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Wednesday Writing: It Could Happen

 

I never look for reviews. Readers read and if they’re so inclined they comment. I don’t ask for them, and good or bad, I never respond to them, except for a brief note of thanks for reading.

It irks me, however, when I read reviews of other writers’ works and I see a comment like… “That could never happen in real life.”

Couldn’t it?

I-Spy
There’s a scene in The I-Spy Murders where Joe bumps into his brother’s ex-wife. He’s ninety miles from home, he turns a corner and there she is, with her husband, drinking tea at an outside cafe. Impossible, you say, and if not impossible, too big a coincidence for the reader to swallow.

And yet it’s based on a real life incident. In 2011, my wife and I were in Skegness, a British seaside town. We had just finished coffee at a pavement café and were making ready to leave, when my ex-wife and her husband walked in. We were 150 miles from home, they were 100 miles from their home and we had no idea they were in Skegness and they didn’t know we were there. Coincidence? Yes, but not impossible.

When it comes to cosy crime and the amateur sleuth, disbelief has to be suspended before you begin to read. Ask yourself, is it likely that the police would turn to Mr ’Olmes or M Poirot for advice? Would they really allow an interfering old biddy from St Mary Mead shove her oar into a case of murder? When it comes to reality, you can’t get much further away than Holmes, Poirot and Miss Marple, but it never stopped millions of readers (me included) becoming lost in the intricacies of their deductions.

Everywhere the Sanford 3rd Age Club go, they come across a murder upon which Joe can let loose his agile mind, ably supported by Sheila, Brenda and the rest of the gang. Is that likely? Of course not. Does that stop the readers’ enjoyment? Of course not.

How many great detectives would we lose without suspension of disbelief? Campion, Lord Peter Wimsey, Jessica Fletcher, Agatha Raisin, Libby Sarjeant… I could go on, and on.

Readers looking for a good dose of reality should be reading non-fiction not cosy whodunits.

***
Coming September 27th: A Killing In The Family, the twelfth STAC Mystery from Crooked Cat Books.

Slobbing: A Specialised Skill

A friend posted on Facebook how she got out of bed determined to get something done and within a matter of minutes, the get up and go had got up and gone.

This happens to me all the time. If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, then the road to productivity is paved with the faded pzazz of vanished motivation.

I crawl out of bed anywhere between three and ten in the morning, and every day it’s the same: get up, hit the shower, thinks: I wanna see five thousand words written today, and no excuses. I get downstairs, switch on the kettle boot up the evil machine, and let the dog out. By the time I’ve made tea, surfed the overnight happenings and the dog has come back in, whatever ideas I had are up the spout, and boredom is kicking in.

A couple of goes on Criminal Case, a couple of online sudokus, a rant at the news, and that’s it. Time to slob on the settee.

I’m not on my own. The missus never gets up before noon, and by half past three, she too, is out for the count.

SONY DSC
And as for Joe… well, you can see from the picture above, it’s doggy see, doggy do. He holds the world record for hitting the sofa and zonking out behind either of us. I’ve never seen a dog so tired. When he’s sat beside me, waiting for crumbs from the dinner table, he’ll nod off to sleep, only waking when you say, “here, Joe. Din-dins.”

Slobbing. It’s a specialised art and the Robinsons are masters at it.

Cover Reveal and Another Extract

In a little under three weeks (September 27th, to be precise) A Killing in the Family, STAC Mystery #12 will be released on an unsuspecting public. And now, we can reveal the cover image.

famkfull
Many thanks to Laurence Patterson of Crooked Cat Books for putting that together.

As the title of this post hints, here’s another extract from the text.

Joe, Sheila and Brenda are enjoying a light lunch on the terrace with their host, billionaire, Sir Douglas Ballantyne, when researcher and genealogist Katya Nolan joins them.

***

“Lots of people get confused between genealogists and geologists,” Katya said after Sir Douglas had introduced them, “but you know the difference. I’m impressed.”

“I have a friend who’s a genealogist,” Joe explained. “Madeleine Chester.”

Katya was at once astonished, overawed and delighted. “Oh my god, you know Maddy Chester?”

“He’s met her once,” Brenda said, with obvious disdain.

Brenda was wrong, but only Joe knew that. With the thought that Brenda was always a little catty with any woman who could be considered competition, he pointed out, “We keep in touch by email. She’s a friend.”

“Oh my god,” Katya repeated. “She’s, you know, a god.”

“You mean a goddess,” Brenda corrected.

His friend’s remark caused Joe to smile. There had been a brief thing between him and Brenda a year or so back, but it had fizzled out naturally and quickly, and yet she still went on as if she had some interest in him. Worse, she carried on as though this young woman, a quarter of a century his junior, was interested in him. Many people accused Joe of many things, but no one could ever accuse of him of suffering delusions, particularly when it came to himself.

“Maddy taught me everything I know about researching family history. Through her books, natch. It’s not like I’ve ever met her. But, you know, if it wasn’t for her, I’d still be working nights in a taxi dispatch office. She is the authority on genealogy. Do you, you know, watch her on TV?”

The words came so fast that Joe found her hard to follow.

“Er, no,” he said, at last sorting out her question from the previous gush. “She’s on TV in the mornings and we’re usually busy in the café at that time.”

It was not true. The TV was always on in The Lazy Luncheonette and since the move they were rarely busy at 9.30 am. But Joe was never interested in TV and the women preferred alternative channels to the one Maddy appeared on.

***
What can Katya tell them about the goings-on at the Ballantyne residence? Does she know enough of the family secrets to cast any light on the current problems?

You’ll have to wait until the end of the month to find out, but in the meantime, we have the usual launch party arranged on Facebook and you are all most welcome to join us.

A Killing in the Family is published by Crooked Cat Books on September 27th.

Wednesday Writing: A Killing in the Family, STAC Mystery #12

dist
Due for release in e-formats on September 27th, A Killing in the Family picks up the backstory begun in Death in Distribution, and carries it a little further, but in the meantime, Joe has another problem on his hands.

He, Sheila and Brenda are invited to the country home of Sir Douglas Ballantyne, who has been receiving death threats. As we join them in this brief extract, it’s the last day of July, the old man’s 75th birthday dinner is over, and the entire family are taking coffee on the terrace.

***
Leaving instructions with Alistair to serve coffee outside, which drew the cutting remark, “Yer sure you wouldnae like me to put a tea cosy round the cups to make sure it doesnae go cold,” the old man was last out, close behind Joe.

Away to their right, beyond the treeline, the horizon was bathed in the crimson glow of the recent sunset, and the sky above gleamed a pearly ice-blue. For all that night approached, the temperature had abated only slightly. It felt as though they could wring the sweat from the air.

The three family men wandered off to one side, still talking up their various themes, lending the impression that they were speaking purely to ensure the sound of their voices could be heard. Joe tagged himself onto a small group which comprised his two friends and Serena. They were talking fashions, and Joe was relieved when Sir Douglas tapped him on the shoulder, and indicated they should step off, out of earshot.

“Any ideas, Joe?”

“Only one. I’m here under false pretences.”

Sir Douglas laughed. “Well, if nothing comes of it, you’ve enjoyed a slap up feed, haven’t you?” his smile faded. “You, er, did enjoy the meal, didn’t you?”

“Excellent,” Joe agreed. “A little rich for my usual Friday night food, but it was superb.”

The rattle of Alistair’s trolley on the uneven flagstones caught their attention, and there was a delay of a couple of minutes while they queued behind Jeffrey and Quentin for coffee and After Eight mints. Once again, the pair stood off to one side.

“I think you have nothing to worry about,” Joe declared. “I’ve done some talking and a lot of listening, and I haven’t overheard one remark made against you.”

Sir Douglas gestured expansively at the small crowd in their little cliques. “If it is any of them rather than some idiot’s idea of a practical joke, they would be extremely careful not to let it be known to the others. I was hoping you’d pick up some sort of, ah… reason behind it all.”

“I can give you a few reasons.” Joe gestured with his coffee cup. “Toby has much to gain, Jeffrey is a poser, Quentin is crap at golf, Serena is bored out of her skull, someone could be trying to alienate you against Rodney, and the man himself could still be a conman.”

***

A Killing in the Family, STAC Mystery #12 is published by Crooked Cat Books on September 27th, 2014. There is a launch party on Facebook to which everyone is invited.

 

Monday Mumbling: Art Imitating Life?

I was in our local supermarket on Friday, squandering money on inessentials like food and vital necessities like tobacco, when a young woman offered me a cream cracker spread with chive flavoured cheese.

I don’t go for fancy foods and anyway I’m allergic to most pickle flavours, including cheese spreads and crisps, so I declined.

This girl was more determined. “It’s very tasty,” she told me.

“It probably is, “I agreed, “but it’s not to my taste.” Having delivered this irritated coup de grace, I wandered on my way seeking cheese which tasted of cheese.

The entire incident reminded me a scene from Trevor Belshaw’s latest megatome, Tracy’s Celebrity Hot Mail where Tracy is trying to sell butter from a stand in her hypermarket, under the banner, Mary from the dairy spreads them fast. And that particular innuendo naturally got me thinking about humour.

Tracy2
Trevor has a natural aptitude for it which is denied many of us. He’s able to pounce on everyday life and twist it to suit in the blink of an eye. I don’t know how long that particular gag took him to work out, but I doubt that my alter-ego, Flatcap, would even have thought about it.

Everyday life passes right by Flatcap, and he looks for the more bizarre tales before he can make use of his acid humour. Tales like the stolen snowman, the alien landing that was no more exciting the a truckload of horse shit going up in smoke, or the French lady who managed to lock herself in the bathroom and was stuck there for three weeks (the neighbours actually got up a petition to have her evicted when they got fed up of her banging on the pipes for help).

FTC Gobsm
Trevor, it has to be said, is also more up to date than Flatcap. He understands young people and can relate to them in a light-hearted manner, Flatcap, despite having two teenage granddaughters, hasn’t a clue what’s going through the younger generation’s minds. In fact, the only character Flatcap could relate in TCHM is Gran. She’s a miserable, outspoken old sow, too.

Fortunately, humour is a personal thing. You find it funny or you don’t, and enough readers find Flatcap funny to keep me happy, and I’m sure the same applies to Tracy.

It’s Here (well, it will be soon)

At last, I’m pleased to announce that the launch of A Killing in the Family, STAC Mystery #12, will take place on September 27th.

Originally planned to be on the virtual bookshelves no later than the end of July, this thing has been put back more times than interest rate rises, and we don’t even have a cover image, yet.

dist
To recap, STAC #11, Death in Distribution, saw the beginning of a backstory which was not resolved. It’s not resolved in A Killing in the Family either, but it is picked up and it leads Joe, Sheila and Brenda indirectly to their next case, when they’re invited to spend the weekend at the home of billionaire Sir Douglas Ballantyne.

When thing start to happen, it’s up to the three friends (with a little help from another old friend) to learn which member of the staff or family are behind this devious plot.

To give you a taster, of what is to come, here’s a little extract, during which our intrepid sleuths meet Alistair Winter, the Ballantyne butler, for the first time.

***

The dark, timber door, broader than an average front door, opened and Sir Douglas came out to greet them. He looked cool in a pair of white, casual flannels and an open-necked, pale blue shirt, with a white panama hat to keep the sun at bay. Behind him was a tall, sombrely attired, portly and sour-faced manservant.

Approaching Joe, he removed the earphones of his mp3 player. “Led Zeppelin,” he said and then shook hands with each of them. “Joe, Sheila, Brenda. So glad you could make it. Alistair, my man, will show you to your rooms. Alistair. Take our guests’ bags, please.”

“Do I look like a bloody pack mule, man. They’ll carry their own.” Joe recognised him as the voice on the entry call.

Sir Douglas smiled apologetically. “You’ll have to excuse Alistair. He’s getting a bit arthritic.”

The heavily-set Alistair, whom Joe judged to be in his sixties, scowled by return. “Aye, and you’ll have to excuse Doogie. He’s getting a bit senile. All that Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath rotting his brain. Trust me, you’d be better off staying at the local pub.”

“Ignore him,” Sir Douglas said. “He’s just a crabby old bugger.”

“Better crabby than crackers,” Alistair retorted.

“If you want to get yourselves settled in, I’ll see you on the end terrace in about a quarter of an hour and we can have a bite to eat and a natter, eh?” Plugging his earphones back in, Sir Douglas waved vaguely towards the far end of the building, then ambled off in that direction.

Joe picked up his own small suitcase and Sheila’s, and notwithstanding his earlier refusal, Alistair took Brenda’s and led them into the house where a spacious hall cut off in three directions to parts of the ground floor. Set awkwardly in the centre, was a staircase, which turned through ninety degrees half way up.

“Used to be separate houses,” Alistair explained, “but the old eejit had it all converted into one large house. Easier for him to keep an eye on his brats at the time. Now it’s just more walking around for me and the missus.”

He led the way up the staircase.

“The missus?” Brenda asked.

“Aye. She’s the cook. I’m the bottlewasher.”

To Joe’s surprise, the landing was one long corridor running from end to end with doors on both sides. Showing Sheila and Brenda to their room near the far end, the butler then doubled back and led Joe to a room just to the right of the staircase.

“The silly old bugger wants you in here, right opposite himself.” Alistair gestured at a door on the other side of the corridor, and slightly to Joe’s left. “God knows why. You don’t look much like a bodyguard.”

Having had enough of Alistair’s offhand attitude, Joe fought back. “You don’t look much like a butler come to that. They’re usually more respectful to their employers and guests.”

“Aye, but if anyone thinks I’m gonna bow and kowtow to the likes of him or you, they’ve another think coming. I tell it like it is, man.”

“So do I,” Joe promised and dragging his small suitcase behind him, stepped into his room. “Who told you I was a bodyguard?”

“Considering you’re the famous detective, I’ll leave you to work it out.”

***
A prime suspect? You’ll have to wait to find out.

A Killing in the Family, STAC Mystery #12, is published by Crooked Cat Books on September 27th, 2014. There’s a launch party on Facebook to which anyone and everyone is invited.

Famine Over

The observant amongst you will have noticed a dearth of posts this week. Both Monday Mumbling and Wednesday Writing were missing. There is a reason for this. I was very ill… again.

It began on Monday, a public holiday here in England. I felt manky, feverish and I was dashing to the smallest room every twenty minutes. Worse than that, I was passing very little and it hurt. When a little blood began to show I decided it was time to see the doctor and she pronounced a UTI and put me on antibiotics. Since I’d only finished last course a few days previously I had my doubts, but this was different prescription: Trimethoprim instead of Amoxicillin.

They worked but it’s felt like a long haul from Monday through to today, when the fevers finally subsided and matters have gone back to normal. I’m not absolutely top notch, but I am better than 90%.

Sleep has evaded me for much of these last few days, as a result of which I haven’t exactly been idle. Despite the woolly consciousness of a sleep-deprived mind, I managed to get one or two  things up and running, and amongst them is STAC Mystery #13,working title now Death in Flames. More on that as time goes on.

More important is STAC Mystery #12, A Killing in the Family. It came back from editor Maureen Vincent-Northam yesterday and as usual there was work to do on it. Not much, and it’s been done and has gone back to Maureen for a second pass. Hopefully it should be back tonight, perhaps tomorrow, and when the final fiddling is done, it will be with Crooked Cat before the end of the week.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s about two months late. It should have hit the virtual bookstands by the end of July. Now it’s more likely to be late September, with the paperback to follow a little later. Launch dates are something I have yet to sort with Laurence and Steph.

Tower
A Killing in the Family continues the back story which began in #11, Death in Distribution. But don’t hold out for that to be the last word on this subplot. It will not be resolved until #13 at the earliest, and even then I don’t know.

Maureen’s report on A Killing in the Family was favourable. “A darn good tale and it kept me guessing.”

So cheer up all you STAC readers. Number 12 is on its way… at last.

Amazonian Speed

Amazon get panned everywhere. As a novelist, I have my share of beefs with them, but there are times when they deserve praise.

Given the pure dross put out by all British TV channels (BBC take note, you’re included in that opinion) the missus and I struggle to find something worth watching every night of the week. As consequence, we buy a lot of videos.

video
I ordered two at 6pm on Wednesday this week. Note that. 6pm Wednesday. It’s less than 36 hours ago.

All up bill was about £18. I don’t pay for delivery, and I don’t accept any of their “free delivery as long as you take a trial of…” whatever they’re trying to foist onto me.

Therefore, I took standard delivery, which is free on orders over £10, and when I came through the checkout page, the estimated delivery date was anywhere from Wednesday August 27th to Friday August 29th.

Yesterday I received another email telling me that I could expect delivery tomorrow, August 23rd, which although it’s great, is also a bit of a bugger because we’ll be out. Oh well, no problem. They can either leave it with a neighbour or leave me a card and I’ll arrange redelivery next week.

And with that, I pushed it all to one side. I have more important matters to deal with.

The postman has just delivered them. Still under 36 hours, and they are here.

This isn’t a one off, either. I’ve had the same level of service before from Amazon. Even when I’ve had complaints, they’ve been dealt with quickly and to my satisfaction.

All I can say is, well done.

Wednesday Writing: Post Novel Depression

It something I suffer from every time I complete a novel and I’m sure it’s a genuine psychological condition, but I don’t know that you could get a sick note for it.

At about five minutes to eight last night, STAC Mystery #12, A Killing in the Family, went off to Maureen Vincent-Northam for editing. Other than a little tidying up, there’s nothing more to be done with it other than send it off to Crooked Cat.

It brings to an end a final month of intense work involving long hours at the keyboard, reduced sleep and tantrums ranging from “For God’s sake don’t disturb me,” aimed at the missus, to “What are you playing at, you bastard?” screamed at the storyline.

Then suddenly, it’s done, it’s on its way with the prospect of only a bit of post-editorial faffing.

And it leaves me with a problem. What to do with all those empty hours?

The backstory in A Killing in the Family began in STAC #11, Death in Distribution, and it will conclude in STAC #13 (working title The Flames of Murder), so the best thing to do is get straight on with the next volume… but I’ve been living with Joe, Sheila and Brenda for last few months, and I’ve had enough of them. I’m sure they’ve had enough of me too. Besides, I’m one of those writers who likes the detailed overview to gel in my mind before I put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

Outside, the recent short summer has transformed into an early autumn. The car windows are covered in overnight condensation and I need the heating on until mid-morning. This is usually the most fertile time of year for my enthusiastic imagination, so there must be plenty of tales on the hard drive I could go back to… but I can’t drum up any of the missing enthusiasm.

Joe
Taking the dog for a good, long walk might kick start a few ideas… but he’s a grumpy, bone idle little sod and not always in the mood for walkies. He’s also a noisy bugger, and some of my neighbours work shifts, so I can’t take him until later in the morning.

This time of year is usually good for UFO sightings, too, so how about that UFO comedy I’ve had planned… but I’ve never been absolutely certain that UFOs and comedy go together.

The same is true of my brilliant lampoon of celebrity status which is half finished. The (yuk) X-Factor is due to have me reaching for the TV’s off switch any time now and it would be the perfect time to put out such a savage satire… but celebrities annoy me in real life, and working on it would only irritate me further.

So how about…

The list of projects is endless, but the problem is intractable. It’s post-novel depression. I’m still emotionally bound to yesterday’s completed project and there’s no cure other than time and patience. Both Maureen and Crooked Cat work very quickly and the only thing I can hope is that when the tale hits the bookstands very soon the readers will be sufficiently involved with it to want more.

Monday Mumbling: I Won’t Turn a Crisis Into A Drama

It’s been a day or two since I last reported on my health, and if I’m suffering, I see no reason you shouldn’t.

Those of you paying attention will know that I fell quite ill last Wednesday, since when I’ve been on an exclusive diet of antibiotics, analgesics and cigarettes. The first clears the infection, the second eases the fever, and the third, aside from keeping my temper under control, helps me cough up all the crap that the tobacco put there in the first place.

My appetites are slowly returning. I’m eating okay, I’m writing again, but the odds on my getting a legover this side of New Year’s Eve still rank it as an outside bet.

On this angle, it’s fair to say that matters took a turn for the worst on Friday when Her Indoors took Joe for a walk on her own.

Joe is a bastardised Jack Russell, with a bit of bulldog in him. He’s the size of a meerkat with the strength of a horse. Pull? He can pull better than I could when I was in me prime.

joepull
So she’s crossing the road, with Joe tugging away at his 5-metre lead, when she tripped over the kerb and fell flat, scraped both hands on the tarmac, sprained her wrist, and banged her head on the ground. I wasn’t bothered about the bump on the nut. It’d take lot more than a concrete kerbstone to get through her bone head.

However, while she is now nursing me back to good health, I’m nursing the wounds to her hands and wrist, and it’s confusing. We’re never sure who’s supposed to be doing what to whom or when he/she is supposed to be doing it. A bit like our nightly adventures many, many, MANY moons ago. In the meantime, I’m supposed to stop smoking today.

Is it any wonder the word Flatcap is synonymous with catastrophe?

THE STAC MYSTERIES