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…

What’s a blog tour?

The sight and smell of a bookshop has drawn readers in for as long as books have been available to purchase, but these days online sales are central to publishing, both in paperback and eBook formats, Whatever long and arduous route your book has taken in order to be published, social media plays a part in the marketing of it, and in the world of fiction the marketplace for Crime Thrillers and Psychological Suspense is rammed. One way to let readers know your novel exists and to give them a flavour of it, is to be part of a book tour. Authors with larger publishing houses often tour bookshops and libraries because making personal appearances at literary events is part of the deal. For us minnows of the writing world there is the helpful option of the online tour, the blog tour.

Without fanatical – dare I say – obsessive readers who also blog and review the books they read, these tours could not happen. If, like me you are with a publisher, these will be organised for you, but there are bloggers who take on the organisation of tours, for a reasonable fee of course, and therefore this is a marketing strategy that is open to all authors.

Spare a thought for these incredible people who agree to read and review a book because they love reading. Generously, they then share their thoughts and book-love on a number of platforms as well as their own websites. You’ll find thousands of book reviews on FaceBook, Twitter, GoodReads, Amazon, Instagram etc. The sheer volume of reviews some bloggers carry out is quite staggering and, as a slow reader, I live in admiration of their productivity, many with full time occupations as well as family and children. How they do it I’m not entirely sure, but I thank them wholeheartedly for their time.

Bloggers, book reviewers and blog tour organisers, you are an amazing bunch!

Book Birthday: Fat Chance by A B Morgan

Fat Chance by A B Morgan, out today on Kindle at a criminally low 99p

I’m smiling because it’s publication day!

I have an irrepressible sense of humour and therefore, despite the thought provoking subject matter of the books I write, there is always something to make the reader grin and on occasion to laugh aloud. Suspense is all very well but readers need a break from the tension now and again.

So, as the country heads for uncertainty and Teresa May’s Brexit plan seems destined for the recycle bin of parliamentary history, grab a copy of Fat Chance (Kindle or paperback via Amazon) and snuggle up. Inside the shiny cover you will meet Ella Fitzwilliam, she’s about to get herself into a proper pickle.

What is the book about? here’s the blurb:

A missing barrister, a severed thumb and fat chance of finding out the truth.

Ella Fitzwilliam’s world is about to spiral out of control. She’s not cut out to be a private investigator. With little or no aptitude for the job, she’s been sent undercover to expose the hidden lives of two men who meet nearly every week at Buxham’s – a private members’ club where portions are large and secrets are held in strictest confidence. 

One of those men is Harry Drysdale, a defence barrister, and the other is Marcus Carver, an eminent surgeon with a tarnished past and much to lose. Ella knows he has unhealthy appetites, she’s sure he’s feeding his perverted habits and putting his female patients at risk but she has to prove it. 

When Harry Drysdale goes missing, Konrad Neale TV journalist tries to reveal the truth behind the lies, but some of the secrets start to reveal themselves… and they are big.

Thanks to all at Junction Publishing, #JunctionPublish for bringing the story to life. Happy Book Birthday.