I’m so delighted to welcome Dianne Ascroft as a guest author on my blog. A Canadian writer who’s lived in Northern Ireland for many years, Dianne has a unique, international background for storytelling. Below are her responses to my interview questions, followed by her bio and contact/buy links.
I loved your description of your books as a combination of “history, mystery, and romance.” Can you tell us about your historical series, The Yankee Years, and your cozy mystery series, Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries, and what has inspired you to write them?
I’m always fascinated by the history of the places where I live. During the Second World War, Northern Ireland, where I now live, hosted American, British and Canadian troops. Air Force squadrons hunting U-boats and defending shipping convoys in the Atlantic Ocean, and Army battalions training and preparing for deployment to Europe’s Western Front were stationed here. I was fascinated by the huge impact the arrival of the Allied troops had on the mainly rural population. As I discovered the history of my local area the stories for The Yankee Years series took shape.
After writing historical fiction for several years, I decided to have a change of pace and write something that didn’t require in-depth historical research. Cozy mysteries appealed to me because they allow me to explore the place as well as the mystery at the heart of the story. I had an idea for a mystery series and I knew a small town in Canada that would be the perfect setting for it. The Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series features main character, middle-aged widow Lois Stone, who has moved from the big city and is trying to adjust to life on her own in an historical “century cottage”. As she and her two calico cats settle into their new life, her tranquility is often rocked by adventures and mysteries that she can’t ignore.
You’re a Canadian writer currently living in Northern Ireland. Do you think this gives you a unique perspective on history and setting for your novels?
When I first arrived in Northern Ireland, I hesitated to tackle writing stories set here as the religious and political beliefs of the two main communities in the province have created a complex society very different from the one I grew up in. It is difficult to portray but I think it must be woven into any writing about the province. Capturing the nuances of life and attitudes in this society where the tensions between the communities stretch back generations and still influence many aspects of modern-day life isn’t easy. A writer needs to live here for a while to begin to understand the place. I think that viewing the society as an outsider who has lived here for many years gives me unique insights into it which I can use to convincingly convey the place and the people to my readers, but it still presents challenges as I will always be an outsider looking in.
What books/authors especially inspired you as a child? Did you always know you wanted to write yourself?
I’m an only child and my mother and grandfather were voracious readers so I learned to love reading early. I loved animal stories such as Eric Knight’s Lassie Come Home and Albert Payson Terhune’s Lad, a dog. But it was S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, which I read during my early teens, that taught me how compelling a story can be. Despite my love of reading, I didn’t consider writing until I was in my forties.
When did you decide to pursue writing seriously? Can you tell us about your path to your first publication?
When I turned forty, I decided to put my imagination and love of stories to use and try a new hobby: writing. I saw an ad in Ireland’s Own, an Irish family magazine, for a writing contest and I submitted the first chapter of a novel I was writing. I won the contest and received a publishing package from a service provider for indie writers. This started me on the path to indie publishing.
Your fiction is historically based. What is your research process like to give your work such authenticity?
My historical research process is similar to many other writers. I read historical works, including memoirs set during the era I write about, and I research particular details I need online and in historical texts. And since my stories are set in Northern Ireland, a part of the UK that experienced some aspects of the Second World War differently than the rest of the UK, I read memoirs from this area and interview local people who remember the war years. I’ve also trawled through countless period photographs to get a flavor of the era. I am fortunate that there are several writers living near me, who specialize in local history and when I get stuck as I search for information or try to verify a fact, one of them is often able to answer my question. Visiting regional museums including Enniskillen Castle Museum, and Headhunters Railway Museum has also been very informative. And, of course, I live in the area I write about so I know the landscape intimately.
Do you consider yourself a plotter, pantser, or somewhere-in-between?
Mostly a planner. I definitely plan each book in a broad, loose way. I think it’s important to do so when writing mysteries. I roughly outline the important things that need to happen in each novel, and where I want to insert clues, then I flesh out the details of each chapter as I write.
What are you currently working on writing-wise?
I’m currently writing the third novel in the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series. Fenwater is very proud of its Scottish heritage, and the Burns Night Supper is a big annual event in the town. So when a member of the Burns Night Supper committee is murdered the week before the event, townspeople are shocked and frightened. Lois and her friend Marge have to help find the killer so their town can return to normal.
I know that you live on a farm in what sounds like an idyllic setting! When you’re not writing, what do you especially enjoy doing?
When I have a bit of free time, I enjoy walking in the countryside. My husband and I walk the many forestry trails near our farm once or twice each week and ramble around our own farm daily. When the weather turns bad, I curl up in front of our fireplace with the cat and a book.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
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.
Is there anything else you’d like to add, or wish I’d asked that I didn’t?
The seeds that sow the ideas for my cozy mysteries come from many different places: incidents that happen to me, random thoughts that cross my mind and bits of trivia that catch my attention So far in this series, each story has been linked to a beautiful, cherished historic object: a watch that survived the sinking of the Titanic, a rare Haida Indian carving, a cameo brooch, and an antique quilt.
Thanks for visiting today, Dianne!
Dianne Ascroft writes the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries, set in rural Canada, as well as The Yankee Years, an historical fiction series set in WWII Northern Ireland. She has a passion for Ireland and Canada, past and present. An ex-pat Canadian, Dianne lives on a small farm in Northern Ireland with her husband and an assortment of strong-willed animals. Online she lurks at https://www.dianneascroft.com
Social media links:
Dianne’s website and blog: https://www.dianneascroft.com
To hear Dianne’s latest news, sign up for her newsletter at: https://landing.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/y1k5c3
Out of Options (prequel novella): https://www.amazon.com/Out-Options-Century-Cottage-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B07R4GQWQN
A Timeless Celebration (Book 1): https://books2read.com/u/38Q6Nd
Thanksgiving and Theft (novella): https://books2read.com/u/3RJDoL
The Heritage Heist (Book 2): https://books2read.com/u/4XLYBN