Where the heck Wednesday: Tess Makovesky

Great news everyone, the semi-regular Wednesday feature is back, with some fascinating guests planned over the next few months. And I’m kick-starting it with a quick look at myself, because I realised I never took that opportunity last time round. So, without further ado, let’s stoke the engines, release the brakes, and let the ‘Gravy Train’ steam into town…

Book Title: Gravy Train

Setting: Birmingham (UK)

Author: Tess Makovesky

http://www.tessmakovesky.com / Facebook / Twitter

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So, why pick Birmingham as a location, I hear you ask? After all, it’s the dullest place on earth – nothing but Spaghetti Junction, motorways, factories, and endless 1960s concrete.

Well, no, actually. Birmingham is the UK’s second city – and quite probably the one with the least-deserved reputation. There is concrete (show me a British city without the stuff), but there’s also so much more. The tightly-packed city centre is a wonderful assortment of old and new, with everything from the gleamingly modern Grand Central station/shopping mall to the Town Hall, designed by the same bloke who came up with the Hansom cab.

Beyond that there are swathes of Victorian and Edwardian suburbs, scattered with gems from earlier times: churches, medieval manor houses, a mill that made it into The Lord of the Rings, even an ancient pub or two. And then – pure joy for crime writers like myself – there are the maze-like back streets, the vast parks, and best of all the canals. Birmingham has more miles of canal than Venice; they stitch the industrial towns of the Black Country together and form their own pasta-like sprawl across the landscape. There are canal-feeder reservoirs, bridges, tunnels; there are places where one whole canal system goes over or under another; there are entire sections in the city centre that are almost lost, and only reappear as ghostly imprints in the canyons between office blocks every now and again.

When I lived in Birmingham I found it hard to write about the city. There was a sense of it being a comfortable place to call home, rather like an old pair of slippers, and it was hard to see past that to view the place objectively. However, once I moved away the over-familiarity wore off and I began to set more of my stories and books there. ‘Wheel Man’ in the Drag Noir anthology from Fox Spirit Books uses the suburb of Acocks Green. My novella ‘Raise the Blade’ is set in various locations including the well-hidden Edgbaston Reservoir and Highgate park. ‘Gravy Train’ starts and terminates in the inner city district of Hockley (home of the world famous Jewellery Quarter) but stops off at Cannon Hill Park, the leafy suburb of Moseley, and Broad Street’s “entertainment quarter” along the way.

And, oh, those canals. The Worcester & Birmingham branch has a body fished out of it in ‘Raise the Blade’. And ‘Gravy Train’ makes equally good use of them, for all sorts of nefarious purposes. The old Gas Street basin, originally used for turning narrowboats around, gains a new function as a handy dumping ground for incriminating evidence. And when crime bosses George Leary and Vernon Ball set up a meeting to hand over some stolen cash, it’s the basin they choose, with all sorts of unexpected consequences.

I had a lot of fun writing about the various locations, and more fun re-visiting them recently to take lots of photographs. I’ll be posting those on my blog over the next few weeks and months, but in the meantime if you’d like to find out more about Birmingham, then take the train. Just please make sure it’s the ‘Gravy Train’!

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Fantastically creepy…

Raise the Blade FrontI’ve only just spotted this super new review of ‘Raise the Blade’ on Amazon, but it certainly made my day.

Many thanks to the lovely Kerry Parsons for posting it. It’s always a bonus when readers enjoy a book I’ve written this much.

Do pop along and check out the review for yourselves – and don’t forget that the book is available for as little as 99p (Kindle version) or £4.99 (paperback) if you’d like to try it too.

Raise the Blade locations: 2 – City Centre Gardens

This is a really dull name for a surprising little space tucked away behind some of Birmingham’s most well-known buildings.

Follow an unprepossessing alley-way between the new city library and the white bulk of Baskerville House and you come to an unappealing (if useful) multi-storey car park on the corner of Cambridge Street. So far, so ordinary, as are the high-rise blocks of flats beyond.

But just across the road from the car park is a small, but surprisingly attractive, city park. It must only measure around a quarter of an acre, if that, but it includes shrubs, trees, manicured lawns, flowerbeds, and a circular pillar-thing in the middle with more flowers inside.

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Annoyingly, I can’t find out a single thing online about the gardens or their history. How big are they? Who designed them? When were they opened? Are they on the site of a special building, landmark, or former park? I have no idea, which is quite frustrating. If anyone knows anything about them, please pass it on in the comments here because I’d love to know.

The paths are lined with benches and in good weather it’s a favourite lunchtime hang-out for office workers and staff from the nearby International Convention Centre/Symphony Hall complex, as well as locals and a scatter of visitors who’ve tripped over it.

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And it’s a lunchtime sandwich that proves pivotal for Nigel, the second victim in ‘Raise the Blade’. Noticing a foul smell, and realising it doesn’t come from his sarnie, he and colleague Vannie track it down to the space between their bench and the encircling wall.

‘Over there’ proved to be behind them, in the narrow space between bench and road, bounded by thick bushes and a low stone wall. At first, craning over the back of the bench, he couldn’t see anything that might be causing the niff. Then, behind a thicket of twiggy stems he caught a glimpse: black plastic, something spilling out.

When I visited last year to take some photos, the bench that best illustrates this was occupied by a couple of teenagers making out. Not wanting to look like I was taking an unhealthy interest in them, I snapped the benches further along instead. They don’t match the description in the book quite as well, but hopefully it gives some idea of the scene…

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As for hiding the body in the first place, well, this is an out-of-the-way corner but with main roads only yards away. After dark there’s probably not many people about, and there’s that multi-storey car park just across the road… Perfect for offloading, and either dragging the body in through the nearest entrance, or for someone strong, even lobbing it straight over the wall.

It put Nigel off his lunch, and caused him a bit of bother afterwards. But if you’re in this area of Birmingham with a few minutes to kill, make the effort to track the gardens down. And head to my website if you want to find out more about Nigel, the bodies, and ‘Raise the Blade’.

“Brilliantly dark humour”

Raise the Blade FrontI’m extra happy today, because the wonderful Jen of JenMed’s Book Reviews has tackled ‘Raise the Blade’ – and loved it!

She’s been particularly complimentary about the book’s ultra-dark humour, and also about the Birmingham locations, which I’d only just started to blog about in detail on here.

If you’d like to see more about what she liked and why, then head over to the review. (And have a good rootle around her site while you’re at it, because it’s simply stuffed with books.)

If you’d like a bit more information on those settings, then check out my most recent post, and keep your eyes peeled because I’ll be adding more in the next few weeks.

Raise the Blade locations: 1 – Edgbaston Reservoir

It occurred to me recently that I’d never really blogged in depth about the Birmingham settings in ‘Raise the Blade’, which is a shame for two reasons. One, Birmingham is full of amazing – and often surprising – locations, and two, they’re really important to the book. So, to set the record straight, and hopefully provide something of a guided tour around the city’s less-well-known nooks and crannies, I’ll be writing about various locations over the next few weeks.

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The first is Edgbaston Reservoir, which forms the backdrop to the discovery of the very first body in ‘Raise the Blade’. I first came across the reservoir in the mid-1980s, soon after I’d moved to Brum, when a couple of friends took me there for a walk. I was pretty cynical at first; the suburb it’s set in is leafy enough, but tends towards streets lined with houses rather than huge open spaces that you can use for long walks. Just how much of a lake could there be in such a relentlessly urban location, I naively thought. Well, it just shows how wrong you can be. A short stroll down a path between two properties took me to a whole new world. A world of wide open vistas stretching out all the way to the city centre skyscrapers and beyond; a world of yachts and ducks and great-crested grebes; a world of trees that feels a million miles from the busy, traffic-choked streets just a few hundred yards away.

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The reservoir was built (or at least commissioned – I don’t suppose he lifted a shovel himself) by Thomas Telford, the great canal engineer, in the early nineteenth century, and it was built for one purpose – to provide water for Birmingham’s vast network of canals. A small stream was dammed, and water was also piped from another reservoir around three miles away, and together they formed a lake covering some 58 acres – although the overall site including a round-the-lake footpath, grassland, woodland, and the dam, covers as much as 70 acres.

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Although the reservoir itself is open to the cross-city views and skies, the surrounding trees give it an enclosed, secluded feel, particularly in summer when the leaves are fully out. At the end furthest from the dam, large houses back onto the site, their gardens barely visible over high fences, often topped with wire. It was this location in particular that I used in ‘Raise the Blade’. Rotton Park Road, with on-street parking, is only a few hundred yards away, and the path from there slopes downhill, so it would be easy enough for a strong murderer to drag a body into the undergrowth. In the book, one of the fences has been damaged – enough for the foxes to get through – and this is presumably where the murderer gains access to Mrs Rai’s garden, and where hapless victim Brian finds the body and decides to hide it, setting the book’s characters off on a chain reaction of their own.

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This is just one of Birmingham’s many hidden gems. Dashing past on the surrounding streets you’d barely know it was there, which is another reason why it might be useful for disposing of unwanted evidence. All that nice deep water (40 feet, apparently); all those trees. And when the leaves are out, it’s barely overlooked. Of course, I’m not condoning leaving dead bodies there myself, but all things considered you can see why Duncan did!

You can find out more about the reservoir, its facilities, and the various events it hosts at the Birmingham City Council webpage here. And to find out more about ‘Raise the Blade’, its victims, and the other locations I used, head for my webpage here.

All photos in this article are my own. Thanks for reading – there’ll be another unusual location along soon.

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!

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.

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.

Tickled Pink…

85183245_hi018536501Having been a massive fan of all things Pink Floyd for most of my adult life, on Saturday I was really excited to be heading for a concert by Think Floyd, one of the top British tribute bands featuring their music.

We’d originally been going back in the autumn but the concert was postponed due to a band member’s ill health, and Saturday was the re-scheduled date.  We’d never seen Think Floyd before and weren’t quite sure what to expect, but boy, was it worth the wait!

The concert took the unusual path of playing at least one track from each of Pink Floyd’s fifteen studio albums, from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn all the way to The Endless River.  Along the way the band visited some of the iconic tracks (‘Comfortably Numb’, ‘Breathe’) but also played some less well known stuff – so much so I’d never heard one or two tracks before.

The four main musicians were perhaps a little less comfortable with the earlier music, with its heavy folk influence courtesy of Syd Barrett.  But once they got onto ‘One of These Days’ from Meddle they suddenly hit their stride, and went from playing cover versions of Floyd tracks, to recreating with meticulous detail the whole Floyd sound and experience.  And when they got onto Dark Side of the Moon, from which they played pretty much the whole of the first side, they were a revelation.  Even better, their rendition of ‘Great Gig in the Sky’ was just brilliant – the best I have heard, anywhere including Floyd’s own concerts, with the exception of the original.  Most modern versions include two separate vocalists due to the sheer complexity of the track, but the young lass singing here managed it on her own, note (and perhaps more importantly, emotion) perfect, and got a standing ovation for her efforts.

And I was absolutely delighted when they also treated us to ‘Brain Damage’, one of my favourite tracks and the inspiration behind ‘Raise the Blade’!

Of course, they aren’t Pink Floyd and nobody but Pink Floyd ever will be.  The show also suffered very slightly, in my opinion, from a tiny (if immaculate) venue with a small stage, which couldn’t live up to the massive stadium concerts Floyd themselves put on.  If nothing else, there was no space for an inflatable pig – or any other sort of animal!  But they were a very, very close second, and since Floyd themselves rarely-to-never perform together (all the more so since the death of keyboardist Richard Wright), it’s a wonderful way of experiencing their music, live, all over again.  We would definitely recommend Think Floyd, and definitely go to see them again ourselves.  And it tickles me er, pink, to be able to say that.