Another week has flown by – another week without transport here in the depths of rural Ireland. The insurance saga grinds on though I feel we are making some progress. The garage collected the car at stupid o’clock on Tuesday and checked it over. Not surprisingly it passed the NCT (the Irish MOT) and we had the precious certificate for the insurance company. Just one problem though – they demanded “physical proof” of the NCT, either a copy in the post or a fax. No, they said, they had no mailbox so a pdf was not possible. The nearest post box is about five kilometres away and who the hell still has a fax at home? So thank you to our lovely builder who drove into town especially to put it in the post. Now we wait – and hope. This is one aspect of normal service we really do need to resume.
We rely heavily on deliveries at present, for obvious reasons and Jacqui has been very pro-active in dealing with our current wave of unwanted and uninvited residents. It’s been much cooler these past weeks – just as well as the local farmers appear to be emptying their slurry tanks over the county in preparation for winter. We often do not open the windows which keeps out the smell and a lot of the flies. There are fewer insects now but it is still a relentless infestation. It will be better next year as we are rooting them out inside. We are also removing the main attractions in the garden including three Leylandii trees they love. We are less enthusiastic and intend to dig them out and replace them with something smaller and native. In the meantime we have a stunning range of products to combat the flies, horseflies, wasps and mosquitoes.
The biggest step forward this week was finally getting the gas boiler in and running. The gas tank was installed back in May and filled in June but we were still relying on the old oil boiler for hot water – which it refused to supply unless we were running the heating. Now we can turn on the tap and – presto, hot water! You really don’t know how happy that makes you unless you’ve had to rely on immersion heaters or slow warming tanks. We are just adapting to many different things here but this was one thing we could change. As far as we are concerned it comes under the heading “Quality of Life”. It also frees up a big area at the back of the Majestic for storage. Hopefully we will have a reliable water supply and heating for the winter. Almost normal service !
So on to developments on the writing front. This whole project has meant I’ve scarcely written anything for several years. I had packed away all the sources and reference books, notes and pictures along with my trusty computer. There is an old Jewish saying (with thanks to Rabbi Blue). If you want to make God laugh then tell him your plans. In the absence of contact with readers, bookshops and libraries the plans I had drifted away. They became inconsequential next to the real-life drama we were living. When we moved into the house I discovered my lovely big writing desk was missing and we had no way to replace it. It seems a small thing in the whole big adventure but it was almost the last straw. Then I began this blog, just a few words every week but the discipline has been very good for me.
My writing corner is still small and crowded but we hope to locate another table soon – when we can drive again of course. I found some of the maps I’d marked up in a box and the original manuscripts for the first five novels too. Yes, there is a fifth book with the publishers and there are plans for the next year. Those of you who have followed this page since the beginning may remember I used to make a paper crane every day I wrote 1,000 words. My garlands were left behind in the studio but finally, this week, I made a start on Book Six of the Alex Hastings series. And so I have made my first Irish paper crane.
It has been a long and occasionally painful journey but gradually normal service is being resumed.
September sees the publication of “Smoke and Adders”, the fourth book in the Alex Hastings series. Like most of the titles, this is the result of some heavy thinking from the team at Impress and I would like to thank Davi for coming up with it.
Adders, I have to say, loomed large in my childhood which is strange considering I grew up on a new housing estate in Essex. Every day I would walk to school through the estate and along a path skirting a large field. The more interesting and shorter route was through a patch of woodland but I was forbidden to take this path as my mother, who was deadly afraid of snakes, was convinced it was swarming with adders just waiting to attack her first born. It is interesting to think no-one thought it odd a seven year old should walk to school and back alone then.
You know before I say it, don’t you? I loved the little wood and took that way home whenever I could. One warm June day I was scuffing through the twigs, hopping in and out of the shadows and I trod on an adder. Understandably it was upset by this and it promptly bit me on the ankle.
I was wearing Clark’s open-toed sandals, the sort with a strap around the heel, and the luckless reptile got one fang hooked in the leather. Terrified, I began to run dragging the adder with me. As I raced through the woods I could feel its body whipping from side to side, hitting the backs of my legs. Almost hysterical with fear I finally kicked out with my foot and the adder flew through the air and disappeared into a bush leaving me sobbing in the undergrowth.
On returning home my mother knew something had happened but I was more afraid of admitting I’d disobeyed her than I was of the snake bite. It was only when a neighbour, a wonderful nurse called Bronwyn Hellack, spotted the red marks running up my legs, I finally admitted to what had happened.
I was lucky – even though there were no cars on the estate at the time a party of dads got together and carried me into town where we caught a bus to the nearest hospital. The four hour wait for some anti-venom to arrive was extremely painful and I have always viewed snakes with extreme caution ever since.
So, adders – not mad marauding killers but still very dangerous and perfect for Alex’s last outing.
I hope you all enjoy it.
With the New Year come new plans and new ideas and the team at Impress Books have been working on the Alex Hastings series on my behalf. I’m trying to do my bit, writing the new book (which is as yet untitled). I’ve found myself juggling things a bit as “The Moth Man was, in fact, an “extra” to the series. Originally I planned four Alex books in total, three in Somerset and a fourth in the North East. The idea was to have each book cover one year but when I embarked on “The Drowners”, I found the meat of the book, the crime story, actually fitted a shorter time scale. Rather than try to drag it out to a year I decided I would keep it the length it seemed to fit best and started looking at how to rearrange the whole story (what my tutors called the “story arc”) so it flowed nicely from one year to the next. The result fills the gap between the winter of 1986 and the general election in June 1987. It also gave me a chance to explore more of the lives of my characters and to look at a whole new type of crime so I guess that’s all for the best.
After finishing “Moth Man” I took a bit of a break, planning and tapping away but not really working very hard at it. I was jerked out of my indolence at a friend’s wedding when the photographer, who was my friend’s father stopped at my table and asked, “Are you the writing lady?” Rather surprised I admitted I probably was – though there are a lot of other writing ladies he might have been mistaking me for. “Why don’t you hurry up and write the new book?” he asked before heading off to photograph the cake (which was a festival of Dr Who figures including a Dalek. I have some very interesting friends.) I had no idea he’d even read the books but over the next few weeks people rang me up and asked where they could get the next one, “for Christmas”. I had to admit they couldn’t. So here I am, doing my best to fulfill the advance orders for next Christmas. Hopefully book four will be out in September or thereabouts this year. And it is still set in Somerset.
As well as continuing to publish the series, the lovely folk at Impress Books have done a terrific job on the covers of the three novels. Keeping the original pictures, they have played with the colour balance (most noticeably for “The Drowners”) and now my name is above the title. Believe me, when you are an author this feels like a really big thing. Thank you Julie, Rachel and all involved for such a good job. And finally some exciting news. I will be recording “Death of the Elver Man” as an audio book, to be released free on YouTube as a serial in the summer. We are still working on the details but I will post dates and the web link closer to the time. So for all those of you who have stared in bewilderment as your Kindle reads “Death of the Elver Man” to you and wondered who on earth “Adder” is, I hope you will enjoy the audio version.
A happy new year to you all and I hope we will meet up sometime at a signing or reading.