Friday, December 8, 2023

A romantic interlude

 Here we  host a guest blogger, that most weird of things - a romantic fiction writer!  How do they write so well without killing anybody. How do they resist it?

Here's Fiona Lindsay, riding high in the kindle charts as I type this!

She answered my probing questions while sipping a herbal tea!

When did you start writing?

At university – I loved books and, after reading a few that really captured my imagination, I decided to have a try at writing a (very bad) novel myself.


What drew you to writing romantic fiction?


I’d started off writing character-led books about relationships, but one evening I having a jokey conversation with a writer friend about whether we had it in us to write a Mills & Boon (I suspect the answer is a resounding “no” and it’s not nearly as easy as we might think). The idea must have appealed to me, though, as, the next time I had a free afternoon, I started writing a romance. However, I found I couldn’t take it seriously, so it morphed into a rom-com.



People who know about things say that crime fiction reflects the society it exists in. Is it the same for romantic fiction?

 I’d say so – there are many books around at the moment about dating in the modern world, for example – using apps such as Hinge and Tinder, rather than meeting IRL (in real life). There’s a whole new vocabulary around it, to the point that one book I read has a glossary at the back, including such terms as ghosting, flexting and zombie-ing. On the other hand, Regency novels are perennially popular, I presume because readers enjoy reading about the society of that era and like the idea of a dashing Regency buck fighting for the heroine’s honour.


What do you tend to read?

I do like books about relationships and what makes people tick, especially if they’re funny too (e.g. David Nicholls), but I also enjoy a tightly plotted detective story or a psychological thriller (Barbara Vine is spellbinding). I don’t normally read short stories, but I did love Hings, by Chris McQueer and Ely Percy’s Duck Feet, both written in West of Scotland dialect and laugh-out-loud funny.


Some of the situations in your books are very funny (e.g. the wedding). Do you find those scenes easy to write?

 Yes – much of it is observation. The hen party was (loosely) based on a work night out/hen do in Paisley, and I got inspiration for the wedding from my ex-boss’s. I actually took along pen and paper and scribbled some notes (my colleagues didn’t mind – they’re used to me).

 How do you plot a romantic novel? (We start by killing someone).

 I start off with a character, and then add someone he/she can partner up with, but I want the story to have some substance, and am quite fond of the “friends to lovers” trope, as you can’t truly fall in love with someone unless you have trust and a strong friendship first. I’d never heard the word “trope” until fairly recently, but it’s a current fashion in romance fiction to use story lines which have long been popular, but with a tongue-in-cheek twist. Some examples would be: friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, second time around, grumpy meets sunshine and, my personal favourite, the “one bed” trope.

 Where do you find your characters, and all those handsome musicians?

 I’ve always worked in local government – big offices with hundreds of people from different walks of life. If I wanted to research the viewpoint of a nineteen year old, I could always find one to ask. However, I’ve only ever once completely based a character on someone I know – a hilarious, larger-than-life girl in my team, but, even then, she was exaggerated. In terms of musicians specifically, I’m not musical at all, but love listening to music and have known quite a few musicians (and interviewed a couple).

 Is Kirklochy real, or where is it based on?

 Unfortunately, it isn’t real, but I was greatly influenced by a holiday in Ullapool, so, if Kirklochy did exist it would be just near there (i.e. about an hour and a quarter’s drive north of Inverness).

 Do you hang around with clothes designers? Do you look in designer shop windows? What research do you do?

 I’ve always been interested in fashion – it runs in the family. My great aunt was a fashion buyer by profession and my mother and aunt chronic clothesaholics. Even my brother is quite a natty dresser, but by instinct rather than choice. I’ve read up on it and gone to exhibitions, and I have also hung around with fashion designers. I was a volunteer for an ethical fashion project and met some seriously cool people, especially at a fashion show we ran (I was backstage, ironing garms).

 And the covers?

 I love colour and I like to design my own covers – it’s another form of self-expression. My latest novel is set in Camden Town and I went there for research purposes and tried to capture what it’s like – all the brightly coloured houses. I also work with a cover designer, Rebecca Johnstone (aka Dainty Dora). Rebecca enhances my artwork and overlays it with the typescript. She also designed my logo and bookmarks.



Would you like to live in one of your books? If so, who would you be?

 Definitely – I’d be Kirsty in A New Flame, as she has a creative job as a fashion designer and lives in a funky flat in Camden Town, near the market.             


Cheers, and good luck with the books Fiona!

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Reading Africa Week

 Michael - Alternate Thursdays

This is Reading Africa Week, an initiative started by Catalyst Press in 2017. The idea is to promote good books of all genres from Africa. There are online interviews, panels, and discussions and lots of great book recommendations. Catalyst has focused on novels from Africa, and has published some excellent African crime novels internationally.

So what does Africa have to offer in the crime fiction/thriller genres? Basically, the answer is everything – great plots, fascinating settings, memorable characters. I’m going to try to justify that by going through some of my favorites here today. There are many, many, more, and I’d be delighted if you add your own as comments. 

I write a piece for the ITW The Big Thrill e-magazine most months titled Africa Scene in which I interview an author about her or his latest book. Almost all of the books mentioned below have been featured on Africa Scene and I’ve attached the link to the title in case you’d like to find out more about the story and its author.

So, for Reading Africa Week, why not choose something that appeals to your taste from this list and give it a go? You won’t be sorry.

Nail-biting Thrillers

Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer

Deon Meyer is probably the best known South African crime fiction writer, and there’s good reason for that. My pick here is Thirteen Hours. This book kept me up until 3am because I had to know how it was all going to work out. 

A young American tourist is running for her life on Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town. She's being hunted by killers. She doesn’t know why, and neither do we, but she does know that she has to keep running and hiding if she wants to stay alive. The police know she’s missing but have no clues. It’s a hectic race to the finish.

Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle

Leye Adenle's series features Amaka – a most unusual lady in Lagos, Nigeria. She’s made it her business to help protect prostitutes from the violence that leads to multiple female deaths, mostly from their clients, and most of which are ignored by the police. But there are other things going on, and Amaka and her boyfriend from London have a rough road ahead.

PI Thrillers

Sleeper by Mike Nicol

Mike Nicol uses sharp, short sentences for his PI thrillers. It helps set the mood and drive the tension. The private investigator in Sleeper is Fish Pescado. He’s a surfer boy in Cape Town, and his partner, Vicki, is an ex-spy with a South African spy authority, the State Security Agency. They make an unlikely but very intriguing combination. This is one of his best, balancing the PI and the spy aspects in a scary page turner.

The Missing American by Kwei Quartey

Readers of MIE know our blog-mate Kwei well, but if you haven’t read his Emma Djan series you're missing out. Start with The Missing American. It’s a twisty page-turner, delving into the dark domain of the Ghanaian internet fraudsters – the “sakawa boys”. They play their victims like game fish, but they're only part of a vicious web of corruption and witchcraft that reaches all the way to the top echelons of society. Emma has her work cut out for her in this excellent first outing.

Lightseekers by Femi Kayode

Philip Taiwo is an unusual private investigator. A psychologist with a thesis on behavior in crowds, he's tasked with finding out what happened when three students were attacked and set alight by a mob near a university in Nigeria. Lightseekers could be called a psychological thriller, but it’s really impossible to pigeonhole.

Character Mysteries

Okay, some people call them cozies. These are super, series characters linked to a good mystery that will keep you guessing.

Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew

 Tannie Maria is a delightful character, fixated on cooking, who has to give up her recipe column to become the local newspaper’s agony aunt.  She finds she has a talent for that too, but it leads her into a nasty series of murders. As a bonus, the book includes some of Tannie Maria’s most mouth-watering recipes.

Sibanda and the Rainbird by CM Elliot

Head north to Zimbabwe to meet Detective Inspector Sibanda and the team at the police station in Gubu, a fictional town near the Hwange National Park. Great characters (including Miss Daisy, their unreliable Land Rover) and a wonderful setting draw us in even before the intriguing plot does so.

Police Procedurals

Apostle Lodge
by Paul Mendelson

In Apostle Lodge a group of boys discover the body of a woman who seems to have been abused and then starved to death in an empty house.  Because of the circumstances, police detective Vaughn de Vries immediately suspects that it’s not a single crime but part of a series.  He finds it hard to attract the focus the crime deserves because a terrorist bomb blast has recently shaken Cape Town and the police are hunting for the perpetrators. As the cases progress, Vaughn finds himself sucked personally into both of them.

All Come to Dust by Bryony Rheam

All Come to Dust is a highly unusual police procedural. A woman is discovered dead in her home with a letter opener sticking out of her chest. Chief Inspector Edmund Dube goes to the scene. He immediately realizes that the victim was dead before she was stabbed as there's not enough blood. Nevertheless, the question of why she was stabbed remains. The crime is laid at the door of the recently dismissed gardener, but Edmund believes there's a lot more to it than that. However, the senior officers at the police station seem intent on thwarting his efforts to get to the bottom of the case.

Superficially, the novel seems to follow the usual tropes of the detective story genre, but as the author delves into Edmund's past, the book is rich with characterizations and subtle surprises. Nothing is as it seems.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

🌟 Kwei's Movie Reviews--"Rustin" on Netflix🌟

After the crush of Thanksgiving, I’m back with a new movie review. 

In my film reviews, I start with the benchmark of five stars and then deduct half or one point if the film 

falls short in any of the following categories:

·  Storyline ·  Screenplay ·  Acting ·  Direction ·  Character Arcs

The reviews are my opinions alone.

Bayard Rustin in Washington (Artistic rendition by DALL-E)

Plot overview of Rustin 

Netflix's compelling “Rustin” unveils the crucial but often overshadowed role of activist Bayard Rustin in the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The film, set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, details Rustin's interactions with iconic figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Ella Baker. It's a profoundly emotional and educational portrayal, ideal for viewers fascinated by history and social change. “Rustin” also explores Rustin's personal life, including his relationships with Tom Kahn and the fictional Elias Taylor, showcasing the struggles he faced due to his sexuality in a prejudiced era. The movie depicts Rustin's resilience and determination, making it a standout historical drama on Netflix. 

Star-Studded Cast Highlights

Colman Domingo’s stellar portrayal of Rustin overshadows an equally talented cast, including Aml Ameen as MLK Jr., Chris Rock as Roy Wilkins, Glynn Turman as A. Phillip Randolph, and Jeffrey Wright as Adam Clayton Powell. Their performances add layers to this compelling narrative, creating a must-watch cinematic experience. 

 Behind-The-Scenes Insights 

Produced by the Obamas' Higher Ground, the film has an esteemed production background. Domingo's insights into playing Rustin highlight the film's commitment to highlighting overlooked historical figures, making “Rustin” a significant cultural piece.

In-Depth Commentary 

Directed by George C. Wolfe, “Rustin” is a fusion of passion and exceptional acting. Domingo's portrayal, supported by Johnny Ramey's impactful performance as Elias Taylor, is a testament to the film's depth. Despite its limited runtime, “Rustin” captures the essence of Rustin's life and legacy. 


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐½ 


A beautifully crafted narrative bringing to life a key figure in civil rights history


Excellently written


Precise and clean


Outstanding performances by the entire cast, particularly Domingo 

Character Arcs 

Deeply engaging and intricately crafted, especially in the roles of Rustin and Elias Taylor 

Bottom Line 

“Rustin” is an extraordinary film highlighting a significant yet overlooked figure in American history. Its exploration of themes like sexual orientation and race is both relevant and necessary. This film is more than entertainment; it's a vital piece of historical reflection, making it a must-watch on Netflix.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Happy December Down Time!

Ovidia--every other Tuesday

Warning: hotchpotch ahead!

I'm happily nursing a minor infection, meaning I've been skipping yoga, pilates and the final round of proofs (not due till 15th Dec) with a clear conscience. And I'm really enjoying this down time!

The timing is perfect, since all my 'big' projects for the year are done (apart from those proofs) and I'm enjoying short walks, short swims and just being alive.

And I just got a gift from Ms Manja, my drosera binata--

--it's the first time she's flowered and I hope it doesn't mean she's going dormant!

I've also been catching up on reading, though I've still barely made a dent in my TBR pile.

Most striking: Ken Liu's The Hidden Girl. 

I found it weird and wonderful and surprisingly easy to get into, even with my tired brain. Old Chinese myths, internment of Japanese Americans, choosing the Matrix... I'll need to come back to this. What I found strange was, even though much dealt with the drastic ramifications of continuing on paths we've already started on, it ultimately left me feeling hopeful, simply because bringing these things up and playing with them helps us all survive them.

The other book that struck me most was Melissa Broder's Death Valley:

I was afraid this was going to be a depressing read--the writer protagonist is caring for a chronically ill husband while her father is in the ICU and she's trying to write in a Best Western in the desert the book's named after--and there's her grief and her fear of death--not of the moment of death, but of non-existence, something I totally empathise with. But it was comforting and cathartic, I felt like I'd spent time with an old friend, her offbeat tangents, bathroom humour and poignant observations--how 'love' is sometimes more a verb than an emotion--returned me to my own life feeling reassured that we're all just trying to figure out the best way to live.

And... I treated myself to the new Moriarty audiobook!

I didn't like the premise (Holmes and Moriarty working together? No...) But I got it because: Helen Mirren. And yes, she sounds super and horribly villainous here!

I've been listening to it while my eyes and hands work on other stuff, so I don't know what I think of it yet--

This is the crochet project--I'm almost finished, now working on the first of two sleeves of what's going to be a Christmas present/ next year's office cardigan for the Beloved.

This one, the waffle knit cardigan, is for myself! (cotton yarn, good for wearing in air conditioned rooms over sleeveless tops/ dresses)

I know playing mahjong is supposed to be great for mental and physical dexterity, but I'm hoping that listening to audiobooks while handcrafting will deliver some good too.

And Christmas is coming! The Christmas lights are up--

And the air plants are sharing space with  Christmas ball ornaments!

Happy December everyone, I hope you all get some great refreshing and recharging time!

Monday, December 4, 2023

Potholes of Historical Fiction 1.0: Anachronisms

Annamaria on Monday


Anachronisms show up all too often in films that take place in the past: like that reflection of a white commercial van in the window of a store that was supposed to be in Victorian London.  Or that character in a drama set in ancient Rome, who raised his hand in salute and was wearing a wristwatch.


Most historical novelists are careful to portray what life was really like in the period of their stories.  Friends of mine and I have discussed what we go through to make sure of all the details.  Some of us even look up the phase of the moon for the date in the story.  One said, "Since everything else is made up, we have to make the setting as real as we can, so we can imagine being there."


Many of us fear being caught out by knowledgeable, and sometimes even picayune readers. For instance, a historical novelist friend once got an email from a reader with a complaint about her story, which takes place in Harlem in NYC in the 1920s. One of my friend’s characters, trying to unlock her apartment door while carrying several bags of groceries, dropped all her purchases on the floor.  One of the spilled items was a box of Rice Krispies.  The accusatory email came from a person who worked for the cereal’s manufacturer.  He allowed as how the novel’s story takes place in March, but Rice Krispies were not on sale until the following September.  As we writers of fiction are fond of saying, “You can’t make this stuff up.”


The hardest challenge of all, for me anyway, is the conflict between modern attitudes and beliefs that were considered acceptable in the past.  It takes a lot of thought and cleverness to present mores and customs gone-by in a way that modern readers can see their reprehensible nature.


In this regard, the most remarkable of historical novels to me is John Fowles's the French Lieutenant's Woman.  Somehow, Fowles manages seamlessly to interject his narrator’s opinions. The characters are walking along talking to each other, and all of a sudden, the narrator starts commenting on the kinds of things people believed, and even long descriptions of how things were and who thought what. I've spent hours, days even trying to work out how he gets away with that kind of behavior, which would be verboten for a novelist lacking his brilliance.  I would love to be able to do what he does. If anybody has the slightest idea of how to go about it, I can only say, “HELP!”


The best I can do is to invent characters who, though living at the time of the story, have plausible reasons not to share the prevailing attitudes of the time. This difficulty was most pronounced when writing about British East Africa at the beginning of the 20th century. I certainly did not want to present the rather romantic place as the good old days of colonialism.  Characters who all have today's attitudes would be anachronistic in the extreme. I got around that in the only way I could, by populating the stories with key people who legitimately disapproved of what the King's loyal empire builders thought was admirable.

It says "Britain's Little War With
 'Unknown savages..'"


My three main characters look around them and know that a lot of the things that are happening are wrong, sometimes downright evil.  My folks are, for one reason or another, outsiders:


Vera McIntosh is the 19-year-old daughter of a Scottish missionary, the only white child in the area where she was born. Her playmates where Kikuyu children. She grew up with them, playing and learning their ways. She speaks their language. And she can see the world from their point of view as well as that of her parents. Because her father is a missionary, he is also teaching her values that the members of the colonial administration do not share.


Kwai Libazo is a tribal constable, working for the British police force.  He is half Kikuyu and half Maasai. Neither tribe has accepted him. So in that sense, he is an outsider too. He is working with a young, idealistic Assistant Superintendent of Police, whose passion in his work is to try to deliver justice. Kwai begins to see delivering justice as the reason for his existence.


Justin Tolliver is the second son of a Yorkshire Earl, and as such, his fate from birth was to serve in the British military.  He first arrived in South Africa with his regiment, visited British East Africa while there, and has fallen in love with its beauty and majesty. He wants to stay. But he cannot take the normal path for an aristocrat because his impecunious family cannot stake him the price of starting his own farm, even at the low cost of doing so. In order to find a way to stay, he volunteers to be transferred from the army to the quasi-military police force. He is that idealistic policeman who inspires Kwai Libazo with his devotion to justice.  Once Tolliver begins to fall in love with Vera McIntosh, he learns how her attitudes are much more likely to deliver real justice.


Once they walked into my mind, these three early 20th century people gave me a way of telling my stories with 21st Century sensitivity.  In a sense, they are in conflict with the history they are living through.  



Saturday, December 2, 2023

One of These Guys Will Lose His Marbles



I’m not about to get into the history of the Parthenon Sculptures/Elgin Marbles controversy between Greece and Britain, but for those of you who might be interested, there’s a lot about the subject in the news these days. And why is that?

Essentially, it boils down to a politician putting his foot in his mouth or, more appropriately, shooting himself in his foot with his mouth. Which politician I leave for you to judge. 


This new squabble over the PS/EM hit the international news when British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, abruptly canceled a meeting with Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a decision prompted by their ongoing controversy over the 2,500-year-old Parthenon Sculptures.


Photo by Petros Giannakouris

Here’s a partial description of the facts of the row as put forth by
Ioannes Chountis de Fabbri, a political adviser to the UK House of Lords.


“From a strategic point of view, Sunak’s decision was not carefully considered and has largely backfired. It was a knee-jerk reaction, fueled by Mitsotakis’ unusual move to meet first with the leader of the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, and the former’s interview with the BBC, which for many was viewed as a lack of diplomatic tact. The move by Britain’s new foreign secretary, Lord David Cameron, to meet with his counterpart at the 11th hour, vindicates this. In the end, running away from a meeting is never a good idea and is rarely conducive to positive results. Be that as it may, the deeper truth might lie elsewhere. Simply put, it may be argued that Sunak tried to avoid – for the second time after December 2022 – the replay of what had transpired at 10 Downing Street when Prime Minister Mitsotakis raised the marbles issue before cameras, when he met with his then-counterpart Boris Johnson in November 2021.”


In Greece's newspaper, Roderick Beaton, a retired professor of modern Greek and Byzantine history, language and culture, is quoted as saying “regarding Sunak’s decision to cancel the meeting, I have an opinion and I say it out loud: In plain terms, I find it outrageous,” he said. “In more formal terms, this is definitely a huge diplomatic blunder, which for me remains, for now at least, inexplicable. There may be something lurking in the background that we don’t know, but from all the statements that are circulating I can’t understand the decision of the prime minister of Britain.”


But the battle didn’t stop there.  Here’s video of PM Sunak adding accelerant to the “dumpster fire,” by calling PM Mitsotakis “a grandstander” in Parliament.


Not unexpectedly, the press has found fertile fodder in all of this for its political cartoonists.


Photo by Ilias Makris

Photo by Ilias Makris

So, who wins this battle of the PMs?  Rather than my offering an opinion from the bleachers, let’s see what Britain’s King Charles has to say about it all. In this case, it’s a visual comment forcefully presented at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai…in the midst of the PM row back home. 

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Take a close look at King Charles’ tie and pocket square.  Now a closer look. Yep, the tie and pocket handkerchief bear the colors and symbols of the Greek national flag !!!


I call that a drop-the-mike moment for Greece…and take it as a sign of strong support for a prompt (?) return of the Parthenon Sculptures.