Where does crime writer David J Gatward get his ideas?

I am delighted to welcome David Gatward to my blog this week.  I recently featured him in my Idea Store column in Writers’ Forum and I was anxious to find out more about this author whose output has left me full of admiration, both for its quantity and quality.

I was first attracted to David’s books when I read that his current series of crime novels featured Wensleydale in the Yorkshire Dales, a part of the world I love as we had many happy family holidays there when my children were little.

In the past two years David has published TEN books in his excellent DCI Harry Grimm series and it opens with Harry Grimm arriving – very reluctantly – from Somerset to take up his new post in the area.  

Me.

Welcome to my blog, David and thank you for agreeing to be featured.  Thank you, too, for reminding me how very much I love the Yorkshire Dales and how it is high time I went back there.

I’m intrigued to know how you managed to produce such a great series in such a short time.

David.

Lockdown!

Me.

My brain froze during that time, at least to start with.  Obviously you are made of sterner stuff!

David

I was working in Suffolk but lived in Somerset, so I couldn’t actually get to work. Then I was put on furlough. So, I had time to play with. Various writer friends of mine (Barry Hutchison/JD Kirk, Alex Smith, Jonathan Mayhew) were doing the Amazon thing so I thought I’d give it a go.

Me

By the ‘Amazon thing’ I take it you mean publishing the books yourself? You certainly have some talented and successful writer friends to point you in the right direction.

David

My background was traditional publishing, children’s and teen fiction, and we knew each other through that world, even appearing at various events together. Anyway, I launched a horror trilogy, just to give it a go. Then, after a lot of ‘Do this, Dave! Do this!’ from Barry/Alex/Jon, I decided to give crime fiction a go. The nice thing was the challenge of it. Something new to learn. And it took my mind off what was going on with work, with lockdown.

Me

Where did the idea for the series come from?

David

The old adage of ‘write what you know’ came into play. I grew up in Wensleydale but lived in Somerset. So, I decided I’d have a detective from Somerset get sent up north. I’ve also ghost-written various military/action novels, so I gave him a military past. 

From that point, I did a bit of research on police procedure, read some crime books, and just got cracking. I started book 1 in May 2020 and launched it in July 2020. I didn’t think much would come of it. Turns out I was wrong!

Me

You certainly were! And I and many of your fans are delighted.  You’ve written ten books in the series so far. How do you keep coming up with ideas?

David

What I’ve done is try and base things on my own experience, the area itself, and wider ideas. 

For example, book 2, Best Served Cold, was based on a government safety film I remember us being shown in primary school called Apache. It’s all about farm safety and is terrifying! 

Book 5, Restless Dead, is based on a ghost story and haunted house I’d remembered from the area. Book 6, Death’s Requiem, came about due to chats with my celebrity pal, the rather wonderful Aled Jones! 

I’ve been helping him learn to write for a series of children’s books he’s doing called Bobby Dean, and we joked how it would be fun to kill him in my next book. So that’s what I did, and the book is dedicated to him as well. 

It’s fun coming up with new ideas and seeing what happens, plus I have the many lives of the characters now to keep going, which readers seem to love more than the actual crime stuff, particularly the dogs!

There’s also fun stuff, like the whole cheese-and-cake thing, which I put in simply as a little detail, but which has kind of blown up rather. 

There’s also the local flavour stuff as well. I like to make sure that geographically the books are fairly accurate and I have emails from readers who go on holiday now to the Dales to find places I’ve mentioned. 

Me

Ah yes, the cheese and cake thing. I’m afraid, soft southerner that I am, that’s something I’ve yet to be convinced about as I am not a great lover of Wensleydale cheese (sorry!) and I’ve been told it just wouldn’t work with good old Somerset cheddar.  

I’ll keep an open mind though. You certainly brought the place vividly to life for me and, I’m sure, for many of your readers.

David

Cockett’s Butchers in Hawes gets a lot of visitors who are readers heading in for food and to have a photo taken outside! Madness, really, but so much fun!

Me.

How would you describe your genre?

/

David

I’m writing crime fiction and I believe it’s called police procedural. This was a thing I knew nothing about when I started! So, there’s been a bit of research. It’s a series because I know that series do much better with readers than standalone books. 

I write as a living, not just because I love it, so building a series and a readership is key. The more books in the series, the better and easier it is to market and convince people to give it a go. Then, if they like the first couple of books, hopefully they’ll keep on reading.

Me.

And, hopefully, you’ll keep on writing the series.  What inspires you most?  Characters? Settings? Maybe even books you have read?

David

I don’t think anything inspires me the most really. I just enjoy writing and get cracking. Sometimes an idea will come from a character, something in their past, an action, or I’ll have an idea for a crime. Maybe a historical event or weird tradition will get me thinking. Sometimes I’ll be watching a film and an idea will pop into my head and I’ll have to write it down.

Me

How did your writing journey start?

David

I had my first book published when I was in the last few months of being eighteen. It was a book of prayers for teenagers, stuff I’d written from the age of sixteen. I did a year out, working at an outdoor centre (the one mentioned in book 3 of my Grimm series, Corpse Road, Marrick Priory, in Swaledale!). It was through an organisation where teenagers work across the country in various roles. 

At a volunteer training weekend, one of the other volunteers took what I’d written to show her dad. Turned out he was Kevin Mayhew, owner of Kevin Mayhew Publishers, and he sent me a contract. The book came out a few months after. It was hugely exciting. I wrote a couple more during university then went to work for him straight after. 

Between then and now I’ve done various publishing jobs, worked for the civil service, spent some months on a salmon farm in Scotland, written children’s fiction, worked as a ghost-writer, led hundreds of creative writing sessions in schools across the country and over in Ireland, and I actually ended up in the end as the managing director of Kevin Mayhew Publishers as my last job, so it was all very full circle. 

And now I write full time. It’s a mad world, really, so I try to not think about the journey too much because it makes my head hurt.

Me

Do you have any future plans?

David

The aim is to keep writing really. DCI Harry Grimm has a good number of adventures in him I believe. I’ve written just over five novels a year this past two years, but I’m dropping that to four from now on. This will allow me a little more time to think up and work on other ideas. 

I have one I’d like to do based in Somerset. I’ve also a few thriller ideas. It would be fun to see Grimm as a TV show and I’ve someone working on a treatment for that, though that’s something which I doubt will happen. Anyway, lots going on and I’m enjoying doing it.

Me

That’s awesome!  

And finally,  please tell us three things about you we might not know.

David

1. I’ve seen ghosts! The first one was while I was mowing the lawn at a large house when I was sixteen (pocket money work!) Middle of the day and there was a man in a black suit under a tree watching me. And then there wasn’t … The other was at Marrick Priory. I ‘lived’ in a static caravan on site. The place had a history of hauntings. I was woken in the night by a bright light and saw a woman in a corseted dress standing next to my bed. Very strange.

2. I love watching snooker and darts.

3. I had a drowning accident when I was six so I’m pretty terrified of water. I can swim, and I love being in the sea with my two boys, but that’s about as far as I’ll go with it. Though I am stupid enough to throw myself into daft activities just to show them how important it is to confront your fears. So, for example, on holiday in Scotland, we did white-water rafting and various other daft things, which involved throwing yourself into mad rapids to then pop up downstream, as well as jumping of 10-metre high bridges!

 Me.

You’ve been a fabulous guest.  Thank you for answering my questions so patiently.  Thank you, too, for the promise of many more DCI Grimm adventures to come.  I look forward to reading them.

Social Media Links, blog, website etc.

Website: www.davidjgatward.com

Twitter: @davidgatward

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/davidjgatwardauthor

Facebook Harry Grimm Reader Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/373849887240040

The all important buy links.  

Grimm Up North (book 1 of the series): mybook.to/Grimm-Up-North

check out David’s Amazon author page for links to the other books in the series.

 Author bio

Biographies are strange things to write. What to include, what to leave out, wondering why anyone would really care that, for example, I had a drowning accident when I was six years old, or that I once dislocated my elbow because my dad encouraged me to jump off a rather high wall.

I could start at the beginning, perhaps. I was born in 1973 to a nurse and a trainee Methodist minister (they’re my parents, in case you’re wondering). We lived in the Cotswolds where the family grew to include two more boys and a golden labrador, though not necessarily in that order.

From the Cotswolds we then moved to Hawes in Wensleydale, a place of hills and moors, the deepest snow we’d ever known, and to us a strange love of things like cheese and cake and pie-and-pea suppers. Those were very happy days for us all and the memories I have of the place, the deep affection still, made it the natural place for me to set my DCI Harry Grimm crimes series.

After Wensleydale, we moved down to Lincolnshire, a place that makes up for the clear lack of hills with the most breath-taking skies. When I was eighteen, I then headed back up to the dales for a year to work at Marrick Priory, an outdoor education centre, then onto the Lake District, to study my degree in outdoor education.

Through all of this, I had a love of reading and of writing. I was the kid in English who’d write those really long stories, which probably didn’t make much sense, but certainly filled up the exercise books. I wrote for fun and was reminded of this by an old school friend, who told me how we used to set each other writing tasks to do during our free time.

Obviously, there were other interests beyond reading and books. I didn’t just spend my entire childhood in my bedroom hiding behind my own personal library. There was Cubs and Scouts and Boys Brigade, archery and fencing, walking, caving/potholing, climbing, shooting (air rifles and shotguns), camping.

My first book was published when I was eighteen. After graduating, I moved into publishing, did a wide range of jobs, published some more books, then somehow ended up working on a salmon farm in Scotland. When the company offered me a trainee management position, I promptly left and got a job as an editor. Somewhere along the way I became a dad, moved around a bit more, and started writing children’s and teen fiction, under my own name and also as a ghostwriter. I traveled around the country doing creative writing sessions in schools, won an award. Trying to make a living that way though isn’t exactly easy, so I then moved on to running a small publishing firm on the other side of the country. And then the pandemic hit.

Work changed considerably because of this so to help myself deal with it, I started writing again. And, listening to the advice of some good writing friends of mine (Barry Hutchison/JD Kirk, Jon/JE Mayhew, Alex Smith/Gordon Alexander Smith), I decided to try writing crime.

Life is a strange, wonderful, terrifying, exciting, frustrating, surprising thing. I’m doing now something I always dreamed of, through a mix of never giving up, listening to others, taking advice, hard work, and a fair amount of luck and good fortune. Do I have an idea of what’s around the corner? Of course not! But what I do know is that I’m having a lot of fun on the road.

Short story. Good at Saying Goodbye.

In the current issue of Writers’ Forum, I am writing about how I got the idea for one of my short stories and promised that the story in question, Good at Saying Goodbye, would be on my blog.

So, here it is.  And if you have taken the trouble to come here after reading my Idea Store column, then thank you very much.

If not, then I hope you too will enjoy the short story, which came about after I got chatting to a lady in a supermarket car park. 

Good at Saying Goodbye

By

Paula Williams

“Well, what do you think?” Paul asked.

Maria looked up from her magazine, her warm glow from fantasising over Triple Chocolate Mousse with Black Cherry Compote fading abruptly at the sight of her husband.

He was dressed in walking boots and waterproofs, with a bobble hat at least three sizes too small (which, she supposed, one of the kids must have left behind) perched on top of his head like a big red pimple.  

And – this was what turned her warm glow to icy chill – he was holding her boots and waterproofs with the same self satisfied smirk the cat had when offering her a freshly caught mouse .

“Come on, love,” he said, in that bracing voice she’d come to dread.  “It’s a lovely day.  I thought we’d go up HenleyHill this morning and then have lunch out.  What do you say?”

‘No’ was the first word that came to her mind, followed swiftly by ‘way’. But she settled for: “It’s cold, windy and they’re forecasting rain.”

“But we’ve got waterproofs.  Come on, it’ll be fun.”

Fun?  Maria would have more fun filling in her tax return than struggling up those near vertical, scarily narrow paths that snaked up through the woods on Henley Hill, where partly exposed tree roots lurked ready to trip you up and bramble ropes swung menacingly from the trees’ branches, waiting for the chance to garrotte you.  

And yes, if you survived all that, the view from the top probably was fantastic, but Maria would be too busy fighting for breath to notice or care.

It was all right for Paul.  He was built – and acted – like a mountain goat, except for the hat, of course which, if he’d been a real goat he’d have eaten by now which would have been no bad thing.

“I’m not really in the mood,” she said.

“But a bit of fresh air will make you feel better.”

Maria was about to point out that a couple of hours on the sofa with her magazines and a bar or three of chocolate would make her feel better but he had That Look on his face again.

That Look had first appeared the day she’d had a funny turn in the undies section of Marks and Spencers.  Her legs had, for no good reason, suddenly buckled under her and as she fell, she grabbed the nearest thing – a rack full of Special Offer knickers.  The last thing she remembered before darkness and knickers overwhelmed her was how her mother used to tell her if she was going out to make sure she had clean underwear on, in case she had an accident and ended up in hospital.

Well, she didn’t end up in hospital – although she’d have been as well prepared, knicker-wise, as she’d ever be – but in the doctor’s surgery, where both he and Paul had That Look on their faces.

“You’ve had a wake up call which you’d do well to heed,” the doctor said before coming out with such a torrent of long, unfamiliar words that her eyes glazed over, while Paul was nodding vigorously.  The only words she did catch, although she wished she hadn’t, were Late Onset Diabetes, diet and lifestyle changes.

“Are you still fostering?” the doctor asked.

“Just Jay and Bethany at the moment,” she said.  “Three year old twins. I’ve been looking after them while their mum recovers from an operation but she’s back on her feet now so they’ll be going home any day now.”

“How many children have you fostered now?  Or have you lost count?”

Lost count?  She’d never do that because they all meant so much to her.  Some, like little Jay and Bethany, only stayed for a couple of weeks while others were with her for years.  She loved and remembered them all.

“Eighty-seven,” she said proudly.  “It takes forever to write my Christmas cards.”

“I’m sure.”  He flashed her a brief smile, then sent her world spinning out of kilter as he added: “You’ve done a great job but I strongly advise you call it a day now.”

She heard Paul’s sharp intake of breath, felt him lean across and take her hand in his as she stared blankly at the doctor across his desk.

“You mean – g-give up fostering all together?  B-but I can’t do that.”

“And what would have happened if Paul hadn’t been with you and the children this morning when you blacked out?” he asked.

For once in her life, she didn’t respond with her usual breezy: “Oh, I’ll manage.  I usually do.”

……………………

Two days later, Jay and Bethany went home to their mum, leaving Maria wandering forlornly through the empty rooms. She’d never known her house without children, at least not for the last twenty years.  Twenty years of tears, tantrums and tussles as well as love, laughter and sheer unbounded joy.

It was what she did.  Looking after children, caring for them, loving them. Watching so many of them grow from  poor broken little people into happy, confident ones gave her a buzz like nothing else could.  And she was good at it.  

She was even good at saying goodbye, knowing she’d helped turn their lives around and that many of them would stay in touch. Knowing, too, there were always other children, waiting for the chance that she could give them.

‘But being good at saying goodbye isn’t really much to show for a lifetime’s work, is it?’ she thought with an uncharacteristic spurt of self pity. ‘When Paul retired recently, he left with a half decent pension and a set of golf clubs.  But without children to look after, I’m not much good at anything, except perhaps cooking.  My chocolate cake has coaxed many a withdrawn youngster out of their shell.’

“You know what the doctor said, love,”

Maria looked up sharply.  She’d almost forgotten that Paul was still standing there, his waterproof rustling, his pimply hat pushed back even further where he’d been worriedly scratching his head.  And she hated worrying him.  She’d tried, really tried to follow the doctor’s advice.  But it was difficult.

“Lose some weight and get plenty of exercise,” he’d said. “That will put you back on your feet.”

But the trouble was, without the children to run around after, picking up everything from stray socks to lost homework, her weight began to pile on, not come off.  This, of course, wasn’t helped by the fact she was still doing the same amount of baking as always, only now there was only her and Paul to eat the cakes, pies and puddings she loved to cook.  And now, Paul was even suggesting she gave that up.

He’d taken on the task of her ‘Lifestyle Change’  with the same single-minded zeal he’d approached his job. She’d become, she realised, his latest Project. Every week he’d come up with some new form of torture that he laughingly called exercise.

First there was golf.  But she didn’t get past the first green and would be still there now, trying to get that silly little ball into that miniscule hole if the foursome behind hadn’t got impatient.  Then there was swimming, but she hurt her back climbing down the steps into the pool.  And as for getting on a bike again, the memory of that out of control, headlong rush into the hedge where she’d ended up face down in a patch of brambles still gave her nightmares.

Now he thought he was going to get her to go charging up Henley Hill with only the promise of a slimline tonic and a lettuce leaf at the end of it?  In his dreams.  She picked up her magazine, ready to return to the Triple Chocolate Mousse.

“My back still hurts from swimming and my bramble scratches are still pretty uncomfortable,” she said.  “But you go ahead.  I’ll be fine.”

But of course she was anything but fine, sitting sad and alone in the tidiest, the quietest and the emptiest of empty nests. An old fat mother hen with no chicks to fuss and cluck over.  She missed the children so much it hurt and the realisation that there would be no more grieved her beyond belief. 

Paul, desperately anxious to find something, anything, to help lift her out of her depression had even suggested she get a job to give herself something else to think about  – but what could she do?  What sort of jobs were there for people whose only skills were baking cakes, telling stories that would turn tears into laughter – and, oh yes, being good at saying goodbye.

……………………..

Maria beamed with triumph as she stepped off the scales.  A whole stone gone.  But she didn’t need the scales to tell her she was losing weight – her clothes were doing that.  Some of them were so loose she’d have to go and get some new ones.  She hadn’t been back To Marks and Spencers since the knicker rack incident but she was fairly sure they wouldn’t recognise her.

She looked – and felt – better than she’d done for years and the doctor was as delighted as she was.

And it was all down to having young Ben in the house.  As demanding and hard work as he was, she was loving every minute of it and was delighted the house was filled with laughter again.  It had lost its unnatural tidiness too, as his toys were scattered about the place, just as she liked it.

He kept both her and Paul busy and she was so thankful to Paul for suggesting it.

“It’s ok. If it looks like being too much for you, I’ll help,” he’d said when at first she’d looked a bit unsure. “I’ll enjoy it.  He’s such a lovely little chap, so bright and affectionate. Well?  What do you think?”

What did she think?  She thought having Ben was the best thing that had happened to her for ages. It had banished her depression and turned her life around in the best possible way.  Since his arrival she’d been too busy to bake – and chocolate cake was bad for him anyway.   She’d started walking more, too.  At least twice a day, every day, whatever the weather.  They’d even been up Henley Hill several times and although it still made her puff and pant, it was getting easier.

Paul was right about Ben being intelligent, too.  He was as bright as a button and was learning every day, bless him.  So, of course, was she.

Her initial doubts, when Paul had first suggested they become Puppy Walkers for the Guide Dogs for the Blind had long gone.  And their first puppy, Ben, a beautiful golden labrador, was a delight.

There was just one slight problem looming on the horizon.  In spite of what she’d told them, she wasn’t at all sure that, when the time came, she’d be any good at saying goodbye.

1820 words

A reader’s special memories – and my short story OUT OF BALANCE

It’s always a delight to hear from readers and recently a lovely lady called Gilly Metcalfe wrote to me to say how much she enjoyed my Idea Store column in Writers’ Forum, particularly the one where I was talking about how my family have inspired so many of my short stories.

“I have so many handed down family stories ” she told me. “My mother was one of ten children and like you, loved putting on plays.  My grandfather, a publican, was a founder member of Chelsea football Club and had the Rising Sun ( now The Butcher’s Hook)  they were just opposite the playing field at Stamford Bridge and my aunts and uncles had many childish memories of hilarious events connected with those days.

She then went on to add a delightful poem that she had written about her father, who was always trying new things,

A Man of Many interests

He had a go at many things

All in strict rotation:

Pelmanism, Christian Science,

And deep sea navigation.

…..

Riding horses, roller skates,

(He ended up in plaster).

Studying the stars and Fates

(That was a disaster).

…..

Potted meats and picnics

And camping by the river.

Keeping up with Father

Sent us all a-quiver

…..

He joined the Home Guard, did his bit

As shrapnel showered down.

He fought the fires and faced the blitz

To save old London Town.

…..

Now the man of many interests

Has new challenges in hand,

Bungee jumping with the angels

In happy Neverland.

…..

Isn’t that fun?  Gilly’s family and her father in particular sound fascinating so I contacted her to find out more about them and, of course, about her.

“I am in my nineties,” she told me.  “I have so many family stories.  The Fire Dance was what my father performed at our parties.  Each child was given a box of matches and he danced energetically, wearing a newspaper Hawaiian skirt made by my mother and cut into long fringes and tucked into the top of his trousers.  We had to try and set fire to him as he danced.  Finally he would slow down so a child could actually set fire to the fringe.  He would then snatch off the skirt, throw it down and stamp on it until the flames were out.  Everyone ran around the room screaming.  The Fire Dance was very popular.”

I’m sure it was although I wonder what today’s Health and Safety people would make of it!  And Gilly has many more family memories to cherish.

“So many titles come to mind: ‘Great Aunty Minnie and the Christmas Pudding, ‘Great Aunty Minnie gets the Better of Hitler,’ ‘Great Aunty Minnie Disapproves,’ and so on. Or my Grandmother accidentally sending a false moustache to the Bank with a note saying, ‘Please place to the Credit of my Account.’ Another time, when she minded us for the day, the dog ate the middle out of the egg-and-bacon pie. She turned the crust upside-down and spread jam on it. That was our dinner, but it still had bits of bacon rind in it. We made the most of everything during the war.”

Grandmother’s jam and bacon pie would probably go down a storm on Masterchef.  I asked Gilly what she writes about when she’s not writing poems about her father.

“I have written lots for feature pages in local newspapers, magazines, and anywhere – a wide assortment of subjects ranging from ‘Rare Moths of Dungeness,’ ‘Malaria on the Marsh,’ The Wickedest Man in the World,’ and many biographical pieces on blue-plaque awardees. Also fiction and poems of all sorts – ‘How to Draw a Kingfisher on a Computer,’ and I’ Got Bovver wiv my Little Bruvver.’ And nature poems and lots and lots more. I have spent the last two years researching for an academic paper on ‘God’s Word on Baler Twine’ which is about the mysterious scriptural textboards in the little Romney Marsh churches.”

My thanks to Gilly for such a fascinating glimpse into her wonderful family.  and I hope she goes on writing about them and about her many other interests for many, many years to come.

……

The copy for that particular issue of Writers’ Forum was written when I was emerging from a post-Covid brain fog and I used the rest of the column to talk about a short story I wrote that was inspired, not by my father this time (there’s no way anything he did comes close to that Fire Dance!) but from a card I bought for my Chartered Accountant son.  

In my column I explained to my readers how this jokey card led to a short story idea and promised that the story ‘Out of Balance’ would appear on my blog.  So, here it is:

Out of Balance

Jane bristled as she read the birthday card.

Old accountants never die,” it announced. “They just lose their balance.”

The card was wrong on so many levels. First, thirty-five was not old. Second, she had never lost her balance in her life, either literally (thanks to her daily yoga practice) or metaphorically (thanks to the fact that she was a totally consistent, even handed Libran) and she wasn’t about to start doing so just because she was now half way to her three score years and ten.

And third, that it should have been Conor, of all people, to have sent such a card proved what Jane was beginning to suspect. That she and Conor were totally incompatible. 

In fact, to paraphrase his silly card, as a couple they were completely out of balance.

Her doubts were confirmed later that day. As always when there was a special occasion coming up, she had everything planned. She’d treated herself to a glitzy new dress that had cost not only an arm and a leg, but head, shoulders, knees and toes as well. But it was so worth it. She was off to have her hair done this afternoon and she’d managed to book a table at Luigi’s, the smartest restaurant in town for this evening. She couldn’t think of a better way to spend her birthday.

It didn’t bother her that it was always down to her to do all the arranging, even for something like this. Conor was hopeless at that sort of thing.

But that was fine. She was good at organising. He wasn’t. That was just the way things were and she was ok with that. No, it wasn’t his lack of organisational skills that were giving her these crippling doubts but something much more fundamental.

The truth was, they were total and complete opposites. He was a dreamer, she was the practical one. He was an optimist, she a realist. He liked dogs. She liked cats. The list was endless.

And their relationship simply wasn’t going to work.

Should she cancel this evening, feeling the way she did? It was hardly the right thing to ‘dump’ someone in a place like Luigi’s, was it? She sighed as, being the true Libran she was, she weighed up all the possible options. She was in a right ‘mardle’, as Conor would say.

Then her phone rang. And her ‘mardle’ suddenly got a whole lot worse.

“Hi, sweetheart.” The excitement in Conor’s voice made his Irish accent even more pronounced than usual. “I’ve got some terrific news, so I have.”

So, no ‘Happy birthday, Jane’. Nor even a ‘Did you get my card?’ Just ‘I’ve got some terrific news, so I have’

This better had be terrific, Conor O’Mallin, so it had, she thought. 

“What is it?” she asked as she reminded herself that her idea of ‘terrific news’ and Conor’s were often poles apart.

“Remember that agent I was telling you about? Well, he’s in town tonight. He’s going to be at the Three Bells checking out some local bands – and he wants to hear us. Apparently he’d heard us at some gig we did a few weeks back and thinks we may be what he’s looking for. This could be it, sweetheart. The Big One.”

“Tonight? But I’ve booked Luigi’s. I told you -“

“Cancel it. We can go to Luigi’s any night. But I’ll never get this chance again.”

“But it’s my -” she began but stopped. He was so caught up in the excitement of the ‘Big One’ that he’d obviously forgotten that today was her birthday. Disappointment thudded to the pit her stomach. She’d so wanted her suspicion that things weren’t going to work between her and Conor to be wrong. But there was no pleasure in being proved right. 

It wasn’t about him forgetting her birthday – he had, after all, remembered to send her a card. It was yet one more example of how very, very different they were.

“Now you will be there tonight, won’t you?” he went on, his voice fizzing with barely controlled excitement. “Because I’ve got something really special -“

“No, Conor,” she cut in, wishing with all her heart she didn’t have to do this but knowing she must. “I won’t be there, I’m afraid. I’m going to spend the evening with Mum. I might even persuade her to come to Luigi’s with me. She’s still very low, you know. Missing Dad and all that.”

There was a stunned silence on the other end of the phone. Jane could imagine the expression on his face. The puzzled look in his eyes. She steeled herself not to give in and tell him she’d come tonight after all.

“Oh my God. How could I have been so stupid? It’s your birthday.” He’d finally remembered. “Jeez, I’m so sorry, sweetheart. It’s just – well, the call from the agent pushed everything out of my head. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. But I can’t -“

“I know you can’t,” she said, struggling to keep the tears at bay, at least until she could end the call. “Don’t worry about it. Best of luck for tonight,” she added. “Not that you’ll need luck. You’ll be brilliant, as always. We’ll talk tomorrow, OK?”

The call ended, she sat staring at her phone for a long time. She knew she was doing the right thing but why did it feel so bad? Was it because she couldn’t imagine life without Conor? He made her laugh, he made her cry but he always, always made her feel gloriously, zingingly alive.

But you couldn’t build a future, a life on zing, could you? You only had to look at the mess her father had left behind when he died to realise that. It didn’t add up. And for Jane everything had to add up.

Lose her balance? Not this accountant, no matter how ‘old’ she became. It simply wasn’t in her nature.

……

“Conor and I have broken up,” Jane said, totally unprepared for how much saying those words would hurt. “Or, we will when I get around to seeing him so that I can tell him to his face. It’s hardly the sort of thing to do in a text, is it?”

“Don’t get me wrong, love,” her mother said. “It’s lovely to see you. But why aren’t you out with Conor? I thought you had a special night arranged?”

“But why?” Her mother’s eyes widened with astonishment. “I really thought he was The One. You were so good together.”

“Because… well, because..” Jane twisted her hair around her fingers and avoided her mother’s eyes. “Because I don’t want to end up with a man like Dad.” The words came out in a rush. But she ploughed on, trying to ignore her mother’s shocked intake of breath. “He – he was an irresponsible dreamer, just like Conor. Always looking for the next best thing but never quite finding it. Lurching from one failed dream to the next. And then, when he died, leaving you with such a mountain of debts that you had to get a job in that pub, working all hours to earn enough to pay it off -“

“Stop right there, young lady!” There was an edge to her mother’s voice that Jane had never heard before. “For starters, if you do find a man like your father, then you’ll be one very lucky girl, believe me. And I always thought Conor was that man.”

“Then you thought wrong. I’ve just realised how incompatible we are. He’ll never change.”

“And why would you want him to?” her mother said. “I knew what your father was like when I married him and I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about him. Yes, he was a dreamer, Jane, just like your Conor -“

“Not my Conor any more.”

“Just like Conor and I was privileged to share that dream. And yes, we had some hard times. But he was a good, loving husband and a kind and caring father. You can’t ask any more from a man.”

Jane shook her head. She didn’t want to remember what a kind and caring man her father had been. Didn’t want anything to breach the wall she’d built so carefully around her heart since his sudden shocking death from a heart attack eight months earlier.

Her mother looked at her intently. Then her voice softened. “I’d no idea you felt like this about your Dad. But, sweetheart, you’ve got it all wrong. I didn’t take that job to pay off his debts. Where on earth did you get that idea from? Yes, there were a few, but they were covered by his life insurance. I took the job in the pub to get me out of the house during the long, lonely evenings. And I love working there. It’s really helping and the people are so nice.”

Jane stared at her mother without speaking for a long, long time. Then, slowly the wall around her heart crumbled and the hard lump that had lodged in her chest ever since that awful day began to dissolve as the tears flowed unchecked down her face.

Her mother put her arms around her and held her close. “It worried me that you never cried for him, darling,” she said, her own voice choked with tears. “It’s time to let go of all that anger. I felt angry too, you know. Still do sometimes, in fact. I look up at the stars some nights and I want to scream and curse at him. It’s all part of the grieving process, so I’m told.”

“Why didn’t he take better care of himself, Mum? Why didn’t he go to the doctor, like we told him to when he first had those chest pains? If he had -“

Her mother put a gentle finger on Jane’s lips. “It was his time,” she said softly. “That’s all. And what you need to do now – what I need to do as well – is focus on the good times we all had together. The grieving process is hard because he was so very, very much loved. But it’s the price you pay for loving someone. A price I’m more than willing to pay. And if I had my time over again, I wouldn’t change a thing – except,” she added with a wry smile, “I’d frogmarch the stubborn old fool to the doctor instead of believing him when he said it was only indigestion.”

…..

An hour later, Jane’s tears had all been spent, her make up repaired and she felt better than she’d done since her father’s death.

She’d also made a discovery. Something her accountancy training should have made her realise sooner.

It was all about debits and credits. The first rule of double entry book-keeping, that she’d learned all those years ago, was that for every debit there is a corresponding credit. That’s what achieved perfect balance. Total opposites, balancing each other out. 

Just like she and Conor did. His yin to her yang.

The Three Bells was so packed she had some difficulty getting across the crowded bar. Conor and his band were in the middle of a number. It was one of her favourites and she was disappointed to have missed it. It ended with huge applause and her heart swelled with pride.

Conor held up his hand and spoke into the microphone.

“Thank you so much,” he said. “Now, for our last number, this is a song for a very special lady who sadly can’t be here tonight. I wrote the song for her but I’ll sing it anyway.”

Suddenly, he looked across to where she was standing and a huge smile lit up his face. He began to sing.

I spread my dreams at your feet,

My life, my love and my song.

Together we are complete.

One life, one love and one song.

Old accountants needn’t lose their balance, Jane realised. Not if, like her, they’d found the perfect counter-balance. 

Where does JD Kirk (one of my favourite crime writers!) get his ideas from?

I am delighted to welcome one of my favourite authors to my blog this week.

I discovered crime writer JD Kirk thanks to the great Facebook group that I’m always mentioning – The UK Crime Book Club.  I joined a few years ago now when the numbers were in the low hundreds and there are now, I believe, over 20,000. I have met some fabulous, new to me writers there – and JD Kirk is way up there with the best of them. (Sorry if I sound a bit fan-girly but I had Covid recently and JD’s Logan series as well as his new series, took me right out of myself and even made me laugh out loud on days when I really didn’t feel like laughing).

So if you haven’t come across his books yet, do check them out. The DCI Logan books are police procedurals set in Scotland.  They are full of brilliantly drawn characters, evocative settings and great storylines. He is (as I’ve said in the magazine extract below) one of those truly gifted writers who can make you laugh and cry in the same scene.  There is one scene in particular that for some reason has stayed in my mind all this time, where he’s delivering some harrowing news to a couple and it’s all very emotional and sad.  But at the same time he is sitting in one of those bendy Ikea chairs and wondering how on earth he is going to get out of it!  I have one of those chairs and the memory of that scene makes me laugh every time I sit in it. 

I contacted JD to see if he would be happy to be featured in my Idea Store column in Writers’ Forum and also on this blog and I was delighted when he said yes. I was particularly interested in talking to him about a spin off series that he’s written, featuring Bob Hoon, a secondary character from the Logan series.

I asked JD what made him choose Bob Hoon – or was he one of those characters who simply would not go away?

‘It was exactly that,’ he explains. ‘And also the complete opposite of that. I never intended Bob Hoon to be anything but a background character – a caricature of a horrible boss, who readers would love to hate. Before long, though, the majority of the emails I was receiving was from readers who either wanted more of Bob in the Logan books, or wanted him removed completely, because they couldn’t stand him. That was when the idea of giving him his own book first came to me, and while I initially dismissed it as a ridiculous idea, it – and he – kept nagging away at me until I could no longer refuse. It was a bit like a demonic possession which I’m now in the process of trying to exorcise!’

I am one of the readers who loved Bob Hoon, mainly because JD Kirk writes with such humour although be warned: if you don’t like strong language in a book then you will definitely be one of the people who don’t like Hoon! He takes swearing to a whole new, creative level.

I have recently finished North Wind, the first in the Hoon series and I loved it. It has all the ingredients I’ve come to expect from a JD Kirk novel – plenty of action, great characters, lots of humour and deeply touching moments of pathos. He is one of those talented writers who can make you laugh and cry in the same scene.

Does he have any more books planned for Bob Hoon?

‘I knew from the outset that I wanted to give him a trilogy, telling one overarching story, but with each able to be read as a standalone. The second book in the series, Southpaw, is published in March, with the third, Westward, coming out in May. Frankly, after everything I put him through, it’s a miracle he survived the first book, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed heaping even more pain and misery on him in the sequels.

‘Part of the appeal of writing a Hoon series was the challenge of taking this frankly horrendous character and getting readers not just to tolerate him, but to actively root for him to succeed. From around the seventh book in the Logan series, I started to introduce a different side to Bob, and while he always remains pretty relentlessly awful, you get to understand why, and see occasional hints that he might not be a complete monster all of the time. Just most of the time.’

He has certainly succeeded, and it has been fascinating to see how Bob Hoon’s character has changed over time as the reader discovers more about his background, which goes part of the way to explaining why he acts the way he does.

But does that mean that there aren’t going to be any more Logan books? I asked JD anxiously, because I – like many others – am a huge fan of the series which just gets better and better.

‘There are plenty more Logan books to come, and I have no plans to stop them at any point soon. I’m already hard at work on book 14, City of Scars, and am starting to throw around ideas for the one after that, too, so Logan is going nowhere!’

………….

Me

Thank you so much for the magazine interview and for agreeing to this Q&A session.  Firstly, how would you describe your genre?

JD

I think the Logan series can be best described as a Scottish police procedural with a heavy dusting of dark humour, and the Hoon series as “Jack Reacher, but with a lot more swearing.”

Me

Great answer!  I’m a huge Reacher fan. What inspires you most when you start writing? Is it the characters? Settings? 

JD

For me it’s always about the characters first and foremost. Everything else comes a distant second. With the Logan series, while the plots are all proper crime fiction storylines with murders happening left, right, and centre, readers keep coming back to spend time with those characters again, not to find out whodunnit.

Me

We certainly do.  I think I’m more than a little in love with Jack Logan.

Tell us a little about your writing journey.  How did it start?

JD

I’ve wanted to be an author since I was nine years old, when I first discovered you could get paid for making up stories!

The first piece of writing I was ever paid for was a comedy horror screenplay set in the Highlands of Scotland, which I wrote when I was 17. Since then, I’ve written over 200 books for dozens of publishers, under a variety of pen names, covering everything from picture books to science fiction.

Me

That’s an incredible body of work.  And your plans for the future? Lots more Logan books I hope.

JD

I write about 5-6 books a year, so my future plans are largely to slow down a bit and occasionally take some time off! Whether that will ever happen, though, is a different matter.

Beyond that, I’m developing a new series that’s part crime fiction, part fantasy, which is unlike anything else I’ve ever written. The first book, RAGNAROK RIDGE, should be out towards the end of the year.

Me

5 to 6 books a year is an astonishing output, especially books of such high quality. I should think you have totally earned the right to take some time off. Although speaking as one of your fans, I can’t help hoping it won’t be for too long. 

Finally, tell us three things about you that we might not know about you.

JD

1  I wrote for The Beano for a number of years.

2 I (technically) co-wrote a book with Roald Dahl long after his death.

3 Since 2018, I have exclusively self-published all my own work.

Me

The Beano and Roald Dahl!  My son was an ardent fan of both and he will be well impressed – as am I.

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions so patiently.

Social Media Links, blog, website etc.

Twitter.com/jdkirkbooks
Instagram.com/jdkirkbooks
Facebook.com/jdkirkbooks

website

JDKirk.com

The all important buy links.  

link.jdkirk.com/dciloganseries
link.jdkirk.com/hoon1

Author Bio

JD Kirk is the author of the multi-million selling DCI Logan series. He also does not exist. Instead, he’s the alter ego of author Barry Hutchison, who lives halfway up a mountain in the remote Highlands of Scotland with his wife, two children, and an assortment of annoying pets. He enjoys reading, eating excessively, and writing about himself in third person.

Angels on Oil Drums – one of my favourite short stories

In my Ideas Store column in the current issue of Writers’ Forum, I am telling the story behind the first short story I ever sold and how it was inspired by my childhood.

I will post the full story behind the story here (and separate the fact from the fiction) after the magazine has been out for a while, but in the meantime, as promised in my column, here is the short story. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! It still makes me laugh and brings back such vivid memories.

ANGELS ON OIL DRUMS

The day King George VI died was a strange one. At school, Mrs Perry put a vase of snowdrops on a purple velvet cloth in front of the picture of His Majesty and told us to pray for Princess Elizabeth. But I thought this was a bit unkind to Princess Margaret so I prayed for her as well.

And at home, things were even stranger.  Mum wasn’t in the kitchen like she usually was when we got in from school.  Instead, she was in the garden. Crying  By the washing line.

She didn’t seem to notice that only half of the best green tablecloth was on the line.  The other half had knocked over two of  Dad’s brussel sprout plants and was trailing in the dirt. She stood, one hand on the line, the other in the blue gingham peg bag I’d made her in Home Crafts last term. It was as if she’d got half way through pegging out when she’d frozen, like we do in the playground when we’re playing Statues.  Only this was no game.

Her face was lifted towards the sky and  I thought at first she was watching the rooks squabbling in the tops of the beech trees behind our cottage – until I saw her puffy eyes, her red nose and the tears glistening on her cheeks.

‘Mum?’  I dragged the wet tablecloth off the brussel sprouts, knocking over another one as I did so, ‘Mrs Perry told us and I’m sad too.’

‘For goodness’ sake, Jenny, what do you want to go creeping up behind people like that for?’ She dropped the other end of the tablecloth as she turned her back on me and rummaged in her apron pocket for her hankie. ‘And what are you on about?  What did Mrs Perry tell you?’

‘About the King, of course.’ The tablecloth, which smelt of soap powder and brussel sprouts, was cold and slippery as I tried to brush off the worst of the dirt.  The brussel sprouts, I was glad to see (because I hate them) were beyond my help.  ‘Isn’t that why you’re crying?’

‘I’m not crying. I don’t know where you get your daft ideas from, really I don’t. Run along indoors and see what your brothers are up to before they wreck the place.  I’d no idea it was that time already. Don’t stand gawping at me, child.  I’ve got a cold, that’s all.’

She was bent over the big stone sink in the scullery, her sleeves pushed up to her elbows, rubbing away at the tablecloth when our dad came home. I was glad to see him.  I didn’t know what was wrong with Mum, but I knew she didn’t have a cold and, to be truthful, I didn’t think she was that upset about the King, either.

‘Are you all right now? Or -?’ But he got no further because as he started to speak, she turned the tap on so hard, water hit the tablecloth and sprayed out like a fountain. I was watching from behind the pantry door and knew she’d go mad, because she hated mess and the scullery floor was like the swimming baths.

Instead, she spoke in a fierce whisper. ‘It’s all very well for you to say “we’ll manage” and “what’s another mouth to feed?” but I can’t go through all that again, Fred. Not now, with the twins about to start school.’

‘It’ll be different this time.’ Dad said, ‘Our Jenny’s of an age now where she can help out –’

‘Indeed she will not.’  I forgot to breath.  What did Dad think he was doing?  I could tell, even without seeing her, she had her lips pressed together so hard there’d be little white lines in the corner of her mouth.  Didn’t he know when she was like that it was best not to argue?

‘She’s a sensible girl-‘ he began.

‘Jenny will have homework to do when she goes up to the Grammar School come September.  She’s a bright girl and Mrs Perry says she should do well.  There’s going to be more in her life than getting married and having babies.  I’ll make sure of that.’

And then, on this strange day, the strangest thing of all happened.  Our Dad, who never, ever raised his voice, especially not to Mum, shouted, ‘I’m sorry your life turned out so badly.’ Then he wrenched open the back door and stomped out.

The windows rattled as he slammed the door behind him and Cassie, our dog, who’d been asleep in front of the Rayburn woke with a start and hissed.  Poor Cassie hasn’t barked since the day she was tossed into a blackthorn hedge by a bad-tempered Friesian heifer.  The shock and shame of it had put an end to her career as a cow dog – and to her bark.

The best she could manage was a hissing croak, like someone trying to shout and whisper at the same time. Usually, we had to try hard not to laugh at her because Mum said dogs had feelings too and how would we like it if everybody laughed at us?  But that day, nobody laughed at Cassie

………………………………..

Although I hated to hear Mum and Dad row, I was thrilled to hear Mum call me a bright girl.  I’d no idea I was in her good books and decided that when she’d calmed down a bit, I’d ask if Rosemary Dinsdale could come to tea. More than anything in the world – except, of course, passing for the Grammar School –  I wanted to be Rosemary’s  best friend. Yesterday she’d fallen out with Sheila Grant, so this was my best chance ever. 

Rosemary was small, neat, and pretty and Mrs Perry must need new glasses. Why else would she have chosen Sheila for the part of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the School Concert?  As I told Rosemary, anyone could see she looked far more like a Sugar Plum Fairy than Sheila ever could.  And what did it matter if she got muddled and tripped over her own feet sometimes? Even Sugar Plum fairies did that now and then, I supposed.

Rosemary was everything I longed to be.  She was an only child, with silky blonde plaits that reached halfway down her back. She lived next to the church in a big house with lots of windows, a swing in the garden and a proper lawn.  Even the flowers grew in well-behaved rows and there wasn’t a brussel sprout or raspberry cane in sight.

I, however, had straight, mousey hair, cut in what Mum called a “sensible” style, with a fringe like a bookend. Our farm cottage had tiny windows, thick walls and no room to move, with me, Mum, Dad, my three brothers (that’s Peter and twins Antony and David) and, of course, Cassie, as tightly packed as Mum’s bottled gooseberries.

As for our garden, there was a square of grass the boys had turned into a football pitch, Dad’s vegetable patch, a hen house, some apple trees with a washing line strung between and a forest of out of control raspberry canes where the hens would hide when it was time for them to be shut in for the night.

But what I admired most about Rosemary was how every day, at break, she’d have two chocolate digestive biscuits wrapped in a snowy paper napkin. What, I wondered, must it be like to live somewhere where they had chocolate biscuits all the year round and not just at Christmas when Gran turned up with her tin of Peak Frean Family Assorted?

And as I was thinking of Christmas, that was when I got one of my Really Great Ideas.  I often had them, as my brothers knew to their cost. 

But this was The Best Yet.

…………………………………….

‘A St George’s Day Pageant.’  I told Peter as we walked home from school next day. ‘That’ll cheer Mum up. Remember how she enjoyed the Christmas one at school?’

‘Sounds daft to me.’ Peter swung open the farm gate that led to our cottage. ‘Who’s going to be in it?’

‘Well, me.. and you..’

Peter snorted.  But I ignored it.

‘- And the twins..’

Peter snorted again.  ‘They won’t –’

‘… And Rosemary Dinsdale.’  That was the best bit. Nobody else from school, and especially not Sheila Grant, would be asked.  I’d have Rosemary all to myself and when the Pageant was the huge success I knew it would be, Rosemary and I ‘d be best friends.  For ever.

‘Rosemary Dinsdale?’ Peter’s snort turned into a yelp of laughter, then a cry of pain as I thumped the top of his arm. With my knuckles. Hard.   ‘That hurt.’  He rubbed it and glared at me.  ‘I’m not going to be in your stupid Pageant. Nor will the twins.  It’ll be just you and that stuck up Rosemary Dinsdale.’

But of course it wasn’t.  Peter had forgotten how “persuasive” I could be.  He was no match for me, any more than Anthony and David were.  One of the few advantages of being the eldest in a family of four.

Rosemary, however, was gratifyingly enthusiastic.  Especially when I assured her it would be the easiest thing in the world to include a Sugar Plum Fairy in a Pageant about St George.  Everybody knows dragons and fairies go together.  

………………………………………

The Pageant was planned for the Saturday nearest St George’s Day. The final rehearsal had gone well and even the weather was kind.  It was a perfect Spring day, when the sun shone from an achingly blue sky and the air fizzed with the scent of May blossom and the sound of birdsong.

The transformation from back garden to theatre was amazing. We didn’t have enough kitchen chairs so Dad had laid out bales of hay which we’d covered with blankets.  Mr and Mrs Dinsdale were both working and couldn’t come but we still had a good audience. There was Mum, Dad, Gran –who’d only brought Rich Tea biscuits seeing as it wasn’t Christmas so I was praying Rosemary would forget I’d promised her the pink wafers- the Vicar, Mr and Mrs Robinson who own the farm and a thin, anxious man with a shiny suit who’d been hoping to sell Mum some yellow dusters and a floor mop.

For the stage, Mum had let us bring out the hall rug to cover the grass and we’d draped a pair of grey blankets across the washing line for the backdrop and I’d placed four of Mum’s big enamel jugs stuffed with crab apple and cherry blossoms along the front. But best of all -so good, the Vicar said they were “astonishing”- were the two angels with long golden hair and outstretched wings who smiled down on the audience.

The music began.  I’d based the pageant around  a stirring hymn about Saints resting from their labours (Allelulia!).  I made a fetching St George and Peter did his best as the dragon.  His cries when St George’s sword thwacked across his back were very realistic.  It was fast, colourful, action packed and going very well, until…

Until the angel on the left fell off his oil drum.  And the one on the right started to cry and said he wanted to get down, too.

I nearly cried too. I’d worked so hard to get those angels looking right.  I’d got Dad to bring across a couple of empty oil drums from the farm and stand them, on end, either side of the stage.  Then I’d scrounged a pair of old sheets and draped them over the twins and their drums.  I’d even unravelled lengths of the yellow twine that was used to bind hay bales and fashioned them into beautiful golden wigs.  

And I’d bribed them with my Toby Twirl Annual and the remaining half of my Easter Egg, both, fool that I was, given in advance. They’d eaten the chocolate and I couldn’t bear to think what they’d done to Toby Twirl.  Now they were about to ruin the entire Pageant by walking out.

I stopped the music. Rather, I stopped singing – Rosemary and Peter had given up several bars earlier – and brandished my sword at the remaining angel.

‘Antony, you stay right where you are. Mum, please make David come back.  He’ll do it if you tell him he’s got to.’ Then I turned to the rest of the audience and with a flourish St George himself would have been proud of announced: ‘Ladies and gentlemen.  The show goes on.’

But as I launched in to the next part of the hymn, about the dawning of yet more glorious days when Saints triumphant rise in bright arrays  (Alleluia!),  Antony’s cries to get down soared above everything.  David decided to make a run for it, shook off his sheet and binder twine wig and dashed across the stage as the Sugar Plum Fairy made her sensational entrance.  

She launched into her famous pirouette, when mid-turn, her foot got caught  in discarded angel trappings.  My warning cry came too late as she flailed about and grabbed the nearest thing to break her fall. Sadly, that was the backdrop.  There was a crack like a shotgun going off and Mum’s washing line lay on the floor, with Rosemary buried beneath a tangle of white sheeting, binder twine and grey blanket. 

Cassie suddenly remembered she was a cow dog and starting rounding everybody up, her croaks getting louder and louder until, she made a weird throat clearing honk and out came a full throated bark.  A miracle. Cassie had recovered her bark.  It rang out above Rosemary’s muffled screams and Antony’s sobs.

Everyone else, including me, was frozen in shocked silence.  Then Peter went across and helped Anthony down and I shut my eyes.  Mum was going to be furious.   

But when I opened them, she was laughing.  In fact, everyone was. And she didn’t seem to mind about her washing line.  Or that I’d left Antony screaming his head off on top of an oil drum. Or that David was hiding in the raspberry canes.  Or that Cassie, having remembered how to bark had now forgotten how to stop. Everyone was laughing – even Anthony now he was safely back on earth.

Everyone that is except for me.  And, of course, Rosemary Dinsdale.

Again, it was Peter who helped her up. I couldn’t move. Her wand was bent and the binder twine wig had caught on one of the spikes of her crown, so that it covered half her face and wound itself like bindweed around her silken plaits.

 ‘I hate you.’ she screamed at me.  ‘You and your stupid pageant.  Can’t you see they’re all laughing at you?’ Her small grey eyes narrowed with spite.  ‘At you – and your stupid dog, of course. Can’t you make it stop that awful noise? Wait until Sheila  hears about this – this rubbish. Everyone at school will laugh at you.  I’ll make sure of that.’

‘And I’ll tell them how you tripped over your own feet and brought everything crashing down.’  Peter said.  ‘How it was you they were laughing at, not Jenny.  Some fairy you turned out to be.  Fairy elephant, more like it.  Our Jenny’s worth a dozen of you, Rosemary Dinsdale.’

She turned on him, her crown jammed so far down on her head it pushed her ears out, her eyebrows down and made her look like a demented elf.  ‘How dare you talk to me like that,’ she hissed and reached out to grab him, ‘You little –’

‘Leave my brother alone,’ I waved my sword at her.  ‘And you can say whatever you like at school.  I don’t want to be friends with you anymore, anyway.’

I was surprised to find that I meant it and was going to add that Mrs Perry had been right and that she couldn’t dance for toffee, but I didn’t.  Because it was true. She couldn’t dance for toffee.  Or sing either.  In fact, she wasn’t much good at anything. Except looking pretty.  And, of course, the chocolate digestives, which she never shared anyway. 

I looked at Mum.  She was still smiling. Dad had his arm around her and they were looking at each other the way they used to.  Maybe, just maybe, things were going to be all right.

So the Pageant had worked after all.  It had cheered Mum up and Dad too by the look of it. Cassie had recovered her bark.  And of course, by Christmas, the new baby would have arrived.  

And that was when I had another Really Great Idea.  

A Christmas pageant, in the barn this time, so the twins could stand on the raised bits instead of wobbly oil drums.  And then, of course, there’d be a real live baby for the starring role. Maybe Sheila Grant, who everybody knows is a much better dancer than Rosemary Dinsdale, would like to be Mary. 

Oh yes, it was all going to be so beautiful.    

the end

The Day The Music Died – a short story and a painful memory

On this weekend just before Valentine’s Day, it’s quite appropriate that I should be writing about what Shakespeare described as ‘The Food of Love”.  I’m talking about music, of course.

Music has always played a very important part in my life.  I think I was born singing – although I fancy my mother probably had another word for the noise I made!

My father was always singing and to this day, I swear he made some of the songs up!  I can remember him and his sister around the piano in my grandparents’ house singing Silver Threads Among the Gold and “A Rose in a Garden of Weeds”. Then there was “I’m a lonely little petunia in an onion patch. That would always make me cry.  (Unintentional pun there – sorry!) But I have never been able to track down the words to Where’s my other flippin’ sock? That one’s down to you, Dad.

One of my earliest musical memories was one Saturday morning. I was about five and was doing my chores, part of which involved sweeping the broad concrete paths that divided our house from the one next door.

I was beyond thrilled when our next door neighbour called out to me from her kitchen window and gave me sixpence for ‘singing so nicely that it cheered her up.’  Dad, however, suggested she’d probably paid me the money to make me go away.  And he may well have been right.  I went back on several consecutive Saturdays, sang my heart out but never received another sixpence.

I longed to learn to play the piano.  We’d inherited the one that belonged to my grandmother and it took pride of place in our sitting room but was only used to display family photographs.  I would sit at it for ages, peering at the sheet music, learning the words but failing to make any sense of the notes.  But with six children to feed on a farm worker’s wages, there was never any money left over for luxuries like music lessons.

So when I started grammar school, I was thrilled to see Music on the timetable.  Was this, then, my big chance?  Alas, no. Looking back on it, I think the elderly music teacher looked back longingly to the days when she taught at a private school.  She certainly didn’t teach the majority of us anything about music, preferring to address herself only to those girls who had private music lessons, so most of what she talked about went way over my head.

However, there was one thing she did that I loved  She ran the school choir and I couldn’t wait to join. I tried and failed several auditions but eventually she must have grown tired of saying no to me and allowed me to join.

I can still remember some of the songs we used to sing, like The Ash Grove, Barbara Allen, many of these lovely old songs which are now in danger of sinking into obscurity.  I can still remember them now (don’t ask me where I put my car keys yesterday though!) One of these was an arrangement of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. I still know all the words to that – and often sang it to my boys when they were little. What was I thinking?  They must have hated it because it does have rather a disturbing ending!

When my children were young, we were lucky enough to move to a village near Wells and I joined the cathedral’s Oratorio Society.  And rediscovered my love of singing.  

But this time, I had better luck.  The conductor – and my fellow altos – were very patient and I learned so much, including how to read music.  The first piece I sang (or, I confess, mimed to for a lot of the time) was Bach’s St Matthews Passion and as soon as I heard it, it was like coming home.  Like I’d just found something I’d been looking for all my life.

I learned more about music that first season that at any other time in my life and I was totally hooked on choral music.  The thrill of being in a large group of singers, with an orchestra, in that lovely building never left me.  I stayed with the society for many years and enjoyed some memorable moments, one of which stands out and still gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.  

We were doing Britten’s War Requiem and it had involved some long and difficult rehearsals.  We always had a final afternoon rehearsal before the evening performance.  These would be with the (professional) soloists and orchestra and could be quite hard, intense work.

This particular afternoon, the tenor stood up to sing ‘Move Him Gently Into The Sun” but instead of singing it towards the nave of the cathedral, he turned and sang it to us, the chorus!  It was so moving and we were so touched by his gesture that there was hardly a dry eye among us and when it was our turn to sing, we were all choked up. At least it got all that emotion out of the way in time for the evening performance and maybe that was why he did it.  But it was a wonderful gift and a memory I treasure.

I enjoyed my time with the society so much that even when they introduced auditions I kept going and managed to scrape in.  Just like I had at school.

Then life intervened and things happened and I stopped going.  By the time I rejoined several years later, much had changed.  Gone was the kindly, gentle conductor who carried out the auditions in a small private room well away from the eyes and ears of other people.

Instead, I was warned that the auditions would be held after rehearsal, but we were never told which one.  So, one evening, at the end of rehearsal, he suddenly announced that those who were hoping to join should stay behind for the auditions.

It was a nightmare.  While everyone else was chatting, milling around and putting chairs away (this all took place in the main body of the cathedral) we lined up.  Those who were better prepared than me had brought their own music and we waited in turn.  This took me.right back to those school music lessons when everyone else seemed to know what they were doing and I hadn’t a clue.

By the time it was my turn, I was rigid with fear. I explained that I didn’t have any music (maybe I should have taken my chances with ‘Where’s my other flippin’ sock?!) so I’d sing what we’d been rehearsing that evening and I got about three bars into it and just gave up.  I walked away. And cried all the way home.

Many years later a choir was started in our village.  No auditions necessary.  So I joined and it was great fun.  But then I developed asthma which involved (and still does) a lot of coughing and so I gave up.

Until lockdown.  When the lovely lady who runs the choir started a virtual choir on zoom.  This was the sort of choir for me, I thought.  I can sing and no one can hear me.  So I joined and rediscovered my love of singing.  My sort of choir.  Although I had no intention of joining the real one when things got back to normal.

Then a few months ago, the village choir was allowed to meet for real – and, because I have some very ‘bossy’ friends, (in the nicest possible way) I went along.  We meet in the village hall, with all the door and windows open and everyone bundled into multiple layers of clothing so that we look like a choir of Michelin men.

And we’re singing songs by Katie Perry, the Beach Boys and lots of other people I’ve never heard of (I hadn’t heard of Katie Perry either but I’ve just googled her).  And it’s the best fun. 

So it might not be Bach.  It might not the splendid surroundings of Wells Cathedral.  But the thrill I felt that first time when we sang together, in harmony, was as great as ever.

And no auditions.

And, if, as I believe, that no experience, however painful, is wasted on a writer, below is a short story I wrote a few years ago which drew very heavily on that nightmare of an audition.  It still makes me hot with embarrassment just thinking about it!

The Day The Music Died

Maggie stood tall, straight-backed, her throat almost closed,  her eyes over-bright. Her only thought was to get away without having to speak to anyone. Without having to see the pity and embarrassment in their eyes.

Too late to wish she’d never come.  Too late to wish she’d never let Lindsay talk her into it.

“It’ll be good for you, Mum,” Lindsay had said. “You used to love choral singing – and look, it says here the Cathedral Choral Society is looking for new singers, especially tenors.”

“But they’re male voices,” Maggie said with a smile, knowing Lindsay didn’t share her love of classical music. “I’m an alto.  Or, rather, I was.  Who knows what I am now?  I haven’t sung for years.”

“Then why not give it a try?”

Maggie felt quite guilty about the way her dear, well meaning daughter, who had more than enough to do looking after a young baby, worried about her. Even now, more than a year after John’s sudden, shocking death from a massive heart attack, Lindsay kept finding things for Maggie to do, as if a succession of non-stop activities could somehow fill the un-fillable hole in Maggie’s life.

But this time, maybe Lindsay had got it right. Maggie used to belong to the Cathedral Choral Society years ago but had to give it up when the demands of her job and family had made it difficult to attend the weekly rehearsals. When she saw they were doing Bach’s Mass in B Minor this coming season her heart did something it hadn’t done for a long time.  It gave a little lift of joy.  Bach was one of her favourite composers and she knew she’d enjoy singing those wonderful soaring choruses again.

John used to shake his head at her, puzzled and laughing, as she tried to explain how she got almost as much pleasure from looking at Bach’s music, with its undulating lines of musical notation rippling across the pages, as she did from hearing or singing it.

Going into the cathedral for the first rehearsal of the new season was like meeting up again with an old, dear friend.  She’d forgotten what a thrill it was to walk through that magnificent building, darkened except for the lights in the rehearsal area.  She’d always loved the feeling of belonging, of having the place to herself (at least, her and the other hundred or so members of the Choral Society) now the tourists had gone home.

She loved, too,  the deep shadowy corners, the sonorous echoes, but above all the feeling of reaching back across the centuries as the music she was helping to make soared heavenward into the cathedral’s highest places, the different voice parts weaving in and around each other like ribbons around a maypole.  

It felt good, too, to take her place among the altos again Not that she knew any of them now.  And she certainly didn’t know Simon, the conductor, a young and ambitious man who was, according to the woman on her left, destined for ‘great things.’

As the rehearsal got under way, she realised he was a much more exacting task master than his predecessor.  James had been a soft spoken, gentle man who coaxed the music from his chorus.  Simon, on the other hand, demanded the highest standard right from the very first rehearsal.  But, to her surprise, Maggie found that as her confidence returned, she actually relished the challenge.

“You do realise there’s an audition, don’t you?” the society secretary had explained.  “Simon likes to do it after rehearsal.  Probably in a week or two.  Is that ok?”

“That’s fine.”  Maggie remembered all too clearly when auditions had been introduced, back in James’s time.  Everyone had got very agitated and worried about it, but in the end, it was all done very calmly and kindly.  A bit of sight reading and a  few easy scales to show you weren’t tone deaf which Maggie had managed with ease.

Simon, however, did things differently.  

On the third week, during the break for notices he announced he would be holding auditions after that evening’s rehearsals and would those this applied to please stay behind.

Her first instinct was to put on her coat, hurry out and not come back.  Particularly when she realised the auditions were not going to be like last time, when one by one they were called into a private room, with kindly James urging them to relax and telling them it was nothing to worry about.

Instead, they clustered around the piano in the middle of the rehearsal area, which was still bustling with people chatting in small groups, or busily putting the chairs away.  She stood in line with the other hopefuls, all of whom appeared much better prepared than she was. 

 She felt her first moment of panic when the first singer opened her mouth.  She had a beautiful soprano voice and gave a near perfect solo performance, her clear pure voice rising above the hubbub of one hundred plus people making their way home.

As, one by one, the line grew shorter, each voice was the same stunning standard as the first.  Maggie grew more and more uneasy, a sick feeling in her stomach, her hands clutching her music as if it were a life raft and she had just leapt off the Titanic.

She’d decided she was going to sing the Dona Nobis Pacem  chorus they’d been rehearsing that evening.  It was something she knew well and figured that at least she wouldn’t make a complete fool of herself by losing her place. 

There was no encouraging smile from Simon, seated at the piano.  Just a one bar introduction, during which Maggie forgot all she ever knew about breathing, still less about pitch.  What came out of her mouth was the kind of sound her dog made when someone stepped on his tail.

“I- I’m sorry,” she stammered.  “I – I’m a bit nervous.  I forgot to breathe.  Do you mind if we start again?”

He didn’t exactly sigh and look at his watch.  But she could tell from his body language it was a close run thing.

This time, Maggie forced herself to relax and focus on the music.  The beautiful, beautiful music that had made her cry the first time she heard it. The beautiful, beautiful music that deserved the very best of voices.

She was half way through the seventh bar when her throat, which had been getting tighter and tighter, finally closed over completely and she gave up.  Simon played on for a few more bars then, when it became apparent she wasn’t going to join him, stopped and looked at her.

“That’ll be a no, then?” Maggie said, trying to make it sound casual, like it was no big deal.  He nodded and she walked away, back through the still lingering groups of people.  She walked briskly, shoulders back, her head held high, not looking at anyone. Not wanting to see their pained expressions – or worse still, their pity.

…..

And that was the day the music died for Maggie.  She’d sung all her life, from as far back as she could remember.  She sang when she was happy and sometimes when she was sad.  She sang when she was driving and when she was out walking the dog. She sang when she was working and when she was playing.

Until the night of the audition when something inside her, that little kernel of joy that was everything music meant to her, shrivelled and died.  Like a frost stricken rose.

After that, she never sang again.  Not even Happy Birthday to Harry, her little one year old grandson who was born three months after his Grandad John died. Instead, she just mouthed the words as her daughter and son-in-law sang.

…..

“So I was wondering, Mum, if you’d mind looking after Harry tonight?” Lindsay asked a couple of weeks after the audition.  “Unless it’s your rehearsal night?”

“No.  I decided not to go after all,” Maggie said.  “I didn’t really enjoy it that much, you know.  My voice isn’t what it was.  And it’s – it’s not so good coming home to an empty house.  I’m still not used to that.”

“I understand,” Lindsay said quietly. “But what a shame.  I thought you loved it –”

“What time do you want me tonight?” Maggie cut in.  She wasn’t exactly thrilled about being asked to look after Harry.  Not that she wasn’t very fond of him.  He was a dear little chap, with a smile to melt your bones.

But, the truth was, she wasn’t very good with babies.  Never had been, when she came to think about it.  John was always the one who could calm Lindsay and her brother down when they were little.  He was one those people who was completely at ease with small children.  Not awkward and over anxious like she was.

He’d have made such a lovely granddad.  They’d have made lovely grandparents together.  But on her own, she wasn’t much good.  And young Harry was teething, which meant he was far from being his usual sunny self.

Add to that the fact that she’d never actually looked after him on her own before.  Rob’s mother, Jenny, was a much more hands on grandma than her and Maggie was quite happy to stand back and let her get on with it.  But Jenny was away visiting her other son that week.  So it looked as if, as far as Lindsay was concerned, it was Maggie or nothing.

Lindsay and Rob hadn’t been gone ten minutes when, to Maggie’s dismay, she heard the first fretful wailings coming through the baby monitor.  She left it for a few moments, hoping he’d go back to sleep.  No chance.

By the time she got to his room, his cries had all the volume and passion of the Hallelujah Chorus in full throttle.  His little face was scarlet, his cheeks glistened with tears.

She picked him up, jiggled him around a bit the way she’d seen Lindsay do, offered him a bottle, changed his nappy, even tried to interest him in his toys.  But it was no good.  Nothing she said or did had any effect.  The screaming got louder and shriller, and he was pushing at her with his little fists.

“Oh John, where are you when I need you?” she thought desperately.  “If you were here, you’d know what to do. But then, if you were, he wouldn’t be in this state in the first place.”

She felt like crying along with Harry – and it would have been a toss up whose wails would have been the loudest.

Then, a long forgotten memory tip-toed into her head.  She cradled the unhappy baby in her arms, took a deep calming breath and, very softly, very gently, began to sing.

And amazingly, Harry stopped crying, looked up at her and smiled.

So she took another deep breath and sang some more.  And she didn’t stop singing until Harry gave a little sigh and finally went back to sleep.

Puff the Magic Dragon wasn’t exactly Bach.  But it was a start.

Where does contemporary romance author Nina Kaye get her ideas from?

I am thrilled to welcome contemporary romance author Nina Kaye to my blog this week.  I recently read Nina’s novel, Take a Moment and loved it.  But before we get into the interview I’m going to copy my Amazon review of her book so that you can see what I’m talking about.

This is a stunning book and I loved every single page. It made me laugh, it made me cry – and it made me think.

It’s the story of Alex who has the perfect life until she is suddenly struck down with MS and it tracks her brave attempt to regain some independence and build a new – and very different – life for herself.

It’s a very honest, unsentimental account of learning to live with a debilitating and life changing illness and is told with humour and compassion. I loved everything about this book – including the descriptions of Birmingham. It sounds a fabulous place and has made me want to go there.

Me

Welcome to my blog, Nina and thank you so much for a really great read.  How would you describe your genre?  And do you write series or stand alone?

 Nina

My books are probably best described as contemporary romance.  Take A Moment, is marketed as a heartwarming romance, which I think suits it perfectly. I write standalone novels, however I do have a two-parter at the back of my writing closet that I hope will see the light of day at some point.  

Me

Tell us what inspires you most.  Is the characters? Settings? (I loved the Birmingham setting in Take a Moment, by the way.) Or are you inspired by books you’ve read?

Nina 

My inspiration often comes from my personal experiences and what’s going on around me. I like to write about things I’ve had some experience of to give them extra credibility, but I also apply a good bit of imagination. For example, Take A Moment, is inspired by my own experience of long-term illness, my love of karaoke and music, and a city that I’ve gotten to know and become very fond of (Birmingham). 

For characters, I tend to take traits from people I know or encounter and characters I see on screen. I never base them entirely on family, friends or acquaintances as they might then recognise themselves in my work – and I’m not sure that would go down so well. I also don’t tend to take my inspiration from other books in case I create something too similar. 

Me

You certainly succeeded.  I’m not sure I’d join you in the karaoke but you’ve made me want to visit Birmingham!  So, how did you writing journey start? 

Nina

I’ve spent most of my life as a ‘frustrated creative’ – someone who wanted to follow a more creative path, but who fell into a ‘safe’ career. I dreamt of being an author from a young age, when I was devouring the likes of The Babysitter’s Club and Point Horror. At 17 years old, I even flirted with writing outside the classroom when supposedly studying for my exams.

Fast forward nearly 20 years and it was my life-changing illness that got me on the path to becoming a serious writer. In 2014 my body essentially ‘broke’, and I spent months rehabilitating from a raft of confusing and debilitating neurological symptoms. During this time, I turned to writing to support my cognitive and physical rehabilitation, and the silver lining to all of this is that it led to me achieving my dream of being a published author. 

Me.

Take a Moment is your second published novel. Tell us a little about your first.

Nina

My debut novel, The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating, was actually the second book I wrote. It’s about Liv, whose high-flying career goes off the rails and she finds herself working at a glitzy new gin bar to pay the bills. She’s determined not to let romance distract her while she tries to get back on track, but with a hot colleague and a mysterious online follower in the mix, her dating life gets quite shaken up. It’s actually a story with some poignancy and themes of hardship, as well as finding love and a new beginning – and there’s a good dollop of humour along the way.  

Me.

It’s on my To Be Read pile and I’m looking forward to reading it.  But back to Take A Moment for a bit.  What was the inspiration behind it?

Nina.

The main inspiration for Take A Moment is my own experience of living with a life changing illness. When I became ill, my body failed me in incomprehensible ways: I experienced uncontrollable shaking and tremors, difficulty walking, loss of balance, faltering speech. My vision and hearing were distorted; I lost my ability to concentrate, couldn’t find words, could barely eat and I would fall flat on my face several times a day. That was only part of the picture. 

I was eventually diagnosed with a condition called Functional Neurological Disorder (FND). Simply put, my nervous system isn’t working properly and there’s a problem with the messaging between my brain and my body. It isn’t a degenerative condition, but it can be as physically debilitating and life limiting as MS and other neurological diseases, and it’s a condition for which there is no known cure. 

I’ve managed to reclaim my previous quality of life to a certain extent, but I’ve been left with chronic symptoms. These include pain, cognitive difficulties, fatigue, and a nervous system that’s stuck in high alert. And I still occasionally have acute flare ups of the symptoms I mentioned earlier.

When I started writing Take A Moment, I wanted to raise awareness of neurological/chronic illness as well as tell a good story. It was my way of giving a glimpse into the experiences of people with debilitating chronic conditions – because no one can ever really know what that feels like until it happens to them. I chose to write about a character with MS so that it wasn’t too close and because many of the symptoms I experience overlap. It was important to me to get across what it feels like to have your life suddenly shattered, while at the same time keeping the story light and humorous. 

My main character Alex’s experiences are drawn from my own: losing my independence and feeling suddenly vulnerable, concern about being unreliable, being treated differently, and facing professional barriers. Too often the focus is on what people can’t do rather than what they can – and I’ve gained some incredible strengths and insights through having lived this experience. I wanted to show this through my story: that being differently abled is not the end, it can almost be a new beginning, provided the right support is in place. 

On the positive side, some people can surprise you. In the organisation where I work now, I have hugely supportive managers who let me manage my health situation my way, while also allowing me to be the ambitious person that I am. Characters like Emmanual and Matt in my story are a reflection of the wonderful people in my life who have both supported me and cheered me on.      

Me.

You certainly succeeded in your aim, Nina.  I loved the way Alex’s strong character shone through.  She was never the stereotype ‘brave girl fighting against the odds’ , although she was brave and she certainly did a lot of fighting.  But you didn’t shy away from depicting her darker, weaker moments and this was what made her character so believable and compelling.  

It was, as I said earlier, not only a really good read with a strong storyline and well written characters, but it was also very thought provoking. I am so looking forward to reading more of your work, so what is next?

Nina.

My next standalone novel, One Night in Edinburgh, will be published 23rd June and I’m really excited to share it. It’s about a woman who suddenly finds herself single on Hogmanay (that the Scottish term for New Year’s Eve in case anyone’s not familiar). It’s another heartwarming romance, this time set in and around Edinburgh’s waterfront – a bit lighter and more humorous than Take A Moment, but it still gives a nod to the harder realities of life. 

Me.

Definitely something to look forward to then!  Thank you so much for answering my questions with such patience and honesty.  

Final question, three things we might not know about you.

Nina.

  1. My favourite karaoke song is Don’t Cry for Me Argentina – the faster Miami mix by Madonna, not the version from the musical.
  2. I have 18 different types of gin in my drinks cabinet (that I go through very slowly – just to clarify)
  3. At my day job, I chair a network for colleagues with disabilities and long-term health conditions. 

Author Twitter / Facebook / Instagram handles: all @NinaKayeAuthor 

Buy Links: 

Nina

I wasn’t sure what you’d look for in terms of buy links and what the reach of your blog is so just went for Amazon UK/AU/US/CA to cover the English-speaking countries.

UK https://amzn.to/2UScXm3

US https://www.amazon.com/dp/B099MLS9ND/

CA https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B099MLS9ND/

AU https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B099MLS9ND/

And here are some additional UK links for the paperback in case you want to include any of these: 

The Works – https://www.theworks.co.uk/p/contemporary-fiction-books/take-a-moment/9781800324732.html

Blackwells – https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/Take-a-Moment-by-Nina-Kaye/9781800324732

Waterstones – https://www.waterstones.com/book/take-a-moment/nina-kaye/9781800324732

Author Bio:

Nina Kaye is a contemporary romance author who writes warm, witty and uplifting reads with a deeper edge. She lives in Edinburgh with her husband and much adored side-kick, James. In addition to writing, Nina enjoys swimming, gin and karaoke (preferably all enjoyed together in a sunny, seaside destination). Nina has previously published The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating and has also been a contender for the RNA Joan Hessayson Award.

Where does author Morwenna Blackwood get her ideas from? (edited)

First, I have to start with an apology.  To you, my readers who are no doubt waiting anxiously for my latest blog post.  Or maybe not. (;-)

But most of all, I owe an apology to this week’s featured guest. I interviewed Morwenna Blackwood in my Idea Store column in Writers’ Forum a couple of months ago when Morwenna told me about the inspiration behind her series of novels and I wrote at the time that a fuller interview with Morwenna would appear on this my blog.

But then, like so many households, we had an unwelcome visitor by the name of Covid 19 turn up uninvited on our doorstep.  And like many an unwelcome guest, they were extremely disruptive, made a thorough nuisance of themselves and definitely outstayed their welcome, leaving us, when they eventually did go, with our house and our lives in chaos and our heads in a state of total brain fog.

Which is another way of saying that I’m sorry but my fingers, my laptop and my brain haven’t been talking to each other very much lately.

However, all is now behind us (hopefully), we’ve crossed our unwelcome visitor off our Christmas card list and my brain has started to function again.  Or as much as it ever did.

So, in my Idea Store column in Writers’ Forum I told Morwenna how I’d read and throughly enjoyed her novel The Glasshouse, even though it was way out of my reading comfort zone.  I asked how how she came up with the idea for the book which was when I discovered it was actually the second part of a three book series. Such is her skill as a writer that I didn’t even realise that as I read the book and am certainly looking forward to reading the others in the series.

Below is the fascinating and thought provoking quote she gave me for the magazine article.

Morwenna

Once upon a time, when I was sixteen and at college, sitting at my desk in a Communications Studies class, my tutor, Annie, was teaching us about how something and something else were inextricably linked. I kind of missed the point of the lesson because I can’t remember what she was actually talking about, but I’d never heard the word ‘inextricably’ before and fell in love with everything about it.

I remember thinking at the time – I can still see where I was sitting and my old folder! – when I write my books, I’m going to write about a point in time as if affects everyone around it, and the characters will all be linked but they won’t know it. I thought about writing from the points of view of four friends – separate narratives rolled into one. The idea stayed with me, literally, for years, and I wrote a load of stories, messing about with format. As I’m also fascinated by the that fact that perception is everything, even our concepts of reality, I decided to write something based on my own experience of mental illness.

Throughout my life I’ve been in and out of various psychiatric units. In one hospital, I remember a member of staff commenting on the fact that one of the psychiatrists was very good looking – I hadn’t noticed until then! – and I wondered what would happen if a doctor fell in love with a patient or vice-versa; I explored the idea in the piece I wrote for my MA dissertation, and this transpired to be the bones of Glasshouse.

Muse were the inspiration for the band in Glasshouse, ‘Charcot’; along with all the gigs I went to in my teens and twenties. I found the name when I was planning a presentation on ‘Hysteria’ as part of my MA. Jean-Martin Charcot was a French neurologist, who is best known nowadays for his work on hysteria and hypnosis; Freud was one of his students.

Although I had this fairly well-developed story, something told me that I couldn’t begin with it; instead, I wrote The (D)Evolution of Us first.

When I first fell in love, I fell in love hard. I was ill at the time, which exacerbated the situation, and when the relationship began to crack, I couldn’t understand what this lad was feeling, I’m ashamed to say. Elements of Adam and Cath came from that.

In truth, I am a survivor of abuse, and really this whole series of books (the published two, the third that’s in edits, and all the others in my notebooks and in my head) came about because I wanted to try to understand why people do the things they do – what makes someone cross a line. I hope one day to take a course in criminal psychology.

Everyone has their reasons, or, rather, catalysts, and our choices make us what we are to others. As I said, it’s all about perception – that’s why my website tagline is It’s all in your mind. I’ve spent a great deal of my life in existential crisis!

In essence, I got my ideas for this series of novels from my own experience of life, and my attempt to make sense of it.

Me

Thank you so much for that, Morwenna. That’s fascinating and I’m really looking forward to reading more of your work..   But let’s move on to your writing in general.  What inspires you most?  Is it characters? Settings? Or, maybe, books you have read?

Morwenna

I don’t think any one thing inspires me ‘most’. I kind of mash things together in my stories, so inspiration might come from a sentence I overhear walking down the street, or, in the case of Glasshouse, a turreted B and B by the sea. Novels aren’t written in a vacuum, and my personal experience of life pops up in various guises. And as a writer, of course I’m a reader. I love the exquisite and lyrical memoir writing of Horatio Clare, the bonkers stream-of-consciousness and snap-shot tripping of William H Burroughs, the bittersweetness of Jack Kerouac, and the absolutely incredible Dracula, by Bram Stoker, Joyce’s Ulysses, Luke Rhinehart’s, The Dice Man…so many!

Me

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

Morwenna

Writing has been the only constant in my life. I can’t remember ever not having written. The first proper story I wrote was about a frog. I was six years old, and I got told off because I wouldn’t stop writing it! It went on for a whole exercise book, and I never finished it! I took my first degree at the Uni of Manchester, because it had a great creative writing element, and wherever I’ve lived, I’ve joined writers’ groups and taken courses.

I self -published a novel – under a different name – when I was 36, but I didn’t have a clue about the industry, and have since taken it off the internet, although it might turn up in a different guise one day! Twenty years after my first degree, I took a Masters in Creative Writing at the Uni of Exeter – my dissertation eventually became Glasshouse. But it wasn’t until I took a course with Imagine, (click on the name for the link) called Novel in a Year, that I was ready to take my writing seriously, and approach agents and publishers. The (D)Evolution of Us was published by darkstroke, an independent publisher, in May 2020. And there’s no stopping me now!

Me

That’s great to hear. And what are your future plans?

Morwenna

Keep going and see what happens! As I mentioned earlier, my third novel is with my editor right now, and I’ll approach publishers when I’m happy with it!

I’m also writing a non-fiction book, and a short story. I have several other novels in the Glasshouse series planned out, and a whole load of possible plots for other works, including a tongue-in-cheek piece called My Boyfriend Invented the Jagerbomb.

Me

That’s certainly an intriguing title!  I’ll look out for it.  Now, how about telling us three things that we might not know about you.

Morwenna

1.  I Have forgotten how to ride a bike

2. I can read music

3. I threw my bra at Jarvis Cocker at a Pulp gig in 1995.

Me.

Hmm. Well, I can still ride a bike and I can also read music. But I have never thrown my bra at Jarvis Cocker or anyone else come to that! So if I tell you it’s never too late to learn to ride a bike, and you tell me, it’s never too late to ….. well, maybe not!

Thanks for a great interview, Morwenna. it was fascinating.

Edited Hot off the press

Since this interview, Morwenna’s third book, Underrated, has become available for preorder. It will be published on February 14

And finally, those all important social media links and buy links

Social Media Links, blog, website etc.

www.morwennablackwoodauthor.com – website and blog

www.facebook.com/morwennablackwood -facebook

www.amazon.com/author/morwennablackwood – amazon author page

@MorwennaBlackw1 – Twitter 

morwennablackwood_ – Instagram

The all important buy links.  

Mybook.to/devolution – The (D)Evolution of Us

Mybook.to/glasshousenovel – Glasshouse

https://my book.to/underrated. Underrated. Publication dated 14/2/22

Author Bio

When Morwenna Blackwood was six years old, she got told off for filling a school exercise book with an endless story when she should have been listening to the teacher/eating her tea/colouring with her friends. The story was about a frog. It never did end; and Morwenna never looked back.

Born and raised in Devon, Morwenna suffered from severe OCD and depression, and spent her childhood and teens in libraries. She travelled about for a decade before returning to Devon. She now has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Exeter, and lives with her husband, son and three cats in a cottage that Bilbo Baggins would be proud of.

Morwenna is the author of best-selling noir psychological thrillers, The (D)Evolution of Us, and Glasshouse, published by darkstroke. The novels standalone but the characters and events interconnect; the third novel in the series, Underrated, is in progress.

 When she is not writing, Morwenna works for an animal rescue charity, or can be found down by the sea.

She often thinks about that frog.

Where does romantic suspense author Morton S Gray get her ideas from?

I’m delighted to welcome romantic suspense author, Morton S Gray to my blog this week.

I featured her recently in my Ideas Store column in Writers’ Forum because I had recently read and enjoyed The Truth Lies Buried with its engaging characters, lovely setting and a great storyline.  I was intrigued to find out where the idea for the book came from.  So I invited her on to my blog and thankfully, she said yes.

Me

Welcome, Morton and thank you for agreeing to answer my questions, particularly the one all writers are said to dread.  (Although I love it when people ask me that question!)

Where do you get your ideas from?

Morton

I have no problem finding ideas for books, it is more the time to write up all of them I struggle with.

At a writing workshop run by author Linda Gillard at a Romantic Novelists’ Association conference, Linda handed out postcards to evoke a descriptive piece of writing. My postcard was an advertising postcard for a company producing quirky garden buildings, the one in the picture was a fairy-tale castle complete with pointed turret towers and arched windows. I dutifully completed the descriptive writing and then, after the course, started to ponder who would live in a house like that and Carver Rodgers, carpenter and hero of The Truth Lies Buried was born.

For me inspiration can come from anywhere. The hero of my first published novel, The Girl on the Beach was conjured from a model’s face in a clothing catalogue. The first scenes at a high school art competition were from an art exhibition at my son’s school. I have been known to furiously scribble down bits of overhead conversation in cafés and have an overflowing file containing pictures of potential characters, rooms and locations.

Ideas and themes come to me at inopportune moments, like when I’m driving or taking a shower. I do try to keep a notebook to hand, particularly in the bathroom, but have been known to have opened out empty cardboard toilet roll tubes with closely scribbled writing on them in my ideas pile. I love writing first drafts long hand when I have the luxury of time and have been known to write at my son’s swimming lessons, sitting in doctor’s waiting rooms, on trains, planes and buses. I even tried to capture my feelings of trepidation when I was waiting to be taken down to the operating theatre one time.

My fictional seaside town of Borteen, which has been the location for six published novels so far, is very real to me. I can walk along its streets in my head and have drawn a map on several pieced together sheets of paper with the key locations marked and images stuck to the map depicting how I see the buildings, beach and caves.

It sometimes feels like I am an empty container and ideas like to find their way to me to fill this up when I least expect it. The process of piecing diverse ideas together for characters and scenes almost like a patchwork quilt is for me the most exciting part of writing a novel.

Me.

That’s brilliant.  I love the sound of Borteen which you have brought so vividly to life.  You’ve mentioned you have based six novels there.  Are your books a series? Or can they be read as standalone?

Morton

For the past few years, I have been writing stand-alone novels, but set in my fictional seaside town of Borteen. Inevitably in a small town, some characters from previous novels have a role in a new story, but the books can be read in any order.

Me

And how would you describe your genre?

Morton

My books are usually categorised as Romantic Suspense, but I describe them as romance with a mystery to solve.

Me

So far I have read two of your books (and very much looking forward to reading the others) and have loved the mystery element in both.  What inspires you most?

Morton

My inspiration can come from anywhere. It can be a couple of words in a song or even a phrase overheard in a café. I can see a face in a magazine of clothing catalogue and a character can develop from there. If I let my mind freewheel, a story often appears. I have absolutely no problem finding ideas for novels, it is more the time to write up all of them I struggle with.

Me

How did your writing journey start?

Morton

I truly cannot remember a time when I haven’t written or read avidly. Those were my favourite things at school. I used to hide away and write poems as a child and wrote my first novel aged fourteen. That first one, which I still have, features galleons and pirates. I think it was inspired by the Errol Flynn films I used to watch with my nan on Sunday afternoons.

Inevitably life got in the way and I didn’t take my writing seriously until I was in my fifties when life took yet another turn. I won a short story competition and began to attend a weekly writing class. My first novel was published after I won Choc Lit Publishing’s Search for a Star competition in 2016 with the manuscript that became The Girl on the Beach. I guess I am the proof that it’s never too late.

Me

Indeed it’s not.  I’m looking forward to seeing those pirates and galleons make an appearance in a future Borteen novel. (Now there’s a challenge for you!)

Finally, tell us three things we might not know about you.

Morton

  1. My favourite period of history is The English Civil War – I have more books in my study about this period of history than anything else.
  2. I’m an avid family historian and have been for many years, even teaching the subject at night school at one point.
  3. I make my own soap. I’ve been on a mission to reduce the amount of plastic in my bathroom and as a part of that I went on a course to learn to make and perfume my own soap and I now use solid shampoo bars.

Me.

Thank you so much for answering my questions so patiently – and I too have discovered the joy of using solid shampoo bars. (I don’t make my own though, but maybe one day…)

Author Bio

About Morton S. Gray

Morton lives with her husband, two sons and Lily, the tiny white dog, in Worcestershire, U.K. She has been reading and writing fiction for as long as she can remember, penning her first attempt at a novel aged fourteen. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.

Her debut novel The Girl on the Beach was published after she won the Choc Lit Publishing’s Search for a Star competition in 2016. Her other books for Choc Lit are The Truth Lies Buried, Christmas at Borteen Bay, Sunny Days at the Beach, Christmas at the Little Beach Café and Summer at Lucerne Lodge.

Morton previously worked in the electricity industry in committee services, staff development and training. She has a Business Studies degree and is a qualified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Reiki Master. She also has diplomas in Tuina acupressure massage and energy field therapy. She enjoys crafts, history and loves tracing family trees. Having a hunger for learning new things is a bonus for the research behind her books.

You can catch up with Morton with the following links:-

Website and blog at www.mortonsgray.com

Twitter @MortonSGray

Author – https://www.facebook.com/mortonsgray/

Instagram – htwww.instagram.com/morton_s_gray/

Morton is celebrating two things at the moment, the release of her sixth novel for Choc Lit – Summer at Lucerne Lodge and the paperback release of Sunny Days at the Beach.

Summer at Lucerne Lodge tells the story of Tanner and Rosie. They first meet at a charity auction held in the grounds of Lucerne Lodge on the outskirts of the seaside town of Borteen. However, that first meeting isn’t as innocent as it sounds, because Tanner has found a private investigator’s file on his father’s desk about Rosie and wants to know why …

Sunny Days at the Beach begins when commitment free singleton and craft shop owner Mandy takes in an abandoned teenager, but then gin distillery owner Graham arrives in Borteen with some unexpected news 

Buying links for Summer at Lucerne Lodge

Amazon http://getbook.at/SummeratLucerneLodge

Choc Lit for other retailers https://www.choc-lit.com/dd-product/summer-at-lucerne-lodge/

Buying links for Sunny Days at the Beach

Amazon http://getbook.at/PaperbackSunnyDays

Choc Lit for other retailers https://www.choc-lit.com/dd-product/sunny-days-at-the-beach/

Endings, Beginnings – and waiting for my homework to be marked.

I have recently typed two of my favourite words.  The End.  I have finally finished the fourth book in my Much Winchmoor Mysteries.

Of course, it isn’t the end of the process but merely the end of the beginning as it is now with my publisher.  And ahead of me (always assuming they decide they want to publish it, of course!) are the edits, the blurb writing, acknowledgements and   all the social media and marketing involved in the run up to a book launch.

It is exciting and terrifying in equal measure.

It seems like this book has been hanging around on my laptop for ever.  And, indeed, it has certainly taken longer to write than the previous three.  I started it just as Covid hit and I had a long period when I couldn’t write a shopping list, least of all a murder mystery.  And even when the brain fog began to fade, it took ages to pick up the pieces and join all the bits of the jigsaw together.  (And, as I write this, I am still not one hundred per cent certain that there aren’t any missing pieces)..

But I think I managed to tie in all the loose ends (apologies for the switching of metaphors) even though there was one scene that I don’t remember writing at all.

Usually, I leave the final scene until I’ve written the second, sometimes even the third draft.  And I thought I’d done so in this case and as I was getting closer to the end, I was still dithering about how to end it.

But there, to my astonishment, was the final scene.  And I honestly don’t remember writing it or making the decision to finish it the way I did.  But when I read it through, I really liked it and didn’t change a single word. Having said that, of course, my editor might hate it!

This stage of the book’s journey is very much like being back at school and that anxious wait to get your homework back.

Until then, I thought I would put myself in the hot seat this time and ask myself the dreaded question:

Where did the idea for Murder on High come from?

In fact it came from two very different sources.  The first was a local fundraising event, the other a non-fiction book that I’ve had for ages.

For many years we had a time share in the Lake District and would make the great trek north (from Somerset) every November,  I love the area and have set many short stories, three serials and two of my large print novels there.

I’ve always been in awe of the amazing work done by the Mountain Rescue teams and wanted to write about it so I bought several books as research material.  One of them was Rescue: True Stories from Lake District Mountain Rescue written by John White who for many years was a member of a Mountain Rescue Team.

The book was published way back in 1997 and I probably bought it around that time. One particular phrase stuck in my mind all that time.  He is describing a rescue involving an abseil which almost went wrong and he makes the comment that abseiling is only the second fastest way down a mountain.  

And the other source of inspiration?  That was a fundraising event in my village which involved abseiling teddy bears down from the top of the church tower.  This involved lowering the precious bears extremely carefully down from the top of the tower to their anxious owners waiting below.

And I thought, as I stood there watching all the activity, that it would make a great location for a murder because, as we all know by now, abseiling is only the second fastest way down a church tower.

So my thanks to John White and to the members of my village hall committee for the inspiration behind Murder on High.

So what’s next?  Is there a fifth Much Winchmoor in the pipeline?

There certainly is.   I have a title (Death of a Dame) and a victim but I have yet to settle on a murderer or, even, a motive.  Although I have a few red herrings lurking in the shallows.

I also have a shiny new Scrivener file, just waiting to be filled.  And a pile of real (as opposed to digital) index cards. And, once again, this takes me back to my schooldays.

I used to love the start of a new school year when we’d be given brand new exercise books and a new ‘rough book’.  This was a notebook that was only to be written in in pencil as once the book was filled up, we were supposed to go back to the beginning, rub it out and use it again. By the time the end of term came around, my ‘rough’ book had certainly earned its name and was decidedly rough around the edges. I would like to say that this was all about saving the rain forests, but it was far more likely to be about saving money.

The exercise books, though, were written in ink, as were the teachers’ marks and comments.  So each new school year was a new beginning.  All those C minuses from the previous year wiped away.  A clean slate.  And every year I promised myself that I would work harder and that this year my books would not be marred by C minuses and comments about ‘could do better’.

(My English teacher once wrote “shrunk to this little measure?” on some spelling corrections I was supposed to have done but hadn’t.  She said she’d let me off doing them if I correctly identified the quotation!  I could – and she did!  Please let me know if the comments if you did and I promise not to make you write a page of spelling corrections.)

So now, here I am back at school waiting for my homework to be marked.  And when it does come back, I know it’s going to be littered with red marks, just like my schoolwork was.

But no C minuses, I hope.

Certainly the process of being a published author is very much like being back at school. But I’m not complaining.  I absolutely loved school, apart from the C minuses, of course. So I am in my happy place when I’m writing.

But the marketing?  Ah no.  That’s a bit like me and the dreaded physics lessons.  I never could quite work out what was going wrong and why everyone else just seemed to ‘get it’ and I didn’t.  

And it was physics that earned me all those C minuses.

.

…..and finally, just because I can, here’s a random picture of Duke.