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, 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.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 18 December 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

The dreaded Christmas round robin with a twist

Dreaded Christmas round robin

Christmas is approaching with frightening rapidity, mainly because I’ve had my head down in a book – writing one, not reading one, although I’ve been doing that as well. I’ve also been trying to get my house reconstruction finished, sort out my annual accounts, do Christmas present shopping, and prepare to move again for three months.

The rest of the time I’ve been merely loafing.

So, my sending out of cards this year has been, well, nonexistent, if I’m honest. Fortunately, I have a Jacquie Lawson eCard account and know how to use it, so I won’t entirely fail to keep in touch. No, you can’t stand an eCard on your mantelpiece for visitors to admire, but they’re lovely pieces of animated artwork all the same.

I’ve also been contemplating newsletters. Not only because I realise just how long it is since I sent one out to my readers, but also because it’s at this time of year you tend to receive family newsletters along with Christmas cards from people you haven’t seen in donkey’s years.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is amicide, meaning the killing of a friend.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 4 December 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Oddments – crime news from the UK

As well as the major stories in the news this week, there have been quite a few smaller items from the UK that caught my eye, for different reasons.

'Sextortion'

Cyber blackmail is on the increase. According to the police, webcam blackmail cases have doubled in the last year, going from fewer than 400 to over 850. The NCA (National Crime Agency) admit, however, that many of the victims don’t report the crime, so actual numbers are likely to be far greater.

Contrary to what you might expect, the majority of victims are males between 21 and 30, who are befriended by fake identities on social media and persuaded to perform sexual acts in front of their webcams.

The blackmailer will then usually demand money or they will post the videos online, or share with the victim’s friends, workmates, and family, in a moved dubbed ‘sextortion’. It’s believed that online blackmail of this type has led to several suicides.

If you’re targeted, the NCA advises not paying anything or communicating with the criminals, but to take notes and screenshots of all messages, temporarily suspend your social media accounts so the evidence is preserved, and report the incident both to the police and to the social media site where the contact was made.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is stibogram, meaning a record of footsteps, as opposed to ichnogram, meaning a forensic record of footprints.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 20 November 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Caught Between Iraq and a Hard Place

Iceland Noir 2016

The contrast between body and brain at the moment is vast.

My body is in Iceland. Iceland Noir in Reykjavik, to be precise, where the weather is hovering around the freezing mark, but the wind is cutting that down through the skin until my bones are exposed. At this time of year it feels a hard place, from the crumpled black-lava landscape to the low-lying buildings hunkered down into it.

The last time I was here – for this event two years ago – my memory has tamped down the cold until it was no more than a mild chill. So, this time although I brought with me gloves and many layers, I neglected to bring a hat. The pain of ear-ache from the bracing walk from our quirky Air B&B to the Nordic House alongside the ice-strewn lake that first morning inspired me to dig out the custom ear defenders I normally wear for flights. At least now it is only my outer ears that freeze, rather than two throbbing points at either side of my brain.

The trick, I discovered, is to greet as many friends as possible as soon as you are inside. That way you can quickly lure some of their heat into your frozen cheeks. Only works if they arrived at least ten minutes before you did. But then, of course, you can return the favour to new arrivals.

And there are plenty of friends to greet . . .

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is mancation, which has come to mean a men-only vacation, but actually has its origination back in the eighteenth century, when it meant maiming or mutilation. Considering a modern-day mancation often involves very male pursuits, perhaps the two are not so far apart after all . . .


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 6 November 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

What does Home mean to you?

This week’s blog falls at an awkward time. I would say that I’m moving house, but that doesn’t quite cover it. More accurate to say I am moving back into my house. The house is the same, but different, from the one I moved out of several months ago.

More than one way to move house

Those who know me will be aware that the last few years have been a period of some upheaval for me, including being of No Fixed Abode, as it rightfully declares on this blog.

I can’t deny that it’s been an interesting time in all senses of the word. I’ve taken to pet sitting on an international scale, and borrowed everything from sofas to yacht berths and frankly luxurious guest rooms and apartments from friends around the world.

But somewhere to call Home has a particular appeal.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is grinagog, meaning a foolish fellow who grins without reason, and comes from The 1811 Dictionary Of The Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 23 October 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Protecting What's Yours — How Far Should You Go?

A couple of days ago I came across a news item in The Guardian for a security feature intended to protect bikes – both pedal and motor – from potential thieves. Called the SkunkLock, it initially looks like a standard carbon steel lock, but it’s filled with a chemical, which – if anyone cuts about a third of the way through the metal outer casing – is released. The manufacturers claim that although this chemical is entirely legal, it will induce vomiting in 99% of people.

Vomit-inducing bike lock

The idea came from San Francisco, where bicycle thefts are legion, and is being Crowdfunded as we speak. One of the inventors, Daniel Idzkowski, came up with the idea after a friend’s expensive electric bicycle was stolen while they were at lunch, despite having two $120 mechanical locks attached to it.

Of course, there are ways around the SkunkLock. The would-be thief could simply pick the lock, or wait until the gas supply is exhausted and then go back to finish the job. But as with most security measures, they’re intended for deterrent rather than outright prevention.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is thanatology, meaning the scientific study of death, including not only the forensic aspects, but also the wider psychological and social effects. It comes from the Greek Thanatos, death, and the suffix –ology, again from the Greek, -logia, speaking.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 9 October 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Handbags at Dawn: unseemly argle-bargle among UKIP MEPs

I’ve been glued to the news this week waiting for the next Trump time bomb to explode. The latest one has been ticking since 2005, with yet another example of the ‘interesting' attitude of the Republican candidate for Leader of the Free World towards women. Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

However, things have been equally entertaining on this side of the Atlantic over the past few days.

Theresa May at the Dispatch Box
British Prime Minister Theresa May at the Dispatch Box, House of Commons.

If you’ve ever listened to or watched Prime Minister’s Questions from the House of Commons, you’ll know that British Members of Parliament can be a fairly rowdy lot. There’s a good deal of heckling goes on, and it seems to be the sole purpose of the Speaker – a post currently held by John Bercow – to try to keep some kind of order, much like a grumpy umpire at a tennis match back when John McEnroe was still playing.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is argle-bargle, which originates from the Scottish phrase argy-bargy, meaning anywhere from a lively discussion or relatively amicable if somewhat heated debate, to an argument or confrontation of moderate intensity, somewhere between a spirited debate and a fistfight. It employs reduplication, a repeat of one part of the first word in the second, much like mumbo-jumbo or another Scots phrase, catter-batter, meaning to wrangle. Argle-bargle would typically be used when the speaker is intending to sound either juvenile or pejorative, take your pick.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 25 September 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Bouchercon and Beyond - New Orleans to Cape Cod

As I write this blog, I am still on the road after Bouchercon in New Orleans. My mind is a jumble of impressions, both good and bad. Mainly good, it has to be said. Here are a few of them I'd like to share with you.

Elegant street in New Orleans
New Orleans street, down near the French market.
Why can't a terrace of houses in the UK look this cool?

With UK friends at Bouchercon
Lovely to catch up with friends from the UK.
(l-r) me, Kirstie Long, Caroline Raeburn, John Lawton
at the Soho Press party. Pic courtesy of Cara Black

For this week's blog, I've swapped pen for camera. Enjoy my 28 images of a very memorable US tour.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 11 September 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

GREAT EXPECTATIONS: preparing to travel in the States

I was intending to blog about today's momentous date – September 11th – today, but Jeff Siger's 'Fifteen Years Later' blog from yesterday has said it all in a far more moving and arresting way than I could. I can clearly recall watching events unfold on the TV news and thinking that things would never be quite the same again. He, on the other hand, was there.

So instead I'm going to look forward - for the next couple of weeks, at least.

Next week I'll be on my way back to New Orleans for Bouchercon, and I can't wait to see the place again. I went there last when I was researching DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten, which, as the title might suggest, has the Big Easy as its setting. Back then, I was lucky enough to spend some time with fellow mystery author Toni McGee Causey and her husband, Carl. Louisiana natives, they were brilliant guides, showing me the hidden parts of the city that proved invaluable when it came to background for that book, including the incredible giant scrapyard, Southern Recycling, where old school buses and the engine blocks from container ships go to die.

New Orleans scrapyard

After Bouchercon I'm picking up a car and going on a road trip. Fellow Brit thriller author, John Lawton and I have just brought out our first joint project, called AN ITALIAN JOB, and teaming up to do some bookstore and library events together seemed a good way to celebrate.

 An Italian Job

I know at first glance we seem an unlikely combination for such a collaborative effort. Lawton's books are meticulously researched historical espionage tales. I write contemporary crime thrillers. Our writing styles are very different. But that, in part, was the challenge of it - working on producing a story written by both of us, without people being able to see the joins.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is logomachy, meaning an argument about words. It comes from the Greek logos, meaning word or speech, and machesthai, meaning to fight.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 28 August 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Not One For The Ladies? Women in the spy genre

A month or so ago, I came across a piece in one of the national UK newspapers, The Daily Telegraph, detailing the ‘twenty greatest spy novels of all time’.

The books dated from Rudyard Kipling’s KIM from 1901 and Eskine Childers’ RIDDLE OF THE SANDS (1903) up to SLOW HORSES by Mick Herron, published in 2010.

Yulian Semyonov at Yalta
Monument to Yulian Semyonov in Yalta

In between are the likes of Joseph Conrad, Eric Ambler, Ian Fleming, Graham Green, John Le Carré, Robert Ludlum and Len Deighton, among others. There’s the odd more unusual choice, such as Russian author Yulian Semyonov’s SEVENTEEN MOMENTS OF SPRING from 1969, apparently written at the urging of the chief of the KGB as a propaganda exercise that became greater than the sum of its parts. Fascinating to see the Cold War from the other side of the curtain.

But, only one female author’s work makes the cut . . .

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is goya, an Urdu word meaning 'as if' and often used to describe the suspension of disbelief or transportation that comes through good storytelling.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 14 August 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Advance on Retreat? The value of getting away from it all

For years I’ve heard about people going away on a writer’s retreat. Usually a large house or collection of picturesque cabins in some rural idyll, where you could go to be alone with your muse during the day, and gather in the evening for literary discussion over the dinner table and a few bottles of decent claret.

Or something like that.

Zoë Sharp's mobile office
writing on the move

Truth is if I ever had to write about a writer’s retreat, I’d have to make it up. I’ve never actually been on one.

Perhaps it’s because I come from a journalistic background, where I didn’t so much have a muse as a tight deadline and an editor with a big stick.

(Usually with nails in it.)

Back when I still had a day-job, I’d write fiction anytime, anywhere. In the car on the way to photoshoots, in hotels and waiting rooms. Entire chapters were written on flights. The idea of needing to go somewhere, well, special in order to put words on the page seemed wholly unnecessary.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is magistricide, meaning the killing of a teacher or master, from Latin magister, meaning a master, chief, superior, or teacher, from magis meaning more or great.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 31 July 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

What century is this anyway? A bit of a rant against misogyny

As I mentioned in my last blog, I’m currently partway through renovating a new house. (The house being new to me, rather than a house that is actually new.)

Now, I consider myself a fairly practical kind of person across quite a wide range of subjects. Not an expert, but … capable. Comes from being a bit of an autodidact, I think. If I happen across something I find interesting, or useful, I go about acquiring knowledge on it. And the more that information is widely and freely available, the easier it is to obtain.

Google and beyond

Sometimes, however, information is nothing without hands-on application. So, it’s not enough for me simply to watch a How-To clip on YouTube, I want to get out there and also acquire the real-world skill.

Having helped complete a self-build project with my ex a few years ago, I had no qualms about taking on a property I knew needed Work.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is eucatastrophe, meaning the sudden resolution of events in a story to provide a happy ending. It is said to have been coined by JRR Tolkien, who added the Greek eu, meaning good, to catastrophe, to signify a reversal of fortune which ensures the protagonist does not meet the apparently inevitable sticky end.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 17 July 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Fantasies, Festivals and Foolishness: The Ultimate Writer's Staircase; appearing at the Chelmorton Festival; and the dumb things I've managed to do to myself recently

Staircase of favourite reads

The news of the past few weeks seems to have been one pummelling catastrophe after another. So, please excuse me if I plump for a lighter topic today. I’ve been feeling in need of a bit of respite from the doom and destruction all around us.

I receive a regular email of news items, and one caught my eye in the Huffington Post about a couple who painted their staircase to look like a stack of all their favourite books.

It looks particularly effective with their daughter perched on the top step, like a scene from Alice in Wonderland (which, I note, did not make the cut).

My painting talents extend more to Dulux gloss and emulsion rather than oils or watercolours, so I was wondering how I might best reproduce the effect without needing the talent to go with it.

A quick Google search later, I found this example . . .


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 3 July 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Boris, Brexit & Bollox: John Lawton's view
of the UK's EU Referendum Result

I still have very mixed feelings about the result of the recent EU Referendum, and I'm prepared to listen to all sides of the argument. One of the most eloquent opinions has come from John Lawton. I'll let him speak for himself.

John Lawton and familiar
John Lawton and familiar

On occasion, perhaps frequent occasions, in the course of that strange phenomenon 'bookchat' I am asked about the purpose or theme of my writing. If feeling calm, collected (never known what that means in this context . . . what is one supposed to have collected? answers on several postcards please) I reply that I write romances, that my thesis is the failure of love . . . in a word heartbreak. My least understood book, Sweet Sunday, is just that, a tale of devastating heartbreak, inseparable from the book's politics (hence the scope to be misunderstood). I am nothing if not a political creature. If feeling combative (and let me assure Mr. Ripley that that is far from being the curmudgeon he has dubbed me) I reply 'I set out to destroy England when I was seven . . . the books are straws in the wind of that battle.'

A cynic might feel glee at the way England has destroyed itself without my assistance in the last week. We are . . . how shall I put it? . . . fucked.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 19 June 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Home of burgundy . . . and murder: R.M. Cartmel's
L'AFFAIRE RICHEBOURG

As I write this I am sitting in a little hotel in Beaune, Bourgogne, in the heart of the burgundy-producing area of France. I have to admit that I am not a wine buff. Until a couple of years ago, I couldn’t touch alcohol. Now I have the occasional sip of wine, and the even more occasional ‘flooded’ gin – which means a very small amount of gin accompanied by a very large amount of tonic.

Dick Cartmel, oenophile crime writer
R.M. 'Dick' Cartmel, hard at work, chiselling fresh words from the word face

So, you might wonder, why go to such a place of vinicultural worship?

It started at CrimeFest in May, with an invite from Sarah Williams of Crime Scene Books and The Book Consultancy. I’d seen Sarah at numerous events, but not had any great chance to talk with her until Bouchercon in North Carolina last year when, together with one of her authors, R.M. ‘Dick’ Cartmel, we were almost ‘last men standing’ in the bar on Sunday evening . . .

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is viniculture, meaning the science, study and cultivation of grapes specifically for making wine, as opposed to viticulture which simply means the science, study and cultivation of grapes in general.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 5 June 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

#NoirAtTheBarNE: Noir at the Bar comes to
Newcastle upon Tyne

Last Wednesday I drove over to Newcastle - the 'upon Tyne' one, rather than the '-under-Lyme' one, and no, I have no idea why one is not hyphenated and the other is - for Noir At The Bar NorthEast.

NoirAtTheBarNE

This is now the third time a Noir At The Bar event has been staged in the UK. A US import, the first was organised by Jay Stringer north of the border, in Glasgow. The second - and the first in England - was at Carlisle back in March, and I was honoured to be one of the authors invited by organiser Graham Smith (of Crime & Publishment) to take part.

Wednesday night was the first time N@tB has taken place over in the northeast of the country. The lovely Vic Watson - known as Elementary V Watson, proof-reader, copy-editor and creative writer - and the equally wonderful Jacky Collins, brains behind Newcastle Noir, were the co-hosts this time around. Thank you SO much to those two for putting on such a great event, and allowing me to take part.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is sesquipedalian, meaning to use a lot of long words that most people do not understand. As distinct from orotund, which means using extremely formal and complicated language intended to impress people, and also prolix, which is to use too many words, and therefore to be boring.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 22 May 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Still Calling Out My Name Redux: not many things crossed off the Bucket List

Roman columns at Jerash in Jordan

I hope you'll forgive me this week if I repost a blog from three years ago, as I'm at CrimeFest in Bristol (on which topic, more next time) and have an early morning panel! I will just say it's been marvellous to spend a little time with my blog-mates: the Michael Stanleys, Caro Ramsay, and former MiE blogger Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.

This blog sprang to mind recently because I was told it is now increasingly difficult to gain access to the Rose City of Petra in Jordan, and that in some cases the site was closed to visitors.


Some of my highlights of this year have involved travel. Like many people I have a bucket list of places I really want to see. And if I remember 2013 for no other reason, it will be because I managed to tick one-and-a-half things off that list.

One-and-a-half.

Yeah, I know, but stick with me on this.

In some ways, I dislike the term ‘bucket list’ because a list implies a certain dismissive quality. As though you step off the plane and say, “OK, that’s another one out of the way,” before turning around and climbing right back onto the plane again.

My idea of a bucket list is not just a place, but an experience.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Words of the Week are all about senses:

Petrichor — the scent of rain on dry earth or the dust after rain has fallen.

Gymnophoria — the sensation that someone is mentally undressing you or that you are being viewed naked even though you are fully clothed.

Knismesis — light tickling, more often to arouse than to induce laughter.

Psithurism — the sound of rustling leaves or the wind in trees, a whispering sound.

Basorexia — the overwhelming urge to kiss.

Umami — a pleasant savoury taste—not sweet, sour, bitter or salty—found in meat, cheese and tomatoes.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 8 May 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Don't Give Up The Day Job — what else authors do for a living

When I had the first novel in my Charlie Fox crime thriller series accepted, I had a full-time job. No surprises there – very few authors go straight from cradle to typewriter without some other kind of honest endeavour in between.

What was slightly more unusual was that I was already a writer, and had been for around twelve years. Being a non-fiction magazine writer was very useful training for what was to come. It taught me to write to topic, to length, to a deadline, and not to be too precious about my work, which was likely to be hacked to death by the subs in order to squeeze in a slightly larger picture.

Yes, you're a bad boy
"Yes, you're a bad boy. Be that bad criminal, man - own it!"

However, I was also a photographer in order to illustrate both my own articles and those of other people, so if that slightly larger picture was one of my own, I didn’t feel I could grumble too much.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is callipygian, meaning to have well-shaped buttocks.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 24 April 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

BORROWED FROM THE BARD: book titles taken from William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Saturday – April 23rd – was the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard, William Shakespeare, arguably the greatest writer in the English language.

By the time he died, in Stratford-upon-Avon, he had written 38 plays and 154 sonnets, as well as a number of other works. He was only 52, although that was considered quite a good run in Elizabethan times, when the life expectancy of the average Londoner was 35.

Shakespeare's work has been translated into every major living language, and his plays are constantly re-imagined for each generation, bringing new meaning each time. It could easily be said that the themes and schemes and tribulations of his characters are just as relevant today as they were 400 years ago.

His characters, words, and phrases have seeped into everyday life to such an extent that they are everywhere you look. And nowhere more than in the chosen book titles of other authors.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week comes from Shakespeare, appropriately enough, and is Anthropophaginian, meaning one who eats human flesh, used in humorous context in The Merry Wives of Windsor:

HOST
"What wouldst thou have, boor? what: thick-skin? speak, breathe, discuss; brief, short, quick, snap."

SIMPLE
"Marry, sir, I come to speak with Sir John Falstaff from Master Slender."

HOST
"There's his chamber, his house, his castle, his standing-bed and truckle-bed; 'tis painted about with the story of the Prodigal, fresh and new. Go knock and call; hell speak like an Anthropophaginian unto thee: knock, I say."


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 10 April 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

The Grand National: Victories and Tragedies, Drama and Suspense

Saturday, April 9th saw the running of one of the most famous horse races in history, at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool – the Grand National. It has to be the most famous jump race held anywhere. Never short of suspense, the National has also had more than its share of drama. And for every victory there are often more than a few tragedies.

1839 Grand National winner, Lottery
1839 Grand National winner, Lottery, ridden by Jem Mason

The National has often been called the greatest test of horse and rider, and it's not hard to see why. A four-mile, three-and-a-half furlong race, involving two circuits of the Aintree course, jumping thirty big fences.

The largest of these is The Chair, which stands at 5 ft 2in high and also has a 6 ft wide ditch in front of it. The take-off side is 6 in lower than the landing side. This fence had recorded the only human fatality so far during the race itself, back in 1862. The jockey Joe Wynne fell there and died of his injuries, although the coroner reckoned the fact he had consumption was a major contributing factor.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is necropsy, meaning a post-mortem examination, particularly one carried out on an animal.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 27 March 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

The Most Helpful Websites for Writers

I can’t take the credit for compiling this list of the Most Helpful Websites for Authors. It forms part of a post on the Global English Editing blog, which was sent to me this last week.

120 Most Helpful Websites

But having read through even a small number of the 120 recommended websites, it should be bookmarked on every writer’s computer. The resources listed here are fascinating, and useful, although they could be a gift to the procrastinators among us!

The sites are listed in categories, to make searching easier, and I’ve picked out just one honourable mention in each.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is undine, or ondine, which means a category of elemental beings associated with water, which includes limnads, mermaids, naiades, nymphs, and nereides. They are usually portrayed as female and although they resemble humans they lack a soul, so to achieve immortality they must acquire one by marrying a human. Of course if the man is unfaithful to the undine, he’ll die.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 13 March 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Noir At The Bar: Carlisle - Noir At The Bar Comes to the UK

Noir @ the Bar

Last week I had the pleasure of being invited to the first Noir At The Bar event held in England. It wasn’t the first one in the UK – that honour was nabbed by Glasgow in June last year.

The inaugural English event took place in Carlisle, at the quirky Moo Bar on Devonshire Street, which is a real-ale-drinker’s dream location. The organisers were three local crime authors – Matt Hilton, Graham Smith and Mike Craven, collectively known as Crime Ink-Corporated.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week comes courtesy of Lucy Cameron’s blog, and is pleonasm, meaning the use of more words or parts of words than are strictly necessary for clear expression. It comes from the Greek pleonasmos (pleon) meaning more or too much. One common example is ‘safe haven’, as if it wasn’t safe it wouldn’t be a haven, so ‘safe’ can be left out. However, sometimes pleonasm is employed for additional emphasis, in case certain words are lost during communication.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 28 February 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

How Many Words? How long should a novel be?

George RR Martin quotation

I find myself at the moment in the midst of writing the next novel in the Charlie Fox series. The action for this book starts directly where the last instalment – the novella Absence Of Light – left off. At the start of this next one, Charlie even still carries the injuries she sustained during the course of A.O.L.'s storyline.

The previous full-length novel – Die Easy – was number 10 in the series. Now I'm faced with the question of do I call this latest book number 11 or 12?

Absence Of Light could rightfully be called book 11, although labelling it as a novella was a deliberate decision on my part. It finished up at almost 60,000 words, which would make it a novel to many. But, the other Charlie Fox books ranged between 92,000 and 128,000 and I didn't want anyone to be disappointed to suddenly find this one shorter.

As far as I know, nobody's complained that it's longer than they expected.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is prolegomenon, meaning a preface to a longer work, usually a formal essay or critical discussion. The plural is prolegomena. It comes from the Greek verb prolegein, meaning ‘to say beforehand’.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 14 February 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

What price love? Valentine's Day around the world

Today is Valentine's Day, also called Saint Valentine's Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, as you prefer. Apparently, more than 60% of Americans will celebrate by the purchase of cards, flowers, chocolates and candlelit dinners for two, to the tune of over $13,000,000,000.

Mind-boggling, isn't it?.

To stay on the US statistical bandwagon for a moment, a little over 70% of the well-nigh 200 million roses produced for the day are bought by men, but 85% of the 180 million cards purchasers are women. Around 11,000 children will be conceived today. Nearly 15% of women will send themselves flowers. Over $230 million will be spent by owners on their pets.

We Brits spend over £900 million, which breaks down to about the global average per head, allegedly. The 25-34 age group are the most generous, with people living in the southeast and Wales the least likely to celebrate. The Germans spend the least on Valentine's Day, with a third of them admitting they've forgotten it altogether.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is chimerical, meaning fantastical, improbable or visionary, someone who is given to fantastic schemes, from chimera, from Greek mythology, a fire-breathing female monster with a lion's head, a goat's body and a serpent's tail, a thing which is hoped for but which is impossible to achieve.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 31 January 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night . . . Redux: Opening Lines

Ready... Set... Go!

It's no secret that I am fascinated by the whole business of opening lines for novels. The opening line or two carries so much of the weight of expectation from the reader. To my mind it has not only to accurately portray the tone of the story, but also to encapsulate the voice of the writer.

Time is so short for most of us that, if we are not very quickly lured into a book, it tends to be put down and lost in the flow of Other Stuff that clutters up our lives. If the writer is familiar to the reader, they want to be quickly reassured that, yes, they can confidently snuggle down with another journey into a well-loved world of characters they know will satisfy and enthral.

If the writer is unknown to them, they may have tiptoed into the work by way of a personal recommendation, good reviews, glowing tributes from other authors they admire, and a jacket précis that seems intriguing.

None of this will matter a jot, however, if the opening line does not intrigue them and the prose does not slip smoothly down the throat. Either that or grab them by it and refuse to let go.

I've been thinking about this a good deal lately because I have finally finished edits on my latest standalone and have now jumped back into the next in the Charlie Fox series. I already had a rough idea for the opening, but as it shaped up it has become . . .

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is palimpsest, meaning writing material, as in a parchment, tablet or scroll, which has been used more than once, the earlier writing having been removed or erased. It can also refer to anything which has successive layers beneath the surface, such as layers of different paint on a wall. It comes from the Latin palimpsestus, or Greek palimpsēstos scraped again, and was first used in the early 1800s.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 24 January 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

The End of An Era: Remembering George Weidenfeld
(13 September 1919−20 January 2016)

This week I have stepped aside from my usual blogging day to hand over this page to fellow writer John Lawton. He worked with the late George Weidenfeld, who died this week, both as an agent and as an author, and knew him over the course of many years.

George Weidenfeld

It isn't often one gets to write 'it's the end of an era' and have it rise above cliché. George Weidenfeld's death is just that – he was the last of those innovative influential Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany who stayed on in peacetime to found publishing houses and reshape literary London. Off the top of my head . . . André Deutsch – from Hungary – Paul Hamlyn – from Germany – Walter Neurath – from Austria. Houses like André Deutsch, Paul Hamlyn, Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Thames and Hudson became pre-eminent in a very short time.

George was Austrian, like Walter Neurath he was Viennese, but from a younger generation. He was born in 1919. He was known as Arthur, and nicknamed Turli. I have always assumed that he decided to use his second name after his arrival in England in 1938 as it sounded very English.

I have a vivid memory of first meeting him. It was 1985. I was a young literary agent in London — publishers and agents were forever in and out of each other's offices. A visit to or from a publisher was no great shakes. It was the routine. Until the day the boss announced that George Weidenfeld would be visiting. The significance of this was lost on me, and it slowly dawned on me that we were being put on full alert, to expect something like the trooping of the colour.


MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 10 January 2016 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Music To Write By: the soundtrack of the novel

the fire lit by three in the afternoon

Well, Christmas is over and January always seems a bit of a lacklustre month. The days are starting to lighten fractionally, but I know full well that we have not yet seen the coldest part of winter. Even if the daffodils are somewhat optimistically poking up green shoots, spring seems a long way off.

It's not just the length of the days, however, it's the quality of the light when it does finally put in an appearance. Dull and gloomy, requiring a desk lamp even at midday, and the fire lit by three o'clock in the afternoon.

The roads are perpetually plastered in mud, and so are the sides of my car. The bike is tucked away in the garage. There's rain on every forecast, and if we make it through to March without snow it will be a first. In fact, as I write this the news is predicting snow and sub-freezing temperatures in the next week.

WORD OF THE WEEK

This week's Word of the Week is cuckquean. I hadn't come across this before, although its male equivalent, cuckold is far more common. Where a cuckold is the unwitting husband of an adulterous wife, so a cuckquean is the unwitting wife of an adulterous husband. Both have their roots from the cuckoo bird, which lays its eggs in other birds' nests and leaves them to bring up young not their own. Sometimes shortened to cuck, it came into use in the mid 13th century. The important part is that the spouse should be deceived. A related word, for instance, is wittol, meaning a man who is aware of his wife's infidelity and accepts it.