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

Newsletter no.166, January 15th, 2021

Great news! I was called up by Gloria at my doctor’s surgery who asked if I would like to have a vaccination. I said, ‘Yes, please!’ In a hurry. Some of my friends had had theirs already and I was wondering when my turn would come. This time it was to be done not at the Town Hall, but in a disused cinema in Southall which is some distance away. Quite an adventure, made easier by their sending a volunteer in a minibus for me.

Anyway, I arrived and took my place in the procession of over 80s, all with our sticks and walkers. Some had grown-up children looking after them. It was all very orderly. The nurse asked me date of birth and so on and so on. And then she said, ‘Are you pregnant?’ So yes, I laughed out loud. She said, ‘I have to check. Yesterday I asked someone and she said she didn’t know!’ So that’s done now. The second jab will be in 12 weeks’ time.

My ‘Corona Christmas’ story was duly published in the combined Christmas and New Year edition of the Methodist Recorder. They re-titled it as ‘What will Christmas mean to you this year?’ On the whole I prefer shorter titles, but yes, I think this change was for the better. We were worried about this story because I’d had to write it before we knew exactly what regime we’d be under by Christmastime. The rules kept changing as the days went by. Nearer the printing date, we did tweak the story here and I think we got it about right. If anyone would like to read this story and can’t get hold of it by the usual means, then let me know, and I’ll send you a copy free.

The next short story from the archives can be accessed here. It’s called ‘Accident and Emergency’ and no, it’s not about the virus! Kerry has an accident which causes him to be worried about his future, until his friends decide to help.

Meanwhile, I’ve been tackling the pile of paper on my printer. You know the one? Bills to be paid, letters to be answered, notes of books to be ordered, reminders to phone someone . . .? When the pile gets high enough to slip off onto my desk, I know it has to be dealt with. With much grinding of teeth, I get down to it. It takes me all morning, but at the end of that time, I can actually see the top of my printer. You and I both know that tomorrow another piece of paper will have arrived on site, to be joined very soon by others . . . until I have to stop work again to deal with them. But so far, so good.

Work continues on the next Abbot Agency book. People sometimes ask me if I know how a book is going to end, and I say I wouldn’t like to start a book without knowing who dunnit, and why and how . . . and how he or she is brought to justice. This time the character that I most dislike is, unfortunately, not the killer. I don’t want to be mean, but perhaps she’ll get her comeuppance in a different way. Now, how can I manage that?

A blessing on all those who open heavy shop doors to someone walking with difficulty and a stick!

Veronica Heley

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