Friday, May 31, 2019

Gym Life

                                               Bowfield Country Club, from their website.
                                                    That's my chair on the right.

We have a system here that pays for authors' appearances in libraries etc. Such events can be organised via a website that hosts a list of authors who are eligible for the scheme. On this website it lists what kind of author you are; crime, kids, a storyteller, a poets, a songwriter etc.
Not a Gym Bunny, 
a bunny called Jim.

The form came through on the email for this year’s update, and on the end was a another form which you could fill out if you wanted, but it was not compulsory. It asked what gender you identified as, fair enough. Then what ethnicity you identified yourself as, fair enough. Then it asked if you identified yourself as working class.

Well I fell off my seat at that one. And ticked the box as I am now a minority and could be persecuted and discriminated against.

That's by the definition of class as I learned in my Modern Studies Higher. ( For which I got  95% so I should be a politician, as  being a writer, my ability to tell lies is also rather good!)  

I read somewhere that  to explain class in the UK to an American, a Brit should just say we have  a class issue as you have a race issue. I have no idea if that is true- you can  judge that for yourselves.

One definition - the social group consisting of people who are employed for wages, especially in manual or industrial work.
Another - working class are the group of people in a society who do not own much property, who have low social status, and who do jobs which involve using physical skills rather than intellectual skills.  

As many working class people now own their homes, and many middle folk can’t afford the home they want and settle in private rents, it's all getting a bit topsy turvey.

However, I'll stick with my belief.  I don’t speak French. I can't go into Waitrose (posh supermarket) without having a panic attack at the cost of mayonnaise and posh folk amuse me. Esp Jacob Rees Mogg So that’s that then.

However, shock gasp amazement. My classification has been put in question by recent events,.

I have joined a country club, surely the definition of the bourgeois.

Well maybe not, more like the definition of somebody with two jobs and likes going swimming at 6.30 am.
                                                 I do a mile in here 3 times a week
                                                                       And plot

We have a hotel/ country club 7 minutes drive from our house. It has a swimming pool. I need to learn to snorkel. ( more about that later but feel free to speculate). Yet the local authority pool is £4.80  to swim per session. The country club is £500 a year, so if I go more than twice a week, and I can go at 6.30 am and not take time off work,  I am quids in on the deal.

I'm a Scot and we don’t like spending.
                                                A manatee, my swimming role model

Over the years I have always been a reluctant member of  a gym. I've ran the sports injuies clinic, therefore got discount membership,  but have always been happier exercising  outdoors, running or hill walking.

Snorkeling outdoors in Scotland is NFAA, (No Fun At All).

Gyms are the same the world over I am sure. They are great fodder for novels ( and serial killers).
Here's a list of the usual suspects.

1)     Gym bunny.. weighs about 3 stone, unhealthy interest in looking good. Will have the best of training gear, personal trainer, fake tan, wireless earphones and a stomach that looks like a washboard. They will walk round the changing rooms naked and witter on about classes with names like, Body Attack and Booty Balance. They’ll get botox by the time they are  35 and will look very odd when they are 40.

2)     Macho Mike – walks around the changing room as if he’s additioning for King Kong. He’ll wear a black muscle vest with Iron Man or Touch Guy on the front. His body hair disrupt the outline of his tattoos. He growls when he lifts weights. He’ll run for 2 minutes as a warm up causing a faint tsanumai in the swimming pool next door. The sweat streams down under his skip cap even before his workout starts. He lifts weights that are far too heavy for him with the resultant clang as he lowers them back none too gently echoing  round the gym. He will have bad arthritis  in his knees by the age of 40.

3)     Old trout – usually thin and slightly tanned, spritely, will wear sketchers and slacks and keep their gym stuff in a 'tartan hold all'. They’ll have their own routine of swimming, yoga and Pilatus and go bowling in the summer. They like to keep fit, they’ll be the first to complain when the water in the pool is too cold. Or too warm. They are incredibly healthy and will live a long life. 

4)     Miss Majorca – can be tanned to a deep mahogany colour, she’s the bingo wing version of old trout. Wears a fancy swimming costume, dips into the pool, has a Jacuzzi and a sauna but keeps her immaculate makeup and her styled  peroxide bob in place. She’ll make a lot of money from being divorced and scans the gym looking for a new husband.

5)     Miss Kardashian – can be mistaken for the gym bunny but will have bigger eyebrows and absolutely no muscle definition. Any curves that aren’t fat will be silicon, her lips will be so big you’d think someone had belted her in the face. She’ll pout and promenade alot but will lift nothing heavier than her phone. She is likely to have a small dog in a bag in her car.  She rattles with jewellery  every time she moves. She'll have a fancy water bottle with electrolytes, which she sips from all the time. 

6)     The prescribed walker – overweight wearing shorts and a t-shirt he got for last year’s holiday in Majorca. He’ll wear full length socks with his trainers and walks on the walking machine like a duck with a double hernia. He’ll be constantly checking the fitbit on his wrist hoping that the cardiac stent will hold up as he loses 5 stone. But if you talk to him he’ll be a lovely bloke. He'll have a normal water bottle.

7)     Mr Pants – good suite, hair gel, big chain round his neck, staying at the hotel because of a conference. Not as bright as he would like people to think, wears his D&G boxers into the Jacuzzi with his other mates at the conference and thinks nobody with notice. Due to wet pants he has to go commando at the conference and hopefully has an accident doing his zip up. Stinks of aftershave, always trying to chat up women. Could easily get cornered by Miss Majorca. Their combined IQ is slightly less than that of my dog.

8)     Fat nan the boxer – never wears trendy gym gear, tend to sweat alot as they work hard. Tend to have a look on their face of slight constipation as they’ll be working through routines and drills in their head.  They will have a water bottle, with water. They will use up more calories than the rest put together. They are often seen in Hollywood films, pounding the streets, mile after mile, looking like sh..t. They will be working class.

Caro Ramsay  1st June 2019

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Botswana revisited - Part 1

Michael - Thursday

Michael and Peter enjoying bush time
We’re just back from a wonderful trip to Botswana. It was a belated seventieth birthday celebration for Pat, and since she had never been to the Okavango delta, that was the centrepiece of the trip. But there were lots of other places to go and see, and one of the great things about Botswana is the friends one meets there. And, of course, there is always the opportunity for a little research…

The one disadvantage of living on the Cape south coast is that it’s a long way to the places we love in the bush and from Botswana. Our first destination was Kazungula and that's about 1,400 miles by road, but we took it easy stopping at in Lobatse and doing some research at Otse on the way up. (Otse features in our new Kubu mystery.) Kazungula has busy border posts with both Zambia and Zimbabwe, and is situated close to the point where the four countries meet—Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. (The actual point is somewhere in the middle of the Zambezi river.) More important, it’s the home of our great friend Peter Comley. He, and his late wife Salome, have been tremendously helpful over the years with local information for our books and with suggesting venues for the next murder. Peter is also the author of a number of guides to the wildlife of Botswana and Namibia, and he has written an autobiographical book about his early years in Botswana focused around his amazing dog, Django. If you want a moving and delightfully written view of what Botswana used to be like in the old days, get hold of a copy of Django. (It will have to be an ebook, though.)

Elephants at Chobe
Apart from the delightful time with Peter, we had the opportunity to stay at his brand new camp in the Chobe Forest Reserve. This is definitely my idea of camping! And since work on the swimming pool, for example, was incomplete, we had the place to ourselves—with elephants, buck, and birds joining us at the waterhole from time to time. One early morning there was an altercation between some lions and a pack of hyenas over a kill. We couldn't see it, but we certainly heard it!

It was a wonderful base to explore the Chobe national park and the stunning Victoria Falls.
I think someone invented the word "glamping" for this sort of tent!

The case rests
Bath or shower? Hot and cold running water, of course
Or just relax ...
... overlooking the waterhole

Fortunately the only croc who made it onto the viewing deck
It's an easy day trip to the Victoria falls across the border in Zimbabwe. But take hard currency with you to buy a visa as you enter, and expect to spend a couple of hours achieving that. However, it's worth it.
Rainbow from the lip of the Devil's cataract
Main falls
Rainbow over the Boiling Pot
Falls through the rain forest
Devil's cataract
Railway bridge over the gorge. Popular with bungee jumpers
After that it was south to the Okavango...

Upcoming events

June 11: release of Shoot the Bastards(Poisoned Pen Press, an imprint of SourceBooks)

June 18: 1830 for 1900
Once Upon a Crime bookstore in Minneapolis
Launch of Shoot the Bastards, in conversation with Kent Krueger

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

long overdue...Bristol CrimeFest

Please excuse my missing-in-action absence. I'm finally home, have dealt with computer issues and can post photos of CrimeFest in Bristol. Such a great do put on by Adrian and Donna Moore! It was more than lovely to return after ten years and see the usual suspects!
PS Next week I'm on the road - book tour - for Murder in Bel-Air, celebrating twenty years of Aimée Leduc and her big book birthday.  If I'm anywhere near you please come by. Info at the end.
 Who do I see when I walk in the hotel? Jeff, Barbara, Zöe and John.
 I stopped by St. Stephen's market at Jeff's suggestion...
 Here's Caro's panel and she had them laughing.
 John kept his panelists in line.
 Grabbing a moment with Zöe
 Obligatory fish and chips - delicious
 My panel mates et moi
 Caro and Barbara
 Of course, Yrsa wore shoes that lit up
 Lovely Ely Griffiths who's nominated for mega awards
Dinner with Sarah Hilary, Jake Kerridge and pal Mick Herron.

Love to see you if you're anywhere nearby!
Cara - Tuesday

Monday, May 27, 2019

On Human Flaws: “Nobody’s Perfect!”

Annamaria on Monday

The way this topic relates to crime writing is this: Every budding crime writer has been warned that the main character in a mystery or thriller must have “a flaw” to make him (usually it’s a him) seem truly human.  As far as I am concerned, far too many writers—even super famous ones—do this in a mechanical way.  They reach for the nearest flaw and the easiest ones on the nearby shelf are labeled “Make Him a Drunk” or “Give Him a Dysfunctional Family.”  This bothers me for a couple of reasons.  First, these issues seem to me to be symptoms of character flaws, not flaws in and of themselves.

The easy way out

But this question goes deeper than that.  I have trouble of thinking of a human’s “flaws” as separate from her virtues.  I do not think we are endowed by our creator with traits that make us less than perfect.   As my mother once said to me, “Everybody is born a baby.”

I learned from that statement and an experience I had long, long ago in a galaxy faraway.

It was the 1970s—the Age of Aquarius.

Not David's car, but very like it.

David and I had met the previous fall.  It was this time of year—verging on summer—and we had a date to take my just-turned-four-year-old daughter to the beach.  He showed up at my apartment in his rusty, trusty VW Beetle.  As he got out of the car, his face, and his body language told me something was wrong.  I asked what it was.  I got the typical male reply.  “Nothing.”

He took the picnic basket, the towels, and the satchel of beach toys and stowed them in the car.   I buckled the kid in the back seat, and we headed for the Midtown Tunnel and Jones Beach. He was grim.

By the time we entered the tunnel, my little girl was asleep.  I then pointed out to him that we were supposed to be having fun, and we could never succeed at it until we cleared the air.  This discussion went quietly on with no result until we were past the Flushing exit on the LIE.  At which point I announced that I was going to start taking off pieces of clothing until he gave in and told me what was troubling him.  What followed was silence from David and:

Me:  “Okay.”  I took off a shoe.  David: “Don’t be stupid”.  I took off the other shoe.  David: “You are crazy.”  I unbuckled my belt and stripped it out of my bell-bottom jeans.    David: “Oh, Christ.”  I slowly unbuttoned my shirt.  David, indicating the crowded highway.  “Somebody will see you.”  Me: “It won’t do me any harm, and it might do him a lot of good.”  I had reached the last button and was taking off my shirt. David: “Stop it.  I’ll talk.”

Me at that time, but not at the beach

He did.  I cannot remember what the trouble was.  Nothing earth shattering, or I would remember.  When he had relaxed, and I was again fully dressed, he said, “You are one persistent woman.” 

Persistent!  Not what my family had always called me—Stubborn. I am persistent.


That was how I learned that human beings are not “flawed.”  Human beings have characteristics that sometimes exhibit themselves as positive behaviors and sometimes come across as negative.  But the characteristic is not, in and of itself, a bad thing.

I consider this ridiculous 

 Our language gives us terms on both sides of the character trait coin.  Curious vs. Nosy.  Industrious vs. Workaholic.  Feisty vs. Argumentative.  Determined vs. Unrelenting.  Fexible vs. Flighty.  You get the idea.

So.  I refuse to think of real people as “flawed.”  You (and I) are bundles of characteristics that exhibit positively under some circumstances and negatively under others.  All of you are the perfect you.  

When we writers seek to create characters who come across as real human beings, we need to give them the flaws of their virtues.  Then the readers will see both sides of a three-dimensional person.  In other words, we need to show the character in situations where her persistence comes across as a virtue, and then put her in a frustrating spot where it comes out as stubbornness.  Then she will be real. 

Let’s take Hercule Poirot as an example.  He is fastidious.  We often see him as comically attentive to ridiculous niceties of his food or his own grooming. That over-tended moustache!  These are the behaviors of a person who pays attention to every little detail.  Sometimes that may make him seem vain and silly.  But that attention to detail…  That is exactly the trait that allows him to pick up on the clues everyone else misses. We believe it when he sees what no one else saw.  It isn’t a superpower.  It is the other side of his “flaw.”

Sunday, May 26, 2019

For Love of the Game

--Susan, every other Sunday

I'm writing this from a hotel in Nikkō, one of Japan's most sacred and historic mountain regions. In fact, the area is so special and so important that Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), the samurai general who, as shogun, unified Japan is buried here. (He has other mausolea in other places, but his actual burial site is here, at Toshogu Shrine, where he is also enshrined as a deity and protector of Japan.)

I came to Nikkō for a writing retreat, to finish a manuscript that's currently on a brutally short deadline. However, Nikkō has many beautiful mountains, including sacred Mt. Nantai (2,486m), which has been sacred to the Shintō faith for over 13 centuries.

A trail runs from Futarasan Shrine, on the shore of Lake Chuzenji in upper Nikkō to the summit of Mt. Nantai (which is also home to another, smaller Futarasan shrine).

Futarasan Jinja (Shrine) on the shore of lake Chuzenji

The 9-kilometer round-trip hike has a vertical gain of 1,212 meters--and a matching altitude loss of 1,212 meters on the descent. (For those of you counting along at home, that's a 2,424 meter day.)

Mt. Nantai from Lake Chuzenji

Also known as "Nikkō-Fuji," Mt. Nantai is one of the Nihon Hyakumeizan, or Hundred Famous Mountains of Japan.

My Hundred Summits Project finished in April, but my 100 climbs only included about a third of the hyakumeizan (all the mountains on my list were famous--some far more so than the ones on the hyakumeizan list), so I still have a few mountains to climb if I want to climb the entire set of hyakumeizan too.

I was here. The mountain was here. It only made sense to climb.

The day began at Futarasan Jinja, where I broke my personal 100 Summits rule and bought a summit pin before the climb (because the shrine would likely be closed by the time I finished). I had a moment's misgiving--but did it anyway.

The trailhead at Futarasan Jinja

The temperature was already over 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and climbing, by the time I left the trailhead.

The first portion of the climb followed a deceptively pleasant, gradually sloping trail through a beautiful forest filled with singing birds.

A lovely walk in the woods.

Two hours later--with the temperature sitting at 83 degrees--the forest disappeared and the trail became a series of unrelenting rockfalls that continued for about 500 meters.

Not so lovely anymore.

Several times, I considered calling it quits. Between the lack of shade, the leg-hammering rocks, and the realization that I'd brought my smaller backpack, which holds only two liters of water (Big Blue holds over 3), this no longer seemed like quite as good an idea as it had when I left the trailhead two hours before.
The emergency hut at station 7 - the rocks are the trail.

Unfortunately, I had bought the summit pin. If I quit, I would not earn it.

Also, turning around would mean a 2.5 hour descent--five hours of climbing total--on a mountain I would have to climb again if I wanted to complete the hyakumeizan.

None of that sounded like a good idea.

The views did make it worth it.

So I continued on.

The trail did have another lengthy stretch of forested slope, which helped me cool off after over an hour climbing boulders in the sun.

Still rocky, but now with trees!

When I emerged above the treeline, I could see Lake Chuzenji far below, if slightly fuzzy due to haze. The snow-capped peaks of Chichibu Tama Kai National Park were also visible--and, best of all, I could finally see the summit.

Brutal way to end . . . but at least it was ending.

After another twenty minutes of climbing up deep volcanic scree, I reached the summit--five hours and a 1.5 liters of water after leaving Futarasan Shrine.

On the summit of Mt. Nantai

A sacred sword on the highest point
The deity of Mt. Nantai

The descent took another three hours, though fortunately the haze obscured the sun enough, and the afternoon was far enough advanced, that the temperature had begun to cool. Even so, I was very happy to reach the bottom of the mountain.

Another view from near the summit

As for the climb itself, I have no regrets. It was difficult, and painful, but I had a fantastic day. For the past year, I've been climbing mountains for an important purpose. But now, I climb for an even more important reason: for love of the game.