Missing Sheila Connolly

It is with heavy hearts we bid farewell to Sheila Connolly, our first Wicked Accomplice.

Sheila at Malice 2019 with a typical look of wry amusement.

Sheila passed away last week in her beloved Irish cottage.

From the front door of Garryglass, Sheila’s cottage in County Cork

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.

Sheila, Jessie, Julie, Sherry
2016 SinC Hollywood conference with Nancy J. Parra, Leslie Budewitz, Jessie, Sheila, Julie

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 & Sheila in New Orleans

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.

Kim, Ramona DeFelice-Long, Sheila and Edith at Crime Bake

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.

Dinner with friends. Pre-Malice. From the left, Liz, Michele Dorsey, Sheila, Kim, Barb, Pat Remick, Julie, Sherry, Jessie, Edith, Shari Randall

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.

At Crime Bake, with Dru Ann Love on a stick

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.

Enjoying a Kentucky Derby drink at Malice Domestic last year

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.

Some of the SINCNE chapter luminaries – that is, goddesses – with tiaras at our 30th birthday party for SINC National.

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.

 

85 Thoughts

  1. I feel devastated to learn of the loss of Sheila.

    I first met her through her Sarah Atwell Glass Blower mysteries, and I was just entranced at how she made the technical (and very physical) process of glass-blowing so very accessible and enjoyable to read about.

    Back in those days, I knew even less than I do now about the publishing industry (I know, hard to believe), and my first question when I met her in person was when we were going to see another Sarah Atwell novel. She very gently explained to me that since the name and series were owned by her former publisher, the answer was, “never.”

    I was always so amazed that she could produce the sheer number of books at the speed she did. I’d always assumed that writers who could do that were formulaic hacks. Sheila disabused me of that notion. I’ve purchased every book she wrote, and while a not insignificant number of them are still in my “to read” pile, it’s definitely not because they were hack-work. In fact they were anything but. Her characters were complicated, not simple, and always multi-dimensional, and while I rarely guessed the identity of the murderer, once I found it out, the solution seemed obvious and inevitable. From my own experience, I know that’s terribly difficult to do.

    I really didn’t know Sheila socially at all, other than to say hello at Malice and tell her how much I enjoyed her latest Orchard or Museum or County Cork mystery. I’m finding it hard to believe that I won’t ever have that privilege again.

    It’s a very sad day.

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  2. What an absolutely beautiful and moving tribute to a wonderful woman. I remember that photo from the Hollywood conference. How lucky I was that I got to spend a bit of time with Sheila as I shuttled her and others to one of our local restaurants, and then got to connect some more when we were fellow Crooked Lane authors. She had the warmest, most upbeat and engaging energy. Her absence will leave a hole in the lives of all of who loved her so.

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  3. Sheila was larger than life, a fixture at every Malice Domestic I attended. I didn’t know her well (my loss) but recall being in her presence, part of a group of other readers and authors surrounding her, and enjoying her tales, smiles, and laughter.

    A bright light has gone out in the mystery world.

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  4. Sheila was talented, funny, and supportive. She was a great friend. It’s hard to think of her without remembering her smile. I’m so glad that she got to live in her beloved cottage in Ireland.

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  5. I’m so sorry to hear this news. I first met Sheila as Sarah Atwell. Loved her glassblower series and kept hoping she’d write more. I moved on the the apple orchard books and have recently fallen in love with the County Cork series. It hurts to know there won’t be any more of her delightful books. My condolences to those of you who knew and loved her. May she RIP.

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  6. I stumbled upon the glass blower series, immediately fell in love with them and was devastated when there were no more. Imagine my delight when I learned who Sarah was! I moved in to the Orchard series and every series since (I’m a bit behind!). I always tried to attend the panels upon which Sheila was speaking at Malice and so enjoyed her humor and thoughtful comments. I remember speaking with Sheila, as fans like me would surround her after the panels, and she took time for each of us. Very gracious, very approachable, great sense of humor, incredible knowledge base and I will miss seeing her at Malice to tell her how much I love her books. Indeed a sad time for all of us.

    Thank you for this wonderful post and allowing us to share your memories.

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  7. I met Sheila at Malice a few years ago. She was very friendly and remembered who I was and every time I saw her would say hi. I stuck out in her mind cause I asked her to sign one of her glassblowing books, which I still have. She was one of my mom’s and my favorites cause she was so friendly. She will be missed.

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  8. I enjoyed seeing Ireland through her eyes and her stories about her village, pub, and grocery store. She had wonderful recipes on Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen and would share with us tales of her antique kitchen tools and the metal molds she collected. I have read the County Cork books and am grateful for the legacy of other books she has left for her readers. She will truly be missed ~

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  9. Thank you for such a great tribute to an amazing writer. I didn’t know her but read her work and loved them all. Getting to know her a bit more through this post has been another layer to an author I admire. My condolences to all of you who have lost a good friend.

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  10. I am just heartbroken with her passing, the day before I hear she passed I was looking her up on Amazon to see if I had missed preordering any books. I loved all her series and they were so different but so engrossing. Storyteller is how I think of her, I could put myself in her stories so easily and I will miss them and her. I am so happy I have a whole library of Sheila Connolly to revisit over and over again!!!

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  11. The class and the humor — the kindness and the inquisitiveness — all of you captured Sheila so well. May her memory be a blessing and her books continued to be read. Her presence will always be part of so many.

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  12. What a shock to open today’s Wicked post and learn of Sheila’s death. I have a lot of her ebooks and have been parceling them out over time so I always had one to go to when I needed a really good read. So sad there will be no more. RIP, Sheila.

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  13. I didn’t know Sheila well, but was very familiar with the breadth of her writing. My favorite book, too, is BURIED ON THE BOG. Her love for Ireland just shines throughout that book and probably adds to my connection to her own Irish adventure. We shared the same editor for a while and when I had a long conversation with Sheila at Malice Domestic a while back, she had mentioned some personal trials and tribulations in passing. She was not melodramatic or seeking sympathy. She was straight-forward–this was her lot in her life at that moment and she was dealing with it. I don’t know if this came from her New England sensibilities, but this approach resonated with my Japanese cultural upbringing and I felt that I understood Sheila on a deeper level, albeit briefly. So when I heard she wanted to keep her illness private, only known to people in her closest circle, it didn’t surprise me. What a wonderful legacy Sheila has left in her daughter, writers she’s helped and, of course, her books themselves.

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  14. Favorite book? Buried in a Bog, I think because it was due to Sheila that I visited Ireland and saw a bog body in the archaeological museum in Dublin.

    Favorite memory? It’s from long ago, shortly after Sheila and I roomed together at the Romance Writers of America conference in Reno. (Unfortunately, that was the only time I met her in person.) Anyway, I’m fuzzy on the details (and when I tried to find the email in question, there was so much old correspondence between us that it was hopeless), but she asked me to look at an early manuscript which started with a parody of a romance novel. OMG, it was hilarious. I still grin thinking about it.

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  15. I met Sheila at my very first CrimeBake. She greeted me like an old friend every time she saw me that weekend and forever after.
    My fondest of memories are of retreats at my Vermont home. Playing scrabble and drinking wine and Irish Whiskey, sitting on the porch discussing genealogy, gardening, writing, and anything and everything else. I’ve been searching for a favourite picture of Sheila – she’s cooking in my kitchen, waving a wooden spoon in the air, and laughing uproariously. That’s how I want to always remember her.

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  16. My first encounter with Sheila was at a Sisters in Crime New England workshop. I wasn’t yet a member and had attended the event as a guest. I was struck by the camaraderie and warmth of the group, but there was one woman who stood out. People gravitated toward her and the sound of laughter followed her every move. In the buffet line, we chatted a bit with the usual ice-breaking questions about our writing lives. She said she “had a few books published,” but only after I asked. I learned she was a past president of the chapter. As a wide-eyed newbie, any group that cultivated a feeling of community and celebrated one another with the example set by Sheila, I wanted in and joined Sisters in Crime that night. She was not The Author. She was Sheila and welcomed you into her world with her easy presence and humor. She set the example of how to live, work, and cherish relationships in a tough business. Her passing grieves me, but her example will continue to guide me.

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  17. Such a loss for the reading and writing community. Sheila’s name on a panel was a sure sign of an enjoyable discussion, and her beaming smile such a welcome sight always.

    We met and chatted several times, at various conventions. One evening in NOLA everyone else was at some activity and Sheila invited me to sit down with her and have my meal, even though she was nearly finished. We ended up talking for a couple of hours, and having two whiskies each.

    I was so happy for her to get to realize her longheld dream of living in her sweet cottage. How lovely for her to spend her last, most precious time in that beautiful place. May she rest peacefully. She gave a lot of people joy.

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  18. I never met Sheila, but I enjoyed her Victorian Village series and am still happily reading my way through her Orchard series. I was so sad to learn that she had passed, for her family and friends who will miss her, and for us readers who won’t get to hear from her through posts and new books. Thank you all for sharing your memories of Sheila!

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  19. When I learned that Sheila had passed away from a tweet by an unrelated author I follow on Twitter, my first reaction was “Is there some other author named Sheila Connolly? Surely it couldn’t be THE Sheila Connolly whose books I read.

    A quick net search and a post from Edith’s FB page confirmed the sad news. I shared a common first thought that other people had when I said, “But I didn’t even know she was sick!”

    Unlike many people here, I come strictly to this as a fan of Sheila’s writing. But I did get the pleasure of meeting her a single time and like many have stated, she did make an impression. It was at a tandem book signing with Edith and Barbara Ross at a library in Falmouth, MA and I was going because of my fandom for Edith’s work. But I didn’t want to be seen as a twit or anything, so before I went I hit the bookstore near me and picked up the first book in Barbara’s Maine Clambake series and Sheila’s County Cork series so that they could sign them after the event.

    It ended up that I got to talk to Sheila before the event started (thanks to Edith introducing me to her) and then afterwards I bought more books from each author and got to spend a few minutes talking to Sheila about Ireland. I hate to be repetitive but in this case it does bear it to say that I was thrilled to be talking about Ireland with someone who’d actually been there. Even in that relatively brief conversation, her passion for the country came through loud and clear.

    I don’t have a singular favorite book from Sheila because I haven’t read enough of them in all honesty. I’ve been slowly working on the County Cork series and by virtue of it being set in Ireland, that would be my favorite series of hers. I don’t imagine my sadness over her passing compares to those who knew her so much better than I did, but I’ve been thinking about it since I found out and felt the need to pay a little tribute to her over the weekend by reading the next book in the County Cork series, so I pulled A TURN FOR THE BAD out of the pile(s) waiting to be read and started the next adventure of Maura Donovan and crew. I also pulled out CRUEL WINTER, which bears her signature and a nice Irish greeting to me wishing me long health.

    Because it had been my plan even though it hadn’t yet been put into action, I ended up ordering the first book in her Orchard series as well.

    Reading the stories people have posted here, on Mystery Lover’s Kitchen and on social media, it isn’t surprising to see the depth of loss (regardless of degree) everyone who knew her is feeling. Family, friend or fan, we are all going to miss Sheila for the person she was and the stories that she gave us. That’s a pretty darn good legacy to leave.

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  20. I was so sorry to hear this. I enjoyed her posts so much, and she was so excited to have been able to move to Ireland.

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  21. Just a very quick line to tell you how sorry I am for your loss and thank you for sharing these wonderful memories.

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  22. So sorry to hear about Sheila’s passing. I just read two of her books in the past few weeks and enjoyed them tremendously. Your tributes are wonderful. My thoughts are with you all.

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  23. This is a lovely tribute to a generous, thoughtful woman. Thank you for all of these stories and memories. My thoughts are with all of you.

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  24. I didn’t know Sheila well, but liked her and much admired her as an author. Thanks, Wickeds, for sharing your memories of this cozy dynamo!

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  25. While I have not read any of Sheila’s work as of yet, that will surely change now. In every picture, she seems to be having a great time and clearly she had a very positive impact on the lives of her readers and those of her fellow writers. Sending thoughts of comfort to you all!

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  26. What a lovely and loving tribute. I was so pleased when a few years ago Sheila and I ran into each other getting on a flight to Malice from Providence. We switched seats so we could sit together. What a bright, interesting, and warm person she was. I’ve heard the term “sparkling conversationalist” and Sheila was one. I was sorry when the flight was over. My deepest sympathies. Our world has lost a bright light.

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  27. As a reader who has only met Sheila through her books I know my grief is much different than those of you who really knew her, but I will miss reading her books very much. Her Sarah Atwell series was among some of the first cozy books I read, so I partially blame her for getting me hooked on the genre! And hooked I got! It was after I started reading her Orchard series, and was a few books into it, that I discovered that Sheila was also Sarah Atwell. I was sitting here trying to decide which of her series was my favorite, but it was impossible to decide because I would have to say that whichever series had a new book coming out… that was my favorite at the moment! Because of her ability to pull the reader into her stories I feel like I’ve lost several friends all at one time. I’m very sorry for the loss of your friend.

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  28. And then there was the time she broke her ankle and came to Malice on crutches. Because she could laugh about it, we could, too. Her warmth, her smile, her laughter, her storytelling . . . She was amazing.

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  29. My thoughts and prayers to all of you on the loss of your dear friend. I loved her books and did get to meet her at Malice a couple of times. I remember her friendly smile and how much pleasure her books have given me. What a gracious and giving person she must have been based on all the comments above. I just finished Fatal Roots a couple of weeks ago. What a gift she had to touch so many lives in so many ways.

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  30. I couldn’t believe it when I heard the news and then wondered what the cause was. like it made one bit of difference, right? But I was stunned and yet happy that I had read and enjoyed so many of her books. I’ve been trying to remember but I think one of hers was the first book I ever won with a comment at Jungle Red Writers so she has always been special to me. I’m glad she got to live in Ireland if that was her dream. I will continue to read her books, since I have several still waiting, but it will be bittersweet.

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  31. I was so sorry to hear about her passing. i met her in Easthampton Ma. i was so excited to met her. Living near Amherst it was fun to recognize the areas that she wrote about. A terrible loss.

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  32. My heart goes out to Shelia’s family and all of you who were her friends. I only knew her from her books based in Ireland and the times she would write here on the Wicked Blog, but I did enjoy every word she wrote. I am very thankful for her life and talent. May she Rest In Peace and Rise in Glory! Heaven has a great storyteller entering the gates.

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  33. I am saddened to hear of Sheila’s passing. I am grateful however that she passed in such a lovely location. Ireland is a beautiful country and my idea of heaven on earth. The reason that I started reading her books wasn’t necessarily the subject matter, which i did enjoy, but rather because my maiden name was Connolly. My sister traced our roots and we have been to the family homestead that is still lived in by a distant cousin. I will miss her writing and not being able to read any more of her fabulous stories. Rest in peace Sheila.

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  34. So sad and sorry about Sheila’s passing. It was far too soon. Thank you for sharing your memories! (I met Sheila at Bouchercon Long Beach, which was my first mystery conference. I didn’t know anyone there and was terrified! At the first event, Sheila and Ovidia Yu sat down at the otherwise empty table and chatted with me the whole time. I’ll never forget their generosity toward a total newbie and have been inspired to try and pay that forward.)

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  35. I never had the pleasure of meeting Sheila personally. I’ve yet to read the series set in Ireland..but I’ve read the others. I was living and working full time in England when I first discovered Sheila’s books. Toward the end of 2019, I was fortunate enough to win a hardback signed by Sheila which she mailed with a personal note. May we all remember her with joy and thanks. I know I will Always enjoy the adventures Sheila shared with me through her books.

    Renee

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  36. I am so sorry for the loss of this wonderful person and talented author. I met her at a book signing in Granby, Ma. I was so happy to finally meet a local author. I have enjoyed all of her books. One of my favorite books is titled Buried in a Bog. She will be missed.

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  37. This is such a lovely tribute to Sheila. She lives on in how she touched each of you . Her books came to me at at time when I needed to read about the tenacity it took to revive a ancient apple orchard in Massachusetts , and experience Ireland through her eyes.She gave me a simple reader, hours of joy and comfort. Her knowledge of worlds beyond my door through her eyes opened my world for me . For her dedication to her work i will always be grateful for she touched her readers. I may only be a lowly reader and not have known her personally but reading this I feel you all truly captured the essence of Sheila and how wonderful she was. She cared so much for all of you and your success as writers. I am so very sorry for the loss of your friend. Laura at Cozy Cat Reviews. I cried through the entire tribute.

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  38. I read many authors of cozy-mystery but her Orchard Mystery, One Bad Apple the first in the series was one of my first where I fell in love with and become friends with a character, Meg, and then followed her life through 11 books now. I love Maura too in her County Cork series. I will miss not following my friends anymore. It is a sad day for us readers too. RIP Sheila. My thoughts and Prayers to her family and friends.

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