SIM Talks with Miriam


#SIMTalksWithMiriam

Misunderstandings are often fun… when you look at them from the outside or with hindsight. When they’re actually happening and you’re involved, they can be far from fun. Here’s Joan Livingston, whose third mystery in the Isabel Long series is due out next week (22nd March).

A Dangerous Misunderstanding

Sometimes words get in the way of what people are trying to say. That happens with several of my characters. And because I write mysteries it can get them into trouble.

Joan LivingstonLet me tell you about Isabel Long, the protagonist in my mystery series who is a former journalist turned amateur P.I. solving cold cases. In Redneck’s Revenge, the second in this series, Isabel gets herself into a sticky situation while interviewing Gary and Larry Beaumont in their dump of a home. The brothers are notorious drug dealers and suspects in the death of a junkyard dealer. And Isabel is brave enough to dig deeper in her line of questioning.

Ah, but she hits a nerve because she’s dealing with a couple of hotheads who don’t listen very well. They have a tendency to jump to conclusions. And being new to the P.I. game, Isabel is still learning how to deal with people like the Beaumonts.

Here’s part of that scene from Redneck’s Revenge. She is meeting them at their house.

“If I’m hearing correctly, you two don’t have alibis for that night,” I say. “Right?”

I believe I just stepped into it big time because Gary and Larry’s foreheads clamp so hard their brows hang heavy over their bloodshot eyes. Their lips curl.

Larry slaps his brother’s arm.

“What’s she mean?” he asks.

“It means she’s callin’ us liars,” Gary answers.

I speak up.

“I didn’t call you liars.” I try to make my voice as warm as I can muster given how nervous I am. “What I said is that you can’t account for your whereabouts the night Chet Waters was killed.”

Gary’s fist hits the table.

“You bitch, what makes you think we’d have anythin’ to do with that?”

Yes, Isabel manages to get out of there unharmed, but she is rather shaken because she really felt in danger.

Checking the TrapsI’m not going to spoil what happens later in this book, but fast forward to the third, Checking the Traps. Yes, the Beaumont brothers return. Gary, the alpha brother, wants Isabel to find out what happened to their half-brother, Cary. Did he jump from a bridge known for suicides, or was he pushed, like Gary thinks?

Isabel takes the case, largely because she is interested in the victim, who was a highway worker by day and a poet at night. But she decides to be upfront with the Beaumonts, particularly, Gary, who is the alpha brother. She wants to avoid any misunderstandings this time.

“He was just a regular guy.”

“Uh, Gary, you gotta do better than that. I’m gonna need as much information as possible. By the way, if we proceed, I might ask some tough questions that’ll make you uncomfortable, and I don’t want you getting all pissed off at me like you did once before. Remember?”

Gary puckers his mouth. He’s thinking about that time at his home when he and his brother scared the bejesus out of me because they thought I called them liars. It was a misunderstanding on their part.

“Okay, okay,” he says finally.

Yes, Isabel is learning.

About Checking the Traps

Isabel Long is a bit banged up from her last case with a broken collarbone and her arm in a sling. But that doesn’t stop her from pouring beer at the Rooster Bar or taking her third case with Gary Beaumont, a local drug dealer who once terrorized her. Gary is convinced his brother didn’t jump off a bridge known for suicides. Somebody pushed him.

Gary’s brother was a boozer who drove for a highway crew. But what interests Isabel and her ‘Watson’ — her 93-year-old mother who lives with her — is that the man wrote poetry.

The chief suspects are one of Gary’s business associates and a famous poet who plagiarized his brother’s poetry for an award-winning book. Yes, he was that good.

As a journalist, Isabel did regular meetups with her sources for stories. She called it checking the traps. She does the same as a private investigator, and this time, she’ll make sure she doesn’t get caught in one.

About Joan Livingston

Joan Livingston is the author of novels for adult and young readers. Checking the Traps, published by Crooked Cat Books, is the third in the mystery series featuring Isabel Long, a longtime journalist who becomes an amateur P.I. The first two are Chasing the Case and Redneck’s Revenge.

An award-winning journalist, she started as a reporter covering the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. She was an editor, columnist, and the managing editor of The Taos News, which won numerous state and national awards during her tenure. Recently, she was named editor of the Greenfield Recorder.

After living eleven years in New Mexico, she has returned to rural Western Massachusetts, which is the setting of much of her adult fiction, including the Isabel Long Mystery Series.

Links to Joan and her Books

Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads

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Is this the last of the series?

There have been some wonderful articles in this series. Some guest posters have opened up on difficult topics. But now, if no one else wants to volunteer, I might close it, either temporarily or permanently. You’re still welcome, however, to suggest a topic for a guest post.

Do you want to write (or talk) about one or more of the SIM topics – Social anxiety, Israel, Misunderstandings? The details are here.

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

What visitors to Israel should be aware of before flying out, and landing in

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Israel?

Is it war, conflict and terrorism? As a tourist, you’re very unlikely to encounter any of that. We (not me, personally, but the authorities) work very hard and put all sorts of measures into place to keep you safe while you’re here. So, don’t worry about that.

What else comes to mind? Probably hot weather and a land of deserts. You might think you can leave coats and umbrellas at home. You might think: tropical.

Well, think again. It hardly ever rains… in the summer. But in winter, we have plenty of rain. Sometimes the heavens open and you can get drenched in minutes… seconds. You might be lucky – most winter days are dry and some are even warm and sunny. But come prepared for rain. Jerusalem, Safed and other parts of Israel can even get snow.

SnowPalmTree

Palm tree in snow

Why am I thinking of this now? Because a friend just came for a brief trip. During her three-day visit, rain poured down almost all the time. And she wasn’t prepared.

Another visitor once came for a ceremony, for which he had to stand outside in pouring rain, and the following day he was stuck indoors when snow fell.

When we lived in the beautiful area of Jerusalem called Yemin Moshe, we occasionally seemed to be standing in a river when we walked up and down its stairs.

Those deserts… they’re only in the south of the country.

 

You have been warned!

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Do you want to write (or talk) about one or more of the SIM topics – Social anxiety, Israel, Misunderstandings? The details are here.

#SIMTalksWithMiriamThis post is from me, because I think this is important.

Are we brave?

Social Anx (@social_anx) ran a pole on Twitter, asking social anxiety sufferers whether they think they’re brave.

Brave Social Anxiety Sufferers

Only 14% consider themselves brave.

That means 86% of those who took part are wrong, in my view, unless any of those are constantly locked up in a room and never see a soul. I think anyone who defies social anxiety enough to venture out, to do things outside their comfort zone, to face potential derision, disdain, misunderstanding, rejection – is a brave person.

The fact that 86% of responders do not see themselves as brave is due to low self-esteem, a symptom of social anxiety. They are brave and need to recognise that. If they don’t recognise their bravery, no one else will.

And that’s unfortunate.

I am Brave

Yes, this was especially brave, but I say we’re brave all the time.

Stop press! This quote from @SocialAnxiety88 says it all:

You are not weak. People like us, we’re brave. We’re the ones who get up and face our worst fears every day. We keep fighting.

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

A very happy birthday to author Katharine Johnson, who tells us about a particular consequence of social anxiety in her own life and in that of a character in her novel, The Silence, which I loved.

Why I wrote about Selective Mutism

Hello Miriam,

Katharine JohnsonThanks so much for inviting me onto your blog to talk about an issue that’s very important to me and one that (fittingly enough!) I’ve kept quiet about for a long time.

I chose the title for my novel The Silence (a psychological thriller set in England and Tuscany) for two reasons: it represents both the child Abby’s mostly non-verbal state and the adult Abby’s battle to keep her past secret. It’s the first of these situations I want to talk about today.

Selective mutism is usually combined with social anxiety and having experienced both myself, I wanted to show readers what it felt like and tackle some of the misconceptions that surround this disorder. Although my experience was back in the 1970s, my sister Rosie’s a speech therapist who’s an expert in social and behavioural disorders so I was able to make sure I had the most up-to-date information on the condition and treatments today and in 1991-1992 when this part of the novel is set.

Whereas Abby has very good reason for being non-verbal – the guilt over something she said being partly to blame for her mother’s suicide – my situation is much more common in that there wasn’t an obvious trigger. The uninteresting truth is that it stemmed from the shock of hearing my voice on a tape recorder for the first time when I was six. I can recall the moment with complete clarity, standing in a house in Germany while on holiday.  The voice I heard sounded so alien and I also realised in that instant why people were always asking me to repeat sentences like “saucy Susie sewing shorts for sailors” – I had a speech impediment that strangely had never registered in my own ears.

I’m sure these people never meant to be unkind (some were close relatives!). They found it funny and I suppose cute – but I was mortified. The result was that I stopped speaking in school and new situations. At home I was still noisy, out of the home I clammed up.

This apparent ability to be talkative on some occasions while refusing to talk on others makes it a hard condition for other people to understand or believe. Abby’s behaviour is frustrating and embarrassing for her father:

“You’ve got to start talking again some time. And don’t tell me you can’t because you’re talking to me now. There’s nothing wrong with your voice, it’s all in your head – it’s so bloody rude.”

The truth was, it frightened her too, sometimes, the grip the silence had on her. At first she had thought she had some control over it but gradually it rippled out to affect all sorts of people, even those who least deserved it. Once she felt it wrapping around her head, felt herself sinking into its depths, she knew there was no getting away.

“Are you even going to stop talking to me one day?” Her heart clenched at the tiny break in his voice.

“I do try,” she said at last although her voice was little more than a whisper. “Sometimes I can’t. It’s like a scarf wrapping round my neck.”

Although the scarf turns out to have a significance in the story, not talking isn’t a choice Abby makes – she feels physically unable to do so. People react to this in different ways – by getting angry like her father, finding it “spooky” like her stepmother, or by trying to jolly her out of it like her uncle when she first arrives at Villa Leonida:

“Will you shut up? You’re giving me a headache.”

“These approaches are very unlikely to work,” says Rosie. Neither is telling the child to “snap out of it.” They can’t.

Fear of other people’s expectations is a common trigger, which is one of the reasons for Abby’s father sending her to stay with his sister’s family in Italy. Being foreign is helpful to Abby in that the local people have no expectations of her but it’s still a problem within the English family she stays with.

When she first meets her uncle:

those first few moments with someone were crucial. Either she’d find her voice or she wouldn’t. If she didn’t speak to him immediately, she never would.

But it’s different with her cousin Philippa. Whereas other people assume that because Abby says nothing she has nothing to say, Philippa’s intrigued by it.

“Why do you pretend you can’t talk?”

“I don’t do it on purpose.”

Philippa grinned, clearly not convinced. “It’s driving Dad bonkers. Whenever I try  I always forget and get caught out by a question.”

It wasn’t a reaction Abby had encountered before. Most people got impatient or angry. They tried to trick her into talking by insulting her or bribing her with money they clearly didn’t have. Once at school someone had wrenched her arm behind her back further and further to make her scream . Her vision had whited out, she’d seen stars and thought she could feel her arm being ripped out of its socket but despite the pain she hadn’t been able to scream. But Philippa seemed to view it as some kind of talent.

This partly explains the close friendship that grows up between Abby and Philippa and sets them apart from other people, which is important for the story but is also quite a common experience.  

TheSilenceOver the next year, after transferring school and having speech therapy, Abby’s speaking improves although she still feels panicky and tongue-tied in certain situations. She describes her sessions to Philippa in letters – progressing from pointing to words or pictures to express a choice during the first term to the following term making a puppet nod or shake its head. At first her hand freezes even when asked to make the puppet squeak – selective mutism sometimes affects more than the voice, rendering the person immobile as well as non-verbal.

Gradually, she develops from whispering an answer into the ear of her trusted adult (her father) and then whispering from further away and eventually whispering to the speech therapist.

“I said a word in class today.”

Most children do grow out of it although the problem can continue into adulthood. As an adult Abby has it under control but when reintroduced to characters from that summer at Villa Leonida she panics that she won’t be able to speak.

And me? I mostly have it under control (to the extent people probably think I made the whole thing up) although to my shame in three years at university I never spoke up in group tutorials – what a waste!

So I was heartened the other day when I went to an Open Day at Bristol University with my daughter. The speaker for the Philosophy department said they absolutely recognised social anxiety. Students who didn’t feel able to do a presentation could either record themselves doing so or just write a script.

I know there’s still room for improvement but I think this shows what a long way people have come in understanding the issue.

Thank you, Katharine! That’s really interesting and goes a long way to explaining a confusing problem. I also didn’t speak in group tutorials. Presentations weren’t part of the curriculum in those days, although I’d probably have managed them.

The Silence is available in ebook £1.99 and paperback £6.99 (or equivalents) here.

The Silence

Doctor Abby Fenton has a rewarding career, a loving family, an enviable lifestyle – and a secret that could change everything. When human remains are found in the grounds of an idyllic Tuscan holiday home she’s forced to confront the memories she’s suppressed until now and relive the summer she spent at the villa in 1992 – a summer that ended in tragedy. The nearer she gets to the truth the closer she comes to losing her sanity. In order to hold onto the people she loves most, she must make sure they never discover what she did. But the reappearance of someone else from that summer threatens to blow her secret wide open.

The Author

Katharine Johnson is the author of three novels and a non-fiction book. A journalist by training, she writes about ordinary people who through a bad choice find themselves in nightmarish situations. She lives in Berkshire, England and has a ramshackle cottage in Tuscany which is nothing like Villa Leonida. Her fourth novel, The Suspects, will be out later this year. When not writing she’s likely to be found with a book in one hand, a cake in the other or walking her spaniel while plotting her next novel.

Connect with Katharine on TwitterFacebookInstagramWebsite/blog.

Katharine has appeared on this blog twice before, in The Allure of Secrets and when she brought Irena to Letters from Elsewhere.

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Do you want to write (or talk) about one or more of the SIM topics – Social anxiety, Israel, Misunderstandings? The details are here.

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

A hearty welcome, please, for C.J. Sutton, author of Dortmund Hibernate and This Strange Hell. He’s travelled a long way to be here. Over to you, CJ.

Taming the Mind

Social anxiety is an issue very close to me. Despite finding techniques to create a confident exterior, being placed in a crowded room or asked personal questions can still cause the heart to beat faster than it should. Many writers, to varying degrees, live with social anxiety. Our ideas thrive in our minds, transferred onto the screen and page for others to see at their leisure without our physical presence. This craft works best in isolation.

C.J. Sutton, authorI learned quite quickly that I could tell a story. But my storytelling needed preparation if I was to be placed on that stage. Put a blank page in front of me and I’ll smash out a short story before the day is out. Replace the page with real faces and the result would not be identical.

Being socially anxious can mean even the most mundane task, such as ordering a meal or getting a haircut, can lead to avoidance. I know people who fear speaking on telephones and attending meetings but will happily hold a snake or ride a rollercoaster. What is the cause? It’s hard to say, because the mind is rogue, and everyone finds fear in a different cave.

The characters I create are constantly in situations I would dread. Being the creator of those scenes allows a unique perspective. One can explore the why and the when, constructing responses that appear resolute. But I am never anxious when I’m writing. Never. 

In my debut novel Dortmund Hibernate, the protagonist is a psychologist tasked with nine criminally insane patients. He faces drug dealers, gangsters, sex addicts, murderers, rapists and all manner of sick minds. In his approach to his patients, this psychologist uses his education and passion for the job to remain calm and seek best solutions. But when having a drink at a bar, this changed. Suddenly, he cares what everyone else thinks of him and the room is suffocating.

This Strange Life by C.J. SuttonIn my new novel This Strange Hell, a main character lives in a town governed by a violent gang and hidden from police patrol. When this gang enters a public place wielding guns and requesting donations, she is a pillar amongst the locals and does what she can to keep her friends at ease. Ten pages later, when meeting a love interest for a meal on her birthday, this same character is trembling and acting out of the norm. She owns guns and works off the land. Informal. When life becomes formal, she starts to crumble.

Social anxiety is different for everybody. Whether it’s crowds, queues, attention or expectation, the feeling of being trapped in that situation can be the equivalent of pain. People may call someone out for being shy or introverted, and they may think that person is rude or uninterested. But within, their hearts are fluttering and terror dawns.

I know social anxiety.

Thank you, CJ. And yes, social anxiety is different for everybody. When I mention having social anxiety, people assume I don’t like doing public speaking or talking to strangers. Neither is true.

THIS STRANGE HELL by C. J. Sutton

A suited man runs from a burning tower in Melbourne as bodies rain down upon him.

Before the city’s millions can compose, he boards a train into the countryside. Hiding his identity and changing his appearance, the man finds his way to Sulley Ridge, a lawless town in the heart of the harsh Victorian outback.

The following day, a burned man wakes up in a hospital bed. Surging with rage, he speaks a name. Within an hour, the suited man’s face is across every screen in the country. It’s the greatest manhunt Australia has ever seen.

But as he tries to camouflage in Sulley Ridge, he soon realises the town has its own problems. Under the iron fist of a violent leader, the locals are trapped within slow and torturous decay…

As we learn more about the night of the burning tower, the connection between the suited man and the burned man threatens to leave a trail of destruction across the state.

Here is the story of a man on the run from his past, as the line between sanity and evil is danced upon.

Here is the tale of This Strange Hell.

Find C.J. Sutton

on his website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

He previously appeared on this blog when he brought Walter Perch along to Letters from Elsewhere.

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Another fascinating letter from elsewhere was written by Dr Eloise Kluft, who was brought by Stephanie Bretherton, author of Bone Lines. This book is now published and available from all the places listed on her website.

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Do you know what Uplift means? I hope to blog about this in a few days. It has connections with my new book, Cultivating a Fuji, out in May.

 

#SIMTalksWithMiriamI’m delighted to welcome Tom Halford here, today, with this most interesting and informative post.

Misunderstandings in Comedy and Crime Fiction

One common thread between the crime genre and comedy is that both rely on misunderstandings.

A hallmark of the crime genre is the Red Herring, which is a strategy used by many crime writers to distract or mislead the reader. More specifically, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is essentially about a series of misunderstandings. I’m going to describe the plot as vaguely as possible so that I don’t spoil it for anyone. People mistake an individual for someone he is not, and people mistake an animal for something it is not. The moment that Holmes and Watson are able to see things for what they truly are, the plot is essentially unraveled.

Tom Halford, author of Deli MeatA similar argument could be made for The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allen Poe. Famous French philosopher Jacques Lacan argued that Poe’s story is based on a misunderstanding of what the letter means, and another equally famous French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, argued that Lacan deliberately misunderstood Poe’s entire story. I’m not sure I understand Lacan or Derrida, but my point remains: a good mystery is based on a clever misunderstanding.

Some of the best comedy also relies on these clever misunderstandings. In the sitcom Arrested Development, a wannabe film star, Tobias Fünke, believes he is attending Method One classes to improve his acting skills. He is amazed by the various, gritty monologues that people deliver about their lives. As the series goes on, Tobias discovers that he has actually been going to a methodone clinic, a support group for people who are addicted to opioids. It is a dark play on words, but it is also extremely funny.

In my novel Deli Meat, one of my main characters, Conrad Arms, is plagued by misunderstandings. He believes he has uncovered a conspiracy in the small border town of Plattsburgh, New York. Unfortunately, he is completely wrong, and his misunderstanding has disastrous consequences. The other main character, Effie Pitts, tends to misunderstand herself and her own motivations. Essentially, what I was trying to do was to combine this shared quality of comedy and crime. Some of their misunderstandings are comedic and some of their misunderstandings lead to crimes.

Why are misunderstandings so pleasurable in fiction? I’ve added that qualifier “in fiction” because in real life, misunderstandings are almost always unpleasant. In comedy, the pleasure of misunderstandings undeniably has an element of schadenfreude, or pleasure derived at the misfortunate of others. There is dramatic irony in that we know something that the character does not know, and there is humour in watching the various consequences of these misunderstandings. However, the case is slightly different for crime fiction.

A truly clever misunderstanding in a crime novel has a few unique qualities.

Deli Meat by Tom HalfordThe first pleasurable aspect is that of surprise. As readers, we have assumptions about the characters and their motivations. A skilled writer gets us looking in one direction, essentially misunderstanding certain aspects of the story. Once the misunderstandings have been revealed, we have a moment of surprise when we find out that we have been wrong about the characters and their motivations.

The second pleasurable aspect is that of renegotiating meaning. After the initial moment of surprise, we find that we have to think back on the narrative and the assumptions that we have made. For example, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, we initially think that Holmes has left Watson in charge of the investigation, but when it is revealed that Holmes has been living in a hut and spying on everyone, we need to readjust our assumptions about whether or not Holmes truly respects Watson’s abilities.

The third pleasurable aspect is that of uncertainty. Readers are often certain that the plot is heading in one direction. Then they are surprised when a misunderstanding is revealed, and they are forced to renegotiate meaning. If a story has a truly well-developed Red Herring, then readers just don’t know what will happen next. They don’t know what else they have misunderstood and can barely wait for more surprises when all is finally revealed.

And what’s more pleasant than racing through the final pages of a crime novel to find out what actually happened?

Thank you, Tom, for making that so clear. I do wonder if it’s true that in real life, misunderstandings are almost always unpleasant. But I haven’t made a study of it. I know I quite enjoy listening to a conversation when I understand the participants are talking at cross purposes. I suppose that’s the same satisfaction I get from stories in which I know more than the narrator. As Tom says, “There is dramatic irony in that we know something that the character does not know.”

Tom Halford is the author of Deli Meat, a fun crime novel, published by Crooked Cat Books and available from Amazon.

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If you want to write a post – fact or fiction – on any of the three topics in this series, the information is all here.

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

Last year Alice Castle brought her character, Belinda MacKenzie to Letters from Elsewhere. Today, she’s back to talk about… let’s see…

AliceCastle1It’s such a pleasure to be here on Miriam’s blog today. I was really pleased when she asked me to contribute a post. I was offered the choice of Israel, Misunderstandings or Social Anxiety. As I’ve never been to Israel and I always try to avoid misunderstandings, I’m going to talk about the main character in my London Murder Mystery series, Beth Haldane.

Beth is a single mother in her mid-thirties, with a bad habit of stumbling across corpses. She also suffers from a crippling variety of social anxieties. Indeed, she barely gets through a scene in any of the five books I’ve written so far without hiding behind her fringe, blushing, stuttering or prevaricating in some way. She has the sort of nerves that all of us get, from time to time – except that she seems to suffer from them constantly.

As you’ll have gathered, Beth is a bit of a fish out of water. This is particularly true in Dulwich, the posh suburb of south London where I’ve set most of the action in my books. The other mums she meets at the school gates are mainly of the ‘yummy’ variety – they have tiny jobs, big handbags, cars the size of tanks and spend their days ferrying their children to afterschool activities like ballet and extra maths classes, meeting up with friends to moan about their au pairs. It’s a highly competitive, highly polished world, where appearances mean everything.

Death in Dulwich by Alice CastleBeth, on the other hand, has bills to pay, deadlines to meet and, until sudden death throws her together with a certain tall, handsome policeman, in the shape of Detective Inspector Harry York, she is struggling with it all alone, following the death of her husband. She, unlike many of her contemporaries, has real worries. Her anxieties are not just social, she has trouble making ends meet.

Beth also feels insecure. Over the course of the series of books, we find out more about why this might be so. But, from the start, we are aware that in a world of sleek, Amazonian women who spend plenty of time in the local beauty parlours, Beth stands out, for all the wrong reasons. She is short, scruffy, poor and earnest. And she cares, very much, about abstract concepts like justice, right and wrong, that seem to pass many of the other residents of Dulwich by.

When I was thinking of what type of heroine I’d like at the heart of my mysteries, I considered many different foibles – amateur sleuths always seem to have them. Miss Marple disguises her forensic intelligence behind that harmless-old-lady facade, Hercule Poirot has his little grey cells. I wanted my character to be an underdog, so that we would root for her against the well-heeled, smug types she comes across, but at the same time I didn’t want her to be a spineless jelly, jumping at her own shadow.

Well, I needn’t have worried. Beth popped into my mind whole, and has been wreaking havoc in Dulwich and the surrounding area ever since. She is a mass of contradictions, cripplingly shy yet daring when she has to be, kind to a fault but also able to give as good as she gets against those bullying playground mums. She prevaricates endlessly, yet has a passion for sorting things out. And she worries, constantly. But at heart she always knows what must be done, in the interests of justice, to ensure that Dulwich remains a safe place for her boy – and for us all.

Alice Castle's London Murder Mystery Series

Beth sounds like the kind of woman I’d like to meet. But I’d keep away from those corpses! Thank you so much for telling us about her, Alice.

Death in Dulwich has just been released as an audiobook and is available here.

Death in Dulwich, The Girl in the Gallery, Calamity in Camberwell, Homicide in Herne Hill and Revenge on the Rye are available from Amazon here, if you’re in the UK. Otherwise, search for ‘Alice Castle’ on your Amazon.

Read Alice Castle’s blog here or here.

Say hello to Alice on Twitter or Facebook.

 

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

For the second SIM Talk, I welcome back Jo Fenton to the blog. She brought Tina to Letters From Elsewhere, and also wrote a lovely post for my other blog. I wonder which of the three topics – Social anxiety, Israel, Misunderstandings – she’s going to talk about…

Jo FentonWhen I was 19 I went on a six-week trip to Israel. It was my first visit there and I was very excited. The main purpose of the trip was to work as a youth leader in a summer camp in Ashkelon, under supervision of a Hebrew speaking youth worker.

I went as part of a group, and there was to be time afterwards for touring the country. I had foolishly planned to do the touring with a young man who was the friend of an ex-boyfriend! More to follow on that subject…

I was a shy, nervous nineteen year old. Although I’d had a fantastic time during my first year at Uni, being away with a group of strangers brought all my social anxiety to the fore.

There were some lovely people in the group, particularly amongst the girls, and I did make some friends. I’m not sure if it helped that my closest friend in the group was a recovering anorexic, and the other girls and I spent a lot of our time making sure she ate, and trying to convince her that her view of her body image was distorted. At the time, I didn’t realise how similar I was to her in many ways, having an inaccurate view of myself due to the unkind comments of just a few.

There was a young man amongst the group – an attractive-looking guy with a charming smile and a Scottish accent. I don’t know if he understood how hurtful he was when he commented almost daily on my nervous laugh. Perhaps he was stupid enough to think he was helping me. Not surprisingly the more he commented, the more nervous my laugh became!

ashkelonsunset

Ashkelon (photo by David Drori)

Ashkelon was beautiful. I loved working with the kids, many of whom came from deprived homes; but who were lively, cheeky and resilient. It felt great to be able to do something worthwhile with them. The highlight of each week was the Israeli dancing on the beach, where we would dress up, enjoy ourselves, and socialise. I kept away as much as I could from the young Scotsman. My anxiety always returned ten-fold whenever he was near. I spent several weekends with the girls in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and fell in love with the country.

Eventually the time arrived for us to say goodbye to the children, and go off on our more extended travels. My ex’s friend, whom I shall name P to save anyone embarrassment, agreed to do a brief tour taking in Lake Tiberias and Netanya before meeting the girls back in Tel Aviv for the flight home.

P refused to accompany me to Masada and the Dead Sea as he had already been. Without knowing it, he did me a favour, as I’m sure I got much more out of the trip to those fantastic places when I visited with my husband, sons and my mum last year!

From the minute we set off on the bus towards Tiberias, he started moaning: I was cramping his style. The fact we appeared to be travelling together meant that all his potential girlfriends would be put off from approaching him. This complaint continued throughout the three days we spent in each other’s company. He thought nothing of my own feelings, but by then, I was so downtrodden, the idea of me getting a boyfriend seemed a million miles away. One thing I was certain though – he was not on the list!

Overall, the trip did little for my confidence. All the anxiety that had been squashed during my first year as a student, returned in full force thanks to these somewhat insensitive young men. It was not until I met my husband-to-be a few months later, that some confidence returned.

Looking back, I see that I shouldn’t have allowed these individuals to get to me, any more than my anorexic friend should have been affected by the idiots who joked that she was fat. (She was the opposite!) I’m happy to say that I haven’t been criticised for my laugh or my existence since then, and as stated above, I returned to Israel for a most enjoyable and fulfilling trip with my family last year.

Ah, the tribulations of the young! I’m so glad you had a much better experience on your second visit. Thank you, Jo, for that entertaining account, which includes all three topics of the series!

Jo Fenton grew up in Hertfordshire. She devoured books from an early age, particularly enjoying adventure books, school stories and fantasy. She wanted to be a scientist from aged six after being given a wonderful book titled “Science Can Be Fun”. At eleven, she discovered Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer, and now has an eclectic and much loved book collection cluttering her home office.

Jo combines an exciting career in Clinical Research with an equally exciting but very different career as a writer of psychological thrillers.

When not working, she runs (very slowly), and chats to lots of people. She lives in Manchester with her husband, two sons, a Corgi and a tankful of tropical fish. She is an active and enthusiastic member of two writing groups and a reading group.

Her first novel, The Brotherhood, is available from Amazon.

The sequel, The Refuge, will be released this summer by Crooked Cat Books.

Jo can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

Welcome to the first ever SIM Talk with Miriam. And I couldn’t have found a better one to start off the series. Thank you so much, Jess B. Moore, for your frank and brave personal account, one that probably resonates with many people. And for your brilliant novel, The Guilt of a Sparrow, of which more below.

Social Anxiety

Jess B. MooreAs a child, no one ever said the words social anxiety to me.  People called me shy, quiet, mature beyond my years.  I knew I spent more time inside my own head than other people, but it didn’t occur me it might be something more.  I preferred to be alone, or with one close friend, never a crowd. 

Adulthood means I know and understand my social anxiety.  I grapple with it daily and try not to let it take over.  With my children watching, I’m hyper-aware of the behavior I demonstrate.  I have two sons, one who has shown social anxiety since babyhood, and the other an absolute extrovert. 

Every phone call triggers a response in me to turn away and not answer.  A knock at my front door leads to my hiding in silence, in hopes who ever is there will go away.  When I sat in my car, unable to exit, in the parking lot of an oil change place, I knew I needed help. 

Here’s what happened:  I pulled in, eyed the three buildings, myriad of cars and people, the small lot, and had no idea how to proceed.  Where did I enter?  Should I park first?  Or did I pull my car into the bay first?  I pulled into one of the few parking spaces, sat gripping my steering wheel, and couldn’t face it.  In the end, I pulled away without getting my oil changed. 

My diagnoses of depression came at seventeen.  I didn’t ask my doctor about anxiety – in general as well as social – until my mid thirties. 

I can remember my mother retelling how she told a doctor once she had both depression and anxiety, and her doctor saying you couldn’t have both.  At least we’ve come away from that illogical belief, and I am able to better manage both my depression and my anxiety. 

The Guilt of a SparrowIn my first book, The Guilt of a Sparrow, the main character Magnolia Porter suffers from social anxiety.  This is evident from page one, when she’s walking through a busy town park to attend an event, hoping to make it to her spot on the sidelines without notice.  When she’s approached and needs to make idle conversation, her heart is pounding, hands shaking, mind reeling.  She goes blank and wants to escape.  This part of Maggie is me – it was easy to pull upon my own experience to write her social anxiety. 

I recently shared a photo on my Instagram of a mug reading “Awkward is my specialty.”  I posted it as a joke, because I’ve always known I’m awkward.  But when it comes down to it, feeling awkward isn’t always funny.  Sometimes it’s the reason I don’t go to meet new people or join in on activities.  I shy away. 

What I always considered low self-esteem, is actually my social anxiety.  I’m talking about an intense fear of being judged, avoiding being the center of attention, and worrying about humiliation.  My worst nightmare is being the center of attention.  Even answering a casual question in front of small group. 

I started teaching yoga and found I could go up in front of a group and lead the class without falling apart.  It was different – knowing what to do and say, rather than coming up with my own words or sharing something personal.  Writing has been a good outlet for me as well.  I can tell my stories, all while hiding behind the ink and text, finding a safe way to express myself. 

Thank you, Miriam, for having me share my story of social anxiety.  I hope others can relate and feel better knowing they aren’t alone.

Thank you, Jess. I’m sure others will relate, and helping others to realise they aren’t alone is a big part of my passion to raise awareness of social anxiety. I was shocked by what that doctor told your mother – that you can’t have both depression and anxiety. Yes, we’ve come on since then. But a lot more needs to be done.

You can find Jess on Instagram, Facebook and her beautiful Website.

Jess’s booklinks are The Guilt of a Sparrow and Fierce Grace. There’s another book on the way.

And, Jess has a brand new book subscription box.

***

Remember, you can take part in this series, if you want to write or talk about one or more of the three topics. Do get in touch after reading this post.

Next week, I’ll welcome Val Penny back to the blog. I wonder what she’s decided to talk about.

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

It’s 2019 and time for something new on this blog. New and old. I’ve veered away from the topics of this blog lately, but will be getting back on track with SIM Talks (hashtag: #SIMTalksWithMiriam).

Each week, on Friday, I or a guest blogger will talk about one (or more) of three topics:

  • Social anxiety
  • Israel
  • Misunderstandings

The talk can take the form of a written piece or a video. It can be about anything connected to one or more of the three topics except for politics and any sort of intolerance. (I’ve never encountered intolerance on this blog, but wanted to make that clear.)

If you want to take part, please let me know via Contact me above or Twitter or Facebook.

Next week’s post is by Jess B. Moore, author of The Guilt of a Sparrow and Fierce Grace.

Let’s make 2019 a year of more understanding, empathy and compassion.
Different ≠ Wrong.

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