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Trying to turn the tide...
September
For those of you, my dear readers and friends, who have been following the Saga of the Poorly Hands these last months, they are, at last, getting better. The left hand still aches (a lot) and is tender of an evening (after I’ve been doing a lot of typing). I still struggle holding anything heavy – like a mug of tea, but a glass of wine or a G&T doesn’t weigh as much…

Workwise: The previous published e-edition of 1066 TURNED UPSIDE DOWN is now available in the updated 2021 edition – and the paperback is available from an Amazon near you, or order from your local bookstore. 1066 Turned Upside Down is a selection of short stories written by nine different successful authors as alternative ‘what if’ fiction. What if Harald Hardrada had won at Stamford Bridge? What if Duke William had lost at that place seven miles from Hastings? Great fun to speculate. We all enjoyed writing our different stories.

My novel Harold The King (titled I Am The Chosen King in the US) has also been updated to a 2021 edition – the UK edition that is. I’ve been busy re-editing it during August and have now re-released it under Taw River Press, my own publishing brand. My thanks to Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org for doing all the technical work. Also a huge thank you to my very successful author friend Annie Whitehead for picking up a few last-minute bloopers in my second Jan Christopher Mystery – A Mystery of Murder. It’ll be released in November, but start watching out for early marketing – the cover reveal, brief tantalising excerpts etc…

Down on the farm, we now have our three goats. They’re five months old, and I think they are the only agoraphobic goats in the UK. They don’t like going out in that great big wide-open field, but prefer their cosy shed. I call them Custard, Crumble and Sticky-Toffee-Pudding but daughter Kathy has named them something else – it’s just that I can’t remember her version of their names.

Franc (Taw River Dracarys) - the horse that caused my poor bruised hands - is now three and a half years old, so he’s starting his education. Light work only, but he’s a BIG horse (not far off seventeen hands) and is starting to get ‘cocky’ so needs the work to give him something to think about.

Kathy lunges him – that’s him on a long line walking or trotting round her in a circle. He’s fine going one way, but can’t figure out going round the other way. Typical. We’ve ended up with a dyslexic horse.

Because of a few ongoing issues with prima donna Lexie, Kathy has decided to give her a while off from jumping and has brought Franc’s mum, Saffie, out of retirement instead. She’s twenty-two (Saffie, not Kathy) but behaves more like a three-year-old. For those of you who have Facebook, go to my FB page and scroll down to 14th August to view her winning round. Keep in mind that three days before this show Saffie was still retired, hadn’t been jumped for two years and didn’t have shoes on. The horse absolutely loved being back in the show ring! Collecting their rosette and the lap of honour is on the video just below the one mentioned above.

So, it’s also back to work for me. I think it’s about time that Jesamiah weighed anchor and we got on with writing his sixth Voyage – Gallows Wake
August
The good news is that I can at last (after four months) touch my left thumb to my first and second finger tips. Third finger is a bit of a struggle, little finger – I’m working on it. I’ve been given various hand and finger exercises by the NHS physiotherapist. They are helping, but truthfully I shouldn’t be typing just resting.

Resting was easy on those very hot days that we had recently here in the South West of England, (snoozing under the shade of the patio gazebo isn’t exactly arduous…) but I can hear you all mumbling: So when is the next book going to be ready?

A Mystery Of Murder, the second Jan Christopher mystery, is finished and has gone off to be scrutinised by my editor. I had hoped to publish it in August but I’ve decided to wait until November (sorry!). For one thing, it is set at Christmas 1971, so publishing a Christmas story near Christmas makes sense. For another, I’ve been working with designer and formatter Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org and fellow author Annie Whitehead to prepare the previously published e-edition of 1066 Turned Upside Down into a paperback version.

We finally got there, and I am hoping to publish it on behalf of the authors involved in early September, in order to maximise the anniversaries of Stamford Bridge (Harold 1 v 0 Hardrada) and the Battle of Hastings (Harold 0 v 1 William).

1066 Turned Upside Down is a selection of short stories written by nine different well known authors as alternative ‘What If’ fiction. What if Harald Hardrada had won at Stamford Bridge? What if Duke William had lost at that place seven miles from Hastings?

I donated two stories, my favourite being about the English navy (the ‘schypfyrd’) defeating the Normans at sea. (Speculative, alternative fiction yes – but I happen to believe that it happened.)

I’ve also dedicated this second story to the wonderful Rosemary Sutcliff. Many of us who grew up on historical fiction treasured her Eagle of the Ninth, The Queen Elizabeth Story and, my two favourites, Frontier Wolf and Mark Of the Horse Lord.

Rosemary often included a signet ring with a flawed stone that resembled a dolphin shape in her stories (especially those set in Roman times.) She therefore always signed the last ‘f’ of her name as a dolphin.

I was fortunate enough to write to Rosemary not long before she passed away – and was honoured to receive a hand-written letter back – complete with her famous signature. It is an item I treasure.

If you want to delve into the non-alternative events that led to the Battle of Hastings, prior to September and October 1066, there’s always my novel Harold The King (titled I Am The Chosen King in the US.) It was published circa 2000 but is still the best story that tells of the events that led to the Battle of Hastings.


Here on the farm we’ve cut, baled and stored our hay – always a relief when that is done for the year. My only problem is that I’m addicted to sniffing it: new hay smells so gorgeous!

I have just this moment had to stop typing to undertake a rescue mission involving one of the young geese. (We have nine in the flock at the moment – don’t ask – and the tenth is Penny, a white duck who thinks she’s a small goose.) Said teenage-equivalent age and size gosling managed to wedge itself upside down in a rubber feed bowl (used to put water in for them.) Lots of squawking and shrieking outside, so I went to investigate. The poor thing was stranded like an upside-down beetle. I warned him (her?) not to dare to peck me and tipped her/him out.

No damage done. I didn’t get much of a thank you though.

Next on our agenda is to acquire a couple of goats. We need them to keep the nettles and brambles down in the steep parts of the fields where we can’t use the tractor and trimmer. Kathy went to the sales to see what she could get.

No goats within our price range, but she did come home with two ducks…

Finally, a reminder that the reprint of the new edition of When The Mermaid Sings is now available in e-book AND paperback, with a new, fabulous Cathy Helms designed cover. I’ve added several scenes about Tiola as a child … and who could resist my Jesamiah Acorne’s adventures…?

I’d really appreciate lots of positive comments left on Amazon, if you have the time, for Mermaid. With the original e-book edition now deleted I’ve lost ALL the lovely comments that had been left by readers. I would be so grateful if you could leave something new.

(Is it demeaning to beg…?)

Stay Safe.
July
"My hands are still not working properly, although the right thumb aches a bit, the left is out of its cast but very stiff, very sore and very aching. I suspect I’ve damaged the tendons, but I’ll find out more when I go back (again!) to the hospital in mid-June."

Thus I wrote last month, and my suspicion was correct. I have damaged the tendons – bruised them in fact, as well as the ‘outward showing’ typical black-and-blue bruises the muscles and the bones are also bruised – so deep tissue oedema to both hands, but particularly around the joint of my left thumb.

Regular readers will recall that I was more than a bit miffed with the last two consultants I saw at the hospital, who insisted the pain I was in was caused by arthritis (completely ignoring the fact that I’d had a severe, heavy, fall). Then there was their off-hand misogynistic attitude and their total lack of willingness to listen to me – and, as it turns out, completely wrong diagnosis. My GP is fantastic. She was furious and wrote a stiff letter of complaint. The specialist I saw this last time didn’t even mention arthritis. For a start, unlike the previous two, he introduced himself and his assistant (a newly qualified young doctor gaining experience), then he asked me what had happened (again, unlike the other two).

He read my notes, looked at the X-rays and MRI scan, then looked at my hands. He touched certain areas and said, “It hurts here, here and here doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I can see the bruising and swelling,” he replied. “If I press here...and here...” (ouch) “that’s where it is most painful?”

I nodded.

Classic deep tissue damage. Irritating that the previous two couldn’t see what I and this specialist could see! The thing is HE put me at my ease, listened to me – and believed me.

This is something that is NOT happening with all too many consultants (mostly male) where us gals are concerned. We’re being dismissed as our input is irrelevant. I knew perfectly well that the injuries to my hands were not arthritis.

I have had the same dismissal with the consultant regarding my persistent earache and the re-occurrence every other month or so of what I term ‘Hamster Syndrome’. (An infection that makes me feel like I’ve got a cross between ‘flu, mumps and Glandular Fever.) The last time I saw him he implied that because he couldn’t find anything wrong I was making it up. He finally concluded that the earache was caused by me grinding me teeth together, missing the fact that actually, on that side of my jaw I don’t have any lower teeth to grind...

Oddly (or perhaps not?) the last time I had Hamster was for two days after my first Covid 19 jab in February. Usual symptoms: feverish, swollen glands, feel like death warmed up… nothing (touch wood, scratch a stay, turn widdershins three times...) since. Apart from mild persistent ear ache, but I’ve grown so used to that I mostly ignore it. My balance is shot to pieces mind you! (Hence why I fell so easily and hurt my hands!)

Franc, our three-year-old (and the cause of my fall) is also ‘medically confined’ for a few weeks. He managed to get himself kicked (well he will pester!) literally just below the hock. (The pointy bit on a hind leg). Puffed up like a balloon and a nasty horse-shoe-shape cut. Keeping a bandage on is a nightmare. Cleaning it is a nightmare. Keeping him confined to the stable yard walkabout is… you guessed it.

Adding to the difficulty, daughter and son-in-law are away competing at Hickstead for the end of June/early July. (I’m writing this on the 20th June.) No idea how my husband and I are going to manage. I have to confess as I write this with two fingers poking through my embraced (LOL) hands - I don’t have much sympathy for Franc. Just deserts and all that.

Other things around the farm; Scott has now finished doing all our fencing. We should now be pony-escape-proof, but don’t hold your breath.

Our old mare Saffie, Franc’s Mum - aged 22 but behaves like a two-year-old - has discovered the shallow pond down in the woods. Anyone want a mud-monster?

Book wise, I hope to have the second in my Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries series out in August.

Meanwhile the reprint of the new edition of "When The Mermaid Sings" is now available in e-book and paperback, with a new, fabulous Cathy Helms designed cover. I’ve added several scenes about Tiola as a child… and who could resist my Jesamiah Acorne’s adventures?

I’d appreciate lots of positive comments left on Amazon, if you have the time. Thanks.
June
My hands are still not working properly, although the right thumb aches a bit, the left is out of its cast but very stiff, very sore and very aching. I suspect I’ve damaged the tendons, but I’ll find out more when I go back (again!) to the hospital in mid-June.

I did have ‘words’ with the last consultant, because the person I saw before him hadn’t listened to what I had said. (And for the record, neither did this chap - until I told him outright to be quiet and listen to me!) The first consultant was marvellous. He showed me the X-ray and the MRI scan, explaining everything. We also had a chat about horses treading on people (he was most impressed by my horse-foot-shaped bruise!) Second person a couple of weeks later didn’t listen at all to my concerns about both hands. In fact in the follow-up letter he put that I’d had a fall two weeks back. (Actually, by then it was a good SIX weeks.)

He’d put that it was Carpel Tunnel, but nothing whatsoever about the base of my thumb being the area of pain. Nor did he register that I’d been stomped on by a rather large horse. He gave me a brace to support my wrist. Not much use when it’s the thumb that’s damaged…

So, come Chap Number Three I was somewhat p**d off when he read out from his notes all the wrong information.

‘Two weeks ago?’- ‘No, two MONTHS now-

‘You had the cast off last time?’ – ‘No (held up hand) I had it put ON.’

But I had to repeat myself as he obviously wasn’t listening. When he talked over me and said words to the effect of ‘I haven’t got all day!” I retorted, “well if you’d stop patronising me, stop saying what you want to say and listen to what I’M trying to tell you, we could get on and be done a lot quicker!”

I’ve a feeling it rather shocked him that a patient had dared to talk back to him! Anyway, I finally got an X-ray of my right hand … apparently not broken. Fair enough, I can stop worrying.

Left hand however is still fragile. And he actually never looked at it – just said to have the cast off. So stand by for more ‘words’ next time I go!

What additionally irritates, neither of these second two chaps introduced themselves. Which I find is SO rude! The third bloke, though (after he’d more or less ignored me and started saying all the wrong things) I interrupted and said “And you are…???”

In contrast the consultant for my wonky eyes was lovely, very helpful, very friendly. The good news is that the pressure for my glaucoma seems to have completely stabilised, so that’s good news.

I must add that the staff in Admin, A&E, X-ray and ALL the nurses were absolutely fabulous - I shared a laugh with the nurse who 'plastered' me (I promised not to tell a word about her stash of ginger nuts … oops… LOL).

I’ve managed to (just about!) keep working. Jan Christopher #2 ‘A Mystery of Murder’ is not far off being finished and good news for Jesamiah Acorne fans: I am re-publishing ‘When The Mermaid Sings’ (expected release date late June) Not only will it be in e-book AND paperback format, it has a super new cover (see front page) AND (hold your excitement dear reader...) some new, additional scenes!

When I originally wrote it for Silverwood Books’ S-Books novella project I was limited to 40,000 words maximum. Now I’m publishing it myself I’ve added about another 10,000, so we have several more scenes about Tiola – seeing her and her family when she was a child.

Keep an eye on the front page for the latest information!

Everything is fine at home – although as I write this I rather wish it would stop raining and/or blowing a gale. I’m very surprised that my new gazebo over the patio is still standing… It’s the end of May, not long until Midsummer – and we still have the central heating on!

The foal, Phoenix, born last year, had her 1st birthday on 19th May, and her Mum, Saffie, has now officially retired. She’s 22 and her breathing is a bit cranky, plus she has a touch of arthritis. She’s a super, lovely mare (though utterly scatty!) so deserves to spend her days in the fields grazing with her friends. A bit of sunshine would be a bonus.

And we have a new horse, Cocoa is the image of Saffy but not quite so scatty. Keep an eye on my Facebook page for pictures of her.

And now that Covid restrictions are lifting (fingers crossed) I hope we can take the dogs down to Saunton Sands at the edge of Exmoor and enjoy a romp on the beach and a paddle in the sea! After eating fish and ships bought at Braunton, and enjoyed on the rocks on the beach, that is.

That’s the only thing I haven’t got here at my home in Devon, the Sound of the Sea.

Mind you, when it’s blowing a hoolie of a gale outside, the wind rushing through the trees sounds just like the movement of the waves.

So I guess I shouldn’t complain.
May
The bright horizon of defeating Covid-19 is in everyone’s hopes and hearts, although with all the new variants appearing, and so many countries experiencing new surges, whether we will ever be free of this pandemic is debatable. Still, I’ve had my jab and I don’t want to boast (but I’m going to) as I write this the ‘toll’ for new cases in North Devon was... zero.

When I attended A&E for my injured hands (see April 2021 Journal entry) I got into conversation with the consultant and he mentioned that there was only one case of Covid in the hospital. Which is good news for North Devon – but then we are very rural here, with a higher population of sheep and cattle than people!

Out of interest, our conversation also included the myth that ‘horses do not stomp on people who are beneath their hooves’. The bruise on my thigh (now a wonderful yellow colour) proves they do (albeit not deliberately!). The consultant mentioned that he used to be the attending medical doctor at local point-to-points. "Believe me", he said, "horses DO tread on people!"

I didn’t need convincing!

Talking of my poor old hands though, here we are in May and both of them remain in the definite ‘ouch’ department. Left hand has a suspected fracture at the base of the thumb, but there was too much oedema and indication of early-onset arthritis to be able to ascertain if that dark line on the X-ray and MRI scan was a fracture or not.

Given that we are these weeks later, and I’m in considerable pain if I am without the sturdy Velcro-bound brace, I think ‘fracture’ is a likelihood. I’ll find out when I go back to see the consultant. Right hand, I thought was just bruised, but some recently experienced loud cracks followed by "Ouch that hurts" may also indicate more than mere bruising.

Still, I soldier on with using the index finger of each hand to type – and I can, just about, use the right thumb for the space bar – though often with not enough strength, so I have to do a lot of back-spacing. It is very tedious!

Anyway… I haven’t really minded lockdown, although I do miss meeting fellow writers at conferences and festivals – Zoom really isn’t the same. Emails have saved the day for me, especially when ‘chatting’ to friends – really good friends who have the humour to say things like ‘I have writer "friends" who, it turns out, only have writing in common with me and that's all they want to talk about (mainly because they want something!) and then I have nutter friends who talk bras, knickers, horses, dogs AND writing. And they're the ones that are keepers.’

That’s me in the last category - we were talking underwear as it's really hard putting on or taking off anything with elastic if you can’t use your hands to stretch the darn stuff!

I also can’t cut up my dinner, carry anything heavy, open any bottles or jars, squeeze things like tomato ketchup or toothpaste, and have given up trying to do anything glamorous with my hair. As for putting socks on… forget it.

Moral of the story: Don’t fall flat on your face whilst leading a horse that is twice your size!


On a sad note, however, I lost a very, very dear friend in April; on my birthday as it happened. Richard Tearle was a lovely, kind, generous and witty man. He reviewed books for the Historical Fiction review site I run, and would always be willing to read through chapters I’d written, bash ideas about, advise, suggest – and be a sturdy prop on days when I was feeling down.

I am so pleased that I managed to get his own short-read novel "The North Finchley Writers’ Group" published for him, and that he saw the finished result. Thank you again to those wonderful authors who also helped to produce the book: Annie Whitehead, Elizabeth St John, Alison Morton, Nicky Galliers and Caz Greenham – and the anonymous author who paid for the wonderful cover Cathy Helms of AvalonGraphics.org designed.

I wrote a tribute to him, and I do miss him, very much. RIP Richard.


Onward though: I am re-energising my blog site from May 1st with a new banner designed by www.AvalonGraphics.org, and I plan to have a new (short but interesting) article every day except Sunday, on a regular theme – like ‘Monday Mysteries’ and ‘Friday Furries’.

Intrigued? Go to the blog to find out more!
April
I hope you are all keeping well and safe. I’ve had my first Covid-19 jab, as have my husband and daughter. We are now awaiting jab number two. And for the record: the AstraZeneca vaccine. Mild flu-like symptoms the day after. Nothing else.

But what an up-and-down month March was! Alas, Down being rather a sore point. Literally!

There I was, one Monday evening, helping to bring the horses in from the field. I had Franc, our three-year-old who wanders in quite happily with me. Next thing I knew I was flat on my face – came down a right wallop – with Franc, all 16 hands of him, right behind me. He trod on the back of my left thigh, but, thank goodness, managed to side-step the rest of me... My back, my head...? I let go of him (of course, but we’re in our private lane, so no worries there) and lay there a bit like a beached whale, winded, and wondering how much of me was now not in one piece.

Kathy hastily shoved the other horses away – having ascertained that No, I didn’t think I needed an ambulance. I rolled over. Okay. Nothing seemed broken, but ‘ouch’ was putting it somewhat mildly.

Big problem – getting up again (not easy anyway for me, with arthritic knees). On my feet: again, no, nothing seemed broken, nothing bleeding either, just a bit battered and shaken.

Next day, still a little shocked, the bruise on my thigh was enormous. If you’d like to see it, hover your mouse pointer herechampagne.

I confess the enormous black hoof-print-shaped splodge looks worse than it is, although I am very, very sore and I’m creaking around like an old chair that’s lost its stuffing and has a wonky leg. Getting up the stairs is great fun. Not!

Add to the black-and-blue-and-purplish bruised leg, the heel of my left hand was quite puffed up. As I write this my hand is strapped up and I have to return to A & E for a consultant’s opinion of whether I have broken one of the small scaphoid bones or not. Judging by the high "ouch" factor ten days after my face-first-splat, yes I have broken something. I’m becoming quite adept at typing two handed, but with only one finger from my otherwise immobilised left hand.

I will tell you that getting dressed or undressed, especially where anything elastic is concerned, is not easy! Whoever invented bras needs to think again…

With my right shoulder still sore adding to the discomfort, I rather wish I could just stay in bed! (Which I probably would if I had Internet at that end of the house – but thick eighteenth-century walls were not designed for email or web browsing. Alas, no connection up there.)

Franc, needless to say, is absolutely fine.

The good news, the Ups, however, nicely balance the frequent "ooh", "ow" and "ouch" sounds that waft from wherever I happen to be.

I’ve received some fabulous reviews for A Mirror Murder from some highly eminent book review sites such as Jo Barton’s "Jaffa Reads Too", in addition to being awarded an IndieBRAG Honoree Medallion and a Chill With A Book ‘Book of the Month’ award.

In addition to these, I’m accumulating some super reviews on good old Amazon. Things like:

"I bought this book by chance as I was scrolling and I am so glad that I did. It’s the first book that I have actually been able to get stuck into for a long time. Excellent setting and plot."

and

"I enjoyed the writing, the plot, the red herrings and the fact that the main character is only 6 months younger than I am, so I could easily identify with the time in which the book is set. [1971]"

Mind you, I’m not sure which book this person was reading:

“Very wimpish heroine. Seemed to cry all the time! Too much unnecessary detail and almost making a short story into a novel.”

My Jan is only 18 years old, and yes, has a little weep soon after she’s come across the murder victim and at another point when relief overwhelms her. That makes her human, not ‘wimpish’. Plus, it’s clearly promoted as a novella which means a short-long-story or a long-short-story. Take your pick.

It is well over 30,000 words though, and being priced at a modest £1.99 / £3.99 ($2.78 / $5.39 US), I think it’s a bargain! Still, I guess you can’t please all the readers all the time, can you?

I’m off to have my dinner. Pasta again, I think. It’s easier to eat one-handed…

Stay Safe.
Wash your hands.
Keep your distance.
Wear a mask.
March
I hope you are all keeping well and safe – and have either had, or will soon have, your Covid Jab? News, as I’m writing this, has come through that a vaccination does not only protect you from the virus but it also seems to mute transmission. Let’s hope so!

I want to talk about books (no surprise there!) specifically, the enormous effort involved for Indie writers to sell their books. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to encourage you to buy my books (well, OK, yes I am...) but not only is the indie author responsible for getting the book edited, a cover designed and either DIY publishing it via Amazon, Ingram Spark or similar, which will mean formatting it correctly – in the ‘old days’ this would be known as typesetting. Actual publishing could be done through a company, of course, who are familiar with all that technical work. Until recently, SilverWood Books Ltd saw to all that for me, but this year, 2021, I decided to do things myself, with the help of a few friends. My cosy mystery, A Mirror Murder is the first result.

The second result is a book that I and some brilliant author friends pulled all the stops out to get into print. I must thank Alison Morton, Caz Greenham, Annie Whitehead and Elizabeth St John in particular, plus Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics and Nicky Galliers.

This is The North Finchley Writers' Group - a cosy quick read about everyday London folk by Richard Tearle

Richard has been a very firm supporter of indie writers for almost a decade now, reviewing writers’ work with enthusiasm and care. Sadly, he was taken ill shortly before Christmas and is currently still in hospital. It was his dream to write a novel – as opposed to his two anthologies of short stories. The NFWG evolved from one of those ‘shorts’ when I happened to mention, ‘This would make a brilliant short novel you know.’

Richard took me at my word and wrote it, then at the crucial final edit stage he became ill. The choice was to abandon the project, or make it happen for him. I polished it up as best I could (though apparently I missed a couple of typos – oh well, no-one's perfect!) and with the kind aid of the above people, ‘happen’ we made it!

For both books, though, now comes the hard part. The marketing. Online book tours, mentioning on Facebook and Twitter (and other social media sites) all help but the best thing is good, positive reviews on Amazon and ‘spreading the word’.

Obviously, I’d like A Mirror Murder to do well, but my priority is to continue ‘making it happen’ for Richard. He has lost out on all the enjoyment and excitement of seeing his little book in print while he struggles in hospital – the only thing I can think of to do something about that is to tell him, when he’s (hopefully) up and about again, that, "Guess what Richard – your book has done really, really well!"

Which is where you come in.

Please join me in wishing him "get well soon" and to put a smile on his face by knowing that his light-hearted little read about every-day writer folk has brought enjoyment to many, many readers – positive reviews on Amazon will be thoroughly appreciated. Thank you.

The North Finchley Writers’ Group
By Richard Tearle (with Helen Hollick)

"When a group of north London writers meet each month for a chat, coffee, and cake – what else is on their agenda? Constructive criticism? New Ideas? An exciting project and, maybe, more than one prospective romance?

Eavesdrop on the monthly meetings of the North Finchley Writers' Group, follow some ordinary people with a love of story writing, and an eagerness for success.

Discover, along with them, the mysteries of creating characters and plot, of what inspires ideas, and how real life can, occasionally, divert the dream…
"


Stay Safe.
Wash your hands.
Keep your distance.
Wear a mask.
February
I hope you are all keeping well and safe.

My cosy mystery A Mirror Murder is now published – and doing well if the Amazon reviews are anything to go by. (I’d love a few more please!)

I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from people who know the area where the story is set (South Chingford, East London). Apart from the scene of crime location, I made the decision to use actual places, naming the roads and pubs etc., as they really are, which has meant that readers who live, or lived, there recognise everywhere that my characters go, and as A Mirror Murder is set in 1971 it has jogged a few memories and a fair bit of nostalgia – especially for readers who have moved away. (Thank you for contacting me to one reader in particular who emigrated to Australia.)

Jan Christopher’s next adventure into solving a crime (titled A Mystery Of Murder) is well under way and will, I hope, be published late spring or early summer.

I have had some less happy memories during January, however. My friend, and world-loved historical fiction author, Sharon Kay Penman passed away on the 22nd January. To many readers she brought the Medieval Welsh princes and the Plantagenets to life, and was forefront in casting a more sympathetic view of the life of Richard III.

I cannot remember the exact date, but it must have been between 1986 and early 1987 that I came across her second novel, Here Be Dragons, about King John and Prince Llewelyn, in our public library. I’d heard of John, but not Llewelyn. It looked an interesting read - which is possibly the understatement of a lifetime.

I enjoyed that novel so much I wrote to the author, via the publisher (no internet back then!) to say thank you for writing it, and how it had inspired me to keep going with my own writing. A few weeks later I received a handwritten letter from Sharon (sadly, I no longer have it). In it she thanked me for writing, asked if I’d be able to meet her for coffee as she would be in London again soon, and said, "If you can make a four page letter as interesting as the one you sent me, I cannot wait to read your book."

I have never forgotten those words.

We duly met and ‘coffee’ turned into a long lasting friendship, with Sharon encouraging me to keep writing, and recommending me to her agent – who took me on. In the first week of April 1993 the agent telephoned me to say that another publisher wanted to produce Sharon’s books, but she was contracted elsewhere. However, the agent offered them ‘Sharon’s protégé’. Me.

Two weeks later, I signed a contract with William Heinemann.

I have many happy and delightful memories of being with Sharon – trudging up the stairs together to our agent’s top-floor aerie, lunches full of laughter (and history), a delightful day at a Medieval Fair (I think somewhere in Hertfordshire) where she bought a pop-up book about knights for my daughter, who must have been about seven or eight.

The highlight of our friendship, for me, was spending three days in North Wales together. Sharon took me on a personal tour of her favourite sights. We trudged up the hill to visit Dolwyddelan Castle, stood together to watch the torrent of water that is Rhaeadr Ewynnol (Swallow Falls), followed by lunch in a nearby pub. We visited Beddgelert and discussed the legend – and our dogs – during a very pleasant riverside walk. Leaning against the walls of Criccieth Castle we laughed about when Joanna burnt Llewelyn’s bed in ‘Here Be Dragons’, a made-up event, but probably one of Sharon’s most memorable scenes.

Sitting with Sharon for breakfast on the hotel’s patio on a gloriously sunny morning overlooking the Welsh landscape, will always remain a treasured moment.

Sharon helped many aspiring authors to become successful writers, giving up her time to befriend and encourage. I’m not sure if I was the first she helped, (if not, I was certainly among the first) but if it was not for her enormous kindness, generosity and encouragement I’m not sure that I would have had the courage, or impetus, to finish that first novel of mine, let alone send it to an agent or become an author.

We did not correspond so much these last few years – lack of time and busy commitments for both of us – but Sharon was one of the two authors (the other being Elizabeth Chadwick,) who wholeheartedly supported my decision to go Indie back in 2006. Nor did we have an opportunity to chat at a Denver conference in 2015 – I wish now that I had made the time.

It is because of Sharon that I am a published author. It is because of Sharon’s generosity that I, in turn, do all I can to encourage and promote good indie authors. It is my way of saying thank you to her.

We will all miss her.

Stay Safe.
Keep your distance.
Wear a mask.
January
A New Year, New Normal (we hope) and for myself, a New Series – a New Genre. (But don’t worry, Captain Jesamiah Acorne will be back soon!)

I do hope you are all keeping well and safe. Christmas has not been the same for anyone this year, although a rotten Christmas is not the first time for me. My ninety-two year old mother passed away in the early hours of Christmas morning back in 2009 after several weeks in hospital.

Not a good day for your Mum to pass away on, especially as December had already been the Nightmare Month from Hell. (Find out more in my journal entry for that month.)

It was certainly a month I will never want to repeat. To be honest, 2020, for myself and my immediate family wasn’t so bad. (Although, yes, I was pleased to see the back of it!) We are tucked away here in our middle-of-nowhere Devon farmhouse, with The Plague consuming the entire world outside our personal ‘bubble’. We are a mile from our (equally a bubble!) village and a quarter of a mile from our nearest neighbours. Everyone in the near vicinity is careful to ‘make a space’ and wear a mask. We rarely go out, unless we have to. Asda or Tesco delivers the groceries, or we use the village community shop, or nearby South Molton. We are isolated – but we are not alone. Rural life has huge advantages. I’m looking forward to a quiet, relaxing Christmas.

Although, I will be very busy!

I am expanding into the world of the Cosy Mystery, drawing on my imagination and thirteen years of working as an assistant in the library at South Chingford, where I used to live. I must stress, though, I’ve never been involved with a murder – nor the police come to that – aside from some hay that was stolen from our barn a couple of years ago! So imagination, and the hours of enjoyably watching Foyle, Morse, Endeavour, Lewis, Frost et al, has played a big part in the plot development of this, the first, in the Jan Christopher Mystery Series.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

A Mirror Murder
By Helen Hollick

"Eighteen-year-old library assistant Jan Christopher’s life is to change on a rainy Friday evening in July 1971, when her legal guardian and uncle, DCI Toby Christopher, gives her a lift home after work. Driving the car is her uncle’s new Detective Constable, Laurie Walker – and it is love at first sight for the young couple.

But romance is soon to take a back seat when a baby boy is taken from his pram, a naked man is scaring young ladies in nearby Epping Forest, and an elderly lady is found, brutally murdered...

Are the events related? How will they affect the staff and public of the local library where Jan works – and will a blossoming romance survive a police investigation into murder?
"


Sounds good doesn’t it? (Well, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of personal Trumpet Tootling!)

I’m planning (hoping!) for a release date of 19th January – so keep your eyes peeled on my Amazon author page or why not subscribe to my sort-of-monthly newsletter?

I chose 19th January for a couple of reasons, the first being that A Mirror Murder is dedicated to the memory of my Dad, Toby Turner, who passed away on that date several years ago now, the second being that we moved into our Devon farmhouse on the 18th January 2013 – with the 19th being our first full day here.

Dad served during WWII and was a POW for much of it. When he eventually came home one of the careers he wanted was to be a policeman – but back then the Metropolitan Police stipulated a minimum height, and Dad was only 5’ 9 – not tall enough. He became a Post Office worker instead. My sub-main character, therefore, is DCI Toby Christopher, named Toby for Dad.

I have an early memory of Dad working for the Post Office. We were going somewhere special, an event in London (it might well have been one of the London-based horse shows, very possibly the Christmas show at Olympia.) I’ve no idea how old I was, seven, eight perhaps? I recall that it was dark, and we (Mum, me, my elder sister) were waiting outside a large building for Dad to finish work and join us.

“Why are we having to wait?” I recall asking. “Because he has to do his balancing.” Mum replied.

This puzzled me. I had no idea that ‘balancing’ meant ‘balancing the books’ i.e. ensuring that the daily accounts were correct, that money ‘out’ balanced with ‘money in’.

I so clearly remember standing there, pondering. Finally asking; “Does Daddy work in a circus then?”

Well, I thought it was a reasonable enough question.

Stay Safe.
Keep your distance.
Wear a mask

– and let’s hope that 2021 is a darn sight better than the year we’ve just kicked out!