Myra’s second Alison Cameron novel set on the lovely Scottish island of Bute, Last Ferry to Bute, is a truly absorbing mystery, with enough twists and turns to satisfy any reader of cosy crime and mystery. I particularly enjoyed the fact that protagonist, Alison, is an ordinary wife and mother who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It also brought back memories of wonderful family holidays on Bute.
Last Ferry to Bute
When her mother’s friend, Jessie, expresses some concerns about her safety in the exclusive Hereuse Nursing Home where she now lives, Alison reluctantly agrees to investigate. She also is persuaded into helping with the arrangements for her college reunion on the island, resulting in frequent trips to Bute.
Then the mysterious deaths begin and Alison is soon caught in the middle of several strange occurrences. Between trying to discover if Jessie’s worries have any foundation in fact, and concerns over the smooth antiques dealer with whom her besotted daughter is working, Alison is soon out of her depth. Then she is confronted with some mysterious deaths. Can she find out the answer to her questions before she too is in danger?
Myra kindly agreed to answer the following questions
You also write short stories and non-fiction, Myra - which do you prefer and why?
I’ve always enjoyed writing non-fiction because it comes from personal experience and I feel confident about my areas of expertise. The non-fiction I’ve written to date draws on my experience of initially managing a section within a large organisation, then latterly managing a small organisation and dealing with the problems that can arise from limited resources and both paid and voluntary staff. I hope to write an updated non-fiction management handbook for small organisations at some stage.
In recent years I’ve concentrated on fiction. I’ve always written fiction, but mostly for my own interest rather than with a view to publishing, though winning a number of prizes over the years has been very encouraging. Short stories tend to come to me almost fully formed - a sudden idea - and I like to write character based short stories with a sting in the tale. But mostly I prefer to write novels, though they are more difficult and more time consuming, of course. Over the length of the novel you have time to develop both character and plot. My Bute novels feature the same main character, Alison Cameron and I’m getting very well acquainted with her.
Do your management skills help you to organise your writing time?
I would love to say - absolutely! However, it’s not quite as easy as that. Managing characters in a novel is even more difficult than managing people in real life, though in theory you should have much more control. But the discipline of management has helped me in planning and keeping to a plan. For example, I set myself the task of writing 50,000 words in a month for the Write a Novel in a month initiative last November (NaNoWriMo) and I did complete it, though by the end I was writing some 6,000 words a day. Probably that would fall into the category of ‘Just in Time’ management!
Why did you choose to write 'cosy crime'?
The main interest for me in any crime is the puzzle - who did it and why. I suppose this springs from the development of the characters and I like to keep the reader guessing as long as possible, though there are plenty of clues in the novel.
Bute is an ideal place to set such stories. It’s a small island off the West coast of Scotland with a population of no more than 6,000 people, except in the summer when the population is swelled by many visitors. This gives me all the benefits of a location that has strong associations for people in the West of Scotland (many of whom spent childhood holidays on Bute) and indeed with the many people of Scottish descent throughout the world. It allows me to focus in on the characters and use a kind of shorthand for the locations. And in a small place you have lots of opportunities for local gossip and intrigues to help move the plot along! I prefer not to write about violent crime, as I write the kind of books I like to read.
How do the islanders feel about your Alison Cameron mysteries being set on Bute?
Some of them are rather bemused, I think. But everyone has been very supportive, very helpful. And I do know a number of people living on the mainland, having read the books, decided to take a trip to the island. So I suppose I’m doing my bit for island tourism, though I am very careful to have a large disclaimer about the characters not being based on anyone I know. I do use real locations, but often change details for purposes of the plot.
I must add that the island isn’t the hotbed of crime that my novels suggest. In fact there is very little crime and it is a beautiful place with lots of unspoiled beaches and excellent walking, including the West Island Way. A lot of money is being spent on upgrading facilities, including the Art Deco Rothesay Pavilion which features strongly in the next book.
Do you have a favourite writing place?
I write in the attic, which isn’t nearly as Spartan as it sounds! I have a PC facing a blank wall to avoid distractions. But I can write anywhere and often write some of my novel on the ferry to Bute.
What are you working on now?
My current novel, the work-in-progress, is for the moment called Last Dance at the Rothesay Pavilion and the plot centres on the renovation of the Pavilion. During the last war Bute (especially Rothesay) was a very busy place as many army and navy personnel, including some from Canada, were stationed there and there is a fund of stories about what went on. Ettrick Bay, for example was used as a practice run for the D-Day landings. I’m weaving some of this history into the novel and I hope the twist will please readers.
Any tips for new writers?
Join a writers’ group! There’s no doubt in my mind that joining Erskine Writers a few years ago was just the impetus I needed to take my fiction writing seriously. Everyone has been so supportive, I’ve learned lots and the opportunities to enter competitions and receive advice from the judges have given me exactly the kind of help I needed. Writing can be a very solitary business and apart from the opportunities to develop your skills, a writing group offers a great social focus.
Thanks for those great answers, Myra, and for being my guest today! All the best with your novels.
Last Ferry to Bute is available from Amazon (UK), in print, and at the special e-book price of £1.99 for a limited period. Also available from Amazon (US). The previous Alison Cameron mystery on Bute, The House at Ettrick Bay, is also available from Amazon.
You can pop over to Myra’s blog to read a little about Bute and perhaps hear what Last Ferry to Bute protagonist Alison Cameron has to say for herself.
A graduate of the University of Glasgow, Myra Duffy’s early career was in Education, with teaching posts (secondary and Further Education) in London, Madrid and Glasgow. She then held further posts in Educational management, finally as Director of the Scottish Wider Access Programme (West).
Myra has written in a variety of genres since early childhood and still possesses a copy of her earliest novel, Jewels in the Snow, written at Primary school. She also wrote plays and on Friday afternoons the teacher allowed her to recruit classmates to act them out, or sometimes they were performed with glove puppets, a much loved Christmas present. Her first real success was winning a national writing competition at the age of thirteen. She continued to write and be published in local magazines during her schooldays and wrote short plays, performed at the local church.
Because of her background in management, she is a well established non-fiction author, specialising in educational articles and in management training handbooks for small organisations. Recently she’s had the opportunity to devote more time to her first love – fiction. Myra has been a prize-winner in a number of competitions run by Erskine Writers, of which she is currently President and also had some success in the competitions of the Scottish Association of Writers (at their annual conference). A number of short stories have been in publications such as My Weekly and the Ireland’s Own anthology.
Myra’s preference is for writing novels and to date these comprise When Old Ghosts Meet (published 2009), and the first of the Bute novels The House at Ettrick Bay (published 2010). Her latest novel, Last Ferry to Bute (published 2011), is also set on the Isle of Bute. Both Bute novels have the same protagonist - Alison Cameron, an ordinary woman who finds herself involved in extraordinary events.
The work in progress is provisionally titled Last Dance at the Rothesay Pavilion but Myra says she “is struggling with a bearded man who keeps appearing and I’m not quite sure what he intends to do!”