The end of May is here already. How has that happened? The month has sped by, despite the way life in general has shrunk due to Covid-19 rules and regulations. So what have I been up to? I’d love to say I’m enjoying getting back to normal life but unfortunately that’s still a way off. In the meantime, I’m listing my May milestones
Follow up with Consultant: Carried out over the phone. I’ve made a good recovery. I’ve healed well, am eating well and exercising regularly. It’s all good news but there will still have to be regular checks.
An opportunity to travel farther to exercise: Yes, I know I think we could probably have got away with this earlier, but we played by the rules. Now the daily walk has extended to a couple of local villages where we park up and take a walk. The warm weather has been a real bonus.
Holiday: Our trip to Norfolk won’t be happening. Instead the travel company have allowed us to switch to another date in 2021 and we’ll be charged 2020 prices. Sad not to be going back to Wells Next The Sea (this would have been our third stay here since 2007) but it’s given us something to look forward to. I know a lot of people are keen to get away but until they develop a vaccine holiday experiences, like shopping are going to be vastly different and maybe not so enjoyable.
Birthday: A very surreal experience this year. Normally we’d be out celebrating either together or with friends. Instead I cooked and OH bought some bubbly. Not sure even if restaurants had opened up I would have enjoyed it, given the social distancing and other safety measures that have to be put in place. Still there’s always next year to look forward to.
Writing Now: Cover finalised. A big shout out to Jane Dixon Smith for yet another fabulous cover! Manuscript away with editor. Formatting booked for later in June.
Writing What’s next: I have a partially written novel which I’m proposing to resume work on once I’ve taken a short break. Watch this space.
I left hospital the day before Lock Down began. For my last night I was moved to a Gynae Ward as they were making arrangements to free up certain areas to get ready for Covid-19 patients. There was only one other occupant in my six bed area, an elderly lady of 95. Small and frail she might be but she was very bright, texting her family regularly and chatting to me. I’d taken my iPad in so was interested to see what Boris would have to say in his ‘Address to the Nation.’ She was too and I shared the news with her and hoped that when she was discharged she would keep safe.
The world I had left on 18th March when I was admitted was a fairly normal one. On the previous Monday we had lunch at a canal side pub. One which is normally packed on summer days and evenings, with its gardens bordering the water. I think of it today, on this bright sunny morning, its doors closed, empty and quiet. The one I walked out into four days after my admission was a different one; quiet, with empty streets and few people around. My adopted city was already closing down.
Life for us hasn’t changed very much. As both of us are at home – me writing and OH taken up with work on his classic car – our daily routine has generally remained almost the same. What has changed is the inability to drive to a pub for lunch (a regular weekly thing) or take a bus trip into town to shop, catch a movie or go to the gym. Our road has a mix of age groups. There’s been an influx of young families with children as the older occupants downsize and move away. Although most leave for work in their cars each morning, some run businesses and work from home All now have the added task of home schooling. We only really get to see everyone (social distancing taken into account) on Thursday evening when the local papermill hooter sounds to call us out to Clap for Carers. Currently our weekly grocery shop is carried out on line. I set up a regular delivery slot before I went into hospital, aware visits to the supermarket were a no-no with a weakened post op immune system. So far it’s not been too bad. We’ve managed to work around the disappointment of regular ‘out of stock’ items and order alternatives. And then when they finalise your order there are the substitutions – 9 this week. Eventually we’ll go back to our normal weekly supermarket visit, being able to choose our own food and get what we want. For now, though, it’s safer to stay at home and wait for the man in the van.
But getting back to the title of this blog piece. What are the things I miss? Well the freedom to go where I want and do what I like. And those things I listed above – regular pub meals out. Meeting friends for lunch and dinner in town. Going to the cinema. Gym on Fridays. But most of all, and I think everyone will echo this, it’s the inability to make close contact with family and friends. I have a regular weekly chat on the phone with my sister and a long list of friends. I’ve not seen her since before my op and I know from my brother in law how worried she had been. That has been made doubly difficult by the fact I’ve been unable to see her since my discharge from hospital. To give her a hug and tell her the surgeon did a brilliant job and I’m okay. Our birthdays are within two days of each other – 16th and 18th May – and sadly this year we won’t, as usual, be able to have a meal together and celebrate. Friends too are missed. Before all this we had regular meals out and gatherings in each others’ houses. Now there’s just a weekly voice on the phone as we update each other on another passing week spent in Lock Down.
Having said all this, I do count my blessings. The pandemic has thrown up the fact some people are really struggling. Evidence of this is on the news and in the papers every day. At least we have a garden to sit in and open countryside within five minute’s walk of home. Despite the unwanted changes in our lives we are better off than many.
And the ‘wish fors’ once things have got back to ‘near’ normal?
Fairly simple things actually. Like sinking my toes in the sand…and taking a paddle in the sea. A cliff top walk maybe, enjoying the breeze in my face. A trip to Dartmoor or Exmoor stopping to take in huge breaths of fresh air and enjoy the landscape…and I’d love an ice cream. But more than that, the ability to hug another human being and to converse face to face without having to keep my distance. Although I realise the two metre rule is there to help stop the spread of infection, humans are naturally tactile creatures and it’s something we all must miss. Hopefully this coming Sunday there might be a little slackening of those rules…one can only hope.
Is there anything anyone else particularly misses during these strange times? If so, let me know.
It’s amazing that with all this time on my hands I’ve been less productive than usual. One of the things I’ve been aware of is the lack of posts on this blog. Although I’m working daily on my WIP, inspiration for topics for a weekly/monthly post other than my usual update seemed to elude me. And then this morning, I suddenly realised there was something I could write about. A Life in Books…
My first contact with any form of reading material was Noddy and Bigears. From an early age I used to attend church on Sunday. In order to keep me quiet during the service I was given one of Enid Blyton’s Noddy books. At the time it was all about looking at the pictures but it seemed to do the trick. Later Noddy, Bigears and Mr Plod became the foundation for my early reading years . Once at school I became familiar with Updown Farm, Old Lob the farmer and Percy the bad chick. During those years running up to moving to senior school, my reading was supplemented with a few of the children’s’ classics – Orlando the Marmalade Cat, Wind in the Willows, The House at Pooh Corner, The Secret Garden, Children of the New Forest and, of course, The Famous Five and Secret Seven. Certainly Enid Blyton was very much at the forefront of my reading experiences.
Moving on into senior school, I lost interest in reading for a while as popular music became my main interest. During those years there was the famous trial over D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover which had everyone speculating what exactly was so risque about it and how could they get a copy. My next memory is during my time in the 4th year (Year 10 in modern speak) when various editions of the Pan Book of Horror Stories circulated around the class. In my wildest dreams I can’t imagine why we were so taken with these gory tales. Shouldn’t we have been reading teen magazines instead? Apparently not.
At college the talk was all about Edna O’Brien and her book The Girl with Green Eyes, which everyone wanted to get hold of. We all read it, of course and wondered what all the fuss was about.
Moving on to my working years and there are several well known books I can still remember reading. All of Daphne Du Maurier’s were a must – such classics! Susan Howatch’s Penmarric (loved this), Peter Benchley’s Jaws (I was working in Bristol at the time and during my commute everyone on the train seemed to be reading a copy), Coleen MuCullough’s The Thorn Birds (never could take to Richard Chamberlain being cast as Ralph De Bricassart – handsome yes but a little too old). And of course there has to be a mention for Catherine Cookson. My years working in a local authority typing pool brings back memories of how popular she was with the girls and women I managed. Then moving on to the 80s there was Shirley Conran and Lace and of course, Penny Vincenzi and a whole list of books to add to my TBR pile.
I’m also a fan of historical fiction authors. In the 1970s Anya Seton was one of my favourite reads. Moving on into the ’90s I discovered Phillipa Gregory’s novels. Wideacre, A Favoured Child and Meridon were the first of her books I read, before turning to those featuring the Plantagenets and Tudors. Following this I discovered Rosalind Miles and her wonderful Arthurian trilogy which put a totally different slant on the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere and Launcelot. And of course I couldn’t leave out Wilbur Smith, whose novels of fictitious South African dynasties like the Courtneys included so much historical fact.
I think over the years I’ve shown to have quite a broad taste in reading. Currently I’m enjoying psychological thrillers as well as mainstream romance. I don’t really have a particular preference for any genre. It needs to be a good story, well written, with believable characters. See, how easy to please I am?
So are there any memorable books you have? Maybe still in your bookcase, or on your Kindle? If you’re a writer, is there any special author who has inspired your own work? Drop me a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear from you…
Before I left to go into hospital, I worked hard to reach a certain point in my WIP. Happy I’d achieved this, I left knowing it meant I would be able to slip back into writing as soon as possible after discharge. Only that didn’t happen. To be quite honest I had no idea how weak the procedure had left me. When my OH came to collect me I had been up and about for a couple of days. But walking around the confines of a hospital ward isn’t quite the same as venturing outside and crossing the car park to reach the car on a bright but chilly March morning. Added to this, I’d emerged into a very different world from the one I had left the day I was admitted. Three days before my operation date we’d had lunch at a local pub. Although Covid-19 was happening the world still functioned as normal. Now we were in lockdown which meant self isolation, social distancing and many other restrictions. I remember the city streets as we drove home. Normally busy and full of shoppers and tourists, they were now eerily quiet.
My first full day at home passed quietly. As someone who is busy most of the time, it felt really strange not only doing absolutely nothing, but not feeling I wanted to. It wasn’t just a physical thing, I felt mentally drained too. Thankfully my amazing OH had taken charge of all things domestic and was doing a fabulous job. On my second day home I pushed myself and managed a short walk to the top of our road. From that day it became a daily ritual, extending the distance a little each time, to help build up my strength and get pack to pre-op fitness. But although I embraced this new daily regime and gradually got back to normality, first cooking then to other non- lifting domestic chores, I still had absolutely no interest in writing. Two weeks passed and nothing had changed. I wasn’t really in the mood to sit in front of the computer and look at my manuscript. I was still reading and writing reviews. I could happily do that but had absolutely no enthusiasm for my own work. The following week I have to admit there was a moment of panic. Would this lethargy eventually go away? Or was this going to be my new normal from now on? Had I totally lost interest in creating those parallel universes? Were my days of being an author over? Had I fallen off the writing horse? Would I ever to be able to climb back on?
Well I’m delighted to say it all ended well. One morning after breakfast last week I decided this was make or break day. That I’d open up the computer and check out my manuscript. The worst thing that could happen, I told myself, was that I would look at my work and realise the spark had gone and couldn’t do this anymore. Thankfully that didn’t happen. As soon as the ms was on screen it was as if I’d never been away. It seems I’d got the timing right. I was ready to get back to work again. I guess the whole thing was a little like writer’s block. It meant stepping back, being patient and waiting, hoping my enthusiasm for my own words would kick start once more. So now the writing is flowing once more and my second Cornish romance – although slightly delayed – is very much on course for publication later this year.
2020 has turned out to be an especially eventful year for me so far. From a routine screening just after Christmas I received the sort of news people dread being confronted with. And yet on reflection it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Thankfully the problem was caught in time but I’m still waiting for an op to tie up loose ends – not sure that’s the best phrase to use but it means once it’s completed I can move on and get back to the important things in life.
What this situation has shown (as did my broken ankle nearly two years ago) is that I have a wealth of friends both in real life and online. It’s very difficult to break this sort of news to people. I’m not one for public announcements so only my very close friends have been aware of the detail. And of course, as it was bound to, it affected other aspects of my life, not least my writing.
Deadlines were now impossible to meet and I took a step back and made a decision to return to being a self-published author. I needed to work at my own pace and I felt it was the only way in my current situation I could keep writing. It is so important to retain goals, to have something to strive for; a distraction if you like, to keep you on course and positive when an unexpected health tsunami like this hits.
Currently my festive novel is on the back burner but should be ready in time for the Christmas market. My current manuscript, which my publishers kindly agreed to withdraw, is undergoing a complete overhaul. Since submission I hadn’t looked at it, but now I’ve had time to read it through again there are changes I want to make. The cover is currently being designed (I’ve always felt getting the cover sorted early gives you a huge incentive to get the book completed). I’m hopeful – surgery permitting – for publication in late May.
Back to my health. It’s only when life throws you these curve balls that you stop and take stock of everything about your situation. The important things are suddenly not as important and since receiving the news I’ve had a lot of time to think about what is. What really matters. Family, good supportive friends, taking one day at a time and enjoying life are definitely top of the list. Through all of this I’ve felt incredibly positive; grateful things worked out the way they did. Had I not been called in for the scan at that moment in time the outcome might have been totally different. I don’t want to dwell too much on that scenario.
So far this year has been a bit of a roller coaster. A cancellation to my consultant’s operating list gave me an early opportunity for surgery. Then that was cancelled due to other issues. Most have been resolved (not life threatening I’m pleased to add) and I’m currently waiting for a new date. I’ll be in hospital for 2 – 4 days and afterwards there’s a four to six week period when I won’t be able to travel any great distance. We’ve moved our May holiday to mid-June. By that time I should be ready for that getaway and an opportunity to relax somewhere beyond the four walls of home. Can’t wait!
It was a real surprise to be chosen by fellow writer and blogger Jessie Calahin as one of her eleven candidates for The Sunshine Blogger Award. Thank you so much Jessie and I’m pleased to accept your challenge.
The Sunshine Blogger Award empowers bloggers to celebrate other bloggers who are creative and bring positivity to the blogging community. Part of the challenge is not only to answer the questions Jessie has sent me, but to nominate 11 other bloggers and send them my own set of 11 questions. This I’ve done at the end of this post.
Here are Jessie’s 11 questions:
Which three photographs would you present to capture your life?
Happy Holiday moments in Seville
Book4 in the Little Court Series
Picture one reminds me that I had beginnings as a small baby with chubby hands and knees. What a journey it’s been since then. Picture two is of me and my OH on holiday. Settling down being another major milestone in my life. And thirdly the cover for my fourth novel to celebrate my life as a writer. It’s my absolute favourite
I believe laughter is one of the best tonics in life. When was the last time you could not stop laughing?
Lots of things make me laugh. But choosing a moment when I couldn’t stop, well it has to be Peter Kay’s Car Share where they went to a wildlife park and ended up with a monkey on the back seat. I think that was a totally classic moment. I’ve watched it on YouTube since and it still makes me laugh out loud.
Explain the last act of kindness you showed to a friend or stranger
Christmas shopping in Salisbury last year. I saw a woman on orthopaedic crutches about to enter the store we were in and could see she would struggle as she attempted to open the door. So I went back to help her.
Do you prefer the winter sun or the summer sun? Explain your response.
Oh it has to be summer. For me it’s a season of freedom, when I can get rid of jumpers and coats and all the other winter paraphernalia. It’s a time of being able to eat outside whether it’s a picnic by the river or alfresco dining at a pub or restaurant. Evenings are lighter, days are warmer and I find I have so much more energy
Describe your perfect Saturday evening.
A trip into Bath, a meal at one of the many wonderful restaurants and then a wander through the city. One of my best memories is of eight of us walking down the high street after a meal. The Abbey was head of us, beautifully lit and very atmospheric on a warm summer evening.
What sorts of characters do you prefer to meet in novels?
Spirited heroines and heroes who aren’t quite what they seem.
Give one sentence of advice to yourself when you were sixteen.
Be true to yourself.
Is there a friend from the past you would love to get in touch with and why?
No, I don’t think so. I’m lucky enough to have a good number of friends; some have been with me for most of my life, others are more recent. I’m quite content with this.
What is your food heaven and food hell?
For me food heaven is definitely chocolate. I have to admit to being relatively weak willed and can’t be trusted to pass shops like Hotel Chocolat without wanting to go in and buy something. However I have learned to curb my chocoholic tendencies and now only purchase as a treat. Food hell is elvers. I’ve never eaten them but have seen the competitions on TV where they have to eat as many as they can within a certain time frame. Okay they’re dead but just the thought of eating those tiny eels – yuk!
Share your favourite recipe.
ANTON MOSIMANN’S BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING – a rich twist on a basic pud.
9 fl oz (250 ml) milk
9 fl oz (250 ml) double cream
A pinch of salt
1 vanilla pod (or a teaspoon of vanilla essence)
5 oz (150g) sugar
3 small bread rolls, thinly sliced and buttered
1 oz (25g) butter
1/2 oz (10g) raisins, soaked in water
3oz (75g) apricot jam
A little icing sugar
Bring the milk, cream, salt and vanilla pod (or essence) to the boil. Mix the eggs and the sugar together. Add the simmering milk and cream. Pass the mixture through a sieve (not necessary if vanilla essence is used instead of pod). Arrange rolls in a buttered, ovenproof dish and add the soaked raisins. Add the milk mixture, dot the remaining butter on top and poach in a low oven at 375 F (190 C), gas mark 3 for 35 – 40 minutes in a bain-marie (or a tray lined with newspaper and half filled with water). When golden brown on top, dot with apricot jam and dust with icing sugar.
If you could travel back in time where would you visit and who would you take with you?
I think it has to be Pompeii. I’ve been there and the sophistication of their culture, bearing in mind how far back we’re going, amazed me. As to who I would take, definitely my OH. I think he’d look great in a toga.
And now congratulations to the people I have nominated. I appreciate you may not have time to respond with a blog so do not feel under pressure. I am happy for you to simply enjoy the award and celebrate in whatever way you choose. Coffee, cake, prosecco, it’s totally up to you.
If you do choose to accept the Sunshine Blogger Award nomination, there are a few rules:
Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their blog.
Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award in your blog post.
Nominate 11 new bloggers & their blogs. Do leave a comment on their blog to let them know they received the award and ask your nominees 11 new questions
When I saw Jo Lambert’s blog posts about five songs which are important to the writer, I was eager to join in as music and writing have always gone hand in hand for me. When I was a teenager writing my first attempts at novels (which I now know were really more like fan fiction since Pacey Witter featured heavily), I always had a favourite CD on in the background. A lot of the time there was more listening than writing going on, but I’m sure I absorbed the experience of learning the lyrics and feeling the emotional pull of the music and it sparked the desire to replicate it in the stories I was trying to write.
Now I’m writing novels as an adult, I love putting together playlists on Spotify. It’s one of the first things I do when I sit down to write. I start with a few songs that I think suit the mood – fun or dark – as it helps me instantly get into the flow at the end of the day, when the kids are finally in bed and I can concentrate. I expand on the lists as my draft progresses and often find some artists in particular have the right voice to suit one of my characters as I get to know them better. The book I’m writing at the moment has a bit of a Sam Smith feel!
and have put together a huge one for The Devil’s Bride, my historical paranormal romance novel which releases tomorrow! http://bit.ly/TheDevilsBride They’re very different genres so need very different soundtracks to help me get in the right mindset! As soon as I’ve cherry-picked my favourite songs from The Devil’s Bride list, I’ll make it public – but for now, it’s time to choose my five for Jo:
Both my parents are big music lovers and between them we would listen to all kinds of music from David Bowie to Doris Day to Otis Redding. On evenings when my mum would go to the gym and my big sister was at Girl Guides, Dad and I would listen to music together and I loved this song. We’d dance around the living to it and I know that Dad thinks of me too when he hears it. As soon as it came on at my sister’s wedding, we found each other to dance to it again.
I mentioned that I liked to listen to albums in my bedroom as a teenager, didn’t I? Well, Jagged Little Pill was one I would play over and over and over and I could have picked any of the songs from it as important. This one blew my mind the most though. Here was this angsty, vibrant music, with a young woman’s voice telling everyone how angry she was…it was simply perfect for expressing those teenage difficulties – my poor family must’ve wanted to plug their ears to all my screeching but they never said anything and I don’t regret it for a minute!
Another one where the album had so many amazing tracks on it, but I picked this one because it’s such an important message. When my sister got her first car, we would drive to Lakeside and Bluewater shopping centre for lovely girly evenings, buying clothes with the money from our weekend jobs or going to the cinema. And we’d always have a soundtrack to sing along to one the way. This was one of those songs we’d bellow at full volume in the car.
Being a writer can be a hard slog, littered with rejections and self-doubt and it’s helpful to build in some rituals to help you out when you’re feeling low and like giving up. One thing I do is write in a journal about the trials and tribulations – basically I have a good moan for my eyes only – another is to note down positive feedback I might receive in a notebook and read it through when I’ve convinced myself everything I write is awful, and finally I like to listen to this song a few times as it always gives me chills and makes me feel that necessary determination again.
When I signed my publishing contract for A Mistletoe Miracle, I had a book party with my two daughters (they’re seven and three). We blew up balloons, baked a chocolate cake, got out lots of books, dressed up and danced to music. My eldest asked for this song and when we put it on, jumping up and down and laughing together it was perfect. Not just because it’s so uplifting, but because it suited my book totally too. It’s on the playlist for it now and I’ll never hear it without think of that wonderful celebratory afternoon when my dream to become a writer had finally come true.
Author of the Best Selling A MISTLETOE MIRACLE, published in 2019 by Orion Dash, Emma has been a devoted bookworm and secret-story-scribbler since she was 6 years old. When she’s not running around after her two daughters and trying to complete her current work-in-progress, Emma loves to read, bake, catch up on binge-watching TV programmes with her partner and plan lots of craft projects that will inevitably end up unfinished. Her next romantic comedy, SUMMER IN THE CITY, is due for release in June 2020.
Emma also writes historical and speculative romantic fiction as Emma S Jackson. THE DEVIL’S BRIDE will be published by DarkStroke on 5th February as an ebook and paperback.
The Devil’s Bride:
No one goes near Edburton Manor – not since the night in 1668, when demons rose from the ground to drag Lord Bookham’s new bride to a fiery death. Or so the locals say.
That’s what makes it the perfect hideout for the gang of highwaymen Jamie Lorde runs with.
Ghost stories have never frightened her. The living are a far more dangerous prospect, particularly to a woman in disguise as a man. A woman who can see spirits in a time when witches are hanged and who is working hard to gain the trust of the most ruthless, vicious man she has ever known because she intends to ruin and kill him.
But when the gang discovers Matthew, Lord Bookham’s illegitimate brother, who has been trapped by a curse at the Manor ever since the doomed wedding, all Jamie’s carefully laid plans are sent spiralling out of control.
You can find out news about Emma via her website http://www.esjackson.co.uk or on: Twitter @ESJackson1 Facebook @EmmaJacksonAuthor Instagram @emma_s_jackson
IF ANYONE WOULD LIKE TO COME ALONG AND CHAT ABOUT MUSIC THAT INSPIRES THEIR WORK, PLEASE MESSAGE ME ON EITHER FACEBOOK OR TWITTER
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.