Earlier in the month I posted about the locations which had inspired me to create the coastal community of Kingswater – a town of two halves facing each other across the estuary of the fictitious Kings River. Fowey in Cornwall is the main setting, with a few additions from the town of Dartmouth in Devon. The backdrop to a story is important, but another essential part of this parallel universe is what lies within that setting. In Shadows on the Water, Heron’s Gate House and Vineyard played an important role. The inspiration for this came about on a river trip up to Totnes (used for the fictional town Kingshead in the novels) where I spotted what we were told by the tour boat manager was the Sharpham Trust’s Sandridge Barton Vineyards. A new state of the art winery has been built there and a future visitor centre is planned. The vines which sprawl over the hillside towards the banks of the River Dart, produce award winning wines and on September 9th this year the winery will be celebrating its fortieth anniversary. You can read more about the business, their history and the wines and cheese they produce by clicking on the blue and white Sharpham WordPress logo below.
The Sharpham Trust also own a 18th century grade I listed Palladian villa which overlooks the vineyards and faces the river. The house hosts everything from weddings to holistic and art experiences as well as walks, tours, and the opportunity to help in their working garden. I enclose a link below for more details
In Shadows on the Water Heron’s Gate was purely and simply a home, and not a place offering a host of courses and creative activities as Sharpham does. It’s also pale stoned, Georgian and listed with terraced gardens which reach down to the river. It was Sharpham’s location which made me decide it would work very well as Heron’s Gate
In book 2, A Kingswater Summer, one of the main characters, Stella Wynter is a retired actress who lives in a large house up river from Heron’s Gate. No prizes for guessing the inspiration for her home, Penmarra. Of course, it was Agatha Christie’s Greenway which we visited in September 2019. Seeing this amazing house, with its extensive grounds overlooking the river, my imagination began to go into overdrive, recognising the potential for a place where my fictitious actress could have her home.
Stella’s house is a little smaller than Greenway and built of local stone and while Agatha Christie’s home is filled with memorabilia, Stella has instead chosen a designated area in her house. With main character Kiera’s assistance, this will eventually become a place which holds all her treasures and awards from a long and successful acting career.
Greenway perfectly captured this wonderful home by the river with extensive gardens, woods and a myriad of pathways. I also added stables and a boathouse with an apartment over. The boathouse and its apartment were important because I needed somewhere away from the main house for Kiera’s love interest, actor Jake Paterson, to stay. I wanted him to remain a bit of an enigma. A previous and rather unfortunate encounter with Jake, means Kiera isn’t exactly pleased to find him living there. But she’s also curious, and, although she denies it, attracted to this infuriating man. Therefore keeping him at a distance added to the mystery surrounding who he was and why he was there.
So there we are. Location is essential in order to give a book a firm framework in which to tell your story. But equally significant within that setting are the places where people live and work. It gives the characters a proper identity; something I feel is important, especially when writing about communities, as I do.
Next time: Some of the real life situations and characters that have become incorporated into my fictional worlds.
As a country girl who grew up in rural Wiltshire, when I first began to write commercially, the old saying ‘write what you know about’ was very much central to my stories. I knew all about village life; its structure, occupations, the characters, the gossip. It proved to be a fitting backdrop for my first novels. Set in West Somerset in a village called Meridan Cross (based on the village I grew up in), I created a group of friends (Ella, Issy, Rachel and Jenny). I followed their lives for five books in all, beginning during their teens (in the 1960s) and ending in their forties. By book four the ‘girls’ were now in their mid thirties with teenage children. Although the village was still very much a central hub, one of the major scenes was set in southern Spain as Ella fought to save her marriage to record producer Matt Benedict. At the time of writing, the Costa Del Sol was well known to us, having spent several holidays with friends in their apartment just outside Marbella.
Book five saw the children (now young adults) carry the story forward. There were scenes set in Dartmouth, the Caribbean and Italy and Spain as rock star Christian Rosetti (managed by Matt) recorded his new album in the Caymans and went on a European tour which ended in tragedy. The two final books showed I had expanded my horizons from rural England to Europe and beyond. Some of the places I wrote about I had visited, but part of the research for those I had not, took the form of Google Maps where I could not only describe places but also take a ‘virtual’ walk around.
With the Somerset series coming to an end, for the next location, inspiration came from our regular holidays in Dartmouth, South Hams. My South Devon Duo was set in the fictitious village of Lynbrook – a return to rural life, this one with a pub at the centre of the community.
By this time I’d switched from being a saga author to writing contemporary romantic suspense. And that is where I have stayed. My latest trilogy – two books down one to go – is set on the south coast of Cornwall. I’ve cheated a bit with the location, however. East and West Kingswater on either side of the Kings River estuary, has been a blend of Dartmouth/Kingswear and Fowey/Polruan.
If I’ve learned anything in the time I have been writing, it is that for me personally, it is far easier to set my cast of characters in a real place rather than somewhere conjoured up by my imagination. However, at the end of the day, there is no golden rule for this. It’s down to the individual writer and what suits them best.
A Kingswater Summer, the second book set in the Cornish estuary town of Kingswater is currently on offer as an e-book download on Amazon for 99p/$1.37
I’m delighted to shine a spotlight on a friend of mine today – Jo Lambert. Her new Cornish Coastal Romance (book 2) is published today and it’s called A Kingswater Summer. Isn’t the cover lovely? I used to live in Cornwall and Jo’s writing really takes me back there.
A KINGSWATER SUMMER
Book Two in the Cornish Coastal Romance Series
Newly returned from backpacking around Europe, Kiera Merrick has landed a dream job – working for actress Stella Wynter, helping set up a memory room at Penmarra, her beautiful riverside home just outside Kingswater.
Jake Paterson is currently staying with Stella after filming the final series of his popular TV drama. He is trying to work out how to get his co-star and long-term girlfriend Rachel Tyler back after she walked out on him. But Jake soon finds himself drawn to Kiera, developing feelings for her that have…
Or so says the famous quote. As a writer, I avoided both, although in the Little Court series, my first set of books based in rural West Somerset there were two collies – Gaffer and Laddie – owned by farmer Richard Evas. They were working dogs who got a few mentions. Someone I used to work with way back owned two collies. The younger dog, called Gaffer, became the muse for one of the fictitious duo. Then there was ‘Doggie’ Barker the old village man who had his faithful friend Toby.
There were no more canine characters until my eighth book A Cornish Affair and mother and son Gussie and Gulliver, Cat Trevelyan’s father’s much loved Labradors. Cat’s great aunt Emelia (Em) also got in on the act with her West Highland Terrier Hamish, a small dog with a reputation for absconding. During one of his bids for freedom, as Em searches for him she becomes a key witness in a murder investigation.
Up until that moment, dogs had only played a minor role in my stories. After all, as far as I was concerned, there was only a limited amount canines were capable of. That’s until I introduced Erik into my storyline for A Kingswater Summer, released today (Tuesday 10th August). Erik is a Schnauzer and owned by Stella Wynter, a retired actress who lives at Penmarra, a beautiful old house on the banks of the Kings River. An unexpected meeting sees my central character Kiera Merrick employed to assist in creating a memory room for Stella in the old house. I did not have any plans for Erik beyond being Stella’s companion. As far as I was concerned his role would be similar to Hamish. But as often happens, the characters take over and in this case, as the book progressed, so Erik’s role became more prominent.
First, he was instrumental in bringing Kiera and brooding actor Jake Paterson together. Without giving too much away, when he became parted from Stella, and Kiera took over responsibility for him, he gained a whole load of new fans. Kiera’s father Eddie, not a great lover of dogs, became his companion for evening walks by the river. On some days he kept the team at Merrick’s boat builders company, on others he’d spend time with the crew of the Estuary Princess on her afternoon excursions. And on occasions, he even accompanied Eddie and Kiera’s brother Jory to the local pub. Finally, he became a real hero, attacking an intruder and burying his teeth in the burglar’s leg, sending him bolting for the door.
As always happens when I finish a book, I’m sad to say goodbye to the cast, and I can say hand on heart, I’m going to miss Erik. He really was a great character!
So there we are, a small dog who ended up with quite an important part to play. As I wrote I grew to love him. I hope you will too.
A Kingswater Summer, is now available in e-book at a special publication price of 99p/$1.37 Or read for free with Kindle Unlimited…
It’s the 7th of August and yes, I’m late again. No excuses, apart from the fact this piece of writing has been one of those things I kept telling myself I’d get around to. Clearly that hasn’t happened, but, hey, I’m here now.
July began with a week’s holiday. Back to Dartmouth, but a very different town to the one we usually stay in. The lock down has left its mark. Some shops have closed permanently while pubs and restaurants have spilled out onto the pavements giving the place a café style feel. Staycation too, has seen the place swamped with people, meaning social distancing becomes difficult in the town’s narrow streets. To ensure we were able to eat out every evening, I made a list of places and booked meals a fortnight before we were due to leave. We’d had problems in May while staying in Norfolk. Pubs and restaurants were only just opening up, but despite ringing to book our evening meals, we could only get lunches. One pub told me they weren’t taking evening bookings for the next three weeks! I guess we had all missed having a meal out! Good news for their trade, but a bit of a disappointment for us as one of those evening meals was to celebrate my birthday! Instead we met a couple of friends for lunch in a pub (their choice). They moved to Norfolk fifteen years ago and really love it there. They were instrumental in getting us together, so although the celebration wasn’t quite what we planned, we enjoyed it.
As far as Dartmouth was concerned, we managed to reserve a table at all the places we booked. Only one pub texted us just before we left to say because there had been an increase in Covid cases in South Hams they had decided to close until the end of the month. Looking for somewhere else for our main Tuesday meal we decided on The Sloop at Bantham, where we’ve eaten many times in the past. It’s next to an area,with views towards Burgh Island, and managed by the National Trust. The Sloop is a lovely pub with great food but getting there isn’t for the faint-hearted. A long narrow, twisty country road with passing places – and yes, you always seem to meet another vehicle where there aren’t any in sight! The journey in was fine, and we had a wonderful lunch. The return trip, however, was fraught with stops and starts. Not only did we meet other vehicles – including two very wide box vans – we also had cars following, which made it difficult to reverse. However, soon the main road was in sight and we were on our way back to Dartmouth.
The rain fell mostly at night, leaving a cool edge to daytime temperatures. While we were there, we had a family meet up with one of my husband’s cousins at Slapton. It’s where the rehearsal for the D-Day landings took place in 1944. There was a strong, quite cold wind as we walked along the beach and it was great to reach the pub and sit down to enjoy a hot coffee. We had a relaxing week, but not the best we’ve ever experienced in Dartmouth. I’ve never known it so crowded and every other person seemed to own a dog, which goes to prove there has definitely been an increase in canine ownership during lockdown. Maybe next year when the staycationers are relaxing in the Med, we’ll get back to how things used to be.
I guess the rest of the month has been all about book. Yes, A Kingswater Summer is being published next Wednesday, 11th August.
It’s been one of the most difficult writing experiences I’ve had. I’ve really missed my editor, whose family commitments meant she couldn’t work on this latest book. She’s proved not only to be a great editor but a good friend as well. Having now received the e-book for final checking, I’m amazed how much the whole thing has changed since I completed that first draft. The baby I started with has become a fully fledged adult who is about to leave home- a strange analogy maybe, but one I find most apt! Once publication day has come and gone it will be time to sit down and work out the storyline for the final book of the trilogy. The never ending cycle of writing, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else!
Rain rattles through the trees as she leans into the car, careful not to touch anything. Two pretty blue eyes stare back through the dark, wide with relief, or maybe fear. A baby girl, wrapped up in a pink snowsuit, reaches out a tiny hand. Her mother is nowhere to be found…
An abandoned baby is the last thing Detective Madison Harper expects to find as she drives to her first day back at work since the case that ripped her life apart. But as she cradles the shivering child close, all her instincts tell her there’s something more sinister at play. Then she finds a lone sneaker down a muddy trail nearby, the laces spattered with blood…
In a town as small as Lost Creek, Colorado, the baby and the shoe are quickly identified as belonging to Kacie Larson, a waitress at the local diner who quietly stashed away her tips to make a better life for her daughter. A mother herself, Madison can’t believe that Kacie would just abandon her child, but she also can’t convince her new team. Not for the first time, Madison feels she must go it alone to get the job done.
But when a body is pulled from a nearby lake, and it’s not Kacie, the case takes an agonizing turn. Is this missing mother really who she says she is? Is there a chance she’s still alive? Madison barely has time to think before the sweet little girl she rescued is snatched on a crowded street. Gone, in the blink of an eye.
To break this case and earn her place back on the force, Madison must learn to trust her team, and herself again—and fast. If she doesn’t find this twisted individual in time, a little girl could die…
A pulse-pounding, absolutely gripping and totally addictive page-turner that will have you racing through the pages and reeling at the twists. Perfect for fans of Melinda Leigh, Lisa Regan and Kendra Elliot, you’ll be sleeping with the lights on!
Wendy is a former coroner’s assistant turned crime writer who lives in the UK with her husband and 3 cats.
Her first novel (The Girl Who Died) was longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition. Since then she has written two crime series – one follows Officer Dean Matheson on his quest to make detective, and the other is her current series which follows Detective Madison Harper as she tries to reclaim her life after spending six years in prison for a murder she didn’t commit.
As well as crime novels Wendy also has short stories published in various anthologies in the UK and the US, and she has been shortlisted and longlisted for various writing competitions.
This is the third book in the Detective Madison Harper series. On her way to her first day back at Lost Creek Police Department, she discovers a baby girl in the back of a crashed car. Who is she? Why has she been abandoned? And where is her mother? The blood in the front of the vehicle is concerning.
I love Wendy Dranfield’s novels. She provides the reader with great characters and a plot with twists and turns aplenty. Nothing is straightforward and the shocks and surprises are many as the suspense mounts during the search for the abandoned baby’s mother. Of course, a Maddison Harper novel would not be complete without her friend Nate and dog Brody. In Little Girl Taken, Nate plays a more central role, and confronts a nemesis who has taunted him since his release from jail.
This is a well written, edge of the seat thriller with surprises aplenty. Since joining Bookouture, Wendy’s writing has gone from strength to strength. Looking forward to what’s next in store for Madison and Nate.
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.