Tuesday, September 19, 2017

New Season, new book, new panto publishers



It's Autumn. Oh, yes it is. The weather people say it is, and so does the weather itself at the moment. Anyway, it's coming up to panto season, and theatres everywhere are preparing for this year's offering. So it's appropriate to announce that my scripts will soon be available from publishers Stagescripts Ltd, previous publishers having packed their bags and crept away. Posters from the first performances of two of them above, both designed by the talented Adam Turner.  I am sure that Libby Sarjeant uses some of mine, although I know she's written her own, and speaking of Libby, her new book will be out in a couple of weeks.
Murder By the Barrel
We're having a little local launch in a pub - not an industry launch, just an excuse for some local mates to get together. Last time we did it, we all had a great time. We had hoped, the landlord and I, to have some special Steeple Martin Ale, but we couldn't find anyone to print the labels!

Finally, I shall remind people that if they don't want to use one of my panto scripts, way back in 1998, my book Writing A Pantomime, with a foreword by Roy Hudd and cartoons by my late husband, Brian Cookman, was published to help schools, clubs, WIs and anyone else who wanted to put on a panto write their own. It has now been re-published by Accent Press (twice) and is available here: How To Write a Pantomime

I shall now go and have a quiet lie down. I seem to have done nothing but admin for days, and it's about time I got down to Libby19 and The Alexandrians 3. I think I have a headache.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Mysterious Women


It occurred to me recently that it would be quite nice to be in a little group of like minded women. Perhaps we could do events together? At festivals, maybe? For writing groups?  I know several naice laidy detective writers who belong to similar groups, and I had hoped, when I tentatively set up the Traditional Mystery Writers Facebook Group, that we could cobble something together from that. However, like a lot of my schemes, that one fell flat on its face. I don't have the energy or the marketing expertise to promote my own books, let alone become a Group Administrator.

But there are a lot of us. There are even several published by my own publishers. Last year the first Killer Women event was launched. The Killer Women have a book club, events and all sorts of good stuff, but they appear to be predominantly the grittier end of the market (Martina Cole, anyone?) and they frighten me a little. I once travelled back to London on a train with Laura Wilson and felt completely intimidated, and as for Val McDermid, well! And I once spent an afternoon in Martina's pool...but the less said about that the better.  So I would really like to be part of a less - shall we say, exciting? - group of writers. I have recently been re-reading Veronica Heley's Ellie Quicke suburban mysteries, Jill Paton Walsh's Imogen Quy Cambridge mysteries and her Peter Wimsey continuations among others. I assume, as my books still stagger out on to the bookshop shelves, both virtual and physical, there are others who like this sort of mystery. Yes, I'm fishing again. But I need reassurance. With the book market changing all around us, do readers still want to read about Libby and Fran and their ilk? I always try to make the main plot, the reason for murder, fairly nasty and gritty, but it gets dealt with quite gently.

Please let me know what you think, and meanwhile, I'll get on with Libby 19...

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A reflection prompted by the anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act

The following was posted to Facebook this week, and prompted a huge response. I have been asked to make it available elsewhere, so the easiest thing to do was make it into a blog post after all.

This should have been, perhaps, a blog post, but no one reads my blog posts! So, here we go.
With all the media attention on the fiftieth anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, I am moved to write my own post about the subject, or, as my parents would have said, put in my two-pennorth. And speaking of my parents, I was an only child. We lived in a large flat in London, in a divided Victorian house. On the ground floor beneath us was another single child family. Bernard was older than I was, but we got on probably better than a brother and sister would have done, even when he took me to the zoo and lost me. As we both grew up it became obvious that Bernard was gay, although I had no idea what that was at the time. However, I was very well aware of it by the time his current boyfriend, a Sicilian, told me. My parents must have been aware of it, too – we were like one big family – but there was never a hint of disapproval. In fact, there was an occasion when a neighbour who had been trying to persuade my father to join the Masons (and failing) came to him with the story that Bernard had been arrested for cottaging. He was full of moral outrage and certain my father would join in his condemnation and, incidentally, keep me out of harm’s way. My father gave him the telling off of his life and never spoke to him again. Believe it or not, this was AFTER the Act, but the arrests and entrapment were actually increasing. My dad must have been even more remarkable than I thought.
By the time I met my husband-to-be, the Act had been in force for a few years, but acceptance was a long way off. A friend who was first trombone in the orchestra at the Coliseum used to get me tickets and got me two for a new production of Verdi’s Masked Ball. He told us to meet him in the interval and he’d take us for a drink. Brian had never met him before, but happily followed him to a little door at the side of the theatre, and upstairs to a drinking club. Within seconds, he realised it was a GAY drinking club. I’ve never seen anyone so uncomfortable in my life, especially when someone tried to chat him up. You can imagine his reaction to Bernard. But over the next couple of years I “educated” him, and Bernard was one of the ushers at our wedding. He had always been part of my parents’ wide circle of friends, and was a born entertainer. Sadly, I can't find any photographs of him, but if I unearth my wedding album, I'll put one in.
But one of the things I was stunned by was the fact that even into the seventies both drugs and electrical therapy were being employed to “cure” gay men. I knew it happened earlier, and even today in the States there are doctors who profess to be able to do it, but here in the seventies?
I was born to incredibly tolerant and open minded parents. My early jobs, model, air stewardess, nightclub DJ, brought me into contact with a wide variety of people, and being gay seemed normal to me and always has. But I still see intolerance and discomfort around the LGBT community and it appals me. It saddens me that we have to HAVE a separate community – why not just people? We’ve got a long way to go.
Below: two pictures of my terrific Dad.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Arrivals and Departures news

It's Sunday morning, sunny and very warm. And I have to work.



Just over a week ago I finished Murder By The Barrel and sent it to my editor. Friday evening he sent me back the edits. I was expecting practically a full rewrite, but no, bless him, he was as encouraging as ever, although there is a fair amount to do. Unlike almost all other writers I know (except my friend Bernardine Kennedy, who does what I do) I don't like rewriting and creating multiple drafts before submission. For a start, I don't have time. For instance, this book is due out on October 8th, and the next one in June 2018. You work it out. And the edits are to be in by Wednesday...

So this week, while waiting for the edits, I started the research for book 19. Yes, we have the title. I thought of it, liked it, put it to the powers that be, who all liked it too, and that was that. Then I realised I needed a story to fit it. Difficult. A challenge, in fact. There are certain subjects about which you think you are well informed; perhaps they constitute a part of your particular interest (that'll give you a clue) so that you know quite a lot, until you realise that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Sorry about the cliché, but, all fired up, I thought I had the perfect basis for a plot, until I realised that it now posed more problems than it solved. So there's a lot more research to do. Auspicious sources have been emailed, I have received a modicum of encouragement, and now I've got to stop while I work on the Barrel.

As if that wasn't bad enough, I have committed myself to a little theatrical enterprise, directing three women in three linked monologues at an event on September 9th. The trouble is, the monologues are still in their original form as short stories that all appeared in magazines years ago and subsequently in my short story collection, Bad Behaviour.

This means they have to be rewritten. And, as you can tell, there isn't that much time for the girls to learn them, or rehearse. So that's got to be done fairly sharpish, too. Luckily, I know the three actors well (two of them actually have cause to be grateful to me - and I know how to pull in a favour) so I don't anticipate too many problems, but nevertheless, it's an added pressure.

On top of that, my dear old laptop is on its last legs, and this very morning I have bitten the bullet and ordered a new one. This will obviously necessitate a lot of re-learning, as, although I have been a dedicated Mac user for as long as they've been in this country (blame the old man - he was one of the first "Apple Trainers" over here), each new one has different features and a different operating system. And my brain is very like the laptop - not accepting any new systems. So I'm hoping eldest son Miles, who arrives back in Whitstable some time today after a week's jolly in the South of France with his sister, Phillipa, will find time to help me get to grips with it. Sadly, youngest son Leo is currently residing in temporary domestic bliss with his girlfriend in New Jersey, but if I'm still having problems in September, he'll be back then and I shall force him to help. Luckily, kids were trained by their dad, and Miles actually worked in the industry for a few years. 

So there you are. One book going off, another one starting, and me getting back to the theatre - in a small way. Kids going away and coming back (yes, they're all fully fledged adults, but...) and me not actually going anywhere - no Turkey this year. (See new laptop above.) And in the last six weeks we've had the funerals of one much loved cousin and one old friend. However, to balance that, Louise and I (and grandchildren) will be attending the wedding of another cousin in a couple of weeks. So more comings and goings.

I shall try and remember to let you all know if anything startling happens in the next few weeks, meanwhile, roll on October.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

My first re-blog, from the estimable Joanne Harris

I'm very fond of Joanne Harris. I first met her at Cheltenham at an RNA conference (which she doesn't remember) and I'm a great admirer of her books. I am also a great admirer of her outspoken opinions, particularly on Twitter. She has allowed me to re-blog this, which I wish I'd written. If it leads to opprobrium, so be it. It's what I think.

On history tradition and gods law and how you shouldn't trust a word of it

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The cost of being an Author

No, folks, we aren't all rich. That's one myth demolished. And no, I don't do this as a hobby. That's number two shot down. And three - we don't all swan off to lunches with publishers and hire picture perfect cottages to commune with our muses - er, WHAT muses?

There are some authors who are lucky enough to have an independent income (or their husband's) to support them. They don't have to conform to the pressures of the industry. There are some who have taken the wild leap into Indie Publishing, or self publishing, as it used to be called. Those who have done it properly, with proper editors, cover designers etc I admire tremendously. I haven't got the energy. And those of us with old fashioned traditional publishers are not taken to lunch once a month, or given publishing parties. No, we flail around working out which industry do will be most worthwhile. That is, if we can afford to go.

Parties and conferences can be great fun - ARE great fun. But they're expensive. And if you're a traditional author who relies solely on the income from his/her books, they are frequently out of reach. It isn't just the cost of the event itself, it's the travel costs and - ahem - the drink.

Please understand I'm not complaining and/or whining. I consider myself extremely lucky, as I said in my last blog post, to be supported by my books, but as one after another friend in the business asks me if I'm coming to this or that function and I say no, I felt I should explain. I'm not going on the annual jaunt to Turkey either, because if ever I do manage to accrue a spare £1000 it will have to go on a new laptop. I can feed and house myself, the cats, occasional boomerang offspring and the odd guest. I can run a car and wifi. But that's it. Much like anyone else working below the minimum wage - or maybe a bit better because I don't have a mortgage.

As I said, I'm not moaning. Just remember that I'm an ordinary member of society doing a job. As I say boringly, when people ask,  "Well, it's better than stacking shelves at the supermarket."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Reflections... of a sort. news

As I lie here on my bed of pain (stomach upset has joined the cold. Oh joy) I have been reflecting on the most important person in my life - after the children and the cats, of course. She paid for the conservatory and the gazebo, pays the bills and keeps me in alcohol. Although the glory days have passed, when we all made quite a bit more money than we were used to due to the uprush of ebooks, she's still keeping us afloat. And I STILL haven't the faintest idea how she does it. For a woman who came into existence on a drive through the Kent countryside to pick up (or possibly having delivered) a daughter to friends, it's quite an achievement. I suppose it was my lucky day. And apart from her, bless her little cotton socks, there are all those people (some of you, I know) who are the real heroes. Who buy, or borrow from the library, her adventures. I'm sorry if this sounds impossibly twee, but it honestly did just pop into my mind as I was typing my last Facebook post on the future books. And I realised just what a huge part of my life she's become - far more than a lot - er - real people. Go on, someone's going to say "What? She isn't real?"

So, as you heard a couple of weeks ago, LIbby 18, Murder By the Barrel will be out on October 5th, and our Publishing Supremo at Accent Press has just told me that Libby 19 is scheduled for June next year. So Libby rides to fight another day...is that the right quotation? 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Ups and downs by the barrel...



It's April. Since my last post I've had a birthday and a Mother's Day. I've also done a blog tour - the most successful I've ever done, organised by JB Johnston, aka Debbie, on her Brook Cottage Books blog. If you want to read any of them, here's the link to the home page Blog Tour. I shall most definitely be using Debbie again.

Also, my talented web-designer, Aimee of Author Design Studio, has managed to make the blog header match the revamped website header, so lots of people have been working madly on my behalf. Meanwhile, I've been struggling to get going with Libby 18, cover pic at the top of this post. It's due out in October, which, coincidentally, is just after hop-picking season. And hop picking started the whole saga off, so despite the struggle, mainly engendered by the months of ill health, I feel quite an affection for the little b*gger.

A definite down has been the verdict of the doctor, after three serious falls in five months, that I really must't go anywhere alone - at least not proper journeys. As son Leo is still living with me, he escorts me when I go out locally, but I've had to cancel my much anticipated retreat with six writer friends because I can't travel there.

This weekend, however, with temperatures of 25 degrees on Whitstable beach,
we had a visit from our family friends, the Knights. Tony and my late husband Brian met in their teens and began playing together. They formed, with another friend John Reed, The Jug Trust which eventually became Bronx Cheer. Tony's fiance, Caryl, became my closest friend and one of my bridesmaids, and we became co-Godparents to our respective children. The older children almost grew up together, and for years we shared most aspects of each others' lives. However, as is the way of things, we drifted apart a little, particularly after Brian died. Then two years ago, Caryl died. So it was a huge surprise when Tony phoned and asked if he, eldest son Robert and his children, Josh and Arabella, could come down to visit.

It was lovely to see them (they didn't stay with me - no room - but in a local B&B) and we spent Saturday on the beach, Saturday evening going for a meal and Sunday lunchtime in a pub. This involved a lot of walking, although Leo says it wasn't, it only seemed like it to me. Well, it did! I'm only just beginning to walk properly again! Anyway, I was shattered, however lovely it was to see them, but it really pointed up how different all our lives are now. We've got three mad musicians, one writer and one combination of the two, they've got a retired master carpenter and a prison governor. Gor blimey.

Next month sees Miles's birthday - no doubt in a pub - and WhitLit, at which I shall be appearing with my friend Alexandra Campbell on Sunday 14th.  If there's anything exciting to tell you about, I'll do another post.

à bientôt.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Almost back to normal!



Well - I'm back to working in the office - my messy, untidy office - and doing emails etc on the laptop in the kitchen in the mornings. It's such a relief to be back to normal, I can't tell you!

Added to which, I've finally got my appetite back and started getting interested in food again, which is bad for the waistline (what waistline?) but good for me and for current house sharer Leo. Dug out my 20 year old recipe books and revived some of the dishes he remembers from his childhood. Don't know why I've bought so many new ones since...

And I've walked, too. Half a mile to the hairdressers to get my colour done, and half a mile back on Tuesday, and the same to get my nails done on Friday. Without the stick. Back still aches like billy-ho, but I can do it.

And finally, my dear friends Darren and Peter Simpson, who played my Ugly Daughters in Cinderella a few years ago, have invited me to do a book signing to coincide with World Book Day on Thursday at their wonderful new establishment - see picture at the top of this post. I can vouch for the excellence of all their freshly prepared food - and the size of the sandwiches, which meant Leo and I didn't need dinner when we went to visit them this week! So If you're in our area and free on Thursday afternoon, I shall be ensconced in "The Den" at the back, next to the woodturner, with some books to sell and sign - and of course, I'll sign those you already have if you bring them along. And while you're there, have a cup of superb hot chocolate, a slice of Darren's home made cake, a muffin, perhaps, or even some ice cream. And, in case you don't recognise us if you come along, here we are arguing with the Prince. I'm the one on the far left. Ahem.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Writing on the sofa

Gloria and Lady Godiva, to give her her full name, no longer cuddle up on the sofa, perhaps because it now has a new overcoat. They still sit here, but not together. In the mornings, Godiva sits beside me and drapes herself over my left wrist, despite the fact that she gets jiggled up and down while I'm writing. Gloria sits on the cushion behind my back, gradually wearing a groove in it and occasionally eating my hair.

This is my new regime. I tried working at the kitchen table, but it was hopeless, so I went back to the office and my back suffered. So here I am in the sitting room, working on the sofa with the cats. It's slightly tidier in here, there are grapes and chocolates to hand and a vase of daffodils on the table. And I've actually got more done over the last few days than I have in the last month. I may well abandon the office for ever.

It reminds me of two things. One - the summer I spent with a cracked foot up on the sofa finishing a writing project and two - finishing the first Libby Sarjeant after Hazel Cushion had asked for it. I've always maintained that I needed a dedicated office space to work, and of course, in the past, I have. In our last house, my late husband and I actually had an office each once we'd chucked the two elder children out. Even before that, he had one and I worked in our large utility room. This was essential with four children with ages ranging over ten years, and my liking for working to music probably dates from that time - in order to block out extraneous noises.

But now I've realised I don't need it. I do have one returning child - the current slave - living with me, but he spends most of his time in his room composing music and poetry, only coming out to eat, take the bins out and get the coal in. And it's much more comfortable here, and surprisingly, less distracting. So - advice for writers. As if I'm qualified to give advice... Write where you're comfortable and not where you think you should. No, I'm not going to remind you of Jane Austin, but I might remind you of the opening line of my all-time favourite novel: "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink..."

Thursday, January 26, 2017

New Year and New Books


Well, it's 2017. And next week, at the end of January, the second novella in The Alexandrians series will be out as an ebook.

I am also writing Murder By The Barrel, the eighteenth in the Libby Sarjeant series, which I have to deliver to Accent Press by June this year, and it has been borne in on me that I need to sort out my working life.

I  was beginning to feel a little better when I last updated this blog, but then I fell victim to a "severe bacterial chest infection". Most of the holiday period, from the week before Christmas until New Year is merely a blur. I managed to let the kids escort me to Lou's on Christmas Day, and had to be escorted him after about an hour and put back to bed. The combination  of The Back and The Chest was pretty grim, and I think there were times when the kids actually thought they might lose me. Poor Leo, over in New Jersey, certainly did. I got covert messages from his girlfriend asking if I was sure I was all right, as he was so worried.

Anyway - I'm recovering, although it appears I'm none too steady on my feet. Lou took Leo, Philly and I to see her at a very posh venue in London last week and I managed to fall over again, so I'm terrified of going out on my own. I honestly didn't think I was that old!

So I'm going to make life a bit easier by shutting down the newsletter. I threatened to do this a couple of years ago, and I shall email everyone on the list and ask them to keep an eye on the blog instead, which will have details of Lesley Cookman the Author and occasional details of Lesley Cookman the slightly strange intermittent actor, mother and grandmother.

To that end: I learnt this week that Accent Press want at least one more Alexandrian Novella, so now I've got to think of a story for it. Any ideas?