Newsletter no.176, June 15th, 2021

I can’t believe it . . . still no sign of the copy editing!

which means that I have been able to get on with the next Ellie Quicke book. Well, interrupted by some attempts at gardening, phoning friends, actually meeting some in the café at the top of the road, and so on. I’m quite pleased with what I’ve written of the next story so far, as everything has got nicely tangled up till Ellie doesn’t know whether she’s on her head or her heels and even the charity for which she works so hard, is threatened! And no, I hadn’t seen that development coming and yet it’s quite obvious, looking back, that this was ging to happen one day.

That’s the odd thing about writing stories. You look at what you’ve done one day and see that you’d actually been leading up to that particular plot point it for some time . . . and yet you hadn’t seen it coming. Sometimes you find you’ve written yourself into a cul-de-sac and there is no way out of it. And then, with some distress, you have to delete a couple of pages and go back to the original ‘stem’ of the story-line . . . and go on from there.

How does my garden grow?

A couple of my friends have been asking about my garden. Well, an artist friend of mine took a photo of part of my back garden, which you can see here, if you so wish. If you look carefully, you’ll spot the spout of a watering can, the bird bath which only a minute before had been vacated by some sparrows, and the tips of the tomato plants in the greenhouse. Of course, it’s not always as tidy as this! If you like the idea, maybe I’ll include another photo in the future.

The short story which comes with this . . .

. . . is called ‘Re-Cycling.’ And yes, I know it’s the wrong time of the year to talk about Palm crosses, but I was reminded only the other day that I had kept two, because I couldn’t bear to get rid of them. Well, our friend Leo had been popping them into the pencil jar that sits on his desk and now he’s been given an ultimatum to get rid of them. But . . . how? He shares his problem with Bruce and the crosses end up in all sorts of places. What do you do with yours? You can access the story here.

A blessing on all who find the courage to speak about God when an opening occurs in everyday life.

PS. I’ve just had an email saying the copy editing is on its way to me next week! So I’ve Been Warned!

Newsletter no.175, June 1st, 2021

Everything has gone very quiet, lately. . .

I haven’t heard from my editor, who was supposed to be sending me the copy editor’s queries for False Face, my last Bea Abbot story. These were supposed to arrive before the end of May . . .! So yes, the silence is unnerving. I think we can be sure that the queries will arrive – demanding IMMEDIATE attention – just as I am in the middle of writing an exciting development in the next book. Do I then stop work on Ellie? Do I pretend the queries have got lost in the post and set them aside until I have worked through whatever it is that I’m writing at the moment?

Meanwhile, life continues . . . or rather life in general seems to be improving as various sanctions are lifted. I have met for coffee with friends on several occasions. I’d forgotten how good it was to see people face to face, to drink really good coffee and perhaps be tempted by a slice of cake. Sometimes, I share a slice of cake with a friend which makes both of us feel we are observing our diets because we’re not eating a full piece. And, as we all know, there are no calories in broken biscuits.

The garden has blossomed with all the rain we’ve been having. The first roses are out! My miniature lilac is now taller than me, and a mass of flowers. But the grass grows and grows and grows and it’s too wet to mow it.

The short story which comes with this . . .

. . . is called ‘You Can Do It!’ Writers people-watch. We observe and remember. It may be months or years until the memory of how a certain person looked, acted or spoke can suddenly resurface in the mind and we use the recollection to cast a light on whatever it is we’re working on.

For example; I sat watching the activity in a children’s playground one day. There was one particular piece of equipment which only the older children attempted; a miniature climbing wall. Nearby sat a mother with a much younger child . . . aged five, perhaps? Maybe six? The child kept looking at the wall and then looking back to her mother for reassurance. The mother said, in matter-of-fact tones, ‘You can do it!’ She had assessed the situation, understood the level of difficulty involved and believed the child could do it. Yes, the child had a struggle to reach the top, but she did conquer the wall. I’ve always remembered that word of encouragement and imagined how her mother’s words would have helped that child to face the obstacles which life would throw at her. You can access the story here.

And the new book? Yes, it’s coming along all right. And I’m still assuming that the title is going to be Murder by Estate Agent.

A blessing on all who encourage others by saying, ‘You Can Do it!’

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.174, May 15th, 2021

The cover is agreed!

I can hardly believe it, but even before I’ve received any queries to the manuscript, the cover for False Face has been agreed. I don’t know whether you guessed correctly which image I’d go for, but in fact I had suggested a Venetian mask; a white face on a black background, with bright ribbons and false jewels or sequins on it. And that’s the one they’ve chosen. Yes, it is rather baleful, so I think it should do the job nicely.

Apologies!

I’ve just received a plaintive email from a reader who said she was still waiting for me to send her a copy of the latest Easter story – ‘Zooming In.’ She’d asked me to send her a copy as and when each new story is published and . . . I hadn’t done so. I’d got so taken up with sending one from the archives with each newsletter, that yes, I’d completely forgotten about those who’d asked me to send the new ones as they came out. I looked up my list and cringed. Sorry! Apologies! My only excuse is that my life is getting more and more complicated. I think what I’d better do in future is to make the next story published in the Methodist Recorder the ONLY one available to you in that newsletter, and not add one from the archives. Memo to self: simplify!

I’ve started the next book

Yes! I’ve started the new book. I want to call it Murder by Estate Agent because it’s largely about a battle between the old and new style of selling property. My editor is not entirely sure that this would be a good title, so at the moment the contract is just titled Ellie No 22. Can you really believe that this is the twenty-second time that I’ve written about Ellie? Much has changed since I started this series, but there is one constant . . . yes, Diana. She was last seen shedding her children and waltzing off into the blue with someone with a large expense account. So where and when will she turn up in this next story? Hmm.

The next short story is ‘Remember me!’

This is one from the archive. Tracking down the winner of draw for an expensive hamper at the Craft Fair, our friends are drawn into a difficult family situation. You can access the story here.

A blessing on all who remember, and who keep in contact with old friends, especially those who may have moved away.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.173, May 1st, 2021

Yes, please!

Or in other words, the publishers like the story I’ve just submitted. Hurray!

This is another Bea Abbot story and involves some really nasty characters who all get their comeuppance in one form or another. The manuscript will now be going to a copy editor who will find all sorts of things to query, and pass them back to me. I will then have a tantrum and retire to bed . . . and then I will tell myself that it won’t kill me to deal with the queries, and I’ll set about dealing with them and send the changes back to my editor . . . who will then reset the manuscript and pass it on to the printer, who will then produce a set of proofs . . . which will then be sent to me for final corrections, before finally it is printed! And then distributed.

While all this is going on, we will be having a polite argument about what is to go on the cover. Now this is a minefield, as you can imagine. The publisher knows what buyers – especially in America – expect to see on the cover of a crime novel. The answer, for them, is BLACK! Me, I like colour. Nowadays my name is printed bigger than the title of the book. That, my friends, is considered to be FAME!

Now, the title of this next book is ‘FALSE FACE.’ The suggestions for the cover so far are: a portrait of a faded film star, and a Venetian-style mask. Guess which one I had in mind? Spoiler alert: Piers has been commissioned to paint a Diva who thinks of herself as an orchid. I’ll let you know which idea is put into practice.

Anyway, says she gloomily, it will be months before the finished books are sent to the distributors and some will be sent by sea across the Pond and Down Under . . . when they can then be pre-ordered and, oh dear! Doesn’t it seem to take for ever? I remember the days in which I used to send a manuscript to a publisher and the book would be on sale within six weeks! (All right, those were children’s books so much smaller and I’m writing for grown-ups nowadays.)

Yes, Please!

In the same breath as the editor accepted False Face, she also said she’d like another Ellie, please. So, before I start worrying about the title, a contract was winging its way to me. Delivery: probably ten months. Yes, I know it’s a long time and I might well be able to write it more quickly, but my eyesight is not what it was, and I may need longer to produce the story. I have managed to reproduce a plan of Ellie’s house, thank goodness. I needed to do that before I could start on the story!

Back to basics: the short story accompanying this newsletter is called ‘Corin’s Gift’ and you can access it here.

A blessing on all who are kind enough to listen to the woes of the elderly and isolated who live in our midst.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.172, April 15th, 2021

Bring Ellie home!

This is the considered opinion of my readers. They like Ellie. They like Susan and Rafael and the babes as well, but they really really want Ellie to return. I’m listening to what they say and Ellie will return in the next book. I enjoyed writing about Susan and Rafael and the children while the big house was being remodelled and Ellie and Thomas were away, but I hear and I obey . . . which raises a couple of problems.

In the first place, when plans were drawn up for the Ellie’s big house to be turned into two three-bedroomed semis with room for expansion into the attic floor, I made umpteen sketches of how this was to be done. I tried this and I tried that, and eventually I worked it out who got which rooms and where the corridors finished and the bathrooms fitted in; also where to put in another staircase. Only, I seem to have lost the final plan. It’s no good looking in the waste-paper basket; that was cleared ages ago. There’s no help for it; I’m going to have to sketch it out all over again.

The second problem is how to bring Diana back into the story and under what circumstances. You may remember that, newly widowed, she’d shed her children and gone off with an expense account in a limo. Well, as we all know, her projects are fairy gold; they invariably turn to dust. So she’s going to zing back into Ellie’s life, isn’t she? I grind my teeth at the very thought of it and then shrug; for what is life without a problem or two to solve? Although Diana – sigh! – is a bigger and nastier problem than how to clear a blocked drainpipe.

In the last newsletter I asked if people wanted me to continue sending a short story from the archives at the same time as I advertise the availability of a newly-written one from the Methodist Recorder, and got a resounding Yes! You like the short stories both ancient and modern. Very well. So, if you haven’t seen it already, this Easter’s short story – called ‘Zooming In!’ – is now available for you to read. Send me an email request for it and I’ll let you have a copy.

The next ‘old’ short story from the archives is another about Corin, that tiresome Man from Mars who seems to live only to criticise Christians. It’s called ‘How Dare He!’ and explains pretty well why he’s like he is, poor soul. It is available here.

And no, I haven’t heard back from my editor yet as to whether she likes the Bea Abbot story I sent her last week. I think it’s all right, but – sigh – there are an awful lot of really nasty characters in it.

A blessing on all who take on something extra to help others – no matter how boring or inconvenient it may be for them to do so.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.171, April 1st, 2021

It was back to work with a vengeance this week with several deadlines to meet. I managed finally to finish the umpteenth draft of the next Bea Abbot story – called ‘False Face,’ and to send it off. Hurray! All those months of work! All those characters, some diverting, some amusing and some downright annoying! I can’t remember writing about so many tiresome people in one story before. I am happy to say that I have managed to give each one his or her comeuppance. Phew! And now I have to wait to hear what my editor thinks of the story.

Meanwhile, I struggled with a short story for the Easter edition of the Methodist Recorder. I’ve called it ‘Zooming In,’ as three of our four friends make use of that facility to take part in church services and meetings. Here they are in Lent, facing the problem of what they should do in what can be a difficult enough time of the year without the added anxieties of Covid. Will they get their second jab? Should they fast? And what exactly does fasting mean?

Each of them has a journey to make through Lent to Easter Sunday. Each one travels at his or her own pace. It wasn’t an easy story to write, and I don’t mention chocolate Easter eggs anywhere, but . . . well, if you’d like to read it after publication, drop me an email, and I’ll send you a copy, free.

I might not mention chocolate in my Easter story, but naturally it has been much on my mind of late. I had been given not only one chocolate Easter egg but two. One came early in Lent, and the other just this week. I behaved myself beautifully. I did not break small pieces off to test that they were the real thing. I did not open the outer wrappings and sniff the aroma. I did not even open the outer wrappings.

I put them where I could see them, but not within reach and I believe I will manage not to touch them until Easter morning. ((I can see you smile from here. You know, don’t you, that even if I refrain from touching my Easter eggs, I still allow myself the bar which the chocolate fairy drops into my letter box?)

Meanwhile, the short story from the archives which comes with this letter is called ‘Why Shouldn’t I?’ For once, the story is set in an appropriate time of the year as we go through Lent. It does concern a Good Friday walk through the streets . . . ah, how long ago it seems when we were all about to do that! Ah well. If you’d like to read it, then you can access it here.

And this raises the question; are two stories with one newsletter one too many? Should I not attach one from the archives if a new one is about to come out? I’m not sure. Perhaps, if you have a moment to spare, you might let me know what you think?

A Happy Easter to all. Keep safe and keep well.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.170, March 15th, 2021

Friends are wonderful! I have been touched by so many lovely emails following on from my last newsletter. Some sent me jokes, some sent me pictures from their garden. Some shared with me their own problems with teeth. Your emails contributed largely to my recovery! Thank you all so much.

Friends are indeed a source of joy. They keep in contact by phone during lock-down, they lend books and jigsaws, they help with the shopping and we mustn’t forget that they sometimes turn themselves into chocolate fairies!

Also they can help out when you lose a word. A little while ago an important word dropped out of my head and I could NOT get it back. I wanted to describe what happens to two nasty characters in my next book. They hadn’t actually transgressed the laws of the land, but had broken practically every moral code there is and hurt a lot of people. I wanted to say that justice had caught up with them, but it wasn’t legal justice. I tried comeuppance. I tried rough justice. Neither was quite right. I tried my thesaurus. I Googled. Finally I appealed to my friends and there it was. The word I needed was ‘poetic’ justice. Ah, the relief! I suppose either of the other suggestions might have been acceptable, but this was the right one. So, Hurray for friends!

I have three deadlines to meet by the end of this month, and now I’m almost back to normal after having that tooth out, I’m cracking on with them and hoping everything gets done in time. I’m having a struggle with the Easter short story for the Methodist Recorder, though. A little more thought needed. The title is ‘Zooming In’ and I’ll let you have details in the next newsletter.

Meanwhile, the short story from the archives which comes with this letter is called ‘You Owe Me!’ and it’s a follow-on from the one which accompanied the last newsletter. It’s about the family whom our friends caught thieving in the town centre . . . who were ‘only trying to earn a living’ . . . but at the expense of the shops from which they stole. Some people can convince themselves that theft is justifiable if you’re hungry, and that it’s perfectly all right to involve children in your thieving if they divert attention from what you’re doing. Well, you can argue it’s a crime that people go hungry in this day and age, but it’s definitely not right to involve children in wrong-doing, so . . . what happens next? You can access the story here.

I don’t suppose you need a reminder that Murder-in-Law came out at the end of March? This is the story in which Diana’s husband meets a grisly end . . . and she has lied about where she was at the time. Ellie is in the background in this book and it’s Susan, her good friend and excellent cook, and Susan’s husband Rafael who wrestle with the problem. Also out last month was Murder for Good both in paperback and in large print. Nothing comes out for months, and then two come along in the same week!

A blessing on all who do their best to keep in touch with old friends in these difficult times.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.169, March 1st, 2021

When I sit down to write this newsletter to you, I feel as if I am ‘talking’ to each one of you or as if I were sending you an old-fashioned letter. I’ve known so many of you for many, many years and every year there are new names to add to the list. Some of you email a response every now and then. Some may do so once a year or not at all. Sometimes I am allowed a glimpse into your lives – for instance, I learn about the hens laying or the difficult weather or whether you’ve had the vaccine or not. I do like that. I really do.

But today I am feeling a bit ‘down’. Toothache. Aargh. Anti-biotics. Also Urgh. I had the root taken out yesterday and today I’m not sure I’m up to being as cheery as usual. I know this will pass, but I fear I may not be able to produce as long a newsletter as usual.

Please forgive. I will back on track soon. And if anyone feels like dropping me a line then I will be so pleased to hear from them . . . but please excuse if I don’t reply?

On a brighter note, there are more flowers arriving in the gardens every day. My green-fingered neighbour has been setting seeds for some weeks and now all her windowsills are clustered with seedlings which are not quite ready to go out into the greenhouse. One of my friends keeps ringing to tell me how many flowers in bloom she has found in her garden! I can report on snowdrops, crocuses (or should it be croci?) celandines, pansies, viburnum, kerria, iris unguicularis and osteospermum, tete a tete daffodils and winter jasmine. Some years the geraniums manage to survive outside but this year, I’ve lost all those which I left in the garden. Ah well. That makes room for some new plants.

The next short story from the archives is ‘Excuse Me!’ And this introduces a character who is going to be around for a while. He is ‘The man from Mars!’ who says he doesn’t care about anyone and no-one cares about him. Only . . . he has come across a shop-lifter and now doesn’t know what to do about it. You can access it here.

A reminder that Murder-in-Law comes out at the end of March. Ellie is in the background in this book as she’s still away in Canada while the big old house is being remodelled into two units. So it is her younger friend – and excellent cook – Susan who has to deal with Diana who finds herself in trouble. Evan, Diana’s husband, has been attacked in what looks like a burglary gone wrong. Diana is always asking for help, isn’t she? Or demanding it, rather. Can Susan – with help from a distant Ellie – solve the mystery?

A blessing on all who remember to send birthday cards on the right date.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.168, February 15th, 2021

I believe that Spring is supposed to be almost here. There are daffodils in bud in the shops and there are snowdrops coming out in the garden, but the weather has been bitterly cold and a true spring seems very far away. But – really good news – all my older friends are getting their vaccinations done! The relief! Every time one of them, or someone I know who has big health issues, gets the vaccine, I feel it’s a big step towards a better future. Yes, we know that this and that may apply, and we may have to keep having jabs but it it’s an enormous relief. A big ‘thank you’ to the NHS.

Will we ever get back to what we knew as ‘normality?’ Will we have to live by taking precautions wherever we go and whatever we do? Time will tell on that one. I have been trying to keep in touch with my immediate circle of friends once a week, and that’s worked well enough. Now I need to find time to reach out to friends whom I don’t see very often, not to mention those who live in Europe and New Zealand.

Has the news from friends all been good? Well, no. On the whole my friends have come through the past year in good spirits but I have to remind myself that not everyone started the year in the best of health and it is inevitable that some would ‘cross the river’ in the usual way. I grieve for each one. I recall with fondness the times spent with them in the past, remembering that we used to do this and that together . . . and after a while I am able to move on.

Meanwhile, work continues, for which I am really, really grateful. Some people are managing very well in lock-down as they take up studying Gaelic or painting or join a Book Reading Cub. And I have the next book to write.

Murder-in-Law has finally gone to press, hurray! And will be published at the end of March. I have enjoyed writing this book which has Ellie in the background as her younger friend – and excellent cook – Susan steps into the limelight. The story: when work started on remodelling their big house into two units, Ellie and her husband decamped to Canada where his daughter lives. Susan, her husband Rafael and one-year-old Fifi, finally move into their part of the house – where the plumbing is not yet as it should be – only to find Diana on their doorstep demanding help. Evan, Diana’s husband, has been attacked in what looks like a burglary gone wrong. Diana is always trouble, isn’t she? Can Susan – with help from a distant Ellie – solve the mystery?

The next short story from the archives for you is called ‘Saying “Thank you!”’ It’s set about this time of the year and reminds us to thank people for their kindnesses . . . in particular those who open the heavy door of the bakery for me. I think it’s the heaviest door in the whole of our shopping street. Mind you, their bread and their cakes are wonderful! And as for their almond croissants! You can access the story here.

A blessing on all who open doors for the less able.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.167, February 1st, 2021

I opened the inner, porch door and found two cupcakes sitting on the mat. That was a good start to the day, wasn’t it? And no, they were not from my chocolate fairy who still pops a bar of chocolate through into my letter box every now and then. I knew straight away who the cakes were from. I have a Good Neighbour who enjoys baking but whose husband doesn’t eat cake. Now her daughters have left home and started their own families, she still likes to bake and I am one of the fortunate recipients of her bounty.

This year she tried making marmalade for the first time, and she named me her official taster. When I made marmalade I used Mrs Beeton’s recipe but had trouble getting the mix to set. My Good Neighbour followed a similar recipe. The flavour was wonderful! The marmalade had set well, the orange peel was slightly tangy and still recognisable for what it was . . . unlike some commercially produced versions which seem composed of a lightly flavoured jelly with a few strands of orange peel floating in it.

There’s not much I can give my neighbour in return. Occasionally she’ll accept a cutting from a plant in my garden. I used to cat-sit when she went on holiday, but of course that’s stopped for the time being. The only thing that makes me feel better is the idea that a kindness done to one person can go around from her to him, and perhaps her again, before it ends up with her helping . . . the original good neighbour. I think that works. I do hope so.

One of my readers has written to say that she has been reading and rereading the short stories I’ve been attaching to the newsletter. She has good neighbours, too – though not, apparently, one who bakes for fun – but she does have one who is going to take her to get her vaccination. I am touched that so many people seem to like having the short stories sent them. I know libraries have been shut for a while, but you can get almost everything on line and I understand that my Eden Hall series is doing well. It seems ages since I wrote this series about a British stately home and its Cinderella heroine. If you’re desperate for something read you might like to try it?

Meanwhile, the story I’ve plucked from the archives to go with this newsletter today is called ‘Unfinished Business’. It’s set at this time of the year when you may be looking back at the past, and thinking of making a New Year’s resolution – or not, as the case may be. So what will our old friends decide to do? You can access the story here.

Work continues, slowly, on the next Abbot Agency book. I’m taking my time over this one, but it is getting into shape at last. Also at long last, ‘Murder-in-Law’ is being sent to the printers. Progress!

A blessing on all good neighbours! And, may someone be a good neighbour to them in their turn.

Veronica Heley