Monday, 20 January 2020

Places in my writing life: Part 1

Paul McCartney sings about places in his song In My Life:

There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone, and some remain

And so it is with all of us. I think this chimes with writers, especially those of us who are fascinated by history. I write crime, some contemporary and some – The Tudor Enigma series – set in an alternate Tudor history with a bit of magic thrown in.

When I was younger (so much younger than today), I lived in Worcester, another city chock full of history. I have stood where Charles II stood, high up on the Cathedral roof, as he watched Cromwell’s forces overwhelm his army. I can show you the place where he escaped by climbing out of a window and over the walls of the city.

In the Cathedral itself, the tomb of Henry VIII’s elder brother, Arthur is situated, as is the tomb of an early Plantagenet, King John, himself an interesting character. I have a theory he would today have been diagnosed as bi-polar.

The place that holds my heart will always be Worcester Cathedral. In 1978 in the middle of a Three Choirs concert, the first inkling of the book that would become Dearly Ransomed Soul popped into my head.

In Worcester, we are talking serious Elgar territory. The opening concert was Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius conducted by Sir Charles Groves. He looked just like a jolly Father Christmas but he had a tongue that could strip wallpaper if any of the musicians fell below his standards. Since we were in Worcester, any choir singer on that platform was supposed to have taken this oratorio in with their mother’s milk. I had just come from the wilds of Norfolk! This concert was where I learned to sight-sing very accurately through sheer terror.

The part of the Angel was sung by Sandra Browne and I sat transfixed. But even then, the writer in me was alive to crime story possibilities. What if the Angel, having sung her socks off, was murdered immediately after the concert? The finished book came out in 2008 – yes 30 years after the initial idea - published by Legend Press. Although the characters went through several incarnations and I called Worcester, Temingham, the title never changed from Dearly Ransomed Soul. Since then, I have always chosen musical titles for the Georgia Pattison Mysteries and included links at the end of each book to music mentioned in the text
I rewrote it a few years later and published it digitally. The second incarnation had a different killer and was set in Worcester. I was much happier with this new version and Georgia Pattison, my early-music soprano was born. Her second full-length adventure is Laid in Earth, also set in and around Worcester.

When I saw the trend for publishing Christmas novellas, I thought Georgia Pattison was ideal for the purpose. I decided she needed an introductory novella, which I set in Whitby and concerned the murder of a young woman Georgia used to babysit. As with all the Georgia Pattison books, the title had to have a music connection but also fit the theme of the book. I decided on Whistles After Dark from Kipling’s Smugglers Song. Being a “first” book, it was not set at Christmas, but there have been several since then that focus on the festive season. Not all have been set in Worcester, but all have had a solid foundation in their geographical place.

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Thursday, 19 December 2019

Georgia Pattison's 2019 Christmas novella

It has become one of those things some writers do to include in their annual output a Christmas short story or novella featuring their series character. But how does a writer find a protagonist strong enough to be the lead in a succession of books?

My contemporary series character is early-music soprano, Georgia Pattison, who sprang from my experiences as a choral soprano with Worcester Festival Choral Society. The memories of my involvement in the musical life of that city in the 70s and early 80s are very happy ones. Being invited to sing in Three Choirs Festivals was an honour. For one week, we lowly amateur singers mixed with the best and the brightest - and royalty on occasions. I loved it. In all the years I was with Worcester, there was only one piece of music I never grew to like and that was Tippett's Child of Our Time. I can, hand on heart, say that every other piece, even if I didn't much like it when we started, I loved by the time it came to the performance.

Georgia came into being during a performance of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius. There is quite a bit of sitting down in the second part of this oratorio as far as the choir is concerned. With the best will in the world, one's attention can wander.

Mine began to wonder what would happen if the Angel sang a fabulous concert to ecstatic acclaim, and was murdered shortly afterwards. I tried several attempts to get the story down, but it was 30 years before I had the time and the determination to really write the book. Dearly Ransomed Soul was the result and the beginning of the frequently rocky relationship between Georgia and DCI Hamilton of the Three Counties Police.

To come full circle to the beginning of this blog, Georgia, poor girl, is now well and truly destined to find a body every Christmas. This year's adventure comes about when she stands in for the music teacher at a school in Worcester during their nativity play, followed by a concert from the school choir.

The fact that a man is killed virtually under Georgia's nose she regards as something of an insult, not least because she had no idea that it had happened. She resolves to find the killer. What drives her resolution even harder is the fact that DCI Hamilton is facing a disciplinary hearing and possible instant dismissal. The detective and the singer may have had a volatile relationship but it is one built on mutual respect. If Georgia can find evidence to prove that Hamilton is innocent, she will. If she can find the killer, that will also help Hamilton's case.

The killer, however, has other ideas and this time it could well be that Georgia has put herself in danger once too often.

You can find While Shepherds Watched here:

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Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Interview with Lesley Cookman, the Queen of Cosy Crime

I am delighted to welcome Lesley Cookman to the blog today. We first met Libby Serjeant in Murder in Steeple Martin in 2006. Murder Repeated, published on 5th December is Libby's 20th outing.

There were several reasons I wanted to interview such a seasoned and successful crime writer, not least because my husband reads the Libby books, but not mine. Yet.

How was Libby Serjeant “born”? What did you immediately know about her and what characteristic was a surprise?

That’s an interesting one – but an easy one! One day, probably during the school holidays, I was driving home from my younger daughter’s best friend’s house, where I had dropped her off. For some reason, I took a slightly different route home, in a spirit of exploration. Said friend lived with her family on the edge of a tiny country village – the stuff of many a girlhood fantasy, ponies and all. So off I went on a little tour of other villages. And I was driving past a piece of open ground with some cottages the other side, and suddenly, I knew who lived there. I went home, and despite not currently being a novelist, wrote the first paragraphs of the first Libby Sarjeant book. And there she was – as were two of my other characters, Harry and Peter.

What is your writing process: What sparks that initial ‘that would make a great story’? moment. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you know the end before you start?  How much leeway do you give yourself to veer off at a tangent?

I’m definitely a pantster, and mostly, it’s my son Miles who comes to me with an idea: “This would make a great story, Mum.” Trouble is, I then have to make it up! No, I don’t know the end, and the murderer often changes as the story goes on, and I’m a champion veerer. I never believe people who say the spotted the murderer at the beginning – I never do!

Walk us through your writing day. 

Wake up, stagger out of bed, go downstairs, put kettle on, feed cats. Read emails on laptop with tea. Eventually make it into the office, muck about on computer and finally get down to writing. Work until I feel I can legitimately stop.

If you could give your younger writing self any piece of advice, what would it be?

I don’t know, because I wasn’t actively trying to become a novelist, until I fell into it!

What three things are you grateful for?

My immediate family, my cats and having a roof over my head.

Name one essential quality you believe a writer needs and one essential element for a successful book?

A good imagination, and an understanding of your readers.

Setting aside the plethora of Indies, what has been the greatest change in the world of publishing for you since ‘Murder in Steeple Martin'?

Ebooks. I started before the digital revolution, and believe me, I couldn’t  have foreseen the sudden upsurge in my royalty statements when my back list became available in ebook. Dropped off, now, of course, but it was the biggest change I remember.

Thank you, Lesley. I wish you continuing success.

If you want to find out more about Lesley, go here:

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Going back to move forwards

Sounds like the title of a film, doesn’t it? However, this blog is not about a movie. It is about changing habits in a way, but is why sometimes you have to change them back.
As anybody who follows me on Facebook or Twitter will know, I have had severe difficulties using the dictation app that comes as standard with Apple. Unfortunately, Apple decided that they could no longer allow Nuance to access their software, which meant that Apple users could not use Dragon Naturally Speaking. This would not have been such a problem had the Apple integral dictation software been programmed to learn its users’ vocabulary or to learn from its mistakes, in other words, the user having the ability to tell it how to spell a word.
Neither of these two things happens and that means that the software is fatally flawed for everyone except bloggers or people who dictate emails - things that are quick to edit. In other words, millions of writers cannot use it efficiently because it makes far too many errors. For somebody like me who writes 100,000 word books, the Apple dictation software is useless.
Therefore, I have decided with much thought and a lot of regret that my increasing problems with arthritis mean I must go back to a Windows machine so that I can continue to produce my books by dictating them. This decision is solely down to Apple’s inability to realise that some users need a good quality, dependable, dictation system that learns with its user. My husband is therefore going to build me a new computer. 
The other thing to which I am returning and that is already resulting in a huge increase in my writing productivity, is to revert to my original method of writing. In other words, using the writing method that worked for me so successfully when I penned The Tudor Enigma.
All writers want to learn new things, try new things, but over the past four years, I became too focussed on other people’s methods of writing and plotting. I learned about inciting incidents, thwarts, character flaws and pacing – other people’s pacing. And, to be completely honest, writing lost much of its charm and became something of a chore. 
I have writing friends who plot every little detail of a book before they begin writing it. Jeffery Deaver allegedly writes 40,000 word preparations before he writes a word of the book he is planning. I have other friends who sit down with an idea of some characters and write the book by the seat of their pants.

My instinctive method, before I became bogged down trying other people’s, is what I call the roadmap method and it is a mixture of the plotter and the pantser. Since I live in the UK, I will use the UK roadmap to illustrate what I mean. Let us say I plan to journey from the Isle of Wight to Newcastle. The Isle of Wight is the beginning of my book. I know what my beginning is, who my main characters are. I know the basic plot and several events that must happen during the course of the book. To continue the metaphor, logic dictates my route needs to involve a passing acquaintance with London, Peterborough, Leeds and York (the events) before it ends up in Newcastle, which is the end of the book. However, since I write crime, I reserve the right to suddenly make tangential moves to Birmingham and the Lake District before heading up to Edinburgh and then circling back down to Newcastle. 
I do not plot the tangential moves, they happen as I write. Quite suddenly, one character will do something I hadn’t planned. For instance in my current book, a character made a sudden declaration of love to my main character that took both of us by surprise. It is akin to having booked a hotel in York and finding yourself in Liverpool. You have to rethink what is going on. 
Usually, I have found these tangential unexpected moves to be beneficial to the book. And it is instances like this that make me love writing and are things that could never happen when every little detail is planned in advance. Going back has reinvigorated my writing and my
passion for writing.  
     When I have finished this first draft, I will return to this year’s Georgia Pattison Christmas novella, While Shepherds Watched and edit that ready for publication before the festive season. I hope to have my current work in progress, working title Keeping Secrets out in spring 2020.

You can read more about me and my books here:

Monday, 21 October 2019

Why write and why write crime?

I had my nails done last week. Now I have moved house to a centre of civilisation, I can easily access a nail salon that does acrylic nails. However, that is not the subject of this blog. During the nail appointment, my technician asked what made me want to write and what made me want to write crime.

For a few moments, I was completely stuck and gave a pathetic answer about loving puzzles and having a weird mind. But it made me think. A lot. So, what is the answer, what made me want to start writing anything, but why crime in particular?

Parents always influence a child, sometimes not in a good way. My mother loved reading crime and she loved reading history. Both of those loves, she bequeathed to me. She had a wonderful grasp of what-if? That’s the good bit. She also became obsessed with the Moors Murders: I suppose because one of the victims was the same age as me. She kept a tight grip on my freedom after that, which sometimes made life difficult but developed my devious mindset. In retrospect, that is perfect soil in which to nurture a crime writer. I was always good at essays at school and had what one of my teachers called an over-active imagination. Brilliant for a writer, but Miss Dunning didn’t know that.

The physical act of writing I have always loved. And pens. From an early age. I remember being about 10 and buying a new fountain pen ready for exams. I have an impressive collection of fountain pens now and different coloured inks. They are useful in ways I never imagined.

Although these days, I write directly onto the computer, there are some occasions when I switch desks – yes, I have two. The one for working out plot complications is an old pedestal desk, set across the French doors in my office, looking out over the garden. (And before you ask, there are so few occasions I would need the doors open, it makes sense to take advantage of being able to see the garden.) If I am stuck on a plot point or overcoming a piece of evidence that need negating, I might use several different pens and different coloured inks to work through the problem. I used to think I was weird because of that, but there are more than a few writers who do the same.

Does that answer the question why crime? It is the puzzle, I think. I’m not one for crosswords but give me a situation that requires an answer and I will sit and try and work out the solution. A writing friend of mine, wrote a mangled word the other day in error and only when she read back what she had written did she come across it. And couldn’t work out what she had meant to say, so she posted it on Facebook. I spent about two hours trying to work out what that word could be. Was it one word or two? Had she shifted her hands across from the home keys to one key either side? I never asked for the context, but at the last communication, she still had no idea what she had meant to write. And neither did I. But trying was fun. I like to make the puzzles in my books as convoluted as is feasible and, for me, that is more than half the fun. 

In marrying my love of music and singing, it was a logical progression to write the Georgia Pattison Mysteries and, for readers who might be interested, I always include links to the music mentioned in the books. Georgia always has a Christmas adventure and this year is no different. While Shepherds Watched will be available in mid-December

And history? Again, it was a logical progression to mix that with crime and adding a bit of magic led to The Tudor Enigma books. Now I have ventured further back and hope to have Loyalty in Conflict, the first of the Gideon Rooke Chronicles, set in the Wars of the Roses, available early in 2020.

Have I answered the question? Not sure, but I hope you will have a clearer idea of why I write.

You can read more about April Taylor here:

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Want to meet an amazing man...?

Seumas Gallacher is an amazing man. He was Blogger of the Year in 2013 and has an eye-watering number of followers. I met him - once - and he is warm, welcoming and gives you his entire attention. He has what used to be called the ‘common touch’ and it is clear this stems from the fact he is interested in people. When I heard he had written his autobiography Strangely, I’m still here, I wondered why the title included the word ‘strangely’. When I read the book, I discovered why. 

Seumas is very open about his, now defunct, relationship with alcohol. He is not quite as open about having to travel around parts of the Far East in a bullet-proof car with two armed bodyguards in constant attendance, but you certainly get the picture of a very genuine human being who hates bullies, is endlessly supportive of fellow writers and who repays good fortune in his own life by paying it forward to others whenever he can. 

It is also a life story where I cried, giggled and laughed so hard I was unable to read the relevant paragraphs aloud to my husband. I also winced a few times, especially the part when, as a child, Seumas was outraged about treatment of a friend of his at the hands of two bigger boys. 

He is very upfront about saying that he isn’t telling you his story warts ’n all and that is fine with me because although I am interested in somebody’s life enough to want to read their story, it is very right and proper that some things are kept private. However, there were some things I felt needed further explanation, so I asked a few questions. Read on. 

Q : In the book you show a Puckish sense of humour. Where did it come from or was it a bequest from one of your parents?

A : Humour is in the Glasgow DNA – I think it derives from the history of the large influx of Irish and other immigrants in the 19thcentury – my comedic God is Billy Connolly, who tells stories with wit and humour, rather than jokes per se. Dark, gallows humour is also strong in Govan and other districts of Glasgow, for obvious reasons – and we enjoy poking fun at ourselves and our real pals… but we reserve the ‘take-downs’ for snobbish posturing and the ‘establishment’.

Q : It has to have been frightening facing down people who put out a contract on you. How do you summon the wherewithal to confront such people calmly and what were their initial reactions when it became clear you weren’t intimidated by them?

A : I hate bullying of any kind. All my life I’ve faced it down, finding that most of the time the bullies are cowards with runny mouths. With the rogue cop captain in the book, he could easily have shot me and claimed I was resisting arrest – these things can and do happen in some of the places and situations I worked in. It’s not a case of courage, it’s more a case of being more scared of backing down.

Q : Tell us three things you are thankful for every day.

A : My life. My sobriety. My faith.

Q : It’s clear from the autobiography that you are persistent when you set your mind to it. Let’s say that you have decided you want to go to the Moon in 5 years. Take us through your thinking process for giving yourself the best chance of success.

A: Preparation, preparation, preparation. Research as much as I can about every detail of what would be required - cost, vehicle, material, support, physical and mental fitness, proper assessment of survival and decision on how much risk I would be prepared to take. 

Q : One thing that shines through the book is your ethos of paying things forward, something the world desperately needs right now. Tell us more about how that ethos developed.

A : You will have noted, I’m sure, that at several, not just one, but several, critical junctures in my life, some amazing people were put in my sphere. Some I recognised at the time, some I came to understand and appreciate much later. The biggest was the gift of sobriety, in understanding that I was not a bad guy because I drank to excess, but that I had an illness that could be tackled with the magnificent help of others just like me, who gave unconditionally of their time and love, Reciprocation of that comes so easily, and so gratifying, that it truly is an inherent core of my life now.

Q :I have to talk about Jack Calder. Now we all know why we haven’t seen Book 6 yet. Is he anywhere on your horizon and if so, can you give us a taste of what we can expect him to be fighting next?

A :Jack Calder and the other characters are never far from my author’s mind. Book six, ‘NO IMPUNITY’, is work in progress. I never put deadlines on my writing, but I expect it to be ready before the end of the first quarter, 2020. The story will have the team tackling organised biker drug gangs across Europe, who are not averse to murder in the wake of their business and who also coerce young ladies into prostitution. A few bad authorities also have to be dealt with along the way.

And there you have it - from the man himself. But don't take my word for it. Not only has he written the aforementioned thrillers, but also a guide to promotion and marketing for writers, not to mention the poetry! You can't say this man isn't proactive! 

All his books are available on Amazon Kindle Unlimited. You can find his new book, Strangely I'm Still Here here: for Amazon UK and here: for Amazon US


Saturday, 21 September 2019

What to do first…

Some writers like to ring the changes and although they may write in one particular genre, they might also have more than one series going and write standalones, too. This is me.
When I first had my “big idea” in 2009 for an historical series set in an alternate Tudor universe with my hero, apothecary and elemancer (magic using the elements), Luke Ballard, I had no idea this would not cover everything I wanted to write. 
When Harlequin picked up the three planned books in The Tudor Enigma, I worked ten- hour days for over a year, including Christmas to meet my editor’s deadlines. And, to be honest, I became a bit jaded with the Tudors. Then, it was made abundantly clear that the three Luke novels were all the publisher was interested in. I was, and remain, a bit fed up that I cannot write about Luke until 2022 because of contractual obligations, while the publisher makes no effort to help me promote the books. And I have another three plots sitting waiting with ever-decreasing patience.
However, this meant I could return to my first finished book, which needed a complete rewrite, but was set in contemporary times. I eventually ended up with my early-music soprano and general nosy diva, Georgia Pattison. I have to say she has been a joy to write but, once bitten, twice shy, I decided to become an Indie writer and retain total control over my work.
Of course, several years on my interest in history has never abated, but gone backwards  in time from the Tudors to the Wars of the Roses. Even this grew out of the Georgia books. I made her love interest a wrong-side-of-the-blanket descendant of Edward IV. You – and Georgia – first meet him in The Midnight Clear.
Although I am a member of the Richard III Society, it is always Edward who has caught my interest. An unsung battle commander, who won his first battle at the age of 19 and never lost a battle he led. Allegedly, he was unbelievably handsome with a huge appetite for all things sensual, Edward was, until the break with his cousin Warwick, very laid back about forgiving people. And all that changed in 1470.
I found out quite by accident that the leaders of the Lincolnshire uprising of 1470 had a manor house 2 miles from where I lived in rural Lincolnshire. My imagination then conjured a stable lad of 17, who was unusually intelligent and observant. The action of the first chronicle in the Gideon Rooke series takes place around the Battle of Empingham, one of the battles so insignificant it usually only merits a passing mention in the history books. More about that in another blog.
And then life got in the way, as it does. We have recently uprooted from Lincolnshire and moved to a market town in North Yorkshire. However, one consequence is that my writing has been non-existent for about 4 months and now I must start again.
I recently decided the first Gideon book needed an extra dimension, so one of my aims is to re-write the book taking that into account and completely changing the ending. I also need to keep Georgia going. There is the third full-length Georgia Pattison mystery already planned and ready to write, but first I must continue her annual Christmas adventures. 
The first glimmerings of this Christmas offering came last week, so I need to plan that and then get it written by the middle of November, about 3 months later than I normally would. And let’s not forget the standalone, set in 1953 with its origins in the second world war with a heroine who worked in SOE, currently standing at 30,000 words, sitting in the drawer.
Mary, Queen of Scots, at her trial in 1585, knew she was doomed. She is alleged to have said in my end is my beginning. And so with this blog. What to do first?
Rewrite Gideon and get it out about a year later than planned? Ditch Gideon for the moment and get the Christmas Georgia sorted? Finish the standalone? Put some more flesh on the new full-length Georgia? Plan where Gideon will go after the end of book 1? 
I’m still working on deciding that because, naturally, the one thing common sense dictates I do first is the last thing I want to do. 

Places in my writing life: Part 1

Paul McCartney sings about places in his song In My Life : There are places I'll remember All my life, though some have chang...