Newsletter no.165, January 1st, 2021

This is the time of year in which we are supposed to write thank you notes for the presents we received at Christmas. Well, nowadays I suppose it is acceptable to do it on e-mail or with a phone call. I’m not entirely convinced that this is enough. Should the amount of thought and preparation entailed not be reflected in a handwritten note of thanks? On the other hand, if the present is a voucher or something delivered direct from the supplier, then perhaps some heartfelt thanks delivered electronically or by phone is sufficient. What do you think? Mix and match?

The people I really want to thank today are those who have been so good to me while I have been recovering from my knee operation. I am not used to being looked after like this because until now I was always the one who tried to help others.

There is also the Kindness of Strangers. When I approach the queues outside our local independent shops, walking on my two sticks, and see that there is nowhere to sit and wait my turn, I have been surprised and sometimes quite overwhelmed by how many people have offered to assist me. Usually there is an offer for me to take someone’s place in the queue, or someone arranges for a seat for me outside or inside the shop till it gets to be my turn to be served. Being pretty sprightly for my age, I had never thought of playing the Age Card and asking for special attention until now, but I must admit that once or twice recently I have done so. Mind you, these are local shops which I have been using for fifty odd years, and it does help that I am an ‘old’ – in every sense – customer.

So, Christmas has come and gone with a mixture of laughter and tears. Perhaps more people than usual remembered what this special day was all about. And perhaps not. My ‘Corona Christmas’ story went out as planned in the double issue of the Methodist Recorder for Christmas and the New Year. If you can’t get hold of it but would like to read it, then drop me an email and I’ll e-mail it to you free. Meanwhile, continuing the tradition of attaching a story from the archives for your delectation, I find the next in line is called ‘Summer Holiday.’ (Oh well, things will be better by next summer, won’t they?) So if you would like to read what our three friends did for their summer holiday, you can access the story here.

I am continuing to work on the next Bea Abbot while the rumbling continues about minor corrections to the next Ellie, Murder-in-Law, which will be published in March.

Somewhat late in the day, we have received a very good review from Booklist, dated 4th December, for ‘False Conclusion,’ the latest in the Abbot agency series. I quote: ‘A likeable heroine who cracks challenging cases . . .combines suspenseful twists, quirky supporting characters, and a satisfying ending to make this a delight for fans of British mysteries.’

A VERY BIG THANK-YOU and a special blessing TO FRIENDS, AND TO STRANGERS WHO HAVE GONE OUT OF THEIR WAY TO HELP OTHERS.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.164, December 15th

A merry Christmas to you all . . . remembering old friends and new . . . and giving thanks for all the good things that have happened this year (including the advent of the chocolate fairy). May you find peace and joy in this special season, remembering what it represents.

Several of you have asked how I am getting on with my replacement knee. The answer is that I’m doing pretty well, thank you. I am now walking with two sticks outside the house, and have managed to get up to the shops and buy small things which will go into my pockets – but have to ask friends to bring back some groceries for me. Inside the house I’m down to one stick and a sort of Dot-and-Carry-One. But the great thing now is that my brain is clear enough for me to do some work.

For some weeks I couldn’t really get to grips with the next book. I’d got as far as chapter eight when I had the operation, and for some time after I came out of hospital, I would look at the text and couldn’t think what happened next. So I started at the beginning of the mss which, by the way, is titled ‘False Face’, and worked my way onwards and upwards through page after page, correcting this and expanding on that . . . and then I found it was necessary to stop work on the story in order to address the Christmas cards and send them out . . . and finally that was all done and I was ready to carry on with the plot.

That is, until the proofs of Murder-in-Law arrived, demanding immediate attention. But that done, I can get back to Bea and the affair of the Fading Star of Stage and Screen. As it happens, I wasn’t all that happy with the next bit of action which I’d roughed out earlier, and so can ditch that in favour of a nice bit of mischief which ought to put a tangle into the nasty plot which the baddies were trying to put into action.

Meanwhile, the Christmas story, titled ‘Corona Christmas’ has been accepted and should be coming out in the combined Christmas and New Year edition of the Methodist Recorder. I won’t be able to send out copies of that until the New Year, but will let you have details in due course. This story has to deal with some of the problems we’re all facing about who to met and when over the holidays, and leads on to the big question of what Christmas means to us and how we can face up to that challenge.

I had a look at the next story in the archives which I was due to send to you and decided that I really wanted to send you something different, something which related to the season. I know this particular story only came out a year ago, and some of you may have read it already – and yes, it’s not about the usual people – but I hope it will amuse you nevertheless. It’s called ‘Will the Real Father Christmas Stand up,’ and it’s available for you to access here.

A blessing on all those who brighten up the dark days of December with a smile or a ‘thank you.’ Keep safe . . .

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.163, December 1st

Well, December finally arrived, as it was bound to do. The confusion around Christmas didn’t help us to plan ahead, did it? But things do seem a bit clearer now. I had to deliver the next story, titled Corona Christmas, to the Methodist Recorder by the end of November but had been worrying what sort of regimen we should be under for the actual feast day itself. At long last the guidelines did become clearer, and I have made some adjustments to the text accordingly. Hopefully, no more changes will be needed. The story comes out in the combined Christmas and New Year edition and I’ll let you know more about that later.

One thing is quite clear to me, and that how very fortunate I am in having so many chocolate friends. Once I was home from the hospital after my knee operation – yes, it’s coming along a treat, thank you – I found some of my friends had taken Action with a capital A and had dropped another bar of chocolate through my door. One, two, three. . . and still they came!

Brilliant! I thought. I rubbed my hands in glee and reached for the treat at the top of the pile . . . until, rather like the fairy who hadn’t been invited to the princess’s christening, the voice of Common-Sense broke in. She wagged her finger at me. Yes, really! She reminded me in the voice of reason, that Too Much Chocolate would be Bad for Me! ‘You may have no more than three pieces of chocolate at a time, right?!’ Reluctantly, I agreed, but we bargained that I could probably manage a treat or two several times a day . . .

Meanwhile, I have been trying to do some work on various story projects I have in hand. I do get tired and retire to my bed every now and then, but I am happy to say that some at least of my usual writing ability seems to be returning. A general anaesthetic does seem to have knocked me out for a while, but I have been able to return to the next Bea Abbot book and do a bit of editing here and there.

My editor has come up with a projected cover for the next Ellie – Murder-in-Law – scheduled for next year, and we are currently working on that. It’s always difficult to find a cover which reflects what the action is about without falling into the trap of splashing blood all over the place. This time we are aiming for a combination of the children’s toys and their father’s golf clubs. Quite tricky.

The story that comes with this newsletter is called ‘The Art of Saying “No!”’ It’s not a Christmas story, but it’s next in line chronologically, so I hope you enjoy it. You can access it here . . .

A blessing on all those who do good for others without counting the cost to themselves.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.162, November 15th

Someone asked me the other day why I, of all people, should have been blessed with the presence of a chocolate fairy in my life. Why doesn’t everyone get one? (The answer to that comes from W. S. Gilbert, who wrote a song containing the immortal words, ‘If everyone is somebody, then no-one’s anybody!’) In other words, if we were all given a chocolate fairy, then chocolate fairies would be so commonplace they wouldn’t be of any interest.

However, I was delighted recently to find that chocolate fairies can turn up in the oddest of places. I was in hospital for a knee operation (yes, thank you; it’s coming on nicely), but I was not enjoying the food. I asked the lovely man who was serving supper if he could find me some chocolate, and he supplied me with a packet of chocolate bourbon biscuits, and even sked if he should open them for me! Oh, bliss, Oh, rapture! Did that make me feel better? Yes, it did. Now he was a real chocolate fairy, though I don’t think the terminology is right. Chocolate elf? Chocolate knight? ‘Sir’ Chocolate? I may never see him again, but I shall always remember his kindness.

So Chocolate Friends (is that a better way of describing them?) can be found anywhere. A reader has asked me to give her address to the Chocolate Fairy. Perhaps we should all look for opportunities in which we can become a chocolate fairy to someone else?

Meanwhile, I’ve been wrestling with the Christmas story for the Recorder. I had to ask myself, ‘What exactly do I think is important about Christmas?’ To some people it might mean going to a midnight service at Church. To others, it is the opportunity to party with one’s peers, or to get together with your family, have a slap-up meal, and hopefully no quarrelling among the children or the grownups. But will we be allowed to meet in each other’s houses this year?

Then, carol singing is out. I suppose expensive presents will be ‘in’, but what about sending cards? Does the high cost of postage deter us? And then I come down to the nitty gritty . . . ‘What does Christmas really mean to you?’

I made a list of what might not be considered important. Christmas trees were at the top of that list until I suddenly thought that even if the decorated tree was a comparatively new addition to the scene, I really wanted one. So now, more thought required.

The story that comes with this newsletter is called ‘Christmas is coming’. It was published in the Methodist Recorder some years ago so there’s no sign of Covid, which I think is a relief, isn’t it? You can access it here . . .

And finally, the paperback version of False Account came out at the end of last month, so if you’ve missed it earlier, now’s the chance to catch up.

A blessing on all those who do good for others but don’t expect thanks for it.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.161, November 1st, 2020

How do you poach the perfect egg? I told myself this was a trivial matter, which should hardly disturb my mind when I have important things to do, like working on the Christmas short story. I knew poaching an egg wasn’t the easiest thing to do. In fact, I seem to recall that the last time I tried to do it, I produced a nightmare of a dish which didn’t even get as far as the plate which I had put out to receive it.

But the image of two perfectly poached eggs on a bed of spinach continued to haunt me. I fantasized that there might be a fresh bread roll beside it? Or a piece of buttered toast? So I asked a friend here and a friend there how they managed it, and the answers were many and varied. Vinegar was mentioned, and special appliances. One said you swirled the water around before sliding the egg in. Another said he’d seen someone put clingfilm into the poacher, drop the egg in that, fold over the clingfilm and Bob’s your Uncle. But no one admitted to having created the perfect dish themselves. Their excuse was that the eggs had to be really fresh for a good result. Well, who can get a really fresh egg nowadays? Apart from those of us who keep hens.

So I cooked some spinach, and I tried to poach two eggs. I ate them. Well, almost all of them. (You know what happened to the whites, don’t you?)

I must admit to being rather tired today. I’ve spent the last ten days doing the copy-editing of the next book, titled MURDER-IN-LAW. Oh dear, oh dear. It arrived in teeny weeny print that I could hardly read, so it was a real problem for me to check out trouble spots and correct them. I do like that story, which has the dreadful Diana dumping her children on Susan and Rafael as they move into their half of Ellie’s big house, now divided into two. But finally, my corrections have all been done, and accepted . . . which only means, of course, that the proof reading will shortly be on its way to me.

Something to remember; the paperback version of the Bea Abbot story came out on Friday 30th October. I do hope your libraries are opening up faster than ours is. I am visiting our local bookshop far more often than I used to do. Mind you, I’m grateful that these bookshops still exist. I’ve been tasting the work of some authors I know well, and others of whom I have heard but not yet read. Perhaps it’s good for one’s broader education to try something new . . . so long as it doesn’t end up with you feeling extremely depressed. I like a positive ending!

The story from the archives which automatically comes with this newsletter is called ‘A Change of Address’, which can happen to some of us as we get older. It’s a sensible practice to downsize, but can be difficult for the people concerned. You can access it here . . .

A blessing on all those who share pieces of cake they’ve made with their neighbours.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.160, October 15th, 2020

I’ve had another visit from the chocolate fairy, who posts a bar of chocolate through my letter box occasionally on a Sunday morning. Isn’t that delightful thing to happen? As you know, I did eventually discover the identity of this wonderful person, and thanked her for her kind thought. This time I was bold enough to ask for a favour; the weather was truly dreadful and I was worried about slipping on the wet pavements. So would someone in her household be able to post a couple of birthday cards for me?

Her daughter said yes, and we then had a most interesting conversation about when was the right time to post birthday cards. In the old days we allowed two days and put on a second-class stamp, but someone told me we’re supposed to allow three nowadays because the Post Office won’t touch the mail that comes in for an extra day, to let the corona virus dissipate. Is this fake news, or actually what really happens? Anyway, I’m now playing it safe by putting a first-class stamp on and trying to remember the three-day rule. The chocolate fairy came up trumps and my cards were duly posted. Hurray!

I am always delighted to be asked to write another short story for the Methodist Recorder. This time it’s to be one for Christmas. Fine. Lovely. I’m sure I can think of something . . . but oh and ah! What will Christmas be like this year? Will the UK be divided into high or low infection spots? Will those in some places be allowed to have their families around them for Christmas Day, and others have to sit in solitude? Will different households be allowed to mix? Will children under eleven be allowed to join in the family fun or segregated from the mainstream with an expensive toy? Will people spend extra because they haven’t been able to meet up with their loved ones? Or less because their jobs are in jeopardy?

Oh, oh, oh! How am I going to write a story without knowing whether lockdown is going to be the villain of the piece? Suppose I guess at a Christmas governed by the Rule of Six, and the government changes its mind the week before? What happens to my story, then? I suppose I could write alternative scenarios . . . No, that’s silly. I’m just going to have to guess, that’s what.

The story from the archives which automatically comes with this newsletter is called ‘Down-sizing,’ which happens to a lot of us as we get older. It’s a sensible practice, but can be difficult for the people concerned. You can access it here . . .

A blessing on all who post letters and run errands for the housebound in these difficult times.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.159, October 1st, 2020

You’ve heard of ice cream wars, haven’t you? I live on a corner opposite the gates to a well-used park. Naturally there are double yellow lines on the road in front of the gates to denote No Parking. Generally speaking, motorists abide by this as sensible, but this year we have two – and sometimes three – ice cream vans jockeying for position in front of the park gates, all parked well and truly on the double yellow lines.

Have we not remonstrated and complained to the council? Yes, we have. And still they keep coming. Occasionally they take a trip round the block since they are not supposed to stop for long in one place. But, there are always people coming in and out of the park and they don’t want to miss any customers. There’s a certain David and Goliath aspect to this. A big, tall man drives the big van, and either one or two slender black girls are in the small one. Their confrontations are many and can be heard all over the neighbourhood. Every now and then there is a hollow crunch and the girls erupt from their vehicle to complain that Goliath has deliberately backed into their van! Is the ice cream any good? Well, no. Sigh. I suppose the autumn rains will stop them coming.

I had a good number of replies to my question about which of my two heroines are the most popular. Thank you to everyone who bothered to email me about this. Now, some people like both equally and say they can’t choose. A few prefer Bea to Ellie, but the majority of votes went to Ellie. This is something we have to remember when planning future books.

The last short story for the Methodist Recorder was ‘Love in Lockdown.’ If you haven’t been able to get hold of a copy and would like to read it, just drop me an email and I’ll send it to you, free.

Meanwhile the story from the archives which automatically comes with this newsletter is called ‘Operation Christmas.’ I hope you don’t mind Christmas coming a little early this year. You can access it here . . .

And a quickie: remember that the large print hard back version of FALSE ACCOUNT came out at the end of September, so it may be in your local library by now.

A blessing on all who help the housebound in these difficult times.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.158, September 15th, 2020

Did I solve the mystery of the large man who took a huge back pack and a rolled up red umbrella into the park early in the mornings? Well, yes and no. Lots of you came up with theories which might fit the bill. One suggested he was a photographer, taking advantage of there being less people in the park in the early morning, to get a few shots in. Others suggested he was selling drugs. Most people – including my family who take exercise seriously – think that he was training for something. Apparently, athletes carry heavy back packs to help them develop their muscles. But what about the red umbrella, I ask? That doesn’t fit the picture . . . or does it?

Meanwhile, lots of stuff has been going on on the work front. In the first place, the next Ellie book – MURDER-IN-LAW – has been accepted and I should be getting the dreaded copy editor’s comments at the end of this month. I’ll let you know when I get a publication date.

And here I have to stop and ask if you will help us decide how to plan these books in the future. I have been living with Ellie for twenty years. After some five books, my then editor suggested that it was usual for a character to fade away after seven or eight titles, so would I please think up another good protagonist to take over from Ellie. That’s when Bea Abbot came into being. But, instead of a drop in sales for Ellie, her books continued to sell, and so we started doing Ellie and Bea alternately.

In the early days people said they liked Ellie rather than Bea, but lately people have been saying that they now prefer Bea. I’d love to hear what you think. (All right! I know I do try to reply to all emails but if many of you are going to email me on this and, don’t get me wrong, I do hope that you will do so then, please have mercy and don’t expect a reply every single time!)

The latest short story for the Methodist Recorder is ‘Love in Lockdown’ – bang up to date and seeing Sally well on the way to recovery from her bout of coronavirus. It was published on August 28th. If you haven’t been able to get hold of a copy, and would like to read it, just drop me an email and I’ll send it to you, free.

Meanwhile the story from the archives which automatically comes with this newsletter was originally called ‘All Change’ but I’ve renamed it ‘The Kindness of Strangers.’ You’ll see why when you access it here . . .

And a quickie: the large print hard back version of FALSE ACCOUNT is out at the end of September, so if you fancy reading that, do put in for it at the library.

A blessing on all who are kind to strangers.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.157, September 1st, 2020

You like a mystery, don’t you? I certainly do. Now I’ve got a new one. Twice last week as I drew back the curtains in the morning, I saw a new Smart car park on the other side of the road. A very large, shaven-headed black man got out. He was wearing good, casual, T-shirt, shorts, trainers. There was nothing of the second-hand about him. He extracted a bright red rolled up umbrella and a very large back pack from the car, walked over the road and disappeared into the park.

Was he planning to camp in the park? Surely not. That park is very well used. Social distancing is enforced with a police presence now and then. Was he delivering something to someone who lived the other side of the park? In which case, why not park over there? Was he delivering to the café in the park? No, because in that case there’s a much more convenient road he would have taken in. I have exercised my brains considerably on this matter and come up with no satisfactory answers. Oh, and the Smart car had gone by the time I’ve had my breakfast. Answers on a post card, please. No, no. An email, of course!

You may remember I was asked for another short story by the Methodist Recorder, which was to be set in lockdown. Who would have thought it would go on for so long . . . and is still affecting us? Well, ‘Love in Lockdown’ seemed to be a good title, and it’s all about how long-term relationships can be affected by this, for better or worse. I echo my friend Leo, who said how good it was to see people going out and enjoying themselves again but of course some are back in quarantine. Anyway, the story is coming out sometime in September. I’ll let you know when that happens.

Meanwhile the story to go with this newsletter is another originally published by the Methodist Recorder and is called Unsung Heroes – which I also used as the title of an e-book of some of these stories some years ago. This particular story came out one Eastertide, so please forgive that I can’t match the old stories to the right time of the year. The link to it is here.

My new computer is mostly doing its duty, and I’m not quite as bothered about the changes in layout as I was at the beginning. It does seem to have eaten my pictures and some of my emails, though. Surely, I can’t have deleted them all by mistake? Hopefully my gallant knight of the keyboard will be able to sort it all out.

Libraries. I’m told that our main library has now been reopened but only to return books and collect orders. There is no news about our own local library starting up again, but our bookshop is thriving. And yes, I’m still putting unwanted books out on the wall, and yes, they continue to disappear, hurray!

A blessing on all who go out of their way to help others.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.156, August 15th, 2020

It never rains but it pours. Do you remember that one? Well, we’ve had a few patches of rainy weather down here in London but we’ve also had extra high temperatures which make life difficult. I’m sitting here with a fan blowing hot air around me . . . I can’t say it cools me down, and I have to keep rushing to the bathroom to wash my hands in cold water. On the other hand, other members of the family have had cool, drizzly weather which has also made life difficult, in another way.

We always say that our borough empties out in the summer holidays. Parking becomes a lot easier, the shops are easier to walk around and even our parks, which are normally thronged with bikers, runners, dog walkers and people just taking the air, are much quieter. The ice cream vans, though, still visit every day . . . sigh!

So back to it never raining but it pours. I signed the contract for the next book and happily sat down to work out exactly who said what and when . . . and then an email popped in asking for another short story for the Recorder, to be delivered asap. They qualified it must be about lockdown, with masks, and social distancing. Oh. They said they knew it was short notice, but each of them had thought the other had asked me for the story, and please could I oblige. Um. The lovely lady at the greengrocers suggested the title, Love in Lockdown. No, it’s not about young love. Far from it. Or rather . . . no, you’ll have to wait till it comes out before I can divulge any more details. I think it will be out at the beginning of September. To be continued . . .

Meanwhile, I had to put the next book on hold. And my computer failed. So along comes my trusty knight of the keyboard and we have ‘that’ conversation. Can he mend it, and is it worth it? Sigh. It isn’t. So I have to have a new ‘tower’ which is now a square box and not a tower at all, and everything, hopefully, will get transferred over. Oh, the agony of being a communicator without any tools with which to communicate!

The bird bath continues to do its duty. One morning early I found the water almost gone, and all the ground around saturated. How many blackbirds having a bath does it take to empty the bird bath? Five or six, perhaps? It did cross my mind to wonder if they were trying to lighten my load by watering the pansies for me . . . but no. That’s just silly. (Although pleasant to think about.)

Turning to my archives, I find the next short story in the series was published at Christmas. And it’s now August. Bad timing. But it’s a nice little story, and I hope you enjoy it. It’s called ‘Not Just for Christmas.’ And you can find the link to it here.

Libraries. There’s absolutely no news about our library re-opening. None. But every day I put another old or new book out on the wall outside, and every day more disappear. I think of the people who take these well-read books and hope they enjoy the stories as much as I did.

A blessing on all who take away one of my books and enjoy it.

Veronica Heley