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Thank you for making your way here whether you are a returning friend or a new visitor. Here you will find my blogs about aspects of writing and more information about me and my books. Enjoy and don’t forget to like my Facebook page and to sign up to hear details of new promotions and occasional giveaways.

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Launch day is here!

The first Aunt Jemima Mystery – Murder in Morocco – is now available on line.

Like your crime with a touch of humour in a travel setting? If you are a fan of M E Beaton’s Agatha Raison novels or Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss adventures, you’ll love Aunt Jessica’s adventures. Murder in Morocco is the first in a new series by the author of the popular Fiona Mason Mysteries.

Down on his luck, Harry is invited by his Aunt Jessica to accompany her on one of her history tours. When one of the group is murdered and the victim’s wife is arrested, neither Harry nor Aunt Jessica is convinced she is guilty. Harry’s attempts to investigate land him in trouble and only with Aunt Jessica’s help can he avoid arrest himself.

For a limited period, You can download a copy from Amazon.co.uk for 99p or Amazon.com for $1.35 or free from Amazon Prime

Jemima, Jessica, Louisa? – What’s in a name?

Little did I realise the flurry of response posting the proposed book cover for my new series on Facebook would provoke. Murder in Morocco is the first in a new series I’d planned to call the Aunt Jemima Mysteries. But it seems “Aunt Jemima” conjures up a very different picture for my American friends from the eccentric, go-getting if now elderly adventurer that I envisaged. I hadn’t appreciated that the name is offensive to some people in the US where it can be derogatory label and conjures up images of an obsequiously servile black woman.

I’ve lived with Aunt Jemima for over eight months and it’s not going to be easy to find her a name that doesn’t change her personality entirely. I suggested Jessica but that didn’t go down too well either.

Names are crucial – they reflect personality and changing a lead character at this stage in the game is no easy task. I’ve had lots of suggestions on my Facebook Author page – keep them coming – but it might help to know more about my eponymous heroine.

Aunt Jemima

Jemima is an expert in ancient civilisations and acts as the history lecturer on holiday tours. As in my Fiona Mason Mysteries, each novel will be set in a different country.

Jemima is a vibrant, active seventy-three-year-old (so the name has to fit the era) very different from her three disapproving sisters Maud, Edwina and Constance (names that were pretty old-fashioned even in the early 40s over in sleepy Norfolk). Jemima is the black sheep of the family. Heading for a brilliant academic career, she abandoned everything and ran away with her archaeology lecturer accompanying him on ancient sites all over the world.

Jemima is no conformist – she’s a rebel always ready to challenge authority – so a demur name will not do. I’ve tried Joanna, Alicia, Louisa, Gloria and for a whole day, I toyed with Eleanor, but they just don’t sum up that fierce rebel streak that is right for my character.

To recap – the name has to be:

  • of its time (old-fashioned)
  • someone happy to kick over the traces
  • eccentric
  • and it has to scan (3 syllables)

I’m still testing alternative names, but as things stand, despite the adverse comments (including from my alpha-reader, daughter whose judgement I trust implicitly), my gut feeling is that Jemima will become Jessica. If you have any comments or suggestions, I’d love to hear from you.

Would You Like to Join My Pre-Launch Reading List?

I’m making the assumption that if you’re reading this post, you have either read at least one of my books or are interested in cozy crime novels with a touch of adventure. If I’ve tweaked your interest and you’d like to join my pre-launch reading list (i.e. in return for a free copy write a review for Amazon to be posted on launch day or ASAP after, contact me.

The Blurb for Murder in Morocco

Down on his luck, Harry is delighted when his Aunt Jemima invites him to accompany her on one of her history tours, though had he known he would find himself embroiled in murder and dealing with drug runners, he might have thought twice.

When one of the tour group is murdered and the victim’s wife is arrested, neither Harry or Aunt Jemima are convinced she is guilty. Harry’s attempts to investigate land him in trouble and only with Aunt Jemima’s help can he avoid arrest himself.

RIP my PC

Truth to tell, my PC and I always had a difficult relationship. He (it must have been male because it never listened to reason, was stubborn and could be extremely childish at times) had this frustrating habit of refusing to do what he was asked – I would press all the right keys etc but he just would not co-operate and I would have to call for techie husband to sort out the problem. You might know, the minute hubbie walked in the door, the PC would spring into action and sit up like a naughty puppy to all intents and purposes saying, ‘It wasn’t me – it was her!’ behaving itself perfectly without his old master having to touch the keys. It’s true, it was my husband’s old machine passed down when he got a better model and my PC knew it’s true master’s touch! It never messed him about.  

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Technology and Me

I’ve just spent three frustrating days updating my recently published paperback of Blood and Chocolate in Create Space. I decided the original print size was too small. Surely it wouldn’t be that difficult a task? Update the file and reload it and adjust the spine size for the cover – a half-hour job at most. Don’t you believe it!

Originally, I had used as a template all the measurements for an earlier novel printed by another printer. There were a few problems but the Create Space reviewer had accepted it. Hoping to avoid any problems, I learnt a few new tricks in Microsoft Word and re-did page size and margins etc to Create Space specifications. Heaven knows what I did, but I upset my PC (it’s never really liked me) to the point that it took my ever-patient techie husband (my PC’s first owner and for whom it usually behaves the moment he steps in the door) had to spend the best part of yesterday afternoon putting it right. After at least five long trawls through the interior reviewer checking every page, I finally managed to get rid of the glitches in my Blood and Chocolate file and up loaded the interior.

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Do writers suffer for their art?

Writing can have its downside. At some stage, many of us have probably suffered from lower back pain, aching shoulders, sore eyes or headaches. And then there’s something called writers bottom! Spending much of the day tapping away on the keyboard can even lead to serious conditions such as repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome.  We all know how important it is to have a decent chair at the correct height, but how many of us end up huddled over to stare at the screen? My husband is constantly moaning at me for doing so. I can only hope that five hours of yoga, tai chi and Pilates, plus a similar amount of time line dancing and Zumba each week make up for my slovenly posture at my desk. Knowing the theory is one thing, it’s the putting into practice that can easily fall by the wayside. Continue reading

Wannabe Writer Beware!

Writing is like a drug. You may start with the odd story or poem, but you can soon find yourself wanting to do more. Before you know where you are, you’re on the hard stuff – the novel and there’s no hope after that. One thing leads to another. The pushers (agents and pundits) tempt you to write more books on the premise that the more novels to your name, the easier it is to market them or (your readers)that they can’t wait to read the next one. By then, you’re hooked. Unless, you’re writing, there’s a massive hole that needs constant feeding with ideas. Be warned! There’s no Writers’ Anonymous to help wean you off it.

There’s even a word for it. Hypergraphia. It is defined on Wikipedia as a behavioural condition characterised by the intense desire to write. Continue reading

The Pros and Cons of Writing a Series

I’d written short stories for some time with moderate success before deciding to tackle a novel. At the time, some fifteen years ago, I happened to be reading a great many novels by writers such as Nicci French, Minette Walters and Barbara Vine. I loved the edginess of their writing, the idea of the main character finding her life spinning out of control – taken over by events she can’t explain, and if she doesn’t sort it all out, she will end up dead. What interested me was trying to capture the fear, that unease, the tension of wondering what is going to go wrong next? Thus, All in the Mind and Watcher in the Shadows became my first published novels. I was having problems writing the latest psychological suspense and it was my then agent who suggested that I should think of having a series character. Her argument was that it would be easier to sell them to the publishers, but that wasn’t the reason I decided to give it a try.

I’d had the idea of a tour manager for a coach company as a main character for some time. In the spirit of the Golden Age whodunit tradition, it would give me a limited number of people as suspects – my coach passengers, a driver who would be my protagonist’s confidant and partner plus the added advantage that each book would be set in a different country and have a limited time scale – the length of the holiday. Not that things turned out quite like that. Novels and characters take on a life of their own! The agent’s prompting came just at the right time and so the Fiona Mason Mysteries were born.

The Pros

As a writer, the main advantage is that for each new novel you have a readymade protagonist plus two or three other significant characters and, in my case, a fully drawn template – a coach trip and the ongoing love/hate relationship of my two main characters (another thing that was never planned but just happened). Continue reading

The Ideas Behind the Book

Today is launch day for Blood Across the Divide. I am often asked where I get the inspiration for my novels so it seemed appropriate to explain some of the things that inspired the novel.

Two mysteries – what has happened to Fiona’s missing passenger, and who shot the rebel republican terrorist, Eamon McCollum? Once again, tour manager, Fiona Mason and MI6 chief Peter Montgomery-Jones come together to find the answers and unravel how the two cases are linked.

Belfast rightly deserves its reputation as one of the top British cities for tourists. All looks set for a wonderful tour, but, people are not always who they claim to be. Fiona and her coach party quickly find themselves drawn into the undercurrent of distrust and thirst for revenge that has been simmering in Northern Ireland since the time of The Troubles. Drawn into one another’s investigations, Fiona and Peter need the other’s help to cut through the web of deceit and betrayal to find out what has been going on.

Established parameters

My first two published novels were standalone psychological suspense, but when I was having problems with the third book, my then agent suggested my books would be easier to sell if I had a series character. I gave some thought to the idea and decided my investigator would be a tour manager for a coach company. Her sidekick could be her driver and, in true Agatha Christie fashion, my cast of suspects would be limited to the number of passengers.

Not that things quite worked to that pattern as I hadn’t accounted for Peter Montgomery-Jones. Intended as a minor character, he took on a life of his own and not only demanded on a bigger role in Book 1, insisted on coming back in all future mysteries. Who said characters don’t take over?

Blood Across the Divide is the fifth Fiona Mason Mystery therefore there are I didn’t start with a blank sheet. I already knew my leading character, Fiona, who would solve a murder within the time frame of a coach tour. Two other characters would also an essential part of the mix – Peter Montgomery-Jones – who would have his own investigation – and Fiona’s West Indian driver, Winston whose role might only be minor, but already established as a steady rock for when Fiona is besieged by problems.

In every good novel, the leading character is changed in some way by the events that happen and although Fiona and Peter are well-established characters, they two continue to grow.

First decisions

The location is obviously another important element in any Fiona Mason Mystery. In the first novel Blood on the Bulb Fields, the idea of finding a dead body in a beautiful place like Keukenhof gardens appealed to me. I’d been to the Netherlands several times and, once I settled on Holland as the venue for Fiona’s coach party, the whole plot began to come together. Amsterdam has one of the world’s leading diamond cutting industries. Smuggling diamonds then became the obvious crime. Research told me that most smuggled diamonds are conflict or blood diamonds and that they are financed by terrorists – hence the introduction of Peter Montgomery-Jones as head of an anti-terrorism unit.

With the next two in the series, I knew the locations well although it did entail a further visit. In the case of Blood in the Wine, we did an actual coach trip and I used the same itinerary when I came to write the novel. A cruise of the Elbe valley beginning with a pre-cruise stay in Berlin was never intended as a research trip but it quickly became the itinerary for Mystery number 4 – Blood Hits the Wall.

With Blood Across the Divide, things were a little different. I had been to many of the places on Fiona’s trip before on different occasions, but with this book, time eluded me, and the return trip to check all the different locations never quite happened. Last year was a very busy year. One of the reasons was the solid six months of research needed to be the port lecturer on a couple of cruises. However, one of the ports I needed to research for my presentation was Belfast. By the time I’d finished, I was familiar with the history of Belfast and Northern Ireland and all of Belfast’s tourist attractions. As port lecturer, I also had to talk about the details of all the tours the ship had to offer. These then became Fiona’s itinerary. Naturally, when we arrived at the port, I opted for a tour to one of the places I had not previously visited and my husband visited the other – with strict instructions to make notes and take as many photos as possible. As luck would have it, I have a friend who lives in Belfast and she was kind enough to act as one of my beta readers checking that I had my facts right.

Location is not the only thing that has to be decided upon before I start writing. I need a reason to involve Peter Montgomery-Jones. What terrorist activity will bring him hurrying over from his MI6 headquarters? The crime must be related to the location. Setting Blood Across the Divide in Northern Ireland, something to do with the Troubles seemed an obvious choice. But it’s an emotive issue, and I was apprehensive that I could walk the fine line that would fulfil the needs of a crime novel and, at the same time, cause no offense.

I’m beginning to think about the next novel. I have two locations in mind. Originally, I’d decided on the Rhone Valley – we have a visit planned in March/early April but the idea I came up with for Peter’s investigation is probably better served by setting Fiona’s trip in Paris and the Normandy Britany area. We will have to see!

Author Interview on ‘toofulltowrite’

First and foremost, I wish you all a happy and productive New Year.

Towards the end of the year, I was approached by David Ellis and asked if I would agree to be interviewed for his toofulltowrite website subtitled as a Creative Palace for Artists and Author Resources. David asked some interesting questions that had me scratching my head at times and here is the result.

PORTRAITS 043_cr 300 tallAuthor Interview – Judith Cranswick

Welcome to the latest installment in the Author Interview series and we are finishing out the week with a bang.

Tonight we speak to Award Winning author Judith Cranswick about her crime thriller novels and what makes them so special, engaging and worth reading.

 

Hi there Judith, thank you for taking the time to be with us today to talk about your thrilling stories.

Blood Hits the Wall front cover copyLet’s start with your latest novel “Blood Hits the Wall” – Book 4 in the Fiona Mason Mysteries Series. Please tell us more about Fiona, how she has evolved over the course of four novels and what sleuthing adventures and sticky situations she is going to find herself dealing with this time round?

In the first book in the series, “Blood on the Bulb Fields”, Fiona was recently widowed. She had spent the last nine years looking after her terminally-ill husband. When he died, family and friends suggested she get herself a little job to keep herself occupied though becoming a tour manager for a coach company wasn’t quite what they had in mind. Fiona has grown in confidence as the year (and the first four books) has gone on and in “Blood Hits the Wall”, on her tour to Belin and the Elbe Valley, her relationship with MI6 chief, Peter Montgomery-Jones develops though they continue to find themselves at odds with one another all too often as they pursue their separate objectives. This time she wants his help when the group is detained in Berlin following the murder of their local guide, but he has his own secret mission which he cannot jeopardise. Continue reading