Welcoming Helen

From time to time it’s good to welcome a guest to these pages, which is what I’m doing today, in the form of Helen Hollick, who – among many other things – runs the Discovering Diamonds website. I’ll leave her to say her piece!

Thank you, Graham, for hosting a stop on the joint tour I am undertaking with Alison Morton throughout February to celebrate the release of our mystery/thrillers Double Identity by Alison, and A Mirror Murder by me. Today, it’s my turn to pen something interesting…

A Mirror Murder is my first foray into the  cosy mystery genre – the lighter side of crime  mysteries, usually including a little romance, and often with the protagonist being female (though not always!) Not wanting to read anything similar to the novels I usually write (historical Arthurian, Saxon eleventh century or pirate-based nautical adventure,) I turned to murder-mystery for my Kindle entertainment. Some were a delight to read, but others did not impress me quite so much.

“Could I do better?” I wondered.

So I gave it a go by using my more than a decade of experience working in a public library in a North London suburb on the edge of Epping Forest and Essex, where I was born and lived until the early 1980s.

One of the things I especially like about Graham’s Master Mercurius series, is the fact that you feel you are there, looking over Mercurius’ shoulder as he reluctantly fumbles his way through his investigations. This is because Graham is meticulous with his research, and uses real places that can be looked up on a map (albeit the stories are set in the 1600s, so you need old maps!)

I made the decision to use real locations for my Jan Christopher Mysteries as well. South Chingford Library, although no longer used as a library is still there, in Hall Lane. There’s the Old Church on Chingford Mount, The Ridgeway, King’s Head Hill …today, with the modern police station, although back in 1971, when A Mirror Murder is set, it was still a Victorian building. The only location I made up was the scene of crime, although an eager sleuth could probably work out the real road!

I made all my characters up and enjoyed ‘meeting’ them; Jan Christopher herself, her love interest, DC Laurie Walker, her uncle and guardian DCI Toby Christopher, and her Aunt Madge. Now that Book One is published, I am looking forward to discovering what adventures befall Jan and co in future episodes. Book Two is already under way A Mystery of Murder will be set in Devon, during Christmas 1971.

The events in A Mirror Murder, (apart from the actual murder!) are based on ‘job experience’. I have quite a store of anecdotes from those years of librarianship, some of them quirky, some hilarious. What I did find difficult was remembering back to the 1970s – it is only fifty years ago, but checking the facts over uncertain memory took quite a bit of work… and left me thinking, how on earth did we manage before mobile phones, computers, laptops and pizza deliveries!

A BRIEF EXCERPT: A Mirror Murder by Helen Hollick

A drizzly morning, but it was only a ten-minute walk to the police station, so, armed with an umbrella, I set off. Few people were about; the faithful were already in church, and for the rest, the pubs were not yet open.

     At the fire station, I dodged a puddle the size of a lake. Further on, King’s Head Hill was easy to cross at the traffic lights, even though there was another huge puddle beside a blocked drain.

Chingford police station had the appearance of a grand Victorian house, not a modern police premises, although there had been talk of pulling it down and rebuilding it for years. There had been two stables adjoining it back in the 1880s, the Victorian equivalent of a rapid response panda unit – horseback transport at the gallop. 

     Outside, a group of reporters were sheltering from the rain by huddling under the chestnut trees, plumes of cigarette smoke wafting above their heads. Several of them looking longingly at the still closed King’s Head pub. One or two glanced my way as I walked towards the police station, but dismissed me as inconsequential. I hid a smile: if only they knew I was the one who had found the body! A very small part of me was tempted to march over and tell them. My five minutes of fame! Then sense took hold and I kicked the idea out as a completely stupid one. I’d rather be famous, even for five minutes, for something much nicer, thank you very much. Like being the winner of the Booker-McConnell Prize, a world-acclaimed best seller or the writer behind a smash-hit TV series.

      I hurried into the police station as another burst of heavier rain poured from the iron grey sky, and was greeted by Sergeant Tanner. As I walked in, he waved his hand towards one of the chairs, gesturing for me to sit and wait while he dealt with the man haranguing him.

     “It isn’t good enough; I want something done!”

     Sergeant Tanner, I could see, was nearing the end of his tether.


Amazon Author Page http://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick

The first in a new series of cosy mysteries set in the 1970s… Will romance blossom between library assistant Jan Christopher and DC Laurie Walker – or will a brutal murder intervene?

Eighteen-year-old library assistant Jan Christopher’s life is to change on a rainy Friday evening in July 1971, when her legal guardian and uncle, DCI Toby Christopher, gives her a lift home after work. Driving the car, is her uncle’s new Detective Constable, Laurie Walker – and it is love at first sight for the young couple.

But romance is soon to take a back seat when a baby boy is taken from his pram,  a naked man is scaring young ladies in nearby Epping Forest, and an elderly lady is found, brutally murdered… Are the events related? How will they affect the staff and public of the local library where Jan works – and will a blossoming romance survive a police investigation into  murder?


Helen and her family moved from north-east London in January 2013 after finding an eighteenth-century North Devon farmhouse through BBC TV’s popular Escape To The Country show.

First accepted for publication by William Heinemann in 1993 – a week after her fortieth birthday – Helen then became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she also writes a pirate-based nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Talesand Life of A Smuggler. She also runs Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction. She is currently writing more Voyages for the Sea Witch series and the next in the Jan Christopher Mysteries series. She has other ideas for other tales – and would like the time to write them!


Website: www.helenhollick.net

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Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/helen.hollick

Twitter: @HelenHollick

Full throttle

Given my obvious love of things Czech, it is no surprise that my favourite piece of music is Czech, and I’ve just been listening to (and watching) a performance of Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass at the first night of the BBC Proms. And what a treat it was!

You don’t get many performances of this piece because it’s fiendishly difficult for anyone who isn’t a professional. It baffles me that tenors manage to survive a performance without bursting a blood vessel; they spend much of the evening singing fortissimo and there are a couple of wicked high Bs in the Creed, the first of them only the fourth note he has to sing. Tonight Ladislav Elgr nailed it, while I don’t think I’ve ever heard a soprano sing the piece better than Asmik Grigorian performed tonight. Add in some spirited conducting by the wonderful Karina Canellakis and it was music in which to luxuriate.

Let me add that the BBC Singers made a good fist of the text, which is a curious version of Old Church Slavonic with changes to some vowels and a gentle trashing of some of the grammar, as a result of which the average Westerner has trouble getting their tongue around some phrases.

All in all, a delight, and well worth seeking out on the BBC iPlayer or BBC Sounds app if the opportunity arises. Slonský has no interest in music but he would have been proud to think that a Czech composer’s music got such a reception as was given tonight. That calls for a beer or two.

Arduous research

I recently returned from a trip to Prague where I busied myself in libraries, archives and museums swotting up material for future Slonský adventures.

There may also have been the occasional glass of local hop-based product and a sausage or two.

It’s been a few years since I was last there and there have been some changes, but that’s one reason why the Slonský stories are set in 2006-2010 – I don’t have to try to keep up to date so long as I’m true to that time.

I had my notes for Slonský 6 with me and I also found a setting and opening for Slonský 7, which was an added (and unexpected) bonus.

Thanks to all those who have left reviews of my books. I live by word of mouth, so please keep telling your friends how good my books are until they weaken and buy their own.


Women in peril

Occasionally someone complains that young women are disproportionately the victims in crime fiction. I’ve never stopped to count, but it may well be so. In any event, it gave me pause to consider how I represent women in my books and do a quick body count.

It would obviously be unrealistic never to have young women as victims. At the time of writing one-third of my victims have been women. On the other hand, I hate the trope you see in movies which begins with the news that a violent stalker is in the neighbourhood, at which point one of the young women strips down to her underwear and walks past an uncurtained window.

This leads me to a couple of rules I have fashioned for myself. So far as possible, violence takes place off screen. It is discovered, rarely witnessed. And I try not to have the women do anything that contributes to what happens to them. They do not, for example, taunt men about their relationships or lack of them.

I think it’s also important that the police force contains some women detectives and that these women are clearly ordinary women with ordinary lives and dreams. Their male colleagues can be eccentric but I hope the women aren’t.

I can’t say that none of my female characters will ever decide to walk home drunk down a dark lane late at night, but I can promise that if it happens I will have thought long and hard about whether the story could develop in another way.

Book clubs, festivals, fairs and fun

I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to address a couple of book clubs. I hope those who attended enjoyed them; I certainly did, because I get to do most of the talking and it’s all about me, me, me.

Well, actually it isn’t. It’s about Slonský, who isn’t me. No, the books are in no way autobiographical. I share his partiality for beer and sausages, but that’s about where the resemblance ends.

Mercurius is a little more like me, or at least me as I was when I was his age; but I’m not a priest and I don’t teach (or know much about) moral philosophy.

Anyway, if you want me to give you an interview, blog, appearance or speak to your club, please ask. If I can fit it in I’d love to meet you. I manage my own diary, which is to say that I ask my wife what I’ve already promised to do and she puts me right.