Fi and Jade are back! And this time, it’s theatrical.
A small town theatre with big ideas, a faded star, ambitious amateurs. Nothing can go wrong – can it?
Death On Opening Night is out today and if you read it, you’ll find out why I mentioned in my last post that Liz and I had to work out how to spell a bark by recording ourselves woofing. (We might have to include more animals in future as it was good fun if slightly bonkers!)
The scene is Hazeby-On-Wyvern, the small English riverside town where Fi runs a book barge and Jade runs a crystals shop. The town is putting on an arts festival with its big draw – an ambitious run of Macbeth (or should I say ‘The Scottish Play’?) at the theatre where the director has somehow managed to hire a once famous star to play a lead role.
Dabbling in murder in the previous book hasn’t dented their friendship at all, but they don’t expect it to happen again. Turns out they’re going to be disappointed, just as Fi’s slumbering love life has woken up too.
We loved writing this book, and clarifying the spelling of a woof was just the cherry on the cake!
Here’s the blurb:
Recapturing the past can be murder.
When Tallulah Levantine, neglected sixties movie star, moves to Hazeby-on-Wyvern, she bankrolls the local am-dram production of Macbeth in exchange for the role of Lady Macbeth. This annoys both the usual leading lady and the leading man, Andy, who’s dating Fi. However, her presence boosts the town, with a festival, events and activities planned. Better still, a hit TV series directed by famous Jon Angel is filming nearby. Could the town and its budding actors be set for stardom?
Then Tallulah receives threats and rehearsals are blighted with accidents. Finally, a body is found in her dressing room, mistaken for her. Who is trying to kill her, and why? The prime suspects compete to frame each other, but with insufficient evidence, the show must go on.
As the town hits the headlines, suspicion falls on someone Fi believes is innocent. When another crime takes place and the evidence points to the same suspect, she realises that time is running out. Can she and Jade discover the murderer lurking in the wings?
Death on Opening Night is the second book in the Booker and Fitch cozy mystery series, set in and around the English market town of Hazeby-on-Wyvern.
It may be no surprise to some, that at school I was considered a bit of a weirdo. This was partly because I was good at the ‘wrong’ things.
If I’d been good at sport, I might have been OK.
I tried, I really did. But my first memory of doing anything competitive was the school sports day when I was five and the littlest child in the school. (So little that the smallest school uniform skirt came half way down my shins making me look like an Edwardian.) As I scurried along in last place in the egg and spoon race, I overheard a couple of old people (probably in their forties or possibly even thirties) laughing at my earnestness and tiny legs. I carried on trying in the next school where I became briefly proficient (to my own surprise as anyone else’s) at high jump and long jump. But then I moved schools again (to Wales, where I wasn’t the shortest, or at least, I was on a par with many), and became the target of a bully.
She applied one of the classic bullying techniques to isolate me: no matter how good I was, she made sure I was picked last for a team. Even if I was actually helping beat the other team, I was still shouted at for being not good enough. I sort of lost interest then. Rounders matches were going to be hell no matter what I did, so I’d wait until our team was fielding and I could slope off as far away from the action as possible, lie down in the grass and daydream. (When someone at work once suggested a massive interteam rounders match in St James’s Park a few years ago, my whole being reverted to a miserable nine year old. I have never been so glad to see rain in summertime as I was that week so I didn’t have to make an excuse not to take part.)
I was all right at cycling and quite fearless (my husband refuses to believe this now), I did a lot of hiking, I even went climbing once, up an actual rock face in Three Cliffs Bay. But none of these counted. Those things were weird too. The things I liked doing were almost entirely uncool.
I could draw, just about, and that was grudgingly approved of, but that was it. Otherwise, I was unnatural in that I was all right at Maths and positively liked things like History, learning languages and, of course English.
The thing I loved most was creative writing. I think I was doing this at its heyday in British education. No one cared about dangling adjectives and co-ordinating subjunctives and for all I know, auto-exploding participles etc which must take all the fun out of the process nowadays. In my day (when I shared a desk with a dinosaur obviously), when the exercise was Creative Writing, even spelling and punctuation took a back seat while we were encouraged to express our imagination on paper. I do realise that for some children, this would have been as daunting to them as rounders was to me, but this was my turn to shine (even if I veered towards hyperbole) and I lapped it up. It’s just a shame that hardly anyone appreciated it.
I had one good friend at primary school who was from my village, and on the same wavelength creatively as me. The character of Ffion in ‘The Cluttering Discombobulator‘, ‘Kindling‘ and ‘The Advent Calendar‘ is based on her. Neither of us knew a thing about pop groups or fashion. Instead, whenever we could, we acted out stories or plays we improvised as we went along. This was often re-enacting Planet of the Apes, or Star Trek (with a greater emphasis on girls actually doing something) but sometimes it was completely made up.
We lost touch with each other for over twenty years. But one of the first things she asked in an email after we reconnected was ‘Do you remember the jelly wall?’ This was one of the science fiction ‘plays’ we improvised in the school playing fields in which our characters were desperately trying to get through a sort of force-field and kept rebounding. Of course, all this was in our heads, so what we looked like to everyone else is anyone’s guess – well OK I can imagine it quite well. We realise now, why we were both considered a right pair of weirdos and were bullied accordingly, even if that doesn’t make it all right. But at least we can’t be accused of following the herd.
When I was about fifteen, my father, who was always a keen writer, joined Swansea and District Writers’ Group and asked me to go to. I daresay, that much like when I joined the SF group with him, I vaguely hoped there might be an interesting, intelligent and attractive boy of my age there, and perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear that I was disappointed. The next youngest person was probably ten years older than I was and female and even shyer than I was.
There was an established novelist, several poets (one very angry and sweary), a man who wrote steamy fiction for women’s magazines under a female pseudonym (excerpts of this sort of thing is NOT what you want to hear being read aloud when you’re sitting next to your father) and lots of short-story writers. I decided within a few weeks, that a few of them were even weirder than me and Dad, and even I knew that that really took some doing. (NB – if you were then or are now in Swansea and District Writers’ Group – I apologise, this was just my perception at the time as an out-of-the-loop adolescent and with no right to judge anything!)
Perhaps this explains why I didn’t join anything similar at university. (But it didn’t stop me from writing a good deal of angst-ridden poetry and sitting up late with fellow students talking pretentious nonsense about literature, because young adult students of a certain type can do that sort of thing naturally.)
After graduating, I started working, then married, then had children. I didn’t try to find a writers’ group, partly because of lack of time, and partly because other people had put me off using my wild imagination in what was meant to be kindness, but wasn’t.
Then, we moved to Dorset, and I reconnected with ‘Ffion’ who encouraged me to enter a local writing competition and from that, I joined the local writers’ group. By this time I was in my forties and had stopped caring what anyone thought. The other writers’ turned out to be lovely – all quite unique, full of imagination, with differing ideas of why and for whom they write. Some, like me, want to publish books, some just want to read things for others to enjoy. Are we weird? Absolutely not! Would someone of fifteen think we are? Meh.
Rather late in life, but not too late, my love of creative writing led me to my tribe – wonderful, valuable, treasured writers and readers, including you who are reading this now. Encouraging, supportive, kind.
I have made so many friends, including really close ones who have become co-authors. Is it weird for me and one of them to be recording ourselves barking so we could spell the sound of a woof? Or for me and the other one to compare the relative merits of unicorns and dragons over a curry? (You know who you are, you two.) Maybe it sounds a bit weird, but we look on it as research, honest.
And if not, then while I can’t speak for the others, personally, after all this time I’m happy to be myself, and if someone thinks that makes me weird, then weirdness is something I happily own nowadays. I never really wanted to be in the loop anyway!
What follows is a tale of woe with a hint of mystery.
To begin with, the woe. Current affairs being what they are, this is very small beer, but all the same, I’m sure at least one of you will sympathise.
One day in February, I charged up my MacBook, then went to make it cup of tea to brace myself for the process of ensuring that all the latest versions of my manuscripts had been saved and backed up securely.
When I came back, the MacBook was an ex-MacBook. (If you don’t get that reference, perhaps I’m too old and too British.) Was every file and photograph I wanted on i-cloud? No. (I appreciate this is down to operator error, but it was frustrating all the same.)
Lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth followed. Making a long story relatively short, the computer chap in town couldn’t help, a young man with his baseball cap on backwards in the Apple Store couldn’t help and I was left with the option to send it off to an organisation in the States who can sometimes retrieve data when this sort of thing happens. (Apparently, the motherboard had gone peculiar – I know that feeling.)
I held out the hope that somehow the tech equivalent of a poke around with a screwdriver and blowing the fluff out would do the trick, but deep down I knew it wouldn’t. After a few days someone rang me from California to explain at length what they’d need to do. I work with enough tech teams for my heart to sink as he spoke. They quoted $3000, so I declined and they sent it back.
By now, I had Miss Lucy Had A Baby going round in my head. In the version I learned, the key verse (which seems to have been softened up since) went: ‘“Dead,” said the doctor. “Dead,” said the nurse. “Dead,” said the lady with the alligator purse.’
In my head, it was replaced less elegantly with ‘“Dead,” said the local chap. “Dead,” said the Apple guy. “Dead,” said the techie under Californian skies.
The only upside was that I’d bought a Windows laptop shortly before as a sort of extra backup, although I hadn’t got around to copying documents across (it was to have been another task for the day the MacBook died). It took me about a month to retrieve crucial documents, convert them to the right format, update them, then save them securely in various places. It felt a lot longer than a month and I think I went through all seven stages of grief. I’ve been playing writing catch-up ever since.
One thing impacted of course, was passwords, which moves us onto the mystery.
Perhaps due to temporary insanity, realising that on top of the thirteen plus passwords I have for my office job, I had even more for the rest of my life, made me think of trying to get into a locked filing cabinet in a locked room behind a series of locked doors in a locked castle. And that reminded me of many years ago when I was deputy office manager, and the day when the office manager and I had to do a key audit and found something curious.
Due to the nature of our work, the rule was that no one person should be able to get to anything important alone. This meant for example, that one person would have a key to the safe where the cash tin was, but a different person would have a key to the tin itself, and someone with a key to get into the building (and thus likely to be in early and potentially on their own for a while) didn’t have a key to the safe etc. Other keys were kept in what we called a ‘key press’ and checked out and in during the day as necessary. As a small team, this was logistically complex.
Our office dated from the 1880s, but by the time I was working there, its lovely Victorian rooms had long since been Frankensteined. Late twentieth century utility office furniture pressed like unsavoury strangers up against elegant Edwardian index-card drawers and counters with Art Nouveau carvings.
Anyway, on this particular day, the office manager and I took everyone’s set of keys to check off against a massive list and then cross-referenced them to make sure that no one could commit fraud if they were inclined to. All the keys were less than twenty years old. Most were relatively small.
But my manager being nothing less than thorough, decided to go through cupboards, old and new, to check there weren’t any keys lurking anywhere, potentially hidden away for questionable purposes. The only set she found however, was old, clearly Victorian and massive. It was the sort of set that if you put it on a chatelaine, the lady who wore it would probably fall onto her face and not be able to get up again. No one had ever seen them before.
One of the keys looked large enough to knock an elephant out if necessary. It could have secured a dungeon. But while we had a storeroom in the basement which we called a dungeon, that was just because it was dark, damp and allegedly haunted, not because it had ever housed prisoners.
Fast forwarding three decades, my brain addled by trauma as I changed what felt like the millionth password, I remembered those Victorian keys and thought how much harder it would be to lose them than a modern set of keys or the same number of passwords. Also how much easier it would be to recognise a key with the twiddly bits in the middle as being for the cupboard under the stairs, than to recall the name of Great Aunt Ermintrude’s pet dragon to get into a website.
I wonder what happened to those keys. The manager locked them away because they were effectively government assets, because that’s how her mind works. I wanted to take them home and write stories about each one, because that’s how my mind works. But I didn’t because she was right and besides, it would have taken a handful of applications in triplicate before anyone let me have them, even if no one knew what they were for.
A few years later, the office shut, its work merged with another office’s and the building was sold off and turned into a restaurant.
And as I’ve written before, when the new owners took the building back to its former glory, a blocked up staircase leading down to the basement was discovered. I’d forgotten about the mysterious keys until recently but briefly wondered if they’d belonged to that, only there were far too many for one staircase, and actually, now I think about it – my manager swore she’d never come across them before the day of the key audit. So where had they been before that? And I never thought to ask what happened to those keys when the office closed.
Maybe they disappeared again for someone else to find one day.
After all, the new occupants think the basement’s haunted too.
Some truths are probably universal. Keys big or small or passwords: they’re all much the same. Perhaps in that building the ghost is eternally looking for their keys. And the keys are eternally playing hide and seek. It’s possible. It really was that sort of building.
Now – never mind all that. Just what was the name of Great Aunt Ermintrude’s dragon.