Newsletter no.162, November 15th

Someone asked me the other day why I, of all people, should have been blessed with the presence of a chocolate fairy in my life. Why doesn’t everyone get one? (The answer to that comes from W. S. Gilbert, who wrote a song containing the immortal words, ‘If everyone is somebody, then no-one’s anybody!’) In other words, if we were all given a chocolate fairy, then chocolate fairies would be so commonplace they wouldn’t be of any interest.

However, I was delighted recently to find that chocolate fairies can turn up in the oddest of places. I was in hospital for a knee operation (yes, thank you; it’s coming on nicely), but I was not enjoying the food. I asked the lovely man who was serving supper if he could find me some chocolate, and he supplied me with a packet of chocolate bourbon biscuits, and even sked if he should open them for me! Oh, bliss, Oh, rapture! Did that make me feel better? Yes, it did. Now he was a real chocolate fairy, though I don’t think the terminology is right. Chocolate elf? Chocolate knight? ‘Sir’ Chocolate? I may never see him again, but I shall always remember his kindness.

So Chocolate Friends (is that a better way of describing them?) can be found anywhere. A reader has asked me to give her address to the Chocolate Fairy. Perhaps we should all look for opportunities in which we can become a chocolate fairy to someone else?

Meanwhile, I’ve been wrestling with the Christmas story for the Recorder. I had to ask myself, ‘What exactly do I think is important about Christmas?’ To some people it might mean going to a midnight service at Church. To others, it is the opportunity to party with one’s peers, or to get together with your family, have a slap-up meal, and hopefully no quarrelling among the children or the grownups. But will we be allowed to meet in each other’s houses this year?

Then, carol singing is out. I suppose expensive presents will be ‘in’, but what about sending cards? Does the high cost of postage deter us? And then I come down to the nitty gritty . . . ‘What does Christmas really mean to you?’

I made a list of what might not be considered important. Christmas trees were at the top of that list until I suddenly thought that even if the decorated tree was a comparatively new addition to the scene, I really wanted one. So now, more thought required.

The story that comes with this newsletter is called ‘Christmas is coming’. It was published in the Methodist Recorder some years ago so there’s no sign of Covid, which I think is a relief, isn’t it? You can access it here . . .

And finally, the paperback version of False Account came out at the end of last month, so if you’ve missed it earlier, now’s the chance to catch up.

A blessing on all those who do good for others but don’t expect thanks for it.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.161, November 1st, 2020

How do you poach the perfect egg? I told myself this was a trivial matter, which should hardly disturb my mind when I have important things to do, like working on the Christmas short story. I knew poaching an egg wasn’t the easiest thing to do. In fact, I seem to recall that the last time I tried to do it, I produced a nightmare of a dish which didn’t even get as far as the plate which I had put out to receive it.

But the image of two perfectly poached eggs on a bed of spinach continued to haunt me. I fantasized that there might be a fresh bread roll beside it? Or a piece of buttered toast? So I asked a friend here and a friend there how they managed it, and the answers were many and varied. Vinegar was mentioned, and special appliances. One said you swirled the water around before sliding the egg in. Another said he’d seen someone put clingfilm into the poacher, drop the egg in that, fold over the clingfilm and Bob’s your Uncle. But no one admitted to having created the perfect dish themselves. Their excuse was that the eggs had to be really fresh for a good result. Well, who can get a really fresh egg nowadays? Apart from those of us who keep hens.

So I cooked some spinach, and I tried to poach two eggs. I ate them. Well, almost all of them. (You know what happened to the whites, don’t you?)

I must admit to being rather tired today. I’ve spent the last ten days doing the copy-editing of the next book, titled MURDER-IN-LAW. Oh dear, oh dear. It arrived in teeny weeny print that I could hardly read, so it was a real problem for me to check out trouble spots and correct them. I do like that story, which has the dreadful Diana dumping her children on Susan and Rafael as they move into their half of Ellie’s big house, now divided into two. But finally, my corrections have all been done, and accepted . . . which only means, of course, that the proof reading will shortly be on its way to me.

Something to remember; the paperback version of the Bea Abbot story came out on Friday 30th October. I do hope your libraries are opening up faster than ours is. I am visiting our local bookshop far more often than I used to do. Mind you, I’m grateful that these bookshops still exist. I’ve been tasting the work of some authors I know well, and others of whom I have heard but not yet read. Perhaps it’s good for one’s broader education to try something new . . . so long as it doesn’t end up with you feeling extremely depressed. I like a positive ending!

The story from the archives which automatically comes with this newsletter is called ‘A Change of Address’, which can happen to some of us as we get older. It’s a sensible practice to downsize, but can be difficult for the people concerned. You can access it here . . .

A blessing on all those who share pieces of cake they’ve made with their neighbours.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.160, October 15th, 2020

I’ve had another visit from the chocolate fairy, who posts a bar of chocolate through my letter box occasionally on a Sunday morning. Isn’t that delightful thing to happen? As you know, I did eventually discover the identity of this wonderful person, and thanked her for her kind thought. This time I was bold enough to ask for a favour; the weather was truly dreadful and I was worried about slipping on the wet pavements. So would someone in her household be able to post a couple of birthday cards for me?

Her daughter said yes, and we then had a most interesting conversation about when was the right time to post birthday cards. In the old days we allowed two days and put on a second-class stamp, but someone told me we’re supposed to allow three nowadays because the Post Office won’t touch the mail that comes in for an extra day, to let the corona virus dissipate. Is this fake news, or actually what really happens? Anyway, I’m now playing it safe by putting a first-class stamp on and trying to remember the three-day rule. The chocolate fairy came up trumps and my cards were duly posted. Hurray!

I am always delighted to be asked to write another short story for the Methodist Recorder. This time it’s to be one for Christmas. Fine. Lovely. I’m sure I can think of something . . . but oh and ah! What will Christmas be like this year? Will the UK be divided into high or low infection spots? Will those in some places be allowed to have their families around them for Christmas Day, and others have to sit in solitude? Will different households be allowed to mix? Will children under eleven be allowed to join in the family fun or segregated from the mainstream with an expensive toy? Will people spend extra because they haven’t been able to meet up with their loved ones? Or less because their jobs are in jeopardy?

Oh, oh, oh! How am I going to write a story without knowing whether lockdown is going to be the villain of the piece? Suppose I guess at a Christmas governed by the Rule of Six, and the government changes its mind the week before? What happens to my story, then? I suppose I could write alternative scenarios . . . No, that’s silly. I’m just going to have to guess, that’s what.

The story from the archives which automatically comes with this newsletter is called ‘Down-sizing,’ which happens to a lot of us as we get older. It’s a sensible practice, but can be difficult for the people concerned. You can access it here . . .

A blessing on all who post letters and run errands for the housebound in these difficult times.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.159, October 1st, 2020

You’ve heard of ice cream wars, haven’t you? I live on a corner opposite the gates to a well-used park. Naturally there are double yellow lines on the road in front of the gates to denote No Parking. Generally speaking, motorists abide by this as sensible, but this year we have two – and sometimes three – ice cream vans jockeying for position in front of the park gates, all parked well and truly on the double yellow lines.

Have we not remonstrated and complained to the council? Yes, we have. And still they keep coming. Occasionally they take a trip round the block since they are not supposed to stop for long in one place. But, there are always people coming in and out of the park and they don’t want to miss any customers. There’s a certain David and Goliath aspect to this. A big, tall man drives the big van, and either one or two slender black girls are in the small one. Their confrontations are many and can be heard all over the neighbourhood. Every now and then there is a hollow crunch and the girls erupt from their vehicle to complain that Goliath has deliberately backed into their van! Is the ice cream any good? Well, no. Sigh. I suppose the autumn rains will stop them coming.

I had a good number of replies to my question about which of my two heroines are the most popular. Thank you to everyone who bothered to email me about this. Now, some people like both equally and say they can’t choose. A few prefer Bea to Ellie, but the majority of votes went to Ellie. This is something we have to remember when planning future books.

The last short story for the Methodist Recorder was ‘Love in Lockdown.’ If you haven’t been able to get hold of a copy and would like to read it, just drop me an email and I’ll send it to you, free.

Meanwhile the story from the archives which automatically comes with this newsletter is called ‘Operation Christmas.’ I hope you don’t mind Christmas coming a little early this year. You can access it here . . .

And a quickie: remember that the large print hard back version of FALSE ACCOUNT came out at the end of September, so it may be in your local library by now.

A blessing on all who help the housebound in these difficult times.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.158, September 15th, 2020

Did I solve the mystery of the large man who took a huge back pack and a rolled up red umbrella into the park early in the mornings? Well, yes and no. Lots of you came up with theories which might fit the bill. One suggested he was a photographer, taking advantage of there being less people in the park in the early morning, to get a few shots in. Others suggested he was selling drugs. Most people – including my family who take exercise seriously – think that he was training for something. Apparently, athletes carry heavy back packs to help them develop their muscles. But what about the red umbrella, I ask? That doesn’t fit the picture . . . or does it?

Meanwhile, lots of stuff has been going on on the work front. In the first place, the next Ellie book – MURDER-IN-LAW – has been accepted and I should be getting the dreaded copy editor’s comments at the end of this month. I’ll let you know when I get a publication date.

And here I have to stop and ask if you will help us decide how to plan these books in the future. I have been living with Ellie for twenty years. After some five books, my then editor suggested that it was usual for a character to fade away after seven or eight titles, so would I please think up another good protagonist to take over from Ellie. That’s when Bea Abbot came into being. But, instead of a drop in sales for Ellie, her books continued to sell, and so we started doing Ellie and Bea alternately.

In the early days people said they liked Ellie rather than Bea, but lately people have been saying that they now prefer Bea. I’d love to hear what you think. (All right! I know I do try to reply to all emails but if many of you are going to email me on this and, don’t get me wrong, I do hope that you will do so then, please have mercy and don’t expect a reply every single time!)

The latest short story for the Methodist Recorder is ‘Love in Lockdown’ – bang up to date and seeing Sally well on the way to recovery from her bout of coronavirus. It was published on August 28th. If you haven’t been able to get hold of a copy, and would like to read it, just drop me an email and I’ll send it to you, free.

Meanwhile the story from the archives which automatically comes with this newsletter was originally called ‘All Change’ but I’ve renamed it ‘The Kindness of Strangers.’ You’ll see why when you access it here . . .

And a quickie: the large print hard back version of FALSE ACCOUNT is out at the end of September, so if you fancy reading that, do put in for it at the library.

A blessing on all who are kind to strangers.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.157, September 1st, 2020

You like a mystery, don’t you? I certainly do. Now I’ve got a new one. Twice last week as I drew back the curtains in the morning, I saw a new Smart car park on the other side of the road. A very large, shaven-headed black man got out. He was wearing good, casual, T-shirt, shorts, trainers. There was nothing of the second-hand about him. He extracted a bright red rolled up umbrella and a very large back pack from the car, walked over the road and disappeared into the park.

Was he planning to camp in the park? Surely not. That park is very well used. Social distancing is enforced with a police presence now and then. Was he delivering something to someone who lived the other side of the park? In which case, why not park over there? Was he delivering to the café in the park? No, because in that case there’s a much more convenient road he would have taken in. I have exercised my brains considerably on this matter and come up with no satisfactory answers. Oh, and the Smart car had gone by the time I’ve had my breakfast. Answers on a post card, please. No, no. An email, of course!

You may remember I was asked for another short story by the Methodist Recorder, which was to be set in lockdown. Who would have thought it would go on for so long . . . and is still affecting us? Well, ‘Love in Lockdown’ seemed to be a good title, and it’s all about how long-term relationships can be affected by this, for better or worse. I echo my friend Leo, who said how good it was to see people going out and enjoying themselves again but of course some are back in quarantine. Anyway, the story is coming out sometime in September. I’ll let you know when that happens.

Meanwhile the story to go with this newsletter is another originally published by the Methodist Recorder and is called Unsung Heroes – which I also used as the title of an e-book of some of these stories some years ago. This particular story came out one Eastertide, so please forgive that I can’t match the old stories to the right time of the year. The link to it is here.

My new computer is mostly doing its duty, and I’m not quite as bothered about the changes in layout as I was at the beginning. It does seem to have eaten my pictures and some of my emails, though. Surely, I can’t have deleted them all by mistake? Hopefully my gallant knight of the keyboard will be able to sort it all out.

Libraries. I’m told that our main library has now been reopened but only to return books and collect orders. There is no news about our own local library starting up again, but our bookshop is thriving. And yes, I’m still putting unwanted books out on the wall, and yes, they continue to disappear, hurray!

A blessing on all who go out of their way to help others.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.156, August 15th, 2020

It never rains but it pours. Do you remember that one? Well, we’ve had a few patches of rainy weather down here in London but we’ve also had extra high temperatures which make life difficult. I’m sitting here with a fan blowing hot air around me . . . I can’t say it cools me down, and I have to keep rushing to the bathroom to wash my hands in cold water. On the other hand, other members of the family have had cool, drizzly weather which has also made life difficult, in another way.

We always say that our borough empties out in the summer holidays. Parking becomes a lot easier, the shops are easier to walk around and even our parks, which are normally thronged with bikers, runners, dog walkers and people just taking the air, are much quieter. The ice cream vans, though, still visit every day . . . sigh!

So back to it never raining but it pours. I signed the contract for the next book and happily sat down to work out exactly who said what and when . . . and then an email popped in asking for another short story for the Recorder, to be delivered asap. They qualified it must be about lockdown, with masks, and social distancing. Oh. They said they knew it was short notice, but each of them had thought the other had asked me for the story, and please could I oblige. Um. The lovely lady at the greengrocers suggested the title, Love in Lockdown. No, it’s not about young love. Far from it. Or rather . . . no, you’ll have to wait till it comes out before I can divulge any more details. I think it will be out at the beginning of September. To be continued . . .

Meanwhile, I had to put the next book on hold. And my computer failed. So along comes my trusty knight of the keyboard and we have ‘that’ conversation. Can he mend it, and is it worth it? Sigh. It isn’t. So I have to have a new ‘tower’ which is now a square box and not a tower at all, and everything, hopefully, will get transferred over. Oh, the agony of being a communicator without any tools with which to communicate!

The bird bath continues to do its duty. One morning early I found the water almost gone, and all the ground around saturated. How many blackbirds having a bath does it take to empty the bird bath? Five or six, perhaps? It did cross my mind to wonder if they were trying to lighten my load by watering the pansies for me . . . but no. That’s just silly. (Although pleasant to think about.)

Turning to my archives, I find the next short story in the series was published at Christmas. And it’s now August. Bad timing. But it’s a nice little story, and I hope you enjoy it. It’s called ‘Not Just for Christmas.’ And you can find the link to it here.

Libraries. There’s absolutely no news about our library re-opening. None. But every day I put another old or new book out on the wall outside, and every day more disappear. I think of the people who take these well-read books and hope they enjoy the stories as much as I did.

A blessing on all who take away one of my books and enjoy it.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.155, August 1st, 2020

Writers need time to ponder their plots. I usually reckon to be on holiday in Bruges and away from my desk and emails and stuff when I start thinking about the next book. I make my way along the canal to where a certain bench is placed in a small patch of greenery overlooking one of the splendid panoramas for which Bruges is famous. And there I give myself time to sit and think and maybe jot down some suggestions for names, or for a twist in a plot.

Well, there’s no Bruges this summer, but I have been busily tidying up the manuscript for the next book, which I delivered in the usual way. Then, before my editor had had a chance to read it, she asked if I had an idea for another book, what would be its title, and when could I deliver it! Well, er . . . not sure. Yes, I did have the very vaguest of ideas, but I hadn’t really done any serious thinking about it. So I sat down to play patience (with real cards) and to look out at the garden. And watch the birds.

I have a bird bath which I fill up with water twice a day. The crows and the magpies arrive, drink and without making a song and dance about it, fly off to resume their hunt for food. The pigeons allow themselves some digestive time after drinking. They linger on the rim and ponder what to do next. The blackbirds have no idea of social distancing. One, two, anything up to six will arrive together. They drink and then they get down into the water and flap their wings madly till the bird bath resembles a fountain. The sparrows tend to keep away while the blackbirds are having their shower and then daintily help themselves to a sip here and a sip there. However, there is one sparrow who has observed the antics of the blackbirds and likes to try them for himself. He goes ker-flop! Into the water. Then, tentatively at first, tries to set up a fountain of his own. He succeeds, to the muted admiration of the others, who are not nearly so daring. He’s the king of the castle, don’t you think?

Anyway, I sat and watched the birds and thought, and disentangled some sort of plot . . . so, as of this minute another contract is now being prepared for my signature. And that will be another Bea Abbot. I’ll tell you more about it later.

Now, what is the next short story for me to attach to this latter? Um. Well, the next one in the series is called HARVEST HOME. My stories begin with something I’ve seen or heard about and this is no exception. Is it really up to me to deal with a member of the awkward squad? Can I avoid noticing that someone is in trouble? So this story is in memory of Fred, who loved a good singsong. Access it here.

Libraries. More emails in, saying how libraries are gradually opening up and extending hours everywhere even, it seems, except in our London Borough. I continue to put books I have read and loved out for people to take away, and now have some gaps on my shelves which I am beginning to fill up again as I pay another visit to our local bookshop. I used to be able to get some books from one of our local charity shops but they’ve not opened yet, so what I’d do without the bookshop, I do not know.

A blessing on all who keep an eye open for others who may be in trouble.

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.154, July 15th 2020

I don’t usually have a problem remembering to take my pills. I don’t take many and it’s either done at breakfast or when I go to bed. But when I was advised to add Vitamin D tablets to my usual routine, there was a problem. The one-a-day lot was out of stock, and so I was given some stronger ones to take every other day. Fair enough. I decided that I would take them on the uneven days in the calendar. That way, I could hardly go wrong, could I? First, third, fifth, and so on.

I can hear you laughing from here. Yes. When it came to the end of the month, I was out of step. I couldn’t remember whether I should switch to even dates, or stay the same. No, I don’t have one of those clever boxes which you fill up once a week and they tell you what you take and when. So I ground my teeth a bit – not a habit my dentist likes me to develop – and considered the problem. It took me a while to work out what I could do, which was to put a ‘D’ with a red marker pen against every other day on the calendar. Now, if I can’t remember offhand whether it’s an ‘on’ or ‘off’ day I consult the calendar and follow what it says. I also write down whether it’s this Thursday for rubbish collection or for recycling. One of my neighbours often rings to ask which it is, so I’m not the only one who gets confused about dates.

I had to consult my filing system to discover which short story should be included in this newsletter. Again, we’re out of kilter with regard to the timing. The next in the series was set in Lent looking forward to Easter and featured the eternal question, ‘What do we tell the children about God?’ Is it best to leave it so that they can make up their own minds what to believe when they’re older? What sort of example do we set within the family? There are many answers to those questions. Our friends find one solution to the question almost by accident. Is their solution the best? Anyway, if you would like to read the story, here is the link to it. And if you’re desperate for something to read, you might like to have a look at some of the other short stories about my retired friends, which I put out as an ebook many years ago under the title of Unsung Heroes.

Libraries. I have emails from America, Australia and Tasmania telling me that their libraries have mostly reopened using some kind of Click and Collect system. There are variations on the theme with some requiring more sanitisation than others, but in the main readers are able to borrow books once more. The UK government has given the go-ahead for libraries here to re-open with care, and some have. I’m told that in Leeds, for instance, half the libraries are now functioning in limited fashion. Unfortunately – and here I have to refrain from screaming my disbelief – no libraries are open in Ealing, London. None. What’s more, our local library is being handed over to local management control and goodness only knows when we will have access to books again. Hence my putting my old books out for passers-by to grab and take home. However, our local bookshop has saved my sanity by reopening – with due care and attention to our health – and friends pass books around among ourselves.

A blessing on all who keep libraries open!

Veronica Heley

Newsletter no.153, July 1st 2020

You may remember how surprised and delighted I was when a friend dropped a bar of chocolate through my door on a couple of occasions . . . and that I did eventually discover who it might have been. Several of you have expressed the wish that they, too, might be visited by a chocolate fairy. Well, this particular neighbour is a very busy lady but now that social distancing is slightly relaxed, we have arranged that she will come and sit in my garden with me one day soon, so that we can have a good old gossip. Her family is charmed by the idea of her being a chocolate fairy. I don’t think she’s going to be able to live that down any day soon!

Meanwhile, pride goes before a fall! I work hard to deliver a ‘clean’ manuscript which needs few changes. I go through each story maybe five times, allowing a week to elapse between each draft. This means less work for the editor and copy editor, which in turn keeps costs down. Now, to my horror, an observant reader has reported finding no less than six typos which have made it through to the hardback of FALSE CONCLUSION. I am mortified. I know the problem is partly due to age and changes in my eyesight, but still . . . it shouldn‘t have happened. So maybe I’ll be doing six drafts for the next book instead of five – while somehow managng to keep to the agreed delivery date.

I have been looking at a short story to send you with this newsletter. The series was originally commissioned to go out at different seasons of the year. The next one is set at Christmas and here we are in July. What to do? Well, I can’t take Christmas out of this story. I wondered if it might work to drop this particular title altogether and go on to the next but that won’t work, either, because certain things happen to our friends in this story which alter their future. I decided in the end that it’s best to let it go through. If you’d like to read it then you have been warned, and the link is here for the story called PRESENTS. The actual presents which our friends need at this time are Courage, Patience and Hospitality. If you’d like to read it, just follow this link.

As our libraries have not yet reopened in London I have been re-reading old favourites. When I finish a book and decide I don’t want to read it again, I put it out in a box on the low garden wall at the front of the house and see if anyone else would like to have a go. And then, when I’m pretending to do some gardening, people occasionally stop and tell me that they’ve enjoyed this or that. One gentleman of about my age said how delighted he was to read a Narnia book as he’d heard of them but had been the wrong age to read them when they first came out. My particular favourite at the moment is The Silver Chair. I do like Puddleglum, the Marshwriggle who, even when trapped underground, holds onto the idea of the sun and other good things in the world even if there’s no evidence now that they ever existed.

A blessing on all who write books which bring tidings of comfort and joy.

Veronica Heley