Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Word on the Street Toronto!

This promises to be so much fun!                                                                                                     

Toronto Sisters in Crime is participating in the 2019 Word on the Street Toronto thewordonthestreet.ca/toronto/festival/

I'm fortunate to be a member of SinC TorontoSistersinCrime.ca
So, I'm going to the Word on the Street Toronto Book and Magazine Festival on Sunday September 22.
I will be signing my books at the SinC booth between 10am and 11am and will be a volunteer at the booth from 11.30am until 1.30pm.

If you're a writer, I encourage you to join SinC. There will be information, books and more at the booth.
If you're a reader, member authors will have fabulous books available - mysteries of all sorts!

Hope to see you there! 
                                                                                               

Sunday, 1 September 2019

A Win At Last At Woodbine Racetrack!

                                         Dani's Victory having a bath in the spring of 2019.

As anyone who owns thoroughbred racehorses knows, it is a tough business.
So many things can go wrong with these finely-tuned athletes, both mentally and physically. Most of them love to run and some try too hard. Others don't want to race, and no-one can persuade them otherwise. They have to want to compete.
We racehorse owners can have long periods without a win.
But yesterday Dani's Victory, a horse that we own 50% of, came first across the finish line with jockey Daisuke Fukumoto. The jockey gave the horse an excellent ride and the horse did a great job.
We were thrilled to be in the Winner's Circle again.
And Dani's Victory is very pleased with himself. He enjoyed our visit this morning to congratulate him and the trainer, John Charalambous, as well as all of his barn staff. Dani's Victory loved the mints and carrots.
As readers know, I use my experience and knowledge of the thoroughbred horse-racing business, from an owner's point of view, in writing the Meg Sheppard Mystery Series.
I'm writing the fourth book in the series. The third will be launched in November.
If you haven't read the first two, here are the links: What Happened to Frank? and Over Frank's Dead Body

Here's the race:

Dani's Victory's win

Thursday, 15 August 2019

'Advantage': a story

This is a story I wrote to read at a meeting of the Uxbridge Writers' Circle uxbridgewriterscircle.blogspot.ca.
Each month, members write something that must include the words we chose during the previous meeting. This is a piece that I wrote for July and it touches on some issues about aging - something I feel passionately about. 
The words we selected are shown in italics.

I hope you enjoy it!   Please leave a comment.
Thank you. 


 Advantage

The view hadn’t changed from the evening before, except that the sun was in a different spot in the sky, which made the shadows shorter and more distinct. The trees were the same trees that Melanie had stared at for hours, weeks on end. She’d lost track of time. How long had she been in this godforsaken place? What day was it? The lilacs were over, the grass had been mown and the hostas were spreading their wings, so it must be well into spring. But she didn’t care. Nothing mattered any more.
            Her eyes caught movement on the driveway that led from the parking lot. There weren’t many visitors because this so-called retirement haven was stuck out on the country road that wound its way to the garbage dump.
As far as Melanie was concerned, she’d been dumped by her family. They’d insisted that it was for her own good. She’d be safe and have company. She’d much rather be living dangerously and alone.
            The young woman looked familiar. She approached the front door with a determined stride. Melanie couldn’t see her enter the building, but sensed that she was about to receive her first visitor.
            Penny stopped at the doorway into the quiet, still, ‘dying room’ as Melanie called it. The girl’s eyes widened in response to the older woman’s half-hearted wave. Melanie hadn’t seen her granddaughter for several months, but she knew that the girl had had her appendix out and been busy at university with exams afterwards.
Melanie used to be busy once.
            “Anybody’d think this was hallowed ground. They gave me the third degree. I thought I wasn’t going to be let in,” Penny said as she flopped down on the vinyl-covered sofa, unwound her long, stripy scarf and unzipped her backpack.
            “Hello,” Melanie said, not without tentativeness.
            Penny got up and gave Melanie an almost touchless hug as she made the gesture of kissing each of the old woman’s wrinkled cheeks.
            “I’m so sorry, Gran. I’m in a state. I’m here to ask for your help.”
            “You’ve been busy.” Melanie hoped the words didn’t convey the envy she felt.
            “I’m on some kind of hamster wheel and can’t get off, and then this happens.” She handed Melanie a newspaper clipping.
            “Student stabbed in locker room,” Melanie read out-loud. “Was he someone you knew?”
            “Brendan was a good friend. I really liked him.”
            “He was murdered?” Melanie asked, although the answer was obvious.
            “I can’t believe it. Who could want him dead? He was one of the good guys. He was even a bit of a hero in his community because he helped save the life of a little boy who’d fallen off a rock, or something, into the lake.”
            “Oh dear.” Melanie looked at Penny’s face with its smooth, flawless skin and clear, bright eyes. Gravity hadn’t yet wreaked its havoc on her granddaughter’s looks, and her skin still had elasticity. Melanie couldn’t remember what she’d looked like when she’d been Penny’s age.
            “Dad says I need to forget the whole thing and not get involved,” Penny said as she opened her lap-top.
            “I see. So, what are you going to do?”
            “Not just me. We are going to solve this. The police have no idea what happened. Nobody’ll talk to them. But, in any case, there weren’t any witnesses, or at least no-one will own up to being there.”
            “What do you mean by ‘we’?”
            “You and me. You were the best sleuth ever. I want the Melanie Butler advantage on my side.”
            “Melanie Butler Investigations closed down several years ago, remember?”
            “I don’t care. You’re still Melanie Butler. There’s nothing wrong with your brain. Just because you have arthritis and Grandad died doesn’t mean you can’t do stuff.”
            Melanie smiled for the first time in over a year.
            “But I’m stuck in this place,” Melanie said, as her mouth sagged back to its usual droopy position.
            “We can work from here. This can be our office, and I’ve borrowed Dad’s fancy SUV for the summer. He’s off to China tomorrow, something to do with trade, and he said I could use it. You’ll be able to get in and out of it, no problem. Aren’t you supposed to keep moving?”
            “Yes. Yes, I should.”
            Melanie dared to feel a little hope, a glimmer of light in her life, as Penny handed her some papers and showed her pictures on her lap-top. Something to think about. Something to do. Something to live for.
            Melanie and Penny became an inseparable team, interviewing students, lecturers, custodians, security staff and others. Melanie’s walking improved and her brain felt as if it was running on higher octane fuel. Her appetite returned.
            She regained some of her lost dignity.
            “Why don’t you move out of this depressing place?” Penny asked one day, right in the middle of an intense discussion they were having about their three prime suspects.
            “I’d love to get out of here. But I feel stuck.”
            “There’s a condo available in town. Do you want to look at it? I’d be willing to share, if you are. Dad wouldn’t be able to object.”
            Strange droplets of water gathered in Melanie’s eyes.
            “I’d absolutely love to look at it.”
            That’s how Melanie and Penny Butler started M and P Advantage Investigation Services. And the first case they cracked was Brendan’s murder. Melanie’s persistent questioning of one of Brendan’s flat-mates uncovered the typical story of a jealous lover whose girlfriend decided she’d rather go out with Brendan. So, the murderer thought that the solution was to get rid of Brendan, and then he’d get his girlfriend back. It didn’t work out as planned, but it rarely does.
            Melanie couldn’t help but feel a disturbing sense of gratitude to this young man. After all, if he hadn’t murdered Brendan, she wouldn’t have got her life back.
             
Vicky Earle Copyright 2019

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Rainbow Sheep: A new very short story


I wrote this story in ten minutes during a recent meeting of the Uxbridge Writers' Circle. I used the 'prompt' of a bookmark decorated with pictures of rainbow-coloured sheep. No time for editing!

Gordie couldn't bear it. He heard his father talking on his smart phone, arranging for the shearers to come the following week. Gordie's stomach lurched as images of struggling sheep and the noise of electric shears pummeled his senses. It wasn't fair. It was bad enough that the mothers had lost their lambs. Instinctively, he knew better than to ask what happened to these cute, playful balls of soft fuzz. He didn't want to know, because he knew there'd be nothing he could do about it. But, this was the last straw - taking the sheep's coats off without their agreement, despite their obvious protests.
     He lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling. Surely he could do something about this. He gaze absent-mindedly at the rainbow he'd painted on the ceiling. He loved the optimism of the rainbow with its promise of a pot of gold at its end. That's when he got the idea.
     He rounded up all the spray cans of paint he could find - in the basement, the garage and the barns. He didn't have quite a full array of the colours of the rainbow, but pretty close. And when the sheep were in the barn at night, he crept down the stairs and reclaimed the cans. He was careful to shake the rattly things out of earshot of the sheep, and then, very slowly and calmly, sprayed all of them with each colour.
     This is bound to stop them, he thought. Rainbow sheep - who's going to want rainbow wool?
     His father was livid, but the upshot was he got out of the sheep rearing business and turned to potato farming instead. And from that day on, his father showed more respect for his son.

Vicky Earle Copyright 2019

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Story About Optimism and Horse-racing!



Every month at our Uxbridge Writers' Circle meeting, we members read a piece that we've written that incorporates words we selected the previous month.
The words are shown in italics in my story below.



I and my husband are breeders and owners of thoroughbred racehorses. (The picture is of a racehorse we part-own).
This story of fiction uses some of my experience of this "world".



Optimism


I’m pretty sure that I’m not making the same mistake twice as I move into this farm.
            The barn has ten well-constructed stalls with oak walls and rubber matting, as well as a window in each, with the necessary bars for the horse’s protection. The small farmhouse has brick walls, gingerbread trim and a cold, damp, stone-walled cellar. A lot of restoration and upgrading is called for. When I first looked around, I knew that I’d never be able to keep the place warm. There’s a vintage wood-burning stove in the kitchen, and that’s it. It would be warmer sleeping in the relatively well-insulated barn with the horses until the place is renovated.
            The barn is what drew me to the property and compelled me to make a submission to the owner. It was like an interview process. The old man reserved the right to refuse anyone he thought wouldn’t respect the land and the buildings. He was an avid horseman, he told me, but had to sell his beloved mares when he fell ill about five years ago, and now he had to leave. There was no family to give it to. He wanted someone to be a caretaker, a custodian of his beloved home of over sixty years.
            Despite recent events, I wondered if I was headed for more heartbreak and disappointment when I shook his hand and agreed to his conditions.
            My passion is thoroughbred horse-racing and breeding. Those of you who’ve had any experience with it would have guessed most of what I’m about to tell you, but not all.
It started when my relationship with Sally ended. I purchased a modest farm with lush fields and stately maples that guarded its frontage and entrance. This was to be the realization of my vision. As a young boy, I yearned to live in the country and have racehorses, just like my grandfather. I did my research and bought mares and yearlings at the sale that had great potential for breeding and racing.
I had nothing but bad luck, or so I thought.
Two mares lost their foals early in their pregnancy, two other mares proved impossible to get in foal, and the fifth was found to have a large glass marble inserted into her uterus. This is sometimes used as a way to reduce the symptoms of heat during the racing season, but also prevents conception.
The three young ones didn’t make it to the races. They suffered repeated episodes of colic, skin diseases, coughs, foot issues, eye infections and so on. In brief, they were unwell most of the time.
We thoroughbred racehorse owners and breeders learn to live with disappointment. The few highs we get, have to carry us a long way. Only optimists can survive.
At first, I accepted all that happened as bad luck. But as the stress crept up on me and consumed me, and my optimism wavered, I imagined ghosts, curses and other menaces invading my farm to destroy my hopes and dreams. I got sick, lost my job and consequently sold everything.
With my dreams shattered, and my self-esteem at rock-bottom, I knew I had no hope of securing another job, so I became a day-trader on the encouragement of a buddy of mine. I had a bit of luck almost as soon as I started, and built on it. But one day, as I stared at the computer screen with its graphs, data and talking heads, I thought of Sally.
This part of the story is long, so I’ll cut it to a bare minimum. I hired a top-notch private investigator and she infiltrated Sally’s circle of friends with ease. The golf course, the gym, the book club.
The PI told me that she found Sally to be a bitter, vindictive woman who must not be crossed and needed to be in control. She couldn’t help herself and asked me how on earth I got into a relationship with a woman like Sally. She said you only have to look into those cold, steel-grey eyes to see the iciness inside.
But it wasn’t long before the PI got close enough to Sally to share stories about past relationships. (I made the mistake of ending my relationship with Sally abruptly, on her birthday).
My hunch was right. Sally had sabotaged my life. She didn’t hold back as she told the PI how she’d contaminated the horses’ feed, poisoned the water troughs, infected the grooming brushes and done many other heinous, harmful things.
The PI was astounded, horrified and distraught that anyone could hurt beautiful, innocent horses, as she put it. I was relieved that there had been no ghosts or curses and thanked my lucky stars that Sally hadn’t burned the barn down with the horses in it.
I told the PI that I wasn’t going to report it.
She said she would take the case to the SPCA and that it was out of my hands. I gave her the vet bills, the specialist assessments, copies of x-rays and ultrasounds.
The upshot of all of this, is that Sally’s serving six months in jail for animal cruelty, starting yesterday, and I’m moving into my new farm today. And the PI is moving in tomorrow.
The horses arrive next week. I can afford first-rate security systems and I’m using them. No horse is going to suffer again, through human interference, on my watch.
We’ll soon be able to sit on the verandah and gaze at the horses. And, with a glass of wine each, we’ll toast our future in the horse-racing business.  
Queen’s Plate, here we come!

Vicky Earle Copyright 2019

           

Friday, 10 May 2019

Grandpa and WW1


I have just finished reading Vimy by Ted Barris, and his detailed and thoughtful description of what the soldiers endured brought back the little I know about my mother's father. Here is the only picture I have of him, and it was taken in Canada which is strange... 


The following story is based on research my sister and I have undertaken about our grandfather.
The setting of the interview with the writer is fictional.
I’d like to thank my sister for her assistance in providing information that helped me in writing this piece.

Some words are in italics - this is because I used this piece as my word challenge story - the Uxbridge Writers' Circle members' stories each incorporated these words. 

More Questions Than Answers

He wouldn’t talk to me. He wouldn’t tell me anything about the war. It wasn’t until a writer came to meet my grandfather, while he visited from England, that I was able to convince him to share some of his story. The writer interviewed veterans who had served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the First World War. For some inexplicable reason, my grandfather became enraptured by this stranger, but still didn’t give away much of his past.
            I waited for him to dismiss me from the room, but he appeared to be oblivious of my presence. I sat in a chair in the corner, a little behind him, and waited to soak up his secrets like a sponge.
The first question I had was what was he doing in Canada in 1916? He wasn’t asked so I didn’t find out and I still haven’t to this day.
The writer asked why he had joined the army. Yes, he’d heard some stories about the horrors of the war, but he had a duty to do his part. Couldn’t let those Germans take over the world.
I could imagine the twinkle in his grey eyes as he told the writer that he was part of the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles. His shoulders straightened when he said that he was a horseman first and foremost. He squared those shoulders when asked about his experience with horses, and explained that he was an expert in horse care, you see, as well as a proficient equestrian. Why, he’d been a jockey in Vancouver.
He lived in Courtenay, BC at the time of enlistment. No, he wasn’t a Canadian Citizen. He was born in Oxford, England.
I know he had a daughter in England and on his attestation paper he states he is married – to his first wife who I’d thought died years before. He lies about his age in order to be accepted into the BC Bantams as they were known. He was 43, but, on the form, he claims he’s 36. He was only five-feet tall, and hadn’t met height criteria to enlist, but the creation of the 143rd Battalion with their lower height requirements, provided the opportunity. He told the writer none of this, however.
He said that even though he was older than nearly all of the recruits, and short, he was fit and strong because of the physical work he did. He didn’t elaborate, but my mother said he worked at lumber camps primarily caring for the horses.
He folded his arms and said that the training camp was tough but fun too. And he was glad of all that he learned once he finally arrived in France. He knew how to lay railway tracks, dig trenches, excavate tunnels, load ammunition, carry heavy loads and cool the big artillery with water. He was disappointed that he ended up with the infantry. He missed working with horses. But the regular rum ration always felt good and gave him a boost.
The writer asked what he liked least about the war – was it the killing? He fidgeted and looked out of the window. I thought he would be too disturbed to answer, but he turned back to face the writer. No, it was seeing his mates trudging up the hill in muck and slime, as if they were under the spell of a pied piper, who led them to their death or worse. And trying not to look at these brave boys, as they lay in shell holes, blown to pieces. And hearing the injured cry out in pain, their screams piercing the roar and thunder of the guns.
Tears welled up in my eyes. I thought I’d choke. But the writer continued with no emotion in his voice. After all, he’d heard it all before.
Did he get injured? Yes. He got hit by mustard gas. A yellow-green cloud descended like an evil menace. He said he had to take off his fogged-up gas mask to load the big gun. He grabbed the arms of his chair and coughed. He mumbled something about pain, the sensation of burning as if his insides were suffering a sudden severe drought, and later enormous blisters on his arms and left side. But his eyes got better.
My mother had mentioned skin grafts when I asked about Grandpa’s paler patches of skin. He’d got burned, was all that she would say. I don’t know how extensive the skin grafts were and I’m not sure if I could tell them apart from scars left by the blisters, even if I’d had the opportunity to study them. I’ve found out that the gas would settle like an oily liquid, and seep through uniforms. Not usually fatal, but extremely painful and debilitating.
After he was injured, he returned to the South Camp at Seaford in England, but he wouldn’t say anything about where or how he was treated for his exposure to mustard gas. He jumped to 1919 when he was married for the second time, this time to a first cousin, Alice. I had been told that they were second cousins. I stifled a gasp. He and Alice were the parents of my mother.
The marriage certificate, a copy of which I saw later, stated that his profession was Sergeant, but there is no record of his promotion in the Canadian Expeditionary Force data base.
I was surprised that he shared his marriage to his first cousin with the stranger, but he made no mention of his daughter. I don’t know where his daughter was during his training in BC and in England, or during his deployment overseas, and his rehabilitation.
As if the sharing of his experience at the front had exhausted him, my grandfather wouldn’t give the writer any additional material for his book.
At the time, I’d done no research into my family history, and only knew what my mother had told me, which I’ve since learned is not accurate. Who told the untruths, I don’t know.
The writer used none of my grandfather’s story in his book, but in the meantime, my sister and I have done some research, which, so far, has raised more questions than answers.  He died at the incredible age of 84 without revealing any more of his past.


Friday, 26 April 2019

Sisters in Crime!


Although I've been a writer of cozy mysteries for a few years, I only recently heard of "Sisters in Crime".  So I thought I would share this discovery!

"Sisters in Crime" SinC is not what  you might assume it to be: it is an organization comprised of "authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers, and librarians bound by our passion for the mystery genre and our support of women who write crime fiction".

While the organization is based in the US, there is a Toronto Chapter that holds monthly meetings. I have been to two - and they were both worth the drive from Uxbridge to Yonge and Eglinton. In the most recent meeting, the panel members were Maureen Jennings (of Murdoch Mysteries fame) as well as Desmond Ryan, Lisa De Nikolitis, Mary Lou Dickinson and Sharon Crawford. In the earlier meeting I attended, Jack David, ECW Press, made a presentation providing useful insight into the publishing of mysteries/thrillers.

I participated in a SinC webinar, available free to members, the other day which was offered by Tiffany Yates Martin, FoxPrint Editorial - "The 10 Biggest Mistakes Writers Make". It covered plot versus story, character, suspense, tension, and much more. Tiffany stated that every single scene must move the story forward.

Also, SinC issue a great newsletter!

If you are a fellow author of mysteries (males are welcome as well, by the way) I recommend that  you consider membership in Sisters in Crime. While there is a fee for belonging to SinC National and for joining SinC Toronto Chapter SinC Toronto , my current assessment is that these are sound investments.
I'll keep you posted on how this works for me!