Good Health

I realised the other day that I’ve not blogged for a while discussing mental health. There are two reasons for this. The first is simply that I have been busy, as my last post says. The second thing is that, honestly, my mental health has been really good. I’ve had to work at it, and it’s taking time. But I’m in a good place.

It’s odd how when our mental health is good, we don’t notice it. But after the Harrogate festival I’ve seen a fair number of attendees say they have, unfortunately, contracted covid. These people have my sympathy, because my understanding is that covid’s not nice.

Oddly, no one in my household has contracted covid at any point since its first arrival in the country. We have gone through the usual testing processes, especially as my husband and daughter worked throughout the pandemic. I did too, but was working from home.

We tend to put this good health down to good luck.

I’m also aware that poor mental health can have a serious and negative effect on the immune system. I’m not suggesting that those who picked up covid are suffering poor mental health, some might be, some might not, I have no evidence either way. I’m saying that my physical health is currently good. I’m a woman of a certain age, so there are issues, but nothing major. Given what I have been through the last few years, I am glad to say that for the last few months, probably a year now, my mental health has been good. I’m very grateful for this.

I love doing what I do now.

I love writing. I love editing. I’m grateful for the opportunity to read books I might not otherwise see, and I hope that I help other authors. And even though it’s a lot of work, I love helping organise the Gŵyl CRIME CYMRU Festival.

This blog is really to say that we should all celebrate the small stuff and acknowledge the good. Cheering the good is much better than bemoaning the bad. It’s good to have good mental health, and I appreciate being in that fortunate position.

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Two Hectic Months!

Just a little bit of my white board.

Sometimes I wonder if I get anything done, then I have a couple of months like the last two and I wonder how I’ve kept up. June and July have been totally hectic!

In the last two months I have written 4 short stories, completed 3 editing commissions, been part of 4 writing events and several committee meetings, made 3 agent submissions, created a new blog, post on 3 different blogs, figured out a new ending for a book, and been as active as I could be on social media.

I wrote all the four short stories for submissions to an anthology, the shortest one is 6k, longest 10k. To be honest, two of these may not make it to anthologies, and go instead to collections of my own, maybe even reader magnets for joining my newsletter. Honestly, I don’t know but I have until the end of September to decide.

I love editing and helping authors with their work, and what I really love about this is that I get to read books I might not otherwise see. I’m also really blessed this last two months as all three books, while very different, were well written and enjoyable to read.

The writing events I’ve attended have taken a huge range of formats. During the PWA Crime Writing Week, I picked up some great tips. I chaired the CWA/Diamond Crime online event for National Crime Reading Month in which I interviewed Jaqueline Harret, Gwyneth Steddy, and Thorne Moore. I attended the Waterstones author evening with Philip Gwynne Jones for “The Angels of Venice”, which was a fun evening. And I was at Harrogate Crime Festival which led to the agents, see my last blog.

Committee Meetings have been for the Gŵyl Crime Cymru Festival which is shaping up nicely.

Agent Submissions are the three I secured at Harrogate, and I really hope that something comes of that.

I’ve started a new blog for steampunk, Shades of Aether, which I’ve already put nine blogs on, and schedule the next. Then there’s the Crime Blog, and of course this one.

The new ending is for the next Elaine Blake book. Because of the situation in Ukraine, I’ve been asked to move the action away from there, for obvious reasons. I selected the new location quickly. What’s taken a lot more brain power was how the characters and action will play out in that new location because it can’t be a simple case of changing the city name and leaving it as it. I’ve got the storyline sorted now, so it’s just a case of writing it now.

And of course, social media gets a mention because it’s something we all do. I admit I could be more active here, but there are only so many hours in a day. 

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Back from Harrogate

Many people will know that about Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival held in Harrogate, and I was there this last weekend gone.

I have to say it was just wonderful!

Originally I had booked to go up on the Thursday and come back on the Sunday, but that meant missing Creative Thursday as it’s a 5 to 7 hour drive (traffic dependant). I mentioned this and my darling hubby said, okay then, he had the Wednesday off anyway, so we could go Wednesday and I could attend Thursday. As it was 1 July at that point, I didn’t think that there would be any places available for Creative Thursday. Thus, without getting my hopes up, I went on the internet and I checked. There were! So I booked one ticket. Then began the fun and games to extend the hotel stay.

The point is, it all worked out in my favour, which was a bit of a surprise. Things don’t usually go that well for me.

So, I attended Creative Thursday, which was really interesting. A panel of established authors lead by Mari Hannah talked about how to approach writing as a profession and gave tips on how to pitch, very useful tips. Vaseem Khan talked about writing the outside your own cultural background. And Greg and Kate Mosse talked about plot structure. They were all great sessions. What also makes it good is the people that you meet and get chatting to during the day, other writers also there to learn, as well as the established writers, all of whom are happy to help.

What I didn’t know, was that the end of Creative Thursday is the Dragons’ Pen, when attendees can pitch their work to agents and publishers. You put your name in a hat; then names are drawn by no less an author than Mark Billingham, and then you have two minutes to pitch your novel to the Dragons. By sheer luck, he picked my name!

So I gave my pitch, trembling all the way through. I remembered what they had said in the morning, to breathe and talk at about half the speed you think you should. I remembered the recommendation to cite other authors/books that are related to your own book. And I did all that. I even did it within the time given. Mark suggested I could have waffled for another 35 seconds, but I responded I don’t waffle in my books, so I couldn’t in a pitch. Don’t know it that did me any good, but I try to keep it true.

Upshot of this is that three of the four asked to see my work! Woo hoo! I was on cloud nine! So with such a good foot in the door, that’s what I’ve now done. I know there are no guarantees, but I have a chance I would never have had had I not gone to Creative Thursday. I just hope now that they like the full book enough to take me on. Or that at least one of them does!

This really is a case of good luck, or alignment of stars or whatever cosmic power you want to believe in. I was lucky to get the extra day in Harrogate. I was lucky to get on Creative Thursday course. I was lucky Mark Billingham pulled my name. I was lucky I have a good book to pitch. I was lucky that three people were interested enough to want to see it. I was lucky.

I’ve also worked damn hard to get that book right – as you’ll see from the previous blog because that book is the one I pitched. I also worked hard on the day on that pitch, tweaking it right up to the last minute, so it said everything it needed to say. Because I will always remember the quote from Samuel Goldwyn “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Just to balance the sweet news, here’s a touch of sour. I was also told by one individual that they are the only one who reads my blog. So to the rest, if you’re not reading, I don’t know what you’re doing here. Still, I see the numbers, and I appreciate all who follow my ramblings. Thank you all for reading.

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Writing Ain’t Easy

Writing isn’t easy. Well, okay, writing is, but writing to a standard worth publishing is something else again.

I’m working on a book where I love the story, where I know the end game. But I’m struggling with it. I’ve had this book on the go for years, but I’m just not getting it right.

It started out as straight contemporary crime. But I was told blankly that it would never get accepted for publication as it talks about the porn industry. Apparently that won’t sell in America, which just goes to show how that is a land of contradiction.

After that I realised that I needed to do something, but wasn’t sure what. Then I got it. Madoc wasn’t a strong enough character. There was something missing. That was when I decided he had the gift, the sight, could hear the dead. Not a new idea, but not one that’s in a mainly contemporary setting.

So I rewrote the book. Even got a publishing offer for it. But I turned it out. The story wasn’t ready, it wasn’t right.

That leaves me with a story that I know is worthy at its core, but it’s just not there.

I decided Madoc needed more. He needed to be more. So I’ve gone full blown Pagan with him now and rewritten again. It still isn’t selling, but then it still isn’t right.

I was also told by an excellent writer, one who I respect a great deal, that I should give up writing contemporary crime. That was depressing. Though for full disclosure, what this writer meant was that I should concentrate on my steampunk work, which is still crime, but under a different guise. So with a sigh, and a dip into depression. I decided it was time to concentrate on my steampunk work, that Madoc’s time was done.

Wrong again!

What I realised is that I need to stop holding back. That was the problem. Rather than keeping the supernatural elements of Madoc’s ability quiet, I’m going to bring them to the fore. The solution to the crime will still have to be completely ‘real world’, but the getting there will be guided by unusual means. Hopefully, I can rewrite and make that work now.

So that it. A whole new rewrite. When I have the time.

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I Hate Yous

‘I hate you’ is one of those things that gets said in two ways, both full of meaning and emotion. The one where it’s the truth, which is hurtful and more often than not mutual. And the one where it’s the opposite of the truth, and it’s just a joke and both parties can laugh at it.

Someone I care a lot about told me they hate me a couple of days ago. And I’m not laughing. I am hugely upset still, to the point of it affecting my work.

To give some background, this is a longstanding friend, who I know has some issues that often present with a very negative self-image. And I worry about them because of that. The chat we were having friendly and a bit silly about writing and delivery methods, and all was fine. Then a comes a message that says how this friend feels underappreciated. I was ready to sympathise, there is nothing worse than that feeling. Then I read on about how my lack of respect was damaging their self-worth and making them unhealthy. While sitting stunned to read that, another message came in that simply said: “I hate you”.

I was gobsmacked. Didn’t know where any of that had come from. I was also deeply, deeply hurt.

From where I was sitting, we’d gone from a light-hearted discussion to one about serious mental health issues. This friend and I have had lots of silly conversations over the years, joking conversations, but this didn’t feel the same at all.

I tried to rationalise that it had been sent to the wrong person. They couldn’t mean that. So, I waited for some indication that this was a mistake or a joke. None came. After a while I replied with “Wow – okay”, because I was so shocked. I hoped that that would break the silence and they’d come back to me so I could understand what was going on.

I left it for a few hours thinking that the friend had to have been distracted, and they’d come back and say they were joking. But I heard nothing more, I thought oh my god, they mean it. They actually mean they hate me.

So, I responded that after thinking about it, that what had been said was unexpected and hurtful, and if they felt that way, then it would be best to call a halt to the association.

That friend has now come back saying they were joking. No ‘Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way it was meant as a joke.’ No, just ‘I was joking’. They claim it was all a continuation of the silliness before, and how could I possibly not see that? Only it didn’t flow, it was a change of topic, and it didn’t read like a joke.

They said that they are sorry I saw it as I did. Implying I’ve got it all wrong.

That they can’t believe that I would think it was a serious message. Indicating I’m the only one at fault.

They say to take it seriously I can’t know them as well as they thought. Again, blaming me while showing no indication of knowing me at all.

That I’m not as good a friend as they thought. Well that cuts both ways, pal.

They say that they can’t read my mind via text, demonstrating no understanding that I can’t read theirs either.

I really care about this person, and am shocked by the level to which they are prepared to try to put the misunderstanding entirely on me without taking a single iota of responsibility. The failure to demonstrate understanding that someone else might not see things exactly as they do is what I’m finding most painful. The dip into mansplaining didn’t help much. Friendships can’t be a one-way street, there has to be give and take. No two people ever see everything the exact same way. We all have to make allowances.

I want to remain friends with this person, but I want to see them take responsibility for their own words. To actually say they are sorry without implying that it’s entirely my fault while they stand blameless.

I don’t want grovelling, no promise not to do it again (that’s an impossible promise to keep anyway people often misread others), no overblown protestations of friendship. A simple, quiet sorry is all it would take, but I don’t expect I’ll get one.

Since writing the above the friend has now come back to tell me that it’s all down to my ‘failure of humour’, that I was hostile in trying to explain why I didn’t see it as funny, and that I don’t understand them. So, apparently, it’s all my fault, none of theirs and I mean nothing to that friend after all. Shame.

p.s. The friend mentioned doesn’t follow this blog. So, no this wasn’t written with their reading it in mind. This is me expressing my feelings and not expecting any response from anyone. That after all is why I started blogging, to scream into the void.

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Weird Crastinating

You know what procrastinating is right? You may even be doing it right now by reading this blog. I know I do lots of procrastinating, because it’s easier than doing the actual work, or at least it feels like it.

You may even have heard about procrastabaking (the art of baking instead of doing what you really should be doing)? I’ve done plenty of that over the years too.  Good for procrastinating, but bad for the waistline. 

But did you know there’s such as thing as precrastinating? I only heard of this today. Precrastination is the inclination to complete tasks quickly just for the sake of getting things done sooner rather than later.

Pro- or pre-crastination is problematic. There are cliches for both. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.  Marry in haste, repent at leisure.

But if you can pre- and pro-crastinate, it begs the question, can you just crastinate? Interestingly, yes, you can crastinate. To crastinate is actually to procrastinate. It is simply an obsolete form for the word procrastination.

So, does knowing this now overwhelm you? Underwhelm you? Whelm you?

Anyway, what I’m taking a long time to say, is words are weird.

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Write Back

I’ve had a really packed few weeks, and being able to work off my laptop is an absolute must. My life is on this laptop in one way or another. So when finally the last of the festivals* was done, I was looking forward to spending a fair amount of time alone with my laptop to catch up on some things.

Then my laptop died.

Well, it didn’t exactly die. The battery started to expand, which is as good as dying because that can lead to the battery exploding and fires and big trouble, and you’re not supposed to used them at all once you spot the problem.

I only brought the laptop in July last year – because the previous one (three years old) died when the battery expanded. So thankfully, I could get the battery changed under warranty, so I called the supplier and they agreed to sort out the repair at no charge. So I downloaded all my documents onto a hard drive and took it to the shop. The bad news was that it would be away for a whole week (turned out to be 8 days).

In the meantime, I had to resurrect an old Samsung laptop I have. It’s ten years old, brought when Windows 8 was first released. I haven’t even turned that laptop on in years, so it took two days of updates to get it to do anything, and it turns out that doing anything with images is beyond its capacity. Well, to be honest, that’s not entirely fair, it could do stuff, but so slowly it was painful, definitely beyond the endurance of my patience. Thankfully, though, it was good enough to let me do the last edits on my current WIP, so I am very grateful I hadn’t got rid of the machine. If I hadn’t been able to do that, I would have been totally stressed out by now, instead, I’m feeling good for having sent the manuscripts to my publisher.

Anyway, I now have my lovely ‘new’ laptop back and I can really get on with all I need to do.

So happy to be reunited with my best work tool.




* Gwyl CRIME CYMRU Festival, then Narberth Book Fair, then CrimeFest.

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Book Review – The Snowdonia Killings by Simon McCleave

Blurb

Starting a new life in Snowdonia was always DI Ruth Hunter’s dream. Until a twisted killer turned it into her worst nightmare. 

Detective Inspector Ruth Hunter lives with the pain of her partner’s mysterious and unsolved disappearance. About to hit fifty, the veteran police officer trades in the crime-ridden streets of London for a more peaceful life in rural North Wales. But Ruth has barely settled into her new position in North Wales Police, when the body of a brutally murdered woman is discovered…with strange symbols carved into her skin. Teaming up with an obstinate deputy, Ruth struggles to eliminate anyone from a long line of suspects. When another slain victim is discovered with the same cryptic markings, she’s forced to re-think the investigation.

Has Ruth got what it takes to solve the case before the murderer attacks again?

The Snowdonia Killings is the first book in the DI Ruth Hunter Crime Thriller series and set against the majestic backdrop of Snowdonia, a timeless land of Arthurian legend, folklore and myth. If you like dark police procedurals, psychologically complex characters, and shocking twists, then you’ll love Simon McCleave’s pulse-pounding debut novel.

My Review

Okay, hands up, who hasn’t wanted to kill a teacher/headmaster?

There’s a fair amount of setup to read before the first murder, but it’s totally worth it. By the time we reach the first killing, the reader already thinks the victim deserves it and there are plenty of natural suspects. The second killing is less obvious, but again, not without good reason. 

Ruth acts as the readers way into this book. From her life in the Met and Peckham, her personal backstory (I won’t spoiler it for you), and her decision to move to the quiet life of North Wales, she gives a good insight into what it’s like to be the incomer (as I was when I first came to Wales, and I believe as Simon McCleave was when he wrote the novel). It’s awkward and difficult to find your space, but Ruth does this well forming a great partnership with DS Nick Evans who wants her there in opposite proportion to how much he wants his next drink.

Nick’s drinking is an interesting choice here. Though it is a bit of cliché to have a heavy drinking police officer, Nick is attending AA. He doesn’t seem to be working it through most of the book, but he’s attending. While he is a functioning alcoholic, these things never go as unnoticed as the drinker thinks it does. So, while Ruth sees all the great potential in Nick, she also sees the problem.  But can she open his eyes to it?

Annoyingly for me, I figured out who the killer was quite early in the book, and I kept hoping I was wrong. I wasn’t, but that didn’t spoil it because when the killer is finally revealed and we see all the blind alleys and misdirections, the killer’s motivation is solid and understandable. There’s a real sense of feeling that while murder isn’t justifiable, the reader understands what drove the murderer to it. It makes sense, and that’s always important in crime fiction.

This book is a great introduction to the characters and their lives, and the fledgeling professional relationships that they are building. The text also gives a good sense of place too. By the last page, the reader is comfortable with the two main leads and really likes them, while at the same time wondering how things are going to carry on.

This was a really satisfying read, and I would highly recommend it.

Bio

Simon is a million selling crime novelist. His first book, ‘The Snowdonia Killings’, was released in January 2020 and soon became an Amazon Bestseller, reaching No 1 in the Amazon UK Chart and selling over 300,000 copies. His subsequent novels in the DI Ruth Hunter Crime Thriller Series (11 so far) have all ranked in the Amazon Top 20 and are Amazon Best Sellers. He has sold over a 1.25 million books since 2020. The Chirk Castle Killings, Book 12, will release on June 28th 2020.

The Dark Tide, new Anglesey series for Harper Collins, has just been released at reached UK top ten in Kindle Chart.

Simon is currently in negotiations to make the Ruth Hunter books into a television series.

Simon McCleave was born in South London. When leaving University, he worked in television and film development. He was a Script Editor at the BBC, a producer at Channel 4 before working as a Story Analyst in Los Angeles. He worked on films such as ‘The Full Monty’ and television series such as the BBC Crime Drama ‘Between The Lines’.

Simon then became a script writer for television and film. He wrote on series such as Silent Witness, Murder In Suburbia, Teachers, Attachments, The Bill, Eastenders and many more. His film, ‘Out of the Game’ for Channel 4 was critically acclaimed – ‘An unflinching portrayal of male friendship.’ (Time Out)

Simon lives in North Wales with his wife and two children.

Simon is also incredibly tall as I found out in CrimeFest this year – but then I am a bit of short-stop at 5’5”. (Simon is 6’ 4”)

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Implements

I’ve noticed something odd today. Firstly, I know it’s been a while, sorry. My time has been taken up doing things for others and I simply haven’t been able to keep up.

The odd thing I noticed today is that I’ve started keeping special pens/pencils for certain things I write down. Usually I just grab the nearest writing implement and use that, but lately I find myself having to go to get the ‘right’ pen. As you can see in the picture, these aren’t particularly special pens.

There’s a standard hp pencil and a blue biro. These I use for tarot readings (I’m learning them for a character I’m working on). The two multicoloured pencils I use for when I’m working on “Save The Cat! Writes A Novel”, I like to use different colours for different types of notes. The black one at the bottom is the one I’ve started using for drafting one of the books I’m working on. Stuart Feild gave this to me at CrimeFest a week ago. It’s just a really nice writer.

What isn’t a nice writer right now, is this laptop. The usual laptop I use is a HP, but early this week I discovered that the battery was expanding, which is extremely dangerous. So that laptop (only 10 months old) has gone for warranty repairs. This means that I am now working on an old Samsung laptop. When I say old – it’s running Windows 8 and I remember I brought it when Windows 8 was first out, so it’s at least 10 years old. It works, but it is so incredibly slow! I’ll have typed to the end of the sentence and then have to stop to wait for the words to show up on screen. Very frustrating. Still, I have something to work with and for that I am grateful. But right now, I’m going back to pencil and paper; it’s less frustrating.

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Sinkhole

I’ve been struggling at a time when I really didn’t expect to. We’ve been waiting upward of ten years for a new kitchen and we’re now in the process. It’s nearly done, three weeks so far, two more to go.

But it’s doing my head in. There’s been mess everywhere, not just the kitchen, but the entire ground floor. It’s not a big house, but to unify it all, the flooring runs from the front door, through the sitting room, and into the kitchen diner. That means because we’ve had to change the kitchen floor, we’ve had to change the rest of the floor, which is why we’ve had to clear the ground floor.

I’ve tried working while stuff is going on, but it’s proved impossible.

The hardest thing as far as living is concerned is not having a kitchen sink. I can’t get to have a drink of water easily, if I cook pasta (yes, the hob is back in now, yay!) I’ve got to fill a jug a couple of times to fill the pot, then I’ve got nowhere to drain the cooked pasta, so I have to get another large saucepan to drain it, then carry that to the garden to pour it down the outside drain.

Against expectations, I could have lived without the hob longer than living without the sink. Can’t wait for the plumber to arrive. I’m hoping Monday, but I have a feeling it’s Tuesday.

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