Quirky. Thatís the first word that springs to mind when I think of Iceland. Raw and beautiful, sure, but quirky most of all. I love the sly sense of humour that comes across so well from the people, the friendliness, and the laid back attitude.
For someone whoís used to travelling to the States and being grilled by Immigration on the way in, the bare glance given to my passport at Keflavik was a surprise, the way the bus driver forgot to apply the handbrake when he stopped to let someone out on a hill on the way to our hotel, the way we were told to leave coats hanging on an open rack because ďthere is no crime in IcelandĒ was all a delight.
Of course, considering I am in ReykjavŪk for Iceland Noir, Icelandís first festival of crime fiction, thatís a bit of a drawback. Still, better for all the crime to be committed on the page than on the streetsóespecially considering the long dark winter nights that are the current norm.
WORD OF THE WEEK
This week's Word of the Week is blamestorming, which is to sit around in a group discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible.
Playing With Words
This past week or so has been a period of enormous upheaval. I know Iím listed here as being of No Fixed Abode, but this is now literal as well as literary. I have moved house, something Iíve done many times in the past, but for the first time I have no permanent new home to go to. It provokes a curious feeling of detachment — almost of weightlessness.
I canít quite decide if itís rather freeing or scares me half to death.
The only constant is work. The written word. At the moment I have rewrites on an existing book that really ought to be completed before Christmas, and the planning of a new book to keep my mind occupied. Iíve also been talking about writing — no substitute, I know, but the closest Iíve got to the Real Thing recently.
First up was at the 60th anniversary event for the Crime Writersí Association (CWA) at Foyleís bookstore in London . . .
More on Elementary Writers, Iceland Noir and my portfolio of unusual words at MURDER IS EVERYWHERE ►
Getting from There to Here (Take 2)
I blame Jeff and Stan. They ambushed me in the bar at Bouchercon last month. One minute we were recounting our favourite Flanders and Swann songs, with much juvenile giggling, and the next Iíd been talked into joining this illustrious little gang. Iím still not entirely sure how we got from there to here.
I donít even drink.
But, here I am, nervously smoothing down my hair and straightening my Sunday-best frock, trying to remember my lines and hoping not to be met with, at best, a blank-faced stony silence.
And it occurred to me that I really ought to introduce myself properly to my new bloggers and bloggees. So here goes.
WORD OF THE WEEK
This week's Word of the Week is absquatulate, meaning to leave abruptly or quickly, or to flee. As opposed to levant, which means to run off without paying a debt, or abscond, to run in order to evade capture or justice, usually taking something or someone along with you. If your dog gallops out of the house and hot-foots it down the garden, heís absquatulating. If he has the Sunday roast clamped in his jaws while he does so, heís absconding.
Getting from There to Here
Have you ever stopped and looked around you, and wondered how you got from there to here? Iím not talking about those momentary lapses during familiar journeys when the autopilot takes over, and you suddenly realise youíve missed your junction on the motorway. Nor am I indulging in some deep cosmic navel-gazing.
Instead, Iím asking the question on a more down-to-earth levelówhen you first became aware that there was this nebulous thing called Ďa careerí and that you were expected to have one, what did you imagine you would become?
Being a horse-mad child, I naturally wanted to emulate my show-jumping heroes—or in this case, heroines—and in particular Caroline Bradley, who really set light to the sport until her tragic death in 1983 at the age of only thirty-seven. Sadly, being jumped up and down on rather a lot by very large horses with very big feet soon proved to me I donít have the nerve for the really big fences, although being a riding instructor is still more or less my only professional qualification.
A Leap in the Dark . . .
Every writer makes constant leaps in the dark. In fact, taking a great big bound into the unknown is standard operating procedure for most of us. Every time I sit down at my keyboard and open up a new file—chapter one, page one—and the only thing visible on a stark white screen is a little cursor in the top left-hand corner, it always seems to be flashing, not in a friendly way, but in an impatient, ever-so-slightly taunting way.
As if to say, "Get on with it."
As if to say, "Last time was a fluke, wasnít it? And the time before that. You canít do it again, can you?"
At least, writing my Charlie Fox crime thriller series, Iíve always had the reassuring feeling in the back of my mind that Iím on ground that, if not exactly safe, is at least a known quantity. After all, I know people love the character of Charlie. Many email me hoping for a hint of whatís going to happen in her tortuous relationship with her former training instructor and close-protection boss, Sean Meyer.
And even if I push the boundaries a little with what I put the pair of them through, ten books into their story it is easy to slip beneath their skin.
Not so with a standalone.
My first standalone mystery thriller, THE BLOOD WHISPERER, came out last month. Itís been a while in the making, and I wrote it because I wanted to explore a different world to that inhabited by Charlie Fox . . .
WORD OF THE WEEK
This week's Word of the Week is amphibology, meaning a phrase or sentence that has an ambiguous meaning or one that can be read in more than one way. It comes from the Greek amphi-, 'both' and ballein 'to throw', so it could be translated as 'to hit at both ends'. A nice example I was given was an editor who has received an unsolicited manuscript: "I shall waste no time in reading your book!"
The Usual Questions . . .
Has your interaction with fans, for example, at conventions, affected your work?
Yes, hugely. I love meeting readers and getting their feedback on my books. I've also put a number of character names up for auction in aid of various literary charities at the Bouchercon mystery convention or Left Coast Crime. It's always been a delight as well as a challenge to include not just the winning bidder's name, but also some little character asides only they would recognise. And all for excellent causes.
Is there any particular incident (a letter, a meeting, a comment) that stands out?
Quite often in these charity auctions someone will offer 'have breakfast/lunch with the author'. I decided to go a little further and once put 'have breakfast . . . and go to the gun range with the author'. And then the lady who made the winning bid had been blind since birth . . .
It all started with an invite to an Air Day . . .
Amazing how a train of thought works, isnít it? In this case it was a visit to an air show, or to be more precise, the annual Air Day at RNAS Yeovilton. I went not only to see the usual amazing flying displays, but also in the hopes of being able to crawl all over the interior of a Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Very useful for the new Charlie Fox novella, ABSENCE OF LIGHT, in which one of these venerable old heavy transport planes plays a role.
Also flying at the Air Day was an amazing Avro Vulcan B2 bomberóthe first to be delivered to the RAF in 1960, and now the last complete one in the world. Watching the Vulcan perform in the airóand more importantly, HEARING it—was a remarkable sight. And after I returned home I was reminded that the Vulcan is the plane that is at the heart of the plot of one of my favourite James Bond movies—Thunderball.
WORD OF THE WEEK
This week's Word of the Week is deuteragonist meaning the actor taking the part of secondary importance in a drama, or a person who serves as a foil to another. In the early days of Greek drama, when the idea of having a dialogue between two characters was first devised, the players were designated the protagonist and the deuteragonist. The deuteragonistís role was to highlight or emphasise the opposing traits in the protagonistís character. From the Greek deuteron meaning second, and agonistes meaning a person competing at games
How does it go again?
I should be used to it by now, I really should. It happens every time. Yet this morning I sat down to start work on a new project and was disappointed to find it had happened again. I couldnít remember how to write a book.
The fact that Iím planning to make this next one a novella rather than a full-length book does not, sadly make it any easier to get into.
I have the title for the novella, which will feature my series heroine Charlie Fox. After much indecision I finally went for ABSENCE OF LIGHT, which I hope is reasonably intriguing.
There are a few reasons behind this choice. For a start, the books have all had two-word titles right the way through from KILLER INSTINCT to DIE EASY. The short stories on the other hand tend to have longer ones—Across The Broken Line and Postcards From Another Country for instance. So for something in between I wanted a different shape of title.
The story itself will see Charlie acting as a replacement security advisor for a group called Rescue & Recovery—R&R for short—as they deal with the aftermath of a major earthquake. R&Rís job is to go into disaster areas to help rescue the trapped and injured, recover the dead, maintain order and start to rebuild damaged infrastructure. Sheís joining a tight-knit team who trust each other with their lives. But their last security guy was killed on the job in what can only be described as suspicious circumstances. Is the rest of the team covering for someone?
I knew the story was going to start with Charlie and another person buried underground following an aftershock. Will she be rescued or will she have to fight her own way out of the darkness alone? And from that image came the title. When I looked up the definition of absolute darkness there it was—a total absence of light.
Putting the team together was fun. An uptight French doctor and pathologist, a laid-back Aussie helicopter pilot, an ex-Marine Corps structural engineer and a young Brit girl with a labrador retriever trained to sniff out both the living and the dead. All have a past from which theyíre trying to escape and none of them are keen for Charlie to find out what that is. But how far are they prepared to go to stop her?
Eventually I had to resort to pencil and paper to find my way into the story of this tangled group. After much scribbling and scribbling-out, the opening line eventually deigned to present itself to me:
ĎThe last time I died they didnít get a chance to put me in the ground for it.í
Whether it remains after the final edit remains to be seen. Meantime, Iím shakily getting my writing legs under me and I think I might—just might—be able to remember how to do this after all . . .
Wish me luck!
WORD OF THE WEEK
This week's Word of the Week is malversation, meaning dishonest or unethical conduct in office, such as bribery, extortion or embezzlement; corrupt administration of funds, from the Latin male badly, and versari to occupy oneself.