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.
FOR THE SAKE OF THE GAME: STORIES INSPIRED BY THE SHERLOCK HOLMES CANON
Pegasus Crime, December 04 2018
‘A brand-new anthology of stories inspired by the Arthur Conan Doyle canon.
‘FOR THE SAKE OF THE GAME is the latest volume in the award-winning series from New York Times bestselling editors Laurie R King and Leslie S Klinger, with stories of Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson, and friends in a variety of eras and forms. King and Klinger have a simple formula: ask some of the world’s greatest writers—regardless of genre—to be inspired by the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.
‘The results are surprising and joyous. Some tales are pastiches, featuring the recognizable figures of Holmes and Watson; others step away in time or place to describe characters and stories influenced by the Holmes world. Some of the authors spin whimsical tales of fancy; others tell hard-core thrillers or puzzling mysteries. One beloved author writes a song; two others craft a melancholy graphic tale of insectoid analysis.
‘This is not a volume for readers who crave a steady diet of stories about Holmes and Watson on Baker Street. Rather, it is for the generations of readers who were themselves inspired by the classic tales, and who are prepared to let their imaginations roam freely.
‘A sensational follow-up to ECHOES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (2016), IN THE COMPANY OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (2014), and A STUDY IN SHERLOCK (2011).’
Featuring Stories by: Peter S Beagle, Rhys Bowen, Reed Farrel Coleman, Jamie Freveletti, Alan Gordon, Gregg Hurwitz, Toni LP Kelner, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello, Harley Jane Kozak, DP Lyle, Weston Ochse, Zoë Sharp, Duane Swierczynski, and F Paul Wilson.
“Laurie R. King and Leslie Klinger continue to breathe new life into Sherlockian tales.”—LitHub
“Entertaining. This volume contains something for every fan of the Baker Street sleuth.”—Publishers Weekly
My own contribution, Hounded, is a modern retelling of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, in which Holmes and Watson play their parts—but so does Charlie Fox!
To buy, see the Anthologies page.
Female-led crime series: Charlie Fox – Interview with author Zoë Sharp
I’ve been interviewing authors who write female-led crime series, and starting us off is Zoë Sharp who writes the Charlie (Charlotte) Fox series.
Niki Mackay: Did you consciously decide to write a female-led series?
Zoë Sharp: Thanks so much for inviting me onto the blog, Niki! Did I consciously decide to write a female-led series? Yes, absolutely. The role of women in crime fiction has always fascinated me. They tend to be the victims—the ones having violence done to them rather than the ones perpetrating the violence. Writing a female main character who discovers she is capable of extremes of violence under the right circumstances, and following her journey, felt like a really interesting idea to explore.
NM: If so, why?
ZS: I loved to read thrillers growing up, but I was always frustrated by the female characters—they seemed to scream and fall over and require rescuing by the guys rather too much for my taste. I wanted to read about a woman who was more than capable of rescuing herself. Or, better still, someone the men would turn to when they needed rescuing. At that time, I couldn’t really find the kind of character I wanted to read about, so I decided I was going to have to write my own. Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox was the result. Paul Goat Allen in the Chicago Tribune described her as: “Ill-tempered, aggressive and borderline psychotic, Fox is also compassionate, introspective and highly principled: arguably one of the most enigmatic—and coolest—heroines in contemporary genre fiction.”
NM: How did the idea for your protagonist’s background come to you?
ZS: At the time I started writing about Charlie, back in the mid-1990s, the scandal of the hazing of trainees at the military barracks at Deepcut was just beginning to break. I’d heard all the arguments against women in the forces—and am still hearing them, to be honest—and Charlie’s background grew out of a combination of those elements. I wanted somebody who had the ability to kill, but who was denied an official outlet for that skill, as the army would have given her. Where does she go from there?
It was a comment on Twitter that sparked this blog. Someone brought up the subject of trying to keep characters’ names straight in your head while you’re writing, and ensuring that you don’t have too many characters whose first or last names begin with the same letter.
I came up with a solution to this problem ages ago and discovered, somewhat to my embarrassment, that I had not applied it to the current Charlie Fox book. A quick check revealed that I had, indeed, not got the balance quite right. Thank you to fellow author, Graham Smith, for reminding me to make use of my own system!
Even if you don’t outline or plan, this method works well and is very simple. I jot down an alphabet in a line across the middle of a page. Then I start with the recurring characters, like Charlie Fox herself, and put a mark above the letter C to indicate a first name starting with that letter, and another below the letter F to indicate a last name.
I carry on in this way through the entire cast list, although when it comes to family members who have the same last name I usually put just one mark under that letter. I try to make the mark bold if it relates to a continuing character.
Having now gone through this for the current WIP, I can see at a glance that the letter F has become overcrowded. I’ve also got three characters with last names beginning with S, none of which are recurring from previous books, so I could pick different names for at least a couple of them. And I’ve not only got one first and two last name uses of E, but the names are all four or five letters, so there isn’t even the variety of length to separate them.
OK, back to the drawing board for some of these minor characters’ names!
This week’s Word of the Week is pusillanimous, meaning cowardly or timid. It comes from Latin pusillanimis, having little courage, and is a translation of the Greek oligopsychos, small-souled.
Leaving France, where I spent just about the whole of July, was hard. Not only because it was beautiful, but because it was also a place that seemed to inspire creativity. Had I realised how distracted I would be once I got back to the UK, I might have been tempted to stay on another month or two! Just until the latest Charlie Fox book was finished, anyway.
Of course, it had its downside, like the flying ant invasion that suddenly appeared in my bedroom one night. The problem was, they disappeared during the day and you never quite knew when they might pop up again. I’m not particularly squeamish, but I was feeling severely outnumbered.
Read the full story over on Murder Is Everywhere
I went to France at the beginning of July planning to get a start made on the new Charlie Fox book. I’m happy to report that the tentative 15,000 words I’d hoped for morphed into 20,000 once I got into the writing, and I’m even cautiously pleased with the way it’s going so far. I promised myself I’d have a break when I hit that point, and do some driving around to look at locations for later on in the story, but at the same time, I’m anxious not to lose too much momentum.
No chance of getting out of practise with the writing itself, though. I also had a last-minute Q&A to write for the #BlogTour I did at the start of the month for the launch of the new crime thriller standalone, Dancing On The Grave. Thank you so much to everyone who took part or supported me along the way.
And then I was reminded that I’d promised to provide a short story for a proposed anthology earlier in the year. The editor contacted me and asked for a brief sentence or two about the story, and particularly the setting of it. Within a week, if possible.
My mind was a complete blank.
To read the rest of this blog on MurderIsEverywhere, please click here.
They reckon that the ten greatest fears people have are:
- Flying (aviatophobia)
- Public speaking (glossophobia)
- Heights (acrophobia)
- The dark (lygophobia)
- Intimacy (aphenphosmphobia)
- Death or dying (thanatophobia)
- Failure (atychiphobia)
- Rejection (is there a proper phobia name for this?)
- Spiders (arachnophobia)
- Commitment (philophobia)
When you’re an author, you have to overcome your fear of failure and of rejection fairly quickly, although I think they never really go away. You also have to overcome catagelophobia (fear of being ridiculed) and possibly autophobia (fear of being alone) as well. Writing is, after all, a pretty solitary existence most of the time.
Most of the time it’s just you at your desk in your pyjamas (possibly with supervisory cat in attendance.) And on the occasions when it isn’t just you, such as going to writing conferences or conventions, the chances are you’d have to face your aviatophobia—which I suppose takes in acrophobia at the same time. The alternative would be to battle past either siderodromophobia or amaxophobia (fear of travelling by train or by car) before you set out.
And then we come to one of the most widespread fears, that of speaking in public, or glossophobia, which seems to be one many people have nightmares about. I’ve known writers who literally shake with fear before going on stage to talk about their work. This is when they know full well that the interviewer or moderator is not about to ask them difficult or combative questions, and that the audience has probably come specially to hear them talk and will, therefore, not be hostile in the slightest.
But deep in every author’s psyche, there is still a hint of fear to the occasion. I don’t know if there’s a specific phobia to describe it, but the technical term is Imposter Syndrome. We fear that as we begin to speak about our latest novel, somebody in the audience will suddenly stand up, point an accusatory finger, and shout, “You’re not a real author! You’re a FRAUD!” And that this will be followed by a moment of stunned silence, and then everyone else will take up the same cry as we scurry off stage to the accompaniment of loud booing and the thud of rotten tomatoes landing about our feet.
The usual time to feel the onset of Imposter Syndrome is, I feel, at the start of writing a new book. You open up a blank document on your computer and type in ‘Chapter One’ at the top of the screen and then…
All you have is an empty page with a small cursor flashing at you reproachfully in the top left-hand corner. And you can’t for the life of you remember how you got past this point last time around. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s is your second book or your twenty-second. That evil little voice in your head is whispering that you were just kidding yourself if you thought you could do this.
I don’t know if every author goes through this crisis of confidence, but all the ones I know well enough for us to be candid with one another certainly do. One of the things that helps ease us out of this state is hearing from readers, either by email or on social media. We must seem like a very needy bunch, but keeping faith with something that is, essentially, the jumbled up pickings from the inside of your head—a made-up story, about people who never were, in a world that does not exist—is sometimes a big ask.
And when you consider that we live with this story often for the best part of a year, to see it from initial concept to published novel, by the time it’s done we have no judgement on its quality or worth. Our close friends and family are usually encouraging. Those with a professional interest—agents, editors, publishers—will offer guarded praise balanced by constructive (one hopes) criticism.
But that’s not quite the same as the first reader review, the first enthusiastic email, from a comparative stranger with no vested interest in anything other than enjoying a good book. It really helps allay our fears and sends us back to the word-face to chip out nuggets of gold with renewed vigour.
This weekend finds me in France with fellow mystery author, Libby Fischer Hellmann, closeted away for the rest of July to try to finish a novel, in Libby’s case, and to start one in mine. I’ve had the outline for the next Charlie Fox novel on the back burner for several months now, but have been distracted by the launch of the latest standalone, DANCING ON THE GRAVE, and getting things sorted for the blog tour, which kicks off on Monday, July 9th. (I’m excited by the questions I’ve been asked by my various hosts, and I hope you’ll be as interested in the answers.)
Meanwhile, the time has come to get on with the new Charlie Fox. I’ve had the drive down country to anticipate how I’m going to leap back into her life—or how she’s going to leap back into mine. I know my start point, and it should take you straight into the action. And I’m ready, even eager, to get cracking on the story.
If only I can get past that blank page and that reproachful cursor…
This week’s Word of the Week is hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, meaning (as you might expect) a fear of long words. The original word for the fear of long words is sesquipedaliophobia, which comes from the Latin word sesquipedalian, which literally means ‘one and a half feet long’. This longer, perhaps less-than-serious version includes the addition of parts of hippopotamus and the Latin monstrum, meaning monster, just to make all the hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiacs out there sweat.
I know, it’s a bit of a shocker, isn’t it? And this is not something I’ve come to lightly, but nevertheless, the decision remains—I’m going to tell people not to read my books.
OK, let me be clearer about this. I’m going to tell people not to read some of the books in my Charlie Fox series, depending on what they’re looking for from the series and the character. That sound better?
You see, I started writing the first novel in the Charlie Fox series back in the mid-1990s. That first book, KILLER INSTINCT, took a long time to come to publication, and when it did I never realised what the character was going to grow into.
I’ve always said that when you write a series, you choose either to let the character change and develop as time goes on, or you keep them in stasis, unchanging from the first book to the tenth, to the twentieth. Robert B Parker managed this brilliantly with his Spenser PI series, and Lee Child does it equally well today with his Reacher series. It doesn’t really matter what order you read the books, because you won’t really be missing any pieces of the overall story.
On the other hand, I really wanted to watch my character’s journey, to see her go from self-defence teacher to close-protection specialist with all the hazard-bumps in between. Charlie is a product of her nature and her experiences, and that fascinated me as much as the situations in which she found herself.
And change she has, over the course of the twelve books in the series so far. She is not the same person at the end of FOX HUNTER: #12 that she was at the start of KILLER INSTINCT: #1. Or even at the end of RIOT ACT: #2.
So, if someone who hasn’t read any of the series before decides to see what Lee Child was talking about when he said, “If Jack Reacher were a woman, he’d be Charlie Fox,” then the kind of character they’re likely to be interested in is the one who first makes her move into the world of close protection.
And although Charlie is training for that work during the events of HARD KNOCKS: #3, it’s not until the start of FIRST DROP: #4 that she’s actually on her first real job in Florida, minding the teenage son of a successful computer programmer.
TRIPLE SHOT comprises the first three books in the series, plus a bonus short story, Last Right—a tale of betrayal and revenge set on the Mexican border.
ANOTHER ROUND comprises the next three—FIRST DROP: #4, ROAD KILL: #5, and SECOND SHOT: #6, plus another bonus short story, Tell Me, featuring CSI Grace McColl who takes centre stage in the new standalone, DANCING ON THE GRAVE.
If you want to read about Charlie in bodyguard mode, then my advice in the future will be to start with ANOTHER ROUND. These three books really show Charlie getting into her stride as far as close-protection work is concerned.
But if you want to meet the character in the raw, when she’s still on her way back from events that brought about the end of her military career, when she’s still rough around the edges, has yet to discover her real killer instinct and is even, yes, more vulnerable, then TRIPLE SHOT will reveal that side of her and more. It also introduces her relationship with Sean Meyer, her former army training instructor who became her lover and her boss.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still very proud of the early book in the series. When KILLER INSTINCT first came out, the Yorkshire Post declared it, “the best crime debut for years”. The New York Times said, “The bloody bar fights are bloody brilliant.” But I am aware that the storylines and settings are simply very different from Charlie’s later exploits. So if that’s the character you want to read about and enjoy, try joining her at book three or four instead.
Because let’s face it, there is a pretty good precedent for starting at episode four and working your way backwards…
This week’s Word of the Week is bleeding edge, meaning at the very forefront of technological development. The phrase has its origins in the 1980s, and is used to describe something right on the cutting edge of innovation.