I am delighted to welcome to my blog psychological thriller writer, Charlie Tyler whose debut novel, The Cry of the Lake, was published earlier this year. Here’s the book’s blurb
A gruesome discovery unravels a dark trail of murder and madness
A six-year-old girl sneaks out of bed to capture a mermaid but instead discovers a dead body. Terrified and unable to make sense of what she sees, she locks the vision deep inside her mind.
Ten years later, Lily is introduced to the charismatic Flo and they become best friends. But Lily is guilt-ridden – she is hiding a terrible secret which has the power to destroy both their lives.
When Flo’s father is accused of killing a schoolgirl, the horrors of Lily’s past come bubbling to the surface. Lily knows that, whatever the consequences, she has to make things right. She must go back to the events of her childhood and face what happened at the boat house all those years ago.
Can Lily and Flo discover what is hiding in the murky waters of the lake before the killer strikes again?
Hi Charlie and welcome to my blog. I really enjoyed your book. It was a fascinating read and very cleverly constructed. You certainly know how to crank up the tension! Congratulations on a very accomplished debut novel.
So, the question I ask everyone. Where did you get the idea from? (I’m sure that should really read ‘From where did you get the idea?’ but it just doesn’t sound right. Or is it just me?)
Lakes, ponds and fishes are all things which spark my imagination. My inspiration came from seeing a photo of a rickety boathouse, complete with a long, wooden jetty, leading out onto a lake.
I remembered being a child and fishing by the edge of a pond, collecting tiny creatures in jam jars and lining them up along the bank. I imagined a small girl lying on the jetty, catching minnows, and being told by her older sister that a mermaid lives beneath the surface of the lake; a mermaid called Myrtle who can only be seen at night when there is a full moon.
If that had been me, I would have been out the very same night, searching for the mermaid and that’s what led to me creating the main incident for the book. I envisaged the girl arriving at the water’s edge, but rather than seeing a mermaid, she witnesses a terrible crime.
Unable to process what she has seen she buries it within her mind. I built up the rest of the story around the fallout from what happens years later, when this memory is forced to rise to the surface again.
Great answer! My older sister used to tell me stories like that. They used to frighten the life out of me. In fact, come to think of it, they still do.
So, what inspires you most?
I am completely obsessed and inspired by water – lakes, rivers, ponds, though, curiously, not the sea. I daydream about lakes – maybe it’s because I’m often driving through Rutland Water. I also spend a lot of time out walking my dog. My house borders onto fields and quite quickly I can get to the canal, so I’m frequently out, marching along the towpath, passing through various small, chocolate-box villages which feed my description for an idyllic village life.
Sometimes, on my walks I see things and store them away for later use, for example, a couple of years ago I was walking through fields with my husband and daughter and we came across a fenced-off, rectangle of slime which we later found out was King Charles’s Well where he supposedly watered his horses when he came back from defeat at the battle of Naseby. Fast forward a couple of years and the well makes an appearance in The Cry of the Lake; I remembered it and thought it would make the perfect place to hold a village fete.
For bookish inspiration I look to anything written by the amazing Agatha Christie. How I wish I’d come up with the plots for ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ and ‘Then there were none’ – pure genius. I also adore Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series which I think has a perfect blend of description and mystery all cleverly tied up with two characters I’ve grown to care about.
Great to meet another Agatha Christie fan. She’s the reason I love reading and writing crime novels. How did your writing journey start?
I have been writing now for over a decade. I’ve written various different things, including a contemporary romance, a children’s book and a YA. For a couple of years, I was signed to a big literary agency, but sadly the book submitted was never sold. Not put off by this, I did a six month online Creative Writing Course which kept me going, but it was only this year that I signed with Darkstroke and they published The Cry of the Lake in July 2020.
And what are your future plans?
Whilst The Cry of the Lake was doing the rounds, I was already three-quarters of the way through another novel which is set in a girls’ convent school. Two bodies are discovered, hidden in the crypt of an Abbey, but the police cannot make any headway into how or why they got there. They have to send in an undercover policewoman to try and engage with the girls and figure out what secrets they are hiding.
Sounds great! I am really looking forward to reading it. Thank you for some great answers and now, to round it off, please tell us three things we may not know about you.
I am terribly squeamish and find writing murder scenes absolutely horrendous. Sometimes just the thought of what I’m writing about makes me cry – I’m such a big baby.
I adore spicy food, but if it’s too hot I get a nosebleed which isn’t great for my dinner companions.
My absolute favourite type of fiction to read is historical. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy is the perfect match for me.
Thank you so much for answering my questions so patiently, Charlie. There’s just one thing I wish I’d asked you but didn’t. What’s the name of your gorgeous dog?
Charlie signed with Darkstroke in May 2020 and The Cry of the Lake is her debut novel.
Charlie is very much a morning person and likes nothing more than committing a fictional murder before her first coffee of the day. She studied Theology at Worcester College, Oxford and now lives in a Leicestershire village with her husband, three teenagers and golden retriever.
Have you ever read a review for a book that’s not your usual choice of genre, but tried it on the strength of a review? I did that recently when I read a review of Audrey Davis’s book, The Haunting of Hattie Hastings.
I don’t usually read books with anything remotely ‘supernatural’ in the title, but I’m so glad I made an exception for this one. It’s a lovely story, told with wit and charm with an array of interesting characters and some real laugh out loud moments.
So I contacted Audrey and asked if she’d be interested in appearing in my monthly column, Ideas Store, in Writers’ Forum. And also, of course, on this blog.
Thankfully, she said yes!
Welcome, Audrey and thank you for agreeing to be featured and for answering my questions.
First, the question all authors are said to dread.
Where didyou get the idea for The Haunting of Hattie Hastings?
I can only say ‘spooky’ forces were at work, because it literally came out of thin air. Looking back, the name – Hattie Hastings – materialised first. I started writing a chapter about Hattie and her husband with only the vaguest notion of where it might go. I imagined them as an everyday couple, ordinary people leading ordinary lives. In Chapter One I wanted to paint a picture of this normality, with Gary lapping up his moment singing in the spotlight, and Hattie wishing she could get to bed. From there, I added their twenty-year-old son, Johnny, and his reluctance (or inability) to make something of his life. But, where was it all heading? Only as I neared the end of that first chapter did inspiration strike. What if Gary died, then came back to haunt Hattie?
Always a sucker for a spot of alliteration, the title provided the bare bones of the story. As a confirmed ‘pantster’, I did little in the way of plotting, preferring to let the story and characters develop with each page. Hattie needed a best friend. What if that friend had her own set of problems? Who else could Hattie turn to when Gary reappeared? Gradually, other family members and friends crept in, whispering in my ear (a definite case of ‘voices in my head’.)
Although I don’t necessarily believe in an afterlife, I was drawn to the idea of a place where lost souls are assigned guardians and tasks to fulfil. Here was potential to mix things up with humour and pathos, because I enjoy the balance between comedy and sadness. Making people laugh is a gift, as is bringing a tear to someone’s eye.
The Haunting of Hattie Hastings was originally published as a novella trilogy. Partly because I wanted to experiment with releasing books this way, but mainly because I was still ‘winging’ it! In the lead up to publication day, I was working on the next instalment with still no fixed idea of how the story should progress. Surrounded by white cards and random scribblings, possibilities presented themselves, many of which were discarded.
Taking on board pleas for the trilogy to be released as a standalone novel, I went ahead and combined the three parts. Many people have asked how the book came about. I usually mumble, ‘not sure, really’. Probably best not to mention my ‘imaginary friends’ …
So you have ‘imaginary friends’ as well? So glad it isn’t just me! That’s fascinating. And I love how Hattie started as a novella trilogy and sort of evolved
You’ve written other books, I see. Including one called “A Clean Sweep”. How did that one come about?
The inspiration for my debut romcom novel, A Clean Sweep, came from an unexpected visitor a few years after we’d moved to Switzerland,” she says. “I answered the door one morning to discover an extremely attractive young man with a van. He gestured to my beloved yellow Mini Cooper, and said, ‘Madame, il y a un lapin sous votre voiture.‘ My French was basic at the time (and hasn’t improved greatly), but I understood enough. Yes, there was a fluffy bunny hiding under my car, my neighbours’ pet with a fondness for hopping into our garden.
It turned out that my good-looking gentleman caller was the local chimney sweep, calling to organise the cleaning of our chimney and to check the central heating boiler. I later learned that all households are required by Swiss law to have this carried out annually.
Fast-forward many years – and visits by this charming man – and I embarked on an online course in Writing Fiction. Scrambling around for ideas for a short piece, I thought of my chimney sweep and imagined a relationship between him and an older woman. No, I wasn’t fantasising, honestly! Once I’d completed the course, I couldn’t get the story out of my head.
From there, a couple of chapters about Joe and Emily took wings and – several months later – I had over 80K words. Along the way, other characters knocked at the door (metaphorically speaking), and I submitted the MS to an editor in the UK. She came back with (gulp) a 14-page report, and the suggestion that I expand on the book club element which I’d only touched on briefly. As a member of a book club at the time, I was able to draw on my experiences but I hasten to add that everyone in A Clean Sweep is entirely fictional!
That’s great, thank you so much. So tell us about your writing in general.
I write romantic comedy, but like to incorporate real-life challenges and issues (such as illness/divorce/loneliness) to balance humour with pathos. My two (soon-to-be-three) books are all standalones, but I did write a short, dark prequel to A Clean Sweep entitled A Clean Break. I also offer a short book entitled When Hattie Met Gary on my author website as a freebie leader magnet. Which makes me sound much more promo-savvy than I actually am!
Do you have a particular writing method? (I think I might know the answer to that, from what you have already said about writing Hattie!)
I only learned the terms ‘plotter’ and ‘pantster’ well into my fiction writing journey. It’s safe to say I’m much more of a pantster. I envy authors who can plot and plan every detail, proudly displaying a wall in their office plastered in Post-It notes, their book drafted out meticulously on Scrivener with character notes, detailed chapter synopses and a clear beginning, middle and end. My only concession to being organised is scribbling random thoughts on white postcards and printing out a calendar for my most recent book. Chiefly because the timeline was a total disaster!
I’ve always written, but as a journalist from the age of 18. A very different discipline, and my career went off track after I moved from a video magazine in London to Singapore, then Australia and – in the late 1990s – to Buckinghamshire. Two boys, relocation stress and house renovations meant I had little time or energy to write more than shopping lists. I am so grateful to FutureLearn (an offshoot of the Open University) for rekindling my passion for writing and for the many people I’ve subsequently connected with on social media for believing in me. Twitter, Facebook etc often get a bad press, but the writing community is a rock-solid source of encouragement when all you want to do is bang your head repeatedly on the keyboard.
You’re so right about the positive side of social media. There are some wonderfully supportive groups out there.
So, tell us three things we might not know about you.
1. I interviewed Rowan Atkinson back in my London days, after Blackadder, one of my all-time favourite shows. He was more nervous than me, but revealed his next project was ‘about a man who doesn’t say very much, and gets into all kinds of comic capers.’ The rest, as they say, is history …
2. I’ve bungee jumped in Cairns, scuba-dived on the Great Barrier Reef, Fiji and Vanuatu and screamed my head off on some of the scariest theme park rides in the world. Nowadays, I get scared driving on the Swiss autoroute!
3. Speaking of scary, I adore movies/shows that give me the heebie-jeebies. Ever since I cowered on the sofa watching Dr Who do battle with the Cybermen (and my Mum realised I was coming down with measles), I’ve been a huge fan of all things terrifying. Top two off a very long list – Sean of the Dead (love the comedy/zombie combo) and Train to Busan, a Korean corker I’ve watched three times. It makes the journey between Edinburgh and Dumbarton East seem like a stroll in the park …
Thank you so much, Audrey, for such a fascinating interview. And now for those all important links.
I am delighted to welcome the multi-talented (and multi-published) Olga Swan to my blog this week.
Olga was featured in the November issue of Writers’ Forum, where, for the last twelve years I’ve had a column called Idea Store. In it, I ask writers the question they’re all said to dread: Where do you get your ideas from?
I love writing my column each month but nothing ever stays the same, least of all in the ever changing world of publishing, and my one page column has now been slimmed down to half a page, which means half the word count. I’m not complaining, as it means I still get to write my column, even if it is a new slimmed down version. Ever since I started writing for Writers’ Forum I have expected the editor to say “Time for a change. You’ve had a good run – and thanks, but no thanks” and every year, when the production schedule pings into my inbox I heave a sigh of relief as I hope it means I’m ‘safe’ for another year. (It doesn’t, of course, but that’s the way I think).
The first writer to feature on my new slimmed down page (I wish I could say that I have slimmed down to match!) is Olga Swan, who prepared her piece back when I still had a whole page for my column. So, her appearance in the November issue was little more than a name check, I’m afraid. (And no, I did not do the editing and yes, I have apologised to her.)
So this is now your chance to read her interview with me in all its fullness. It’s a fascinating and touching one and I hope you enjoy it.
Welcome to my blog, Olga. So, let’s get the big question out of the way first
Where do you get your ideas from?
To date I have written 10 books and my third non-fiction book, An Englishwoman in America, was released in both ebook and paperback on 11 June 2019. My writing career as a whole stems from the fact that I lost my parents and both siblings fifty years ago and, since then, I’ve been desperate to continue our (unusual) family name by writing under the nom de plume of Olga Swan (an anagram of my late brother’s name.)
An Englishwoman in America is a humorous look at how the British and the Americans view each other. The cover image gives a snapshot of what lies within. My inspiration for writing it dates back to when I was growing up in the 50s. I couldn’t understand why four of us (my mother, 2 brothers and myself) were all shy and introverted, yet my father was loud, extrovert and so large as life in everything he did. Eventually I understood. He’d lived a considerable time in America. Should I then follow his lead and move to America? Would that make me more outgoing? The book required lots of research:from immigration tomes to other works in the genre to personal holiday diaries and precious travel memoirs from my father to internet sources.
When people ask me about my typical writing day, I reply that I don’t really have one. I tend to do everything on the hoof. As soon as inspiration hits, I head out to our tiny conservatory, which has plenty of light- particularly from above which helps my SAD- wait an interminably long time for my laptop to get going and then start typing. My problem has always been that I write too quickly and too much, meaning there are lots of deletions to be made later! When deciding on the names for characters, it’s different for non-fiction, where so many names and places have to be correct to be a true account. When I finished writing An Englishwoman in America, I just changed the names of family members so they wouldn’t be cross with me!
As far as plotting is concerned, for An Englishwoman in America, I found it helped enormously to include a Contents page, with chapter headings and chronological years listed. In this way, I was forced to keep to the itemised structure. However, as far as the main ‘factional’ narrative was concerned, I just let it develop as I wrote. I do find, though, that having written both fiction and non-fiction, that I use different parts of my brain: the back of my head for the former, but the front for the more observational needs of non-fiction writing.
In general, the best part of the writing process is being accepted by a publisher and seeing the first sales graph rise like a phoenix from the ashes. The worst? Not being accepted by leading literary agents not because of the quality or otherwise of your submitted work, but because you don’t already fit today’s need for ‘celebrity’ status.
Now that An Englishwoman in America is out there and published, my feelings are immense. I hope that, at last, I have made my late family proud of me.
I’m sure they are! Your body of work is a great achievement and a wonderful tribute to them.So, tell us a little about your books, please.
First, many thanks Paula for welcoming me onto your esteemed blog.
An Englishwoman in America is non-fiction, but as with my two previous non-fiction books (Pensioners In Paradis and From Paradis to Perdition), it’s written in a readable, factional style. It comprises a combination of information about America, its people, origins and how their culture evolved and morphed from the mainly English styles that crossed the Atlantic in the time of the Pilgrim Fathers. It contains much humour as I contrast just how differently the British and Americans do and say things.
Hopefully it will be the forerunner of a series of An Englishwoman in…..
The Book’s blurb
From 1950s Britain to Donald Trump’s America, no-one is left unscathed. How are Britain and America divided over subjects such as language, culture, humour, health, sport, government, gun laws, religion, patriotism, and even sex? Find out in Olga Swan’s scintillating – but essentially humorous – account of why her love for America was first kindled, followed by her views on the way of life in diverse places such as New York, Florida, New England, Arizona or California. Lastly, Olga has added a hilarious guide, where her pin-point wit nails just how the Americans and the British do things very differently. Hold onto your hats!
What inspires you most? Characters? Settings? Books you have read?
When writing non-fiction I’m inspired by such writers as Simon Sebag Montefiore, with his wealth of knowledge and factual research. For non- fiction I always enjoyed books by such writers as Leon Uris with his ability to transport the reader to different times and exotic places.
How did you writing journey start?
The first novel I wrote was Lamplight (authl.it/4q0), an historical piece set in 1912 Birmingham, spanning 1920s New York through to 1938 Nazi Germany. My late brother Alan typed my first hand-written draft onto his portable typewriter.
That sounds fascinating – and a lovely link with your brother. What are your future plans?
It’s difficult to pinpoint how my career will progress exactly as I write in so many different genres, including a series for 9 – 15s, but I expect my next book will be the successor to An Englishwoman in America.
And finally, how about telling us something we might not know about you?
My writing career started far too late! I was born in the baby-boomer period which followed WWII, enduring rationing and a life without TV, telephone, car or even the NHS when I was born. But better late than never!
Thanks for a lovely interview, Olga. That was really great. And now for those all important links
Social Media Links, website etc.
I write a political and cultural affairs blog every Sunday, which attracts readers from all over the world: olgaswan.blogspot.com
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.
Today I am delighted to welcome Katharine Johnson to my blog.Katharine is a very talented writer and I recently read and enjoyed her novel, The Silence.Although I have asked Katharine on my blog to talk about her latest novel, The Suspects.
Hi, Katharine.And welcome to my blog.Let’s kick off with that question all writers are said to dread (and which appeared in my Ideas Store column in Issue 214 (August 2019) of Writers’ Forum magazine.
Where did you get the idea for your psychological thriller, The Suspects from?
The idea was probably born many years ago during my own house shares as a student and graduate in the 1980s and 1990s – although my experiences were much less exciting and terrible than those of my characters.
But I suppose one of the reasons I chose a house share situation was because I’ve been thinking about them again recently as one of my daughters is about to graduate and the other one’s about to start university in Bristol so they’ll be looking at shared accommodation. (Although with hindsight it might not have been the best time for me to be thinking too much about this!)
I wanted to capture that optimism and anticipation you feel when you move in with a group of people, but also play on that frisson of doubt about how well you’ll get on together and how well you really know each other. It’s one thing to worry about the people next door but when you’re under the same roof there’s no escape.
I liked the idea of a house share because it provides a claustrophobic environment in which the characters find themselves dependent on each other for their survival but are increasingly fearful of the enemy within.
As the saying goes, you don’t truly know someone until you live with them.
My five characters have very different tastes, habits and political beliefs. Throw into the mix a shared mortgage, falling house prices and rocketing repayments at the height of Thatcher’s Britain and you have a potentially explosive situation.
But things get so much worse when they discover a body after one of their parties – and it’s clear they’ll be the first suspects. Because they each have reasons from their past not to trust the police they make a decision which will force them into a series of secrets and lies – but can they trust each other?
There are light-hearted moments as the tensions build between the characters and I had fun researching this bit – I’m grateful to everyone who shared their housemate-from-hell story with me! But there is also a gathering angst and paranoia as they question each other’s ability to keep a secret, and discover some shocking truths.
As with my other novels (The Silence, The Secret and Lies, Mistakes and Misunderstandings), my main characters aren’t bad people but they make a bad choice. I like to put ordinary people in extraordinary situations and see how they cope.
I chose to tell the story in the confessional first person narrative from a single viewpoint as I hoped it would make it feel more immediate. My worry was that I’d never be able to convince the reader but I’ve been thrilled with reviews such as “It’s actually worryingly easy to forgive them their mistakes”,“I could completely understand how they talked themselves into doing something so reprehensible”, “I felt like I was not only reading the story but living it as well” and “My heart was racing at times as I shared their guilt.”
Would you have made the same decisions my characters did? Hopefully not, but if you read the book I hope you can understand why they made the decision they did, and most of all I hope you enjoy reading it.
That’s fascinating, Katharine.Thank you so much.So now, let’s moveon to your writing in general.What inspires you most? Is it characters? Settings? Or maybe even books you’ve read?
All of those. I think initially I get excited about a situation. Then I think about the characters as they will determine how the story unfolds.
And how did your writing journey start? Have you always written?
I’ve always enjoyed making up stories and wrote my first book aged nine on my plastic typewriter. It was a collection of stories about a naughty chimp (still unpublished!). My grandmother encouraged me to write when she was babysitting – probably as a way to keep me quiet.
What was your first published piece?
My first published piece would be a story for my local paper in Bristol. I think it was about a couple that lived on a traffic island because they refused to move out of their home when a road was built.
My first fiction piece was many years later for Take A Break Fiction Feast about a very badly behaved bridegroom’s mother at a wedding and her daughter-in-law’s revenge.
You had a very wise grandmother!And your Take a Break story sounds fun.So tell us about your future plans, please.
I’m working on another, more conventional and very contemporary psychological thriller. I’m also very excited about a co-writing project with another author about a well-known artist.
And I have several bits of novels and a whodunnit series I’d love to make progress with if I can find the time.
That sounds fascinating.I’m looking forward to your next thriller and intrigued by your co-writing project.It sounds as if you, like me, are desperately waiting for someone to invent the thirty hour day!
In the meantime, how about sharing three things about you that we might not know?
As a teenager I (very briefly) joined a religious sect.
The first time I tried an avocado I was so horrified by the taste I fainted but it’s now one of my favourite foods (something I tell my children to encourage them to try new foods!)
I’m ambidextrous (but my handwriting’s terrible in either hand)
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone fainting at the taste of an avocado before!That was a great interview.Thank you for a great interview and the best of luck with your latest book.I have just moved it nearer to the top of my tottering To Be Read pile and am really looking forward to reading it..
Please read on for the blurbs from Katharine’s books, the all important buy links and her social media links.
Two girls growing up in Mussolini’s Italy share a secret that has devastating consequences.
Against a backdrop of fear, poverty and confusion during the Second World War, friendship is tested, and loyalties are divided until a chance encounter changes everything.
Their lives diverge when beautiful, daring Martina marries and moves into Villa Leonida, the most prestigious house in their Tuscan mountain village, while plain, studious Irena trains to be a teacher.
But neither marriage nor life at Villa Leonida are as Martina imagined. And as other people’s lives take on a new purpose, Irena finds herself left behind.
Decades later, a tragedy at the villa coincides with the discovery of an abandoned baby, whose identity threatens to re-open old wounds among the next generation.
Bristol, 1988. Five young graduates on the threshold of their careers buy a house together in order to get a foot on the property ladder before prices rocket out of their reach. But it soon becomes the house share from hell.
After their New Year’s Eve party, they discover a body – and it’s clear they’ll be the first suspects. As each of them has a good reason from their past not to trust the police, they come up with a solution – one which forces them into a life of secrets and lies. But can they trust each other?
Doctor Abby Fenton has a rewarding career, a loving family, an enviable lifestyle – and a secret that could destroy everything.
When human remains are discovered in the grounds of an idyllic Tuscan holiday home she is forced to confront the memories she has suppressed until now and relive the summer she spent at the villa in 1992. A summer that ended in tragedy. The nearer she gets to the truth the closer she comes to losing her sanity.
In order to hold onto the people she loves most, she must make sure they never discover what she did. But the reappearance of someone else from that summer threatens to blow her secret wide open.
Nothing much has gone right for Jack since he graduated last year. His career has failed to take off, his fiancée has ditched him for someone with better prospects and now he’s received an invitation to their wedding. He dreads going to the wedding alone, surrounded by his high-achieving friends, so when he meets a beautiful girl who offers to accompany him he jumps at the chance.
But by accepting her invitation he finds himself drawn into a world of intrigue and murder.
Katharine Johnson is the author of four novels. She grew up in Bristol and currently lives in Berkshire. She’s been a magazine editor and has written for lots of magazines, mostly in the home and lifestyle sector, as well as short stories and a history book. When not writing you’ll usually find her reading, drinking coffee, exploring cities, playing netball, guiding people around a stately home (not her own!) or out walking with her writing buddy, Monty the spaniel.
When I started this blog it was with the intention of posting every couple of weeks or so and chart my journey from publication of my first novel, Murder Served Cold, and beyond as well as featuring other authors.And I did manage 24 blog posts since I started the blog in April 2018, so it was all going ok.At the time of my last blog post Murder Served Cold had beenpublished and I was (sort of) looking forward to the launch of the second.
But then…. stuff intervened.Family stuff.Work stuff.But mostly ‘why did I ever think I could make it as a writer?’ stuff.
The second book in my Much Winchmoor Murder Mystery series, Rough and Deadly, wasn’t exactly launched with champagne breaking over the bows andbrass bands playing as it raced down the slipway and hit the water with the force of a tidal wave.Instead there was barely a ripple as it slipped quietly in and skulked around in the shallows.And it was all my own fault.It had some lovely reviews and my grateful thanks to all those lovely people who took the trouble to leave a review.
But now I need to sit myself down, reread those reviews carefully in the hope that this will give me the confidence I need to get back in the boat* and start paddling like mad. No brass bands maybe, but perhaps a little toot on a penny whistle. (*I was going to say ‘get back on the bike’ there but the pedant in me wouldn’t permit such a mixed metaphor).
I love writing.And I particularly love writing my Much Winchmoor series and working on the third one is the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition.But, oh, the marketing. The self promotion.The need to be constantly running on the treadmill that is social media just to stay still.It paralyses me.
When I meet people who have read my books, one of two things happen.Either they say they enjoyed it in which case I feel acutely embarrassed and try to shrug it off and change the subject or they don’t mention it at all and then I assume that they absolutely hated it but are too kind to say so.
So what has all this whingey whiney stuff got to do with not blogging for four months? As excuses go, it’s a pretty lame one. “I found out that while I can write ok, I am absolutely rubbish at promoting and marketing. ” But as I said, the never ending to-do list that is my marketing plan paralyses me.Overwhelms me.Sends me off in a frenzy of house cleaning. filling in my tax return, or looking at pictures of Dalmatians (all better behaved than mine) on Pinterest.
But, no more.Today I am making a start by catching up on my blog posting because I have a very special guest to welcome.One who not only writes brilliant books but is equally brilliant at promoting them.
So, enough about me and on to what brought you to this page in the first place.
Where does crime writer, Alice Castle, get her ideas from?
Hi Alice and welcome to my blog. And to the question that every writer is said to dread. Where do you get the idea for your books from? And how did you settle on the lovely Beth Haldane?
I’ve been reading whodunits since the age of 12 but it took me about forty years to start writing my own. My first novel was chicklit and I worked on the sequel for ages, getting nowhere, wanting to kill my heroine, before I thought, ‘wait a minute… that’s an idea.’ Then, as a massive Miss Marple fan, I looked around for my own St Mary Mead to set the stories in. I’d just moved out of Dulwich and missed it very much and that affectionate nostalgia, added to some useful distance, made it seem the perfect spot. I was keen to write a series so I thought hard about a sleuth who would be quirky and slightly annoying, so people would think they could do better than her, but who would still remain engaging enough to have people on her side. I wasn’t at all interested in creating another of those omniscient male detectives who looks down on the female victim laid out on a mortuary slab and swears to wreak vengeance on ‘the man who did this.’ Those books can be great but that wasn’t what I wanted to write. Then, once I’d thought of the title of the first book, Death in Dulwich, I was off.
Setting is so important, isn’t it? Even though the only time I’ve ever been to Dulwich I was stuck in an horrendous traffic jam, reading your books has made me want to visit the area again and check out all those lovely coffee shops! So, what made you decide to set the stories there?
I’ve always lived in south east London and I love my slice of the city. We’re twenty minutes by train from London Bridge yet there’s enough green spaces and birdsong to feel as countryfied as I want to get. South London is quite run down and has its share of urban woes so, sadly, it’s fertile territory for a crime writer.
Is there anything from your life before you became a writer that you feel has been of use to you as a crime writer?
I was a feature writer on the Daily Express but occasionally covered big news stories – as a journalist you’re exposed to a lot of facts which are too grisly to make it into the papers. You also need a glancing knowledge of the law and of policing to cover a lot of stories so it’s pretty much a crash course in crime writing – except you’re supposed to avoid fiction
The first in the series was Death in Dulwich published in 2017 and now you’re about publish the sixth in the series, The Body in Belair Park on June 25th.How do you see it continuing?Or would you like to write something else?
I love the London Murder Mysteries series and already have a seventh book planned. I’ll continue for as long as anyone will read the stories and publish the books. I do have other projects on the go – I’ve written a psychological thriller and I’m going to try my hand at script writing. It’s good to have changes of pace and direction to keep things fresh.
I’m delighted there’s going to be more in the series and have already pre-ordered The Body in Belair Park which I’m really looking forward to.
So, what inspires you most when you’re creating a new story?Characters?Settings? Books you have read?
I think I’d have to say my heroine, Beth, is my biggest inspiration. I like to see what she’ll do next when she’s up against it – it’s never anything I would do myself.
And how did you writing journey start?Have you always written?What was your first published piece.
I’ve always written. A kind teacher said something nice to me about a snippet of writing when I was about 5 and that was enough to make me feel it was something I could do. I’m very grateful to that teacher. I used to make miniature magazines for my dolls – I still have a copy of Good Mousekeeping I made when I was about 9. My first published piece was an article in The Sunday Telegraph when I was 20 and at university. Then life, children and a career intervened for a bit and my chicklit novel Hot Chocolate finally came out when I was 46. Death in Dulwich was published in 2017.
Thank you so much for a lovely interview, Alice, and for all the reading pleasure your books have given me. Also, for inspiring me to stop whinging and get on with things.
Alice’s Author Bio and social media links
Before turning to crime, Alice Castle was a UK newspaper journalist for The Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Her first book, Hot Chocolate, set in Brussels and London, was a European hit and sold out in two weeks.
Death in Dulwich was published in September 2017 and has been a number one best-seller in the UK, US, France, Spain and Germany. A sequel, The Girl in the Gallery was published in December 2017 to critical acclaim and also hit the number one spot. Calamity in Camberwell, the third book in the London Murder Mystery series, was published in August 2018, with Homicide in Herne Hill following in October 2018. Revenge on the Rye came out in December 2018. Alice’s sixth London Murder Mystery adventure, The Body in Belair Park is published on June 25th. Once again, it will feature Beth Haldane and DI Harry York.
Beth Haldane, SE21’s answer to Miss Marple, thinks she is going for a carefree stroll on Peckham Rye with her best friend, Katie, and her annoying new puppy, Teddy. But before Beth knows it, she is embroiled in her most perplexing mystery yet.
Strange events from her family’s past, present-day skulduggery in the art world, and the pressures of moving school in south London threaten to overwhelm Beth. Will she be able to piece together the puzzle before her son’s crucial interview at Wyatt’s? Or will Beth’s insatiable curiosity finally drag down all her dreams for the future?
Join Beth, her irascible on-off boyfriend, Detective Inspector Harry York of the Metropolitan Police, and the dog walkers of Peckham Rye in a tale of murder, mayhem – and bloody revenge.
These last few weeks have been pretty manic as I juggle the demands of marketing Murder Served Cold (link to my book here) with the equally urgent demands of finishing off its sequel, provisionally entitled Rough and Deadly in order to meet a December deadline that’s galloping towards me faster than the January sales.
I’m used to writing to deadlines, having written a monthly column in Writers Forumfor the last eleven years (although the editor would probably confirm I’m one of those contributors who make the deadline by the skin of their teeth each month).
But writing a novel to a deadline is a very different matter.
But even so, that’s something I am far more comfortable with than the other thing that’s been demanding my attention like an over-indulged two year old since way before my book launch in October.
The. Dreaded. Marketing!
My Big Scary Blog Tour
One of the first things I did was to sign up for a blog tour. (But even that, I left a bit late and the blog tour took place several weeks after my launch date.)
What Rachel (and others like her) does is gather together a number of book reviewers who will, in exchange for a review copy of the book, read it and, hopefully, review it. (although they are under no obligation to do so) on such places as Amazon, Goodreads etc. Reviews are of vital importance to an author as they do so much to improve a book’s ‘findability’. (Have I just made that word up?)
Until my book was published, nobody had read it except my publisher and my editor.Even my husband hadn’t read it.And, to be honest, I don’t know which was most terrifying – the thought of people I know reading it or people I don’t know reading it.
Now, I ‘m not a stranger to writing.I’ve had over 400 short stories and serials published in various magazines both in the UK and overseas.But the thing about writing for a magazine is that you only (!) have to please one person – the editor.Either he/she likes it, in which case you have a sale.Or he/she doesn’t and it’s back to the drawing board. As for the readers, if they don’t like what you’ve written, they can move on to something else within the magazine. So it’s not a complete waste of money for them.
Over the years I’d got used to this way of working.I have even, in that time, had some very positive feedback from readers, which is pretty rare in the world of magazine writing – or at least it was for me. (Do let me know if you’re one of those lucky writers who have loads of positive feedback all the time.I’ll probably be insanely jealous but I’ll give you a name check!)
Leaving the comfort zone
I am, like many writers, an introvert.It takes a lot to persuade me out of my comfort zone and I don’t mind admitting I’ve found the whole process of bringing a book out both terrifying and exhausting. Each day the learning curve appears steeper.
But none more so than the start of my blog tour.
It lasted a week and I could hardly sleep the night before, for fear of what the reviewers were going to say about it.I’ve heard about far, far better writers than me getting 1 or 2 star reviews and having to deal with the crippling effects these can have on a writer’s confidence.
But I didn’t have any self confidence to start with, so I was pretty sure that a bad review would mean the end of my career as a writer of crime novels.I know many writers suffer, as I do, from what’s known as ‘imposter’ syndrome, the belief that you’re not as good as everyone else and it’s only a matter of time before you get found out.
So I was taking a pretty big gamble with this blog tour.But then again, if I didn’t do it, then only a handful of people were going to hear about my book and this would make my publisher (and me) very sad.
The results are in…..
But I’m glad to say the reviews were good. I’m sure part of is thanks to Rachel’s skill in selecting reviewers who will probably enjoy books written in my genre.
In fact, the reviews were much better than I dared hope.Shall I put them on here?Probably not because although my lovely mum (to whom my book has been dedicated) has been dead a long, long time she still murmurs in my ear every now and again and is even now telling me not to ‘show off’. (She wasn’t that impressed with Murder Served Cold either and told me I was ‘no Agatha Christie’)
But having said that, if she was still around, she’d have been that proud of me people would have crossed the road to avoid having to listen to her banging on about it! (Even though I’m no Agatha Christie).
But sadly, showing off is what book marketing is all about – which is why I’m not very good at it.But this is where the value, to me, of this blog tour came in.
I’m not sure if Rachel and her reviewers have any notion of how their kind words (Rachel was brilliant and very reassuring every time I started panicking!) saved this fledging new career of mine.Every day of the tour, with each good review I grew a little in confidence until by the end of the week I began to believe that I might just have written a book that people might actually want to read.
It’s a really big deal when someone buys my book and I feel the responsibility keenly. I want to give each and every one a hug. Unlike a magazine, the reader’s money is totally wasted if they don’t like my work. It’s not like they can flip over to the recipe section to find something they do like as they can in a magazine. But it’s not just money they’ve wasted. It’s the time they’ve invested in reading my book. That’s an awesome responsibility.
So to all those readers who took a chance on this unknown (to them) author, a big thank you.And to those lovely readers who leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads etc, an even bigger thank you.
And for my next meltdown…..
I’m now going through yet another crisis of confidence as I am getting close to finishing the second book in the series.Writers thrive on the question ‘what if?” Asking and answering it can lead to many a good twist and turn.But sometimes those two little words can work against you.
What if Murder Served Cold a fluke?Am I about to get found out after all?
But that’s a blog for another time.I started writing Rough and Deadly (provisional title) on a high.It was great meeting up with the characters from Murder Served Cold (those who hadn’t been murdered of course) and I couldn’t wait to see where they would take me this time.
But then came the doubts.The what ifs….What if I can’t do it again?What if I’m one of those people who can only write one book?What if….
Dalmatians.A special anniversary
This week sees us celebrating a very special anniversary.It’s exactly a year since we collected our rescue Dalmatian, Duke, from BDW, British Dalmatian Welfare via a wonderful couple who fostered him while he was between homes and saved his poor damaged tail. (Thanks, Cass and Geoff!)
When you register with BDW, you are asked to fill in a wish list of the sort of dog you would like.
Our wish list went like this.
Good with children.
Doesn’t chase cats.
Good with other dogs.
A boy dog.(Although a bit less of a boy dog than when we first had him).
He was not very good with children, but is getting better as he gets to know the grandchildren (who are all very patient and gentle with him)
Very bad with cats and as one of my sons has three cats, this has led to some very expensive dog boarding bills when we go to visit.
Not at all good with other dogs. Particularly since he got beaten up by a Bull Mastiff and now is now firmly in the ‘Get in first’ camp.
He makes us laugh.Every day.(Except when he’s indulged in 2, 3 or 4 above. Or stolen food. Or rolled in fox poo. Or… I could go on but it would be a very long list.)
He makes us walk.Every day.(This is not always a plus)
We have poo bags and dog treats in every bag and pocket.
We love him very much.He has enriched our lives in ways that cannot be measured.
My next post
I’ll be talking to author Rosie Travers and asking her where she got the idea for her book “Theatre of Dreams” from. I will also post the Daily Prompts for 1st to December 15th.
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 can’t believe Publication Day (October 19th) is just a little over a month away.I’ll be absolutely honest and admit that the thought has me almost frozen with terror.They say having a book published is a bit like having a baby and I am at that stage where I seem to be focussing on the negatives. All the pain without the gain.
What if no one reads it?Or, what if everyone I know reads it and hates it?What if they’re too embarrassed to say they hate it? (I have some very kind friends)
And what if people think they recognise themselves in some of the characters and are offended?This is my other really big fear.All the characters in the story are pure products of my (some would say twisted) imagination but of course they are inspired by the people I meet.
In fact, Murder Served Cold(link here to pre-order) would never have come into being at all if it wasn’t for an overheard conversation in my local pub.I was busy writing short stories at the time but realised that the idea that came from this overheard conversation had the makings of a much longer crime story.
In fact, it became a short, 2 part serial of just 8,000 words which was snapped up by the then Fiction Editor of Woman’s Weekly, Gaynor Davies, a lovely, totally professional editor who was a joy to work with and to whom I owe so much. (And still miss very much indeed)
How this 8000 word serial became an 80,000 word novel is the subject of another post.But a word of warning:if you remember reading “A Dish Served Cold” in Woman’s Weekly back in 2008, then I’m very sorry but you probably already know the identity of the murderer.On the other hand, if you do remember the story that clearly from ten years ago, then I’m very flattered!(And there have been lots of exciting plot developments in the meantime, I promise.)
Writing this was sooooo hard!!!!! (as Kat, my main character would say because she’s a bit of a drama queen). The 80,000 words of the novel skipped off my laptop (well, more or less) but a 150 word blurb? That was something else and I am extremely grateful to my publishers, Crooked Cat Books, for their experienced guidance on this.
So here, at last, is the blurb that graces the book’s back cover.
A quiet English village where nothing ever happens. Until…..
After her boyfriend runs out on her with the contents of their joint bank account, Kat Latcham has no choice but to return to the tiny Somerset village of Much Winchmoor where she grew up.A place, she reckons, that is not so much sleepy as comatose and she longs for something to happen to lessen the boredom of living with her parents.
But when she and her childhood friend, Will Manning, discover a body and Will’s father, John, is arrested for the murder, Kat suddenly realises that she should have heeded the saying “Be careful what you wish for”.
Much Winchmoor is a hotbed of gossip and everyone is convinced John Manning is guilty.Only Kat and Will believe he’s innocent.When there’s a second murder Kat is sure she knows the identity of the murderer – and set out to prove it.But in doing so she almost becomes the murderer’s third victim.
Readers of Sue Grafton might enjoy the Much Winchmoor series of cosy murder mysteries spiked with humour and sprinkled with romance.
Talking of Which….
One of the ways authors who are far more experienced than me deal with the worry of how a book will be received is to get on with the next one.And that’s exactly what I have been doing.
Like Murder Served Cold, the second in the Much Winchmoor series started life as a serial for Woman’s Weekly. This time it was a three part serial, entitled Rough Justice and featured the same characters.You can imagine, I thought I’d hit the jackpot when I approached Gaynor with the idea for the next in the series and she said yes.
Sadly, she didn’t have the same enthusiasm for the third in the series (she felt there had been ‘rather too many murders’ in the magazine recently) and the idea stalled.But Kat, Will and all the other characters in Much Winchmoor (at least, the ones who hadn’t been murdered or sent to jail) wouldn’t go away and kept nagging me to tell their stories.