Newsletter no. 193, November 2022

First came the autumn colour in trees and plants, which was wonderful to see. Then came the Fall, and that meant lots of clearing up to do. It wasn’t so much the leaves that drifted down onto the garden as the sycamore seeds that came down with them. They are a pain because I can’t sweep them up with a broom as I do with the leaves. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in my garden. I tell myself that eventually they’ll cease to be a problem and I am enjoying the winter-flowering pansies and chrysanthemums.

A hitch in the proceedings occurred recently when my mouse malfunctioned. The computer froze. I couldn’t get anything to shift. I couldn’t access or send emails. I couldn’t get on with the story. After a weekend of telling myself it wasn’t the end of the world although that’s what it felt like, my wonderful computer guru brought me a new mouse and normal service was resumed. Later, someone told me how to over-ride the mouse on my keyboard, but I haven’t tried it and am hoping never to have to go through that again.

Good news: readers are now finding the e-books of the first titles in the Abbott Agency series. The first, A FALSE CHARITY, came out on 24th October, then there was A FALSE PICTURE on the 31st. A FALSE STEP is due out on 8th November and A FALSE PRETENCE on the 27th. Please note the original titles didn’t have an ‘A’ in front of them, but these ebooks do. I’m not terribly happy about the first cover which features a dog. I am a cat person. But there it is; the publishers say that dogs sell books. It’s not worth getting into a state about it. (The 3rd title does feature a cat.)

Meanwhile the hardback copy of a new Ellie Quicke came out on November lst together with an e-book. MURDER FOR PROFIT has a house which looks very much like mine on the cover. It’s all to do with Ellie’s trust fund and which estate agency or realtor should be looking after the rentals, etc. A student fell from the top window of one of Ellie’s latest projects and someone is stirring up trouble about it, big time. I rather like the characters in this story, and I hope you will, too.

There’s been a couple of good reviews of MURDER FOR PROFIT already. This from Booklist: ‘A twisty plot, an intrepid heroine, and an unexpectedly satisfying ending make this a good choice for cosy fans.’

Parsley & Posy have been posing with some of the tiny autumn cyclamens which pop up all over my garden at this time of the year. See them here.

                             The next short story is: ‘Harvest’

This is another oldie featuring Ellie Quicke, written originally for a magazine. It’s about the feuds which can break out in a church over who decorates which window or pulpit. You can access the story here.

A blessing on those who know how to help when computers break down.        

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no. 192, October 2022

The good news: The garden revived once we had some rain. Some plants did die, but others are deciding to have a second go at life and some plants are coming into bloom early. And, my second crop of runner beans are now cropping heavily! It’s a bit mad, really.

Some more good news: the paperback of FALSE FACE came out at the end of September, and I’ve had a couple f really good reviews for MURDER FOR PROFIT, which comes out in hardback on November lst.

. . . which leads on to my next bit of good news, which is that a firm called Joffe Books have bought the e-book rights for thirteen (yes, 13) of the Bea Abbot books and are going to bring them out as e-books one a week from mid-October! How about that! You will be amused to hear that I couldn’t remember much about the early books in this series, so had to find copies and re-read them. Do the plots stand up to the passage of time? Yes, I think they do, although after fifteen years technology has moved on somewhat.

The plot for the first book, FALSE CHARITY, was given me by my husband. He’d come across a couple in court running a fake charity event and then scarpering without paying the venue or the charity concerned. In my story Bea has just been widowed and can hardly think straight as problems mount around her and the agency her husband had run for so many years. And yes, Piers turns up to help . . . on his own terms, mind. So that’s the first book, published in 2007.

The second is FALSE PICTURE in which Bea is struggling to restart the agency, she has two lodgers who are causing problems, an old friend is less than open about a relative who’s gone missing with a valuable painting by Millais, and an experienced thief is planning another murder. Oh yes, and the tax man is on Bea’s tail . . .

Meanwhile. . . Parsley & Posy have been having fun posting in front of the Japanese anemones which threatened to die on me earlier but are now coming into bloom. Whenever I see these flowers, I remember my mother saying, ‘Don’t look at them! They’re the first sign of autumn!’ True, but this year I’m actually glad to see them. I know there’s a variety which has pink flowers but strangely enough, the ones in this road are all white. See them here.

                      The next short story is: ‘Death at the B & B!’

Yes, this is a real oldie, an early short story featuring Ellie Quicke. The problem is that I’m using up short stories too fast. I am asked for them three or four times a year, but I’m sending one out with the newsletter every month. I can’t do the maths, but I’m sure you can see the problem. So here’s one I wrote earlier, and I hope you enjoy it. You can access the story here.

A blessing on those who mourn. Let us remember Queen Elizabeth II and all whose lives she touched.      

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no. 191, September 2022

Phew! Here in London it doesn’t seem to have dropped below unbearable for weeks, and our poor gardens! Conversations centre on letting the grass turn yellow and how to keep this or that plant alive. After a good start in life, my runner beans dried up and died. A second lot of seeds has germinated and has actually produced flowers! But will I get any beans? Who knows?

The only plants that seem to thrive are the blackberries. A neighbour has a wonderful crop at the bottom of her garden and keeps me supplied, hurray! All of which reminds me that my mother always said blackberries are no good after Michaelmas. You’d think that this should vary from year to year with the changing of weather conditions, but it seems to be something that stays true, no matter what.

. . . which leads on to my being asked to produce a story at short notice for the Methodist Recorder. My thinking went like this: Blackberries – Michaelmas – Michaelmas daisies in the garden – who was St Michael? A fighter, yes but . . .goodness me, when did that happen? He’s the patron saint of paramedics! So I built a story around a paramedic wearing a medallion of St Michael and it worked out all right. It’s to be published sometime in October and no doubt I’ll be sending it to you in due course.

Work on the next book continues; it’s a fun story in many ways, a reverse Cinderella with a man in the title role. I got all the way through with the first draft only to decide I didn’t like the way I’d dealt with the last two chapters and had to re-write and re-write them until they worked. I’ve never dealt with so many villains before, but each had their reasons and some of them were more weak than vicious. There’s another six weeks before I send it in and I shall need every minute of that time to make the story run smoothly.

Meanwhile. . . Parsley & Posy have been posing in front of the silver pennies of Honesty (Lunaria). I took a photo of them in the spring when the flowers were a brilliant purple, and thought you might like to see it when the flowers have turned to seed heads so this month you have a ‘before’ and ‘after’ picture. I usually keep some of the silver pennies for decoration indoors over winter. See them here.

                  The next short story is: ‘It wasn’t my fault!’

It’s set in the days when Covid was rife and it raises the age-old question of how much you are responsible for your actions. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. A man who wasn’t good at filling in forms and applying for help, lied to get a job to feed his family, with tragic consequences. He argues mitigating circumstances, but . . . oh dear! How can we judge? You can access the story here.

A blessing on all those who are always ready to listen to other people’s problems.      

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no. 190, August 2022

Congratulate me! I have been to Bruges and back! I was so worried about the journey that I booked myself some Assistance and that made all the difference. It was very hot, but lovely to see old friends and hear their stories about what they did in the Bad Times of Lockdown. Nearly all my favourite shops are still there, I bought some clothes and came home very tired and very happy.

The proofs for Murder for Profit have now been read and amendments made. There wasn’t very much to correct, although some nit-picking (do you hear me grinding my teeth?) proof-reader brought up one or two points that I had to deal with. She thought I meant X when I meant Y. Yes, it happens. The great thing is not to make this an invitation to pistols at dawn. Take a deep breath, deal with it and get on with life.

(You can skip the following if forms made you feel dizzy.) You probably know that books borrowed from libraries can earn the writer so much per lending out. It is a not inconsiderable part of our income. I made a mess of trying to register an audiobook at the British Library (Public Lending Right department|), so got on the phone and a delightful woman took my details, agreed that yes, I’d been getting published a long time . . . and then told me I had Sixty-three (63) titles which had not been registered! We whittled this down to 61, but still!

What seems to have happened is that I have missed notification of publication for some e-books and audiobooks, which means I won’t get any PLR money for them. When I first started writers got one hardback book per title and that was that. Now we can get hardback, paperback, large print, e-book and audiobook. And each one of these has a 13-digit registration number. And I’ve missed this sixty-one times!

So, I’m appealing to all of you who write, or who know someone who writes, to check their details to make sure they are not missing out. I’ve been talking to my publishers about this. It looks as if the system could do with being given a tweak or two, to keep up with the technology.

The garden continues to occupy some of my leisure time. It’s so dry! The ants have, I think, been defeated, but the black fly!!! On the other hand, I have had some pickings of runner beans, grown in big pots on my patio. The first flush of roses is over but I’m dead-heading like mad to see if I can get a second crop.

The next short story is: another about Max the Cat.

I had to write a short story for our summer concert for the choir, and this is what Max has been up to lately. Spoiler alert; he’s been catnapped! You can access the tale here.

 Parsley & Posy

are posing with some tansy and a fake ‘poppy’ that someone dropped into my garden and which seems to have taken root there. See them here.

A blessing on all those who manage to be appreciative of other people’s holiday photos!    

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no. 189, July 2022

Something to make you laugh. A friend was on holiday and needed to visit the loo in the middle of a church service. Quietly she made her exit from the congregation and followed the sign to the disabled people’s loo. Opening the door, she couldn’t find the light switch. But, lo and behold, there was a cord hanging down, which surely would have the desired result of turning on the light. So she pulled . . . and the alarm bell rang out throughout the church building . . . in the middle of the service . . . and she didn’t know how to turn it off! She was rescued in due course and shown how to switch the light on, but it’s going to be some time before she recovers from that little adventure.

Work continues, with forays to water the pots in the garden, deal with an invasion of ants and an infestation of black fly on the runner beans. I find soapy water best for the black fly, but for the ants it’s a question of spraying with a mask on. And gritting one’s teeth as I clear up the resultant carnage. I don’t like killing creatures, but if it’s a question of my having food or not, then I get on with it. I must say, the roses this year have been spectacular, particularly the Paul’s Scarlet and the American Pillar, not to mention the pale pink Albertine.

I haven’t yet got the proofs of MURDER FOR PROFIT, although I’m being promised them for next week, so have been picking up the storyline of FALSE NAME and carrying on with it. This has been a difficult story to write, because I have to go over and over a particular event several times from different people’s point of view. For instance, one person might have observed what people were wearing while another wouldn’t have a clue. It is coming along, though slowly.

                  The next short story is: The Good Neighbour

This is another story set in lockdown when people were coping – or not coping – with the dreaded Zoom, and working out how to manage the changes that the pandemic brought to us. You can access it here.

                                                       Parsley & Posy

Small gardens are great in so many ways, but it’s difficult to keep some plants under control. I put in a plant which may be only six inches high, only to find that it’s grown to six feet high in a remarkably short space of time. These two roses were put in as tiny cuttings and look at them now! Parsley and Posy enjoying the sun. See them here.

A blessing on all those who share their cuttings and seedlings with other gardeners.    

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no. 188, June 2022

No sooner were the daffodils out in my garden than I was making room for the annuals to be put in their place. The first rose to bloom was greeted with the cry ‘That’s early!’ Suddenly the garden is awash with roses, and I’m putting the geraniums – which I’ve over-wintered in pots inside – out onto the patio and wondering where I put the packets of seeds I bought last year and have forgotten about till now.

Apologies to all non-gardeners for going on about it, but it does take up a lot of my time as one season gives way to the next, and there’s not much happening on the publishing front. Well, I did do the copy edit for MURDER FOR PTOFIT and it wasn’t too bad, as such things go. There was the usual battle with my copy editor who likes to put commas in where I don’t, and to take them out where I’d put them in. And of course there’s the usual misunderstanding about semi-colons. I thought I’d mastered the new rules but she disagrees. Ah, well. But there was nothing really to complain about from my side or from hers. So all is well in that sector . . . until it’s time to correct the proofs.

Before the copy edits arrived, I’d been cracking on with the next Bea Abbot which is tentatively titled FALSE NAME. I had put that aside to deal with the copy edit and then found the new story hard to pick up again. This has happened to me before and I know what I have to do. I have to go right back to the beginning of the new story, checking every little fact here and suggestion there, editing as I go along, until I reach the point at which I’d had to stop before . . . and can then move on.

When I start a on a new book I have a tendency to set off like a sprinter only to find myself slowing down about chapter three with a horrible feeling that something is wrong. Then I sigh. Or scream. Or do both. The problem is that I have put in TOO MUCH PLOT! Now you may say that there can’t be too much plot, but oh yes! There can. I don’t know if you’ve ever grown tomatoes but gardeners know that if you don’t pinch out the side-shoots, you won’t get the best results. And so it is with stories. No side shoots allowed. No lingering on back stories that don’t advance the plot. No sudden brainwaves which go nowhere. The remedy? Press ‘delete’ and go back to where you left the main story on diversion going nowhere.

The next short story is: Corona Christmas

This is set in lockdown with the reminder that Christmas is not about ‘Me, me, me!’ but about ‘Him, him, him!’ I’m sorry that it’s a trifle unseasonal, but the message is the same at whatever time of the year you happen to be. You can access it here.

Parsley & Posy

I like geraniums. I like to pop any broken pieces into the nearest pot and see what happens, with the result that in the pot featured, there are several varieties. I apologise for the grass growing up between the stones of the patio. I will get round to dealing with it sometime . . . In the meantime, you can see our two friends here.

A blessing on all those who make time to pray for friends in trouble.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no. 187, May 2022

Covid seems to hit busy people. On the morning of our community choir concert, George rang to say he’d gone down with Covid and couldn’t work the microphones for us that afternoon. Consternation! Nobody touches the microphones in our church except him. What to do? A friend offered to see what he could do and he duly prodded and poked and measured out the wiring . . . but nothing worked. Oh dear. So the choir had to sing out, and the people who were reading a poem of short story had to PROJECT! I did the cat story from last month’s newsletter and got a lot of smiles in return.

Then Elsa in her nineties stood up, not without difficulty. She was given an arm by our music director to get to centre stage and faced the audience with one of her wonderful, mischievous smiles; and everyone smiled back. She launched into an old music hall song and we all – audience included – sang the choruses with gusto.             Everybody sang as loudly as they could! Everybody smiled. Forget the mikes; remember the fun! I am convinced that the more community events there are, the better for all of us.

I’ve been getting heavy breathing/groaning phone calls. At first I didn’t take them seriously. ‘Oh, you again! Get lost!’ But I did panic the night he rang at 2am. Sharing my problem with friends in the café I was given lots of good advice. ‘Use a whistle!’ ‘He’ll get bored if you don’t pick up,’ and ‘Ring the police.’ I did ring the police and they told me what to do if he rang again and I did it, and he stopped. I’m almost, but not quite, feeling sorry for the man.

You may remember that my publishers didn’t like the suggested title of the book I’d just delivered: MURDER BY ESTATE AGENT. Instead they took another suggestion and have renamed it MURDER FOR PROFIT. The cover has been designed and publication date set for lst November 2022. The copy edit is in the post and I shall now have to abandon everything else and set myself a target of correcting so many pages each day. Eeeek!             Copy editing is NOT one of my favourite pastimes.

The next short story is: Love in Lockdown

This is no young lover’s tale, but it does hark back to the Covid lockdown and what happened to our friends at that time. You can access it here. Incidentally, if ever you would like to browse through some of my early short stories, you can find them in e-book form under the title ‘Unsung Heroes.’                            

Parsley & Posy

. . . like this dwarf bearded iris (actual variety unknown) which I was given by a gardener in Sussex many years ago. In between the irises are some lilies of the valley which were here when we arrived fifty odd years ago. Like Parsley & Posy, the lilies of the valley wander at will and turn up where they feel like it. See them here.

A blessing on all those who find time to listen to other people’s troubles.  

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no. 186, April 2022

I was on my way to the shops to meet a friend for a cup of coffee, when a stranger pressed a white rose into my hand, saying, ‘It’s my birthday and I’m buying flowers to give away.’ (I thought: He’s not local! He speaks good English, but he’s from the Middle East somewhere! This is not the typical beggar’s approach, but . . .)

He said, ‘I’m 49 today.’ I respond, ‘I’m 88. May I buy you a cup of coffee?’ He insisted instead on buying me and my friend coffee and vastly over-paying with a tenner. I know that the owner of this particular café runs a tab for one or two locals who need a helping hand now and again, so I suggested that the change be held over for the next person who needs help.

Now, my first reaction was to give and not to receive, but a moment’s thought made me realise that at that particular point in time this man needed to give, and to have his gift accepted. I’m glad I accepted. I still don’t know why he went on his St Nicholas style spree. I don’t know if he could afford it or not. I don’t know why he chose this area to distribute his gifts. I checked with the flower shop owner later and found her packaging up dozens of single tulips which he paid for and collected while I was there. I do hope no one refused his generosity. I’ll probably never know his story but I think of his actions as candles lit in the darkness of these present days.

You will remember that I sent the mss of MURDER BY ESTATE AGENT of in good time, and Wham! Bam! I was told I’d have to think up a completely different title as the American market have a different name for estate agents. The silly thing is that I knew this, really. I mean, how daft can you get? I sent in some suggestions which might work and am now waiting for their verdict.

                                                   Simnel cake, anyone?

The eleven balls on a traditional Simnel Cake are meant to represent the eleven apostles (minus Judas, of course). I did some research because I couldn’t remember the names of more than seven . . . which led me to wonder about replacing the old with something new. In other words, should we now commemorate more recent saints instead of those whose names we no longer recall? This story will be out in the Easter edition of the Methodist Recorder.

In these dark days I feel my job is to write something to make you smile. So instead of the usual serious story, I’ve written The Adventures of Max. Access it here.

                                                         Parsley & Posy

. . . are nowadays spoilt for choice as the garden wakes up to the sun. And here they are to be found with the grape hyacinths (muscari) which are doing very well this year.

A blessing on all those who can accept a gift with grace.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no. 185, March 2022

The good news is that my brain fog is clearing, though not yet completely gone. I know this because I’m slower working out crossword clues than I used to be. But, onwards and upwards as they say.

I did actually manage to get MURDER BY ESTATE AGENT off in good time . . . upon which my agent said, ‘It really ought to be MURDER OF AN ESTATE AGENT,’ and not ‘BY ESTATE AGENT.’             Well, actually, the story could be presented both ways, so I’m leaving it up to my editor to decide. She also wanted a blurb – which after much thought and umpteen drafts, I managed to send her. She’ll probably re-write it, knowing her but I don’t mind that. Writing blurbs does not come easily to me.

A further bit of good news is that she managed to find a picture of exactly the sort of large red-brick London terraced house with loft conversion which I’d envisaged. The only problem is that it’s facing the wrong way round with the front door on the left instead of the right. However, I’m pretty sure that can be altered.

Meanwhile, I did happen to mention that I’ve got an idea for another book, and straight away my editor asked when I felt I could deliver it. Six month, nine months, a year? Give me a date!             I did the usual counting on my fingers and came up with November. I might make it October, but November would probably be safer. And no, I won’t give you any hint of what this one might be about but I must admit it’s occupying all my waking mind at the moment . . . which is awkward because the Methodist Recorder want another story for Easter . . .

. . . and all I can think of is Simnel Cake. I mean, how daft is that? Surely Simnel Cake is for Mothering Sunday, half way through Lent? I made one many years ago but it’s a tricky baking task because if you’re not careful, the layer of marzipan – which ought to be level centre, sinks to a bowl shape. That is NOT supposed to happen. I seem to remember hearing that two children called Sim and Nell made this cake for their mother when they visited her. One baked and the other boiled the mixture. Surely that can’t be right? I can see I will have to do some research, unless perhaps another and better story pops into my mind.

The short story from the archives this month is called STRUCTURE, and it’s about the coming of Covid and lockdown and how it affected our friends. You can access it here.

Parsley & Posy

are to be found frolicking among the early daffodils, the ones they call Tete-a-Tete. (I know I ought to be the French accents in, but I can’t remember how to do it!) There’s also an early celandine poking its head above the earth. See it here.

A blessing on all those who keep in touch with the housebound in bad weather.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.184, 1st February 2022

I’m fighting brain fog! I had my second knee replacement on January 6th, and this went well but . . . oh dear! . . . I had to have a general anaesthetic which means my usual sharp responses are rather like an elastic band which has sagged and ceased to be of any use.

I did have a chat on the phone with my editor and I confirmed that I will be able to deliver MURDER BY ESTATE AGENT on time in February. I had built an extra month into the contract so that the aforementioned brain fog wouldn’t upset the schedule. I need just one more read through to pick up this little bit here and alter that bit there and the book will be ready to deliver. So far, so good.

We moved on to talk about the cover, and discussed we might show an estate agent’s board outside an elderly London terraced house, and that was fine as I’d described such a one at the end of MURDER FOR GOOD. But then my editor asked me to send her a blurb for this new book and oh dear! My mind went into freefall, the elastic sagged . . . or whatever you like to call it.

Writing a blurb is a really difficult thing to do. You have about 70 to 80 words to sell the premise of the book without giving too much away. Usually you end with a question, such as . . . ‘Will our intrepid heroine fall victim to this dastardly villain’s plots?’ Which means you must have described the dastardly villain and his/her plots in the preceding matter. It’s no good saying, ‘This is the umpteenth outing for Bea/Ellie, and you can trust this book to deliver the goods as usual.’ Unfortunately, no. So I’ve got some work to do there.

The short story from the archives which accompanies this letter will be ‘I HAVE A DIFFICULT JOB FOR YOU.’ And that job is indeed difficult and, when accepted, puts our old friends in danger of losing their standing in the community. It was the Easter story in the Methodist Recorder a couple of years ago and still relevant. You can access it here.

Parsley’s companion

I had lots of suggestions as to the name we should give Parsley’s new friend, including, Bambi, Puso, Bernard, Ramkin, Sprout, Blessing, Lilley, Poe, and Forsythia.   But the one which seems to fit best is . . . (drum roll!) . . . Posy. With many thanks to Branda Williams for that suggestion.           Parsley and Posy seem to fit together. They have both approved the new name and can be seen enjoying the winter-flowering iris which I think is now called unguicularis and not, as previously, iris stylosa. See them here.

A blessing on all those who take ‘treats’ of food to those who can’t get to the shops easily at the moment. Chocolate, yum, yum. Peppermints, mhm. Bananas, chicken dishes, biscuits . . . you name it!

Veronica Heley