Alice Jones’ Favorite Philly Foods

One of the most fun things about setting the Alice Jones mysteries in Philadelphia is that she gets to snack on lots of delicious Philadelphia food. Here are a few of Alice’s favorites:

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Soft Pretzels (with mustard) – Soft and warm with big square salt crystals, there’s nothing quite like getting a pretzel from one of the many food carts around the city. Alice likes to add a bit of brown mustard to spice it up.

 

 

cheesesteakCheesesteaks – Probably the most iconic Philly Food. A cheesesteak is made of thin slices of grilled steak and fried onions on a soft roll covered with melted cheese (traditionally Cheez Whiz or provolone). Don’t forget your napkins!

 

waterice2Water Ice – Sort of like a very firm slushie, water ice comes in every flavor you can imagine and is way more refreshing than ice cream. I had to call it Italian Ice in The Impossible Clue, but everyone from Philly knows it’s really called Water Ice!

 

tastykake2Tastykakes – These mini snack cakes are made in Philadelphia and come in a variety of flavors. Sort of like twinkies, but so much better! I like the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes. Alice prefers the classic Butterscotch Krimpets.

 

phoPho-Not a traditional Philly dish, but a growing favorite. Philadelphia has a strong Vietnamese community. Pho is a spicy noodle soup.  Alice and her dad enjoy seeing just how spicy they can handle their Pho

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Creating characters-or-Listening to the voices in my head.

When I’m writing, one of the first things I like to do is get to know my characters. I spend time daydreaming about who they are. Do they have hobbies? What kind of food do they eat?  What was the absolute worst most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to them? What are their dreams and fears? I’ll spend a long time doing this, jotting down notes. At first I get a lot of things wrong, but eventually my characters start to develop a life of their own. And that’s when they start talking to me.

I’m not joking.

When a character takes shape I can hear her shouting at me in the back of my head. (I imagine a more polite character would gently clear her throat to correct me in the nicest way possible, but I haven’t written one like that yet).

‘No!’ they holler. ‘I wouldn’t wear that! Not enough pockets!’

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‘That might be how you walk down the street, but not me! I have way more rhythm than that!’

Here is the first real thing Alice Jones said when I asked her to introduce herself:

My name is Alice Jones. I’m a detective. I’m also a schoolgirl. In fact, if you were to draw a Venn diagram labeled Fig. 1: Alice Jones, it might look something like this:

AJVennIgnore that small circle in the corner. That’s not important!”

 

Of course, once she said THAT I just had to know what that Little Miss Friendship business was all about. I also knew Alice was real and ready to move out of my head and into a book of her own.

 

Alice Jones: The Ghost Light

This January is a big month for me! Two days ago The Impossible Clue came out in America, and here in the UK the second book in the Alice Jones series is out today! It’s called The Ghost Light and I’m so excited for you all to read it.

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Old refurbished theatre, the Beryl, is re-opening.

Days before opening night, the ghost light – left on at night to appease the ghosts of actors – is extinguished. Alice digs into the Beryl’s past, sleuthing in a network of dark back-stage corridors and cobwebby storage rooms. Gradually, she starts to uncover the hundred-year-old secret of the theatre: a stolen diamond. Is the Beryl haunted by a ghost – or a living thief?

 

I had so much fun writing The Ghost Light mostly because I love Alice and helping her solve mysteries, but also because I love the theater! I acted all through school, and there is really nothing like the buzz of being backstage right before the curtain goes up. I hope this story gives you a taste of that excitement, as well as a tricky mystery for you to help Alice solve.

You can order your copy here:  Amazon Waterstones Hive

 

The Impossible Clue

The first Alice Jones Mystery is (finally?) out in America.  So if you’ve been waiting for the US edition (with all those pesky extra U’s removed, or if you just want a copy with the awesome Melissa Manwill cover, now is your chance!

TheImpossibleClueHCMath whiz Alice Jones has already cracked a mystery or two. She’s smart and she’s fearless, so who else would her classmates turn to? But when a famous local scientist vanishes from a locked room, Alice and her detective skills graduate to the big leagues.

Dr. Learner had been working on a top-secret invisibility suit that everyone wants. Rumor has it he’s disappeared under suspicious circumstances . . . literally. But is wacky science really behind his vanishing? Or is it something more sinister? Alice won’t stop until she knows the truth . . .

The Impossible Clue is a middle-grade story whose appeal is no mystery, with a protagonist whose charm needs no magnifying glass to detect.

You can order your copy here.

My Inspiration: The Boyd Theater

 

The second Alice Jones mystery is out in two more weeks! I can hardly believe it. In anticipation, here is another look behind the scenes…

Alice Jones: The Ghost Light is set in an old, run down theater called the Beryl. The Beryl was once the finest theater in Philadelphia, but after a fire in 1927, it fell into ruin, got a reputation for being cursed and sat  derelict for almost a century. It’s an amazingly grand building beneath the years of soot and decay, full of drama and majesty. It’s also completely fake.

There are a lot of reasons I chose to create my own theater instead of using a real one, but the biggest was so that I could have total control of all the exits and entrances and any secret spaces that *might* exist.

But, the (fake) Beryl Theater was inspired by a very real one in the heart of Center City: The Boyd.

My inspiration was twofold. First, The Boyd inspired the look of the Beryl. I love its art deco styling and the immense amount of detail everywhere in the building. I mean, it was a room for watching movies in the dark, but they still  intricately carved and painted the ceiling, and custom designed the carpets. Of course, the paint is peeling and there are chips in the moldings-but you can still see how amazing it was once upon a time.

Stairs to the balcony, a sign for the lounge and detail etched into the lobby door. Photos courtesy of Friends of the Boyd, Inc.

 

Colored glass detail, fountain-themed plaster molding and the lobby stairway niche. Photos courtesy of Friends of the Boyd, Inc.

But beyond just looks, I was inspired by the story of The Boyd and the people struggling to save it from demolition.

Starting in 2002, The Friends of the Boyd worked tirelessly to keep the theater going and restore the building to its former glory. I can remember seeing one Friends of the Boyd newsletter at my parents house and being mesmerized by the photos of the theater.

The exterior of the Boyd today.

The graffiti inspired a brand new character!

Sadly, the auditorium wing of the Boyd was demolished in 2015. The facade and Grand Lobby, however, are still standing and The Friends of the Boyd are working to rehome many of the period features saved from inside the building.

The Beryl, I’m pleased to say, gets a happier ending.

 

 

My Inspiration: The Patiala Necklace

Happy December. I can’t believe 2016 is almost over already!

Alice Jones: The Ghost Light is coming out next month (5 January!) and I thought it might be fun to ‘lift the curtain’ and share some of the things that inspired me while I was writing this mystery.

In her second case, Alice investigates a possible haunting at an old theater. While looking into the theater’s history, Alice discovers a fabulous diamond necklace went missing the same night a fire nearly destroyed the building. The necklace was called The Midnight Star, and it was never found.

I looked at a lot of pictures of famous necklaces while I was plotting The Ghost Light, but the second I saw The Patiala Necklace, I knew I’d found ‘the one’.

The NecklaceThe Patiala Necklace was designed by Cartier for Maharajah Bhupinder Singh in 1928. It took three years and 2930 diamonds to create (962.25 carats of diamond!). The square yellow (tobacco colored for you fancy people) diamond pendant is the De Beers diamond and is the seventh largest diamond in the world.

It is a stunningly beautiful bib of jewels and I was entranced the moment I saw it. But, as I did more research, I discovered there was another reason to be inspired.

 

Like The Midnight Star in Alice Jones: The Ghost Light,  The Patiala Necklace mysteriously disappeared from the royal family’s treasury in 1948. No one knows who took the necklace (or if the family sold it off on the quiet), but it resurfaced in a second-hand jewelers in London in 1998. All of the large gems had been removed from their settings. Cartier bought the necklace and spent the next two years restoring it to its former glory.

Like Alice, I spend a lot of time wondering just where the Patiala Necklace WAS for all that time. And how did it come to be in that second hand jewelers? It makes me wonder about all the other missing treasures out in the world: Where are they hiding right now? And who will find them? Maybe, it will be me.

 

It WAS a Mystery-The Cheltenham Literary Festival

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This past October I got to take part in the Cheltenham Literary Festival! I did an event called It’s a Mystery with the very talented Katherine Woodfine (author of The Clockwork Sparrow and The Jewelled Moth). It was my first literary festival, so everything was very new and exciting. I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I should have, but here are a few:

Getting ready for the big day with book themed outfit and nails. (I also reviewed all of my notes and outlines for Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue and Alice Jones: The Ghost Light-but that would be a very boring photo.)

Here’s my official ‘Presenter Wristband’–

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–so the organizers knew I was meant to be in the writers tent and hadn’t sneaked in to gawp at the real celebrities or eat the free food. Cheltenham Festivals did an amazing job feeding us, by the way, I felt very fancy!

The event itself was in The Little Big Top, an amazing venue!

 

And here we are onstage, ready to talk all about mysteries!

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Alex O’Connell introducing Katherine Woodfine and me.

The event itself was the best part! Our moderator, Alex O’Connell of The Times, asked really interesting questions (How we came up with our characters, the differences between American and British mysteries, what makes a good baddie and how we plot our crimes). Having a seasoned speaker like Katherine up there helped me feel a lot less nervous. BUT, the thing that made the event SO FANTASTIC was the ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS audience!

They had great ideas on what makes a good detective (bravery, smarts, attention to detail, ready for anything) and wonderful questions at the end of the session-both about mysteries and about being a writer. I think we definitely had some future mystery authors in the tent!

On a more personal note, it was a lot of fun to share what I do with my family. I think being a writer can seem very ambiguous, and very boring to people living with an author. After all, when my kids see me working all they see is me frowning at a computer screen, fingers pecking away at the keys. After seeing me onstage, my son has a much better idea of what I do, and he thinks it’s pretty cool.

‘Mummy, maybe I’ll be a writer like you when I grow up.’

And that’s probably the best bit of all.

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‘Mummy, you’re actually kind of cool.’ (I’m enjoying it while it lasts)