Sarah Downing, an art conservator hiding in witness protection, identifies a lost masterpiece by Caravaggio. History says it burned in WWII Berlin but here it is, on her easel. Soon she is fighting to save the painting and her own life. Who has betrayed Sarah—an agent, a friend? Whoever it was, her ex-husband Jimmy is standing on her street, outside her house, waiting. What Sarah does next sends her from Kingston to Italy to rural Ontario in her desperate attempt to survive, save the Caravaggio and rebuild her life with a new love.
Creating an audiobook from Painting of Sorrow? How easy would that be? I didn't jump in to the audiobook world until I read a blog from Joanna Penn that introduced me to ACX, a subsidiary of Audible, that has a program to introduce narrators to authors. When I read the options, I understood that I could produce a book in partnership with a narrator. To my surprise, when I placed Painting of Sorrow on the site, I received interest from several narrators and chose experienced actor/producer Virginia Ferguson (and she chose me!). We are working now on the book, chapter by chapter and hope to have it ready to go by May.
Sarah flew to Italy to find Simon, the owner of the painting she hoped to save. He planned to attend the Architectural Biennale, an international conference hosted in Venice every two years. So why Venice? I fell in love with Venice the first time we visited: art everywhere, beautiful buildings, a city for walkers, a city to get lost in. Sarah stays in a hotel on the Via Garibaldi. We rented an apartment above a bar on the same street, the widest in Venice. Napoleon filled in a canal to construct it. To find the Venice that Sarah does, one must leave the popular sights and the tourists behind, travel as the locals do, on the vaporetti, and shop in the grocery stores and markets. I included many of our experiences in Venice, including a memorable restaurant meal and the view from the back of the Bridge of Sighs. A city to explore and lose oneself in.
A fun part of any writing project is research and Painting of Sorrow was no exception. Sarah is a visual thinker, reacting to events and places with memories of paintings she has seen. The paintings range from Casson's Street in Glen Williams to Fiona Rae's Emergency Room to Carl Schaeffer's Ontario Farmhouse. I enjoyed seeking out the images that best related to Sarah's state of mind and I hope the reader will search out some of them online. Painting of Sorrow is available as an e-book from most online retailers, including both Kobo and Amazon and in print from Amazon and soon, Chapters Indigo. I
Because Sarah is an artist, I imagined her to be a strong visual thinker, who remembers images rather than words or in place of words. What is unusual about her is that she relates what she sees in the present to paintings she has seen in the past. We are introduced to this when she sees Gregory Lang as St. Jerome in the Desert, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, as a gaunt man with his skin tightly adherent to his skull, an image that upsets her. However, she sees other, more pleasant paintings, as in this excerpt when she is sitting in her apartment in Kingston, Ontario, a beautiful small city. Throughout Painting of Sorrow, Sarah pulls paintings from her memory to give her solace or to help her deal with frightening situations.
On May 7, 1945, for some as yet unexplained reason, the Soviet Army, charged with guarding the Flacturm Friedrichshain, pulled out the troops who were stationed there. Reports indicated fire broke out and blamed looters for the arson. All the art was destroyed. Of course, this was in the final day of the war and all was chaos. Did looters remove some of the paintings or other works of art stored there? In Painting of Sorrow, I imagined that at least one painting was saved from the flames, a portrait of Caravaggio's mistress, Fillide Mellandroni. In the excerpt today, Sarah's intern, Aidan, writes a history of Fillide and the violent Rome in which she live.
I've been interested in painting all my adult life, although not as an artist. In the past few years, there have been frequent press reports of missing art, stolen art, and art destroyed in conflict. In particular, the thousands of pieces that disappeared in WWII and the many myths and legends surrounding them intrigued me, from the loss of the Russian amber room to the paintings discovered by the Monument Men in salt mines. Art of all kinds fell victim to bombing and shelling as well. Those hidden in the Flakturm Friedrichshain in Berlin were among them. I chose to build my story around one of those, Caravaggio's Portrait of a Courtesan. Painting of Sorrow is on pre-release, coming May 15, 2018.
Pediatrician and amateur genealogist Anne McPhail arrives in the Vermont town of Culver's Mills on a journey into her own past. But she when she finds the dead body of the woman she was coming to meet, reference librarian Jennifer Smith, her journey takes a dangerous turn, into a history that includes hidden scandal and blackmail among the town elites. Local police enlist Anne's help but she comes close to losing her own life before exposing the killer in their midst.
In this scene, Anne has made a break-through in her genealogical research and eagerly tells police detective, Adam. However, he begins to instruct her on what she should investigate next, a suggestion that takes would take her fa from genealogy. She objects, and this leads to confrontation between the two. At this point in the novel, I wanted to inject some conflict between the two principal characters, based on their different aims. Anne is interested in genealogy, but Adam is focussed on his hunt for the killer. Anne is not fully committed at this point to the police investigation and close to a decision to leave.
I didn't have future plans for Anne McPhail, the main character when I wrote Murderous Roots. She was a widow, well-off, and educated with engrossing interests. I had no idea she would be attracted to Thomas but when she was, I wanted to find out how she would handle the relationship and wondered what complications it would bring to her life. Through the next books, Anne's relationship with Thomas grew but faced serious obstacles to their happiness, from his family to killers on her trail. At times, Anne wanted to chuck it all and go home. Adding romance to the narrative not only changed the type of story I was writing, from a murder mystery to romantic suspense but also drove the plots forward in unexpected and, for Anne, dangerous ways. From a minor role in Murderous Roots, their relationship has now become central to the series. But it all began with one kiss.
Authors often use incidents from their own lives or those of others when writing scenes. The incidents may be recent or dredged up from childhood memory. Here, Anne McPhail is forced off a road and down an embankment in a heavy snowfall. Although I have never been forced off the road, I did experience such an accident when I was fourteen or fifteen years old and used it to get to the emotion Anne felt.
An interest in genealogy, a sudden decision that I wanted to write a book, and a honeymoon in Vermont thirty years before, produced the location, the format and the theme of Murderous Roots. It took ten years of working on the craft by writing and submitting short stories before Murderous Roots was first published. My publisher decided to retire in 2016 and I retrieved my books, developed new covers and recently re-edited and republished. In the meantime, I wrote four more in the series and collected enough short stories for a volume. This excerpt is the first introduction of Anne McPhail who is(what else?) a Canadian paeditrician.
Anne McPhail is back in Culver's Mill's Vermont for a quiet holiday. But Culver's Mills is an unlucky spot for her vacation. She finds the dead body of a naked man and is soon helping her friend, Adam Davidson, to investigate the murder. Who is the dead man and how was he involved in a theft from the local art gallery? Who owns the art? James Trevelyan, an elderly man whose genealogy may hold the key, or the owners of Evan's, the inn where they were found? More bodies turn up as the murderer kills off the members of the gang. Then he turns his attention to Anne.
In the middle of a book or a movie, there is a point that James Scott Bell calls the magical middle moment. He uses the example of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, in despair about the man he has become since Ilsa left him in Paris. Subplots have turning points like this as well. In this scene Anne muses on what her life has become since she first came to Culvers Mills and on the disastrous effect of the murder on her relationship with Thomas. She realizes that she is not being fair to Thomas but her thoughts turn to going home. Later, she and Thomas will face serious adversity together that will change their relationship forever.
In my professional life, I was a paediatrician, and children have a way of sneaking into the stories and playing pivotal roles as Jamie Corrigan does here. I also transplanted a landscape from my own childhood in Ontario to rural Vermont for him to play in. Jamie could have been any one of a dozen boys I went to school with, skipping school to go fishing on closing day. Other children, the Bassett boys, have their own story in The Facepainter Murders, a darker story that changes their lives completely. Children appear in No Motive for Murder and of course in The Child on the Terrace where a young girl is the sole reason for Anne’s involvement in a dangerous situation. I hope you enjoy the children you meet in my books as much as I have.
In the Facepainter Murders, I wanted to return Anne to Culver's Mills and explore different aspects of her character and her interests. I thought Culver's Mills would be a good place to start. The Facepainter Murders lands her in trouble on the first page when she finds the naked body of a murdered man. Anne has friends on the police force but even so she must deal with questions and suspicion. Anne's interests include antiques, art, and genealogy and I explored all of these in this sequel. She also is falling in love, an unexpected development. Some of Anne's interests are mine as well and I enjoyed developing the family histories and inventing the antiques and paintings. I was delighted to discover Zedekiah Belknap, the limner or facepainter of the story. You can learn more about him and see some of his work at the Smithsonian website. https://americanart.si.edu/artist/zedekiah-belknap-322
A Christmas holiday in Vermont turns deadly for Dr Anne McPhail whose hopes for a quiet family celebration with Thomas Beauchamp derail when his children reject her, and his mother falls ill. Anne flees to her friend Catherine's B&B for comfort and a place to stay, but when she goes for a walk in the snow to the town square, she stumbles across a body in her friend Erin's antique store. A few hours later, Erin disappears. Is Erin a suspect or a victim? While Anne joins the search, an old adversary, plotting revenge, arrives from Europe. Anne stumbles over another body, and then the killer closes in on her.
When I found Anne and began to write about her, she was a widow and not looking for love or any kind of romantic relationship. Through five books, she and Thomas Beauchamp have come together, parted, found each other again and now face a crisis. In this scene, the family is shattered by a serious illness in the matriarch, revealing divisions and leading Anne to question her future within it. Will his children accept her and will she accept his past and share his home? Family relationships past and future run as a stream through the books, beginning with Anne's search for her ancestors in Murderous Roots, but leading to her dilemma about Thomas.
Faberge eggs: The story of the Faberge eggs begins with a simple(for a Tsar) present from Tsar Alexander III for Easter. The first egg was solid gold with a tiny hen at its heart. His son continued the tradition of the gifts, all eggs, all increasingly elaborate. A legend says that the Czarina refused any egg that was red as it reminded her of her grandson’s hemophilia. I chose a red egg as one she was most likely to have given to a maid as a parting gift. Faberge was jeweller to the elite of Russia and later Britain after he opened a store there as well. The lovely jewellery ranged from simple enamel hearts to elaborate tiaras and is as coveted today as it was at the turn of the 20th century.
In this scene, a flash-forward to when Anne finds a body in Erin's store, I wanted to introduce Anne's dilemma early: another body in the same town in which she had found two others, with questions from policemen who might be strangers now that her friend Adam Davidson had moved on. Her instinct is to call Thomas, to lean on him for help. Anne's strength, her ability to deal with whatever life throws at her is missing. When the story returns to the beginning, their arrival in Culver's Mills, something is also wrong in their private life as well. These two threads dominate the story in The Jewelled Egg Murders.
Anne McPhail, retired pediatrician, shattered by her experience in Bermuda, rents a tiny house in Setenil, Spain, hoping to reconcile what she learned about herself and Thomas after the gunfire in that dark room on the island. But she sees a child on the terrace of the local cafe who doesn’t seem to belong to her minders and then Ari, the Mossad agent who saved Anne’s life, seeks her out with a plan to rescue the child from kidnappers. Should she trust him? Three days later, she is on the run with Ari and the little girl, with killers Esti and Sergio on their trail. She glimpses a man she thinks is Thomas. Is he, too in Spain?And why? How far will Anne go to save Naomi? From Spain to France to Italy, this is Anne’s most dangerous journey.
One of the pivotal scenes in The Child on the Terrace is set in Menton, France, a town important in the history of the Canadian Army in WWII. The Devil’s Brigade, its unofficial title, was the first Special Forces unit, comprising American and Canadian soldiers who trained and served together until Dec, 1944. The units served in the Aleutian Islands, Italy and France. They came ashore in the south of France and liberated Menton on August 26, 1944. Four months later, the unit was disbanded with great pomp in a field near Menton. The soldiers were reassigned, many of them to parachute battalions. On December 5th, the U.S.Army Special Forces celebrate Menton Day to remember the liberation and the fallen. Anne has her own battle to fight in Menton, with her life and the life of the child at stake.
I sent Anne to Spain to recover from the horror she felt after she fired a shot at a man who tried to kill her. But trouble followed her and Ari, an Israeli who saved her life in Bermuda is standing at her door, asking for her help. I placed The Child on the Terrace in Setenil because in that Andalusian village the houses are built deep into the cliffs. The mountainside has been inhabited for thousands of years, beginning with humans living in the caves. The weight of the stone proves difficult for Anne to bear as does the pressure from the Israeli. In this scene, he asks for her help in rescuing a child.
Do you love a mystery that takes you on vacation? In No Motive for Murder, Anne McPhail is on holiday in Bermuda, visiting her sister. She stumbles upon a murder in progress and this time, she is more than just a witness, she is a suspect, dealing with a police officer who decides Anne is guilty, and sticks to it in face of the evidence or lack of it. But more is going on than a random murder. Anne is caught in the middle a dangerous assassination plot. When she inadvertently upsets the killer ’s plan, he turns his attention to her. The risk spreads to her family and friends and then Thomas Beauchamp arrives on Bermuda. When his role is revealed, Anne’s life takes a dangerous turn. To find out why, grab a copy of No Motive for Murder.
On one visit to Bermuda, my family and I went for a hike along part of the coast. Although the justly-famous beaches feature in most of the pictures of the islands, what I saw that day were steep cliffs of jagged black rocks, with heavy waves pounding in from the ocean. I was writing No Motive for Murder at the time and thought what a great place it would be to set a scene. In this scene, Anne runs, terrified and alone from the assassin whom she alone can identify and takes refuge in the rocks.
On a visit to the part of my family that lives in Bermuda, I spent a lovely, solitary morning in the National Art Gallery in Hamilton's city hall. After I left the gallery, I walked across the mezzanine towards another art display. I was struck by how empty the space was of anyone. There was not a tourist nor a guard in sight. A perfect setting for Anne to discover another body. From there, I went back to my family and read some Bermuda history and learned more about the island. We went for a walk along the cliffs, another setting for a scene in the book. Bermuda is tiny but so varied in its geography that I could set another book there and not repeat myself. This excerpt introduces you to Bermuda and Anne's dilemma.
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