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"The mirror shows a double gaze but does not reveal hidden secrets."


February
 2021

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.

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

January
 2021

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 here 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:

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!

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig