Black Friday and other stories

OracleCassiequoteVBGreyAll the published writers I know (except one) accept the need to promote their books, whether they are contractually obliged to do so, as a traditionally published author, or understand that they must get themselves and their book out there as a self-published author. Only those established enough to command a hefty advertising and promotion budget within their publishing house can sit back and even they can’t relax. Sir Michael Morpurgo, who is as established as they get, was on the road promoting his latest book at the Clapham Book Festival in October.

There are a plethora of ‘Black Friday’ deals being unleashed upon the general public this week and it’s no99pposter exception, with Christmas around the corner, in the book world. The ebook of Plague has been reduced to 99p online across stores (and on the Claret Press website) and I am publicising that at the same time as organising ‘giveaway’ competitions for free copies of Oracle within online book groups, like The Motherload.  It happens also to be six months since Oracle came out, so there is a bona fide reason to do the giveaway, aside from Black Friday.

TheMotherloadBookGroupFor a small publisher like Claret this is a neat way to get free advertising. For example in this ‘giveaway’ via Facebook of three books ( at cost and with postage of approximately £3 per book ) Oracle’s cover and blurb, as well as some quoted reviews, has reached 174,000 people in the last twenty four hours. Mostly these are via Twitter but the Club itself has 12,000 members.  At time of writing over eighty people have ‘entered’.

When the three winners’ names have been drawn out of the hat I will send each of them a signed copy,OraclePostcardimage complete with Oracle postcard and  message congratulating them, hoping that they enjoy reading the book and asking, if they do enjoy it, if they would pass the word on, by way of a review or a post in the Facebook Book Group and/or on Goodreads. If they do so this will generate more publicity. Oracle is, of course, readable as a standalone novel, but it may also encourage some folk to buy Plague, especially given its reduced price.

To that end I am appearing as a writer guest tomorrow night in the UK Crime Book Club’s Pub Quiz (Only not in a Pub). I don’t know what sort of audience there’ll be – the Club has over twenty thousand members – though I know there’s a Noir at the Bar tomorrow night so there’s quite a lot of competition.  It’s the ‘Thank Andrew’ edition, because November includes both Thanksgiving and St Andrew’s Day, with the focus on U.S. and Scottish crime fiction. I have been madly mugging up on both and realising just how much good crime fiction there is out there that I know nothing about. Wish me luck with the Quiz, I hope I don’t make a complete fool of myself ( preparing for a Select Committee hearing was never as nerve-wracking ).

Once I get the latest version of the manuscript of Opera off to Claret ( which is imminent ) I will be taking advantage of some Black Friday deals myself. 

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.

Ten Days to Go

OracleontabletbyseashoreSo, it’s just ten days before ‘Oracle’ the second of the Cassandra Fortune books is released on to an unsuspecting world. Actually, it’s not that unsuspecting, as review copies have been out for some time and people are saying nice things about it.  So, Isabelle Grey, author of the DI Grace Fisher stories, whose latest ‘Tell Me How It Ends‘ (Quercus) is set in London in the early sixties said ‘Cassandra Fortune is as fearless and shrewdly observant as any classic action hero , yet also intriguingly able to admit vulnerability. Will the Furies catch up with her in this very modern political thriller set amid the ruins of ancient Greece?’  Jacky Gramosi Collins, aka the famous Dr Noir, described ‘Oracle’ as ‘a text that reminds us of the way the past resonates in the present and the lessons we all need to learn’. Steve Sheppard, author of ‘A Very Important Teapot‘ said ‘Plague was gripping and original, and Oracle is a masterful sequel. The plot keeps us guessing right to the end as the intriguing cast of characters are handled with skill and care.’ ( Steve is a fellow Claret Press author ) and the playwright David Armstrong described it as ‘a page-turner, an engaging and absorbing read’.

Book bloggers like it. For example, Jean M Roberts of The Books Delight, saidModern Ivory New Blog Publish Instagram Post ‘There are more twists, turns and unexpected revelations in this story than the path leading to the Corycian Cave and they will keep readers guessing until the unexpected end’. NetGalley reviews have been favourable too, with plenty of five and four star reviews.  I will, however, be making some last minute amendments, after having received detailed comments from Maro Nicolopolou of the European Cultural Centre at Delphi, for which I am very grateful.

There are a whole host of things happening in the virtual world on or around publication day, 5th May ( some of which are listed on the Events page of this website ). I’m being interviewed by Dr Noir for ‘The Doctor Will See You Now’ on Newcastle Noir TV – I’ll be attending that Festival of Crime Fiction later in the year – which will be broadcast on 6th May. I’m speaking with Staffordshire and Kensington & Chelsea Libraries, as well as several radio stations and with book clubs ( the UK Crime Book Club for example ) and there are a series of regional newspaper reviews in the pipeline, from The Somerset Leveller, The Yorkshire Times, The Lancashire Times, Time & Leisure Magazine and others. I’m also going international on Armand Rosamilia’s Floridian podcast. Needless to say, the writing of ‘Opera’ is being put on the back burner for a short while at least.   

OracleonphoneonplaneAnd in the real, physical, world? Things are gradually opening up but not quickly enough for the traditional book launch to take place and I shall have the dubious distinction of having launched TWO books during COVID restricted life. Unfortunately, though local London bookstores will carry the book, it’s unlikely to get a wider distribution, as my publisher’s distributor has, like so many other businesses, fallen foul of the economic disaster that is COVID. It is available, however, and listed with Neilsen’s so can be ordered from other stores and can be purchased from Bookshop.org, the site which gives more of its profits to independent book shops and publishers, on the Claret Press web-site and, of course, on Amazon. It runs to 274 pages and costs £9.99 for the paperback and £3.99 for ebook.

The company which produces promotional images of ‘Oracle’ seems to be majoring on the holiday market, with images of the book, in its various forms, on beaches and planes. Fingers crossed, for all sorts of reasons, that we can all get to travel internationally again. ‘Oracle’ would certainly be ideal vacation reading, even though it isn’t a hot and sunny Greece it is set in but rather a cold and stormy one.  I suspect that, after all the interviews, talks and other activity I’ll be ready for a holiday – and a return to ‘Opera’ and writing!

 

I speak for the God

DelphicSibylByMichelangeloAt Delphi it was the Pythia who spoke for the god Apollo – ‘prophet’ or prophetess’ originally meaning ‘spokesperson’. At Cumae it was the similarly Apollonian Sibyl and at Siwah in Egypt another sibyl, supposedly of the line of Poseidon and related to Nile, spoke for Zeus-Ammon. The first two were real women and, unusually for much of the ancient world, women who had power. They were actually a succession of women who filled the ‘office’ of Pythia or Sibyl ( although it is said that the most famous of the latter was granted extra long life and lived until very old, shrunken and wizened ). They certainly helped determine policy. As Cicero says of the Delphic Pythia, there wasn’t a important decision taken in the ancient Greek world without consulting her.

My temple guide in ‘Oracle’ explains, ‘All the peoples of the Mediterranean world made precious offerings here, even the Great Pharaoh of Egypt’. Many of the consultations were well documented – people poured over the Pythia’s previous declarations to see how accurate, or otherwise, she was. Anyone of a sceptical turn of mind might think this accounted for the especially ‘cryptic’ nature of her advice which could, therefore, be interpreted in many ways. Her220px-John_Collier_-_Priestess_of_Delphi most famous prediction was probably that given to King Croesus of Lydia ( the Croesus who was so rich that his name became a byword for wealth – ‘as rich as Croesus’ ). Croesus, who had clearly hoped to find favour with the Pythia by sending her vast quantities of gold, was pondering whether or not to invade the neighbouring kingdom of Persia, then ruled by Cyrus. She advised him that, should he do so, he would destroy a great empire. Croesus duly launched his campaign in 547 BCE. After some inconclusive fighting, Cyrus defeated Croesus at Thymbria in 546 and Croesus took refuge in his capital of Sardis. The Siege of Sardis resulted in his capture and the Persians went on to annex Lydia. It was then clear that the empire which the Pythia foresaw Croesus destroying was his own.

The Pythia was right to be circumspect. It was said that when she refused to answer Alexander the Great’s question about how he could conquer the world he dragged her from the temple by her hair and she screamed ‘Now you are invincible!’. He dropped her, saying ‘Now I have my answer.’ At least he did her no lasting damage – it would have been too great a sacrilege. In 67 CE, however, the Emperor Nero, already a matricide, visited the Oracle and was told to get out, his presence offended the God and that the number 73 would be his downfall. Nero had the Pythia burnt alive. He thought the prophecy meant he would have a long reign and die aged 73. In fact his reign was short and he was deposed by Galba who was, at that time, 73 years old, a rather neat fact given the Pythia’s prediction.

CumaeSibylThe Pythia’s fame was assured and she features in drama, poetry, histories and other writings from about the sixth century BCE onwards ( although there was a priestess of legend supposedly at Delphi before then ). The Sibyl of Cumae may not have been quite as well known, but she had her adherents too, especially in the Roman period, and legendary stories grew up around her. The most famous was probably that involving Tarquin, the supposed last king of Rome, and the Sybilline books. An unknown woman arrived in Rome and offered to sell the king nine books of prophesies. Given the enormous sum she asked for them Tarquin refused to buy. She burnt three of them and asked the same price for the remaining six. Again Tarquin refused and she burned another three. Only three books remained, but Tarquin relented and bought them, for the original asking price for the nine. At which point the woman disappeared and the books were stored in the temple of Capitoline Jove on the Capitol. They were burned in a subsequent fire.

The Cumaean Sibyl features in Virgil’s Aeniad and she was visited by the Emperor Augustus. After the fire on the Capitol Tacitus tells us that Augustus ordered that any Sybilline prophecies found elsewhere in the empire should be collected together and sent to Rome where they were held in honour. In legend the Sybil grew very old and, shrivelling in size, was eventually kept in a jar until only her voice remained.

The Sybil at Siwah is less well documented, more of a legendary figure and is sometimes called the Libyan Sybil, but the Oracle there is well known. SiwahLibyanSibyl_SistineChapel too was visited by Alexander the Great after his conquest of Egypt and though history doesn’t record how he treated the people there, it does say he went away content. The Siwah Oracle, wisely, forbade its supplicants from discussing what the Oracle had said, which pre-empted the examination of its prophesies which other prophetic Oracles were subject to. Unfortunately this also means we don’t have the wonderful stories about this oracle that we have about the other two. The legendary Sybil at Siwah was supposedly the daughter of Lamia, herself the daughter of Poseidon, God of the sea ( and she appears in Euripides play, Lamia ).

These prophetic women were in a long tradition. There were originally nine Grecian sybils of legend ( as opposed to real ones ) and many other less formal prophetesses or seers, in Greece and everywhere else. One such was Cassandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy, who, Homer says, foresaw the Trojan War and advised her fellow citizens not to bring the wooden horse inside Troy’s walls. She was, in legend, granted second sight by Apollo, but, when she refused his sexual advances was cursed with never being believed. She appears in drama and literature from ancient times to the present day and, it will not have gone unnoticed, shares a name with my heroine Cassandra Fortune. That Cassandra isn’t a prophetess, but, as a detective, can ‘see’ things which others miss. At least that’s my story.

The three matching images of sybils in this post are painted by Michaelangelo and can be found on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

For more on Delphi, the Temple and its history try                     The mountain of the house of the God                 Temple                  Imaginary Worlds 

‘Oracle’ Art

Given the antiquity of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and the cultural influence it has had over the millennia it’s not surprising that large numbers of visual artists have been inspired by it.  Followers of my twitter feed will know I have been collecting and sharing images of Delphi, the Temple of Apollo and the various historical or mythical beings who came there, drawn or painted by famous artists.  So, we’ve had Gustave Dore’s Dante and Virgil encountering the Erinyes or Furies (left), Edward Lear’s water colour of the Phaedriades, the massive cliffs which loom over the Temple site and William Blake’s illustration for ‘On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity’ showing ‘The Overthrow of Apollo and the Pagan Gods’.

I’ve come across plenty of works, from ancient times onwards,  which portray events or characters from Greek drama set at Delphi. On Greek redware (right) for example, showing the sleeping Erinyes being roused from their Apollo-induced slumber by the vengeful spirit of Clytemnestra, urging them to hunt down her son, and murderer, Orestes ( from Eumenides by Aeschylus ). Later paintings include Orestes being pursued by the same furies by, among others, John Singer Sergeant, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, John Flaxman and Franz Stuck, until we’re up to date with John Wilson (after  Bouguereau).

So popular did the image of this pursuit become that cartoonists soon created their own versions, like that in Puck magazine (1877) or in Punch (left). In this instance it is the Rt. Hon. John Bright MP who is in the Orestes role, being pursued by the vested interests which he opposed through the Anti-Corn Law League. It was Bright, famous for his oratorical skills among other things, who coined the phrase ‘Mother of Parliaments’. He is also credited with first using the phrase ‘flogging a dead horse’ to illustrate the pointlessness of certain activities (in Bright’s case this meant getting the House of Commons to consider Parliamentary reform – ’twas ever thus).

As figures of terror and myth the Erinyes feature strongly across the ages. Wenceslas Holler etched them in the seventeenth century (right) and they have re-emerged in modern day gaming ( though with a rather different, sexy, look which speaks to who it is who plays those games rather than any mythological authenticity ). Naked the furies may have, traditionally, been, but not looking like a set of pouting, come-hither dominatrices.

The Pythia, or priestess of Apollo who spoke, as the Oracle, with Apollo’s voice is also a favourite subject in paint and in sculpture.  Eugene Delacroix showed Lycurgus consulting her, John Collier made her a hooded, pre-raphaelite religious perched high on her tripod or three-legged stool (left).  Note the gases swirling upwards from the crack in the floor of her underground room, the inhalation of which led to her madness and prophecies.  No such crevice has been found at the Temple site, but, as a character explains in the book “geologists have found that two geological fault lines cross beneath Delphi, with fissures under the Temple itself which allow small amounts of naturally occurring gas to rise to the surface. Rock testing showed ethane, methane and ethylene − formerly used as an anaesthetic − to be present. These would create a calm, trancelike state and, if a lot was consumed, a form of wild mania.”

I will be posting more of the images I have found – of the Erinyes, of characters from the Orestia and of Delphi and the Temple of Apollo in the coming weeks on my twitter feed and Facebook page.  Look out for some of those mentioned above, as well as works by Klimt, Claude Lorraine and others in the run up to the publication of ‘Oracle’ on 5th May.

A most intrepid civil servant

That’s my heroine, Cassandra Fortune, according to Claret Press, my publishers. They are referring to my her as ‘the world’s most intrepid civil servant’.

There are plenty of real life intrepid civil i.e. non-military, servants of the Crown. The employees of the security services, for example, or holders of high profile positions like the Director of Europol. Policemen and women serve society in a civil capacity and there are lots of real as well as fictional police heroes and heroines, though, technically, they aren’t civil servants. The publishers are playing on the popular and entirely erroneous assumption that ‘civil servants’  are faceless ‘pen pushers’. I can personally attest to the fact that that stereotype is very far from reality.

There are plenty of civil servants in literature – see, for example, the entire oeuvre of C. P. Snow, various characters in the novels of Charles Dickens, Graham Greene, Iris Murdoch and A.S.Byatt, to name a few. But fictional civil servant detectives? Well, Cassie wouldn’t be the first.  They are more rare, though they do exist.

Natasha Cooper, former Chair of the Crime Writers Association had Willow King, at the Department for Old Age Pensions, who first appeared in Festering Lilies in the 1990s. Agatha Christie, no less, wrote a series of short stories featuring a retired civil servant named Parker Pyne in Parker Pyne Investigates (1934). I’m sure there must be others and there are probably real civil servants who are more intrepid, though they may not meet with murders and villains with such regularity as Cassandra does.

This started me thinking about the professions and jobs of fictional detectives. Aside from police and associated professions, including Private Investigators, what do fictional detectives do for a living?  Amateurs, by definition, many belong to the ‘gentleman’ or ‘lady’ detective category, individuals of independent means who are intrigued by mysteries and/or spurred on by a love of justice.  This covers many ‘early’ detectives, like Poe’s  Auguste Dupin or  Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey. From a quick hunt around my memory, there are plenty of writer or journalist detectives, whose job requires them to find things out, I suppose, but also former forces people, like Dr Watson or Sax Rohmer’s Nayland Smith the sleuth in his Fu Manchu novels. Academics feature but also psychologists and psychiatrists.  Lawyers too, in part I suppose because of their association with crime and the law, e.g. like Kate, in Sarah Vaughn’s best-selling Anatomy of a Scandal (2018)

There is a modern trend to go for something different. So we have Jimmy, homeless veteran and PTSD sufferer who is the hero of Trevor Woods’ Debut Dagger winning The Man on the Street (2020). Hetty Wainthropp, the working class retiree from Darwen in Lancashire, who first appeared in David Cook’s Missing Persons (1986) is another such unusual character.  Personally, I would like to see a Tesco’s check-out female investigator, who teams up with the assistant from the local chemist to solve crimes.  Or maybe a teacher, or a local authority drainage engineer? Ordinary people.

My heroine, Cassandra, is ordinary, though she’s intelligent, quick-thinking and brave, all attributes which don’t require a private income, a silver spoon or a university degree (though she has one of those).  And yes, she is intrepid and a civil servant, though not the first.

Second Time Around

…and things are more familiar. The activity which accompanies publishing a crime fiction book was new to me with Plague, but this time, with Oracle, it’s less so. There are fewer decisions than last time because much has already been determined, Oracle will be consistent with Plague, in size, in print, in design.  It even has approximately the same number of pages.

I’m having fun choosing, and helping create, some of the promotional images and these days such images come in various forms – Facebook banners, Instagram posts and Twitter headers – and some come with animation.  The one on the right is an Instagram post, which uses a photograph of the Treasury of the Athenians at the Temple of Apollo, Delphi, as well as a copy of the cover and its tagline – ‘Blood calls for blood’ on a background of a full moon rising above a hillside. There is an animated version of this too.

As I did for the launch of Plague, I’ve uploaded a new Facebook and a new Twitter Header, using the new banner shown below, which also now lies beneath my email signature.  This includes the same images as the Instagram post, with the addition of a rather wonderful artwork by Gustave Dore. The engraving is one of the French master illustrator’s pieces for The Divine Comedy, Canto IX ( 1867) and it shows Dante and Virgil encountering the Erinyes, or Furies. It is entitled ‘Megaera, Tisipone  and Alecto’, so I would imagine this might get used quite a lot ( it’s also out of copyright ). I’ve always been a Dore admirer and I’m not alone. As the Tate’s exhibition on Van Gogh showed, the Dutch painter loved Dore’s work and collected it, basing some of his own compositions on Dore engravings. This image appears in the banner, with the others, set against a background of black, with a wisp of blue/grey smoke curling across it and the tagline, which is in red this time. Very dramatic. I think it’s eye-catching. I just hope that the book isn’t mIstaken for a vampire novel (because of that tag-line). A number of early readers of Plague thought, from the blurb, that it was about a pandemic.  No fear of misunderstanding the title this time, the blurb makes reference to the ancient oracle, but who knows what else people with think of.

There are some differences too, in part because I’ve learned from experience. So, for example, there’s an Oracle postcard to send out with review copies (last time I exhausted my personal stock of notelets). Claret is having the ARCs printed at the moment and I’ll be looking to take receipt of boxes of books in the next week or so.  The other, more exciting thing is that readers are telling me that they’re waiting for the book to come out ( the virtue of having a series ). Also, it seems, there are a lot more media events – interviews, talks, blogs, podcasts – than last time.  In part, I suspect because I have more media contacts now (and I’m good value i.e. or the most part, free), but also because I’m no longer an unknown.  That Oracle is ‘the further adventures of…’ helps.

If any of the readers of this post has a book group which enjoys crime/mystery books and wants an author to come along and chat, let me know, I’m already doing some of these around the country (via the magic of the internet).  You can find out about them on the Events page of this web-site.

For more on Oracle                            Adieu to Delphi                   Crime Scene                Myths & Legends                     Zemiology                    Art and life – again!

 

Crime Scene

My new crime thriller Oracle is set in Delphi, Greece, close to the ancient Temple of Apollo half way up Mount Parnassus.  The crimes happen during an international conference taking place at the European Cultural Centre which lies just outside the town of Delphi. The ECCD is a real place, which I visited at the end of last century when I attended a conference there.

The Centre was founded in the 1970s, as a way of taking forward the modern Festivals held at Delphi in the 20s and 30s which were, in turn, a revival of the Festivals and Games held here in classical times.  Now the Centre is home to the Delphi Academy of European Studies which hosts symposia on European subjects, puts on performances of Greek drama ( in the ancient Theatre as well as the new, purpose built one ) and has an excellent collection of modern art. You can read more about it here.

It has a stunning and scenic position, high up and looking down to Itea on the Gulf of Corinth.  The Conference Centre and Guesthouse nestle among the cypress trees on the mountainside and there are private suites (one of which is occupied, in the novel, by a government Minister and his party).

Aside from the view and the nearby ancient Temple, I remember its fine, confident modern architecture, using local stone as well as concrete and lots of glass – making the most of those spectacular views.  My heroine, Cassandra, occupies one of the rooms in the Guesthouse (left) above the restaurant on the ground floor.

It was November when I was there and the weather wasn’t kind – it was mostly raining, but the mountain peaks were snow covered.  As I sat in that same restaurant with a storm raging outside and the lights flickering, briefly, a fellow conference goer suggested that it would be a tremendous place for a murder mystery. Over twenty years later, when Claret Press suggested that I write one, the ECCD and the beautiful ancient temple nearby immediately sprang to mind.

So it was Delphi, not London, which was the setting which I thought of first, but it soon became apparent to me that my first book, introducing the recurring character of my detective and her associates, should be set where most of the books would be taking place and that was London.  From there on it had to be Westminster and Thorney Island, places which I knew very well, having trodden the streets there for years.  Thus was Plague born. At the end of Oracle it is where Cassie returns to for the third book in the series, Opera, although I confess that I do have a yen to take her off to Rome at some point in the future, another city which I know very well.

I should point out that the title of this article is misleading, however. The ECCD is not, in fact, the scene of the crime, although it is there that both murderer and victim(s) meet.  And that, I’m afraid, is all you will get out of me about the plot.

Oracle (Claret Press) will be published on 5th May 2021.  It will soon be available for pre-order on Amazon and via the Claret Press website.

Adieu to Delphi

Sad as I am to leave beautiful Delphi (though it’s under deep snow at the moment I am told) I have, at least temporarily, waved goodbye to Oracle, which is now in the hands of the publishers and their book and cover designers. The manuscript has been proofed, the front cover tag-line and back cover blurb have been agreed and the internal design created, again by Petya Tsankova, so it’s consistent with that of Plague, which Petya also designed.

Like the earlier book, Oracle takes place over a few days, so that is how the book is divided up. My sketch of the Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi ( see below ) is featured on the named ‘day’ pages as the sketch of the Palace of Westminster was in Plague.  It looks good.  This time, however, the book has a ‘Praise for’ section at the front, ( squirm – it’s what is done ). At the moment this contains endorsements and complimentary review remarks about Plague.  As we approach publication day these will be augmented by what I hope will be complimentary reviews and endorsements of Oracle.  I also get an ‘About the Author’ at the back, so Claret Press must be pleased with me.

Already the promotional schedule of events is being formulated ( there are two events in place already, with the UK Crime Book Club and Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster Libraries, see the Events page ).  The manuscript will go up on NetGalley during March, for a limited period only, to attract reviews and test reader reaction.  Any revisions will follow and Advanced Review Copies will be produced and despatched to various ‘experts’ and to reviewers for newspapers, magazines and blogs. Quite a lot of the publications which reviewed Plague are anxious to follow up with a review of Oracle and, I’m pleased to say, there are plenty of readers out there who tell me that they re anxious to read it too. Publication day will be 5th May.

I’m very pleased to have the help of a number of ‘experts’ with Oracle, as I had on Plague.  These include Maro Nicolopolou, Head of Conferences and Artistic Programmes at the European Cultural Centre at Delphi, below (and a lover of detective fiction) and Sharon Hartles, zemiologist, of Strathclyde University and the Open University.  Maro has already been of inestimable help in directing me to all the changes at the Centre since I visited it back at the turn of the millenium and to the changes in the town.  This is so important given that the trip to Delphi I had planned for last year had to be abandoned because of COVID.  I’ll be writing about the amazing Centre and its conferences and performances later. Sharon has introduced me to the new discipline of zemiology and Oracle is probably the first time it has featured in a novel (see earlier post here).  She’ll be sure to put me right if I have erred.

So, a break from the actual writing then, until I begin on Opera, but not a break from work, with lots of activity around getting Oracle absolutely ready for publication and for its promotion and still doing lots of events for Plague.  I’ll be writing more about Oracle in the coming weeks, but here’s a photo of what Athens looked like earlier this week.

For articles on Oracle so far          Art and life – again!                Myths and Legends

Politics & Prose

Question – which of the following is true?

  • Stories which deal with political ideas need not be stories about politics.
  • Stories which show the struggles, jealousies and rivalries, or alliances and betrayals of politicians, may not be about political ideas.
  • Most fiction is about power and its balance, so all fiction is about the political.

All three, as far as I’m concerned. It depends, of course, on how you define politics and the political. The dictionary definition is ‘the art or science of government or governing, especially the governing of a political entity, such as a nation; and the administration and control of its internal and external affairs. ‘

While that encompasses an awful lot, it is actually quite a narrow definition.

Yet, as Orwell said in Politics and the English Language his essay of 1946, ‘There is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.’ Since 2019 the UK has had a prize, the Orwell Prize for political fiction.

I will be addressing these questions and lots of similar, related ones in Politics & Prose, a talk for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster Libraries on Monday 25th January at 18.30 GMT. It’s a FREE event, but you have to register with Eventbrite if you want to attend ( you can do so HERE ).

My novel Plague (Claret Press, 2020) has been described as a ‘Westminster novel’, and, I am proud to say, a page-turning read, but is it political fiction?  It’s commercial, not literary fiction, but that shouldn’t prevent it dealing with ideas. It  deals with crime, with torture and murder, but also, something of very topical moment,  crony capitalism. As my hero says to the villain, ‘you’re ensuring the contracts go to the right companies so you can reward your friends and allies.’ (P246) There are real legal cases underway claiming that the current government is using the COVID emergency to indulge in exactly that.

As the pandemic began early last year I believed that Plague had lots of resonance with reality and, of course, its title attracted attention. Yet, as time has gone on, it has been the politics, not the pandemic, which resonates more. The crony capitalism, the link between political policy and making money on the financial markets and manipulating the media to influence the public that seems more apposite. Plague‘s successor, Oracle, is much more of a ‘classic murder mystery’, though I hope it has the same page-turning quality. Yet it too has the political at its heart and, already, some of its themes are hitting the real-life headlines, like questions about the politicisation  of the police, something which surfaced again after the assault on the U.S. Capitol.  I suspect that this issue is something crime writers will be incorporating in their stories for the next few years.

I’d also like to answer the following question;  in an age in which the novel is arguably no longer the dominant force in story telling and when social media allows us all to be citizen journalists and political commentators, what place does political fiction have? An important and relevant one, in my view. And I’m not alone – see this piece of graffiti, found in London, NW7 earlier this week ( thank you John Johnston for the photo ).  Is the political image of our age the age of the boot on the face, or the pill and the palliative? Orwell or Huxley?

I hope some readers of this piece might come along and contribute on Monday.  Here’s a book list of books which will be mentioned.

Politics & Prose Book List