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

Tuesday 31 March 2020

Letho Observer

The usual warning - if you were expecting the newsletter and haven't received it, or would like to, then let us know at contact@kellascatpress.co.uk!

We're also doing something a bit different for a change this quarter with a link to a promotion we're participating in - lots of free crime and thriller books! There's a link at https://AuthorsXP.com/giveaway.

<h2 style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://authorsxp.com/giveaway"  target="_blank" rel="noopener">Win up to 25+ Crime/Thriller eBooks & Gain Access to Deals & Steals on even more!</a></h2>
<div align="center"><strong>(2) Grand Prize "Gift Baskets" of ALL eBooks!</strong>  <br />
<strong>(20+) Winners of Individual eBooks (randomly selected titles)</strong></div>
<p align="center"><a href="http://authorsxp.com/giveaway"  target="_blank" rel="noopener"><img src="http://authorsxp.com/images/crime.jpg"  border="0"></a></p>

Keep well,

Yours aye,


Wednesday 25 March 2020

A catch up on what I've been reading

I've abandoned any kind of reading challenge for this year as I was so late starting - I still have a George Eliot book sitting on the hall table waiting to be read for it! But I have been reading, of course, and so below is the list - mostly crime, of course!

Dead Wood (Dundee Crime Series 2)
Dead Wood: I bought Chris Longmuir’s three book collection and this is the middle one. I enjoyed the first of these as a separate book, and started the second one ages ago. Various circumstances led to me not making any progress with it after the first few pages, but I went back to it recently and was amazed to be able to slot back into what was happening straightaway, a sign of a good writer, I think. I wasn’t quite sure till the end who the perpetrator was, but I found the characters really compelling and wanted them to find the right paths eventually.
Thorn In My Side (Mike Yorke, #1)
Thorn in my Side by Sheila Quigley: I was wary of this as it’s the first in what’s called ‘Holy Island Trilogy’ and I’ve been stung by a ‘Holy Island’ book before. This is better, rough and tough and I suspect not quite true to police life but interesting. Could do with a bit of an edit – ‘classified’ is an American term, not a British one, a straight jacket is not the same as a straitjacket, for example, apostrophes deserve a day off, too, and it’s the second book I’ve read recently with a reference to florescent lighting – blooming lovely! I didn’t like the main thrust of the plot – just not my kind of thing, and I wasn’t convinced that an open order of monks could be taken over so secretly. But I did appreciate the portrayal of experiencing diabetes, the characters of Smiler and Aunt May, and I liked the variety of characters and their personal experiences.
Big Sky (Jackson Brodie, #5)
Big Sky, Kate Atkinson:Ah, bliss, a new Jackson Brodie! Great start, leading us up the garden path as usual! She’s wonderful at laying multiple trails, including some drawn over from previous books (I was delighted to meet Reggie again), and slowly weaving them together in unexpected ways. The ending is episodic but ultimately very satisfying – she does like to tie up her loose ends. I read this far too fast – stupid. How long might we have to wait for another one? But unlike a lot of crime fiction they bear rereading well.
Perfect Kill (D.I. Callanach, #6)
Helen Fields Perfect Kill: urgh, a dark one indeed. But well  written, and of course the tantalising ongoing non-relationship between Luc and Ava is a major component. Inevitably I read it too quickly and really want to go back and read it again.
A Dying Fall (Ruth Galloway, #5)
Elly Griffiths, A Dying Fall: a great counterpoint to Helen Fields, lighter and gentler, though I wouldn’t call it a cosy. Ruth’s near stream-of-consciousness narration (only that it’s third person) keeps the story alive, though there’s little danger of it falling flat between domestic crises and deaths of old colleagues. An excellent entertainment, always feeling as if it’s part of real life.
Broken Dreams
Nick Quantrill, Broken Dreams – straight into the action here, private detectives finding the person they’ve been innocently following has been murdered. Much of the paragraph layout is confusing – it’s not clear who’s speaking – and I couldn’t particularly warm to the narrator. This is another book where you think – why is he hurling himself into that particular chasm? How thick is he, to go and poke that particular bear? But it kept the attention quite well, even if I wasn’t particularly convinced by the solution.
The Silent Companions
The Silent Companions, Laura Purcell – and she seems such a nice girl when you meet her! This is a thoroughly creepy, Gothic book, and as I read the first thirty or forty pages I changed my mind three or four times about the 19th century narrator – there’s a 17th century one who comes in later and though she has her secrets she is rather less ambiguous. Wisely written in smallish chunks so you don’t completely wallow in darkness, this is a very good read.
The Burned Man (A Stephen Attebrook Mystery Book 9)
The Burned Man, Jason Vail: The usual good stuff – in fact, perhaps a little better than the last couple in the series, which were turning into some kind of American action film. But we’ve settled back into 12th century England now, and there is indeed plenty of action and excitement and humour, as well as a decent plot.
Way Beyond A Lie
Way Beyond a Lie, Harry Fisher: This is an impressive debut, and if there are one or two elements that you feel you may have seen before, the whole comes together well and the writing is very good – you really feel as if you’re there and with the characters. Has the missing wife been kidnapped? Did she run away? Did she exist at all? The plot is full of action and you’re not quite sure who to suspect and who to trust. Very good, entertaining book.
A Death in the Asylum (A Euphemia Martins Mystery)
Death in the Asylum, Caroline Dunford: I’m a long way behind in this series so picked up a few at once. This is the third, and I liked it better than the second, even if it rushed a bit towards the end. The plot held together well and carried on the characters and lines from previous books.
Caroline Dunford Death at the Wedding Party: My edition of this needs a serious proof read, unfortunately, and I’m never quite convinced by Rory’s accent. But as always these are entertaining and full of action and amusement. I carried on with Death in the Pavilion – well, poison ivy doesn’t generally grow in Britain, but we’ll disregard that and enjoy Euphemia’s growing relationship with the awful Richenda, which is great fun. Then Death in theLoch, which takes the characters back to the Highlands with Rory and Bertram at each other’s throats and plenty of government skulduggery.
The Gathering Murders (Inspector Torquil McKinnon, #1)
The Gathering Murders, Keith Moray: Okay start, though I very much dislike being told the make and model of every vehicle that appears. And is the Padre Church of Scotland? I think they might take issue with him offering the last rites, if so. However, the setting is rather pleasant and the lead characters are quite appealing. I was slightly puzzled by the ‘village green on the hill above the town’! but it’s a gentle and amusing book for the most part. – the ending, however, stretched credulity a bit.
Miss Blaine's Prefect and the Golden Samovar
Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar, Olga Wojtas; An amusing twist on the current fashion for time-travelling lady investigators, often librarians. This one has a serious hang-up about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which is the thing that endears her to the reader through her rather irritating though funny omniscience and Morningside superiority. Her well-bred pomposity sits badly, occasionally, with her use of current slang. The setting is less familiar to me, mid 19th century Russia, which made for a good background. Altogether an amusing book.
Swordheart, T. Kingfisher – witty, really witty. I enjoyed tremendously this road trip romance between a middle-aged (soi-disant – she’s thirty-something) woman and an enchanted sword, with a priest called Zale and an ox-driving gnole for company. It’s a well-paced adventure, a fantasy romance, a comedy about older women, families, the law, cults … a really entertaining read.

Thunder Bay
Douglas Skelton, Thunder Bay – good start, very emotional. The characters felt real though densely packed on a small island. The island itself I wasn’t so sure about – don’t quite know what it was but it didn’t come to life for me. But I’ll read more of this author.
The Body in the Marsh (DCI Craig Gillard #1)
The Body in the Marsh, Nick Louth – A good sound police procedural with a nice twist that I saw coming but still enjoyed. I thought it was the first in a series but it turns out to be later than that – nevertheless it was perfectly readable as a standalone.
Worst Case Scenario
Worst Case Scenario, Helen Fitzgerald: This is a funny but quite a stressful read, taken from the point of view of a parole officer who has submitted her resignation and is trying to sustain a long-distance relationship with her husband in Australia while also keeping in touch with her son, annoyingly consorting with someone involved in her current high-profile wife-murdering case. So often I found myself yelling ‘No! Don’t be so stupid!’ as her whole life tumbles into chaos – her own fault, in so many ways, but still you want to hug her and drag her away from it all.
Death Stalks Kettle Street
Death Stalks Kettle Street, John Bowen: A cosy with a conscience. We have a lead character with mild cerebral palsy, and another with bad OCD, and both conditions are rather well and sympathetically described. But it’s not a heavy book – Beth is attending a writing workshop with a famous author who has produced nothing for years, while Greg is receiving odd warnings, or clues, about the next in a series of local murders – both of them think that something is a bit suspicious, but how could it be in ordinary lives when they have other things to think about, like Greg’s horrible therapist and Beth’s crush on the famous author? Mind you, I’d like to distinguish between ‘ravish’ and ‘ravage’ here. The plot leads us up one or two garden paths before we reach the dramatic conclusion, made all the more convincing by very good preparation.
A Breath on Dying Embers
A Breath on Dying Embers followed, with some serious personal traumas for Jim Daley with his awful wife Liz, and a more prominent part for his boss, Carrie Symington, whom I like – and interesting consequences for Brian Scott. A very good read as usual, with a bit of a cliffhanger ending – roll on the next book!

Thursday 19 March 2020

Author interview with Caroline Dunford

Today we're lucky enough to have an chat with Caroline Dunford, author of the very successful Euphemia Martins series which kicks off just before the First World War. This is the launch day for the latest Euphemia, Death at the Races!

Caroline, welcome! The Euphemia series is huge, and now there's a spin-off, too, the Hope Stapleford series. I'm only on Death in the Loch! I may never catch up, which is quite a good feeling  - there's always be more to read! I think you've said that your Euphemia books are based on a story from your own family history - would you like to tell us more?

The Euphemia Martins Mysteries aren’t autobiographical, although they were inspired by events in my own family. I woke up one night after dreaming of my great grandmother, who I had never met, and the stories of the first three Euphemias simply fell into place. Fortunately, I keep a notebook by the bed and was able to write the ideas down.

In the books, when Euphemia’s father, who is a vicar, dies, she becomes a maid to help support her family, even though her mother is the (estranged) daughter of an Earl. There are some parallels with my own family.

That's fascinating, if rather sad - families can be very tough. Getting back to the fiction, though, the historical period you've chosen is a pretty rich one, with lots going on and plenty of extant sources - how do you do your research, and how, if at all, do you keep it contained? Do you find it hard to stop the research and start the writing, or is it the other way around?

Both of my parents were children in London during the Blitz of WWII so talk of war was not uncommon during my childhood. Both of my grandfathers also served. My maternal grandfather was a spotter in WWI (he was a lot older than his wife) and often spoke to my mother about aspects of that war. So, I’ve always felt that both world wars strongly affected my own family. My interest in the wars has only minimally been about the actual fighting, my fascination is how people coped, how ordinary people lived in extraordinary times. Some faced them with great bravery and courage, while others crumpled under the sheer weight of war. 
 The conversations I’ve had had with relatives started my interest, but I’ve also read a lot of historical reference, as well as literature of the period, covering both world wars, which has given me a lot of insight into the people who lived then. And, yes, like most authors, I’m not above Googling the occasional piece of information that I can’t ferret out elsewhere. The internet is an incredible resource for writers, but it’s important to verify sources and also not to disappear down a rabbit hole of research.

 I’m currently exploring medicine in WWI for a future Euphemia (A Death in the Hospital) and I’m finding it far too fascinating. When I’m writing, all I want to do is write and when I’m researching, all I want to do is research. The only way I can manage deadlines is by working out strict word deadlines and keeping to them.
 I write notes in hard-backed notebooks in an attempt not to lose them. But I also have a scattering of papers and books that range out in ever increasing circles from around my desk.

I’d also recommend, for anyone who can reach it, Eden Camp war museum in the north of England, which I love. There is a deluge of information as well as interactive elements, lifelike displays and ex-army and air force vehicles. Best of all, it in no way glorifies war, but instead records with pinpoint accuracy these pivotal moments in our history both at the front and at home.

I must go! I love military museums. What drew you to writing - and why crime?

 I started off writing short stories and selling them. Most of them were either fantasy or horror. I tried to write a full-length fantasy story, but even I knew it wasn’t very good. Eventually, it occurred to me to write what I truly loved reading - crime. I’m not overly keen on police procedural stories, but I do love good stories with intriguing puzzles which examine human nature under pressure. During war, and with sudden loss, the trappings of society fall away. What is left is the true nature of people. There is nowhere to hide and both characters and readers can be challenged to consider what is at the heart of the human condition - what is right and what is wrong. I’m not offering any glib answers, but I do love making readers think about awkward questions that arise both in fiction and in real life.

Are you a full-time writer, or do you do other things?

I do some very part-time lecturing, as a Teaching Fellow in a department of ongoing learning within Edinburgh University. I’m keen on actively learning new skills and I like to share that enthusiasm. I love working with new and emerging writers of all ages. Currently I teach creative writing and freelance journalism, but it’s very much a side-line to my writing. I do consider myself to be a full-time writer, and it is my primary means of income. However, I think it is very important to not sit and simply write. To improve my writing, I feel I need to spend a reasonable amount of time living a life, and not simply making one up for my characters. 

Have you any hobbies that help your writing? or that help you escape from writing?

 I rarely escape from my writing. It definitely benefits my mental health to write. I use my stories to ask questions, explore choices and hopefully create memorable characters. Those characters are in my head almost all of the time. Many of them are so strong that they seem to have an active influence on what happens in the stories - sounds a bit mad, I know. Fortunately, I find this to be a common thing with many authors that I know.

Yes, we're all at least a bit mad!

 However, I do spend my Wednesday evenings at a silver jewellery making class. There I wallow in blow torches, mild acids, anvils, hammers, burnishers, files and solder. It’s one place I can’t daydream about my writing without incurring the occasional injury. This means I can stop the internal chatter of my stories for at least two hours a week. I also end up making pretty, shiny things too, which is a definite bonus.

That sounds wonderful! It's a craft I haven't tried yet.

 I also enjoy cooking, and baking. Although I use recipe books for inspiration, I am a very much a see-what-I-have-and-make-stuff-from-it kind of cook. Currently I am enjoying a foray into Middle Eastern cooking with lots of lime, sumac, fresh coriander, ras al hanout and almond yoghurt. 

That's very on-trend - and it's giving me ideas for dinner this evening! Anyway, new book out today - where can people find you and your books?

Earlier this year Hachette launched the first of a new series with Hope for the Innocent. This is set shortly before WWII and will continue during the outbreak of war. It follows descendants of the Euphemia Martins Mysteries series, with the occasional cameo from characters of those books.
 The Euphemia Martins series is continuing. The new book, A Death at the Races, and Euphemia and Fitzroy driving across Europe to Monaco. It’s double the length of the previous Euphemia novels (but the same price) as I’m stepping up the length of all future stories with Hachette’s approval.

 All books are available from Amazon, and from the Hachette website , but you can also find them in your local bookstores or have your bookstore order them. All books are available in ebook and paperback forms. The Euphemia Martins books are also available from most libraries in hard back and large print. There are also audio books available too.

Oh, and I have a website https://caroline-dunford.squarespace.com/  Every Friday I post an extract from Spymaster Fitzroy’s diaries – and these are free! There will be a link to the latest extract at the bottom of the home page and then you can go back and read all the previous ones. Although, be warned, while there are no spoilers, they are not in chronological order.

I’m on twitter as @verdandiweaves

That's wonderful, Caroline - lots and lots to read! Thanks for dropping in and good luck with the new release!

Monday 16 March 2020


The book signing scheduled to happen at Leith Hall on 4th April has now be postponed until sometime later in the year when we might have a clue as to what's happening!

I'm sorry if you were looking forward to it - I was - but in view of the latest announcements that looks like about peak virus time.

Stay well, everyone!

Thursday 12 March 2020

Murder in the Chowdhury Palace by Sarmishtha Shenoy - cover reveal!

I do like a bit of Indian crime fiction, so I'm delighted to be on the tour for this cover reveal - and I'm looking forward to reading the book soon!

~ Cover Reveal ~
Murder in the Chowdhury Palace
by Sharmishtha Shenoy

About the Book:
What if someone you loved... was murdered? How far would you go to bring a killer to justice?

Orphaned in her childhood, Durga has always longed for wealth, security and, above all, a sense of belonging. She finds it all when she marries Debnarayan Chowdhury, heir to an immense, multi-crore estate. But the Chowdhury family has been under a curse that dates back to the British era. The first-born of each generation dies young, purportedly killed by the spirit of Kadambari, a young woman murdered by the notorious Shankar Dakat, the founder of the Chowdhury family and their Zamindari. When her father-in-law Birendranath dies unexpectedly, Durga and Debnarayan come down to the ancestral home in Kakdihi, a small village near Kolkata. The moment Durga enters her new palatial home, she crosses a threshold of terror. She loses her husband within a month of her marriage and finds herself a widow in a house full of strangers. Are Debnarayan’s and Birendranath’s deaths accidental? Everyone in her new family and the neighborhood appear to be friendly. Most of them have a motive to kill her. A well-meaning neighbor tells her, ‘Run from this place. You have no friends here.’ Is she, the current owner of the estate, now on the murderer’s radar? 
Read an Excerpt from Murder in the Chowdhury Palace

The trees were denser beyond the pond on the northern side, and the area was unkempt and full of thorny bushes and nettles.  Debu remarked, ‘Not many people venture into the northern part of the woods from this point because the haunted house is less than a mile from here. So this part of the estate is in a rather wild state.’
‘Yes, I can see that nature has completely taken over this part. But still, let’s go there.’ I said excitedly.
‘Some other day…,’ Debu murmured. His face was slightly pale.
‘Debu! You really seem to believe in these ghosts and all that nonsense…,’ I said rather incredulously.
‘No… no… of course not!’ Debu exclaimed.
‘Then prove it! Let’s go and visit the house.’
‘Look… it won’t be very safe. The walls are crumbling, and I am sure that bats have made their home there.’
‘Please, Debu, let’s go, I have never seen a haunted house,’ I said, cajolingly. I gripped his hand and almost dragged him towards the house.
We came upon the abandoned temple first. The plaster was coming off the walls, and the aerial roots of a huge banyan tree had encroached upon the temple and gone in through the walls causing rainwater to leak into the walls and damage them further. The house was located a further quarter kilometer away.
There was a strange, sinister silence all around. Even the birds did not twitter in this part of the woods. The house with its closed shutters and peeling walls was a one-storey medium-sized building. It was dark and uninviting, steeped in shadow due to the jungle of trees that had flourished around it. Darkness echoed and folded upon itself. I walked resolutely to the main door, only to find it locked. 
‘Where is the key to this door?’
‘I don’t think anybody has it.’
I was in a naughty mood. ‘Then let’s break it open. I really want to see what’s inside.’ 
In spite of Debu’s protests, I picked up a heavy rock and hit the rusty lock with it. The lock broke easily.
We stepped inside a large hall. It was full of cobwebs and broken dilapidated furniture. Suddenly, a bat swept past my face. I let out a startled cry and drew back. I would have fallen to the ground had Debu not caught me.
‘Let’s get out of here. You shouldn’t be so adventurous in your present condition. The baby might get hurt,’ he said in a quavering voice. 
‘Oh come on... please Debu…let’s explore a bit more.’
I went further in and switched on the torch of my mobile to see better. At the center of the hall, were the remains of a havan done a long time back. The bricks used for the havan were blackened, charred and crumbling with spiders spinning their webs over the layers of dust. There was a portrait of Shankar Dakat and another of a woman on a wooden platform near which the havan had been performed.
‘This is, of course, Shankar Dakat’s portrait. And this must be Kadambari…,’ I said. ‘Who painted this?’ The painting of Kadambari mesmerized me. She was little more than a young girl in a green sari, worn without a blouse in the traditional fashion. Her big eyes were strangely life-like and sad and her long, thick, curly hair cascaded down her bare shoulders like a cloud.
‘I don’t know who painted this, nor do I care. Let’s go, Durga. I feel really uncomfortable here.’ Debu said a little impatiently. I started coughing because of the dirt. ‘Durga, you know you are allergic to dust. Come away now. I don’t want our baby to get hurt.’ He clutched my hand in a death grip, and almost dragged me out of the house.
The fear in his voice was contagious. Also, to be honest, the life-like painting had spooked me. We hurried back towards the pond. As we almost ran back and neared our home, there was a shout from the ground-floor east-wing balcony. It was Kanak. She shouted, ‘Who goes there?’

About Sharmishtha Shenoy:

Sharmishtha Shenoy is the author of the Vikram Rana Mystery series. The books under the series are “Vikram Rana Investigates,” “A Season for Dying,” “Behind the Scenes” and “Fatal Fallout”. She has also published a book of short stories, “Quirky Tales.”
Her short stories have been published in efiction magazine and Woman’s era. She loves writing murder mysteries, the kind of books that she likes to read. Her favorite authors are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. She also likes the work of Satyajit Ray – especially the Feluda Series. 
Before starting to write, she had been an IT professional and had worked in TCS, Satyam, Infosys, and Microsoft. 
She is a big foodie and enjoys Biriyani (both Hyderabadi and Awadhi versions) and rasgullas like most Bengalis. She is also a lusty singer of the bathroom singing variety.
Though she is happily married to Mr. Shenoy in real life, in her fantasy world she is wedded to her creation Vikram Rana.  You can get to her blog by typing the word “Sharmishtha Rana” into Google. No, seriously, try it.
She was born in Calcutta. She is an M Tech from the University of Reading, Great Britain and had received a 100% British Government Scholarship to study there. She lives in Hyderabad.

Sharmishtha on the Web: