Newsletter no.140, August 2019

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to work in this warm weather. I have fans upstairs and downstairs and go from one to the other. But, I am happy to report that my To Do pile has decreased considerably. In fact, there’s just the filing to be done now. ‘Just’ is not quite the right word, because that looks like a five coffee pile to me. But nevertheless, I do feel better for having got some of the business stuff out of the way.

I’ve also finished and sent off another short story. This is going to be published in the Methodist Recorder some time in August, but I don’t have the date yet. When I do, I’ll let you know. And yes, if anyone would like a copy, just drop me an email and I’ll send you one free after the publication date. This story is about a lost child who won’t or can’t speak. Can Bruce work out what’s happened? Ah, but he’s feeling really grumpy and he doesn’t know how to talk to children, anyway.

Also coming out in August is the next Ellie Quicke. This one is called MURDER FOR GOOD, and features another of my difficult-to-like-but-pitiful characters . . . Oh, and Diana, of course. At the end of this one, I almost feel sorry for Diana. Well, not quite, of course. She really is not a likeable woman, is she?

So now it’s back to work on the next Bea Abbot, which is coming on a treat. I suppose this story is really all about friendship and I’ve had to ask myself what makes a friend as opposed to an acquaintance?

How would you define ‘a friend?’ Some of my real-life friends and I have been debating this. Is it frequency of meeting? Is it even-handed so that each relies on the other to the same extent? Is it based on having similar interests? One of my friends said; ‘If you feed me, then you are my friend.’ (Fine, if you’re a cat!) And then, what about those people you’ve known for a long time but don’t see on a regular basis . . . do you drop into the same relationship when you meet again even after, perhaps, a year’s gap? In False Conclusion the fourteen-year old Bernice grudgingly begins to develop a relationship with a needy school friend who has a different agenda. Can it last? I don’t think I’ve ever had to think so much about true friendship.

May we have a good balance in our lives of work and play, of helping others and of accepting help for ourselves, of sunshine and sorrow. But in all things may we look forward with confidence to what is to come.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.139, July 2019

We’re half way through the year already. Everything’s blooming in the garden but my desk is piled high with a To Do pile. I neglected my paperwork while I was struggling to the end of the first draft of the next book. When I finally got there, I felt like celebrating. Oh, that wonderful moment when I’ve given the baddy or baddies their comeuppance and my characters reach calmer waters and are able to look forward to the future with confidence!

So now I have to deal with the To Do pile. Do you have one of those hanging around? Sometimes I can steal ten minutes here and there to tackle this or that. Usually I manage to pay the bills straight away, but entering details in my account book takes longer, and making sure that all the different editions of my books are put on different websites is something I have to feel very strong to deal with. Every book, every audiobook, every short story, has a lo-o-ng reference number. Sometimes these have been written in groups of three figures at a time. I can read those with ease. But if they come out like this . . . 12345678901213, then I get cross-eyed . . . and cross!

Speaking of short stories, I have been asked to produce another one with a summery theme. Feeling gloomy as I considered the rain bouncing around on the road outside, I enquired if they meant a grey, overcast, rainy day, or did they required some sunshine. They opted for sunshine. So we’ll see what I can manage to think up.

Meantime my To Do list throws up a reminder that some years ago I turned some short stories into an e-book, and put it out independently. It hasn’t done particularly well, because I didn’t do anything to promote it. I was wondering if I might produce another one some time – there are certainly more than enough to fill a paperback, but I’m not sure it’s worth it. Have you any advice on this? These are stories originally written for the Methodist Recorder so they have a Christian background. There are a few Ellies there, and then I moved on to the characters I’m still writing about nowadays. Unsung Heroes is the title of the first book. As it turned out, that was a poor choice as there are many other books around with the same title. However . . . I’m stuck with it now.

I’ve had quite a bit of feedback about using words which seem to have fallen out of fashion, such as ‘puce.’ I am much encouraged, and will try to hold my nerve and fight for these rarities in future. So what words ought I to try next? I came up with ‘stultifying’ this morning. In context it’s understandable. Will it make it through the second draft? To be continued . . .

May we have a good balance of sun and rain in our lives as in our gardens. Remember we need both for growth.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.138, June 2019

At this time of the year the spring flowering shrubs and bulbs have finished their display for the year and need to be cut back, trimmed, tidied neatly or whatever. Now we moved into this house fifty years ago when there were a couple of old roses in the garden, plus a lot – and I mean a LOT – of horse chestnut and lime seedlings, some of which had grown to the height of the house. Now it’s not a big garden, and the amount of sun which actually reached the ground through the leaves of the trees was minimal, so the trees had to go.

Then we planted this and that . . . and most of the things we planted then have had to be cut back drastically this year so that we can see the sun again. I do now have more room to plant things . . . which will grow and grow until . . . you get the picture? But that’s gardening for you.

The proofs of MURDER FOR GOOD arrived just as I was galloping on with the first draft of the next Bea Abbot. It’s always difficult switching stories, as my peculiar brain keeps on producing bits of conversations which are happening in one story while I’m trying to work out what’s wrong with a sentence in the other.

Also, as I get older, I find that some words which I’ve been accustomed to hearing or reading, have gone out of fashion. I deplore some of these losses. (I still can’t get used to hearing the word ‘wicked’ used as a description for something amusingly naughty.) This time I was pulled up by my use of the word ‘puce’ to describe someone’s colour when he looks as if he’s going to have a heart attack. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard the word for many, many years, and my editor didn’t know it, either. So what do we substitute for it? Scarlet? Too bright a colour. A greyish-pink? I’ve used the word ‘grey’ elsewhere in that paragraph. We settled on crimson, which will be all right, sort of. But not as good as puce, which my dictionary says is a brownish-purple.

I’ve just heard that the hardback of Murder for Good will be out on August 30th in the UK, earlier than I had expected. The e-book will be two months later on October 2nd. If I’ve counted on my fingers correctly, this means the hardback will be available in the USA at the end of November . . . by which time I should have delivered the mss of the next Abbot Agency book. Sometimes I think I’m on some sort of merry-go-round. . .

May a good balance of sun and rain in June make our gardens grow and delight our eyes and our hearts.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.137 May 2019

The big news this month is that the first of the Harlequin Book Club titles is now out in the wide world – mostly in America, I assume. It’s called FALSE ALARM and is the one in which Bea ruins her beautiful boots by going up and down a cast iron staircase. You may not think this is a tragedy, but I can still, sixty years on, remember my grief when our puppy savaged my new, very first pair of open-toed, sling back shoes. They were brown, decorated with a rosette in the same soft material, and I loved them dearly. Ah well.

The Easter short story was called ‘Chocolate Soup,’ and seems to have gone down well with readers. Sally, who has never thought much of herself, accepts a commission from a man in a wheelchair to give away some flowers and finds the task more difficult to fulfil than she’d expected. Let me know if you can’t get hold of a copy and I’ll email one to you, free.

The paperback is now out for MURDER FOR NOTHING, which is an Ellie Quicke, and has a pretty, spoilt, young girl begging for a room and getting up to no good at all. And then, true to her nature, she refuses to take responsibility to what she’d done. That’s from Severn House, as usual.

I have been getting on fine with the first draft of the next Bea Abbot, which is called FALSE CONCLUSION. Over the years I have thought a lot about the damage that can be done to children by persistent denigration. It’s called mental abuse and I’ve known several women whose lives have been warped by being put down by their parents. Usually – and probably because they, too, were brought up that way – it’s been the father who has systematically destroyed the daughter’s sense of self-worth. It’s more insidious than a straight forward murder, but perhaps it should be dealt with in the same way in the courts? I see there’s been a couple of cases recently where the defence has been mental abuse, and I await with interest to see how they turn out.

However, as soon as I got well into the first draft of the next Bea Abbot, the copy edit for MURDER FOR GOOD finally arrived on my doorstep. And here I must send a big ‘thank you’ to my editor for letting me have a hard copy in a slightly larger print size so that I can read it more easily – and also for finding me a copy editor who seems to like what I write. A double ‘thank you’. I’m nearly at the end of the copy editing and must say it’s been almost enjoyable this time. I have also been sent a draft of the cover and, hurray! It’s exactly what I thought it should for this very domestic drama. There’s a traditional meat pie with a piece cut out of it, plus a big sharp knife and some flames in the background. Excellent. I hope you will like it, too, when the book comes out in October.

May the longer, warmer days help you to get out and about, to keep in contact with old friends, and perhaps to make some new ones, too.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.136 April 2019

So here comes April 1st, and I am not writing to you on a Fool’s errand but because I like to keep in touch with you. I love receiving your emails and try to reply to each one within a couple of days of receiving them. Cards, too. Not many people send postcards nowadays and you can’t blame them, because the cost of postage is so high. However, I do like to keep the latest ones around for a while before they go for re-cycling at church. Re-using the cards means we can sell them for a really low price and this helps offset the cost of the stamp. Last year Margaret at our church made one thousand Christmas cards and sold the lot!

The next short story is called ‘Chocolate Soup’ and is due to go out in the Easter edition. In this episode, Sally finds herself lumbered with a difficult task by a man in a wheelchair. Her subsequent adventures leave her limp and bruised, but she completes her mission in a way which I think will please most people. If you can’t get hold of a copy and would like to read the story, then let me know and I will email you one, free, AFTER Easter.

MURDER FOR GOOD, the 20th Ellie Quicke, was accepted by Severn House as soon as I sent it in and now I await, with some trepidation, all the queries from the copy editor who will want me to clarify this and correct that. He/she will point out typos here and there. He/she will red pencil my occasional misuses of grammar . . . misuses which are intentional on my part because people don’t always speak grammatically. And so on. Depending on whether or not I get a sympathetically inclined editor, it will take me anything from four days to two weeks to make the corrections. Also, being of a certain age, I use words and sayings which I’ve heard from childhood which are appropriate to the person concerned. Some younger editors don’t know these and think I’m writing nonsense but older people still use these phrases in speech, so I hope to go on using them myself.

Severn House and I have already agreed the blurb, and are talking about what might go on the cover. Now, I don’t get too excited about this, because the author has no rights in this matter; only the publisher can decide what they will use. But now and then they ask my opinion, and of course I’m full of ideas. This time it’s definitely a Domestic Drama so I’m going for something in the cookery line. I’ll let you know what happens next.

Meanwhile Harlequin Book Club has released the first of the Bea Abbot titles they’ve taken. This one is FALSE ALARM. Will this new readership like it? I do hope so, because there’s another title scheduled to come out with them later this year. More news: there’s now a large print version available in hardback of MURDER FOR NOTHING.

I’ve started to write the next Bea Abbot, which is called FALSE CONCLUSION. I’m enjoying this one. Young Bernice, Bea’s ward, is growing up ‘sassy’ and stubborn, but showing signs of having a heart . . . somewhere . . . but not on view!

May the longer days bring sunshine and hope to you, wherever you are.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.135 March 2019

A neighbour of mine has dug up his front garden, put down ground cover of small pebbles and placed a dozen pots containing different varieties of evergreens on it. The result is most pleasing. He explains that he doesn’t know anything about flowers because he used to have an allotment where he only grew vegetables. Now confined to a tiny front garden he still grows tomatoes, runner beans and salad stuffs. On my afternoon walks I observe that more and more elderly people are paving over their front lawns. Some have gone so far as to concrete the space to allow them to park their cars off the road. When we first moved here there were hardly any cars parked here, but now they are bumper to bumper on both sides of the road. Loft conversions are everywhere. Have you observed many changes in your neighbourhood over the years?

I’ve managed to sort out the plot for an Easter short story. It’s in a lighter vein than some of my previous ones, but it does carry a message which I hope people will recognise. I’ll tell you more about that later.

I have finally got through to the end of MURDER FOR GOOD. There is the main plot, and a couple of sub-plots and somehow it all comes right in the end. On reflection, I think that taking nine months instead of six to write this book was a mistake. I dropped work on it for the month of December because I knew I had plenty of time to deliver and I had to come up with three Christmas stories. But then I couldn’t get back into the rhythm of the work. I procrastinated. I went out for coffee with friends, and enjoyed myself very much indeed. In short, I then had to struggle to get back into the swing of writing. I think I went through it five drafts in all. Every time I altered something – even by so much as a comma – I had to go back and check for mistakes and typos, and I’ll bet the copy editor will still find some more!

Now I have to think up a plot for the next Bea Abbot. I’m pretty sure that the title will be FALSE CONCLUSION and I do know the story deals with the attempts of a dysfunctional family to keep the money in their own hands. I could write that plot about a small manufacturing business or a shop, or even about the ownership of a three-bedroom house in suburbia, but I hope you agree with me that it’s so much more fun to write about wealthy, glamorous creatures in marble mansions . . . not that my home life is anything like that!

Meanwhile there’s some nice reviews come in for FALSE ACCOUNT, which came out at the end of the year. Publishers Weekly write: ‘Those who enjoy seeing arrogant rich people get their comeuppance will be satisfied.’ And Booklist says: ‘A good choice for fans of the British cozy, especially those with an Agatha Christie feel, combining gentle humour, an intrepid heroine, and an unusual plot with quirky twists.’ So far, so good.

May the flowers that bloom in the spring lift your hearts with their beauty.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.134 February 2019

Brrr! It is really cold here in London, UK. A friend has just returned from South Africa with an amazing tan, saying it was 80 degrees there all the time. Ah well. The garden will recover in due course, and I must admit I take great pleasure in having geraniums flower indoors all year round, while the blue iris (unguicularis) continues to delight in its bed against the wall outside.

The Christmas short story was hardly out before the Recorder gave me a date for an Easter story, required by the end of March. Fine, but what is it to be about? Usually, as I polish off one story, another plot is edging its way into my mind. This time, not so . . . except something about chocolate and daffodils keeps popping up. Could that be the beginnings of a plot? Or, should I write a ‘follow on’ story from something I’ve done before? Is there anything special about this Easter that sets me thinking?

I’m often asked what I do when I need another plot, either for a short story or for a full length book. I have two methods of dealing with the situation. The first is that I lie on my bed with a rug over my knees, and spend some time thinking of nothing at all . . . and then send up an arrow prayer or two . . . and perhaps doze off for a bit, and then, a possible idea creeps into the back of my mind. It might not work out. But if it does, I get up and do some housework or gardening, and see if the seed develops into something which might eventually become a workable plot.

The other method involves a visit to Bruges, when I sit on a particular bench which has a magnificent view, with a notebook on my knee . . . and think of nothing much except how lucky I am to be there, what a beautiful day it is . . . and pray a little. Then I jot down some random ideas. Perhaps something I’ve read in the newspapers comes to mind, or an anecdote I’ve heard. It might be something I’ve read in the papers, or a story told me by a friend. I add possible names of characters who might fit the storyline. (Names are important. Sometimes I start off naming a character Betty or Brenda, only to discover that she’s really called Bryony)

Because I write two series with the background of my main characters already set in my mind, I then consider how the storyline might affect them, and in what way. Next, should there be a subplot, or not? Recently I had to reconsider how to categorise my books, and came up with ‘Mature woman solves family crises and murders.’ Do you think that’s about right? Should I add, ‘with a light touch?’

The most recent Bea Abbot story, FALSE ACCOUNT, came out at the end of the year. My son-in-law’s comment was that he was glad I’d allowed the third of the cats in the book to live. I’d named that particular cat Pippin after his own mischievous black kitten, so you can see why he was so concerned. I dread to think how he’d have reacted if the Pippin in the book had died!

May you always have someone you can talk to, face to face, by telephone or email. But don’t wait for them to contact you first!

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.133 January 2019

A happy New Year to you all. I hope you’ve had a good Christmas. I certainly did, but now I’m looking forward to the bulbs I’ve planted coming into flower, to the lengthening of the days, and to getting back to work.

I had some fascinating replies to my diatribe about people calling older women by pet names. Some people like it, some don’t. There are regional differences, too. I do understand that some people mean to be friendly when they use pet names and that we shouldn’t take it amiss, but others have agreed with me in feeling slightly miffed at the lack of respect when we are addressed inappropriately. All I can say is, Ah well! It takes all sorts.

Work on the next Ellie continues, now that I’ve despatched all my Christmas stories. The one in the Methodist Recorder came out in their combined Christmas and New Year edition. It’s called, ‘Not Everyone’s Happy at Christmas’. If you’d like a copy and haven’t got one already, email me and I’ll send it to you, free. I wrote two others; one to read at the Christmas Concert of our ladies’ choir, and one for the joyful Christmas Day service. They had to be short. We always keep the Christmas Day service short. But they seem to have gone down all right.

On 28th December, the next Bea Abbot story was published. This was FALSE ACCOUNT, in which Bea gets involved in the tangled web of the wealthy but dysfunctional Tredgold family, whose matriarch wants the death of her cats to be investigated! Yes, there is a black cat on the cover and no, it’s not one of Mrs Tredgold’s , but a cameo appearance by Bea’s own charming but wilful cat, Winston. The cover also includes a picture of a model train set, which does make an appearance in the story. I hope you like both the cover and the story.

On a serious note, an old friend sent me a poem about the choices we can make on facing the new year, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. In the poem the writer has no idea of what lies before him, but is given a choice of futures . . . ‘One was bright, sunlit and happy, with no harm or pain. The other was dark, with hate and spite, sickness and death, where hope seemed all in vain.’ He chose the second but asked that he might retain the joy and light he saw in the first, because it would be his task to change the dark to light in the New Year. (Adapted from a poem by Paul H Scott.)

I hope I shall be as brave as he, as we go into 2019.

A happy, prosperous and pain-free New Year to everyone!

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.132 December 2018

It’s a question of etiquette – not that we talk about etiquette nowadays, but I don’t know what else to call it. Good manners, perhaps? It goes like this; you ask for something in a shop, or attend a clinic for a check-up, and the butcher or the nurse says ‘That’s all right, darling!’ Or ‘My pet,’ or Sweetie-pie,’ or some other term of endearment. It gets my back up, and I say, with as much of a glare as I can manage, ‘I am not your darling, your pet cat or your sweetie-pie!’ I think it’s a matter of respect. Perhaps you disagree? Perhaps you think it doesn’t matter in an era of Free Speech?

Well, here’s a twist on the above. Recently I spent a few days on holiday in Bruges. One of my favourite restaurants has recently been sold to a young couple who are trying very hard indeed – and mostly succeeding – to live up to the standards set by their predecessors. Naturally I asked how they’d been doing, and they told me, and when the husband brought me my plate of excellent food, he said, ‘There you are, dear!’

Now, how do I feel about that? No, I didn’t spit in his face. I didn’t say, ‘Call me Madam!’ But I did feel slightly put out. I’m old enough to be his grandmother, and I realise he appreciates my interest in how he’s doing, but . . . well, what do you think?

About breaking down doors, which I flagged up in my last newsletter. Ellie managed it once, but not the second time she found herself on the wrong side of a locked door. I feel one should be realistic about what a sixty-ish lady who is not in the peak of training can manage to do. It seems best to have someone rescue her second time round. Yes, that seems to work all right.

I had to come up with not one but two short stories for Christmas. Usually I get an idea and think about it, and say to myself, ‘What if . . .?’ and turn it over and over in my mind till I get the kinks sorted out. Then I write it and cut it down to size and re-write, etc., maybe four or five times until it’s due. This time I hit a problem. Perhaps it was because I had to deal with two story-lines at once, but though I wrote and re-wrote, I wasn’t satisfied with either. Eventually I decided to put aside one till I’d finished the other and I asked the Recorder if I could focus on New Year rather than Christmas. This story actually starts with Sally taking down the Christmas decorations and ends in the New Year, looking forward to the future. I think that will work. It’s called ‘Not Everyone’s Happy at Christmas’, and will be out in the combined Christmas/New Year edition of the Methodist Recorder. If you can’t get a copy in the usual way, send me an email and I’ll send you a copy, free.

And the other story? I ditched the first story-line, thought up another, and I’ll be reading that one out at our choir’s Christmas concert in mid-December. Sometimes these things come easily. These two didn’t. But I think they’ll pass muster.

A blessing: In all the hustle and bustle that goes on before the Day, may you never lose sight of the real meaning of Christmas.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.131 November 2018

Do you know how to break down a door? I don’t! Ellie Quicke doesn’t know how to do it, either, but it’s become necessary for her to try in the story I‘m currently roughing out. I imagined her taking a hammer and chisel to it, so checked with my friend the builder if this was feasible. He told me how he’d open a locked door, himself. It seemed to take a long time but he said that neither the door nor the frame was damaged if he did it his way, and everything could be put back together again. I explained that Ellie has neither the time nor the expertise to do it like that, and had another think. I know that in books men are always breaking through doors with a well-placed kick. In my story Ellie looked at her open-toed sandals and decided that wasn’t going to work for her. I’m not sure how she’ll manage to get through the door in the end, but rest assured that she will. Somehow.

The proof reading of the next Bea Abbot, FALSE ACCOUNT, has duly been laid o rest and the book is due to come out at the end of the year. They have given me a good cover showing a model train and yes, of course, a black cat looking down on it. I really do like this cover. It brings back fond memories of playing with a model train set when my daughter was young. She preferred trains to dolls.

The short story duly came out in the Methodist Recorder. It’s called ‘It’s Not My Problem!’ Bruce, who’s still suffering from the effects of being mugged by a group of youths, is asked to counsel a lad who’s bent on revenging himself for a similar encounter. When Jimson turns up, he’s hooked into his music and apparently not listening to anything Bruce says. Then he produces a wicked-looking knife . . . and who is going to listen to advice from whom? If you’d like a copy and can’t get it in the ordinary way, let me know, and I’ll email it to you for free.

Do you remember FALSE FIRE? One of my favourite Bea Abbot stories. There is now a paperback out, and also a large print version. Also, the audiobook of MURDER FOR NOTHING has now appeared on my doorstep. The courier produced some sort of gadget on which I was supposed to inscribe my signature, but alas, I didn’t press hard enough and the result was unacceptable. However, we agreed that as he’d actually delivered the package into my hand, he didn’t need a signature as well. I will never catch up on all this technology!

A blessing; may you find pleasure in even the smallest of things; a good cup of tea, the smile of a friend met in the street, a card or phone call from someone you haven’t seen in a while.

Veronica Heley