Saturday 28 June 2014


A change is as good as a rest they say and with this in mind, we have now changed the racy 2-door blue Alfa Romeo for a reliable red 4 door Volvo (with child seat in rear). It is as it says on the tin. Solid, dependable, Swedish and starts with one of those funny block things. The Alfa was none of those. It was an Italian car, and so was built for the wide open Italian roads, where the sun shines down, and the breeze gently blows and where it bowls along at speed with Volare by Dean Martin on the sound system. What it got instead was rain, snow, slush and potholes you could go caving in.

The Alfa used to express its dissatisfaction by continually going wrong, and informing us in no uncertain terms of how it felt. Every time we set off, a series of crisis alerts came up on the dashboard: Rear left sidelight not working, we were informed. Motor control system failure, we were told. Front headlight not working. And so on and so on. And that was on top of the Possible ice on the road and other potential weather hazards that it felt it had to warn us about. Why it couldn't just come straight out with it and say: I hate this sodding country, I never knew, but over the years we had it, its discontent cost us enough to keep a small African township in food for a year.

The other way the car let us know it was unhappy was via the parking sensor. Every time BH backed it into a parking space, or up the drive, a small squat evil Italian Mama clad in black waved her gnarled finger and shouted: No.. No..NONONONO! Or at least that's what it sounded like. My friend Elissa has a similar problem. Her car is one of those people carriers (she has 3 kids and a dog) and it has parking sensors on all sides. Parking it is like being attacked by a trio of smurf castrati.

A further problem with Elissa's car is the colour: it is metallic silver, like practically every car on the road nowadays which means whenever we go out, we almost always lose it in some multi-storey car park. The time we have wasted going from floor to floor, suddenly locating it, but then realizing at the last minute that it is not hers. We have even resorted to walking up and down pressing the key fob in the vain hope that it will beep and let us know where it is hiding - because honestly, that is what it feels like at times. The conspiracy of cars. I'm sure it exists.

My car on the other hand, is French and so it couldn't give a damn. You can kerb it, or park it askew, or scrape it along something, it just shrugs and goes tant pis. It also has this habit of taking on other cars, especially the 'baby on board' black land cruisers driven (badly) by the blonde yummy mummies who live in my town. I call them Harpies (a portmanteau word for Harpenden Mummies).

These behemoths are completely unsuitable for the narrowish streets that surround my house and my 2CV hates them. Seriously. Whenever we get into a confrontation on a bridge or up a hill, it simply refuses to go into reverse. Just waits, sneering with Gallic insouciance, until the other car is forced to back down. Or up. Nothing I can do, honest.

We are thinking of putting my car up as a candidate in next May's local Town Council elections, on the basis that it has no political affiliations, no loyalties to anybody, knows no developers, you can't bribe it and it does relatively little deliberate harm. Has to be an improvement on what we've currently got. And after all, if Caligula could make his horse a consul, I don't see why my car couldn't be a councillor, do you?

If you'd like to read a sample of my novel Diamonds&Dust A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so HERE. US readers can do so HERE

Friday 13 June 2014

HIPS & TATTS: A Meditation

A very frenetic time at Hedges Towers. Those who have been following the co-founding, launching and campaigning of my little local group of indies ... see blog I wrote here, might like to know that we came a respectable fourth in my ward - some confusion occurring as there were 2 Independent candidates standing (one of whom is a crypto-Tory) and a triumphant SECOND in East ward. And this on our very first outing!

Of course such successes could not be allowed to pass unremarked upon, and so Tory ex-Harpenden Town councillor Matthew Peck, who has never met me and wouldn't know me from a bar of soap but loathes me with a deep and abiding passion (yup, I'm baffled too), fired off yet another of his badly worded, grammatically incorrect splenetic rants to the local paper accusing us of being the equivalent of ''3 losers round a coffee table''.

This backfired rather badly, as various people then piled in pointing out that from a standing start one of our candidates got an extraordinary 30% of the vote, so it'd have to be a pretty big coffee table. I emailed the new Harpenden Town mayor, and invited her to distance herself from Mr Peck's drivel. She informed me that she had not met him since he left the council. Tellingly though, she did not openly disagree with his remarks. So much for ''I'm going to give you a voice on the council'', and other conciliatory comments made to us at the count.

Max doing first tattoo 
New tattoo
On the back of all this excitement, I decided to indulge in a second tattoo, so I now have wild and whirling words tattooed round my left wrist which (as if you didn't know) is from Act 1, Scene 5 of Hamlet. I also have a diamond break which references Diamonds&Dust. I have promised BH that this is my final tattoo so he has been very accommodating about it, given his dislike of tattoos, and we are still together. For now. Mind, he is in no position to kvetch, having accidentally cut through the cable of the electronic hedge cutter the other weekend -  the one I am banned from using in case I accidentally cut through the cable.

See, this is how we roll after 38 years of marriage. Occasionally we have fleetingly wondered what would happen if we weren't together, but we always conclude apart from the fact that, frankly, at our age and given our eccentricities, nobody in their right mind would want us, at the end of the day we do have a lot of fun. Generally at each other's expense, which is as good a basis for a long and happy marriage as any other.

Finally, another milestone has been reached: This blog has just passed its second birthday, an amazing feat given that it means I have written over 100 pieces since its inception in 2012. The thought of another 100 pieces is a tad daunting, I confess. Though as my intermittent Twitter troll remarked the other day: 'I've been reading a bit of your blog. I don't know why you bother.' 
He may have a point ...

If you would like to read a free sample of Diamonds&Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so HERE. US readers can do so HERE

Saturday 7 June 2014

Blog Tag: My Writing Process

I am delighted to have been tagged by writer Chris Hill to write this post. Chris is a good friend of mine, and is the author of Song of the Sea God. His blog can be found at: and he is on Twitter @ChilledCH. He and I are both nominated for the e-Festival of Words, fortunately in different categories. Chris has a brilliant chocolate coloured cockapoo puppy called Murphy (see end of post), who sometimes appears on his Facebook page and definitely deserves a whole book to himself --hint,hint. 
So, on with the tagging:
What am I working on?
I'm currently working on the 3rd Victorian crime novel featuring Detective Inspector Leo Stride and his long suffering assistant Detective Sergeant Jack Cully. Readers met them first in Diamonds&Dust A Victorian Murder Mystery, which is published by Crooked Cat Books.
From the outset I was pretty sure the book was a one-off, as it had a difficult birth, being rejected by my agent, and its genre, which could loosely be described as historical-pastiche-crime-comedy is not exactly to everybody's taste. Or so I thought.
Of course I was proved wrong. Readers fell in love with the characters and I was deluged with lovely reviews and pleas for another book. Thus a second book got written Honour&Obey, A Victorian crime thriller. This is currently being read by my publisher, and in the absence of anything better to do, I have begun a third book. I blame the readers.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
As already stated, the books have a slightly comic edge and reference contemporary writers of the period and styles of narrative. What I don't do is 'add' to an already popular strand as some writers have done with Jane Austen or Conan Doyle. The books stand alone, a homage to a period and a literary canon that I admire tremendously - even though I slightly take the p*** out of it at times.
As I'm not attempting to replicate one particular style, I can flit happily between styles, using the intrusive narrator device of Thackeray or Sterne, and the socio-political rantery of Dickens. It helps if you are familiar with Victorian writers and the way they write, but it is not a necessity. I hope.
The other way the books differ is that I write in one almost continuous narrative. There are pauses, but no specific chapters. I do this because the story unfolds from several perspectives, and it is easier to switch viewpoint by this method. Plus, I find it hard to write in 2 thousand word slices. I think it gives the story pace - certainly several reviewers have commented that they couldn't put the book down. Glue secreted on the pages also helps.
Why do I write what I do?
Well, on the surface, I am a nice kind person who helps old ladies across the road (normally they are me). However, behind this benign front lurks a deeply complex individual with a dark interior world that few dare venture into. This is the reason I love reading and writing crime fiction. Maybe it's something resonating from my past, this urge to slaughter people...who knows? All I can say is that the one occasion I tried my hand at chicklit, there was a body on the floor by the second chapter. And not in a good way. It is always said that you should never fall out with a crime writer, as they will inevitably kill you in their next book. In my opinion, this is quite true. Be warned.

How does your writing process work?
I usually start by researching specific areas that I think might be part of the final story. For Diamonds&Dust, it was the vampire scare of the early nineteenth century. For Honour&Obey, it was the ''lonely hearts'' columns that were a feature of many Victorian newspapers. I re-read lots of contemporary fiction writers. I then write little bits and pieces featuring characters. And over time, all these processes, fuelled by vast amounts of coffee, continue until a novel emerges. I have blogged about how I write here. It is very unsystematic, but all I can say is, hey, it works for me.
Thanks for the questions. Next up on the blog hop is Jeff Gardiner, a fellow Crooked Cat writer.Check his post at:
Don't forget, if you want to read a sample of Diamonds&Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so HERE. US readers can do so HERE.
Murphy the cockapoo