My grandmother lived
on the southeast coast of England, facing the North Sea. Her cottage sat just yards from the beach, perched high on
the cliffs, with a low brick wall separating it from the coast road. Grandma's house had no electricity, no gas, and
no plumbing. She had been stone-deaf since a child, when a schoolmate threw a slate at her head. She must have
been horrified that summer of 1945, when informed that five of her grandchildren were being evacuated from war-torn London
and were descending on her to stay for the summer.
At first we were all taken aback by the lack of amenities,
but after a while we got used to the routines. Every morning we tramped down the garden path to the alleyway, then up
to the well to draw water in large, heavy buckets and carry them back to the house.
Grandma cooked everything over
a coal fire. We used rain water from a barrel to wash our hair. There was no bathroom, so we used the outhouse,
which was down the garden path, across the alley and into the field. At night we used chamber pots that had to be emptied
the next day.
We had oil lamps to light our way up the narrow staircase. There were no such things as computers,
video games or TV and no electricity for a radio, so we had to make our own entertainment. The contrast to our
homes in London was absolute, and would horrify today's teenager, but to us, the quiet and peace of the English countryside
after the desperate months of Hitler's lethal bombardments was paradise.
We were surrounded by fields, farms and open
grassland. A half hour's walk got us to an isolated little shop that sold a bit of everything, and was a delight
to explore. There we could find painted seashells and scented soap, postcards and decorated china thimbles, buckets
and spades to make sandcastles on the beach. Candy was on ration, but the shop sold cherry-flavored throat lozenges.
Since they were medicine they were off-ration, and hungry for something sugary sweet we spent our allowance on packets of
Smuggling our booty back into the cottage past Grandma's eagle eye, we climbed the stairs and avidly
consumed the lozenges. We spent most of the night being violently sick, taking turns to throw up in the wash basin and
the chamber pots. By some miracle we all survived, but to this day I can't stand the sight of a throat lozenge.
Although the Pennyfoot Hotel is far more luxurious than my grandmother's cottage, those memories served me well when
describing life in Edwardian England. I knew what it was like to live without any of the modern conveniences we enjoy
today. I had experienced it firsthand.
Living in London was no picnic in 1945. Throughout the war, my mother had steadfastly refused
to allow her daughters to be evacuated. "If I go, we all go," she announced to anyone who questioned the wisdom
of keeping us in a city under siege. So we endured the Blitz, and the incendiary bombs that set houses and buildings
ablaze. We did our best to avoid the unexploded bombs that waited in sinister silence for us to stumble across them.
We sat in bomb shelters listening for the ominous drone of the buzz bombs - those infamous unmanned aircraft designed
to cut their engines when over London. It took ten seconds for the rocket to fall soundlessly to earth, followed by
the deafening explosion that took the lives of so many innocent people. I shall never forget the awful sound of that
buzzing overhead, then the sudden quiet when the engine cut out. My sister and I would sit in that terrifying silence
and count to ten. Each time we heard the explosion, we knew we'd escaped another brush with death.
however, the V2 rockets started falling in London. These bombs were far more devastating than anything that had come
before, taking out blocks of houses instead of just two or three, leaving craters big enough to hold a double-decker bus.
Even my mother was shaken by the carnage left by these vicious weapons. She shipped us off to the coast of Norfolk,
together with three of our cousins, to stay with our grandmother.
Having endured the hardships of the last six years,
we were excited about leaving London and the horrors of air raids behind. Nothing prepared us for what turned out to
be the biggest adventure of our lives.
Until the next time,
I have a sweatshirt with these words printed on it, "Careful, or you'll
end up in my novel." I'm not kidding. Everyone I meet is fair game and many have, indeed, ended up in my
books. I might change their looks, or age, or occupation, but some aspects of them go into the characters I create.
When I decided to write a mystery series set in Edwardian England, my first task was to create a memorable setting.
I needed a background that would provide a number of continuing characters. I didn't have to look too far. I had
spent six years managing my parents' guest house on the southeast coast of England. People from all walks of life had
streamed through its doors, and I had a wealth of experiences that I could use in my books.
So I created a
seaside hotel, and filled it with characters fashioned from the weird and wonderful personalities that had passed through
my life. The Pennyfoot Hotel became as real to me as that guest house, and the people in it became my surrogate family.
I cared about them, laughed with them, grieved with them, until they often wrote the stories themselves, while I
followed along, typing furiously in an effort to keep up with them. They woke me up in the night to ask for my help,
or to answer a question that had been pestering me for days.
The day I wrote the last line of the final book
was as heartbreaking for me as the day I left England for the last time. I was leaving family behind.
miss them, though I've moved on. I'm on the lookout now for a new family to people my books. So, careful, or you
just might end up in my novel.
Until the next time,
I spent most of my childhood during WW II, dodging Hitler's bombs in air raid
shelters, underground railways and even shop doorways if I couldn't make it to a shelter.
I learned never to
go anywhere without a gas mask, and to run like mad whenever I heard the siren warning of incoming enemy aircraft. I
learned to spot the difference between a German bomber and a British Spitfire in the skies above me. One was out to
get me and the other carried a crew doing its best to save me. The world had gone mad, and my only escape was to get
lost in the pages of a book.
Before long I was making up my own stories in my head, and soon after that, I was entertaining
my schoolmates with my stories, while we tried to ignore the chaos going on outside the bomb shelter.
a lot about suspense and atmosphere in those dark days. I also learned that in times of great hardship and terror, people
find support and comfort in each other. Londoners are a tough bunch. They carried on throughout the Blitz, and
everything else the Luftwaffe threw at them, with a hug, a joke and the inevitable cup of tea.
It's that indomitable
spirit and courage that I strive to bring to the Manor House Mysteries. Sitting Marsh may be a tiny village far from
London, but it has its share of hardships. What I hope shines through, as it did back then, is the British stiff upper
lip, and the determination to carry on, no matter what lies ahead.
My characters deal with murder and mayhem, but
they also find time to love and laugh, play and entertain, while giving their time and energy to those in need. To quote
Charles Dickens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Only someone who has lived through
a war on their homeland truly understands what that means.
Until the next time,
What exactly is a cozy mystery? There's no
short answer to that question. Some will say it's a murder story with an amateur sleuth, and without the lurid descriptions
of blood and gore. But a cozy is so much more than that. A cozy is more about the character than the murder, more
about the setting than the investigation, more about atmosphere than action.
Memories go into my books. Having lived a long and full life, I have enough memories to fill a thousand
books. My characters are built from people I've met, my settings are places I've been, and the action is often taken
from incidents in my past. Everyone works in different ways, but in this blog I hope to show you how I build a cozy
mystery, and in doing so share some of the memories that bring it to life. In future blogs you will get to know more about the characters that populate my books, as I will be interviewing some of them, giving
you an insight into their minds and hearts. You will meet some of the fascinating
people I've known, and discover some of the unconventional paths I have taken, and in doing so, maybe learn a little about
writing a cozy.
Until the next time.