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!
When this time of year comes around I’m reminded of the lyrics of John Lennon’s 1972 hit ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’ and the line ‘And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?’ It’s that moment when I begin to think back over the previous twelve months and ask myself ‘yes what have I done?’
To be honest 2019 has been a pretty quiet year, although there have been a few unforgettable moments. Thankfully it has been nothing like the chaos last year brought with my broken ankle. That happened in May and took a huge chunk out of 2018. I was in plaster for six weeks, swapped it for an orthopaedic boot for two weeks followed by six sessions of physio. During that time I got used to a walking stick and then progressed to walking without any aids. Happily by January I was walking normally, although it appears my days of wearing high heels are over – and being only five feet tall, heels have very much been an essential part of my wardrobe since my teens. The op I had left my right ankle slightly larger than my left which means any high heeled shoes tend to rub under the ankle bone. However, it’s not all bad. I haven’t found myself checking out all those sensible flat shoe styles available in shops . Far from it. I can still wear heels, maybe not as high but still smart and feminine, which my three inch heels aren’t missed. It seems every cloud has a silver lining.
So back to 2019 and those memorable moments.
a) Stratford on Avon in April to celebrate OH’s birthday with friends and a boys’ visit to the British Motor Museum at Gaydon. We stayed at a great pub with rooms called The Bell at Alderminster – highly recommended not only for its accommodation but for it’s restaurant as well. There’s a bus stop outside just in case you don’t feel like trying to locate a car park in Stratford, which can be pretty busy even in April.
b) Suffolk in early June. A whole week at Aldeburgh where we caught up with friends who’ve retired just over the border in Norfolk. A lovely relaxing holiday. Loved the fresh fish cabins set up along the beach front…
Fish Shack Aldeburgh
The Front at Aldeburgh
Found a bookshop here too
One of Aldeburgh’s Fishing Boats
c) Mid-June also saw the publication of my first novel for Choc Lit/Ruby Fiction A Cornish Affair. The end of a long journey, but well worth all the hard work to get there…
d) Early July for three days in North Wales just outside Dolgellau in an amazing B & B called Pandy Isaf. Tucked into a sheltered valley and reached by a narrow single track road, it was an ideal base for touring.
My previous experience of North Wales had been in 2001 when we spent a very wet week in a cottage in Maentwrog not far from Blaenau. I remember catching the train at Blaenau down to Porthmadog. It wasn’t just raining that day, it was pouring. I had a glimpse of Portmeirion towers in the distance as the train approached Porthmadog station. This year, in complete contrast, we had three days of hot sunshine and cloudless skies and we made that visit.
e) Portmeirion. A magical place and with blue skies above it felt just like the Med. This was probably one of the most special moments of 2019 for me. It’s not only quirky it’s beautiful in it’s own special way. The flowers were amazing, especially the hydrangeas which lined the road on the way in. If you’re in the area and planning to visit it’s best to arrive early as by noon it’s packed. Back in the 1960s the series The Prisoner was filmed her and there’s a bust of Patrick McGoohan, the lead actor in the series (see picture below).
Patrick McGoohan, star of the 1960s dranaThe Prisoner
f) September. Dartmouth. Our annual trip to South Devon. This time we took the ferry up to Greenway House and Gardens – Agatha Christie’s house now managed by the National Trust. Her husband was an archaeologist and the house is full of items brought back from countries he visited. It’s an unusual house and although empty now it still feels like home – as if Agatha and her family might walk through the door at any time. To see her first editions and some TV scripts plus her typewriter and the place she used to write gave an interesting insight into her life. All in all a great afternoon.
Pathway from the ferry up to Greenways
Agatha Christie’s first editions and sample TV script
g) October. Falmouth. Although I grew up fifty miles from the sea, I’ve always loved everything about the coastal towns of Devon and Cornwall. Unlike Dartmouth, Falmouth has a working dockyard so it has a slightly more commercial feel. But the views across the estuary to Flushing are still as atmospheric. The Greenbank Hotel where we stayed has great views, an excellent restaurant and relaxing atmosphere. We had misty mornings and pleasant calm sunny days and made the most of the weather by taking the ferry across to St Mawes as well as the train to St Ives and Truro.
View from hotel towards Flushing
That iconic St Ives shot…
St Mawes Ferry
Main Staircase The Greenbank Hotel
So that just about wraps up 2019. There have been some great times this year, although there was one sad event.
We had two cats, Max and Mollie. Sadly Max disappeared and despite extensive publicity and searches he was never found. Mollie had problems with our new neighbour’s two cats which saw her taking refuge with another neighbour three doors away. We weren’t able to entice her back so settled into an agreement that we would pay her insurance and vet’s bills and our neighbour would pay for her keep and holiday boarding in the cattery. This was supposed to be short term, everyone thinking she would eventually return to us. She didn’t and this summer my neighbour suggested after all this time, if we were agreeable, she would take full responsibility for Mollie.
In truth Mollie was no longer our cat. True she would come into the garden and stop for a while, roll over to have her tummy tickled and then wander off. But anytime she returned she never made any attempt to come into the house. So we made the decision to sign her chip registration over to my neighbour and transfer ownership. It was something of an emotional moment but as I mentioned above, she’d stopped being our cat some time ago. And at least I know she’s happy where she is now.
We’d put a hold on having another cat because there was always the chance Mollie might come back and she really is a loner who doesn’t have feline friends. Now we know that’s not going to happen who knows what 2020 will bring. Another cat? Or maybe a dog? The jury is out at the moment.
So that’s it, a year of travel, writing and animals. It only remains for me to wish everyone reading this health and happiness for the coming new decade.
I’ve taken a break from writing to post a Christmas Offer for readers. Back in 2015 I wrote Summer Moved On, followed a year later by Watercolours in the Rain. They are linked contemporary romantic sagas set in rural Devon. From 10th to 16th December you can join the community of Lynbrook and follow the lives of those who live there for 99p/99c each (e.book download only)
After a long-buried secret tears her family apart, Jess Hayden moves to the South Devon village of Lynbrook to live with her uncle. Rufus owns the village pub, The Black Bull, and having visited before, Jess knows the villagers well…especially one of them.
Talún Hansen has a reputation, making him the kind of man no decent girl should get involved with. Jess, however, has been under his spell from the moment they first met. Although they always seem to bring out the worst in each other, there is no denying the attraction that simmers between them – an attraction Jess knows she needs to keep under control after repeated warnings from her uncle.
As she settles into village life she begins to learn more about this wild, dark-haired gypsy with the compelling eyes, and realises their lives hold many similarities. Despite her uncle’s warnings, she begins to spend time with him. For Jess, the coming summer holds passion; for Talún the hope that he has at last found someone who truly cares for him.
But as autumn approaches, a dark shadow from Jess’s past returns, bringing far-reaching and unwanted changes for both of them.
On the surface, the heroine Jess has everything she could desire in her boyfriend Zac. Yet she is drawn to moody, brooding ‘Heathcliffe’-esque Talún. And who wouldn’t be, at that age? Is he just what Jess needs in the long summer before going up to university. Or is he the worst thing that could happen to her at this stage in her life? Jess has everything that money can provide but lacks a father’s love and relies on her lovely uncle Rufus to fill in the gaps. Small wonder then that she appears ‘ripe for the picking.’ The reader’s heart is in her mouth as Jess and Talùn’s relationship develops and we worry that it’s all going to end in tears. There’s plenty to keep the reader on side – a warm village community, complete with characters who wouldn’t be out of place in a Miss Read novel, or Cider with Rosie; a best friend, a scheming womaniser, a cold father and a mystery to be solved regarding Talùn’s parentage. Lady Rochford, Amazon Reviewer
What happens to the future when past and present collide?
JESS: Six years ago Jess’s relationship with Talún Hansen was torn apart by one night of deception. He disappeared from Lynbrook village and she headed for university vowing never to let anyone break her heart again. Currently teaching in Oxford, Jess returns from holiday to an unexpected phone call and life changing news which eventually sees her returning home.
Talún: Six years on Talún Hawkeswood, as he is now known, is heir to his grandfather’s Norfolk farming empire. When he hears of trouble in the village due to Lynbrook Hall being put up for sale, going back is the last thing on his mind. But staying away is not an option either, not when someone he owes so much to is about to lose their home and their livelihood.
LILY: Splitting with her husband after her son Josh’s birth, Lily now works as part of an estate agency sales team. She has always held onto her dream of finding a wealthy husband and a life of self-indulgence. When the sale of an important property brings her face to face with Talún, she realises despite the risks involved, the night they spent together six years ago could be the key to making those dreams come true.
As Jess, Talún and Lily return to Lynbrook and the truth about what happened that summer is gradually revealed, Talún finds himself in an impossible situation. Still in love with Jess he is tied into a trade off with Lily: his name and the lifestyle she craves in exchange for his son. And when a child is involved there is only one choice he can make…
I very much enjoyed Summer Moved On, but Watercolours in the Rain is even better. Finding out what happened to Jess, Talún and Lily – and all the other minor characters – was like hearing about friends and what happened to them. I was fascinated to see how Jo Lambert managed to get the “right” ending – very cleverly written, I thought. Tina J Amazon Reviewer
As Christmas festivities approaches, it is as wonderful to sit back with my coffee, stare out at the frosty morning and reflect on the music that has shaped my life. Indeed, my love of music influenced me to write two novels about characters who could sing, thus allowing me to live my dream through them.
Pearl’s A Singer was a favourite of my late Father, and I remember him listening to it in the evenings with a glass of something soothing. Elkie’s Brook’s haunting, ethereal voice inspired the character of Pearl in my debut novel, You Can’t Go It Alone’. In my work in progress, Loving You, I have explored the genesis of Pearl’s singing ambition in more detail as this was the request from readers.
Music has been a part of my life from childhood. Owing to my love of music, my parents bought me a record player when I was very young. The record player was huge and had a smoked glass top – it was my pride and joy. Having saved up my spending money, I bought ‘Super Trouper’ by Abba. I danced and danced to the single and drove everyone completely mad, but the following Christmas my parents bought me some disco lights to accompany my music. At this stage I imagined myself on stage with Abba as the fifth member of the group and designed costumes in my scrapbook. I savoured each word of music lyrics and my interest in words and storytelling started to blossom.
My go to song when I want a lift or feel happy isLouis Armstrong’s ‘What A Wonderful World’. The velvety tones of Louis Armstrong’s wonderful voice always uplift me. The lyric ‘skies of blue’ and ‘bright blessed day’ capture the joy in life: this song reinforces the positivity in the simple things.
In the opening of my novel I wrote ‘As Sophie looked up to the sky, its vast blueness held endless possibilities.’ I had just been listening to this very track during a car journey to one of my favourite destinations.
Watching the YouTube version of the song makes me smile. Louis Armstrong expresses his joy in every single word – his voice is such a powerful instrument. If only, I could sing like that! Fortunately, I can explore my signing dream through my characters.
When my niece visited last summer, I played the Louis Armstrong track in the car, and she said is was good, but she preferred other happy songs. As we whizzed around on the Waltzer, she heard Happy by Pharrell Williams. We downloaded the track at home and danced to it for the rest of her stay. I will always remember the remember the summer my niece came to stay when she was ten years old, and we found our happy song.
On our wedding day my husband wanted to surprise me with his choice of song for our dance. He chose Whitney Houston’s version of I Will Always Love You. I still chuckle at the choice as it is a song about divorce, but he pointed out that he was more concerned about the message of the chorus. We danced to the track and didn’t even hear the words. On our tenth anniversary he aimed to make up for his choice of music when he used ‘Only You’ by the Flying Pickets as the background to a PowerPoint story of our life for an anniversary – perfect. Obviously, I must select Whitney’s song for this one.
Jessie is a Yorkshire author living in Cardiff, Wales. Wales and words have a special place in her heart. She loves to entertain and challenge readers with her contemporary fiction and wants everyone to meet the characters who’ve been hassling her for years. Set in Wales, You Can’t Go It Alone is ‘a novel with a warm heart’ and is the first book in a family saga. Jessie is also the innovator of the popular Books in Handbag Blog.
Besides writing, Jessie adores walking, talking, cooking and procrastinating. Walking helps her to sort out tangles in her narratives or articles. She searches for happy endings, where possible, and needs great coffee, food and music to give her inspiration.
Jessie enjoys connecting with her readers and would be delighted to hear from you. Indeed, the readers requested the prequel to You Can’t Go It Alone and she has just finished it. The prequel is called Loving You (working title) and will be out next year
Love, music and secrets are woven together in this poignant, heart-warming narrative.
Set in a Welsh village, the story explores the contrast in attitudes and opportunities between different generations of women. As the characters confront their secrets and fears, they discover truths about themselves and their relationships.
The reader is invited to laugh and cry, with the characters, and find joy in the simple things in life. Listen to the music and enjoy the food, as you peek inside the world of the inhabitants of Delfryn.
Let Sophie show you that no one can go it alone. Who knows, you may find some friends with big hearts…
This is the stage at which Pearl decides to follow her dream to attend an audition and leads to a key secret in the novel. The scene set in the seventies and the tension demonstrates Jim’s love for Pearl. Jim is a victim of the seventies and his upbringing and cannot express his feelings. Would Pearl have listened if he had explained how he felt? Jim inhabits the masculine world of a car mechanic, in the seventies, and wrestles with his innate sensitivity.
On the morning of the audition, Pearl’s slight frame filled the room as she crashed around the kitchen. ‘You won’t drive me to the audition, so I am going on the bus,’ she hissed. Her eyes shone with determination.
Jim did not glance up from his newspaper. ‘Don’t be stupid,’ he mumbled. The barren winter landscape always made Pearl want to flee, he hoped Pearl would change her mind.
‘I mean it, Jim. Don’t stop me going.’
Jim muttered, ‘I love your singing, but I don’t think these people are genuine. Don’t go. Let’s send demos to other record companies.’ Jim opened his paper again and took a sip of his tea. He wanted Pearl to be happy, but he knew the audition was bad news. If he even looked at her, she would persuade him to go. He had to be strong to protect her from disappointment.
Pearl snatched the newspaper from Jim. ‘Jim, I’m trapped. And I need to sing. I need music. Please come with me to the audition. I can’t ignore an opportunity.’ Her voice faded.
Jim stood up to collect his sandwiches from the kitchen counter and refused to make eye contact with Pearl. ‘Why can’t you be content? We’ve got a good life, the two of us. You can sing anytime you want.’ He glanced at Pearl and swallowed a mouthful of the bacon sandwich which stuck in his throat. After a cough he declared, ‘I’ll ask Maria if you can sing in the café again. Let’s search out proper record companies,’ he soothed. As Jim took his old leather working jacket from the back of the chair, engine oil filled the room.
Pearl removed her pink overall. Beneath the overall she wore a smart black dress, Pearl sighed. ‘You don’t get it. Just go to work.’ She turned her back as she placed the dirty dishes in the sink.
Jim wanted to kiss his wife, instead he opened the front door releasing a chill into the kitchen. The cold wind pushed through the house and rattled the doors. Heading down the path, Jim made his way to his workshop in the village. He wanted Pearl to run after him, to persuade him to take her to Cardiff. He ached to tell her how he loved her, but the words never came. Pearl needed to escape through her singing. Maybe, they should pack up and move to the sunshine, in Spain.
Later that day, Jim and his apprentice, Bill, were outside having a tea break, when Pearl walked past the workshop to the bus stop. Dressed in a tailored, red coat, Pearl strolled past.
‘Your Pearl’s a sight for sore eyes, Jim. Is she off shopping in Cardiff?’
‘Yeah, something like that,’ said Bill
Jim lit his cigarette.
As he gestured to Pearl in the distance, Bill said, ‘You should’ve gone with her – I could’ve looked after the garage. She looks disappointed.’
A cloud of cigarette smoke surrounded Jim as he shook his head. ‘No, I’ll pick her up tonight. We can’t let the car dealers down or we’ll lose the contract.’ Jim thought he would choke on his words, and he had to stop himself from running to Pearl.
It’s always a relief to finish a manuscript. By the time I begin working on edits my mind is already well into sorting out the next story. Friday morning saw ‘The End’ become a reality as I e-mailed the final version off to my publisher.
I seem to have been working on this latest book forever. It’s not that I hit writer’s block or lost enthusiasm. It’s all been down to unexpected health problems. I’m hardly ever ill. Borrowing a phrase from one of my friends I haven’t got time to be ill. Over the last eighteen months, however, I seem to have experienced more than my fair share of health issues.
It started in Minorca on holiday in late May 2018 where we were staying with friends for birthday celebrations (mine). The night before the big day I received a text from Choc Lit offering me a contract for A Cornish Affair. As you can imagine this was the best birthday present ever and also an omen (or so I thought). It meant the coming year was going to be a good one. That lasted all of 24 hours. The next evening, before we left for the restaurant – before the cork on the pre-dinner bubbly had even popped – I stepped awkwardly off the bottom step of the villa’s staircase, twisted my ankle and broke it in three places. I’d just started to write a second book for my Cornish Coastal series and, of course, that came to a very sudden halt. Surgery, four weeks in plaster, two in an orthopaedic boot, physio and getting back to walking again took a big chunk out of the summer. And when I did get a chance to sit in front of the computer (with my leg propped up on a cushion), I found it difficult to concentrate on anything. It was September before I felt ready to sit down and resume work on the project. The new year came, the word count grew and then in March I was called in for elective surgery (which had been postponed due to the ankle break). This wasn’t as intrusive as the ankle but, again, it took a couple of weeks before I could fully concentrate on my writing once more.
Then were the usual breaks and holidays in 2019 – Stratford on Avon, Suffolk, North Wales – and in between the writing continued. In September we had a week in Dartmouth. I had a sore throat for seven days and on our return this developed into a full blown bronchial virus making me wheeze like a heavy smoker. It took me three weeks to shake it off. I thought that was it. A mid-week break in Cornwall in October ended with another sore throat which quickly turned into a cold and yes…not wanting to be left out of all the fun…the dreaded virus joined the party!
Two weeks later, having managed to successfully get my twice cancelled flu shot, I’m hoping this is it as far as winter illnesses are concerned. I feel I’ve certainly had my share…and someone else’s too! But winter has only just begun so it’s a case of crossed fingers and a whole lot of hope.
So what’s next? Well I’m planning to take the weekend off, catch up with all the things I had to set to one side in order to get my writing finished – including social media. And then I’ve that new book to start…
It was the perfect marriage… until they fell in love.
Chaya is a young woman torn between her duty to family and her life in the UK. While her traditional Sri Lankan parents want her to settle down into marriage, what they don’t know is that Chaya has turned away the one true love of her life, Noah, terrified of their disapproval.
Gimhana is hiding his sexuality from his family. It’s easy enough to pretend he’s straight when he lives half a world away in the UK. But it’s getting harder and harder to turn down the potential brides his parents keep finding for him.
When Chaya and Gimhana meet, a marriage of convenience seems like the perfect solution to their problems. Together they have everything – friendship, stability and their parents’ approval. But when both Chaya and Gimhana find themselves falling in love outside of their marriage, they’re left with an impossible decision – risk everything they’ve built together, or finally follow their heart?
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