Best Books of 2017

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

This post is a bit late coming, given that we’re already halfway through February.

Every year I set up a ‘Goodreads’ challenge to read so many books in a year. On average it takes me about a week to read one average-length novel. Most of this is down to my long commute – I spend the best part of 3 hours a day every working day on public transport, travelling to and from work, and I use most of that time to read. I am also quite a fast reader, especially if the book is exciting, and I find myself turning pages faster to find out what happens next.

In 2017 I set myself a goal of reading 68. Happily I exceeded that goal and a read a total of 70 books last year. Six of those books I gave a five-star rating to, and this my criteria for the ‘best books of the year’ list.

In no particular order, they are:

Pet Sematary: Stephen King
Heart-Shaped Box: Joe Hill
Behind Her Eyes: Sarah Pinborough
X: Sue Grafton
Bones Never Lie: Kathy Reichs
Soul Music: Terry Pratchett

No real surprises here – these are all authors whose books I enjoy, and three of my four all-time favourite authors – Stephen King, Sue Grafton and Kathy Reichs – are in this list. The only one who isn’t is Sara Paretsky, and that was only because I did not read her 2017 release (though I bought it, at Bouchercon in Toronto) last year.

More details about these books and why I enjoyed them can be found below.

Pet Sematary:
The first time I read this book was over 25 years ago. I had to re-read it last year for my horror book club, and I had forgotten just how good it is. This is an almost-perfect horror story that contains all of the characteristics of King that made him my inspiration.

Louis Creed, doctor and Ordinary Guy moves his family to rural Maine when he takes up a job as resident physician on a university campus. The road outside the house claims the lives of many pets, so many that a pet cemetery has been set up by local children. But there’s something much darker lying beyond the cemetery, and Louis’ descent into madness is creepy and downright disturbing.

Heart-Shaped Box:
I got to meet Joe Hill at Fantasycon in Scarborough a couple of years ago, and end up buying a few books of his which he signed. This was one of them. It involves a fading, self-absorbed rock star with a fascination for collecting macabre items who ends up buying from the internet a suit that allegedly has a ghost attached to it. The suit turns up in a heart-shaped box and the promised ghost does indeed come with the suit, but as always the story is far more complex and it soon takes a sinister turn.

Though not in the same league as his famous father, Stephen King, Joe Hill is still an accomplished horror writer in his own right, and this is a creepy and rather disturbing tale.

Behind Her Eyes:
I know Sarah Pinborough personally through both the crime and horror convention circuits, and I am always impressed with both her versatility and her writing style. The author of 20-plus published novels, this is the one that seems to have moved her up into the big leagues, and well deserved that move is to.

‘Behind Her Eyes’ starts out as effectively a love triange between David, Adele and Louise. David is a doctor, Adele his apparently fragile wife, and single mother Louise his secretary. But she meets him in a bar and shares a kiss with him before she starts her new job and realise that he’s her boss. Meanwhile Adele offers a hand of friendship to Louise and she finds herself getting closer to Adele, whilst feeling guilty about carrying on a relationship with David. Alternating between Adele and Louise’s point of view, it soon becomes apparent that this is not a typical psychological thriller, and it has an ending that will blow you away.

X:
I was not to know, at the time I read this book, that it would be Sue Grafton’s penultimate novel and she would tragically leave us before getting to the end of her ‘alphabet’ books. I have been with Grafton’s couragious female PI since ‘A is for Alibi’. Kinsey Millhone isn’t married and doesn’t seem to be able to commit to relationships, has no kids and no desire to have any, doesn’t cook and doesn’t play particularly well with others. I think she’s wonderful. In ‘X’ Kinsey ends up crossing paths with a particularly vicious villain, and the encounter will have long-term repercussions for her.

I am aware that Grafton’s writing style, and her character, has influenced my own crime series. Sue Grafton is the only one of my favourite crime writers I never got to meet, and I wish I could have.

Bones Never Lie:
Kathy Reichs is another one of my favourite crime writer, and one I’ve had the privilege to meet. Forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan shuttles between Montreal and North Caroline, uncovering murders in her examination of bones, and with a long-standing on-again off-again relationship with Montreal cop Andrew Ryan. She also has a daughter, Katy, whose chronological age marks the passage of time in the series, though by now Katy is grown up and off doing her own thing.

This one was very typical of Kathy Reichs’ style. But I freely admit I love the formula, and I found this one a proper page-turner.

Soul Music:
I’ve been re-reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series for a while, and I expect it to take me quite some time yet, since there are over 40 books in the series and this is #16. And eventually I will get to books I haven’t read before, since I didn’t get through them all the first time around.

My favourite books are the ones about the witches, but Death comes a close second and this one features the latter. In this chronicle of the fantasy world, the inhabitants discover Rock Music, and the spirit of teenage rebellion it inspires. Pratchett’s books are always entertaining, and are always a good thing to read when I need my spirits lifting.

So there we have it for the best books of 2017. For 2018 I’ve decided to play it safe and set a goal to read 70 books. Nearly 7 weeks in I have read 7, which puts me a bit behind schedule. But I am sure I shall catch up!

And if anyone is on Goodreads and wants to link up there, this is my profile page.

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Monthly Round-Up: January 2018

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I really hate January. It has no redeeming features. It’s dark, cold and wet, everyone is broke after Christmas, there is nothing to look forward to and as I never see daylight during the working week it’s the month my SAD seems to hit the hardest so I spend most of it feeling depressed.

Hence, I am always glad to see the back of it. Happily, we are now out of January and there are a few things to look forward to in the coming months as there is news to report.

COMING SOON:

I am pleased to announce that my previously-published story “Morgan’s Father” (most recently available in the collection SOUL SCREAMS) is to be published in the forthcoming ‘Women in Horror’ edition of the ezine SIREN’S CALL.

My new horror novel OUTPOST H311 is currently with the editor, and will be released later this year from KGHH publishing. I will let you know when I have more news regarding release date.

PUBLICITY:

I’ve been a bit quiet on this front of late, and there’s nothing to report at the moment, but there are a couple of things I’ve been working on and I hope to have something to report soon.

WORK IN PROGRESS:

With the horror novel finished I’ve been trying to figure out what to work on next. I’m back at work on the collaboration with Hubby, which has been a somewhat long-running project. It’s a crime thriller set in 1967, about a young woman with a dream to play bass in a band, who gets caught up in the heady world of London gangs and the rising music scene when she searches for a friend who’s disappeared.

The fourth Shara Summers novel is about a third of the way through draft 1, but I have not done any work on it for 12 months. I am still in two minds as to whether to carry on with this series. I enjoy writing it, but it’s not selling, and is there any point in carrying on with a series people don’t want to read?

As we move into February and the days start to get lighter, things start to look brighter. Join me again at the end of this month to see what it had in store!

My Life in Music: 1975

1975 was the year I became an Abba fan. When they exploded onto the music scene by winning the Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Waterloo’ in 1974, Abba took over the pop scene in the UK. Every birthday party I went to in 1975 seemed to be playing Abba records, and by the time of my sixth birthday, in October 1975, I was a firm fan.

I don’t remember my birthday party that year. I know I went into hospital a few days later, to have my tonsils out, because the day I went home was Hallowe’en. We’d been making decorations for a Hallowe’en party in the children’s ward during my stay, and I was a bit miffed that I missed the party because I had to go home.

I seem to remember a lot of birthday parties that year, and the year after, perhaps because I was now in school and inviting lots of classmates to your birthday party was the thing to do. It seems appropriate, then, to include a photograph of myself ready to go to a birthday party. This may be early 1976 rather than 1975, to be honest. The clue is the fact I am missing my bottom two teeth in this picture. These were the first two to fall out. Was I five or six when I started to lose baby teeth? I can’t remember. But by the time of my 1976 school picture, which must have been taken at the end of the year, all my adult teeth had grown in. You’ll get that one in the next post.

1976 birthday party

Sara circa 1975: Short frocks, skinny legs and missing teeth…

What I do remember, however – but possibly only because the photograph is captioned in my photo album – is that the birthday party I was going to was for a classmate called Angela. No, I don’t remember what was in the gift-wrapped box. It was over 40 years ago, after all.

My loyalty to Abba remains unwavering, after all this time. I still love Abba and always have, even through the 1990s when it was decidedly uncool to admit to liking Abba. Until, of course, the musical ‘Mamma Mia’ appeared. Ever since then it’s been acceptable to be an Abba fan.

The early songs of Abba still remind me of those childhood birthday parties. We sat on the floor and played Pass the Parcel, or jumped around to music and then had to be very still when it stopped (Musical Statues). We ate jelly and ice cream, and chunks of cheese, tinned pineapple and pickled onions, on cocktail sticks stuck into a potato wrapped in tin foil. We were a bunch of over-excited five and six-year-olds buzzing on sugar from too much birthday cake. Those birthday parties must have been hard on our poor parents.

One of Abba’s biggest hits in 1975 was ‘Mamma Mia’, and it is my choice of song for 1975, presented with the official music video. I remember watching this one on ‘Top of the Pops’. Who can forget those classic Abba poses?

 

Year in Review: 2017

(Cross-published on the WriteClub blog)

Well here we are at the start of 2018. This is a time to make resolutions to change things in the forthcoming year, and review how things went in the last one.

This time last year, I resolved to have two finished WIPs by the end of 2017. Well, I got halfway there. I finished the latest horror novel in mid-December. The novel is called OUTPOST H311 and it will be published by KGHH Publishing some time this year. Stay tuned for more info on this.

The other WIP – the fourth Shara Summers novel – remains unfinished. I am at present trying to make up my mind whether to continue with this series. The third novel is still without a publication date. Although it was accepted by MuseItUp Publishing some 18 months ago, health and personal issues affecting both my editor and my publisher there have delayed publishing schedules.

I enjoy writing the Shara series, and the few reviews that I’ve received for the first two books in the series have been positive, but they really aren’t selling, and I’m finding this very discouraging. What’s the point of writing books that no one seems interested in reading?

Since I finished OUTPOST H311 I’ve taken a bit of break from writing while I think about what to work on next. I have got a couple of vague ideas, but nothing concrete yet.

This year, I resolve to have at least one WIP finished by the end of the year. I just haven’t made up my mind which one yet.

Happy New Year one and all, and hope 2018 brings success and happiness.

My Life in Music: 1974

The song for this year I remember being in the charts, and in a way it’s the song that indirectly inspired this series of posts. I remember every time I heard this song, I felt sad and I couldn’t understand why. I was too young to understand it at the time, but it’s the song that first made me realise the power of music on our emotions.

The song is about death, and I think I knew that. But at the age of four I didn’t really understand what death was about. All of my grandparents were alive, my parents were still together, and I didn’t really appreciate what grief was all about.

I started school in September 1974, at All Saints’ Infants School in Mossley. Fun fact – TV presenter Melanie Sykes was my classmate in junior school, all the way from the first day of school until my family moved to Canada in 1980.

The school was an old building, and we spent three years there before moving up to the junior school next door – Micklehurst – which was a newer building and had portacabins for some of the classrooms, and went from Junior 1 to Junior 4. I looked online for the school, which is still there, but it looks like they’ve now combined the infant school with the junior school, and the nursery school next door which I also went to. I don’t recognise any of the pictures at all. The location is the same, but either the school’s been renovated beyond recognition over the last forty years or they pulled the old buildings down and rebuilt it completely.

My best friend at that time was a girl named Helen, who lived down the street from us. Her father was a policeman. He died, in this year or the following one, I can’t remember exactly. This was my closest experience of death at that time, and all I really understood was that Helen’s daddy wasn’t around anymore.

This song still makes me feel sad. It makes me think of primary school, and the house we lived in until 1976, the first place that I came to understand was ‘home’. There’s also a very odd memory that comes to mind whenever I hear this song. At the age of four I was still trying to understand the world and every day was a new adventure. I had very little understanding of what a cruel place the world could be. I knew that wars existed, but it was all so remote from my own existence. I guess I was lucky in that sense. But I remember my mother talking about a news story in the paper. There was a picture of a woman lying on the ground, and one of her feet was gone. My mother said the woman’s foot had been blown off. I didn’t know what bombs were at that age. The only thing I knew of that could ‘blow’ was the wind, and for quite a long time afterwards I was afraid to go out in a strong wind, because I thought wind had the power to blow body parts off.

It’s a strange memory, and I have no idea why I connect it to this song, except perhaps it was playing on the radio in the background at the time of the conversation, or maybe my immature brain connected this song about death to the article about war and destruction, in an attempt to understand the adult world.

The picture of me here is from a day trip – to Great Yarmouth, I believe. I don’t remember the day out. I do, strangely, remember the anorak I’m wearing.

So, here is the song for 1974 – ‘Seasons in the Sun’ by Terry Jacks. The video is a series of images that relate to the lyrics of the song. I can’t watch this video without crying. This song has that kind of power over me. And that’s why it was the only choice for the song for 1974.

My Life in Music: 1973

As has been evident in my previous posts in this series, the music that made an impact on me in the early years of my life was influenced by my parents’ tastes in music. The song for this year is from my mother’s music collection.

It’s from an album by the Carpenters, called Now and Then. The album is effectively a mix of old songs and new, with one side being original Carpenters tracks and the other covers of old songs, set up on the album to sound like they were being played on the radio, with a DJ between the tracks.

The Carpenters were a big influence in my childhood, because my mother had most of their albums. I thought Karen Carpenter had a beautiful voice, and of course she was a drummer before she was a singer. Women drummers were rather rare in the 1970s and I’ve always been drawn to women who dare to venture into worlds traditionally occupied by men. It has been pointed out that Karen’s anorexia, triggered apparently by media criticisms of being ‘chubby’ in the early days of the Carpenters, perhaps is evidence of the fact she was never very comfortable being in the limelight, and might have been far happier had she stayed hiding behind her drum kit.

I do remember that when she died, in February 1983, my eighth-grade English teacher used the event to trigger a discussion about anorexia in class.

The track I’ve picked for this year is not my favourite track off the album but it is the most evocative. We listened to it a lot, and we must have had the album on tape, because when I hear this song it reminds me of being in the car with my mother, driving through Mossley, the town in Lancashire where I lived for the first ten years of my life. The tape had a ‘wobble’ in it partway through this song. Those of you who are the same generation as me will remember that a hazard of cassette tapes – the only portable medium of music we had in those days – was that tapes would often get ‘chewed up’ by players, and they never played quite the same way again.

Sara in Portsmouth, Summer 1973

And the photo? My album says this was taken in Portsmouth. Evidently it was summer, which means I was probably a couple of months away from turning four. I was all skinny legs and knobbly knees at that age, but I’m wondering now if it is actually 1973. All the childhood photos I have of me I gathered together before I moved back to England from Canada in 1988, neatly arranged in an album in order of year, but I am starting to wonder if the year is accurate in all cases.

I do vaguely remember this holiday, though. My grandparents lived in Portsmouth at the time. Being a naval town, Portsmouth had big black anchors arranged as sort of sculptures in the town, and I remember climbing all over them. Well, I remember them being giant-sized anchors, but I was very small back then. In this photo I am standing on a narrow wooden post on the beach. It was hot. I was very good at balancing on things when I was very young – I lost the ability to do that a few years later, when the fear of falling kicked in. I do remember it was the only time I had my hair cut very short, during a summer that was rather hot (though not as hot as the British heatwave that kicked in a few years later). I decided I really didn’t like it short, and I refused to have it cut that short again. Even as an adult, I’ve always worn my hair fairly long.

Anyway, following this collection of memories which appear to span quite a number of years, here is the song for 1973, which definitely was released in this year – ‘One Fine Day’ by the Carpenters.

Monday’s Friend: Samantha Priestley

Today I’m pleased to welcome author Samantha Priestley to my blog.

SJT: When did you first know you were destined to be a writer?

SP: As a child and a teenager I always loved writing, but I didn’t think it was an option for me as a career, I didn’t think I’d be good enough or that I was ‘clever’ enough. It was only when I’d worked in a bookshop for a few years and met a few authors that I realised they were pretty normal people. Then when I had my children and I was at home with them for a while, I thought ‘it’s now or never’, and I started writing seriously. I don’t think I’ve ever thought I was destined to be a writer, and still don’t. It’s just the thing I want to do most.

SJT: Who would you cite as your influences?

SP: The Brontes, Kate Atkinson, Thomas Hardy, Kate Bush, Ross Raisin, Shelagh Delaney

SJT: What advice would you pass on to beginner writers that you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?

SP: You probably won’t make the kind of money you think a writer makes and you’re probably going to have to be flexible about how you make money, and if you really want to do this you’re going to have to be ok with that. Find a way to make money that still allows you the time to be creative and keep trying.

SJT: Have you ever been inspired to put people you know in real life in your books?

SP: I do it all the time, but they probably wouldn’t recognise themselves. Almost every character is based on someone, or on more than one person.

SJT: Tell us about the latest release.

SP: It’s called A BAD WINTER and it’s my first ghost story. It runs simultaneously between two timelines, one in modern day and one in the 1760s, tying the two together with the spirit of Sarah Vernon. It’s set in a Derbyshire village where the original real story comes from. I read a snippet of a local story from that time about a girl who was murdered in a house that’s no longer standing. I don’t want to say too much and give anything anyway, but what happened after the girl’s death gave me the idea for the book.

SJT: You’ve done some travel writing.  Are there any places you’ve visited that were really memorable for you, and if so, why?

SP: Oh, so many! I love travelling and I end up setting stories in places that I’ve loved visiting. I love Cornwall and used to take my kids every summer when they were small, so it always reminds me of them as they were then. Italy I found to be so beautiful and I’d love to go back, and also Spain, I love Barcelona, it’s such a cultural city.

SJT: Any other writing projects on the go at the moment?

SP: I tend to work on more than one book at a time, so I have a first draft of one almost finished and I’ve just started another. I’ll go back to the first one and re-write then leave it a while and work on the second one etc. I have a pamphlet of flash fiction coming out with RedBird soon and my next novel, ROSE VILLA, will be out in February.

SJT: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

SP: Sleep! I like going for walks, eating out, watching films. I also go with my partner to life drawing sessions (he’s an artist and created the cover of A Bad Winter). I find it really relaxing, and also everyone goes to the pub after…which is the real reason I go 😉

BLURB FOR ‘A BAD WINTER’

When does passion turn to love? When does responsibility mean guilt? When does a death become a murder?

In A Bad Winter these hefty questions stir up echoes through time, from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century, to create an intimate and powerful tale of personal lives in freefall. With her trademark pictorial prose and beautifully phrased metaphors, novelist Samantha Priestley has created a ghostly romance set among wintry Derbyshire hills, and a shivering good read.

A BAD WINTER is available now.

 

Monday’s Friend: Mary Andrea Clarke

Today I’m pleased to welcome historical crime writer Mary Andrea Clarke to the blog. Good to have you as my guest, Mary.

SJT: Did you always know you were destined to be a writer?

crimson cavalierMAC: No, although I always enjoyed writing.  It wasn’t really something I thought about consciously.  Some of my primary school teachers had suggested I should become an author.  I wasn’t really convinced at that point.  A slow burning flame that came to fruition, or maybe like the maturing of a good wine.

SJT: Who would you cite as your influences?

MAC: Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, Dorothy L Sayers, Jean Plaidy, although I don’t write about known historical figures, and Jane Austen.  Pride and Prejudice made a direct contribution to The Crimson Cavalier when I named Georgiana Grey after Mr Darcy’s sister.

SJT: What advice would you pass on to beginner writers that you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?

MAC: Try not to get discouraged by the rejections.  There’s no average time or number of nos a writer will hear before getting the yes.  Go looking for opportunities to write, even if it’s not your preferred format.  Competitions, writers’ groups, evening classes, all are good discipline and set targets.  Even an encouraging letter from a competition organiser where you just missed the shortlist can be the spur to keep going.  Accountability is a good motivator and good feedback is always a help.  It also provides valuable interaction in an essentially solitary occupation.

love not poisonSJT: Have you ever been inspired to put people you know in real life in your books?

MAC: Only twice, both have ended up dead.  In most cases, I have found characters have evolved as a mix of qualities I have picked up subconsciously or something I’ve heard which has to be used.  The last real life inspired character was left face down in a river in my latest work in progress.  I must decide his fate or he will soon become bloated like some unfortunate individual I saw in Midsomer.

SJT: I’ve killed off real people in my books too! It’s quite carthartic. When it comes to your writing projects, would you describe yourself as a meticulous planner, or a ‘seat-of-the-pantser’?

MAC: Neither and both.  I do plan to an extent, but more on a next chapter basis than detailed planning of the manuscript.  Of course things don’t always go according to plan.  The Crimson Cavalier was full of surprises.  One character intended as a passing background figure suddenly appeared on the page, with a very specific appearance and a large part to play in the next book, Love Not Poison.  The latest Georgiana Grey work started as an exercise inspired by Dorothea Brande’s classic work, Becoming a Writer.  I wanted to shake things up.  Her suggestion of keeping a notebook by the bed and writing the first thing that comes into the head in the morning, before fully awake, kicked off a new novel.  I’m not sure yet where it’s leading but that’s half the fun.

SJT: Your series is about an independent-minded young woman in Regency England. Not a time desperately progressive when it comes to women’s rights. What inspired you to create the character of Georgiana Grey?

MAC: In a way, it was the very difficulties women encountered in that era which made me want a female sleuth trying to negotiate the system, if only to see if it could be done.  I always loved the film, ‘The Wicked Lady’, in its original black and white version.  While it may have required some suspension of disbelief, the intrigue and tension mixed with the class distinctions remains riveting.  The role of highway robber gave Georgiana a level of freedom to circumvent some of the rules  We know highwaymen were not the glamorous Robin Hood-like adventurers of fable.  Yet we also know the world is not black and white, the anti-hero has good points as the hero has flaws.  Ross Poldark’s anger at a sick man’s imprisonment for a minor crime leads to him breaking the law but I suspect most of us would not condemn him.  The prison scenes from the original ‘Poldark’ were in my mind when I motivated Georgiana’s anger about her servant’s conviction.

debt not dishonourSJT: Any current writing projects in the works?

MAC: At present I am editing The Body Nursery, which introduces some new characters, two bodysnatchers who discover a dead baby while liberating an old man from his coffin.  One is uncomfortable with treating the child as merchandise and suspects a questionable death which he decides to investigate.  Another lawbreaker with a conscience.  I have also started writing a new Georgiana Grey adventure, in which her cousin and chaperone, Selina Knatchbull, finds a body which subsequently disappears.

SJT: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

MAC: I enjoy spending time with my long distance family when I get the chance, we always manage to do some fun stuff.  I like reading (of course!), going to the theatre and places of historical interest.  Just recently I had a great day out at Hampton Court,  I have been there before but always spot something new!

SJT: Thank you, Mary, for taking time to chat with me today.

If readers want to learm more about Mary’s work, check out her website and follow her on Twitter. The link to her publishers can be found here.

The first book in the Crimson Cavalier series is currently available on Kindle for 95p, so if you want to grab a bargain, hop over there right now (or $.123 if you’re in the US).

 

My Life in Music: 1972

Like the song for 1971, this year’s song is cheating a bit, because it’s a song that was released in this year but became important to me a bit later on.

The photo to the right is from 1972: Christmas Day, or thereabouts. I have vague memories of this being at my grandparents’ house, and there is a shadow behind me because my dad was using his cine camera, and when he was filming indoors a very bright light had to be shone on the subject, otherwise the footage came out dark. I remember the doll, too. I recall I named her Amanda, though I don’t remember the coat and scarf she was wearing – those must have got lost at a fairly early stage.

The feaured song was released by Tanya Tucker in this year. She was thirteen years old at the time. It was another one on the tape of ‘favourites’ from my dad’s country collection. In fact, it was one of the first songs I remember hearing at his house in Ashton-Under-Lyne, Lancashire, which he moved into after the divorce. My sister and I got to know this song so well we used to sing along to it and we knew all the words. Though at the time we got them wrong – we were from deepest Lancashire at the time and we misinterpreted Tanya Tucker’s southern drawl. For a long time I thought Tanya was singing about a “mysterious duck-haired man”.

Every summer, between my parent’s divorce and us moving to Canada, my dad used to take my sister and me on a camping holiday to Blackpool. I adored Blackpool as a child. I loved the arcades, where you fed pennies into machines hoping to set off a cascade of coins and win money back, and played video games. My favourite video game in those days was a game called ‘Boot Hill’, in which my sister and I would manipulate crude pixels shaped like cowboys to fire pixel bullets at each other. If you got your opponent the game would start playing an electronic version of the Funeral March, and your pixel cowboy would fall down and start floating up the screen as if he were being called up to Heaven. How video games have moved on since those days.

But my favourite thing about Blackpool, by far, was the amusemark park – otherwise known as the Pleasure Beach. Usually we’d be limited to one day there during our trip with Dad, and we were rationed as to how many rides we could go on, because in those days you had to pay for each ride separately. We had our favourites. The Alice in Wonderland ride. The ladybird ride. The Tom Sawyer raft ride, which was rather sedate but it lasted for ages.

The drive to Blackpool was as exciting as the trip itself, just for the anticipation, and my dad kept my sister and me quiet by making a game out of who would spot Blackpool Tower first.

For some reason, this song makes me think of the road trip to Blackpool, when life was simpler and a trip to an amusement park was all it took to make me happy. The song was on the mix tape we played for the journey.

I haven’t been back to Blackpool as an adult. I get the feeling I would be disappointed. Sometimes you need to keep memories in the past, and keep your illusions unshattered.

So this is the song for 1972: ‘Delta Dawn’ by Tanya Tucker.

Monday’s Friend: Sarah E Smith

Today’s guest is fellow KGHH author and crime writer Sarah E Smith. Welcome, Sarah!

Inside the Mind
By Sara E Smith

A couple of months ago, Sara asked me to blog about my processes, and whether it’s changed as I’ve developed as a writer. So I thought I’d explain how I do a whodunnit and why Byrd books are taking much longer to write than the Secret of Aldwych Strand did.

For mesarah e smith (2), writing a time travel trilogy was like falling off a log. Mark and Lucy’s story oozed from every pore. Tumbling like a river in flood; desperate to reach the world. This new set of books is best compared to wading through treacle without waders.  Symington, Earl Byrd,  my latest creation for KGHH publishing, is a gentleman detective; living and working at the start of the 20th century. His world is dark and dangerous. His opponents vicious, clever, and always one step ahead. Hence the treacle. I had to rethink how I wrote; had to become more methodical. Plot more, think more. Draft and discard more.

You see whilst I know exactly who the murderers are and why they have committed such heinous crimes, these tales aren’t put together from chapter one to chapter last.

Right from the beginning, before you write the words Chapter One, it’s important to know who the murderer is and why their victim, or victims, had to die. So, I write the murderer’s confession first. You know the drill: “Of course, I murdered Major Plumb in the Study with the lead piping…” and in early draft, this section always ends with: “And I would have got away with it, were it not for you pesky kids.”

After establishing the who and why, I write the first murder and continue up to the point where Byrd shows how clever he is by examining the evidence at the crime scene.  Then I stop, and write Byrd’s final speech to the suspects: “I’ve called you all here today to…” This allows me to establish the red herrings,  and the lies these people need to tell during the rest of the tale in order to make them possible murderers.

From then on it’s pretty plain sailing. Get the rest of the main story written predominantly from Byrd’s perspective – except when 3rd person or another POV is needed; meet and interview the suspects; and then kill off at least one more person. This done, it’s time to open the files: “I called you all here today” and the “Pesky Kids”; copy and paste them in, and job jobbed.

Except of course it’s not.

It’s at this point I realise I’ve  missed out one motive,  or forgotten to murder someone. In the worst case (as at the moment with his second book) the plot’s twisted in on itself and the universe will implode. So back I go and change, rewrite, and add until I’ve had enough… and never want to write a murder mystery again.

SB COC NEW MASTER COVER (2)So

Am I

Finished?

No!

Because as I read this draft through, it becomes blindingly obvious there’s no badinage and interplay between Byrd and his bizarre entourage: cousin CC (a chief inspector with Scotland Yard); Sampson and Watkins his servants. There’s no sub plot; no tantalising glimpses into the central characters past – or present.  By this point I also realise the history is missing. Those passing references to the events of the early 1900’s, which I must include, or burn in the fires of inaccuracy. So, after a short temper tantrum, I add those bits, and send it off to the editor before I make any changes … or throw any more toys out the pram.

At this point peace descends. A short month(ish) truce broken by an email from the editor. This reveals: gaping plot holes and an ending that doesn’t make sense; sections of text which drag, she doesn’t like or are a pile of poo – my words. It’s also now I realise, that some of the voices are too similar. A constable on the beat speaks like a toff. Byrd doesn’t have enough whimsies and mannerisms, and the least said about Sampson and Watkins the better.

Eventually though, the final product emerges and it’s over to you dear reader for your verdict…

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Born in Plymouth in 1967 to a naval family, Sarah never wanted to go down to the sea in ships, she wanted to travel in time. For some people this would be a daunting challenge. For Sarah it was easy. There were three ways to do it: stow away in the TARDIS, study History and write a book. The last two were achievable, and she may not have travelled in the TARDIS, but she did once travel in a Mini Metro with Tom Baker, the fourth (and for those of us of a certain age, the best) Doctor Who.

Learn more about Sarah and her writing on her website, her blog and her Amazon page, or follow her on Twitter.

 

BOOK LINKS:

Meet Symington Byrd. Playboy. Gentleman. Detective.
viewBook.at/COC

For the Time Travellers out there: the Trilogy is complete:
getBook.at/CompleteTrilogy