Monday, 29 June 2015

Sunday, 21 June 2015

A Midsummer Night's Dream

 Haleakala, the volcano on the island of Maui, Hawaii. 
I got up at four this morning, walked to the top of the hill in the field next to my house, and stood, watching the sun rise. I do that every year; it's always as magical as the previous one – and I've seen the sun rise in some surprising places in the past, including Haleakala. 

But a few years ago, a particularly hot summer, we spend Midsummer Night on Glastonbury Tor. This was unforgettable too, and I recreate some of my experiences (and add to them, of course), in the opening pages of my third Shaman Mystery Novel. 

Beneath the Tor, out in December from Midnight Ink Books, is the third book recounting the adventures and life of a young British shamananic therapist called Sabbie Dare. She walks in the spirit world to help her clients, people on the edge, seeking help from a shaman because all other avenues of help have closed off, and this often sends her into terrifying places and to dangerous people.

In Beneath the Tor, Sabbie is in Glastonbury, the amazingly spiritual town in Somerset, UK, to help run a shamanic workshop. This allowed me to introduce a new bunch of amazing characters to the stories.

Ten of us – a group keen to explore shamanism – had climbed the west side of Glastonbury Tor as the sun slipped from the sky in a shock of red. I’d been taking the lead up the steep grassy slope and was finally in sight of the hill’s crest, where the ground spread and flattened as if it had been sliced off, like the top of a boiled egg. I could already hear the people, the drums. My own pulse quickened. The party had begun.
Alys had grinned as she’d surged past me, heading hotfoot for the summit. She’d balanced on the edge above and exploded into jumping jacks – from sheer joy, it seemed to me – her long legs gold in the last sun.
Wolfsbane had leaned on his staff, an ornately carved piece of ashwood, and pointed with his unlit cigarette. He was a chain smoker when he got the chance, but didn’t have the breath to light up on the climb. “That girl is going to make a terrific shaman. I can’t wait to start working with her.”

It's a balmy night on Glastonbury Tor, but it doesn't end well for Alys:

I rolled onto my stomach to watch the handful of dancers who were still going strong. Alys was among them, turboed up like a child who’d had too much ice cream, hollering and whooping. I could hear her from the far side of the summit.
I saw her dance.
I saw her drop.
She fell to the ground with a silent thud.
She fell awkwardly, one leg trapped under the other, her head thrown back.
I stared for long seconds, waiting for her to rise and start again.
Alys didn’t get up. She didn’t move at all.
I stood and ran, but one person reached her before me. Ricky dropped onto one knee and touched her gently on the cheek. “Alys? Alys!” 
There was no response.
“What is it?” I barked. “What’s wrong?”
“Exhaustion, I’d guess.”
Shell was scampering towards us. I screamed at her. “Get Brice! Quick!”
My phone was in my back pocket, switched off to save batteries. I fumbled with it, cursing the slow turn-on. I’d got a signal. I bloody-well should get a signal on the top of this rock.
Word began to spread, people realized something was happening. The drums trailed off. The other dancers closed around us. 
“Give her air, please!” I cried into the silence.
Ricky looked up. “She won’t need air.”
“I saw her spirit go.”

Sabbie Dare and her friends are in shock and when her shamanic guru, Wolfsbane, confesses that Alys
Midsummer Day on Glastonbury Tor
may have unwittingly taken drugs during his ritual, Sabbie is  horrified.

Then, Brice, Alys’ grieving husband, approaches Sabbie for help. He has received sinister, anonymous emails about his dead wife. As Sabbie tries to unravel the meaning of these disturbing messages she is also trying to help a vulnerable and young new client, Laura, who is having terrifying panic attacks. Sabbie turns to the spirit world for guidance but only receives conflicting and enigmatic answers. As Sabbie heads closer to the truth about Alys’ shocking death, a deranged killer is also heading towards a showdown with a final victim, and both are closer to Sabbie than she knows.
There are Midsummer Night Party blogs all over the place today; go to to find out more.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

How Many Notebooks does it take to...

Shoot me down in flames if you don’t agree with me, but I’d say that a writer who does not have at least one notebook, is not a writer.
To me, it’s the most essential tool. So essential that it’s the very first thing we look at in Writing SkillsKeeping a Writer’s Notebook. Just as a sketchpad makes you think like an artist, using a notebook transforms your approach to writing.
So, new writers are asked to keep a notebook, but seasoned writers don’t just keep one; even though my fingers are now hardwired to use a keyboard and my writing (and spelling) has deteriorated to chimpanzee level, I am never, never without my many notebooks. Right now, I’m using notebooks for…
Want to find out what I'm using my notebooks for? Read the entire post at

Monday, 8 June 2015

Writers & Other Animals: Hens and Chicks (and the Mystery Writer)…continued...

Ceredwin and her brood
Last summer, I blogged on about how Ceredwin, one of my hens, had a little brood of chicks. Heavens, she was proud! She grew feathers on her feet to help keep them warm, called them each time she found food. But there came a point where they didn’t look cute and fluffy any more; they weren’t smaller than Ceredwin anymore, either. She turned her back on them – she’d taught hem well and now she expected them to fend for themselves.

A year later those four chicks are part of our flock. Rhiannon bears a golden shoulder cape and Pwyll has grown into a distinguished cockerel. Littlewings (so called because she was the runt of the brood –when it was mini mealworm time she’d run up and down the edge of the nesting box, trying to scale the great height of 2 inches, to join the feast, and we’d cheer her on as if we’d put money on a hurdling competition), and, finally, there’s Redneck.

Redneck is a Transylvanian Naked-neck cockerel. I swear there’s a bit of turkey somewhere in this breed, because, although much smaller than Pwyll, he’s an odd contorted shape and sometimes he sort-of…gobbles. His neck is bright red, exposed through a ruff of white feathers. He so ugly, only his mother could love him, but his mother doesn’t love any of her brood anymore, so there’s no hope.
Red Neck

We love him, of course, because he affords us so much fun. Despite his diminutive size and challenging appearance, he’s made of stern stuff. “Never give up, Never surrender,” is his motto. Never give up chasing the hens, that is.

You see, Pwyll took over the entire flock with a confidence that comes from knowing you are a hen’s answer to Joshua Jackson – I’m sure he must have looked in a mirror at sometime – it’s clear he knows how handsome he is. His approach to Redneck’s advances is; “if you want these dames, you have to fight for them.”

I came out into the yard to find them scrapping; running at each other, crowing and flapping, flinging themselves into the air, crashing at each other a yard up from the ground, beaks and spurs ripping and tearing. There was blood on the ground and on the breasts of my two cocks. 

And it was all Redneck’s.

He sulked to the end of the garden to lick his wounds. Actually, hens (all birds, I think) have tongues, but I doubt he did much licking. I tried several times to catch him to patch him up, but he wasn’t having any of it.

“Don’t worry,” said my poultry-expert friend, Jane. “Cocks are hardy beasts. He’ll survive.”

Redneck wears the scar showing prominently on his comb with pride. His life is lived on the edge, away from Pwyll. But Pwyll has four hens to husband; he can’t be everywhere at once, and, as soon as he takes his eye off a wife, Redneck is there, looking for a bit of lurve. If the hen that’s getting the amorous attention makes a fuss (anything from “I told you. I’ve got headache,” to “Rape! RAPE!”) Pwyll will half run, half fly across our plot to the scene of the trouble, while Redneck makes off in an opposite direction. But he never gives up. He’s always on the lookout for nooky behind Pwyll’s back.

Keeping hens is a clear case of character envy – Sabbie Dare, heroine of my Shaman Mystery Series, had hens long before me.

Sabbie is a 29 year-old shaman with a therapy business in a sleepy town in England. She helps her shamanic clients by walking between worlds...bringing messages for them back from the spirit world. She lives a self-sufficient life, growing vegetables and keeping a small flock of hens.

Book one in the series, In the Moors opens with the death of half her flock after a visit from a fox.

At the henhouse door I dropped my empty basket and cried out in raw distress. Slaughter lay at my feet. Saffron, the biggest of my hens, was gone, and Pettitgrain, my favourite, lay in the run, dead from a clean bite to the neck.

The henhouse smelt of gore. Sickness swelled in my stomach, an expansion of loathing for the fox, no doubt now slumbering, replete. My brave cockerel, Cocky Bastard, who must have defended his harem to the last, lay on his side twitching steadily. I picked him up. His body was bloodied and broken. His eyes stared deep into mine. Quickly I broke his neck. The three remaining birds huddled in a corner making low, tense cluckings, as if they were discussing their traumatic night in hushed whispers. 

Sabbie believes in omens and portents, so when a cocky detective called Reynard Buckley walks into her life that same day, it’s bound to mean trouble for Sabbie. 

In book two, Unraveled Visions, Sabbie invites Mirela, a young Buglarian Roma, to stay at her house, and in this excerpt they are searching for the girl’s missing sister:

In the chicken coop were five eggs, two as big as a child’s fist. Ginger and Melissa didn’t lay all that often now, but when they did, their eggs were as full as bombs. I thought Mirela deserved an eggie breakfast.
Mirela was a charming combination of femme-fatal, innocent child and hoary old gypsy. She ate both double-yolkers, giggling when I called the bread slices “soldiers”.
“Do you have anything of your sister’s I could use? To help me find her otherworld?”
Mirela reached for her shoulder bag and brought out a zipped, plastic makeup case, stained with lipstick smears. From this she pulled a piece of shiny card. At first I thought it was a large postage stamp, but when she handed it to me I could see that it was a reproduction of an icon – the Virgin Mary in summer blue with a golden halo. I turned it over. On the back was a scribble of biro in Cyrillic script.
 I squeezed Mirela’s arm. “Your sister has to be somewhere. To be honest, some real world searching wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
“Where I look?” She paused. “Where you look?”
Yep, there it was, that sinking feeling as my stomach hit my knees. I’d offered her a bed. I’d offered to work shamanically to find her sister. And now it looked like I was offering some practical help…
“Exactly when did Kizzy leave?” I asked. “Can you remember?”
“Yes, Easy. November six. She just start pack case right then and puff! She’s gone. Like that.” Mirela clapped her hands, once, loudly.
Suddenly, I wanted to find Kizzy badly. I was longing to give her a good slapping down.

Having had such fun with raising chicks myself, I was keen to let Sabbie Dare have a go, too. But Unraveled Visions is set in the deep winter, and no self-respecting hen is even laying eggs then let alone sitting on a clutch. But book three, Beneath the Tor, opens on Midsummer Eve on Glastonbury Tor, where beautiful Alys Hollingberry dies suddenly after dancing away the night. Beneath the Tor continues the dark, atmospheric edge of the previous two books in the series. Sabbie witnesses the tragedy, and gets caught up in its dark aftermath. And in the middle of all this, Florence goes missing.

Florence was my secret favourite. She was a curious hen, bright eyed and comical. I’d had her and her siblings for over a year; a farmer had given me one of her recently-hatched clutches of Sussex hens and they’d been productive and so beautiful to look at. 
“Florence,” I called, even though she had no idea that was her name, “Flo, where are you? Chuck-chuck?”

Beneath the Tor is not due for release until December this year, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait to find out why Alys died on the Tor and what happened to Flo!

Writers & Other Animals: Hens and Chicks (and the Mystery Writer)…continued...:
by Nina Milton

Friday, 5 June 2015

Change or Status quo? Crime Reading Month by Nina Milton

It's crime reading month and as Nina Milton I have a spot on the National Crime Reading Month Website:

Change or Status Quo; 
How my detective classifies murder.

Nina Milton – Change or Status quo?

In Unraveled Visions, the 2nd of my Shaman Mystery Series, a character says, “Ninety-nine percent of murders only have one of two true motives. Change, or status quo.” Is that so? The detective in the Shaman Mysteries things so; I’m still unsure; I never pretend to hold the same views as my characters.
Detective Reynard Buckley meets Sabbie Dare – my 29 year-old heroine – at the start of Book One of the series, In the Moors. Rey is investigating a child abduction and murder when he knocks on her door. Rey is the archetypal humourless, maverick policeman who quickly brands shamanic therapist Sabbie as a crank. He considers her profession ‘mumbo jumbo’, finding its lack of objective evidence perplexing. But Sabbie can’t help finding him…interesting. This makes for a relationship a bit like an upmarket cocktail – bitter, and full of ice, but with a sparkler fizzing at the edge.
Sabbie walks in the spirit world to find answers to people’s problems, and comes back with images and symbols which manifest her clients' underlying issues. Meanwhile, Rey Buckley clears up crime through old-fashioned police work and hard facts. But as they get to know each other, they understand that they have something in common. They both solve things using what Sabbie would call intuition – Rey would more likely call it ‘a hunch’.
When Rey tells Sabbie that he thinks all murders are due to one of two motives, ‘change’, or ‘status quo’, she challenges this immediately. What about money? Crimes of passion? Suicide bombers? What about madness? But Rey’s answer is unequivocal. He believes all killers crave one of two things. Either they want change – the big win, a new political situation. Or they are desperate that things should not change – they kill their lover’s spouse, or kill to stop a crime being discovered. Sane or mad, Rey concludes that the motivation which drives people to kill is not complicated at all.
Well, he would, wouldn’t he. Reynard Buckley worked his way up from the ranks and has trouble, nowadays, fitting into the ethos of the modern UK police force. Whereas Sabbie has survived an extreme childhood; she never knew her father, and when she lost her mother at six years old, she was brought up in children’s homes. She believes she’s the stronger for this background, but the truth is she learnt almost all her values from two elderly couples; her foster parents Gloria and Philip, 1st generation immigrants, and Rhiannon and Bren, two Welsh cunning folk she lodged with while she was taking her degree.
Sabbie thinks deeply. By walking into the otherworld – the spirit realm that shaman enter in a trance state – she has encountered profound philosophies of life. It has made her understand how we carry two sides to our nature. There is always a shadow side to our psyches; inside us is the possibility of hate, greed, envy – the things that lead to wrong doing, hurting others…murder.
As the  Shaman Mysteries Series progresses, Sabbie begins to realize that it is not entirely coincidence that she constantly encounters these shadow sides. In each novel, one of Sabbie’s clients brings her close to murder – whether from change or status quo. It’s her business, as someone who walks on both planes of existence, to help where she can, even when her own safety is threatened.
This is one of the things I love about writing crime fiction. Crime is so close to the hub of humanity. I like to examine, and describe, the affect that crime has on the people it touches; the victims, the bystanders and the perpetrators themselves. It’s easy to forget the after-effects of something as traumatic as a murder, how those left behind continue to grieve, not just for their loss, but in the not knowing how that person suffered. This is something I try to address – when I’m not terrifying my reader to pieces!
I also love to work out the mystery aspect, to puzzle the reader and spring surprises, keeping them on the edge of their seat. My readers say they stay up all night, turning the pages of the Shaman Mysteries; I stay awake at night to sort out the permutations of each murder. How did they do it? Where did they do it? What happened after they did it? And most importantly why did they do it – what brought them to that moment they kill another human being? Was it change, I ask myself? Or status quo?

Beneath the Tor In the Moors Unraveled Visions

Nina Milton is most well known for her crime fiction series The Shaman Mysteries Series, published by Midnight Ink Books (Llewellyn Worldwide). In the Moors and Unravelled Visions were published in 2013 and 2014 and the third in the series, Beneath the Tor is now in production. The Shaman Mysteries feature Sabbie Dare, a young British shaman of mixed race, living in Somerset. Milton, a Druid, and says of the series, Sabbbie Dare came into my head, fully formed. She said;  “Every day, people on the edge walk into my therapy room with their problems. Honestly, I could write a book about some of them…” Milton has been publishing books since 1995, for children, especially 9+ readers, as well as adults. Her short stories have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and works for the Open College of the Arts. She was born, educated and raised her two children in the City of Bristol but now lives in west Wales with my husband James, where she grows our own veg and keep chickens. 
Join her on her vibrant blogbsite,

Find out more on Nina Milton’s CRA Profile.
Read all the crime month blogs by crime writers at crime reading month

Friday, 29 May 2015

The Mid-book Blues: We've all been stuck in the Writer Doldrums.

The Cover of the third Shaman Mystery,
showing the summit of Glastonbury Tor
and St Michael's Tower, which is all that
remains of an ancient church
Have you ever suffered from the Writer Doldrums? Did they hit you when you were about halfway through the story you were writing? I call this phenomenon "The Mid-book Blues" and I reckon all writers are prone.

When I started the third book in the
Shaman Mystery Series, I was raring to go.

Beneath the Tor already had its title, and its basic structure. I had notebooks full of writing and boxes full of cuttings. I had several online files of research and a shelf of books already devoured. I’d created a sketch of each main character, especially the new ones for this third book - there are many and varied new characters in Beneath the Tor, some of them very colourful indeed! I'd even pinned up a character-driven timeline of the story on my office door. 
My Plotting Wall
showing the timeline of Beneath the Tor

Yes, I was bursting through the starting gate; on a scale of  1-10 my motivation levels were 99. I began writing and at the end of one furious month I had 60,000 words. 

Then I came up for breath and…yes, you’ve guessed it, my enthusiasm, confidence and energy seeped away as if I’d thrust my garden fork through a water pipe. (That’s happened before now, too.)

But determination will wane from time to time –  a writer would not be human if that didn’t happen. The important thing is to deal with it.

had to deal with it. There was just no excuse – I had a contract to fulfill. But for writers who aren’t lucky enough to have already received a nice little payment and a deadline date, strategies for getting out of the Writer Doldrums are invaluable, so I thought I'd pass on my most successful one so far. You might find it useful when you hit the Mid-book Blues

Glastonbury Abbey Grounds.
I began by visiting the setting of my book. Not all writers are lucky enough to be able to do that, of course; if your novel is set on Mars, or pre-historic China, you might have trouble, but Beneath the Tor, as you might already guess by its name, is set in the amazing and unique town of Glastonbury, in the south west of England. I spend several days there, soaking up the spiritual atmosphere, imagining Sabbie Dare and the other characters from the book wandering down the High Street, visiting the Chalice Well Gardens and hiking up the Tor itself.

White Spring Wellhouse
I spent a tranquil afternoon in the abbey grounds, soaked with the sun's warmth. I found myself scribbling furiously. 

Then I visited  the White Spring Wellhouse, which is at the foot of the Tor. The spring gurgles and gushes out of the hillside into a small building, which in the 19C supplied the town with clear spring water. Now, it's a jungle of damp-loving plants and shrine icons placed there by visitors. As you can see from the picture, I was not alone. Someone was playing a guitar and softly singing as people paddled in the ice-chill water.  

Wearyall Hill, Glastonbury Town in the background,
showing the Glastonbury Thorn, cut down by vandals,
 covered with remembrances.
Finally I walked up Wearyall Hill, famous in legend as the place Joseph of Arimathea landed, when he came from the Holy Land (Glastonbury being surrounded by water at the time)Joseph thrust his staff into the ground in joy of arrival and it flowered into a tree. The tree – there are several now, of course – is called the Glastonbury Thorn and it flowers on Christmas Day. A sprig of its blossom is sent each Christmas to grace Queen Elizabeth's dining table. Recently the Thorn growing on the hill was vandalised, and now stands as a reminder of how loved it was, covered by ribbons and remembrances left by countless visitors. I was moved by this sight, and it stirred me to think more clearly about the themes and symbols in Beneath the Tor.

By the time I was ready to go home, I was also bursting to carry on with my writing. 

Take a visit to your setting; I'm positive it will stimulate your writing and give you fresh encouragement to steam ahead. If you can't actually get to where your book is set, as well as reading about it, try borrowing travel DVDs. If you can't even do that, play some music that will take you there in you head. 

Bon voyage.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

A Unifying Brand – KTW Guest Blogger Edith Maxwell

Edith Maxwell, Mystery Author
My Guest Blogger at KTWs today is Amazon bestselling author Edith Maxwell. I have a great affinity with Edith; like her, I love my garden, I love my kitchen and I love researching interesting settings for my crime fiction.

Edith describes her novels as cozy and traditional mysteries, and she writes under several pseudonyms with an interesting link; almost all the novels include recipes readers can cook up in their kitchens.

She’s Maddie Day when writing her country story mysteries

As Edith Maxwell, she writes the local foods mysteries series and the historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries.

And just to keep things interesting, she writes the lauren rousseau mysteries as Tace Baker.

Edith is a fourth-generation Californian, and lives with her beau and three cats in an antique house north of Boston, where 
she's currently working on her next Local Foods mystery when she isn't out gardening. She’s well equipped to write about food; she’s a former farmer of a certified organic farm and she also holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics.

She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, and blogs every weekday with other Wicked Cozy Authors ( You can find her at @edithmaxwell, on Pinterest and Instagram, and at

Like me, she also can’t resist shorter fiction; she’s an Agatha-nominated and award-winning writer of short crime fiction, with stories appearing in the anthologies Fish Nets, Burning Bridges, Thin Ice, Riptide, and The Larcom Review.

Here she is talking about her books and her web presence – writers who are thinking of creating their own blog or website should listen up:

I’m really excited at the moment about the new Quaker Midwife series, which features Quaker 
midwife Rose Carroll solving mysteries in 1888 Amesbury. John Greenleaf Whittier, the actual Quaker poet and abolitionist, features in the novels. The series will debut in March, 2016 with Delivering the Truth, I love the cover – midnight ink books have done an excellent job.

The latest book in my Lauren Rousseau mysteries, under the pseudonym Tace Baker (Barking Rain Press), is Bluffing is Murder. Out now, it was recently review by blogger Mark Baker; “In this page-turner of a mystery, linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau uses her smarts, her Quaker faith, and her summer vacation to bring a vicious murderer, and a secret from her own past, into the light.”

My first book in the Maxwell’s Country Store Mysteries, Flipped for Murder, from Kensington Publishing,  will be out in November 2015. I recently took an extensive research road trip from Massachusetts to southern Indiana to refresh my memory of landscape and dialect. The series will feature Robbie Jordan and Pans ‘N Pancakes, her country store restaurant in fictional South Lick, Indiana. 

And my latest in the local foods mysteries series, also from from Kensington Publishing, Farmed and Dangerous, will be out in late May. Kirkus R
eviews said; “Quirky characters, lots of organic farming tips, and a well-developed mystery make this Cam’s best outing yet.

I wanted to be sure my web site reflected all these identities and all these series, and my previous site on Blogger wasn't cutting it. The banner was made up of my book covers, but that meant it had to change every time a new book came out, and there were other issues. I started drafting a new site on WordPress, and wondered what I could use for a banner, for a common theme.

So, as often in the mystery world, I went looking to my friends for help. I checked out Sheila Connolly's new site, Doesn't it have a great look?

I looked at Catriona McPherson's site – I love those crows. She writes one series and one line of standalones, but also all under a single name. And I checked out Leslie Budewitz's site - she writes two series under one name. Isn't that an evocative painting?

What I saw on each site was a unifying graphic. In the latter two, the art doesn't necessarily represent the settings of the book, but rather the author. In Sheila's, there are pictures of the places where her series are set: Ireland, Philadelphia, and small-town Massachusetts.

I considered hiring an artist to create a banner for me, either with pictures or art. Then I looked at the wall in my office and realized I had it right there!

 Edith's World, painted by Jennifer Yanco  from

My dear friend Jennifer Yanco (a published non-fiction author) commissioned Boston-area artist Jackie Knight to create an oil painting for my sixtieth birthday a couple of years ago. It's titled "Edith's World." It's mysterious and imaginative and gorgeous. It doesn't look like any one of my series or names, but instead represents me and my work. Right?

So, I took a high quality photograph of the painting, cropped a horizontal slice of the digital image, and made it the banner for my web site. It shows up on every page. I also use it on my Facebook Author page.

And then, because I could, I made up business cards, note pads, and even a few mugs.  So I have my brand, I have my new web site, and I have a lovely connection to the friend I have known and journeyed with for almost forty years.

The pen names are on the web site on each series' page and on the business cards, in case anybody needs to find one of my selves.

Heck, maybe t-shirts are next...

Readers: Can you find other examples of multi-name multi-series web sites you like? Any suggestions for my site? (Be brutal!) Go to to take a look.