Saturday, 6 April 2013

Waiting for spring

I don't remember a colder Easter in this part of Germany. A long tiome ago, when the  children were small, we lived in Hanover and I remember a winter when we could not get the car out of the garage for two whole months because it was literally iced in. That year Easter was snowed in, too, and the climate there, though a relief after the stuffy climate in Düsseldorf, which exacerbated my sinus problems and gave me allergies, was much cooler than it had been in the most Western part of West Germany. Now there is no East or West, and the climate seems to have gone haywire too. 

Feeling sad because my old cat has tumours in her tummy that are probably cancerous and in any case inoperable, I have little motivation for creating art. As usual, when things get really tough emotionally (and otherwise), I fall back to writing, and since Nanowrimo does a sort of inbetween thing for writers hooked on writing books and stories, I decided to write a sequel to my Upper Grumpsfield saga. The first, very long book ("Friends for Life") really has to go onto Amazon Kindle now, and I'm going to try to do that this weekend. The third book is normal length (I hope between 50 and 70 thousand words). After considerable rewriting and revision, the second book ("Finch's Folly") grew from 50 000+ words to 64 000, which is average length for a whodunit, and is available as a Kindle download. I like the format of a bit of crime set where you would least expect it - though crime is certainly not rare (but often different) in the country. I'm considering moving publication to Lulu, but haven't yet taken that step. Maybe I will if and when I complete this new plot!

My biggest problem with the third book (working title "Miss Price hits the trail") is that I know the characters well, but anyone who doesn't needs more than just a reference to previous writings. Without wanting to put myself on a par with a highly professional writier, I noticed in the Botswana series by Alexander McCall Smith that the more sequels appeared with the dominant characters, the more repetition of previous books there was and had to be. OK if the book you have in your hand is your first experience of the series, but less amusing if you have read all the previous ones. Another thing that got me was the reprinting of those just mentioned books using different titles. Only by reading the synopses did I realize that the books were being revamped, probably as they needed a different format so as to be available for e-reader appliances. But new titles? I nearly wrote to Mr Smith on that, but I don't suppose it would make any difference (though my official surname is Jones). The writer is so prolific anyway......

It's now April 5th and I have about 5000 words written (I started 2 days ago) of the new novel. This time I was sensible and wrote a synopsis. I don't have to keep to it, but at least I have an idea where it's all going this time! Last time the synopsis was only in my head and that was fatal. 

The novel starts a bit hesitantly, but that can be corrected later. The main thing is to get started! I have included a synopsis at the start of each chapter so that I don't get disoriented.

You can read it here. I'll make a blog for it if I really get into writing it:



ONE - short intro. Gary phones Cleo about a corpse found on the common.

You might be forgiven for thinking a retired piano teacher and accompanist in her early seventies was not really suitable material for sleuthing. You might even be forgiven for thinking she is like many older women deprived of a true purpose in life now that career, children and as often as not marriage are over and done with. But Miss Dorothy Price would not forgive you for thinking she belonged in the darkest corner of life to vegetate until her life ended, abruptly or otherwise.
After the tragic end of her one-time colleague and good acquaintance Laura Finch (she could no longer bring herself to think of a person capable of such disgraceful duplicity as her friend), Miss Price had promised herself that she would concentrate on activities over which she still had control, such as the music for church events at St. Peter's Parish Church, a focal point in the village of Upper Grumpsfield, where she now lived in a cottage bought from her life-long savings. She had no need of extra diversions and would be the first to tell you that as long as her three volumes of Beethoven piano sonatas were waiting for her to play them, and pre-war movies teeming with gangsters and other shady characters were available for late night viewing, she would never endure the boredom that beset so many of her generation.  
Once established as a private investigator thanks to non-intervention by Chief Detective Gary Hurley, who had good reason to appreciate the unconventional methods of private detectives, Cleo Hartley, who had been thankful for Miss Price's assistance in matters concerning the late Laura Finch, did not think for one moment that Miss Price was now superfluous. On the contrary, an unassuming female of advancing age was ideal for investigations requiring subterfuge. Miss Price had a way of asking the right questions so that she merely appeared curious, whereas in reality she was registering everything, including any hesitation or embarrassment in a situation that would have led the average detective agent, such as Colin Peck, who was now on Cleo Hartley staff, to be dismissed summarily or come away knowing less than he had before.
Cleo Hartley occupied office premises in the High Street of Upper Grumpsfield, just a block away from the shop run by her almost-husband, Robert Jones, a dedicated family butcher.  Having encouraged Cleo to take up investigating work, he had subsequently tried to persuade her to give it up on the basis of it being too dangerous, and now, since Cleo had no intention of giving up that easily, was as supportive as he could be.
Cleo needed Dorothy Price. She herself was quite dark skinned. Though her father had been a life-long resident in the district and had bequeathed her the cottage she now shared with Robert Jones, she had inherited the relatively dark skin of her Afro-American mother and was therefore too memorable a sight to be able to investigate without being notices. Colin Peck and Dorothy Price were indispensable for the kind of routine work often needed. But Cleo was in charge. Colin didn't mind because his main purpose in life was to be a best-selling crime author so that treated his detective work as a kind of internship. And Miss Price was really quite a curious person, if the truth be known. Detecting, even on a small scale, was the most exciting thing she had ever done.
The morning Gary Hurley phoned Cleo in her office, she knew immediately that he must be desperate for support from an unofficial angle. He and Cleo got on well, which had made Robert jealous before he realised that they were not interested in having an affair. Gary was charming and quite fascinated by Cleo, but she only had eyes for Robert. In the end, their mutual lack of romantic interest made life easier for everyone.
Weeks had passed without contact with Middlethumpton police headquarters. Cleo had been busy with a couple of divorce cases, a few lost pets and the usual steam of people wanting free advice about this and that. As it would not have been good for business to drive away people who came to her with one problem, but probably had others that would needed investigating at some stage, she helped where she could. Free advice did not pay the rent, but it had led to several quite lucrative cases thanks to being recommended to sisters, brothers and neighbours of those she had been able to help in some way.
Now the days were getting shorter and there was more than just a hint of autumn in the air, people were becoming more reluctant to have their partners investigated. The season of good will was not far off, after all. The spate of discontented who had decided to put an end to their partnerships as a result of disastrous summer vacations had ended, but the dark evenings were making people feel unsafe from prowlers or burglars. While Cleo completed reports and installed a database to record her cases, Colin Peck was ready and willing to track down any unwelcome characters, but lamented that burglaries could normally only be investigated after they had happened and it was only rarely that the police didn't get in first. Burglars did not look like burglars and anyone could be a murderer, he had long since concluded. Or a victim, Cleo was bound to add.   
"Do you know a guy called Brent Burton?" Gary asked Cleo without wasting any time on niceties.
"He sounds like a film star and no, I've never heard of him," Cleo replied. "Should I have?"
"Just wondered. We found his corpse this morning."
"Where?"
"Upper Grumpsfield. On the common. He'd been feeding the ducks. He was still clutching a piece of bread when we got to him."
"But that doesn't mean he's a local, Gary." 
"You know that farm on the road to Lower Grumpsfield?"
"Weird people, I know that. Robert once tried to make a deal with them for some lamb, but they weren't interested. But they weren't called Burton, I'm sure."
"No. His address was on the back of his diary. We found it in his pocket. He lived in a big old barn behind the main buildings. Called it his paradise. Even had a sketch of it."
"Poor guy. At the mercy of that farmer. Kelly, I think the name is."
"That's right. He sounded cantankerous over the phone."
"I take it you haven't been there yet," Cleo said. She had a hunch that that was the reason Gary was phoning. "They know who I am," she told him.
"That's all right. They know you aren't police. And you're a woman. I don't think women are very high on Mr Kelly's list of favourite people. Old codgers like him see women as useful rather than desirable."
"I'll ignore that innuendo, Gary. What do you want me to do?"
"I didn't tell Kelly that Brent Burton is dead," said Gary.
"So you want me to take him the news?"
"Something on that line, and soon. The press won't be in the dark for long. It'll be all over the papers tomorrow."
"Wait a minute, Gary," protested Cleo. "I take it the Burton guy did not die a natural death."
"No. He was shot in the back."
"Am I to tell the Kelly family that?"
"No need. Only tell them he's dead if you can't get to the barn he was living in any other way."
"Don't you think you should go there yourselves?"
"All in good time. I'd like you to get an impression of the whole set-up before we start our investigations. We'll be close behind."
"Do you suspect Kelly?"
"We're waiting for ballistics to identify the weapon. That will take some hours as at least one bullet is locked in Burton's back."
"Can I take Dorothy Price along, Gary?"
"If you think she'll be useful."
"She might know the family history, or even be able to approach them better than I can."
"Could be."
"OK. I'll get onto it right away and report back later."
"Good girl. Thanks!"







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