A Timeless Celebration (Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries)
by Dianne Ascroft
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hello everyone. I’m Dianne Ascroft. I grew up in Toronto, Canada and moved to Britain more than a quarter of a century ago. I’ve been gradually downsizing from city to town to countryside until I’m now settled on a farm in rural Northern Ireland with my husband and an assortment of strong willed animals. I enjoy the outdoors so when the household chores are completed (my least favourite part of life) and I’m not writing, I go for long walks and also spend time with our pets. For many years, we had a pair of goats as companions until the last one died three years ago. Now our closest companions are a pair of cats. There’s not much difference really: the stubbornness and determination is just in a smaller package.
I wrote historical fiction, often with an Irish connection, for several years before veering off into cozy mysteries. A Timeless Celebration is my first cozy mystery novel and my first book set in my homeland. Writing a story set in Canada has been a nostalgic journey for me and I enjoyed every minute of it.
What are three things most people don’t know about you?
For approximately two decades, I played the Scottish bagpipes and loved playing and competing with a pipe band in parades and piping contests in Canada, Northern Ireland and Scotland. I’m the only right-handed person in my family. I’ve never dyed my hair.
What is the first book you remember reading?
Dick and Jane grade school readers. Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham also stands out vividly in my mind.
What are you reading now?
I always have a ‘stack’ of books waiting on my Kindle but the one I’m currently reading is The Moon Sister by Lucinda Riley. Every year I pre-order the next book in The Seven Sisters series and eagerly wait for it to be released.
What made you decide you want to write?
I’m an only child and my mother and grandfather were voracious readers so I learned to love reading early. I think it was a natural progression from reading to writing my own stories. I was also a prolific pen pal and, during my teen years, I regaled my penfriends with long accounts of my life in Toronto. The longest letter I ever penned was 64 pages long, written to a friend during the couple of days when I was recuperating after having my wisdom teeth removed.
In my early 30s I moved to Belfast and worked in the university bookshop for several years. Meeting local authors regularly, I began to wonder whether I could also write fiction. So when a short story I submitted to a writing contest on Belfast’s Downtown Radio was selected for broadcast, I was thrilled and this small success encouraged me to pursue my interest in writing. In hindsight, I know that the story needed polishing but it was my first ‘publication’ and I was delighted. Although I never let anyone listen to it, there is a cassette copy of the broadcast still buried somewhere in the bottom of a drawer at home. The story was about a piper experiencing stage fright. Since I wrote that first story I’ve always wanted to bring the pipe band world into my writing again. I did that in a small way in A Timeless Celebration as Lois, the main character, is a piper and is introduced to Fenwater’s pipe band.
Do you have a special place you like to write?
Where I write isn’t a place that would be my first choice – it’s just the place in our house where I can sit and work. I write at the dining room table, often with a cup of tea on the table beside me, and one of our cats draped across my knee (or sitting beside me tapping my leg with her paw). My husband is next door in the living room so, if he misses me, he can pop his head through the doorway to reassure himself that I’m still there. There’s a small window on the wall opposite and a patio door beside me so the room is bright and cheery. But, since they look out onto the side lawn and the farmyard respectively, the view doesn’t distract me – unless, of course, a hare hops through the farmyard and stops to glance around, or a cow escapes from a field and comes wandering over for a nosy at me through the patio door (both have really happened).
Do you write at the same time every day?
I wish I could. I like to write early in the morning. I’m always the first one up each morning so the house is quiet and there’s no distractions, other than the cats clamoring for their breakfast. In this atmosphere it’s easy to gather my thoughts and put them on paper before my mind gets filled with the other tasks that I have to tackle that day. But it’s not always possible to put my fingers to the keyboard before my daily tasks overtake me so often I have to scribble away whenever I get a few minutes. I set word count to meet each day but I don’t manage to write at a set time.
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
The ideas for my stories are sparked by incidents that happen to me, random thoughts that cross my mind and bits of trivia that catch my attention. I’ve found inspiration in many different places. My World War II historical fiction series was inspired by the area where I live in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. The county has a rich and varied wartime history and, after I moved to the area more than a decade ago and learned about this history, I became fascinated by it. I started rooting in books, original newspapers and personal accounts to learn about the era, and many of the ideas for my stories were sparked by snippets of information I stumbled across during my research.
But the seed that sowed my first cozy mystery was quite different – and took much less research. I don’t know where the idea came from, but one day I suddenly had a quirky idea for where a stolen watch could be hidden. Then I worked back from that idea to decide why the watch was important, where it was stolen from, and how and why my main character, Lois Stone, would search for it and get it back. That one random thought about where it might be possible to hide a stolen item got my imagination working and A Timeless Celebration was born.
What books have most inspired you?
There are loads of books that I could name, but an Irish author Jennifer Johnston’s Shadows On My Skin made a huge impact on me when it was first released in the late 1970s. The author’s ability to breathe life into characters and unveil a story in an understated way, as well as her skilful use of language, are wonderful skills that I aspire to emulate. I also admire Diana Gabaldon’s storytelling skill and her ability to interweave stories that unfold over several books. Both authors have taught me valuable lessons.
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?
Probably the most difficult aspect of the process for me is deciding what the theme of the story is and how the plot has to develop to reflect this. I spend time thinking about a new story and jot down my ideas before I begin to construct the plot. Once I have a list of ideas and information about the characters and the events in the story, I try to pull them together into a coherent plot. The theme then blends into the background but guides the development of the plot. As I pull the plot together, I check to be sure the story flows in a believable way and each character’s actions and the reasons behind them make sense. As I write the story I frequently refer back to my plot outline to be sure it is still on course.
What do you think makes a good story?
I think a story needs to be compelling, one that will matter to the characters and the reader. This doesn’t mean that it has to be a larger than life blockbuster that includes a huge cast of characters and many flashy settings. It can be set in a small place with characters that live relatively ordinary lives. But there must be a significant problem or conflict for them to solve, and events must drive relentlessly forward until the problem or conflict is resolved. As well as the underlying problem or conflict, the characters in the book need to touch readers’ hearts and make readers want to root for them.
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?
I know that Lois Stone, the main character in A Timeless Celebration, is very like me in many ways. After years of doing detailed historical research for my previous books, I decided that my first cozy mystery wouldn’t involve a huge amount of research. So as I wrote Lois, I deliberately used some of my own likes and dislikes to make her real. That made it very easy for me to bring her to life. Lois and I have had different experiences but there’s more of me in her than in any other character I’ve ever created.
Why did you pick your particular genre?
For the past few years I’ve written Second World War fiction, set in Northern Ireland. Then last summer, I decided to have a change of pace. I had an idea for a mystery series, Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries, and I knew a small town in Canada that would be the perfect setting for it. I think that part of the enjoyment of reading a cozy mystery is losing oneself in a pleasing setting. So I fictionalised the small town that I knew as Fenwater and my novel evolved from there. I wanted to create a place that beckons readers to step in and stay a while, and cozy mysteries allow me to explore the place as well as the mystery at the heart of the story.
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?
I would describe my cozy mystery stories as heartwarming with a hint of history. For me it’s important that the characters and place both appeal to the reader. I usually focus on characters that are people readers might meet and the kinds of places that everyone knows. The world of powerful corporations or the rich and famous isn’t for me. I don’t want to write larger than life places or people – just ones I hope readers will connect with. I want to warm readers’ hearts and put smiles on their faces. My mysteries have tension and drama, but perhaps in a more understated way than some books do.
Also, I guess it goes back to my beginnings as a historical fiction author, but I can’t help throwing historical elements into my stories. In A Timeless Celebration, it’s an artifact from the Titanic that is stolen. And in Out of Options, a novella that is almost ready to release, the story is set in a community divided over whether to continue to uphold their ‘dry’ status almost a century after the town voted to ban the sale of alcohol in the town. The story in Book 2 of the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries will feature a historic quilt as an important part of the plot.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
Since I’m convinced that the real town Fenwater is based on is the perfect place to set a cozy mystery, I want to write more stories set in my fictional version of it. So that’s my plan for the immediate future: to write the second book in the Century Cottage Mysteries series and the next one and the next one…Book 2 should be ready to release next summer or early autumn.
I’m also working on a prequel novella, set in 1983, in the last area of Toronto to still prohibit the sale of alcohol (continuing without a break from the days of Prohibition in the 1930s) to give readers a glimpse into Lois Stone’s life before she moved to Fenwater, and reveal what prompted her move to the small town. The novella, “Out of Options”, will be available this month. All of that will keep me busy for the foreseeable future.
Thank you, Dianne, for visiting today!
Now let me tell you about Dianne’s A Timeless Celebration.
About the Book
A Timeless Celebration (Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries)
1st in Series
Self Published (October 25, 2018)
Print Length: 245 pages
A small town, a big party, a stolen gift. When an artefact from the Titanic is stolen before her town’s 150th anniversary celebration, it’s up to Lois Stone to catch the thief.
Middle-aged widow Lois has moved from bustling Toronto to tranquil Fenwater and is settling into her new life away from the dangers of the city. Then two events happen that shatter her serenity: her house is burgled and an antique watch belonging to a Titanic survivor is stolen from the local museum. Her best friend, Marge, was responsible for the watch’s safekeeping until its official presentation to the museum at the town’s 150th anniversary party, and its disappearance will jeopardise her job and the museum’s future. Lois won’t let her friend take the blame and the consequences for the theft. She’s determined to find the watch in time to save her best friend’s job, the museum’s future and the town’s 150th anniversary celebration.
And so begins a week of new friends, apple and cinnamon muffins, calico cats, midnight intruders, shadowy caprine companions and more than one person with a reason to steal the watch, set against the backdrop of century houses on leafy residential streets, the swirling melodies of bagpipes, a shimmering heat haze and the burble of cool water.
Praise for A Timeless Celebration (Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries)
by Dianne Ascroft
The first thing I observed about the book was the writing. It is poetic and charming. I loved Ascroft’s storytelling style – unique and precise.
~The Book Decoder
. . . it is a heartwarming delight with really well-developed characters and such a beautiful setting.
~Mallory Heart’s Cozies
About the Author
Dianne Ascroft is a Torontonian who has settled in rural Northern Ireland. She and her husband live on a small farm with an assortment of strong-willed animals.
A Timeless Celebration is the first novel in the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series.
Her previous fiction works include The Yankee Years series of novels and short reads, set in Northern Ireland during the Second World War; An Unbidden Visitor (a tale inspired by Fermanagh’s famous Coonian ghost); Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves: A Collection of Short Stories (contemporary tales), and an historical novel, Hitler and Mars Bars, which explores Operation Shamrock, a little known Irish Red Cross humanitarian endeavour.
Dianne writes both fiction and non-fiction. Her articles and short stories have been printed in Canadian and Irish magazines and newspapers. When she’s not writing, she enjoys walks in the countryside, evenings in front of her open fireplace and folk and traditional music.
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