Poison, the first in the series of Cambridge Murder Mysteries, will shortly be published and available on Amazon Kindle Books.
The first book, ‘Poison’, is about Elizabeth Green’s return to helping the police force after a lengthy break due to bereavement following her husband’s tragic death. When a junior lecturer dies in Elizabeth's garden which backs onto the River Cam, it seems she is tied to death by fate and poison. Neither Inspector Abley, a good friend of hers who spends most of his time on the golf course, nor her grandson, Godric, who is staying with her during term time while studying at the university, think she is ready to get back into helping to solve crimes.
Elizabeth Green is a Don of plant sciences at Darwin College, the University of Cambridge, specialising in poisonous and injurious flora. Many call on her expertise, including the Cambridgeshire police force when they need advice on crimes. In her fifties, Professor Green is quintessentially English. An eccentric in her ivory tower, she maintains a sharp wit and mind, yet is flawed for having closed herself off from most other people since the death of her husband. If she could just admit she needs the love of others she could be happy again.
Unbridled curiosity and exceptionally strong powers of deduction instead embroil Elizabeth right in the heart of murder mysteries in this historic city, with all its sumptuousness of college high table, chapels, balls, the meandering River Cam, leafy Jesus Green, Midsummer Common, Grantchester Tea Gardens and Wicken Fen.
More details to follow…
Some people have to make lists to find out what makes them happy, and then decide once they have written things down in order. Like it is something which can be rationally decided. I think we know, deep down what makes us happy without the list. Some of us need to redress our goals and expectations. Some have to deal with heartache and suffering which puts a barrier between us and it. But those of us who feel it know it. I am lucky that I am happy. Every morning I count my blessings for the people and things that make me so. I do this in my head, rather than out loud, but I find it helps me to set up the day in the right frame. Some people do this at the end of the day. By the close of play my mind is already ensconced in a book, and as I drift off to sleep I am dreaming about what I have just read. I like nothing to interrupt that whiff of the imaginary world I have just left on the pages, now lingering behind my eyes before I lose consciousness, and probably snore. But even though I don't count my blessings at night, I’m always all too aware that things change as quickly and simply when a butterfly flaps its wings somewhere. Happiness is just transitory. Nothing lasts. So I'm grabbing me some now while I've got it.
What makes writers happy? Good pencils? A quiet room? Lots of stimulation and crazy people coming into and out of their lives so they have something to write about? Yes, yes, and yes. Writers are perhaps different to other people in that they live by way of observation more than most, constantly looking at the aerial view of each individual situation, listening a little more intently at what is said, why. But we are more similar to the rest of the world than others would give us credit. We just started out trying something, and like many others it grabbed us and now we are hooked. Like the sportsman, musician, dare I say it, even the odd career politician...and they are odd, aren’t they? We become driven by the goal, driven by the process, we are in it, on it, under it. Our obsession with writing that is. But where perhaps the writer can lose their happiness is when they start to consider the reader.
Some writers say just write what you want to write, not what you think others may want to read, or see at the cinema/theatre if you’ve written a script. This is good advice, I concur! Bad advice is to chase the next big thing, the latest trends. Because the risk is, you don’t write with your own voice. You don’t write from the heart, from that truth inside you that burns. If you squish yourself into another genre it might work for a while, but what if it wasn’t really you? And even if you are such a good writer and you manage to pull it off, you risk getting stuck writing stuff you don’t love. It might pay the bills. But we are all dead soon, and you’ll be dead inside before that. And you won't be happy before you die.
The best writers I have know write not just what they know, but what they feel, what creeps up inside them and grabs hold. That’s why it feels like they don’t hold anything back, aren’t afraid of pouring out their heart and soul into a book or script. Ultimately aren’t scared of upsetting people. That’s different from not caring about what people think. It’s just writing what they want to write. So write what you want to write. For only then do the boundaries get broken down, the new ground get trodden. For all the millions of books that have been written, isn’t that the biggest surprise that there are still surprises between the pages? For that to continue we all have to be different and embrace it. It’s what makes us happy. And ironically, the readers.
Where to write
Talking to writers I am always surprised by how different we all are when it comes to the process of writing. One of my writer friends starts only when the day is virtually over. She’s basically a bat. Others I know treat writing very much like a job, with a separate room in the house which at nine in the morning they visit, sit there all day until five and then stop. To be that sounds like work. But clearly they like it, and we are all so different, which is what makes life interesting (and material for writing). I heard E.L. James say in an interview that she wrote a lot on her phone on the tube on the way to work. We know Dickens wrote in the garden in a summer house for some of the time, as did Roald Dahl.
I find that I write best in the morning. Somehow it feels quiet and the peace helps my thoughts sort themselves out. I will have breakfast but not start pottering or letting any outside influences seep in. I write before the ‘noise’ of the day interrupts my thoughts. For as soon as it has, I find it harder to hear the stories in my head.
In the winter I mainly write while sitting on the sofa in the middle of my terraced home. It’s probably the exact distance between one end of my terrace to the other (I can see both ends from where I sit as my home is very small - been described as a postage stamp - quite in the middle of Cambridge). My sofa is an old fawn corduroy saggy number. It sits opposite a wood burner which burns in the winter. I’m not too far from the kitchen (which I can see - told you it was small) where I make endless cups of peppermint tea (I’m eating a hot cross bun as I type - hmm, nice). I live in a quiet street and I can hear the birds out in the garden singing their lungs out, if my cats haven’t chased them away. When the summer comes I move into the garden. I have a very small garden with a tiny log cabin at the end. I have a sofa in there too and sit, with the doors open and write - again in the morning.
What about for how long?
Many writers will say they reach a word count and stop. So that might be five hundred words, a thousand, sometimes two. Graham Greene apparently wrote five hundred words a day, many writers up this to a thousand or more. And after that, no matter where they are they put their pen down (Greene did this) or turn off the lap top. For me, the characters dictate when they’ve had enough of me, and leave. Then I stop. I can only describe my writing like this. Like they are giving me the chance to be in their world only for a while, and once they get bored, they leave. It’s just how my writing seems to work. I have to stop when they are gone.
How frequently to write
My father is a runner, and he gets fidgety if he doesn’t run for more than a few days. He’s in his eighties but still has to run. Sometimes it’s like he’s Forest Gump. I’m the same now with writing. I just have to write and if I don’t I start to grow more tetchy - just with myself. It’s a habit, and its addictive because it brings me such joy. Honestly, it also brings me escape. When I’m writing I’m not me anymore. I’m entering another world. For me, this is a strong attraction, which grows stronger. When I first started I think I just had a story to tell. But now, it is a way of life. Whatever happens…
So you are perhaps a writer. Have I go any advice? You must be tired of hearing writers say just write. But that is my first bit of advice. Write. It took me a while to be brave enough to decide that I would not just write in a note book bits and bobs, or thoughts. But decide to write something substantial. It must have taken me a year of failed starts. Writing the first page, or writing a synopsis. But I kept at it. Like learning to play the piano, it takes a while to play both hands together and then go through the grades. You put in the hours and eventually you get better. Then when it comes to where. Maybe you have no where at home, so maybe find a park bench, or a quiet coffee shop. Or, stay up late and write when your home is quiet (or get up early). Do you have a garden to write in? Once you decide you want to write you will form your own habits. Nothing is write or wrong. Whatever gets the words down. Then once they are down you can review them. But that’s another blog. Thank you for reading.