Category: For Readers (Page 1 of 15)

Unmuddled! 10 Lessons

Hurray! The transformation of my writing room from dull to vibrant is accomplished.  As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s a family trait to undertake major renovations during the Christmas season.

I  thank  the health authorities for the COVID restrictions that meant no company for Christmas. Since I wasn’t cooking for a crowd, I had time to paint and wallpaper. Even the pandemic has a silver lining if you look for it.

Today our weather is grey, wet, windy and nasty, but I’m tucked up in my cheerful room and happily writing this blog before I go back to editing the wip. I feel cozy and content and productive. 

What have I learned from this adventure?

  • A sense of humour is vital to the health of a marriage during home renovations.
  • If you want to change your environment, don’t wait thirty years to do it.
  • Wait until you have the new wallpaper in hand before stripping off the old. (I lived in writing chaos for four weeks while awaiting delivery of my order.)
  • Cats cannot resist licking the glue on wet paper or the gooey water in the trough.

    two cats are here

  • A pleasing writing space really does improve productivity.  I don’t keep finding excuses to go somewhere else.
  • While I do not suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) brightness and light do put me in a better mood.
  • Don’t forget about writing rituals. Some people can dive straight into the work, but little steps to set the scene for work help me a lot.
  • Clutter impedes creativity — for me, maybe not for you.
  • Show up at writers’ events even if they are virtual. It was Laurie Schnebly’s workshop that spurred me into making this transformation — finally!
  • In all things, give thanks. We’ve lived through 10 months of limitations and there are more to go. When we cannot celebrate the big events in our lives, rejoice in the small ones. We drank champagne when the last picture was rehung.

    mirror reflects opposite wall

2021 will still offer challenges, but we know we can get there. When the case numbers go up, the lockdown hardens and the case numbers go down. Each of us is powerful in this worldwide campaign to defeat the virus. All great heroes sacrifice for the common good. I applaud all the heroes.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2021.

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Cancelled

hand made ornaments for my family

In my part of the world, we are under severe restrictions due to COVID-19. That means no gatherings in the home or elsewhere at Christmas. No live church services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. No office parties. No family home for Christmas. It’s a rather dismal outlook.

As my gift to readers looking for some joy in the season, I’ve written my annual Christmas short story. It does involve the pandemic, but it ends on a hopeful note. 

To read “Christmas in the Time of COVID-19” click here to subscribe to my newsletter. The story is part of the welcome package.

However you spend Christmas, I hope it is filled with joy and deep meaning for you.

 

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Escape or Reflect the Times

I had been hoping to post pictures of my newly renovated office this week. Sadly, I can only report “out of stock” messages for the wallpaper I wanted. After much more searching, I’ve found another that uses the colours I want and I’ve just ordered it — promised by Dec. 14. Fingers crossed I don’t get another oops message.

Meanwhile, we’ve cleared the drop cloths from my desk and I’m working on my Christmas short story. I spent a lot of time pondering the place of COVID 19 in my fiction. As an historical writer, I would have every excuse to set my story in another age and ignore the pandemic altogether. Yet, the virus has had such a huge impact on my day-to-day life, I find it hard to put it out of my mind.

My book club met last week and I asked if they would read pandemic stories or if they’d stay clear of the topic. They all said they didn’t want to read about the virus, yet one pointed out that no one wants a war yet our appetite for war stories seems limitless. This year every second book I pick up seems to relate to either the first or second world war. Is there anything more to say on the topic? Yet I read these books and enjoy them enough to recommend to friends. 

Maybe we’re happy to read war novels because we know how it ended. We know the good guys won and evil in the form of Hitler’s Nazi’s was defeated.

 

I’m a terrible sports fan. I’d rather watch the game after it has been played and I know who won. If my team was victorious, I’ll enjoy every minute of the recorded events. If my team lost, I don’t bother. I’m sure “real” sports fans cringe when they read that. Maybe our fascination with war stories is like that. We don’t want to live it, but we’ll read about it after it’s over.

A couple of my favourite television shows aired new episodes last week. One stayed in 2019 and avoided the pandemic. The other embraced it head on, expressing fears for the characters’ health, their financial well-being, their emotional stress levels and the state of the world. I actually liked their approach better than the “bury your head in the sand” angle.

Now, a survey of two is hardly definitive, but I’m leaning toward writing about the world I inhabit, i.e. using my fiction to reflect the time I live in. What about you, dear readers? Can Christmas and Covid live in the same story? Can we have a happy ending while isolating at home? Or would you rather escape the current crisis and read about a different world.

Please leave a comment so I can be sure the story I write is the story you want to read.

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Inside Revenge in Rubies

When I posted a picture of Revenge in Rubies a few weeks ago, many people commented on the lovely cover. Well, now I have read the book and I can tell you there is a great story behind that cover.

The character of Harriet Grey and her relationship with Robert Curran are developed beyond the bare outline presented in Singapore Sapphire. In that first book, I learned a little of Harriet’s history as a prisoner in Holloway, her connection with the suffragette movement and the loss of her husband and son to typhoid fever. In this latest book, I’m learning more about her feisty character, her willingness to put herself at risk to protect those she loves, her increasing detective skills and her romantic longings. 

Inspector Curran suffers from malaria and in this book that becomes a major factor in his ability to do his job — giving Harriet a greater role. It also shows his vulnerability, making him more human. The other police officers also have a greater role in this story, giving us a more complete picture of the South Bridge Road station of the Straits Settlements Police Force.

Since the murder investigation in Revenge in Rubies involves the British Army, Curran and Harriet meet with much military obfuscation and obstruction. This is a world Ms Stuart knows well to the characters, motivations and actions all ring true.

The story includes upper class ex-pat Brits, the Chinese servant class, the underworld of opium dens and members of the press — an excellent portrayal of multi-cultural Singapore in 1910.

I’m not the only reader who recommends this second in the Harriet Gordon series.

 

An intricate puzzle in a lively setting. Kirkus Reviews

Fabulous historical Singapore mystery!  Goodreads review

Stuart does an amazing job of weaving a story that is filled with all the intricacies of the time period, the atmosphere, the way of life. I’m hoping there is indeed another book in this series. Definitely recommend! — Amazon customer review.

The book is for sale on many platforms. To kind your favourite supplier click https://books2read.com/RevRub

Happy Reading!

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Thanksgiving in a Pandemic

Monday was Thanksgiving Day in Canada, one of my favourite holidays. An excuse to eat too much rich food, enjoy the company of a host of friends and bask in the autumn sunshine.

Not in 2020. 

In general, this year, the population is more inclined to grumble than to give thanks. We have a long litany of complaints, not least of which is no traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Our health authorities told us to have dinner in groups of no more than six. In some jurisdictions they said only dine with the people who live under your own roof all the time. I guess some families tried to pretend that a visiting relative was “living under our roof.” Perhaps they met the letter of the law, but certainly not the spirit. We worry about lost income, uncertain jobs, school openings, theatre closures and restricted travel. There is no end to our list of concerns. But that is looking on the dark side.

On the bright side, our Thanksgiving is mostly about the harvest and my garden was bountiful this year. I got about 50 pounds of zucchini from two little seeds. When I went to harvest a pumpkin for my Thanksgiving pie I found yet more zucchini’s forming on the remains of a plant and new blossoms!

The public health restrictions where I live are not so onerous. I can visit with my neighbour and even worship in person — with a spaced out congregation of not more than 50 people. I am warm and dry, entertained by old movies and favourite books, loved by my husband and tolerated by my cats.

We all live in different circumstances, yet we can look to the bright side. We can have hope. We must have hope. Without it despair overwhelms and life looses its sweetness. Prince George was so saddened by a documentary on the extinction of species he asked not to watch his favourite presenter, David Attenborough. However dire the situation, we cannot have a world of frightened, despairing children.

Hope is a gift authors can bring to the world. Writers, particularly romance writers, are keenly aware of the need for hope in the world. It’s why we espouse Happily Ever After. The mystery writer encourages her reader to see a world where justice prevails and hope is restored. Even in dystopian stories, the protagonist fights for a better world. He has hope.

I’ve read of some authors finding it hard to write while trying to cope with home-schooling, working remotely, and hearing an endless litany of bad news. But even those who are not writing now, have not despaired. They hope their muse will return. They hope the world will come around right again. They hope their children and grandparents will be safe. They look to their faith, or to science, or to history and find reason to hope.

In past years, I would wish you all abundance.

In 2020 I wish you hope.   Happy Thanksgiving.

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Revenge In Rubies

REVENGE IN RUBIES

by A.M. Stuart

 

Thank you so much for the invitation to your blog, Alice.

For those who don’t know, Alice and I have been the writerly equivalent of pen pals (she lives in Canada and I live in Australia) for a long time and Alice, more than anyone, has been there chivvying me along through disappointments, frustrations and inertia and was the first to cheer when I finally ‘broke through’ and published my first Historical Mystery, SINGAPORE SAPPHIRE, through Penguin USA in 2019.

REVENGE IN RUBIES is the second in the Harriet Gordon Mysteries and is released on 15 September. For those new to the world of Harriet Gordon, the stories are set in Singapore in 1910 and feature two protagonists, Harriet Gordon and Inspector Robert Curran of the Straits Settlement Police.

I was fortunate to spend three years living in Singapore and it was during that time that I first met Harriet Gordon in the microfiche room of the Singapore National Library.

Of course, she wasn’t known as Harriet Gordon, her name was Mrs Howell and in March 1905 she placed an advertisement in the Straits Times, offering her services as a Stenographer and Typist. She guaranteed “RAPID & CAREFUL work together with ABSOLUTE SECRECY” (the capitals are hers). The now long forgotten Mrs. Howell’s advertisement jumped off the microfiche at me. I loved her commitment to ABSOLUTE SECRECY, and slowly the character of Harriet Gordon, widow, typist, stenographer and failed suffragette began to form.

 

Over the next few years, I started to rebuild her world – a colonial Singapore you can barely glimpse in the modern, go ahead city of Singapore but there are maps, images, contemporary travel guides and those all important newspapers from the period to guide me.

Of course, Harriet does not exist in isolation. She has friends and family and most importantly (for Harriet) her partner in crime, the enigmatic Inspector Robert Curran, head of the Detective Branch of the Straits Settlements Police Force.

There are so many stories brewing in the tropical heat of the Malay Peninsula- where truth and corpses tend to decompose quickly- and I am delighted that Penguin has agreed to publish a 3rd book in the series (my current work in progress) so I am hoping Harriet will be around for a little while yet!

If you like puzzles, here’s a link to a jigsaw of the cover for Revenge in Rubies.

https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=05c50e12a3d0  I

 

Instead of a head shot, Alison sent this photo of the two of us having coffee in Vancouver a few years ago. She’s the one on the right. How often do two friends from the opposite corners of the world get to have a coffee date?

Thanks Alison, for sharing Harriet Gordon with my readers. I hope she as successful at solving mysteries in Revenge in Rubies as she was in Singapore Sapphire.

The book is available for sale here :https://books2read.com/RevRub

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Passages

Ever notice how, when you get interested in a subject, it crops up in all sorts of places? That’s been the case with me these last few weeks. Blame it on COVID-19, but I’ve been introspective to the point of obsession. What is success? How should we live? Does pandemic lockdown help or hinder our emotional evolution? Does age empower or diminish a person? Big questions!

Perhaps that’s why I noticed the obituary notice for Gail Sheehy, the author of the book Passages.  I read the book once in my early thirties and again in my fifties. Apparently I like to look at the stages of life after they’ve come and gone.  I found her observations interesting, but not life-altering. Interestingly, Ms Sheehy admitted there wasn’t much to say about life after 50. Kind of a downer for those of us on the other side of the big five-o.

Then I noted an article on Writer Unboxed about being a debut author at 60.   Liza Nash Taylor is looking forward to the publication of her new book at a time of life when she did not expect to do new things. Yet, writing a book has changed lifelong habits of avoiding the spotlight and the public stage. Life is exhilarating and fun — and a little scary. The comments on her post reveal many authors who broke into publishing at 60 or 70 or later in life.  So, there are still adventures and possibilities for the past-middle-age crowd.

I also read another book by Jennifer Ryan, The Spies of Shilling Lane. I’ve posted about her previous book, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir here.  In this story we leave the village of Ashcombe behind and plunge into the world of London during the Blitz. The main character, Mrs. Braithwaite, formerly the doyen of the village has had her life turned upside down and is now wondering who she is, really. In the end, she believes that the measure of success in life is “the amount that you love and are loved.”

So, Ms Sheehy has entered her final passage. Writers all over the world are working and questioning their purpose in this topsy-turvey world. Old and young are trying to navigate their way through life tough times.  Our culture seems to be experiencing the birth pains of something new. Where do each of us fit?

Perhaps Ms Ryan is right. It isn’t the number of books you’ve published, the money you’ve made, the toys you’ve owned or the skills you’ve acquired, that measure the success of a life. It’s how much you have loved — and COVID can’t stop that.

 

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Disconnected

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan has entertained, challenged and heartened me in the past few weeks. WWII has disrupted village life in many ways. The men are gone. Women have taken jobs. Servants have deserted the large houses to enlist or to work in factories. The final straw is the decision by the vicar to cancel choir because “you can’t have a choir without men.”

From that point on the story unfolds as the women of the village discover their own voices. They assert their own power. They stop waiting for the war to end so that they can live again. They determine to live, even while war rages in the skies above them. They prepare for a possible Nazi invasion while caring for each other, falling in love, grieving their dead, and yes, singing in their own choir.

The book is well written, the story well told, but I think it resonated so strongly with me  because I, too, have been waiting for life to start again. When COVID-19 closed down our economy and our culture in the middle of March, I had a mindset that said I only had to wait it out for a few months and everything would go back to normal. So, I waited for the stores and cafes to reopen. They did in May, but it wasn’t like it used to be. So, I waited some more. Our church resumed in-person worship in June, but it is not like it used to be. No hymn singing, no choir and we all sit six feet apart in our own little bubble. I feel disconnected.

I have realized that the “waiting” is getting me down. Living a half-life while waiting for a miracle is soul-destroying. Like the ladies of Chilbury, it is time to start living a full life now. The-way-it-used-to-be may never return. I’ve already missed Easter and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Canada Day. Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming and I want to enjoy them in 2020, not in some never-never future.

This new resolve doesn’t change my day-to-day tasks much, but it does change the way I regard my days. I’m looking at them for possibilities rather than hindrances.  I’ve put aside the “waiting” attitude and realized that this is my life, now. It is up to me to make the most of it.

I’ve heard from many people who are in the same state of suspended animation, waiting for life to start again. They are all as tired of it as I am. I’ve shared my perspective, gained from The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir and received a resounding “Yes!” I hope this post may bring some joy into the life of my readers. Even if my words don’t lighten you attitude, I’d recommend the book.  Ms Ryan presents the tale in a fresh and upbeat mode –maybe it will lift your spirits as it did mine.

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The Mighty Pen

Browsing through one of my favourite blog sites, Writer Unboxed, I came across a title, “Pens, Ranked.”  

As someone who prefers to write my first draft in longhand, I was very excited to see what the experts had to say about pens. Turns out, the post was a humour piece and not a serious study of writing instruments. Although, in this day and age, a little humour is never misplaced.

But, now I was on a mission. I have my own favourite pens. My penmanship is awful, so a fine point is my preference. For some reason it makes my scrawl look better. The grip is also important. Many of the commentators on the WU site liked a fat pen, but I prefer a slim one with a non-slip grip.  I’ll take a ballpoint over a fountain pen, even though I like the elegant look of the latter.  This elegant number was a gift from dh when I sold my first manuscript. I imagined myself using it for autographs at book signings. NOT! This expensive beauty leaked just as badly as the cheapies that blotted my grade three exercise books.

On further searching the internet I found a site that had actually rated the top 100 pens, including ballpoints, gel pens, fountain pens, and felt-tips. Their choices sometimes surprised–and to judge by the comments a lot of people disagreed with the editors decisions–but I did like their judging criteria.

Smoothness: How easily does the pen glide across the page? 

Smudging:  Especially important for left-handers.

Bleed-through:  A major failing for lots of felt-tips and fountain pens.

Feel: The shape of the pen must fit the shape of the user’s hand.

Looks:  A totally subjective call.

For myself, smoothness and feel are primary details. I hate a pen that catches and scratches on the page, or one where the ink skips. I like those little rubber grips the manufacturers have added to the straight, stick pen. I can write for hours with that nifty little detail and no cramping in my fingers. This little give-away pen used as a promotional tool is one of my all-time favourites. It is also purple and sparkly. 🙂

Having discovered that there are people who spend their days ranking writing instruments I kept scrolling and came upon some amazing facts, like a fountain pen that retails for over $2000.00. Really, that’s a 2 with a dollar sign in front and four zeros afterwards.  Could you imagine carrying that in your purse?

I also discovered that there are whole shops devoted to pens — and ink and luxury stationary. How many dollar apiece stick pens does a retailer have to sell to pay the rent on that storefront?

Pens are so common we take them for granted, toss a handful into a desk drawer, add a few to a bag and maybe leave one or two in the car for emergencies. But a pen is a magnificent tool, underappreciated because it is commonplace. 

Since the days of antiquity humans have devised various writing instruments to record our stories. Apparently our desire to leave our mark on the cave wall, is as old as mankind. 

The pen is one of the primary tools of civilization. It allowed communication over long distances. It preserved the works of Shakespeare. It transferred the ideas of Galileo and Newton to paper, and thus making them available to the world.  The innocuous, unappreciated little writing stick littering your desk is indeed mighty.

The Egyptians used a reed pen for thousands of years but the invention of the quill pen in the seventh century revolutionised the art of writing. Using a bird feather, like goose or swan, one could use the hollowed stem to draw ink out of a well and transfer it to paper in a smooth line — writing.  At first people wrote in large, block letters to accommodate the shortcomings of the pen, but over time improvements to the writing tool led to changes in style with cursive becoming common. Those beautiful copperplate letters one sees on old documents were only possible because of the quill pen.

By 1822 the steel pen was invented. It was an improvement on the quill pen because it had a more durable tip, but it still required the writer to sit at a desk with an inkwell and dip his pen frequently to maintain a supply of ink. Then, in 1827 the fountain pen was developed by a Romanian, Petrache Poenaru. This pen was never totally satisfactory, but Lewis Waterman refined the design to create a three channel feed fountain pen that maintained a steady flow of ink and was portable. The act of writing was set free from the constraints of the desk and the inkwell. A portable pen, with its own supply of ink, changed everything– commerce, law, the arts and everyday lives.

By 1888 the first ballpoint was introduced and later refined by Lazio Biro in the 1930’s. The name Biro became synonymous with a simple, ballpoint pen. It was especially important to the RAF during WW2 because, unlike a fountain pen,  it could write at high altitudes.

Felt-tips, gel-pens and other variations have followed, but they are refinements on the original principles developed by Waterman and Biro.

So, next time you scribble your name on a receipt, or jot notes for your next masterpiece, or doodle a cover design, say thank you to the humble pen. You hold in your hand one of the greatest inventions of the world.

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Beach Reads with Kathleen Lawless

Today, I’m very happy to dedicate this space to Kathleen Lawless and her most recent release. Kathleen and I have been part of the same writing group since way back when. In fact, when traditional publishing was the only way to go, she and I made our first sale in the same year. Since then she has built a career in the author business.  Over to you, Kathleen, and good luck with this latest project.

 

LAST CHANCE BEACH, Summer’s End

 

I have always found surfing a fascinating sport, where the surfer’s main opponent is the force of nature, so was thrilled to see surfing scheduled to make its Olympic debut this year in Tokyo.  Alas, with no Olympics this year, we’ll wait for next year to see the sport recognized by the world.  Which took a while, considering surfing originated in Hawaii in the 4th century a.d.

 

When I got a chance to contribute a romance story to the boxed set LAST CHANCE BEACH, Summer’s End, it seemed natural to have my hero and heroine be retired pro surfers.  And since I love a second chance romance, I decided they had been together years earlier in their professional surfing lives.  Fast forward to when they meet again, where for different reasons, neither has been on a surfboard in years.

They’re older, they’re wiser, they’re wary; of each other, and of getting back into a sport that once was their entire lives.  Like all good romances, BLUE SKY SUMMER ends happily, on the water and off.  Read on for a short excerpt.

The entire LAST CHANCE BEACH box set is on pre-order for only 99 cents.  That’s 14 brand new beach romances by 14 bestselling authors.  A new story every day for two weeks this summer.

 

From BLUE SKY SUMMER by Kathleen Lawless

 

Alisha spread out her beach towel and lowered herself onto it, straightening a floppy sun hat to shade her face.  It was the first time this week she’d ventured to this particular cove, home to the island’s surfers.  The break was small this morning, and the few surfers in the water looked like beginners.

She leaned back, resting her weight on her hands, and tried to remember what it had felt like the first time she’d caught a wave.  One initial rush of freedom, and she had been hooked. 

She’d barely settled in to watch the action and live vicariously  through others, when she saw a newcomer walk to the shoreline with a board under his arm.  Something about his long-legged, self- assured gait took her back fifteen years, and the first time she’d  seen Mark.

She gave her head a shake.  She hadn’t thought about him in years.  Much.  Just because this surfer was the same height and coloring . . .

As he positioned himself on his board and headed for the break, she pulled out her binoculars, more to reassure herself it wasn’t him.

She zoomed in, and the bottom fell out of her stomach.

It was Mark!

 

I hope you’ll join us at LAST CHANCE BEACH, where there’s always one more chance to fall in love.  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08CV3GN3R

 

Kathleen Lawless blames a misspent youth watching Rawhide, Maverick and Bonanza for her fascination with cowboys, which doesn’t stop her from creating a wide variety of interests and occupations for her alpha male heroes.

Her hero, Steele, in UNDERCOVER, is a modern-day cowboy, so when she was wooed by a man called Steel— while he’s not a cowboy, he is an Alpha male and her forever hero.  Which is why all of her stories end Happily Ever After.

Not that she can ever stick to just one genre.  So many stories to tell—never enough time.

With close to 30 published novels to her credit, she enjoys pushing the boundaries of traditional romance into historical romance, romantic suspense, women’s fiction and stories for young adults.

Sign up for Kathleen’s VIP Reader Group to receive a free book, updates, special giveaways and fan-priced offers.    http://eepurl.com/bV0sb1

 

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Thanks for being my guest, Kathleen. Love that Blue Sky cover.

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