Friday, 19 October 2012

Promotional tours of authors - get real!

You learn something every day.  I have recently found that unless you're already a wealthy best seller writer, your publisher doesn't pay for promotional tours - you do!

Is it just me or isn't this a tad counter-intuitive?

I mean, if an author sells thousands of books, the publishers benefit, right?  An author who's willing to travel, stare glass-eyed at every fan as they answer the minutae of their characters life which the fan is sure they're the ones right, to get RSI from signing books (even the ones fans haven't purchased then but dragged along with them) is worth supporting, aren't they?
An approachable author is a popular one and again, this increases sales.  Each event is - in effect - an advert for the titles and the publisher.  So why do publishers demand that this advertising is free?  They benefit if the author flourishes so why shouldn't they at least pay for travel expenses?  When the senior directors get the firm to fund their little jaunts to conferences, seminars and holidays ... er ... fact-finding missions, I'm sure it ends up costing more than sending one author tourist-class to another country.

But they don't and popular authors that deserve more exposure than on t'internet are left to fund their own book tours which, I must stress, aren't tourist holidays - it's work.

I declare my interest:

One of my favourite authors, Jeri Westerson, has just released her fifth novel Blood Lance.  I've reviewed it on Amazon, I've reviewed it on Goodreads ... but I still feel I can do more.  Jeri usually tours around California - her publishers refuse to back her to do more.  Not even in different states!

Now in her Medieval Noir series her protagonist Crispin Guest walks the dangerous streets of medieval London - well written with humour, pace and depth, Crispin could do with more coverage in his "home" town.  But the above situation stands - if they won't let Jeri tour the US her publishers certainly won't foot the bill even for a short signing tour of London!

I think this is disgraceful.

So ...

I've decided to get the ball rolling and get Jeri over here - if only so I can swap taste notes on mead.  Before anyone wonders at my qualifications for such a task, I'd like to point out that once I helped organise a major role-playing games club including national branches and a major convention.  Let me tell you, organising RPG'ers is like herding cats!
After years of reviewing and publishing articles and books, I think I can get a line on what makes a business tick: after all, I'm a partner in a small firm myself.  I'm also it's book-keeper/accountant; I know what costs and where it can be offset.
Finally, I'm so confident in the quality of Jeri's writing - her product, if you will - that I think my time and effort will be well-spent.

Hell, if I wasn't as poor as a Dickensian hero sent to the Fleet for his debts, I'd foot the bill myself!

So - please heed this bugle-call!

I'd like suggestions along the lines of who might be interested in sponsoring her a short tour in the UK.  I'm looking at July 2013 to culminate at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate (and yes, I'm approaching the organisers with respect).  A short stop in London - say a book signing and publicity photos at The Clink or The London Dungeons - but possibly a short trip to Bristol (a major port in medieval times) and either Nottingham or possibly York.

I'm looking at no open cheque - this will be flights to/from the UK, accomodation, travel within the UK and some expenses.  This is no "pot" which money gets put into and drawn out - we're looking at accountable figures, with one firm picking up the travel tab, another the accomodation and so on.  What do they get out of it?  Publicity.  Lots of lovely publicity!  I can even interest some medieval re-creation types in staging displays at said events.

So,  how about it?

Jeri's Website 

Blood Lance on Amazon 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A bit of advice - helpful, I hope.

Going self-employed?  Got a small business and need tips - on any related subject?

There's plenty of web sites, pundits, official online sites and books out there but there's nothing like experience.  Now I'm no expert - far from it - so I'm not going to charge for any advice or suggestions.  I don't earn from this.  But, after a few recent experiences I decided I could use my blog to give a couple of tips to prospective business creators.

My background.

Just to let you know my "qualifications" to pass advice.  Almost three years ago, after a lifetime of working for others, my wife was made redundant.  She decided that there would be nothing to lose and, taking an existing idea, made it her business ( 

I decided that I couldn't keep on my regular job as well as support her in her business so ... took the big step and registered as self-employed.  We've been working for ourselves and - just about - surviving ever since.

Self-Employment, it's feckin' scary!

You get no sick pay, you get no holiday, you do your own taxes and if you bugger that up then you're the one to sort it out.  You've got to be careful you don't take work home - keep an imaginary boundary between both.

So what's so good?  Well the biggest benefit is that whatever you put into your business, you get out.  Say you were sitting on a stall, selling widgets.  It's great - your sales skill means Widget Ltd. makes £500 in one day.  At the end of your day, you give Mr Widget the £500 ... and he says "Well done - here's £20 for your days work!"  You're Mr Widget and you've spent a whole day selling stuff.  At the end of the day, you've made £500.  Everything else has to come out of it but, bottom line, you know that every penny you worked for, you've got!

Minor benefits.  You make your hours:  You know when you need to earn, you decide how much you need to work.  You make the rules:  If you don't think a way to do something is right then you can change it.  If you think something is pointless, you don't have to do it!

I didn't say the scary bits were less in number than than the good bits.

But the good bits count for a lot!


Keep records.
Record everything, written!  Get strange about demanding receipts, keeping odd tickets, collect anything to do with your business, even if you don't think it's useful.

Be strict with yourself.
Just because you don't have a "Mr Jones" to hassle you if you don't turn up for work, you can't slacken off.  You must BE the Mr Jones!  Remember, if you don't work, you don't earn.  If you don't earn, the bills won't get paid, you'll get hungry and cold and your kids will question why you sold their PS3.  And - no - benefits aren't a wage and you'll be knackered if you think them so.

Have confidence in what you do!
It's not enough to know what you have is good or you enjoy what you do - if it is to sell or earn you a fair wage, you must treat it as a business.  Be hard on yourself!  Have confidence in your creation ... by treating it professionally!

Research, research and ... research all over again!

Google, while a darlin' little thing, isn't the end of research.

"It isn't enough to be allowed free in a research library - you have to know what questions you want answered, which subjects it relates to ... and which book is worth reading to find the answer."
 As an example, our business is making dog treats.  You can Google dog treats and get recipes, rivals and some good ideas but it takes deeper digging to find the actual legislation concerning pet food production, labeling and the respected Trading Standards authorities.

You're a plumber.  Fully trained, qualified and experienced.  You want to set up on your own.  Look into it.  How many other small business plumbers are in your area?  What do they offer?  What can you do that attracts customers?  I use this noble (and actually ancient) trade as an example and to demonstrate how much background research to do!  Never assume you know all the ins-and-outs ... you have to use a bit of imagination and be nosy in everything!

Don't Despair - There is information for business out there!

Do a bit of digging and you can find help, even if it's not immediately helpful.  Even Mr Taxman (otherwise known as the HMRC) is happy to give free help!  There are a few places to look for aid ...   This site takes a while to navigate but, in the end, you can find plenty of advice and suggestions, including free training!

The Federation of Small Business   While they're at their best when you are a member, they'll still give advice for basic problems.

Don't Accept First Opinions.

Two real examples:

We wanted a Chip and Pin terminal.  Y'know, one of those handheld do-hickeys!  We understood we had to pay a basic set-up fee, a fee per transaction etc. etc.  We talked to two different companies - and continued with the one with the best rates.  After eight weeks of us supplying all the necessary documents and them asking for other documents, I called to find out the progress; they said they couldn't continue because we hadn't supplied ONE particular document.  I said "We can't get one.  Even the HMRC don't issue one!"  Ah, we were told, without it our application couldn't continue.  On talking to the affiable salesman, to wonder why he'd not said this, he said "It's industry standard - all firms banks require this document!"
Talking to another business owner, they recommended another, third, firm.  We applied, talked to a salesman, asked about application documents ... and within three weeks we'd been set up for chip and pin sales, the machine delivered and the whole kit ready to use!

Second Example.

We needed a regular dispatch firm.  In my own experience, I avoided some then applied to one which was dead keen to take our account.  Getting all the required information to them was a nightmare - they could only accept original documents scanned and emailed or posted then, hopefully, returned.  After a few weeks of "just one more thing you need to send us" then they finally stated they couldn't do business.
On that same day, a rep came into our shop and asked if we'd be interested.  We asked what documents we'd need to give and how long would set up be, she said "Being here, I know your business exists.  You tell us the kind of traffic you'll give, I'll email you the prices per consignment.  You tell us you want to use us, we'll send out your parcels.  You pay the bill, we see how much business you give us and we'll talk about better discounts later."
We're using them and have (so far) been served well.

The lesson?

Don't assume things are "the norm".  Question it.  Think about what needs doing and what might be required.  But don't take first (or second) opinions on services and what is required.  Persist.

Finally ...

It's a big and scary world out there and being self-employed is bloody scary ... especially after years of working for someone else.  But if you have a great idea, it's worth struggling for!

Just to see where I come from:
Mrs Bishop's Doggy Deli 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Now here's a rant - brushing against politics so I'll warn anyone to look away who is certain in their faith in any political party.  I present my opinions, based on experience.  I'm happy to debate or be proved otherwise.

The big subject is ... money.

The government, especially that smug and incredibly insulated git PM David Cameron, is always saying that < the Government is pulling the country out of recession by stimulating growth, encouraging investment and forcing the market towards financial movement - the results of which benefit all! >

<The past phrase is, in fact, paraphrasing all the trite nonsense which has been generated by Civil Servants (Job Secure) to be used as speech material by politicians of any stripe who wants to generate their own personal income while pretending they give a toss for the so-called common man, or "prole".  It must be remembered that a majority of politicians are, in fact, career politicians and since leaving University with a mediocre degree, have only wanted to become a politician as a career, regardless of philosophy.  They have no concept of "working for a living", "earning by hard work" or even "you mean I can't work for this firm, even though my father owns it?">

I am not anti-politician.  I am not anti-money.  I am what-is-it-that-makes-the-great-British-public-so-dim-and-easily-led-that-they'll-believe-absolutely-anything?

The Government declares in the press (which, lest anyone forgets, is privately owned and has it's own motives) that it's "giving" several billion to the "banking industry" to "encourage" lending and small business growth.
Let's look at this ...

The Government is giving public money, generated by many more ways other than taxes, to several private financial institutions.
"The Banking Industry" isn't actually a club which can be donated to.  Exactly.  The banking industry looks at a big pot of money - some might call it a publically-subscribed bribe - and dives in for their share, biggest bastard gets first dibs!  How many of the ... er ... benefited banks actually pay a wage to ... er ... politicians? Isn't this good business sense?  Get a politician (or their family) on your payroll and you needn't worry about legislation or even oversight on your actions.

So what happens?

The Government gives money to the banking industry and tells them "lend it to small business, to keep the economy going".

The financial industries take the money ("Thank you very much, Tarquin, see you at bridge next Thursday") then sit on it.
"Please invest in small business!" say the politicians, in the hearing of the press.
"Sod off," says the banks, "our Computer says 'No'!  Our staff may see an excellent chance of profit with investment but our computers - which, of course, are our God - says no.  Tell you what, Government; we'll invest in the companies that have you on the Board of Directors.  Now, go away.  You've pretended to the plebs you actually care - they're dim enough to fall for it.  We'll take the public money you've given us.  If shit happens, it's you that takes it, not us.  Ta ta and ... see you at bridge next Thursday?"

Meanwhile the Government shouts about encouraging growth by investment.  Where is the money being invested?  Into multinational firms which individual politicians have interests in.
Once upon a time, politicians represented their constituents.  They had a vested interest in the area.  They'd actually worked for a living rather than inherited places on company Boards and firms.

Next time a politician asks you for your vote, perhaps you should ask not what Party they belong to or what they've been told they should say but ... "what have you done for a living wage and why should I think you represent my interests?"

Monday, 27 August 2012

Just finished "The Secret Of Prisoner 1167:  Was This Man Jack The Ripper?" by James Tully.

The subtitle is rhetorical - Tully is convinced.  On my own part, I've some misgivings but parts of his theory raises suggestive points in the case as a whole if not of the circumstantial guilt of James Kelly.  Tully admits that after years of interest in the Ripper murders, even his awareness of Kelly's nomination as Jack was only raised by an article by John Morrison.

James Kelly was convicted of the murder of his wife, stabbing her in the neck with a pocket-knife, in 1883.  Found insane, his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in Broadmoor hospital.  In 1888, he escaped the "secure" hospital and, in an astounding story of chance, incompetant authority and sheer determination, he remained on the loose for almost forty years!  He'd given himself up twice, after travels in Britain, France, America and Canada and, finally, returned to Broadmoor to knock on their gates for re-admission!

Tully's first assumption - suitably fitting his nomination of Kelly in the role of Jack - is that the first Ripper killing was that of Martha Tabram.  Her naming as a Ripper victim always causes contention but, it can't be denied, the M.O. is fitting - unknown killer, East End location, throat slit then post mortem mutilation of the trunk and sexual organs.  However, Ripperologists argue against her inclusion in the "known" victims.
Second (to me) surprising inclusion is that of Alice McKenzie and Frances Coles as Ripper victims ... years after the "canon" barbarity in Miller's Court of Mary Kelly.  These, I'd suggest, are only accepted since the duration between Mary's and Alice's killings was spent by the suspect abroad!  It might be also said that while the classic Ripper deaths increased in mutilation and excess, Alice and Frances suffered relatively little abuse - their abdomen had been cut - true - but ... um ... nothing had been "done" to their internal organs.
Thirdly, Tully implicitly links the authorship of the Dear Boss letter and postcard to Kelly's reappearance in England - the author sees a similarity between existing letters of the Broadmoor escapee and Saucy Jack!

While an interesting nomination for the Ripper, I'm afraid Kelly isn't convincing to me.  A man who is mentally disturbed and kills his wife in a jealous, disturbed rage doesn't automatically "up the scale" by rampage around, killing and mutilating prostitutes!  His relation between classic Offender Profiling of a serial sex killer and James Kelly's reported condition fits ... as many others!  In effect Tully puts Kelly in the frame because he was a mental patient, convicted of stabbing his wife, and free.  What about the undetected psychotic killer?

However, the points that I find worth closer examination are these:

1)  Tully raises the possibility of the canon Ripper Double-Death of "Long" Liz Stride and Kate Eddowes as pure coincidence!  Where everyone has considered the short period between the two as the almost supernatural ability of Jack to spirit himself from one location to another invisibly, Tully posits a suspect for Liz Stride's murderer.  A slight yet strong point is that nearly all sexual frenzy serial killers cannot be "interrupted" or distracted in their attention.  If Jack was interrupted in his "attentions" to Lizzie, it would take quite a few policemen on the scene to make him flee!

2)  There was a long-lasting cover-up concerning the escape of James Kelly from Broadmoor and his possible links to the Ripper killings.  Frankly, his escape and subsequent long freedom was an utter balls-up on the part of the police, the Home Office and Broadmoor!  With all the flak the police took over the Ripper, the last thing they needed was publicity over a murderous psychotic trotting around England so any authoritarian sweeping under the rug is perfectly understandable.  Tully was very illuminating (and convincing) in this area.

3)  His tidy explanations of classically troubling factors in the Ripper cases - the Double Killing and the mysterious Removed Chalked Message - are well imagined and not unreasonable.

All in all, an interesting addition to any Ripperologist's library.  Contentious for the most part, I wouldn't say it was groundbreaking or "the last word".  However, it certainly raises interesting points.

Hey ho ...

I'm currently starting Tacitus' Histories.  Can't say my literary diet isn't varied.

Monday, 6 August 2012

A review - I've not done any for a while and I've started to get withdrawal.
“The Sins of The Father:  A Mediaeval Mystery” by C. B. Hanley is set during the turmoil after the death of King John, the occupation by forces of the French prince Louis (later King Louis VIII) and the start of rebellion by Barons, to enthrone Johns son Henry III.  So far, so good.  The location is the impressive castle of Conisbrough in Yorkshire.  Its lord the Earl of Surrey William de Warrenne, has been called to arms, to muster a force as well as act as a central meeting of other lords retinues – they gather to march upon Lincoln, occupied by French forces, and relieve it’s castle’s garrison of English royalists.

In this gathering of armies and nobility, Edwin Weaver, the young son of the castle’s bailiff, has to keep order among its civilian population.  Intelligent and kindly, he’s taken unawares when summoned by the Earl and his castellan Sir Geoffrey.  One of the visiting nobles is brutally murdered – a favourite of the old King and known to be willing to seek favour by exposing (or implying) treachery against the young King.  Since Earl Surrey’s past is somewhat chequered, does he have motive for the killing?  Edwin is ordered to uncover the killer, before the host marches onto Lincoln in two days!

What follows is a great novel, combining an intriguing mystery with period detail and intelligent characterisation.  The plot is intelligent, with clues scant yet present and the actual solution shocking.  The reader understands the basic motive but red herrings lead us away from the true killer.  The location detail is wonderful, giving a intriguing insight into the workings of the lower echelons of castle inhabitants as well as it’s lesser nobility.  I can highly recommend this novel to both mystery readers as well as those interested in medieval life.

Published by The Mystery Press, 2012, ISBN:  0-7524-8091-6

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Whew!  What a subject!
I'll open with a statement that all I say relates to the current UK status but, at a stretch, could guide others in other lands.
Now then ...

Our current system expects early teens (say 11 to 14 year olds) to know what they want to do in their future life.  Some talented, possibly gifted, early teens might've decided what they want to do and train their attention in the required direction.  Good for them!  But most early teens - boys as well as girls - have other, more urgent considerations such as who is talking to who, who is "going around" with who and, possibly incredibly important at the time - who fancies me?

Can you see a problem?

A system is devised by adults with decades of retrospection.  It has nothing to do with the immediate which, like all youths during the years, every teen generation lives in.  But, with the best of intentions, the system has been put into place to provide the NOW with suitable talent.
The current education system is explicit in it's uselessness, for it is "designed" to create an educated person to fit an employee "model", a model that is currently - and possibly always - out of date and, therefore redundant!

The education system is designed by adults who've forgotten what it's like to be teens!  They'd say they were qualified to judge by experience but, and isn't this something that is missed, it's an experience that everyone has had?  What makes them more experienced than any other teen?  What says they are are more qualified to pronounce what is suitable to learn?

What is wrong? 

1)  The exam - and learning system - still persists in it's history!  With all respect to tradition, isn't it only right that if tradition is found wanting you change or lose it?  The years - and timing of exams - is ONLY held for traditional reasons!  The educational year is still a reflection of the medieval legal terms.  And this is only held as sacred by The Bar.  Because of this, terms of schooling are unbalanced and idiotic.  I mean - Who but an idiot would say it's a good thing to hold exams during a season which has proved to be high in the suffering of hay fever?

2)  A teen, defined flexibly as a young human from the age of 13 to 17, is expected to say what they want to do in life, how they contribute to society, what they want to achieve.  How stupid is that?  I mean, you are asking a young human - concerned with personal habits and relationships - to define his academic course.

Why Not ...

1)  Have all final exams conducted in midwinter.  These, then, would be a finality of their school year and act as a closure.  New Year, New Opportunity for the next.
2)  Planning Years. From Age 11 to 16, the pupils get a general grounding in most subjects.  At age 15, pupils are consulted as what they want to do.  Given all information - and, let's face it, they can find it on the internet - they are asked what they want to do  as a job.  They can then be advised what qualifications they might need, what experienced and so on.
3)  Exam Years.  From age 15 to 17, the pupil - given a chance to think on what they want to do, they must attain the relevant qualifications.
4)  Further education.  This is an option, not a goal!  If at the conclusion of the basic education the pupil has a suitable collection of proven, certificated skills then this must be a primary employment avenue!  If a pupil has demonstrated a skill or talent further than they can be placed at, then they qualify for discounted Further Education.

So Why Not?

When you're a teen, you know bugger all.  The sap's rising, the world is the mollusc of your choice!

And it's big, old reactionary gits like me that harp on about "it was harder in my day!" and so on.

But can't we adults take a step back, look at what is then look at alternatives for our future generations?

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

It's a sad, sad time for me.
I've finally decided to put my website Criminal-History.Co.Uk on hold until further notice.

I've been working and writing on this labour of love for seven years.  I've enjoyed it immensely, having an excuse (should I need one) to read my favourite genre of books - historical crime fiction.

But times have changed in my life.  I'm now self-employed, working as a business partner with my wife - mainly on administrating our firms web site ( and doing the accounts.  Thus I have less time to spend on my own "hobby".  I'll still be reading - of course - and active in the world of crime fiction and, perhaps, one day I might re-launch the site.

I suppose it's a good thing; it shows our main bill paying occupation is increasing.  In fact, we're soon launching our over-the-counter sales in our new business unit.  But I can't help feeling at a loss.  Still, there's plenty of places like to inflict my hapless opinions.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

There's a trouble with language.  Especially with historical crime fiction.

When a story is set in a historical period, there are two things that authors have been given the "warning" about. 
Firstly it's anachronisms.  These are easy to make and the first thing that critics select to criticise.  You don't want the errors - obvious when pointed out - that come from bad research.  To put it bluntly, you don't want a Roman to receive a telegram!  Anachronisms like this are a bummer and, when you spot 'em, they're difficult to get past.  Then again, a good author - who's done their research - shouldn't fall at this hurdle.  Let's face it, if you want to write a novel set in a historical period then you should know, at least in part, the setting in which you write.

The second "warning" given to authors is about "voice" and this is where I must nail my colours to the mast.

We look at history.  We - hopefully - know (roughly) what went on.  We are - I assume - intelligent folk.  Thus do we honestly expect an Elisabethan character NOT to swear, using a ... ahem ... base phrase such as "He couldn't give a fuck!"?  Now, I don't want to get into the derivatives of swearing but the use of such in writing a believable work of fiction is important.
We, as readers, are made to enter a past time - a past life, if you prefer.  We swear (as much as we'd like to think we don't) and so we must assume that our ancestors did too.

People are people.  Around the world and, I think, obviously throughout the years.  We use phrases, expressions, idioms that (from the outside) sound nonsensical.  But, in the context of the world they live in, some phrases are perfectly understandable.


Literally, in Latin, this means "The wolf of the story".  The idea is that two people are gossiping and the subject of their gossip walks in, restricting further tales.  One says "Ah, here is The Wolf of The Story!"  The language and setting is "foreign" - Latin - but the phrase and the concept is easy.
So why is it so hard for "purists" to not baulk against slang or "less than classical"?  Do they want writing to be set in Roman times and the characters sound like Shakespeare on his most priggish?  Our playwrights - while clever - were writing plays.  They were not writing verbatim what was said.  If, say, the hero Leander turned around and said "I've got to go to the privvy!" it's not what would've been recorded.  This was not real - this was manufactured.
So where does this leave us with our modern interpretation?  Should authors only use phrases or idiom only "found" for that period or can it be assumed - in my own interpretation - that "native" phrases can replace that which is read?

   Where an author writes (a quote):  "How  else would  you describe something that waits for the perfect psychological moment and then pisses all over your living-room floor?  Jupiter, even a Gallic wolfhound wouldn't do this much damage.  For a parallel you'd need to go the length of a fucking elephant."

Firstly - just because we're not with the idea that a Roman ( of Tiberius' reign) would use the phrase "psychological", doesn't mean they couldn't have the concept.
Secondly - Using phrases such as "pissing" and "fucking" were perhaps not polite but used.
Thirdly - There is a lot of evidence to show that the Romans used Gallic Wolfhounds, now known as Irish Wolfhounds.  As an owner of one, I can attest that they can - in play - cause a lot of damage to furniture and so on.

Thus, the above quote - while sounding too modern - is, actually, perfectly acceptable.  Apart from those who  think all Romans should talk like great orators.  Who need to get out more.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Ho hum!  In the midst of drought, the Nottingham desert is blessed with several inches of rain ... each day.  Here in my secret lair I can hear it gently drumming on the roof; a sound I find quite calming and cosy.
Trouble is, the business of dog treats is going so well we're having to move to larger premises - while continuing sales, markets and so on.  My "speciality" is fitting out the new business unit and arranging everything - we should be able to even do over-the-counter sales!  This, of course, will restrict my Facebook presence ... er ... writing and reading time.  But I shall soldier on!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

At last, "concrete" proof that my reading habit is actually good for me!
I was sent a link to a blog from Tim Handorf for the Best Colleges Online blog - the subject being "Your Brain on Books: 20 Proven Benefits of Being an Avid Reader". Linky-thing Here
I couldn't resist it - a list of benefits for avid reading!

They all sound pretty darned good to me!  As if I needed a reason anyway!

I'm off to some more brain improvement!

Friday, 6 April 2012

I'm a simple soul, me.  Anyone who knows me will tell you this.  Lately, I've found the "arrows of outrageous misfortune" pretty uncomfortable, I can tell you.  What with an expected yet inflated bill concerning the car (which we need for our work), more vet bills - who can predict how much one's treasured pets will become ill?
Everyone (who isn't a multimillionaire) has been shafted in the latest Budget but, personally, what hurt was the "slight adjustment" of working tax credits.  Of course, this was useful to deflect any interest in the breakdown and sale of the UK's NHS public health service (which the multimillionaire PM's selling off to the friends he may - with discretion - entertain on premises paid for by the public), the complete "mission stasis" as opposed to "mission creep" of the national troops in Afghanistan and other, equally irrelevant warzones and the blatant self-interested cronyism encouraged by this Prime Minister who has no real contact, or relationship, with the general populace that is bound by his smug sales patter to various private companies he has school chums bidding for.
Financially the country is in a hole and those who might be forced to dig out the mess they created are being tickled and bribed (at public expense) with no real result.  Banks were bailed out and "politely asked" to circulate the extra funds (that we, the tax payer, are suffering having given) while the Bank's are blatantly restricting cash flow ... on the grounds that the current economic climate is not a good gamble.  Damnit, they made the current cash problem and are using it to perpetuate it!

Meanwhile I start to watch documentaries on the Wall Street crash of the '20's and wonder if the same hasn't happened but with a controlled, restricted press coverage.  After all, those who present us the news have investors and bills to pay too!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Well, I've finally updated my website for this month!  I have so many people looking on it, especially because of the competition, I wish it'd pay!  At least I've knuckled down and started offering advertising rates - I mean, considering the traffic on it, it's only fair!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

I'm dreamy about Phryne*!

There is a problem with the (almost) universal nature of the internet.  While it's possible to tip-tap-tip-tap one's way around the world from the comfort of your own home, international boundaries still exist.

A good example of this I can vouch for personally.

I'm an avid reader of Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher mysteries.  Set in 1920's Melbourne, the heroine is an outstanding, sometimes infuriating "flapper" who investigates everything from murder to drug-smuggling.  Wealthy, intelligent and determined, Phryne's adventures are a pleasure to read.
I was pleased to hear that Kerry Greenwood had been offered for Phryne to be televised - a whole television series based on the gal!  Aired on Australia's ABC Network, the series has a great following on Facebook.  It even has short trailers.
Of course, I can't access Aussie TV - even on the internet.  I can't access the channel's iPlayer facility due to the copyright issues.  So I know the series is "out there" on the internet but I can't actually see it!

I've now got to wait for the inevitable DVD publication.  I can wait.  Because of the internet, when it comes out I could probably order it within an hour.  However - what about DVD "regions"?  I've got to make sure that when purchased, the Aussie "region" plays on my old UK DVD player.  Or, perhaps, it'll be produced on a multi-region format; after all, international sales are a big attraction.

Until then, I've got to nibble my fingernails while waiting to see how the series will come out.

*  Rhymes with "Tiny" - so my title isn't, quite, alliterative.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

"Trying to be a good person is seeking to do what others say are your good points while avoiding what you consider are your bad points."

"Accentuate your positives but confront your negatives!"

"Life is never black and white.  The Road to Hell may be paved with good intentions but the stones are greased with righteousness."

Who said 'em?

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

I take great heart in the fact that our local branch of Waterstones has a large and well-stocked Crime section ... as well as a separate section called Cosies.

Now I shall shy away from defining a "cosy" mystery, only saying that many would name one major "cosy" author - Agatha Christie - and also be able to read the jacket blurb and say "Yup ... it's a cosy, all right!"

I just think it's sweet that a major chain has a particular section for this time of crime fiction.  The trick is in the judging of what comprises of the type.  I've no complaints - I'd always look through this section as I would through a hypothetical "hard boiled" or "serial killer" fiction section.

I think I'll also let the authors know of their novels presence in the section; they might disagree with the label.  I would also like to point out that about 80% of the titles are independent publishers - here in the UK, this is largely US publishers such as Poisoned Pen Press or Berkley Prime Crime.  However, is this an indicator of the reluctance of major "mainstream" publishing houses to bother with cosies?  Since Waterstones has seen fit to make a section devoted to them, perhaps they're missing a trick!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Ah, sweet suburbia

Taking advantage of early summer weather here in Robin Hood's hood, I've been incredibly suburban in that I've done a bit of D.I.Y. then cleared out the greenhouse for some constructive growing - and my homebrew - then did a bit of weeding in the front garden.  It's very pleasant.  It's surprisingly relaxing.  You feel a sense of "getting something done".
It isn't, then, so inexplicable that so many true crimes - and therefore fictional cases - were based on respectability, social acceptance and, shall we say, bourgeois suburban standards.  You may scoff at a crime being motivated by a neighbours cat constantly dropping "its business" among the peonies or someone else "bringing down the tone" of the street but the drive for social acceptance is strong, no less for it being in a social group that the offended demanded entry.

People like labels and being able to pigeon-hole others.  Bad or not, appearances do count.  And if one has set a standard or target milieu, then woe betide anyone who bucks against it.  Every country has it's class system but England has had it for far longer - the feudal system is only the most basic example.  Throughout the Victorian days, social standing was highly prized and quite complex.  Two world wars - and the slaughter of men from all social strata - meant that the class system took a hammering and changed, but never left.  The fifties and sixties saw the Middle Class become a desired power in of itself and, by extension into the present day, the suburban ideal of ... what?

A nice-looking house (from the outside, at least) with possibly one garage/garage extension to demonstrate a substantial yet modest income.  A pleasant garden showing an abundance of pretty flowers throughout the growing season and, most desired, a lawn.  The average Mr Average will not employ a gardener to get the latter.  By the very fact that they have enough time to get the desired effect means that they are employed but have enough time to treat gardening as a hobby.  I once lived next to a "professional" couple with two kids.  They employed gardeners once a week to cultivate a lovely garden, trim hedges, cut trees and so on.  Their statement was "we can afford workers and we have such busy lifestyles ..."  I'd have loved their garden, just to potter around in and work on myself.
The thing is, appearance is all.  You may do some things because that is the way "it's done" or the way you were told.  But, essentially, most folk limit themselves on public displays by considering what the neighbours see.  I could happily plant vegetables in the front garden but the entire street would be outraged and wear their lower jaws out in their vitriolic outpourings - to the right people, naturally.  But I'm an easy-going chap and like a decorative flower.  So I'll trim the hedge to regulation height, fight an ongoing conflict with dandelions and mutter about wall flowers.
And this leads me to crimes committed for "respectability" or standards or such.  It is important to many, even more so to those who care.  All it would take is someone whose sense of social position is all they have as a benchmark for acceptance and "tribal" rank and they'll be as brutal with the neighbours as with the weeds!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Much Loved Classics

To give relief to to those interested in my blog not for my domestic tribulations but for my enthusiasm for Historical Crime Fiction ...

What is it about well-known, widely available classics that makes one return to them?  I'm referring mainly to whodunits which - when all is said and done - once the reader has read the solution, should be like a completed crossword puzzle; discarded after completion or "reveal".

Look at it like this:

All murder mysteries - regardless of period setting - are puzzles.  It doesn't matter the writing standard or the background plot, a reader is presented a puzzle ... who done it?  The reader gets enjoyment from the mental exercise of trying to predict the solution that, in time, the author will reveal.  I cannot deny nor underplay the factor of good writing.  A plot can be clever but if it's dressed in dull, uninspired prose then, let's face it, we'll loose interest.  But, in essence, a murder mystery once revealed is a puzzle with the solution given.

So why do we return to read them again and again?  Or why do we studiously watch a television production of a puzzle "play" which has been solved?  Or, taken to logical conclusion, why do we watch a film or read a book of such a challenge over and over again?

I have no all-encompassing revelation.  I can only speak for myself (well, this is my blog after all) and put it this way.  I've been asked "You've seen this episode of Poirot so many times.  Why do you want to see it again?"

Because it's good!

Why read a mystery book that you know the solution?

Because it's good!

There can be an unspecific something - use the overused phrase X-Factor - that appeals.  Like trying to explain a favoured taste, it's difficult to put your finger on it.

I'll always listen to radio productions of novels that I know well - I'm currently listening to Gaudy Night on BBC Radio 4 Extra, a story I've read many times and seen in one excellent production.  Why am I listening?  Because I want to see (or hear) what "they've" done to a much-admired story.  When I find out about a production of Lindsey Davis' Falco series, I'll do anything to hear it.  I have the complete DVD series of Sherlock Holmes cases, played by Jeremy Brett (let alone others) and I'll watch them over and over again.

And I do this because I enjoy the production, I appreciate the work for itself - it's fair presentation of a practically memorised plot.

But why do we return to read favourite puzzles over and over again?

Hmm.  It isn't familiarity.  It isn't even the challenge.  For me - not particularly intellectual - it's to read and enjoy.  And discover more in the writing that I might not have seen before.

And the nice thing is, good writing gives many things to read that may've been missed before!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

It seems that once one thing goes wrong, it wants company and invites anther problem.  Who brings along a friend.  And so on until there's a regular party of trouble.
First the household becomes a tenuous link to normality then our poor, overworked car conks out!  Here's us who are finding finances tough and our work essential motor decides to have a conniption fit.  Still, it's been going for over ten years from new and, lately, been doing loads of running around for the firm.

So, what's next?

Monday, 5 March 2012

Well, we spent a lovely - if wet - day with the wolfhound (AKA The Great Hairy Fule) in Clumber Park with several others from the Facebook group of owners.  For "Facebook Group" read "Support Group".

Today, I've discovered that my rented home's electrical wiring is "scary" according to a qualified sparks.  All I wanted to do was power my shed in which resides my books, my PC, my music ... and me for much of the time!  To quote this nice, and very qualified bloke - "I can't see how the owner thinks he can rent with a house wired like this!  He leases through an agency?  Then the agents are at fault for not checking the certificates."

So we're living in a death trap ... er ... problem home and I've got to tell the agents that either they or the owner has let a bunch of "cowboys" play around with the electricity mains!

This is going to be fun, considering the tale of the dripping tap ...

Since we'd moved in, the kitchen tap has dripped.  On inspection, we'd commented on it and the agents told us that "the owner" had it fixed.
Since then, drip in the kitchen tap has got bigger.  Since we're on metered water, every drip costs us money!
Three weeks ago we again reported it to the agents.  They got a plumber to give a quote.  They passed this onto the owner, who also gave a quote: "That's too much, I'll do it myself."
That was the last we've heard of the issue.  The tap still drips.

So you can imagine my joy at the prospect of telling the agents that the house wiring is illegal and needs to be re-done.  It reflects on their business if they've overlooked shoddy - and possibly - dangerous work.  But I can see them reporting back to the owner, the owner thinking that we (the complainers) are too expensive and looking to evict us.

And in case anyone thinks this can't be done, it happens.  Litigation takes money and time.  Meanwhile, we've lives to lead, kids to go into school and me to tip-tap on this keyboard!  And my family - being renters rather than mortgage-owners - is at the mercy of an antiquated system which favours property owners over people who live in properties.  Thanks to the 80's, the concept of owning land rises supreme over actually using it.  There's rules about what can be rented and is safe to rent ... but the rules about finding and looking after a place to rent are still lacking. 

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Good discussion today on BBC Radio Nottingham, concerning E-books considering today is International Book Day*.
Managed one of my sporadic gibbers on the phone, mainly pointing out that while I've over 3000 books - and will always want more - I adore my Kindle as a versatile adjunct to the printed novel.

*  It seems that every day in the calender is an International *Somesuch* Day, usually decided upon by someone no one has ever heard of, for unspecified motive, for no other reason than, perhaps, to highlight said item/cause.  There's never any publicity or drive apart from - I assume - a press release to the usual agencies, such as Reuters.  Hypothetically, I imagine it's possible to pick a random date and declare it "National Scuff Day" and have media with space to publicise the plight of badly treated shoes!  Perhaps I could get fiscal sponsorship from the Shoe Manufacturers of Great Britain.


Saturday, 25 February 2012

I don't know.  Maybe it's a side-effect of my birthday (48 years old tomorrow) or a recent presentation about Social Media I attended but I've started "tweaking" my web site (Ooh er!).  I've decided to stop faffing about and push the site more than I have been.
I'm taking on paid advertising - not to clash with my editorial impartiality - as well as boosting readership, which I honestly feel I may entertain, inform and possibly influence.

At least I spend less time playing games on Facebook! :)

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Now, I'm not one for "social commentary".  Well, yes I am but not in public.  I've ideas and attitudes which some might regard as incredibly old fashioned and others regard "dangerously" modern.  There are, however, some things that I have "feelings" about which are in the public domain.

Vide ...

There seems to be a rise in restaurants offering "challenge" dishes or meals.  In the US, and now in the UK, many restaurants are offering a challenge - you pay but if you "succeed", you get your money back.
Now, don't get me wrong - the food looks delicious but either by a combination of portion size or spice (imagine so much chilli that the tongue burns and the stomach ulcerates), the general public are encouraged to overindulge.

Those that "win", get a free meal and a photo on a Hall of Fame.  Those that loses, pays.  But why?


Why force yourself to gorge on a steak the size of a standard office desktop?  Why eat a chilli which contains enough spice that, combined with stomach acid, will actually corrode your stomach lining?  It's like a hamster eating a coconut - theoretically possible but why when it's damaging to your health?

This, I think, is the key - damaging to your health.

What if the rise of "Food Challenges" is a subconscious reaction to recent "Food Restrictions"?  This is something felt hard here in the UK and is spreading; the idea that modern diet science pinpoints foods which can be, in the long term, harmful.  How harmful or what counts as "long term" is variable.  The "science" can also be questioned, depending on who pays for the research and statistics.
There are some things which are blatantly obvious - eat low fat, avoid processed foods and eat more fruit and vegetables.  But our world is driven by the media and it depends on who submits the research and depends on who, actually, understands what is being said.  Thus, one side (corporation) wants to sell a food; another wants to stop this food being eaten.  Both can give scientific and statistical reasons not to consume it.

What if ... ?

What if retail outlets are presenting food challenges which are happily taken up by the public are blatantly harmful?  Forget the food Standards Agency - it's all safe for consumption.  But the size of portion, the amount?  The already mocked Government might tell us "what is safe" but we are, allegedly, given free will.  If a firm is allowed to sell crap to eat, we have the freedom to eat it - while we are informed in our choice.

What if ... ?

The rise of "Food Challenges" is an unintended response to the "Food Enforcers" who tell us you're not allowed  to eat this much, you shouldn't eat so-and-so.
"We know we shouldn't eat a pizza the size of a table but, since you've told us we can't, we will!"

I love my food and, watching "Man Versus Food" on TV, I'm in two minds - a bit of me is thinking "that looks bloody delicious" while another is thinking "why make it that big?"

Everyone wants to live.  Maybe not longer - after all, booze and tobacco sales rely on the consumer being aware yet uncaring; that's the "point" of being addicted.  But sales being made purely on excess is the most scary thing.  Anything to make money ... even on some one's weakness.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Poseidon's Gold

Yay!  Lindsey Davis' Falco:  Poseidon's Gold is being aired on BBC Radio 4 Extra this week!  First episode is on 6th February, playing at 6 am, 1 pm and 8 pm.

Starring Anton Lesser, these productions are really well done.  Check them out - if not on digital radio then on the PC!

Adds to the list of productions of the series on radio; productions I'm determined to get on CD!

Again - Yay!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Start 'Em Young!

Just received a book to review. A murder mystery set during the Second World War.  Thing is, it's for kids!*  Now, this is not a bad thing at all - I'm happy to read children's books, as long as they fit the criteria for my website; a crime mystery set in a historical period, anytime before the end of WW2.  I've enjoyed Caroline Lawrence's The Roman Mysteries, for instance.

But searching for other possible titles and series - on Netgalley.Com for example - it's actually hard to find others suitable.  Search "Juvenile Literature" and you get plenty of books to trawl through.  Add "Mystery" to the search engine and nowadays you get multiples of  "Teen Goth/ Vampire/ Supernatural" types.  Precious few real mystery novels!  I dare say I could read through the publishers blurb to uncover crime detection types ... but why should I?

The problem gets worse looking in "live" bookstores - they tend to group titles under "Children's Fiction" or "Juvenile Fiction".  Even searching Children's Books publishers takes quite a sorting system to uncover "proper" crime fiction.

Perhaps, publishers shy away from the concept of children being involved in crime - fictional or not - regardless of reality.  "What if, " do they say "such novels are accused of influencing their delicate little minds?"  Lets face it, the popular media are happy to grasp at links between violent films, computer games, music even table-top role playing games and inappropriately violent or criminal behaviour in our young inheritors.  Are book publishers wary at such a link and their publications?  If so, then surely they should look at their current eagerness to jump on the Teen Vampire Angst fashion which (I suspect) is nearing it's fall in popularity.

But let me return to my initial point - how can I discover other titles for children or teens which can be described as "historical crime fiction"?  They exist now, I'm certain, and they definitely existed before; look to the Nancy Drew mysteries, the Three Investigators series popularised by Alfred Hitchcock.  At a pinch I suppose you could include The Famous Five but I don't think they're quite "the thing" I'm looking for. 

Any ideas, folks?

* The book is The Ducking Stool by Gloria Morgan.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The usual haunt of the HistmystReader

        It is no exaggeration to say I'm an avid reader.  I have over 3000 books, in many subjects by many authors and still can't resist browsing in bookstores and charity shops.  I have favourite bookshops (usually the ones that look like crowded and cluttered storehouse of obsessive collectors).  I find it hard to let any book go - even the occasional lousy ones or the rare duplicate I've acquired.  I can admit to have read each one and many repeatedly.  But where's my favourite place?
        Now, it must be stated that I'm never without a book.  It's odd but I get a mental twitch if I somehow sense I don't have a book with me, either as a good, ol' fashioned paperback or on my Kindle.  I don't often find myself in the situation where I'm reading more than one book at a time, though this has happened; I found myself without book and immediately dived into a Waterstones to fill the void in my psyche, f'rinstance.  So be it on the London Underground, in a dentist's waiting room or just standing outside at a bus stop - I have a book to read.  But there is one location where I am required to have a book and, in fact, is my favourite place to read:

        The pub.

        Finances what they are nowadays, visits to the public house are infrequent.  A sign of the general UK economy - and favouritism on the part of the Government towards the retail sector  over the entertainment industry - is that pubs are dropping out of use in many places in favour of large pub companies (which can get cheap bulk deals), restaurants which make more money on food sales and take-homes from large supermarket chains.  However I feel a certain loyalty towards the humble pub and will spend hard-earned if small sums in these historic example of British history.  They give me a dashed fine place to read my book.

        Given the opportunity - and a small measure of UK currency - there's nothing more I thoroughly enjoy than heading towards one of my regular "locals", grabbing a pint and a discrete seat then immersing myself in my book for a couple of hours.  I am a creature of habit.  In each of my locals (I have several depending on inkling for a particular pint, atmosphere, predicted availability of seating and whim) I have favoured seats and preferred drinks; as an example, I like a Stowford Press cider in The Gladstone but a pint of Abbot Ale in The Old Trip to Jerusalem.  It takes me approximately one hour of reading to drink one pint.
        Levels of noise matter not to me, be it the clamouring of tourists for cups of tea (in a pub, how odd!), the unintelligible (to me) pronouncements of football fans or even music; as an old habitue of the London rock venue The Intrepid Fox, I was often seen sitting at the bar immersed in my latest acquisition, tapping away with my foot.  A seat has, at times, been optional - I like to sit but rather than squeeze in with a party of complete strangers, I'll happily lean an elbow on the bar.  Actually the light is usually better but one has to be careful for spills when putting the paperback down.

        Nope.  I like reading my books in pubs.  I'm noted for it.  Like having a favourite hat, one becomes noticed for it.  " 'Ere look," they say "he's reading another book!"  I really can't help it - my idea of uncomfortable is sitting in a bar without company and just staring off into the distance - usually symbolised by the stain left by a missing promotional poster.  If I'm with friends, a social event if you will, that's different.  I chat, muse and get my round in.  But on my own - or with my understanding and equally bookish wife - my fingers itch to start page turning.

        It's the aforementioned notability of reading in a pub which initiates the only drawback; discussion.
        More usually when stood at the bar but occasionally when seated at a table, some folk can't help commenting to me ... about reading.  "What are you reading?" is the most common gambit, followed by "Is that a good book?"  It's as if they find reading so unusual that they must draw my attention to it.  You're reading a book in a pub, they seem to imply, that's unusual - explain!
        Now, I was brought up to be polite.  I'm happy to pass a small comment, in a mannerly way, but would prefer to be left to read.  Were I pausing, to buy another drink say, then I consider it fair to exchange a few words in conversation.  But the occupation of reading is quite obvious - even newspapers require a modicum of concentration.  A book might be considered a little more taxing.  And yet, there are some folk who actually want to pursue a conversation with a reader!  In my experience, and pray forgive the generalisation, these usually consist of middle-aged males, entering the pub on their own and seem in need of companionship.
        I could be a tad sympathetic at this point - wanting companionship and going to a public house for fellowship.  However, it's when I am obviously more interested in reading than in continuing a chat and they still insist on talking at me, asking questions which require answer, that it becomes irritating if not downright rude.  I try to persevere; I try to be tolerant.  One barman thought it hilarious that, on one occasion, from the other side of the room he could tell I wasn't interested in the speaker and yet they continued.  It is remarkable that these sad, lonely individuals can be so damn thick-skinned!  They couldn't take a hint if you gift-wrapped it and hit them over the head with an unsubtle statement!  Suffice to say, I have resorted to moving to a different part of the bar and even drank up and moved pub - an action which rankles, believe me.  On one occasion, with no other option, I countered the boor's unwanted pronouncements with scathing opinion, liberally peppered with bad language!  When he berated me, I merely countered with "I didn't want your opinion, I'm not interested in talking to you, you tried to start a conversation with me - if you don't like it, shut up and leave me alone!  I won't be offended!"  I felt quite ashamed yet completely justified.

        This said, I still prefer to sit in a pub and read.  I can loose myself for hours, turning pages until I've finished the novel ... then starting another.  I let the surroundings wash around me, I become part of the furniture.  I am hidden by being in a public place.
        And I read.  And read.  And read.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Here 'tis!  The first post of my brand spanking new blog-thingie!
Pray forgive me if I meander, ramble (without suitable footwear) and just witter along.  I've been reliably told that this is what Blogs are for.

Here's a thought ...

I've just finished reading The King of Thieves by Michael Jecks - an excellent read, by the way - and part of the plot involves the dark days of the medieval British monarchy when King Edward II was under the thrall (?) of Sir Hugh Despenser.

Now, as far as I see it, King Edward was first enamoured (and poorly influenced) by Piers Gaveston.  This angered the barons - possibly from jealousy of his influence over the king - and Gaveston was "removed".  Along comes The Despenser.  Perhaps on "rebound" from his first "boyfriend", Edward takes to Sir Hugh and begins lavishing wealth and power on him.

But The Despenser was of a different mould from Gaveston.  Greedy to the point of insanity - this was commented on by his contemporaries in a fairly venal period - Sir Hugh wasn't some vain, spoiled "toyboy".  He was intelligent, cunning and utterly ruthless!  He blatantly used his favour with the king to expand his personal wealth and power.  He was cruel ... but only as an aside to his rapacity.  As far as he was concerned, he enjoyed exercising his power over others but only as long as it didn't interfere with his profit.
His relationship with King Edward lasted until it forced Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer to act, knowing that it would be a "popular" uprising.

Why did King Edward allow this to happen?

After the first baron's revolt, the king was almost paranoid about his standing in his lands.  He was pressured by the French King and deeply hurt by Sir Roger - his finest general - so why did he allow Sir Hugh so much power?
Near the end, The Despenser had nearly more wealth - and therefore power - than the King himself.  Why did Edward allow a "favourite" so much power, power that might've allowed Sir Hugh to usurp the Crown?
Was it because he was still smarting from when the baron's "took away" his beloved Gaveston?  Did he want to cling to this new boyfriend, just to teach the barons a lesson?  Or did he truly love Despenser and was blind to the man's boundless ambition?

Truly, I don't know.  I suspect it was the former.  Edward II was like a spoiled child, expecting absolute compliance to his whims.  When Gaveston was removed, Edward was a spoiled brat, smarting at the lesson that even a King could only go so far.  He set out to dig his heels in and stick by Sir Hugh, regardless of any cost, in order to shout "I'm the King and I can do what I want!"

Not a good episode in the British history.