In an earlier post , I wrote about the difficulties of coming up with a character’s name and how I struggled to find the right name for Eden. What I didn’t discuss in that post is why Eden’s surname is ‘Grey’ and not ‘Gray’, especially as ‘Gray’ is the more common form of the surname. The answer is way back in the past.
When I was a teenager, I attended an all girls’ high school in Lincolnshire. Looking back, I realise it was a very old-fashioned school. We had a strict uniform, our skirts had to be a precise length and our coats a specific shade of blue, the girls were referred to as ‘our gels’ in a faux-gentile accent, and there were very strict rules on how we had to behave, not only at school, but outside school, too. Many of these rules related to not fraternising with the boys from the grammar school next door to ours. Rather tricky, considering many of the pupils lived in surrounding villages and shared buses with the boys every single day to get to and from school.
One of the teachers at the school was a Miss Jean Brodie type. Highly charismatic but a dreadful snob. She spoke in an affected way and acted as though she was a teacher at the most prestigious boarding school you could imagine, rather than at a small state school. I think occasionally she came to her senses and realised what an ordinary bunch we were, and desperately she berated us for holding our knives and forks incorrectly or using phrases such as ‘And that,’ and ‘Y’know.’
In one lesson on Tudor history, she was teaching us about Henry VIII and his umpteen wives. When we got to Jane Grey, she fixed us with a beady stare and said, “That’s Grey with an EY not Gray with an AY.” Her gaze swept the classroom and in a tone of immense superiority, she informed us, “You’ll never know any EY Greys. You’ll only ever know AY Grays.” In other words, you 'orrible lot will never mix with the aristocracy, and the implication that she hung out with EY Greys all the time.
The dreadful snobbery of this comment stuck with me, and when I was hunting around for Eden’s name and hit on Eden Grey, I knew instantly that she had to be an EY Grey, not an AY Gray. For starters, there’s a lovely symmetry to that run of Es. Secondly, and more importantly, I like to think of that snobby teacher and her pronouncement that us girls would never be good enough to know any EY Greys. And I think to myself, “If I want an EY Grey, I’ll have one. So stick that up your jumper!”
Paternoster has been re-issued and is available for pre-order here. The new edition will be published on 16th December 2019.
How many times do you find yourself reading a book and wishing that you could step into the story? Now you can! I’m delighted to announce that for the past couple of months I’ve been working with Escape Rooms Cheltenham to create an escape room based on my crime novel, Paternoster.
Escape rooms throw a group of friends, family or colleagues into a scenario where they’re locked in a room, and have to solve a series of puzzles in order to escape. They’re popular for birthday parties, hen parties, and team-building activities for work colleagues.
The Paternoster escape room explores a dark and dangerous past lurking beneath the genteel exterior of Cheltenham - a past with tentacles that reach into the present. Sleuths taking part in the escape room are presented with the cases of a kidnapped schoolgirl, a murdered secretary, and a businessman who utters 'paternoster' with his dying breath. They have an hour to uncover what links them all or they too will fall foul of Cheltenham's murky secrets.
Participants have to solve a series of ingenious puzzles in order to escape. The challenges are all different and test participants’ powers of observation, problem solving, team working and concentration.
The Paternoster Escape Room will be open until 21st December, 2019 and bookings are available at: https://escaperoomscheltenham.co.uk/blog/room/21st-september-21st-december/
Very excitingly I’m also able to announce that Paternoster will shortly be re-issued by Sapere Books. I’m so pleased to be working with Sapere – they’re a great team and wonderful to work with.
Here’s a sneak preview of the new cover. I love how brooding it is – getting the reader in the mood for the story to come. I showed it to a friend of mine, who said it hinted at ‘dark goings on’. I’m happy with that!
The weather forecast is talking about the warmest Easter on record, the news is full of people sunning themselves on British beaches, and the smell of charred meat hangs in the air as barbecues are dusted off and lit for the first time in months. And me? I’m playing Christmas jingles and thinking about tinsel, icy pavements and turkey leftovers. Yes, I’m writing a seasonal story.
The time-lag involved in publishing means that a story with a seasonal flavour has to be submitted six months before. My story has a May deadline, hence my writing about Christmas whilst nibbling on an Easter egg.
The story is for a collection of Christmas stories featuring fictional detectives, and I’m writing a story featuring my PI sleuth, Eden Grey. The story must be set at Christmas and have a Christmas theme. For a long time I simply dragged my mind back to Christmas and compiled a list of things that are typically Christmassy: office parties, buying presents, houses smothered with lights, food, drink, family. Eventually I came up with a theme I could work into a detective story, and that allowed Eden to do all the things she’s good at: surveillance, breaking and entering, and getting into a fight.
Once I’d got the plot, I needed to feel more Christmassy, in the hopes that those sensations would translate onto the page. Here’s how I did it:
1. Playing Christmas music
The neighbours thought I was bonkers, but playing Christmas tunes helped me to think about Christmas and to remember how that time of year feels. Sound, like smell, is wired into memory. Certain songs evoke specific places, people, and events. Even decades later, a certain song will remind me of a school trip to Norway. Writing to a background of ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’ helped me get into the Christmassy swing.
2. Remembrance of Christmas past
Confession time. I don’t like Christmas much. For me it means other people’s stress, overspending, overeating and general tetchiness. Call me Scrooge if you like, but my Christmas is quiet and simple, and that’s how I like it. The good thing about Christmas for storytellers is it’s usually a time of great tension, and as we all know, stories are powered by tension. At Christmas, everyone is expected to have a wonderful time. If you’re ill, lonely or generally fed-up, that feeling of alienation from everyone else intensifies.
3. What’s the weather like?
Although we often think of a white Christmas, it rarely happens in the UK. Christmas is usually dank, misty, dark and rainy. It’s difficult to remember exactly what the weather is like in certain seasons, so I turned to my journal to remember. Notes about gardening in the rain, slipping on frosty pavements, or unexpected warmth reminded me that winter isn’t cold and rainy every single day. These details gave my prose authenticity.
4. Eat, drink, and be Christmassy
Mince pies have long ago disappeared from the supermarket shelves, but there are Brussels sprouts, turkey, and fruit cake. Plus hot chocolate, hot toddies, and Baileys. Certain seasons have distinctive tastes particular to them, and by experiencing that taste I evoked the season associated with it. While everyone else was sipping Pimms and eating barbecue chicken, I was drinking hot chocolate and eating pigs in blankets.
Writing a seasonal story means being out of synch with everyone else. You have to create a bubble in which it's Christmas, and block out everything Easter around you. The benefit of writing this way is that when winter rolls around, and everyone huddles inside counting down the days to summer, I’m already there, writing six months in the future, glorying in the long June days and toasting myself in the sun.
Kim Fleet lives and works in Cheltenham. Her two cats help the creative process by standing on the delete key.