#nanowrimo the Princely Papers

A carriage during a pre-dawn military dress rehearsal for the royal wedding, London

I’ve been very quiet on the blog these past few weeks because it’s November. For the last five years, I’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month, which involves writing 1666 words a day for the entire month.

Some people write many more than that. For me, 10 pages every 24 hours is a lofty enough goal. If you stay on track you get to 50,000 words by the end of the month.

I’m happy to share this exceprt from this year’s work in progress, The Princely Papers. I wanted to explore an idea that’s lingered with me for a few years: what if someone in a royal family wanted out of that family but couldn’t leave?

This is a major a departure from the crime series or romance plots of years past which makes it all the more fun.

Have a read below and let me know what you think!

Hundreds of people, several lines deep, pressed along the carriageway. The crowd’s roar of approval vibrated the glass carriage. “Oh.” She sank against the cushions. Watching the video of her parents’ marriage was one thing. Experiencing the adulation in person, knowing the masses were now trained you, was another. As far the eye could see the red, white and blue of the Union Jack fluttered from lamp posts and in people’s hands.

True Love Does Exist read a life size poster with a reprint of their engagement photo. You’re Beautiful and Your Prince is Charming boasted another. She drew back from two people hanging over the barricades, their faces masked by cardboard cutout likenesses of herself and Thomas. “Oh my goodness.” She rubbed at her upper lip. For a woman sheltered from the press since her mother’s death, Torie cringed from the attention. She didn’t have the peacock gene. Her mother passed that on to Albert exclusively. Torie had to look elsewhere for a role model in dealing with the public. She spied her grandmother’s carriage, moving several hundred paces ahead of them.

George squeezed her knee. “You look lovely.” He brought her attention away from the crowds, who called to them from either side.

Torie grabbed at those fingers. “Yes?” His bony hand lay limp in her grasp. More brown spots dotted it, disappearing under his jacket sleeve.

“Smile.” With his other hand, George waved to the hundreds of well-wishers on his side of the carriage. “Wave.”

“Yes Father.” Torie waved, a smile stretching from ear to ear. She waved as they practiced in the rehearsal. I’ve done this before. For Granny’s Jubilee celebrations. The reminders did nothing to soothe her tumultuous thoughts. Her heart cried out for Thomas. His texts that morning came in a flurry. Gifs of vows gone wrong – brides falling into water, animals grabbing at bridal veils, children running off with the rings. She laughed so hard at the last, tears forming that the makeup artist warned her she would have to start over because of smudges. A few minutes more she reminded herself. Nearly there. The carriage rumbled to a halt. She gathered her dress into her hands, leaning forward to exit.

His arm shot out to keep her in place like a steel bar.  “Not yet,” her father said. The words dropped from the corner of his mouth, as when they were children misbehaving on the sidelines during polo matches. “The next one is St. Paul’s.”

Torie collapsed backward, leaning into his arm. “Oh my God. I can’t do this.”

George peered at her through the veil. “Are you alright?”

Torie shook her head. “Water?”

He passed her a bottle, which she drank from greedily out of sight behind the side panel of the carriage.

“This was your choice,” George said. “Why the nerves?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” She tossed the bottle between their feet. “Hundreds of millions tuned in from around the world,” she said in her poshest accent. “This is the BCC, bringing you live coverage. The princess today is wearing Chanel, breaking tradition by choosing a French designer over a homegrown talent.” My face is on the tea towels she bit back the mounting hysteria. And t-shirts and lapel pins.

“Is that not Alexander McQueen?”

“Of course it is. You’re missing the point!” Torie hissed. “They’re scrutinizing every little thing.”

George harrumphed. “Our wedding had coverage lasting for five hours.”

She drew away from her father. The silence in the coach was at odds to the rumbles of enthusiasm from outside. The carriage slowed as they approached the Abbey. Torie saw lookalikes of her and Thomas. Some were wider. Others were darker. She held in a laugh bubbling to the surface. People want to look like me for fancy dress. A surreal idea, even as the reality confronted her outside the window. What if they didn’t get out – they picked Thomas up instead, and sped off into the distance?

Her mind skidded to that other perfect bride, the one who radiated calm on her wedding day, then fell apart during the honeymoon. Was this how she felt? Dread, nerves, and mounting horror? In the photos of her mother’s wedding, the ivory veil shielded so much from the camera. The angle of Frances’ head, aimed towards the world beyond the window, the tiara sparkling in the sunlight – her mother was the vision of fairytale princess. Everyone said so. Except for the tragic end.

How she longed for her, today of all days, to ask what those moments had been like. Torie realized with a sinking heart there would be dozens more like this. The birth of her first child, naming him or her, choosing a school. Should she follow tradition or make her own way? Frances’ death pricked anew. She should have taken the Xanax Thomas suggested. His advice came on the heels of some bad memories of doctors prescribing Valium for her mother. The rumors of her emotional instability were legendary, chasing Torie throughout her childhood and adolescence. The press took it as a given she would succumb to the pressure as her mother had. Torie hid it as best she could, in the girls’ finishing school. In her darker moments, she knew the appeal of bulimia wasn’t far away.

“Your mother would be so proud of you.”

Victoria gripped the door handle. Street after street thronged with people. Here in this one hundred yards, there was no one but the footmen, and her father. The words seared her like a brand. How many times had those same words fallen into her ear from the secretaries, ladies in waiting, media commentators. To hear them now from the man who made her mother’s life miserable – Torie took a ragged breath. You don’t care. You got go live and your lover is now your wife. Seated at a place of honor at the wedding breakfast. The strength of her rage took her breath for a few moments. Albert wasn’t the only one who needed to talk about it.

“We have arrived.”

The footmen approached the door.

“Did you have her killed?”

George turned to her as she if she’d asked for a tissue. “I beg your pardon?”

“Mother. Did you kill her for embarrassing you?”

“Victoria,” George sighed.

The door to the carriage hung open, waiting for the princess to step down and into the glare of ten thousand cameras.

“Now is not the time for this discussion.” He pulled at his tuxedo.

“That’s not an answer.” Anger surged through her, the strength of which took her back to the moments after they first told her. Your mother is dead. She died in a car accident. She wasn’t wearing her seatbelt. The string of details came one after another, the last one hitting her in the chest like a boxer’s punch. She could have done something to survive. She didn’t and now you’re alone.

            “She is the past. You are the future.”

Another set of words, repeated over and over until she heard them in her sleep. Victoria pushed herself off the bench. She took the hand of the footman waiting for. As she stepped onto the red carpet, wound like a wagging tongue out the front of the Abbey, the roar of approval filled her ears.

How I Brought Noir to the Middle East

I began my wri13754563_10155136016684768_1238295217281462868_nting career with novels that featured exotic people in ordinary locales. Most of them were female immigrants trying to make sense of their new lives in America. A book as a gift can be a quagmire. Not so for my Swedish friends who gave me my first copy of Nordic noir. Reading Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell in my twenties was a revelation. People in Sweden had problems? Those blond, leggy descendants of the Vikings maimed and killed like the rest of the world? I was hooked. Ten years, and three Stieg Larsson novels later, after publishing a coming of age novel and a contemporary romance of my own, this latent leisure reading habit reared its head in the form of a police procedural. The Nordic authors steeped me in the staples of solid crime fiction: grumpy detective, not so good at everyday life, unexpected crime thrown in his lap, with help of persistent sidekick, finds the villains in the nick of time.

But there was a catch.

I lived in the desert, in an Islamic monarchy, at the heart of an Arabian emirate. Not the snow filled cities of Wallander or Lisbeth. The glitz of some of the world’s richest countries was the backdrop of my tales. While the differences seemed glaring, similarities emerged: nations made wealthy by the sale of oil, promising utopia to their relatively small populations, and a harsh external climate. They (agents, editors, the marketing department) tell you to find a good story and unique selling point.

Both have come together in my latest writing project, the Crimes in Arabia series. Lots of work (and fun) went into The Migrant Report which brings those familiar genre elements into a new context: A grumpy Arab detective, a self appointed, veiled, female sidekick, and a region with the lowest published crime rates in the world.

You don’t have to take my word for it.

Readers said:

  • ‘A fascinating look at a different and complex place.’
  • ‘A brilliant, deeply layered novel.’
  • ‘An amazing look into the Middle East, and the hardships that befall the migrant workers that came there, looking for work.’

No Place for Women is inspired by the real life murders of two young women. Enjoy a unique look at the underbelly of life in one of the richest places on Earth.

What are you reading this summer?

How a Tinder Moment Brought Humor to My Crime Novel


I have been writing like a maniac since late May, getting ready for the upcoming release of the book in my crime series. Generating 2000 words a day, dreaming about the story, talking about the characters to anyone who will listen.

I’ve asked that all too embarrassing question no writer should ask anyone (particularly people she thinks of as friends): “Did you read The Migrant Report?”

“No,” came the refrain.

The one brave friend who said yes, was subjected to a brainstorming lunch.

No Place for Women is the working title of the second book and as it suggests, the story takes us into ever darker parts of the city. Two dead women, lots of questions.

The narrative was getting so dark, I felt compelled to include moments of levity. This is how a conversation about Tinder made it into one of the key investigative


Ali folded his hands over the notebook. “I don’t blame your daughter for dying.”

“That’s a funny way to put it.” She took a shuddering breath, her eyes darting to his. “Considering someone strangled her in her own home.”

“Boyfriends?” He repeated.

“Well, she was on Tinder. But I don’t think she used it very often.”


Martha blinked again this time in a rapid series, like something was caught in her eye. “It’s an app. For dating.”

He pulled out the evidence bag with Lauren’s phone, passing it along with a pair of gloves to the mother. “Please. We can’t get in without the code.”

She wiggled her fingers into them as Ali also put on a pair before plugging the device in to revive the battery.

Martha frowned in concentration, the tip of her tongue emerging between her teeth. “Probably her birthday?” The phone buzzed, rejecting the code.

“We tried that.”

“Hm, maybe my birthday?” Another little shake no from the device.

“Okay. Okay. Lauren had a terrible memory. Would have been something she used all the time…” Martha’s fingernails drummed the table. “Last four of her social? … Yes!” The phone unlocked, going to a home screen with Lauren sitting on the pavement, a black kitten in her lap. “Oh.” Martha’s breath came out in a whoosh. “Oh.” Her hands flew to her chest.

“Tinder,” Ali said. He took the phone back, nudging over a box of tissue. He scrolled through the apps, stopping at the one with the flame over the letter I. They certainly didn’t believe in subtlety. The app opened to a bare chested man reclining on the beach, the azure blue of the Arabian Gulf behind him. “What the hell,” Ali said. The shadow of a beard said belied the man’s Arab roots, that and the shock of hair curling across his pectoral muscles. Hassan? So this was how his cousin stocked his stable of girlfriends.

“You swipe right if you like him,” Martha said, propping her elbows on the table for a closer look.

“Did she swipe right on this guy?” Ali tossed the phone back to the other side of the table as if it were contaminated. “Did they go out?” His stomach twisted at the thought of Hassan dragging him further into this mess.

“No. The app brings up everyone registered in your city,” Martha said, tapping the screen. “He’s a new user. Besides, she was leery of Arab guys.” She cleared her throat, eyes flitting away from Ali.

He wrote it down, ignoring her discomfort. “And then what?”

“You wait to see if he swipes back.”