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  • Quick tips for historical fiction writers

    Historical fiction is perennially popular. Readers love to read about people from different eras, with different expectations and experiences than we have today. The different approaches to mystery-solving or to marriage and romance offers an irresistible appeal. But there are a few things to keep in mind if you’re writing anything set in the recent, or even the distant past. Here are my five tips for writing historical fiction.

    1. Try to remember you are writing to entertain, it is not the main goal of historical fiction to educate, although that may be a part. When you’ve worked hard to carry out research, it is so tempting to cram it all in, making sure none of your effort goes to waste, but that will not result in a rewarding story for your readers. Pick a few key elements that are relevant to your plot, such as mode of transport, or social events, or maybe build your plot around a real event in history. Don’t write a lecture.
    2. Be accurate, but don’t be a pedant. True, it’s important to have a high degree of historical accuracy to avoid knowledgeable readers getting irritated by your mistakes, but if you are pedantic, you may create too alien a world, meaning you will spend a lot of time explaining the era to your reader. This, obviously, will impact on their enjoyment of the story.
    3. Language. Language is living and evolving, and if you write novels set in the past, the language they used then will certainly be different to the language we use today. However, remember that you are writing for a modern audience who may not understand if you stick too closely to the language of your era. To avoid a sense of incongruity, use a few key idioms from your research, and in general, simplify the language you use, especially in dialogue, making speech a little more formal than is normal for ‘now’. Also, take care to avoid very modern phrases and ideas. You can’t have women from Victorian England described as ‘Babes’, unless your book is about time travel!
    4. The same goes for costume, food, pastimes and attitudes. You can have your protagonist as a very forward-thinking person who bucks the trend, but in most cases they will have the same attitudes and beliefs as the majority of their era. Read books that were written in your chosen time period where possible, to get a feel for the norms and manners of the day.
    5. Check that what you think you know is true. We unwittingly absorb so much from inaccurate or Hollywoodised movies and books, that it’s easy to carry over their misconceptions into your work. We understand that communication was slower, for example, due to the relative lack of technology, but even in the mid-nineteenth century, in Britain, a letter could be expected to be received and replied to, within a week of posting. And transport may have been different, but speed was still possible. I once edited a ‘Regency’-era novel in which the healthy young male protagonist took three weeks to travel from London to Calais, a distance of a little over twenty miles. He could have walked it in a couple of days, even allowing for the sea-crossing, and there were plenty of fast stagecoaches to take one from London to the coast. So do make sure you check vital plot devices for accuracy or you will earn some one-star review from readers who are experts on the era and are frustrated by your mistakes.

    Glaring inaccuracies will grate on a reader and spoil their pleasure in reading your carefully-crafted novel, so do your homework, but just don’t use it all in your book. At least it will come in useful for the next book in your series!

    ***

  • Nomads Like Us – part 2

     

    I quite often write a blog about people watching and things I have observed. Usually these are humorous, or quirky. Not today.

    Yesterday in town, I had a short conversation with a young woman who was selling the Big Issue. I was one of only two people who had bought a Big Issue from this pleasant, polite and half-frozen young woman yesterday. I paid for two copies, that’s £5. Which, quite frankly, means little to me. I spend as much on a coffee and a muffin, which lasts me maybe half an hour. She tried to give it back to me, to talk me out of it. The first thing she did when I left, was to go and buy some food. I watched her as she sat on a bench and ate. People walk past without even a glance, she is more or less invisible, even with her red tabard on. I feel quite angry. Why is this girl on the street all day like this? If one of my children got into difficulties in a foreign country, I’d like to think someone would have compassion. We are all human, all parents or children, and we all find ourselves in difficulties sometimes, and need help.

    Now before you roll your eyes and go, ‘OMG not another illegal immigrant trying to sponge off our great nation,’ let me tell you a few things. These are actual human beings we’re talking about. People. Not things. Not disposable objects. But people, living, breathing human beings. With dreams. With grandmas. With kids to worry about. Who came to this country (often undergoing unspeakable danger and difficulty) in search of a better life. And not illegally – this woman is not one of those fly-by-night chancers who drive in from overseas, nick all our copper cables and sell them for a fortune, then drive back again. She—and most of the others—are here with permission. And, to be extra clear, not everyone who sells the Big Issue is here from overseas, plenty of them are home-grown and finding life just as tough.

    You can probably tell, issues around immigration, homelessness and poverty are hugely important to me.

    You know what? You do not own this land. We all pretend we do, so that estate agents and lawyers and government departments and even home owners can make money from house sales and land purchases. But actually, we all arrived in this country, on this continent as migrants. Scientists have proved that we all came from somewhere else. Yes, I know it all happened millennia ago. But actually the first person who claimed a nice little patch of land in the UK had no real right to do so, they just got there first. We were all migrants. So it’s ludicrous to say, ‘This is mine, you can’t come in.’ Especially when we have not had the same attitude to our own invasion of the lands of others.

    Back in the mists of time, before cities were built, before the towns and the offices and the shopping centres, before ports were built to allow boats to dock, before anyone thought of issuing a passport or a visa, there were humans. People. Just people. They spoke all sorts of languages and didn’t always understand one another. Disputes were settled in a variety of ways. I might give you a goat or sheep from my flocks in reparation for any damage you received at my hands. Or I might whack you with a big rock, and possibly face the dire consequences if my actions were discovered and your people didn’t like it. Or I might marry one of your relatives and we would just get over it.

    That is what people do. Have always done. Once upon a time, we didn’t understand about borders and governments and territorial rights. We followed the herds. The herds migrated, to find pasture that didn’t die back in winter or get covered by twenty feet of snow, or they migrated to reproduce in more favourable climates, or, who knows, maybe they just got bored.

    But wherever the herds went, we went after them. The herds, of any kind of deer or any kind of cattle, or I don’t know, maybe gigantic sweeping herds of emu or ostrich, or chickens the size of buffalo, they were everything to us. They were our food, our tools, our clothing, our lighting, even, later, our status. So we always had to be near the herds, and when they migrated, so did we.

    But migrating for both herds and humans took its toll. There was always the potential for disaster, for predators to take advantage of the migrants, for climactic events to cause disruption and problems. For humans, it meant people with children travelling huge distances and arriving in a maybe less fabulous place than expected. sometime there was a terrible storm or hurricane, or there might have been a wildfire, or flooding. The elderly sickened and died, babies were born on the trail, and babies and mothers alike struggled to deal with the demands of the journey.

    So one day, a character who was probably a national hero, gifted with foresight, radical and willing to take a huge risk, embracing blue-sky, out-of-the-box thinking, looked at all his or her community members as they packed the moose ready for the journey, and he or she thought to themselves, ‘Stuff that, I’m not going through all that again. Remember last time, when Granny got sick and she almost died? And she was barely 35!’

    Or maybe they thought, last year’s place was too far from fresh water, and although the herds were strong, they were hard to catch on that uneven land. This place is nice. The water’s right there a stone’s throw from the tent, I can see for miles over these lovely rolling hills, the hills protect the land, so that summer leaves late and spring arrives early. I’m staying right here.

    So they used some of their animal sinews and their flax or plant stem ropes, and they whittled a bunch of stakes, and they roped in some of those herds, and there they stayed. And when everyone came back next spring, lo and behold, there they were still, fat and sleek and healthy, and not totally exhausted from the long journey. So the following year, a few more crazy people decided to follow suit. Their wives and children and old people flourished, their flocks and herds produced young, and numbers multiplied.

    I’m not a historian – as you can no doubt tell – and yes, this is probably hopelessly idealised and unrealistic. But my point is this: territorial borders are man-made and arbitrary. We do not – contrary to what many believe – own the land on which we were born or where we live. We are just there. I don’t normally post a political message. And I don’t want to debate endlessly. I just want to point out that in my own view, we are all migrants. We are all nomads. So, please, let’s have some compassion.

    A Big Issue costs around £2.50. Seriously, folks, my cappuccino costs more than that. And I probably buy four or five a week. Can we all not make an effort to buy a Big Issue and enable a homeless person in desperate need buy food and shelter for a night? There but for the grace of God…

    ***

  • Extract from paranormal fiction ‘The Silent Woman’.

    I first wrote this story, based on a collection of notes and odd stuff, for my first-ever attempt at NaNoWriMo, about 2011, I think it was. It’s a complete story but I’ve never actually done anything with it. It’s kind of in the revision queue and been there for a while. It’s a story about a paranormal investigator and her attempts to solve a few mysteries and keep her mum off her back! NB: The Silent Woman has been used as a pub name and sign. (Google it and see!) The sign is the same as that for such hilarious pub names as The Honest Lawyer: the protagonist has their head lopped off, and sometimes carries it in their arms or on a tray. The idea, I suppose, being that the only way to shut a woman up, was to hack her head off. (Spoiler!) Sorry, this is rather a long extract.

    The Silent Woman

     He hit her once, the hammer striking her across the side of the head, sending her sprawling across the bed. She came to rest, stunned, with her neck bare on the rail of the bedstead. Her flesh seemed very white against the dull sheen of the moonlit brass. Too white. And naked. It filled him with rage. How could she not be disgusted by her own nakedness? He felt a compulsion to hide it, cover it, take the filthy bareness away. His good, trusty hammer was at hand. He brought it up above his head and with all his strength slammed it down on her bare white neck. Then again. And again.

    There was a sound. The soft wet sound of her last breath, softer than the sound of butterfly wings, as the hammer smashed her neck again, and then again. A pause then twice more to be sure the thing was done. The last scrap of tissue tore away and the head fell onto the floor, the weight of her hair causing it to land with a soft thump. Immediately he felt peace wash over him. He had done it, he had dealt with the filthy creature, and everything would now be clean, Godly, decent.

    He threw her body into the closet and slammed the door. There was a bloodied, sticky mass on the bottom rail of the bedstead. He spread a clean towel across this mess and it was gone from his sight. A length of fair hair tailed out from under the bed, somehow still unsoiled by her blood and so it did not offend him. Her head had rolled under there and he decided it may as well stay there until the morning. He’d clear up then, once he’d had a good night’s sleep. A weight was gone from his heart, his mind, and as he lay down, a smile spread across his face. All would now be well. He read his Bible and then he slept.

    ‘Hi Mum, it’s me. How are you?’ Amy said, putting a big smile in her voice.

    ‘Hello Sweetheart. It’s nice to hear from you. How’s Lyle?’

    Amy frowned to herself. She knew she’d told her. She just knew it.

    ‘Mum, we broke up a few weeks ago, I’m sure I told you.’

    ‘You broke up! But you were so in love, so happy, you were engaged to be married!’ Mum sounded like she was hearing this for the first time. She couldn’t have been more upset if she had been engaged to the cheating moron herself.

    ‘I know, Mum, I know,’ Amy said gently.

    ‘But you were so happy,’ her mother repeated.

    ‘I know Mum, I was there. But now it seems that Lyle wasn’t so happy after all.’

    ‘What did you do?’ Amy was shocked by that. But while she was still recovering herself, her mother answered her own question. ‘No, I’ll tell you what you did. Just like all you young women these days. You want to have your cake and eat it. Men don’t like women to be so independent. They want a woman who will support them, not put your own career first.’

    It wasn’t the first time Amy had heard this. Hurt gave way to irritation, impatience.

    ‘Mum!’ she snapped, more forcefully than she meant to, ‘that’s not how it was!’

    ‘Oh really? You’re telling me he was any happier than I am about this ridiculous, so-called career change of yours? I mean, I can’t imagine he was at all pleased to hear you’d given up a perfectly good job at his family’s firm… in fact, I imagine it felt like a huge betrayal to poor Lyle… not to mention the potential damage it could do to his professional reputation.’

    ‘Mum!’ This time Amy actually shouted. ‘That’s not fair! In any case, I made my decision to quit after he and I broke up. He cheated on me…’

    ‘I’m not surprised! There’s only so much a man can take. You modern women need to learn to be less selfish, less…’

    Interrupting as her mother was about to embark on another explanation of Where Amy Went Wrong, and too upset to want to talk any longer, Amy said, ‘I was just calling to let you know I got my first professional assignment. It’s in your area, so I’m coming down there for a few days. I’ll get there Wednesday night.’

    ‘Doing what? What is this “assignment”?’

    ‘Investigating, Mum. Investigating paranormal phenomena. That’s what I do now. I told you. That’s what you were just ranting about.’

    Her mother didn’t bother to conceal the scorn in her voice.

    ‘Oh that! That’s not a real job! That’s not even decent. It’s just a low, cruel confidence trick. And it will never pay your bills! Go back to London and ask them for your old job back, I’m sure they’ll understand. You could tell them how much you regretted your decision to leave, and that you realise now how wrong it was.’

    ‘I’m not going to do that, Mum. It wasn’t the wrong decision. Now, I’m going to be there in four days. It would be nice to get together for dinner?’

    ‘I can’t, Amy, I’m busy packing. As you well know. Or you would if you weren’t so absorbed in your own affairs. You know I’m moving house, so if you thought you could wander in without a moment’s notice and have me put you up, well I’m sorry, that just is not possible. Now, I’m very busy, so if there’s no more bad news, I’ll need to go, I have to get on.’

    Amy fought back tears. It seemed pointless to tell her mother she had already booked her motel room, and that she would never have presumed on staying with her, and that yes, she’d known her mother was packing and that’s why she had thought it would be nice to go out for dinner so her mother wouldn’t have to cook for herself, and could escape the packing cases for a couple of hours. But now all that was spoiled, and so Amy said goodbye in a choking voice her mother dismissed as “the sulks”.

    At least when she still had her accounting job with Webster-Best, after a miserable conversation with her mother she could have gone out with a bunch of colleagues and got drunk. But terminating her contract with Webster-Best had effectively terminated her friendships too. Apart from Brandy, who still called her once or twice a week to gossip, Amy hadn’t heard from any of her old pals, none of them had replied to her emails or texts.

    She went to find a feel-good movie to put on to lift her low mood. Instead she chose The Green Mile and followed it with Solaris. At the end of all that, as she gathered up the damp tissues and empty chocolate packages, she could still hear her inner bitch saying, ‘Your Mum’s right – it’s – all – your – fault. You’ll – be – alone – forever!’

    A week later, Amy halted the car in the street outside a sprawling building proclaiming itself to be The Old Mill Hotel. The area was probably terrifying at night – now, even at just eleven o’clock in the morning, it lacked appeal.

    She stretched out the journey’s stiffness from her neck and shoulders, then reached back into the car for her bag. Halting in the hotel’s main entrance, she quickly checked her phone. No messages. But she was a few minutes early for her appointment. So she tapped out a quick text to her mother asking if the house-move had gone smoothly. Pocketing the phone, she dragged open the big front door and stepped into the lobby.

    Inside, the reception area was warm and welcoming, a pleasant contrast to the outside. Whoever had planned the décor had made the most of the industrial architecture, using stark neutrals for the wall and floor-coverings but adding warm oranges and golds in the shades on the lamps, the pictures on the walls, the little side tables and the upholstery of several deep and squashy sofas. The no-nonsense comfort was instantly appealing.

    There were voices to the right of the reception desk, through an open door. Amy could hear a woman’s voice saying, ‘…was just standing right here, as clear as you are to me, then when she took a step closer, it just vanished into thin air. She saw half of a man’s jacket, and a gold watch chain, shining from the top pocket to the middle buttonhole, and she saw a full, dark beard.’

    ‘Wow! That’s just amazing!’ a man declaimed. Amy thought he sounded as though he was speaking to an audience. He sounded like someone in the business, and Amy fixed her attention on him as he continued: ‘I can’t tell you how excited we get whenever we hear about a full-bodied apparition.’ There was a pause, for effect, Amy thought, then he added, ‘because you know, that’s pretty rare. We’ve been the length and breadth of this great British nation of yours doing this show, and we’ve seen some pretty intense things over the years, but a full-bodied apparition still has the power to excite us. That’s what makes us want to travel all these miles, so we can experience the thrill of interacting with this kind of phenomena, and bring it to the people at home and hopefully help everyone to understand just a little bit better. This is a great opportunity for us.’

    Amy shook her head. She called out, walking in the direction of the voices as she did so. Three heads appeared in the doorway, a female and two males. All mercifully attached and alive.

    ‘Hi!’ Amy said again, and held up her driver’s license as ID. ‘I’m Amy Harper. I’m expected. We talked on the phone? You must be Stephanie?’

    The woman didn’t have time to conceal a frown but advanced to meet Amy, hand outstretched.

    ‘You’re a little late, we’ve already started.’

    Amy smiled, in spite of the irritation she felt. She shook Stephanie’s hand.

    ‘I’m pretty sure we agreed on eleven-thirty. It’s only five past.’

    The frown was displaced by a look of embarrassment as Stephanie checked her own watch.

    ‘Oh yes, that’s right, we did say eleven-thirty. Sorry. I probably should have called you back to cancel. The thing is, I got a call from the IPA guys, you know, from that really great TV show? Anyway I was just showing them round, telling them a bit of the back-story.’

    The IPA? Oh yes, Amy had heard of them. She had seen them on television, their show was now in its fourth series. They had bespoke vans, all kinds of electronic equipment, and they all wore a uniform of matching jump-suits. And they had a big team of investigators. Her heart sank. Her first assignment already down the pan.

    ‘So, I’m guessing you no longer want to retain my services now you have the IPA team on the case?’

    ‘Well, I’m afraid…’ Stephanie began, still looking embarrassed. The two men stepped forward. One of them, the largest in terms of height and width, thrust a large hand out towards Amy.

    ‘Jake Henriksson, joint co-founder of IPA, which you may not know stands for Investigators into Paranormal Activity.’

    She did know. But she had automatically shaken his hand and said it was a pleasure to meet him before she knew what she was doing. Note to self, she thought, stop being so damned friendly, it’s a cut-throat business, you’ll never make any money if you keep being nice. The second guy stepped forward, and quietly said his name was Steve. He also shook her hand. Then it was over to Jake again.

    ‘Now look, I don’t see why there shouldn’t be enough room for two teams of investigators here, you know. I mean, we’re always real keen to encourage new talent.’

    Amy didn’t want to think of herself as “new talent”. Neither did she like the way he had assumed some kind of authority or seniority over her. Thirdly, she noted they expected to have to help her, but didn’t seem to think they could learn anything themselves. She’d seen them in action on their show a number of times and felt that they could use a few tips. Their technique had all the finesse of a bulldozer.

    She looked at Stephanie who was biting her lip and looking worried.

    ‘Well, I did kind of ask you to come here.’ The hotel owner admitted, ‘and I know you did say I only have to pay up when the investigation is over. And the IPA guys are paying me for the chance to come here, so I guess it would be okay if you stay.’

    Amy gaped. The IPA guys were paying their client? Her client? Dismayed, she couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t get bleeped out of the IPA TV show. There was a moment of uncomfortable shoe-shuffling and throat-clearing.

    ‘Well, I guess we’d better get…’ said Steve, and

    ‘Yup,’ said Jake.

    They all drifted back through the doorway, Steve waving Amy through ahead of him with an embarrassed smile. The walk-through resumed.

    ‘As I was just telling the guys…’

    As Amy fished out her notebook and pen and followed Stephanie and the other two investigators around the hotel, she was doing three things: she was trying to fix on what Stephanie and the IPA guys were saying, and she was reaching out with her mind, with her senses to try to get some kind of feel for the place and whatever might be going on there, and on top of both of those two things, she was also trying to make some clear notes for herself about what had been experienced in the hotel and to record her first impressions.

    A couple of times this led to her getting left behind by the others, who went round the hotel at what seemed like lightning speed. If they had a cab waiting out front with its meter running, Amy wouldn’t have been surprised. Now that she thought about it, she recalled a dark van parked down the street. That had to be their vehicle.

    Left behind by the others, she paused in an upstairs corridor to draw herself a little plan of the hotel so she could mark in the “hot” spots that had been mentioned. Through an open doorway a chambermaid had paused in her work to look in Amy’s direction. Amy approached her with a smile, her hand outstretched.

    ‘Hi. I’m Amy, I’m here to try to find out a little more about some of the unusual things that have been going on.’

    The woman nodded and smiled. But she said nothing. Amy felt she should prompt the woman a little.

    ‘Have you ever seen or heard anything strange?’

    ‘Strange?’

    ‘Something you can’t explain, something, I don’t know, maybe a bit crazy?’

    ‘Crazy? Like ghost? Yes?’

    ‘Yes!’ Amy said a shade too eagerly, ‘or, well it could be anything, noises, shadows?’

    ‘Shadows? Like shapes in the air? Yes, I have seen the shadow. Not this room. Upstairs. Outside the room 303 there is a shadow one time, I come out to get cloth from my cart. Here I see shadow just at stairs.’

    ‘What happened?’ Amy asked, feeling a thrill of excitement. An eye-witness report, within minutes of arriving. It was incredibly lucky.

    ‘Nothing really. I take my cloth, and turn around, here he is…’

    ‘He? It was the shape of a man?’

    ‘I don’t know, but yes I think a man. I think so.’

    ‘Okay, that’s great. So what happened next?’ Amy didn’t want to make notes while she was talking to the chambermaid in case she missed something: an expression, a phrase, a look, or forgot to ask a pertinent question. She only hoped she would be able to remember all this later, once she sat down to write up the notes about her first visit.

    ‘Like I say, I just turn and there he is, this shadow, this shape, by the stairs. And I surprised, you know, so I do a little sound, but I feel like it hear me and it turn, so I run, I run very fast and I come into this room 303 that I am cleaning, and I go inside the bathroom and I lock the door. And all the time I am praying, but as well I think, Idiota, spirits walk through the doors, right?’ She looked at Amy for confirmation.

    Amy nodded. ‘They can sometimes move through solid objects such as furniture or even doors or walls. You must have been really scared. Did you wait in the bathroom for very long?’

    The woman looked down at the floor, pleating her apron hem with anxious fingers. Biting her lip, she nodded.

    ‘I wait. I wait long time,’ she said in a whisper.

    ‘That’s okay, I can understand that. You were scared. Anyone would have felt the same. Don’t feel bad.’

    ‘No, you not understand. If Stephanie find out, she take some of my money back for me not work. Please,’ the woman held out clasped hands in front of her, looking at Amy imploringly. Amy smiled.

    ‘It’s okay, um…’

    ‘Analina.’

    ‘Analina. It’s okay. I won’t tell Stephanie what you said.’

    ‘She won’t know?’

    ‘She won’t know,’ Amy confirmed. ‘Have there been any other events? Has anything else happened?’ She clarified when Analina looked puzzled.

    Analina shook her head.

    ‘Not really. Sometime I just feel someone is there but just that one time I see.’

    ‘Okay. Well thank you, it’s very interesting.’ Amy smiled then as she turned to leave, Analina smiled too and almost bobbed a curtsey.

    ***

  • In Media Res – don’t start at the beginning!

    This is an old blog post I’m recycling due to having had a conversation with several people lately about the right place to start a story.

    In Media Res

    For a writer it can be a bit tricky to know where to start your story. Whether you are writing a mystery, a children’s novel, a family saga, or a paranormal romance, you often feel a need to tell the whole story. This can mean beginning far too early. You tell the reader in painstaking detail that your protagonist got up, had a shower, got dressed, had breakfast, went to work and that it was a day just like any other. Maybe you talk about how the steam fogs up the bathroom mirror and then describe the colour of her nail polish as she wipes it away, or you describe the pattern made by her cereal as it drifts around in the milk, and how that reminds her of the time when…

    But there is a better way… What you could do, is to start in the middle of things. In Media Res. Begin your story right there in the middle of the action. Let your reader meet your protagonist at the crossroads where everything begins to happen, or change, when something new is coming. We don’t want to meet them a year before it happens. Or even a day before. The action is what will make or break your main character, and it will make or break your story. The first time I meet your protagonist, I want to meet him crouched and panting in a dark alley, his heart in his mouth, in constant expectation of hearing a footstep, wondering if they have found him.

    Or, let’s meet her for the first time as she comes down the stairs in the dark and falls over the dead body. Show me how she raises a bloody hand in the candlelight. Or show me the new kid’s first day at school when he has to walk past everyone to reach his seat. Or maybe the new baby has got sick and a nervous young dad has to beg a lift to get to the doctor’s surgery in t he next town. Or let me see the moon rising behind darkling clouds as I hear the sound of a werewolf baying for blood. 

    Let me see your protagonist as they step on the brake at the top of the hill and discover the brakeline has been cut; let me watch as they career perilously ever closer to the wall or lumber-truck or cliff edge and their apparently unavoidable doom.

    Cut to the chase. Literally.

    No more lengthy introductory scenes a la Proust, unless you are Proust. No more stage dressing. Does the audience arrive to see the rehearsal? No, they only arrive for the main event. Don’t bother to tell your reader what your character had for breakfast unless that’s what killed them.

    ***

  • My Life in the Criminal Underworld, or, What I saw from the bus…

    It’s no secret that I live in a slightly dodgy part of town. In fact there are dodgier areas, but there are also–rumour has it–nice areas where there is little crime and people don’t let their dogs cack on your driveway.

    I don’t drive. I passed my test back in the day, when Methuselah was a lad, but that marked both the beginning and the end of my driving career. I’m just doing my bit to keep road fatalities to a minimum. However, this means I use the bus a lot.

    This week I was trundling into town, Riverside blaring through my earphones, blissfully drifting away on a happy cloud of bellowed F-words in Artificial Smile, and the bus made a stop in Allenton. For those of you who live outside of the city of Derby, it’s a busy ”low-income” suburb on the route to the city centre. Now I know that 95% of the residents of Allenton are pleasant hard-working people just trying to get by. But some of them are not.

    Other writers may witness drug deals ‘going down’, as we hardcore crims say, on a daily basis. I’ve only seen a handful over the years, living in my book- and music-induced sheltered little world. So I was quite surprised that I saw a drug deal take place right before my eyes. I suppose it’s just about possible the guy bought a teeny tiny packet of popping candy or artificial sweetener, or indeed a single teabag. Those are so hard to get if you only want one; you don’t always want a box of 80, do you?

    The bus stop at the stop (it’s what they do). No one got on. No one got off. But we were running five minutes ahead of schedule, so the driver had to make up time. So we sat there. Like a bunch of tourists on a not-very-exciting tour.

    A scruffy weaselly little bloke was mooching around the stop, but not making for the bus. Then further away, an over-grown kid was doing wheelies on a bike and generally twatting about getting in everyone’s way, for all the world as if he was still a teenager.

    Artificial Smile ended, Volte Face started, (I’ve got a number of tracks from different albums on my phone). I was still daydreaming. But the guy on the bike caught my eye, doing his stunts a wee bit too close to the rest of humanity. He’s going to hit someone if he’s not careful, I thought. Suddenly he made a dive for the weaselly guy, they shook hands in a weird way and one of them not-very-secretly gave the other a folded banknote and the other gave him a teeny tiny packet of drugs or a teabag. Maybe it was dried catnip, that’s supposed to help you relax. Not sure if you can smoke it, though. I think it was hash or maybe worse. Then, Weasel dived on the bus just as it was finally about to pull away.

    He sat at the back. Right across the aisle from me. Great. I reflected it was a good thing I was listening to music on my phone rather than using it to film the ‘transaction’. A scenario ran through my head where said weasel followed me and mugged me for my phone, or whipped out a knife. The only weapon I’ve got is a one inch blunt penknife on my key-ring, given to me by my 82-year old Dad. I doubt it would cut through butter let alone a vicious drug-thug. Or a pen. Matt Damon and Daniel Craig know how to use a pen as a weapon, I however, only write with mine. It’s not mightier than the sword when someone else has an actual sword.

    He reeked of marijuana–it’s a horrid smell, especially when stale. And to keep up his hard-man image, he put on some ‘music’, sans headphones,which consisted of someone screeching profanities, making Artificial Smile sound like a lullaby. His knee bounced uncontrollably. He couldn’t sit still. He really needed that fix.

    A lady sitting further down the bus with her small daughter, asked him to turn it down a bit. But all she got was a stream of obscenities in return. So she started to scream obscenities at him in her frustration. An elderly man with a hearing aid waded in, whilst Weasel began to defend his human rights to listen to vile, hate-filled stuff really loudly in public.  Ah the benefits of public transport. The council will never get people to give up using their cars until they get people to be pleasant and considerate towards others. I don’t see it happening, do you? Needless to say, the rest of the journey was a filth-addled nightmare.

    This is why I like writing stories about a world when a gentleman would doff his cap and say, ‘Excuse me madam, please forgive the intrusion, but could you possibly turn down your Polish Alternative Rock for a moment or two, I’m trying to catch the jolly old cricket score on the transistor radio. I’d be most awfully grateful.’ Upon which I would say, ‘Gosh, yes, I’m so sorry, I had no idea it was so shockingly loud. How silly of me. I do beg your pardon.’ And we’d all get along swimmingly. That’s not much to ask, is it?

    ***

  • The Sweater

    I am hugely indebted to Morgen Bailey for the inspiration to write this story from one of her excellent writing competitions. She also posts brilliant writing prompts every day – I recommend these to help any writer loosen up their writing muscles. You could enter January’s 100-word story competition, find out more here: Morgen Bailey’s site

    The Sweater

    I don’t know whether to keep it or chuck it away. I hold it to my nose, my eyes flickering closed in rapture. It’s still warm, and floral-scented, soft and yielding like her. Whenever I think of her, in my dreams, my imagination, she wears this sweater. I picture her as she was tonight, smiling over her shoulder at me, a beckoning look, challenging. As if asking me, ‘Have you got what it takes?’ I have. It hurts to walk away and leave her to be discovered. But the sweater is a fitting memorial covering her face.

    ***

  • 10 out of 10 and you can have the rest of the year off…

    I just want to end this year by saying a huge THANK YOU to all the lovely people who have read my blog, supported my writing, and of course, bought my books ( or given them a plug, which is definitely as good!) Your kind words and frequent shares and likes have kept me going, thank you.

    Wishing everyone health, happiness, peace and prosperity, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas with your loved ones around you, God Jul, Joyeux Noel, Frohe Weihnachten, E keresimesi Oma,  Gëzuar Krishtlindjen, Boldog karácsonyt, Śubh krisamas, and Wesołych Świąt! Let’s all get together in a week or so and takk about the old days of 2017, if that’s not too soon for such a painful year.

    ***

  • The woman in the mirror

    So I finally finished my novel The Mantle of God: a Dottie Manderson mystery, and it’s due out tomorrow (shameless plug), I’ve done most of the Christmas shopping, and so it’s the time of year when I sit back and think. Usually I think a wee bit too much, I’m very much an introverted overanalyser, like a lot of writers. I’m taking some time to read quite a bit now. One of my perennial favourites is Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer, first published 1934 (when my book is set, coincidentally, another shameless plug haha) but still a great read, and encouraging. In common with many others, she advocates writing exercises, such as morning pages. But the first exercise in the book is to observe yourself in a mirror and write what you see. On the surface, it’s an exercise in observation; for me in reality it is an exercise in confronting the self in honesty and acceptance. I began to reread Brande’s book this week.

    And also this week, I found myself sitting in a cafe in town, actually not all that unusual, it’s practically a hobby for me. Opposite me in the cafe was a huge mirror, a bit like those places where it’s all positivity and mirrors, to reflect the light, make the place seem bigger, fuller, or more successful, a kind of feng sui for business. So I was sitting there stuffing my face and chewing my pen, wondering what to write and myopically became aware that a woman sitting opposite me was doing almost the same.

    I’m confronted with myself, I eventually realise. It’s not a comfortable experience for me. I could do with being several stone lighter and twenty years younger, maybe three or four inches taller… It’s an odd sensation. The woman in the mirror looks very like me, except that she has her hair parted on the other side. She sits there and stares back at me almost in a challenging way, daring me to deny her right to be real. I look away. From a young age, it was ingrained in me that looking in the mirror would make me vain (which I am) and I should not do it. But there’s not a lot else to look at here, and also I’m intrigued. So I look back, and sure enough she’s looking at me again. She appears to be left-handed as she writes in her notebook, but of course, it’s me, and I’m not. This reminds me of another thing I once read about the left brain, right brain thing, and I remember how for a while to help the creative process, I used to write with my left hand. It was easier that way to pretend someone else was writing, and I felt freer, and wrote wiht a different ‘voice’. At the moment I’m looking for a way to revitalise and freshen my writing for the coming year, so I like to try new things. Maybe I’ll do a spot of left-handed writing and see where that takes me.

    The woman in the mirror is like me, but different. Does she care what people think? Does she let her anxiety and fear kill her imagination or hold her back from striving to achieve more? She is like me but different. As I turn away from the window and the street beyond, she turns towards them. Then she drinks her coffee, I drink mine. I look at her one last time. I pick up my pen and begin to write. I do my writing, and she gets on with hers.

    ***

     

  • *HUGE Christmas Giveaway* 25 Days of Box Sets for You!

    *HUGE Christmas Giveaway* 25 Days of Box Sets for You!

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    Grab an AMAZING, *FREE* Urban Fantasy box set! + 19 more box sets in other sci-fi & fantasy genres! Also, don’t forget to join our “25 Days of Prizes” giveaway for a chance to win 1 of 25 FREE X-mas prizes!

    Hi folks, welcome to December and the official Christmas countdown! This festive season we bring to you a brand new urban fantasy novel from British author Catherine Green. You can download it for free during our 25 Days of Box Sets giveaway promotion, and it will be widely available to buy in 2018.

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    Just your average Cheshire housewife – who used to hunt vampires!

    Hannah Oakley used to be a vampire hunter. She retired from active service when she fell in love with the female vampire she was hunting, but old wounds refuse to heal. She and the vampire fought almost to the death at the time, and now it seems that the vampire has tracked her down. Hannah must return to work, grudgingly accepting help from a new hunting partner, and she is determined that this time she will finish the job. But can she ignore the old lust for her vampire lover? Is the mother able to be a vampire hunter one more time? And will her marriage survive the ordeal?

    You can also read my interview with author Catherine Green here:

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    Now, because we are fast approaching Christmas, and we are full of festive cheer, you may download Return of the Vampire Hunter for FREE, as part of the 25 Days of Box Sets Giveaway courtesy of New Adult Noir(e). You can find it inside the Mages and Mavericks urban fantasy box set.

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  • All change!

    I decided on the spur of the moment to change the covers on my murderous journal-style trilogy. I’d had the same covers for books two and three for a few years, and I’d only changed the cover to book one within a month or so of its original publication four years ago. I just felt it was time for a face-lift for the set. I also changed the subtitle of the trilogy which has been ‘The Posh Hits murder mysteries’ up to now. At

    the time, I wanted a descriptive subtitle to give potential readers a bit of an idea what the books were about, but I’m not sure Posh Hits ever really worked, but at the time I was a bit short of ideas!

    Now I’m using the byline from the cover of the three-in-one version of the book. So the books are now going to be tagged with ‘Friendship can be murder: book 1’ etc in addition to the name of each volume.

    I feel quite pleased with the results, hopefully the books now look a bit fresher and have more colour and eye-appeal. I kept the cocktail glasses motif on the covers, as in book one, my main character is quite a socialite and is often knocking back a colourful drink laden with fruit and stirrers. As the story progresses, she becomes less ‘posh’ and a bit more of a down-to-earth mum and family-oriented woman. So I was tempted to put a cup of hot chocolate on the cover of book two and maybe a herbal tea on book three, but in the end they just didn’t look quite right. So I kept the cocktail glasses theme going.

    If you would like to know more about this series, please click this link:

    The Friendship Can Be Murder trilogy

    A little bit about the books:

    Spoilt society girl Cressida Barker-Powell confides to her journal that she plans to murder her unbearable mother-in-law. But when she arrives at the scene, she finds the old woman already dead. Obviously her Hitchcock-Movie-loving best pal, Monica, has carried out the deed for her!  Taking the murder-switch idea from the movie Strangers on a Train, Cressida decides the only proper way to show her gratitude is by killing off Monica’s philandering husband and his bimbo girlfriend.  After all, Monica of all people should appreciate the idea of swapping murders? That’s what she wants, right?

    Wrong! Cressida quickly discovers that unfortunately this was not what her friend had in mind, and now Monica is devastated and planning to exact a terrible revenge. Which means their friendship is definitely over. Isn’t it?

     

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