Writing In Tuscany

What a great week – I kept thinking of the quote from She Stoops to Conquer, which I appeared in twenty years ago now (a college production, I hasten to add). – “I love everything that is old; old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines.” So I love everything about a Tuscan writing week – new friends, simple, delicious food, free-flowing wine, great conversation, fabulous hosts, amazing venue and – time to write.img_20190912_104114

We sat underneath this bower of trumpet flowers each morning, staring up at clumps of ripening grapes, pen and paper at the ready for whatever exercise we were set, breaking for a lunch of fresh salads, different hams and sharp sheep cheese with vino of course. Then came time for our own writing or contemplation. I loved listening to the thin stream of water gurgling over the mountain strewn parchment of stones. One morning after a blistering walk through beech woods from Badia down to Il Mulino, I dangled my feet in cool water as tiny fish discovered my bare feet. I’m not sure they nibbled, and were too tiny to tickle, while water boatmen skimmed the surface like miniature gondoliers. img_20190917_143029

In the late afternoons, I wrote badly, but words were added to my latest WIP as jays screeched on the wooded hillside beyond, bees flitted amongst the flowers and the river lulled me into a sense of euphoria. img_20190915_115331

I loved meeting author, Audrey Davis and writer, Sue Sturton, both larger than life, filling our days and evenings with laughter. I made them laugh once with the final piece I wrote, a great achievement.

We ambled through Sansepolcro and Anghiari looking for characters and found two weddings,  a great little restaurant and an artist, Joy Stafford, from my home town of Grimsby.  I lit a candle for June, my dear friend in Sansepolcro’s cathedral. Memories of her surrounded me all week as we had holidayed together for the last time at Il Mulino three years before. Her spirit hovered particularly at deserted Montebotellino and the walk along the track beside it.img_20190914_122908

Finally, we celebrated with pizza made in the brand new pizza oven, as we sat in the softening solar light. A magical week – one that I will treasure, hopefully learn from. I wonder if it will inspire me during the winter months ahead?img_20190917_200831

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Isabella Muir – Guest Post

Occasionally I feature a guest on my blog – this time I am delighted to welcome fellow Chindi author, Isabella Muir. Isabella has written a series of Agatha Christie type crime stories set in 1960s Eastbourne – she is a great fan of Agatha as you will be able to tell from her post. thumbnail2


In this lead up to Agatha Christie’s birthday on 15th September I have been reflecting on how she might have researched her novels. Her writing spanned more than fifty years and during that time society saw many changes. Agatha’s life also took many twists and turns.

First-hand experience

Agatha married twice, travelled extensively and wherever she went she kept a notebook, jotting down snippets that might one day find their way into one of her stories. John Curran’s book, Agatha Christie’s Complete Secret Notebooks, makes for a fascinating read. The Christie family gave him access to 73 of Agatha’s notebooks, which Curran delved into to explore how her storylines came together, as well as gaining insights into her approach to character development. He also found some story endings that never made it into her books!

Agatha had first-hand experience as a pharmacy assistant – experience she used when choosing poison as the means of murder (speaking of her fiction, of course!). She also joined her second husband, Max, on several archaeological digs in the Middle East. This all made for excellent first-hand research that once again made its way into her stories, such as Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Murder in Mesopotamia (1935), Death on the Nile (1937) and Appointment with Death (1937).

In writing my Sussex Crime series I too have tapped into my own experiences, fleshing it out with more in-depth research of the era. Agatha set most of her books in the era during which they were written. But when I chose to write my Sussex Crime series I decided to set it in the 1960s and I knew how important it would be to research as thoroughly as possible. thumbnail3

I was a child in the sixties, so didn’t take part in much of what made it such an iconic era – the music, the fashion, the permissive attitudes. But, I had older siblings who could and did! My sister was lucky enough to see The Rolling Stones on Hastings Pier in 1964 and my brother rode his scooter alongside other Mods, up and down Hastings, Eastbourne and Brighton seafronts – proudly wearing his fishtail-shaped Parka, with the fur-lined hood.

Snippets of memories and shared anecdotes provided a perfect starting place, but then I needed to read all I could to delve deeper into the events of the period, being careful to separate out the myth from the reality.

Digging deeper

I was lucky enough (through my local library) to get hold of a copy of an excellent book, now out of print – The Neophiliacs, by Christopher Booker. Wanting to find out more about Mr Booker, I did what many do nowadays in these times of instant ‘information’ – I Googled him. I discovered that back in 1961 he became the founder and one of the early editors of the satirical magazine, Private Eye. He was the first jazz critic for the Sunday Telegraph and Daily Telegraph and continued as a weekly columnist for the Sunday Telegraph right up to 2019, when he finally retired at the age of 81. I was sad to learn that Mr Booker died on 3 July this year.

The subtitle of his book ‘A study of revolution in English life in the fifties and sixties’ reflects his thoughts that a ‘psychic epidemic’ took place, with ‘victims of this disease restlessly craving novelty and sensation’.

Perhaps it was this ‘restless craving’ that led to the rise in consumerism that took place during the sixties. Supermarkets opened across the country, revolutionising the way people shopped for food. Labour-saving devices, such as vacuum cleaners, food processors, even fridges, changed the way that many women spent their time. A television now took pride of place in more than three-quarters of British homes, although many people rented their set, rather than buying.

Further research meant that I discovered more great books about the sixties – How was it for you? by Virginia Nicholson; 1965 – The year modern Britain was born by Chris Bray and In the family way by Jane Robinson – all helped to expand my understanding of that decade so that the fictional world of Janie Juke, the young librarian and amateur sleuth who sets out to solve the crimes and mysteries in my Sussex Crime series, would be as accurate as possible.

It is Agatha’s wonderful detective, Hercule Poirot, that Janie Juke sets out to emulate as she develops her sleuthing talent in the sleepy seaside town of Tamarisk Bay.

This blog post is one of a series, which leads up to Agatha Christie’s birthday and national #cozymysteryday on 15th September, as I enjoy the opportunity to be Chindi’s ‘Author of the week’. Chindi is a network of authors, both traditionally and independently published, based largely in West Sussex.   Between us we publish a wide range of books, from historical and crime fiction to romance and children’s books, from humour to self-help.

To find out more about the great Queen of Crime and to help celebrate Agatha Christie’s birthday, then look out for the other blog posts in the series:

Agatha Christie and Isabella Muir https://isabellamuir.com/blog/

Agatha Christie – a child of her time https://lexirees.co.uk/mums-book-blast/

Agatha Christie and the sixties https://patriciamosbornewriter.wordpress.com/daily-blog/

What is a cosy mystery? https://www.carol-thomas.co.uk/blog/

The good, the bad and the ugly https://samefacedifferentplace.wordpress.com/

Agatha Christie and Janie Juke https://isabellamuir.com/blog/

And as a present to you, on Agatha’s behalf, I am pleased to announce that the first book in my Sussex Crime series – The Tapestry Bag – will be available on Kindle for just £0.99p for one week only – grab it while you can!

Isabella Muir is the author of the Sussex Crime Mystery series: thumbnail




Her latest novel is: THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN

She can be contacted via:

Twitter: @SussexMysteries

Facebook: www.facebook.com/IsabellaMuirAuthor/

Website: www.isabellamuir.com

Or on Goodreads

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Almost on my Way

It was a useful research trip to Norfolk last week for my children’s book, Ella Midnight and the Mystery of the Missing Nose.

img_20190905_144013The weather was disappointing but we had one reasonable day for a walk on the beach and for the first time the tide was in and I could see how dangerous it could be to unsuspecting children. I have a scene where an evacuee child runs into the sea for the first time and is knocked over by the waves. Now I know that could happen quite easily.  My granddaughter and I worked on the blurb. This is the latest version,

When war is threatened, the children of London are evacuated. Ella and Charlie Midnight are dispatched to live with a cranky old woman at a Norfolk farmhouse where secrets lurk as thick as cobwebs. Can they follow the clues to save the woman from her grasping relatives – or will it all end in disaster?

Comments and improvements welcome.

My daughter took this great photo representing Ella and Charlie – now to turn it into wartime evacuees. img-20190905-wa0001

I was delighted today to see 2 5* ratings on Audible.com for Search for the Light with one glowing review. When I return from my Italian writing adventure, I must try to promote it more.

It’s time to get back into writing mode and the book I haven’t touched for weeks. Will I tear it up in despair or think I can rescue it and carry on?


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Buongiorno – time to speak Italiano

Breathe again. The Arundel Festival is over for another year. We made £286 for Cancer Research – down on last year but people are unwilling to spend money with so much uncertainty. The final weekend was particularly difficult with blistering heat and crowds only interested in trying to stay cool while having fun.

I have been jugDSC02286gling so much over the last few months and am now looking forward to a quieter time. In a few days I am going to Tuscany for a writer’s week and staying in this beautiful water mill. It’s up in the mountains, surrounded by greenery, peace and quiet. There will be time to write, time to learn, time to engage with other writers. Angela Petch, who owns and runs the mill, along with husband Maurice, is a superb writer. You should check out her books. There are places left and it’s ridiculously good value. More details here.

But before that I need to work on the blurb for my new children’s book. No doubt my granddaughter, Hannah, will be able to reel one off for me. Blurbs are more difficult than writing the whole book. You need to try and sell the book in so few words. I do think Hannah will make a better job of it because it’s aimed at her age group. I’ll let you know. We also need to decide where the illustrations should go in the text. I have another young lady poised to do those but the cover is stumping me at the moment.

The Christmas book, A Feast of Christmas Stories is up for pre-order on all platforms as an e-book. I finished putting the paperback together yesterday and am just waiting for the cover. We are launching at the Swan in Arundel on November 6th at 7.00 p.m. Chindi’s new patron, Beryl Kingston will be welcoming everyone. There will be cake and a chance to buy the book for the special offer price of £6 – a perfect Christmas present.

I should tell you that the wonderful Beryl has a new book out herself this week, her 30th. Citizens Armies combines the qualities of an absorbing family saga with acutely observed and beautifully written social history, and is bound to please lovers of fiction and history alike. It ties in with my children’s book about evacuees.

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What’s Next?

We are in the throes of Arundel Festival which is going well for Chindi at the moment. I have sold out of Search for the Light and am having to restock, which is great. One lady who bought one on Saturday came back to the stall on Sunday, when I was there, to say how much she was enjoying iImaget. That’s an amazing feeling for an author.

Helen Christmas, in this photograph, has been organising the stand this year and she’s doing a cracking job. Helen writes gritty thrillers and yet she looks so sweet and demure in this photo. You can download her first book for free on Amazon. My husband loved it.

We are planning a book launch in Arundel for the Christmas Book – probably in early November. But it is now on pre-order as an e-book. It comes out on October 20th. If you buy a copy of the paperback on Amazon, the e-book is just a few cents more. My next priority is to get the paperback ready for publication.

I will also be working on my children’s book, which I am now editing. Hopefully, it will be out for Christmas, but I need illustrations, a cover and the blurb – lots to keep me occupied.


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Life Goes On

The audiobook of Search for the Light is now live. I have some free credits if anyone is interested. Maybe I will do a blog tour for it when I have the inclination.

Its’s been a fairly terrible month losing my best friend and my mother so I haven’t felt like doing much.  I wrote a 100 word story about grief it which helped. It was published yesterday. on Patricia Osborne’s blog.

However, life goes on and there are deadlines approaching so I have to get back to work. The Arundel Festival begins in 10 days. Chindi will be running a bookstall for the whole festival in aid of Cancer Research. If you are in the area do came and say hello. We Arundelare featuring some new authors this year. It’s an opportunity to buy Christmas presents. This is last year’s promo. This year it begins on August 16th and carries on until Bank Holiday Monday.

I am almost there with the Christmas book too. I have sent out the e-book for a final proof. The launch date is October 20th but it will be going up for pre-order by the end of this month hopefully. We have 16 cracking stories, including a new one of mine. We are hoping to have host a physical launch in November where people can buy the book at a discounted price of £6. Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00025]

Here’s the blurb –

Forget giving socks, treat someone to Christmas in Sussex with a brand-new collection of short stories, written for your delight.  Established novelists:  Beryl Kingston, Angela Petch, Carol Thomas and exciting local writers invite you to enjoy a feast of stories, from the pathos of Christmas Eve on the WW1 battlefields, through memorable tales from across the 20th Century to a humorous tale set in a near tomorrow, all rounded off with the thrill of Peter Bartram’s Mystery of The Phantom Santa. Warm, witty, poignant, magical and ghostly – there’s something for everyone. A perfect Christmas read.

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Audiobook – I pressed Approve

audiblecoverI’m not sure when it’s going live, but I have approved the audiobook. My finger hovered over that button for days. Why? It felt a huge step into the unknown. It’s been an intense process listening so carefully to my words being brought to life by an actress. Yes, a real actress. Nano Nagle, has been the narrator on lots of audiobooks.

I always knew this book was going to be complex to narrate because there were so many accents. Irish, Black Country, Norfolk, London, Australian. Nano hinted at the accents rather than going full blown but each character has her own voice which she carries through the book. It’s an amazing feat. I learnt a lot by listening to it. There were parts when I thought, oh that paragraph needs breaking up with a change of voice. No one wants to listen to a monologue. Unfortunately, I learned that too late for this book but I will bear it in mind for the future.

I don’t expect to earn a lot from the book. ACX will split the profits between Audible, Nano and me. I will see what the response is before deciding whether to do more. Right now I have enough to do. This week I finished the first draft of a children’s book, Ella Midnight and the Mystery of the Missing Nose. I need illustrations, a cover and some idea if it’s worth publishing. I need Beta Readers aged 7-9.

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