Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Nana Yaa Asantewaa and the War of The Golden Stool


The Asante People 

The Golden Stool ("Sika Dwa Kofi")

The Asante (sometimes spelled less indigenously Ashanti) are a subdivision of the Akan peoples, who make up about 45 percent of Ghana's population and are the largest of all the ethnolinguistic groups in Ghana. The Asante kingdom emerged in the seventeenth century, founded by Osei Tutu and his advisor Okomfo Anokye (pronounced ah-naw-chay), and established itself around Kumasi at the edge of the rainforest. 

Map of Ashanti Empire, 1800s, Encyclopedia of African History and Culture, Vol III, 2001

The Golden Stool

By legend, Okomfo ("priest") Anokye, who was revered for his oratorical skills, healing abilities, and magical powers, is said to have commanded a golden stool from the heavens to land in the lap of Osei Tutu, thereby enthroning him as the first king of the Asante Empire. The Golden Stool is believed to house the soul and spirit of the Asante--those living, dead, and yet to be dead. If anyone were to capture the Golden Stool, the Asante kingdom would fall.

No one, including the Asante King (Asantehene), ever sits on the Golden Stool. During the installation of a new monarch, the elders lower him onto the stool three times in succession, only allowing brief contact between the royal derriere and the surface of the stool. That will be the only time the king will make contact with the revered stool.

Asante Domination

During the 1600s, the Asante kings became the most powerful Akans and it was Osei Tutu who, in the 1670s, used the Asante capital Kumasi as his base to establish rule over the surrounding lesser chiefdoms. Much of the Asantes' dominance was due to the rich alluvial stores of gold in the region (still the case today), which they used to buy guns and ammunition. But preceding that, it was the  Denkyira (den-chih-rah) who dominated the region, being the most important inland supplier of gold and slaves to the Dutch at Elmina and the English at Cape Coast, and it was the wealthiest importer of European guns and munitions. The Denkyira clashed violently with the Asante, but in the 1699-1701 war, the Denkyira suffered a decisive defeat at the Battle of Feyiase. It's no surprise, then, that the Denkyirans formed an alliance with the British and the Fante, who had become a client state of Britain. The Fante had a long period of conflict with the Asante.

The Anglo-Asante Wars

The five wars between the Asante and British colonial forces comprised the Anglo-Asante wars (AAW). In the first, the Asante claimed territory from Governor Charles MacCarthy who rejected the claim and led a British army of 2500 against the 10,000-man Asante forces. The Asante crushed the British and killed MacCarthy on January 22, 1824, in the Battle of Nsamankow. Round two was later that year when the British and their Fante and Denkyira allies attacked the Asante forces again, only to be defeated once more in the Battle of Efutu. 

The second war, which involved British, African, and Indian troops against the Asante, ended in a stalemate. The third finally gave the British a victory over the Asante in the Battle of Amoaful on January 31, 1873.  The British briefly occupied Kumasi and then burned it down. The war ended in July 1874 when the Asante signed the Treaty of Fomena. The British built a fort opposite the Asantehene's palace and implemented forced labor and a mandatory tax of some £160,000.

The fourth AAW occurred from 1894-1896, ten years after the Partition of Africa, in which Britain and the other major European countries met to divide Africa up in order to avoid fighting between the Europeans. Britain wanted to be sure that neither the French nor Germans conquered the Asante Empire, so they decided to annex the Asante on the pretext that the Asante King had failed to pay 50,000 ounces in gold to the British as part of the Treaty of Fomena. Leading an army of African allies who had opposed Asante rule, Major Robert Baden-Powell arrested Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh, forced him to sign a treaty of protection, and sent Prempeh into exile when the war ended in 1896. 

Yaa Asantewaa and the War of The Golden Stool

Yaa Asantewaa (born indeterminately between 1840 and 1860) was an influential Queen Mother. It should be noted that the Asante inherit power and property in the matrilineal line. An adept farmer, Yaa Asantewaa ascended to the throne in the 1880s. Her role was as an advisor to the king, a guardian of the revered Golden Stool, and the person most responsible for presenting candidates for the kingship when it became vacant.

Nana Yaa Asantewaa

In 1896, with a weakened Asante Confederacy, the British demanded the Golden Stool and the surrender of the Asante. One must understand the kind of outrage this provoked among the Asante rulers. After about four years of back-and-forth haggling, the British governor of what was by then the Gold Coast, Sir Frederick Hodgson, demanded in typical entitled fashion that the Golden Stool be provided to him to sit upon. Bear in mind that even the Asantehene cannot sit on the stool, and therefore it was the height of hubris and arrogance for an outsider to demand it. Yaa Asantewaa's response was what I can safely imagine to be the Akan equivalent of oh, hell no. She urged the male chiefs to stand up to the British, but the chiefs feared the colonial forces would be too powerful. In incredulity, Yaa Asantewaa said to the chiefs:

How can a proud and brave people like the Ashanti sit back and look while white men take away their king and chiefs, and humiliate them with demand for the Golden Stool? The Golden Stool only means money to the white man; they have searched and dug everywhere for it. I shall not pay one predwan [pound] to the Governor. If you, the chiefs of Ashanti, are going to behave like cowards and not fight, you should exchange your loincloths for my undergarments. 

Reportedly, she grabbed a rifle and fired it into the air. The men must have been suitably impressed, because in March 1900, Yaa Asantewaa took command of the Asante forces in a battle against the British. It was unheard-of for a woman to go into battle, and by then, Yaa Asantewaa was no spring chicken, but she was seen on the battlefield wielding a rifle, even though she reportedly did not discharge it. She introduced new tactical maneuvers such as using stockades as traps for the British, a siege of the British fort in Kumasi, blockading food and ammunition from the British, merging single village armies into one central force, and setting up the British to go in the wrong direction by using a decoy.

Nevertheless, with the help of treacherous Asante chiefs who gave Yaa Asantewaa away, the British defeated Yaa Asantewaa with about two thousand Asante deaths and one thousand of the British and allied troops from the British empire after six months of fighting. Yaa Asantewaa was captured and exiled to Seychelles, where she died in October 1921.

The British never did capture the Golden Stool, even though they thought they had. The Asante duped them and gave them a replica. The genuine article was discovered in 1920 by African railroad builders, who stripped the stool of its ornaments. The Asante sentenced the thieves to death, but the British later spared them and exiled them instead. The British then agreed not to interfere with the Stool again, and it was restored to the Asantehene's Palace, where it is still used ceremonially in modern-day Ghana. 

If I could go back in time, The Notorious NYA is one badass woman I would have been awed to meet.

For a fuller appreciation of the background and circumstances of the Asante People and the War of the Golden Stool, watch this piece with BBC's Zeinab Badawi, although I have to say her pronunciation of Ghanaian names is very much off the mark in many cases.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021


Bonjour Everyone,

Spring has either joined you in your part of the world or will be shortly. In Paris, or rather on the close outskirts - one Metro stop past the periphérique, ring road, where my friends live, it's new produce at the markets and flowers, flowers, flowers. 

I'm excited to see their new place - a big loft in an old factory - they had luckily just moved into before the pandemic.  The Montmartre apartment they'd lived in before was just across from the cemetary!  Walking back at night from the Metro or Place de Clichy I'd pass the tall stone walls, hear the spooky sway of the tree branches and remember Edgar Degas was buried inside.  Then the distinctive hee-haw of a siren and any moment thought Inspector Jules Maigret could pull up in his black Traction Avant and search for a body.

Yet the old apartment was une classique!A sandstone, Haussmanian building, balcony, working fireplace, wood floors, carved wood boisseries ringing the ceiling. Charming but not big enough for a family with two daughters. These girls have grown tall like string beans and need space and yes, their own room.  I grew friendly with the older man at the cafe-tabac on the corner. He never remembered my name but would give me a thumbs up and slap my expresso on on the zinc counter.  I counted that a 'win' with the otherwise blasé Parisian cafe owners/waiters. 

When I can next get on a plane the destination will be Paris. Non-stop. I'll visit my friends in their loft! Evidently it's so big I get my own bedroom - I can't wait. And to find a new local cafe. 

Almost forgot, welcome Craig S!! 

And THREE HOURS IN PARIS comes out in paperback today!

Cara - Tuesday

Monday, March 29, 2021

Name-Calling Made Easy

 Annamaria on Monday

My topic today was to have been Empires.  I have done the research and collected the illustrations.  You will see the completed essay next week.  That, at least, is my plan.  I just cannot complete it today.  The combination of having been in computer hell for three and half months and suffering from a migraine for the past couple of days has laid me low.

I didn't want to go totally AWOL, so I offer you an easy way to wax eloquent to your politically like-minded friends.  Just make up a three digit number and string together the words so chosen from these columns.

You can use the target persons' birthday:


Or the area code of his home.

Mar-a-lago, 561

Actually, area codes work quite well for state capitals:



And even better, the number of members of legislative bodies:

Total Republicans-211

Total Members-650

Have fun!  See ya' next week.  

Saturday, March 27, 2021

A Six-Minute Visual Tour of the Greek Revolution



A couple weeks back I wrote about March 25th being the 200th Anniversary of the commencement of Greece's War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire.  A war that lasted until Greece won its freedom in 1832.   It is an epic David and Goliath story of bravery, sacrifice, atrocity, and world powers ultimately uniting to do the right thing.  In honor of the occasion, I planned on writing about those years as a possible means for understanding current relations between Greece and the Ottomans of today. 

So, I began my research and lo and behold discovered the obvious:  there's an awful lot on the subject, all readily available to anyone who wants to read up on it. 

My dilemma was simple, should I pass on that idea, or re-invent the wheel. Then fate stepped in and spared me.  As if by magic, I found a link in the Greek Reporter to a documentary narrated by Nasos Papargyropoulos, filmed by Odysseas Karadis and Konstantinonos Mousoulis, and with photographs by Elias Pergantis, featuring historically accurate renditions of the battles of the Greek Revolution.  

I watched it, and though there is no way to condense more than a decade of war into six minutes, in this mini-documentary I found understanding, inspiration, and that film can still move me to tears.  

I'm not sure how you'll see it, but I suggest that you do.  Here's the Video.  If it doesn't run, here's the link to YouTube.



Friday, March 26, 2021


There seems to be a thing on Social Media that has a kind of Lazarus effect, Somebody goes in to hospital and posts selfies of themselves looking at death's door with the canula in their arm, drips everywhere,  and lots of words like ‘here I am having potentially life saving surgery after my potentially life saving treatment was delayed by the actual global pandemic and it's 5 minutes before I go under the knife  for my potentially life saving procedure so please read this post and put a lot of likes on it’.

This generally supersedes all medical interventions known to man as the next day there will be a photograph of the potentially life threatened aforesaid patient  out jogging and looking as healthy as a yoghurt advert.


I had a little sojourn into our wonderful national health service last week. In Victorian speak, I have been swooning but not alas at the feet of extraordinarily handsome young men, or even moderately handsome rich men. Rather I was fainting, once on top of a patient, and once on the toilet floor at work.

All the way along my GP has been great but she was concerned I had atrial fibrillation which we both agree I was far too young for, but still ….. So I phoned her after the second incident, she asked for my permission to call the hospital and see if they would accept me as they are still under some COVID precautions. 

She called me back within 5 minutes and said I was to go up to A&E (the emergency room) as that was the only way to gain entry into the hospital. After filling in a few forms I was left on a trolley for 8 hours with my anorak round my feet as it was cold in a cubicle separated by paper walls where you could hear everything.


I was to be admitted to the medical assessment unit but it was full so they were waiting to transfer patients down to the appropriate wards. 

I heard the police arguing with a drunken person that must have been handcuffed to one of the officers. 

I heard the police trying to extract information from an old man with Alzheimer’s who had been found wandering around. 


There were fractures, lung infections and someone with a chopped off finger who was very apologetic for bleeding all over the floor. Nurses kept opening my curtains and saying,  ‘oh not you then’ and closing them rapidly. Once I was nearly stretchered off for a scan that I didn’t need, eventually at 9 o’clock at night I was trolleyed up to the ward and given a bed. I was wired up to all kinds of machines with a drip in my arm and given a cup of tea and a cheese sandwich.

I think if I had taken a selfie of me at that point I would be remarkably better by now but alas I didn’t so I’m not. 

I was kept in for 2 and a half days, all tests negative, so I’ve a few more to get but really they’re just excluding anything more serious than vasovagal syncope.


I spent most of those days pretending I was listening to my phone when in fact I was listening to the melodrama of the ward which would have suited the script of Dynasty if Dynasty had been set in a town outside Glasgow where the term 'bear' is used to describe the populace and the word  'feral' often applied to children and 'sobriety' is a state rarely visited. 

Let's just say the material for the next few books was lying there in front of me. The image of Miss Glittery walking around the ward wearing her sequined frock and black stilettos not realizing she was supposed to take the drip stand with her as she toddled around, thus leaving a wake of some very expensive drug that was supposed to protect her liver from her over indulgence in alcohol, was both funny and tragic. You can expect to meet her in a book soon.


So apart from that I’ve just had my second COVID vaccine, so any minute now I expect to be nanobotted into Bill Gates plan for World Domination. But on reflection I think Nicola (Wee Nippy) Sturgeon might get there first.

Caro Ramsay

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Addo elephants and friends

 Michael – Thursday

A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of visiting the Addo Elephant National Park with two friends, Ken and Sharon.

Map showing the extent of Addo

Currently, the park stretches about 130 km west to east and 80 km north to south, and encompasses five of South Africa’s seven biomes. It even includes some marine areas. It lies close to South Africa’s sixth largest municipality, Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape so attracts local as well as foreign tourists. Probably the last time I visited the park was about fifty years ago, and in those days it covered only a small area. The elephants were held in a separate enclosure and you could only watch them from outside the fence. In fact, the only time you were likely to see them was in late afternoon when truckloads of oranges and vegetables were dumped into the enclosure over the fence near the camp and the elephants came to have their snack. It was all a bit zooish. It’s totally different today. The park has a many times larger area, several overnight camps, and extensive roads, some sealed. The elephants go where they like, and for food they have to settle for the thick shrub vegetation that covers most of the area. Ken is an honorary ranger for the Garden Route National Park, and knowledgeable about Addo and its wildlife, so it was a privilege as well as a great pleasure to visit Addo with them.

The camp we stayed at is well spread out, and each chalet nestles privately in the thick bush.

View across the camp

At this time of year, the Karoo Boer-bean splashes red through the bush

The elephant theme even extends to the towels!

The area has a rather unsavory history. By 1900, most of the elephants in the area had been shot by ivory hunters, and much of the other game had gone the same way. The remaining elephants were causing damage to the crops and infrastructure in the area, and in 1900 a local hunter was killed by one. This sparked an outcry to “deal with” the elephants once and for all. In 1919 a professional hunter was tasked with eliminating them, and over the next few months he shot 114 and captured and sold two young calves to a circus. A year later, there were only 16 elephants left. Only the intervention of some sympathetic farmers saved the Addo elephants from extinction.

Spot the tuskless ones

Most of the females lack tusks, which is believed to be an effect of the past ivory hunting. It was once thought that the Addo elephants were a different subspecies, but they aren’t significantly genetically distinct from the ones in the Kruger National Park area. Perhaps this error was fortunate. Possibly the Addo park would never have existed if there hadn’t been a belief that something genetically unique was being preserved.

A rare sight of the Caracal or African Lynx
Love those ears!

Now, in addition to the animals that always lived in the area, some of the larger herbivores and even lions have been reintroduced. We saw a magnificent black-maned lion (apparently known as Jack) near the fence. Sharon spotted him with binoculars. He was so far away that you could hardly see him with the naked eye.

Flightless dung beetle at work

Another important species endemic to the area that is being protected at Addo is at almost the opposite end of the animal spectrum from the elephant – the flightless dung beetle, only about four centimetres long. Most dung beetles spend their time flying around pretty randomly on the look-out for dung – elephant dung is a particular favorite – for food and brood material for their grubs, but this species has no wings. This cramps their search style, and the fact that they can’t warm up by flying means that temperature control is an issue. Sometimes they feed and night, sometimes during the day.

Addo road sign
After rain they are all over the place, and after a day of rain, Ken had to  zig-zag along the road to avoid them. It’s claimed that they are the only  animals proven to use the Milky Way for navigation on dark nights, but  I’m not quite sure how that works. Apparently, they see light as a slit and so they can orient themselves relative to the brightest point. (“Navigate” means they don’t go round in circles, which is not an efficient way of finding dung. Or anything else.)

Another tricky post-rain pedestrian

It’s a great area to visit and one which is malaria free. The best part is that the elephants are completely unconcerned about cars. That is not the case in the Kruger area where one of my friends came back from a game drive with a smashed wing mirror and terrified passengers to prove it. Sharon took the video. I wouldn’t try this in Kruger…

Don't try this at home!

I’m looking forward to meeting these two fellows again one of these days!


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Virus is Racism

Sujata Massey

Memorial to California victims--photo by Naomi Hirahara

It started with country-blaming.

China flu, Wuhan Flu, Kung Flu. Donald Trump could only think of blaming outsiders, to deflect attention from his own disinterest in controlling a pandemic. Yes, coronavirus was first identified in China. Yet we've learned the virus was already in the U.S. and Europe at that time. 

The linking of Asians with contagious illnesses and societal problems isn’t new. Many of us can recall the decline of American manufacturing in the 1970s and ‘80s and the rhetoric against evil Japanese auto manufacturers. Our grandparents remember that during World War II, Japanese Americans were forcibly detained in camps, with their properties stolen by white neighbors, during the time they were away. In 1900 San Francisco, Chinese residents were blamed for the bubonic plague and forcibly quarantined in Chinatown. In 1886, hundreds of Chinese-Americans were forcibly expelled from Seattle. In 1871, the country’s largest mass lynching took place in the then-small town of Los Angeles, when 500 rioters angry over the accidental shooting of a white man chased down all the Chinese Americans they could find. Eighteen were killed, and the few men convicted in the deaths were released on a legal technicality and never retried. 

Historian Erika Lee and activist-writer Helen Zia spoke on a Washington Post video interview about why Asian blaming is so endemic in this country. The running theme is that sometimes, when there’s a government or business failure, it becomes expedient to blame it on people perceived as outsiders or invaders. 

The nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate is recording what they believe is a fraction of the racist incidents against Asians since last March 19,2020. By February 28, 2021, the total of community-reported incidents was 3,795. Just last week, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long was arrested on suspicion of murdering eight people, including six Asian women, at massage parlors. What astounds me is that an officer in the Atlanta police who interviewed the suspect said he had an obsession with women, nothing racist. It came to light later that the officer himself had posted on Facebook a photo of a racist T shirt blaming coronavirus on the China.

After lessons learned from the Black Lives Matter movement this last year, it's painful that the police, and many of the public as well don’t seem to equate violence against women as having the potential to stem from racism. I believe the fetishism of Asian women by Western men has troubling roots in war experiences and colonialism. Belittling females presents little risk of revenge--and a lot of reward.  

I grw up in a suburban Minnesota school system where racist bullying was endemic, from my grade school to the junior high and high school. Boys sing-singed "import" at me during the years of the anti-Japanese car backpack. Girls spoke loudly amongst themselves about how ugly my hair was, or that I was too 'dark complected' to get a boyfriend.  

All that hurt. But I was only flat-out terrified when I left the Midwest for a trip back to the state where I felt loved--California, where my family had briefly lived during a sabbatical year away from Minnesota. I'd rejoined my friends from eighth grade at Martin Luther King Junior High in Berkeley. We were exploring San Francisco. We were laughing and enjoying ourselves. Suddenly, a white man with wild eyes was screeching and snarling and rushed up within inches of my face. 

“You dirty alien. Get out of this country. You’re disgusting! You're ruining us!”

The words I'm sharing aren't exact, because there was certainly a lot of profanity I blocked out.  I also never knew if he'd singled me out because he thought I was Mexican or Asian. But I was a brown 14-year-old girl, five foot one and just a hundred pounds. He was very, very close to me, and while there were plenty of adults around, everyone appeared to be studiously ignoring the man's existence. 

I'd felt joy in California because I felt it was diverse--but there were Californians who didn't want diversity. Anti-Asian racists go after those they think can't fight them--and often, this is assumed to be the elderly, children, and females. 

Novelist Angie Kim’s opinion piece  in the Washington Post lays it out quite well. I think about the Muslim girls and women attacked after trump assumed office, and the South Asian women and men of all faiths attacked in response to the 9-11-2001 terrorist attacks.

Asians and Allies come together in CA. Photo by Naomi Hirahara

Last week, Xiao Zhen Xie, a 74-year-old Chinese immigrant from China, was accosted in the same part of San Francisco where I’d been harassed. Like me, she was accompanied by someone standing at a stop light, unable to move because of the traffic. That’s when 39-year-old Steven Jenkins allegedly rushed up and punched her in both eyes. And that's when she was far more active than I'd been. She managed to grab a board which she used to defend herself against the man—hitting him so hard he fell down and was able to be detained for arrest.

            Xiao Zhen Xie fought back. And by flattening her assailant, she probably prevented him from attacking another Asian. He's suspected of an attack on an 83-year-old Vietnamese man the same day.

Stop AAPI Hate has 5 concrete steps for people who may spot violence in the street in the next few days, weeks or months. It’s far less in-your-face that what I expected. But in the online vigil I attended last week, mourning the victims in Atlanta, I heard the opinion that vigilantism and policing won't change things. Respect and peace are the way to win.

  • Take action. Go to the targeted person and offer support. 
  • Actively listen. Before you do anything, ask – and then respect the targeted person's response. If need be, keep an eye on the situation.
  • Ignore attacker. Try using your voice, body language or distractions to de-escalate the situation (though use your judgment).
  • Accompany. Ask the targeted person to leave with you if whatever is going on escalates.
  • Offer emotional support. Find out how the targeted person is feeling and help them determine what to do next.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Who first made you fall in love?

Craig every second Tuesday. 

Kennedy McMann is the latest actress to play teen sleuth Nancy Drew onscreen

I've been thinking about children's authors and particularly kids' mysteries a fair bit lately, for a few reasons. While I've spent the last dozen or so years reading, reviewing, writing about and talking about mainly adult crime and thriller tales, my lifetime love for this wonderful genre was sparked then stoked by exciting tales I read as a child: a lot of Hardy Boys books, the occasional Nancy Drew, a handful of the Secret Seven, plenty of Sherlock Holmes and Poirot, and even an early taste of translated crime.

More on that latter one later.

Recently my daughter and I read The Secret Seven: The Mystery of the Skulla newer tale written by award-winning kids author Pamela Butchart almost sixty years after the final book of the original Enid Blyton series. It was a real joy to read for us both. Miss Six loved the mystery and adventure with a touch of spookiness (she's a big fan of Scooby Doo too), and it was a bit special for me to witness her excitement and wonder and be reminded of how I fell in love with books myself when I was her age.

Peter, Janet, Jack, Barbara, George, Pam and Colin are back in action

Books are pretty amazing, when you pause to think about it. And so are those who create them. Not only are books awesome because of the entertainment or education they can provide (often both), but much more besides. 

Recent studies have even shown that reading fiction improves empathy, EQ, and effective decision-making. While many successful people in business and beyond hail the importance of reading regularly, research has shown that reading fiction can be just as helpful as reading non-fiction books that seem more directly linked to your chosen industry or career aspirations. 

I digress. Though I love this quote from past Children's Laureate Chris Riddell (emphasis added): 
"Children’s books are engines for empathy.
They allow us to see through the eyes of others.
By transporting us to other worlds they help us to understand our own."

One of my favourite questions to ask authors I interview, whether onstage or for magazines or websites, is their memories of the first book they remember reading and really loving (not just the first book they recall reading) - the book/s that made them lifelong lovers of stories. I even incorporated that question into my 9mm author interview series (a nine-question Q&A) that began with Lee Child back in 2010, and last week had its 223rd edition with First Nations storyteller Wayne Arthurson. 

It's been fascinating to see the array of books mentioned, many of them children's books. 

Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Secret Seven mysteries were popular with several nascent crime superstars (eg Lee Child, John Connolly, Sophie Hannah, Peter Robinson), while James Oswald, Steve Hamilton, and the great James Lee Burke were among several who kickstarted things by reading the Hardy Boys. A love of Nancy Drew was a launch-pad for Kathy Reichs, Liza Marklund, and others. 

MWA Grand Master James Lee Burke loved the Hardy Boys

Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows was a first crush for British crime legends PD James and Val McDermid, while my fellow Murder is Everywhere scribe Zoe Sharp was among several crime writers to fondly recall Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, first published in 1877. "The book worked on so many levels, not least because for what appeared on the surface to be a children's story about the eponymous horse of the title it also affected the social conscience of the time," said Zoe. 

For Jeffrey Siger, Huckleberry Finn was a special book, while for Murder is Everywhere founder Leighton Gage (RIP), who I had the privilege of interviewing back in 2010, it was a kids' picture book about a dachshund that held a special place in his heart, even fifty years later. 

Why that book? Here's Leighton's own words: 
What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
That would be Pretzel. I had it read to me when I was four or five years old and, for years, it was my most cherished possession. When I learned to read, I read it over and over. To my young mind, there was a perfect symmetry to it. (The first and last lines in the book are exactly the same.) The book has it all. Rejection, Heartbreak, Heroism, Love, Ultimate Acceptance and Success – all in 32 widely-spaced pages.

I thought the book was out of print, lost and gone forever, until one of my daughters bought it for one of her children. “One morning in May,” I said to her when I spotted it, “five little dachshunds were born.” She looked at me strangely. “First and last lines of the book,” I said.

More than fifty years had gone by, but I still remembered it. Now, that’s a book. If you have kids (or grandkids) – buy Pretzel.

When I wrote my first book Southern Cross Crime (2020), I was augmenting a terrific series of books about the crime genre that had been written by the redoubtable British crime critic Barry Forshaw (eg Nordic Noir, Brit Noir, American Noir). As I say in the introduction, my goal was to "bring the pavlova to Barry’s buffet" with my coverage of Australian and New Zealand crime writing. 

One way that I stepped away from the prior books in the series, however, was that I included a section on crime and mystery writing for younger readers. Given the books that made me fall in love with mysteries as a youngster myself, I really wanted to shine a light on their modern, antipodean peers. 

As I said then, "Anyone who encourages kids to develop a love of reading, who opens those early doors to a whole world of learning and stories and imagination and possibility, is a rock star in my books. So, there’s no way I was going to write a book that didn’t include some of them."

So where did your love for crime and mystery begin? What were your favourite reads as a youngster, in any genre? I'd love for you to share your own 'first loves' in the comments. 

Until next time. Ka kite anō.

Whakataukī of the fortnight: 
Inspired by Zoe and her 'word of the week', I thought I'd start a regular endnote to my posts where I share a whakataukī (Māori proverb), a pithy and poetic thought to mull on as we go through life. 

He iti hau marangai e tū te pāhokahoka
(Just like a rainbow after the storm, success follows failure.)

Rainbow over fields near Tokoroa, NZ   Credit: Sarah Macmillan

Monday, March 22, 2021

Wake Up! it's Springtime! A How-to Guide

Annamaria on Monday

Step One: Eschew the news before it eats you up.

I know quite a number of news addicts.  They own many TVs, all almost always on and all tuned to their favorite news channel.  Why would people do that to themselves?  Stop and think.  Do you really need to hear hours of people regurgitating the same facts and stating their opinions of them?  TURN IT OFF!

Most importantly, DO NOT set your alarm to play a news station.  Why would you want to leave your dreams to hear endlessly about other people's nightmares? If you feel you must know that latest word on current events, wait until you are fortified to face them. Then take them in small doses.  Very small.  The smaller the better.

Step Two: Nourish your inner self

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially when it comes to your psyche and your soul.  Begin your day with a large helping of something that feeds your spirit. Read poetry.  Flip the pages of an art book.  Listen to a story. Let your eyes and ears give you a lift, instead of an assault on your sense of well-being.

For me, music does the trick.  I have a playlist called "Wake-up" - a collection of songs guaranteed to make me smile and feel love, that bring back wonderful memories, that fire my determination to make the most of the day. Here are some great songs from my list. I hope they will inspire you to find your own.

My first one has been a theme for my whole life.  At four or five, my poetry was lyrics of songs I heard on the radio.  I believed Ned Washington's words.  Even as an adult, I have called Jiminy Cricket my patron saint, because I have taken inspiration from words of hope.  Here they are sung by the incomparable Cliff Edwards. 

I know.  It isn't that easy.  If you want your dream to come true, you have follow that wish with more than just a twinkle in your eye.  Therefore, I also like to wake up to this:

Include something you can glory in and dance to:

Happiness is not going to come and find you on the sofa.  You have to get out there and find what will make you happy and satisfied.

You may need something to help you over the hardest parts, by thinking about the whys of life.

These songs are only part of my list.  Make your own playlist.  Then use it as methadone to fight off your news addiction or the self-important voices in your head that command you to come down from the clouds.  

You can call me jejune all you like.  Focusing on the positive is either part of my DNA or it has been burned into me by a lifetime of fighting off my share of the slings and arrows that are part of everyone's existence.  Lots of people have told me I have my head in the clouds.  I heard them, but I still believe my best bet is to keep trying to make my dreams come true.  It works for the lovers, the dreamers, and me.

This spring will bring showers.  Go out and look for rainbows!

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Safe in the Streets—Sarah Everard

 Zoë Sharp


On March 3, at around nine o’clock in the evening, marketing executive Sarah Everard set out to walk back to Brixton Hill from a friend’s house near Clapham Common in South London. It was a journey that should have taken her less than an hour.


A week later, on March 10, her remains were found in woodland near Ashford in Kent. She was identified via dental records.


The discovery of Sarah’s body came the day after a man was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping. He was subsequently charged with her murder, and will go to trial in late October this year.


The speed with which the alleged perpetrator was caught for this crime is surprising when you consider that the man was, at the time of his arrest, a serving Metropolitan Police officer with the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection unit. The PaDP is one of the few routinely armed branches of the British police, and you might expect, therefore, that their personnel would undergo psychological scrutiny that was perhaps stricter than other divisions.


The murder of Sarah has been a catalyst for protest about violence towards women in general. The UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said that “every woman should feel safe to walk on our streets without fear of harassment or violence.” She has announced new regulations are under consideration to protect women against sexual harassment in public by making it a specially defined criminal offence. At present it falls under the umbrella of ‘street harassment’, which is a cover-all term, encompassing the honking horn of a passing vehicle to everything nasty from there on in.


It’s a sad fact that you are more likely to be prosecuted for dropping litter than you are for sexually harassing a woman in public in the UK. A horrifying number of women admit to being the victim of this kind of intimidation and abuse, usually by a complete stranger.


And that stranger could be anyone.


Because, also in the news this week was the case of Emma Homer, who was walking home one evening in July last year when she was verbally and physically assaulted by a man who screamed obsenities at her as he tried to wrestle her to the ground.


Emma’s attacker turned out to be Oliver Banfield, an off-duty probationary police officer with West Midlands police. He not only admitted the charges but the court heard that he used the techniques taught to him during police training to try to take his victim down. (She escaped, by the way.) Banfield was ordered to pay £500 compensation. He was also given a 14-week curfew, banning him from leaving home from 7pm until 7am.


(Please excuse me if I don’t find that a very severe punishment during a national stay-at-home lockdown.)


Banfield’s legal representative argued against a community service sentence, apparently saying it would be ‘difficult’ for him to work with criminals.


Perhaps he should have thought of that before he became one?


Labour MP, Harriet Harman, said Emma’s experience “must have been terrifying for her but no prison sentence. This is proof, if any is needed, that [the] system fails women and protects men.”


When I started learning self-defence, one of the first lessons I absorbed was to avoid putting myself in a situation where using those techniques became necessary. But why does the onus have to be on the woman not to make herself a victim? Why isn’t it on the man not to make himself the perpetrator?


When, in the wake of the Sarah Everard tragedy, Baroness Jenny Jones suggested in the House of Lords that introducing a curfew for men would “make women a lot safer” scores of people frothed at the mouth in response. Not that Baroness Jones was expecting to be taken seriously but, as The Guardian’s Arwa Mahdawi commented, she was ‘pointing out double standards’.


After Sarah’s initial disappearance, the police in London were advising women “not to go out alone” and nobody seemed to think this was anything out of the ordinary.


(Not, of course, that staying at home is any safer, as one in three women in the UK will experience domestic abuse during their lifetime.)


But, as Arwa Mahdawi puts it: “If you’re up in arms about the idea of a male curfew, perhaps you should think critically about why you’re not as angry about all the ways in which women are told to adapt their behaviour in response to male violence.”


This week’s Word of the Week is codicology, meaning the study of manuscript books as physical objects rather than for the text they contain. It comes from the Latin codex, meaning a notebook or book, and the Greek ­–logia. Codicologists also study book cataloguing, manuscript collecting, and the history of libraries.