In my column for the April issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I wrote about this old adage for writers.
Common advice to authors is that when writing fiction, it’s best to write what you know. This is to add authenticity and to avoid errors. The only trouble with that advice comes when an author’s friends and relations assume that certain characters are based on themselves.
That’s why smart fiction publishers always print a disclaimer (“any semblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental”), although the author’s friends and relations may easily retort “Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you?”
So I’d like to take this opportunity to assure you all that no-one in Wendlebury Barrow, the fictitious village in which my new novel Best Murder in Show is set, is based on any real person, living or dead, in Hawkesbury Upton (or elsewhere, for that matter).
And although the two villages have plenty of features in common – annual show, shop, pub, school, drama group, writers’ group, WI – only one of them has a resident murderer.
Fortunately, that’s Wendlebury Barrow, not Hawkesbury Upton. Phew.
Best Murder in Show is now available from Amazon as an ebook and a paperback, although its official launch will be at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on Saturday 22nd April at 10am in the Bethesda Chapel, to which you are all invited.
After that, copies will also be available from the Hawkesbury Stores. That is, if the staff still want to stock it after they’ve read Chapter 4 about the eccentric village shopkeeper…
The special Festival price for the paperback is £4.99, rising to the RRP of £7.99 from 1st May – so get in quick to save yourself £3!
How I named the leading man in Best Murder in Show
Last week I explained how I chose the name for the heroine of Best Murder in Show, the first of my new Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series, and this week, just three days before the ebook launches (paperback to follow three weeks later), I’m going to reveal how the leading man, Hector Munro, got his name.
Hector Munro is the proprietor of the village bookshop, Hector’s House. Those of a certain age will recognise the name Hector’s House, which was a 1970s children’s television puppet show, featuring a dog called Hector whose catchphrase was variations on this theme: “I’m a great big lovable old Hector”. It was the kind of show that warmed the heart of adults and children alike in the tea-time slot in my childhood, when the Magic Roundabout was taking a break. (You can sample it on YouTube here.)
The name for the bookshop has been forced onto Hector by the benefactor who co-financed its launch, but the name Hector is well and truly his own, chosen by his antique dealer parents who have a passion for the classics.
Though of course it was actually chosen by me, because I wanted something unusual. I don’t know any real-life Hectors, although I’ve since heard of an acquaintance coincidentally christening her baby with that name. My Hector is a creative, unconventional type, who thinks outside the box and is not afraid to do what he wants to do.
…and Why Munro
The name Munro came to me in a flash as a comfortable surname, partly because my Scottish husband is what’s known as a Munro bagger. Munro baggers are hillwalkers who set themselves the challenge of climbing all the Munros – 280+ Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet – which means Scotland’s highest mountains.
How did the mountains get their name? They were named in honour of the first man to map them all, a certain Hugo Munro.
Ever since I’ve known my husband, resident in England throughout his adult life, and so very far from the nearest Munro, he has been pursuing his goal of bagging them all. We spend many summer holidays touring Scotland in our camper van, seeking out the next mountain on his list. My daughter and I drop him at his starting point, then go off to do touristy things before picking him up post-conquest. This year it looks as if he’s going to complete the final Munro.
Therefore in my mind the name Munro is a symbol of challenge, determination and achievement, and also a certain rugged, wiry manliness, without being too obvious. The word Munro is like a code, as any Munro bagger will understand.
Putting Them Both Together
Putting the two together, I liked the way that Hector Munro tripped off the tongue. I also thought it memorable. But so much for my memory, because I didn’t realise until long after I’d established my character why I’d taken to the name so much. Picking up a copy of a book by one of my favourite short story writers, I was reminded that Saki‘s real name was Hector Hugh Munro.
As if that wasn’t enough, I also realised a little while later that the surname of the proprietor of my nearest independent bookshop is also associated with mountains, or at least large hills: The Corbetts are the next highest hills in Scotland after the Munros. Hereward Corbett, is proprietor of the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop (branches in Tetbury and Nailsworth). Whether Hereward’s parents had anything to with mountaineering, I do not know.
Next in the Scottish mountain pecking order are the Grahams and the Donalds. By chance, the landlord of the local pub in the Sophie Sayers series is called Donald, but I haven’t introduced a Graham yet. I think he’d better come into one of the sequels – I don’t want the Grahams feeling left out.
Hector Munro: His Own Person
But let’s be clear about this: Hector Munro is not based on any of his namesakes in any way. All the characters, settings and situtations are entirely fictional, as in any novel. My Hector Munro is a man unto himself, one not easily tamed or fathomed, as you will see when you read the series and follow how his character develops. To whet your appetite for what’s to come, here’s the scene where Sophie first meets him in Chapter 5 of Best Murder in Show, when she’s seeking a job in his bookshop…
Extract of BEST MURDER IN SHOW
“Hello, can you tell me where Hector is, please? Carol in the village shop told me that he needs help.”
“You can say that again,” came a familiar voice from the back corner. Arranged around three circular tin tables were a dozen old-fashioned folding garden chairs, one of them occupied by Billy, the non-cerebral stout-drinker from the day before. Despite the aspersions he’d cast on Hector’s tea, he was enthusiastically working his way through a large pot of the stuff.
A lean olive-skinned man in his early thirties was leaning on the main shop counter with his arms folded, longish dark curls flopping forward to cover his high forehead.
“I can. But should I?”
Confused, I glanced across at Billy for a clue. That was a mistake.
“She’ll be asking to see your buns next, Hector.”
“Thank you, Billy, if I need your advice, I’ll ask for it.”
The man at the counter unfolded his arms and pointed one finger at his chest. “He’s here. I’m Hector. Thank you for brightening my bookshop with your presence. I don’t believe we’ve met before?”
Despite Hector’s parents having only recently retired, I’d been picturing someone only marginally less aged than himself. After all, when you’re eighty-six, most people qualify as younger. Perhaps it was the archaic name that threw me. Hectors should be wrinkly grey-haired curmudgeons in cardigans, not gorgeous, enigmatic Greek gods.
Hector held out a warm, soft hand for me to shake, before coming out from behind the counter to stand alongside me. “But the more pressing question for me is, how can I help you? No, don’t tell me, I’ve got just the book for you.”
He strode over to the fiction section, plucked a paperback from among the Gs and presented it to me, deadpan.
“Here we are: Travels with my Aunt, by Graham Greene.”
Billy guffawed. “Point to you, young Hector!”
I gasped. “How did you know who I was? Did you recognise her skirt?”
I’d put on a long mulberry velvet one from my aunt’s wardrobe to try to look cultured.
“Have you looked in the mirror lately?” replied Hector. “You are obviously related to May Sayers. Billy tells me that you’re living in May’s cottage.”
“Actually, my name’s on the deeds now. My great aunt left the cottage to me.”
“You’ll have to wait about twenty years before people round here call it your cottage. Your name being…?”
“Sophie. Sophie Sayers. Sayers, same as my aunt.”
“Yes, you certainly are,” put in Billy, who clearly considered himself part of our conversation. “Don’t let old Joshua see you looking like that, whatever you do. It’ll be too much for him. We’ll be carrying him off to the graveyard to lie alongside her, if you’re not careful.”
Hector shot him a withering look. “Billy, really! Drink your tea or I’ll take it away.”
That shut him up. He must have needed the tea to sober him up after his early start on the stout the previous afternoon.
In the ensuing silence, I noticed for the first time the music that was playing softly in the background: Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Great Auntie May had long ago taught me to love this classic album from the 70s. It’s not something you hear much in public these days.
Hector’s smile had a hint of smugness about it. “Your tune? Your Auntie May always loved it, so I thought you might too.”
“What? Did you see me coming and put it on specially?”
We both listened appreciatively for a moment to the music’s gentle meanderings, while he set the Graham Greene book on the counter, facing me, presumably as a hint. But I wasn’t so easily hoodwinked by his charm into buying a book I neither wanted nor needed. May’s house was stuffed with books.
I pulled myself together, remembering the serious and pressing intent of my visit. If I wasn’t able to get a job here, I’d have to look further afield, and soon.
“So, as I was saying, Carol Barker said you were looking for an assistant. And Joshua Hampton, next door to me, encouraged me to apply. So please may I have an application form?”
Hector patted his pockets as if searching. “Sorry, I seem to be fresh out of them. Bit of a run on applications this morning. How about an application cup of tea instead?”
He gestured to the tearoom. I chose the table furthest from Billy.
“So, tea?” offered Hector, sitting down opposite me. “Not you, Billy, you’ve had enough for one morning.”
Behind me, Billy drained his cup noisily, and scraped his chair across the old oak floorboards. “No matter, I’ll be heading off to The Bluebird for my dinner soon.”
“But it’s only eleven o’clock.” I wondered what scenic route he’d be taking to the village pub, a few hundred yards away, to make his journey last till evening.
“That’s The Bluebird’s opening time. I has a ploughman’s lunch up there for my dinner midday every Tuesday. Washed down with a nice pint of old Donald’s special. Good luck with your interview, girlie.”
He rolled the word interview around his mouth like a euphemism for some lascivious delight.
The shop door jangled to allow Billy’s exit as Hector set down a loaded tea tray on the table between us. The crockery was decorated with the titles of classic novels in old-fashioned typewriter fonts. He’d given me Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and himself Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale. The teapot was branded Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford.
Will Sophie get the job? Will she discover the secret that enables Hector’s House to keep his business solvent? (A bookshop in a tiny Cotswold village – really?) You’ll have to read the book to find out!
A post about the heroine of my debut novel,Best Murder in Show
New novel, I hear you cry? Yes, my new novel! Due to launch officially in paperback on Saturday 22nd April at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, Best Murder in Show is already available to pre-order as a Kindle ebook via Amazon. (Click here to find it on Amazon UK and here for Amazon US.)
It’s the first in a series of seven classic mystery stories set in the Cotswolds in the modern day, in a village not unlike the one where I’ve lived for the last 26 years.
Of course, as it’s fiction, any resemblance to real people, places or situations is entirely coincidental, although I confidently expect at least one of my neighbours will stop me in the street claiming to be X, Y or Z in the story.
As long as they’re not claiming to be the murderer, I think I can handle that.
To whet your appetite between now and the official launch, I’ll be writing a series of posts about different aspects of the book.
How I Named My Heroine
Today I’m going to tell you how I chose the name of the heroine, Sophie Sayers, who at the age of 25 inherits a country cottage from her great aunt. This legacy provides her with the perfect opportunity to ditch her sponging, controlling boyfriend, and instead to reinvent herself as a writer.
Only problem is, she’s not sure what to write or where to start.
In the meantime, although she’s able to live rent-free, she still has to earn her keep, so she secures a job in the village bookshop,where the charming but enigmatic bookseller Hector Munro takes her under his wing. (More about his name in a future post.)
Before long, Sophie is sucked into the busy social life of the village community, seeking to solve a murder mystery that everyone else assumes to be death from natural causes. She’s hoping that the handsome Hector will not turn out to be the murderer, but he’s definitely hiding something suspicious…
So Why Sophie Sayers?
Firstly, I’ve always liked the name Sophie, and at one time was holding it in reserve for a daughter, should I ever have one.
I did indeed eventuallly have a daughter in 2003, but I decided some weeks before she was born that she was actually a Laura. I still loved the name Sophie, not least because there’d been one in my family a few generations back, so post-Laura I decided to save Sophie for my next cat.
But my next cat, who arrived as a stray in a snowstorm on the same day as my aunt’s postcard of the red shoes from The Wizard of Oz, turned out to be a Dorothy.
She settled in straight away and has been here ever since, our Cotswold cottage apparently being her equivalent to Kansas: “there’s no place like home”.
A few years later, when I started writing the first in a planned series of mystery novels, I wanted to pay tribute to one of my own favourite detective story writers, Dorothy L Sayers, author of the wonderful Lord Peter Wimsey series. (I’d always assumed this was what M C Beaton had done when echoing Agatha Christie in her Agatha Raisin detective stories. and I’m now kicking myself for not asking her on the two occasions when I have been lucky enough to meet her.)
But I couldn’t call my heroine Dorothy, because the cat had nabbed that name.
So Sayers it had to be – and Sophie, retrieved from the backburner, provided a pleasingly alliterative match. The similarity between Sophie and her namesake end there. The title of Dorothy L Sayers’ biography hints at the author’s uncompromising approach to life, but Sophie is eager to fit in with others – often too eager, as is sometimes her downfall.
I’m glad to have found a worthy bearer of one of my favourite names at last, while also offering homage to one of my many influences (as indeed is M C Beaton, as testified by my bookshelf).
If you’d like to order the ebook of Sophie Sayers’ first adventure, Best Murder in Show, you’ll find it on Amazon UKand on Amazon US, and in fact on all the other Amazon sites around the world.
Worn down by a bleak and hostile environment filled with threats, this month I turned to an old friend for comfort. No, I’m not talking about our current political climate, but about the final episode of the television series Sherlock.
Holmes regenerates in different guises more frequently than Dr Who, with over 200 films listed by IMDB. Although I loved the earlier episodes of the Cumberbatch incarnation, the finale left me cold. It was as if the cast had taken a wrong turning and ended up on the set of a James Bond villain’s lair. I craved the cosy retreat that is the centre of the world for the original Holmes and Watson: 221b Baker Street.
221b or Not 221b?
What a stroke of genius it was for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to add the “b” to that address. With a single letter, he suggests the quirky subversiveness of a hero who makes up his own rules and isn’t afraid to stand up against the establishment – a true hero then and now.
These days the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street claims that door number as its own, but it’s actually just a plaque on the wall. The address is and always was fictitious, a Narnian wardrobe that many have sought but never found.
In times of trouble, whether personal, national or international, fictional characters and places can offer as much consolation as real ones, and often more. Sinking recently into the opening pages of Holmes’ first adventure, A Study in Scarlet, which I’d nominated as the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club’s February Book of the Month, was like stepping into a hot bubble bath after running through a thunderstorm with neither raincoat nor umbrella. Elegant prose, cracking storytelling and engaging characters lured me into a world where there may still have been crime and hatred, but where there’s also the inevitability of resolution and the triumph of good over evil.
A Story for Our Times
Subtle moral lessons are woven in along the way. I’d forgotten that one of the themes of A Study in Scarlet is religious tolerance, the crime revolving around questionable acts by Mormons in nineteenth-century Utah. Over a century after publication, it’s a story still relevant to our times.
So if you’re troubled by the state of the world in 2017, Dr Watson would surely prescribe spending time in the company of the original “consulting detective”, Sherlock Holmes, as he first emerged from the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Though you may feel, as I do, that if Benedict Cumberbatch appeared up on your doorstep, you wouldn’t turn him away. Alternative medicine, perhaps?
What’s your favourite comfort reading? I’d love to know!
Find more comfort in books and reading when you come along to the FREE Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on Saturday 22nd April 2017 in the delightful Cotswold village that I call home. I’m looking forward to unveiling my own mystery series there, Best Murder in Show. Come and join the fun!
An insight into cover creation for my books
plus the chance to download 12 free ebooks,
one of which is my short story collection Marry in Haste
The things that excite authors are not always the most obvious. Today for me it’s the imminent arrival of a package containing the wedding topper figurine featured on the cover of my short story collection, Marry in Haste.
To create the cover design I used a stock photo, which for me summed up the tone and attitude of both the title of the book and the tone of the stories in the collection:
proceed with caution
I loved the way the bride is apparently having second thoughts about tying the knot, leaning back from her husband’s over-enthusiastic embrace.
Wanting to freshen up the cover with a slight redesign of the typography, I discovered the proportions of the original image were too restrictive for what I wanted to do, and I wished I had the original statuette so that I could take my own photo.
Money for Old Rope
Then I remembered a conversation with my ever-entertaining hairdresser Tasha in which we established that you could find anything on ebay – she regaled me on how she’d won a bet that you could get “money for old rope” on ebay by finding lots of “old rope” for sale.
I’d pursued this avenue once before, buying a handful of vintage metal toy soldiers for the cover of my single-story ebook, The War of the Peek Freans Light Wounded, about a child at the start of the Second World War. They’ve lived on my desk ever since, alongside three small plastic gold Daleks and dwarfed by a three-inch-high Snowy dog from Tintin. I’m still awaiting the inspiration to bring them together in a story.
Ten minutes later, I’d found not only the precise statuette featured in the original photo, but also a companion piece to use for the cover of my planned sequel, inevitably entitled Repent at Leisure. I’m not ruling out a Happy Ever After to turn this into a trilogy in due course.
We Meet At Last!
I can’t wait to get my parcel and meet what seem like old friends to me now. It’ll be the equivalent of seeing Facebook friends in reali life for the first time, from all angles, in three dimensions, and finding out how tall they are.
It beats me, though, how anyone could want one of these less than enthusiastic plastic couples on their wedding cake. Neither of them look like the ideal representative of a happy couple.
A Model Couple?
The one on my wedding cake was nothing like either of these, having been handmade for me by my talented friend and wedding witness Jane at her pottery class. She’d been with me when we bought my dark green wedding dress, and I’d described my husband’s tartan to her, but his hat was a figment of her imagination. She also didn’t foresee the motorbike, on which he arrived at the Register Office, kilt flying as he tore down Chipping Sodbury’s high street. Nor did I.
We are still married, approaching our fifteenth anniversary, although the motorbike is long gone. (“It did the trick,” he told me later when about to dispose of it. “It got me the girl.”) I’m not sure I’d hold out much hope of the longevity of either of my little plastic statuette couples. I’m also now trying to erase mental pictures of Melania Trump leaning away from her husband’s embrace…
FREE EBOOKS – Marry in Haste plus 11 more!
If you’d like a free ebook of “Marry in Haste”, you’ve got till the end of today (Tuesday 28th February 2017) to download it via this offer, along with 11 other free books by some of my author friends.
WHERE TO BUY
It’s also always available to buy from the usual places – order from your favourite local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1911223016, from ebook retailers, or order from Amazon.