Murder in Cyberspace

Did you ever want to cast off? Did you ever want to sail into the sunset with someone you just met; a kindred spirit, a twin soul, leaving everything behind? It is possible; in the virtual world of the Internet, which can become a comfort zone you’ll never want to leave. And then you might want to meet that person with whom you have become strangely intimate. But reality is never as lovely as the dream. Be careful what you wish for…

  

VIRTUAL STRANGERS- a detective story that takes place in cyberspace.

Two Writers:

Ola Zaltin (born Saltin) is from Stockholm, Sweden. At age 25, he was admitted to the Screenwriting Programme at the National Film school of Denmark. After that followed a string of short films, one feature film and various episodes for TV, Rejseholdet (Unit One) and Wallander being amongst them.

Susanne O’Leary (born Lagerlöf) is also from Stockholm.  She started writing about ten years ago and her first novel, ‘Diplomatic Incidents’ caused a few raised eyebrows in the world of diplomacy. Then followed three further novels (all written in English and published in Ireland), which, masquerading as romantic comedies, were written with her tongue firmly in her cheek, causing further consternation in the polite world. She then discovered the Internet and a writers site, where she came into contact with a certain Mr Zaltin, who suggested they write a crime novel together. After a year of writing, arguing, laughing and arm twisting, Virtual Strangers was finished, merging two completely different writing styles and takes on life, in a highly unusual and humorous detective story.

ONE  MURDER MYSTERY.

Virtual Strangers


Two complete strangers meet on a train and agree to off their significant others. Sounds familiar? It should be, it’s Strangers on a Train.

60 years later on, two strangers meet online. A man and a woman – Seabee and Annika – hook up on a wannabe authors’ site where they flirt, banter and play around with the notion of dispatching their equally impossible partners It’s all a big literary, intertextual joke, until the weekend when both their partners actually do die in what seems to be unrelated freak accidents; or are they? Seabee and Annika find out in a hurry that cyberspace makes strange bedfellows… And if it’s not he nor she who did it… then who has done the killings? The two of them team up to find out who has hijacked their fantasy and turned it into a bloody real-life. 

This is Virtual Strangers: a world of bubbly, innocent, virtual online fun, until reality comes knocking on the door holding a very ominous scythe in its hand…

Virtual Strangers  has just been published on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is on fire!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2010. That’s about 3 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 7 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 9 posts. There were 37 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 8mb. That’s about 3 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was August 25th with 52 views. The most popular post that day was In the beginning, there was Authonomy..

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were digg.com, facebook.com, susanne-oleary.com, who-will-win-fifa-worldcup-2010.com, and healthfitnesstherapy.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for tarte tropezienne, nohant, alfred de musset comments on nohant, brigitte bardot saint tropez, and the house that time forgot.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

In the beginning, there was Authonomy. August 2010
8 comments

2

Brigitte Bardot and The Tart from St Tropez September 2010
5 comments

3

My e-book Experience April 2010
8 comments

4

The House That Time Forgot May 2010
12 comments

5

About December 2008

A Woman’s Place. The story that inspired the novel

Cover of 'A Woman's Place'I recently published my historical novel, ‘A Woman’s Place’ on Amazon Kindle

This story is based on the lives of two women; my great aunt Julia and her daughter Sonja. I came across the story when I was looking through my late grandmother’s letters and photographs. There were some photos of a beautiful young woman I knew to be the famous Julia. Famous? Well only in the family, of course, not only because of her beauty and charm but also because of her adventurous life. She was the kind of woman who acted on impulse, which often landed her in trouble. When, at the age of 20, she became pregnant and found herself abandoned by the father of her child, who had run off to America,  she immediately borrowed money and followed him across the Atlantic. What happened next is described in the novel, which you can read on the Kindle. Set in Stockholm, Helsinki, Paris, Monte Carlo and New York, this story has a true eye-witness feel.

Julia
The lovely Julia
 
Julia and Edwin
Julia and Edwin, her second husband and the love of her life
Hotel Cap Martin
The hotel in Cap Martin, where Julia and Sonja spent the winter of 1912-13
The Casino in Monte Carlo in 1912

Julia’s daughter Sonja was just as impetuous, flighty and brave. She travelled, first to Paris, where she had an unhappy love affair and then onto New York, where she worked for a wealthy family and, for a short time, led a kind of ‘Great Gatsby‘ lifestyle in the aftermath of the Wall Street crash in 1929.

Sonja at 30, when she had just arrived in New York (after her Elizabeth Arden makeover)
 

Sonja on the beach at Fisher's Island

 
 
 
 
 
Sonja on the beach at Fisher’s Island

The story was pieced together from over 200 letters and also diaries and postcards.

Brigitte Bardot and The Tart from St Tropez

 

Brigitte and the story of  THAT cake.

Having fought a very irate French lady for the last piece of ”Tarte Tropezienne’ in my local patisserie in Antibes, where I’m spending a  late summer holiday, I thought I would research the origin of what looks like just an ordinary sponge cake, filled with custard. But it’s not. Bite into it and you’ll discover it’s a piece of pure heaven. To die for. To fight with aggressive French females within an inch of your life for. To risk an additional spare tyre for. To… I could go on and on. But where did it come from? And what’s the secret ingredient that makes it so sublime? 

The story started in 1945, with a young Polish ‘parachutiste’, called Alexandre Micka, who took part in the liberation of the French Rivera at the end of WWII.  To cut a long story short, he liked the place so much, he stayed, married a French girl and opened a bakery in St Tropez. Once installed, our Alexandre used his mother’s recipes from his native Poland, one of which was for a cake with a vanilla flavoured filling (plus that secret ingredient) which  became a local speciality. Wind the film (literally) forward to 1952, when a young director called Roger Vadim was making a film entitled  ‘And God Created Woman’ with a young starlet by the name of- you guessed it- Brigitte Bardot. Alexandre Micka got the job of catering for the film crew and the soon-to-be- famous cake was served daily.

‘You should give a name to this dessert,’ said Brigitte (who, judging by her figure only indulged in the occasional nibble) and so, the ‘Tarte Tropezienne’ was born. And now it is served in every good patisserie on the  French Rivera. The secret ingredient? Nobody knows. Every time I taste it, I get a different flavour; sometimes  almond, or apple or rum.

But who cares? It’s gorgeous.

In the beginning, there was Authonomy.

It all began with a site for authors called Authonomy, which was started by Harper-Collins in 2008. Now, I’m sure many of you know Authonomy and what it is today. But way back then…. Oh, it was a magic place, if you can say that a site is a ‘place’ in any sense of the word. In the beginning, there were probably only 200 or so authors who had spilled over from the ABNA competition and become friends while waiting for results. Then Authonomy started up.

I had no idea, really, of how it worked. I uploaded ‘Swedish for Beginners’ and then just forgot about it for a while. But one day, a few weeks later, I got an e-mail saying ‘you have a comment on your book.’ Excited, I logged on and there was the very first comment from another author, in London. It was so amazing to me to get this feedback from someone like that, on a site for authors. And little by little, I started reading other authors’ work and posting on the Authonomy forum.

The forum was, in those days, populated by authors with a tremendous variety in styles and voices. And the jokes and repartee of such sharp wit never to be seen on any forum or blog anywhere, in my opinion. The insults and fights were also horrible and bitter at times. But there was this unspoken camaraderie and support between us and many of us are friends for life ever since. Probably because of the mutual respect and understanding that we were all struggling, all trying so hard to survive in a very harsh marketplace. There was a strong, beating heart in that forum, a connection between kindred spirits.

We had threads about every subject under the sun and we used to call in and say hello to each other at various times of the day. I remember Simon and Alexander and their hilarious exchanges, while they were both plugging their books, my lovely friend Scarlett, who joined me in the flirting thread. We were the ‘hottest thread’ for weeks. M.M Bennetts who advised me about horsemanship and slid under the table with me for port and Stilton, Abu el Banat, the master of charm and wit. But dearest to my heart, my two fellow Scandinavians, Ola and Heikki.

It was wonderful.  And I miss it so.

The Man Who Gave Us Retail Therapy

       Department stores are part of our everyday life. But have you ever wondered how it all started? This is the story of how one man tapped into the female mind and changed shopping forever.

Harry Selfridge, the founder of Selfridges, one of the landmarks of shopping in London, was a multitalented, multitasking genius. Although he did not invent the department store as such, he was instrumental in creating the type of store we know today. Harry Selfridge grasped the concept of shopping as a sensual female entertainment better than anyone else in the business. He knew instinctively what women wanted and how they liked to shop. As a result, he changed the entire landscape of shopping forever.

Born1856 in the hamlet of Ripon, Wisconsin, USA, Harry Selfridge lost his father just after the Civil War. Shortly afterwards, Harry’s two older brothers died. He and his mother moved to Jackson, Michigan, where she worked as a primary school teacher. Harry grew very close to his mother during his childhood and adolescence, which might explain his deep understanding and love of women.

Harry Selfridge started his long career in retailing in 1885 at Marshall Field’s, Chicago’s prestigious department store, where he set about making it the biggest, best and most modern department store in America. He began by wiring the whole store for electricity, installing phone lines and elevators. He had the shop windows lit at night and the concept of ‘window shopping’ was born. He put central displays in the aisles, so women could touch and feel the merchandise, and introduced the ‘bargain basement’, allowing the less well off to shop for their ‘Sunday best’. The store had one of the very first in-house tea rooms, where ladies could eat out by themselves, rare in the late nineteenth century.

By 1903, Harry had made Marshall Field’s a landmark in Chicago and had built a huge fortune for both himself and the owner. At this stage, Harry wanted recognition and his name in lights. He asked for the store to be named Marshall, Field &Selfridge but was turned down. Deeply disappointed, Harry then made plans to leave not only Chicago but also America and, in 1907, moved with his family to London, where he started planning his very own department store. Two years later, Selfridges was opened in Oxford Street. As owner, Harry Selfridge had a free hand and could introduce every type of novelty he wanted. After a shaky start, Selfridges became the most important and fashionable department store in London.

Almost all the inventions and technological refinements we take for granted today emerged in the late Edwardian era; the aeroplane, the automobile, the telephone, electricity, the cinema. Harry Selfridge tapped into them all.

When the legendary French aviator Louis Blériot, the first man to fly a plane over water, landed on the Kent coast, he was met not only by the French and English press, but also by Harry Selfridge. A deal was struck, money changed hands and the plane was exhibited on the ground floor of Selfridges for four days, drawing huge crowds, greatly increasing sales.

In 1910, the public were dancing to big band music and now they could buy phonograph wax cylinders to play the music at home. Soon, the  phonographic department at Selfridges was one of the first to stock the new, improved  pressed discs in paper sleeves. The big hit in 1910 was ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, recorded by Clara Butt.

A maverick retailer, Selfridge was the finest seducer of all the great traders of his time but it was his private –or not so private – life that attracted most of the attention. Although devoted to his wife and family, he carried off a champagne lifestyle with great aplomb, embracing the double morality of his time. An attractive man with irresistible charm, his seductions extended much further than the shop floor. He had a string of mistresses, most of them from the world of show business. Most notable, Jenny and Rosie Dolly, otherwise known as the Dolly Sisters, danced their way into Harry Selfridge’s life in 1925. His last love interest was the Swedish–French actress Marcelle Rogez. He was also a compulsive gambler and won and lost several fortunes in the best casinos of Europe.

The Depression, overspending on extending the department store, combined with Harry’s expensive lifestyle, gambling and generosity to his mistresses all resulted in his downfall. He died penniless in 1947.

The House That Time Forgot

A few years ago, when my husband and I were touring France, a happy accident took us to a place of pure magic.
Our trip, which would take us by car right through France, starting in Normandy and ending in Provence, was to include a few days in the Loire Valley, taking in a château or two. As it was late September, we thought we would avoid the usual hordes of tourists who flock to that part of France in high season. But when we walked through the gardens of Chenonceaux, the most beautiful of the châteaux in the Loire Valley, we realised how wrong we were. We had to practically elbow ourselves into the château, and push through the throngs in order to go from room to room. It didn’t take us long to change our plans and we decided to head further south, down the less popular departmental roads. We travelled through Tours toward Châteauroux, having no idea where we were going to end up but that was part of the fun.

South of Châteauroux, we took the D943 toward La Chatre. This road led us through an area of France called Le Berry, less known than the Loire Valley and therefore, in my view, much more attractive. There are châteaux here too, less imposing and not so impeccably restored, which only adds to their charm. The rolling countryside has kept its old fashioned atmosphere and the little towns and villages don’t appear to have changed much in the past 150 years or so.

I read in the guidebook that Le Berry is the birthplace of George Sand, the nineteenth century author, of whom it is said that she used to dress up as a man in order to shock society. I later learned that she was just being practical as trousers are much more comfortable when walking or riding in the country. She is also rumoured to have counted some famous authors and composers among her lovers, such as Alfred de Musset, Franz Liszt and Frederic Chopin. Her home was Nohant, a small château south of Chatearoux, on the outskirts of Saint-Chartier, a sleepy village on the shores of the river Indre. We decided to stay the night there and visit the château the next day.

The late autumn sunshine and still air added to the romance of the countryside. As we drove in through the gates of Château de la Vallée Bleue, the hotel we had come across in the hotel guide (another happy accident), I felt as if we had been transported back in time. This house is not really a château but a big manor house, former residence of George Sand’s doctor. The hotel, lovingly restored to its former nineteenth century glory, has 8 comfortable bedrooms furnished with antiques of that period. We dined to the sounds of Chopin softly wafting through the hi-fi system and looked forward to our ‘rendezvous’ with Georges Sand the following morning.

The mist lay in grey veils across the fields and woods as we made our way to Nohant. When we arrived at the castle, we found a small group of locals waiting for the first guided tour to start. We were the only foreign tourists and we chatted to the other visitors who told us that, even though they were from the area, they had never visited the château and were looking forward to it as much as we were.

The tour guide arrived and we entered the château. What followed was an hour or so in a most magical place. Georges Sand, whose real name was Aurore Dupin, was the sole heiress to the château, the origins of which date back to the 15th century. It was rebuilt and extended through the years and is, in its present form, exactly as it was in the mid nineteenth century when Georges Sand lived there. She was a remarkable woman and counted among her houseguests the crème de la crème of writers, composers and artists of her period. Her dinner table would host such names as Franz Liszt, the authors Alfred de Musset and Alexandre Dumas and the painter Delacroix. Chopin wrote most of his music here and his bedroom and study exude his presence.

Georges Sand spent an extraordinary amount of effort and money to make her château the most up to date and comfortable house in France. The kitchens are remarkably modern and there is also a theatre where she and her guests would be entertained with puppets made by her son Maurice. The bedrooms were furnished and decorated with exquisite taste and the beautiful garden reminded me of the one described in my favourite childhood book ‘The Secret Garden’.

The visit was drawing to a close. The last room was the drawing room. There was a piano which, to our disappointment, was not the one Franz Liszt used, but a later copy. The tour guide invited anyone who could, to play a tune. A lady in the group reluctantly admitted she could play ‘but was a bit rusty’. She sat down at the piano and launched into a piece by Franz Liszt. Rusty she may have been, but to my untrained ears, the music was wonderful and as I looked out through the open window, into the pale sun shining through the mist floating around trees and shrubs, time stood still. For just a moment, I felt the presence of all those who had lived and loved and played there once upon a time.

My memory of this visit was so vivid that I promised myself to set a novel in this part of France, and it was fulfilled in ‘Finding Margo’.

I would thoroughly recommend a visit to this area of France and especially the Château de Nohant . The hotel is nearby and can be found on their website: http://www.chateauvalleebleue.com/.
Do go to Nohant on a late spring or autumn morning and maybe, if there is a piano player in your midst, you might also conjure up the spirit of George Sand.

Why Women Can’t Read Maps

I can’t read maps. I have misdirected myself, my husband, the entire family and carloads of friends for years in several different countries. We have ended up miles from our planned destination, usually hungry, hot, tired, and sometimes out of petrol, far from a hotel or even a petrol station. I have seen my nearest and dearest look at me with murder on their minds.
Travelling in the outskirts of Rome with Italian friends, Patricia and Luigi, some years ago, we noticed that they had solved their map-reading problems with one of those little satellite navigation boxes. My husband kept remarking on the sensuality of the female Italian voice coming from the box and asking where he could get something similar for our own car. Patricia and I, somehow, found the voice intensely annoying and Luigi, with typical male Italian chivalry, switched the system off, telling us all we only had ‘a few kilometres to go’. Patricia seemed a little worried but I offered to use the map to guide us for the last bit of the journey. We ended up at a disused military airport that had been closed in 1973. This led to an explosion in Italian from Patricia, and Luigi, ever the gentleman, apologising profusely for his earlier chivalry in turning off the satellite system.
I used to think I was lacking a skill that other women had in abundance as we travelled on some scary motorway on the continent and I desperately tried to figure out if left on the map was in reality right and finally turning the map up-side down in order to ‘see’ the road, flicking the map all over the place and obscuring the view of the by now rather irritated (to put it mildly) husband. We would scream at each other while the traffic roared around us, the exits zipped past and we ended up missing the one we should have taken.
I was slowly coming to terms with my disability and learning to live with it, when articles about this very subject started to appear in the press. I discovered to my delight that I was not alone. Women can’t read maps! It’s a scientific fact.
It seems that the brains of men and women function in different ways. Our brains aren’t different, we just use them differently. The human brain – male or female – is composed of about 40 percent grey matter and 60 percent white matter. The grey matter is used to process information and use skills such as mathematics, map-reading and intellectual thought. The white matter connects the brain’s processing centres and is central to emotional thought, language and the ability to multi-task. And because women, for some reason, tend to use less grey matter-central to map – reading skills – they tend to have difficulty with these kind of tasks. When given intelligence tests, men used 6.5 times more grey matter than women, while women used nine times more white matter.
But women outshine men when it comes to vocabulary. In childhood, girls’ vocabulary develops more quickly than that of boys. An article I found recently on the internet claimed that by adulthood women can speak 20.000 to 25.000 words a day compared to a man’s 7.000 to 10.000. It appears, however, that there is no scientific proof of this. The figures were dreamed up by a marriage counsellor some years ago and the statement became an urban myth. On the other hand, my friend Patricia’s amazing verbal skills in the closing moments of our Italian episode makes me think there might be something in it.
Research carried out at the University of Edinburgh has shown that women have weaker spatial awareness than men which also makes it more difficult for them to read maps. Still other tests have shown that it is more difficult for women than men to remember the locations of empty boxes on a grid. But when the boxes were replaced with images of flowers, hot air balloons, motorbikes and such like, both sexes scored equally. (Imagine the head start we would have if the images were shoes and handbags).
So, I wasn’t a freak. What a relief!
It didn’t change a thing. Some years ago, we were driving through France during the hottest day of the hottest summer in decades. You guessed it, we got lost again. The usual scenario followed and, as we stopped at a petrol station and my husband refuelled the car, I went into the café to have a soothing cup of coffee while I waited for the steam to stop blowing out of his ears. As I sat there, I wondered what I would do if he suddenly, in a fit of pique, took off without me. The idea for ‘Finding Margo’ was born.
But there’s a twist. In the novel, it is Margo who walks out on her husband on the motorway in the middle of France. In her case, the feminine inability to read maps sends her life in a new direction. She doesn’t need a map to find where she is going…

My e-book Experience

I published three of my books as e-books on Smashwords and Amazon Kindle in the beginning of February. Two of those books were from my previously published backlist (‘Fresh Powder’ and ‘Finding Margo’), the third, ‘Swedish for Beginners’, my soon to be published fifth novel. All the books had been professionally edited and proofread, which, to me, is  a must when uploading a novel that you offer for sale. In any case, e-book readers are extremely discerning and expect books they buy online to meet a certain standard. And if they find the book wanting in any way, they will post a bad review on the book’s page for all to see (not happened to me yet).

I priced all my books at $2.99, which seems to hit the right middle ground between not too expensive and and high enough to earn the hard-working author a little bit of money. Priced any higher, the sales slow down and earnings are less. Imagine 10 books @, say, $5.99, compared to several hundred @$2.99. I’m no good at maths but the sales figures and the ‘grand total’ at the bottom of my sales report each day speak for themselves.

It wasn’t the earnings that delighted me the most, however, it was the direct contact with readers. I have been able to reach people right across the globe; in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and all over the US with the e-book versions of my novels. They have sent me e-mails and ‘talked’ to me on various forums, telling me they enjoyed my stories. They also put some wonderful reviews on all my books. The added advantage with e-books is also that they never go out of date. Nobody takes them off the shelves to make space for new releases. They are there for as long as I want them to be and will keep selling (I hope) without going out of date or coming to the end of their shelf-life.

So, in all a very positive move. I am planning to upload more e-books in the future. It appears that if readers like a book, they will look for others by the same author.

A few points to remember:

1) Make sure your book is properly edited, proofread and formatted (I had mine formatted by a professional, which cost me around $50 per book).

2) Have a nice cover. It’s important to spend a little time to do this, whether you do it yourself or get a cover designer do it for you.

3) Promote your book on Face book, Twitter and readers’ and writers’ forums. I like Amazon’s Kindle Authors Forum and Kindle Boards.

The e-book market is already growing very fast in the US and it won’t be long before it picks up in the rest of the world. I don’t think ‘real’ books will ever disappear and e-books will probably not ever be THE market. But it’s going to be a big part of it.