I don’t often use this blog to plug the work of others, but now and again I make an exception when I read a piece which I think is worthy of wider attention.
That’s the case with “Out of Control” by Trevor Belshaw.
I’m giving away nothing of the tale other than the opening, which is set in the winter of 1962, in a flash car crossing the Peak District via the notorious Cat & Fiddle road, the A54/A537 from Buxton to Macclesfield. I know that road well, and it’s bad enough in the milder winters we get these days. Perish the thought of how bad it would have been in the early sixties.
I’ve known Trevor for about seven or eight years, ever since we were budding scribes on Writelink, but this is the first time I can recall him trying his hand at a dark thriller.
And it was worth the wait.
Do yourself a favour, get over there and spend ten minutes reading the opening of Out of Control. I promise you will not be disappointed.
A Theatrical Murder will be released upon an unsuspecting public at the end of this month. It’s Joe’s thirteenth outing. Unlucky for some. Certainly unlucky for the victims of the latest killer Joe’s pursuing.
There is an ongoing background issue, too. We haven’t yet found out who burned down the old Lazy Luncheonette.
In the following scene, Joe learns that although he and his crew are happy enough in their new premises, the insurance company haven’t forgotten what happened to the old building.
“Are you Joe Murray?”
About to serve the next customer, Joe was brought up short by the question.
It came from a shapely, middle-aged woman stood to one side of the queue. Blonde-haired, she had blue eyes which were anything but welcoming. They sent out a chill matched only by the inclement weather outside.
“I am Joe Murray, and there’s a queue here, lass. Get on the back of it.”
“I’m not here to eat. I’m here to ask questions.”
“Then come back after Easter. I don’t do trivia quizzes this side of Good Friday.”
Joe stopped what he was doing and cut in. “Take a look around you, missus. I’m up to my eyes in breakfast traffic, one of the hired hands hasn’t turned in and I’m supposed to be going away for the weekend. You want to ask me anything, come back on Monday morning.”
“Very well,” she replied huffily. “Can you tell me where I might find Gerard Vaughan?”
“Face down in the canal with any luck.” Joe pushed a beaker of tea across to his customer. “Try his office at nine o’clock. It’s on the fifth floor.” Using his pen as a pointer, Joe gestured upwards, then scrawled out the drayman’s order for a full English breakfast and took the money. “What makes you think I care where Vaughan is?”
“You’re the one who accuses him of burning down your old place.”
“I do,” Joe agreed handing over change. “But he’s warned me to shut up or he’ll sue.” He raised his eyebrows at the next drayman, and took an order for two bacon sandwiches.
“That’s why I need to talk to you.”
“You’re his lawyer?” Joe passed the order through and poured tea.
“No. I’m Denise Latham. An insurance investigator. And I need to talk to you about your old place burning down.”
Cheryl shuffled past Joe. “Pauline’s on her way, Uncle Joe. She’ll be here in ten minutes. She says her alarm didn’t go off.”
Taking his customer’s money, Joe gave change, poured out a fresh beaker of tea and passed it to Denise Latham. “Find a table, drink your free tea, and when Pauline gets here, I’ll speak to you. But I’m warning you, I can only give you a quarter of an hour.”
The release of A Theatrical Murder (STAC Mystery #13) was announced just a few days ago, and the piece was available to pre-order on Amazon within a few hours.
And as usual, I take no credit for the popularity of Joe and Co. It’s all down to the fiercely loyal, band of readers, and to all of them, I say, “thank you.”
We’ll have an excerpt from A Theatrical Murder here either tomorrow or Monday, so keep your eyes open for the announcement.
A good two months behind schedule thanks largely to the devastating illness which hit me over the New Year, A Theatrical Murder will be released on March 31st, with the usual furore and party on Facebook.
Everyone and anyone is invited to the party. All you gotta do is go over there and click on “join”.
Illness wasn’t the only reason for the delay. Prior to Christmas, I had a special birthday to organise for my wife, which took up a lot of my time.
But there was another reason.
You’ll often hear writers talk about the way the characters take over. That is exactly what happened with A Theatrical Murder. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and then suddenly one of the characters would demand a different direction, so I had to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Almost finished with it as the New Year approached, and another character turned up, tapped me on the shoulder and demanded a part in it. Not only demanded a part but a major part.
I’ve had these buggers do this to me before, but it’s never been as bad as this.
Still, it’s done, it’s ready for launching onto an unsuspecting public, and I hope you enjoy.
The bags are packed, the dog’s in boarding kennels, and we’re off to the Canary Islands for a bit of sun, sand and s… yes well, never mind.
By this time tomorrow, while you’re all shivering in your overcoats, we’ll be arriving in Arrecife, stepping off our Boeing 7-summat-7 and stripping down to the shorts and tees for a week of subtropical sun and ultra-violet. Lanzagrotty, here we come.
However, just because we’re a coupla thousand miles away, I wouldn’t want you to think I’m forgetting you. As I raise the occasional cerveza to quench my thirst, I shall think of you struggling through the forthcoming ice, snow, fog and rain.
And it’s not as if I’m leaving everyone totally bereft. Followers and avid readers of the STAC Mysteries will be pleased to learn that STAC Mystery #13, A Theatrical Murder, has gone off to the editor and by the time I get back from Lanzarote, it should be back with me, hopefully carry a clean bill of health and a seal of approval which means it can be passed to Crooked Cat.
In the meantime, I may find the odd moment to potter with #14, working title, A Healthier Murder. The culprit in that title is so secret even I don’t know who it is yet. But I can tell you it’s set in Cyprus.
Right, enough waffle. I’m packing me bucket and spade and off to Lanzarote and I’ll see you all in a week and a bit.
Thirteen is supposed to be unlucky, isn’t it? Well, that’s certainly the case when it comes to STAC Mystery #13. I have never had so many problems with a title.
It was due at the publisher (Crooked Cat) before Christmas for release in the New Year. But when I read through it in December, it reminded me of a car that wasn’t running quite right. It needed a fix and I couldn’t see where. Then, right at the death of the year, it occurred to and I set to work putting it right.
Everyone knows what followed next. I was floored by a combination of flu and pneumonia. That took out virtually the whole of January, but even so I continued to work on A Theatrical Murder, as far as my woolly mind would permit, and suddenly, it was finished. All it needed was another read through and it could go to editor, Maureen Vincent-Northam. I even emailed Maureen to advise her it was on its way.
That was on February 4th. On February 7th, I emailed her again to tell her what I had was a Grade I load of rubbish. There were huge chunks missing from it and other passages which made little or no sense. It was symptomatic of my addled brain during those weeks when I was really ill, and there was no way I could inflict it upon editors, publishers and especially readers in that state. So I went back to the drawing board.
At its core is a good tale, and it’s one which I hope will keep you guessing. It doesn’t need a complete rewrite, but it needs quite a bit of work, and I have abandoned everything else in an effort to get this done.
I can only apologise to those readers waiting for this title. It will be with you, and soon. So keep the faith and it will be with you ASAP.
It’s coming up to six weeks since I stopped smoking, and I had the idea that this was a turning point for me. Only good things would happen now that I’m free of the evil weed. In truth, it’s probably been the worst six weeks of my life.
The original illness which prompted me to stop smoking lingers on. I’m still coughing up crap and suffering the occasional chest pains. So I was back at the doc’s this morning and he’s put me on another course of antibiotics in an effort to clear out the remaining infection.
I walk with a stick. Have done for nearly twenty years. My old walking stick, a fold up job I got from TJ Hughes for a fiver, was getting a bit past it, so I bought a new one on Saturday, and again it cost me a fiver. The previous one lasted a good ten years. The replacement fell apart this morning, only three days after I bought it, and naturally, I didn’t buy it local. By the time I’ve done with petrol and parking charges, it’ll cost me the same five quid to go back for an exchange. Fortunately, I have a spare, and fine wooden stick which cost me a tenner fifteen years ago.
So by the time I got home this morning, I thought I’d suffered enough, but not so. Last Wednesday, I had to go to Leeds for the funeral of a favourite old uncle. I’d only gone a mile when I had my photograph taken. I learned of it this morning when the postman dropped the speeding ticket off.
They say bad luck, like its more beneficial counterpart, comes in threes. Have I had my three now?
And take note, all this has happened since I stopped smoking. It may be time to pick up the weed again.
Even the missus can’t believe it. I’ve not touched a cigarette for four weeks and whatever the worst of the withdrawal symptoms may be, I’m through them.
On other fronts, however, there are those moments when I think, “I’d love a cigarette,” but they’re few and far between and I don’t succumb to them. It’s surprising, mind you, what prompts them.
Inspector George Gently is one spark. It’s set in the 60s, and everyone smoked then, so the characters smoke, too. I also watched the whole of the BBC’s definitive Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on DVD. The original aired in 1979, and again almost every character smoked. Not only that, but they freely smoked during meetings, in their various offices as well as pubs and restaurants. Aside from demonstrating the difference 35 years has made to social attitudes, it made me want a cigarette.
That comment on social attitudes, by the way, is neither for nor agin. When I was smoker I never gave much of a stuff what others thought of me or smoking, and now that I’m a non-smoker, I give even less of a stuff.
So twenty-eight days down the line how do I feel?
I was too ill to assess the changes for most of January. Even now, I’m only just over the lurgy, but I have to admit, I breathe a little easier. Who wouldn’t after doing forty a day for half a century?
My doctor tells me I should have more energy now that I’ve stopped. Well, if I have, I can’t find it, but that again may be a factor of the flu/pneumonia which made me a non-smoker in the first place.
As I’ve begun to feel better, A Theatrical Murder, the thirteenth STAC Mystery, has moved on and is closer to completion, something I’m sure my publisher, Crooked Cat, will be delighted to learn.
I’m just as bored as I was when I smoked, only now I don’t have cigarettes to relieve that boredom. Not that they relieved it anyway, but it feels like they did. This brings home the reality that the boredom probably has more to do with the ferocious weather, keeping us indoors, and the appalling state of British TV, which has long forgotten the meaning of entertainment, preferring instead to put out never-ending, cheap and nasty crap. It’s that same rubbish which prompted us to watch our DVD collections of Inspector George Gently and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
I’m no more nor less snappy now than when I was a smoker. The theory that smoking somehow helps calm your temper obviously doesn’t apply to me. I have no less patience for idiots, politicians, religious tub-thumpers and salespeople now than I had last month.
And finally, a comment on the money I’m saving. I’m not. Her Indoors has managed to commandeer most of it on for items of clothing which she’s unlikely ever to wear because I never take her anywhere.
In conclusion, I can’t say that matters have improved since I quit, but they haven’t deteriorated either, and on that basis, I won’t go back to smoking.
I am no longer a trainee ex-smoker, I am an ex-smoker.
Twenty-five days old, the New Year isn’t so new anymore, and STAC Mystery #13 is almost a month overdue.
Regular readers/followers will know why. I began the year seriously ill, and even though I’m over the worst, I’m still light-headed and lacking in energy. All I really want to do is sleep. It’s allegedly the best remedy anyway.
The annoying thing is, A Theatrical Murder needed only another few thousand words to complete it. But, there you go. Sod’s law. Like buses, you can wait weeks for those few thousand words to show up, and then they all arrive at once… well, I’m hoping they will.
In between sleeping, I’ve made a start on those final words, and with luck and a following wind the complete thing should be off to editor, Maureen Vincent-Northam by the end of the week.
In the meantime, here’s a taster from the tale.
The taller of the pair, dressed in an old-fashioned trenchcoat, was haranguing the other. “Dempster, you couldn’t direct traffic along a one-way street let alone put on a production of any serious intent.”
Dempster, wearing what appeared to be a dark blue, patterned kimono beneath his quilted anorak, laughed harshly. “You’re a fine one to talk, Sedgwick. What was it the Doncaster Post said about your Hamlet? More of a tour de farce than tour de force. Now, I was here first, so go spread your comic cuts elsewhere.”
“Comic cuts? How dare you?” Sedgwick’s colour rose in direct proportion to his temper. “I take on only the most daunting of projects. I don’t idle away my time playing a clown for the benefit of children and late night viewers on Channel Four.”
Dempster laughed again. “Listen to yourself, you pompous, arrogant, ham. You know, Sedgwick, you’d do well in Aladdin. Playing a horse’s arse would come quite naturally to you.”
That was the tipping point for Sedgwick. Discarding his leaflets, he launched himself at Dempster, who dropped his leaflets and prepared to defend himself. Before anyone could stop them, they were rolling and grappling on the wet ground, and Joe was struck by the absurdity of the Jolly Fisherman who now appeared to be laughing at their childish behaviour.
Several men from the crowd intervened and pulled them apart. Joe, Sheila and Brenda, meantime, collected the leaflets together.
“I’m afraid they got mixed up,” Sheila said to Dempster.
“Thanks, missus.” The actor took a bundle from her. He selected a leaflet for Hamlet and tossed it to the ground. “I’d rent a dormitory on Ben Nevis before I’d publicise your farce, Sedgwick.”
Several yards away where Joe and Brenda had passed over a handful of leaflets, the equally enraged Sedgwick, held up a flyer for Aladdin at the Bijou, Mablethorpe. Holding it up for everyone to see, he tore it in half and threw it away. “Your aficionados might just as well throw their cash into a coke oven, you ham.”
Sedgwick meandered off in the direction of the Rep, Dempster in the opposite direction, and the crowd began to disperse, going about their business melding into the cold and rain.
“Actors. Who’d have ’em,” Joe grumbled.
“What do you mean?” Brenda asked.
“If you’re gonna trade insults, just trade insults. Dormitories on Ben Nevis, throwing cash in coke ovens. Airy-fairy, arty-farty nonsense.”
As the crowd thinned even further, they crossed the street making for the town centre.
“Sedgwick is the director of tonight’s play, isn’t he?” Brenda asked.
“And the star,” Sheila replied. “And I’m really not looking forward to it, now.”
2015 is almost three weeks old and I still haven’t shaken off this illness which hit me on January 1st. We know what it is… or what it was. Flu, which couldn’t get a proper hold because I’d had a jab, but which managed to floor me, and opened the door to a touch of pneumonia, which also couldn’t get a proper hold because I’ve had a jab.
I’m now near to finishing the third course of antibiotics, and the infection is all but cleared, but I’m left drained. I have no energy and a mind as fuzzy as cotton wool.
As if this is not bad enough, I had to take Her Indoors to the emergency dentist yesterday. Abscess on a tooth. Normally, I’d have moaned at her for being so soft, but the pain reduced her to tears late on Saturday night, and say what you like about her, she’s a tough old bird. It had to be bad to do that.
Now she’s on the same antibiotics as me, only for a different purpose. I reckon we must be due for a bonus off the company that makes ’em.
With both of us ill, that really does make it the worst start to the New Year in history, and just to depress us further, I’m 65 tomorrow. How can things get any worse?
The one pinpoint of light in this black hole of unassailable gloom and doom is tobacco… or rather, my lack of same.
I smoked my last cigarette on January 3rd. I have now gone sixteen days without a smoke and as far as I’m concerned, that’s good for the rest of my life.
Trouble is, I’m so ill, I’m not getting any of the benefits yet.