Ever designed a stately home?

It sounds so simple to plan a country house for a crime novel – but it isn’t. See where the heffalump pits lie in my article on Rachael Hale’s splendid site www.historymagpie.com
If you don’t yet know this site and you like old country houses and their history then waste no time. Make the site a regular.

Nell Drury’s first case published today

31st January 2017: This time last year Nell Drury was just a twinkle in my eye but within days I was hard at work researching 1920s country house living and designing Nell’s first case. She’s the chef at Wychbourne Court in Kent but finds she can turn her talents to detective work when thrust into the middle of a murder case during a ghost hunt. Dancing with Death is out today in the UK and will be published in the US on lst May. Meanwhile back to the research – Nell’s at the centre of another murder case now. Maybe Wychbourne is another Midsomer…

Gone missing

If I were a Victorian lady I would have fainted, and even in the 21st century I was tempted. Two weeks ago I visited my website to check something. Shock. Horror. Dear reader, I wasn’t there. I’d been hacked. Thanks to my splendid host, the site was up and running again a few days later, but all the copy had to be redone. I assure you that the big gap between this post and its predecessors isn’t sheer laziness on my part but because all the posts have vanished.

Now I can get back to Nell Drury, the 1920s chef at Wychbourne Court, whose first case, Dancing with Death, is to be published on 30 January 2017 in the UK and lst May in the US. Meanwhile, happy Christmas and happy New Year.

Classic Cashes In

I was stuck. In need of a plot. I had the title, Classic Cashes In, but car detective Jack Colby needed more than that to solve his sixth case. Cashes In? On what? Answer came there none.

Then Jim and I went down to see a friend in Bognor Regis, seen nearest the camera in the photo. Chatting to him, he revealed that in the late 1940s before joining the Royal Navy he had worked for two years as a bank clerk in Hull, where his father was manager at a different branch. Immediately ‘cashes in’ sprang to life. Old Packards sprang after it. Bank robberies followed on. And hey presto, Jack Colby was heading for another case. Classic Cashes In has just been published; Jack’s case, the murder of an enigmatic banking magnate Philip Moxton, is set in the present day, but the Packard he has asked Jack to find for him has an interesting history going way back. Banking in the 1930s and 1940s was far from the world of today, as were its security precautions.

I’ve just finished writing its successor, so once again I’m in need of a plot. Maybe I should set off to Bognor again ….Douglas at New Year

Auguste Didier Cooks Again

Victorian VillainiesAt the end of my last post Victorian Master Chef Auguste Didier was fighting 21st century car detective Jack Colby for my attention. Jack Colby won the battle but I can report that Auguste Didier has unexpectedly entered the fray once more. I was in search of an idea and impatient at my slow progress he seems to have got busy on his own account.

Firstly the editor of the wonderful Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Janet Hutchings, who has published quite a few of his short stories over the years asked me to guest blog for the EQ site www.somethingisgoingtohappen.net on the subject of writing historical mystery stories – and in the course of the article Didier’s name naturally cropped up.

It then cropped up again in a big way when I heard the exciting news that nine of my novels featuring him are shortly to reappear as ebooks from Headline. In gratitude, Auguste has just planted the long sought idea for another short story in my mind. All I have to do is write it …

Not to be outdone, my other Victorian sleuth, chimney sweep Tom Wasp, decided to get in on the ebook action as well. A book of his short stories is published as an ebook by AudioGo under the title Victorian Villainies – and if you like to delve further back in time AudioGo have also ebooked Georgian Villainies – in which my short stories featuring the eighteenth-century parson, Caleb Pennywick appear. These also formerly appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I need another idea for him too. Back to Jack first and then …  

Classic Mistake Takes to the Road

Allington 7Yes, it’s spring (by the calendar anyway) and Jack Colby is taking to the road again – this time on his fourth case Classic Mistake, when he throws himself into hunting down the killer of his former wife’s Mexcian band-leader husband, Carlos. Jack is horrified when the tempestuous Eva rings him for help, not from Mexico but from the nearby River Medway in Kent where Carlos has been found murdered on the towpat. It’s normally a peaceful spot, but no spot is peaceful when Eva is around – especially as she is chief suspect. Luckily, she wasn’t around, except in my imagination,when Jim and I strolled along the towpath last year to the wonderful Malta Inn. There we sat and watched the baots go by, then crossed the nearby bridge to the far side of the river where we watched boats entering and leaving Allington Lock. We had come by Shanks’s pony, i.e. on foot, but Jack of course came by car to the lock in his mercy dash to help Eva. On returning to his Frogs Hill home, he is greeted by a beautiful blonde called Daisy, who demands that he finds her missing Morris Minor car, called Melody, which causes Jack almost as much trouble as Eva.

Now that Classic Mistake is published, the deadline for sending Jack’s next case, Classic in the Pits, to the publishers suddenly seems very close. In this case, Morris Minors have given way to a Porsche and a Morgan that cause problems for Jack, and it is due to be published later this year – provided I get on with the job …

…Trouble is, I’ve just had a good idea for a short story featuring Auguste Didier, and I’m wondering whether I dare divert from a twenty-first century car detective to a Victorian master chef with a knack for sleuthing … No, I can hear Jack indignantly calling me back to the plot.

And the Next Big Thing . . .

I was enjoying Dolores Gordon-Smith’s blog (www.doloresgordon-smith.co.uk/wordpress/ about the Next Big Thing in her life so much that I almost forgot I was next in line to pick up the baton in this cyber relay in which we interview ourselves with a set of questions describing what’s next in line for each of us on the writing front.  The Two Jacks – Dolores’ 1920s sleuth Jack Haldean and my 2013 car detective Jack Colby – will be followed by Lesley Cookman’s Libby Sarjeant.

But in the meantime, here’s Jack Colby, car detective:

What is the working title for your book?

My next big thing is very much my current thing. It’s the pits. Well, I tend to think that about every book while I’m writing it, but in this case it’s literally true. Classic in the Pits is not only the working title, but the title under which it’s been contracted. The Pits is the name that Jack Colby gives the converted barn in which his classic car business is carried out, but for this title it has a more metaphorical interpretation. Cars pull off the racing track to whizz into the Pits when something’s wrong – and in this novel quite a bit is wrong about a certain Porsche 356.

What genre does your book fall into?

Not sure that fall is the right word. Alas, far from falling off my computer Jack’s cases have to be coaxed word by word, agonised over, rejoiced over, raced against time …. All those. As for genre, they veer more towards the traditional crime mystery than the lean mean streets of the noir.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie version?

Echoing Dolores’ sentiment, chance would be a fine thing! Seriously, though, I find the leap from fictitious characters to real life people too wide a gap to jump successfully. People often ask whether my characters are based on people I know, but I find it impossible to do that, although I do use the occasional real life trait in my characters. So, please Messes Coen, or Mr Spielberg, do feel free to pick whom you like. (Mind you, if Michael Douglas …)

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Classic in the Pits: Swoosh – a summer’s day event for classic cars and aeroplanes – ends with murder, and car detective Jack Colby, currently hunting for a missing Porsche, is right there to get involved in the labyrinthine quest to find a killer.

Will the book be self-published or represented by an agency?

As with most of my recent novels, Classic in the Pits will be published in the UK and US by Severn House Publishers, and will appear later this year. Its predecessor Classic Mistake, featuring a Morris Minor, is out at the end of March. I have a literary agent, and without her I doubt if my career would have existed except in my mind and on the scrapheap.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The Jack Colby series was a joint venture with my classic car buff husband Jim, and he remains very committed to it. We set out to strike a balance to appeal to mainstream crime fiction fans but at the same time also to classic car lovers – in other words, not too much technical detail. We remembered Jonathan Gash’s splendid Lovejoy series with its antiques background, which achieves this balance perfectly.

What else about this book might pique the reader’s interest?

The element of the husband and wife working together. Does it work? Yes, it does, but I think with every writing partnership one has to work out the way it will work. Ours has turned out like housework – each one has his own jobs. Jim helps me with the car information and is there as a punching bag if I have a plot problem. I write the novels and do most of the plotting. It’s amazing, however, that if one throws a problem around between two people something, somehow, will produce the answer even if obliquely.

And now for the next author in the series, Lesley Cookman

The baton is yours next, Lesley. So keep one eye on her blog at www.lesleycookman.blogspot.co.uk and the other eye out for her books if you don’t already know the splendid Libby Sarjeant.

Crime for Christmas

If you’re going to be anywhere near Alfriston in Sussex on Saturday 15 December, don’t miss the great event going on there. Under the auspices of Much Ado Books and the South Eastern chapter of the Crime Writers Association, there’s to be an all day programme of top rate crime authors talking about their work and crime writing generally. Peter Lovesey, Ellie Griffiths, Deryn Lake and Tom Bale are but four of them, not to mention the event’s organiser, historical crime novelist Patrick Easter. If you’re interested (and who wouldn’t be with this line-up) book a ticket quickly. It starts at 10.30 am and tickets cost £10 for all day entrance or £6 for the morning or afternoon sessions. It takes place in Alfriston High Street at the United Reform Church. For tickets apply to shop@muchadobooks.com and for further information have a look at www.muchadobooks.com/crime-for-christmas.php or www.patrickeaster.couk/christmas-crime-15th-december-2012 . Enjoy!

Up in the Clouds

'Trans-Siberian railway, Kent style'I’ve just sent the script of Jack Colby’s fourth case off to my publishers – with bated breath, crossed fingers, wobbly legs and the hope that they will like Classic Mistake. But that’s next year’s story.

Hot off the presses this autumn is Jack’s third case, Classic in the Clouds. The featured car in this novel goes way back to the early days of motoring – 1907 to be precise, the year of the original Peking to Paris rally (or race as it became). Those were the days. The French newspaper Le Matin launched the plan and five competitors left Peking on Monday, 10 June. Two immediately got lost, but luckily caught up with the other three. One broke down through the gruelling challenges that faced them and is no doubt still buried in the wilds of the Gobi Desert. Its driver returned to Peking. The other four battled on through floods, mountains, broken bridges, storms, and money and supply troubles, and two months later, on 10 August, Prince Scipione Borghese drove triumphantly into Paris in his Itala (now in a museum). Twenty days later, the other three arrived to equal welcome, a Spyker and two De Dion Boutons. The Spyker too is in a museum. And the two De Dions? Fate not known – but Jack Colby is hot on the trail of one of them rumoured to be in Kent. He’s commissioned to find it in time for a re-run of the Peking to Paris rally. The re-run however is in Kent, with Dover standing in for Peking and a location near Canterbury for Paris. In between the towns en route are temporarily taking the names of their Asian counterparts for the rally. Take a look at the photo – that’s the Trans-Siberian railway for the day – represented in the photo by a former railway track linking the Kentish town of Tenterden with Headcorn. In the opposite direction a steam railway manned by enthusiastic volunteers operates a service between Tenterden and the magnificent Bodiam Castle. That isn’t on Jack Colby’s route, but plenty of places are, all of them going Chinese for the day. All great fun – but Jack has a murder to solve and the De Dion is at the heart of it.

Calling all crime readers

If you like reading crime novels and you haven’t yet signed up for the Crime Readers Association (www.thecra.co.uk) then do so right away! It’s free, it has an online newsletter (Case Files), details of events, tips on writing … in short, you can get to know a lot about the crime writing world, both fiction and non-fiction. In the second issue of Case Files, due in the middle of May, my second Jack Colby novel, Classic Calls the Shots, is one of the novels featured. I’m in the middle of the fourth at present, and have just left Jack in a pretty nasty situation, from which I can’t at the moment see any way of extracting him. It’s nice therefore to look back a book or two. Time has a way of eradicating memories of such difficulties and Shots now seems as though it was plain sailing compared with Number 4. I suppose Jack will eventually escape in Number 4, but how?
The Crime Readers Association is run by the Crime Writers Association (www.thecwa.co.uk) which had its annual conference recently. This year it was at Southampton, not long after the Titanic anniversary. The annual get-together is a meeting place for friends combined with interesting talks. This year they included Joan Lock talking about the bombs that freaked out the Victorian era, and one by two Marine police, who were introduced by marine mystery writer Pauline Rowson – seen in the photo with her husband Bob. I always return spurred up for the writing fray again on my return from such conferences, and this one was no exception. So how come I can’t sort Jack out in Number 4?