Friday, 1 April 2016

Brain engaged.... and busy!

It's been all go on the novel writing front recently as I beaver away at the latest Esme Quentin mystery. But with so much time devoted to fiction, my writing blog has been sadly neglected....

So until I'm fully back in action, why not take a look at my Family History Secrets blog and read about the sad, amusing, surprising, scandalous and sometimes shocking revelations which inspire my fiction.

Family History Secrets

And if you've some intriguing family history secrets of your own you'd be happy to share, I'd love to read them!

Meanwhile, if you'd like to keep up to date with forthcoming events, offers, give-a-ways and all the latest news, do please sign up to my newsletter.

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Friday, 15 January 2016

S.M.A.R.T. thriller
I've read a lot recently about fiction categories on Amazon, both for a reader choosing a book, and for an author placing books for potential readers to find.

Browsing through the mystery and crime fiction genre, trying to identify the best slot for my Esme Quentin mysteries, I came to the conclusion that there's a case to be made for a new sub-category.

On the one hand we've got hard-boiled, gritty and noir, and at the opposite end of the spectrum we've got cozy. But is that enough?

OK, so there's suspense and psychological, there's murder-mystery and police procedural, there's forensic and historical crime, there's legal thriller and spy. But I think what I have a problem with, is the cozy category. Does that give us enough information? Are we associating it too closely with cosy - comfortable or snug - and missing a trick?


The word cozy is, I presume, a corruption of  cozen, meaning to cheat, defraud; beguile; act deceitfully.  In a Crime Fiction context, Wikipedia defines cozy as, "a sub-genre of detective fiction in which profanity, sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously."
Putting the issue of cozy not being limited to detective fiction to one side for a moment, I'd happily agree that a mix of crime fiction and humour easily fits into the cozy category. But what about downplayed? While any reader choosing a cozy novel can be confident there will be no graphic scenes or excessive violence, has the term become unfairly synonymous with whimsical and lightweight?

Interestingly, listed on the line above cozen in my 1964 edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary is the verb, to coze, (a new one on me) meaning to (have a) chat! Is it a coincidence, I wonder, that the marrying of these two concepts - cozea chat, and cosya covering to retain heat in teapot - evokes the very British pastime of sharing a cuppa and a natter on a sofa!

But I digress. Or perhaps I don't. Maybe that's exactly the issue!

Robert Goddard

This sub-genre question is one on which I've pondered in respect of one of my favourite authors, Robert Goddard. Referred to as "the master of the double twist", his books are billed as thrillers but they're essentially intricate webs of intrigue, bluffs and double bluffs. Because the unravelling of the mystery is where the focus lies, any violence is low-key or, it might be argued, downplayed.
But  I doubt anyone, least of all his publishers, would label his novels as cozy.

Robert Goddard was a relative unknown when his early books came out. Fortunately, his publisher kept the faith (not sure that would happen today!) and now he's highly successful. I've often wondered whether having no identifiable sub-genre worked against him. Had he written police procedurals, for example, would he have found his thousands of fans earlier? Even now, his status as a thriller author gives little guidance as to the type of novel he writes.


So, back to the beginning of this post. Is it time to invent a new category (or perhaps several)? And if so, what could they be? An acronym might be the answer.

NEAT might help identify a novel without violence, blood and gore, perhaps, standing for No Excessive Aggression Tale. Or how about CLEVA (pronounced "clever") - Content Lacking Excessive Violence or Aggression? Or maybe COOL? Contains Only Obligatory L... Mmm. I'll get back to you on that one.

But then I realised that each of these was negative - a declaration of what was NOT contained in the book. How much better to champion what was?

So, after chewing my way through my Roget's Thesaurus, I hope the following holds more promise.
Who wouldn't want to read a SMART thriller, denoting that inside the pages lurks a tale of Secrets, Mystery And a Revealing Twist?

What d'you think? Perhaps you've got some ideas of your own?

So, here's the challenge. Let's come up with something so brilliant that the crime fiction fraternity, readers and writers both, can't wait to adopt it.

I look forward to hearing your feedback and any suggestions you have of your own!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Season's Greetings!

I'm pretty much on target with completion of the first draft of the next Esme novel which I'd planned to get done by this month, so I'm a happy writing bunny

(the idea being that I could indulge in Christmas and let the subconscious writer brain buzz away unmolested ready to spring into action for the first editing stage in the new year).

Thanks so much to all of you who have contributed in some way to my Engage Write Brain blog over the past year, either by adding your comments or by tweeting and re-tweeting posts.

So... I shall now get busy with present wrapping, singing carols, cooking yummy things to eat while I wish you a very Happy Christmas and a productive and exciting New Year!

See you in 2016!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Virtual meets reality

I joined the latest 'real' Devon Book Club event at the weekend in Crediton. Deliciously entitled, The Indie Bookshop and Cake Crawl, it's the fourth one which has taken place since the idea took shape earlier in the year.

The original concept for the Devon Book Club was that the club be a virtual one, where people could join via the readers website Goodreads, to share books and chat over the internet. But it has now taken on an additional dimension when one member asked the club's founder, Ian Hobbs, "so, where do you meet?"

Ian's immediate response was "online!" But then he thought, why not do both? Now at regular intervals, authors and readers meet together to talk books and eat cake (and a cuppa too, of course - we are in England, after all).

On a wet and grey Saturday morning we met, initially, in Crediton Library where we learned a little about the new initiative for Devon's libraries - that of the creation of Libraries Unlimited, a mutual 'not-for-profit' organisation which comes into being from April 2016 to run Devon's libraries instead of Devon County Council.  Under the new arrangements, the mutual will be eligible to access grants and other funding options and, as a charity, will also benefit from changes to their tax status, That can only be good news if there's more money available for buying books! You can read more about the new arrangements, along with the team's enthusiasm for the future,  HERE.

Then it was time to meet the four guest authors, Kathy Shuker, Virginia Baily, Elizabeth Ducie and Michael Jecks . Each gave a short speech about themselves and their writing, before we donned our coats and headed off in the rain, with Andrew Davey, from Crediton Community Bookshop, acting as 'Pied Piper' as we trooped up the high street to the bookshop proper for coffee, cake and good old natter.

It was a very enjoyable way to throw a bit of sunshine on what would otherwise have been a very dreary day!


If you live or work in Devon, or even if you simply love the county, why not pop over to the Devon Book Club Facebook page or Goodreads group page and join us. Then, having got 'virtually' involved, next time we have a Bookshop and Cake Crawl, you might be able to join us for real!

Friday, 16 October 2015

Snippets of advice

It's been a head-down-and-write sort of a month. Not all novel writing, though, as other writing commitments have imposed upon my time. But with all those out of the way, I'm looking forward to a surge ahead, with a plan to complete the first draft of my latest Esme novel by the beginning of December. There - I've said it out loud. I'll have to stick to it now!

During this 'other writing' process, I was searching amongst my files for something and came across a folder of clippings from past issues of Writing Magazine. Over the years, some of the most helpful and inspiring articles I've read were interviews with authors, which Writing Magazine does rather well, and I've built up quite a collection of them. As I'm sure you'd agree, I've always found reading about the different ways writers tackle their work to be most enlightening.

This folder, however, was particularly relevant to me at the moment, as it was full of small cuttings of authors' comments about the novel writing process. I'd taken a highlighter to those quotes I'd liked best.

Some were practical, "when I'm researching I make notes and then I have little plot ideas that I write in the margin"  or, "before turning off my computer, I write down what's going to happen tomorrow in the story." 

Some were more philosophical, "you've got to come up with a story that means something to you, that comes from within."

One, of which I'm especially fond, likened the process to eating a meal. "The opening of a novel should be a delicious and irresistible appetiser, rather than a heavy main course."

Another was very heartening to read, as the author admitted, "Often I end up going round in circles." Tell me about it!

One author said, "the best piece of advice I ever got was, if you are going to be a writer, get your head down and write."

So, if that's not a stern prompt that I should stop blogging and get on with that half-written first draft, I don't know what is!

But I shall end with my favourite quote and one with which I strongly identify. However much planning and preparation I do before I start (and I do loads), it's always the case that, "the story takes life once you start writing."

That, for me, is the most exciting part of writing a novel.

Do you have a favourite quote from an author about their writing process?

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Books, teddies and nostalgia

I heard announced on BBC Radio 4 yesterday that the new series of Desert Island Discs was beginning later this week.

If you're reading this outside the UK and not familiar with it, it's a radio programme conceived in 1941, where a guest is invited to choose 8 records that they'd take with them to a desert island. In between listening to the tracks, the guest and the programme's presenter (currently Kirsty Young) discuss key people and events that have influenced and inspired them in their life.

I'm sure plenty of people have applied the same criteria to books and as I began mentally compiling my own list, I thought back to my earliest forays into the world of children's literature.

Having been a primary school teacher, I feared many of my memories might have been usurped by favourite picture-book classics but as I chewed the end of my metaphorical pencil, I glanced across the room and spotted an old friend who immediately reminded me of a particular set of books I held dear - my Rupert Bear Annuals. Inspired by Snowdonia, The Weald in Sussex and East Devon, they told stories set in magical countryside or wonderful seaside locations featuring Rupert Bear and his friends Pong-Ping the Pekinese, Podgy Pig, Bill Badger, Ming the Dragon and the little Chinese girl, Tiger Lily .

The very first Rupert annual came out in 1936, apparently, followed by 77 others right up until 2012. I think I may have just the one. Somewhere...

My 'old friend', if you're wondering, is none other than my very own Rupert Bear, (pictured right) made lovingly in the 1950s by my great-aunt to her personal design, based on the drawings from the Daily Mail's comic strip. I've had him since I was a toddler and although my great-aunt made him a change of clothes in the late 1960s (he used to wear a fetching green pullover with green plaid trousers and matching tie), he's worn pretty well since, despite all the years of cuddles.

My great-aunt made all her great-nieces and nephews Rupert Bears. Each one was quirkily different and we played with our charges in a variety of ways. My sister and I would gaze on with horror as two of our cousins (both boys) would fling their Ruperts around the room in derr-ing do "adventures".

All this reminiscing was no doubt intensified by an article I read this week in October's issue of Family Tree magazine, by Derek Tait. Entitled Life Through a Lens, he stresses the importance of nostalgia and old family photographs, and shares some of his own. He's written several books about childhood memories of the 1950s, the 1960s and 1970s, which I shall definitely look out for.

And while we're on the subject of 1950s childhood, I can thoroughly recommend the charming memoir, Cabbage and Semolina, by Cathy Murray. As well as a delightful and entertaining read, it might be the inspiration you need to record your own childhood memories.

So, it just leaves me to finish with an old family photograph of my own. A picture of me, appropriately carrying my grand-dad's Box Brownie camera case. Ahhhh, bless...

Come on, you must have heaps of lovely childhood memories to share. Let's hear them!

Friday, 14 August 2015

Step into my world

Prince Rupert Street, Shrewsbury
As my first Esme novel was inspired by family history and my ancestors hail from Shropshire, it seemed appropriate to set BLOOD-TIED in the county. With the historic town of Shrewsbury, numerous outlying villages, the nearby canal network and the wild landscape of The Long Mynd to chose from, it had potential for a wide variety of scenes.

The Long Mynd
But should I change the locations into fictional places or stick with their real names? In the end I opted for a mixture of both. Shrewsbury became Shropton (in fact, I'm not sure that the county town of Shropshire wouldn't be better named Shropton, i.e. Shrop-town!) and The Long Mynd, by contrast, retained its identity.

When it came to writing THE INDELIBLE STAIN, the inspiration had come from reading about 

© Peter Keene
19th century sailing ships transporting convicts to Australia. I decided I needed a coastal scene with dramatic cliffs from which my victim would fall.
The area around Hartland in North Devon was a perfect choice and I used a tiny former port for many of the scenes, re-naming it Warren Quay so I could add extra houses and reinstate the harbour the real location had once had, until it was washed away in a violent storm in 1896.

I'm now immersed in the first draft of the third Esme mystery, as yet untitled, and my mind is buzzing as I start to match my scenes with places. So, without giving too much away, I'll share a couple of photos with you of possible locations. That's all I'm saying for now!

What's your preference for settings? Do you like reading about real places or fictional ones? Do you have a favourite book set in a place you know and love? I'd be interested to hear your views.