Current news stories with allegations of sexual assault cropping up from Hollywood to Westminster are disturbing in many ways.

Even more so are many of the reactions.

I take issue with a whole bunch of issues.

 

Language. The terminology we use to talk about such events is part of the problem.

Here’s an example: Witch hunt.

How can exposing a selection of bullying individuals and the organisations which supported their abusive behaviour be a witch hunt? Bullying individuals and controlling powers conducted the actual witch-hunts, blaming women for anything and everything they could not explain.

Women, drowned or burned as witches, were victims of the equivalent of today’s tabloid hysteria. A witch hunt is a mob seeking to root out an innocent. The men shown up and shamed these last few weeks were anything but innocent.

Responsibility. These harassers, abusers and rapists did not act alone. Supported by their studios, companies, assistants and a culture of complicity, these men continued their arrogant, greedy search for gratification behind a protective screen. Sure, the powerful employer could fire you, which would be so much worse than backing out of a hotel room leaving a young wo/man to suffer sexual assault.

Get Over It. Anyone who states ‘Don’t claim #metoo if you only got your bum pinched’ should spend a week in a woman’s shoes. Many of us grew up with Carry On films and the Benny Hill Show and the socially accepted normalisation of ‘men just can’t help it’ and fought our way out of that uncomfortable tolerance.

Men can, and do help themselves (in both senses). Imposing yourself physically on a person who says no, whether that’s a kiss, a touch or sexual assault is all part of a sliding scale. Other people’s bodies are not your property, no matter how important you are.

Mental health. The inability to stop forcing yourself on unwilling individuals may have more to do with your unstoppable ego than some kind of addiction. Next time you lie on your therapist’s couch, take a second to think about all those people who are still dealing with the nightmare of your abuse every time they close their eyes.

Coda: I can communicate (badly) in several languages, but I get by in French, German, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish. One phrase I know in every one:

Please leave me alone.

 

 

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It’s that time of year again.

Halloween is not such a big deal here in Europe as it is in the States, but there is an interesting crossover. The day after October 31st is The Day of the Dead, celebrated in many cultures with a visit to the graveyard, to pay homage to our ancestors. People picnic in cemeteries, light candles and sing songs, including the dearly departed in the party.

Spooky stories and chills up the spine are on my mind.

Last night, Herr Husband and I watched Dressed To Kill, directed by Brian de Palma, starring Angie Dickinson and Michael Caine. Entertaining, definitely. Dated, absolutely. Scary, not in the slightest.

This weekend, I ticked two psychological thrillers off my TBR list, in which the protagonists are not monsters, but perfectly ‘normal’ high-achievers with an obsession. Both very scary.

A brilliant friend introduced me to the concept of All Hallows Read, via the fabulous Neil Gaiman. On Oct 31, we’ll be at our local bookshop introducing stories instead of sweeties and setting light to imaginations. The team pooled our scariest favourites and some have haunted me for days.

When I was little, a book scared me so much I asked my mother to get rid of it. She agreed, concerned at my extreme tearful reaction. Convinced it was still in the house, I searched everywhere until I found it in the attic. I smuggled it out of the house and threw it on the bonfire.

While I recall what disturbed me so deeply, I can’t remember the title. Since then, I prefer to read books that thrill and chill but just as I’d rather not see certain images on screen, I’d prefer not to admit certain concepts to my head.

My favourite spooky stories leave gaps – enough for you to get scared, but not scarred. A few examples:

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, by HP Lovecraft

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter

What are yours?

 

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Conversations I Did Not Have This Weekend

Me: Hello Herr Scheiber, we’d like a firewood delivery before the winter sets in.

HS: Of course. Is Monday morning OK?

Me: Perfect. By the way, we won’t be paying this time. Have a nice day.

 

Me: Could I book a hair appointment on Friday?

Hairdresser: Cut and blow dry?

Me: Yeah and quid pro quo.

HD: Quid what?

Me: Look, you cut my hair for nada and I tell all my friends how fab you are.

 

Me: Two tickets for Blade Runner 2049, please.

Cinema Employee: Where would you like to sit?

Me: Up the back and for free.

CE: Sorry?

Me: Well, I’m not sure if I’ll like it. But if I do, I’ll give it a great review. Oh and while I’m here, I’ll have the medium nachos with cheese sauce.

Conversations I Did Have This Weekend

Potential reader: Is your series available on iBooks?

Me: Sure, they’re available everywhere. Here’s the link.

PR: But these books aren’t free.

 

Website query: We’d like to read your book for our bookclub.

Me: Fantastic! Would you like me to send some bookclub questions?

WQ: That would be great! Could you also gift us 10 copies (e-books, not paperbacks, obviously!)

 

Casual acquaintance: My wife wants to read your books.

Me: OK, here’s a postcard which tells you where to buy them.

CA: You can’t just give her a copy?

You’ve all heard the Picasso quote – but if not, it’s at the end of this post.

I get slack-jawed in disbelief when people expect creatives to work for free – or more often – for the “exposure”.

I’ve done my time. University degree, years of teaching and learning, self-study and quite a few failures along the way.

Then a group of people (more on that next week) showed me how to improve and find a voice, a character and a style. I spent four years honing my first book, distilling all those years of craft and education it took to get to that stage.

So the next step is to give it away?

No.

Before I published my first book, I promised myself two things: Never free, never exclusive. If I don’t value my work, why would anyone else?

Each of my e-books costs less than a cup of coffee. My paperbacks cost less than two birthday cards. Both will last a lot longer. I appreciate I’m also asking for your time and trust.

All of us readers approach a new book with anticipation and trepidation. You’re about to give me hours of your life – use them well

But if you value the hours of effort and skill that goes into keeping readers entertained, why would you expect all that for free?

Herewith the oft-quoted and possibly apocryphal Picasso anecdote:

Picasso is sketching at a park. A woman walks by, recognizes him, and begs for her portrait. A few minutes later, he hands her the sketch. She is elated, excited about how wonderfully it captures the very essence of her character, what beautiful work it is, and asks how much she owes him. “5000 francs, madam,” says Picasso. The woman is outraged as it only took him five minutes. Picasso says: “No, madam, it took me my whole life.”

 

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Utrecht 2007

“Howzit? You got here, then?”

“Yes, Joop. I got here. At last.”

“Uh oh. Delays?”

“Right now I’m in a taxi from the airport. Not only did we leave Jo’burg three hours late, but I missed the transfer in Frankfurt and now we’ve just circled Schiphol for forty-five minutes, waiting for a slot.”

Only an asshole like Joop would think it a good idea to whistle into a cell phone.

“Joop, listen. I need to take a shower and eat something. After that, I want to crash.”

“Shit, man. That’s all you want to do? Friday night is jol night, but if you’re creamed…?”

Creamed? Where the hell had this guy learnt his English?

“There’s just one other thing I need.”

“No sweat. An SMS is on its way with the number of that agency I mentioned. It’s not cheap but you can feel the quality.”

“I appreciate that. Meet me in the foyer at ten on Monday, OK?”

“Don’t wanna do anything tomorrow?”

“I got plans, Joop.”

“See you Monday then. Sweet dreams.”

Asshole.

He watched the scenery, such as it was. Grey, flat and bleak, with the occasional windmill to make sure you were paying attention. The hotel was a pleasant surprise. The first of the day. Street noise left behind, he glanced up at what looked like some kind of institution in its own grounds. Classy and quiet. His kind of place.

Goede avond en onthaal. Welcome to Utrecht, Sir. We have good news for you. You have an upgrade today, to one of our Empire Suites. Please follow the porter.”

A second pleasant surprise. Plenty of space, working area, two TVs, and most importantly, a vast bed. He palmed the kid a coin, who left him to explore the room in peace. Throwing off his coat, he sat on the bed. Heavy linen, an excess of pillows and a firm mattress, which would be seeing some action in the next few hours, if Joop wasn’t exaggerating about that agency. The bathroom was massive, well-furnished with towels and little bottles of wife-pleasing potions. He made a mental note to throw some into his case. And a wall of mirrors behind the bath. Better and better. His mood started to lift. There was a message on the flat screen at the foot of the bed.

Mr van der Veld

Welcome to Grand Hotel Karel V

We hope you enjoy your stay.

Flicking to Bloomberg, he started to undress, while checking the screen for any significant currency movements. As he kicked off his shoes, he noticed the ice bucket and chilled Krug Grande Cuvée. There was a card.

With compliments of D’Arcy Roth.

That explained the upgrade. Nice touch. Unnecessary, as there was no-one else in the running, but it certainly put their potential client in the right frame of mind. So, a shower, a glass of Krug, order room service and put a call through to this agency. All needs met.

As he unzipped his case to find his toiletries bag, he heard a discreet knock at the door. He frowned. Unexpected visitors, including hotel employees who wanted to ‘turn down’ his bed, were not welcome. He pulled open the door and his frown lifted. The neat grey suit, official clipboard and pulled-back sleek blonde hair told him she was a hotel employee. The pale skin, drawn over fine bones and high forehead, grey-blue eyes and cherub lips told him she was more than welcome. He checked the name badge. Annelise Visser.

“Good evening, Mr van der Veld. My name is Frau Visser and I …”

“Good evening, Annelise. Nice to meet you.” He offered his hand. A momentary flush before she recovered herself to shake it. He was well aware that conventions in the Netherlands dictate that one should use surnames in formal situations. He didn’t give a shit.

“I am the Senior Hospitality Director, sir. I am here to check that your suite is satisfactory.”

“The suite seems fine, Annelise, but I do have one concern.”

The smooth dome of her forehead contracted.

“A concern? What would that be, sir?”

“The champagne.” He pushed back the door and indicated the ice bucket. “Can I be sure this is top quality? You see, I’m used to drinking the best.”

“Sir, the champagne is a Krug Grande Cuvée, and was specifically selected by your company …” a glance at her clipboard. “D’Arcy Roth.”

“They are not yet my company, Annelise. They want me as their client. But if you’ll consent to taste the champagne with me, I guess we can agree that the suite is satisfactory.”

A proper blush now. He loved a blush on a blonde. Pink cheeks, pale skin reddened with warmth. He wanted to turn her over, pull down those panties and spank her right there. Raise some heat in those cheeks.

“Sir, I thank you, but I am on duty right now. Drinking alcohol would be inappropriate.”

“This is the hotel that ‘exceeds your expectations’, right?”

“Yes, but …” She laughed. “OK, I will taste the champagne. But then I am afraid I must go. I have to consider the needs of other guests.”

He didn’t reply, but gestured to the sofa. She sat, knees together, the grey skirt riding up slightly. The lamp behind her created a halo effect. An angel. He smiled as he twisted the cork. She was going nowhere. As the cork popped, he caught the overflow in a flute, with a loaded glance at her to see if she picked up on the image. She returned his smile, politely. He slid beside her and handed her a glass. Before he could propose a toast, she set her glass on the table.

“I’m sorry, sir. Champagne always gives me the hiccups. Would you mind if I take some water? I can get it.”

He placed a hand on her knee. “Sit still. You’re my guest.”

She jumped at the touch of his hand. And he still hadn’t made skin contact, as she wore pantyhose. He hated pantyhose.

In the mini-bar, there was an array of different waters. He grabbed a bottle of Evian and showed it to her. She nodded. Returning to his seat, he placed the water in front of her and raised his flute.

“To a very pleasant stay in Utrecht.”

She tipped her glass to his and looked at him. “To a pleasant stay in Utrecht.” She sipped at the fizz and closed her eyes. “Mmm. I don’t wish to prejudice your opinion, but in my view, that’s lovely.”

Her voice was soft, intimate and breathy. He wanted to hear her say those words again. Mmm, that’s lovely. Preferably as she drew her nails down his back. He hadn’t even registered the taste, but his glass was two-thirds empty.

“I don’t know, Annelise, the jury’s still out. Maybe the second glass will clinch it.” He refilled his and she didn’t stop him replacing the tiny sip she had taken. A good sign.

“Now, what time do you finish tonight, Annelise?” His tongue felt thick and his speech sounded slow.

She swallowed some water and caught a stray droplet with the tip of her tongue. Shit, he wasn’t sure if he could wait till later.

She avoided the question. “Why are you in Utrecht, Mr van der Veld? Is it just business, or pleasure?”

He took another slug and leaned towards her. He felt hot, horny and even a little drunk.

“Until five minutes ago, strictly business. But now, I’m not so sore.”

That struck him as funny, because he wasn’t sore at all. But he was as sure as he’d ever be. He started to laugh, but her eyes were looking into his, with intent. Was it too soon to …?

She smiled and reached for the bottle, refilling both glasses. Her voice was low, full of suggestion. He watched her lips.

“Have I satisfied your concerns regarding the champagne, sir?”

That was flirting. No doubt at all. His body felt warm and heavy and soft, with the exception of his cock, which hardened as she placed her hand on his thigh. She lifted the flute to his lips.

“Satisfy my champagne yet.” His lips buzzed and seemed to be slurring. It didn’t bother him. He felt euphoric, completely relaxed. This was turning out to be quite a hotel. Who needed an agency when room service was laid on? She dropped her gaze to his crotch and up to his eyes. Pupils dilated. She wanted him.

“I guess you wanted to freshen up before I arrived?”

He nodded, and managed to mumble the word, “Shower.”

“How about I run you a bath? More fun.”

No mistaking that. She moved to the wardrobe and opened the door. He tried to tell her the bathroom was behind the other door, but she’d already found it. He laughed again. You’d think the staff … He reached for his glass, barely able to lift it to his lips. His arms were leaden as hell and he felt fantastic. No idea if he’d be able to perform.

 

Here she comes. Pulling him to his feet, helping him undress, just like a nurse, what with the gloves and all. Easing him into the bath. Beautiful; soft hands, warm water. He sinks up to his chin, smiling. He can’t recall feeling better in his life.

She’s smiling too. And singing. He recognises the tune and tries to join in. He wants to touch her face but he can’t move. He’s happy, stroked and caressed by this beautiful woman.

The patterns are hypnotic. Crimson clouds twisting and swirling in the water. He watched as clear water loses the battle, dominated by red. She moves to the other side and turns his wrist, as if she’s trying to see what he has hidden in his hand. It’s funny and it makes him laugh. She’s not laughing. Her face is sharp with concentration as she draws the razor blade along his vein, from wrist to elbow. More red joins the fray, and the clear water doesn’t stand a chance. Now she smiles and puts the blade in his right hand. He can’t hold it and it falls into the redness. He watches it fall, helpless. He heaves his head up to look at her reflection in the mirror and attempts a smile.

It’s not working. He looks like an old dog with wind.

 

Behind Closed Doors is the first in The Beatrice Stubbs Series.

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As a author, I’m fascinated by language.

Judicious choice of words lead to the right effect; to wound, amuse, provoke nightmares, yield an insight or offer comfort.

Creative Commons image by Roland Tanglao

The right words are magical. Yet sometimes the wrong words have a power all their own. When someone takes a cliché or well-worn phrase and substitutes an element of their own (whether out of mishearing, imagination or mischief), it creates a whole new concept. Perhaps it even improves on the original.

I’m talking about eggcorns.

“We’re all going to hell in a handbag”

“It’s the lesser of two equals”

“Ever since that remark, he’s been a bit of a social leopard”

“A group of scandally clad ladies”

“She tends to be a pre-Madonna”

I love eggcorns. They’re not strictly correct but somehow better. Symbiotic, natural linguistic phenomena which pulsate with life and creativity. A manifestation of language as alive and evolving and in the hands of its users. Plus they make me smile.

Beatrice Stubbs uses eggcorns. She twists her words, apparently unconsciously. The reader is left to guess how much is manipulation and faux-naiveté is behind these apparent gaffes. Lieutenant Columbo provided much of the inspiration. His apparent shambling incompetence is in fact astute psychological disarmament.

Much of this facet of Beatrice’s character comes from my grandmother. Some of her specials include:

‘Those cakes have sympathetic cream’

‘Can’t eat no more, I’m full as an egg’

‘I knew the dog had been naughty; she looked at me with squeaky eyes’

This week I heard from a reader in Florida. She said she loved Beatrice for many reasons, including, “she’s just like me, using quirky phrases all her own”. Another reader from Devon often sends me suggestions for future eggcorns, brazenly attempting to bribe me into writing another Beatrice book.

I keep a little book full of such discoveries, partly for research and partly for entertainment. If you have any little gems to share, I’d love to hear them.

Here are a few of my favourites:

“This leads me to believe the City of Toledo is a fan of cutting off its nose despite its face.” (University of Toledo Independent Collegian, February 2005)

“This coverage provides for protection from claims for libel, slander and deformation of character.” (Catering Magazine, January 2005)

“Our old Toyota just got us through and then gave up the goat.” (ABC Rural, SA Country Hour, January 2006)

“Most cases of vaginal thrush can be rapidly cured by the use of a peccary.” (Pharma co. report)

“As long as one invokes the hack-kneed platitudes of ‘national security’ or ‘the war on terror’, there is virtually no crime too extreme.” (Al-Jazeera op-ed piece)

“She’s described in reports as a bowl in a china shop.” (CNN, January 2002)

“My face is sore and I don’t like having big pus jewels on my face.” (internet forum)

Images courtesy of Creative Commons/Flickr.

 

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(Yes, I usually only post once a fortnight. But yesterday was special.)

This piece comes about thanks to Helena Halme, an author friend who is trilingual and talented in every one of them.

Helena nudged me with a discovery – A Book and a Bottle

This is so perfect for your Beatrice Stubbs series!

I investigated. She was right. This initiative by Corney & Barrow with Damian Barr pair the right wine(s) with the perfect book.

Well, hello! Here are three reasons why I love the concept.

  • I have done a great deal of wine research and not just for personal consumption. Wine retailers, viniculturists and critics loaned me their expertise to ensure my wine references are accurate and pertinent.
  • Beatrice loves her food and wine, her neighbour is a wine merchant and one of the books is all about wine crime.
  • Our review site – Bookmuse – always suggests Ideal Accompaniments (food, drink, audio, ambience) along with our weekly book reviews.

So here are six books I can recommend with the perfect bottle to enhance your reading experience. Bottoms up!


Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat

Spirit of Lost Angels traces the journey of a bone angel talisman passed down through generations of women of L’Auberge des Anges. Amidst the tumult of revolutionary France, it is a testament to the courage of women facing tragedy, betrayal and insanity.

Best bottle: Fleurie, Domaine Lathuiliere Gravallon, Grand-Pré, 2015. Seasoned yet fresh, with some serious history.


Crimson Shore by Gillian E. Hamer

A half-naked woman dead in a ditch. A disappearing pathologist. A teenager run off the road. For a peaceful island, Anglesey is experiencing abnormal levels of crime. What’s the connection?

Best bottleRex Mundi Cuvée Cathare 2016 Full-bodied and rich, this is the Rolls-Royce experience and not for the faint-hearted.

 


Ghost Town by Catriona Troth

1981. Coventry, city of Two Tone and Ska, is riven with battles between skinheads and young Asians. They must take a stand. A stand that will cost lives.

Best bottle: A green wine from Portugal echoes human tensions but reminds us of communal celebration. Vinhos de Moncao Cepa Velha Vinho Verde Branco 2012.


The Rise of Zenobia by JD Smith

My name is Zabdas: once a slave; now a warrior, grandfather and servant. I call Syria home. I shall tell you the story of my Zenobia: Warrior Queen of Palmyra, Protector of the East, Conqueror of Desert Lands …

Best bottle: Muga Rosado 2016. It may look innocent, but do not underestimate something delicate that punches above its weight.


The Englishman by Helena Halme

Nordic Noir meets Scandinavian romance in this stylish 1980s love story.

Best bottle: Prosecco Romeo & Juliet. The effervescence of romance is light and inspiring.


And finally, one of my own.

Tread Softly by JJ Marsh.

“You don’t attract trouble. You go looking for it.” Beatrice is in the Basque Country and up to her neck in trouble and Rioja.

Best bottle: Beronia Blanco Viura 2015. A white Rioja. Once discovered, never forgotten.

 


 

Enjoy your wine/book adventuring and do come back with your own recommendations. Books plus bottles = bliss.

Chin, chin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Luzern, Switzerland

A year ago today, my mother died.

Edinburgh party

When her time came, she wanted to go quickly, at home and in the arms of her husband. Which is exactly what happened.

For the rest of us, her departure was sudden and shocking. Of course it had to happen, someday. The medical profession had given her mesothelioma everything in its arsenal, but the disease was relentless. We knew we’d lose her someday, but did it have to be so soon?

One year later, after the pain and tears and grief and enormous black hole where she used to be, what remains?

Quite a lot, actually.

Her passion was always for people. She embraced strangers and treasured relationships, whether family or friends. That much was visible at her funeral where far too many guests spilled out of the crematorium.

The colourful celebration of her life

Since she’s been gone, that elastic connection which can stretch so wide has contracted and brought us all together. Close family became closer, extended relatives got in contact and friends’ gentle words of sympathy reminded us that her kindnesses affected more lives than we could have guessed.

In addition to that, her behaviour acts as a benchmark. It’s only now I realise how deep her influence goes. Her sayings, her code of honour, her willingness to leave the house uncleaned to support a friend or rescue an animal, her fierce loyalty to those she loved and equal ferocity to their opponents, all make me more positive, determined and willing to change.

Terry, Mum and Florian above Lake Zurich

She never failed to tell us how proud she was of every one of our achievements – from first pooh in the potty to first grandchild to first book. I still want to run to her when I get a great review and say, ‘Look, Mum, someone liked it!’ She also pulled no punches when she found our behaviour lacking. One phrase often sneaks into my head when I get fractious: Patience is a virtue, and you, young lady, could do with a few more virtues.

Schaffhausen Falls

Most of all, my mother’s legacy was a sense of humour. She could laugh at all kinds of things, especially herself. I would love to think she was somehow present two weeks ago at the Lake of Zug, where her daughters, sons-in-law and husband were helpless with laughter at the classic Cooty stories.

I miss her. We all do. But we have so many precious memories.

Every day she’s gone makes me appreciate what she left behind.

São João – Porto

Rome!

 

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