Step Back in Time with Joseph Haydn

PRUSSIAN COUNTERPOINT BANNER 184

I’ve invited  Nupur Tustin to Ascroft, eh? to introduce us to her Joseph Haydn Mystery Series.

Welcome Nupur.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.

NT: Prussian Counterpoint is the third novel in the Joseph Haydn Mystery Series. Haydn was an eighteenth-century Austrian composer, a man who was the son of a wheelwright and a cook and who, in his own lifetime, achieved remarkable fame and wealth.

Prussian_cover_500x800_Final SmallFrom the very beginning, I knew I would be writing a historical mystery series. Although my tastes have since expanded to contemporary mystery and thriller writers—from Aaron and Charlotte Elkins to Jeffrey Deaver and Michael Connelly—at the time, seven years ago, I refused to read anything other than historical mysteries, and I was especially fond of Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen series and Susan Wittig Albert’s Beatrix Potter series.

Believe it or not, it was the author’s note in one of the Beatrix Potter mysteries that inspired the Joseph Haydn Series. Albert talks about the immense satisfaction she’d had researching Beatrix Potter’s life. I’d just come out of a Ph.D. program, and as a former journalist, research was something I was very comfortable with.

I was a new mother, confined to the house, unable to even sit at the piano for a little while because my baby had severe acid reflux disease and needed constant care. Researching a composer was my way of keeping in touch with music and planning a mystery series was a way of keeping my sanity intact.

Haydn faced a number of setbacks. His career as a singer was doomed when his voice broke and then he was thrown out of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where he was a choirboy, with just the shirt on his back. Yet he remained unfailingly optimistic. And years later, he still remembered the people who, poor themselves, had reached out to help him.

He was the perfect sleuth in so many ways: a man from the lower classes, but who as a respected musician enjoyed the confidence of the nobility; a person so grateful for the support he himself had received, he would never turn down a request for help. But more than that, he became my muse. The path of a writer isn’t easy, and every time I’ve faced a setback, I’ve turned to and received inspiration from Haydn—from the details of his life and from his attitude.

Even so, I never thought I’d get one novel written much less three!

Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?

NT: Researching Haydn also meant researching his times, in particular the political situation in Europe. Before I knew it, I was reading a biography of Maria Theresa, a woman I’ve come to greatly admire. It may seem strange to think of an Empress as a career woman, but in a sense that was what she was. We read about her juggling her need to be a mother and a wife—she was very much in love with her Francis—with her need to manage affairs of the state.

From the moment she ascended the throne in 1740, she was threatened from all sides—the biggest threat of all coming from Prussia where Frederick II, only a few years older than she, had been King for only a few months longer.

At the time that Frederick decided to march into Silesia—with no warning of his actions—Maria Theresa was heavily pregnant. Can you imagine being a few months from giving birth, having to learn at the young age of twenty-three how to govern with aged advisors and an empty treasury, and then having to contend with an invasion?

I was pregnant myself with my second child when I read about all this. My heart went out to the young Queen—Maria Theresa was Archduchess of Austria and Queen of Hungary at the time. The War of Austrian Succession lasted eight years and then only a few years later was followed by the Seven Years’ War. That lasted until 1763. And throughout that period, Maria Theresa continued to govern and to give birth. Her youngest, Antoine—Marie Antoinette—was born in November, 1755.

I knew I wanted to involve Haydn in a mystery that brought Maria Theresa into a confrontation with her old nemesis, Frederick of Prussia. At first, I thought it would be a short story. It took me some time to realize that the backdrop of their old enmity, of Austria’s marriage negotiations with France, were simply too large in scope to be explored fully in a story.

Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?

NT: In addition to the relationship between Maria Theresa and Frederick II, which I’ve discussed above, the novel also revolves around the partition of Poland. The chain of events that would lead to the first partition of Poland in 1772 began shortly after the Seven Years’ War ended in 1763.

Prussian Counterpoint is set in 1768, in the year that Russia forced the Polish Sejm, practically at gunpoint, to grant certain rights to religious minorities—Lutherans and those belonging to the Orthodox Christian Church. When two elderly Catholic Bishops protested, they were summarily arrested and the Polish King, placed on the throne by his former lover Catherine of Russia, did nothing.

Incensed, some of the Polish gentry organized a confederation at Bar to protest this. That, of course, led to Russia sending troops into Poland to crush the protest.

You have to understand that all this had more to do with Russian—and Prussian—control of Poland than it had with any concern for religious tolerance. Russia, in particular, was seeking a way of opening a route to the Black Sea. Peter the Great had managed to gain access to the Baltic Sea. Catherine was simply following in his footsteps.

But other than the political events taking place at the time, there’s also the idea of espionage. In the eighteenth century, women had a particular advantage in the field: they were invisible. As Nadine Akkerman points out in her excellent book Invisible Agents, women could in the guise of exchanging notes on domestic matters convey information of a more political nature.

And from artichoke juice to raw eggs, women had a number of excellent remedies for conveying messages concealed so well that no one realized a message even existed.

How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?

NT: For my historical figures, I read biographies, letters, any material I can get my hands on to get a sense of the personalities of the people I’m writing about. When it comes to characters like Rosalie and Greta, maids at the Esterházy Palace where Haydn is employed as Kapellmeister, Director of Music, they develop more organically through the scenes that I write.

I don’t feel that I create any of my fictional characters. I feel that they already exist. My job is to see them and portray them clearly enough to convey their personality to my readers. I’ve found that my characters won’t work with me if I try to make them into something they’re not. So I try to see them in my mind’s eye as closely as I can and to listen to their words very carefully.

How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?

NT: In the same way that I do my characters—by immersing myself in descriptions of locations in the eighteenth century. I pore over maps, look to see what streets existed and what they were called at the time that my novels are set.

Finding this type of information is exactly like working a case. Everything isn’t neatly available all in one place. Sometimes, one has to go about finding what one needs in a roundabout fashion. If I need to know what eighteenth-century Vienna was like, I might find more information in the biographies of Mozart than in any biography of Haydn.

I’ve mentioned sleigh rides in Prussian Counterpoint. I’d never even known the Viennese enjoyed sleigh races until I read Stefan Zweig’s biography of Marie Antoinette. I followed up on that information by writing to people in Vienna.

When all else fails, I follow Catriona McPherson’s excellent advice: I make stuff up. I remind myself I’m writing historical fiction not fact, take a huge gulp of wine to assuage my guilt, and set to work.

I’m joking about the wine. But yes, if all of my research efforts have failed to yield any clues, I do the best I can with the information I have. I can’t say it makes me happy to do that. But sometimes one doesn’t have a choice.

Unfortunately eighteenth-century individuals seem to have taken much of their lives for granted and have sadly failed to record every aspect of it as meticulously as the contemporary writer of historical mysteries might wish.

I try to remember that when I write in my own journal, but it’s so hard to predict what someone in the future might or might not be familiar with that I can’t say I blame my predecessors for not being so very precise. I sometimes wonder how much of twenty-first century life people centuries later will be able to infer from our written accounts. And how accurate will they be?

What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?

NT: The best research one can do is to immerse oneself in biographies of people who lived in the times and in the places where one’s work is set. Letters and diaries and sometimes just the oddest of books can have nuggets of valuable information. You always have to be on the lookout for interesting books and sources of information.

But when I’m at my wits’ end, and I feel like I’ve turned every stone to no avail, I turn, as I always do, to the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek or the Austrian National Library.

Or I turn to academic experts in the field. Whether it’s espionage or authenticating works of music, funeral rites or Monteverdi, one can always find scholars who are more than willing to share their expertise.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?

NT: I think readers will enjoy seeing Haydn pitting his wits against the Prussian King. But if they’d like to see how the son of a market-judge solves other smaller cases in his town, they’re welcome to get a complimentary taste of his sleuthing skills from: http://bit.ly/Haydn_Taste_of_Murder

I’m offering three short mysteries there, which I’m sure readers will enjoy.

Thank you for answering my questions, Nupur, and good luck with your latest book in the series. Readers can learn more about Nupur by visiting her website, and her Facebook, Goodreads and Bookbub pages.

Prussian Counterpoint is available on Amazon, Kobo, Nook and Apple.

NT headshot_originalAbout Nupur Tustin: A former journalist, Nupur relies upon a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate fictional mayhem.  The Haydn mysteries are a result of her life-long passion for classical music and its history. Childhood piano lessons and a 1903 Weber Upright share equal blame for her original compositions, available on ntustin.musicaneo.com.

Her writing includes work for Reuters and CNBC, short stories and freelance articles, and research published in peer-reviewed academic journals. She lives in Southern California with her husband, three rambunctious children, and a pit bull.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized, Archives, March 2019 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Step into the Maggie O’Malley Mysteries

AS DIRECTED BANNER 184

Today I’ve invited Kathleen Valenti to Ascroft, eh? as part of her Great Escapes virtual book tour to tell us about her new mystery, As Directed.

Welcome Kathleen. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.

KV: AS DIRECTED is the third book in the Maggie O’Malley Mystery Series.

AsDirected cover front REVIn it, former pharmaceutical researcher Maggie O’Malley is rebuilding her life, trading test tubes for pill bottles as she embarks on a new career at the corner drugstore. But as she spreads her wings, things begin to go terribly wrong. A customer falls ill in the store. Followed by another. And then more. The spectre of poisoning arises, conjuring old grudges, past sins, buried secrets and new suspicions from which no one is immune. As Maggie and her best friend Constantine begin to investigate, they discover that some of the deadliest doses come from the most unexpected places.

The series features books in the “traditional” mystery style with a medical angle. The books offer up suspense, intrigue and plenty of witty dialogue.

Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?

KV: The book’s central mystery surrounds customers becoming ill at the pharmacy at which Maggie works. The idea is based both around the Tylenol murders of the 1980s and Maggie’s new role as a pharmacy tech. Add in the fact that Maggie is recovering from a head injury and isn’t quite herself, and there are questions aplenty!

Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?

KV: At its heart, AS DIRECTED is about trust. This trust applies not only to the faith we put in others, but also the belief we have in ourselves.

This theme was important to Maggie’s growth as a character. She begins the series as a twenty-something on the brink of a new career. By the time the events in AS DIRECTED get under way, her world has crumbled, her confidence has eroded, and her trust in others (and herself) has diminished. Like us all, Maggie grows and changes in the crucible of life.

How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?

KV: In many ways, my characters come to me fully formed. They’re like the people in our lives: wonderful, flawed, heroic and broken. Although Maggie is the series’ eponymous protagonist, my favorite character is Constantine. I love him for his goofiness, his loyalty, and his ability to lighten the mood.

How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?

KV: The places that I write about in this series are fictional, but I infuse a lot of detail into the story so that they truly come to life. That means describing in broad brushstrokes as well as finer details to make these locations seem as real as your own hometown.

What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?

KV: Because I write medical-ish mysteries, I do a TON of research. Most of it begins online, but I’m fortunate enough to have friends who are pharmacists, physicians, and in pharmaceutical development to keep me on the straight and narrow.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?

KV: This is a book I’m particularly proud of. I love its combination of action, suspense, and humor and was delighted to receive this lovely quote from Liv Constantine, international best-seller of The Last Mrs. Parrish:

“A chilling game of cat and mouse that moves with lightning speed and stunning twists. Lies, secrets and evil spin a deadly web in this gripping tale of malice and deceit.”

Thanks Kathleen for dropping by today. Good luck with your latest book in the Maggie O’Malley Mystery Series.

Readers can learn more about Kathleen by visiting her website, as well as her Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter pages.

The book is available at the following online retailers:

Amazon Barnes & Noble  iTunes  Kobo

kvpromoshotAbout Kathleen Valenti: Kathleen is the author of the Maggie O’Malley Mystery Series, which includes her Agatha- and Lefty-nominated debut novel, Protocol. When Kathleen isn’t writing page-turning mysteries that combine humor and suspense, she works as a nationally award-winning advertising copywriter. She lives in Oregon with her family where she pretends to enjoy running.

Posted in March 2019, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Cyanide with Christie

I’ve invited Katherine Bolger Hyde to drop in today and tell us a bit about Cyanide with Christie and her Crime with the Classics series.

Welcome Katherine. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.

Cyanide coverKBH: Cyanide with Christie is the third book in the Crime with the Classics series. The protagonist, Emily Cavanaugh, is a retired literature professor who solves crimes by relating them to her favorite classic novels. Each book focuses on a different classic author.

In Cyanide with Christie, Emily has finished remodelling the Victorian mansion she inherited in the first book, Arsenic with Austen, to turn it into a writers’ retreat center, and she’s welcoming her first group of guests for Christmas week. But several of those guests turn out to have history with each other, and in the middle of a game of charades on Christmas Day, one of them ends up dead.

Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?

KBH: For this series, I always start by thinking about the author I’m focusing on. What kind of themes does the author address? What sort of characters does she portray? What recognizable elements can I play off of that will help readers relate to the story?

With Agatha Christie, since she’s a mystery writer with a huge oeuvre, I had a lot to play with. I used one of her typical settings—a country house cut off from the world by bad weather—and her favorite weapon, cyanide. I made the characters a little outrageous and sprinkled in a fair bit of humor. Also, the plot hinges on one of her most common tropes—but I won’t say which, because that would be telling.

Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?

KBH: One theme is the importance of family. Emily has none living, and she feels a deep sense of bereavement because of it. Choosing that theme was primarily a way to get Emily emotionally involved in the story, since the victim is someone she’s only just met and heartily dislikes.

How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?

KBH: I’m very fond of my main characters—Emily; her partner in life and detection, Lieutenant Sheriff Luke Richards; and her young housekeeper, Katie. Emily is a lot like me, though certainly not an exact portrait, and Luke is partly based on someone I used to know. I’m also quite partial to a character who dies before the beginning of the series—Emily’s great aunt Beatrice, who owes a lot to my own great aunt Gladys. The other characters in the series are completely imagined, but I don’t do detailed personality sketches or anything beforehand; I get to know the characters as they appear on the page. I always feel they exist independently of me, out in the ether, just waiting for my keyboard to bring them to life.

How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?

KBH: Description is one of my favorite things to write. I don’t dwell on it but weave it in with the action. In describing settings, I always try to view them through the lens of the character’s emotions and reactions rather than just writing a travelogue. Then I look for sensory details that will evoke a feeling of the place in the reader. This series is set in a small town on the Oregon coast, and people familiar with the locale have consistently told me I capture it well.

What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?

KBH: My “research” consists primarily of spending a week every summer at a writing retreat in the town my fictional town is based on. It’s quite a pleasant way to do research! Then of course I have to read up on the works of the classic author the book is focused on, which is also something I love to do anyway. For particular details about weapons, police procedure, and whatnot, I either search the internet or reference books or consult knowledgeable acquaintances. My chemist husband has proved helpful on numerous occasions.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?

KBH: If you’re not familiar with the series, feel free to dive right in with Cyanide with Christie. You’ll get more background on the characters if you start with the first two books, Arsenic with Austen and Bloodstains with Brontë, but you won’t feel lost if you read the books out of order. Pull your easy chair up to the fire, pour yourself a big cup of cocoa or tea, and have a lovely time in transplanted Christie-land!

Thank you, Katherine, for your informative answers which you presented in an entertaining manner. I feel like I’ve met your main characters and would like to get to know them better.

Readers can learn more about Katherine and her writing by visiting her website, and her Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter pages. Cyanide with Christie and the other books in the series can be found on her Amazon author page.

Cyanide author imageAbout Katherine Bolger Hyde: Katherine was born almost in New York City in 1956 and has lived all over the US, but currently makes her home in the redwood country of California with her husband, youngest child, and two obstreperous cats. She decided at age eleven to become a writer, her initial idols being Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott. In college she majored in Russian literature and expanded her favorites to include Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Austen, Dickens, and many more.Katherine writes the Crime with the Classics traditional mystery series for adults as well as fantasy and picture books for children. When not writing, reading, or editing (her day job), she can usually be found singing, dancing, knitting, or drawing plans for her dream house.

 

Posted in February 2019, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to Moss Hill Island

HERBS AND HOMICIDES BANNER 184

I’d like to welcome Astoria Wright, the author of The Faerie Apothecary Mysteries to Ascroft, eh? so that she can introduce us to Moss Hill Island where the series is set.

Welcome Astoria. We’d love to hear about the island.

AW: Hello Dianne and thanks for inviting me to stop by. I’ll let Carissa Shae, the protagonist of The Faerie Apothecary Mysteries, tell us about her hometown, the fictional island of Moss Hill:

Moss Hill IslandMoss Hill is not your typical town. An island off the western shores of the United Kingdom, right near the Great Blasket, it’s a stunning sight when it’s visible and has easy access from Ireland when it’s accessible by ferry boat. The island is covered in mist, but it all becomes clear the closer you are to it. You’ve also probably never heard of us because the islands around us are either abandoned or too small to hold a community like ours.

Not that we’re a big city. We’re a fairly small society of farmers, fishermen, and shop owners. I, myself, run an apothecary. It’s a type of pharmacy that focuses on herbal remedies. Sure, there are regular pharmacies everywhere, but none of them have that magical touch we have here at the Seelie Tree Apothecary shop. Many intriguing characters visit the apothecary from all over the island.

The view from the shop windows might seem like it’s just a quaint cobblestone road, but there’s so much more to Moss Hill than meets the eye. With rolling hills and greenery set between two mountains, it’s positively picturesque.

HerbsandHomicide coverIf you want to see the whole town in one glance, the view is breathtaking from the top of Mount Aisling. Just don’t go into Mount Vale. The hiking trails there are a bit dangerous, and visitors often lose their way on the treacherous trails. It’s best to avoid that mountain, but you can still appreciate the view. The sight of it is otherworldly even from a distance. 

Once within the town itself, you’ll get a feel of the friendliness of Moss Hill in every shop you visit. Right next door to the Seelie Tree Apothecary is the best bakery in town, Gooseberry, which many shop owners and city hall workers frequent.  If you really want to get to know the locals, who call themselves Mossies, visit the 2nd Street Pub. Mossies love to hang out there enjoying the entrees and ocean views. Get a discount at either establishment when purchasing an herbal remedy of your choice.*

You may meet locals who seem odd – that’s just part of the charm of a small town. You’ll notice some exceptionally tall and remarkably short residents. There are some who speak with accents you’ve never heard and others with accents of all kinds. Then there are the one or two who will be too friendly, too grumpy, or too strange to tell what they’re all about. Mossies can seem mysterious. Don’t read too much into it or you’ll start to think this town is a magical place.

Of course, I can’t say that Moss Hill is magical, but I can tell you that it’s enchanting. So, come stay for a visit. Pop into the pub for a chat with the locals. Stay in the charming Failté Abhaile Hotel. Have some pastries at Gooseberry and, of course, stop by the Seelie Tree Apothecary shop for a visit that is as healthy as it is a happy one!

*This offer is fictional. See book for details.

Thanks Astoria and Carissa for letting readers have a glimpse into your world. Astoria is currently on a Great Escapes cozy mystery book tour with Herbs and Homicide, the first book in the series.

Readers can learn about the rest of the stops on the tour and also enter a contest to win one of two signed copies of the book by visiting her book tour page:  

https://www.escapewithdollycas.com/great-escapes-virtual-book-tours/upcoming-great-escapes-book-tours/herbs-and-homicide-the-faerie-apothecary-cozy-mystery-by-astoria-wright/

To learn more about the author and her books, visit her website, and her Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter pages. Herbs and Homicide is available on Amazon.

astoriawrightAbout Astoria Wright: Astoria is the author of The Faerie Apothecary Mysteries, including the bestselling prequel novella Chaos in the Countryside. Intrigued by myths and inspired by cozy mystery writers before her, Astoria tries to combine two worlds with human and faerie neighbors trying to solve puzzling crimes on the fictional island of Moss Hill. She’s also a poet, which shows in the Moss Hill poetry anthology “written” by the characters in the series. Her goal is to bring Moss Hill to life in her stories, because who doesn’t wish we lived in a town with magical faeries as neighbors?

 

Posted in February 2019, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Burns Night and here’s my wish for you

burns night piper

We’re already well into the first month of 2019. I hope you enjoyed the holiday season last month and have had time to recover by now. After a relaxing Christmas season I’m hard at work revising and editing Out of Options, my prequel novella in the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series, so that it will be ready to release this spring.

thistle-3498683_1920If you’ve read the first book in the series, A Timeless Celebration, you’ll know that the series is set in Fenwater, a small town in rural Ontario that has a strong connection with its Scottish heritage. Since things Scottish will frequently play a part in the stories in the series, I thought it would be apt to take a couple minutes today to mark Burns Night, an occasion that is celebrated in Scotland and in Scottish communities worldwide. Burns Night is a night to honour the Scottish national poet, Robert Burns, and to celebrate all things Scottish – sort of like St Patrick’s Day without the green beer if you have Scottish ancestry. If you haven’t encountered Burns Night before and you’d like to learn more about it, you’ll find a brief history here.

old woman transparentLois Stone, the main character in the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series, has Scottish ancestry that she doesn’t really want to talk about and she plays the bagpipes. So, although I haven’t asked her, I’m sure she’s at a Burns Night celebration today. Maybe she’s even the piper who is piping in the haggis. She’ll be wearing tartan and surrounded by friends and neighbours as they toast the haggis and Burns’ memory. I think she deserves an evening to enjoy herself after the turbulent introduction she had to Fenwater last year in A Timeless Celebration. When the second book in the series is released later this year, we’ll drop in on her again and find out how she’s settling into her new home.

But today I’d like to wish you my personal version of a Scottish blessing ’cause nothing beats family and friends, and enough books to fill your head and heart.

burns night cottage

Posted in January 2019, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Warm Wishes and A Tale for the Holidays

christmas-blog 2The day after tomorrow is Christmas Day. For most of us, when we think of Christmas, lots of familiar images flood our minds: the crunch of boots on snow, festooned Christmas trees, a roaring fire in the hearth, the scent of pine drifting through the house, dancing lights strung around windows, the tangy scent of cinnamon and cloves, the sweet scent of buttered popcorn,  colourful ornaments glinting on the tree, the smell of turkey roasting in the oven, Christmas songs playing in every shop you enter. The list could go on and on.

christmas-blog 7Many of the images I mentioned have traditions associated with them: some families cut down their own Christmas tree, decorations are often hung on a certain date, children string popcorn onto threads to create garlands to decorate the tree, turkey is served for Christmas lunch. Some traditions are part of the celebrations of whole communities and countries, and others are ones that have become tradition to a family because they have done it like that for years.

The images we hold in our minds of a traditional Christmas are often linked to memories of our own Christmases past. And memories are an important part of the holiday season.

When I first arrived in Britain almost thirty years ago and encountered the apple cider that is served in pubs, it sparked my memories of the non-alcoholic version of the drink that I enjoyed during my teenage winters and Christmases in Canada. A few years ago I wrote about these memories for Foreign Flavours, an anthology of writings by ex-pat writers around the world, and I shared the piece with listeners at Woolly Winter Tales, an evening in Enniskillen Castle Museum last week.

As my contribution to the warm glow of Christmas, I’d like to share the memory with you today:

“Cider, with a dash of blackcurrent, has been an intrinsic part of many evenings I’ve spent at folk clubs and Irish music sessions since I first came to Ireland almost thirty years ago. It’s always been one of my favourite drinks. Sometimes the next morning, a pounding head makes me rue indulging, but I still wouldn’t refuse a glass of cider as I sit in a pub, tapping my foot to the music.

When I first arrived in Ireland I was surprised to find cider on tap in the pub. I had only encountered the unfermented, non-alcoholic variety as I was growing up in Canada. Its taste might make your lips pucker but it doesn’t make your head buzz after a few glasses.

sleigh-ride-549727_1920During my teens, a winter tradition for our youth group was Hayride Saturday in Ontario’s farmland. When we arrived at the farm, less than an hour’s drive outside Toronto, we city kids thought we were miles from civilisation. Wrapped up in coats, hats and mittens we bundled onto a large, flatbed wagon piled high with hay. We wriggled into the hay for warmth, the girls covertly trying to edge in beside the boys we fancied. The wagon would lurch off down the country road, pulled by a pair of shaggy draught horses, as we squealed and clutched the edges of the creaking vehicle. Invariably the boys would roughhouse, pushing and shoving each other, until at least one of them tumbled off. We’d shout encouragement as the man overboard ran to catch up with the wagon. The horses lumbered along the frosty road at an easy pace so there was never any danger that he would be left behind.

christmas-blog 12By the time we arrived back at the farmyard, we were hoarse from shouting and laughing, and shivering with cold, our noses glowing like Rudolph’s. Laughing, we’d hop off the wagon and troop into the barn where refreshments were laid out on a long wooden table. A hotdog stopped my stomach rumbling, but a cup of steaming apple cider was the real treat. I would wrap my chilled hands around the cup and inhale the scents of cinnamon, orange rinds and cloves before I took my first sip. Nothing could beat its sweet, tangy taste. Armed with my liquid hand warmer, I’d wander outside to huddle at the bonfire that was lit as darkness fell. Sitting on a bale of hay with sparks from the fire popping and floating past me, blowing wood smoke through my hair, I thought that this was country life. Nowadays I’m more familiar with real country life. I pitch in when we make hay on our farm each summer, gathering the bales together to be lifted and brought into the byre, and feed cattle in winter, lifting sections of hay and throwing them into the feeder while dodging the animals’ swinging heads.

But let’s get back to the apple cider. Hot apple cider was an integral part of winter and Christmas for me. There was always cider at skating parties, sleigh rides, and Christmas festivities. During my youth as the cold weather set in, wherever there were family, friends and fun, there was also hot apple cider.

On a visit home several years ago, I was delighted to discover that the drink is now on the menu at Tim Horton Donut Shops. It was the middle of a muggy Toronto summer and daytime temperatures hovered around 30 degrees celcius but that didn’t deter me. Either early in the morning or in the evening as the sun was dipping toward the horizon, I would stroll to the local donut shop and order a hot cider. I savoured these treats as I knew I’d miss them when I returned to Ireland.

christmas-blog 3Then a few days before that holiday ended, I got a pleasant surprise when I discovered that you can now buy cartons of apple cider. All you need to add to the mixture is hot water. It isn’t quite the same as fresh cider but it’s the next best thing. So, before I left Toronto, I trooped off to the supermarket to buy a carton and packed as many of the individual sachets as I could into my backpack. Fortunately I wasn’t searched at the airport. If I had been, would they have believed that the white powdered substance I was carrying was nothing more sinister than cider mixtures?

Ever since that summer, each Christmas friends and family send me ‘care packages’ of cider sachets. I could survive without my fix of cider but I enjoy it. So, for a few weeks each winter, until the stash of sachets runs out, I sit with my husband in our living room in front of a roaring fire savouring my steaming brew and making new Christmas memories.”

So that’s a glimpse into my memories of Christmases past and present. I hope you also have fond memories of your Christmases past to cherish, and I wish you new, wonderful memories this holiday season.

Enjoy the holidays! Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Christmas-gift-3030279_1920

Posted in Archives, December 2018, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Gallivanting With Great Escapes Blog Tours

December is a busy time, isn’t it? There’s always so much to do, and this year it seems busier than usual to me. In between my Christmas preparations, I’ve been working on my novella, Out of Options, a prequel to A Timeless Celebration, and also creating novelty holiday designs for my Redbubble and Amazon Merch shops. And I’ve still found time to go gallivanting too!

Great Escapes TIMELESS-BANNER

Since December 7th I’ve been on a Great Escapes blog tour with my new cozy mystery, A Timeless Celebration. The tour has been filled with stops every day for spotlights, giveaways, reviews, excerpts and interviews with me and also Ribbons, one of the cats in the novel. It’s been a whirlwind of chatting and fun.

I’ve been sharing the tour stops on Facebook each day, but if you missed my posts, I’d like to share some of the highlights so far with you:

Timeless Titanic watchesOn December 8 I was invited to guest post at StoreyBook Reviews about where the idea came from for A Timeless Celebration. I’ll give you a clue: it’s partly related to the Titanic. https://storeybookreviews.com/2018/12/guest-post-giveaway-a-timeless-celebration/

The Book Decoder said in a review on December 9: “”The first thing I observed about the book was the writing. It is poetic and charming. I loved Ascroft’s storytelling style -unique and precise.”

https://thebookdecoder.com/2018/12/09/blog-tour-a-timeless-celebration-by-diane-ascroft/

I stopped at Mallory Heart’s Cozies on December 11 and in her review she said this about the novel: … it is a heartwarming delight with really well-developed characters and such a beautiful setting.”

https://malloryheartscozies.blogspot.com/2018/12/toura-timeless-celebration-by-dianne.html

My tour host, Lori, at Escape With Dollycas interviewed me on her blog on December 13 and, among a few other topics, we chatted about what drew me to write cozy mysteries, a few things people don’t know about me, and which of my characters is most like me.

https://www.escapewithdollycas.com/2018/12/13/specialguest-dianne-ascroft-author-of-a-timeless-celebration-century-cottage-cozy-mysteries-great-escapes-book-tour/

Fergus_along_St_Andrew_St_EOn December 15 I shared in a guest post with Terry Ambrose at Mysteries With Character why Fenwick is the perfect town for my cozy mysteries. https://terryambrose.com/2018/12/timeless-celebration/

On a wet Sunday afternoon (December 16), I was at Cozy Up With Kathy to chat about, among other topics, what is a century house, the Titanic, what’s in my pantry and which authors I would like to invite to dine with me.

https://cozyupwithkathy.blogspot.com/2018/12/a-timeless-celebration-interview.html

The Avid Reader had this to say in her review of the novel on December 17: “A Timeless Celebration is a laid-back cozy mystery set in a quaint small town and includes two cuddly felines, an unexpected apparition, a good friend, a century house and a timely theft.

https://bibliophileandavidreader.blogspot.com/2018/12/a-timeless-celebration-by-dianne.htm

So, as you can see, it’s been a busy couple of weeks, but I’m enjoying the tour. I enjoy stopping by various blogs to chat. The tour ends on December 20 but there’s still an interview with Ribbons, one of the cats in my novel, a recipe for hot apple cider, another author interview and chances to enter the tour giveaway during the last few days.

Stop by Escape With Dollycas for the rest of the tour schedule: https://www.escapewithdollycas.com/great-escapes-virtual-book-tours/books-currently-on-tour/a-timeless-celebration-century-cottage-cozy-mysteries-by-dianne-ascroft/

Timeless watch header

 

 

 

 

Posted in December 2018, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet the War King

Today I’d like to welcome Eric Schumacher to Ascroft, eh? Eric is here to tell us about his new novel, War King.

Welcome Eric. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

ES: First off – thanks so much for having me on your blog.

War King coverMy novel, War King, is the third novel in my series about the Norse king Hakon Haraldsson, or “Hakon the Good” as he is also known in history.

It is AD 954 and a tempest is brewing in the North. Twenty summers before, Hakon wrested Norway’s throne from his murderous brother, Erik Bloodaxe, but he failed to rid himself of Erik’s family. Now the sons of Erik have come to reclaim Erik’s realm and avenge the wrong done to their father and their kin.
They do not come alone. With them marches an army of sword-Danes sent by the Danish King, Harald Bluetooth, whose desire to expand his realm is as powerful as the lust for vengeance that pulses in the veins of Erik’s brood.
Like storm-driven waves, the opposing forces collide in War King, the action-packed sequel to the award-winning God’s Hammer and Raven’s Feast.

What prompted you to write about this historical event?

ES: This book and its predecessors are less about one event and more about the life and struggles of Hakon Haraldsson. While we don’t know all of the facts of Hakon’s life, we do know that even if marginally true, Hakon’s story is filled with challenges. The first two novels were about him fighting for and fighting to keep the throne of Viking Age Norway – a feat he takes on as a Christian teenager. His youth, his desire to remain Christian despite his people’s faith in the “old gods”, and his struggles to take the throne presented all sorts of conflicts about which to write.

In War King, we see Hakon as an older, wiser king whose kingdom is being besieged by his own family and by the Danish king, Harald Bluetooth. We know these events to be true, and I couldn’t wait to tell my version of how Hakon navigates those challenges. But lest you think it is all about conflict and strife, the novel includes some softer moments too.

How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

ES: Part of the problem with the early Viking Age is that there are few written sources. Those that exist sometimes contradict each other. As a writer, I had to take what few facts we know to be true and do my best to stick to those facts as guideposts for my main plot. To enrich the story or to fill in the gaps (and there were many!), I have included some scenes, some characters and some events that are fictional. I have done my best to make that fiction plausible, and have explained my reasoning in the historical notes at the end of the novel.

What research did you do for this book?

ES: A ton. I’ve read many of the translated older texts, histories and sagas from roughly that time period, and have devoured as many recent history books about Norwegians, Danes, and Anglo-Saxons as I can get my hands on. Five years of research went into the first two books of the series, and another year went into this most recent novel.

Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel? Which is more difficult to write? Which do you prefer to write and why?

ES: Hakon the Good is, of course, a real historical figure. I have also resurrected many of the characters we see mentioned in ancient texts as supporting characters for Hakon, such as Jarl Sigurd, Jarl Tore, Toralv the Strong, Egil Woolsark, and others. But, I have also created a few of my own characters to act as Hakon’s supporting cast.

I find writing about Hakon the most difficult but also the most rewarding because there is so little we know about him, yet I really want to make him believable and real and engaging. Doing that is hard, but it is an historical puzzle that I love solving. The supporting cast is a close second to Hakon in terms of enjoyment, solely because there are no constraints to their creation save for making them human. I can let my imagination run wild in creating them.

In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?

ES: For places, I mainly rely on my senses. When I am describing a hall or an outdoor setting, I refer to research and pictures, but I also think about things like the weather, the smells, the sounds, what one might see or hear in that place. I also try to couple that place with the person to whom that place belongs. For example, if the owner of a hall is slovenly, so too might his hall be disorderly or in disrepair.

For people, I do a write-up on them prior to embarking on my story. I don’t just describe them physically; I describe their personalities, their backstories, their idiosyncrasies, their relationships, their pressures, their word choices, and so forth.  The things that make them real and three-dimensional. I may not use all of these things in my writing, but it helps me form a clearer picture of who they are, and hence, what they might say or do.

There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?

ES: I have only ever written about a male main character, so that is hard for me to answer. That said, in each of my books I have a lead female supporting character, and I thoroughly enjoy writing about them too. I generally like strong characters, whether male or female. Not necessarily physically strong, but possessing an inner strength. Finding that in my characters is fun. I also enjoy how that inner strength emerges in the relationships between my characters. Usually, it presents a lot of interesting conflicts and avenues to explore.

Thanks for answering my questions, Eric, and good luck with War King, your latest novel in the series about the Norse king Hakon Haraldsson.

For more information about Eric, and his Hakon Sagas, visit his website. You can also connect with Eric on TwitterFacebookGoodreads, and AuthorsDB.

War King is available online at Amazon.

War King_Eric SchumacherAbout Eric Schumacher: Eric was born in Los Angeles in 1968 and currently resides in Santa Barbara, CA with his wife, two children and dog. He is the author of two historical fiction novels, God’s Hammer and its sequel, Raven’s Feast. Both tell the story of the first Christian king of Viking Norway, Hakon Haraldsson, and his struggles to gain and hold the High Seat of his realm.

Posted in Archives, October 2018 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to the rollicking world of Cass Claymore in Antiques and Alibis

Today I’d like to welcome Wendy H. Jones to Ascroft, eh? Wendy is here to tell us about her new crime novel, Antiques and Alibis.

Welcome Wendy. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

Antiques and AlibisWHJ: Antiques and Alibis is the first book in a brand-new humorous crime series set in Scotland. It is not a series, or indeed a book which takes itself seriously. The book description will give you a flavour of the general tone of the book and the series.

Cass Claymore, a red headed, motorbike riding, ex-ballerina inherits a Detective Agency, and accidentally employs an ex-con dwarf and an octogenarian. Hired by a client who should know better, Cass has no leads, no clue and a complete inability to solve a case. Still a girl needs to eat and her highbred client’s offering good money. Join her as, with bungling incompetence, she follows a trail littered with missing antique teddies, hapless crooks, a misplaced Lord of the Realm and dead bodies. Will Cass, and Scotland, survive?

One reviewer described it as ‘a fast-paced and zany read, packed with hilarious observations about people and life’.

What prompted you to write about this theme or topic?

WHJ: I’ve always enjoyed Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series and had a hankering to write books in a similar vein, set in Scotland. With less exploding cars, of course. We’d soon run out of cars if we got through them at that rate. I set out trying to think of the zaniest plot and characters I could come up with. I wanted the book to be completely different from my usual Tartan Noir Type Books. I also wanted the character of Cass Claymore to be completely different from Detective Inspector Shona McKenzie, the star of my DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries. This allowed me to let my imagination run wild.

How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?

WHJ: Following on from the previous answer I let my imagination run wild when it came to the characters. I jotted down all the mad traits I could put into one character and then went from there. I ended up with an ex-ballerina who rode a motorbike, knew nothing about being a detective and for some reason I just pictured her as red headed. Here red hair and Scottish background gives plenty of scope for her to be feisty and not suffer fools gladly. Thus, Cass Claymore was born. Due to the fact she doesn’t have an earthly clue what she’s doing, she needed an assistant. This needed to be someone who would be useful but not take over. This led to the idea of an ex-con. Before I’d fully worked it all out, in strolled Crammond McQuillan, Quill to his friends. A dapper, ex-con dwarf, he insisted he was joining me and staying.

I love all my characters, but have a particular soft spot for Cass, Quill, and Shona from my other series. They’ve all wormed their way into my affections and seem like real people to me. They’re family. I need to give a special shout out to Eagal, the hound from hell. Cass inherits him along with the agency. He’s more trouble than her clients.

Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?

WHJ: I have absolutely no clue. It is so zany it just rattles along and writes itself. All I can say is my mind is one weird place to be I started off with the idea of a missing antique teddy. Bear with me here (pun intended) it gets a lot wilder than that. At the beginning of the series Cass is bored, running out of money, and desperate for a case. The case of the missing teddy turns up, and she’s so desperate she takes it. This is the springboard for an adventure that takes her into situations she could never imagine.

How do you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?

WHJ: I know Dundee, and indeed Scotland, well so I’m able to describe the settings well. I do visit most of the locations I talk about, so I can get a feeling of the sight, sounds and smells of the area. With regards to characters, I ask them one hundred questions about themselves and use that to get to know them well. When I know someone that well they come to life as I write. Also, they add in their own little quirks, and will do things I hadn’t even thought of. The characters tend to take over and develop their own personalities as the book, or books, progress.

What research do you do to provide background information for the novel?

WHJ: For Antiques and Alibis, I visited Aberdeen and a number of Scottish Castles. I also had to research information about being a private detective, ballet and motorbikes. It’s a grand life when visiting castles, watching ballet on the stage and screen and riding on the back of a motorbike can be classed as work.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?

WHJ: This is a book which does not take itself seriously. It’s a mystery with liberal dollops of humour and a whirlwind plot. Reviewers say they barely drew breath as they settled in and joined the wild ride. If you like crime and humour, then this is the book for you. Readers also get a real flavour of Scotland, and a peek into the lives of the aristocracy.

Thanks for answering my questions, Wendy, and good luck with Antiques and Alibis, the first book in the Cass Claymore Investigates series.

For more information about Wendy, please visit her website. You can find Wendy on Facebook, Bookbub and Twitter (@WendyHJones).

Antiques and Alibis is available online on Amazon. Visit Wendy’s Amazon page for more information.

Author Photo Wendy H. JonesAbout Wendy H. Jones: Wendy is an award-winning Scottish Crime Writer who lives and sets her books in Dundee, Scotland. She is also an International Public Speaker talking about writing and marketing. Killer’s Crew, the first book in her DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries was the Winner of the Books Go Social Book of the Year 2017. The Dagger’s Curse, the first book in her Young Adult mystery series, was a finalist in the Woman Alive Magazine Readers Choice Award 2017. She has signed a publishing contract with Malcolm Down and Sarah Grace Publishing for the first book in a children’s picture book series, based on a true story about a little Buffalo in Scotland. The first, Bertie’s Great Escape will be released late October 2018. When she’s not writing, Wendy spends her time travelling the world. She is also President of the Scottish Association of Writers and co-founder of Crime at the Castle, a Scottish literary festival held at Glamis Castle Scotland.

Posted in Archives, August 2018 | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Digging into a Hiro Hattori mystery

Today I’d like to welcome Susan Spann to Ascroft, eh? Susan is here to tell us about her new novel, Trial on Mount Koya.

Welcome Susan. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

Trial Mt Koya coverSS: Although TRIAL ON MOUNT KOYA is the sixth Hiro Hattori mystery, it’s designed to stand alone, so readers don’t have to be familiar with Hiro and Father Mateo’s previous adventures to enjoy this book.

What prompted you to write about this historical event?

SS: TRIAL ON MOUNT KOYA is my love letter to Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE—a book I’ve loved since childhood—and also inspired by my love for Mount Kōya, a sacred peak that has been described as “the beating heart of Shingon Buddhism in Japan.”

I first traveled to Kōya three years ago, and knew the moment I set eyes on its thousand year-old temples, towering trees, and spectacular mountain vistas that I needed to take my characters—and readers—to visit this amazing place.

How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

SS: I strive for the greatest possible accuracy in my historical details. In the past, I’ve changed entire plots to avoid deviations from history, and whenever possible I try to weave historical events and historical figures into my novels—taking care to portray them as accurately as possible.

Each of my novels involves a mystery set against a different aspect of 16th century Japanese culture, in part because I love to explore (and share) the unique and exciting details of life in this special time and place. Like many readers, I love to feel immersed in a historical time and place, and I love it more when the details are correct—so I strive for accuracy in my novels, too.

What research did you do for this book?

SS: In addition to reading a dozen different books on everything from Shingon Buddhism to the history of Kōyasan, I made three trips to Kōya, where I stayed in thousand year-old temples, ate shojin ryori (Buddhist temple cuisine—a vegetarian style of cooking that’s also my favorite kind of food in Japan), and talked with Shingon priests. I also traveled to several other locations in Japan to look at statues and other original artistic representations of the Jusanbutsu—the Buddhist judges of the afterlife—to ensure that I had the details right.

Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel? Which is more difficult to write? Which to you prefer to write and why?

SS: Writing fictitious versions of real historical figures is a great responsibility—these people really lived, and I feel the burden of doing justice to their legacies and lives. It’s one thing to put words in the mouth of a character I created—I feel the weight of history, accuracy, and culture there as well, but if I give my detective a character flaw, I’m not misrepresenting who a person truly was.

On the other hand, it’s exciting to get to imagine how famous people like ninja commander Hattori Hanzō and Oda Nobunaga—a Japanese warlord who sought to become the shogun and rule Japan—might have acted, thought, and felt.

At the end of the day, I have yet to write a character that was easy, or that I didn’t love by the time the book was finished.

In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?

SS: When I research a place and time, I try to involve all five of my senses: On Kōyasan, I attended the fire ceremony and watched the flames transform the prayers written on wooden sticks into smoke that carried those prayers to heaven. I smelled the spicy incense and the wood smoke from the fire, heard the drums and chants, and felt the roughness of tatami mats beneath my knees. After the ceremony, I ate the food these priests have eaten for a thousand years—the sour pickled plums, the tofu made from savory sesame seeds instead of soy, and the roasted tea that lingers on the tongue. When writing my novels, I try to include as many sensory experiences as I can, to transport the readers to that time and place.

There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?

SS: Although my protagonists are both male (a necessary choice, because of the greater mobility offered to men of samurai rank in 16th century Japan) I love that I have the ability to include realistic but unexpected female characters in my novels—for example, Trial on Mount Koya includes a female samurai trained as a warrior (the Japanese term for these women is onna-bugeisha). Many readers don’t realize the wide range of activities women could engage in during this time in Japanese history—women were business owners, sake merchants, and moneylenders, as well as warriors. Even though such women were in the minority in many cases, they did exist, and I love to include them in my novels.

I strive to include a wide range of characters—male and female, old and young, from all social classes and all walks of life. Not only does it make the books more accurate, but I think it makes them more interesting too.

Thanks for answering my questions, Susan, and good luck with Trial on Mount Koya, your latest novel in the Hiro Hattori mystery series.

For more information about Susan, please visit her website. You can find Susan on Facebook and Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded the #PubLaw hashtag to provide legal and business information for writers.

Trial on Mount Koya is available from online retailers, including the following:

AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE | INDIEBOUND

Trial_Mt Koya_Susan SpannAbout Susan Spann: Susan is the award-winning author of the Hiro Hattori mystery novels, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. She began reading precociously and voraciously from her preschool days in Santa Monica, California, and as a child read everything from National Geographic to Agatha Christie.

A yearning to experience different cultures sent Susan to Tufts University in Boston, where she immersed herself in the history and culture of China and Japan. After earning an undergraduate degree in Asian Studies, Susan diverted to law school. She returned to California to practice law, where her continuing love of books has led her to specialize in intellectual property, business and publishing contracts. Her interest in Japanese history, martial arts, and mystery inspired her to write the Shinobi Mystery series featuring Hiro Hattori, a sixteenth-century ninja who brings murderers to justice with the help of Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit priest.

Susan is the 2015 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year, a former president of the Northern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime (National and Sacramento chapters), the Historical Novel Society, and the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She is represented by literary agent Sandra Bond of Bond Literary Agency.

When not writing or representing clients, Susan enjoys traditional archery, martial arts, photography, and hiking. She lives in Sacramento with her husband and two cats, and travels to Japan on a regular basis.

Posted in July 2018, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment