from benevolent. Too late, Tara realizes helping Kitty will signal the end of an already tarnished career, unless she can pull off the performance of a lifetime.

Me

It’s a lovely book and I really enjoyed reading it.  So tell me, what inspires you and how do you plan your book?  

Rosie

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Rosie Travers

I tend to start with characters. I am a pantser not a plotter so once I have come up with a character I play around with various scenarios until I find one which works. The planning comes later and once the characters start telling their own stories, they don’t always stick to my plan at all. The Theatre of Dreams ‘evolved’ with plot twists and back stories way beyond my original idea but that’s how I like to write. 

Me:

And how did you writing journey start?  

Rosie

I scribbled numerous stories as a teenager but didn’t start writing seriously until I was in my forties, when I gave up working to accompany my husband overseas. My first published piece was a short story in a local magazine.

Me  

Thanks, Rosie, That was great.  So, finally, what are your future plans?  I’d really love to read more from you.

Rosie

My second book, Your Secret’s Safe With Me, a romantic suspense set on the south coast, will be published by Crooked Cat in 2019.  

Author Bio and social media links

I grew up on the south coast of England and after initially training as a secretary I juggled a career in local government with raising my family.  I moved to Southern California with my husband in 2009 and began a blog about life as an ex-pat wife which re-kindled a teenage desire to become a writer. On my return to the UK I took a part-time creative writing course and following some success in short story competitions, I joined the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers’ Scheme. My debut novel, The Theatre of Dreams, was published in August 2018 by Crooked Cat Books.

Buying link: https://mybook.to/theatreofdreams

https://www.rosietravers.com

Twitter: @rosietravers

https://www.facebook.com/rosietraversauthor/

Instagram: @rosietraversauthor

https://romanticnovelistsassociation.org/rna_author/rosie-travers/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk,/rosie9257/

Daily Prompts.  December 1st to 15th

1. Write about a particularly evocative scent.

2. Broken promises

3. “If only I hadn’t….”

4. Write about something that makes you go hot with embarrassment.

5. Catch a falling star.

6. Opening line.  It was at 6.45am on Monday 21st December that I decided to kill…. (You choose)

7. An invitation refused

8. It’s later than you think.

9. “A sad tale’s best for winter.  I have one of sprites and goblins”. Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

10. Write about a time you gave in to temptation and stole something.  Truth or fiction!

11. At the other end of the street.

12. “The frost performs its secret ministry/Unhelped by any wind.” ST Coleridge, Frost at Midnight. 

13. Passing time.

14. An overheard remark.

15. You’re in a supermarket and you realise someone is following your every move.

Where does romantic comedy writer Lizzie Chantree get her ideas from?

Lizzie Chantree

I’m thrilled to be introducing the second author in my new series “Where do writers get their ideas from?” and featuring her two most recent books.

I bought Lizzie’s first book, Ninja School Mum, because I was intrigued by the title. (And it has a brilliant cover!) And it did not disappoint.  It was a great read.

NSM cover small

Me. Hi Lizzie, Thank you so much for agreeing to be on my blog.  Now for the question every writer is said to dread:  Where did you get the idea from?

LC:

I got the idea for my book Ninja School Mum after looking around the school playground and thinking how strange it would be if someone had an incredible secret and they weren’t who they said they were.

Me: What is your genre?  Is it a series or standalone?

My genre is romantic comedy. This book is a standalone at the moment, but in the future, it will be part of a series.

The book’s blurb.

Obsessive-compulsive school mum, Skye, is a lonely elite  spy,  who is running from her past whilst trying to protect the future of her child. She tries hard to fit in with the other parents at her son’s new school, but the only person who accepts her unconventional way of life is new mother, Thea.

Thea is feeling harassed by her sister and bored with her life, but she suspects that there is something strange about the new school mum, Skye. Thea has secrets of her own and, although the two become unlikely friends, she hesitates to tell Skye about the father of her own child.

Zack’s new business is growing faster than he could have dreamed but, suddenly, he finds himself the owner of a crumbling estate on the edge of a pretty village, and a single parent to a very demanding child. Could he make a go of things and give his daughter the life she deserved?

When three lives collide, it appears that only one of them is who they seem to be, and you never know who the person next to you in the school playground really is

Me: What inspires you most?  Characters?  Settings? Books you have read?

LC:

From this list, I’m inspired by all three! When I read a wonderful book, it’s usually the setting, characters and often previous books from the author that make me want to write more of my own stories.

Me: How did you writing journey start?  Have you always written?  What was your first published piece?

LC:

My writing journey began when my youngest daughter was unwell for many years (she’s fine now). I had to stay up at night to listen to her breathing, so I decided to write a book full of sunshine, to keep my sanity and my eyes open during those dark hours. We have recently found out that she has severe allergies, but she’s coping really well.

I’ve written since I was quite young and always had a passion for reading. 

My first self-published work was my first book. I was offered a book contract for the manuscript, but had to turn it down due to my daughter’s health. I have published two books with Crooked Cat Books this year. 

Me: What are your future plans?

I plan to keep writing more books as I really enjoy my job and I’ve met so many supportive readers and writers. I’d love to see my books made into films too. A girl can dream! 

Ninja School Mum can be found at this link here.

Me: And your second Crooked Cat book?

LC

This was published in July 2018 and is called ‘If you love me, I’m yours…’ 

IYLMIY cover small

The ‘blurb’

Maud didn’t mind being boring, not really. She had a sensible job, clothes, and love life… if you counted an overbearing ex who had thanked her, rolled over and was snoring before she even realised he’d begun! She could tolerate not fulfilling her dreams, if her parents would pay her one compliment about the only thing she was passionate about in life: her art.

Dot should have fit in with her flamboyant and slightly eccentric family of talented artists, but somehow, she was an anomaly who couldn’t paint. She tried hard to be part of their world by becoming an art agent extraordinaire, but she dreamed of finding her own voice. 

Dot’s brother Nate, a smoulderingly sexy and famous artist, was adored by everyone. His creative talent left them in awe of his ability to capture such passion on canvas. Women worshipped him, and even Dot’s friend Maud flushed and bumped into things when he walked into a room, but a tragic event in his past had left him emotionally and physically scarred, and reluctant to face the world again.

Someone was leaving exquisite little paintings on park benches, with a tag saying, ‘If you love me, I’m yours’. The art was so fresh and cutting-edge, that it generated a media frenzy and a scramble to discover where the mystery artist could be hiding. The revelation of who the prodigious artist was interlinked Maud, Dot and Nate’s lives forever, but their worlds came crashing down. 

Were bonds of friendship, love and loyalty strong enough to withstand fame, success and scandal?

If you Love Me, I’m Yours can be found here

Having read and enjoyed Ninja School Mum,  this one is definitely on my To Be Read Pile.  I’m really looking forward to it.

Thank you, Lizzie, for a great interview.

Lizzie’s Social media links 

Website: www.lizziechantree.com.

Author page: viewAuthor.at/LizzieChantree

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Lizzie_Chantree

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lizzie.chantree.3

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lizzie_chantree/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/LizzieChantree/pins/

…. And finally, the Daily Prompts for November 16 -30

I’m setting out below the daily prompts for the second half of November.  Please check out this post (link here) for details on how to use them.

Who knows?  One of those prompts might lead to a full length novel that I’d be delighted to feature on my blog.

16. The sound of loneliness.

17. Write about making beds.

18. Praise makes good men better and bad men worse (Proverb)

19. If I could have my time again.

20. It was her idea of a good time.

21. Trying to break a bad habit.

22. A postcard

23. A bundle of old letters found beneath the floorboards.

24. So it has come to this.

25. On this day in 1952, Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” opened, the world’s longest running play.

26. Write about passing time.

27. “I still can’t say goodbye” (song title)

28. An invitation to dinner.

29. Write about asking for mercy.

30. A time you laughed so hard it made your sides ache.

Do let me know if these, or any other prompts, have inspired you.  I would love to hear from you.

Dog walks, hurdles and a murder mystery.

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).

DukeBales

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 is  about being consistent.  Blog regularly, she advises.  

Ah yes, I thought.  I can do this. So  I 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.  

To make up for it, I’ll put the Daily Prompts from May 16th – June 15th  at the end of this post.  And if you’re new to this blog and wondering what on earth I’m going on about, check out the post (Writers’ Prompts.  A limitless supply of story inspiration) on how to use the prompts.  

I’ve written a pantomime.  Oh yes I have!

In my post of 25th March The Path Less Travelled and why it (sometimes) pays to take it I described the fun I was having writing our village pantomime.  This year, we’re doing The Fladdams Family – the Panto, which is based, very loosely indeed, on the TV programme The Addams Family.

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 which  sits 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.

notebookpage.jpeg

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 I  sit 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.

Daily Prompts

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.

JUNE

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)