Yesterday was an opportunity to escape from the writing cave for a while as I’d arranged to meet up with a friend for lunch. It’s a regular thing and our usual meeting place is in Bradford on Avon which is a sort of halfway house for both of us . Unfortunately it was one of those days when things didn’t quite go to plan. We both use public transport as it’s easier. Bradford is a magnet for tourists – Tithe Barn, the Saxon Chapel to name but two of the historical places that draw people here from all over the world. As my bus reached the outskirts I got a call to say hers had not turned up and she was going home to collect the car. It would take her around twenty minutes but that was okay, I’d just wait for her in the small restaurant where we usually meet. A table had been booked. No problem. Except that a notice on the door announced the restaurant was closed for redecorating and wouldn’t be reopening until Friday. I’m not sure who took the booking or why seeing the whole place was to be closed all week, but I guess these things happen.
On previous warmer occasions when I’ve waited for her, I’ve settled myself on a bench in the small park opposite to read. Unfortunately today was not one of those days anyone sensible would sit in such an exposed place. So instead I took refuge in the bus shelter where I gave her a call to relay how our day had just gone from bad to worse. Eventually she arrived. Predictably the two major car parks were full but happily there were still spaces in the library car park. We found another cafe in the small shopping precinct and settled ourselves for lunch and a catch up. A happy ending to our rather chaotic start.
During my wait I decided I’d have a small walkabout and take some photos. Bradford on Avon is a place I’ve always loved. I spent my senior school years there at Fitzmaurice Grammar School and as you can imagine it was quite a different place then. In those days all shops shut between one and two with Wednesday half day closing. The town had industry too. Avon Rubber Company, whose head office was in nearby Melksham, owned and ran Spencer Moulton, whose factory bordered the river on one side of the town bridge. It was one of the company’s many divisions, producing among other things, windscreen wiper blades, shock absorbers for railways throughout the world, rubber hose and gaskets. In 1997 Avon Rubber was taken over by an American company, Cooper Tires and Spencer Moulton closed. The factory and office buildings have now been turned into luxury flats and housing, restaurants and the small shopping precinct where we had lunch. The town is also the home of Moulton Bikes, founded in 1962 and still building the iconic cycle.
Spencer Moulton’s former offices
Old Urban District Council Offices (now flats)
Town Bridge with its Lock Up
During my school days, swimming lessons were held in the local swimming baths, a Victorian building with a relatively small pool. My memories are of scratchy woolen bathing costumes and towels that never quite dried you properly – oh and the footbath at the entrance to the pool which we had to dunk our feet in on the way in and out. The distance from the school provided one of the biggest challenges. We were never allowed enough time between the end of swimming and the beginning of the next lesson – hence the hasty drying and clothes that seemed to stick to every part of your body. There was a short cut back to the school up St Margaret’s Steps (pictured) which saved a huge amount of time. In those days running in the street was forbidden as was going without your hat. Both would attract a spot of detention if you were caught. But St Margaret’s Steps were sheltered so no one could see us as we fled up them. In later years a brand new pool was built in the station car park. The old Victorian baths demolished and a brand new library (pictured) built on the site.
St Margaret’s Steps
New Town Library
The former Fitzmaurice Grammar School,
The former Georgian Wine Lodge
During our ‘O’ levels we would sneak down into the town to the local hotel The Westbury. Back in the 1970s it became a restaurant – The Georgian Wine Lodge – which ran for many years but has since closed and been converted to flats. If you check out the photo there’s an archway on the left side of the building. This led to a the Westbury’s coffee bar where we would spend our free time listening to the jukebox and drinking Pepsi or Coca Cola.
Fitzmaurice Grammar School closed in the summer of 1980, its pupils transferring to the new St Lawrence Comprehensive the following September. The building lay empty for quite a time after, falling into decay. Happily it was eventually rescued and following the pattern of many other similar buildings in the town, converted to flats. Good memories and yes, I did enjoy my school days, despite the rules which today’s pupils would probably find quite draconian.
Detective Dean Matheson has returned to his hometown to begin his new job and put the traumatic events of his past behind him – but his fresh start won’t last long when the local area is hit by a series of strange disappearances and twisted killings … A nameless girl badly beaten and dumped in front of the mysterious new church. A shocking murder scene discovered in the apartment over the diner. A child missing without a trace. These are the crimes Dean Matheson is confronted with in his first week as detective. Are they isolated events, or is something altogether more disturbing happening in Maple Valley now that Dean’s back in town?
Wendy is a former coroner’s assistant turned crime writer who lives in the UK with her husband. As well as the Dean Matheson crime series and the YA crime novel – The Girl Who Died – Wendy has several short stories published in UK and US anthologies. She has also been shortlisted and longlisted for various competitions, including the Mslexia Novel Competition.
You can catch up with Wendy on FACEBOOK and TWITTER
OTHER BOOKS IN THE DEAN MATHESON SERIES…
A series of suspicious suicides may be the work of a crafty serial killer in this debut thriller novel featuring Officer Dean Matheson. When the body of an unidentified woman is found hanging from a tree in the woods of Maple Valley, it looks like a clear case of suicide. But Officer Dean Matheson is unconvinced. Maybe he’s just looking for that big case that will help him make detective. Maybe he’s just trying to avoid his rocky marriage. Or maybe he’s really on to something. Because the closer Matheson looks at the facts of the case, the less they add up.
Then more apparent suicides start cropping up. The victims are all women living on the fringes of society—addicts and criminals nobody would miss. Does anyone really care if they die? Matheson is making it his business to care, and that’s about to make him a target . . .
A gripping thriller you won’t want to miss this Autumn “You want to know what I’ve learnt after living in Lone Creek all my life? I know the snow bleeds here …” Former police officer Dean Matheson has been playing it safe since the case that cost him almost everything. But working as a PI doesn’t quite cut it, that is until a British woman walks into his office with a job that Dean can’t resist. The woman’s daughter, Hannah Walker, and her friend Jodie have gone missing whilst working at a ski resort in Colorado. It’s clear there’s something sinister about the girls’ disappearance, but then why are the local police department being so unhelpful? So begins Dean’s journey to Lone Creek on the trail of the missing girls – and he’ll soon find out that in Lone Creek, everyone has something to hide …
Today I’m hosting fellow author Jane Risdon who has dropped in to chat about her work. I pitched a series of questions to her and these are Jane’s responses…
Hi Jo, thanks for asking me back on to your fab blog. I really enjoy visiting and discovering what you will ask me next. A challenge is always such fun. I do hope your readers enjoy my latest offering.
What attracts me to writing crime?
Well, for starters it is not the blood and guts or the horror of crime, whether it is a murder, fraud, or some other law breaking. I’ve had to think hard about this question but I think it is the puzzle at the heart of most crimes: who did it, how, why, and sometimes even when and where? They’re all questions I like to be asked as a reader, and which I endeavour to ask and eventually answer in my own writing.
I don’t write police procedures and I don’t get into the psychological why and wherefores with my characters. I lay a series of clues and red-herrings often, as the crime unfolds, and I try to keep the reader guessing, engaged and trying to solve it themselves right until the end.
I also read a lot of espionage thrillers for the very same reasons I love reading crime stories.
When I read crime stories or I watch crime series on television I like to be entertained and challenged. I want to ask myself the same questions I want my readers to ask of my writing. I want to be led through a series of questions and situations which make me think, make me try to get inside the head of the criminal and the crime-fighter, but I do not want is spelled out for me and I don’t want to be lectured to or have a just ending where everyone lives happily ever after, the criminal behind bars and all is well with the world – unless it suits the story.
I cannot abide the PC content of some books and TV series. Life is horrid at times and I don’t want it wrapped up nicely with everyone being placated and for it all to end tidily and with explanations as to what drove the Fred Wests or Myra Hindleys of this world to do what they did. There is evil in people. At the end of the day knowing why isn’t really going to change a thing – in my humble opinion.
Prevention is another matter, but sadly we cannot monitor every psychopath in case they commit a murder or another type of crime, just in case they offend. We cannot know in advance who will become a murderer or criminal from the time of their birth. There may be clues, but as I said we can hardly go around locking people up in-case they offend at some point in the future because they might or might not have a wonky gene, or their parents beat them, or were divorced or whatever. This begs the question nature or nurture, and we cannot categorically answer that one as far as I am aware.
I write about the crime, the commission of it and the detection (sometimes), and the final consequences. But, I don’t feel the need for the criminal to be caught and punished for the crime, or for the reader to have things tied things up nicely at the end of a story. When I read I like to think, do my own investigation as I read and come to my own conclusions. This is what attracts me to crime. I also love General Knowledge quizzes and wonder if that is another manifestation of this quirk of mine!
I love a challenge and to pit my wits. I’d like my readers to enjoy this too. I absolutely love trying to devise the crime, the clues, and the twists and turns in my stories, leading my readers one way and then another. It gives me brain-ache when plotting, but so much fun and satisfaction too.
Have I attended any professional courses to help with my writing?
My answer in short is yes. But you know I can’t leave it there.
Anyone writing about crime cannot fail to realise at some point that their knowledge of crime detection and investigation is somewhat limited and unless you’ve had a career in Criminal Justice or Forensic Science information is possibly based upon what you’ve have already read – other crime writers – or from what you’ve have seen on TV in series such as CSI – which, by the way, is nothing like the reality of Crime Scene Investigation. So much so, that juries have been thought to be suffering from the ‘CSI effect,’ when considering evidence in real life cases and that they believe what they’ve seen in such series to be accurate and truthful and this is thought to be impacting the workings of the Criminal Justice System.
I realised several years ago that my knowledge was possibly inaccurate or outdated and based on fictional series and books I’d read. I also realised from reading authors such as Kathy Reichs – a real life Forensic Anthropologist – I didn’t want to make a complete fool of myself writing about things of which I knew little. Also, with constant strides in technology it was obvious to me that what was fact and the ‘norm,’ many years ago, was now out-dated because of the latest technology and thinking about detection and the latest forensic advances. I don’t write what I call ‘blood and guts’ descriptions or ‘police procedurals,’ but for my own satisfaction I wanted to know, to be as accurate as I can be. Knowing what, why, and how, helps my writing, especially plotting; what is and isn’t possible, believable and so on.
In 2015 I decided I needed to update my knowledge. I didn’t have time to become a full-time student, although I’d have loved to have studied Forensic Science and Criminal Justice in more depth had I been years younger and not had a career in the international music business, but sometimes we discover these interests many years too late. After doing a lot of research I discovered I could study these topics in my own time and with universities who offered courses to people like me. Not only did top universities welcome older students but I also got the benefit of the tutorship of lecturers at the top of their profession and acknowledged experts in their field.
I enrolled with several universities to study Forensic Science, Criminal Justice and Archaeology designed for those who required basic and thorough knowledge without taking exams. Having said that I was tested weekly and graded and these grades could be used towards any full university courses taken in the future. I studied for almost three years at my own pace during which time I had access to the tutors for advice and help at any time, should I require it.
The courses I have taken – chosen for my particular interests – are:
Introduction to Forensic Science (the background to the science and methods/technology available).
Forensic Science and Human Identification (this meant identifying the dead from nothing more than a collection of bones in a shallow grave) taking things through to a conviction for murder having investigated the body, the cause of death, ethnicity, sex, age and so on of a real life victim. It covered so many areas of forensics including cut and saw marks etc., gunshot and ballistic identification, blood splatter, DNA, fingerprints and so on. Not for the squeamish as there were dead bodies and body parts involved as well as a post mortem video and photos.
Forensic Science and Criminal Justice (how forensics is used in crime detection and conviction). We investigated real cases as well as miscarriages of justice, including famous cases such as Jill Dando’s murder.
Forensic Psychology and Witness Investigations (how to interrogate witnesses under PACE regulations, take statements and evidence from witnesses, and how to investigate their statements and evidence: what is allowed during interviews and how time can alter eye-witness testimony).
Forensic Science: Facial Reconstruction – Finding Mr X (real life identification of a victim) building a face from a skull.
Forensic Science and Criminal Justice – From Crime to Punishment (another real life investigation)
Archaeology: From Dig to Lab and Beyond (Vale of Pewsey Dig).
Many hours of study and lots of tests later I received an average of 98% overall in my marks. Considering I haven’t really studied since leaving school in the 1960s I still pinch myself in disbelief. The cases we studied were real and some well-known. I loved it.
I’m so glad I studied all this because when I wrote the stories for Undercover: Crime Shorts (Plaisted Publishing), I was so pleased to be able to use various everyday devices to kill my victims – in believable, quite mundane ways – and to work out how to enable the perpetrators to be far away from the scenes of the sudden deaths without coming under suspicion.
Who is my favourite crime writer and why?
Oh cripes, I wish I could answer this one with just one name. I don’t think I have one in particular, I like so many for such different reasons.
I mentioned Kathy Reichs. I love her books because she is a professional, a Forensic Anthropologist who knows her stuff and she is still working in that field. She can also tell a great tale and often her stories are based on her cases – heavily disguised I am sure – and she is not gory in her detail as some writers are and I don’t like that. I try not to have blood and guts all over my writing, I like to leave it to the reader to fill in the gaps. She does this brilliantly, for me.
I love the English writers such as Peter May, Peter James and Peter Robinson (what is with all these Peters?) and recent favourites and Facebook friends are Roger A Price, R C Bridgestock, and David Videcette.
I love these writers because they have a series of characters who appear in their books and I like getting to know them, they feel like old friends, and so when I read their stories I know their backgrounds, their likes, and idiosyncrasies. It is like getting back into a favourite item of clothing when I open their books.
Of course, I love Agatha Christie and she is the reason I adore crime stories. I began reading her as a youngster aged about 10, I think.
I could list dozens more including Michael Connolly and David Baldacci, and of course don’t get me started on espionage thriller writers, we’d be here all day, but let me mention Stella Rimington, who was the first female director of MI5 and a fab writer.
Who is my favourite crime solver?
Ye Gods! I’m not sure I have one. I love Poirot and Miss Marple. They are amazing characters and I wish I’d written them. But seriously there are so many I just adore.
I am going to be cheeky and say my own (not yet published) Ms Birdsong is my favourite. She is not a detective but a former MI5 Intelligence Officer who is forced into ‘voluntary’ retirement when a joint operation with MI6 goes belly up. Her colleague in MI6 is also her lover which does not help matters when he is sent to Moscow to continue their mission. Bored out of her skull in the village she has moved to in an attempt to put the past behind her, she is over-joyed when she gets the chance to investigate the disappearance of a local mother when the woman’s teenage son asks for her help.
Lavinia Birdsong has the skills of a detective and more. She is a black belt in several Martial arts, can speak six languages and is an expert in surveillance, and is highly intelligent. She is soon hot on the trail of the missing woman and as a result finds herself up to her neck in Russian Mafia people traffickers, Ukrainian drug and gun smugglers, and murder. Just what she needs to ingratiate her way back into the Security Services, she hopes. She is sure they’d quickly realise what they are missing without her back in the fold. Oh! But then her old flame turns up right when she is getting interested in the local DCI, and life gets even more complicated for her and her ambitions.
I love Ms B. because she is feisty yet kind hearted, quirky and modern with a love of men, good wine and hard rock music. She loves nice things, expensive things, and she is a good looking woman who knows it and isn’t scared to use her looks if she needs to. She has a naughty sense humour and fun, and she would give you the Manolo Blahniks off her feet if – with a huge wince of pain – you were in dire need. But never cross her; never cause her inner warrior to come to the surface. She kicks ass with the best of the men, and then some.
So she is by far my favourite detective/investigator – sorry! I have written three novels featuring her and book one is ready to go. I cannot wait to unleash her.
What sort of preparations do I need to make before beginning to write?
I usually make a huge mug of tea and I stare at the computer screen for a while and then off I go. I don’t mind if there is someone with me, if the radio, TV is on, or if there’s music playing in the background – often it is my husband on his guitar which I love to hear. I can shut them all out. I often – more than often, actually – don’t have a clue what I’m going to write, even what the topic is going to be. Something will set me off, such as a name, a recalled experience, or even a News item and after a few minutes I start to write without any idea what is going to come out until it is in front on me on the screen. I’m what is known as a pantser.
If I’m feeling particularly naughty I might indulge in a bag of liquorice to help me in my quest for a story. I am refuelled throughout by giant mugs of tea and endless trips to the smallest room, as you can imagine.
If I decided in a change of writing direction, where would it take me?
I guess I’d already taken a small change in direction when I co-wrote Only One Woman (Headline Accent) with Christina Jones. She is a romance author so it came easily for her, yet I had not even read a romance when I started writing the novel. I thought it would be a crime story with a love interest which I could gloss over quickly but it soon became clear there wasn’t room for a crime and it was becoming a love story. I was shocked to be writing about love, I admit it, but it seemed to come quite naturally. Whether I’d want to carry on writing romance (Women’s Fiction) I’m not sure. I’m writing the sequel to Only One Woman (untitled as yet) taking the story from 1969 to the present day, but that may well be the extent of Women’s Fiction for me.
I’ve turned my hand to ghost stories for several Ghostly Writes anthologies (Plaisted Publishing), and adventure/crime – featuring 17th century pirates and 21st century smugglers – I think the genre is called Time-shift, because the story goes back and forth in time. You can find it in an anthology I’m included in called Shiver (Headline Accent) and there’s another ghost/crime story in Wishing on a Star (Headline Accent). Also, I’ve written a couple of novels which are in the genre of what I call, observational humour. They are still lurking on my computer hard-drive – waiting. But a complete change from crime and thrillers – I don’t think so. I love writing it so much – pitting my wits against myself and hoping my readers will rise to the challenge and pit theirs’ against mine! But who knows? I never thought I’d write anything but crime and I have.
Undercover: Crime Shorts is published by Plaisted Publishing House and is available in paperback from Waterstones branches (order it) and in paperback and eBook on Amazon and various digital platforms.
Sunday evenings for me are a time to catch up with phone calls to friends and relatives and set up any blog promotions for the week. Tonight the calls have finished so here I am back on the PC and doing something I haven’t done for a very long time – posting an update. I hesitate to say regular blogging is a New Year’s resolution because as we all know, starting out with good intentions is one thing, following through for twelve months is totally something else. I’ll only say I will try harder this year to post something at least once a month.
With Christmas now over and in the double figures of January I’m back to working on my current ms. It’s the third in a coastal romance series set in Cornwall. I set up a spreadsheet for my writing back in late December with a deadline for finishing the first draft. I’m currently 7000 words ahead of schedule which is brilliant. This is a place I never expected to be in. The writing has flowed and I’ve had no problem with the scenes. However, as every writer knows, this can change in a heartbeat – and when you least expect it. So for now I’m making the most of this productive period. I hit 40,000 words last night, that’s half way as I’ve decided this book is going to be shorter than my others. Tonight I’ve given myself the evening off but tomorrow I’ll be back working on the next scene and hoping to reach 50,000 words or more by next weekend.
It’s now Tuesday morning and as you can see my intention of posting on Sunday evening went right out of the window. Yesterday I met up with an ex work colleague in town. I hadn’t seen her since the company we both worked for folded. We agreed to meet for a coffee but it ran into 3 hours as we had so much catching up to do! I was home by four but that left little time to pick up where I’d left off with the manuscript. Then last night I spend a large part of my evening on the phone to my sister sorting out plane flights. It meant my plan of moving things on yesterday simply didn’t happen. This morning I’m finishing off this post and then plan to pick up where I left off with the ms. I’ve missed two whole days worth of writing but I guess in the great scheme of things it’s good to stop, take stock of where you are and work out what happens next. I now have a plan for the week and so it’s a case of let’s get back to the day job. Wish me luck!
Music has a profound effect on my life. I love to dance, and I love to sing. Music can bring back memories, lift my spirits and make me cry. It was inevitable that it would have an effect on my writing. I can’t listen to any old thing. And I can’t listen in any meaningful way and write at the same time, on the whole. What I can do, is to listen, and then write. Once I’m in full on writing mode, it doesn’t matter what is going on around me, I’m in my own world.
When I wrote Summer at the Art Café, I heard songs that spoke to the world that I was creating. Sometimes they affirmed the emotions the characters had about each other. Sometimes, they showed me the direction in which I needed to nudge those characters.
As the tunes began to stack up and I gathered them into a playlist entitled Summer at the Art Cafe, I imagined them in the soundtrack of the film that the book was bound to provoke. You have to have ambition, right? I’d listen to that playlist of twenty six songs when I was walking my dog, or in the car, or doing the housework, and even now, when I listen, I can visualise the book. Maybe I should put it on Spotify, so readers can listen too!
But Jo has asked me for just five songs, and choices have had to be made. So I’ve agonised over those five, and here they are.
The first one, is Taylor Swift’s, I Knew you were Trouble https://youtu.be/VmBoTeLsKfs This made me laugh as I listened to it, and tied in with my granddaughters dancing about to it. Daisy, in the book, is very much inspired by Emily, my granddaughter of the same age.
Second is, Dionne Warwick’s This Girl’s in Love with You, https://youtu.be/Gd2Q8VCk9co, is not only the dawning realisation of Lucy’s feelings, but also a nod to my childhood, rich with Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross and Motown. I can’t help singing along whenever I hear them.
Thirdly, and I’m not at all sorry that most of my songs seem to have come from the sixties, the wonderful Cilla Black, Anyone Who Had a Heart, https://youtu.be/rWAcG5p0Jyg
I could have chosen so many from Cilla, they are bursting with emotion and longing.
My fourth song is an echo from my school disco days, and none the worse for that. Barry White, Just the Way You Are, and just right for that stage of the book. I love so many Barry’s, I could have put them all in. https://youtu.be/XF8ZRjfGACA Excuse me while I join in with it for a minute or two …
Okay, I’m back!
You’ve probably detected that there’s a bit of a theme going on here. I adore soul music, and my final tune is Diana Ross singing Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, https://youtu.be/5_pmKPWLBrE was in my original draft, and was replaced with something more modern during the final edits. In my head though, it’s what Ash and Lucy sing in the van, and if you listen to it, you’ll be able to hear my voice cracking on those high notes as I bash it out. It’s the most fabulous assertion of love and loyalty I can imagine, and I smile every time I hear it.
I made a playlist for Meet Me at the Art Café too, and I’m creating one for the third novel in the series, which will be released this summer.
As an artist in my day job, I try to make my books full of colour, and you might know that I painted the covers for both books. I hope that you’ll be able to hear the music in them now too!