Writer Claire Stibbe recently hosted me on her blog. Here's what it said, including an exclusive extract from 3rd Degree Murder, describing character Jenny at work in the '60s:
Today I’m delighted to welcome Olga Swan to our Literary Kicks series.Olga Swan is the nom de plume of Gillian Green. She chose the name as a way of perpetuating her unusual E. European maiden name. After Gillian lost all her upper family, including her two brothers, one by one from cancer, she used an anagram of her late brother’s name, A. Olswang, and voilà, Olga Swan was born. After working for 30 years at a leading English university, she retired to France with her husband, where she concentrated on her writing. Her tastes are eclectic, writing in many genres including crime, historical fiction, sci-fi, humour and factional, non-fiction, plus under her own name she also writes for children (see links below.)
‘3rd Degree Murder’ which was released by Crooked Cat Publishing on 23 October 2015, draws on the wealth of knowledge Olga gained during her work at an English university. The title is a play on words: a third (science) degree conflating with an unintentional murder. As such, readers who either are graduates themselves or with student family members can enjoy an intrigue set in a university environment to which they can easily relate.
Hands up those who remember the ‘60s and ‘70s in England!
All of Olga’s books (and she has written ten mss in all) tend to have an underlying thread to the main story. In 3rd Degree Murder, a Jewish secretary and Maliha, a Bangladeshi PhD student, get together in hatred of their professor, showing how cultural barriers are no bar to friendship. But Maliha has her own problems, battling a family who refuse to conform to Western lores. The queue of people hating Prof. Axel Sloan builds throughout the story including lecturers denied promotion, other support staff, his wife, even the office cleaner. So, who in the end killed Axel Sloan? Here’s an extract describing Jenny, Olga’s favourite character.
Jenny Mazowski stood in front of the mirror, turning this way and that. Looking good. Her black and white striped shift skimmed her slim frame just right. She’d backcombed her thin brown hair within an inch of its life, and piled on the eye-liner and pale lipstick. She stared at her reflection. If only she had olive skin and her father’s thick black hair, but instead she’d inherited her mother’s pale, thin skin and mousey hair. Why was life so unfair?
Dashing out the door, she ran for the bus, almost colliding with the postman, his cap dripping from yet another icy downpour. ‘They say it does the gardens good, but I couldn’t care less.’
But Jenny hadn’t time. Not this morning, as she dashed up the hill just as the corporation bus screeched to a halt. Jumping up she sank gratefully into a faded, velour window seat and rubbed her damp sleeve over the rivulets of condensation that pooled blackly onto the sills beneath.
At last. She could catch her breath and day-dream whilst the grey suburbs flashed by. Her first real job after that difficult eight months’ intensive secretarial course at Chance College. Don’t get me wrong. She loved learning all those pays, jays and chays in the Pitman’s class. And the typewriting was wonderful. Pages and pages of three-letter combinations, typing to the taped music of American on Parade, and woe betide you if you fell behind the beat. In her mind she kept spreading her fingers on the middle row of the keyboard, searching for those tiny raised bits on the F and J home keys whilst she hummed to the tune, stretching her bony fingers up, down and sideways. No, it wasn’t that. It was the other girls. Always causing her a problem as they moved away from her in class, constantly ganging up against her. There was never any real reason, but Jenny knew. Deep down she’d always known. She was different. She shook her head to rid herself of the memory. Someone clanged the bell, bringing her back to the present. Thank God school was all over now.
Just past the looming, menacing prison walls she jumped off and, collar up against the swirls of rain, turned the corner and walked down towards the Foundry. She hadn’t had time for breakfast and stared longingly at the huge posters for the new, flat Dairy Milk bars at 2d. But no time. She dare not be late on her first day, as she quickened her steps past the rows and rows of red-brick terraces, all identical except for the level of greyness in the net curtains at every window.
At the bottom of the road, she ran across the road, narrowly avoiding the milk cart, parked precariously whilst the whistling milkman made his usual doorstep deliveries. Round the corner, she rushed under the old, red railway bridge, its brickwork looking faded and grained with the centuries of time. Avoiding the inevitable drippings from the archway, she hurried on, glancing quickly at her new wristwatch her Mom had bought her for her new life at work.
Five to nine. Rushing under the Foundry archway, surrounded by hordes of maniac bicycles ridden by identical men in caps with cloth bags slung onto their backs, she was just in time. At the Sales office she clocked-in at the entrance to the huge, noisy, cavernous room and made her way down the rows of typing desks to her allotted place. In front of her was a large, clunky typewriter, top-heavy with its over-long, enormous carriage. Very different from the brand new Imperial 70s at college.
At the end of the desk were four rows of wire filing trays, filled with commercial documents. Gingerly she tried to open the stiff drawers of her old wooden desk. None of them seemed to open properly, whichever way she tried.
‘Ere,’ said one girl in the next aisle. ‘You can’t open ‘em from the end; you have to pull from the middle. Yes, that’s right.’
Clumsy as usual.
In the narrow middle drawer was an assortment of hard, round typewriter rubbers and various pens. She creaked open the side drawers, running her clammy hands over the thin, foolscap bank sheets in various shades. Nervously she glanced around, wondering where to start, until a friendly girl tapped her on the shoulder.
Fast forward to the present and, hot off the presses, a two-book deal has now also been signed by Olga with Crooked Cat Publishing, but in a very different genre. Lamplight and Vichyssoise are both set in WWII, the former taking character David Klein to Breslau, Germany, the second taking him to Vichy France, giving readers a unique insight into Maréchal Pétain and his Vichy government. Both are due to be released in 2016.
…a final word from Olga. Many thanks Claire for a chance to be on your famed blog.
Here are some links to Olga’s (and Gillian’s) books: