The annual Gypsy and Traveller Horse Fair, which takes place at Appleby-in-Westmorland in early June is reputed to be the largest of its kind in Europe.
Around 10,000 Gypsies and Travellers attend from all over the UK—including Irish Travellers, British Romanichal, Welsh Romanies (Kale), and Scottish Gypsies and Travellers. The New Fair, as it’s also known, also attracts more than 30,000 visitors.
Although at one point I spent several years living in Appleby, I never actually went. The crowds and the inevitable traffic jams getting in and out of the town were the main reason. As is always the way, it wasn’t until this year, long after I’d moved, that I decided I should go.
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A new six-part crime drama series started this week in the UK on ITV. Set in Morecambe and called The Bay, it stars Morven Christie as a Detective Sergeant, Lisa, who is assigned as Family Liaison Officer when fifteen-year-old twins go missing in the seaside town. Her job is to support the family and be on the inside for the police investigators.
As soon as the distraught father, Sean (played by Jonas Armstrong) arrives home, however, she discovers that he’s the bloke with whom she had a quickie while on a girls’ pub crawl the night before. Much complication ensues.
Morven Christie’s recent TV credits include Grantchester, Agatha Christie’s Ordeal By Innocence, and The A Word. Jonas Armstrong’s recent outings include Ripper Street, Troy: Fall of a City, and Line of Duty. The work of playwright and screenwriter, Daragh Carville, The Bay has been mooted as ‘Broadchurch in Morecambe’—which I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t yet got around to watching.
I confess, though, that I do quite like TV dramas where one story is told over a number of instalments. You do seem to get more depth to the characters and, ultimately, more sympathy for the victim—and in some cases for the perpetrator as well.
Of course, I’m equally a fan of TV series made up of standalone stories—more like the way a book series is structured. At least if you miss one, you can still follow what’s happening in the next episode. Although, now we’re in the age of catch-up and box set TV, that’s not as much of a consideration anymore.
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On Friday evening I went to see The Magic Showcase, a group of four magicians who perform in sequence over the course of an evening. Actually, I’ve just looked up the collective term for a group of magicians and it turns out it’s an Illusion, appropriately enough.
The show was organised by one of the illusionists performing, Tom Wright, and also included Dave Burns, Arron Jones, and John Morton. The event was held to raise money for Hulland Community Pre-School. If the packed house and crowded bar was anything to go by, they should have achieved their aim.
It’s a long time since I’ve watched any sleight of hand, and then it was by fellow mystery author James Swain, who is noted to be one of the best card-handlers out there.
This show was great fun, and the four performers were not above taking the rip out of the audience in the name of an easy laugh. I was surprised to be picked out, as for some reason in the past I’ve always managed to put out a ‘don’t pick on me’ vibe. I must be mellowing in my old age. Still, when Arron Jones asked me what I did for a living and I answered, “I’m a crime writer,” he paused a moment and then said, “I can’t think of anything funny to say about that…”
Going to watch The Magic Showcase was as much for research purposes as for anything else. An idea has been germinating in the back of my mind for a while with legerdemain, deception, and misdirection as main parts of the story. I wanted to see it for myself, live and up close. Some bits I could spot, but others remained thoroughly intriguing bits of mystery.
One piece from the show highlighted a feeling I had for this story—whatever it eventually turns into. John Morton put two envelopes, A and B, onto stands on the stage. He picked out an audience member and told them that one envelope contained a £50 note, and the other a lottery ticket. The guy chose A. Morton then put an X sticker on the A envelope and a smiley emoticon sticker on the B envelope, all the while asking if the man was sure, and didn’t want to change his mind. Periodically during his set, he would ask again if the man was certain of his decision, hinting that he’d got the wrong one. When it came to making his final choice, the man changed his mind and opted for envelope B. Sure enough, that contained the lottery ticket and the A envelope contained the cash. I’m sure, had the man gone for that one at the beginning, Morton’s patter would have been subtly different. And I’m sure it would still have ended up with the magician keeping hold of his money. Psychological mind games are a fascinating part of the act.
To a certain extent, when we write, crime and mystery authors try to accomplish the same sleight of hand with words—or should that be legerdemot? We throw a clue into the mix but try to distract the reader from what it is with a flourish of description or action at the same time. The more accomplished the wordsmith, the less likely the move is to be noticed. It all has to be smooth and seamless and entertaining.
Just like magic.
This week’s Word of the Week is prestidigitation, which means conjuring tricks performed as entertainment. The word comes from the French preste (from the Italian presto) meaning nimble or quick, and the Latin for finger, digitus.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about writing fiction was to read the words aloud. Reading your own work really helps you to pinpoint those clunky bits of narrative or dialogue, or those descriptive scenes that go on for just a bit too long.
Better yet, I’ve found, is to get somebody else to read your work back to you. After all, you as the author know how the rhythm of the story should run and where the emphasis should go for maximum dramatic effect.
But, if those clues are not present in the way the words are presented on the page, then your reader is never going to be able to reproduce that same rhythm in their head. I’ve always believed that more than the subject matter, the characters or the plot, it’s the individual voice of the writer that turns casual readers into continuing fans.
When you pick up a book by an author unknown to you, before you’ve finished the first paragraph—often even the opening sentence—you just know if you like the sound of that writer’s voice. I had this with the first Robert B Parker novel I picked up, the first Ken Bruen and the first Lee Child. More recently, I happened across the Wyatt Storme series by WL Ripley. They all have such a distinctive style that flicks a switch inside my head. Something in the back of my mind goes, “Yes!” and I have to read on.
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There’s no doubt about it, spending most of your day hunched over a computer keyboard does not do your neck/back/shoulders any good. I’m making regular trips to my physio at the moment in order to be able to keep working while still actually being able to sleep at night. In this job, it counts as Repairs & Maintenance.
He examined my upper spine and said it looked like I’d been, “dropped repeatedly on my head.”
Yeah, thanks for that.
But, all this has got me wondering about a better way to work. If you read my blog of a few weeks ago, you’ll know I’ve been experimenting with dictation software. Sadly, there are times when there’s no substitute for sitting down with hands on keys.
Yes, I do have a proper ergonomic typing chair at my desk. If I’m away I have a mesh backrest which I can attach to a normal chair to give more lumbar support. But, I’ve also been looking at standing desks (a treadmill desk being a Step Too Far, methinks) and kneeling chairs. I’d love to hear from anyone who has experience of these, so please drop me an email if you use either and find them brilliant/terrible.
I’ve even looked at kneeling chairs which have an added backrest. The reviews are very polarised, however, which makes me a bit reluctant to try one without a personal recommendation.
Besides, where would the cat sit? Ah, across my hands as usual…
This week’s Word of the Week is egotist, which comes from the Latin ego for ‘I’. It means an inflated sense of your own importance, feeling intellectually or physically superior to others. This is versus egoist, which does not necessarily mean to feel superior to others, but certainly to have an unpleasant preoccupation with yourself. Whereas to be a narcissist is to have a recognised psychological disorder where a person shows excessive self-admiration. The name comes from Greek mythology where Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water.
Way back before most music came as a downloaded or streamed digital file, it took physical form in the shape of vinyl records, tape cassettes, and then compact discs. My favourite albums were always those that offered something more than a list of the tracks and which members of the band played which instruments on the recording.
I loved the sleeve notes. The extra bits. Like the lyrics to every song, or—if the artist was singing their own material—notes on where each song was written, and why.
Likewise, when it comes to movies, I love the extras there, too.
I had to severely downsize my DVD collection when I made my last house move. The movies I kept tended to be the Special Editions—the ones with a second disc containing bonus features such as a director’s commentary, a making-of documentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, and explanations of the stunts or special effects. I’ve even been known to buy a second copy if it came with some/better/more extras.
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I have always been a fairly fast typist. Ever since I first learnt to put my fingers on the home keys and type without looking at them, I’ve picked up speed from there. I can now type without looking at the screen, never mind at my hands. And when I wore most of the letters off the keys of my last keyboard, it didn’t matter to me at all.
But, I’m intrigued by the daily word counts that people who use dictation software seem to be achieving on a regular basis. Last year, I purchased a copy of Dragon on eBay, but sadly, despite the seller’s assurances, it was not compatible with my Mac. I even tried using the dictation element of Word, but ended up shouting at the computer when it consistently mocked my accent by mishearing things. I swear it was doing it on purpose.
Nevertheless, I was still intrigued by people who tell me how much they can get done during a limited period of the day just by talking to their computer rather than sitting with their fingers at the keyboard. You Lie. (That last bit the computer’s response to me giving the instruction “New line.” Hmm, is it passing comment, I wonder…?)
Yes, in case you haven’t get guessed, I’m using dictation software to write this blog. It’s my first attempt. Please bear with me.
Read the whole of this blog over on MurderIsEverywhere.
So here we are again. Another twelve months have gone by. By the time you read these words, there will be only New Year’s Eve ahead and then we step out of the old year, kicking the dust of it off our feet, and into the next.
I confess that 2018 has been a bit of a mixed bag. Ups and downs, but overall the scales tip just to the side of positive, I think. And receiving Christmas cards and messages from people I haven’t perhaps heard from since last Christmas is a useful reminder to be more assiduous about keeping up with old friends.
Although I try not to make resolutions as such, it’s a useful time for reflection and a sense of renewal. I have a lot to be getting on with in 2019, and this year maybe—just maybe—I’ll live up to my own expectations.
Meanwhile, this is the time of year I like to take a quick spin through some of the fascinating new words that have been added to the dictionary over the last twelve months. Here are some of my favourites from the Oxford English Dictionary:
adownrights, is a revival of a word from the late 1100s, when it meant straight down, and can now also be used as a substitute for an expletive.
chode, a male sexual organ which is, ahem, larger in circumference than it is in length.
jamette, comes from the French diametre (diameter) and means someone on the fringes of society or beyond. It is also apparently used in some Caribbean countries to indicate ‘a lady of negotiable affections…’
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The needle was the size of the insert of a biro. Just as the nurse was lining it up with the vein in my left arm, I asked him, “So, how long have you been doing this?”
“Oh, since about October,” he replied. “Before that, after I left the army, I was a hairdresser…”
You might have thought this would have made me more nervous but, actually, I’ve found those newer to the profession are always that little bit more careful when stabbing you with sharp objects.
I have been a blood donor since I got my first motorcycle licence back in the 1990s. I decided a bit of pay-it-forwards might not be a bad idea—the road accident statistics being what they were. Fortunately, I’ve never needed to receive blood. But you never know…
I’m ashamed to admit that my recent donation was the first time I’ve given blood in five years. Personal upheaval and several changes of location were the main culprits. Add to that the fact that you can no longer just go along to a session but need to make an appointment, booked well in advance. As I found from experience, they fill up fast. In fact, by the time I received the invitation from the blood transfusion service, all the appointments were usually long gone.
However, this time I was lucky. They called me and there were two slots left. The experience was quick, not at all painful—you even get a hot drink and biscuits afterwards—and left me with a feeling of satisfaction. I have already been online and booked my next appointment for April. That will be my fiftieth donation.
I did quite a bit of research on blood groups and their combinations when I was writing book six in the Charlie Fox series, SECOND SHOT, mainly to find out which blood groups in parents could—or could not—produce which blood groups in a child.
The most common type is O-positive—38 percent of the population has this type. Those with O-negative are far fewer at only 7 percent. These are the ones known as universal donors—you can give O-negative blood to all other ABO types, in an emergency.
A-positive is the next most common blood group, at 34 percent, all the way down to AB-negative, at just one percent of the population. Those with AB-positive blood (3 percent) are known as universal receivers. The rarest blood type in the world is Rh-null, which can be accepted by anyone in the Rh system. As of 2014, there were fewer than 10 such people in the world donating their blood.
If you are fit and healthy and are not a blood donor, perhaps it’s time to make a New Year’s Resolution to become one in 2019?
This week’s Word of the Week is sanguineous, meaning blood red, involving bloodshed, or bloodthirsty, from sanguis, Latin for blood, it shares its roots with sanguine, which has come to mean confident or optimistic but originally meant to have a ruddy complexion. In medieval times, this was thought to denote a courageous temperament.
Earlier this month, the winner of the 26th annual Literary Review Bad Sex In Fiction Award was won by author James Frey for KATERINA. The novel is described by its publisher, John Murray, as ‘a sweeping love story alternating between 1992 Paris and Los Angeles in 2017.’ It is billed as a fictional retelling of a love affair experienced by Frey in France in the 1990s.
One of the Amazon reviews for Frey’s KATERINA says, “I had never read any of his work. Then I read a few reviews saying that ‘Katerina’ might have been the worst thing published this year—which made me pay attention. You can’t buy that kind of publicity.” The reviewer gave the book four stars.
The Bad Sex Award was established in 1993 by Auberon Waugh, the then editor of the Literary Review, and literary critic Rhoda Koenig. It was designed to ‘draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction.’ And it was not intended to apply to work that is intended to be erotic or pornographic right from the outset. For some reason, Vince Cable’s novel, OPEN ARMS, was deemed not to qualify for the Award in 2017 on the grounds that its author was a Member of Parliament.
The shortlist for this year was all male. I’m not sure how important that is in terms of how male authors or female authors write sex scenes in their novels. Perhaps there is a point to be made there? But, I think it may be one of the few times female authors will not be lobbying for a more gender-balanced final line-up.
Read the whole of this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere.