May I just start by wishing everyone a very happy New Year (although the Festive Season seems a distant memory now). 2015 got off to a terrific start when THE DEATH SEASON was published (in hardback and e-book) on New Year’s Day itself. I’m really delighted to learn that readers are enjoying it.
January means back to work and I’ve just been going through the proofs for the next Joe Plantagenet book WALKING BY NIGHT (out in March) I’m also working on the next Wesley Peterson novel (provisionally entitled THE HOUSE OF EYES). One secret I can reveal is that there might be some Sicilian sunshine in the next book – but that’s all I’m saying for the moment.
2015 is shaping up to be a busy one. My diary’s already getting full and I’ll put all the events I’m taking part in on this website as soon as everything’s confirmed.
A lot of people I meet at events ask me where I get my ideas from. It should be a simple question to answer but, the fact is, the whole process tends to be rather nebulous. Ideas can come from anywhere – watching TV, reading the newspaper, talking to friends, overhearing conversations...and all sorts of ideas and thoughts crowd in when I’m half awake first thing in the morning. I suppose the knack is to know what’ll work in a novel and what won’t. I always keep loads of notebooks scattered around the house so if I have a likely idea, I can scribble it down before I forget it (and I always do unless it’s written down).
Anyway, hope everyone continues to enjoy THE DEATH SEASON.
Time seems to have rushed by so fast since I last sat down to write this diary. What with a trip down to London, a reunion with my fellow Murder Squad members and nursing a sick computer while trying to finish the first draft of a novel, it’s been hectic. Now Christmas is looming with cards to be written and presents to be bought and every time I hear Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody blaring from the speakers in a supermarket, it sounds like the bell of doom! How am I going to get it all done, especially when there’s 9 for Christmas dinner this year? And now I’ve come down with a terrible flu bug – but to a writer that’s no excuse for not going into work...you can still write in bed in your dressing gown while supping industrial strength lemsip.
So what have I been up to since we last met? Well, the most exciting thing (and it was exciting!) was being initiated into the Detection Club. I wrote about it in March but for those of you who missed it, here’s a taste of the ceremony http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01gw1f3
The dinner was held in the Dorchester in Mayfair (never thought I’d end up anywhere quite so posh) and the highlight of the evening came when the lights were doused, the candles lit and the initiates processed in behind Eric the Skull. Then the time comes for the initiates to swear the oath with their hand on Eric. It was quite an experience and I’m so honoured to have become a member. I must confess it’s the history of the Club that I find so thrilling – the fact that I’m following in the illustrious footsteps of so many distinguished writers, past and present.
The following week I met up with all my fellow Murder Squad members for a lovely evening at Lingham’s Bookshop in Heswall on the Wirral. As each of us writes a series (some of us more than one) we decided to speak about the pleasures and problems of bringing the same characters back for a new case every year or so. It was a lively discussion, of course, and it was lovely to see everyone again...and retire to the pub afterwards for a well-earned drink.
However, don’t think a writer’s life is all glamour and excitement. Ninety eight per cent of the time it’s far from glamorous – you sit on your own in scruffy jeans, staring at a laptop while a story forms in your head...then the thing you write isn’t good enough so you delete it and write it again, probably about ten times before it’s fit for human consumption. Then there are the usual household chores to fit in. I once mentioned during a library talk that I had an idea when I was cleaning the toilet – one lady was amazed that a writer would clean her own toilet...I soon put her right. Maybe it’s because the majority of our time is spent doing such mundane and solitary work that when we crime writers get together, we tend to make the most of it.
Anyway, all that remains is for me to wish everybody a very happy Christmas and all the best for 2015. The year kicks off with the publication (on New Year’s Day itself) of THE DEATH SEASON – hope it’s an auspicious start to the year!
This month has been spent writing – working hard on Wesley Peterson’s twentieth investigation. I couldn’t resist including a little Sicilian sunshine into the new book but you’ll have to wait till 2016 to enjoy it, I’m afraid. In any prolonged period of writing, there are often times when I become completely stuck...when the plot just isn’t hanging together and I’ve written myself into a corner. At times like this, I tend to sit staring at my computer in despair. But then I remembered Raymond Chandler’s advice – when in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns! So I took the advice of the master (substituting two guns for one crossbow) and now everything’s flowing again.
On the 11th October I took part in a campaign to support local bookshops call Books are My Bag. I was proud to be one of the authors who backed this worthy cause – bookshops and libraries are so important and they really deserve our support. Here I am with the special Books are My Bag bag (I bought one and had it specially customised for my daughter in law...but don’t tell her yet – it’s a surprise).
It’s always fun to branch out a little and try something new and I must confess that I enjoy creating a bit of Gothic creepiness, especially in my Joe Plantagenet books. So when my publisher asked me to take part in a Halloween Blog Tour, I jumped at the chance. Myself and four other Piatkus authors have written a spooky story for Halloween, each one working on a different section. I’ve read the finished product and I can tell you it’s very scary!!! Also there are books to be won. For details please see http://www.piatkusbooks.net/halloween-blog-tour/
I’m very much looking forward to spending the evening of Wednesday 12th November with my fellow members of the Murder Squad at Linghams Bookshop in Heswall on Merseyside (see my Events section for details). I do hope to meet some of you there.
I’ve realised with horror that I didn’t update this diary in August and I can only come to the conclusion that the summer has made me lazy. But I guess even writers need a rest from time to time.
However, it hasn’t all been idleness and lying in the sun (which was in rather short supply in August after a glorious June and July). I’ve finished a new Joe Plantagenet novel which my agent has just sent to the publishers and written a couple of short stories for very exciting projects. I also attended the Crime and Mystery weekend at St Hilda’s as usual in August and it was lovely to meet up with old friends and listen to a series of fascinating talks on the subject of Crime in Times of War.
Summer is also holiday time and, not to be left out, I have just returned from a week in sunny Sicily. I have wanted to visit the island for a while (well, ever since I became an avid fan of Inspector Montalbano). Apparently they’ve now started doing ‘Montalbano tours’ and that’s certainly one to consider for the future. The town where the series is filmed in called Ragusa and looks gorgeous – however, we didn’t have time to visit it as we had a packed schedule. We stayed first at Agrigento where I was able to explore the magnificent Valley of the Temples, built by the Ancient Greeks. Although I’ve done quite a bit of British archaeology it was fantastic to see the classical variety close up. From Agrigento we visited Palermo, the elegant but edgy capital of the island where we had a chance to look around the impressive Teatro Massimo as well as the cathedrals of Monreale and Palermo.
Then we moved base to Giardini Naxos and en route visited the most breathtaking Roman mosaics I’ve ever seen at the 4th century Roman Villa del Casale at Piazza Armerina. There were even mosaics of girls in bikinis – nothing’s new! Taormina is a beautiful town with a stunning Greek theatre (still used for productions after 2,500 years!) and we also visited Syracuse (once home to Archimedes) and the lovely island of Ortygia with its Duomo that was originally built as a Greek temple. My last day was spent wandering around the archaeological remains at Giardini Naxos (the ruins of the first Greek colony on Sicily founded in 735BC).
Holiday reading always requires a great deal of thought and this year I selected two books that I was guaranteed to enjoy – first of all Ruth Dudley Edwards’ satire on conceptual art, Killing the Emperors, which certainly raised a smile or two, and secondly Reginald Hill’s Pictures of Perfection, a novel I’d never read before but, being familiar with the other books in the Dalziel and Pascoe series, I knew I’d enjoy spending time by the hotel pool in the company of Andy Dalziel (the mind boggles!!).
With THE DEATH SEASON due to be published in January, I’m now planning my next Wesley Peterson mystery. So after a rich diet of archaeology (lots of it), pasta (ditto) and wine (ditto) it’s back to earth and back to work.
It hardly seems like a month since I last wrote this diary, probably because time flies when you’re busy writing (and doing everything else, of course – women always manage to multitask somehow). I must say the weather has been brilliant and it’s great to get out into my writing shed again.
While I’m working in my shed I can see the vegetable beds. There’s a wonderful crop of broccoli, kale, courgettes, tomatoes and cucumbers (all grown from seed) and we’ve also feasted on our own onions, garlic and strawberries. It’s very satisfying and I suppose it’s a bit of a creative thing. It also tastes tremendous.
They say travel broadens the mind but I know it also provides inspiration for short stories. I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Lisbon this month and I came back with several ideas. But there’s no need to go abroad: I’ve recently visited Mr Straw’s House – a suburban house in Worksop in Nottinghamshire that has been unchanged since 1923 (Confession - I actually found this more inspiring than the beauties of Lisbon). There are so many fantastic places to visit and I must say my National Trust membership has been well used this year. By the way, did you know that my favourite crime writer, Josephine Tey left her entire estate to the National Trust when she died?
I haven’t done any events this month because I’ve been working hard on my new Joe Plantagenet novel (as well as dealing with the proofs of the next Wesley book that’s due out in January). As I mentioned earlier, I’m working in my shed again and putting some distance between myself and everything that needs doing in the house certainly helps the concentration. I’ve also been looking after my younger son’s dog, Fin, while he and his lovely wife have been away visiting Italy (taking in Pompeii and Herculaneum – mum’s jealous!!!) Fin’s a lively border collie but he’s been a delight to have around the house (I described him as a ‘furry angel’ when asked how he’d behaved). He’s featured in one of my books (The Shadow Collector) and I’m wondering how I can fit him into another.
Of course writing doesn’t stop me reading and I’m currently enjoying C J Sansom’s thriller Dominion. I’ve loved his Shardlake books, set in the reign of Henry VIII but this one is set in 1952, in an England that yielded to Hitler after Dunkirk. The scenario is convincing and disturbing – a vivid picture of a ‘what if’ world. I can’t put it down.
Talking of holiday reads, I was thrilled to get an e-mail from my son in Italy with a photo of a copy of The Shadow Collector that he’d found in the bar at his hotel. It’s fantastic to know that somebody chose it as their holiday book and left it for others to enjoy.
I wish all my readers a very happy summer – and happy reading.
June’s been quite a month. Not only was it National Crime Reading Month but it also saw the paperback publication of THE SHROUD MAKER. It’s been so hectic that I feel I’ve only just sat down!
In early June I travelled down to Devon which is always a pleasure. We stayed in the centre of Dartmouth as usual, which gave me a chance to visit the town’s wonderful Community Bookshop and the library. I was very upset to hear that the library might be under threat because of budget cuts. This seems particularly bizarre to me because it only moved into a lovely modern building relatively recently and is remarkably popular and well used; a lifeline for young and old and a real hub of the community. The value of libraries such as this is tremendous and, as that great benefactor and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie knew, a library is a gateway to education and culture and is a true emblem of a civilised society. I do hope that the politicians will come to realise this. In the meantime, we can only try to make our voices heard and hope.
Another example of libraries bringing the community together was my Murder Mystery Evening at Kingsbridge on 10th. We had a marvellous fun evening with a team of stalwart librarians taking the parts of the four suspects. A great time was had by all and many thanks to the cast (who gave performances worthy of the Royal Shakespeare Company) and to Maria Johnson for organising the evening which even included an appearance by Monsieur Poirot himself!
On the 11th I visited Torbay Books. This fantastic bookshop is run by Matthew and Sarah Clarke (and as well as books it also sells chocolate – an establishment truly filled with temptation). The next day I spoke to a lovely audience of readers at the new state-of-the-art library in Totnes. I love meeting the people who read my books and I really enjoyed talking to the residents of the beautiful and unique town that serves as a model for my fictional ‘Neston’.
Every year it seems to get harder to leave Devon and come back up north but, after a brief pilgrimage to Greenway, Agatha Christie’s beautiful home overlooking the River Dart, I had to face the inevitable. However, I will be back there next year, researching for another Wesley novel and, hopefully, meeting more readers.
National Crime Reading Month concluded for me with a book signing at my local Waterstones in Stockport and a Crime Evening at Formby Books in Merseyside where Sheila Quigley, Martin Edwards and I spoke about our work, helped along by wine and a buffet provided by the excellent Tony Higginson. Tony had toyed with the idea of a barbecue but, unhappily, the weather forecast was against us. However, that didn’t matter as the enthusiasm of our audience was enough to make up for the lack of sunshine.
Now it’s time to get back to writing. Hope you enjoy the pictures.
May means one thing in the crime writing calendar. CrimeFest. On the 15th I made my way down to Bristol with my other half in tow (for reasons that will become clear later). We gave a lift to my fellow author (and Murder Squad Member) Martin Edwards so, with a lot of catching up to do and much crime writing gossip to exchange, the long journey passed quickly.
As usual CrimeFest was held in the comfortable surroundings of the Bristol Marriot Royal Hotel next to Bristol Cathedral and I regard my stay there as an annual treat (especially going for a swim in the lovely Roman-themed pool – before breakfast). This year I attended the convention while my husband went off to explore Bristol and on the Saturday I found myself moderating a panel for the first time. I was a bit nervous about this but the subject was right up my street – Archaeologists and Academics – Digging up the past with a spade or a pen. Of course I was helped by having four lovely and erudite panellists – Martin Edwards, Elly Griffiths, Tom Harper and Luca Veste – who made my new experience really enjoyable. In the evenings drinks were drunk, old friends met and new ones made. It’s always lovely to chat to fans and there were certainly a lot there this year, many from the USA.
Sunday saw me taking part in the Criminal Mastermind competition. Last year I was in the audience and I guessed the result which meant I won a free place for two at this year’s CrimeFest (this is why my husband came with me). However, the penalty was that I had to take part in the Mastermind myself. There is a black chair (just like on TV) and Maxim Jakubowski took the part of inquisitor. My specialist subject was Josephine Tey (one of my favourite authors of all time) and my main aim was not to win but to avoid making a complete idiot of myself. I don’t know how it happened but I ended up coming second (behind the ultra-knowledgeable Paul Johnstone) so things worked out far better than I expected! I don’t think I’d like to sit in that daunting black chair again but I returned home happy that I had survived with my dignity intact!!
The following week I spoke at the Bollington Festival in Cheshire with another fellow Murder Squad member, Margaret Murphy (who now writes as A D Garrett). Margaret and I did an event back in April at Tickhill Library near Doncaster which was very successful and I think our contrasting styles of writing (my books feature a lot of history and Margaret’s concentrate on forensic science) complement each other well.
In June the paperback of THE SHROUD MAKER will be out and I’ll be travelling down to Devon to take part in three events to celebrate its publication (and celebrate National Crime Reading Month at the same time). There’s a Murder Mystery evening in Kingsbridge, a book signing in Paignton and a talk in Totnes. Then later in the month I’ll be signing books in Waterstones in Stockport and taking part at a Crime Writers’ Barbecue in Formby (see my events page for details). I do hope I’ll see some of you there.
It’s been a very difficult few weeks because, sadly, my dear father, David Ellis, passed away just before Easter. I can honestly say that, whereas my mother gave me love of reading and creating mysteries, my father and his life-long interest in literature gave me my passion for writing.
David Ellis 1923 - 2014
David was born in Liverpool to an émigré Welsh family in 1923, attending Quarry Bank High School (the alma mater of John Lennon along with a host of other Liverpool notables). In his younger years he hung round with the city’s artistic set (even having his own tankard in that famed Liverpool pub, The Crack). He had ambitions to become a writer and had articles published in Punch. I was touched to receive a letter from his old friend, the famous true crime author (and leading authority on Jack the Ripper) Richard Whittington Egan, telling me how he remembers my dad sitting in Sefton Park with a note pad, scribbling away. Like me, Richard particularly remembers David’s wit and wonderful sense of humour. For the last two years of his life my dad endured terrible illness but now I’m trying to remember him as he was...and I know I’ll always be grateful for the inspiration he gave me and proud of the lovely gentleman he was.
After the trauma of my dad’s death, it was good to get away to Guernsey to meet up with my fellow crime writers for the Crime Writers’ Association annual conference. There was certainly a lot to do to take my mind off things and it was great to meet up with old friends again. The conference was brilliantly organised by Jason Monaghan who, as well as writing crime novels under the name of Jason Foss, is also an archaeologist and Director of Guernsey Museums.
Guernsey is an island steeped in history with a rich supply of archaeology from castles to Roman shipwrecks (if you get a chance to go don’t forget to visit Guernsey Museum in Candie Gardens and the Maritime Museum in Castle Cornet). There’s also much evidence of dramatic events in the more recent past: the Channel Islands were the only parts of Great Britain to be occupied by the Germans during the Second World War and that occupation has left scars both physical (in the form of concrete fortifications and underground tunnels) and psychological. It was easy to envisage an island living in fear and we had a fascinating talk by Dr Gilly Carr about the oppressive occupation and its effects on the lives of the islanders.
On my arrival I was asked to take part in a panel event at Guernsey Museum hosted by the Guernsey Literary Festival. Martin Edwards, Edward Marston and I spent an enjoyable hour discussing our work and crime writing in general. One of the highlights of the conference for me was a visit to the house where Victor Hugo had lived in exile (and where he’d written Les Miserables – a book I studied for French A level...in French) I must say his taste in interior design was rather alarming to say the least! All in all it was a lovely conference and I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful island with its fantastic food and hospitality.
I’m pleased to say that the new Crime Writers’ Association short story anthology, Guilty Parties is now out. My story The Confessions of Edward Prime is set in Liverpool (in the area I grew up) – I hope my dad would have been proud.
This month a letter landed on my doormat, totally unexpected and very thrilling. It told me that I’d been elected ‘by secret ballot’ to become a member of the Detection Club. The Detection Club is a prestigious club for crime writers and membership is by invitation only. It was founded in 1930 by a group of British mystery writers (including Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers) and the first president was G K Chesterton (the creator of Father Brown). There is a dramatic initiation ceremony which involves a skull called Eric – I can’t wait to make his acquaintance. Here’s a link to Lucy Worsley’s encounter with the Club: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01gw1f3 I must say, I’m very honoured to be invited – when I first started writing, I never thought I’d be in such august company.
Spring has arrived at last which means that many authors’ thoughts turn to library appearances, conferences and conventions. For me the past week has been great fun as my Murder Mystery Evening ‘Death at the Dig’ has been performed at two libraries, Flint in North Wales and Wilmslow in Cheshire. These evenings are tremendous fun and the library staff and (in the case of Wilmslow) local actors who gallantly play the parts of the ‘suspects’ are invariably marvellous. It’s great to see how much people enjoy themselves and enter into the spirit of the performance. Another Murder Mystery Evening is currently being arranged for Kingsbridge in Devon in June – keep an eye on my Events page for details.
The popularity of Murder Mystery events in general proves that the ‘Golden Age’ type of mystery is still as popular as ever. A few weeks ago I was amused to learn that Midsomer Murders is one of the most popular programmes in Scandinavia whereas this country’s crime fiction fans go mad for Scandinavian ‘noir’. Apparently a huge proportion of Scandinavian homes contain a Midsomer Murders DVD – it certainly makes you think!
I’ve just sent my next Wesley Peterson novel to my editor and I’m awaiting her verdict. Fingers crossed she enjoys it.
Have you always dreamed of having your name immortalised in a book? Well now’s your chance. The children’s cancer charity, CLIC Sargent is holding an on-line auction and the winner will have a character in my next Wesley Peterson novel named after them. Other authors are also taking part and I think it’s a fantastic way of raising much needed funds for a really good cause. If you want to take part and support CLIC Sargent go to http://www.clicsargent.org.uk/getincharacter Good luck!
February’s been a busy month. I’ve been working on my next Wesley Peterson novel, THE DEATH SEASON as well as organizing various events for later in the year. I’m very excited that my murder mystery Death at the Dig is due to be performed in three libraries – it’s my tribute to the so called ‘golden age of crime writing’ in the 1920s and 30s and is great fun (and played strictly for laughs). I feel it’s important to support our libraries at this uncertain time of closures and cuts. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that libraries are a sign of civilization and we lose them at our peril. If it wasn’t for visiting my local library in Liverpool (Allerton) from an early age, I’d never have become an avid reader - and, as a consequence, I doubt if I’d ever have become a writer. There must be an awful lot of people in this country with good reason to be grateful to libraries and we really must support them.
When I haven’t been writing, I’ve been digging. Last year I had a great time helping with the excavation of Agatha Christie’s sister’s garden. There’s a possibility that I might have the opportunity to return there later this year, but in the meantime, I’ve taken part in a dig on our village green, once the location of a grand house. The archaeology group (The South Manchester Archaeological Research Team, commonly known as SMART) excavated the hall itself a couple of years ago so this time we were concentrating on the outhouses. It was a fruitful dig, uncovering some interesting floor surfaces, and, fortunately, the weather was kind to us…and in a Manchester February that’s something of a miracle. Can’t wait to get back there in a couple of weeks.
Better get back to work as I’ve left one of my characters in considerable peril! Don’t forget about CLIC Sargent.
A rather belated Happy New Year to everyone. And what a start to the year it’s been.
The launch of a brand new book is usually a cause for great celebration. However, the publication of THE SHROUD MAKER at the start of the month was rather overshadowed by a very happy occasion – the wedding of my younger son, Olly to his lovely new wife, Sam, at Peckforton Castle in the wilds of Cheshire. It was a wonderful, happy day that will stay in my memory for ever.
After the wedding, Olly and Sam took a short holiday and while they were away we found ourselves sharing our house with a character from my last book THE SHADOW COLLECTOR. No, it wasn’t one of the suspects – it was their sheep dog, Fin. I don’t often use real people (or in Fin’s case, dogs) in my books but Fin just had to be an exception. Fortunately, unlike in the book, the only bones he found while he was with us were ones that we gave him!
As you can imagine, our festive season was pretty busy this year but I did find time to watch the latest SHERLOCK series on the BBC (I always find time for Mr Holmes). Now so far I’ve absolutely loved this new version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, starring Benedict Cumberbach and Martin Freeman and I think that bringing Holmes’s world into the present day has worked brilliantly. However, this third series left me a little disappointed. Okay, the production was fantastic, together with the special effects...but perhaps that’s what was wrong. Like some recent Doctor Who episodes, the narrative has been neglected in favour of in jokes, tangled relationships and super-fast back stories. Sometimes it felt almost like fan-fiction and the strong Holmes stories (which were handled so cleverly and wittily in the first two series) became little more than an afterthought. Perhaps with the return of Moriarty, things will improve. I do hope so.