Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Interview with an Artist...

Just recently, I had the very great pleasure of spending the day with a long-time friend of mine.  As we were travelling by train to our destination, and a leisurely lunch followed by a play, we discussed a number of issues ranging from art to honesty.  But it was the debate about art that has kept creeping back into my mind.

My friend, who knows I’m writing this post but wishes to remain anonymous, so we’ll call her C for ease of reference, is an artist.  She produces lovely scenic views in watercolour but also likes to work with acrillic paints.  I happen to be the very proud owner of one of her watercolours of a village in France and it hangs in my lounge.

But – the conversation! It has stayed with me because I have realised that her talent for drawing and painting is not so very different from my own capability to spin words.  You see, we’d got to the nitty gritty of how she put what she could see in front of her onto a piece of paper.  ‘There’s a spontaneity about watercolour,’ she said. ‘You have to work quite fast.’  And later she said, ‘Washes are good for sky and the changes in the density of the colour can suggest the clouds, for instance.’

As the discussion progressed I was reminded of a time some years ago when we sat in balcony area of The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond and I made a comment about how to reproduce on paper the people opposite. ‘I would look at the light and the dark,’ she said.  ‘And the shades in between.’  On the train, she talked about recreating the colours on the paper which helped her to suggest shadow and light, depth and detail.

She then looked out of the train window at the houses we were passing and talked about finding a small detail of particular interest, an arrangement of brickwork, a lintel across a window or door, perhaps a fracture in the stone, anything of interest.  ‘I focus on that and draw it,’ she said.  ‘Once I’ve got that small detail I can add in the surrounding features and expand the picture.’

It was at this point I realised that, although C is a gifted artist and I’m only a spinner of words, we are not so very different after all.  As a reader, I never look at blurbs on the backs of books to help me decide if I want to read them.  I always turn to the first page and start reading and if I can’t see the colours in the writing after the first couple of paragraphs, the book goes back on the shelf.  And it’s the same when I’m sat in front of my computer screen.  If I can’t see the scene in my mind’s eye in full and glorious technicolour, then the words won’t be there.

I guess C and I just use our ability to see colour in different ways.  I did suggest to C that she become one of my interviewees for this blog – but she said no.  Asked would she consider making some of her pictures available for my blog.  And you guessed it, she said no.  So, to illustrate this particular post, I’m afraid you will have to put up with a couple of pieces of art that hang on my walls.  I hope yoiu like them.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Introducing Merle, the next Jacques Forêt mystery story...

... Over the last 18 months or so I’ve been busily writing book 2 in my Jacques Forêt series of stories.  The book is complete and is in the final stages of editing and I thought you might want to know a little more about it.

The old town of Mende
Merle, like its predecessor, Messandrierre, is set in the Cévennes in the south of France.  The title of this story is a real French word, unlike Messandrierre, which is a corruption of the name of a real place.  It means blackbird, but it is also used as a girl’s Christian name and as a surname. Capitaine Mathieu Merle, being one famous, or perhaps more accurately, infamous holder of the surname.  Mathieu Merle (1548-1587) was a Huguenot captain who was feared during the religious wars in France.  But he spent some time in Mende, the préfecture city of the département of Lozère.  A city that features in this story and where my fictitious suburb of Merle is located.

In Messandrierre, the story followed Jacques as he unravelled a police investigation into the mysterious disappearances of travellers to the tiny village of Messandrierre.  At the end of that story, Jacques had a decision to make and his love interest, Beth Samuels, had some serious thinking of her own to do.

Merle begins a few months after the end of the first book and...

Jacques Forêt, a former gendarme turned investigator, delves into the murky world of commercial sabotage – a place where people lie and misrepresent, and where information is traded and used as a threat.

The Vaux organisation is losing contracts and money, and Jacques is asked to undertake an internal investigation. As he works through the complexity of all the evidence, he finds more than he bargained for, and his own life is threatened.

When a body of a woman is found, it appears to be suicide. But as the investigation takes another turn, Jacques suspects there is more to it. 

Who is behind it all…and why? Will Jacques find the answer before another person ends up dead?


And here is a little taster from the very beginning of the story.


la fête des morts

   It was the tightly scrunched ball of paper that captured the attention of Magistrate Bruno Pelletier. His trained eyes swept around the room, only glancing at the naked body in the bath, and came to rest once more on the small, ivory-white mass, challenging and silent against the solid plain porcelain of the tiles. He stepped over the large pool of dried blood, iron red against the white of the floor, and, with gloved hands, he retrieved the object. Carefully prising the paper back into its customary rectangular shape, he stared at the contents and frowned as he read and re-read the single six-word sentence printed there.
    “Je sais ce que tu fais”
    After a moment, he dropped it into an evidence bag being held open for him by the pathologist.
    all hallows’ eve, 2009

Merle is published on July 5th and is available for pre-order  Merle

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Please welcome friend and author…

… Joanne Mallory.  Great to see you Joanne and thanks for finding time in your busy schedule to be here.

JM  Many thanks to you for inviting me over.
AW  I’m intrigued, Joanne.  You’ve got a new book coming out soon.  What’s that all about?
JM   I’d like to chat with you today about writerly things…
AW  OK.  You’ve got my attention!
JM   I’m a fiction writer – a romance, fiction writer no less.   Now this has been known (from time to time) to give a writer a bad name.  You see romance writers tend to get labelled for writing fluffy, chic lit, formula fiction or, my personal favourite; bodice rippers, and we get, well, written off, as not being able to do anything else.  Which kind’a narks me, because writing is hard, in all it’s forms, and all its genres.  I recently read a post (on Instagram) that said “Non-fiction writers have it easy…”
And I just want to clear up a myth here; No writer has it easy.  We just write what works best for us, as best we can.
AW  I couldn’t agree more!  I’ve tried writing romance myself and I found it especially difficult, for many different reasons, so I turned to crime, my current genre of novels.
JM   I write romance because I love the happy ending, life is confusing and sometimes cruel, hence I like my fiction to be of the warm and fuzzy kind – sue me.
But I’ve taken on a non-fiction project this year, I mentioned to my publisher that I could put lots of marketing tips in one place, and design the book around ‘cheap as possible ways to help writers organically grow their audience.’
And let me tell you, it was TOUGH.  I’m used to being able to switch up the plot and lead my heroine on a merry dance, but non-fiction is a whole different animal.  I checked and double checked my facts, putting as much information down on the page as possible, covering as many platforms as I could, and do you know what I was left with?
AW  I can guess, but tell me anyway.
JM  A dry text -- dry like the Sahara, with reams and reams of instructive, yawn inducing information. Now, stay with me here, because I’m going to tell you how I made it better in the hope that you might like to buy a copy…
AW  OK, let us in on the secret then…
JM  Saving this book-baby was going to take more than a little jiggery-pokery – It needed a full-on Frankenstein!   So, I went back to methods I hadn’t used since Uni; I printed the whole lot off, took a black Sharpie and a red pen and attacked it.
The manuscript looked like the remains of a horror victim by the time I’d finished with it.  All that was left was a few chapter headings and some ideas, and thus started the beginning of what is now the finished project.  It took lots (and lots) of runs to get the content to a place where the text, (hopefully) has a humorous tone, so that the reader (hopefully) feels like they are having a personal chat about their on-line self, and how they can make it work better for them.
I wrote Building An Author Platform and filled it with all the simple things I wished I’d have known when I first started, it would have saved me so much time.
AW  Thinking back to my first book… the number of times I said to myself, ‘I wish I had known that sooner’… So, I get that!  And what’s happening next?
JM  If you’re interested in finding out more, I’m having an on-line launch on Facebook on the 19th of
May, where I’ll be giving lots of tips and tricks on author marketing. Just click Joanne's Launch Event  to 
come along.

AW  Thanks Joanne, I will be at the theatre on the 19th, but I will certainly drop in at some point during the day.  I hope it goes well and thanks for being here today.

Joanne’s book Building an Author Platform is available for pre-order on Amazon.
myBook.to/Buildingmallory

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Edinburgh, Robert Louis Stevenson and Me...

... Last weekend I was in Edinburgh for the Crime Writers' Association Conference - and what a fantastic event that was too!

Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities and whilst I was there I could not help but take advantage of any spare time to go and visit the Writers Museum which is located in a small secluded close just off the Royal Mile.  Lady Stair's House, as the museum is known, is worth a look before you go in.  The small door, the round turret above that houses the spiral staircase, the blonde stone of the lintels and windows against the darker and more varied  stone of the walls.  It's an  amazing piece of 17th century architecture.

Built in 1622 for Sir William Gray of Pittendrum it was a family home for many generations.  Lady Stair, Elizabeth Dundas, was the grand daughter of Sir William Gray, who married John Dalrymple, the first Earl of Stair.  She purchased the house in 1719 and lived there all her life.  By the end of the 19th century, the house had fallen into disrepair and was due for demolition.  However, the Earl of Rosebery, a descendant of the Lady Stair's first husband, bought the property, restored, renovated and gifted it to the city in 1907.  It first opened as a museum in 1913 and became the Writers' Museum in the 1960's.

Some of my Stevenson
The Writers celebrated by the museum are Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.  As much as I like the work of Burns and Scott, it's Stevenson that really brought me to the museum.  The rooms dedicated to Burns are interesting, if you want to see his sword-stick or a plaster cast of his skull. OK.  I'm more interested in the three pictures on the wall on the left as you enter the room.  A small, but colourful, scene from Tam O'Shanter, an engraving that depicts a scene from 'Tea a Moose' (To a Mouse of 'tim'rous beastie' fame) and a coloured engraving entitled 'Death and Dr Hornbeam'.  The rooms dedicated to Burns have equally interesting bits and pieces in them.

Downstairs are the Stevenson rooms.  The toy theatre, similar to one he would have played with as a child immediately captured my attention.  Considering my background in real theatre, I suppose that's not so surprising is it?  But its his wardrobe that is the most fascinating item to me.  It was built by a man called Deacon Brodie (1741-1788), a cabinet-maker, respectable tradesman and city councillor by day and a gambler, womaniser and thief by night.  Following a robbery from the Excise Office and Deacon's double-dealing, his thieving companions turned him in to the authorities.  He was tried and sentenced to hang.  But, Brodie would have no truck with that and he supposedly struck a deal with the hangman, to use a short rope, to leave him hanging for as short a time as possible and, to protect his neck he wore a metal collar under his shirt.  Did he get away or not was the question that seemed to attract everyone else's attention.

Not me!  I was left wondering if, little Robbie, alone in his room in the dark, thought about the maker of that wardrobe and perhaps 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' was born.  But then there's that scene in 'The Master of Ballantrae' where one of the brothers, thought long dead is resurrected from his grave only to apparently die again.  I was intrigued.  But then I remembered something from my own childhood, being awoken and frightened in the middle of the night by the door of my wardrobe
Edinburgh Skyline
suddenly swinging open.  Robbie's wardrobe in the museum was firmly locked.  But, perhaps one dark, damp Edinburgh night it too had swung open and maybe provided the inspiration for the tale 'The Sire Maletroit's Door.'  As I moved round the display cases and looked at the objects, other stories popped into my head - 'The Rajah's Diamond', 'The Wrong box', The Body Snatchers'.  There seemed to me to be something in the items on display that connected with each of these fantastic tales.  
Hmm... I guess I now know what I will be reading over the summer!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

I'm reviewing 'The Snowman'...

... by Jo Nesbo

This in one of the Detective Harry Hole stories and a first for me.  So, as usual, I’m reading the series from the middle rather than from the beginning.

The narrative moves about in time, which I found a little tiresome as I did have to flick back to previous chapters from time to time.  The story begins in November 1980 and specific snippets of information are held in this scene, but their importance does not become apparent until much later in the story.

The plotting is incredible with twists and turns in the police investigation that kept me on the edge of my seat right the way through to the very end of its 550 pages.  However, despite the excellent plotting, I found the pace a bit pedestrian.  Even the chase and the final capture scenes, seemed to me, to be less than break-neck speed.

I liked all of the characters, even the baddy!  They were all very well drawn with their own individual idiosyncrasies, strengths and weaknesses.  It was easy to identify with them and understand their choices.  The central character, Harry Hole, I found particularly interesting.  He carries emotional scars, he has a history and he’s a brilliant policeman, all of which adds up to an engaging lead character.  So engaging, that you can forgive him his failings.

As this is book 7 in a series of 11 novels, there are references to past cases and previous incidents involving Harry and a couple of the other characters.  Whilst the connections were made clear, I still felt as though I had not fully understood the real significance of the referrals to the other stories.  But then, I will insist on starting a series of books in the middle, won’t I?

An absolutely brilliant read and I will be reading all the rest of these books, but in the right order!

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Bard's Birthday...

... is always celebrated on April 23rd, and today, it is also World Book Night.  Naturally, I had to join in and I have some of my favourite speeches along with some beautiful engravings to illustrate...



O, what a deal of scorn looks beautiful   
In the contempt and anger of his lip!
A murderous guilt shows not itself more soon
Than love that would seem hid: love's night is noon.
Cesario, by the roses of the spring,
By maidhood, honour, truth and every thing,
I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride, 
Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.
Do not extort thy reasons from this clause,
For that I woo, thou therefore hast no cause,
But rather reason thus with reason fetter,
Love sought is good, but given unsought better.
Twelfth Night - Olivia





     If we shadows have offended, 
     Think but this, and all is mended,
     That you have but slumber'd here
     While these visions did appear.
     And this weak and idle theme,
     No more yielding but a dream,
     Gentles, do not reprehend:
     if you pardon, we will mend:
     And, as I am an honest Puck,
     If we have unearned luck
     Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
     We will make amends ere long;
     Else the Puck a liar call;
     So, good night unto you all.
     Give me your hands, if we be friends,
     And Robin shall restore amends.
     A Midsummer Night's Dream - Puck




It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue; but it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue. If it be true that good wine needs no bush, 'tis true that a good play needs no epilogue; yet to good wine they do use good bushes, and good plays prove the better by the help of good epilogues. What a case am I in then, that am neither a good epilogue, nor cannot insinuate with you in the behalf of a good play! I am not furnished like a beggar, therefore to beg will not become me: my way is, to conjure you; and I'll begin with the women. I charge you, O women! for the love you bear to men, to like as much of this play as please you: and I charge you, O men! for the love you bear to women,'as I perceive by your simpering none of you hate them,'that between you and the women, the play may please. If I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me, complexions that liked me, and breaths that I defied not; and, I am sure, as many as have good beards, or good faces, or sweet breaths, will, for my kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.
As You Like It - Rosalind

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Please welcome friend and author...

...Christine Hornsby who is here today to interview her character, Bethany, from her wonderful story Kindred Spirits

CH  Bethany, I followed your teenage love affair with interest but, from an early age,  you clearly loathed, Daniel with a vengeance.
Bethany I did.  I thought he was arrogant and patronising.  In short, a schmuck!  To my shame, I remember referring to him as having been spawned by something that crawled out of a swamp.  A spawned geek with half a brain.

CH  So why a complete change of heart?  Was there a seismic, earth shattering moment when you saw him in a different light or did he grow on you?
Bethany  The former.  It was when the whale beached.  We met purely by chance.  I think.  We both stood there feeling something akin to grief.  It was heart-wrenching seeing the whale dying and then there was nothing we could do about it.  Daniel was looking out to sea. I pretended it was the cold wind that made my eyes water, but I knew he was hurting too.  In a strange way, we connected.  His good looks, his physique and all that has always made him popular with the girls but, call me weird, I’d never been particularly impressed with those.  His arrogance had always put me off but, at that moment, I realised that was a sort of mask.  I suppose I saw his sensitivity and vulnerability.  I liked that.  Suddenly he seemed human.

CH  You come across as being a sporty type, not interested in girly things – and, I might add – too straight talking for your own good.  Would that be a fair assessment of your character?
Bethany  Absolutely!  I suppose I had to learn, didn’t I?  And my poor mother bore the brunt of it really.  Our relationship was fraught to say the least.  Still, many teenage girls don’t get on with their mothers.  It’s normal.  I used to think we could do with a psychiatrist, a counsellor or someone to unravel the problems, though.

CH  Hmm.  But you could just as easily have fallen out with Veronica!  Now there was a feisty character if ever there was one!  Your tantrums didn’t wash with her, did they?
Bethany  You can say that again!  She always told me top wake up and smell the coffee, as they say!  And I did!

CH  And what about, Daniel?  I felt for him when you ‘went off on one’ after you told him about your ghost!  I mean, how did you expect him to react?  If you’ll excuse the pun, you didn’t give him a ghost of a chance!
Bethany  Ah yes, my ghost.  Wasn’t that something?  And yes, like I said, ‘I had a lot to learn.’  It was difficult. I was obsessed, I suppose.  It was a lonely journey.  There was a kind of force working in and outside of me if you know what I mean?  Something or someone else was in the driving seat.  I was left wondering about the possibility of an alternative world only seen and understood by a select few – and I was one of them. I had no choice but to go along with it.

CH  Deceiving your mother in the bargain!
Bethany  Yes, especially my mother.  And that taught me how important it is for people to feel they can talk to one another openly without stress.  I could never talk to her, so guilt came into it, big time, and I hated that.

CH  Yes, I remember when you came downstairs to put the barrel back in the cabinet, hoping your mother wouldn’t notice that you had taken it.
Bethany  I do.  It was the cauliflower that got me.  I saw it out of the corner of my eye.  Its shape took on the image of a face.  Sitting there on the kitchen table with its high cheek bones, it was sort of accusing me.  I had never felt so guilty.

CH  Yes, and I think that guilt came out in your   writing.  At least you could be honest with yourself there.
Bethany  That’s true.  Especially when I tried to express my romantic and sexual feelings towards. Daniel.  I felt son confused, so alone.  I wanted to shout my love from the rooftops and yet, like the old song says, ‘they try to tell you you’re too young, too young to really be in love.’  I suppose you think that sounds cheesy, but it’s true.  Well, it was my reality.

The east coast, where Kindred Spirits is set
CH  And how about fear?  Did you ever have an adrenalin rush when you were scared?
Bethany  You bet I did.  On the headland in the make-shift lean to.  Daniel told me about the Alphonse wandering about the moors with his eyes torn out by the hawks and the sockets full of maggots.  And then in the real world, two legs emerged out of the sea fret and a bunch of dead rabbits were dumped in my lap.  Oh yes, I was scared all right!

CH  Finally, Bethany, was there ever a moment, a poignant moment, that spoke to you in a very special way?

Bethany  There was.  My mother had been so worried and I knew she was concerned about me and Daniel spending the night on the moors together.  I knew I would have some explaining to do.  For most of the journey home neither of us had spoken.  Even so, I was sitting in the backseat of the car with my ankle resting across her knee.  She suddenly started fingering the travel rug.  The years melted away.  Mum was tucking me in just as I remembered her doing when I was a little girl.  I seemed to have a Eureka moment.  Suddenly, I understood the real meaning of unconditional love and I knew everything was going to be OK. 

You can follow Christine on her website  and on Facebook