A rant-ette.

On patronising readers.

This summer, I read a lot of crime and ‘psychological drama’. Some good, some not so much. But something bugged me. Like summer flip-flops, one minor irritation rubbed a soft spot and grew into a big fat blister.

Here is where it bursts.

Surely…

Author: Surely she wouldn’t have walked out on him without even leaving a note?

Reader: Well, that’s what it looks like.

Author: Surely he’s just being friendly and has no designs on my nubile body?

Reader: Are you really that naïve?

Author: Surely these teethmarks can’t possibly mean he bit the victims?

Reader: Yawn. What’s on telly?

DO NOT TELL THE READER WHAT QUESTIONS TO ASK!!!

mini snail

Look! Can it really be? Not a mini snail? Surely?

Readers actually like trying to work things out for themselves. Those who enjoy crime (and this year’s irritating umbrella term ‘psychological’ drama) read such things to analyse the information given and come to their own conclusions.

‘Surely’ has the same effect of someone behind you in the cinema saying, ‘Did you see that bangle/photograph/cricket box? That will be significant later’ or ‘I hope you noticed Simon’s unhealthy interest in hedgehogs’. All in an annoyingly smug voice.

Variants on Surely…

Had he really emptied their joint account and fled the country?

How could she lie to her sister, our mother and her own children?

If they really had killed before, what was to stop it happening again?

Did three brutal and spookily similar murders indicate a serial killer?

Deduction allows your reader to take all the clues and knot them into an explanation, theory or wild goose chase. Then after the author’s cunning denouement, compare their map-reading, character-comprehension and familiarity with the genre to see how your theories (mis)matched.

Induction beats them around the head and face with blunt signposts until they accept the fact your naïve protagonist would accompany the psychopath to a deserted castle to be sacrificed to the God of Unlikely Coincidence, who happens to be called Shirley.

When we (and here I speak for readers) put the book down and do something which allows cogitative thought, such as dog-walking, lawn-mowing or glass-blowing, we are perfectly capable of conjuring questions of our own.

Why did s/he do that? I reckon it’s because…

Just as you leave a party and reflect on your new acquaintances, you add all the signifiers together and form a subjective opinion. That person is funny/needy/weird/sexy/dodgy/sociopathic. This game becomes far less fun if each party guest has a Post-It on their forehead saying, ‘Slimy Womaniser’, ‘Gold-digging Divorcee’, or ‘I Hurt Gerbils’.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a reader, writer, or someone like my mum, who does both. So here’s some knuckle-bloodied advice for free.

Write your first draft as a writer, then change in a phonebox and read it as a reader.

If Reader You wants to punch Writer You in the face and shout ‘Don’t patronise me. Who do you think you are?’ something may need to change.

Surely.

 

 

 

I know. Two weeks I said.

Well, I’m back now, so let’s catch up.

Holidays, books, adventures, experiences, interviews, reviews and wild howling savages.

Here are a few snapshots:

 

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Dubrovnik

Chapter One – The Med

Summer is for holidays.

Snorkelling, swimming, diving, dolphins and learning to hold onto a donut.

Turns out I’m a natural, especially at the squealing bit.

Plus memories, tears and a silver celebration.

 

HPP 5

Two excited people and wine

 

Chapter Two – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Summer is for special occasions.

Opening night, red carpet and one of the best theatrical events I’ve known.

Grab a ticket and watch it all in one day. (Or you won’t be able to sleep.)

Not to mention a great party where I met three of my heroes.

Read my review here.

 

 

Chapter Three – The Books!

Summer is for reading.

(And drinking Prosecco, but the two are easily combined).

I’ve read eleven books since July 1st and will be reviewing the best ones over at Bookmuse.

One of my favourites of previous years was The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, soon to be on your screens.

Thanks to the brilliant Karen Pegg of A Chapter Away, we got to interview the author.

Liz Jensen. Incredible woman.

 

Chapter Four

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Image by Julie Lewis

Summer is also for writing.

After ditching 20k of Beatrice 6 after Brexit, I have rewritten Lone Wolf and we’re back on track.

But I am also taking time to improve my skills. Every single exercise of our Creative Spark programme has provoked ideas.

Ten writers with ten different perspectives over ten weeks – all of it for free. Have you dived in?

 

Chapter Five

triskele books 28.11.12

Summer is for making plans.

Of the inclusive sort.

On Sat 17 September, Triskele LitFest hits Islington for an inclusive festival of books, authors and genre discussion.

We’re the hosts and we’d love to say hello in person.

 

Chapter Six

Summer is for making plans #2

Pssst! Swiss-dwellers!

You might want to earmark Saturday 5 November.

Exciting (and I don’t use that word lightly) news coming your way in September.

Watch out for The Woolf.

https://thewoolf.org/

 

 

 

 

 

The blog is going on holiday! For the next two weeks, your Sunday evening irritant will be as silent as a squashed mosquito.

Not all the following statements are true:

  • I am going undercover with Interpol
  • I am sailing round the Med in a bikini
  • I am switching off the Internet to write the book

However, I couldn’t bear to leave you with nothing to read.

So I have been rooting around in the undergrowth for precious treasures. I’m not just chucking any old fungus at your feet. I’ve chosen carefully and catered for all tastes. Think of me as your friendly truffle-sow.

Tailored to your mood, destination and fancy, here’s what you should read this summer:

 

You’re heading to the park, with sunglasses and umbrella for some me-time:

Hampstead Fever, by Carol Cooper

 

You’re in a camper van, exploring Ireland. Nothing’s gone to plan and you couldn’t care less:

The Glorious Heresies, by Lisa McInerney (audiobook adds layers of joy)

boat cove

You’re backpacking in South East Asia and curious as to recent history:

When Broken Glass Floats, by Chanrithy Him

 

You’re taking the family on an educational Grand Tour:

Us, by David Nicholls

french corner

You’re heading to the British seaside with a bucket, spade and some Polaroids:

Her Turn To Cry, by Chris Curran

 

You’re on a road trip through the American MidWest, watching, listening and learning:

Mailbox, by Nancy Freund

 

You and the gang are partying on the beach:

Viral, by Helen Fitzgerald

beach umbrellas

You’re staying home to do some thoughtful gardening:

The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton

 

You’re in the wrong place at the wrong time with the right words:

Easy Motion Tourist, by Leye Adenle

 

You’re still mourning Brexit and plan a cycle trip round Europe to say goodbye:

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, by Liz Jensen

s sebastian

 

What are you reading?

See you in August!

Thanks to JD Lewis for all these beautiful images. Check out more of her work here.

 

An article in The Spectator investigated a death. The death of murder. Crime rates are dropping, not just in Britain, but all over the world. A good thing, surely? As Andrew Taylor says, pity the poor crime writers.

But the article got me thinking about the difficulties of crime writing in a world of forensics and DNA, cameras and mobile phones, political correctness and terrorism. Has writing crime got harder? I rounded up some of the usual suspects for interrogation.

Today, I’m so chuffed to welcome Lorraine Mace, who writes crime as Frances di Plino.

Murder She Wrote F di P

Modern technology undoubtedly makes it easier to catch criminals. But does it help or hinder the crime writer?

The technology we use on a daily is changing so rapidly, it’s hard to keep up with it. Looking at it from a crime writing perspective, it makes our lives harder because criminals now use the dark web, but it seems you need to be a criminal to be able to access it. However, from the point of view of using technology within a storyline, I find it adds additional layers. For example, the antagonist in Looking for a Reason (book four of the D.I. Paolo Storey crime series) created a blog which was entirely private. I used this as a method of informing the reader about the crimes, while at the same time preventing the police from garnering that same information.

Which areas of police procedure or criminal use of technology have you needed to research? And how did that influence the plot?

For Someday Never Comes I had to research the way in which two forces would need to work together when criminals work across borders. Who would take precedence in such a case? How much information would be shared ahead of arrests? What would happen if both forces had grounds for arrest?

Today’s world of school shootings and suicide bombers seems a long way from country house killers and dastardly butlers. All of you write contemporary crime – would you ever consider writing historical crime, ie, before fingerprinting and DNA?

I would love to write crime set before the recent forensic advances but I think it might be even more difficult than writing contemporary crime. Not only would the detective not have all the modern forensic tools, but there would be no mobile phones or any social media to trace people’s movements. I sometimes watch a programme set in 1920s Australia, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which is fascinating because the detective (usually a step or three behind Miss Fisher) has to rely entirely on observation, witness statements and gut instinct. It makes for great viewing, but I would imagine writing it took even more research than trying to keep up with today’s advances.

In the majority of crime novels, the culprit must be brought to justice. It’s rare to see one get away, which is the opposite of reality. Are we tied to the formula of a ‘happy’ ending?

For me, the criminals must never get away with their crimes. Ultimately, I have an innate sense of justice and cannot stray from it, even if I wanted to. I read a book recently where the criminal walked away because the murders were revenge for earlier wrongs. Even though I could sympathise with the emotional need to strike back, I still wanted the perpetrator to be locked up.

Murder She Wrote Lo books

Ian Rankin observed how Scandinavian noir is politically engaged and makes a comment on society at large. Do you think British crime is more focused on the individual?

I think most crime novels in Britain deal with small communities, even if those communities are located within our large cities. Our writers tend to look at how the crimes impact on the victims. So, yes, I do think British crime is more focused on the individual.

In our lifetimes, there’s been a major shift on what we can and cannot say. Certain terms are taboo and using stereotypical clichés of race, gender and sexuality can result in a critical backlash. How far do you ‘police’ what you write so as not of offend?

I don’t. I want my characters to be real people and most people step over those boundaries at some point in their lives, even if unintentionally. I never try to prevent my criminals from speaking or acting exactly as they would in real life. However, when one of the ‘good’ guys says or does something that isn’t acceptable, I make sure that Paolo raps the guy’s knuckles. For example, in Bad Moon Rising, the first in my series, one of the policemen is misogynistic and refers to a colleague as a dyke. For that (and a few other choice comments) Paolo steps in to deal with the situation.

Finally, for those of you writing a series featuring the same main character(s), would you ever do a Reichenbach Falls and kill off your hero? Or are you afraid of the Annie Wilkes effect?

I did kill off one of my ‘regular’ characters and was sent an email by a fan in which she said she felt like doing a Misery on me when she read that part of the book. Thankfully, she doesn’t live close enough to carry out her threat. I think if a character has gone as far as you can take him or her, and there is a danger of losing the magic ingredient that brought the character to life in the first place, then it’s time for them to go.

 

Find out more about Frances (and Lorraine) here:

http://www.francesdiplino.com/

http://www.lorrainemace.com/

 

 

 

 

 

A while back, I wondered where ideas come from.

Today, I’m thinking about stories. Real stories.

On Friday morning, I crossed the concourse of London Paddington station and encountered a tribute to the young soldiers of WWI who died in the Battle of the Somme. Young men, in 1914 uniforms, stood idly waiting for trains, squatting on the floor, leaning against walls, occasionally breaking into song. Each one gave out a card. On it was a name, a regiment and a date of death.

Those putting-on-a-brave-face representatives of young men and boys made me appreciate all over again what that war meant for a generation and why we must never undervalue peace.

On I went to Cardiff, where I used to live. Wandering the streets, noting the changes, rabbitting with the family, I realised how objects, places and experiences become talismans and legends in our own histories. Experiences retold carve them deeper. “Do you remember that time when…”

Of course we remember, but like little kids, we want to hear it again. Exactly the same way.

Then Wales beat Belgium three-nil in the European Cup and once again, history was made (and beer spilt). Suddenly it was memories in the making.

Thanks to Dipanshu for the clip.

London, 3 July, 2016. The March for Europe.

Stories depend on the storyteller. I marched through London on Saturday not as a bad loser but in attempt to change the narrative. Enough simplistic scary stories. Because there are so many wonderful realities and complexities to be explored.

IMG_1929

Joan (95) from London, in a wheelchair, assisted by her carer: “I will not tolerate government by propaganda. I will not be treated like an idiot.

Natalia (22) from Bratislava, who works in catering: “The media want romantic successes. The reality is boring jobs and slow acceptance by the community. This [result] is a back step.

Adebayo (35ish) from Lewisham, who works in Left Luggage: “Britain can’t make up its mind. Unless you’re good at football. Then you’re one of us.

IMG_1934

The main thing I retain from the march on Saturday is a sense of unity. Everyone included, with a broad variety of opinion. Vocal protest, eloquent argument and a willingness to listen to each other’s views – including slogans – were all present.

British politics has become a pantomime. Yeah, yeah, we know who’s behind you.

Our heritage is a blend of myth, legend and history, represented by individual flags, and deserving of the respect and honour shown this week.

But our future is fluid – we can choose the stories we tell, the marks we leave on the wall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in February, tramping through knee-deep snow, a friend said something which surprised me.

Nationalism is a force of destruction.

No, I argued. Nationalism is a force for unity and joy.

Love, loyalty and celebration.

Admittedly, I was only thinking of the streets of Cardiff outside the Millennium Stadium after Wales had just won. The joy, the laughter, the hugs and happiness at what our tiny, brave, beautiful country just achieved. “Way-els, Way-els, Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi…”

trees sunset

Wales won last night.

Normally I’d be waving flags and cheering and gently teasing all my non-Welsh friends. But yesterday, displays of nationalism left a very bad taste.

You may not have heard about the UK referendum. Perhaps you’ve got a few problems in your own backyard and couldn’t give a toss how the British government’s petty in-fighting gambled with the future of the country and lost.

There’s a stupid six-letter word to describe this, but made-up, fallacious, simplistic, emotion-over-logic, reductionist bullshit is what got us thus far so I refuse to use it.

Let’s leave aside the likely break-up of the (dis)United Kingdom, campaign promises which were nothing more than empty slogans, the collapse of both leading governmental parties, international economic consequences, the impact on the EU’s geo-political security and the immediate uncertainty around who is responsible for clearing up this pile of political vomit.

spider

The fact is the damage is done.

The British public is polarised, enraged, divided and shocked by its own behaviour. Much like the Scottish independence referendum, the hate and vitriol stirred up did not disappear after the decision.

The fury at ‘the other side’ continues with ever more extremist and personal attacks, retreating into its own media outlets and sticking its fingers into its ears as to anything which puts a balanced view.

Political parties practise self-defense/immolation while the electorate, whichever way they may have voted, says…

Oh Holy Shit.

At the heart of this is nationalism.

A deluded belief: absolutely fine on our own, thanks very much, never needed anyone’s help before, you need us more than we need you, our superiority complex has never let us down yet.

Nationalism is not a force solely of destruction or unity. It can be both. But it is certainly emotional and heartfelt, which can be used for positive, inclusive, joyous means or the exact opposite.

Much as I am grieving over Britain’s colossal political cock-up, I still have faith in (most of) its people. Our language, our culture, our cuisine, our infrastructure, our openness and our economy depend on the ability to absorb and embrace the rest of the world.

sunset

Britain is not the sum of its politicians.

It’s the sum of its people.

And we are so much better than this.

So, anyone got a plan?

 

Thanks to JD Lewis for all these beautiful images. Check out more of her work here.

 

So things are happening…

Triskele Lit Fest: Sept 17, London

Pop-up bookshop, genre panels, Preserving the Unicorn, Human Library, goodie bags and non-stop booktalk.

This is not ‘talking about diversity’. This is being diverse.

Authors are invited to talk about their work – regardless of publishing route or ethnicity – readers are invited to add their opinions. This is for writers and readers, publishers and booksellers.

Rumour is, there’ll be a party too.

 

Creative Spark

Photo0030Sharpen your pencils, writerly sorts.

We have TEN weeks of creative writing exercises from expert tutors at your disposal.

Free. Yes, seriously free. No sign-up, no cash, no email address, this is open access.

And it is an imagination workout from some of the best international tutors there are. Drum roll…

Emma Darwin, Tracey Warr, Roz Morris, Jo Furniss, Amanda Hodgkinson, Lindsey Grant, Jessica Bell, Karen Pegg, Laurence O’Bryan and Triskele Books on all aspects of writing technique.

Starts July 1st and subsequent Fridays.

Join in, comment, share your results (if you like) and flex those writerly muscles.

 

The Woolf

partial-image-courtesy-paul-neale

Zürich’s cultural quarterly changes with the seasons.

Our next issue is themed Beginnings.

Have a look at our last issue – Borders.

And if you’d like to contribute something thinky and artistic, bring it on.

 

Unity

Can’t sign off this week’s blog without a comment. (It’s my blogpost and I’ll rant if I want to.)

All the above and more – Triskele Books, TLF, Creative Spark, The Woolf, WriteCon, Words with JAM and Bookmuse  – are the result of creative collaboration.

Collaboration is bloody hard work, often boring and frustrating, with as much energy devoted to peace-keeping as to creativity.

Sure, each of us could vote out and go it alone.

We could drop the whole thing and pursue our own egotistical agendas. Wear fake tan, go blond and thump our individual tubs.

But we don’t. We argue and discuss and get pissed/pissed off and laugh and agree and remind each of why we wanted to do this.

Every single project needs the hard slog of negotiation and commitment to the end result.

It works. It really does.

Generosity and openness, concessions and compromise lead to fabulous things, which sometimes involve Prosecco.

Teamwork, togetherness and the daily niggles of trying to do stuff with other people is damn good shit, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

The EU is hard work. But that is what democracy means. It cannot be summed up in a slogan, an image or a chant.

But I will quote my university professor: Go the bloody hard way. Don’t give up.

For me, that means Remain.

brexit

 

 

 

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