Tag: A.M.Stuart

Distractions

It’s bird hatching season in my part of the world. (My friend A.M. Stuart lives in Australia and I always do a double take when she writes of cold, wintry days while I’m picking roses.) Anyway, here in the northern hemisphere the baby birds are hatched and learning to fly. On Sunday we found a tiny sparrow sitting on the grass beside the porch steps. He had no injuries and was breathing fine. We couldn’t find a nest, so we put him into a berry box and set him up on top of the hedge away from feline predators and waited. I was astounded –and indignant–that  no parent birds were flying about raising a fuss. 

However, when I looked up fledgling sparrows I learned that this is normal behaviour and that the parents could be absent for several hours. We tried not to harass the little fellow  but we did check on him three hours later and he had gone. I trust he just flew away and wasn’t snatched by a raptor. 

This morning I watched the world’s stupidest bird, a killdeer, bring her two chicks out of a safe, fenced field to sit in the middle of the street with cars whizzing by. There is nothing to eat on the pavement but there they sat for what seemed like ages while I watched anxiously from the window. Eventually they completed the trek from the yellow line to the ditch and then onto our lawn. At last check they were happily pecking about under the apple trees — lots of chickweed there.

All of this is a round about way of saying I’m spending a lot more time watching life in my garden than creating stories at my computer. My excuse is that someone has to keep an eye on the little feathered ones. 

Beach Reads

But we are officially into summer, the season for lemonade, lazy afternoons and beach reads. I just visited my local library and all their suggestions for beach reads were tragedies. The characters in these novels grew and learned from their heartbreak, but that is not my idea of a gentle few hours.

To counter the darkness, I offer my suggestions for a summer holiday reading.

The Village

When it comes to easy reads I find myself drawn to “village” type stories. I’ve mentioned The Chillury Ladies’ Choir on this blog, but there are others. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories are usually set in the village of St. Mary Mead. One of the major appeals of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mysteries is the village of Three Pines with its assortment of eccentrics. Maeve Binchy’s Whitethorn Woods is peopled with interesting characters, but it is the village that is at the heart of the story. Romance author Robyn Carr makes use of the village trope in her Virgin River series. I used the idea of place in my three Prospect books. 

As an author, I find returning to a familiar setting deepens the writing. Once I know the layout of the town, the folk who live there and the themes of the times, I am free to concentrate on developing my characters, deepening the love story, and adding in sub-plots for the minor characters of Prospect, B.C. 

As a reader I like to return to a setting I’ve enjoyed for the comfort of the place. Even though there are a remarkable number of murders in Three Pines, I love the sense of tranquillity and sanctuary Penny evokes when she describes the spot. I also enjoy learning more about the minor characters and how their lives evolve over the course of eighteen  novels.

Of course, these suggestions barely scrape the surface of books I love for summer reading. Susan Wiggs, Nancy Warren, Kathleen LawlessJane Austen, Alice Munro, Helen Simonson, Helen Humphreys — all of these writers are engaging, accessible and take the reader on a wonderful adventure — and, in my opinion, qualify as a beach read.

In honour of summer, this blog will publish only sporadically over the next two months.

Happy holiday reading.

 

Views: 139

5 Reasons Your Book Should Sing

Over the summer I reread  Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester.  I have all her romances on my keeper shelf, but I’d forgotten this one, so it was like reading it for the first time. What a treat! When I finished it,  I picked up New Girl in Little Cove by Damhnait Monaghan. This book is set in modern day Newfoundland. I felt as though I’d switched the soundtrack from Mozart to Great Big Sea.

That got me to thinking about the music I might associate with my own books. For the Prospect Series, Gord Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy was an obvious choice. It combines the excitement of opening up a new land with the hardships that come with the adventure. The fact the song has three parts plays well into my storylines as well.

I’m currently working on a short read with an older couple. I don’t have a particular song in mind, but I’m thinking of a community dance. I went to many of those in my younger years. The music ranged from waltzes to square dances to The Twist — the music wasn’t the most important thing–it was who chose you for a partner! And yes, in those days the boys did the choosing and the girls did the hoping. With that image of the town Odd Fellows Hall and the homegrown band in my ears, I can stay in the story world more easily.

I tried out my idea on my author friend in Australia and learned that she had specific songs in mind when writing her books too. “Yes my books do have theme songs… although not always logical. Evil in Emerald was ‘Cat Like Tread’ from Pirates of Penzance, The Postmistress was ‘Peter Hollens Shenandoah’ and The Gold Miner’s Sister was ‘Shallow’ from the latest Star is Born movie. The oddest was probably ‘Arms’ by Christina Perri which was the theme for Gather the Bones.

So, why have a soundtrack for your story?

  1. Tone  The soundtrack playing in your mind will keep the tone of your writing consistent. The English language is rich and varied. Authors have many choices for the “right” word. A song can help make those choices better. Is your book a stately gavotte or a rollicking sea shanty?
  2. Mood  Even though stories move through light and dark times, a book can be strengthened if there is a consistent mood. War stories carry that hint of danger even when we aren’t on the battlefield. Children’s books are full of wonder, regardless of the actual scene. When the reader puts down the book, what do you want her mood to be?
  3. Setting  I am an author who views setting as a “character” in a story.  The mountains in my Prospect books, for example, played a role in the heroines’ reflective scenes. Those towering peaks gave strength and courage to Lottie and Emma and Louisa.
  4. Inspiration  “What happens next?” is a constant question before a writer.  The lyrics or the music of your soundtrack can provide some ideas. Country and western songs are legendary for telling a complete story from joy to heartbreak in only a few lines.  Tammy Wynette’s   Stand by your man, give him two arms to cling to
    And something warm to come to/When nights are cold and lonely.–might provide the nudge to take your story down a different path.
  5. Fun  Sitting at a keyboard or holding a pen over a lined notepad, can get lonely and dreary.  We all start this journey because we want to tell a story, we love words, we want to send our ideas into the world. That’s the part that makes us want to write. But the process from idea to finished work can be a slog. The soundtrack playing in our heads can remind us to have fun. Maybe we could all “Whistle While You Work.”

What about you? As a reader do you hear music in a book? As a writer do you consciously choose a soundtrack to accompany your story?

Views: 165

7 Wonders


doing homeworkA schoolgirl, when asked to name the seven wonders of the world, skipped the pyramids and the Taj Mahal and came up with this list.  The seven wonders of the world are:
1. to see
2. to hear
3. to touch
4. to taste
5. to feel
                                                                  6. to laugh
                                                                   7. and to love.

The child may have failed her social studies exam but she nailed it for fiction writers. 

These days much of the author world is is focused on marketing,  Do ads work? Do we know an influencer? Can we find a niche? What’s the ROI on a publicity campaign? Should I buy space on a highway billboard?

With all these business questions hovering about our writing, we sometimes forget about craft. But craft is paramount. Without it, marketing is selling an empty promise.  

So, let’s take a little time today to think about the art of writing as opposed to the science of selling. 

One of the first “rules” a newbie author encounters is “use the five senses” — the first five wonders in our schoolgirl’s list. I notice she left off smell and that’s a really important one. Scent conjures up emotions and memories faster than any of the other senses.

But the senses alone aren’t enough for fiction. 

I’m reading a travel book just now . Here’s a description of town of St. Ives. “From the station we walk a jagged route along beach and cobble streets into town. A maypole dance is taking place just off the foreshore,  . . . Children skip and weave ribbons in a twisting rainbow.”

This passage uses the sense of sight but it misses out on feeling, laughing and loving. While colourful exposition is fine for a travel book, it is too shallow for good fiction.

By contrast, consider “The peaceful sea sighed as it lapped gently onto the white sand. . .” A.M. Stuart, Evil in Emerald. 

In the St. Ives example, we are observers only. We see the children skip, we see the jagged route, but we are indifferent. The second example adds feeling to the senses. Sighed and lapped are evocative words that draw the reader into the mood of the story. We expect romance — or mayhem, but we are no longer mere observers. We are participants.

**

“The Marsh stretched before them, smiling and lush in the September sunshine, yet with a suggestion of eery loneliness, about it. . .  ” Georgette Heyer, The Unknown Ajax. Even though Heyer is known for her light touch and sense of the ridiculous, this example shows her skill at conjuring a dark mood, in the midst of sunshine. 

**

“Intense wind picks up – fifty miles-per-hour gusting to sixty. Tide’s out, fishing boats and dories askew in the bay.” Here the travel book tells me the author is experiencing rough weather. But, although he may feel the wind, the reader doesn’t. We merely observe.

“My house stands at the edge of the earth. Together, the house and I have held strong against the churning tides of Fundy. Two sisters, stubborn in our bones.”  Ami McKay, the birthhouse. Ms McKay gives only a minimal description, “churning tides,” but the reader is drawn into the battle to survive on the edge of a heaving ocean. 

**

“A man sitting in a chair in the sun, reading a paper, and three children kicking a ball about. A dog jumping around the children and barking. The scene before her was so ordinary after what she had just  been though that she almost laughed in disbelief. ” Tracy Chevalier, A Single Thread

Can you identify with the terror of the heroine in this example? We see and hear a pleasant scene, yet the last line draws us into the emotion of the moment. This is more than a travelogue.

**

“She watched as [they] strolled across the village green. At first she thought they were going to the bistro for a nightcap, but then they veered to the right. To the light of Clara’s cottage.

And Reine -Marie heard them knock on her door. A soft, soft, insistent knocking. . .” Louise Penny, The Long Way Home.

Note how the word choice entices the reader into the drama. “veered” instead of “turned”, knocking that is “soft” yet “insistent.” There should be a great distance between the reader and the story at this point. We are watchers observing a watcher, and yet we sense the danger/intrigue/menace/heartache of the unfolding events.

**

“A glaring sun bore down on the small mining town . . . bleaching the colour from the landscape and sapping the strength of its citizens.” Alice Valdal, The Man for Her.  In this opening sentence I’ve set an ominous mood with oppressive heat and listless citizens. The reader not only observes the street, she feels sweat under her collar.

**

“[The dog’s] head would rise like a periscope and he would slide over the edge of his basket and work his way into the bedroom, keeping low to the ground, as if he were hunting. He would stop a foot short of the bed and cock an ear and listen . . . his nose only six inches away.” Stuart McLean, “Arthur”

Laughter, the sixth wonder. No reader can be disengaged from a story that makes her laugh. Shakespeare knew this. Even in his most heart-rending tragedies, he included scenes of comic relief. An audience, or a reader, needs release from tension. Put a little laughter in your story. Your readers will thank you for it.

**

“In her dreams Evelyn would always return to a pristine white beach where the sand felt soft between her toes and Henry’s hand was warm in her.” Joanna Nell, The Last Voyage of Mrs. Henry Parker.  Here we have the seventh and greatest wonder of them all, love.

**

In science class we are taught that the five senses are sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. As writer’s we should include the school girl’s wonders, feeling, laughter and love.

Views: 80

Evil in Emerald

 

EVIL IN EMERALD, is the third of Harriet Gordon’s adventures and is available now in print, Ebook and audio.

Harriet Gordon turns her talents to musical theatre, joining the cast of the Singapore Amateur Dramatic and Musical Society’s latest production – Pirates of Penzance. However tensions run deep within the company and when the leading man is found murdered, Harriet and Curran are drawn into a complex web of lies and deceit.

I’ve just finished reading this latest Harriet Gordon Mystery by A.M. Stuart. When I told my friend, the author, I intended to feature it on this blog, she kindly sent along the following;

 

Hi Alice

Thank you so much for inviting me back to your blog to talk about my Harriet Gordon Mystery series.

Today I thought I would share with you what it is I love about reading and writing historical mysteries.

A good mystery novel – or TV series – is my catnip. It began as a teenager, I devoured Agatha Christie and I think her writing more than anything sowed the seed of my love of a good mystery. Like romances, which promise the reader a happy ever after, genre mysteries are premised on the expectation that good will triumph over evil.

After writing a number of romantic historicals (as Alison Stuart), I found mystery elements were creeping into the stories and felt the time had come to turn my hand to writing my own mystery … maybe combining all the things I loved about writing my romantic historicals with a mystery to solve. Drawing on my life in Singapore, the Harriet Gordon Mysteries came into being…

What is it I find so fascinating about this genre?

  1. I love creating a puzzle for the readers to solve with a twist in the tail. I often don’t know ‘who done it’ until I get to the end of the first draft!
  2. There’s something about the Edwardian era – those golden days before World War One when the sun never set on the British Empire (while also acknowledging the dark side to that past).
  3. There is also a huge challenge in solving crimes without the benefit of modern science. In 1910 the height of forensic scientific advancement was the use of fingerprinting and photographs. Those were the days when the investigator’s main investigative tool was his or her own common sense and curiosity.
  4. And finally I have loved creating a series with characters I know almost as well as my own family. I am more than a little in love with Curran and Harriet is my best friend and I look forward to meeting them in each new book as they slowly reveal their own character arcs.

I really do have the best of both worlds… historicals with the potential of romance, action, adventure and of course an intriguing (I hope) mystery to solve! —Alison

Me again — As a veteran of amateur productions of Gilbert and Sullivan I had a great time reading all the backstage chatter in this book.  The character of a leading lady who is too old for the role is almost endemic among amateur theatre groups, and I’ve often heard mutterings among chorus members that sounded like murder.

I also luxuriated in the highly regulated Edwardian Society of the time. Even in Singapore, proper English dress codes must be observed — never mind the heat and humidity! 

If you haven’t already read the two previous novels in this series, here’s a bargain for you. The second Harriet Gordon Mystery, REVENGE IN RUBIES, is currently on sale for US$1.99… these price reductions come around very rarely so grab it while you can! 

To find out more about Alison visit her websites www.alisonstuart.com or www.amstuartbooks.com

 

Views: 198

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!

Views: 875

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

Views: 247

The Goldminer’s Sister

Today I’m cheering for my friend Alison Stuart and the official release day of The Goldminer’s Sister. The book is part of Alison’s Maiden Creek series, set in Australia and published by Harper Collins under their Mira-Escape imprint.

A glance at some early reviews only whets the appetite for this historical romance from “Down Under.”

Alison Stuart’s research is meticulous and her historical novels an absolute delight to read. This one was exceptional, with heart rushing suspense, light, well written romance, and strong women characters. Highly recommended. Brenda on Goodreads.

 

 An absolutely fantastic story about family, love, loss, greed and mystery.  from Jessica’s reviews.

The suspense and mystery had me hooked and I didn’t want to put the book down. Chapter Ichi   

Alison also writes as A.M. Stuart and is achieving success under both names. A.M. Stuart is the author of the Harriet Gordon series set in Singapore. You may have read Singapore Sapphire. There is a new book, Revenge in Rubies, coming in September.

Since we’re all staying close to home and having our vacations in the back yard, why not enjoy a good read and learn something about a different part of the world at the same time?

Views: 144

Singapore Sapphire

Set in the far east, Singapore Sapphire isn’t my usual cup of tea, but I like the author, A.M. Stuart, so decided to try the book.

The far east is still not my favourite place to visit, even in fiction, but I thoroughly enjoyed this first of the Harriet Gordon mysteries.

The story takes place at the beginning of the twentieth century, before two world wars changed the order of things for the British Empire. In the midst of the Malay jungle we have a Church of England school and a proper Cricket Club. Alongside these pillars of the ex-pat community are the Dutch traders and native Malays, Chinese, and Burmese. All thrown together in the heat and damp of Singapore. Along with murderers and thieves and smugglers, the climate itself acts as an enemy to European sensibilities. Fine buildings fall into decay, mouldering away almost as soon as they are erected. Rot seeps up from the docks, corruption lurks behind fine facades.

Harriet Gordon is an interesting character, widowed and hiding the secret of her time in Holloway prison for women, she is both bold and timid, bowing to conventions in her brother’s house, yet poking her nose into police business and seeking to solve a murder. There’s a hint of romance, even though it seems doomed at the outset.

Although Singapore is not on my list of places to visit, the author clearly knows and loves the area. Her descriptions of sights and sounds and smells brings the city and the time alive and will appeal to those with a taste for exotic locales.

I read the book in paperback but it is also available in e-book.

You don’t often see book recommendations on this blog because I only promote those I’ve actually read and enjoyed. Singapore Sapphire is a good read with lots of twists and turns in the plot and lots of historical and geographical detail to thrill the armchair traveller. 

I’ll be watching for the next Harriet Gordon mystery.

What about you? Read any good books lately?

 

 

Views: 151

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