Search Sue's Blog

Tuesday 25 June 2019

WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED - an interview with Alice Castle

My guest today is my friend and fellow-author Alice Castle, whose latest book The Body in Belair Park is released today.

Welcome, Alice!

What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?
I had a very kind teacher when I was really small, who pointed out something I’d written for a school project. She said she really liked it, and asked me very seriously where I’d got the idea from. The fact that she gave my writing such attention made me realise it was something I could do and has really inspired everything I’ve written since. Teachers have such power to encourage. I’m very grateful to her.

I fully understand.  I've had some wonderful teachers and also some pretty useless ones!

Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words? 
The Body in Belair Park is the sixty cozy crime novel in my series.  I'd sum it up like this: 'A dead Bridge player.  A determined mother.  A new case for single mum amateur sleuth Beth Haldane.'

OOH, sounds intriguing.  What was the inspiration for this book? 
There were two inspirations, really.  One is Belair House, the very beautiful real-life Georgian mansion at the centre of the story.  It stands on the edge of Belair Park and is the home of the fictional bridge club that causes so much trouble for Beth Haldane and DI Harry York.  It's a really stunning place and I felt it would be an excellent spot for a nice bit of skulduggery.  The other inspiration was my newfound interest in the card game, bridge.  Bridge has featured in two whodunits which I particularly love: Agatha Christie's Cards On The Table and Georgette Heyer's Duplicate Death.  I wanted to see if I could write my own that would stand against these two classics - I hope I've succeeded.

Did you do any research for the book?
I did tons of research, in that I have now taken up bridge in quite a big way! I had played it as a child but started going to a club once a week to polish my skills for the book. Now I’m hopelessly hooked and am going to keep going. I also visited Belair Park and Belair House quite a few times to try and get all the details right for various key bits of the book.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?
I write best in the morning and have a rule that I write at least 1,000 words on my work-in-progress a day. I chose this figure because Graham Greene used to write 500 a day, so I can tell myself I’m doing twice as much (though the words may not be quite the same!).

How do you decide on the names for your characters?
Naming characters is such a bizarre part of being a writer. I’ve heard of people plucking names from telephone directories. My chief problem at the moment, now I’m writing the seventh London Murder Mystery, is trying not to repeat the same, or very similar, names. I have a horrible habit of picking names beginning with the same letter, then have to change things around at the end.

AAAGH!  Two or more characters having similar-sounding names, or names beginning with the same letter, is one of my pet hates (as any author who has worked with me will confirm).  It can be horribly confusing for the reader.  I've often wondered how Emily Bronte got away with it...

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?
Every book seems to write itself differently, but I do find that I am gradually plotting more, partly because whodunits can be very complex and you need to be sure what people are up to all the time! I don’t like to tie the plot down too much, though, or the characters seem stifled. You should be free to make the great leaps of inspiration that appear from who-knows-where and make writing such fun.

Which writers have influenced your own writing?
I love so many crime writers that, if I had to list all my influences, we’d be here forever. But probably the most important to me are the women writers of the Golden Age: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh, to name but a few. And then there are some key writers who grew up, or went to school in, Dulwich itself… Raymond Chandler, PG Wodehouse and Simon Brett.

What has been the best part of the writing process…and the worst?
The best part has been being lucky enough to find a wonderful publisher for my stories, so that something that was a tiny germ of a story, in my imagination alone, has been made real and has been brought out into the world. That really is a wonderful feeling. The worst part is editing my own work, it’s like pulling teeth.

I feel your pain...

What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m excited to say I have a new book coming out this autumn in the rather different genre of domestic suspense. I can’t say much more about it at the moment, except to promise you more news soon! And I am working on the seventh book in the London Murder Mystery series, The Slayings in Sydenham, which stars my single mum amateur sleuth Beth Haldane, and will be published in the New Year.  


Beth Haldane is on the verge of having everything she’s ever wanted. Her son is starting secondary school, her personal life seems to have settled down – even her pets are getting on. But then the phone rings.

It’s Beth’s high-maintenance mother, Wendy, with terrible news. Her bridge partner, Alfie Pole, has died suddenly. While Beth, and most of Dulwich, is convinced that Alfie has pegged out from exhaustion, thanks to partnering Wendy for years, Beth’s mother is certain that there is foul play afoot.

Before she knows it, Beth is plunged into her most complicated mystery yet, involving the Dulwich Bridge Club, allotment holders, the Dulwich Open Garden set and, of course, her long-suffering boyfriend, Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector Harry York. The case stirs up old wounds which are much closer to home than Beth would like. Can she come up trumps in time to stop the culprit striking again – or does the murderer hold the winning hand this time?


Before turning to crime, Alice Castle was a UK newspaper journalist for The Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Her first book, Hot Chocolate, set in Brussels and London, was a European hit and sold out in two weeks.

Death in Dulwich was published in September 2017 and has been a number one best-seller in the UK, US, France, Spain and Germany. A sequel, The Girl in the Gallery, was published in December 2017 to critical acclaim and also hit the number one spot. Calamity in Camberwell, the third book in the London Murder Mystery series, was published in August 2018, with Homicide in Herne Hill following in October 2018. Revenge on the Rye came out in December 2018. The Body in Belair Park is published on 25th June 2019.

Alice is currently working on the seventh London Murder Mystery adventure, The Slayings in Sydenham. Once again, it will feature Beth Haldane and DI Harry York.

Alice is also a mummy blogger and book reviewer via her website:

Death in Dulwich is now also out as an audiobook.

Alice lives in south London and is married with two children, two step-children and two cats.

Friday 7 June 2019

VIEWS ACROSS THE POND - an interview with Olga Swan

My guest today is the multi-talented author Olga Swan, whose latest book An Englishwoman in America will hit the shelves on Tuesday next week.

Many thanks Sue for welcoming me onto your esteemed blog. I do hope my answers to your questions prove of interest to your readers.                                                                                

Welcome, Olga!  What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I lost my parents and both siblings fifty years ago, and since then I’ve been desperate to continue our (unusual) family name by writing under the nom de plume of Olga Swan (an anagram of my late brother’s name.) My first book was Lamplight, which brother Alan originally typed out for me on a small typewriter.

Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?

A humorous look at how the British and the Americans view each other. The cover image below gives a snapshot of what lies within.

What was the inspiration for this book?

Growing up in the ‘50s, I couldn’t understand why four of us (my mother, 2 brothers and myself) were all shy and introverted, yet my father was loud, extrovert and so large as life in everything he did. Eventually I understood. He’d lived a considerable time in America. Should I then follow his lead and move to America? Would that make me more outgoing?

Did you do any research for the book?

Yes. Lots of it. From immigration tomes to other works in the genre to personal holiday diaries and precious travel memoirs from my father to internet sources.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?

I don’t really have one. I tend to do everything on the hoof. As soon as inspiration hits, I head out to our tiny conservatory, which has plenty of light – particularly from above which helps my SAD – wait an interminably long time for my laptop to get going and then start typing. My problem has always been that I write too quickly and too much, meaning there are lots of deletions to be made later!

How do you decide on the names for your characters?

Well, it’s different for NF, where so many names and places have to be correct to be a true account. When I’ve finished, I then change just the names of family members so they aren’t cross with me!

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?

For non-fiction, such as the one above, I find it helps enormously to include a Contents page, with chapter headings and chronological years listed. In this way, I’m forced to keep to the itemised structure. However, as far as the main ‘factional’ narrative is concerned, I just let it develop as I write. I do find, though, that having written both fiction and non-fiction, that I use different parts of my brain: the back of my head for the former, but the front for the more observational needs of non-fiction writing.

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

Leon Uris and Simon Sebag Montefiore.

What has been the best part of the writing process…and the worst?

Being accepted by a publisher and seeing the first sales graph rise like a phoenix from the ashes. The worst? Not being accepted by leading literary agents – not because of the quality or otherwise of your submitted work, but because you don’t already fit today’s need for ‘celebrity’ status.

Now the book is published and ‘out there’ how do you feel?

I hope that, at last, I have made my late family proud of me.

Is there a message for the reader?

I hope that, when reading this non-fiction work, I have introduced themes and ideas that perhaps they wouldn’t have thought of.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Always find a good editor: someone who has been trained in elementary English grammatical techniques… Can’t think of anyone better than you, Sue.

Aw, thank you!  What can we expect from you in the future?

My hope is that, following the success of this book, I can progress onto other similar tomes, each starting “An Englishwoman in……” The sky’s the limit really.  

For now, though, I do hope that your readers will come to the online launch party on Tuesday 11 June.  On the day click hereThen under Discussion, say Hi and enjoy guest author spots and entertainment, read exclusive excerpts from the book, and enter two free quizzes about American cars and music to win a prize.  Easy.  Looking forward to welcoming you on the 11th.  

Pre-order your ebook now or buy the paperback here.

Many thanks Sue for having me!

For links to my other 9 books: