At the Sharp End . . .

The World of Zoë Sharp − Author of the Charlie Fox Thriller Series

Zoë Sharp in Charlie Fox mode
MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 3rd December 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

How Long is a Good Book?

Are our reading habits changing? And, because of that, should our writing habits be changing too? Or is it vice versa? I’ve spent much of the last month planning my next two writing projects, and because of this, I’ve discovered that, actually, size probably IS quite important after all …

Which came first - chicken or egg?

Increasingly, I find that many books I download in digital format feel shorter than the paperbacks on my shelves. Perhaps this is just my perception rather than reality because having to check the progress bar and finding it at 58% is somehow less informative than sticking your finger between the pages and guess-timating that you’re more or less halfway through. Also, a fatter spine stands out more on a shelf. I’ve even come across people who admit to being only occasional readers, who will make a final decision between two titles by the width of them.

Are today’s authors simply more aware of pace, so more of the type of novels I tend to choose are better at keeping me turning the pages? Or is the average length of a book really coming down?

To find out more, I started hunting around for details on word lengths, and found this amazing bit of research . . .

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week’s Word of the Week is ubique, from the Latin meaning everywhere. It is the motto and later battle honour of the Royal Artillery and Engineers, given to them by King William IV in 1832. It was also the title of a poem by Rudyard Kipling about the Boer War.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 19th November 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

A Celebration Every Day

If you’re involved at all in the writing world, you’ll be aware that November is NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. This is the time of year when writers of all kinds try to get 50,000 words of a novel completed in 30 days.

And no, sadly, I won’t be managing that aim this year, although there is still time for me to complete this month’s goal, which is to finish outlines for the next Charlie Fox novel plus a possible spin-off crime thriller. I’m well on the way with both.

50,000 words in 30 days

But what does NaNoWriMo have to do with Peanut Butter, Manatees, Vegans, Native American Heritage, and Pomegranates?

The answer is that November is also officially the month to celebrate all these things. I had no idea.

Not only that, but 2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, according to the United Nations. The resolution, passed in 2015, was described as "a unique opportunity to advance the contribution of the tourism sector to the three pillars of sustainability—economic, social and environmental."

And November itself is positively bursting with celebration days…

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week’s Word of the Week is is dískoblundur, which is an Icelandic word which apparently means to take a nap before going out clubbing. Thanks to former Murder Is Everywhere blogmate, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, for that one.

Upcoming Event

Femmes Fatales, Portsmouth

On November 23rd, 6:30pm, I'll be appearing as part of DarkFest Portsmouth at the Femmes Fatales 2 panel - Diana Bretherick, Alis Hawkins, Liz Mistry and Zoë Sharp.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 5th November 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Snapshots of New York 2017

For most of October I was in New York City, via Toronto and Chicago for Bouchercon and for a bookstore event at Centuries & Sleuths. It’s been a year or so since I was last in Manhattan, and this is just a collection of snapshot memories of my visit this time, in no particular order.

Memorial to 911
A memorial to 9/11 in downtown Manhattan - part of the structure of the twin towers turned into modern art

Upcoming Event

Femmes Fatales, Portsmouth

On November 23rd, 6:30pm, I'll be appearing as part of DarkFest Portsmouth at the Femmes Fatales 2 panel - Diana Bretherick, Alis Hawkins, Liz Mistry and Zoë Sharp.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week’s Word of the Week is Zugswang, meaning a position in which one player can move only with loss or severe disadvantage, usually associated with a chess game, from the German Zug a pull or tug and Zwang force or compulsion.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 22nd October 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Write What You *Want* to Know Part II: Sailing in the Greek Islands

The last few days I’ve been coming down from the buzz of Bouchercon in Toronto and getting back into the writing of the prequel to the Charlie Fox series. All this is being done from a lovely apartment I’ve borrowed via a friend of a friend up in the Washington Heights district of New York City.

But more about that next time.

I’m still trying to get a little more under the skin of the area, where sailing can go from flat calm waters one moment…

Flat calm waters one moment…

…to wild weather warnings the next. Just before I got out there, the people I joined experienced a mammoth hailstorm and had ended up dragging their anchor right out of a bay and into the main channel.

Mind you, we also began to drag when anchored in a very sheltered bay with little wind. Sitting in a little café on the quay having lunch, we began to realise that the boat was gradually getting further away than it had been. Never has a restaurant bill been paid so quickly.

The best way to ensure you’re not going anywhere is to take lines ashore. Doing this usually involves throwing a crew member (guess who?) over the side to swim them to a suitable making-off point. Much easier than messing around in a dinghy, providing there are no sea urchins lurking amid the rocks.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week’s Word of the Week is not one that’s in very common use … as yet, but a part of me hopes it will be. It’s Harveyed, meaning to have been the victim of sexual harassment, particularly at the hands (or other parts for that matter) of someone in a position of professional power. Needless to say, it has been taken from a certain Mr Weinstein, who may well find his lasting legacy is a word in the language akin to boycott or lynch. As Shakespeare said, "The evil that men do lives after them."

Upcoming Events

Mysterious Bookshop, Wednesday, 25 October

On Wednesday, October 25th at 6:30pm I’ll be at The Mysterious Bookshop at 58 Warren Street, New York, NY 10007 with fellow author John Lawton. We’ll be talking about the inspiration behind our latest books, FOX HUNTER and FRIENDS AND TRAITORS, including what makes a spy, and how I got from the hazing of trainees at the Deep Cut army base to looted antiquities in the Middle East.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 8th October 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Guest Post: John Lawton on 'What Makes a Spy?'

I'm delighted to welcome, as my Bouchercon Hiatus, another guest post by the inimitable John Lawton, whose erudite espionage thrillers make compulsive reading. His latest Inspector Troy novel, Friends and Traitors is hot off the press this week.

What makes a spy was the subject of a panel discussion at the Bristol (England) Crimefest in May this year: Michael Ridpath, Mick Herron, Matt Richardson, James Silvester…and me. This is an attempt to assemble comments and thoughts uttered and thunk almust at randum into summat a tad more coherent. Here goes…

Friends and Traitors

The original title was 'what makes a good spy?' As I’ve no idea what makes a good spy I quietly dropped the adjective. I've had a little experience of dealing with real spies… I was briefly the literary agent for the suppressed memoir 'Inside Intelligence' by former MI6 agent Anthony Cavendish – indeed he is largely the basis of my character Roger Bentinck, although I hasten to add so fictionalised as to be almost a nice person; Cavendish wasn't – and very early on in my days at Channel 4 I was roped into the Peter Wright affair, quite possibly because I’d dealt with Cavendish.

We would have loved to put Wright on camera, but with his book still banned the resulting legal mess would, quite obviously, not be worth it. However, there was nothing to stop us talking to his lawyer, a very bright young Sydney eagle named Malcolm Turnbull. Malcolm had not yet run for political office, but the glint was in his eye.

One day in 1988 – I think it was spring in England and the monsoon season in Sydney, as I’ve never seen rain quite like it – I plonked myself down in Malcolm Turnbull’s office for a run through on the subject of 'Secrecy'. I bought myself a moment by pushing my copy of Wright's 'Spycatcher’, co-written (is that different from 'ghosted'?) with Paul Greengrass, for ages now the writer/director of the Jason Bourne franchise, but in those days just another TV director like me (thinks: must try harder.) across the desk.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week’s Word of the Week is velleity, meaning an inclination or wish not strong enough to be acted upon, from the Latin velle, to will.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 24th September 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Write What You *Want* to Know: Sailing in the Greek Islands

For me, doing the research is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing, although it can also be one of the most frustrating and time-consuming parts as well. Getting something authentic without going overboard on extraneous detail is a fine balance. I’m looking for realism rather than real.

Zoë at the helm
ZS at the helm. Who put the horizon at that angle?

After all, if we wrote truly authentic accounts of the lives of most private detectives, we’d be describing a lot of boredom combined with trying to get covert photos of cheating spouses and insurance claimants doing things they swear they’re now too injured to attempt. In real life, Detective Inspectors spend more time on paperwork than they do chasing murderers. Serial killers are still something of a rarity, thankfully, rather than popping up every other week, particularly in sleepy little English villages when elderly spinsters happen to be staying at the vicarage. Bodyguards, if they’re good at their job, will face few attacks they didn’t see coming and plan a way to avoid. Some soldiers have made it through entire conflicts without ever firing a shot, let alone seeing the whites of the enemy’s eyes.

I know some authors try to keep away from the lures of the internet while they’re writing, to avoid the distraction, but I find I have page after page of my browser open to check history, details, maps, and images.

And if those images are ones you’ve taken yourself, rather than relying on simply searching for pictures posted by others, they serve as a further aide de memoire.

So, for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been putting together my own aide de memoire of sailing in the Greek Islands, for a book I’d like to make a start on over the winter. And here's the proof …

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week’s Word of the Week comes from the boat anchored next to us as I write this. It's called 'Sempre Decanter' because, according to the owner, the definition of a decanter is 'a vessel filled with spirit'. Coupled with 'sempre' meaning 'always', as in the Marine Corps motto, 'Sempre fi(delis)', meaning 'always faithful'.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 10th September 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

A Story Not My Own

The short story, as a separate form of writing in itself, has increasingly come to intrigue me. I was never an instinctive short story writer. My first forays into fiction were novels rather than vignettes. But now I have come to really appreciate the freedom of imagination that is encouraged by the short story.

Small can be beautiful
small can be beautiful

A subject, character, or location that would be difficult to sustain for the length of a novel becomes far more achievable in truncated form. Not that I insist on having visited everywhere I write about in my books—although I do try, it isn’t always possible. Parts of the Middle East where I wanted to set part of my latest book, for instance, were simply not practical for travel, however, fascinated I might have been to go there.

The best you can do is look at as many images as you can of the locations you want to use, and to read a lot of nonfiction by people who lived or worked in those countries. I find in particular that books written by non-natives are the most instructive. Unless you want to tell your story from the perspective of a local, then you need an outsider’s view.

As is always the case, the fewer words you can use to get across a flavour of a place, the better. The short story does not allow the luxury of waffle, and that helps you to be concise. Always a snapshot, not a portrait.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week’s Word of the Week is cynophobia, which is the fear of dogs, and particularly of stray dogs. On Dartmoor, perhaps?


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 13th August 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

A LONG TIME COMING — Zoë Sharp's FOX HUNTER:
Charlie Fox book 12

I freely admit that there were times when I truly thought I was never going to finish the latest Charlie Fox book. Number 12 in the Series, FOX HUNTER seems to have taken me longer to write than anything since the very first novel about Charlie, way back when.

US print/ebook edition
Fox Hunter US print/ebook edition

The extended gestation period has had nothing to do with character fatigue, though. I’m still as interested in the nuances of Charlie’s psyche as I was when I started out. More so, if anything. She’s become far more complicated as a person than she was, and although she’s rather more practised when it comes to taking a life, the conflict it causes her internally is just as strong — if not stronger.

Yes, the locations for this story were trickier to realise than the books that went before it. While I’ve been to the Middle East, going into present-day Iraq was always going to be a dubious proposition. Getting across a flavour of the places, without making it into a travel guide, is always a fine balance. As with all research you put into a novel, I was aiming for realistic rather than real.

Sometimes I think you spend more time describing the locations you know less well, just to try to ensure you’ve got them right. On the other hand, it’s also difficult to give a first impression of somewhere you know intimately. If a stranger was visiting your home town for the first time, for instance, how would they come away feeling about it? What would be the thing that struck them most?

In FOX HUNTER, I had to take care with my descriptions of Iraq, Kuwait, and Jordan, in an effort to make them distinct without overdoing it. I’m thankful, yet again, for my years as a photographer, working almost entirely on location rather than in a studio, which makes you look at places in a different way.

UK print/ebook edition
Fox Hunter UK print/ebook edition

On top of that, of course, was trying to overlay how Charlie would view her surroundings. She’s worked in close protection for long enough to always be looking for the next threat, and here there were plenty. I read widely, mainly memoirs of people who’d worked in those countries as outsiders rather than written by locals.

The actual storyline of FOX HUNTER follows on directly from the previous book, ABSENCE OF LIGHT. Sean Meyer is missing, last seen crossing the border from Kuwait into southern Iraq. The next thing Charlie knows, the body of one of the men who ruined her army career turns up dead:

The dead man had not gone quietly … There was a time when I would have given everything I owned to be the one responsible for that. Charlie Fox will never forget the men who put a brutal end to her military career, but she vowed a long time ago she would not go looking for them.

Now she doesn’t have a choice.

Her boss and former lover, Sean Meyer, is missing in Iraq where one of those men was working as a private security contractor. When the man’s butchered body is discovered, Charlie fears that Sean may be pursuing a twisted vendetta on her behalf.

Sean’s partner in their exclusive New York close-protection agency needs this dealt with—fast and quiet—before everything they’ve worked for is in ruins. He sends Charlie to the Middle East with very specific instructions:

Find Sean Meyer and stop him. By whatever means necessary.

At one time Charlie thought she knew Sean better than she knew herself, but it seems he’s turned into a violent stranger. As the trail grows more bloody, Charlie realises that unless she can get to Sean first, the hunter may soon become the hunted.

I worried that this novel might contain too much of Charlie’s past for new readers, although I’ve tried to explain the role the recurring characters play, again without overdoing. The further on in a series you get, the more you either have to explain the back story, or ignore it entirely and have each book stand alone with no reference to the others. And if you want the protagonist to grow and learn from their experiences, you can’t escape having progression, and therefore history.

US audio edition
Fox Hunter US audio edition

I hope I’ve created a couple of engaging and entertaining new characters in FOX HUNTER, such as slightly jaded CIA operative Aubrey Hamilton, and private military contractor Luisa Dawson. I’ve also brought back characters from much earlier novels in the series, like Ian Garton-Jones — owner of Streetwise Security from RIOT ACT — and Balkan gangsters Gregor and Ivan Venko from HARD KNOCKS.

FOX HUNTER also marks the appearance on stage for the first time of characters mentioned but never seen — Charlie’s former army comrades, Donalson and Hackett, and Commanding Officer, Colonel Parris. This involved going back through quite a few of the earlier books to see what snippets of information I’d included about each of them.

In fact, the more I think about it, I’m surprised it didn’t take me longer to finish writing this one. . .

Especially when there were delicate subjects I had to tiptoe around, from ISIS to honour killings. I admit that when FOX HUNTER came out in the US this week, I was holding my breath on its reception.

The first reviews have been good:

"Gritty, hard-hitting, all-around outstanding crime fiction." Booklist (starred review)

"Nonstop action and an intricate plot weave together to create another thrill ride for fans of Sharp's heroine." Kirkus

And emails so far from readers are enthusiastic. The only trouble is, they already want to know when they can expect the next one.

Note to self: Must Write Faster. . .

You Should Be Writing
WORD OF THE WEEK

This week’s Word of the Week is insidious, meaning evil by stealth, as oppose to invidious, which is a more open kind of nastiness.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 30th July 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Berlin Part I: Lawton Reflects On A City That Won't Let Go
(at least in his novels)

This week I'm playing a substitute, again, in the form of the talented John Lawton, who wanted to explain his fascination with the city of Berlin.

Berlin does not pall. No idea why. So much else does. After umpteen visits it still fascinates.

I first went there almost by accident, and at that by an odd route, in 1989.

Harold Pinter

I was in Prague, for Channel 4 (UK TV) covering a visit by Harold Pinter who was there to see one of his plays, Mountain Language, performed at The Magic Lantern and to meet fellow playwright Vaclav Havel, who was unlucky enough to be stuck with the job of president of Czechoslovakia – Havel told me he wanted out as soon as possible ... that didn’t happen for another thirteen years.

I thought I’d wrapped the shoot when visas and carnets arrived with instructions to film at the premiere of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in West Berlin – a film Harold had scripted. Visas, carnets but no airline tickets … but the visas seemed to cover us for the rapidly collapsing DDR (East Germany) as well as Berlin so I got the cameraman and myself on a train from Prague to East Berlin and crawled across Prussia (quite the most boring stretch of countryside imaginable, and unlikely ever to be in anyone’s ‘Great Railway Journeys’) via Dresden and into the Lichtenberger Station in East Berlin.

It was way past midnight.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 16th July 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Clay pigeon (skeet) shooting: giving it a go

Many moons ago, I used to enjoy target shooting, mainly with long guns, but occasionally with handguns as well. Now, sadly, after the banning of most types of firearm in the UK following various shooting incidents, I have to settle for getting a bit of practice every now and again on trips to the States.

One type of firearm that is still legal in the UK is a shotgun, despite it being so beloved of bank robbers of yore, when the barrel or barrels would be sawn off for ease of concealment.

Shotguns aid fast withdrawal of savings

Doing this does have a number of drawbacks, such as decreasing the velocity and accuracy of the projectile, and wildly increasing both the spread of the shot and the recoil. There’s even a scene in a 2012 Brad Pitt movie, Killing Them Softly, where a shotgun used in a robbery has been sawn off so short you can see the ends of the cartridges protruding from what little there is left of the barrels.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week’s Word of the Week is skeet, which is the US name for clay pigeon, but which also has a number of slang definitions, such as something that’s generally displeasing, or displeasing due to being insufficient. It’s a type of poker hand as well, also known as a freak or nonstandard hand, which is generally considered an unpaired hand with three cards including the 2, 7, and 9, and three cards in between. And finally, it’s the slang term for a method of birth control. I’ll leave the mechanics of that to your imaginations!


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 2nd July 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Mistakes What I Have Tried: the words that confuse us most

Mark Twain on writing

Artefact / Artifact

Having recently finished writing a book where archaeological items play a role, the word artefact cropped up occasionally in the text. My US copyeditor corrected this to artifact, which I initially understood to be simply yet another example of the difference between English-English, and American-English. And, indeed, some dictionaries have the same definitions for both words, with only that difference between them. However, others list an artifact as being a physical object possibly of historical significance, while an artefact is for more abstract, intangible use, such as an error in a compressed digital file.

Enquiry / Inquiry

Likewise, when my US copyeditor corrected all my enquiries to inquiries, I thought the same US/UK spelling rules applied. But it appears that enquiry is used more in the nature of a question, instead of ask, where inquiry denotes a more formal investigation.

Reign / Rein

Another one I keep seeing a lot of, particularly in the sense of giving someone a free hand to do something. Although I can see the logic in using reign for this purpose—after all, it does suggest a monarch who can do as they please with their subjects—it’s not correct. It’s a horse-riding term, as in not holding the horse back by having the hand keep a tight hold on the rein.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 18th June 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Fire! why can't we learn from the past?

Over the years I’ve learned a lot of self-defence, both for personal reasons, and as research for my main series protagonist, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox. When we first meet Charlie, she’s teaching self-defence, mainly to women, and her whole mind-set is on how to best protect yourself in any circumstances.

One of those circumstances has to be in the event of fire.

flames

In some ways, people take this more seriously than other kinds of danger. It’s a sad fact that, if you’re being attacked in the street, a shout of, "Fire!" has been shown to be more effective in drawing attention and possible assistance rather than one of, "Rape!"

But in other ways people are amazingly blasé about fire. I’ve known them refuse to leave their hotel beds when the fire alarm goes off during the night, convinced it’s a false alarm, a prank or a drill. In the King’s Cross fire on the London Underground in 1987, commuters on trains arriving at the station overruled transport police, demanding to leave the train despite the obvious dangers. Some were never seen alive again.

That fire moved incredibly fast. Less than 15 minutes after the first signs were noticed when a dropped match ignited fluff-impregnated grease under one of the Piccadilly line escalators, a gout of superheated flame and smoke, propelled up the sloping escalator by the trench effect, flashed over through the ticket hall with devastating results.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is flammable from the Latin flammare meaning 'to catch fire'. This word is interchangeable with inflammable, which has the addition of the suffix in- meaning 'to cause to'. Not to be confused with non-flammable, meaning something that will not catch fire.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 4th June 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Delderfield's Patch — Exploring Sidmouth

After the annual CrimeFest crime fiction convention last month, I took the opportunity to explore a little of the south coast. Having got as far south as Bristol, it seemed a shame not to make the most of it.

There was another tie-in, too, which I wasn’t aware of at the time. I went to the Authors Remembered panel on the Thursday afternoon of CrimeFest, and listened to five wonderful authors talking about past writers they felt deserved to be better known. One of these was presented by Jane Corry, who was advocating R.F. Delderfield.

Author remembered - RF Delderfield

It wasn’t until I arrived to stay with a friend in Sidmouth, that I realised this was where Delderfield had lived for the last ten years of his life, having a house built on Peak Hill in the town. Running alongside Peak Hill is the southwest coastal path, with angled benches to better enjoy the view.

I have always loved overlooking the ocean, whether from the deck of a boat or, as in this case, from  a rather elegant fourth-floor apartment, which also overlooks the cricket ground and croquet lawn.

Of course, if you want to get a proper look at the briny, you have to get much closer to it, and a walk down the southwest coast path led to the Clock Tower, with its distinctive steep staircase leading to the beach . . .

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is avulsion, from the Latin avuhio, the act of tearing away, or avellere, being made up of a- off or away, and vellere meaning to pull or to pluck. Avulsion is the forcible tearing away of a body part by trauma or surgery. It also has a definition in law, where it means the sudden separation of land from one property and its attachment to another, especially by flooding or a change in the course of a river.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 20th May 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Fight for Phoenix — a story for everyone

I am a subscriber to the email list of author Mark Dawson, who is something of a phenomenon in the world of indie publishing. A few weeks ago I received an email from him that stopped me in my tracks.

It’s the story of Phoenix.

The godfather to Mark’s young son is married to a lady called Emma Johns. Four and a half years ago, Emma was diagnosed with an form of breast cancer that is apparently incurable. This is her story:

Emma Johns and baby Phoenix

I am 38 years old. I've been having cancer treatment for the last 4 and a half years. My cancer is incurable. Quite honestly, it's been rubbish and my life (and that of my family) has been torn apart by cancer.

The past 4.5 years have slowly stolen the person that I was before. Before my cancer, I was a confident, outgoing, independent, active person with a thirst for adventure. Since the gruelling endless rounds of chemo and radiotherapy treatment, I feel like a shadow. I've lost both my breasts, I've lost my beautiful long hair, I'm covered in scars from all my surgeries, I've gained 4 stone in weight, I can no longer work, I was told I could not have children and, worst of all, I have lost my youth and my confidence. I wake up every day exhausted and in pain. Yet each day I get up and put a smile on my face for the ones I love.

Miracles Happen!

3 years ago I was given only 2 years to live! Despite all this, and against all the odds, in July 2016 I was told that despite being on daily chemo I was 18 WEEKS' PREGNANT. I'd been told the chemo had made me infertile and I had stopped periods a year before. Obviously, this news was a complete shock. It turns out my "pizza belly" was actually a "baby belly"! My poor baby had been exposed to chemo on a daily basis his whole life and had been irradiated twice with cancer scans. I spent a month going back and forth to hospital to discuss the implications. I was told repeatedly that I should terminate as the risks of serious defects were too high. Despite all I've been through, those 4 weeks were the worst of my life. My personal beliefs made it very difficult to put my life above that of my baby. I told the doctors that if he had any chance and I could be treated safely, then I wanted to try. In the end, after thousands of checks, my amazing doctors told me the baby seemed fine; I could change chemo; continue treatment; and have my baby. . .


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 7th May 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

French travels

It is one of the joys of a writer’s life that unless the deadlines are looming – or making the particular whooshing sound of which the late Douglas Adams spoke – then by and large we are free to come and go as we choose.

Douglas Adams loves deadlines

Thus, when a friend I’ve known for more years than I care to remember rang a couple of weeks ago and said, "Fancy a trip to the south of France?" it was only a matter of considering the logistics. One cheap last-minute flight later I was at Nice airport, breathing in the balmy Mediterranean air along with a better class of traffic fumes.

Bill drove me north towards the mountains, explaining he’d had an unexpectedly long trip down, owing to the usual mountain cols being shut by snow. We had to follow the same detour on the return leg, via Digne, where we stopped for a quick bite at a pavement café and I realised how much the French like to manicure their trees. . .

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is verglas, meaning a thin film of ice on rock. It has its roots in glass-ice, from the Old French verre-glaz, and is frequently seen on French road signs in mountainous regions, where it is usually ‘risque de verglas’ or ‘verglas fréquent’.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 23rd April 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Berlin Part I: Lawton Reflects On A City That Won't Let Go
(at least in his novels)

As I write this, I am deep in the French Alps with limited wi-fi connection, so my friend and fellow author John Lawton has very kindly stepped into the breach with the first of his impressions of Berlin, a city brilliantly explored in the first of his Joe Wilderness series, AND THEN WE TAKE BERLIN. I'll be back in a fortnight with my take on the south of France, boxing marmots, and icicles...

John Lawton writes:

Berlin does not pall. No idea why. So much else does. After umpteen visits it still fascinates.

I first went there almost by accident, and at that by an odd route, in 1989.

Harold Pinter

I was in Prague, for Channel 4 (UK TV) covering a visit by Harold Pinter who was there to see one of his plays, Mountain Language, performed at The Magic Lantern and to meet fellow playwright Vaclav Havel, who was unlucky enough to be stuck with the job of president of Czechoslovakia – Havel told me he wanted out as soon as possible ... that didn’t happen for another thirteen years.

I thought I’d wrapped the shoot when visas and carnets arrived with instructions to film at the premiere of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in West Berlin – a film Harold had scripted. Visas, carnets but no airline tickets … but the visas seemed to cover us for the rapidly collapsing DDR (East Germany) as well as Berlin so I got the cameraman and myself on a train from Prague to East Berlin and crawled across Prussia (quite the most boring stretch of countryside imaginable, and unlikely ever to be in anyone’s ‘Great Railway Journeys’) via Dresden and into the Lichtenberger Station in East Berlin.

It was way past midnight.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 9th April 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

The Believable Lie: the Shannon Matthews Kidnapping

Back in early 2008, a hue and cry was begun over the kidnapping of a little girl from Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, called Shannon Matthews.

Shannon Matthews
Shannon Matthews aged nine at the time of her disappearance

On February 8th, Karen Matthews contacted police because her nine-year-old daughter, Shannon, had failed to return from school, which was half a mile from her home.

A huge search started of the local area by police and the public, with an appeal launched and reward money eventually totalling over £50,000 offered by a tabloid newspaper for the little girl’s safe return.

It was reckoned to be the largest investigation since the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper 30 years earlier, with eventually over 250 officers, 60 detectives and even 16 of the UK’s 27 specialist victim recovery dogs involved. Over 3000 houses were searched and 1500 motorists stopped and questioned.

Parallels were drawn between the case and that of three-year-old Madeleine McCann, who had disappeared from her bed in her parents’ holiday apartment in Portugal the year before. Much was made of the difference in the social standing of the two girls, with Madeleine McCann’s parents being articulate middle-class doctors and Karen Matthews being a single mother from a housing estate with numerous social problems in the north of England.

On March 14th, 24 days after she went missing, Shannon Matthews was found, tied up and drugged, hidden in the divan base of a bed in a flat in Batley Carr, West Yorkshire. The flat’s tenant, Michael Donovan – also known as Paul Drake – was arrested.

And at this point things began to unravel . . .

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is gowk, which is Scots for a cuckoo or foolish person. In Scotland, April Fools’ Day was once traditionally known as ‘Huntigowk Day’, from Hunt the Gowk. A suitable victim would be asked to deliver a letter, usually requesting assistance of some sort, which would tell the recipient "Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile." At which point they would send the victim on to another person, with the same concealed message for the recipient.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 26th March 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Emerging Into The Light

This week, Spring officially sprang. In the Northern Hemisphere it was on March 20th at 10:28 in the morning. I never knew they could pinpoint it so precisely.

Meerkat emerging into the light

It feels quite appropriate, that I have just emerged, blinking, into the light of a new season. I've been holed up, head down, with a miner's lamp on my head, chipping away at the word-face.

But I have finally finished the new Charlie Fox book. Hurrah!

There have been times, I don't mind admitting it, when I didn't think that light at the end of the tunnel was ever going to get any closer.

Of course, as I write this I have yet to receive my publisher's and editor's feedback, but it feels good to have typed the last word of the epilogue and think that it all makes sense – more or less, anyway.

So now I have to try to catch up with all the emails I should have responded to but have pushed aside because any time spent with fingers on keys should be adding more words to the book. And it also gives me time, however briefly, to catch up with friends I also have felt unable to go and see.

And that, as it turned out, was a big mistake on my part . . .

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is Ostara, which as well as being the Germanic goddess of Spring, fertility and new life, is also a holiday. Her symbols include eggs, rabbits and others that denote fertility and it is after Ostara that the Easter holiday is named. Hot cross buns were originally offerings to this goddess.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 12th March 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Where In The World Has Your Browsing History Taken You Today?

I usually joke that if anyone looked at my internet browsing history, I’d very likely get locked up. Research takes me to all kinds of strange websites, and hunting down weird bits of information. This week has been no exception.

Even robots search on Google

I’m also right up against a deadline for the next Charlie Fox book, which is just reaching the closing stages – the part where I’m really loath to tear myself away. So, I thought I would share with you today’s browsing history.

The other reason for this is that I recently had a reminder from fellow crime author Sarah Hilary that entries for the Flashbang Flash Fiction competition were just about to close. I’m one of the judges for this, and have been for several years now. And the winner that still sticks in my mind was Iain Rowan’s entry, Search History from 2012. It went from ‘internet dating’, via ‘engagement rings’ and ‘wedding venues’ to ‘signs your partner is seeing someone else', ‘woodchipper hire’, and finally back to ‘internet dating’ again.

I don’t think my browsing history is quite that elegant, but at the moment I have tabs open on my desktop for Google Maps, on which I’ve been investigating the overland route between the port of Odessa on the Black Sea, Ukraine, and Borovets in the mountains of Bulgaria, via Moldova and Romania.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is kakorrhaphiophobia, meaning an abnormal fear of failure. It comes from atychiphobia, meaning a fear of failure, but with the addition of kako, from the Greek for ‘bad’. So, really bad fear of failure.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 26th February 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Above the Clouds: Writing in Bulgaria

At long last, the new book has reached its final stages and the action has moved from the deserts of Iraq and Jordan to the icy mountains of Bulgaria. To the ski resort of Borovets, to be precise, which is 1350 metres (4430 feet) above sea level in the Rila Mountains, about 73 kilometres (45 miles) southeast of the capital, Sofia.

I was there about three or four years ago and took a load of pictures precisely so I had a feel and a flavour of the place for when I reached this stage of writing. It’s been very useful to look back over them now.

Borovets mountain in Bulgaria

Take this shot, for instance, up a mountain in Borovets. I’d completely forgotten that, at somewhere around 7700 feet, for quite a lot of the time you were above the clouds, it was like looking down on a misty ocean.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is actually a list of words connected with snow, courtesy of the Encyclopedia Arctica from Dartmouth College Library:

Anniu – snow intended for melting into water for drinking or cooking
Apun – snow that’s been lying on the ground long enough that it can be cut into building blocks
Ballycadders – ice formed from salt-water along the shore at different levels depending on the state of the tide . . .
And how about calf, canopying, congelifraction, corn snow, debacle, duff, firnification, fonn?


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 12th February 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

People You Hate on Planes

I can still remember the first time I ever flew on a commercial jet, as a fairly small child going to Malta on a family holiday. It was a huge adventure, including being trooped up to peer into the cockpit to watch the flight crew at work.

Air hostesses of a bygone age

I remember sitting in the exit row, and being asked to change seats with my parents because we were about to make an emergency landing and I could barely reach the door release, let alone be expected to operate it. I thought all flights were greeted by a cavalcade of fire engines and ambulances on both sides of the runway.

Ah, what balmy carefree days they were, when you could carry just about anything onto a plane and pre-flight security was all but nonexistent.

These days, flying is a means-to-an-end endurance test rather than a pleasure in itself, even in the comfy seats. Long lines and partial disrobing to get through the metal detectors and body scanners and X-ray machines, liquids in dollhouse-sized bottles, all electronic items unpacked and laid out for inspection.

Hey, we all have to do it, so the guy who’s in a bad mood or the one who thinks he deserves different treatment because he’s some kind of big shot in vending machine sales make me grit my teeth a little. Not too much, I admit, because it’s all fascinating research for the next time I have to write a pompous arse.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is talion, from the Latin talio, and meaning retaliation. The principle that the punishment should be the equivalent or identical to the crime – the death penalty for murder, for example. The imposition of that punishment. Hence the Latin lex talionis meaning an eye for an eye.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 29 January 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Writing Out of Season

I’m sure I’m not the only writer who suffers from the winter blues. In some ways, I suppose it’s the perfect frame of mind to write a story that is, in places, as dark and harsh as the weather.

An English winter

Of course, it doesn’t help that the section I’m writing at the moment is set in Jordan, in merciless sunshine and 40-plus-degree heat. Hot countries provoke a different way of looking at things, and a very different way of life, to temperate climates like the UK. Can't imagine the Romans built many open-air amphitheatres while they were here.

Our weather here can be rather wishy-washy. Warm-ish in the summer, cold-ish in the winter, any extremes invariably take us – and our infrastructure – completely by surprise.

Not that they don’t experience occasional freak weather in Jordan. When I was last there I remember tales of tourists being snowed-in to the town of Petra, home of the famous ancient Rose City, and being taken in by local residents for over a week until the roads could be cleared.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is wayzgoose, which was a holiday given by a master printer to his workforce around the time of St Bartholemew’s Day in late August. It usually marked the end of the summer and the beginning of working by candlelight. There have been suggestions that the word originated because the master printer would give his people a feast, at which would be served a goose fattened on the stubble fields after the harvest – wayz being a bundle of stubble or straw. So, in modern parlance, if your computer printer isn’t working, it’s wayzgoosed!


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 15 January 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

When A Tree Falls In The Forest . . . the end of the Pioneer Cabin Tree

O ne of the saddest pieces of news this week, to my mind, was the story of the Pioneer Cabin Tree at the Calaveras Big Trees State Park in California. The tree, which had a ‘drive-thru’ hole carved in its trunk in the 1880s, blew down last weekend in heavy storms that swept across the north of the state.

End of Pioneer Cabin tree
The Pioneer Cabin tree, which shattered on impact.

I’ve always been fascinated by giant sequoia trees, and one of the highlights of an early visit to America was going to the Sequoia National Park to gaze dumbfounded at the General Sherman tree. At the time that tree was reckoned to be the largest by volume, measuring 275 feet tall and over 100 feet in circumference at the base. The first major branch was 150 feet up, and although it looked insubstantial from ground level, the branch was reckoned to be more than six feet in diameter.

But the most mind-blowing thing of all was the fact that the General Sherman tree was estimated to be somewhere between 2,300 and 2,700 years old. That’s a staggering age for any living thing on the planet.

It boggles the mind that this tree put its first shoots above the soil when the Greek Empire was in its heyday and the Roman Empire wasn’t even a twinkle in anybody’s eye.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is teterrimous meaning extremely foul, ugly, or horrible, from the Latin teterrima, meaning most foul.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 1 January 2017 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

From Adulting to Textalyzer, via Hygge, Lemmium and Post-Truth: the best official words of 2016

First of all, a very Happy New Year to everyone. I hope we leave behind the mostly miserable twelve months that was 2016 and step over into the next twelve with better things to look forward to.

New Year fireworks

In one respect at least, though, 2016 was a good year. It was a good year for new words and a number of them have officially passed into the English language by being accepted into the leading dictionaries. Here are a few of my favourites.

Adulting

Behaving in a responsible and mature way, particularly in regard to the accomplishment of mundane or boring tasks. Also used ironically on social media to highlight behaviour the user actually considers to be childish.

Brexiteer

The mix of ‘Britain’ and ‘exit’ to form Brexit, but in this case to denote someone who supports the UK leaving the European Union. Follows on from ‘Grexit’ with regard to Greece’s membership of the EU.

Clicktivism

Someone who limits their political or societal activism to signing online petitions rather than taking any real-world action.