Writer’s Blog

A Line In The Sand

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One of my characters in Widowhood of Spiders (book 2 of Symington’s adventures) is angry. So angry in fact he is in danger of breaking the unwritten code of the criminal world: twice. Not only is he in the process of killing a policeman; he is doing it in front of witnesses – not bound to him with oaths of loyalty and the likes.

His actions, and the reactions of those around him, got me thinking about the murder of coppers: reality and fiction. I found myself wondering, is the fiction accurate in its depiction? or is it … fictional?

Before we go any further, these are musings and ponderings. There is no meticulous research. I posed the question, had the luxury of an hour, and pursued it. And having the joy of yet another sleepless night, I present the results of my ponderjngs.

In the fictional world the detective tends to be in danger towards the end of the book/ programme. They have cornered the villain; an arrest is nigh. They don’t usually die. Sometimes there is a lurking, menacing dsnger -murder is attempted: but not often.

Retired coppers fare worse, if memory serves. They can die with ease. Their murderer turning out to be a long forgotten criminal with a grudge. They tend – in other words – to be a plot device.

Only two instances of murdered serving detectives initially sprang to mind, during my hour or so musings: Sherlock Holmes dying at the hands of Moriarty was the first. Chief Inspector Poole of Death in Paradise the other. Which reminded me of the third. His predecessor met a similarly gruesome end at the series launch. And lurking in the recesses of my mind, I have the distant memory of one of the Taggart team being murdered and that murder being made to look like suicide.

Anecdotal I admit. But this was a flight of whimsy: not scientific. Let me know if you can think of any others.

My very unscientific study of fiction complete, I turned to the consideration of the reality.

My research into police deaths – only for the City of London Police, I admit – makes interesting reading. There seems to be a similar pattern – though retired policemen fare better than their fictional counterparts.

According to the Police Roll of Honour, deaths prior to the murders of Bentley, Tucker and Choat (at Sidney Street in 1910) tended to be as a result of routine duties, not malice. The notable exception is Detective Sergeant Charles Thain who died on the 4 December 1857, aged 45. He was fatally shot by the prisoner he was escorting (by ship) from Hamburg.
Of the 23 deaths in the years following Sidney Street, air raids took 18 of these. Not one policeman was recorded as “murdered”.

This gave me pause. Perhaps I’m being too narrow. I have in my head – due to the scene I am writing – a premeditated act. Some officers did die in the pursuit of suspects. Is that not murder in the broader sense? Is it manslaughter? One poor chap was runover whilst directing traffic. Deliberate? Another killed while running beside a car while he talked to the driver. Murder? Accident? The roll of honour does not say.

Certainly these men died of injuries gained in the line of duty. But are they murder. For me. No.

Thus I conclude, only 4 city of London Police were murdered in 150 years. A mercifully tiny number.

Musings over, and awake in the witching hour, I return to my very angry man. I need, I realise, to work more on the reactions of those around him. I need to decide how to play out a scene where my reader – whilst horrified – understands what drives someone to such an extreme where he will do the unthinkable. In other words: this scene, and the policeman who provokes it, need work.

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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: 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.

6word story February 2017

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The dog’s stick was a snake

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