Rowans and Rocks

BREAKING NEWS – my new book, The House at Ladywell, can be ordered now at Amazon for delivery as soon as it’s published in November, just in time to solve your Christmas present problems ! 

I’m delighted with the newly-revealed cover for ‘The House at Ladywell’ – a stunning image of a wreath of rowan leaves and berries, very simple and bold and very relevant to the story. 

‘The House at Ladywell’ will be published on 14th November by Crooked Cat Books.

This is what it’s about: ‘A hare carved in stone and the scent of flowers in a house full of echoes – can Freya’s inheritance help her leave the past behind?’

As you can see on the cover I’m lucky enough to have a great quote from Sally Zigmond, well-known historical author (‘Hope Against Hope‘), editor and reviewer. She says: ‘An enchanting blend of mystery, history, romance and folklore’ – which sums the book up pretty neatly!

~

In other news, my art exhibition ended today so the Engineer and I have dismantled it and brought the remaining paintings home. The framed books are marching back up the wall of the staircase and I’m finally relaxing. I sold three paintings on the night and another two during the month when two separate visitors to the cinema each spotted a painting the liked and contacted me. I met them in the gallery café and we did the deal! They both liked my landscapes, which is interesting and gratifying, because they’re my latest experiment in style. More of that, I think!

This is the most recent painting that sold – ‘Sea Pinks on the Rocks’ (The frame was white, not slightly pink as the photo suggests!)

 

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The House at Ladywell

Would you fall in love at first sight – with a house?

When my second Harriet Quigley mystery was published, blogger Geranium Cat said, in what is still my favourite review: ‘Not listed in the Dramatis Personae at the start of A Crowded Coffin 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… and the reader is left with an impression of great solidity and warmth which permeates the whole book…’

It’s such a perceptive comment and I hope readers will feel the same about this new book because – in The House at Ladywell – the house is clearly the main character. We first ‘meet’ it when Freya, the protagonist, goes to view her inheritance and falls head-over-heels in love with the house. As she settles in the reader gradually learns the history of both the house and the family down through the ages.

I’m delighted to be able to say that I’ve now signed a contract with Crooked Cat Books and they will publish The House at Ladywell as an ebook in the autumn, to be followed by the paperback.

For a change, this book isn’t set in Winchester but not far away in my fictitious town of Ramalley, the small market town where my first published novel, Scuba Dancing, was set. It’s not a follow-up but the town is recognisably the same. It’s also recognisable to sharp-eyed readers who contacted me when Scuba Dancing came out and said, ‘It’s Romsey, isn’t it?’ Of course it is – but it’s Romsey with added extras!

I usually have a picture of the characters inside my head and for some reason Richard Armitage popped up whenever I wrote about Patrick, the contemporary hero. I can’t imagine why but it’s true: that’s exactly how I see him!  (And because one of the historical ‘echoes’ in this book involves the Battle of Waterloo, here’s a gratuitous photo of Sean Bean as Lt Richard Sharpe. And why not?)

In case you’d like to see some of the other inspirations for this book, here’s my Pinterest board for The House at Ladywell. https://uk.pinterest.com/nicola8703/the-house-at-ladywell/I  (Oops, doesn’t seem to work, but here’s my Pinterest account and you’ll find the Board for The House at Ladywell there: https://uk.pinterest.com/nicola8703)

Christmas won’t be Christmas without…

…the Christmas Day Downton Abbey Special (to paraphrase Jo March in ‘Little Women’.) dabbeylogoI’ve been watching the entire story, plus Christmas Specials, over the last couple of months (for the umpteenth time) and I’m now half way through the last series, with the 2015 Christmas Finale saved for sometime on Sunday. I’ve loved every single minute of it, even when Mr Bates, the valet, morphed from a chubby but charming stranger with a secret, into a creepy misery with a line in emotional blackmail and a tendency to loom and menace in dark corners. The rest of the inhabitants of the fabulous Gothic palace were terrific and I miss them; I’m hoping there really will be a film – and I want to be the Dowager Countess when I grow up…   cousin-violet

Failing the miraculous return of my favourite tv programme on Christmas Day here are some more books you’d probably rather not find in your stocking – but might have if you’d been around in the early 1900s.  A couple of years ago I shared some of the more exciting blurbs from my collection of Victorian and Edwardian novels – similar vintage to these (Picture: a tea towel from the Bodleian shop)bodleian_tea_towel

The first three are advertised in the back of a book published in 1909 – you can tell they’re not going to end well…

WO2 by Maurice Drake  ~ A sensational and exciting story of present-day illicit sea-faring. To explain the character of the forbidden trade would be to tell too much; enough that international politics are concerned… An exciting yarn of the sea and its scoundrelism(sic)…

Led into the Wilderness by  ~ William E Bailey John Martin, the hero of this story, is a missionary in a rarely visited island in the East. Here he is ‘tempted of the devil’ and falls. First he yields to a craving for drink and then to allurements of another kind in the person of a beautiful island girl….

Passions of Straw by Evelyn F Heywood  ~ The poignant tragedy of a young woman who, proud, beautiful, ambitious, finds herself wedded to a cynic and a roué. Her husband, having shattered her happiness, finally succeeds in drawing their only child into the whirlpool of his idle, vicious life…

And finally, a cheerful little book advertised in the back of a book published in 1912 – possibly not a forerunner for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Thankfully things have moved along – a bit – since then. (Below: A diagnostic tool of the era)phrenologyhead

The White Thread by Robert Halifax  ~ A book which is practically certain to arrest a serious consideration, both lay and medical. Tilly Westaway herself – the lovable, human little heroine with her secret maternal longings and her desire to ‘put everything right for everybody’ – makes a curiously moving appeal all the way. But it is the vast shadow in the background – the menace of the ever-absorbing, ever-expanding lunatic asylum ward – which will remain in one’s mind long after the book is laid down…(I bet they’re right about that last sentence, it sounds a morbid little tome…)

holly

On the other hand, here’s a book that would cheer anyone up, containing as it does a stalker, a vandalised Porsche, lots of dead insects, a blood-filled fish pond, and a host of other seasonal delights… the-art-of-murder-final-image

Have a Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year (hopefully, in my case, without further adventures involving patios, broken bones and broken heads…)

My Favourite Things

(Chatting to Annette of Sincerely Book Angels blog – the place to find excellent reviews of books people like to read! Find her here: http://sincerelybookangels.blogspot.co.uk/)

Food Savoury and sweet:
I like a proper roast beef dinner with all the works and one of the few puddings that never lets me down is a pavlova. Even if it collapses you can just pile cream and fruit on top and hide the mistakes!

Drink

I drink gallons of tea but it has to be ‘proper’ English tea, not fruit or herbal or Earl Grey. And not what my Granny called ‘shamrock tea’ ie made with only three leaves¬

Film

Roman Holiday because I saw it with my mum when I was quite young and Sense & Sensibility (the Emma Thompson one) because it’s pretty well perfect. And it has Alan Rickman – can’t ask for more!

Book

A very old one, ‘Pillars of the House’ by Charlotte M Yonge, published in 1873. I was brought up on her books and I love them and when we moved to Hampshire I was thrilled to discover that she lived all her life about three miles down the road from me.

Author

That’s a hard question, I have dozens. Charlotte Yonge, as above, and Angela Thirkell. Newest best author is Jodi Taylor whose ‘Chronicles of St Mary’s’ series is right up there too.

Character

Too hard! Felix Underwood from the Yonge book and Mr Markham from Jodi Taylor’s books

Song

When the Carnival is Over by The Seekers

Holiday destination

Years ago we had a few days’ stopover in Fiji. It was magical and we did a short cruise round the islands. There was white sand, a coral reef, blue sky and a turquoise sea and I remember thinking that at that moment I was completely happy.

Animal

Cats. We’re between cats at the moment.

Person

I’d probably better say it’s my husband!

Place to write

In my untidy study
Season

I love to be warm but I have a Christmas Eve birthday and there’s something about winter and all that anticipation.

Tradition

Still with the Christmas theme, we always have a Chinese takeaway here in the early evening of Christmas Eve, for the whole family

Inspirational quote

I’m not sure I have one but when it comes to romance I quite like quoting my late mother’s slightly cynical: ‘Don’t waste time looking for a knight in shining armour, find one whose armour isn’t too rusty, and polish him up to suit.’

Thing in the whole world

Has to be my family, of course, but also history and all things historical.
Thanks to Annette and her Book Angels for a chance to work out what actually are my favourite things!  http://sincerelybookangels.blogspot.co.uk/
In other news – I’m getting over my accident pretty well, thanks for all the concern. And the paperback of The Art of Murder will be out soon – I’ll blog about it, of course!

A FREE BOOK – DOWNLOAD IT TODAY!

I thought the paperback edition of The Art of Murder would be the next excitement but I was wrong. My new publisher, Endeavour Press, has it on offer as a FREEBIE from first thing today, Monday, 24th to Friday, 29th October. Bargain!the-art-of-murder

I’m not used to this, my previous publisher didn’t go in for this kind of thing and when the first book Scuba Dancing came out eBooks hadn’t arrived so you didn’t get free promotions. It’s all new and slightly terrifying, so much so that Liv (younger daughter) has now set me up on Twitter @nicolasladeuk and I have practically no idea what to do with it. Time will tell.

Anyway, the publisher has asked that I plug the free download all over social media so I’m doing my best, even though – as a nicely brought-up Englishwoman of a certain age I’m cringing to think of shouting: Download my Book. Now! (The saving grace is that as it’s a freebie it’s not actually touting for a sale, so slightly less pushy.)

The book features a couple of Winchester’s most historic places. This is Wolvesey Castle, photo from English Heritage’s website. A fascinating place, much loved by Harriet!

WOLVESEY: OLD BISHOPS PALACE Aerial view 26506_021

WOLVESEY: OLD BISHOPS PALACE Aerial view 26506_021

The other place that gets a mention – and a visit by Harriet and Sam – is the tiny church of St. Swithun-upon-Kingsgate. Not to be missed on a visit to Winchester.stswithuns

Do download the book while it’s free (24th-29th October) and if you like it, please tell your friends and maybe add a review to the lovely ones it’s collecting so far:

‘I spent a pleasant rainy Sunday morning in bed being chilled by the absolutely nasty – and yet so realistic – village characters Ms Slade populates her books with. Cousins Harriet and Sam are delightful amateur sleuths, however, the well drawn characters who share a weekend art school with them are not so nice. Secrets and motives abound and I didn’t figure out “whodunit” before the denouement. If you enjoy classic British crime fiction the Harriet Quigley books will be sure to provide you with an enjoyable read.’

‘If you love a good murder mystery with an Agatha Christie feel, you’ll love this book.’

 ‘If you like the type of mystery that has a group that come together at a venue, including a killer and lots of suspects, you will enjoy this book. It is a cosy mystery, but not silly with it. I did enjoy it, and read it through quickly as I really wanted to see what was happening. It was a little different and the characters certainly made you feel some emotion.’ 

 ‘I’ve always loved this style of writing. Fast flowing with many different characters. Each one with a different tale to add to the growing mystery. If you are like minded with a need to be creative you may think twice about joining an art group, after reading this brilliant book. It is one thing to wield a paint brush, while being creative on an art weekend, but to be plotting murder, well that’s a masterpiece.’

‘Having read the previous Harriet Quigley Mystery, I had high expectations of this novel. All I can say is that they were surpassed, I love the characters of Harriet and Sam, they work well together and have a believable, non-romantic, relationship. Drawn into the story and wanting to know ‘whodunit’ I read this in one sitting – which meant I didn’t put the book down until the early morning! Still my lack sleep was well worth it and I cannot recommend this author highly enough.’

In other news, I’m recovering from the accident I described in my last post. Walking without crutches unless I’m out somewhere crowded, in which case I like to have a crutch handy – it makes people give me a wide berth and hopefully they won’t knock me over! The concussion is a lot better and I’m reading again, which is a relief!a 

Whoops!

The Art of Murder had only been out for a couple of weeks, and I was gearing up to do more promotion, when I managed to fall off a patio and end up in hospital for ten days with concussion and an emergency hip replacement (of what had been a perfectly good hip!) people-on-crutches-clipart-walking-crutches-vector-yh9hzq-clipart

(That’s a free clip art picture – it says! hope that’s right)

Scroll forward a couple of weeks and I’m coming along, walking – mostly with crutches but sometimes without (if there’s someone nearby for reassurance). The bang on the head seems ok and the hospital let me out after daily ‘obs’ so they were happy. It’s just slowly, slowly, from now on for a couple of months.

While in hospital I had family and friends a bit worried because not only was I refusing chocolate (!) but I couldn’t be bothered to read. Both serious symptoms in my case. What I didn’t realise was that the concussion was playing tricks and yes, the hospital food wasn’t brilliant, but it probably wasn’t dowsed in sugar as I insisted it was. Not sure how that explains turning my nose up at chocolate though!

After a week I began to think I might feel like reading and felt a slight tingle – bit like Matthew in Downton Abbey when he realised his paralysis wasn’t permanent. My tingle led me to reread The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelley which was as lovely as I remembered. After that I reread the final Discworld novel, The Shepherd’s Crown, and now I’m pottering happily along, rereading old friends, though not tackling anything new.

I need to get back to promoting The Art of Murder soon and will be looking for any blogger who loves English cosy mysteries and who might like to read mine – set in Winchester and with lots of history and a few messy, murderous bits!

The paperback will be the next excitement and then I hope I’ll be back to normal.

If anyone reads Harriet Quigley’s third adventure and fancies putting a review up on Amazon, that would be lovely – but I really just hope people will enjoy it.  Had some nice reviews so far, including this short and sweet one: If you love a good murder mystery with an Agatha Christie feel, you’ll love this book.’the-art-of-murder

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Art-Murder-Harriet-Quigley-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01LZ4I4PB?ie=UTF8&psc=1

 

 

THE ART OF MURDER

the-art-of-murderFinally, after my previous publisher ceased trading, here we are again and this time with Endeavour Press. The Art of Murder is the third book to feature retired headmistress, Harriet Quigley, and her faithful, if long-suffering, clergyman cousin, Sam Hathaway. Set in Hampshire, as are all my books, this rather messy murder takes place in the heart of the city of Winchester and there’s plenty of local history and nods to real historic sites.

‘A weekend art course at an upmarket B&B near Winchester’s historic cathedral is bound to be relaxing and fun… 

But not when man-crazy Linzi Bray, Chairman of the local art group, is in charge and the house is full of people who loathe her.
Accidents start to happen – in a ruined castle, in a fast-flowing river, in a peaceful garden.
There’s a stalker – or is there?
And there are far too many dead insects, as well as a vandalised Porsche and a pond full of blood.

It’s not the first time former headmistress, Harriet Quigley, and her cousin, the Reverend Sam Hathaway, have been embroiled in a mystery, but this time they’re baffled at the “spiteful game” that seems to be being played.

And then somebody else dies and the games all stop.’

‘The Art of Murder is perfect for avid crime mystery fans – with festering secrets, potential motives and the opportunity for sweet – or spiteful – revenge.’
It’s out as an e-book now and will be followed soon by a paperback which will be fun – haven’t had one of those for a while!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Art-Murder-Harriet-Quigley-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01LZ4I4PB

It’s only £2.99, so do try it! And if you like it, tell your friends – any Amazon reviews will be gratefully received.

 

 

Some Henges and a New Book

Yesterday we had a day out to Stonehenge, about 50 miles from here. The first time I visited was when I was about eight and on a school outing and we ate our sandwiches sitting on the stones lying around on the ground. The next time was not long before the Resident Engineer and I got married and you could still get up close to the stones. Not this time; not since the late 70s when it became clear that the ancient site couldn’t cope with the increased visitor numbers.

It’s nicely done though; the visitor centre works well and as members of the National Trust – and English Heritage – our cards let us through quickly, though it was a good job we were there quite early. A Saturday in July is probably not the most intelligent time to visit and we were glad to be leaving at midday when we saw the crowds and the fleets of coaches. Still, a mile and a half walk from the centre to the stones was worth it (shuttle bus back); peaceful apart from birdsong, lots of wild flowers and bees and butterflies – none of which we could identify. The stones are fenced off, but not officiously so, and you get an amazing view as you wander round, along with a commentary on your headphones.20160709_114638

(I could have bought a tapestry cushion in the shop but thought better of it, at £50, see above)

As we went in search of a pub lunch elsewhere – the visitor centre was extremely busy – we came across a sign to Woodhenge, less well-known than its stone neighbour. (It’s  bigger than it looks in my photo)20160709_144909

‘Woodhenge is an atmospheric Neolithic site close to Stonehenge. Probably built about 2300 BC, it was originally believed to be the remains of a large burial mound, surrounded by a bank and ditch almost completely destroyed by ploughing. Aerial photography (in the 1920s) detected rings of dark spots in a crop of wheat, and today concrete markers replace the six concentric rings of timber posts which are believed to have once supported a ring-shaped building. There is evidence that it was in use around 1800 BC.  It is possible that the banks and ditches were used for defensive purposes in addition to its ceremonial function.’ (English Heritage)

Unlike most things, it’s free to visit and – surrounded by fields and trees – it’s a peaceful, yet atmospheric spot. Well worth a visit.

And now for the very nice news. The third book in my contemporary cosy mystery series, starring Harriet Quigley, Blood on the Paintbrush, is to be published by Endeavour Press. Not sure when but sometime within the next twelve months, according to the contract! As I blogged earlier, I was wondering what to do with this book with the departure of Robert Hale Ltd, so it’s great to be able to say it’ll be out as an ebook first, followed shortly by a paperback. This will be a welcome novelty after all those hardbacks which are beautifully-made but extremely difficult to sell!

Blood on the Paintbrush: A weekend art course at an upmarket B&B near Winchester’s historic cathedral is bound to be relaxing and fun. Isn’t it?

Not when Linzi Bray, chairman of the local art group, is in charge and the house is full of people who loathe her. Accidents start to happen – in a ruined castle, in a fast-flowing river, in a peaceful garden. There’s a stalker – or is there? And there are far too many dead insects, as well as a pond full of blood and a vandalised Porsche.

It’s not the first time former headmistress, Harriet Quigley, and her cousin, the Reverend Sam Hathaway, have been embroiled in a mystery but this time they’re baffled. ‘It’s so amateurish,’ complains Harriet. ‘Phone calls, anonymous letters, somebody lurking in corners, it’s like some spiteful game.’

 Game or not, there’s a death, but is it murder? And then somebody else dies and the games all stop…

 As always in my books, you get bits of Winchester history, including a scene in this little beauty which featured in a famous Victorian novel!  St Swithun-upon-Kingsgate Church - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

 

 

 

 

Size matters – when it comes to Sicily

The thing you have to remember about Sicily is that it’s BIG. Much, much bigger than you imagine. When we first went there in 2002 I found a farm that had been converted into a hotel/holiday accommodation. It was bang in the middle and with breath-taking ignorance I decided we’d be able to visit the rest of the island in day trips. This was based on my mistaken belief that Sicily is about the size of the Isle of Wight.  It isn’t, it really, really isn’t.

Anyway, as you can imagine, there were bits of Sicily (quite a few, actually) that we didn’t see, as well as some we wanted to revisit, so this year, Sicily was the place to go. As I’ve said before, everyone assumes that our predilection for railway trips is based on the Engineer’s passion for preserved railways, but it’s not. I like trains too so I came up with the bright idea of going to Sicily by train – all the way. (You can even stay in the train when it goes on to the ferry across to Messina.) WP_000286The original plan was to fly home but while we were planning the trip there was a particularly nasty plane crash (yes, I know they all are, but that one was wicked). I’m more a resigned air passenger than a frightened one but when I cunningly suggested we should travel both ways, the idea went down very well.

Not everyone would imagine their trip from London to Sicily would include stops in Paris and Milan, as well as a return journey via Rome, Milan, Switzerland, Amsterdam and Harwich, but then, not everyone would have crossed the Alps in the scenic Bernina Express, but it was a fabulous trip.

We stayed in Catania on the east coast and concentrated our six night visit on the south-eastern corner of Sicily. On our first visit we went to the astonishing Roman villa at Piazza Armerina, (this is the famous mosaic of female athletes in leather bikinis)

WP_000300a place I really wanted to revisit. It was just as fabulous the second time around and as a Unesco World Heritage site, it’s beautifully looked after. The other reason for choosing that area was none other than Il Commissario Montalbano, who lives there in the fictitious town of Vigata. We both love the tv series although I get fed up with the cavalier way they treat evidence and the way that Inspector Montalbano gets his kit off in every episode and sleeps with suspects, murderers, mourners, anything with a pulse really. (I like his sidekick Augello, though and Fazio who does all the work).

You can do Montalbano tours and visit the locations, either the ones Camilleri used in the books, or the television locations. With this in mind we headed for Montalbano’s house, which turns out to be a B&B. We had lunch nearby, though not overlooking the beach where he found a dead horse.WP_000306 The town of Ragusa doubles on TV as Vigata and looks amazing from the opposite hill, where you get the full impact of the old town.WP_000443

I thought about this Literary Tourism last week when a friend asked me to show her where I murdered somebody in Winchester. Cue startled shop assistant nearby. I fantasise about readers pottering round the cathedral looking for the exact seat in the side chapel where one of my characters is murdered in ‘A Crowded Coffin’, and standing in the Crypt (as did Sam Hathaway in ‘Murder Fortissimo’, while another man stared at the statue by Antony Gormley.)Presentation4a One day…

A bit of welcome praise and an afternoon pretending I was Harriet Vane let loose in Oxford.

Time I remembered I’ve got a blog, particularly as I’ve received a real boost to the ego in the shape of a spot in a new book, ‘How to Write Crime by Sarah Williams, published by Constable Robinson. Unusually, Sarah tackles the How To… rather differently from other books on the subject. What she does is divide the book into chapters, each dealing with a particular type of crime novel: the cosy, the consulting detective, hard-boiled crime, and so on. Each chapter then takes one novel by a particular author and discusses how it is written and why it works.

So far so good, but what is it to do with me? Because Sarah Williams has chose‘Murder Fortissimo’, my first Harriet Quigley contemporary mystery as the model for The Cosy Mystery chapter, that’s why! I’m extremely flattered and slightly stunned to see that I somehow did the right thing when I wrote it, even though I had no idea I was doing it, and what reduced me to tears was this:

‘Before looking in detail at the passage from Nicola Slade, perhaps one of the foremost contemporary practitioners of the form…’

Now, I should probably be exhorting people to buy Sarah’s book, and I do and I thank her very much for her kind words, but even more urgently, I’d like to encourage people to buy my book! (available from Amazon et al)

MFcoverfinal_originalAs for the trip to Oxford, this was with my Deadly Dames hat on. Last June I did a talk at Abingdon library which was well-attended and which I really enjoyed. Chatting to the librarian, Lynne Moores, I happened to mention that I was a member of a discussion panel, the Deadly Dames, composed of mystery writers and that we were, as our standard joke has it, available for Weddings, Funerals and Bar Mitzvahs. Lynne told the organisers of the Bookcrossing Convention about us and we were delighted to receive an invitation to perform at St Hilda’s College on Saturday, 11th April. We were very glad to welcome again our adopted Dame, Peter Tickler, whose crime novels are set in Oxford and he was introduced as a Chevalier. (Find out about Bookcrossing – http://www.bookcrossing.com/)
We had a large and enthusiastic audience and enjoyed ourselves immensely – and hope to be invited again sometime, particularly as their conferences are international ones. We’ll travel…

DeadlyDamesOxfordApril2015

Here we are, doing our Deadly Thing: L to R Charlie Cochrane, Peter Tickler, Carol Westron, Eileen Robertson and me (for once looking slightly less fierce than usual)

As for Harriet Vane – well, Dorothy L Sayers was actually at Somerville, rather than St Hilda’s, but it was good enough and I secretly pretended I was at Shrewsbury College, and that Lord Peter Wimsey would turn up any time soon.