This month I’m not going to be caught out. I am going to make sure my update is published on time. It’s a little early actually, but as I’m away at the beginning of July I didn’t want to be scrabbling around putting it together when I should be packing my suitcase.
June has been a busy month. As we’ve eased out of lockdown and been allowed to do more things and see more people, life has changed. The weather too – those gloriously hot days which came sadly (or maybe with relief for some of you) to an end this week. Today there has been rain and a cooler feel. It made my visit to our nearest M & S Food Hall this morning a little less fraught, although I did have to make a dash from the car park into the store to dodge the rain
Tomorrow we have friends coming round. We’ve not seen them since August last year. Whilst keeping in touch by phone, Skype or Zoom is a lifeline, there’s no substitute for spending time with real people. Sitting round a table, eating, chatting and with a good bottle of wine!
This week has also been my first real ‘out and about’. Catching the bus into town to meet friends for lunch and a coffee catch up. On Wednesday it was the Pump Room in Bath for coffee and cake. And then in a moment of madness, we decided on a glass of champagne. The occasion was to celebrate that great feeling that although the 21st June has been shunted into July, we are at least out of lockdown and able to get back to some normality.
Yesterday it was back on public transport – two buses in fact – to meet friends for lunch. The pub, refurbished prior to the first lockdown sadly had to close. New fully reopened, it had an extensive menu, friendly staff and was definitely one to add to our ‘must come again’ list. It seems such a simple thing – friends, a pub lunch and a chilled glass of wine. I guess in those pre-Covid times there were a lot of things we took for granted!
On the book front, my manuscript will be leaving the building on Monday (21st). A final read through and then in early July my formatter will take over. Publication day is set for Tuesday 20th July…and then I begin again, working on the third and final part of this Cornish trilogy. Of course it will be easier working in an environment I know, with some of the characters who have featured in the previous books. That’s not to say, however, that the cast of this story won’t decide to hijack it – as they very often do. But before all this happens, I have a holiday to look forward to. A week in Dartmouth, possibly setting some time aside to soak up the atmosphere of the place – a walk out to the castle is usually a good way to do this. We’ve not been here since 2019 and as a mix of Dartmouth and Fowey (both estuary towns) are used for my fictitious town of Kingswater it will be good to get the feel of the place again.
My book reads for June…
And finally, I have a COVER REVEAL coming up on Tuesday (22nd June). Once again my thanks to Jane Dixon Smith for another great design.
I’ll be back next month with more book talk, an update on my holiday and my July reads.
Well this update has been a long time coming as I completely missed April. Work on the book took up a lot of my time. This second part of a three book series has led me a real dance. I have even changed the cover, deciding to use the original for my next, final story in the trilogy. Both Shadows on the Water and my current WIP had originally been work for a publisher. However, confronted with major surgery in January 2020 plus post op chemo being a bit of an unknown until the operation had been completed, I decided to bow out gracefully. I wasn’t sure at the time when or if I would be writing again. Ironically it became something of a saviour (together with a daily walk) as I gradually built up my strength and got back to normal. Fortunately no chemo was needed and three days after discharge I began walking. Living on a hill meant my first efforts were just that, an effort, but little by little I extended my walk each day and within a few weeks could stay out quite comfortably for an hour. This, along with healthy eating, has now become a part of my daily regime since my discharge in March 2020.
Writing came later. At one point I simply read and reviewed for Netgalley and publishers who offered me pre-publication copies. However, the pull was too great and I knew I couldn’t keep away from my manuscript indefinitely. The first morning I sat back behind the computer and opened up the document I could see there was a lot of work to be done. It was set to be the second part of a trilogy. Now, going back to being an indie author, it needed to be turned into the first book of a new series. Some restructuring of the story, a new location and character name changes were only some of the things needed to turn this manuscript around. It was a big job but the farther I got into the writing the more convinced I became that I’d made the right decision. Shadows on the Water was eventually published in July 2020. The sequel, which I am working on at the moment, was part written, which in some ways made it easier than working on an already completed piece of work.
And now here we are. Book two almost complete. Edits at an end, formatting due later this month. The only thing still to be sorted is that elusive tag line for the cover. The smallest, but sometimes most difficult thing to decide on. Still, no doubt that lightbulb moment will eventually arrive. It always does.
Moving on to more general things, May and all its sharp showers meant a bit of an interruption to our daily walk. Getting away on holiday to Norfolk a few weeks ago with no usual domestic commitments on our time at least gave us the opportunity to concentrate of getting out and avoiding the showers. Luckily most of them arrived around six pm or overnight so in the main, our days were good. When the sun showed its face it was hot, but we still had that chilly wind that chased us through most of May. This was our third trip to Wells Next The Sea. It’s a great place to escape to. Ideal for both families and dog owners. During our time there we met up with friends who had retired there more than 15 years ago. They love the easy pace of life and the friendliness of the locals. The Broads aren’t too far away, which gives them an option to hire a boat and spend time on the water. Sadly it’s a destination we have yet to reach, but it’s on our list.
Next month we are back in Dartmouth. It will be interesting to see how this town has survived in the aftermath of lockdowns. I’ve always loved coming here, despite the fact it’s usually filled with day trippers. A trip out to the castle is a great way to walk off lunch and get away from the crowds. And in the evening, when things have quietened down, nothing is better than walking along beside the water as we make our way into the town for dinner. The last time we were here was in September 2019 when we visited Greenway, Agatha Christie’s beautiful riverside home.
And finally, these are my reads/reviews for April/May. I usually read four a month but with the holiday in May added a couple more.
So that’s my update for April/May. June will be busy. Final checks on the MS followed by a read through by beta readers and then, formatting. Now all I have to do is get that tagline sorted!
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.
It was quite by chance that a David Bowie track on the radio the other day got me thinking about writing a new post…maybe a series of posts depending on how well this one turns out.
So what is this new post about? Well as the heading says above, it’s about music and memories. And the David Bowie track? Let’s Dance, taken from his 1983 album of the same name. Why is it so special? Because in September 1983 we were spending a fortnight in Spain with friends. It was a month before we were due to get married, and we were staying up in the hills just outside Calpe on the Costa Blanca. The joke was were were having the honeymoon first. I think if that had been the case, we definitely would not have had friends tagging along. At the time CDs did not exist. Instead cassettes were the alternative to vinyl. I remember we took two albums on that holiday: Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Elton John’s Too Low For Zero. By the time we left for home I probably knew every song by heart.
The holiday didn’t get off to a very good start. Landing at Alicante, we were met by an English courier. She had lived in Spain for many years, working as a district nurse in the area we were staying. We boarded the coach which would take us to a central dropping off point where our hire cars could be collected. During the journey she checked everyone on her clipboard and handed out sets of keys. Except when she came to us, there was no record of our booking. So when the coach arrived at its destination we were instead, driven to our villa by one of the sons of a local restaurant owner. The courier apologised and told us she would be back the next morning to sort out a car for us.
With the car organised, our holiday began. Days spent by the pool, or sightseeing and evenings eating out in the local restaurants. A wonderfully relaxing fortnight. CDs weren’t the only things not around at the time. There were no digital cameras. We were still using rolls of film. Our friend was a keen amateur photographer and taking a photo was something he rarely rushed. He’d brought a tripod and I particularly remember in Guadalest, one of the mountain villages we visited, how he took time in setting up his shots there. When we arrived home he told us he wound back the film but the camera mechanism jammed. He took it into the bathroom when it was dark, pulled down the blind and managed to get the back of the camera case off. Only to find there was no film in the camera! I’m still not sure how that happened to someone as thorough as him, but it obviously did.
As far as food went we were spoilt for choice, particularly when it came to fish. It was great to have our evening meals outside sitting on a restaurant terrace or in a garden with a chorus of cicadas in the background. A friend had recommended an Indonesian restaurant in Benidorm where you could order 4, 8, 12 or 14 course meals. Not as much of a gastronomic challenge as you might think though, as the larger the number of courses, the smaller the portions of each dish became. I think I got as far as the 12 course, (sharing with my OH) and that was my limit. In the village near the villa there was a family run café/restaurant where we occasionally dropped down for morning coffee, or lunch. One of the sons was a doppelganger for Bryan Ferry. The first time he arrived at the table to take our drinks order, we did a double take. We got chatting and learned he was a real fan, had been to all Bryan’s concerts, including one in Madrid the previous year, and had every one of his albums.
We had one scary and rather mysterious moment during our stay at the villa. The area was known as Little Belgium as many Belgians had holiday homes there or had relocated permanently. One early morning while it was still dark, dogs began to bark. Then outside our bedroom window there was a strange throaty snuffling noise. It moved away and moments later we heard cats yowling. And then all hell let loose. I heard cane furniture on the veranda being knocked over as whatever was out there seemed to be having a set to with several felines. By the time we had pulled on clothes and the men had gone outside to see what was going on, it was all over. Two cats were prowling around the pool, hackles raised, still in fight mode. There were tufts of fur everywhere, including on the surface of the water To this day, what happened still remains a mystery. We did, however, remember on that first evening when we were given a lift up to the villa, the headlights of the car lit up the eyes of an animal partially hidden on the side of the road. It quickly disappeared and we heard the driver say ‘ah lupo‘, which is wolf. The location of the villa was on the edge of open ground and scrubland which led into the mountain and one of Spain’s national parks. Who knows, maybe our early morning visitor was a wolf or some kind of wild dog, come down to scavenge. Whatever it was, the cats soon saw it off.
I guess the memory of this holiday has always lingered in my mind because it preceded our wedding and the start of our new life together. I’ve been back to the Spanish mainland many times since and enjoyed holidaying there at other locations. But over the years urbanization has crept along the coast, bringing with it more shops, bars and inevitably, tourists. That capsule of time in 1983, reminds me how different it had been then. Relaxed, less commercialised; where the local postman would call in to that family run café each morning and stay for a while to chat with the owner over a coffee. That time may have gone for ever, but it’s something I’ll always remember. And who knows? One day, that backdrop just might end up in my latest book.
I’m late with my February update. That’s because I have been plagued with back problems – old age does not come alone as my grandmother used to say! This is historic from when we travelled down to Cornwall in a friend’s car back in 2000. Stopping off to stretch our legs before travelling on to the farmhouse B & B we had booked, I stepped from the pavement into the road and a pain shot from the base of my spine up to my waist. Since then, despite physio and chiropractor appointments, it surfaces now and then, and at the most inconvenient times! I had been clear for a couple of years, but once a weakness opens up in your back, it’s there for ever, lying in wait, ready to cause chaos. The irony is, I can bend, kneel and stretch for 99% of the time without anything happening. But then there is that one day, and when I’m least expecting it, that the pain strikes. At its best it lasts a few days, at its worst – as in this last bout – nearly a fortnight. During that time sitting at the PC was fine, but only for very short amounts of time before my back locked up. That meant writing had to be abandoned completely. Walking about I was fine, but even sitting to watch TV could cause problems. Sleeping too was difficult. I had to roll out of bed and on some nights it was almost impossible to move without experiencing this awful sharp grabbing pain. A steady application of ice cold compresses, anti-inflammatory rubs and Ibuprofen eased but failed to shift it – and yes, I do use the Ibuprofen very sparingly. I have a booklet of physio exercises tailored to help lower back pain and these have proved a godsend. During the years I have lived with this, I’m aware that the onset is swift and unexpected, as is its departure. Last Saturday morning I woke up and there was no pain, no difficulty moving. I am now wondering whether I might be dealing with a trapped nerve – maybe I need another trip to the chiropractor? At least it means for the moment (crossing fingers and toes) I’m back to normal and the writing is back on track.
So what other news is there for February? Well we had our Covid shots mid-Feb. The vaccine centre had been set up in The Pavilion, a local events venue. The date coincided with that very cold spell we had. Our appointments were 5.10 and 5.20. We actually got our shots at 6.15. It was absolutely freezing outside and normally we would have gone into the building, but there were around ten people in front of us, more inside and the queue didn’t move very quickly. Once we got through the doors, however, there was a radiator near the bar which we made the most of when we reached it – and thankfully the queue inside moved much quicker. The actual shot was painless. My only reaction was a swollen aching arm and OH said he felt a little shivery but the next day we were both fine.
Yesterday (Thursday) I had an optician appointment and caught the bus into the city. I had not been on public transport for nearly a year and apart from the Covid shot at the Pavilion, had not been into the city either. Typically getting public transport to work in with the appointment time was not easy. But, it did give me a little time to wander and have a look around. There were queues outside M & S and the Apple Store and Boots was open, but other than that, just a handful of people walking about. Of course the weather didn’t help. Heavy showers and blustery winds; the sort of days that will keep people away from city centres, especially when they is no access to shops or tourist attractions. It was strange to see a place, normally filled with people, so ghostly and quiet. I hope we get back to some form of normality back later in the year. I’ve missed just about everything to do with life as I knew it, although meeting friends face to face must be one of the biggest, as I know it is for most people. I’m looking forward to the end of this month when we can at least meet outside (weather permitting).
As far as writing is concerned, my back problems sadly brought everything to a temporary halt. Very frustrating when you have scenes and dialogue demanding to be written. Looking at it in a positive way, it gave me a chance to step back for a moment and take stock of what I had already done. I’m almost at the end of the first draft. It’s then that the real hard work begins.
I not only write, I read and review as well. I am currently on my Goodreads 2021 reading challenge of 40 books, I have completed 16 so far, which means I am well ahead of my target. There are so many good titles, I’m spoilt for choice. I’m usually a committed romance reader, but recently my reading preference has moved to psychological thrillers. And there ae some amazing ones out there!¬
So that is it for another month. I live in a world where currently the Sainsbury’s delivery is one of the week’s highlights – yes I know, very sad. However, I’m hoping by the end of the month things will be slightly better. It’s all about getting those Covid figures down to as low a level as possible. Then maybe we can break out the bubbly!
From the international bestselling author of If you love me, I’m yours, Ninja School Mum and Babe Driven.
Genie’s family is in crisis. Their seafront business is failing with the loss of Genie’s grandmother and her legendary ice cream flavours. Genie is determined to be the one to save her family’s heritage, but suddenly her mother wants to sell to developers and leave their shared history behind.
Buying the business and taking on a sixty-eight year old business partner, Ada, with a mysterious past and a gorgeous but distracting grandson, Genie sets out to prove her parents wrong.
Ada’s grandson, Cal, wants to protect his gran from ‘pensioner persuader’, Genie, but soon realises that living in a little seaside town and away from the paparazzi in Hollywood can actually give him time to heal. Hiding in a seafront business with its fiery owner and working as kitchen staff, is the only way he can think of to keep his ex-Hollywood glamour-puss, gran from harm. But his meddling might also ruin Ada’s second chance at love.
Hiring a private detective and learning about Genie’s parent’s past makes Cal regret his own impulsiveness. The information he has unearthed could destroy their blossoming romance and turn Genie’s world upside down.
Genie soon discovers that friends can become enemies and your closest family can have lied to you for your whole life.
An English romance, full of humour, family life and second chances at love.
International bestselling author and award-winning inventor, Lizzie Chantree, started her own business at the age of 18 and became one of Fair Play London and The Patent Office’s British Female Inventors of the Year in 2000. She discovered her love of writing fiction when her children were little and now works as a business mentor and runs a popular networking hour on social media, where creatives can support to each other. She writes books full of friendship and laughter, that are about women with unusual and adventurous businesses, who are far stronger than they realise. She lives with her family on the coast in Essex. Visit her website at http://www.lizziechantree.com or follow her on Twitter @Lizzie_Chantree https://twitter.com/Lizzie_Chantree.
Well here we are, 1st of Feb already. One whole month of 2021 gone.
Like most people, we had a quiet Christmas. Taking down the decorations on 12th Night, it left me wondering what it was all about. Our usual trip to do some of our Christmas present shopping in either Salisbury or Winchester was postponed, everything bought on line instead. Our pre-Christmas meets with friends for lunch or a drink; our New Year’s Eve plans, cooking for friends at home. All of this cancelled. We didn’t even get the bubbly out while Jools Holland’s Hootenanny welcomed in the New Year with excerpts of past programmes. In fact during the Christmas period I kept looking at the decorations and the cards and feeling everything was somehow out of kilter. As if I had made a mistake and decorated at the wrong time of year. This wasn’t Christmas; it didn’t feel like Christmas. It was like decorating a room for a party that no one was going to turn up to.
One thing I have noticed on our walks during January is that some people have decided to keep their Christmas garden lights going. I think this is a great idea, providing a bit of cheer during the month, which has mostly been dull and wet. I have to say even under normal circumstances, for me it’s the worst thirty one days of the year and I can’t wait to see it gone.
When the decorations were eventually packed back into their boxes, one question still remained. Where was the new set of lights we’d bought last year? In October 2019 we bought a new set of lights. We used them to illuminate the inside of a large lantern in the lounge. During Christmas 2019 we moved them onto the mantlepiece. When the decorations came down, I remember putting them back into the lantern. That meant they didn’t get packed away in the loft. In February 2020 I bought a large candle for the lantern, took the lights out and re-boxed them. Our house is obviously in some sort of UK Bermuda Triangle, because we turned every drawer and cupboard out pre-Christmas 2020 and could not find any trace of them. We still have hopes we’ll discover them, probably in the last place we ever thought of looking.
The one thing I have missed most during all three of our lockdowns is people, as I am sure most of you have. Social media is great but it is in no way a great substitute for actually being with people. Last summer, some weekends we spent time in friend’s gardens (and our own) for a socially distanced drink. It was allowed then, although not indoors. I’m hoping when they begin relaxing the rules that we will be able to do that again. It may be baby steps back to normality, but spending time with friends and family is so important.
Holidays too, are in limbo at the moment. We have a break in Norfolk booked for mid-May. It’s roll over booking from last year when Covid and the first lockdown scuppered our vacation plans. Not sure whether we’ll lose it second time around. Currently it’s all in the lap of the gods – and whatever decisions Boris decides to make. In the meantime, where possible, we have been continuing our daily walks for exercise and fresh air. It’s all about keeping going, making the best of things and staying positive.
I have just reached 53,000 words. As a writer of larger books (120,000 – 135,000 words) there still seems a long way to go. Certainly as far as the plot is concerned, the journey is no where near its end. So at this moment in time I’m not even attempting to predict the final word count. At the very beginning there was a slow start when I reused part of an already written manuscript. A bit like unpicking knitting; time consuming and laborious, but looking at the story so far, I know I made the right decision to re-use it. Currently I’m in completely new territory where the writing is averaging 1500 words a day and the word count is mounting up very quickly. I’m working towards (fingers crossed) a publication date some time in June.
Well that’s all for this month. I will be back again at the end of February. I hope by the time I post again, there will be a glimmer of light at the end of this very long tunnel. In the meantime, take care and stay safe everyone.
You thought your little girl was safe at summer camp. You were wrong…
When Detective Madison Harper arrives at a remote summer camp in Shadow Falls, northern California, her heart breaks for Jenny, the sweet little girl last seen splashing in the lake with her friends before she vanished. Peering into the silent cabins filled with rows of neatly made beds, Madison knows this idyllic place is hiding a terrible secret.
The girl’s parents are distraught, and the local police have no leads—they desperately need Madison’s help. She’ll do whatever it takes to crack this case, because it’s the only way back to the son she lost to the care system years ago when she was framed for a crime she didn’t commit.
But with the camp staff keeping tight-lipped and her new partner on the edge of a breakdown, Madison can’t find any truth to her instinct that there is more to Jenny’s perfect parents than meets the eye. Until she discovers a disturbing family portrait Jenny drew at the local library. Was this angelic girl more troubled than anybody knew? Was she in danger from those she trusted most?
One thing is certain, if Madison doesn’t find the answers soon, the lives of more innocent children will be at risk…
An absolutely unputdownable crime thriller that will keep you up all night! Perfect for fans of Lisa Regan, Robert Dugoni and Melinda Leigh.
Wendy is a former coroner’s assistant turned crime writer who lives in the UK with her husband and 3 cats.
As well as her two 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.
I’ve read quite a few psychological thrillers this year. Many promise the reader an ‘unputdownable read’ or an ‘edge of your seat experience’. Some live up to those promises, some don’t. Shadow Falls, Wendy Dranfield’s debut for Bookouture delivers all of that and more. It is indeed an unputdownable read with a plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat from page one until ‘The End’. I’ve read her other three thrillers and really enjoyed them, but this book seems to have elevated her writing to another level.
Central characters Nate and Madison come with baggage. They’ve been in prison, both wrongly convicted. So, as well as their first case, to find a missing twelve-year-old, the need to prove their innocence is an issue for both of them. Madison also needs to find her son who was taken into care when she was imprisoned. It’s an easy read and the characters are well developed. Nate was studying to be a priest when he was arrested and imprisoned for murder and Madison was a serving policewoman when she was incarcerated. New evidence has seen Nate released with massive financial compensation while Madison served her term and is all but broke. Wanting someone to help her clear her name and also find her son Owen, she approaches Nate. She also needs a job, and figures that with his similar background he might employ her to work for him. He already has his first case – to find a missing child – and she convinces him with her police background she could be useful. Nate eventually agrees.
In the beginning they tend to rub each other up the wrong way but each brings their own individual talents to the partnership and as the book progresses, they begin to settle down together. In their search for missing twelve-year-old Jennifer Lucas, there are false trails, shocks and surprises, all of which keep you on track, wanting to know what exactly did happen to her. It’s a brilliantly written story and I’m really looking forward to the second book which comes out in February. Oh, and as a postscript if you loved Rocky in her Dean Matheson series I’m sure you will love Brody too.
Now that Christmas has come and gone, we’re looking forward to a new year. 2021 will see me setting a fresh reading target with Goodreads. I’ve been involved in the reading challenge since 2015 and 2017 was my best year with 60 books completed and reviewed. This year I began with a modest 40 titles, which has ended with 67 books read and reviewed! Covid has been a contributory factor, as it probably has been for many people who, like me, have turned to reading to fill in time usually spent on activities outside the four walls of home.
Having completed 67 books (it will actually be 68 as I’m currently coming to the end of The Catch by T M Logan) it has been an extremely difficult job to pick ten titles. There have been many five star reviews; books that have entertained and which I have enjoyed. In creating this list I have looked at all of my 2020 reads and tried to find the ones which, for me, had that extra something.
So here’s my list and although there are ten, they all have an equal placing as my favourites of 2020. There’s quite a variety here – a lot of psychological thrillers, yes, as I’ve developed quite a taste for them. But you’ll also find romance, crime and a couple of historical novels in the mix. As a lover of fantasy- and Arthurian legend in particular – it was also great to discover a new author this year – James Wilde. His trilogy Pendragon, Dark Age and The Bear King also deserve a mention.
So that’s it for another year, but there’s no let up for me. As a Netgalley reader and reviewer I’ve already completed my first 2021 novel – Wendy Dranfield’s Find My Child, due to be published on 25th January. It’s her debut for Bookouture and I have to say she’s set the bar high for the coming year.
Wishing you all a safe and healthy new year. I’ll be back in January with my monthly update.
Every year during this run up to the festive season, I always seem to get pulled back into memories of childhood Christmases. Of course it was a long time ago and things were vastly different then. For a start it was less commercialised: a gentler time where we were far more innocent as children and keen to believe in what was then a magical as well as religious celebration.
Growing up, most of us believed in Father Christmas. I think I must have been six or seven before I learnt the truth. Unlike us, these days kids know far more at a much earlier age. They wouldn’t be fooled by tales of a red suited man with a large white beard climbing down the chimney to delivery presents. During one particular December a girl in my class told us all that she’d actually met and spoken to Santa. I had always wondered how one man with a sleigh and a team of reindeer could possibly bring toys to children all over the world in one night. Magic, I was told, but after she had boasted to the class about this, I wanted to come face to face with the big man and ask him how he achieved this feat. Of course had he really appeared I’d have probably been too scared to say anything, and hidden under the bedclothes instead! On this particular Christmas Eve, however, I stayed awake only – yes you’ve guessed – to end up being massively disappointed when humans crept into my room to leave presents. Years later, when I was at college, one of our lecturers told us he believed telling his children Father Christmas existed was a terrible thing to do. It was a lie and he didn’t feel comfortable misleading them. Instead he told them we all gave each other presents at Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that because although it is a myth, for younger children there’s something magical in believing for a while that this big, jovial bearded man in red and white is real.
Christmas at junior school meant decorating the classroom with multi-coloured garlands. The taste of the glue as we created the linked chains, licking the edges of each one before sealing it into a loop, (no self adhesives in those days) has left a lasting memory. When complete, the garlands were hung across the classroom ceiling and along the walls with red paper bells. Although the bells were kept in a cardboard box and used each year, the garlands were thrown away. It meant we had another round of glue licking to look forward to next year.
ADVENT CANDLES AND GINGERBREAD HOUSES
I remember grandmother worked with a German woman called Marta. Every year she would make Advent candle displays and give one to her as a Christmas present. It was always exciting to light a new candle every week knowing that each flame brought Christmas closer. Her other speciality was a gingerbread house with red paper curtains. Its roof was decorated with Smarties and the walls with silver bobbles and Iced Gems. Picture below in case you have no idea what these are!
Sunday School was held in the Victorian school house in the village. No longer used for teaching, it hosted jumble sales, whist drives and other village events. Every December we would all go carol singing to raise funds for St Stephens, our local church. As we lived in a rural area we would travel in two cars (one driven by the Sunday School teacher, the other by her son) and tour around the local villages singing. Sadly not everyone appreciated our vocal efforts and I remember at least one or two houses where lights went out as we stood by their front door singing.
CAROL SERVICE AND NATIVITY PLAY
Every year St Stephen’s held a Christmas carol service that villagers and all the Sunday School children attended. Each of us was given a figure or an animal to place in the nativity scene set on a table next to the pulpit. We also had our own school nativity play, of course, which saw our mother’s busy making costumes. There was always excitement over which role we would get. My best was a shepherd, the worst a sheep!
THE CHRISTMAS TREE
The tree we had lasted several years. It was replanted in the garden after the festivities. When it became too large we simply bought another one. Decorations were mostly tinsel and baubles, although I do remember my grandmother’s tree had red candles on it. They were slotted into small metal holders which clipped onto each branch of the tree. Thankfully the candles were never lit – it was far too dangerous!
The bird on the Christmas menu was goose, not turkey. My grandfather kept chicken (we sold eggs) and pigs and would raise geese to sell at Christmas. My grandmother, who was a wonderful cook, made all the Christmas puddings and cakes and vegetables came from the garden. Food was good, plain and wholesome. Maybe if we had lived in a town things would have been slightly more sophisticated but village life was all about local produce. There were no supermarkets locally, even in our nearest town. Instead we relied on places like Home and Colonial and International Stores, both now long gone. And as far as a festive tipple was concerned we had sherry, and maybe the odd bottle of whisky to celebrate New Year. Now I think of the huge selection of food and drink available in the supermarkets I realise how spoilt for choice we all are.
So those are some of my memories of Christmas past. You know, the rose tinted ones which overlook the fact there was no central heating and living on the edge of Salisbury Plain, exposed to the elements, meant snow could cut us off for a couple of weeks during winter months. This resulted in no bus service and the local farmer taking his tractor and trailer across the fields to the next village to get food supplies. Being such a small community, we had no school, no shop, no post office and no pub. It meant my grandfather occasionally travelling to the next village to a pub called The Prince of Wales, for a drink. Failing that, he would drink at home. My grandmother was a great wine make -, usually elderberry or dandelion – and her wheat wine was legendary, Many people said tasted like whisky.
Each December I return to St Stephen’s to place a wreath on my Dad’s grave, and as I look around I realise how much the village has changed over the years. I have no idea how many people lived there when I was a child, but in 2019 there were 157. They still have no shop, no pub, or school, but that no longer matters. People have cars, they are mobile. Or they can shop on line for pretty much everything they need. The farm has gone, replaced by four large detached houses (one with a swimming pool) and the farmhouse has been completely refurbished. The manor too has seen new build in its grounds and several cottages have been upgraded. There is a small swathe of council homes, most of them now privately owned and properties have also sprung up on available pockets of land. Despite its size, the place has a modern face. People work from home or travel to the nearest train station six miles away where there is a main line to London. Now, like many other communities whose families once stayed in their villages for generations, there are few villagers left. Instead it has become an ‘escape to the country’; a prime location for those seeking a better quality of life – and who can blame them?
This is my penultimate post of this year. I’ll be back just before New Year with my list of favourite reads of 2020. In January started out with 40 reads as my Goodreads challenge. Completed books currently stand at 66 – blame Coronavirus as I don’t think I would have had as much time to read had things been normal. Anyway, I plan to list my top ten reads and know it will be difficult choosing as there have been some really amazing books this year.
In the meantime here’s wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and I’ll catch up with you soon.