Thanks so much for allowing me space on your fabulous blog, I am chuffed to bits to be back again.
For this visit I thought I’d chat about my latest novel – the first in a series – called Ms. Birdsong Investigates Murder in Ampney Parva: Operation Matryoshka. I know, Operation Matryoshka is a bit of a mouthful, but it sums up the plot really well. Matryoshka is the name given to the little Russian dolls which sit inside each other. My novel has lots of layers, like an onion, like a Matryoshka doll.
Many readers may know me from my novel with Christina Jones, Only One Woman, and may wonder why I am writing about murder and Russian dolls. In fact, Ms. Birdsong was written and finished before Only One Woman and had to go on the backburner whilst Only One Woman was published. I won’t bore you with the details but as time went on I had to re-write Ms. B several times to keep up to date with changes within MI5 and organised Crime detection.
Ms. Birdsong, Lavinia to her friends, is a former MI5 Intelligence Officer who was forced into early retirement, ‘voluntary retirement,’ aged barely 40, following a messed up joint operation with MI6 and her now former MI6 partner and lover, Michael Dante. She buys a cottage in Ampney Parva, a small village in The Vale of the White Horse, Oxfordshire, where she decides to find a way back into MI5. She thinks she has the answer to her prayers when a young local woman goes missing and she is asked to help investigate her whereabouts.
Why crime, and why a story steeped in the Security Services and Organised Crime you ask? I love reading about crime and espionage and I love watching crime series on TV and in movies. I grew up hooked on Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, John Le Carré, Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsythe and similar writers. It rubbed off on me obviously. Most my short stories are crime based or with an espionage or Security Services theme, although, if you know my writing you will notice music creeps in too. I’ve spent most of my adult life in the international music business and I’m married to a musician, so it figures.
However, I don’t have a background of crime or murder. What I do have is a background — prior to a career in the music business — working for government. Whilst my musician husband and his band were learning their craft touring, recording, and generally living a care-free lifestyle, someone had to earn the daily bread. Yep, you guessed. Me.
When I met my husband, I was still at school and he was an 18-year-old musician on the threshold of his dream becoming reality. Music was his passion and mine, and still is all these years later in-spite of us both working together 24/7 over many years, promoting the careers of singers, songwriters, musicians, composers, record producers, and working to facilitate their music on to soundtracks for movies and television series, once my husband gave up touring for a ‘quieter’ life!
Initially I worked for the British Ministry of Defence in Germany, later transferring to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall. I have also worked for the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce — just as exciting as it sounds — and at the AERE at Harwell (Atomic Research Establishment Harwell) with a stint in Social Services too. All whilst my husband and his band got on with their musical careers. Until he retired from touring and we both retired from managing the careers of other musicians, I lived a life of silent desperation. I wanted to write. But babysitting testosterone-fuelled young men and PMT-stricken young female artists was hardly conducive to my having time to myself.
My life working for government has given me a great collection of memories and events upon which to draw for my writing. The music business in the late 1960s and right up to recent times in Hollywood, at the heart of the world of entertainment, has provided its fair share of material too. After years of frustration, I had time to write. I wrote over 100 short stories, some have appeared in anthologies, magazines, and others are included in my crime collection, Undercover: Crime Shorts, which also includes a short extract from Ms. Birdsong Investigates for those interested in a taster.
I have five novels on my computer awaiting completion or a home with a publisher. Only One Woman was published by Headline Accent, and I am writing the sequel now. In addition, I have two more in the Ms. Birdsong series almost ready.
Ms Birdsong Investigates is the novel which has enabled me to get an agent. I never sought one, she sought me. I went along with her interest because I felt I had nothing to lose. I hadn’t any expectation of being signed by one. I nearly fell off my perch when, after a year of submitting a synopsis (upon request) and 7 pages of the MS, then 50 pages, then the whole MS, I was offered representation. I was the one who dithered, too nervous to make a move one way or the other. Now I am glad I accepted her offer.
Ms. Birdsong Investigates Murder in Ampney Parva: Operation Matryoshka, is out with publishers in the USA and UK as I write. I am excited, who wouldn’t be, represented by an international literary agency? But I am not daft. Anything can happen.
My experiences working at the FCO back in the days of the Cold War, the IRA, and the ‘Troubles,’ have proven priceless to me as a writer. How else could I have experienced first- hand the way our Foreign Service works in conjunction with our Security Services. I worked in Whitehall when 100 Russian Diplomats were expelled from their Embassy in London, for spying, and the Soviets retaliated by expelling British Embassy staff in Moscow.
I was Positively Vetted before I was accepted by the FCO and for an 18-year-old that was something to get my head around, my husband — then boyfriend — and his family was also subjected to PV, and they were not too impressed as I recall.
The Special Branch commander who periodically updated my PV with regular meetings in his offices was to be dreaded. Why did I have Eastern German friends, why was I writing to them? Having a musician boyfriend was not really the ‘done thing,’ so perhaps I could ditch him? But the commander was also a fascinating person to talk with.
My commander had been instrumental in tracking and arresting the notorious Soviet husband and wife spies, the Krogers, who were part of the infamous Portland Spy Ring in 1961, and he would often talk about it. It was amazing to hear. All subject to the Official Secrets Act of course, both of us were subject to that.
During my time at the FCO our British Ambassador to Montevideo, Sir Jeffrey Jackson, was kidnapped by the Tupamaros guerrillas in 1971. He was held for ransom for months before he was released. He wrote a book many years later about his experiences. As a would-be author, this was all music to my ears. I was hooked.
Hollywood — the music and movie business — is where great power, great wealth, and corruption sit side by side; where the movers and shakers have been known to take the ‘Fifth,’ to avoid incriminating themselves. Everyone knows about it and it seems to be accepted. Read about Las Vegas and the Mafia, the Payola Scandals of the 1970s, and the various books which have been written about how the entertainment business really works, and you will understand why much of my writing has elements of all this within the plots. Many of the people written about are still working there. I have met some of them and have had to do business with them. And, of course, it is not only restricted to Hollywood.
Being around the music business for as long as I have, it would have been amazing not to have rubbed shoulders with some of the legends in the business. The managers who changed the business: Peter Grant who managed Led Zeppelin, the Yardbirds, the Jeff Beck Group etc., and Sharon Osborne’s father, the infamous manager, Don Arden — Little Richard, Air Supply, the Small Faces, Black Sabbath, and so on. It is all filed away for future reference, and of course certain things pop up in my stories, all disguised of course.
I don’t write police procedurals, but I like to think that when I touch on anything to do with crime investigation or the discovery and observations of a body at a crime scene, my writing is authentic and accurate. To ensure all this I decided some years ago to take University courses in Forensic Science and Criminal Justice, as well as basic Archaeology, to best equip myself with knowledge for my crime writing trade. I studied with 7 online universities, with world renowned and respected tutors such as Professor Dame Sue Black. It was hard studying — I left school in the 1960s— and apart from studying Nutrition and Colour and Style in the 1980s I’ve not had to learn anything so intense.
I don’t often go into detail about Forensics or Criminal Justice in my writing, but I felt I needed to have background knowledge, so I don’t lead myself or my readers up the garden path. Undercover: Crime Shorts caused me to research various methods of despatching my victims without trace and knowing something about Forensics helped me a lot.
Ms. Birdsong Investigates (book one) did not require much background knowledge, other than research into MI5, MI6, the National Crime Agency, and Interpol/Europol, and similar agencies. But who knows what books two and three hold in store? I’m writing them now: Ms. Birdsong Investigates: Murder at the Observatory, and Ms Birdsong Investigates: The Safe House. I sincerely hope all three books will be available for readers soon. Wish me luck.
Jane Risdon is the co-author of ‘Only One Woman,’ with Christina Jones (Headline Accent), and author of ‘Undercover: Crime Shorts,’ (Plaisted Publishing), as well as having many short stories published in numerous anthologies. She also writes for several online and print magazines such as Writing Magazine, and The Writers’ and Readers’ Magazine.
Undercover: Crime Shorts was the February Free Book of the Month on the virtual library and festival site, MYVLF.com, and her live video interview features in their theatre. She is a regular guest on international internet radio shows such as theauthorsshow.com, chatandspinradio.com, and The Brian Hammer Jackson Radio Show.
Before turning her hand to writing Jane worked in the International Music Business alongside her musician husband, working with musicians, singer/songwriters, and record producers. They also facilitated the placement of music in movies and television series.
Jane Risdon Links:
Undercover: Crime Shorts (Plaisted Publishing)
Only One Woman: (Headline Accent) Christina Jones/Jane Risdon
Representation: Langton’s Literary Agency in New York City, New York USA.
Ms. Birdsong Investigates has her own Facebook Group (secret) but you can join for more information about her and MI5:
Of possible interest:
Sir Geoffrey Jackson, Surviving the Long Night:
Two books about people we’ve met…