Monday, 31 December 2012

CHAPTER ONE




Image from here

My New Year's resolution for 2013 is to actually finish the crime novel I started a while ago. Chapter one is almost there so I thought it would be a good time to post it and ask for reactions from readers and whether it excites and makes you want to read on and follow the story to its conclusion.

If you are able to comment then please do. Feedback and constructive criticism is always welcome but I hope you enjoy this anyway.
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Hot puffs of breath mixed with the frozen mist in rapid clouds that melted into the fog, knees thudded in objection beneath a skirt too short, every muscle in her torso tightened, the tendons at the back of her legs strained and pulled against their will. Her vest top clung to her in an impossible sweat and made her freeze even more. Her arms were red and blotched with purple patterns around the goosebumps like tiny pimples in need of a skin cure.

The streets were quiet but she knew she'd have a chance if she could just get across the new development site to the High Street or the alley car park. Taking main roads to the town centre where the police station was, and where she knew people would still be out celebrating Saturday night, could be a blessing but she couldn't take the chance again of flagging down a passing motorist for help. He must know she'd gone missing by now and he'd be looking for her. She squeezed through a gap in the fence around the development site, squatted down behind a parked car on Victoria Street, her stomach cramped in panic, forced bile to her throat which she spewed out into the gutter.

Dirty hands with long fingers that ended with jagged and broken fingernails torn into bloody tips wrapped across her mouth and swiped it dry leaving a grubby trail. Her mind was numb, focussed only on cold and fear. It was incapable of rational thought made senseless by the drugs he gave her. She repeated to herself to wake it up : “car park, alley, High Street.” She had to stay focussed. They were just ahead and help was just beyond. She darted looks left, right, behind her, crept out from around the car, the road was still quiet. No moving cars, no people, but several vehicles, white with frost were parked along each side obviously asleep until rush hour in the morning when their owners would struggle to get them started again.

The lights of the apartment blocks on one side of the street were out except for a couple near the top in a soft hazy daze against the fog. The grand houses with stone steps leading up to big doors looked formidable and dark. The tatty houses on the other side of the street looked mostly uninhabited. She weighed up her best chances. Knocking doors would leave her exposed, out in the open, unprotected and bait if he came cruising by as she stood freezing, filthy, blood-stained and wretched waiting for someone to answer the door. If she tried to make town he could be hiding, waiting and he'd see her before she got there. Her brain wouldn't work. It just told her to run and run fast. She stood, wrapped her arms around her and hunched into herself as if trying to squeeze her slim frame smaller into invisibility. She walked rapidly to the end of the street, past the corner shop, and then broke out into a sprint over the bottom end of High Street and to the car park at the entrance to the alley. She bobbed down again behind a parked car panting rapidly but hope of help there left her when there was no one around and no sound but that of her own breath still making the air around her warmer that it made her.

She crawled through the cars on all fours towards the alley that would take her to the top end of High Street where she was certain she'd get help. Somewhere deep from the depths of panic, fear and pain her brain agreed and proved her right when she entered the long dark old brick alley where she immediately heard cackling laughter and floating chatter rise up from the town centre.

The sound of normal happy life crept along the top end of High Street and got stronger as revellers approached the far end of the alleyway that shrouded her. Her intended roar for attention dissolved into a pathetic squeak from a parched throat on fire that did nothing to protect her from the freezing cold but robbed her of her voice. She screamed again as best she could as she ran along the alley but her voice again deserted her and was easily strangled by guttural laughter and playful high pitched squeals as the drunks walked on oblivious to the hope she had in them. Then there was silence. A stillness, like the moment when birds stop singing, insects vanish and flower petals close in defence against the sudden and furious storm that beats down in blind fury through heavy still clouds onto the exposed and open landscape.

The only sound was her own breath and her heart thumping against her rib cage. She stopped to listen to the noise outside of her own body and held what little breath she had. Nothing. No-one. She released rhythmic gasps as she fought to refill her lungs with air and bent over, hands on her ripped knees. She darted anxious looks up and down the black alleyway, hair in rats tails hung each side of her face and flicked like whips as they blew away from her as she puffed. Street lights bounced pale light into the blackness and she knew she was not far. It would be over soon. They'd have to believe her. She stood, and straightened, more relaxed this time, more focussed on where she needed to be and turned to run again. And then the blow. Sharp, searing pain in her temples and the back of her eyes, warmth spread like thick syrup down her face, and then darkness descended into black.

A man smiled, bent over her and lifted her up as if she was drunk and had to lean on him for support as he half carried and half dragged her back along the alley to the car park. Footsteps and mixed gentle voices sounded at the top High Street end of the alley so he shifted quickly into one of the old piss-stained and littered alcoves in case they turned in. He held the girl up against him and both melted into the darkness under cover of his black clothes. He held his breath as the clip clop of shoes and chatter of lovers got closer, level, and then moved past him before they stopped a little further up. They embraced. He heard the sound of their kissing like dogs slurping the last of the food in their dish. Animals, he thought. People were only animals with basic needs and he knew what they'd be doing tonight when they got home. Animals.

The girl moaned. He put his hand over her mouth and nose and held tight until she went limp again. A flicker of excitement ran through him as she slumped against him, heat rose in his chest and his heart beat a little faster.

The lovers were too engrossed in each other to notice the world let alone anyone else around them but after the embrace they walked on, chatting, giggling, laughing. He listened carefully and heard a car engine start at the other end of the alley. He waited a minute and then heaved the girl along. The fog had thickened and he could barely make out his battered old Mondeo in the car park but that was a good thing. There was no one around, vision in this weather was limited anyway so he was sure that no one would see him.

He opened the boot of his car and slung the girl inside. She shouldn't have come looking. It was her own fault. She deserved all she got.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

AFTERNOON WITH CHANDLER




Timeless classic The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler doesn't just grab you by the throat as you read - it's pins you up against the wall, holds you in a vice like grip, and refuses to let go until your eyes blur and can't stay on the page a minute longer.

Using harsh and tension filled prose that shows the seedy side of life in LA, Chandler colours a city black and white, pure and evil, with varying shades of grey. Rain lashes down endlessly as the plot gathers pace and we meet characters as dodgy as a bad fairground ride with a screw loose and as vulnerable as a toddler not strapped in.

I've never read the book before but Ive seen both 1946 and 1976 screen versions, my favourite being the Bogart/Bacall film noir that oozes sexual chemistry, life on the edge, and the seedy side of life for both rich and poor. It's a world of murder, porn, exploitation, blackmail, gambling, innuendo, drinking whiskey and rye and smoking. It's a world now gone - replaced with one far more dirty, less honourable among thieves, and much more shocking.

The Big Sleep keeps you on the edge but it's not frightening and in places is somewhat amusing for a thriller not written as a comedy. However, back in 1939 readers were less desensitised then they are today. Times change and the book stands witness to the underground of that era which contemporaries would have found shocking. Swearing is forbidden in line with the then then sensibilities and moralities. The most profane word used is "nuts," but homophobia is reeled off as an acceptable reaction to gay men, maybe because it was a crime back then, or maybe just because our parents' and grandparents' generation generally were less enlightened. Sexism is also rampant in the book - if somewhat charming and quaint at times.

The Big Sleep is one three crime novels that I've been studying in preparation as tutor of an eight week adult comparative literature course. The other two books we'll be looking at are Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid which will be a lovely counterbalance to Chandler's homophobia and a very different PI, and Bad Boy by Peter Robinson to compare the screen adaptations. Will the DCI Banks series become regarded as the same kind of classic - or are they as incomparable as a grey Plymouth and a Porsce 911?

Thursday, 6 December 2012

THE FEAR




Wow. Just Wow. That sums up my response to the new channel Four series The Fear a stomping new crime thriller with a difference.

Richie is a gangster who's been the unchallenged top dog of his town for 15 years and his violent days are behind him. He's got all of the local politicians, police, and officials in his pocket and the cover of respectability to gloss over his gangster past.

He's also got two soft and stupid sons who use his name in vain when dealing with organised sex traffickers from Albania who don't like being used. Promises are made in Richie's name and the Albanians want what they are promised.

When the sons fail to deliver, they take what they feel they are owed and Richie's peaceful new world is blown into oblivion. He's the sort of man that would usually have nipped such a threat in the bud with swift, untraceable violence. But he has a problem. Dementia is eating his brain, he's slipping back into the dark days of his past, he forgets where he is, who he's with, what he's done, and he's unaware of the danger his empire is in and how far his mind is lost.

At the point where he can deal with them and hope to salvage something, his mind goes off on a tangent and any plan for peace goes horribly wrong. Once his condition becomes apparent to the family, his sons are out for themselves. They have always used Daddy's name as a shield but now they have to stand on their own two feet.

The cool and business headed son has been beaten and raped by the gang into submission and compliance and the other is so far off his head on coke he just reacts like an idiot, doesn't think, and has now put the whole family in future danger with nothing to protect them.

Peter Mullan is excellent in the role. Despite his criminal past, you feel for him and his situation. He is like a monster one minute when he beats up one of his sons, and like a frightened child the next in his wife's arms as he begs for help in understanding what is happening to him.

The last episode is on this evening at 10pm. I'm expecting a great climax to the story but I hope like the last Channel Four series that I enjoyed so much Secret State it doesn't have the same disappointing ending.

I expected a better finale following the authentic feel of that political thriller but the fourth episode trailed off into fantasy land as it came hurriedly to an end which could have been handled much better.

I am not expecting to be disappointed by The Fear's ending. It certainly has far less to resolve than Secret State's convoluted plot and in some ways we already know that Richie's life is hanging by a thread. The slow moving bullet heading his way in the very first opening scene gives an indication of how he is going to end up. I suppose it just depends on who is behind the gun that fired it.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

WATCHING THE DETECTIVES




I'm really enjoying the new political thriller Secret State which I wrote about over at Robin Jarossi's Crimetime Preview blog.

There is just one episode left in the four part series and so much to resolve in the finale of this fast paced drama that is one of the best on TV in recent years.

Well, it does have a top rate cast, including the brilliant Gabriel Byrne, great production values, intricate and twisting plots, plenty of action and a premise too plausible to be comfortable so it's no wonder viewers are hooked from start to finish and left waiting impatiently for the next instalment.

I have taken to watching selective TV programmes on channel internet players such as BBC iPlayer or ITV Player or Channel 4 and 5 On Demand facilities and find it makes viewing much more rewarding. Checking through the TV schedule for Freeview listings often leaves me deflated as there are many days when there isn't a single thing on TV that I want to watch.

Tuesday was one such day and then yesterday there were three things on at about the same time that I would have missed had it not been for the watch again options on the web.

So I managed to catch up on Secret State, The latest Exposure update on the Jimmy Savile investigation, Crimewatch, and The Hour



I don't know how I missed the first series of this alluring drama which is about an early 1960s state funded TV channel news programme "The Hour" in a time when glamour ruled and journalists were prepared to take risks to get the stories that they actually had to leave the office to find.

It was also an era when women knew their place - the kitchen, the home and the bedroom - but also when women began to demand more and were beginning to be seen, by the enlightened anyway, as having much more to offer. I wonder though, in reality, if a woman would ever have made it into top positions such as the producer played by Romola Garai.

Crimewatch was it's usual real life mix of fear, violence, tragedy and sorrow. In all of the years that I've watched it - I still recall the first episode watched at my former mother in law's house in North Wales back in the 1980s - I've never been able to help having never witnessed any crime it's featured nor recognised any of the faces in the rogue's gallery. Perhaps I mix in the wrong company for that.

But if I could help then I'd love to be able to do something in helping to find Katrice Lee the two year old who disappeared from an Army base in West Germany on her 2nd birthday 31 years ago.

I hope that she was abducted and is still alive and well and happy because the alternative is too awful to think about.

However, that said, I can also imagine the trauma she must have suffered if taken. My grandson is stuck like glue to his mum and should she even leave his side for a second, then he has floods of tears. Should someone take him (God forbid) then I think he would die of a broken heart. I hope Katrice was not the same and even if she is still alive, her mum will never forget how her child was stolen by someone with no right to take her. I am sure every year and every birthday since has brought nothing but sadness, tears, hopes and fears.

This is Katrice when she went missing from the Naafi in Paderborn, West Germany in 1981.



And this is Katrice as she probably looks today as an adult.



As I said, sadly, I can't help but if you can, you know what to do and bring some peace to a family that has suffered three decades of hell.

Friday, 9 November 2012

PAT ELSEWHERE




I've been busy elsewhere on the internet and the magazine world of journalism this week starting with my thoughts on the Inspector Montalbano series which was featured over at Robin Jarossi's Crime Time Preview blog.

Millions of people love the show so there wasn't much controversial in the article but the same couldn't be said for my view on Stephen Tompkinson in the role of DCI Banks.

After more than a week of chasing my tail on features, better luck arrived this week but things have notably changed in my absence since taking time out on other projects including my MA course.

Fees have dropped since The Leveson Inquiry and the News of the World hacking scandal. Getting a deal that clients have been happy with has been a struggle but worth it in the end. Great stories are there to be told whether in real life or in the land of fiction and as a writer it's my job to tell them.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

MONTALBANO NIGHT



Image from here.

Tonight is Inspector Montalbano night and it doesn't bother me one bit that it will be the second time this week I've watched the same episode.

Lush Sicilian scenery with hot sun beating down on the landscape of rich colours glaring out from my TV and I'm there. It's a simple and entertaining escape from the cold, miserable British winter and the long dark nights ahead.

It won't last long so I'll enjoy it while I can. There are only two more episodes left in this series. Dishy actor Luca Zingeretti draws me in as much as the gorgeous setting. I've taken the other characters to heart too - Fazio, Augello, and Galluzzo.

The intellectually challenged, loyal and hardworking Caterella still amuses me but he has got to stop the repetitive slapstick fall through il Commissario's door every time he enters his office. It's getting a bit annoying. I'd like to see him developed a bit more.

I also find the melodrama a bit of a giggle when I'm supposed to empathise with the character's loss - such as when Beba and Mimi's young son, mini Salvo, went missing in an earlier episode and Beba overplayed the grief with lots of dramatic poses, hand gestures, facial expressions and faints - but then my mother was Italian and Melodrama was her middle name. Perhaps it's a cultural thing or maybe I've just lost the comedy intention in translation.

I guess I won't be alone curling up in bed with my glass of vino rosso and the Inspector on my iPlayer tonight. There's probably millions of other women like me looking forward to the weekly dose of hunk, sun and mystery and the opportunity to pick up a few simple Italian phrases such as "non lo so" (I don't know) "certo" (of course) "partire" (to leave) and if I'm correct "anche" which means also.

Most visitors to this blog have come via a search for "Inspector Montalbano" which I wrote about here at the time the last series ended in the UK.

It's obviously a very popular show in Europe and I hope another series will be planned in future. It's a shame it's not advertised better. I stumbled across the first series and the start of the second purely by chance.

CHASING MY TAIL



Image from here

I recently had help to launch a marketing purge in a bid to bring in some new real life stories to market to my clients in national women's magazines.

The response was amazing with many new leads created but it wasn't until I started to respond to the calls that I found myself in a whirl of making calls that just led to me chasing my tail for a good couple of months.

The stories were all great. There was the young couple who had been ostracised by their families because he dumped her friend for her and her parents thought he was a user and a waster but now they are happily settled down with a new baby on the way, all is forgiven.

Two things I always make clear is that the story must be original - it must not have appeared elsewhere before - and people must be prepared to be photographed. The couple agreed but at the point where there was real interest in their story, they suddenly decided they didn't want any photos used but they were happy to give me their words.

I explained again that the story would not work without pictures and so, without an apology, they just backed out leaving me with a week's wasted work in their wake. It's not such a big deal as it has happened before but disappointing none the less.

Then there was the uplifting story of forgiveness from a child, now grown up, whose dad - jailed for neglect because of the tragedy of falling into drug use - never got the chance to make things right because he was murdered in prison. There is so much more to say about this story but the lady concerned, who needs the consent of another family member, shied away because others were not as keen to share the story as she was. I hope she will change her mind and come back to me at some point as this is the most moving story I have heard in a long time. Either way. I wish her family well.

I can't even begin to list the respondents to the ad who gave numbers that didn't connect, those who never picked up at all despite several calls, and those who claimed "it wasn't me, you've got the wrong number" when I eventually made contact.

Then there was one lady who spoke to me about a poignant story of child abuse. All very relevant stuff as old traumatic and buried memories surface due to the scandal that is Jimmy Savile.

The horror stories being told about this alleged perverse DJ has reawakened nightmares of lost childhood innocence at the hands of others for too many of the 60s, 70s, and 80s generation although this respondent's case was not related to Savile or any other celebrity of the day.

I worked a couple of days doing some research and thinking of the best angle to approach this from and when I phoned the lady back to check details, ask about photos, I only got as far as saying that it was me when she hung up immediately. I did try again, giving her the benefit of the doubt that we got inadvertently cut off, but she didn't pick up. I guess some stories take courage to tell but those who do often find it a cathartic experience.

One touching story of triumph over extreme adversity did come to fruition. A sample photo was supplied, information provided, teaser written and approved, and then a moment of cold feet as the lady concerned suddenly questioned who she was dealing with.

She does trust me now, and trust is very important. I managed to assure her that I was genuine with many years experience of dealing with the national press and writing for magazines but after one rejection from a magazine which held her story for almost two weeks to consider, we now have to start the process again.

Magazine features can only work with consent of the person featured so there is never going to be case where I take details of a story and run with it. At every stage of the process it is important to keep the subject informed so that it goes as smoothly as possible to publication - and nothing comes back to bite us afterwards.

I now have a new batch of stories to chase and I can only hope they don't lead to yet another two months of chasing my tail and getting nowhere.

Meanwhile if you think you have a story that might work for a magazine feature then please do get in touch

And if you don't have one yourself, perhaps friends or family might so please feel free to share this post with all your contacts.

Although many people do not tell their stories just to make cash, magazines will pay regardless and with Christmas up and coming, any story commissioned now could lead to a nice nest egg to help with the festive expense.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

WRITING FOR RADIO



I've never written a radio script before because I think in screen visuals but I might have a go and enter this competition run by the BBC Writer's Room.

I attended a couple of their workshops at De Montford University while I was studying for my MA at Nottingham Trent and I found them inspiring, educational and enlightening.

I handed over my 10 minute script for consideration. I received a very nice reply but it wasn't one that impressed so maybe I'll have better luck with a radio piece.

The thing to watch out for when writing a radio script as opposed to writing for screen is the obvious. People listening to a radio show have to be shown what the actors are doing because they can't see them.

For example, you can hand over a cup of tea on screen and the viewer will see it along with the look on the face of the actor who delivers it and the one who receives it. Words are not necessarily needed.

On radio it's different so if that cup of tea is an important part of the action then it has to be mentioned in a way that conveys that action.

You could say : "Here's your cup of tea" and if you want to show character interaction and the relationship between characters then you can even add feeling : "Here's your cup of tea. I hope it flipping chokes you" or even : "Here's your cup of tea darling. I made it special just as you like it, milk first, nice and strong and as sweet as you are to me."

One thing you have to admire about all writers is their compulsion to write even if they think their writing will go nowhere but the bottom drawer of their desk.

Being a writer is a lifelong learning experience and a craft where experience brings expertise so it's time that I ventured into radio writing to see how far my skills will stretch.

To anyone else entering the Writer's Room Writer's Prize then good luck. We writers surely need it.

Monday, 13 August 2012

PLAYING WITH CHARACTERS


Image from here

After I had written this story about a woman leaving home after a row with her husband, I decided to think about what her husband would be doing while she sat on a train to London and ended up with Kev's Story below. I find it useful to play with characters like this and it will help me to amend and rewrite The Rings and finely tune the character of Jackie and what the story is about.

KEV'S STORY

Kev moved in to the mirror to get a better view of his nose. It was sore. Dried blood crusted around the edges of his left nostril and there was redness turning blue on the bridge. He opened the cabinet door. Inside was stacked with her body cream, potions and sprays.
He wondered why there had to be so much of this damn crap! It’s not as if she’s going to miraculously become 20 overnight and she looks fine as she is. They could hold a bloody car boot sale there was so much of it this shit that the kids bought her each birthday, Mother's Day and Christmas which she dutifully slapped on parts of her body both seen and unseen but mostly her face in a bid to iron out the wrinkles that had started to map deep lines on her brow and around her eyes and mouth.
His big hands thrust inside to grab a bag of cotton wool but the string at the top of the bag wrapped itself around the cabinet contents. They clattered out in a crash as he pulled the cotton wool out. Cream from a broken bottle crept across the tiled floor. He picked up tubes and jars and stuffed them back inside the cupboard, grabbed a fresh towel from the rail, and threw it over the greasy mess on the floor. He hadn’t been this angry with her since she washed his jeans with the lottery ticket in the pocket that time. He turned back to the sink, and dabbed at his nose with a damp piece of cotton wool and screwed his eyes tight, concentrating on making the intense soreness disappear. The pain reminded him of Jackie’s anger at finding that damn earring.

“I hate you,” she’d said as she threw clothes into a case.
“Ok, ok. Right. I’ll tell you,” He had to say something to stop her leaving. “I found it. I was going to leave it behind the bar. Honest!”
Jackie grabbed clothes from her wardrobe.
“I haven't done anything, you've got to believe me. This is daft.”
His constant denials just made her more angry. There was nothing more he could say so he threw a dart.
“OK. So could you blame me if I did? These days you're more frigid than an ice pole left in the freezer for a month.”
That’s when Jackie punched him. Just lunged at him with a clenched fist. It connected with his top lip. He felt the tooth cut into his gum. Then she came at him again. He pushed her back from him with one hand, and held her back with the other flat-palmed against her head. She swung her fists at the air between her arms and his body. He let go, she propelled forward and bounced off him, bumped his nose with the top of her head as he bent down to try and catch her. It hurt like hell.
He held his wrist to his nose and felt the rage rise as the blood trickled down.
“Well go then! Go on! Fuck you,” he’d said as he picked up scattered shoes and hurled them into Jackie’s case. It sat gaping open on the bed, clothes hanging over the sides. One shoe landed inside and the other hit the pillow.
Jackie pulled her grey shoulder length hair back into a furious knot. Her head must hurt. A lump had appeared but she showed no pain. She put the stray shoe in the case.
“Jackie. Look, I didn't mean it. Can't we just talk about this?”
He moved in at her back and tried to turn her to face him. He wanted to talk, it had all got so out of hand but she pushed him away.
“Get off me!” She turned back to the case. “The one thing we said Kev. The One Thing. We’d never, ever, go with anyone else - unconditional love and devotion - remember! No matter what else happened, whatever problems we had to face, we did it together; we’d always pull through … even after Liam…”
That was a bit below the belt. What the hell did Liam have to do with this?
Jackie’s voice wobbled into a squeak; she regrouped with a roar ; “And you just go off with some tart and for what, Kev? What? A one night shag? Is sex all that matters to you?”
He grabbed her arms, made her listen.
“Look I can't remember, all right. I was drunk. I've really got no idea how that earring ended up in my pocket. All I know is that I woke up with a banging head at Craig's place this morning and he drove me home. He had to stop on the way so I could puke.”
She turned to face him. The look on her face was somewhere between “I told you so” and “I'm never wrong.” Both usually preceded a lecture which came with contempt.
“Your phone rang me last night. Your mobile must have gone off in your pocket or something. I kept shouting helloo but there was no response and all I could hear was heavy breathing and the occasional female giggle in the background.”
“It must have been someone with Craig,” Kev protested.
She continued : “As you lay snoring like a pig this morning, I checked your pockets for your phone. I was going to recharge it if the battery had gone in case you hadn't switched it off. The last call was to our landline and it lasted 15 minutes before your credit ran out. I couldn't redial and make another call while it was connected. That's when I found the earring.”
She turned back to the bed and bent to fasten the suitcase. “And it's not just that. I'm not entirely stupid, you know. The late night “emergency” jobs that have suddenly come in these last few months. ”
“What are you on about?” Kev really didn't have a clue. “The very nature of “Emergency” means sudden. You should be pleased we've been busy. It pays the fucking mortgage.”
She turned full face towards him. Her dark eyes burned into him like flame throwers. “So what about the calls I've been getting. The “caller unknown” ones when the other end goes down as I pick up?”
Kev scratched his head. “Maybe it's one of those robotic promotion calls that try to sell you something like PPI claims and that.”
She shot him a look of disgust. “You've been behaving like an arse lately too. Something's changed. I can feel it.”
Kev looked puzzled : “Not from me it hasn't. Are you going through the menopause or something?”
Jackie curled her lip and flared her nostrils like there was a bad smell in the room. “Bastard.” She eased the suitcase from the bed.
“I’ve never been with anyone else. Ever. And believe me, it’s not as if I haven’t had the opportunity. Maybe I should have taken it. I wish now that I had!” She sniffed the air, pulled up the handle of the suitcase and wheeled it to the door.
Kev hung on her last words.
“Opportunity? Who? When?” He followed her downstairs, grabbed her arm to stop her leaving and she shrugged it off.
“Just fuck off, Kev. ”
“Jackie, please. You've got this all wrong. We need to talk about this.”
The door slammed and she was gone.

Kev looked at the mess made by the spilled face cream on the bathroom floor, swiped the towel through it, lifted it up in a scrunch and binned it. His head throbbed even more than it did when he collapsed on his bed that morning before Jackie woke him up demanding to know what he'd done last night. There had to be more to her leaving than just a bloody earring he couldn't account for. Maybe he had been out with the lads a bit too often lately as business had picked up, but the stuff about the calls and the change in their relationship seemed to be more of an excuse. He hadn't noticed anything different.
He wanted to go back to bed, to sleep, but too many thoughts circled like hawks. Whatever he had done last night he was sure he hadn't been with anyone else but this, whatever “this” is, was about more than Jackie's fear that he's having an affair. Blaming him for what she's doing would make it easier to leave. What did she mean by “opportunity?” Did she have someone else? Is that it? Is that the real reason she's left? But why did she mention Liam? He knew she blamed him for it but they hadn't talked about him in years. The wound had healed but left a scab and neither wanted to pick at it for fear of creating a festering sore.
He took a cold flannel and moved to the bedroom. It was a mess. The wardrobe doors on her side were still open. Unwanted clothes and shoes were scattered about the room. Her wedding dress was still in there and the black dress she'd worn at Liam's funeral which she hadn't worn since but kept as some form of grim reminder of her grief. If only she'd recognised his loss too. Liam wasn't just her baby. He thought she'd leave then. She only married him because of Liam but she stayed after they lost him and they had three more babies, all mums themselves now. Maybe even Liam would be a dad by now if he'd lived. Kev didn't want to think about that or what he would tell the kids about where Jackie was if they called. She'd probably call them herself to get her side in first.
He lay on the bed and put the flannel across his nose. The more he thought about it the more silly this seemed and the less it seemed to be about whatever he had done last night. What had he done last night? He closed his eyes and began to drift back to the bar.


“Still got it!” he’d said as he downed a whiskey and then followed it immediately by guzzling a beer down his throat in gulps. Deep voices chanted “down, down, down!” in a crowd as he competed with his work mates to get through the line of waiting pints. Beer drenched out of the sides of his mouth and soaked his shirt. He struggled to keep up with the game he used to play so well in his younger days when he went out every night while Jackie stayed home with the girls.
“What’s up old man? Can’t you hack it!” Craig lifted his pint and poured it with ease down his throat. He belched and reached for the next.
“You wait until you get married, mate. It takes it out of you.”
“What! Can't you get it up no more either, then?”
Kev spluttered and almost choked as Craig and his mates laughed. Bill, the other plumber who worked in Kev's small firm, cut through the teasing. “He's got a point, Kev. You're that mardy lately.”
“Don't you worry about me, pal. I've got no worries in that department and neither has my Jackie.”
Kev forced a smile. Maybe she just didn’t fancy him anymore. He hardly dare touch her these days. Always bloody tired! Another pint sank down the hatch. Bill went to get another round and Craig went outside to have a cigarette. Then those two girls walked in. He remembered that. The tall gorgeous looking one with big tits and her sumo-wrestler shaped mate. Then the room began to spin.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

ON THE DOT


Shorthand skills are essential for a journalist but in the world of business the speed writing craft appears to be on its way out.

I use Tee Line and my speed is at least 100 wpm, although I could be faster after 20 years of using it since I qualified. It's useful in everything I do, from taking and transcribing notes verbatim from several hearings and meetings, to jotting down ideas that tumble rapidly out of my head. These are the bones of any journalism or fiction story I write or idea I chase.

A discreet notepad on your lap rather than a voice recorder on the table between you when doing interviews is less intimidating to the person you're talking to. Shorthand notes are indiscernible to a layman so they don't worry about what you're writing down.

I used a recorder once in a face to face interview but it's presence closed up my subject who was guarded about every comment she made. I went a second time with a notebook and pen instead and she really opened up to me about she felt about the man who had killed her daughter.

Using a recording machine in court is illegal. I once kept one running in my pocket during a council meeting but the sound was too muffled to be of use when played back. A good recording of an interview or meeting can lead to wasted hours of rewinding to find the bit I want rather than a quick flick back to relevant pages with highlighted quotes I know I'll want to pick out.

That's why I prefer shorthand but I guess in today's modern technological world of instant communication, speed writing as an essential form of record taking is a dying craft.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

SPIRIT OF THE MARSH


The sun shone down on the 2nd annual Spirit of the Marsh festival which had a great atmosphere, great food, great music and marauding vikings.

The highlight of the weekend in Theddlethorpe was the procession of the Nordic invaders but there was plenty more on offer.


My other half was completely in awe of the vikings. I think it brought out the kid in him. He loved the longboat that carried the imaginary souls of 40 dead warriors. It was torched at the end of the procession so their spirits could be freed to Valhalla.

More photos are available HERE and the Mablethorpe Leader wrote about it too.


We were privileged to work as crew and earned our keep on car park duty. I'm not sure that my other half should have been given a Marshall vest because while wearing it he turned into a little clipboard and peak cap Hitler but as I'm more laid back to the point where I might fall over so we balanced out and gave good service with no complaints and a few good natured laughs.

The rain that drizzled on us as we pitched up our tent soon disappeared to leave a weekend of sunshine that got hotter as each day passed. It was truly glorious weather and a glorious event in a charming village I'd never been to before. I hope there are many more.

We will definitely be there next year come rain or shine. The Spirit of the Marsh is now a regular fixture on our summer calendar and it should be on anyone else's that likes music, fun, crafts, fire shows, beautiful countryside, camping, and great company.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

FESTIVAL TEARS, HUGS AND TALENT



Hurricane winds, lashing rain and soggy tents characterised the last ever EcoFest which began some 16 years ago in honour of the start of summer and ended with emotional goodbyes to one of the best community events on the local calendar.

I first went in 2007 when I reported on it for the Grimsby Telegraph. My fee was a free ticket. The paper didn't need freelance cover for the event thereafter but they did send in a photographer to take pictures to go with a few words from a press release or gathered over the phone via a chat with the organiser Susi Mulligan.

This year BBC Radio Lincolnshire visited to capture the atmosphere at this last ever event and interviewed a few people about what the festival meant to them.

My free pass continued after 2007 as I managed to get myself on crew working the gate. During the last five years I've seen some great bands and artists, including Jon Gomm who was there last year and whose sudden fame hasn't taken him away from local venues. He still counts The Jolly Brewer in Lincoln as one of his favourite places to play.

As much as I wanted to go to the stage at EcoFest this year, the downpour was just too awful to crawl from out of the blankets that kept me warm but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all of the bands from my tent including Lincoln based group The Validators.

It was real foot stomping stuff with an Eastern European flavour and the first time I'd heard the Russian sound mixed with reggae to produce something quite unique which you can hear thanks to the YouTube video I found and posted above.



Another one of my favourite bands is The Bad Apples from Grimsby. The band's guitarist is related to a friend who has worked on crew longer than me, the bass player rocks, and the lead singer has a powerful voice and a great stage presence.

They gave a message to David Cameron with the song Bullet with Your Name On, and the track Granny Takes a trip seemed apt for us older rockers - many brought their own kids to the first festival and had their grandkids with them at the last.

My other half sat and Eurovisioned marks to the bands. Like the European song contest, he awarded on politics and not the merit of the talent of which there was an abundance.

The Bad Apples, for example, didn't score highly for him because they were what rival Lincolnians call Cod Heads due to their Grimsby roots, and sadly the Validators, who would have won purely on the strength that they came from Lincoln, were marked down on my other half's scorecard due to the fact that they were more new Lincolnite and hailed from Derby rather than being an old Lincolnian born and bred in our home city.

The Bad Apples played a song in honour of Grimsby fishermen who lost their lives at sea and I could relate to that as my Italian ancestors were all fishermen facing those same dangers.



Merlin's Keep were another great band that defy you to stay seated and not get up and dance.

Links to other EcoFest performers over the years, including Sambalada, Starvin Sid, and the Rafters can be found HERE



There were lots of tears and hugs as the festival came to an end but for me they started on the first shift when I sat on gate with my friend Lisa and performer Andrea Ferguson who popped in for a chat during a quiet patch.

She spoke the words of a song that she had written in memory of her dad who died last year. Lisa, Andrea and I were filled with tears when she finished and then we all shared our own personal experiences of losing our parents, where we were when we heard the awful news, how we remember them and why such scars never heal if we can find a way to live with them and face them from time to time.

It was an intense, emotionally charged moment and all respect to Andrea for writing such powerful universal words that caused such cathartic and spontaneous grieving. I hear she has some possible gigs lined up in Germany and I wish her well with that.

It took Jon Gomm 20 years to become an overnight success and I wish the same for Andrea. A talent worthy of the same kind of recognition.

For the EcoFest crew sad that this will be their last gathering in June, they have the August festival Small World to look forward to on the same site at Badger's Farm, Asterby, Louth.

Word has it that now that EcoFest is no more, Small World will be bigger and better and in weather that is far more reliable at that time of year with lots of hope that the sun will shine on those who worship at the alter of damn fine music in the Lincolnshire Wolds each summer.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

FESTIVAL TIME


It's Festie time again and I'm off to the gorgeous Louth Wolds to EcoFest where I work for my ticket on the gate.

Great music, fantastic company, lots of laughs, and peace of mind characterise the event which starts on Fiday, June 15 and ends on Sunday, June 17th

Small and welcoming, as one who has been going now for six or seven years, I can testify that what they say about it is true :

"Visit once and you become a friend, visit more than once and you're family."

I hope the sun shines but who cares when you're surrounded by such dramatic scenery in such brilliant company.

A full report to come when I'm back, showered, dried out and caught up on the sleep I'm sure I'll lose.

Friday, 25 May 2012

GOODBYE BATTY





I had to have my dog put down yesterday. It's not the first time I've faced this. I've loved three dogs in my life before but there was something special about Batty. I fear I'll carry the sadness at his loss for a very long time.

He was born on 19th August 2003 and came to us in January 2004. I wasn't sure about having him at the time. We'd lost our previous family dog Spider, a sassi white staffordshire bull terrier, three months earlier and it just seemed disrespectful to replace her so soon.

 She was very much my husband's dog. I loved her of course but we never got really close. She loved him and I was a poor substitute.

When she died there was an emptiness in the house. The kids missed her. My husband  missed his evening's walk with her and the way she would faithfully wait, untethered, as he popped into the shop; the way she would pine for him whenever he left the house without her.

 The hole she left in our family motivated my other half to want another dog as soon as possible and when he saw a white boxer for sale in the local paper, he was determined to check him out and an hour later a gawky, clumsy, bouncy five month old whirlwind dragged my other half into the house and headed straight for me.

He stood on his hind legs with his front legs hugged around me and then he laid his head on my shoulder. I was suckered.



There were times when that special Batty hug was a comfort like no other living animal could give. My husband never bonded with him quite and in truth, he came too soon after the loss of Spider the Staffy which is why my other half couldn't love him quite the same but I adored him immediately. 

 Batty came to us with the name Bruno. I suppose because he was a boxer but he was more of a lover than a fighter and it didn't really suit him. During a fun mock boxing match with my other half, he remarked how Bruno fought like a Battyboy and the name stuck. He was certainly in touch with his feminine side. We still used Bruno when he was in trouble or when he needed the authoritarian voice. 

 Batty was just a huge mass of energy and he did everything with gusto. My other half had been used to walking Spider who would toddle along at his side off the lead. When Batty was first unleashed, my other half chased him for hours before he could get him back. 

 Batty was also sociable to other dogs but he irritated the life out of some by wanting to play and tease until they'd turn on him and then he'd gallop off like a horse.  There was a pond on the common where he walked. One day he hurtled towards it. We watched in horror as he sank in the middle but suddenly Batty bounced out of the water like he'd landed on a coiled spring and then took off with us chasing him again . I trained him to come back by taking cocktail sausages on the walk and rewarding him each time he returned. 

 His last owners wanted rid of him because he was destructive and had eaten through a settee. He was spoiled rotten there and they couldn't cope with him because he thought he owned the house. My other half has always been great with dogs because he treats them like dogs, not children, with respect, and lets them know who's boss and where the boundaries lie. 

 He chased Batty out of the house in anger one morning when we got up and found he had literally chewed the plaster off the kitchen wall down to the brick. Batty hid behind a bush in the garden and wouldn't come out for anyone but me and then I got one of those cuddles again. Perhaps he needed them too. 

 When we took him to the vet's for his jabs, we were told that as a white boxer he had a very short life span and would probably not live longer than 8 to 10 years. He was three and in his prime when we were approached about breeding him with a friend's female boxer. 

 We'd been told that if he mated he would calm down and it seemed a great idea to have one of his puppies from the litter. He was such a lovely dog that I wanted to be sure that his genes would continue and if we couldn't have him for long, then at least we'd have part of him for a bit longer.


 Toad was born at the end of August 2006 and came to us at six weeks old. Batty took him under his wing immediately and they became very close. Batty didn't have to prove he was top dog, Toad was happy to follow his lead.



They became inseparable. They slept together, walked together, ate together, drank together. When Batty stayed over at another Boxer bitch's house to mate, Toad was inconsolable. I wondered then if anything ever happened to Batty how Toad would cope. That night he paced and panted constantly and sat facing the door - waiting. He went loopy when Batty came home the next day.


The second litter of puppies Batty fathered were like mini clones of him and Toad. If only I could have kept them both too but at least I have their photo if I'll never know how they get on with their new owners and Toad and Batty were quite enough of a handful - except when they slept.



Was Batty ill then? It was only last year. We have no idea when he got prostate cancer. Dogs never complain and he never showed us he had a problem until last week when he suddenly stopped eating.

We wondered what the problem was but at first we didn't take it too seriously. He'd gone off his food before but usually when we changed brand of dog food. He was drinking water but when he still refused food the next day, and turned away from his favourite treats like bacon, sausages and cake, we began to worry a lot.

Our village vet is only open three days a week so Batty had been off his food for four days before we could get him in.  He went downhill rapidly. We had one sleepless night  wondering if he'd make it. The news when it came was the worst. The vet wanted to put him down there and then but my other half wanted to bring him home one last time so we could all say our final goodbye.

The last two days of his life were full of pain. He slept, drank water and puked continually when he didn't sleep. Toad paced the house for two nights whimpering as Batty lay there almost lifeless. It was pitiful. I wished he'd been put out of misery rather than coming home to say goodbye. That was for our benefit and not his and we shouldn't have put through that extra day. My last memory of him is the smile he gave me as I helped my other half lift  him into the car for the last visit to the vet.

 He didn't move as he lay on the back seat but seemed focussed on the scenery as  it flashed past the window as the car moved. He was a bit of a dreamer. There were  many times on holiday and in walks in the countryside when he would just sit and gaze out as if he was taking in the view.

His last breath was a sigh of relief . It was a comfort to hear. His time  had come and he was ready to go. Whether he and Toad had The Big Conversation in their own way during those last two nights can't be known but Toad seems to have accepted that Batty, his dad, is never coming back. He hasn't fretted, paced or whined at all but he is a much quieter and calmer dog now that Batty has gone.

Perhaps he's finally grown up. I'm dreading the thought that his time might be as short as Batty's  and now I know why boxer dogs are so energetic. They have so much life to cram into such a brief time on earth.

 Batty may have been here for just less than nine years but he will live with me and in my heart for lifetime and I am comforted to know that he gave us Toad who has his same gentle soul. He has lived in his dad's shadow since coming to our house and now is his time. I want to make sure that the years he has left will be the best of his life.

Monday, 21 May 2012

MISSING INSPECTOR MONTALBANO




I happened upon the Inspector Montalbano series quite by accident and I'm so glad I did because it's the best thing I've seen on TV for ages.

 I confess that the weekly dose of Sicilian sunshine was very uplifting during the grey and dreary Spring English weather with the prospect of yet another summer wash out on the horizon minus the handful of scorching days that are so rare this side of Europe.

 As much as the lush scenery, clear skies, yellow sunshine, golden sands, and Italian architecture was an attraction so too was the melodic Italian language that I love to hear, but struggle to understand, and the likeable characters despite their gentle machismo and sexism.

 Montalbano, played by Luca Zingaretti, is the sort of detective you want to deal with in real life should you fall under suspicion but you wouldn't want him as a boyfriend given the way he treats his girlfriend Livia. He once left her sitting in the car for two hours because he forgot she was there, and he even stole away back home from a weekend trip leaving her alone after failing to tell her they were only there because he was investigating something.

 He is fair, perceptive and just in his dealings. He doesn't always get his man - or woman - and sometimes just walks away, or deals out instant penalties after making a moral judgment about whether something is right or wrong outside of the confines of law.

 His side kick Mimi Augello played by Cesare Bocci always has women troubles and despite his sexism and belief that all women will fall for his charm, I still like him because his weakness for women is his Archilles Heel, his dealings with them often leaves him with egg on his face, and he always ends up going home to his long suffering fiance Bella - the sort of Italian woman you wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of.

 Most people can't help but be drawn to Caterella, the well meaning, incompetent, comic relief who appears in a fluster all of the time and anxious to impress the Inspector.

 He appears to be mentally challenged but everyone in this series has their strong points and for Caterella - the jester - it is his expertise in computers and his enthusiasm that makes him such a valuable, if somewhat annoying, member of the team.

 I like the fact that Montalbano uses his brain and clues in the old fashioned way to solve the crime rather than the polished and clinical approach of something like CSI where close up shots of science in action as DNA, or some other vital piece of evidence is magnified under a microscope to indicate who dunnit .

 Fazio, the God fearing younger member of the team and moral guide, is loyal, honest and hardworking and trusts his boss's judgement even when he strays over the line of legality.

 I have no idea when or if Inspector Montalbano will return to British screens with BBC Four but until then I do at least have a a whole collection of books to discover.

 Meanwhile, I'll be thinking about my own trip to an Italian seaside town this year when I hope to visit my Italian mother's family in Cecina Mare, Tuscany, where the sea is just as clear as Montalbano's fictional town of Vigata, the sun shines as brightly, and the community including my relatives and ancestors are as old as the town itself.

 Watching the series took me a little closer to my favourite place every week and now it's ended, Saturday nights are not quite the same.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

SILENT MAJORITY DENIED




I sat down to watch this week's Silent Witness crime drama only to find a repeat of Death in Paradise instead.

 I know there had been 500 complaints about a particularly nasty male rape scene in the second two part drama of the long running crime drama and I think the BBC got cold feet in showing the next  instalment, And Then I fell in Love.

 According to Silent Witness News the BBC has pulled it because it needs further editing and that's why they showed an old, but good, repeat last week and replaced it with something else entirely this week.

 I wonder if  that's because the Beeb is worried about possible violent scenes in the last two episodes that may prompt more complaints if shown in their current format that they've decided to tone them down a bit.

 If that involves recalling the actors and film crew then that would explain why it's now been scheduled to appear later in the year and can't be shown now.

 Personally, I found those controversial scenes very disturbing but no more than violent or sexually degrading content in many other series and films.

 I am very sensitive to such drama but I look away, put the kettle on, make a cup of tea and pick up the storyline when I get back to the room after the upsetting scenes have ended and moved on.

It loses nothing as far as plot is concerned and the fact that I know such characters are capable of such atrocities is enough for me. I don't need to see so much of them doing their worst.

  I can't write such scenes because I can't bear to be that close to violence. Sometimes I wonder if they need to be so graphic in telling a story (and sometimes I wonder if I'd have more success if I could write that way).

 I don't think the Silent Witness scenes were that graphic but they were cleverly written and acted so the audience was drawn into feeling the humiliation and pain of the victim  and could "see" what wasn't there.

 Why 500 people have nothing better to do than complain about an episode shown when all good kids should be in bed, and all nutters locked up,  is beyond me.

 The Beeb really should put this into perpespective rather than be forced into censorship. There are some 60  million people in the UK and 5.68 million who watch Silent Witness.

 The complaints, therefore, are miniscule in comparison  and don't reflect what the viewer generally thinks. Should we let the tiny minority decide and dictate to the majority who obviously don't give a damn?

 The BBC would appear to be going over the top in taking the responsible broadcaster position but in doing so it insults its audience's intellectual ability.

 Meanwhile, as a licence payer, I am shown repeats of an old series, which I enjoyed at the time but would now rather watch something new, and that is hardly value for money just because 500 people, who probably look for things to be offended about,  didn't know how to change channel or turn their TV off .

 I think the BBC should grow a pair, frankly.


Saturday, 31 March 2012

GETTING THERE - SLOWLY


The 90 minute drama I've been working on is almost completed but now the time has come to stand away from it for a while to think about what more it needs.

I sent it out to one agent last year who rejected it and then I put it away for ages to think about how I could ensure it had more impact and that "squelch" effect which is designed to make the viewer laugh, cry, or hide in fear.

When I looked at it again, I found there were far too many irrelevant scenes that seemed to be saying the same thing over and over without moving it forward and it was slower than a dragged foot so the pace needed to be stepped up a lot.

I think what that first finished draft showed me was who my characters were and what I learned was that, in the main, they are foul. It is a story about absent fathers, inadequate mothers, drugs, child abuse and murder but I can't help thinking that such a dark tale is perhaps not the right one to send out as a calling card to agents or as a script to production companies with a view to development.

The rewrites that have kept me busy over this last month have ensured that it does now move faster, the plot and sub-plot are more streamlined and focused, it does engage the viewer and the bad characters do get the retribution they deserve but I feel it is lacking in redemption. Maybe it also needs some comic touches to lift the reader from the depths of depravity that some of these characters live in.

I think there are also some bits of dialogue that could be more realistic so as much as I wanted to be able to send it out for consideration again after this latest marathon rewrite, I really don't think it is quite ready yet and now more time away from it is needed to approach it with fresh eyes and a fresh mind.

I am also working on other scripts including one that is far more lighthearted but that has not progressed as far as this troublesome 90 minute drama which aims to show how the old working class has become corrupted by the break down of normal family life and the easy availability of drugs.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

STORY THEFT.

(Image from HERE)

Oh dear. Writer Liz Fielding reports that someone has stolen her story which is not good news for those of us who are new to fiction writing and trying to find our feet.

It's hard enough to know where to pitch work and a it's a real slog in making contacts without having the fear that better known writers could actually rip off your work and present it as their own before you've even managed to get a foot in any publishing door either online or in print.

It seems it happens quite frequently but the Womagwriter's blog gives some hints and links on copyright HERE which might help if you suspect that a story of yours has been stolen.

Maybe I'll hold off from publishing more of my short stories up here until my fiction work begins to make more of an impact out there which seems a shame because while it's posted up here, I know at least that someone will get to read it.

Meanwhile, I'm busy rewriting my 90 minute script which isn't up here. I'm hoping to send that out to agents by the end of next week and then get back on with the 2000 words or more a day needed to push my crime novel along which has slowly begun to take shape even though the lion's share of the work still needs to be done.

At the risk of stolen ideas, I'll keep to myself for now what it's about.

Monday, 30 January 2012

FINGERS CROSSED


I've never entered a writing contest before but a friend told me about a 100 word Readers' Digest competition and so I thought I'd have a go.

The standard is high, judging from last year's entries, but I enjoyed the challenge.

Those who have read some of my fiction - below and in older posts - will know I'm more comfortable writing about 2000 words. Telling a tale with a point in just 100 with a clear beginning, middle and end was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done but I did it.

Whether my entry wins or loses, gets spiked or selected, I still claim success after achieving something I've never done before.

My fingers are metaphorically crossed as I await the Readers' Digest results. Meanwhile, I'll forget all about it and move on.