A couple of weeks ago, on a Monday morning, I was supposed to fly to Venice for a four-day break. It’s a city I’ve always wanted to visit but never managed to see. I was hoping that the timing—late February—would mean the weather would not be too warm for some serious walking around, the infamous odours would not be too, well, malodorous, and the crowds would be bearable.
I was due to arrive the day before the end of the annual Carnevale di Venezia, so a chance to see the masked costumes for which the festival is famous before everyone dispersed. Ideal.
The fates were not with me on this.
Over the weekend before I was booked to fly, the news was suddenly full of the first coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy—in Lombardo, which quickly spread to neighbouring Veneto province. The final two days of the Carnival were cancelled.
Cancelling the trip would not result in a refund. By that time, it was the morning of the flight out and the Foreign Office guidelines were that it was OK to travel if you took sensible precautions. The greatest number of fatalities seemed to be among the elderly and those with underlying health problems.
Plus, come on—it’s Venice!
My travelling companion was in her seventies (although is undoubtedly fitter than I am) and she also has asthma.
Even if I did not contract anything—and I was bearing in mind the dangers of passing through several international airports as much as the country of destination—what about the possibility of quarantine? Every news report brought a steady increase in numbers of those infected. I had no desire to have our trip forcibly extended by two weeks, as happened to holidaymakers in a hotel in Tenerife, or those aboard several cruise ships.
Not only that but three friends living locally, whom I see on a regular basis, have undergone recent cancer treatments that have left them with compromised immune systems. Another friend is prone to serious respiratory illnesses.
Becoming ill myself would be one thing.
But being responsible for passing it on to someone else? For that I would find it hard to forgive myself.
So, the flight came and went and I was not on it. Instead, I have been visiting Venice vicariously by indulging in movies partially set there. The end of Casino Royale, for instance—particularly the scene where James Bond and Vesper Lynd arrive, on a rather beautiful yacht.
Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade had some scenes set there, and during a more stylish era to boot.
And finally, The Tourist mostly takes place in Venice, which provides eye candy not only in the city itself but also in the forms of Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. So, plenty for all tastes.
But that’s not all.
Because, staying put has meant more travelling for me rather than less. I’ve walked into isolated farmhouses on the side of Cumbrian fells in the Eden Valley. I’ve watched Gypsy horses being washed in the River Eden at Appleby-in-Westmorland. I’ve leaned over the shoulders of two detectives as they interrogated a suspect in the death of a child. I piggybacked onto a drone flight over a waterfall, searching for trace. And I was there when someone who should know better tried to plant evidence to incriminate another.
Yup, I’ve been caught up in the latest work-in-progress, which will be out in May. It has been slightly delayed due to STILL only having one arm working properly.
Because, let’s face it, the greatest journeys anyone can make are inside their own head. And no matter what the travel restrictions, now or in the days to come, the travel agent of a good book is always open for business and you can usually get a first class seat.
This week’s Word of the Week is Scrivener’s palsy, which is the old-fashioned name for writer’s cramp. It is also called mogigraphia, and is a disorder caused by certain muscles in the hand and forearm going into spasm, or being attacked by cramp, when the sufferer is writing or playing an instrument.
Read the illustrated version of this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere.
In my last blog I talked about the instances of flooding in the UK and touched briefly on the problems it causes. Or, more to the point, the mess it leaves behind. Of course, if you actually find yourself caught up in flooding, the last thing that should be on your mind is how you’re going to get raw sewage out of the living room carpet.
You have far more important things to worry about.
Like not drowning.
In a House
If you’re in a building, unless it’s in direct serious danger of becoming completely submerged, they reckon your chances of survival are far greater if you stay inside.
Turn off the mains electricity and gas.
Close all the doors and windows.
Fill empty containers with drinking water as tap water will quickly become contaminated.
If you’ve had enough prior warning, think about moving sentimentally important items onto tables or to an upper floor. If you haven’t had much warning, leave it. Nobody ever said during a eulogy, “She died trying to save her credenza. It was what she would have wanted…”
Move to the uppermost floor with water, food, spare clothing and flashlights. Also take a ladder with you, if one is needed to access the roof space, just in case the water gets really high.
If you are forced to take the the roof, rope together all the members of your party to the chimney, so no-one is swept away. If no rope is available, use bedsheets or blankets, knotted together.
Read the rest of this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere.
I’ve just come back from a trip to south Wales (old rather than New) with either the cleanest car bottom ever, or the dirtiest—not sure which!
There was a huge amount of standing water all over the main roads and dual carriageways. And even the A-roads had deep puddles lurking at corners, or full flooded sections in the dips. As for the B-roads, well, I managed to get within about half a mile of my destination before I was confronted with a lake where the road should have been.
As my car is not blessed with the greatest ground clearance in the world, I decided discretion was definitely the greater part of valour. This involved reversing along a watery single-track lane for about 300 yards and finding an alternative route. Mind you, even the navigable way meant driving along several miles of what seemed to be a muddy river bed.
A glance at the UK government Flood Warning Information Service website on Saturday evening shows 106 Flood Alerts in place, meaning flooding is possible and should be prepared for. It also shows 72 Flood Warnings, meaning flooding is expected and immediate action is required.
According to the figures, there are more than five million people living in areas of the UK vulnerable to flooding every year. They used to talk about such events as happening ‘the first time in living memory’ or ‘once every hundred years’. Now they seem to have become almost annual.
Read the rest of this post over on Murder Is Everywhere.
For the past ten days since the new Charlie Fox novel, BAD TURN, came out, I’ve been on the road—virtually speaking. I’ve travelled halfway around the world without ever leaving my desk. I’ve been Blog Touring—or perhaps that should be Tour Blogging?—rather than the physical kind of touring. And it’s been fun.
Of course, in the past I’ve travelled all over the place to libraries and bookstores for the publication of various books in the series, quite often using a trip to the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention to kick things off. As Bouchercon is held in a different city/state every year (even making it over to the UK several times) it means that the starting point has also always been different.
But, this time around I knew I wasn’t going over to Bouchercon and work-in-progress projects are beginning to pile up. So, doing another blog tour, ably organised by the fearsomely efficient Ayo Onatade, seemed like a good choice.
I’m told that sometimes authors rely on their blogger hosts doing a series of reviews but I hesitate over this way of doing things. What happens if one of the reviewers involved really doesn’t like the book? After all, I would have thought they have far too many books on their teetering TBR piles to read it first, just to make sure.
So, I prefer to do guest posts and articles on topics related to the book, mixed in with a few reviews where blogger/reviewers are happy to do them.
Read the whole of this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere.
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…’
Read the rest of this post over on MurderIsEverywhere.
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.
Nosing Around in the Boston Aquarium
I knew I wanted to set part of Second Shot, the sixth Charlie Fox book, in Boston. Partly this was to set up the contrast of the city against the small-town feel of North Conway up in New Hampshire, where other scenes of the book take place. The internet is great for research, but sometimes there really is no substitute for going there and seeing it for yourself.
For one thing, while visiting Boston I paid a visit to the fabulous Aquarium on the edge of the harbour. Immediately, I could visualise some of the action taking place there. And, having been in person, I was able to better describe the place. Not just the look, but the smell.
As soon as you walk in through the entrance to the modern, open-plan building, you see the penguin enclosure in front of you. Upstairs is the café, so the first smell that hits you is the smell of fried fish. A little unfair on the inhabitants, I thought, but a very useful splash (pun intended) of colour to add to my description of the place.
How to Mix the Perfect Cocktail
For one of the major action scenes in Road Kill, I needed to have Charlie and several others hijack a moving vehicle from motorcycles while they’re in Ireland. For the best way to do this I picked the brains of an ex-military friend who suggested the good old-fashioned Molotov cocktail might be the best method, with a twist.
Petrol in liquid form is actually very difficult to ignite—it’s the vapour that burns. So, I had Charlie leave quite a gap at the top of the bottle for the vapour to build up. She also added sugar to the mix, which both makes it burn hotter and stick to whatever it hits. The final problem was how best to light such a mixture, bearing in mind she and her cohorts are on solo motorcycles, chasing a speeding van at the time.
Here my ex-military mate—who just so happened to specialise in bomb disposal during his time with the RAF—suggested firework sparklers. These are usually made from an iron wire coated at one end with a metal fuel, an oxidiser and a binder. Different types of metals will produce different colours, so Ferrotitanium will give a golden glow, while Titanium will give silver or white. The advantage of a sparkler is that, once lit, they’re very difficult to put out, so they would survive being in the airflow of a bike. They also provide a time delay fuse, if part of the sparkler is outside the cap of the bottle containing the cocktail, and part is inside where the vapour has built up.
I did wonder, in these paranoid times, if I should have described this process here, but I’ve done so in the book, and a quick Google search will bring up any number of pages that go into far greater detail. Anyway, for the purposes of the chase scene in Road Kill, it worked a treat!
Read the rest of this blog over on Murder Is Everywhere.
The story started on June 23 2018, when a group of 12 boys finished football (soccer) practice and went, with their assistant coach, into Tham Luang Nang Non, (which translates to ‘Great Cave of the Sleeping Lady’) a cave system in the Chiang Rai Province of northern Thailand, almost on the border with Myanmar.
The reason the boys, aged 11 to 17, from the Wild Boars junior association football team, decided to go into the cave isn’t clear—maybe for them it was the equivalent of a trip to Alton Towers. And it does look to be a natural wonder. A huge karstic cave system beneath the Doi Nang Nom mountain range.
Unfortunately for the boys, the monsoon rains arrived earlier than they expected. As the water levels inside the cave rose, the boys and their 25-year-old coach found themselves marooned on a small plateau almost two miles underground.
There they remained, undiscovered, for nine days.
Read the full story of the Thai cave rescue, step by step, over on Murder Is Everywhere