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

Newsletter no.130 October 2018

I was getting on nicely with the next Ellie story when the copy editing for FALSE ACCOUNT arrived. Late. One copy was put in the post to me but didn’t materialise till we were all flapping around in a panic because of its non-arrival, only to reach me at the same time as a second copy which had hurriedly been run off by the publisher for me. That put us behind schedule a good few days. I was warned that I had been allocated a copy editor new to me, who was very ‘thorough.’ Normally it takes me a week to deal with the typos, misunderstandings and queries that arise when a second and third person looks at my stories. This time it took . . . a fortnight. Um. Yes. This copy editor thought she could improve on my style which may be faulty, but it is the way I write. So a great number of her suggested changes were, in my opinion, unnecessary and had to be marked as such. I don’t think I’ve ever written ‘stet’ so many times in my life before. To be fair, she had picked up a number of things which needed more explanation.

My biggest problem in writing this book is how to write about an acid attack. (It’s all right! Nobody gets hurt!) No, my problem was how much to reveal about the product containing the nastiest of acids, which is readily available. You will probably have noticed that I never give too much detail about how to commit a crime, even though I have had to bone up on it myself beforehand. In this case, I consulted a man whose company does contract cleaning, my own wonderful cleaner, and the internet. Now that sounds all right, doesn’t it? But, as soon as I started to research acid attacks on my computer, the sites closed down on me. I think that’s reassuring. If annoying from a writer’s point of view.

I have had yet another nice review in for MURDER BY SUGGESTION. This is from Booklist, and it says: ‘It’s another madcap murder mystery . . . a British cozy on speed, Heley’s latest is frenetic, action-packed, and clever – all that, and the redoubtable supersleuth Ellie Quicke cavorting in high style.’ Isn’t that nice?

Finally the Methodist Recorder arranged for my next short story to be published on September 14th. It’s called ‘It’s not my problem!’ Bruce, who’s still suffering from the effects of a mugging by a group of youths, is asked to counsel a local 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. And then he produces a wicked-looking knife . . . and who is going to listen to who? 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.

And now back to work on MURDER FOR GOOD, which is the twentieth Ellie Quicke. It’s going quite well, but Oh my goodness! What a number of deaths we do have here!

A blessing; may the autumn television schedules bring you some good light entertainment to balance the stresses of life today.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.129 September 2018

First of all I want to thank everyone who wrote to me saying that Ellie shouldn’t retire yet. My editor and my agent agree, and I am carrying on writing the next book as planned. I am a trifle disconcerted to find how many deaths I have planned to include in this story, and frankly shocked to find what Diana is up to this time. But it’s pleasant to feel that I can relax and take longer to write this story. Doing one every six months is really hard work. All my friends are retired by now and every now and then one will ask me to join her for a day out and I have to make my apologies because I am on a deadline. I still feel anxious if I take time off, but I’m sure I shall soon adjust to having more time at my disposal.

Now, to other matters. The re-burial of half a pigeon was successful, and the fox failed to dig it up again. Every now and then I go round the garden and look at the high fence on one side, and the trellis on the other, and wonder how on earth the fox manages to get into my garden at all. But he does! Occasionally I look out of the window in broad daylight, and there he is, bold as brass! Urban foxes have nothing to fear from us law-abiding citizens.

An oddity: When I visited Yorkshire recently, I was invited to partake of some Wensleydale cheese. It is a mild, hard cheese. I tried it with some fruit cake, because I’d heard the combination was rather good . . . and found it to be scrumptious! Now my website manager says that his favourite is Marmite and honey on bread. I’m not a Marmite fan, and don’t think I’ll try that. Whatever next, I ask myself?

There have been hiccups with my computer – oh dear – I lost another week’s work, but hopefully all is back on track again. And meanwhile I’ve had a nice review in from Publishers Weekly for MURDER BY SUGGESTION, which came out at the end of June, saying that ‘Once again, Heley successfully melds a cozy sensibility with dark doings.’ So let’s hope everyone else likes it, too.

Any day now I should be getting the copy editing of the last Bea Abbot book which I submitted to Severn House. This means I shall have to stop work on Ellie to deal with that. I’m happy enough with the storyline, and hope it won’t take me too long to iron out the queries and correct the errors in the manuscript, so that I can get back to Ellie again.

I’m not sure when the second short story about forgiveness is coming out. I’ll flag it up as soon as I hear. I believe the Methodist Recorder is moving offices . . . enough said!

A blessing; may your days be filled with blessings . . . pass them to others, and they will be returned to you sevenfold.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.128 August 2018

The milk delivery is fine for the moment, hurray! But, I drew back the curtains a couple of days ago, to see a mess of feathers in the middle of the lawn, and half a dead pigeon neatly laid out to one side. Yes, half! I thought this must be the work of a fox and that he’d return sharpish to collect his prey. But no; it was still there the following day. My wonderful cleaner told me to go indoors and she’d deal with it. She dug a deep hole in a flower border, wrapped the body in newspaper, and interred it. Job done. I was so grateful. The next morning I drew back the curtain . . . and saw a tooth-marked but still intact newspaper parcel on the lawn, and a gaping hole in the border. Yes. This time I had to see to the burial myself. When I’d finished, I dragged a heavy bucket to cover the spot as a gravestone. This morning all was as it should be. Now all we need is some rain to hasten decomposition.

And oh yes, do we need some rain! We’ve had one evening of showers, and a slight shower one afternoon and that’s that. I’ve had to leave the annuals to die, and concentrated on watering the runner beans in pots . . . and now I have another battle I have to report. Blackfly! But I must admit that what runner beans have managed to set, have been delicious.

PS. Today at long last it is raining. This is bad timing, I have a Garden Shed party to go to!

Back to work. I sent in the manuscript of the next Bea story, and my editor likes it, hurray! Even before I start on the line editing, she wanted to know what I envisaged for the cover. I said that a model railway engine being looked at by a cat would be good. She has her own ideas, of course, so now I have to wait to see what turns up. I’ve also had the proof sent through to me of the cover for the audiobook of Murder for Nothing. They have a different style from that of Severn House, but it’s always thoughtful and I like their idea for this cover.

Meanwhile, I’m still struggling along with the second short story about forgiveness. The hint of an idea I had at first does seem to be working out, and I am in the process of fiddling around with this and that . . . and waiting to hear when I have to send it in.

And now, incredibly, I am on to the twentieth Ellie Quicke story! I can hardly believe it. The first story was published in 2001, and I’ve been writing at least one a year ever since. Ellie started out as a new widow of fifty, and a lot has happened to her since then, including remarriage and the birth of two more grandchildren. Should I call it a day with her, or should I keep on keeping on? The idea for the current story seems to be working out all right, and it’s a subject matter which keeps cropping up in the newspapers, but shouldn’t Ellie retire from solving murders at some point? She would never have described herself as a hunter, although that in fact is what she is. But there’s still her greedy daughter, Diana, to deal with . . . and shouldn’t Ellie and Thomas downsize from that white elephant of a house? I’d welcome some feedback on this.

A blessing; may you always think of life as a cup that is half full … and not half empty.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.127 July 2018

Hush! Don’t tell anyone, but I think I’ve solved the milk delivery problem. Stephen came back from holiday, the empties were removed and a fresh bottle of milk was hidden in my waste food container each time! Hurray! And then . . . the other morning I picked up the bottle of milk, which slid through my hands and fell on the floor. You know how difficult it is sometimes to ease the cap off the bottle? This time it came away with ease and allowed milk to spread all over the porch floor. Aaargh! And I’d put the washing machine on, and it was beeping at me . . . breakfast was a little late that day.

On a happier note . . . I have been away, returning to my favourite holiday spot, Bruges, once again. Now I know it’s ridiculous to expect time to stand still, but I must confess to feeling upset when I discovered that my favourite family-run restaurant had been sold to a neighbouring business A combination of problems has caused the sale; the family has been running the place for thirty-five years and the mother wants to retire, while neither of her two sons wishes to take the place on. Their reasons are understandable; health is one factor and high taxes another. And the long hours . . . but oh dear, I shall miss them. Apart from this, I had a high old time, bought some more clothes, and some chocolate (of course) and visited a fabulous exhibition on the beginnings of printed books. Now that was really something!

Now I’m back, and have run through the next Bea Abbot book, weeding out unnecessary words, re-writing awkward sentences, and inventing a name for yet another cat, who makes an appearance in the final chapters of the story. And speaking of cats, my publishers have asked me to think up six or seven words which describe my stories. This is for the internet, so that anyone wanting to read a story which contains one or more of these elements, can find me. Well, it’s not easy to get it down to six or seven words. No. See me wrinkling my brow and trying out lists of words . . . and then crossing them all out. My final list was; Older woman, crime, family, community, humour . . . and cats. What do you think? Have I got it more or less right? Have I missed out something important?

Now, some good news. The next Ellie, which I think is the nineteenth in the series, will be published as this newsletter goes out. It’s called MURDER BY SUGGESTION and starts when some neglected wives see a poster about a Murder Weekend and amuse themselves suggesting ways to kill their husbands . . . until one of them dies in precisely the way suggested by Ellie’s daughter Diana. The men all throw their wives out and they land up in Ellie’s hall in considerable distress! It will take three months to get the books physically to America, and on that date the ebook will be out, too.

Also, the paperback of MURDER IN STYLE is now out. That’s the one in which a fashion boutique plays a large part in the lives of two sisters – one of whom is found dead in suspicious circumstances.

Finally, may the roses of summer remind you by their beauty and fragrance, of the breadth and depth of God’s love for us.
Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.126 June 2018

I think we’ve cracked the problem of the stolen milk! A friend who lives across the road from me has never had her milk stolen. Neither have any other of my neighbours. My friends point out that because I live on a corner site opposite gates into our local park, my milk can be seen by a lot of people. I have tried suggesting that it’s hidden in the foliage nearby, but there’s not enough greenery to hide it successfully. So, one of my neighbours said, ‘Why don’t you hide it in your waste food container?

This is a box with a lid which is given to every householder, which is emptied by the council once a week. Now I don’t have much food waste, as almost everything I don’t eat is either given to the birds, or composted. I do put out chicken bones now and then, but that’s about it. So my food box is not in regular use. So far, so good. I’ve put the box out three times this week and so far . . . touch wood . . . the next morning I have found a fresh bottle of milk ready for me to use at breakfast time.

Yesterday I found no milk had been left! Again! I phoned the dairy and remonstrated in what I believe to be a restrained manner. Today I found a fresh bottle on the doorstep with a note saying, ‘Sorry, Stephen’s on holiday!’ Yes. Well. And today, there’s a bottle of milk put down beside the box, but the empties have not been taken. My rescue plan is flawed!

So, how am I getting on with the next book, which is a Bea Abbot story? I did finally struggle through to the end of the first draft and am now working through it, second time round. I rather like this story, which is about the sense of entitlement which a great deal of money – not necessarily inherited – can give people. Some even think that having money makes them invulnerable. This means they can treat other people as inferior beings, which doesn’t go down well with Bea Abbot or her ex-husband Piers, who is being very helpful to her at the moment. Well, his washing machine has broken down so he’s popping in and out rather a lot. That’s his excuse, anyway. Oh, and Bea’s difficult teenage ward wants to help, too. This is probably not a good idea, but she’s a headstrong lass . . .

The audiobook contract is through for the last two published stories, but it will be some months before they’re out and about. Meanwhile both the audiobook and the ebook of FALSE PRIDE are now out, as is the large print version of MURDER WITH MERCY.

The Methodist Recorder liked the story I wrote for Easter about forgiveness. I found it very difficult to write. How can you tackle such a subject in just one short story. But now The Recorder is suggesting I do a follow-up for publication sometime in the autumn. So I’m doing some research into the programmes for reconciliation between victims and the people who’ve hurt them. It’s quite a project.

Finally, may the sight of the roses of summer bring a moment of delight into your lives, whenever and wherever you see them.

Veronica Heley