Tuesday, October 23, 2018

near Jardin du Luxembourg

So walking from 'home', my friend's father's apartment near Montparnasse, to meet Rae - she organized SF Bouchercon - the light fell in such an amazing way.
 A shot through the lion's legs to le Senat
 And this unexpected swoop from a pigeon
 Here's Rae in the 5th where she likes to stay near the Sorbonne
 Walking back past the Pantheon
Stopping at Penelope's bookstore the Red Wheelbarrow which she opened two months ago - it's at 9 rue de Medicis just across from the garden. I've known her for years - since our kids were little - and we had so much fun trying to figure out how to Instagram this photo while greeting customers
 Returning I saw a light in le Senat....someone was working late!
 And a couple walking down the narrow rue where I defenestrated someone in Murder in Saint Germain
Yes, this was F. Scott and Zelda's place for a while in Paris.
Cara - Tuesday 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Japan Sojourn

Annamaria in Japan, with Susan

Here is a more or less chronological pictorial account of my first couple of days with Susan, touring and climbing mountains in Japan.

The journey began with a couple of spectacular days in California.

Then it was on to Tokyo:

Need I say more?

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Sound of Silence - the wilds of Finland


Finland in October. I’ll be honest—I was hoping for snow. Maybe not in Helsinki itself, but certainly out in the wilds of Karelia where I spent the second half of my brief trip. Alas, it was mild, even by UK standards, and there were only a couple of days when gloves were a necessity, never mind full polar explorer wear.

Finland is known as the land of a thousand lakes, and for good reason. In fact, there are just shy of 188,000 lakes, so flying into Helsinki it was like looking down onto an intricate paper doily. I expected fir trees—nearly 70 per cent of the country is forest, after all—but not the amazing amount of silver birch, with their startling pale bark and their leaves turning shades of yellow and copper and gold.

And the silence.

The silence had a quality all its own.

Helsinki was as busy and bustling as you’d expect any major city to be. It’s easy to forget, when you’re there, that for a country that is in area the eighth largest in Europe, it has only around 5.5 million people. (To put that into perspective for me, there are over 8 million people in London alone, and 66 million in the UK.)

Out in Karelia, to the east, I was less than a hundred miles from the border with Russia. It felt remote, perhaps because I was intentionally without a car, although there was a canoe and a rowing boat at my disposal.

The small wood cabin where I was staying was incredibly well insulated, which made it very warm—and quiet—inside. But even outside there was little to be heard. Across the whole of Finland, there are only 17 people per square kilometre. I doubt I saw more than half a dozen in the time I was there, and that includes the pair fishing on the lake outside my window.

Normally, I like quiet. I’ve spent time in the middle of the Jordanian desert, and at sea where you’re days away from the nearest land and at night the stars go all the way down to the horizon in every direction. But I confess I found the isolation on this trip a little unsettling as far as getting on with writing was concerned.

Perhaps it was the woods that surrounded the cabin, or the still water of the lake, reminded me too much of all those Scandi-Noir thrillers and I kept expecting the Worst to Happen. Or perhaps I’m too used to pet-sitting on these foreign trips, so was unsettled by not having something with four legs and fur to divert my attention.

Either way, it was a fascinating exploration of another culture, and one which will, no doubt, find its way into a book in the near future…

This week’s Word of the Week is adumbration, which is to give only the main facts about something, a broad outline, particularly something that will happen in the future. From the Latin adumbratus, sketched or shadowed in outline. It can also mean to overshadow something or partially conceal it.

I have been invited to take part in Noir @ The Bar London ‘Chilled To The Marrow’, which takes place on Monday, October 22 from 7:00–10:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:00 p.m.) at The Urban Bar, 176 Whitechapel Road, E1 1BJ. The line-up is Susi HollidayWilliam ShawMark HillDerek FarrellJay StringerJA MarleyAlex CaanBarbara NadelZoë SharpLiz (Elizabeth) MundyCaroline (Caz) FrearFelicia Yap, and a Wildcard chosen on the night. It’s hosted by Nikki East. There will be the usual book giveaways for the audience, and also a raffle in aid of medical expenses for Evie, daughter of crime author Duane Swierczynski.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

It's that "NO" Greek Holiday Again


A week from tomorrow is October 28th,  a Greek national holiday.  No, not because that's the day I depart Greece for the US--at least I hope that's not the reason. Rather it's one of two publicly revered ones.  The other, March 25, commemorates the day in 1821 that Greece declared its Independence from the Ottoman Empire and fought until 1832 to obtain it.  

I've run this post before, but in light of all that Greece is enduring at the moment (imagine what the US is going though politically, but with a lost economy), I felt compelled to repost it, if only as a cheerleader for people I care deeply about. 

Next Sunday's holiday, “Oxi Day” (pronounced “O-hee” and meaning “no” in Greek), represents the moment in 1940 when Greece set in motion events ultimately saving democracy for the world.  As Adolph Hitler’s Chief of Staff later said, “The Greeks delayed by two or more vital months the German attack against Russia; if we did not have this long delay, the outcome of the war would have been different.”

“Oxi,” together with two other words uttered nearly two and a half centuries earlier by Spartan King Leonidas in response to Persian king Xerxes’ demand that the Spartans surrender their weapons—“Molon Labe” (pronounced mo-lone laveh), meaning “come and take them”—is all you need to know to understand how Greeks react to adversity.

Those three words represent the essence of the Greek will, and permeate their attitudes toward virtually all things.  Some say that leaves them open to manipulation by nationalistic political jingoists seeking to distract their attention from otherwise serious, underlying national problems and shortcomings…but what nation these days is free from that. 

Despite all the trials and tribulations endured by this nation of eleven million over the past near decade, and the certainty of more difficult times to come, to those of you who wonder if the Greek spirit will somehow throw in the towel—I simply say as I’ve said before, ‘NO.” 

King Leonidas I

And here’s how Oxi Day came to pass.

On the morning of August 15, 1940, the Greek navel vessel Elli was in the harbor of the Cycladic island of Tinos.  It was peacetime and the light cruiser was anchored to participate in a major Greek Orthodox holiday, The Dormition of the Theotokos (Assumption of the Virgin Mary).  Without warning the Elle was torpedoed and sunk by a submarine, killing nine and wounding twenty-four.  Although fragments of the torpedo clearly identified its source, the Greek government officially declared the nationality of the attacking submarine as “unknown.”  The Greek government may have been reluctant to declare the attacker as Italy, and therefore immerse itself in war, but the people knew who was behind it.


Two months later, around dawn on the morning of October 28, 1940, after a party at the German embassy in Athens, the Italian ambassador approached Greece’s Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas and demanded that Greece surrender to the Axis powers or face immediate war with Italy.  He offered Greece three hours to decide.  Italy had seven times the population of Greece, seven times the troops, ten times the firepower, and total air superiority. 

Ioannis Metaxa

The Prime Minister’s response was simple: “Oxi.”  And less than two hours later Italian troops stationed in Albania invaded Greece.  Occupation of Greece was critical to Hitler’s plan for isolating British troops in North Africa.  The Italians expected it to be a three-day war.  They learned otherwise. 

Oxi became the battle cry of the Greek people.  Within weeks the Italians were driven back into Albania, and repelled by the Greeks at every effort to occupy Greece.  It became clear to Hitler that Italy was not up to the task and on April 6, 1941 Germany invaded Greece, but it took even the Nazis five weeks to succeed.  Greek resistance had thrown off Hitler’s plans to capture Russia before the winter of 1941. 

The Greeks were the first people in Europe (outside of Great Britain) to stand up to the demands of Germany and its allies, but their one hundred eighty-five days of resistance took a horrific toll on their country:

One million of Greece’s citizens (13% of the population) are estimated to have died from battle, starvation, resistance, reprisals and concentration camps.

Greece’s infrastructure, economy and agriculture were destroyed.

Greece’s gold, works of art, and treasures were plundered.

Civil war followed and many emigrated.

On a purely economic basis, it is estimated that in standing up to the Axis’ threats Greece was left in financial straits twice as bad as it finds itself in today… and its societal costs were inestimably worse.

So today, as Greece struggles under different serious challenges, for those who seek to capture the extent of Greece’s national determination in a phrase, let me offer a quote from someone who understood as well as anyone on earth what the world once more owed to Greece: “Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but Heroes fight like Greeks.”  Winston Churchill.

Xronia Polla, y’all.


PS. For those of you wondering why I'm posting this a week before the holiday, it's because I promised my slot for next Saturday to a rather engaging chap to whom I just can't say, "Oxi."

Jeff's Coming Events:

10:00 a.m., Saturday, November 17th--ICELAND NOIR, Reykjavik

 The Hot-pot
The best way to enjoy the outdoors in Iceland is sitting in a hot-pot by one of Reykjavík´s many swimming pools, enjoying the conversation immersed up to your neck in thermal water.
Karen Robinson (Moderator)Felicia Yap, Jeffrey Siger, Louise Voss,  Stuart Neville.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Blurred Lines

We have woken up today with the tragic news of yet another student walking round a school with a gun, killing. This time it was in the Crimea and, at the time of writing this there are 17 dead and over 40 wounded. Valdislav Roslyakov then killed himself in the college library. His mother was a nurse at the local hospital, treating the victims of the shooting without knowing if it was her own son whose finger had been on the trigger. As is fairly typical, the perpetrator was said to be unsociable and spent much of his time putting depressing messages on social media.

Anders Breivik

It caught my eye as I was intending to blog about the TV drama I watched last night.  22nd July. It’s about the atrocities of Anders Behring Breivik in Norway. Firstly, the bomb attack on Parliament and then he, a far-right extremist, took guns and ammunition to an island, Utoya, where some teenagers were on a Workers' Youth League summer camp. Eight died in the explosion, sixty nine on the island. The total injured was over three hundred and twenty. He was sentenced to 21 years' preventive detention.
It’s uneasy viewing, but very low key on the horror of the situation. The emotional hook was the boy who Breivik shot seven times but survived.  He’s on record as stating that Breivik looked at him, ready to shoot him again, then walked away. The boy believes his Aryan looks made his assailant think twice.  In the drama, we see his parents go through all the emotions. They find one son alive, the other is unaccounted for. Then they find him at the hospital, fighting for his life.

What does come across is the dignity of the Norwegian people, ‘we shall not react down the barrel of a gun but by the due process of law.’
The drama was heavy on fact, light on horror. The events are allowed to unravel and tell their own story. I have also seen Elephant, the film based on the Columbine School massacre. It’s also hard watching, but the story is there.  Yet I suspect there would be outrage if something similar was made about Thomas Hamilton and the events at Dunblane Primary School. Is that a matter of emotional distance?

I was doing an event last week and was asked if there was anything that I wouldn’t write about. The answer is I wouldn’t write about something that is recognisably true. I am uneasy about a dramatized version of real life events. Especially if there are no survivors.
And I’ve read books (well half read them as I tend to fling them against the window) where the events are basically a real-life crime where real people died with the names changed and little more. Sometimes they are so close to a well-publicised case, I can tell how it ends. It ends exactly the same way the real life version ended.

The last two books which have won the McIlvanney Scottish Crime book if the year are both based on ‘real ‘events.  One based on the Peter Manual killings, the other on the Bible John case. Both cases are recent enough to be in living memory of victim’s relatives.
                                                           Simon Toyne 
Simon Toyne has a programme Written In Blood, were he walks a crime writer through the case that inspired the book. Sometimes the word ‘inspired’ is accurate. There is very little correlation between the real life crime and the fiction that comes out at the end of the process. In other cases, it is far too close, for me, to be comfortable and I can't help but sniff profiteering at somebody else’s misery.
One book was Alex Marwood’s Wicked Girls, inspired by the case of James Bulger in 1993. This was the two year old boy that was led out a shopping mall by two older boys, along a towpath and eventually killed by them. For all kinds of reasons, it was a horrific and unforgettable crime. Thompson and Venables were only ten years old at the time of their crime.
                                            The film that shows the two year old being led away

The boys were released, their sentences short (in English law ) due to their age. One is back in jail for possession of child porn,  the other lives under an assumed name.  They have been ‘outed’ by the press a few times, their locations made public, gag orders have been invoked by the courts, people have been prosecuted by citing their supposed whereabouts on social media (in an attempt to cause bodily harm to and the persecution of a totally innocent individual). Alex took that idea, turned the guilty party in to two girls. What would happen if they grew up to be respectable mums themselves. Time moves on, they have served their sentence, they have new identities in every sense. Then somebody finds out who they are.

A lot of what ifs.

The story is far removed from the real life case that inspired it. And I could see my own imagination taking that story as a baton, then running a fair way with it before committing a fictional spin off to paper.

What would his mother feel like, picking up a paperback and reading something she recognised?

I was once asked to read a book which was a fictionalised account of Britain’s most famous female child killer, Myra Hindley.  Hindley died in jail in 2002 without ever gaining her freedom. The book starts off with the premise that she gets out with a new identity. The story of her death was faked. The character in the book has the same name as the killer, it’s in the title. She has plastic surgery, a new face, a new body, and moves far up the social structure.

                                                Myra Hindley

It was the kind of book that made me want to wash my hands after I had finished it.
It doesn’t sensationalise what she did. Myra comes across as a rather pathetic, unremorseful character. The book is well written, and the story comes across as not a far fetched as it may sound.  But it would, in my opinion,  have been so much more acceptable if the main character had not been called Myra Hindley. Or if the title of the book had not used that name, or the name of the famous landscape they used as a disposal site.

But then it was nominated for a few awards so what do I know.
I’m interviewing two crime fiction writing journalists at Grantown’s wee crime writing festival. I think the blurred lines of fact into fiction might come up in conversation.

19 10 2018