Opera on Tour

PembrokePathOperasNow ‘Opera’, having been well and truly launched, seems to be off on tour. In part with me, visiting real and virtual locations to promote it, but also with new owners to all parts of the globe.

First to Pembroke and its wonderfully scenic Coastal Path. Two copies accompanied their owners by train to Tenby and thereafter along the coast and came to rest at The Old Point House in Angle, alongside two pints of Gower Gold (left).  You can’t quite see it in that pic, but one of them had even acquired an Ivor the Engine bookmark.

In the meanwhile, an author friend from Connecticut was running a competition in which people were asked to identify something in his photograph which did not come from the United States. The answer was the copy of ‘Opera’ sitting atopOperaConnecticut the pile of books on the lamplit table.  I confess, I did not see it and (forgive me, Steve) I tuned out when the entries began discussing Robertson Screws.  (No, me neither.) Then he confessed and I saw it.  So did all the people who had tried to guess. But this was not the furthest flown ‘Oracle’. That must, at time of writing, be the copy in California, pictured by another friend, as it perched, with its siblings, on a rock above the blue sea of the bay.  Not so autumnal there, as yet.

Closer to home, an ‘Opera’ went to Covent Garden, to be pictured in front of a costume from another opera, this time Verdi’s ‘Aida’. I particularly liked the fierce cats on the cloak which was worn by the King of Egypt in an earlier ROH production. But ‘Opera’ has also visited Harrogate, albeit after the Theakston’s Crime Festival has finished, but nestling next to a pint of Wainwright Ale.

OperaCalifornia  I am promised pictures from Mexico and Australia, when their owners get there and I will certainly be posting some pics of ‘Opera’ in Spain. In the UK I have taken it, virtually, to Exeter (my talk for Devon Libraries) and Tamworth (Tamworth Book Club) and it will be going, live, to various parts of south London in the near future and, it is planned, eventually to Newcastle too. It has already been pictured on an LNER express, hurtling through the countryside.

Its next appearance will be at the Clapham Book Festival on 15th October in my own little corner of southwest London, where I, too, willOperainHarrogate be appearing. I can’t, in all conscience, mention it on the Literary Walks I’ll be leading, alongside luminaries like Graham Greene, Angela Carter and Kazuo Ishiguro, but it may get a mention during my interview with Abir Mukherjee, award-winning author of the Wyndham and Bannerjee crime fiction series, set in 1920s India.  The walks take place on the afternoon of 9th October and morning of 15th. Abir is the first interviewee in an afternoon and evening of live author events. There are still tickets available for all three and much else besides, including Dame Jenni Murray talking with Elizabeth Buchan and Sir Anthony Beevor speaking about Russia with Dr Piers Brendon. So maybe I, and ‘Opera’ will see you there.

A Special Occasion

LaunchPic4The low, autumnal sunlight slanted across the churchyard of St Paul’s Church in Clapham on a beautiful September evening one week ago. Cars drew up to the church’s railings, people walked down the winding path to the heavy church doors and inside there was a buzz of anticipation of good entertainment to come. They were there to celebrate the launch of ‘Opera‘ the third in the Cassandra Fortune series of murder mysteries, together with the music of Puccini and Tosca in particular (the opera in ‘Opera‘). I was at the door to greet them.

Everything was prepared. The lighting was in place (it would be dark during the second half of theLaunchPic5 evening’s entertainment), the sound system was set up, the bar was stocked, staffed and ready to dispense and the Claret Press table was ready with signed books for sale. Programmes were handed out at the door. The church filled, gradually, with local friends, of the author or of the opera company, and with those from farther afield who had come to help celebrate. About a third of the crowd were probably also writers, many of them writers of crime fiction (see Anne Coates, author of the Hannah Weybridge mysteries, with Katie Isbester of Claret Press and myself, right). Other Claret authors, Steve Sheppard and Sylvia Vetta were there as well as reknown Clapham authors like Elizabeth Buchan. Clapham Book Festival friends were out in force, as were the members of the Clapham Writers Circle. In total there were between seventy and eight people in the beautiful church.

LaunchPic12 LaunchPic11    LaunchPic19

The evening began with an introduction, to Tosca and how it fits with ‘Opera‘, as well as reminiscences of his time in Rome, by Reverend Canon Jonathan Boardman, Vicar of St Paul’s. This led into two sublime arias sung by two young, but remarkable singers from St Paul’s Opera, accompanied by SPO Director of Music, Panaretos Kyriatzidis. First Vissi d’arte, sung by soprano Fiona Hymns, then El Lucevan le stelle sung by Latvian tenor, Martins Smaukstelis. I sat in the choir pews beside the altar and watched the faces of the audience. They were rapt. One could have heard a pin drop.

LaunchPic13Grand opera is always intense and these two arias especially so, so a lightening of the mood was required before the interval. This was provided by an ‘interruption’ by a police constable, PC Willis, who had just arrived from the Houses of Parliament (although dressed in pink). Bass baritone Masimba Ushe delivered the sentry’s song from Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe ‘When all night long, a chap remains…’ in sonorous and amusing fashion. Laughter heralded the interval, when everyone headed to the bar (where the barkeepers were kept very busy).

The second half of the evening was music-less, consisting of a Q & A session between Elizabeth Bergstone, former music broadcaster and Hollywood actress (and narrator of my first audiobook) and myself. Liz and I had prepared a broad outlineLaunchPic8 beforehand and I kept my answers short (as she had told me to, I tend to ramble). People seemed to enjoy it and, after questions from the floor, we ended to loud applause.

The bar stayed open (though it shifted into the church hall) and people stayed to drink wine, chat and buy books. There was quite a queue at the signing table for me to inscribe dedications and sign copies of the earlier books in the trilogy. We had, earlier, decorated the hall with LaunchPic1bunting made of the posters and other images of Tosca which I had been collecting for months before the book was published.

Eventually, folk started to drift away and a small army of helpers swung into action clearing up and returning church and hall to their earlier state. By nine fifteen it was as if we had never been there and everyone was ready for a pint and a curry. We repaired to Clapham High Street and the ever-dependable Maharani restaurant.

It was a tremendous evening – though an awful lot of work – and with very special support from TriciaLaunchPic9 Ninian and the singers of St Paul’s Opera, which made it unique. Many of those who attended spoke or wrote to me, telling me how much they enjoyed it. Plus, my publisher sold lots of my books. It was a spectacular way to launch a title and a very special occasion.

I, and others, will be back at St Paul’s on 14th October for the SPO Autumn Gala ‘Musical Mirth’ which kicks off the Clapham cultural weekend, as the Book Festival follows. on Saturday 15th. But I’ll be blogging about that soon enough.

‘Opera’ is on sale from Amazon at https://tinyurl.com/4u8twmz5 and all good book shops.

Publication Day for ‘Opera’

OperatabletbookcasesToday’s the day and ‘Opera’ is let loose upon the world.  There are, already, plenty of posts on social media – Twitter mainly, but Insta and old favourite, Facebook, too – I haven’t ventured into the unknown territory of Book-Tok or the dragon-lands of Twitch and Discord ( no, me neither ). Kelly Lacey at LoveBooksTours has organised the virtual book tour, which started today on Instagram.  Lots of lovely book bloggers, Bookstagrammers and Goodreads users are tweeting and retweeting about it, mainly congratulations, for which many thanks.

So far, people are saying very good things about the book and getting it’s title out there, something which is especially important to writers with no, or very small, publishers. Print reviews so far are limited to theClapSocNewletter Clapham Society Newsletter (circulation about 1,400) though I know there are a number of print critics who will be reviewing the book. These are in the regional press, or in literary publications, no national dailies ( without a prize listing or a shed load of publisher’s support, i.e. money, that is unlikely ). There are regional and local broadcast interviews lined up too, starting with Radio Tamworth ( Tamworth Books ) on Wednesday and following up with local radio here in south London.

Julie Anderson September 2022 Author Event INSTA & FACEBOOK STORY 1There are plenty of online events arranged and ‘Opera’ and I should be reaching audiences from Devon to the north of England, through regional library networks, like Devon or Staffordshire Libraries. I’ll also be doing some Festivals, live as well as virtual, not just the Clapham Book Fest, which takes place in October, but also Newcastle Noir ( 9th – 11th December ) as well, as, potentially, a number next year. Indeed my diary for 2023 is already being filled with online talks and discussions and live events, some of them for societies and clubs which I have visited before with ‘Plague’ or ‘Oracle’. I never imagined I would be doing quite so much.

Quotes from bloggers reviews include ‘If you are interested in political crime thrillers, this is a series you do not want to miss.’ and ‘I was going to read a bit of this book before I went to bed and ended up staying awake and finishing it.’ Both very good recommendations. A number also ask whether or not there will be a Cassandra Fortune Book IV. If you have enjoyed the series so far I can tell you that I have already mapped out the likely storyline for the next book, but there is something else I will be working on first ( watch this space for more news when it’s ready for the world ).

So, time to thank individuals, from Katie Isbester at Claret Press to my trusty beta readers, Miv, Annette,claretpress Helen and Sue ( they know who they are ). Also to my fellow authors who have been kind enough to wish me well on this Publication Day and to the bloggers and supporters, who, unpaid, contribute so much to the life of books. Finally thank you to my longsuffering husband, who cooks the meals and makes the tea while I am away in my head concocting yet another mystery.

Onwards and upwards!

Artists of Tosca

ToscaPremiereIn April of this year I posted a piece about images of Tosca ( see ‘The opera…‘) ranging from the first performances of Sardou’s play, through to modern productions of Puccini’s opera. Six months later, I have amassed quite a collection of images, posters mostly, for the opera, films of both opera and play and some ‘souvenir postcards’ of both too. I’ll be using them during the launch of ‘Opera’ in a couple of weeks time. The story has inspired some unusual art works from varied artists.

Tosca-PosterSprucePeakArtsThe artist most associated with Tosca, partly because he designed many posters for the Comedie Francais, where Bernhardt performed, and partly because his style is such a good example of Art Nouveau is probably Alphonse Mucha. Even the Hohenstein poster for the opera’s premiere in Rome in 1900 owed much to Mucha’s style. But his is not the only style which was copied and often other artist’s works were rifled for use on the posters. See the use of the Gustav Klimt’s ‘Judith’ in the poster for Middlebury Opera’s production (right) .

Tosca-puccini-polish-opera-posterI found a very striking poster from Poland, probably for a production by the opera company of the city of Bydgoszcz which was very reminiscent of the style of Frieda Kahlo (see left). It drew many comments on social media and divided people, they either loved or hated it.

Another Pole, surrealist artist and illustrator Rafal Olbinski, created a poster for the Cincinnatti Opera production (see below). He produced a series of posters of operas in the U.S. where he lives, often influenced by the works of Magritte. An American acquaintance pointed out that the Cincinnatti baseball team is called the Cincinnatti Reds and red is the dominantToscaRafal colour in the poster. I’m not sure if this was a sneaky subliminal message, but it is certainly surreal and I do not pretend to understand it, though it seems to be trying for an analysis of the opera at a subconscious level – Tosca pulling Cavaradossi’s strings.

Red, and black, are the colours most often used and Tosca herself is the character who appears most often. The film posters tend towards a rather more lurid style, but then they had to compete with other film posters of the time, which aimed to shock and entice an audience into the cinema. Predictably, they tend to focus on the scene in which Baron Scarpia persuades Tosca to agree to his physical demands in return for her lover’s ToscaMovieRossanoBrazzilife, so there are plenty of leering Scarpias and retreating, suffering Toscas, though often clutching a dagger. The Italian ones are even more lurid than the Hollywood ones ( I suspect because Hollywood treated it as ‘high art’ ), but here is a more restrained offering – ‘The tragic love of Floria Tosca and Mario Cavaradossi commemorated in the immortal melodies of G. Puccini’. The director, ‘Carlo Koch’ is actually the noted German art historian and film director, Karl Koch, who undertook the film in 1939, jointly with Jean Renoir, at Mussolini’s invitation. Koch was Renoir’s assistant on Le Regle de JeuTosacEchoChernikConnecticut and Renoir was instrumental in getting Koch out of Germany in 1936. Renoir eventually withdrew from the film, but Koch completed it, together with his assistant, one Luchino Visconti. Incidentally Koch and his wife  settled in Barnet, north London once the war ended.

More modern posters reference the dagger, blood, sex, Castel Sant’Angelo and the twin candles at the head of Scarpia’s body as well as the main three characters. One of the more recent posters turns us back, full circle, to the style of Alphonse Mucha. This is by Echo Chernik, a noted commerical artist and illustrator who regularly adopts Mucha’s style. She created this poster (right) for Connecticut Opera’s 66th Anniversary performance of the opera.

More on Tosca images in a later post.

Tosca Variations

The publication day of ‘Opera’ grows ever closer (5th September) and so does the date of the launch. InToscaPerfumeCasamorati preparation I’ve been collecting and sharing images relating to Tosca for some months and I plan to use them at the launch event. These range from copies of the original posters for the premieres of both the play by Victorien Sardou, in Paris in 1887 and Puccini’s opera in Rome in 1900, through to film posters of the 1970s and modern posters for productions of the opera. In the course of searching for these images, however, I have discovered that ‘Tosca’ is also the name given, presumably in honour of the diva and Puccini, to a number of other items, including several types of perfume, at least two cars and a cocktail.

ToscaPerfume4711The Tosca Eau de Parfum can still be bought today for £16.74 and accompanied by shower gel, deodorant and moisturiser in the same fragrance. There is also an extremely expensive version by Xerjoff Casamorati, available from Harrods – a snip at £81.95 for 30ml (see above). It seems that the original perfume was created by Farina 4711 and vintage bottles are now  traded on ebay and etsy (see left).  The very expensive, bright pink/purple bottle of the Xerjoff is much less attractive, to my eye, but it is certainly distinctive. I have yet to discover why it was designed as it was.

As regards the cars – the Lamborghini Tosca is just what you’d expect, something sleek, elegant andToscaCar1 fast ( and, in most of the images I could find, red, which continues a colour theme found in the Tosca opera posters. More of a surprise is that it is a hybrid with a traditional V10 engine, as well as electric batteries. Even Italian super cars are going green these days. Just as surprising is the La Tosca, a 1955 concept car from Ford. It was designed to be remote controlled, so is driverless and in that is very modern, but it has the sort of design which owes much to aircraft and was thought to ToscaCarV2be ‘space age’ at the time. The pictures of it that I have seen show a car which seems to float above the ground with huge wing fins, a plexi-glass bubble over the passenger compartment and an exhaust which looks like a jet engine. The car is often a bubblegum pink, which makes me think of a sort of very sporty version of Lady Penelope’s Rolls Royce from Thunderbirds.  This was the Ford La Tosca, an actual car, though it was never put into production.

The Tosca cocktail might prove easier to afford, even than the lower cost perfume. It was designed for theTosca-cocktail 2019 production of Tosca at La Scala, Milan and was served in Il Foyer bar there. It is made with the south American spirit, Mezcal, two types of Martini (we are in Italy after all) elderflower foam and, to dress, tomato powder and chilli pepper. If it appeals you can find the recipe here.

I have, however, invented my own cocktail, mainly for the launch event, but also because I rather prefer fizz-based cocktails. It is also more representative, for me, of opera in general. My Tosca themed drink contains 70% fizz (Champagne, Prosecco or Cava, depending on the depth of your pocket), 30% fresh blood orange juice, a sprig of fresh rosemary and a slice of blood orange. The rosemary gives it an aroma and a slightly perfumed taste. Try it.

Not a red herring…

Albert_Herring_Insight_Event_Flyer_Front_D3… but rather Albert Herring, by Benjamin Britten. This year’s Summer Opera from St Paul’s Opera Company, Clapham. Last night was the ‘Insight’ evening, designed to introduce the opera to those who may not know it and to stimulate discussion among those who did. I learned a lot.

Our guide was Christopher Wintle, emeritus member of King’s College, London and one of the leading authorities on the works of Benjamin Britten. He talked us through the genesis of the opera and it’s journey to full performance at Glyndebourne on 20 June 1947. It was the librettist, Eric Crozier who suggested to Britten that he base his new work on a Guy de Maupassant story Le Rosier de Madam Husson, but set it in the Suffolk which Britten knew well. Britten had already decided to write a comedy, after having written hischristopherwintle serious piece The Rape of Lucretia. Albert Herring a chamber opera in three acts, was the result.

The opera examines the social attitudes and foibles in a small Suffolk village as Albert is crowned King of the May ( the village having failed to find a May Queen, because of an apparent lack of virtuous maidens ). Characters range from Lady Billows, lady of the manor, to her housekeeper Florence Pike. The obviously virginal Albert works at the greengrocer’s and is befriended by butcher Sid and his girlfriend, Nancy. The language is colloquial and sometimes earthy, as the hen-pecked Albert, permanently under the thumb of his mother, decides to kick over the traces ( with a little help from a nip of something strong slipped into his drink by Sid ). Off he heads, with his prize money, for a night of drink and debauchery.

BBrittenThe following morning, with Albert missing, the villagers discover his May crown in the well and everyone is thrown into mourning. In its midst Albert turns up, rather the worse for wear and thanks the village committee for funding his night of pleasure. All are, needless to say, outraged, but Albert carries it off, standing up to his mother in the process.  The opera was an immediate success, receiving performances in the U.S., Copenhagen, Oslo and Moscow. It has since been performed all over the world.

The subject is humorous and light-hearted, but the music is complex and Britten includes references to various other works, including Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. We were treated to a selection of songs, sung by Natasha Elliott (Florence), Rosalind O’Dowd (Lady Billows), Megan Baker (Nancy) and Hugh Benson (Albert Herring) and then a very interesting round table discussion between ChristopherStPauls Wintle, Panaretos Kyriatzidis (musical director of St Paul’s Opera) and Annemiek van Elst (Director of Albert Herring) facilitated by Jonathan Boardman. The evening closed with questions from the audience (which could have gone on for far longer ). Sadly, dusk had well and truly fallen and the evening drew to a close.

St Paul’s Opera Summer performances of Albert Herring will take place at St Paul’s, Clapham from 7 – 9th July. Come along and picnic first in the delightful grounds. Opera tickets £18 – £30, picnic tables £5 – £10.

The opera…

… is Tosca, by Giacomo Puccini.In my forthcoming thriller, Opera, characters go to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, to a Gala performance. So, not only have I been seeking out performances of Tosca (see Shivering in the Park with Tosca  ) but also imagesTosacSarahBernhardt2 connected with it.

To begin with the original play, La Tosca, by Victorien Sardou, which premiered in 1887, starring Sarah Bernhardt as the diva. Bernhardt often appeared in Sardou’s historical dramas and they were always promoted using posters by Alphonse Mucha, usually depicting Bernhardt herself. But here she is (left) standing over the prone body of the evil chief of the secret police, Baron Scarpia, on a postcard. Postcards like these were relatively recent innovations and very popular at the time.

Bernhardt toured with La Tosca, across Europe and the Americas, to great acclaim, but today the play has largely been forgotten, other than as the original upon whichTosca_poster(1899) Puccini’s opera was based. The first performance of the opera was in 1900 in Rome and the poster was by Adolfo Hohenstein who also designed the stage sets. It is very much in the Art Noveau style of Mucha and features the same scene as the Bernhardt postcard, a scene which was to feature again and again in images of the opera. The pious Tosca sets candles at the head of the Baron, whom she has just killed ( in self-defence, as he has just tried to rape her ) and places a crucifix on his chest.

When Tosca was first performed it wasn’t that well received by the critics, although the public loved, and continues to love, it. This divergence has continued, to an extent, with the American musicologist Joseph Kerman calling it a ‘shabby little shocker’ in the 1950s. Its continuing success with audiences, conductors and performers has, to an extent silenced the nay-sayers, but it is sometimes still regarded as too florid, melodramatic and insufficiently high-minded.

ToscaNakedMany of the more modern images are explicit about the subject matter and the link the opera makes between sex and death (see left). The dagger is a recurring motif, as is blood – red is the most popular colour. The Castel Sant’Angelo appears too. Tosca herself, as in Bernhardt’s time, is often the the central image, although other posters prefer to concentrate on Scarpia, like that for Florida State Opera (right). Only a few depict Cavaradossi, the hero. Ordinarily one might say that this is an example of ToscaFloridaState ‘the devil has all the best tunes’, except that in the opera itself, it is the tenor arias, belonging to Cavaradossi, which are most memorable.

So, aside from a performance occurring in Opera what else does Tosca have in common with my book? First, the action of it, like the opera is set in close to ‘real time’ and in ‘real places’. Tosca was unusual for an opera in that it was set on specific days, the afternoon and evening of 17th and the morning of 18th of June, 1800. In it, the forces of repression, including Baron Scarpia, believe that Napoleon has been defeated at the battle of Marengo, on June 14th, only for news to arrive that, in fact, there was a rearguard action and Napoleon prevailed. Good news for Cavarodossi, the democrat and his lover, Floria Tosca. There is an ongoing battle in Opera, but it isn’t of the traditional sort.

Opera is also about democracy under attack and it too involves the world of spies and secret police. My heroine, Cassandra has to confront her own Baron Scarpia. More on the parallels in a later post.

Opera will be published by Claret Press on 5th September 2022.

Neither ‘Opera’ nor an opera…

SPOprogramme… but the singing of songs. St Paul’s Opera, Clapham, presented the Big Birthday Bash last Friday and great fun was had by all, as much on stage as in the audience.

It was a cold and windy night, with temperatures forecast to be sub-zero, but the windows of the church were lined with candles casting a warm and welcoming glow. Once inside we took a programme, found ourselves an unoccupied pew and fortified ourselves with wine. The church began to fill, many of the faces familiar,  until there was a good audience, ready and waiting to enjoy themselves.

SPOTeresaOpera and classical favourites, mostly ‘big tunes’, formed the first half of the evening’s entertainment, followed by cabaret and show tunes in the second.  Two Australians, a Greek and a Latvian as well as those native to these British Isles formed the company for the evening, several prize-winners among them. The singers were current and former members of SPO, clad in their shiny best (and that was the baritone’s black satin suit).  A theme reflected in the audience by SPO super-fan Teresa, in her sparkly rainbow biker jacket. Puccini and Rossini formed the backbone of the first half, spiced with Lehar, Bizet, Leoncavallo and Strauss with one Mozart piece to add a touch of the sublime. It ended with Brindisi, the famous drinking song from La Traviata. Post interval ( more wine, that song was prophetic, and meeting yet more friends and neighbours ) there was Offenbach, Britten and Bernstein, plus Cole Porter, Rogers & Hammerstein and Sondheim.

SPOTriciaHighlights? There were many. Lyric tenor Martins Smaukstelis singing ‘Maria’ from West Side Story – ‘knocked it out the park’ said my American neighbour; the aforementioned Mozart ‘Soave sia il vento’ from Cosi fan Tutti sung by Tanya Hurst, Alexandra Dinwiddie and Louis Hurst and birthday girl and SPO co-founder Patricia Ninian singing ‘Glitter and be Gay’ from Candide.

The performers were clearly having as much fun up on the stage as the audience were in the pews and there was even a sing-along-chorus to the Hippopotamus song (‘Mud, mud, glorious mud’) lead by Louis Hurst.  A grand finale and then it was time to go home (although there was a birthday party afterwards). This concert-goer, although invited, had to leave.

For anyone interested Tricia Ninian will be speaking at the next Clapham Society meeting at OmnibusSPOFinale Theatre on 21st February about establishing this favourite local opera company from scratch. Unfortunately I’m unable to attend, but I will be going to the the Masterclass at St Paul’s by David Butt Philip (Sydney Opera, the NY Met and Wiener Stadtsoper) on 3rd March – tickets £10. He will also be performing a Gala concert with some friends, Lauren Fagan, Stephanie Wake-Edwards and David Shipley, all alumni of the Royal Opera’s Young Artist Programme. This takes place on Thursday 24th March, tickets £30. I imagine that all these events will be very popular, so buy early.

Meanwhile I’m heading south for more music, this time flamenco. The 25th Anniversary edition of the Festival de Jerez begins on Friday so that’s where I’m headed. I suspect I might blog about it.  See below for some earlier versions (including videos) on The Story Bazaar site.

2018 Festival Round Up                 Camerata Flamenco Project                     Lamento

Crime Fiction Series

TimeandLeisureCrimeSeriesarticleI recently wrote a piece for Time and Leisure Magazine recommending the first books in a number of crime fiction series, each series running to between three and thirteen books at time of going to press. A good series is a fine thing in deep mid-winter, especially when one isn’t going out so much and I know crime fiction readers, in particular, are always on the look-out for ones they haven’t tried yet.

The other prompt for the article was my completion of Opera, the third in my own series and thoughts of what would come next. Will there be a book four, or five? There certainly could be, there’s quite a cliff-hanger at the end and I am, only now, beginning to see what might happen next (in fact, it begins to seem inevitable). Would Claret Press want another Cassie Fortune? Even if they do, will that be what I write next, or do I want a break from her? Do I want to write something else?

Maintaining quality within a series isn’t easy, keeping a freshness is even harder. In ‘detective’ crimeThe Cassandra Fortune Mysteries fiction the puzzles must differ and the twists must be new, or at least fresh. The contexts and locations can change (at least I can send Cassie anywhere, she isn’t tied to a place or one type of job) but there’s a risk that, in trying to introduce new thrills, dangers and surprises a story can become too contrived, or unbelievable. There is also a delicate balance to be struck, readers want some more of the same, as well as something different.

Many lovers of Plague didn’t like Oracle as much, they found a classic ‘country house’ murder mystery rather than a diabolical big city mastermind causing the deaths of many.  Others preferred the second book. The two books were very different.  Opera returns to London and is, I hope, a mix of the two styles. Our protagonist, too, is back to her more sympathetic best, but somewhat wiser.

Characters familiar to the reader of earlier books in a series still have to be drawn clearly and the best of them grow and change, think of Rebus, or Morse. Otherwise they become boring to write about too. Famously, Conan Doyle grew tired of Sherlock Holmes so killed him off before being forced to resurrect him ( but then, Sherlock Holmes didn’t change, he was fixed in his character ). Other authors have complex reactions to their characters, Dorothy L Sayers even fell in love with her protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey.

Cormoran and RobinSome of the most addictive crime series are linked by an ongoing and developing relationship, often of a romantic nature. So, when, if ever, will Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott get together? The same goes for Dr Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson (I haven’t read all the books in this series yet). Readers are attracted by the crime puzzle and stay with the series to follow the relationships. Having killed off my potential romantic lead in my first book (and there are readers who still haven’t forgiven me for doing that) and made the central relationship of the next two books as being between two people who can only destroy each other, precludes that from happening to Cassandra.

I’m not tired of Cassie Fortune yet, she has a lot of lessons to learn and at the end of Opera she is beginning to learn them. But there are other considerations.

If you’re interested in the article recommending crime fiction series, you can access it here.

Girding up for 2022

2022Gird up your loins‘ is one of those recognisable phrases, but one can’t quite remember where from. In my mind it’s close to ‘Screw your courage to the sticking place‘, although I know that’s Lady Macbeth exhorting her husband to be bold and resolute. Both mean to prepare for the task ahead. In fact it’s from the Bible, where it’s used on a number of occasions, mostly in the Old Testament. In the New Testament we find ‘Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to end for the grace that is to be brought unto you.‘ from 1, Peter, 1:13. So, it’s about getting ready, bracing oneself for the future.

Which is what so many of us are doing at the beginning of a new year and I’m no exception. It’ll be a busyThe Controlling Idea year ahead. Despite the COVID prompted cancellation of several events outside of London which I was to attend, I’ll still be busy on zoom, starting with a discussion on 17th January for Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Libraries. ‘The Controlling Idea’ is a series of discussions sponsored by my publishers, Claret Press, about books which have been made into films and the first is about Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. This is where I come in, as an expert guest, talking about Whitehall and the structure surrounding the security services, it’s where Opera is set, after all.

Opera_CoverIn addition, I’ll soon be finalising Opera for the last time, for publication in September, going through the final proofs, the front and back matter and so on. There is a publicity schedule to be agreed with Claret Press too, including an online book tour and dispatching review copies, plus all the events around a book launch, including talks for libraries, book clubs and societies and, COVID permitting, an actual book tour of real bookshops. It’s exciting. Especially as Claret has a new distributor. We are already talking about flyers being handed out at Westminster and Vauxhall Cross Underground stations – an idea originally for the publication of Plague which got completely derailed by the initial outbreak of COVID. Of course, at the same time, I’ll be continuing to publicise Oracle and Plague.

Then there’s Clapham Book Festival 2022 to think about too – the first planningclapham book festivallogo2 committee meeting is later this month when we hope to be able to discuss the potential programme for the event. A date for your diary is 15th October, our flagship Festival day, though we’ll be planning events around it, probably including another literary walk in Clapham and some events online with our media partners Time & Leisure magazine before and after the Festival Day.

And of course, there’s the next novel, but that, as they say, is another story.

By the way, the derivation of the ‘Gird up your loins‘ phrase relates to managing the long, desert garments worn in the Middle East. Wearers would have to hoick these up and wrap them around their thighs, tucking the ends into their belts or girdles so as to leave their legs unencumbered, if they were about to do something strenuous, wet or difficult. It makes sense when you think about it.

The RBKC Libraries event is Free to attend and you can register HERE.