Jam-making and manuscripts

PlumJam1Last weekend I submitted the manuscript of Opera to Claret Press. Then I went and made some jam.

I’d had a major wobble about the ending towards the end of last week and rewrote it, now I’m worrying that it’s not written well enough. In truth this doesn’t matter, because the editing process means that submission is just the beginning and I’ll have ample opportunity to consider it again. I’m sure that those more experienced or more skilled than myself are able to produce a manuscript which is almost, typos and a few infelicities aside, completely ready for publication. Their manuscripts would be almost perfect. As yet I can’t, so my aren’t.

Opera is the sixth book that I’ve written, the third to be traditionally, commercially published (by Claret Press), beginning with The Village back in 2014. I’ve learned a lot since then, not least how very unglamorous a job writing is andOpera_Cover_HiRes what extremely hard work. It’s a business, an industry and many of those toiling within it do so for very little reward and recognition. As with any industry the larger entities, the Hachettes and Harper Collins, will have greater reach and a higher profile ( placing their books on supermarket shelves for example ) and the big corporate vendors, the Amazons and Waterstones will also skew the market towards those books which get the publicity and the coverage. As my friend and fellow Claret author, Steve Sheppard, says in the note in his latest novel Bored to Death in the Baltics, he ‘ought to have tried to become a celebrity first, as this would have made selling it (the book) so much easier’. 

Another of the things I have learned about is the creative process, or, at least, how the creative process applies in my case. So I know that there comes a point in the making of a book when I, the writer, need other input.  As ever this will come from my husband, who has an uncanny knack of spotting plot holes, very useful to a writer of crime/mystery stories, but also from a trusty band of beta readers, some of them writers themselves, who are ‘critical friends’. So the manuscript of Opera has also gone to them.  Their feedback will inform the editorial process too. But the major input will be from my editor.  So far, I’ve had two, Gina Marsh on Plague and Madeleine Simcox-Brown on Oracle: both were excellent in different ways and, of course, there is the over-arching input from Katie Isbester, the Editor-in-Chief.

PlumJam4I have come to genuinely enjoy this process, though it sometimes isn’t a comfortable one. People get passionate about a work, there are disagreements and I, like any writer, am possessive about my stories. I expect to know them better and know what’s best for them, despite evidence to the contrary. But for now I have a moment’s respite, maybe a fortnight, maybe longer. I can sit back, read other books, do the garden, catch up on all those jobs… and make more jam.

Bored to Death in the Baltics will be published by Claret Press in September 2021.

 

Christmas in July

LondonChristmasLights3…is what I’m experiencing as I edit Opera.

The three books in the Cassandra Fortune series take place, successively, across four months from September to December (with a one chapter addition in January). So Opera begins on Monday (all the books begin on a Monday) 12th December and concludes on Christmas Eve.

There had always used to be, and probably still is, a special atmosphere in Whitehall during the pre-Christmas period. On one hand there’s a hurrying to get business done before everyone leaves for the holiday (and the Houses of Parliament usually rise a week or more before Christmas) but, on the other, there’s an anticipation of the holiday, with office Christmas lunches, Christmas parties and a general relaxation. Anyone who has worked in an office at Christmas time will recognise the latter.

There is also a specific London element, with the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square and the decorative lights along theLondonChristmasLights2 major thoroughfares and in shops, pubs and public buildings. The carol concerts at St Martins and St Johns, the pantomimes in theatreland, the ‘Christmas show’ at the National Theatre (I have seen many over the years) and at least one, often two, productions of The Nutcracker ballet. All this contributes to the backdrop against which Opera takes place.

Plague took place during the late gasp of sunny London summer, Oracle in the storms of November in the spectacular, snow-tipped mountains of Greece. In Oracle it is a grim, cold, wet December back in the city. Car headlights reflect in wet roads and puddles in the late afternoons, the bright colours of Christmas lights inside cafes and shops are smudged behind windows streaked by rain. The wind buffets down Whitehall and whips along the river as people hurry between buildings, collars raised, brollies blown inside out, clutching their briefcases and papers. Hooded and cagouled tourists wear determined smiles as they wander from Abbey to Palace to park and parade ground. This is a place and time I know.

LondonChristmasLightsEach book is organised on a day by day basis. Plague runs over ten days from Monday 9th September to Wednesday 18th with a final chapter on Friday20th. Oracle begins on a Monday in November with six days in Delphi and two more, a week later, in Athens. Readers say that they like this aspect of the novels, making events seem more real and immediate as well, I am told, as pacey. Opera is no exception and a lot happens in ten days, as, I hope, readers have come to expect.

For the moment I am busy recreating that pre-Christmas London. Cassie and Daljit meet in pubs which pump out the instantly recognisable Christmas pop tunes, there is an office Christmas lunch (at the Natural History Museum) whichLondonChristmasLights4 gives our main suspects an alibi – but wait, who arrived when and who was late? The Palace of Westminster becomes relatively deserted as Members head off to their homes and constituencies and it turns into the haunt of the permanent staff and the tourists, who, while the Houses aren’t sitting, get let into the Chambers.  N.B. For anyone who hasn’t visited the Palace of Westminster, the Christmas recess is a good time to go, there are generally fewer tourists than in the summer months.

For me, it is Christmas in July.

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.

‘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.

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.

‘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!