Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The Royal Wedding and Showing and Telling

Were you one of the millions around the world who watched the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle? I know I did and I thoroughly enjoyed the romance of it. It all went off very well, as people are forever saying about weddings.
Ever since King Richard III cried 'A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse' in Shakespeare's play everyone has been associating the Royals with horses. The Queen and the Queen Mother all owned racehorses and attended Royal Ascot, arriving in a horse-drawn coach. Prince Harry and Meghan were driven in the Royal coach with the Windsor greys pulling it. Did you see that one grey horse of the escort behaving badly? He really gave his rider a hard time the whole journey to and from Windsor Castle. It is those little things on the fringe of events which interest me because they make it all so much more human.

Writers very often use these little snippets to illustrate a point. Anton Chekhov famously wrote "don't tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass". His advice has been passed on countless times to aspiring writers in order to demonstrate "show don't tell".  A smile, a frown, can all convey so much more than a whole paragraph of writing. Everyone with lip-reading talents craned to see what Prince Harry might have said to Meghan or she to him during the ceremony. I would have preferred to see the faces of some of the other Royals, or at least more of them, as the ceremony progressed. In general, though, when the cameras were trained on the invitees, it all appeared to be the same as a normal gathering of this sort.  People chatting easily with people they knew, somewhat stilted looking small talk among other groups (I'm going by body language here!) and one or two guests in the background not speaking to anybody. This is meat and drink to the writer. Watching people in conversation whether in the shops, on the bus or in a restaurant is an excellent way to learn how we all interact. Even a debate on television can be very illuminating and provide loads of ideas for writing conflict into situations in your novel or short story. Like all writers, you just have to be aware of the world around you.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Help Yourself!

I have just been looking at the top 20 bestselling books on Several of these books are what used to be called "self-help": how to live your life successfully. There are also a few books on diet and nutrition.
I remember reading somewhere that when Dale Carnegie started his evening classes for salesmen, he discovered that many of his students had basic problems with getting along with their fellow humans. Listening to the stories told in class, he identified key areas where many people go wrong. And he wrote his book How to make friends and influence people.
The next thing that Carnegie discovered was that his students had lots of worries. Again, listening to their problems and interviewing prominent people to get their experiences of coping with worry, he published How to stop worrying and start living. 
The point I am making here is that nothing has really changed. Apparently we still need books to help us. Every year there are new theories about what to eat and when and how to eat it. And there are, as I said at the beginning, all these works on how to manage your life. So, have we learned anything, despite all these tomes of wisdom? Are we all still looking for some magic formula for living? And if we are, will we ever find it?

Monday, 16 April 2018

Exercise - who me?

I remember when those fitness temples started years ago. Everyone was attending some form of training. My daughter and a friend of hers cajoled me into joining a local gym because three people got a colossal discount on the membership fee. I have to admit that while I will sit down every morning and hammer out between 1,000 to 2,000 words of a novel (that's roughly 4 or 5 pages, I think), I am notoriously undisciplined about everything else. I eat more chocolate than is good for me, for one thing, and I keep putting off things like tidying drawers or cupboards or even doing a full clean of my apartment until I am "in the mood" as I like to put it.

I remember going to that gym for the first time. A very nice, fit young man showed me the ropes (almost literally!) and gave me loads of advice on what apparatus to start on, ending with the necessity of warming up and cooling down. I bought myself some gear and started off on the treadmill. This was supposed to be the warming up phase but I soon got bored with that and went on to do the exercise for strengthening my back muscles. When I'd finished that- it didn't take long - I didn't feel like doing much else so I hopped back on the treadmill to do the cooling down bit and then I wandered over to the fruit juice bar where tanned and very fit looking people were enjoying colourful drinks and chatting about abs and pectorals and exciting stuff like that. I remember downing my fruit cocktail, if I recall aright it was a mixture of kiwi, mango and some minty stuff, and then strolling back to the changing room, towel draped artistically around my neck, looking - probably - as if I had spent a few hours working out. I kept that up for a number of weeks, happily taking leave of my colleagues with the words "I'm off to the gym". And I did go to the gym. I went in the evening after work, on Saturday afternoons and on Sunday mornings. There was one guy there who was always at the fruit bar and who I never saw doing any actual training. He was tall and slim with blond hair and a white smile in a suntanned face and he seemed to be on first name terms with just about everybody, except perhaps me. He got on my nerves after a while I am ashamed to admit.

I never really did anything athletic and I think the whole thing (I was going to say "exercise") was a complete waste of time and money but I felt I was one of the "in" crowd. Quite frankly, the most exercise I got was having a go on the treadmill and getting annoyed with people who parked their towels on the back-exercise apparatus, chatting to fellow devotees and thus blocking my use of that device. Not that I would have used it for more than 10 minutes.
The most sensible thing I did was to let my membership lapse. My health did not deteriorate in any way, I did not put on weight (I had not lost any, to begin with). The main benefit was to my bank account.
Nowadays, I walk everywhere as I no longer have a car, living in the centre of town with a bus stop just down the road, I don't need one.  And I love to walk on the beach. Which only goes to show that the best gyms in life are free - well, that's my story!

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Rural Ireland - not quite The Waltons

I grew up in the heart of the country and attended a country school where one of the big events (at least as far as I was concerned) was the arrival of the library van. I can't remember how often the van came to exchange books and put new ones on the one shelf which was devoted to library books. I remember that I was always waiting eagerly for it to call because I had read just about everything on that shelf.
The school was small and taught from Infants to Primary Leaving, which meant from around four- to twelve year-olds. I was about four when I started, accompanying my older brother and sister into this intriguing world. I loved reading from an early age and the habit has stayed with me.  I also developed a taste for languages. We were taught Gaelic from the moment we started school. At that time we used the Gaelic alphabet letters which were different to the English ones. To this day I lament the fact that this practice was discontinued and nowadays no one really knows how to write those ornate letters. By the way, this knowledge of Gaelic lettering came in very handy when I lived in Germany and had to read old German where some of the letters resembled the Gaelic ones of my childhood.
We lived a simple life on a small farm. One of the highlights was when my mother went to the city and came back with stories of the big world and a supply of Cheddar cheese (which we called "hard" cheese because all we could get locally was highly processed soft stuff). This all made me long to see the big cities.
When I did leave home to go to work in Dublin I felt that I was on the start of a great adventure. I thought Dublin was sophisticated, the place to live. Later I transferred my affection to London and although I have lived longer in Germany, near Frankfurt, than anywhere else, Frankfurt has never created that feeling of home for me. If I could I would divide my time between London and where I live now by the sea in Ireland.
I have to admit that I never pined for "Walton's mountain" when I left home. I was always too busy absorbing new impressions, visiting new places. Like many ex-pats, I don't really belong anywhere. I could be deposited in the middle of Brazil, say, and I would find a niche to call home on however temporary a basis. Perhaps it's a good thing, perhaps it's not. You can be located in the biggest city in the world but where you actually live is really like a village - your local shops, bus stop, familiar streets and shortcuts all form part of your environment. Speaking for myself, I can only say, looking back, that I learned something in every place I lived and I wouldn't want to have missed meeting all the people I did meet in those places.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Writing Crime

I like to read crime novels. I think I have read almost every book that Agatha Christie has ever written. I must admit that I rarely watch the TV series and I have never really enjoyed any of the film adaptations. I like to imagine the characters in my head and seeing someone portray them on screen is like watching someone imitate your friends.
Why was Agatha Christie so popular? I don't think anyone ever has the answer. Poirot was, of course, a very strong character and we all had implicit faith in him and his ability to solve the crime. The same goes for Miss Marple. The novels are dated now and yet they don't lose their appeal. I still occasionally re-read Death on the Nile, which I consider one of her best stories. There is not too much gore even if her liking for the use of poison was a bit creepy.
I love rummaging among the books in charity shops. You never know what you will find there. This is how I came to be currently reading Linwood Barclay's No Time for Goodbye. An engaging book, and well written, it is keeping me interested. I see it got mixed reviews on Amazon and most reviewers had the same opinion as me.
What made me write crime fiction? I really do not know. It started with a visit to Killarney while attending a family wedding. The scenery down there is breathtaking in the true sense of the word. Mountains are mysterious - I know, I grew up on a farm where we looked across the valley at the mountains in the distance. My father used to forecast the weather from them. If they stood out sharply against the skyline, it meant rain and if they were enveloped in a haze, it meant it would be fine.
Although my first love is the sea, I also love the mountains, all mountains. They have been there for countless centuries. So that is where my Sergeant Alan Murray stories began.
Which reminds me, time to get back to my laptop.

Friday, 26 January 2018

The latest Sergeant Alan Murray mystery available now on Kindle

This post is really a plug for my latest novel in the Sergeant Alan Murray series which is now available to order on Amazon Kindle. The print version will be available next week. Here's the link:


A COLD CASE OF MURDER: (Sergeant Alan Murray series)

Murray's wife Sheila disappeared on Ardnabrone Mountain many years ago and despite several investigations no trace of her was ever found. When DS Lee Sheridan is assigned to revisit the case, Murray is sceptical. The locals will hardly take a city girl, a stranger, into their confidence, he feels. But just as he has convinced himself that Lee is wasting her time, human remains are discovered on Ardnabrone Mountain. Could this be the lead they have all been looking for?

I really enjoyed writing this story even though, at times, I was stumped every so often. Not writers' block exactly but a "where do I go from here?" feeling.
A lot of readers had asked me what really happened to Murray's wife and I had to confess that I didn't know myself - until I started writing the story.  I hope everyone finds it satisfactory. 
Well, it's out there now and I feel like a mother watching her child trotting off to kindergarten or taking its first unaided steps.  Will it be OK?  Should I have done more? I edit my novels at least ten times if not more and yet once I let them go out into the world, the feeling persists that there was something I could have done better. I think many writers experience this, so I am not alone.
Having said - or written - all that, I must admit that I love writing, love shaping the story and watching the characters in action (they seem to take over when I get into the story and go their own way a lot of the time). It makes up for all the hard slog of writing every day - facing a blank screen when starting a novel, knowing what to write in the next chapter - otherwise why would we do it? It's not as if we all hit pay dirt and are rolling in money. It's who we are, I suppose.
Before I get too philosophical, I had better move on.  For one thing, I need another cup of coffee, for another, I need to take the clothes out of the washing machine and hang them out to dry.

Oh, one more thing. If any of my readers have not read the Sergeant Alan Murray mysteries, the first book in the series DEATH IN A LONELY PLACE is free on Kindle from today until Monday. 

Here's the link:
Death in a Lonely PlaceTwo women are abducted and murdered in the sleepy village of Ballyamber at the foot of Ardnabrone Mountain in Co. Kerry. When Garda Sergeant Alan Murray and his assistant, Jim Flynn start their investigation they uncover the loves, hates and intrigues behind the peaceful village fa├žade.
Helen Brophy is on her way to Ballyamber determined to put the past behind her and start a new life when she encounters a dark figure loading something into the boot of a car at Ardnabrone layby, an incident which will ultimately put her life in danger.
Murray and Flynn are in a race against time to find the killer before he strikes again. Then another woman goes missing.

I hope you like it!  Happy reading everyone!

Friday, 12 January 2018

This Writing Life

Today is stormy here by the sea. The tide is coming in with a strong south-easterly wind to fling the water against the sides of the boats. The river makes gurgling noises as it laps against its banks.  I love this kind of weather. I almost envy the seagulls who float about the sky, drifting on the wind as if they really enjoyed it. We are lucky that we don't have a full moon or a new moon as with the gale force wind coming from the south-east, this would possibly mean flooding in the lower reaches of the town. I didn't stay out too long as I am still recovering from a nasty virus which I picked up over Christmas/New Year.
It was good to get back in the warmth but no excuse for not returning to my writing. I am doing the final edit on my Sergeant Alan Murray series novel A Cold Case of Murder. Here is a preview of the cover:
Murray's wife Sheila disappeared on Ardnabrone Mountain several years ago and despite several investigations no trace of her was ever found. When DS Lee Sheridan is assigned to revisit the case, Murray is sceptical. The locals will hardly take a city girl, a stranger, into their confidence, he feels.
But just as he has convinced himself that Lee is wasting her time, human remains are discovered on Ardnabrone Mountain. Could this be the lead they have all been looking for?

I have edited and re-edited the story countless times. Some famous author once said that writing is re-writing and I am inclined to agree. But it is a labour of love.  I am sitting here in the spare bedroom which I use as my office. Outside my window I can see the river, swelled now by the incoming tide and I can hear the wind whistling through the street. Time to get back to work!