Tag Archives: Elizabeth J. Duncan

A day in the life of Penny Brannigan by Elizabeth J. Duncan

Have you ever noticed that most amateur sleuths aren’t locked into rigid nine to five jobs?

We need flexibility in our working lives (or the daytime situation as a good friend of ours calls it) because when a detecting opportunity knocks, we have to spring into action. So most of us are entrepreneurs and run our own businesses – restaurants, bakeries, and shops that trade in products of every description: antiques; books; Christmas decorations; collectibles; hats; flowers; sewing, knitting and craft supplies; and goodness knows what else. As for me, I co-own a spa with my business partner Victoria Hopkirk in the North Wales town of Llanelen. I’m also an amateur watercolour artist.

We used to do the sleuthing together, Victoria and I, but over the last couple of years, because I’ve been more involved with Gareth Davies, now a retired police officer, Victoria and I haven’t been doing as much. I missed her involvement on my most recent cases. She’s wonderful for exploring scenarios: ‘what if the killer did this . . . because . . .?’

I’ll admit that sleuthing occasionally gets in the way of my work at the Llanelen Spa; Victoria gave me a right ticking off about this in my most recent outing, Murder Is for Keeps. She reminded me that the rest of the staff shouldn’t be expected to hold the fort while I’m hot on the trail of a local killer. But hey, I’m entitled to a day off every now and then!

And then, when I really needed her, and for reasons that are a bit too complicated to go into here, Victoria decided that we should have a day off together, and drive through the lush Welsh countryside to the town of Llanddulas, where I wanted to speak to someone who might know something about a recent murder. Not only did we have a great day out, but our little adventure put me the right track to catching a killer.

There’s an old saying that a good friend is the one who helps you hide the body. My good friends are the ones who help me unmask the killer.

You can read more about Penny Brannigan and her friend and business partner Victoria Hopkirk in Murder Is for Keeps, number eight in the “Penny Brannigan” mystery series set in North Wales.

Local artist Penny Brannigan has been spending her summer painting Gwrych Castle and its surrounding landscapes. A privately owned, castellated Welsh country house, Gwrych has been sadly neglected for decades and is in a heartbreaking state of disrepair. So when she learns architectural historian Mark Baker is leading a team of enthusiastic volunteers to restore the castle grounds and gardens to their former grandeur, Penny is thrilled.

But it’s not long before disagreements over the restoration turn deadly, and Penny is horrified to discover the body of a volunteer hidden in a castle outbuilding. Penny enlists her friend Gareth Davies, recently retired from the North Wales Police Service, to help investigate. As the two dig deeper into the castle’s history, including its glamorous heyday in the 1920s, they find startling connections between an old, unsolved murder and Gareth’s own family, and as they solve the present-day murder, Penny recovers a stunning piece of the castle’s architectural heritage.

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Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a copy of Murder Is for Keeps. Open to Canada, USA, and UK residents. The giveaway ends July 14, 2017. Good luck everyone!

About the author
Elizabeth J. Duncan is a two-time winner of the Bloody Words Light Mystery Award (Canada) and has been nominated for Agatha and Arthur Ellis awards. She is the author of the long-running Penny Brannigan series set in North Wales (St. Martins Press), and the Shakespeare in the Catskills series (Crooked Lane Books). She lives in Toronto.

Visit her website at www.elizabethjduncan.com, like her Facebook page: and follow her on Twitter: @elizabethduncan

All comments are welcomed.

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A Day in the Life of Charlotte Fairfax by Elizabeth J. Duncan

Untimely Death“What kind of underpants should I wear?”

That’s the question I get asked the most and I understand why. Actors like to build their characters from the bottom up, so to speak. And costumes work better when they’re created from the inside out, authentically, and in keeping with the period. And the right underwear provides the right foundation for any garment.

My line of work, and clothing, is Tudor and Jacobean. I’m the costume designer for the Catskills Shakespeare Theater Company. We’re based in Jacob’s Grand Hotel, in Walkers Ridge, upstate New York, and although we’re a small troupe operating on a miniscule budget, we pride ourselves on our professional Shakespeare performances that people have been coming to for decades, from all over New York state and beyond.

I’ve been here for about ten years. I started my career with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford Upon Avon, so you could say my whole career has been about helping actors look the part. I’ve dressed some of the biggest and best knights and dames of the British theater, and most of them were cooperative and fun to work with. And you’ll have to forgive me, but I still call the women actresses – it just makes my job easier to distinguish between male and female actors.

One of the most demanding actresses I ever worked with wasn’t someone with solid acting and box office credentials who might be entitled to be entitled, if you know what I mean. She was a young thespian, just starting to pay her dues, who thought herself way above wearing a previously worn costume, as everyone in the theatre, cinema and television does. She was much too grand for the likes of us! This young madam thought she deserved a new costume, designed and made just for her. Well, I told her it wasn’t going to happen and it didn’t – because she got herself killed. Murdered, in fact.

But the director suggested, and I agreed, that her replacement shouldn’t have to wear the costume the dead girl tried on – theater folk are a very superstitious lot — so my assistant, Aaron, made a new Juliet costume for the new girl and a great job he did, too. Oh, the irony of who got the new costume. But that’s Shakespeare for you. Irony abounds on and off the page and stage.

And as for underwear, well, like the rest of the costume, it depended on your status in life. A Tudor lady would wear a soft linen smock, or chemise, to protect the rest of her clothes from sweat and body oils. Beneath her chemise, she would wear stockings, which were tied with garters above the knees.

On top of her chemise, a lady would wear her bodice, designed to flatten the front of the chest and lift the breasts.

Underpants, knickers, panties – whatever you want to call them — didn’t really appear for another couple of centuries or so. But I want my actresses to be confident on stage, so I tell them to wear whatever they’re comfortable in, even if it breaks character. So the next time you see a Shakespeare in the Catskills production, you can ask yourself, is she or isn’t she?

You can read more about Charlotte Fairfax in Untimely Death, published Nov. 10, the first in the “Shakespeare in the Catskills” mystery series published by Crooked Lane Books.

About Untimely Death

A Catskills resort’s production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet takes a wickedly ironic turn when the leading lady, Lauren Richmond, is first poisoned and then stabbed. Who would extinguish the life of such a beautiful young thespian? Who wouldn’t? Seems like just about everyone had a motive to pull the ropes on her final curtain call.

At the center of this Shakespearian tragedy is Charlotte Fairfax, formerly the costume mistress of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Upstate New York is a long way from the royal stage, but Charlotte is always the queen of her domain. As this small production’s costume designer, she has stitched her way into everyone’s lives, learning more than anyone could possibly imagine about the rise and fall of Lauren Richmond. But curiosity killed the cat. And it might well kill the costume designer.

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Meet the author
Elizabeth J. Duncan is the multiple award-winning author of two mystery series: the well-established Penny Brannigan series set in Wales and Shakespeare in the Catskills, launching this November. A former journalist and public relations practioner, she is a faculty member of the Humber School for Writers. Elizabeth divides her time between Llandudno, North Wales and Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Connect with Elizabeth J. Duncan at elizabethjduncan.com, follow her on twitter @elizabethduncan and like her on facebook.com/elizabethjduncan.