Friday, May 20, 2022

The Royal Crescent


                                  Like the draft of my new novel, this is not an inspiring start.

                        Stan sends his regards, he's up the Danube with very little internet 

                                                     and has recovered from Crimefest.

This is getting a little more regal now.
You can imagine Jane Austen clattering away on her MacBook.


                                         One of the pieces of garden furniture on the parkland.

The crescent!

If you added dogs to this, it would seem a perfect life.

One of the iconic images of British architecture is the  Royal Crescent in Bath, Somerset, England. We sloped off there for 48 hours after Bristol as we had no home to go to, as the builders were taking over for a final push to get the floors level. (Long Story!)

The Royal Crescent was built in 1774, it’s now a Georgian Grade 1 listed building and was designed by architect John Wood the younger.


                                                              Bits of parkland!

There are thirty terraced houses in the 500 feet long building with 114 columns. Number One is now owned by the trust that looks after the historic buildings in Bath,  while the middle two are a Spa and Resort Hotel, the rest are in private ownership and have been divided up or knocked through. The listed status means that there’s not much that can be permitted to change the outside of the building. There was a court battle when one resident painted her front door yellow. A successful ban was put on the Hop On Hop Off tourist bus from going close to the crescent as the commentary on the open topped version disturbed the residents.


                                                      You can just about see the Ha -ha.

Suggestions of floodlighting and planning permission for a swimming pool were both rejected.

It's supposed to overlook park land – some grass with a few trees but given that Bath is on a hill, and the terrace sits at the top, the view must be pretty something. Especially from the rooms in the attic with their own wee terrace. They reminded me of that scene in The Omen.


                                                             I'd call  Ha ha a retaining wall.....

There’s also a  collection of buildings known as The Circus. They were designed by John Wood, the Elder and are linked to the Crescent by a small road known as Brock Street, brock being an old English word for badger. Maybe because the street had a white stripe down the middle.


                                                                    It's bigger than my house but I have more scaffolding!


                                                                    More parkland art

I found this on Wikipeadia as I had heard of the Royal Crescent Ha-ha but had no idea what it was;

“In front of the Royal Crescent is a ha-ha, a ditch on which the inner side is vertical and faced with stone, with the outer face sloped and turfed, making an effective but invisible partition between the lower and upper lawns. The ha-ha is designed so as not to interrupt the view from Royal Victoria Park, and to be invisible until seen from close by.”

So now you know.

Loads of famous persons had lived here but the only one I had heard of was  Issac Pitman,  the shorthand guy.

The crescent has appeared in many TV programmes and films. Most recently a hot air balloon crashes there in an episode of MacDonald and Dodds.

The Wrong Box,  Catch Us If You Can and The Duchess are a few of the films while the 2007 TV adaptation of Persuasion  had many scenes shot  on location at the crescent, and in 2014, the hotel was used in Our Girl.

We looked in a few estate agents windows. Bath is an eye wateringly expensive place to live.

The most recent property we could find for sale was one of the four story original townhouses. Price tag? Offers in the region off £7.5 million.

I thought about it. For 7.5 milli seconds.


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Back among the books...

Award-winning indigenous filmmaker turned debut crime novelist Michael Bennett (Ngati Pikiao, Ngati Whakaue) hanging with Queen of Crime in Hatchards, London

Craig every second Tuesday

Kia ora and gidday everyone,

Well, we're well and truly settled back into London life after a wonderful April back in Aotearoa New Zealand, and bookish things really seem to be ramping up for me and many others. While I didn't make it to Bristol for Crimefest over the weekend - having just returned from a month away and with plans to attend several British crime festivals over the coming months, eg Harrogate, Bute Noir, and Bloody Scotland - the past week has been bookaful for me. 

Last Wednesday I went to my first 'author lunch' since before the pandemic, to celebrate bestselling Irish novelist and screenwriter Jo Spain's new psychological thriller, THE LAST TO DISAPPEAR. It was really lovely to catch up with Jo and several fellow reviewers and awards judges/crime aficionados including Ayo Onatade, Jon Coates, Barry Forshaw, Laura Wilson, Mike Ripley, and Paul Burke. In fact, it was the first time Paul and I had met in person, though we'd had several conversations and video chats throughout the pandemic, so I felt like I knew him already. 

Some criminally good company at Jo Spain's author lunch

It was really nice to hang and out and chat crime fiction and more for a couple of hours - the first time several of us had seen each other since pre-pandemic, after getting used to many catch-ups each year at various festivals. For me, other than the excellent Bloody Scotland festival last September, this was my first in-real-life crime fiction hangout since March 2020, and first author lunch since Australian author Michael Robotham was in town in late 2019. 

Many weeks I have books-related writing to do: features for magazines and newspapers or reviews for the same or online. But last week I actually had clear decks on that front - the interviews I was doing were with African lawyers for one of my day jobs, and the High Commissioner to Singapore for a non-books feature for a magazine - though I still had some crime fiction related writing, or rather editing, to do. 

On Sunday night I pressed 'send' on the manuscript for a very cool project I was asked late last year to helm: a first-of-its-kind anthology of Australian and New Zealand crime writing. With the boom in global recognition of the terrific crime writers now pouring out of Australia and New Zealand (there've always been some really good writers down that way, but now more eyes are looking), it's been a lot of fun - as well as a fair bit of work - to showcase some many authors from 'the antipodes' not only in feature articles and reviews but also both in Southern Cross Crime, my pandemic-released first book, and now with Dark Deeds Downunder.

A superb table of contents for DARK DEEDS DOWNUNDER, including the first new story from legendary Aussie crime writer Shane Maloney in many years

It's been pretty cool getting put together this anthology - the line-up we got is amazing, ranging from long-time legends of modern Aussie crime like Garry Disher, Kerry Greenwood, and Shane Maloney (all Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement honorees) to many award-winning, well-established novelists, and some really exciting, fresh voices. I'm particularly stoked that we have a really wide range of voices too, spreading all across 'Downunder' geographically and demographically. The response we had from authors was superb - so much better than I hoped at the start. So much so that before this manuscript was even done we already have Volumes 2 and 3 underway. 

Dark Deeds Downunder will be released in a few weeks time. Check it out when it's out. 

After pressing send on that manuscript near midnight on Sunday, I spent the bulk of Monday and today (outside of some legal journalism and Dad stuff) doing more bookish things with visiting Māori storyteller Michael Bennett, who was passing through London after doing some work in Ireland on a television series (he's an award-winning film and TV director and screenwriter) and some European and North African travel. Michael's first crime novel, Better the Blood, comes out in August in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, and in the USA early next year. 

Michael will be part of the 'New Blood' panel of debut authors hand-picked by Val McDermid at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate in late July, so lots of crime readers and authors will get a chance to meet him then. It's really cool to see his first crime novel getting published globally - he's a heck of a storyteller, and from a broader perspective it's really heartening to see a talented indigenous author added to our crime ranks. For me, our big crime writing tribe only benefits from more and more different perspectives and experiences joining in. 

Craig, Michael, and Katherine outside Goldsboro Books

Along with some meetings with his publishers, we took the chance to show Michael around London a bit, including visiting fabulous spots like Goldsboro Books - one of my favourite places in the city - and Hatchards, which has been doing its bookselling thing since the late 18th century, and stopping into the Lamb & Flag pub, a Dickens haunt. 

I'm looking forward to Michael getting to meet and hang out with lots of cool crime-lovers at Harrogate and elsewhere later this year, when he's back over from Aotearoa New Zealand. As many of you reading this will know, we have a really cool 'crime tribe', that's overall very welcoming and a great bunch to hang out with. 

The love of books and creativity and ideas (and talking about all those things - often over a drink or three) is a nice thing to have in common, and the crime writing community in general is pretty amazing. 

On that night, I may sign off for today. It's been a busy bookish week, in among other life things, but a very good one because of that. Lots of exciting things ahead over the northern Spring-Summer-Autumn (Fall for our North American pals). I hope to see some of you at a festival or event or two as we start sharing more in-real-life things. 

Stay safe, and happy reading. 

Until next time, ka kita ano. 

Whakataukī of the fortnight: 

Inspired by Zoe and her 'word of the week', I've been ending my fortnightly posts by sharing a whakataukī (Māori proverb), a pithy and poetic thought to mull on as we go through life.

Ahakoa he iti he pounamu

(Although it is small, it is greenstone)

Pounamu are treasured items carved in a variety of traditional designs that are full of meaning and should never be bought for yourself - only gifted to you by others

Monday, May 16, 2022

Scene of the CrimeFest.

Annamaria on Monday

Had I been in attendance at Crimefest this year, I am sure that today I would be posting happy descriptions of the festivities.  And praise for Zoe's stint as Toastrix.  That gig of hers was originally scheduled for 2020, and I was signed up to go, but...  (No explanation needed I am sure.)

In anticipation of my second trip to Bristol, I had even devised a Toastrix tiara for Zoe to wear. 

 Now that I have seen what she wore on Saturday evening, I know that glitzy crown would have gone very well her ensemble.  Alas, I am left with only vicarious enjoyment and bittersweet memories of my one and only Crimefest so far.  Here they are, along with Jeff's introduction of fortunate me on the Monday when I joined this merry tribe.

A bit of background and a brief introduction…

Martin Luther’s quotation, “I can do no other,” succinctly sums up our buddy Leighton Gage’s motivation for putting one hundred and ten percent into everything he writes.  No where is that pledge to his readers more evident than in his seven Mario Silva novels, called “top notch…controversial and entirely absorbing” by The New York Times and “a world class procedural series” by The Wall Street Journal. 

It is Leighton who by his example inspires each of us to bring our A-game to every MIE post, every day, every week.

Keep it fresh, keep it strong is Leighton’s motto, and that’s precisely what’s guided him to a decision we all deeply regret, but fully understand.  Leighton is a writing master who refuses to give his readers anything less than his absolute best work, something he believes he cannot do while confronting his current health problems.  He has decided to step down as a regular MIE contributor so that he may concentrate on his recovery efforts.  Our hopes and prayers are with Leighton and Eide and we look forward to seeing him back here with us soon.

Another Martin Luther quote comes to mind at this moment: "Even if I knew that the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree."

That, too, has Leighton written all over it, for even as he faces serious personal challenges he’s taken the time to plant a strong new tree in his Monday slot by personally selecting who shall occupy his place.  In the words of The Washington Post, Annamaria Alfieri writes exotic South American tales that “glitter” “as both history and mystery.” Her debut novel, City of Silver, was called by some “one of the best first novels of the year” (Deadly Pleasures Magazine) and her second, Invisible Country, was compared to “the notable novels of Charles Todd” (Kirkus Reviews).  Blood Tango (coming June 25, 2013 from St. Martin’s) is Annamaria’s latest novel and imagines the murder of an Evita Perón lookalike amid 1945 Buenos Aires.

Annamaria is a person of many talents, so much so that she needs two names.  As Patricia King she’s written five books on business subjects, including Never Work for a Jerk (featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show), and her current Monster Boss.  As Pat King, she’s also serving her second term as President of the New York City Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

It is with great pleasure I welcome our new colleague, Annamaria Alfieri, to Murder is Everywhere.  We’re all proud, especially Leighton. - Jeff

CrimeFest Headquarters Hotel

As we say in New York, I didn’t know from Bristol. I had made a brief stop there years ago while touring the west of England, but true New Yorker that I am, all I did on that occasion was visit the Clifton Suspension Bridge, because I had heard it looked like the Brooklyn Bridge.  

Clifton Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge
It does, but without the cathedral-like quality, and definitely without Yonas Schimmel’s Knish Bakery within walking distance.   

So, while I was in the town for CrimeFest, before the Murder is Everywhere crowd arrived to buy me drinks, I took myself on a walking tour.  Threatening weather held at bay that Wednesday so I had a comfortable stroll, following the Michelin Green Guide itinerary, which started and ended just a few minutes from my hotel.

Warehouses converted into condos along the river

From the Norman Arch, my path skirted @Bristol, the science museum, and crossed Pero’s Bridge.  It’s a bascule bridge, a term I didn’t know.  It means the span moves, using counter weights, to open the channel for boat traffic.  In this case, the weights were designed to be modern sculptures.  

Norman Arch
Pero's Bridge

I was surprised to learn that the bridge was named after a slave, but then, on the other side of the canal, at the M Shed Museum, I learned of Bristol’s connection to the slave trade.  It turns out that though the town was first settled in the 10th Century and was England’s second largest city in the Middle Ages, it did not thrive economically until its 17th and 18th century residents made huge fortunes in the slave trade.   The museum’s exhibition, in its own form of counterbalancing, juxtaposes the slaving history with that of modern citizens’ political activism.

The Old Town Walk then took me through lovely Queen Square and along cobbled King Street with its 18th and 19th century warehouses, a 17th century alms house, and Llandoger Trow—a historic pub, where I stopped off for fish and chips.

Queen Square
King Street
The Llandoger Trow

The next monument was St. Stephen’s Church, with its beautiful tower.  On that Wednesday afternoon the way in was to go into a café and then through a door marked exit to find the sanctuary.  One of the memorials of local merchants was decorated with a jaunty modern addition.

St. Stephen's Tower

Ancient merchant remembered
Corn Street was once a precinct of traders and money exchangers, but now the building houses a collection of small stalls selling finger food and general touristy grot.

Corn Street
St. Nicholas Market

The Church of John the Baptist straddles a medieval gate of the city and has an interesting interior, but it can’t hold a candle to the grand finale of the tour—Bristol Cathedral.  There has been a church on its site for a thousand years.  The 14th Century English Gothic structure was first named for St. Augustine and renamed in the Reformation.   A sign over a donations box said it takes £2 per minute to maintain it.  I paid my share on my way out.

Bristol Cathedral
Bristol Cathedral interior
That evening, Michael phoned and ended my lonely rambling by inviting me to a delightful dinner with Bill and Toby Gottfried.  By Thursday, the others arrived and the festivities already reported here got underway.  It was my first CrimeFest.  I hope not miss it in the future.

Stanley, Annamaria, Jeff, Caro, Yrsa, Michael


Sunday, May 15, 2022

CrimeFest Toastrix 2022

Zoë Sharp

This weekend, I am one of many authors and readers to be attending the first CrimeFest Crime Writing Festival to take place since 2019. It’s been a blast so far, and as I write this, I still have Sunday’s events to go.

On Saturday evening, I attended the Gala Dinner where I was the official Toastmaster – or Toastrix. I was asked to deliver a five-minute speech prior to announcing the winners of the various Awards. I decided to theme it on language, and words, and the derivation of words. For all those of you who could not attend, here’s the gist of what I said on the night:


“Do you like the outfit? It’s the last word in Zoom-inspired lockdown chic. From the waist up, absolutely spiffing. From the waist down, who cares?


“It’s lovely to see so many of you face to face after all this time. And I support those of you who’ve chosen to remain masked. We are crime writers, after all.


“When Adrian first approached me about taking on this role for tonight, I was surprised to discover that this is the first time CrimeFest has ever had a female toastmaster. (And who knows, it may well yet be the last.)


He asked how I wanted to be referred to? Toastmistress made it sound like I was running a sub-Post Office, so I picked Toastrix.


“It brings to mind either a breakfast cereal of some kind, or a dominatrix. What, I wondered, is the male equivalent of that – perhaps a Dominator? Although, to me that’s a 1950s’ British motorcycle made by Norton.


“As a writer, I’ve always been fascinated by language and the derivation of words.


“Take the drinking of a toast to someone’s health, for instance. The word refers to dropping a piece of toasted or spiced bread into wine to soak up its acidity and improve the flavour. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff calls for a quart of wine and says ‘put a toast in it.’ Over time, the toast has become the person honoured by the ritual, rather than the bread itself, although I understand that submerging the honouree in wine is now optional.


“The word sincere comes from sculpting in marble. If a sculptor made a mistake, they would fill in the error with wax. Thus, if a statue was finished with no imperfections, it was sin cere – without wax.


“The word clue comes from Greek mythology – from the story of Theseus, who was trapped in the labyrinth of Knossos to be eaten by the Minotaur. Theseus escaped using a ball or clew of thread, given to him by Ariadne. He used the thread to mark his path out, and thus a clue is now a form of guidance.


“Many words have shifted from their original meanings.


“Oracle entered the caves at Delphi and inhaled the vapours, it was said that she became ‘enthusiastic’, which meant inspired or possessed by a god, rather than simply rather keen.


“And decimation means removal of a tenth, traditionally a punishment among disgraced Roman soldiers. Every ten men would draw lots and whoever got the short straw, the others had to beat him to death. A bit severe for the Territorials.


“My pet hate is the word feisty, which comes from Middle English and is often applied to my female protagonists, but actually means either a small yappy dog, or flatulent. So, a small, yappy, farting, dog. Not quite the effect I was aiming for.


“There have been numerous incidences where major companies have come up with product name that don’t quite work in the countries in which they’re intending to market them.


“Hence, General Motors attempting to sell a car in South America called the Nova. ‘No va,’ in Spanish means ‘doesn’t go’. And probably best not to mention about Rolls Royce trying to sell the Silver Mist in Germany.


“I understand that if you sidle into a store in Australia and ask for Durex, you may be offered it by the roll, as Durex is the brand name for Sellotape over there.


My personal favourite was an energy drink I came across in Japan, a kind of Gatorade / Lucozade type of thing, designed to replace electrolytes lost during exercise. It was called Pocari Sweat. Sounds delightful.


Language is gendered, however much we might prefer it not to be, and the gendered versions of words can have very different connotations attached to them.


Take landlord versus landlady. A landlord sounds like someone who runs a pub, but somehow, you’re more likely to find a landlady running a boarding house on the seafront in Morecambe. 


“A bachelor is a young blade with trendy apartment. But the word Spinster brings to mind knitting and cats.


“Over the last few days in Bristol, we’ve seen many hen parties and stag weekends why is it a stag do, but a hen night? I suppose because you could hardly have a doe do or a cock night.


“I leave you with this last thought on words and their gendered forms. If someone considered to be outstanding in their field has mastery over their subject, then perhaps the feminine version should be mystery?”


And the terrible jokes I used between announcement of the CrimeFest Awards:


“Just to keep things moving, I will be interspersing our guests with literary jokes worthy of the Christmas cracker.”


“An author enquires with a publisher about their terms of submission. I’m sorry,’ he’s told. “Novels of suspense we accept only via an agent. And spy novels only via a double-agent.”


“I went to Waterstone’s today because it was a third off all titles. I bought THE LION, THE WITCH…”


“How many crime writers does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to screw the bulb almost all the way in, and the other to give it a surprising twist at the end.”


“Knock, knock”

“Who’s there?”


“To who?”

“It’s whom, actually…”


“Never leave alphabetti-spaghetti on the stove when you go out. It could spell disaster.”


“I bought my father a Kindle for Christmas. He still hasn’t finished it.”


“I’m reading a book at the moment about the world’s most secure bank vaults, but it’s really hard to get into.”


“I’ve just finished writing a thriller called I’M FEELING A CHILL FROM SOMEWHERE.

It’s just a first draft.”


“Never date an apostrophe. They’re so possessive.”

That's all folks...



Saturday, May 14, 2022

From Pittsburgh to Percy Fawcett


Unexpected events kept me from preparing the blog I intended to post describing today's inaugural Greater Pittsburgh Festival of Books.  Not only is the Festival debuting in my hometown, its venues are only blocks away from my high school.  I'm honored to be appearing there as a representative of the mystery writing community, and though my new knee kept me from flying to Bristol for my beloved CrimeFest, it was able to successfully endure a seven-hour road trip.  

What I hadn't counted on was that in not being "back home" in close to three years, my time would not be my own. In other words, the time I'd allocated for writing my MIE column quickly faded off into a multitude of precedence taking family commitments.

So, as a consolation prize, I decided to re-post MIE's most popular blog ever, "The Death of Percy Fawcett," written by our founder, Leighton Gage. It first ran on February 14, 2010 and still receives  regular pot-stirring comments.  Here it is.

Do you notice any similarity between these gentlemen?
No, neither do I.
But Paramount has chosen Brad Pitt to play Percy Fawcett in an upcoming version of David Grann’s non-fiction book The Lost City of Z. It’s going to be, according to them, an Amazonian mystery/thriller.
And that virtually guarantees to muddy the waters still further about the death of the English explorer who was swallowed up by the Brazilian jungle back in 1925.
Grann, in his book, doesn’t really solve the mystery of what happened to Fawcett.
But he does reject the account of Orlando Villas-Bôas.

Orlando, who died in 2002, was a sertanista, a kind of wilderness explorer peculiar to Brazil, and the country’s Indian expert par excellence.  He spent many years living among the tribes, spoke their languages, established first contact with many of them, and was instrumental in determining a just government policy toward all the indigenous peoples.

I knew Orlando Villas-Bôas personally. He was neither a liar nor a boaster, and his life was packed with more adventure than that of anyone I ever knew. Why, then, should he make things up? Orlando claimed (and I believed him) to have heard the true story of what happened to Fawcett from one of the murderers, a member of the Kalapalos tribe.

Grann visited the Kalapalos in 2005 and got an “oral account” of the incident.
Orlando was there 54 years earlier, in 1951, and spoke to people who were there at the time.
Both accounts agree in some regards:  They agree that Fawcett and his men stayed in the village of the Kalapalos. They agree that Fawcett and his companions had a mishap on the river and lost most of the gifts they’d bought to placate the Indians. They agree that most of the members of Fawcett’s expedition were sick by the time they contacted the Kalapalos. (And, therefore, a danger to the tribe.)

Then the two accounts begin to differ.
According to Grann, the expedition set off to the eastward. The tribesmen, he said, warned Fawcett not to go that way, because the region was inhabited by “fierce Indians”. But Fawcett decided otherwise. And disappeared. End of story. (And this is going to make a mystery/thriller?)

Grann, however, does not relate, and perhaps never discovered, three additional precipitating incidents. And those incidents, for Orlando Villas-Bôas, were of more moment than sickness and/or the absence of gifts. According to Orlando:
  1. Jack Fawcett, Percy’s son, urinated in the river upstream of the village, upstream of where the Kalapalos drew their drinking water. It was an affront to the entire tribe to do so.
  2. One of the members of Fawcett’s expedition shot a small animal. They brought it into the village and hung it up by a cord to preserve the meat from insects and small scavengers. One of the Indians came along and tried to remove a piece of the meat. An expedition member pushed him away. Another affront. The Kalapalos share food. Not to do is unacceptable behavior.
  3. A small child approached the white men and started playing with their goods. They pushed the child away. The child came back and did it again. One of the white men, in the European custom of the time, struck the child. And that was the greatest affront of all. The Kalapalos never strike their children.

That final incident, according to Orlando, sealed the fate of Fawcett and his men. The Indians waited until the next morning, allowed the expedition to get some distance down the trail and then ambushed and killed them all.

Orlando told me one thing more: in those days, he said, the Kalapalos didn’t lie. They dissembled, but they never told an untruth. He’d asked a direct question, for which he didn’t receive a direct answer. Thus he knew from the get-go there was something afoot. It took him, he said, hours and hours of conversation to extract a frank account of what had really happened.

We sure as hell aren’t going to get one from Hollywood.

Leighton - Monday
We miss you, Leighton.

Jeff’s Upcoming Events

Saturday, May 14, 11:00 a.m. ET

Greater Pittsburgh Festival of Books


5900 Penn Avenue

Pittsburgh, PA

In person event, register here