Character Traits

Character Traits: Meet Didier Duclos

Angela Wren, a fellow author at Darkstroke Books, has written a crime mystery series with an interesting twist in that it is set in France. Angela does a wonderful job transporting the reader there. Her main character is the very determined investigator,  Jacques Forêt. But Angela is going to tell us about another character in her series — the fifth was published late last year. Here. I will let her take over.

Hi Joan, thanks for inviting me and my character Didier Duclos onto your blog today. I write the Jacques Forêt cosy crime mystery series set in the Cévennes in south-central France. Didier is AngelaWrenAuthorPicJacques’ right-hand man. However, he didn’t quite start like that!

After Messandrierre (book 1 in the series) was published, I knew that Jacques was going to strike out on his own. In the village, he had been mostly a one-person official police presence with a bit of help from a fellow gendarme Thibault Clergue and five-year-old Pierre Mancelle who wanted to be a policeman.  They made a neat team, but once Jacques had his own investigation business, I knew he would need someone else.  Whilst I was creating the second book, into my head walked Didier Duclos.

I took his name from a war memorial in a village near St Pourcain.  I liked the alliteration and the short sharpness of the words.  It set the tone for who I thought my character was going to be.

We first meet Didier in Montbel, (book 3), when Jacques conducts a team briefing in his office in Mende. Didier is described as a … tall, lean man with a lived-in face that showed him to have earned every crease and line acquired during his sixty-one years, Didier had come to Vaux Investigations to work as a general office manager and investigator. He had been the first person Jacques had recruited following the internal reorganisation across the whole of the Vaux Group in the first few weeks of 2010. Having worked as a detective in the Police Nationale in Mende, Didier had taken early retirement to care for his terminally ill wife. Within the year she had died, and Didier had needed a distraction. …

Didier works closely with Jacques from then on.  He provides a measured approach which sometimes keeps Jacques from acting the maverick.  In Marseille (book 4), we learn more about


Marseille Port’s entrance

Didier as a person.  He had a life before the police force.  As Jacques and Didier wait on the harbour in Marseille for a contact with crucial information about the case to arrive they watch a traditionally built yacht come in to dock. Didier shares his experience… “A tall ship, Jacques. A long time ago. I once crewed on a 19th-century schooner…”  “Beautiful vessel, four-masted, gaff-rigged…” He tells Jacques. As he smiles to himself, Didier goes on to say… “Just eighteen and had the time of my life!”

That experience and the knowledge that Didier gained becomes essential when he and Jacques move on to the investigation in Mercœur.  Didier’s expertise and his tenacity put him at the forefront of this investigation.

Blurb for Mercœur (Jacques Forêt Mystery No. 5)

On a quiet forest walk, Investigator Jacques Forêt encounters a sinister scene.  Convinced there is evidence of malicious intent, he treats his discovery as a crime scene.

But intent for what?  Without a body, how can he be sure that a crime has been — or is about to be — Village&5BksV01committed?  Without a body, how can Jacques be sure that it’s murder, and not suicide?  Without a body, how can the perpetrator be found?

A baffling case that tests Jacques to his limits.

Author Bio

Angela Wren is an actor and director at a small theatre a few miles from where she lives in the county of Yorkshire in the UK.  She worked as a project and business change manager – very pressured and very demanding – but she managed to escape, and now she writes books.

She has always loved stories and story-telling, so it seemed a natural progression, to her, to try her hand at writing, starting with short stories.  Her first published story was in an anthology, which was put together by the magazine ‘Ireland’s Own’ in 2011.  She also works with 8 other northern writers to create the series of Miss Moonshine anthologies.  Most recently, Angela contributed a story set in the 19th century to the DARK LONDON collection.

Angela particularly enjoys the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work.  Her short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery, and historical.  She also writes comic flash-fiction and has drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio.

Her full-length novels are set in France, where she likes to spend as much time as possible each year.


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TwinJinn_book_3b copy
Magical Realism, The Twin Jinn

My New Series: The Twin Jinn

A bit of news: I am delving into 2021 with a new series, starting with the first book, The Twin Jinn at Happy Jack’s Carnival of Mysteries. I wrote this series for middle-grade readers, but I hope they will appeal to adults who read to and with kids, plus anyone who enjoys magical realism. I expect a February launch.

Right now, Michelle Gutierrez, who designed two of my adult books, has just completed the cover, using an illustration created by my son, Ezra Livingston, and is working on the Kindle and paperback versions.  That’s the cover above.

So, what’s this book about? Here’s a description:

Forget about genies who are fiery spirits or live in lamps. The Twin Jinn at Happy Jack’s Carnival of Mysteries is a story that will make readers believe they are real. 

Jute and Fina Jinn, brother and sister, and their parents are enchanted beings who seek refuge at a traveling carnival after escaping their cruel master. While in hiding, the twins must pretend to be 11-year-old humans, but mischievous and curious, they sometimes get carried away. Who could blame them? The twins have the power to fly, be invisible, and use spells. Thankfully, they have an outlet as carnival kids assisting their parents in a magic act and making friends with their fellow performers, including a shy boy.

Still, amid the fun, there is danger for the Jinn family because their former master, a man with evil intentions, is desperate to get them back, and having a magic act that turns out to be a huge hit could be their undoing.

I’ve tried for a long time to find a publisher, and at one point, even had an agent pitching the series, but, alas, with no luck. So, I’ve decided to do it on my own, with Michelle’s help. Besides I’ve become more savvy about promotion on social media.

So far, I have completed three books in the series  and I’m about a third of the way into the fourth. Stay tuned for news about pre-orders and the launch.

ihodt with chill and 2020 recommended read awards
Character Traits

Character Traits: Meet Serenity Layne

A new year and a new character to feature on my blog. Meet Serenity Layne, created by author Melanie Robertson-King. It Happened on Dufferin Terrace, a holiday novella and a perfect escape for readers who are hunkering down during this pandemic. Plus this is the first in a planned six-book series. And check out Melanie’s impressive list of books she has published way below.

Here, I will let Melanie take over.

Melanie author photo cropped

Melanie Robertson-King

Thanks, Joan, for letting me introduce you to Serenity Layne, the main character from It Happened on Dufferin Terrace. The book is a Christmas novella set in beautiful old Quebec City.

Think Miracle on 34th Street meets Sleepless in Seattle. She’s married to her career, and he’s a widowed father.

I came up with the name Serenity Layne on my way home from my sister-in-law’s house in Northern Ontario. It was a street name. I added the “y” to her surname, so it sounded more like a person than a part of a city.

While not based on a “real” person, I modeled Serenity after Doris from the movie Miracle on 34th Street. She’s had a rough life, and anything she’s gotten, it’s been through her hard work and no help from her family. After the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company closed in Etobicoke, her father turned to the drink. Her mother was unable to cope and spent her days in her bedroom watching television. Her brother, Erik, got mixed up with drugs and disappeared so and the responsibility for cooking, shopping, and cleaning fell to Serenity.

She worked her way through school and is now a successful business consultant with the firm, Thacker, Price & Associates. Along the way, she had no time for intangibles and never had any relationships with men. While she’s not materialistic, she has a comfortable condo on Yorkville Avenue in Toronto, is well-dressed and perfectly manicured.

It Happened on Dufferin Terrace is book one of a six-book series featuring the Scott and Layne families. Serenity also appears in the second book, It Happened in Gastown, and will be in the third, It Happened at Percé Rock, which I’m currently writing.


Snow, packed down from shovelling and plowing, made the boards slippery. High-heeled shoes were inappropriate for the conditions, but escaping that room was paramount.

Why did she allow that man to antagonize her? Any other time, any other meeting, and she would have let comments like his roll off her. This action was out of character.

Struggling to maintain her balance, she picked her way to the handrail. At least she had gloves in her pockets. After extracting the knitted mittens, she pulled them on her hands and tried to regain her composure so she could go back to the meeting. She would have to create an excuse for her sudden departure.

Arms resting on the railing, she took in long, slow breaths. Each time she exhaled, a puff of steam formed in front of her.

About to go back into the warmth of the hotel’s conference room, she let go and turned. A massive black dog charged at her with a man and a boy in pursuit. The ear flaps of the man’s trapper hat resembled wings. Stretched out horizontally, how he managed not to take flight astounded her.

“Tori, bad girl. Halt.” The man shouted commands to the canine, but the animal was oblivious to them.

Before she had an opportunity to react, the black Lab launched itself in the air and hit her square in the chest, knocking her to the ground. The impact sent her eyeglasses flying, and they crashed on the granite ledge beneath the handrail. The child dove for them but couldn’t get a proper grip. His fingertips brushed the frames, and her eyewear skittered away from him on the icy rock and vanished.


Melanie Robertson-King has always been a fan of the written word. She grew up an only child, and many happy hours were spent with her face tuck in books from the time she could read. Her father was one of the thousands of Home Children sent to Canada through The Orphan Homes of Scotland. Melanie has been fortunate to visit her father’s homeland many times and even met the Princess Royal (Princess Anne) at the orphanage where he was raised.



Celtic Connexions Blog:







Character Traits

Character Traits: Meet Jenny from Cultivating a Fuji

Miriam at Isabella Plantation Cropped Small

Author Miriam Drori

Next up in my Character Traits series is Miriam Drori, an author of both fiction and nonfiction that deal with people who experience deep social anxiety. I’ve learned a lot about the subject from reading her books. Miriam is also my editor at darkstroke books, a skilled one I might add. (She lives 9,000 miles away in Israel.) For this series, she tells us about  Jenny, a character from her latest, Cultivating a Fuji. I will let Miriam take over.

One of the lessons that can be learned from reading Cultivating a Fuji is that the effects of childhood bullying, which the perpetrators might see as a bit of fun, can last a lifetime. That’s what happens to Martin, the main character. Most of the people he meets, whether at school or later in his life, don’t understand this. I don’t blame them for that. They all have their own issues to worry about. Some of them even want to help Martin, but they don’t know how.

Jenny does understand — not at school, where she torments Martin at least as much as the others, but later when she learns about bullying in her teacher training course. There was a real live Jenny, called Gill (soft G, short for Gillian; I know Americans have trouble with that name), who was one of my bullies at school and expressed a lot of remorse for it when she reconnected with me decades later. Too much remorse, in my view, because it led to unnecessary guilt. I was the one trying to persuade her that, as a schoolgirl, she didn’t have the maturity to understand what she was doing, and couldn’t have been expected to understand without adult guidance, which was completely lacking.

That’s why the two names begin with the same sound. Jenny isn’t exactly the same as Gill, and all the episodes in the novel are made up, but they do have a lot in common. Gill certainly recognised herself in the novel. I don’t know if anyone else did.

In the following scene, set in 1973, three young former schoolfriends meet in a café. (Warwick is the university where Anji is studying.)

“You’ll never guess who I’ve seen at Warwick.” Anji had joined Jenny and Sandra on this occasion.

“The Queen? William Whitelaw? David Bowie?”

“Martin! And he’s as strange as ever, if not stranger. Always keeps to himself. I don’t know anyone who ever talks to him. I saw him around last year, too, but this year he took computer science with me and I saw quite a lot of him. God, he’s such a weirdo.”

Anji continued, oblivious to the looks passing between Jenny and Sandra. “A funny thing happened with him a month or two ago. I was with a group of friends when I passed him in the corridor. I said, ‘Oh Martin, Professor Angel’ – he’s our computer science lecturer – ‘asked me to tell you he wants to see you urgently. Some big problem with your project, I think.’ I didn’t expect him to believe me; I really put it on – like I did now, you know. Anyone else would have said, ‘Up yours, too,’ and gone off. Not Martin. He turned white and marched straight to Professor Angel’s room. We followed at a discreet distance. He knocked on the door, went in, and came straight out. Walked right past us without noticing. We laughed at his receding back. He didn’t turn around. Nothing. He kept on walking. What’s up? Why are you two staring at me?”

“Anji,” Jenny got in before Sandra joined her. “Grow up.”

Anji frowned and pouted. “What do you mean by that?”

“Jenny and I have discussed Martin before,” said Sandra. “We think we were… less than fair to him.”

“You might think that,” said Jenny. “I think we were bloody nasty.”

Anji laughed. “That’s a good one, coming from you. You were one of the w—”

“I know what I was, Anji. I was a bully. I picked on a vulnerable kid and made things even worse for him. Knowing that doesn’t make me proud of it. I’ve learned too much psychology at college to be anything but totally ashamed of what I did, now that I know how I made him feel.”

“Jenny, Martin is a robot, an automaton. He does what he’s told. He doesn’t have feelings.”

“We’ve discussed that, too. Everyone has feelings. Some people wear them on their sleeve, while others lock them away. But everyone has them.”

During the silence that descended on their table, Roberta Flack was apparently losing her life to a song, lightning flashed in and out of their lives, and a waitress dropped a cup full of coffee. It splashed on her sandaled foot and she uttered a little scream.


Miriam Drori was born and brought up in London, but has lived most of her life in Jerusalem. Here, she married, raised three children, and worked in computer programming and later technical writing.

Miriam has been writing fiction for about fifteen years and has been published numerous times. Some of her books are temporarily unavailable due to changes in the publishing world. She began writing in order to raise awareness of social anxiety. Since then, the scope of her writing has widened, but she has never lost sight of this passion.

Besides writing, Miriam enjoys reading, hiking, touring and dancing. Unfortunately, the last three are currently on hold.



What’s in a Name

I am talking what we call the animals who live with us. A few arrived with names. The others didn’t. So what do you choose to name them? That’s the fun dilemma.

We try to come up with something that fits their personality and is fun to say like Roxanne, which was the name of calico we had. Of course, I was thinking of that song by Sting, and I often found myself singing her name although not as well as him. Roxanne was an extremely smart cat who figured out that if she jumped on the latched door handle in the kitchen, she could let herself inside. We also had a cat we named Phoebe.

Cats, Amos and Lewis, already had their names, so kept them. When we adopted Two at a shelter in Taos, she came with the name Dusty, which we didn’t like. But we were stumped, so we named her Two after the best two cats we’ve owned — Amos and Lewis. Two, or Two Two or Princess Two Two, as we was often called her, lived with us for 11 years, until last Christmas.


One of Two’s favorite perches was a gate Hank built for our front yard in Taos.

We’ve had two dogs. Sheena’s previous owners, actually neighbors, left her tied up and moved away. She managed to break away and find us. Sheena was not a name we would have chosen, but she sure responded to it, so we reluctantly kept it. A black Lab, she was a wonderful companion and it turned out, the inspiration for a character in an as-yet-to-be published book, The Sacred Dog. But I gave her a more suitable name.

The next dog, a golden Lab mutt, that came after her was named Sadie, which fit her sweet disposition.

Our most recent adoption is a cat who found her way to outside a friend’s home. I saw a post on Facebook that she was looking for someone to take her in since she already had a cat. We were ready after nearly a year to do that. She appears to have a lot of Maine Coon in her. We are guessing she was at one time an inside cat but was dumped. Perhaps her owners couldn’t afford to take care of her any longer. Understandably, it’s been an adjustment for her after being on the lam for a few months, but she has made great progress in the couple of weeks we’ve had her.

So. about her name. Hank and I went through many before deciding on Stella. We wanted to find something from Maine to call her but couldn’t. Personally, I like giving human names to our animals.

Yes, I was inspired by “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and I feel I channel Marlon Brando when I call her, well, in a lot more loving and softer version, or the poor cat would be frightened. Right now, she’s sleeping in my office as I write this. Aw, Stella.

And if you’re curious here’s the way Marlon said it:

PHOTO ABOVE: Yes, that’s Stella.