The whole How-Dare-You row kicked off again after Anthony Horowitz revealed he’d been advised against writing a black character in his Alex Rider series.

The BBC story is here: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-39988992

This topic both interests me as a reader and a writer. (I’ll spare you the inevitable para where I impress you with all the varied and well-researched perspectives I include in my own books.)

Leaving aside the precise definition of exactly what a ‘black character’ is, why shouldn’t Horowitz dare to inhabit a character other than himself? The Alex Rider series features a junior version of James Bond, aged 14-15.

Taking it to the extreme, all my characters will from now be 62-year-old white Jewish men living in London. – Anthony Horowitz

The subject of who has the right to write is on my mind.

I read a Bailey’s Prize shortlister which tells the tale of a privileged white woman and a mixed race man to whom slavery is not just history, but family.

I read a film script written by a man which focuses on female sexuality, sisterhood and what women really think of a penis.

I’m reading a book from the POV of a character who is mentally ill. No, not your average ‘unreliable’ narrator, but someone with an acknowledged, controllable illness.

They’re all fascinating, informative and emotionally engaging. I don’t need the author’s CV or photograph to tell me if their qualifications are sufficient. If they fall into cliché, patronise, mock or don’t do the basic courtesy of attempting to empathise with a character’s external moulding and internal reactions, they have no right.

Last week, Words with JAM published an interview with Jason Donald. How did he approach writing his character of Dalila, a young Kenyan refugee woman, I asked.

I believe it’s possible to empathise with someone who is different from yourself. Assuming the opposite dehumanises everyone who isn’t exactly like you, because you relegate them to a place outside of human connection.

That being said, there’s a lot of homework to do when creating a character and you need to approach the task with a deep humility. I went to a lot of different people and asked them to read my early drafts, to guide to me, to challenge my assumptions, to inform me of things I’d never considered, to reveal nuances and to also point out where my portrayal was working.

For her Diversity series in the same magazine, Catriona Troth interviewed Debbie Reese, who runs the widely respected blog ‘American Indians in Children’s Literature’ 

First of all, caring about Native people is not a condition for getting it right. If you don’t know someone personally, what you hold in your head and heart is more of an abstract than a reality. In the 1990s, illustrator James Ransom was asked why he had not illustrated any books about Native people. His reply was, “because I have not held their babies.” That’s a beautiful metaphor for the relationship of trust you have to have in place before you can do justice to someone’s stories. Once you move from the abstract into the real, you pause to consider what you are going to write or teach.

And Farhana Shaikh, MD of Dahlia Publishing, based in Leicester, which champions diverse and regional writing in the UK.

Do you believe it is ever possible for white writers to write authentically (or at least well) from the point of view BME characters?

I don’t see why not. And yes, it can be done well the other way around too. That’s more of a question of the writer’s ability to do it well enough so it’s believable, than anything else.

When I read Beauty by Raphael Selbourne, I absolutely loved it – and as long as the experiences of BME communities is represented in literature I think that’s more important than the question of who is writing it. Also I’m not sure how we qualify the authenticity – if we live in multicultural cities than surely our experiences are shared and therefore overlapping?

Finally, Christos Tsiolkas, who sums it up perfectly.

http://www.wordswithjam.co.uk/2012/05/christos-tsiolkas-has-breakfast-with-jj.html

I agree.

We all have the right to write outside our own experience. So long as we understand what that means. We should work harder at getting into other skins, minds, worlds, never forgetting it’s a privilege.

The final book in The Beatrice Stubbs Series is ready for preorder!

Ebook release: 26 May

Paperback: 3 June

Come along to hear me read, answer questions and sign copies with fellow crime writer Debbie Young on Friday 2 June at Waterstones, Tottenham Court Road. http://bit.ly/2qOn3zE

And here, an exclusive for my blog followers, are the first two pages of Bad Apples.

*****

Extract from Rogue by Anonymous

Bears, clowns, cats, butterflies, demons and angels cavort along the banks of the canal, dancing, laughing and twirling their capes in ceaseless balletic arcs. Music drifts through the night air from the square up ahead, growing louder and more frenetic as I approach. My feet stamp along with the beat.

A black and white chequered mask looms out of the crowd. Man or woman? I have no way of telling. It points directly at me and beckons. A strange force compels me forward. As if under a spell, I have no choice but to follow. The light-footed creature tiptoes onto a tiny bridge, stands in the middle, claps silently in time to the music then runs backwards, drawing its arms together, suggesting an embrace.

Aroused and afraid of losing sight of this hypnotic stranger, I cleave from the crowd and speed up, breaking into a run over the ancient stone edifice after the disappearing figure. A flash of white down an alleyway catches my eye and I give chase, my breath ephemeral clouds in the February chill. Moonlight barely penetrates these tiny backstreets, and when it does, merely illuminates skeins of gauzy mist rising from the Venetian waters, creating a theatrical dry ice effect. A whistle from above makes me look up.

The china-faced harlequin, high above me on a crumbling balcony, lit by an arcane street lamp, genuflects in an elaborate bow. I tilt my head back as far as it will go and stare up at the apparition. How did it get up there so fast? Impossible, unless whoever it is has wings. And how am I supposed to follow? I pace backwards across the deserted street until my back grazes the stone wall and fix my attention on the balcony – a stage no bigger than a dining-table – as the performance begins.

The harlequin spreads its arms wide, revealing the dramatic scarlet lining of its black and white cape. Each arm makes a sweeping gesture, once left, once right, acknowledging a vast imaginary audience. The head rolls in figures of eight, apparently seeking someone in the crowd. Then with catlike precision, the mask looks directly at me. One hand floats to its mouth and it blows me a kiss. I press my fingers to my mouth, offer them upwards and blow one in return.

The harlequin clutches at its heart with one hand; the other reaches out to snatch the kiss from the ether. The clenched fist remains in the air while the head is bowed in gratitude. Long hair, black as midnight, spills around the frozen features. This is a woman, I am now sure. With a slow, ritualistic gesture, the figure brings her fist to her mouth and raises her chin in ecstasy.

Once more the arms widen, as if receiving rapturous applause, and then the figure bows to the left, right and centre. She brings both hands to her painted mouth and blows an expansive kiss to her public. Her arms mime a giant heart shape as she embraces her watchers and holds them close. She repeats the gesture, her beautifully chiselled mask somehow evoking modesty, pride, love and passion without a single movement. The third time her hands return to her heart, they are no longer empty.

In the left, a single red rose, striking against the white diamond on the front of her cape. In the right, a handgun, aimed upwards beneath her chin. She kisses the rose and lets it fall from the balcony to the street below. I watch it tumble to the ground, its petals scattering on the cobbles. The shocking report of a gunshot whips my head upwards.

Against a blood-spattered backdrop, her body crumples over the stone balustrade. Long black hair dangles from the remnants of her blasted skull and the white diamonds of her cape turn dark. Something breaks at my feet. Her mask, cracked into shards. I lift one to the light. Her mouth, painted in a silent, frozen smile.

*****

Order your copy here:

Amazon

Smashwords

Kobo

Paperbacks will soon be available at all good bookshops.

PS: If you want one of the secret signed copies, get in touch.

 

 

Finished!

The final book in my Beatrice Stubbs crime series is out 3 June. So what next?

A few ideas are bubbling.

Here’s a chicklit spoof I wrote for the Bookmuse Readers’ Journal.

What do you think? Stick to the crime job or indulge my inner romantic?

 

Making Up Stories, by Angelica Poppet

It could only happen to Honey!

She’s standing in the rain in only her chemise, her Uggs are soaked and the keys are still upstairs in her Mulberry Bayswater. She only ran out to stop JayCee escaping into the cute little park at the end of her divine Chelsea mews terrace. But the blue-point Siamese has a mind of his own. He slipped between Honey’s shapely, tanned and smooth ankles, just before the door slammed shut. Just wait till she tells the girls about this tonight at the Balenciaga apero!

A taxi pulls up and a man gets out. Honey has no time to notice the Savile Row suit, the hand-tooled Italian leather loafers and rose-gold Rolex Oyster, because she’s hypnotised by his absinthe-green eyes.

“You’re wet,” he says, his voice the rich roasted brown of Sicilian espresso.

“I know,” she breathes, her voice the rippling tinkle of Nepalese windchimes.

Image by Chris Fort

*****

Allegra, Sophia and Loveday screech when they hear about the tall, dark, handsome, minted neighbour. By half-past Bellini, they’re talking weddings.

“And his name?” demands Allegra.

Sophia tuts. “If it’s neither one or three syllables, darling, I simply forbid further contact.”

Honey does the Lady Di (dipped chin, coy smile, lowered lashes).

Allegra gasps. “OhEmGee, it’s both!”

“His name’s Benedict Story. But I can call him Ben.”

Screams, air kisses, more Bellinis.

Loveday cuts to the cuticle. “So no visible weirds?”

Honey hesitates. “He is a bit… odd. He wants to know my ‘über-narrative’ and says stuff like ‘Content is king’. Is that normal?”

Sophia scowls. “Probably works in publishing. Does he have a hairy back?”

*****

Shanice finds her, eventually, with no tears left to cry. When Honey spills the reason she collapsed on the Conran chaise, unable to move since her morning macchiato, Shanice shrugs and gets on with the dusting. Honey gathers all her sobbed-out strength to confront her. Shanice says Ben has a point. Not only does Benedict see Honey as shallow and lacking a developmental arc, but her cleaning lady agrees! Honey can’t bear it. She has no alternative. She must go to Bali.

Image by Chris Fort

 *****

A monk in saffron robes (totes perfect for the downstairs bathroom) tells Honey she needs a spiritual leader. She tells him she already has one and confesses why she named her cat JayCee. Turns out he’s never heard of Jimmy Choo.

Meditation sucks. At least while sitting still for a facial peel, Honey knows she’ll look radiant. Inner contemplation is about as interesting as Radio Four. Sophia, Allegra and Loveday are in New York but ‘admire Honey so much for seeking herself’. Easy to say when sipping Cosmopolitans on Fifth Avenue.

 *****

Heathrow Airport, even after a First Class full reclining bed and antioxidant breakfast, is absolutely as hellish as Honey remembers. But before she can hail a taxi, a burly, brawny and Tom-Ford-scented pair of arms spins her off her feet.

“Benedict Story! I… um… what… er… ohm…”

“Honey. I missed you. So did JayCee. I may look like a catalogue model with passionate ethics and expressive brows, but I’m just a boy in love with the girl next door. Could we combine our expertise and contacts? What say we set up a bespoke personal service providing a beginning, middle and end for the terminally vacuous?”

“Why Benedict, I adore the idea. Whatever shall we call it?”

He blushes attractively. “If you will consent to become my wife, we could call it… Making Up Stories.”

 

Images courtesy of Chris Fort via Creative Commons

If you want to read the crime spoof, step this way…

Cover reveal!

Bad Apples, the last in The Beatrice Stubbs Series, will be released on Saturday 3 June.

For a taste of what it’s about, see below.

Some people are just rotten to the core.”

Acting DCI Beatrice Stubbs is representing Scotland Yard at a police conference in Portugal. Her task is to investigate a rumour – a ghostwritten exposé of European intelligence agencies – and discover who is behind such a book.

Hardly a dangerous assignment, so she invites family and friends for a holiday. Days at the conference and evenings at the villa should be the perfect work-life balance.

Until one of her colleagues is murdered.

An eclectic alliance of international detectives forms to find the assassin. But are they really on the same side?

Meanwhile, tensions rise at the holiday villa. A clash of egos sours the atmosphere and when a five-year-old child disappears, their idyll turns hellish.

From Lisbon streets to the quays of Porto, Parisian cafés to the green mountains of Gerês, Beatrice learns that trust can be a fatal mistake.

Location is an essential element of my books. Not just mine, all Triskele Books make settings paramount. Our tagline says it all – Time and Place.

I just sent Book 6 off to the proofreader. This will be the last in my European crime series featuring Beatrice Stubbs and I already miss her, Adrian and Matthew.

After briefing my cover designer, I reflected on the influence of place, and why each country, city or landscape was appropriate for each book.  For books one, two and three, I stuck with areas I knew well.  In four and five, much research went into regions I’d only passed through. In book six, I mixed both.

Behind Closed Doors is all about wealthy unscrupulous businessmen and the difference between law and justice. I opted to set it in Switzerland with all its beauty, individuality and stubborn peculiarities.

The story required a financial centre and a culture which left my protagonist uncertain and isolated. Hence Zürich. The city is beautiful and peaceful, yet wields immense invisible power, behind closed doors.


London shares the stage with Wales for Raw Material. The UK capital provides a wonderful variety of experience for those who can afford it and a grinding rat race for those who can’t.

For someone preying on the latter, the London underworld was ideal. The darkness and the bright lights of the city work in parallel with the wild, remote coastline of Pembrokeshire. This book is all about watching and the danger of covetous eyes.


Tread Softly takes place in Spain, more specifically Rioja country and the city of Vitoria. Beatrice is on sabbatical, enjoying gourmet food when she stumbles upon a story of wine fraud. The landscapes of this region are nothing short of breathtaking, especially at harvest time.

As for its wines and cuisine, the research was a joy. Certain elements of Spanish/Basque culture suited my characters, my antagonist in particular.


The Greek islands and a cruise ship form the backdrop for Cold Pressed. Guided by a local detective, Beatrice hops between Santorini, Crete and Rhodes and explores the reality of life beyond tourist brochures.

Open seas and glorious islands juxtaposed against the claustrophobia of a floating hotel proved the perfect balance for this tale of old, cold vengeance.


Human Rites plays out in Germany at Christmastime.

The art crime thread leads us from Berlin to Hamburg. The stalker strand happens on the island of Sylt, in the North Sea, just off the Danish-German border.

In the summer, Sylt is a rich kids’ playground. Which is why I set the book in winter, when the coast is wild and empty, and civilisation seems very far away.


The last in the series, Bad Apples, will be released early May. Here I’m on familiar ground: Portugal.

Some elements are old friends, such as my beloved city of Porto, azuleijo tiles that tell stories, and warm, easy-going people. However the natural park of Peneda-Gerês, and the cities of Braga and Lisbon required a fresh look. Hardly a chore.

The end result, I hope, is an innocent, hypnotic blend of atmosphere, smells, sounds and tastes to lull the reader into ignoring the rotten element in plain sight.

Bad Apples comes out on 6 May, 2017.

Get the boxset of books 1-3 here.

All images courtesy of Julie Lewis

 

 

Get up. Walk dogs and rework key climatic scene in head.

Feed dogs, make breakfast, clean kitchen and sit down to write. Go back to kitchen to check champagne is in fridge because I am going to finish this book, this series, this final edit today. Oh yes I am.

Pug 1

Open laptop, read what I wrote yesterday. Edit everything I wrote yesterday. Let Pug 1 into the garden. Sit down and write two words. Let Pug 1 in again.

Sit down and start writing. Fifteen words later, Pug 2 wants to go out. Go to fridge for bottle of water. None left so fill empty water bottles and rearrange fridge to accommodate. Let Pug 2 in.

Sit down and concentrate. Rattle out 50 words and ponder the emotional impact of ‘clench’ versus ‘clutch’ while watching a blackbird yank a worm out of the lawn.

Pug 2 has sneezing fit and I recall Sunday is Dog Maintenance Day. Fetch designated dog facecloth from the cellar and notice washing machine has finished its cycle. Hang up washing and decide on ‘clench’. Clean both pugs’ nose folds and take French Bulldog into the garden to trim her nails.

Wash hands and sit at computer. Write 140 words and flick back to insert relevant flag in earlier chapter. Start editing earlier chapter. One word reminds me of that email from that bloke about that thing and I ‘quickly’ check the inbox.

Twenty minutes later, husband suggests coffee break. Agree. Hell, I’ve earned it.

Sit down and concentrate. Dogs napping in the sun, husband busy in the studio and I can write. 220 words later, I can bear it no more. This bra is digging into me and I cannot possibly create if uncomfortable. Upstairs to change underwear and notice bed linen could do with a wash. Change bed linen and spend fifteen minutes looking for matching pillowcases.

French Bulldog

Back at desk. Message from fellow student with question about German homework. German homework? I’ll do it later. Keine Ahnung, I reply. 350 words and the chapter is taking shape. Just need to work out the logistics of the gun and the distance and … French Bulldog scratches at the French window. She wants to sit in spring sunshine. For precisely seven minutes.

Hit 1000 words and check cupboards for refried beans as I fancy fajitas. Spend half an hour cooking, another hour eating and chatting about Paris, Texas, then twenty minutes clearing up.

Pug 2

After lunch and dog walk, I launch myself at the keyboard like a dervish.

Delete everything I wrote this morning and rework. While attempting to force characters into Scenario A, they slip and slide and evade me, setting up Scenario B.

It works. Excited, I tap away to a dramatic climax and then…

Pug 1 needs a pee. Shortly followed by Pug 2.

My concentration wanders. Time for a quick check-up on Social Media?

No!

I am a writer and I must write. 1,500 words later and my edit is complete. Just one last once-over and I can officially declare this book done.

Herr Husband wanders in.

“The only thing on a sunny afternoon is a gin and tonic. What do you say?”

French Bulldog farts.

The Distracters

frsw-2

Last weekend, I tried three things I’d never done before.

I did not regret any of them. (More of that later.)

Your challenge this weekend , should you wish to accept it, is to try something new.

It’s a risky business, choosing what to read.

So what if I were to tell you we’ve hand-picked a dozen books we think you’ll like. And to prove our confidence, you can have them for free.

All of them or pick the ones you fancy. There’s something for everyone.

 frsw-1

 

Adventure, historical fiction, short stories, drama, laughter, romance, mystery, heart-racers and heart-melters.

Strong women, passionate women, courageous women, clever women, mysterious women and smart women.
Best of all, you don’t actually have to be a woman to enjoy this opportunity.

Free Reads for Smart Women

Find out more about each exceptional book in this two-minute video:

 

As for my adventures?

img_2771

I had a go at parkour (good fun but bruising), took an exam in Italian (passed by the seat of my pantaloni) and ate a persimmon (previously put off by the name Kaki fruit).

 This weekend, I shall be reading, eating Mexican food and deciding on a title for Book 6.
Have a great weekend!