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Murder is a cosy treat with Helena Dixon

Prolific UK author Helena Dixon splits her time between the Black Country and Devon. Married to the same man for over thirty-five years she has three daughters, a cactus called Spike, a crazy cockapoo* (see below) and a tank of tropical fish. She is allergic to adhesives, apples, tinsel and housework. Her addictions of choice are coffee and reality TV. She was winner of The Romance Prize in 2007 and Love Story of the Year 2010, writing as Nell Dixon (with a fantastic list of titles on her bookshelf). Helena now writes historical cozy crime set in the 1930s.

I’m excited to speak with Helena today as we have quite a bit in common. Let’s get to the questions!

Welcome to the Last Word of the Week, Helena! Why is writing important to you?

Helena: Writing is like breathing. I can’t imagine not being able to express the stories that I have galloping around in my head if I didn’t write. I joined my first writing group when I was twelve and have belonged to a writers group for most of my life. I belong to the RNA (Romance Novelists Association), the CWA (Crime Writers Association) and my local writers group which is affiliated to the NAWG (National Association of Writers’ Groups). Writing keeps me sane and makes me a much nicer person to be around.

Author Helena (Nell) Dixon

Author Helena (Nell) Dixon

What would readers never guess about you?

I have severe dyscalculia. I see numbers backwards and jumbled up. I can’t remember or retain them. I can’t read a digital clock very well. I can’t tell left from right or follow directions. I struggle with time as a concept. I can do sums in my head but not if I’m looking at the numbers. I don’t know my phone number, I forget my post code and I don’t know my car registration. I have never used an ATM and only own a mobile phone for the camera facility. I don’t know my number or how to use it.

Goodness, I would never guess that. How amazing and interesting. It obviously has no effect on your reading and writing. How much research is involved in your writing?

Lots. Especially my Helena Dixon books as they are set in 1930s Dartmouth. I recreate journeys via steam train and ferry. I make site visits and take copious notes and pictures. I have lots of wonderful people who answer all kinds of questions to check that I’m as accurate as I can be. For the third Miss Underhay book, due out in June, I visited the golf club where I wanted to leave a body and they kindly gave me a tour in a golf buggy and answered a million and one questions.

Site visits sound like complete fun. Do you have a pet as a writing companion?

Yes, although he is more of a hindrance than a help. That’s my lovely Cockerpoo Teddy. He even has his own facebook page!

Teddy the Cockerpoo (AKA Spoodle)

Teddy the Cockerpoo (AKA Spoodle)

(Clare says: Teddy the Cockerpoo* is a spoodle to those of us in the antipodes, i.e. a cocker spaniel crossed with a poodle. Aussies tend not to put ‘poo’ and, er, ‘cock’ in the same sentence, let alone the same word, if we can help it LOL. My own writing companion is the gorgeous and sassy Aeryn Spoodle-Wolf. You might have met her in this earlier post.)

What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months, Helena?

Hmm, I’m working on book 4 of the Miss Underhay series and I also have plans for a stand alone murder mystery. We’ll have to see how that all goes. I may even find time for a novella.

That sounds wonderful. What would be a dream come true for you?

Writing wise, I would love to see the Miss Underhay series on TV. There has been some interest and if anyone is listening it’s still available. My daughter wants a film, mainly because she thinks Beyonce should play Vivian Delaware, a slightly shady OTT jazz singer who appears in the first book, Murder at The Dolphin Hotel.

Oh, i’d love to see those stories on the little – or big – screen too! Fingers crossed. Thank you so much for sharing so much interesting information! I can’t wait to read more of Miss Underhay.

Buy links

Murder at the Dolphin Hotel is available as ebook, paperback and audiobook

UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07XLM3SM6?tag=bookouture-cover-reveal-21

AUS https://www.amazon.com.au/Murder-Dolphin-Hotel-gripping-historical-ebook/dp/B07XLM3SM6/

Author Links

Nell enjoys hearing from readers and you can read her news and contact her via her website at http://www.nelldixon.com 

Twitter @NellDixon

Instagram Helena Dixon author

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/nelldixonauthor/

Website www.nelldixon.com

 

Murder at the Dolphin Hotel

A room with a view… to murder.

June 1933. Kitty Underhay is a modern, independent woman from the top of her shingle bob to the tip of her t-strap heels. She prides herself on the reputation of her family’s ancient hotel on the blustery English coast. But then a body is found, rooms are ransacked and rumours begin to circulate that someone is on the hunt for a valuable stolen ruby – a ruby that Kitty’s mother may have possessed when she herself went missing during the Great War. Before she can do more than flick a duster, Kitty finds herself in the midst of a murder investigation.

When the local police inspector shows no signs of solving the shocking crimes plaguing the hotel, Kitty steps briskly into the breach. Together with ex-army captain Matthew Bryant, her new hotel security officer, she is determined to decipher this mystery and preserve not only the name of her hotel, but also the lives of her guests.

Could there be a cold-blooded killer under her own roof? And what connects the missing jewel to the mystery from Kitty’s own past?

 

 

Gill Thompson and her joined-up writing

Today I’m speaking with Gill Thompson. Gill has spent most of her career lecturing in English at sixth form level, but her hankering to write fiction has never gone away. She enrolled in and completed a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, and says it was the best thing she ever did.

Gill understands both ends of the writing process: the planning and editing required to produce a text, and the reading and analysis it takes to appreciate it. She says she is now finally fully joined up! The writers among you will find her website full of wonderful writing tips, and the readers will be very interested in her wonderful historical novel The Oceans Between Us about the post-WWII child migrant process. So relevant in today’s context of the movement of people seeking refuge and safety, and with a foot firmly in both the UK’s and Australian social history.

The Oceans Between Us cover image
The Oceans Between Us by Gill Thompson

Welcome to Last Word of the Week, Gill! It’s lovely to have you. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

That’s a difficult one! My book is about a child migrant from Britain to Australia just after World War Two. I don’t have any personal connections with that story (I’m old, but not that old!) – and in fact I agonised for quite some time about whether it was my place to tell it – but the support I received from ex migrants, and from The Child Migrants Trust, the charity that reunites parents and children, gave me the encouragement to go ahead. The fact that many people have written in their reviews of the book that they are grateful to have found out about this event makes me feel I’ve done the right thing.

My only common ground with the novel is that it is about a mother separated from her son. A few years ago, our son set off on what we now call his ‘gap decade’ (!) as he found a way to combine work and travelling. He is now settled in Bucharest where he met the girl of his dreams and they are getting married next month. I am happy for him, but I know how my character Molly feels at being separated from her child. It’s really hard! I certainly think I wrote those scenes from the heart.

Separation, especially for an unknown time, is really hard! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

I submitted three chapters from the novel as my dissertation for the Creative Writing M.A I undertook in order to help me write the best book possible. I remember describing a scene from that section that I was particularly proud of to my husband. Instead of giving me the approval I desired, he pointed out that I had missed an essential part of the plot. We argued about it for ages. I went away and sulked, then reluctantly conceded he had a point and finally, begrudgingly, I  rewrote it. To this day, that scene, which features my protagonist Molly acknowledging that her son Jack must have died in the bomb blast that destroyed their home, is one of my favourites. It was clearly right to put it in. I’m not going to tell my husband that though!

Oooh, a marital secret, how exciting :-). If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

What an interesting question! (Don’t people always say that when they don’t know the answer?!) I think it would have to be an indigenous Australian girl called Rosie. Whilst I was researching the story of the child migrants, many of whom were falsely told they were orphans in order to lure them to Australia, I came across an eerily parallel account of the ‘Stolen Generation.’ These were Aboriginal children, taken from their parents as part of the White Australia policy. In my story, Jack and Rosie meet and bond through their common experience of loss. Having seen Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play Our Country’s Good, (based on the Thomas Keneally novel of the same name) and read Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, I’d become fascinated by the rich spiritual life of indigenous Australians, particularly their belief in the power and role of dreams. I’ve tried to convey this through my characterisation of Rosie who sometimes has supernatural insights. Of all my characters I think she would have understood the slender line between reality and fantasy and wouldn’t feel threatened by being told she was fictitious.

That’s a really great answer – and it actually makes Rosie more real to me! But more about you: can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

I love the novels of the late Helen Dunmore. She had such skill at writing compelling human stories against the backdrop of historical events. I wouldn’t place myself in the same league as her but she is definitely a big influence. I read quite a lot of Tim Winton’s books when I was researching my story as I think he conveys the landscape and atmosphere of Western Australia so well. My central character, Molly, loses her memory so I read a few stories about memory loss such as ‘Pieces of Light’ by Charles Fernyhough and ‘Briefing for a Descent into Hell’ by Doris Lessing. I also love Maggie O’Farrell’s dexterity with words and the way she gets inside people’s minds so convincingly. Finally, Anne Tyler has an amazing ability to convey huge life issues within seemingly inconsequential events. I can only dream about writing as well as any of these authors, but they have certainly given me something to aspire to.

Ah, we have a lot of reading tastes in common! Lovely. Now, take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Ten years ago my parents had both recently died and my husband was in the middle of a decade of ill health which he was seemingly unable to recover from and which doctors were baffled by. I was trying to care for him whilst supporting our family with my job as a teacher. I’d wanted to write since I was very young but life always got in the way. My father had written text books on Photography but always had a secret ambition to write a novel. I think he passed that on to me! Although he died in 2001, I was able to enrol on my Creative Writing M.A with some of the money he left me. It was hard at times, with Paul so ill, but I managed to scrape through it, and my novel ‘The Oceans Between Us’ started to evolve.

Eventually Paul recovered and I had the space to give the manuscript more of my attention. It took me nine years before it was published but I am so glad I stuck at it. I often wish I could travel back to 2009, when life felt so bleak, and tell my former self that my dream of writing a novel really would come true, and that life really would get better. I wish my father had known how my writing aspirations would end up.

That’s a great story, and I have some similar experiences and feelings. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

I have now written a second novel, ‘The Child on Platform One,’ about a mother and daughter separated by war, which comes out next March. It’s gone through two rounds of edits so I just have the proof reading to do and then it’s finished. To be honest, I don’t have a single idea for book three at the moment. I think the creative well has run dry! I am going to give myself the summer off. We have our son’s wedding to prepare for and my daughter and her husband are having an extension built so I have a feeling they will be bringing our two adorable granddaughters to stay with us on and off through July and August so I will have plenty to keep me busy. I am hoping inspiration will strike by the autumn though so that I can get writing again. I think I would miss it if I didn’t.

Oh, yes, I do hope there’s more to come! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I am currently obsessed by Eva, the protagonist of my second novel. She is a musical prodigy living in Prague during the late 1930’s. Later, when she is taken into a concentration camp, she uses her musical talents to mount a defence against the Nazis. I don’t have a musical bone in my body but I am fascinated by the power of creativity to triumph over adversity.

What a great creation, and a good choice. Thank you so much Gill for sharing with me today on Last Word of the Week.

Gill’s important links:

Website: http://www.wordkindling.co.uk

Twitter: @wordkindling