Lost Time Jason Davey Mysteries Book 2 by Winona Kent Genre: Mystery, Amateur Detective
In 1974, top UK band Figgis Green was riding high in the charts with their blend of traditional Celtic ballads mixed with catchy, folky pop. One of their biggest fans was sixteen-year old Pippa Gladstone, who mysteriously vanished while she was on holiday with her parents in Spain in March that same year.
Now it's 2018, and founding member Mandy Green has reunited the Figs for their last-ever Lost Time Tour. Her partner, Tony Figgis, passed away in 1995, so his place has been taken by their son, professional jazz guitarist (and amateur sleuth) Jason Davey.
As the band meets in a small village on the south coast of England for pre-tour rehearsals, Jason's approached by Duncan Stopher, a diehard Figs fan, who brings him a photo of the band performing at the Wiltshire Folk Festival. Standing in the foreground is Pippa Gladstone. The only problem is the Wiltshire Folk Festival was held in August 1974, five months after Pippa disappeared. Duncan offers Jason a substantial sum of money to try and find out what really happened to the young woman, whose mother had her declared officially dead in 1981.
When Duncan is murdered, it becomes increasingly clear to Jason that his investigation into Pippa's disappearance is not welcome, especially after he follows a series of clues which lead him straight back to the girl's immediate family.
But nothing can prepare Jason for the truth about Pippa, which he discovers just as Figgis Green is about to take to the stage on opening night—with or without him.
I woke up at half-past six experiencing mild panic. It was Monday and our start was scheduled for 9 a.m., which meant I had plenty of time to make myself look presentable and have breakfast. And the manor, where we were rehearsing, was only a five-minute walk up the hill from The Dog’s Watch.
But I hadn’t toured in nearly ten years. The last time I’d gigged around England was 2009, the year Em died. I’d been on the road with my own band, desperate to “make it” playing concerts in pubs and clubs and converted churches and renovated city halls and repurposed corn exchanges. And staging late night turns at so many music festivals I’d lost count.
I really wasn’t sure I was up to it.
I made myself a cup of tea with the clever all-in-one device on my writing table and tried to force myself to think past it. I wasn’t at all the same person I was back then. I was ten years older. I’d settled. I was far more confident now, and much happier. And “making it” wasn’t even in my lexicon anymore. I had “made it”—at the Blue Devil.
This tour was icing on the cake. And the feeling of apprehension was, I assured myself, temporary. It would pass.
I had a shower and a shave, and then I went downstairs for breakfast.
It was half past seven.
Mum and Bob were already there and had saved me a seat at their table in the dining room.
“‘Morning,” I said, trying to do my best impression of “awake”. It was a challenge.
“Bucks Fizz?” Bob inquired, offering me the menu. “To celebrate our first day on the job?”
“It’s a bit early for me,” mum said.
“I don’t drink,” I said. “But a straight-up orange juice would go down nicely.”
“Ah,” said Bob, in that tone of voice that people revert to when they find they need to express an understanding of alcoholic recovery.
“By choice,” I added. “Not any particular adherence to higher powers or staircases.”
“Well done,” said Bob, acknowledging that my willpower had control over the broken “off-switch” that many of my friends who actually have embraced AA enthusiastically own up to.
The menu offered a fresh fruit salad with berries, or yogurt, or porridge, or cereals. And the ever-popular Full English, which all three of us decided to order. There’s nothing like going to work on two free-range eggs, sausage, mushroom, baked beans and a roasted tomato. Even when you’re showered and shaved but your brain’s still upstairs buried underneath the pillow.
“I trust you solved the smoking issue?” mum inquired, conversationally, as I took the mandatory photo for Instagram.
“You know me too well.”
“I should think so,” she said, pouring out a cup of her favourite Yorkshire tea.
“A chuffer?” Bob inquired.
“I’m trying to quit.”
“He’s always trying to quit,” mum replied, humorously, stirring in some milk. “I don’t know where he got it from. Neither Tony nor I ever smoked.”
“Cigarettes, anyway,” I said.
I know it’s difficult to imagine a Shale and Lace granny regularly toking up. But when she was younger, she did. And so did my dad. Along with the rest of the band. There’s a wonderful ornate hookah from India somewhere in her loft and I can attest to the fact that it was exceptionally well-used.
“I reckon,” I said, “that as long as you keep trying, you’ve never actually thrown in the towel.”
Since The Dog’s Watch was a non-smoking establishment, last night’s bedtime ciggie had forced me to become inventive: take the battery out of the smoke alarm (not an option—it was hard-wired—I checked); open a window and aim the smoke outside (a possibility—if I’d been able to figure out how to unlatch the bloody thing) or retreat into the loo, shut the door and blow it down the--
“Sink drain?” mum guessed.
“I won’t tell Arthur if you don’t,” I said, embracing my first coffee of the day. Very strong. With cream and two sugars.
Stoneford Manor has an interesting history. It was built in the early 1800s by a widower, Augustus Duran, who’d arrived in the village after hurriedly abandoning a very draughty chateau in Amiens in the midst of the French Revolution. He’d remarried and set about raising a second family. But it turned out his new wife preferred to live in a far less ostentatious cottage at the bottom of the hill, and so the manor had been sold to the Boswell-Thorpes, who owned three other stately country homes and a townhouse in Eaton Square in London.
A century or so later, in the 1960s, the house and its grounds became notorious for the social events thrown by Giles Jessop, whose mother was Gwendolyn Boswell-Thorpe and whose father was Gilbert Jessop, the 17th Earl of Brighthelmstone. Giles fronted a band called Brighton Peer, and he and his twin sister Arabella were part of The Scene. They attended all of the trendy night spots and all of the important parties. They threw important parties of their own. They wore the latest fashions, drove the fastest cars, and were on first-name terms with everyone who was anyone. If you wanted to meet a pop star, or a photographer, a model, or a gangster, they could arrange it.
It was still party-central until mid-1965, when Arabella ran into some unfortunate dealings with the police, the west wing of the manor caught fire, and Giles, wisely, decamped to the safety of Swinging London. His parents also decamped, had the charred remains restored, and let the house out to discerning clients, provided they paid a damage deposit and promised not to kick holes in the walls or smash the stained-glass windows or trash the antique suits of armour in the downstairs gallery.
Figgis Green had been one of the first bands to rehearse in the manor, and the tradition of being an accessible and desirable haven for musicians had continued for some years. But by the time my sister Angie and I were scrambling through the wild undergrowth at its rear and exploring the crumbling ruins of its derelict stable block, its windows and doors had been boarded up and there were rumours the Boswell-Thorpes had plans to turn it into a bed and breakfast.
Which was what it eventually became, until 2016, when it was quietly boarded up again and its premises abandoned. And then, two years later—just in time for our Lost Time tour—it was back in business as a rehearsal space.
We were convening in the library, which was on the second floor in the east wing and was reached by way of an immense central staircase. One of the library’s walls was fitted with exquisitely carved oak panels with mantels and twisted spindles and archways and linenfold inserts. In the middle of the wall was a massive fireplace, surrounded by blocks of white stone and protected by a filigreed iron fireguard. The wall opposite the fireplace was decorated with carved oak panels. And the wall opposite the doorway contained three bay windows overlooking the sea.
It was huge but completely appropriate for our purposes. Our crew had been busy—they’d arranged a collection of acoustic screens around the room to baffle the sound. They’d also set up our mikes and instruments and amps and music stands to replicate what they guessed would be our positions onstage.
I went in with mum and Bob and put on my best “new boy” face and manners. Bob was a new boy too, but at least he had a history with the band, subbing in on occasions when Rick, and then Ben, were unavailable. I was still in nappies when Figgis Green was riding the radio charts. Everyone else—even Bob—had spent years together, recording and performing, and they’d built relationships. My interaction had always been peripheral. I was Tony and Mandy’s kid. I showed up in photos taken for PR pieces in papers and magazines. I attended Christmas parties and visited backstage during gigs and I was always around when there were band meetings or social events at our house. But I’d never played with them—not formally, anyway. And I was feeling incredibly uncertain as a result.
Mitch and Keith were already there, tuning up and testing out, impatient to start. Rolly, who was still recovering from jet lag and the eight-hour time change between Los Angeles and England, was slumped in an armchair in the corner, quietly snoring.
I’d brought a jar of Kenco Smooth instant coffee as my “housewarming” gift to the group. I’d assumed, a bit naively, that someone else would be taking care of mundane things like a kettle. And mugs.
It turned out there was a kettle, in the kitchen, which was downstairs, and which looked as if it had last been renovated around the same time that Mary Quant had invented the mini-skirt. The kettle was electric and it still worked, though I wasn’t at all confident about the plug. And there wasn’t any milk.
A blank piece of paper had been tacked to the wall beside the kettle, along with a pencil on a string, and a note from Kato, our runner, explaining that if we needed anything to add it to the shopping list, which he promised he’d check and act upon every morning at 10 a.m. He’d helpfully provided his mobile number at the bottom, along with three smiley faces.
I added “a new kettle” to the list, and “milk”, and, after checking the cupboards and drawers, “jammy dodgers”, “ginger nuts” and “custard creams”. There were two boxes of cubed sugar—I had no idea how old they were, though that sort of thing doesn’t really go off, does it. There was a container of that disgusting powdered stuff that passes as coffee whitener, and there was a jar of generic instant coffee to go with it, and a box of teabags.
I was prepared, on that first day of rehearsals, to run through our two set lists, song by song—but it didn’t happen. What did happen was a long discussion about the set lists, song by song—including how they would be lit and what they ought to sound like, and where and when we were going to stand—and sit—and what we were going to say in between the songs, and how long we were going to take to say it.
I made notes.
I checked my emails.
I uploaded a picture of my breakfast to Instagram.
I dashed off texts to Dom and Jenn. And Katey, who promised to come and rescue me from the doldrums of celibacy as soon as she could manage a day off work.
There was a break at half-past ten (during which I dashed outside and smoked two hurried ciggies, one after the other, and made friends with Tejo, our sound guy, who was also a chuffer and who, as it turned out, enjoyed the same brand as me—Benson and Hedges Gold), and came back to drink one of the worst cups of tea in the history of tea making. Much more of that, I thought, spying a box of chocolate-chip muffins that someone had brought up from the village, and I’d find it necessary to resort to criminal acts.
And Kato hadn’t put in an appearance.
By the time lunch rolled around, I was starving, in desperate need of another cigarette and craving a decently brewed coffee.
“There’s a place on the other side of the Village Green,” mum said. “At least there used to be. It was called The Four Eyes back in the day—they had a house band called The Spectacles who shared the pop charts with us for a few weeks.”
“It’s still there,” Mitch said. “Independently owned and operated—not your average Starbucks.”
Indeed, it wasn’t. Smoking furiously, I trudged down the hill and across the little green and there it was, in a parade of buildings that was home to two firms of solicitors, the Stoneford News, a hairdresser’s and Oldbutter and Ballcock Funeral Directors. The Four Eyes.
Its glory days had been roundabout 1965. There followed a long, slow decline in popularity and function; in the mid-1970s, when I was spending those long summer days with Auntie Jo while my parents toured, it was sitting empty and forlorn, its place in history on the verge of being forgotten.
I was happy to see someone had decided to rescue it and restore it to its former glory, albeit with a completely up-to-date take on coffee culture. I opened the door and went in.
Inside there was a huge silver Italian espresso machine on the counter and an authentic jukebox from the 1960s in the corner, though I doubted either of them were actually in working order and were largely there for their nostalgic value.
On the walls were photos of the place in its heyday. A little room crowded with earnest-looking teenagers. An exterior shot featuring a painted sign declaring that this was, indeed, The Four Eyes Coffee Bar, its name reinforced with a graphic representation of a pair of black-framed Hank Marvin-style eyeglasses. A smaller sign on the pavement advertising the house band—The Spectacles—and an amateur night when anyone could join them onstage.
Another of the photos showed a view of the counter, with that same espresso machine in use, and the jukebox lighting up the corner. There was also an orange juice dispenser, and a display case containing a few sandwiches and sausage rolls and a large bowl of what looked like spaghetti.
I ordered a coffee and a baguette with grilled veggies and generous slices of cheese, along with a very tasty-looking slice of something smothered in chocolate for dessert.
I’d just arranged it all on my table so I could take a picture for my Culinary Chronicle when I was approached by a guy wearing a hand-knitted V-neck sleeveless pullover and a shirt and tie. You don’t often see that nowadays. A shirt and a tie and a sleeveless pullover. I’d guess he was probably about my mum’s age—early 70s anyway. He had very neat grey hair, combed carefully, and a pink and white face. He was carrying an old-fashioned leather school satchel.
“Hello, Jason,” he said.
I was pretty positive I didn’t know him. But that happens a lot. I perform. I’m in front of people. I enter their lives, and because of that, there’s an assumed familiarity. On their end, anyway.
“Hello,” I said, doing my best to convey the impression that I was actually looking forward to an uninterrupted lunch on my own.
“Duncan Stopher,” he said, sticking out his hand.
I shook it. “Hello.”
I sat down. He remained standing.
“I tried to see you this morning at the manor but your security guard wouldn’t let me in. I’m a huge fan of Figgis Green.”
Did he want me to sign something? Was he going to tell me all about his extensive record collection? His sister’s grandchildren? His dodgy insides? He looked the sort of person who maintained a journal about his bowel movements. Excellent contribution this morning... Nothing today. Requires an investigation.
“I wanted to let you know how much I admired you for the way you tracked down Ben Quigley when he disappeared. I know you’re good at solving cases involving missing people.”
“Ah,” I said. “Thanks.”
A few years earlier, Ben had travelled to Peace River, Alberta—in northern Canada—to take part in a music festival. He’d never come back and people—my son, in particular—were understandably concerned for his welfare. I’d gone there to look for him. It had taken some work, but I’d found him…rescued might be a better word…and brought him home to England. His story had ended up in all the papers, and my second-string career as a PI had been launched.
“I have something I think you might be interested in. Might I join you…?”
Without waiting for me to reply, he appropriated the chair on the other side of the table.
“It concerns a missing girl,” he said. “I’ve approached the police but they simply aren’t interested.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“They’re of the opinion that the young lady in question is dead.”
“Why would they think that?”
“She was declared legally dead by her mother a few years after she disappeared.”
“Well,” I said. “That more or less closes the book on the case. Really.”
“However, they are wrong.”
“You think they’re wrong or you know they’re wrong?”
“I know they’re wrong.”
He placed the old leather satchel he’d been carrying onto his lap, opened it and proceeded to transfer its contents to the tabletop in neat, perfectly aligned stacks.
“I took a lot of photos of Figgis Green when they were at the peak of their popularity in the mid-1970s,” he said.
And there they all were. Some were in colour, some in black and white. Each had a label affixed to the back, with meticulous printing identifying the date and location.
“Fairfield Halls,” he said, reading them aloud. “Croydon, October 1, 1973. Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, November 13, 1975. Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, July 10, 1976—”
“Yes, I understand,” I said.
“August 1, 1974. The Wiltshire Folk Festival.”
He wanted me to pay special attention to that one. Actually, there was more than one. There were six 5x7 colour photos, taken from where he must have been standing in the middle of a crowded grassy field. A stage at the far end featured Figgis Green. Behind that was a small forest—useful for damping the sound so the neighbours wouldn’t complain. The Wiltshire Folk Festival had only lasted a few years but was famous for who it attracted and how well it was organized. The Old Grey Whistle Test had done a story about it in 1972.
I glanced at all of the pictures. I didn’t have a lot of choice—Duncan was sliding them in front of me, one at a time, helpfully moving the plate with my baguette off to one side to accommodate them.
“I’d forgotten about this roll of film,” he said. “I’d put it away in a drawer and then, you know, things…”
He gestured in a way that suggested his unreliable lower colon or his grandchildren’s tonsils had interrupted whatever plans he’d had for that particular summer.
“I found it last month while I was having a clear-out, and I sent it off to be developed. I’d labelled the film canister, of course, so I knew it was from the festival. But it’s this which captured my attention.”
He held the picture up for my benefit.
In the foreground of the photograph were a teenaged boy and girl. They both had long hair: his was dark brown and shoulder-length. Hers was dark blonde and wavy and hanging past her shoulders. The boy was looking away from the camera, but the girl was staring straight at it, and I noted that she had really striking blue-grey eyes. Both the boy and the girl were wearing trendy New York Yankees baseball caps. And they were dressed, like everyone around them, in rumpled Indian cotton shirts and grungy-looking bell-bottomed jeans and they both looked as if they needed a bath, which wasn’t surprising as they’d likely been camping in a nearby meadow for the better part of a week.
“Who’s Pippa Gladstone?” The name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t think why.
“The young lady who disappeared in 1974 and was later declared legally dead by her mother.”
“Did she disappear at the folk festival?”
“No, she disappeared while she on holiday with her family in Spain. She was 16 years old at the time and the locals claimed she’d been seen out and about with the son of a local businessman. But when the police questioned the boy he said he’d been to a party with her but he’d given her a lift back to her hotel and had dropped her off outside. He said the last he’d seen of her was when she’d got out of his car. He didn’t stay to make sure she was safely inside.”
“No CCTV or anything to confirm his statement, I suppose.”
“That technology was still evolving at the time. It hadn’t evolved as far as that particular hotel in 1974.”
“And the police investigated…?”
“The police were unable to unearth any evidence to suggest that the boy had harmed or killed her.”
“And that’s where it ended?”
“That is indeed where it ended, although there were a number of so-called sightings over the years, and a few claims that her body had been found. All proved to be false.”
“So why is this picture relevant?” I asked.
“Because,” Duncan replied, “the date I took that photo was August 1, 1974. You can verify when the Wiltshire Folk Festival ran that year. I have all of the details—”
He paused again and removed some more papers from his satchel and laid them out on the table. A set list from Figgis Green’s performance. A very tattered handbill advertising the festival—signed by my mum and dad.
Some scribbled writing in peacock blue ink on lined paper.
“I made note of which guitars your father chose for the performance,” Duncan provided, helpfully. “And where he played misplaced notes in three of the songs.”
“She disappeared on March 23, 1974.”
“Five months before that photo was taken.”
“Yes. So you can see the problem.”
“Are you sure it’s her?”
“I’m absolutely positive.”
“But you didn’t know it was her when you took the picture…?”
“I was taking a picture of Figgis Green and she happened to be in the frame. I didn’t actually notice her until I got the film developed and recognized who it was.”
There were even more things in the satchel. Pippa Gladstone’s last school photo, a colour headshot. And an 8x10 enlargement of the photo from Duncan’s camera. I put them side by side. The girl in Duncan’s photo was turning to look at him, so her face was visible full-on. It certainly did look like the same person.
“Who’s the boy she’s with?”
“I don’t know his name, alas.”
“And you’ve been to the police with this.”
“I have. As I told you, they’re not interested. They don’t consider it worth their while to re-open her file on the basis of just this one photo. In fact, they were quite dismissive of me.”
“And what’s your interest in all of this?” I asked.
“I’m a bit of an obsessive,” Duncan replied. “I’ve followed your parents’ band faithfully from the beginning. But Figgis Green is not my only passion. I have also been intrigued by Pippa Gladstone’s disappearance. There are some who have never quite believed that she is dead. I happen to be one of them. And that photo has, at long last, proved me right. As I said, I know you have a certain amount of notoriety as someone with an ability to track down missing people. I would be very honoured if you would take this case on. I will, of course, make it financially worth your while.”
The fact that the photo was taken five months after Pippa was reported missing did stir up a certain inquisitiveness in me. If that really was her.
“Could I borrow these pictures?”
“Can we meet up here tomorrow? Same time? I’ll let you know what I’ve decided. And I’d like to see the negative of the one from the music festival.”
“I’ll bring it tomorrow.” Duncan took his phone out. “Would you mind…?”
Him and me.
I gave him my best smile. He beamed into the lens and refrained from draping his arm over my shoulder, which I appreciated.
“Thank you, Jason. I’ll see you here tomorrow.”
I arrived back at the manor with most of my baguette wrapped in paper napkins, Duncan Stopher’s photos in an envelope tucked under my arm and carrying a plastic bag with a carton of milk in it that I’d bought from a little grocery on the High Street.
I popped the milk into the fridge and went upstairs to find Rolly, our drummer, fuelled by undiluted caffeine, ranting about a senatorial candidate from his adopted home in California.
“Todd Wolfe,” he said. “I don’t wish evil upon anyone…but in this moron’s case, I’d make an exception. He’s a Class A arsehole.”
“Does he stand a chance?” I asked.
“More than a chance, son. He’s climbed aboard the golden escalator and he’s riding it all the way to the top.”
I try not to think a lot about American politics these days. It gives me indigestion.
Mum had spent her lunch break with a mug of fishbowl tea and an egg salad sandwich someone—not Kato—had fetched from the bakery at the bottom of the hill.
“And how is The Four Eyes after all these years?” she inquired, saving me from a further earful about sexual harassment complaints, accusations of tax evasion and rumours of unpaid child support from three different relationships.
“Happily nostalgic,” I replied. “Pictures on the walls from its glory days. Espresso machine and jukebox lovingly preserved.”
“I must go and see for myself,” mum said. “I remember in 1965 the walls were decorated with discarded eyeglasses. It was all very clever. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you’d stepped into an optician’s shop. Did you go downstairs?”
“I didn’t know there was a downstairs.”
“Oh yes. The cellar. Unfit for human habitation. But that was where it all happened back in the day. That’s where the stage was. Where the Spectacles played. And anyone else who wanted to take part in Amateur Night, which was every Friday. Your dad and I decided we’d do a turn. That’s where I discovered how much I loved being in front of an audience.”
The rest of the band was trickling back in, along with Tejo and our lighting guy, Dr. Sparks, who also had the advantage of being a fully licensed physician (incredibly useful when you’re travelling with four senior citizens).
We reassembled for the afternoon like ragtag schoolkids forced back into their classroom on a gloriously sunny day. Our morning had been spent standing around, drinking coffee and tea, listening to technical discussions and making notes. I’d felt useless. And impatient. I wanted to play.
I knew everyone else was feeling the same way. The sentiment wasn’t lost on mum.
“Enough of this technical stuff,” she said. “Let’s have the encore. Everyone up front.”
“I Can’t Stay Mad at You” was a Gerry Goffin/Carole King country and western/pop crossover that Skeeter Davis had made famous in 1963. It had a catchy beat and throwaway lyrics and it was a song, mum always maintained, which represented a study of unhealthy obsessive love. It was also an inside joke about the starstruck fangirls who used to lust after Ben Quigley and, before he was married, Uncle Mitch.
The Figs did the song a capella at the end of every concert, and although they’d never actually made a recording of it, their audiences not only expected it—they demanded it.
Back in the day, mum handled the lead while the guys abandoned their instruments and came down front to gather around a second single mic to do the “shooby dooby doo bops” while she sang. They had a little choreography to go along with it, too, just like the doo-wop bands from the early 1960s. It never failed to break up the audience, especially when they tackled the high notes that the Anita Kerr Singers did on the original Skeeter Davis recording. There was also an instrumental string section three quarters of the way through that was entirely performed by the guys using just their voices.
I’d spent an entire day mastering that song at home. I joined the line-up beside mum with Keith, Mitch, Rolly and Bob.
Rolly tapped his sticks together to count us all in, and we were away.
It’s a tricky piece to get right but after about six attempts, we nailed it. Choreography and all. Including the high female chorus parts which were relegated to me—since I was the youngest and still had the range—and the bit in the middle where we all pretended to be the string section.
It was a grand way to finally start our countdown to the opening night of Figgis Green’s Lost Time Tour.
“Henceforth to be known as the Last Time Tour,” my mum quipped.
We all agreed it was entirely appropriate.
We finished at five.
Dinner at The Dog’s Watch was on the house again—Arthur Ferryman had obviously read my thumbs-up on his website and possibly my account on Instagram.
I arranged my dishes and drink and cutlery to its best advantage and took the mandatory photo: Spinach and ricotta ravioli with baby gem lettuce, shallots and pine nuts. Sixteen people loved it immediately, two commented on the food, three asked me to pass on their good wishes to Mitch, four to Keith and one to Rolly. Another four wanted to know what mum had for dinner and one just wanted to reminisce about the time he’d met my dad after a gig in Birmingham, where he’d got his program signed and he still had it and it was too bad my dad had died as he’d have been fantastic on this tour and was going to be sorely missed.
I didn’t disagree. I missed him too.
Another 214 people recorded their appreciation of my ravioli over the next hour.
Power to the Figs.
After dinner I went back to my room and sent the smoke from my evening ciggie down the bathroom drain while I had another look through the photos Duncan Stopher had given me.
My gut instinct told me it was very likely a case of mistaken identity. But I had to admit, the girl at the Wiltshire Folk Festival did look almost identical to the 16-year-old in the school pic.
What I really wanted to do was go online and read everything I could about Pippa Gladstone, her family, and the circumstances surrounding her disappearance. But it was getting late and I was tired and we had another 9 a.m. start in the morning.
I popped onto Instagram to check my dinner post. My “likes” had risen to over 600 and there were 231 comments.
I couldn’t possibly read them all in one sitting, let alone react or reply.
I settled on wishing everyone good night in a single, very genuine message, and stumbled off to bed.
Notes On a Missing G-String
Jason Davey Mysteries Book 1
"A highly entertaining caper set in a sleazy London underworld...Jason is a well-crafted reluctant hero, and Kent’s writing is slick and engaging throughout." - Kirkus Reviews
The first time we met Jason Davey, he was entertaining passengers aboard the Alaska cruise ship Star Sapphire, Eight ‘til Late in the TopDeck Lounge.
Then he came ashore, got a gig playing lead guitar at London’s Blue Devil jazz club, and gained a certain amount of notoriety tracking down missing musician Ben Quigley in the Canadian north.
Now Jason’s back again, this time investigating the theft of £10,000 from a dancer’s locker at a Soho gentlemen’s club.
Jason initially considers the case unsolvable. But the victim, Holly Medford, owes a lot of money to London crime boss Arthur Braskey and, fearing for her life, has gone into hiding at a posh London hotel.
Jason’s investigation takes him from Cha-Cha’s and Satin & Silk (two Soho lapdancing clubs) to Moonlight Desires (an agency featuring high class escorts) and finally to a charity firewalking event, where he comes face to face with Braskey and discovers not everything Holly’s been telling him is the complete truth.
As he becomes increasingly drawn into the seamy underside of Soho, Jason tries to save Gracie, his band-mate’s 14-year-old runaway daughter, from Holly’s brother Radu, a ruthless pimp, while at the same time protecting Holly herself from a vengeful Braskey—nearly losing his life, and Gracie’s—in the process.
Notes on a Missing G-String is the first novel in a new mystery series featuring jazz musican-turned-sleuth Jason Davey.
Cha-Cha’s is housed in an old brick building which, so far, seems to have escaped developers’ attentions. It was put up around 1883 as part of a scheme to replace a collection of ramshackle houses and decaying alleys. The idea was to provide tradesmen with shops that would occupy the basements and ground floors, while the floors above would have rooms to let for those who wanted to live nearby.
The original building was four windows wide and five storeys high, including a garret at the top, three intermediate floors, and the cellar. Over the years, though, the structure’s been divided vertically, so that it now appears to be two completely separate properties. But once you go inside and downstairs to the cellar, you can see where the common wall’s been removed to allow the nightclub to fill the entire space below street level.
There are no garish signs and no flashing lights marking Cha- Cha’s presence on the road. The entrance, on the ground floor, is painted deep burgundy and has a matching canopy. At night, the double doors are kept open and guarded by a burly-looking bouncer behind a velvet rope. During the day, the doors are locked shut and it actually looks quite forlorn.
I waited outside as I rang the club’s owner, Roly Barfield, to let him know I was there. He appeared almost instantly, unlocking the door, extending his hand and greeting me with a genuine smile.
“Nice to see you again, Jason,” he said. We’d been introduced once before, when he’d slipped over to the Blue Devil to catch one of my shows. He’d popped by a few times more after that—I’d spotted him in the audience. “Come inside.”
Inside smelled like dirty carpets and last night’s cocktails. Cha- Cha’s definitely isn’t on par with places like Stringfellows. It tries to be classy, but it’s really a bit seedy once you get past the scuffed leather seats and the overpriced bottles lining the backlit mirror bar and the dancers who always seemed to me to be thinking about
doing the washing up while they were persuading us to part with our cash.
Roly’s office was a few steps away from the cashier’s booth (£20 to be admitted and a good deal more once you were inside and shelling out for drinks, dances and the privacy of the VIP room or the booths), next to a newish-looking staircase that took you down to the venue in the cellar. I’m certain the stairs were never a part of the original plans for the building—they’re too wide and in the wrong place (in the front, not in the back or off to the side).
“Drink?” Roly offered. He had a nice collection of bottles behind a small private bar.
“No thanks,” I said. “I don’t.”
“Not one of ‘those’, are you?” His question was curious, not depreciating.
“Personal choice,” I said, “though I have friends who are. I’ve got the Serenity Prayer on a bookmark and the Twelve Steps memorized. In three different languages.”
“I wouldn’t mind a smoke, though,” I said.
“If you were anybody else I’d make you stand outside. Go on then.”
I got out my pack of Benson and Hedges Gold and lit up. It was my third of the day, which was an improvement. I’m cutting down gradually, not being a fan of the cold turkey school of misery and deprivation. I refuse to wear one of those patches. And if you’re going to vape you might as well inhale the real thing.
Roly took a glass ashtray out of his desk drawer and slid it over to me.
“What can I do for you? You said something about a robbery…?”
I’d been a bit sparse with the details when I’d rung him.
“I’m doing a favour for a friend,” I said. “Just making some inquiries. You had a dancer working here—Holly Medford.”
“Chanel,” Roly said.
“Holly Medford’s club name. Chanel.”
“Ah,” I said. Something I’d forgotten to ask her yesterday. My inexperience was showing. “You do remember her, then?”
“I remember all my girls. Mind like a steel trap, me.”
“Holly--Chanel--had some money stolen from her locker when she was here last week. Did she report the theft to you?”
“She did not,” Roly said. “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
Yet another surprise.
“Did you know she was deeply in debt?” I asked, carefully.
“I know she borrowed a substantial amount of money from a certain gentleman who is anxious to have it repaid,” Roly said.
“Again, my familiarity with this situation is somewhat limited. I was only made aware of it recently.”
“Do you know the name of the gentleman who loaned her the money?”
“Arthur Braskey,” Roly replied. “You won’t be acquainted with him. You’ve got a respectable bank account.”
I smiled. “Has he been to see you?”
“In an informal capacity only. He wanted to know if I knew where he might find her. I was unable to help.”
“I’ve been told Holly’s money was taken from the dressing room where the dancers change their clothes before and after their shifts.
Do you mind if I have a look?”
“I wish she’d reported it,” Roly said. “If there’s a thief on the premises, word gets around. Lax security. Not good for business.”
We went downstairs. It was half past eleven in the morning and the club wouldn’t be open for another ten hours. Roly snapped on the lights and we walked through a sad-looking room that, like the burgundy doors outside, really only ought to have been seen by the kindness of nightfall.
At the front of the room was a stage featuring three poles and an abundance of red velvet curtains with flounces and valances and decorative tassels. To the side of the stage was a red wooden door.
“Down here,” Roly said.
“Not locked,” I observed, as he opened it. I could see a narrow staircase leading down to a sub-cellar.
“We have a security bloke,” Roly said. “He stands just here. Gives him a view of the complete venue.”
I turned around. It was true. From our vantage point, I could see the stage, all of the tables and chairs, the bar, a short corridor which I assumed led to the VIP room, and the row of private booths off to the side--tiny cubicles created out of the same red velvet curtains that decorated the stage. I caught myself thinking about Holly,
imagining her in black stockings and high heels, a G-string and a lacy bra, performing a provocative dance around one of the poles. And then offering her services for a private performance behind the red velvet walls. And then stripping everything off to the seductive rhythm of “Birthday Sex”.
“What’s his name?” I asked, dragging my mind back to Roly. Holly was my client--unofficial or otherwise. Nonetheless, where my imagination was going raised some serious questions about ethics. I shouldn’t have allowed myself the indulgence, however brief.
“Would you mind if I had a chat with him?”
Roly seemed slightly put out by my request, but remained agreeable.
“His phone number’s in my office,” he said. “Remind me later.”
At the bottom of the narrow little staircase was an equally narrow little corridor that led to a loo—not as awful as I’d anticipated and at least the toilet was reasonably clean--and the dressing room, which had bright white fluorescent lights in the ceiling and a couple of theatrical makeup tables with unmatched wooden chairs and big mirrors along one wall, and banks of grey metal lockers against the other three.
“We’re not like the Windmill,” Roly said. “We don’t employ someone’s old mum to sit here all night and guard the girls’ belongings. They lock their things up. As you can see.”
Some of the lockers had combination locks on them; others had padlocks; a few had nothing at all.
“Which one was Holly’s?” I asked.
“No idea. They choose their own. It’s their business. I never interfere.”
“Does Raj Kumar ever come down here?”
“He does not. The girls wouldn’t stand for it. I had to let his predecessor go for precisely that reason.”
I reminded myself what Holly had said: she’d locked her things up at the start of her shift and when she’d come back she’d found the lock broken and her money and a G-string missing.
I did a quick reconnaissance of the room. It wasn’t all that big. “How many dancers would typically be in here when you open up for the night?”
A lot more than I’d have thought, but it made sense. There had to be enough women to work the stage, the bar, the tables and the VIP room. I guessed the club’s capacity was around a hundred, with thirty tables in a variety of seating configurations and a couple of rows of comfy chairs arranged on three sides of the stage. The few times I’d been there, the venue had seemed very crowded. This little dressing room would have been packed solid if all the dancers had arrived at the same time.
“Once the dancers are out on the floor, do they come back here at all?”
“I don’t encourage it. I like my girls to be visible… available… and so do they, if I’m honest. If they’re back here they’re not earning.”
I’d done my homework. I knew about the financial arrangements between lap-dancers and clubs.
The ladies made a commission from the sale of drinks from the bar, so it was to their advantage to ensure the tables were well supplied with vodka and champagne--sometimes costing £500 a bottle. If you invited one of the dancers to sit down with you for a drink, it was £60. If you paid by credit card, interest was charged at 20% on top of the bill.
A VIP dance in one of the tented booths was £120 for a three minute song. But three minutes was often not enough and so the punters were encouraged to have one more…and then another…and so on.
And working at the club wasn’t free. Club owners--and Roly was no different from his fellow entrepreneurs--considered the dancers freelance employees who had to pay for the privilege of using the premises. The ladies parted with a house fee of around £70 a night, which allowed them to dance. And then they were paid a percentage
of whatever they’d encouraged their customers to spend.
I could see why Holly had chosen to become a high-end escort. The money was leagues better. And she only had to pay a commission to the owner of the agency. Her time--and her decisions--were her own.
“But it’s not forbidden?” I said. “I mean, if one of them wanted to use the toilet or change her clothes.”
“Not forbidden at all. I’m just saying, if a girl leaves a table to go to the loo, her spot’s likely to be taken by one of her mates. Sharpish. Competition’s fierce.”
“Still,” I said, “if one of the dancers knew there was a very large sum of money sitting in one of these lockers and all she needed to do was break the lock and help herself, it would rather make up for the loss of a couple of hundred quid, wouldn’t it?”
“How would I contact Arthur Braskey?” I asked.
“You don’t want to go messing about with the likes of that one, Jason.” The advice, I could tell, was sincere.
“Is he a client here?”
“A regular,” Roly said. “But he’s not the sort of bloke you just walk up to. You’d need an introduction.”
“Is there a dancer here named Shaniah?”
“There was. She left last week.”
“When last week?”
“I’d have to look it up,” Roly said.
We walked back upstairs and through the red door to the stage.
“You have CCTV on the premises, of course,” I said.
“Of course,” Roly replied, indicating the telltale black Perspex half-bowls located at strategic places around the ceiling. “And outside overlooking the entrance.”
“But not in the dressing room.”
“That,” said Roly, “would be a very bad idea. And possibly illegal.”
I had to agree. It was a stupid question.
“Does the CCTV cover this red door?”
“It does,” Roly confirmed.
“Mind if I have a look at your tapes?”
Back in Roly’s office, I studied the footage from the evening in question, the dancers arriving in their street clothes, then emerging from behind the red door in their costumes. A few went back afterwards. I didn’t see Holly, but there were gaps in the coverage. The technology was old; it was analogue rather than digital; the tape was fuzzy and, in some places, completely blank.
Roly was watching with me.
“Can you vouch for everyone?” I asked.
“They’re all my girls, if that’s what you mean. Nobody suspicious.
Raj wouldn’t let them downstairs if they didn’t belong there.”
It was very likely an inside job, then, I thought. And it could have been anyone. And because it was winter, all the dancers were arriving and leaving bundled up in their winter coats. And more than half of them were carrying bags large enough to accommodate a stash of cash as well as their costumes.
The CCTV wasn’t going to be much help to me.
“Don’t erase this,” I said. “Just in case I need another look.”
Before I left Roly gave me Raj Kumar’s mobile number and Shaniah’s resignation date. Thursday, February 23--coincidentally, the same night Holly had reported the theft. He also provided Shaniah’s contact information.
I had one last question.
“I understand Holly--Chanel--handed in her notice about a month ago but then came back for that one final show last week.”
“A bit of an unusual arrangement…”
“She was very popular, especially in the VIP room. I was sorry to lose her. One of her regulars was coming in--a rich Arab, something to do with Middle East royalty, very generous with his money, very pleasant to have on the premises. He asked for her especially. I didn’t have the heart to tell him she’d packed it in.”
I suspected Roly’s fear of disappointing his customer had more to do with the opportunity of raking in a small fortune than any affinity he’d felt towards the well-connected prince.
“So it was this rich Arab who requested her presence and it was you who asked her to come back for a one-off performance?”
“That’s right,” Roly said. “And she agreed, because she knew she could make a lot of money that night--and probably even more afterwards, if she went back to his hotel in his car. Although, of course, I would never condone anything like that, and any arrangements which are made between a client and a dancer are strictly private and nothing to do with the club.”
I’m sure Roly had that little clause memorized, ready to trot out verbatim should the legal occasion arise.
“Do you know if Holly went back to this guy’s hotel after the show?”
“If I did, I’m sure you’d understand that I would have to be extremely careful about my choice of words.”
“Are you able to confirm or deny it?”
“I am not able to deny it,” Roly replied.
“Or to confirm it.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“You’re very welcome, Jason. I might come and see you next week. Any chance of a decent table?”
Disturbing the Peace Jason Davey Mysteries Prequel
Jason Davey's last job was aboard the Star Sapphire cruising from Vancouver to Alaska. Hired as one of the ship's entertainers, he played guitar in the TopDeck Lounge. You can read about those adventures in the novel Cold Play here.
Now Jason's back on shore, and he has a regular gig at a jazz club in London.
Jason's son, Dominic, is studying film at university. When Dom asks his dad to help track down a missing musician for a documentary he's making, Jason leaps at the chance.
Ben Quigley played rhythm guitar in Jason's parents' folk group Figgis Green in the late 1960s. And he dropped off the face of the earth four years ago.
Jason's search ultimately takes him to Peace River, Alberta - 300 miles from Edmonton in the Canadian north. And what he discovers there is both intriguing - and disturbing.
Disturbing the Peace is a novella which introduces readers to professional musician and amateur sleuth Jason Davey. Jason will soon feature in a new series of full-length mystery novels, beginning with Notes on a Missing G-String.
I have never, in my entire life, been so fundamentally freezing fucking cold.
I should have known what to expect when I looked out of the window of the plane and saw everything below completely covered in snow. I should have listened—really listened—when the Captain came over the PA to inform us we’d shortly be landing in Calgary, the local time was 2.55pm and the temperature on the ground was a balmy -26°C with a low that night expected to be in the vicinity of -30°C.
But it didn’t really sink in.
It’s one of those things you seriously cannot understand until you’ve actually experienced it.
I had a three hour layover in Calgary before my flight to Grande Prairie. I got myself through the CBSA Primary Inspection and Customs, and lugged my suitcase off the carousel, and my next order of business was to find the airport’s smoking area.
It was outside.
I was wearing a short padded winter jacket and lined hiking boots that looked and felt more like trainers. I had a pair of leather gloves stuffed into my pockets. I zipped up the jacket and put the gloves on and stepped through the airport doors.
I once had an uncle who worked for British Airways. He loved Canada. He flew there as often as he could for his holidays. He particularly loved the Canadian prairies in the winter. From Uncle Fred I learned that the winter weather in Canada was “exhilarantly bracing.”
Those are not the words I would have used to describe the moment Calgary’s -26°C winter chill met my woefully unprepared face, hands, feet and body. It was penetrating, aggressive and relentlessly unmerciful. I couldn’t see myself lasting two minutes outside, let alone the time it would take to smoke one cigarette.
I turned around and went back into the terminal and vowed, first, that my Uncle Fred was insane, and second, that I would give up my evil habit there and then.
Over the next couple of hours I chewed my way through three packages of gum and managed to distract myself with a Bento box and massive amounts of hot green tea at a Japanese restaurant on the Mezzanine level of Canadian Departures.
And then, after committing a further indignity to my unwinterized body by forcing it to walk across the tarmac to board a tiny, prop-driven Dash-8, I was on my way, at last, to Grande Prairie.
Ben had done this journey in the summer.
In the summer, Grande Prairie—and Peace River—would have stayed light until quite late in the evening.
In the winter, this far north, the sun gave up early. and it was dark by the time we landed at the little airport and I braced myself, one more time, for the ball-shrinking icewalk from the plane to the terminal.
I don’t think the guy at the car rental booth saw a lot of Brits come through at that time of the year. He seemed quite amused by my accent—then again, it might have been my completely inadequate jacket and useless leather gloves. I’d arranged for a decent midsize car and, as I was signing the forms and agreeing to every kind of insurance on offer, I had a clever thought, and asked about the possibility of snow tires.
“Our cars come with all weather tires,” the guy said “They’re good as long as you don’t brake suddenly in the snow or hit glare ice. Where you going?”
I told him, and he obligingly gave me a road report that included words like “mostly clear” and “some slippery sections” and “caution in low lying areas and on hills”.
“So you’re ok driving in Canadian winter conditions?” he checked.
“Absolutely,” I lied.
He gave me the keys, and my contract, and reminded me that their cars all had a No Smoking policy and that if they found any trace at all of cigarettes, including the merest whiff of burnt tobacco, I’d be landed with a hefty cleaning bill. He told me where to find the car, and then added: “Don’t forget to unplug it.”
I had not rented an electric car. And I wasn’t absolutely certain what he meant, until I’d trudged out through the snow, dragging my suitcase behind me like a defective sled, and located my vehicle, and discovered that it was, indeed, plugged into an outlet in the fence that ran along the front of the stalls.
And then I recalled my insane Uncle Fred, and his wondrous tales of engine bloc heaters that kept oil and batteries from freezing in parked cars when the temperatures fell below zero.
My car came with a handy heavy-duty bright orange extension cord, which I disconnected and stowed in the back with my luggage. I sat with the engine running and the interior heat blowing full blast for about ten minutes, trying to warm myself up. And then, I set the GPS on my phone to navigate me out of the little city and out onto Highway 2.
It was about eight o’clock by the time the lights of Grande Prairie disappeared behind me. And my body and brain were reminding me that it was 3am in London. Three o’clock in the morning’s normal for me. But I don’t usually get up until noon. And I’d had an extremely early start and a very long journey and travelling knocks the wind out of you. I cursed myself for not letting Katey make my travel arrangements—she’d have sensibly suggested spending the night in Grande Prairie and setting out for Peace River the next day.
It was a very long and a very dark drive on the wrong side of the road. The car had Bluetooth so on my way out of Grande Prairie I synch’d the music on my phone and had Ben Quigley’s Strat—and Figgis Green—to keep me company for the first part of the drive, and then Herbie Hancock and Charlie Mingus for the next bit. Other than the occasional truck coming at me in the opposite direction, and a few cars that were spaced out at intervals ahead of me, their rear lights shining red in the blackness, I was on my own. Occasionally the road, for no apparent reason, angled off to the north, and then back to the east, and even less occasionally, I had to slow down to pass through a settlement of people…Sexsmith…Rycroft… there was an interesting two-lane suspension bridge at a place called Dunvegan—I saw it lit up by the high beams of my headlamps—and then a long slow climb out of the valley towards a town called Fairview, which marked the halfway point of the trip.
I was in the process of congratulating myself that I hadn’t encountered any ice or snow along the way when, all of a sudden, and with no warning whatsoever, the car began to slide. I was going about 100kph, the speed limit. I had microseconds to react and it took everything I had not to panic, not to hit the brakes, to remember Uncle Fred’s wisely-learned instructions for ice-driving: turn your wheels into the skid.
I did, and the car gracefully completed a 360° turn in the middle of the highway and, after avoiding a spin-off into a snow-filled ditch, came to a complete stop on the other side of the road, facing the oncoming traffic.
I sat for a few seconds, listening to my heart pounding and trying to get my breathing back to normal. Then I realized there were bright white lights roaring towards me and I slid the car back to the other lane three seconds ahead of a huge big-rig truck that likely would have flattened me if I’d waited any longer.
I was in no shape to drive on. I needed a smoke. And a pee. Very badly. I didn’t dare stop the engine. I rolled the driver’s side window down about four inches and literally caught my breath as the freezing night air hit my face. I lit up and blew the smoke out through the gap, then opened the door a crack and
tossed the finished cigarette into the snow and extinguished it as I relieved myself.
As I closed the window I caught sight of something I’d only ever seen in pictures and heard about from others: a magnificent burst of Northern Lights—a glimmering dance of luminescent green that made me think of the peaks and dips on a graphic audio display, with much-softened edges.
They stayed with me for the next 100 km, all the way into Peace River, and then, inexplicably, faded away into the starlit night as I drove into the parking lot of the 12 Foot Davis Hotel.
The night clerk was friendly and efficient.
“You remembered to plug your car in, right?” she checked, as she handed me my keycard.
I had not. I went back outside and retrieved the thick orange extension cord and connected it to the plug hanging out of the car’s front grillwork, and then shoved the other end into the outlet.
“Gonna be a cold one tonight,” the clerk said, helpfully, after I’d run back inside, cursing my flimsy English jacket.
“Minus thirty in Calgary,” I offered.
“Minus twenty-three in the valley.”
“Almost a heatwave,” I agreed.
My room was exactly as it had been pictured—with the famous Jacuzzi occupying the corner, along with some fluffy white towels and a laminated instruction card. I imagined some randy trucker, fresh from a long haul even further north than this, stepping in for a soak with a preferred lady visitor, then repairing to the king sized bed with two tins of beer and a porn film on the TV.
I undressed, skipped the soak and the porn, and collapsed into bed without bothering to unpack.
And when I eventually woke up, it was past eleven in the morning. I’d missed the complementary hot breakfast, and I wanted to know where Ben Quigley had gone after vacating this room.
Winona Kent is an award-winning author who was born in London, England and grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan, where she completed her BA in English at the University of Regina. After moving to Vancouver, she graduated from UBC with an MFA in Creative Writing. More recently, she received her diploma in Writing for Screen and TV from Vancouver Film School.
After a career that's included freelancing for magazines and newspapers, long and short fiction, screenplays and tv scripts, Winona has now returned to her first love, novels. She lives in Vancouver, Canada.
Writing is Winona's passion.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I was born in London, England and grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan, where I completed my BA in English at the University of Regina. After moving to Vancouver, I graduated from UBC with an MFA in Creative Writing. More recently, I received my diploma in Writing for Screen and TV from Vancouver Film School.
My writing breakthrough came many years ago when I won First Prize in the Flare Magazine Fiction Contest with my short story about an all-night radio newsman, Tower of Power.
My short story Dietrich's Ash was an Okanagan Short Fiction Award winner and was published in Canadian Author & Bookman, anthologized in Pure Fiction (Fitzhenry & Whiteside) and broadcast on the CBC Radio program Ambience.
My short story Creatures from Greek Mythology was a Second Prize Winner and WQ Editors Prize winner and was published in Cross-Canada Writers Quarterly.
My spy novel Skywatcher was a finalist in the Seal Books First Novel Competition and was published in 1989. This was followed by a sequel, The Cilla Rose Affair, and a mystery/adventure, Cold Play, set aboard a cruise ship in Alaska.
After three time-travel romances (Persistence of Memory, In Loving Memory and Marianne's Memory), I returned to mysteries with Disturbing the Peace, a novella, in 2017 and the novel Notes on a Missing G-String in 2019, both featuring the character I first introduced in Cold Play, jazz musician / amateur sleuth Jason Davey.
The second novel in my Jason Davey mystery series, Lost Time, was published on August 31, 2020.
I've been a temporary secretary, a travel agent and the Managing Editor of a literary magazine. I recently retired from my full-time job as a Program Assistant at UBC's School of Population and Public Health. I'm currently the BC/YT/NWT rep for the Crime Writers of Canada and I live in New Westminster, BC, where I am happily embracing life as a full-time author.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I ran a completely illegal fan club for the Monkees when I was 12 years old, and I ran a semi-official website for the actor Sean Bean between 1995 and 2012. You can still visit the website, although it is no longer updated. http://www.compleatseanbean.com
As an offshoot to that – I'm the person responsible for inventing the original “Death by Cow” list of all of the films, tv shows and stage productions in which Sean Bean's characters die. You can see it on the website!
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
My dad was a travel agent so when we immigrated to Canada in 1957, we flew on an airplane – a Super Constellation – unlike most immigrants who came by ship. We managed a few trips back to England after that, and those were always by ship, because, being in the business, my dad got a great discount. I sailed on five different ocean liners between 1957 and 1968 – an Italian liner called the Homeric (which has a guest mention in my novel, Lost Time); a little Dutch ship, the Ryndam (the ancestor of the current megacruise ship Ryndam, owned by Holland America); the Empress of England (a lovely little liner owned by Canadian Pacific); her sister, the Empress of Canada (the inspiration for the Star Sapphire in my novel Cold Play); and the Queen Mary. The original Queen Mary. The one that's sitting in the drydock at Long Beach, California. I sailed aboard her when I was seven years old and although my memories are a bit patchy, I do remember the splendour of our cabin (it was all dark wood panelling and green silk bedspreads) and the uniqueness of having a bath-tub with an optional salt-water tap. I also remember being very seasick and throwing up at the dinner table (I was mortified).
My love of old steamships dates back to these voyages. It's a little known fact, but Jason Davey (my amateur detective in Lost Time) was actually conceived on board the Queen Mary during a voyage his parents took to the U.S.
Where were you born/grew up?
I was born in Hampstead, which is a northern suburb of London, England. I spent my first three years there, and then I immigrated with my parents to Canada. I grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan, where my dad was the manager of a travel agency. I got my BA in English from the University of Regina. I met my husband in Regina (he was a radio newsman), and then we moved to Winnipeg for a few years, then back to Regina, then Moose Jaw (anyone who is anyone has lived in Moose Jaw at one time or another!) and then we finally moved out to the west coast (Vancouver) where I've lived for the past forty years or so.
What are you passionate about these days? What do you do to unwind and relax?
I've put these two questions together because they involve the same things!
I'm absolutely passionate about my writing. I always have been. But I retired from working last year (in a job unrelated to writing) and now I finally have all day to indulge in my passion. I am a full-time writer at last! Oddly enough, my stories also help me to unwind and relax. If I don't do some research, or some creative work on my novels, I tend to get very tense and bad-tempered. I need my writing fix!
My other main passion is family tree research. So far I've discovered about 7,000 cousins :-) Most of them are very distant, and there's also a huge mystery as to where my great-grandfather came from. I have no idea who his real parents were, where he was actually born, and whether he had any siblings. I've done the DNA test and that's created even more of a mystery! So I spend a lot of time digging through my distant cousins' family trees to try and find links and common family members. It's a bit like writing a mystery – and you'll see that I've used my knowledge of how family tree research sites work to help Jason solve the mystery of Pippa Gladstone in Lost Time!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I was a writer before I knew I was a writer! When I was very small, before I knew how to read, I told stories to myself and illustrated them with pictures (often drawn on the wall, much to my mother's annoyance). I continued telling stories to myself all through childhood, until I was about 12, when I decided to tackle writing a novel. It was about Lawrence Jenkins-Hennessey who was kidnapped and bundled into the cargo hold of a freighter and transported to England. I never finished it, but it did teach me the rudimentary rules about a) having a well-developed plot and b) knowing in advance what you're going to do with your main character once you've got him involved in a bad situation.
I was writing short stories and more novels all the way through high school, so I guess I was probably about 13 or 14 when I decided that I really really wanted to be a writer. I went to a very progressive high school (for its day) and was allowed to submit a novella as my major project in my Literature class. I had excellent encouragement from a couple of teachers (thank you Mr. Williamson and Mr. Robinson!), so by the time I graduated from high school and went into University, I was pretty much convinced I was on the right track. But I didn't really consider myself a “successful” writer because I hadn't had anything published. I took a Creative Writing course at university where the instructor, Ken Mitchell, made sure that definition was kicked out of the way pretty quickly. He gave us all assignments to write something for the university newspaper – an article, an interview, anything. We all got our stories in print and Ken said, “OK, now you're all successful writers!”
Ken encouraged those of us who wanted to be novelists to try and get ourselves known first on other platforms, in order to build a good CV and also to bolster our confidence. That was the way you did it back in the 1970s, when novelists were reliant on traditional publishers to get their books into print. So I spent a few years as a freelancer, writing nonfiction articles for newspapers and magazines and the occasional short story. One of my short stories ended up winning first prize in a huge fiction competition in a national women's magazine, and I think that, more than anything, convinced me that I was well on my way to becoming a “successful writer.” But in my own mind, I still wasn't there yet!
I'd been working full-time as a travel agent (and writing in my spare time), and after that I took a couple of years off and went back to university to get my MFA in Creative Writing. That was one of the best things I ever did for myself – I was surrounded by other writers and immersed in workshops – and a couple of years after I graduated with my degree, I finally got my first novel published (it was one of the finalists in a major first-novel competition in Canada).
I think it was the publication of that first novel that finally legitimized my idea of myself as a “writer” because that was what I'd always aimed for and that was what had always been my goal, from a very early age. It doesn't dimimish any of the successes I'd had previously with my freelance articles and short stories. But I'd always wanted to be a novelist. And that was the moment when “novelist” and “writer” merged into the same golden ring. And I grabbed it.
Do you have a favorite movie?
I have several favourite movies that I could watch over and over again and never grow tired of.
a. Hope and Glory, about a young boy in suburban London during World War Two. I love the gentle story, the characters, the acting and the direction. It was written, produced and directed by John Boorman and was based on his own experiences of growing up in the Blitz in London.
b. Love Actually. You either love this movie or you hate it. I love it. I think it's one of Richard Curtis's best films. I really enjoy the exploration of the various iterations of “love”. And the acceptance of quirky complications and situations that might generally be considered unacceptable or uncomfortable. Plus I really like Bill Nighy.
c. The Tall Guy. Not a hugely well-known film – but it was Richard Curtis's debut as a screenwriter. The story's based on Curtis's experiences as straight man to his long-time collaborator Rowan Atkinson when they were performing comedy onstage in England. The situations are silly and the characters are all a bit strange (that's what I love about them) but it's an oddly satisfying film and hugely funny. It also features one of Emma Thompson's very very first film appearances, as the love interest of the hero.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I plan on writing a lot more Jason Davey mysteries. In Lost Time, Jason's rehearsing to go on tour with his mum's band, Figgis Green. In the next novel in the series (tentatively called Ticket to Ride), we're actually going to go on tour with Jason and the band, while Jason tries to solve yet another intriguing mystery!
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
My main character in Lost Time, Jason Davey, has quite an interesting back story. He first appeared in my novel Cold Play (2012), working as a musician aboard an aging cruise ship in Alaska. First, a frightening, middle-of-the-night fire shatters his sense of security. Then an anonymous and delusional stalker from Twitter starts sending him messages from somewhere on board. Jason's wife was once employed by a beautiful, aging and eccentric actress who is now occupying one of the ship's luxury suites and it soon becomes murderously clear to Jason that she has more on her mind than her favourite stuffed monkey. And hard-drinking ex-rocker Rick Redding (who was once a member of Jason's parents' band Figgis Green) is in the stateroom beside the actress, and may know more about Jason's secret pedigree than anyone suspects. Finally, Jason is guided by his "guardian angel" Jilly - who he only knows as a constructed personality on Twitter. Jason and everyone aboard the ship must survive a trial by fire and ice on the journey to Juneau, Skagway and Glacier Bay.
So that's what Jason was doing before he became an amateur PI!
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
My main character is Jason Davey, who has quite a back story. I first wrote about him in 2012, when he was the hero of my adventure novel Cold Play. The story's set on a cruise ship in Alaska and was based on my experiences travelling with my sister, who was a captain's secretary aboard assorted Princess Cruises ships. I wanted to tell a story from a crew perspective, so I invented Jason, who was an entertainer aboard the Star Sapphire. After Cold Play I wrote three romantic time-travel novels with completely different characters. And then it was suggested to me that I try my hand at mysteries – and that I resurrect Jason from Cold Play and make him into an amateur sleuth who is now employed as a jazz guitarist at a London night club. The result was a novella, Disturbing the Peace (which takes Jason to Peace River, Alberta, in northern Canada), and then a full novel, Notes on a Missing G-String (where Jason has to solve the mystery of the disappearance of a large sum of money from a stripper's locker).
There are two inspirations behind Jason's current adventure, Lost Time. The first was my curiosity and fascination with bands from the 1960s and 1970s who have either reformed after a long absence, or who have never stopped touring and are still packing in audiences who want to see them play. My mum is very elderly, so I have an appreciation and understanding of aging characters who still want to get out there and perform.
The second inspiration was my interest in people who have gone missing and have never been found. I first explored that theme in Disturbing the Peace. I wondered what if an amateur PI was asked to try and track one of these cases down.
In Lost Time, I wanted to know who would have a vested interest in locating a young woman who disappeared in 1974 and who was later declared dead? And who might not want Jason to succeed in finding her? And, more importantly, why?
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
I'm always a bit paranoid about naming characters and then discovering there are real people out there who also share those names. I know it's impossible to avoid, so I always do a Google search to make sure I'm not giving my characters names that coincide with people who may be well-known or have very visible online profiles. Sometimes if I really like the name and I discover someone online who has the same name, I'll change the spelling slightly so it looks different.
I love unusual last names, but I usually end up naming characters after people in my family, or who I've worked with, or who I went to school with. My latest novel, Lost Time, is filled with surnames of people I'm related to. And one person who I worked with a long time ago when I was a travel agent – Scattergood! One of Jason Davey's previous adventures, Disturbing the Peace, involved a character named Ben Quigley – who I named after my best friend at school when I was seven years old. And a long time ago, in The Cilla Rose Affair, I called one of the baddies Victor Barnfather. I loved that surname – and I didn't make it up. When I was 19 I spent a summer working in England as a temporary secretary, and I had an assignment at an American oil company in London. One of the auditors there was named Barnfather.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Since my main character, Jason, is a musician who's rehearsing for an upcoming tour with his mother's band (which is reuniting decades after they split up) I loved the whole idea of becoming part of that process. Sometimes musicians create “tour diaries” while they're on the road and post those on blogs and YouTube and other social networking platforms. They don't often include the rehearsal part of the tour or, if they do, it's often just a few lines or a few glimpses. I really wanted to spend two weeks with Jason and the band and explore the music as it all came together, the comradery, and the arguments and disagreements! I also really really enjoyed inventing songs for the band. I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching different arrangements of tunes I was familiar with, then “retooling” those tunes into similarly-themed songs for Jason's band. In a few cases I also had the band covering existing songs. I have some musical background – I had formal piano and music theory lessons for four years when I was a child. I can read music and I understand the rudiments of composition. So I had a great time coming up with all the songs on the Figgis Green set lists – as well as describing them while the band worked through them during their rehearsals.
The other thing I really enjoyed about this book was its setting. The story all takes place in a fictitious English seaside village called Stoneford and a slightly larger town to its north, also fictitious, called Middlehurst. Both are in Hampshire, near Southampton. I originally created Stoneford and Middlehurst when I was writing my time-travel novels, as Stoneford is where Charlie and Shaun Deeley (the main characters) were based. I really adored the place and felt that I wasn't quite finished with it, so it became the band's home for two weeks in Lost Time. I love playing with the idea of having control over the entire “world” that my characters are inhabiting, rather than setting a novel in a real city or town.
How did you come up with the title of your first novel?
My very first published novel was called Skywatcher. It was a tongue-in-cheek spy caper inspired by the old Man from UNCLE tv series from the 1960s. Its original title was The Christopher Robin Caper – named after one of the main characters, Christopher Robin Harris. But when my editors at Seal Books were going through the manuscript they felt that the story needed a more “adult” sounding title, otherwise they feared it would be mistaken for a YA. I suggested Skywatcher, which sounded a lot like another book about espionage that was getting a lot of attention around that time – Spycatcher. The editors liked the name but couldn't figure out where it appeared in the book. I said it wasn't in the book at all anywhere, but I could add it as the name of the top secret plot to overthrow the world that the heroes had to deal with. The editors agreed, I named the plot Skywatcher, and my first book had a title.
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
I think it's the end – the last couple of chapters – when Jason finally discovers what happened to Pippa Gladstone. I won't give away any spoilers, but I am myself completely OCD about being late for things. So when it becomes very clear to Jason that he's missed the sound check for the band's opening night and he's also in very real danger of missing the actual concert, there's a good deal of stress and anxiety which, oddly enough, I enjoyed playing with. Toss in a thunderstorm with some terrifying lightning strikes (I'm absolutely scared to death of lightning, a trait I share with Jason) and it turns into quite a frantic time. Oh, and Jason's mother says the best line in the entire book. You'll have to read it to find out what it is.
If you could spend time with a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
It would be Jason, of course. We'd meet up in London, and he'd take me on a personal sightseeing tour of the city, which has changed so much since the last time I was there in 2002 that I probably wouldn't recognize it. We'd have lunch in one of the restaurants in the Shard (amazing views), then a river cruise to Greenwich, during which we'd chat about his music and his experiences touring England and Ireland with Figgis Green, as well as his most interesting sleuthing assignments. We'd have dinner in Covent Garden at Rules, London's oldest restaurant, established in 1798 and a place where Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, John Galsworthy and H G Wells were frequent patrons. After dinner we'd explore some more of London, and we'd end up in Soho, visiting the Blue Devil, the jazz club where Jason has a residency.
I wouldn't confine my visit to just one day, though! I think I'd like to spend about two weeks with Jason. We'd visit historical estates out in the country, take a trip to the south coast to see the town that I based the fictitious village of Stoneford on, have a paddle in the sea, perhaps put our heads together to come up with some more intriguing mysteries for him to solve...and I also wouldn't mind a few guitar lessons! He's an expert, and I'm a mere amateur. I did take guitar lessons when I was in high school, but I really only know how to play basic chords and a very simple version of “Four Strong Winds”.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
I usually create characters who are completely original, but who have things in common with people I know or know of. So I might think of a person I used to work with, or someone I've seen on tv or in films, and I'll use their physical description. There's a female Detective Sergeant in Lost Time who looks just like Sharon Maugham who used to appear in the old Taster's Choice coffee commercials with Anthony Head.
Or I might borrow some personality quirks from people I know. Jason's mum, Mandy Green, and Pippa's mum, Susan Gladstone, are both elderly and both share a few interesting traits with my own mum, who is now 95.
Jason himself went through a long evolution before becoming the character he is now. He started out in 2002 as a purser aboard a cruise ship, and he looked rather a lot like the actor Sean Bean, and his character was a bit like Sean's character in his old Sharpe tv series. Then, as the novel was rewritten, first as a screenplay and then as a story set in Alaska instead of the Caribbean, Jason ceased to be a purser, and became one of the ship's entertainers instead. And he no longer resembled Sean Bean.
I'm not sure who I had in mind when I described his appearance in the final version of Cold Play – the version that was ultimately published in 2012 – but I think I wanted him to have dark hair, and a quirky, uniquely funny way of looking at life. I borrowed his personality from a couple of characters I knew on Twitter from around that time. They had “constructed personalities”, which were the public faces that they presented online – but I also knew they had private lives which were actually quite different. So when I created Jason's storyline in Cold Play, I played with his online personality and how he interacted with his Twitterfriends, but I also showed his offline life aboard the ship – which came entirely from my imagination, though it was all based on my experiences travelling with my sister, who was a captain's secretary with Princess Cruises.
It would be another five years before Jason emerged yet again, this time in my novella Disturbing the Peace (2017). He was essentially the same character he'd been in Cold Play, but he'd calmed down a lot. He wasn't on Twitter anymore, and in fact had hardly any online presence at all. He'd matured, settled down, and was inclined to be far more thoughtful and kind. And that's essentially the Jason you see now, in Notes on a Missing G-String and Lost Time – except now he's decided to embrace Instagram with pictures of all his meals.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
I have! I wrote six or seven books before my first novel was published in 1989. I consider them “practice novels” – I used them to hone my craft and to learn how to deal with dialogue and plotting, description and characterizations. They're all incomplete in one way or another and I would never consider them good enough to be published. The last of these novels was actually my thesis at the University of British Columbia, where I got my MFA in Creative Writing. I re-read it last year and parts of it make me cringe – though I showed it to a colleague at work, who read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think it could be brought up to publishing standards with some serious editing. Perhaps this is something for the future. It's called The Sloughwater Chronicles and it takes place in 1882 Saskatchewan. The story's about two women who meet on a train on their way to Regina, which was called Pile of Bones in 1882, and how their lives play out over the subsequent year. Mind you, the novel was good enough to grant me my Master's Degree, so it can't have been that bad!
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
John Le Carre (a master spy writer)
Monica Dickens (Charles Dickens' great-grand-daughter)
John Galsworthy (he wrote The Forsyte Saga)
Colin Dexter (he wrote the books that the Morse tv series was based on)
Rosemary Sutcliff (she wrote a series of fascinating young adult and children's books in the 1950s and 60s)
Lucy M. Boston (she wrote a series of YA and children's novels about Green Knowe, an old country manor house in England)
Bernard Cornwell (he wrote the Sharpe novels)
Roddy Doyle (an Irish author who wrote the book upon which the film The Commitments was based)
Enid Blyton (I seem to have quite a fondness for the books I read as a child)
Beatrix Potter (what can I say? I was inspired by her determination to succeed in spite of the limitations placed upon her by her father and family, and my earliest memories are of being read to by my mum – and it was Beatrix Potter's stories).
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
When I start to outline a new novel, I always know who my main characters will be. But as I work my way through the various drafts, I often add in new characters “as required”. I usually do this to help develop a clue, or to complicate the plot, or to provide a red herring or just to add some colour to the story. With Lost Time, I started out with my protagonist, Jason; the members of Jason's mum's band; Duncan Stopher, who approaches Jason to investigate the disappearance of Pippa Gladstone; and Pippa's mother and brother. Along the way, as I was developing the plot further, I added in Ellie Champion, the daughter of the owner of a holiday guest house; Trish Wiggins, who works in the Reception Office of Pippa's old school; a newspaper reporter, Janice Winstanley; Detective Sergeant Julie Handsworth from the Hampshire Constabulary, who I needed to investigate a murder; and a few other characters who turned out to be absolutely necessary in order to properly tell the story. I also eliminated a few characters, mostly because they weren't really adding much to the story or their purpose had been dropped.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I absolutely prefer silence. I used to be able to tune out whatever noise was going on in the background – tv or radio – but I've found as I've got older that it's become more and more difficult to focus when there are distractions. I don't mind noise from the outside – traffic, trains, street cleaners, leaf blowers – but I can't concentrate on complex plots and imaginative dialogue when there's a tv on in the same room where I'm trying to write.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
I can only write one book at a time. It's an all-consuming effort and it uses up all of my creative resources. But I'm always thinking about the next book that I'm going to write while I'm working on the current one. And sometimes I'll jot down a lot of notes that I'll incorporate into an outline for that next book.
Pen or type writer or computer?
Way way back, hundreds of years ago, when I first started writing, I used a fountain pen filled with peacock blue ink. I used to write by hand. And then I graduated to typing straight onto a typewriter (I taught myself to type and I had a lovely little portable Smith Corona that I used to balance on my knees as I sat on my bed). When I went to university, I got into the habit of writing by hand again, this time with a mechanical pencil (one of those little plastic things that you buy leads for and you press a button at the top to push the lead down to keep the tip sharp). I found it was much easier on my fingers and it stopped me from getting a cramped hand after hours and hours of writing.
After home computers came into our lives, I used to write everything out by hand and then transcribe it into Word on my computer. I found that was the only way my imagination would work effectively. I needed to keep that physical connection between my creative brain and my hand and the pencil on the paper.
And then, when I went to film school, I learned how to compose directly onto my computer. I'm not sure how it happened, but I was able to convince my imagination to make the leap and allow my creative brain to engage the keyboard and the screen.
Now I write exclusively on my computer, using a program for writers called Scrivener. I absolutely love it.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
I never used to do outlines. But I was taught to begin with an outline when I learned how to write screenplays at Vancouver Film School about 15 years ago. I quickly realized that an outline was a wonderful way to begin working on a novel, too, especially after I went back to work full-time and could only write on weekends, evenings and on my days off. Having an outline helped me keep track of where I was in the story, and where I was going. Now that I'm a full-time writer, I've kept the habit going. My outlines are never written in stone, and I usually end up changing them – sometimes drastically – as I work my way through each chapter.
After I've got the outline down, I start writing chapters. I absolutely hate first drafts so, for me, this is usually the most difficult part of writing a novel. I'm never happy with what I've put on the page, and nothing ever seems to say what I want it to. As well, I often have to stop to do research. I'm quite a stickler for accuracy in my stories, so I'll spend inordinate amounts of time tracking down information about locations, occupations, the weather on a specific day in a specific place, what time the sun came up, whether or not a certain menu item might be available in a certain kind of restaurant in a certain village, that sort of thing.
I've found that my first drafts are usually fairly complete for the first third of a new novel, less complete around the middle, and more like the outline towards the end. As I work on the first draft, I make small changes to the outline as required. And then after I've finished the first draft, I'll go back to the outline as a whole and reassess it, and decide if any larger, global changes need to be made.
Then I'll tackle the second draft of the novel. I love editing, so I really enjoy this part of the process. This is where the story really starts to come alive for me. I'll spend a lot of time working on the second draft, adding in details and descriptions, complicating the plot, working out little tricks and clues and red herrings, creating puzzles and also inventing new characters and locations, as required. By the time I've finished the second draft, the story is pretty much complete and fairly closely resembles what the finished novel will look like.
But I'm still not finished. I'll take a little break (maybe a week or so) in order to get some objectivity. And then I'll tackle the third draft. If you can liken writing a novel to building a house, then the first draft involves digging the foundations and putting up the wooden framing and the roof, the second draft is where you add the walls and ceilings and put in the plumbing and electrics, and the third draft is where you add the embellishments – you paint the walls, get the toilet and bath installed, put down the carpeting and floor tiles, that sort of thing. In my third draft, I'm actively looking for problems. Characters that aren't working. Too much description getting in the way of the story. Plotlines that are awkward or don't ring true. I'm also looking for ways to improve what's on the page. I add descriptions (as long as they don't get in the way of the story). I develop characters further. I create more conflict if it's missing. If I've been lazy and told the reader something in the narrative when it could have been better conveyed in dialogue, I'll add in that dialogue. By the time I've finished the third draft, the novel should be almost ready to publish.
But I'll still put it through three more quick drafts. Draft Four is a content edit. I'm reading it exclusively through the eyes of an editor working for a publisher. I've been through this process a few times, so I have a fairly good idea what to look for.
Draft Five is a copy edit. I'm on the lookout for typos, commas that should be full stops, consistency and correct usage in things like numbers, dates, ages, times, references to names, italics that should be in quotation marks and vice versa, etc.
And finally, Draft Six. Which takes place about a week after Draft 5. It's a final critical read-through, just to see if it all hangs together. I've been known to make small but crucial last-minute changes (always for the better) in Draft Six.
So that's my process!
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
My Jason Davey Mysteries are all written from a first-person point of view, and my main character (Jason) is a male. Since I'm a female, this has proved to be an interesting challenge. I think the hardest part is bending my mind to think like a guy and provide a narrative that sounds like it's coming from a male vocabulary rather than a female one. I've turned to a few males for assistance (my husband, a sympathetic uncle and a helpful friend or two) and I think I've been able to get away with it!
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
These days it takes me about a year, starting with the preliminary research and ending with the last draft. It used to take me longer, but that was when I was working full-time in an unrelated job, and I had to cram my writing into days off, evenings and weekends. (I'm now, happily, a full-time writer.) My third novel, Cold Play, took me about 10 years to write! It started out as a novel called Found at Sea roundabout 2002. Then I went to film school in 2004 and turned it into my first attempt at writing a feature film script. Then I changed its location (from the Caribbean to Alaska!) and rewrote some of the storylines and changed the name of the main character. And I changed what he did aboard the cruise ship where he was working – in the earlier drafts he was a Purser. In the last rewrite, he was one of the ship's entertainers. The novel was finally published in 2012.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I think that any writer who insists writer's block doesn't exist has never experienced it first hand. Writer's block is very real. And it's horrible and frustrating. It can happen for a variety of reasons: stress, pressure to meet deadlines, the fear of not being able to live up to expectations (both self-imposed and those expressed by others), real life issues interfering with your creative mind, your “well” of ideas running dry...the list is endless.
I've only experienced it once, but it lasted a very long time (about two years!). Looking back, I can see why it happened. I'd just published my first novel, and I was under considerable pressure to write the next one, a sequel with the same characters. I was in the middle of moving from my old apartment (a rental) to a new one (which I'd bought). The sales of my first novel were less than stellar. I lost my agent (he decided to get out of the agenting business altogether). I was having problems at work (office politics!). And on top of all of that, my storyline concerned something I was absolutely passionate about – the London Underground – but I couldn't think of a way to adequately convey that passion AND write a decent storyline to incorporate it.
I must have written and rewritten the first five chapters dozens of times as I tried to find my way. And then I saw the movie Field of Dreams. I realized, as I was watching it, that this was a film about one man's passion. And that instead of trying to impose my passion on the story I was writing, what I needed to do was give that passion to one of my main characters instead. Which is exactly what I did. The result was The Cilla Rose Affair, which has a very tongue-in-cheek storyline involving the London Underground – and a main character, Anthony, whose obsession with the Underground allows him to supply knowledge and information that becomes integral to the plot.
Sometimes the solution to writer's block comes from the most unexpected sources. In this case it was Field of Dreams. Since then, I've discovered the power of something called “Morning Pages”. You can find references to this process all over the internet. Basically, it's just a couple of pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, preferably done first thing in the morning. But you can do it anytime you feel the need. All you have to do is scribble down anything that comes into your mind. If nothing comes into your mind, scribble the word “nothing” – until “something” appears in your imagination, and then write down what it is – and carry on from there. It's all about opening up your creative brain and avoiding an extended writer's block – and it works. I speak from experience!
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