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
I first went there almost by accident, and at that by an odd route, in 1989.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Someone who limits their political or societal activism to signing online petitions rather than taking any
The dreaded Christmas round robin with a twist
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Caught Between Iraq and a Hard Place
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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
New Orleans street, down near the French market.
Why can't a terrace of houses in the UK look this cool?
Lovely to catch up with friends from the UK.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Or something like that.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 . . .
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
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
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.
Home of burgundy . . . and murder: R.M. Cartmel's
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.
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.
#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.
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.
Still Calling Out My Name Redux: not many things crossed off the Bucket List
I hope you'll forgive me this week if I repost a blog from three years ago, as I'm at
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
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.
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
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. 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.
BORROWED FROM THE BARD: book titles taken from 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:
"What wouldst thou have, boor? what: thick-skin? speak, breathe, discuss; brief, short,
"Marry, sir, I come to speak with Sir John Falstaff from Master Slender."
"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."
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, 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.
The Most Helpful Websites for Writers
I can’t take the credit for compiling this list of the
Websites for Authors. It forms part of a post on the Global English
Editing blog, which was sent to me this last week.
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.
Noir At The Bar: Carlisle - Noir At The Bar Comes to the UK
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 –
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
How Many Words? How long should a novel be?
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’.
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
It Was A Dark And Stormy Night . . . Redux: Opening Lines
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
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.
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.
Music To Write By: the soundtrack of the novel
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.