Reviews & Recipes, Life in 1918 Part 2

Here we are, it’s out and it’s getting some lovely reviews already: I couldn’t put it down. Not sure what I liked best, but I really liked the way you tell your story, even when the themes were most serious, with a touch of humour which somehow lightens the atmosphere all round, although we never underestimate the hardships either – I found myself laughing out loud at times. I saw a resemblance to the Cazalet series, but even more, I saw many shades of Angela Thirkell there. A lovely read.’
And while I’m about it, here’s another one: Another excellent cosy mystery by Nicola Slade. Not only is this a jolly good story with a cliffhanger ending it portrays life on the Home Front in 1918 without being mawkish or sensationalist. I love the details of the food; the struggle was real!

My 1918 heroine writing!

Even though the War opened up the prospect of many hitherto male-only jobs for women, middle-class girls with no particular training were still hampered by expectations of what was ‘suitable’. Christabel, the narrator of The Convalescent Corpse, contributes to the family income by writing Boys’ Own-style books aimed at young men in the army,with exciting titles such as ‘Prefects on Picket Duty’ – but she manages this by using a male pseudonym.

I’m glad that the reviewer above loved the details of the food and the shortages and rationing that made shopping for groceries a test of endurance and hope.Hampshire Pie is an example of shameless misrepresentation! on the part of the Home Chat editor who produced their March 1918 supplement: Plain Puddings & Cakes. It has no visible link with Hampshire and it’s not a pie! I had to include it, of course, considering the book is set in Hampshire – in Ramalley, a small market town halfway between Winchester and Southampton, that bears a surprising resemblance to Romsey!

Hampshire Pie – 1918

Hampshire Pie (Hot, Baked)

Apple is the nicest fruit to use for this but it is very good with rhubarb or any other fresh fruit

1 lb apples or soaked dried apple rings

1 pint water

2 ounces custard powder

1 tbs golden/amber/or ginger syrup, or other sweetener

Saltspoonful powdered cinnamon or nutmeg

Peel, core and slice apples. Boil the cores and peel in the water till quite soft, then drain off water, and save it.
Cover apples in a pan with water to half cover them. Simmer till soft, beat free from lumps with a fork. Add cinnamon and syrup and spread the pulp in a piedish.
Meanwhile, boil up the apple water. Mix the custard powder smoothly and thinly with a little cold water, pour it into the boiling apple liquid and stir for about five minutes, or according to directions on the packet.
Sweeten this mixture if necessary; a drop of vanilla is generally an improvement. Pour it over the apple pulp and bake in a moderate oven for about half and hour or until browned.
NB Ground rice or cornflour and just a little custard powder can be used if you like, instead of all custard powder. A scrap of margarine improves the flavour and increases the food value of the pudding.

Verdict – I love stewed apple so I was happy with this, though I made custard with skimmed milk instead of the apple water suggested – I felt that was a step too far towards authenticity! It’s a cheek to call it a pie, though I suppose it is cooked in a pie dish!

You can find The Convalescent Corpse in ebook and paperback all across Amazon. This is the UK link:https://amzn.to/2OskEpV
Please tell your friends – and if you enjoy this story of family struggles in wartime, a review on Amazon would be fabulous.

Murder in the House!

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The Resident Engineer accuses me of watching programmes like Escape to the Country and Location, Location, Location solely so I can scream abuse at the wannabe house hunters. I admit that there’s some truth in this: you’ll get some picky woman sniffing at a fabulous house and saying, ‘it’s not to my taste’. The proper answer to this is to yell, ‘We’ve seen your house, you have no taste!’ I love the way Kirstie Allsopp tries, and so often fails, to disguise her feelings!

 However, I am genuinely interested in houses and like most women, can’t resist a chance to poke round in someone else’s, a trait shared by my female friends and family, particularly the daughters who, like Kirstie, are liable (as I am), to suggest knocking down walls at the drop of a hat. Mind you, we can do this confidently because the Resident Engineer is a whizz at d-i-y and particularly likes bashing down walls.

One of the joys of being a writer is that you can provide your characters with houses of all shapes and sizes and price range to fit any pocket. This is great for someone who was brought up in a red-brick semi; lived as a newly-wed in a terrace house near Uxbridge that had walls so thin we used to watch television with the sound down just so that we could laugh at the elderly brothers next-door as they screamed abuse at Jeux Sans Frontieres; a 60s house in Surrey, and now a relatively new house – it means I can let my imagination soar. It also means I can have ideas above my station, see my post Class and the Cozy Mystery (which you could see if I knew how to do the link!) So there are no peasant hovels in my books, just yer everyday castle or manor house – so much more spacious when it comes to murdering the unwanted guest.

My most recent mystery, A Crowded Coffin, has a house at the centre of the story and the lovely book blogger, Geranium Cat, had this to say about it: ‘Not listed in the Dramatis Personae is the Attlin family’s farmhouse, although you feel it should be there; once known as the Angel House, Locksley Farm Place dates back centuries, perhaps to a Roman villa on the same site. The author conveys the sense of the house’s age and antiquity seamlessly, as Rory learns its history and explores its nooks and crannies, and the reader is left with an impression of great solidity and warmth which permeates the whole book, transforming it from just another murder-mystery into an intimate experience.’

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe house in my book was inspired by Stokeshay Castle, near Ludlow, but along the way I vandalised it so comprehensively that there isn’t the slightest resemblance, apart perhaps from the great hall, though my version also has echoes of the Brethren’s Hall at St Cross Hospital, Winchester. This was the inspiration for Trollope’s ‘The Warden’ and a great place to visit – where else are you given free bread and ale?

 My first contemporary mystery, Murder Fortissimo, has a large Edwardian house inspired partly by a small hotel in Wales – sadly I can’t remember where it was, while Harriet’s cottage in a pretty Hampshire village could be any one of thousands round here. It’s a good job I made her comfortably off though, as house prices in this neck of the woods are terrifying.

My historical mysteries, featuring Charlotte Richmond, are set in a village just outside Winchester and the manor house she stays in when she arrives is a patchwork of real and imaginary buildings, but in the forthcoming third Charlotte book, The Dead Queen’s Garden, a neighbouring house is a late C18 mock Norman castle, definitely inspired by Penrhyn Castle in North Wales,but on a much smaller scale. (Here’s the cosy Great Hall at Penrhyn)penrhyncastlegreathall I based the garden in the title on Queen Eleanor’s Garden at Winchester Great Hall but again, I’ve altered it to suit my requirements.

I also plead guilty to strewing corpses round these stately homes, just for my own amusement… because I’m worth it! (To quote an advert that also makes me scream abuse at the television!) (I’m very intemperate, perhaps you can tell?)

GALLOWS HUMOUR (Dying of Laughter)

The British have always been good at black humour. An older friend told me that when she was a little girl in WW2, there was a litter bin at her local shops. It had Adolf Hitler’s face painted on it and you threw the rubbish into his mouth. When the name of Osama bin Laden began to strike terror around the world, one of the British tabloids rechristened him, Osama bin Liner.

Irreverence instantly defuses anxiety.

If you read the experiences of the Beirut captives, John McCarthy and Brian Keenan, you soon discover that their very dark humour was vital to their survival, although I’m betting a lot of it was far too rude to go into the books they wrote. I met a woman once who had been in a Nazi concentration camp; she told me people found it uncomfortable to hear that humour had been a part of her life there. It seemed inappropriate to them but it was a survival strategy to her.

Ah yes, inappropriate humour. Er, I plead guilty to that, m’lud. I’m the woman who cracked jokes all through planning her mother’s funeral and at the service, conducted by a jolly old locum vicar who must have been well over eighty and very doddery, I nearly disgraced myself by thinking how lucky it was that the funeral was at the crematorium and not at a graveside. It was a cold, windy day and I knew mum, wherever she was, would have been on tenterhooks lest he fall into the grave with her. I swear I heard spectral giggles when the image slid into my mind.

Back to the books then. When I was struggling to get published an experienced writer told me to work out what it was that always turned up in my writing. ‘There’ll be something,’ she said. ‘What crops up in your writing however hard you try to suppress it?’
‘That’ll be the jokes then,’ I confessed.
‘But didn’t you say you’re writing a murder mystery?’ she exclaimed.
Er, yes.

Let me get one thing straight. Murder isn’t funny. In my books I don’t trivialise either the act of murder or the effect it has on people. What does turn up though, are the everyday little sillinesses that go on cropping up at the most inappropriate moments. A doddery old vicar who falls into the open grave isn’t actually funny, it’s horrifying, but like the proverbial banana skin, the image provokes a hastily suppressed shiver of mirth.

Humour is an outlet for other emotions because it creates a distance from the horror, almost turning it into a fantasy and this is common in a ‘cosy’ mystery. In ‘Spotlight’ by Patricia Wentworth I found this: ‘We’re talking like this because we’ve got to make it all seem like nonsense. It’s like turning it into a play – it stops it being real – and frightening.’

I tell people I write cheerful murder mysteries; there’s no other way to describe them, really. Not laugh out loud, but sneaky humour that creeps up on you and I’m happy to say that readers have commented on my ‘obviously irrepressible sense of humour’ (thank you, blogger Geranium Cat!)

So there you have it: In the midst of doom, gloom, despair and terror, ‘cheerfulness will keep breaking in.’

Take cover as the Deadly Dames are launched on an unsuspecting world!

Our first outing as The Deadly Dames was great fun. The lovely people at Chichester Central Library had set everything up beautifully and about 40 people turned up to listen, chat, and to ask questions. Oh yes, and to buy a few books too.

We’re open to offers! If your reading, writing or social group would like to host an entertaining evening where we discuss our murderous ways, do contact www.mysterypeople.co.uk 

Here we are, from the left: Charlie Cochrane, Eileen Robertson, Carol Westron, Nicky, and Joan Moules