Monday, December 31, 2012

Celebrating the New Year in Brazil

I'm sure you folks are busy with your New Year's Eve celebrations.
I am with mine.

So I hope you'll excuse me if I re-post, in this space, something that originally appeared here two years ago at this time -- on the 3rd of January, 2011.

It's still valid.

And here it is:

While most of you folks are dealing with the cold, and many are still up to your…ahh…knees in snow, 

we’re basking in the warmth of a Southern Hemisphere summer.
And here, a stone’s throw from the Tropic of Capricorn, it isn’t only our weather that’s different. Our customs are as well.

 I’d like to share a few of them with you.

On New Year’s Eve we:

Dress ourselves in white. (Brings luck.)

Eat lentils. (Also brings luck. My wife firmly believes in this one, and makes sure I comply. It is a matter of indifference to her that I am not fond of lentils.)

Suck the pulp from seven pomegranate seeds, wrap them in paper and put them in our wallets  (To ensure that, throughout the New Year, those wallets will always contain money.) Alternatively, you can use a single bay leaf.

Eat three grapes at midnight. (For wish fulfillment. You make a wish as you consume each one.)

Stand outside and fling coins into your house. (Brings cash to the household.)

Avoid eating crab. (Crabs move backward, symbolic of regression, not progression.)

Avoid eating fowl, like chicken and turkey. (Fowl have wings, which can cause your luck to fly away.)

Hold glasses of champagne in our hands and jump up and down three times. (This ensures that everything bad that ever happened to you will be left in the past. It only works, however, if you manage to do it without spilling a single drop of the bubbly. After which, you empty the entire glass over your shoulder. For obvious reasons, this is best done outside.)

Get up on chairs, or benches, and stay there as the clock strikes twelve times at midnight. Then get down, stepping first with the right foot. (This should not be attempted after consuming too much champagne.)

Enter the New Year with money in our pockets. (In the hope we’ll always have some there in the twelve months to come.)

Put banknotes in our shoes. (This is said to attract even more money.)

Only use clean handkerchiefs after midnight. (God knows why.)

Make sure that the first person we embrace to wish a Happy New Year is a member of the opposite sex. (This is supposed to bring luck in love. I’m not sure which sex you’re supposed to embrace if you’re gay. I shall have to ask one of my gay friends about that.)

Run around the house carrying an empty suitcase. (This only applies to those of us who plan to travel in the course of the coming year. Caution must be exercised not to bump into people jumping up and down with glasses in their hands, thereby causing them to spill champagne.)

Light candles and throw roses into the sea. (This is done to please Iemanjá, Queen of the Waters and mother of the Orixás. Most Brazilians are, to some degree, spiritualists, and this custom is taken very seriously.)

On the beaches of Copacabana and  Ipanema  hundreds of thousands of people make their offerings at midnight. Some of them also give The Lady perfume, money even jewelry.

Step into the ocean and jump over seven waves in succession. (To help us to overcome physical and spiritual difficulties in the year to come. ) Many family members join hands as they do this, symbolic of the family overcoming those difficulties as a unit.

Make a lot of noise. You can use whistles, drums, beat on pots and pans, whatever it takes – but it has to be exactly at midnight. After which you start shooting off your fireworks. (This, of course, harks back to the ancient peoples who did it to frighten away evil spirits.)

Brazilians are very big on fireworks on New Year’s Eve. This year (2011) there were eleven barges anchored four hundred meters off the beach at Copacabana. Each barge fired off 1,200 huge skyrockets and the pyrotechnics went on for twenty minutes. More than a million people stood on the beach and watched the show.

Sing Adeus Ano VelhoFeliz Ano Novo. It’s our equivalent of yourAuld Lang Syne

Brazil’s biggest New Year’s party takes place in Brazil’s largest city. This year (2011) as last, a huge stage was erected on São Paulo’s major thoroughfare, Avenida Paulista.
Big names from the world of Brazilian popular music performed and a huge amount of fireworks lit up the sky. The party started at eight PM, was still going on at 3:00 AM.
More than 2.5 million people attended.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Leighton – Monday

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Au Revoir

If 2012 had been a customer in a bar, it would have been perfectly okay with me to have it kicked into the street.  So my basic stand right now is not so much welcome to the new year as good riddance to the old one.

It was a year in which, among dozens of other things, political discourse sank to a new low.  After the most embarrassing presidential election I can remember--an election in which I had a favorite, but only relatively speaking--the parties went back to Washington and immediately started all over again, tying the nation into knots.  Honest to God, if I had my way, every American elected official would be (here's a theme emerging) booted into the street and replaced via a national lottery.

The lottery would bar all professional politicians from entering and would distribute tickets by mail to every American eighteen and older, and by sale in liquor stores and supermarkets.  We would announce only after the results were made public that anyone who bought a ticket was instantly disqualified.

People who want power probably shouldn't be allowed to get it.


And my other country, Thailand, made Washington, D.C. look like a computer dating site.  On December 5, the nation's revered king made a rare public appearance, and (to everyone's surprise, a speech), on his 85th birthday.  To a nation in which the political parties are chewing holes in each other and people are killed daily due to the Muslim insurrection in the south, the king preached Buddhism on a personal level: "If Thai citizens still hold harmony in their hearts," he said, "there is hope that in whatever the situation, Thailand will surely get through it safely and with stability."

The next day, the party of the current prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, announced that her predecessor, Abhisit Vejjajiva, would be charged with murder for the deaths inflicted by security forces on the Red Shirt factions who demonstrated in Bangkok in 2010.  Now, more than 80 demonstrators were killed, but to most Thais, charging a former prime minister with murder seemed a bit, well, stiff.

Okay, I'm grumbling to postpone the au revoir I don't want to make.  This is my last regular blog on Murder Is Everywhere.  It has gradually been made clear to me that I have been over-committed for the past year, to the point at which a book has collapsed on me and I'm still fighting to resuscitate it.  I'm letting go of several commitments, and this blog is one of them.

I already regret this parting infinitely more than I regret the passing of 2012. I've loved writing here, and I've made deep friendships with my blog mates.  I know Leighton, Cara, Yrsa, Stan, Michael and Jeffrey personally and Dan virtually, and have deep affection (and admiration) for all of them.  And feel the same about the readers who have responded.  I'll miss this place.

The best news is that I'll be replaced, beginning this coming Sunday (January 6) by a wonderful writer and a good friend, Lisa Brackmann.  Lisa's first two books (both crackerjack), Rock Paper Tiger and Getaway, are set, respectively, in China and Mexico.  You're going to love her as much as I do.

And I'll be back from time to time, if my hosts will allow it.

Au revoir, y'all.

Tim -- Sunday

Goodbye 2012

Mykonos in Winter

It’s almost 2013.  As for the soon to be bye-bye 2012, about all I can think to say at the moment is we made it past 12.21.12.  Apocalyptic fashion fans need not fret, though, because I’m sure a new and improved end is in sight.  After all, the aluminum foil industry has far too much invested in those funny hats to let that market slide away without a fight. 

Those in the know prefer aluminum foil.
My personal choice for the new end date is 11.4.14.  Catchy, don’t you think?  It will play well on tee shirts and buttons.  And for the biblically inclined, Genesis 11.4.14 falls amid the story of Babel and the Lord’s decision that the people of the earth should not be able to communicate with one another, which ties in nicely to the revelation that 11.4.14 is the next chance Americans will have to vote on who will comprise their babbling House of Representatives.  Fire up the bauxite production, folks, for as the famous line goes, “There she blows!”

But all that’s too far away to worry about now.   Besides, it’s not as if America is about to drag the world off a cliff or something.   So, let’s kick back with some photos I selected from in an article published in The Atlantic by Alan Taylor titled, “Christmas Time Around the World.”  And a special thanks to NYC radio host Bill Buschel for bringing the article to my attention.

Crested Butte, Colorado (AP/Nathan Blow)
Liverpool (Reuters/Phil Noble)
Rio de Janeiro (AP/Felipe Dana)
India (Reuters/Sivaram V)

Washington, DC (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Ivory Coast (Sla Kambou/AF/Getty Images)
Manila (Reuters/Romeo Ronoco)
Vancouver (Reuters/ Andy Clark)
Newtown, Connecticut (Reuters/Mike Segar)

Here’s wishing us all a better world in 2013.


Friday, December 28, 2012

To the Seeing Again

Well, I managed to revover from my bug in time for Christmas, which allowed me to eat, drink and make merry - and now I feel as ill as I did before the festive period, but this time because of self-indulgence. I have a few days of austerity and (relative) self-denial, and then it's time to celebrate the New Year.

As a teenager I remember standing in the kitchen of my girlfriend's house, while her father and their neighbour toasted the New Year. Both men agreed the preceding one had been tough, for different reasons, and wished for better fortune ahead. But it was to be their last New Years Eve. Both of them died, years before their time. It was a salutary lesson for my younger self: I vowed not to attach too much significance to changes in dates, bemoan what had gone or hope for the better. Best to take it as it comes, and I've pretty much adhered to that.

However, this year is different. 2012 has been an tough year, for several reasons. 2013 could be even worse, of course, so I'm not hoping for anything better, just raising a glass and hoping the door hits 2012 on the arse on its way out. I have a few exciting plans lined up for 2013, but first I'm taking a bit of a break from things to try and recover some energy and equilibrium.

Which means, I'm sad to say, that this will be my last blog here for a bit. During the past few months it has become increasingly difficult for me to find the time to give it the attention it deserves, and as a result I've been rehashing old posts and ideas. So I'm taking a sabbatical. I plan on returning at some stage in some capacity, even if it's simply as a guest, and of course I'll be visiting daily to read everyone's instalments, and crack some inane jokes below the line. This is a wonderful blog (thanks to our sage and effervescent leader Leighton) and I feel honoured and privileged to have shared webspace with so many fantastic writers and all the warm, witty and generous people who have visited regularly and irregularly for the past three years. Thanks also for all your comments - I hope you've learned a little bit more about This Septic Isle and London in particular through my blatherings.

I'm also delighted to say that my Friday replacement is none other than Caro Ramsay. Caro and I once shared a publisher, and I've met her several times (and on one occasion she upbraided me about using the phrase 'truculent Scot', as if there was any other kind...). She is funny, insightful and a hugely talented writer. She is also, as I indicated, Scottish, and proud of it too, so expect to learn alot about Caledonia and its folk, and a few sideswipes at us uptight, condescending Sassenachs. She'll be great fun and she'll be here next week.

Until the next time.

Dan - Friday

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Murder in the Lakes

It is my pleasure to introduce a delightful English writer, Martin Edwards - delightful, not only because he is such a nice person, but delightful because of what he gives to mystery readers.

Martin - the researcher and writer

A practicing solicitor, Martin spends his free time immersed in the world of crime fiction - from writing novels and short stories (A CWA winner in 2008) to editing anthologies of crime fiction and chairing the nominations sub-committee for the CWA Diamond Dagger.  For a look at Martin's amazing breadth of involvement, you should take a look at his website  You can also follow his blog at

I first met Martin at Crimefest several years ago, where I was blown away by his general and specialized knowledge of the genre.  He won, by a mile, a quiz that was held towards the end of the conference.  I discovered it wasn't his first win.  The following year he won again, and he is now banned from entering, because no one else has a chance!
Martin - the competitor, with vanquished Simon Brett, David Stuart Davies, and Meg Gardiner

He has several series.  His latest book, The Hanging Wood, is the fifth in the Lakes District series.  He has finished the sixth in the series, The Frozen Shroud, which will be published in 2013.  I'm about halfway through The Cipher Garden, and I can see why Martin likes the Lake District so much.  His prose evokes a sense of place so strong that I have vivid mental images of where the story takes place.  I will have to visit the area when I am in the UK next.

Please welcome one of our genre's outstanding writers - a person who gives back more than he takes - Martin Edwards.

Stan - Thursday

Of all the pleasures known to a writer, finishing work on a novel comes high on the list. At the moment, I’m in the happy position of having completed the editorial work on my sixth and latest Lake District Mystery, The Frozen Shroud, which gives me a chance to accept Stan Trollip’s kind invitation to contribute to this terrific blog.

Another great pleasure of writing life is research, and it doesn’t get much better than having the excuse of “I’m off to research my book” to justify a trip to the Lakes. At any time of year, and even when it’s raining (which, to be honest, is often), it’s a magical part of the world.

The idea for writing a series set in the Lake District sprang from a conversation I had a few years ago with my then editor, David Shelley. He’d just published a stand-alone psychological suspense novel I’d written for him. In fact, I had a vague idea that Take My Breath Away might not be a stand-alone. It featured a true crime writer called Nic Gabriel, a character about whom I felt I had more to say. But David said he’d like me to start a brand new series – with a rural setting.

This was quite a departure for me, and at first I wasn’t sure. I’d written seven novels set in Liverpool and featuring lawyer Harry Devlin, and Take My Breath Away was set in London. I was keen to return to writing about Harry (and eventually, I did, with Waterloo Sunset, which was huge fun to write) and although I live on the edge of the countryside, I’ve worked in a city for years and felt more comfortable writing urban novels. However, I’d recently written a short story set in the North England countryside at the time of the appalling foot and mouth epidemic, and I decided it was time to get out of my comfort zone.

I suggested to David that I try writing a series set in the Lake District, and he was keen from the outset. I was aware that at that time, surprisingly few mystery novels had been set in the Lakes, and no British novelist had set a crime series there. It seemed like a great opportunity, and so it proved. So I owe a lot to David (who is now the editor for J.K. Rowling, so his career has moved into the stratosphere rather more rapidly than mine.)

The Coffin Trail, the first Lake District Mystery, was the most successful book I’d written up to that time. It reached the shortlist of six for the Theakston’s prize for best crime novel of the year, along with books by the likes of Ian Rankin, Susan Hill and Val McDermid. And the very positive critical reception encouraged me to keep going.

From the start, I decided that the backdrop to the series should be the developing relationship between DCI Hanah Scarlett, head of Cumbria’s cold case squad, and historian Daniel Kind. That relationship continues to develop – rather slowly, I have to admit, but they make some sort of progress in The Frozen Shroud!

Each story is set in a different part of the Lakes – a small area, but extraordinarily diverse. Many scenes in The Arsenic Labyrinth, for instance, take place in and around Coniston and the nearby Coppermines Valley. In The Frozen Shroud, I venture to Ullswater. Parts of the area around the serpentine lake are amazingly quiet and remote, despite being only a few miles as the crow files from the traffic teeming on the M6 motorway.

The research trips were tremendous fun. A visit to the dramatic waterfalls of Aira Force, close to where Wordsworth saw those legendary daffodils, a steamer trip from Pooley Bridge, a climb up Hallin Fell to enjoy the fantastic views, and the writer’s obligatory pub visit, to the bar of the hotel in the tiny hamlet of Howtown, were among many highlights.

The result is one of my darker novels, set in a remote community on the far side of the lake. Three deaths have occurred in Ravenbank on Hallowe’en, over a span of one hundred years – what can be the connection? History collides with the present in a book that takes the series in a new direction. I’m eagerly awaiting publication next spring.

In the meantime, I’ll soon be casting around for ideas for the next book. It’s a tough life for a writer - perhaps I need to start wandering around the lakes and fells again, in search of inspiration!   

Martin Edwards - Thursday

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

No snow

Around the middle of December the Icelandic ice-cream truck made its last round of 2012. It won‘t be back until April. I cannot remember how long it ran last year, or the year before that, but I think 2012 was the first year it was operated in December. It has been an unusually warm fall and winter here. At least in the south of the country.

The only time snow is really acceptable is over the holidays. So far we don‘t have any and haven‘t since last winter. Not bad at all. The north of Iceland however has snow in abundance, having experienced a massive snowfall in September which is exceptionally early for such weather. This storm brought great grief to the sheep farmers in the area since the animals were still running wild and had yet to be herded. I do not remember the number of sheep that were killed of exposure or buried alive under the snow and do not particularly want to either. It is too depressing.

When not interested in skiing snow is good for three things – it is atmospheric over Christmas, it lights up the winter darkness and it is good for positioning firecrackers on New Year’s Eve. Other than that it is useless. Which is why the weather forecast for the coming weeks is no good. Cold, cold and then some more cold. Which given time will be accompanied by snow. But probably only after the firecrackers have all been set off.

I have yet to finish trimming our Christmas tree. It is about 30-40% covered with lights. The remaining 60-70% are my project for this evening. I do not throw lights on the tree. Each bulb is fastened - which is why the tree is still more bare than lit.

My daughter is next to my while I type, talking about cancer. She says I will get it if I work with my computer in my lap. Lap cancer (as opposed to lap dancer). I am trying to tell her that it is called a laptop and that the computer producers are American and they would be sued to high heaven if a laptop cannot be placed in a lap. But she is persistent. Now she is saying I talk too much on my mobile so I will also get brain cancer. Or ear cancer. It is hard to concentrate with all these cancer interruptions. Hence this particular low point in my blog contribution.

Since I had little to say anyway I think I will call it a day – I wish you a good year and will now get back to learning about what cancer I am likely to get because of my lifestyle. Surprisingly enough she seems not to have heard about the cancer connection to smoking.   

So happy coming New Year – may 2013 turn out to be fruitful in all possible, positive ways.

Yrsa - Wednesday

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lighten Up

Santa Lucia Celebration.  It's okay to say, "Aaaawwwww."

It's all about light.

Christmas; Hanukkah; Loy Kratong or Yi Peng in Thailand; Tazaungdaing in Tibet; Santa Lucia in Sweden and Norway--whatever you celebrate around this time of year, chances are, you're celebrating light.

Virtually all the world's religions equate spirituality with light, and with good reason.  Some of the earliest belief systems worshiped the sun directly, correctly identifying it as the mother and father of everything that lives on Earth.  (Now, of course, we know that earlier, long-gone stars were also the source of our planet's inanimate components; all elements heavier than simple gases were forged in the center of stars and then blown through space in supernovas, some of it eventually aggregating into planets like ours. It's literally true to say that the world we know, the world that created us, was itself born in light.)

In northern-hemisphere cultures throughout the world, spirituality and rebirth have for centuries been celebrated during, or close to, the time of the winter solstice--the longest night of the year, after which the days begin to grow longer as spring approaches.

In Europe, these festivals began to be observed long before the spread of Christianity with the celebration of Yule, a festival of light and warmth associated with Odin.  The bringing-in of the massive Yule log, pictured above in a 16th- or 17th-century print, signaled the midpoint of the months of famine--most people who starved to death in Europe did so in winter--and the return of the sun to its righteous place as the lord of the skies.

From this point on, days become longer as nights become shorter, and this will continue until the summer solstice, when day and night are the same length; after that, the days will shorten and the nights lengthen until it's time again to haul in the Yule log.

Christmas was first celebrated on December 25 during the fourth century, A.D., not long after the Catholic Church proclaimed that date as Christ's birthday.  The date may have been chosen in part as a convenience and in part to obscure a rival religion.  From the first century through the fourth, Roman legionaries spread throughout Europe the worship of a somewhat obscure Persian god, Mithras.

Possibly originally a Zoroastrian (or fire) god, Mithras' greatest feat was slaying a bull of legendary fierceness and sharing the feast with the sun, thereby nourishing it for its return.  The Romans celebrated the feast on December 25 (already a date consecrated to various even earlier sun gods) and built Mithraic temples all over Europe.  The Church won Rome spiritually and then imposed Christmas (and Christianity) directly atop Mithraism, not only claiming the date but also building some of its earliest churches literally from the stones of Mithraic temples.  By the seventh century, Mithraism was a footnote.

It's hard to mourn it.  Given a choice between festivities that require cutting a bull's throat and drinking its blood on the one hand, and decorating a tree with light and giving presents on the other, I know which way I'd jump.  So anyway, whichever festival of light you enjoy this year, happy holidays.

Tim -- Sunday