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

Newsletter no.143, November 2019

Congratulations are called for since Severn House have accepted the next Bea Abbot story – FALSE CONCLUSION – and said some nice things about it. They have suggested a cover which I like very much and the book will be published next March in the UK and three months later in the USA, etc. So now I can relax for a couple of weeks until the line edits come through. As you know, these have to be dealt with quickly, or it puts the proof reading back . . . and that puts the production date back and . . . I’m sure you get the picture. But for the moment I can bask in the kind words of my editor, while turning my thoughts to . . . Well, actually, I am having a short rest before I turn my mind to . . .

The Christmas story for the Methodist Recorder. I don’t have to put it in till the end of this month or possibly even the start of December, but as you know I like to take my time and think every little plot point through before I send it in, on the basis that if I make a mistake, it’s likely to make it through to the printed page. So, CHRISTMAS MISLAID is coming along a treat, and yes, the broken, unsalable Christmas tree which my nearest and dearest have christened ‘Percy’ has been included in the story. When will this tale see the light of day? I’m not sure yet. I’ll let you know when I hear.

At some point I will have to start thinking about the next Ellie Quicke story. For some time now I’ve been wondering if I’d seen the last of her and her dreadful, grasping daughter, Diana. And yet . . . and yet . . . there was a tickle at the back of my imagination (if you’ll pardon the description) about Diana’s husband and the way he was carrying on. So I began to think about this and that.

Where, in fact, do stories come from? I don’t know about other writers, but I pick up a stray thought here and an odd comment there and see what happens next. It’s rather like making a jigsaw. I think about the people I’ve already written about and their circumstances. Then a small idea floats into the back of my mind as to what might happen to them if . . . Then, there’s a nice piece of action here, and perhaps there’s a conflict of interests there . . . and before you know it, a story begins to come together. Perhaps it will work, perhaps it won’t. The only thing I am sure about is that I am getting a trifle tired and will have to work less hours in future than I have been doing.

An odd thing was reported by one of my faithful readers. Many years ago I needed information about killer-type dogs, and my friend obliged. She herself is into Golden Labradors but she knew all about the other breeds and I used what she told me in MURDER IN THE PARK, No. 9 in the Ellie Quicke series. This came out in 2007, went into paperback and large print – and now has dropped out of the list of titles available. I didn’t realise it had gone out of print and now my agent is negotiating to see if we can bring it back as an e-book. Thanks to Gill for pointing this out.

May you only remember the good points about your friends and overlook the occasional irritations . . . hoping they will do the same for you.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.142, October 2019

I have come to the end of the next Bea Abbot story, which I’ve called FALSE CONCLUSION. At least, I think I have finished it. I’ve stopped waking up in the night and thinking, ‘That bit’s wrong!’ and ‘You meant to add a bit there, didn’t you?’ And so I sent it off to my editor with fingers and toes crossed. I think it’s a good story, but I’m really too close to it to judge. I check my emails a dozen times a day, hoping to hear that she likes it and it doesn’t need too much work to be publishable. Only when that happens can I breathe a huge sigh of relief and think about the next story . . . that is, until the copy edits arrive for FALSE CONCLUSION, demanding to be attended to Now! This Minute!

Before that happens maybe I should give some thought to the next Christmas story. Yes, that’s a horrible thought, isn’t it? Christmas, in October? I know what the title is – CHRISTMAS MISLAID. So far so good. But for the rest? I haven’t a clue.

Away on holiday with family, I asked for their ideas for this Christmas story. And they started talking about a broken, discarded Christmas tree which they named ‘Percy’. Or maybe it is ‘Pursey?’ I’m afraid we couldn’t agree on the spelling or even why he appears in the story. Will Percy make it to publication? ‘Watch this space!’ as they say in the adverts.

People have been writing to me to say they’ve been into the library to order copies of the latest Ellie Quicke book, published at the end of August. Every year the figures drop for hardback with the closure of libraries, but e-book sales seem to be holding up. This story – MURDER FOR GOOD – is one I rather like because it could happen. It’s the one in which Ellie’s husband receives some bequests from people he hardly knows, and Ellie tries unavailingly to get an unwelcome guest out of the house. And it’s about Diana, of course. Someone asked me once why I didn’t get rid of the wretched woman and I said I couldn’t do that because everyone, including me, loves to hate her!

And, as it happens, the first review of MURDER FOR GOOD is now in, from Booklist. It says . . . ‘Entertaining, quirky, madcap and heart warming, this is a good choice for fans of traditional mysteries.’ Hurray!

My musings on what makes a friend continue. Recently I concluded that a friend is someone you rejoice with in good times, and sympathise with in bad. I wanted to qualify that by saying that you should rejoice without envy and offer practical help as well as sympathy in bad times. I’m not sure about that. What do you think?

May you remember with pleasure the good things that have happened in your life and let the mistakes and hurts fade into the past.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.141, September 2019

First the good news: the short story which I titled ‘Lost Child!’ came out on August 16th. I send a copy out to a short list of people who can’t get it in the usual way and have had emails back saying how much they enjoyed it. Someone said it was both touching and funny. (Hurray!)

If anyone else is unable to get a copy and would like to read it, let me know, and I’ll email you a copy for free. This is the story in which Bruce hates the very thought of having to help man the HQ tent at the local big event in the park and ends up having to do some detective work to find the parents of a lost child who can’t, or won’t speak. A story for high summer about taking part in a community event where things do occasionally go wrong.

The 20th Ellie Quicke book came out at the end of August. It’s called MURDER FOR GOOD and on the cover there’s a steaming hot meat pie which has been cut into and a large knife. And no bloodstains. I suppose you might call it a domestic or ‘in house’ drama since it’s about Ellie’s husband receiving not one or two, but six bequests from people he hardly knew. This upsets him a lot. Oh, and Ellie is trying unsuccessfully to rid of a guest who wants to be her housekeeper and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. It’s also about Diana’s latest problem. Of course. Whatever will she do next? (No, don’t answer that; I have no difficulty working that out!)

Also out at the end of August were the paperback and large print versions of the Bea Abbot tale, titled FALSE PRIDE. This is the one in which Magda Summerleys, who is acting as housekeeper to a reclusive art critic, discovers he’s disappeared just as he’s about to be painted by Bea’s ex-husband, leaving Piers suffering from concussion and Magda holding a fortune in family jewels and with no idea what to do – except to ask for Bea’s help.

Two more bits of good news; Soundings, the Audiobook people want to take on another Ellie Quicke – this one is to be Murder by Suggestion, and the Harlequin Book Club are taking another in the Bea Abbot series – this time it’s False Impression.

I’m well on the way now with the next Bea Abbot, which is the one about different forms of friendship. I’ve had some lovely emails from you saying what it means to you. I do appreciate hearing from you when you like something I’ve written. Recently there’s been a couple of people who’ve come across the book of short stories titled UNSUNG HEROES (e-book) and said how much you’ve enjoyed them. Such emails do perk me up nicely! And so, back to work . . .

May we have time to enjoy and thank God for all the good things of summer before the nights start to draw in and we look out our winter clothes.

Veronica Heley

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