DA: In Canada, and particularly in the province of Ontario, people refer to houses that are more than one hundred years old as century houses. These houses come in more than one architectural style but they are usually made from stone. The stone can be cut stone, shaped to resemble bricks, in areas where natural granite is available. Or the stone can be an indigenous material such as river or field stone which gives a much less uniform appearance to the finished building. In many parts of Ontario granite was readily available during the last century and the grey or pink stone buildings that were built from it have become very much part of the architectural history of rural Ontario.
My character Lois lives in a traditional granite cut-stone house built to a pattern known as the Ontario Cottage. The typical cottage had one-and-a-half storeys and large windows. The most distinctive feature was the single gable above the door in the centre of the building. By the late nineteenth century Gothic style architecture was popular for these houses which resulted in gables that were ornately decorated.
Century houses are defined by their external features but modern home owners want to retain as much of the original interior character of the house as possible too. This means that wide plank wooden floors, wooden architraves around doorways and windows, and simple brick fireplaces are important features to conserve. The interior of the house should be rustic and homey.
Kathy: The first book in the series involves the theft of an artifact from the Titanic. I've always been fascinated by the Titanic. Have you always been drawn to it as well?
DA: Yes, I have. I read A Night To Remember by Walter Lord when I was in my early teens and his writing evoked that night so vividly in my mind that I’ve never forgotten the book and it left me with a lasting interest in the events of that night. The poignant bravery of many of the people aboard the ship as they faced death profoundly affected me. So I’ve always been drawn to novels written about it and any new facts that emerge about the sinking. I was glued to the television when details first emerged about the discovery of the wreck in the mid-1980s. I know others are equally captivated by the ship and the tragedy so that nudged me to include an item from the Titanic in my novel.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
DA: Three or four years ago I reviewed several cozy mysteries for author blog tours. That was my introduction to the cozy genre and I found that I enjoyed the warmhearted, often humorous stories and I loved to escape to the charming places where they were set. After reviewing several books, I started reading them for my own pleasure. At the time, I was writing Second World War fiction, set in Northern Ireland, then last summer, I decided to have a change of pace and I found myself writing as well as reading cozy mysteries.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
DA: Yes, as I mentioned, I was writing Second World War fiction, set in Northern Ireland, for several years before I ventured into cozy mystery. My World War II series The Yankee Years has seven novellas in it to date. I’ve also released a contemporary short story collection as well as a couple other historical fiction books.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
DA: The Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series features heartwarming stories set in a small town in Canada. The main character, widow Lois Stone, has moved from the big city and is trying to adjust to life on her own in a 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.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
DA: Lois Stone, the main character in A Timeless Celebration, is definitely one of my favourite characters in this book. I have to admit that I may have a bit of a crush on her quiet friend, Bruce, because I can just imagine his soulful eyes. But back to Lois. In many ways, though not entirely, she is very like me so I feel an affinity with her. After years of doing detailed historical research for my previous books, I decided that my first cozy mystery wouldn’t involve a huge amount of research. So as I created Lois, I deliberately used some of my own likes and dislikes to make her real. That made it very easy for me to bring her to life, and since she has so much in common with me, we ‘hit it off’ and are great friends.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
DA: One of the things that draws readers to a cozy mystery is a place that appeals to them. It’s important that the place where the story is set beckons to readers to step in and stay a while. One of the reasons I love cozy mysteries is that they allow me to explore the place as well as the mystery at the heart of the story.
There’s some places that just linger in your mind. Something about the atmosphere of a particular location grips you. For me that spot is Fergus, Ontario, Canada, a small town one hundred kilometres northwest of Toronto. It captivated me almost forty years ago when I first visited it, and last summer I realised that it was the right place for my first cozy mystery novel. I wanted to create a warm, welcoming place that would be central to my stories and that readers would want to return to for the next book. So I fictionalised the small town that I knew. It became Fenwater and my novel evolved from there.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
DA: As I was writing my first historical novel a decade ago, I wondered how I should go about getting it published. I wasn’t sure whether I should approach traditional publishers or publish it myself. But, in the end, I didn’t have to make the decision because I stumbled across an advertisement in an Irish magazine for a First Chapter contest, run by a self-publishing services company. I entered the contest and, I was surprised and delighted when my novel won. The prize was a publishing package provided by the company. I found the experience of working with them a positive one. I liked having considerable input into the cover design, book layout, and marketing so when my next book was ready to release indie publishing was my choice. Over the years I’ve gained knowledge and skills and now hire my own cover designer and editor and independently release my book.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
DA: My first invitation would go to historical and crime fiction author, Manda Scott. She has a fantastic ability to capture people and places in her writing, and often sees historical events from different angles than usual, creating whole new dimensions to plots. I’d also invite cozy mystery writer Leighann Dobbs, because I love the appealing worlds she creates in her books, and romance writer Sarah Morgan, because it’s impossible not to love her characters. I indulge in one of Sarah’s Christmas romances every year. And, last but not least, I’d invite Lucinda Riley because her storytelling ability always keeps me hooked until the end of the book.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
DA: I always have a ‘stack’ of books waiting on my Kindle but the one I’m currently reading is The Love Letter by Lucinda Riley. I really enjoy her Seven Sisters series and every year I pre-order the next book in the series and eagerly wait for it to be released. I’m also reading The Agora Letters Volume 2 by Clay Boutwell. It’s a great, old fashioned mystery series in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
DA: Sure. My husband and I live on a small farm and I enjoy the outdoors so when the household chores are completed (my least favourite part of life) and I’m not reading or 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 a couple years ago. Now our closest companions are a pair of cats. There’s not much difference between the two species really: cats are just stubbornness and determination in a smaller package.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
DA: Maple syrup, cinnamon, pancake mix, tea. The first three are items that my character, Lois, couldn’t live without. Unlike me though, she would prefer coffee to tea.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
DA: I’ll definitely continue writing the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series. Since I’m convinced that the real 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 write the second book in the Century Cottage Mysteries series and the next one and the next one…Book 2 should be ready to release next summer or early autumn.
I’m also working on a prequel novella, set in 1983 in the last area of Toronto to still prohibit the sale of alcohol (continuing without a break from before even the days of Prohibition in the 1930s), to give readers a glimpse into Lois Stone’s life before she moved to Fenwater, and reveal what prompted her move to the small town. The novella, “Out of Options”, will be available early in the new year.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
DA: I love conjuring up ideas and scribbling down the stories that flow from them. When a story is finally completed, it’s exciting to see the finished work. The hardest or worst part is the slog in the middle when you must revise your original draft, more than once, so that it conforms to the wonderful idea you started with and turns into the book you imagined when you started writing. But it’s great when you get to the end of the process and have a book in your hands.
A Timeless Celebration (Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries) by Dianne Ascroft
About the Book
Cozy Mystery 1st in Series
Self Published (October 25, 2018)
Print Length: 245 pages
A small town, a big party, a stolen gift. When an artefact from the Titanic is stolen before her town's 150th anniversary celebration, it's up to Lois Stone to catch the thief.
Middle-aged widow Lois has moved from bustling Toronto to tranquil Fenwater and is settling into her new life away from the dangers of the city. Then two events happen that shatter her serenity: her house is burgled and an antique watch belonging to a Titanic survivor is stolen from the local museum. Her best friend, Marge, was responsible for the watch's safekeeping until its official presentation to the museum at the town's 150th anniversary party, and its disappearance will jeopardise her job and the museum's future. Lois won't let her friend take the blame and the consequences for the theft. She's determined to find the watch in time to save her best friend's job, the museum's future and the town's 150th anniversary celebration.
And so begins a week of new friends, apple and cinnamon muffins, calico cats, midnight intruders, shadowy caprine companions and more than one person with a reason to steal the watch, set against the backdrop of century houses on leafy residential streets, the swirling melodies of bagpipes, a shimmering heat haze and the burble of cool water.
About the Author
Dianne Ascroft is a Torontonian who has settled in rural Northern Ireland. She and her husband live on a small farm with an assortment of strong-willed animals. A Timeless Celebration is the first novel in the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries 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. Dianne writes both fiction and non-fiction. Her articles and short stories have been printed in Canadian and Irish magazines and newspapers. When she’s not writing, she enjoys walks in the countryside, evenings in front of her open fireplace and folk and traditional music.
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