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.

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.

For Valentine’s Day?

It’s Valentine’s Day on Sunday and the media company who do the promotional images for Plague had a Valentine’s Day version in the series relating to topical dates and days.  Now, we all know about star-crossed lovers, but I’m not really sure that either of Cassandra’s ‘romantic’ relationships fits this bill. ‘A plague on both your houses,’ Mercutio cries as he lies dying, which is probably the closest Romeo & Juliet comes to Plague.

The romantic element in Plague is… umm… somewhat complex and cautionary. How else to  describe it without spoiling the plot? So the tagline I offered for the Valentine’s banner was suitably equivocal. Rather like Cassie when it comes to making decisions about her romantic life. A number of readers have found her indecision, not to say, vacillation, hard to credit.  There is, however, no clear winner in terms of who had ought to gain her favour.  In retrospect I think I made one of those characters much too sexy.

It’s refreshing, however, to consider Plague as something other than a mirror to real life shenanigans in government. Last week’s COVID, Corruption & Crony Capitalism discussion for Claret Press has sparked quite a lot of interest and not a few compliments. There were lots of good questions on the night and there have already been plenty of views of the recording.  If you missed it you can see that on the Claret Press YouTube Channel here.

More excellent questions arose after Politics & Prose for the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster Libraries, which I’ve written about before on the blog. The tech didn’t quite work as well as it had on a previous occasion for the Libraries but those watching seemed to enjoy it and it was good to place Plague in context as a ‘Westminster thriller’. It’s available for a limited period on YouTube here.

There are a couple more Plague events lined up for March and some in the pipeline for April.  The first is for The Thorney island Society & Friends of St James’ Park and the Green Park on 9th March. I will have to be on the top of my game as far as the historical aspects of Plague are concerned, I suspect the members of the Society know as much, if not more, than I do. It will be interesting to see if they find any of the Palace of Westminster aspects surprising. This talk is all about what inspired Plague, the history and the place. Tickets are £10 (£7 for members ) and are available here.

Already the events are being organised for promotion of Oracle, the publication of which draws ever closer ( I have finally agreed with the publishers on the publication day of 5th May ).  That book will be up on NetGalley soon for early review and there will be ARCs going out. Yet I have another book to write!

For more on the events which I have been speaking at recently take a look at the Events Page ( many are still available on YouTube ) or read about them  at

Politics & Prose          The Circumlocution Office           Going Underground

The Circumlocution Office

Let me take you back in time.

Back to Sunday, 21st January 1855 in a Trafalgar Square deep in snow, where about fifteen hundred people are gathering. They’re meeting to protest at the mismanagement and needless loss of life in the Crimean War, but can’t help larking about and they pelt passing traffic (and pedestrians) with snowballs. The police ask them to stop, but the protesters pelt the police too.

What begins in laughter escalates into a full scale riot and troops are called. Yet these protesters are representative of public opinion in regard to the war.  Enthusiastic support among a populace worked up into a war fury by the press at the war’s beginning had turned to amazement and shock as disaster after disaster was reported by war correspondents like William Howard Russell for The Times and the photographer Roger Fenton.  Not just military mismanagement – the Charge of the Light Brigade in the previous October came to symbolise that – but the failure to provide troops with the most basic necessities of life and the dreadful death rate resulting.

Florence Nightingale, quite aside from the assistance her hospital gave, was a first rate data gatherer, a medical statistician who documented the privations and resulting medical conditions of the troops, far more of whom died from disease, malnutrition and neglect than on the battlefield. These logistical failures were partly because of difficulties with distance and terrain but also because government positions were filled by placemen unqualified for their role and supplied by contractors who had got their contracts because of their connections, not because they provided the best goods and services.  Money was made, stipends were paid but the servicemen were not supplied with what they needed.

Like many others the novelist Charles Dickens was angered by this. Dickens fans will recognise the name of this article as belonging to the government office in his Little Dorrit, where Arthur Clennam goes to discover the details of William Dorrit’s incarceration in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison. The Circumlocution Office was Dickens satirising the parlous state of what passed for the civil service in those days. Totally dominated by the Barnacle family  (a not so subtle metaphor on parasites clinging to the ship of state) it is ‘0ne of the principles of the Circumlocution Office never, on any account whatever, to give a straightforward answer.’ You can read Chapter 10, in which the Circumlocution Office features here.

In late 1854 and 1855 the press turned against the government and Parliament passed a vote demanding a full investigation. Lord Aberdeen, the Prime Minister, resigned on 30th January 1855. 

In fact, the sorry state of government civil services had been noticed earlier and a report commissioned by none other than Gladstone in 1853. The resulting report, by Northcote and Trevelyan, recommended the establishment of what is now the Civil Service and what the historian, Lord Hennessey calls “the single greatest government gift from the nineteenth century to the twentieth century; a politically disinterested and permanent civil service, appointed on merit and with core values of integrity, propriety and objectivity.”

That’s what Britain still has. There are some service failures today – nothing is perfect – but these are often driven by politicians not civil servants, however much politicians seek to blame them (sometimes aided and abetted by the press). We touched on this in last night’s panel discussion on COVID, Corruption and Crony Capitalism, but we ran out of time before we could discuss why cronyism is so damaging to public service provision and so destructive of human lives. This article is by way of a reminder;  January 1855 is where we were. Let’s not go back there.

The discussion was fun to do, especially for such a serious subject and, I am told, is generating lots of good feedback (and some book sales). Thanks to everyone at Claret Press for organising and to fellow panellists, Vicky Pryce and Dr Emily Barritt.  The recording is available on YouTube HERE.

COVID, Corruption & Crony Capitalism

Last Monday evening listeners to my talk ‘Politics & Prose’, for the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster Libraries, seemed to enjoy it, especially the Q & A afterwards. There were some excellent questions.  But barely have my feet touched the ground and I’m involved in another event.

Next Thursday ‘COVID, Corruption & Crony Capitalism’ is a discussion organised by publishers Claret Press which promises to be equally interesting, if rather different.

The panellists will be Vicky Pryce, noted economist and current member of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills Panel which monitors the economy, Dr Emily Barritt, Co-Director of the Transnational Law Institute at King’s College London and me – I get billing as either an ex-high ranking Civil Servant or as author of Plague. The session will be chaired by Dr Katie Isbester, Editor-in-Chief of Claret Press and supported by Ko-fi as part of the ‘Claret and Conversation’ series of online discussions.

In Plague the villain co-ordinates a complex strategy to emasculate or destroy the institutions of democracy including Parliament.  He says ‘Democracy is so easy to pervert, why replace it? Money can buy anything. If a government gets difficult another can be sponsored. Sometimes it takes time, sometimes it’s easier, but there are always people willing to take over. When national or global institutions fail to serve the purpose they are destroyed, distorted or hollowed out from the inside.‘ (P236). Money, the media, the connivance of powerful individuals, inside and out of those institutions, enable him to do this, together with leverage over others who are hungry for power.

This includes illegally determining the award of lucrative public contracts so they go to friends and allies. On page 246 the heroine says to him ‘You’re ensuring the contracts go to the right companies so you can reward your friends and allies while you make money on the markets.’

In real life, the Good Law Project, the Runnymede Trust and a non-partisan collection of MPs from various parties have sought judicial review of the Department of Health and Social Care’s awarding of billions of pounds worth of contracts since April 2020 to private companies e.g. for Personal Protective Equipment. That is, they’ve asked the judiciary to adjudicate on the legality of the contract awarding process. Of these contracts, many millions remain unstated and have not been made public as regulations require.  The Labour Party has raised this issue in Parliament and via the media ( see HERE ).

In correspondence with the GLP the government has recently stated its intent to spend £1 million in defending the case, stating that finding out whether they acted lawfully in channelling hundreds of millions or billions to their VIP associates, is not in the public interest. The money is, apparently, to fund a vast exercise in disclosure, not required by the courts. The GLP, funded by small donations, will be unable to accept such a financial risk and has sought a cap on costs from the court. If this isn’t granted the litigation will have to be abandoned.  Perhaps the villain was right and ‘Money can buy anything.’ even the law. I hope not.

COVID, Corruption and Crony Capitalism looks at the situation and the impacts of corruption and ‘crony capitalism’ on a country’s economy, on its system of law and on how such a country is governed and administered.  Join us on Thursday 4th February. It’s a FREE event, but you need to register on Eventbrite.

If you missed the broadcast you can watch the recording HERE.

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

Listening

It is estimated that audiobook sales have more than doubled in the last six years, with a significant rise during the pandemic. There has been double digit sales growth in the English speaking markets  for the last three years ( the US is by far the biggest market for audio books, but the UK and Australasian markets are growing rapidly ) and more audiobooks are being produced than ever before. UK book sales are still overwhelmingly (80%) of printed books, but the digital market has grown at the expense of print during the pandemic, possibly after the Treasury reduced VAT on digital books to zero, in line with printed books, in May 2020.  Digital fiction sales is the fastest growing element of this market.*

In terms of retail, the giant Audible (Amazon) dominates, but there is an increase in subscription services like Scribd and, this year, local libraries are seeing an unprecedented surge in audio book borrowing. This is probably also tied in with COVID, as reading, of whatever kind, has increased during our different stages of confinement.

Incidentally, Neilsens also finds that audiobooks reach the younger market, with big numbers in the 18 – 24 age group. In the UK the average audiobook user is an urban male, aged between 18 and 34, who listens while working, commuting or running outdoors. Given that women read more than men and younger men in particular, this is tapping into a new market, good news for the book industry.

Claret Press, my publisher, is expanding its audiobook offering too and the recording, by Essential Audiobooks, of Plague is well underway. The reader, RSC Associate actress and voice coach, Alison Bomber, is on the final few chapters, then there’s the editing and the music and finally the audiobook comes into being.

I haven’t heard it yet, though I have heard Alison read and she’s very good. By a strange coincidence I met up with Elizabeth Bergstone, the actress who read the audiobook of my short story collection,  The Village, only last week. A long time Los Angelina, Elizabeth now lives in North Carolina, so we had been corresponding during the recent US elections. Originally from south London, she was over to visit her sister for Christmas. She gave me lots of tips about online speaking, having listened to my recent talk for the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster Libraries ( she thought my delivery poor ). I learned a lot, for example about Forvo, the online pronunciation dictionary ( which tells me that the name of the engineering genius Sir Joseph Bazalgette, is pronounced with a soft, not a hard ‘g’, as I had thought, so that caller to my session was correct ).

The good news is that Essential Audiobooks provide a ‘taster’ for promotional purposes, so I’ll make that available here as soon as I have it. I don’t know if the upsurge in audio will continue into this new lockdown period, when only essential workers will be commuting, but there will be plenty of joggers, like me and plenty of walkers and gardeners too, who will be outdoors at the first sign of spring.

And already the days are growing longer… but there’s still time to enjoy a book!

*Data from Neilsens, AAP, IBIS.

Political movies

Maybe it’s because I’m preparing a talk on Politics and Prose for the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster Libraries ( it’s free and happening on 25th January if anyone is interested, see Eventbrite Politics and Prose ) or it may be coincidence; but over the holiday I’ve been watching a number of excellent films depicting the world of power and politics, some based on real events.

First was The Death of Stalin, Armando Ianucci’s 2017 very black political satire of the Stalinist Soviet Union. It is a fiction, but its characters are based on real people who were part of the Stalinist ruling elite. These are played by a stellar cast which includes Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin and others. The crude and barbaric terror of the Stalinist period is shown, full throttle, where the answer to any problem was murder and truth was what the most powerful said it was.  It’s a mesmerising and very funny film, in an absurdist way, but it’s also not comfortable watching. If you haven’t seen it, I can definitely recommend it.

The second film was The Ides of March, (2011) a George Clooney contemporary political drama starring Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, himself and others. This was less of a hit than The Death of Stalin and my other choice, but it’s an efficient and, in its way, thought provoking film which captures the tight-knit nature of U.S. politics – the intern is the daughter of the Committee member, the rival campaign managers are well-known to each other (each trying to exploit the other’s known foibles ). It’s a quieter film which depicts an inhuman and corrupt world – hardly news – but does so through the prism of one man’s ambition and where it leads. Again, recommended.

My third film was The Trial of the Chicago Seven, Aaron Sorkin’s 2020 depiction of the trial which followed the anti-Vietnam War riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Directed by Sorkin after Stephen Spielberg, whose project this was, had to withdraw, the film was on restricted release in September, but, given the COVID pandemic, went onto Netflix only weeks later.  If I hadn’t known that this was based on real events ( and court transcripts ) I wouldn’t have believed it possible. The real Chicago Seven plus Bobby Searle, the eighth defendant (and only black man) and their lawyers are portrayed by another stellar ensemble cast, including Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Frank Langella, Michael Keaton and others. Like The Death of Stalin, this has attracted criticism from academics about it’s veracity, but, again like The Death of Stalin, it has been critically very well received.  Anyone who remembers the wit of The West Wing won’t be surprised by that on show here, it made this viewer laugh out loud a few times, though with a bitter twist. This truly was a ‘political trial’.  It’s also a clever depiction of a moment in time rather in the way that the TV series Mrs America captured the spirit of the 1970s political backlash to the 60s. I strongly recommend you watch this film.

The real events in Trial, like the shooting by police of Fred Hampton, Black Panther supporter of Searle, in circumstances not dissimilar to the shooting of Breonna Taylor by police in 2020 Kentucky make it very relevant to today. As does the ‘truth is what I say it is’ attitude of the Soviet powerful in Death, not unlike that of Trump and other populists. Political stories have a gripping relevance and political storytelling deepens our understanding of our world.

The first two films were based on written stories; The Death of Stalin on La Mort de Staline, a two volume graphic novel by French writer Fabien Nury and artist Thierry Robin, The Ides of March on Farragut North, a play by Beau Willimon ( Farragut North being the Washington DC metro station at the heart of think tank and consultancy territory ). The Trial of the Chicago Seven was written as a screenplay by Sorkin. Incidentally the U.S. TV version of House of Cards had an executive producer by the name of Beau Willimon. Now there’s a book about politics and power which has been translated to the screens, small and large, to very good effect.

I’ll be exploring how politics is depicted in stories, as well as discussing what a ‘political novel’ is in my talk on 25th January.

Meanwhile, may I wish that 2021 be a year in which we return to life as we used to know it, but that we appreciate it more; that the vaccine is given to everyone and the dread COVID is either eradicated, or mutates into something much less dangerous. Happy New Year!

Zemiology

No, I didn’t know either. At least I knew nothing of it until I looked it up.

Zemiology is the study of social harms, from the Greek zemia, or harm. It’s a relatively new academic discipline, which grew out of critical criminology and it seeks to generate real world action in pursuit of justice.

That’s where I come in, as justice is the theme of Oracle. I found out more when I had a chat with Sharon Hartles, of the Open University’s  Harm & Evidence Research Collaborative (HER​C).  She is also a member of the British Society of Criminology (BSC) and a researcher and postgraduate with the University of Strathclyde. A published critical criminologist, Sharon is currently conducting research on Primodos.

As I understand it, too often the crimes of the powerful are difficult to address under our current law and legal system, referred to as ‘black letter law’.  Actions which have a harmful impact on  others in society, like ignoring safety regulations ( or watering them down ) in pursuit of profit, or despoiling the planet, are not ‘crimes’ in law ( though they may breach certain regulations ). As an example, even after the appalling events at Grenfell Tower there are still no prosecutions and, indeed, it is becoming difficult to find a ‘crime’ with which to prosecute anyone, individually or as representing an institution or corporation. Yet facts were known, the wishes of the residents were ignored and the likelihood of fire foreseen.

Thus, events like Grenfell become referred to as a ‘tragedy’ or a ‘tragic accident’, yet they were foreseeable and avoidable and these events and others like them will continue to occur until the law adapts to make punishment of those who enable such events both possible and direct. Zemiology presupposes that isn’t likely to happen, as the powerful have co-opted the law and the legal system to protect their power and interests. An idea not unfamiliar to readers of Plague.

Sharon was a mine of information about this new discipline. I think it’s going to have to feature somewhere in Oracle, probably among the young idealists protesting against environmental damage who Cassie encounters at Delphi. Perhaps the charismatic protest leader is a zemiologist? We shall see.

I await the return of the final edit of Oracle, which has to be fully revised and returned to Claret Press by 31st January, complete with drawn image. I sketched the Palace of Westminster for the pages showing the start of each ‘daily’ section in Plague and I have undertaken to do something similar for Oracle, as that too is organised over a small number of days. Something I’ll be thinking about over the Christmas period.

Good news from elsewhere, however, as I learn that the recording of the audiobook of Plague has begun. I will write separately about this as it nears completion, suffice to say for now that Essential Audiobooks of New York are producing the audio book which is being read by actress, voice coach and associate of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Alison Bomber.  Alison has just moved to the Czech Republic, but is already working on the recording.  More on this later.

For now, may I wish everyone reading this a happy and peaceful Christmastide, where ever and with whomever, you are managing to keep it. Here’s hoping for a much better 2021.

 

And rest…

Phew! I finally get to look forward to Christmas after the whirlwind of activity – talks, discussions, events, giveaways – which has accompanied the publication of my first crime thriller back in September. All something of an eye-opener to this writer, whose adventure books set in 13th century Spain never generated this much activity and interest. Even in a world reduced by COVID I’ve been very, very busy, almost always online. It’s been tremendous fun, by and large, and I’ve worked with and met some great people, online, on social media and, not least, the readers of my book.

I’ve learned what to avoid  – the number of ‘umms’ and ‘ers’ in my delivery when I was talking to my own slides, unable to see myself or others last Wednesday for the Libraries, was excruciatingly embarrassing. Nonetheless, it prompted contact from a U3A crime fiction reading book group who have chosen Plague as their book for March and want me to do a talk for them, which I’m happy to do.  The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster people also seemed pleased, they have asked me to do another talk in January, this time about ‘Politics and Prose’ – political fiction in a time of increasing citizen journalism and social media commentary. That’s something I’ve blogged about in the past ( see Stories of Democracy on The Story Bazaar web-site ). The more one does, the more one is asked to do.

I’m beginning to realise that what works well is behaving naturally, and letting my genuine enthusiasm shine through. I’m definitely more comfortable when interacting, either with other speakers or with questioners.  That is, in part, why the Secrets of Subterranean London discussion worked so well. If you haven’t watched it, you can find a link here and on the Events page.

It is the first in a series which Claret Press hopes to produce and Claret’s number of subscribers increased after the broadcast. The second, on Crony Capitalism, is  scheduled for January and I’ll be taking part, with a well-known economist and an activist ( names cannot yet be revealed but I’ll be writing about them and it nearer to the event ). Siphoning public funds into the pockets of allies and associates is, of course, one of the corruptions taking place in Plague, as Cassie says to the villain on page 246 ‘You’re ensuring the contracts go to the right companies so you can reward your friends and allies…’  Its topicality astonishes me still.

Yet now I’m looking forward to relaxing over the holiday, I need a break and January is already filling up fast. Aside from anything else, I have to completely sign off on Oracle by 31st January and there’s all the work associated with the preparation of a book for publishing – meta data, Netgalley etc. and a whole new round of promotion and publicity to agree.

One piece of encouraging news is that I now have an Italian literary agent. Factotum, or Zecchin, Bellaciccio & Aragno have signed me, and other Claret authors, with a view to selling the Italian publication rights and having Plague ( and the next two Cassandra Fortune books ) translated into Italian. Katie, from Claret Press, told me half an hour before the live broadcast of Secrets, that a representative from Factotum would be watching, in order to decide whether or not they wanted to sign me up. No pressure there then. Fortunately, it worked out well.

But – bring on the mulled wine!

Wishing everyone a joyous and safe Christmastide – the year turns on Monday, as Saturn and Jupiter conjoin closer than for almost 400 years and Spring – Spring! – is on its way. Here’s hoping for a better year in 2021.