Engineering Rows

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This week I’ve been doing a lot of thinking rather than a lot of writing. Being stuck in traffic is like that. And I’ve been thinking about my victim. Well one of them. A chap by the name of Sir Martin Hamblebee. In my head he’s a nasty piece of work. A bully. A pompous boar of a man who deserves to die.

But he’s not coming across like that on the written page . Yes he’s  short tempered. His family don’t like him. But so far there’s no evidence of brutality. No evidence of ruthlessness.  No reason to fist pump the air on discovering him face down in his Times.

My  gut tells me he needs to threaten some of the house guests but not about their private lives. He doesn’t have enough interest in them as human beings to do that. So, if I may, let me work through my thoughts, dear reader…

Both Sir Martin Hamblebee and his brother are bankers. They are new money and the baronetcy was earned by their father for services rendered. Probably murky. Definitely underhand. So I can see Hambleebee senior  threatening to call in a loan, or the like. It’s also true that threatening someone  with financial ruin is a  good motive for murder. But doing it in a way that doesn’t seem contrived is the difficult bit. Miss Marple always overhead such threats because people thought she was asleep in a chair, or didn’t see her in a chair.  Byrd can’t do that. His legs are too long. They’d be seen. And everyone knows he hears in his sleep. Poirot would just walk down a corridor, or step out from behind a curtain after a threat had been issued. He’s small enough to get  away with such things.  The rest of Byrd is like his legs. Tall and lanky.  Besides  if Byrd’s the only one to witness such outrages, his reactions are going to be private. And that’s not going to help the plot at all. No. Any threats of financial ruin must be seen and  heard – by a lot of people including Byrd. Which means one of the business meetings must be the venue for such a thing. That could then lead to long simmering hatred. Though plotting long term revenge is surely more a woman’s weapon than a man. And Hamblebee doesn’t believe women have a business brain. So there won’t be any of them involved in his financial dealings. Good God no!

Which leads to the second area I need to elaborate on. Hamblebee isn’t just a banker. He’s a bully. So how to bring that out? Physical and emotional abuse are his weapons of choice.  His youngest sister in law – Leticia – is the victim of his emotional outrages. Something Hamblebee  can get away with because  Fortinbras Hamblebee doesn’t have the cajones to stand up to his older brother. There’s a tale there, and one – you’ll forgive me if I keep close to my chest.

  But  while Fortinbras will say nothing to the verbal abuse. Surely, if Hamblebee , his brother will do something? Especially if it’s a public thing. Purse strings or no purse strings. There’s male pride at stake… No. I think I need to rule out Hamblebee hitting Leticia. But he needs to hit someone. Byrd would just laugh. CC might deck him back. And if he hit a servant, Sampson would have something to say about it. So I need to look closer to Hambleebee’s home.

The wife – Georgette – is an obvious route for  long term physical abuse. But given Hamblebee is a social climber, he can’t risk public condemnation for such things. This is Symington Byrd’s world not Eastenders.  He needs the approbation of the King and his set. But a bruise, a broken wrist – that’s a possibility. A hint of violence. It could be easily explained away as an accident. But would it really be a a motive for murder?

I suppose Georgette herself might kill him, driven beyond reason like Ruth Ellis. But it’s 1901. A wife has some  rights in a marriage. And through her sister in law, she  has access to a king who would help her achieve a divorce in return for a kiss or two and a bit of how’s your father… And there are no children to tie her to the brute…so she does have an alternative to murder. Though I’m not sure sleeping with the King of England to achieve it would be every woman’s idea of a way forward. So unless she had a lover waiting in the wings… or a knight in shining armour determined to avenge her… or there’s someone who overhears such things and adds it to the list of crimes Hamblebee’s committed, we’re no futher forward. How do I contrive a beating behind closed doors that can be witnessed/overheard by all the suspects? And how do I make it believeable?

I think I need another traffic jam…

 

5 Questions for Authors: Ann Wuehler

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Until recently, all I knew about Ann was that she wrote for the same publisher as I do (KGHH), and lives in the same state as my cousin (Oregon).  So I asked her to give me a bit of a biography, which was a good thing because her writing credentials are epic. Make me feel like a complete beginner and rather humbled she took up my challenge. You see..

Ann’s a native Orgegonian, who’s traveled to China, Europe and Honduras. Her short stories – Oregon Gothic – came out in 2015.  City Theatre, Miami,  awarded her play, the Mating Season of Flying Monkeys, for Short Playwriting Finalist, 2015.  The Mating Season of Flying Monkeys can also be found in 2017’s Winter edition of the Santa Ana River Review. Her short plays, The Next Mrs. Jacob Anderson and The Care and Feeding of Baby Birds, are included in the volumes, Ten Ten-Minute Plays, Volumes II and III. My play, Traces of Memory, has been made into several short films. Ann also hold a BA in Theatre, from Eastern Oregon University and an MFA from UNLV in Playwriting. Her Twitter handle is A.R.W. @malheurwoman and her blog efforts can be found at the Ann Wuehler Project.

 Over to you Ann…

What is your favourite book from childhood?

annLittle Women, by Louisa May Alcott, comes to mind immediately. I read it, reread it, then read it again and again. The gentle adventures of Jo, Beth, Amy and Meg became a comforting background noise in my head and still is. I understood Jo and her temper and her impetuous acting out. I knew all about that great need to get the words out and down on paper. I got that; it. as they say, resonated. Meg I found the least interesting sister and I found Amy, with her attempts to be artistic and refined, also an echo of movements and tides going on in my own life. And poor Beth. That intense shyness, oh yes. There was something in each sister that struck little chords or big ones in me, and made a sort of inner melody I can still hear to this day. I read the sequels as well. Dan from Little Men became one of my favorite characters and what happened to him in Jo’s Boys still makes me snarl. I’m snarling right now.

Another book I just loved and read until I practically had it memorized was Watership Down by Richard Addams. Oh! Hazel and Bigwood and Fiver! Their search for a safe place, their battles to stand against General Woundwort, that rich mythology that permeates the book, those gods and heroes of rabbitworld. Another favorite was Duncton Wood by William Horwood. Moles, this time. Bracken and Rebecca, and Mandrake, Rebecca’s horrible, ultimately understandable father and Boswell and Rose the healer and…I could right now pick this one up and read it yet again. It’s the hero’s journey from the point of view of a mole and Rebecca has a journey as well.

I could go on and on here. I read a lot. I reread a lot. There’s also Grimm’s fairy tales and Hans Christian Andersen’s tales and…

What is the first book that made you cry?

     ann2Yeah, it’s Little Women, that’s the one I remember causing my eyes to leak salty rivers. What happened to Beth. And then I read Where the Red Fern Grows. Dan and Little Ann. Uh huh. And Black Beauty, every single time I read it. Ahem. There’s a list here. Pretty much anything involving an animal. I don’t like admitting things make me cry. I rather hate anyone knowing what a soft-hearted, thoroughly weepy sort I become over books and fictional characters who often seem more real than people around me at times. Which is not something I should ever admit so pretend I did not admit that, thanks.

Have you ever read an author whose books you didn’t like, and how has this impacted on your writing?

Mm. If I don’t like a writer or their book, I generally don’t even bother reading it. I know there are books written by authors that just make me go, WHY DID YOU WRITE THIS, WHY?? FOR THE LOVE OF PANCAKES, WHY?? Robin McKinley’s Dragonhaven, for instance. Ugh a bug! It started out so promising and then, in my opinion, fizzled out like a wet fart. Yes, that’s my professional literary take of that work. As she wrote one of my favorite books ever, her Beauty, [a retelling of the Beauty and Beast tale], I was so looking forward to reading yet another one of her books. And…yeah, ugh a bug. I’d read her Deerskin and Spindle’s End and others, so I do have a little bit of framework for my ‘wet fart’ reaction to Dragonhaven. I made it through to the end and should probably try it again. I do try to be fair. I do.

I have read one of the Twilight books. The second one, I had to go Google the title just now, it’s New Moon…where Vampire Fabio goes away and Bella sinks into near catatonia. And I’m thinking, why doesn’t she ride that werewolf boy like a slip-n-slide until Vampire Fabio gets home? [Or at least do some heavy petting. Get it ? Get it??] Is therapy in Bella’s future? Is she maybe going to develop a comedy act based on small towns, being clumsy and loving an actual monster? How many monsters does Forks hold? Will Bella be courted by an intense zombie? Or maybe a super-broody ghoul with a tortured need to both eat her and take her out for fries and gravy? Let the yucks begin! Just something that would make this dreary book interesting…I was in China at the time and it was one of the few books at the school in English…so I took it back to my dorm [yes, I lived in a dorm for two years, but I had my own bathroom.] and slogged through it. I had no interest in reading it again. None.

Now, granted, the Russian writers produce books of great, soul-destroying dreariness, but they do it so artistically and skillfully you enjoy having your soul crumpled slowly into little bits and then swept up by the cosmic grim-faced gods. So probably that one foray into the Twilight literary mud puddle might have made me try a bit harder to not be like that, though, God knows, I can produce mud puddle dreck with the best of them.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I recycle, from family memories I’ve doctored and not remembered right and outright made up, from other things I’ve heard or seen or witnessed, so there probably are some very common themes and connections in my present body of work. I also write plays [and started off my writing life as a poet when Miss MacGregor called me up to her desk in fifth grade and told me that poem I’d turned in was really good.] I can both blame and praise her for putting the idea in my head that I could write. The roads haven’t been rocky since then, but pot-hole riddled deer paths through thorn brambles and excursions through solid rock with only a rusted dull spoon to help me out. Grim? Pessimistic?? You bet your keister it is. I am trying to be honest here, after all.

My Oregon Gothic is just short tales gathered from whatever surrounded me at the time. Thailand, where I sat at a French cafe watching people disembark and embark on the ferry for the big dirty river roiling past the shopping mall across the square. Getting on and off buses in China, which I did a lot. Riding about in the back country of Eastern Oregon and Western Idaho on a four-by-four, lands steeped in local lore, blood from battles, murders and ambushes, the myth of the cowboy and stories handed down through families whose relatives came through in prairie schooners, on foot or pushing handcarts or boats and ships or were there to start with…That ‘what if’ that kicks in. That mind picture. A glimpse of something and a hard little seed in my mind’s teeth, if that makes sense. Usually it’s a bit of speech I hear, some collection of words spoken by others as they pass by or sit at the next table or stand in front of me or behind me in a line…I am always listening and waiting for ‘bit o’gold’ that sparks something. We writers, always eavesdropping, noticing, paying attention to the oddest things, gathering impressions and notions for our alchemical attempts. Sometimes they pan out. Do I find myself visiting the same little bit of land, trying to get the same lead to turn into gold every so often, in my writing? Yes, of course. Mothers, identity, patterns that repeat in people’s lives– which is a pretty safe little list. Very generic! I write about the human condition! It’s all connected! Yeah. No, I write about things that hurt and amuse me, about what I’d wish I’d said in such and such a situation, about strong people when I’m so very weak, about monsters taken on that I can’t take on in my own life…I write because I’m trying to understand the very confusing, awful, wonderful world I find going on about me.

Right now, I am actually working on a sequel, to a ghost-heavy novel I just finished. The mother fought the forces of darkness in the first outing, called House on Clark Boulevard and now the daughter must take them on, in Alice in Oregonlandia. [One of the things I want written or told about me is that– She wrote about Oregon. When I am listed in the Who’s Who of Writers Who Tried] I am also attempting to write about  specific time periods, with the first book set in 1978, and the second book set around 1987. So, I get to satisfy my research fetish [I do so love looking up specifics and getting just so and so exactly right; it’s rather hard to blend and blur needed this and that together for the sake of story or character. Probably why I don’t do historical fiction or historical plays…I’d go mad, mad I tell ya!] and continue onward with characters that have not yet, perhaps, finished their journeys. How precious, I know. I can get very very precious at the drop of a hat, so…

What did you edit out of your latest book?

Mm. Well, out of House on Clark Boulevard, which might not see the light of day but hey, going to talk about it anyway, I edited entire sequences as to what Nancy, my main squeeze and the one we get to witness the story through, went through on the night she snaps and leaves the house. I had her run over to the neighbors. I had her being hurt by a possessed Art, her husband. [I scrapped that with Nancy herself telling me, no, I’m not going down like that. Write something else!] I had her calling her brother’s girlfriend and going over there. I finally ended up with her calling her brother to come get her, because that felt the most honest and true for the story told so far. Nancy wouldn’t go to outsiders, as she saw them, she’d go to family, even though she felt she couldn’t trust anyone at that point…and her brother wouldn’t ask too many questions. So that’s the one I went with.

For one of the stories in Oregon Gothic, I tried out several endings. Bailey, where a young woman comes up against a truly horrible vampire-like monster, languished a while in limbo. How to end it. I went through her killing James, to having James end her. To epic physical smack downs to James getting her to go with him to…yeah. I’m not entirely happy with how it did end. Or what happened to her grandparents. I stepped away from what I wanted to happen–Bailey wins and the vampire gets stomped into grape juice somehow– and let the story go where it wanted– Bailey ‘wins’ but at a great awful cost. As that’s, to me, how real life works. You win some and mostly you get battered into jelly and then you win a bit and then stomped and shredded and…which is more about me than anything else. I almost want to write the sequel to that somewhat long story, but I wonder if it would be more about me trying to tackle whatever little braindemon lives in my head munching away or about actually exploring the big unwieldy themes of evil, humanity, and power. But. Isn’t it my job to take on those little braindemons of mine and splatter them about on page and computer screen and examine those splatters over and over and over until they make sense? I’m going with– yep. And often, it’s the things I self-censor out that I should probably let fall where they may. Yep, yep.

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5 Questions for Authors: K.T. McQueen

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K.T. McQueen  is another from the KGHH stable of writers, who also specialises in taking me out of my comfort zone and scaring the living daylights out of me. The first book of hers I read was Whispers on the Hill and I found it hard to put down. You NEED to read it. I currently have Soul Game on my Kindle. Its premise intrigues me. Go on, take a look. You know you want to…

What is your favourite book from childhood?

dragon-for-dennisWhen I was little it was A Dragon for Danny Dennis, my mum can still recite it by heart. As I got older my favourite became Smokey the Cowhorse  – a sort of western version of Black Beauty, and I learnt a lot from it. It’s probably the book that most made me want to work with horses when I grew up (which I did as soon as I left school).

What is the first book that made you cry?

No idea, I don’t often cry but I’m sure at some point there was one. But a book that’s really made me think is Ethan Hawke’s Rules for a Knight, I particularly liked the poem about love in the Chapter entitled Courage. It isn’t a book that stays on the bookshelf, I keep picking it up and referring to it. It’s currently balanced on the printer tray beside my desk.ethan-hawke

Have you ever read an author whose books you didn’t like, and how has this impacted on your writing?

Like you I’m not keen on Tolkein – I’ve never read a single one of his books all the way through, although, I have watched the movies. I’m not sure how books I haven’t liked have in impacted my writing, perhaps they have ingrained in me a need to make sure the story is interesting from the first paragraph. Because if a book doesn’t draw me in in the first chapter I’ll put it down and start something else.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I think, rather than connections between the work, there is an emerging theme that may or may not be obvious. I believe we all have the ability to be our own knights in shining armour. Capable of making decisions and choices that actively change the situation we are in, no matter what that situation is. You have to accept responsibility not just for your choices but for the consequences of those choices as well. Once you do that you can save yourself. The fun part about putting that in writing, particularly into horror, is that you’re always saying ‘what if’. And most of the time you want them to make the wrong decision so your story keeps moving forward.

What did you edit out of this book?

The Soul Game was a huge book, it still is compared to the others I’ve written, but I took out around 70,000 words of players stories and back story that wasn’t necessary. Whilst fun short reads the players stories were like stories within a story, the ones that stayed had connections to the main characters in someway or another.

Talking to other writers: Brentwood Writer’s Circle

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Talking to other writers is always disconcerting. They are, by their very nature, a knowledgeable bunch. Especially about the craft of writing. Brentwood Writer’s Circle is some 40 members strong. A wide-ranging bunch: newbies to the craft. oldies (in terms of writing); those with and without a publisher. I was invited by Colin – a fellow SALAD member, who has been very supportive of my work.

I paid them a visit on Saturday 4th February,at their Bardeswell Social Club venue. Very easy to find. Good parking. Lovely sized room. I was nervous. I needn’t have been. They were very welcoming. Asked loads of questions: about Symington Byrd; about Lucy and Mark; about writing history. I did some readings. And they were very gracious. Some going so far as to buy some books.

They asked two very interesting questions. one was how do I plan? I told them I used scapple. I tried to explain that it’s a mind mapping tool. Just on the computer. I’m not sure I explained that for a scattergun mind like mine, Scapple is wonderful. It lets my mind go wandering. It  turns chaos into order; and when I print it out and stick it on my wall for future reference, it makes me look like the most organised person in the world.

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I also told them about Claroread. Brilliant for discovering the basic punctuation errors, and with a range of voices – so you can choose the one perfect for you. Bizarrely American works best for me – which is strange as Symington is so quintessentially English. It’s a bit more expensive than I remember. I thought it was a one off payment. Seems not. But it’s amazing – and for me – worth the cost as I can send something to the editor that doesn’t look like a bag of bones. If you want to see what I mean. Here’s a small extract of the opening of the next book as delivered by Claroread:

 The other question was about costs of self publishing. I didn’t explain too much was that I self edited the first book and was so glad Kenny wafted into my life with an offer I coudn’t refuse.  Because I so need a proper editor. So what I touched on  was the image finding and the basics of DIY. Perhaps I should have said  was that I design my own covers to start with and then the publisher has final say. I do that because I need an image in my head as to what the final product has to look like. Otherwise, it’s a nebulous unreachable goal. I should have said that once I’ve found my images, I use Powerpoint to do this creativity. It’s nice and easy. And I can say that as someone who took to Photoshop like a stone takes to water. Someone who still has to revisit the tutorials to remember something she did last time. Someone who still does the final compiling of the cover in Powerpoint.

OH asked me if it was worth doing a tutorial on how to use powerpoint. I shrugged. No need. Here’s the link to the brilliant tutorial I used by William King.

I’d like to thank Colin for inviting me and the circle for making me so welcome. I’d also like to thank OH for the techie support and Kelli for coming to hear me. I hope you had as good a time as I did.

5 Questions for Authors: Owen Knight

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Owen Knight is part of the Southend Writers and Artist Network (or SWANS) as we’re more commonly known, and was the first of this illustrious group to take me up on my invite to answer my 5 questions. Like me  Owen dips his toes into the YA market, with his dystopian trilogy of  sci-fi conspiracy mysteries – The Invisible College – which  are on my reading list for 2017, as the premise really intrigues me. As is his ability to turn books round so quickly. All three were published between August 2015 and October 2016. No mean feat!!  I wish I knew his secret.

If you like buying books from the author, Owen will be  speaking at the Essex Local Authors Event  at Chelmsford Library on Saturday 18th March before dashing to  SALAD, @theforum to spend Saturday afternoon and all day  Sunday 19th with us.  (If you’re happy to buy anonymously (so to speak) –  he’s stocked at all the usual online outlets and Waterstones in Chelmsford. If you want to get in touch with him this link takes you to his Facebook page.)

What is your favourite book from childhood?

937428-asterix.jpg I used to love reading to my children when they were young. In addition to the literary classics, their favourite books included the Asterix and Tintin series. Asterix instilled in them a love of wordplay, whereas Tintin reinforced the understanding that the world is larger than the Essex village in which they lived. Both series provided adventure and discovery. The books must have had some effect: last year one of my sons walked the entire 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in four and a half months

What is the first book that made you cry?

The book that has had the most emotional effect on me is Le Grand Meaulnes by Alaintumblr_inline_o4y8uaxd4o1s61f2g_250-Fournier. Meaulnes returns after disappearing for several days. He tells of having discovered a hidden chateau, where a dream-like fête is taking place, with everyone dressed in costume, and where he meets a beautiful woman. The story tells of falling instantly in love, the search to find the chateau again, of longing, loving, loss, rediscovery, and ultimately sadness.

I have used the theme of a hidden village in my own trilogy, although the similarities end there.

Have you ever read an author whose books you didn’t like, and how has this impacted on your writing?

I have read a number of books by an award-winning novelist whom I ought to leave unnamed. Several of his novels open with highly original and attention-grabbing first chapters. Unfortunately, the remainder of the book often disappoints, by not living up to the promise.

This has provided me with the discipline to continually ask myself three questions while writing. Is this plausible? Is this interesting to the reader? Is it relevant to the story?

Do you want each book you write to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

My The Invisible College Trilogy (They Do Things Differently Here, Dust and Shadows, A Perilous Journey) was published between August 2015 and October 2016. The trilogy is intended to be read in sequence. Each book is written in a style to reflect the development of the plot.

Book 1 is written with hints of the Gothic, as befits the arrival of the teenage protagonists in a community apparently locked in a 1950s time warp. Book 2 continues in a detailed, analytical manner, as many secrets and references to myths and legends are uncovered. The final volume moves swiftly towards a dramatic conclusion.

I am working on a prequel, which explains the history and rationale for the hidden village.

What did you edit out of this/these book/s?

I was ruthless at removing superfluous dialogue, leaving the reader to fill gaps in the text and to research for themselves many of the references to science, myths and history. An enormous amount of research went into the books; I needed to take care not to burden the reader with too much detail. This demanded further cuts.

I believe that the result is that the trilogy can be read as a simple adventure, taking the text at face value. Alternatively, the curious reader can do their own research of topics of particular interest.

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5 Questions for Authors: Christopher Long

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First out of the starters gate to answer my 5 questions for authors  is a fellow writer from the KGHH stable: Mr Christopher Long. He writes horror, which if I’m honest is not my most favourite of genres – unless it’s by Hitchcock (ie more suspense than horror). But I have to say Chris is a good writer: a very good writer. His novel Something Needs Bleeding scared the living daylights out of me! However, enough of me…

  1. What is your favourite book from childhood?james-and-the-giant-peach-cover

My favourite book from childhood has to be James and the Giant Peach. There are some which made me laugh more or scared the living hell out of me, but James and the Giant Peach was the one that opened the door for the rest of them to get into my head. It tuned my brain into finding stories that interested me and devouring them as quickly as I could. It also got me into thinking about how I would tell a story myself. It still feels like a story that wasn’t trying to teach me right from wrong or lecture me about the mistakes kids make in adult society. It wasn’t too old fashioned either. It felt contemporary, accessible and, better than that, it felt wondrously so close to being possible. It was sheer delight as a kid and it’s still a brilliant story now.

      2. What is the first book that made you cry?

The book that first made me cry? That’s a pretty tough one. Very few books get to me that way. Which isn’t me trying to sound manly. I gave up on that a long time ago, back when people expected me to do woodwork at school.

A book can move me, but rarely pushes me over that emotional edge. Movies can do it. I think it’s something with the music and images. If they get under my skin, then I can’t separate myself from them. When I’m reading, my brain seems better at distracting me from the emotion. I know it sounds a little closed off, but I think it’s something to do with how I distance from myself feeling uncomfortable a lot of the time. One advantage is that the distance has taught me a few tricks when it comes to trying to keep my own readers from being able to disconnect. Pacing and imagery can, hopefully, keep them turning pages. That’s the plan, anyway.

billhicksscreamThat said, I do remember the first time I read the Bill Hicks biography, American Scream. I had watched all of Hicks’ stand-up videos by then and owned most of his albums as well. He was a hero of mine and I had always known he died young, but reading the chapter where he was told he had cancer just totally floored me. It put me in the room with him. I imagined seeing him hearing the news, absorbing it, trying to fit the diagnosis into his own understanding of his life. It still gets me now.

3. Have you ever read an author whose books you didn’t like, and how has this impacted on your writing?

I was talked into reading The Da Vinci Code by someone I worked with. I really hadn’t been that interested in it, but they loved it. I couldn’t get into it at all but, one night, there was work being done to the train line next to our house for about six hours and there was just no way I was going to sleep. So, I sat up by the glare of the workers’ floodlights and read the whole thing in one sitting.

It was an interesting experience. I found myself only half engaged by the story at best and spent a lot of the novel trying to peer behind the curtain. You could see the influences to the pace and plot and you could see the research Dan Brown had carefully stitched into place. I started trying to work out how I would maybe attempt it myself.

Now, when I’m writing something I’m not entirely invested in or connected with, I will stop and look back over it. I’ll try and look for plot holes, for the ideas I’ve tried too hard to cram in where they don’t fit. It seems to work pretty well.

4. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

All my ghost stories do have linking motifs running through them. There are recurring characters, companies and villages that crop up across them. When I first tied a couple of them together, back when I was self-publishing, I felt so smug about it. I waited for ages, hoping someone would notice. It never happened. I’m still wondering if, one day, someone might start to pick up on it. For the time being, I think I’m just doing it for myself. A way to keep myself hooked into an early draft, probably. It is fun.

5. What did you edit out of your latest book?

I recently edited a whole married couple of my second novel. I had a subplot involving a woman who was trying to be haunted by her dead lover. That then became a married couple, where the woman had a job that involved her being possessed and her husband being jealous of the experiences she was having. Their storyline was designed to weave through the main plot, but they were just getting in the way of what I wanted to say in the new draft.

Maybe one day I’ll give them a story all of their own. I did like working with The Dawsons.


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5 Questions for Authors

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Ever notice when you read an interview from an author, they always ask the same questions: how did you get into writing? What inspires you? What inspired you to write this book? It gets samey after a bit.  So I had a trawl of the internet for different questions and came up with these 5 as my favourites of the moment.

  1. What is your favourite book from childhood?
  2. What is the first book that made you cry?
  3. Have you ever read an author whose books you didn’t like, and how has this impacted on your writing?
  4. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
  5. What did you edit out of this book?”

Here are my answers:

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My favourite book from childhood was bought for me by my mum and dad. Written by Julie Edwards – or so it said on the front cover – it was the tale of three siblings: Ben, Tom and Melinda Potter, who through their association with Professor Savant travel to meet the last of the Whangdoodles; a mythological creature capable of growing his own slippers. As a kid, I was enchanted. As an adult I need to find it  at my parents and read it again.

The first book that made me cry was Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa  Pearce. It’s towards the end when Hetty gets older, falls in love with Barty and ceases to see Tom.

As for the author whose books I didn’t like – I have a confession to make. It’s Tolkein. It’s probably not his fault. It’s probably the fault of my English teacher in first year senior (year 7) for making us read The Hobbit. Whatever possessed them? It’s a book you should curl up with not be forced to read in school. It scarred me for life. How has impacted on my writing? I get to the action as quickly as possible. Also, I don’t write books worthy of literary study. In my mind, it’s the kiss of death.

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My books do have connections, yes. The historical research binds the three books, obviously, but I have cameos. Melville from book 1 of Aldwych Strand – pops up in Cowardice, as does Mark (in passing) and of course Lucy gives a little girl some words of advice in Whitechapel, which shapes how she deals with the pawnbroker…

As for what did I edit out of Cowardice of Crows? There was a newspaper article about Symington at the Savoy Hotel.  I wanted it to show him as the centre of the media, and provide a link to the previous books. The editor really didn’t like it. She was right. It was awful. It went.

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SALAD March 2017

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6word story January 2017

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He forgot to close the door.

Sampson’s occasional guide to the Gentleman’s Gentleman.

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A gentleman’s gentleman:3935e3d7f26a3967acacbe8c87794b35

Is up before his master, and goes to bed after him; even when told “not to wait up”.

Is fastidiously neat and tidy in his appearance and habits. He ensures his employer is immaculately turned out – at all times. Even if His Lordship desires to look like a sack of potatoes. He must be a sack of potatoes Fortnum and Masons would stock.

Never gets involved in an argument – however tempting. A raise eyebrow, a stare, even a cough should be  sufficient communication when His Lordship oversteps the mark.tumblr_m59fonwrnt1r3jmn6o1_1280

Is the soul of discretion. He never comments on any aspect of His Lordship’s personal life; even if the latest fancy piece is a lying, manipulative tart out to break hearts. It is not a gentleman’s gentlemn’s place to say: “I told you so.” Even if he is dying to stick his oar in.

To learn more about William Sampson and his Lordship click here

Publishing Date

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I have had word from the publisher. He has scheduled A Cowardice of Crows  – the first of Symington, Lord Byrd mysteries – for release in November. He tells me he’s interesting in optioning  an extra three books: bringing this crime fiction series to a six book total.

For those of you who want to know more about the first book, please read the provisional blurb

 

Easter Egg

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For those of you who like a bargain, or who like celebrating Easter in a non chocolaty but equally decadent kind of way, I have news. My publisher Kensington Gore has put the Secret of Aldwych Strand on special.

From Saturday 26th – Sunday 29th (inclusive) Book 1 of Mark and Lucy’s adventures is free, gratis – cost nothing to purchase for your Kindle.

For a slightly longer period – the 26th of March to the 2nd of April the other two tales in the trilogy are reduced to only 99p.

“Where do I get them?” I hear you cry as you charge your kindle and kindle app!

“Why! That’s easy. Click on the easter eggs!”

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World Book Day – a teaser from Cowardice of Crows

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Later this year, the first Byrd novel hits the shelves. The following is a short extract from chapter 2… Enjoy

Friday 2nd November, 1900

12pm

A shy unassuming man,  who was wearing a clerk’s suit complete with a bowler hat, caught the noon train to Brighton. Aged about 40, he positioned himself in the corner seat of a second class carriage, and stared out of the window at the passing scenery. Every so often, he would look at his well-worn half hunter, and note something down in the pages of a little black notebook; but otherwise he was no trouble to the people who travelled with him from London. When the train entered the tunnel the man tensed, and a motherly lady with big hips and loud breathing, patted him gently on the arm, and made soothing noises. He thanked her, in a whisper, and continued to sit upright until the tunnel section of the journey was complete. Then with a sigh, he leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes (to all intents and purposes) worn out after his nervous display. And thus he stayed, until ten minutes before the locomotive was due to pull in to Brighton, when the carriage was disturbed by the conductor.

“Mr. Sampson?” The shy man jumped, dislodging the bowler from his lap and sending it to the floor.

“Yes?”

“The earl requests you attend him in First, sir.”

“Yes… Yes… Thank you.” The man rescued his hat from the motherly lady (who had swooped eagle like to pick it up) and stood up. Making his apologies, he made his way out of the carriage and down the corridor.

~~~

At the station, the motherly woman looked out for the shy man amongst Earl Byrd’s very noticeable entourage. But while she could see a burly porter pushing a trolley laden with cases; a ramrod backed valet (who had clearly seen military service); and an efficient looking secretary with grey hair and a hatchet nose; there was no sign of the shy man. Instead of looking perturbed by his absence, the motherly woman grinned and hobbled her way to the ladies cloakroom, where an attendant later found a pair of boots stuffed with newspaper.

Gravesend – Craftastic

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Yesterday I went south of the river. It was fine. I survived. It wasn’t a friday night and I wasn’t in a taxi.

It was my first craft fair held in the heritage quarter of Gravesend in the Three Daws function room. There was a gentle stream of people, mouching around – buying the odd bit; talking about this and that -mainly about how quiet town was.

Since our first book fair – we’ve been speculating to acumulate. For the first time we had a banner and a locations videoin addition to our  bookmarks. I even thought about including a sheet of reviews It drew interest. People came over; and I was able to talk about the books in terms why it had short chapters and different narrators.

I sold books: to complete strangers. Always the sign of a good day. Contacts were made for other fairs that side of the river.

Agatha Christie I may not yet be – until Symington goes viral on publication next year, that is!  (Cue Twilight Zone special effects) but I didn’t go into this book writing lark to make money. I went into it to ensure that Mark and Lucy and Symington and Emily’s stories were told, and that people read them.

Langley Bradley – clockmaker

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Langley Bradley was a clockmaker born in 1663. At the age of 23 he was apprenticed to Joseph Wise, and after being freed in 1694, he worked in Fenchurch Street at the Minute Dial. In 1720 he was appointed Assistant of the Clockmakers company and was master in1726. From 1748 he was working as a clockmaker in Mile End.  Best know for the commission from Sir Christopher Wren in 1707 for the clock for St Pauls which was criticised by a government commission led by  Sir Isaac Newton, whose own clockmaker won the right to replace the Bradley piece.

However, despite this set back Bradley’s career did not suffer too badly. Wren tried to get him appointed as official clockmaker to Queen Anne, but the Lord Chamberlain’s office blocked the appointment. So when this failed Wren helped the clockmaker win the commission for the new clock at Hampton court.

My interest in Bradley Langley results from a visit to London. We do the Open London weekend and last year visited the Old Admiralty building. And there we found “Langers”. It’s a grandfather clock,  which was made in 1697 and came  from the offices of the Navy Board. Stately as all clocks should be, this time piece has witnessed a lot of history – wars declared, ships lost and careers made and destroyed. Obviously, as the Old Admiralty building is a secure area, we were unable to take a photograph of the piece. However trawling the net to help with my description of the cabinet’s HQ (for book 3) I found this picture of the table. And there – lurking in the background is the Langley Bradley. Gorgeous, isn’t he?

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Salad Days

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SWANS  will be hosting an event at The Forum, Southend on  28th March  between 10 and 4pm. Here’s your chance to find out more about Southend’s local authors; see us at work (well I’ll be using the day to do some editing) and  buy any of our books that take your fancy.   Click here for more details.

latest 5* Review

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Click here to read the latest 5* review.

Title Change:

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Book three was always going to be difficult to find a title for…

I wanted to use the phrase my Nan had for Whitechapel: Cut Throat Alley. But it just wasn’t working. Sorry Nan: Whitechapel Affair it is

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Book Fair – photo spread from the Echo

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Not been able to scan this page; this was a picture a friend took of the spread of last Saturday’s Book Fair10603237_746637615373047_2002563571949548100_n

Book Fair @Southend Forum

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Saturday saw me at the 1st anniversary of the Forum in Southend selling the first two books and making contacts with the artistic world out there.

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This came up on Amazon today from one Holly J Sanderson.

I thought I’d put it on here for you to have a look 🙂

Latest 5* review from Amazon

Another exciting trip through history that had a couple of “huh???” Moments in their too, bonus points for local references that were bang up to date and easily recognisable (I’m 99.9% sure I recognised a couple of the present day character references too!!) A real page Turner that ended on a hell of a cliff hanger …..

A personal note to the wonderful author: you can’t leave it like that!!! We demand another!

Everyone else: get reading, it’s fabulous! (And watch out for flapjacks)

 

Lucy’s Admiral

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To coincide with the publication of the 1949 Affair, The History they Tried To Suppress has asked me to reblog an entry from Mark Birch’s blog – Modern Day Pepys – in the hopes that if it’s here, it will be visible to all. (It doesn’t show up on his blog – unless you access it from their offices apparently). So here goes…

From Mark Birch: Modern Day Pepys

Thoughts on Lucy’s Admiral…

Don’t get me wrong, Lucy’s my mate. We’ve known each other since the first day of primary school and I’ve really despaired at the way all the so called popular kids have picked on her over the years. They call her geeky. In my book that’s jealous for clever so and so who gets good marks and does her homework. Well what’s wrong with that? Luce was always confident that the only way you got off Canvey and stayed off was by getting good grades, going to college and all that stuff. That of course was before that day trip to Southend Pier!

Now we’re off Canvey for good! And although I ain’t said nuffin’ to Luce, I’m pretty sure we aren’t ever going to get back to our world. Well in our reality: Lloyd George died in a carriage accident in 1909. In the world we’ve ended up in, he became the Great War Prime  Minister and key force at Versailles in 1919. So I’m pretty much guessing that even if we could get back to Southend and 2013 – it sure ain’t going to be the one we left. No surree bob as my grannie used to say! Still I’m not sure that’s a bad thing!

This time travel lark’s altered us too. There’s me – hob nobbing with politicians, and spies and the likes – getting beaten up like I’m some kind of young James Bond or that Biggles bloke and you’ve got to admit, even with the black eyes – being a real life adventurer’s got to beat being 18 and doing a college course. And then  there’s her – gone from geeky to gorgeous faster than you can say – Aldwych Strand.

I know what you’re going to say: I’m jealous. No I’m not. Nor do I fancy her. Luce is my mate.

But I’d be lying if I said I liked  all this attention she’s getting: and from all these “players”.  Lloyd George, Marconi, Walter Nicolai. Least they was respecting her. This admiral? This Valentin bloke? He’s like an octopus. Or at least he would be if he touched her. And he don’t; which if you asks me is weird. Oh it’s not he don’t touch her: he don’t touch anyone! Not without his gloves on.  But  what I don’t like is the way his eyes follow her around a room. And he stands just close enough to let the whole world know she’s his. Of course she’s too naive to see what he’s up to. She’s says he’s just being kind and an … avuncular.

Oh Luce get a grip!

This bloke sure ain’t no Hercule Poirot.

He’s hiding something and it’s going to all end in tears one of these days – you mark my words.

Why do I say that? Simple.  There’s more to this admiral of hers than meets the eye. Apart from being a murdering, lying scumbag nazi? O heck yes. She can’t see it though. I can. I’ve seen his handy work at first hand. I’ve seen him kill.

But what I really don’t like it the way this guy  knows too much – about her, me; our world (the one we’ve come from, I mean). He knows about things a bloke from the early twentieth century shouldn’t. And every time you asks him to do something – to help out; he says it’s more than his job’s worth. There’s also the way he commands a room. Now I’ve watched Hitler on those film clips, and I’ve seen how he can hold a crowd in the palm of his hand. But this Valentin bloke. He really knows what power is. Like he’s ruled the world or something.

Still no doubt it’ll all sort itself out. When we leave 1949 and head off for our next adventure. He’ll just be a memory, and time will have returned to normal. Because if it doesn’t…

 

 

Character Profile: Mordecai Gold

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Meet another player in the Symington Byrd mysteries: Mordecai Gold, a man who “dances on the edge of the criminal world.”

Mordy (as he is known to his friends) runs a jewelers -come- pawnbrokers. He is a hard nosed businessman, with an eye for a bargain.

But I didn’t want him to be the stereotypical Jew of literature. When Walter Scott created Isaac of York he made him an extreme – the complete antithesis of his beautiful daughter Rebecca; while both George Du Maurier and Dickens created wholly evil criminal masterminds – who looked and acted in an immediately identifiable caricature.

There’s far more to Mordy than that. Tall, white haired – grandfatherly – this is a man who will admit to being 50 but not a day older. Having escaped the pogroms of Eastern Europe, Mordy  made his home in Whitechapel. Using his connections Mordy has built up a reputation as an honest criminal.  He is the soul of discretion  who (trusted by the highest born and the lowliest of beggars)  will ensure the best deal is achieved for all (though obviously the house will always win). But you cross him at your peril. Fail to keep your word and retribution is swift.

A man who always has sweets in his pockets, Mordy is at the centre of his community: respected, loved and feared in equal measure

When he first encounters Emily, the lonely little girl who spends at least ten minutes of her walk home from school staring into his shop window, Mordy sees an outsider – just like himself: a mystery inside an enigma. After her father’s death, when her mother brings trinkets to pawn to pay for the funeral, Mordy finds himself  being wrapped around the finger of a 7 year old girl who has wisdom beyond her years and an innate ability to identify rough diamonds. Intrigued  and sensing there is more to Emily and her mother than meets the eye, Mordy makes her mother  an offer  that will ensure that as Emily grows up she becomes the Pawnbroker’s apprentice.

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5* review – from a YA reader

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5 star electrical courses

This reviews is from a young lady in Year 7 (that’s first years for us oldies), an eleven year old to the rest of you. I shall spare her blushes and just refer to her as HG.

The Secret of Aldwych Strand: End of the Pier Affair

This book is about two school children who start off by doing a normal history project, but they somehow end up travelling back and forth into the past and occidentally messing with time and history itself. Mark and Lucy find themselves with the Chancellor of the exchequer and Winston Churchill in 1909 whilst someone is plotting to kill the Chancellor. The two friends travel around historic London, trying to keep history as it should be and attempting to solve the mystery of how they ended up in the past and how to get back to 2013, but things don’t always go to plan. But will they get back to 2013? Only one way to find out…

Mark is a boy who loves sport and is very good at history but not at many other subjects. He has a lively personality and is quite rude but rather funny. Lucy is the “class geek” as Mark say but is not a very sporty person. She also has a lively personality, and, like Mark, is a bit rude and sarcastic at times. I like both of the main characters because they are funny but smart.

The Secret of Aldwych Strand (End of the Pier Affair) is an exciting book of mystery, history and surprise. I would rate this as a five star novel. When I read it I absolutely loved it because it kept me full of wonder, excitement and interest until the very last page because Sarah E Smith writes in such a way that the reader is glued to the book until the very last page. I would wholeheartedly recommend The Secret of Aldwych Strand to anyone who likes a good mystery. The way Sarah E Smith has written this book is brilliant, because she writes from each of the characters’ points of view portraying the different people in the story and their thoughts. Overall, I think that it is a wonderful book and I am sure many people would enjoy reading it. I am looking forward to reading the next two books in this series when they are published.

Want to know more? click here to buy from amazon

 

A 5* Review from a Southender

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5 star electrical courses


5.0 out of 5 stars A novel time-travel novel 5 May 2014
By Pete Sipple
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Originally purchased this as I’m a Southender curious to see how the pier could be linked to time travel. An engrossing read that got me researching events from the early 20th Century referred to in the book. Some nice subtle sci-fi and Southend references too. Looking forward to the next one!

Podcast: Radio Phoenix Interview

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On Bank Holiday Monday (21st April) OH and I went off to the Phoenix FM studios in Brentwood to do a live interview with Scott Ross for his afternoon show. I was promoting my books, OH was there to heckle and drive.

Very kindly, Scott has sent a Podcast of the interview for me to include on this site. You can find and play it here, should you be so inclined. 🙂

 

 

Radio Interview: End of the Pier Affair

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You can find me on Phoenix FM – tomorrow – about 1pm. I shall be talking about the Secret of Aldwych Strand Triology and dropping a few hints about the upcoming Symington Byrd Mysteries . Do listen via T’internet. After all what else would you do on a bank holiday?

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Latest Review of End of the Pier Affair

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5 star electrical courses
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read – and a race through time… 16 April 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was a great read and I found it hard to put the book down once I got a few pages in. I loved the historical detail as the main characters flew back and forth through time. I would enjoy a follow up book!
The latest review of the End of the Pier Affair is by historian G. Mawson, who has written a well received book on the Guernsey Evacuees. Do check her work out by clicking here

Enter the “Gentleman” Detective

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Crime Fiction would be lost without the detective, whether it be the hard-nosed kind found in American crime novels – like Mike Hammer and Philip Marlowe, or their British counterparts – Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Whimsey  and Hercule Poirot.

European fiction tends to  favour a gentleman detective; who comes from the educated classes; is at home in a world that we like to think existed  in the years prior to the Great War and ended just after the Second World War, and who has an unusual (if not downright eccentric) manner. They are gentleman if not by birth, certainly in the way they behave; and they are members of what the Georgian world called the Ton (the top 100 families). Their detecting takes place in a cozy world – known as the locked room; their suspects are all flawed and ( for the Marxist among you) degenerate representatives of a dying and parasitic class. Not only does the detective battle against a closed society; they also clash with the professional police who are presented as dim witted, lower class fools. This is apparently a backlash against the bungled investigation into the Ripper Murders of 1888, and the popular misconception that the police were incapable of detecting crime because they were not intelligent or educated enough.

Each detective is accompanied by a companion – usually male – who acts as a sounding board. They are not always from the same social class, but their skills complement or even augment the central character.

Bizarrely the first Gentleman detective was not British – but French – and created by an American, albeit an anglophile. This detective was Edgar Allen Poe’s  C. Auguste Dupin. Making his appearance in 1841, in the Murders in the Rue Morgue (the first of three cases) Dupin was not an immediate  success and underwent quite a few changes in his  modus operandi.  But he was a Chevalier in the Legion D’honneur, and he was obsessed with collecting books. He started out as an amateur detective who would visit the crime scene and take an active part in the investigation – but only when called upon by the authorities. In book two, he had become introverted rarely leaving his rooms – the epitome of the armchair detective, and only after appalling reviews (for this second book – The Mystery of Marie Roget -1842) did Poe make the changes allowing Dupin to become what readers would now recognise as the gentleman detective (The Purloined letter (1844).

Intriguingly, Poe did not believe his character to be successful and moved away from crime fiction. Yet, Poe’s initial concept blossomed in English literature. The first English Amateur detective (Franklin Blake) appeared in 1866 – in what aficionados of this genre regard as the first English Crime Story – The Moonstone. He was followed by a character whose name is synonymous with crime fiction: Sherlock Holmes. And should you care to compare Dupin and Holmes closely, you will see why it is possible to argue that Doyle did not create his detective, he simply lifted him from Paris and planted him in London. In temperament, intelligence and bravery he is the equal if not the mirror image of Dupin.

After that the floodgates open: Wimsey, Campion, Alleyn, Poirot and Marple (from the Golden Age); with Dalgleish, Lynley, Makepeace (of Dempsy and Makepeace fame) Jonathon Creek and even -possibly – Professor Layton representing the modern era.

Until Marple –  society would have us believe that women detectives were conspicuous by their absence,  and yet, the first female detective, Mrs Gladden,  appeared in 1864 some 23 years before Holmes. In many respects her techniques are those of Holmes. She is an active detective: visiting the crime scene, using disguise to protect herself from discovery by the criminal classes, as well as treating the police with the correct level of disdain.

Given the public’s insatiable appetite for the detective it is probably that had she been male her fame would have been equal to (if not greater than that of Holmes). But female detectives – while not isolated –  were not the staple of popular fiction.

Why?

According to Dorothy L Sayers it is because they are so “irritatingly intuitive as to destroy that quiet enjoyment of the logical which we look for in our detective reading.” Sayer’s  main complaint, however, is that the female detective “tends to be too young, too beautiful and too interested in marriage.” In addition, her “propensity” to “walk” into “dangerous situations”  interrupts the male ability to “solve crimes.”  She may have a point: until Marple – female detectives were 40 or younger. Mrs Paschell who works for Colonel Warner is 40 and in need of  a job; Hilda Serene is 25, while Kate Goelet is only 23.

Perhaps another reason for the failure of the female detective is the fact that they were all created by male writers. Indeed, it was not until 1897 that Amelia Butterworth was created by Anna Katharine Green.

The development of the proto feminist movement of the 1890’s, with its focus on the idea that women could be financially independent of men, allowed more female detectives to come to the fore. Dora Myrl, the Lady Detective (1900) is the daughter of a Cambridge Don; Joan Mar, Detective (1910) created by  Marie Connor Leighton is the first female for whom marriage is not a consideration. However,  even at this time, these female detectives were expected to conform to the stereotype. Indeed Molly Kingsley in  Hazel Campbell’s Olga Knaresbrook, Detective (1933) eschews the life of the detective upon marriage.

And so to Miss Marple – who first appeared in 1930 – a woman who remained 65 for the fifty years she appeared in print. Returning to Sayer’s condemnation of the female detective ( intriguingly forgotten when she came to write about Harriet Vane), it is possible to argue that Miss Marple’s success resulted not from her age, but from the fact that she while she had a phenomenal intelligence, it came from the observation of the world around her – in a homespun, almost absent minded way.

 

6word story February 2017

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The dog’s stick was a snake

#Review The Cowardice of Crows by Sarah E Smith @Symington_Byrd @Kensington_Gore

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Re blogged from emmathelittlebookworm.wordpress.com

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Good evening bookworms!

Tonight I am over the moon to bring you my review of The Cowardice of Crowsby Sarah E Smith.

This is one book I would be guilty of judging by it’s cover and title, which is obviously disgusting of me!

I personally wouldn’t pick this up as it doesn’t look like the kind of book I’d enjoy for some reason – and I have no idea why!!!

HOW WRONG WOULD I HAVE BEEN?!?!

I BLOODY LOVED IT!!!!!!

And lesson learned ~ I am hanging my head in complete and utter shame!!!!! Anyway, whilst I go and confess my sins . . .

Here’s the blurb . . .

cover

It seemed Millicent Jones committed suicide… until a House of Commons cufflink is found wedged in her throat. Given that Queen Victoria is dying, the last thing anyone wants is scandal. So Symington, Earl Byrd, renowned playboy and gentleman…

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