Jenny Kane: Coffee, cupcakes, chocolate and contemporary fiction / Jennifer Ash: Medieval crime with hints of Ellis Peters and Robin Hood

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The importance of book reviews

Over recent years I’ve been blessed with some lovely reviews for my novels. I’ve also had some stinkers – but you can’t please everyone. (Although, I try very hard to do just that.)

Reviews are vital to an author – the more you have (especially 4 and 5 star reviews) the better your chances are of being asked to write another book. So, if you have enjoyed a book by an author, write a review- that way, there is a higher chance of that person being asked to write another one.

If a book has over 100 reviews on Amazon, it is automatically given some promotion on their targeted email advertising.  As most authors can’t afford to pay for advertising – this is a big deal.

Not only that, reviews are the only way an author can tell if he or she is ‘hitting the spot’ or not. Obviously high book sales can tell you if your book is successful – but sale figures can do no more than reflect how good your marketing is. It is feedback from your readership that tells you if your stories are actually working.

If you wrote a thriller- did it thrill?

If you wrote a romance- did it melt the heart?

If you wrote a horror- did it give your reader nightmares?

Obviously this is a simplistic set of questions, but the point is- authors need to know – and the way to tell them is via reviews.

Good reviews improve our standing and our professional reputations. They improve our ratings on Amazon and equivalent book selling platforms. The more good reviews an author has, the better their overall sales will become.

I’m not saying that you should only give good reviews. If a book has disappointed, let you down and so on, then some constructive criticism can help an author- even though it might be difficult to swallow sometimes!

But you should not give a poor review because…

… of damaged delivery packaging. (That is nothing to do with the author)

…the book isn’t the one you meant to purchase.

…the book was a gift, and wasn’t something you wanted to read, etc etc….

My favourite 1 star review was for Another Cup of Coffee – it was complaining about all the sex in it.  This really confused me as, although there is a suggestion that sex might happen on two occasions within that 97,000 word book, there is no actual sex.  I dread to think what might have happened if that reviewer had accidentally purchased one of my Kay Jaybee books!!!

So – in short – if you enjoy a book – PLEASE review it.

It takes up to a year of hard work to write a book that you’ll read in a matter of days. Any positive feedback you can give helps us author types a great deal.

Whether you leave a review on the Amazon, WHSmith, Waterstones, Goodreads – or any other retailer/book promotion platform – every single one helps.

Every single one.

 

And with that…I have reviews to write for some books I’ve recently enjoyed!

THANK YOU

Happy reading,

Jenny x

 

So, you want to be a writer

So, you want to be a writer.

This is a list of the 8 questions I would encourage you to ask yourself before you start to write.

Who are you writing for?

Yourself? Friends? Family?

If the answer isn’t for yourself – then take a deep breath and think very carefully.  However much fun it is, writing is hard work. If you aren’t doing it because you want to, it’ll be even harder.

What are you writing for?

Money? Fun? To make a point? To leave something of yourself behind after your death? Because you simply have to write?

Once you’ve decided to take the plunge, you need to ask yourself…

What genre are you going to write?

Are you going to write in a given genre. If so – which one?

Crime, romance, paranormal, steampunk, fantasy, erotica, contemporary fiction, goths, thrillers….The list is huge, and expanding all the time.

Which age group/gender are you targeting?

Adults? Teenagers? Children? Everyone?

It is vital to know your audience. Make sure you read as much as you can in the genre/audience group you hope to write for.

Let’s get practical!

Where will you write?

At home, in the local café, the library, or a hired office?

If you are not comfortable in your writing place, the words will not come easily.

What medium will you chose?

Paper, computer, tablet, phone, dictation?

There is no right or wrong way to produce a story. Go with what works for you – not what you think ought to work for you.

Will you approach an agent, a publisher, or self publish?

Each avenue has advantages and disadvantages. Whatever you decide to do – get as much advice as you can about your preferred option first.

And- most boringly and practical of all- can you manage your own marketing?

Don’t forget, if you don’t market your writing, then all your hard work will have been wasted. No one will know your book exists if you don’t wave your flag! So, love it or hate, you will need to get to grips with social media, whether you are traditionally published or self published.

 

***

Happy questioning!

Jenny xx

 

 

5 Tips: Progressing from short story writing to novels

So, you’ve had an idea?

You’ve woke up in the middle of the night with a title that just screams to be the name of the next bestselling novel, or a plot line that is leaping around your head with such ferocity that it has to hit the bookshelves.

You’ve already written short stories, but a novel – that’s a hell of a lot of words…

1. Think of short story writing as your novel writing apprenticeship – Short stories are a brilliant way for any writer to learn their craft. By learning to write to a word limit you can build your literary skill and finesse your writing. Too many people are in a rush to write a novel without taking the time to learn the skills needed. Creating short stories can teach you how to write in such a way that not a single word is wasted. Every word- every single one- has to count in a short story. The same applies to a novel- pages of waffle and repetition are boring to read and boring to write.

2. You need instant impact – In a short story all you have to grab your reader’s attention is the first one or two sentences. When writing their first novel, new writers often relax, thinking the lengthier word count means they have the luxury of spending pages to grab their reader’s interest- wrong!

When you write a novel the same instant impact rule applies as for short pieces. You have one to three paragraphs at the most to hook them. If a reader’s interest isn’t piqued by the end of the first page you’ve lost them- and then they are less likely to look at any further work you might produce. Once you have hooked them of course, then you can coax them into the story and work to keep them with you until they reach the last page – desperate to read more.

3. Don’t push that plot – Once you’ve started writing your novel, if you find your dream plot isn’t going to stretch to a whole novel (usually btw 70-100,000), then pause. Take a step back. There is nothing worse than reading a story that’s had its plot watered down just so it’s the required length. Take a walk. Think it through. Can the storyline take an extra twist to the plot? Can the interest in your characters be sustained? If not- make it a novella. Novellas (generally accepted to be anything from 20-60K), are very popular, great fun to write and wonderful writing practice.

4. Climb that word count– Addressing a word count of c.90,000 after having previously only completed pieces that are 5-10,000 words long can seem like a mammoth task. So why not build up slowly? Think of it like mountaineering. No one would tackle Everest without climbing a few lesser mountains first. So grab the crampons and the ropes and tackle a 15,000 word story – then add a crash helmet and a few rations and go for a novella. Then, as your confidence builds and you’ll soon be ready to strap on the oxygen tank, grab a pick and go for that novel!

5. Still feel like heavy going?- A lot of issues connected with getting through a novel for the first time are psychological. Don’t be afraid to address each chapter like an individual short story, but with a more open ending. After all, you already know you can write short tales of fiction. Allow yourself rewards for every 1000 words- an extra cup of coffee, a chocolate bar, a ten minute walk. Take one word at a time.

Remember- it’s supposed to be fun!

Happy writing!!

Jenny

(Check out my short story and general fiction writing workshops at www.imaginecreativewriting.co.uk  )

Why Did I Write Romancing Robin Hood?

It is said that everyone has one book in them. This isn’t the case with me- so far I’ve taken part in the creation of over 200 books. Having said that however, one book always needed to be released from my imagination – and that book was Romancing Robin Hood.

This novel sat in my mind for decades, just waiting for the moment to be right.

 

Many many many years ago, when I was a teenager, I was a bit- shall we say unusual? I suspect the words ‘odd’ and ‘eccentric’ would be more accurate, but I’ll let you make your own mind up on that!!!

I never did the pop or film star crush thing. Never had pictures of Duran Duran or Wham on my wall. Adam Ant didn’t look up at me from my pencil case, and I did not wake up to see a life sized poster of Morrissey’s backside complete with gladioli (or whatever flower it was) sticking out of his backside!!

Nor was I into the Pac Man craze (I am so giving my age away here!), and the background to Manic Minor drove me nuts! I didn’t buy Jackie, or indulge in spending my money on Cosmopolitan.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like music or playing the odd game of tennis on the Atari- but I had a different sort of fascination.

RH- RoS 2

Cast of Robin of Sherwood

Robin Hood!!

I know what you’re thinking- you’re thinking that I had a crush on Jason Connery or Michael Praed- but nope. Sorry- neither of those lovely boys are my type at all.

It all started because I was ill for ages and ages when I was 14. I missed a lot of school. But as always in life, timing is everything- and I was saved by an instant and unshakeable love for the series of Robin of Sherwood that was being aired on ITV at the time. It was the third series- I hadn’t seen either of the first two. (I have now- lots!) As I was at home so much, my parents rented one of those new fangled video recorders from Radio Rentals so I could record stuff and watch it when I liked. (Thanks Mum and Dad- still grateful for that!!)

The VCR arrived the same day as the episode of Robin of Sherwood called Adam Bell was aired- I recorded it and watched it 8 times the next day- and then again, and again and again. Now- over 20 years later- I can still quote the script!! (Okay- that’s nothing to be proud of- see- I’m a bit odd!!)

It wasn’t the tight tights that had captured my heart though- it was the story. The whole story. All of it. I wanted to know everything- EVERYTHING- that could possibly be known about Robin Hood. No film, book (nonfiction or fiction), was safe from me.

RH- E Flynn

Errol Flynn- The Adventures of Robin Hood

 

My walls disappeared under posters of RH- any posters- from Errol Flynn, to Richard Greene, to the statue up in Nottingham, to the gorgeous Ray Winstone who played Will Scarlet (Okay- you have me there- I had – still do- have a ‘thing’ for Ray Winstone- there is such a twinkle in those eyes!!!)

The interest became an obsession (In RH not Ray Winstone). When I was better my parents took me to Sherwood- I learnt archery, I read medieval political poems and ballads- I wanted to know the truth- did he exist or didn’t he?

I did a project on RH for my A’ level History. Then I went to university and did a specialist course in Medieval Castle and Ecclesiastical Architecture…I was a medieval junky!! It seemed only natural to do a PhD on the subject- and that is exactly what I did!

Robin Hood Statue- Nottingham

Robin Hood Statue- Nottingham

By this time of course, I was pretty certain how and why the RH legend had begun- but I wanted to know who had influenced it into the form we know today, and how the real recorded crimes and daily life of the thirteenth and fourteenth century had affected those stories… (forget thinking RH was around with Richard I or King John- it ain’ happening!!)

It was my PhD that taught me to write- (a tome of epic proportions that is still knocking around my old Uni library gathering dust, while e-versions of it are scattered around many American Universities). Rather than finish off my love of RH- my PhD polished it to perfection!! (Although nothing could make me like the latest BBC series or the Russell Crowe or Taron Egerton films.)

I guess it was only a matter of time before I decided to write a novel about a Robin Hood obsessed historian.

Blurb-

Dr Grace Harper has loved the stories of Robin Hood ever since she first saw them on TV as a girl. Now, with her fortieth birthday just around the corner, she’s a successful academic in Medieval History, with a tenured position at a top university.

But Grace is in a bit of a rut. She’s supposed to be writing a textbook on a real-life medieval gang of high-class criminals – the Folvilles – but she keeps being drawn into the world of the novel she’s secretly writing – a novel which entwines the Folvilles with her long-time love of Robin Hood – and a feisty young girl named Mathilda, who is the key to a medieval mystery…

Meanwhile, Grace’s best friend Daisy – who’s as keen on animals as Grace is on the Merry Men – is unexpectedly getting married, and a reluctant Grace is press-ganged into being her bridesmaid. As Grace sees Daisy’s new-found happiness, she starts to re-evaluate her own life. Is her devotion to a man who may or may not have lived hundreds of years ago really a substitute for a real-life hero of her own? It doesn’t get any easier when she meets Dr Robert Franks – a rival academic who Grace is determined to dislike but finds herself being increasingly drawn to.

You can buy this crime/romance/modern/medieval novel from all good retailers, including-

Amazon – mybook.to/RomancingRH

Happy reading

Jenny

xxx

 

 

 

 

16 years… and counting…

This week marks the start of my 16th year as a published author!

I’m not at all sure how I got this far. It’s a constant source of surprise to me that so many people want to read my books – whether of an erotic, romantic or historical lilt.

The publishing world – and the world in general – has changed so much since my first kinky short story, was taken up by Cleis Press (under the pen name Kay Jaybee). I had no idea sixteen years ago, that that initial publication would lead to anymore. I did know however, once I’d had that first story acceptance, that I wanted to try for another one. The feeling I get when a book, short story or script is accepted by a publisher is a hit like no other – not even extra strong coffee with a side order of chocolate, can touch it!

So- here I am, 200+ short stories, 6 scripts and 29 novels/novellas later, with a brand new novel at the starting gates!

Autumn Leaves at Mill Grange will be published this week!!

Autumn Leaves at Mill Grange

‘I am a big fan of Jenny Kane’ Katie Fforde.

At Mill Grange, the work – and the fun – never stops! As autumn brings coolness and colour, change is in the air for all at the manor…

Sam Philips’ time in the forces changed him forever. Supported by his friends, Sam is keen to help make beautiful Mill Grange a safe retreat for injured army personnel… but his crippling claustrophobia means Sam is living in a tent on the grounds! Enlisting the help of charming village stalwarts Bert and Mabel Hastings, Tina Martins is determined to find a way to help him conquer his fears. But why does she feel like he is keeping a secret?

After discovering evidence of a Roman fortlet on the manor’s grounds, Thea Thomas is thrilled at the chance to return to her archaeological roots and lead the excavation. She spent the summer with handsome celebrity archaeologist Shaun Cowlson – but now he’s off filming his Landscape Treasures show in Cornwall, and Thea can’t help but miss his company. Especially as someone else is vying for his attention…

Welcome back to Mill Grange and the beautiful village of Upwich, full of larger-than-life characters you can’t  help but adore.

Available from Nook, Kobo, as well as Amazon UK and Amazon US

I’d like to say THANK YOU to everyone who has supported my writing journey – whether you’ve bought a book, left a nice review, or simply given me support, encouragement, or made me smile – it all helps – and it is always appreciated.

I’m so lucky to be able to write for a living – and while the hours are long and the pay is bad, to be able to spend my days in fiction of my own creation, or helping my Imagine students to develop their own fiction, is a joy and a privilege.

Happy reading everyone – and thank you.

Jenny xx

Recipe for writing success: Scones anyone?

Some of you will have heard the story about how my writing life came about- if you haven’t heard it- then basically, it was all down to a Mars Bar scone.

This week I was lucky enough to be speaking at the Weston Writer’s – ‘How to Be a Writer’ event – and the subject of Mars Bar scones came up.

I rashly promised to share the recipe…so….

Ingredients

8 oz self raising flour

2 oz butter

1 oz caster sugar

Half a teaspoon of baking powder

Quarter pint of milk (semi or full fat)

2 large or 6 mini Mars Bars (chopped into small pieces)

Method

Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl

Rub in the butter

Sprinkle in the diced Mars Bar

Make a well in the centre of the dry mixture

Pour in almost all the milk and stir slowly with a knife, gradually blending in the mixture to form a dough

Sprinkle some flour onto a dry hard surface

Roll out with a rolling pin until the dough is approx half an inch thick.

Use a cutter to cut into scone shaped rounds. (You will have approx 6 scones)

Paint the top with the remaining milk

Cook at Gas mark 8 or 230 degrees for 7-10 mins.

Eat hot with lots of butter! (This is not the time to think about your diet!!)

ENJOY!!

Happy munching

Jenny x

PS- If you don’t know the Mars Bar scone story…I’ll tell it again very soon!

 

 

Welcome to 2020

It’s 2020 – a year I’ve already named ‘the year of busy.’

This is not a complaint- far from it. I love to be busy. In fact, I’m pretty hopeless at resting, relaxing and having days off.

Why so busy? Well, I have just (as you’ll know if you are a regular visitor to this blog) been extremely fortunate, and secured a deal with Aria (an imprint of Head of Zeus), to write three romantic novels set on Exmoor.

This is ultra exciting- and I’ll be honest- all I’ve dreamed off for years. A “proper” publishing deal with a major publisher. I am still in shock.

The price of this is a lot of work. Book One (Midsummer at Mill Grange) is written- but book two needs to be down and perfect on paper by March- which is scarily close! Then book three, has to be started and finished by October this year.

Northmoor House, Exmoor (The ‘real’ Mill Grange.)

I have a feeling I ought to be panicking- but I don’t have time. In fact, I am loving it. The words are just flowing, and I adore the characters and the location. As soon as I can tell you all about them I will.

This year isn’t all about Mill Grange however. In May, my bestselling novels, Abi’s House and Abi’s Neighbour, republished by Headline Books. They will be re titled, The Cornish Escape and A Cornish Wedding. More on that soon! (The original books are still available)

My Jennifer Ash side also has her hands full. The fourth Folville Chronicle, Outlaw Justice, has been drafted, and as soon as I can, I’ll edit it. It will be out by October this year!

I’m also teaching all year for Imagine. If you’re in the Devon or Somerset area, and are looking for a writing course, why not look us up!

Right then – I’d better crack on!

Happy reading,

Jenny x

 

Christmas at the Castle: Scottish romance and coffee

Christmas at the Castle is the third and final festive tale from my ‘Another Cup of…’ series.

This standalone story takes author Kit Lambert away from the comfort of Pickwicks Coffee Shop, into the beautiful Deeside region of Scotland…

Blurb – When hotshot businesswoman Alice Warren is asked to organise a literary festival at beautiful Crathes Castle in Scotland, her ‘work mode’ persona means she can’t say no – even though the person asking is her ex, Cameron Hunter.

Alice broke Cameron’s heart and feels she owes him one – but her best friend Charlie isn’t going to like it. Charlie – aka famous author Erin Spence – is happy to help Alice with the festival…until she finds out that Cameron’s involved! Charlie suffered a bad case of unrequited love for Cameron, and she can’t bear the thought of seeing him again. Caught between her own insecurities and loyalty to her friend, Charlie gets fellow author Kit Lambert to take her place. Agreeing to leave her London comfort zone – and her favourite corner in Pickwicks Café – Kit steps in. She quickly finds herself not just helping out, but hosting a major literary event, while also trying to play fairy godmother – a task which quickly gets very complicated indeed…

 

Here’s a tasty taster for you… Author Charlie, and her business woman friend Alice are in a café in Banchory, Scotland, discussing the literary festival they are trying to run. Charlie is convinced that Alice is holding out on her- but she doesn’t know why…

“…Charlie was convinced her friend was lying, but she wasn’t sure why. ‘Loads of Scottish towns have festivals. Come on, Alice, why did you choose here?’

‘It’s a beautiful place. More people should see it; although I grant you the festival is three miles away at the castle, so not everyone will come into the town itself.’

‘I can’t argue with the knock-out location argument,’ Charlie said, ‘but why really? Please don’t do the mysterious hot-shot businesswoman bit with me Alice..’

Not looking at her companion, Alice reached into her designer bag and pulled out a notebook and matching pen, and mumbled, ‘Cameron asked me to.’

Charlie’s cheeks instantly went red. ‘Cameron Hunter? He doesn’t live here anymore. I thought you guys were a thing of the past?’

‘We are. But I owe him. He asked me for help. He’s working up at Crathes Castle, running the estate management team. Tasked with bringing in new events to improve the out-of-season tourist figures.’

Speaking slowly, as if trying to get her head around a difficult sum, Charlie said, ‘Cameron Hunter is back? Cameron who treats me as though I’m invisible?’

Alice rolled her eyes. ‘He never thought you were invisible! Honestly, Charlie, I can’t believe you’re still going on about that. I thought you were paranoid at the time, but it was five years ago! And you wouldn’t want him now anyway, would you?’ She studied her friend more shrewdly. ‘Or would you?’

‘Not even if he was soaked in chocolate, but that is not the point.’ Charlie couldn’t believe Alice had put her in this position. ‘He made me feel small and worthless. I bet if you mentioned me by name to him he wouldn’t know who the hell you were talking about.’ Charlie closed her eyes for a second while she tried to calm the anger that was rapidly tightening in her chest. ‘We used to spend hours chatting while he waited around for you to beautify yourself, and yet the second you arrived he acted as though you two were the only people in the world.’

Alice raised her eyebrows. ‘Don’t be ridiculous, it was never like that. And it’s hardly his fault you got a crush on him.’ Shaking her head as if to dismiss a non-existent problem, like she would at work, Alice said, ‘The thing is, his job at Crathes is currently temporary. Cameron has to secure a profit-making event in the first four months of his job for it to become permanent.’

Crathes Castle

Charlie’s palms had gone as clammy as if it was the middle of summer. ‘But we’re holding the festival at the castle.’

‘That’s what I’m saying! Cameron couldn’t find anyone willing to run an event at such short notice so close to Christmas. Craft fairs have been done to death and it’s too cold for outdoor theatre. So he came to my company for ideas.’

‘The man whose heart you broke. The man you left without a word so you could go and be a big city success?’ Charlie couldn’t get her head straight. ‘Why didn’t you tell me he was here, or that it was his festival I was helping plan?’

Sensing that she might have pushed Charlie’s good nature too far, Alice said, ‘Because you’re my friend. You’re helping me, not Cameron. I need you, sweetie. My reputation is on the line. I promised I’d make this one hell of an event.’

Seeing the thunderous expression on the normally calm Charlie’s face, Alice realised she was close to losing the help of the person she’d been depending on most. ‘Please, Charlie! I’ve secured a top line-up of authors and no one wants to see them!’

Speaking through gritted teeth, Charlie said, ‘You mean I’ve secured you a top line-up of authors.’

‘Yes, well, same thing,’ Alice flipped open her notebook. ‘But despite that, this festival isn’t getting any local interest.’

Keeping quiet her thought that things not going to plan for once could do Alice a lot of good, Charlie had to agree that even though the posters displayed all over town proclaimed a line-up of bestselling authors that would be the envy of many established festivals, the situation was far from rosy.

There were eight main events, but not one ticket had been sold. The website for the festival was up and running, but no one had visited it yet. The Facebook and Twitter pages were in full working order, but the number of followers was lacklustre to say the least. People obviously had more important things to spend their money on so near to Christmas.

Forgetting her determination not to let her hair do its unruly impression of a haystack, Charlie ran a hand through its curls and let out a strangled cry of frustration as she got to her feet.

‘You’re right, you do need help.’ Charlie grabbed her bag and scarf. ‘I’m glad you’ve finally worked out you can’t always be a one-woman band. In a small town, you need lots of volunteers to run something like this. You also need to learn how to ask nicely for that help, rather than assuming one flutter of your eyelashes will do the trick.

‘Obviously, I won’t be helping any more. You knew that I wouldn’t be able to once I learned Cameron was involved, which is presumable why you didn’t tell me before.’ Without pausing, Charlie leant across the table and whispered, ‘You let me watch while you took what you wanted from Cameron, knowing I liked him more than you did, and then, once he’d fallen for you hook, line, and sinker, you disappeared and dumped him by text. I made a total fool of myself trying to comfort him. The relief I felt when he left was huge, and yet, fool that I am, I still missed seeing him around. The only good thing I ever got from Cameron was the plot to The Love-Blind Boy!’

Catching her breath, gratified by the shocked expression on Alice’s face, Charlie added, ‘As it happens, I don’t want this festival to fail. Too many hardworking authors are travelling a long way to come here.’ She scribbled two names onto a paper napkin. ‘These people might help, if you’re nice to them.’

Slamming the napkin onto the table, Charlie gathered her coat into her arms and walked away, leaving a stunned Alice staring after her…

***

If that has whetted your appetite, you can find out what happens next, and if there is a literary festival left, by the time Kit Lambert leaves London for Scotland, you can buy Christmas at the Castle from-

Amazon UK

Or you can buy it as part of the Jenny Kane Christmas Collection (which also contains Another Cup of Christmas and Christmas in the Cotswolds)

This can be read as a standalone story or as a sequel to Another Cup of Coffee, Another Cup of Christmas and Christmas in the Cotswolds.

Happy reading,

Jenny xx

Jane Risdon’s criminal mind

Today I’m delighted to welcome Jane Risdon back to my place- although I fear we should be wary.

She’s talking about her criminal mind!

Over to you Jane…

Jenny, many thanks for inviting me to share some of my experiences with you and your followers today. It is so generous of you and I really appreciate the opportunity.

I’ve a criminal mind. At least my readers must think I have. I must admit I wonder about myself. Where do all my murderous ideas come from when on the outside I seem quite normal? I think I’m normal but, hey, they say you’re the last to know if you’ve lost your marbles.

If you’re reading this and are of a delicate disposition go and make a cup of tea, swing from a chandelier or just pretend I’m not here. Things might get a little hairy because I am going to discuss murder. Just kidding. It’s sanitised.

Some of you may have come across me through the novel I co-wrote with Christina Jones, Only One Woman (Headline Accent), set in the 1968/69 UK music scene and at its heart there’s a love triangle. Forget love and all things nice. I’m not going there, although I’m sure you know that most murders are committed by a close relation or friend. Just saying – that cuppa seems tempting now, I bet.

Crime, thrillers, and espionage novels have always rung my bells, even from a very young age. I guess I love adventure and when young I read all the adventure stories such as ‘Kidnapped,’ ‘The Secret Seven,’ and books like that. Reading a ‘girlie,’ book never crossed my mind, although I admit to having read and loved ‘A Swish of the Curtain,’ by Pamela Brown. Somewhere deep down I knew I was going to be the next Prima Ballerina or an Oscar-winning actress – delusions of being a thespian have never left me. I imagine that is why I eventually worked in the international music business – those who can do, and those who can’t help others to achieve their dreams.

 

Capitol Records Building

The entertainment business is in my DNA, although whose DNA kicked started those ambitions I’ve no idea. My family is devoid of such rebels and subversives (the Mater’s viewpoint), and thespianism – still legal last time I looked – comes from my husband’s side – he’s a musician. His mother was quite a looker in her day and a member of an Aqua ballet (synchronised swimming) show. His father was a crooner (singer) and his brother is an actor. Actually ‘himself’ has acted a lot too, mostly in India where he’s appeared in many movies and television series alongside some of the Bollywood Superstars.  He has been known to be ‘recognised’ in the street by Indians who watch hours upon hours of cinema. His great aunt, Elizabeth Risdon, was a famous Hollywood actress and starred in over one hundred movies with stars such as John Wayne, Cary Grant, and Lupe Velez, the Mexican Spitfire, to name a few.  I guess thespianism has rubbed off on me. My husband says I’m a bit of a thespian at times. I cannot argue.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisabeth_Risdon

The chances of becoming an actress or a prima ballerina became ever more remote the older I got and eventually I settled for The Diplomatic Service – better known as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall. Although by then I was dreaming of being a writer. And, reading some of the archived files at the FCO really fed my imagination. Thespians are rife in the Service: all those spies pretending to be someone and something else. The files were a treasure-trove for a would-be writer.

To be accepted by the FCO (back then) one had to be Positively Vetted (PV) for security reasons. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice to say they turn you, your family, and friends inside out probing your lives and even the lives of distant long dead relatives. You get a thorough going-over. My then boyfriend – now husband – found the intrusion into his life and his family a bit much, especially being a musician and very anti-establishment back then.

Old New Scotland Yard

Now, what the heck has this to do with crime I can hear you yelling? I’m getting there, keep your hair on. At that time the Old Scotland Yard building on the Victoria Embankment was one of seventeen FCO buildings in London and I worked there in Personnel ‘looking after,’ the Ambassadors, various Embassy staff and families around the world. It was the height of The Cold War and the IRA were being a bloody nightmare.

MI5 Building- Thames House

Espionage and intrigue was everywhere. One hundred plus Russians were expelled for spying in a ‘tit-for-tat’ with The Soviet Union at the time. Oh the excitement. My department handled the ‘personal’ side of all this.

https://www.mi5.gov.uk/the-later-cold-war

One of those responsible for my PV was a Commander from Special Branch called Ferguson-Smith (see his info below) who was responsible for capturing Soviet spies, Peter and Helen Kroger (aka Morris and Lona Cohen) in 1961.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29985359

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/real-life-stories/ferguson-smith-special-branch-brought-2296496

He told me about the Krogers and of course my imagination went wild. I was a great fan (still am) of John Le Carre and Frederick Forsyth so imagine my excitement; real life spies and I knew their spy-hunter.

As I said, I was allowed to read files from the archives and another infamous and possible spy scandal was what came to be known as ‘The Profumo Affair’. Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies were ‘good-time’ girls involved with a government minister, John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War. Imagine having all that sex and intrigue at your fingertips when still in your teens, being an avid reader and would-be author; all mentally filed away for a future time.

https://www.britannica.com/event/Profumo-affair

Geoffrey Jackson, Ambassador to Uruguay, was kidnapped by Tupamaros guerrillas in 1970 in Montevideo, and was held for eight months during which time I and my colleagues in my department were working the personnel side of things. At night I’d go home to my guitarist boyfriend and his band and I wasn’t allowed to tell him or anyone anything. I was fit to burst.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/september/9/newsid_3634000/3634352.stm

I won’t bore you with other government departments I’ve worked for, it is quite a list. In the early days of marriage to my musician husband someone had to be the steady earner and hold the fort whilst he trotted off to exotic locations on tour and mixed with the ‘jet set,’ as they were called back then. Mind you, the Red Shoes Ballroom in Elgin was hardly exotic although everyone who was anyone has played there. It was only one of many ‘must play,’ venues on the UK circuit.  Hanging out with Liz and Richard Taylor in Switzerland was a bit more like it, I admit.

Later, we went into the international management of recording artists, musicians, songwriters, record producers, and the odd actor (odd, yes some were definitely that) and we placed music into movie and TV soundtracks internationally. This took us to Taiwan, Singapore, all over Europe, Canada and the USA, and of course Hollywood. Ah! Now we are getting closer to the crime part of my piece. Patience.

By this time I was reading a lot. All those hours on the road and in recording studios had to be filled when not actually doing anything myself, so crime novels kept me out of mischief. I got hooked on Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs, as well as many others. Their knowledge of crime scene detection and forensic science fascinated me. It perked my curiosity.

There are many legends in the entertainment business and not just the artists. The managers, the heads of record companies, and movie studio supremos are just as interesting as the artists they work with, including Clive Davis and Tommy Mottola who signed and nurtured the careers of singers such as Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, for example. Fascinating characters.

https://collider.com/clive-davis-documentary-interview-soundtrack-of-our-lives/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_Mottola

And then there are those who are notorious for many other reasons. Those who were criminals or involved with the criminal underside of the music business. Their crimes are legendary and have been written about time and again. There were also ‘heavies’ in the business and you need look no further than Don Arden (father to Sharon Osborne) who managed so many of the huge artists in the UK music business throughout many decades, and also Peter Grant, manager of Led Zeppelin, who changed the way musicians got paid for their gigs. I’ve met both. Do follow the links and blow your mind.

https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/ozzy-osbourne-manager-dangled-robert-10688655

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Grant_(music_manager)

Working in the music business one soon realises that everyone does business with these people daily. The first time we met a ‘legend’ in the USA we were confronted by body guards and were ‘welcomed’ to their ‘family,’ when we signed some artists to their record company and there was a gun and a base-ball bat on the lawyer’s desk as we signed contracts. I won’t mention names in case we get the horses head in the bed or the concrete boots to swim with. But, there are some seriously dangerous dudes out there and I think we have met and done business with many of them. Several were in the Payola scandals of the late 1970s when Pink Floyd and others were kept off USA radio stations because their management wouldn’t pay for air-time. ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ nearly collapsed sales-wise.

Books have been written about many of these all powerful movers and shakers and so far no-one has been sued for what they’ve written. Many found themselves before Grand Juries and had to take ‘The Fifth’ to avoid incriminating themselves. Others disappeared off the face of the earth without a trace. Not guilty!

https://www.stereophile.com/news/080105sony/index.html

With all this experience and our amazing connections you can see why crime writing was and is what I want to do.

I soon discovered that an interest in all things crime is not enough. I needed some background knowledge to help me write authentic and – I hope – mistake-free stories. Kathy Reichs is an author who is also a Medical Examiner, a real-life pathologist, and I love her books. It rapidly became clear to me that I needed to inform myself better so I enrolled in seven online university courses taught by the best in their field – internationally recognised tutors. I undertook six Forensic Science and Criminal Justice courses and a basic course in Archaeology to help me with my crime scenes, victim identification (even from shallow graves and a few bones and no ID) through detection and prosecution of perpetrators. Fascinating stuff. I’m not an expert but I can see what sort of weapons make cut marks on bones, how blood splatter can give so much detail about how a victim was attacked by a knife, axe or gun. Bullet hole identification, finger-print and DNA analysis, and how police interviews should be conducted – just some of the knowledge I gained to help my writing. I also studied and followed investigations of famous miscarriages of justice. Vey unsettling.

I don’t write police procedurals so you won’t find details of how an investigation works in my books. I don’t put too much blood and guts into my stories – my writing is a little different. However, it’s good to know these things in-case I stray into writing a little more detail than usual. No-one wants emails from irate detectives or knowledgeable readers shouting ‘rubbish that could never happen,’ or worse.

I’ve also made friends with a few former murder detectives and a counter-terrorism expert which has been very helpful when writing my series, ‘Ms Birdsong Investigates,’ featuring a former MI5 Intelligence Officer (still to be published), hoping to find her way back into the fold having been ‘voluntarily’ retired from the Security Services. It’s also helped with various stories I’ve contributed to in anthologies, magazines, and newsletters.

Being able to bounce stuff off of them has been invaluable especially when writing ‘Undercover: Crime Shorts,’ (Plaisted Publishing House), where my collection of short stories feature various methods of murder in everyday situations. Forensic knowledge was especially useful when devising methods of murder where I wanted the murderer to be long gone from the scene when my victims died.

You can come back now, get down from the chandelier and enjoy your tea once more without fear of reading something nasty. I’ve kept it clean. My road to writing has been an interesting one personally and my experiences have provided me with endless ideas for stories.

Every writer uses personal experiences at some point. I know Christina and I used those we shared in the 1960s when she was fan-club secretary to my boyfriend’s band, and writing ‘Only One Woman,’ was an amalgam of people, events and situations at that time. I am happy to say that murder is not something I have experienced first-hand, although as I mentioned earlier, crime and espionage has never been too far away during my various careers. Perhaps I’ve whetted your appetite and you’ll find your way to reading some of my work. That would be grand.

***

SWEET SABLE – The Red Siren 

From Undercover: Crime Shorts by Jane Risdon

Chapter One

Closing the safe door quietly and with an expert spin of the dial the black-clad woman straightened up, slinging the grip with her haul over her shoulder. She stood listening intently before moving towards the office door. Again she waited, her ears straining, before gently prising the door open and stepping silently into the corridor of darkened offices. She eased the door closed calculating she had barely two minutes before the night-watchman made his rounds, trying the doors and checking the building was secure.

The woman headed for the fire escape where she’d made her entrance to the three storey building some ten minutes earlier. Gently raising the window she climbed out on to the metal staircase with the athletic grace of a ballet dancer, giving the dark alley below a quick once-over to ensure no-one was around she hastily made her way down the rusting stairs. Her tar- toned unremarkable and unmemorable automobile was parked across the street, hidden in the gloom of another narrow alleyway. Glancing at her wrist-watch – an expensive pay-off from a married lover – she knew she’d better step on the gas. She’d less than fifteen minutes to get back to the night-club, park her car at the darkest end of the outside lot, and leg it back to her dressing-room with enough time to change into her gown for her last set of the evening. 

The red-head chuckled to herself as she repaired her lipstick pouting seductively at herself in the mirror, waiting for the stagehand to knock on her door with her final call. She was buzzing. She’d done it again, she’d pulled it off. It was better than any sex she’d ever had and that was saying something. She chuckled, puckered her ample lips and blew herself a huge wet kiss.

*****

As the spotlight found its mark the band-leader nodded to the scarlet-clad shapely figure who took up position in front of the microphone. Her hips swayed in time to the jazz trumpet and she took her cue. Her sultry sable-clad tones sucked her audience into her lair.

The figures outlined in the flickering candle-light adorning circular tables dotted around the smoke-hazed, expectant venue, stopped talking and turned their heads towards the elevated stage where Desi Garcia’s Syncopators went into full swing behind Sweet Sable – also known as the Red Siren – neither was her real name but no-one cared. When her song ended there was a moment’s silence before they pounded their tables shouting, ‘more, more.’

Sweet Sable wiggled her slender but shapely hips, leaned over the stage giving more than an eye-full of her full bosom on display in her tight-fitting, strapless gown and blew huge smackers into the air, aimed at no-one in particular but the full-blooded men in the audience got the message and so did their partners who silently seethed.

Her set over for the evening Sweet Sable made her way back to her dressing room, accepting compliments and congratulations on her ‘wonderful performance,’ smiling, blowing kisses and with a toss of her luxurious red mane, closed her dressing room door to keep the stage door Johnnies out. There was always a small stud congregated outside her door and gathered around the stage door following her shows. Sometimes she allowed a particularly handsome or obviously loaded guy inside who was good for a dinner or two – or for something else – if rich enough. They were ripe for the picking; such patsies.

This particular evening Sweet Sable was anxious not to have any company. She had plans and getting pawed by a fawning, slobbering man who felt ‘entitled’ after giving her dinner, was not part of them. She had to get her haul to a safe place so she could take a proper look at it before deciding what she had to do. Sweet Sable loved having options – and she had plenty. 

© Jane Risdon 2019

***

Jane with Only One Woman and Undercover: Crime Shorts

Jane’s Links:

https://janerisdon.com

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Risdon/e/B00I3GJ2Y8

https://wnbnetworkwest.com/WnbAuthorsShow2.html

https://twitter.com/Jane_Risdon

https://www.facebook.com/JaneRisdon2/

https://www.instagram.com/janerisdonwriter/

Buy Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Risdon/e/B00I3GJ2Y8

Only One Woman: Christina Jones Jane Risdon (Headline Accent)

ISBN: (Waterstones and all good book stores) 9781783757312

ASIN: (Kindle, Tablet, Phone) BO75D88JBP

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Only-One-Woman-Christina-Jones/dp/1783757310/

Undercover: Crime Shorts  (Plaisted Publishing House)

ISBN: (Waterstones etc) 9780359397839

ASIN: (Kindle, Tablet, Phone etc) BO7RFRVL4P

https://books2read.com/b/4jD0wo 

***

Huge thanks Jane. What a great blog!

Happy reading everyone.

Jenny. xx

8 Tips for Getting Down to Writing

One of the questions I’m asked the most, as both an author and a creative writing tutor, is

How do I actually get down to writing?

Let’s face it, there are a million and one plausible excuses not to sit and write. Most of them will be genuine- some will be sheer prevarication!

Not being able to write because you work long shifts, have children at home, pets that need walking, are ill…GOOD REASONS

Not writing because there’s a television show you’re keen to see or because you need to wash curtains- EXCUSES!

If you are having trouble knuckling down – especially if you’re new to writing, ASK YOURSELF IF THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT TO DO – if it is- read on!

Writing is a lot of fun, but you can’t escape the fact it takes discipline.

Here are my top 8 tips to getting down to writing!

Find your place.

Try working in different locations- at home, a cafe, a library etc- experiment with locations until you find the correct comfort zone for you and your writing.

Find you writing time and claim it as your own- even if it is only one hour a week.

Some people are at their most creative in the mornings, some in the evenings. If you are not tied by work hours, try out different times of day to write to discover when the words flow the best. If time is limited, label one hour (or even just 30 mins) a day as YOURS. Be brave enough to be selfish about it- this is YOUR WRITING TIME.

Get up earlier- stay up later- barricade yourself into your bedroom for an hour straight after work…whatever works best for you.

If you can’t write during your ‘writing time’- still keep that time as your own.

Sometimes the muse won’t come, however much you want it to. Keep that time as yours. Plot/plan/scribble/walk/polish your pens! Once you give it up once, it’ll be easier to give it up again- and you’ll lose it.

Turn distractions into stories

It you’re distracted by something- turn it into a short story or writing exercise. Make it work for you as a warming up exercise.

If you make a deadline- STICK TO IT

It’s so easy- especially before you’re contracted for work- to write with no deadlines. As soon as that happens you can be tempted to give up on your writing time. Make a deadline- stick to it.

Focus on the end result- think about what you want to achieve.

Always think of the big picture. This is your dream!

Keep your favourite food and drink handy.

Writing is hard work. Make sure you stay hydrated and don’t get peckish or your concentration will waver.

Allow yourself rewards. Bribe yourself if necessary!

Whatever it takes to keep that bum on that seat! Promise yourself a walk, a chocolate bar, a glass of wine for every section/chapter written

When the book is finished, treat yourself to that jumper you want, that trip to the takeaway, a meal out, a concert ticket… You will have earned it!

***

Having writing everyone,

Jenny

www.imaginecreativewriting.co.uk 

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