Banksy hero

banksy_hullA new Banksy artwork appeared recently in Hull – which is appropriate given that it’s currently UK City of Culture. It was stencilled on a bridge in the river which is kept permanently raised, and included a small boy wielding a giant pencil and the message ‘drawing the raised bridge’. Typical Banksy mischief, and a wonderful play on words which really made me smile.

Sadly, not everyone appreciated it. One local councillor demanded that it was ‘destroyed’ (he obviously has no idea how valuable Banksy art can be…), and shortly after that, it was completely painted over with a coat of thick white paint.

Whether those two facts are connected or not I have no idea. But one local chap saw not white but red, and rushed out to help restore the artwork to its former glory. Even better, he’s a window cleaner, so could throw in all the ladders, buckets, cloths and whatever else might be needed to scrub paint off yet more paint. In the end, plain water didn’t work and he had to resort to chemicals, and the underlying mural suffered slightly as a result. Still, as he himself said, better a faded Banksy than no Banksy at all – and now the local council have offered to protect the whole thing with a sheet of Perspex, which is good news all round.

You can read more about the story – and the Banksy hero – in the Guardian’s report here.

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Podcast!

Shure_mikrofon_55SThanks to an invitation from Eric Beetner and the nice folk at Writer Types, I have suddenly become Tech Girl.

Well, not exactly, but after much battling with software and microphones, I did manage to record two minutes of myself talking about the locations in my upcoming novel ‘Gravy Train’, which has now been included in Writer Types’ latest podcast.

You can find the podcast here – and don’t worry, it’s not just me waffling on, but includes loads of other cool stuff too including fellow debut novelists Aimee Fix and Michael Pool, plus music, plus author interviews, plus… well, head over there and you can see for yourselves!

In my case I’m talking about Birmingham’s canal network, which is a real hidden gem of the city and provides a major part of the backdrop for ‘Gravy Train’.

I’ve never done this recording/podcast stuff before, so I’m oddly proud of the result!

Broadchurch series 3 review

broadchurchhI suddenly realised that I’d never blogged about this. We were horribly late watching the series; we recorded the whole thing but then got involved with other programmes and didn’t catch up with it for several months. But I have to say it was worth the wait, because the series was right back to its Broadchurch-y best, with more cracking performances from David Tennant and Olivia Colman as detectives Hardy and Miller, and an intriguing and thought-provoking plot.

I’d been concerned about the main storyline which involved an unpleasant rape, but in the end I needn’t have worried. Very little if anything was shown of the assault, or even of the aftermath. It was all done by suggestion, in often surprisingly subtle ways, in a wonderfully moving performance by Julie Hesmondhalgh as victim Trish. This brought to life all too vividly the shock, numbness and humiliation caused by such a devastating life event, which I felt was far more effective than showing the attack in a more graphic way. I also liked the way Trish gradually changed from being ‘just another victim’ to being a real, human person – someone’s Mum, someone’s ex-wife, someone’s lover – with her own foibles and faults, and her own strengths.

As before there was some excellent banter between Tennant and Colman, a slightly bewildering array of suspects, all with good reasons to have carried out the assault, and a seemingly authentic look at the procedures involved in a rape case. The eight episodes passed all too quickly and I enjoyed pretty much every minute… right up until the last few  scenes.

In series 1 of Broadchurch writer Chris Chibnall threw in a blinder of a last-minute twist, with a suspect who simply hadn’t been on the police’s – or our – radar up till then. It was highly effective, because of the way it caught the detectives ‘on the hop’ – and because the murderer, in that case, proved to be much too close to home. In series 3, Chibnall had gone for a similar effect, with another completely disregarded character proving to have done the deed. Sadly, this time it was less convincing, both because it’s starting to seem like a trademark device (pick the least likely suspect and he/she will have done it) and also because, in this case, the motivations were so unlikely. I don’t want to go into details because of, you know, spoilers, but I will just say I wasn’t convinced that what was suggested was physically possible.

Added to that, the whole strand with the Latimers, still reacting to events from series one, stretched on far too long. Having Beth Latimer become a rape counsellor was a nice touch, except that she didn’t seem to actually do an awful lot, whilst husband Mark’s disintegration was probably all-too true to life, but took up too much time in such a relatively short series.

And can somebody please explain the thing with the breakdown service – and the cricket bat, which appeared to have been found in two places at once?!

That said, after the major disappointment of series two, it was great to have this back on form, and Tennant and Colman as Hardy and Miller are so utterly believable and engaging that they fully deserve another series – maybe not of Broadchurch itself, but of something that can showcase their talents. A spin-off “Hardy & Miller” show, perhaps? Now that would be something to look forward to!

Canal tour of Birmingham

These days I don’t get back to Birmingham all that often. However, we were in the area over the Christmas break so I took the opportunity to visit the city centre. The weather was freezing (there was still snow lying on the ground in the suburbs) but the sun was shining and the light was perfect for photography, and I wanted to try out my new camera on some of the sights. Most of all, I wanted shots of the area around Gas Street Basin, which is where large chunks of my new novel ‘Gravy Train’ are based.

And I wasn’t disappointed. I wandered all over the city centre, snapping away, and ended up at the back of the International Convention Centre, where Brindley Place meets Broad Street and where the canal network suddenly blossoms into the vast and picturesque Gas Street Basin.

It’s an amazing sight at the best of times, and very unexpected for the centre of a city that sadly, doesn’t have the best reputation for heritage, architecture, or anything much else. It’s not a reputation it deserves, as you can see from some of these photos. The area around Gas Street has recently been tidied up and the wonderful juxtaposition of old and new buildings, bridges, wharves, hoists, tower blocks and walkways gives it an atmosphere that’s hard to find anywhere else.

And if you believe the events in ‘Gravy Train’, it’s perfect for hiding the odd body or two as well!

Here’s a taster of the scenery:

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Gas Street Basin through the Broad Street bridge. The main thoroughfare of Broad Street, complete with Victorian buildings, runs straight across the top of this bridge; if you’re walking along the street you’d hardly know this was there.

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Picturesque canal-side buildings – many turned into bars and restaurants – line the towpath, which as I mention in ‘Gravy Train’ is edged in places by no more than a line of different coloured bricks.

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A view across the barges to the old Canal House (complete with hoisting gear) and some of the city’s swankier office blocks.

I took a whole heap of photos of other parts of the city and will hopefully share those over the next few weeks.

2017: the good bits

Yes, yet another review of the year – but I will at least keep this short by just picking out a few of the year’s highlights! Here goes:

Best crime book: ‘Coffin Road‘ by Peter May – an ingenious mix of crime, amnesia and bee-keeping (yes, really!) set against the stunning backdrop of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

Best noir book: ‘Too Many Crooks‘ by Paul D Brazill – tongue-in-cheek Brit-Grit that hurtles between London and Warsaw, where neither the bad guys nor the good guys get what they deserve!

Best movie: Not sure if it quite counts as crime but I’ll say it anyway – Dr Strange, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. I loved the historical/fantasy elements and it was much more intelligent than the usual frantic Marvel fare.

Best TV series: Follow the Money 2: another great slice of Scandi-noir but with fraud and money-laundering as the central themes rather than murder. Every bit as gripping as the first series with some knock-out performances from the two lead actors, Thomas Bo Larsen and Thomas Hwan, plus a surprisingly moving ending.

Best writing event: a toss-up between Crime & Publishment (friends new and old, valuable insights into the world of writing and publishing); and Mike Craven’s book launch for ‘Body Breaker‘ in Carlisle (witty banter between Mike and fellow author Michael J Malone plus a great night out).

Best non-writing event: the Pink Floyd ‘Their Mortal Remains‘ exhibition at the V&A Museum. Huge set pieces combined with smaller, more intimate exhibits that really gave an insight into the band. A real once-in-a-lifetime event.

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Best news story (national): Probably this one, about yet another bungling criminal stuck in a window in Birmingham for five hours. Puns about ‘being framed’ spring to mind…

Best news story (friends): My writer friend Lucy Cameron getting her debut crime novel ‘Night is Watching‘ published by Caffeine Nights earlier this year. I missed the launch (drat) but I know how excited she was!

Best news story (me): Well, I had to say it, didn’t I? For me the highlight of the whole year was the news that All Due Respect have accepted my first crime novel, ‘Gravy Train’, for publication in November next year. I can’t wait!

So, how was your year? Good, I hope – and here’s hoping 2018 will be every bit as exciting/successful/interesting as this one has been, for all of us.

The Devil’s Porridge

The-Devils-Porridge-MuseumLast year one of the book launches I attended was for thriller writer Matt Hilton’s collection of short stories, The Demon Drink and the Devil’s Porridge. Set against a backdrop of the so-called State Management System (a kind of mini-Prohibition) in Carlisle, the stories are fun and entertaining – and the history of this particular period is fascinating, too.

Basically the State Management System (SMS) was set up during the first world war to prevent hordes of workers from the nearby munitions factory at Gretna Green from descending on Carlisle’s pubs and drinking them dry. As you might expect, the combination of alchohol and explosives (mostly nitroglycerine – the Devil’s Porridge of the title) isn’t a healthy one and the authorities were alarmed enough to step in, introducing restrictions on the number of pubs and the amount of booze sold, and having nice cosy games like bowls to try to gentrify the whole process of drinking.

Rather remarkably, it seems to have worked. Even more remarkably, it lasted until as recently as 1973. And now there’s a museum at Gretna Green, called The Devil’s Porridge Museum, which celebrates the munitions factory, the people who worked there, and the SMS itself.

It sounds absolutely fascinating, and if it had been open we might well have called in during our trip to Gretna at the weekend. Annoyingly,  it had just closed for its winter break and won’t be open again until mid-January. But we’ve made a note, picked up a leaflet, and will definitely visit next time we’re in the area. It would be a shame to miss this!

Exciting news

Yesterday I had official confirmation of the good news I’ve known about for a few weeks now, which is that my first crime novel, ‘Gravy Train’, has been accepted for publication in 2018 by All Due Respect (an imprint of Down and Out Books).

The book is a comedie noir romp in which a bunch of dodgy characters chase a bag of ill-gotten gains around Birmingham’s back streets and canals. As with my last book ‘Raise the Blade’ the title is nicked from a Pink Floyd track, this time the rather appropriate Have a Cigar.

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To say I’m over the moon is an understatement. Until recently I wasn’t sure I could write a whole crime novel, and it took the combined nagging of three writer friends (Linda Wright, Irene Paterson and Jackie Baldwin) before I even tried. After much head-scratching, crossing-out and sheer hard work, I’d increased the novella version of Gravy Train to double its original size, but still wasn’t sure it was suitable, enjoyable, or even much good.

But I’m delighted to say that All Due Respect loved its breathless pace and offbeat characters, and felt it fitted well with their ‘low-life’, noir ethos.

The book is due out in November next year, which seems like ages to wait but will no doubt whisk past in no time at all. In the meantime, here’s a brief blurb so you know what all the fuss is about.

“Who’ll take a slice of their pie?

Crime pays. So barmaid Sandra thinks when she overhears details of a betting scam and wins herself and fat husband Mike eighty thousand pounds. But they’ve reckoned without mugger Lenny, lying in wait outside the betting shop door. And he’s reckoned without a top-notch car thief, his own devious boss, and Sandra’s unpleasant almost-uncle George.

Mayhem ensues as a bunch of disparate – and desperate – characters chase the bag of money around Birmingham’s back streets. Plenty of them help themselves to the cash, but none of them are any good at hanging onto it. As they hurtle towards a chaotic showdown on the banks of the local canal, will any of them see their ill-gotten gains again? Or will their precious gravy train come shuddering to a halt?”

Christmas celebration

P1000012The Far North of England has mercifully (and for once) missed the worst of the snow and ice. This meant that for the first time ever, Other Half and I were able to drive up to Gretna Green on Sunday for the famous Crime & Publishment Christmas meal.

Much to my annoyance, the last two years I’ve had to miss it. Last year we both had a nasty bout of flu (at the same time!) and the year before that, we’d only just dried out after Storm Desmond, and then we got snowed in. Sigh. Even bigger sigh as it was pretty much the only snow we got all winter, and it happened just a few hours before we were due to set off… and then thawed again the following day. Typical.

This time there were no such problems, in spite of temperatures that were so far below freezing that the duck pond at Tebay Services (above) had frozen solid. (The ladies loos weren’t much better either.) But the scenery on the way up, especially over Shap Fell on the M6, was amazing, and we arrived in Gretna a little chilly but unscathed.

And the event was well worth the three year wait. Lovely food, lots of fun, great company, great chance to catch up with folk – some of whom I hadn’t seen for the best part of a year – and a chance to hear how much success everyone has had during the year. And successes they have had – in spades, by the sound of it. Everything from TV deals to debut books, and quite a bit in between.

I had my own good news to share (more on that in the next day or so!) but it’s so good to hear that I’m not the only one. The Crime & Publishment weekend is one of the best things I’ve ever signed up for, bringing so many new friends and above all, so much support.

Merry Christmas to the lot of you – and I’ll see you again for the next Crime & Publishment weekend in March!

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.

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.