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

Newsletter no.155, August 1st, 2020

Writers need time to ponder their plots. I usually reckon to be on holiday in Bruges and away from my desk and emails and stuff when I start thinking about the next book. I make my way along the canal to where a certain bench is placed in a small patch of greenery overlooking one of the splendid panoramas for which Bruges is famous. And there I give myself time to sit and think and maybe jot down some suggestions for names, or for a twist in a plot.

Well, there’s no Bruges this summer, but I have been busily tidying up the manuscript for the next book, which I delivered in the usual way. Then, before my editor had had a chance to read it, she asked if I had an idea for another book, what would be its title, and when could I deliver it! Well, er . . . not sure. Yes, I did have the very vaguest of ideas, but I hadn’t really done any serious thinking about it. So I sat down to play patience (with real cards) and to look out at the garden. And watch the birds.

I have a bird bath which I fill up with water twice a day. The crows and the magpies arrive, drink and without making a song and dance about it, fly off to resume their hunt for food. The pigeons allow themselves some digestive time after drinking. They linger on the rim and ponder what to do next. The blackbirds have no idea of social distancing. One, two, anything up to six will arrive together. They drink and then they get down into the water and flap their wings madly till the bird bath resembles a fountain. The sparrows tend to keep away while the blackbirds are having their shower and then daintily help themselves to a sip here and a sip there. However, there is one sparrow who has observed the antics of the blackbirds and likes to try them for himself. He goes ker-flop! Into the water. Then, tentatively at first, tries to set up a fountain of his own. He succeeds, to the muted admiration of the others, who are not nearly so daring. He’s the king of the castle, don’t you think?

Anyway, I sat and watched the birds and thought, and disentangled some sort of plot . . . so, as of this minute another contract is now being prepared for my signature. And that will be another Bea Abbot. I’ll tell you more about it later.

Now, what is the next short story for me to attach to this latter? Um. Well, the next one in the series is called HARVEST HOME. My stories begin with something I’ve seen or heard about and this is no exception. Is it really up to me to deal with a member of the awkward squad? Can I avoid noticing that someone is in trouble? So this story is in memory of Fred, who loved a good singsong. Access it here.

Libraries. More emails in, saying how libraries are gradually opening up and extending hours everywhere even, it seems, except in our London Borough. I continue to put books I have read and loved out for people to take away, and now have some gaps on my shelves which I am beginning to fill up again as I pay another visit to our local bookshop. I used to be able to get some books from one of our local charity shops but they’ve not opened yet, so what I’d do without the bookshop, I do not know.

A blessing on all who keep an eye open for others who may be in trouble.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.154, July 15th 2020

I don’t usually have a problem remembering to take my pills. I don’t take many and it’s either done at breakfast or when I go to bed. But when I was advised to add Vitamin D tablets to my usual routine, there was a problem. The one-a-day lot was out of stock, and so I was given some stronger ones to take every other day. Fair enough. I decided that I would take them on the uneven days in the calendar. That way, I could hardly go wrong, could I? First, third, fifth, and so on.

I can hear you laughing from here. Yes. When it came to the end of the month, I was out of step. I couldn’t remember whether I should switch to even dates, or stay the same. No, I don’t have one of those clever boxes which you fill up once a week and they tell you what you take and when. So I ground my teeth a bit – not a habit my dentist likes me to develop – and considered the problem. It took me a while to work out what I could do, which was to put a ‘D’ with a red marker pen against every other day on the calendar. Now, if I can’t remember offhand whether it’s an ‘on’ or ‘off’ day I consult the calendar and follow what it says. I also write down whether it’s this Thursday for rubbish collection or for recycling. One of my neighbours often rings to ask which it is, so I’m not the only one who gets confused about dates.

I had to consult my filing system to discover which short story should be included in this newsletter. Again, we’re out of kilter with regard to the timing. The next in the series was set in Lent looking forward to Easter and featured the eternal question, ‘What do we tell the children about God?’ Is it best to leave it so that they can make up their own minds what to believe when they’re older? What sort of example do we set within the family? There are many answers to those questions. Our friends find one solution to the question almost by accident. Is their solution the best? Anyway, if you would like to read the story, here is the link to it. And if you’re desperate for something to read, you might like to have a look at some of the other short stories about my retired friends, which I put out as an ebook many years ago under the title of Unsung Heroes.

Libraries. I have emails from America, Australia and Tasmania telling me that their libraries have mostly reopened using some kind of Click and Collect system. There are variations on the theme with some requiring more sanitisation than others, but in the main readers are able to borrow books once more. The UK government has given the go-ahead for libraries here to re-open with care, and some have. I’m told that in Leeds, for instance, half the libraries are now functioning in limited fashion. Unfortunately – and here I have to refrain from screaming my disbelief – no libraries are open in Ealing, London. None. What’s more, our local library is being handed over to local management control and goodness only knows when we will have access to books again. Hence my putting my old books out for passers-by to grab and take home. However, our local bookshop has saved my sanity by reopening – with due care and attention to our health – and friends pass books around among ourselves.

A blessing on all who keep libraries open!

Veronica Heley

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