Why write reviews?

I have two questions. First: What was the last great book you read? Second: How did you hear about it?

I don’t know what the answer to the first question is, there are so many amazing books out in the world. But, I’m willing to bet that the answer to the second question is: someone recommended it to you.

A book recommended to me, and one I recommended to others.

This is especially true for child-readers. I can vividly remember pushing my favorite books on my friends and gleefully borrowing theirs. Rushing home after school to read what all the fuss was about. Kids don’t care what the current bestseller is, they care what their friends are enjoying. (Although, I imagine sometimes these things go hand in hand.)

When I don’t have any recommendations from friends and reading buddies though, a heartfelt review, is the next best thing. A good review has often tipped me over the edge into buying a book, and if I love it, I go on to recommend it to all my friends as well. If you like a book and want to support the author, leave a review (on amazon, goodreads, your blog) or recommend it to your friends. It makes all the difference in the world!

(psssst…in case I was too subtle….please go on amazon and review my books…thank you)

The Detection Club’s Fair Play Rules

I’m running a writing workshop all about detectives later this month, so in honor of that I thought I’d re-post my blog all about playing fair with your reader.  Originally posted on GirlsHeartBooks.

Time Traveling to the Detection Club dinner, 1932

When Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue first came out, I wrote a short post on my top tips for writing a mystery for the Chicken House Blog (you can find it here). My last and final rule was to ‘play fair’ with your reader. It’s no fun reading a mystery when the author keeps a big clue up their sleeve the whole time!

‘Play fair’ is also the motto of The Detection Club: a (sort of) Secret Society of Mystery Writers that was founded by the greats in the Golden Age of Mysteries; Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L Sayers and John Rhode to name a few (A.A. Milne was also a member, though today he’s better remembered for his Winnie the Pooh books than his mysteries).

Members of The Detection Club swore an oath to play fair with the reader, had diners and costume parties, helped each other with tricky plots and even wrote books together. If I could time travel, I would love to go to one of their meetings, and maybe even join.

So, just in case I ever find a time machine, I’ve been studying up. I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself.

THE FAIR PLAY RULES

I. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.

II. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course. To solve a detective problem by such means would be like winning a race on the river by the use of a concealed motor-engine.

III. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

IV. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

V. No Chinaman must figure in the story. [Eeep. The Fair Play Rules were written in 30’s when casual racism was the norm. As a modern writer, I chose to read this rule as follows: No ‘suspicious foreigner’ will will be used as an easy scapegoat, obvious villain or convenient plot device. 3-dimensional POC characters are welcome and encouraged.]

VI. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right

VII. The detective must not himself commit the crime.

VIII. The detective must not light on any clues are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader

IX. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

X. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

Of course, all rules are made to be broken (Agatha Christie herself wrote at least one book where the narrator is the culprit–I won’t give it away by telling you which one), but I think for the most part playing by the rules makes reading (and writing) mysteries much more fun.

So there you have them, the ten rules all members of The Detection Club swore an oath to follow! The next time you’re reading a mystery, here’s a second case to solve. Check and see how closely the author stuck to the rules. Did they play fair?

And now that I’ve brushed up on the rules, and found a 1930’s disguise, I’m off to find that time machine. Wish me luck!

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School Visits

I wrote a post a few months ago about how much fun I had visiting schools and talking all about Alice Jones, writing mysteries and creating fantastic new detectives with some amazing student sleuths.

So I am very excited to now have an official School Visit page on my website. So if you are a teacher, or librarian, or student who wants me to come give a talk or lead a writing workshop check it out!

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My bright new business cards!

As the daughter of teachers, I know that schools don’t have a dedicated author visit budget (wouldn’t that be wonderful) so while I do charge for in person visits, I also offer free 30 minute Skype Q&A’s for classes that read one of my books.  (Also fantastic if you’re a school on the other side of the Atlantic-America, I’m looking at you!)

If you are interested, please get in touch. You can contact me here. And if you know a student, teacher or librarian who you think would be interested, please pass my details along. Hopefully I will see some of you soon!

 

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

Happy World Book Day!

Happy World Book Day Everyone! 

Since The Ghost Light came out in January, I’ve been having a lot of fun visiting schools and talking all about my love of mysteries and maths and the amazing Alice Jones. It’s been a new experience for me, since when my first two books came out I’d just had a baby, and so far it’s been fantastic!

Feeling like a super-star!

I’ve been so impressed by all of the students I’ve gotten to meet: Their questions and curiosity is so inspiring. And I have a feeling I’ve met more than a few future authors.

A skill anyone hoping to become a writer needs, is the ability to create compelling characters. One of my favorite bits during a school visit  is when a few brave volunteers dress up and I and the audience use their costumes (and our imagination) to turn them into a unique detective.

We give them strengths (are they brave? smart? well-prepared?) and weaknesses (a good character needs some flaws) and a special crime solving skill, Then we imagine what kind of crime they might come across? What clues would they notice that others might overlook? And  how will they be challenged by their weaknesses?

So far I’ve seen:

  • A detective with amazing eyesight, who is so sleepy she can barely stay awake.
  • A detective who is an expert horse rider, but who can’t swim (the students decided dropping a vital clue at the bottom of the swimming pool would be the perfect challenge)
  • A master of disguise with horrible fashion sense (we thought a mystery in a fancy-dress shop would be perfect!)

I’m off on another visit today, and I can’t wait to see what detectives we come up with!

Pick a prop. What does it say about your detective?

If any of you are interested in developing your own detective, here’s the worksheet that goes with the exercise. I’d love to see who you come up with. Happy Sleuthing!

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.

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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