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Opera and ‘Opera’

Is it entirely coincidental that, at a time when I’m working on ‘Opera’, the next novel in the Cassandra Fortune series, I’m going to more opera than usual? No, of course not. The opera in ‘Opera’ is Tosca, Puccini’s ‘shabby little shocker’ (according to musicologist Joseph Kerman) set in Rome on 17th and 18th June 1800. The dating is precise because the plot is impacted by specific events, in particular the outcome, for some time in doubt, of the Battle of Marengo then taking place far to the north. The date of events in ‘Opera’ is precise too, though opera and novel have more in common than that. Both have a political backdrop of democracy under siege by the forces of repression and wealth, both have an arch-villain and a courageous heroine. I’m off to see ENO present this later in the summer.

It was a very different Puccini work which I went to see last Friday. Gianni Schicchi is a comedy, though its central character appears in Dante, the eponymous 13th century nouveau riche nobleman who is condemned to Hell for impersonating a dead man in order to acquire his property (including an ass). The company, St Paul’s Opera, is based at a Clapham church. It was set up by Patrician Ninian and others (who have since moved on) with the specific aim of offering accessible opera while encouraging and supporting aspiring young professional singers. Some of the finest were singing last week. It was, as it always is, a sell-out.

Friday evening was perfect, sunny and warm. The gates opened at a quarter to six and we sat, sipping wine and chatting before a pied piper, Musical Director Panaretos Kyriatzidis, appeared walked through the gardens to summon us to the first musical performance. This was of sacred music in the Eden Gardens, sung by many of the company who were to appear later in the opera.

We returned to our food and wine and, unfortunately, missed the second small performance, a string quartet playing, among other things, an old favourite of mine Night Music from the Streets of Madrid by Boccherini.  So we were determined to hear the third, a selection of aria from Puccini, Donizetti and Verdi, sung by some of that evening’s principals. Then it was everyone to the grassy area behind the church where the main event was to happen. Every part of the evening had, so far, been a delight and so was the buzz as folk drank up, gathered their jackets and walked down to the amphitheatre. What a joy it was to be part of a happy crowd of people again, all anticipating more fun to come.

The seating was in small blocks, with gaps between, just as the tables in the picnic area had been. The evening took place entirely outside, but social distancing was still in evidence. Not in the production, where the newly cold body of Buoso is surrounded by his grieving (and greedy) relatives, who, when the will is discovered, are forced to turn to the wily parvenu, Gianni Schicchi, to retrieve the situation.  As the sun set and the strains of ‘O mio babbino caro’ rang around the hushed churchyard, for a short time everything was right with the world. Here’s Kiri Te Kanawa singng the same.

Jericho

JerichoBookFairCanalReaders of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy will already be familiar with the alternative reality Jericho, the canal basin where the Gyptians live in Northern Lights. In real life Pullman has been an advocate in support of the residential boaters fight to save the Castlemill Boatyard in the actual Jericho from property developers. It’s that bohemian, formerly working class quarter of Oxford, bounded by the Oxford Canal, Worcester College, Walton Street and Walton Well Road. On Sunday it was host to the Jericho Book Fair, the very first post-lockdown book fair in the country, the organisers claimed. I went along.

Though raining on the way up and an absolute storm on the way back to London, JerichoJerichoBookFair itself was dry and plenty of people came out. There were lots of interesting stalls (I managed to buy as many books as I sold, including a 1956 Penguin Classics original edition of The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham and a more recent volume of Euripides). Oxford University Press were there, Blackwell’s Books and several other presses, as well as the Oxford Indie Book Fair.

I was on the Claret Press stand, which was also manned by fellow author Steve Sheppard, JerichoBookFairSteve(below) writer of one of my favourite comedy spy novels A Very Important Teapot. Steve lives in nearby Bampton and has just finished writing the sequel, Bored to Death in the Baltics, which involves herring, apparently and will be published in September. He had foregone the pleasure of umpiring for his local cricket team to come along and talk about books. Sylvia Vetta, another Claret author, was on the Oxford Indie Book Festival stand (she is one of its organisers) but we had time for a chat. Sylvia’s most recent novel Sculpting the Elephant is set, in part, in Jericho where one of the main characters has an antiques business.

The band started up which got the place buzzing, a regular ‘coffee run’ to a local hostelry was established and, as lunchtimeJerichoBookFairPloughSign approached, various purveyors of food arrived.  We, on the other hand, headed off along the canal towpath to walk to Wolvercote and The Plough Inn, a walk of about an hour. We had worked up quite an appetite before we came upon a sign to our destination thoughtfully provided for folk doing just as we were. The Plough is an unusual pub in that it has its own library, which seemed very appropriate, (as well as providing good pub grub at modest prices and real ale). We sat outside, eating, drinking and watching the muntjac playing before returning to the Fair, where things were in full swing.

JerichoBookFairMeCroppedKaren, the young lady from Ghana doing work experience with Claret Press, looked like she was enjoying herself and sales were being made as people were swaying along to a set by a quartet playing guitar, banjo, mouth organ and drums. There was much chat about books, what people liked to read, what they were reading at the moment and what could be found on the other book stalls at the Fair. I did a final swing around the other stalls (spending even more money. but buying only useful things, of course) before it was time to start packing everything away and heading off to the little village of Kennington for an early supper.

Well fortified with curry and wine (save for our driver) we eventually set off, leaving the cityJerichoBookFairstalls of dreaming spires behind, to return to the Great Wen. It was on the outskirts of north London that we encountered a torrential storm, with cars aquaplaning across the traffic lanes and drivers electing to drive in single file around roundabouts. Anyone familiar with London drivers will realise just how severe the weather conditions must have been to prompt such behaviour. Nonetheless, I arrived home, tired but happy, as they say, and only a little wet from my dash to the front door.  I look forward to repeating the experience next year, when I want to go inside St Barnabas Church and explore the area rather more.

You can find all the Claret Press books on their website where they are available for purchase here .

Clapham Book Festival 2021

clapham book festivallogo2Clapham’s quirky and much-loved literary festival is back for 2021, taking place on 16 October. It will feature events in a variety of formats, including literary walks and livestreaming of events as well as the usual live author discussions. This year will also see a number of online literary events during the summer and autumn in the lead up to the event in October, which will be delivered in partnership with Time & Leisure Magazine.

Paula Johnson (Society of Authors, Associate Director Royal Society of Literature, Royal Literary Fund Trustee) has put the programme together, and will include literary walks, author talks, and will feature highly acclaimed authors including Sir Michael Morpurgo, and a host of new and established local authors.

Says Paula: “Bringing back the Festival after a year of lockdown, our programme kicks off at 2pm with guided walksAnnemarie Neary author pic around the literary sites of Clapham led by local authors, including the novelist and award-winning short story writer Annemarie Neary and crime fiction writer, Julie Anderson. Clapham has a long and illustrious literary history and this is a unique way of exploring it, but ticket numbers are limited so be sure to get yours early. Although we cannot be sure what level of restrictions will apply in October, if any, the walks will take place regardless of all but the strictest of lock-down circumstances.”

At 5:30pm, Sir Michael Morpurgo will be at Omnibus Theatre. The former children’s laureate, multiple award-winning author and creator of the world famous War Horse, will be discussing his new book When Fishes Flew and his life and work. This is a perfect event for all ages. At 7:30pm, Ben Macintyre, historian, biographer and columnist for The Times Ben Macintyre USE - credit Justine Stoddartnewspaper, will be discussing his most recent book Agent Sonya, a biography of Soviet agent, Ursula Kuszinsky and trading stories of legendary spies with local author and broadcaster Simon Berthon.

Come and meet the authors and have your books signed (authors’ works will be on sale at Omnibus thanks to the support of partner, local independent bookshop Clapham Books). There will also be live streaming of both performances, for those who cannot attend in person, with a copy of the author’s book included in the ticket price. Tickets for both types of event will be on sale at the start of September via Eventbrite, as well as for the literary walks.

The Book Festival will also be presenting a series of live author events and discussions online in partnership with TimeElizabeth Buchan author pic & Leisure Magazine. This is a new departure for the Festival. It will bring high quality author interviews, often with local authors or writers connected with Clapham and south London to a wider audience all year round. Panel discussions and conversations are planned. The first of these, with best-selling local author Elizabeth Buchan, whose new book Two Women of Rome was published in June, will be taking place on 28 July.  Elizabeth will be discussing her work, the settings for her books and the importance of history in her books. This is a free event to inaugurate the programme but please register at  Eventbrite here.

Australia 1992

…is the name of a free exhibition currently to be seen at Tate Modern. I went along to see it by chance, mainly because a friend let me know that she’d be up in town at relatively short notice, but I was very glad that I did.  I learned a lot, saw some fabulous art and appreciated again what a disaster colonialism was for just about everybody but Europeans ( particularly, but not exclusively, us Brits ).

Eddie Mabo1992 is an important year in Australian law and history because the High Court of Australia delivered a landmark ruling known as the ‘Mabo decision’. This overturned the legal concept of ‘terra nullius’ – land belonging to nobody – which was used to justify taking over the land, occupied for thousands of years by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, that subsequently became known as Australia. Eddie Koiki Mabo was a Torres Strait Islander, a Meriam man, who, along with other Islanders, filed a claim in the High Court for native title to portions of Mer Island. After ten years, on 3rd June 1992, the High Court found for Eddie, who had died of cancer five months earlier.  3rd June is celebrated as ‘Mabo Day’ in the Torres Strait Islands and there is an ongoing campaign to make it a national Australian holiday. This exhibition looks at artworks inspired by the relationship between land and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, sometimes created in response to land disputes and colonialism.

I was unaware of the sheer number of different groupings of Aboriginal people and Islanders in Australia, somethingAiatsis Map of Australia one sees at the very start of the exhibition on the Aitsis Map. I had understood a little about the connection between the Aboriginal people and the land, a reciprocal and custodial relationship. They do not ‘own’ it in the European sense of dividing and apportioning pieces of land, but have an ongoing cultural connection with it, which underpins their history, spiritual beliefs, language, lore, family and identity.  This is inherent in the art of contemporary artists like Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Dale Harding and John Mawurndjul ( I loved his woven female ancestor ).

I was also unaware that there was an Aboriginal flag!  It is red, black and gold and can be found in Gordon Bennett’s Possession Island ( Abstraction ) 1991, a reflection, from a different perspective, of the British history paintings depicting the raising of the Union Jack on the ‘virgin’ land. It is also, briefly, in the tall man, 2010 of Vernon Ah Kee, a video installation of great power which depicts in ‘documentary’ style the events on Palm Island, of Queensland, in November 2004, following the death in police custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee a local man. The police station, police barracks and local court house were burnt down.

a preponderance of aboriginal blood 2005 by Judy Watson born 1959

I was particularly impressed with Judy Watson’s series a   preponderance of aboriginal blood, 2005, above. This is a series of  reproductions of official documents and letters from the  Queensland State Archive, including electoral enrolment  statutes which excluded people with ‘a preponderance of  aboriginal blood’ from voting. It’s astonishing that these forms of institutional racism and discrimination continued until the 1960s. There were also some fine photographs from Tracy Moffatt in her Up in the Sky series from 1997 capturing the heat, dirt and poverty of an outback town, with references to the scandal of the ‘Stolen Generations’ which saw aborigine children removed from their parents and placed with white families. Although not displayed in any narrative order, these pictures clearly tell a story about that town and the people in it.

This exhibition is FREE and runs until Spring 2022. It is well worth seeing, though booking is, currently, required.

What Do Words Matter?

In his opera Capriccio, Richard Strauss posed the question, is the music in opera based on the words or are the words based on the music? He personified it in the form of two men competing for the love of one woman and left the answer somewhat ambiguous. Yesterday evening I went along to a local church to hear two librettists discuss this and other questions. Very interesting it was too.

Meredith Oakes is a playwright, dramaturge and violinist who is also a very successful librettist, working with Gerald Barry (The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit, 1995) and Thomas Ades (The TempestPhiliphensher, 2004), the latter opera performed around the world. She is currently working on a piece to be performed in her native Australia. Philip Hensher is better known as a novelist, twice listed for the Man Booker Prize (The Mulberry Empire, 2002 and The Northern Clemency, 2008) but has an abiding love of opera and produced the libretto to Thomas Ades’ debut opera Powder Her Face (1995). His latest book is A Small Revolution in Germany (Fourth Estate, 2020). The discussion was marshalled by Jonathan Boardman, Vicar of St Pauls, Clapham, where the event took place.

We began at the beginning, how does collaboration between composer and librettist start? For Hensher it was almostPowderHerFace by chance, it was he who suggested the subject of Ades’ first opera, the scandalous divorce between the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, which became Powder Her Face. He described the process as a suggestive and seductive one, the librettist leaving a trail of breadcrumbs (words) to entice the composer into following creatively and then to exceed the limitations of those words. Oakes described the process differently, more of a collaboration in joy. She took on the task of writing the libretto for an opera based on Shakespeare which was filled with particular challenges. She described the process as being like ‘walking around a monument, seeing it from different angles and bringing out its different aspects’. Should she adopt iambic pentameter, the verse form used most frequently by Shakespeare? Yet it might constrain or run directly against the meter of the music. Should she use it occasionally, or abandon it altogether? She also had a particular problem in that, in the play the heroine Miranda, daughter of Prospero, says very little. Oakes had to get inside the head of this character and give her more of a voice, bringing out her hopes and fears in order for her to act as a balance within the opera.

The discussion ranged widely. Is the collaboration improved by the composer and librettist being friends? Both theOakesthetempest librettists speaking last night remain friends with the composers they had worked with, but there are some examples of the relationship between collaborators breaking down. So much so in Harrison Birtwhistle’s case that one of his librettists alleged that Birtwhistle had tried to run him down with his car! Gilbert and Sullivan cordially hated each other (though they made a lot of money together). On the other hand there have been some great collaborations between partners, like that between Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears (though Britten was, apparently, notoriously difficult to work with).

Throughout the conversation was punctuated by illustrations, pieces written in English and set to music across the StPaulsages, by Purcell, Handel, Gilbert & Sullivan and Britten. The young singers, Hugh Benson (tenor), Alexandra Dinwiddie (mezzo-soprano), Edwin Kaye (bass cantate) and Davidona Pittock (soprano) were from St Paul’s Opera, accompanied by pianist Elspeth Wilkes.

Add in some Provencal rosé, a sunny summer’s evening in a churchyard and music in a church with a wonderful acoustic for music. What more could one ask?

‘Opera’ London

BromptonCemeteryStatuaryI’ve recently been out and about looking at the places in London where the third book in the Cassandra Fortune series, entitled ‘Opera‘, is set.  The obvious one, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, is not yet open to anyone but ticket holders to socially distanced performances ( though I have a contact there for when it opens more widely ), but there are others, less obvious and, to non-Londoners, perhaps something of a revelation. If ‘Plague‘ was set in places that we all know, even if it took you to parts of those places which are usually closed to view, or hidden, ‘Opera’ will introduce some settings which are less well-known, but, I hope, people may then visit.

I visited one of these last week, just before the heatwave hit.  Cloudy weather notwithstanding, Brompton Cemetery was still a delight to visit. Designed as a ‘Garden Cemetery’ and meant, from its inception, to be a public space as well as a last resting place, the cemetery stretches over a long, rectangular-shaped forty acres on the Fulham Chelsea borders. It has a grand entrance lodge gate at its northern extremity which houses a café, an information centre and exhibition space ( and which will feature in the book ) and which looks down a grand main avenue towards the chapel and colonnade at the far end. BromptonCemeteryMainAvenue

The main avenue is flanked by the grander grave markers and mausolea, this was the most public and therefore the most expensive part of the cemetery to bury your loved ones. The side avenues and circles have their fair share of statuary and raised tombs too, though the still working part of the cemetery to the west is in a lower key. On Wednesday, when I visited, the cow parsley was rampant and allowed to be so, only the edges of the lawns next to the avenues were mown ( except for the railed section of the cemetery which belongs to the Brigade of Guards and which was fully mown with military precision ).  Butterflies and bees were plentiful, the latter possibly living in the cemetery bee hives still kept on the west side of the cemetery.

BromptonCemetery1Brompton is one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ Victorian cemeteries, which includes Highgate, with its graves of Karl Marx, George Eliot and other very famous people and Kelsall Green with its oft-filmed catacombs. While well known to locals – and a godsend during lockdowns – it is less widely known than these others. Both Kelsall Green and Tower Hamlets ( another Magnificent Seven cemetery ) featured in ‘Plague’. Brompton is owned by the Crown and run by The Royal Parks and includes many military graves, including of Commonwealth service personnel maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and many Czechoslovak, Polish and Russian military burials.  It is also evidence of the diversity of Victorian London, housing as it did and does, the remains of individuals ranging from Chief Long Wolf of the Ogulala Sioux nation to Johannes Zukertorte, Jewish-Polish chess grandmaster and the Keeley and Vokes families, music hall artistes and actors. Other individuals buried here include a Mr Nutkin, Mr Brock, Mr Tod, Jeremiah Fisher and Peter Rabbett – Beatrix Potter lived nearby and was known to walk in the cemetery often, did these names inspire her?

BromptonCemeteryCatacombEntranceThe Chapel at the cemetery’s southern end wasn’t open last week, but the grand colonnade is open all year round. Built in a style aping that of St Peter’s Square in Rome, the Colonnade runs above catacombs, which were fashionable for a brief time in Victorian London ( all too brief, additional catacombs built along the west side of the cemetery were never fully occupied ). The steps down to them are very wide and shallow, mainly because the lead-lined coffins deemed necessary for catacomb interment were extremely heavy and therefore difficult for pallbearers to carry and manoeuvre. The catacombs themselves are not open to the public except on special tours and open days and the locked metal doors, with their sculpted serpentine bas reliefs offer tantalising glimpses within.

If you happen to be in West London and have an hour or so to spare, you could do worse than spend it in this tranquil and interesting haven from the city which surrounds it. I will, most certainly, be back.

All good things…

OracelandPlagueThere are always interesting things happening in the world of books, book festivals and publishing, but right now many are happening as a result, direct or otherwise, of the enforced lockdown and the removal of the usual ways in which books and literature are promoted and supported.  I’ve experienced this myself, with publication of not one, but two books during COVID times. Gone were the signings, the book tours, the attending of literary festivals. My publisher’s idea of handing out the first two chapters of ‘Plague’ in a small, bound leaflet at Westminster Tube station ( the book is set in part in the Palace of Westminster ) was completely stymied by the pandemic. There were few folk emerging for work in Whitehall and even fewer tourists last year and, in any case, who was going to take a leaflet from a stranger which had PLAGUE written across the top?

chatInstead, book promotion has moved even further into the virtual world. I have ‘met’ lots of people online when promoting the books in this way, people who I now think of as friends, even if I’ve never actually met them. I have invitations to Edinburgh, Newcastle and Tamworth and supporters of myself and my books across the globe, not just the book shops of south east England.  I also have a network of friendly fellow authors, with whom I have appeared on panel discussions and other platforms or have coincided online with for other reasons.  And I ‘know’ a host of folk via Facebook, a medium I hadn’t really used at all until very recently, but which, in COVID-times, has provided a host of alternative ‘communities’ for bookish folk – writers and readers.

Plague book tour bannerYes, much of this could have happened anyway, events like blog tours have been going for some time now, though there is a limit on the amount of time available for book promotion and certainly a limit on my publisher’s budget, but the restrictions have been a catalyst, at least for me and, I suspect, many others.  As we become familiar with the technology and comfortable with the zoomed or skyped or livestreamed world new ideas spring up and take root. There are new things afoot in the world of book bloggers with live author chats, discussions between bloggers about books and with book club events – e.g. Mairéad Hearne at Swirl and Thread is hosting launches, Poppy Loves Book Club is hosting a series of online events and the lovely folk at the UK Crime Book Club host regular author chats and discussions and authors reading from their books – to name but three.  These are all offering free events ( as long as you have the internet, of course ).

camera-6209482_1920Some things will never be the same again I suspect. Livestreaming, a lifeline for dark theatres and closed halls, is here to stay for performance generally, reaching wider, more dispersed audiences. Many festivals of all kinds, including Clapham Book Festival, will offer livestreaming alternatives alongside live events. Our partners, Omnibus Theatre certainly plans to do so. All of which is a boon to those who would not be able to attend events like this in the normal course of things, the infirm or elderly, or those living in isolated, or culturally deprived, locations. They can now not just watch but contribute to and take part in events – which would have been unthinkable before. None of the libraries I’ve done sessions for, sometimes structured ‘talks’, sometimes conversations, plan to retreat from these online events, though they will return to providing ‘live’ ones too. Let’s hope that they’re staffed to do so.  Festivals too are going online. And the Clapham Book festival is no exception – more news on that in due course.

The Festival is Back

clapham book festivallogo2And it will probably will never be the same again!

The date for the diary is Saturday 16th October 2021, with a mixed Programme of events, including Literary Walks, lead by local authors, and live author events at Omnibus Theatre, Clapham, which will also be livestreamed for those who do not live close enough, or do not wish, to attend in person.

The two headliners for this year are Sir Michael Morpurgo, multiple award winner and former Children’s Laureate and Ben Macintyre historian, reviewer and columnist of The Times newspaper.

Sir Michael is the winner of the Whitbread Children’s Book Award, the Prix Sorcieres (three times), the Red House Children’s Book Award (four times), the Blue Peter Book of the Year and many others. He was knighted in the 2018 Honours List for services to literature and charity. He and his wife set up Farms forMichaelMorpurgo City Children in 1976 and the charity now owns three farms in Wales, Devon and Gloucestershire. His most famous work is probably War Horse, which was adapted for the stage and became the most successful National Theatre production ever, being seen by over ten million people worldwide. It was made into a cinema film, directed by Stephen Spielberg, in 2011. He recently presented the Radio 4 series ‘Folk Journeys’ in which he considered some of the greatest songs ever composed.  Sir Michael’s latest book is When Fishes Flew, illustrated by George Butler, to be published this Autumn.

AgentSonyaCoverBen Macintyre is an author, historian, reviewer and columnist for The Times newspaper. His most recent book, Agent Sonya, is a biography of Soviet agent Ursula Kuczinsky, has been acclaimed as a thriller as well as a piece of history.  Both events will be livestreamed and live stream ticket holders will receive a copy of the respective author’s book.  If we are in another lockdown or under other restrictions in force the event will go ahead as a livestream only, or, potentially as a zoom event.

Earlier in the day the Festival goes al fresco, out and about in Clapham. For centuries the home and haunt of writers of all kinds, Clapham has a long and illustrious ( and sometimes less than respectable ) literary history. Join local authors Elizabeth Buchan and, later, Annemarie Neary, on a Literary Walk round the manor.  Elizabeth’s latest novel Two Women of Rome  is published in June ( though her earlier book, The New Mrs Clifton was set in Clapham ) and Annemarie’s The Orphans, is set on Clapham Common itself. The walk takes approximately two hours (although that depends on how muchT&L Media logo Box NEW.eps discussion there is in each group). Ticket numbers will be limited so it’ll be important to book early. We hope the walks can take place in any circumstances but a strict lockdown.

More exciting news is that CBF is now partnered with Time & Leisure magazine and the Book Festival is planning, with the magazine, to offer a selection of bookish author events available online year round. Watch this space for developments. Tickets for all events, online, livestreamed and in person, either in the Theatre or out and about, will be available on Eventbrite.

 

 

 

 

Politics in crime fiction

CapitolRiot3My contemporary crime fiction is set in the world of high politics ( and low sleaze ), of ministers, conferences, lobbyists and business interests. Activists of various kind also feature, particularly in Oracle. In that book a contemporary political issue also impacts upon the plot; the politicisation of the police. This is specifically regarding the Greek criminal organisation Golden Dawn, which formerly styled itself a political party and to which many police belonged in the real world. There are other examples of politics intruding on police work, most notably in the U.S., where former President Trump deployed ‘private’ police forces funded with federal money in cities where demonstrations were taking place ( see pic left ). A ‘defund the police’ movement began as a result of this and of the repeated deaths in custody of black people. So far, so scary.

I’ve been speculating on whether or not this is going to appear more widely in crime fiction. It would be material to any fictional investigation. Can the investigator, police or otherwise, trust the policemen and women with whom they work?  Could those individuals owe allegiance to a different, political, organisation altogether?

To an extent this brings to mind the conspiracy novels of the 1970s, published just as the gloss of 60s idealism wasSerpico tarnished. In the US the Vietnam War, in the UK the three-day week and ‘the sick man of Europe’ made for a more sceptical and hard boiled sensibility.  The Day of the Jackal, The Andromeda Strain, Six Days of the Condor are three crime/conspiracy novels, turned into major films, which spring to mind.  Then there was police corruption, found in crime fiction like Lawrence Block’s NYPD stories, Leonardo Sciascia in Sicily ( long before Montalbano ) or countless Hollywood films, the Dirty Harry movies, Serpico, The French Connection. Is the politicisation of the police going to be something similar?

Then it occurred to me that maybe there were books already out there, it was just that I hadn’t come across them. So I asked, on the Facebook page of one of the UK’s biggest Crime Fiction clubs, for suggestions of crime fiction which involved politics. Now this isn’t quite the same as ‘the politicisation of the police’ I grant you, but I was interested to see what suggestions arose.

First Quinin Jardine’s Bob Skinner series, following Edinburgh’s fictional Chief Superintendent, was recommended as Crime & Punishmenthaving the politics of policing threaded though it (as it happens these also arose during a discussion I had on Sunday ).  Then a series I had never heard of but will definitely try – Ausma Zehanat Khan’s duo detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty. Khan is a British born Canadian and now lives in the U.S. and her pair are Community Police Officers in Toronto, but the books range across the world. One series I remembered as soon as it was suggested was the Law & Order TV series based on four plays by G F Newman, which were also published as books A Detective’s Tale, A Villain’s Tale and A Prisoner’s Tale. HarperCollins reprinted them in an omnibus edition in 1984. These were controversial at the time, as they depicted a corrupt UK policing and legal system and shouldn’t be confused with the US TV series of that name. The UK series was altogether harder and grittier and caused ructions. As did Newman’s later Crime and Punishment, which involved a criminal bankrolling the Conservative party ( where have I heard that before )?

This is as far as the discussions went – although there were suggestions for other TV series, like the current favourite Line of Duty.  If readers of this piece can think of more crime fiction in which politics features, please don’t hesitate to tell me.

Publication Day!

OracleonphoneheldbywomanatlakeSo ‘Oracle’ is loose upon the world, at first with a tentative snuffling, a rootling, then a leaping and bounding – into reader’s hands, hearts and minds, I hope. There isn’t a launch, not even a virtual one, there are better ways to spend one’s energy and time right now, though I would like to give a heartfelt thank you to all those people who have supported me and the book and congratulated me and wished the book well.

It’s now available on bookshop.org and via the Claret Press web-site ( postage & packing of paperbacks is free, while stocks last ) as well as on Mr Besos’ ubiquitous platform ( which still sells more books than anywhere else online ) and Waterstones.  Both paperbacks and ebooks are available costing £9.99 and £3.99 respectively ( though Amazon alters the price it charges unilaterally, I was surprised to see the ebook up for pre-order for £5.99 at one point – proof that there were pre-orders at any rate ). If you happen to live in south London the book can be found at Clapham Books and Herne Hill Books ( and several other local book emporia ).  It can be ordered from all good book shops.

And I’m busy.  I had great fun this afternoon being interviewed for ‘The Doctor Will See You Now’ by Jacky Gramosi Collins, also known as Dr Noir NewcastleNoir( Jacky founded Newcastle Noir, was instrumental in the Edinburgh Noir at the Bar and most recently, has been deeply involved with Gwyl Crime Cymru, Wales’ first Crime Fiction Festival ). This will be broadcast on Thursday 6th May – it’s free to air and you can find it here, when I get the link. I’ve also been chatting on StreamYard with Sam Brownley of the UK Crime Book Club. I’ll be doing a talk for the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster Libraries too, on 17th May. It’s free but you need to register ( tickets from Eventbrite ). I’ve enjoyed preparing for that – it’s all about Delphi, ancient and modern and its myths and literature, as well as ‘Oracle’. In the meanwhile there are a number of events for book clubs and subscribed podcasts and some radio interviews coming up too, the Events page of this web-site will be kept up to date.

OracelandPlagueThere will be some fizz drunk this evening, which is probably my only concession to the traditional response to publication.  Releasing two books in two years, only eight months apart, but into a world wracked by COVID has not been what I would have expected or wanted. Nonetheless, readers seemed to enjoy ‘Plague’ and, I hope, will also enjoy ‘Oracle’ although it is a very different type of book, much more the ‘classic’ murder mystery. I am already hard at work on ‘Opera’ the third in the series, which sees Cassie return to London determined to lay some old ghosts to rest after her experience in Delphi.

If any of you reading this are about to read ‘Oracle’ please do write a review when you have done so, on Goodreads and Amazon or Waterstones, wherever you purchased the book. That will help other potential readers and, if you enjoy reading it, TELL EVERYONE ABOUT IT!  

In the meanwhile, I raise a glass to you all.