Whoop! Whoop! Huge thanks to the AMAZING Emily of Dome Press for honoring me to reveal the cover for Alis Hawkins’ new Historical Crime Thriller ‘In Two Minds‘ today! Before we go for the BIG reveal, you ought to know about Alis and her previous book in the series. So scroll along to read all about it. Do not miss this as Alis talks ”The things you learn when writing historical crime fiction!”
Soo here we GO!
About the Author:
Alis Hawkins grew up on a dairy farm in Cardiganshire. She left to read English at Oxford and has done various things with her life, including bringing up two amazing sons, selling burgers, working with homeless people and helping families to understand their autistic
children. And writing, always.
Radio plays (unloved by anybody but her), nonfiction (autism related), plays (commissioned by heritage projects) and of course, novels. Her current historical crime series featuring blind investigator Harry Probert-Lloyd and his chippy assistant John Davies, is set in her childhood home, the Teifi Valley. As a side effect, instead of making research trips to sunny climes, like some of her writer friends, she just
drives up the M4 to see her folks.
Alis speaks Welsh, collects rucksacks and can’t resist an interesting fact.
Find her on Twitter @Alis_Hawkins
In Two Minds – May 2019
Harry Probert-Lloyd, a young barrister forced home from London by encroaching blindness, has begun work as the acting coroner of Teifi
Valley with solicitor’s clerk John Davies as his assistant.
When a faceless body is found on an isolated beach, Harry must lead the inquest. But his dogged pursuit of the truth begins to ruffle
feathers. Especially when he decides to work alongside a local doctor with a dubious reputation and experimental theories considered
radical and dangerous. Refusing to accept easy answers might not only jeopardise Harry’s chance to be elected coroner permanently but
could, it seems, implicate his own family in a crime.
OOOOH How great does that sound? I know I am freaking out! So, are you all ready to have a peep into the cover now??!!!!!
Okay Here we go…..
Wo-hoooo! How gorgeously intriguing does this look? ‘In Two Minds’ is the second book in the famous Teifi Valley Coroner Historical Crime Fiction Series. If you haven’t read it’s prequel ‘None So Blind’ yet, you MUST have a read. Crime fiction fans are raving about it and I can’t wait to get hold of my copy ASAP!
Today We have Alis with us, as she talks ‘The things you learn when writing historical crime fiction!’
Many thanks for hosting the cover reveal for In Two Minds, Priya – and for having me on Syllables of Swathi.
I tend to learn a lot when I’m writing my historical fiction and the process which resulted in In Two Minds was no exception. Some of the things I learned were about the places and period I was writing about, some were about myself, and one fact busted a persistent and not-uncommon myth seen in historical crime fiction.
In absolutely no particular order, here are 10 of the things I learned…
Look at that lovely, atmospheric cover design by Jem Butcher. Do you know what those stone structures in the foreground are?
They’re lime kilns.
At the beginning of In Two Minds a naked body is discovered on a beach, lying in the surf on a load of limestone, dumped from a ship ready for processing. So lime burning was one of the first things I had to learn about.
I knew, from a very early age, that Cardiganshire farmers needed to spread powdered lime on their fields because I saw my dad doing it. I remember watching the tractor bouncing around the fields below our farmhouse with a huge cloud of whitish powder billowing out behind it. What I discovered, much later, is what every farmer on Harry Probert-Lloyd’s estate would have known – that Cardiganshire soils are very acidic and need a good dose of alkaline limestone to balance things up and make the soil more productive. And more full of worms – apparently the little wrigglers love a balanced soil!
I can’t write standing up. Last year, because I was concerned about the amount of time I was spending sitting down, I acquired a height-adjustable desk. But, though I’m quite happy standing to catch up with emails and social media, do my tax accounts, or even write blog posts, I don’t seem to be able to write new stuff for my novels. It’s fine for editing – I stand and read the text out loud to myself and correct accordingly. But composing? No.
In my case, at least, there must be a neurological connection between a relaxed sitting posture and the imaginative faculty! Shame sitting down seems to be so bad for us.
For the next thing I learned, I need to take you back to those limekilns. As one of the characters in In Two Minds is a lime burner, I felt I needed to know, in detail, what the process involved. (It’s not just thoroughness on my part, you just never know when you’re going to come across a fact that suggests a plot twist.)
What I discovered was that, like any kiln, they were for firing stuff. The round chamber was filled with tons of limestone and coal and this mixture was burned for up to three days until all the coal was gone and the chemical makeup of the rock had changed. The end result was quicklime. And, as Harry learns in the book, quicklime is dangerous stuff – there were examples of carts carrying it back to Cardiganshire farms from coastal kilns spontaneously combusting because the quicklime had come into contact with water. (It rains a lot in West Wales…) But when quicklime is ‘slaked’ – ie mixed with water in a controlled way – it turns into something that’s useful in both building and agriculture. If you’re interested in how this worked, have a look at this video.
I may not write well standing up but I do my best work when I have the chance to write in the open air. I read some research a while ago (Hello, I’m Alis and I’m a psychology nerd…) that suggested that people are more creative when they work in a room with a high ceiling. And even more creative still if they’re outside in a natural environment. Last summer (remember how long and sunny and gorgeous summer 2018 was in the UK?) allowed me to rigorously road-test that research and I can report that it’s absolutely true. At least for me.
I wrote at the table in our garden very happily for weeks and weeks. This was the view from my ‘desk’ in June.
Sadly, in the winter, I have to resort to sitting next to a window and drinking copious amounts of tea. Somehow, it’s just not the same…
Wikipedia is a very special gift to authors of historical fiction. That might come as a surprise – I know people tend to be very sniffy about Wikipedia and claim that it can’t be trusted. Well, maybe it can’t if you’re looking for all the goss about celebrities but for historical facts I’ve found it to be an excellent starting point.
You can get an idea of how accurate articles are, and how expert the people who have written them are by counting the number of references at the bottom. If you don’t believe me, check out the page that kicked off my research into emigration from Cardiganshire to Ohio in the mid 1800s. (Welsh emigration to America is a big plot strand in In Two Minds.) Just go to Wikipedia and type in ‘Welsh Americans’. Further research showed me that Jackson County – mentioned in the Wiki article – still has a strong Welsh flavour even now and the local high school holds an eisteddfod every March the first (St David’s Day).
I wonder if they’d like an author visit…
People don’t like scientific change when it messes with our bodies. Of course, I knew that from my own experience, but my research for In Two Minds brought it home to me that people have always felt like that. It’s one of the things I love about writing historical fiction – the way ‘then’ and ‘now’ are not really so fundamentally different.
Today people are getting twitchy about genetically modified organisms, bionic augmentation and designer babies. In Harry and John’s Britain, the new things on the block were anaesthesia and autopsy.
When poisons became much more widely available and suspicious coroners started asking for post mortem examinations to look inside the bodies of the dead for clues about what had happened to them as well as outside (which is what the post mortem examination had consisted of for the previous six hundred and fifty-odd years) a lot of people were very unhappy. In In Two Minds, brilliant anatomist and confirmed odd-ball Dr Benton Reckitt gets into some hot water over his mania for autopsy. But that doesn’t stop Harry Probert-Lloyd employing him.
I’m not in control of my characters. (I knew that already but every book reminds me of the fact.)
I know that some ‘how to write a bestseller’ books advise would-be authors to make detailed pen portraits of their characters before they even start writing but that’s never worked for me. I’ve learned not to have an opinion about what my characters are like until I first meet them as they walk on to my laptop screen. It’s only by listening to what characters say and how they react that I find out who they are.
For instance, in In Two Minds, I had a vague feeling that Dr Benton Reckitt was going to be a drunken boor and that, once he’d done Harry’s post mortem for him, he would disappear from the pages of the book. But he turned out to be something far more interesting and not only does he stay until the very final pages, he turns up as one of the major characters in the next book, too.
Similarly, Theophilus Harris – or Teff as he insists on being known – was only mean to appear in one scene while he explained how he had come to find the naked body of an unidentified man on Tresaith beach. But, at the beginning of the scene, he opened his mouth and said, ‘I was in the Afghan war’ and, right there, I knew he was more important than I’d thought.
Writing the second book in a series is both easier and harder than writing a stand-alone book. Which is a conundrum. What I mean is that some things are easier and others are harder.
Obviously, you’re not having to get to know your main characters from scratch – you’ve had a whole book to become acquainted, though of course you carry on getting to know them as new investigations and relationship allow them to develop.
But, if – as in the first in the series, None So Blind – there have already been some major revelations about the characters, you don’t necessarily want to advertise those in the second book in the series – or even the third – in case people don’t read the books in the right order. You can’t exactly include the words SPOILER ALERT in the middle of your plot, so you have to refer to things that have happened without ever being explicit. (Like I’m doing now…)
And that turns out to be surprisingly tricky.
Though I am an introvert and am happy spending a lot of time by myself, writing, I need a community of other novelists to share both good times and bad with. Only another novelist really understands the mixed emotions you feel when you stand in front of blank screen to begin your new book, or when you type ‘The End’ after the last words of your latest one. And only other writers understand how frustrating and confidence-sapping some aspects of writing fiction can be.
I’m lucky enough to have a close-knit group of writer friends whom I’ve known for a decade and whom I meet up with a couple of times a year. We have private space online where we can chat and share the highs and lows of our writing lives. Some of us write full time, others fit in novel writing around part- or full-time jobs, but all of us value the support we get from each other. We’re all fairly reliably published these days but we’ve supported each other through years of rejections and picking ourselves up and carrying on. During the eight years between the publication of my first book in 2008 and the arrival of a contract to publish None So Blind in 2016, when I had neither publisher, agent nor contract, this group of friends was essential in keeping my self-confidence up and acknowledging that I was an author, rather than just somebody who spent a lot of time writing.
If you’re an aspiring writer, I can’t recommend highly enough that you arm yourself with some writing friends.
And how about that mythbusting fact I mentioned at the beginning? It’s another lime-based fact and it is this: whatever you may have read in other crime fiction, if you cover a dead body in hydrated (slaked) lime, it will not dissolve it. In fact, it will have the opposite effect and will preserve the body far better than if it had been left uncovered. Even unslaked lime (quicklime) will do this, unless it comes into contact with water, in which case there will be some surface burning.
Lime was, historically, thrown into burial pits, which is where the mistaken belief came from, but it wasn’t to speed decay. It was to prevent putrefaction and odours as, prior to the discovery of microbes, it was believed that the stench of death and decay actually caused illness.
The things you learn when writing historical crime fiction!
Thanks so much Alis and Dome Press for giving me such an opportunity. Watch out this space for the Blog Tour coming up in May as many lovely bloggers sing songs about the new book! Until next time. xo