Flora McGowan, one of the authors in The Little Shop of Murders, collected cozy mysteries, is visiting Ascroft, eh? today to tell us about her writing and why she contributes stories to anthologies.
Welcome, Flora. I’ll turn the floor over to you –
I write the Carrie and Keith Mysteries which are a series of novels plus some short stories which combine a mix of mystery with the mystical and supernatural, often with an historical element as well as a touch of humour and a dash of romance. I currently live in Poole in Dorset on the South Coast of England, and many of my stories are based in this area including my debut novel Material Witness and short stories such as The Giant’s Gift (Cerne Abbas Giant), Desperately Seeking Freddie (Poole), All At Sea (Bournemouth beach) and He’s Behind You (Poole Quay/Old Town).
I enjoy travelling taking inspiration from the places I visit, for example, Morocco (Thirteen in the Medina), Tunisia (At The Edge) and Sicily (Playing With Fire, my most popular novel).
A writer’s main aim first and foremost is for their stories to be read – that feeling when someone in France or Italy or even far across the world in India or Japan, someone whom you have never met, downloads your story to read and, hopefully, enjoy. Short stories are a good way to reach people; I often use them as tasters or samples, and anthologies working with other authors can reach out to more people. If they also can do some good and raise money for worthy causes, so much the better.
I have short stories included in an Olympic Games themed anthology The Phantom Games published by Excalibur books to celebrate the Tokyo Olympics (the idea was conceived before COVID and lockdowns that led to the delay in the Games). Authors were permitted to submit a maximum of two stories which needed to be either science fiction, horror or a piece about Japanese culture or a memoir. To my surprise, as my science fiction/horror pieces were written in my usual cozy style, both stories I submitted, The Hungriest Man on the Hill featuring an ambitious ski jumper who turns to an unusual method in his quest for success, and Just Add Water about strange occurrences at the Rio Games, were selected.
Prior to The Little Shop of Murders I have contributed to other charity anthologies, firstly Fate’s Call, which was in aid of a fellow author whose family had suffered a devastating accident. I did not personally know them but reading about how they had been affected, and in particular, the young daughter of the author who had to undergo several life changing operations, I felt compelled to help raise money to aid them through that period in their lives. My story featured in the paranormal edition, in which there was a slight misunderstanding – to me paranormal means other worldly such as ghosts and spirits so I submitted a story in this vein only to discover the other authors were writing about werewolves, shapeshifters and mermen…
Undaunted by this together with a friend, Fiona, I produced an anthology of short stories Not Just Soldiers: Aid For Ukraine. Fiona works in the health service and is aware of some of the devastating injuries the Ukrainian refugees have suffered – ordinary people just like you and me, who are trying to live their lives whilst being overshadowed by war, hence the title Not Just Soldiers, which is taken from a quote of one of the characters in my story Desperately Seeking Freddie, which I wrote about an incident set in Poole during the Second World War – ‘It isn’t just soldiers who die in wartime.’
We set a very tight deadline as obviously the Ukraine needed help ASAP, and put a call out for people willing to donate short stories or poetry, suggesting that due to time constraints previously published work would be accepted, and indeed, ideal. We had one or two setbacks and lost an author from Canada for whom we had extended the deadline due to technical issues with her computer, which was a shame as she had been really keen to participate, so the end result was a slightly slimmer volume than anticipated but it still contained contributions from writers in the USA and Germany as well as the UK.
Hence, after my efforts with Not Just Soldiers I am very much aware of how much hard work Iain and Heide have put into producing The Little Shop of Murders. When I first saw the call for submissions I wracked my brains to see if I had something suitable as I wanted to participate in the venture but did not think I had the time to write something fresh due to another story commitment I was working on at that time. As luck would have it I had an unpublished short story, The Lady of the House, that was a little under the suggested word limit but I sent it in hoping it might be acceptable.
I fully approve of the three charities who benefit from The Little Shop of Murders which have been chosen as representative of the countries of the contributing writers. Hence The Children’s Reading Foundation – https://www.readingfoundation.org/ (USA and Canada), Ronald McDonald House Ireland – https://rmhc.ie/ and Read for Good – https://readforgood.org/ (UK).
As a child my favourite books were the Three Investigators. I still have my near complete set of 30 or so books and remember how heartbroken I was when I accidentally dropped one (a hardback copy) and broke the spine. Even back then I loved my books and never dogeared the pages! I progressed to the mysteries of Agatha Christie (I recently read Crooked House which I understand was one of her own personal favourites), Dorothy L Sayers, plus the science fiction stories by John Wyndham (The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos etc). These days at the top of my reading list are Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis and the Inspector Montalbano books by Andrea Camilleri, in translation of course! Although I do admire those who are able to read books in a language that is not their mother tongue. With the restrictions of lockdown I think reading became very important for children unable to mix with their friends, and with restrictions on visitors in hospital, solitary activities came to the fore.
I had the idea for The Lady of the House as I was walking along on the way to visit my sister. I often use long walks as an opportunity to mull over plots and story ideas, and on passing various houses with For Sale boards outside I thought back to the time when I had sold my flat and as a woman living alone estate agents try and take advantage, thinking they will be a pushover for an easy sale, not realising that single women are often more astute than those who are part of a couple as they have to fend for themselves, pay all the bills and see to the upkeep etc with no-one to share any of the decisions. I remembered various estate agents who I had approached to sell my flat. One dashing handsome fellow was sent out to do the valuing and charm me into signing onto their books. He valued my property much lower than the other agents and, despite his beaming smile, he did not win me over.
Once I had the idea of writing about an unscrupulous estate agent getting his comeuppance in my head I then had to transfer it to paper when I returned home. As I often find happens, it turned out to be one of those stories that writes itself, although it did veer slightly in direction, and I wrote the first draft more or less in one sitting.
Thank you for sharing this with us, Flora, and good luck with The Little Shop of Murders, collected cozy mysteries.
Readers can learn more about Flora McGowan by visiting the author’s Amazon, Facebook, and Goodreads pages. Readers can also follow her on Instagram where she posts photographs of many of the places that feature in her stories, plus associated items such as Victorian mourning cloaks and the wedding dress that featured in her debut book Material Witness.
The book is available online at Amazon.
About Flora McGowan: Flora is the author of the Carrie and Keith Mysteries, novels and short stories. Her stories combine a mix of mystery with the mystical and supernatural, often with an historical element as well as a touch of humour and a dash of romance. Flora was born in Dorset and has spent most, but not all, of her life there, and many of her stories are based in this locale. Flora enjoys travelling, taking inspiration from the places she visits.
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