Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Two men and half a shed.

For the second half of October and the first half of November, the old team was together again. Neil McRoberts and Jim McPherson, who last year brought you this:

have been at it again.  This year, starting with half a shed and a dead eucalyptus,  

using only a simple household chainsaw,

and the little red pick-up that could,

along with a sander and some brackets, they made . . .

(can you see what it is yet?) 

a very heavy . . .

but absolutely beautiful . . .
(how gorgeous is that wood?) . . . table!

But wait.  Something's missing.

That's better.

And, because they were tidying up (to the county dump) as they went along,

that ugly bit of the garden with the compost heap and tree stump and half a shed is beautiful now too.

(Garden gnome blogger's own.)

Thanks, Dad.  Thanks, Neil.  Cx

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Next Big Thing

I'm following on from Frances Brody, who writes the wonderful Kate Shackleton mysteries, answering a few questions about my next book out. 
What’s the working title of your book?
I have  lot of trouble with titles, but this time was pretty easy.  It was called The New Book and then The Hydro Book and then I sat down to think it out properly.  After that it was A Goodly Measure of Brimstone.  Then it ran through Deadly Dose, Strong Solution and Brimming Phial before we settled on . . . drumroll . . .  Dandy Gilver and A Deadly Measure of Brimstone.  It’s out in the UK next July.

Where did the idea come from?
I was up to 1929, so I knew when the story would be set.  And it just so happened that the day before I was going to sit down and open a file called "New Book 1st Draft", a reader emailed me and said she was missing my detective’s family.  Dandy Gilver has a stuffed shirt of a husband and two gormless teenaged sons, as well as a supercilious butler, a bossy maid and a devoted cook.  I was missing them too, after a couple of stories where we don’t see much of them, so in they went.

As for the setting . . . I’ve just been truffling in my filing cabinet for the very first notes I made and here’s what I found:
Temperance Hotel in the Highlands
Locked Room
**Magazine Publisher!!!** Fashion?  Ladies?  Film????

The finished story is set in the Lowlands; the temperance hotel became a hydropathic hotel; there is no magazine publisher (depsite all those asterisks and exclamation marks) 
When it comes to the plot, I have no clue where the idea came from.  I never do.

What genre is does your book fall under?
In the UK it’s what's known as a detective story, a sub-genre of crime novel.  In the US it’s a traditional mystery or cozy (slight shudder), a sub-genre of mystery novel.   Actually, though, I’ve just won the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Macavity Award, so maybe I should say the series is historical.  Only, “historical” still says bonnets to me.  Victoria Wood explains it best.  Look at 01.55-2.51 on this priceless Dinnerladies excerpt (although don’t fast forward through Dolly’s “Ooooh, I can't even look.” And whatever you do, stay for Clint’s mum and Jean’s line about camping.  I love Dinnerladies.))

What actor would you choose to play your central character in a movie rendition?

Anna Chancellor, without a doubt.   She looks exactly like Dandy, and she’s marvellousness made flesh.  But that Ann Cleeves has snaffled Douglas Henshall or, as I think of him, Alec Osborne, to be Jimmy Perez.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? 
Argh, the elevator pitch.  I’m no good at these.  “It’s about some people.” is my usual standard.    Here’s the jacket copy instead:

Perthshire 1929 and the menfolk of the Gilver family have come dow with influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia and pleurisy.  When an outbreak of scarlet fever strikes the village  Dandy the devoted wife and mother decides it time to decamp.  Dandy the intrepid detective, however, decides to decamp to the scene of a murder she would dearly love to solve.
Along with stalwart Pallister the butler, doughty Mrs Tilling the cook and the irrepressible Grant, Dandy’s lady’s maid, all of whom are recuperating too, the family repairs to the Borders town of Moffat, there to drink the sulphurous Moffat waters straight from the well and to submit to the galvanic wraps, ionized heat lamps and cold salt rubs of the splendid Laidlaw Hydropathic Hotel.

But all is not well at the Hydro.  The Laidlaw family is at war, the guests are an uneasy mix of old faithfuls and giddy upstarts, and the secret of the lady who arrived but never left cannot be kept for long.  And what of those drifting shapes in the Turkish bath?  Just steam shifting in the air?  Probably.  But then the Hydro was built in the lee of a Gallow Hill and in this town the dead can be as much trouble as the living.”

Will your book be self-published?
Hah!  If I was a self-published author I’d be better at one sentence pitches.  Hodder and Stoughton publish Dandy in the UK and Minotaur have given her a home in the US.

How long did it take you to write the first draft?
I started as soon as the shortbread tin went away after New Year and the date on the printed-out first draft – more truffling in the filing cabinet - is April the 20th, so . . . getting on for three months.  Then comes the hard bit. 

Happy NaNoWriMo everyone,


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Not alone any more!

Not only am I now one of the 7 Criminal Minds, but I've just been asked to pull on my long gloves, light a cigarillo and be a fabulous Femme Fatale.  First FF blog is up today. I'll still blog about dumpsters and gardening failures here, though.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Like London buses . . .

. . . there's nothing for ages and then two come along at once.

I've joined the Criminal Minds blogging group at the kind invitation of the lovely Kelli Stanley, and my first tour of duty is today.

Also today, at the kind invitation of the lovely Donna Andrews (starting to see a pattern here)
I'm guest blogging over Femmes Fatales

Different topics, but the scholarly wisdom in both, naturally.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Diving for Treasure (in dumpsters).

So it's the end of August and the students of UC Davis are on the wing, flitting from one flat to another and leaving all kinds of great stuff behind them for wombles like me.

Last year's Dumpster Diving Bye-laws still hold:

DD1: any fabric you can wash on a hot setting is fine (or BOILWASH for short).
DD2: always save presents from elders to ungrateful wretches who've thrown them out. (GRANNY)
DD3: no hats, hairbands or earrings. (NITS)
DD4: always save good stuff you find in bad places even if you only leave it in a better place for someone who wants it. (RE-DUMP)
DD5: no food. (GACK)

But this year I added:

DD6: take nothing that needs painted, stripped, varnished, sewn, nailed, glued or screwed OR that's going to the garage while you work out what to do with it. (NO PROJECTS).

And here's what happened.

Trip 1:

Tomato supports, roll of garden mesh, wire basket, small vintage side-table (the undergardener mentioned (and not for the first time) his belief that I would spend good money on dried pigeon plops if they were vintage dried pige . . .), camping cooking pots (for gathering berries in), clothes-pegs, Hallowe'en decorations (see below)

and, in the basket, a perfectly colour-schemed haul of bathrobe (from Target but brand-new), neckerchief, suede card wallet and string of plastic peace beads.

No bye-laws broken or even bent.  Ding-ding, round two.

Trip 2

A fake mahogany (Mahoganee?) filing cabinet that I actually need because if you give every book three files (drafts, notes, contracts) and keep writing, eventually your filing cabinet is full, an army toolbox (I just tried to get the undergardener to say "vintage" by asking him what he thought it was, but he went with "old"), a tub of washing powder (what's wrong with these people? Are they going to Nudist Year Abroad?), a torch, two Christmas candles still in their wrappers, a bungee, oven mitts, scissors, a parmesan grater, and a drinks tray from the Korean Hope Church of San Diego (not available in stores).

What's that you say?  Something else?

Oh yes, a chest of drawers that needs to go to the garage because it has to be stripped, re-painted, possibly varnished, then get new handles and bun feet.  A slight trangression of DD6, I'll grant you.  BUT - we need it for when my sister comes to stay next month (and don't worry, Auds, it'll be transformed.  I'm even planning to get the new handles in the Carmel branch of Anthropologie and how posh is that?)

Before Trip 3 - a digression.  My diving buddy (who asked to remain anonymous so let's call her Rarah Sizzo) is a mosaic artist and her main task every year is to find brooms.  Mosaicing makes a lot of dust.  2012 was a bumber year for brooms.

And a gratifyingly light year for the GRANNY rule. But there was one shocking example of a heartless youngster lobbing out a present that should have been kept for ever. In this nasty, nasty dumpster:

we found this:

someone's fifteenth birthday present - actually inscribed! - and put her out on a plate to keep her bottom clean.  She was gone the next day.

And now for Trip 3

A document tray, a watering can, a bubble-maker, a(nother) broom, a carpet for the top of the compost heap and it's borderline even at that, a tub of dishwasher tablets (what's wrong with these people?) a tennis ball (?), some glittery, sticky letters, a quilt just the right colour for my spare bedroom and, on the quilt:

four bags of packing shreddies, a bag of feathers (?), rolls and rolls of ribbon (chopstick-based ribbon-roll organising system model's own) a tub of screws and Game of Thrones.  All served on a base of  . . . tah-dah . . . find of the year . . . a dishwasher.

Yep, we've got the whole set now.  A dumpster-dived dishwasher to go with our dumpster-dived cooker:

and our dumpster-dived fridge:

And after the undergardener spending one morning as underplumber instead, it's in and it's working.  I love students. (Except when the new intake arrives next week and starts cycling at night with no lights and no brains while texting, I'll get back to you).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Into the woods

A hard day's research in Moffat yesterday.  (I'm not going to dignify with a response the suggestion that I've only been researching coffee shops, Karen Campbell.)

I needed to look at the well - the source of the brimstone in DG & A Goodly Measure of Brimstone, which is the working title of the book I've just written - and how hard could it be?

Leaving the map at home wasn't a great start, but hey.  I could go to the library, right?  Not on a Wednesday, I couldn't.  But standing there on the High Street I could see a sign for Well Street, and I set off up it.

Up the hill, Well Street turned into Old Well Road.  Better and better. 

At the end of the road, where it turned into a lane was Old Well Cottage.  How could I miss?

A wee bit further up where the lane turned into a path there was a finger post.  "Left to Moffat," it said.  "Right to Heatheryhaugh."  "Straight ahead to the Gallows Hill Woods."  No mention of a well anywhere.

But I wanted to see Gallows Hill - how could you not - and the path looked enticing, so I went for it.

There was a bit of the familiar make-your-mind-up-between-limbo-and-pole-vault that you always get on a woodland path. 

I limboed - well, scrunched down and crawled - geting muddy knees, moss on my back and lichen down my neck.

Onward and upward.  The next obstacle was unlimboable and unvaultable. So I went round it.

The third obstacle - that one that would do for you if this was a fairytale, and it was beginning to feel a bit like one - was unvaultable, unlimboable and ungetroundable. 

So I did what you do.  I strayed from the path.

I was all alone in an empty wood; no one knew I was there; night was falling and so . . . I strayed from the path.  I've read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, not to mention Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel, but I strayed anyway.

I had company.  A hawk, who was either an anxious new parent or a member of Neighbourhood Watch, stayed with me screeching and circling. 

And I had a place to stay in case it all went wrong.

Unless, of course, it all went wrong by means of the troll who lived there waking up and coming scampering after me on his scaly feet, licking his lips with his leathery tongue.

But, in the end, all was well.  I kept going uphill until I reached top, the clearing, where the gallows used to be . . .

. . . then I turned and went down again.  The hawk saw me off the premises at the fingerpost, the troll must have had his earplugs in, because the screeching didn't waken him, and I tramped back down into the town to do what I should have done in the first place: ask directions.
In Thistle Dhu (Dhu = black in Gaelic) a charming little vintage shop on Well St, run by a 22-year-old elfin child, like something out of an Anne Tyler novel, I discovered that Old Well Road goes to the old well, and I wanted the new well (17th century) at the end of Well Road.  I got the best directions I've ever had to help me find it too.

"Just stay on Well Road.  It turns into a country road.  Just keep going.  You pass a farm.  Keep going.  Then you'll smell sulphur, so you know you're there."

And look what I found to buy while I was in there.

Alfred Meakin's Wishing Well pattern.  It was meant to be.  The well wasn't exactly the same as the sulphuous Moffat well, but that dancer and me could be identical feet twins.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

New book, old pals.

Fun and frolics on Thursday night, launching Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses at Waterstone's in Edinburgh. 

I had a new(ish) dress and enough Tesco's value (97p) giftbags to go round all the complimentary copies.

My mum had another chance to wonder "Where did we go right?":

Colin from Waterstone's did us proud:

Lovely Francine Toon gave me a very kind introduction (here she is describing what it's like editing my work!):

And nobody actually keeled over from boredom while I was talking.

There were old friends (Neil was at primary school with these two):

And new friends (Kat, from Sacramento - yes, really - a budding writer who asked me for one piece of advice.  I managed to stop after about five):

Note the pram.  It's not a McPherson book launch without at least one baby.

There were big friends:

And small friends (Sue is standing up in this one):

Stuart "Mr" Campbell, my English teacher was there.  Here he is talking about writing to my brother-in-law Brian (finish the story, Brian, or I'll steal it):

Afterwards, of course, there was a cake, sliced with the musical cake slice, that plays Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday, Here Come's The Bride and Have a Jolly Good Book Launch:

Great fun.  And it ended up like all good parties should:

A big thank you to everyone who came along and raised a glass to Dandy and me.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Who said romance was dead?

So Thursday was our anniversary, Neil and me. And we went out for dinner and asked the waitress to take a photo.  It didn't go well.

"You clamped my arm deliberately to make it look like a ham, you rotten sod."
"Of course I didn't, you maniac. I barely know what you're talking about, never mind plan it and execute it."
"Look, I'll hold the camera and take another one."

Turns out first photo is like first pancake.

"Man, we look tired."
"Well, we are tired.  I'm exhausted."
'Let's do another one and try to look awake."

"I said 'awake'.  Not 'as if sitting on a thumb tack'.  Let's try again."

This was the start of the Charles and Diana period.  First I looked happily married and Neil looked unconvinced.

   Then he looked happily married and I looked as if I was at least considering my options.

Then we had some technical difficulties, owing to us (the part of us that's not me) hitting the wrong button on the camera.  I had to put my glasses on to fix it.

And I forgot to take them off again.

"Never mind.  I like your glasses.  Keep them on.  But you look photoshopped.  Try to look less as if you've been put in after your death.'

This was a good idea.

But Neil blinked.  And I decided to take my glasses off.  While they'd been on I'd noticed that my hair looked like Freddie Starr.  So I patted it down a bit. 

And managed to make myself look like The Village of The Damned instead.

Glasses off, hair fixed, eyes open, we tried again.

Meh.  Neil came up with a possible solution.  "It might be easier just to get divorced."

But then we saw the waitress returning, this time with ribs.

Look how happy we are!  Romance may be dead but barbecue is forever.