I was born, and still live, in Bristol, England. I have visited many wonderful cities across the globe, most of which I will re-visit time and time again, and should I ever be wealthy enough (must buy a lottery ticket!), I may well invest in a little Pied-a-Terre here and there, but I can’t imagine not having my home in or within spitting distance of Bristol. I’m married and I have two children, a beautiful granddaughter, a Bichon Frise named Molly, and two German Shepherd brothers, Archie and Ted.
I left school at sixteen with a handful of qualifications, and took a job as an office junior in a property business. I won’t bore with the detail, but over the years, including a break when the children arrived, my career progressed from Office Junior to Regional Director. Long, long days and many wasted hours sitting in traffic on the motorway. The money was good, the habit was formed, and I delivered my targets with the required dedication and commitment. In March 2010 I was awarded Regional Director of the year (for 2009), and in December of the same year I was made redundant. It was not totally unexpected, but the change was still a shock to the system. A recurring question ran through my mind during the first couple of months: how do people who don’t work fill those endless hours? I decided to search for the answer, as I knew without a doubt that I didn’t want to return to corporate life.
In my quest for time eating activities, I cooked properly with fresh ingredients; no more opening jars for me! I grew vegetables and I discovered housework. I still didn’t like it, but did it with a modicum of enthusiasm none the less. One day, at a loss for something to dust, plant or chop, I decided to look for a novel that I’d started to write many years before when the children were young. I didn’t find it, so shelved that idea, and picked up another book to read. A few days later my friend called. She had remained on the corporate treadmill, and I listened to all the latest gossip, and shock horror news. It was an amusing conversation, and at the end of it she announced “they wouldn’t believe this if you wrote it down.” Hmmm, could I do that? Could I pen a little story to amuse her, and take her mind off conversion rates, targets and appraisals? I had no idea, but with nothing better to do, I cleared the kitchen table and opened the laptop. I decided to take all these snippets of gossip, and hopefully write a story to make her smile. I changed names, mixed up mannerisms, greatly exaggerated events, and Murderous Mishaps was written. It’s still filed as Awhodunitchicklitthing on my computer. I should mention at this point that I was aiming for a longish short story as my friend reads magazines not books, but I ended up with a novel length effort, which to her credit she did read, although she was shocked to find she featured quite prominently, although under a pseudonym of course.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and I challenged myself to write something more serious, and an idea came to me out of the blue whilst on holiday, and off I went. I enjoyed the process so much, and wanted to learn more, so I joined a local writing group. The lady who organised the group, Carolyn Lewis, was a published author, and told of the pain of getting published, and the low returns, unless of course you find you are the next J K Rowling. I doubted I was, and I didn’t give it further serious consideration, writing was reward enough, and I didn’t want to waste time chasing something that might never happen. I simply wanted to write stories about people, and preferably people involved in some crime or mystery. At this point I had never heard of self-publishing. That came weeks later when a colleague mentioned her sister had recently self-published a book. She did what? Intrigued, I investigated this, and as they say, the rest is history – ongoing of course. I have missed out the bits where I messed up by uploading the wrong file to Amazon, and how I deleted a final draft. Suffice to say it’s not been plain sailing.
But, here we are, a few years down the line, and I have the Meredith & Hodge series well underway, and I published the tongue in cheek ‘Murderous Mishaps’. I am working on several new projects; I have a Facebook and Twitter account, and now my own website courtesy of the wonderful boys and girl at Day One Media. I would never, ever, have predicted any of this, and it all began by a throwaway line in a telephone conversation with my best friend. Of course, the result of all this is that I need more hours in the day again, but now those hours would be filled doing things I enjoy… yes the house needs dusting, yes there are jars in the cupboard again, but on the bright side I am reliably informed that weeds are only flowers in the wrong place.
Would I like to be traditionally published? Possibly, but as my thought process when writing is very visual, my secret (!?!) desire, is to see Meredith & Hodge on the small screen. I’m hooked on most of the mystery crime shows, and I know I’m not alone in thinking Meredith & Hodge would flourish on TV, as many readers have also made this observation. So, if anyone knows a screen writer/producer/important TV bod, who is looking for a new police show, please give me a shout.
I am often asked where I get my ideas for the stories I write, or what inspires me. The answer is not simple; sometimes an idea for a storyline or character simply arrives in my head, and I have to jot it down to ensure safekeeping for when it’s needed. On other occasions, it is a news item, a newspaper article, or a passing comment, which sparks the beginning of what later becomes full blown story. Some of my characters have been created by others. Louie Trump was created by my friend, Jane. I needed a new character to bounce off Meredith, and she gave me: name, age, appearance and mannerisms, and a little of his back story. He slotted into Meredith’s team very nicely. Whilst my favoured genre of writing is Mystery and Crime, above all else I like writing about people, what makes them tick, and how they will react in any given circumstance. Unfortunately for them, I tend to drop them into complicated and sometimes dangerous situations.
With Misplaced Loyalty I already had the basic outline of Meredith; Hodge came a little later when I began writing the novel. I knew Meredith needed someone to spar with, someone who wouldn’t always toe the line. The storyline came while watching the news and listening to the plight of a poor chap whose life had become wretched. Once an active, rugby playing father, he developed ‘locked in syndrome’, which left him as a quadriplegic, unable even to speak properly. He communicated by operating a computer with his eye movement. He wanted to die, and his family respected that decision. The decision hadn’t been made lightly, he’d had enough. Not wanting to place his family on the wrong side of the law, he challenged the law in the high court, and lost. He expected to win, as common sense told him that as an animal wouldn’t be kept alive in this condition, unable to feed themselves, go to the bathroom, or even communicate without technology. He allowed cameras to film his reaction to the outcome. He lost, and that reaction was harrowing. He died a few days later, and a police spokesman announced that his passing was not under investigation. His reaction reduced me to tears. I wondered how a so-called civilised society could be so cruel, and what I would do, if asked to assist someone that I loved, in similar circumstances. I decided that I would help them, as I would want them to assist me. I would not have wanted that life, or I should say, existence. But, and there is always a but, there are people that cope admirably in the most challenging circumstances, people able to accept what has happened, however horrific it may seem to others, and live a contented life. What would happen to them, if a family member thought their life was no longer viable? I tossed this argument around for a few hours, and came up with the first case for Meredith and Hodge.
The idea for Ill Conceived came from watching a TV talent contest. A poor man, who, to be fair to the judges, was useless, took a slating in front of millions of people. I felt for him as he listened to the scathing remarks, his head nodding in agreement, the beads of sweat on his brow joining together and forming rivulets down the side of his face. Couldn’t the judges have simply said, “No thank you, go back to your day job”? Cringing, I asked myself what he would do if he had the ability to turn the tables. How would he take his revenge? The finished story didn’t include a talent contest, or even a ventriloquist, but the ‘villain’ was taken advantage of, and did put up with bullying and blackmail in his effort not to cause any fuss, and had once tried to take to the stage. In Ill Conceived he got his revenge.
A conversation with a total stranger about a miscarriage of justice gave me the basis of the story for The Wrong Shoes. Even though we had been nowhere near the courtroom, we agreed that the law was an ass and tried the accused via television and newspaper reports. It surprised me when she announced: “If I were her mother, I’d kill them all. I don’t know how, but I’d get justice one way or another.” She wagged her finger at me. “And I’d start with the policeman that cocked it up! Would I care if I got caught? No, they’d probably mess that up too!” As I wanted a woman to be the centre of my next story, I smiled and agreed. I now had the beginning of my next Meredith & Hodge story.
Tin Soldiers was a little different, I knew that the story would revolve around children, and I knew that Dave Rawlings’ daughter had disappeared, but I wasn’t sure how that was going to end, or even why she had been taken. On reading a newspaper article about a custody battle, I had the usual ‘What if?’ thought, and started writing.
My Writing Process
First I get an idea, and then run it through a ‘What if?’ process. What if Meredith had a daughter? What if that character had killed someone? What if he turned the tables? What if she had never been told that? What if the train was cancelled? Etc. etc., and although I always have some idea of the course the story will take, and where it should end, it rarely works out that way.
When I sit down to begin, I try to have a list of ten to twenty bullet points. Who did what, and why, and what absolutely must be revealed during the story for the plot to work. I also have a paragraph or two on each of the main characters, giving their age, background, and connection to the other characters. I quickly draft the first chapter, which invariably is scrapped and rewritten several times during the overall process. As I think more about the characters than what should or shouldn’t happen, as they, and therefore the story, develop, it is not unusual to find that what I thought might happen, doesn’t. There are many different reasons for this, but the main one is always that the characters simply wouldn’t have done that, or put themselves in that situation, but I didn’t know that when planning the outline.
For the best part, I start at the beginning and write in order of events, through to the end. If I ever get stuck, on how to move from one event to the other, I occasionally write the scenes out of order, and then all becomes clear. I have tried to write totally out of sequence, particularly when it’s become a bit of a slog, and then fill in the gaps, but that doesn’t work well for me, as I always reach that part and change it, if not delete it. With the Meredith and Hodge series, most of the stories will have the kernel of the next story at the end. I do this, not to frustrate the readers, as the story they are reading has been told, but to remind myself of an idea or development which must be included in the next of the series.
What do I read?
The easy answer is anything and everything. (Read more here) Since becoming an author myself, I have discovered many authors I may not have found in my previous life. I used to go into a book shop (now replaced by Amazon) and be drawn to the familiar. I’d wander over to the crime, mystery, or thriller section, and check out whether Lynda La Plante, John Grisham, Martine Cole, Gerald Seymour, Patricia Cornwall etc. had anything in their section I had yet to read. That was unless I was going on holiday. Depending on how long the holiday was, I would need two to five books, (when I finish them I start on my husband’s selection), and therefore I need more variation. In this instance I’d look for things that friends had recommended, or a cover would catch my eye. And then the list of favourite authors would get longer. So whilst crime, mysteries and thrillers will probably always be my first choice, in other genres I like books that make me laugh, books that make me cry, and books that take me to another time.
There really are far too many to choose favourites, but as a snap-shot of some of my all-time favourites:
A Time to Kill – John Grisham – I could read this again and again, and the closing speech by the defence attorney will always make me cry.
A Kind of Loving – Stan Barstow – I first read this as an impressionable teenager, and hated it because it didn’t have the ending I was expecting. Now I realise that’s just life.
Inconceivable – Ben Elton – I purchased this to see what a noisy, loud mouthed comedian, who I didn’t particularly like would write about. Semi-biographical it tells of a couple trying to conceive, and I found I liked him better when I couldn’t hear him. It has some great laugh out loud moments.
Love Story – Erich Segal – I also read this as a teenager, and as always it is better than the film, although that was pretty good. I remember being devastated on reading the opening line. I already knew what would happen in the end! I wasn’t at all impressed with the sequel.
One Day – David Nichols – I enjoyed reading the tale of two lives by finding what was happening to them on the same day each year on the anniversary of their meeting. Although I was upset in the right place, my tears really flowed when at the end of the book, when he takes you back to the beginning and reinforces not only what could have been, but what should have been.
P.S I Love You – Cecilia Aherne – I loved the concept of this poor woman getting messages from her dead husband, and how they helped her move forward and deal with her grief.
To Sir With Love – E R Braithwaite – This is a great book, poignant and inspirational, and based on the author’s personal experiences dealing with racism in a 1950’s East End school.
New York – I loved everything about New York, even the noise and the never ending traffic, and I only had time to experience a fraction of it. One of my favourite photographs is my husband ice skating in central park with that fabulous back drop. Definitely a place I would like to visit again and again.
Paris – Paris was an unexpected delight, despite the expected hustle and bustle of a major capital city, I found everyone to be laid back and friendly, far more so than London, which I only visit if necessary. I had my 50th Birthday lunch up the Eifel Tower, got blisters wandering around Le Louvre, and I’m ashamed to say that I was totally underwhelmed by the Mona Lisa. Philistine? Probably! I’ve been to Paris three times now, and would jump on a plane at the drop of a hat if I had the chance. The more you go, the more you discover, which is probably true everywhere, but I like being surprised by Paris. My favourite cocktail is a Mojito, and it was in Paris that I found a bar that makes the most perfect Mojito Royale – so if you’re going let me know, I’ll give you directions.
Cuba – Havana is simply wonderful. Noisy, hot, dusty, and very entertaining, we only had two days here, and if I ever go back I will certainly want more. The Cuban people are so laid back as to be horizontal, friendly, helpful, and above all happy. Cuban musicians play everywhere and anywhere, and they’re all good! Nothing is ever too much trouble, just as long as you’re not in a hurry. Cubans have a whole different understanding of time, but that doesn’t matter, as it only takes about twenty four hours to get onto Cuban time!
The Greek Islands – I’ve visited lots of them, many over and over again, and simply love them. There are some holiday towns I would now choose to avoid, but that’s because I’m middle aged, (sad but true). I wear more when going out at night than I do in the day on the beach, and I get up as the sun rises rather than going to bed. The people are engaging, open, and friendly. Over the years we’ve been invited to the butcher’s barbeque, joined in election celebrations, and been taken to the lemon groves of the hotel manager’s mother. Part of the charm of course, is that the food is fabulous! I’ve yet to eat a Greek dish I didn’t like. My ideal meal: Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) to start, and to follow, Kleftico (slow cooked leg of lamb), and a traditional Greek Salad of course. I don’t eat sweets as a rule, but my husband can never resist a selection of the pastries, most made with filo pastry, honey, nuts, and a million calories!