Authors are just like you and me: Crime writers are slightly to the left of that.

It’s lit-fest season and hordes of crime writers and crime fiction fans will be making their way to Harrogate for this year’s Crime Writing Festival where mingling, pitching and socialising will be done with maybe a touch of alcohol thrown in. It goes on for days…

On Saturday 13th July at the BeaconLit Fest I pretended to be Jane Wenham-Jones. Now, according to Wikipedia: ‘Jane WenhamJones is an author, journalist, presenter, interviewer, creative writing tutor, and speaker who lives in Broadstairs, Kent, a town that appears in two of her novels.’

Clearly that’s not me, so perhaps I should explain.

If great big literary festivals aren’t your thing, too far away, or beyond your pocket (‘impoverished writers are us‘), then it may be worth your while checking out a more intimate literary festival. Last year I popped along to the very friendly BeaconLit Fest in Aylesbury Vale and this year was invited to be on their crime panel. The day before the event I had a request to also be the last minute stand-in for Jane Wenham-Jones who, through no fault of her own and a set of circumstances well beyond her control, couldn’t make it.

(photos courtesy of Leigh Russell and Timea Cassera)

After the crime panel comes that dreaded moment waiting to see if anyone wants to buy a book and get it signed. They did.

So there I was, already feeling a bit of a fraud for appearing with ‘proper’ crime writers – Leigh Russell, Dave Sivers and Alison Bruce, when blow me I was going to wing it by facilitating a Q+A session in the morning about ‘What makes a book tick?’ with Morgen Bailey (editor, writer, speaker, competition judge).

‘No problem,’ I told Morgen, not having a clue what I was about to let myself in for. But, as we’ve developed quite a friendship and facilitated writing workshops together, I trusted her to steer me right. What a blast we had and all in support of local community libraries.

What goes on at a local literary festival?

Well, I can only give you insight into this particular one, as they are all different. BeaconLit is held at the villlage school in Ivinghoe – a pretty part of the world where Midsommer Murders is often filmed. How very apt.

Here’s what happened:

  • Rock up and receive a goody bag and a free bottle of beer – excellent! The charitable event is sponsored by local business and one of them happens to be a brewery. Raffle tickets were in every programme with chance to win book prizes at each session. (The raffle took on a life of its own during the day and made me chuckle more than once).
  • Grab a drink, check out the programme of events and say a cheery hello to Noelle Holten and a few other people I recognised. Got temporarily stuck in the toilets – well it is a school for very young children…The cubicles were tiny.
  • First up in the hall was Dave Sivers also pretending to be Jane Wenham-Jones but not really looking the part. He introduced the audience to a panel of New Voices. West Camel (writer, editor, reviewer) and Fiona Vigo Marshall (journalist, publisher, writer) discovered that they had tunnels and magic in common, whereas Noelle Holten (writer, publicist, reviewer, blogger) was there representing the grittier side of life as a crime writer where her career as a probation officer really stood her in good stead. They all have fascinating and award winning backgounds.
  • After a break and signing of books we met the wonderful Quentin Bates (writer, journalist,’I write about fish’… and translator). What a fascinating man he is. After his A’ levels he went to Iceland to take up a job that he thought would see him through his gap year. ‘What kept you there?’ Big smile … ‘I failed my exams’. In his words he stayed for a decade and ‘went native’. He’s now written the first ever crime series set in present day Iceland.
  • Then Morgen and I were up: We took our spare brains with us just in case…’Welcome to the Morgen and Morgan Show.’
  • This was followed by the most literary part of the day in my opinion. The results of the short story competition with the winning stories read out.
  • Lunch was a whirl of chat and sandwiches during which my mother -‘The Bongo of Great Age and Wisdom’- flirted with Robert Daws – (parents, they never cease to embarrass).
  • When it was time for the Crime Panel, the audience were in for a treat. Alison Bruce was the ringmaster/mistress, and what a fine job she did! We were awarded green, yellow, or red cards dependent on the nature of our answers. I confessed to having no middle name and the B in AB Morgan standing for ‘Bongo’ – my nickname. I confessed to halloween shenanigans, I confessed to … well you had to be there. Needless to say we laughed a lot and mostly at my expense.
  • The laughter continued with Robert Daws (actor, broadcaster, writer and trumpet player) as he was interviewed by BBC journalist and presenter Adina Campbell. The anecdotes and cock-up confessions spilled forth, keeping us all entertained and giggling. Poldark, Outside Edge, The Royal, theatre, radio … What a treat. His books, crime novels, are set in Gibraltar – clever idea that, considering the laws are British.
  • Then finally to round off the excellent day, a chance to talk about opportunities in the world of indie publishing, with Morgen Bailey once again in the chair talking to Lesley Lodge, Jane Davis and Georgia Twynham
  • Then home, kiss ‘The Bearded Wonder’, fuss the dog, shower, beer, in that order.

Phew: a packed programme, but so relaxed and cheerful it went by in a flash. I hope Jane Wenham-Jones didn’t mind me stepping in, it would have been nice to meet her. Maybe next year…

Interview with the authors:

Astounding insights into the writing of ‘Avaline Saddlebags’ by Netta Newbound and Marcus Brown

The honesty of the answers will put a smile on your face…

On 2ndSeptember ‘Avaline Saddlebags’ by Netta Newbound and Marcus Brown will be published and I’m delighted to be able to bring you a tantalising fact or two about this book from the writers, who between them are well-established and best-selling authors of many crime, horror and psychological thrillers. 

As soon as I saw the cover and read the title I completely understood why this book is sending ripples of excitement through the world of crime fiction lovers. The blurb lets us know we are in for a treat, especially if we love serial killer thrillers and a detective to invest in.

HERE IS THE BLURB: Following the brutal murders of Jade Kelly and Gina Elliot, newly promoted DI Dylan Monroe is assigned to work the case, alongside DS Layla Monahan.

As the body count rapidly rises—each slaying more savage than the last—it soon becomes clear the butchered and mutilated victims have one thing in common—they are all male to female transsexuals.

With time against them, Dylan is forced to go undercover in the only place that provides a link to the victims—Dorothy’s, a well-known drag and cabaret bar in the heart of Liverpool.

Well goodness me, the setting for the investigation is ‘Dorothy’s’, a ‘drag and cabaret bar in the heart of Liverpool.’ There is the hook, and there is the key to that wonderful title. But I want to know more and September is just too far away, so Netta Newbound and Marcus Brown, the authors, have kindly agreed to give a cheeky glimpse into the creation of ‘Avaline Saddlebags’.

They’re not new to joint working arrangements, given that they’re the directors of independent publishing company – Junction Publishing, but must bounce well off each other to take on co-writing. It can’t be easy. All the more astonishing is the fact Netta and Marcus live as far apart as it’s possible to get, with Marcus here in the UK and Netta located the other side of the world.  – The Internet makes almost anything possible. 

But just how easy is it to collaborate on a crime thriller with all the intricacies of plot, dialogue, and writing style to contend with, never mind different time zones?

Let’s find out.

Netta and Marcus, welcome. Without giving away too many secrets, I’d love to know…

  • Where did the name Avaline Saddlebags come from and was it the only title you came up with for this story?

Hi Alison – Thanks for featuring us in your blog. We are honoured!

This is Marcus…

Avaline Saddlebags is a name I used to get called by a good friend who often tried to convince me to become the next Lily Savage. It wasn’t something I was ever interested in as drag queens can be terrifying and the thought of lip syncing on stage in front of a hyper critical audience didn’t thrill me at all. Still, the name stuck, and I was forever known as ‘Our Avaline’ or ‘Avaline Saddlebags’ when I entered this particular bar on the Wirral. The nickname soon went beyond that bar and people would often refer to me as Avaline when I was out and about (Ugh!).

I once asked my friend why he chose that particular name and he said ‘You look like an Avaline (I don’t!) and you’re a bit heavy around the hips (I was)… make of that what you will, but that is how it all started.

As for the naming of the book, we decided on Avaline Saddlebags very early on, then one of us, probably me, thought it might be too OTT, so we came up with another name (A Deadly Transformation / A Deadly Metamorphosis – we never decided which one), had a cover designed, then eventually reverted back to the original title as Netta rightly stated it would catch people’s eye. And along with the cover, it seems to have done the trick. 

  • Writing a book is hard enough for any author, but how does the process of writing work between the two of you? 

Marcus here! Well as you know, I am in the UK and Netta is in New Zealand. We start work about 10pm UK time, and NZ is about 12 hours ahead. We Skype one another and go through what we wrote individually the day before, chop and change it, sometimes scratch parts out and try again, then add it to the master document. It really is quite easy and not as hard as people might imagine it to be.

Netta here! I think the reason it works so well is because we’ve been working together closely for a while now and we proofread and edit together for the Junction Publishing side of things, so our writing styles seemed to have merged along the way. We had a lot of minor disagreements when we first set out, two totally different styles of writing, but now, it’s strange, I honestly can’t tell where my writing ends and Marcus’ begins and I hope that’s the same for you guys when you get to read it. 

  • If there is ever a difference of opinion, who gets the final say-so and why?

Marcus here!

It hasn’t happened really to any major degree. We are on the same page most of the time. When we’re reading through what we have worked on the night before, if anything crops up, we both make suggestions then and get it changed. It isn’t ever a drama because we’re used to working with one another so closely and are probably more in sync from editing other authors work and making suggestions there. 

Netta here! I’m the boss! Nah, only kidding. As Marcus said, we get on really well. I don’t think we’ve ever had a proper argument. We’re both pretty laid back, but not afraid to dig our heels in if we feel strongly about something. I think if we did disagree about something there could be fireworks, but it’s not happened as of yet. 

  • I’m always fascinated by how characters drive a story – what can you tell us about DI Dylan Monroe? What makes him tick? 

Dylan is a gay guy, newly promoted and working his first big case. He wants to do a good job, but also wants to win his new team over. He was promoted over some of his colleagues and worries there is resentment. When the victims start piling up, he takes it quite personally as somebody is targeting a part of his community. Catching the killer makes is what makes him tick, and although he is in a relationship, he is focused on catching the killer. 

  • Drag and Cabaret are a source of great bawdy humour, how did you achieve the balance between suspense and fun when writing about Dorothy’s, the club which features in the story?

This is Marcus.

It’s quite easy for me as I spent a lot of my twenties in gay bars, and used to go to drag shows in Blackpool, but Dorothy’s is featured for a specific purpose, and that is for Dylan to try and learn who the killer is. It’s a whole new world to him. Yes, he is gay, but it is just a part of who he is and it doesn’t define him. I suppose the humour in this is mostly the people Dylan comes across, ie, Chris/Blanche, who owns Dorothy’s and Roy/Betty Swallocks who takes Dylan under her wing and helps his transformation from DI Dylan Monroe to Avaline. There is also Dylan’s partner, Bella, who is on maternity leave throughout the book – she loves to tease him and is thrilled when he is forced into becoming a drag queen as part of the undercover operation to catch the killer.

Netta here. For me, I’ve always been fascinated by fancy dress, and I know this is different but in essence it’s the same. I love the way a shy retiring person can become raucous and wild if they dress in the right outfit. The same can be said of the opposite too. I once remember going to a fancy dress party as Lady Hamilton at my husband’s insistence as he was Lord Nelson. Well, I’m usually a bit of a party animal and it doesn’t take much to get me warmed up, but that night was the most boring night of my life. The outfit definitely toned down my behaviour – how funny. So for me, the way Dylan hated the thought of performing at the beginning and then found he had a talent for it and actually enjoyed it made me laugh. 

  • And finally… what can we expect next? And does book two of the series have a title yet?

You can definitely expect a book two, which does already have a title, but we’re not going to reveal that, just yet. We have to keep some mystery. One thing is for certain; it will be a rollercoaster of a read, with our twisted minds coming together once again.

Thank you so much for giving your time to answer my burning questions, and for your superb responses. I’m so looking forward to reading this one. Ali Morgan

Thanks again for thinking of us. It has been a pleasure!

Netta & Marcus

Avaline Saddlebags is available for pre-order via the following link.

The mystery of the missing poem: a true tale of freedom through nudity.

Harlington village, 1951 or thereabouts: ‘Audrey, don’t buy that ruddy awful cheese in future. Not only did I have a dyspeptic night, but I do believe that particular cheddar was the cause of hallucinations.’

‘What on earth are you talking about, Donald?’ his wife said, as she passed by on her way to the bathroom.

‘As the church clock chimed midnight, I saw a small boy from our bedroom window. Not once, but twice last night. He ran up the road, not a stitch on. Then minutes later he ran back the other way.’

Audrey shook her head. ‘Really, Donald?’

Indeed, what Donald had seen was true. Although Donald and Audrey are figments of my imagination, the story is not a fictional one. That small boy was my father. He was twelve years old – ‘or thereabouts’, and this revelation came to light on the day of his eightieth birthday as my brother and I sat listening to a story he’d never told before. He has a wealth of longwinded and detailed stories, many stuck on repeat. However, this one was a fresh insight into the mind of a twelve year old boy, born in 1939 at the start of World War Two. An only child, he occupied himself quite merrily and often wandered off into flights of fancy.

Dad with Grandad… such a serious child.

At the time in question, he’d become fascinated by a poem read at school which, apparently, recommended stripping off and running through trees and grass – to free the mind and soul. One inspirational night arrived right on cue and, looking out from his bedroom window, twelve year old Malcolm asked himself, ‘could I ?’

Answering his own question, he removed his striped pyjama’s and crept downstairs where he gingerly opened the door to the garden, taking care not to wake his sleeping parents. It was late, very late. The moon was high and the air muggy with the last of the summer heat as Malcolm stepped onto the grass and bounded the length of the garden and back. The sense of liberation was a revelation to him, so, not wishing the magic to end there, he ran onto the lane and towards the T-junction where he turned right.

By the light of a bright moon, he pounded along the empty road in his bare feet towards the small village of Harlington some two and a half miles away. Along the unlit treelined lanes he ran, passing hedges ditches and fields and met not a single soul. When he got to Harlington he realised how far he had travelled and, with a general glance around at the houses, accepting that his mission had been accomplished he began the trek back home.

Recounting this extraordinary tale, my father never once mentioned whether his feet were sore after all that running, just that the whole mad adventure had been exhilarating. A wonderful secret kept for decades. On his naked country lane adventure he was alone with only nature and the moon for company. No cars, no bicycles, nobody. He saw no-one. But of course we will never know if anyone saw him…

The biggest mystery remains: He ran for a total of five miles in the dead of night but he can’t remember which inspirational poem led to this spectacular happening.

Any ideas?

Audiobook Review: ‘Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand’ by Helen Simonson, narrated by Bill Wallis.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is available from Audible

They say all writers should vary the type of book they read. So I have done just that. While I’m busy pulling together my next book I don’t have the luxury of additional time for much physical book reading, but I do enjoy a good audiobook to listen to when I’m walking the dog or doing the unexciting chores about the house and garden. Most recently I’ve managed to catch up with a few wonderful best sellers such as The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowiz, as well as delving into a couple of duff choices that I couldn’t get into.

Here is one of my latest discoveries. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. What a lovely title. It immediately gives you the flavour of the book. I would have missed this when it was first published in 2010 because I was still working full time in the NHS and any nurse out there will tell you that lunch is a bonus and enough energy at the end of the day to do anything other than slump in a heap is the norm. I barely had time to read any books at all. Now I’m on catch up!

The book: What’s it about?

Here’s the blurb:

Major Ernest Pettigrew (Ret’d) is not interested in the frivolity of the modern world. Since his wife Nancy’s death, he has tried to avoid the constant bother of nosy village women; his grasping, ambitious son; and the ever-spreading suburbanisation of the English countryside, preferring to lead a quiet life upholding the values that people have lived by for generations – respectability, duty, and a properly brewed cup of tea. 

But when his brother’s death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs Ali, the widowed village shopkeeper of Pakistani descent, the Major is drawn out of his regimented world and forced to confront the realities of life in the 21st century.

My Review:

The quintessential English village is depicted so well in this delightful tale of loss, friendship, discrimination, snobbery and cups of tea. The story rolls along at a gentle pace, as life in the country for retired folk often does, and yet I became so fully absorbed in the story that I didn’t want it to finish. I became very attached to Major Pettigrew and was willing him to be brave, to throw off the expectation of others and to do what would make him happy. The character of his son was a study in ‘spoilt child becomes spoilt adult’, genius and there were a number of characters throughout the story I came to dislike in a similar way which made the story so much more interesting than a book full of quaint old dears being over-helpful.

The most excellent narration of Bill Wallis made Major Ernest Pettigrew come to life. I could see him in my head because of the great writing, but the intonation, the voice and the emotions attached all made for a superb piece of entertainment. I ended the book with a feeling of immense satisfaction. Delightful and endearing. I miss Major Pettigrew. Highly recommended gentle escapism.

Happy listening: Alison

It’s not all about writing

Sometimes you’ve got to talk about writing.

What’s the news?

Things are looking up. #WritingCommunity #ABMorgan

In July I’m off to rub shoulders with some well known authors at the Beaconlit Fest in Ivinghoe ( I’m on the crime panel this year with Dave Sivers and Leigh Russell, with the lovely Alison Bruce trying to keep us in order as we talk about murder and mayhem. I’m looking forward to it as I quite enjoy the change from sitting in my writing shack talking to myself or the dog.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve hosted a ‘Plot a Murder’ evening in a local village pub, followed a few days later by a trip to a village hall to give a talk to some enthusiastic ladies and locals about crime writing. Five years ago I would never have imagined finding myself in such circumstances.

Many writers dread public speaking but the older I get the less daunting it becomes, and I’m in the swing of it now; workshops for writers, readings, local radio, book launches, author panels, and talks all give me a social outlet.

When my career was hurtling along and I was paddling furiously to keep up with the demands of managing a specialist NHS mental health team, I honestly believed I would just about make it to retirement before burn-out finished me off. But I didn’t get that far. Did I develop atrial fibrillation because of a stressful lifestyle? Who knows – but, whatever the reason, it certainly put the kibosh on my future as a nurse.

It has taken a couple of years to get used to not being a nurse, to referring to myself as an ex-nurse, and I still struggle with the loss at times, doing my best to raise a little awareness about mental illness through fiction. My new venture, becoming an author, of which I’m rightly proud, has taken me down an unexpected path in life. It’s more genteel in some ways, less structured, (and I certainly don’t do it for the money…), but the world of books is also a bit of a lottery.

Writing a book is one thing , but the rest of the hoo-ha is another. Marketing, publicity and finding inventive ways to elbow some room into what is an over-cowded market, is not for the fainthearted, or even for those of us with decidedly wonky hearts. However, it can be fun and certainly prevents a terminal decline in my own mental health. Writing is very therapeutic, try it.

So thanks to the organisers at Beaconlit for having me along this year. Hope to see you there. Alison

Crime Writing : A novel way of plotting

The Classic Cosy

‘How do you set about plotting a murder mystery?’ This is a question many crime writers have been asked, I’m sure. Not all of them will have tried this particular method…

The Fox is a delightful thatched stone pub in the North Bedfordshire village of Carlton. On Saturday evening (6th April) the talk in The Fox was of murder. It wasn’t entirely my fault, the landlady, also called Alison, has to take the blame in part. In a rash moment, fuelled by a dose or two of alcohol, I agreed to facilitate an evening of murder, plot and mayhem. ‘By way of a change…’

Thus the plotting experiment was born. Here was the question: Could a group of people in a Bedfordshire pub manage to devise a murder mystery worthy of a place in a book, or indeed a script for TV? Would the evening be entertaining enough to justify the ticket price? With cheese and wine included we – the landlady and I – found out by throwing ourselves into a ‘PLOT A MURDER EVENING’.

I don’t want to disclose too many of my secrets, but the plan was a simple one, the execution, however, was far more complex and required forethought. ‘It’ll be like herding cats,’ I was told. Still, given my background in mental health nursing I wasn’t fazed, although I knew that this slightly potty way of plotting would only work if the three groups of people, who bought tickets in good faith, could work together. I set the briefest of murder scenes, which involved a lady by the name of ‘Amy Cruikshank’ a youngish widow found dead in her kitchen … and then the Random Death Generator (top secret) was employed.

‘Electrocution!’. The means of murder was decided, but how exactly did she die? Why? Who killed her?

The inventiveness of the participants was a joy to behold. Sometimes completely whacky, sometimes unworkable, and then whoosh a brilliant aside would create a cacophony of excited chatter and much re-thinking of ideas. Two hours and a great deal of brain ache later and, by crikey, we had a workable plot.

Writers, if you ever get stuck for ideas, give this a try. Every single person enjoyed themselves, involved themselves and shared a lot of laughter. Great fun and I was happily exhausted by the end of it all. Do it again? Yes.

A big ‘thank you’ to Alison at the Fox, Carlton and to all the lovely people who came along. Alison – AB Morgan.

#WritingCommunity #CrimeFiction #Plotting #ABMorgan

Audiobook Review: ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.’ by Gail Honeyman, narrated by Cathleen McCarron

What a treat.

The Book: What’s it about?

This extraordinary novel has won best seller awards and been praised for its literary originality and for being acutely perceptive,endearing and also funny. I cannot disagree.

This is what it says on the inside cover of the book:

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

An astonishing story that powerfully depicts the loneliness of life, and the simple power of a little kindness

The Audiobook: my review

A truly positive immersive experience: I loved it!

I chose to listen to this book on the recommendation of my daughter, and it’s been on my wish list for several months. Being a writer can sometimes take up most of my time, so listening to a wonderful story while I’m pottering around catching up with the mundane chores is always a treat.

Narrator Cathleen McCarron inhabits Eleanor, she is Eleanor Oliphant. The book is written in the first person and therefore we are treated to an intimate insight into Eleanor’s world.

Set in Glasgow the story takes you to work with Eleanor, into her home and her routines, and allows you to understand, to a degree, how much Eleanor’s understanding of human behaviour differs from what is broadly accepted as being the norm. How she deals with relationships, lack of them, and new experiences in an attempt to ‘fit in’, as well as learning about herself – is depicted with sensitivity and gentle humour.

What a superb job the narrator does and justice is truly done to the magnificent writing of Gail Honeyman. Not once did I drop out of the story or feel let down. Just the opposite in fact. This audiobook is a tonic.

As an added bonus there’s an interview between the narrator and the author at the end of the audio. Very enlightening.

I may have to listen to this particular audiobook several more times. Like a favourite film, this one will stay with me and be repeated.

Five stars without hesitation. Alison Morgan

Audiobook Review: The Murder of Harriet Monkton by Elizabeth Haynes

A Historical Murder Mystery

What is the book about?

The Murder of Harriet Monckton is based on a true story that shocked and fascinated the nation

‘On 7th November 1843, Harriet Monckton, 23 years old and a woman of respectable parentage and religious habits, was found murdered in the privy behind the dissenting chapel she had regularly attended in Bromley, Kent. The community was appalled by her death, apparently as a result of swallowing a fatal dose of prussic acid, and even more so when the autopsy revealed that Harriet was six months pregnant. 

Drawing on the coroner’s reports and witness testimonies, the novel unfolds from the viewpoints of each of the main characters, each of whom have a reason to want her dead. Harriet Monckton had at least three lovers and several people were suspected of her murder, including her close companion and fellow teacher, Miss Frances Williams. The scandal ripped through the community, the murderer was never found and for years the inhabitants of Bromley slept less soundly. 

This rich, robust novel is full of suggestion and suspicion, with the innocent looking guilty and the guilty hiding behind their piety. It is also a novel that exposes the perilous position of unmarried women, the scandal of sex out of wedlock and the hypocrisy of upstanding, church-going folk.’

The Audiobook: My Review

All credit to the publishers of this audiobook for having the foresight to use a number of different narrators for the production of this novel in audiobook format; it is undoubtedly what makes this such an enjoyable listening experience. Without the use of the very different voices to tell each character’s story this would not have done the book justice. It is a vital part of the experience to hear each point of view as there are so many possible suspects. The Narrators are:

Lisa Coleman  Joe Jameson  Richard Reed  David Thorpe  Becky Wright 

I thoroughly enjoyed this exploration of, what is in essence, a true story. Elizabeth Haynes has bravely sought to fully research the actual death of Harriet Monkton and then fictionalised it to generate her own interpretation of what might have happened. Harriet’s murder in 1843 was never solved, leaving it wide open to speculation and supposition.

I loved the writing style, the use of language, the twists and turns and how easily the listener can become fully immersed in the story, swinging allegiances as you go. The voices of the characters really make this story come alive and settle you comfortably into time and place. I still think about poor Harriet, so a round of applause to Elizabeth Haynes. Superb writing.

If you enjoy a historical mystery I highly recommend this one. Loved it.

Alison Morgan

The best suspense thriller this year so far…is not a book.

When I wasn’t on my feet shouting or singing, I sat in the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday and was swept away by the experience to such an extent that it’s taken until now to get my thoughts together. Wales v England in the Rugby Six Nations was the most astounding example of suspense, tension and emotional outpouring and I had no way of bottling it, because, unless you were there, it’s hard to capture. If I could write it I’d be a best selling thriller author – no question.

Alfred Hitchcock said about suspense as a genre that nothing much has changed ‘since Little Red Riding Hood met the Big Bad Wolf‘ and he’s right, to a point. However, sometimes in suspense novels it’s not always clear just who is the Big Bad Wolf. Take Saturday’s match for example: If you’re Welsh then it was the English and vice versa, and yet, like Holmes and Moriarty, each side had mutual respect for each others strengths and potential to undermine their determination to be victorious in the end. There’s no separation of fans either. We sat side by side, happy in each other’s company, knowing that the fearsome battle would happen in front of us.

Recently, with fellow author Morgen Bailey, I facilitated a basic crime writing workshop on the art of building suspense. There were several key areas or strategies that we hoped to get across to a group of avid writers and readers. We pulled together the most salient components of a suspense novel and enjoyed the whole morning.

That’s straightforward enough to do, but how did Saturday’s wonderful suspense drama fit with this? What could I learn from it as a writer?

The Setting: The Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Packed to the open roof with anticipation on a clear bright February day. The city streets teeming with jovial groups, street entertainers, colour, castle walls, song, drums, laughter, face painters and palpable excitement.

The Characters: This would require a whole day to describe, but suffice to say each and every member of the two opposing national rugby squads have strengths, flaws, and passion, buckets of passion. With fascinating backstories to explore, I had my favourites. The contrast between the two captains was intriguing and exploited well by the national media in the run up to the match. As for the spectators … merrily bonkers, most of them.

Foreshadowing: A writing term for ramping up the suspense with clues and hints about what is to come. Before every big international rugby match this is part of the process for building excitement. The media do a fine job, – ‘No doubt it will be a bloody confrontation,’- as do the fans themselves. What will happen? Who is playing and who is on the bench? How is this going to end? Come on!

What is at Stake?: This is the big one. In suspense novels and film we are shown the danger, the monster in the wardrobe, the kidnap victim in dire straits. On Saturday it wasn’t merely win or lose. National pride, meeting expectations, and victory, these were the prizes. For the Welsh they had one special record to uphold – the year of the nines – and one there to be broken, could they really make twelve consecutive test wins? This added unbearable tension for Welsh fans. (I feared for Mr Morgan’s health, let me tell you!)

Time Constraints: Watching that clock tick away… 80 minutes. Win or lose?

Pacing: As writers we talk about use of pace, in rugby it’s not a different meaning altogether and what I witnessed on Saturday was a battle, brutal and hard fought, fast, furious and yet sometimes measured, with play deliberately slowed to gather thoughts and reset. But my heart was hammering at the same rapid pulse throughout and this wasn’t a book, I couldn’t put it down even if I wanted to.

BUT: Here is where a writer cannot capture the feelings of the match. The sounds and sights, the smells, the emotions, yes … maybe we can give it a bash, trot out a string of elegant descriptions about hearts soaring, the shower of beer that landed on my head when the ecstatic crowd erupted. But nothing can hope to explain the physical force of the voices in chorus willing their teams on, beautiful harmonious Hymns and Arias, Swing Low, Bread of Heaven, Swing Low, Sosban Fach …

I’ve been to hundreds of rugby matches, – local, national, international – but this one tops them all. I will never forget it. Like that special book that you can’t shake off, it was ‘Magical’.

Now back to some writing:

A B Morgan

Suspense and Snowdrops: a weekend in the life of a crime writer.

As if the rugby wasn’t exciting enough on the opening weekend of the Six Nations, Morgen Bailey, author, editor, and all round good bod, joined me at Bedford Central Library to facilitate a two-hour Crime Writing Workshop on ”Suspense and How to Build it”. This was our second such ‘Morgan and Morgen’ interactive group for keen writers and readers. Given the positive response we received, it won’t be the last.

Busy in the children’s section of Bedford Library!

 Alfred Hitchcock once said of the suspense genre: ‘Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood met the Big Bad Wolf.’ However, I’m not sure he ever used a game of Giant Jenga to illustrate the meaning of the word suspense. I’m only sorry we were far too busy to take photographs of the moment the teetering tower toppled over.

Thanks go to the library for having us back and for allowing me a moment in the main library to promote my latest book, Fat Chance. It was heartening to see the place buzzing with activity and so many children selecting their next book. (None of mine, I should point out. That would be wrong on so many levels).

Snowdrops for Nurses

Then on Sunday there was a drastic change of tempo. A subtle shift in the level of intrigue.

I should explain.

As an ex-nurse, I was more than willing to volunteer to help out at a charity open garden event where I live. What an eye-opener…

Always willing to learn, I am now in possession of greater knowledge about the humble snowdrop and the underworld of the snowdrop collector – I kid you not.

There are around 2,500 different varieties of snowdrop (click for a BBC Countryfile article on the subject with astounding facts about Galanthus nivalis ‘milk flower of the snow’). I was amazed at how many Galanthophiles exist in the UK and what lengths these snowdrop fanciers will go to in order to possess a particular snowdrop variety. The village event raises a considerable sum for charity not only because of the hard work and dedication of the two snowdrop obsessives concerned, who, with help from friends, open their gardens to the public, but in large part as a result of galanthomaniacs purchasing for their collections.

Money? In Snowdrops?… Yes indeed, a single rare bulb can fetch hundreds of pounds and, most recently, well over a thousand pounds has been paid for a rare example.

As I was effectively the bouncer on the garden gate, I was asked to keep an eye out for sneak thieves making off with the more unusual snowdrops that were for sale, or worse, anyone attempting to help themselves from the garden. There were ‘observers’ in place, mingling with the crowds for that very reason.

On hearing this, my writer’s nose started twitching and my eyes widened at the realisation that the humble snowdrop may yet be central to a crime novel. There is a book called Snowdrops by A D Miller but the plant is not the main theme (‘Snowdrops’ refers to bodies that are found when snow melts, a Russian expression apparently).

I wonder… the snowdrop bulb is a source of galantamine, used in modern medicine. Of course the bulbs are poisonous too…