A meander down Memory Lane and a short ghost story, The Blue Lady

I hope you’ll forgive me for indulging in a bit of nostalgia this week. (Correction: a lot of nostalgia) But in my column, Ideas Store, in the current issue of Writers’ Forum, I am writing about the house I grew up in and how it inspired my sister and I to make up stories (usually involving ghosts).   There wasn’t room on my page for the story itself so I’m setting it out below and including some more detail about the story behind the story and the farm where I spent most of my childhood.

The house was an old Manor House, parts of which dated back to the 16th century (picture below) and before you run away with the idea that I am one of the landed gentry, let me explain some of the house’s more recent history.  

It was on a 350 acre farm in South Somerset, set in a stunning location which I’m afraid I didn’t appreciate at the time, mostly because it was in the middle of nowhere and at the top of a very steep hill.  I had to push my bike up with an overflowing school satchel cutting in to my shoulders after a long school day which started with a 2 mile bike ride, a 10 mile bus ride and a 15 minute walk – and ended the other way around in the evening.  (At least in the mornings the bike ride was downhill)  But the bus journey gave me chance to catch up on my homework – and check out the boys from the Grammar School.  (I went to an all girls school)

The farm and manor house was bought by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) back in the 1950s.  The farm had the most up to date machinery money could buy (my dad was the farm mechanic and looked after it all) and the idea was to run a model farm to show the farmers how brilliant ICI fertiliser was and how they could improve their  own farms by using it.  It would probably have been cheaper to have taken out a few adverts in the Farmer and Stockbreeder, I would have thought – but what  do I know?

So, the house, which I now see is a grade 2 listed building, was split up into four parts, one being the farm offices and the other three into dwellings for the farm workers.  It was a beautiful house, with high ceilings, tall mullioned windows  and acres of space.  I am one of six children and we had moved from a very cramped cottage.  I can still remember the joy of moving into that house and have vivid memories of my younger brothers riding a sit-on wooden train that Dad had made for them that first Christmas round and round the huge kitchen/living room.  

I loved Henley (in spite of it being in the middle of nowhere) and was desperately sad when my parents finally moved out, even though by then I’d long since left home.  My parents were still living there when I got married and we had our wedding reception in the farm’s Conference Room.  And, as you can see below, one of our wedding pictures was photo-bombed by  the ICI roundel!

There were six other families on the farm, many with young children so although we were several miles from the nearest town  there was always someone to play with.  I was a very bossy little girl and soon had all the other children on the farm press ganged into appearing in my various plays and pageants.  One of these, a pageant written for St George’s Day involved a lot of galloping around singing “For all the saints who from their labours rest” and precious little story.  This event turned into a complete fiasco when one of my younger brothers refused to be an angel any more and quit his post on top of an oil drum in the middle of the performance. It was the inspiration behind one of the first short stories I ever sold.  It was to Woman’s Weekly and called Angels on Oil Drums.

But the short story I want to feature this week is The Blue Lady, which, like many of my stories had its origin at this time of my life.  My sister and I would make up ghost stories, based on the house and its long history, and frighten each other to death. The Blue Lady was our favourite and the only one we can still remember.  What is interesting about that story is that it has now found its way into the local folklore.  

So when many years later I wanted to write a ghost story I remembered our Blue Lady and incorporated her into the story which ended with what I thought was quite a neat twist.  

THE BLUE LADY

‘For goodness sake, come in and shut the door.’ Jane Armstrong scowled at the woman who hovered behind her in the doorway. ‘I don’t pay you to stand around gawping like a goldfish.’

Elizabeth Parry, a  timid grey woman in her mid-fifties, flinched but didn’t move. ‘I’m s-sorry. – ‘ she stammered as she backed away. ‘I  can’t stay here.’ 

‘What?’  Jane was astonished.  She wasn’t used to people standing up to her, least of all mouse-like Elizabeth.

‘I said I can’t stay here. Oh, Mrs Armstrong, something terrible’s happened here. Can’t you feel it?’

‘The only thing I feel is the urge to slap some sense into you.’ 

Elizabeth wrapped her arms around her thin body and shivered.  ‘It’s like – listen!  Can you hear it?’

‘All I hear is your idiotic babbling.’

‘Up there.’  Elizabeth pointed towards the upper landing.  ‘Oh, please, let’s get out while we can.’

This time even Jane heard the low, rasping noise, like something heavy being dragged across the floor.  She strode to the bottom of the stairs and called up: ‘Who’s there?  Show yourself at once.’

A door opened and a plump, red-faced woman with hair like steel wool leaned over the banisters.

‘My life, you startled me,’ she said.  ‘It’s Mrs Armstrong, the new owner, isn’t it? The agent said you wouldn’t be arriving until this evening. But not to worry.  I’m done here.’

She bustled down the stairs, her blue plastic bucket overflowing  with polishes and dusters

 ‘There’s your precious ghost, ‘ Jane sneered.  ‘A cleaner, moving a bit of furniture.  Am I right?’

The cleaner nodded then peered anxiously at Elizabeth’s pale face.  ‘Didn’t mean to startle you, my dear,’ she said. 

‘So now we’ve solved the mystery of your so-called ghost, Elizabeth, do you think you could do some work?  It is after all what I pay you for.’

But Elizabeth shook her head.

Jane  snorted. ‘Did you ever hear such nonsense, Mrs –er?’

‘Minty. Sarah Minty.’

‘Well, Sarah Minty, this madwoman here refuses to stay in this house,  Says it’s haunted, even though I’ve proved to her the ghost doesn’t exist. She’s losing her mind.’

‘If she is then so’s half the folk in this village.’ Sarah said. ‘She’s not the first to be afraid of Waytown Hall.  Several around here swear they’ve seen a ghost in this house  I’m one of the few who’ll set foot inside.’

‘You’re obviously far too sensible to believe in all that nonsense.’ Jane said.  

‘I believe in the spirits,’ Sarah said quietly.  ‘But I know this one means me no harm, though some think she was responsible for Major Harvey’s death.  He was the old gentleman who lived here before you.’

‘How did he die?’ Elizabeth  whispered, wide-eyed .

‘Fell down these very stairs.  Broke his neck, poor chap. Although I wonder if it wasn’t the spirits from a bottle that did for him rather than the Blue Lady.’

‘What did you call her?’ Jane  asked sharply.

‘The Blue Lady.  Nobody’s really sure who she is or why she walks but –’

‘No one .. except  … me.’ Jane said between wild gusts of laughter that left her gasping for breath. 

‘Mrs Armstrong, remember the doctor said over-excitement was bad for your heart,’ Elizabeth warned,  then turned to Sarah. ‘You’re wrong, Mrs Minty, about the ghost being a friendly one.  I feel intense hatred in this room.’

Sarah frowned. ‘Now you mention it there is something.  It wasn’t like it when I arrived but now… there’s a disturbance in the air,  as if – .’

‘When you two have finished scaring each other witless with your ghost stories, I’d like to tell you mine .’  Jane’s acid voice cut in. ‘It’s not scary – just very funny.  When I was a child, I lived in this house.  My mother died when I was a baby and so there was just me and my father, Charles Maidment.  I dare say you know the name?  There were generations of Maidments at Waytown Hall until my fool of a father sold it.’

Elizabeth gasped.  ‘You never said –’ 

‘It was none of your business,’ Jane snapped. ‘I’m only telling you now to end this nonsense.   I used to play with a girl called Margaret who was so gullible, she believed everything I told her. I’d frighten the life out of her with stories of headless monks and weeping children.  But the one that terrified her most was about the ghost who was supposed to haunt this house and how, if she touched you, you’d drop down dead.  Now do you see why I’m so sure your precious Blue Lady doesn’t exist?  I invented her!’

But still Elizabeth refused to stay.  When Sarah Minty left Waytown Hall,  Elizabeth, with one last anguished plea for Jane to come with them, went too.

‘Don’t come whining back to me when you find no one wants to employ someone of your age with no qualifications or reference,’ Jane yelled, slamming the door behind them.

‘Your temper’s as nasty as ever I see, Jane.’

Jane whirled round to stare up at a slender young woman who stood at the top of the stairs.  Her long, blue dress shimmered as she moved.

‘I knew you’d be back,’  The Blue Lady said.

‘Who are you?’

‘You know perfectly well who I am. I’ve been waiting for you. I had to frighten poor Major Harvey into falling down the stairs because I wanted the place unoccupied, ready for you.  Pity, though. He was a nice old chap.’

Jane shivered in spite of the central heating. ‘What do you want?’

‘To ask you why.’ The ghost closed her eyes as if, even after all these years, the memory still upset her.  ‘Why did you push me down the stairs? I loved you and thought we were a normal happy family.’

‘A normal happy family?’ Jane forgot her fear as the years slipped away. ‘I hated you. Daddy and I were happy until you came along.  He used to call me his Little Lady.  He didn’t need a wife and I certainly didn’t need a step-mother.’

‘Yet my death didn’t bring you what you wanted, did it?’  The Blue Lady began walking down the stairs towards Jane. ‘You and your father were never easy in each other’s company again.’

‘Of course we were,’ Jane said defiantly.  ‘Without you around to spoil things, we had a wonderful time.’

‘I know you’re lying because I’ve been watching you all these years.  Watching and waiting.’

 As the Blue Lady got closer, Jane felt a chill wrap around her like November fog.

‘You’ve been alone all your life, haven’t you? Nobody could stand being near you for long.  Your husband, even Elizabeth left in the end.  I made sure of that.  And as for your father -‘

‘I’m not listening -‘ Jane said but the quiet voice went on pitilessly.

‘After my death, Charles sold this house.  He couldn’t bear to be reminded of what had happened here because there was this tiny seed of doubt in his mind.  He saw you – did you know that? He saw you at the top of the stairs.’

‘I don’t believe you.’  

‘He thought your strange, too calm expression as you looked down on my body was the result of shock.  But over the years, every time you went into one of your uncontrollable rages, the doubts grew until he was finally forced to admit the truth.  That my death was no accident – and you were responsible.’

‘He couldn’t have –’

‘He died of a broken heart, you know, Jane.’

‘No!’ Jane screamed.  ‘That’s a lie. You were always lying to him.’

‘I never lie.  Unlike you.  You even made up the ghost story to frighten poor little Margaret.’

‘That was only a bit of  harmless fun.’

‘Your Blue Lady served my purpose well.  I even added my own little touch.  Can you smell violets? I was always very fond of them.  Don’t you think I’m a convincing Blue Lady?’ The gossamer material whispered against her legs as she gave a small twirl. ‘Your harmless fun appears to have backfired on you.’

She laid a hand on Jane’s wrist. ‘Come along now.’

The ghost’s touch had been icy but Jane’s wrist stung as if a red hot iron had been laid on it.  She remembered how she used to frighten Margaret by saying how if the ghost touched you … but it was only a story.  Wasn’t it?

As if she had no will of her own, Jane stumbled up the stairs, her heart beating erratically, frantically as she did so.  She remembered the heart pills in her handbag on the hall table, but instead of turning back to get them she kept climbing the stairs, her breath coming in short, painful gasps,  her eyes focussed on  the Blue Lady.

……..

Two days later, Elizabeth, worried about her employer, called the Police who found Jane’s body on the stairs.  It wasn’t until later that Elizabeth realised the sense of evil that had so frightened her earlier was no longer there. 

Now, there was nothing in the air but a faint lingering scent of violets.

Where does crime writer David Robinson get his ideas ?

I’m delighted to welcome one of my favourite crime authors to my blog today.  I featured David in the March issue of Writers’ Forum but  the 800 words I am allowed for my column are just not enough to do justice to this prolific and highly successful author.

Me

Welcome to my blog, David.  Let’s kick off by talking about about your books in general.  What genre do you write and do you write a series or are your books standalone?

David

I write crime. Mostly blue collar cosy with a deliberate vein of humour. But I also turn out much darker works, Feyer & Drake, for example, or the Cain Hypno-Thrillers published under my pen name, Robert Devine.

I try to produce series. It’s a commercial decision as much as anything. Series sell much better than standalones, and readers soon become familiar with the core characters. As you progress, however, it becomes more difficult to say anything new about those key characters, which is why I put Joe Murray through the mill over the last few Sanford titles.

Me.

The Sanford titles would be your Sanford Third Age Club mysteries, which I really enjoy. ‘Blue collar cosy’ has a nice ring to it and sums up the series perfectly.  How about giving us the blurbs from, say, your first book and then your most recent one?

David

I have nothing in the immediate pipeline so here’s the blurb from the very first, Sanford 3rd Age Club Mystery, The Filey Connection, published nine years ago by Crooked Cat, and now under CC’s darkstroke banner. It’s followed by the blurb for The Frame, the second Feyer & Drake title.

The Filey Connection

It’s summertime, and the Sanford 3rd Age Club are living it up in the seaside town of Filey. But the hot months don’t pass without problems for amateur sleuth, Joe Murray.

Was Nicola Leach’s death an accident or deliberate? Did Eddie Dobson fall into the sea or did he jump? What’s going on behind the innocent façade – and closed doors – of the Beachside Hotel? And who raided Joe’s room?

Joe and his sidekicks must find the answers to solve the mystery of The Filey Connection.

The Frame:

Sam Feyer, relishing her role as head of Landshaven CID, and Wes Drake, a broken man after the murder of his partner, are charged with reopening the inquiry into Barbara Shawforth’s brutal murder.

For Sam, it’s a path littered with obstacles from the autocratic hierarchy of Landshaven and the police, to handling the ill-tempered Drake, a man who greets every attempt to thwart him as a personal challenge there to be crushed.

Amid frequent disagreements, an air of thin tolerance between them, they must forge a fresh alliance to battle through a smokescreen of corruption, suspicion and lies if they are to learn what really happened four years ago.

Then the body count begins to rise

Me.

Thank you, David.  I’ve only recently discovered the Feyer and Drake series and really enjoy them.  And I understand there’s a new one coming out this year which is something to look forward to.

So, what inspires you most when you sit down to write? Is it characters?  Settings? Or maybe even books you have read?

David

My work is mainly character driven. I’m an ardent people-watcher and the apparently random, sometimes mindless activity of others is a source of endless fascination to me. Many of the humorous incidents in the Sanford Mysteries are events I’ve observed in real life. The snooty receptionist in Summer Wedding Murder is such an example, although the hotel in question was in Majorca, and the receptionist was neither female, nor aiming his criticism at me. I simply observed it.

Location comes second. My wife and I are seasoned travellers, and most of the towns, hotels, holiday parks I write about are based on places we’ve visited. Of particular note is the architecturally quirky hotel in Peril in Palmanova. That hotel exists and it’s as described, right down to the entertainment staff identified with the word “Animacion” on their uniforms. 

Landshaven, the location for The Frame, Feyer & Drake #2, is a barely concealed clone of on Scarborough, one of our favourite British seaside towns.

I never base any of my work on books I may have read, although I do read a fair number and often think to myself, “I could have done that better”.

Me.

So, how did your writing journey start?  Have you always written? And what was your first published piece?

David

I’ve been writing since my teens, but I didn’t publish my first piece until the mid-1980s. It was a short article published by our local newspaper, and it concerned the colloquial language differences between my home city of Leeds, Yorkshire, and Northeast Manchester where I now live. Only 35 miles separate us, but the linguistics differences are striking. The article paid me the princely sum of £8.

Me.

Ha!  My first piece earned me the princely sum of £6 from BBC Radio Bristol.  They obviously pay better ‘up North’!  

I really enjoy your dry sense of humour, David, and love your YouTube channel.   How did that come about?

David

A combination of arthritis which makes typing tedious and often difficult, and my frustration at never having the bottle to try my luck as a stand-up comedian. I’m naturally gregarious, possessed of what I call a ‘one-megaton sense of humour’, and I’m more than a little eccentric. Sitting, talking to the webcam is faster and less painful than typing out or even dictating blog posts. 

Me.

And what of your future plans?

David

More of the same. A third F&D novel, working title The Crypto Killings is well-advanced, and the 22nd Sanford Mystery, Death on the Shore is in progress.

Me.

Hooray!  I’m really looking forward to that.  So finally, tell us three things we might not know about you.

David.

1: I had my tonsils and adenoids removed when I was eight years old. My recovery at home coincided with the 1958 FA Cup Final between Bolton Wanderers and a Manchester United team rebuilt after the Munich air crash. During that game (which United lost 2-0) I became a devout Man U supporter. This is despite being born a Yorkshireman and attending most of Leeds United’s home games.

2: After a minor operation went wrong in 1989, my liver couldn’t drain and in 1991 I was told that I without a transplant I had two years to live. It was a misdiagnosis (although I did need five hours of surgery to correct the problem) but it took away any fear of death I may have had. I’m in no hurry to shuffle off this mortal coil, but I have no fear of dying. 

3: Over the last 30 years, I have attended no less than six funerals of relatives who should have outlived me. Three stillborn grandchildren, a nephew killed in a car crash at the age of 20, my younger brother, aged only 54 when he had a massive heart attack, and most distressing, my daughter, barely 49 years of age when she died through complications of Motor Neurone Disease.

me.

That’s really sad, David and I am so sorry for your losses.  Thank you so much for answering my questions with such openness and patience.  And thank you, too, for the hours of reading pleasure you have given me and your many fans.

Social Media Links, blog, YouTube, website etc.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dwrobinson3

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/Dwrob96/videos

Website: www.dwrob.com 

Blog: https://mysteriesaplenty.blogspot.com/ 

GoodReads:https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4496576.David_W_Robinson

The all important buy link.

All titles are exclusive to Amazon

Sanford 3rd Age Club Mysteries

The Filey Connection: https://mybook.to/fileyconnection

The Summer Wedding Murder:https://mybook.to/sumwed

Peril in Palmanova: mybook.to/peripal

Tis the Season to be Murdered.mybook.to/Stacseason

Feyer & Drake #2

The Frame mybook.to/frame

Author Bio

David Robinson retired from the rat race after the other rats objected to his participation, and he now lives with his long-suffering wife in sight of the Pennine Moors outside Manchester.

A workaholic, gregarious and eccentric, and an animal lover, he has an absolute loathing of politicians, over-hyped celebrities, and television.

Best known as the creator of the light-hearted Sanford 3rd Age Club Mysteries, and the cynically humorous Midthorpe Murder Mysteries, he also produces the darker, more psychological, Feyer & Drake police procedural crime thrillers.

Writing as Robert Devine, he also produces stark psycho thrillers bordering on sci-fi and horror.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murder on High

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. Where does crime writer Robert Crouch get his ideas?

http://www.robertcrouch.co.uk

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

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

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

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

Where does historical novelist Sally Zigmond get her ideas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me

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

Do you write series of standalones?

Sally

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

Me

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

Sally

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

Me

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

Sally

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

Me.

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

Sally

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

Me

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

Sally

1      I used to work at New Scotland in Interpol.

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

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

Me

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

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

The Blurbs and buy links for Sally’s books

HOPE AGAINST HOPE

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

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

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

CHASING ANGELS ( novella)

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

THE LARK ASCENDING

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

Social Media Links, blog, website etc.

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

Twitter. @sallyzigmond

 Facebook. sallyzigmond

Buy links

The Lark Ascending

Hope Against Hope

Chasing Angels

Author Bio

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

Where does psychological thriller writer Charlie Tyler get her ideas from?

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?

Me

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?)

Charlie

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.

Me

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?  

Charlie

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. 

Me

Great to meet another Agatha Christie fan.  She’s the reason I love reading and writing crime novels.  How did your writing journey start?

Charlie

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.  

Me

And what are your future plans? 

Charlie

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.

Me

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.

Charlie

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.

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?

Social Media Links, blog, website etc.

The all important buy link.

https://www.charlietyler.com

https://mybook.to/thecryofthelake

Author Bio

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.

Where does historical novelist Kate Braithwaite get her ideas from?

It gives me great pleasure to welcome historical novelist Kate Braithwaite to my blog this week.

I don’t often read historical novels but during a blitz on my Kindle app the other day I found Kate’s Road to Newgate that had been languishing there for far too long. I moved it to the top of my To Be Read list.

And I am so glad I did.  I loved it!  So much so that I featured Kate recently in my Ideas Store column in Writers’ Forum but have a longer – and fascinating- interview to share with you here.

So, here we go, starting with the question all authors are said to dread.

Where did you get the idea for The Road To Newgate from?

Kate

I stumbled across Titus Oates in one of those internet ‘research’ trips that writers are prone to take when the words aren’t quite flowing. My first book, Charlatan, was all about a poisoning scandal at the court of Louis XIV, and I was amazed to find that at the exact same period, Titus Oates had created chaos in London with wild revelations of a Popish Plot to assassinate Charles II and make England a Catholic country once more.

Oates was an extraordinary figure – a vicious and unrepentant liar, full of self-pity and delusions of grandeur – and many people were executed as a result of his claims. As a writer I was excited to bring him to life on the page, but the story of the Popish Plot is complex, tied up in Restoration politics and the unsolved murder of a protestant magistrate, Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey.

Enter my hero, the writer Nat Thompson, his independent-thinking wife, Anne, and their friend William Smith, who knows more about Titus Oates than he wants to. These three narrate the story of The Road to Newgate, as they pursue the truth about Oates, investigate the death of Godfrey, and struggle to keep faith with each other when Nat’s very public crusade against Oates puts them all in danger.

The seventeenth century is sometimes overlooked by readers. The Stuarts don’t yet have the popular appeal of the Tudors, but it’s an important period in British history and as a reader (and a writer) I gravitate toward stories that bring unfamiliar times and places vividly to life.

I’m particularly attached to Anne in this novel. The lives of women at that time were fairly circumscribed but even though history books too often overlook women’s experiences, I’m sure they had just as strong voices and feelings as they do today. When I think about the book now, I hope that readers will be just as engaged by Anne’s fortitude in facing the unpleasant realities of seventeenth century life, as they are by the awfulness of Titus Oates and the hunt to bring him to justice.

The book’s blurb

What price justice? London 1678.

Titus Oates, an unknown preacher, creates panic with wild stories of a Catholic uprising against Charles II. The murder of a prominent Protestant magistrate appears to confirm that the Popish Plot is real.

Only Nathaniel Thompson, writer and Licenser of the Presses, instinctively doubts Oates’s revelations. Even his young wife, Anne, is not so sure. And neither know that their friend William Smith has personal history with Titus Oates.

When Nathaniel takes a public stand, questioning the plot and Oates’s integrity, the consequences threaten them all.

Me

Titis Oates really was one of the most chilling villains I’ve ever met between the pages of a book and you brought the period brilliantly to life.  And that courtroom scene makes John Grisham’s seem tame.

So how would you describe your genre?  And are your books a series or standalone?

Kate.

I write historical fiction, based on real events and people. Charlatan, is set in 17th century Paris, based on the scandalous Affair of the Poisons where a police investigation discovered an underworld of poisoners and fortune tellers with direct links to courtiers at Louis XIV’s Versailles. The Girl Puzzle, a story of Nellie Bly is based on the life of a trailblazing journalist who reported from the inside of a notorious lunatic asylum. It’s set in late 19th and early 20th century New York City. 

The Road to Newgate, set in 17th century London, is all about three individuals caught up in the Popish Plot, a web of lies created by the infamous Titus Oates, that resulted in panic on the streets, demonstrations, mass arrests, political trials and executions.

Me

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

Kate

I find I start with an event in history that catches my interest – some event I know little about, and often something on the dark side, for example an unsolved murder or a trip to an asylum. I love writing scenes in dark settings – confined spaces, ruins, prison cells and so on – but it’s puzzling out character that I enjoy the most. History books give you the facts (or as many as are known) but I get really invested in wondering what kind of person would do x or y, how must they have felt and what personality traits or experiences could have led them to do what they do.

Me

Tell us a little about your writing journey?

Kate

I always wanted to be a novelist. I love novels of all stripes and was ambitious to create one of my own… but I had no idea what to write about. I would start off stories but abandon them after a couple of pages when I didn’t know where to take my ideas and saw that I wasn’t a natural literary genius! When I came across the story of the Affair of the Poisons however, I was ready to persevere and write a novel that I wanted to read. It took a lot of re-writes and learning to get there though. While all that was going on my first published story was “Maiden Flight”, a historical short about the Canadian giantess, Anna Swan, who was trapped in a fire at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in New York City. An illustrated version of that story is available free to anyone who signs up for my occasional newsletters at www.kate-braithwaite.com 

Me

I’m so glad you persevered, Kate and am looking forward to reading more of your books. So, what about your future plans?

Kate

I’m currently writing a book about two sisters, set in Virginia in the late 1700s. It’s based on a real scandal where one sister was accused of secretly giving birth to a child, possibly fathered by her sister’s husband. It’s about the scandal itself and how it dogged both women and their relationships for many years afterwards.

Me

Now for the fun questions!  Tells us three things we might not know about you.

Kate

1 I’m a Scottish American. I was brought up in Edinburgh and lived in England for many years, but now live not far from Philadelphia.

2 I have a brother, Alan Taylor, who is also a writer. Recently we were both featured in the same anthology, Dark London, which gave me quite a thrill.

3 I have three kids who are totally unimpressed by my writing endeavours and think I should spend more time running after them and less writing books. I’m ignoring them as much as possible.

Me

Keep ignoring them, Kate, and keep writing! And thank you for a great interview.

The All Important Links

Please do visit Kate’s website and grab a free short story – www.kate-braithwaite.com 

Or connect with her on:

Twitter

Goodreads

Bookbub

Facebook

Instagram

Buy links for books (listing all just in case you want them all…)

The Road to Newgate

Charlatan

The Girl Puzzle, a story of Nellie Bly

Author Bio

Kate Braithwaite is a best-selling historical novelist inspired by lesser known people and events from the past, always with a mystery, crime or scandal attached.  Kate grew up in Edinburgh but now lives in the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania with her husband and three children. She combines her love of historical research with a passion for reading & writing fiction, fuelled by long, thoughtful dog walks and copious cups of tea.

Paradise Revisited – one of my favourite short stories

When I was searching around for something to write about in my column in the current issue of Writers’ Forum, I turned to my often used source for inspiration, my old notebooks.

I have kept journals, diaries and notebooks most of my life.  Many of the earlier ones were thrown away but one of the oldest to survive was a diary that I kept the year I was taking my ‘O’ Levels when I was, it seemed, far more interested in the boys on the school bus than I was in my schoolwork.  Funny that – I always told my sons that I was a model pupil!

I kept a diary, too, in the months leading up to my wedding and, a few years later, in the months leading up to the birth of my firstborn.  That one stopped abruptly when he was about two weeks old.  (Can’t think why!).  I love flicking through them every now and again and it always brings back such lovely memories.

But when I began writing and selling short stories,  about fifteen years ago, I started to keep a writing journal and have kept it up more or less ever since.  It’s not nearly as entertaining (or cringe making) as my diaries but a lot more useful when I am looking for something to write about.

I have kept notes about most of my short stories (and there are, by now, literally hundreds of them) and these notes have been a goldmine when looking for something to write about in my monthly column, Ideas’ Store.

And the current issue was no exception.  As I opened one of my notebooks, I found a handwritten note inside from the then Fiction Editor of Woman’s Weekly, enclosing a letter from a reader saying how much they’d enjoyed a particular story of mine.

It’s very unusual for a short story writer to get reader feedback (or, at least, it is for me) and this was such a lovely one.  It was from a man who said my story had moved him and his wife to tears (but in a nice way).  So I dug the story out, which I’d called Paradise Revisited and read it through – and it moved me to tears as well!

So in my column I wrote about how I came to write this particular story and promised the readers that the full story would be on my blog.  And here it is.

I hope you enjoy it.  It certainly is one of my favourites.  And a little note of warning to anyone thinking of signing away all rights to their work, which many of the magazines are now asking for.  And which I refuse to do.

Because had I done so, I’d have been unable to reproduce this story here.  Or anywhere else, come to that.  

Anyway, on a happier note, I hope you enjoy reading Paradise Revisited as much as I enjoyed writing it.  And if you want to read the story of how I came to write the story (if you see what I mean)  it is in the current issue of Writers’ Forum, which is packed, as always, with lots of wonderful, writerly goodies.

Paradise Revisited

They say it’s best not to go back, don’t they? That places are never as good as you remember. Or you’ll find they’ve built a supermarket on the fields where you used to walk the dogs and they’ve ripped out the hedges where you used to gather musky sweet blackberries and sloes, sharp as sherbet lemons, that shrivelled your tongue when you bit into them.

Better by far, they say,  to leave those special places  precious and untarnished in your memory.  It’s good advice, of course, but when did I ever take any notice of good advice?  And yes, I admit, that sometimes that’s been to my cost.  But there are other times, like today, that I’m glad I ignored them because I know everything’s going to be as wonderful as I remember and nothing, but nothing is going to spoil it. 

And so, here we are now, me, Paul and our daughter Sophie, packed snugly into in our little blue Morris Minor that’s more at home on smooth surfaced suburban roads than chugging up and down these steep, winding roads, some of which, Paul is horrified to see, have grass growing up in the middle. We’re on our way, Morris Minor permitting, to a remote valley deep in the Yorkshire Dales where my parents took me when I was four years old, the age Sophie is now.

It’s strange but that trip to Yorkshire was the only holiday I remember as a child. There may well have been others but I can’t recall them. But people didn’t go away so much back. Not like now, jamming the roads with their cars and caravans every Bank Holiday.

‘Paradise,’ my mother told me when I asked where we were.  She got out of the car, stretched her arms above her head, tilted her face to the sun and filled her lungs with the crisp, clean air. ‘Smell it, Libby.  That’s Paradise, that is.’

It wasn’t until years later I discovered the valley’s real name was Langstrothdale. Named by the Vikings when our history was young but the landscape over which they rampaged was already old.

So today, Paul and I have brought Sophie with us to Paradise  I’m holding my breath as we drive along the narrow winding road, with its unforgiving stone walls on either side.  Past fields full of lambs and cow parsley.  Past the small, squat church at Hubberholme that I still think looks like a fat broody hen, even though my mother used to tell me I was being fanciful and silly.

The car bumps over the cattle grid, we go round a corner and Langstrothdale opens up in front of us, spreading out like one of those books Sophie has where the pictures pop up when you open the pages out flat. And today, there’s no Mother around to tell me off for being fanciful.

Yes, oh yes.  I was so right to come back.  It is all exactly as I remember.  I am back in Paradise.

Paul parks the car as close to the river as we can get.  I think this may be the exact spot where my father parked all those years ago, but can’t be sure.  But what does it matter?  We’re here.  That’s enough. 

‘Be careful,’ I call out as Sophie jumps out of the car and dashes down towards the river, long golden plaits flying out behind her.

But I wasn’t worried.  At this part of its journey, the river Wharfe is just a baby, playful and gentle, teasing us with a game of  hide and seek as it slips in and out of the boulders at the river edge.  

I show Sophie how the river bed is made of giant slabs of smooth grey rock that look as if they’ve been carved into steps.

‘Do the steps go all the way to the giant’s house?’ she asks, her voice catching with excitement, ‘Like in Jack and the Beanstalk? Shall we find a giant if we climb up the stairs?’

‘We might so you’d better hold my hand,’ I say. ‘Just in case.’

Sophie and I take our shoes and socks off, then holding hands and giggling, step gingerly into the brown peaty water.  We wade across to the top of the step where the water slithers over and down on to the next, like a small waterfall.

We laugh as the river rears up around our feet like a startled horse.  The afternoon is warm but the Wharfe started life at the top of the nearby fell and hasn’t travelled far enough to lose its legacy of winter snows.  It is cold.  So cold our feet ache and our toes are turning numb.

The river, as always, wins.  Sophie and I return to the bank.

Still in bare feet, we walk on the close cropped grass which is soft and springy as newly laid carpet.  I tell her how, when the winter rains come, this placid, easy-going river turns hot-headed and wild, like some stroppy adolescent, and storms down the valley, tearing vegetation from the banks in restless, reckless fury.

‘What’s a stroppy adol … adoless ..?’ she tries to ask but the word is strange and new to her and ties up her tongue.

‘We’ll both find out soon enough,’ I say and although I laugh, a chill runs down my back at the thought of how soon that time will come. I think of tears and tantrums and staying out too late. Of outrageous clothes, unsuitable boys and loud, messy music.

But today is Sophie’s first trip to Paradise so I push the thought away, unwilling to let fears of the future cloud this oh so perfect day.  Instead, I  show her where the swollen winter torrents have left clumps of dried up grass hanging like a forgotten line of washing on the lower branches of a sycamore tree on the opposite bank.

I sit down and absorb the sights and sounds of the valley.  There are black-faced sheep nagging at their lambs to stay close and swallows that shriek and chatter as they flicker over the surface of the water like skimming stones. And I am content.

Sophie’s behind me, stretched out on her stomach, her chin resting on her hands.  She never ceases to surprise and delight me, this so precious child of ours who arrived like a miracle when, after three miscarriages and years of monthly disappointments, we had given up hope.

It still amazes me how one minute she’s a bundle of shrieking, hyperactive energy, like the swallows and the next, like now, is quiet and still as she watches a bee plundering a blue-grey harebell, its fragile stem trembling under the bee’s weight.

Sophie is totally absorbed, not moving until the bee flies off.  Then she looks up at me.  Her beautiful eyes, the same blue-grey as the harebell, are wide with the wonder of it all.

Too soon, the spell’s broken.  She hears Paul calling and scrambles to her feet.  She urges me to hurry as she runs ahead, skipping and dancing, golden hair glinting in the sunlight.

I follow more slowly but just as eagerly, for we’re both drawn by the smell that drifts towards us. Paul’s cooking sausages on a small camping stove.  As I get closer, I can hear them hissing and spitting and smell, too,  the crusty rolls that were still warm when we bought them in the shop in Hawes this morning.  There are apples and nuts, crisps and chocolate and, as a special treat, a large bottle of brilliant orange, fizzy Tizer.

And I realise I’m hungry.  Very very hungry.

………………

‘Can’t you sleep, dear?  Can I get you something?’

A woman is bending over me.  Who is she? Sophie?  Maybe.  No. Can’t be.  Sophie’s got blue eyes.  These are brown.  So who -?

‘What’s going on?’ I try to say.  ‘Who are you? And what are you doing in my bedroom?’

Only I don’t say anything.  Because someone’s making soft whimpering noises.  And I rather think it’s me.

Don’t like this.  Don’t like it at all.  I’ve got to sort things out.  Get my bearings. Think, woman, think.  I know one thing for sure.  This is not my bedroom.  Mine has pink walls and white floaty curtains and a vase of ivory silk roses on my bedside table.

This place is beige with high narrow windows and ugly pipes travelling up the walls. Someone’s tried to hide them by painting them the same boring beige as the walls.  But it hasn’t worked.  They’re still ugly.

Then I see the lettering on the beige cellular blanket and, finally, I remember. It says ‘Bankside NHS Trust.’

The blanket’s been smoothed with prim, pristine precision to cover my old, useless legs. To cover me, an old useless woman who’s lived too long and is now nothing but a worry to her daughter.  Those lovely harebell blue eyes, that once marvelled at the antics of a bee are now dulled as Sophie has grown old herself, worn out and tired from the strain of worrying about me. Wondering if there was anything she could have done to prevent that stupid fall that broke my hip and a couple of ribs and landed me in here.

The nurse – I remember her now, bright and kind enough in her own brisk, impersonal way – has asked me if I want something to make me sleep.  But I don’t want to sleep.  Sleep is black.  Empty.  Nothing.  I want to stay awake forever and dream.

I want to close my eyes and dream of how it used to be when Sophie and I were much, much younger and my darling Paul was still alive.  I want to relive again and again that moment of perfect happiness all those years ago in that lovely Yorkshire dale. 

I’ve noticed lately it’s been there for me every time I close my eyes. And every time it gets harder to come back.

‘I said, would you like some hot chocolate, dear?’ The nurse has obviously asked the same question before because she laughs softly and adds: ‘You were miles away just then.  Where were you?’

Ah yes.  I was indeed miles away.  So many miles.  And so very, very far away.  Shall I tell her where I’ve been?  If I do, she’ll no doubt think I’m crazy.  Going gaga.  Losing my marbles.  One more thing for Sophie and that social worker with the soft voice and ill-fitting suit to fret over.

So what the hell? They do that anyway.  I’ll tell her.

‘I’ve been to Paradise,’ I say and then I wait, impatient for her to leave.  Impatient to get back there, to see once again the sunlight sparkle on the miniature waterfalls, to rejoice in the wonder in my child’s eyes, there for all eternity. And to take off my shoes and socks and dance the dance of life and youth and gladness on the soft springy turf.

This time, I’m not coming back. Not for the hot chocolate which I have to sip through a straw like a child.  Not for this beige room with its empty beige windows, nor for the nurse whose eyes never meet mine and who’s more interested in the numbers on the chart that’s clipped over the end of my bed than in me as a person.

No, I’m not coming back, not even for Sophie, who needs to be free of the detritus of my life – the social workers, care workers and now, we are told, nursing homes – and get on with her own life again.

This time when I get back to Paradise, I’m staying there. For ever and ever.

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.’

Where does author Audrey Davis get her ideas from?

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!

Me.

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 did you get the idea for The Haunting of Hattie Hastings?

Audrey

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’ …

Me

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?

Audrey

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!

Me.

That’s great, thank you so much.  So tell us about your writing in general.

Audrey

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!

Me.

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!)

Audrey

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.

Me.

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.

Audrey

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 …

Me.

Thank you so much, Audrey, for such a fascinating interview. And now for those all important links.

Social media links, website etc.

https://www.facebook.com/audreydavisbooks/

Twitter. @audbyname

https://audreydavisauthor.com Psst! You can pick up a free copy of my novella opener, When Hattie Met Gary, if you hop over here.

Buy Links

getbook.at/ACleanBreak

getbook.at/AudreyDavis A Clean Sweep

getbook.at/HattieHastings