To Do List

Me and the World Wide WebI looked at my website (www.carolynmccrae.com if you’re not already on it) this morning, for the first time in over a month. Not good.
My tweets have been more about the oak tree and hops growing on my balcony than my writing.
It’s more than six weeks since I published a blog and a lot longer than that since I updated the text with news about my books.
I really must get down to it.
I’ve so much to change…
And I really have no excuse. Except…
A Second Strand has taken up a lot of time and I can’t concentrate on anything until that is done.
I’m now a third of the way through the third ‘final’ read-through before it heads off to the editor. I’m spending far too long agonizing over whether a particular sentence conveys the meaning I want it to someone reading the book for the first (not the umpteenth) time.
Are there any plot holes? Is every character in the right place at the right time? Does any character know something before they are seen actually finding it out? Do conversations flow – or does someone answer their own question?
But, no. No more read-throughs. This is the last one.
If it’s not right now it never will be.
So on Tuesday the manuscript (well the Word document) will be winging its way to Troubador.
And then I can get on with doing all the other things connected with getting a book out into the wide, wide world (www):
Writing my Author Information document. Well editing it really, it’s only a year since the last one (for A Set of Lies)
Thinking what should be in the Press release.
Focusing on ideas for the cover image and blurb
Working out how to contact all those nice people who bought and read and let me know they enjoyed Her Parents’ Daughter (A Second Strand is another murder in Yarmouth) – and, of course, all my other titles.
Working out how to change my Facebook pages
And. Most importantly. Updating my website…….

 

Firsts and Lasts

In my first book, The Last Dance, Alicia Donaldson says that the last time a person does something is as significant as the first. But I have to argue that the first time you do anything is going to be more important for the simple reason that it is always possible to know when you are doing something for the first time but not necessarilyThe Last Dance Cover possible to recognise a ‘last time’ until it’s already in the past.
Usually a ‘first time’ can be anticipated. You know (admittedly not always exactly) when you are going to start at a new school or job, first exchange of bodily fluids with a new partner, move into your first home, get married, do a book-signing. The first time for all of these is important and is usually no surprise. You can plan for them – and worry.
Perhaps it’s an age thing but I have to admit to worrying about the less important ‘firsts’ to do with moving house for about the thirty-first time.
I put off for days driving up Crowther’s Hill in Dartmouth for the first time; I’ve had to master how and when to put the correct rubbish out for collection by South Hams District Council and tomorrow we must let The Lodger out. The poor cat has been stuck inside for more than two weeks and is getting stir crazy but I cannot help but dread that on that first ‘escape’ he will not find his way home.
Yes, many firsts are significant steps and are recognized as such.
But also, recently, I have done a lot of things for the last time; booking a return ferry from Yarmouth to Lymington, walking into The Wheatsheaf or The Kings Head to find our drinks already on the bar. But I didn’t worry about these things because I had done them before, they were familiar and anyway, were they necessarily the last times? Who can tell?
I know The Last Dance was my first published book but is A Set of Lies my ‘last’ or simply my ‘latest’?
Will A Second Strand (sequel to Her Parents’ Daughter) ever see the light of day?
Will there be others after that? Who can tell what the last will be?
So, Alicia, I have to disagree, first times are always more significant – and more difficult.

Being (or not being) a Local Author

Local AuthorIs there any advantage to being known as a ‘local author’?
On the one hand the description implies that this is not a well-known author of national or international renown. There is something quaintly parochial, patronizing and possibly even pathetic about having to try to appeal to potential purchasers because you all happen to live in the same vicinity.
On the other hand, for whatever reason, it is certainly easier to get bookshops, newsagents, corner shops and pubs (thank you Holdings, The Wheatsheaf and The King’s Head in Yarmouth) to stock books and to give you the opportunity to do signings (thank you Waterstones and The County Press Shop in Newport) if you have some kind of local connection.
But what is the attraction of reading books by an author who is ‘local’? Is it to support someone you may pass in the street, or sit next to in a pub, or queue up with in the Post Office? Or is it perhaps because if the author is ‘local’ then the subject matter may well be locally relevant too? Or is it that the places referred to(and, heaven forefend, people) will recognizable?
When I was writing my first book, The Last Dance, I lived near Sandwich in East Kent. That area didn’t feature at all in the book, instead it was based in The Wirral, Cheshire, where I was born and lived for the first twenty or so years of my life. I lived in Shropshire when I was writing the second which, although also based in the Wirral ventured as far afield as Cambridgeshire. I was still living in Shropshire when the third book Runaways was published. Also based on The Wirral large sections were located in Kent and Mumbai. My fourth book, Highly Unsuitable Girl, was also written whilst I lived in (a different part of) Shropshire and failed to feature anything to do with that county.
It was only when I became ‘local’ to The Isle of Wight that my books became primarily based in the area in which I lived. Her Parents’ Daughter, written in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, is the story of a murder in Yarmouth (as is A Second Strand – also written in Yarmouth).
The difficult book was A Set of Lies. The early drafts of this were written when I lived near Ludlow, Shropshire and the main characters lived, and the main settings were located, there. I then moved to the Isle of Wight and it was suggested by various people that the book should be based on the island. So the fourth, fifth and sixth drafts effected that change.
Since I started writing books that have been published I have moved house five times, lived in five different counties and so even when I have been ‘local’ it has only ever been for a short time.
I have now been ‘local’ on The Isle of Wight for three and a half years. This is a record. Perhaps it’s getting near time to think about moving on again.

Books write themselves

I’m now three weeksLibrary into writing my seventh novel. It will be called A Different Coast and it was planned to be the sequel to Her Parents’ Daughter – a Cold War inspired murder mystery set in Yarmouth – on the north west coast of the Isle of Wight. The first days were spent, unusually for me, planning out the plot from beginning to end. The Excel spreadsheet with the relevant time frame was set up so, that I don’t have the same character in two places at the same time – or indeed somewhere after they are dead – and the characters were decided upon. I reminded myself of the characteristics of ones from Her Parents’ Daughter and set out the main traits of the new ones.
I started writing the words just over a week ago (again monitoring words/pages/chapters on Excel – I love spreadsheets). Now approaching 16,000 words – and on Chapter 6 of a planned 30 – the bloody thing has got a mind of its own.
In between Her Parents’ Daughter and now I finished A Set of Lies, a book that had been in the planning and writing for 15 years which chronicled the investigations by Skye Lacey and Fergal Sheppard into what really happened to Napoleon Bonaparte after he had given himself up to the English in 1815.
Well into Chapter Three of A Different Coast Skye and Fergal appeared. I did not expect them and I had no idea they were going to make an appearance. It was not in my original ‘word sketch’. It just happened. Bu then, it is entirely logical; action in Her Parents’ Daughter began and ended in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, in 2015, much of the action in A Set of Lies was in West Wight between 2014 and 2015. It is entirely logical that the protagonists would have met and would become involved with each other.
Every conversation I begin to write now leads me in the direction the characters want, I feel that sometimes I have no say in it.
But it does make the writing exciting – I hope the reading will be as much fun.

Napoleon Joins the Saints

JamestownOn 15th October 1815 a crowd of curious St Helena islanders (saints) stood patiently on the quayside to welcome the famous captive to their island. The Northumberland had finally anchored off Jamestown after its long voyage from Plymouth. But the ‘Emperor’ did not set foot on dry land for a further two days as members of his entourage inspected Longwood, the house designated to be their home after a brief sojourn at the house of one Mr Henry Porteous in Jamestown.
It was only on the morning of the 17th that he was due to set foot, after over three months on board ships, on dry land. The wharf and landing stages were crowded as every inhabitant on the whole island, black and white, were eager to get set eyes on the illustrious prisoner-of-war. It was decided that, to avoid embarrassment, the prisoner would wait until nightfall by which time, it was hoped, the majority of the curious would have abandoned their wait. But even after dark  soldiers with fixed bayonets were required to force a way through the throng from the landing steps to Mr Porteous’s house.
On the 18th Napoleon inspected Longwood and many alterations and improvements were to be undertaken before he could take up residence.
Disliking the confines of Jamestown and the unceasing attention of the crowds, he transferred on the 19th October to the house of the Balcombe family where he stayed for two months after which time he finally took up residence in Longwood.
Or did he?
Of those on St Helena who had known Napoleon all would have laid down their lives for their Emperor and happily kept up the fiction of the true identity of the captive.
There were some who were in the pay of the English Secret Services and knew that the Emperor was safely in Dublin with Wellington’s spy-master, Bernard Lacey.
Most of those who came into contact with the captive, however, had never known the emperor and such was the training of the impersonator that no one guessed.
In A Set of Lies there is an alternate view of history and who the man really was who spent those two months happily living in the confines of the Balcombe’s small homestead.

 

October

October - James TissotOctober is a busy month for hatches, matches and despatches in A Set of Lies.
In October 1816 Sir Bernard Lacey (spymaster to the Duke of Wellington) married Constance Shaw, a marriage witnessed by his neighbour, the man now known as Claude Olivierre.
On 2 October 1882, Sir Bernard’s younger grandson, Sir Augustus Lacey, was murdered by cut throats in the back streets of London leaving his wife of little more than six weeks and his unborn son. Almost exactly 35 years later, 31 October 1917, that son (Sir Bertie) died after being hit by a car during an air raid in London.
On 21 October 1890 Sir Bernard’s youngest great grandson, Henry Lacey, was born. He lived a long life and played a critical role in preserving an important locket.
The last baronet of the Lacey line, Sir Arthur Lacey, Sir Bernard’s only great great grandson, was born 14 October 1935.
Confused? You won’t be when you read A Set of Lies.
As the history of the Lacey family unfolds the secret of the man they knew as Claude Olivierre is exposed.

 

Crossing the Equator

Crossing The EquatorIt seems a long time since HMS Northumberland and its accompanying squadron left Plymouth heading for Jamestown, St Helena yet it is only six weeks and the man previously known as Ennor Jolliffe is playing his role to perfection.
Treated as l’Empereur by the French contingent and as a respected General by the largely English crew everything he said and did was exactly as would be expected by the man who had recently been Emperor of the French.
His routine on board was fixed. He kept to his cabin throughout each morning, appearing on deck in uniform at two in the afternoon, retiring at four to the after cabin for a game of chess or piquet before repairing to his cabin to prepare for dinner – always served at six. There was little to break the monotony of the long voyage.
On 15th August, Napoleon’s birthday, a special dinner was held.
On 23rd August they took on fresh provisions in Funchal, Madeira but they did not stop at Tenerife (which they passed on 27th August) or the Cape Verde Islands (1st September).
A young woman travelling with his large entourage was encouraged to allow ‘the distinguished passenger’ to pass at least some of his time in female company and in June 1916 a baby was born whose paternity she never divulged.
On 23rd September the squadron crossed the Equator – in that year the Equinox – the event was celebrated in traditional form with offerings made to Neptune though ‘Napoleon’ played no part in the festivities.
They would not reach St Helena until 15th October.
The world was somewhat larger in those days….