Tag Archives: mysteries

Guest Post: Judy Penz Sheluk on Using your Past to Create your Present

I’m pleased to have Judy Penz Sheluk here today to talk about her forthcoming release ‘Past & Present‘ and how her own family’s journey inspired it.

I’m so grateful to Judy for sharing such a personal experience with us. 

Vic x

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I’m Canadian, born and raised in Toronto, and I’ve lived within a two-hour drive of that city all my life. My parents, on the other hand, were first generation Canadians, having immigrated to Canada in the early 1950s.

Their stories are similar to so many of the time. My father was born in Apatin, Yugoslavia, a small town on the Danube that is now part of Serbia. My mother was born in Stettin, Germany, now known as Szczecin and part of Poland. Both of them, teenagers during the war, and displaced after, made their way to England and settled in Nottingham for a period of time. 

By the time they met at a local dance, my father was set to immigrate to Toronto, Canada, in February of 1952 (such a brave soul—Toronto in February is, at best, cold and snowy, and at worst, colder and snowier). At any rate, it must have been love at first sight, because my mother applied for her own papers and arrived in Toronto in July 1952, on a hot, humid day. They married that October. 

Fast forward to September 21, 2016, when my mother, Anneliese, passed away from complications of COPD, following my father, Anton “Toni” Penz, who had died of stomach cancer in 1970 at the age of 42. Among her things was an old train case, and within it, her old passport, immigration papers, and documents and postcards from the T.S.S. Canberra, the ship she sailed over on. My mother had never talked much about her life “before Canada” and I became fascinated with finding out everything I could. The resulting research sparked an idea for a book, and my protagonist’s research into the past often mirrors my own, right down to the frustrating bits.

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T.S.S. Canberra postcard, c. 1950s.

I’ve dedicated Past & Present to my mother, and the release date of September 21, 2018, falls exactly two years after her passing. I like to think she’s with my father again, watching over me as my journey continues. 

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About Past & Present:

Sometimes the past reaches out to the present…

It’s been thirteen months since Calamity (Callie) Barnstable inherited a house in Marketville under the condition that she search for the person who murdered her mother thirty years earlier. She solves the mystery, but what next? Unemployment? Another nine-to-five job in Toronto? 

Callie decides to set down roots in Marketville, take the skills and knowledge she acquired over the past year, and start her own business: Past & Present Investigations.

It’s not long before Callie and her new business partner, best friend Chantelle Marchand, get their first client: a woman who wants to find out everything she can about her grandmother, Anneliese Prei, and how she came to a “bad end” in 1956. It sounds like a perfect first assignment. Except for one thing: Anneliese’s past winds its way into Callie’s present, and not in a manner anyone—least of all Callie—could have predicted. 

About the author: Judy Penz Sheluk is the Amazon international bestselling author of the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short stories appear in several collections.

Judy is also a member of Sisters in Crime International, International Thriller Writers, Inc., the South Simcoe Arts Council, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves on the Board of Directors, representing Toronto and  Southwestern Ontario.

Judy Penz Sheluk’s latest book in her Marketville Mystery series, Past & Present’, is now available for pre-order on Amazon in trade paperback and on Kindle.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Nicola Ford

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today’s guest is Nicola Ford. Nic’s here to talk to us about her double life and how that influenced her to write her debut novel ‘The Hidden Bones‘. My thanks to Nic for sharing her knowledge and experience with us. 

Vic x

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I love writing. I’ve always loved writing. And I’ve always loved reading crime fiction. So when I decided to turn my hand to writing fiction there was only ever going to be one genre for me. And I’m among the most fortunate of people because after much time spent applying my backside to my office chair and, as seems compulsory for all writers more than a smattering of self-doubt, my debut crime novel The Hidden Bones was published in June this year. 

So I have a job I love – crime writer. But that’s not the end of the story, or maybe I should say it’s not really even the beginning; because like many writers I lead a double life. By night I’m crime fiction writer Nicola Ford but by day I’m Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. 

So I live a life steeped in the distant past. Wiltshire, the place that I’ve called home for a decade and a half is thronging with ancient burial mounds and prehistoric stone circles. And much of my time is spent digging up their secrets and delving into the mysteries that lie buried deep within museum archives.

Some writers may dream of giving up the day job, but for me I’m an archaeologist to my core. It’s one half of who I am and provides not only the backdrop, but also the inspiration for my crime writing. The Hidden Bones is set amid the chalk uplands of the Marlborough Downs an area I know intimately as I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life working there. 

Often rural is equated with ‘cosy’, but for those of us who live and work here we know that life in the countryside is anything but. If you’re born without money or means, or elderly and alone, rural life can be tough. And the shock waves left behind by violent crime can have a deep resonance that persists down through the generations in small, sometimes isolated communities.

The Hidden Bones delves into the secrets of one such community.  Clare Hills returns to Wiltshire in search of new direction in her life after the death of her husband in a car crash. She’s only too glad to take up old college friend, Dr David Barbrook’s offer of helping sift through the effects of recently deceased archaeologist Gerald Hart. When they discover the finds and journals from Gerald’s most glittering excavation, they think they’ve found every archaeologist’s dream. But the dream quickly becomes a nightmare as the pair unearth a disturbing discovery, putting them at the centre of a murder inquiry and in the path of a dangerous killer determined to bury the truth forever.

In both halves of my working life I spend my time dealing with the dead. And in trying to figure out how they came to die, I’ve found that the most important clues are often found in understanding how they lived. I’m fascinated by the imprint that choices made by people in the – sometimes far distant – past leave on our lives, in ways we may never understand. And many of the scientific techniques I draw upon in my day job form the fundamental building blocks of modern police investigations. So Nicola Ford crime writer is inextricably interlinked with Dr Nick Snashall archaeologist. Two halves, one whole – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

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**The Gilded Shroud Blog Tour** Author Interview

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It’s my pleasure today to have Elizabeth Bailey, author of ‘The Gilded Shroud‘ on the blog.

Elizabeth Bailey says she feels lucky to have found several paths that have given her immense satisfaction – acting, directing, teaching and, by no means least, writing. 

She has been privileged to work with some wonderful artistic people, and been fortunate enough to find publishers who believed in her and set her on the road.

Elizabeth has kindly taken the time to answer my questions so we can get to know her, and her writing process, better. My thanks to Elizabeth for taking the time to answer my questions. If you fancy getting in touch with her, you can tweet Elizabeth

Vic x

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Tell us about your book(s).
The Gilded Shroud
 is the genesis of Ottilia, Lady Fan, who turns by chance into sleuth extraordinaire and, incidentally, meets the love of her life in the process. It’s a murder mystery set in the late 18th Century, with a dollop of upstairs downstairs and a touch of romance too.

What inspired them?
My original idea was Ottilia as a potential heroine for the first in a series of sweeping romantic historicals which never materialised. My brother one day suggested it might make a detective story, and that set me off thinking. When I finally took the plunge, I intended at first that Ottilia, a wispy retiring sort of female as I thought, would be the brains in the background behind the apparent showy male sleuth, but the moment she set foot on the page she took centre stage and refused to be dislodged. So that was that.

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What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I love the way it surprises me with turns and twists I never expected, and I like finding creative ways to express things rather than turning to clichés. I like the process of watching it unrolling as I write what I see, like a film reel projecting onto a screen somewhere in the air around me. 

I hate what we writers call treacle books, when the words won’t flow and you just have to drag them out one by one, sticking with it as you really feel as if you are wading through a sticky sea. You learn to keep at it, and quite often find you do good work in spite of the stop/start nature of the writing. Fortunately, readers can’t usually tell if a book was treacle to write. There’s always the editing process to fix it.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I can’t not read. I started as a reader and reading feeds my imagination. My reading time is an hour or so before I go to sleep – assuming I’m not so hooked I can’t put the book down. I’m just finishing Tarquin Olivier’s book about his famous father, and I’ll be starting on Jodi Taylor’s latest St Mary’s Chronicles, to which I am addicted. My TBR pile is pretty eclectic as I read all sorts of genres, as well as biographies and books that add to my knowledge of my period and other history.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Primarily Georgette Heyer – of course. Also Daphne du Maurier, who does dark with panache and beauty; Rumer Godden, who is both lyrical and cryptic, as she doesn’t tell you everything. And Dean Koontz, who is so good at surprising twists. Finally, PG Wodehouse for humour. He has the one-liner gag down to a fine art. But I can learn from almost any writer – a turn of phrase, a twist, a different voice. It all goes into the maelstrom and comes out somewhere without my realising it.

Where do you get your ideas from?
They tend to leap out from nowhere. I might catch a rhythm, a fleeting glimpse of some image, song or dream, a snippet in a news item or programme, a phrase or word in a social media post even. The spark might not even reveal itself because the idea wafts in and before I know it the what-if game is on. I do jot ideas in notebooks. If I’m stuck for a plot, I can sift through to see if anything catches my imagination. I think most writers have more ideas than they know what to do with, or will ever write up as stories. The ones that gel will hopefully roll into fodder for readers, if the process goes well.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
My current completed book is usually my favourite. Not the one I’m writing because that’s in too much upheaval to be loved. Though I am usually falling in love with my characters in the work in progress. But the one that’s done and dusted, that’s the one I can afford to love until it gets superseded by the next. I do have a few that are perennial favourites and I am rather in love with Lord Francis Fanshawe. As for scenes, when I have occasion to re-read a book, sometimes I find one that really pleases me, and I will wonder how I managed to make it that good.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am writing another Lady Fan mystery, in between my traditional Regency romances. Mysteries take more thought, more time and energy as one must tie everything in together and half the time I don’t know what’s about to happen.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
Funnily enough, it was my mother, who is a poet rather than a novelist and my beta reader in my early days, who gave me the best piece of advice. She said one day that she thought I was ending my chapters in the wrong place by running a scene to a conclusion rather than keeping it back. She woke me up to cliffhangers.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
When I began writing I plotted extensively, but was forever having to adjust the plot as new ideas sprang up. Now I’m a total pantster. Apart from the opening springboard, I have no idea where the story is going and must trust to my inner writer. That is not to say that ideas don’t float about in my head, but when I sit down to write I never know what words are going to come out through my fingers. Still less do I know who committed the murder!

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep at it. We all say that. Get the words down any way you can. You can’t edit a blank page. Being a writer is all about persistence. Not just keeping going against the rejections. But keeping going when life throws brickbats at you; when you think you’ll never get to the end; when the deadline is looming and panic strikes; and when you’d honestly do anything – take out the rubbish, clean the car, walk the cat – rather than sit down and write. Successful writers work through every pit stop and drive through to the end. Every time.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
Apart from my very first acceptance which sent me to the ceiling where I remained for days, I think it’s the review of The Gilded Shroud that said: “Georgette Heyer lives – and is writing mysteries as Elizabeth Bailey”. That accolade said it all for me. I grew up on Heyer and still consider her the greatest writer in the Regency genre she spawned. We all wish we could write at her level, so this was to me the best compliment ever.

 

 

Getting to Know You: David Ahern

I’m here to introduce readers of the blog to writer to David Ahern, author of the Madam Tulip Mysteries. I hope you enjoy learning about David and his work and find some of his advice helpful. 

Thanks to David for sparing some time to chat to us.

Vic x

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Tell us about your books.
The Madam Tulip Mysteries follow a young actress who moonlights as a fortune teller at celebrity events. Fortune tellers get told the most surprising things. But where you have money and secrets you’ll soon have trouble and crime. 

What inspired them?
Actors are wonderful people, dedicated to their art but who have a hard time making a living.  What do you do to pay the rent if you act and you’re a teeny bit psychic?

Where do you get your ideas from?
Staring into space, mostly. If I stare for long enough, ideas will come just so I can get something to eat.

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Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
All of the Madam Tulip books have hilarious scenes between Derry’s divorced parents, her Irish artist father and her stupendously successful American art dealer mother.  Readers love them, and I do too.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Both. A bit of plotting and bit of pantsing. I write character-driven stories, so I have to let the characters take me where they want to go.  On the other hand, a mystery has to be cleverly put together, so you need to plan.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
Not fiction, but I devour non-fiction. 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
My mother (who is a wonderful actress and writer) said: ‘Apply seat of pants to seat of chair.’ It works.

What can readers expect from your books?
The most believable heroine out there, lots of laughs and page-turning tension.  

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Learn to punctuate fluently.  You won’t believe the freedom it will give you.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
Love making myself laugh out loud (or blub). Hate being stuck at a desk.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Madam Tulip Book #4.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Seeing the galley proof for the first time.

Getting to Know You: Sara Sheridan

When I read at Noir at the Bar Edinburgh earlier this year, Sara Sheridan was also on the bill. Reading from her first ‘Mirabelle Bevan Mystery’, ‘Brighton Belle‘, Sara had the audience in the palm of her hand.

It’s no surprise that the ‘Mirabelle Bevan Mysteries’ have been optioned for TV and Sara has been named as one of Scotland’s 365 most influential women, past and present, by the Saltire Society.

My thanks to Sara for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to chat with us today. 

Vic x

Hi Sara, tell us about your books.
Oh God. Where to start? I write the ‘Mirabelle Bevan Mysteries’ – there are six of them now and they are set in the 1950s on the south coast (except for number four when Mirabelle ends up in Paris.) I also write historical epics – my latest On Starlit Seas was shortlisted for the Wilbur Smith Award.

What inspired them? 
My dad was hugely influential. He was brought up in London and Brighton in the 1950s and the series started when I wrote a short story for his birthday, which then turned into the beginning of Brighton Belle, the first in the series. I love the 1950s – I’m drawn to everything about it. The music. The artefacts. The end of the British empire. It’s fascinating politically and culturally and the stories in the series reflect real-life issues of the day. I’m as interested in social history as I am in crime.

Where do you get your ideas from? 
I am a magpie and ideas could come from anywhere. I mean anywhere. A charity shop find. Something I have seen. A conversation I have overheard. An article on a particular subject. A real-life crime case. There is a fascination in how things come together – I’ll come up with a particular issue out of the blue, write it in and before I know it, suddenly everything coalesces around that. It’s extraordinary.

 

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I like Delia who is chapter nine of Brighton Belle – an upmarket hooker on a mission. I’ll say no more. I also enjoyed writing the scene where Mirabelle, my main character, gets assaulted by a psychotic Masonic Scotsman in England Expects (Mirabelle number 3). There is, I realise, as I write this answer, something very wrong with me.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
Dinnae Fash. Which is Scots for don’t fuss. It’s so easy to get caught up in a drama over writing but it doesn’t help. Roll up your sleeves and get on with it.

What can readers expect from your books?
Miss Marple with an edge. That’s not me – that was an early review. But it was RIGHT.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Get it down on the page. That’s it. Once you have a draft, then you can work on it, but at the start, just get it down. Also read. Always. Loads. Especially anything in the genre you want to write in.

What do you like and dislike about writing? 
I like doing it. I like editing it. I like reading it. I like talking about it. But there is some pressure involved – and I’m not so keen on that. I’m shy, I suppose.

Are you writing anything at the moment? 
Lord. Always. Currently writing the 8th Mirabelle Bevan mystery. But I am about to leave that aside for another project that’s coming up. I also write historical epics. My schedule is pretty full for the next year or so.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Seeing a woman reading my book on a train once. That was a thrill. I spent ages figuring out which bit she was at. If you’re the woman who got freaked out cos of the weird girl staring at you, I apologise. At least now you know why.

Getting to Know You: Matthew Crow

Today, I’m delighted to have fellow Geordie writer, Matthew Crow, on the blog. His latest novel, ‘Another Place‘ was published by Little Brown earlier this month. Thanks to Matthew for taking the time to chat to us. 

Vic x

Tell us about your novel.
Another Place book is about a girl, Claudette, who is released back into her hometown after being hospitalised due to depression. It’s the story of her recovery and re-acquaintance with her old life, whilst an investigation into a missing schoolgirl rages on in the background, and Claudette’s slow determination to help find out what happened to her friend, despite its negative impact on her own mental health.

What inspired it?
Location, to a large degree. The title is taken from Gormley’s sculpture – Another Place – with the cast iron bodies staring out to sea, which I think is one of the greatest works of all time. I wanted to write about the sad, strange beauty of a fallen seaside town. Depression has always been an interest of mine, as it’s been something I’ve long lived with, and am fascinated by how it affects other people. In terms of literary influence, I suppose it was all those great novels that are ostensibly mysteries and yet seem to envelope and expose the communities in which they’re set – Donna Tartt’s oeuvre, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, In Cold Blood, To Kill a Mockingbird etc.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Characters. People. I could never start with an idea of a theme or a narrative. It seems too huge to me. I always start with a character and a voice and the rest sort of builds from there. So Claudette came first, then came Sarah and their mutual stories emerged later.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
In this book? Probably anything between Claudette and Donna, her best friend. There’s a scene in Young Adult, one of my favourite films, where Mavis – the Charlize Theron character – overhears two girls chatting and rushes back to ‘repurpose’ their dialogue for her own literary endeavours, as the encounter has broken her writer’s block. I totally get that. I think there is something so glorious about two girls chatting away – the wit and wisdom and potted histories and shrouded resentments etc – that to capture it accurately, even to a degree, always works well in text. I enjoyed writing those passages and I enjoy reading them back, too.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
Probably from Broo, my agent, who said ‘Just fucking finish it’ or something to that degree. The world at large is not waiting for your next book. In the first instance, you’re writing only to do the best you can, so fannying on and getting hung up on the minutia is redundant. Do not talk about how hard writing is. Do not tweet your progress. Do not assume that yours is a heavy cross to bear. Nobody asked you to do this. Write because you love it, finish it quickly, and edit it slowly. Nobody can do anything with a blank page so the first hurdle is your own.

What can readers expect from your books?
Wank jokes and Geordie idioms. Strong characters with flaws. Humour. Heart. Darkness.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Stop banging on about it and get it done.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I don’t dislike anything about writing and don’t understand those that seem so constantly focused on its difficulty and awfulness. If I don’t enjoy something I stop doing it, and fortunately writing has never been anything but a pleasure to me. It’s where I’m happiest. I like the sense of control, and the sense of showmanship. As someone who never excelled at sports or anything like that, the fact that I can sit at my kitchen table and turn a tidy one-liner which can make a whole day feel like a success is a total joy and one I hope I never tire of.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
At the moment I’m editing a book that is coming out next year called Baxter’s Requiem. It’s set between Heaton, in Newcastle, Tynemouth, and France. And I’m very excited about this one.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
It’s the little things. Writing is just rearranging, really. It’s taking a ‘fact’ and titillating it into something equally true but also, hopefully, beautiful. To happen upon a sentence or a passage that hits its mark without losing anything in the process is a total thrill. Every book feels like your first, I find. So to get a passing break where you realise that you’re in charge and know your shit is priceless.