Newsletter no.153, July 1st 2020

You may remember how surprised and delighted I was when a friend dropped a bar of chocolate through my door on a couple of occasions . . . and that I did eventually discover who it might have been. Several of you have expressed the wish that they, too, might be visited by a chocolate fairy. Well, this particular neighbour is a very busy lady but now that social distancing is slightly relaxed, we have arranged that she will come and sit in my garden with me one day soon, so that we can have a good old gossip. Her family is charmed by the idea of her being a chocolate fairy. I don’t think she’s going to be able to live that down any day soon!

Meanwhile, pride goes before a fall! I work hard to deliver a ‘clean’ manuscript which needs few changes. I go through each story maybe five times, allowing a week to elapse between each draft. This means less work for the editor and copy editor, which in turn keeps costs down. Now, to my horror, an observant reader has reported finding no less than six typos which have made it through to the hardback of FALSE CONCLUSION. I am mortified. I know the problem is partly due to age and changes in my eyesight, but still . . . it shouldn‘t have happened. So maybe I’ll be doing six drafts for the next book instead of five – while somehow managng to keep to the agreed delivery date.

I have been looking at a short story to send you with this newsletter. The series was originally commissioned to go out at different seasons of the year. The next one is set at Christmas and here we are in July. What to do? Well, I can’t take Christmas out of this story. I wondered if it might work to drop this particular title altogether and go on to the next but that won’t work, either, because certain things happen to our friends in this story which alter their future. I decided in the end that it’s best to let it go through. If you’d like to read it then you have been warned, and the link is here for the story called PRESENTS. The actual presents which our friends need at this time are Courage, Patience and Hospitality. If you’d like to read it, just follow this link.

As our libraries have not yet reopened in London I have been re-reading old favourites. When I finish a book and decide I don’t want to read it again, I put it out in a box on the low garden wall at the front of the house and see if anyone else would like to have a go. And then, when I’m pretending to do some gardening, people occasionally stop and tell me that they’ve enjoyed this or that. One gentleman of about my age said how delighted he was to read a Narnia book as he’d heard of them but had been the wrong age to read them when they first came out. My particular favourite at the moment is The Silver Chair. I do like Puddleglum, the Marshwriggle who, even when trapped underground, holds onto the idea of the sun and other good things in the world even if there’s no evidence now that they ever existed.

A blessing on all who write books which bring tidings of comfort and joy.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.152, June 15th 2020

I have solved the mystery of the chocolate fairy. By a process of elimination I finally decided it must be someone from a particular family who live nearby. Lovely people. Kind and helpful. I knocked on their door and asked Daughter no. 2, ‘Are you, by any chance, the chocolate fairy?’ She replied that she wasn’t, but she’d ask Daughter no.1. She did so, and came back giggling to say that it was their mother who’d been the chocolate fairy. So the mystery is solved, and next time I see their mother, I’ll be able to thank her for her kind thought.

I hear you ask why did they want to give me a present? Well, I have been passing my copy of The Times on to them every day for some years, but I didn’t expect anything in return. Why did they suddenly decide to give me some chocolate? Well, why not? Why did they stop? Well, why not? Anyway, the mystery is solved.

Now, what short story shall I include this time? The next one in the series about the three retired friends was called INSURANCE and yes, I think that’s all right. There are many such problems that can arise as you get older, so this story is still relevant. If you’d like to read it, just follow the link.

A hopeful sign for the future arrived in an email from a reader in Tasmania, who says that many of their libraries there are now re-opening on a Click and Collect basis. What happens is this; you reserve a book. You return those you have read into a box at the entrance and the librarian hands you your ordered books, already clicked out to you. And, there is hand sanitizer on the table. If only we could do that here!

I am getting on fairly well with the third draft of the next book. I’ve picked up a discrepancy here, and taken out some redundant material. As I put in extra words to explain this and that I watch the word count creeping up and up . . . and I hold my breath. My agreed word count means the publisher can sell the book at such and such a price. Any word count just under that is fine. Anything over and the increase in price makes the book uneconomical. I think I’ve got it right. But it will be a close run thing.

I received emails from two of my readers saying that they had put reviews of my last book on various media sites. That was really good of them, as such reviews do make a difference to sales. Every now and then I look at what I could do to increase sales and come to the conclusion that I really don’t have the time to do it . . . nor, to be truthful, do I have the media know-how. I was reassured the other day to hear my clever, practical daughter, who is in her early fifties, bemoaning the fact that she was being asked to download apps and make up new passwords and enter this and that. She said if she’d been younger it would have been easier. As for me, in my late eighties . . .? Er, no. So I’ll go on writing my stories and sending them to my publisher and hope for the best.

What am I reading now? I’ve moved on from Raymond Chandler to Erle Stanley Gardner (A.A.Fair). Do you remember his character Perry Mason? Most enjoyable.

A blessing on all who look out for other people.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.151, June 1st 2020

Do you believe in fairies? No? Not even the tooth fairy? Well, I have recently been visited by a chocolate fairy. On two consecutive Sunday mornings I found a bar of chocolate in the letter box of my front door. On the third Sunday . . . nothing! There was no card with it and no one had mentioned that they were going to give me a present. Yes, of course I asked around but so far no one has admitted to being the donor.

What did I do to deserve being showered with chocolate? Perhaps more important, why did the gifts stop coming? Not that I’m complaining, you understand. I love chocolate, especially good dark chocolate, which this was. I looked forward to allowing myself a couple of pieces after supper.

When it came to choosing a short story to include, I find the next one that appeared in this series was called SPRING CLEANING, which doesn’t seem quite appropriate at this time of the year. Yes, I know I ought to have done my spring cleaning earlier in the year but somehow I got sidetracked and forgot all about it. It’s too late to do it now, isn’t it? Anyway, this story is really about clearing out the tired old bits of one’s life, so I suppose it will be appropriate at any time of the year.

You can read ‘Spring Cleaning’ using this link:

The writing continues. The second draft is always difficult as I come across bits of plot which I’ve not explained properly. Characters change their names without giving me any notice that that they are going to do so, and I repeat bits without realising I’ve done so. The first draft is always well short of the word count. The second usually goes way over, and only when I’ve done the third and fourth do I feel I’ve knocked the plot into shape. I know a people a lot of people are going to hate this story because Ellie has taken a back seat and it’s young Susan, who used to be her lodger and who married the half Italian Rafael – the one with the slightly dodgy background – who takes centre stage. And even more importantly, some small children are involved.

Meanwhile, at long last I have a review of FALSE CONCLUSION which arrived in the libraries just before lockdown, and has consequently been read by very few people so far. Fortunately, Publishers Weekly liked this one, saying ‘Heley expertly melds menace with humour. Fans of darker cosies won’t be disappointed.’ I do hope the libraries will re-open soon.

I’ve been reduced to re-reading my husband’s collection of detective stories, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and the rest. My, how they could write! What character description! What a body count! I read somewhere that if another old-timer – Peter Cheyney, got stuck in a plot, he had the hero open a door – any door – and a corpse would fall out. Personally, I prefer to write about corpses who are off stage, if you get my meaning.

A blessing on all who pray for others.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.150, May 15th 2020

Well, here we are. I’ve managed to produce a newsletter exactly one fortnight from the last, and you will remember I promised to attach a short story in future. Now, delving back into my records, I find that the very first stories I wrote for the Methodist Recorder were Ellie Quickes, published in 2009. However, the readership decided against murders so I have been writing about the joys and sorrows of retirement ever since. Fine, thought I! Retirement stories it is. And then I found I had to do a little editing to make them suitable for re-use.. Why did I get myself into this mess? (Don’t answer that!) Anyway, I finally selected ‘Three Men, One Gift,’ which introduced the series, and which continues to this day:

Hopefully. If you’re interested, I self-published a set of these early short stories in a paperback titled ‘Unsung Heroes.’

Meanwhile, I’ve had such fun emails from you all about how to make a bed. Titanic struggles with the duvet! Difficult duvets abandoned for sheets and blankets! And yes, the most practical way seems to be to do the duvet first. But the prize – metaphorically – goes to the reader who said she always got her husband to change the bed for her. Now that’s what I call clever!

Mind you, it would never have worked with my dear husband. He could operate the most intricate of instruments but when asked to undertake a domestic task, he turned fumble-fingered and helpless. Before we married I asked him if he might consider polishing my shoes for me. He was horror-stricken at the thought. ‘Understood,’ said I, ‘but don’t expect me to darn your socks.’ Sigh. We had a happy marriage for almost fifty years, he never read a word I’d written – except by accident – and I still miss him.

We are very fortunate here in that neighbours help one another out with shopping, and we keep checking on one another by telephone. We all come out on Thursday evenings to clap for the NHS, and have chats over the hedges and at a safe distance on the pavements. The good weather has helped keep us cheerful. It’s amazing how many people have suddenly decided to pay some attention to their neglected gardens.

I’m told that some copies of FALSE CONCLUSION are reaching customers by other means apart from libraries. Bravo! Meanwhile I plough on with the next book, which has got itself into a terrible tangle between chapters seven and eight. I think there’s too much information packed into it. So that’s the next job to tackle.

A blessing on all who are able to exercise the art of patience in the face of adversity.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.149, May 1st 2020

How are you all coping? I am fortunate in having work to do. Also I have good neighbours who seem determined to make me put on weight, bringing round home-made cake and asking if I want anything from the shops. I am also fortunate in having a small but pretty garden to work in, and I can take a walk along my quiet road admiring other people’s gardens. Often I stop to talk – at a safe distance – with anyone working in their garden, too.

The Easter short story came out on April 10th. It was written before lockdown and the characters don’t observe social distancing. It was hard to write a story about what following Christ cam mean but I think it was important to do so. It’s titled ‘I HAVE A DIFFICULT JOB FOR YOU . . .’ I sent out copies to those on my list, but it you’re not on that and would like to read the story, let me know and I’ll email it to you.

People who were usually busy from morning to night are finding life difficult. Some become depressed. There’s lots of advice about how to keep sane is in the newspapers but one thing I’ve learned is not to listen to a news channel after six pm, or I won’t sleep! I’ve just written a story called ‘STRUCTURE’ which is about the lockdown and its effect on our four older friends, and it’s being published TODAY! Copies will be sent out in the usual way to everyone on the Always Send list. If you’re not on the list . . . see preceding paragraph.

Recently I’ve been wondering if my readers might like the newsletter more often, with lots of gossip and stuff to amuse . . . plus I could attach one of the short stories I’ve written in the past for the Methodist Recorder. What do you think? Do remember that I love to receive emails from you, and I do try to answer every one asap . . . provided I’m not on deadline for the next book, in which case it does take a bit longer.

Now, a knotty question has arisen in my family and circle of friends: what method do you use to change your bed? For us oldies, this is a daunting task to be attempted only when we are feeling strong. My friends and I usually start with the pillow-cases as being the easiest to do. Then we go and have breakfast. Sometime later we take off the under sheet and then have a mid-morning sit-down and coffee. Later in the day, we tackle the worst bit – the duvet. By bed-time the bed is newly made up. ‘No, no!’ says my practical daughter. ‘You must start with the duvet because that’s the hardest bit. Once you’ve done that, the rest is easy.’ So how do you approach this task?

The copies of the new Bea Abbot – FALSE CONCLUSION – were delivered to the libraries before they closed, and will be available as soon as they re-open. E-book and paperback copies should be available via Amazon soon. I hope so, because I enjoyed writing this story about a wealthy but backward schoolgirl being dumped on Bea Abbott and her ward, Bernice. There’s an unexplained death, rumours abound and Evelina’s cousins are taking undue interest in young Beatrice. Then Piers, Bea’s long-divorced ex-husband arrives and maybe, just maybe, it’s time to forgive him.

A blessing on all who entertain and amuse others . . .

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.148, April 2020

It’s life, but not as we knew it (with apologies to Star Trek!) So much confusion finally settling into a different way of living. Oh, the heartache of being unable to see dear friends and family, the uncertainties of work, the limitations on what we’ve always regarded as the norm. Some friends were completely thrown by the restrictions and took a while to devise a new routine for themselves. And above all, the fear!

I’m so grateful that I had work to do and needed to get on with it, and the spring flowers cheered me up no end. Daffodils, early tulips and grape hyacinths formed a spectacular border at the front of the house and I would go out to admire it whenever I felt gloomy. Prayer partners helped, too. We check every morning that we’ve got out of bed and say what we plan to do. Then we recheck in the evening to make sure we’d done it.

I spend a lot of time on phone and email, but have got a little further with the next book. There’s been quite a lot of email about my naming a new and somewhat unpleasant character ‘Felicity’. I had completely forgotten that I’d had someone called that name in an early book, but clearly in my subconscious I wasn’t happy about it, or I wouldn’t have talked to you about giving someone else the same name. A friend has duly suggested ‘Cynthia’ and yes, that does seem to fit the bill. Many thanks to all who’ve chimed in on this issue.

Another short story came out in March, about ten year old Joe’s investigations into the meaning of life – and Chocolate Easter Eggs – in Lent. I have already sent a copy to all those on my Request List, but if are not on that and would like to read it, then let me know and I’ll send it to you. The Easter story will be published on April 10th. It’s titled ‘I have a difficult job for you . . .’ I’ll send out copies in the usual way, after it’s published.

I believe lots of people have asked the libraries to reserve them copies of the latest in the Abbot Agency series . . . Hurray! This is FALSE CONCLUSION. Evelina, a wealthy but backward schoolgirl is dumped on Bea Abbott and her ward, Bernice for the holidays. An uncle of Evelina’s suddenly dies and her family signal that the girl had something to do with his death, while at the same time making a huge fuss of young Bernice. Is this because she will be a very rich girl one day? Then Bea’s long-divorced ex-husband turns up and tries to mend fences with her. Is it time to forgive him?

Also out last month are the large print, paperback and audiobook versions of MURDER BY SUGGESTION, in which the dreadful Diana and her friends have all been accused of murder by their husbands. Naturally they take refuge with Ellie, and d expect her to find a way out of their problems.

A blessing on all who can spare the time to listen to other people’s problems . . .

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.147, March 2020

We’ve been having a very mild winter here in London, GB. (Yes, I know! Global warming!) I must admit that I enjoy not having to dress up in so many clothes that I waddle like penguin. I know there were storms and some frosty nights, but I do so appreciate the afternoons getting longer, getting up in the daylight and seeing the flowers begin to appear in gardens. I cross the road every morning to walk past a superb pink Daphne in full flower. What a display! And we who garden discuss why that particular plant is splendid whereas our own Daphnes have failed to thrive.

I’ve been mulling over how to name various characters. Sometimes the right name for a particular person comes easily but every now and then I have to use the Search and Replace key two or three times before I am satisfied. Names can tell you a lot about the age and background of the person concerned. Fashions come and go. It’s likely that someone called Violet, Gladys or Herbert will be of a certain age, while you can probably make a good guess at when Jason or Kylie were born.

Then, adding a ‘y’ or ‘ie’ to a name infantilises them; think of Timmy, Freddy or Georgy. Give them their full name and they grow up; Timothy, Frederick and Georgina. I had to find an appropriate name for Joe’s annoying elder brother in a new story about him which comes out in Lent (no, I don’t have a date yet). I asked around and collected some beauties, but none were quite right until I chanced on Teddy, which I think has the right connotation. Teddy’s been spoiled because of ill health and he often behaves badly. Yes, I think that’s about right.

I continued to work on the next book, where I came across another character who was difficult to name. This is an older woman who could be a clone of our much-loved-and-hated Diana. Only, this woman is where Diana aims to be. She’s rich and bitchy. I’ve called her Felicity, which is the opposite of what that name represents. I think it works. Maybe I’ll have to change it as the book progresses.

The next in the Abbot Agency series comes out this month. It’s called FALSE CONCLUSION. Evelina, a wealthy but backward schoolgirl is dumped on Bea Abbott and her ward, Bernice for the holidays. An uncle of Evelina’s suddenly dies and her family signal that the girl had something to do with his death, but at the same time they make a fuss of young Bernice. Is this because she will be a very rich girl one day? Then Bea’s long-divorced ex-husband turns up and tries to mend fences with her. Is it time to forgive him?

Also out this month are the large print and paperback versions of MURDER BY SUGGESTION. This is the one in which Diana and her friends have all been thrown out by their husbands who accuse them of murder . . . so they take refuge with Ellie and expect her to find a way out of their problems. And finally, I’ve just received the new MP3 CD of this same story as an audiobook read by Julia Franklin. Available in bookshops and libraries.

A blessing on all who show kindness to others.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.146, February 2020

Isn’t the start of a New Year rather messy? I spent ages clearing up the stuff on my desk, paying bills, taking Christmas cards to be recycled, pinning up new calendars and writing important messages in my 2020 diary. I told myself that I would not go back to the stories I was writing till I’d done my housekeeping chores. Finally, my desk was clear – for half a day. And then another bill arrived.

Now I have another problem. In the past I have worked on a book for Ellie or Bea till I’ve got the first draft done and can relax . . . which is when I start thinking about the next short story for the Methodist Recorder. This time, I wasn’t half way through an Ellie story when ten-year old Joe starting asking me why we have chocolate Easter eggs all the year round and why do we give things up for Lent. This resulted in my asking the Methodist Recorder if they think a story about the ‘whys’ of Lent might be of interest. And they said yes and I have to deliver by St Valentine’s day, while I’m still wrestling with the plot of the next Ellie.

Now I am not good at multi-tasking. Oh, I don’t mean I can’t make a mug of tea while peeling potatoes or answer the front door while on the phone to a friend. Yes. But I do find it hard to switch from one plot to another. One writer I know works on a crime novel on her desk-top in the morning while switching to her laptop for a psychological drama in the afternoon. My brain likes to poke around with one idea at a time. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe I need to take more Vitamin D. Whatever it is, both the short story and the next book are coming along, but slowly.

My website manager and I have been looking at how best to make these short stories available to you. I have a long list of people who can’t get hold of the Recorder itself, and have asked me to send them a copy when each story comes out, which is great – but it is time-consuming. Now I like to reply to anyone who writes to me about the short stories or anything else . . . well, no, NOT politics, please! . . . and I will continue to do so, but there may be ways of making the system work better. For the moment we continue as before and I’ll let you know when the next story is due to come out.

Meanwhile, FALSE CONCLUSION is done and dusted and due out at the end of March. I like this story, in which Evelina, a wealthy but backward schoolgirl is dumped on a protesting Bea Abbott and her ward, Bernice. One of Evelina’s relatives dies, her family are buzzing around like flies and Bea can’t make out who is the target, the mono-syllabic schoolgirl or her own Bernice? What’s more, Bea’s long-divorced ex-husband is back on the scene and maybe – just maybe – Bea can at last relax her defences for him.

More news: Soundings were just about to record the next Ellie on their list – which is MURDER BY SUGGESTION, when their usual reader for the series, Julia Barrie, crashed out with a back injury. Fortunately they were able to get Julia Franklin, who has recorded earlier ones in this series, to take her place. Thanks are now due to both Julias!

A blessing on all who do their best to cheer us up at this dark time of the year.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.145, January 2020

Ding, dong, merrily on high . . . the bells are ringing out the old and ringing n the new.

Will the new year be any different from the old? Will we repeat past mistakes, or will we find that we can move on without regrets? I’m not one for making resolutions to change. At my age, I know that life throws stuff at you, and sometimes you can deal with it easily, and sometimes you can’t.

What I do know is that writing something to remind people that good people can make a difference in the world is what I am supposed to be doing, so I will continue for as long as I can. Which, being translated, means that the next book is coming along nicely, now that I’ve untangled what every character is doing at any particular moment in time, and where the stairs are in the renovated house. And yes, Diana is well to the fore in this book. You didn’t think she could get any worse, did you? Well, I am happy to say that she is Much, Much Worse than she has ever been before! I cannot believe how awful she is! It makes writing about her so enjoyable.

Meanwhile, everyone who read the pre-Christmas story about Joe and his Scientific Investigation into which of three Father Christmases on offer was the real one, said how much they enjoyed it. That came out at the end of November. And the Christmas story – titled Christmas Mislaid –about a nasty character demanding attention over Christmas, came out in the double issue of the Methodist Recorder on December 27th. If you aren’t on my list to have them automatically sent to you, and would like to see either or both of these stories, just drop me an email and I’ll send it/them to you.

You remember one of my old friends told me that an earlier Ellie Quicke – titled Murder in the Park – had dropped off the available list? There’s good and bad news about this. My agent got the rights returned, but as it’s the only title in the series which is out of contract with Severn House and no one wants a singleton, so far she hasn’t found anyone else to take it on. A pity. I liked that story. Maybe things will change in the future and we can bring it out again.

Here’s wishing us all a New Year in which we have more reasons to rejoice than to be sad. God bless.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.144, December 2019

Oh, woe is me! Catastrophe! And no, it’s nothing to do with the line edits for the next Bea Abbot story, which are pretty well finished. Nor is it anything to do with the Christmas story for the Methodist Recorder, which will be out at the end of the year sometime. You will be glad to know that yes, the broken, unsalable Christmas tree which my nearest and dearest christened ‘Percy’ has been included in the story. So that’s all done and dusted for the Christmas issue.

Nor is the catastrophe related to the idea I had for a pre-Christmas story. This is about ten-year old Joe, who conducts a scientific experiment to discover which of three Father Christmases on offer that weekend might be the real one. And he comes to a surprising conclusion. The Methodist Recorder published this one on November 29th so if you’d like a copy just drop me an email in the usual way and I’ll send it to you. (The same, of course, applies to the one in the Christmas Issue. I can send copies as usual once the story has been published, but not before!)

All those projects went well. The catastrophe occurred when I was trying to make a floor plan of Ellie’s big old house now that it’s divided in two. I couldn’t for the life of me work out where the new stairs go, and how Rafael’s new study gets a window. Have you ever tried to make a floor plan of a fictional house? I thought I could walk through both sides of the conversion with ease. I believed I knew exactly where the bedrooms and bathrooms lay. But I didn’t. I really do have to get my floor plans straight, or I’ll have my characters walking through solid walls to get to the new kitchen . . .

Once, years ago, a reader asked me for a map of the area around Ellie’s house and I couldn’t do that, either. You see, I’ve based these stories on my own neighbourhood, but I’d taken bits of this road and bits of that, and put the library on the wrong end of the shopping lane, which isn’t called the Avenue in reality and . . . well, I had to confess I couldn’t do it.

You remember one of my old friends told me that an earlier Ellie Quicke had dropped off the available list? Well spotted! The rights are now being returned to me, and we are hoping it will soon become available again in print and as an e-book. Thanks to Gill.

And now, when I’ve got my floor plan sorted, I’m going to start on a new story which is to be called Murder-In-Law. I’d never realised before how much room a staircase takes up . . .

If everyone around you is in a tizzy about parties and presents, may you still remember what Christmas is really about.

Veronica Heley