Crime and Punishment – Dead to Sin

The early nineteenth century in England was a harsh time of poverty for many. When soldiers and sailors were no longer needed to fight the wars that had dogged England from the end of the previous century, many men returned victorious having fought for their King (or Prince Regent) and country only to face unemployment. With little or no social support they often turned to crime to feed themselves and their families. With the increase in crimes, came new laws and harsher sentences.
Ripon Museum
I recently stopped by one of North Yorkshire’s finest museums in the little city of Ripon. Ripon is an unspoilt cathedral city that has maintained its characteristics of a delightful market town with plenty of historical places of interest to visit. It is also an excellent base for venturing into the Yorkshire Dales or the North Yorkshire Moors!

Ripon Museum comprises of three museums, all to do with the city’s historic law and order buildings that have been lovingly maintained. The photos below were taken in the Prison & Police Museum in St Marygate. It was a prison from 1686-1879 and a police station from 1880-1959.

When I first visited the prison I was writing Dead to Sin. Although the existing building was Victorian, the cells hold exhibits which relate to its earlier history and the development of crime and punishment, cruel and harsh as it was. Nowadays, the museum is clean, whitewashed and immaculately presented. Obviously in the time of Nicholas Penn it would be far from this.

The first chapter of Dead to Sin begins with Nicholas Penn bracing himself as he enters this dark, fettered world.


Nicholas Penn took one last deep breath of fresh air outside the high stone walls of the Gorebeck lock up. He glanced back at the cobbled square of the market town; wagons rattled, farmers haggled, women bartered, children’s laughter melted into the animals’ pitiful cries, the noise of which was in turn drowned out by the banter of the bidders. All was chaotic, all stank, yet there was colour and life here amongst the continuous whirl of people trading their wares.

             A heavy lock was turned in the barrier in front of him. Nicholas breathed deeply, his broad chest glad of what fresh air there was as his mind dreaded the prospect of seeing what he would find within the cold walls – and who. The reinforced wooden door creaked and groaned as the warder pulled it open, grating the edge against the stone.

             He pulled the high collar of his coat close, covering the ends of his shoulder length locks. ‘Trapped sunshine’ his mother had poetically described his wayward curls when he was a cosseted child. Now straighter, they had matured and grown like Nicholas himself. No sunshine would filter through behind this door. The rain started to pour down. Nicholas was silently led inside along a narrow stone corridor; he was taken further into the building’s bowels, down a spiral metal staircase to an airless chasm where six bolted black doors lined the dimly lit passage. Disembodied coughs could be heard even through the iron-wood barriers, which incarcerated their prey. Nicholas intuitively pulled out his kerchief and held it over his mouth. Gaol fever was to be avoided by the wise man who had the option to, but the inmates of this place had little chance to do that. The warder turned another key in the door lock at the end of the narrow corridor.

             “Ten minutes!” he growled back at Nicholas. The man had a curvature of the spine and did not look up at Nicholas’s straight frame. Instead, he shuffled back.

             Nicholas grunted what could have been his agreement or a simple acknowledgement. The turnkey gestured for Nicholas to enter.

             With some reluctance, Nicholas stepped into the small dank cell, ducking slightly so that his round hat did not contact the top of the door’s stone frame. What light and fresh air there was from the open grate that served as a window, was lost to the rain water, which now poured in, bringing with it the filth washed down from the market street above. The cell’s air stank of damp and excrement. Nicholas stood equidistant from the slime covered walls, not wanting his new riding coat to touch anything in the place.

             The cell was putrid. Under his highly polished boots was a stone-flagged floor strewn with soiled hay. Nicholas fought back memories, bleak, barefooted memories, as he glared at the figure in front of him. Like the cell, the man locked within it was unwashed, unshaven and unkempt. His appearance was in stark contrast to the man’s usually immaculate presence. The figure was seated on a small stool, wrapped in a flea-infested woollen blanket, leaning against the edge of the moist wall. Even in such discomfiture he seemed to be calm in manner, resigned perhaps to his fate. Nicholas wondered if this was true. To most people in his circumstance it would have been the case, or a near breakdown of spirits, but not Wilson. Nicholas knew the man too well. He was as hard as the stone walls which held him, to the depth of the heart that beat strong within his chest.

             Ebony eyes looked up at him as the door lock was slammed shut behind Nicholas who was trying hard not to show his inner fear, or his loathing of small airless spaces as much as his abhorrence for the pathetic looking creature in front of him.

             “You came, Nick!” the voice announced, louder than Nicholas had expected it to. That tone was almost as if he was annoyed at his late appearance. This was not the whispered breathy word of a dispirited soul. The confidence, the strength and the defiance were still there in his comments even if he looked to be in a physically weakened state.

Love a mystery?

If you want to take a few hours out to relax and lose yourself in a mystery, then why not meet Nicholas Penn in Dead to Sin – A Penn Mystery Book 1?


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Dead to Sin

Nicholas Penn is summoned to Gorebeck Gaol to visit a man accused of murder. Having been found holding the body of the last victim in his arms, his plight seems sealed. Nicholas is torn between a sense of duty and his feelings of hurt and disgust when being in the presence of the accused. The tables turn abruptly, and Nicholas becomes the incarcerated. Duped and incensed, he swears to find the man, Wilson, before another victim dies.

An interview with Cindy Nord!

Cindy Nord - Professional ImageI am delighted to welcome my special guest this month, bestselling Historical Romance author, Cindy Nord.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview and share your experiences with us.

What inspired your love of books, or the desire to be a story-teller/writer yourself?

Coming from a family of educators, I’ve always been encouraged to read.  I devoured books by the dozens.  From classics to childhood favorites, books expanded my world. As I grew older, I also grew to love history, with a specific focus on the Victorian era.  I read my first romance, and fell in love with the genre. I enjoyed the details of history sprinkled throughout the storyline, coupled with an unrestrained romantic entanglement. Because of this combination, I felt moved to put pen to paper and craft my own love story.

NO GREATER GLORY cover

What characteristics do you think are essential in a hero or heroine?

I want my hero to be strong, involved and engaged. A man who transforms compassion into heroic action with a unique leadership ability that separates him from the rest of the pack. Of course, he’s not perfect, he does have his weaknesses, AND, ultimately, it will be the heroine who helps him overcome those internal conflicts and imperfections. Likewise, I want my heroine to have a resourceful and internal focus that becomes challenged when she meets her hero. She must have a resilient sense of purpose with an unfulfilled need that even she doesn’t know she has. And, in turn, the hero, at first overwhelming and unwanted, eventually fills this void inside her heart. Of course, the romance wrapped around these two individuals is the catalyst that spurs them onward to completing their tumultuous journey to happily-ever-after.

Reliable research is essential to historical authors, but when did you first become involved in Civil War re-enactments?

As a Victorian lecturer and historian, I appreciate the details that breathe a character to life upon the pages. Wonderful tidbits that immerse the reader fully into the time period.  And my experience in re-enacting only helped solidify this knowledge. Many years ago, when I began writing my first novel, I read in the newspaper that they were having a Civil War living history weekend at our local university. Holy Toledo! I couldn’t believe that they actually did this sort of thing.  Here was American history brought to life. The acrid aroma of campfires. The thundering gallop of cavalry horses. Women clad in Victorian gowns sashaying across a lawn. All the things that I was writing about at the time. Indeed, I was swept straight back into the nineteenth century, and fell head-over-heels in love with this whole new experience. Immediately, I threw myself into the hobby.  I even ended up meeting my future husband on the battlefield.  Although we no longer re-enact now, I’ll forevermore cherish those years spent living in the time period I love so well.

What can your readers expect from a Cindy Nord novel?

Passion. Emotion. Conflict. Indeed, an accurate, historical immersion. All those things plus an ardent romance filled with sensations that tug at a readers’ heartstrings. Getting my characters to ‘The End’ is a hard won journey, for sure. And the greatest test of success for any writer is when their readers make the trip through their novels and never want the love story to end.

In your fascinating career to date, what memorable moments stand out?

Oh my, such a great question. Let’s see… I’ll begin with being a Romance Writers of America National Golden heart finalist with No Greater Glory which started this whole incredible journey, signing with my fabulous literary agent, Louise Fury of the Jenny Bent Agency in New York City, the day my first box of books arrived from my publisher, being a USA Today Lifeblog ‘Recommended Read’ author, having my Civil War romance novel used as a supplemental read in a well-known university history class, receiving a stellar review by the Library Journal (buying bible for all libraries in the U.S., Canada & the U.K.), my first invitation to be a keynote speaker at an RWA affiliated chapter, and having my very first book signing at Barnes & Noble…these, and so many more, have truly brought me untold joy.

With Open Arms (USE)

Do you have a very organized day, or do you write around ‘life’, but to set targets?

Balancing my time and attention between writing, social media, my family and my friends is always a difficult task. I try to set up a schedule with mornings spent on the internet and my social media sites, with my afternoons devoted to writing. In the evening, my husband listens as I read what I’ve written for the day.  This is a routine that works well for me. I’m what they call a ‘pantser’ (writing without an outline), and must completely finish each chapter before moving on to the next. I wouldn’t advise anyone else to follow this writing style, so say the ‘plot-first’ experts, but it does seem to work for me.

Writing books involves long hours working at a computer. What do you do to keep healthy and active?

I thoroughly love to ‘water walk’ at the gym, plus I walk my two shelties daily around our neighbourhood. I also enjoy working in the garden, as well as bicycling with my husband. We are both passionate followers of an ‘organic’ lifestyle, along with nutraceutical supplementation.

Along with other writers, I understand that you contributed to an anthology for ‘Women in Need’. Could you tell us something about this work and the charity?

I was invited by writer-extraordinaire, Hope Tarr, to be part of her project entitled, “Scribbling Women and the Real-Life Romance Heroes Who Love Them” non-fiction anthology where I joined several New York Times & other romance fiction writers.  Each real-life story in this body of work details how we writers met, wed and love—and are loved and supported by—our spouses and life partners. All proceeds from this literary compilation go directly to Women In Need, a New York City women’s shelter for abused females & their children. I am so honoured to have been asked to participate. Happily Ever After isn’t only the stuff of romance novels and fairy tales.

What single piece of advice would you give to any, as yet, unpublished author?

Never, ever, ever give up on your dream. And since we’re going to dream anyway…DREAM BIG!

What is next for Cindy?

I am putting the finishing touches on AN UNLIKELY HERO, the third book in my four-book The Cutteridge Series. I anticipate this love story debuting Spring, 2016.  I’ve also been invited to host one of the ten coveted ‘opening night’ tables at the 2015 Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in Dallas in May.  I’m also doing several book signings, as well as guest interviews for television stations. Plus, lecturing on Victorian fashions at several locations across the Midwest.

More from Cindy:

Roses are Dead: Burglary and Intent

Occasionally I drift away from my love of history for a change of pace and venture into a contemporary world of suspense, love and adventure. This usually happens when something in reality has struck a nerve, such as when a friend’s home was burgled.

Jen’s world is turned upside down when she should be at a happy beginning in her life. She is hounded by a string of unnerving events and then someone breaks into her home; her new sanctuary.

We read about burglaries all the time. However, they are not only a violation of a person’s belongings and space, but also their peace of mind. How quickly a person bounces back from such an experience will depend upon the individual and the extent of the theft and damage.

Doubts can linger regarding the motivation behind the crime – Was it a random event? Was I targeted? Did they know my work pattern so that I would not be there? Do they know me?

In fiction we can play with these questions, keeping the answers and consequences within our control. However, in reality, overcoming such a personal violation can take a lot of time. Authors often focus on the crime and catching the criminals, but I respect that for the victim this is only part of the process of healing and restoring that inner peace.

If you want to read Jen’s story, Roses are Dead is available from Amazon and Smashwords.

A Christmas Gift!

A Christmas Gift by Ruby Jackson has just been released!

A Christmas Gift, Ruby Jackson
Sally Brewer has always wanted to be an actress. When war breaks out and her drama school closes she is sure the dream has ended. She finds a job as general dog’s body at a small theatre but works hard to learn as much as possible. Invited to a London theatre, she buys a beautiful cloak in a second hand shop. Is it the cloak, the valuable ring she finds in the lining, Sebastian, the former child star who rescues her from unpleasantness at the theatre or ‘just Jon’, the enigmatic sailor whose wife had owned the cloak and the ring but Sally’s life changes. As bombs fall on London she works tirelessly to raise the morale of service personnel everywhere but can she herself survive the message that reads, ‘Missing in Action’?

You can find it on Amazon and read about the author here.

Meet the talent behind Valerie Holmes eBook covers, Jan Marshall!

jan_in_hat_picI am delighted to share an interview with Jan Marshall, the talented book-designer who has created the Valerie Holmes eBook covers.

What inspired you to become a graphic designer?

First of all, Val, thank you for inviting me to take part in this interview; I’m so flattered you asked me.

I suppose the simple answer to your question is I didn’t really do much choosing; graphic design rather chose me. Creative pursuits – mainly drawing with a pencil – had always been in my blood. So, all I had to do was pin down a way of converting my creative obsession into a way of making a living, and graphics was my answer.

You have a vast experience within the industry. How did you learn the job?

Art college was a great starting point, and I’d recommend it to anyone embarking on a career in the business – it taught me how to ‘think’ like a designer – but, like learning to drive, as soon as your training’s over, although you’re qualified, you’re not necessarily good at it yet. My first job, in an ad agency, made me aware of gaps in my art college education – mainly technical skills. So I spent some years in the typesetting and pre-press industry, where I absorbed essential hands-on skills, some of which I still use today: typography, artwork, hand-lettering, proofreading. Learning doesn’t ever end of course; especially since the advent of computers and rapidly changing software, designers’ skills must constantly be reinforced and updated.

What have been your personal highlights so far?

Derek & Clive cover pinkThe most rewarding time in my career has to be the ten years I spent immersed in the world of movies, creating designed materials for mainly Universal and Paramount films, ranging from huge outdoor posters to video covers and film-based interactive teaching aids for schools. I was privileged (and extremely proud) to work on movies as diverse as: Babe, The Rugrats Movie, Apollo 13, the three Pierce Brosnan Bond movies, The Addams Family Values; Dragonheart, Twister, Twelve Monkeys, and The Mummy. On a more personal note, another highlight came in the shape of a short thank you message. It was from the late, truly adorable Peter Cook, who, having briefed the job to the team in a safari suit and pith helmet, later described my design for the ‘Derek & Clive Get The Horn’ video sleeve as: “…the best I have ever seen on a video pack. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am”. I was thrilled too.

If I may, I’d like to give credit here to the rest of the talented design team from those days, especially the lovely Lizy Thompson, my hard-working right-hand woman and loyal friend.

 Of the various styles and techniques you use, which is your favourite?

The movie work taught me how to use photoshop to comp images and type in intricate detail – large media can be unforgiving of less than perfect retouching; a tiny error on screen can be seen at ten feet tall on a supersite poster! And that attention to detail has stayed with me; I get a great deal of enjoyment out of combining images and type to make tight, detailed book covers.

What is the technique used for the beautiful Valerie Holmes ebook covers?

Thank you for your lovely compliment, Val. When we embarked on this big project – to repackage more than 30 titles plus some new stories – we decided between us that, for speed, economy and ease, it would be best to ‘keep it simple’.

Your covers are incredibly enjoyable to illustrate, not least because, in the same way that characters in a novel seem to take on their own personalities, the people I draw for your delightful Valerie Homes stories emerge, almost accidentally, from their scribbly beginnings into fully formed ‘human beings’ with their own individual characteristics.

What other interests/hobbies do you enjoy?

In my work life, I’m embarking on an exciting (to me, anyway!) new venture to run alongside the cover design, that of proofreading and copy-editing, a discipline I used to love so much while working in typesetting all those years ago; I’m presently working through a certification course.

And I have lots of hobbies and pastimes: I sew, make jewellery, up-cycle junk, grow bonsai trees, cook, paint, draw… And I walk miles every day. But the most important thing I’m doing in my free time right now is writing: I’m attempting my first novel. And it’s an amazing experience – it’s like nothing else I’ve ever done. Pure escapism. I can see why you love writing so much, Val!

Thanks so much for all your dedicated work and I look forward to seeing yet more original covers in 2014. Happy New Year!

Jan Marshall

I’ve been a graphic designer for many years more than the requisite ten thousand hours. Specialising in book cover design at present, I’ve worked on all sorts of graphic design projects in my time – some simple, and some utterly extraordinary, from key rings for the CBI Conference to supersite outdoor posters for Universal and Paramount movies. “It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m not even there yet!”

Services

Cover design: I’m not the cheapest designer you’ll find, but I do go the extra mile to provide a premium service: I’ll send you a questionnaire/brief sheet about your book, read your manuscript, produce concept after concept until we find the one we both like the most, then hone it (in high resolution) until it’s perfect. And I guarantee we’ll end up with a cover you’ll love.

Cover critique: Creating your own cover design? Why not get some expert advice to help you along the road. Send me a jpeg of your cover design at any stage in its completion and I’ll give you an idea of how you’re doing. Critiques start at £20/$35 for a 10-point ebook cover checklist. Contact me for a quote if you’d like an in-depth report or if you want help with a particular aspect of your project.

Proofreading and copy-editing: Please contact me at thecopyeditor@btinternet.com. Although this service is available now, my formal training and certification will be completed late Spring 2014.

You can follow me on Twitter here: @Jan_Marshall and visit my website here: jan-marshall.wix.com/thebookdesigner. There’s a contact page on the website or you can email me at bookcoverdesign@btinternet.com – I’d love to hear from you.