SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM is now in paperback! The paper version is available at Amazon, Amazon UK , and Barnes and Noble
And in honor of its hard copy debut, the ebook is only 99c for one week! The ebook is on sale at all the Amazons.
Favorite Characters: Vera Winchester
She's very kind and adores animals. Her excellent business sense—and ability to ignore unpleasant details—keeps the unorthodox company running in spite of the sometimes-criminal antics of the owners.
Vera usually wears a serviceable navy blue pantsuit and her hair is cut in a "no-nonsense gray bob."
The character was inspired by the real-life office manager at the UK publishing company that published my first two books. The real Vera, whose name was Pat, was actually younger than me—and not quite so long-suffering. She had a sharp wit and wasn't as lacking in self-awareness as Vera.
Pat became a close friend when I lived in England. She often invited me to her lovely house for Sunday dinner and let me take baths in her luxurious tub. My digs only had a dribbly shower in an unheated bathroom shared with five or six men. (I did say my experiences there were an adventure.)
Pat and I always exchanged long letters at Christmastime. I loved getting the news from Gainsborough and hearing about the dramas as the company fizzled after the mysterious disappearance of the co-owner. Pat was sure that the real life "Peter Sherwood" had staged his death in order to evade creditors and she thought he might be somewhere in France.
But two Christmases ago, no card arrived, and I had a bad feeling. I Googled her name in the local Gainsborough paper and was devastated when I found her obituary. All I could find out was that she had died "after a short illness." It was a real blow to me. I had always planned to go back and visit her someday. She and her family had been so welcoming and there was something timelessly English about their home and way of life. Pat was an avid gardener and voracious reader. She took the "pervy books" side of the publishing company in stride and glossed over it most of the time, although she could make some hilarious jokes about them.
But in a way my friend lives on in Vera Winchester. Vera is as fiercely loyal to Peter Sherwood as Pat was to her real life bosses.
I brought Vera back in So Much for Buckingham. She is the one who finally helps Plantagenet when he is stuck in the "custody suite" in the Swynsby Constabulary jail accused of murdering a historical reenactor. In the awful, windowless cell, poor Plant has been hallucinating visitations by the ghost of Richard III and has only a tenuous hold on his sanity.
Here's what happens when Vera finally appears in So Much for Buckingham:
"A uniformed officer appeared.
"You have a guest, Mr. Smith," he said. "A lady."
Good god. He hoped it wasn't Queen Elizabeth I or any other dead royal personage.
"Am I in the right place?" A high pitched voice came from the corridor outside. "Is this where you have Mr. Plantagenet Smith? You must let him go. He's a famous Hollywood film writer. From America."
A sweet-faced woman in her fifties fluttered into the room. She wore a flowered dress and a large, swooping sort of hat over a no-nonsense gray bob.
"Mr. Plantagenet Smith?" she said. "I'm Vera Winchester. Office manager at Sherwood publishing." She extended a hand. "I'm afraid I was on my way to my son's wedding rehearsal dinner, which is why the hat…" She patted her dramatic head gear. "He's getting married tomorrow. Our Callum. To his girl Bryony. Nice young woman, if a bit flighty. Her brother's not right in the head, unfortunately, but luckily it's not hereditary. She's in the family way, but of course they all are these days, aren't they? Cart before the horse. It's all been rush-rush-rush since we found out. They've had to throw together the wedding and tonight's rehearsal dinner is in the back room at our local. We had no time to do anything posh."
Plant clutched Vera's hand, not wanting to let go. He shook it again, hoping against hope that she was real.
"I can't tell you how glad I am to see you," he said. "So Camilla somehow got in touch with you? Is she all right?"
"I haven't the foggiest," Vera said. "I haven't heard a peep from Camilla, and we've been that worried about her because of all those nasty reviews. But I suppose she doesn't have my home email address."
Maybe Camilla hadn't been overreacting to those reviews. Vera looked genuinely stricken.
She went on. "It's Henry Weems who sent me here. He's my boss at Sherwood Ltd. He's sent the money for bail, but apparently they don't need it yet. They're supposed to release you to my custody, he tells me. Although if you really were a murderer and wanted to escape, I can't imagine how I'd stop you, but…do you think I might have my hand back now?"
Plant realized he'd been hanging onto the poor woman's hand.
"You mean I can leave?" He needed to compose himself. "I'm free on bail?"
"No bail set, because you haven't been charged. You're still a person of interest. But you're free to roam the confines of Swynsby-on-Trent," she said. "Which means you may come to Callum's rehearsal dinner…I do hope you like roast beef. We're serving a roast, with Yorkshire pud, of course. Fresh peas and carrots from our community garden. And a nice cream cake for afters."
"That sounds like the food of the gods to me, Mrs. Winchester." Plant felt himself salivate. He didn't know exactly how long he'd been in here living on mystery meat sandwiches, but he knew that any real food would be a taste of heaven right now.
A different officer arrived and escorted them down the hall to the reception area where Plant had first come in—how many days ago? It could have been years.
Vera kept up her chatter as they walked.
"Bryony is watching her figure, and didn't want us to order a cream cake, but it's Callum's favorite. Bryony doesn't want her baby bump to show in her gown tomorrow, but of course it will. It's not as if everybody doesn't know already. The truth has a way of getting out, doesn't it?"
"The truth?" Plant stared at his unlikely rescuer as the custody sergeant sorted through some papers.
"Oh, I certainly hope the truth will come out, Mrs. Winchester. I deeply hope so." He turned to the sergeant. "When do I get my things? l have to change out of this, um, uniform or whatever it is."
"Not until the case is closed," the sergeant said.
"I'm supposed to walk out of here naked?"
"Oh, I forgot," Vera said. "I must run out to the car. They told me to bring you something to wear. So I brought you one of my George's old suits, since we're going directly to the rehearsal dinner. But you're quite a bit trimmer than George. I've also brought a shirt and shoes and some smalls. I do hope they fit."
Vera ran outside as Plant signed many pieces of paper and the sergeant informed him in a stiff voice that he must not leave the area, and must check into the station daily while the case was still pending or he would not receive his passport.
"And what is the Sywnsby address where you'll be staying?" he asked. "We can only allow you to go if you have a local address."
Plant tried to remember where Brenda said Vera lived. "Rope…Rope Road," he stammered.
Luckily Vera reappeared, carrying a garment bag.
"1187 Ropery Road," she said. "Mr. Smith will be in my custody. Me and my husband, George Winchester. I think you know George from down the pub, don't you Sergeant?"
The sergeant gave a small smile.
This is excerpted from So Much for Buckingham, which is #5 in the Camilla Randall Mysteries, but can be read as a stand-alone.
Do you have favorite minor characters in books? Do you wonder if they're inspired by the author's real friends? Who are some of your favorite minor characters? If you want to know more about using real people in your fiction, check out my piece at Artist Unleashed this week.