Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Dianne Ascroft to the blog!
Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
Hello everyone. I’m Dianne Ascroft. I grew up in Toronto, Canada and moved to Britain almost three decades 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 four years ago. Now our closest companions are a pair of tortoiseshell (calico) cats. There’s not much difference really: the stubbornness and determination is just in a smaller package.
I began my writing career writing historical fiction, often with an Irish connection. After several years I veered off into writing cozy mysteries though I do still write historical fiction too. The Century Cottage Cozy Mystery series is set in Canada, my homeland. Writing a series set in Canada is a nostalgic journey for me and I enjoy every minute of it.
Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries feature heartwarming stories set in a fictional small town in rural Canada. The main character, middle-aged widow Lois Stone, has moved from the big city and is trying to adjust to life on her own in an historic “century cottage” with her two calico cats. As she settles into her new life, her tranquility is often rocked by adventures and mysteries that she can’t ignore. Out of Options is a prequel novella to the series that gives readers a glimpse into Lois’s life in Toronto before she moved to Fenwater, the fictional small town where the rest of the series is set.
Tell us about any pets you have in your books. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names?
My main character, Lois Stone, has two tortoiseshell or calico cats, Ribbons and Raggs, who share her home. They are loyal companions and, although they don’t talk or communicate directly with Lois or the reader, we have the sense that they are more perceptive than the average cat. Raggs likes her comforts and prefers sleeping and eating to most other activities but Ribbons is especially protective towards Lois and helps her any way she can to solve mysteries. The cats are only mentioned in Out of Options and make their first actual appearance in the first novel in the series, A Timeless Celebration. They will appear regularly in the rest of the books in the series.
The two cats are based on my own two tortoiseshell cats, Snooks and Rocky. And the images of the cats on the covers of the books in the series are actually images of my own two cats. The ‘real’ cats live with us on our farm and keep a close eye on me, especially at meal times.
What are you reading now?
I just finished A Twist in the Tale, the first book in Leighann Dobb’s latest cozy mystery series, Oyster Cove Guesthouse Mysteries. I also love her Mystic Notch series. In both series, the cats know much more than their owners could ever imagine and the mysteries could not be solved without them.
I’ve also just read No Stone Unturned by Pam Lecky, an historical mystery set in nineteenth century London. It’s the first novel in the Lucy Lawrence Mystery series and I found it a gripping story from beginning to end. This is another series that I will continue to read as new novels become available.
What writing projects are you currently working on?
The Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series is my focus for the foreseeable future. Since I’m convinced that the real place my fictional 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 complete the second book in the Century Cottage Mysteries series and then write the next one and the next one…Book 2 should be ready to release this autumn. It’s a tale that revolves around the theft of a very important town heirloom from the fall fair just before the item is to be raffled for charity.
How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?
As I mentioned earlier, Lois Stone’s two calico cats are recurring characters in the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series. The books are set in a small town in Canada and as Lois explores her new life there she frequently encounters new adventures and mysteries to solve. Lois thinks she is doing the investigating but she would miss half the clues without the help of her cats– especially Ribbons. Raggs can be rather lazy at times and prefers napping to sleuthing. But when Ribbons meows there’s always a good reason. She makes her wants known as well as helping Lois when she misses clues. But she draws the line at talking. If Lois and her friends can’t learn her language, she doesn’t intend to speak theirs.
What’s your favorite book that had an animal as a central character? Why?
I’ve always loved the original Lassie Come Home children’s novel by Eric Knight. The television series, Lassie, was set in the United States but the original book was set in England. I first read it as a child and fell in love with the story. It’s set in a Yorkshire mining village and honestly portrays the hardships of life for families in the area and the bond between the boy and his dog. I love heartwarming stories that are uplifting, and also those that portray close bonds between people and animals, and I try to create a similar atmosphere in my own books.
When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know?
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 pen friends 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. So I’ve communicated through writing most of my life.
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 that made me a writer. 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 in the novel.
What do your pets do when you are writing?
Anything they please…They tend to go about their regular routines and ignore me when I’m writing. They either sleep or go out for a wander around our farm. When it’s getting near lunch time they come into the room where I’m working and meow until I stop writing and get them a snack. They refuse to wait until I take a break to make lunch to ask for their snack. They come and demand it when they think it’s time to eat.
Snooks will sometimes lie on my knee in the evening as I work at the computer but most of the time she ignores me when I’m writing. Rocky doesn’t like to sit on my knee at the computer but she will lie on the floor beside my chair as close as she can get when she wants company. Then it’s easy for me to lean over and pat her while I work.
Where is your favorite place to write? Why?
Where I write isn’t actually the place that would be my first choice – it’s just the spot in our house where I can sit and work most conveniently. I sit at the dining room table, often with a cup of tea on the table beside me, and Snooks possibly 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 the windows 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, or a pine martin scurries through the yard and inspects the walls of the buildings before he climbs onto the shed roof and disappears into the farmyard behind (all of these things have really happened).
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
Learn the basics of the writing craft and keep learning throughout your career.
Don’t be afraid to put words down on paper or screen – you will edit and improve them later.
Know that a second pair of eyes is a necessity – always have your work edited by someone who has the skills to do so.
Dianne Ascroft is a Canadian who has settled in rural Northern Ireland. She and her husband live on a small farm with an assortment of strong-willed animals.
She is currently writing the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series. Out of Options is a prequel to the 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.
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