Several of my readers have asked me where some of the plot ideas came from – well I am trying to put the most frequent questions and answers onto the FAQ page but I thought that perhaps Deadly Shades of Grey, as the first book, needed a little more space.
In 1993 we had been living in Spain for four years, having owned the villa for seven. I was busy painting and helping my husband to produce a magazine for the rapidly growing Computer Club over which he presided. We were active in several associations and I ended up ghost-writing articles and editing several newsletters on a lot of diverse subjects. For relaxation, I joined the local Book Circle where we discussed published fiction and, in passing after the meetings, our own work – past and present. I soon began to realise how lucky I was that there were so many published writers in our small expatriate community. Among those known to me personally were Melanie Pflaum, Sylvia Schofield (Max Mundy), Jay Blakeney (Anne Weale), Charlene Quince and Lena Whitely and all were very encouraging to anyone who expressed an interest in writing.
So it is hardly surprising that I started sorting through my old manuscripts and short stories. Very few had ever been submitted anywhere. One, entered for an international competition, had been published and awarded a prize… and another was short-listed in ‘Writers News’, but on the whole I’d had no time to spare from painting, or been too busy writing for other people. I just hadn’t done anything with them.
While sorting out the short stories and filing them into genres, I realised that many fell into the area of the supernatural, of death and mystery. I pondered over how these disparate threads could be pulled together – what common factors (that I knew well) could knot these stories into a cohesive whole. I considered my own life, the various places and people that being an artist has allowed me to see, meet and discover. I recalled my mother’s experiences as a spiritualist (and very reluctant medium), her wise words as she tried to teach me self-reliance, and her pragmatic approach to life (and death). When I brought my own daughter’s strength of character and attitudes into the equation, I realised that an amalgamation of these very real people gave me a strong foundation for the characters and lives of Sarah Grey and her daughter Clarrie.
Before very long, the first draft of Deadly Shades was constructed – primarily to entertain my own family. I was enjoying myself so much that I just kept writing on and on, without really considering what a publisher would want! When I found that my finished novel was over 240,000 words, I realised that it was far too long to be acceptable from a previously unpublished author. All was not lost however; I decided to split it into three. Of course, each part needed to stand alone and it was challenging but also satisfying to replace one book with three!
I neither expected nor asked any of my friendly authors to read anything I’d written but when Lena, who wrote many magazine articles, volunteered to read some of my stories and promised to criticise them honestly, I was delighted, especially when she afterwards declared that I should write books. She was astonished to discover that I had already written three and immediately wanted to read one. Within a week or so Lena had read them all and her only criticism was of the titles! So ‘Shades of Grey’ became ‘Deadly Shades …’, ‘The Wrong Shade…’ became ‘A Poisonous Shade…’ and ‘Strange Shades…’ is now ‘Grey Masque of Death’. It was difficult for her to understand how I could have written so much without trying to find a publisher. Other people have also asked – including Sylvia Schofield.
I met Sylvia while out shopping a few days after Lena had returned book 3 and she greeted me, “Mai, I thought you were just an artist – now Lena tells me you are a born writer. When can I read one of your books?” The day after it was delivered at teatime by a mutual friend, Sylvia sent me a note to say that she had started reading it after her guest departed and hadn’t been able to put it down without finishing it at 3am. She ended by asking for the other two. Her only criticism was minor. She advised me to proof read them again to eliminate a few typos.
However, it was many years and several thorough polishings later that I finally decided to submit the first manuscript, ‘Deadly Shades of Grey’ to a publisher… Since then it has been a roller-coaster ride with the ups far out-weighing the downs!
As a footnote, I must stress that although Sarah and Clarrie, who have developed into such complex characters, are entirely fictional, I hope readers can see resonances of personal experience in some of the less sensational manifestations in my books. Murder mysteries have to be sensational and sometimes horrific but I continually remind myself that none of the characters should experience anything that, through my own close contact with a psychic, I do not feel is possible. One of the continuing mysteries of life is death; one day we will all know the answer (or not!) …