Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas secrets...

One Christmas when we were children, my sister and I unknowingly bought each other the same Christmas present. When we opened them up on Christmas morning everyone thought it a great hoot that we'd both had the same idea (an oil painting-by-numbers kit, in case you're wondering!) but I remember feeling disappointed without understanding why, as I was quite happy to have a painting kit for myself.

It's only now as I think back that it must have been the familiarity of the present which somehow took the edge off the element of the 'secret surprise' which has always been an exciting part of Christmas. I think it must be the mystery writer in me!

This month, Jo Barton, on her book-blog Jaffareadstoo, has invited a number of authors to share their memories, secrets and favourite things about Christmas. I was delighted to be asked to join in the fun.

So why not drop in on her blog, read about my Christmas thoughts and check out the other authors and their books at the same time. There are give-aways too, including a copy of The Indelible Stain.

Meanwhile, let me take the opportunity to wish you all  
A Merry Christmas

and a

Happy New Year

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Mentioned in dispatches

It was the highlight of a particularly difficult week (husband/heart bypass/complications/long story) when I found out that The Indelible Stain was one of the books chosen for the Editor's Choice in The Bookseller's first ever Independent Author Review.

It was thanks to fellow author Alison Morton that I heard the news and learnt that her book Successio had also been listed, as well as those of three other SilverWood authors - Lily Forbes's memoir Growing Up Under the Mango Tree , Elisabeth Marrion's historical novel Liverpool Connection and Thomas Saunders's autobiography Getting a Life

In the introduction to her review, Caroline Sanderson said the 18 books she'd chosen represented some of the best available, praised the quality of editing and presentation, and declared them to be "written with a flair equal to anything on the list of a traditional publishing house".

In the subsequent #FutureChat on Twitter, the subject of professionalism amongst indie authors was discussed and the importance of producing a quality book.

In the comments afterwards, author Jane Steen made the point that it would be nice to get to the stage where books in general could be judged as "good books" without the need to make the distinction between "trad" and "indie".

I'm sure that day will come eventually. After all, as Alison Morton said during the chat, it's readers who ultimately are the judges. Invariably they care little about which publishing camp the book comes from, so long as they've enjoyed reading it!

(P.S. And in case you're wondering - sorted/on the mend/home soon)

Monday, 20 October 2014

Inspired by mysteries

My online friend and fellow writer Georgia Rose commented, after reading my Family History Secrets blog, that I must have endless patience to do all the research involved.

I had to admit that it's as much to do with addiction as it is perseverance! Plus, being as my Esme Quentin Mysteries are inspired by genealogy, any trawl I do has the added incentive of me inadvertently stumbling upon a  brilliant plot idea!

Georgia confessed she'd be frustrated if she couldn't find out what she wanted and it's true that it's disappointing when I hit the proverbial brick wall and have to abandon a trail without achieving a result.

But there's always another mystery on the list to investigate. Or, as new records are being made available all the time, I might return to those questions I've not yet answered to see if information has come to light since I last searched which might give me that longed-for breakthrough.

Over the years I've discovered the answers to numerous intriguing questions and, although some remain stubbornly elusive, I'm hopeful that one day I'll uncover the truth about those too.

Questions such as:
  • What happened to my great-grandfather when he 'disappeared' after the 1881 census?
  • Why did my great-aunt run away from home in 1904, aged just 16, and tell her employers she had no family?
  • Who was the mysterious spinster to whom my husband's ancestor secretly left his estate and not to his wife?
  • Why did my husband's great-great grandparents travel to Australia in 1868 and why did they not take their children with them?
  • Who was the father of my illegitimate great-grandfather?
  • Who was the mysterious half-brother to my great-grandfather who I discovered on someone else's family tree?
  • What happened to my great-great-grandmother when she disappeared, leaving her illegitimate son behind with her parents?
  • What happened to my husband's ancestor after he was convicted of theft in 1831 and sentenced to 14 years transportation? 

Why not pop over to my familyhistorysecrets blog and find out which of these mysteries I've solved and which I'm still working on? 

And if you have your own family mysteries, either solved or unsolved, I'd love to hear about them.

Monday, 29 September 2014

And then there was cake!

Some while ago someone posted a photograph on Facebook of individual cupcakes on top of which were little mini-books made of icing.

Yes, this really is a cake!
It was such a fantastic idea that I decided I'd like to do something similar when the new Esme Quentin novel,
The Indelible Stain, was published.

My cake making skills aren't up to anything as detailed as individually made folded mini-books but there are simpler options, which can be just as effective.

And so, this weekend at the official Launch Party, we had a Book Cake!

Set in the middle of the table, it made a striking impression as everyone arrived.

I hadn't realised how far the concept of edible icing had come. There are several companies who have the facility to print a copy of any photograph you care to send them with edible inks on to a thin icing layer.

All set. Now pop open the Champagne!   

The printed image arrives through the post (and, in our case, extremely promptly from Cake Topper Designs) in a sealed polythene bag and, if required, keeps for up to 6 months.

When your cake has been iced and you're ready to position the image (not too early, or it will dry out and crack before you get it in place), you remove it from the bag, carefully lay it on top of the cake and smooth it into place. Brilliant!

Never trust a woman with a glass of bubbly in one hand
and a knife in the other. Especially a crime writer!

When I lifted the knife to make the cut (in true crime fiction style), there were comments that it was a shame to cut it up.
Not an idea which persisted for very long, though, once everyone realised they'd then not be able to tuck into the cake underneath...
...which as the evidence shows, they did (with the rest given out in doggy bags).

Many thanks to all those who came along to celebrate, eat cake and buy a book!

And to those who weren't at the launch and want to find out more about The Indelible Stain, click on the image on the left or below for all the details.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

What a difference a win makes

I was browsing through some old copies of Writing Magazine recently (part of my ongoing clutter-clear burst!) and came across an article entitled, What a difference a win makes, dated 2004.

The magazine had followed up previous winners of some of their writing competitions to find out what had happened since their win. There were eight winners mentioned, and I was one of them, having won the Summer Ghost Short Story Competition in 2002.

The general consensus amongst the eight, was how much of a boost to a writer's self confidence it was to win a competition and how it inspired them to keep writing. So, with it being 10 years since the article, I began to wonder what the rest of the winners had been up to since the piece was published and set about googling the names...

Faye Robertson was one of the eight I contacted. She'd won an Adult Fairy Story competition which, she said in the article, had given her a marvellous boost to her career. Since her win she'd gone on to have three further competition successes and had short stories accepted in Woman's Weekly and People's Friend. Well, Faye certainly hasn't rested on her laurels! When I got in touch, she told me she'd had over 25 books published, some with digital first publishers, some indie published.

"I mainly write romance under the name Serenity Woods," she said. "I also write epic fantasy as Freya Robertson (via Angry Robot Books) and I won the NZ Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novel earlier this year."

You can read more about Faye, who lives in New Zealand, on her Serenity Woods website, along with information about her books and her alter-ego, Freya Robertson, who she mentions above.

Another winner who's been writing furiously since, is Jo Franklin who'd had two winning stories published in Writing Magazine - Science Fiction and Crime. Jo has also been busy; writing short stories and articles, as well as novels, one of which, Cytherea's Island, is due out shortly. You can find the details of that and more, on her website.

As I was drafting this post, I learned of the death of David St John Thomas, the founder of Writers' News, from which Writing Magazine evolved. It was his vision to create a source of guidance, inspiration and support for those of us who wanted to travel the writing journey but didn't know where to start. Thousands of writers have benefited from both publications, learning about the craft of writing and connecting with others with similar aspirations.

Jo said that DSJT, as he was often referred, had been a source of inspiration to her ever since she won those two competitions.  She told me, "Over the years I have kept in touch with him, sending him some of my stories published in various women’s magazines and getting nice replies."

Faye summarised things nicely by saying, "I love Writing Magazine and definitely believe my successes there (I also won the Open Poetry Competition) gave me the courage & confidence to continue to submit."

I'll second that! Thank you, David. And thank you to all those who continue his legacy by producing a great magazine for the aspiring writer.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Nora Batty stockings and a dash to the altar

I've just finished reading Millions Like Us, by Virginia Nicholson, which chronicles the lives of women during WW2 (read my review here).

It's a fascinating account and the result of meticulous research. The women's recollections range from the horrific to the amusing and everything in between.

It's easy to understand the famous clamour for nylons with the arrival of the GIs, when you learn that the only alternative to silk stockings (which had become almost impossible to get hold of) were those made from cotton lisle, more suited to socks than stockings.

Not only were these less hard wearing than silk, not to mention ugly, (I suspect Nora Batty knew a thing or two about them), they were impractical too. Apparently, when washed they would take up to three days to dry!

On a more uplifting note, there's the lovely story of Eileen and her RAF fiancé Victor. It was the eve of their wedding day and Eileen had gone to meet Victor off the train at Kings Cross, only to find that all leave had been cancelled. She returned home distraught, convinced that the wedding would not now take place.

But her brother and Victor's we're not so easily deterred. They borrowed a van, hared off to Victor's RAF base in Cambridge and "kidnapped" him, returning to London at break-neck speed to meet Eileen at the church for the ceremony. Wedding completed and following a hasty toast to the happy
couple, they chased back to Cambridge and smuggled Victor back into his base before he was missed!

The heart warming end to the story is that Victor survived the war and the couple went on to enjoy 49 years of marriage.


The next Esme Quentin mystery, THE INDELIBLE STAIN, is out soon! 
For the latest news and to be the first to hear about offers and giveaways, sign up HERE.



Thursday, 3 July 2014

Written the novel - now for the blurb!

With the manuscript of the new Esme Quentin novel currently being copy-edited (exciting news of that coming soon!), I've been focusing on writing the blurb. Always a challenge!

The word 'blurb' is said to have originated in 1907 when a young lady, the fictitious Miss Belinda Blurb, was pictured on the dust jacket of a book at a publishing trade event, apparently shouting out the merits of the book. She was said to be 'blurbing'. The term stuck.

The trick with a book blurb, of course, is not to give too much away, while hooking the reader into the story.

A good blurb shouldn't be too long winded and should only offer a taster of the story, rather than a plateful.  There's nothing that turns me off more than a rambling summary of events in the first quarter of the book. And I lose the will to live if I'm not completely grabbed by the first sentence or two. 

While browsing my bookshelves for inspiration (something you can't easily do with a kindle, it has to be said!) I came across this example.

"What can you say about a 25 year old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me." 

The blurb (and opening lines), of course, to Erich Segal's Love Story, published in 1970.

Segal had originally written it as a screenplay but it was rejected by the main studios as being too sentimental. It was suggested that Segal write it as a novel instead. It proved good advice. It spent a year in the New York Times' hardback bestseller list and sold tens of millions of copies, helped no doubt by the movie of the same name, which came out later that same year. 

The book is only 127 pages long. Erich Segal said of it, "The average person takes an hour and a half to read the book. The movie lasts longer." That can't happen often, if ever!

Love Story has a special place in my past reading list. It was the first book I ever read which made me cry. A lot.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

To smile or not to smile, that is the question...

A recent article by Jill Dawson in The Author, raised the subject of the author photograph. Should an author take on a serious expression in order to present a "professional" image?

But it seems readers prefer their authors to appear "friendly" and therefore a smiling photograph is more fitting.

Being a writer of mystery/crime fiction, as opposed to romance or even light-hearted 'cozies', my inclination was towards a neutral expression, not one of me grinning from ear to ear. But when I went to have my author photo taken my husband and the photographer colluded in flattering me into agreeing to smile.

Now while engaged on social media sites, I cringe at seeing my smiling self looking back at me whenever I post a comment on Facebook or Twitter. And there are times when the Cheshire cat look is embarrassingly out of place, such as when posting a downbeat message or responding to sad or distressing news that a friend has posted on Facebook.

Perhaps, just as when Facebook gives a choice of thumbnail (or none) when sharing a link, they could devise a system where we could opt for our happy, sad or neutral selves to accompany our comments, as and when appropriate. Molly Mouse demonstrates below...

Standard pose
Serious pose
Sad pose

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

May Newsletter


The blog has been rather neglected of late while I've been in the deep dark tunnel of the "novel-edit zone". So now that I've escaped from there for a while, I thought I'd do a Newsletter-type post as a catch-up.

Port Quin

We've just spent a few days walking the spectacular cliffs of north Cornwall, while staying at a National Trust holiday property, Lacombe Cottage, in Port Quin. 

The area was used as a film location for the original BBC Poldark series.
With excitement mounting for the new BBC series, due to be screened next year, The Western Morning News reported disappointment that filming had started... in Wiltshire! 

But the producers insist that film crews will be arriving in Cornwall at some point in the near future. So will Port Quin feature, this time around, I wonder?

St Enodoc Church

To allow our legs to recover from the rigors of walking the South West Coast Path, the following day we took the more gentle stroll amongst the sand dunes at the end of Daymer Bay, near Polzeath, and visited the delightful church of St Enodoc, John Betjeman's final resting place.

The church sits in a 'trench' in the centre of its churchyard, which itself sits in the middle of St Enodoc Golf Course! From the 16th century until the 19th, the church was completely buried in sand, only accessible via a hole in the roof. The vicar and his parishioners would undertake this bizarre journey to ensure the church carried out its once-a-year service, which they were obliged to do to maintain the church tithes. It was finally dug out and the dunes stabilized in 1864.

Family History Secrets

On the blog at the moment is the story of my great-uncle Tom, Thomas Diggory, who fought at Gallipoli in WW1. His story must reflect that of many. Although he survived, the legacy of his participation lasted for the rest of his life. Read about it here.

Thomas Diggory of The 7th battalion, The Gloucester Regiment


The sunshine has brought on the garden flowers and we returned from our trip to find one of my favourite Oriental Poppies, Patty's Plum (bought in memory of my mum) had started its stunning display. Not much sunshine today but its beautiful subtle colour is still impressive.

The blue lupins are doing well and for some reason haven't succumbed to the aphids like the yellow version right next door to them. Obviously not as tasty!

We moved the Viburnum placatum last year so are delighted to see it has recovered nicely and is looking wonderful.

There's nothing quite like the froth of London Pride at this time of the year.

Currently reading

I'm about half way through Linda Gillard's latest novel, Cauldstane, the second of Linda's books I've read (the first being The House of Silence, which was excellent). The book's title is the name of a Scottish castle to which the protagonist Jenny Ryan is invited to interview the current owner, Sholto McNab, in preparation to be the ghost writer for his biography. McNab is a former adventurer with many travelling tales to tell but it's the mysterious history and dark secrets of the unlucky McNab family which force themselves upon Jenny in a way she could never have imagined, let alone believed. An intriguing and haunting story which I'm enjoying very much.


  • Our local Art Exhibition is on over the bank holiday weekend, showcasing some amazing talent from the surrounding district. 
  • My beta readers have been given their homework so I wait with baited breath (and not a little nervousness) as to their feedback on my latest Esme Quentin novel. More details to follow... so long as they like it!
  • The refurbished Exeter Library opens on Thursday of this week, after a £4.1 million face-lift.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Respect the Writer

Tonight (Wednesday) sees the final installment of the current Line of Duty story. It's been an excellent series and one of its many strengths is that each episode has ended on a gripping cliff-hanger. But, even more commendable, there have been NO irritating "next time...." trailers shoe-horned in before the credits. 

Sadly such restraint is rare on TV these days because the "they" (producers? directors? programme controllers? who?) seem unable to appreciate the power of the cliff-hanger to create tension and anticipation, further amplified by having to wait a week to find out what happens. Not only is the "next time" trailer unnecessary it's detrimental, as it immediately releases the suspense the writer has worked so hard to achieve. 

Please, please, please, whoever you are, learn a few basic lessons about suspense from the master,  Alfred Hitchcock: "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it."

And for pity's sake, have some faith! If the writing is good enough, the audience WILL return to watch the next episode. 

Monday, 17 February 2014

Engaging Write Brain

I've been putting the title of this blog and post into full operation over the past few weeks. Having completed one draft of my current novel, the usual has happened. I suddenly decided there was a different, and better, order of the final scenes at the end of the novel.

So it was back to the index cards and pencil to re-jig things. And, recalling my O-level Physics - every action has an equal and opposite reaction - I've then had to deal with the knock-on effects of each of the changes. Phew! Spinning plates doesn't even start to cover it.

But now it's done. Next stop - print out again and read through, red pen in hand!

So while I let things settle in my head before I do that, I thought I'd update the blog.

In January I took part in the SilverWood Books Open Day in Foyles Bookshop, Bristol. Having only 'met' many of the SilverWood authors online, it was good to meet them in the flesh. The talks were very informative and lots of interested members of the public came along to listen and learn.

The SilverWood authors.
The debate's still on as to the correct group term:
a scribble? an anthology? a binding?

Some of us read short passages from our books.
There have been some very nice reviews posted on the internet recently which you can read about on my website here. It's heart warming and exciting to read a good review of a book you've sweated blood and tears to write, so thank you all those who have taken the trouble to read Blood-Tied and share your thoughts. In many ways, to read such enthusiastic reviews helps and encourages the writing of the next novel but it also piles on the pressure to make sure the standard is kept high! Which is good in the long run, I guess...

I've also been busy digging in the online archives for a few more stories for my other blog - familyhistorysecrets. If you haven't had a look-see recently, there's the latest revelations of the black sheep of the family, Edward Henry Coules Colley.

Ah, well - back to the coal face! Which reminds me... I've just discovered a coal miner ancestor in Shropshire I need to investigate...

Monday, 27 January 2014

Chain of thought

Today I'm taking part in a Blog Chain, where bloggers post their thoughts on an a particular theme and then provide a link to another blogger who does the same. In this case, the subject is a series of interesting questions for each author to answer on their blog.
  1. What am I working on?
  2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
  3. Why do I write what I do?
  4. How does my writing process work?

 Thank you to bestselling author, Helen Hollick, for her responses to those questions which she posted as her link to the chain, on 20th January. 

Helen has written The Pendragon Banner Trilogy, about King Arthur and is about to start the fifth in her pirate adventure series about the voyages of Captain Jesamiah Acorne on his ship, the Sea Witch (and if you read her post she'll tell you why that's proving a little difficult at the moment!). Read more about Helen's novels on her website, about life in Devon on her blog  leaningonthegate and much more besides on her excellent blog, ofhistoryandkings.

Now Helen has passed on the baton to me - and here are my answers to those questions!

What am I working on?

As well as writing posts for my familyhistorysecrets blog, I'm currently battling away to finish the final draft of another Esme Quentin novel.

Esme was the protagonist in Blood-Tied and I received so many enthusiastic comments from readers about her as a character, that I decided, after much deliberation to write about her again.

The novel is set on the wild north Devon coast, near where I live. Esme stumbles upon a dying woman at the foot of a cliff and is sucked into the mystery surrounding the death and its connection with the untold story of a 19th century convict, transported to Australia in 1837. 

At the moment I'm making sure everything fits together properly, that all the pieces are in place in the plot, that it flows smoothly and at the right pace, that the characters are doing what they're supposed to... Then I shall get to the tweaking stage, where I concentrate on the words. Non-writers assume this is what you mean when you're revising your work but there's SO much more involved before getting to that point on a novel. I really enjoy the last stage. Perhaps it's because it IS the final stage and it means the book is almost ready!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The story of Blood-Tied falls naturally into 'mystery' genre and could also be called crime fiction. And there are other novels out there which fuse genealogy and crime. But although Esme is an investigator of sorts, she's not a professional working on a case. That might put her into the amateur 'cozy' category but I didn't want to write cozies. I wanted to write something different. (Hence my deliberation about whether to write another Esme novel.) In most crime fiction a crime is committed and the story follows the protagonist as they uncover the identity of the perpetrator. My fascination is with the notion of crimes committed years ago and only now impacting on people and events in the present day. So I weave past events, crime and genealogy together to write a story around the repercussions. A snappy sound-bite of what I write would be handy! Suggestions gratefully received....

Why do I write what I do?

I guess because I'm a sucker for an intriguing mystery! I've always liked stories with secrets, especially where the protagonist has to follow a trail to discover the truth. And as the accepted wisdom is to write what you like to read... well, says it all!

How does your writing process work?

I usually start with an idea, often from something I've read about during my family history research, around which I build a web of interconnected links and characters. It's very much like spinning plates when I get up and running! I'm a planner - I think you have to be when writing crime and mystery because everything has to unravel in a controlled manner or the secret risks being revealed too soon. I use old fashioned index cards to plot my way through the story, though, things change regularly and even with the order decided, I can find myself re-writing huge sections if I get a 'better' idea of how things will be worked out. I guess there's no quick and easy way to write a novel, which ever way you do it!


Now I hand over the baton to food writer Suzy Bowler.

Suzy Bowler has been a chef for more than 30 years initially in the UK and then for many years on a small island in the Caribbean where supplies were limited and unreliable thus stretching her creativity even further. Now back in the UK and no longer cooking for a living she is sharing her ideas, recipes and experiences (often do to with food!) via her blog and other writing. Suzy’s book “The Leftovers Handbook” was published last year, she has written several magazine articles and also publishes ebooks on Amazon Kindle when she has a good idea.

I came across Suzy's clever book The Leftovers Handbook  in the summer and bought a copy so that those pathetic items of food left brandishing in the fridge might find a new lease of life instead of succumbing to their usual fate of being consigned to the kitchen bin. Try it - it's full of great ideas! And there's lots more to read on her food inspired blog - SuddenLunch.

Over to you, Suzy, for your link in the Blog Chain!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Monday, 6 January 2014

Launch into 2014!

It looks like 2014 is going to be a busy year! 

Lots of books to read for Christmas presents. A heap of Daphne du Maurier old favourites, plus two by Virginia Nicholson. Millions Like Us about women's experiences and the Second World War, and Singled Out, on the effect on women's lives after so many men were lost in WW1.

I also had a Kindle for Christmas (I mean, any author who publishes an e-book has to have an e-reader, don't they?) and the novel I've chosen to read first is Helen Hollick's The Kingmaking, which I'm thoroughly enjoying.

I've got my current novel draft to read and revise, so that will keep my nose to the grindstone.

Plus I have lots of family history leads to explore. After the Midwinter Blog Hop on Family History Secrets, I've learnt a little bit more about that black sheep of the family, Edward Colley.

Then, at the end of the month we have SilverWood's Open Day at Foyles in Bristol. I'm looking forward to meeting my fellow SilverWood authors.

And it's only January!

Happy New Year to all of you.