Back in January, I was pleased to be invited onto The Writer’s Mindset podcast to speak about writing cosy mystery (or cozy mystery, to my American friends). I also talked a lot about why and how I write what I write, and recommended some mystery books by other authors that I enjoy reading.
The podcast has just gone live, and as you’ll see if you watch it, I had a great time chatting with host Kristina Proffitt. The interview is topped and tailed by her co-host Ellie Betts, and I join them about six and a half minutes into the show.
Click the image below to watch it on YouTube, or via The Writer’s Mindset website here.
Although The Writer’s Mindset is aimed at writers rather than readers, I hope that whether you are a writer or a reader, you will enjoy listening to our conversation.
Approval from Australia
I was pleased to receive the following feedback from my author friend B M Allsopp in Australia, whose Fijian detective series I mention nine minutes into the show:
Your voice is much as I would have expected and your books are exactly as you intended. It’s probably rare for an author to have such accurate insight into her own work. Your exposition of the cosy genre was also absolutely clear and enjoyable.
You may remember BM Allsopp was the guest on my blog last year, when I ran a series of interviews with authors who write books set in different countries around the world:
By the way, do bear in mind that this interview was recorded back in January, and you’ll hear at one point that I say I’m not sure whether there will ever be a Sophie Sayers book 9. Well, I’ve changed my mind – and I’ll be telling you more about my new plans for Sophie and friends in a future post, very soon.
What do YOU like best about reading or writing cosy mysteries? I’d love to know!
Moving to Hawkesbury Upton has given me a much greater awareness of the changing seasons than when I lived and worked in towns and cities. Thirty years on, I’m still not over the novelty of having new-born lambs as near neighbours down my lane in the spring, or to hearing the birds sing with renewed vigour as the days lengthen.
Less predictable was the sudden appearance of a fox the other day in my secluded back garden, enclosed on all sides by the walls and high fences of my neighbours’ properties. I was sitting quietly reading in our back room, when a startling flash of orange out of the corner of my eye alerted me to the biggest and most beautiful fox I’ve ever seen. He was standing majestically on the outhouse roof, channelling his inner Monarch of the Glen, as in Landseer’s famous painting.
After a brief staring competition, he performed his own take on the old typing exercise renowned for using all the letters in the alphabet: the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog, substituting for the canine my little tabby and white cat, Bingo, sunning himself at the other end of the roof. Bingo only blinked as the fox darted down the lawn and out of sight.
What I’d really like to see next – though even less likely to be found in my garden – is a March hare.
Well, any old hare, really. I’ve seen lone hares loping across fields around the parish, or sitting up, meerkat-style, to get the lie of the land. But I’ve never seen them engaging in the fabled boxing activity associated with the month of March. I’d always assumed the boxing was between two male hares competing for supremacy. I’ve just discovered that it’s always between a mixed couple, the female fending off the advances of the male early in the mating season.
Not so with so-called boxing kangaroos, where two males fight for dominance, holding each other in place with their short front paws while inflicting serious injuries with their mighty clawed back feet.
Such agitation isn’t really madness in either creature, but the saying “mad as a March hare” dates back to the sixteenth century.
The image was further popularised by Lewis Carroll when he seated his Hare with the Hatter at the tea party in the crazy world of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. They also reappear in the sequel, Through the Looking Glass, as Haigha and Hatta, the King’s messengers.
In John Tenniel’s drawing, the Hare’s ears are strewn with straw, a Victorian symbol of insanity, while the Hatter’s madness is an occupational hazard of his profession. The mercury used by Victorian hatmakers in the felting process caused erethism, a neurological disorder commonly known as Mad Hatter Disease. Symptoms included behavioural changes such as difficulty handling social interactions, as Alice finds to her cost. As indeed does the Dormouse, whom, as Alice leaves the tea party, the Hare and the Hatter are trying to stuff into the teapot.
But for Hawkesbury hares, there’s good news: the hare’s mating season continues until September, so if they are troubled by March madness, their relationship issues should improve next month. Just so long as their sweethearts are not lured away in April by the arrival of the Easter Bunny bearing gifts…
This post first appeared in the March 2022 edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News
MORE SPRING READING
If you’re already looking forward to Easter, you might like to try my comedy murder mystery novel Springtime for Murder, which kicks off with a report of the Easter Bunny being left for dead in an open grave…
Or ask your local high street bookshop to order it for you, quoting ISBN 978-1911223344
SPECIAL OFFER: Free first in series from 10th-12th March
If you like ebooks and haven’t yet read Best Murder in Show, you might like to take advantage of a three-day special offer: download the ebook completely free from Amazon anywhere in the world from Thursday 10th-Saturday 12th March (US time).
On World Book Day yesterday I was pleased to be invited to take part in a special online eventrun by CoProduce Care, a not-for-profit organisation connecting people, communities and organisations to influence the decisions affecting the care community.
I’ve been involved for many years with World Book Day both as a parent and when I worked for the children’s reading charity Read for Good. Knowing how a love of books and reading can transform the lives of people of all ages, I was really pleased that CoProduce Care wanted to extend the celebration to adults also, and in particular to the providers and clients of social care services.
CoProduce Care’s event, expertly hosted by Sophie Chester-Glyn, was livestreamed on World Book Day and is now available to watch at your leisure. Click the image below to watch on Youtube:
I’m introduced six minutes into the show, but it’s worth watching the whole thing to enjoy the talks and readings by historical novelist and historian Lucienne Boyce and YA author Luke Palmer, and the Q&A session with Sophie.
About My Talk
I was asked to speak for ten minutes – five minutes talking about books and my writing life, and five minutes reading from one of my stories, choosing a passage relevant to CoProduce Care’s activities.
I don’t usually use a script for talks, but as time was so tight and I wanted to make best use of it, I wrote my talk down beforehand, and today I’m sharing it below in case anyone would like to read it.
Thank you very much. I’m very pleased to be part of this event celebrating the joy of books and reading and writing.
I’ve always been an avid reader, and I enjoy escaping into a good book. When times are tough, books can be especially comforting and even healing. When I had pneumonia a few years ago, the gift of a box set of P G Wodehouse novels seemed a better tonic than any medication. During the pandemic, starting each day by quietly enjoying a chapter or two of a good book has been grounding and calming.
If you’re not sure reading is for you, maybe you just haven’t found the right book yet. To help you find books you’ll love, visit your local library and have a chat with a librarian – they love being asked for recommendations, and they’ll be very pleased to help you find books that you would enjoy.
Like reading, writing has been very therapeutic for me in times of trouble or distress. For many years I kept diaries, and for the last twelve years I’ve been a blogger. I also enjoy writing fiction and non-fiction for other people to read.
Like reading, writing can be an enjoyable hobby that costs you next to nothing. If you’ve never tried writing, give it a go. Writing for your eyes only is fine – no need to share it unless you want to. All you need is a notebook and pen. Just write whatever comes into your head for ten minutes or so first thing in the morning or last thing at night. If you keep at it for a few weeks, you’ll find yourself writing what matters to you, and understanding and working through your own feelings. You may uncover thoughts and feelings you didn’t even know you had, and you’ll feel better for it. You might even find yourself writing stories you’d like to share, as Lucienne, Luke and I are sharing ours today.
I’ve written nine novels and lots of shorter stories. I write what is known in the trade as cosy mystery. This means that despite a crime being the jumping-off point for the plot, the stories are never dark or graphic or bloodthirsty. Instead they provide gentle, upbeat entertainment that leaves you smiling – and they often make you laugh out loud along the way. My stories are all set in the Cotswolds. They have a strong sense of place and a cast of quirky characters, most of whom are lovable, and the villains are the kind you love to hate.
My inspiration comes from my home village in the Cotswolds. When I moved here 30 years ago, I was immediately impressed by how people here look out for each other and support each other in good times and bad times, and I write to celebrate that sense of community. My stories show that when people take time to get to know and understand each other, the world can be a more tolerant and generous place. The conflict in my stories – and also some of the comedy – often comes from initial misunderstandings that are eventually resolved. I hope they might inspire readers to be equally caring about their own neighbours.
About My Reading
For my reading, I chose an extract from The Natter of Knitters, my quick-read novelette, about a yarnbombing event that goes haywire, thanks to the intervention of Ariel, an odd newcomer to the village, who stages a one-woman protest under the slogan:
There’s a reason the flurry of self-improvement articles published at the turn of the year fizzle out by February. Whatever resolutions you pledge on New Year’s Eve, by the end of January, life is likely to have got in the way, shattering your illusions of autonomy.
THIS YEAR’S EXCUSES
Diversions from my good intentions began even before Big Ben chimed in 2022. On the morning of 31 December, noticing inflammation in my jaw, I booked a GP appointment, not wanting to wait until the practice reopened on Tuesday 4 January.
Despite returning with antibiotics to treat a glandular infection, the left side of my face and left were soon reminiscent of Rudolph’s nose. For the first week of 2022, antibiotic-induced brain fog scuppered my New Year’s Resolutions, and I planned a fresh start in the second week of January.
UNINTENDED CONSQUENCES OF A TRIP TO IKEA
Then came a head injury from a close encounter with the sharp corner of my car boot, an unforeseen hazard of a trip to IKEA. Fortunately the damage proved superficial, but for the following week, pain and exhaustion put paid to vigorous movements and loud noises. No bellringing practice for me!
When metaphorically dining out on my mishaps in a private Facebook group of close friends, I was looking for laughs rather than sympathy, so I was taken aback when several chums remarked on my bad luck. A Pollyanna by nature, I’ve always thought I lead a charmed life and am grateful for every blessing.
I also think everything happens for a reason. Cancelling my social life while I recovered gave me more thinking and reading time than my hectic lifestyle normally allows. The regenerative power of lying fallow applies just as much to people as to fields.
The net result is that I abandoned my New Year’s Resolutions, instead adopting principles learned in two very different books I read during my recovery: time management guru Ryder Carroll’s The Bullet Journal Method and Vita Sackville-West’s novel All Passion Spent. (A testament to the healing power of books – more about that phenomenon In Other News below.)
Carroll suggests a great way to assess your life and your goals: write two versions of your own obituary, the first as if you lived the life according to others’ expectations and in the line of least resistance, and the second as if you took the road less travelled.
Sackville-West’s heroine only learns in her old age to be true to herself.
My new plan for 2022 is therefore to live the life I’d like to see in my obituary (although not just yet).
In the meantime, my sense of gratitude is intact. I am grateful for the NHS and for antibiotics, especially having discovered while awaiting an ambulance that before the age of antibiotics, bacterial infection was the chief cause of death in the developed world. I’m also thankful that IKEA’s cinnamon buns taste just as good even after a blow to the head.
I was thrilled to hear that this week’s BBC Radio 4 Appeal is in aid of the fabulous children’s reading charity Read for Good (known as Readathon while I worked there from 2010 until 2013).
Read for Good harnesses the tremendous power of books and reading to make children in hospital feel better – and their parents and carers too – by providing free books and professional storytellers to every children’s hospital in the UK. Hear what a difference their work makes to families all over the country by listening to this account by the mother of teenager William during his treatment for cancer:
Justine Daniels, Read for Good’s chief executive, explains further: “We all know the power of a good story, but in hospital, for children like William, this becomes magnified. Transporting children in hospital to imaginary worlds can help them process trauma and relieve anxiety, supporting their mental health and wellbeing at the most difficult time. This BBC appeal, and the support of National Book Tokens and the Booksellers Association will help us to continue to provide comfort and escape at a time and in a place where a little distraction goes such a long way.”
If you’d like to donate to help Read for Good provide more books and storytellers to children in hospital, you can do so now here: https://readforgood.org/radio-4-appeal/. Every donation, no matter how small, will help a poorly child escape into a story and bring joy and relief to their parents and carers.
New Charity Audiobook
You may remember that last autumn I contributed a short story, “Christmas Ginger“, to a new charity anthology called Everyday Kindness, edited by the bestselling thriller writer and philanthropist L J Ross, and published in hardback and ebook on World Kindness Day in November. Each of the 54 stories, all by different authors, were (no surprises here!) on the theme of kindness.
LJ Ross and her Dark Skies publishing company has now teamed up with audiobook specialist W F Howes to turn the anthology into an audiobook, which was launched yesterday. I was thrilled to learn that the narrator for my story is the wonderful British actress Celia Imrie.
The audiobook is now available to download and is currently topping the Audible chart of literary anthologies. Here’s the buying link: https://geni.us/EverydayKindness
Although I’ve never owned or even driven a Mini car, it seemed the perfect choice for the heroine of my recently-published novella, Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, in which an unusual loan car takes the heroine on a lifechanging journey.
Even prior to publication, as soon as I shared the wonderful cover design by Rachel Lawston, showing a purple Mini driving down a Cotswold lane, friends began to tell me how much they missed their Mini.
I couldn’t resist finding out more about the reason for their brand loyalty to the iconic little car. I was sure it must be different from Mrs Morris’s. I invited them to share their experience in a new series of guest posts, which began just before Christmas, with historical novelist Anita Davison. (Click here to read it if you missed it.)
My second guest is US author Amie McCracken, currently based in Germany. Like me, Amie enjoys a touch of magical realism. She is an editor, designer and author. Her latest novella is Leaning into the Abyss, set in the US and Mexico, which starts with the startling premise of Rhea’s fiancé falling off a cliff to his death on their wedding day.
The story of Amie and her Mini is less dramatic! Over to Amie to tell us all about it.
Hello, Amie! To start with, please tell us why and when you acquired your first Mini.
On Christmas Day 2013 in fact. I had been on the lookout for one and thought I would fly to the UK since they are cheaper there, but a friend found one near me in Germany that was pristine and I couldn’t pass it up.
How much did it cost and how much did you sell it for?
I bought it for 4,000 Euro in Germany and sold it in the US for 8,000 dollars.
They were never manufactured in the US, so they are a huge novelty.
And our buyer happened to be Austrian so she could read the German manuals and receipts!
How long did you keep it and why did you sell it?
I sold it in 2017 because it made sense. The plan had been to restore it, completely decked out in TARDIS style (the US plate we had on it said GALIFRY). I had even used it in a video announcement of my pregnancy and brought my son home from the hospital in it.
But we found an interested buyer and I knew it just wouldn’t work to bring the car back to Germany again. It was the right time, though I still miss her.
Please describe it in as much detail as you can remember.
A 1989 Mini Mark IV, none of that BMW crap. It had been repainted, so it was a glistening black. The interior was gray, and the driver’s seat dug into the middle of your back terribly. The heater never worked, so when it rained we had a sponge on the dash to wipe away the condensation. But the car ran when I needed it most. At least, most of the time.
Many Mini drivers seemed to feel compelled to name their Minis, as if they have a personality of their own. (Do they have a personality of their own?!) What was yours called?
Foxy. My plate in Stuttgart was FX 1989.
What is it about Minis that makes most owners feel so attached to them?
I think it comes down to the history.
They are a classic, and most classics come with the history of their entire model.
A Mustang is more than the metal and rubber it is made of, but is the smell of burning tires and speeding down a straight track.
A Mini is an everyday car that putts along with personality and carries a twinge of cheekiness.
I know mine liked to break down at the most inopportune moments, but when I was really in a pinch she stepped up and did the job.
What did you most love about your Mini?
I loved feeling so tiny yet safe. She handled like a Formula 1 car.
What drove you nuts about it?
But without the heater working rainy days and cold days were the absolute worst.
Where did your longest journey in your Mini take you?
The car moved with us across the ocean from Germany to the US.
But the most memorable trip was from Coburg to Berlin to catch a flight, stuck in European summer traffic, with plenty of time to spare and yet still needing to reach speeds beyond the 140 km/h the speedometer could read. We reached the airport with seconds to spare, but as we watched the plane board from the other side of the empty security line, and had the security officer tell us that digital tickets were not accepted, we gave up and got back in the Mini to drive home.
What was your most exciting trip?
What most surprised you about your Mini?
How well a car seat fit in the back!
Did you ever have any accidents or any scary trips in your Mini?
No. Even when we drove next to American semis and SUVs, I felt safe.
Who was your favourite/most interesting/most difficult passenger and why?
My son on all counts. He was never a fan of riding in the car when he was a baby, so it was always an adventure! Plus, trying to maneuver him into the back seat with a rear-facing infant car seat while he was asleep and without waking him—that was a true challenge. Part of the restoration plans involved adding a third door.
Was your Mini a one-off buy or did you stay brand loyal and buy more Minis later?
I have not bought more Minis, though I believe I will one day. Always the classic versions. Never a BMW.
What car do you drive now?
Now it’s a 1973 VW Type 2 camper! (Also called a Bulli here in Germany.)
What do you miss about your Mini?
The novelty of owning a fun and classic car.
What would be your dream car if money were no object?
A Koenigsegg. Or maybe a Lamborghini Diablo. I like to go fast. Which, admittedly, the Mini does not satisfy.
In Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, what did you think of her Mini and of her adventure?
I loved it. The Mini is certainly a magical car, and the perfect one to bring someone back to their roots. It is a mischievous car, one that I could see yanking a person out of their intended path to create a little bit of chaos and stir things up.
Thank you, Amie, for sharing your fond memories, anecdotes and photos of your beautiful Mini!
Leaning into the Abyss
by Amie McCracken
The world was in chaos around me. I sat in the eye of the storm, glass of water growing heavy in my hand, every now and then feeling a kiss on my cheek or the pat of a hand on my shoulder. Dad sat in his own separate world in the far corner, ensconced in his wingback chair, waiting for the rest of us to leave. His house was the closest to the hotel, and the largest, so we had convened here to understand what was going on.
“Rhea.” The drone of a voice burrowed through my headache and fog. “Rhea.” There was nothing to be done other than to sit here and let the planet circle the sun. “Rhea.” Phoebe’s voice broke through the barrier and clanged in my ear. I turned to face her. “The police are here. They want to speak with you and Andrew’s parents.”
“Please don’t leave me alone,” I whispered. I squeezed her hand with the force of a woman in labor. She still wore her navy bridesmaid’s dress, long and elegant and curving delicately over her hips. Her dark hair had fallen loose and she tucked a wisp behind her ear. I had not noticed before that her face was heart-shaped, giving her a child-like sweetness. My gaze darted in the direction of The Parents. They seemed to be enveloped in a whirlwind of anger and frustration and shame. It was blue and crackling, menacing, terrifying. I didn’t want to be swallowed by that.