Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Italian Job

I am in the process of signing a deal to publish my back catalogue of Falconer stories (and maybe the short Zuliani series) in Italy.  The publisher is Mondadori, who have a series of detective novels under the name of 'Il Giallo'.  This has a curious symmetry as the word means 'yellow' in Italian and derives from the background colour of the early editions.

My first publisher was Victor Gollancz, and though my books were too late for the treatment, early Gollancz crime and SF books were, of course, always published in a yellow cover.

I always recall as a young teenager (though the name was not used in my day) that I scoured the public library shelves for yellow spines as my primary means of book selection.  I was later very proud to become a Victor Gollancz author, though rather disappointed my crime stories would not be 'wrapped' in yellow!  There was some talk, I suppose in the late 90s, of reviving the yellow cover.  I think some Gollancz books did come out with a yellow spine.  But none of my titles.
Now, at last, I will be published in yellow.  I will keep you up date concerning the progress of my Italian editions.  If you want to read them in Italian, that is.

Thursday, 3 July 2014


I am breathing a sigh of relief.  The hectic time of directing "Taking Steps" is at last over.  Eight weeks of intensive rehearsals led to the opening of the play in Hastings, and eight performances at the Stables.  These were well received, and we had an average attendance of some 70%.  After a mere week's break, we were on a flight to the USA, and performances in Chicago Heights at The Drama Group.  I had been working on the set with the crew in the USA by email.  I liken it to building a set by remote control!  But it worked.  IN The Stables, we had a stage about 20ft wide.  In Chicago Heights, the width was almost 50ft, so we had to do some adjusting to stage positions.  Also, the audience was so close to the actors that we were afraid the fight scene would result in one of our actors plunging into the laps of the front row.  We did manage to avoid that, but with the stage on the same level as the two front rows, people coming in often walked acros the stage itself.  Very disconcerting.
Our hosts were the epitome of hospitality, taking us to and fro in the delightful suburb of Chicago Heights.  This involved taking each of us from our temporary home to the theatre, and after each show to a wonderful tavern at Flossmoor, as well as to a station to allow us to travel into Chicago itself.  They could not have been more accommodating, and generous.  Many a boozy hour was spent at the Flossmoor Tavern testing the 16 beers that were brewed on the premises.  My favourite was BAD (barrel aged Dubbel).  I am not sure what the specific gravity was, but two glasses were enough!  The shows went down a storm, and we even got a standing ovation one night.
Chcago is a wonderful city, set on the shores of Lake Michigan, with spectacular skyscrapers all around the central area.
I went up to the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower and stood in a glass box projecting out from the side of the building.  You can look down below your feet for over 1300ft to the street below.  Chicago also boasts several museums - the most impressive for me being the Art Institute, which housed many works of art from Europe.
The old town area - which is not very old, as Chicago burnt down in 1871 - has some very graceful houses.  And in the suburbs are areas where Frank Lloyd Wright plied his trade.  Ernest Hemingway also lived in the same suburb as a child.  The city is bursting with parks which host festivals.  I was lucky to get to see the Blues Festival, which was a completely free event.  The other jaunt which I must mention was a trip down part of Route 66 in Model A Fords organised by one of the Drama Group members.  That was quite a memorable event, ending up in Pontiac.

It was altogether a memorable two weeks, and lasting friendships were made.  The Drama Group of Chicago Heights comes over to Hastings in 2015.  But for now, I must get back into the groove and continue writing that new Falconer.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014


Doing genealogical research is a drug.  I cannot stop following up leads, even though the person I am researching may be the brother-in-law of the sister-in-law of my second cousin four times removed!  If the information is there, I must have it.  I am now tracking down hints provided by the Ancestry.com website on existing members of my family tree - all 3,000 of them (the hints, not the people).  I am disciplining myself to only get birth, marriage and death of remote relatives, but even so this will take months.
The lighter side of this research is that I find literary links.  So far, I have relatives called Walter Scott, William Faulkner, Thomas Hardy and Edward Lear.  Naturally, they are not the famous ones, and most of my relatives - including these - are generally labourers.  I come from a long line of agricultural labourers, interspersed with coal miners and iron workers.  The latter two occupations explain why my ancestors moved between Derbyshire and Yorkshire - where there were coal mines - and from the Forest of Dean to Derbyshire - to find jobs in iron works.  In fact I have many Welsh ancestors whose families slipped over the border from the Forest of Dean into Monmouthshire to work in Blaenavon and Abergavenny before trekking on to Derby.
Some adventurous souls emigrated to Canada, and some found work in the USA. Of course - in this anniversary year of the outbreak of World War One - it is sobering to find records of those young men who died in Flanders and other foreign fields.  Some of course left no direct ancestors, but a few married, had a child, and died soon afterwards.  I saw a Great War cemetery a couple of Christmases ago.

The impact then was tremendous, but the cold facts of an individual's death are just as great.  What a tragedy.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

No excuse

I have no excuse for leaving it so long between blogs.  Except I do.  I was heavily involved in my other hobby of amateur dramatics.  I played the part of the drunken photographer, Henry Ormonroyd, in J B Priestley's "When We Are Married".  Take a look at some of the pictures on artypharty.com, Peter Mould's website.  Click on the relevant play and look for the red-faced man!  The play went down well, and we all got plenty of laughs - all for the right reasons.
And now I am embarking on directing an Alan Ayckbourn play called "Taking Steps".  We present it in May in Hastings, then take it in June to our sister drama group in Chicago Heights, USA.  These are Alan Ayckbourn’s words about the play.
“In the first act you take the audience by the hand and lead them across the floor.  In the second, you start to walk them up the wall.  And in the third act, you begin to walk them on the ceiling, so they end up hanging upside down saying ‘Hey, what am I doing?’”

I am working on some new books also - honest!  As well as the Georgian novel with Joe Malinferno and Doll Pocket, which will revolve around grave robbers and surgeons - I have an idea for continuing the Falconer series.  I know I had bade him farewell in book nine, but I feel another one coming on.  This one will be set in Trebizond, and William and Saphira are on their way to far-off Cathay.  It is a location I have used in the latest Medieval Murderers book "The Deadliest Sin", in a story told by their son David Falconer.  So, you see, there is more story to tell about them anyway.   I want to fill in the gaps, as it were.
I have also had some interest in my stories in Italy, so there is a chance that they may appear in Italian in the future.  There are some editions in German and French out there too, though they may only be available second-hand.
And there I must leave it, as I am soon to go to a rehearsal of "Taking Steps".  If you want to buy tickets for the show, go to stablestheatre.co.uk.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

A New Year

Happy New Year, everyone who reads this blog...and to everyone else who doesn't!  Last year, my agent and friend, Dot Lumley died.  I sincerely hope better things will happen this year.  She was someone who kept me on the straight and narrow - from a writing perspective - and was always optimistic about my work.  Without her, some of the later Falconers would not have come about, so I have a lot to thank her for.  I am now beginning to plan out the full-length Georgian novel I have been thinking about.  Using my characters from short stories - Joe Malinferno and Doll Pocket - I will start what I hope might be a new series taking them through the events of the 1820s in England, and off to Egypt in pursuit of their interest in all things Egyptian.  The life of Giovanni Belzoni will be my guide to the times and the place.  A real-life (even larger-than-life) character, Belzoni was responsible for bringing some of the first artefacts to England from under the noses of the French in Egypt.  In return he was poorly treated, perhaps because he was not a gentleman, and a foreigner to boot.  He died in Africa, searching for Timbuktu.

This year heralds the arrival of the tenth Medieval Murderers book "The Deadliest Sin".  Tales of the Seven Deadly Sins are swapped by pilgrims in Norfolk, as they vie to claim the deadliest of them all.  Look out for it.  Plans are afoot for the next book.
That's the new year for me as a writer.  My enthusiasm for amateur drama will also take up some time, as I will be acting in a play at the Stables, Hastings in March, and directing in May.  I also have the trip to our 'sister' drama group in Chicago coming up in June.  Lots to look forward to in 2014.

Friday, 13 December 2013


It's a little while since I wrote anything, because my wife and I have been travelling independently in Andalucia.  It took up most of November, but we managed to see Malaga, Ronda, Seville, Cordoba and Granada.  I came away with several impressions of the area jangling in my head.  Unfortunately, one was of the effects of the recession on the poorer parts of Spain.  The North/South divide there is the opposite to England - the North is more prosperous, and the South poorer.  In all the major cities we visited we saw people begging on the streets.  They were not the usual homeless men encountered in the UK, but from my rough translations of the placards they held up, ordinary people who had fallen on hard times.  One woman we saw regularly on a corner in Granada held up a sign that said she had a mother and three children to support but could not find work.  In Cordoba we saw a husband and wife sitting on the street together begging for help.  But that was only one aspect of Andalucia.
The overwhelming impression was of a unique culture that is still vibrant and exciting.  The buildings we saw reflected the blending of Moorish, Islamic, and Christian history that identifies the region.  How exciting to walk into the Mesquita (Grand Mosque) in Cordoba and at first see the original layout of columns and arches that are typical of the Arabic culture that held sway for centuries.  And then to find in the centre of it all a Christian cathedral!  It looked as though it had been dropped into the middle of the mosque by some spaceship.  I know it's presence gave hints of the bloody conflict behind the Reconquista, but it also suggested the present-day feeling of two cultures blended together.  A small museum nearby attempted to explain the value of Arabic science, medicine and culture to the West.  Something I learned a lot about in my researches into medieval history. Also in Cordoba, we spent a relaxing two hours in a Turkish hammam wandering from cold room through warm room and pool to hot room and steamroom, with a massage thrown in.  Though I have to admit I only dipped a toe in the baths in the cold room! We also saw lots of Arabic courtyards preserved in private houses,where they exist alongside European styles of building.  It all felt like being amongst a people who took the best of both cultures and rejoiced in them.  And that is something to hold on to in a time when fundamentalism threatens us all.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

China Mieville

I have just come across a new writer - to me that is.  China Mieville (excuse me, but I can't get the "e-acute" I require to spell his name properly) is already a multiple award winner in the genre of SciFi.  This does not even do him justice though, because his books defy being put in one genre.  In fact I read somewhere that he once set out to write a novel in each of many different genres.  What put me on to him was a recommendation to read "The City and the City".
This is a detective noir novel with a difference set in a divided city.  It could be reminiscent of Nicosia, or Berlin, or Belfast, but it is a deeper picture than those cities.  In China Mieville's book the city is not split in half geographically - it's two communities live cheek by jowl and totally intermingled.  How such existence has been made to succeed is that one community deliberately "unsees" the other.  Your next door neighbour may be from the other city, but you don't "see" him, and to go to his house you have to go through an immigration point in the centre of the two cities, at which point you are allowed to "see" the other city to your own.  This apparently satisfactory means of living together is strained when a murder takes place in one city, and the body is dumped in the other.
Mieville's books stretch the imagination, but uncannily still give a believable picture of the possible result of human stupidity (or is it ingenuity?).  I have just finished my second book of his - "Embassytown".  This novel examines the impact of human culture on a totally alien culture by means of a scifi setting.  It is a challenging read that portrays a completely different culture where the beings have two mouths and so speak in a way impossible for a human being.  Though twin ambassadors are created to overcome the problem of communication, things go terribly wrong as the Host (so called) become addicted - or corrupted - by contact with human speech.  The novel deals with language and its complexities - the Host speak Language, and cannot lie.  But once they become intrigued by the possibility of telling untruths, they are on the way to a crisis in their culture.
I am looking forward to reading more of his books, and his extraordinary imagination.  Try him yourself.