Too Many Crooks

5199zNjeOiLI’ve had my head down coping with some fairly challenging re-writes lately and haven’t had much time for reading anything else. But I finally finished the edits yesterday, and promptly finished a book I’d been meaning to for weeks, if not months.

The book is Paul D Brazill’s ‘Too Many Crooks’, and like so many others of his, it’s tremendous fun. From the punning title to the madcap action of the final scene, it hurtles from drunken encounter to heist to blagging and back again, against a backdrop of the sleazier parts of Warsaw and London.

You can see my full review at Goodreads, but for anyone who likes their fiction witty but gritty, I can recommend this one.

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New police museum for Birmingham

1409480240560I never managed to get inside the old police museum in Brum, which was housed in the former courthouse, now police station in Sparkhill. Even though it was only a few miles away from where we lived, there was no direct bus service, and parking in the vicinity was terrible. So I always said one day… and never quite made it before we moved away.

However, the good news for fans of all things police, history and Birmingham is that a new museum is planned which I’m assuming will be bigger, and much more easily accessible.

The new venue will be housed in the old Victorian lock-up at the West Midlands force headquarters on Steelhouse Lane (picture above). This is slap bang in the city centre, with ample buses, trains and car parking nearby.

And it sounds as though it’s going to be fascinating, with archives, exhibits, and a planned examination of the real-life criminals behind the BBC’s hit series Peaky Blinders.

There’s no word yet on when the new museum will be open, but I’m adding it to my list of essential places to visit – and will report on here when it does. In the meantime, you can catch up on some of the history behind the TV show in this article from the BBC, who tracked down one of the descendants of the real-life gang. It makes quite eye-opening reading!

Won’t somebody think of the… tyres

I came across this news snippet earlier, about armed robbers escaping from a jewellery store heist on a moped, and had to suppress a giggle. Yes, it’s awful, and must have been terrifying for the staff.

But it does bring up all sorts of evil questions, like:

  • how many robbers can you get on the back of a moped?
  • how come the tyres didn’t explode? and
  • why does it remind me so much of the wonderful sheep motorbike display team in A Close Shave?

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Allergy to Amazon?

Raise the Blade FrontWant to buy books but not keen on the universe-swallowing internet giants? Well, now there’s a new way to get your hands on titles from Caffeine Nights – direct from the publisher.

This includes my own book ‘Raise the Blade’, which is gory enough to qualify as a Halloween read. So to get your sticky mitts on a copy in time, head to my author page on the Caffeine Nights website, scroll down, and click the big friendly ‘buy here’ button at the bottom.

While you’re there, why not browse some of the other great books and authors Caffeine Nights has published? Shaun Hutson, Mike Craven, Graham Smith, Lucy Cameron, Paul Brazill… just some of the names you might want to check out. Just head for the ‘authors’ section for more information on all of them.

Getting to grips with html5

You may remember a short(ish) time ago I revamped my website using spiffy new html5 coding. Well, it looked very stylish, but I was such a Coding Doofus that I didn’t understand enough to get more than a single page up and running. This meant I couldn’t have nearly as much content as I really wanted – not least, a whole page for my book ‘Raise the Blade’.

I spray references to the book around on social media and even in real life, and it’s always good to have somewhere to direct people, to where they can find out more. Top of the list in this respect is a nice, easy to remember web link. Bottom of the list is the suggestion that they just go to your web page and rummage around until they find what they’re looking for.

I’ve been managing on that last arrangement for far too long, but I’m delighted to say that I’ve now learned enough about html5 coding to expand my website, so it consists of six separate pages. There’s one for my bio, one for all my books and stories, one for works in progress, and most importantly, one for ‘Raise the Blade’. This includes more details about the book including quotes, blurb, an excerpt, a wonderfully creepy video courtesy of my publisher Caffeine Nights, and links to various articles and blog posts about the book.

Huge thanks are due to those nice folk at Html5-Up, a web design company who provide stylish, idiot-proof and above all, free, templates for lesser-trained users like me. I couldn’t have done it without all their hard work.

You can find the generic web page at http://www.tessmakovesky.com, and the ‘Raise the Blade’ page here.  I hope you’ll find it useful and a bit more informative than the last version!

Their Mortal Remains

P1020956Their Mortal Remains is the title of the huge Pink Floyd exhibition at the V&A Museum in London, which we went to see last weekend.

I’d been excited about the trip for weeks, and it didn’t disappoint. It was huge, it was stuffed with material ranging from personal letters to the band’s own instruments to huge models of album covers and/or special effects. There were things to look at, things to read, and things to watch and listen to. Everyone was given an audio headset on the way in, which played a variety of Floyd’s music and/or interviews with the band, roadies, and various other connected folk, depending on where you were amongst the exhibits.  And at the end, past a collection of vast replica inflatables from Animals and The Wall concerts (not least the floating pig!), there was a big interactive space where you were surrounded on all four sides by film footage and walls of sound, so that it felt as though you had prime seats at a Floyd concert.

There was also a wider interest in terms of the cover art, designed by the British company Hipgnosis, and critical acclaim for both the music and the lyrics of Floyd’s work. One expert said that in his opinion, Roger Waters should be ‘up there on the podium’ with Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, a sentiment I totally agree with.

I found the whole experience incredibly moving, and as well as the sheer scale it also provided smaller items of note, like a handwritten letter describing the band’s first ever tour bus (you enter the exhibition through a larger-than-life version of it), and an explanation of where some of the album names came from.  Atom Heart Mother, for instance, was inspired by a newspaper headline about a woman who’d had a radioactive-powered pacemaker fitted, in the late 1960s.

A couple of small gripes – it was very hot, and very, very crowded.  There’s not a lot the V&A can do about the latter because this is turning out to be their most popular exhibition ever, and the queues just keep on building up. However, the twisty layout did create a few bottlenecks and as some of the fans wanted to read Every. Last. Word. on every label on every item, progress was slow and I kept getting elbowed out.  It was also pretty dark, which added to the overall atmosphere but made some of the exhibits and labelling hard to pick out.

However, this is an exhibition on the grand scale, entirely appropriate given some of Floyd’s own, dare I say, excessive set pieces.  But in amongst the replica aircraft, animals, and giant puppets, there are also small, intimate reminders that this was, first and foremost, a group of friends who gathered together to make the sort of music they loved.  And the interview about the inflatable pig breaking loose over London and getting into Heathrow airspace is just hysterical.

Their Mortal Remains was originally slated to end at the beginning of October, but it’s been so popular the V&A have extended it until the 15th. So if you’re a fan of Pink Floyd, prog rock or the history of music, do think about going along. It’s not cheap and it’s not a quiet ride, but it’s more than worth both the cost and the effort to see it.

(To give you some idea of scale, the model of the Division Bell cover at the top was over 20 feet tall; Battersea Power Station (below) probably larger still. But then Pink Floyd never did anything, well, small!)

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Dumb criminals strike again

couch-sleepingMy faith in the underside of human nature was restored the other day by this daft little tale about a burglar high on drink and drugs, who broke into someone’s house and fell asleep on their sofa.

The home owner, not surprisingly, was a bit shocked when they got back and found him there.  When they confronted him, he was still so groggy he managed to give away his name and age… and seems to have been surprised when the home owner tracked him down on Facebook and tipped off the police.

Best of all is the judge’s comment that “You must rank very high in the scale of incompetency of burglars.” Clearly a man with a sense of humour – but not enough to let the dozy burglar off.  He got a 12 month suspended sentence, not to mention a whole lot of embarrassment!

A brand new interview

I’m delighted to say I’ve been interviewed by the ever-supportive Fiona McVie, who runs a blog devoted to finding out more about authors both established and less-well-known. Answering her questions was almost as much work as my latest novel, and really made me think! I hope you’ll enjoy the results, which include a scattering of details about Raise the Blade (inspiration for the plot and characters; cover art) together with all sorts of information on me, my life, my hobbies and interests, my favourite authors, and a great deal else besides.

I almost missed it, but the interview went live on Saturday – so apologies for the delay in posting about it.  Better late than never, and you can read the whole thing here.

Can’t blog… writing.

cartoon_gravy_train_grinding_haltYou’ll have noticed I’ve been rather less than my usual chatty self lately.  There’s a good reason for this – I’ve been working hard on rewrites to my first novel, ‘Gravy Train’, as well as a number of other projects.

‘Gravy Train’ started life as a novella, rather like ‘Raise the Blade’, but when several of my writer friends pinned me to a wall and threatened me with dark deeds if I didn’t make it longer, I decided to have a go at just that.  And after many months of scribbling, I’ve got it from 35,000 words to almost double the length.

Now comes the scary bit – submitting it to publishers.  My first choice regretfully rejected it (no hard feelings – it just didn’t fit).  But this morning I’ve taken the bovine by the facial protuberances and sent it out again.  After first re-formatting the entire manuscript to take out lots of pesky extra spaces after all the full stops.  And finding a few typos and howlers as I went.

On top of that, I’m about to submit two more short stories, one to an anthology and one to a magazine.  Cue yet more fiddling and polishing, and a couple more deep intakes of breath.

After that, I’m hoping things will quieten down a little, and I’ll have time to catch up on all the blogging I haven’t been doing for a while. As long as my own gravy train doesn’t come shuddering to a halt…

Doing a Canute on gangs?

p02pm564The latest news report from Birmingham is that 18 members of two rival gangs have been banned from parts of the city for two years.  The gangs, the Johnson Crew and the Burger Bar Boys, have been fighting each other, with frequent collateral damage, for years, and the police and judiciary have clearly had enough.

It’s an interesting solution to the problem, and will give the police somewhere to start: find one of those gang members in the wrong place at the wrong time and they’ll be able to arrest them.  This should be made easier because the 18 will have to register their mobile phones with police as well, presumably making it possible to track their movements at all times.

I do wonder, though, how easy the ban will be to enforce.  What exactly stops one of these people simply wandering down the street one day and ending up in a banned area?  Who will report them if they do?  How will the police know?  Short of placing them under house arrest (expensive) or fitting them with electronic monitors, I can’t see how it will work.  Interesting that the lawyer interviewed in the article I quote above has similar concerns, and thinks it may even encourage the gang members to play ‘chicken’.

I guess in the end the authorities will have to hope that, unlike Canute, they don’t get their feet wet.

A raffle-y good cause

First of all, apologies for the pun.  I couldn’t resist!  But it really is in a good cause… because on Sunday I went along to a charity lunch on the shores of Windermere.  It was in aid of PIES (Partners in Education Swaziland), which raises funds to provide education to desperately poor people in this particular African country, and is supported by, amongst others, the local Rotary Club and Soroptimists.

The lunch is held once a year at a house on the shores of Windermere, with stunning gardens that sweep down to the water’s edge, and views across the lake to the old Claife Viewing Station, a Victorian relic that the National Trust have just finished renovating.  This year, the weather was kind and we were able to sit at tables on the patio.  Luckily the patio is large, because the turnout was really impressive – over 80 people had turned up for their lovely, home-cooked two course Sunday lunch, plus stalls, plus plant sales, plus a raffle.

Looking around for something I could donate, at the last minute I realised I could take a signed copy of my book along.  The organisers fell on it with glee, placed it at the front of the raffle stall, and it was won during the afternoon by… someone, but I didn’t get a chance to see who it was.  So if you are now clutching a copy of ‘Raise the Blade’ then thank you for choosing it – and I really hope you enjoy reading it.

The event was a resounding success and raised over £2,000 in one day for the cause.  And I’m glowing, because although I never win anything, I won first prize in that same raffle – a M&S gift card to the tune of £50!

Instagram here we come…

I’ve finally got with the latest trend and joined Instagram, no doubt months (or even years) too late!

It was a “right fiddle” getting everything installed.  My mobile phone and/or tariff aren’t capable of supporting photo handling, so I set up an account on the computer.  Then I found I needed to download an app before I could post any photos.  What?  I thought Instagram shared pics instantly and virtually automatically.  Shows how wrong you can be.

I don’t use Apple and don’t trust Google so downloaded the Microsoft version of the app.  It took ages.  Checking files.  Restoring data.  Please wait.  Etcetera.  But after much finger-drumming it was finally ready.  I hit ‘launch’ and prepared to upload my photos.

Except that I couldn’t.  It wouldn’t let me.  There was a nice big shiny button labelled ‘share photos and videos’ right there in the middle of the screen, but it didn’t do anything.  At all.  I tried clicking, I tried pressing, I tried clicking again (and again, repeatedly), I tried swearing at it, I tried a special Tess Makovesky Hard Stare.  But even that didn’t work.

Frustrated, I Googled the problem and found I was not alone – the MS app won’t let you upload photos from your computer unless you have a… wait for it… touch screen.  How nice of them to let everyone know this before they download a useless app.  Not.

Fortunately a helpful techie site came to my rescue by recommending InstaPic, which is free to download from the Microsoft store and lets you upload pics to your Instagram account.  It’s not brilliant – I can only load one photo at a time, then have to close the program and re-open before loading another, single, pic.  But at least it’s something, and has let me get started with a few publicity stills for ‘Raise the Blade’, and some shots of interesting statues around Birmingham that I’d snapped over the years.

I’ll obviously be adding more, including other less well-known corners of Birmingham and some location shots for my book.  So to catch these, do feel free to follow me on  https://www.instagram.com/tessmakovesky/.  I’m looking forward to seeing you there.