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…

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating mysteries!

It’s fair to say, that there’s cause for celebration back here at Janie Juke HQ!  The Invisible Case – the third book in the Sussex Crime mystery series – will be available from this Saturday, 30 June.

As well, as this new novel, brand new editions of the first two books in the series have been published, with beautiful new covers (cover design courtesy of the talented author and cover designer, Christoffer Petersen).  The second editions also now include a map of Tamarisk Bay, the sleepy seaside town where Janie lives and works, and a bonus chapter.  But the great news is that the price is still the same – at £6.99 each.

And as if that isn’t enough – we have business cards, bookmarks and banners – all being printed, as I write this…

Buisnesscard.indd

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 

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…

 

 

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!

 

 

 

Italian memories

The second book in the Janie Juke mystery series (Lost Property)  introduces Janie’s aunt, Jessica.  Jessica has been travelling around Europe for a few years and is now planning to return to Tamarisk Bay.

In the third book of the series we hear much more about Jessica and her mysterious Italian friend, Luigi.  As I’ve been drafting the third book, I’ve enjoyed immersing myself in happy memories of Italy.  Having an Italian mother, as well as cousins who live in Rome, I’ve been lucky to have the chance for loads of trips to that beautiful country.  I think I was about four years old when I first visited and since then not many years pass when I don’t make at least a flying visit.

One of my favourite places is the pretty port of Anzio.  Anzio lies just about an hour away from Rome and is a favoured resort for Italian holidaymakers.  There is a gentle buzz about the place, with wonderful fish restaurants all along the port and bars on every street corner.  In the centre of the town is Piazza Pia, with its marble fountain right in front of the Chiesa of SS Pia e Antonio.

Anzio Church and Fountain

My favourite holiday pastime is to sit at one of the bars, with my cappuccino, watching the Italians make their evening passegiata.  Looking at this photo, I can almost imagine I am right there, with the warm sun on my back and the happy chatter of Italian voices in my ears.  All good inspiration for the next Janie Juke book!

Spending time with friends

I first met Janie Juke in February 2017.  I was walking my Scottie dog, Hamish, along a Spanish beach and she came into my head.  But back then I didn’t know her name, I didn’t know that she would be a mobile librarian and I hadn’t met any of her family and friends.

Since then Janie has become a friend.  I have discovered a little of her likes and dislikes, her fears and insecurities.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know her dad, Phillip, who is a blind physiotherapist and her husband, Greg, who is her soulmate and stalwart supporter.  But I’ve still got a lot to learn about Janie and about my writing craft.

Anyone who has tried their hand at writing fiction will understand that moment when your character takes on a life of their own.  As an author you think you are in control, but once the words start to appear on the page, you discover that you are not.  Well, that’s how it feels to me.

So far, Janie has had two major adventures.  In The Tapestry Bag, Janie is desperate to track down a friend who has gone missing.  By solving that mystery she realises that she has skills as an amateur sleuth and in the early chapters of Lost Property she is surprised to learn that those skills can earn her money.  Just like many young families in the 1960s (or now, for that matter) any opportunity to bolster their financial coffers is grabbed with both hands.

3D 008 sml

The Janie Juke mystery series is set in the late 1960s.  I have loved the chance to look back at that era when The Beatles were breaking the mould of popular music.  Medical advances were coming thick and fast.  Attitudes were changing to sex, crime, women’s rights and family life.

In Lost Property Janie meets Hugh Furness, a Second World War RAF pilot.  She learns something about life during the Second World War, and the years immediately following it.  Researching this era has given me a taste for it and I’d like to spend a bit more time with Hugh.

So what happens next?  Well, I know there is a lot more I have to learn about Janie and her family and friends.  I’m pretty certain she is going to take me on more adventures and I hope you will come along with me…it’s going to be a busy 2018!

 

Drilling for gold

When you write fiction you literally have the world at the end of your pen (or computer keyboard).  You can choose to construct characters who are not like anyone you have ever met.  They may not even be human.  Your plot can be as complex as a journey across the universe, or as simple as afternoon tea on the riverbank.  Your aim with every word you write is to take the reader to another place, to help them to escape from their everyday world for just a few minutes, or a few hours.  You are giving them the chance to be somewhere else without ever leaving their comfortable armchair.  That place you take them to has to be as vivid as you can make it.

Think about some of the greatest books you have read.  What stands out for you in your memory?  Let’s just consider some of the classics.  In Charlotte Bronte’s  Jane Eyre Thornfield Hall is the perfect setting for the dour Mr Rochester, can’t you just see the dusty, dark corridors and imagine the fear that Jane must have felt when she heard the screams from the ‘lunatic’ Bertha Rochester who he kept in a ‘third-storey room’ which she made into a ‘wild beast’s den’.

In Oliver Twist Dickens describes the place where Fagin and his ‘boys’ live:

‘high wooden chimney-pieces…cornices…black with neglect and dust..Spiders had built their webs in the angles of the walls and ceilings…the mouldering shutters were fast closed…and the window of ‘Oliver’s observatory was nailed down, and dimmed with the rain and smoke of years’.

Masterful.

But as writers of fiction when we consider setting we need to do so much more than focus on a place.  Yes, knowing whether your story takes place in England or Zambia, town or country, garden shed or high-rise is a part of it, but this is only the beginning.  There are so many more elements to setting than location.  Let’s run through some of them…

Cultural influences
Once you have decided on the location for your story, think about the way the culture of that place may influence your characters.  Are there particular local customs that could provide an interesting angle to your story?  Your characters don’t have to be in an exotic location to be affected by tradition.  Your setting may be an enclosed place, such a prison or care home, with its own set of rules and traditions.

There may be a particular accent related to your location that you can represent in some of the dialogue, or certain food delicacies that are renowned locally.

Population
Do your characters have to cope with rush hour commuters, or can they enjoy comfortable isolation? Does the population of your setting vary with the seasons?  A seaside town is packed with day-trippers and holidaymakers during the summer, but on a cold, wet February day it might be possible to walk along the seafront and not meet another soul.

Society and politics
What is the era for your story?  Are there any political events that might influence your characters?  As part of your research it might be worth checking to find out whether any life-changing laws were passed in the year you have chosen for your plot.  Take, for example, the difference in UK cities before and after the Clean Air Act of 1956.  What about more recent events like the UK decimalisation of 1971 – are your characters still dealing in pounds, shilling and pence?

Time and place
Think about the landmarks in your location.  When were they created?  When were they destroyed?  By investigating a little you can really give your reader a sense of your setting at exactly the time your story is unravelling.

Geography and climate
Of course, the geography of your setting may be the first thing that comes to mind.  Forests or mountains, lakes or fields.  The landscape will affect your characters in all sorts of ways. Does your character enjoy cycling along the flat country lanes of Norfolk, or prefer mountain biking around North Wales.

The climate can have a significant effect on your story and your characters.  Are they huddled up in winter coats during a severe winter, or basking in the heat of a summer that breaks all records?  Researching weather patterns can help with scene setting, but we are writing fiction, so if you want to make your summer the hottest for twenty years then go ahead, your reader will enjoy feeling that warmth and probably won’t be diving into the internet to check the temperature records.

Atmosphere
We all know that the weather can affect our mood.  It makes sense therefore that your characters may be temporarily cheered by the first signs of spring, despite the traumas they may have just experienced.   But the atmosphere of your setting is more than temperature.  How might your protagonist feel when she stumbles through a dark forest at dusk?  What about someone who has spent their life outside, growing up on a farm, who suddenly finds themselves in a cocktail bar heaving with sweaty people.  How might he feel when he has grown up listening to birdsong and his ears are now bombarded with a head-banging disco beat?

James Frey in How to write a damn good novel II cites examples of some of the great novels that have contrasted characters with their setting to create real page turners.  In Gone with the wind Scarlett O’Hara is a ‘Southern belle, born and bred to be pampered’ put into a ‘war-ravaged country where she has to grub for roots to survive’.  In Jaws the sheriff, Brody, can’t swim and yet is put into a boat ‘during a hunt for a man-eating shark’.

Time
Naturally the time of day will influence your setting; whether it is light or dark, time for breakfast, or time to settle down for a drink before bed.  You can use the interaction between your character and the setting to express emotion.

Remember that your reader will have certain associations with particular times of the day or night.  If your protagonist is walking out at midnight, down an unlit street your reader may feel fear and expect something bad is going to happen.  But perhaps you want to suggest to your reader that there are other ways of looking at the world.  This may be the moment she comes across her soulmate as he is walking home from shift work.  The event is crystallised in time, a story recounted to their children and grandchildren on each wedding anniversary.  Something about the way you describe that setting at that particular point in your story will lead your reader down a certain path – even if you include a few moments of surprise first.

As well as the time of day we have the seasons to consider.  The short days of winter, the long days of summer – each giving rise to different pastimes, different work patterns.  With the seasons come national holidays – Christmas, Easter and personal holidays, like birthdays, anniversaries.  If your story involves other cultures remember that there may be other festivals to consider, such as Passover or Thanksgiving.

In Anita Shreve’s The Pilot’s Wife Kathryn reminisces about Christmases spent with her husband (who has since died).  They are driving and:

‘her stomach is so full from Julia’s Christmas dinner that she has to flip the seat back to make herself more comfortable’.  She describes ‘the cream-coloured sweater that she knit for him their first winter together…[that he wears].. loyally each Thanksgiving and Christmas’.

As you take your reader with you on that special journey into your story world, drill down as far as you can into the detail of your setting, for that is where you will find the gold…

Do you have favourite techniques when it comes to scene-setting?  What tips can you suggest?  What about your most-loved novels – how have best-selling authors accomplished the scene-setting in their stories?

Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.