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Friday, 4 December 2020

Interview with Emma Daykin

by Jill Amadio

Marion Crook, also known as Emma Dakin on her crime novels, is one of a handful of Canadian mystery writers who set their mysteries in the UK. To date she has travelled across the pond to research for books set in various counties in the UK.
Her main character, Claire Barclay, gives up a career as an educator at a company named Executive English and Etiquette but after she becomes bored she takes toguiding tourists, mostly American, around the UK.
Emma Dakin’s alliterative book titles include
Crime in Cornwall and Hazards in Hampshire.
Marion has been a rancher, a public health nurse, a university teacher, and a researcher. She has published more than 25 trade books including 12 mysteries and adventure books, and several on advice for teens. Marion, a Ph.D, is also a playwright and a composer. Among her 11 awards are the British Columbia Arts Award and for three years the Government of Canada Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council award.

Jill: Where do you live?

Emma: I live on the Sunshine coast of British Columbia, Canada, near the ocean.

Jill: What drew you to choose Cornwall, Hampshire, Yorkshire, and other places for your mysteries?

Emma: I love reading mysteries set in England and have visited there many times. I find the sharp differences between people who are geographically close to one another intriguing. They have attitudes and sayings that are unique to their area and allow a writer to create that “village” feel. I love the British countryside and villages.

Jill: Do you visit your settings?
I certainly do. That’s exciting. If I can, I visit them twice: once when I’m just starting the book and  again after I’ve finished the second or third draft. With Covid19 travel restrictions, I had to set the book I’m writing now in a place where I’d been several times. I’ll be looking for a ticket to England when restrictions are lifted.

Jill: Are you an Anglophile or have a British background?
My mother’s side of the family were from England and maintained English sayings and attitudes, so England feels like home. My father’s side is Scottish. I have to switch allegiances when I go over the border.

Jill: Why do you use the name Emma Dakin as a pseudonym?

Emma: I have a favorite aunt called Emma, and I like its simplicity. I chose Dakin as the surname because I wanted a short last name that was easy to remember. I checked all over the Internet to make sure there was no other author with that name. I am so accustomed to it now, I will answer to “Emma” at conferences.

Jill: How do you come up with your characters?  Are they based on real people?
Most of what we know about others we learn from experience with and observations of them, so to ring true, a character needs to be like real people. But no character is one person; she might have the sense of humour of someone I know, or the temper of another, but no one is identifiable in my books.

Jill: How do you organize your plotting?

Emma: That is the hardest part of writing for me. I work very hard to have a unique plot that makes sense. I have files of character descriptions and motivations so that I don’t give them blue eyes in one chapter and brown in the next or have them concerned about animals in one chapter and insects in another. I have files of possible tangents to the plots. I have files of sub-plots. It gets quite complicated. Then, when I finally have the first draft written so that the plot makes sense, I can start to write creatively, paying attention to characters, dialogue, descriptions, and choice of words. I truly enjoy myself at that point.

Jill: What are your theme goals?
I want to see justice prevail in the novel —however that may look. I want to see evil thwarted.

Jill: You write both fiction and non-fiction. Which do you find easier to create?

Emma: Fiction is much more difficult for me than non-fiction. With fiction, the first draft feels like a voyage of discovery. I have no certain idea of how the story will unfold. With non-fiction, I write a table of contents and then simply write from that. It is still hard work, and I want to write it with a logical flow and use creative words and descriptions, but it doesn’t keep me awake at night wondering if I’ll ever finish it the way fiction does.

Jill: How do you juggle both genres?

Emma: I make a writing schedule and stick to it. I also make sure my deadlines allow me to do that. I read my contracts to be certain I’m not agreeing to an impossible schedule.

Jill:       How do you research your books?

Emma:  I read quite a bit about the area I’m writing about. If I’m writing about a chocolate factory, I research “how to make chocolate” on the internet and then go to a factory. It is surprising how willing managers of different places are to allow a writer to poke her nose into the inner workings of a business. I have ridden tug boats with the crew, flown with a bug spray pilot, attended horse shows, dogs shows, explored castles and waterways. I was at dinner with Queen Elizabeth (with 2,500 others) and couldn’t resist getting out my notebook and interviewing the RCMP officer about security.

Jill: How long, typically, does it take you to write your books?
Excluding the research, it takes me about nine months to write a book of fiction.

Jill: What is your writing routine?
I write every morning after I take my dog, Heidi, for a walk. I break for a few minutes and play the violin (quite badly) to loosen my neck muscles and then I’m back at it until lunch. If I’m responding to editors, I can do that in the evening, but my usual routine is writing every day. I take weekends off (usually) and take time to travel when possible.

Jill: What have you found are the pitfalls/challenges of writing for young people, as you do with some of your books?

Emma: Young people have so many interests that it is difficult to keep up with them. By the time a book is published, the language they use is outdated. The upside is that there are so many devoted readers in this genre and they demand more and more books. Another benefit is that sales last a long time. It’s a thrill to see that a reader just bought a YA novel I wrote 25 years ago.

Jill: What’s the most difficult part of writing mysteries for you?

Emma: Plotting. I want the plot to make sense in the setting, and have important and interesting details.

Jill: Who are your favorite authors?

Emma: Carola Dunn, Rhys Bowen, Simon Brett, Sara Rosett, Frances Brody, Catriona McPherson, Clara Benson, Cathy Ace, and the Golden Oldies including Dorothy Sayers and Patricia Wentworth.

Jill: Do you attend writers’ conferences on both sides of the Big Pond?

Emma: I go to Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime in the United States. I am very keen to attend CrimeFest when feasible.

Jill: You have an extensive publishing history. Which are some of your publishers?

Emma: Writing as Emma Dakin: The British Book Tour Mysteries Hazards in Hampshire, Book 1, Crime in Cornwall Book 2 (Camel Press). Y.A. and Middle Grade ten novels (writing as Marion Crook ). Non-fiction: (writing as Marion Crook) For teens, my books inclkude Out of the Darkness: Teens and Suicide (Arsenal Pulp Press) and several earlier ones on adoption and eating disorders. A book on writing  Writing for Children and Young Adults (3rd edition, Self-Counsel Press). Thicker Than Blood: Adoptive Parents in the Modern World (Arsenal Pulp Press).

Jill: Do you have any tips for budding authors?

Emma: Create a support team of people who will read your work and give you helpful feedback. Also, include one person who will tell you that whatever you write is wonderful. Enjoy that, but don’t believe it. Pay attention to what your team and your editors tell you. Enjoy the process.

Jill: How do you promote your books? Do you blog?

Emma: I have a monthly newsletter where I’d be happy to welcome your readers. They can go to my website and click on the Join My Newsletter button. I send out information once a month. If everything is working properly, and the gremlins that haunt computers are latent, they should get a free chapter of a book when they join. I belong to several writers groups including Sisters in Crime, Murder and Mayhem Mystery Group, Crime Writers of Canada, and The Writers Union of Canada, .among others.

Jill: What is next?

Emma: Perils in Yorkshire , The British Book Tour Mysteries Book 3 is finished. It has been edited and is at the publishers (Camel Press). It is due out in 2021. Book 4 Danger in Edinburgh (working title) is sitting on my
computer after the first draft. My non-fiction, Pack a Candle: A Nurse in the Cariboo (Heritage House Publishing), is scheduled for release in the spring of 2021.


Jill Amadio hails from Cornwall, U.K, like the character in her crime series, She was a reporter in Spain,  Colombia, Thailand, and the U.S. She is a true crime author, ghosted a thriller, writes a column for Mystery People ezine, and freelances for My Cornwall magazine.  She lives in Southern California. Her most recent book is 

Digging up the Dead.

Thursday, 3 December 2020

‘Nile Cat’ by Angela Cecil Reid

Published by SandChatBooks,
28 October 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-8381147-0-1(PB)

In 1871 twin sisters Rose and Lily Sinclair with their parents are sailing to Egypt, Lily’s father works in the Egyptology Department of the British Museum. The purpose of the visit to Egypt is threefold: Lily has weak lungs and her parents feel she would be better away from the heavily polluted winter atmosphere of London; Mr Sinclair’s brother Arthur, a noted Egyptologist, had died several months ago and Rose and Lily’s parents are going out to Egypt to support his widow, Aunt Dora, and to assist in winding up his affairs; and they are all also going to visit Rose and Lily’s brother Max who is taking part in the excavation of a site near Alexandria. Both girls, for different reasons, are looking forward to arriving in Egypt, but there is something that is making Rose deeply uneasy. There is another passenger on board, a Mr Baxter, who follows them constantly; he is fascinated, he tells Rose, by their likeness and their flame-red hair and pale complexions. Rose senses, without being able to think of a reason why, that he wishes her harm. Nor is that Rose’s only problem: another passenger, fluffy, fluttery Mrs Hodges has a confession to make to Rose and a favour to ask: she and her young daughter Lottie had visited Uncle Arthur on his excavation and while there Lottie had stolen an object from Uncle Arthur’s Cabinet of Curiosities – a tiny statuette of an Egyptian cat. Mrs Hodges, having deposited Lottie in a boarding school, is now on her way to India to join her husband so could Rose return the cat to the Cabinet of Curiosities? And could Rose promise not to tell a soul, otherwise Lottie could get into dreadful trouble? Against her better judgement Rose agrees.

When the family gets to Egypt, they receive news that Max has been injured in an accident on site; the parents depart immediately for Alexandria while the girls are to stay with their Aunt Dora. Somewhat officiously Mrs Hodges insists on accompanying them. Rose knows that this would be the perfect opportunity to slip the cat statuette back into the Cabinet of Curiosities but she is entranced by the cat and would like to keep it with her for a bit longer. It is when she is sleeping with the cat in her hand that she dreams and her dreams are of Egypt 3000 years ago when the Egyptian Empire was in its prime and Ramesses II was on the throne. Pyramids were being built and all Egyptians worshipped the Egyptian gods. Isis, Osiris, Horus, and many others. Certain animals were held in high regard; among the highest were cats who were deemed to have magical powers. One such is Miut, the cat in the temple of Osiris, the chief god, whose priest is the High Priest. But the last High Priest has just died and there is rivalry as to who will be the next High Priest. One candidate is Khay and it is his son, Hori, who has charge of the temple cat. She is held in such reverence that people call her Little Goddess, but wisely the author does not anthropomorphize her: she is just a cat, whose priorities are food, having a good sleep, and right now finding a safe place to deliver her litter of kittens, although she does also have a mean set of claws to defend herself with if required. And she is going to need them, because there are rivals for the High Priesthood and for those rivals the continued existence of the cat is a threat. And not only Hori is aware of the danger, Rose in her dreams also sees what is going on but she can only watch, she cannot intervene.

Meanwhile, back in the 19th century, there are other dangers. Mr Baxter turns up at Aunt Dora’s house, very anxious to help her sort her late husband’s papers and when Rose discovers that he has been married twice before and both wives have died she becomes very worried for her aunt’s safety. And there is a photograph of Mrs Hodges and Mr Baxter together so do they know each other? And someone else, a man in a cream suit, seems also to be following Rose.  

For any Mystery People reader looking for a last-minute present for someone in the Young Adult readership age range, this story would be ideal. It is thrilling and mysterious and the clever blending into the story of the author’s considerable knowledge of life and religious belief in Ancient Egypt makes for a fascinating read. The two girls are charming characters: being well-brought Victorian young ladies there is no ‘teenagerishness’; they do bicker but not excessively and their essential fondness for each other is clear. Rose does sometimes feel resentful that her father is stricter with her than with Lily, but she does accept that he is motivated by concerns for Lily’s health. Mr Baxter is suitably creepy while in the Egyptian part of the story the youths and malevolent priests who threaten Miut and Hori are highly menacing.

Nor would the readership be confined to the 12-18 age range; Wikipedia tells us that approximately 50% of the readership of YA novels is adult. Reading Nile Cat, I remembered how much I used to enjoy the Amelia Peabody novels of the late, great Elizabeth Peters, herself a distinguished Egyptologist who made Egyptology both informative and highly entertaining. I enjoyed Nile Cat just as much as I did the Peabody novels and I believe that readers right across the age spectrum will also enjoy it. Very much recommended.

Reviewer: Radmila May

Angela Cecil Reid has been entranced by Egyptology since childhood. Hardly surprising since her great-great-great grandfather, Admiral Robert Mitford, visited Egypt in 1811 and fell passionately in love, Angela says, with all things Egyptian. This passion was passed on to his descendants, the Tyssen-Amhersts who sponsored various excavations, and in particular to Angela’s great grandmother who ran her own excavations at Aswan. It was this enthusiasm which provided the inspiration for Nile Cat, which is the first in a planned trilogy. Angela had always written but what with first teaching children with dyslexia in Oxford and also running a smallholding near Wallingford in Oxfordshire where she breeds rare breeds sheep, and keeps hens, it was not until her own children had left home that she began to write seriously. She now has a number of projects planned including accounts of some of her archaeologist ancestors.

Radmila May
was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.