R is for Robinson

There are a lot of us about, but the particular Robinson I’m concentrating on is Peter Robinson, creator of DCI Banks.

It’s surprising how many similarities there are between us. I was born in January 1950 in Holbeck, Leeds. He was born two months later in Armley, about a mile up the road from me. He went on to study at the university of York and Leeds and I went on to study at the Gas Board and the Bookies. Peter emigrated to Canada in 1974, presumably for a better life, and not long after that I emigrated to Manchester to put some distance between me and the first wife.

And of course, we both write crime fiction.

This is where you might spot a slight disparity. He created the incredibly successful Alan Banks, I created the mildly popular Joe Murray. His books are runaway bestsellers, mine are stable sellers in an overcrowded market. His characters are on TV, mine are on the computer.

Am I envious?

To be truthful, no. In fact I will raise a glass to the success of a fellow Leodensian (it means someone from Leeds) and when it comes to Banks, I enjoy the books more than the TV series.

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The STAC Mysteries bear little resemblance to the murky world of DCI Banks, a world I could never recreate even if I wanted to. I may like reading Banks but I wouldn’t want to write one. The research alone would put me off for life.

And as for the disparity in our lives, well no one is to blame for that, but me. At about the time Peter Banks was contemplating further education, I was discovering the joys of girls and Tetley Bitter, a fine ale from Leeds, and for both I needed to be earning not learning.

***

Friend and fellow Crooked Cat author Miriam Drori is running an unusual blog for her A-Z Challenge by asking writers about others who share at least an initial letter, and the links between the two. Peter Robinson is my contribution to her blog which you can find at http://miriamdrori.com/

Q is for Que

It’s Spanish for “What?”

The British attitude towards learning foreign languages is, frankly, appalling. Harking back to the days of empire, we arrogantly assume that everyone in the world should speak English, but we don’t have to worry about learning their language(s).

I’m not much better. I speak a little French, a tiny bit of German and some Spanish, but it’s barely enough to say “hello” and order food and drink. Even then, I prefer a menu so I can point out what I want.

My wife is even worse. Her French amounts to “thank you”, usually pronounced “mercy bow coo” and her Spanish is limited to “grassy arse.

And yet, we enjoy travelling all over Europe, especially the sunny Spanish resorts. We’re off again in a couple of weeks going back to Benidorm. It’ll be a week of roaring drunkenness and debauchery. I’ve tried telling the missus to behave herself, but I might as well talk to the dog.

We’ve been together almost 35 years (the wife and I, not me and the dog) and our last trip to Benidorm demonstrated just how much Her Indoors knows about me. She was astonished that I could order tea and toast in Spanish. I had no choice. The poor girl serving us didn’t speak a word of English.

Contrast our haphazard approach with that of my good friend Lorraine Mace (aka Frances di Plino). Lorraine admits to being a gypsy having lived in many parts of the world before settling first in France and now in Spain. I know for a fact that she speaks excellent French and I’m certain she is now learning to speak excellent Spanish. If we lived in Spain, the locals would have to get used to Pidgin Spanish spoken with a broad Yorkshire or Lancashire accent.

And now for the inevitable plug. Considering our travels to the Canary Islands, the Balearics, and mainland Spain, it was only natural to send Joe and Co from the Sanford 3rd Age Club to one of these resorts. It’s entitled Costa del Murder, and it’s a fun read. More importantly,it demonstrates that even Joe speaks better Spanish than me, for which I thank several people, including the Inestimable Nik Morton, for their help.

P is for Paranormal

For the second time in this year’s Blogging from A-Z Challenge, the post is a day late. Domestic matters got in the way yesterday. Q is for Que will follow this afternoon to get me back on schedule.

I have a new series which debuts on June 10th when Crooked Cat Books will release the first Spookies Mysteries, The Haunting of Melmerby Manor.

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First released in the United States in 2007, it has been re-edited, and prepped for re-release on a worldwide audience, but this time it’s with a series in mind.

Essentially, the Spookies Mysteries are whodunits, with a paranormal twist. Team leader is the Lady Concepta Rand-Epping, Countess of Marston, ably assisted by her faithful butler, Albert Fishwick.

Like many British aristocrats, Sceptre, as she is known to her friends, has fallen on hard times. The last of the Rand-Eppings, there is little left of the family fortune, and she earns her living teaching history at Ashdale Technical College. And she is a paranormal investigator.

It doesn’t end there, because she has two other helpers: the sceptical Pete Brennan, a disgraced ex-cop who is tougher than your average block of reinforced concrete, and who helps keep s Sceptre’s feet firmly in this world, and wheeler-dealer, super-salesman and not-so sceptical Kevin Keeley, an electronics wizard and a man who can talk himself into the most dodgy situations and usually needs either Pete or Sceptre or both to get him out of them.

Oh, and did I mention that Fishwick was killed on the first day of the Somme in 1916? Yes, Fishwick is a ghost. Channelling only through Sceptre, he helps out with investigations, both real and ethereal, from the Spirit Plane.

The content is a little stronger than the STAC Mysteries. There’s a little more violence, and while there is no graphic sex, there’s more than a modicum of innuendo. They’re also longer than the STAC Mysteries. Each will run to 80,000-90,000 words. Second and third titles in the series are already in production.

To whet your appetite, here’s a little snippet from The Haunting of Melmerby Manor.

Investigating strange goings on at Melmerby Manor, the team are settled in the cafeteria when Sceptre declares it’s time to take a second tour of the house. As they set out, she hears a noise.

***

With the total blackness of a foggy night on the outside and the meagre lighting on the inside, the hall had taken on a new, more sinister aura. Faces on portraits lining the grand staircase had developed a Baskervillian air, as if they were ready to leap from their frames and tear out the living hearts of anyone foolhardy enough to pass. At the top of the curving staircase, distant lamps cast elongated shadows of banister rails, like the grotesque bars of a supernatural prison that held unspeakable horrors for the unwary inmate. Silence hung in the tense air: a spine-chilling stillness, broken only by the cry of the moorland wind and the sound of whalesong from Kevin’s CD player.

Then, into the night came a distant bump that might have been a rumble of thunder or the movement of furniture closer to home.

Pete strained his ears. “Will you shut that row up?”

“I haven’t said anything,” Kevin protested.

“Not you; that crap on your CD player.”

The immensity of the entrance hall, its age, grandeur and dark corners (particularly its dark corners) gave Kevin the jitters. Glad to be out of it, he hurried back into the cafeteria, and made for the CD player. He was halfway there when the machine ejected the CD and threw it across the room at him like a razor-edged discus, its polished surface glittering in the half-light of the room.

“Aargh!”

“Now what?” asked Pete as he and Sceptre hurried back in.

They found Kevin cowering near the cash register at the end of the service counter.

“What’s up?” asked Sceptre.

“Th-the C-C-CD. It came out of the machine and nearly cut my head off.”

Pete picked up the disc. “Well you always said that machine was a bit iffy.”

“I was nowhere near it,” Kevin cried. “It was as if someone picked it up and threw it at me like a Frisbee.”

Sceptre was delighted. “Sir Henry! The poltergeist!”

***

Is it Sir Henry? Is it merely their imagination? You’ll have to wait until June 10th to find out. In the meantime, there’s a Facebook launch event already set up, and you’re welcome to come along.

O is for Oh What Joy

With the untimely passing of Sue Townsend on April 10th, I’ve spent my free time over the last week re-reading The Secret diary of Adrian Mole and The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole and both books are sheer delight.

I’m blessed with an excellent memory, and some of young Mole’s attitudes and conclusions strike a resounding chord with me. I cringe when I recall those same attitudes, those same naïve assumptions in my younger self. And yet, Ms Townsend imbued them with a wit that was neither demonising, patronising nor cringeworthy.

I write humour (sometimes). My comedy is observational: the world viewed through the sour and absurd eye of a grumpy third-ager, but I can’t compete with the likes of “I’ve never seen a dead body or a real female nipple. This is what comes of living in a cul-de-sac.”

On her passing last week my old mate Trevor Belshaw, who produced the gloriously funny Tracy’s Hot Mail, said without Mole there would have been no Bridget Jones and no Tracy.

Your work, Ms Townsend was a positive joy to read, and wherever you are, I hope you still have them rolling in the aisles with laughter.

N is for a New Direction

A day or two back, I put up a post proselytising in favour of my publisher, Crooked Cat Books. I don’t apologise for that. But I was surprised by the post’s popularity.

This blog has been running for just over three years. It’s never been mega-popular, and if there was ever a theme to it, it was to promote my written work. But a quick skim through the site stats tell me that click-throughs to Crooked Cat are the third most popular after Amazon UK and Facebook.

This, in turn, indicates that there are an awful lot of wannabes out there, looking for a home for their work.

There’s nothing new about this. It’s not linked to the e-book explosion of the last few years. There have always been more writers/novelists than there are publishers willing to give a home to their work. Just ask any of the big six about the size of their slush pile. I remember meeting with a commissioning editor at a major UK TV company in 1996, and his office floor was littered with scripts all stacked six high. Every man and his wife has always wanted to be a writer.

And as if to reinforce this, the most popular post on this blog (after the home page, which is the landing page anyway) is one entitled “Rules for Writing Whodunits” which first appeared in February 2012. It’s taken 8 hits this week.

It all points in one direction; a new direction. We’re slightly over midway through the Blogging from A-Z Challenge and I won’t change my current plans, but once we get into May, and I’m back from my next Spanish jaunt, this blog will concentrate on the art or craft of writing, publishing, self-publishing, and so on.

Am I qualified to give such advice? Maybe, maybe not. I can tell you what I do, and it’s worked for me. I’m not a household name, but my books do move in substantial numbers. That’s not to say my methods will work for you, but you may pick up some worthwhile tips and wrinkles.

So stick around for the new direction, coming to this blog soon.

M is for Motors

Today’s post is a little self-indulgent. I bought a new (used) car.

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I owned a Ford Ka from about 2008/9 onwards. Brilliant little motor. Economical to run, parts were easily obtained and it was utterly reliable.

Last August it failed the MOT. The underside was badly corroded. I blamed myself. Dave, the lad who does my maintenance, had been pestering me to have it undersealed and I kept putting it off. Trouble is I live 1,000 feet above sea level and the heavy snow of three bad winters in succession took its toll.

It wasn’t a major problem. A couple of hundred quid’s worth of welding would have seen it right and back on the road. At the same time, however, Dave mentioned a slight leak on the powers steering. Nothing to worry about.

Two days later, the power steering went completely and it needed a new rack. Even second hand they were coming in at £200 and then there was the cost of fitting. What with the welding on the underside, I was looking at a bill of about £600, and this was on car worth no more than £800. So I scrapped it and bought a Kia Rio from another mate.

That lasted less than eight weeks. A problem in the gearbox took it off the road (where it still remains). I got my money back and we decided we would try do without a car. Both the missus and I are retired, we have senior’s bus passes. It couldn’t be too big an issue, could it?

Well it was. The bus company had abolished free travel until after 9:30 in the morning, which meant paying the full fare of £3.10 when I had early doctor’s appointments. Where they get the brass balls to charge over three pounds for a three mile journey, I do not know, but that’s probably indicative of the years I’ve spent not using public transport.

At the same time, they allegedly carried out a survey of passengers in an effort to improve service, and as a consequence reduced the number of buses running on our local route. Personally, I’d love to meet the dipsticks who voted for this absurd idea, and without being cynical (not much) it can be seen as a cost-cutting exercise. It calls to mind the statement of a bus driver of my acquaintance who once told me the job would be “all right if we didn’t have to deal with the passengers,” an idea so profound that I felt it should be extended to other areas, like the NHS, where the biggest problem is not funding, but all these sick people (like me) making demands upon it.

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All up then, by last weekend, I’d had enough of public transport and I bought another Ford Ka. It’s in better fettle than the last one, but sounds just as sweet. Climbing into it yesterday was just like coming home.

We’re mobile again.

L is for Little Library

 

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And the books are all by one author: me.

Before 2012 I spent a couple of years self-publishing. I don’t claim my books were potential mega-sellers, but I don’t believe they should have been lumped with the large quantity of dross which is out there. They are simply workmanlike novels which, because of the way system worked, never made it through the doors of the large publishing houses.

Early in 2012, when many people including writers published by the big six, were turning to self-publishing, I moved the other way and signed on with a small, independent press, Crooked Cat Publishing.

It turned out to one of the best moves I’ve ever made. It helped establish the popularity of the STAC Mysteries, the set of books I’m seen posing behind like a market trader.

Why did I make that choice? Well everyone think that when you’re self-publishing, all you do is type it out, drop it onto Amazon or Smashwords, and Bob’s your auntie’s other half. Not so. Certainly not so when you’re working on a series. Every time you produce a new book, you spend time going through all the others an updating the links/publishing history. I’m currently working on STAC #12. If had to self-publish, I would need to update all the information in the other eleven to include the new title. With that done, I would then have to upload not only the new book, but the other eleven too. It’s process which can take anything up to a few days.

Crooked Cat deal with all that on my behalf. All I have to do is keep on writing.

Crooked Cat also offer paperbacks. Now I did produce paperbacks, using first Lulu and later, Createspace, and it’s an even bigger pain in the posterior than formatting e-books. But the Cat offers better distribution for its hard copy than I could. My books can now be ordered in any bookshop in the world (theoretically) simply by entering the ISBN. Was that the case when I self-published? I don’t know because I never got that deeply into it because the T’s and C’s were so convoluted that I could never work out how much I would be working for, and it was simply not worth the hassle.

In short, Crooked Cat work to a quality threshold I could never have matched without spending weeks and weeks on each book, and frankly, I’d rather be writing.

Since signing up with them, the STAC Mysteries have grown to eleven books and they’ve also put out three more of my titles, all hard-bitten thrillers. As if that’s not enough, Spookies, a new series of supernatural whodunits, will debut on June 10th.

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And of all these titles, only about four are republished from my SP list. The remainder have all been written for Crooked Cat.

So why am I telling you all about my publisher?

Obviously, I’m not the only author. From historical romance, to fantasy, gritty crime thrillers to modern espionage, roms-coms to 21st century observational humour, they have some wonderful writers on the books.

And they’re open to submissions again later this month.

It’s a narrow window from April 25th to April 27th. That is just three days. They’re choosy. Your work will have to match the best if you’re to stand a chance. But if you think you have the m/s they’re looking for, then go to http://crookedcatpublishing.com/submissions/ where you’ll find the guidelines for submission.

And good luck. I hope to meet you soon as a new Crooked Cat author.

K is for Kilos: Fifteen of Them

We’re going away (again) three weeks today. The airline has graciously allowed us fifteen kilos of hold baggage. More than enough, you’d think. I meanersay what do you need for a week in Benidorm. One pair shorts, one pair swimming shorts, one towel, one pair sandals, two shirts (to allow for spillage) and two pair of underpants (to allow for other exigencies). Anything and everything else, I’ll be wearing when I set off.

That, however, doesn’t take account of Her Indoors, which is why we have to begin packing today, three weeks before we go. By the time we’ve done arguing about what she can and cannot take and what she should and should not take, we usually lock the cases up the night before departure.

Why do we need two bars of soap? What use is toothpaste and dental floss when most of your teeth are plastic? Her makeup bag alone weighs a couple of kilos, and I know for a fact that she doesn’t need half a dozen pairs of shoes. She’s taken them before and never worn most of them. Instead, she usually buys more.

When we flew to the Canary Islands in January, I got the underwear ready, she ordered, and she neatly packed them… back in the drawer. I ended up in Playa del Ingles with underpants two thousand miles away, and we spent half the week buying new.

Where most people will take a couple of tops with them, and rinse them through so they can be worn again, Her Indoors packs nine or ten (to allow for spillages, etc.) I told her not to worry about underwear. I’ll rinse those through and let them dry on the balcony, but she said, “No way.” Apparently the sight of Flatcap’s Y-front hanging over the balcony would be enough to create a diplomatic incident.

It’s the same wherever and whenever we go. The first pass (today) we end up with case weighing around 10 kilos each. Between now and the end of the month, she’ll sneak odd bits and piece in until we need a weighbridge to check them, and a couple of days before we go, there will be a steaming row and I’ll throw everything out and start again.

And all this is for a week of peaceful relaxation.

J is for Joe

There are two Joes in my life and both can get out of control if I don’t watch them.

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The first is the real live Joe. A Jack Russell terrier (with a bit of bulldog in him) we found him at a rescue centre three years ago. We had just lost Max, our beloved West Highland White, we were distraught and there was Joe, wagging his tail in need of a home so we took him on.

He was very ill when we first brought him home. He’d been found wandering the streets and suffering from pneumonia. Lots of visits to the vets and a bill larger than the cost of some of the cars I’ve bought, and suddenly he was in perfect health.

Like most Jacks, he is a bundle of energy and fire. He’s a grumpy sod first thing in a morning, but he is afraid of nothing. He’d tackle German Sheps, Rotties, even horses if we let him, but we have him under strict control at all times and he is never allowed out into the street other than on his leash. He’s also as thick as a plank. He still hasn’t twigged that the birds feeding in the back garden will be on the roof long before he can get to them.

Where people are concerned, he barks a lot, but it’s not aggression. He simply cannot understand why all these people coming to the door don’t want to play with him.

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The other Joe is Joe Murray, the ubiquitous sleuth at the heart of the STAC Mysteries. (The picture, taken in Brussels, is actually me. I was the cheapest model I could find for Joe.)

The grumpy, outspoken owner of a truckers’ café in the fictitious West Yorkshire town of Sanford, Joe is a brilliant detective. He misses nothing. Unkind souls say that it stems from keeping a close eye on every penny, but in fact, Joe has been a lover of mysteries ever since he was a kid.

When I work on a project, be it a STAC Mystery, a Spookies Mystery or a stand-alone novel, the characters dictate the way the tale will go, so in common with my dog, I have to keep Joe under firm control. If I didn’t, he’d end up on a mafia hit list.

He’s doing all right, mind. With the release of Death in Distribution a few weeks ago, he’s survived eleven STAC Mysteries and the twelfth is currently in production.

If you’re a cosy mystery lover and you’d like to know more, you can find a full list of the titles on the Crooked Cat page, and they are available in all e-formats and as paperbacks.

I is for Introspection

This post is a day late, and J is for Joe will appear later this afternoon.

I’d originally planned I is for Inspiration, but the death of a neighbour yesterday brought me up short.

The lady concerned wasn’t a particular friend. We would stop and chat now and then while walking the dogs, and she and my wife exchanged Christmas cards in a neighbourly fashion. But her passing struck chord with me… or more likely a discord.

She was about the same age as me, and like me she walked with the aid of a stick. I assumed it was arthritis (which is the root cause of my problems) but given her untimely death, I may have been wrong. RIP dear lady.

It brought home to me how fragile life can be, especially when you’re in your sixties. Sure, I plan on living to a ripe old age, but you never know what’s round the corner.

This is nothing new. I went through the same “revelation” when my mother died, again when my father died, and most painfully of all, when my younger brother passed on. But in those instances, I was much younger and not considering my own mortality. This time, logic dictates that I am closer to it.

The message was reinforced this morning with the news that Sue Townsend, creator of Adrian Mole, has also passed away, and she was just four year older than me. RIP. You brought so much pleasure into many lives.

I’ve been in quite an irritable mood lately. Intractable pain and other, distinctly minor health problems have combined with the upheaval caused by builders renewing the bathroom, to kick my usual productivity into low gear. Coupled to poor sales and a few botched DIY jobs which rammed home the message that I am not the man I used to be, it’s dropped me into a downward spiral.

Yesterday’s events prompted a serious rethink. Time to brighten up. Time to switch the attitude through 180 degrees.

It’s party time… if only because I don’t know how long I have left to party.