Monday, 20 December 2010

Hampton Court Palace and the Tower

My dear friend Janet, courageously invited me for an extended research visit to London. Which is why last Wednesday found us at the Tower and Thursday at Hampton Court Palace. How do you describe a perfect couple of days? The Tower clarified a few things for the Luke Ballard books and, quite out of nowhere, the first chapter of book 3, "Sweeter Than Flowing Honey" popped into my head over lunch. I also visited the real spot where Anne Boleyn was executed and paid my respects to her in St Peter ad Vincula.

Thursday was one of those golden days that live with you forever. I finally met Ian Franklin, the warder with whom I have been exchanging mails for almost a year. What a fantastic person he is. Knowledgable without being dogmatic, open to new ideas. He helped me enormously, trying to work out where Luke and Rob and the Tudor royals spent their days, especially since all of Henry VIII's privy apartments were destroyed. We solved a couple of problems with turret staircases and doors I didn't know about. Ian and I were busy sorting out the conduit that runs under the palace and deciding that it might well have gone as far as the Royal Mews, when he took me by the arm, turned me round and introduced me to a friend of his who had just come in. It was Alison Weir, the historian. She is a lovely lady, who is very interested in the premise of the Luke books and has asked me to keep her informed. We discussed Anne Boleyn, of course, and I confessed that I have problems reading about that lady's end. Alison's latest book deals with that subject. She was so supportive and enthusiastic, it was exhilarating - and surprising seeing that she deals with fact and the Luke books posit an alternate history where Anne is still alive and her son, Henry IX is now on the throne.

There were several people dressed in the period - December 1542 - and I had a real gossip with Mistress Penn, Prince Edward's dry nurse and Lady Frances Brandon, mother of Lady Jane Grey. The two friends who had come with me stood entranced as the ladies and I discussed various items of gossip at court. We also met King Henry VIII himself. Ever tried to curtsey with trousers on?? He confided in us that he planned to invade France next year and spend Christmas 1543 in Paris. I wished him Godspeed with his enterprise.

On the way out, we stopped off at the shop and I ended up buying a couple of Alison's books, only to hear the lady herself offer to sign them for me. A perfect, perfect day and one that I won't come down from in a hurry - if ever.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

For Sample Sunday - Ch 1 of "Circle in the Woods""

I couldn’t believe she was dying. Not my mother. She was only in her forties and in all my twenty five years I had never known her have anything worse than the occasional cold. But the doctors were adamant. The cancer had been swift and aggressive. Five weeks before, she had been Ailsa, the strong mother I had always known. Now I sat by her hospital bed. I had never seen anyone die. She lay clinging to my hand struggling to speak. I bent my head down to hers.

‘Don’t try to speak, Mummy.’

Her hand pulled me closer. ‘Little kadessa, I must. No, no,’ she continued as I was about to protest, ‘I must.’

I had always been her little mouse. It was apparently a nickname that had come down from mother to daughter since heaven knows when. I saw it would be useless to try and stop her talking. Of the three of us, she had always been the strong one, the one who took the decisions. I had often wondered if that was why my father had left us when I was seven. Her certainty had always been frightening.

I squeezed her hand. ‘What is it?’

‘Dark secrets.’

Now I was convinced she was rambling and she saw it in my face. ‘Our family. Secrets.’

‘I don’t understand, Mummy.’

‘It’s all down to you, Leila.’ She reached up and stroked my face. ‘Your lovely hair. Your father used to call it your raven’s wings. That is why he chose your name.’

‘Leila? Why, what does it mean?’

‘Dark time. Dark time. A curse. Save yourself and your children. Promise me.’ Her husky voice trailed away and I laid her back down. For one awful moment, I thought she had gone, but she was still fighting. Fighting what I wasn’t sure.

I sat for another hour by her bed before she came to again. Her eyes widened as they moved past me to the door. I swung round but there was nobody there. Mummy gave a cry and put up her hand as if to ward off a blow, then she fell back on the pillow. I held an arm round her and helped her to drink some water. She looked directly at me. ‘Promise,’ she said, then closed her eyes for the last time.

The nursing staff were lovely, but somehow distant and practised. Someone brought me some awful stewed tea in a plastic cup. I didn’t want it but I drank it all the same. I felt a mixture of sadness, relief and guilt. Sadness that I would never again hear her voice or that sudden crescendo of laughter when something caught her unaware. Guilt that I had only grudgingly consented to come home, not realising just how ill she was. How could any cancer go from beginning to end in five short weeks? Guilt also that I had not been at home more, listened more, done anything and everything more. And relief that she was now out of pain.

The days passed in a confusing whirl and it wasn’t until two days before the funeral that I thought to try and contact my father. Good job I’m a librarian. He took some tracking down, but I finally found him at some place in the Canadian Rockies “finding himself” in a retreat. Luckily, the place had a phone. His response was typical of the man Mummy had described. The man I had not seen since I was six.

‘You don’t need me to come back, do you? You can manage, can’t you? I’m right in the middle of this thing. Do you need me?’

I felt my back flex with anger. ‘Why would I want you? You go right on thinking of yourself all the time, just like you always have. You’ve never been here for me. What makes you think I need you now. I just thought you might be vaguely interested in the fact that your wife has died. I thought it might impinge on your self-obsession for a few seconds and make you realise that there are people in the world other than you.’ At which point, I almost broke the phone slamming it back into its cradle.

I felt numb all through the funeral. I chose the hymns and prayers and a reading. I felt absolutely nothing. I knew Mummy’s friends couldn’t work out if I was grief-stricken or uncaring.

It was only when I saw her coffin lowered into the grave that I cracked. I felt an arm go round me and through the curtain of my hair, I saw a tall 30-something man with light brown hair. As soon as I straightened up, he dropped his arm.

I had invited people back for the tea, sandwiches and cake that Beryl had prepared that morning. I sat in the corner not talking to anyone, a cup of untasted tea in my lap, looking at the floor. I saw a pair of black trousers approach.

‘Miss Halliday?’ It was the man who had put his arm round me. I didn’t trust myself to look at him, so I nodded and pretended to drink some tea. ‘I’m Jack Bourne, your mother’s solicitor. I am so sorry.’

Somehow I found my voice, but I wasn’t feeling very gracious. I thought he was touting for business and I remember thinking that if I’d been a man, I would have punched his lights out. ‘Yes?’

‘I need to see you to discuss your mother’s will.’

‘I have a copy of Mummy’s will, thank you.’

‘I’m sorry, Miss Halliday. The one I have is dated two weeks ago. What date is the copy you have?’

I marched to the desk, found the will and handed it to him without looking. I still have no idea why I was so unpleasant to the poor man. All I knew was that I wanted all these bloody people to go away and leave me alone. I heard a rustle of paper.

‘Yes, I thought so,’ I heard him say. ‘I’m afraid the one in my office supersedes this one.’

‘Really?’ I wasn’t interested.

‘Miss Halliday. Look, this is very important.’ He handed me a card. ‘Please could you ring me tomorrow or the day after. We need to talk. Make an appointment with my secretary. No, tell you what..’ He scrambled in his jacket pocket and took out his diary. ‘Can you come and see me on Tuesday at 9.30, please? There are things we have to discuss.’

‘What things? Mummy left everything to me. What is there to discuss?’

‘I’m afraid it isn’t quite so simple. The new will has a couple of, shall we say, surprising clauses, that we really have to talk about in order to decide how I am to proceed. Please, Miss Halliday. I realise that now is the worst possible time, but time, I’m afraid, is part of the problem.’

I sighed and foraged in my handbag for my diary. Tuesday was clear. Every day was clear. The only thing looming was the need at some point in the next few days to go back to work. Back to Portington and Miss Fellows who I hated. ‘Tuesday is fine,’ I said.

‘Good. If you need me in the interim, just call the number on the card.’

I could see Beryl hovering. ‘Thank you, Mr Bourne. What is it, Beryl?’

‘I’ve washed up, Leila. Everyone’s gone, so I’ll go, too. I’m only next door if you need me, love.

Mr Bourne got the message. ‘I must go, too,’ he said. ‘I will see you on Tuesday.’

We watched him climb into a long, low sleek car which purred away so quietly that I hadn’t realised he had started the engine. Beryl sniffed. ‘Trust a solicitor to have plenty of dosh to spend on a fancy motor,’ was her parting shot. ‘Are you going to come and collect the dog?’

‘Oh, God. Bimbo, I’d forgotten him. Yes, I’ll come now. No, I’ll get changed first and then come and get him. No point in getting these clothes covered in dog hair.

I ran upstairs. The wretched dog was just one thing too many to worry about right now. I would have to get him re-homed. No way could I have a dog and work fulltime. I slipped my jeans and a clean tee-short on and then went next door to collect him.

He was a big golden retriever and Mummy had called him Bimbo because she said he was blond, beautiful and brainless. He also ate huge quantities, another reason I would not be able to keep him. I was not in the best of moods as I poured a couple of mugs of his dried food into the stainless steel bowl. He sat trying to be patient, but his rear end was fidgeting like a sprinter waiting for the starting gun to go off. Dinner, I had learned, was the highlight of Bimbo’s day. Other highlights included breakfast and any time his biscuit tin came out of the cupboard. He troughed his dinner and asked to go out.

Whilst I waited for him to come back in, I turned my attention to that morning’s post. There was an express delivery that Beryl must have taken in when I was dressing for the funeral. I opened it and found a note attached to a cheque. “I know you don’t think much of me and perhaps rightly so, but while I can’t be there, my money can. Take this to cover any expenses and contact me via the bank if you need any more. Despite everything, Leila, you are still my daughter.” The amount on the cheque stopped me in my tracks. I must have counted the noughts at least five times. If I put this in my account, I wouldn’t have to work for three years. I closed my eyes visualising Miss Fellows’ reaction when I told her where to stick her job. Was this what money did for little mice?

By this time, the quiet woofs from the other side of the back door had turned into annoyed insistent woofs. Bimbo did not like to be kept waiting. He stalked past me and went into the sitting room. I followed apologising to him. Apologising to a damn dog. I would really have to take a grip. Perhaps Mummy was right. It was time to stop being her little mouse, take control of my life and become as strong as she had been. And my father’s money would start the process. I walked over to the roll-top desk, found my cheque-book and slotted his cheque into it. I would put it into my account on Tuesday when I went to see Mr Bourne.

As I was closing the desk, I noticed a small leather bag pushed to the back of one of the pigeonholes. I pulled it out. The thin, creased leather seemed very fragile as I tried to undo the drawstring at the top and open it. I tipped the contents on the desk. A broad rose-gold wedding ring rolled across the wood and I just managed to catch it before it fell on the floor. But there were other things stuck in the bag. I prised out a small black and white photograph, wrapped in paper and a rose-gold locket. I couldn’t get the locket to open, but it was extremely pretty. It took me a few moments to realise that the pattern on the locket was the same as that on the ring.

I undid the photo and looked at the paper wrapped round it first. There were words on it, but they were so faint, I could not make them out. The photo itself was of a girl, about the same age as me, possibly younger, standing in front of a long low brick building. It was so blurred and faded with age, that, in the soft light of the room I could not make out any of the details. I turned it over. There was one word which I thought began with a V, but I couldn’t swear to it.

I picked up the ring. It fitted my left-hand ring finger as if it had been made for me. It was then that the events of the past few days caught up and I felt a weariness so intense sweep over me that I had to sit on a chair to stop myself from collapsing onto the floor. I took the ring off with difficulty and looked again at the photograph. I squinted, trying to make out the details but decided that I needed my mother’s magnifying glass.

I carried the photograph and the glass into the kitchen. The fluorescent light was much stronger in here. Trying to rub the tiredness from my eyes, I examined the photo again. The building looked dirty. Perhaps a barn or something like that, I thought. I turned my attention to the girl. Under the magnifying glass, she sprang out at me. I dropped the glass and the photo with a cry which brought Bimbo running into the room. He put his nose into my hand and I stroked his soft fur.

I could feel tears coming into my eyes. This was too much. Everything was too much. Then sense prevailed and I realised that I had to be more tired than I thought. I stared at the photo and the magnifying glass, both sitting on the table where I had dropped them. This was silly. This was how little mice behaved. I was not a little mouse. Not any longer. I went over to the table and picked up the photo and the glass again. I could see my fingers trembling as I brought the girl into focus. There was no doubt. No doubt at all. I was looking at a picture of me.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Books, books, books and, yes, more books

When I moved house some 15 years ago, my daughter, who doesn't read books at all, volunteered to help. I don't think she had any idea of the number of books I had then. My marriage had just split up and my first romantic notion had been to live on a boat. When my eldest brother had finished laughing, he said that I couldn't do that because my books would sink it.

So, when Vicky ended up unpacking the 30th box of books in the new place, I wasn't too surprised when she growled "If all else fails, mother, we can always read!" I seriously have never thought that I have more books than most people. I've been reading fluently since I was 5 and regularly have about 4 books on the go at once. If I am unwell, I can read 3 a day. Mind you, if I'm very unwell, I just lay in bed and groan. Books have been a huge part of my life ever since I read "Little Grey Rabbit and the Speckledy Hen" to my mother. I could read when I started school, which infuriated the teachers and frustrated me. My life has had two constants. Books and music. I could no more live without them than I could run the London Marathon.

When Paul and I got together, he, too, was horrified at the number of books I possessed. Mostly because he had to turn over one wall of the spare room to shelves to house some of them. I had books which never got unpacked until we moved to this house in 2007. My books are like my children. I can't get rid of them. So, in self defence, Paul suggested that we turn the dining room in the basement into a library/dining room. Great idea.

The builder came up with a design at which point he discovered his first mistake. Not enough shelf space for the books I currently have, not to mention those I aim to buy in the future. He didn't believe me, so I took him all over the house and he measured the shelf space my current holdings take up. Then I sat him down and gave him some strong coffee. I didn't like to tell him that in deference to Paul's horror, I now have approximately two thirds of the books I used to own. We took 7 large boxes of them to the local hospice shop. I think they were horrified, too. I must confess here, that I have sneakily re-purchased some of the ones I had to throw out.

Anyway, so here we are and this morning has been taken up with moving the books to the new shelves in the basement. Now it's my turn to be horrified. I can see that it won't be long before I am forced to do another cull and give some of my darlings away.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Research, imagination and a glass of wine

Now that I've found an agent willing to try and place the Luke Ballard books, I must make sure that I have everything sorted for consistency. So, I've been through "Duty of Evil" and the 30,000 words of "Treasons, Stratagems & Spoils" to make sure that I have a list of spells. Well, that's how it started, honest.

It really began with Paul saying I ought to use the Word Shed as it was a nice day, just to have the heater on and air it out a bit. Of course, I made him vacuum it out and do a spider search first, but I've been in here over an hour and the spells research is turning up some absolute gems, from spells you can buy to ensure a lotto win, to spells involving black candles, three rusty nails and the grave of a murder victim, just to bring a mountain of bad luck on someone who has offended your sensibilities. Then there's the Nights of Hell spell, which will give the receiver three nights of pains of the flesh, skin lesions and other pleasant distraction. So I've been indulging in that pleasurable hobby known only too well to writers, called distraction therapy as research.

Actually the consistency thing is a real nightmare for writers. For example in Duty, it is a revelation spell. Somehow in Treasons, it has morphed into a reveal spell. I had no idea how many spells poor old Luke had to remember, so I have made some of them journeyman spells that can be souped up when the elemancer is a master, such as the Clarifying Spell to make people tell what they don't really want to, which a journeyman elemancer can perform, but which turns into a Veritas Spell, which only an elemagus can perform.

If you've been following the Treasons blog, you will know that the one inviolate rule of elemancy is BALANCE. So, I now have to formulate a set of spells that sunderers will use. This was where the Internet search began and disintegrated into helpless laughter. I expect if I could charge $35 for a lotto spell, I might make as much as a lotto winner. Sadly, there are always people who are so desperate to believe that some magic force can shape their life into the way they want it. If only they could gather all that energy and put it into something positive, they would see that they are indeed powerful, but not in the way some of the magic spell salespeople mean. I hate to use the word gullible, because it is a seriously unkind word, so I will substitute vulnerable. If any vulnerable people are reading this, then all I can do is implore you to find the intention we all have inside us, however deeply buried and draw your strength to change your lives from that, not from some charlatan making thousands swindling you out of cash you probably don't have.

And the glass of wine? Well, isn't research always more profitable when accompanied by a nice sav blanc?

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

When rules get in the way

I think you all know I'm a writer by now. A British writer. A British writer who has become so ensnared by 'rules of writing' that they threaten to kill off any kind of creativity. I'm currently writing the second in my historical crime fantasy series, featuring Luke Ballard, apothecary and elemancer at the court of King Henry IX - yes I know we never had a King Henry IX, that's part of the fantasy. If your interest is aroused, go to and see how the book is progressing.

So, as I said, it's the second in the series, the first being 'Duty of Evil'. I loved writing it, which is why I'm doing another. I love the Tudor era, the setting of Hampton Court Palace, the magical ability of my elemancer - magic within strict rules - the fact that elemancers have very special dogs. The plot is good according to the other members of my writers' circle and, believe me, if it wasn't, they would come straight out and say so. We give each other a very hard time. So the plot is good, the characters are rounded, everyone is always desperate to know what is coming next. Sounds promising eh? But I can bet my golden retriever's weight in sausages that no British agent or publisher will look at it? Why? Because it can't be categorised. Is it crime? Yes. Historical? Yes. Fantasy? Certainly. Can't pigeon-hole it then, not interested. I've not followed the 'rules'.

Writers have lots of rules to follow. Show don't tell is a prime one. I'm reading 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' at the moment. I've reached page 100 and most of what I've read has definitely been tell not show. How come, if that sacred rule has been so blatantly broken, is it then such a good read?

Never change the character's point of view in the middle of a section. Always make a break and then change POV. Why? J D Robb in her Dallas crime/SF series breaks this rule all the time. The books are brilliant. I freely admit to being addicted to them. Why? Because the plots are good, the 'family' of characters is beautifully drawn and it's a world I like inhabiting.

Robb also breaks another golden rule - don't move into authorial voice. She does it frequently. Doesn't take away anything from the books, though. So, perhaps the rules are just for some and not for others, but that can't be right. I agree that someone like J D Robb who is really Nora Roberts and who writes three books a year, must earn her publisher such mega bucks that she can write what she likes. I really wish her line editor would get some new spectacles, though because there are some horrific spelling and grammatical howlers. She deserves better.

Perhaps that's the secret. Carole Blake said in an interview that one of the most interesting query letters she received was from a writer who said he wrote what he wanted to read. Now I get it. Don't ever expect to get published, but stuff the rules and savour writing what you would like to read, because, even if that ambition to be a bestselling author never happens, you will have enjoyed the ride.

That said, it's obvious that agents on the other side of the pond appear to be more open to rule-breakers, so I shall let Luke loose on them and spend the intervening time enjoying him.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Interview with Yorkshire author Stuart Aken

Stuart Aken is a talented man in all senses of the word. He has overcome reverses that would flatten most people. Happily married for many years, he has found success in various spheres of the working world. His abiding passion, though, is writing, although he would probably call it a compulsion. Successful crime writer Penny Grubb says of Aken's writing that it has a magic quality achieved by few. High praise indeed.

You can find out much more about Stuart on his website:


AFT: Breaking Faith is set in the Yorkshire Dales during the 1976 heat wave. What prompted your choice of location and period?

SA: In the words of Max Boyce, ‘I was there.’ Believe it or not, the initial inspiration for the book came to me on a visit to the Buttertubs, in the Dales, at that time. I looked into the depths and wondered how I would feel if I discovered a body down there. From that simple question, the rest of the book eventually flowed. The Yorkshire Dales is acknowledged for its exceptional landscapes and it’s a place I know well. The heat wave was a useful backdrop to a story which needed a credible climate in which the action could take place: few would enjoy being naked in the area’s usual weather conditions. 1976 was long before the era of the ubiquitous mobile phone, an item that would have altered the tone of the novel. It was a time when fashion and the ideas of youth were still fresh enough to encourage experimentation. Cameras used film and a good printing assistant was still necessary for any professional photographer.

AFT: Some might consider there is a strong erotic edge to the novel; is this a marketing ploy or does it serve another purpose?

SA: I’m fascinated by our modern attitude to nudity and the body in particular. As a culture, we are fast approaching the extreme level of hypocrisy that exists in the USA. It’s the largest producer and user of pornography but has a puritanical attitude bordering on insanity. Our world is dominated by double standards imposed by Judo-Christian ethics that pretend to celebrate creation whilst denigrating the means of creation in humans. The Islamic world has, of course, taken this duplicity to even greater extremes. The word, ‘love’ is misused to the extent it has no real meaning to many people. Yet, for those who have experienced it, love is so superior to mere sex that it almost defies definition. I wanted Faith to be subject to the prevalent attitudes regarding sex but to actually experience love. She is forced to witness the destructive forces that can accompany sex whilst appreciating the positive force of love; her choice of honesty over deception is what the book is about.

AFT: What made you choose an innocent as your eponymous lead character?

SA: We live in a world where innocence is damaged almost from birth. Goodness, truth and honesty are qualities we pretend to value whilst we indulge in behaviour that destroys these things. Faith was an innocent in the material sense but damaged by her father’s hypocritical insistence on adherence to an extreme version of Christianity. This is only hinted at in the novel, as I wanted his cult to represent all organised religion. The effect of organised religion, as opposed to spirituality, is to distort truth and turn it into a commodity that can be exploited and used as a power base for the unworthy to govern those too lazy to think for themselves. Children are effectively brainwashed from infancy into believing the set of myths and untruths that their parents and peers were brought up with. It is such an insidious force in society that most people are not even aware of its continuing influence on their lives. The very language we use is riddled with religious imagery and ideas, so that it is impossible to escape its influence. I wanted to employ an innocent so that she could rise above much of the hidden influence and expose it, but I had to make sure I didn’t overdo this and proselytise.

AFT: One can’t help but be aware that photography plays a huge part in the story, almost like another character, in fact. Or is it perhaps an allegory?

SA: I was a professional photographer for some time, and worked with models during my early career. Photography is an excellent recording medium that is also capable of functioning as an art form. It has an unfortunate side effect in its representation of reality in two dimensions, as this can affect the photographer, making him unaware of depth in other aspects of life. It is this superficiality that Faith makes clear to Leigh, of course. But there is also a sense in which the mistaken 'belief' of the photographer in the purity of his images, echoes the blind faith that religious people place in their particular doctrines, ignoring the fact that theirs is but one interpretation amongst many when it comes to defining both God and true morality. Organised religion, by its very nature, cannot help but be superficial, since it reduces enormous questions to a set of dogmas that barely address the real issues, let alone provide answers. Photography is, of course, also considered ‘glamorous’ and is therefore a fitting occupation for the necessary alpha male of the romance.

AFT: You have had a number of short stories published as well as a radio play on BBC Radio 4. What advice would you give to new writers?

SA: Write only if you are compelled to. Writing is something that almost every literate person can engage in but good writing, writing with something worthwhile to say, even writing that is simply entertaining, requires a degree of dedication bordering on the obsessive. There are many people who write for fun but then want to be published. Such writing is fine for personal fulfilment but it’s self-indulgent to impose it on the reading public and it clogs up the works for those who have real talent. If you must write, and I mean that literally, then do so but ensure that everything you write is the best it can possibly be.

AFT: What are you currently writing?

SA: I’m working on the first volume of a three part fantasy series. It’s an adventure and a quest set in an invented world and centres on, surprise, surprise, organised religion and its corrupting power. I’d like to entertain those with open minds whilst inciting the dogmatic into fits of apoplexy. And, yes, I intend to make it a good read.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Interview with East Riding author Karen Wolfe

Local writer Karen Wolfe’s novels, ‘Seers’ (YouWriteOn, 2008) and ‘Seers’ Moon’ (New Generation Publishing, 2009) begin the series of six comic-fantasy novels featuring the indomitable Granny Beamish. Both are available from Amazon, WHS, Waterstones and Barnes & Noble.

‘Seers’ follows Granny’s battle to save the Guilds from a renegade who’s burning out minds and threatening all that the Guilds hold dear: will Granny’s mindpower be enough to defeat the odious Undermaster Coy (only in it for the sex-toys and the Ceremonial Underpants) and his terrifying, chocoholic control-freak Boss, or will the seers’ heritage be lost forever?
‘Seers’ Moon’ features Kenneth, a man inconvenienced by the moon. As Warg, the were-wimp, he’s running scared from the newly-designated Wolf-Patrol, as well as the pitiless Killer Calhoun, bounty-hunter, who likes pulling the wings off fairies, and will stop at nothing for the ultimate trophy of a werewolf pelt.
Aided by one ageing mongrel, nine stroppy sheep and a couple of hungry griffons, Granny’s really up against it as Warg flees the hunters and that old irresistible moon.

You can find Karen at: http://

I caught up with Karen to find out what she’s currently up to, and what’s in the writing pipeline.

Q: There’s a rich vein of humour running through all the Granny Beamish books. How important is this comic element?
KW: Very. My primary purpose is to give my readers a laugh, but I also believe that humour can have a serious underlying message.

Q: In what way?
KW: Mostly by pricking pomposity and illuminating just how fallible we human beings are. Warg/Kenneth’s predicament shows how harshly we judge those who are different, while Warg himself is a metaphor for all hunted animals, and Killer Calhoun represents those who hunt for so-called fun.

Q: So is Granny’s an alternative world?
KW: Yes and no. It’s all about suspending disbelief: might there be telepaths in our communities and unicorns and other mythological beasts existing amongst us? I’d like to think so. After all, apart from their telepathic abilities, seers are just people, with all that being human entails.

Q: Where did Granny Beamish spring from?
KW: She started as a short-story character and evolved from there. I’ve always liked an iconoclast, and I thought she had great comedy mayhem potential!

Q: Quite a lot of the ‘Seers’ and ‘Seers’ Moon’ characters are of pensionable age. Is this deliberate?
KW: Yes. I’ve always loved the concept of elderly hooligans! I also wanted to show that older people can be wiser, funnier and more rounded (personally as well as physically!) than the inexperienced young. If readers find themselves batting for Granny, Mariander, et al, then I’ve succeeded!

Q: You've been writing for many years. Any advice for aspiring writers?
KW: Never give up, and never throw anything away. I had my first Radio 4 broadcast with a short story that had languished in a drawer for 16 years! Oh, and do join a good writers’ group for support and encouragement.

Q: So what are you currently working on?
KW: Well, apart from the 4 Grannies waiting in the wings, I’m right in the middle of a second (yes, humorous again) crime-novel (with dogs!) and I’ve also completed a how-to book for the hapless dog-owner. And I have to say that, succeed or fail, I’ve loved every bit of the creative process down the years, and I’d do it all again tomorrow.