Scribbling again

I’ve been pretty quiet on here lately, and there’s a good reason for that – I’ve had my head down trying to finish various different projects by the end of the year.

And the good news is, I have.  Well, sort of.  One short story that I was trying to cut down for a competition ended up 400 words longer than the original, and 800 words over the competition maximum word count.  Best laid plans and all that.

But I’ve also been working very hard on a complete rewrite of my canal-boat-getaway crime novella, which I’ve now renamed ‘Embers of Bridges’ to keep the Pink Floyd theme going.  (For anyone who isn’t a fan, it’s a snippet from their track High Hopes, and seemed appropriate in all sorts of ways.)

The rewrite has been a tussle; the original version was far too ‘cosy’ and needed a good kick up the arse to bring it into the 21st century.  I’ve gone some way to achieving that (though still not as far as I’d like), and on Friday I finally got to type the two most important words of all.  The End.  It’s a nice feeling!

Of course, it still needs a lot of scraping, polishing, pruning, chopping and general head-scratching.  But at least now I have a framework to hang new ideas and new bits of writing onto, which should make things easier.  I’m hoping to have the whole thing finished by early next year, ready to start the submission process.  Publishers, you have been warned.  There’s just time to don tin hats and get your heads below the parapet!

And now I’ve got more time to fiddle about on social media, chat on here, and get on with other stories, submissions and what-have-you.  Phew!

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Watch this space…

…for a second helping of kick-ass women!  In other words, the second issue of Betty Fedora is due out soon, and includes my own short story ‘Last Chance Saloon’, set appropriately enough in the wild moorland of the Far North of England.

A dirty weekend, a clapped-out car, a deserted country road.  What can possibly go wrong?  Quite a bit for one particular character as it turns out, but you’ll have to read the story to find out which one, and why.

Hopefully you won’t have too much longer to wait.

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I’ve been working on my current novella today, writing a chapter which works up towards a specific surprise disclosure by one of the characters.

I reached the last few paragraphs, all set to introduce the surprise.

And realised I’d forgotten what it was.

Cue much scrabbling amongst the bits of scrap paper on my desk, all of them liberally covered with mad scribblings and half-intelligible notes, until I finally found one that reminded me what I’d been aiming for.

Now I can finish off the chapter, but how embarrassing would that have been if I’d never remembered?  And has anyone else ever done anything similar?  Or worse?

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White knuckles?

Just in time for Halloween, the guys at Near to the Knuckle are running a scary special, with a whole bunch of tales to make your blood run cold over the weekend.

See the stories at Near to the Knuckle magazine, and just to add to the atmosphere each tale is available on audio as well.  Just follow the link on the individual story page.

“Happy reading” may not be entirely appropriate but miss this at your peril, as weird things may start slithering out of your closet if you do!

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CSI: Southampton

First off, what a wonderful title for a book event.  The minute I saw it I thought, I’ve got to go to that!   It’s a marathon journey from the Far North of England all the way to the south coast, but luckily we have family in the area, and after all the effort I’m delighted to say the event didn’t disappoint.

The day featured a number of talks by crime authors, but also by some of the experts who have daily experience of the very things we’re writing about.  The morning’s panel featured two crime writers – the event’s main organiser Pauline Rowson and Natasha Cooper – plus two experts from Hampshire Constabulary.  One was high up in the CSI/forensics department; the other ran the fingerprint bureau.  It was fascinating to hear their somewhat different ‘take’ on the subject, in terms of what really happens procedurally, but also how attitudes to forensics have changed thanks to popular tv shows, and even the sheer unglamorous reality of clearing up after an unpleasant crime.

Throw in an entertaining talk by well-known crime author Peter Lovesey, and a chance to have a thumbprint ‘taken’ and turned into a unique keyring, and you have all the ingredients of a successful and very enjoyable day.

Sadly I had to dash off before the last session (featuring authors Susan Wilkins and Jessie Keane) due to the long journey back north.  But I hear Pauline Rowson is organising a similar event in Portsmouth next March, with the possibility of others around the country after that, so I’ll hope to get to at least one of those.

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Here, there and everywhere

You know how you get weeks sometimes when everything is insanely busy, and you’re juggling diary dates like oranges and plates?  Well, this is one of those weeks.

Last Friday I set off on the complex and fiddly train journey to Gretna Green for a ‘Crime & Publishment’ get together.  Although it’s not all that far, it involves three separate trains, awkward connections, a 20-minute (uphill) walk, and a lift at the other end.  The logistics are… challenging, but I got there in one piece in spite of late-running Virgin trains and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.  There’s a core group of us who live close enough to get back every couple of months or so, plus others who come when they can.  We chat about writing, publishing, our various achievements, and how best to bury all those dead bodies, with the result that we often spook the wedding guests sat next to us in the bar or restaurant!  Throw in a great ‘pub grub’ meal and a few drinks in the bar afterwards and you have all the makings of a fun night out.

Then yesterday I hurtled into Kendal to meet another friend, a journalist/photographer/designer who was in town for the annual Comic Art Festival.  We set the world to rights over a coffee at the Brewery Arts Centre café and swapped notes on publishing, literary festivals, book design, and goodness knows what else.

And this weekend I’m heading off in completely the opposite direction, to Southampton, for a one-day event entitled ‘CSI: Southampton’ which involves crime writers and forensic experts comparing their approach to the subject.  It sounds absolutely fascinating and I’ll post a report next week once I’ve got my breath back.

Anyone who ever thought being a writer involved sitting at a desk and typing all day every day might want to think again!

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TV crime drama – good and bad

There are two new crimes series on telly at the moment – Unforgotten on ITV, and From Darkness on BBC1.  Both, on the face of it, are quite similar.  Both feature the discovery of human bones as the ‘kicking off’ point for the drama.  Both then go on to uncover webs of dark deeds from years, even decades, ago.  And both feature a central female character.  But there the similarities end.

Given the BBC’s track record you might expect their offering to be the better of the two.  Sadly, it isn’t.  While Unforgotten is full of strong, warm, interesting characters and has an episodic narrative that is both taut and intriguing, From Darkness is dull, repetitive and flabby.  Unforgotten’s DCI Cassie Stuart may be obsessive about her latest cold case but she also comes across as a thoroughly good copper.  The same can’t be said about the characters in From Darkness.  I’m no expert, but the little I have gleaned from books, and from listening to speakers on the crime writing circuit, tells me that there is no way a retired officer with mental health problems would be given a frontline role in solving crime.  Yet that’s exactly what former constable Claire Church is allowed to do.  She takes part in formal police interviews; rushes into crime scenes, alone and without back-up; and generally gets in the way of a proper investigation.

I understand that this is entertainment and that some dramatic licence is allowed, but getting the basic facts as wrong as this just makes the whole thing seem silly.  It doesn’t help that some of the dialogue is clunky, the action slow-to-non-existent (it took the whole of the first hour for Church’s former boss to persuade her to come back and work on the case) and it’s very formulaic.  The Guardian described it as having ‘plenty of work for the cliché police’ in their online review.

So, will I be watching the rest of either series?  A resounding yes to Unforgotten, to find out how so many apparently separate strands can be brought together into one over-arching storyline (there were already hints about this at the end of the first episode).  But an equally resounding no to From Darkness, which simply made me want to throw things at the television.  It’s amazing how two such similar shows can end up being so completely different.

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A bit of a joke

lastwordcoverI promised ages ago to post a snippet from ‘Snow Joke’, the story released a few weeks back in the Last Word anthology from Joyride Press.  And, er, I forgot.  So, having now re-inserted my brain, here’s the excerpt at last.  Apologies for the delay – I hope it was worth the wait!

“You know, walk. Put one bleedin’ leg in front of the other. You’ve got legs, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, yeah, keep your hair on, I know what walking is. But how are we supposed to carry stuff back? Won’t be worth taking much. I’m not wading through three feet of snow with a load of tellies on my back.”

Stu paused and sucked a knuckle. He’d grazed it the other night pasting some bloke who’d come on to Trish in the Spotted Dog, and it was still giving him grief. It was his own fault; Trish was a stunner and you could hardly blame the opposition for getting hooked. Dead from the waist down, they’d have to be, not to eye up her particular brand of assets – assets that he himself had paid to have enhanced. “So we take the van nearer where we’re going and walk the rest,” he said at last. “Even you can manage that.”

“I dunno, mate, the roads are going to be hell. Why are you so worked up about this anyway? It’s not like we can’t wait a few weeks.”

He sucked his knuckle again. Benny was being difficult, and would have to be placated with the truth. “If you must know I’m a bit skint. That op for Trish didn’t come cheap – I’m still paying off the bill and I’ve got nothing left. I can’t even buy my own wife a pressie for Christmas. So are you in or not?”

“Yeah, all right, I’m in. Just remind me again what Trish’s friend said.”

“Trish said Gail said Brian said that it was all down to health and safety. Said word had come down from the top brass – they’re not allowed to respond to call-outs when it snows. Trish said did that mean you could get away with murder whenever the roads are bad and Gail said ‘more or less’. Think about it, Benny. If they can’t come out, they can’t nab you if some bugger dials 999. We could do half the houses on that posh new estate and no one would ever know.”

Benny stamped his feet up and down, crunching the snow beneath his size twelve boots. “I’ll get the van keys,” he said.

Don’t forget you can find the rest of the story in Last Word, available on Amazon with all proceeds going to the Nation Inside charity.  There are eleven stories and it’s currently only £1.99 – so beat the snow and grab yourself a good read now.

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In Bruges

P1020247Last week my ‘other half’ and I spent a couple of memorable days on a city break to Bruges.  I’d never been before, though I’d seen the pictures and always wanted to, and Other Half had only spent a few hours in the place and always longed to go back.

Sometimes, achieving a dream can be rather a let-down, but not in this case.  The city is quite simply magical.  We stayed in a hotel on one of the two main squares, about two minutes’ walk from the most famous building (the Belfry) and well within earshot of its charming carillon, plinking out the hours and quarters with a selection of tunes.  This, memorably, is the staircase Brendan Gleeson’s character Ken advises an overweight tourist not to go up because “it’s really narrow”, in one of my favourite films ‘In Bruges’.  I don’t really do heights so we didn’t clamber up the 360+ steps ourselves, but I can easily believe the climb is challenging, even for those of us who aren’t fucking elephants.

Instead we spent a happy couple of days following walking tours around the city – first the well known, touristy bit, full of stunning medieval houses and pretty canals; and then the slightly less-well known parts, still full of medieval houses and canals but with fewer tourists milling about.  And you know what?  Everywhere is lovely.  Everywhere there’s a new and equally scenic view.  Every bridge over every canal, every corner on every street.  Even the back alleys are beautiful.  I took photo after photo – over 80 in all – and almost all are amazing.

On the second day, when we’d just about walked the soles off our feet and needed a bit of a rest, we sought out the Groeningemuseum, the city’s main art gallery, and spent a happy couple of hours pottering around in there.  They have an amazing collection of Flemish ‘primitive’ art (from the likes of Jan Van Eyck and Hans Memling) as well as a Hieronymous Bosch, a Brueghel or two, and even work by Magritte.  It was well worth the 8 euro entrance fee.

So, would we go back?  Sure, like any World Heritage site it’s packed to the last edges of the sardine tin with tourists.  There are tour parties following raised umbrellas, tour boats churning up the canals, tour coaches roaring round the ring road.  Some of the museums and attractions are decidedly cynical – museums of beer, fries, chocolate, diamonds, all seemingly there to part tourists with their money and give as little back as possible.  And every now and then we came across some distinctly unwelcoming attitudes from the locals.  But overall, we loved it, and can’t wait to go back.  Especially to seek out some of the other locations from the filming of ‘In Bruges’.

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Tangled web

I was intrigued by this story appearing on the BBC website this morning, about heroin smuggled into the country in carpets.  Not just chucked into packets and rolled up inside the carpets, either, but placed in hollow straws which were then woven into the actual carpet fabric.  That’s ingenuity for you.

What the article doesn’t mention, and what I would love to know, is how the authorities ever found out about it.  I mean, a carpet is a carpet.  You don’t start examining the warp and weft of every rug that comes into the country from abroad.  So, did sniffer dogs raise the alarm, or was the UK Border Force warned or given information about the shipment in advance?  I don’t suppose I’ll ever find out, but what a wonderful basis for a story!

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Of planes, frogs and scorpions…

I’m being evil with the title of this post, I’m afraid, but it’s quite appropriate since my latest short story, ‘Scorpio’, which appears at Thrills Kills ‘n’ Chaos today, is also pretty evil.  The story, about a pilot having to take a convicted murderer into the air to spot the burial site of his victim, was inspired by the old frog and scorpion fable – so don’t expect a Happy Ever After ending!  It’s all pretty dark and desperate.

I know nothing at all about handling small aircraft, but am indebted to my Other Half for the details as he regularly flew Cessnas when he was training for his Private Pilots’ Licence.  He got it, too, but has had to let it lapse since, as all the suitable airfields are too far away.  There are drawbacks to living in the Far North of England…

I hope you enjoy the story, if ‘enjoy’ isn’t too optimistic a word!

Posted in Noir, Tess Makovesky, Writing | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Wheely good news

Good news seems to be like buses at the moment – nothing for ages then three come along at once.  Today’s nugget is that Betty Fedora, the magazine for kick-ass women’s fiction which published ‘Going Off The Deep End’ in their first issue, have accepted another of my tales for the follow-up.

‘Last Chance Saloon’ is a dark revenge story featuring (of course!) those kick-ass women protagonists as well as an unhealthy twist.  A dirty weekend, a clapped-out car, a deserted country road: what can possibly go wrong?  Well, quite a bit as it turns out, especially for one half of the couple involved.  But which half?  You’ll have to read the story to find out!

The book’s due this autumn (fall). As ever I’ll post more details when I have them but in the meantime I’m delighted that Betty Fedora continue to support my work.

Posted in News, Submissions, Tess Makovesky | Tagged , , | 4 Comments