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, 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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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 . . .


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 . . .


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.


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.


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

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 . . .


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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, quick, snap."

"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."

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 . . .


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.


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.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 27 December 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

HOLIDAY READING: from the Murder Is Everywhere crew

The Christmas and New Year holiday season is an excellent time to settle down with a good book. As this is my last Murder Is Everywhere blog of 2015, I wanted to leave you with a holiday reading list. And as my fellow bloggers here are a fairly modest bunch, I respectfully offer their latest titles as being well worth your consideration.


This week’s Word of the Week is facetiae, which means both pornographic literature, and humorous or witty sayings. It first came into use in the 16th century, from the Latin plural of facetia 'jest', from facetus 'witty'.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 13 December 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Author Websites: what would you like them to say?

This blog was supposed to go up last Sunday – December 6th. That it didn't was down to some bloke called Desmond, who walloped the northwest of the UK. He huffed and puffed and blew down if not my house, then at least my local electricity substation. Flooding, power cuts and much chaos ensued. More about that at a later date.

Last time, I wrote a blog about author photos, and what they say – or don't say – about the author involved. I think I've now got something sorted that says what I want it to about me and the kind of books I write. But more about that at a later date, too.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on upgrading my website to a WordPress site, which is currently a work-in-progress. . .


This week’s Word of the Week is anthropodermic bibliopegy, which means the covering of books in human skin. One of the few surviving examples in the UK is held by the Bristol Record Office. It was made from the skin of John Horwood, who was hanged at Bristol Gaol for murdering Eliza Balsum. Another is of the Red Barn murder of Maria Marten by William Corder in Suffolk in 1827.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 22 November 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Author Photos: what am I trying to say?

Last month, a friend sent me an interesting article entitled How To Take A Great Author Photo. It shows various examples of what makes a good or bad publicity pic, including some Before and After shots of the same people in different poses. And if it doesn’t exactly tell you how to take a photo, that’s a minor quibble.

The reason I’ve been looking at this again recently is that it’s time for a new author pic for myself. Never something I look forward to – after all, I spent 25 years on the other side of the camera partly to avoid appearing in pictures myself.

But sometimes you can’t get round it, so you have to run straight at it, yelling a war cry.

At the moment, if someone asks me to send an author pic, I tend to send out a couple, labelled Serious and Not-So Serious.


This week’s Word of the Week is boustrophedon, meaning an ancient form of writing that had lines alternately written left to right and then right to left. It comes from the Greek and literally means 'turning as an ox when ploughing'. From bous meaning ox and strephein meaning to turn.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 8 November 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Playing It Safe: Personal Safety Tips from Charlie Fox

I hope you'll forgive me this week if I hand over control to a kind of guest blogger*. I wanted to begin an occasional series about safety – personal safety, safety at home, in the car, on the street, in a dangerous situation. So, who better to talk about these topics than my protagonist, Charlotte 'Charlie' Fox?

Charlie had a short-lived career in the Women’s Royal Army Corps, passing selection for Special Forces training, but being dishonourably discharged following a court martial. (And I wouldn't ask her about that if I were you.) She then taught self-defence for women in a small northern UK city, and eventually moved into a career as a bodyguard – initially for a London-based outfit run by her former army training instructor, Sean Meyer.

When Sean was offered a partnership in Parker Armstrong's prestigious close-protection agency in New York City, Charlie moved with Sean to Manhattan. She has been based there ever since.

I had to laugh when I saw the title of this post, because let me tell you, 'playing it safe' is not a phrase that ever made it anywhere near my school reports – nor my military appraisals, come to think of it.

That doesn’t mean I'm reckless, don't get me wrong. If the situation demands it, I'll get stuck in, but not without weighing up the risks and the odds first. And I'll go a long way to avoid trouble if I can manage it. It was one of the problems I always found when I used to teach self-defence classes. People learn a few tricks and think they're invincible. Never has that old saying 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing' been more true than when it comes to personal safety.

Probably not a bad place to start.


This week’s Word of the Week is maschalismos, which means to prevent the dead from rising by making them incapable of doing so – ie, the cutting off of the feet, hands or head. The word comes from Ancient Greek and was also the term used in later Greek customary law.


*OK, so Charlie’s not exactly a guest blogger, but I always try to do what the voices in my head tell me to . . .

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 25 October 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Bouchercon and Beyond: summer travels in the States

This has not been an easy blog to write. Not because of topic or lack of inspiration, but for this reason:

Treacle assists with typing

What this means is that I’ve been away, and now I’ve returned the cat is determined not to let me out of her sight – or reach – for long. It’s very sweet, but a bit of a bugger when it comes to typing.

Like many of my fellow Murder Is Everywhere bloggers I’ve been over in the States for the annual Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. This year it was in Raleigh, the state capital of North Carolina.


This week’s Word of the Week is Gardyloo, meaning the act of discarding waste substance from a height. It was used as a warning cry often heard in medieval Scotland as slops were emptied out of upper floor windows into the street below. The word is a corruption of the French, "Garde à l’eau!" – "Mind the water!" but may possibly be where we get the word ‘loo’ from to describe the lavatory. It was still in use as late as the 1930s and ’40s when many people still had no inside toilet.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 11 October 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

#ZoeSharpChat — short answers to shorter questions

My next blog will be about the Raleigh Bouchercon experience, but for now a little brief fun. One of my publishers, Felony & Mayhem Press, wanted to do an interview in real time on Twitter, and as with that old quote, "I’m writing you a long letter as I don’t have the time to write you a short one," they sent me a sample of questions ahead of time so I could prepare some short answers.

I didn’t check to make sure these hit the Twitter character-count maximum, but as other people joined in and the thing went back and forth like a game of team tennis, I thought it might be fun to reprint them here.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 27 September 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Organised or OCD? Travelling tips

I don’t think I’m paranoid. I simply like to be ready for any eventuality. Hence I carry duct tape in the boot of my car. Not for this reason:

So, it’s no great surprise that I like to be as prepared when I travel. By the time my next blog post is due in a fortnight, I’ll be in the midst of the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, this year in Raleigh, North Carolina. There are quite a few of the MiE crowd going, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to catching up with everyone.

This year I have the privilege to be one of the International Guests of Honor along with Scottish author/publisher/agent and all round Man of Mystery, Allan Guthrie. Our own Jeff Siger will be chairing our Spotlight Interview on Friday afternoon.

If you want to see the full schedule for Bouchercon, including all the fascinating panels where Murder Is Everywhere members are taking part, see here.


This week’s Word of the Week is actually several made-up words suggested by Lonely Planet:

Afterglobe n. The warm fuzzy feeling one gets after a long immensely satisfying trip.

Comeuppants n. When an obnoxious person loses their luggage and has no change of clothes.

Fearenheit n. Panic felt by Americans when attempting to comprehend temperatures in other countries.

Tuk-Tuk-Tuck n. The maneouvre required to wedge a large tourist into a small motorised tricycle.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 13 September 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

What's Happening At Home: a round-up of the oddities of UK news

I confess that I have not been spending much time at my keyboard over the last week or so. Not through any lack of desire of my part, but because I've been on too many drugs.

No, not the illegal type – the kind you have to be prescribed by the nice medical gentlemen at the local doctor's surgery.

I’ve got a bad back.

Bad backs are traditionally the butt of many jokes. Apparently one in three people in the UK will suffer back pain this year, and it's been one of the main excuses for those who wish to have time off work.

Trust me, I'd far rather be working.


This week's Word of the Week is hamartia, meaning the character flaw or error of a tragic hero that leads to his downfall. It comes from the Greek hamartánein, meaning 'to miss the mark' or 'to err', and was first used by Aristotle.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 30 August 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Making It Up As You Go Along: the latest new words

There have been some wonderful new additions to online dictionaries recently, although Grexit has never been one of my favourites. And now the spin doctors have coined 'Brexit' for a possible UK exit from the European Union.

Brexit or Grexit?

The latest I've come across is in connection with the Chilcot Inquiry into Britain's involvement in the Iraq War. The inquiry has come under fire (pun intended) for its long-delayed conclusions. Indeed, the inquiry was announced in 2009 and is still ongoing, with further delays expected due to the legal requirement of 'Maxwellisation'.

As I've done nothing but explore new words this week, I'll dispense with the usual Word of the Week, but I'd love to hear your favourite – and least favourite – new words, or old words with annoying new meanings?

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 16 August 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

The £180 million library that couldn't afford books, and the homeless young man who changed his life in a library; why we should fight for our libraries

Back in June 2013, the city of Birmingham (the one in the West Midlands rather than the one in Alabama) opened an amazing new library. Postmodern in design, it was estimated to have cost in excess of £183 million and was boasted as the largest public library in the UK and the largest regional library in Europe, as well as being the largest public cultural space in Europe.

Birmingham Library, 2013
Library of Birmingham, opened in 2013

An international design competition was held by the Royal Institute of British Architects and a shortlist announced in 2008. Dutch company Mecanoo were announced as the winners. Although reaction to the new design was generally very positive, there were one or two dissenting voices, including that of John Madin, architect of the Birmingham Central Library, built in 1974.


This week’s Word of the Week is fanfaronade, meaning swaggering, arrogant boasting, blustering manner; ostentatious display. From the French fanfaronade and the Spanish fanfarronada, from fanfarón, meaning a braggart.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 2 August 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

The lion-killing dentist versus the boy who loved to read: the worst and the best of human nature

There have been two stories in the news over the last week that have caught my attention above all others.

The first is that of Cecil, a thirteen-year-old lion living in the safety of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. He was one of the most famous lions for wildlife tourists visiting the country – recognizable because of his distinctive black mane – and supposedly protected. He had been tagged with a GPS collar as part of a conservation study begun by Oxford University in 1999, making it possible to trace his movements.

Cecil the late lion

Earlier this month, Cecil was lured out of the national park using bait. As soon as he was in an unprotected area he was shot by a hunter armed with a bow and arrow, which seriously injured the lion but did not kill him. His pursuers then tracked the wounded animal for forty hours before finally shooting him with a rifle and killing him. After being posed for photos, Cecil was skinned and beheaded.


This week’s Word of the Week is scripturient, meaning a violent desire to write*, from the Latin scripturiens, present participle of scripturire, to desire to write, desiderative of Latin scribere, from which we get scribe.
*as opposed to a desire to write violently, which makes one a crime/thriller author.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 19 July 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

UK: Road Rage Capital of the World

On Thursday evening, a retired solicitor called Don Lock was driving along the A24 near Worthing in West Sussex when he had a minor bump in his car, running into the vehicle in front of him. An everyday occurrence.

What followed was not.

When the 79-year-old great-grandfather got out of his car, the driver of the car he’d hit stabbed him repeatedly. Despite the attempts of attending paramedics, Mr Lock died at the scene.

Road rage victim, Don Lock

Up to that point, Don Lock must have felt life was smiling on him. He had just celebrated 55 years of marriage, had recently been given the all-clear after a cancer diagnosis, was fit enough to be cycling up to 150 miles a week, and was looking forward to the birth of his sixth great-grandchild later this year.


This week’s Word of the Week is biblioclasm, meaning the destroying of books or other written material, particularly the Bible. Or, alternatively, you could have libricide, which also means the destruction of books. Somehow, the former suggests a catastrophic disaster in which every book meets its maker, while in the latter a single library perishes.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 5 July 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

French Impressionist: an Anglophile's view of rural France

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been in France – house-, cat- and dog-sitting in the Midi-Pyrénées region.

Two beautiful cats – mother and daughter – who slept on my bed and occasionally woke me during the night by having fisticuffs or deciding to pounce on my feet . . .

Spatz and Inky-puss
Spatz and Inky-puss

. . . And a lovely dog who quite happily rode out in the car on daily explorations around Aveyron and had her own boudoir built into the kitchen, complete with central heating for the winter months.

the lovely Mosca, reclining
the lovely Mosca, reclining

Previously, my only experience of France was doing some photographic work in Paris. Let’s just say I did not see the best side of that city – the only time I’ve stayed in a hotel where the lobby not only boasted two armed guards stationed there all night, but also had a TV set in one corner playing a hardcore porn channel. Not exactly the city our Cara writes about!

But rural France is not Paris, so I tried not to have any preconceptions about this visit. The impressions I came away with have made me seriously consider relocation.


This week’s Word of the Week was provided by the ever-fragrant Everett Kaser and is anastrophe, which means an inversion of the usual syntactical order of words for rhetorical effect. It comes from the Greek anastrephein meaning to turn back. John F Kennedy used anastrophe for greater effect when he reversed the typical positive-to-negative parallelism in his famous line: "Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country." Yoda was a great one for anastrophe: "Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will."

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 21 June 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Most Stupid Criminals

As crime writers we work really hard to make our baddies (I was recently taken to task for gender-biased generalization by referring to the antagonists in my books as "bad guys") realistic. Generally speaking, they are not maniacal geniuses with a penchant for hollowed-out-volcano living, classic G-Plan furniture and fluffy white cats.

Donald Pleasence as Blofeld

However, neither are they in the running for the Darwin Awards for gross stupidity. Of course, the Darwin Awards are primarily given to people who have removed themselves permanently from the gene pool in the most idiotic and spectacular way. What I’m interested in here are those individuals with no talent for crime, yet who insist on committing it. The very ones, in fact, we would struggle to put into a book for fear of the inevitable cry: "Surely that would never happen!"


This week’s Word of the Week is hamartia, which refers to a protagonist’s fundamental flaw or error which leads to a reversal of fortune from good to bad.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 31 May 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Looking For Someone To Hate? The ten
most-hated professions in the UK

When I’m writing, I always love to play with people’s preconceptions about character and place. Just because I set FOURTH DAY in a cult in California, for instance, doesn’t necessarily mean you know who the bad guys are going to turn out to be.

And although ROAD KILL was set predominantly in Northern Ireland, there was very little mention of the sectarian violence, which was still very much ongoing at the time. You have to be aware of it, because it shapes the landscape into which you set loose your cast of characters, but not to the point of cliché. I’ve featured motorcyclists in many of my books, and not a meth lab between them!

My villains have been a varied bunch – usually not the most obvious choice – and not all of them were thieves and gangsters from the off.

But when I recently came across this list of the ten most-hated professions in the UK, I thought it would be fun to reveal them here with a view to the villains yet to come:


This week’s Word of the Week is taeniacide, meaning the killing of tapeworms, or an agent – especially a drug – that kills tapeworms.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 17 May 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Cutting to the Chase: 36 Questions to Ask on a First Date

Being at the CrimeFest convention in Bristol this weekend has provided a lot of food for thought, mainly about our relationships with other people, how we perceive ourselves, and how we develop our characters.

Inside the Minds of Business Prospects

It was perhaps some form of karma, therefore, that I came across a link online to a blog on which referred to a piece in the New York Times from January this year. The article claimed that anyone could fall in love with a stranger by asking them certain questions and then staring into their eyes for four minutes. The blog suggested that it could be used as a means of cutting through the does-he/doesn’t-he, will-she/won’t-she uncertainty of early dating.

It would be an interesting exercise not only to try on a first date, but also to a character. In my case I think it will prove very useful for filling in those awkward pauses that sometimes occur during social occasions with comparative strangers. Try ’em and see what you think:


This week’s Word of the Week is catafalque, a wonderful word I found in Kate Griffin’s book. It means a decorated wooden framework, bier or box supporting the coffin of a distinguished person during a funeral or while lying in state.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 3 May 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Ruth Rendell RIP

"I think you’re getting things a bit out of proportion, Mr Parsons."

With this line – from the first chapter of her debut published novel, FROM DOON WITH DEATH – so began the illustrious career of Ruth Rendell, who died yesterday, May 2nd at the age of 85.

Ruth Rendell
Baroness Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell was brought up in east London. She began her literary career as a journalist on a local Essex newspaper. Even then her flair for fiction became apparent when she wrote up a dinner at a tennis club without attending, and therefore failed to mention that the chairman had dropped dead halfway through his after-dinner speech!


This week’s Word of the Week is deracinate, a lovely word I happened across in a novel by Robert Wilson which I’ve been reading for the panel I’m moderating at CrimeFest later this month. The word means to pull up by the roots, to isolate or remove from a native culture or environment. From the Old French deraciner, from the Latin radix a root.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 19 April 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Playing with perspective — the amazing street art of Julian Beever

When I write I always love playing with people’s preconceptions. My good guys are rarely all good, and there are usually some redeeming features in my bad guys. It’s not only the characters I try to do this with, but the situations and locations as well. And whilst I hope I never cheat the reader, what you think is going on might not be case.

Julian Beever self-portraits

When I worked as a photographer, it was often said that the camera never lied. Fortunately, though, it could be made to be exceedingly economical with the truth. It all depended not only on lighting and filtering but also on exactly where you placed the camera in relation to the subject of the shot.

Someone who is a master at playing with our visual perception is British artist Julian Beever. Julian studied art at Leeds Met. University and did a variety of different jobs, from English as a Foreign Language teacher to tree planter.


This week’s Word of the Week is anamorphosis, which comes from the Greek anamorphoun, to transform. It means a drawing or projection, which presents a distorted image that appears natural when viewed from a certain angle, or with a suitable mirror or lens.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 5 April 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

From Diana to Venus — how the days of the week got their names

I’ve always had a fascination with words and their origins, particularly those words that have come into common usage. And surely there can be few words used quite as frequently as the days of the week?

Sun over Jerash in Jordan

Having said that, it wasn’t always straightforward to pinpoint which day was which. Way back around the First Century AD the Roman Empire used the nundinal cycle which used a ‘market week’ that actually had eight days, so The Beatles had it right . . .


This week’s Word of the Week is anfractuous, meaning sinuous or circuitous. It comes from the Latin anfractus, meaning winding, turning, or bending around. This in turn comes from frangere meaning to break, from which we also get fracture and fragment, the prefix ‘an-’ meaning it bends around in an unbroken manner. Originally used to describe the curved nature of the auditory canal in the ear, but could just as well be applied to the plot of a good crime novel, which twists and turns but can still be followed to the end.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 22 March 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

The dangerous lure of motorcycling — and why I decided
to make Charlie Fox a biker

Friday heralded the first day of Spring, and with it budding flora, lengthening days, and reckless thoughts of being unpicked from the winter underwear.

Grumpy cat

It also prompted thoughts of getting my Triumph Street Triple out of hibernation and shaking the dust from its wheels. In fact, apart from days that were icy or actually snowing, it was only the disgusting amount of salt they spread all over the roads in the UK during the winter that stopped me riding it right through.

Once you get biking into your bloodstream, it’s very hard to get it out again. This is the first British bike I’ve owned, and there’s something rather satisfying about riding a machine from a company whose heritage goes back to 1902. I’m also in some very good company . . .


This week’s Word of the Week is thrasonical meaning bragging or vainglorious. It is taken from the character of a boastful soldier, Thraso, in the play Eunuchus by the ancient Roman playwright, Publius Terentius Afer, better known as Terence. Nice way to insult someone to their face without them realising you’re doing it.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 8 March 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

The Importance of The Right Setting

I’m doing rewrites on a book at the moment, but not the sort of rewrites I’ve done in the past. I would have thought that by now I should be well-versed in this kind of thing, having written twelve books, but this is a new one on me.

I’m not changing the story, as such. That’s not to say, when the book reaches the editing stage, there won’t BE story changes that need to be made, but at it stands I’m reasonably happy with it. It flows, twists and turns, and it makes sense - in as far as a thriller set against a backdrop of the supernatural CAN make sense. I’ve invented a world with certain rules and the inhabitants of this world follow those rules.

Just as, in a vampire story, the Creatures of the Night cannot roam the countryside in daylight, eat garlic bread, or cross the threshold without being invited in. The jury’s still out on the whole ‘sparkling’ debate.

Vampires don't sparkle

This is not a vampire novel, by the way.


This week’s Word of the Week is Stygian which means excessively dark or gloomy, having its roots in the Greek stygios and relating to the River Styx, the main river of Hades, the underworld, in Greek mythology, which the dead had to cross, hence the practice of putting a coin in the mouth of the dead as fare to Charon, the boatman.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 22 February 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

Mad as a box of frogs — the art of analogy

At the Love Is Murder conference in Chicago earlier this month, I was asked to give a 90-minute Master Class connected to the craft of writing a crime novel. Mine was called 'Getting Your Plot Together', which pretty much did what it said on the can.

As mad as a box of frogs

Of course, in trying to cram in everything that I felt was important when it comes to planning out your story, deciding what suspense is (and how to create it) I inevitably ran out of time before I ran out of material. I hope all those who attended found the notes I sent out later useful. In fact, many of them were kind enough to email and say just that. It makes all the late nights swotting and worrying over the coursework worthwhile!

One email in particular I received last week has stuck in my mind . . .


This week’s Word of the Week is catachresis, from the Greek for 'abuse'. It means the use of the wrong word in a given context, such as using 'decimate' instead of 'devastate', or 'ravished' when we mean 'famished' or 'ravenous'; using a forced figure of speech, such as "'Tis deepest winter in Lord Timon's purse." (Shakespeare, Timon of Athens); using a word that isn't entirely correct because otherwise there would be no suitable word, such as describing a chair as having 'legs' when we mean the posts that hold the seat off the floor; or the replacement of a word with something more ambiguous, such as changing 'unemployed' to 'job-seeker'.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 8 February 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

An Unexpected Pleasure

This weekend I’m in Rosemont - part of the Chicago urban conurbation - for the Love Is Murder conference. So, I leave snow in the Peak District . . . for snow in Illinois instead.

Chicago snow plough

No fun to land at O’Hare and then spend nearly an hour with the pilot rumbling round the airport perimeter looking for somewhere to park amid the 200 other planes that were looking either to do the same or for a cleared runway from which to take off.

And here was me thinking that places like this were always better prepared for their weather than we ever are in the UK . . .


This week’s Word of the Week is retronym, which means a word that has to be retro-fitted with an addition, newly because things change as time goes on. Hence we need to specify ‘desktop’ computer as opposed to ‘laptop’ computer, and ‘acoustic’ guitar to differentiate it from an ‘electric’ guitar. This word was sent to me by our very own regular follower, Everett Kaser. Thanks, EvKa!

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 25 January 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

New Days

Winter is upon the UK good and proper. I arrived home to tales of wild and unpredictable weather, power-cuts and general transport mayhem. If it isn’t the airports hit by thundersnow, it’s the Channel Tunnel hit by truck fires and electrical problems. It all seems a far cry from the balmy hills of Tuscany.

Montisi vista

Getting away to Italy over New Year was an opportunity to take a deep breath, absorb some stunning scenery along with the history and the architecture, and get my head back into a writing space.


This week’s Word of the Week is nuncupative, meaning oral, i.e. spoken rather than written. Its English usage can be traced back to the 16th century and it usually refers to a will or testament made in extreme circumstances when someone was terminally ill or mortally wounded. Under Roman law, a nuncupative will could take the form of a spoken declaration in the presence of witnesses. Such wills are supposedly still admissible in some US states.

MURDER IS EVERYWHERE—Sunday, 11 January 2015 Like me or Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter I'm on goodreads

A Different View

When it got to Christmas 2014 I realised that I needed a break. I know to some people the entire life of a writer may seem like one long holiday but nevertheless I felt I needed a complete change of scene.

The fact that rural Derbyshire had just disappeared under six inches of snow might have had something to do with it, too, although as a skier I like the white stuff.

Tuscan hill-top villa

So, when the friend-of-a-friend offered me three weeks’ cat-sitting in a villa in Tuscany, how could I turn it down?


This week’s Word of the Week is feuilleton, meaning a story published in instalments. It originated when French newspapers began to include separate sections devoted to literature, art, fashion or even fiction, a practice quite normal today but innovative at the time. The word is a diminutive of feuillet, French for sheet of paper, derived from Latin folium, leaf, which we are familiar with as folio, a leaf or page of a book.