Ann Cleeves: The Long Call Tuesday, Sep 3 2019 

Ann Cleeves, the celebrated author of the Vera and Shetlands series, creates a new series that take readers to the area of North Devon where she grew up in The Long Call.

Introducing DI Matthew Venn, we see his own complicated family history in the area. Leaving an evangelical family made Matthew an outcast to his family, and so he’s on the periphery at his own father’s funeral. The book’s title refers to the call of a herring gull that has always sounded to him like someone in pain, a window onto his brooding nature.

Matthew barely has time to examine his grief when he’s called away to the site of a murder on the beach. A man has been stabbed to death and Matthew heads the case with his new team.

Living in a cottage with his husband, Jon, Matt is chagrined when this case becomes tied to The Woodyard, an arts and crafts centre Jon runs that contains a day center for disabled adults where the murdered man was a volunteer.

The dead man, Simon Walden, had been rooming with two young women while hiding secrets of his own. A recovering alcoholic with the tattoo of an albatross on his neck to remind him of prior guilt he carries, Simon is a cipher that Matt must learn.

With his more formal dress hiding an introspective bent, Matt is a different kind of detective, still feeling his way around his unit and having pangs of insecurity he hides from his team. But it’s his strong mind and ability to line up clues that make him stand out and ultimately figure out who would have wanted to kill Simon Walden.

As the investigation advances and people connected tangentially to both The Woodyard and to Simon are interviewed, Matthew starts to form his impression of what has happened while getting used to his new team. His DS in particular, Jen Rafferty, is a strong character in this atmospheric story that deals well with Down’s Syndrome adults. And when one of these adults goes missing, the tension ramps up.

A complicated plot adds to this character-driven procedural that brings an enticing new detective to follow. Highly recommended.

Ian Patrick: Rubicon and Stoned Love Sunday, Jul 14 2019 

Please welcome guest Ian Patrick, to discuss writing a series. Ian’s the author of the DS Sam Batford thrillers, with the third, Fools Gold due later in 2019. Rubicon and Stoned Love are books 1 and 2 in this series hailed for its authenticity:

For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Ian Patrick and I’m a crime fiction author in Scotland. Whenever I’m talking about writing I always present the caveat that it’s just my experience. Use what you can and discard what’s unimportant. If we all follow the same path and write the same way then the world of story telling would be poorer for it.

I’ve been asked to talk about what it’s like to write a series now that I have two books out and another in August. I never set out to write a series but the initial response to my debut, Rubicon, led to it happening. It’s one thing capturing the attention of a publisher but it’s readers that keep an author and publisher in employment.

One thing to consider from the outset is the age of your protagonist. Will he or she be able to age with your books or does it matter? Lee Child and Ian Rankin have successful leads after many years with the same lead so it really is up to you. With a detective lead be mindful that at some point they will be too old to be in the force. Rankin has survived this with Rebus but it’s worth bearing in mind all the same.

Make sure you enjoy the protagonist and that you want to stay with them book after book. If you tire of them then so will the reader. Keeping ideas and storylines fresh is also a challenge. I carry a notebook and record observations and conversations. Despite twenty-seven years policing experience, times change so you have to keep up to date.
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I was based in London and my experience of procedures will be different to my colleagues elsewhere in the UK. There are police consultants out there who will help writers. Some charge for a service and others don’t. Twitter is a great place to find ex-cops and consultants. Twitter is a great platform for engaging with readers and was where I connected with Marni.

Above all, enjoy what you’re doing. It’s not an easy industry to be a part of and it will have its good and not so good days. Treat your work with respect and before you send it out on submission get it professionally edited. A good editor will work with you not against you. They will maintain your voice while improving your story. I recommend Emma at

https://edmcreatingperfection.com

Watch out for Rubicon hitting your TV screens as it’s in development with the BBC for a six part series. Links to my books and more about me can be found at https://www.ianpatrick.co.uk

Fahrenheitpress.com also offer a free ebook of the same title with every paperback bought direct from them.

http://www.fahrenheit-press.com/books_rubicon.html

Many thanks to Marni for being a great host.

I was educated in Nottingham, leaving school at sixteen. I spent three years in the Civil Service paying out giro cheques. I enjoyed public service but wanted something more. My career choice happened while standing on a picket line and seeing the way the police operated. Calmly and professionally doing their job of maintaining order while letting us peacefully protest against government cuts. I was sold and applied to join the Metropolitan Police. I spent twenty-seven years as a police officer, the majority as a detective within the Specialist Operations Command. I retired as a Detective Sergeant. I’ve investigated many offences from theft to murder and completed my final seven years within SO10 – Covert Policing.
Ill health forced my retirement. Muscular Dystrophy was the culprit and a very rare form at that. I’m still young and needed an outlet that would lead to an income.
A career in policing is a career in writing. I’ve been used to carrying a book and pen and making notes. I found the need to explore a different type of public service and found that writing fiction was something I could do.
Rubicon is my debut novel published by Fahrenheit Press. Stoned Love the second in the series with another, Fools Gold, out later in 2019. The BBC has optioned Rubicon for a six part TV series currently being written.
I now live in rural Scotland where I divide my time between family, writing, reading, and photography.

Ashley Dyer: The Cutting Room Wednesday, Jun 19 2019 

Ashley Dyer’s debut last year was the wonderful Splinter in the Blood, which had one of the most intriguing openings Auntie M had read in a long time. The writing duo of Margaret Murphy and Helen Pepper return with a second one featuring the detective team of Ruth Lake and Greg Carver in The Cutting Room, every bit as good as the first.

A psychopath has hit on a new way to attract gawkers to his crime scenes: digital invites to the gruesome tableaus he’s set up that he considers art installations.

The plot shows the public’s fascination with reality television and true-crime, as the narcissist behind these disturbing murders uses social media to advertise himself and court popularity.

Soon he’s earned the nickname The Ferryman, and both Lake and Carver are determined to bring his spree to an end. Carver is still recovering from the effects of the head wound that nearly killed him in the first book, with unusual side effects that play into the plot. Lake is hiding her own secrets from her friend and co-worker.

Readers who enjoy shows such as Criminal Minds will enjoy the look into this engrossing procedural, filled with suspense and not for the squeamish, but yet totally believeable as the detectives realize to find this demented killer, they must get inside his mind to anticipate his actions.

Highly recommended.

Roz Watkins: The Devil’s Dice & Dead Man’s Daughter Wednesday, May 22 2019 

It’s Roz Watkins Day, and if you’re not familiar with that name, keep an eye out for this strong new series that mixes a police procedural with the best of psychological suspense.

Roz Watkins burst onto the crime fiction scene introducing DI Meg Dalton, in the atmospheric The Devil’s Dice. The Peak District setting evokes Stephen Booth’s Fry and Cooper series, but with its own spin readers will enjoy.

A strong protagonist is required to carry a series, and Meg Dalton does the job here, despite having her own baggage to carry, when a local patent lawyer, Peter Hamilton, is found dead inside a cave known as a suicide point, part of a network of caves known as The Labyrinth for their complexity.

A local legend of The Labyrinth revolves around ancient witch sagas, with the the lore that a large chamber holds a noose. If your initials are found carved into the cave wall, the noose is there for you. Spooky and creepy but the stuff that makes legends like this endure.

So it’s even creepier when a carving of the grim reaper is found by Hamilton’s body, along with an inscription that says ‘Coming for PHH.’ DI Meg Dalton isn’t a stranger to suicide, but she’s hoped to leave her past in the past.

When Meg interviews Hamilton’s his wife and sister,the wife fears the local rumours about a curse attached to her home have come true. Hamilton’s business partners are soon added to Meg’s suspect list with good reason.

The plot is nicely contorted, with the setting taking on its own part to play. Meg’s family have a unique contribution to the story, and her colleagues are a mixed bunch of different characters who leap off the page in their individualism, including a lapsed Sikh and a misogynistic DC who enjoys putting Meg down.

This is a strong start to the series and since we’re having a bit of a Roz Watkins day, we’ll go on this sequel, Dead Man’s Daughter.

Starting off with a strong opening, Meg finds a ten-year old girl running barefoot through woods in a blood-stained nightdress toward a spot called Dead Girl’s Drop by the locals.

When she rescues Abbie Thornton and inspects her home, the girl’s father has been stabbed to death in his bed. There’s a history of death in the family before, and medical transplant issues that have bearing on this family, but right now Meg is convinced she can’t take on this big case, with a family committment due next week that runs like a thread throughout the book and may have consequences for Meg’s professional life.

But reluctantly, and with great misgivings, when Abbie is considered to have killed her father, Meg does become involved as she digs deeply into the history and the suspects surrounding this case to clear Abbie’s name.

This leads to dark and often surprising places for Meg as she pushes the investigation forward where others on her team would settle for the easy path out. Using vivid descriptions adds to the feeling readers are there with Meg on her investigation, and Watkins knows how to ratchet up the tension with a complex plot that twists at just the right moment.

The difficult themes of organ donation and of assisted suicide are explored with sensitivity by Watkins. Meg must deal with office politics, too, and her own quirks as she tries to heal her past. These issues add a layer and thoughtfulness to the series, and tied with the exhaustive research Watkins must have done, pays off beautifully.

In Meg Dalton, Watkins has a created a spontaneous detective who relies on her hunches at times but never loses her heart. Highly recommended series.

Death at the Dakota: Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries 2 Wednesday, May 1 2019 

Auntie M is happy to announce that her second Trudy Genova Manhattan Mystery. DEATH AT THE DAKOTA, is out and availabLe on Amazon.com in trade paperback and soon to be in Kindle. Coming in Audible later this summer, too, read by the wonderful Lucinda Gainey, Dakota is already garnering 5-Star reviews.

Part procedural, part cozy, Death at the Dakota is a well-crafted and highly entertaining mystery.- Bruce Robert Coffin, #1 bestselling author of the Detective Byron mysteries.

Nurse Trudy Genova is making plans to take her relationship to NYPD detective Ned O’Malley to the next level, when she lands a gig as medical consultant on a film shoot at the famed Dakota apartment building in Manhattan, which John Lennon once called home. Then star Monica Kiley goes missing, a cast member turns up dead, and it appears Trudy might be next. Meanwhile Ned tackles a mysterious murder case in which the victim is burned beyond recognition. When his investigations lead him back to the Dakota, Trudy finds herself wondering: how can she fall in love if she can’t even survive?

Readers of Death Unscripted, the first book in the Trudy Genova Manhattan Mystery series, will find the same pleasures in this sequel: fast pacing, engaging characters, twists and turns on the way to a satisfying close. Once again M.K. Graff reveals her talents in crafting this delightful mix of amateur sleuth and police procedural.

I fell in love — not only with co-protagonists, Trudy and Ned, the richly detailed and historic setting of The Dakota, and the unique cast of characters, but with the unusual plot of Death at the Dakota. Sherry Harris, Agatha Award nominated author of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries.

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Gabriel Valjan: The Company Files: 2. The Naming Game Friday, Feb 1 2019 

Please welcome Gabrile Valjan, to give readers an insight into his writing and talk about his newest release in The Company Files, 2. The Naming Game:

Auntie M: You have two distinct series from Winter Goose Publishing. Your first series, the Roma Series, is presently at five novels. Readers receive a panoramic sweep of Italian culture and food, along with some light humor, while your characters solve crimes. Then you go dark into John le Carré territory with The Company Files. Why the switch?

GV: It’s important to me that I show readers that I have range. I make no distinction between ‘literary’ and ‘genre’ fiction, yet I’ve encountered both readers and agents who do. All writers, myself included, want to tell an engaging story and, in the case of a series, want repeat readers. The two series are indeed different. The Roma Series owes a debt of gratitude to the Sicilian writer Andrea Camilleri, who created Inspector Salvo Montalbano. I wrote the Roma Series while I was dealing with a life-threatening illness, which is why food is prevalent, and because I respect Italian culture.

I have two books in The Company Files series. Both The Good Man and The Naming Game look back at the US during the Cold War, and I try to show that some attitudes have changed, while others have not. For instance, contemporary ICE raids can be traced back to J. Edgar Hoover’s response after the Wall Street bombing in 1920. Same MO. Same extrajudicial deportations.
Hoover pushed for a concentration camp for political dissidents. Not internment or detention camps, but a concentration camp.

AM: Your last Roma Series novel, Corporate Citizen, was quite violent, yet showcases your love for animals. Have you always loved animals?

GV: I do love animals. Bogie and Bacall are two cats in that novel. One of my characters, Silvio, agrees to take care of them for a friend. Anyone who follows me on social media knows I post pictures of my two cats on Saturday aka #Caturday on Twitter, and dogs for #WoofWednesday at a local dog park near me in Boston’s South End. Pets are family.

AM: Let’s jump back to your Company Files series. Book 2: The Naming Game is out in May, 2019. You said earlier that you wanted to show range. What do you do in this series that sets you apart from other authors in contemporary crime fiction?

GV: Crime is about transgression, in all its perverse and violent forms. Psychopaths. Serial killers. Sexual predators. There’s no escaping it. However, I explore crimes that governments commit for a variety of motives. When it comes to characters in most contemporary crime fiction, I have difficulty with unlikeable protagonists as the good guys, and I have an issue with profanity and violence for its own sake. Do you really need to have the f-word fifteen times within the first three pages to be ‘gritty’? I accept ‘realism’ but it sometimes seems slathered on thick. Also, give me a glimmer of hope in a dark story because I don’t read to get depressed. Real life and politics accomplishes that, thank you. I also question the logic of how effective a detective can be at his job if he’s an alcoholic or alienates everyone in the room. I’m weary of the battles with the bottle, the bitter ex-wife, the kid who won’t talk to mom or dad. I question how a character who doesn’t change over the course of several books can keep a reader coming back for more.

I offer readers different flaws in my characters. For instance, I show vulnerability as an asset. I have a character, Walker, in The Company Files, whose major obstacle is his lack of confidence. He fell in with the CIA, because he’s trying to find his way in life and love after the trauma of World War II. You’ll meet Leslie, an experienced operative who doesn’t want to return to the kitchen just because she’s a woman and the war is over; Sheldon, a damaged person with a complicated past who does the wrong things for the right reasons; Tania, the beautiful and traumatized refugee child brimming with rage; and then there’s Jack Marshall, the boss and mastermind who somehow orchestrates everything and everyone, while staying one step ahead of his nemesis, J. Edgar Hoover.

Another thing I do differently than most authors is I write three to five books and then revise the character development of all of my characters for a better arc before I search for a publisher for the novels. As for violence in my works, I prefer to imply it, or not go into graphic detail because we have all become desensitized to violence, whether it’s from media or, sadly, real life experiences. There are creative ways to imply sex, violence, and criminal misconduct. Watch Fritz Lang’s M, or any of the Pre-Code films, or catch the subtext about poverty and class distinction in most films from the 1930s.

Another major difference: one of the joys in writing The Company Files is I get to dispel the myth that life was better in the past. It wasn’t. Racism and sexism were so ingrained in American culture that it was accepted without question. I’ve talked to educated people who came of age in the 40s and 50s and was told nobody blinked at using the N-word, or at calling an adult African-American man ‘boy.’ How far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.

AM: Who were your influences in crime fiction when you started writing?

GV: My first foray into crime fiction was reading Agatha Christie. I read all her mysteries in the seventh and eighth grades. Then I discovered Margaret Millar, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett, in that order. I ventured to discover other writers: Cain, Highsmith, etc. Christie appealed to me for her plotting and how her detectives solved mysteries. Hammett and Millar wrote in a clean direct style I admired, while Chandler introduced a seductive and poetic use of language, often at the expense of plot. I enjoy crime fiction because I found that most (but not all) ‘literary fiction’ can get tedious and the stories go ‘nowhere.’

AM: What’s a typical writing day like for you?

GV: Exercise and shower. Coffee. Write for three hours.

AM: A controversial question. Do you think writing can be taught?

GV: I think techniques can be taught, but here’s the catch: it requires critical thinking, and I think that’s Hit or Miss in today’s education. I’m not saying education in the past was better; it was different, for better or worse. Overall – and I know it’s generalization — education in America is not about becoming a better human being; it’s about getting a job. There’s a terrible irony in this drive for the practical and pragmatic approach. Formal education shouldn’t encourage conformity; it should unbridle curiosity and teach you analysis and critical thinking, so you can teach yourself. For example, I did not know how to edit until I read Dave King’s book, Self-Editing. I realized I had a deficit, and my curiosity compelled me to find a solution, determine whether the content of his book would work for me (it did). A curious and critical writer reads everything they can find to improve their writing and broaden their horizons as a human being.

Education that fosters regurgitation of one interpretation of a literary text so you can earn the high grade kills critical thinking; kills curiosity. Education should convey an understanding of how a story works or doesn’t. Follow? All that aside, there’s more to telling a story than book smarts. I’ve met some very intelligent people in my life, people with advanced degrees, best scores on all the standardized tests; and yet, when they write, their stories are dead, they lack heart, or their ego interfered with the story.

No, I don’t think writing can be taught because we all have our unique relationship to language, and we all interrupt the world around us in unique ways, and that is the special something nobody can teach you. What I am saying is you have to know yourself and the gift for storytelling – if it’s there – comes from decades of reading, of curiosity and wrestling with language. Literature comes from empathy and connection. When I pick up a book, I don’t look to an author to validate my existence and my life experiences. I couldn’t care less about gender and ethnicity either. I want a story. I want an experience. Transport me and call it entertainment, or rip my skin off and call it Art. I don’t care. For me to write well, I need the sum of all possibilities.

The fundamentals of the human condition have not changed: we need stories to survive and better ourselves. Stories are essential. I have no doubt that out there somewhere in this country’s slums and cornfields or in the cube farms of corporate America, language is alive and there are stories worth being told. The question is, Visibility, access to those authors, so they are read and heard?

AM: Finally, whose books would we find on your nightstand, waiting to be read, and what’s on the immediate horizon for you?

GV: Jane Goodrich’s The House at Lobster Cove and Louise Penny’s Kingdom of the Blind. I’m waiting to edit five novellas that precede my Roma Series with my publisher, and I’m writing the third book in another series, set in Shanghai.

Thanks so much for stopping by today, Gabriel. You are one busy writer! See you at Malice Domestic in May~

Gabriel Valjan is the author of two series available from Winter Goose Publishing. The Roma Series features forensic accountant Bianca on the lam from a covert US agency in Italy. Drawn from the historical record, Gabriel’s second series, The Company Files series introduces readers to the early days of the CIA and its subsequent rivalry with the FBI. His short stories have appeared in Level Best anthologies and other publications. Twice shortlisted for the Fish Prize, once for the Bridport Prize, and an Honorable Mention for the Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Contest, he is a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime National, a local member of Sisters in Crime New England, and an attendee of Bouchercon, Crime Bake, and Malice Domestic conferences.

Fiona Barton: The Suspect Tuesday, Jan 22 2019 

Fiona Barton returns with her series featuring reporter Kate Waters, along with detective Bob Sparkes, in a startling third novel that kept Auntie M up all night to finish it. The Suspect is that good and that compelling. Once it’s started, readers won’t be able to stop.

When two girls go missing in Thailand, Bob reaches out to Kate to involve the press. This hits close to home, as Kate’s son Jake dropped out of university two years ago to travel in Thailand and has rarely been heard from since.

Kate soon finds herself on the way to Thailand to investigate a fire that involves the girls, but also finds to her surprise and dismay that Jake might have been on the premises at the time. Turning her usual position on its head, Kate soon finds she is the one being hounded by her reporter colleagues, not all well-meaning, as she tries to find her son while investigating what happened to the girls.

Things escalate, if that’s possible, from there. The parents of both girls have very different reactions to the situation. Social media posts from one of the girls tracks their trip, but is this the reality?

It’s a complicated situation, one that explores the complexities of families,husbands and wives, sons and mothers, and loss and grief, alongside one humdinger of a thriller. No character is left untouched by this story. The inner voices of each character ring true in a moving and realistic way that will bring a catch to your breath. It’s a complicated tour de force of emotions and situations, a beautifully written novel that delves into the psychology of us all.

By turning the tables on Kate and involving her own family, the reporter who usually tells other peoples stories must acknowledge that we can’t really know the people we love totally and completely. Highly recommended.

Charlot King: The Cambridge Murder Mysteries, and Animal Tales Sunday, Jan 6 2019 


Auntie M recently had a chance to interview Cambridge author Charlot King. She’ll tell readers about her two series, The Cambridge Murder Mysteries, and Animal Tales.

Auntie M: You write the Cambridge Murder Mystery series but just brought out a new series, Animal Tales, very different. What prompted the switch?

Charlot King: Stories pop into my head, and I write them. I reckon it’s more of an addition than a switch. I’m still writing a lot more Cambridge Murder Mysteries if I’m spared, as I enjoy writing them. But sometimes, it’s nice to try something different, and the two series could not be more different. I hope that those readers of the Cambridge Murder Mysteries who try the Animal Tales will enjoy them. I don’t have a long-term plan; the strongest story or character at the time gets my attention.

AM: The covers on both series are wonderful, very eye-catching. Who designs them for you, and do you have input?

CK: I’ve commissioned Robin Howlett to illustrate all my stories so far. I have initial ideas of how I’d like each of the covers to look. I then give Robin a brief, and he brings each one to life. I wanted to find an illustrator who could draw art deco well. I struck lucky with Robin. I found him by spotting his poster illustrations and only afterwards discovered that he lives really near me. We have since been to the pub together on more than one occasion, and I count him as a friend!

AM: The mysteries give readers a great setting in Cambridge. Was it always on your mind to set them there?

CK: Places leave a strong impression on me, like they’re a living character or someone I know. I’m sure lots of people feel the same way. I write about other places in other books that I love, too, but the Cambridge Murder Mysteries are an homage to the city I live in that’s captured my heart. Cambridge is a very beautiful place, and there are so many little streets and alleyways, perfect for setting a murder or two. I don’t think I’d ever run out of places to stage the next murder mystery.

AM: You do a series of photographs of Cambridge taken on walks with your dog, Moobear . I keep telling you they should be made into notecards or postcards; they’re that good. Is your photographer’s eye something you call on when writing the mysteries?
Charlot King and Moobear:

CK: That is kind of you, I’m a total amateur, and all the photos are on my iPhone. Just snaps. I like to capture moments, steal them for later. I’m in awe of beauty generally. Who isn’t? I don’t set out to photograph Moobear either, she just mostly walks into the shot! I find walking more than therapeutic. It is part of who I am. Wherever I am, if I’m indoors for too long I get a strong urge to get outside. I don’t mean that I’m a mountain climber, but if I had all the time in the world, I’d love to walk from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. At rambling or wandering pace. With lots of stop offs for tea and cake. Perhaps it’s something about slowing down? Chatting to people through happenstance? The photographs are just something I do when I’m out walking. If I had to give up one of them, it would be the photography.

AM: The Animal Tales showcase your affinity for animals. Have you always loved animals?

CK: Wouldn’t it be a boring and strange planet without them? If they could talk, everything would be so different… When I was younger, the family always had dogs and cats. We mostly lived in towns, and when I was very little, I wanted a pony, mainly from reading the Norman Thelwell books. I also wanted a lion, after watching Daktari on Saturday morning television. I suppose as I grew older I realised that would be a bad idea. But I’ve always wanted to share my life with animals as I think they teach us so much. They are humbling and awe-inspiring. And they deserve better than they get from humanity.

AM: Elizabeth Green is the professor who does the sleuthing in your Cambridge Murder Mysteries. How did you develop her character?

CK: Back in the early 2000s, I was on a walk in Chilham near Canterbury in Kent – of all places. My father had been the head teacher in the village, and I wanted to go back and take my family to see it. While walking, we saw this lady standing outside her back gate. She had such an intelligent face and was engrossed in conversation. Her voice boomed out as we walked by. The idea came to me as I was walking past her. I have no idea who she was, but she inspired me. As we drove back home, I already had the first murder in my head.

AM: There’s a lot of science involved in those plots. Do you do the research yourself or have a good resource?

CK: I studied politics for my first degree, but then for my PhD, I studied public policy and biotechnology. Specifically, I looked at the deliberate release of genetically manipulated organisms and public policy. I am not a biologist, but I did have to read up on an awful lot of genetics, biology and botany. So I draw heavily on memory and books on poisons. I try as best I can to be accurate, but my novels are in no way police procedural. They are just stories, so I’d hope my readers like them for other reasons than for their scientific precision.

AM: Who were your influences to turn to crime fiction when you started writing?

CK: Colin Dexter and Agatha Christie for sure, but I don’t read crime fiction these days. I used to read a lot when I was younger. I think the books that influenced me the most – which I think this question is about – came to me when I studied the Politics of English Literature as a module for part of my first degree at the L.S.E. It covered the whole sweep of political novelists, poets and playwrights. I was in heaven on that course, reading Woolf, Wilde, Shaw, Thomas, Huxley, Yeats, Joyce, Orwell, the list goes on. Our teacher, Professor Black, would take us to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club for some of our lessons.

I also like a bit of poetry. Favourites at the moment include: ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’, by Rupert Brooke (there’s a lovely recording of that poem on YouTube by the way!) Also, love listening to Dylan Thomas’s ‘Under Milk Wood’, read by Richard Burton. Dylan Thomas’ poem, ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ was particularly helpful recently, as I lost my father just last year. Perhaps that’s why I’m going through a phase of reading a number of autobiographies by comedians. My heart belongs to comedy. I’m just not a funny writer. I’ve tried.

AM: What’s a writing day like for Charlot King when you’re working on a manuscript?

CK: I aim to write 1,000 words a day. Sometimes it comes quickly. Sometimes it takes ages. I find writing the first draft the most enjoyable. But, I spend most of the time rewriting a book. Probably 80% is rewriting for me. That is a much more agonising task. I much prefer making up the story in the first place. I like the puzzle. I expect one day a computer will do all the hard rewriting for us. Can’t wait.

AM: Finally, whose books would we find on your nightstand, waiting to be read?

CK: I’ve mentioned I like reading autobiographies about British comics. I’ve just bought Paul O’ Grady’s ‘Country Life’. I don’t tend to read at night, as my eyes are pretty shot and need the rest.

AM: Where can readers find your books?

CK: Amazon around the world, and if they are in Cambridge, Heffers Bookshop. And if any of your readers are on Twitter, please do get in touch. I’m @queencharlot. Or Instagram is charlot_king_cambridge, and my website is charlotking.com.

Michael Robertson: A Baker Street Wedding Wednesday, Dec 19 2018 

    One of Auntie M’s favorite series for your holiday consideration:


    Michael Robertson’s fifth Baker Street Mystery, A Baker Street Wedding, features modern solicitor Reggie Heath, whose offices with his brother, Nigel, at the infamous 221B Baker Street London address bring them letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes.

    This latest installment revovles around Reggie’s wedding to actress Laura Rankin, and as the book opens, the disasterous day has taken off literally. There is the leak to paparazzi of the Cornwall location, which makes the reception as short-lived as the wedding cake. With the newleyweds desperate for peace and quiet, they escape to a remote village where Laura once attended school.

    The design for this comes early in the story, but Laura doesn’t mention that she has this destination in mind when she pulls Reggie into a plane he didn’t know she could pilot and flies them away from the hounding photographers.

    The small village where they arrive, in a valley between the cliffs and the moors, is one long block long. The school Laura attended has been closed, and the local theatregroup are doing a fundraiser of the Scottish play in hopes of reopening it.

    Small wonder, then, that Laura ends up here, and when the local gal playing Lady M dies tragically, Laura is seconded to not only save the show, but figure out if the young woman’s accident might be murder.

    With Reggie in the dark at first, groping blindly as secrets from Laura’s past come to the forefront, he will scramble to save her and himself. And when his best efforts fail, it will be up to an unlikely source to pitch in.

    The wry tone of the book will delight readers as much as the clever plot. Perhaps Auntie M’s favorite of the series so far.

Shawn Reilly Simmons: Murder with all the Trimmings Tuesday, Dec 18 2018 


Please welcome Shawn Reilly Simmons, with her new release Murder With All the Trimmings, a grand gift for the holidays, who will graciously share her writing methods.

Thanks for having me on the blog, Auntie M!

Whenever I’m speaking at an author event at a bookstore or library and the audience is prompted to ask questions, I generally get at least one about my writing process. The questions typically revolve around how I got started writing or how I’ve managed to write so many books so quickly (six in about seven years, and close to a dozen published short stories).

Every writer has their own routine and method of getting their work done, and my way may not work for everyone. But in the event it might be helpful to some, here is how I approach my writing.

I wrote my first book early in the mornings from five to around seven or eight, or whenever my infant son woke up for the day. When he was born, I left my day job to stay home with him, and that’s also when I got serious about my writing.

I’d always wanted to write for a living, but as it often does, life (and luxuries like paying rent and buying groceries) got in the way, and I ended up pursuing a marketing career in New York City after graduating college.

Those early days as a new parent are exhausting, and your time really isn’t your own until they’re through those first crucial years. And forget about sleep, at least in my situation. Those early morning hours, however, are unique in their serenity, and they were always when I could get the most work done. The habit has stuck and to this day I still get 90% of my writing done at that time of the day.
I prefer to write while it’s quiet, no music or TV background noise, with just a laptop and a cup of coffee on my desk. Besides the early mornings being quiet in my house, they’re also quiet out in the rest of the world, generally speaking. At that time of the day, I typically haven’t gotten any emails or texts or Facebook messages that have to be dealt with right away, or that provide a distraction from the task at hand.

Another skill that I cultivated in those early years of motherhood was contemplating the next morning’s work during those quiet moments at the end of the day. While listening to my infant son fall asleep, I’d think about the next scene in the book I’d write. I’d work out how the plot would progress, and what my characters would be up to. It worked so well, that I still practice this quiet meditation seven years later. My last thought as I’m falling asleep is my work in progress and the next scenes to be written.

I think because of this habit, I’ve never experienced writers’ block. I’m ready to go every morning, having worked out the way ahead in the plot before I’ve sat down.

The last tip I’d suggest to writers who are working on being more productive is to find that magic hour or hours that works for them, and write every day during that time. Magic time is when you feel the most creative and relaxed, and when you can tune out the world for a while, and focus on your story. This timeframe will be different for everyone. I have author friends who are early risers like me, and others that swear those late hours after everyone else has fallen asleep are their most creative. Once you find the time of day that works best for you, commit to writing during that time, be consistent, and really write (no Facebook or research!) You can research outside your magic time.

Before you know it, you’ll have a finished story or book. And the added benefit of holding yourself to a routine is that self-discipline brings confidence with it, and as writers we’re always grateful for more of that!

Hopefully one or more of these pointers can help a writer or two out there. Keep writing, everyone, and Happy Holidays!
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Murder With All the Trimmings, the sixth book in The Red Carpet Catering Mysteries, was released on November 13, 2018. Shawn’s books are available online and in book stores and libraries everywhere. For a listing of events, to join Shawn’s monthly email newsletter (recipes included!), and for a complete list of published books and stories, please visit http://www.shawnreillysimmons.com/
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Shawn Reilly Simmons

Shawn Reilly Simmons is the author of The Red Carpet Catering Mysteries featuring Penelope Sutherland, an on-set movie caterer, and of several short stories appearing in various anthologies including “Burnt Orange” in Passport to Murder: the 2017 Bouchercon Anthology (Down & Out Books), and “The Prodigy” in Mystery Tour, the Crime Writers’ Association Anthology (Orenda Books).

Shawn was born in Indiana, grew up in Florida, and began her professional career in New York City as a sales executive after graduating from the University of Maryland with a BA in English. Since then Shawn has worked as a book store manager, fiction editor, convention organizer, wine rep, and movie set caterer. She serves on the Board of Malice Domestic, and is an editor at Level Best Books.

Shawn is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers, and the Crime Writers’ Association in the U.K.

Cooking behind the scenes on movie sets perfectly combined two of her great loves, movies and food, and provides the inspiration for The Red Carpet Catering series, published by Henery Press.

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