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…
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.
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.
He forgot to close the door.
A gentleman’s gentleman:
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.
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
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…
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!”
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?
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.
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
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.
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…
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
The dog’s stick was a snake