Thursday 11 June 2020

Museums, mysteries, mint tea - and windmills!

I'm delighted to have Jennifer Alderson, author of popular travel and cozy mysteries, on the blog today. Jennifer was born in San Francisco, raised in Seattle, and currently lives in Amsterdam. Her love of travel, art, and culture inspires her ongoing mystery series, the Adventures of Zelda Richardson. Her background in journalism, multimedia development, and art history enriches her novels. When not writing, Jennifer can be found in a museum, biking around Amsterdam, or enjoying a coffee along the canal while planning her next research trip.

Jennifer,  welcome. Do tell us more about yourself and your family.

 Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Harriet!  

I am an American expat currently living in the Netherlands. I moved to Amsterdam in 2004 to study art history for one year, but met my future Dutch husband soon after arriving and ended up staying!

 After graduating, I worked for several Dutch museums and cultural institutions on project-basis as a part-time collection researcher, exhibition assistant, and assistant curator. However, subsidy cuts made it was quite difficult to secure a full-time job.

When my son was born in 2011, I decided to stay at home instead of searching for a new contract. Years earlier, I had started writing a thriller about a naive volunteer in Nepal, but I hadn’t gotten much more than halfway before I threw it in a desk drawer and forgot about it. My son’s naptimes provided me with the opportunity to actually get it done. After completing Down and Out in Kathmandu, I used my love of art history as inspiration for The Lover’s Portrait – book one in my Zelda Richardson mystery series. It was only after my second novel was finished that I actually tried to get them published.

 I am extremely happy to see the art history novels in my Zelda Richardson series have won several readers’ awards and are listed as recommended reads on several book blogs and online magazines.

The Rijksmuseum, and several other museums in Amsterdam, feature heavily in Jennifer’s art mystery series.


How many books have you written? What are they about and why did you want to write about those subjects?

 As of May 2020, I have ten books published and am planning on releasing two more later this year. My books can be split into three series, but all are a mix of travel and mystery.

 The Travel Can Be Murder cozy mystery series is my latest creation. It follows the adventures of tour guide Lana Hansen as she leads tourists and readers to fascinating cities around the globe on intriguing adventures that, unfortunately for Lana, often turn deadly. The first four books take readers to Budapest, Paris, Amsterdam, and Edinburgh.

 At this point, I have nine planned out but am having so much fun writing them, I’ll probably extend the series. Lana’s tours are set in cities I personally enjoyed visiting. Writing these cozy mysteries is a great way to “relive” my own travel experiences. I truly hope they inspire others to visit the cities I describe – when it is safe to do so. Until then, this series is a great way to travel by book!

 The four books in my Zelda Richardson mystery series were all inspired by art history classes and actual art crimes. The Lover’s Portrait is a suspenseful “whodunit?” about Nazi-looted artwork that transports readers to wartime and present-day Amsterdam. Art, religion, and anthropology collide in Rituals of the Dead, an artifact mystery set in Dutch New Guinea (Papua) and the Netherlands. Marked for Revenge is a fast-paced heist thriller inspired by the mafia’s use of stolen artwork as currency in drug transactions. The Vermeer Deception was inspired by German art dealer Cornelius Gurlitt – both his family’s ties to the Nazi-party and the large collection of World War II-looted paintings and drawings he had been hiding in his apartments.

 The three novels in the Adventures in Backpacking series (Down and Out in Kathmandu, Notes of a Naive Traveler, and Holiday Gone Wrong) take readers on backpacking journeys around Nepal, Thailand, Panama, and Costa Rica. The nefarious characters and wonderfully kind locals I met in all of those countries inspired the plots.

A visit to Nepal inspired two novels. Swayambhunath is possibly the most famous temple complex in Kathmandu.


 Do you have a special place where you like to write?

Under normal circumstances, I am a café writer. As long as there is good music, mint tea, and the other patrons aren’t too rowdy, I write faster in a café. When I write at home, I am easily distracted by the laundry that should be washed or the floors that need a good mopping. Luckily, Dutch cafes are now allowed to reopen their outdoor terraces, which has helped increase my productivity after being in lockdown for three months!

This cafe in Vondelpark is one of Jennifer’s favorite places to write.

  What part of the writing process do you enjoy the least?

The last few rounds of editing. By that point, I know the story by heart and have trouble really focusing on the words in front of me. Luckily, editors are involved at that stage so I use their cues to focus on what I need to fix, instead of trying to line edit the manuscript every time I read it.


 What was the first thing you wrote? Was it any good?

When I was fifteen, I finished my first full length novel, a murder mystery à la Sidney Sheldon. It involved identical twins and the big plot twist was that one of them had a fake leg. Reading it with adult eyes, I can assure you it is quite horrid! However, it was a fully developed plot and actually fairly complex.


What are you working on now?

I am currently finishing Death by Bagpipes: A Summer Murder in Edinburgh, book four in my Travel Can Be Murder cozy mystery series. It will be out at the end of this summer – on September 18. If everything goes well, book 5 will be out in time for Christmas!


A windmill seemed like the perfect weapon for a cozy mystery set in the Netherlands.

 Do tell us about your latest release.

Death by Windmill: A Mother’s Day Murder in Amsterdam is the latest release in the Travel Can Be Murder cozy mystery series. These stories are much more connected than the books in my other series, which means readers get to know several reoccurring characters and watch them grow and evolve.

In my latest novel, Lana’s estranged mother is a surprise guest on the tour, invited by Lana’s boss Dotty who is convinced all they need is a few days together to reconcile their differences. Before mother and daughter can patch things up, Lana’s mother is arrested for murder after one of her guests is pushed off a windmill. Lana has to forgive her mother and flush out the real killer, before the tour is over.

 One of my favorite aspects of writing this series is the holiday themes that I try to infuse into each book. In book 1 – Death on the Danube – the murder takes place during a New Year’s trip and book 2 – Death by Baguette – is set during Valentine’s Day. In Death by Windmill, Mother’s Day gives me an excuse to explore several mother-daughter relationships – some healthy and others not so much.

 Lana’s tour group visits many of my favorite tourist hotspots in Amsterdam and the outlying regions. It was quite fun to write about my adopted hometown from the perspective of a tourist! Choosing which places to include and which to leave out was possibly the most difficult thing about setting it in a place I am now so familiar with.

 Lana and her mother Gillian are struggling to reconnect after a ten-year estrangement. Three of the mothers worry about their daughters’ job prospects, and another is too wrapped up in herself to notice that her child is ready to leave the nest. Lana’s boss Dotty also decides to come along for the tour, only to become ill during the trip. But the main conflict has to do with one of the guests, a former CEO of a corporation that wronged several members of the tour. When her identity is revealed, the group’s comradery is tested, to say the least!

  Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

 Traveling to new places and learning about other cultures and customs is what I love to do most. After releasing the third Zelda Richardson novel, I decided to create a new character-driven series within the framework of a whodunit-style mystery. Because I love to travel, a cozy mystery series based around a tour guide turned amateur sleuth was ideal! Deciding on the series name – Travel Can Be Murder Cozy Mysteries – was surprisingly easy once I knew tour groups and at least one murder would feature in each story.


 How did you do your research?

 Deciding on where Lana’s group will visit is quite challenging, but also part of the fun of writing the series. I try to tie the theme to the location, as much as possible. For example, Mother’s Day makes me think of flowers, which makes me think of Holland, which is why Death by Windmill is set in Amsterdam!

I wanted to write about cities I had personally visited, in order to better describe them. Because I don’t want these novels to turn into travelogues, the confrontations, eavesdropping, and sleuthing take place during the group’s day tours, so readers get a mystery and trip in one. To refresh my memory, I went through my old photos, maps, and travel journals when choosing the locations. I also scanned recent travel blogs in order to make certain the places I describing had not changed dramatically since my visit.

 Stephen King once said:  ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.’ Do you agree?

Yes! Creative writing courses give you the basic tools, but reading a wide range of genres is akin to taking the master class. I believe it is the best way to become a better writer.

Jennifer, thank you for coming on the blog. It's been such a  pleasure having you.

Thank you for inviting me, Harriet!


 Connect with Jennifer via her website, Facebook, Goodreads or Twitter.

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Thursday 9 April 2020

Relax with Inspector de Silva on audio

With more time around the house, it's tempting to switch on the TV or the computer and browse for hours, but why not give your eyes a rest and your spirits a lift at the same time? Enjoy the first three books in the Inspector de Silva Mysteries, expertly read to you by the brilliant Matthew Lloyd Davies. Matthew has narrated all kinds of audio books and on stage, has acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the UK's National Theatre.  

To buy from Audible, click on the cover pictures in the sidebar. (Also available from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Scribd, and other services.)

Find out what a troop of monkeys are doing in an elegant tearoom.

Saint Hill Manor in East Sussex in the UK is considered to be one of the finest sandstone buildings in the county, but it’s much better known for its connection with L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, who bought the estate from the Maharajah of Jaipur in 1959 and made it his family home for nearly 10 years before returning to America.

The Orangery
Saint Hill Manor

Hubbard was also an explorer, a master mariner, a talented photographer and the author of more than 500 published works of fiction and non-fiction. The Saint Hill library has copies of them all. Hubbard went to great lengths to restore Saint Hill which is still in beautiful condition today. 

A remarkable and unique feature of the house is the Monkey Room.  The murals were commissioned in 1945 by the wife of an American ambassador who wanted a conversation piece to amuse her guests. She certainly got it. Her chosen artist was John Spencer Churchill, nephew of Sir Winston Churchill, who spent months studying the monkeys at London zoo before he picked up his brush. The result is a delightful, mischievous work where, as Churchill said: Much as I tried the help it happening, the monkeys resemble human beings.

The artist's parents, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough!
The artist's uncle, Sir Winston Churchill.

I leave it up to you to decide whether you believe that was true or whether an impish nature got away with him. The room has had a variety for uses from dining room to cinema room. It’s now the most charming tea room I’ve ever had the pleasure of sipping a cup of Earl Grey in.
The Tea Room (Many famous people and politicians of the day featured on its walls  as well as the artist's relations.)

L Ron Hubbard's study

Wednesday 18 March 2020

Don't let the virus get you down!

It looks as if books are going to be more important than ever to our health and happiness as we learn to adjust to a changed world over the next few months. Those of you who already immerse yourselves in series and box sets will know all about the joys of binge reading, but for those who haven't explored its delights, now might just be the perfect time to binge in your favourite genre, or even try out a new one.

Mystery is, of course, my genre, and I was delighted when New Zealand podcaster, Jenny  Wheeler, invited me along to talk to her on her podcast, The Joys of Binge Reading. I hope you'll join us. There's lots to explore.

The Joys of Binge Reading

And if you love vintage mysteries, I'm sure you'll enjoy the podcast series, All About Agatha. You guessed it - Agatha Christie. The hosts, Catherine Brobeck and Kemper Donovan, are working their way through all of Christie's remarkable catalogue of works (it includes 66 novels as well as short stories and plays) discussing, summarizing, and attempting to rank them according to plot, setting and characterisation. It's a massive project, and whether you're a reader or a writer of detective fiction, you'll find plenty of food for thought. To add to the entertainment, the podcast intersperses excerpts from Christie films, music and TV shows.

Stay well and keep reading!

Wednesday 1 January 2020

Happy New Year with L J Ross

 A very happy 2020 to you all. January 1st is always a good day for taking stock. Looking back over some of the past posts here on my blog, I've picked out a favourite one where I interviewed best-selling author, LJ Ross. Since then, she had added more books to her DCI Ryan series and also written several in an exciting new series featuring forensic psychologist, Dr Alexander Gregory. Do join us. 

Louise, welcome. I know that you were born and bred in Northumberland and of course that’s where your spectacularly successful DCI Ryan series is set. Do you have any childhood memories you’re prepared to share with readers?
- I have so many happy memories of my childhood in Northumberland. I remember spending weekends exploring Bamburgh Castle and its enormous beach where I used to play ‘hide and seek’ amongst the sand dunes and look across the sea to Holy Island, which lies thirteen miles or so further north along the coastline. Those early memories of the sand, water and the towering castle on its craggy rock laid the groundwork for the stories I now write. 
Since January 2015, you’ve published six books in the DCI Ryan series to great acclaim. That’s a remarkable 
work rate. How do you manage it?
- I’ve always had a very strong work ethic and I can be very disciplined, when I want to be! However, I never like to sacrifice quality, so each book goes through rigorous editorial processes before release. The beauty of choosing to publish independently is that I don’t have to wait for traditional publishing schedules before releasing a book – I can decide when to release, which is great for readers because it means they don’t have to wait quite so long for the next instalment of DCI Ryan!
As any author knows, being a writer can be challenging and particularly so if you self-publish. To what do you attribute your success in a very competitive market?
- I’m often asked this question and it’s a difficult one to answer because there are so many brilliant writers out there who have yet to be ‘discovered’. I was very fortunate that my first novel went on to become a UK #1 bestseller and I think it comes down to a number of factors aligning at the same time: a storyline that captures the reader’s imagination, editorial quality, cover, sales copy and a little bit of good old-fashioned luck. It’s as simple (and frustrating) as that.
You worked as a regulatory lawyer for many years, do you think the experience you gained contributed to your skill in plotting and attention to detail?
- I was experienced in drafting techniques and had an eye for detail after working as a lawyer. More importantly, I think the broad spectrum of people I met during that time has provided a wealth of inspiration for the characters I write!
Do you have a special place where you like to write and/or a particular routine?
- Often, I’ll take a laptop to a local coffee shop and write a little bit in the morning after I’ve dropped my son off at school. I like to try to do some walking during the day, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to enjoy cake as much as I do! I also have an office at home where I work if I’m on a tight deadline and need to shut myself away.

Where does your inspiration come from?
- My inspiration comes from the world around me and the people I meet, particularly the landscape of Northumberland which I find endlessly inspiring.
Are you a planner or do you prefer to let your plots evolve as you go along?
- A little of both! Some books have a more intricate plotline and therefore it’s important not to go off on a tangent, whereas others allow for more of an organic process.
When you aren’t writing, how would you describe your perfect day?
- Taking a long walk with my family, or spending time hanging out with friends. Simple pleasures!
Which parts of the writing process do you enjoy the least and the most?

-I enjoy writing the first and last few pages of a book. There’s a special feeling when you create something entirely new and an equally special feeling of accomplishment once it’s complete. I don’t enjoy writing the middle of the book, which is usually around the time my confidence and energy starts to wane!
If you had to choose only one, who is your favourite character in your books? Why is that?
- Whilst DCI Ryan is the lynchpin of my stories, I have to confess to holding a candle for DS Phillips. His character is loosely based on my late grandfather, who was witty, intelligent and loyal in much the same way as his fictional counterpart.
Who would you cast to play them if your books were to be made into films?
- I’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it!
Have any particular writers influenced your work? 
- I have always been a voracious reader and so you might say all the writers I’ve enjoyed since childhood have influenced me in some way or another, for different reasons. However, as a crime writer, I don’t think you can beat Arthur Conan-Doyle for sheer longevity, clarity of writing and thought. 
Do you have an all-time favourite book? 
No, I can’t choose a favourite, but the books I have read more than once include M. M. Kaye’s ‘The Far Pavilions’, Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ and anything by Jim Thompson.
You say in your biography that you’re a keen traveller. Do you think any of your destinations will inspire a new series, and if so, which ones? 
- I think there’s a grain of truth to the old saying that you should ‘write what you know’. In my case, I’ve spent time living in London, Paris and Florence (amongst other places) and would like to write a new series which has a more European flavour to reflect that experience.
Can you tell us what you’re working on now? 
- With ‘Dark Skies’ coming out in time for Christmas, I’m polishing off some final bits and pieces on that, as well as plotting the next DCI Ryan and tinkering with an entirely separate psychological thriller.

 I’d like to end by asking you for your responses to a few observations made by other writers over the years. 
Fire away! 
‘If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.’ Stephen King 
- I think this is very true. The act of reading over the course of a lifetime prepares you as a writer, in particular, to recognise the styles and genres you prefer to read and might then be well-placed to write. Of course, that will differ for each individual.  
‘One day I will find the right words and they will be simple.’ Jack Kerouac 
- I think it’s true that, as a new writer, there’s a tendency to ‘over write’ and use ten words to describe what could have been conveyed with one or two. As a reader myself, I prefer the clarity of writers like Conan-Doyle and Jim Thompson, whose longevity is probably thanks to their ability to write in an accessible way.  
‘You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.’ – C S Lewis. Would you agree? 
- In my case, it would be coffee, but let’s not quibble! As for a book long enough…I’d say, that rather depends on the book.  
‘You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.’ Saul Bellow 
- I think the content can be inspired, but the technical specification suffers thanks to over-tiredness! 
‘The road to Hell is paved with adverbs.’ Stephen King 
- I think we’re all guilty of the odd cheeky adverb (even Stephen King!) 
‘After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we most need.’ Phillip Pullman  
- I think it’s at least true to say that we all need escapism from time-to-time. Stories are by the far the healthiest outlet!

Sunday 18 August 2019

Meet Sara Rosett, a Queen of Cozy Crime

I'm delighted to welcome USA Today and Audible bestselling author, Sara Rosett, to my blog. Sara writes light-hearted mysteries for readers who enjoy puzzling whodunits, atmospheric settings, and quirky characters. She is the author of the Ellie Avery series, the On the Run series, the Murder on Location series, and the High Society Lady Detective series. Sara also teaches an online course, How to Outline a Cozy Mystery. Publishers Weekly called her books "satisfying," "well-executed," and "sparkling." She loves to get new stamps in her passport and considers dark chocolate a daily requirement.

Sarah, welcome, would you like to tell us a bit more about your career?

Sure! I started out with a traditional publisher for my first series, the Ellie Avery series. Those books are about a mom who is a military spouse. She finds murder and mayhem wherever she goes! I branched out into indie publishing for my next two series—the On the Run series (travel, intrigue, and a dash of romance) and the Murder on Location series (cozies about a location scout who travels around the English countryside looking for filming locations for Jane Austen adaptations.) Recently I moved to historical mysteries with the High Society Lady Detective series. It’s set in 1920s England.

Olive Belgrave and Kate Sharp, your detectives, are both feisty, independent ladies. How did you go about creating their characters? Is there anything of yourself in them?

I think there’s always a little of myself in the characters I write about. Kate is much more “take-charge” than I am. She sees a problem and wants to solve it, which is a good characteristic for an amateur sleuth! I’d read an interview with a location scout and thought it sounded like a fascinating profession, so I dug in and researched it. Kate grew out of what I learned about location scouting and the type of personality it takes to succeed in the profession. For Olive, I knew I wanted to write about a young woman who was brought up as a lady, but who wanted to make her own way in the world. I wanted her to be smart and plucky and have a sense of humor. Her background with the growing up connected to high society is both a help and and a hindrance for Olive.

Olive is a name one doesn’t hear very often nowadays, and it has a great period ring to it. I imagine it’s no accident that her surname isn’t a million miles from the swanky London district of Belgravia! How do you choose names for your characters and how highly do you rate the importance of names in fiction?

Names are so important in fiction! I love deciding on character names. For the High Society Lady Detective series I searched historical name lists to find period names. But sometimes it takes a while to work out the right name for a character. When I began writing Murder at Archly Manor, I named the main character Violet, but the name wasn’t a perfect fit. Then I realized that Olive, the name I’d given to a cousin was a better choice. It was a classic name, but had a little extra zing to it that I wanted. I swapped the names and it felt right.

Why do you write mysteries?

I’ve always loved reading mysteries. I enjoy the puzzle aspect of the plot. I grew up on Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. I moved on to Mary Stewart and Elizabeth Peters. When I sat down to attempt to write a novel, I knew it would be a mystery.

What’s the most difficult part about writing for you? What do you enjoy the most?

Getting the first draft down is the most difficult part for me. Once I have “the bones” done I go back and revise. I like the revision stage much more. Research is my absolute favorite part. If I’m not careful, I can lose hours reading about train schedules in 1923 or what type of food was served at The Savoy. Fun stuff!

How do you go about the historical research for your novels? What drew you to the times you’ve chosen?

I enjoy Golden Age mysteries. Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Patricia Wentworth are some of my favorite authors. I find interesting tidbits about everyday life in fiction from the 1920s and 1930s. I also read quite a bit of nonfiction about that time period, and little details from those books have become important clues and red herrings. Browsing vintage images on Pinterest and watching Downton Abbey are all “research” in my book.

Do you have a special place where you like to write?

I write in my office, which has a window at one side of my desk. I need that window! For some reason I find it easier to write near a window. I suppose it’s the fact that I can gaze outside when I get stuck!

Have any other writers influenced your work?

Mary Stewart’s classic romantic suspense books were some of the first “grown-up” books I read. I loved that the women were always clever and resourceful. The exotic locations were great, too! Stewart had a wonderful way of capturing settings. Reading her books inspired me to find the tiny details that make a reader feel like they’re right there with the protagonist, experiencing the story along with her.

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing a book for my travel mystery series, the On the Run series, and then I’ll focus on promotion for the release of the fourth book in the High Society Lady Detective series, Murder in Black Tie. I have more books planned in that series and will be working on those. I’m having so much fun in the nineteen twenties and readers are enjoying them, so I have to write more!

Steven King once said 'If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write.' Do you agree?

Absolutely! Reading is what I do in my down time. If I don’t have a book to read, I get antsy! I learn so much from the reading I do for pleasure. As a writer, it’s hard to turn my “author brain” off and just enjoy the story, but I do try to do that. However, I’ll often be reading along and I’ll notice things that I like—or things that bother me—about a story. I mull over them and then I can either incorporate those techniques—or avoid them!—in my own writing.

You can find out more about Sara  on social media.

      Instagram: https//
      Twitter: @SaraRosett