Life Lately….

Editing in Henri, Stockbridge - one of my favourite cafes for writing in So far, 2017 has been a curate’s egg of a year – good in parts. I spent most of January recuperating from the vile chest infection that laid me low for much of November and December. I coughed so badly that my neighbour, a doctor, turned up on my doorstep with a stethoscope in her hand to see how I was as she’d heard me hacking away through the wall…

I also heard back from the agents to whom I’d sent Death Will Find Me just before Christmas. They’d both asked to see the full version and one of them in particular I had high hopes of. As is the way of these things, that agent came back and said that she was passing on it. She gave me some useful advice and although I cross and upset for a bit I started to dig in and pay attention. Then – just as I’d given up all hope – the second agent got back to me and said that he liked the book but felt it needed more work. He suggested giving me some editorial notes and seeing how they helped and then: “all being well, we can move forward in a positive way”. Promising no?

So I’ve put on hold the plans I did have and I’m revising the manuscript – I’ve set myself a deadline of the end of March to send it back to him. It’s hard work because what looks like a small tweak in one place requires lots of tiny little tweaks in other places to make it work. Once I’ve sent this back to him I’m going to treat myself to a couple of days of writing – not editing, just writing – because I’m missing that lots at the moment. No idea what that will be although I do have an idea for a contemporary thriller that I’d like to explore.

So that’s all been rather exhausting, mentally and emotionally. In other news, we’re cracking on with the house and the woodburning stove is now installed in the sitting room – it’s a cosy, glowing, toasty thing of joy. Our garden here is a disaster zone still but the walled garden in Fife is a delight and I came away from it last week with lots of ideas for this summer. I’m trying to plan this year properly so that it doesn’t slip past with what feels like little to show for it and my goals for the first quarter are coming together although March is going to be busy if I’m to keep up.

But right now, apart from the pain of editing and the lingering lack of energy, I’m feeling pretty good about things. I hope you are too.




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Shelf Notes – Miss Christie Regrets by Guy Fraser-Sampson

Miss Christie Regrets by Guy Fraser-Sampson. Full review on my website This is the second book in the Hampstead Murders series which kicked off last year with Death In Profile. This time a murder has occurred inside the Burgh House museum and, handily, Detective Sergeant Karen Willis happens to be on the scene with Peter Collins, her psychologist boyfriend. The author has created an intriguing cast of possible suspects and with a neat turn of the plot, another mystery comes to the surface. But could the two deaths be related, even though they happened decades apart? And where does Agatha Christie come in?

Like its predecessor, Miss Christie Regrets is a quick, easy read – Guy Fraser-Sampson certainly knows how to spin a yarn. If I was critical, I would suggest that some of the police procedural elements are a little repetitive and slow the pace down and the psychologist’s Lord Peter Wimsey delusions probably mean that in real life he would be on extended sick leave, but overall, this is a very satisfying contemporary crime novel with echoes of Golden Age detective stories.

You can read my interview with Guy Fraser-Sampson here.



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On deadlines…

Well, at least I met one of the deadlines I set myself this year.

Finally, a couple of days ago, I sent the manuscript for Death Will Find Me off to a couple of agents who had asked to see it following events such as Pitch Perfect and Xpo North. I’d been promising it for months and as regular readers (sorry, I’ve not been here much recently) will know, the likely completion date kept moving further and further away until the book would have been more accurately titled Tessa Kilpatrick and the Mystery of the Missing Deadlines.

But it’s done at last. The Best Beta-Reader in the World (aka my good friend Jane) finished pointing out (fortunately minor) plot holes and my rather casual approach to commas, and I decided that it was time to stop spending my mornings making tiny changes and my afternoons putting them back as they were. Also, Christmas is nearly here and I have done NOTHING. So it’s been sent off to two fabulous agents, both of whom I would love to be represented by, and hopefully one of them will like it. And if not, come January I have a shortlist of agents to send submissions to…

And now, I feel a bit empty. The book that I’ve been working on (or avoiding working on) for so long is out of my hands. There’s no point in carrying on editing until I’ve heard back from these agents. I’ve shredded all the post-its and scraps of paper with unreadable and cryptic notes that were piling up, I’ve tidied my pencil pot, and shelved the piles of books that were stacked all around the area by my desk. After a year of terrible procrastination, I’ve now run out of displacement activity.

So what now? Do I carry on writing, even if no-one wants to publish this book? I think so. Writing is one of the things that makes me happiest and I know that I’m at least competent, so even if Death Will Find Me doesn’t find a home, the next book will be better and may well do. But do I start on the second in the series (nothing written down, but the plot’s in my head) or something completely different? I’m going to mull that over the holidays and hopefully by the new year things will be clearer.

If I’m not back here before January, have a wonderful Christmas and I hope that you have a peaceful, prosperous and healthy 2017.

Love Vx

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So. Writing. Where am I up to?

My current writing space Here’s the thing. Writing is important to me. Really, really important. I love that feeling when the words are whizzing out of my head and onto the screen and the story takes on a life of its own. It’s amazing.

Here’s the other thing. Until I sell the novel and am actually earning money from my writing, it has to take a backseat to other jobs, the ones that put food on the table. If there’s pressure to be working on those tasks then I feel guilty about writing and so the words don’t come.

The last few months, when we’ve had a house to refurbish, three lots of new tenants to find (the paperwork is unbelievable), we’ve moved to a house that needs lots of work and where I don’t have an office, and it’s been the school holidays which means that the peace and solitude I need haven’t been possible, have not been a good time for writing. I’ve tried and tried and trust me, Malcolm and The Son have been nothing but supportive, but the words haven’t wanted to come. What I’ve written has been lumpen and dull, all the energy sapped from them by an every growing list of other stuff I need to do.

However, it’s improving. Everything is settling down in terms of food-on-the-table work, The Son is back at school, and even the new puppy is less exhausting and distracting. I had lunch a week ago with an agent friend who gave me a talking to and made me feel excited about writing again, and I’ve actually produced some quite decent work in the last week or so. Maybe I need to forget trying to actually write during July and August and concentrate instead on gathering ideas and inspiration so that when I sit down on the back-to-school morning in September, the words are just waiting to be let loose?




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Summer reading suggestions and books to pre-order

Summer Reading 2016 - books by Meg Rosoff, Jilly Cooper, Tana French, Chris Ewan, Veronica Henry and more..  Now that the move is over, I’m looking forward to catching up on some reading, both proofs that will be out this autumn and recent acquisitions.

Top of the pile is Mount! by Jilly Cooper. I am so pleased to have a copy of this proof! I have adored Jilly’s books since I first discovered them in my early teens. Rivals is my favourite and a brief discussion on Twitter showed broad agreement, including from Ian Rankin, who has to be one of the least likely Jilly Cooper fans around. Mount! (I loathe that exclamation mark) brings back Rupert Campbell-Black, now a hugely successful racehorse trainer and breeder intent on his stallion Love Rat winning the accolade of Leading Sire. The Jilly trademarks of scandalous scheming and romantic tangles are all there and I’m loving it so far. It came with lots of embargo notices so I don’t think I can say much more but I will review it properly later.

The other proof that arrived was The Trespasser by Tana French, one of the best crime writers around at the moment. Broken Harbour and The Secret Place are both excellent and I don’t expect this new Dublin-set police procedural to be any different. Again, a proper review coming when I’ve read it and I’d love to interview her here so I’ll be in touch with her publicist to see if we can set that up.

The Disinherited by Robert Sackville-West has been on the bookshelves for a while but I put it to one side when I packed up all the other books as I want to finally read it this summer. The story of a failed attempt to claim a vast inheritance, the cover quote from Lucy Worsley reads “stranger than fiction, but twice as fascinating, and leaving behind it a sense of bittersweet sympathy”. Knole, the subject of that claim, and the Sackville-West family are intriguing and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into this, especially as non-fiction is my preference while I’m writing.

Among the other non-fiction on my pile is Singled Out by Virginia Nicolson and this is part please, part research. Looking at the lives of the so-called ‘Surplus Women’, deprived of the traditional future of marriage and children by the terrible losses of World War and who had to forge new futures, often taking the opportunity to challenge conventions, becoming political campaigners and how they changed society by proving that there was more to women’s lives than marriage. The heroine of my novel, although widowed in 1920 via a bullet to her husband’s temple rather than during the war, faces many of these same challenges so this will be both research but also a good read – Nicolson’s Among the Bohemians was a great piece of writing.

I’m looking forward to How To Find Love In A Bookshop by Veronica Henry. I picked it up on a whim as it’s set in a bookshop although when I got home I was a little equivocal about the chick-lit-ish cover but Elaine over at Random Jottings said in her review at Shiny New Books that she loved it. We tend to have similar opinions about a lot of books so I’m sure I’ll enjoy it too.

I’ve enjoyed Chris Ewan‘s crime novels since way back when his debut, The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam, was published by Susan Hill at Long Barn Books. I’m samefully late in getting round to this proof of his newest, Long Time Lost, which published in May…

Hygge, the Danish concept of snuggling in for the winter, is becoming better known and Denmark has also given us the inestimable Sandi Toksvig and Lego. Therefore like more right-thinking people when Helen Russell had the chance to spend a year in Denmark finding out more about this country that is supposedly the happiest place on earth, she leapt at it. I picked this up on the spur of the moment in The Main Street Trading Company and it will be the perfect read as another Scottish winter looms on the horizon.

Best known for her YA fiction such as How I Live Now, Jonathan Unleashed is Meg Rosoff‘s first adult novel and it’s shocking that I haven’t yet jumped into this well-reviewed and best-selling book. Will rectify that forthwith.

Finally, another non-fiction, and not a new one at that. Domestic Bliss (subtitled How To Live) by interior decorator Rita Konig has been around for a while and I tend to re-read it whenever we move house when we’re at that depressing stage when everything looks a bit shabby and I’m cross because none of the kitchen appliances work probably and all the plug sockets are in stupid places. Somehow her advice to jazz up one’s broom cupboard, the importance of 5 amp plug sockets where you want to put lamps (seriously, you should do this – it means that when you flick a light switch the lamps come on and you don’t need to faff around turning them all on or blinding yourself with the glare of an overhead bulb. Instant cosiness) and the joy of a good scented candle, are soothing and reassure me that in time this new house too will be utterly delightful. Also, excellent tips on dealing with The Moth.


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