My daughter asked me to find certain photographs for her recently. As I went though hundreds of photos (not the digital kind either!) in this large tea chest, that belonged my Mother, it was quite apparent that the numerous family day trips and vacations all had one common thread – nature and wildlife. We went to zoo’s, safari parks, wildlife parks, and even family walks ended up at farms or in fields and forests. This interest has been passed down from parent to child and grandchild. It is a family interest to this day.
My narratives reflect this fascination, even if a location is ‘off world’ there are always references to the natural inhabitants of that world. In Ockleberries to the Rescue, although there are magical woodland sprites caring for forest animals, it is based on Earth. Each chapter allows a child to learn about a specific animal or bird on Earth. These sketch’s by J.E. McKnight illustrate some of the chapter headers.
In Clickety Click there is a hidden world within our own and in Creature Hunt on Planet Toaria there are fantastical plants and animals of my imagination. The initial spark for the story behind Creature Hunt was a chance encounter with this enormous mullein plant on one of my road trips. As can see it was taller than me! You will have to read the book to find out what character it plays.
In The Twesome Loop, an Italian olive grove is a fundamental part of the story. Olive trees can grow for hundreds of years and their gnarly trunks give them character. The story is set between England and Italy, two places I love very much, having lived in one and visited the other.
I used my new found knowledge of my new home, Canada, for the setting of my novel, Life in Slake Patch, which has a prairie location. And The Commodore’s Gift has my protagonists living in a forest cavern, while I take my readers back to medieval England in The Rython Kingdom and Rython Legacy.
As you can see the settings for my stories are as much a character as the protagonists are. It allows my dear readers to imagine the surroundings and the flora and fauna. I personally love discovering the natural world, while letting nature relax and inspire me. There is always something new to learn and see from a bug to a bison, from a flower to a tree.
Inspiration can strike us at any time from a vast array of sources. An overheard conversation, a scenic view, an image or a news report – the list goes on and on. One of the most frustrating but rewarding is dreams. They are elusive a lot of the time but if we can capture them somehow, they can become the marvelous start to a story idea.
In my current steampunk novel, The Commodore’s Gift, the initial scene is actually a dream sequence I experienced. It is a cloaked figure propelling out of a high window. When I woke up, I immediately wrote down everything I could remember of the scene. It was an older mansion house, an older time period and the person falling was a young female wearing a cloak.
Writer Tip: Always keep a notebook and pen beside your bed.
Upon reflection of the dream, I was able to ascertain that the ‘place’ was actually very similar to my old school in England. Which was an Elizabethan mansion. When I was at school many of the rooms still had the original wooden paneling, large stone fireplaces and leaded-light windows. It is now a historic site and open to visitors. https://www.historichouses.org/houses/house-listing/shaw-house.html (images above)
As with most dreams their fleeting quality can make solidifying them difficult but with practice you can train yourself to remember them. A notebook is useful to have on hand but also try to keep within the dream for as long as you can before you become fully awake and your day starts.
Here are a few tips to try:
Write, “I can remember my dreams” on a sticky note, place it somewhere you’ll see it before you go to sleep, and read the note aloud.
Go to bed at a regular time.
Practice 20 minutes of mediation prior to sleep.
What dream(s) resulted in a story idea for you? Please share in the comments.
The origins of ‘Boxing Day’ are steeped in history and in my naivety, I assumed everyone had or knew of Boxing Day. Growing up in England my understanding was that it was an old tradition to open gifts the day after as Christmas Day was spent in church and then feasting.
The exact etymology of the term ‘boxing’ is unfortunately unclear and although there are several competing theories, none are definitive. Money and other gifts were traditionally given to the needy and to those in service positions, such as servants. The European tradition goes back to the Middle Ages but its exact origin is still unknown. There have also been claims that it dates back to the late Roman/early Christian era. It is known that metal boxes were placed outside churches to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen. In England it was the custom in the nineteen-century for Victorian tradesmen to collect their ‘Christmas boxes’ or gifts on the day after Christmas in return for good and reliable service throughout the year.
The name could also derive from another old English tradition, where wealthy landowners would allow their servants to have the 26th off work to visit their families in return for a smoothly run Christmas Day feast. Each servant was given a box containing gifts and bonuses and sometimes leftover food! Also around the 1800’s churches would open their alms boxes and distribute the contents to the poor. These boxes were filled with monetary donations from the wealthier members of the congregation.
No matter which version you would like to believe, Boxing Day is still an enjoyable holiday and one spent with family and friends, enjoying the ‘left overs’ and new gifts.
What inspired your latest novel? – I have written a trilogy and two children’s books. My trilogy, Merryweather Lodge, was inspired by my own experiences in a remote and mysterious little cottage near Stonehenge. This cottage was called Scotland Lodge and belonged to my aunt and uncle. We would spend our summer holidays there when I was a child. It was my fairy tale kingdom but it had a sinister twist. The memories of my summers at Scotland Lodge stayed with me, as a sort of nagging unsolved mystery all my life. A few years ago I revisited my childhood wonderland and was led to concocting this story and writing this trilogy. This wonderland and my childhood fantasies were the catalyst for my writing career and the inspiration for my trilogy. My published children’s book, Melanie Gets A Nanny, comes from my experiences as a professional Nanny. My soon-to-be published, children’s book, Carly’s Incredible Dream, comes from my childhood fantasies.
How did you come up with the title? The real name of the cottage in my trilogy was Scotland Lodge. I didn’t want to use that name so I changed it to Merryweather Lodge. I thought it sounded cozy and quaint and a tad mysterious.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? My protagonist, Emily Fletcher, has a message. She is an attractive, strong-willed young woman, who struggles with her self-image, volatile temper and bad habits. She’s a vegetarian and a progressive thinker. Like me, she likes her own space and often wanders into the country to ponder and seek solace from Mother Nature. She has always dreamt of living a simple life, in her aunts enchanting little cottage, with her gorgeous prince charming. Slowly, she learns how to conquer her fears, get in touch with her intuition, overcome her struggles, tame her temper and enhance her self-esteem.
How much of the book is realistic? My books are fiction, with an element of truth.
Are your characters based on someone you know, or events in your own life? My characters are bits and pieces of the personalities and characteristics of myself, friends, relatives, acquaintances, the woman behind the counter, etc. And yes, they are based on events in my own life.
Where can readers find you on social media and do you have a blog? I do not have a blog anymore. Here is my website paulineholyoak.com You will find links to my social media sites on there.
Do you have plans or ideas for your next book? Is it a sequel or a standalone? I am working on a standalone, paranormal, suspense novel. And, I have a middle grade book, Carly’s Incredible Dream, due to be released this spring.
Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why? My reader’s favorite Merryweather Lodge character was my protagonist’s aunt, Auntie Em. She was, not only in her appearance but in her personality and idiosyncrasies, a mixture of my mother and grandmother. All their good parts blended into one.
Do you favor one type of genre or do you dabble in more than one? Actually, I write in a lot of different genres. My short stories range from, political lit to romance. My trilogy is paranormal suspense. I am now in the process of writing a paranormal romance. My children’s books cover a wide range of genres.
Do you plan your stories, or are you a seat of the pants style writer? Seat of the pants, for sure.
What is your best marketing tip? Keep a consistent online presence. And, hand out as many bookmarks, promo cards etc. as you can afford.
Do you find social media a great tool or a hindrance? I think the internet, is the most powerful tool an author has. There are literally hundreds of sites that will promote ones book, some are free and some are very costly. I blog, tweet, do online interviews, reviews, facebook and try to keep a consistent online presence. It can be extremely time consuming but I know it’s an important element in establishing my writing career.
What age did you start writing stories/poems? As far back as I can remember the pen and paper have been my faithful companions and story telling my forte. As a child I was shy and reclusive. I lived in my inner world of fantasy and make-believe, preferring the company of Mother Nature and my imaginary friend, than that of other children. Often, I would sneak away from the mundane adult world, find a private retreat (usually behind the garden shed) and imagine. There in my own little sanctuary with tools in hand, I’d conjure up all kinds of intriguing tales and colorful characters, then I’d read them to my imaginary friend. She was always ‘so’ attentive. LOL
Has your genre changed or stayed the same? I have always like to cover a wide range of genres.
What genre are you currently reading? Suspense.
Do you read for pleasure or research or both? Pleasure.
Who is your best supporter/mentor/encourager? My muse.
Where is your favorite writing space? My office. It is my private domain, my retreat, with my favorite quotes, family pics and art work, created by my granddaughters, on the walls. No one is allowed in there but me! LOL
Do you belong to a writing group? If so which one? No, but I’m thinking of starting one.
If you could meet one favorite author, who would it be and why? Probably Steven King. I love his books and he always has such great advice. There are so many…
If you could live anywhere in the world – where would it be? I would love to live part of the year in England. I was born and grew up there. I adore the English countryside. It is a smorgasbord for the artistically inclined.. I would have moved back there years ago, if it weren’t for my children and now, grandchildren.
Do you nibble as you write? If so what’s your favorite snack food? Oh yes. Dark chocolate and red wine. Yummy!!!
What reward do you give yourself for making a deadline? Dark chocolate and red wine..LOL
About me – I grew in Southeast England, in a coal mining village lovingly nicknamed, “The place that time forgot.” Go to my website, click on ‘Articles’ and find out why. I immigrated to Canada when I was 21 in search of adventure and a new life. I currently live in Alberta with my adorable sheltie dog. I am the proud mother of two grown children and three adorable granddaughters’.
As far back as I can remember the pen and paper have been my faithful companions and story telling my forte. As a child I was shy and reclusive. I lived in my inner world of fantasy and make-believe, preferring the company of Mother Nature and my imaginary friend, than that of other children. Often, I would sneak away from the mundane adult world, find a private retreat (usually behind the garden shed) and imagine. There in my own little sanctuary with tools in hand, I’d conjure up all kinds of intriguing tales and colorful characters, then I’d read them to my imaginary friend. She was always ‘so’ attentive. I remember writing a story in school; I must have been about 8 years old, at the time. It was about a rabbit and a hare, cousins I think, running away from home and getting into all kinds of mischief. I still remember my teacher’s reaction after she read it. She looked at me with a stern faced and asked, “Did you copy this?” “No, Miss Finn, I pleaded, “It just, came right out of my head.” “Hmmmm” she scoffed suspiciously. I was devastated but it never stopped me, I kept writing whatever, just, came out of my head. In my teen years my journal became my confident, revealing all my hidden secrets, private fantasies and wild, wild, notions within its pages. Later I started to write poems, articles and short stories, and pondered the thought of becoming a writer.
After I settled in Canada, I buried my dreams under layers of real life clutter. I chose a safe and practical career in child care, married and raised a family. But my creative spirit kept trying to dig its way out. I was asked to write articles and editorials for our local church. I taught a story time class at our local school, which lead me to writing a children’s book. I wrote an article about my husbands’ prestigious grandfather and sent it to our local newspaper. They printed it. I kept sending them articles, they kept printing them. I was surprised at the compliments I received from the editor and readers. It was evident to me then, that I had excavated my creative spirit.
I decided to take a comprehensive writing course to improve my technique. With help from a proficient and supportive tutor, who told me I had a gift, I began to cultivate my skill. My articles started to sell and I received an assignment from a major Canadian magazine. I have spent the past 25 years writing, articles, short stories and books.
About my trilogy – Merryweather Lodge, was inspired by my own experiences in a remote and mysterious little cottage near Stonehenge. This cottage was called Scotland Lodge and belonged to my aunt and uncle. We would spend our summer holidays there when I was a child. It was my fairytale kingdom but it had a sinister twist. The memories of my summers at Scotland Lodge stayed with me, as a sort of nagging unsolved mystery all my life. A few years ago I revisited my childhood wonderland and was led to concocting this story and writing this trilogy. This wonderland and my childhood fantasies were the catalyst for my writing career and the inspiration for my trilogy.
The first book in my Merryweather Lodge trilogy Merryweather Lodge – Ancient Revenge, was the Readers Favorite 2011 Silver Award Winner for paranormal fiction. Book two, Merryweather Lodge – Malevolent Spirit, was a Readers Favorite finalist. My first children’s book, Melanie Gets A Nanny, is about a strong willed young girl with a wild and wacky imagination. It is published by, Wee Creek Press. I have just sighed a publishing contract for my second children’s book, Carly’s Incredible Dream.. Yay! Twenty five of my articles have been published.
It definitely lights a fire under me when I have a tale which wants to come out. I can sometime stay up until 3-4am if I have to finish a scene. At other times I can agonize over a phrase or sentence and before I know it the day has gone and I’ve only written a paragraph. I miss it when I can’t write.
What is your writing Kryptonite
Emotional upset for sure. My last book took me a year to write as I was distracted by my husband being injured in an accident and my mother-in-law passing away from a long illness. I was very lucky to have a lovely mother-in-law. She is sorely missed.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I kinda do. I write under my married name and feature on social media under my maiden name for social interactions. I also write under initials. I don’t hide my gender, but it’s not immediately obvious when you look at the book cover.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I’ve met many wonderful people on this journey and I’ve found them to be an incredibly generous and open community. I’d really encourage new writers to reach out and make contact. Not only will you find that they share resources, but you’ll probably make all kinds of new friends too. There are too many to mention but Kit Prate and Joanie Chevalier deserve a special mention. Both have been so supportive and inspiring to a brand new writer and have gone the extra mile in helping me cross over so many barriers. Kit introduced me to her publisher after reading my work, and helped me out of the slush pile. Joanie helped to point me towards the various groups which help a new writer with marketing and publicity. Not only that but she actually made up some advertising material and told me to ‘get my swag on.’ I was being far too Scottish—reticent and unwilling to look like I was bragging by saying my book was good. Both ladies have been incredible and I can’t thank them enough. Read their books and you’ll soon see how lucky I was to be assisted by them.
Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
‘The Innocents’ is definitely meant to be part of a larger body of work. It’s the first of a trilogy, but if people like them there’s plenty of scope to keep them going. I would still continue with each book being a self-contained mystery with the larger universe of the characters providing an over-arching connection between the books. The third book is written and at editing stage, but there are plenty of trials I can still put the characters through yet.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
So far it’s been on editing. I’ve learned so much from every bit of feedback given to me and I they all go towards making me better writer. That said there’s been free advice from other writers. As a newcomer to the writing community I have found great generosity of spirit and so many people have shared some of their valuable time to help me. I’ll be very happy to pay that forward. On another note I have just spent some money on publicity. I’ve yet to see how that will work. That may be my new enthusiasm if it really pays off.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
That would be in my work as a young police officer. I learned that talking people down from spiraling emotions is a powerful tool in keeping people safe, and more potent than violence. I also learned that listening to detail is vital too. Noting the small things helped to push cases along in gathering evidence. I also learned the complex and intricate ways people use language to put you down and grab power in a situation. Understanding that really helps you stay in control of a situation. It’s useful for a writer to grasp that and be able to shift the dynamics in a scene through clever use of words.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
That would have to be ‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins. Not only is it considered the first proper detective novel in the English language, it also shows working class females as rounded characters instead of foils for male attention. It also is the first to introduce many of the elements we take for granted in mysteries such as red herrings, false suspects, the skilled investigator, and a final twist. Collins was actually vastly more popular than Dickens in his day, but is now largely forgotten in comparison
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Lol, maybe a giant sloth? Or one of those dogs or cats which go viral for bumping into glass doors or falling off things.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
‘The Innocents’ has been written and re-written to death. It’s probably in about its tenth incarnation. The second book in the trilogy was launched on 26th July and the third is at the editing stage before being submitted for publication. I have numerous other mysteries plotted. It all depends on public demand on whether or not I continue the series or write them as standalone mysteries.
What does literary success look like to you?
To have people read and enjoy my stories. I make no pretence at literary genius or at writing anything worthy. I write stories which I hope people will enjoy.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Copious amounts. ‘The Innocents’ has taken years of research into the work of the early Pinkertons, especially the female agents and the kind of work they did, including their methodologies. I research everything, even the stationary which was in use and the correct codes for the telegraph stations mentioned in the books. The forensics are fascinating to dig into too. You name it I researched it. Everything which influences every aspect of the stories. Abigail’s ability to disguise herself and alter her accent is taken directly from reports on the skills of the original female Pinkerton, Kate Warne. The theatrical make up and wigs were also true to the period. Stage make up had been primitive earlier in the century, but better stage lighting revealed a need for far better make up techniques, products, and prosthetics. Greasepaint was invented in the 1860s by Ludwig Leichner, building on the work of Karl Freidrich Baudius (1796–1860) in the 1850s. Lighting also improved costumes and acting techniques. It drove a desire for more natural representations in every area, simply because people could see the stage more clearly. Crepe hair went out and quality wigs came in. Colors were mixed to mimic skin tones and classes in their application were popular in the acting profession. Latex wasn’t invented until 1920, but prior to that rubber was moulded or even applied to a light fabric backing. When it was the right shape it was expertly painted to look exactly like a nose, dewlap, bald cap, or any other body part. I even researched whether someone with as much hair as the average Victorian woman could wear a short wig. The answer came from a young woman who enjoys cosplay – and she explains online how to pleat her long thick hair and coil it flat under the cap before putting the short wig on. It absolutely IS possible. I was really surprised to find how many really strange crimes and mass murders from the past seem to have been forgotten by all but a few. The past is littered with remarkable characters; honest and dishonest. There are cross-dressers, madmen, greedy people, selfish people, arrogant people, and clever people on both sides of the law. I was also conscious of how often history repeats itself and how themes come up time and time again as history stratifies the same issues and concerns time and time again. I was also impressed by the dedication of a few clever people who worked to catch criminals and close down their attempts to cover their tracks.
How many hours a day/week do you write?
I have no set timetable. I wish I was that organised. Some days I write into the wee small hours, other times I can be researching and go down the rabbit hole following some amazing character or story. In the end all of it is productive and results in a story though. The actual process of writing is only the end of a longer mechanism. The invention has to come first.
How do you select the names of your characters?
As I write 19th century characters I try to keep them in period and maintain a sense of place. I’ll research popular or unusual names as well as using names of people I know if they’re appropriate. I’ve also been known to add really unusual names to my note as I come across them. Some are too good not to use.
What was your hardest scene to write?
The interrogation scene. I had to inject a sense of menace into it to make it work. I know it’s not usual to make your hero do bad things, but he’s a professional criminal and he has to find out who this mysterious woman is and how much danger the heroine poses to him. It disturbed people who initially saw this as a straight romance, which it isn’t.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
I only write mystery. I loved them right from the start because the reader can play along with the story. There are rules to writing a mystery, and the writer has to keep to them if the reader is to be able to play along. The story has to keep moving, all the clues need to be available and the plot needs to be convincing. The rules were set out in ‘The Detective Club’ which featured members such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, G. K. Chesterson, and E. C. Bentley. Not all the rules hold true today – for instance rule 5 states, “No Chinaman must figure in the story.” That I simply a ridiculous premise today. Agatha Christie broke rule 7 “The detective must not himself commit the crime” but they still provide a framework for the modern mystery writer. The method of murdering the victim must be a robust and feasible technique and not invented or spurious. The motive for murder in a whodunit should be personal, and not an act of war or part of a professional hit. That takes the killing into a different genre of writing. Many of the old rules say that a twin or a servant cannot be used as the murderer, but those rules have also been broken in modern writing and shown to be no longer relevant.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been playing with this story and universe since 2008. It looks like I’m a slow developer. I started writing seriously about two years ago and spent about a year being turned down by everyone. I acted on every bit of feedback and continually got my work reviewed and improved until it was polished enough to be accepted.
What inspires you?
Anything and everything. I can meet someone with an unusual name and I have to note it. I can read news story, read remarkable history, or find some amazing spy gadget. Somehow I piece them all together to form a mystery.
How do you find or make time to write?
I found myself with enforced leisure after a serious accident. Like many people I always wanted to write but life and family got in the way. I got hooked and wanted to get good enough to be taken seriously. I’m lucky to be in a position to dedicate time every day to writing. I look in awe at friends with families and job and wonder how they do it.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I’m editing the third of ‘The Innocents’ trilogy and have outlined some more mysteries I can have my characters solve if they are a success. I also have a completely separate mystery set in 19th century Edinburgh planned which I’m quite excited about starting.
What do your plans for future projects include?
Another mystery. No surprised there. I want to continue with the universe I created in ‘The Innocents’ as I think there are still a lot I can do with the characters. I also have a Gothic 19th century medical mystery set in Edinburgh in mind which is not related to that series.
Chris Asbrey has lived and worked all over the world in the Police Service, Civil Service, and private industry, working for the safety, legal rights, and security of the public. A life-changing injury meant a change of course into contract law and consumer protection for a department attached to the Home Office.
In that role she produced magazine and newspaper articles based on consumer law and wrote guides for the Consumer Direct Website. She was Media Trained, by The Rank Organization, and acted as a consultant to the BBC’s One Show and Watchdog. She has also been interviewed on BBC radio answering questions on consumer law to the public.
She lives with her husband and two daft cats in Northamptonshire, England—for now. She’s moving to the beautiful medieval city of York.