Murder for Beginners – where’s the inspiration?

When my daughter was born, we thought of calling her Sabrina. At the time, we lived in Gloucestershire, and I worked in a building that looked down onto the canal basin off the River Severn. Sabrina, in case you don’t know, was the name of the goddess of the Severn.

Well, among other reasons, at the end, we did wonder if she wanted to be linked (theoretically) to Sabrina the Teenage Witch and decided against the idea. But for the next four years, we continued to live in Gloucestershire and every day I crossed the Severn to go to work and on weekends, we regularly visited places like Upton-on-Severn and Worcester and kept thinking that one day we’d go back to Shrewsbury which is pretty much looped by the river. 

I suppose the alternative was the Wye, which was just as close, but Sabrina sounded a bit more spellable/pronouncable as a girl’s name in England than Gwy.

I’ve always felt I had a strong connection with the river. I have a vague memory of being a child in a caravan which had been on tour to perhaps the Forest of Dean, which my parents had parked for the night in maybe Broadoak or Newnham, and waking to find that the river – during the Severn Bore had burst its banks and was at the bottom of the steps outside. (This was the sort of lack of planning my father was famed for.) And when I was a teenager, my parents hired some sort of riverboat for a holiday on the Severn which encompassed Tewkesbury and Ironbridge. We even took the cat (who spent most of the time hiding under the sink) and the hamster (who was unbothered by the cat because the cat was scared). As I was a teenager of course, the whole thing was mortifying. There I was with my parents and annoying little sister with almost zero chance of meeting an interesting boy (unless he was also lumbered with ‘ancient parents’ and operating a lock). My mother has a photo album which includes a photo of me looking rebellious and sulky while on bilge pump watch duty. (I still have no idea what I was supposed to be looking for and I’m married to a keen sailor).

But parents and embarrassment aside, I loved the river.

While we lived in Gloucestershire my boat-loving husband and I had vague ideas that one day we’d get some sort of canal boat but then we moved to Dorset where it’s seaworthy boat or canoe territory. The Severn only got a mention when a Gloucestershire saint, St Kynaburga, under her more modern name of Kimbrose after whom Kimrbose Road in Gloucester is named, became the name of a fictional hospital that one of my characters trained in.

Roll on rather more years than I want to think about and I’m planning a new series with Liz Hedgecock. We’ve visited a book barge in London. We’ve visited Worcester a couple of times. We’ve even stayed in an Airbnb which is a dutch barge. We have two characters in a contemporary mystery to create…

And there’s a river in my head. A major, navigable river, with lots of pretty towns on its banks.

And a few conversations later, I have a character: Fi Booker who’s ditched a corporate career to run a book barge on the river Wyvern….

I wonder what the inspiration was?

If you want to know more, here’s the blurb.

As soon as they meet, it’s murder.

When Jade Fitch opens a new-age shop in the picturesque market town of Hazeby-on-Wyvern, she’s hoping for a fresh start. Meanwhile, Fi Booker is trying to make a living from her floating bookshop as well as deal with her teenage son.

It’s just coincidence that they’re the only two people on the boat when local antiques dealer Freddy Stott drops dead while turning the pages of a book. Or is it?

After a grilling from the unfriendly neighbourhood policeman, Jade and Fi are left shaken. Can they prove they didn’t kill Freddy Stott? Was he even the intended victim? And can they trust each other?

Local gossip reveals a host of suspects, but with the police taking their time and hostility towards them growing in the town, Jade and Fi decide to investigate. Will that make things better, or much, much worse?

Murder for Beginners is the first book in the Booker and Fitch cozy mystery series, set in and around the English market town of Hazeby-on-Wyvern.

To buy or borrow (via Kindle Unlimited) Murder for Beginners on Amazon – click here.

Say When

I’ve just undertaken the annual calendar ritual. The old calendars are in the recycling and the new ones are ready for action. Though the concept of new year (and its date) is a human/cultural construct, there’s always the hope that like shedding a skin, as we say goodbye to the old and hello to the new, things might change.

Even if just now, the shadows of war, unrest, financial crises and political shenanigans persist, any reasonable person must hope that something lovely will be in the offing for everyone in 2023, or at the very least, something better.

As I’ve said before, I’m not terribly keen on looking back and beating myself up about things I haven’t achieved, or patting myself on the back about things I have. Nor am I keen on making pledges or resolutions. After thirty odd years of working in a target-driven environment – with aims, objectives, service level agreements, milestones and so on – I’m not desperately keen to tie myself down too much in the rest of my existence too.

But all the same, here are some of things that went as planned plus an unexpected bonus:

  • I went on a short break with my adult daughter to Barcelona, which was just lovely. We spent a few days walking miles, visiting Gaudi sites, eating lots of lovely food and otherwise just relaxing.
  • Two of my books became available as audiobooks and over the next year or so, I intend that others will be too.
  • The Treacherous Dead, the fourth in the Margaret Demeray series, is now published and the fourth is underway with a view to publication later in 2023.
  • And the bonus? Liz Hedgecock and I decided to start writing a new series – contemporary cosy/cozy murder mysteries set in the sort of English town where nothing ever happens (or does it?) The first is out later in January, and if you want to know more about the series look no further than The Booker & Fitch Series.

Things that were mixed blessings (and out of my control):

  • My team returned to working in the office in Croydon two days a week. In some ways was hard to adjust to after two years of home-working. After the quiet of my own space, it was odd to be in a noisy office again, especially as most of our meetings are still online (even with each other), so it’s often very noisy. But it’s great to see my colleagues in person again and go out with them after work. And the other plus side of commuting to and staying in the outskirts of London is that I’m able to visit Val Portelli, after a few years when it hasn’t been possible.
  • Later in the year, my team moved from the Croydon office back to the central London one, which was another shift again. This coincided with the death of the Queen, so I was able to go and see the floral tributes in Green Park, though I didn’t queue to view the coffin. We’re not a monarchist family, but even the children were moved that someone who has been there in the background all our lives has gone.
  • Both my children have now ‘moved out’ (though they do keep coming back). It’s lovely to see them be independent and start carving their own creative furrows, and it’s great to have a tidy(ish) house, but… yup I admit it, I miss them. Thank goodness for modern communication methods – family group chats and video calls.
  • My writing shed came into its own, even if I do have a tendency to want to fall asleep rather than write when I go in there as I’m so relaxed!

And then, here are my ‘failures’:

  • I planned to read a lot of specific books in 2022. I didn’t even get close. I read a lot of books. They just turned out to be different ones. Some were serious, some silly, mostly novels, a few non fiction. So I’m just moving that particular goalpost.
  • I planned to publish two books. As above, I published one, but due to some of the international politics of 2022, I decided to change some of the themes relating to a specific country, and also contracted a relatively mild bout of covid, so this took longer than expected. The other book is part written and I hope to get back to it in 2023.
  • I planned to take early retirement in September so I could concentrate on writing. The current cost-of-living situation meant this was adjusted to partial-retirement, so I’m still working part-time and yet to get into the routine I need. But I’m getting there.
  • I went to buy a calendar on the internet for the kitchen, large enough to write on and didn’t check the dimensions. Shame I don’t have a dolls house handy and some dolls who have pressing appointments to record….

Are these failures? I refuse to think so. (Except maybe the calendar.)

For me, family life, mental health, my friendships and marriage will always be more important than anything else.

The day-job even (or perhaps especially) now being part-time remains pressurised, and added into that are now the challenges of the commute.

(Of course, there’s the fact that I am very easily distracted and side-tracked, but we won’t talk about that.)

I’ve spend the last ten years in project work, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned is how to accept ‘slippage’: shifting goalposts and milestones with the mile number crossed out. Targets and milestones can be inspiring and motivating. They can be stressful, depressing. There’s nothing wrong with them in themselves. The important thing is to know when to move them.

So Happy New Year. And may 2023 for all of us involve more joy, more calm, more knowing when to move a target and more time to sit down and enjoy a treat or two.

Words copyright 2023 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

Image: https://pixabay.com/photos/coffee-coffee-pot-cup-coffee-shop-1587081/