It is with heavy hearts we bid farewell to Sheila Connolly, our first Wicked Accomplice.
Sheila passed away last week in her beloved Irish cottage.
Sheila was an integral part of our New England crime fiction community. She served as President of Sisters in Crime New England and co-chair of the New England Crime Bake. She was a mentor and role model to many of us. She made us laugh and wrote blurbs for our books. She was nominated for an Agatha Award twice, and wrote three (sometimes four) bestselling cozy mysteries a year , making it look like a breeze. And perhaps most important, as a brilliant storyteller Sheila provided her legions of fans with hundreds of hours of compelling reading.
Wickeds, please share your memories and photos of our friend. We’ve also invited our former Accomplices Kimberly Gray and Jane Haertel to contribute.
Barb: “If not now, when?” The year Sheila was president of Sisters in Crime New England, I was her vice president. I loved watching the way her mind worked. She had the most arcane bits of knowledge culled from her broad education, hobbies, and career experiences. She was generous and supportive of new authors. She blurbed my first Maine Clambake book.
But the reason I’ve thought of Sheila so often in the last couple of months is the question above. On the many panels we were on together, Sheila was often asked when she began writing seriously for publication. She always answered “9/11.” As it did for so many people, September 11, 2001 caused Sheila to take stock of her life and to ask what she really wanted to accomplish. Then she set out to accomplish it. And she did. Writing cozy mysteries, always with a twist, for example the Museum Mysteries, which have an urban setting, or the County Cork Mysteries, which feature a working-class protagonist. It wasn’t easy. Her first mystery, written as Sarah Atwell, was published in 2008. She set her sights on living in Ireland and against tremendous odds made an international move last fall.
As we navigate the current crisis and are reminded again that life is short and uncertain, I have asked myself over and over, what do I really want to accomplish? And if not now, when? Thank you, Sheila, for your shining example.
Sherry: When we were starting the blog we looked at each other and said, no one has really heard of us (we only had three books published among us) who is going to read this? Maybe we need to ask a bigger name to join us. Our first thought was Sheila. We reached out and while she said she didn’t have time to do all the things we had planned, she generously said she could do a post once a month and she did.
The pictures above are from the 2016 SinC Hollywood conference. We had such a great time. When I asked Sheila to blurb my first book this was her answer: No problem (unless of course I hate it, but that’s only happened to me once, when I couldn’t find a single thing to like in the book). I read for pleasure, relaxation, escape, or to put myself to sleep–so I’m always reading anyway. What’s your timeline? That answer is so Sheila. I will miss her smile, laugh, smarts, books, and generosity.
Liz: If it wasn’t for Sheila, I might not be published, and I probably wouldn’t be writing any of the three series I have, and the Wickeds might not even exist as we are today. Sheila was president of SINCNE when John Talbot reached out and asked for her help in identifying writers who might be interested in working on cozy proposals with him. Rather than choosing people, Sheila–being the generous person she was–put the message out to the whole membership. It’s how we all met John and eventually signed contracts, and the reason why we all came together.
This picture was from the Malice right before my first book came out, and I couldn’t attend. Sheila made sure I didn’t miss out on any of the fun. She was always so friendly and funny and I’ll miss her presence at our events and in our lives.
Kim: When I learned my friend, and fellow Wicked Accomplice, Sheila Connolly had passed on, I did the only thing I knew would help me through this time. I went to my shelf and took down one of my favorite books she had written. Buried in a Bog was the first in her County Cork series and is set in Sheila’s beloved Ireland.
Sheila was one of the best storytellers I ever knew. She could make the directions on changing a lightbulb into a fascinating tale and have you on the edge of your seat waiting to find out if the bulb worked. Her wry sense of humor kept me entertained for three straight hours one exceptionally early morning at Crime Bake. I loved listening as she spoke of her cottage in Ireland and how it was so quiet she could overhear a conversation in a nearby house.
When we became Accomplices here on the Wickeds, Sheila sent me an email. “Do you know what you’re going to write about?” she asked me. “Not a clue,” I responded. “Oh good. I’m not alone,” she said. I knew, though, that she’d have many good stories to share.
Julie: Sheila had a smile that lit up a room. As Kim mentioned, she was a wonderful person to talk to because she really listened. She was a pip. One of a kind. She really, truly enjoyed her writing life. She rode the waves as they came, and adjusted. She was so prolific–I sometimes think the writer in her was so pent up that when her muse was set free she was determined to catch up. She had so many projects in the works at all time, and approached each with relish. I am mourning my friend, who I will miss dearly. I am also missing the stories that won’t be told because we lost her way, way too soon.
Edith/Maddie: I met Sheila at my very first Sisters in Crime New England meeting in 2006. It was at Kate Flora’s house and I was a nervous, unpublished newbie. During introductions, Sheila announced she had signed not one but two cozy contracts and everyone clapped. I’ve been trying to follow in her footsteps ever since! Write three books a year? If Sheila could do it, I figured I could, too. Work on Saturday morning? I knew Sheila was writing then, so I did, too. I know I’m not as unfailingly cheerful and generous as she was, but I try. And mostly I try to channel her amazing storytelling.
A few summers ago, Sheila and I spent most of a week at fellow New England writer Tiger Wiseman’s Vermont getaway. We drove up together, talking all the way there and back. I got to see her in action at the dining table, with her laptop and her pad of paper with scribbled notes. We three cooked together and played games in the evenings, sampling Sheila’s Irish whiskey. We went out for a Scottish meal on the last night. She shared her ideas, her whimsies, and her plans. I’d hoped to visit her in Ireland, but that’s not to be.
As Liz said, it was due to Sheila’s stint as Sisters in Crime New England president that we all connected with our agent. John Talbot said this about her:
“She took an out-of-the-blue call from me as someone who was new to the mystery genre and graciously proceeded to connect me to clients who’ve since become the cornerstone to my business as well as my good friends. I didn’t know Sheila well and her quiet generosity to me can never be repaid, though in some ways it is constantly being paid forward to her readers and to the readers of the many authors to whom she was so generous with her time and support.”
Sheila stayed on the SINCNE board every year after that, giving service to her fellow writers, one more example of her generosity.
I will miss Sheila for a long, long time. Let’s all raise a glass to her remarkable memory.
Jane Haertel: I met Sheila way back in 2011. I was revising (and agonizing over) the first draft of my first complete manuscript, the one I’d eventually sell as Feta Attraction. Sheila was on a panel at the library in Northampton MA. I was already a fan of Sheila’s Glassblowing and Orchard mysteries, and I recall being so impressed by her. She had a presence that seemed larger than life, not just because she was so tall, but because she was fascinating to listen to and it was blatantly clear she loved what she was doing and that writing, out of all the many careers she’d previously succeeded at, was her true, joyous calling. I was just a wannabe then, but later I would find myself at conferences with Sheila, and ::blinking in surprise:: I found myself her professional colleague!
I recall preparing for a Crime Bake panel with her a few years ago, sitting in the big room in the evening with a couple glasses of wine. We figured out that we had at least one common ancestor (and probably more), though we never did get around to figuring out what our exact degree of cousin-ness was. The conversation devolved into something about alpacas and I laughed until I cried. Isn’t that just like good writing? You don’t remember the actual words you read, but you remember how the story made you feel. And Sheila made me feel inspired, awed, and grateful for the gift of her stories and the gift of her friendship. Now, back to that Northampton event so many years ago. Afterward, I emailed her (fangirl, remember?), told her about my manuscript and that I was just beginning the process of shopping it around and, along with a big dose of encouragement, she gave me a nugget of advice about writing: Treat it like a business, but don’t lose the fun along the way. From what I know of Sheila, she never did lose the fun–in her stories, or in her life.
Jessie: Sheila was such an inspiration and a class act. She was unflaggingly generous and warm to the writers following in her footsteps. She always greeted both people of her acquaintance and those she had not yet met with her beaming smile and a thoughtful question about their work to make them feel valued and included in the writing community.
Like others have already mentioned, I am not sure my career would be at the point it is today without Sheila announcing to all of us the interest from an agent in working with members of the SinCNE chapter. It was just the opportunity I had been waiting for. She ended up blurbing the first book that agent sold for me. I am still awestruck that she took time from her professional obligations to give an unknown like me a boost. I will miss her for her kindness, her sense of humor and her shining example of how to be both an author beloved by her readers and a writer esteemed by her peers.
Readers: Please share your memory of Sheila or your favorite book of hers.