The Heritage Heist (Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries)
by Dianne Ascroft
I am so happy to welcome Dianne Ascroft
to Escape With Dollycas today!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hello everyone. I’m Dianne Ascroft. I grew up in Toronto, Canada, and moved to Britain three decades ago. I’ve been gradually downsizing from city to town to countryside until I’m now settled on a farm in rural Northern Ireland with my husband and an assortment of strong-willed animals. I enjoy the outdoors so when the household chores are completed (my least favourite part of life) and I’m not writing, I go for long walks and also spend time with our cat. For many years, we had a pair of goats as companions until the last one died several years ago. Now our constant companion is our tortoiseshell cat (yes, one of the cats in my cozy mystery series is modeled on her).
I wrote historical fiction, often with an Irish connection, for several years before veering off into cozy mysteries. The Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series is a joy for me to write. Writing stories set in my homeland Canada has been a nostalgic journey for me and I enjoy every minute of it.
What are three things most people don’t know about you?
For approximately two decades, I played the Scottish bagpipes and loved playing and competing with a pipe band in parades and piping contests in Canada, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
I’m the only right-handed person in my family.
I can’t ride a bicycle.
What is the first book you remember reading?
Dick and Jane grade-school readers. Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham also stands out vividly in my mind.
What are you reading now?
I always have a ‘stack’ of books waiting on my Kindle but the one I’m currently reading is Last Night with Tokyo Rose by Alexa Kang. I like to read a mix of cozy mystery and historical fiction, as well as the odd contemporary fiction in between.
What books have most inspired you?
There are loads of books that I could name, but I really admire Diana Gabaldon’s storytelling skill and her ability to interweave stories that unfold over several books. I’m also inspired by Laura Bradford’s ability to write compelling mystery plots and the way Leighann Dobbs weaves a believable magic world and engaging characters into her stories.
What made you decide you wanted to write mysteries?
For several years I wrote Second World War fiction, set in Northern Ireland. Then a couple of years ago I decided to have a change of pace. I had an idea for a mystery series and I knew a small town in Canada that would be the perfect setting for it. I think that part of the enjoyment of reading a cozy mystery is losing oneself in a pleasing setting. So, I fictionalized the small town that I knew as Fenwater and the first novel in the Century Cottage Cozy Mystery series evolved from there. I wanted to create a place that beckons readers to step in and stay a while, and characters that readers would remember. Cozy mysteries allow me to explore the characters and the place, as well as the mystery at the heart of the story.
Do you have a special place you like to write?
I do much of my writing at a desk in the corner of the spare bedroom in my house but my favourite place to write is at the dining room table, often with a cup of tea on the table beside me, and our cat draped across my knee (or sitting beside me tapping my leg with her paw). My husband is next door in the living room so, if he misses me, he can pop his head through the doorway to reassure himself that I’m still there. There’s a small window on the wall opposite and a patio door beside me so the room is bright and cheery. But, since they look out onto the side lawn and the farmyard respectively, the view doesn’t distract me – unless, of course, a hare hops through the farmyard and stops to glance around, or a cow escapes from a field and comes wandering over for a nosy at me through the patio door (both have really happened).
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
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 in this novel, an antique quilt. I’ve been a keen patchwork quilter since I was a teenager so when I stumbled across information about the tradition of wholecloth quilting in the Scottish Borders region, where the original settlers of my fictional town Fenwater came from, I had to weave it into the plot of The Heritage Heist. In the Scottish Borders town Hawick, their wholecloth quilts have a ‘broken heart’ and thistle motif. In this design, the stitching never meets at the top of the heart to complete the shape. I modelled the antique quilt in The Heritage Heist on this design. My character Lois is wowed by the exquisite workmanship in the beautiful counterpane when she first sees it and she keenly feels its loss when it’s stolen. She is even more perturbed when one of her friends becomes the prime suspect in the theft of the cherished textile.
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?
Probably the most difficult aspect of the process for me is deciding what the theme of the story is and how the plot has to develop to reflect this. I spend time thinking about a new story and jot down my ideas before I begin to construct the plot. Once I have a list of ideas and information about the characters and the events in the story, I try to pull them together into a coherent plot. The theme then blends into the background but guides the development of the plot. As I pull the plot together, I check to be sure the story flows in a believable way and each character’s actions and the reasons behind them make sense. As I write the story, I frequently refer back to my plot outline to be sure it is still on course.
What do you think makes a good story?
I think a story needs to be compelling, one that will matter to the characters and the reader. This doesn’t mean that it has to be a larger-than-life blockbuster that includes a huge cast of characters and many flashy settings. It can be set in a small place with characters that live relatively ordinary lives. But there must be a significant problem or conflict for them to solve, and events must drive relentlessly forward until the problem or conflict is resolved. As well as the underlying problem or conflict, the characters in the book need to touch readers’ hearts and make readers want to root for them.
Lois Stone, the main character in the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series, is very like me in many ways. After years of doing detailed historical research for my previous books, I wanted to write stories that wouldn’t involve a huge amount of research. So, as I created Lois, I deliberately added some of my own likes and dislikes to her personality. That made it very easy for me to bring her to life. Lois and I have had different experiences but there’s more of me in her than in any other character I’ve ever created.
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?
I would describe my cozy mystery stories as heartwarming with a hint of history. For me, it’s important that the characters and place both appeal to the reader. I usually focus on characters that are people readers might meet and the kinds of places that everyone knows. The world of powerful corporations or the rich and famous isn’t for me. I don’t want to write larger-than-life places or people – just ones I hope readers will connect with. My goal is to warm readers’ hearts and put smiles on their faces. My mysteries have tension and drama, but perhaps in a more understated way than some other books do.
Also, I guess it goes back to my beginnings as a historical fiction author, but I can’t help throwing historical elements into my stories. Objects that have been stolen in the novels and novellas in this series include an artifact from the Titanic, a rare Haida Indian carving, and an antique wholecloth quilt. And in Out of Options, the prequel novella to the series, the story is set in a community divided over whether to continue to uphold their ‘dry’ status almost a century after the town voted to ban the sale of alcohol.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
The next novel in the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series, of course. I had an idea for Book 3 in the series recently and I’m busy sketching out the plot for the book. It will soon be fleshed out enough for me to start writing. The novel will be available later this year.
Thank you Dianne for stopping by today.
More About Dianne Ascroft
Dianne Ascroft writes the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries, set in rural Canada, and The Yankee Years historical sagas, 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 with her husband and an assortment of strong-willed animals.
Her previous fiction works include An Unbidden Visitor (a tale inspired by Fermanagh’s famous Coonian ghost); Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves: A Collection of Short Stories (contemporary tales), and a historical novel, Hitler and Mars Bars, which explores Operation Shamrock, a little known Irish Red Cross humanitarian endeavour.
About The Heritage Heist
A fall fair, a cornered craftsman, an heirloom heist. When an antique quilt that is a cherished part of Fenwater’s past disappears from the market before her town’s fall fair, it’s up to Lois to resolve the quilt quandary.
Middle-aged widow Lois is enjoying her second season in her new town and her century house, away from the dangers of big city life in Toronto. She can’t wait to experience her first old-fashioned fall fair, complete with hot apple cider. But when the local market is burgled, her enthusiasm for the upcoming festival plummets. During the break-in one of the security guards is badly injured and an antique quilt, on loan from the museum, vanishes. Her friend, Bruce, designed and built the display case and has one of only two keys to secure it. That makes him a prime suspect in the theft. Lois won’t let Bruce’s reputation, nor the trust his customers have in the bespoke furniture maker, be damaged by the allegation. She’s determined to piece the clues together to find the quilt, clear Bruce’s name and save a piece of Fenwater’s history.
And so begins a week of deepening friendships, hot apple cider, calico cats, backseat shenanigans, hazy housemates, and few puzzle pieces to work with, set against the backdrop of a rustic market building amidst stately stone architecture, the crackle of flames in the hearth, a blaze of colour on leafy residential streets and the scintillating scent of cinnamon.
The Century Cottage Cozy Mystery series is set in rural Ontario, Canada during the early 1980s.
A tale for fans of Cindy Bell, Leighann Dobbs, Dianne Harman and Kathi Daley.