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/

Where to Begin?

This year, it feels like I have mostly been writing the sequel to The Wrong Sort To Die.

When I started writing, I never thought I’d write a series. But here I am, looking to release book two in the third series I’ve written or co-written. 

Writing a sequel is quite different to writing the first in a series.

Writing a new book is like meeting new people. Or it is to me.

Generally, the main character becomes a sort of new friend and there’s an element of excitement in finding out all about them: their strengths and weaknesses; the things which are likeable and the things which aren’t; their hopes and dreams. This is true even if there’s some element of myself in a character, because whereas I have a good idea why I’m the way I am, I don’t always know why a character is the way they are, until they reveal their pasts and secrets. This possibly sounds bonkers, but there you go.

The difficulty with sequels is that the characters are no longer new friends, they’re old ones. 

As an author, you have a reasonable idea of what they did immediately after the end of the first book and what they’d want to be doing in the second if pesky things like mysteries didn’t get in the way.

The additional difficulty when you’re writing a book set in a real past, is that even with fictional characters, the world they’re living in needs to be researched. If the era you’re writing about is fairly recent, then there are so many rabbit holes to get lost in and there may be a lot you might want to include but can’t. And even then, having carefully plotted things out and written huge great wodges of the first draft, you double-check a fact and it throws the whole plot out when you find out that you can’t include something you wanted to. And then, even when you’ve sort of adjusted for that hurdle, the damn characters decide to go off piste anyway.

This is partly what happened to me, although to some extent, I think it’s part of my creative process. The good thing (from my perspective) is that the bits I’ve had to cut out of book 2 can go into book 3 without too much difficulty.

Death In The Last Reel’ starts six months after the first book, in January 1911. 1911 was quite an eventful year for Britain. I filled an entire wall with key events which I could potentially use, leaving me in a major dilemma as to where to start the book. 

  • In January, there was an armed siege in the East End of London when the anarchist gang who’d gunned down three policemen were cornered. It was the first such incident in Britain to go on newsreel. If you click here you’ll see Winston Churchill, then Home Secretary watching events unfold along with a ridiculous number of bystanders. 
  • The first international Women’s Day Marches took place in March, although not in Britain. Perhaps the authorities were afraid of a recurrence of the violent clashes between suffragettes and the police on Black Friday
  • Despite escalating tensions between Germany and Britain (two British naval officers had been arrested for spying in Liepzig in late 1910 and were subsequently sentenced to imprisonment) the Emperor of Germany (e.g. Kaiser Wilhelm II) and Empress came on a state visit. 
  • There was a Festival of Empire in the Crystal Palace. The Titanic was launched. There were aviators both male and female making history, there were strides in communications. There was the introduction of national insurance to assist those in need. There was the hottest summer on record.
  • But there was also major social unrest, with strikes and riots throughout the year, starting with a six week strike at the Singer factory in Edinburgh in March. (A fictional book I enjoyed about this is called ‘The Sewing Machine’ by Natalie Fergie.)
  • Creaking European monarchies and empires, unaware that their days were numbered, formed alliances in fear of war and made small aggressions against each other and larger ones in North Africa and the Middle East.

110 years later, 1911 appears to have been in a turmoil which seems far too familiar, but perhaps at the time, without mass and social media to scare them, if people weren’t directly affected by something they weren’t as worried by it. The newspapers were full of information, but I can imagine people were just as likely to prefer sensation and gossip in the illustrated press than pages of tightly printed political description as they are now. And perhaps people being people, most of them preferred to keep their heads firmly in the sand anyway, assuming that nothing could possibly happen. If they saw newsreel at the cinema, perhaps they saw it as part of the general entertainment, rather than something to fear.

With all that going on in 1911, where on earth should I begin book two in the Margaret Demeray series? 

To start with, the background against which she’s living her fictional life.

Given that St Julia’s (the fictional chest hospital for the poor where Margaret works) is close to the East End (it’s theoretically situated somewhere between Bank and Aldgate tube stations) it seems logical that she’d know about the tensions in Whitechapel and Spitalfields. Those tensions were complex. The area was a hot-pot of cultures, religions, backgrounds as refugees from Russia and Latvia joined the crowded streets filled with the descendants of those who’d been incomers themselves a generation or two before, who themselves had replaced previous incomers. Political agitation and turf wars were constantly rumbling away. (A fascinating book about the area’s history is called ‘The Worst Street in London’ by Fiona Rule.)

And given that the intelligence organisation for which Fox works is aligned with the police, it seems logical he would be involved in the the siege of Sidney Street, while also worrying about foreign aggression, since his job is trying to ensure that if a war comes, Britain is best placed to win.

So that’s the historical background.

Then there’s the story inspiration. 

Margaret likes going to the cinema, so I did some research into the moving picture industry. Cinema was, of course, still relatively new and considered a bit of a fad which was unlikely to last. Films were short – often between fifteen and thirty minutes, even when they were dramatising entire novels or Shakespeare’s plays. Perhaps that’s why when the industry started, there were several female directors and studio owners. (The Girls We Should Thank For Kickstarting Hollywood) I wanted to reflect this in the book and while looking for the films which were out at the time (like ‘The Lobster Nightmare’) noted that the first British film (1895) was called ‘Incident at Clovelly Cottage’, filmed in a residential street in Barnet. Sadly, apart from a few frames, both the film and the plot are long gone. But this was another bit of inspiration. What could happen in such a quiet, innocent-looking street? Is the woman with the pram as innocent as she appears?

The second bit of inspiration was while reading a book called ‘Odd People: Hunting Spies in the First World War’ by Basil Thomson (which is a rather strange book I heard about while going on a virtual walk in London during lockdown tracing the geographical and historical traces of MI5 and MI6). In it, the author recounts a situation where someone very insignificant reports something very serious to the police. They eventually discount it as total delusion. My immediate thought was ‘What if it’s not delusion? What if it’s real? What if the insignificant person knew something important?’

And naturally, at the heart of the story are Margaret and Fox themselves. What’s happened to their relationship since the end of book one? How will the fact that they’re both strong-willed, very private, very independent and in their late thirties affect how they deal with that (see Dinner for Two at Margaret’s)? And of course, did Margaret’s battles with the male status quo end with her success at the end of book one, or are they about to get worse? 

If you want to know – the book will be out at the end of November 2021 and there’s a little more information below the image.

BOOK TWO IN THE MARGARET DEMERAY SERIES WILL BE AVAILABLE FROM 30th NOVEMBER 2021

DEATH IN THE LAST REEL

‘Stop standing in the way of bullets.’

‘I will if you will.’

Does the camera ever lie?

1911: After the violent murder of three policemen in the line of duty, tensions between London constabulary and Whitechapel anarchists simmer. Meanwhile accusations and counter accusations of espionage further weaken relations between Germany and Britain. Can Margaret Demeray and Fox find out which potential enemy is behind a threat to the capital before it’s too late?

In the shadow of violence in the East End, just as Dr Margaret Demeray starts to gain recognition for her pathology work, a personal decision puts her career at the hospital under threat. Needing to explore alternative options, she tries working with another female doctor in Glassmakers Lane. But in that genteel street, a new moving-picture studio is the only thing of any interest, and Margaret’s boredom and frustration lead to an obsessive interest in the natural death of a young woman in a town far away. 

Meanwhile intelligence agent Fox is trying to establish whether rumours of a major threat to London are linked to known anarchist gangs or someone outside Britain with a different agenda. When another mission fails and he asks Margaret to help find out who provided the false intelligence that led him in the wrong direction, she can’t wait to assist. 

But enquiries in wealthy Hampstead and then assaults in Whitechapel lead unexpectedly back to Glassmakers Lane. How can such a quiet place be important? And is the dead young woman Margaret a critical link or a coincidental irrelevance?

Margaret and Fox need to work together; but both of them are independent, private and stubborn, and have yet to negotiate the terms of their relationship. 

How can Margaret persuade Fox to stop protecting her so that she can ask the questions he can’t? And even if she does, how can they discover is behind the threat to London when it’s not entirely clear what the threat actually is?

TO PRE-ORDER THE EBOOK – CLICK ON THIS LINK

Chopsing – Video Interview

Some people describe me as talkative, others as reserved.

When I was a child, elderly female relations seemed unable to decide if I should talk or hold my tongue. I was either told to stop whispering and speak so that people could hear me or told that children should be seen and not heard. Teachers sometimes made me stand facing a corner because they said it was the only way to make me keep quiet. Other times, they’d be annoyed because I didn’t answer questions.

But to be honest, it’s true: sometimes I talk too much, and I don’t always know how to stop either.

At parties however, I’m often considered withdrawn to the point of appearing to be in pain. I can’t help it. If the environment is too noisy, my brain tries to tune into forty conversations at once and if I can force it to concentrate, while I’m happy to discuss something concrete, small-talk leaves me mentally blank and desperate to hide in a corner with a book. 

Then of course there’s the very good chance I’m quiet because I’m day-dreaming and therefore have no idea what anyone is saying. (This will happen particularly when people are discussing sport, celebrities or fashion – and, I confess, sometimes during work meetings.) 

I’ve developed a range of hopefully intelligent sounding non-committal noises for when I’m suddenly asked for an opinion but to be honest, I’m not sure people are often convinced by them.

While I couldn’t discuss anything very personal, I’ve been giving presentations for years inside and outside work and I’m happy to give talks about my writing. 

I set Murder Durnovaria in Roman Dorchester which is less than twenty miles from where I live. When it was published in late 2019, I anticipated local author events in 2020. Well, we all know what went wrong there. 

My new book Murder Saturnalia, which is due out in two weeks, is set in a fictional place but based on somewhere very local. I initially hoped that maybe, just maybe I might get a chance to do an author talk in my home town at least. But of course, it’s still impossible.

However, technology proved a possible solution. One of the weirder bonuses of lockdown has been that because all my work meetings are now held via Microsoft Teams, and because the only way to meet with friends and relations is by FaceTime, Messenger, Skype or Zoom, I’ve become used to video technology in a way I never would have endured a year ago. 

Before lock-down, I hated video calls, even with family. But this year, faced with a book coming out and no way to hold any kind of talk, I asked friend and fellow local author Sim Sansford if he’d interview me via Zoom to see if it would work. It wasn’t just for my benefit, it was also to see if it might be an approach to involve other authors in an online version of the local literary festival with which we’re both involved. 

So without further ado, here’s the result. If you want to know what I sound like and look like (particularly when I’m pulling faces while thinking), who my characters are based on (if anyone) and what my latest plotting technique is, here goes. 

Go on, give it a listen. No-one who’s seen it has made me stand in a corner so far, so it can’t be that bad.

Words and photograph copyright 2021 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission. Credits for images used for Murder Saturnalia: Ruins of Pompeii, Italy Photo 74409584 © Yi Liao | Dreamstime.com Figure of a woman painted in a Fresco in a Domus of Pompeii ID 143271565 © Floriano Rescigno | Dreamstime.com

Broadening the Mind

I love research. It provides the best excuse to get side-tracked I can think of.

At the moment, because I’ve been writing or plotting two historical mysteries set over 1,700 years apart, I’m surrounded by books about Roman-Britain, Roman cookery and Celtic traditions as well as ones on Victorian/Edwardian slang and dialect, maps of late 19th Century London, pre-WWI politics and (much as it would amaze any of my poor suffering science teachers) forensics and biology. I confess that I find dabbling in the dialect, slang and cook-books the most fascinating. 

Waiting their turn in terms of having the accompanying novels written, I also have books about the home-front in WWII and everyday Tudor life. One of the latter is called ‘Delightes for Ladies – to adorn their Perſons, Tables, Cloſets, and Diſtillories: with Beauties, Banquets, Perfumes and Waters’ by Sir Hugh Plat. It includes fascinating recipes for everything from marchpane (marzipan) to hair dye. 

If you’re in the same boat as me after several weeks of lockdown and missing the hairdresser, you might be interested in the hair dye recipes but I’m not going to quote them for fear someone will try them. In brief, the one for blonde dye includes honey, turmeric, rhubarb and alum among other things. The one for brunette dye includes sulphur as one of its less toxic ingredients. Apparently it wouldn’t stain the skin but I’m not convinced. Maybe it doesn’t stain it, but I’d have thought at least one of the other components might dissolve it.

Of all the research books I have, there’s one which would have been really useful for my new release if I’d remembered I had it.

“The Queen” Newspaper Book of Travel – A guide to Home and Foreign Resorts 1912’ is one of the books I’d snaffled from Dad at some point but forgotten I owned until I was featured on the Jaffareadstoo Sunday Brunch Blogspot.

It originally cost 2/6 (e.g. two shillings and sixpence). In post decimalisation terms that’s 12.5p which doesn’t sound like a lot, but putting it into context, inside the book itself are how much it cost to sail anywhere in the world (£55 first class to Bombay) and advertisements for a nice watch or a nice vanity case (£25 each). 

The book tells you what to pack in terms of clothes for a round the world trip, what to anticipate in terms of local hotels, the speed limit for your motor car, how much it cost to send a letter etc.

In India for example, regardless of climate, ‘one should wear flannel or wool next the skin’ and preferably have a flannel waistband otherwise known as a cholera belt. (Apparently it was called this as well after the cause for cholera was discovered, it was thought that stopping your waist from becoming cold would prevent cholera. I wouldn’t have thought the average Briton of Celtic/Anglo-Saxon descent in 1912 would have found their midriff cold in India but there you go.)

Other advice includes: ‘don’t take alcohol merely as a beverage’ and ‘don’t treat constipation lightly, it is as dangerous as relaxation in a tropical climate’. 

I’m sort of assuming ‘relaxation’ isn’t a reference to slobbing about in your cholera belt drinking nothing but alcohol as a beverage.

The most startling piece of advice is what to do about undies when on a long voyage (in context, I presume the underwear referred to was knickers/panties). 

It boils down to ‘I found four or five of everything quite enough for use on shore, and for the voyage I always take old things, and give them to the stewardess or throw them overboard, so that I had no need for my soiled linen bag on board ship, never having anything to put in it. I am sure this is the best way. It is often exceedingly troublesome to get washing done at the port of debarkation, and it is always expensive, and on every account it is better to keep one’s cabin fresh and empty. Even if the things are rather good to throw away, it makes little difference in the cost of a long trip, and they aren’t wasted, for the stewardess gets them.’

I’m not entirely sure which is the odder image – a stream of substantial early 20th century knickers floating down the Suez Canal behind a steamer or the stewardess’s face as she’s handed armfuls of grubby undies at the end of the trip.

As I say, I didn’t realise I had A guide to Home and Foreign Resorts 1912 till well after I’d finished writing ‘The Wrong Sort To Die’.

In case you’re wondering what this new novel is about, it’s a spin-off from the Caster and Fleet series which I wrote with Liz Hedgecock. 

Written by me alone, it’s set in 1910. The main character is Margaret Demeray (the younger sister of Katherine of the Caster and Fleet books). Margaret is thirty-six and a pathologist at a London hospital for the poor. She has a thirst for justice and equality. She’s very independent, has a short fuse, is irritated by having to fight her corner in a man’s world, but perhaps just a little vulnerable too.

Here’s a brief blurb:

Dr Margaret Demeray is approached by a stranger called Fox to help find out what’s killed two impoverished men. How can a memory she’d buried possibly be linked to the deaths? And how come the closer she gets to Fox the more danger she faces herself? 

I’m looking forward to swotting up on ‘A guide to Home and Foreign Resorts’ for the sequel, when Margaret will definitely leave the British Isles, although not on a long enough voyage to be tempted to throw her underwear overboard. 

Or maybe she will. I’ll have to see.

The Wrong Sort To Die’ is available for pre-order with a publication date of 30th June 2020.

Words copyright 2020 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission. Photographs from “The Queen” Newspaper Book of Travel 1912

Accurate Records?

bring your blue shield to get a husband out of bed rather a lot of effort and he didn’t want it to have a cup of tea wrinkly…

No, I haven’t finally lost the plot (well ok maybe I’ve lost a plot but not The Plot). If you can stick with me long enough, I’ll explain that phrase later.

Is it really six weeks since I last posted anything? I just hope your autumn hasn’t been as exhausting as mine. 

As mentioned previously, my youngest child has gone to university, rendering the house empty of children (and depriving the washing machine of fodder). I remember leaving home and thinking ‘hooray – free at last’ because my parents – while being neither over-protective or over-restrictive were – let’s face it, parents. Knowing my daughter thinks the same is a little unnerving but I guess it’s my turn. 

I’ve also been privileged to be involved in organising the inaugural Blandford Literary Festival which takes place 18th-24th November 2019. If you live anywhere near North Dorset, check it out. There really is something for everyone.

Then there’s been work which has been rolling out/not rolling out/gearing up/gearing down/gearing up again/gantt charting/deadline meeting/deadline delaying/impacted by whether/when/how Brexit happens etc etc. Less said the better frankly.

Finally there’s been WORDS. I wanted the sequel to Murder Britannica to come out this July. But I ended up editing for what feels like a hundred years because of all the various distractions and pressures. Since Murder Durnovaria is set in a real place, I had a lot of background stuff to get right and it took me ages to realised a sub-plot needed to go. Meanwhile, a spin-off featuring Margaret Demeray from the Caster & Fleet series is still in edits. There’s only so much one can do when working, wrangling offspring and trying to keep on top of life in general. Sometimes it’s just the wrong time for stuff. 

But Murder Durnovaria is now on pre-order!  And children’s book The Seaside Dragon (formerly The Treasure Seekers) is finally out. 

So anyway, I promised to explain about the opening to this post. Well, my occasional co-authors have been busy too. Val Portelli is releasing the revised version of her Mediterranean romantic novel ‘Summer Changes, Winter Tears‘ on 22nd November and Liz Hedgecock has not only just released a children’s book called A Christmas Carrot (which is illustrated by my daughter) but has also been writing a spin-off from Caster and Fleet. To draft this she dictated into an app while walking – you can read all about her experiences here. She suggested I might like to do the same.

One of my excuses for not doing so is that I usually walk with my husband and he might disown me. My real argument is that I don’t always draft in a flow. Sometimes I spend more time ‘crossing out’ and rephrasing than writing. But given that I always tell my children not to be afraid of new experiences, I decided to try. I downloaded the app and being away for a short-break in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, I looked out of the window and started dictating my thoughts. These were recorded as:

Later in the morning the train still haven’t arrived wondered why she got a self talking to these things and with and people but she was really feel too thick to be doing something would be just cooking school is awesome bring your blue shield to get a husband out of bed rather a lot of effort and he didn’t want it to have a cup of tea wrinkly.. “Get out of bed you lazy AF she said and quotations probably she thought I would have worked out well.

I’d like it on record that I actually referred to my husband as a lazy oaf and have no idea what words the app transliterated as ‘cooking school’, ‘blue shield’ and ‘wrinkly’.

A couple of days later, I tried the app again and did actually try to ‘write’ something. This produced something marginally more coherent:

Open quotes I’ve got happy doing that the poultices and dealing with the herbs but I’m not so sure about is the transfusions and infusions I’m always worried that the lady to come to me will you Sumrell and I’ll get blamed for it there forever after me women you know what they’re like monthlies and headaches and stomachaches there was fussing about medicine men they just leave it to last minute and I nearly dead anyway if you can help me with that I’ll be really grateful”

It’s not exactly Ulysses is it? (And I’ve no idea who Sumrell is but I might use the name sometime.) I hope all the comma haters are happy since clearly I don’t use commas (or indeed full-stops) in my head!

I’ve yet to be convinced I can dictate streamlined thoughts, partly because I’m not sure my thoughts are terribly streamlined. All the same, I might try again sometime, maybe lounging like Barbara Cartland on a chaise-longue rather than walking through town and down by the river-bank. 

After all – it might frighten the otters. They’re a protected species aren’t they?

 

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Words Copyright (c) Paula Harmon 2019 not to be reproduced without the author’s express permission. Image by Klaus Hausmann from Pixabay

 

The Case of the Fateful Legacy

One of my favourite books, Have His Carcase, is one in which the heroine finds a very fresh corpse on a beach and takes so long to get help, the tide has come in and swept it off by the time anyone can get to it. 

Whenever I read the efforts she has to make, I can’t help thinking ‘why doesn’t she just…’ until I remember it’s 1932 and she’s a long way from civilisation let alone any kind of phone or telegraph office. 

At least Dorothy L Sayers was writing about her own era so she knew what her characters’ challengers were. We have to research.

When writing fiction set in the past, it’s easy to forget what wasn’t around at the time. It’s hard to explain to my teenage children for example, let alone remember, that when I went to university, I had to communicate with all my friends and family by letter. It wasn’t even particularly easy to telephone unless you fancied queuing in the rain while someone told her boyfriend for the 300th time how much she loved him.

With Liz Hedgecock, I’ve been writing the Caster & Fleet series which is set in late 19th Century London. Our characters, Katherine and Connie, met in a cafe on a rainy day in November 1890 and soon found themselves unexpectedly solving a mystery. Despite disapproving relations and romantic distractions, they haven’t looked back since. 

I’m often asked how realistic we think our characters’ freedom is. Liz and I like to think their adventures are as likely as adventures in books generally are. It would be rather dull if they simply followed the norms for their generation and class. And we also know that a great many women didn’t do that anyway – they travelled the world, applied for jobs they weren’t expected to, refused to ride side-saddle, rejected corsetry. Connie and Katherine haven’t done any of those things but they push the envelope nonetheless (and frankly, if you told Katherine to ride a horse, I daresay she’d refuse to do it side-saddle too.) 

However, they’re still stuck with 19th Century communication techniques. There were more postal deliveries per day than there now. They can afford telegrams, they have a telephone each but a great many other people don’t, including Katherine’s in-laws in rural Berkshire which may only just about have some sort of telephone in the telegraph exchange by now but nothing out to any of the houses, no matter how grand. So contacting people quickly is challenging.

(This didn’t stop me from writing ‘Katherine had a series of emails to look through’ the other day, perhaps because I’m about to go back to work after a short break and am dreading doing the same thing.)

If you’ve been following the series, I hope you’ll be thrilled to know that book five in the series is ready to purchase. ‘The Case of Fateful Legacy’ starts in November 1894 with a party to celebrate James’s birthday and the success of Connie and Katherine’s business. Even the news of the death of a rather cantankerous old lady in the village can’t spoil the mood. And then – it turns out that the death might not be so simple at all and James’s sister is implicated. Connie has gone home – should Katherine bring her back to investigate? Of course she should.

If you like a country-house murder mystery, this could be for you. With action in rural Berkshire and rainy London, it will take more than toddler tantrums and troublesome relations to stop Katherine and Connie seeing that justice is done.

Out now in paperback and e-book. ‘The Case of the Fateful Legacy’ opens a box of secrets no-one knew existed.

 

The Quest: Book Release

If you fancy something different for a short Christmas read, have a look at The Quest.

A few years ago, I wrote a few hundred words about a distant and hidden kingdom where dragons lived alongside the humans who understood them. They were trying to keep the outside world at bay, fearful that their secrets and delicate relationship would be destroyed.

A year ago, I was asked to contribute to a collection of short stories on the theme of The Twelve Days of Christmas. I revisited the world I’d been creating and set my 10,000 word story in a parallel universe during their equivalent of the Victorian-era period.

The safe world of the dragon people has long since been breached and the industrial revolution has well and truly taken control of the dragons who can fuel the machines and engines of progress. But the people who understand the dragons are reviled and driven to hide their knowledge.

Against this background, two estranged sisters – one of whom has decided to conceal her identity and one of whom refuses to do so – have to work together in bitter midwinter to find their younger brother who has run away to the city. But they are thwarted by demands to solve a riddle which the mysterious Mr Beringer says is a key to fighting the anarchy which threatens the nation.

The Quest is the first in a series of four in which the Drethic family seek to prove their loyalty to their country and find the missing Queen.

Available as an ebook at 99p or 99c (US) and also in paperback at £2.99 – a different tale for midwinter.

The Quest ebook cover

 

Masked Mayhem

As a child I loved dressing up. Romantic ideas of being elegant and majestic were forever thwarted as anyone who has read the first story in The Advent Calendar will know but that didn’t stop me hoping. As a young adult, still intent on looking sophisticated or at least cute, I usually attended fancy dress parties dressed as a cat or Cleopatra (plenty of excess black eye make-up) and once as Little Miss Muffet (hence picture below). Since then, apart from a period in my career which required wearing a combination of eighteenth century and medieval clothes, the last time I dressed up was as Madonna in her Like Prayer era to go to a fund raising disco and no, I’m not sharing that picture.

So naturally, when Liz Hedgecock said ‘what about having some masquerade balls in book 4 of The Caster and Fleet Mysteries?’ I rubbed my hands in glee.

Speaking for myself, the closest to dressing up I’ve done since making that decision is wearing a new outfit to meet Liz and discuss editing but it was great fun deciding the themes for the balls and imagining the characters’ costumes.

But of course the book is not just about Connie and Katherine’s clothes and dancing skills. 

In the year that has passed since The Case of the Deceased Clerk, their lives have changed immensely and there’s a possibility that their days of solving mysteries together may be over. Connie is bucking the trend for women of her class and has become a hands-on mother – complicated as that is in 1893. Katherine, meanwhile is looking forward to finally having a home of her own and has been managing assignments alone for some months. A night out at a ball will simply be a break from routine, won’t it? 

Well of course not. 

Before they know it, Connie and Katherine are tangled up in secrets and scandal which threaten not only their reputations but their friendship. Only some determined investigations, baby notwithstanding, will uncover the truth. 

The Case of The Masquerade Mob is available now for pre-order on Amazon as an ebook. Paperback to follow.

 

Words and photograph copyright 2018 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

Books by Paula Harmon & Liz Hedgecock

Katherine and Connie are back on the case!

 

 

 

Murder Britannica – Book Launch

‘I’ve written up everything that just happened.’

Anguis scratched a long fingernail down the shorthand.

‘I think you may have misspelled that bit,’ he said, handing over two denarii. ‘I think you should have written “Today we saw a wonderful classical Greek tragedy in one act”.’

‘But I want my art to reflect truth.’

‘Very noble,’ said Anguis, ‘but I think you’ll find fiction pays better. Have another denarius.’”

OK so the ebook went live yesterday and the paperback a week ago, but as I have been away on a training course, I wasn’t able to update this website.

Murder Britannica started as a paragraph and over a couple of years and with a few rethinks turned into a book.

This could be the book for you if

  1. you like murder mysteries that don’t take themselves too seriously.
  2. want a book to make you laugh, make you gasp and make you say ‘ahh’ at the odd bit of romance (‘odd’ being the operative word).
  3. you like old-fashioned murder mysteries where there are lots of bodies but justice is done (sort of).
  4. you like a historical setting with a modern take.
  5. you like to think the Ancient Britons got more out of Rome than the Romans got out of Ancient Britain.
  6. you like strong female characters who aren’t content just to be there to support the male characters.
  7. you wonder what the area North of Cardiff just might have been like in AD190 (it probably wasn’t, so any scholars out there might need to take a deep breath and suspend their disbelief – go on – read it – it’ll be fun anyway).
  8. You want to know who Anguis is.

Why Roman Britain? Actually originally it was supposed to take place in Rome, but as the story grew, I realised it would be more fun to set it somewhere I knew, among Britons trying to eke the most benefit from being part of the Roman Empire without necessarily giving away anything of their Britishness they didn’t want to. I have always loved history in general and, perhaps because of my own heritage, the interplay of invasion and empire that is part of my own culture. But…. Murder Britannica is neither serious nor literal. If you want to know what’s recorded about life in Roman Britain don’t look at my book. If you want to imagine what could have happened if someone hadn’t tidied up the records to make them politically correct (as in the quotation above), then read my book!

For reasons which have long since escaped me, I took Latin A level (at 18 years old) when I probably should have taken History or Spanish. The actual option to do so was fairly rare in a comprehensive even then so I grabbed the chance. I was in a class of three and just about scraped a pass. My A Level Latin teacher (easily side-tracked into talking about current affairs as the two of us who were less conscientious frantically finished our homework) used to despair at my ability to have two choices in translation and unerringly pick the wrong one. (I thought of this when I sat a multiple choice paper this morning in which I had four things to choose from. Fortunately none of them were in Latin, and I managed to pass with a bit more than a scrape.)

My O Level (taken at 16 years old) Latin teacher was impossible to side-track. She once threw me out of the lesson for coughing too much and I ended up standing outside the class room in what was effectively a covered walkway looking into an open courtyard as the ‘old block’ was built in the same shape as a cathedral cloister without the charm or antiquity. All along the walkways were various ne’er-do-wells, disobedient, insolent malcontents, chucked out of English or Maths or Geography or whatever for being rude or noisy or obstructive or disruptive. They were known faces, boys (mostly) whom you avoided at all costs because it was safer that way in case they thought you were ‘looking at them funny’. (Actually the girls were more frightening.) And then there was me, one of the swots chucked out of the Latin class for coughing. Mortifying. I was especially annoyed because we had got to an interesting part of the life of a fictional man called Caecillius (I think), the son of a freed man living in Pompeii just before it erupted and I missed it.

Perhaps the roots of this story go back that far. Perhaps they don’t. At heart, Murder Britannica is about a family and I’ve got one of a family. Mine is a lot more functional than the family in Murder Britannica perhaps, but Murder Britannica has, among other characters, a mother-in-law (tick), a rather dippy sister (tick), a couple of teenagers (double tick) and a gladiator (well OK I haven’t got one of those). What’s not to like?

Check it out. See what you think. Just don’t tell my Latin teachers.

MB Cover 7

Words and photograph (book cover created using Photoshop Elements, Natanael Game Cinzo font from Fontsquirrel and Image ‘Ancient Roman Mosaic of Young Woman’ courtesy of Dreamstime Neil Harrison ) copyright 2018 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the authors and material may not be copied without the authors’ express permission.

Click here to buy Murder Britannica