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.

Wrapping

Opera_CoverPromos and packaging have been centre stage for me this week as I’ve wrestled with writing a tag-line (helped by Claret Press) for Opera, received the cover (with thanks to brilliant in-house designer, Petya Tsankova) and helped design a new social media banner and video. Never, it seems, has the wrapping of a book and its accompanying promotional images been more important than now.  I’ve only just finished writing the book (and still await more edits) yet already we move on to what it’s wrapped in.

Given the arrival of social media an author has to feature their latest book on their Facebook and Twitter banners, plus have some items to post on Instagram (and I haven’t even scratched the surface of TikTok, Snapchat and all those newer media). GIFs are the latest ‘must have’ Claret tells me and I’ve been exploring exactly what those are (technologically) and how they are created.

Here’s my banner, set out in the same format as those for Plague and Oracle, with the book cover andHeaderFooterV10 two other images set against an atmospheric background and with the tag-line in bold. This was the tenth version! Others were rejected as ‘too feminine’ and ‘insufficiently threatening’ (see the images below). I had to choose between the Downing Street sign and Big Ben too, because both weren’t needed, so I went for night and the Christmas tree, with the addition of a smoking gun! Readers of Plague and Oracle will know that each book takes places over a fixed period of time and they follow one after another, with about a month in between. OperaHeaderFooterV5 does the same, so its events happen during the fortnight before the Christmas holiday.  It was only when we were playing around with the designs that the tag-line ‘Truth Never Dies’ finally emerged, though it seems particularly appropriate at the moment. GIFs will be my next challenge, but a couple of mini-MP4 videos have already been produced, building on the ‘smoking gun’ imagery (these are being kept under wraps, but see below for my Instagram post). All part of the package pre-release of the book and for distribution to the book bloggers who will review it and post reviews on social media. Animated pictures, whether on Instagram or other SM have beenHeaderFooter shown to have greater impact and attract more attention than non-animated content – including the attention of the algorithms which determine which posts get shown first when a hashtag is used. Good news therefore for publicists.

OperaInstagramClaret and I will sit down in the New Year and agree a full publicity strategy, including pre-release publicity, whether or not to use NetGalley again (probably not), whether or not to have an online book tour (probably) and, COVID permitting, a schedule of actual bookshop signings. Publication date has been agreed as 5th September and both ebook and paperback versions will be available for pre-order in Spring. The author events with libraries, online and in person, are already being arranged. And, with Claret Press about to sign with a new distributor, this time my book will be launched into bookshops across the UK. All good news.  So here is the design for my Instagram feed. Maybe next week I’ll be back to editing.

Reading

OperaTheEndLast Friday the revised manuscript of Opera was sent to Claret Press, so please allow me a merry little dance (or a maniacal jig, more like) of pleasure and relief. I’d worked hard on it while in Spain, completing a whole rewrite, including a restructuring – I thought it was too flabby – and this won’t be the end of the story, there will be more edits still to do. I may have missed infelicities caused by the structural changes as well as potential for improvement (there is always potential for improvement, groan). The final proof reading edit is still a long way off yet, but the manuscript has gone. Yippee!

I have also been given a date for publication, the beginning of September next year. I’d hoped that itOpera_Cover_HiRes might be out in Spring, but the delay is unavoidable, to give Claret’s new distributors time to get it into book shops. I’m already discussing back cover blurb and tag-lines (we have arrived at the former but not the latter) and the cover design is almost done. The New Year will see us formulating a promotion and marketing strategy for events in the run up to and following launch.

Maybe next year, with the third Cassandra Fortune book, I’ll finally get to have a real life, physical book launch? Also, Omicron COVID strain permitting, I might get to do physical book tours (I’ve already got some events lined up). It’s strange to think that with this, my third traditionally published novel, I might get to experience what is normal for a new book.

dfw-ja-r-cover-midOn that note, a quick look back at Plague (published September 2020) and Oracle (published May 2021), was prompted by my receiving my Public Lending Rights statement recently. Despite libraries being closed for much of the year ended June 2021, Plague has been borrowed many times (Oracle wouldn’t have made it into libraries by then) but I was surprised to see that Reconquista, my earlier novel set in 13th century Al Andalus was second most frequently borrowed. That book and its sequel, The Silver Rings, are also selling again. When I began working with Claret Press I was told that there’s nothing that sells one’s first book like the publication of one’s fourth (or fifth, or sixth) and these sales, though small, seem to bear that out, even though they aren’t crime fiction.

But the real up-side of getting the manuscript off is that I am, for a short time at least, at leisure to read.

I have a pile of books waiting for me which is already toppling, it is reaching such heights, (see right) but I’ve been adding more to it recently and some are still on their way. All to be read before the next edit. Participation in a recent UK Crime Book Club Quiz on Scottish crime fiction showed me just how much of that I haven’t read, smething I’ll try to remedy with some of William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw books and Quintin Jardine’s Skinner series, plus some JD Kirk.  Then there are the historical crime books, like Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water and one or two non-crime books which I missed first time round which made the best seller lists like Natalie Haynes’ A Thousand Ships. My favourite, recently consumed, is The Manningtree Witches by A.K.Blakemore. You can read what I thought of that, together with some other book recommendations for the Christmas break in Time & Leisure magazine.

I am looking forward to reading them all!

Shivering in the park with Tosca

ToscaatCrystalPalace2On a grey and somewhat chilly Bank Holiday Sunday English National Opera, with the full ENO orchestra and chorus and soloists David Junghoon Kim, Natalya Romaniw and Roland Wood were at Crystal Palace Park. So were we.

Part of ‘South Facing Festival’ this was the first time this music festival has taken place and it showed. In the information provided to concert goers and in provision of refreshment at the site. So, there wasn’t a clear message that the gates would open at 5.30 pm, yet the show would not begin until 7 pm. A crowd of people were milling around at the entrance at 5.20, all a little bemused at the lack of urgency in letting people enter. We were there and then sat around for an hour and a half, waiting. It did allow us to grab a prime spot, however, with a very good view of the stage.

Despite a promise of ‘a carefully curated line-up of some of the UK’s top street food traders‘ we had small choice – aToscaatCrystalPalace3 couple of burger joints, a pizza place, churros and sushi – with long queues, which meant people walking back to their places bearing food after the performance had commenced. There were bars aplenty, unfortunately they sold only hugely overpriced cans – of beer, of wine and of gin & tonic. No draught beer, no bottles of wine. And no bringing your own drinks with you. We knew this, so didn’t try, but others clearly did not and had their goodies confiscated at the entrance. Given the lack of choice and the prices charged this left a sour taste in a lot of mouths.

So did some of the ticketing information. We’d gone for the cheap seats in Zone C ( blankets on the grass at the back ). Others had paid a premium ( £60 ) for Zone A. In one instance £240 for four seats, the man arguing heatedly with a steward clearly believed, only to be told this paid for entry to Zone A and he would have to pay even more for Zone A with seat (and there were no such tickets left). He and his family had to sit on the grass at ToscaatCrystalPalace5the back of Zone A, only a few yards from where we sat. They weren’t pleased and understandably so.

Whoever organised this was clearly focussing on making as much money as they could. I estimated over a thousand people were there on Sunday, each paying a minimum of £35, many paying more. The food and drinks outlets would also pay the organisers for their pitches. Yes, opera is expensive and the local council would be paid for use of the park, but, if you’re offering a superb musical experience, then why not allow people to enjoy the whole evening, not just the performance. 

But this was the ENO so the playing and singing was sublime. I had forgotten what a full orchestra, live, sounded like and Puccini was a wonderful way to be reminded. The performance was ‘semi-staged’ and the ENO had circumvented the potential pitfalls ( Tosca shot Scarpia and, at the end, herself, in the absence of a stage on which to set a dinner table or a set of battlements to leap from ). Inevitably some of the subtleties went missing -if you didn’t know about the political sub-plot and the news from Marengo, it would have passed you by completely.

The music and singing were absolutely ENO standard, that is, world class. They had bought their A game. Kim was a lyricalToscaatCrystalPalace9 and powerful Cavaradossi who reached those high notes with ease. Romaniw was empassioned and exquisite – even in a park and with an audience this big, you could have heard a pin drop during ‘Vissi d’arte‘. At the end, everyone was on their feet and clapping and cheering ( and booing Scarpia, who was an excellent Roland Wood ). Though there were also folk beginning to clear away their things – it was cold by this time. The group to the immediate right of us had brought duvets, they were snug.

Tosca is also the opera in ‘Opera’, a performance of which my heroine attends with a Greek diplomatic party ( the Greeks from previous book, ‘Oracle’ ) but that one is at the Royal Opera House ( of which more in a future post ).

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.

 

Truth lives on…

Opera noun, Italian, feminine  1 work: 2 task, job: 3 artistic creation: 4 action, deed, handiwork: opere buone goods deeds: opera lettararia literary work: opera musicale opera: opera lirica opera.

Opera is, of course, also the title of my current work-in-progress, the third in the Cassandra Fortune series. As yet, it is nowhere near complete, even though it’s been written. Quite apart from matters of plot, of tension, surprise and revelation – the stock components of the crime thriller/mystery – there’s the theme to explore. In Plague it was power, in Oracle, justice, this time it’s truth. This is why Opera is set in the opaque world of secrets and the secret intelligence agencies, of smoke and mirrors where disinformation and deceit are the stock-in-trade and real truth, both in terms of fact and of understanding, is hard to find.

My heroine, Cassandra, has been a seeker of truth from the start, tracking down the killers in Plague, while attempting to get back to a position of power, mainly because she wants to have some impact and do something meaningful, but also because she cannot stand being on the outside, without knowledge of what is going on. She achieved her aim and landed a plum job working for the Prime Minister, but, in Oracle she learned that this wasn’t enough and she would have to address certain matters arising from her past if she wanted to escape them.  Thus she sets out, at the beginning of the third book, to find out the truth of what happened at Government Communications Head Quarters (GCHQ), her former posting, when she was forced to leave it. Until now she had believed her dismissal was because of her own failings, but begins to see that there may have been other forces at work.

Thus Opera opens with Cassie going to visit her former boss, Angela Kayser, whose retirement paved the way for the shake-up which resulted in Cassie’s being made to move on. Angela, as head of GCHQ, is the modern equivalent of the Pythia in Oracle, the priestess of Delphi who listened to the voice of the god Apollo and delivered his message to the listening supplicants. GCHQ provides signal intelligence and information to the government and armed forces of the UK, monitoring voices from the ether and interpreting their messages, just as the Pythia did (though without the psychotropic gases). Cassie sought guidance from the Pythia and in Opera she seeks it from Angela. Both provide answers couched in riddles.

That’s all I’m about to disclose about the plot, though Cassie has to follow a labyrinthine trail of clues, often unsure of the direction they are taking her in and shrouded, like Plague‘s lost River Tyburn, in darkness. Set, once again, in London, its main locations are Whitehall, Number 10 Downing Street and the Palace of Westminster, but Opera also takes in some of the less well-known and quirky gems of central London and, of course, the Royal Opera House. Needless to say, individuals from her more recent past also resurface, seeking revenge.

The title of this post, by the way, is from Friedrich Schiller’s ‘On the Aesthetic Education of Man’ (1795) and it sits, in its entirety – ‘Truth lives on in the midst of deception’ – on the frontispiece of the novel, together with the definition of ‘opera’.