Crawling out of the coffin…

In my last but one post, I mentioned that if ever I started writing crime and noir again you’d be the first to know. Well, guess what?

Pic credit: Allan Stewart on

It’s been a long time away from the genre, but I never expected two years of pandemic, when I could hardly bear to think about crime fiction let alone write it. But for the last few months I have, at last, been able to sit down and work on a darker book again. And the great news is that I’ve actually finished writing it.

So what is it, I hear you ask? Well, it’s called ‘Embers of Bridges’, and it’s a humorous gay noir set in Birmingham (where else), featuring a hapless gang of robbers, the Jewellery Quarter, and a getaway on a canal boat. I first had the idea over a decade ago, but it’s never quite gelled before. Now it has, and I’m surprisingly pleased with the result.

Of course, it’s not quite ready to go out into the world yet. I started on the edits this morning, and as usual it’ll need quite a bit of work. But I already have a cover and a blurb, and I’m really hoping I can turn this baby around in the next few weeks. In which case, once again, you’ll be the first to know…

Birmingham library award

I see the new library in Birmingham was up for the prestigious Stirling Award, given out to the best new architect-designed building in the UK, this year.  Sadly for Brum, it didn’t win.  The formal accolade went to the rebuilt Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, in the face of strong opposition from buildings like The Shard in London.

Birmingham Library did come away with a consolation prize, though, since it won a BBC website vote on the most popular of the six Stirling contenders.

I still don’t really like the building – to me it looks like a pile of cardboard boxes loosely wrapped in concertina barbed wire – but deep down I’m happy for its success!

Digging up the dirt

Yet another amusing little snippet from the West Midlands, where the Canal and Rivers Trust are about to start work on dredging some of the vast network of old canals. You might remember some of my previous posts about Birmingham having more miles of canal than Venice, so obviously they’ve got their work cut out. And I’m sure it will all be much pleasanter and better for the environment and the local wildlife as a result.

The crime writer in me can’t help thinking, though, that there are scores of criminals across the region having serious panic attacks at the thought of what those dredgers might bring up out of the depths. Drugs stashes, stolen money, loot, dead bodies… The results could help with half the unsolved crimes in the Midlands!

Wot, no ladders?

A fun little story from the brand new, all-singing all-dancing library in Birmingham city centre, which opened in a blaze of lights and glory a few short months ago.

Apparently, staff can’t reach some of the books because they’re on shelves so far above the ground that they can’t reach without special ladders. And, um, nobody thought to order the ladders.

Luckily, the books are “low-use, academic titles” that aren’t taken out very often. Just as well, really, that it isn’t Dan Brown or Fifty Shades, or the staff might have to resort to hot air balloons…

Pictures of… Birmingham

Birmingham may not have quite the romantic cachet of Paris, New York or Prague, but it’s a fine city in its own right with a rich multi-cultural society and many interesting buildings, both old and new. Now, according to this BBC article, the Some Cities website have developed a new image-sharing facility for photos of the city, where folks can post their pictures, share stories, keep a record of daily life, and browse the archive to see what Birmingham is really like.

This sounds like a brilliant resource, not just for anyone remotely interested in the city, but also for writers wanting to set their books there. I’ll definitely be popping in for a rummage.

A story – in 81 words

I’ve had a tiny story published on the 81Words website, where the point is to tell a tale in exactly 81 words. Not a word more, not a word less.

It’s surprisingly difficult – you wouldn’t believe the number of times I thought I’d cracked it, only to find I’d written 79… or 83. However, I love a challenge so I persevered, and the end result is a daft little piece called ‘Money Laundering’. Rather improbably, this was inspired by a real news story from Birmingham, where a large bag of money was found floating in a canal. However, the character of Carl is entirely my own invention. Hopefully nobody could actually be that stupid!

You can find the story here, and if anyone would like to vote for it on the site I’ll be your friend forever, or at the very least be very grateful.

Real Brummies required

I was amused to see that the producers of the second series of Peaky Blinders, the crime drama based in Birmingham in the early twentieth century, are appealing for more local people to audition for roles. This is after the accents in the first series were criticised as being unrealistic and weird. Presumably they’re hoping that by having genuine Brummies in minor speaking roles, it will bring a bit more authenticity to the series, which ::cough:: probably wouldn’t be difficult, judging by the few supposedly Brummie accents I heard.

Now, if only they could audition some of the local streets to be used as locations at the same time…

More canals than Venice?

Minus the question mark, this is the title of a new film about Birmingham by Steve Rainbow. He’s so fed up about the negative portrayal of the city in the media that he’s made a film containing 100 facts about the city’s history, culture and famous residents in an attempt to set the record straight.

It’s an amusing concept with a serious edge; people who live in Birmingham are getting sick of the way it’s shown on tv and in the newspapers, as a dull 1960s heap of concrete filled with mindless idiots. Which makes about as much sense as saying all Parisians have strings of onions round their necks, or that every New Yorker rides around in yellow taxis every day. In other words, nothing could actually be further from the truth.

I knew about most of the examples quoted in the article, but not the literary gems – that Arthur Conan Doyle lived and worked in Aston for several years; that Rev Wilbert Awdry wrote several ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ books in Kings Norton; and that Barbara Cartland was born in Edgbaston. I wonder if her house was pink?

Oh, and the reason for that question mark? Well, when I lived in the city I was always told that Birmingham has more miles of canal (as opposed to ‘more canals’) than Venice. It’s a small tweak, but it makes a surprising amount of difference!

Crash capital of the UK

Somebody’s been reading my stories, or at the very least my blog posts. According to this news item, Birmingham now tops the league table for the highest number of ‘crash for cash’ scams anywhere in the country, along with Bradford.

I was relieved to see that the suburb I used as a location for my recent story didn’t appear on the list, so at least I can’t be accused of anything nefarious myself. One or two weren’t that far away, though. So, am I psychic? Have I caught the wave of a new crime phenomenon? Or is Birmingham just a crime-ridden hell-hole that’s likely to top any crime statistics league? I’ll leave you lot to decide.

Sniff it up

I did a double-take when I saw this news item about Birmingham City Council handing out free cannabis scratch-and-sniff cards on one of its council estates (the rather aptly named Druids Heath).

Good grief, I thought. Are they trying to turn everyone into an addict, then raise some much-needed revenue by selling them the drugs?

Actually it’s a good deal more sensible than that. The cards contain no actual cannabis, and are simply there to familiarise local people with the smell of growing hemp, so that they can identify illegal cannabis farms and ‘shop’ them to the police.

Neat idea. All the same, I wonder how long it’ll be before some drugs gang gets the idea of replicating the cards using real grass, or worse, in order to benefit from the subsequent rise in addiction. Or is that just my nasty mind at work again?

More on Peaky Blinders

I still haven’t got round to watching either of the two episodes so far, but thanks to the Brummed Out blog I do know where the name came from. According to this post, the Peaky Blinders were a real Brummie gang who had a neat line in blinding their opponents during fights. I never realised the uses you could put a razor blade to.

I’ve also discovered, thanks to an interview with series star Cillian Murphy in the Radio Times, that the whole thing was filmed not in Birmingham but in Liverpool, because (according to one of his answers) ‘Birmingham was so badly bombed in the second world war that there’s nothing left from 1919’.

I can only assume Mr Murphy has never been within 100 miles of Birmingham, because this simply isn’t true. In fact, Liverpool was much more heavily bombed during the war, and suffered much more damage, with whole areas near the docks laid waste. Birmingham was also bombed, but got off relatively lightly in comparison, and has mostly escaped the clutches of the post-war modernist town planners. Hence suburb after suburb retains street after street of Victorian and Edwardian housing, and even in the city centre nineteenth century buildings outnumber those from the twentieth century.

My inner cynic suggests that the series was filmed in Liverpool because the production team received grants to do so, because to say that nothing remains of Edwardian Birmingham is quite frankly bonkers. You only have to go to Moseley, Kings Heath, Acocks Green or Harborne to realise that. Or Cotteridge, or Stirchley, or Selly Oak, or Handsworth, or… okay, I’ll shut up now.

::Mutters:: Hockley. Bearwood. Kings Norton. Sorry, sorry, going. Going now.

::Mumbles:: Digbeth. Sparkbrook. Sparkhill.

Okay, I’ve stopped. Really I have.

::Whispers:: Not to mention Small Heath, where the whole thing is supposed to be set in the first place…

Peaky what-ers?

I’ve recorded the first episode of the BBC’s new drama series Peaky Blinders to watch at my leisure, hopefully some time over the weekend. It was hard to resist, really, since it’s about crime, and set in Birmingham which I seem to be writing about quite a bit lately. More specifically, it’s set in the suburb of Small Heath in the 1910s and I’m wondering whether it’ll include a reference to the ‘Small Heathens’, a gang that used to operate in the area. Perhaps that’s exactly what it’s about.

Interesting point from some of the promotional material: the actors had to work extra hard on perfecting their accents because the series writer has strong connections to the city himself, and describes most Brummie accents on film and tv as ‘excruciating’. The bits I’ve heard in trailers don’t sound terribly convincing, but perhaps they’ll improve with age or familiarity.

I’m also hoping they’ll explain the extraordinary title of the series at some point!