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:

pretzel

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

Advertisements

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!’

-or-

‘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.

image002

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.

It WAS a Mystery-The Cheltenham Literary Festival

20161009_085809-1

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’–

20161010_091005

–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!

onstage

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.

20161009_090032

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

A Day in Philadelphia

This summer I took a trip to America to visit my family on the other side of the Atlantic. We started in Maine and ended in New Jersey, but I had a day to do a whirlwind tour of Philadelphia, the home of Alice Jones.

drivingintophilly

A view of the skyline as we drive in, you can just see William Penn’s statue on top of City Hall.

When I was growing up, I spent most of my summers in Philadelphia with my dad and three of my four siblings. When I was very young (and still an only child), we lived on South Street right in the center of the city, surrounded by funky shops and artists. We lived down the road from Isaiah Zagar, an amazing muralist who decorated the walls of the city with found object mosaics. If you are ever there, visit The Philadelphia Magic Garden! It’s amazing.

Magic Garden by Kevin Burkett

A fork in the road at the Magic Garden. Someday I’ll set something here!

Later, when my siblings arrived, we moved out of the city. But we’d still visit all the time. One of my favorite places to go was The Franklin Institute an enormous science museum full of fabulous interactive exhibits. Alice, being a math and science fan, shares my love of The Franklin. 

Check out Alice hanging out on the steps outside.  And me trying to share a copy of The Impossible Clue with Ben Franklin. He wasn’t biting…

 

I also stopped by the Philadelphia Free Library to see the steps where Alice and Kevin make their first big breakthrough in the case of the invisible scientist. One thing this visit REALLY reminded me, was just how HOT Philly can be in the summer. I remembered the heat on an intellectual level, but I’d forgotten what it really felt like – the intensity and how sticky it makes you. Check out my frazzled hair as I pose!

 

A few more highlights:

One of the city’s many beautiful murals. A touch of history (note the flag). And, of course, a food cart like the one in The Impossible Clue where Alice buys soft pretzels and spots the mysterious silver Mercedes.

Philadelphia is a great city and it deserved more than just a day, but it was fun to go on even a short trip down memory lane with Alice. If you live in Philly or have visited, I’d love to see your photos and hear about your favorite places in the city! 

It’s A Mystery!

woodfine-rubin

I’m very excited to be speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival next month. I’m doing a panel with Katherine Woodfine all about mysteries and how we write them. Katherine is the author of the fabulous Clockwork Sparrow and Jewelled Moth Mysteries as well as host of Down The Rabbit Hole, a radio show all about kids books.  Our moderator is Alex O’Connell, The Times’ Arts editor. I am feeling very fancy.

This will be my first festival appearance and I’m equal parts nervous and thrilled. I’ve been having a lot of fun, though, going through all of the notes I made before writing The Impossible Clue and The Ghost Light (the next Alice Jones mystery) and  trying to figure out what the secret to writing a gripping mystery really is. If I figure it out, I promise to share.

It’s a Mystery will be on 8 October at 5pm in the Little Big Top. If you’re interested in coming to see me, you can find out more and book tickets here.

You can find out what other great events are going on at the festival here.