There's an old observation about a person hurrying to get away from something that describes him or her as being as nimble as a cat on a hot bakestone. At present any unfortunate feline wouldn't need to even consider jumping on a bakestone because once outdoors on a concrete surface the current heat wave would scorch its paws almost as much. Then, in a variation of the oft-quoted wisdom of checking which way the wind is blowing before taking a decision, we'd see which way the cat jumps! And speaking of decisions and jumping, now's the time to decide to leap into reading this latest newsletter....


Of late we've been involved in the Great Red-Headed Woodpecker War.

There have been noticeably more woodpeckers announcing they are working in the woods this year than is usual, and for the past six weeks or so one has been engaged in announcing his presence too close for comfort.

It seems the wretched bird -- a red-headed woodpecker -- has taken it upon himself to serve as our avian alarm clock.

There are thousands of trees around us, but oh no, he has to flap over this way and bang his beak on our front gutter at ungodly hours in the ayem. Plutarch recorded it was said tigers go wild at the sound of beating drums. A persistent banging on the gutter waking one up when it's not even fully light is certainly annoying, the more so as we'd be happy to live in harmony with him if he would just carry out his morning exercises far enough away so as not to be so loud.

That nice Mr Google informs us the technical name for this beak banging business is drumming, and its purpose is to advertise for a mate or to mark territory. We'd hoped it would be the former and some lonely female would respond to his call and fly off with him, but the usual time when Mr Lonely Heart would be drumming for that reason is, not surprisingly, during the spring. Here we are in mid June and still he persists. So with the plethora of 'peckers this year it seems it may well be a demonstration of his territorial rights.

On the principle of if ya can't beat 'em ya gotta join 'em, we started our opening engagements by trying different loud noises to persuade him to go elsewhere for his daily performances of Gene Krupa solos. Banging on the wall succeeded in scaring him off a couple of times, but he returned. Rattling a metal spoon inside an aluminum saucepan every time he started up didn't work either. Obviously the bird is a heavy metal (gutter) fan. Taking this cue, we played loud music at him on the theory if raucous Rolling Stones or Ramones recordings cranked up to ear-bleeding levels wouldn't do it, what would?

But it was no good.

Back to Mr Google for further suggestions, leading to Eric shinning up a ladder to get on the sun porch's flat roof, there to suspend a set of chimes from the middle of the gutter. Their gentler music worked for one day, but that may have been a coincidence because it rained and we have noticed the feathered fiend doesn't care for wet mornings and sometimes won't show up in such weather.

Onward, we muttered through gritted teeth. The next attempt involved a hundred feet or so of iridescent ribbon of the type that emits flashes when flapped to and fro and up and down by the breeze. On particularly sunny days from afar the gutter presents the appearance of a very thin white Christmas tree fallen on its side as multi-coloured flashes appear along it. With one streamer hung near the office window, on particularly windy days its lower end flaps past the glass, sending splashes of coloured light around the walls. When that happens we got our own disco, man!

The glittering streamers worked to keep the woodpecker away for a day or so but then he came back -- he actually returned to give a dozen or so performances last week. Strangely, the last few days he hasn't visited, so it may be the red-headed devil has succeeded in attracting a mate, despite the lateness of the hour, or alternatively the flashing tapes finally persuaded him to depart and bash his beak elsewhere.

Which is not to say he may be lulling us into a false sense of success and by the time this issue arrives may have resumed tormenting us.


A fair bit of news this time round, so no messing about and straight to it...


With Ruined Stones to be published next month the first reviews are starting to appear. Here are a few snippets

"...handles the wartime setting (rife with paranoia) and the woman-in-a-man’s-world theme with equal skill. A fine period mystery." David Pitt, Booklist

"An in-depth look at what it was like in England during World War II and how women took over men’s jobs, leading to a social revolution that continues today." Kirkus Reviews

"Reed hits all the high notes with a spunky, savvy heroine..." For The Love of Books blog


Publishers Weekly recently featured an article about Poisoned Pen Press, including interesting background information on the press and its thoughts about publishing. See


Bound By Mystery, a short story collection with contributions from over thirty of Poisoned Pen's authors, was published earlier this year to mark the twentieth anniversary of the press. Time's Revenge, John's latest adventure, was one of them. More info about the collection here:


May was International Short Story Month and our contribution to the festivities, linked via the Short Mystery Fiction Society blog on May 26th, was Waiting. A Halloween story, it was originally published in 2016 by King's River Life. And here it is

THE TIME HAS COME or OUR BLOG TOUR'S KICKED OFF It seems only fitting the first blog published for this year's blog tour was an interview of Grace Baxter conducted by Terry Odell on 30th May. Among other topics, Grace talks about whether she gets along with other characters in Ruined Stones and the one thing she wished her creators had done differently.


We've boldly changed both the name of our blog and the photo at the top of its front page, which now shows a old view of the Tyne Bridge in the city's bad air quality days, when we all had lungs resembling kippers and front door paint blistered within a year or so of its application. Now named Retiring Writers, the location remains the same at


We recently updated our library of free Golden Age of Mystery etexts, so it now includes over twenty additional titles, including several by Ethel Lina White, a favorite author of Mary's. Care to glance over the list? Point your clickers to


This month Mary and I started writing our next mystery in earnest. During the winter we tossed ideas around (most of them fell and broke) and eventually came up with a detailed outline. But a couple of weeks ago playtime ended and we got down to the hard work of putting our ideas into a form which will bring them to life -- we hope -- for those outside our little family circle.

Writing a novel is kind of like building a snowman. It goes slowly at first but as you continue to roll the little snowball around it gets bigger and picks up snow faster. (I don't know if that's good analogy but it's ninety degrees today. Think cool.) Last Saturday was our best writing day yet. In the morning we had 6,400 words. That evening there were 2,800.

We threw out the first two chapters.

And don't think that wasn't difficult! It would have been easier to write 4,000 more words. However, the book is the better for cutting to the action.

We keep track of how many words we've written as a measure of our progress, but there really is so much more to writing a novel than stringing together enough sentences to reach a certain word count. Back when we started, I didn't realize how much more. Like many beginning novelists what daunted me was the challenge of cranking out 60,000 or 70,000 words. I would have been horrified at the notion of throwing whole chapters away.

As it turns out reaching a word count is the least of a novelist's problems.

Mary and I learned as we went along. Neither of us ever took a writing class or attended a writing workshop. I've read three books on writing: Dean Koontz's Writing Popular Fiction, Stephen King's On Writing, and Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. The first two were fascinating but only the third was actually useful.

The only writing lessons we've had were from editors to whom we'd already sold fiction.

Could we have learned the formula for assembling a bestseller type thriller if we had chosen to do some study? Who knows. We never wanted to do that. We both believe that writing can't be taught, apart from the nuts and bolts. Either a person can write or they can't. After all, the ideas are the most important ingredient in fiction.

If you have interesting ideas then all it takes to write is practice.

So now I've got to get back to our fourteenth book and keep practicing.


We close with our usual reminder of the date of the next issue of Orphan Scrivener, which will fly into your inbox on 15th August.

See you then!
Mary R and Eric

who invite you to visit their home page, to be found hanging out on the virtual washing line that is the Web at There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, a bibliography, and our growing libraries of links to free e-texts of classic and Golden Age mysteries, ghost stories, and tales of the supernatural. There's also the Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned! Our joint blog is at Intrepid subscribers may also wish to know our noms des Twitter are @marymaywrite and @groggytales Drop in some time!

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