A promise of a better life

On 29th August 2018  BBC News reported that some of the child migrants who were sent to Australia from the UK are planning to sue the UK Government.  The article explains…

Between 1945-70, some 4,000 children were separated from their families and sent to Australia and Zimbabwe.

The Independent Inquiry Into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) considered the children who were forcibly relocated in the post-war period.

A scheme saw children from deprived backgrounds who were often already in social care – some as young as three years old – sent away with the promise of a better life.

I have read many of the accounts bravely shared by victims of this dreadful policy – children who were costing the UK too much to look after within the residential care system.  The ‘cheaper’ option was to send them off to Commonwealth countries who were looking for ‘good white British stock’.

It makes your heart break.

These and many other stories inspired me to write The Forgotten Children  – in the hope that it will increase awareness about this terrible period in British history.

The Forgotten Children is available now for pre-order from Amazon and will be published on November 29th.

 

The Forgotten Children

I will let the words of the Child Migrants Trust tell this story…

‘Britain is the only country in the world with a sustained history of child migration. Only Britain has used child migration as a key part of its child care strategy over four centuries rather than as a last resort during times of war or civil unrest.

The reality of this policy was to remove children, some as young as three years old from their mothers and fathers, from all that was familiar to them, and to ship them thousands of miles away from their home country to institutions in distant lands within the Commonwealth. Many of these children were removed without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

In the post-war period, child migrants as young as three were shipped to Canada, New Zealand, the former Rhodesia and Australia, a practice that continued as late as 1970.’

It is only as a result of the tireless work of Nottinghamshire social worker, Margaret Humphreys, that much of the truth has come to light.

When I first found out about the child migrants I was shocked.  Then I was angry and that anger inspired me to write a book.  I realised the best way to help the thousands of people affected by this dreadful policy that lasted for decades, was to raise awareness.

The Forgotten Children follows the journey of a mother, whose child was taken from her at birth.  It is fiction, but based on the many factual accounts I read while researching the book.

By telling the fictional story of Emily’s search for her child, I hope The Forgotten Children will encourage more people to be shocked and angry.  Perhaps then the individuals and families affected will finally receive the support they deserve.

The Forgotten Children is available now for pre-order from Amazon and will be published on November 29th.

Flying high

It seems incredible to think that our Royal Air Force is one hundred years old.   It was back in 1918, on 1 April, when the Royal Air Force first formed as a separate service, independent of the British Army and the Royal Navy.  In fact, it was the first time that any country had formed an entirely separate and independent air force.

We can find out more on the RAF100 dedicated website, which explains:

‘The ‘new’ RAF was the most powerful air force in the world with more than 290,000 personnel and nearly 23,000 aircraft, and fought effectively from April 1 1918 over the Western Front in support of ground forces. General Jan Christian Smuts said of Air Power: ‘There is absolutely no limit to the scale of its future independent war use.’

Of course, we now know that over the course of the next hundred years the RAF were instrumental in helping us to fight and win two world wars.

Of course,  it wasn’t just men who risked their lives – the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) was also created in 1918, and then in 1939 the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAR) was created.  Service women were heavily involved in operating radar equipment, plotting, navigation and reconnaissance.  

When the armistice was declared on November 11, 1918, everyone hoped they had seen the last of war.  Sadly, it was not to be.  By the time war was declared again in 1939 the RAF had such state-of-the-art planes as Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancasters and Lysanders.

And it was a Lysander that Hugh Furness flew in my novel, Lost Property.  Hugh is an RAF pilot who also worked with the Special Operations Executive, flying agents into France to help the French resistance.  Such brave folk.  The inspiration for the story told in Lost Property came after my visit to Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, which is near to where I live.  The site of the Museum was originally the air base, RAF Tangmere, famous for its role in the Battle of Britain.  It was the Tangmere wing of Fighter Command that the famous Group Captain Douglas Bader commanded.

So, it was timely that when attending a local charity event, together with other indie authors (Chindi Authors) the Mayor of Chichester expressed interest in the story of Hugh Furness and bought a copy of Lost Property.  The photo here shows Julia Dean, who had organised the event, with book in hand.  Julia’s own novel And I Shall be Healed (writing as JL Dean) also focuses on brave servicemen, as she tells the story of a First World War young army chaplain who is haunted by an unhappy upbringing and a mistake for which he cannot forgive himself.  He struggles to put the past behind him and support the men he has been called to serve.

pic-of-mayor-and-julia.jpg

 

Today then, when we see or hear the RAF100 parade and flypast, we have much to be grateful for.  So many young men prepared to risk their lives to keep us safe.

Thank you…

 

 

 

 

 

Food for the soul

Plato advised us that:

‘Knowledge is food for the soul’

I’ve been thinking about this quote, which led me to thinking about books and reading.  I started to read when I was around four years old (according to my mum!).  Since that tender age I have rarely been without a book in my hands.  I was lucky enough to spend my working days editing and even though the subject matter focused on health-related conditions and medicines, it was still fun chasing words around the page.

Now my focus is fiction and my feeling is that people read fiction for a whole host of reasons.   There are times when I just want to read for pleasure, laying in the bath, or sitting in the garden.  The book in my hands gives me the chance to block out all thoughts of chores.  It might be a grabbed ten minutes, or a leisurely half hour (or longer, if I’m lucky!).  I’ve escaped into another world, maybe another time zone and the only interruptions are the birds singing a little too loudly, or the bath water getting cold.

Then there are the times when I read to learn.  As a fiction writer I love to discover the way that other authors approach character development, plot structure or timelines. As a writer I see myself as an apprentice, constantly trying to develop my craft, with years of learning ahead of me.  So, when I come across a beautifully constructed sentence I read it over and over and dream about the day when I can write that perfect piece of prose.

Here are the opening lines from a wonderful book by Ann Patchett, called ‘Bel Canto’:

When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her.  Maybe he had been turning towards her just before it was completely dark, maybe he was lifting his hands.  There must have been some movement, a gesture, because every person in the living room would later remember a kiss.

 

And some more from Rachel Joyce’s tear jerker, ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’:

Harold Fry was a tall man who moved through life with a stoop, as if expecting a low beam, or a screwed-up paper missile, to appear out of nowhere. […] The boy learned quickly that the best way to get on in life was to keep a low profile.’

 

Of course, there is a whole lot more to learn from fiction.  When I read, Helen Dunmore’s ‘The Siege’, I learned about the horrors of the Nazi’s winter siege of Leningrad in 1941, which killed six hundred thousand people.  Helen Dunmore focuses in on the detailed experiences of her characters, to tell a story that affected so many.  They learned to boil shoe leather to make soup, such was the devastating hunger they experienced.  Certainly an eye opener for me and a story that stayed with me long after I finished reading it.

Books also bring us together.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of book clubs around the country where friends get together maybe once a month and chat.  They chat about the book they have all read, but it’s a great intro to chatting generally and a way of making new friends.  Then there are online forums – The Fiction Café – is a great Facebook group where people can share their thoughts about their favourite books.   Passing on recommendations also means that we can all be tempted to try something we might not have otherwise picked up.

Libraries and charity bookshops are wonderful places, giving us the chance to read to our heart’s content for free, or for just a few pennies.  We are coming into the season of summer fetes and festivals, where I always make a beeline for the book stall!  I am a member of the Chichester Network of Independent Authors and throughout the summer we will be out and about at the local fairs and festivals – maybe I will see you there!

We are a lucky bunch of readers – we have access to books in ways that our parents and grandparents might have only dreamed of.

These are a just a few reasons why people read – how about you?  What makes you dive into a book?  Share your thoughts by adding a comment below.

 

 

 

 

 

Undertaking research for a crime thriller: some useful tips

I am joined on my blog today by crime thriller suspense author, Helen Christmas, who is going to share some fascinating stories about some of the research she has undertaken for her decade-spanning series ‘Same Face Different Place.’ Following on from her first article, on the Chindi Authors website, where she described her journeys into research for Books 1 and 2, let’s hear about the time when she started Book 3 ‘Pleasures’, and things started to get really exciting… 

helen-arundel

Helen explains: “By the time I started writing ‘Pleasures’ the gloves were off. Readers of the early books were familiar with Eleanor, (heroine of the series) and knew who the bad guys were. Simply put, ‘Pleasures’ is a race against time to gather the evidence Eleanor needs to bring her arch enemy to justice, whilst protecting her loved ones from harm. Approaching the decade of the 90s, the younger generation are growing up fast, about to be swept into a culture of raves and designer drugs, where danger is imminent.

“I remember this era and was well into the music. I never went to a rave but there was plenty about them in the news, so this is where my research began. I wanted to depict my setting and to capture the environment of a rave.  No better place than YouTube to do just that. I found loads of useful stuff, including video footage of a rave, not just the music, but the fashion, haircuts and the dancing. There was a very interesting movie that displayed the fliers for the raves too, lots of computer generated art and fractals, which I loved.

YouTube

“But at the same time, I needed to delve deeper into the crime mystery of this series and was lucky enough to secure an afternoon with Andy Kille, (Ops Controller of Sussex Police for thirty years). Andy has advised many a crime writer, including Peter James. Being a friend of his wife, Marion, (author of the dark and gripping ‘Suburban Mystery’ series) I was extremely thankful to get his advice. Talking to him for an afternoon gave me a better insight into police procedures, forensics, linking a bullet to a crime and last of all, court procedures (from conviction to life on a remand wing.) He even suggested that given the nature of the murder trial in my story, it would most likely be held at the Old Bailey.

“Delighted with the notes I came away with, his suggestion inspired me to visit the Old Bailey. We’ve all seen it on the TV but let me tell you, being there is very different! You can’t describe the feeling… I even listened in on a trial or two, though the details left me slightly queasy. The building features eerie Gothic architecture on the outside but has a tangible sense of menace inside.

“All this research was vital in depicting the mood behind the trial in Pleasures, as portrayed in this small extract:

A taxi cruised into the curb outside the forbidding grey walls of the Old Bailey. Eleanor shuffled into the back seat and David followed, his intention to escort her to a hotel in High Holborn.

She stole a final glance at the imposing archway where a cast iron grill protected the entrance. An Ionic column towered above – a cloaked statue crouching between the two which reminded her of the Grim Reaper and as her eyes travelled upwards, they scanned the motto: ‘Defend the Children of the Poor and Punish the Wrongdoer.’ Eleanor turned away, unable to fend off a shiver.

old bailey

 The Final Chapter 

“I am not going give anything away, but  I continued my research along a similar vein for Book 4 Retribution (now in two parts).

“For anyone considering research, I cannot emphasis enough the value of talking to people in actual professions, such as my interview with Andy Kille, of Sussex Police.

“Here is another example.  Having served in the Territorial Army (TA), I decided that one of my characters would be an army officer. The TA nearly drew me towards a military career; but my own experience was nothing like life in the regular army. After an initial enquiry to the Army Recruitment service, they put me in touch with a colonel from the Royal Engineers Regiment. A few emails later, we enjoyed a forty-five minute chat on the phone. This was so helpful. He gave me a really good understanding, from postings to living in barracks, where much of army life revolves around training exercises.

“A huge section of ‘Retribution’ also concerns a crime where a different character is left in a coma. I needed to gain a better understanding of the aftercare of coma victims and when I asked my GP, she suggested getting in touch with a neurological unit.

“This was a much harder subject to get help so I put out an appeal on Facebook. Fortunately, a researcher from The Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in Putney got in touch and I succeeded in my request for another telephone interview. She gave me some vital facts about the care of such patients, eg, when they show signs of consciousness, auditory processing and eye movement. She even suggested a book.

“Further sleuthing on Amazon, using the same key words as the book she suggested, brought up other titles, where the novel, ‘Try Not to Breathe’, by Holly Sedan, enabled me to understand even more about the unconscious mind. Her book, a mystery suspense about a young woman left in a coma for fifteen years (and a journalist who finds a way of communicating with her, thus finding her attacker) was utterly compelling.

This is just some of the research I have been immersed in whilst writing ‘Retribution’ but there was so much more…

So in summary, here are my top five tips for research:

  • YouTube
  • visiting real places
  • interviews with people
  • telephone and internet enquiries
  • books on Amazon.

“A little detective work can go a long way but I really recommend the benefit of talking to people and get a first-hand ‘tell it like it is’ story to portray the reality.”

About the author

Helen has been writing her series of British mystery thrillers since 2011. A busy web designer (and creator of the Chindi Authors website,) Helen lives in a 17th century thatched cottage by the sea with her husband, Peter, their Border Collie and a fluffy white cat.

Helen has now completed her five book series, ‘Same Place Different Place’ and here are the links to her social networks:

 Social networks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/author.helenchristmas/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/SFDPBeginnings

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/helenxmas/same-face-different-place-beginnings-book-1-by-hel/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/helenchristmas7/

You can read more about her research on her blog: https://samefacedifferentplace.wordpress.com/

For information about her books visit her website: https://www.samefacedifferentplace.com/

You can download her first book, ‘Beginnings’ here: http://apn.to/prod/B0078L8858 

What makes a great author?

I’ve been finding out more about that wonderful Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie.  Having just read her biography, I have discovered some interesting facts about her.  Here are some of them:

  • her ideas for plots, characters and settings came in a random way – she filled numerous notebooks, but there was no order or organisation to her note-taking
  • she lived a busy life outside of her writing and was prepared to try her hand at all sorts of pursuits – even windsurfing!
  • she travelled extensively
  • she loved her privacy.

While reading about her I have tried to deduce what it was about her writing that made her as famous and well-loved as she was – and still is.

Here are some thoughts:

  • Agatha Christie lived for 85 years and was writing for most of those years – her first book was published in 1920 – when she was thirty years old, and she was still getting great reviews for newly published works in the 1970s – fifty years later
  • her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been read by millions
  • it seems to me that her focus was always the story – she loved the psychology of crime – creating twists and turns throughout to keep her readers guessing.

In the words of her biographer:

‘Agatha’s books last because they are good, if sometimes hopelessly improbable stories.  The reader, once hooked, wants to know what happens next.  They deal with myths, fantasies, obsessions shared by people of every sort: quests and contests, death, sex, money, murder, conspiracy, transformation, power, the triumph of the simple over the complex, the importance of the mundane as well as the cosmic.  They construct a pattern, assigning facts and emotions to their appointed place as problems are resolved and guilt and innocence established.’

‘Agatha Christie – A biography’ by Janet Morgan (published 2017)

So, how does all this help a rookie author called Isabella Muir, who has developed a fascination for writing crime mysteries?

Well, by delving into the life of Agatha Christie’s life I can see that she lived a full life – grasping opportunities to explore and to learn about people, places, experiences.  It seems to me that it was a life well lived.  Inevitably that spilled into her writing and her energy and enthusiasm meant that she just kept on going – writing and living.

I’ve been learning from Agatha, at the same time as Janie Juke has been learning from her hero, Hercule Poirot.  Janie has successfully solved two mysteries so far in ‘The Tapestry Bag’ and ‘Lost Property’, with her third – ‘The Invisible Case’ waiting in the wings for publication this June.  Janie and I have a long road ahead – but if we keep Agatha Christie in her hearts and in our heads then we are in good company!

The Invisible Case will soon be available for pre-order on Amazon – watch this space!

Follow Isabella Muir on Twitter @SussexMysteries for the latest news about the Janie Juke mystery series.

Dreaming of Italy!

If you are waiting for Janie Juke’s next adventure ‘The Invisible Case’, I can confirm that progress is good!  The first draft is complete and plans are in place for publication some time in June…watch this space…

Meanwhile, I can share with you that I have tapped into my Italian roots for Janie’s newest mystery.  It’s been wonderful recalling childhood memories of long train journeys to Rome, with all the excitement of our picnic breakfast.  It makes me smile now to think about how we downed our cornflakes with evaporated milk, as though it was a meal fit for royalty!  Fortunately, most of our trips were made as a family, which meant we filled a compartment, so no danger of annoying other passengers with our endless games of I-spy.

On our return journeys we spent hours munching our way through all the fruit that kind aunts and uncles had donated to us for our travels.  On one occasion I remember an uncle arriving at Rome station to say goodbye and to hand over a suitcase full of grapes!

My dad took us all on long walks around Rome and, even though my aunt lived quite a way from the station, dad insisted we walk to Roma Termini before we started any adventure.

Appropriate then, that Chapter 1 of ‘The Invisible Case’ starts in exactly the same place…

 

 

Agatha Christie’s secrets

I’m continuing to follow the trail of Agatha Christie!  (while channelling Janie Juke, of course!)

I have come across a fascinating book, entitled: Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks.  The author, John Curran, had the great fortune to have ‘unfettered access’ to all of Agatha Christie’s papers, as well as the hospitality of her grandson, Mathew Pritchard.  Curran then spent some four years delving into over Christie’s notebooks – over seventy of them.  He has done an excellent job, as the book is littered with excerpts from the notebooks, all of which give the reader real insight into the vibrant mind of the ‘Queen of Crime’.

It seems that all Christie needed in order to capture an idea was a blank page – it didn’t matter whether that page was within the cheapest exercise book, or, as Curran puts it:  ‘hard-backed multi-paged notebooks with marbled covers’ which seemed to be ‘more worthy recipients’.

My feeling is that the notebooks became a reflection not only of Christie, the author, but also of Agatha, the wife and mother.  Scattered in amongst her exciting ideas for novels and short stories are the more mundane essentials of everyday life, such as shopping lists and reminders for hair appointments.  It seems that there was little rhyme or reason to the order in which she made her notes. Curran explains:

‘In only five instances is a Notebook devoted to a single title. [otherwise, the] …use of the Notebooks was utterly random.  Christie opened a Notebook […], found the next blank page and began to write.  It was simply a case of finding an empty page, even one between two already filled pages.  And, as if that wasn’t complicated enough, in almost all cases she turned the Notebook over and, with admirable economy, wrote from the back also.’

(from ‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ by John Curran, published 2010)

For anyone who likes to gain an insight into Agatha Christie, the author, this book is a delight.  You can see how her mind was working when, for example, she devised the fatal seating plan for Sparkling Cyanide.  She plays around with various positions for each of the main characters, until she settles on the one that works best for the storyline.

From other notebook snippets we see how she devised her characters.  She tries out names and brief descriptions, amending her ideas later on within the same notebook, or even another notebook.  There is a similar process for her scene plotting, where she allocates letters (for example, A to L) but then moves scenes around until she reaches the one that, in her mind, will work best.

Having read through Curran’s fascinating book, what struck me most was Christie’s ability to juggle with so many storylines, characters, settings and plot twists and turns – with what looks to the outsider as little order or organisation.  It seems that she was literally bursting with ideas.  It is no wonder that she was such a prolific author and that her books continue to be just as popular more than forty years after her death – and almost one hundred years since the publication of her first crime novel: The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

Which brings us back full circle to Janie Juke’s first mystery: The Tapestry Bag, where snippets from this first of Christie’s novels provide Janie with a subtle helping hand.

More about Agatha Christie soon!

On the trail of Agatha Christie

In the Janie Juke mystery series, my protagonist, Janie, refers to her passion for Agatha Christie novels.  In particular, Janie loves the stories featuring Hercule Poirot and has learned many of her investigative skills from him.  As she tackles the mysteries occurring in Tamarisk Bay, she draws on many of Poirot’s techniques to follow the trail of evidence to solve the crimes.

So, I’ve been following my own trail!  With the wonders of the internet it’s easy enough to discover the facts and figures about Christie’s incredible writing career.  For example,  I learned that Poirot featured in thirty-three of her novels, whereas Miss Marple featured in just twelve.  This was despite the fact that Agatha herself described Poirot as an ‘insufferable’ man.

The statistics of Christie’s writing career are astonishing – her novels have sold more than a billion copies in English and a further billion or more in translation (in 103 languages).  In fact, a Wikipedia article suggests her books are second only in popularity to the Bible and Shakespeare.

But it was a story of another trail altogether that helped me to learn a little more about Agatha Christie, wife and mother.  In 1922, aged 32, she accompanied her first husband, Archie, on a ten-month voyage around the world – South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Canada.  Archie had been invited to join a trade mission to promote the British Empire Exhibition, due to take place in 1924.  Agatha was determined to go with him, even though it meant that her two-year-old daughter had to be left behind, in the care of Agatha’s sister.

The Grand Tour is a wonderful collection of photos, newspaper cuttings, journal entries and letters and has been edited by Agatha Christie’s grandson, Mathew Pritchard.  Agatha frequently wrote home to her much-loved mother, telling her of all the fascinating places they visited and the interesting people they met.

Reading through the letters and anecdotes has given me a wonderful sense of Agatha as she was then, observant, intrigued, ready to take on new challenges.  Here is one snippet that made me smile:

‘I made a lot of discoveries about fruit.  Pineapples, for instance, I had always thought of as hanging down gracefully from a tree.  I was so astonished to find that an enormous field I had taken to be full of cabbages was in fact of pineapples.’

(from The Grand Tour, edited by Mathew Pritchard, published 2012)

Once they arrived in Honolulu she was determined to try her hand at surfing and with perseverance started to master the sport:

‘After ten days I began to be daring…The first six times I came to grief …[but] Oh, the moment of complete triumph on the day that I kept my balance and came right into shore standing upright on my board!’

(from The Grand Tour, edited by Mathew Pritchard, published 2012)

There are so many wonderful snippets in this book and it is easy to see how the things she experienced during her travels influenced her writing, helped shape her characters, her settings and her plotlines.

As authors, we are encouraged to ‘write what you know’ – well, a trip around the world certainly helped the famous ‘Queen of Crime’ to expand her knowledge, so that nearly one hundred years on we are still enjoying the benefits.

EARLY ONE MORNING

(by Virginia Baily, published 2015)

A kind friend lent me this novel when he discovered I was interested in learning about what life was like in Italy during the Second World War, as part of the research for the third book in the Janie Juke mystery series.  The perfect about this storyline is that it is set in the very year and region that I had been focused on – Rome, 1943.

This was the year when Italians changed their allegiance and the English went from being their enemies to being their friends.  In truth, I am sure that for average Italian the English were never considered the enemy – but with Mussolini choosing to be pally with Hitler, well, it didn’t bode well.  Then, after a ‘vote of no confidence’ in July 1943 Mussolini was arrested and in October that year Italy declared war on Germany.

Early One Morning captures all of the difficulties of life at that time.  It has a powerful start, with the protagonist, Chiara, saving the life of a young Jewish boy – Daniele – when his family is rounded up by German troops.   As the story unfolds we learn how that single moment has devastating results for Daniele and Chiara for years to come.  We meet Chiara again in the 1970s to discover how she copes when she receives an expected phone call.  A phone call that brings back memories she had hoped to forget.

The tale is beautifully told, well written, and full of detail that helps the reader to see, smell and taste what life was like in Italy in the forties and again in the seventies.  It was during the seventies that I made many of my own trips to Rome, with family and with friends.  My memories of pizza al taglio is perfectly described here:

‘Customers were coming out of the baker’s, clutching pieces of something hot, wrapped in waxed paper, biting into it before they even got out of the door, so irresistibly delicious was it.’

And here, a description of one of Rome’s famous squares:

‘…Piazza Navona, with the three fountains, the water bouncing off the great white statues now and sparkling in the bright midday sunshine.’

All in all, the book was a joy to read and took me back there to that place and that time, without me ever having to leave my house!