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Monday, 10 February 2020

SEA CHANGE

SEA CHANGE

Almost every day I walk by the sea. 
When I'm working in my studio I can see it in the distance. 
When I go on holiday - it's almost always near the sea.
You could say that salt water runs in my blood.

So, instead of rambling on, here are some of the hundreds of photographs I've taken with the sea in all its seasons and some of its moods.














Tuesday, 7 January 2020

JELLY MOULD & POP!

JELLY MOULD & POP!


The Ford Popular, often called the Ford Pop, is a car from Ford UK that was built in England between 1953 and 1962. When launched, it was Britain's lowest priced car.

In my DI Sonny Russell series of crime novels I try to help to establish the period by making sure my characters drive the right cars. The police in the 1950s, were known to use the Wolseley 6/80, so that is car that regularly features in my books. However, DC Johnny Weeks has a Ford Popular. They were very basic cars with a feeble 1172cc, 30 bhp engine and a three speed gearbox. The wipers were driven via vacuum from the engine, so when the car laboured up hills the wipers slowed almost to a stop. I know, because it was the first car I ever drove!

In this extract Weeks, in the company of WPC Nettie Sharpe, gives chase to a Morris Traveller. This was the estate version of the Morris Minor, affectionately known as the jelly mould, owing to its distinctive body shape.

"With that the Morris came out of the track and turned in the direction of Collinghurst. Unfortunately Weeks’s car was facing the opposite direction. He started the engine and tried to execute a neat three point turn but the road was narrow at that point and it took him several attempts to turn the Ford. By then, the rain was falling steadily, the pathetic wipers were doing little to clear the windscreen and with only three gears progress was painfully slow. There was no sign of the Morris.
‘Damn!’ Weeks exclaimed. ‘We’ve lost it!’
‘Don’t worry. There aren’t any turnings for a mile or two. Hopefully we’ll catch up with it soon.
Weeks had his foot hard to the floor, the side-valve engine struggling manfully. The initial downpour had eased to a more gentle drizzle, with an occasional squally blast. There was no traffic in front of them but there was still no sign of the Morris. Weeks was leaning forward in his seat, willing the car on. ‘Come on, come on,’ he muttered under his breath. The tyres swished on the wet Tarmac and crashed through the puddles, spraying water out sideways.
Nettie picked up on Weeks’s anxiety. She lightly touched his arm. ‘It’s okay, Johnny. We’ll soon catch up with it.’
But they didn’t."



The Morris Minor is a British car that made its debut at the Earls Court Motor Show, London, on 20 September 1948. Designed under the leadership of Alec Issigonis, more than 1.6 million were manufactured between 1948 and 1972 in three series: the MM (1948 to 1953), the Series II (1952 to 1956), and the 1000 series (1956 to 1971).

Friday, 27 December 2019

AGGIE'S ADVENTURES - dog as sleuth

AGGIE'S ADVENTURES
dog as sleuth

In my series of crime novels set in the 1950s, my detective DI Sonny Russell, has a faithful companion. Agatha Christie, Aggie for short, is a rough coated Jack Russell, closely based on my own little terrier. I have written her into the books as I think she gives Russell humanity and warmth and adds an extra dimension to the tales.



Like all 'jacks' she is curious and regularly helps her master in finding clues and leads. Here is an extract from Blood on the Tide where she finds a hidden room in an abandoned brickworks.

“Aggie!” Russell called, “come back here!” The dog didn’t show. He called again, more forcefully this time. “Aggie!!” She still didn’t appear so he walked round to the side of the kiln. At first he thought the bushes and weeds had grown naturally, creating an impenetrable barrier behind the building. Then he realised that cut brushwood and branches had been forced into a gap. The dog must have wriggled through somehow. He dragged some of it aside and pushed his way through the rest of the undergrowth between the kilns and saw the dog jumping up excitedly at the door to a small building. Reaching forward he turned the handle and the door creaked open. He just managed to grab the terrier’s collar before she shot in. “Stay!” he said sternly, holding up his finger. The dog sat obediently.
 He peered into the room and, as his eyes became accustomed to the weak light coming through a grimy window, he could just make out a pair of mattresses on the floor. Looking round he could also see a makeshift table with a primus stove, kettle, mugs, tins and packets on it.
 “Well, well,” he said quietly to himself. Then more loudly: “Weeks, come round here, and bring a torch.”



In Blood on the Shrine an injured man has been found in a Martello Tower by a couple of boy scouts but Aggie makes a further discovery. 

As the ambulance drove off Salt spoke. ‘Do you think he was beaten up at the same time as Stump, Sonny?’
‘Possibly. Although that begs the question, how did he get here? Anyway, time to get back to the station and give the Superintendent the latest news.’ Russell was just about to get in the Wolselely when he stopped. ‘Hang on. Has anyone seen Aggie?’ While they had been engrossed in getting the injured man and talking to the boys she had gone off round the side of the tower.
‘Aggie!’ Russell called. He waited but there was no sign of the terrier. ‘AGGIE!’ he shouted. There was excited barking from the bushes. The boys ran towards the sound.
‘Uncle Sonny! Quick. Look what we’ve found!’
When Russell reached them they were energetically pulling branches aside to reveal Drake’s hidden Bedford van. ‘Well I never. What have we here?’



WPC Nettie Sharpe plays an important role in my third book. In the final stages of Blood on the Strand she arrives with Aggie using her belt as a lead.

Walking nearby Nettie Sharpe had heard raised voices and hurried to see what was going on. As she rounded the corner, the terrier saw her master, jerked the improvised lead out of Nettie’s hand and ran towards the group of figures.
Salle just saw a flash of white as Aggie dashed towards her master, tail wagging furiously. He was momentarily distracted. Russell leaped forward and made a grab for the gun. In the confusion there was a shot – then a scream and Isobel fell to the ground. Wickstead ran forward, flooring Salle and knocking the weapon out of his hand. It skittered across the rough ground and disappeared over the edge of the quay. Russell knelt down by Isobel. He could see a bloody stain flowering on her shoulder. He pulled out his handkerchief and pressed it tightly against the wound. With his other hand he loosened the blindfold. Isobel’s eyes were closed and her breathing shallow. The terrier licked her face. Nettie ran across and joined him. Wickstead had forced Salle’s arms behind his back and clamped handcuffs on his wrists. 



In the soon to be published Blood on the Cards the body of a fortune teller has vanished. Aggie is instrumental in locating it. 

‘So, back to square one for Parker.’ While the men were talking, the terrier had been excitedly sniffing around the undergrowth - on the hunt for rabbits or rodents. Suddenly, she stopped, head erect, nose twitching then shot off. She rocketed across the stony track, up over the raised bank and disappeared towards the river. ‘Aggie!’ Russell cried out. ‘Come here!’
Lewis laughed. ‘She might not be a bloodhound but she’s got the scent of something. Let’s go and see.’ Following the path the dog had taken the two men climbed over the bank and down on to the flat grass along the riverside. They could just see the terrier, tail wagging madly, nosing around the undergrowth at the side of the river. Lewis, the more nimble of the two, reached her first.
‘What have you found, little dog?’ He crouched and parted the reeds. ‘Well I’ll be…’ he exclaimed. ‘Aggie! Leave it!’ The terrier backed away and danced about. ‘Sonny, take a look at this.’

If you've enjoyed these extracts all books are available in paperback or Kindle - details on the right of the blog.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

THE FINAL EDIT - well almost

THE FINAL EDIT
- well almost 


A few weeks ago I wrote about finishing the fourth in my series of  DI Sonny Russell novels, Blood on the Cards. https://chrisodonoghue.blogspot.com/2019/10/journeys-end-well-not-quite.html Well, despite my silence on the project, I haven't been idle since then.



First, I reread the manuscript on the laptop on which I wrote it - carefully, or so I thought. Then, I printed the whole thing out for my better half and expert editor to go through with a fine-tooth comb. She much prefers to work on paper, having been brought up in the old school of thorough journalism, where gaffes are easier to spot on the printed page. (It's amazing how many sheets of A4 paper are needed to produce a 77 thousand word book when double-spaced.) Anyway, she diligently worked through it, chapter by chapter, annotating the pages with handwritten notes and suggestions. Day after day she supplied me with a surprising number of corrections to work through. Then it was my job to go back over the whole thing. In the main, it was a question of inserting missing speech marks and other omitted punctuation, but other suggestions needed a little more thought. Some of her ideas, though perfectly correct, were to do with a matter of style. This was more or less subjective, and as the author, I have the final say and in some cases I decided to leave what I had written, as it was.


Now you would think that was it, but I didn't like the idea that, between us, we still might have missed something. (I read crime novels, back to back, not just for leisure, but also for education and as a critic. I'm always on the lookout for mistakes and I've often found errors in the books of some of the best known authors.) So back to the laptop for a very slow, thorough read. I'm glad I did as I found a few - a very few, I'm glad to say - minor mistakes we'd missed.  


The End? Well not quite. Greer has suggested that the final denouement needs working on to make it more dramatic, so we'll have to sit down and do that. Also, this book is a little different. I have included inserts in different type faces and, on talking to Eddie, who will do the layout and make sure the book looks right, I know I will have to make decisions on where these inserts are placed. And then there's the small matter (!) of the cover design. However I am ever hopeful that I will be ready to publish early in the near year, so watch this space...







Monday, 25 November 2019

AUTHOR INSPIRATION

AUTHOR INSPIRATION


One of the questions authors are regularly asked is where they get their inspiration from. In my case, I'm lucky to live in a beautiful and fascinating corner of the south-east on the Kent-Sussex border. The views from my studio/writing room are stupendous. In one direction, looking towards Hastings,  are fields and and rolling hills, reminiscent of Devon. Sheep and cattle graze on the lush grass. Looking the other way, in the direction of Rye, there are glimpses of the sea. As the light changes so the colours alter hourly. Sometimes the sea is a dark band against a pale sky, then it is brilliant aquamarine contrasting with grey, lowering clouds. I feel quite blessed.


But... like all writers, down the years, I draw inspiration from... other writers. Not to the point of plagiarism  - that would be just wrong. It's not so much about the subject or theme, more about the style of writing. My favourite author is Ian Rankin.


His writing is tense and terse, without a superfluous word or phrase. His books are a masterclass in creating crime fiction. Over the course of almost two dozen books his main character, Inspector John Rebus, has grown from a relatively minor character to a towering presence. This has been helped, to a large extent, by his portrayal on the small screen by the magnificent Ken Stott. 

Taking a lesson from this, I am attempting to 'fill out' the character of my own, DI Sonny Russell. When I started my first book he was just a shadowy idea in my mind, but as I have progressed through the stories I have got to know him better and tried to write more about him, as a person. I'm also a big fan of Val McDermid.

 

Her writing is quite different. It's still tight and concise but somehow has a different slant on life. Also, in a number of her books, she has two main characters - detective Carol Jordan and a profiler, Tony Hill - which brings a quite different dynamic to the stories. My only caveat with her stories is that they tend to include rather too many gory and forensic details for my liking. Although her latest book is much gentler. And talking of gentler, brings me to George Gently.



Alan Hunter wrote 46 books featuring the eponymous detective and were set in East Anglia, where he lived. The earlier books, written in the 1950s, are very much period pieces which have been very helpful as my stories too are set at that time too. It seems strange, that when the stories were adapted for TV, the locations were moved from the gentle flatlands to the the more rugged north-east. Martin Shaw's character, although nothing like the one created by Hunter, feels authentic, it's just a shame that they couldn't have kept the stories in Norfolk.

I have a gardener friend, who works in the area. One of his customers, an elderly lady, knew Alan Hunter when they belonged to the same sailing club. Apparently she was very cross when the TV series came out. I think I would have felt the same. 






Friday, 15 November 2019

SUCCESS 95% perspiration 5% inspiration

SUCCESS
95% perspiration 5% inspiration


Sorry for garbling the quote in the title, which should be "Success = 90% perspiration, 10% inspiration", but as a struggling author I see the odds as being somewhat lower. Most of my time as a writer is spent with my head down, conjuring up pithy combinations of words and amusing phrases and turning them into prose. Then creating stories that, hopefully, my readers will find worthwhile spending time with.

You might think that it is a  solitary life, and in some ways it is. But it's never lonely. The English language is so rich, it's like being in the company of a highly amusing and intelligent group of friends. If just writing was the measure of my success it would be close to 100%. Not for the quality and richness - I have no illusions about my abilities - I know I'm good (head swells) but not that good, compared to the greats. But, looking over what I've put down on the page gives me great satisfaction. If that was all it was about, I'd be a very happy man. But... getting the words down, then corrected and edited is only a small part of the writers burden. 



I'm pretty good at self-publicity. I don't mind standing in front of an audience, selling myself. I don't mind driving distances, to promote my books to a small audience and I don't mind constantly posting on social media making sure I have a high enough profile. There's a saying that "half the money spent on advertising is wasted, but you don't know which half". Not being well off, I can't afford to spend much  on advertising so that doesn't really work for me. So, I do what I can - public appearances and book-signings, personal delivery of books, shameless advertising when people find out I'm a writer. Also, I give talks to WI, U3A and other groups, mainly on gardening subjects, but I still promote my novels whenever I can.

So, if the process of writing is quite straightforward and painless, the 95% perspiration, or hard graft is when I come to actually sell the damn things. So please, if you like what I've done, please lend a hand by spreading the word. Thank you. 









Tuesday, 5 November 2019

SPRING SUMMER AUTUMN WINTER

SPRING SUMMER AUTUMN WINTER


As a writer it's important to get the seasons right. If you don't, or get them out of sequence, the reader will notice and it will spoil the story. Daffodils and lambs in spring, warm sun and trees in full leaf in summer, ripened corn and morning mists in autumn, snow, frost and leafless trees in winter. Those are the archetypal indicators. But it's much more satisfying if you can give an indication of the time of year more subtly.

In Blood on the Shrine, the narrative starts with snow falling heavily. I had a strong sense of that wonderful stillness that descends when snow covers everything. I pictured a bird, landing on a branch and a fine curtain of snow falling off the limb. Then, after a few days the temperature rises and a thaw sets in which makes driving treacherous.  

In Blood on the Strand there is a terrific summer storm and heavy rain that lasts for days on end. I felt the frustration of my detective, Sonny Russell, being cooped up and running out of things to occupy his time.

I've just started on book five, working title, Blood in the Garden, and hadn't decided on a time frame. Then I corresponded with a good friend, who has an allotment and, because of the plants I talk about, the scene is now firmly set in late summer/autumn.