Saturday, May 8, 2021

What the World Thinks of US



With all the world embattled in pandemic crises, and so much of the United States population lost to Alice in Wonderland tea party thinking, I thought I might be interesting to write about how the world now perceives US to be.

So, I began reading through foreign news articles, hoping to pick up on the pulse of foreign attitudes, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but an opinion piece published a week ago in, Greece’s newspaper of record, Kathimerini.  It succinctly set out the writer’s opinion on the state of the US today.

The article is titled, “A paradigm shift in the making,” and its author, George Pagoulatos, is a professor of European Politics and Economy at the Athens University of Economics and Business, and a visiting professor at the College of Europe in Bruges. He is also the Director General of the Athens-based Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, and sits on the Governing Board of the Brussels-based European Policy Centre. 

 Here is Professor Pagoulatos’ opinion set out in haec verba. It is one I think you’ll find interesting regardless of your political bent.

Every 30 to 40 years, the pendulum that defines the balance between the state and the market will start to swing in one direction or the other, starting in the US. Under President Joe Biden, the US is currently experiencing its largest shift in recent decades toward state intervention.

The New Deal policies of the 1930s shaped much of the modern state in the US (FDIC, SEC, Social Security etc). In 1964-65, Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” led to the last major increase in social programs and funding (Medicare, Medicaid), the cost of which was added to the large budget deficits stemming from a catastrophic war in Vietnam.

In 1980, the reverse process of reducing state intervention began with Ronald Reagan’s “conservative [or neoliberal by European terminology] revolution,” which marked the start of an era of suppressed social and investment spending in the US. From 4% in 1967, taxation on corporate profits as a share of GDP has remained below the OECD average since 1980, and collapsed from 2% to 1% of GDP under Trump.

Interestingly, the biggest shift of the American pendulum toward liberal – in the American sense – policies has been led by an elderly president who has spent his long political life in the moderate center.

This also indicates the pragmatic rather than ideological nature of this shift, in response to the urgent necessities facing America; to defuse the division and polarization and bridge the huge income inequalities of the last four decades; to stimulate with investment areas that are falling into decline and poverty; to reintegrate the radicalized blacks and marginalized, low-educated whites whose social subsidence has left them susceptible to the demagoguery of Trumpism; to allow the US to regain its global leadership role in digital technology, challenged by China’s dynamic advances in artificial intelligence; to return America to a leadership role in the green transformation of the economy, responding to a long-standing demand of its allies; and, finally, to strengthen the health system and protect lower-income groups from the largest pandemic of the last 100 years.

To do all this, Biden has adopted the heaviest spending programs since the days of Lyndon Johnson, with a plan to increase the tax rate for businesses and higher-income groups, bringing them close not to the levels of the 1960s (when the top rate reached 90%), but to modern European levels. In a momentous initiative, as announced by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the US will support the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in its efforts to establish a uniform minimum corporate tax rate of 21%.

That would allow the US and European governments to raise revenue from large multinationals, such as digital technology companies, which have exploited global tax competition to the extent that some pay no taxes at all.

These are developments of momentous implications for Europe and for Greece. The US is converging toward a “European” model of public spending and progressive taxation. For Greece, in particular, whose level of public debt precludes the possibility of a radical reduction in tax rates, the Biden initiative to establish an international minimum corporate tax rate could reduce the competitive pressure from countries with very low tax rates.

The European Union’s efforts to coordinate taxation weakens the negotiating position of tax havens such as Ireland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and countries in Eastern Europe. It also puts pressure on Europe to implement a still more generous public investment program in the wake of its major recovery package, which now pales in comparison with Biden’s 2.8 trillion USD (to which another 2.2 trillion USD for the next eight years should be added).

An exciting footnote of this historical shift is the story of a grassroots movement launched by a courageous African-American woman. When Stacey Abrams lost the gubernatorial elections in Georgia, she started a massive door-to-door campaign to mobilize thousands of black voters to register to vote. Georgia is a conservative white state with a high concentration of blacks in Atlanta.

The great mobilization of black voters allowed Georgia to replace its two Republicans with two Democratic senators in the November 2020 elections, one of them African American. Thanks to them, the Democrats leveled out the Senate (50–50), giving Vice President Kamala Harris the casting vote. Without this narrow majority, President Biden would have been unable to get anything meaningful through Congress.

Of course, it is too early for statements of account. The overall impact of Biden’s initiatives on the economy remains to be seen. But if anyone tells you citizens’ votes don’t count, tell them about Georgia.


PS.  A Big Happy Birthday to my Beautiful Granddaughter Gavi.

Friday, May 7, 2021

The Bouchercon Memoir Part One


For various reasons, like the house falling down, I am packing stuff into boxes and  shuffling the boxes around as the builders make their way from one disaster zone to another. For the last  10 years, a visit to my fridge has necessitated a  walk on a plank as the kitchen has no floor. Some vagrant who goes by the name Zoe Sharp once visited for a overnighty, expecting bed and breakfast. She got a curry for her tea at a wee curry house and no breakfast, as we have no ‘kitchen’ in the normal usage of that word.


                                                    I have no recall of writing this. Honestly.


I view this as part of my wild and crazy writer's lifestyle. ( I have a lifestyle now. Before that it was a survival plan.)

The packing up has  meant going through old notebooks. I realised I had seven notebooks on the go for current issues and have just typed out all the lists under the correct categories. The document was ten thousand words long - no wonder my head felt like it was exploding, carrying all that information/nonsense/murder plots around.   The notebooks make for scary reading. I don’t use public transport as I would be arrested if anybody looked over my shoulder and read what I was writing.

Phone dentist.

Put mathilda in a cage

Kill the blonde in the hut, The DNA of the paramedic will be smeared in her  face.

Buy beans.

Push Kerr off the Connell Bridge


                  Anatomically correct and precise forensic image of somebody being hit on the head.


I also found the notes that I made during a Bouchercon. I'm not saying which Bouchercon  and I'm not saying which MIE blogger was sitting beside me. They did comment on the blood red colour of ink in my fountain pen.  Then they moved one seat away. If they wish to make themselves known, they can. If not, they can pay me for my silence.

The panel was called, "how to reboot your career; 6 losers and a cowboy hat".

 I have no idea why I have written down what I did but here it is. Make sense of it if you can…

Re-imagine your future; Shakespeare  wrote a whole load of different things. She (name's hidden to protect the guilty) auditioned (?) for a cosy. Got the gig and that was her career. She then self published mystery and her second career took off.

Eg faith based books- how to drag your readers along  on your mystery fiction journey. Christian books – like being married to one man- there’s only one way to do it. They have 40 books, all co-authored. So to reboot yourself as a writer – there are 6 ways to kiss, 7 ways to die.

Lee Goldberg ( monk, diagnosis murder) commented that he has never written Christian fiction but  will do so by the end of the day. He advises to write what you write – follow your own fashion but keep an eye on the market. Agents will stick you in a genre and want you to stay there. Write first and then keep writing.

  The eye witness gave a description 
to the forensic artist.


If at first you do succeed, keep striving to do it better.

(for some reason, I have then scribbled 'The Goddess of Fire' )

You have to be a marketer and a performer.

The lady at the end said that she had written twenty books, had them published but  had still managed to avoid having a writing career.

If you come to a fork in the road, take it. A Stonewall Jackson joke. 



Reboot by tie in books. Writer for hire. Be wary as the work does not belong to you. Maybe sign up for four and walk away. A publisher can own books but writers gets royalties. Riding the coat tails  of a hugely successful author ( esp a dead one) can be good for  a career. He’s applying  to be the next Tom Clancy,

Reboot your name- Avery Aims ( can’t read writing too well) is a good name as first on bookshelf. The name was owned by the publisher not the author when she was writing the cheese shop mysteries.


 Obviously a triangulation of cell site  activity involving a location,  a Chelsea bun and the bloke from David Bowie's  Ashes to Ashes video.



The cook might write a cookbook but cook book readers don’t read crime. The crime fiction writers will go onto read cookbooks.

We might have more of that later!

And one writer I know went on to edit a  cookbook that reached the short list of some kind of prize- no idea what but the ‘do’ for it was in the Louvre - yes that one; the one that Tom Hanks  threw the tracker device out of the loo/louvre window to distract the baddies and move on the plot of The DaVinci Code, The Dan Browne one. Yes, there was a plot.

Anyway,  the editor didn’t go to the big function. The  book didn't win. Thank goodness. I could see us being detained and having to explain Craig Robertson's  recipe for black pudding made from human blood. Don’t ever get into a lift with that man. He's from Stirling.






Thursday, May 6, 2021

Treasure hunt

 Michael - Thursday

Most treasure hunts in Botswana are after the mysterious source of the Namibian alluvial diamonds (Death of the Mantis), undiscovered animals and plants (Dying to Live), and new diamond-bearing kimberlites (A Carrion Death). But in June 2018, an intrepid team set out to find something far more rare than diamonds. The search area couldn’t have been more challenging. It was in the north of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, an area larger than the Netherlands. Situated in the heart of Botswana, it's a semiarid wilderness. If you get lost there, you’d better have plenty of water and a satellite phone. Take a look at the satellite image of the Motopi Pan area HERE.

Fortunately, these explorers had a good idea of where to look. In fact, the source of their target was photographed by a CCTV camera a few nights before, and they knew roughly where they expected it to be. Take a look at the clip:

They were searching for fragments of asteroid of an asteroid which only a few weeks before was spotted on a collision course with Earth. If it had been big, I might not be writing this blog today, but it was only about two cu metres (50 cu feet) and 5,000 kg (10,000 lbs), and it was expected to largely burn up before it reached the ground. Still, it was travelling at about 60,000 km per hour as it entered the atmosphere. 

It was the pieces that reached the ground that the team was interested in.

The next day, the team started their treasure hunt. It included scientists from the Botswana Geoscience Institute, and an international team of meteorite experts. Meteorites are not very rare, but they become weathered and contaminated. The excitement was for a piece that would be brand new. However, they knew that almost all of the material had been destroyed.

This lion looks as though he could have spotted a geologist...

Gemsbok with lion roaring

Guards from the Botswana national park accompanied them. Despite its arid nature, the CKGR is rich in all sorts of wildlife, not all of it friendly. To make matters worse, what they were looking for was pretty similar to the animal droppings that scattered the Kalahari sand. Mohutsiwa Gabadirwe, a geologist and curator at the Botswana Geoscience Institute, called it, “a totally unusual experience for all of us.” 

It seemed that this treasure hunt was going to end the same way as most of them do. After three weeks of searching, they'd found nothing. Long hours and long walks in all the most likely locations had left them with empty hands and sore feet.

Near Mtopi campsite

Then, on the last day of the expedition, the 23rd of June, they finally had success. They were near Motopi Pan and so the fragment is known as the Motopi meteorite. There it was, lying waiting to be picked up. 

2018 LA in situ 

A moment to remember

This month, there was a sequel to the story. Playing detective, astrophysicists have managed to trace 2018 LA back to its original home. It seems that, just as it died with a bang, it was born with a bang when another small asteroid crashed into Vesta, which is a serious asteroid. The resulting explosion produced a crater named Rubria and sent masses of material out into space, including the chuck that started on a twenty-two million year journey to rendezvous with Earth.

Rubria crater on Vesta from NASA's DAWN spacecraft

As Rra Gabadirwe put it, “It is such an amazing thing to be in possession of such a rare specimen with so much history attached to it.”

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

A Daughter's Passing

Sujata Massey

On that morning, who says I’m not there?

I’m in the stars, in the stars

In the blades of the grass

In the wind, in the wind

In the blue of the sky.

--Rabindranath Tagore


My father read this comforting poem to me over Zoom last week, and I wept. 


Our family had suffered the unthinkable: the death of a child. On April 18, 2021, my daughter Pia Massey passed away, with cause of death yet to be determined. This shock has turned the beautiful spring into a very sad season for our family.


I’m guessing most readers of this column already have had the experience of losing a beloved relative or best friend, a teacher or therapist. I feel like my 22-year-old daughter was a little of all these things. 


I first met Pia in Kerala, India, in December 1998, when she was a little over six months old. Her birth mother, Jasmine, spent her third trimester at a privately run orphanage and shelter providing housing and prenatal care for women with unplanned pregnancies. The organization worked with CARA, the Central Adoption Registry Agency, which is based in Delhi, and adoption agencies in India and overseas to find the right family for each relinquished child. There were cases wherein single mothers staying in this place kept their babies—very rare in India, but it made me glad that this also happened. My sister Rekha was with me during this trip, making it much easier for the novice mother to take care of a baby who was just learning to crawl. We were further aided by our relatives, the Parikh and Banerjee families in Kolkata, where we stayed while waiting for the immigration process to complete.


When I carried Pia into the United States, she was almost 9 months old. My husband Tony was relieved and elated to meet her after the months of waiting. He’d stocked our freezer with microwaveable servings he'd made of dal, the Indian lentil dish she already knew.


Pia was a lively, verbal toddler, at which time we adopted our second child, her brother Neel, three years younger, and from the same place in Kerala. Pia did kindergarten through the first half of second grade in Baltimore. Then we all moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota for six years, where she finished elementary school and started middle school. In 2013, Pia returned to Baltimore, and graduated from the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, a public high school with a focus on math and science.


Beginning at the age of ten, Pia did volunteer work with babies at her orphanage when we returned to visit twice—her second visit was at age sixteen. During Pia’s high school years, she volunteered with children at Camp St. Vincent in East Baltimore and Stony Run Friends’ First Day School. Pia studied at Towson University and Montgomery College, with a special interest in psychology and criminal justice. She worked for a year as a phlebotomist with the Pennsylvania Red Cross, a job she enjoyed very much. 


As she grew older, anxiety and depression surfaced, and Pia valiantly went through outpatient and inpatient treatment. For a lot of her life, she felt well and made progress. Other times she would just say, “Mom, I’m struggling,” and those simple words were meant to keep from from asking more. She sometimes said that her goal was to work as a counselor assisting youth suffering similar difficulties, and she earned strong grades and support from her college professors. 


Pia made friends easily, worked for social justice, and she often gave her last dollar to homeless people she encountered. Pia was loving and expressive of her feelings toward our family and the extended family in Louisiana and Minnesota. She loved dogs, driving cars, sharing funny videos, reading suspense novels, and cooking seafood dishes.


The world lost so much when Pia left it, and I will never forget her passion to help at-risk young women. I am donating in Pia's name to several nonprofits she didn't know about, but would have cheered.  One group in Maryland is named GEM (Girls Empowerment Mission), which mentors bright girls from economically deprived backgrounds through their high school years and into college. The other charity is ApneAap in India, a group that’s made huge progress reducing prostitution permanently and helping the children of prostitutes get education and housing away from red light districts. Currently they are providing meals during India’s Covid surge to these high-risk families.


It was hard to write this column, and I wept with every paragraph. Twenty-two years ago, I couldn’t have imagined my mother-daughter journey would culminate in such great loss. Yet I’d never want to have missed the gift of trying and tremendous years with my beloved Pia.

Monday, May 3, 2021

At the going down of the sun and in the morning ...

Craig every second Tuesday.

Kia ora and gidday everyone.

So since my last post a fortnight ago a rather momentous day for Aussies and Kiwis passed on by. 

For more than a century the 25th of April has brought both antipodean nations to a pause, a special and sombre day where we remember the soldiers, sailors, and others who have served (and are still serving) our countries in wars and conflicts all over the world. Anzac Day, as that date is known in our part of the world, has been commemorated every year since 1916, the first anniversary of an ill-fated battle. 

Dawn over Anzac Cove on Turkey's Gallipoli peninsula

Ten years ago, I took the photo above. Like many young Aussies and Kiwis, I'd made the pilgrimage to Gallipoli, a rocky peninsula in Turkey, a place whose name alone resonates strongly with us from a young age, regardless of our family ties or otherwise to the military. Perhaps it's the equivalent of 'Pearl Harbour' for Americans, in that the name has so much more weight than just its geography.

106 years ago, on 25 April 1915, our two nations first fought side by side under the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) banner – our soldiers landing together at dawn on a desolate beach on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. The campaign and landing were a military bungle by the British commanders (including the First Lord of the Admiralty, a certain Winston Churchill) - but the attitudes, actions, and courage of the Australian and New Zealand soldiers both at Gallipoli and over the many battles and years since, stoked a burgeoning sense of independent identity and nationhood.

Anzac. It’s a powerful word for anyone from our end of the world. 

But despite attending many an Anzac Day parade in New Zealand as a youngster – feeling proud as we marched, paper poppies pinned to our Scout uniforms, alongside aging veterans weighed down with medals, and feeling my skin tingle as the notes of the Last Post rang out – I don’t think I truly grasped its significance until that freezing morning I experienced on the Gallipoli peninsula ten years ago. 

Thousands of young Kiwis and Aussies, buried 10,000 miles from home

Gallipoli. Another word drenched in meaning for antipodeans. The afternoon before we’d walked down a dusty road towards the site of the ceremony, past open fields and sheer cliff faces that few would want to scale in the best of conditions let alone when you were under heavy gunfire, past cemeteries where white stones marked where men from all parts of Australasia, every state, city, and town, lay side by side, forever. Looking back, I have to admit that before taking that walk Gallipoli was a name from a book, a place on a map, a word that carried weight because of what we’d read or watched on TV. 

Then,  it was real. It may sound kind of silly, I know, and for many people dirt is dirt is dirt, but I couldn’t help myself from placing a hand on the grass beside those graves (I wasn’t alone), and thinking that there was something special, something meaningful, about this particular strip of earth. I have family buried near European battlefields, but as far as I’m aware, none here. 

But I still felt something in the air at Gallipoli.

It was a surreal, special experience visiting that tiny part of Turkey, a nation overflowing with rich history (Greek, Roman, Biblical, Ottoman Empire, and more) far beyond its (relatively) modern meaning for Aussies and Kiwis. 

And I had a few realisations over the course of the 24 hours or so we spent exploring and camping out under the stars at Gallipoli. For the first three decades of my life I'd thought of Anzac Day as a sadly special day for two countries, my own and our closest neighbour.

The crowds huddling up for a long, cold night before the dawn service

It was their ages that particularly got me. We were huddled together, thousands of Kiwis and Aussies wrapped in blankets, beanies, jackets, thermals and sleeping bags to ward off the bone-chilling overnight temperatures of a spring morning at Anzac Cove. The sky hadn’t yet lightened, it was still the ‘wee small hours’ of 25 April, and the big screens had been showing the haunting images of a small selection of our forebears who’d lost their lives on this blustery peninsula almost a century ago. They were all so young, most in their teens or very early twenties. At the time I liked to consider myself still a young (ish) man, at 32, and yet only two of the many dozens of soldiers shown were my age or older. 

We often say we sent our men to war, all those years ago, but in truth we really sent our boys. 

And lost so very many of them.

More than 2,700 New Zealanders and 8,700 Australians died at Gallipoli. Many thousands of others were terribly injured. Young men and boys from across our nations. While the numbers are horrifying enough, time and distance perhaps underplays them. Despite being about as far away from the battlefronts of the First World War that you could get, and in no direct danger ourselves, New Zealand sent more than 42% of its men of military age overseas to fight alongside the UK and other allies. 

Anzac soldiers landing at Gallipoli were faced with steep terrain and deadly artillery
To put it in perspective, the losses at Gallipoli, given New Zealand's population at the time, are the equivalent of the United States losing just under 900,000 people in a single military campaign today.

It's hard to fathom. 

You can see why it was such a big deal for Australia and New Zealand, and why Anzac Day was commemorated since 1916 (the one year anniversary of the landing) even as the war raged on. 

But let’s not forget, around 20,000 Turks died on that peninsula too, defending their country against forces who were outside invaders. We may have been fighting for freedom, but so were they.

Ten years ago, as we were let in to find a patch on the grassy slope or a seat in the stands, and night began to fall, the reminders were all around of what we were really there for; to remember. 

Wreaths of remembrance at Gallipoli

The New Zealand, Australian, and Turkish flags flew high above us. Military personnel, New Zealand, Australian and Turkish, wandered the grounds. Informative films about the Anzacs and the Turks played on the big screens. Military bands entertained the crowds throughout the night (not everyone appreciated the New Zealand Air Force band launching into a stirring rendition of some old classics at 3am, but I enjoyed it). At midnight, messages were played from then Prime Ministers Julia Gillard (Australia) and John Key (New Zealand), and during the night we saw broadcasts from services already happening back home Downunder (it was strange being ‘behind’ timewise), and as the sky began to lighten everyone stirred themselves from drowsiness or sleep for the dawn service. 

It was a strange mix of emotions, being there at Gallipoli. You could see it on everyone’s faces.

There were few dry eyes as the words of the Anzac Dedication rang out:

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”

But the dawn service at North Beach wasn't the end of our Anzac Day experience in Turkey. Afterwards we wandered the beach, chatted to Turkish soldiers, and then began the hike up the steep trails and roads to the Australian service at Lone Pine and then further on up the road to the New Zealand service at Chunuk Bair. Turkish boy scouts handed out water bottles on the way up.

Compulsory 'flag at Anzac Cove' photo

It really was a surreal and special experience, celebrating Anzac Day in Turkey. 

And it opened up my eyes to the fact it is a very special day and remembrance not just for two countries. When you think about it, how many nations would warmly welcome the descendants of an invading force to come and commemorate the very men who killed so many of their own people? 

War is a horrible, horrible thing, for whatever reason it is fought. 

How many military commanders would years later, as President of their country, say words such as these about the men they fought against: 

"Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

I was amazed by what the Turkish people had done at Anzac Cove, not only opening their doors, but creating a memorial area for thousands of Kiwis and Aussies to gather every year (well, pre-pandemic). 

And I was left with the realisation that despite years of thinking of Anzac Day as something about Australia and New Zealand, that'd I'd been wrong. For me now, it isn't about two countries, but three. 

Until next time. Ka kite anō.

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

Ko te manu e kai ana i te miro, nōna te ngahere. Ko te manu e kai ana i te mātauranga, nōnā te ao

(The bird who feeds on the miro berry has the forest. The bird who feeds on knowledge has the world.)

The native New Zealand kererū (wood pigeon) is particularly fond of miro berries

Talking to Myself

 Annamaria on Monday

I think my current attempts to master dictation have been aided by the fact that, over the past year, I have developed a habit of talking to myself.  I don't remember who it was, but once in my deep past I spoke to someone who admitted that he talked to himself.  He said, “Why not? I like to talk to an intelligent person, and I like to hear an intelligent person talk.” I don’t share his sentiments. I would rather talk to another human being, and I know for certain that it would be more interesting to me to hear another person's words, instead of just my own.


I have however been talking to myself quite a bit of late. I was comforted to learn, from a psychologist on the radio, that this new habit isn't a sign of insanity. It is actually not at all a bad thing to do, especially when one is in pandemic-induced solitary confinement.



Sometimes, when I am talking to myself, I am actually speaking to a person who is not present, frequently to a person whose presence I sorely miss. I am 92.96% certain that I am not the only human on earth to have developed this habit over the last 14 months.



I readily admit that I have always talked to myself as a writer, words of encouragement or words of caution. Here are some of the phrases that I have found helpful:


When Drafting  


I tell myself: “It doesn't have to be good.  It just has to exist.  Then, it can become good.”


Having instilled this attitude in myself over a long period of time, I find it helps me keep going when I am second-guessing myself.  Somehow, and don't ask me how, my characters seem to know better than I what the story needs to be. Second-guessing them only gets in the way. Even when I know I am writing drivel, I force myself to keep going.


Aside: I just sneezed. The dictation function in Word listened to my sneeze and typed this: “serious.” Should I tell it that I don't have covid, just spring allergies? 


To take up where I left off, here’s another thing I tell myself when drafting: “Stop here! Don't finish this sentence.  You are going to have to quit for the day in the next few minutes.  Since you know the rest of this sentence, when you come back you will be able to pick up where you left off and get right back into the story.”  I find this technique almost magical. All I will have to do when I get back to the computer keyboard is read the last paragraph or two, finish that sentence with the words I had in mind, and then I am off and running. 

While Editing 


“Less is more.” This is a constant reminder to myself. The advice applies particularly, I think, to historical novelists.  We research and research and then are sorely tempted to dump all those fascinating little tidbits of history into the story. I allow myself to regurgitate them into the first draft, but when editing I force myself to cut them out and toss them away . Alternatively, of course, I can write a blog about them. The thing is that, in the editing stage, I will understand much more clearly what the story needs. Then, I can choose the most telling detail—one that will tell the reader something about where the story is going , or better yet, something about the character and what she is thinking. 




Lots of times I find my draft sentences are extraordinarily complex with lots of participial phrases, many of them. When editing, I find every time I have used the verb “to be.” Action verbs are what a really good story needs most. They keep the narrative lively and make moving pictures in the minds of the readers. I take each page circle  all the forms of “to be.” I try to find ways to recast the sentences so that the verbs are active. I allow myself only three “to be” verbs on a page.  This is a tedious task. I have to talk to myself a lot to keep at it.  The words often come to me in the scolding voice of Sister Mary Catharine, my professor of writing and wonderful mentor whose memory I revere,  because she would never stand for less than my very best.


Lots of times , when I am writing , particularly when I am editing myself, the voice in my head is hers . But I did make up one admonition for myself.  Here it is: 


Every once in a while, write a three-word sentence. 



By the way: It is impossible for me to find proper illustrations for this discourse. But I think it's probably awfully dull, and I want to liven it up with photos.  The ones here today are pictures of places that I wish I could have visited over the past 14 months. Or—I say with hope in my heart—that I will visit in the next fourteen.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Going Internet Cold Turkey

Zoë Sharp

A couple of weeks ago, I went up north to do some refurbishment work to my house (the house I own but not where I live—it’s a long story).


What should have been a three-day trip away turned into two weeks—blame the pandemic. You see, when lockdown happened across the UK in March 2020, the construction industry was allowed to continue. Manufacturing, however, was largely shut down. This has meant that all the manufactured materials associated with building, or repairing anything to do with a property, are now in very Short Supply.


Fortunately, I rarely travel anywhere without my laptop, and I also had all my notes for the book on which I’m currently doing structural edits. So, between waiting in vain for things to turn up or be delivered, I was still able to work. The house is furnished, but otherwise empty.


And it has no phone or internet connection.


Because I’ve been away so rarely over the past year, I have around 3Gb a month of data allowance on my mobile phone. Normally, that’s plenty. But, I also have free access to a wi-fi connection when I’m at my desk.


No problem, thought I. People go on writers’ retreats in remote locations all the time, where they luxuriate in the lack of distractions such as phone signal or internet access in order to really get into the creative zone. They come back with oodles written, thoroughly refreshed and relaxed.




It seems that I am not one of those people.


I hadn’t realised how often I just nip onto my browser to look up a quick fact, mid-chapter—sometimes even mid-sentence. What I find can often alter what I write, or the way that I write it.


A few examples of questions from my current work-in-progress include:


What headgear is worn by female uniformed police constables in the UK?

(Answer: a bowler with a curly brim.)


What is the minimum and maximum time you can serve in the Royal Navy?

(Answer: you can enrol between the ages of 16 and 39 and serve up to 22 years, although the minimum length of service is four years.)

How fast is average walking pace, and how long would it take to walk 1.3 miles?

(Answer: average walking speed is anywhere between 2mph and 4mph, thus it would take you between 14 and 26 minutes. For my purposes, bearing in mind this walk was undertaken in the dark and in heavy rain, even allowing for some urgency, I reckoned somewhere between 20 and 25 minutes.)

What make of motorcycles are used by British police motorcyclists?

(Answer: most likely Yamaha or BMW.)


Is there a flower that symbolises justice?

(Answer: black-eyed Susan.)

Who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”?

(Answer: this is actually a bit of a grey area. Although this quote is often credited to Edmund Burke—including in a speech by John F. Kennedy in 1961—he didn’t use those exact words. It’s also attributed to John Stuart Bell, who said something similar, but again, not those exact words. Indeed, it appears that the earliest (closest) use was by the Rev. Charles F. Aked in 1916 in a speech asking for restrictions on the use of alcohol: “It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing.”)


Of course, back when I first started writing, it was pre-Internet, so I collected reference books, dictionaries, and encyclopaedias. It’s rather sad to note that charity book stores in the UK have largely stopped accepting encyclopaedias because everyone has been throwing them out. How things change. Makes me wonder how will we do our research in the future?


This week’s Word of the Week is bibliosmia, meaning the act of smelling a book for pleasure.


Saturday, May 1, 2021

This Weekend is a Time of Celebration in Greece




This weekend marks three celebratory events.  Traditionally, May 1st ends the hunker down winter mindset on Mykonos, and harbingers the coming joyful days of summer—and still does, even though Covid times leave a bit more hunkering down left to do. Do you remember your childhood days dancing around the maypole and crowning the Queen of the May?  You probably do if you’re British, probably not if you were raised in the U.S.


This rejoicing for the change of seasons goes back to ancient pagan days and virtually all northern hemisphere cultures had some sort of “spring rite” festivities. The earliest festivals were linked to the Roman goddess of flowers (Flora), Germanic celebrations of what is now called Walpurgis Night (named after the patron saint of those suffering from rabies, it’s also known as “the witches sabbath” coming precisely six months after All Hallows Eve—interesting combination), and the Celtic Beltane (a springtime festival of optimism).


On Mykonos locals take great pride in fashioning circular wreaths out of grape vines tied off with bunches of wildflowers (aloe, statice, geraniums, daises, lavender, and the like), angelica, olive, rosemary, wheat, bay leaf, and for some, whole cloves of garlic.  They’re quite beautiful and for those wreaths proudly hung on front doors which survive another Mykonian tradition—wreath heisting by neighborhood children—they’re burned on the day of the Summer Solstice (June 22nd) as the adventuresome jump over the flames three times making a wish as they do…probably not to burn off their you-know-whats in the process.   


May 1st also marks International Worker’s Day.  If you live virtually anywhere outside of the U.S. you probably know that.  Inside, likely not.  The U.S. has stuck to the first Monday in September as its Labor Day and Americans generally associate May 1st with a communist or socialist workers holiday, complete with grandiose military parades in such places as Russia, North Korea, and Cuba. 


I’d venture to say most Americans have no idea that International Worker’s Day is officially celebrated in most countries around the world not to glorify any foreign ideal or event, but to mark what occurred in Chicago, Illinois on May 4, 1888.  Permit me to lift the following description of what happened from Wikipedia’s entry, “The Haymarket Affair.”


“The Haymarket affair (also known as the Haymarket massacre or Haymarket riot) refers to the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at Haymarket Square in Chicago. It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour day. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they acted to disperse the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians, and the wounding of scores of others.


“In the internationally publicized legal proceedings that followed, eight anarchists were convicted of conspiracy, although the prosecution conceded none of the defendants had thrown the bomb. Seven were sentenced to death and one to a term of 15 years in prison. The death sentences of two of the defendants were commuted by Illinois governor Richard J. Oglesby to terms of life in prison, and another committed suicide in jail rather than face the gallows. The other four were hanged on November 11, 1887. In 1893, Illinois’ new governor John Peter Altgeld pardoned the remaining defendants and criticized the trial.


“The Haymarket affair is generally considered significant as the origin of international May Day observances for workers.  The site of the incident was designated a Chicago Landmark on March 25, 1992, and a public sculpture was dedicated at the site in 2004. The Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument in nearby Forest Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark on February 18, 1997.”


And now we come to THE most significant celebration being observed by Greeks all over the globe this weekend.


Tomorrow is Easter, by far the main event in Orthodoxy.  It is preceded by more than a week of significant religious and cultural observations, curtailed again this year somewhat by the constraints of our times. But allow me to take you back to pre-pandemic days on Mykonos, as a guide to a much prayed for return to the future.


In the winter, Mykonos is a sleepy island village with virtually no tourists, no business, few open bars, fewer restaurants, and no clubs.  But come Easter Week everything changes.  Red and yellow springtime poppies burst to life all over the island’s hillsides, and those and still more varieties of flowers embroider the blanket of green covering the nearby holy island of Delos.  There are Church services every day of Holy Week, as well as daily preparations for the feast to come at the end.  Breads and cookies are readied on Monday and Tuesday, baking is done on Wednesday, and eggs are dyed red on Thursday, the day before Christ was put up on the Cross.


By Thursday, Mykonos is filled with mainland Greeks flocking to their vacation homes and others looking to participate in a perfect example of spiritual and temporal coexistence: Easter church rituals strictly observed during the day, followed by the island’s as nearly hallowed party traditions through the night.  But that taste of the coming mid-summer craziness is short lived, for if you don’t catch the action that weekend come by in June, because Mykonos is back in relative hibernation until the tourists stream back to the island.


Evening services on Good Friday start at seven in the old town’s three main churches, Kiriake, Metropolis, and Panachra.  At precisely nine, each church’s clergy and worshipers leave their church in separate processions carrying their church’s epitaphios (the painted or embroidered cloth representation of Christ on a bier elaborately adorned in spring flowers and symbolizing his tomb) along a prearranged route, winding past the other two churches before ending up back at their own to complete the service.  It represents the funeral of Christ, and Mykonians and visitors line the route, some standing on balconies and sprinkling the participants below with a mixture of rose water and perfumes, the rodhonoro used on Christ’s body when taken down from the cross.


The same three churches serve as the scene of the following night’s Holy Saturday services.  Most generally start heading off to church around ten, but for certain everyone is there by midnight.  For that is the high point of Easter, when church bells ring out across Greece and even total strangers exchange the traditional Christos Anesti and Alithos Anesti greetings that Christ has risen, kiss each other, and light each other’s candles to share the light and joy of the occasion—a light brought to Greece for just this purpose from the Holy Flame of Christ’s nativity cave in Jerusalem.  Worshipers carry the light back into their homes or their favorite restaurants, except for the hearty souls who remain in church for the balance of a service that lasts hours more into the morning.


Now it is time to challenge each other with the customary one-to-one smacking of those dyed-red eggs for good luck to the winner (mine always cracks first) and devour the traditional mayiritsa soup (made from parts of a lamb you may ask me about if you really want to know), fluffy tsoureki easter bread, and salads to break the forty-day fast leading up to Easter.


But the big feast, the one everyone looks forward to, comes on Sunday.  That’s when all the work of the week and all the spring lambs find their purpose.  There is church, too, of course, but this day is more about celebrating with family and friends.  And eating.



But what makes this Easter so special for Barbara and me--isolated as we are in the US for a second Greek Easter--is that her sons are flying in to join us.  It will be the first time we've seen them in 17 months -- and they're bringing their own lamb!!


Dieting starts Monday.  Kalo Paska, God Bless, and STAY SAFE.




Jeff's in formation A DEADLY TWIST virtual tour schedule


Thursday, May 6, 7 :30–9:00 p.m. ET
Riverstone Bookstore—Pittsburgh, PA
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