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

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

Duke – an update

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

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

One of my favourite short stories

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

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

I said:

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

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

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

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

The 100 Day Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But I can’t write -“

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

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

Day 1.

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

Day 2.

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

Day 3.

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

Day 7 (I think. Forgot to count)

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

Day 8

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

Day 9. 

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

Day 10.

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

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

Day 11.

Nothing. 

Day 12.

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

Day 13

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

Day 14

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

Day 18.

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

Day 23

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

Day 28 (I think.  Losing count!)

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

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

Day 30

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

Day 32.

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

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

Day 33

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

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

Day 34.

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

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

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

Where does psychological thriller writer Diane Saxon get her ideas from?

I’m delighted to welcome to my blog this week psychological thriller writer and fellow Dalmatian lover, Diane Saxon.  I was attracted to Diane’s book, The Keeper, when I learned it featured a Dalmatian. And it’s a really good read.  I would have enjoyed it even if it didn’t have a Dalmatian in it – the dog was the icing on the cake!

So, as always when I find a book I really loved, I contacted Diane to ask her if she would appear in my Ideas Store column in Writers’ Forum.  And she said yes!

Me.

Welcome to my blog, Diane.  So first to my Ideas Store column where I get to ask writers the question they are all said to dread.  But I still ask it anyway!

Where did you get the idea for The Keeper from?

Diane

I’ve always been an avid reader with an over-active imagination. One minute incident can happen and I’ll weave an entire story around it.

A few such incidents lead to the concept of The Keeper. 

First, when I was out walking my gorgeous Dalmatian, Skye in the woodlands above Ironbridge. It was late autumn and afternoon spilled into evening. The weak sunshine dappled through the trees and an eerie silence carpeted the woods. As Skye stopped to snuffle in the burnished leaves, I became aware of a presence above me in the hills. I scanned the trees and there was a herd of deer. Frozen. Watching. As I stared back at them, their perfect camouflage literally made them disappear, melt, into the background.

So, what if that had been a human? Watching me. What if I wasn’t supposed to be there?

This nugget of an idea germinated.

The second incident occurred in the same place when I was with my daughter, Meghan, Skye, and Beau, my young Labrador. We passed two young men on the remote pathway, going in the opposite direction. We thought they were long gone when they suddenly ran down the hillside and appeared in front of us.

I have no idea of their intentions, but Skye was having none of it. Her protective instinct kicked in and unusually for her she stood, hackles up and barked at the strangers who soon shot off back up the pathway.

The final incident which clinched the story was on another long, lonely walk through woodlands. I came across a hide, not an unusual sight, although I always find it unnerving that people can be inside, apparently watching birds… heh, just my imagination. But on this occasion, there was a shovel propped against the hide. Who would take a shovel all the way out there? Why would they?

As the dogs nosed around, I thought ‘what if they find a body? It’s always the dogwalkers who find the body!’

Me.

I love it!  I’m so glad I’m not the only dog walker who goes around looking for places to hide bodies!

The book’s blurb

Compulsive, addictive and gripping – a truly five star read! Diane Saxon is a name to look out for!’ Geraldine Hogan


A high adrenaline new psychological crime series, introducing Detective Sergeant Jenna Morgan. Perfect for fans of Angela Marsons, Karen Rose and Mel Sheratt.


Responding to reports of deadly screams in the Ironbridge Gorge, Detective Sergeant Jenna Morgan is first on the scene to investigate.

As the search intensifies, Jenna soon discovers her sister Fliss’s severely injured Dalmatian, Domino and the naked, tortured body of an unknown woman.

Who is the dead woman and where is her sister Fliss?

Me.

A great blurb, thank you. That would have got me reading, even without the Dalmatian! So, what is your genre and is The Keeper a series or a stand alone?

Diane

It’s a psychological thriller and is the first in a four book series deal I have with Boldwood Books.

Me.

Brilliant!  Congratulations on your four book deal – and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.  So, what inspires you most?  Is it characters, settings or maybe even books you have read?

Diane.

I’m definitely character driven. Normally they arrive in my head, name and all. With my thrillers, I have to be so much more disciplined with the story as each one follows a strict dateline and it has to be correct.

Me.

Tell us a little about your writing journey. Have you always written?  What was your first published piece?

Diane

I’ve always read prolifically as far back as I can remember, but I never seriously considered writing until a few years ago. The idea of my thriller had rumbled on for some time, and then I had a foot operation and wasn’t allowed to move for two weeks. I wanted something light to entertain me, so I wrote my first romance, Loving Lydia. 50,000 in two weeks. What else is a girl to do?

I sent the manuscript off to Liquid Silver and amazingly within three weeks I had a reply and a contract. I have eleven further romances published for the U.S. market.

Me. 

And what about future plans? 

Diane.

Currently I’m hard at work editing Book 2 in the psychological crime thriller series and writing Book 3. Book 2 will be out in March 2020, Book 3 October 2020 and Book 4 March 2021.

When I have a spare few minutes, I will dip back into my romances, but right now my priority and mindset are definitely on killing people. In books, of course.

Diane and the very gorgeous Skye

Me.

Thank you – and now, tell us three things we might not know about you.

Diane.

1. I live in the middle of a cow field. Quite literally. 

2. I was the ‘chain boy’ (the one who carries the theodolite for the engineers) and site secretary on the construction of the M54. 

3. I lived in Zambia when I was a youngster.

Me.

That’s great.  I really envy you the ‘chain boy’ bit.  Theodolite is one of my favourite words.  I love the way it rolls off the tongue.  I would dearly love to have had lots of opportunities to use it.   (I’ll have to put a theodolite in my next murder mystery.  Or you can!  Now there’s a challenge!)

Social Media Links, website etc.

Website: http://dianesaxon.com 

Blog        http://www.dianesaxon.com/blogspot.html 

Facebook Page  http://www.facebook.com/authordianesaxon 

Twitter:               @Diane_Saxon

The all important buy link.

https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/the-keeper-83

Author Bio

Diane Saxon lives in the Shropshire countryside with her tall, dark, handsome husband. She has two gorgeous daughters, a Dalmatian, two cats, numerous rare breed chickens, and a black Labrador called Beau–a name borrowed by her hero in For Heaven’s Cakes.

After working for years in a demanding job, Diane gave it up when her husband said, “Follow that dream.” She subsequently has 12 Romances published for the U.S. market.

Inspired by her long, lonely walks in atmospheric woodlands, Diane has gone over to the dark side to write British psychological crime thrillers. With a four-book deal through Boldwood Books, her first in series, The Keeper was released on 1st October 2019 with Book 2 due out in March 2020.

Where does crime writer John Dean get his ideas from?

It is my great pleasure to feature crime writer, journalist and creative writing tutor John Dean to my blog this week.

I read and enjoyed his novel, Dead Hill, the first in a series featuring DCI Jack Harris and when I read an interview with John about how he came upon the idea for the book (which is the start of a series) I knew I had to feature him in my Ideas Store column in Writers’ Forum.

Me

Welcome to my blog, John.  So, first, for my Idea Store column, I’ve got to ask the question that all writers are said to be pretty fed up with answering (but I keep asking anyway – and in the 12 years I’ve been doing so, no one has said no – yet!)

Where did you get the idea for your novel, Dead Hill, from?

John

Let me take you back to a hillside in the North Pennines in an attempt to show you what I mean. I was on a family holiday and we were staying in a village on the Durham/Cumbrian border. There was a play area in the middle of the village and every evening my two children would go for a swing and I would wander out to keep an eye on them – they had gone past the ‘Dad, give me a push’ stage but had not quite reached the stage where they could be left alone.

In such circumstances a person has a lot of time to think and as they swung, so I found myself staring at the hillside opposite. And as with all writers, ideas started to swirl around in my mind.

Something about the hill’s slopes and its late evening shadows, the way the buzzards hunted across the ridge, the sound of the sheep bleating and the distant barking of a farm dog, worked their magic on me and by the end of the week, an idea was born, eventually turning into Dead Hill (The Book Folks), the first in the DCI Jack Harris series.

My experience as a journalist meant that I knew a lot about wildlife crime and the more I looked at the buzzards on the hillside, the more the place and the idea came together as a good theme for the book. But place came first.

Character arrived third when striding into my mind came Detective Chief Inspector Jack Harris, a disillusioned officer working in the rural area in which he grew up, dragged back by the pull of the hills despite his attempts to stay away.

Mix in a bit of gangland intrigue, a few friends with secrets to protect, the DCI’s re-awakening as a detective and the ever-changing northern landscape and Dead Hill assumed a life of its own.

Me.

I really enjoyed the evocative pictures of the hills.  It gave the book a great atmosphere.   So, tell me a little about your books.  Your genre is crime fiction, obviously.  Do you write a series or standalone?

John.

I write a couple of series, the DCI John Blizzard and DCI Jack Harris series, both published by The Book Folks

Me.

And what about your writing in general.  What inspires you most?

John

As a writer, I am always inspired by a sense of place. Whether it be a gloomy city or a stunning hillside, a glass-strewn council estate or a majestic waterfall, something about my surroundings repeatedly triggers ideas. 

I always contend that, despite the many elements of fiction, it comes down to a triangle, three things that come together to make the story work right from the off – plot, people and place. Get them right and pace, economy of words, themes, emotions, the lot, fall into line.

Different writers would put a different thing at the top of the triangle, identifying it as most important. I know writers who would say it all starts with the story, a strong idea which drives the narrative and everything else follows. They get the idea then search round for somewhere to set it.

Others would put characters at the top. I have worked with many writers who contend that their stories begin with a person, a character from whom everything flows, whose experiences and views shape the narrative.

Me? I start with the place, always the place.

Me.

Tell us a little about your writing journey so far.

John

I have wanted to be a writer ever since I was a small child. It was my big dream. Little did I know that it would take forty years to come to fruition and have my first novel published! As for my first published piece, it was a piece of journalism written as a fourteen year old and appeared in my local evening newspaper and told the story of spooky goings on at a local railway museum.

Me.

And your future plans?

John

To keep writing as long as I have stories to tell!

Me.

Great answer!  I can relate to that. So, how about three things that we might not know about you?

John

  1. I am the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Libraries Champion in Scotland. I am one of three CWA Champions appointed in 2018, the others being Cilla Masters based in England, and Jan Newton in Wales. Key elements of the role include linking libraries who want crime writers as speakers or to feature in events with authors in their area and encouraging libraries and their users to become part of the Crime Readers’ Association (https://thecra.co.uk/) Another key part of the role is to speak up (in a non-political way) in support of libraries threatened with cutbacks and closure, something I do on a regular basis.
  2. I run creative writing courses from my home between Castle Douglas and Kirkudbright in Dumfries and Galloway. In 2020, I will run courses based around sense of place and the mechanics of storytelling, from the 19th Century house set in rolling countryside on the weekends of July 4/5 and August 22/23, 2020. The workshop will be suitable for writers of all prose genres and will be ideal for either individuals, including those planning to holiday in the area, or writing groups.  The cost is £95 per person, including catering, and you can find out more by emailing Inscribe Media Limited, of which I am a director, on deangriss@btinternet.com The course is non-residential but advice can be offered on local B and Bs/hotels.
  3. I was a newspaper crime reporter for many years and am a veteran of many major crime and murder investigations

Social media links

http://johndean.ning.com/

https://www.facebook.com/john.dean.90038882

The all important buy link.

You can purchase my books on Amazon in Kindle paperback and audiobook formats. The latest one is Flicker in the Night at

Author Bio

John Dean is a journalist who worked on regional newspapers for 17 years before going freelance in 1997. He has written for regional and national newspapers and for many magazines on subjects as diverse as crime, wildlife and business. He also runs creative writing courses. John lives in South West Scotland. 

Where does multi-published author Olga Swan get her ideas from?

I am delighted to welcome the multi-talented (and multi-published) Olga Swan to my blog this week.

Olga was featured in the November issue of Writers’ Forum, where, for the last twelve years I’ve had a column called Idea Store. In it, I ask writers the question they’re all said to dread: Where do you get your ideas from?

I love writing my column each month but nothing ever stays the same, least of all in the ever changing world of publishing, and my one page column has now been slimmed down to half a page, which means half the word count. I’m not complaining, as it means I still get to write my column, even if it is a new slimmed down version. Ever since I started writing for Writers’ Forum I have expected the editor to say “Time for a change. You’ve had a good run – and thanks, but no thanks” and every year, when the production schedule pings into my inbox I heave a sigh of relief as I hope it means I’m ‘safe’ for another year. (It doesn’t, of course, but that’s the way I think).

The first writer to feature on my new slimmed down page (I wish I could say that I have slimmed down to match!) is Olga Swan, who prepared her piece back when I still had a whole page for my column. So, her appearance in the November issue was little more than a name check, I’m afraid. (And no, I did not do the editing and yes, I have apologised to her.)

So this is now your chance to read her interview with me in all its fullness. It’s a fascinating and touching one and I hope you enjoy it.

Me.

Welcome to my blog, Olga. So, let’s get the big question out of the way first  

Where do you get your ideas from?

Olga

To date I have written 10 books and my third non-fiction book, An Englishwoman in America, was released in both ebook and paperback on 11 June 2019. My writing career as a whole stems from the fact that I lost my parents and both siblings fifty years ago and, since then, I’ve been desperate to continue our (unusual) family name by writing under the nom de plume of Olga Swan (an anagram of my late brother’s name.)

An Englishwoman in America is a humorous look at how the British and the Americans view each other. The cover image gives a snapshot of what lies within. My inspiration for writing it dates back to when I was growing up in the 50s. I couldn’t understand why four of us (my mother, 2 brothers and myself) were all shy and introverted, yet my father was loud, extrovert and so large as life in everything he did. Eventually I understood. He’d lived a considerable time in America. Should I then follow his lead and move to America? Would that make me more outgoing? The book required lots of research:from immigration tomes to other works in the genre to personal holiday diaries and precious travel memoirs from my father to internet sources.

When people ask me about my typical writing day, I reply that I don’t really have one. I tend to do everything on the hoof. As soon as inspiration hits, I head out to our tiny conservatory, which has plenty of light- particularly from above which helps my SAD- wait an interminably long time for my laptop to get going and then start typing. My problem has always been that I write too quickly and too much, meaning there are lots of deletions to be made later! When deciding on the names for characters, it’s different for non-fiction, where so many names and places have to be correct to be a true account. When I finished writing An Englishwoman in America, I just changed the names of family members so they wouldn’t be cross with me!

As far as plotting is concerned, for An Englishwoman in America, I found it helped enormously to include a Contents page, with chapter headings and chronological years listed. In this way, I was forced to keep to the itemised structure. However, as far as the main ‘factional’ narrative was concerned, I just let it develop as I wrote. I do find, though, that having written both fiction and non-fiction, that I use different parts of my brain: the back of my head for the former, but the front for the more observational needs of non-fiction writing.

In general, the best part of the writing process is being accepted by a publisher and seeing the first sales graph rise like a phoenix from the ashes. The worst? Not being accepted by leading literary agents not because of the quality or otherwise of your submitted work, but because you don’t already fit today’s need for ‘celebrity’ status.

Now that An Englishwoman in America is out there and published, my feelings are immense. I hope that, at last, I have made my late family proud of me.

Olga Swan

Me.

I’m sure they are! Your body of work is a great achievement and a wonderful tribute to them.So, tell us a little about your books, please.

Olga.

First, many thanks Paula for welcoming me onto your esteemed blog.

An Englishwoman in America is non-fiction, but as with my two previous non-fiction books (Pensioners In Paradis and From Paradis to Perdition), it’s written in a readable, factional style. It comprises a combination of information about America, its people, origins and how their culture evolved and morphed from the mainly English styles that crossed the Atlantic in the time of the Pilgrim Fathers. It contains much humour as I contrast just how differently the British and Americans do and say things.

Hopefully it will be the forerunner of a series of An Englishwoman in…..

The Book’s blurb

From 1950s Britain to Donald Trump’s America, no-one is left unscathed. How are Britain and America divided over subjects such as language, culture, humour, health, sport, government, gun laws, religion, patriotism, and even sex? Find out in Olga Swan’s scintillating – but essentially humorous – account of why her love for America was first kindled, followed by her views on the way of life in diverse places such as New York, Florida, New England, Arizona or California. Lastly, Olga has added a hilarious guide, where her pin-point wit nails just how the Americans and the British do things very differently. Hold onto your hats!

Me.

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

Olga

When writing non-fiction I’m inspired by such writers as Simon Sebag Montefiore, with his wealth of knowledge and factual research. For non- fiction I always enjoyed books by such writers as Leon Uris with his ability to transport the reader to different times and exotic places.

Me.

How did you writing journey start?

Olga

The first novel I wrote was Lamplight (authl.it/4q0), an historical piece set in 1912 Birmingham, spanning 1920s New York through to 1938 Nazi Germany. My late brother Alan typed my first hand-written draft onto his portable typewriter.

Me.

That sounds fascinating – and a lovely link with your brother. What are your future plans?

Olga

It’s difficult to pinpoint how my career will progress exactly as I write in so many different genres, including a series for 9 – 15s, but I expect my next book will be the successor to An Englishwoman in America.

Me.

And finally, how about telling us something we might not know about you?

Olga

My writing career started far too late! I was born in the baby-boomer period which followed WWII, enduring rationing and a life without TV, telephone, car or even the NHS when I was born. But better late than never!

Me.

Thanks for a lovely interview, Olga. That was really great. And now for those all important links

.

Social Media Links, website etc.

I write a political and cultural affairs blog every Sunday, which attracts readers from all over the world: olgaswan.blogspot.com

The all important buy link.

An Englishwoman in America: mybook.to/anenglishwoman

For Olga’s other 9 books: go to Amazon, Olga Swan or to her blog site (above)

Author Bio

BA Hons (Open) in the Humanities, specialising in English language and literature. 

Books by Olga Swan, published by Crooked Cat Books

An Englishwoman In America. mybook.to/anenglishwoman

Lamplight. authl.it/4q0

Vichyssoise. authl.it/52l

Pensioners in Paradis. authl.it/86j

From Paradis to Perdition. authl.it/9v7

Books by Olga Swan, published by KDP

3rd Degree Murder. authl.it/b36

The Mazurek Express. mybook.to/themazurekexpress

Books by Gillian Green, published by lulu.com

Ruby.

Clementine

Saffron

My short story. The Kindness of Strangers (and where I got the idea from)

Before I was married I used to work in Bristol city centre and would catch the bus (it was, if I remember, the #18 for Clifton) to and from work.  And the buses were, at times, erratic.  No electronic thingy in the bus shelter showing when the next one was due.  You just waited and waited – and then three would come along all at once.

All that is a very long winded way of saying that I haven’t posted to my blog for several weeks and now I’m posting twice in one week.  I could tell you it’s because I’ve been poorly, but you don’t want to know that and I’ve waffled on quite enough.

So the reason for this, the second post of the week is the fact that issue 216 of Writers’ Forum is out this week and in my Ideas Store column, I said (among other things)….”and you can read the whole story on my blog.”  But, of course, it wasn’t there.

So apologies if you went to my blog hoping to find it.  But it’s here now.  (Although chances are, you have voted with your feet and decided not to bother, in which case I am talking to myself again.) 

IMG_9437
One of my earliest entries

In my column I was writing about notebooks and how I’ve kept one, on and off, for the last 15 years.  My first notebook was an old A4 hardback that I’d liberated from the day job but once I’d filled that, (it took my four years) I started using Moleskine notebooks because I was earning some money from my writing by then and could afford the luxury.

When I was writing short stories, I needed a steady influx of ideas to keep the stories coming.  (Wendy Clarke, who also started her writing career as a short story writer, touches on this in my interview with her). 

img_2311-2.jpeg
Very often, I would use a prompt, many of which came from Judy Reeves’ A Writers Book of Days.  I hope you can see from the illustration how well used my copy is.  One of these days I am going to add up all the stories that I’ve sold as a result of this book!

But the story I feature in this month’s Ideas Store, The Kindness of Strangers, does not come from a prompt but from my Fiction Square.  In Judy’s book, there is a prompt for every day of the year and I’d already used that day’s prompt in a previous year and had sold a story as a result of it.  So I didn’t want to use that again as I couldn’t get the original story out of my mind.  Instead, I used the Fiction Square from my column.

If you’re not familiar with the magazine, there is a 5 x 6 grid printed each month, showing 6 characters, traits, conflicts, locations and objects.  The idea is you roll a dice to find all the ingredients of your next story. On this particular day my dice rolls came up with:

Character 1. a sullen child

Character 2. an heroic climber

Conflict: Dispossessed

Location: charity shop

Object: a book.

IMG_1639I began writing in my notebook: Ok, I see a boy. Sullen, defensive.  He’s shoplifting.  Been dared to do so by so-called mates.  But, like everything else he tries, he’s not very good at it. He’s Billie-No-Mates.

Caught in the act by the climber, Rob.  (Something more valuable than a book) Rob is broken.  On crutches? Certainly doesn’t climb any more.  Why?  An accident.  What’s he doing in a charity shop?  Helping someone – his mother? No, he’s a customer. He’s a hero because he got a party of children to safety.  Doesn’t feel like it because one of them died. 

Since the accident, he’s been numb.  Blames himself even though the enquiry exonerated him. Praised him for his courage. He’s walked away from everyone who cares about him. Drifting from one dead end job to another. One dead end town to the next.  Sleeping rough. Shopping in charity shops for warm clothes. 

My notes went on for another two pages and at the end of it I had almost outlined  a complete story. I’d like to tell you it always worked like that but, sadly, that is not the case.  In fact, at one time I thought it had the makings of a serial.  Which it may well do one day.  Who knows?

So, as promised, here is the final version of that story, which was published in the UK magazine, My Weekly and has had subsequent overseas sales as well. 

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

As shoplifters went, the kid wasn’t even very good. Drawing attention to himself with each furtive glance. The idiot might as well be wearing a striped jumper, black mask and carrying a bag marked ‘swag’ over his shoulder.

Mac took a jumper off the hanger. It was a horrible mustard yellow, hand knitted thing, which was probably why it ended up in a charity shop. Not that he gave a toss what it looked like. The people he mixed with didn’t set too much store on sartorial elegance any more than he did. It was warm. It was cheap. Job done.

 He turned to take it to the till. The kid was still by the CDs. Probably just browsing after all. Whatever. None of his business.

The kid’s head suddenly shot up as three lads of about the same age as him came up to the window. One signalled him to hurry up. Mac watched as the boy slipped the CD into his pocket and hurried out to his giggling mates. He saw him show them what he’d got, heard the shrieks of derisive laughter. He saw, too, the kid’s head go down, shoulders hunched, as he shoved the CD back in his pocket.

Mac shrugged. No need to get involved. He’d be moving on tomorrow. To another dead end job in another dead end town. But at least this time accommodation of a sort went with the job. That would be good. The nights were getting too cold to spend many more on the streets and the pain in his leg was getting worse, the colder it got. Sleeping rough was not one of his better ideas.

The girl at the till looked ridiculously young to be alone in charge of a shop. No wonder the kids were stealing off her. Mind you, if she kept the more valuable items, like that little egg cup he was pretty sure was silver,  nearer the till, that would be a start. 

“I’m so glad someone’s bought this,” she smiled as she folded the jumper. “My gran knitted it for my brother and he refuses to wear it.”

“Lucky for him he can afford to be choosy,” Mac growled – and instantly regretted it. It came across as whingey, and self pitying and he was neither. 

“Oh Lord, I’m so sorry.” A flush stained the girl’s pale cheeks. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“You didn’t,” he said tersely. Why didn’t she just bag the thing and let him go? He didn’t come in here to get her life history. Didn’t want to know about knitting grannies. Certainly didn’t want to think about his own, who didn’t knit. But worried. Even though he was thirty two next birthday, she still worried about him. Probably a little less now he’d given up climbing.

“I don’t usually work in the shop,” the girl was saying. “I’m happier looking after the animals. But the rescue centre needs the money desperately and when we had the chance of this empty shop for a few months, we jumped at it. But I’m not very good at it, as you can probably tell. Take these biscuits, for example. There were eight of them but now there are only six and I know I haven’t sold any. Look, I’m going to have a cup of tea and a biscuit while they’re still here. Would you like one? I made them, so it’s ok.” 

“No thanks.” Mac grabbed the bag and headed for the door. What? Did she think he was a bloody charity case? Or, maybe she thought he was the one who’d been nicking her precious biscuits? He might look a down and out. He might shop in charity shops. But that didn’t mean –

He stopped. He was angry. Hell, yes, he was angry. It was the first time he’d felt anything, except an icy numbness, since The Accident. Correction. Since the day after, when Mrs Pearce had screamed at him, called him a murderer. Said she hoped the knowledge that he’d killed her daughter would haunt him for the rest of his life. Well, she wasn’t wrong there.

He’d coped by training himself to feel nothing. No pleasure. No joy at the sight of a sunrise, no warmth in the company of friends, nor even the comfort of a soft bed. It was, he reckoned, a price worth paying. To be where no one knew him. Or tried to make him feel better by saying the accident wasn’t his fault. That he’d done all he could. 

When he knew, just as Mrs Pearce did, that he hadn’t.

Why then, had he got so angry, because a young woman with a big soft eyes and a sweet smile had offered him kindness? Was it because she’d seen him as an object of pity? Someone who couldn’t even afford the price of a cup of tea and a biscuit? Who relied on the kindness of strangers?

Much better save her pity for the downtrodden donkeys and abandoned dogs.

As he reached the door, he was surprised to see the young shoplifter approaching and stood back to let him in. Then, on an impulse, he turned and followed him back into the shop. Outside, the others were urging the kid on. Obviously, the CD was not to their taste and they’d sent him back for bigger fry.

The kid reached into his pocket, took out the CD and put it back on the shelf. Mac watched as he edged up to the shelf where the silver egg cup was. Saw the furtive look as he picked it up, the relief when he saw the girl was busy on the other side of the shop.

Without realising he was going to do it, Mac walked across, put his hand over the boy’s stick thin wrist. Waited until the hand opened and the boy let the egg cup go. He looked up at Mac, his eyes wide with fear.

“Look, I’m sorry, mate,” Mac said loudly. “It’s no good asking me about volunteering. You should ask the lady over there. It’s her shop. I’m sure she can do with some extra help. Isn’t that right?” he said as the smiley girl came across to them. “Who knows? She may even offer you a cup of tea and a biscuit while she tells you all about the rescue centre.”

She looked surprised. Saw, too, the egg cup, upside down on the shelf. He could see she understood what had happened here. Would she call the Police? Up to her. It was stupid of him to have got involved anyway. It was just there was something about the kid. He’d seen it many times before. 

Back in the day, before The Accident, he’d worked with kids just like him. Not bad kids, most of them. They came to the Outdoor Pursuits Centre where he’d worked, full of bluster and bravado when they first got there. Scared witless at their first sight of a mountain close up. Trying desperately not to show it. Hell, but he used to get such a kick out of the ones who ‘got it’, the ones who scraped their knuckles, cramped their legs muscles, forced themselves so far out of their comfort zones they’d never be the same again. The ones who stood with him on the top of the mountain, their eyes full of awe, their faces full of wonder.

This boy wasn’t a bad kid. Just had some bad mates. Not that Mac gave a toss what happened to him, of course. 

“Here,” the girl gave the boy a beaming smile and handed him a leaflet. “It’s really good of you to enquire about volunteering. We run the rescue centre on a shoestring, you know, and need all the help we can get. Why don’t you read that and, if you’re still interested, come up to the centre, meet the animals and we’ll talk about it?”

The boy mumbled something barely audible and scuttled out of the shop.

“Thank you, Mac” the girl said quietly. “You handled that really well.”

He spun round, his mouth dry. “You know me?” he whispered, rubbing his hand through his straggling beard, his long lank hair.

“I do now. You are Rob McKinley, aren’t you? I wasn’t sure when you first came in. But my brother – the one who hasn’t the wit to recognise a good jumper when he sees one – he has a poster of you on his wall. Climbing’s his passion. You’re one of his heroes.”

Hero? He was no bloody hero. He was the guy who hadn’t been able to stop a young girl fooling around on a mountain. Hadn’t insisted she stayed with the group and not forge on ahead. Hadn’t been able to get down to her quick enough. Hadn’t been able to stop his own out of control tumble down the treacherous scree covered slope as he tried to reach her, his leg snapping like a twig during the fall. Hadn’t been able to move her, nor force her to hang on to life as they’d waited for the rescue party. 

Had cradled her lifeless body, long after she’d gone. 

“I was so sorry to hear about your accident,” the girl said softly. “Sorry, too, about the girl. It wasn’t −”

Mac’s hands were shaking as he wrenched open the shop door. Time to move on. Fast. Before she had chance to tell him that the accident wasn’t his fault, that he was – what had they said at the enquiry that had exonerated him? – a hero. 

So he did what all ‘heroes’ do when they come up against something they can’t handle. He ran – as fast as his wreck of a leg would carry him.

………..

“Thank you,” Mac said as the man dropped money into the bowl. He felt a cold nose touch the back of his hand and reached to fondle the dog’s head. Archie was never far from his side.

“Well, how are we doing?” Beth asked.

“The money’s rolling in,” Mac said. “It’s typical of Tom to turn his leaving do into a fund raising bash, isn’t it?”

“He’s a great kid, isn’t he? And he’s going to be a great vet, too.”

“He’s got a long, hard slog ahead, though. Getting into vet school’s one thing. Staying there’s another.”

“He’ll be fine, Mac. Don’t be such a pessimist.”

He pulled her towards him and kissed the top of her head. “You always see the best in everyone. And I love you for it.”

He loved her for a whole load of other things as well and there wasn’t a day went by that he wasn’t thankful for the way she’d run after him that day. Taken him back to the shop, made him sit and listen and eat those damn awful biscuits she’d made.

“Of course I see the best in people,” she said. “And you don’t, I suppose? That day in the shop, you could have had Tom arrested for shoplifting.”

“And so could you. You knew as well as I did he wasn’t in the shop to volunteer.”

“Yet look where volunteering’s taken him,” she said. “I knew, from the first moment he turned up at the rescue centre that he was as nuts about animals as I am.”

“Nuts being the right word.” Mac ducked quickly. Beth could pack a hefty punch, a result, she claimed, of standing up for herself against her bully of a brother.  The same guy who was now Mac’s best friend, climbing partner and soon to be best man at their wedding.

“Well, get on with it,” Beth said. “There’s a load of people heading this way who haven’t bought raffle tickets yet. You’re slipping.”

Mac smiled as he watched her hurry away to talk yet more people into sponsoring donkeys or adopting ducks. 

Beth could never resist a stray. She treated the frightened, the abused and abandoned with the same quiet patience she’d dealt with him. Gently, but firmly, she’d chased away his demons and dragged him back to life. 

A life which, amazingly, she wanted to share. Along with four donkeys, a foul mouthed parrot and goodness knows how many dogs, cats, chickens and ducks.

 THE END