At the Sharp End…

Bonus Features in Books

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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.

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music with added lyrics Image courtesy of Pixabay

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.

Read the whole of this blog over on MurderIsEverywhere.

Talking to Myself: First Steps Into Dictation Software

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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.

2001 for Writers

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.

The End of the Year As We Know It…

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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.

Lulu in festive mood

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…’

Read the rest of this post over on MurderIsEverywhere.

The season for giving…blood

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…

ZoeSharp-StreetTriple-lo-res

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.

The Bad Sex Award 2018

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JamesFrey-KaterinaEarlier 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.

In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes

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My introduction to crime, as I’ve probably mentioned before, was from the opposite direction to most readers. Not from the detective’s point of view, but the criminal’s. Simon Templar, known as The Saint, who was hero of numerous novels and short stories, as well as several TV and film incarnations. With a twinkle in his eye, he ran rings around the inept but dogged Inspector Claude Eustace Teal of Scotland Yard.

Ivor Dean (l) as Claude Eustace Teal and Roger Moore as Simon Templar, The Saint

Ironically perhaps, I moved from the works of Leslie Charteris to those of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose fictional hero also made the police look somewhat like dolts. Sherlock Holmes was no criminal, although he was known to ponder that he would have made an excellent one. I devoured every Sherlock Holmes story and novel, and taking great delight in the black-and-white movies with Basil Rathbone in the title role and Nigel Bruce as the slightly bumbling Doctor Watson—always to my mind an unfair portrayal.

Rathbone and Bruce

Basil Rathbone (l) as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr Watson

The first consulting detective and famous occupant of 221B Baker Street never lacked for TV and movie outings, some taken more seriously than others. I was a particular fan of the version starring Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke. This adaptation did not shy away from Holmes’ cocaine use, and Watson was far closer to the stout companion of the novels.

Brett and Hardwicke

Jeremy Brett (l) as Holmes and Edward Hardwicke as Watson

Those two versions of the Sherlock Holmes stories kept the characters in their original Edwardian setting—more or less. I seem to recall the Rathbone incarnation being stretched into wartime. But more recently there have been two very successful modern takes on the Baker Street detective which have approached things from very different angles.

To read the full post on Murder Is Everywhere, click here.

The Sound of Silence – Wilds of Finland

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Finland in October. I’ll be honest—I was hoping for snow. Maybe not in Helsinki itself, but certainly out in the wilds of Karelia where I spent the second half of my brief trip. Alas, it was mild, even by UK standards, and there were only a couple of days when gloves were a necessity, never mind full polar explorer wear.

Finnish panorama

Finland is known as the land of a thousand lakes, and for good reason. In fact, there are just shy of 188,000 lakes, so flying into Helsinki it was like looking down onto an intricate paper doily. I expected fir trees—nearly 70 per cent of the country is forest, after all—but not the amazing amount of silver birch, with their startling pale bark and their leaves turning shades of yellow and copper and gold.

And the silence.

The silence had a quality all its own.

Finnish birch trees

Helsinki was as busy and bustling as you’d expect any major city to be. It’s easy to forget, when you’re there, that for a country that is in area the eighth largest in Europe, it has only around 5.5 million people. (To put that into perspective for me, there are over 8 million people in London alone, and 66 million in the UK.)

The rest of this post appears over on Murder Is Everywhere.

Helsinki – Getting a Feel for a New City

As I write this, I’m in a small apartment in Helsinki. My first time in the city, or Finland, or Scandinavia, come to that. It has a very un-English feel that strikes me as similar to other major European cities I’ve visited—not that there have been so many of those, either, I admit.

Helsinki gothic

The centre of Helsinki was full of ornate buildings like this one, complete with grotesques flanking the doorway.

 

This building used to be the Chancery for the British Embassy. It is not one of the prettier architectural efforts the city has to offer.

I suppose, to begin with, I expected something a little closer to Reykjavík but it’s not quite so quirky. Some of the buildings in the city centre have a stately, almost baronial grandness to them, where others are simply stark and ugly, the way of city buildings everywhere.

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More Helsinki gothic architecture

Helsinki old building

not quite sure if this one is a public loo or a train station

There are green spaces and parks everywhere, currently covered in golden carpets of falling leaves. The view coming into land at the airport was one of beautiful autumn colours, evergreen conifers mixed with deciduous birch.

Finland from the train

autumn colours on the train ride from airport to Helsinki centre

Helsinki park

Helsinki city is filled with parks

The streets are cobbled and filled with the clank and rattle of trams. A public transport system that is easy and logical, even for non-Finnish speakers. So far, I have learned to say only “hello”, “bye bye”, and “thank you”—“moi”, “hei hei”, “kiitos”.

Helsinki cobbles

cobbled streets criss-crossed with tram tracks

Helsinki tram

the tram system is quick and efficient, and seems to go everywhere

The road signs are in both Finnish and Swedish, which is an official language of Finland. Everybody, it seems, speaks English, and can identify your need to be communicated with that way just by looking.

Helsinki crayfish party

Helsinki crayfish party. Don’t ask me what this is all about. I’d no idea that crayfish held parties…

Helsinki street names

street names in both Finnish and Swedish

Mind you, the people are stylish here, and attractive, in a way that they simply are not in London. The language is fascinating, but very alien, apart from the few words that always cause entertainment. A shop called the Acne Studios, for instance, complete with spotted leopard in the window, or the shelves of drinks called Glögi.

spotted in Helsinki

spotted this place in Helsinki city centre…

Helsinki glogi

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of glögi

Helsinkii is a very green city, not simply because of the parks. They recycle everything, hybrid cars are encouraged, and it was 25c for the cheapest biodegradable carrier bag in a grocery store. The proximity to the sea makes the air clean—or it would be if everyone didn’t seem to be a smoker.

green Helsinki

hybrid BMW charging up on a Helsinki street

Helsinki 10 green bottles man

How’s this for recycling? Man playing amazing tunes on part-filled bottles in Helsinki centre

Still, on Sunday morning there were lots of people taking a brisk walk along the shoreline in the October sunshine. The harbour held everything from small yachts to a couple of giant cruise ships, and even a flotilla of classic tall ships, which were welcoming people aboard to look round.

Helsinki shoreline

Helsinki shoreline with giant cruise ships and cross between New England and Moscow architecture

Helsinki tall ship

The public was welcome aboard the beautiful old vessels in the harbour

Bookstores are plentiful, as are shops selling second-hand designer clothes. We even came across one place selling everything Russian. Perhaps this was in celebration of the fact Finland is one of the few countries to fight against Russia and win.

Helsinki bookstore

Helsinki bookstore, with Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly and Peter Lovesey all in evidence.

Helsinki Russian store window

Russian store window, complete with old propaganda posters.

We took a sneak peek at the British embassy, out on the headland in a cluster of other official buildings. Painted pink, it was one of the few not plastered with signs warning against photography, unlike the US embassy just across the road.

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The British Embassy, in fetching shade of Barbie pink.

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Tomorrow I head up into the wilds north of the capital to sample the delights of rural Finland. If it’s anything like the city, it should be a fascinating trip.

Helsinki kinky

Either this shop sold old kitchen implements or some kind of antique sex aids. Not quite sure which.

Helsinki pastries

Plenty on offer for the sweet of tooth.

This week’s Word of the Week is hysteresis, meaning a state that exists when the pressure has been removed but the strain remains (much like in divorce) or when the state of something depends partly upon its history. The word comes from the ancient Greek meaning lagging behind.

Upcoming Events

I have been invited to take part in Noir @ The Bar London ‘Chilled To The Marrow’, which takes place on Monday, October 22 from 7:00–10:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:00 p.m.) at The Urban Bar, 176 Whitechapel Road, E1 1BJ. The line-up is Susi HollidayWilliam ShawMark HillDerek FarrellJay StringerJA MarleyAlex CaanBarbara NadelZoë SharpLiz (Elizabeth) MundyCaroline (Caz) FrearFelicia Yap, and a Wildcard chosen on the night. It’s hosted by Nikki East. Entry is free.

Noir@TheBar-London

If you haven’t come across Noir @ The Bar events, they’re short readings by crime authors, which take place in cool bars across the UK and across the Atlantic, with book giveaways to boot. They’re always a great way to hear work by authors you might not have come across before, as well as your favourites. If you’re in London on October 22, get yourself to Whitechapel and drink in a treat.

 

 

Writing Output – Is Size Important?

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I came to the conclusion years ago that I need to write faster. Actually, I should qualify that by saying, ‘faster without degenerating into rubbish’ because I’m sure I could rattle out thousands of words a day, if I wasn’t bothered about which words…

too-much-paper

The quality of what I do is always uppermost in my mind, however. It’s the thing I worry about most (probably) as I write. I’ve heard all the advice that says you can fix a page but you can’t fix a blank page, but find this hard. Once I’ve written a scene, I find it incredibly difficult to pick that scene apart and slightly alter the slant of it. Far easier to point it in the right direction to start with. (In this case, the word ‘easier’ is used in its loosest sense—in the same way that it’s far easier to prevent the glaciers melting in the first place than it is to reverse global warming. You get the idea.)

The result of this is that I tend to manage around a thousand words on a good day when I’m in the midst of a book. I have writer friends who can apparently produce ten times that amount. And yes, amazingly, they are still my friends!

Some of them use dictation software to achieve this. I’ve tried this method, but my somewhat mongrel accent seems to utterly confuse it, plus the delay between words spoken and some form of them appearing on the screen is disconcerting. I find myself quickly distracted.

train-of-thought

Read the rest of this post over on Murder Is Everywhere.

Brexit Chaos – 1970s’ Style

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Keeping up with the UK news every day, it’s been hard to avoid the latest creaking and groaning of the Brexit debate. Deals crafted at Chequers and destroyed in Salzburg, dire warnings of businesses leaving the country for mainland Europe, and a falling pound.

Brexit-map

I feared when the ‘Yes’ vote came in after the referendum that it might prove an impossible mess to disentangle the UK from Europe after 40+ years of union. But any time of upheaval is a rich seam for a writer to mine.

It’s hard not to have your imagination prodded by the possibilities. After all, when you’re constructing a story idea you tend to take a basic concept and give it the ‘what if…’ treatment. Things will certainly change after Brexit, but what if they changed far more than anybody expected?

What if, for example, the UK should collapse into economic chaos and bankruptcy after Brexit. What if the United States, always seen as our ally, decided that this group of islands parked conveniently off the coast of mainland Europe would be better under more direct control. (And, let’s face it, with the present administration in power, almost anything is possible.)

And what if, having come to such a conclusion, the US decided to enforce it by means of military occupation?

Read the rest of this post over on Murder Is Everywhere.