Newsletter no.147, March 2020

We’ve been having a very mild winter here in London, GB. (Yes, I know! Global warming!) I must admit that I enjoy not having to dress up in so many clothes that I waddle like penguin. I know there were storms and some frosty nights, but I do so appreciate the afternoons getting longer, getting up in the daylight and seeing the flowers begin to appear in gardens. I cross the road every morning to walk past a superb pink Daphne in full flower. What a display! And we who garden discuss why that particular plant is splendid whereas our own Daphnes have failed to thrive.

I’ve been mulling over how to name various characters. Sometimes the right name for a particular person comes easily but every now and then I have to use the Search and Replace key two or three times before I am satisfied. Names can tell you a lot about the age and background of the person concerned. Fashions come and go. It’s likely that someone called Violet, Gladys or Herbert will be of a certain age, while you can probably make a good guess at when Jason or Kylie were born.

Then, adding a ‘y’ or ‘ie’ to a name infantilises them; think of Timmy, Freddy or Georgy. Give them their full name and they grow up; Timothy, Frederick and Georgina. I had to find an appropriate name for Joe’s annoying elder brother in a new story about him which comes out in Lent (no, I don’t have a date yet). I asked around and collected some beauties, but none were quite right until I chanced on Teddy, which I think has the right connotation. Teddy’s been spoiled because of ill health and he often behaves badly. Yes, I think that’s about right.

I continued to work on the next book, where I came across another character who was difficult to name. This is an older woman who could be a clone of our much-loved-and-hated Diana. Only, this woman is where Diana aims to be. She’s rich and bitchy. I’ve called her Felicity, which is the opposite of what that name represents. I think it works. Maybe I’ll have to change it as the book progresses.

The next in the Abbot Agency series comes out this month. It’s called FALSE CONCLUSION. Evelina, a wealthy but backward schoolgirl is dumped on Bea Abbott and her ward, Bernice for the holidays. An uncle of Evelina’s suddenly dies and her family signal that the girl had something to do with his death, but at the same time they make a fuss of young Bernice. Is this because she will be a very rich girl one day? Then Bea’s long-divorced ex-husband turns up and tries to mend fences with her. Is it time to forgive him?

Also out this month are the large print and paperback versions of MURDER BY SUGGESTION. This is the one in which Diana and her friends have all been thrown out by their husbands who accuse them of murder . . . so they take refuge with Ellie and expect her to find a way out of their problems. And finally, I’ve just received the new MP3 CD of this same story as an audiobook read by Julia Franklin. Available in bookshops and libraries.

A blessing on all who show kindness to others.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.146, February 2020

Isn’t the start of a New Year rather messy? I spent ages clearing up the stuff on my desk, paying bills, taking Christmas cards to be recycled, pinning up new calendars and writing important messages in my 2020 diary. I told myself that I would not go back to the stories I was writing till I’d done my housekeeping chores. Finally, my desk was clear – for half a day. And then another bill arrived.

Now I have another problem. In the past I have worked on a book for Ellie or Bea till I’ve got the first draft done and can relax . . . which is when I start thinking about the next short story for the Methodist Recorder. This time, I wasn’t half way through an Ellie story when ten-year old Joe starting asking me why we have chocolate Easter eggs all the year round and why do we give things up for Lent. This resulted in my asking the Methodist Recorder if they think a story about the ‘whys’ of Lent might be of interest. And they said yes and I have to deliver by St Valentine’s day, while I’m still wrestling with the plot of the next Ellie.

Now I am not good at multi-tasking. Oh, I don’t mean I can’t make a mug of tea while peeling potatoes or answer the front door while on the phone to a friend. Yes. But I do find it hard to switch from one plot to another. One writer I know works on a crime novel on her desk-top in the morning while switching to her laptop for a psychological drama in the afternoon. My brain likes to poke around with one idea at a time. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe I need to take more Vitamin D. Whatever it is, both the short story and the next book are coming along, but slowly.

My website manager and I have been looking at how best to make these short stories available to you. I have a long list of people who can’t get hold of the Recorder itself, and have asked me to send them a copy when each story comes out, which is great – but it is time-consuming. Now I like to reply to anyone who writes to me about the short stories or anything else . . . well, no, NOT politics, please! . . . and I will continue to do so, but there may be ways of making the system work better. For the moment we continue as before and I’ll let you know when the next story is due to come out.

Meanwhile, FALSE CONCLUSION is done and dusted and due out at the end of March. I like this story, in which Evelina, a wealthy but backward schoolgirl is dumped on a protesting Bea Abbott and her ward, Bernice. One of Evelina’s relatives dies, her family are buzzing around like flies and Bea can’t make out who is the target, the mono-syllabic schoolgirl or her own Bernice? What’s more, Bea’s long-divorced ex-husband is back on the scene and maybe – just maybe – Bea can at last relax her defences for him.

More news: Soundings were just about to record the next Ellie on their list – which is MURDER BY SUGGESTION, when their usual reader for the series, Julia Barrie, crashed out with a back injury. Fortunately they were able to get Julia Franklin, who has recorded earlier ones in this series, to take her place. Thanks are now due to both Julias!

A blessing on all who do their best to cheer us up at this dark time of the year.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.145, January 2020

Ding, dong, merrily on high . . . the bells are ringing out the old and ringing n the new.

Will the new year be any different from the old? Will we repeat past mistakes, or will we find that we can move on without regrets? I’m not one for making resolutions to change. At my age, I know that life throws stuff at you, and sometimes you can deal with it easily, and sometimes you can’t.

What I do know is that writing something to remind people that good people can make a difference in the world is what I am supposed to be doing, so I will continue for as long as I can. Which, being translated, means that the next book is coming along nicely, now that I’ve untangled what every character is doing at any particular moment in time, and where the stairs are in the renovated house. And yes, Diana is well to the fore in this book. You didn’t think she could get any worse, did you? Well, I am happy to say that she is Much, Much Worse than she has ever been before! I cannot believe how awful she is! It makes writing about her so enjoyable.

Meanwhile, everyone who read the pre-Christmas story about Joe and his Scientific Investigation into which of three Father Christmases on offer was the real one, said how much they enjoyed it. That came out at the end of November. And the Christmas story – titled Christmas Mislaid –about a nasty character demanding attention over Christmas, came out in the double issue of the Methodist Recorder on December 27th. If you aren’t on my list to have them automatically sent to you, and would like to see either or both of these stories, just drop me an email and I’ll send it/them to you.

You remember one of my old friends told me that an earlier Ellie Quicke – titled Murder in the Park – had dropped off the available list? There’s good and bad news about this. My agent got the rights returned, but as it’s the only title in the series which is out of contract with Severn House and no one wants a singleton, so far she hasn’t found anyone else to take it on. A pity. I liked that story. Maybe things will change in the future and we can bring it out again.

Here’s wishing us all a New Year in which we have more reasons to rejoice than to be sad. God bless.

Veronica Heley

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