Saturday, 22 November 2014

THE PINK SOFA meets Carol Anne Hunter

The Very Late Carol Anne Hunter – Writer?

Every now and then,The Pink Sofa falls in love with one of its guests. Carol Anne is its latest crush. I met Carol Anne when Crooked Cat asked me to advise her as she entered the tricky land of Social Media. Carol Anne is a whirlwind of fun mixed with compassion and a HUGE writing talent. The smitten Pink Sofa is reading 'Project Me' at the moment, and wishes you all to know that it is THE Go-to book this Christmas (stuff my new book - but that's furniture for you). In honour of Carol Anne's visit, there are bowls of mincemeant ice cream and chocolate cupcakes on the coffee table. Go Carol Anne ....

The Very Late Carol Anne Hunter – Writer?
If you ask me what I do, I’ll say I’m retired, or a carer, or I work part-time behind a bar. I never say I’m a writer, although it’s all I want to do, it just feels too grandiose to be me. Or maybe it has something to do with the time it took me to write my first book and see it published – six years all in, although I wasn’t writing full-time and there were long spells where I didn’t touch the manuscript at all. But I always came back to it and I knew I couldn’t let it fester in a drawer. It also has to do with my disbelief at being published at age sixty. 

The term ‘late starter’ should be my mantra. So should ‘endurance’. I don’t mind telling you that Crooked Cat offered me a contract from the book’s fourteenth submission. I comfort myself with the thought that much better writers than me also braved this test of self-belief. Dedication is the name of the writing game; persistence is its publishing partner.
Carol's latest novel
Twenty-seven years of working with Jobcentre Plus (DHSS as was) gave me lots of writing fodder, which was often less to do with the behaviour of our public and more to do with the characters amongst our staff. The men at the golf club are a great source of banter, too, especially when they’ve quaffed a glass or two.

 I also hail from a huge extended family – my mum was one of eleven and I’m one of around forty grandchildren (give or take). The eight year old me would be sent behind the couch to play while mum and her sisters gossiped about family matters and boy, did I have big ears. I’d pick up on snippets such as, ‘Remember when whatshername had the B-A-B-Y?’ While they rattled the skeletons in the family closet, I learned the clan’s secrets. 

In my defence, their chats were educational. Well, as far as spelling went, that is. And I have a handy quirk – I can remember almost every one-liner, put-down or clever remark ever uttered in my presence, all of which have been captured and stored in my computer, and are jostling for their moment on a page. One came in email form.  I messaged a friend late one night before climbing into bed and signed off with ‘Nite nite, I’m off to bobos.’ She came back with, ‘ooh, is that yon new night club in town?’ Priceless. Like I’d ever be caught dead in a night club.
After early retirement I didn’t want to go back to targets, deadlines and budgets, but I craved a challenge. Then I thought back to my early thirties when I’d taken an English ‘O’ level night class. The tutor, who was more accustomed to being ignored by twelve year olds than teaching enthusiastic adults, refused to mark my first submitted essay and accused me of copying it from a book. I was so busy flouncing out of her class that I didn’t catch on to the compliment at first. My indignance took me back to a different class the following year and I achieved an ‘A’ in the English Higher. With distinction. And bells and whistles. And a happy dance. Every cloud…

I wanted to take my studies further but by then I had met the man I later married. He was starting up a new business and I became his part-time company secretary and step-mum to his three kids while still working for DHSS full-time. Writing was relegated to the bottom of the work pile, hence the reason I didn’t take it seriously until I was fifty-five, post-marital and retired.

I’m currently working on Book #2, the sequel to Project Me. I’ve had to take my foot off the writing pedal due to my mum’s deteriorating health but I won’t pull on the brake the way I did in my thirties. Instead I’ll slow it down, write when I can and hope I reach the finishing line while it’s still relevant.

I’ve always written in some form or another. Funny poems are my forte and once I get into the zone it all seems to flow as if it’s being fed down via some cosmic link. I love word play, gritty dialogue and attitude and I hope that comes over in my writing.

What’s the new dream? Now that the book is published, I suppose it’s to have someone make the movie. I’d love to see my characters brought to life. It’s unlikely to happen, given the odds and the number of fabulous stories out there vying for attention, but it would be amazing all the same, and the only way I’d ever get to meet the gorgeous Douglas Henshall since I wrote the part of Maggie’s ex-boyfriend, John, especially for him.  
   Well, a girl needs something to aim for, doesn’t she?
Crooked Cat Books:
Combined website/blog –

Friday, 14 November 2014

Please Please Me: Sex and the Victorians

A mechanical vibator

One of the joys of writing Victorian crime fiction is the unexpected area of research that you innocently type into Google, not anticipating anything to appear. And then it does. For my current book, I wanted to explore some of the myths surrounding the ''sexually repressed Victorians'' legacy.

The biggest myth was that the Victorians, particularly women, ''hated'' sex and were all frustrated and miserable. They certainly did not and were not. Queen Victoria for one, loved it. The morning after her wedding night she wrote ecstatically in her diary that sex was ''a foretaste of heaven''. The Victorian era marked the start of the ''information age'' and there were manuals, pamphlets and advice books on love making, if you knew where to buy them.

Victorian women were not the sexually passive creatures they have come to be seen as. The lives of famous courtesans like Cora Pearl, and ''Skittles'' -  one of the 'pretty horsebreakers' who rode out on Sunday afternoons in Hyde Park, totally naked under her riding habit, show that female sexuality was as expressive and varied as it is today.

Don't ask
Of course there were exceptions. The notion that girls arrived at their wedding night pure, sexless and ignorant to be awakened (or not) by her husband can be seen in the forlorn comment of Mary Sidgewick, married in 1859 at the age of 18 to a much older man. She later wrote in her diary: ' how I cried at Paris....the nights!' However, the importance of the female orgasm was certainly known about and seen as vitally important in a relationship. Sexual pleasure, especially female sexual pleasure, mattered.

This was because the Victorians believed that a woman in a sexually satisfying relationship was more likely to become pregnant, thus the idea that masturbation was not a good idea. A book entitled The Art To Begetting Handsome Children, published in 1860, had detailed instructions on foreplay and love-making within the marriage relationship - for the Victorians, of course, this was the proper and only place for sex to happen.

electromechanical vibrator
The other myth is that the Victorians used vibrators via pelvic massage administered by the medical profession to induce orgasm in women, who were supposed to suffer from hysterics. The release of the ''hysterical paroxysm'' (orgasm) purportedly helped the poor things to calm down. To aid this, the Victorians apparently  'invented' the vibrator, because there were far too many women and not enough strong-handed doctors.

1890 hand-cranked vibrator
Frankly, I find this difficult to believe. Victorian vibrators (see pics) are the most unsexiest things I have ever seen. I can't imagine any women, however 'hysterical' reaching orgasm with one of these devices clunking and buzzing away down her lower end! Luckily, there were many more attractive aids available. Victorian sex toys were many and varied, often crafted in ivory, or wood or leather.

Some were decorated with flowers or delicate silver tracery.
All were created to enhance women's sexual pleasure. For the Victorians, sex, pleasure and love were important concepts, and they were just as preoccupied, fascinated and eager to experiment as we are today.

If you would like to download a free sample of Diamonds&Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so HERE.  Honour&Obey, A Victorian Crime Thriller can be viewed HERE

Friday, 7 November 2014

Don't Leak On My Parade

Tricky times at Hedges Towers. We have a leak in the flat roof, and water is coming in and soaking two walls. Thus the bathroom contents are currently on the landing, and the utility room is in the hallway. Apart from the worry of water damage and the bill to have the roof fixed - we now know it needs to be completely replaced thanks to the disreputable cowboys who fitted the original one, we are also having to get up in the night to change the newspaper that is soaking up the water

Which meant we were pretty fed up by the end of the week, when BH and I went into town to close his annual savings account at the bank and transfer funds elsewhere. He has to be physically there because I, despite being married to him for 39 years, and in full possession of every identity document of his that you could shake a stick at, am not now allowed to open or close or do anything without his actual presence, thank you, even though we apparently own 60% of the bank concerned.

We both think it's preposterous and a waste of our time. Especially as we used to be able to open and close accounts for each other, and we have a joint account there anyway. So, picture the scene therefore: It's Saturday morning. We are anxious about the roof. We are cross. We have not slept well. We have heavy colds. We are fed up with stupid bank protocols. What followed was something Samuel Beckett would not have been ashamed to own. As I recall, it went like this:

BH:  You don't need to stay with me.
Me:   Really? Are you sure?
BH:   I can manage perfectly well. You go and wait over there.
Me:   Over here? OK. I'll wait.
Young Female Bank Person: So Mr Hedges, what is the name of the savings account?
BH:   I don't know. It's just a savings account.
YFBP: I need the actual type of account.
BH:   Oh for goodness sake. (calls) What's the name of the account?
Me:   I thought you told me to wait over here.
BH:   I don't know the name of the account.
Me:   You said you could manage.
BH:   I could, only I don't know the name of the account.
Me:   So you want me to come over there now?
BH:   Yes.
Me:   You don't want me to wait over here?
BH:   No.
YFBP: (smiling rather too brightly) Right. Let's start again...

That was pretty much as good as it got. We agreed afterwards that we'd never made it through a bank visit quite so speedily before. Bank Person couldn't get rid of us fast enough. None of that 'while you're here ..'' stuff that usually heralds them attempting to flog you naff insurance. It was: Pretend to smile, press the buttons, print the paperwork, please please go away now. We are thinking of hiring ourselves out to other bank customers.

See - every now and then being old has its advantages, and we need all the advantages we can get as neither of us are getting any younger. Certainly we're not getting any saner. Quite the opposite. And given the way that we are becoming more and more incensed with the red-tapery of life, we may soon be carted off to the nearest psycho-geriatric unit in matching his and hers strait-jackets. If the water from the roof doesn't carry us off first.

If you would like to read a FREE sample of my novel Diamonds&Dust, A Victorian Crime Thriller, you can do so here

Saturday, 1 November 2014


Hello. My name is Carol Hedges and I write crime fiction *nervous smile*. Look, I'm a nice person. Really I am. I drive a pink car; I have a peach-pretty blog. I help old ladies over the road (usually they're me). But. Somewhere deep beneath the surface lurks a dark, manic, twisted soul who likes nothing better than plotting how to murder, maim or mutilate people.

I have often wondered whether writers choose their genre according to their personality type: Chicklit writers are all heart (and cupcakes); Children's writers have secretly never grown up; Horror writers are replaying their monster-under-the bed fears. It would make interesting research for someone with nothing better to do.

One thing unites most writers: they usually start at the beginning of a book, and work their way in a sequential narrative until they reach the end. Crime writers differ. We do it backwards. We start with the crime and who committed it, then work out why and how it happened. Thus in each of the Spy Girl books and the three Victorian Crime novels, I always write the last page first.

This is followed by the 'hook' at the beginning, then by the bulk of the story. Sometimes I have as much of a clue as to what is going to happen next as my characters. I like this sort of writing, as it is always challenging - I couldn't do the JK Rowling 50 pages of notes and a couple of grids schtick, as I'd get bored. Very Bored. I have to walk away from every writing session thinking: Okay, how the hell am I going to get my character out of THIS?

Another fun aspect of writing crime fiction is the way that the story always unfolds in unexpected ways. Characters you never knew existed emerge from some mental alleyway and suddenly take centre stage. Often carrying weaponry. Is this the same for other genres? Please tell me if it is so. Because my current series of books are set in the mid-Victorian period and reference Charles Dickens quite a bit, I have got used to the proliferation of ''extras'' and am relaxed about their appearances and disappearances. With weaponry. As in life, so in literature.

On November 18th the follow-up to Diamonds&Dust will hit the bookstores, both physically and digitally. I have posted the cover at the top of this blog, so that you can read the blurb and get an idea of the story. As you see, it contains the two detectives from the first book  - but in a completely different narrative. Though afficionados of Diamonds&Dust will recognise a few familiar faces. I hope, if you are kind enough to read it, you will enjoy it as much as I did writing it.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The PINK SOFA meets Lorraine Mace

Lorraine Mace, who also writes as Frances di Plino, is another of the Crooked Cat writers. She is able to turn her hand to several genres: crime fiction, children's fiction and very witty articles for Writer's News. Like me, she does the occasional school visit to enthuse children about reading and especially about reading her books. I asked her to talk about one of these visits.

''As authors, one of the banes of our profession is that we very rarely get feedback from our readers. Sure, we get reviews on such sites as Amazon and Goodreads, but if one compares the number of sales to the number of reviews, it is clear that we have no idea what the vast majority of our readers think of our books.

Writing as Frances di Plino, I am the author of the D. I. Paolo Storey crime thrillers. On the first three in the series I have, in total across and, just 81 reviews – and some of those are duplicated, appearing on both sites! As I know I sell far in excess of 81 copies each and every month, it means the ratio of reviewer to reader is somewhat skewed.

Under my real name, I write children’s novels. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit two schools to read to prospective readers – and this is where the point of the above information comes in. Suddenly, I moved from faceless author with invisible and mainly silent readers to a (slightly shaking) real person in front of a hall full of extremely visible (and potentially vocal) students.

If you intend to read to a large group of children, let me warn you here and now: it is not for the fainthearted!

At the beginning, they will gaze at you with such intensity you will be convinced your skirt is tucked into your underwear. Such is the power of their collective stare, even if you are male and know full well you are wearing trousers, you might still glance down to see if a bit of Victoria’s Secret (or Primark’s finest) is on show.

By the time you have stammered out who you are (if you can still remember) and told them the title of your book (ditto), you will be wondering how it is possible that only two minutes have passed out of the forty-five you have been allocated.
As soon as you begin reading, those intent little faces will switch off and you’ll wonder if you’re actually reading to yourself. I can honestly say I have never felt so alone as I did while reading Vlad the Inhaler at the first school. Every few lines, I took the opportunity to look up and engage with my listeners. At least, I would have done, if they had even glanced in my direction.

They looked out of the windows, stared at the ceiling, studied their feet, picked their noses, and generally gave the impression that they would rather be anywhere than in that hall, at that time, listening to my book!

By the end of the passage I’d selected, I felt completely demoralised and was on the point of vowing to give up writing completely. The hall was silent, the intent stares back, and it was with no real expectation of success that I asked: any questions?

The moment when a child put up her hand has stayed with me ever since. Her question? “Please, miss, where can I buy your book?”

That opened the floodgates. Hands shot in the air, attached to squirming bodies intent on gaining my attention. The questions were brilliant – showing they’d listened to every word. Nearly all the children dragged their parents in at the end of the day to buy a signed copy.

The reading at the next school followed that exact same pattern – but this time I didn’t allow myself to be fazed by the stares, or the apparent boredom while I was reading. The time at the end flew past with, once again, intelligent and thought-provoking questions being fired at me from all parts of the room.

I have several other schools to visit this term and I’m still a bit nervous at how my listeners will react. After all, children are the greatest levellers – if they don’t like something, it shows.

But when they engage with a book you’ve written, there isn’t anything else in the world that will provide an ego boost to match it.

A page of great reviews on Amazon? Pah! Give me a room full of excited children asking what’s going to happen in book two, or telling me which character from Vlad the Inhaler they would most like to be, or meeting up with them in the bookshop later and finding out Vlad the Inhaler is now their favourite book in the whole world. No five-star review even comes close.''

Lorraine Mace is the humour columnist for Writing Magazine and a competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She is a former tutor for the Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam of The Writer's ABC Checklist (Accent Press). Lorraine runs a private critique service for writers (link below). She is the founder of the Flash 500 competitions covering flash fiction, humour verse and novel openings.

Her debut novel for children, Vlad the Inhaler, was published in the USA on 2nd April 2014.

Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of the crime/thriller series featuring Detective Inspector Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes and Call It Pretending
The fourth in the series, Looking for a Reason, is due for release by Crooked Cat Publishing on 28th October.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Infrastructure Issues

As many of you know, I am a local community activist, or thorough nuisance, depending upon which side of Harpenden Town Council table you sit. Apparently I am known in some quarters as: ''The Coldharbour Lane Witch'' - a label I wear with pride. For the past six years, I have fought the 100% Tory Town Council to preserve a small council ex-allotment site, home to several species of listed Wildlife, from being sold off so a local developer can build ''affordable housing'' - a euphemism for ''housing that only rich people moving from London can afford or investment opportunities for ourselves or our friends.''

When we moved to Harpenden 23 years ago, there were people who still referred to it as ''the village''. They'd be hard put to do so now. Development has taken place at a ferocious rate, with all the concomitant evils of a high street that becomes Carmageddon during the rush hour, the school run and any problems with the M1. Now the Green Belt is being threatened, and the usual Nimbys who have staved off development in their area for EVER are re-bleating their mantra that ''the council has plenty of land within the town for development'' - ie: push more houses into poorer areas (like mine) so WE - your core voters can continue to enjoy our pleasant views.

Stupid cycle crossing
The picture above gives you an idea of what life is like here when it rains. Thanks to tarmacking a natural path to turn it into a cycle way and the utterly stupid cycle crossing (see right) which funnels all the water down from the main road into the road at the back of my house we now have regular flooding. This is exacerbated by the ''2 for 1'' building nearby and, should the plan to build on my site, just beyond the trees in the 2 flooding pictures, go ahead it can only get worse.

Recent flood with 2CV
And then there are the regular sewage overflows - which Thames Water knows all about but says they are not going to fix as it would mean relaying the whole main sewer which would cost too much. The Tory leader of the Cabinet stated at a recent Planning Meeting that the current building plan for 500 more houses couldn't take into account any infrastructure backlogs - translation for the uninitiated: we don't give a toss about 'small' local issues like drains, potholes, crumbling sewers, overcrowding, flooding, roads, parking, school places etc because they are the concern of the County Council.

State of the art patchwork road
No joined up thinking is being done. The County Council are currently running an infrastructure deficit of millions, so are probably not  - wild guess here - going to spend it fixing our 'small' local issues either. Even if they aren't small to the people who live here and get flooded or who can't park outside their own houses or are worried about future sewage backup if even more pressure is exacted upon the system, or who feed the badgers and care about the Roman Snails.

Hopefully, we can show them exactly how we feel about things next May, when most of the Town Council is up for re-election. A perfect storm is brewing, both in the real and the murky world of local politics. Mops and buckets at the ready.

Friday, 10 October 2014

The PINK SOFA meets Andrew French, author

Andrew French is one of the many writers I met on Twitter. He has a wicked and wonderful sense of 
humour and is totally worth following at @AFrenchAuthor. He's also very supportive of other writers, and retweets their stuff regularly. BH took Andrew's first book, Assassin's Run to Italy with him, and enjoyed it immensely. He is now reading the third one. I have just started the first one. The Pink Sofa is reading the second. Says it all.  In honour of Andrew's visit, there is freshly brewed coffee and chocolate cupcakes on the coffee table.
I asked Andrew how he got into writing...

'' I have always dabbled a bit with writing. I wrote comedy scripts when I was at school, some of which I submitted to the BBC. I always fancied the thought of writing a book but always managed to find a good reason not to. For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed reading spy stories, Ian Fleming, Len Deighton, Alistair Maclean and Frederick Forsythe being my particular favourites.

When my youngest son, Matthew was born with some medical problems, I took the decision to give up work to care for him full-time. Once he became fully well and went to school I tried unsuccessfully to resume my career. A man taking a four year sabbatical makes him less attractive to employers apparently. So, no longer being able to find a good reason why I shouldn’t, I decided to write a book

I spent most of my working life in the funeral service. I began making the tea and sweeping up for a few hours a week in the local family-run Funeral Directors. I found the work fascinating. So much so, I became a full-time funeral assistant after a few months. My progression from then on was somewhat meteoric. I qualified as a Funeral Director, then as a bereavement counsellor specialising in children’s grief. The family-run business was acquired by a large independent funeral company and I became the branch manager. Two years later I became the company’s head of operations and two years after that I was the Managing Director responsible for thirty-three funeral businesses across England and Wales.

Michael Prentiss is the hero of my spy novels. I introduced him in the first book, Assassin’s Run set in 1980. Prentiss is a sixteen year old young man attending the army’s selection centre to join the Royal Military Police. He is, however, recruited by a secret army intelligence unit known as The Detachment, or simply, ‘The Det’, for an unofficial operation in Londonderry. The Det’s role is to combat the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland at the height of ‘The Troubles’.  

The Michael Prentiss series
Michael Prentiss is a man born out of time. He believes passionately in chivalry, not as we know the word today, but in its truest sense of courage, bravery, honour and defending the innocent whatever the cost. Prentiss is one of three main characters in my books. Michael Prentiss, Colonel Charles Mabbitt, the CO of The Det, and Richard Jordan, one of its best operators. These are my three musketeers. Although all my books have rather intricate plots with many twists and turns, they are first and foremost character driven. I take the reader on a journey, following the lives of these three men and how their experiences change them, not always for the better. 

Prentiss in particular has developed into a complex and multi-faceted character. What I love most is the bond the three men develop over the six years over which the four books are set.
I spend a great deal of time research. As the books are set in the 1980’s I have to ensure that everything is ‘right’. From the cars they drive, the food they eat and the locations I put them in, I make sure that it is as factual as it possibly can be. This gives the stories a feel of authenticity and almost one of nostalgia to those reading it that can remember that period.

I felt it was important to publish both in e-book and conventional book form. As popular as the e-book has become there will always be those who prefer to read an actual book. To hold a book and turn it’s pages one by one, admiring it on a bookshelf is a pleasure in itself. No matter how advanced technologically we become I feel there will always be a place for a traditional book.

I am now a permanent stay-at-home-dad. I try and write every day when I’m not doing the washing and ironing and cleaning, you know, all the exciting things of life. If the inspiration light bulb goes on I can write for six hours straight, typing like Jessica Fletcher in the opening credits of Murder She Wrote. Other times I struggle to write a paragraph. I spend a lot of time working out the plot. The trouble with writing about terrorists is that you have to come up with a plot that’s not only feasible but believable. This means the further I get into the book the more absorbed I get with it until it pretty much takes over my every waking moment.

When I’m not writing I love watching TV. Most of my free time however is spent with my wife Alison and my youngest son, Matthew. They keep me sane. Alison is my greatest critic and best friend and Matthew just makes me laugh all the time. I’m a lucky man.''

You can download a FREE sample of Assassin's Run HERE

Thanks Andrew. Finally, someone who publishes in both formats! So, while Andrew tucks into coffee and cake, why not join him on the sofa ... there's plenty of room and ask him a question.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Those ''Little Moments''

Who was it said they wished there was a stair lift that reached the top landing before you'd forgotten why you wanted to go up there in the first place? No, I don't know either, but the first three words of that sentence are currently proving to be rather a leitmotiv for my life. Do not get me wrong: I love entering vintagedom. The hair has never been redder, the attitude sassier or feistier and as for caring what the world and its partner thinks of me, I'm so waay ahead of Rhett Butler.

And yet, over and above all the feist and sass and damn, there are moments when stuff .... well ... somehow eludes me. A realization that was brought home vividly the other week as I stood outside a John Lewis store cursing because it was shut, and suddenly perceived the reason I couldn't get in was because I was pushing a door marked pull. Similarly, when I arrived back home minus the things I'd bought as I'd managed to mislay them somewhere between the counter where I paid for them and the homeward journey. And again the time I had a full-on public row with the Automated EE woman because I dropped my credit card while topping up the mobile on a moving bus and she didn't do ''hang on, just got to pick up the credit card''.

No, I am not going gaga, to use the medical terminology. Just getting a little .... what's the word I'm groping for? Yes, that. Like the other day I was waiting at the bus stop to catch the Luton bus, when I was actually supposed to be catching the St Albans bus which comes on the opposite side of the road and goes in the opposite direction. Fortunately remembered just as it turned the corner. Poor bus driver nearly had a heart attack as I dived in front of his wheels, arm outstretched.

Then there is the mobile phone. I put it down. Somewhere. Most of the calls to my mobile are me ringing it from the landline to find out where it is, having looked up the number beforehand because I can never ... umm ... thingy Thank goodness it's only a cheapo Nokia, suitable for the technically challenged and easily replaceable if I ever flush it down the loo. Which is always a possibility. Gawd knows what might happen if I had one of those £700 bendy i-Phone 6 things.

My best friend Elissa and I have these ... whatsits ... every time we go out together. Sometimes we find ourselves driving along somewhere without the slightest clue where we're supposed to be heading, though we knew when we started out. Or we can't find her silver Toyota in a multi-storey though in our defence there are always so many silver Toyotas in multi-storeys, silver being the go-to colour for most modern cars that it isn't really our fault. We have been reduced to pacing the aisles clicking her key fob in the hope that the car will respond eventually.

It's infuriating, but there appears to be nothing I can do to prevent it happening. And it does seem to be happening with alarming frequency. Whatever it is. So there you are ... who are you again? Anyway, you'll have to excuse me now: I have an elsewhere to be. Or I will have, once I can remember where the hell it is.

SEE ALSO: Aldi Antics
                     Transports of Delight

If you would like to read my short story 'The Fair Infanta' on Wattpad, you can do so HERE

Friday, 26 September 2014

Serial Killers

As you probably all know, Diamonds&Dust, which was rejected out of hand by my ex-agent as ''not remotely publishable'' and subsequently went on not only to be published, but to be up for the CWA Historical Dagger, the Walter Scott Prize and the Folio Society Prize, is now developing offspring.

It wasn't meant to. Seriously. Grateful as I was to Crooked Cat Books, I didn't envisage trotting out the two Victorian detectives Stride and Cully again. But like lily pond paintings by Monet and Haydn String Quartets, once I'd started, it seemed logical to keep going.

Thus the sequel, Honour&Obey whose title alone will be a cause of much distress to the US market, will hit the literary stratosphere in November. You have probably seen the Tweets. You may even have been invited to the virtual Facebook launch - please note: Victorian dress is compulsory and to those who attended last year's launch, yes we have secured the services of Ralph the Marvellous Performing Dog once again.

There are those writers who regard a series as a bit of a ''cop-out'': after all, you've got all your characters already written for you. To them I would say: writing a series is MUCH harder than producing a one-off text. And I know what I'm talking about: this is my second series of books. (The Spy Girl series for Usborne was the first)

The main problem is that, unless you started with the idea of writing a series, and few authors do, they just tend to evolve, you are stuck with whatever you wrote in the first one. You cannot radically alter the appearance nor personality of the main character/s without readers going ''What the ...?'' After all, it was how they were in book 1 that will keep them reading books 2, 3, 4, 5 etc. You can and must develop the main characters, but in essence, they have to bear some resemblance to how they were in the beginning.

Then there is the problem of keeping the plot momentum going. I find book 2 is usually the easiest, as it seems to evolve naturally out of the first one. Book 3, however, is far more problematic. New areas have to be introduced to keep the reader interested. Some fundamental shifting of perspective must take place, or else book 3 becomes merely a watered down version of the previous two. Actually, book 3 is usually the pivotal one upon which the rest of the series rests. If you cannot pull it off successfully, it is best to admit defeat and pretend you only meant to write two in the first place.

By book 4, the pitfall is over-confidence. You have run the gauntlet of three books. You feel the surge of expertise as fingers hit keyboard. This, after the previous three, will be a doddle to write. You have your characters, you know how the story arc works. Sometimes this attitude pays off: I still think Dead Man Talking, the fourth Spy Girl book, is the best plotted. However, beware: book 4 can so easily wonder off into alien territory, or become a repetition of book 3, with added lacklustre.

I have never got further than book 5 (and Usborne turned it down) so I cannot speak from experience, but I can say from avidly reading crime series, that some writers manage to sustain plot, characters and reader interest beyond book 5, but many more don't. The trouble with series is that publishers LOVE them. They are easy to market, and each book sells on the back of the previous ones. Thus the temptation to go on churning them out year after year, when by rights the whole thing should have been allowed to quietly slink off and hide in a dark corner after the fifth one.

I have been told, though, that the ''real money'' comes from a 5 book series, which means most other writers will have been told this too. This is probably why some of them are keeping doggedly going 10 + books later. I can't see myself getting as far as a fifth book right now. Mind, I never thought I'd get as far as a third. In the meantime, I plot on with book 3, crossing my fingers, hoping that it will avoid the ubiquitous potholes and that I can pull it off successfully yet again.

If you would like to download a free sample of Diamonds&Dust A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so HERE. US readers can do so HERE

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Flying Solo

Taxing times at Hedges Towers. As some of you know, BH is off on his Annual Italian Jaunt, visiting lovely places, eating lovely food and indulging in the twin cultural pursuits of opera and football. Oh, and a further visit to the Maserati factory in Modena, just in case this year, they might be giving away free samples.

I did seriously think about joining him for a week, despite my known travel phobia, but then I fell foul of the Passport Office, who wanted to charge me an inordinate amount of money to renew my passport and have now refused to send back my old one plus the photos I paid for. So I am confined to the Kingdom of Westfield (population: 2) - if you remember, we seceded from the rest of Harpenden in a defiant gesture against what we see as a ruthless and totalitarian regime.

I could, of course, issue my own passport, but the printer is playing up (see below). However, I may start opening diplomatic negotiations with Scotland, should the Yes vote win the day on Thursday. I am happy to offer the newly refurbished shed as a Caledonian Consulate and I'm sure, once we have our flag and anthem worked out, we we can all come to some mutually amicable trade arrangement.

Be that as it may, the usual Things That Go Wrong thing has kicked in. Keys have walked. My mobile phone vanished for 24 hours. The 2CV has had carburettor problems, which Big Dave assures me have been 95% sorted. The 5% is waking me up at night though. Along with everything else. This always happens whenever I fly solo: I am wide awake at 2 am, over-thinking and focusing obsessively on stuff. It's a form of Attention Surplus Hyperactivity Disorder, thought after a week of broken nights, it all feels more like one slice of a madness sandwich.

Were this not enough, I am also being re-awoken 4 hours later by the Astonishment of Kitten, whose arrival is heralded by crashes, squawks and the thunder of tiny paws. It is pretty well impossible to be cross with a kitten, but one jumping ecstatically on you at 6 am could prove the exception to the rule. If I could only train her to make and bring up a mug of coffee, she'd be slightly more welcome.

Meanwhile paperwork piles up, disasters rain down, the grass continues to grow and I get increasingly irate with Classic FM presenters: It's anTITHesis, for goodness sake - any alternative proNUNciation is totally abHORrent. Ah, the joys of flying solo.