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.
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.