Baby Dear…

It’s not long to go until Baby Dear, my new ‘book baby’ is out there in the world – I hope to have the cover on the blog very soon (it’s brilliant, thank you, Bloodhound Books!). Meantime, I’ve been thinking a lot about babies… how you worry about them… all the funny and wonderful and heartbreaking moments you go through with your children. Here’s Surviving Parenthood, a post I wrote a couple of years ago – two of my own most hair-raising moments as a parent…

It’s often said, and it’s true. You need nerves of steel to be a parent. All those little day-to-day situations you have with kids – Put your shoes on, please… no, we can’t take the cat… because it’s raining and you’ll catch cold barefoot… please leave the cat alone… okay, your wellies, then… the cat does NOT want to come shopping… I don’t know where your other welly is… will you PLEASE… no, you can’t just hop…

We’ve all been there. It’s not just patience you need, it’s something akin to endurance. My best hair-raising moment with son 1 was the time we went to Spiez here in Switzerland for a weekend with my aunt and uncle, on holiday from England. Son 1 was about two at the time. You can picture the scene: a quaint little alpine town, the lake in front with a backdrop of glorious mountains, chalet-shaped hotels with geraniums dripping from window-boxes, and crowds of multi-culti tourists wandering along in the sunshine. Son 1 and I stepped out onto our first-floor hotel room balcony; he shoved his head through the bars to get a better view… you can guess what happened.

Ten seconds later I was dealing with a stuck and screaming toddler while a growing crowd gathered below, offering helpful suggestions in at least six different languages. The advice ranged from ‘Butter his ears’ to ‘Call the fire-brigade’. My husband had taken the car to the hotel car park some 200m away, and returned through the crowd under our balcony. Once inside, however, he cannily solved the problem by turning son 1 upside down and sliding him out. The crowd cheered and clapped and went on their way…

It was almost two decades later when son 2 raised my (rapidly greying) hair to a similar extent. The scene now: at home, twelve noon on a Thursday in the summer hols. I was writing in my office room when son 2 appeared in the doorway. (This was unusual; he didn’t normally get up so early in the holidays.) Our conversation went something like this:

Son 2: Um… you know those metal tops you get on beer bottles?
Me (engrossed in my text): Uh-huh…
Son 2: Does it matter if you swallow one?
Me (he had my full attention now): Tell me you haven’t swallowed a metal beer bottle top?
Son 2: Um… I have.
Me: WHEN did you swallow a metal beer bottle top?
Son 2 (leaning forward to peer at the clock on my computer screen): About nine hours ago…

Fast-forward to the end of the story – Son 2 was a day late joining his friends in the Ticino. And in case anyone ever needs the info, it may or may not matter if you swallow a metal beer bottle top. Son 2 was lucky. (And many thanks to the Swiss Medgate telephone advice service, a local GP, and the endoscopy department at Münsterlingen hospital further down the lake.)

Of course, it’s all so worth it. Bringing up your kids must be the one of the most life-enriching things you can do. Looking back on the last twenty-plus years with my two, there isn’t really anything I’d have preferred to miss out on. You learn so much, you make so many memories, and there’s such a lot to look back on and laugh about together.

But you do need nerves of steel…

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A Bookish Happy Easter

 

Easter. Chocolate eggs. (Or they’re more often chocolate bunnies, here in Switzerland.) Springtime in the garden.

 

 

And, for most people, a few days off work and plenty of time to read. So especially for Easter, here are a few of my recent and upcoming reads, as well as a couple of long-time favourites: (where there were no appropriately-titled recent or upcoming reads available…)

Hostile Witness, by Rebecca Forster. Tbr.
A Life Between Us, by Louise Walters. Tbr.
Prada and Prejudice, by Katie Oliver. This one’s great fun!
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. My favourite Austen read.
You Belong To Me, by Mary Higgins Clark. Brilliant, like her others.

Extraordinary People, by Peter May. My first Peter May – loved it.
Anglesey Blue, by Dylan Jones. Great read from a fellow-Bloodhound writer.
Silent Trauma, by Judith Barrow. A fabulously different read.
The Blood That Binds, by Dave Sivers. Tbr.
End In Tears, by Ruth Rendell. Wexford’s 20th case.
Robbing the Dead, by Tana Collins. My current read – loving it!

Have a lovely Easter!
PS. Chosen Child and The Saturday Secret are on offer at the moment. Just sayin’…)

 

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Scotland the Noir

Today on the blog I’m really pleased to welcome Owen Mullen. Like me, he’s a crime writer from Scotland who lives abroad and is published by Bloodhound Books. Owen’s books feature Glasgow PI Charlie Cameron, and the third, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, was published on March 21st.

I’ve just started his first – Games People Play – and it’s one exciting read…

 

Here’s Owen to tell us about writing Scottish Noir:

For many, Scotland is more than a country; it’s an idea, conjuring visions that are romantic and often dramatic. But for me, Scotland is the character every writer dreams of creating.
Crime fiction always has a hero, bad guys and the supporting players to round out the relationships. If the author has done his job, we care about them and feel their challenges. All the elements of the story have an important contribution to make. Locations add an atmospheric setting to the fantasy spun by the author. And this is where Scotland, already steeped in dark legend, comes into its own.

 

Scotland has more than its share of scenic wonders: castles and heather hills, bagpipes, kilted Highlanders; bravehearts and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Myth and reality, the moody and the magnificent mingle to create the perfect backdrop for bloody murder.

 

 

Cold depths, which sometimes give up their secrets, as PI Charlie Cameron discovers when his old friend Ian Selkirk is dragged from the waters of Loch Lomond. Or, over on the haunting Isle of Skye, where the peace and beauty help Charlie and his old girlfriend, Fiona, find temporary sanctuary from a horror they don’t understand. Long stretches of coastline like Ayr beach, the scene of a daring child abduction; the wonderful towns and villages of the Borders; Cramond shore with its ghosts of the past.

Not forgetting that spectacular castle clinging to a volcanic rock, rising majestically over the vibrant capital where Charlie comes face to face with the ruthless Rafferty family. Fabulous, all of it.

Yet, the Charlie Cameron series is based in Glasgow. There are reasons for this. The city has something of its own: an inner beauty which comes from the people. Strong and loyal; humorous and warm. Flip the coin and you will discover raw passion, rage, lust and pain, crystalised and delivered in a gruff accent. The stuff of great fiction walking the streets, where a look from a hard man is enough to silence conversation in a busy pub, and the guy cracking jokes at the bar, is really a hit-man.

Reasons to be afraid. And to get out of the comfortable chair by the fire to check for the umpteenth time that the back door really is locked, and keep turning the pages into the wee small hours.

Thanks, Owen!
You can find Owen and his books on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Pinterest.

When he was ten, Owen Mullen won a short story competition and didn’t write anything else for almost forty years. In between he graduated from Strathclyde University with a Masters in Tourism and a degree in Marketing, moved to London and worked as a rock musician, session singer and songwriter, and had a hit record in Japan with a band he refuses to name; on occasion he still performs. He returned to Scotland to run a management consultancy and a marketing agency. He is an Arsenal supporter and a serious foodie. A gregarious recluse, he and his wife, Christine, split their time between Glasgow – where the Charlie Cameron books are set – and their villa in the Greek Islands.

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Crime writers go hiking…

One of my purchases in Scotland was this bag – The Body In The Library is one of my favourite Agatha Christie reads. On Friday, a friend and I took it for the first hike of spring, here in N.E. Switzerland.

We were at Altenrhein, the border between Switzerland and Austria, where the ‘old’ Rhine flows towards Lake Constance. (The modern Rhine is a couple of hundred metres to the east.) Those cars over there are in Austria; we were in Switzerland.


The entire area is a nature reserve and is upkept by Switzerland, including the part in Austria. (The Austrians do somewhere else in return…) We saw plenty of evidence of old and new beaver activity on our way along the path.



The views were specacular, if a little hazy… (spot the mountains…)


And – spot the heron!


All too soon we came to the end of the trail, and Agatha and I posed rather precariously in the hollow tree.


On the way to the bus stop we passed Altenrhein airport, where you can fly to Vienna and a handful of other destinations, and the Hundertwasser House, which is great fun – there isn’t a straight line in the place.


Us crime-writers and friends are planning another hike in N.E. Switzerland – watch this space!

 

 

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Ah yes – I remember it well…

Or maybe I don’t.
It’s half a lifetime ago since I lived in Scotland, but I always love going back for a few days, catching up with friends and family and re-visiting some of my old haunts. I’ve just spent a week in Glasgow – and this time, I came across so many ‘culinary memories’…


One thing I always do in Glasgow is have a coffee and a potato scone in one of the shopping centre coffee shops. I make potato scones myself sometimes (a good way to use up the left-over spuds after a raclette evening here in Switzerland) but I never seem to get them quite ‘right’…

 

 

 

Then there’s tablet. And fudge, but tablet is better. I’m really glad we don’t get in in Switzerland, because there about a million calories per bite, and it’s one of my top ten favourite treats.

 

 

While we’re talking about sweeties, I’ll just mention creme eggs. I remember sitting at the back of the bus on the way home from school, in the middle of a crowd of creme egg eating kids – and somehow, they tasted better back in the day. Maybe it’s my taste buds, or maybe creme eggs are for kids. But I still buy one whenever I’m in the UK, just to convince myself.

 

Other favourites? Fish and chips, of course. Smoked haddock is hard to find in Switzerland. As are chocolate flakes. And jelly babies. And crisps – we don’t do prawn cocktail crisps here in Central Europe.

And while we’re talking about remembering – remember this?

 

 

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Location, location, location…

30061066A couple of weeks ago I opened a book I’d bought a while ago, and immediately I was transported – to exotic countries I’ve only dreamed of visiting. Couple that with one of the best suspense stories I’ve ever read, and you get an edge-of-the-seat experience: Kai wakes up in a foreign hospital, but she has lost her memory. Who is she, and what is the danger lurking in her past?

The book is Forgotten, by Heleyne Hammersley, and I’m delighted to welcome her to the blog today to talk about her trip, and how the novel grew from it.

Over to Heleyne:

In December 2001 I sat next to a pool in Phitsanulok in Thailand and wrote the first chapter of what was to become my first published novel, Forgotten.  The journal sections of the novel are based on part of a year-long trip I took with my partner in 2001-2002.

I wanted to write about our travels but not in some sort of travelogue style, so I turned to fiction.  We’d already journeyed through China, Vietnam, Laos and parts of Thailand, and I’d left each country with memories that I wanted to include in my story.

Beijing was an obvious starting point for the ‘journal’ element of the novel.  It is a fascinating city with a complex history. It’s also very crowded and the air is often thick with pollution.  I wanted my main character to see the city as I had, as a first-time traveller to Asia.  Some of the descriptions that I included are of places that I found very striking, especially the view of Tiananmen Square and the interior of the Forbidden City.

Inside the Forbidden City - Beijing

Inside the Forbidden City – Beijing

I included more rural parts of China for contrast and to enable me to develop Kai’s character in a different environment.  Xiahe in particular was a place which left a lasting impression with its mix of Tibetan Buddhism and burgeoning Chinese capitalism.  I wanted to depict the disparity between the impoverished monasteries and the flashy shops which seemed to sum up much about Chinese culture at the time.

Prayer wheels - Xiahe

Prayer wheels – Xiahe

From China I took Kai to Vietnam.  I’ve never been much of a city person but I really enjoyed the buzz of Hanoi.  Some of the streets are overhung by ancient trees which seem to give the place a timeless feel.   It’s in Hanoi, among western faces once again, that Kai first starts to feel uneasy and the reader learns more about the life that she has left behind.

Street scene - Hanoi

Street scene – Hanoi

Laos was incredible and had to be a location for part of Kai’s journey.  It was the friendliest place on that leg of our trip and a place I’d love to visit again.  The lush landscape seemed to lap right up to the edge of the tiny capital Vientiane which was just as friendly as the countryside and incredibly colourful.  I wanted Kai to experience some peace before the horror of her accident.

Street scene - Vientiane

Street scene – Vientiane

The ‘present’ in Forgotten is in Chiang Mai, a city that I didn’t really enjoy.  It was crowded, hot and, despite the wats and temples, felt quite modern.  It’s perhaps that uncomfortable feeling that I try to capture during Kai’s stay there and I was glad to send her back to the mountains around Mae Hong Son, even though I was sending her into danger.

The mountains near Mae Hong Son

The mountains near Mae Hong Son

The places that Kai visits in Forgotten are as much a part of the story as her experiences.  The locations are like characters, each different, each memorable and, hopefully, each one is interesting to the reader.

Thank you, Heleyne – what an amazing journey!

Forgotten on: Amazon UK   Amazon.com   Amazon Germany

71hglqtwy1l-_ux250_Heleyne Hammersley was born in South Yorkshire but has lived in Cumbria for the last twenty years where she sometimes teaches English and often walks on the fells.

The idea for her first novel, Forgotten, came about while on an extended holiday in China and South-East Asia in 2001.

Heleyne’s second novel, Fracture, again features travel. Set against the backdrop of the Great Ocean Road this tense psychological thriller centres around a fatal road trip.

You can find out more about Heleyne and her books by visiting her website, and on Facebook and Twitter.

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LAMBS!!!

Yesterday (Saturday), I was sitting in a bus on the way up to town. All was peaceful. Until a woman, complete with grandson, got on and sat down nearby.

The little boy would be three, maybe four, and he immediately started chatting to his Omi about playgroup. Their conversation went something like this:

Child: Playgroup chatter chatter chatter – LOOK, Omi! THE LAKE!

Omi: Yes, it’s a lovely view from up here, isn’t it?

Child: Chatter chatter chatter – LOOK!! SNOW!!

Omi: There’s still lots of snow on the mountains, isn’t there?

Child: Chatter chatter chatter – LOOK, Omi!!! LAMBS!!!

Omi: Aren’t they sweet?

Child: Chatter chatter chatter – LOOK!!!! OMI!!!! A FIRE ENGINE!!!!

Omi: Yes, and you’ll see the fire station in a moment, too.

Child: *Speechless with joy*

Omi: This is our stop now, up you get.

Child: That was a lucky bus ride, wasn’t it, Omi?

They got off, and the bus was once again a place of peace. I don’t know about my fellow passengers, but I had enjoyed the view over the lake, snowy mountains and all, the first lambs of the season, and the Swiss Fire Brigade much more intensively than I otherwise might have. We should travel with three-year-olds more often…

B4uiEezCAAE6-rg
Book news: I’m on Helen Pollard‘s great blog again today, talking about my charity book The Saturday Secret. 2017 profits made by ebook and paperback sales of this one are going to Doctors Without Borders, a great cause, so grab your copy today.
(Please… 🙂 )

And – if you’re in the UK or US and haven’t read The Attic Room yet, the ebook is on offer at 99p/c Monday – Friday next week.

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