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.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


In the UK we have a government funded recompense scheme for authors whose books are borrowed from public libraries - Public Lending Right.  It's a small amount of money each year, but nonetheless welcome for all that.  The thing is, about a year ago, the present government decided it would be good publicity to get rid of all those useless quangos (quasi-autonomous, neo-governmental organisations) that spend taxpayers' money without being responsible to the electorate.  The trouble is that, despite the public's dislike of quangos, many of them carry out useful functions.  Like PLR.  It's a small unit in Stockton-on-Tees that performs efficiently and hands out money to authors on time every year according to figures estimated from samples of library loans.  The government ran a consultation exercise (so-called) which raised a lot of protest from authors, predictably to no avail.  The PLR organisation was to be subsumed into the British Library, and authors were left fearful of the consequences.  In a way we need not have worried, because PLR now tells us that, although now being part of the British Library, the office remains in Stockton-on-Tees and the staff remain the same.  No cuts then.  Which only goes to show the government's 'big idea' of cutting quangos was just smoke and mirrors.  I have no doubt that some organisations disappeared, some maybe had funding cuts, but I would bet most of them were simply hidden away in another organisation with the same funding and staffing.  Just to give the impression that the 'big idea' had been carried through.  Pull the other one, Mr Cameron.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Windows irrit8

Recently I had to get a new computer, and this meant I moved on to Windows 8.  It also meant I got the latest version of Word also, where before I had lived quite happily with the 2003 version.  It happens to us all, I know, and I am getting along quite well with Word.  Though sometimes I have to poke and prod the keyboard to find a function I found with ease before.  But Windows 8 was another matter.  I hoped to make the transition to an app-based system more easy by choosing a touch-screen option, and I still like this.  I believe I made a good choice there.  However, some of the aspects of Windows 8 became very irritating.
I think someone had had the bright idea that they could make stuff cleaner and simpler, so some of the apps overlaying the basic application did not have the same functionality.  The main one that was guaranteed to drive me mad was Mail.
Oh so easy, just press MAIL and your mail accounts are all together on one button, laid out in simple format.  The most basic functions were on a couple of obvious buttons - New and Send, Attach, Bin - but where was Forward?  Oh there it is - select Reply and another of the options is Forward.  But forwarding something isn't replying to it, or am I obtuse?  At one point I wanted to add another folder to save some new emails.  The original version of the mail app didn't offer this choice!  Yes, I know I could go into BT Yahoo and do it there, and then 'sync' the mail app.  But surely that's not the point of having an app that supposed to make things easy for you.  They have now added more functionality to the app, proving that you can oversimplify.
The other bugbear was the touchscreen keyboard.  That would have been fine if you only called it up by touching the icon on the bottom bar, but no, they designed it so that if you tapped the screen it popped up.  I would be merrily writing using my normal keyboard, touch the screen to scroll up the page of text, and the touchscreen keyboard would pop up.  Sometimes even putting my finger near the screen popped it up.  I was cursing and swearing as this eager keyboard kept offering up its services to me.  Finally, by searching online, I found a way of suppressing the little blighter.  Boy did I feel triumphant in curbing its profligate ways.
I think I have conquered Windows 8 pretty much, though even now, if I put my finger on the touchpad (I don't use a mouse) too close to the righthand edge, the Windows 8 sidebar slides in.  So I have to tap the screen to let it know I don't want its services.  All these things are a bit like an over-eager butler who slides into the room every time you cough, only to be told his services are not required.  But a butler learns - these applications don't.  Ah well.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Elmore Leonard

So, Elmore is dead.  I know it happens to us all, but it is sad when one of the truly originals departs this life.  I'm not going to go into detail about his life - there are plenty of obituaries being written right now covering all he wrote and what he stood for.  Besides, his ten rules of writing included a stricture on going into irrelevant descriptive detail - what he called the "hooptedoodle".  It struck a chord with me when I came across it, because i have always found it difficult to write those 600 page blockbusters.  My books have, if nothing else, been sparing in detail.  Perhaps too sparing.
His other rule I like is number 10 - "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip".  You know what they are, don't you?  How many times have you reached a point in a fast-moving story where the author veers off and describes the countryside, or gives you a potted history of the soon-to-be-murdered character who is being pursued by the serial killer.  Who cares about it?  You skip it, and get on with the story, don't you?  So, in the best spirit of Elmore Leonard, let me finally and succinctly say - "Elmore Leonard is dead".

His rules, for those of you who have not seen them.

  1.  Never open a book with weather.
  2.  Avoid prologues.
  3.  Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
  4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said” …such as, he admonished gravely.
  5.  Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. 
  6.  Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
  7.  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8.  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9.  Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
  10.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Truly Original!

"Falconer and the Rain of Blood" is now available to order in paperback, hardback, or ebook from Ostara Publishing.  I am proud to say that it is the first in a new series for the publisher called Ostara Originals. As well as being a first, the story is also a last - the last Falconer.  I could not go on killing people off in Oxford, and William was getting a little bored with his life there.
Having found the love of his life in Saphira Le Veske, it would have become difficult for them to live openly as they would have wished.  It was not permitted for a Jew and a Christian to have any sort of relationship at the time.  Their decision to to travel to the ends of the Earth was therefore not a difficult one.  Since meeting the Mongols in "Falconer and the Great Beast", William had a desire to see their great empire.  Their travels will thus take them as far east as it is possible to go.
Anyone eager for news of what happened to them will find a nugget of information in one of my new Medieval Murderers stories contained in the book "Seven Deadly Sins".  One of the storytellers in the book goes by the name of David Falconer, an old man of 72 in 1348, who therefore must have been born in 1276.  This was shortly after William and Saphira left England, of course.  Unfortunately, the reader will have to wait until next year (2014) for "Seven Deadly Sins" as it is the Tenth Anniversary Edition of the Medieval Murderers series of books.  In the mean time, content yourself with the ninth in the series - "The False Virgin" (Simon and Schuster, 2013).
Oh and did i say that "Falconer and the Rain of Blood" can now be ordered from Ostara Publishing?

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Falconer rides off into the sunset

The last Falconer should be available soon, published by Ostara Publishing, who produce my back catalogue in Print on Demand and ebook format.  They are now moving into original publications with Falconer and the Rain of Blood.  I'll tell you more when I know the details.
My mind is preoccupied at present with directing the play 'Crown Matrimonial' at the Stables Theatre, Hastings.  Performance dates are 12 to 20 April - if you are in the neighbourhood, do come along.  One of my cast was taken ill yesterday with only three days to go to opening night!  I won't say panic ensued because it didn't - merely some cursing and swearing and the twisting of arms.  The show must go on.
The Cyprus situation has been interesting viewed from the safety of England.  As you may know from reading this blog, my wife and I lived there for a number of years until just recently.  We got out almost in time, as some of our money is still there, and won't be extractable for a while.  We will have to play a waiting game.  I feel sorry for people who have life-savings in Cypriot banks who could see it all disappearing.  You don't imagine that can happen when you open a bank account, do you?  It just shows what ephemeral stuff money is - mostly a piece of paper promising to pay the face value of the note.  From my researches into the Mongol Empire, I learned that the Mongol/Chinese culture was responsible for introducing us to the bank note.  Kubilai Khan wanted all the gold and jewels that merchants had in his empire and gave them bank notes in return.  Did all our present problems start with him then?  My next contribution to the Medieval Murderers book 'Seven Deadly Sins' explores the banking crash of the 14th century.  The story is called 'Greed'.  See, you thought it was a modern phenomenon, didn't you?
I must go now, as I have to paint some walls, and clean the carpet in Queen Mary's rooms in Marlborough House.  Purely in the imaginary world recreated on stage at the The Stables Theatre, of course.

Monday, 18 February 2013

A change in the air

With the last Falconer finished, I am now working on the next Medieval Murderers book - "The Seven Deadly Sins".  As I mentioned before, my sins are Greed and Gluttony and the book is set in 1348 during an outbreak of plague.  My two stories will be narrated by people associated with my two major characters, William Falconer and Nick Zuliani.  The first will be a tale involving Zuliani told by his granddaughter, Katie Valier.  Those of you who follow my stories will know she appeared in a short story called "A Fiery Death" that appeared in one of Mike Ashley's anthologies entitled "The Mammoth Book of Historical Crime Fiction" (check it out on my website).  And she is also in the latest Medieval Murderers book entitled "The False Virgin" due out in September 2013.  In those stories she was a young girl of 16, but now she is in her fifties and recalls a murder case she and Zuliani were involved with concerning the greed of bankers.  Yes, it happened in the fourteenth century too!
The gluttony story will probably be narrated by William Falconer's elderly son, who it emerges has encountered Nick Zuliani at some point in his past.  How will the story of murder involve gluttony?  You will have to wait until next year to find out.
On a personal level, I am just slogging through the bad weather here in England.  Though it has not been as bad in the south-east as the rest of the country.  The one highlight has been the fact that we have sold our villa in Cyprus.  Having lived there for seven years, my wife and I wanted to return to the UK.  Having the villa in Cyprus was a drag on our resources, and the market in Cyprus was poor for houses.  However, it is sold, and we are glad of it.  Flying back and forth to Cyprus every few months to tidy it up was a nuisance.  Sometimes I can miss the weather though.  The last time I returned from Cyprus, I flew from temperatures of 20C to a wet, grey 2C in England.  Roll on Spring.

Monday, 14 January 2013

An ending and a beginning

It's taken me some time to get back to writing in my blog.  I have been struggling with the final Falconer novel, which I had planned to finish by the end of September.  It took me to the end of December.  It was as though William Falconer himself did not want to 'die' (spoiler alert - he doesn't die in the book).  I write in a pretty tight fashion, such that I will never be able to write a 500-page blockbuster.  But when I completed the first draft of 'Falconer and the Rain of Blood' it was very short, so I had to work through expanding my ideas and descriptions.  I even added another layer of the story, bringing King Edward into it.  Finally, despite all his delaying tactics,Falconer's final story was completed.
I hope it will appear some time in the new year (2013), which reminds me to say Happy New Year to everyone.  Come on, I'm only two weeks late!  Another year has begun, and I have a couple of short stories to write for the Medieval Murderers' tenth book.  We were going to write tales based on the Ten Commandments, but it was thought that, though 'Thou shalt not kill.' was a fine theme for a story, it was too difficult to make something of 'Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.' and some others.  Much better to work on the Seven Deadly Sins, and I volunteered for Greed and Gluttony.  Don't ask me why.
I am also giving some thought to expanding my stories set in Regency England.  I do like the characters, Joe Malinferno and Doll Pocket, and the chance they give me to inject more humour into my stories.  So far they have only appeared in short stories in anthologies and in other Medieval Murderers books.  They deserve a full length run, I think.  I will pull together their story so far, and send them off to Egypt to uncover tombs and mummies.  More on that when I get time.
That's all the news to date, other than to mention that I am pursuing my hobby of amateur dramatics still.  Tomorrow I start to work on a production of 'Crown Matrimonial' that I am directing.  For those of you who don't know, it's a play about the abdication of Edward VIII which concentrates on the personal lives of Queen Mary and her sons David (Edward VIII) and Bertie (George VI) and the impact David's decision had on those around him.  If you are in Hastings in April, come along.  It's on at the Stables Theatre from 12 to 20 April and the website is