Newsletter no.151, June 1st 2020

Do you believe in fairies? No? Not even the tooth fairy? Well, I have recently been visited by a chocolate fairy. On two consecutive Sunday mornings I found a bar of chocolate in the letter box of my front door. On the third Sunday . . . nothing! There was no card with it and no one had mentioned that they were going to give me a present. Yes, of course I asked around but so far no one has admitted to being the donor.

What did I do to deserve being showered with chocolate? Perhaps more important, why did the gifts stop coming? Not that I’m complaining, you understand. I love chocolate, especially good dark chocolate, which this was. I looked forward to allowing myself a couple of pieces after supper.

When it came to choosing a short story to include, I find the next one that appeared in this series was called SPRING CLEANING, which doesn’t seem quite appropriate at this time of the year. Yes, I know I ought to have done my spring cleaning earlier in the year but somehow I got sidetracked and forgot all about it. It’s too late to do it now, isn’t it? Anyway, this story is really about clearing out the tired old bits of one’s life, so I suppose it will be appropriate at any time of the year.

You can read ‘Spring Cleaning’ using this link:

The writing continues. The second draft is always difficult as I come across bits of plot which I’ve not explained properly. Characters change their names without giving me any notice that that they are going to do so, and I repeat bits without realising I’ve done so. The first draft is always well short of the word count. The second usually goes way over, and only when I’ve done the third and fourth do I feel I’ve knocked the plot into shape. I know a people a lot of people are going to hate this story because Ellie has taken a back seat and it’s young Susan, who used to be her lodger and who married the half Italian Rafael – the one with the slightly dodgy background – who takes centre stage. And even more importantly, some small children are involved.

Meanwhile, at long last I have a review of FALSE CONCLUSION which arrived in the libraries just before lockdown, and has consequently been read by very few people so far. Fortunately, Publishers Weekly liked this one, saying ‘Heley expertly melds menace with humour. Fans of darker cosies won’t be disappointed.’ I do hope the libraries will re-open soon.

I’ve been reduced to re-reading my husband’s collection of detective stories, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and the rest. My, how they could write! What character description! What a body count! I read somewhere that if another old-timer – Peter Cheyney, got stuck in a plot, he had the hero open a door – any door – and a corpse would fall out. Personally, I prefer to write about corpses who are off stage, if you get my meaning.

A blessing on all who pray for others.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.150, May 15th 2020

Well, here we are. I’ve managed to produce a newsletter exactly one fortnight from the last, and you will remember I promised to attach a short story in future. Now, delving back into my records, I find that the very first stories I wrote for the Methodist Recorder were Ellie Quickes, published in 2009. However, the readership decided against murders so I have been writing about the joys and sorrows of retirement ever since. Fine, thought I! Retirement stories it is. And then I found I had to do a little editing to make them suitable for re-use.. Why did I get myself into this mess? (Don’t answer that!) Anyway, I finally selected ‘Three Men, One Gift,’ which introduced the series, and which continues to this day:

Hopefully. If you’re interested, I self-published a set of these early short stories in a paperback titled ‘Unsung Heroes.’

Meanwhile, I’ve had such fun emails from you all about how to make a bed. Titanic struggles with the duvet! Difficult duvets abandoned for sheets and blankets! And yes, the most practical way seems to be to do the duvet first. But the prize – metaphorically – goes to the reader who said she always got her husband to change the bed for her. Now that’s what I call clever!

Mind you, it would never have worked with my dear husband. He could operate the most intricate of instruments but when asked to undertake a domestic task, he turned fumble-fingered and helpless. Before we married I asked him if he might consider polishing my shoes for me. He was horror-stricken at the thought. ‘Understood,’ said I, ‘but don’t expect me to darn your socks.’ Sigh. We had a happy marriage for almost fifty years, he never read a word I’d written – except by accident – and I still miss him.

We are very fortunate here in that neighbours help one another out with shopping, and we keep checking on one another by telephone. We all come out on Thursday evenings to clap for the NHS, and have chats over the hedges and at a safe distance on the pavements. The good weather has helped keep us cheerful. It’s amazing how many people have suddenly decided to pay some attention to their neglected gardens.

I’m told that some copies of FALSE CONCLUSION are reaching customers by other means apart from libraries. Bravo! Meanwhile I plough on with the next book, which has got itself into a terrible tangle between chapters seven and eight. I think there’s too much information packed into it. So that’s the next job to tackle.

A blessing on all who are able to exercise the art of patience in the face of adversity.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.149, May 1st 2020

How are you all coping? I am fortunate in having work to do. Also I have good neighbours who seem determined to make me put on weight, bringing round home-made cake and asking if I want anything from the shops. I am also fortunate in having a small but pretty garden to work in, and I can take a walk along my quiet road admiring other people’s gardens. Often I stop to talk – at a safe distance – with anyone working in their garden, too.

The Easter short story came out on April 10th. It was written before lockdown and the characters don’t observe social distancing. It was hard to write a story about what following Christ cam mean but I think it was important to do so. It’s titled ‘I HAVE A DIFFICULT JOB FOR YOU . . .’ I sent out copies to those on my list, but it you’re not on that and would like to read the story, let me know and I’ll email it to you.

People who were usually busy from morning to night are finding life difficult. Some become depressed. There’s lots of advice about how to keep sane is in the newspapers but one thing I’ve learned is not to listen to a news channel after six pm, or I won’t sleep! I’ve just written a story called ‘STRUCTURE’ which is about the lockdown and its effect on our four older friends, and it’s being published TODAY! Copies will be sent out in the usual way to everyone on the Always Send list. If you’re not on the list . . . see preceding paragraph.

Recently I’ve been wondering if my readers might like the newsletter more often, with lots of gossip and stuff to amuse . . . plus I could attach one of the short stories I’ve written in the past for the Methodist Recorder. What do you think? Do remember that I love to receive emails from you, and I do try to answer every one asap . . . provided I’m not on deadline for the next book, in which case it does take a bit longer.

Now, a knotty question has arisen in my family and circle of friends: what method do you use to change your bed? For us oldies, this is a daunting task to be attempted only when we are feeling strong. My friends and I usually start with the pillow-cases as being the easiest to do. Then we go and have breakfast. Sometime later we take off the under sheet and then have a mid-morning sit-down and coffee. Later in the day, we tackle the worst bit – the duvet. By bed-time the bed is newly made up. ‘No, no!’ says my practical daughter. ‘You must start with the duvet because that’s the hardest bit. Once you’ve done that, the rest is easy.’ So how do you approach this task?

The copies of the new Bea Abbot – FALSE CONCLUSION – were delivered to the libraries before they closed, and will be available as soon as they re-open. E-book and paperback copies should be available via Amazon soon. I hope so, because I enjoyed writing this story about a wealthy but backward schoolgirl being dumped on Bea Abbott and her ward, Bernice. There’s an unexplained death, rumours abound and Evelina’s cousins are taking undue interest in young Beatrice. Then Piers, Bea’s long-divorced ex-husband arrives and maybe, just maybe, it’s time to forgive him.

A blessing on all who entertain and amuse others . . .

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.148, April 2020

It’s life, but not as we knew it (with apologies to Star Trek!) So much confusion finally settling into a different way of living. Oh, the heartache of being unable to see dear friends and family, the uncertainties of work, the limitations on what we’ve always regarded as the norm. Some friends were completely thrown by the restrictions and took a while to devise a new routine for themselves. And above all, the fear!

I’m so grateful that I had work to do and needed to get on with it, and the spring flowers cheered me up no end. Daffodils, early tulips and grape hyacinths formed a spectacular border at the front of the house and I would go out to admire it whenever I felt gloomy. Prayer partners helped, too. We check every morning that we’ve got out of bed and say what we plan to do. Then we recheck in the evening to make sure we’d done it.

I spend a lot of time on phone and email, but have got a little further with the next book. There’s been quite a lot of email about my naming a new and somewhat unpleasant character ‘Felicity’. I had completely forgotten that I’d had someone called that name in an early book, but clearly in my subconscious I wasn’t happy about it, or I wouldn’t have talked to you about giving someone else the same name. A friend has duly suggested ‘Cynthia’ and yes, that does seem to fit the bill. Many thanks to all who’ve chimed in on this issue.

Another short story came out in March, about ten year old Joe’s investigations into the meaning of life – and Chocolate Easter Eggs – in Lent. I have already sent a copy to all those on my Request List, but if are not on that and would like to read it, then let me know and I’ll send it to you. The Easter story will be published on April 10th. It’s titled ‘I have a difficult job for you . . .’ I’ll send out copies in the usual way, after it’s published.

I believe lots of people have asked the libraries to reserve them copies of the latest in the Abbot Agency series . . . Hurray! This is 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, while at the same time making a huge 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 last month are the large print, paperback and audiobook versions of MURDER BY SUGGESTION, in which the dreadful Diana and her friends have all been accused of murder by their husbands. Naturally they take refuge with Ellie, and d expect her to find a way out of their problems.

A blessing on all who can spare the time to listen to other people’s problems . . .

Veronica Heley

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