The Gong Show

 

Morning, all!

What a weekend! I have a lovely Canadian friend who uses the phrase ‘gong show’ to describe chaotic situations – not necessarily bad ones – but frenetic all the same. It seems an apt description of my weekend, that’s for sure.

Firstly, we headed over the border into Scotland to visit my father-in-law on his 80th birthday. He’s a lovely man, who in his formative years was one of the sharpest, most generous people I’ve ever met. From the first, he welcomed me into his home with a healthy dollop of charm and an open heart, which I will never forget. I hope that, when my son brings someone special home to visit, I will do the same. Unfortunately, due to a long illness, my father-in-law is now suffering from dementia and is living in a care home. The carers do a fabulous job and we are extremely grateful to them for the kindness they show him. We broke our journey at my family’s home in Northumberland and then took a train along the east coast, past Lindisfarne, up to Edinburgh and beyond. It’s a scenic journey but a bit of a long one, which prevents us making the trip every week, as we would like to be able to do. It’s always bittersweet, but we had a wonderful time while we were there.

Secondly, an interesting phenomenon happened on Thursday night. I happened to look online and noticed that ‘Holy Island’ had been reduced in price and selected for inclusion on Amazon’s ‘Kindle Fever’ book promotion, which ran over the Bank Holiday weekend and continues until 10th or 11th May.

Well, I thought, that’s nice. Then, I carried on with my day.

Flash forward a few hours and I looked very much like the Doc in ‘Back to the Future’. Great Scott!

giphy

I never expected that my little book would make it to #1 on the Amazon UK Bestseller list. It was great to make it to the top of individual categories, which is all I could have dreamed of. As for anything else, I never imagined it would be possible. I have now developed a severe case of Imposter Syndrome. At any moment, I expect to receive an e-mail from Amazon saying, “Sorry, we made a mistake.”

For anyone reading this who decided to buy my book, I’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ for giving it a try. It has been said many times elsewhere and by authors across the world that you can’t hope to please everyone, but if reading ‘Holy Island’ has given you a few hours of decent entertainment then I have achieved my original goal.

Have a great day. x

All Stars Rule!!

Morning!

Well, blow me down with a feather, but it turns out I’m an ‘Amazon All Star!’

No, I haven’t decided to join a basketball team. I’m 5ft 3” and so, on every level, that would be ridiculous.

The ‘All Star’ tag is a bonus award scheme which Amazon runs on a monthly basis. There are two categories: book titles and authors. Those book titles and authors read most frequently on Amazon are awarded ‘All Star’ status, which is one of the few accolades that an e-book author can achieve.

The award is great and it’s something I never expected starting out, but most importantly, it tells me that there are a lot of you lovely people out there reading  and (hopefully) enjoying it. The title has been more-or-less permanently ranked as #1 in the ‘Cozy Mystery’ category since it was released in January and has been climbing the ‘Romantic Suspense’ category steadily over the weeks until it peaked at #8 this week. It’s still climbing, so watch this space! I’m competing against a fair amount of books which feature naked male torsos on their covers…

I want to say a big ‘thank you’ to everyone who invested their pennies in buying the book and I hope that you have found it to be an entertaining read. I’ve been very lucky in the reviews online, for which I am also grateful. As with anything in life, you can’t please absolutely everyone (there will always be a crazy minority who don’t enjoy my particular brand of Hot Fuzz crime, but we don’t talk about them!) So long as the majority are happy, that’s good enough for me.

I think that writing can breed a certain amount of self-consciousness, which is natural. After all, you’re investing a lot of time and energy in a project which is very subjective in nature. Then, you voluntarily open yourself up to the criticism of internet trolls, disgruntled former friends, the mean kids from back in the day and not forgetting the general population. The world of publishing today is much more ‘digital’ in nature and writers need to be aware of this and ask themselves if they can hack it. It takes confidence, which can be a rare commodity.

As with any new aspiring author, I naturally turned to traditional publishers first, in my quest to get out into the big wide world. When the offer letter and contract finally did come through the mail, I was ecstatic…right until I looked at the terms. You can’t blame them, really. I was an untried, new author. Why did I think they would offer me decent terms?

It was Mr Ross who suggested that I think outside the box and look into publishing an e-book.

What? You mean, do it ourselves? That’s crazy talk, I said.

It’s the future, he said, don’t be stubborn, he said.

Turns out that, as with far too many things for my liking, he might be right. Traditional publishers today will struggle to back new authors when they are competing with the likes of Amazon. Yet, I think that the existence of the Amazon-type platform will make reading much more accessible to so many people that I can’t bring myself to think of it as a negative.

In short, I’m very pleased that I took the plunge and would encourage any aspiring new authors out there to give it a go. The world loves to read and I, for one, am always looking for new voices to enjoy.

Bye for now!

x

The Coffee Shop Tour: Eshott Hall

  

Happy Easter, to those of the religious persuasion amongst you! 

Today, I’m cheating a bit. Rather than patronising a coffee shop I’m enjoying my caffeine fix at beautiful Eshott Hall in Northumberland. It’s full of cosy charm and faded grandeur, surrounded by trees and pretty parkland. We’re here for a weekend getaway to celebrate Mr Ross’s birthday and it’s a lovely retreat.

Nowadays, I’m never without my laptop and so it is also an ideal opportunity to take an hour here and there to write a bit more about the murderous goings-on at the setting of my new book, Sycamore Gap. They’ve found a body in the cavity of Hadrian’s Wall and, let me tell you, it’s not some old Roman centurion…

The village of Eshott could also provide a bit of inspiration for future works, given my predilection for small, close-knit village scenes which mask a seething underbelly of crime. As on Holy Island, all is serene and quiet, but I find myself wondering: what lies hidden? 

It’s funny, isn’t it, how appearances can be deceptive. For example, I was sitting reading a book by Rachel Abbot earlier in the day (Sleep Tight, it was called, and very engaging it was too) while an old couple sat nearby. At first glance, I thought they looked harmless and kind, like the perfect grandparents. Only after they had spent forty-five minutes bitching about their schadenfreude Doreen (“with the sizeable arse”), their daughter-in-law Mary (“who can’t cook for toffee”) and generally slated all those of their intimate acquaintance was I forced to admit that my initial assessment had clearly been way off base!

We’re all guilty of making value judgements, though. The kind of flash opinions based on another person’s looks, clothing, social status and, for some, the colour of their skin. It’s a tendency which has long tentacles. What about in the work place? Or, in the destruction of families or friendships? It’s food for thought. 

‘Night, all. 

X

The Coffee Shop Tour: Bar Azita

 

Welcome back, caffeine lovers! 

Yesterday, I managed to escape the confines of my house (where I have been nursing my son, who’s been ill for the past week) for an hour’s respite. I decided to grab the laptop and hotfoot it to Bar Azita for some daytime tapas and an Americano. It’s a cheerful family-run place in the centre of Harpenden, Hertfordshire. The staff are friendly, the food is great and the coffee is… Well, OK, it’s kinda average but it does the job. 

The atmosphere in this little place makes up for any coffee deficiency, since it’s airy and upbeat. It’s usually packed out seven nights a week thanks to the food and the excellent cocktail menu, but it also makes for a writer’s haven during the day. 

Sadly, after my research into forensic entomology, I wasn’t able to do justice to their aubergine and hummus, but such is life. I’ve been polishing the first few chapters of Sycamore Gap and this new adventure in the life of DCI Ryan will require more of a scientific outlook. 

For those who may be interested, Sycamore Gap is the name given to a particular part of Hadrian’s Wall, in Northumberland. As the name suggests, there is a large, iconic sycamore tree nestled in the u-dip of the landscape. (Put another way, it’s the tree that Kevin Costner sat under while he was dressed up as Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves). It’s a striking part of the landscape up there, old and beautiful. Here’s a link, if you ever fancy a visit: Hadrian’s Wall.

 

Let’s catch up…

My 18-month-old son was teething over the past week or so and although I won’t bore those of the non-parental persuasion with the details, suffice to say that this Mamma hasn’t been getting much sleep. That being the case, World Book Day and International Women’s Day were on my radar, but didn’t get quite the attention they deserved.

Let’s catch up!

World Book Day

As you may have guessed, I love books. I always have. Books of all genres, shapes and sizes. I like some of the heavy stuff, but I don’t turn my nose up at a good holiday read, either. Any writer who is able to transport me into their story, regardless of where I am or the kind of day I have had, is worthy of applause. In a world where the literacy rates, even in the developed world, aren’t what they should be (100%, in case there was doubt) then I think it is foolish to get finicky about the type of reading that people choose to do in their free time. Any reading is good reading.

That said, I do have some favourites…

 

Classic children’s story

J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit or indeed its prequel The Silmarillion and sequels The Lord of the Rings were utterly and completely absorbing to me as a child. I know that fantasy books containing weird short people with hairy feet aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but, for me, Tolkien unlocked the door to a world of imagination.

Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty is another classic. Ostensibly following the lifespan of the horse, it is a moving portrayal of socio-economic hardship and human nature, beautifully depicted.

Adult classic

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is a long-time favourite of mine. For quite a short book, it packs a solid punch, covering social conditions and developing romance without the twee-ness of Austen (sorry, Austen lovers).

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is a wonderfully dark love story. I mean, the man has an insane wife locked in his attic. He’s older. He’s brooding. He’s Mr Rochester. Need I say more?

Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo is a brilliant adventure. Actually, I enjoyed The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask, by the same author, but at a push this one comes out on top. It has a bit of everything: suspense, jealousy, intrigue, revenge, deceit, love… The metamorphosis of Edmond Dantes into the Count of Monte Cristo is a timeless story.

Favourite all-round story

This is very difficult, not least given some of the contenders above. It comes down to the book which really swept me away aged eleven, listening to Michael Jackson on my Walkman while I read it (yes, back in the days of the cassette tape). That story is The Far Pavilions, by M.M. Kaye. Set in the last days of the Raj, it is an epic tale of love and adventure, but also of the fundamental nature of identity. Her descriptive passages are breathtaking; whenever I read it, I feel that I am truly stepping into India, that I can see it and feel it and smell it. The passages are incredibly authentic, too, given the fact that Kaye spoke many of the varied Indian dialects and could therefore infuse her work with an accuracy which might otherwise have eluded her. Completely absorbing, but a commitment to read at nearly 1000 pages.

Other game-changers

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is an eye-opening tale of murder, told from the perspective of the perpetrator. It is a fantastic portrayal of the psychology and forces which might compel a person to kill, set against a backdrop of impoverished Russia. I am a big fan of Russian literature, in general, but this is one of my favourites.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, tells the story of Winston Smith, a civil servant tasked with perpetuating the propaganda of the regime by falsifying records and literature so that it appears that the government is always right. He begins a revolt, which ultimately leads to his arrest, torture and conversion. I won’t spoil this dystopian classic for those who haven’t yet read it, but there is a scene involving rats which will stay with me for a long, long time…

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The main themes are racial injustice, loss of innocence and courage and compassion in the face of both of those struggles. The film, with Gregory Peck in the role of Atticus Finch, is also one of my favourite movies, although make sure you have tissues to hand.

Great bath-time reads, accompanied by a glass of wine and some chocolate

Alright, so the following might be what they call ‘chick-lit’, but you know what? It’s GREAT chick-lit!

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. Oh, come on, you know you love it! What’s not to love in reading about the ups and downs of a hapless British thirty-something with a crush on Mr Darcy?

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. Lovely bittersweet romance telling the tale of Noah and Allie, who fell passionately in love one summer but, owing to her parents’ disapproval, separated for 14 years. They meet again, on the cusp of her marrying another man, but realise that despite their differences they are meant to be together. The narrator pauses in telling the story to explain that he is reading to his wife, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease and that he is also chronically ill. It becomes clear that they are Noah and Allie, but he has changed the names in the story to protect her. Heart-wrenching stuff!

And finally…

Any crime fiction (I mean that, I’ll read most crime novels out of curiosity alone) and anything by Nora Roberts. I am unrepentant about this: Nora is bloody brilliant at what she does and what a businesswoman, she is, too. I’ve had many enjoyable hours reading books like The Reef and Public Secrets, so go forth and discover this New York Times bestselling author, if you haven’t already.

International Women’s Day (IWD)

I appreciate the need for an annual day to celebrate women and push for those causes which affect women the most, whether domestically or abroad, but part of me is always a little sad that we need such a reminder. It is a reminder that there is still so much work to do, even in a developed country such as the United Kingdom. It saddens me that there are women who have suffered terrible injustice, abuse and ridicule on a wide-ranging scale, whether it be sexism at work, inadequate maternity services, unequal pay, domestic violence or otherwise. I mourn the fact that there are young girls who feel their best aspiration in life is to become part of a reality TV show, rather than taking their rightful place in careers better suited to their individual skills or intelligence. I’m not saying that everybody needs, or wants, to be bankers and doctors and lawyers, but if they do, the opportunities should be there on an equal basis.

IWD reminds me that, due to an accident of birth, I was born into a family which was loving and supportive, with a strong female role model who would definitely not have tolerated casual sexism either at work or at home. I learned from that and am equally intolerant of the peculiar blend of indulgent condescension that some men harbour towards women. Not all men, I hasten to add, but there is a definite undercurrent in our society which fosters an assumption in some men that they are the superior sex.

Sad, I know. Delusional? Definitely.

The way I see it, gender differences are a good thing and we shouldn’t need to ascribe to some ready-made idea of what is ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. If my son wants to be a male ballerina, I won’t so much as blink an eyelid, except to ask him what colour leotard I need to buy him. Likewise, there’s no need for a woman to adopt masculine attributes in order to be accepted and successful in the workplace, or at least there shouldn’t be a need for it. Femininity is strength. It should not be a war between the sexes, just an acceptance that we are on an equal playing field where the attributes of both genders are appreciated in equal measure.

Above all else, we are more than our gender. We are individual, every one of us.

I could write and write about this topic, but that’s enough for now. You get the general gist.

Now, I’m off to think about murder and mayhem…

‘Til next time

x

NYC and Coupled Smugness…

It’s been a busy start to the New Year and I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly shocked at the idea of it being mid-February already. How did that happen?

If you’re anything like me, you will have made numerous promises to yourself to take it easy and enjoy quiet time, following which you will have ignored these statements entirely and proceeded to run around like a headless chicken trying to be all things to all people at all times. The up-side is that I’ve enjoyed some pretty decent nights out culminating in what can only be described as a decadent, ‘party like it’s 1999’, alcohol-fuelled whirlwind trip to NYC last week with some of our oldest friends. In my defence, this particular brand of guilt-free hedonism was long overdue following a period of hard work and intense parenting as my son enters the dreaded ‘terrible twos’ phase of his young life. My birthday was the perfect opportunity for his doting grandparents to step in and give his long-suffering mum and dad a chance to remember what a full night’s sleep feels like, in a fancy hotel, followed by breakfast mimosas and a wander through Central Park, amongst other things…

Central Park on a wintry Sunday morning

Central Park on a wintry Sunday morning

So, here we are again, refreshed, recharged and ready to hit the ground running. Next on the annual calendar of Hallmark events is obviously Valentine’s Day tomorrow. What do people think about this, I ask myself? Firstly, this has to be one of the most obvious times in which hypocrisy can be liberally applied depending on one’s own circumstances. Being happily married and in a long-term relationship with Mr Ross for the past ten years, I am the perfect example of what I like to call ‘coupled smugness’ which means that we can snub our noses at Valentine’s Day and tell ourselves obnoxious things, including but not limited to:

  • “Every day is Valentine’s Day with you, darling!”
  • “No amount of cards, sonnets or flowers could adequately express my undying devotion to you, my love!”
  • “Every day I love you more and more!”

Et cetera, et cetera… any of the above can be punctuated with Spandeau Ballet’s seminal work, True, for added effect.

In reality, whilst the underlying sentiment may indeed be true of all the above (haha…aha ha) in reality it is the little things which make all the difference to everyday happiness. Good communication; doing a crappy job for the other person when you know they hate doing it themselves; changing stinky nappies when the other person looks like they’re ready to expire from the last one…the list is endless. Still, if the mood strikes you, Valentine’s Day is a good reminder to take the opportunity and tell your better half all the nice things you usually forget to say.

Now, for the other side of the fence. Calling all singles out there! How incredibly annoying is Valentine’s Day? Every shop window plastered in red hearts, every restaurant hiking up their prices and every table at that restaurant taken up by smarmy couples mooning over each other. Nauseating, simply nauseating. I’m pretty sure that I ranted – at length – about Valentine’s Day being a pointless date on the calendar designed to fuel card sales for large companies wishing to profit from people’s gullibility when I was single. That is all still true! Rock on, my single friends! The amount of pressure that such a splashy event places on people to conform to the rest of society and find someone – anyone – by Valentine’s, just so that you can sit and eat pasta with them and not feel left out is ridiculous. Real and lasting happiness with another person doesn’t depend on some man-made date, or indeed any deadline. Equally, personal happiness is not dependent on being with another person. There’s a certain satisfaction to be found in the knowledge that you went it alone and didn’t settle for, or stay in, a relationship which wouldn’t make you happy. See my previous post on calculated change: the same applies here. When you find the right person, it’s fantastic, but if you never find, or haven’t yet found the right person but are happy in your own skin, that’s fantastic too.

This can now be followed up by Chaka Khan’s inimitable work, I’m Every Woman.

Til next time….

x