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Why Mysteries? Why Winchester? And why, for that matter, a blog at all?

I love mystery stories.  I also love history and historical novels, so it’s no surprise I now write Victorian mysteries.  Why Winchester? It’s a lovely place, the ancient capital of King Alfred’s Wessex – it’s a perfect setting for my books.

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Where do the characters come from?

Now I’ve recovered from jet-lag I was going to blog about our recent trip (nearly six weeks) to Australia and New Zealand, and the stopovers in Dubai and Kuala Lumpur. I was going to talk about how on our last trip (2012) I had been conscious almost all the time in Australia, and particularly in Tasmania, of my Victorian sleuth’s presence. Charlotte was just out of my vision all the time, but I knew she was there, even to the faintest flutter of a crinoline rounding a corner. She didn’t put in a single appearance during the latest trip though I did catch a fleeting glimpse of her charming but erratic stepfather, Will, so I expect I’ll use that in a later book.

However, instead of writing about the Australian odyssey I’ve been diverted by a comment from a friend who said that if someone wrote a Little Miss book about me, it would be Little Miss Acerbic. How right she is – it’s the family’s default position – and it made me think about some of the questions readers always ask:

‘Do you put real people in your books?’ The answer to that is (a) No, of course not and (b) Sometimes, but only bits of them, ie interesting characteristics and odds and ends that make up a patchwork.

Then there’s the other frequently asked question: ‘Are your characters based on you?’ And the answer to that is: Yes, and No. Obviously any character an author creates is going to be mined from inside to some extent but I like to make a conscious effort not to make a carbon copy, which would be pretty boring anyway. So my two sleuths, Charlotte Richmond and Harriet Quigley do share some traits with me, but they’re sufficiently different from me and from each other to stand alone.

Young Australian widow, Charlotte, is a child of her time – the mid-nineteenth century – she’s not a rebel and because of her insecure and shady upbringing, she is desperate to blend in with her wealthy English in-laws, so she’s always on the alert for danger, ready to disappear at a moment’s notice. Charlotte’s instinct when trouble looms, is to run away. In appearance Charlotte is tall and slim, dark-haired and hazel-eyed and despite her erratic childhood, she’s had a widely eclectic education, mainly courtesy of her godmother, the unusually generous (in several ways), Lady Meg, who taught her all kinds of things, including appreciation of Miss Austen’s work, fluent French and how to set up a smokescreen as a blameless bluestocking by being knowledgeable about architecture, art, etc. Charlotte is clever and resourceful, kind and lonely.

Harriet Quigley, however, is very different and is rarely lonely. I’ve always been fascinated by the few people I’ve met who are completely confident in their own skin so I decided to create a character like that. Harriet is tall and slim and clever, rather posh, privately-educated and comfortably off, and she’s always done the right thing. A highly-respected headmistress she is upright and law-abiding and generally an admirable creature but she’s saved from priggishness by the kindness of her heart and a couple of traits she’s slightly ashamed of: she’s a bit vain, she’s squeamish about hospitals (not an advantage in ‘Murder Fortissimo’)MFcoverfinal_originaland she’s terrified of heights (which is a bit of a drawback in her second adventure ‘A Crowded Coffin’).ACrowdedCoffincoverWhen trouble threatens Harriet’s instinct is to tackle it head-on and wallop it into submission!

Interestingly I’ve had several readers tell me how much they love Sam, Harriet’s clergyman cousin which is rather nice. The Resident Engineer, when I told him this, was inclined to be smug, assuming that Sam is based on him, to which I said, ‘No, he’s much nicer than you!’ (Though I have given Sam a few similarities: the passion for steam trains, the engineering background and – I hope! the devotion to his wife.)

So, do my heroines share anything with me? I’m tall, though Harriet is taller still; they’re both slim (which I used to be!) and they both devour books. Charlotte’s favourite Jane Austen book is  ‘Emma’ (as is mine), and Harriet collects Edwardian books for girls, as I do, though her dolls’ house collection is borrowed it from a friend. Both ladies are far cleverer than I am and much braver though they do have the same tendency to see the funny side of things at entirely the wrong moment. And they’re much, much nicer than I am!

Going back to the comment that kicked off this blog post, I have to admit that Harriet is definitely Little Miss Acerbic and that I know exactly where she gets it from!

As for the amazing and marvellous creatures we spotted on our recent marathon trip to the other side of the world, not one of them was as wonderful as these three, L to R: Joe (12), Jack (9) & Jim (nearly 11).WP_000314

Time Travelling in Winchester

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I tend to forget that the title of this blog suggests that I post an occasional bit of info about Winchester, so today’s effort is all about that ancient and beautiful city that happens, so conveniently, to be about six miles from my front door. Not only that, it’s well supplied with history, mystery, coffee shops and other delights where I can potter around and call it Research. So today I’m into architecture which, in a city that was thriving before the Romans arrived and rechristened it Venta Belgarum, it’s virtually impossible to avoid noticing.

A few weeks ago I was mooching around town when I spotted that the sky had turned black. Not in a biblical watch-out-here-comes-damnation kind of way, more of advance warning that it was going to bucket down. I wasn’t far from the Cathedral so I nipped in there and sat and read my Kindle not far from Jane Austen’s tomb. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind in the least. While in there I took a look at my favourite statue of all time, the man in the crypt (Sound II) by Anthony Gormley (pic). You weren’t allowed in though for once the floor was completely dry, but you could stand and stare, which I do – frequently. It’s a fabulous piece of work and never more so than when the crypt floods and the statue is up to its knees in water.Sound_II_revisited

After dropping into the Venerable Chapel and rather cold-bloodedly sitting in the exact spot where I murdered someone in ‘A Crowded Coffin’, I realised the rain had stopped so I went off in search of more history. Not hard to find but a favourite of mine is the interior of what used to be an antiquarian bookshop, Gilbert’s. The interesting feature here is the C15 framed interior – 15C interior gilbertsbookshop(This is an old picture from the Web, I’m rubbish at photography). Sadly, the books are long gone and it’s now an upmarket furniture and homewares emporium.

Now I was on a mission (I don’t get out much) and it was lunchtime so I ambled into Godbegot House (nothing to do with God, it means ‘good bargain’) . It’s now an Ask Pizza place and I don’t like pizza but for the sake of geekiness I had a cheesy mushroom starter.Photo and info can be found here: http://www.cityofwinchester.co.uk/history/html/god_begot.htmlGodBegot2

I finished the week of architectural wanderings by taking the Resident Engineer out to lunch on his birthday at The Chesil Rectory, which claims to be the oldest building in Winchester. Lunch was fabulous and as the loos are upstairs I was able to snoop around up there to my heart’s content. Info and photo here: http://www.chesilrectory.co.uk/about-us/the-building/chesilrectory

I’ve now started to look more closely at the buildings and it’s clear that if you scratch any red-brick façade you’ll find a mediaeval gem behind it, so if anyone’s interested in Winchester, this is an informative site: http://www.cityofwinchestertrust.co.uk/trust/pubsquare/desc1.shtml

Other news, ‘Murder Most Welcome’, my first Charlotte Richmond Victorian mystery seems to be available as an e-book at only £1.79 http://www.amazon.co.uk/Murder-Most-Welcome-Nicola-Slade-ebook/dp/B00CCTWQXQ/ref=la_B0034Q1G8W_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412275207&sr=1- This is the book that a reviewer described as ‘one of the most entertaining novels I’ve ever read…’  The second and third books in the series, ‘Death is the Cure’ and ‘The Dead Queen’s Garden’ are also at a lower price.  (NB if anyone has read and enjoyed my books I’d be hugely grateful for an Amazon review or two – they do matter. Mind you, I’d rather not have anything under 3 stars!)

And you might notice I’ve changed my profile picture. This is a rare one in which I don’t look as though I’m about to bite, or as though a cobra has reared up in front of me. The reason for the cheerful grin is that it was taken at a posh champagne reception and I was feeling no pain!

The Deadly Dames invade Cornwall!

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Here we are – in July – doing our thing at the Penzance Literary Festival. From the left: Charlie Cochrane, Carol Westron, Eileen Robertson, and me. Our fifth dame, Joan Moules, couldn’t make it this time.

We had a great time and the audience joined in enthusiastically, asking lots of questions and laughing in all the right places!  Carol is an excellent question master and keeps us in line most of the time, though it’s a bit like herding cats.

Besides the usual questions: why do we write cosy crime? what’s with all the humour when we’re tackling serious themes? Carol often quizzes us on which fictitious sleuth we’d like to introduce to our own protagonists. After a genteel display of lust when three of us settled on Supt Christopher Foyle (as played by Michael Kitchen), Carol won’t let us choose him any more, so I opted for Margery Allingham’s long, lean, bespectacled detective, Albert Campion; Charlie chose Montagu Egg, Dorothy Sayers’ less well-known detective; Eileen wanted C.J.Sanson’s Shardlake, and Carol picked Gervase Fen (Edmund Crispin).

We love being Deadly Dames so if you’re setting up a literary festival and would like a lively panel discussion about writing traditional mysteries – just get in touch! Penzance was a long way from our Hampshire homes but we dragged some of the husbands along and turned it into a short break. We’ll happily consider travelling – as long as it promises to be fun!

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And this is what I’m doing at the moment – actually writing a novel!

 

One Man’s Story…

With hindsight it probably wasn’t a great idea to go to Avebury on the day of the summer solstice. We knew better than to go near Stonehenge because of the crowds that gather to see the sunrise, but it hadn’t occurred to me, when I decided I wanted to walk down the avenue of monoliths in nearby Avebury, that there’d be an overflow of stone-huggers from Stonehenge.

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Read about it on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avebury

Anyway, we set off across idyllic countryside – England in June on a brilliant hot summer’s day, what could be nicer? Somehow we missed the turning for Avebury and as it was coffee time we stopped at a nice-looking pub. A pub with shelves full of books – it took the Engineer some time to drag me away. When we left, I had two books with me; as he  said: ‘Oh good, more books, just what we need.’ As indeed we do, you can never have too many books.

One of the books is called ‘Mrs Green Again’ by the elegantly named Evelyne E Rynd and it was published in 1915. I paid a pound for it solely because of a pencilled inscription inside the front cover.bookinscription1915haddoncropped

It’s dated 1915 and written in very faint pencil: A copy of this book was one of the last things Esmond acknowledged receiving. He said, “I was glad to see dear Mrs Green again: I think she’s funnier than ever.”

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that something happened to Esmond in 1915 and it doesn’t take a genius to suspect what that could have been. I suspected that M Haddon was his mother and I felt that she would have wanted to feel that he wasn’t forgotten.

Thanks to the wonders of Google, I found him.

Capt Harold Esmond Haddon  born in India, 29th December 1888, Killed in action in Kut-el-Amara, Mesopotamia, 24th December 1915

He was very brave, was Esmond, mentioned in despatches, and he was only five days away from his twenty-seventh birthday when he died. He’s  buried in Kut War Cemetary which is in Baghdad and  I found his army record:

Rank: Captain, Regiment: 119th Indian Infantry (Mooltan Regiment)

Honors/awards: 3 Times Mentioned In Despatches

I also found a family history page but there are discrepancies, for one thing he’s credited with a wife whom he apparently married at the age of twelve! but the basic facts seem to agree.

Harold Esmond HADDON was born on 29 Dec 1888 in India. He died on 24 Dec 1915 in Kut-el-Amara, Mesopotamia.  Letters of Administration granted to his wife, Margaret Haddon, on 4 Jul 1916 in London (This has to mean his mother whose name was Margaret). Harold’s (known as Esmond to his mother) effects were valued at £300.3.10. He was a Captain in 119th (Mooltan Reg) Indian Infantry during World War 1. He was buried in Kut War Cemetery, Iraq. There is an inscription in Langham Baptist burial ground to Harold: “Lieut Temp Capt 119th Infantry (The Mooltan Reg) Indian Army, younger son of T.W. Haddon, born Dec 29th 1888. Killed in action at Kut et Amara, Mesopotamia on Xmas eve 1915. Mentioned in Dispatches.” Prior to going to war Harold was living at 4 Hervey Road, Blackheath, Kent. (Taken from a genealogy site)

I’m quite sure that the M Haddon who wrote the note in my copy of the book was Esmond’s mother Margaret and I hope she would be glad that another mother, a hundred years after the Great War began, found her book and thought fondly of Esmond.

I haven’t read the book yet – it looks hard going, tales of a cockney charlady’s wit and wisdom as told by a lady visiting the vicarage where she chars. But I’m glad it cheered Esmond up – he probably needed a few laughs.

As for Avebury – we couldn’t park anywhere near it and it was full of earnest-looking people communing with the stones: hugging them, holding hands in circles round them, and a few people actually picnicking round them. We thought we’d try again another day and went off to find another pub for lunch instead.

And finally, a nice 5* star review for The Dead Queen’s GardenCharlotte Richmond, young widow with a shady past, has settled down in Hampshire living with her late husband’s grandmother and close to her brother and sister in law Lily and Barnard. It is Christmas and Lord and Lady Granville have moved to their country house nearby when Lady Granville’s lady’s maid is found dead in the grounds of their home. Then a young woman dies after being taken ill following a Christening party held by Lily and Barnard and Charlotte’s nose for a mystery starts to twitch.

I found this book entertaining reading. Charlotte is far from being a conventional Victorian heroine as she is resourceful and curious and interested in things which no well bred young woman should be interested in. She finds plenty to occupy her curiosity over the Christmas period, though her enjoyment is dampened at times by the impending death of her friend Elaine Knightley.

I had worked out what was going on though not who the murderer was quite early on in the story though I still enjoyed finding out exactly who was responsible. I recommend this series to anyone who likes historical crime with an unusual heroine. The series can be read in any order.

 

Trains and boats and planes.

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Do you ever do that thing when you’re on a plane and wishing you weren’t, and you pretend it’s not a plane at all, but a train? So it’s not going to fall out of the sky after all? No? Just me then…

(Actually I was just being poetic, there aren’t any boats, just trains and planes…)

People assume that we go on trains a fair amount because the Resident Engineer is a steam buff, what with spending every Wednesday volunteering in the Loco Shed at the Mid-Hants Railway, familiarly known as The Watercress Line. But those people are wrong. I like trains too, I always have. When I was little I used to like to stand on the wooden bridge over the level crossing in the middle of Poole High Street and let myself be enveloped in a cloud of steam as the train left the station. Bliss. Smelly, but bliss.

I have to admit that I didn’t notice the passing of steam, the advent of diesel or even the entrance of electric trains on to the world stage – they’re all trains to me and it’s the journey, the experience that excites me. Back in the dim and distant, even before I started school, my granny and I would take a train to Wareham and change into the little train for Swanage. Corfe Castle was our destination and it was a happy little girl (and an elderly one, as well) who discovered that they were still running the ancient rolling stock left over from the carriages they’d scraped together during the war. In particular I loved the carriage that had no corridor and instead of eight seats there were six (or maybe seven, it’s a hundred years ago) and instead there was a tiny loo tucked across one corner. I’ve never seen anything like it since but I know they were real and I was fascinated.

Anyway, trains. (And yes, you guessed it, the dreaded holiday photos – but don’t worry, there aren’t many and they do have a slight literary association). Last year we did a trip to the USA, part of which is chronicled on here somewhere (and although Keri showed me how to do links I can’t remember, but it was in May 2013). After a weekend in Washington we travelled by Amtrak to Chicago and then Chicago to Denver, using the overnight sleeper on each stage.capitoltd-map It was great. A double decker train where our ‘roomette’ was high above the track and we could watch the various states trundle past until it was time for dinner (included in the fare) and back to our seats now turned into bunks. The passengers were friendly though we did find one lady disconcerting as she went in to breakfast – she sat at our table – wearing her dressing-gown. She had also not felt the need to put her front teeth in so conversation was slightly surreal, as was the moment when she fished out a Tupperware box and scraped the rest of her hominy grits into it, presumably as a little snackette for later. (Anyone familiar with The Vicar of Dibley on TV would have seen a startling likeness to the mad old biddy who makes horrible cakes!) 

The reason for our fascinating train odyssey was, as so often with me, grounded in books I had read. In this case it was the Katy books, the series of five books about Katy Carr and her family, published much the same time as Little Women but surprisingly much more popular in Britain than in the author’s (Susan Coolidge’s) native America. The last two books in the series deal with one of the daughters of the Carr family who has to undertake a long and daunting journey (in about 1870-80ish) from Burnet (a pseudonym for Cleveland) to Colorado because her younger brother has a ‘shadow on his lung’ and must live in a high altitude to avoid TB taking a hold.

I first read this book, ‘Clover’, when I was a young mum as I’d previously had no idea it existed and at once I vowed that one day I’d follow in Clover’s footsteps and take the train from Chicago to Denver. In the book, the journey takes three days and nights and a stroke of luck means the two young travellers can travel in a luxurious private carriage. Ours was less glamorous, much faster, but still a marvellous way to cover vast tracts of America.  When they reach Denver they catch a local train to ‘St Helen’s’, which is a cover for Colorado Springs, so that’s where we headed  – and pretty fabulous it is too! (This photo is The Garden of the Gods, on the outskirts of the city.)284px-Garden_of_the_GodsThe Engineer was happy with the idea of the holiday, without any inducements, but what got him really excited was the number of heritage railways in the region so we planned the trip around them. I’m happy with the social history of the railways anyway, and was fascinated by the south western country and it was astonishing to be told, in early May, that tickets for the rail trip up Pike’s Peak mountain would be at a reduced price because we could only go up to 12,000’ – the last two thousand feet of track being covered in deep snow. (Down in the valley the temperature was up in the mid- 30s).

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I was surprised and sorry to find that it’s true – Susan Coolidge is definitely not a prophet in her own country. Even in the museum in Colorado Springs they had never heard of her. Such a pity – because her books inspired us to have a fabulous holiday.

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Yes, you really did think I’d walked up all those stairs, didn’t you? (At Seven Falls, another of the locations mentioned in ‘Clover’)

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And finally – The Engineer in front of the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, probably the most fascinating place of all.

Who Murdered Jane Austen?

Time to get back to the original premise of this blog, ie History, Mystery, and Winchester, and – wouldn’t you know it? – Jane Austen can provide all of those things, bless her.jane-austen1

A few weeks ago I spotted a mention that the Woman’s Hour Book of the Week was going to be ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ by crime writer Lindsay Ashford. I liked the sound of it and was too impatient to listen to daily episodes so I bought it for my Kindle. And what a revelation it was! Told by Jane Austen’s closest friend outside the family, Anne Sharp, who was at one time governess to Edward Austen Knight’s daughter Fanny, the story begins in 1843 when Miss Sharp has heard of scientific tests that can be performed on hair. She sends a lock of Jane’s hair for analysis and when the report arrives this is what it says:

The lady, at the time of her demise, had quantities of arsenic in her person more than fifteen times that observed in the body’s state. You have told me that the persons with whom she dwelt…all survived her by a decade or more. I must conclude, therefore, that the source of the poison was not anything common to the household such as corruption of the water supply. Nor could any remedy the lady received – if indeed arsenic was administered – account for the great quantity present in her hair. It may be conjectured, then, that Miss J.A. was intentionally poisoned.” (My Bold)

This, of course, is fiction but it’s not giving away any spoilers to quote the note at the end of the book which mentions an authenticated lock of Jane Austen’s hair which, via several possessors, was ultimately presented for display at the cottage at Chawton in Hampshire, now known as Jane Austen’s house. The last owner, a Mr Henry G Burke of Baltimore, had the hair tested in a bid to discover the cause of her death and the result was shocking – the hair contained levels of arsenic far exceeding that observed in the body’s natural state.

Back to the mystery: From the beginning in 1843, we travel back to 1805, to Godmersham in Kent and to Anne Sharp’s first meeting with her charges’ aunt Jane, come on a visit. Using Jane Austen’s real letters, interweaving snippets of history, and a little bit of judicious conjecture, the story becomes an intriguing puzzle as Anne begins to notice things out of kilter, people behaving oddly – and indeed, people behaving badly. Anne keeps all her concerns close to her chest as her friendship with the fascinating, flirtatious, unsettled Jane grows and her grief as Jane’s illness takes hold of her is moving and poignant.

I’m not letting any more cats out of the bag about whodunit (according to the author) or why, just to say that it’s an inventive and extremely plausible explanation of a really shocking mystery – that whether deliberately dosed with arsenic or not, Jane Austen certainly appears to have died of it.

Once I’d finished Lindsay Ashford’s fascinating mystery I didn’t want to let Jane Austen go so I took another look at one of my favourite of the recent crop of films about her, ‘Miss Austen Regrets’.  missaustenregretsStarring Olivia Williams as the older Jane, it gives us a revealing and probably true picture of an oddly difficult woman – difficult in the sense that she didn’t fit the expected mould and her family had no idea how to handle her – and nor did she. Very different from the Victorian image of the saintly Miss Austen, in cap and mittens, wielding her quill pen as she wrote her novels in the quiet peace of a Hampshire village. As the title suggests, the film is full of regrets, Jane’s and Cassandra’s, the whole family, people who knew her and in a slight embroidery of what might have happened, a romance that vanished before it had a chance to bloom. Her sister-in-law’s brother, Brook Edward Bridges, who is mentioned in a letter to Cassandra.

In 1805 during a visit to Godmersham, her brother Edward’s estate in Kent, Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra: “[W]e could not begin dinner till six. We were agreeably surprised by Edward Bridges’s company to it. . . . It is impossible to do justice to the hospitality of his attentions towards me; he made a point of ordering toasted cheese for supper entirely on my account” (27 August 1805).

The film suggests that Edward Bridges really loved her and their meeting not long before Jane’s death is very touching, but for me the only mystery is how on earth anyone could have turned down Hugh Bonneville who plays Edward with a wistful nostalgia and charm.missaregretspic

If you haven’t seen the film, do – it’s well worth it. And if you like the sound of the mystery novel, that’s well worth a look too!

And now a commercial (of course). A fabulous review of The Dead Queen’s Garden Dead Queen's Garden - FINALfrom Myshelf.com. Reviewer Rachel A Hyde says: Young widow Charlotte Richmond is now living a quiet and respectable life in a small Hampshire town, but once she led a more adventurous life in her native Australia. It is 1858 and nearly Christmas. She will be spending it with her late (fortunately) husband’s relations. There is a christening to attend, a dying friend to spend time with, a job offer to consider and of course a murder or two to solve (or prevent).

An enjoyable series featuring a resourceful and lively heroine and amusing escapades. It can be classified as a cozy, of the sort that combines a house party with goings-on in a picturesque village. Charlotte gets to meet Florence Nightingale, meet up with a former acquaintance that knows about her past and enjoy a Victorian Christmas. There is a good period ambience in this novel, which wears its research lightly but nonetheless appears grounded in the 1850s. The author is knowledgeable about how people behaved, what they wore and did and this adds a dimension to the book that is sadly missing in many other historical novels. Plenty happens too, happy and tragic, amusing and exciting and it was exactly the right length, leaving me hoping that the next one won’t be too long in the offing. Highly recommended to anybody in search of a good murder mystery with a 19th century setting.

 And that made me cry – knowing you can make people laugh and cry and enter a world that you’ve created is the real reason most authors keep going. (Money is nice too, of course, so it will be great when the ebook of The Dead Queen’s Garden is available from 30th April – tell your friends!)

Castles & Cakes

Or to be accurate, ONE castle and lots of cakes.


DDameslogo1The Deadly Dames rode again on Wednesday, 26th February, at the inaugural Purbeck Litfest. (See our tasteful logo, above!) As two of our core members, Eileen Robertson and Joan Moules, couldn’t make it we invited an honorary Dame, Wendy Metcalf, and an honorary Chevalier, Peter Tickler, to come and play with us in Swanage – and a good time was had by all.

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The castle in question was Durlston Castle which turns out not to be a castle at all but a Victorian crenellated mock-castle built as a place for rest and refreshment for walkers along the cliff tops.  Our performance took place in the Belvedere, which you can see in the photo, a large rectangular room right at the top of the building, with windows all round so that we had a 360view of Swanage Bay, the town, and much of the Jurassic Coast.  It was a fabulous place to sit and chat about our books, what made us turn to crime, how do we incorporate humour, etc, and the audience joined in with some very interesting questions.

At our previous outing, question master, Carol Westron, asked which fictitious detective we would like to introduce to our own sleuths and, with a shocking exhibition of genteel lust, Detective Superintendent Christopher Foyle (or rather his alter ego Michael Kitchen) was chosen by three of the five members of the panel. At Durlston Castle, Carol refused to allow us to repeat ourselves, so I chose Marcus Didius Falco, the Roman sleuth created by Lindsey Davis.

We really enjoyed our visit to Swanage and hope to be invited back for next year’s festival. Besides this, the Deadly Dames are spreading our wings even further afield as we’ve been booked to appear at the Penzance Literary Festival. We’ll be ‘on’ at 5.00, on Friday, 18th July and are looking forward to it immensely.

Now for the cakes – which, sadly, I can’t post on here because we ate them all, but here’s one I made earlier!AmandasWeddingCake2For the launch of my sixth novel, ‘The Dead Queen’s Garden’, I decided on a Victorian ladies’ repast of a glass of Madeira and a slice of cake. Accordingly, I made a madeira cake which turned out to have a crust on it so tough that it bent the beaks of the unsuspecting birds I threw it at. The Resident Engineer munched his way through the rest but I decided to stick to fruit cake, the only thing I know I can bake successfully, though I did rise to a caraway seed cake that wasn’t too chewy. The daughters are better by far at baking and contributed various goodies, including lemon drizzle, double-chocolate cake, and other delights including a vanilla sponge ring iced by the senior granddaughter who, with the junior granddaughter, acted as waitresses. (The youngest grandson nobly tasted every cake!) It was a lovely day, with friends and family milling around the house and the senior daughter manning an assembly line of tea pots and cups.

Sadly, I forgot about getting some photos but it was lovely to see my friends, talented fellow writers, Linda Gruchy http://lindagruchy.wordpress.com/  and Paula Readman  http://paulareadman1.wordpress.com/author/paulareadman1/ who both came all the way from Essex.

Finally, news of The Dead Queen’s Garden. Dead Queen's Garden - FINALFirst, a lovely review on Amazon: ‘Charlotte Richmond once again finds herself embroiled in mystery and murder. Her third adventure is breathtaking and the suspense lasts until the sad, albeit expected, ending. It also sees her wielding a very unusual weapon! Her fear that her past may be discovered continues to haunt her but she remains a real support to her family and there are appearances and references to friends met in her previous adventure. I look forward to her next adventure and wonder whether she may be persuaded into marriage again or whether she will choose another direction.’

Secondly, I’ve just heard that the hardback edition is to be reprinted, with the e-book coming out at the end of April.

Scalps, Death Masks & Ancient Hot-Cross Buns

tudorhouseAlthough we are very different in many ways, the Engineer and I do like to go out and about on expeditions – when he can spare the time from playing with real steam engines and his many other interests, and I’m not reading, writing, painting, pottering, or being Grandma (note I make no mention of housewifely duties which are against my religion). Something that always gets us both going (we’re seriously nerdy) is anything historical. I am always drawn to ancient houses; a castle or stately home will always be high on my list, and costume museums will see me rushing to buy a ticket. The Engineer is happy to come along with me but his real interest is in industrial archaeology, particularly steam engines, which I also like, so a trip out that covers our two passions is the way we usually manage things.

Anyway, the other day we combined our various interests in a very satisfying manner. He needed a trip to Maplin’s to buy some gadgety thingy and I needed to think about the logistics of an ancient garden so we did both by dropping in on Southampton’s Tudor House museum (see picture above) after the Maplin’s stop. We sat in the coffee shop thinking our profound thoughts, the one about the gadgety thingy and the other gazing out at the reconstructed Tudor garden that proved an ideal example for the book in hand.
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Incidentally, the garden was designed by Dr Sylvia Landsberg, who also designed Queen Eleanor’s mediaeval garden at Winchester Great Hall  QEleanor'sgarden– the very garden I ‘borrowed’ for my latest book, The Dead Queen’s Garden. (see the inevitable plug for the book at the end of this post)

I hadn’t been to Tudor House for years. I think I dragged our reluctant children round it about 30 years ago but for me the memories go back a very long way. My aunt lived in Southampton so every summer holiday I was put on a coach from Bournemouth for two weeks. There were three things I insisted on doing every time:

1) I had to go to Romsey Abbey to see the scalped-looking head of auburn hair, complete with plait, that is all that’s left of a young Saxon girlplaitromseycropped2) I had to check up on Oliver Cromwell’s death mask that was displayed in the museum above Southampton’s ancient Bargate cromwell and 3) I had to visit Tudor House to see the fossilised hot-cross-bun that had been found there.hotxbun

I suppose I was a very strange little girl – but you can see where my interests lay even at the age of about seven: a preoccupation with death and history!

I’m happy to report that the auburn hair and the hot-cross-bun are still on display (photos above from local tourist sites) but when I asked it seems nobody knows what happened to Cromwell. Serves him right, anyway, so the photo here is from the British Museum.

Well worth a visit and even if history doesn’t float your boat (and you don’t, as I did, get beside yourself with excitement at the discovery of King John’s Palace at the far end of the  knot garden) you can take a peaceful coffee or lunch break in an oasis of peace - Tudor House

Finally, a brilliant first review for The Dead Queen’s Garden Dead Queen's Garden - FINALfrom author Sally Zigmond  here and a reminder that the book is still available at a discount and post free from www.halebooks.com  (ebook out at the end of April)

Here’s to a Happy Christmas – and some sheep…

A Happy Christmas to everyone who is kind enough to follow my blog!

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Sometimes I buy charity Christmas cards, usually in aid of the National Autistic Society but other years I like to paint my own and this year it’s sheep. You have to imagine that these sheep (actually spotted in Somerset) are in fact grazing on the hills outside Bethlehem. Night is drawing near and the shepherds are having their tea-break. The sheep are in reflective mood as they gaze with interest at a bright light in the sky.

‘Wassat then?’ ask the lambs.

‘No idea,’ say say the ewes.

One small commercial: The Dead Queen’s Garden is published by Robert Hale on 31st December 2013. 

Dead Queen's Garden - FINALRead here about how it came to be written:http://halebooks.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/author-nicola-slade-discusses-the-dead-queens-garden/

Happy Christmas & a Safe and Prosperous New Year from Nicky, the Resident Engineer & the Fat Cat! holly2

A Blog Roll

scrollLots of bloggers put up a Blog Roll somewhere on their pages and it’s always intriguing – if you’re nosy (and how can you be a writer if you’re not?) – to see what they like and where they hang out. There isn’t enough space on here to do that so I thought I’d post about some of my favourite blogs.I only belong to a couple of actual forums and they’re private ones; however I do follow a few interesting blogs. Not surprisingly most of my internet friends are bookish so I tend to drop in on book bloggers to see what they’re reading. I’ve found some kindred spirits this way, which has been great.

Bookish Blogs
• Geranium Cat http://geraniumcatsbookshelf.blogspot.co.uk/I stumbled across this blog years ago when she reviewed my first novel, Scuba Dancing. She liked it so it’s no wonder that Jodie’s blog is now one of my favourites. Always something interesting and frequently an author new to me to check out.

• Random ottings http://randomjottings.typepad.com/random_jottings_of_an_ope/  Elaine has an opera blog and a baking blog besides the book one and I do drop in there now and then, but it’s the blog about the books she’s reading and the comments she makes that I visit most. Occasionally acerbic, always informed and always interesting.

• Letters from a Hill Farm http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.co.uk/ Nan lives in northern Vermont, a lovely part of America that we’ve visited a couple of times. When she writes about their smallholding I’m reminded of Anne of Green Gables. Canada isn’t too far away from the Hill Farm and the whole set-up makes me think that Miss Cornelia might live down the hill, or you could bump into Rachel Lynde at the village store.

• The Elephant in the Room elephanthttp://theelephantinthewritingroom.blogspot.co.uk/ Sally Zigmond is a successful novelist and award-winning short-story writer, living in a beautiful restored chapel that nestles in the middle of the North Yorkshire Moors. Her historical novels are full of rich detail, always something new to discover on a re-read, and her advice for writers is always inspiring and full of common sense.

• Linda Gruchy http://lindagruchy.wordpress.com/ Writer, photographer, gardener and scientist, Linda is one of the busiest people I know and her broad range of interests makes her occasional blog posts something to look forward to.

• Rosemary Sutcliff http://rosemarysutcliff.com/?blogsub=confirmed#blog_subscription-2 As a long-time Rosemary Sutcliff reader I was delighted to stumble on this nostalgic blog

Paula Readman http://darkfantasy13writer.blogspot.co.uk/ ravenPaula is a prizewinning short story writer and a spinner of dark and scary tales. Read her blog posts on the Goth Weekend in Whitby and admire the costumes she concocts!

• Jane Risdon blog/http://janerisdon.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/welcome-to-my-blog/ Jane is a writer who spent years working with and managing groups, and what she doesn’t know about the music business ain’t worth knowin’!

• Mystery People http://www.mysterypeople.co.uk/ the place to go for readers and writers of mystery novels.

And now for something completely different – some non-bookish blogs I like to snoop in
• Cestina’s dolls houses http://czechdollshouses.blogspot.co.uk/  I love little things but as a squirrel by nature I don’t even dare think about collecting miniatures. Luckily I have a friend who does so I don’t have to, and I ‘borrowed’ something from her collection as a clue in ‘A Crowded Coffin’. This blog is a fascinating find – little things and a dolls house museum in the Czech republic!

• Encore Books http://www.encorebooks.co.uk/ A blog about books absolutely must mention a bookshop and this is a very nice one.bookpile• Bufo Books http://www.bufobooks.demon.co.uk/ and so is this one.

• Jan Jack http://www.janjack.co.uk/ I can only quote Miranda and say, ‘Rude!’ (very) but funny with it.

Not books at all
• Watercress Line http://www.watercressline.co.uk/ Properly known as The Mid-Hants Railway this is the Resident Engineer’s spiritual home where he now volunteers one day a week in the Loco Sheds.
• Pumping station http://www.twyfordwaterworks.co.uk/ When he’s not playing with big trains, the Engineer can be found playing with boilers and pumps and such like.
• Geoff Holt http://geoffholt.com/ Inspirational sailor who fights to make life better for disabled people. He is also, or has been, an antiques dealer and back when my friend Shirley and I were intermittent antiques dealers ourselves we sold him a pot or two!
• PDA http://www.autism.org.uk/about-autism/related-conditions/pda-pathological-demand-avoidance-syndrome.aspx Something you might not have come across – a fairly recently identified syndrome that was formerly lumped together under the general umbrella of autism. Often dismissed as Children Behaving Badly, sufferers and their families are trying to change the public perception of this extremely challenging condition.

bread roll(Another Blog Roll)(Sorry…)

I’m sure I’ve missed lots of lovely blogs but I’ve run out of space and time. Do take a look at some of these interesting places. I’ll add some more next year.