It comes as no surprise that dogs have a really good sense of smell. What perhaps IS more surprising is just how much better it is than ours.

Back in 2002, scientists from the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University designed and carried out a study to try to put a dog’s sense of smell into context. For this, they used a substance called n-amyl acetate—an organic compound with a scent similar to apples and bananas. It is commonly found in penicillin, as a paint solvent, or as a flavouring.

The study, documented by Dr James Walker, discovered that a dog can detect such tiny amounts of this substance they are hardly measurable—two parts per trillion, to be precise. That means a dog’s sense of smell can identify chemicals between ten-thousandth and one-hundred-thousandth more diluted than a human is capable of.

So, while a human might be able to tell from a sniff if a cup of coffee has a teaspoonful of sugar added to it, a dog would be able to tell if that teaspoonful of sugar had been added to a million gallons of water.

Or, if you relate this to vision, something a human could see clearly at a third of a mile, a dog would be able to see, just as clearly, at 3000 miles away.

Mind-boggling, isn’t it?

I recall reading, years ago, about cadaver dogs that would indicate for a corpse submerged in nearly a hundred feet of water. Since then, I have heard of drug-detection dogs who can find marijuana in sealed containers immersed in a vehicle fuel tank, or those who smell whale scat from a mile away across a sea inlet. Not to mention all those dogs who sniff out explosives.

More recently, I met two dogs working for my local authority. One of them had been trained to indicate hidden money. When he insisted that a fireplace in one property was a hotspot (pun intended) and it was knocked down, they found £20,000 in cash had been bricked in behind it. The occupants of the house claimed it must be a gift from Santa Claus…

The other dog was trained to help investigate arson by sniffing out when accelerants had been used. A study carried out in 2003 discovered that when tracker dogs meet a human trail at right-angles, they can distinguish the direction in which the person was travelling within five paces. And this is despite all the other scents and smells that have come along since the target passed that way.

All kinds of breeds are used as detection dogs. One of the reasons bloodhounds are favoured a trackers is apparently because those long floppy ears help to waft the odours into its nostrils as it moves, nose downward, along the ground. Dogs can also independently move each nostril, to further help divine the direction of the scent they’re following.

Not only do dogs have approximately 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to around six million for a human, but the area of their brains devoted to analysing those odours is forty times greater than ours, proportionally speaking.

And even the shape of a dog’s nostrils is designed to aid its sense of smell. The ‘comma’ shape allows a dog to exhale through the side slits, which creates a swirling air pattern that helps sweep more of the scent in via the front of the nose. A study carried out in Norway by the University of Oslo discovered that a hunting dog can sniff in a stream of air for up to forty seconds at the time, which covered about thirty actual breaths.

As if all this wasn’t enough, dogs have a secondary olfactory system that humans don’t possess. The vomeronasal or Jacobson’s organ, which is at the base of a dog’s nasal passage, picks up pheromones, related to sexual readiness. These signals are interpreted by a different area of the dog’s brain, quite separate from the rest of its scenting capabilities.

You may wonder what sparked this post today about the ability of dogs to detect chemicals by scent alone. The answer lies all around us at the moment—the Covid-19 pandemic. With testing apparently in disarray, the scares about asymptomatic carriers and threats of a second wave, could scent dogs provide part of the answer?

It was reported back in July 2020 that a charity in Milton Keynes, UK, called Medical Detection Dogs was training six canines to sniff out the virus. The charity’s co-founder, Dr Claire Guest, has previously trained dogs to detect various forms of cancer, as well as malaria, E.coli, and Parkinson’s disease. With the increasing scepticism towards vaccines, using the biosensors known to man might just provide a worthwhile alternative.

MDD is continuing its trials, part-funded by the UK government and by public donations, in conjunction with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Durham University. It is hoped they might be able to screen up to 250 people an hour at points of entry into the UK and at testing centres.

Fingers crossed…

This week’s Word of the Week is nefelibata, meaning a cloud walker, one who lives in the clouds of their own imaginations or dreams, or one who does not obey the conventions of society, of Spanish and Portuguese origin.

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Between 1973 and 1986, 13 murders, over 50 rapes, and more than 120 burglaries were committed all over California by the same man—Joseph James DeAngelo. During his extended crime spree, DeAngelo was known by a variety of nicknames, including the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, and the Golden State Killer.

As the original name suggests, he began in Visalia, California in 1973 by breaking into houses and vandalising them during his robbery. DeAngelo tended to take small, personal items of low value rather than large amounts of cash or expensive objects, scattering female underwear about the place and even helping himself to food and drink. In 1975, he killed Claude Snelling.

During this time, DeAngelo was a serving police officer, having joined after an internship and going on to work on burglaries. In 1979, however, he was fired after being prosecuted for shoplifting. He had also fought in the Vietnam War and, at the time of his retirement in 2017, was a truck mechanic.

A photo released by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office shows Joseph James DeAngelo, who joined the Exeter Police Department in 1973. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office)

Early in 2018, Detective Paul Holes and FBI lawyer Steve Kramer uploaded the unknown Golden State Killer’s DNA into the GEDmatch website. This free online database was founded in 2010 with the aim of helping amateur and professional researchers and genealogists, including adoptees searching for their birth parents. It compared autosomal DNA data files from different testing companies, allowing users to search for relatives who had submitted their DNA, and also became much frequented by law enforcement. (In May 2019, however, GEDmatch increased its privacy guidelines so that users had to opt-in to sharing their data with law enforcement.)

By running a search through GEDmatch’s more than one million profiles, a team of investigators and genealogists were able to identify between 10 and 20 people who shared distant relatives with the Golden Gate Killer. This may seem fortuitous, but if you are of European ancestry and live in the USA, there is currently a 60% chance that a third cousin or closer relation will be in the database already. And this is when GEDmatch encompasses only about 0.5% of the US adult population. Estimates are that, once the GEDmatch figure rises to 2%, the likelihood of finding a third-cousin-or-closer match for those of European descent will rise to 90%.

From this information, the investigative team constructed a giant family tree. By gradually eliminating suspects, they got down to just two. One was then cleared by a further DNA test, and that left only Joseph James DeAngelo.

DeAngelo was arrested in April 2018. The statute of limitations had passed on the rapes and burglaries, but he was eventually charged with 13 counts of murder and kidnapping. He pled guilty to avoid the death penalty and on August 21 2020 the trial judge handed down multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Currently, legislators are looking at the rules surrounding the use by law enforcement of DNA provided to ancestry-type websites. There are arguments to be made for personal privacy versus justice. Nevertheless, as of December 2019, approximately 70 cold case arrests have been made using this method, as well as identifying 11 John and Jane Doe bodies in the USA. This included one case where both victim and perpetrator were identified via genealogical DNA—the murder by James Richard Curry of hiker Mary Silvani (for many years called simply the Washoe County Jane Doe)—nearly 40 years after the crime was committed.

This week’s Word of the Week is nemophilist, meaning someone who is inordinately fond of woods, forests, or woodland scenery and visits them often. The word comes from the Greek nemos, grove, and philos love or affection.

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MIE-title2

Every family has those sayings which aren’t quite the norm. The grandmother of a childhood friend used to come out with a stack of them, including the wonderful, “They’re all daubed with the same stick.” And:

There is a certain joy to be derived from a really good mixed metaphor. My father’s favourite is:

By far the easiest way to demonstrate this phenomenon is the illustrate it, so why not click here to see the full illustrated blog over on Murder Is Everywhere?

MIE-title2

Have you ever considered the best ways for you to hide money from your nearest and dearest?

No? Ah, just me then…

Actually, I should state at the outset that I looked into this as a purely hypothetical exercise. (Trust me, that horse has long since bolted.) Researching methods erring spouses use to hide away funds from their partners is something that may have entirely fictional relevance, but it’s an intriguing subject.

A recent survey by a credit card website discovered that twenty percent of Americans who are in a relationship admit to spending $500 or more without the knowledge of their partner. A smaller percentage even confess to holding hidden bank accounts or credit cards.

Scaling up the numbers from the sample the website questioned, this means that up to seven million people commit financial infidelity with their loved ones.

At one point, I would—and did—happily have joint bank accounts with my spouse. Around sixty-six percent of married couples do the same. I handled the business accounts and relied on my partner to handle the personal side, pay credit cards when they were due, and to warn me of any impending situation that might put us into debt.

Now, I’m slightly OCD about not accruing debt. I don’t owe anybody anything and intend to keep things that way. But I can appreciate how easy it is for one partner to bury their head in the sand, particularly during current times when employment in all kinds of fields is looking precarious and many have been on furlough at reduced pay. Just because income has gone down, that does not mean expenditure can be cut to match.

Sometimes, it’s purely a case of mismanagement. One partner can’t resist retail therapy in one form or another, and credit cards provide the means of instant gratification. It’s tempting to squint past the outrageous interest rate charged. Many people do not realise that when a credit card company offers a zero interest rate on balance transfers, either the fees charged for such a transaction or the existing balance will still be charged at the full rate—and those amounts will, of course, be the part of the debt paid off last.

But in other cases, things take a more deliberate edge. These are some of the ways I’ve discovered that some couples keep financial secrets from each other.

To begin with, if any of your income is derived in cash, then it’s all too easy to pocket some of it before it reaches home. Equally, paying for goods by card and asking for an additional sum as cash-back at the till also allows a private stash to be stealthily accrued. The resulting amounts will show on statements purely as spending at a particular store rather than as a cash withdrawal.

If you are salaried, then any new income, like a raise, can be diverted to a new bank account. I am told that the Human Resources departments of most large companies are able to split your pay and send it to different destinations if required. As long as you aren’t trying to avoid paying tax…

Speaking of which, I understand you can overpay your tax and have this excess refunded at a later date. I haven’t yet investigated if this is something only possible in America or if it applies to the UK as well. If so, then obviously you will be able to choose where this eventual refund is sent and what account it goes into.

Opening an online account accessed from an encrypted app allows one partner to open additional bank accounts without tell-tale statements or paperwork turning up at the marital address.

Equally, credit cards can usually be managed entirely online. I don’t think I’ve seen a paper statement for any of mine for some years. Although, as the name implies, this gives you only a line of credit, not a means of hiding assets or squirreling away money.

However, you can buy gift cards, load them up, then stash them in a safe deposit box or some other safe place.

Of course, if any of these shenanigans are discovered, you will still have to hand over the amount the courts decide upon when you reach your financial settlement. Perhaps, in that case, the only way to prevent your soon-to-be-ex from getting hold of their share of the loot is to spend it before they get the chance?

What anecdotes have you heard about the extremes warring couples have gone to in order to keep money out of their exes’ pockets? And does it simply end up all going in legal fees anyway?

This week’s Word of the Week is abibliophobia, which means the fear of running out of things to read.

Read and comment on this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere.

with Elizabeth Hill, James D Mortain, Caroline Goldsworthy, Dawn Brookes,
moderated by Zoë Sharp

The first weekend in June 2020 should have been CrimeFest in Bristol. Sadly, with the current Covid-19 pandemic still on the loose, the live event has had to be postponed.

For the last few years, it has been my privilege to moderate The Indie Alternative panel on Sunday morning at CrimeFest, which allows indie-published authors to showcase themselves and their work. As a hybrid author myself (half author, half digestive biscuit) I still wanted to give these authors a platform, and what better place than here?

So, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to the four diverse and interesting writers below:

Elizabeth Hill

Elizabeth published KILLING THE GIRL in April 2019 and is now busy working on her second novel. ‘We all love a great murder mystery and KILLING THE GIRL explores the reasons why an ordinary woman kills. What pushes her to her limit of endurance and sanity? And could that woman be you?’ Elizabeth is a member of The Alliance of Independent Authors, The Bristol Fiction Writers Group and Noir At The Bar, Bath. She was a speaker at the 2019 Bristol Festival of Literature.

Zoë Sharp: Your debut novel, KILLING THE GIRL, is about a woman who has been living a reclusive life for more than forty years in a large house where the body of a man she murdered is buried in the garden. Now the house is about to be demolished to make way for a bypass and she knows her secret will come to light. It’s an intriguing set-up. What inspired this story?

Elizabeth Hill: I live in south Bristol and there has always been the prospect of a ring road below Dundry Hill. The idea came because at one time there were discussions that this ring road would travel up over the Hill. What if a house was built on its path and what if the reclusive woman who lives there has buried a body? How does she survive being forced to leave her home with the prospect of the murder she got away with coming back to haunt her? What will she do? I loved travelling on that journey with her because I didn’t know what would happen, how she would survive, and who else she would kill. She became more vengeful than I’d originally imagined as she told her story.

Zoë Sharp: You’re already at work on your next book. Will there be a continuation of any characters from the first novel, or do you intend to write standalones?

Elizabeth Hill: My second book is a stand-alone but I want to retain the ‘Killing The…’ theme to give a sense of a series, and to be part of my brand of three novels. All my novels will feature women who have killed, or caused the death of someone. Reasons why women kill as a theme for the mystery novel fascinate me.

Zoë Sharp: What was your road to publication? Did you consider or try to find a traditional publisher or go the indie route right away? And why?

Elizabeth Hill: I tried to attract an agent, but it didn’t work. I had overwhelming praise from two big agents during a webinar featuring my first page that came to nothing. It was the positive response to my writing from my editors that gave me the ‘nerve’ to self-publish. Martin Ouvry teaches creative writing at London Uni so when he said my novel was excellent that was a great endorsement, and the impetus for me to bite the bullet and go for it.

Zoë Sharp: What, for you, are the best and worst aspects of being indie published? What do you enjoy doing the most and what do you find something of a chore?

Elizabeth Hill: Marketing, advertising, and all that happens outside of writing that sucks up my time, but I have to learn how to get my book noticed. The plus side is mixing with other authors and becoming immersed in a whole new world—and a lovely world at that. I’ve met some wonderful people and the best thing is that there is no competition because readers will buy every one of our books—and more.

Zoë Sharp: How do you go about marketing your work and building your readership? What do you find your most useful tool or platform for this?

Elizabeth Hill: I’m still learning this! Various book promotion sites with email lists help. I haven’t built an email list because I don’t blog or write news updates, etc. Experimenting and learning from my mistakes and feedback is key to progress. Learning who I should target with advertising and what I should invest in—but that’s ongoing and will probably change as markets change. I’m on Goodreads and have 103 ratings. NetGalley worked as readers that liked my novel listed it at Barnes and Noble, The Indie Bookstore, and a library in the US.

 Zoë Sharp: What one piece of advice would you offer to someone just writing their first novel and considering indie publishing?

Elizabeth Hill: Write the best novel you can because without a great novel nothing you do will get you anywhere. Get as many people to read it as possible and take their feedback seriously. Then re-write it! Use a story editor and re-write again. Before you publish, use a proof reader and read it again several times. That’s the best piece of advice—write the novel you want to write and then make sure it’s the best it can be.

James D Mortain

James is a former British CID Detective with the Avon and Somerset Constabulary turned crime fiction writer. ‘He brings compelling action and gritty authenticity to his writing through years of police experience. He began writing in 2012, following a chance encounter in a Bath bar with SAS veteran, TV personality and author, Chris Ryan. Using his own real-life experiences within a busy CID department, James creates gripping, fast-paced crime thrillers that will keep you on the edge-of-your-seat until the very last page.’

His first series has become a Kindle bestseller both in the UK and overseas. Featuring Detective Andrew Deans, these books are a chilling blend of police procedural and the paranormal. His latest work, DEAD RINGER, features a new character, DI Robbie Chilcott, in the start of a new urban crime series set in Bristol, UK.

Zoë Sharp: I have to ask, what was it about meeting Chris Ryan that inspired you to start writing? How long did it then take you to write your first book? And were you still a serving police officer at the time?

James D Mortain: I had left the police one month before that fateful meeting and it was actually Chris who suggested that I possessed the knowledge and first-hand police experience that most crime writers would kill for, and, he suggested, why didn’t I give writing a go? My first book, STORM LOG-0505 took around four years to write. I really had no idea what I was doing at the start and didn’t know if I had the ability within me to write a book. It turns out I had enough of a story to create a trilogy!

Zoë Sharp: Before you wrote your latest novel, the first in a new series with DI Robbie Chilcott, you wrote three paranormal police procedurals with Detective Andrew Deans. Why the paranormal element? And why change to your new main protagonist? What was it about the story of DEAD RINGER that needed a new voice to tell it?

James D Mortain: As you would have already discovered, my writing was somewhat spontaneous in nature, and Chris Ryan had told me to write about what I knew and also write about what would keep me entertained. As a police officer, life was about proving facts or disproving explanations through the gathering of reliable evidence. I thought it would be fun to challenge that process via a topic that divides opinion and belief, and cannot be proven one way or the other. I created the new DI Chilcott series acting on the advice of another author who said I could be missing a large chunk of readership that may be put off by the paranormal elements of my trilogy. I plan to continue both series and I have a far away dream that one day, Deans and Chilcott will both come together in a shiny new series.

Zoë Sharp: What was your road to publication? Did you consider or try to find a traditional publisher or go the indie route right away? And why?

James D Mortain: Gosh, my road to publication was pretty rocky. After a couple of years of endless self-edits and professional edits, I took the plunge and queried a handful of agents. To my utter astonishment, I had a response from a big London agent within the first forty-eight hours, requesting the manuscript to STORM LOG-0505. A detailed response followed with fantastic advice on how I could improve the story and an invitation to resubmit my manuscript. I was absolutely delighted and thought I had a fighting chance of securing an agent, but then within the week, I was struck down with viral meningitis and life for me and my family changed in an instant. I was seriously affected by the symptoms and spent the next few months undergoing various brain and physical tests. Unable to work my day-job, let alone re-edit my book, my cognitive abilities were badly inhibited and for reasons I still cannot explain, I didn’t inform the agent I was ill. Needless to say, I lost that chance and so when I was better placed, I decided to forge my own destiny and publish my book independently.

Zoë Sharp: What, for you, are the best and worst aspects of being indie published? What do you enjoy doing the most and what do you find something of a chore?

James D Mortain: The best part of being indie is having total control of your products: from book cover design to pricing and everything in between. The worst part is finding available time and ‘discoverability’—how to get my book before the eyes of potential readers? I don’t find anything a chore. I think it’s a mindset that indies have to have; there is no one element of publishing a book that is less important than the next and so they need equal attention. Get one part of the ingredient wrong and you’ll likely fail. I actually love editing. I hated it at first, because I put far too much emphasis on the time it had taken to write the swaths of text I was then deleting, rather than appreciating just how much better the story had become.

Zoë Sharp: How do you go about marketing your work and building your readership? What do you find your most useful tool or platform for this?

James D Mortain: I use Facebook and Amazon advertising to help with discoverability. Having a series helps to build loyal readership and I’m blessed to have avid readers who simply can’t get enough of Deans and Chilcott. I subscribe to Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Formula training modules. This is a paid product, it doesn’t come cheap, but the advice and hands-on tuition is priceless. It covers everything from day one of being a writer to advanced advertising. It has certainly helped me to improve my skills and grow my author presence. I now also have a publicist who is great at tapping up press and media leads.

Zoë Sharp: What one piece of advice would you offer to someone just writing their first novel and considering indie publishing?

James D Mortain: Don’t cut corners and don’t rush to publish…and always believe anything is possible.

Caroline Goldsworthy

Caroline describes herself as an Essex girl living in Suffolk. She was born in Chelmsford and moved to Colchester aged three. Going to university in her early thirties, Caroline graduated with a BA in Spanish Language and Linguistics and won a full scholarship for an MA in Language Acquisition. It was during this time that Caroline discovered she really liked writing.

Her debut novel TANGENT, loosely inspired by events in Ipswich 2006, was shortlisted in 2019 for The Selfies Award—a new prize for self-published authors. The second in the series, RECOMPENSE, is out now, with book three on the way. She has also written SYNNÖVE: THE KING’S CUPBEARER, a murder mystery set in 625 AD.

Zoë Sharp: I well remember the Ipswich prostitute murders which inspired your first DCI Ronnie Carlson book, TANGENT. What was it about this case that made you particularly want to use it as the basis for your debut?

Caroline Goldsworthy: I moved to Ipswich in September 2006 and the first young woman, (Tania Nicol) went missing at the end of October. Her body was found on 8th December. In the meantime another woman went missing (Gemma Adams) and her body was found in the same area as Tania on 2nd December. I was taking my Doberman puppy for a walk and a man told me that I was the first woman he’d seen out on her own in ages. I shrugged it off, nonchalant that it was daytime and I was far from the town centre, but… when I got to the far end of Longstrops (the open ground where we walked) the Police were doing a line search on the other side of the hedge. The last two women had been found about 3-4 miles from where I lived. It brought it all home. How close it had come to me was really scary.

I am old enough to have been around when the Yorkshire Ripper was at large and there was one thing that struck me over the difference in the media response to the women. In Ipswich in the mid-2000s they were “Somebody’s Daughter” in the 1970s and 80s, they were considered disposable and that death was an “occupational hazard”. Until the student was murdered – the first “innocent” victim.

So that was in my head melting away. I met someone who was later in the Cutting Edge programme Killer in a Small Town, and I was inspired by the story of Anneli Alderton and her brother’s memories of her. For a long time I wondered why she got off the drugs and the game and then came back to Ipswich.

All of those things went into the melting pot and a story began to form. I spent a summer doing voluntary work one afternoon a week at Iceni (the drug outreach centre) and was further inspired by the women I met there. I knew that I didn’t want the women in my book to be feeble victims. I wanted them strong but addicted to that heinous drug.

Zoë Sharp: You have also written SYNNÖVE: THE KING’S CUPBEARER, a murder mystery set in the early medieval period. Is this going to be another series, and what drew you to historical mysteries as well as modern crime?

Caroline Goldsworthy: I live near Sutton Hoo, which is the site of a Saxon ship burial. The fantastic treasures are in the British museum and copies are in the museum at Sutton Hoo. I was on a guided walk, standing on mound one (argued to be Raedwald’s grave) and the guide was giving such an atmospheric description of the funeral cortege that it was as if I could see her walking towards me. It was very surreal. She started life in a short story and it grew into a novel. I had great fun researching it.

Is she going to make a series? To be honest, I’m not sure at this stage. I left her story as Christianity is making inroads into the pagan beliefs. I am sure Synnöve will have strong views on that.

Zoë Sharp: What was your road to publication? Did you consider or try to find a traditional publisher or go the indie route right away? And why?

Caroline Goldsworthy: I finished writing the first draft of Tangent in 2017. I’d been on an Arvon course in Crime Fiction and Forensics (run by Margaret Murphy and Helen Pepper – they write together as Ashley Dyer).

At this stage I had no idea if I could actually write or not. I had no idea if my writing was any good. I received a lot of positive feedback from that course.

So I did, as everyone does, and tried several agents. I did this far too soon. The book wasn’t polished enough. I did get a full MS request (from a very big agency) but, when my work was rejected at that stage I was devastated. I cried for a week!

Then I got in touch with Ian Hooper at the Book Reality Experience, he took it all over for me with a solid contract with timelines and an agreed publication date. And in December 2018 I had a published book.

Zoë Sharp: What, for you, are the best and worst aspects of being indie published? What do you enjoy doing the most and what do you find something of a chore?

Caroline Goldsworthy: The best part is the freedom and independence. I can write what I want (within reason as I now have readers and they have their expectations of me), but I do get to make things up and sell those stories to people which has got to be one of the best jobs ever. I’m planning a different series for next year which will be released under a pen name.

Zoë Sharp: How do you go about marketing your work and building your readership? What do you find your most useful tool or platform for this?

Caroline Goldsworthy: I really struggle with the marketing side of things. This is the one thing I find a bit of a chore. Despite all appearances I am quite shy and I’m still struggling with the “gosh who wants to know about little me?” I know I have to get past this and I am working on it. I need to spend some time updating the back matter in my books and make sure that there are links to my newsletter page and the other books that I have now written.

Zoë Sharp: What one piece of advice would you offer to someone just writing their first novel and considering indie publishing?

Caroline Goldsworthy: Take it seriously. Publishing is a business and you need to treat it as a proper job.

Once you have written that first book, write another and write a third. Make them a series. Get good covers—research your genre. Get the best editor you can afford.

There are 8 million books on Kindle alone. With one book you will make the merest plop in the ocean. Remember this and keep writing. Readers move on. Make sure you have something for them to move on to. When they love you, you’ll earn their loyalty—but it’s a two-way deal. Take care of your readers and keep writing stories they will love.

PS I wish I’d listened to this advice when I heard it the first time.

Dawn Brookes

Dawn is a British author with a long nursing pedigree and takes regular cruise holidays for research purposes! She brings these passions along with a Christian background and a love of clean crime to her writing. The surname of her protagonist, Rachel Prince, is in honour of her childhood dog, who used to put his head on her knee while she lost herself in books.

Bestselling author three memoirs of nurse training in the 1970s, Dawn worked as a hospital nurse, midwife, district nurse and community matron across a thirty-nine-year year career. Before turning her hand to writing for a living, she had multiple articles published in professional journals and co-edited a nurse textbook.

She grew up in Leicester, later moved to London and Berkshire but now lives in Derbyshire. Dawn holds a bachelors degree with Honours and a Masters degree in education. Writing across genres, Dawn also writes for children.

Zoë Sharp: You have written six novels in your Rachel Prince cruise mysteries, the latest of which is MURDEROUS CRUISE HABIT, and book seven is due out in August. Which came first, the cruising or the desire to write crime fiction? Was it a conscious decision to use the cruise element to give your stories a greater hook to appeal to a segment of readers you felt was perhaps not catered to? What’s the appeal to you?

Dawn Brookes: Cruising came first. I went on my first cruise whilst still working full-time in the British health service in 2006 and fell in love with it.

Yes it was a conscious decision to set the mysteries on a cruise ship. I tended to read in the clean, less graphic murder mystery series and thought it would be fun to use the cruise ship setting rather than the traditional village. There’s a lot of interest in cruising from both seasoned and non-cruisers and because of its international nature both among crew and passengers, I felt it would lend itself to a series.

At first, I had the idea of a murder mystery with the ‘upstairs, downstairs’ appeal of Downton Abbey. The crew provide the stability of characters along with the protagonist whose best friend is a cruise ship nurse. The passengers are the newcomers who bring their issues on board and add to the intrigue. The luxurious setting adds that feel-good factor giving people an escape.

Zoë Sharp: You have also written nursing memoirs, books for children, and you have the first in a new series featuring a private investigator, Carlos Jacobi, in the Derbyshire Peak District. Is this the same Carlos from the Rachel Prince books? Why did you decide to spin him off into a series of his own?

Dawn Brookes: Yes, my first book was a memoir and reminded me of a childhood ambition to write full-time. I decided to spin Carlos off so that I could have a series based on land. As a private investigator he will be able to travel around the UK and abroad. I also wanted to explore writing from the POV of a male protagonist.

Lady Marjorie is popular with readers too. I was going to kill her off in the first book in series but changed my mind and I’m so glad I did. She has her own following.

Zoë Sharp: What was your road to publication? Did you consider or try to find a traditional publisher or go the indie route right away? And why?

Dawn Brookes: Indie publishing was always going to be my choice, though as I wouldn’t have the patience to wait a few years to publish. Also, now I’m older, I don’t have time on my side!

I was contacted last year by an indie publisher and offered a contract but I declined as by that time I was working as a full-time writer. It would take a huge offer to tempt me away from indie publishing.

Zoë Sharp: What, for you, are the best and worst aspects of being indie published? What do you enjoy doing the most and what do you find something of a chore?

Dawn Brookes: The best aspects relate to being in control of my own destiny and owning the rights to my work. I enjoy being involved with the cover design although I employ a designer and I like working with my editor. The worst aspect is that in some quarters it’s still looked down upon and seen as second best although these attitudes are changing.

The thing I enjoy mostly is the creative side, the writing and also the pleasure I get when readers contact me to tell me how much they love my work. Marketing is a chore for me, I do it because I have to but it’s not my favourite. I also found listening to my audiobook chapters to check for errors not to my liking, I’ve passed this on now.

Zoë Sharp: How do you go about marketing your work and building your readership? What do you find your most useful tool or platform for this?

Dawn Brookes: My main marketing platform is Amazon Ads and these, though not as cheap as they were are the most fruitful. I use Facebook ads around launch and at intervals but these tend to have a short life in terms of return for me. I have a website and a social media platform (mostly Facebook) where I stay in touch with my most loyal followers. I write a monthly newsletter to people who have subscribed to let readers know of anything new and about new books.

Zoë Sharp: What one piece of advice would you offer to someone just writing their first novel and considering indie publishing?

Dawn Brookes: Do your homework and invest in editing and cover design. Some things you can do with a little less money, but some things will hurt you if you don’t get it right.

So, it only remains for me to thank my panellists for their time and patience answering my questions. And to say that I’ve read and enjoyed all these indie authors’ latest novels, so if you’re looking for another good book during lockdown, look no further!

This week’s Word of the Week is interrobang, which is the name for when you combine an exclamation mark with a question mark—thus?! Thanks to EvKa for spotting these on fellow author Tim Hallinan’s page.

You can read and comment on this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere.

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A couple of weeks ago, on a Monday morning, I was supposed to fly to Venice for a four-day break. It’s a city I’ve always wanted to visit but never managed to see. I was hoping that the timing—late February—would mean the weather would not be too warm for some serious walking around, the infamous odours would not be too, well, malodorous, and the crowds would be bearable.

 

I was due to arrive the day before the end of the annual Carnevale di Venezia, so a chance to see the masked costumes for which the festival is famous before everyone dispersed. Ideal.

The fates were not with me on this.

Over the weekend before I was booked to fly, the news was suddenly full of the first coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy—in Lombardo, which quickly spread to neighbouring Veneto province. The final two days of the Carnival were cancelled.

Decision time.

Cancelling the trip would not result in a refund. By that time, it was the morning of the flight out and the Foreign Office guidelines were that it was OK to travel if you took sensible precautions. The greatest number of fatalities seemed to be among the elderly and those with underlying health problems.

Plus, come on—it’s Venice!

But…

My travelling companion was in her seventies (although is undoubtedly fitter than I am) and she also has asthma.

Even if I did not contract anything—and I was bearing in mind the dangers of passing through several international airports as much as the country of destination—what about the possibility of quarantine? Every news report brought a steady increase in numbers of those infected. I had no desire to have our trip forcibly extended by two weeks, as happened to holidaymakers in a hotel in Tenerife, or those aboard several cruise ships.

Not only that but three friends living locally, whom I see on a regular basis, have undergone recent cancer treatments that have left them with compromised immune systems. Another friend is prone to serious respiratory illnesses.

Becoming ill myself would be one thing.

But being responsible for passing it on to someone else? For that I would find it hard to forgive myself.

So, the flight came and went and I was not on it. Instead, I have been visiting Venice vicariously by indulging in movies partially set there. The end of Casino Royale, for instance—particularly the scene where James Bond and Vesper Lynd arrive, on a rather beautiful yacht.

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade had some scenes set there, and during a more stylish era to boot.

And finally, The Tourist mostly takes place in Venice, which provides eye candy not only in the city itself but also in the forms of Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. So, plenty for all tastes.

But that’s not all.

Because, staying put has meant more travelling for me rather than less. I’ve walked into isolated farmhouses on the side of Cumbrian fells in the Eden Valley. I’ve watched Gypsy horses being washed in the River Eden at Appleby-in-Westmorland. I’ve leaned over the shoulders of two detectives as they interrogated a suspect in the death of a child. I piggybacked onto a drone flight over a waterfall, searching for trace. And I was there when someone who should know better tried to plant evidence to incriminate another.

Yup, I’ve been caught up in the latest work-in-progress, which will be out in May. It has been slightly delayed due to STILL only having one arm working properly.

Because, let’s face it, the greatest journeys anyone can make are inside their own head. And no matter what the travel restrictions, now or in the days to come, the travel agent of a good book is always open for business and you can usually get a first class seat.

This week’s Word of the Week is Scrivener’s palsy, which is the old-fashioned name for writer’s cramp. It is also called mogigraphia, and is a disorder caused by certain muscles in the hand and forearm going into spasm, or being attacked by cramp, when the sufferer is writing or playing an instrument.

Read the illustrated version of this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere.

In my last blog I talked about the instances of flooding in the UK and touched briefly on the problems it causes. Or, more to the point, the mess it leaves behind. Of course, if you actually find yourself caught up in flooding, the last thing that should be on your mind is how you’re going to get raw sewage out of the living room carpet.

You have far more important things to worry about.

Like not drowning.

In a House

If you’re in a building, unless it’s in direct serious danger of becoming completely submerged, they reckon your chances of survival are far greater if you stay inside.

Turn off the mains electricity and gas.

Close all the doors and windows.

Fill empty containers with drinking water as tap water will quickly become contaminated.

If you’ve had enough prior warning, think about moving sentimentally important items onto tables or to an upper floor. If you haven’t had much warning, leave it. Nobody ever said during a eulogy, “She died trying to save her credenza. It was what she would have wanted…”

Move to the uppermost floor with water, food, spare clothing and flashlights. Also take a ladder with you, if one is needed to access the roof space, just in case the water gets really high.

If you are forced to take the the roof, rope together all the members of your party to the chimney, so no-one is swept away. If no rope is available, use bedsheets or blankets, knotted together.

Read the rest of this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere.

 

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I’ve just come back from a trip to south Wales (old rather than New) with either the cleanest car bottom ever, or the dirtiest—not sure which!

There was a huge amount of standing water all over the main roads and dual carriageways. And even the A-roads had deep puddles lurking at corners, or full flooded sections in the dips. As for the B-roads, well, I managed to get within about half a mile of my destination before I was confronted with a lake where the road should have been.

As my car is not blessed with the greatest ground clearance in the world, I decided discretion was definitely the greater part of valour. This involved reversing along a watery single-track lane for about 300 yards and finding an alternative route. Mind you, even the navigable way meant driving along several miles of what seemed to be a muddy river bed.

A glance at the UK government Flood Warning Information Service website on Saturday evening shows 106 Flood Alerts in place, meaning flooding is possible and should be prepared for. It also shows 72 Flood Warnings, meaning flooding is expected and immediate action is required.

UK Flood warnings in place on November 16 2019

According to the figures, there are more than five million people living in areas of the UK vulnerable to flooding every year. They used to talk about such events as happening ‘the first time in living memory’ or ‘once every hundred years’. Now they seem to have become almost annual.

Read the rest of this post over on Murder Is Everywhere.

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For the past ten days since the new Charlie Fox novel, BAD TURN, came out, I’ve been on the road—virtually speaking. I’ve travelled halfway around the world without ever leaving my desk. I’ve been Blog Touring—or perhaps that should be Tour Blogging?—rather than the physical kind of touring. And it’s been fun.

Of course, in the past I’ve travelled all over the place to libraries and bookstores for the publication of various books in the series, quite often using a trip to the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention to kick things off. As Bouchercon is held in a different city/state every year (even making it over to the UK several times) it means that the starting point has also always been different.

But, this time around I knew I wasn’t going over to Bouchercon and work-in-progress projects are beginning to pile up. So, doing another blog tour, ably organised by the fearsomely efficient Ayo Onatade, seemed like a good choice.

I’m told that sometimes authors rely on their blogger hosts doing a series of reviews but I hesitate over this way of doing things. What happens if one of the reviewers involved really doesn’t like the book? After all, I would have thought they have far too many books on their teetering TBR piles to read it first, just to make sure.

So, I prefer to do guest posts and articles on topics related to the book, mixed in with a few reviews where blogger/reviewers are happy to do them.

Read the whole of this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere.

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So here we are again. Another twelve months have gone by. By the time you read these words, there will be only New Year’s Eve ahead and then we step out of the old year, kicking the dust of it off our feet, and into the next.

Lulu in festive mood

I confess that 2018 has been a bit of a mixed bag. Ups and downs, but overall the scales tip just to the side of positive, I think. And receiving Christmas cards and messages from people I haven’t perhaps heard from since last Christmas is a useful reminder to be more assiduous about keeping up with old friends.

Although I try not to make resolutions as such, it’s a useful time for reflection and a sense of renewal. I have a lot to be getting on with in 2019, and this year maybe—just maybe—I’ll live up to my own expectations.

Meanwhile, this is the time of year I like to take a quick spin through some of the fascinating new words that have been added to the dictionary over the last twelve months. Here are some of my favourites from the Oxford English Dictionary:

adownrights, is a revival of a word from the late 1100s, when it meant straight down, and can now also be used as a substitute for an expletive.

chode, a male sexual organ which is, ahem, larger in circumference than it is in length.

jamette, comes from the French diametre (diameter) and means someone on the fringes of society or beyond. It is also apparently used in some Caribbean countries to indicate ‘a lady of negotiable affections…’

Read the rest of this post over on MurderIsEverywhere.