Evie Hawtrey - From history to mystery

Evie Hawtrey  – woman of mystery – describes herself as a Yank by birth but a sister-in-spirit to her fierce and feminist London detective, DI Nigella Parker. Evie splits her time between Washington DC, where she lives with her husband, and York, UK, where she enjoys living in history, lingering over teas, and knocking around in pubs.

I’m delighted to welcome this particular guest to my writing blog and include her as an additional arrival to the ‘Writers abroad’ series. Evie is one of a club of historical fiction writers turning to mystery fiction…  Over to Evie to explain how helpful all that historical writing is when turning to crime…

For more than a decade I authored novels set in the past. Then I was struck by the idea for a mystery. . . set predominately in the present, and entirely in London (I live in Washington, DC).

Crime . . . I was going to write crime after a decade as a historical novelist. WHAT WAS I THINKING? I didn’t know anything about police procedures, or the forensics involved in determining how long a body had burned by examining it.

I quickly discovered, however, that writing historical fiction was great preparation for working in my new genre, because historical novelists have mad research skills. And research lies at the foundation of most fiction—even if it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you’re reading a scene involving an immolated corpse outside London’s Temple Church.

No matter what genre you are writing, here’s a shortlist of historical research methodologies that can help you write it better:

  1. Use research to understand your novel’s world before you try to build it for readers

You can’t paint a tree if you haven’t seen one. If you want to build an authentic world you must know that world, and research is the way to do that.

Historical novelists routinely immerse themselves in the era and location they are bringing back to life. I have an unnerving number of books on the St. Bartholomew’s Days Massacre and the bound letters of a guillotined French princess on my office shelves courtesy of my incarnation as a historical novelist.

It seems patently obvious that nobody can write a historical novel by personal experience. We don’t have time machines after all. But there are a lot of aspects of contemporary novels—mystery and otherwise—that probably aren’t part of their author’s daily experiences. When those crop up, don’t guess, research.

Research doesn’t mean just using books (though books are great). Get creative. I spent time virtually walking around the London locations that would be my modern-day crime scenes (love that drop in feature on Google maps). I read annual reports reports for the City of London Police to understand how that force operated. I drew the exact boundaries of their territory (1.12 square miles of the whopping 607 square miles comprising Metropolitan London) on a map on my desk. I also read tons of fun on-line articles on British slang.

You get the picture—I immersed myself into the world of my London detective inspectors (down to the view from the windows in DI Parker’s flat), so that I could portray it authentically for readers.

City of London from the top of the Monument to the Great Fire of London Photo: Piotr Zarobkiewicz (CC licence)

  1. Know when to stop—or at least pause—your research

Historical novelists often learn this the hard way. I know authors who spent a decade researching their first manuscripts. That is NOT a sustainable business model.

You are bound to end up down a research rabbit hole or two when you are working on a book—whether you’re comparing farthingale styles as a historical novelist, or learning about difference between spontaneous combustion and spontaneous heating as a mystery writer. But try to avoid falling all the way in.

Writing a novel is NOT the same as doing a doctoral dissertation. Not in terms of content. Not in terms of timing. And, therefore, not in terms of research. Know when it is time to put down the research books and draft your novel.

  1. Be ready to resume research on a “need to know” basis

The best writing necessitates research on the go. Historical novelists frequently pause to do additional research while drafting their novels. You can’t anticipate everything you’ll need to know for a three-hundred-page novel at the outset. So, when a corpse turns up at St. Magnus the Martyr, that’s the perfect moment to seek out an evocative architectural details (like a large, black exterior clock crowned with a golden cherub’s face).

  1. Consult experts

Historical novelists know what they don’t know. We recognize that we are not PhD historians, folks who make historical costumes for a living, or theorbo players. And we are not afraid to reach out to people who are.

Whatever genre you are writing, you don’t have to go it alone. You can tap into the expertise of others.

Most experts—whether in 16th century French court dress or arson—are delighted to talk about what they do, because they love it. Yes, you do have to be sensitive to demands on an expert’s time. So do your basic research before you reach out, then go for it!

While writing my crime debut, I reached out to someone who punched far above my weight—a PhD biological anthropologist who was an expert on-call with police specializing in the analysis of human remains. And guess what? She couldn’t have been nicer or more willing to help me make certain the procedural scenes in my novel read realistically.

As with all research, think outside the box. Not every expert is a PhD. What about a mechanic when you need something to go wrong with a fictional car? Or in my case a group of UK friends who were happy help me achieve an authentically British tone for my characters (and avoid Dick Van Dyke Mary-Poppin’s-like caricature).

You may never write historical fiction, but you can develop the research super-skills of a historical novelist. I promise they will serve you well, as they have done me.

* Yes, I had to look that up! The theorbo is a plucked string instrument of the lute family, with an extended neck and a second pegbox.

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Discover more about Evie
Website/blog: https://eviehawtrey.com
Facebook: https://facebook.com/EvieHawtrey
Twitter: https://twitter.com/evie_hawtrey    @evie_hawtrey

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So what’s And By Fire about?

Two extraordinary female detectives, tempered by fire and separated by more than three centuries, must use their tenacity and intelligence to track a pair of murderous geniuses who would burn the world for their art in Evie Hawtrey’s And by Fire.

Nigella Parker, Detective Inspector with the City Police, has a deeply rooted fear of fire and a talent for solving deadly arson cases. When a charred figure is found curled beside Sir Christopher Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire of London, Nigella is dragged into a case pitting her against a murderous artist creating sculptures using burnt flesh.

Nigella partners with Colm O’Leary of Scotland Yard to track the arsonist across greater London. The pair are more than colleagues—they were lovers until O’Leary made the mistake of uttering three little words. Their past isn’t the only buried history as they race to connect the dots between an antique nail pulled from a dead man’s hands and a long-forgotten architect dwarfed by the life’s work of Sir Christopher Wren.

Wren, one of London’s most famous architects, is everywhere the pair turn. Digging into his legacy leads the DIs into the coldest of cold cases: a search for a bookseller gone missing during the Great Fire of London. More than 350 years earlier, while looking for their friend, a second pair of detectives—a lady-in-waiting to the Queen and a royal fireworks maker—discovered foul play in the supposedly accidental destruction of St. Paul’s Cathedral…but did that same devilry lead to murder? And can these centuries-old crimes help catch a modern-day murderer?

As Nigella and O’Leary rush to decode clues, past and present, London’s killer-artist sets his sights on a member of the investigative team as the subject of his next fiery masterpiece.

Buy from Amazon UK   Amazon US    Kobo    Barnes & Noble

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“Bones meets the Restoration Court in Evie Hawtrey’s And By Fire, a taut dual-timeline mystery that races along at the pace of an inferno! I couldn’t put this one down!” — Kate Quinn, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Alice Network

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series.Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, will be out on 23 August.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines and taste world the latest contemporary thriller Double Identity… Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

That inspiration thing...

Fortuna, Capitoline Museum, Rome (Author photo)

What inspires you?” is a question I’m frequently asked in many guest posts, in podcast interviews, or at conferences.

The people asking are usually lovely – genuinely interested and keen to hear the answer. Perhaps they are writers themselves, or wish to make a connection on an artistic and creative level or want to know the answer to life, the universe and everything. That last one’s easy: 42.

Let’s be serious. Well, for a moment.

I dread this question, not because I don’t want to reveal the secret identity of my silken-gowned muse, nor divulge her equally secret pearls of wisdom. Am I frightened she might run away, never to be seen again? No, I don’t want to let readers down with my answer.

I confess – I don’t know. *runs away and hides*

An inspiring thought or emotion can be anything and come from anywhere. For me, it’s like being ambushed. I often don’t have a clue until it drops into my head. When it does, it’s something shallow and mundane like being held on the phone in a queue, spotting a bargain or scoffing at a mistranslation at a tourist site.

Roman food strainer, 1st century AD, British Museum (Author photo)

I’m more likely to wonder how Roman women handled menstruation than how the battle of X was won, or how long it took to hand pierce the holes in a Roman kitchen sieve rather than how many nails were used in the Norman invasion ships. (Actually, the nail question is quite interesting…)

The Roma Nova books originated from a decades’ long fascination with Ancient Rome and women’s roles in the modern world but given it took more than thirty years to get the first words onto the computer screen (bypassing the typewriter), it can hardly be called a *moment* of inspiration.

Like all authors, whether they admit it or not, I drew on events, people and experiences from my life up to that moment. We are all shaped by these experiences and by our background and values. There will always be a little bit of the author in her book…

The Mélisende books, Double Identity and Double Pursuit, written after nine Roma Nova thrillers, have elements of a more obvious origin:

  • tough, active heroine with heart – check
  • crime/adventure/thriller – check
  • France/French setting – check
  • European connection – check
  • armed forces – check
  • modern Rome – check
  • financial skulduggery – um, sort of, years ago, 25% check
  • African Sahel – nope (Research required)
  • gun-running – nope (Massive amounts of research required)

Inspiration for me is a formless cloud, wisps, really, wafting around in my mind with no fixed abode. It takes something to come along – a bad film, five words in an email from a Very Famous Author, idle attention to a television report of a coup – to get the cloud to clump and produce a bolt of lightning. Usually, it’s a little crackle at the back of the sky. Hopefully, not a damp squib.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, will be out on 23 August.

Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Embarrassed of Roma Nova catch-up

When I checked when I’d written my last post, I was horrified out of my socks. May! And it was a feature about my esteemed writing friend Jane Davis’s beautiful new book, Small EdenIt’s achingly well written – I will never be able to write such clever and evocative prose.

Since then, radio silence for which I must apologise. My excuse? Hammering on to finish my new Roma Nova story, JULIA PRIMA. I’d booked my copy editor and was writing to a deadline. First, it had to go to my critique writing partner who did a perceptive and thorough red pen job on it. Revisions followed, but at last, I sent the manuscript off to have its commas checked, the weird words and grammar pointed out and inconsistencies pinpointed.

The next phase is drawing up maps, a historical note and a list of journey stops. And inevitably asking bloggers and fellow authors (nicely) if they would host JULIA PRIMA on their blog around launch time on 23 August. People have been very kind…

In between all this, I wrote my usual column on writing and publishing for The Deux-Sèvres Monthly, the local English language magazine here in France, had my 4th vaccination against Covid-19 and voted in the National Assembly elections. Oh, and we had a heatwave which went to 40C in the shade.

At the end of June, I took myself off to the UK to participate as an author in the Eboracum Roman Festival in York. The author group was wonderful; banter, knowledge and mutual support as well as discussing body count, 1st century medicine, tribes vs. Romans, murderous innkeeping, spies and tough-guy warriors. We Roman authors are very refined…

June is a funny month in some ways – school terms ending, holidays in view, summer sunshine. Some people turn to reading more, others just want to be outdoors enjoying the weather so interest in reading can dwindle. At least, we’re no longer restricted to the old instruction from my parents in the 1960s, “Six books maximum each.” Now, we just load up our readers or phones.

I’m getting ready to go to a new festival, this time in Colchester, Roman Camulodunum an important  town that  Boudicca’s hordes completely trashed in AD 60/61. It was rebuilt, reaching its zenith in the 2nd and 3rd centuries with possibly a 30,000 population. The town was home to a large classical temple, two theatres (including Britain’s largest), several Romano-British temples, Britain’s only known chariot circus, Britain’s first town walls, several large cemeteries and over 50 known mosaics and tessellated pavements. So, plenty to see!

 

Fingers crossed there won’t be a train strike meaning I have to spend seven hours in coaches from Stansted to York and stand all the way back on the Monday train as two-thirds of services were cancelled due to some ne’er-do-wells stealing the copper signal cables. 🙄

Today, I’m listening to a webinar from the Society of Authors – a bit of continuous professional development – then it’s back to my maps for JULIA PRIMA. Making maps is not as easy as it looks. And I salute those who do it professionally. Thank goodness there are royalty free templates you can download from the Internet. But then you have to decide which of the experts’ views on the location of an obscure mansio to accept as you go to label the map with the Roman name.

Back to the ploughshare.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series.Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, will be out on 23 August.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines and taste world the latest contemporary thriller Double Identity… Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Jane Davis and Small Eden: Passion, obsession or expiation?

My blog guest today is Jane Davis whose first novel, ‘Half-Truths and White Lies’, won a national award established with the aim of finding the next Joanne Harris. Further recognition followed in 2016 with ‘An Unknown Woman’ being named Self-Published Book of the Year by Writing Magazine/the David St John Thomas Charitable Trust, as well as being shortlisted in the IAN Awards, and in 2019 with ‘Smash all the Windows’ winning the inaugural Selfies Book Award. Her novel, ‘At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock’ was featured by The Lady Magazine as one of their favourite books set in the 1950s, selected as a Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choice, and shortlisted for the Selfies Book Awards 2021.

Interested in how people behave under pressure, Jane introduces her characters when they are in highly volatile situations and then, in her words, she throws them to the lions. The themes she explores are diverse, ranging from pioneering female photographers, to relatives seeking justice for the victims of a fictional disaster.

Jane Davis lives in Carshalton, Surrey, in what was originally the ticket office for a Victorian pleasure gardens, known locally as ‘the gingerbread house’. Her house frequently features in her fiction. In fact, she burnt it to the ground in the opening chapter of ‘An Unknown Woman’. In her latest release, Small Eden, she asks the question why one man would choose to open a pleasure gardens at a time when so many others were facing bankruptcy?

When she isn’t writing, you may spot Jane disappearing up the side of a mountain with a camera in hand.

So let’s find out more…

Can you tell us about the inspiration for your latest novel?

When we moved into the cottage, hanging in the hall was a reproduction of a woodcut depicting Edwardian ladies playing a game of doubles on a tennis court. When we had asked they vendors about the history of the place, they told us that they bought the house from a retired sea captain, who told them it was the gatehouse for the estate. This was certainly the received wisdom in the street, but our cottage was built 100 years after the local manor. Some time after moving in, we joined a guided tour of St Philomena’s manor house, its hermitage and the water tower.

We asked the guide – a local historian – about the possibility that our cottage was a gatehouse for the estate and were told no. But he was intrigued enough to do some research of his own, and what he had to tell us was far more interesting. It was built by a Mr E Cooke as the ticket office for pleasure gardens which opened at the turn of the century. What led a man to embark on such an endeavour after the last of London’s pleasure gardens had failed isn’t written in any history books. It’s clear from Ordnance Survey maps that Mr Cooke didn’t give up on his gardens easily. There was a gradual selling off of plots, the creep of housing, the loss of a stand of trees. My instinct was that something in his past had driven him, something personal, and that same thing that made him so reluctant to let go of his dream. Of course, had our research been more successful, there would have been no story to write.

You seem to flit between contemporary and historical fiction. Is that deliberate?

My life as a writer a whole lot easier if I were to stick to one or the other, but I don’t see a clear dividing line between the two.

My father used to say, ‘I remember when all of this was fields,’ something his father also said to him. For me, the natural progression is to think of my generation who have no memory of fields – not so unusual if you live in London or its suburbs, but I can point to a block of flats and say, ‘This is where my middle school was.’ My interest is change, how it feels personal, as if you’ve been robbed of your memories, and sometimes you won’t even be aware what’s been taken from you until you return to a place you once loved, or were loved in. Somewhere that has acquired more meaning than the place itself. And, returning to that place, you stand there and try to take it in. In Robert Cooke’s case, he sees a sign advertising land for sale, and discovers it is a chalk pit he knew as a boy.

I am now very much aware that my reaction when my father said, ‘I remember when all of this was fields,’ should have been to ask, ‘When was that, Dad? What happened here? What did the fields mean to you?’ But I didn’t ask, and then it was too late to ask because his dementia meant that the words, if not the answers, were lost.

Do you think that writing itself is an act of preservation?

Absolutely. My sister beta read for me and pointed out that I have used a lot of Dad’s favourite sayings in the book. I was totally unaware of this, but I’m not surprised that they crept in. Sometimes writing means bearing witness to a rapidly receding way of life. Sometimes it means resurrecting a piece of the past that has been excluded from history books. During my research I discovered that Mitcham, a town three miles from where I live, was once Britain’s opium-growing capital. There is no shortage of information about the area’s history of lavender-growing, but even though use of opiates was widespread in the nineteenth century, it’s actually quite hard to find information about opium-growing. And so I decided that should be what my main character did for a living.

You’ve talked about your leading man, but can you tell us a little about some of the women in your novel. You have Robert say, ‘Not one of the women in Robert Cooke’s circle is behaving as he expects.’ What did you mean by that?

His wife Freya is speaking her mind, his mother Hettie is taking herself off to Scotland (of all places), his daughters Estelle and Ida are being taught science at school and now he discovers that the winning entry in the competitive he has run for the design of his pleasure garden is the work of a Miss Hoddy.

In Small Eden I wanted to paint a picture of a world on the cusp of change. Following the invention of the steam engine, England changed from a rural, agricultural country to an urban, industrialised country. There were tremendous advances in medicine. In 1853, the Vaccination Act made it compulsory for children to be inoculated against smallpox. The publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species had people questioning their beliefs. The era saw great building projects, Brunel’s suspension bridges and the Crystal Palace. But despite the fact that there had been a woman the throne since 1837, women had very few rights, and limited access to further education. The aim expressed by the principal of Mill Mount College was to prepare women to become wives, mothers, teachers and missionaries. Another headmistress said that she wanted the character of her school to be ‘delicate womanly refinement’. The Victorian ideal of womanhood was ‘The Angel in the Home.’

I have Robert and Freya’s daughters rebel against that. I have them say, ‘We, the future wives and mothers of England…’ with any number of ridiculous endings, but Robert recognises that they stray very little from the nonsense aimed at young ladies by popular magazines. In fact, it wasn’t just women’s magazines. Respected men in the medical field were adamant that the removal of women from her natural sphere of domesticity to that of mental labour would have a damaging effect on ‘the virility of the race’. Their mother married at seventeen and had four children. Estelle and Ida want more.

Tell us a little more about the mysterious Miss Hoddy.

When Robert decides to run a competition for the design of his pleasure gardens, Florence Hoddy is the only woman to respond. A brilliant mind and a talented artist, but she lost the use of her legs in a road accident, and is cared for by her brother Oswald – a situation that has the local gossips’ tongues wagging. Hiding herself away from pitying eyes, she paints only what she sees from the window at the back of her house. This is where we meet her for the first time.

***

The house they alight in front of is weatherboarded and painted white, a feature that binds the row of cottages and houses together. Each has a distinct personality, some grand, some far humbler, punctuation marks squeezed between established sentences. The winter rose threaded through the trellised porch is well-established, but the doorknocker is a new addition, fashioned in the shape of a fox, complete with head, front legs, paws and tail. Robert knocks, three distinct raps of brass on brass, at the same time looking down at his daughter. His bones cry out when he sees her gold-flecked eyes, so like Gerrard’s.

Though I know not what you are, twinkle, twinkle, little star.

Footsteps and the rattle of a chain. Robert clears his throat. “There’s no need to be nervous. Just be yourself.”

“I’m not at all nervous,” comes her reply.

The door is opened by Oswald Hoddy. “Mr Cooke.” He prods the nosepiece of his spectacles. “And you must be Miss Cooke.” As he looks beyond them to Loax and the photographer, his smile dissolves. “I didn’t realise…”

“I thought the occasion ought to be commemorated,” Robert says.

Mr Hoddy glances over his shoulder. “My sister isn’t accustomed to being photographed.” His voice is low. “Perhaps you’ll give her a little time to get used to the idea.”

Here is clarity. “So your sister is our winner?” Only now that Robert can see the black pinpricks where Mr Hoddy’s beard will break through does he acknowledge the direction his thoughts had taken. Had Miss Hoddy attempted to hoodwink him by disguising herself as a man?

“I simply acted as her surveyor. This moment belongs to Florence and Florence alone. Won’t you come in?”

He stands aside, pointing the way down a corridor so dark and narrow that their arrival at the rear of the house comes as a violent explosion of light. Robert squints, raising a hand to shield his eyes.

“Hello, Miss Hoddy,” he hears Ida say, without waiting for any kind of introduction. “I liked your drawing very much. The cottage especially.”

“Oh, I’m so glad!” The voice within the glare is as clear and bright as the bells that summon the faithful to All Saints.

“Was it from a dream?”

Robert wonders that his daughter can see. All he can determine is an outline, someone seated in front of the window, haloed by the low winter sun.

“I don’t paint dreams, as far as I know.”

That is not quite true. He is beginning to realise that she painted his.

“I draw,” Ida says.

Robert thinks of the spoiled wallpaper. It seems a boast too far for Ida to call her scribblings ‘drawing’.

“And do you draw what you see in your dreams?”

“Sometimes I do.”

“Isn’t it strange that so often we see better with our eyes closed? Logic would have us believe it should be the other way around.”

“Have you drawn many gardens before?”

“Only ours.”

Robert, who has been blinking back his temporary blindness, finds that the white impressions on his retinas are dulling. When he takes down his shield of slatted fingers, Miss Hoddy’s face is turned away from him. It is her neck he notices first, how slender it is, the fine fronds of dark hair escaping their pins.

“It’s very pretty.” A step closer and Ida’s nose will be pressed against the glass.

“It will be prettier still in the summer. If you look, you’ll see it has a lot of paths, so that my brother can wheel me about without causing himself an injury.”

At the mention of wheels, Robert’s eyes flit to Miss Hoddy’s rattan bath-chair. His winner is an invalid.

“Why does he wheel you about?”

“Because my legs don’t work.”

Miss Hoddy’s legs, he sees, are covered by a tartan rug. Little wonder she left the surveying to her brother. Robert, too, seems unable to move, not even to open his mouth and tell his daughter not to stare.

“What happened to them?”

He can remain silent no longer. “Miss Hoddy, I must apologise for my daughter’s forwardness.” His voice is tinged with embarrassed laughter, a father’s indulgence.

Ida turns to him, devastation written on her face. She has done exactly as he asked. She has been herself.

Miss Hoddy reaches for Ida’s hand, as if she has more of a right to it than he. She gives Robert a bold look. “Why apologise?” A fine face, not pretty – her cheekbones are too pronounced for that, her chin too square – but most certainly handsome. Skin, pale in the way of those who spend their days indoors. Younger than himself at a guess, but old enough to be referred to as a spinster. “It was a perfectly reasonable question.” Gently, Miss Hoddy pulls his daughter closer, until she is standing between the chair and the windows, where she tells her, “I had an accident. I was hit by an omnibus and my legs were damaged.”

An image rears up at Robert. Two horses, eyes wild, ears pinned back, whinnying, snorting, panicked. The conductor pitched from his running board into the road. He prays Ida’s imagination is not as vivid as his own.

“Goodness,” Ida says, clearly impressed.

“They tell me I was pulled underneath the wheels.”

Ought this much be said? Freya would be horrified.

“Did it hurt terribly?” his daughter asks, her expression earnest.

“Actually – and you may find this hard to believe –” Miss Hoddy breaks off to laugh, as if she herself struggles “– I have very little memory of the accident. I was visiting friends in Mile End, that I do know.” She tells it as if she’s relating the story of an everyday outing. “We were to have seen a performance of operatic arias.” Miss Hoddy pulls a face and, delighted, Ida giggles. “So I was spared that, I suppose. I remember that a street-vendor was selling Persian Sherbets – I’m rather partial to Persian Sherbets, aren’t you? – so I went to cross the road. I wouldn’t have stepped out without looking, because I was always most particular about crossing the road.”

“The driver took the corner too tightly,” Mr Hoddy says so quietly it can only be meant for Robert’s ears, though his anger is undisguised.

“There was a flash of green and gold, and I have a distinct memory of looking up and seeing an advertisement for Lipton’s Teas. They told me I was unconscious and must have imagined it, but that’s what stuck in my mind. Lipton’s Teas. I was lucky to keep my legs.” She smooths her rug. “They give me no bother. I have no feeling in them.”

Ida’s eyes are wide. “Nothing at all?”

“Nothing.”

“I’m glad they don’t hurt. It’s a very grand chair you have.”

“I call it my chariot. See these handlebars?” Miss Hoddy grips them.

“Yes.” Ida basks in the attention.

“My brother Oswald pushes me, but I steer.”

“Florrie’s in charge.” Time skips forward a second. He calls her Florrie. “Mind you, she always was.” There is pride in Mr Hoddy’s voice.

If, as her title suggests, Miss Hoddy was unmarried at the time of her accident, the chances are she will remain so. Robert looks about the room. Oswald hasn’t mentioned a wife, and there are no signs of children. So this is how they live.Brother and sister. Miss Hoddy was painting before their arrival. The evidence is all about. An easel, her palette, various brushes in jars of milky turpentine, squeezed tubes of oil paints. A useful pastime for someone who spends her life sitting down.

Ida is gripping one of the handlebars. “I should like awfully to try it.”

“Ida, I hardly think –”

Miss Hoddy cuts across him (it is her house, she may do this). “How’s your back today, Oswald?”

Her brother puts his hands to his waist, thumbs pointing to the front of his torso, fingers pressing into the small of his back. “Not too bad, all things considered.”

“Strong enough to push one large person and one smaller person?” She pulls her Paisley shawl tighter.

“I should think so.” Robert sees Oswald discreetly walk to a side table, wrap his hand around a bottle of blue-pigmented glass and pocket it. Laudanum. No doubt he’s strained something.

“It’s high time I took a turn around the garden. You won’t mind sitting on my lap, Miss Ida?”

“If you’re sure I won’t be too heavy.”

“I’d have no way of knowing.” Miss Hoddy gives another laugh. “I suppose it’s very cold outside.”

“Terribly,” agrees Ida.

“Be a dear, Oswald, and fetch my hat. The fur one.” She returns her gaze to Ida. “That way we’ll match. And perhaps I should have another shawl. As for you.” Ida again. “We’ll have to navigate the steps down to the lawn before you climb aboard.”

Believing himself unobserved, Robert turns his attention to the canvas on the easel. It is as if he’s looking out of the window. A sidestep, a slight bend of his knees, and Robert identifies the cyclamen from the foreground of the painting by their dusky pink. He transfers his gaze from the real plant to the painting, back and forth – the detail on the variegated heart-shaped leaves is truly remarkable.

“Well, Mr Cooke?”

Caught out, Robert returns to the purpose of their visit. “What of the prize-giving?”

“Do you know?” The smile Miss Hoddy gives him has a curt quality that might even be disappointment. (Should he mention how much he admires her cyclamen?) “I had quite forgotten.”

——

Thank you so much, Jane.  Now I’m not saying this just because Jane is my guest, but Small Eden is a complex and enthralling read. It’s all there: passion, obsession, transition, love, subtlety, rebellion, and all beautifully observed and crafted.

———

Connect with Jane

Website: https://jane-davis.co.uk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JaneDavisAuthorPage/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/janedavisauthor  @janedavisauthor
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6869939.Jane_Davis
BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/jane-davis

———

About Small Eden

A boy with his head in the clouds. A man with a head full of dreams. 

1884. The symptoms of scarlet fever are easily mistaken for teething, as Robert Cooke and his pregnant wife Freya discover at the cost of their two infant sons. Freya immediately isolates for the safety of their unborn child.

Cut off from each other, there is no opportunity for husband and wife to teach each other the language of their loss. By the time they meet again, the subject is taboo.

But unspoken grief is a dangerous enemy. It bides its time.

A decade later and now a successful businessman, Robert decides to create a pleasure garden in memory of his sons, in the very same place he found refuge as a boy – a disused chalk quarry in Surrey’s Carshalton. But instead of sharing his vision with his wife, he widens the gulf between them by keeping her in the dark.

It is another woman who translates his dreams. An obscure yet talented artist called Florence Hoddy, who lives alone with her unmarried brother, painting only what she sees from her window…

Buy the ebook from your favourite retailer:  https://books2read.com/u/bPg68r
Paperback currently available from Amazon  Amazon UK   Amazon US

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series.Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. Double Pursuit, the sequel, is now out!

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines and taste world the latest contemporary thriller Double Identity… Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

London Book Fair 2022

Like many events during the Covid pandemic, the London Book Fair was cancelled for 2020 and 2021. But in line with the general feeling in the UK that the Covid threat was diminishing, the organisers decided to go ahead with the famous publishing-fest.

Although I whipped it off for the photos, my FFP2 mask was clamped to my face for almost all of the three days I was there. I did take it off when eating and drinking! Then I discovered half my skin make-up came off with it. Sorry, Max Factor. At least I saved on lipstick.

In France, we haven’t long come out of the legal obligation to wear a mask indoors. We didn’t use namby-pamby words like ‘recommending’ or ‘face-coverings’ – you wore your mask or you were fined 135 euros. But it was more than that. The French do have a sense of and tradition of civil solidarity and the majority of people still wear masks in my local shops, post offices and public buildings.

My first LBF in 2010 – an extract from my blog

The year of the Icelandic volcano ash cloud. I went there, with my planned schedule, aiming to get a feel of the industry, to increase my knowledge, to talk to people and, of course, to meet up with fellow Twitterers(sic!). All this I did. But I got a lot more.

Although it was a trade show, and it was obvious that many meetings were prescheduled business deal-makers, what struck me was the friendliness and willingness to talk of all those I got chatting to, whether on the stands or in the coffee shops.

As a newbie to this world, I am not yet cynical or blasé, so despite my sore feet I was very satisfied with my day out.

LBF 2013 impressions

When people ask me what is there at the London Book Fair for authors, I reply that meeting and talking with other authors plus industry professionals is one of the most important aspects. The formal talks make up a good grounding in the basics, but the experienced authors come to make new  contacts and learn the finer points of the book trade. It’s not the place for authors to pitch to agents; the latter are here to sell rights for their current clients. Their schedules are punishing and they will become tetchy if you attempt to interrupt them!

Authors will find the usual friendliness and sheer pleasure of talking books and news has an abiding attraction…

This was the year I joined the Alliance of Independent Authors.

2016 – I launched INSURRECTIO at this one!

This was fun! I hardly sat down for three days with the launch itself (I was thrilled at how many people turned up), being interviewed by Kobo and attending some fascinating talks including one by crime writer Peter James. This was the first LBF I wore my (in)famous green jacket. But more and more, I was networking with other authors, possible publishers and the odd agent.

At LBF 2017, I was becoming established on my publishing journey and I learning increasingly more about publishing and marketing, and by then I knew more people – agents, authors, publishers, movers and shakers. My focus shifted from sitting in talks to talking to people. In fact, I spent 90% of my time talking to others. What about? Anything and everything to do with books, concerns, latest opportunities, how to do things and technology.

My take-home? However experienced you are, you can always learn something. I was probably more ‘cynical and  blasé’ than that newbie seven years before, but despite my sore feet (obligatory for LBF) I was very satisfied.

So, what did I do in 2022?

A lot of talking! I volunteered for one stint on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ stand and ended up being there for all three days. After many years of being a fully independent author and with eleven fiction books and two non-fiction under my belt, I was able to share my experience and knowledge with new and aspiring authors and hopefully welcome them into the ALLi community. Authors sticking together and mutual aid are the hallmarks of ALLi; it’s a non-profit organisation whose mission is ethics and excellence in self-publishing.

Allis (left to right): Carol Cooper, Jill (JJ) Marsh, Debbie Young, Karen Inglis, Helena Halme, moi, Jane Davis (Photo courtesy of Jill Marsh)

I was delighted to meet up with many friends and industry contacts post-Covid, learn what had been happening to them and make introductions. I was equally pleased to support my writing friend JJ Marsh at the 2021 Selfies award where her book White Heron was one of the finalists in a very tight field.

I wasn’t terribly impressed by the low quality of checking that attendees had proper vaccination passes /certificates, nor that the LBF staff were unmasked. I’ve heard anecdotally since it finished of many unmasked attendees being struck by the infection. And my favourite tea trolley at the back of the hall had disappeared! However, there was much to enjoy as long as you took precautions yourself.

So, a step back into a kind of normal book life. Next month, I’ll be in Bristol at CrimeFest. Come and say hello. I’ll be the one in the mask and the green jacket.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series.Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. Double Pursuit, the sequel, is now out!

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines and taste world the latest contemporary thriller Double Identity… Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.