Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Saturday 30 March 2019

Letho Observer 5

Just to let you know, the newsletter and a short story, The Three Apprentices, have just been dispatched to the mailing list members. If you haven't received yours and were expecting it, let me know at contact@kellascatpress.co.uk!

Monday 25 March 2019

Author Interview: Annie Appleton

Sewer Mayhem: Jacob Hicks Murder Mysteries Book 2 by [Appleton, Annie]

For a bit of fun this time I’m lucky enough to be interviewing Annie Appleton, author of the Jacob Hicks cosy murder mysteries set in York. The latest, the delightfully named Sewer Mayhem, is coming out this weekend and you can preorder it now.

Sewer Mayhem is another adventure for both humans and rats set in York (and under York). I love the rats: they are excellent comic characters but with their own troubles and traumas, too. The humans are mostly fully paid-up members of the awkward squad, with some strange and dark quirks – Jacob, for example, lurks about people’s gardens, convinced they don’t mind him being there, observing the wildlife, while at the weekends he tries to devise a computer programme that will reveal how his best friend’s little brother vanished when they were children. Emily, despite her best efforts, is a force for good with rats in her pockets and blue hair. It’s not surprising that the rats find the humans bewildering, even as they thwart a burglar and help to solve two murders. And that sewer mayhem? That has a big impact on both rats and humans, and on anyone concerned for the wellbeing of a haul of precious jewellery! There isn't a dull moment.

Now, about the author:

Annie Appleton loves cats, baking and reading mysteries. On top of that Annie has done her fair share of knitting. This might class her as the stereotypical cosy mystery reader, if it weren’t for the fact that Annie spent nine months of her life working on containerships and many a night looking at the sky in search for the International Space Station.
Having written two non-fiction books about York, Annie is now using her time in York as inspiration for her cosy mystery series.

So Annie was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.

1/ Why rats?! What gave you the inspiration?

I’ve always been fascinated by animals, specially the ones that you don’t see, but know that are there. What do they do? Do they just go about their day, or do they keep an eye on us?
This goes in particular for rats. They are everywhere, but we don’t like to think about them.

When I decided I wanted to write cosy mysteries, I wanted to give them a twist and somehow I was reminded of the time I lived in York, where we had a rat infestation in our garden. I loved watching the rats. They walked along the garden walls and stole our bird food. That’s largely where the rat storyline in Don’t Feed the Rat! came from and it grew from there.

2/ Your rats have already had some entertaining adventures in Don’t Feed the Rat!, and they are pretty strong characters! In a nutshell, what's this book about?

Like in Don’t Feed the Rat! there’s two storylines in Sewer Mayhem. Jacob and Emily try to solve the murder of a shop owner, while Paddy and Vinnie go on holiday in the sewers under Woolaston Road, where Vinnie’s second cousins Gus and Leo live.

Both rats and humans have their own adventures, but unknown to either groups things become intertwined.

A little more is revealed of the darker story involving Jacob and his pal Dave, of the child that went missing 40 years before and even Paddy starts to realise there’s something strange going on with the ratlore stories in Milbury.

3/ Without giving away spoilers, what's your favourite scene or event in the book?

That’s a bit of a difficult question, as there are lots of fun scenes in the book. But I think my favourite would be the one in the latter part, where the rats cause absolute mayhem, not just for themselves, but also for the humans.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but let’s just say that I had the fun challenge to try and find as many different words for ‘excrement’ as possible.

4/ You’ve written non-fiction as well as fiction – which do you prefer? And what drew you to writing in the first place?

I have always been writing. When I was about nine I had my own ‘newspaper’, which I filled with made up news.
Until about six years ago, most of the writing that I did was non-fiction. Then the rats came along and I realised that writing fiction was also something I could do.

I equally like writing fiction and non-fiction. Both are fun, specially as it’s two completely different things. So sometimes I feel like being informative and focus on the non-fiction and sometimes I just really wish I was back in York, so then Jacob and Paddy take me along to this imaginary world.

5/ Are you a full time writer, or do you have another job?

At the moment I’m a part-time writer. I have a 16-hour day job (I’m a receptionist at a local council office) and the rest of my time is spend writing and building my writing business.
If all goes according to plan I hope to be a full-time writer in five years’ time. But if it turns out that I need to keep a few hours at a day job, that’s also okay.

6/ Have you been influenced or inspired by other writers?

My love for mystery definitely comes from reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five when I was a child. Later I turned to Agatha Christie and Wilkie Collins.
But I still get inspired by writers, lately mostly the ones that write sitcoms for TV. I love putting a touch of humour in my stories and I have been an admirer of the writing team that produced the American sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. Those stories are brilliant and I re-watch them over and over.

7/ The books are set in York. What’s your connexion with the city? Why did you decide to set them there?

I lived in York for four years and still consider it my ‘home away from home’. I absolutely love that city and I loved living there.
I actually wrote two non-fiction books about the architecture and history of York when I lived there. So when I started doing fiction I didn’t even have to think about the setting. York it was going to be.

And although the stories in the Jacob Hick Murder Mysteries are completely made up, the setting is very similar to the neighbourhood where I lived. The green was very near, as were the shops, where I worked at the local delicatessen shop. Our garden backed on to the allotments, which were on a steep hill. And of course the rats were there as well…

8/ I know you are a keen gardener and allotment-holder – hence the allotments in the book. What do you grow that the rats would annoy you most by eating before you could harvest it?

Yes, I love gardening. It frees my mind and I love watching things grow. I would be very annoyed with them if rats started gnawing my rhubarb, but I don’t think they like it. Slugs and caterpillars do seem to love my cabbages and chard, and they are the bane of my life.
I’m an organic gardener, so I usually pick off the slugs and give them a ‘flying lesson’ by chucking them over the fence into my neighbour’s garden. ;)

9/ Have you any other hobbies that feed into your writing – or that give you a break from it?

I love watching sitcoms. It relaxes me, but as I said I also admire the writing. Sometimes I wish I could switch off my writer’s brain when watching TV-series, but it doesn’t always work.

I also love reading. Mysteries are still my favourite. I often stick to cosy mysteries, but I also am a big fan of Murray of Letho and Hippolyta. [of course, she had to say that! It's one of the rules]
10/ Where can people find you and your book (links to Amazon page, Goodreads, Twitter, Blog whatever)?

People can find me via the following links:
There's the beginnings of a Goodread author account:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1157815.Annie_Appleton

And essential buy links!

Thursday 7 March 2019

February's reading

Rather belatedly - the last two weekends have been hopelessly busy - here are my two challenge books for February, and some other things I've been enjoying.

The Hidden Ways by Alistair Moffat  was my non-fiction book for February. An intriguing premise, finding and walking some of Scotland’s lost byways. The description is good and you feel you’re there with the author. The accounts of the actual journeys (not always walks, he is happy to admit) are densely packed with information. Sometimes the analyses are simplistic and even na├»ve, but I suppose to give a full account of the events and theories would have made this a huge book. However, now and again it would have been helpful to introduce an element of doubt, or a couple of basic references, so as not to mislead readers for whom this might be a primary source. I'm also a little uneasy about his dependence on a mobile phone compass - don't do it! Take a real one! They're not expensive, and they don't need a signal to work!

My non-crime fiction for February was Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. This drew me in almost immediately – for a change, it’s the ugly, awkward girl whom the frightening prince in his tower picks to be his ‘companion’ for ten years. We know that his previous companions have emerged unharmed but changed, but already our heroine knows that she is being treated differently. This is a book drawing on the ancient eastern European tradition of menacing forests, and for me it works terrifically well, sourcing the reason why the forest is menacing, and seeing how a mixture of magical traditions, perhaps ones one could describe very basically as ‘male’ and ‘female’, working together can succeed while they fail alone. Hints of Beauty and the Beast, of Rapunzel, of Hansel and Gretel and all the tales we half-remember from childhood linger here.
Now for the crime fiction!
The Hunting Party, by Lucy Foley
There isn’t a person to like at all amongst the guests bound for a posh hunting lodge for New Year, and the staff, too, have histories that could make them act strangely. You don’t find out who the victim is until about the same time as you discover the murderer, and the story is written from about five different points of view in two timelines. Don’t let any of that put you off – this is very readable and an enjoyable mystery. And I think the publisher deserves a prize for a completely unexpected cover - no stressed females, no red coats, no dark country lanes - well done!

The Heir to Marshingdean (Brighton Heirs Book 1)

The Heir to Marshingdean, by Cecilia Peartree
A good historical mystery here from the author of the Pitkirtly series – appealing characters and an interesting setting. In one respect, though, it’s unusual: it’s the first in a group of novels which all fit together, so don’t expect to get all the answers in this one! And I’m looking forward to finding out at least one parallel story in the next one.
A Quest in Berlin (Adventurous Quests Book 5)

A Quest in Berlin, also by Cecilia Peartree
The next in the Quest series by the author of the Pitkirtkly series. I like Clemency and Andrew very much as they guide us through a post-war adventure, amongst characters who appear trustworthy, though of course not all of them are …

Cops and Robbers by Ed James
Previously published as Bottleneck, this was a thoroughly enjoyable police procedural set in Edinburgh and, this time, Glasgow and Angus. The mystery is good, the action exciting, and there appears to be just a danger that Cullen is growing up!
The Vixen's Scream (Detective Chief Inspector Jack Harris, #4)

The Vixen’s Scream by John Dean
This started oddly and I wasn’t sure whether or not to plough on past the first chapter or so, but I did and found it a very good read, a conventional police procedural with a decent plot and convincing characters. I’ll look out for more.
Next Victim (DCI Rachel King, #1)

Next Victim by Helen H. Durrant
A police procedural – not sure if it was me but I didn’t find it particularly gripping though the plot was interesting enough (oh, look, there's that lone female, though!).

The Mechanical Devil, by Kate Ellis
A rather creepy one from Kate Ellis’ Wesley Peterson series. As usual a plot in the past informs and entwines with the present day, and this one I found particularly intriguing. As usual the police are a delight, a family one enjoys revisiting.

Meanwhile, A Deficit of Bones is half-written but going slowly, simply because as I say things have been exceptionally busy recently. At least, I hope it's exceptional! Happy reading!