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

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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/

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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

Last Dance in Kabul

Today I’ve invited Ken Czech, author of Last Dance in Kabul to visit Ascroft, eh? to tell my readers a little about his forthcoming novel.

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

Tell us about your novel.

51WHrsbA5SL._AC_US218_KC: Thank you, Dianne, for inviting me. LAST DANCE IN KABUL is set in 1841 Afghanistan. When his superiors ignore his warnings of an impending Afghan insurrection, Reeve Waterton vows never to return to Kabul. But then the ex-army captain rescues strong-willed Sarah Kane from an ambush, and his plans for civilian life and self-preservation unravel around him. At first Reeve dislikes Sarah as much as she loathes him. It’s only after Reeve’s closest friend is brutally murdered and the Afghan tribes explode in revolt that he and Sarah discover their desperate need for each other.

Quite frankly, everything that could go wrong for the British goes badly wrong. Winter strikes early and heavy snows blanket the mountain passes outside of Kabul. Blizzards howl and temperatures plummet as tens of thousands of vengeful tribesmen gather to pounce on the retreating British force. Caught in that unfolding debacle, Reeve and Sarah must rely on their skills, courage, and new-found love just to survive.

What prompted you to write about this historical event?

KC: I came across a painting by W. A. Wollen titled “The Last Stand of the 44th Foot at Gandamack” while teaching 19th century European History at my university. That painting depicted a ragged, freezing group of British regulars surrounded by Afghan fighters among the rugged peaks of the Hindu Kush. It caught my imagination and I proceeded to dig deeper into the historical facts. What I discovered was the ineptitude of British leadership in Afghanistan that led to the massacre of 15,000 British and Indian soldiers and camp followers.

How closely did you stick to the historical facts?

KC: I followed the timeline of events unfolding in Kabul from autumn 1841 to January 1842 very closely. The actions of my main characters (Reeve Waterton and Sarah Kane) are woven throughout the fabric of the political and military issues arising in Afghanistan through that period.

What research did you do for this book?

KC: Two primary sources penned by survivors aided me immensely in incorporating eyewitness details into my story. Additionally, I consulted a number of secondary sources that described the events occurring in Afghanistan. William Dalrymple’s book “Return Of A King” was particularly helpful since in included rare Afghan primary accounts. My university loaned me maps that helped establish geography and topography. Several modern works concerning the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan revealed tribal relations that stretch back for centuries.

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

KC: I do indeed use a combination of invented characters and historic figures. For me, it’s more difficult to work with invented characters because you have to create a persona that reveals strengths and weaknesses, and hopefully shows the character’s growth as the story unfolds. Reeve Waterton and Sarah Kane are invented characters, as are several of Reeve’s men and Sarah’s fiancé. I also incorporated a number of historical figures such as the leadership core of the British and Afghan forces, as well as women and soldiers who were taken hostage and survived.

Which do you prefer to write and why?

KC:  My preference is to write my story so it revolves around the main characters. I choose a place and time where an historical event occurs, and then have my characters work their way through the dilemmas they face. It may sound strange, but as I write I find their decisions even surprise me. They have to face and overcome challenges, and do so in a way that is logical and believable. It’s my feeling that a writer wants their readers to root for the protagonists even though they may sometimes be angry at the characters’ deficiencies. I get closer to invented characters than to actual historical personalities where research has generally revealed their motivations and actions. For me, the historic figures provide links to the setting and conflict of a novel.

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?

KC: Read. Read. Read. By the time I finished LAST DANCE IN KABUL, I think I had consulted more than thirty books and atlases to re-create the sense of impending doom hanging over the British occupation force in Afghanistan. Making sure the terrain and weather conditions were correct was one part of the puzzle. Another part was studying paintings and illustrations that depicted costumes, accoutrements, landscapes, and even portraits to provide a real sense of time and place. Because part of my novel occurs during a savage winter, I used some of my own experiences with winter in my native Minnesota to make the scenes more realistic. Brrr!

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?

KC: An interesting question, Dianne. I think that as a male, I probably gravitate more toward writing from a male point of view. However, my first novel BEYOND THE RIVER OF SHAME featured main characters that were actual historical personalities. I tended to focus more on the female lead since she receives generally less attention than her male counterpart both in the books he wrote and in subsequent biographies. I wanted to re-create what she might have seen and experienced as the couple searched for the sources of the Nile River during the 1860s. In LAST DANCE IN KABUL, I wanted Sarah Kane to come across as a confidant and sometimes naïve woman striving against the strictures of early Victorian-era society. To me, it was especially important that Sarah emerge at the conclusion as a woman stretching her physical and emotional strengths to the limit to save the man she has come to love.

Thanks for answering my questions, Ken, and good luck with the launch of Last Dance in Kabul in early August.

Readers are invited to visit Ken’s website. You can also find him on FacebookAmazon and Goodreads.

The novel is available to pre-order on several online retailers websites:

AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE | INDIEBOUND

CzechAbout Ken Czech: Dr. Ken Czech is a retired history professor and an internationally recognized authority on the historical literature of exploration and sport. His passion, however, has turned to writing fiction. He and his wife Mary live in Central Minnesota on an abandoned granite quarry.

 

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

What Makes A Place Where You Want To Be?

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Over the past few weeks I’ve been telling readers a little about my new cozy mystery, A Timeless Celebration. Today I’d like to tell you a little about an important element that binds the story together: Fenwater’s sense of community.

Cozy mysteries are always set in a pleasing place for the reader to be. That’s part of what makes them ‘cozy’ and what readers expect from the genre. The setting needs to be appealing, not gritty. But it takes more than just the physical setting to make a place somewhere that readers want to be.

220px-Fergus_Ontario_St_Andrew_St_EDoesn’t it give you a boost when you walk down the street and you meet people you know? A friendly smile, as someone asks how you are, let’s you know they care and it makes you feel like you’re where you belong.

This friendship and caring, or community feeling, is something that never fails to amaze me whenever I experience it. When I lived in Toronto, Canada, a city of around 3 million people, after I left the few streets that comprised my own neighbourhood I never bumped into anyone I knew. I wouldn’t expect to walk down Yonge Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, and see a familiar face. So when I moved to Belfast, a city of half a million, almost three decades ago, I couldn’t get over how often I met people I knew when I was shopping in the city centre on a Saturday afternoon. And I liked the warm, happy feeling I got when I stopped to chat with them.

Farm distanceWhen I later moved west across Northern Ireland, to a farm several miles from the nearest village, I was again amazed and pleased to find that when I bumped into people I knew in the village and the nearby market town they always had time to stop for a chat. I soon knew much more about the families living on the surrounding farms than I ever did about my neighbours in Toronto.

As I was writing the first six stories in The Yankee Years, a WWII historical fiction series set in County Fermanagh not far from where I live, one of the things that was important to me was to convey this strong sense of community I had encountered as it captured the distinctive, welcoming atmosphere of the place, and provided the tone I wanted to create in the stories.

So, when I got the idea for a mystery series, one of the first things I needed was a setting for it. As I considered where I wanted that to be, my mind travelled back to Fergus, a small town in Ontario that I knew well. A couple weeks ago, I told you how the physical setting of the town appealed to me: it’s quaint and has a strong Scottish flavour to it.

Fergus_Grand_River_2013Spending time there with my mother when she lived in a local nursing home, I discovered the townspeople were friendly and welcoming. When I visited, I pushed my mother’s wheelchair along the peaceful banks of the Grand River, greeting other walkers we passed, and at a nearby diner where we ate lunch, the waitress always remembered my mother’s order. You quickly felt that you were welcome there, just as I later experienced in Northern Ireland. When I remembered the town’s atmosphere, I knew that it was the right setting for a cozy mystery and I set out to infuse the community feeling I experienced there into the fictional Fenwater so that readers will feel welcome there too.

A Timeless Celebration will be released this autumn. I hope you’ll read it and afterwards you can tell me whether I’ve successfully created a pleasing setting.

KS Offer ends timerA Timeless Celebration will happen this autumn because more than 70 readers pre-ordered copies of the novel through its Kickstarter campaign. I’m so grateful to them for doing that. Each of those readers will receive their copy a month before the novel is released on Amazon.

The Kickstarter campaign closes this coming Friday evening. If you would like to pre-order a copy, and have a chance to receive other rewards too, you still have a few days left to do so. You will get your copy before it’s released on Amazon.

Stop by the Kickstarter campaign page for all the detailshttps://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1073238739/a-timeless-celebration-a-century-cottage-cozy-myst

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Where Did The Idea Come From?

Although it’s more than a century since the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912, people are still fascinated by the tragedy and artefacts that have been recovered from the ship are prized. When I began toying with ideas for the plot of A Timeless Celebration, I did some background research about the town that inspired Fenwater, including online browsing through the collection of the local museum.

I was excited to stumble across a pocket watch that was labelled as a possession of a Titanic survivor. But I felt a quick let down when I read the detailed description of the item and discovered that the survivor had owned the watch later in life and it had not been aboard the ill-fated ship. The watch lost its significance for me. But, although this item did not have the historical significance I had hoped for, it got me thinking and the idea grew that an artefact from the Titanic should play a part in my novel.

My research revealed that since the Titanic’s resting place was discovered in 1985, several salvage operations have retrieved a huge number of artefacts from the seabed around the wreck. In fact, so much has been amassed that Guernsey’s Auctioneers & Brokers in New York, in a controversial auction, sold more than 5000 items estimated to be worth $190 million in a single lot in 2012. Included in the sale were watches, jewellery, clothing, a cook’s hat, binoculars, tableware and much more. The lack of light and air on the ocean floor as well as the fact that goods were made to be durable a century ago goes a long way to explain why so many of these items have survived in the depths of ocean for so long.

As well as items recovered by salvagers, personal items found on the bodies of victims also survive. First Class Lift Attendant Alfred King from Tyneside possessed a copy of a telegram from his uncle to his family telling them not to worry about Alfred as the ship was unsinkable. The telegram and other personal effects, including Alfred’s pipe, purse and watch were on his body when it was found.

Of the many types of items that have survived the shipwreck, I think one of the most poignant is the pocket watch, a personal item that was often engraved and spanned the social classes. They were recovered from many bodies, including wealthy businessman, John J Astor; second class passenger and Cornwall native John Chapman, who was travelling to America to start a new life with his bride, and third class passenger Mary Mangan from Addergoole parish, Ireland.

Pocket watches consist of many tiny components which can easily be damaged by rough use and the oil that greased the internal mechanism was prone to freeze at very low temperatures. So many of these watches stopped when their owners were thrown into the ocean as the ship sank. Their hands still displaying the time they stopped provide a chilling reminder of the tragedy.

After reading about some of the individual tragedies associated with these items, a pocket watch that had survived the sinking of the Titanic seemed the right choice for the artefact that would be central to my novel’s plot. It’s small and easy to conceal, which would make its theft practicable and it’s an item that has huge emotional significance. So an antique lady’s pocket watch became the starting point for A Timeless Celebration.

So far, from what I’ve told you, you know that the watch in the story has been stolen. Who did it or why? Well, you’ll have to read the novel for those answers. But the novel isn’t available yet. I’ve finished writing it and am ready to edit and print it – when I have raised the money to do so. Pre-ordering a copy of the novel, which you will receive before it’s released on Amazon, will help to make the book happen. Find out more: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1073238739/a-timeless-celebration-a-century-cottage-cozy-myst 

 

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

Explore Every Book and Cranny

Today I’ve invited Pamela Martin, mystery and thriller author, to visit Ascroft, eh? to tell us a bit about her writing and her latest series.

Welcome Pamela.

PM: Thank you for giving me the chance to introduce myself, along with Fay Lynn, Gayla, and Evangeline, the stars of my Every Book and Cranny mysteries.

My name is Pamela Martin, and I am a former schoolteacher. I taught multiple grades and subjects from first grade to seniors, ending in the middle and high school social studies.

The series is set in a small South Texas town. Sisters Fay Lynn and Gayla run a bookstore with a coffee shop; their best friend, Evangeline, operates an antique shop.

In All Trussed Up, the second book of the series (the first full-length novel), small-town drama catches them off-guard when the town’s mayor, a man everyone loves to hate, is murdered, and Evie ends up at the top of the suspect list. Someone takes exception to their snoop…to their investigation, and it looks like it might cost Fay Lynn everything – including her life.

People ask writers all the time, “Where do you get your ideas? How do you develop strong characters?” The second question is actually easier for me to answer, because they are all based in reality. Fay Lynn’s and Gayla’s bookstore and bistro come from my long-held thought that I’d love to do that some day. Gayla is a “feisty dame,” as she might have been described in days gone by. She and Evangeline are conglomerates of strong and yet gracious women I’ve had the privilege of knowing. And sometimes a character is a huge exaggeration of a real person or a person I’d like to meet in my own life.

Story ideas are a little harder to explain, because I don’t always know exactly where they come from. Many probably stitch together bits and pieces of news reports and other novels, I suspect. Generally, I start by choosing a victim and thinking of reasons someone might have had to hurt him or her.

Next, I choose a method of dispatching the victim; that way, as I determine the suspects I can make sure at least one of them is capable of carrying it out.

Finally, I pick the three or four reasons I liked best on the earlier list, and I create a suspect for each, deciding on a name, occupation, alibi, and secret for each. Then, the fun begins!

For this series, there is also a history connection that will help decide the weapon, motive, or other factors.

Finally, a word of advice to aspiring writers: There are two secrets you need to know – (1) read every day and (2) write every day. Reading helps you build vocabulary, and it helps you become familiar with writing styles. Writing daily is important because, quite simply, we get good at what we practice.

And, for those of you thinking, “I’d love to write, but I’m not good enough” – someone wiser than I am said, “If you’re good enough to enjoy doing it, you’re good enough to be doing it.”

Thanks for telling us about the Every Book and Cranny series and how you create your stories, Pamela, and good luck with the series.

Readers can find the books online. Click here for details: https://www.books2read.com/b/4jwlvd

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

Where did it begin?

It’s been a week since A Timeless Celebration’s Kickstarter campaign launched on World Book Day. The week has flown as I have contacted everyone I can think of to be sure they know that the campaign is underway. Thanks to those of you who have supported the campaign – since many people have pledged for their copy of the book anonymously I don’t know who you are to thank you personally – but I appreciate it.

Timeless final 2mgWe’re off to a good start one week into the campaign – we’ve received pledges to pre-order the book to bring the total up to  55% of the total goal. If readers continue to pledge to pre-order their copy of the book and the other rewards that I’m offering, we’ll meet the goal and I’ll be able to get A Timeless Celebration edited and out to readers.

In case you were wondering how A Timeless Celebration got started, let me tell you a bit about that. To my way of thinking, the setting of a story is just as important to a novel as the plot and characters are. So, last summer when memories of times I spent in Fergus, a small Canadian town a couple hours north of Toronto, kept popping up in my mind, I suddenly realised that it was the perfect place to set the new series I had been thinking about writing.

I first visited Fergus, Ontario in the early 1980s. At the beginning of August each year the Fergus Highland Games are held and I went to compete with the pipe band I belonged to. It was always an amazing day as the town’s Scottish heritage came to the fore. The air was filled with the sound of bagpipes and drums and there was a sea of tartan everywhere. At the beginning of this century, I became a regular visitor to the town and got to know it a bit better when my mother went to live in the local nursing home.

220px-Fergus_Ontario_St_Andrew_St_EI’ve always been impressed by the town’s distinctive character: it is proud of its Scottish cultural traditions and heritage and is also keen to preserve its Canadian architectural heritage. Walking along the residential streets in the evenings, under huge, mature oak and maple trees when I visit, I always admire the many beautiful, well-kept houses that are more than one hundred years old. These old houses are known as century houses. Some are brick and others stone; the ones I particularly admire are the stone houses, built from pink or gray granite, which was quarried locally. These granite houses remind me of the rows of gray stone houses I’ve seen curving along the long main thoroughfares in villages in Scotland and, although their architecture is very much part of the locentury stone house vector1cal Ontario region, they really add to the town’s Scottish flavour.

History has always fascinated me and I was so enchanted by these century houses that I took photographs of some of the really lovely ones. There was one style that particularly appealed to me: the Ontario Cottage. It was a traditional architectural style in the province of Ontario during the nineteenth century. The small rectangular houses are one and a half storeys high with large windows and a central gable above the front door. At the time they were built, Gothic architecture was in fashion and the gables were often adorned with this style’s intricate ornamentation. The houses are compact and functional as well as very attractive.

One day when I was out for a walk, I spotted one of these Ontario Cottages on a side street and fell in love with it. I don’t know the current owner or the house’s history but something about it just drew me to it. So I photographed it, as I had many other houses in the town, and when I looked at the photograph later I knew that was the house my character, Lois Stone would live in when she moved from the big city to a small town (you can see the house on the cover of the book). So the house and the town were the stepping off point for A Timeless Celebration. Once I knew where Lois would live, I created the other characters and the story.

If you would like a copy of the novel, would you help me make it a reality? Unless I receive pledges to pre-order the book that total the funding goal set, Kickstarter will not release any of the money to me after the campaign ends. You can find all the details here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1073238739/a-timeless-celebration-a-century-cottage-cozy-myst  

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