There’s no rest for the wicked, as the saying goes – which makes me think I must have been very wicked indeed because I’ve been working really hard getting my next Wesley Peterson novel, The Mermaid’s Scream, in a fit condition to be read and commented on by my friend (a great crime fan who can be trusted to tell me if something’s not working or doesn’t seem quite right). She’s given her verdict now and the next stage will be acting upon her criticisms and suggestions. However, in the meantime, I’m giving myself a week’s break which I’ll celebrate by meeting friends for lunch, catching up with some of those little jobs that have been annoying me for ages and attending the Crime Writers’ Association Annual Conference in Norwich at the weekend.
In March I spoke at Bingham Library in Nottinghamshire to a lovely and enthusiastic audience (I even met a lady there who’d been to my old junior school!) I always enjoy getting out and meeting readers so I really enjoyed the day (and many thanks to everyone who helped to organise the event). As well as working on The Mermaid’s Scream as I’ve said, I’ve also been busy arranging events to mark to paperback publication of The House of Eyes in August. There’ll be signings arranged nearer the time but I’ve already fixed up some library events in the North East and Devon – see my events page for details.
I’m very proud to say that my younger son has just had two books published (history text books rather than fiction) with a third in the pipeline. His third is about seventeenth century witchcraft, a subject I dealt with in The Shadow Collector, so he was able to borrow some of my reference books and share some of my original sources. It amused me when he complained with a heavy sigh that I’d never warned him that writing was such hard work!
I’ve taken on one extra job that’s been an absolute pleasure. As a member of the Detection Club I was asked to write a short story in honour of a very special author. An anthology is to be published to mark the eightieth birthday of Peter Lovesey, one of my all time favourite writers and a wonderful man. My story, The Mole Catcher’s Daughter, is set in the reign of Queen Victoria and was inspired by Peter’s fantastic Sergeant Cribb series (many of you will remember it on TV starring Alan Dobie) and I do hope it’s a worthy tribute to his work.
I’ve just realised I haven’t updated this diary since January and I feel guilty. I’ve just been reading something about writer’s guilt; guilt that you’re not keeping up with your writing output; guilt that you’re not constantly arranging events and guilt that you might be neglecting your duty...which is your writing.
I’m a guilt ridden sort of person, a worrier by nature, and I’m not sure whether this is a good trait in a writer. Okay, it means I sit down dutifully to write every day and I always meet deadlines but the piece I was reading suggests that writers need to be kind to themselves and relax a bit. Now that’s a tricky one because I love writing. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do (although writing has probably made me pretty unemployable in any other field because no employer is going to put up with someone who daydreams about plots and characters all day and thinking up clever ways to murder people!) This means that I’m constantly ‘on duty’ and on the lookout for ideas. Brilliantly constructed sentences often flit through my head when I’m doing something else – the trick is to remember them when you sit down at your computer: not always easy but that’s where notebooks come in. So next time I feel guilty about knocking off early to have a coffee with friends or a cuddle with my new granddaughter, I can try to convince myself I’m still working. But I think a tiny glimmer of our old friend guilt will always be there.
February saw the publication of THE HOUSE OF EYES and it’s been really well received. From all the people who’ve already emailed me saying how much they loved it, the consensus of opinion seems to be that it’s one of the creepiest of my books – which is hardly surprising with its sinister theme stretching back to thirteenth century Sicily. Buy it here
I’ve just finished the third draft of 2017’s Wesley Peterson mystery. The working title is The Mermaid’s Scream and it centres around a reclusive author. That’s all I can say for the moment but watch this space for further details. IF YOU GO TO http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/201528081552 YOU CAN BID TO HAVE YOUR NAME IN THE BOOK IN AID OF CLIC SARGENT, THE CHILDREN’S CANCER CHARITY – a really good cause. Who will win? The auction ends on Sunday 6th March!
First of all I’d like to wish everyone a very belated Happy New Year.
Now all the festivities are over for another year and the decorations were taken down weeks ago, life seems a little grey and I’m spending every day in my office, working on next year’s Wesley Peterson mystery. All I can say at the moment is that it features a reclusive author and was inspired by a real life Devon ghost story. But watch this space later in the year for more details. I’ve only just finished the first draft which needs an awful lot of work. Writing is re-writing as Ernest Hemingway once said. How right he was. I’m still wrestling with possible titles but as soon as I have a definite one, I’ll let you know.
Over the past couple of weeks there’s been a lot of discussion about writers getting paid for their appearances. Perhaps because I’m polite and British and was brought up never to push myself forward, I’ve always felt awkward about asking for payment. However, I know it’s wrong to feel like this because, as a professional writer, that’s how you make your living and put food on the table. The plumber analogy is used a lot – try asking a plumber to come and mend your boiler solely for the promise that it will raise his (or her) profile in the area and he might (or might not) get more business from your recommendation. I think the plumber’s reply would probably be unprintable! I always prepare for events conscientiously and never like to short change my audience so events tend to take up a lot of working time. Having said that, I love meeting readers and I often don’t charge a fee to speak in libraries that are local or in places I’m visiting anyway (where travel and loss of working time is minimal). Incidentally, I intend to tweet like mad on National Libraries Day on February 6th. We really need to support our libraries.
The big event of February will be the launch of THE HOUSE OF EYES, Wesley Peterson’s twentieth mystery (sometimes I can’t believe I’ve written so many books). I’m particularly pleased with THE HOUSE OF EYES and I think my readers will enjoy the dose of Sicilian sunshine I’ve injected into the mix!
I’m about to embark on going through the copy edited version of my stand alone novel, A HIGH MORTALITY OF DOVES. I’m so pleased with it and I hope everyone will be enthralled when it’s out in November.
I apologise for neglecting this diary in November – however, the truth is, it was rather an eventful month.
First of all my wonderful editor asked me to make some changes to A HIGH MORTALITY OF DOVES. It may be interesting for those of you not involved in the publishing industry to learn that the publication process takes so long. Even though the book won’t be out until next November, everything such as getting the story perfect, copy editing the manuscript, writing the jacket copy, designing the cover and proof reading takes an awfully long time!
At the same time as I was wrestling with these changes, my son, his wife and their cat and dog came to stay with us as they’d just bought a house that badly needed renovation. It was lovely to have them here (and help them with their work...painting cupboards, cleaning etc) but it proved to be a bit of a distraction from writing. And the one thing you need when you’re writing a book is time to think and concentrate.
Here is one of our house guests (gorgeous apart from the muddy paws!!):
The third event that threw me off course was my husband’s accident – he lost part of a finger while he was cutting wood and had to be rushed to hospital. So, all in all November was...er...busy! (Incidentally, he’s making a good recovery.)
Having said all this, I did manage to fit in a night in London to attend a meeting of the Detection Club where Martin Edwards (author of the Lake District mysteries and the excellent Golden Age of Murder) was inaugurated as President, replacing Simon Brett. With his great knowledge and passion for the traditions of the crime genre, I can’t think of a better person than Martin to take on the role and follow in the footsteps (and don the robe) of G K Chesterton, Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie. Here's one of me at the ceremony:
I also took part in a lovely crime evening at York Library with Mari Hannah. It was great to be in York again, the setting for my Joe Plantagenet books, and it was lovely to meet the readers and library staff. I’m also grateful to Chris Titley, editor of York Mix, who interviewed Mari and I so capably.
Now I have to announce a special treat – a little Christmas present for all my readers. THE CHRISTMAS CARD LIST - a seasonal locked room mystery for Wesley Peterson to solve - can be found at The Crime Vault: http://www.thecrimevault.com/exclusives/the-christmas-card-list-an-exclusive-short-story-from-kate-ellis/
Happy reading and may I wish everybody a very happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year.
At last I’ve got round to catching up with my diary. However, I have an excuse for the delay, the best excuse of all in fact. I’ve finished a new book and started writing another (along with another extremely exciting event that I’ll reveal later).
First of all I’ve been itching to say something about my brand new project but I had to maintain my silence until I received the go ahead from my agent and my publisher. Now everything is definite and my brand new stand alone (well, I say stand alone but it could very well develop into a trilogy) is going to be published, although I haven’t got a date yet. I’m really excited about it as it’s a completely new departure for me, entirely different from both of my regular series. It tells the story of a Scotland Yard detective wounded in the Great War who is summoned to a small Derbyshire village in 1919 to investigate a series of bizarre murders. The book’s called A HIGH MORTALITY OF DOVES and I can promise my readers some stunning surprises! Watch this space.
Even though I’ve branched out, Wesley won’t be neglected. Having finished THE HOUSE OF EYES, I’ve just started work on his next case but, as with all first drafts, it can only be described as terrible ‘pig’s breakfast’ at the moment (full of inconsistencies and dead ends). To all aspiring writers who despair when their work seems to be going wrong, I’d give this piece of advice – don’t worry if your first draft’s rubbish (most people’s are!) because a first draft is only the raw material you can then work on and rewrite until it’s reshaped into a book you’re happy with. Then give it to an honest reader who’ll probably see things you missed...then rewrite it again a couple of times before you finally send it off. I rewrite all my books about five or six times before they’re ‘fit for human consumption’. Ernest Hemingway said ‘writing is rewriting’ and he was absolutely right.
As well as writing I’ve been busy visiting libraries and bookshops. As well as signing copies of THE DEATH SEASON at various local bookshops, I’ve visited wonderful libraries in Mansfield and Thorne where I received a very warm welcome. I also spend a few lovely days up in Northumberland visiting Killingworth and North Shields Libraries. I enjoyed the North East so much (and the fantastic libraries I visited) that I hope to go back next year. While I was up there I managed to visit Alnwick and Bamburgh Castles and Holy Island (where the strange moaning cries of the seals provided a suitably sinister soundtrack). On the way home I treated myself to a visit to Vindolanda on Hadrian’s Wall where the famous Vindolanda tablets (http://www.vindolanda.com/roman-vindolanda/writing-tablets) were found, giving an insight into the everyday life of the people stationed up there on the edge of the Roman Empire. It was a thrilling visit and a must for any archaeology lover!
In November I’m going to speak to students in Crewe about the process of writing on the 18th and on the 24th I’m in York for a discussion on crime fiction with fellow writer Mari Hannah (see my Events page for details). I’m really looking forward to visiting one of my favourite cities again.
In my first paragraph I mentioned exciting events...and I’ve kept the most exciting until last. My first grandchild (a gorgeous little girl called Eloise) was born a couple of weeks ago. Nothing can beat that!!!
Last Sunday I became Cinderella. How, you may ask, as I have no ugly sisters (or sisters of any kind, come to that) and I’m not in the habit of going to balls in pumpkins? Well I’ll explain. I went to the annual Crime and Mystery Weekend at St Hilda’s College Oxford and after a pleasant weekend listening to interesting talks, meeting lots of old friends and fans from both this country and the States (and even punting on the Cherwell) I decided to take the healthy option and walk to the station.
However, little did I know that the zip on the outside pocket of my case (where I’d packed my shoes) had failed and popped open as I dragged the case behind me. I think you can probably guess the rest. I lost my favourite pair of brown ballerina pumps along with a pair of slippers from a hotel on Lake Garda (tatty but a souvenir of a happy holiday). But worst of all I lost one of my posh platform sole sandals – the ones I last wore for a Detection Club dinner – the ones I’d probably wear to a ball (in the unlikely event that I was ever invited to one). Oxford was crowded with tourists but nobody alerted me to the fact that I was leaving a trail of shoes behind me (mind you, I had to catch my train so I was probably moving at a fair old pace) so now I’m just waiting for Prince Charming to turn up with my missing shoe...but I think I’ll have a long wait!!!
Have you noticed that book titles and covers seem to be very prone to fashion? At the moment every successful crime novel seems to have ‘girl’ in the title – The Girl on the Train, The Girl who Wouldn’t Die etc, etc. I suppose Stieg Larssen started it but I’m just hoping that the next fashion is for books to have ‘House’ or ‘Eyes’ in the title, in which case my next book THE HOUSE OF EYES should be a great hit!
The trouble with being a writer is that you’re never off duty. This year I’ve visited various places but I always find myself assessing the murderous potential of each location, if only for a short story. I always take notebooks with me wherever I go and it’s always great to find one I’ve forgotten about (that’s been left in a case for months) that contains some ideas for plots that went out of my head when I was working on something else. You just never know when inspiration will strike. I’m away on holiday at the end of the month and looking forward to returning refreshed to tackle the next book.
Happy holidays and happy reading!
Life has been hectic since I last wrote this diary! In late June I travelled down to Devon, staying in lovely Dartmouth for a week and soaking in the atmosphere. While I was there I must say I found plenty of new ideas for future Wesley Peterson books...including a long (and steep) walk through some thick woodland on the way to Agatha Christie’s summer home, Greenway. I signed copies of THE DEATH SEASON at Torbay Bookshop and talked at Totnes Bookshop while I was there as well as paying a visit to Dartmouth Library (where the librarians are plotting another of my Murder Mysteries for 2016 – keep an eye on my events page for details closer to the time).
As soon as I arrived home, I launched into another Murder Mystery evening at a local library and a book signing at Stockport Waterstones. It was lovely to chat to so many readers there about my books and copies of THE DEATH SEASON were selling fast.
Not long after that I had a few days’ break in Tallinn and I must say I fell in love with the city. The old town was stunning, the people friendly, food and drink excellent...in fact I couldn’t fault it with its Scandinavian atmosphere and its well preserved medieval heart. There was a medieval festival going on while we were there with early music and a market with everyone in costume. We discovered a wonderful bar called Hell Hunt and a fantastic little restaurant called Porgu in an ancient cellar which I’d recommend highly to anyone thinking of going. My first words when we touched down again in Manchester were ‘when can we go back?’ As always I was looking for inspiration (for a short story at least) so you never know, Tallinn might feature in a future work.
One of the most exciting events of the month was my visit to Harrogate for the annual Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival. It was my job this year to write and present the Murder Mystery Dinner (on a Sicilian theme in honour of Montalbano’s creator, Andrea Camilleri). As I’m a Montalbano fan, I found this great fun and devised a mystery entitled Murder in the Lemon Grove which featured four potentially murderous characters – a formidable Sicilian widow, her impressionable son, a glamorous archaeologist and a dodgy tourist guide. I was blessed with four brilliant actors – Daphne Wright (Natasha Cooper) who deserves at least one Oscar for her performance!; Cath Staincliffe who excelled as the glamorous Francesca; Stewart Bain (of Orkney Library) who was wonderful as the Signora’s son; and Jeremy Trevathan (of Pan Macmillan) who gave a bravura performance as Marco, the nefarious guide. Many thanks to the actors who brought my script to life in such a fantastic way and great thanks to Ann Cleeves for organising the whole weekend!
On 18th August I’ll be repeating Murder in the Lemon Grove at Waterstones in Wilmslow, Cheshire so if you missed Harrogate, tickets will be available soon (see the events page for details).
The paperback of THE DEATH SEASON is now out and it’s earned some great reviews. I know a lot of my readers like to wait for the paperback so I hope you’re all enjoying the mystery. I’ve written a piece about the inspiration behind the book on my publisher’s website It was certainly a fantastic book to write and I found the period of the First World War particularly fascinating to research as the war brought about so many social changes and challenged long held attitudes.
Since I last wrote this diary I’ve been to CrimeFest in Bristol. This year I was on a panel about Writing the Other (ably moderated by Alison Joseph) – what are the challenges of writing about a character very different from yourself? This proved to be an interesting subject and one I’d never given much thought to because when you’re working on a book you tend to write about your characters instinctively, almost as if you know them as people. I also moderated a panel entitled Secrets and Lies with authors Stuart Neville, Jenny Blackhurst, Julia Crouch and Tom Harper. How do we all deal with secrets and lies in our novels? As all crime novels deal with secrets and lies (if it wasn’t for hidden secrets my own books would be extremely short!) the subject was a challenging one but we managed to have an interesting and lively discussion about the different ways we tackle the hidden aspects of our characters’ lives.
June is National Crime Reading Month so it’s always a busy one for me. Last Friday I spoke, along with my fellow members of the Murder Squad (Ann Cleeves, Cath Staincliffe, Martin Edwards, Margaret Murphy and Chris Simms), at the first Carlisle Crime Writing Festival held at the Old Fire Station (Carlisle’s lovely new arts centre). We spoke about our books and our characters and answered a lot of interesting questions from the audience. It was my very first visit to Carlisle and I must say I was very impressed. We stayed at the excellent Crown and Mitre Hotel and it was great to get together with my fellow Squaddies over a convivial dinner after our event and catch up on all the news. It would be really good if the weekend became an annual feature on the crime writing calendar.
On Saturday I’m off to Devon to do more research and some events including two talks and a book signing. I’m really looking forward to being in the South West again and when I get home there’s a Murder Mystery Evening in Stockport on 29th June and I’ll be signing copies of THE DEATH SEASON at Stockport Waterstones on 4th July. I do hope to meet some of you at one or more of these events – please check out my Events page for all the details.
Waiting for the paperback of THE DEATH SEASON to come out is a bit like waiting for Christmas. I’m doing all the preparations – contacting bookshops to arrange signings and sorting out various events, many to coincide with the CWA’s National Crime reading month in June. The enthusiasm and knowledge of booksellers and library staff never ceases to delight me and I hope to get round to meet a lot of my readers over the summer months. Please keep an eye on my events page to find out where and when.
In late April I visited Wrexham Library with two of my fellow Murder Squad members, Margaret Murphy (who writes as A D Garrett) and Martin Edwards and we spent a very enjoyable evening talking about our work and answering questions from the lovely audience.
Talking of Martin Edwards, I’m very excited about his new book The Golden Age of Murder. Martin is rapidly becoming an acknowledged expert on the subject and has done a wonderful job of telling the story of crime writing between the two World Wars and the early years of the Detection Club. I’m pleased to see that the book’s had some fantastic reviews. I, for one, can’t wait to read it.
I’ve just finished putting the finishing tweaks to my Murder Mystery (to be performed at the Harrogate Festival) entitled Murder in the Lemon Grove. The setting is Sicily and the atmosphere totally Montalbano. I’m rather nervous about the challenge but I’m hoping everyone will enjoy it.
The great news is that my fifth Joe Plantagenet novel WALKING BY NIGHT was published on 31st March and it’s had some lovely reviews. I really enjoyed getting back into Joe’s world and, hopefully, there’ll be more mysteries in the series in the future.
I’ve also finished THE HOUSE OF EYES, Wesley Peterson’s twentieth mystery with a Sicilian twist. I sent it off to my publisher a few days ago and I’m now awaiting my editor’s verdict. This waiting time is always a little ‘nail-biting’ and all you can do is keep your fingers crossed and hope it meets with the editor’s approval.
It’s been a busy month. I enjoyed a lovely visit to Alsager Library where I spoke to a large and enthusiastic audience. It’s great to meet readers and I’m looking forward to quite a few library visits this year. The next one will be at Wrexham on April 22nd in the company of two of my friends from the Murder Squad (see Events for more details).
March also saw one of the highlights of the crime writer’s year – the Crime Writers’ Association’s annual conference. This year it was held in the lovely city of Lincoln and included some fantastic talks on police and legal work as well as a book signing at Waterstones and a talk on new developments in Forensic Science at Lincoln University. Our hotel was in a fantastic position overlooking the stunning cathedral (pictured below) and it was wonderful to get together with friends and colleagues again.
At present I’m preparing for CrimeFest in Bristol. I’m taking part in a panel about Writing the Other (now I understand that as a discussion about how an author can get into the head of a main character who is quite unlike themselves – hope I’ve got that right). I’m also moderating a panel on Secrets and Lies and I’m currently reading the books of my fellow panellists, which is something I’m enjoying very much. I sometimes find it strange that being an author these days doesn’t just involve writing books. You also have to speak and do events and other bits and pieces of publicity. It’s all really interesting but occasionally it’s a little frustrating when you all you want to do is write your book.
And another exciting event is happening in this coming month. The new CWA Anthology TRULY CRIMINAL is published. It is my first venture into writing about ‘true crime’ and my contribution is a chapter about the notorious Maybrick case. In 1889 Florence Maybrick, the American wife of a wealthy Liverpool merchant, was accused of poisoning her husband. The couple lived in Battlecrease House in Aigburth, a leafy Liverpool suburb, and the case has always interested me because the murder was said to have occurred a short distance from where my father grew up (and from where I went to school). I found the research particularly fascinating, especially when I delved into the attitudes and prejudices of the day. But I’d better not say any more. One of the best parts about being in the anthology is the fact that I’m in such distinguished company - many famous crime writers have contributed to the book (including Peter Lovesey, Catherine Aird, Andrew Taylor and even Margery Allingham). It’s all very exciting!
Throughout February I’ve been busy working on my next Wesley Peterson novel. Last year I took part in an auction for CLICSargent (the children’s cancer charity), giving the winner the opportunity to have their name used in my next book (and receive a signed copy on publication) so, if you’d like to take part please go to http://www.clicsargent.org.uk/content/get-character-2015 It’s a really good cause so please be generous!
A recent YouGov poll found that 60% of people saw being an author as their ideal job (24% higher than a TV presenter and 29% higher than a movie star). Somehow, when I’m sitting in my oldest jeans staring at my computer in search of inspiration that won’t come, hoping that filling the washing machine will provide an exciting distraction, I wonder whether the media’s depiction of the author’s lifestyle is responsible for the poll results. In films and TV programmes writers are invariably fabulously wealthy. They always live in beautiful mansions with large swimming pools (I have a small, muddy garden pond – does that count?) and have loyal secretaries and chauffeurs. Needless to say, this is all far removed from the reality of my own life, and the lives of my writing friends, but the myths still persist (one lady at a talk I gave expressed astonishment that I cleaned my own bathroom). I found myself wondering whether the job would seem so appealing if the poll respondents knew that only 11% of professional authors can live on the proceeds of writing alone (and only a handful of these could remotely be described as ‘wealthy’). However, having said all this, there’s no job I’d rather do and the high points certainly more than make up for the hard work of gathering plots together (like herding cats only harder), the hours spent in solitude and the general insecurity that every writer feels whether they admit it or not.
February provided two of the high points I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Early in the month I travelled to Formby in Merseyside to do a book signing at Formby Books. I’ve known the manager, Tony Higginson, for many years now and I’ve always admired his enthusiasm for the world of books and bookselling. I was delighted to learn that he’s just acquired new, much larger premises in Waterloo (North Liverpool) and he’s due to relocate there in June. I’m very much looking forward to visiting his new shop and to many more convivial book signings in the future.
Talking of conviviality, high point number two was attending my second meeting of the Detection Club in London last week. It was held in the august surroundings of the Garrick Club in London’s theatreland and it was wonderful to dine with so many distinguished colleagues, gazed down upon by portraits of history’s most famous actors. It was a truly memorable evening (and the Welsh rarebit was divine!).
While I was in London I visited Charles Dickens’ house http://www.dickensmuseum.com/ where he wrote some of his most famous works (including Oliver Twist) and it was inspirational to stand in the study where he worked. There can’t be a writer in existence who won’t agree that Dickens was one of the most influential writers in the history of British literature and I have always been a great admirer of his books – and his vivid characters. He is often said to be one of the first crime writers (think of Inspector Bucket in Bleak House) so visiting his former home was a very special experience for me.
I’m excited to be able to tell you that Joe Plantagenet is back and his new spooky investigation, WALKING BY NIGHT is out at the end of March. (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Walking-Night-Plantagenet-Procedural-Mystery/dp/178029073X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1425224199&sr=1-1) Hope you enjoy Joe’s latest case...and don’t have nightmares.