Tuesday, 29 January 2013
I've been sharing my love of the new detective drama Death In Paradise over at Robin Jarossi's Crime Time Blog.
Some viewers think it's naff but I like it because it's good fun. It's just one of many I've watched lately which includes Ripper Street, Whitechapel, Lewis, The Killing and Borgen. I'm also into criminals and detectives these days as I teach crime literature, creative writing, and I'm trying to write my own novel.
Today's sessions at the WEA held at Fydell House, Boston, were again great fun and I hope the learners had a good time too. It did end up a bit of a mixed bag this week with creative writing nudging into literature and literature worming its way into creative writing.
Both sessions looked at characters, themes and plots and both looked at the 3 act structure. I felt that would be useful for readers doing literature to understand how the novels they are reading are put together especially as Val McDermid's Trick of the Dark is specifically divided into three parts, while The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler and DCI Banks by Peter Robinson are not although they obviously follow that important structure.
The writing group looked at how to effectively critique their own and others' work. It's important to help shape the story as it progresses through drafts and keep it on track. This technique will, hopefully, be of benefit to the writers who are members of writing groups. We also looked at step plans for scripts as one writer had in mind a five minute short he wanted to create but it was a bit rushed at the end of the two hours which veritably flew past and there won't be another session.
I have five very keen learners but sadly not enough to ensure the course runs on after this first two weeks because we do need at least 8 people to make it viable for the not-for-profit WEA which must at least break even. We may be able to keep it going under other arrangements, or pick up and try again next term when the weather will be better and word about the course has time to spread.
Meanwhile, those who love crime as much as I do will join the literature group. We all decided that three novels are a bit much to study in 8 weeks. Even the most avid readers agreed. Reading them side by side could cause more confusion than clarity so it's something that does need to be addressed. I think it would be a very interesting experience to study the books from both a reader's perspective and a writer's. Are they really that much different? Perhaps they'll sit as uncomfortably as DI Poole and his setting in Death In Paradise. Perhaps not but we'll soon find out.
Anyone interested in joining the crime literature class in Boston or the creative writing class then please feel free to get in touch and Email me for more details.
Monday, 28 January 2013
Image from here
Yesterday I was lamenting my underemployed situation due to an industry I believe is in crisis only to find myself so busy today that my head was spinning.
I had a couple of stories to write up, both for online outlets, and a couple to chase up for features, plenty of paperwork to get through, and teaching plans for my adult education classes to finalise. They went really well last week and the learners appeared to benefit and enjoy themselves. I have one class of very keen readers, eager to study three crime novels, and one class of very enthusiastic and talented writers keen to learn more about how to shape their ideas into stories, scripts, books, and poems. Vicious freezing fog prevented some people from getting out last week which meant the Sleaford course was cancelled. Maybe it will be kinder tomorrow and even more will drop in for the courses at Boston where there was much more interest.
As I suspected, this busy period has hampered progress on my novel. However some rewriting on the seven rough chapters has taken place and now I know the story does not start with the running girl. She comes later. I've also done a bit more research on the type of murderer I'm trying to create but I reckon I will need to step up my writing pace if I am to hit that June deadline with a completed first draft.
Sunday, 27 January 2013
Image from here
Print journalism is dying and much to my despair there doesn't seem to be any attempt to try and revive it. Some local newspapers have given up, followed the money, or lack of it, and have allowed themselves to become pretty much irrelevant to their once loyal local readership. Others battle on against falling circulation and ad revenue but the writing is on the wall.
The prognosis is worrying. I reckon that they will all disappear within five years. All that will be left are knee-jerk propagandic nationals calling the tune of the few advertisers and sponsors they have left without realising that feeding readers rubbish is one sure fire way to keep turning them off.
There have been calls for Government to subsidise struggling newspapers but I can't think of anything more dangerous to the cause of a free press. If it isn't free then what's the point of having it at all because a subsidised newspaper will end up as just a Government or elitist or corporate mouthpiece. That is something not worth having.
But in truth I don't know what the answer is. My best suggestion might just be to get young people interested in news. Almost all new journalism students want to work in fashion, music or lifestyle but those who want to work in community news, or even investigative reporting, are very few and far between. News by press release is the norm now and most newspapers don't even try and hide the fact that they've allowed themselves to be fed because skeleton staffing in these hard times means that no one has the time to do more than take PR at face value and repeat it as God's honest truth.
I've spent the last couple of years beating myself up trying to understand why a qualified and senior journalist like myself, who was once in demand by every newspaper and local organisation in my home city, now can't get any work except for the odd scrap here and there that, frankly, I need to subsidise with real work like cleaning if I am to steer clear of claiming dole.
But I'm not the only one who still has much to offer who has been consigned to the scrap heap. I had a long conversation with a brilliant former colleague the other day. His investigations have led to breaking national news and the jailing of wrong doers among the elite following his very well researched exposés. He is in as much despair as me and despite his vast skills, he is now signing on and looking to move abroad to an Eastern European country because he just can't afford to live in the UK anymore.
There are still limited opportunities for freelancers like myself and those can be found, for now at least, in the glossy magazine market. No doubt aware of how difficult it is for good journalists to make a living these days, they are happy to exploit the situation to drive fees down knowing that our market is forever shrinking. That is how business works after all.
Journalism has moved to the web and the best among us make their blogs pay in a variety of ways. Others, who might be called hobby journalists, are currently doing a damn fine job of exposing wrong doing under the cover of pseudonyms as newspapers that have abandoned good journalism continue to take a nose dive towards oblivion or paid for "news."
Others might pick up a paltry living from sites like these but I am a little wary after getting caught out by one of the writing sites recommended.
They do sound good in theory but in practice when I signed up to one called Helium, I earned the grand total of 3 cents in a year, I lost control of the copyright to my stories that I posted up there, which Helium clearly made money on from advertising on the back of them. When I realised that I was being conned I tried to delete my work I couldn't. The best I could do was to delete my profile and the information I had put on there about myself.
Once bitten twice shy they say and so I'm not that keen to rush and see what "opportunities" await good writers on this sort of site although I am keen to investigate self e-publishing via Kindle or sites such as Lulu.
My best hope as a journalist now, as one who isn't in my early 20s, starting out, easily exploitable and cheap, is to develop the fiction side of my writing, finish my first crime novel and humbly ask readers of this blog that if you enjoy my writing ramblings on the home page, or my fiction stories, then please donate whatever you can afford to pay each visit using the new Donate button I've installed on the side bar.
You could also buy copies of my book Devils Let Loose. If you can't donate money to read my work, or don't fancy the book, then why not share this site and help me earn my living helping people with stories to tell and sell to what is left of the print media. Every little bit helps a lot.
Wednesday, 16 January 2013
Image from here
I really must get to grips with this Facebook and Twitter addiction of mine. Both are the major hurdles to overcome if my book is to get finished by my June deadline.
They are both dreadful distractions which I seek when looking for a place to hide from writing when things are not going well. I have a crisis of confidence at the moment that my characters are cliché and I need to do some thinking about whether I want to change them, give them different roles and relationships, or to keep going as they are to the end and then reassess the whole thing when a final draft is complete.
Sometimes though, I find very interesting things posted on social networking sites which can be an education in themselves such as the stories and traditions of the indigenous tribes of America.
Anyone who reads this blog will know that I love dogs and I agree with every word said about them being (Hu)Man's best friend and they way they react to people comes from the nurture or torture of their owners.
Dogs are teachers, healers, loyal followers, defenders, and guides. They love unconditionally, even when their masters are cruel, and they always give rather than take. Life without them would be unbearable.
Perhaps westerners don't generally respect the dog in it's spiritual form and often we get them for ourselves and our own motives rather than any notion of what is best for the dog.
But often even when they are as ugly as this they have beautiful souls. We still love and cherish them and maintain a spiritual link with the ancestor of the wolf even after they have gone no matter what they look like.
Blogging can also be a distraction but I resolved not to do any writing on the novel today because I am completely focussed on the start of my new course this evening. I want to be absolutely sure that it all runs to plan and goes smoothly.
Whether I will get any time to write at all this week is a matter for debate but then maybe taking a few days out will do me some good. I might see those characters in a completely different light when I get back to the screen, the keyboard, and the next round of intensive brainstorming.
Tuesday, 15 January 2013
Here is yet another picturesque scene from my morning run which didn't even put me out of breath today but only because I had to keep stopping. The paths around the block were too icy and the fields slippery with soggy mud so walking was much safer.
The run gives me time each morning to think about the tasks ahead and today I had yet more paperwork to do and my teaching plan for the WEA to finalise ready for the first of my creative writing courses which begin tomorrow evening.
One is held at Sleaford RC Church Hall on Wednesday evenings between 7pm and 9pm starting January 16 and the other is at Fydell House, Boston on Tuesday afternoons between 1.30pm and 3.30pm.
The aim is try and get people writing and confident to write. I'll be teaching them how to generate ideas, develop characters and themes, plus how to plan their writing and learn to critique effectively - which is always useful in helping your own writing to come along as well as that of other people whether the work is a short story, a script or a poem.
Fydell House is also the setting for the 20th Century Crime comparative literature course I'll be running from next week, Tuesday, January 20th, between 10am and 12 noon. We'll be looking at the crime novel past and present and comparing novelists Peter Robinson, Raymond Chandler and Val McDermid and how their work differs, or is the same in parts. Much has changed since Chandler penned his first novel in 1939 and it will be interesting to compare his work to that of the two modern bestselling authors - both, like Chandler, have seen their work adapted to the screen.
I hope the snow stays away, or at least doesn't get any worse. One thing that does put people off from going out is bad weather, especially on Lincolnshire's rural roads, and attendees are vital for the courses' success.
The Boston Standard gave the courses a mention HERE so if you live in and around the neighbourhood why not drop in and get involved. I guarantee you will be inspired.
More information about courses, how to enrol, fees and concessions, can be found at the WEA link above.
Monday, 14 January 2013
The snow has finally landed. It's been promising to arrive all week and last night it started. The odd light snow flake led to powder dust cover on the land yesterday morning, with heavier snowfall overnight which made running a bit tricky today. I managed to negotiate my way around icy patches but there were times when I had to stop and walk because it was too slippery underfoot. The run wasn't really challenging because of it but I still enjoyed getting out there.
It was a good job I went early because now the snow flakes are huge and sticking more easily to the ground. I do have a nice view from my office window, as you can see above, but I'm still trying to avoid distractions so I'll try not to stare at the fall for too long.
Distractions, or procrastination, plagued me on Saturday when no more than a few thoughts about dialogue between my flawed heroine Lou and her bully boss Sharp came to mind. I told myself off for not doing more and then set to work yesterday to try and move my crime novel along.
I now have six chapters framed so the beginning of the book is starting to take shape. I've been listening to my characters and adapting my plot slightly to ensure their world stays realistic.
Today, however, distractions are necessary because I have work to plan for my teaching that starts this week. I'm really excited about the creative writing and 20th century crime literature sessions I'll be holding for adults in the community. The journalism course is slightly different this year so there is much to do in preparation to ensure it all goes smoothly.
Meanwhile, my husband is not very keen on this thick snowfall. As he helpfully reminded me, our roof leaks. Although it was bodged to hold it up until better weather came, and the funds to fix it properly, the extra snow weight could mean disaster.
That's certainly taken the romance out of this year's picture postcard winter scene.
It snowed heavily all day and I tried not to look and dream out of the window, or worry about the roof which has held up so far, but stayed on course and got all of my tasks done. By the time my head came back up from my paperwork and computer, the snow had thickened and left quite a clichéd blanket outside.
I even managed to frame chapter seven of the novel. I reckon that now gives me a good start and the beginning of the middle of the story. I now need to go back and rewrite, make those chapters fit, and make them tight, and then it will be on to what I think will be the most painful part of writing as I tease out that middle and look towards the end of my story.
Friday, 11 January 2013
I ran this morning but stopped in my tracks half way round the block at the sight of a single flash of colour that burst bright pink through the fog. It was a cherry tree and the only one in flower. Two green and yellow finches (I think) were picking at the grass at its base. They scattered on my approach into nearby trees that had the first new black buds pushed up from naked branches.
It was freezing but I didn't mind standing around to take in what nature had to offer as I got my breath back. I got that weird fleeting sense of summer around the corner from Spring. It's a smell you can't put your finger on. It isn't a scent - more of a sense that things are changing and will get better in time even though winter is not quite done with us yet.
The windmill in the nearby fields looked like this the last time we had a very heavy snow flurry which is supposed to be revisiting us again. I wonder how I'll run in that. I pondered on it all during my usual breakfast of tea, toast and cigarettes and then set off on a productive working day.
I finished the first draft of chapter three and outlined the scene for the next one. I've got my victim Jo where I want her but I need to get into the mind of her captor. He doesn't say anything in that scene. His actions speak louder. All I will say is that he doesn't rape her, he seems to have no interest in that. He hasn't shown much of himself yet. Perhaps I was in too much of a good mood to get into a degenerative mind so I left him and Jo for now to pop back to Lou's world to see what she's up to.
Chapter four sees Lou is in the office with Sharp, her obnoxious hard-nosed editor. He's more worried about the town's elite and advertisers than hard-news and he blames everyone else for falling circulation figures. He's sadistic, greedy, and cruel. He enjoys humiliating his reporters and making their lives difficult.
I've got to lead Lou into the investigation and forward into the middle of the story. The characters are galloping onwards but I'm not sure they're going anywhere so I have to rein them back in line with the plot. I'm prepared to be flexible if parts don't work for the characters as they develop, but I must ensure that they do go forward and this book has action and purpose. I must not fall into the trap of allowing just an array of characters to strut their stuff.
I'm working from the beginning on the 20,000 words I've got down so far. The devil is always in the detail but planning in scenarios that I've imagined so far doesn't always fit the tune the characters sing as they go.
The chapters and their content will change. For example, should that running girl be seen first? Perhaps that escape could come later. Most critique I've had on this book suggests the setting is the strongest feature so I might start there. Some readers like to be led to the action gently rather than taken to the heart straight away and others like to see the crime first and then how it's solved. I suppose all of this will play out as the story progresses and the time comes to look at the best way to present it.
I'll think on that a bit more when I go out on my run in the morning and then see where my writing takes me when I get back into my story.
Thursday, 10 January 2013
I love the lamp that I got for Christmas but it does remind me of the promises I made to myself to stay on track and write my first crime novel.
Today is, after all, the day when most annual resolutions are broken.
I didn't run this morning and I haven't written a word or had a thought about my book. After a staff meeting in town I had errands to run, and a few calls to make, so I excused myself because I did a fair bit of walking instead.
I didn't write because my head was filled with tasks of the day which included sending off a copy of my book Devils Let Loose to a publisher to consider a re-write and a re-publish. I'm also researching another writing business project that I'll need publishing help with so thoughts and ideas on that have taken up most of my brain space.
Sadly, what bit was left was used to distraction on Facebook. I enjoyed a discussion about my exotic lamp but I also got involved in political debates when I promised myself that I would steer of that subject this year.
I blame Twitter for drawing me in after work - but then if it hadn't, I wouldn't have known that today is the day that I was destined to break the pledges I made to myself.
Ah well, we're all human. Tomorrow I'll get back on with the job and that is to write up the scenes I've created so far for the novel and see where they fit into chapters.
Wednesday, 9 January 2013
Chapter Three has begun but I haven't posted it because there's more work to do before I can call a first draft finished. It follows the (now improved chapter two) argument between Lou and her ex Neil, who asks for her help, and it revisits the running girl whose desperate bid for freedom opens the book, and who we later learn is Jo - the sister of Lou's love rival Jacqui.
We see Jo waking up to find herself back where she started, wanting to be defiant and not give in, but overwhelmed with complete despair. I'm trying to get inside her head so the chapter is filled with all that convoluted stuff as I work my way in to the crux of her dilemma.
There are some clues as to why she is there but I'm not sure yet how much I want to reveal about that. As I explained in the post below, it's still important to get it down and then I can think about where in the book I want to get it out.
I want readers to know Jo's alive but I also want them to feel her fear and sense of lost hope that she isn't going to escape from this. Jo is strong, so she won't give up easily in her fight for life, but I only want to give bits of the picture and build up the danger for Jo so the reader fears for her throughout the book as my flawed heroine Lou stumbles her way to solving the mystery.
Lou finds the old murders that have started again after a 10 year break, of mutilated women killed in their own fire ravaged homes, is relevant to Jo's disappearance. By following the plot thread from one end, Lou will take the reader to the other end of the book and find out whodunnit and why. Those things I know but what I don't know yet is how my characters will react to the journey ahead of them in finding that out too. Today's writing has been an exercise in testing what I have in store for Jo and what characteristics she needs to cope with that.
Real work beckons tomorrow and Friday so time for writing will no doubt be brief. My busy period is about to begin so I need a new writing routine. When I studied for my MA, I worked all day, came home, had tea and then worked all night. I think this book will take the same kind of dedication if I am to stick with it to the end and reach my June deadline but at least these skeletal chapters are helping me on the way.
Writing can be murder so it's no wonder that the crime genre fascinates me the most.
Tuesday, 8 January 2013
Image from here
I've had some useful feedback on Chapter One and Two of my crime novel over at the Writer's Café with honest, harsh and encouraging criticism given freely by two separate reviewers.
All my usual sins are mentioned such as cliché, galloping or moving on at a snail pace, syntax and sentence structure, bad grammar, convoluted writing or over descriptive scenes. I agree with most of it and I know I'm guilty of complicating or cluttering up scenes that would have more impact with a simpler approach. I think I'm still at the stage of getting it down as it tumbles from my head, rather than getting it out into a structured and engaging story but my voice is in there and will, eventually, come out from the debris.
Often the creative side of my brain ignores grammatical demands and the need for fine prose as I write. Addressing those aspects comes much later in the process for me. It's just the way I do it. Of most importance when I start any project is to the get ideas and thoughts down that later develop into characters, plots, and themes. Next is to worry about the technical aspects of how they all fit, interact and come together to tell the kind of story that has the reader gripped and wanting more. Stereotypes or clichés help me to recognise what I'm creating as it goes down but I take the margin further into originality as I try to get it out and that comes after the initial sketch. I think that's where both chapters are at present - half sketches of the first design stage of the foundations of my project.
Convoluted sentences and clutter that amass as I write will be culled as the fine artwork of the book develops. They're really strings of thought that help me to feel my way through the story and the experiences of the characters. The stuff I hate to lose is stored in a "Redundant Info" file to be used elsewhere in the same project or in another if it fits.
I'll bet all writers see their glaring faults after a break from the intensity of getting their ideas down into some form of structure when they go back time and again to tease out and show, in the best way they can, the story the are trying to create.
Useful as it was, the harsh criticism over at the Writer's Café put me off writing today. Writing hurts as any successful or amateur writer will testify because so much emotion or passion is invested in it. Keeping updated blog posts on my novel's progress means I have a duty to stick at it and not get put off at the first hurdle. Tomorrow I will start chapter Three and move ever onward to the desired end of 300 decent, workable pages. I need new chapters, however convoluted and clichéd, to inspire new thoughts and words with hopefully more purpose and direction as my story unfolds and reveals more about how to get to where I want it to go.
In other words. I'm still getting it down but it may be some time before I get it all out.
Monday, 7 January 2013
Image from here
As I suspected Grandaughter No 1 wasn't that keen on the morning run when she stayed overnight at the weekend although she did want to come out with me and did.
It was cold and foggy and we ran a quarter of the way around the block when she announced that she'd had enough of running so we walked but as it was very cold she couldn't wait to get back to the warmth of home.
"You know you don't have to go out and run Granny," she told me. "You can stay in and just do star jumps."
She then proceeded to show me and said, probably much to her very busy mum's consternation, that she was going to do them herself every morning and get mummy to do them too.
Star jumps don't build up stamina and staying inside to exercise is not as nice as going out and tasting the cold air so my regime continues. Sadly, my writing today has fallen away but only because of other work that has taken precedence.
A feature due to appear in a magazine in a couple of weeks' time looks like it might fall through for legal reasons which is a bit of a blow but these things happen although it has put me off freelancing features and why I'm looking for a more permanent,stable and reliable position where I can enjoy using my writing skills on a daily basis.
I'm also working on my teaching plans for the adult education course I'll be running from next week until March and of course my University journalism part time teaching course which starts again in the middle of this month.
I did, however, finally manage to get the first two chapters of my crime novel loaded up on the Writer's Café site so that is still progression of a sort I suppose.
Meanwhile, as my workload over the next three months begins to build up then writing on my novel will have to eat into the evening hours if I am to stick to my regime.
If only writing was as easy as star jumps, I could get Grandaughter No 1 to do it for me - especially as she has told her mum that when she grows up she wants to be a writer like Granny and do shorthand.
Friday, 4 January 2013
I've been alerted to The Writer's Café thanks to a helpful Twitter contact who suggested it was a great place to share reviews, get feedback on fiction work, and connect with publishers.
I had a go but got frustrated when it didn't appear to acknowledge that I'd posted up two chapters of my book. Unsure of where they may have ended up in the cyberspehere, I decided to delete my newly created account. I couldn't work out how to use it so there seemed little point. Then my contact told me that the site is "old IT" and the biggest key to gaining benefit from it is patience. I've reinstated my account so I'll just wait and see what happens next.
Meanwhile, I had hoped to work on creating chapter three tomorrow but it doesn't look likely as Grandaughter No 1 (of 2) is coming over to stay. She loves coming, we love having her, and her mum and dad need a break as her little brother, Grandson No 1 (of 2), is poorly with teething.
I don't know whether she will join me for my morning run after she wakes up on Sunday morning, as she's only 6 years old, but I suppose she might enjoy a muddy stroll in the fields.
This new regime of mine must be doing me some good because I'm starting to ache in places I'd forgotten existed. No pain, no gain as they say - and that includes overcoming the frustrations of joining a new community for writers.
The fog wasn’t as thick or as frozen as last night but the air was damp and grey. Gloom hung over the top of the two-up two-down terraced houses on one side of traffic dirty Victoria Street and the four storey houses on the other, some broken up into bedsits, some developed into student flats and others into high rise executive apartments. Fencing with a bent panel for vandals to squeeze through cordoned off the barren land and brick foundations of where the old second hand shop once stood between a refurbished dentist’s surgery on one side, with thick cream blinds in the window and brass lettering on the door, and the corner shop on the other advertising tobacco, sweets and newspapers with a big Fakham Herald Sold Here banner in the window. A big sign informed that the land had been sold and was awaiting development like many others in Fakham which hadn‘t quite reinvented itself before the crash came and money ran out.
Lou Weekes sat waiting for the lights to turn green. Things hadn’t really changed in a century, she thought. In the old days when men worked 14 hours a day in heavy engineering factories littered across the city, they paid rent to their wealthy industrial employers who lived in the big grand houses on one side while their workers shared the smaller overcrowded houses on the other with their families and lodgers who helped to make ends meet. Then, despite the poverty, the houses were pristine. Lou once interviewed an old woman who’d lived down there before the war who told her how they used to be in competition with their neighbours. The best housewives were always out early scrubbing the front door step. The modern white British poor on benefits and immigrants rented rooms in those now shabby looking houses and the only people on front door steps were the heroin addicts begging for “a bit of small change please.”
Grubby dust and nicotine stained nets hung in some windows. Others had panes broken out and cardboard strategically placed to stop the cold from getting in. Of course the new professionals on the regenerated side of the road were always complaining about those on the old side to the council and the Herald and anyone else who would listen about anti-social behaviour from the drug addicts, paid sickness benefit to get high on heroin or morphine every day, and the Eastern Europeans who had recently moved into houses that the professionals termed sheds with beds because they were so overcrowded.
The Polish, Lithuanians, Romanians, Russians and Czechs worked hard on the land in the neighbouring agricultural countryside, spent little, lived in cramped conditions in hope to send as much money home to relatives as possible so it’s no wonder they went outside to smoke, to chat, to socialise, to breathe fresh air, to drink cheap beer and vodka on the street because the pubs were now too expensive and exclusive since the bloody awful smoking ban that Lou despised so much. But such behaviour wasn’t in keeping with the new vibrant and middle class city the bourgeoisie council and the developers at Fakham Associates were trying to create. Wretched and poor people littered the area and gave it a bad name when Regeneration was the new buzz word on everyone’s lips which, it seemed, included regenerating the people who lived in the area if they weren’t quite bourgeoisie enough. But not all of the locals wanted it in traditional working class, and now largely underclass or professional class, Fakham. Change was coming fast, too fast, for the town which had altered more in 10 years than the previous 100.
Lou’s hands were on the steering wheel. She tapped her fingers impatiently, turned her wrist inwards and looked at her watch. If she didn’t get to her desk within the next five minutes, news editor Andrew Sharp would literally have her guts for garters. He was a nasty piece of work who could slice out your kidney before you’d realised you’d been stabbed in the back. She hoped he’d move on soon. That sort usually did even though their talent was always claimed on the back of good journalists who did the real digging and legwork for the great stories he claimed credit for and sold to news agencies for the few extra hundred quid each week that he didn’t deserve or earn.
She pressed her foot hard on the accelerator as the lights changed, turned onto the south end of High Street past the entrance to the alley that linked both ends of town, and then slammed down hard on the brake. A pedestrian shot out and had taken a chance at running through the red man at the crossing. Everyone was in a hurry it seemed. Lucky for Lou, and the idiot in a baseball cap and trainers, she was on the ball this morning when she had no right to be after last night’s session with her best mate Munday. They’d shared a few spliffs, a few giggles, Munday had played her his latest composition on his guitar and she knew when she crushed the last of several joints out at 2am, and then got up late this morning, that she’d have to hit the ground running. Munday’s cold shower helped to wake her up. The near miss with the pedestrian had certainly cleared the haze from the dope smoking but she was trembling at the thought of what would have happened if she‘d hit that man.
Instead of thanks for her rapid reaction that saved the dickhead’s life, the pedestrian in a matching off white track suit with black stripes down each leg and sleeve, looked back as he got safely to the other side, lifted his arm, faced his hand outwards and then raised his two index fingers and split them apart into the sign of a V and flicked. His profanity was no more than mouthed words drowned out by the noise of the busy traffic travelling up and down High Street in a rush. Lou’s heart still pounded at the near miss. Her whole body shook in rhythm to it’s forceful beat and she knew it was the dope that had made her so anxious. A horn sounded behind her. But she needed a minute to compose herself. She sat back, blew out a huge sigh, reached for a cigarette from the well under the gear stick, a lighter from the dashboard and then lit up. She drew in a long draw and then exhaled with a huge pleasurable sigh and allowed the tension to drain away. Cigarette bouncing from her mouth, she pushed the car into gear and prepared to move on as the bloke in a suit in the car behind continued to pap his horn and make rude gestures at her that she could see in her rear view mirror. Everybody seemed in such a bad mood these days and she was no exception especially where Sharp was concerned but he was her boss so she’d have to button it.
A volley of profanities burst forth from Lou’s jacket pocket in an infantile, squabbling and offensive tirade, as she turned off the car engine in the Fakham Herald car park. She’d forgotten she’d changed her ring tone last night to the offensive cartoon show’s rude joke theme in a moment of high giggles with Munday who had Bluetoothed it to her mobile for a shared laugh. She knew she’d have to change it back, it wasn’t exactly “appropriate” for a professional who could be sat in an inquest hearing with grieving parents one minute, while talking to a headmistress about an infant school nativity the next, but she smiled in recognition of the caller.
“Hi Neil. What you got for me? Something I could use as a spade, I hope.”
Most hacks would kill for the kind of special relationship between Lou and DCI Neil Worthy from Fakham CID - if they didn’t kill each other first.
“What you been up to this time? I always said you were like dog shit - you spread everywhere.”
“Very funny. I’m just running late and his lordship is bound to have a go. So what’s new?”
Lou banged the car door shut and the blip as she locked up remotely from her keyholder sounded. She turned her back to walk towards the metal door in the three storey purpose built Fakham Herald building which a handful of staff occupied since it's printing presses went and it downgraded from daily to weekly in line with falling circulation figures. Everyone got free news from the internet these days so they didn't buy newspapers - or as newcomers to the city they had no real interest or affiliation in community news from a town that they were mostly passing through with no intention of laying down roots.
She paused before pressing the combination of keys that would allow her inside and pulled out her cigarettes from her bag instead. She pinched one out, put it to her mouth and lit up.
“You’re still smoking then?” Neil said as Lou blew out.
“Yeah, don’t tell me you can smell it over the phone now too - isn’t that called fourth or fifth hand smoke or some rubbish?“
“I thought you were running late.”
“I am. But I need the extra five minutes I haven’t got this morning after a dickhead ran out in front of my car and nearly got himself killed and me done for causing death by dangerous driving. But you didn’t phone to talk to me about my smoking, I’m sure.”
“No, but it’s why I left you.”
“Oh fuck off Neil. Her name was Jacqui and we both know it.”
She fiddled with her bag, put her keys inside and held her cigarette pack and lighter in one hand as the phone was held to her ear in a hunch with her shoulder attached to the hand and two fingers that pinched around the cigarette she was smoking.
“I was joking so please don‘t start on about Jacqui. I‘m trying to do you a favour here. You know damn well that cigarettes I can handle but a police officer living with a wreck head was only ever going to be career suicide.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. If you say so. I'm not going to argue today. I haven't got the will or the time.”
“Oh do grow up Lou. You’re not a teenager anymore. You're a middle aged woman. Drugs are bad. End of. There's nothing to argue about.”
“Look, what d’ya want Neil? Did you just phone me to have a go or have you got something I can use this morning?” She rolled her eyes and hooked her bag onto her shoulder.
“You heard about the fire?”
“It’s on the website but it’s being reported as arson with one fatality.”
“Well, thanks for telling me. My car radio’s knackered and I haven't had time to listen to the news this morning which wouldn’t have gone down well with Sharp."
Lou imagined the way his lip curled and his nostrils flared in contempt at any reporter who arrived at work not knowing the day’s breaking news in advance and then he‘d go on about it all day, with little digs here and there about how news reporters who haven‘t got a clue what‘s in the news should be working in PR or stacking shelves. The thought stuck in Lou’s throat and made her gag. Jacqui had her own PR company and she sure as hell was doing better out of that than Lou as a weekly newspaper reporter who had struggled to pay her mortgage since Neil moved out. She might well earn more working in a supermarket than a newspaper always looking to make cut backs.
“But that’s why I’m phoning.” Neil said. “It’s more than a fire but the press doesn‘t know that yet. The fire was set deliberately – and Barings is going to paint is as vandalism to keep the press off his back - but it was set to cover up a murder and the initial autopsy has found injuries similar to Maureen Casey’s and Susan Drake‘s”
The phone fell. Lou reacted quickly, did a jig, and saved it from crashing to the floor, sacrificing the cigarette packet to a puddle on the ground instead.
“But they got Simon Gillespie for those didn‘t they? “ She bent to pick up the pack and shook off the excess water, hissed, and rubbed the packet dry along the side of her black fleece jacket. “And I thought the police were not reinvestigating after Gillespie was freed on appeal because they were so sure he‘d done it? “
Neil tutted and blew out a heavy sigh: “That’s the problem. It looks like it's come back to haunt us and this time Gillespie has an alibi. There is a press conference this afternoon but Baring isn‘t going to mention the link because he doesn‘t want to have to deal with the criticism even though we in CID think he should so you‘ve got to ask the right questions and get it out into the open because we need witnesses. I’ve got to get to the scene. Baring’s on the warpath. He was late himself this morning and is as angry as hell, barking out orders to everyone. You’re not the only one with an arsehole for a boss.“
Lou smiled : “At least we still have something in common then,“ she said. She fiddled in her jacket pocket and brought out a small engraved circular tin. She pressed a pin on the edge and it popped open to reveal a well used pocket ashtray. She stubbed her cigarette out on the black ash charred inside surface and clipped it shut again.”
“Come down to the scene. It’s Hermit Road. Forensics are there now. But don’t let on to Baring that I told you about it. There won't be any other press there so this is exclusive.“
“Cheers. I suppose you want something for that.”
“Well, you could pay me back tonight. 7 o’clock in the Painter’s Arms. There’s something I want to discuss.“
“Make it The Noose at 9 and I might consider it. What's it about?”
“Jacqui's sister has gone missing.”
“Fuck Jacqui. What‘s her sister got to do with me and why should I care?”
“Lou, this isn’t about Jacqui, you or me, but a 17 year old girl who hasn‘t been home or seen by anyone in two months and a chief superintendent who doesn‘t think her disappearance worthy of investigation.”
Wednesday, 2 January 2013
I'm looking forward to watching part two of the BBC's Victoria's Children this evening and I think I've earned the luxury of iPlayer in bed after a successful first day of my new regime.
I ran this morning despite the rain which would normally put me off getting out in the country in summer never mind winter but I felt determined. Don't get me wrong. I'm no Olympic hopeful, I doubt I'll be entering this year's local 10k run, but a gentle jog combined with a brisk walk is a refreshing way to start the day and, like my novel, I hope to build up my stamina bit by neglected bit as the year progresses.
I also managed to achieve almost everything else I set out to do by the end of today - except for starting work on the crime novel's chapter 2 second rewrite. An exciting freelance opportunity came up that needed attention instead but I've still progressed with the novel even if I haven't worked on the bit I intended to address.
Fiction writing and ideas don't always come to me when I want them to. I can sit at the computer for hours staring in vain at a blank screen while trying to avoid distractions like Facebook and Twitter. Later, when I'm not thinking about it, ideas, scenarios, characters, and bits that fit with my plot development come to me. That's when I stop whatever I'm doing, grab a pen and a notebook, and write until my mind is empty. This is where my 2000+ new words come from every day. They are just some of the bricks I'll be using for the foundations of what will ultimately amount to a huge construction project. Likewise they act as the sketch of a painting that has yet to add it's hues, shades, nuances and light to create an overall image.
Parental relationships with children and the Nature/Nurture debate are themes in my book which is another reason, apart from my interest in history and the Monarchy, that I'm looking forward to the second part of the programme examining how Queen Victoria treated her kids and how they responded.
The ever cynical Philip Larkin has his own universal views on that :
They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn By fools in old-style hats and coats, Who half the time were soppy-stern And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as early as you can, And don’t have any kids yourself.
Tuesday, 1 January 2013
I love running but it occurred to me late last night that it's been a while since I ran regularly so I thought the time had come to get off my backside and start again and that's just what I did first thing when I got up this morning.
Of course today is a holiday so by "first thing" I don't mean at sun up but rather 11.30am after a leisurely wake up following my usual two cups of tea in bed which help to set me right for the day.
I'm lucky to live in such a lovely area with fields and footpaths running at the back of my house with just an old windmill and a Norman Church in sight across the flat landscape. It's like having a ready made track on my back doorstep.
Of course motivation to get out and run is stronger when the sun shines like today rather than when it rains, snows or blows, but I'm going to attempt to stick to my new regime of running in the mornings, followed by a great big bacon and egg bap, more tea and a cigarette, then several hours at the computer writing until I finish the task I've set myself this year to write my first novel.
Happy New Year to readers and writers. Whatever your goals or dreams, I hope this is the year they're realised and come to fruition.